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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Mar.15, 1839)
March 4, 1839.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I have to acknowledge the receipt of your kind letter of the 6th ult., which I hope to be able to answer in all points on another occasion. I am now in a small town on the road to Talavera, to which place it is possible that I may proceed. I take up the pen in order to give you a brief account of what has taken place since I last wrote. I have that to communicate which I am confident will cause yourself and the remainder of my dear friends in Earl Street to smile; while at the same time it will not fail to prove interesting, as affording an example of the feeling prevalent in some of the lone and solitary villages of Spain with respect to innovation and all that savours thereof, and the strange acts which are sometimes committed by the rural authorities and the priests, without the slightest fear of being called to account; for as they live quite apart {392} from the rest of the world, they know no people greater than themselves, and scarcely dream of a higher power than their own. In my latest communication I stated that I was about to make an excursion to Gaudalajara and the villages of Alcarria; indeed I merely awaited the return of Vitoriano to sally forth: I having despatched him in that direction with a few Testaments as a kind of explorer, in order that from his report as to the disposition manifested by the people for purchasing, I might form a tolerably accurate opinion as to the number of copies which it might be necessary to carry with me. However I heard nothing of him for a fortnight, at the end of which period a letter was brought to me by a peasant, dated from the prison of Fuente La Higuera, a village eight leagues from Madrid, in the campina, or champaign of Alcala. This letter, written by Vitoriano, gave me to understand, that he had been already eight days imprisoned, and that unless I could find some means to extricate him there was every probability of his remaining in durance until he should perish with hunger, which he had no doubt would occur as soon as his money was exhausted and he was unable to purchase the necessaries of life at a great price. From what I afterwards learned it appeared that after passing the town of Alcala he had commenced distributing, and with considerable success. His entire stock consisted of sixty-one Testaments, twenty-five of which he sold without the least difficulty or interruption in the single village of Arganza, the poor labourers showering blessings on his head for providing them with such good books at an easy price. Not more than eighteen remained when he turned off the high road towards Fuente La Higuera. This place was already tolerably well known to him, he having visited it of old when he travelled the country in the capacity of a vendor of cacharros or earthen pans. He subsequently stated that he felt some misgiving whilst on the way, as the village had invariably enjoyed a bad reputation. On his arrival, after having put up his caballejo, or little pony, at a posada, he proceeded to the Alcalde for the purpose of demanding permission to sell books, which that dignitary immediately granted. He now entered a house and sold a copy, and likewise in a second. Emboldened by success he entered a third, which it appeared belonged to the barber-surgeon of the village. This personage, having just completed his dinner, was seated in an arm-chair within his doorway when Vitoriano made his appearance. He was a man of about thirty-five, of a savage, truculent countenance. On Vitoriano's offering him a Testament he took it into his hand to examine it; but no sooner did his eyes glance over the title-page than he burst into a loud laugh, exclaiming: 'Ha, ha, Don Jorge Borrow, the English heretic, we have encountered you at last. Glory to the Virgin and the Saints! We have long been expecting you here, and at length you have arrived.' He then enquired the price of the book, and on being told three reals, he flung down two, and rushed out of the house with the Testament in his hand. Vitoriano now became alarmed, and determined upon leaving the place as soon as possible. He therefore hurried back to the posada, and having paid for the barley which his pony had consumed, went into the stable, and placing the pack-saddle on the animal's back was about to lead it forth when the Alcalde of the village, the surgeon, and twelve other men, some of whom were armed with muskets, suddenly presented themselves. They instantly made Vitoriano prisoner, and, after seizing the books and laying an embargo on the pony, proceeded amidst much abuse to drag their captive to what they denominated their prison, a low damp apartment with a little grated window, where they locked him up and left him. At the expiration of three quarters of an hour they again appeared, and conducted him to the house of the curate, where they sat down in conclave, the curate who was a man stone-blind being president, whilst the sacristan officiated as secretary. The surgeon having stated his accusation against the prisoner, namely, that he had detected him in the fact of selling a version of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, the curate proceeded to examine Vitoriano, asking him his name and place of residence -- to which he replied that his name was Vitoriano Lopez, and that he was a native of Villa Seca in the Sagra of Toledo. The curate then demanded what religion he professed, and whether he was a Mahometan or freemason, and received for answer that he was a Roman Catholic. I must here state that Vitoriano, though sufficiently shrewd in his way, is a poor old labourer of sixty-four, and until that moment had never heard of Mahometans or freemasons. The curate becoming now incensed, called him a tunante or scoundrel, and added, 'You have sold your soul to a heretic; we have long been aware of your proceedings, and those of your master. You are the same Lopez, whom he last year rescued from the prison of Villallos, in the province of Avila. I sincerely hope that he will attempt to do the same thing here.' 'Yes, yes,' shouted the rest of the conclave, 'let him but venture here, and we will shed his heart's blood on our stones.' In this manner they went on for nearly half-an-hour; at last they broke up the meeting and conducted Vitoriano once more to his prison.

