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

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Letter 70: 26th April, 1838

To Mr. William Hitchin
(ENDORSED: recd. May 8, 1838) MADRID, APRIL 26, 1838.

I TAKE the liberty of herewith sending you my accompt. It is still an imperfect one, the printing of the Basque Gospel not being charged for, which I have not defrayed, together with some other items, for which I am indebted to my printer, who, having lately fought a duel, is laid up with his wounds, and cannot for the present transact business. I have charged here, as you will observe, for the translation of the Basque St. Luke, an item, which I sent in, in a former accompt, but which appears to have been overlooked in your favour of Decr. 28, 1837. Independent of the Despatch, I have charged for the hire of a room as a general depot for the Scriptures. I am afraid to place my whole stock in the shop, owing to the continual persecution to which I am subjected, notwithstanding I enjoy powerful protection. Only last week a band of ALGUAZILS rushed into the premises and seized 25 copies of the Gospel of St. Luke in Rommany which I had advertised. To the present accompt of the money which I have disbursed, you will please to add the previous one of Novr. 1837, which I sent in, which will enable you to see how I stand.

I hope the Financial Committee and yourself will excuse any inaccuracies, supposing I have fallen into any, respecting money drawn, as I am much busied in negociations, and have lately been so harassed by vexatious proceedings, that I believe my mind has somewhat suffered. However, glory to God, the Society's shop is open AT MADRID, though we are not allowed to advertise and though it be but a small taper burning amongst Egyptian darkness. I hope it will serve as a watch-light and beacon to some.

I remain, etc.,



P.S. - The reprint of 1.5 sheet was owing to want of care on my part, in the translation. I therefore wish that the amount be struck out from my disbursements.
To the Rev. A. Brandram
(ENDORSED: recd. May 22, 1838) PRISON OF MADRID, MAY [11], 1838.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, - I write, as you see, from the prison of Madrid, in which I have been confined for the last ten days; for it has pleased God to confer upon me the highest of mortal honours, the privilege of bearing chains for His sake. I shall not at present detail the circumstances which occasioned my arrest, as doubtless the English newspapers will afford you all the particulars, nor shall I dwell upon the situation in which I find myself, but be content with observing that the violence, the preconcerted violence and atrocity, which have been practised towards me, will prove the means of accomplishing not what my enemies hoped and wished, the destruction and disgrace of the Bible-cause in Spain, but its triumph, its pure and sublime triumph.

Satan has, as usual, foiled himself, and his poisoned shafts have recoiled, and pierced his own bosom. You will have heard how gallantly Sir George Villiers has taken my part, and how he has made a national question of the persecution of which I have been the object, and which lately reached its climax. It will be necessary to tell you here that I have always communicated to him the steps which I intended to take in order to promote the circulation of the Bible, and they have uniformly met with his approbation; therefore you will easily conceive that in what I have done there has been no rashness nor anything which savoured of the arts of the charlatan: I have too much respect for the Gospel and my own character to have recourse to them.

I will now state a fact which speaks volumes as to the state of affairs at Madrid. My arch-enemy the Archbishop of Toledo, the Primate of Spain, wishes to give me the kiss of brotherly peace. He has caused a message to be conveyed to me in my dungeon, assuring me that he has had no share in causing my imprisonment, which he says was the work of the Civil Governor, who was incited to that step by the Jesuits. He adds that he is determined to seek out my persecutors amongst the clergy and to have them punished, and that when I leave prison he shall be happy to co-operate with me in the dissemination of the Gospel!!!

I cannot write much now, for I am not well, having been bled and blistered. I must, however, devote a few lines to another subject, but not one of rejoicing or Christian exultation. Marin arrived just after my arrest, and visited me in prison, and there favoured me with a scene of despair, abject despair, which nearly turned my brain. I despised the creature, God forgive me, but I pitied him; for he was without money and expected every moment to be seized like myself and incarcerated, and he is by no means anxious to be invested with the honours of martyrdom. I have offered him some relief - what else could I do? He seems partly insane. I reap, as I expected, the full credit of his conversion. The Bishop of Cordova got up the other day in council, and said that I was a dangerous pestilent person, who under the pretence of selling the Scriptures went about making converts, and moreover employed subordinates, for the purpose of deluding weak and silly people into separation from the Mother Church.

Of this man I have said in a letter to Mr. Rule, not yet sent: 'I hope that Marin's history will prove a warning to many of our friends, and tend to a certain extent to sober down the desire for doing what is called at home SMART THINGS, many of which terminate in a manner very different from the original expectations of the parties concerned. To do a great and a good thing requires a heart replete with the love of Christ and a head cooled by experience and knowledge of the world; both of which desiderata I consider incompatible with a wish to shine.'

