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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

Account of Proceedings in the Peninsula

GENTLEMEN OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE BRITISH AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY --

I beg leave to call your attention to the following statements. They relate to my proceedings during the period which embraces my second sojourn in Spain -- to my labours in a literary point of view -- to my travels in a very remarkable country, the motive in which they originated and the result to which they led -- to my success in the distribution of the Scripture, and to the opposition and encouragement which I have experienced. As my chief objects are brevity and distinctness I shall at once enter upon my subject, abstaining from reflections of every kind, which in most cases only tend to embarrass, being anxious to communicate facts alone, with most of which, it is true, you are already tolerably well acquainted, but upon all and every of which I am eager to be carefully and categorically questioned. It is neither my wish nor my interest to conceal one particular of what I have been doing. And with these few prefatory observations I commence.

In the first place, my literary labours. Having on my former visit to Spain obtained from the then Prime Minister Isturitz and his Cabinet permission and encouragement for the undertaking, I published on my return an edition of the New Testament at Madrid, a copy of which I now present to you for the first time. This work, executed at the office of Borrego, the most fashionable printer at Madrid, who had been recommended to me by Isturitz himself and most particularly by my excellent friend Mr. O'Shea, is a publication which I conceive no member of the Committee will consider as calculated to cast discredit on the Bible Society, it being printed on excellent English paper and well bound, but principally and above all from the fact of its exhibiting scarcely one typographical error, every proof having been read thrice by myself and once or more times by the first scholar in Spain.

I subsequently published the Gospel of Saint Luke in the Rommany and Biscayan languages. With respect to the first, I beg leave to observe that no work printed in Spain ever caused so great and so general a sensation, not so much amongst the Gypsies, that peculiar people, for whom it was intended, as amongst the Spaniards themselves, who, though they look upon the Roma with some degree of contempt as a low and thievish race of outcasts, nevertheless take a strange interest in all that concerns them, it having been from time immemorial their practice, more especially of the dissolute young nobility, to cultivate the acquaintance of the Gitanos as they are popularly called, probably attracted by the wild wit of the latter and the lascivious dances of the females. The apparition therefore of the Gospel of Saint Luke at Madrid in the peculiar jargon of these people was hailed as a strange novelty and almost as a wonder, and I believe was particularly instrumental in bruiting the name of the Bible Society far and wide through Spain, and in creating a feeling far from inimical towards it and its proceedings. I will here take the liberty to relate an anecdote illustrative of the estimation in which this little work was held at Madrid. The Committee are already aware that a seizure was made of many copies of Saint Luke in the Rommany and Biscayan languages, in the establishment at which they were exposed for sale, which copies were deposited in the office of the Civil Governor. Shortly before my departure a royal edict was published, authorising all the public libraries to provide themselves with copies of the said works on account of their philological merit; whereupon, on application being made to the office, it was discovered that the copies of the Gospel in Basque were safe and forthcoming, whilst every one of the sequestered copies of the Gitano Gospel had been plundered by hands unknown. The consequence was that I was myself applied to by then agents of the public libraries of Valencia and other places, who paid me the price of the copies which they received, assuring me at the same time that they were authorised to purchase them at whatever price which might be demanded.

Respecting the Gospel in Basque I have less to say. It was originally translated into the dialect of Guipuscoa by Dr. Oteiza, and subsequently received corrections and alterations from myself. It can scarcely be said to have been published, it having been prohibited and copies of it seized on the second day of its appearance. But it is in my power to state that it is anxiously expected in the Basque provinces, where books in the aboriginal tongue are both scarce and dear, and that several applications have been made at San Sebastian and in other towns where Basque is the predominating language.

