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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. A. Brandram

(Endorsed: recd. Oct.7, 1839)
TANGIERS, September 4, 1839.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I have now been nearly one month in this place, and should certainly have written to you before had I possessed any secure means of despatching a letter; but there is no mail from Tangiers to any part of the world, so that when writing one is obliged to have recourse to the disagreeable necessity of confiding letters to individuals who chance to be going to Gibraltar to be put into the post there, who not unfrequently lose or forget them. One which I wrote for Spain has already miscarried, which circumstance makes me cautious. I will now relate the leading events which have occurred to me since my departure from Seville, observing however that I have kept a regular journal, which on the first opportunity I shall transmit for the satisfaction of my friends at home. You are already aware that I had determined to carry the Scripture in Spanish to the Christian families established on the sea-coast of Barbary, and more especially Tangiers, the Spanish language being in general use among them, whether Spaniards by birth or Genoese, French or English. To enable me to do this, having no copies of the sacred volume at Seville, I determined to avail myself of a certain number of Testaments in embargo at the custom-house of San Lucar a town at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, forming part of the stock seized by order of the Government and which I had been officially requested to remove from Spain. I started from Seville on the night of the 31st of July in one of the steamers which ply upon the Guadalquivir, arriving at San Lucar early in the morning. I shall now make an extract from my journal, relative to the Testaments.

'It will be as well here to curtail what relates to these books, otherwise the narrative might be considerably embarrassed. They consisted of a chest of Testaments in Spanish, and a small box of Saint Luke's Gospel in the Gitano or language of the Spanish Gypsies. I obtained them from the custom-house of San Lucar with a pass for that of Cadiz. At Cadiz I was occupied two days, and also a person whom I employed, in going through all the required formalities and in procuring the necessary papers. The expense was great, as money was demanded at every step I took, though I was simply complying with the orders of the Spanish Government in removing prohibited books from Spain. The farce did not end till after my arrival at Gibraltar, where I paid the Spanish consul a dollar for certifying on the back of the pass that the books had arrived, which pass I was obliged to send back to Cadiz. It is true that he never saw the books nor enquired about them; but he received the money, for which alone he seemed to be anxious.

'Whilst at the custom-house of San Lucar, I was asked one or two questions respecting the books contained in the chests; this afforded me some opportunity of speaking of the New Testament and the Bible Society. What I said excited attention, and presently all the officers and dependents of the house, great and small, were gathered around me, from the governor to the porter. As it was necessary to open the boxes to inspect their contents, we all proceeded to the courtyard where, holding a Testament in my hand, I recommenced my discourse. I scarcely know what I said, for I was much agitated and hurried away by my feelings, when I bethought me of the manner in which the Word of God was persecuted in the unhappy kingdom of Spain. My words however evidently made impression, and to my astonishment every person present pressed me for a copy. I sold several within the walls of the custom-house. The object, however, of most attention was the Gypsy Gospel, which was minutely examined amidst smiles and exclamations of surprise, some individual every now and then crying 'Cosas de los Ingleses.' A bystander asked me whether I could speak the Gitano language. I replied that I could not only speak it but write it, and instantly made a speech of about five minutes in the Gypsy tongue, which I had no sooner concluded than all clapped their hands, and simultaneously shouted, 'Cosas de los Ingleses! Cosas de los Ingleses!' I disposed of several Gypsy Gospels likewise, and having now settled the business which brought me to the custom-house, I saluted my new friends and departed with my books.

'I strolled from the inn to view the town. It was past noon, and the heat was exceedingly fierce . . . I became tired of gazing, and was retracing my steps, when I was accosted by two Gypsies, men who by some means had heard of my arrival. We exchanged some words in Gitano, but they appeared to be very ignorant of the language, and utterly unable to maintain a conversation in it. They were clamorous for a gabicote, or book, in Gypsy. I refused it them, saying that they could turn it to no profitable account; and learning that they could read, promised them each a Testament in Spanish. This offer, however, they refused with disdain, saying that they cared for nothing written in the language of the Busne or Gentiles. They then persisted in their demand, to which I at last yielded, being unable to resist their importunity; whereupon they accompanied me to the inn, and received what they so ardently desired.'

