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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. July 30, 1838)
VILLA SECA, NEW CASTILLE, 17 July 1838.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I addressed a letter to you on the 14th instant, which I hope you will receive in course of time, together with the present; in that letter I informed you where I was, stating my proceedings and intentions. It has pleased the Lord to permit me to be hitherto very successful in these regions, so much so that during less than a week I have disposed of the entire stock of Testaments which I brought with me, namely two hundred; only three or four remain, which are already bespoken. Last night I sent off a messenger to Madrid for a fresh supply, which I expect will arrive in a day or two.

I must here observe that up to the present moment I have endeavoured as much as possible to avoid noise, and notoriety. Advertisements and handbills I have utterly eschewed. I brought none with me, and in these rural places, the name of a printing press is unknown; nor have I much endeavoured to work upon the mind of the simple peasantry around me by words. I merely tell them that I bring them the words and life of the Saviour and His saints at a price adapted to their humble means. Nevertheless the news of the arrival of the book of life is spreading like wild-fire through the villages of the Sagra of Toledo, and wherever my people and myself direct our course we find the inhabitants disposed to receive our merchandise; it is even called for where not exhibited. Last night as I was bathing myself and [my] horse in the Tagus, a knot of people gathered on the bank crying: 'Come out of the water, Englishman, and give us books; we have got our money in our hands.' The poor creatures then held out their hands filled with cuartos, a copper coin of the value of a farthing, but I had unfortunately no Testament to afford them. My servant, however, who was at a short distance, having exhibited one, it was instantly torn from his hands by the people, and a scuffle ensued to obtain possession of it. It has very frequently occurred that the poor labourers in the neighbourhood, being eager to obtain Testaments and having no money to offer us in exchange, have brought various other articles to our cottage as equivalents -- for example, rabbits, fruit and barley; and I have made a point never to disappoint them, as such articles are of utility either for our own consumption or that of the horses.

In Villa Seca there is a school in which fifty-seven children are taught the first rudiments of education. Yesterday morning the schoolmaster, a tall slim figure of about sixty, bearing on his head one of the peaked hats of Andalusia and wrapped notwithstanding the excessive heat of the weather in a long cloak, made his appearance, and having seated himself requested to be shown one of our books. Having delivered it to him, he remained examining it for nearly half an hour without uttering a word. At last he laid it down with a sigh and said that he should be very happy to purchase some of these books for his school, but from their appearance, especially from the quality of the paper and binding, he was apprehensive that to pay for them would exceed the means of the parents of his pupils, as they were almost destitute of money, being poor labourers. He then commenced blaming the Government, which, he said, established schools without affording the necessary books, adding that in his school there were but two books for the use of all his pupils, and these he confessed contained but little good. I asked him what he considered the Testaments were worth. He said, 'Senor Cavalier, to speak frankly I have in other times paid twelve reals for books inferior to yours in every respect, but I assure you that my poor pupils would be utterly unable to pay the half of that price.' I replied, 'I will sell you as many as you please for three reals each; I am acquainted with the poverty of the land, and my friends and myself in affording the people the means of spiritual instruction have no wish to curtail their scanty bread.' He replied: 'Benedito seo Dios' ('blessed be God'), and could scarcely believe his ears. He instantly purchased a dozen, expending therein, as he said, all the money he possessed with the exception of a few cuartos. The introduction of the reading of the Word of God into the country schools of Spain is therefore now begun, and I humbly hope that it will prove one of those events which the Bible Society after the lapse of years will have most reason to remember with joy and gratitude to the Almighty.

An old peasant is at present reading in the portico. Eighty-four years have passed over his head, and he is almost entirely deaf; nevertheless he is reading aloud the second [chapter] of Matthew. Three days since he bespoke a Testament, but not being able to raise the money he has not redeemed it until the present moment; he has just brought thirty farthings. As I survey the silvery hair which overshadows his sun-burnt countenance, the words of the song occur to me: 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.'

I will now conclude these anecdotes with one not divested of singularity. Over a branch of the Tagus by the bridge Azeca there is a large water-mill. I have formed an acquaintance with the tenant of this mill, who is known in the neighbourhood by the name of Don Antero. Two days ago, taking me into a retired place, he asked me to my great astonishment if I would sell him a thousand Testaments at the price at which I was disposing of them to the peasantry, saying that if I would consent he would pay me immediately; in fact he put his hand into his pocket, and pulled it out filled with gold ounces. I asked him what was the reason for his wish to make so considerable a purchase. Whereupon he informed me that he had a relation in Toledo whom he wished to establish, and that he was of opinion that he could do no better than take a shop there and furnish it with Testaments. I told him that he must think of nothing of the kind, as probably the books would be seized on the first attempt to introduce them into Toledo, as the priests and canons were much averse to their distribution. He was, however, not disconcerted, and said his relation could travel, as I myself was doing, to dispose of them to the peasants with profit to himself. I confess I was disposed at first to accept his offer, but at length declined it, as I did not wish to expose a poor man to the risk of losing money, goods, and perhaps liberty and life. I was likewise averse to the books being offered to the peasantry at an advanced price, being aware that they could not afford it; and the books, by such an attempt would lose a considerable part of that prestijio (I know no English word to express my meaning) which they now enjoy. Their cheapness strikes the minds of the people with wonder, and they consider it almost as much in the light of a miracle as the Jews [did the] manna which dropped from heaven at the time they were famishing, or the spring which suddenly gushed from the flinty rock to assuage their thirst in the wilderness.

The following is a list of the villages of the Sagra; or champaign country of Toledo, already supplied with Testaments.

It will perhaps be expedient to print this list in the 'Extracts.' Vargas Mocejon Villa Seca Cobeja Villaluenga Yuncler. In about a week I shall depart from hence and proceed to another district, as it would not be prudent to make a long sojourn in any particular district under existing circumstances. It is my intention to cross the country to Aranjuez, and endeavour to supply with the Word the villages on the frontier of La Mancha. Write to me as soon as possible, always directing to my lodgings in Madrid. I wish to know the lowest price at which I am at liberty to dispose of Testaments, and conclude with hoping that what I have narrated will meet the approbation of you ALL.

(UNSIGNED.)

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