It is probable that I shall leave prison to-morrow. Pray write to my mother and beg her not to be alarmed.


I remain, Revd. and dear Sir,


Yours faithfully,

GEORGE BORROW. (ENDORSED: recd. May 23, 1838) MADRID, May 13 [1838].

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, - Post is just about to start, but I am compelled to write a few words. The Bible cause has triumphed in Spain. Whatever I do in future connected with the Gospel is to have the sanction of the Government, who have expressed a desire to co-operate with the Bible Society towards the civilization of the country.

I left prison yesterday, and this morning was sent for to the British Embassy, where Sir George entered into an infinity of details which I cannot state at present. Sir George has commanded me, however, to write to the following effect:-

Mr. Graydon must leave Spain, or the Bible Society must publicly disavow that his proceedings receive their encouragement, unless they wish to see the Sacred Book, which it is their object to distribute, brought into universal odium and contempt. He has lately been to Malaga, and has there played precisely the same part which he acted last year at Valencia, with the addition that in printed writings he has insulted the Spanish Government in the most inexcusable manner. A formal complaint of his conduct has been sent up from Malaga, and a copy of one of his writings. Sir George blushed when he saw it, and informed Count Ofalia that any steps which might be taken towards punishing the author would receive no impediment from him.

I shall not make any observation on this matter further than stating that I have never had any other opinion of Mr. Graydon than that he is insane - insane as the person who for the sake of warming his own hands would set a street on fire. Sir George said to-day that he, Graydon, was the cause of my harmless shop being closed at Madrid and also of my imprisonment. The Society will of course communicate with Sir George on the subject: I wash my hands of it.

I remain, dear Sir, most truly yours,

GEORGE BORROW. (ENDORSED: recd. May 28, 1838) MADRID, May 17, 1838.

EXCUSE the haste in which my last letter was written; it doubtless seemed somewhat incoherent, I will now endeavour to be more explicit. Moreover, since sending it, I have had an interview of nearly two hours with Count Ofalia, and have much that is new to communicate. But previously to stating what is likely to afford pleasure and satisfaction, I must proceed to disburden myself of what I heard with the greatest pain, and which I communicate with sorrow and reluctance.

Sir George Villiers and Mr. Southern, first Secretary of Legation, were the persons who first informed me of what has taken place at Malaga. It appears that Mr. Graydon arrived there a short time before my imprisonment at Madrid; and instead of endeavouring to circulate the Scriptures in a quiet and reasonable manner, such as becomes a gentleman and a Christian, and such as had been recommended to me previous to my late long journey in the north of Spain and which I have always endeavoured to follow, he had recourse to means the most improper and disreputable, very similar to those which he is said to have followed in all the other towns which he has visited. In order to excite curiosity and cause a sensation, he published advertisements and handbills replete with the lowest abuse of the Spanish clergy and Government, and containing his own private opinions concerning religion. However, not contented with this, he had the cruelty
- I will not call it baseness - to speak of MYSELF, with, whom he asserted that he was co-operating in every point, and that all he was doing was under the sanction of the Bible Society.

Intelligence of these proceedings was of course sent to Madrid, with one of the handbills, which I have not seen, but of which Mr. Southern, a literary and accomplished gentleman, has said that its abusive virulence is only to be equalled by its stupidity and folly. Sir George Villiers, though very unwell, was deeply engaged in my affair, and exchanging official notes with the Government. He had just informed Count Ofalia that unless full and summary satisfaction were afforded me, he should demand his passports, and write to the commanders of all the English ships of war engaged in furnishing assistance to Spain, commanding them to suspend operations forthwith. Suddenly Count Ofalia arrived at the Embassy, and flinging down on the table one of Graydon's handbills, exclaimed: 'Peruse that, and then tell me, as a Cavalier and a gentleman, and the Envoy of a powerful and enlightened nation, whether you can any longer uphold the cause of your friend in prison, and persist in saying that he has been cruelly and unjustly treated. You see that he is in the closest connexion with an individual whose conduct every civilised man must reprobate, it being a most flagrant breach of common decency and order.'

This unexpected incident occurring at such a critical moment almost stunned Sir George; but, recovering himself, he denied in the most positive manner that I had any connexion with Graydon, and asserted that he did not believe the latter was an Agent of the Bible Society, and that at all events he was quite sure that he had acted in this case without its knowledge and concurrence, and that it would be willing to declare so in the clearest and most satisfactory manner.