I arrived at Cadiz on the second day of August, when I waited upon Mr. Brackenbury, the British consul-general. His house, which is the corner one at the entrance of the Alameda or public walk, enjoys a noble prospect of the bay, and is very large and magnificent. I had of course long been acquainted with Mr. B. by reputation. I knew that for many years he had filled with advantage to his native country and with honour to himself the distinguished and highly responsible situation which he holds in Spain. I knew likewise that he was a good and pious Christian, and moreover the firm and enlightened friend of the Bible Society. Of all this I was aware; but I had never enjoyed the advantage of being personally acquainted with him. I saw him now indeed for the first time. I was much struck with his appearance; there is much dignity in his countenance, which is, however, softened by an expression of good humour truly captivating and engaging. His manner is frank and affable in the extreme. I am not going to enter into minute details of our interview, which was a very interesting one to myself. He knew already the leading parts of my history since my arrival in Spain, and made several comments thereon which displayed his intimate knowledge of the situation of Spain, as regards ecclesiastical matters, and the state of opinion respecting religious innovation. I was flattered to find that his ideas in many points accorded with my own, and we were both decidedly of opinion that, notwithstanding the great persecution and outcry which had lately been raised against the Gospel, the battle was by no means lost in Spain, and that we might yet hope to see the holy cause triumph.

During my stay at Cadiz I experienced every kind of hospitality from Mr. B. and his charming family. Upon my departure he supplied me with a letter of introduction to Mr. Hay, the British consul at Tangiers, which I have since learned was most flattering to myself and worded in the most energetic manner. I quitted Cadiz on the morning of Sunday, the 4th August, in the steamer Balear, arriving at Gibraltar on the evening of the same day. Nothing particular occurred to me during my stay at Gibraltar, where I engaged my passage on board a small trading vessel for Tangiers. We were detained by various causes until Thursday the 8th, when we sailed about noon, and assisted by a strong and favourable wind we reached the harbour of Tangiers before sunset. I was not permitted to go on shore that night, my passport and bill of health having first to be examined by the authorities. Early however on the following morning, Mr. Hay, who had received Mr. Brackenbury's letters of introduction, sent a Moorish soldier and his own servant to conduct me to his house, where he received me in the kindest manner. He had already procured me a comfortable lodging in the house of a Christian woman where I have remained ever since my arrival at Tangiers, constantly receiving every species of attention and civility from Mr. Hay.

Tangiers stands on the side of a rather steep hill which rises above the sea. It is a walled town, and towards the water is defended with batteries mounted with heavy cannon. The streets are very numerous and intersect each other in all directions; they are narrow and precipitous, and the houses low, small and mean. The principal mosque, or jamma [djmah] is rather a handsome edifice, and its tower, or sumah, which is built of bricks of various colours, presents a picturesque appearance when viewed from the sea: of its interior I can of course say little, as any Christian who should venture to intrude would be instantly cast forth and probably killed by the populace. About half way up the hill within the town there is a small market-place called in the language of the country soc. It is surrounded with little shops or booths, in which all kinds of dry fruits, such as dates, raisins, almonds, and walnuts are exposed for sale, and also honey, soap, sugar, and such other articles of grocery. These little shops are not in general kept by Moors, but by people from the country of Suz, who speak a different language from the Moors, and are of a different race, being a branch of the Berber stem; they are the grocers of Barbary and are, in comparison with the Moors, an honest, peaceable, and industrious people. The castle of the Governor stands at the northern extremity of Tangiers, on the top of a high eminence which towers above the town; its outer walls embrace a very large portion of ground, which is principally occupied by large edifices in the greatest dilapidation and decay. The castle itself when I visited it was undergoing repair, during the absence of the pasha who has since returned. All its inlets and outlets and also the greatest part of the apartments were choked up with ruins, rubbish, and mortar. The courtyard however is very fine, and is adorned with a fountain distilling limpid water, which is a rare spectacle in Tangiers where water is not in abundance. At each end of this court there is a hall of audience, highly magnificent in its way, with a roof of rich fretted work in the old Moorish taste, such as I have seen in the Alhambra of Granada, and in that truly fairy palace the Alcazar of Seville.