I now proceed to the subject of my travels in Spain. Before undertaking them I was little acquainted with the genius of the Spanish people in general, having resided almost entirely in Madrid, and I was fully convinced that it was not from the inhabitants of one city that an accurate judgment could be formed of a population of nine millions, thinly scattered over a vast country so divided and intersected by mountain barriers as is the Peninsula. With this population under all its various circumstances and under all its various phases, the result of descent from a variety of foreign nations, I was anxious to make myself acquainted; for I reflected that he who builds a city on ground which he has not fully examined will perhaps discover when too late that his foundation is in a swamp, and that the whole of his labour is momentarily in danger of being swallowed up. I therefore went forth not so much for the purpose of distributing the Scriptures as to make myself acquainted with the prefatory steps requisite to be taken in order to secure my grand object. Before departing from Madrid I consulted with the many friends, some of them highly distinguished, which I had the honour to possess in that capital. Their unanimous advice, whether Catholics or Protestants, was that for the present I should proceed with the utmost caution, but without concealing the object of my mission which I considered to be the simple propagation of the Scripture -- that I should avoid with diligence the giving offence to the prejudices of the people, especially in the rural districts, and endeavour everywhere to keep on good terms with the clergy, at least one-third of whom are known to be anxious for the dissemination of the Word of God though at the same time unwilling to separate themselves from the discipline and ceremonials of Rome. I bore this advice in mind, which indeed perfectly tallied with my own ideas, and throughout the two thousand miles of my peregrination during the summer of last year, I performed much if not all of what I proposed, and am not aware that in one single instance my proceedings were such as could possibly merit reproof. I established depots in all the principal towns of the north of Spain, and in all gave notice to the public of the arrival of the New Testament in a mild yet expressive advertisement which I here exhibit, and which I beg leave to state is the only advertisement which I ever made use of. The consequence was that the work enjoyed a reasonable sale, and I experienced no opposition -- except in the case of Leon, a town remarkable for its ultra-Carlism -- but on the contrary much encouragement especially on the part of the ecclesiastics. I visited Salamanca and Valladolid the chief seats of Castilian learning, I visited Saint James of Compostella, the temple of the great image of the Patron of Spain, and in none of these cities was a single voice raised against the Bible Society or its Agent. But I did not confine myself to the towns, but visited the small and large villages, and by this means became acquainted with both citizens and rustics; amongst the former I found little desire for sober serious reading, but on the contrary a rage for stimulant narratives, and amongst too many a lust for the deistical writings of the French, especially for those of Talleyrand, which have been translated into Spanish and published by the press of Barcelona, and for which I was frequently pestered. I several times enquired of the book-sellers of the various towns which I visited as to the means to be used towards introducing the Scripture amongst the villagers; but to this question they invariably replied that, unless the villagers came to the towns and purchased the work, they saw no means of making it known amongst them, unless I made friends in the villages in whose hands I could deposit copies for sale, though in such a case the difficulty of recovering the money would be immense. I therefore at last resolved to make an experiment, the result of which fully corresponded with an opinion which I had for some time formed -- namely, that in the villages, sequestered and apart amongst the mountains and in the sandy plains of Spain, I might at any time be sure of a glorious harvest, far more rich than that which it was possible for me to expect in towns and cities, unless I had recourse to means unwarranted, nay forbidden, by the Book which I distributed, and which means had been proscribed by the Society itself on my departure for Spain. But now to proceed at once to the experiment, which I made at different periods and in different provinces.

I twice sallied forth one morning alone and on horseback, and proceeded to a distant village, bearing behind me a satchel of books. On my arrival, which took place just after the siesta or afternoon's sleep had concluded, I proceeded in both instances to the market-place, where I spread a horse-cloth on the ground, on which I deposited my books. I then commenced crying with a loud voice: 'Peasants, peasants, I bring you the Word of God at a cheap price. I know you have but little money, but I bring it to you at whatever you can command, at four or three reals according to your means.' I thus went on till a crowd gathered round me, who examined the book with attention, many of them reading it aloud. But I had not long to tarry; in both instances I disposed of my cargo almost instantaneously, and then mounted my horse without a question having been asked me, and returned to my temporary residence lighter than I left it. This occurred in Castile and Galicia, near the towns of Santiago and Valladolid.

The above are incidents which I have hitherto kept within the privacy of my own bosom and which I have confided to none; they were but experiments, which at that time I had no wish to repeat, nor to be requested so to do. I was perfectly aware that such a line of conduct, if followed before the proper time, would give offence to the clergy, not only to the Carlist but the liberal clergy, and likewise to the Government; and it formed no part of my plan to be on ill terms with either. For I remembered that I was a stranger and a labourer on sufferance in Christ's cause in a half-barbaric land, on which the light of freedom and true religion was just beginning to dawn, and I was unwilling by over-precipitance and for the sake of a mere temporary triumph to forego the solid and lasting advantages which I foresaw, and had been told that patience and prudence would assure. I resolved to use the knowledge which I had obtained by these experiments only as a last resource, provided any accident which it was impossible for me then to foresee should overturn all the plans which my friends and myself had been forming for the quiet and peaceful introduction of the Scriptures amongst the Spaniards with the consent or at least with the connivance of the Government and clergy, knowing well that a great part of the latter were by no means disposed to offer any serious opposition to such a measure, they having sense and talent enough to perceive that the old system can no longer be upheld of which the essential part is, as is well known, to keep the people in ignorance of the great sterling truths of Christianity. I now come to the most distressing part of my narrative and likewise to the most miserable of my own life.

