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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Oct.17, 1837)
OVIEDO, ASTURIAS, 29 Septr. 1837.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- A day or two after the date of my last letter I quitted Corunna and passed over the bay to Ferrol, where I left twenty Testaments in the hands of a person who has just established a small book-shop in that place. My servant Antonio went round by land with my horse, the only one which I now possess, I having disposed {251} of the largest of the two at Corunna, as I thought he was unable to support the fatigue of a journey to Oviedo. At Ferrol I hired a horse and guide as far as Ribadeo, a distance of twenty leagues, and somewhat less than half the way to Oviedo. This journey was a terrible one; during the greatest part of it we had to toil up and down mountain gorges and ravines, to force our way through bushes and thickets, and to wade rivulets and torrents swollen by the rain, which descended continually; our guide proved perfectly ignorant of the country, and we had to bribe various peasants to accompany us, though we incurred great risk by so doing of being conducted to some den of thieves, and stripped and murdered. At Ribadeo we procured a fresh horse and guide, and continued our way to Oviedo, encountering still greater difficulties, the ground being still more rugged and broken than that which we had previously passed over. My own horse rolled down a precipice, and was much maimed, whilst that of the guide was so worn out by the time he reached Gijon, four leagues from Oviedo, that he foundered. As for Antonio and myself, we arrived barefooted and bleeding, for I need scarcely say that during all this journey, which amounted at least to 130 miles, we went on foot, the poor horses being scarcely able to carry our books and baggage.

I am now by the blessing of the Almighty in the city of Oviedo, the capital of the Asturias, although at an unpropitious season, for the bray of war is at the gate, and there is the cry of the captains and the shouting. Castile is at the present time in the hands of the Carlists, who have captured and plundered Valladolid, in much the same manner as they did Segovia. They are every day expected to march on this place, in which case they will probably experience an obstinate resistance, very excellent redoubts having been erected, and several of the convents strongly fortified, especially that of Santa Clara de la Vega. All minds here are at present in a state of feverish anxiety and suspense, more especially as no intelligence at present arrives from Madrid, which by the last accounts was beleaguered by the bands of Cabrera, Palillos, and Orejita. -- But I am interrupted, and I lay down my pen.

A strange adventure has just occurred to me. I am in the ancient town of Oviedo, in a very large, scantily furnished and remote room of an ancient posada, formerly a palace of the Counts of Santa Cruz. It is past ten at night and the rain is descending in torrents. I ceased writing on hearing numerous footsteps ascending the creaking stairs which lead to my apartment -- the door was flung open, and in walked nine men of tall stature, marshalled by a little hunch-backed personage. They were all muffled in the long cloaks of Spain, but I instantly knew by their demeanour that they were caballeros, or gentlemen. They placed themselves in a rank before the table where I was sitting; suddenly and simultaneously they all flung back their cloaks, and I perceived that every one bore a book in his hand, a book which I knew full well. After a pause, which I was unable to break, for I sat lost in astonishment and almost conceived myself to be visited by apparitions, the hunch-back advancing somewhat before the rest said in soft silvery tones: 'Senor Cavalier, was it you who brought this book to the Asturias?' I now supposed that they were the civil authorities of the place come to take me into custody, and rising from my seat I exclaimed, 'It certainly was I, and it is my glory to have done so. The book is the New Testament of God; I wish it was in my power to bring a million.' 'I heartily wish so too,' said the little personage with a sigh. 'Be under no apprehension, Sir Cavalier; these gentlemen are my friends. We have just purchased these books in the shop where you have placed them for sale, and have taken the liberty of calling upon you in order to return you our thanks for the treasure you have brought us. I hope you can furnish us with the Old Testament also.' I replied that I was sorry to inform him that at present it was entirely out of my power to comply with his wish, as I had no Old Testaments in my possession, but did not despair of procuring some speedily, from England. He then asked me a great many questions concerning my Biblical travels in Spain, and my success, and the views entertained by the Society in respect to Spain, adding that he hoped I should pay particular attention to the Asturias, which he assured me was the best ground in the Peninsula for our labour. After about half-an-hour's conversation, he suddenly said in the English language, 'Good night, sir,' wrapped his cloak around him, and walked out as he had come. His companions, who had hitherto not uttered a word, all repeated, 'Good night, sir,' and adjusting their cloaks followed him.

In order to explain this strange scene I must inform you that this morning I visited the petty bookseller of the place, Longoria, and having arranged preliminaries with him I sent him in the evening a package of forty Testaments, all I possess, with some advertisements. At the time he assured me that, though he was willing to undertake the sale, there was nevertheless not a prospect of success, as a whole month had elapsed since he had sold a book of any description, on account of the uncertainty of the times and the poverty which pervaded the land. I therefore sat down to write this letter much dispirited; this incident has, however, admonished me not to be cast down when things look gloomiest, as the hand of the Lord is generally then most busy: that men may learn to perceive that whatever good is accomplished is not theirs but His.

I shall quit Oviedo in a few days, but whither I shall now direct my course I have not determined. It would be easy for me to reach Santander, which is but thirty leagues [distant] and the road tolerably free from accidents; but the state of affairs at Madrid gives me considerable uneasiness, for I remember that Madrid is the depot of our books, and I am apprehensive that in the revolutions and disturbances which at present seem to threaten it, our whole stock may perish. True it is that in order to reach Madrid I should have to pass through the midst of the Carlist hordes, who would perhaps slay or make me prisoner; but I am at present so much accustomed to perilous adventure, and have hitherto experienced so many fortunate escapes, that the dangers which infest the route would not deter me a moment from venturing. But there is no certain intelligence, and Madrid may be in safety or on the brink of falling; perhaps a few hours will inform us, when I shall at once decide. My next letter will therefore be either from Santander or the capital of Spain.

Oviedo is picturesquely situated between two mountains, Morcin and Naranco; the former is very high and ragged, and during the greatest part of the year is covered with snow; the sides of the latter are cultivated and planted with vines. The town itself possesses nothing very remarkable with the exception of the cathedral, the tower of which is very high, and is perhaps the purest specimen of Gothic architecture at present in existence. The interior of the edifice is neat and appropriate but simple and unadorned, for I observed but one picture, the Conversion of St. Paul. One of the chapels is a cemetery, in which rest the bones of eleven Gothic kings, whose souls I trust in Christ have been accepted.

I will now conclude in the words of Heber:

'From Greenland's icy mountains,
From India's coral strand --
Where Afric's sunny fountains
Roll down the yellow sand --
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error's chain.'

Most truly yours,

G. B.

P.S. -- Morning [Sept.] 30th, twenty Testaments have been sold.

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