During his confinement he lived tolerably well, being in possession of money; his meals were sent him twice a day from the posada, where his pony remained in embargo. Once or twice he asked permission of the Alcalde, who visited him every night and morning with his armed guard, to purchase pen and paper, in order that he might write to Madrid; but this favour was peremptorily refused him, and all the inhabitants of the village were forbidden under terrible penalties to afford him the means of writing, or to convey any message from him beyond the precincts of the place, and two boys were stationed before the window of his cell for the purpose of watching everything which might be conveyed to him. It happened one day that Vitoriano, being in need of a pillow for his head, sent word to the people of the posada to send him his alforjas or saddle-bags, which they did. In these bags there chanced to be a kind of rope or, as it is called in Spanish, soga, with which he was in the habit of fastening his satchel to the pony's back. The urchins seeing an end of this rope hanging from the alforjas instantly ran to the Alcalde to give him information. Late at evening the Alcalde again visited the prisoner, at the head of his twelve men as usual. 'Buenas noches,' said the Alcalde. 'Buenas noches tenga usted,' replied Vitoriano. 'For what purpose did you send for the soga this afternoon?' demanded the functionary. 'I sent for no soga,' said the prisoner, 'I sent for my alforjas to serve as a pillow, and it was sent in them by chance.' 'Thou art a false malicious knave,' retorted the Alcalde, 'you intend to hang yourself, and by so doing ruin us all, as your death would be laid to our door. Give me the soga.' No greater insult can be offered to a Spaniard, than to tax him with an intention of committing suicide. Poor Vitoriano flew into a violent rage, and after calling the Alcalde several uncivil names, he pulled the soga from his bags, and flinging it at his head, told him to take it home and use it for his own neck.

At length the people of the posada took pity on the prisoner, perceiving that he was very harshly treated for no crime at all. They therefore determined to afford him an opportunity of informing his friends of his situation, and accordingly sent him a pen and inkhorn, concealed in a loaf of bread, and a piece of writing-paper, pretending that the latter was intended for cigars. So Vitoriano wrote the letter; but now ensued the difficulty of sending it to its destination, as no person in the village dare have carried it for any reward. The good people, however, persuaded a disbanded soldier from another village, who chanced to be at Fuente La Higuera in quest of work, to charge himself with it, promising that I would pay him well for his trouble. The man, watching his opportunity, received the letter from Vitoriano at the window; and it was he who, after travelling on foot all night, delivered it to me in safety at Madrid.

I was now relieved from my anxiety, and had no fears for the result. I instantly went to a friend who is in possession of large estates about Guadalajara, in which province Fuente La Higuera is situated, who furnished me with letters to the Civil Governor of Guadalajara and all the principal authorities, and at Antonio's request, I despatched him upon the errand of the prisoner's liberation. He first directed his course to Fuente La Higuera, where entering the Alcalde's house he boldly told him what he had come about. The Alcalde, expecting that I was at hand with an army of Englishmen for the purpose of rescuing the prisoner, became greatly alarmed, and instantly despatched his wife to summon his twelve men. However, on Antonio's assuring him that there was no intention of having recourse to violence, he became more tranquil. In a little time Antonio was summoned before the conclave and its blind sacerdotal president. They at first attempted to frighten him, by assuming a loud bullying tone and talking of the necessity of killing all strangers, and especially the detested Don Jorge and his dependents. Antonio, however, who is not a person apt to allow himself to be easily terrified, scoffed at their threats, and showing them his letters to the authorities of Guadalajara said that he should proceed there on the morrow and denounce their lawless conduct; adding that he was a Turkish subject, and that should they dare to offer him the slightest incivility he would write to the Sublime Porte, in comparison with whom the best kings in the world were but worms, and who would not fail to avenge the wrongs of any of his children, however distant, in a manner too terrible to be mentioned. He then returned to his posada. The conclave now proceeded to deliberate among themselves, and at last determined to despatch their prisoner on the morrow to Guadalajara, and deliver him into the hands of the Civil Governor.

Nevertheless, in order to keep up a semblance of authority, they that night placed two men armed at the door of the posada where Antonio was lodged, as if he himself were a prisoner; these men as often as the clock struck the hours, shouted, 'Ave Maria! Death to the heretics!' Early in the morning the Alcalde presented himself at the posada, but before entering he made an oration at the door to the people in the street saying amongst other things: 'Brethren, these are the fellows who have come to rob us of our religion.' He then went into Antonio's apartment, and after saluting him with great politeness said that as a royal or high mass was about to be celebrated that morning, he had come to invite him to go to church with him; whereupon Antonio, though by no means a mass-goer, rose and accompanied him, and remained two hours, as he told me, on his knees on the cold stones to his great discomfort, the eyes of the whole congregation being fixed upon him during the time.

After mass and breakfast, he departed for Guadalajara, Vitoriano having been already despatched there under a guard. On his arrival he presented his letters to the individuals for whom they were intended. The Civil Governor was convulsed with merriment on hearing Antonio's account of the adventure. Vitoriano was set at liberty and the books were placed in embargo at Guadalajara: the Governor stating, however, that though it was his duty to detain them at present, they should be sent to me whenever I chose to claim them. He moreover said that he would do his best to cause the authorities of Fuente La Higuera to be severely punished, as in the whole affair they had acted in a most cruel, tyrannical manner, for which they had no authority. Thus terminated this affair, one of those little accidents which chequer missionary life in Spain.

Vitoriano is now with me at Naval Carnero, as he begged me almost on his knees to be permitted to attend me and to be employed as before. At his imprisonment he smiles. Antonio and myself have lately been very successful at Madrid, having sold considerably upwards of a hundred Testaments and several Bibles. It is with deep gratitude I state that the poor of Madrid receive the Scripture with gladness: to the rich I offer it not, their hearts are hard. I am writing a journal of the present expedition.


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