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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Jany.8, 1838)
Dec. 25, 1837.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th instant, and also my friend Mr. Jackson's of the 8th. I should have replied ere this, had not my time been entirely occupied since my return from Toledo. The versions of St. Luke in Gitano and Basque have been committed to the press; and as the compositors are entirely ignorant of these languages a most strict surveillance is required, which I hope will be admitted as an excuse for having so long delayed to answer. I expect that within a fortnight my task will be completed.

You are aware that I have established in Madrid a shop, or despacho, as it is here called, for the sale of Testaments, and you are doubtless anxious to receive information as to its success. It succeeds well, nay, I may say very well, when all circumstances are taken into consideration; for it ought to be known that I have ventured upon this step in the very place which of all in Spain, affords the least chance of a successful issue, yet at the same time in the place where such a step was most needed, provided it be the imperative duty of Christians to make the Word of their Master known in the dark portions of the earth. It was a step fraught with difficulties of every kind. Madrid, it is true, is the capital of Spain; yet let no one for a moment suppose that being so it is consequently the largest, richest and most enlightened town in the Peninsula. In the first place, it is inferior in population to Valencia and Barcelona; in the second, misery and distress reign here to an extent unknown elsewhere; and so far from its being peculiarly enlightened, I believe that of all places in the Peninsula it is the least so. It is the centre of old, gloomy, bigoted Spain, and if there be one inveterate disgusting prejudice more prevalent and more cherished in one spot than another, it is here, in this heart of old, popish, anti-christian Spain, always difficult of access, but now peculiarly so, as it is scarcely possible to travel a league from its gates without being stript naked and murdered. Yet in this singular capital, in the midst of furious priests and Carlists, I have ventured upon establishing a shop which bears on its front in large letters: 'Despatch of the British and Foreign Bible Society.' To call the attention of the people to this establishment, I printed three thousand advertisements on paper, yellow, blue, and crimson, with which I almost covered the sides of the streets, and besides this inserted notices in all the journals and periodicals, employing also a man after the London fashion to parade the streets with a placard, to the astonishment of the populace.

The consequence has been that at present every person in Madrid, man, woman, and child, is aware of the existence of the establishment. You must feel convinced that such exertions would in London or in Paris have insured the sale of the whole edition of the New Testament within a few days. But hitherto I have had to contend with ignorance -- and such ignorance, with bigotry -- and such bigotry, and with great and terrible distress. So that since the opening of the establishment, which I hope the Lord will deign to bless, I have contrived to sell, and I may say that every copy sold has cost me an exertion, and no slight one, between 70 and 80 New Testaments {274} and 10 Bibles. You will doubtless wonder where I obtained the latter: in the shop of a bookseller who dared not sell them himself, but who had brought them secretly from Gibraltar. Of these Bibles there were two of the large edition, printed by William Clowes, 1828 (I would give my right hand for a thousand of them); these I sold (on the bookseller's account) for 70 reals or 17 shillings each, and the others, which were of the very common edition, for 7 shillings, which is, however, far too dear. My own Testament I sell for 10 reals, which every person allows to be unaccountably cheap, but I deem it best to be moderate, on account of the distress of the times. Permit me here to observe that this Testament has been allowed by people who have perused it, and with no friendly feeling, to be one of the most correct works that have ever issued from the press in Spain, and to be an exceedingly favourable specimen of typography and paper: and lucky it is for me that it is impossible to say anything against the edition. {275a} You will easily suppose that such an establishment in Madrid has caused a great sensation. The priests and bigots are teeming with malice and fury, which hitherto they have thought proper to exhibit only in words, as they know that all I do here is favoured by Mr. Villiers; {275b} but there is no attempt, however atrocious, which may not be expected from such people, and were it right and seemly for me, the most insignificant of worms, to make such a comparison, I would say that, like Paul at Ephesus, I am fighting with wild beasts.

I receive daily a great many applications for copies gratis, as it is here the generally received opinion that the Bible Society invariably gives away its publications; and I must confess that this opinion, however it may have originated, is very prejudicial to the sale of the Testament.

'Wait a while,' say many, 'and these books may be had for nothing. Friends of ours who have been in England have had them pressed upon them, and cart-loads have been given away in Cadiz and other places.' Such a conversation was related to me yesterday, by my excellent friend and coadjutor Doctor Usoz, who had just heard it in a coffee-house. Of this gentleman I cannot speak in too high terms of admiration; he is one of the most learned men in Spain, and is become in every point a Christian, according to the standard of the New Testament.

My projects are these. As soon as ever my Gospels are ready, I mount the saddle once more, entrusting the despacho and shopman to the care of Dr. Usoz. My course will be directed to Andalusia, a rich and tolerably enlightened province. Hitherto I have only had to deal with poverty, ignorance, and bigotry; but I hope with God's assistance to accomplish much at Seville and Cadiz. It is true that to arrive there I shall have to pass through La Mancha and the Morena district, which are entirely in the hands of the swarms of banditti whose general is Palillos (he has upwards of 9000 under his command), or through Estremadura, occupied at present by the hordes of Jara and Orejita. But I fear nothing, and trust that One above will preserve me. In the meantime let me beg and pray that you will send Bibles, Bibles, Bibles of all sizes and prices, and in all languages to Madrid. You cannot conceive how helpless and forlorn I feel, 400 miles from the sea-coast, on being begged to supply what I possess not. I received an order the other day for 20 Hebrew Bibles. I replied with tears in my eyes, 'I have nothing but the New Testament in Spanish.'

You wish to know my reasons for censuring the London edition of the Spanish Bible. I will state them in a few words: the utmost confusion reigns throughout, both as to accentuation and punctuation; words are frequently omitted or misspelt, and occasionally a short sentence is left out. All this is very annoying, but I was perhaps wrong in sending home 'so unmitigated a censure.' It may possibly occur that a Spanish edition, unless superintended by very zealous and careful people, may turn out yet more incorrect. Therefore I should not be sorry to see any number arrive at Madrid.

In reply to your observation that I am in a mistake in supposing that Bibles have been given away to any extent in the south of Spain, permit me to observe, and always with the greatest humility, that I never ventured to form any supposition respecting the matter. But the Vicar General of Valencia gave as a reason for publishing the circular in which he forbids the Bible, an advertisement inserted in the Commercial Diary of Valencia, to the effect, that a person was commissioned in that city to sell at cheap prices, and even to give away gratis to those who might not have money at their disposal, copies of the Spanish Bible printed in London; and on this passage his commentator observes, 'Fine generosity! Charity worthy of applause and gratitude!' The friend who brought me the newspaper stated at the time that the advertisement was calculated to do harm. It is certainly liable to much misconstruction.

And now, my dear Sir, having detailed my whereabouts, permit me to subscribe myself,

Yours most truly,


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