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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. July 25, 1837)
ASTORGA, 5th July, 1837.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I avail myself of the present opportunity of giving an account of what has befallen me since I last wrote to you from Salamanca, which I shortly after quitted. By that time my advertisements had been affixed in all parts of the city, and several New Testaments had been sold; I myself had the pleasure of seeing three despatched in less than a quarter of an hour that I remained in the shop. From Salamanca I proceeded to Valladolid, distant about twenty-five leagues, where I employed the same means which I had adopted at Salamanca for the promulgation of God's Word. I must here observe that Valladolid is a place where literature of every description is at the lowest ebb, and bookselling there is merely carried on in connexion with other business, it being in itself quite insufficient to afford a livelihood to those who pursue it. Nevertheless during the five days that I continued there my labours were so far favoured that twenty copies were disposed of, and a fair prospect opened that many more would be demanded. Before leaving I gave orders that the advertisements should be renewed every week, as evil-disposed, persons probably of the Carlist or Papist party, had defaced or torn down a great number of those which had been put up. From pursuing this course I expect that much and manifold good will accrue, as the people of these parts will have continual opportunities of acquainting themselves that a book which contains the living word is in existence and within their reach, which may induce them to secure it and consult it even unto salvation.

Quitting Valladolid, I directed my route to Leon by the Palencia road; the greatest part of the way was barren and uninteresting to a high degree, consisting of wide dusty plains scantily sown with barley, but unrelieved with trees or waters. The people are ignorant and brutal, though they boast themselves to be Old Castilians, which is however not the fact, as these desolate and benighted regions belong to what was once the kingdom of Leon. Their inhospitality is so great that I have been refused a glass of water in their villages, though I asked it in the name of God; though I have subsequently obtained it by paying for it, for their hearts can always be opened by the key of interest, though inaccessible to every noble and generous sentiment. I suffered dreadfully during this journey, as did likewise my man and horses, for the heat was the fiercest which I have ever known, and resembled the breath of the simoom or the air from an oven's mouth. Leon is beautifully situated in a smiling blooming country abounding in grass and trees, and watered by many streams which have their source in a mighty chain of mountains in the neighbourhood, which traverse a great part of Spain and are connected with the Pyrenees; but unfortunately it is exceedingly unhealthy, for the heats of the summer-time raise noxious exhalations from the waters, which generate all kinds of disorders, especially fevers and tertian agues. It is the Feversham of Spain.

Nomen cui infausta Fata dedere febris [sic].

I had scarcely been at Leon three days when I was seized with a fever, against which I thought the strength even of my constitution would have yielded; for it wore me almost to a skeleton, and when it departed, at the end of about a week, left me in such a deplorable state of weakness that I was scarcely able to make the slightest exertion. I had however previously persuaded a bookseller to undertake the charge of vending the Testaments, and had published my advertisements as usual, though without very fervent hope of success, as Leon is a place where the inhabitants, with very few exceptions, are furious Carlists and ignorant and blinded followers of the old Papal Church. It is, moreover, a Bishop's see, which was once enjoyed by the prime councillor of Don Carlos, whose fierce and bigoted spirit still seems to pervade the place. Scarcely had the advertisements appeared when the clergy were in motion; they went from house to house, banning and cursing and denouncing misery on whomsoever should either purchase or read 'the accursed books' which had been sent into the country by heretics for the purpose of perverting the innocent minds of the population. They did more: they commenced a process against the bookseller in the ecclesiastical court. Fortunately this court is not at present in the possession of much authority, and the bookseller, who is a bold and determined man, set them at defiance, and went so far as to affix an advertisement to the gate of the very cathedral. Notwithstanding the cry raised against the work several copies were sold at Leon, two were purchased by ex-friars, and the same number by parochial priests from neighbouring villages. I believe the whole number disposed of during my stay amounted to fifteen, so that my visit to this dark corner has not been altogether in vain, as the seed of the Gospel has been sown, though sparingly. But the palpableness of the darkness which envelops Leon is truly lamentable, and the ignorance of the people is so great that printed charms and incantations against Satan and his host and against every kind of misfortune are publicly sold in the shops and are in great demand; such are the results of Popery, a delusion which more than any other has tended to debase and brutalise the human mind.

I had scarcely risen from the bed where the fever had cast me, when I found that my servant had become alarmed; he informed me that he had seen several soldiers in the uniform of Don Carlos knocking at the door of the posada, and that they had been making enquiries concerning me. It was indeed a singular fact connected with Leon that upwards of fifty of these fellows, who had on various accounts left the ranks of the pretender, were walking about the streets dressed in his livery, and with all the confidence which the certainty of the protection of the local authorities could afford them, should any one be disposed to interrupt them. He moreover informed me that the person in whose house we were living was a notorious alcahuete, or spy to the robbers in the neighbourhood, and that unless we took our departure speedily and unexpectedly, we should to a certainty be plundered on the road. I did not pay much attention to these hints, but my desire to quit Leon was great, as I was convinced that as long as I continued there I should be unable to regain my health and vigour. Accordingly, at three o'clock in the morning of the fourth (yesterday) we departed, taking the route for Lugo, a principal town in the province of Galicia. We had scarcely proceeded half a league when we were overtaken by a thunderstorm of tremendous violence. We were at that time in the midst of a kind of wood which extends to some distance in that direction. The trees were bowed to the ground or torn up by their roots by the wind, whilst the ground was plowed up by the lightning which burst all around and nearly blinded us. The horse which I rode upon, which was a spirited Andalusian stallion, became furious and bounded into the air as if possessed; owing to my state of weakness I had the greatest difficulty in maintaining my seat and in avoiding a fall which might have been fatal. A tremendous discharge of rain followed the storm, which swelled the brooks into streams and flooded the surrounding country, causing great damage amongst the corn. After riding about five leagues we began to enter the mountainous district which surrounds Astorga; the road was flinty and very trying to the poor horses, who suffered much, whilst the heat was suffocating. It was with the utmost difficulty that we reached Astorga, covered with mud and dust and our tongues cleaving to the roofs of our mouths from thirst. We were compelled to take up our abode in a wretched hovel, full of pigs, vermin, and misery, and from this place I write, for this morning I felt myself unable to proceed on my journey, being exhausted with illness, fatigue and want of food, for scarcely anything is to be obtained. But I return God thanks and glory for being permitted to undergo these crosses and troubles for His Word's sake. I would not exchange my present situation, unenviable as some may think it, for a throne.

Pray excuse the style and writing of this letter, both are inevitably bad. I hope in a few days to have reached Lugo, where I shall be more at my ease.

GEORGE BORROW.

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