I returned to Madrid from my long, fatiguing and most perilous journey, in which I must be permitted to say that independent of a thousand miraculous escapes from the factious and the banditti I had been twice arrested as a spy, namely, once at Vigo and subsequently at Cape Finisterre, in which latter instance I narrowly escaped with life, the ignorant fishermen having determined upon shooting me and my guide. Upon finding the booksellers of Madrid, with the exception of Razola, a man of no importance, averse to undertake the sale of the New Testament I determined upon establishing a shop of my own, a step to which I was advised by many sincere friends of the Cause and of myself. Having accomplished this, I advertised the work incessantly, not only in the public prints but by placards posted in all the streets of the city; but I wish it to be distinctly understood that the advertisement which I used was the same quiet innocent advertisement, a copy of which you possess, and of which I have availed myself in the provinces, an advertisement which had never given offence nor was calculated to give offence if squandered about the streets by millions. I make this statement in self-justification, I having, in consequence of a letter in which I made some observations respecting advertisements and handbills, received a paragraph in a communication from home, in which I was checked with having made a plentiful use of advertisements and handbills myself. It would have been as well if my respected and revered friend the writer had made himself acquainted with the character of my advertisements before he made that observation. There is no harm in an advertisement, if truth, decency and the fear of God are observed; and I believe my own will be scarcely found deficient in any of these three requisites. It is not the use of a serviceable instrument, but its abuse that merits reproof, and I cannot conceive that advertising was abused by me when I informed the people of Madrid, that the New Testament was to be purchased at a cheap price in the Calle del Principe.

I had scarcely opened my establishment at Madrid when I began to hear rumours of certain transactions at Valencia, said to be encouraged by the British and Foreign Bible Society. As these transactions, as they were reported, were in the highest degree absurd and improper, and as I was convinced that the Bible Society would sanction nothing of the kind, I placed little or no credit in them, and put them down to the account of Jesuitical malignity. In less than a fortnight appeared in the newspapers what I conceived to be a gross and uncalled-for attack upon the Bible Society, appended to a pastoral of the Bishop of Valencia, in which he forbade the sale of the Bible throughout his diocese. The Committee are acquainted with my answer to that epistle; they are well aware with what zeal and fervour I spoke against the spirit of Popery, and defended the Society and their cause as far as my feeble talents would permit. Yet I here confess that the said answer was penned, if not in perfect ignorance of what had been transacted in Valencia, at least in almost utter disbelief; for had it been my fortune at the time to have been as well informed as I have subsequently been, so far from publishing the answer in question I would at once have publicly disclaimed, as I afterwards did, any participation or sympathy in transactions which were not only calculated to bring the Bible cause into odium, but the Bible Society into difficulties, into discredit, and worst of all, into contempt. A helpless widow was insulted, her liberty of conscience invaded, and her only son incited to rebellion against her. A lunatic was employed as the repartidor or distributor of the blessed Bible, who having his head crammed with what he understood not, ran through the streets of Valencia crying aloud that Christ was nigh at hand and would appear in a short time; whilst advertisements to much the same effect were busily circulated in which the name, the noble name, of the Bible Society was prostituted; whilst the Bible exposed for sale in an apartment of a public house served for little more than a decoy to the idle and curious, who were there treated with incoherent railings against the Church of Rome and Babylon, in a dialect which it was well for the deliverer that only a few of the audience understood. But I fly from these details, and will now repeat the consequences of the above proceedings to myself; for I, I, and only I, as every respectable person in Madrid can vouch, have paid the penalty for them all, though as innocent as the babe who has not yet seen the light.

