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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

Report of Mr. Geo. Borrow's late Proceedings in Spain

LONDON, October 17, 1836.

On the 16th of January I quitted Badajoz, a Spanish town on the frontier of Portugal, for Madrid, whither I arrived in safety. As my principal motive for visiting the Spanish capital was the hope of obtaining permission from the Government to print the New Testament in the Castilian language in Spain, I lost no time upon my arrival in taking what I considered to be the necessary steps. I must here premise that I was an entire stranger at Madrid, and that I bore no letters, of introduction to any person of influence whose credit might have assisted me in this undertaking; so that notwithstanding I entertained a hope of success, relying on the assistance of the Almighty, this hope was not at all times very vivid, but was frequently overcast with the clouds of despondency. Mr. Mendizabal was at this time Prime Minister of Spain, and was considered as a man of almost unbounded power, in whose hands were placed the destinies of the country. I therefore considered that if I could by any means induce him to favour my view I should have no reason to fear interruption from other quarters, and I determined upon applying to him; but though I essayed two or three times to obtain an interview with him, I failed, as he was far too much engrossed in important business to receive a humble and unknown stranger. In this dilemma I bethought me of waiting upon Mr. Villiers, the British Ambassador at Madrid, and craving with the freedom permitted to a British subject his advice and assistance in this most interesting affair. I was received by him with great kindness, and enjoyed a conversation with him on various subjects, before I introduced the matter which I had most at heart. He said that if I wished for an interview with Mr. M. he would endeavour to procure me one; but at the same time told me frankly that he could not hope that any good would arise from it, as Mr. M. was violently prejudiced against the British and Foreign Bible Society, and was far more likely to discountenance than encourage any efforts which they might be disposed to make for introducing the Gospel into Spain. I however remained resolute in my desire to make the trial, and before I left him obtained a letter of introduction to Mr. Mendizabal, with whom I had an interview a few days after. The particulars of this interview have been detailed on a former occasion. It will be sufficient to state here that I obtained from Mr. Mendizabal, if not immediate permission to print the Scriptures, a promise that at the expiration of a few months, when he hoped that the country would be in a more tranquil state, I should be at full liberty to do so, with which promise I departed well satisfied, and full of gratitude to the Lord, who seemed to have so wonderfully smoothed my way in an enterprise which at first sight seemed particularly arduous and difficult.

Before three months had elapsed Mr. Mendizabal had ceased to be Prime Minister; with his successor, Mr. Isturitz, I had become acquainted, and also with his colleagues, Galiano and the Duke de Rivas, and it was not long before I obtained -- not however without much solicitation and difficulty -- the permission which I so ardently desired. Before, however, I could turn it to my account, the revolution broke out in Spain, and the press became free.

The present appears to be a moment peculiarly well adapted for commencing operations in Spain, the aim and view of which should be the introducing into that singularly unhappy portion of the world the knowledge of the Saviour. The clouds of bigotry and superstition which for so many centuries cast their dreary shadow upon Spain, are to a considerable degree dispelled, and there is little reason for supposing that they will ever again conglomerate. The Papal See is no longer regarded with reverence, and its agents and ministers have incurred universal scorn and odium; therefore any fierce and determined resistance to the Gospel in Spain is not to be apprehended either from the people themselves, or from the clergy, who are well aware of their own weakness. It is scarcely necessary to remark that every country which has been long subjected to the sway of popery is in a state of great and deplorable ignorance. Spain, as might have been expected, has not escaped this common fate, and the greatest obstacle to the diffusion of the Gospel light amongst the Spaniards would proceed from the great want of education amongst them. Perhaps there are no people in the world to whom nature has been, as far as regards mental endowments, more bounteously liberal than the Spaniards. They are generally acute and intelligent to an extraordinary degree, and express themselves with clearness, fluency, and elegance upon all subjects which are within the scope of their knowledge. It may indeed be said of the mind of a Spaniard, as of his country, that it merely requires cultivation to be a garden of the first order; but, unhappily, both, up to the present time, have been turned to the least possible account. Few amongst the lower class of the population of the towns are acquainted with letters, and fewer still amongst the peasantry; but though compelled to acknowledge the ignorance of the Spaniards in general, I have great pleasure in being able to state that during the latter years it has been becoming less and less, and that the rising generation is by no means so illiterate as the last, which was itself superior in acquirements to the preceding one. It is to be hoped that the progress in improvement will still continue, and that within a few years the blessings of education will be as generally diffused amongst the Spaniards as amongst the people of France and England. Government has already commenced the establishment of Normal Schools, and though the state of the country, convulsed with the horrors of civil war, precludes the possibility of devoting to them the care and attention which they deserve, I have no doubt that when it shall please the Lord to vouchsafe peace unto Spain they will receive all the requisite patronage and support, as their utility is already generally recognised.

Before quitting Madrid I entered into negotiation with Mr. Charles Wood, a respectable Englishman established there, for the printing of 5000 copies of the New Testament in Spanish, which number, if on good paper and in handsome type, I have little doubt might be easily disposed of within a short time in the capital and in the principal provincial towns of Spain, particularly Cadiz and Seville, where the people are more enlightened than in other parts in most respects, and where many would be happy to obtain the sacred volume in a handsome yet cheap form, and some in any shape whatever -- as there the Word of God is at least known by reputation, and no small curiosity has of late years been manifested concerning it, though unfortunately that curiosity has not hitherto been gratified, for reasons too well known to require recapitulation.

In the rural districts the chances of the Scriptures are considerably less, for there, as far as I am aware, not only no curiosity has been excited respecting it, but it is not known by name, and when mentioned to the people, is considered to be nothing more or less than the mass-book of the Romish Church. On various occasions I have conversed with the peasantry of Estremadura, La Mancha, and Andalusia respecting the holy Book, and without one exception they were not only ignorant of its contents, but ignorant of its nature; some who could read, and pretended to be acquainted with it, said that it contained hymns to the Virgin, and was written by the Pope; yet the peasantry of these three provinces are by no means the least enlightened of Spain, but perhaps the reverse. In a word, great as the ignorance of the generality of the Spaniards upon most essential points is, they are principally ignorant of the one most essential of all, the religion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

No time, however, ought to be lost in supplying those with the word who are capable of receiving it; though millions in Spain are undoubtedly beyond the reach of any efforts which the Bible Society can make to assist them, however much it may have at heart their eternal salvation, it is gratifying to have grounds for belief that thousands are able and willing to profit by the exertions which may be made to serve them. Though the days of the general orange-gathering are not arrived, when the tree requires but a slight shaking to scatter its ripe and glorious treasures on the head of the gardener, still goodly and golden fruit is to be gathered on the most favoured and sunny branches; the quantity is small in comparison with what remains green and acid, but there is enough to repay the labour of him who is willing to ascend to cull it; the time of the grand and general harvesting is approaching, perhaps it will please the Almighty to hasten it; and it may even now be nearer than the most sanguine of us dares to hope.

G. BORROW.

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