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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To Mr. John Hasfeldt

MADRID, 29 April, 1837.

I received your letter of last January a few weeks since, and I sincerely hope that mine of February may have reached your hands. The principal reason of my taking up the pen at present is the long and adventurous journey which I am about to engage in, and which I am afraid will preclude the possibility of my writing to you for some months. In a few days I quit Madrid, it being my intention to visit the mountainous districts of Spain, particularly Galicia and the Basque Provinces, for the purpose of disposing of part of the edition of the New Testament in Spanish, lately completed at Madrid, under my superintendence. It was my intention to have set out sooner, but the state of the weather has been such that I thought it more prudent to defer my departure; during the last two months violent and bitter winds have blown without ceasing, before whose baneful influence animal and vegetable nature seems to have quailed. I was myself, during a fortnight, prostrated, body and limb, by a violent attack of la grippe, or, as it is styled in English, the 'influenza.' I am, however, by the blessing of the Almighty, perfectly recovered and enjoying excellent spirits, but multitudes less favoured have perished, especially the poor.

I expect to be absent on my journey about five months, when, if I am spared, not having fallen a prey to sickness, Carlists, banditti, or wild beasts, I shall return to Madrid for the purpose of carrying through the press my own translation of the Gospel of St. Luke in the language of the Spanish Gypsies, and also the same Gospel in Cantabrian or Basque, executed by the domestic physician of the Marquis of Salvatierra. What I am destined to do subsequently I know not; but I should wish to visit China by a land journey, either through Russia, or by Constantinople [and] Armenia as far as the Indian Gulf; as it is my opinion that, with God's permission, I might sow some seed by the way which might in time yield a good harvest.

Speaking of these matters reminds me that in your next letter (written in your usual choice Danish) you might send me some useful information respecting what might be done in Russia. Do you think permission might be obtained to print the New Testament in Russ, and that the Russian Hierarchy would be inclined to offer any serious opposition? I wish you would speak to Gretsch on the subject, to whom you will, as usual, present my kindest remembrances. I believe you are acquainted with Mrs. Biller, but if not, you would confer a great favour upon me by calling on her, and requesting her opinion, as she is better acquainted than perhaps any person in Russia with the course to be pursued if the attempt were to be hazarded. Perhaps at the same time you will enquire of her as to what has become of my translation into Russ of the second and third Homilies which I left with her, and whether license to print has been obtained. If not, I should wish that energetic steps be taken to that effect, and as you are an energetic person, and she may possibly have too many important affairs upon her hands, I pray you to take the matter up, but at all events to follow her advice; pray remember me to her likewise. The translation was corrected by that unfortunate man Nicanoff, who, though he lived and died a drunkard, was an excellent Russian scholar; therefore I think that no objection can reasonably be made in respect to style, though indeed the original is very plain and homely, being adapted to the most common understanding. I offer no apology for giving you all this trouble, as I am fully aware that you are at all times eagerly ready to perform anything which I may consider as a service rendered to myself.

Spain at present, I am sorry to say, is in a more distracted and convulsed situation than at any former period, and the prospect is gloomy in the extreme. The Queen's troops have sustained of late grievous defeats in the Basque provinces and Valencia, and a Carlist expedition of 18,000 men, whose object is to ravage Castile and to carry the war to the gates of Madrid, is shortly expected to pass the Ebro. From what I have seen and heard of the demoralised state of the Cristinos forces, I believe they will meet with no effectual resistance, and that Cristina and her daughter will be compelled to flee from the capital to Cadiz, or to some strong frontier town. Nevertheless, such is the nature of the Spanish people, that it is impossible to say whether the liberal cause (as it is called) be desperate or not, as neither one party nor the other knows how to improve an advantage. Twice might Don Carlos have marched to Madrid and seized the crown; and more than once his army has been at the mercy of the Cristinos; yet still is the affair undecided, and will perhaps continue so for years. The country is, as you may well conceive, in a most distracted state; robbery and murder are practised with impunity, and the roads are in such an insecure state that almost all communication has ceased between one town and another; yet I am going forth without the slightest fear, trusting in God; for if He is with me, who shall stand against me?

I have a servant, a person who has been a soldier for fifteen years, who will go with me for the purpose of attending to the horses and otherwise assisting me in my labours. His conduct on the journey is the only thing to which I look forward with uneasiness; for though he has some good points, yet in many respects a more atrocious fellow never existed. He is inordinately given to drink, and of so quarrelsome a disposition that he is almost constantly involved in some broil. Like most of his countrymen, he carries an exceedingly long knife, which he frequently unsheaths and brandishes in the faces of those who are unfortunate enough to awaken his choler. It is only a few days since that I rescued the maid-servant of the house from his grasp, whom otherwise he would undoubtedly have killed, and all because she too much burnt a red herring which he had given her to cook. You perhaps wonder that I retain a person of this description, but, bad as he is, he is the best servant I can obtain; he is very honest, a virtue which is rarely to be found in a Spanish servant, and I have no fear of his running away with the horses during the journey, after having perhaps knocked me on the head in some lone posada. He is moreover acquainted with every road, cross-road, river, and mountain in Spain, and is therefore a very suitable squire for an errant knight, like myself. On my arrival in Biscay I shall perhaps engage one of the uncorrupted Basque peasants, who has never left his native mountains and is utterly ignorant of the Spanish language, for I am told that they are exceedingly faithful and laborious. The best servant I ever had was the Tartar Mahmoud at St. Petersburg, and I have frequently repented that I did not bring him with me on my leaving Russia; but I was not then aware that I was about to visit this unfortunate country, where goodness of every description is so difficult to find.

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