Letters of George Borrow to Bible Society by George Borrow - HTML preview

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Letter 8a: 20th January, 1834

To the Rev. J. Jowett
(ENDORSED: recd. Feb. 17th, 1834)
ST. PETERSBURG, 20TH JANUARY (old style), 1834.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, - I received in due time your epistle of the 2nd January, which gave me considerable pleasure, as it is exceedingly cheering in a foreign land to hear from one's friends and to know that one is not forgotten by them. I now proceed to give an account of my stewardship up to the present time, which account I humbly trust will afford perfect satisfaction to the Society which has honoured a frail creature like myself with a charge, the importance and difficulty of which I at present see much more clearly than I originally did.

My dear Sir, even when transcribing the Mandchou Scripture, I was far from being forgetful of the ulterior object of my mission, and therefore, as in duty bound, applied to Dr. Schmidt for advice and information, who was the person upon whom I mainly depended. But I found that gentleman so involved in a multiplicity of business that it was utterly impossible for him to afford me either; and though he was kind enough to promise to make inquiry, etc. etc., it is very probable that he forgot to fulfil his promise, for the result never came to my ears.

Thus circumstanced, and being very uneasy in my mind, I determined to take a bold step, and directly and without further feeling my way to petition the Government in my own name for permission to print the Mandchou Scriptures. Having communicated this determination to our beloved, sincere, and most truly Christian friend Mr. Swan (who has lately departed to his station in Siberia, shielded I trust by the arm of his Master), it met with his perfect approbation and cordial encouragement. I therefore drew up a petition, and presented it with my own hand to his Excellence Mr. Bludoff, Minister of the Interior. He having perused it, briefly answered, that he believed the matter did not lie with him, but that he would consider. I now began greatly to fear that the affair would not come to a favourable issue, but nevertheless prayed fervently to God, and confiding principally in Him, resolved to leave no human means untried which were within my reach.

Since residing here I have assiduously cultivated the friendship of the Honourable Mr. Bligh, His Britannic Majesty's plenipotentiary at the Court of Russia, who has shown me many condescending marks of kindness, and who is a person of superb talents, kind disposition, and of much piety. I therefore, on the evening of the day of my presenting the petition, called upon him, and being informed that he was out of town, and was not expected till late at night, I left a letter for him, in which I entreated him to make use of whatever influence his high official situation was calculated to give him with the Minister, towards procuring a favourable reply; assuring him that the Mandchou version was not intended for circulation nor calculated for circulation in any part of the Russian Empire, but in China and Chinese Tartary solely. I stated that I would call for an answer the next morning. I did so, and upon seeing Mr. Bligh, he was kind enough to say that if I desired it he would apply officially to the Minister, and exert all his influence in his official character in order to obtain the accomplishment of my views; but at the same time suggested that it would, perhaps, be as well at a private interview to beg it as a personal favour; and to this I instantly assented. He spoke twice to Mr. Bludoff upon the subject; and I shortly afterwards received a summons to appear at the Asiatic Department, whither I went, and found that Mr. Bludoff had been enquiring whether any person was to be found capable of being employed as Censor over the work, and that it had been resolved that Mr. Lipoftsoff, who is one of the clerks of the Asiatic Department, should be appointed Censor, and that I should be the Editor of the work, provided permission were granted to print it. I went away, and having received no intelligence during the space of a fortnight, I waited upon Mr. Bligh and begged that, provided it were not disagreeable to him, he would make a fresh application to the Minister. And, singularly enough, Mr. Bludoff was to dine at Mr. Bligh's that evening, and the latter amiable gentleman assured me that he would not let so excellent an opportunity slip of saying what was calculated to bring the matter to a conclusion. That same night I received a message, whereby I was requested to wait on Mr. Bludoff the next day, at one. I did so, and he received me in the most polite manner and said that the matter did not entirely depend upon him, but that it would be necessary to obtain the permission also of the Director of Worship, that however he would give me a letter to that Dignitary, which he doubted not would have some effect. I received the letter, and without losing any time repaired to the Director's Office and having delivered my letter, after waiting some time, was told to call at the Asiatic Department on the first day of the next week (the very day your letter arrived). On calling there I FOUND THAT PERMISSION HAD BEEN GRANTED TO PRINT THE MANDCHOU SCRIPTURE.

