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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. Andrew Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Feb.29th, 1836)
Journal continued

BADAJOZ, 10th January 1836.

The night had closed in before we reached Evora, and having taken leave of my friends, who kindly requested me to consider their house my home, myself and my little party proceeded to the Largo de San Francisco, where was a hostelry, which the muleteer informed me was the best in the town. We rode into the kitchen, at the extreme end of which was the stable, as is customary in Portugal. The house was kept by an aged gypsy-like female and her daughter, a fine blooming girl about eighteen years of age. The house was large; in the upper story was a very long room, like a granary, extending nearly the whole length of the house; the further end was partitioned off, and formed a tolerably comfortable chamber, but rather cold, the floor being of tiles, as was that of the large room in which the muleteers were accustomed to sleep on the furniture of their mules. Having supped I went to bed, and after having offered up my devotions to Him who had protected me through a dangerous journey, I slept soundly till the morning.

Evora is a walled town, but not regularly fortified, and could not sustain a siege of a day. It has five gates; before that to the south-west is the principal promenade of the inhabitants; the fair on St. John's Day is likewise held there. The houses are mostly very ancient; many of them are unoccupied. It contains about five thousand inhabitants, though twice that number would be by no means disproportionate to its size. The two principal edifices are the See or Bishop's Palace, and the Convent of San Francisco, opposite to which I had taken up my abode. A large barrack for cavalry stands on the right-hand side on entering the south-west gate. The adjacent country is uninteresting; but to the south-east, at the distance of six leagues, is to be seen a range of blue hills, the highest of which is called Serra Dorso. It is picturesquely beautiful, and contains within its recesses wolves and wild boars in numbers. About a league and a half on the other side of this hill is Estremoz.

I passed the day succeeding my arrival principally in examining the town and its environs, and as I strolled about I entered into conversation with various people that I met. Several of these were of the middle classes, shopkeepers and professional men; they were all Constitutionalists, or pretended to be so, but had very little to say, except a few commonplace remarks on the way of living of the friars, their hypocrisy and laziness. I endeavoured to obtain some information respecting the state of instruction at Evora, and from their replies was led to believe that it must be very low, for it seemed that there was neither book-shop nor school in the place. When I spoke of religion, they exhibited the utmost apathy, and making their bows left me as soon as possible. Having a letter of introduction to a person who kept a shop in the market-place, I called upon him, found him behind his counter and delivered it to him. I found that he had been persecuted much whilst the old system was in its vigour, and that he entertained a hearty aversion to it. I told him that the nurse of that system had been the ignorance of the people in religious matters, and that the surest means to prevent its return was to enlighten them in those points. I added that I had brought with me to Evora a small stock of Testaments and Bibles, which I wished to leave for sale in the hands of some respectable merchant, and that if he were desirous to lay the axe to the root of superstition and tyranny he could not do so more effectually than by undertaking the charge of these books. He declared his willingness to do so, and that same evening I sent him ten Testaments and a Bible, being half my stock.

I returned to the hostelry, and sat down on a log of wood on the hearth within the immense chimney in the common apartment. Two men were on their knees on the stones; before them was a large heap of pieces of iron, brass, and copper; they were assorting it and stowing it away in various large bags. They were Spanish contrabandistas, or smugglers of the lowest class, and earned a miserable livelihood by smuggling such rubbish from Portugal into Spain. Not a word proceeded from their lips, and when I addressed them in their native language they returned no answer but a kind of growl. They looked as dirty and rusty as the iron in which they trafficked. The woman of the house and her daughter were exceedingly civil, and coming near to me crouched down, asking various questions about England. A man dressed something like an English sailor, who sat on the other side of the hearth, confronting me, said: 'I hate the English, for they are not baptized, and have not the law' (meaning the law of God). I laughed, and told him, that according to the law of England no one who was not baptized could be buried in consecrated ground; whereupon he said; 'Then you are stricter than we.' He then asked: 'What is meant by the lion and the unicorn which I saw the other day on the coat of arms over the door of the English consul at St. Uves?' I said that they were the arms of England. 'Yes,' he replied; 'but what do they represent?' I said I did not know. 'Then,' said he, 'you do not know the story of your own house.' I answered: 'Suppose I were to tell you that they represented the lion of Belem (Bethlehem) and the horned monster of the flaming pit in combat as to which should obtain the mastery in England, what would you say?' He replied: 'I should say that you gave a fair answer.' This man and myself became great friends; he came from Palmella, not far from St. Uves; he had several mules and horses with him, and dealt in corn and barley.