I had much difficulty at Madrid, principally on account of the state of political matters which absorbed the minds of all, in bringing the New Testament into notice. However by dint of perseverance I contrived to direct the public curiosity towards it, indeed I was beginning to average a sale of twenty copies daily, when the shop was suddenly closed by order of the Government in consequence of the complaints from Valencia, myself being supposed to be the instigator and director of the scenes in that place already narrated. For the next four months I carried on negotiations with the Government through the medium of Sir George Villiers, who from my first arrival in the Peninsula, had most generously befriended me. But in his endeavours to forward my views he found exceeding difficulties. The clergy were by this time, both Carlist and liberal, thoroughly incensed against me, and indeed with much apparent reason; the former denounced me to the populace as a sorcerer and a heretic, and the latter spoke of me as an accomplished hypocrite. I was at last flung into prison -- into the pestilential Carcel de la Corte, where my faithful servant Francisco caught the gaol-fever, of which he subsequently died. But in this instance my enemies committed a very imprudent act, an act which had very nearly produced the result for which I had been so long unsuccessfully negotiating. My protector, Sir George Villiers, informed the Spanish Prime Minister, Ofalia, that unless full satisfaction was offered me, he should deem it his duty to cease any further transactions with the Spanish Government, and to order all the British land and sea-forces, co-operating with those of the Queen to terminate the rebellion, to desist from further operations.

I was about to obtain all I wished, when at the critical moment the news of the scenes at Malaga arrived at Madrid, and Sir George had little more to say than that Satan seemed to mingle in this game. Nevertheless I left prison, with the understanding that the Government would connive at the circulation of the Scriptures in a quiet manner, not calculated to produce disturbances nor to give scandal to the clergy.

But speedily followed the affair of the sectarian tracts of Carthagena, which tracts were sworn to as having been left there by agents of the Bible Society; and I instantly knew that I had nothing more to expect from the Government. But some time previous I had formed an unalterable resolution that, come what might, I would no longer bear the odium of actions, which in whatever motive they originated had already subjected me to unheard-of persecution, loathsome imprisonment, loss of friends, and to the grief of seeing prudent and long-brooded plans baffled and brought to nought, and the Society to which I belonged subjected to opprobrium as I believed undeserved; and I therefore published in the journals of Madrid an advertisement, in which I disowned, in my own name and that of the Society, any sympathy with the actor or actors in those transactions, which had given so much cause of offence to the authorities, civil and ecclesiastic, of Spain.

My principal reason for taking this step originated from my having become personally acquainted with the ex-priest Pascual Marin, who arrived at Madrid the very day in which I was committed to prison. His narrative served to confirm all the rumours which I had previously heard. The Committee are fully aware with what unwillingness I formed the acquaintance of that man, who was sent up to me in order that I might provide for him, without my consent being obtained or even demanded; but I now rejoice in the circumstance, without which I might still have been playing the odious, disgraceful, and heart-breaking part which I had supported so long. But by the decided step which I now took, the burden of obloquy fell at once from my shoulders, as the bundle of sin from the back of Christian, and rolling into a deep pit was seen no more.

That advertisement gave infinite satisfaction to the liberal clergy. I was complimented for it by the Primate of Spain, who said I had redeemed my credit and that of the Society; and it is with some feeling of pride that I state that it choked and prevented the publication of a series of terrible essays against the Bible Society, which were intended for the official Gazette, and which were written by the Licentiate Albert Lister, the editor of that journal, the friend of Blanco White, and the most talented man in Spain. These essays still exist in the editorial drawer, and were communicated to me by the head manager of the royal printing office, my respected friend and countryman Mr. Charles Wood, whose evidence in this matter and in many others I can command at pleasure. In lieu of which essays came out a mild and conciliatory article by the same writer, which, taking into consideration the country in which it was written and its peculiar circumstances, was an encouragement to the Bible Society to proceed, although with secrecy and caution. Yet this article, sadly misunderstood in England, gave rise to communications from home highly mortifying to myself and ruinous to the Bible cause.

In the meantime my depots had been seized in various parts of Spain, depots the greatest part of which I had established with immense difficulty and peril, some of them being in the remote and almost inaccessible province of Galicia, at the distance of almost four hundred miles from Madrid. I now deemed that the time was at hand to avail myself of my resource, and to sell at all risks the Testament amongst the peasantry of Spain, by whom I knew that it would be received with transport and with gratitude. I determined to commence with the Sagra of Toledo, where resided an honest labourer of my acquaintance; my foot was in the stirrup when I received a letter from home, which I can only consider as having originated with the Enemy of mankind for the purpose of perplexing my already harassed and agitated mind. In this letter I was told, amongst other matter which I need not repeat, to prepare to quit Spain. But by the shaft I knew the quiver from which it came, and, merely exclaiming, 'Satan, I defy thee,' I hurried to Sagra, and disposed of amongst the peasantry in one fortnight four hundred copies of the New Testament. But it is hard to wrestle with the great Enemy; another shaft arrived in the shape of a letter, which compelled me to return to Madrid, whilst the cause of God was beckoning me to Aranjuez and La Mancha, to which places I indeed hurried as soon as I had arranged matters at Madrid.

