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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

Mr. G. Borrow's Report on Past and Future Operations in Spain (Endorsed: recd. Nov. 28, 1838)

LONDON, Novr. 1838.

Having been requested to commit to paper my opinion respecting the mode most advisable to be adopted for the propagation of the Word of God in Spain, provided the Committee of the Bible Society should consider it their duty to resume operations in that country, I shall as briefly as possible communicate the results of an experience which three years' residence has enabled me to acquire. The Committee are already aware that I have traversed the greatest part of Spain in all directions, and have lived for a considerable time in Madrid and other large towns. I have therefore had opportunities of forming a tolerably accurate idea as to the mode of thinking upon religious subjects of the Spaniards, whether of town or country, and of their character in general. I need not enter into a repetition of my labours during my last sojourn in Spain. It is well known that, after printing the New Testament at Madrid, I endeavoured to distribute it in the principal towns, and also in the rural districts. Particular circumstances prevented my experiencing in the former the success which I had hoped for, and with some reason, at the commencement of my Biblical labours; and indeed I did not find the minds of the inhabitants of the great cities which I visited so well disposed as I could have wished, for receiving and relishing the important but simple truths of the Bible. I cannot say that a spirit of fanatic bigotry was observable amongst them, except in a very few instances, but rather of lamentable indifference; their minds being either too much engrossed by the politics of the period to receive the doctrine of the Bible, or averse to it owing to the poison of infidelity imbibed from the deistical writings of the French. My success among the peasants was however very different, nearly two thousand copies having been disposed of in an extraordinarily short space of time, and under much disadvantage owing to the peculiarly unhappy situation of those parts which it was my fortune to visit. I will now, without further preamble, state the line of conduct which I should wish to see pursued in Spain under existing circumstances.

As the minds of the inhabitants of the cities, from the causes above stated, do not appear to be exactly prepared for the reception of the Scripture, it seems most expedient for some time to come to offer it principally to the peasantry, by the greater part of whom there is so much ground for believing that it will be received with gratitude and joy. True it is that the Spanish peasantry are in general not so well educated as their brethren of the cities, their opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of letters having always been inferior; nevertheless it would be difficult to enter a cottage of which at least one of the inmates could not read, more or less. They are moreover a serious people, and any book upon religious subjects is far more certain of captivating their attention than one of a lighter character, and, above all, their minds have hitherto never been tainted by those unhappy notions of infidelity too prevalent amongst the other class. There is one feature which I wish to mention here, which is indeed common to the Spanish people in general but more particularly to the peasantry, namely, that whenever a book is purchased, whether good or bad, the purchaser entertains a firm intention of reading it, which he almost invariably puts into execution. I do not make this observation merely upon hearsay -- though I have frequently heard it from quarters which I am bound to respect -- many examples tending to substantiate the fact having come under my own knowledge. It is at least a great consolation to the distributor of the Word of God in Spain, that the seed which he casts around him is in general received by the earth beneath the surface, from which he is induced to trust that it will some day spring up and produce good fruit.

I now beg leave to repeat from a previous communication the manner in which I made my first attempt to distribute the Scriptures amongst the peasantry. I must here remind the Committee that until [I] myself solved the problem of the possibility, no idea had been entertained of introducing the Bible in the rural districts of countries exclusively Papist. This remark, which I make with the utmost humility, merely springs from an idea that a similar attempt, if made with boldness and decision, might prove equally successful in Italy, Mexico, and many other countries, even pagan, which have not yet been penetrated, particularly China and Grand Tartary, on the shores of which the Bible labours under great disadvantage and odium from being put into the hands of the natives by people seemingly in connection with those for whom it is impossible they can entertain much respect, as they are well known to contribute largely towards the corruption of the public morals. But I now return to my subject, and proceed at once to the experiment which I made at different periods and in different provinces.

I twice sallied forth alone and on horseback, and bent my course to a distant village. On my arrival, which took place just after the siesta or afternoon's nap had concluded, I proceeded in both instances to the market-place, where I spread a horse-cloth on the ground, upon 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 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 books with attention, many of them reading aloud, but I had not long to wait. In both instances my cargo was disposed of almost instantaneously, and I mounted my horse without a question being asked me, and returned to my temporary abode lighter than I came. These instances occurred in Castile and Galicia, near the towns of Santiago and Valladolid.

It is the firm conviction of the writer from subsequent experience that every village in Spain will purchase Testaments, from twenty to sixty, according to its circumstances. During the last two months of his sojourn in Spain he visited about forty villages, and in only two instances was his sale less than thirty copies in each. The two villages which he alludes to were Mocejon in the Sagra of Toledo, and Torre Lodones about four leagues from Madrid in the road which leads to the Guadarama hills. The last village is indeed a mere wretched assemblage of huts, the inhabitants of which labour under the most squalid poverty, owing to the extreme niggardness of the neighbouring soil, which consists almost entirely of rock from which scarcely anything can be gathered, so that the people are proverbially thieves. Only three copies of the sacred volume were purchased in this unhappy place, and only nine in the comparatively rich village of Mocejon -- which, it is true, was visited on the day of a festival, when the inhabitants were too much occupied with dancing and other amusements to entertain any serious thoughts.

There are at the present moment about two thousand copies of the New Testament in Madrid. It appears to the writer that it would be most expedient to distribute one-half of these books in La Mancha, commencing from the town of Ocana, and concluding with Argamasilla at the other end of the province; the remaining thousand might be devoted to the many villages on the road towards Arragon, especially to those of Alcarria where the people are honest, mild and serious. The writer would by no means advise for the present an attempt to distribute the entire Bible amongst the peasantry, as he is of opinion that the New Testament is much better adapted to their understandings and circumstances. If it be objected to the plan which he has presumed to suggest that it is impossible to convey to the rural districts of Spain the book of life without much difficulty and danger, he begs leave to observe that it does not become a real Christian to be daunted by either when it pleases his Maker to select him as an instrument; and that moreover if it be not written that a man is to perish by wild beast or reptiles, he is as safe in the den even of the cockatrice as in the most retired chamber of the king's palace; and that if on the contrary he be doomed to perish by them, his destiny will overtake him notwithstanding all the precautions which he, like a blind worm, may essay for his security.

In conclusion the writer begs leave to remind the Committee that a society of liberal Spanish ecclesiastics is being formed for printing and circulating the Scripture without note or comment. He does not advise the entering into an intimate alliance and co-operation with this society, but he ventures to hope that if it continue to progress, there will be found Christian hearts in England to wish it success and Christian hands to afford it some occasional assistance. If the work of the Lord be done, it matters little whether Apollos or Paul be the labourers.

GEORGE BORROW.

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