I hope that the honourable Committee and yourself will feel no displeasure at my presuming here to make a slight suggestion. We are under great obligations to Mr. Bligh; and I have certainly taken great liberties with the friendship with which he has thought proper to favour me, liberties which I should certainly not have felt myself authorised to have taken in any affair, the end of which was not the glorifying of God, as the aim of this certainly is. I therefore should wish to hint the expediency of a letter in which the thanks of the Committee be presented to Mr. Bligh for the interest which he has been pleased to take in this business, and for the trouble he has given himself. You are well aware that a handsome acknowledgement of a kindness received is never taken amiss; and as it is not impossible that Mr. Bligh, at another time and even at another place, may have an opportunity of promoting the excellent views of the Society, I cannot help thinking that such an acknowledgement would be unwise neither in respect to what has occurred or may occur hereafter.

In reply to your inquiries respecting my progress in the Mandchou language, I have to observe that for some time past I have taken lessons from a person who was twelve years in Pekin, and who speaks Mandchou and Chinese with fluency. I pay him about six shillings English for each lesson, which I grudge not, for the perfect acquirement of Mandchou is one of my most ardent wishes; as I am convinced that it is destined by providence to be the medium for the spiritual illumination of countless millions of Chinese and Tartars. At present I can transcribe the Manchou character with much greater facility and speed than I can the English. I can translate from it with tolerable facility, and have translated into it, for an exercise, the second homily of the Church of England "On the Misery of Man." I have likewise occasionally composed a few hymns in this language, the difficulty of which I am at present more fully aware of than when I left England. It is one of those deceitful tongues, the seeming simplicity of whose structure induces you to suppose, after applying to them for a month or two, that little more remains to be learned, but which, should you continue to study a year, as I have studied this, show themselves to you in their veritable colours, amazing you with their copiousness, puzzling with their idioms. In a word Mandchou is equally as difficult as Sanscrit or Persian, neither of which languages has ever been thoroughly acquired by any European, though at first acquaintance they flatter the student with their deceitful simplicity. I take the liberty of sending you a short original epigram in rhymed Mandchou, which if it answers no other purpose will afford you some idea of my running Mandchou hand, which, as I now write perpendicularly, is very different from that hand which I wrote previously to my coming hither. The epigram is upon the exploits of the Tartars.

[Here follow four upright lines in Manchu characters.]


Milites qui e Manjurico deserto exierunt, bellando silvas, campos et oppida Sinensis imperii captarunt.

Want of room obliges me to defer making a report upon Mr. Lipoftsoff's translation until my next letter, which will follow in a week or two; for I am unwilling in a matter of such immense importance to deliver a brief and hurried opinion. I have much to communicate also respecting the proper means to be pursued for the introduction and circulation of the volume, when printed, in China and Tartary. This information I have derived from the most authentic sources, namely from individuals who have spent many years in these countries, and whose acquaintance I have eagerly sought.

From England I have lately received a letter in which is an extract from an epistle of my brother in Mexico, amounting to this - that there is no native language in that country entitled to the appellation of THE Mexican language; that it is as incorrect to make use of such an expression, as it would be to say definitely THE European language; that setting aside the Spanish there are upwards of twenty languages and dialects spoken in Mexico, none of which are read (except perhaps here and there by a few individuals) but communicated by the mouth and only acquired by the ear; that my brother has shown the sheet of St. Luke's Gospel, which I transmitted to him, to various Spaniards and Indians, but it was unintelligible to them, the latter not recognising the words when read to them. I should therefore advise that the copies of this version be sent, if possible, to the place where the version was purchased, as it was probably made in the language or dialect of that place or neighbourhood, and where there is a chance of its being of some utility. Should my brother have survived the late dreadful commotions in Mexico, I have no doubt that he will be exceedingly happy to assist in flinging the rays of Scriptural light over that most benighted and miserable region; but having lately read in the Russian newspapers that the town of Guanajuato, where he resided, has been taken and sacked by the murderous bands of the insurgents, I have great reason to fear that his earthly course is terminated, for the former, incited by their demoniacal priests, in comparison with whom the Shamans of Manjuria and the lamas of Mongolia and China are innocent and holy, lay hold of every opportunity of shedding the blood of Protestants and foreigners.

I remain, Revd. and dear Sir, most truly yours, G. BORROW.