Tangiers contains a population of about twenty thousand souls, of which at least one-third are Jews: the Christian portion does not amount to about two hundred and fifty individuals, including the various consuls and their families. These latter gentlemen enjoy considerable authority in the town, so much so that in all disputes between Moors and Christians they alone are the judges, and their decision is law; they are a very respectable body, being without one exception exceedingly well-bred gentlemanly individuals, and several of them, particularly Mr Hay, the British consul-general, possessed of high literary attainments. They enjoy very large salaries from their respective governments, varying from ten to sixteen thousand dollars per annum, so that, as all the necessaries and indeed many of the luxuries of life may be obtained at a very cheap price at Tangiers, they live in a state of magnificence more akin to that of petty kings than consuls in general. The most perfect harmony exists amongst them, and if, at any time, any little dispute occur between two or three of them, the rest instantly interfere and arrange matters; and they are invariably united to a man against the slightest infringement of their privileges and immunities on the part of the Moorish Government, and a slight or injury to one is instantly resented by all. The duties of the greatest part of them are far from being onerous, more especially as each is provided with a vice-consul, who is also an exceedingly well-bred and very well-paid gentleman. They pass the greatest part of their time in cultivating their delicious gardens, which, surrounded by hedges of ksob, which is a species of gigantic reed, cover the hills in the vicinity of Tangiers. Their houses, which are palace-looking buildings in the European taste and which contrast strangely with the mean huts of the Moors, are all surmounted by a flag-staff, which on gala days displays the banner of its respective nation. It is curious then to gaze from the castle hill on the town below; twelve banners are streaming in the wind of the Levant, which blows here almost incessantly. One is the bloody flag of the Moor, the natural master of the soil; but the eleven are of foreigners and Nazarenes, and are emblems of distant and different people. There floats the meteor banner of England beside the dirty rags of Spain and Portugal. There the pride of Naples, of Sardinia, and Sweden. There the angry tricolor; and not far from it the most beautiful of all, the Dannebrog of Denmark, a white cross gleaming consolingly amidst blood and fire, as when first seen by Waldemar; neighbour to it the Austrian; there the Orange; and yonder, far remote from all, like the country, the stripes and stars of the United States. Tangiers, with a Moorish and Jewish population, is not the city either of the Moor or the Jew: it is that of the consuls.

Were it possible for any unprejudiced and rational being to doubt for a moment that the religion of Mahomet is a false one and uncalculated to promote the moral and political improvement of mankind, a slight glance at this Mahometan country would be sufficient to undeceive him. The Moors are the most fanatic of all Mahometans, and consider the Turks, Persians, and other followers of the Desert-Prophet, as seceders from the severe precepts of their religion. What is their state? They are governed in their towns and provinces by arbitrary despots called Pashas, who are accountable to no person but the Emperor, whose authority they frequently set at nought, and who is himself a despot of the most terrible description. Their lives, properties, and families are perfectly at the disposal of these men, who decapitate, imprison, plunder, and violate as their inclination tempts them. In this country it is every person's interest, however wealthy, to exhibit an appearance of abject poverty; as the suspicion of wealth instantly produces from the Sultan or Pasha a demand for some large sum, which must be forthwith paid or decapitation or torture are the severe alternatives. Here justice is indeed an empty name, the most atrocious criminals escaping unpunished if able to offer a bribe sufficient to tempt the cupidity of those whose duty it is to administer it. Here money is sought after with insatiable avidity by great and small, for its own sake, and not for what it will produce. It is piled up in the treasury or is buried underground, according to the situation in life of its possessors. In this land there is neither public peace or individual security; no one travels a league but at the extreme danger of his life, and war is continually raging not against foreign enemies but amongst the people themselves. The Sultan collects armies and marches against this or that province, which is sure to be in a state of rebellion; if successful, a thousand heads are borne before him on his return in ghastly triumph on the lances of his warriors; and if vanquished, his own not unfrequently blackens in the sun above the gate of some town or village. Here truth and good faith are utterly unknown, friendship exists not, nor kindly social intercourse; here pleasure is sought in the practice of abominations or in the chewing of noxious and intoxicating drugs; here men make a pomp and a parade of their infamy; and the cavalcade which escorts with jealous eye the wives and concubines of the potentate on a march or journey is also charged with the care of his zammins, the unfortunate youths who administer to his fouler passions. Such is the moral, and the political state of Morocco! Such are the fruits of a religion which is not that of the Bible.

The state of the Jews in this country is in every respect pitiable. It is one of great thraldom, yet is nevertheless far superior to what it was previous to the accession of the present monarch Muley Abd al Rahman to the throne; before that period they enjoyed scarcely any of the rights of human beings, and were plundered, beaten, and maimed by the Moslems at pleasure. As the Moors of Barbary are the most fanatic amongst the Mahometans, so are the Barbary Jews the most superstitious of their race, observing in the strictest manner the precepts of the Talmud and the sages. A great many singular ceremonies and usages are to be found amongst them which are not observed by the Hebrews in any other part of the world, more especially at their wedding festivals which are carried on during a period of eleven days, during which the house which is open to all comers exhibits a continual scene of dancing, feasting, and revelry of every description. There is much at these marriages which has served to remind me of those of the Gitanos of Spain at which I have been frequently present, especially the riot and waste practised; for like the Gitano, the Barbary Jew frequently spends during the days of his wedding not only all that he is possessed of, but becomes an embarrassed man for the rest of his life by the sums which he is compelled to borrow in order not to incur the opprobrium of appearing mean on so solemn an occasion. The books current among them are the Bible with the commentaries of the rabbins, parts of the Mischna, and the prayers for all the year; likewise, but more rare, the Zohar, which all speak of with unbounded veneration, though few pretend to understand it. I have not unfrequently seen at their synagogues the Bible Society's edition of the Psalms, and they appeared to prize it highly.