I again walked out in the environs of the town. About half a mile from the southern wall is a stone fountain, where the muleteers and other people approaching the town are accustomed to water their cattle. I sat down by it, and there I remained about two hours, entering into discourse with every one who halted at the fountain; and I will here observe that during the time of my sojourn at Evora I repeated my visit every day, and remained there about the same time, and by following this plan I believe that I spoke to near two hundred of the children of Portugal upon matters connected with their eternal welfare. Of those whom I addressed I found very few had received any species of literary education; none of them had seen the Bible, and not more than half a dozen had the slightest knowledge of what the Holy Book consisted. I found that most of them were bigoted Romanists and Miguelites at heart. When they told me they were Christians, I denied the possibility of their being so, as they were ignorant of Christ and His commandments, and rested their hope of salvation in outward forms and superstitious observances which were the inventions of Satan, who wished to keep them in darkness in order that at last they might stumble into the pit which he had digged for them. I said repeatedly that the Pope whom they revered was a deceiver and the prime minister of Satan here on earth, and that the monks and friars, to whom they had been accustomed to confess themselves, and whose absence they so deplored, were his subordinate agents. When called upon for proofs, I invariably cited the ignorance of my hearers respecting the Scripture, and said that if their spiritual guides had been really ministers of Christ they would not have permitted their flocks to remain unacquainted with His word. Since this occasion I have been frequently surprised that I received no insult or ill-treatment from the people whose superstitions I was thus attacking, but I really experienced none; and am inclined to believe that the utter fearlessness which I displayed, trusting in the protection of the Almighty, may have been the cause. When threatened by danger the best policy is to fix your eye steadily upon it, and it will in general vanish like the morning mist before the sun; whereas if you quail before it, it becomes more imminent. I have fervent hope that the words which I uttered sunk deep into the hearts of some of my hearers, as I observed many of them depart musing and pensive. I occasionally distributed tracts among them, for although they themselves were unable to turn them to much account, I thought that by their means they might become of service at some future time, and might fall into the hands of others to whom they might be instruments of regeneration; as many a book which is cast on the waters is wafted to some remote shore, and there proves a blessing and a comfort to millions who are ignorant from whence it came.

The next day, which was Friday, I called at the house of my friend Azveto; I did not find him there, but was directed to the Episcopal Palace, in an apartment of which I found him writing with another gentleman, to whom he introduced me. It was the Governor of Evora, who welcomed me with every mark of kindness and affability. After some discourse we went out together to examine an ancient edifice, which was reported to have served in ancient times as a temple to Diana. Part of it was evidently of Roman architecture, for there was no mistaking the beautiful light pillars which supported a dome, under which the sacrifices to the most captivating and poetical divinity of the heathen Theocracy had probably been made; but the original space between the pillars had been filled up with rubbish of a modern date, and the rest of the building was apparently of the architecture of the latter end of the middle ages. It is situated at one end of the building which was once the seat of the Inquisition, and I was informed that before the erection of the present See, it served as the residence of the Bishop.

Within the See, where the Governor now resides, is a superb library, occupying an immense vaulted room, like the aisle of a cathedral, and in a side apartment is a collection of pictures by Portuguese artists, chiefly portraits, amongst which is that of Don Sebastian. I hope it did not do him justice; for it represents him in the shape of an awkward lad, of about eighteen, with staring eyes and a bloated booby face, and wearing a ruff round a short apoplectic neck.

