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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

Interview with Mr. Mendizabal

At about 8 o'clock in the morning of the 7th inst. I went to the palace, where Mr. Mendizabal resides. I informed the usher that I came from the British Ambassador, whereupon I was shown into a room, and after waiting about three hours I was admitted to the presence of the Prime Minister of Spain. He was dressed in a morning gown and sat behind a table covered with papers. He is a man of about five-and-forty, somewhat above the middle height, with very handsome features, aquiline nose and large sparkling eyes; his hair is partly grey. I presented him the letter with which Sir Geo. Villiers had furnished me, and when he had read it, I said that before entering upon the matter which more immediately brought me to him, I begged leave to set him right upon a point relating to which he was labouring under considerable error: Sir Geo. Villiers had informed me that Mr. M. entertained an opinion that the Bible Society had been endeavouring to exercise an undue influence over the minds of the slave population of Cuba by means of their agents; but that I could assure him with truth, that neither directly nor indirectly had they exerted or attempted to exert any influence at all over any part of the inhabitants of that island, as they had neither sent agents there, nor held any communication with the residents. While I was saying this, he interrupted me several times, insisting that it was so, and that he had documents to prove it. I told him that it was probable he confounded the Bible Society with some other institution for the propagation of religion, perhaps with one of the missionary societies, more especially one of those belonging to the United States, which might have sent individuals to the island in question for the purpose of communicating religious instruction to the slaves -- but all I could say was to no avail; he would have it that it was the British Bible Society who had despatched missionaries to Cuba to incite the blacks to rise up against their masters. The absurdity of this idea struck me so forcibly that it was with difficulty I restrained myself from laughing outright. I at last said that, whatever he might think to the contrary, the Committee of the Bible Society were by no means of that turbulent and outrageous disposition; that they were for the most part staid, quiet gentlemen, who attended to their own affairs, and a little, and but a little to the promulgation of Christ's Gospel, which, however, they too much respected to endeavour to kindle a spirit of insurrection anywhere, as they all know full well that it is the Word of God says that servants are to obey their masters at all times and occasions. I then requested permission to print the New Testament in Spanish at Madrid. He said he should not grant it, for that the New Testament was a very dangerous book, especially in disturbed times. I replied that I was not aware that the holy book contained any passages sanctioning blood-shedding and violence, but I rather thought that it abounded with precepts of an entirely opposite tendency; but he still persisted that it was an improper book. I must here observe that it was with the utmost difficulty I obtained an opportunity of explaining myself, on account of the propensity which he possesses of breaking in upon the discourse of the person who is addressing him; and at last, in self-defence, I was myself obliged to infringe the rules of conversation, and to hold on without paying any attention to his remarks -- not that I gained much by so doing, for he plainly told me that he was an obstinate man, and that he never abandoned his opinions. I certainly do not think him the most tractable of men, but I am inclined to think that he is not ill-natured, as he preserved his temper very well during the interview, and laughed heartily at two or three of my remarks. At last he said: 'I will not give you permission now: but let the war be concluded, let the factious be beaten, and the case will be altered; come to me six months hence.' I then requested to be allowed to introduce into Spain a few copies of the New Testament in the Catalan dialect, as we had lately printed a most beautiful edition at London, but he still said 'No, no,' and when I asked if he had any objection to my calling again on the morrow and showing him a copy, he made use of these remarkable words: 'I do not wish you should come, lest you should convince me, and I do not wish to be convinced.'

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