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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Sept.11, 1837)
19th Aug. .

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I left Corunna about ten days since for this town, travelling with the courier or weekly post, who was escorted by a strong party of soldiers in consequence of the distracted state of the country. Nothing particular worth relating occurred during the journey, which occupied a day and a half, though the distance is barely ten leagues. Santiago, or Saint James, is, as you are aware, the capital of Galicia, and the residence of the Metropolitan. It is, or was, the most celebrated resort for pilgrims in the whole world, with the exception of Jerusalem, as it is said to contain the bones of Saint James the Elder, the Child of the Thunder, who according to the legend of the Roman Church first preached the Gospel in Spain. The cathedral, though built at various periods and by no means uniform, is a majestic, venerable edifice, in every respect calculated to excite awe and admiration; indeed it is almost impossible to walk its long dusky aisles and hear the solemn music and the noble chanting and inhale the incense of the mighty censers, which are at times swung so high by machinery that they smite the vaulted roof, whilst gigantic tapers glitter here and there amongst the gloom from the shrine of many a saint, before which the worshippers are kneeling, breathing forth their prayers and petitions for help, love, and mercy, and entertain a doubt that we are treading the floor of a house where God delighteth to dwell. Yet the Lord is distant from that house. He heareth not, He seeth not: or, if He hear and see, it is with anger. What availeth that solemn music, that noble chanting, that incense of sweet savour? What availeth kneeling before that grand altar of silver, surmounted by that figure with its silver hat and breastplate, the emblem of one who, although an Apostle and Confessor, was at best an unprofitable servant? What availeth hoping for remission of sin by trusting in the merits of him who possessed none, or by paying homage to others who were born and nurtured in sin, and who alone by the exercise of a lively faith granted from above could hope to preserve themselves from the wrath of the Almighty? Yet such acts and formalities constitute what is termed religion at Compostella, where, perhaps, God and His will are less known and respected than at Pekin or amid the wildernesses where graze the coursers of the Mongol and the Mandchou. Perhaps there is no part of Spain where the Romish religion is so cherished as throughout Galicia. In no part of Spain are the precepts and ordinances of that Church, especially fasting and confession, so strictly observed, and its ministers regarded with so much respect and deference. The natural conclusion therefore would be that, if the religion of Rome be the same as that founded by Christ, the example of the Saviour is more closely followed, and the savage and furious passions more bridled, bloodshed and rapine less frequent, unchastity and intemperance less apparent, and the minds of the people more enlightened and free from the mists of superstition in Galicia than in other provinces.

What is the fact? Almost every road is teeming with banditti, who under the name of Carlists plunder friend and foe, and to robbery join cruelty so atrociously horrible that indignation at the crime is frequently lost in wonder; for the Galician robbers are seldom satisfied with booty, and unlike their brethren in other parts generally mutilate or assassinate those who are so unfortunate as to fall in their hands; prostitution is carried on to an enormous extent, and although loathsome concustant [sic] diseases stare the stranger in the face in the street, in the market-place, in the church, and at the fountain; 'Drunken as a Galician' is a proverb; and superstitions forgotten, abandoned in the rest of Spain, are clung to here with surprising pertinacity, the clergy exerting themselves to uphold them by carrying on a very extensive sale in charms, verifying the old saying, 'Witches are found where friars abound.'

An unhappy man, whilst collecting vipers amongst the hills, which he was in the practice of selling to the apothecaries, was lately met near Orense by some of these monsters. Having plundered and stripped him, they tied his hands behind him and thrust his head into the sack, which contained several of these horrible reptiles alive! They then fastened the sack at the mouth round his neck, and having feasted their ears for a time with his cries, they abandoned him to his fate. The poor wretch, stung by the vipers in the face and eyes, presently became mad and ran through several villages, till he fell dead.

I am now in the heart of this strange country and people. It has pleased the Lord to bless my humble endeavours more than I had reason to expect; since my arrival Santiago between thirty and forty copies of the New Testament have been despatched. The bookseller of the place, Rey Romero, a venerable man of seventy, very wealthy and respected, has taken up the cause with an enthusiasm which doubtless emanates from on high, losing no opportunity of recommending the work to those who enter his shop, which is very splendid and commodious.

In many instances, when the peasants of the neighbourhood have come with the intention of purchasing some of the foolish popular story-books of Spain, he has persuaded them in lieu thereof to carry home Testaments, assuring them that it was not only a better and more instructive, but even a far more entertaining book than those they came in quest of. He has taken a great fancy to me, and comes to visit me every evening, when he accompanies me in my walks about the town and environs. Every one who is aware how rare it is to meet with friendship and cordiality in Spain will easily conceive my joy at finding such a coadjutor, and I have no doubt that when I am absent he will exert himself as much, and I hope as effectually, as now that I am present.

I leave Saint James to-morrow for Pontevedra and Vigo, carrying with me some Testaments which I hope to dispose of, notwithstanding there are no booksellers in those places. I shall then return to Corunna, either by Compostella or by some other route. I trust the Lord will preserve me in this journey as He has done in others. From Corunna I propose to travel through the mountains to Oviedo in the Asturias, provided that town be not speedily in the hands of the factious. By the time these lines reach you, you will doubtless have heard of the irruption of a part of the Pretender's hordes into Old Castile; they have carried everything before them, and have sacked and taken possession of the city of Segovia, distant only one day's march from Madrid. From the aspect of things I should say that the miseries of this land, far from having reached their climax, are but commencing. Yet let no one mourn for Egypt: she is but paying the price of her sorceries and superstitions.


P.S. -- At San Sebastian I shall need Davison's Turkish Grammar, which you have in the Library. It will be of assistance to me in editing the Basque St. Luke; the two languages are surprisingly connected.

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