Without losing time or being dispirited by the events of the last journey, I repaired to Old Castile; here my success was almost miraculous, nine hundred copies of the Holy Book being sold in less than three weeks, but not in peace and tranquillity, as the province became suddenly a scene of horrors which I shall not attempt to describe. It was not the war of men, or even of cannibals, which I witnessed; it seemed a contest of fiends from the infernal pit. But God guided me safe and unharmed through this 'valley of the shadow,' and permitted me to regain Madrid; where, upon finding myself formally recalled, I deposited the Society's property in as safe a place as I could find, and was about to return home when a fever which had been long lurking in my blood at last prostrated me, confining me to my bed for many days, at the expiration of which, though very unfit for travel, I departed for England, where at last by God's will I am arrived in safety.

Before concluding, I have a communication to make, the importance of which few, I believe, will be tempted to deny.

I have at various times stated that the Bible Cause had many and powerful friends in Spain, though my statements up to the present moment seem to have been hailed with little attention. I remember in one particular letter recommending prudence, patience, and co-operation with the liberal clergy, who were sincerely disposed to help us on, provided that by intemperateness of conduct we gave them no reasonable ground for offence. There is now a society formed at Madrid, determined upon making the Word of God, without note or comment, known amongst the children of Spain. The laws concerning the publishing the Scripture have been diligently and minutely examined, and it has been discovered that by none of the laws of Spain, ancient or modern, whether made by Cortes or by kings, is the publication of the Scripture, in the whole or in parts, with or without comment, forbidden -- but merely and solely by particular Bulls of various Bishops of Rome, which Bulls though respected by many of the Spaniards form no part of the law of Spain. Provided resistance be offered to the undertaking either by the Government or any portion of the ecclesiastics, it has been determined to bring the matter before the Cortes, from whom a favourable decision may be expected with certainty. An individual has been selected as the ostensible manager of this great and glorious undertaking, this individual is Mr. C. Wood, whom I have already had occasion to mention, though it is in my power to state that but for the manner in which the name of the Bible Society has on various occasions been brought before the public, and almost invariably to its disadvantage, myself its well-known Agent, would have been the person selected. If it be here asked who are the respectable and influential persons who are at the head of this undertaking and who patronise it, I reply the Archbishop of Toledo, the Primate of Spain, and the Bishops of Vich and Jaen.

Now merely one word in conclusion. I have related facts, and to attempt to contravene them would be as futile as to endeavour to breast the billows of the Atlantic. For the fact that I have throughout my residence in Spain conducted myself as becomes a gentleman, a Christian and an Agent of a Christian Society, I can at all times command the evidence of Sir George Villiers. For the fact that no act of mine has given offence to the Spanish Government, or was calculated to do so, I can, if required, produce a communication from Count Ofalia, who has in writing expressed to Sir George Villiers his full reliance in my prudence and good faith. For the fact that the establishment at Madrid was closed, not in consequence of my own imprudence, but on account of certain proceedings at Valencia, I can receive, if I need it, a testimonial from Count Ofalia. For the fact that proceedings of a highly objectionable nature were transacted in the south of Spain, I have the affidavit of the unhappy ex-priest Pascual Marin, who can likewise afford, when called upon, information on various points. For the fact that my depots in various provinces of Spain were seized in consequence of doings with which I had no connexion, I can cite official correspondence. For the fact that my advertisement, in which I disowned in the name of the Society and in my own any sympathy with the scenes alluded to, was productive of infinite benefit to the Cause, I can at any time produce incontestable evidence. And lastly, for my zeal in the Bible Cause, whilst employed in the Peninsula, I can have the evidence not only of some of the most illustrious characters resident in Madrid, but likewise that of the greatest part of Spain, throughout which I believe my name is better known than in my native village in East Anglia.

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