I was shown several beautifully illuminated missals and other manuscripts, but the one which most arrested my attention, I scarcely need say why, bore the following title: --

Forma sive ordinatio Capelli illustrissimi et xtianissimi principis Henrici sexti Regis Anglie et Francie am diu Hibernie descipta serenissio principi Alfonso Regi Portugalie illustri per humilem servitorem sm Willm Sav Decanum capelli supradicti.

It seemed a voice from the olden times of my dear native land. This library and picture-gallery had been formed by one of the latter Bishops, a person of commendable learning and piety.

In the evening I dined with Don Joze d'Azveto and his brother; the latter soon left us, in order to attend to his military duties. My friend and myself had then much conversation of considerable interest. He lamented feelingly the deplorable state of ignorance in which his countrymen were at present buried, and said that his friend the Governor and himself were endeavouring to establish a school in the vicinity, and that they had made application to the Government for the use of an empty convent called the Espinhero, or thorn-tree, at about a league's distance, and that they had little doubt of their request being complied with. I had before told him who I was; and now, after expressing my joy at the plan which he had in contemplation, I urged him in the most pressing manner to use all his influence to cause the knowledge of the Scripture to be the basis of the education of the pupils in the intended school, and added that half of the Testaments and Bibles which I had brought with me to Evora were heartily at his service. He instantly gave me his hand, [and] said he accepted my offer with the greatest pleasure, and would do all in his power to further my views, which were in many respects his own. I now told him that I did not come to Portugal with the view of introducing the dogmas of any particular sect, but with the hope of introducing the Bible, which is the well-head of all that is useful and conducive to the happiness of society and individuals; that I cared not what people called themselves, provided they read the Scripture, for that where the Scripture was read neither priestcraft nor tyranny could long exist; and instanced my own country, the cause of whose freedom and happiness was the Bible, and that only, for that before the days of Tyndal it was the seat of ignorance, oppression, and cruelty, and that after the fall of ignorance, the oppression and cruelty soon ceased, for that the last persecutor of the Bible, the last upholder of ignorance -- the bloody and infamous Mary -- was the last tyrant who had sat on the throne of England. We did not part till the night was considerably advanced; and the next day I sent him the books, in the steadfast hope that a bright and glorious morning was about to rise upon the night which had so long cast its dreary shadow over the regions of the Alemtejo.

The day after this interesting event, which was Saturday, I had more conversation with the man from Palmella. I asked him if in his journeys he had never been attacked by robbers; he answered 'No,' for that he generally travelled in company with others; 'however,' said he, 'were I alone I should have little fear, for I am well protected.' I said that I supposed he carried arms with him. 'No other arms than this,' said he, and he pulled out a long, desperate-looking knife of English manufacture, like that with which every Portuguese peasant is provided, and which I should consider a far more efficient weapon than a dagger. 'But,' said he, 'I do not place much confidence in the knife.' I then enquired in what were his hopes of protection. 'In this,' he replied; and unbuttoning his waistcoat he showed me a small bag, attached to his neck by a silken string. 'In this bag is an oracam (or prayer), written by a person of power; and as long as I carry it about me no ill can befall me.' Curiosity is one of the leading features of my character, and I instantly said that to be allowed to read the prayer would give me great pleasure. 'Well,' he replied, 'you are my friend, and I would do for you what I would do for few others. I will show it you.' He then asked me for my penknife and proceeded to unrip the bag, and took out of it a large piece of paper closely folded up. I hurried with it to my chamber, and commenced the examination of it. It was scrawled over in a very illegible hand, and was moreover much stained with perspiration, so that I had considerable difficulty in making myself master of its contents; but at last I accomplished the following literal translation of the charm, which was written in bad Portuguese, but which struck me at the time as being the most remarkable composition I had ever seen.

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