A market is held on every Thursday and Sunday morning beyond the walls of Tangiers in a place called the Soc de Barra or outward market-place. Thither repair the Moors from the country, bringing with them corn, fruit and other articles, the productions of their fields and gardens for the consumption of the town. It is my delight to visit this spot which is on the side of a hill, and sitting down on a stone to gaze. What a singular scene presents itself to the view: a wild confusion of men and horses, of donkeys and camels, of countenances of all hues, swarthy and black, livid and pale, of turbans of all dyes, white, green and red, of Jewish skull-caps with here and there an Andalusian hat, of haiks and gaberdines, of arrogant Moors, indifferent Europeans and cringing Hebrews, the latter walking barefooted in the place where the corn is sold, which the Moor says is sacred and unfit to be pressed by the sandals of the dog-Jew. What a hubbub of sounds: the unearthly cry of the enormous camels and the neighing, braying, and bleating of other quadrupeds, mingled with the discordant jabber of various and strange tongues. I have been in many singular places in the course of my existence, but certainly in none more so than the Soc de Barra of Tangiers.

There is much Spanish spoken in this place, especially amongst the Jews; it is also generally understood by the Europeans. The prevalent language however is the Arabic, or rather a dialect of it called by some Mograbbin. I was glad to find that I could make myself very well understood with the Arabic of the East, notwithstanding that it differs in many points from the Mograbbin, or language of the West. One thing has particularly struck me; namely that the wild people, who arrive from the far interior and who perhaps have never before seen a European, invariably understand me best, and frequently in conversation designate objects with the same words as myself, which however are not intelligible to the Moors of the coast. I am by this time exceedingly well known at Tangiers, indeed I take the best means of being so by entering into discourse with every person. I believe I am liked by the Moors and am certainly treated with much respect by the Jews amongst whom a report prevails that I am a Polish rabbi. Shortly after my arrival I was visited by the most wealthy Jewish merchant of Tangiers, who pressed me in the strongest manner to take up my abode at his house, assuring me [that I should live] at free cost, and be provided with all the comforts and luxuries which could be procured.

I will now proceed to relate what has been accomplished in the cause of the Gospel since my arrival at Tangiers. I will endeavour to be as concise as possible, reserving some particulars until a future occasion. For the first fortnight I accomplished nothing, and indeed attempted nothing in the way of distribution, being occupied in making myself acquainted with the place and studying the character of its inhabitants. I occasionally spoke to the Christians, who are principally Genoese and Spanish sailors and their families, on the subject of religion, but with the greatest caution, being unwilling to alarm the two or three friars who reside in what is called the Spanish convent, who are the only officiating Christian priests of the place, and who might have warned their flock against the heretic intruder. I found, as I had anticipated, great ignorance among these poor people respecting the most important points of the religion which they profess, and the Gospel of God they had never seen nor heard of. At the end of the above-mentioned period I employed a Jewish youth to carry the Testament to their houses and to offer it to them for sale. It is with humble gratitude to the Lord that I am able to state that considerable success crowned our efforts. The blessed Book is now in the hands of most of the Christians of Tangiers, from the lowest to the highest, from the fisherman to the consul. One dozen and a half were carried to Tetuan on speculation, a town about six leagues from hence; they will be offered to the Christians who reside there. Other two dozen are on their way to distant Mogadore. One individual, a tavern-keeper, has purchased Testaments to the number of thirty, which he says he has no doubt he can dispose of to the foreign sailors, who stop occasionally at his house. You will be surprised to hear that several amongst the Jews have purchased copies of the New Testament, with the intention as they state of improving themselves in Spanish, but I believe from curiosity. Whatever their motive be, let them but once read this holy Book and I have no fear of their remaining enemies of the Lamb whom their fathers crucified. I regret that only few can read the Spanish language, their law forbidding them to read or write any characters but the Hebrew. Had I the New Testament to offer them in the latter tongue, I believe that I could dispose of thousands of copies in Barbary. My work being completed here for the present, I now hasten back to Seville; pray write to me speedily directing to the usual place.

I remain, Revd and dear Sir,

Truly yours,


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