Count Ofalia, finding Sir George so positive, said that since I had such a voucher he could not reasonably doubt my innocence; and that with respect to the Society he supposed that it too well understood its own interest to trust its affairs to a person whose conduct was calculated to bring odium and misfortune on the fairest and most promising cause. But Sir George has subsequently assured me that, but for this unfortunate occurrence, he could have made much better terms for me with the Spanish Government than from that period he thought it politic to demand.

I will now state one circumstance, and the Lord knows how true it is. It was my prayer night and morning in my dungeon that I might hear of no fresh outbreak of this man, whose character I was but too well acquainted with, as I think you will concede when you call to mind my letter written immediately after I had received intelligence that he was on the way to Andalusia. He has up to the present moment been the 'Evil Genius' of the Bible cause in Spain and of myself, and has so chosen his means and moments of operation that he has been almost invariably successful in shaking to the ground every feasible plan which my friends and myself have devised for the propagation of the Gospel in a STEADY AND PERMANENT MANNER. But I wish not to dwell upon this subject, and shall only observe that his insane career (for in charity I believe him to be insane) must be instantly brought to a termination. Sir George has already written him a letter, in which I believe he advises him to quit the country. Mr. Southern the other day made the following observation, which I shall ever remember:-

'Sir George Villiers up to the present moment has been disposed to render you (meaning myself) every assistance, and especially the Bible Society, which he looks upon as the most philanthropic institution which the world has ever known. Take care, however, that he be not wearied and disgusted. He must not be involved in such affairs as this of Malaga, and it must not be expected that he is to put his lance in rest in defence of every person who visits Spain to insult the authorities, and who, after having received merited reproof and correction, writes home to his friends that he is a martyr in the holy cause of religion.'

I may perhaps give offence by what, I have written. I shall be grieved if it prove so. But I have had no other resource, and I have stated the truth and what my conscience commanded me; and permit me here to observe, that if any one in the world has a right to be thus free it is myself, who have ventured and suffered much in Spain.

Excuse me now for speaking one moment of myself. Notwithstanding I have travelled very extensively in this strange country, and have established many depots of Testaments most of which are flourishing (I have just received intelligence from my correspondent at Valladolid that forty copies have been sold at Burgos, the heart of Old Castile), not one word of complaint has been transmitted to the Government; and though I have suffered so much persecution in Madrid, I have been but paying (one of my sources of information is Count Ofalia himself) the account of others who seem to have been reckless as to how much woe and misery they might heap on my head, provided they could play the part with impunity which their own distempered desires dictated.

Now to pleasanter subjects. Count Ofalia has given me very excellent advice, which it will be well if the Society permit me to follow. Amongst other things he said:- 'Be very cautious for some time, and even suspend the sale of the Gospel in Madrid, and devote all your energies to make friends amongst the clergy, very many of whom are disposed to favour your enterprise. It would not be prudent at present for the Government to interfere with ecclesiastical matters, as the war is not yet terminated, but much can be done in a quiet way by yourself.'

I must here state that there is a board of ecclesiastics at present sitting, occupied in examining the Spanish Bible as printed by the Society. It has been denounced by the Jesuits as not being a faithful edition of Father Scio's version, independent of the omission of the Apocrypha; but hitherto the opinion of the board has been decidedly in our favour, and the Bishop of Vich has, moreover, declared that it probably will be expedient to co-operate with the Society in printing cheap editions of the Scripture for the use of the people, as daily experience shows that the old system cannot be carried on and that the sacred writings must be thrown open.

The chief difficulty to settle will be the Apocrypha; but I have authorised a friend to state that the Society is disposed to make every possible concession, and to go so far as to relinquish the Old Testament entirely and to content itself with circulating the New. Perhaps I went too far in this advance; but I believe a similar concession has been made in the case of Ireland, and I feared to lose all by aiming at too much. However flattering affairs may appear at present, I am well aware that a herculean labour is to be surmounted before matters can be placed on a safe footing in Spain. Prudence, coolness and firmness are at this moment particularly necessary; and let it never for a moment be supposed that religious instruction and the knowledge of genuine Christianity can be introduced into Spain by scurrilous handbills and the low arts of the mountebank.
A split with Rome will very shortly ensue, by which I mean that no attention will be paid to Bulls, against which several of the principal ecclesiastics have spoken; with these puissant auxiliaries we must act in concert.

Allow me in conclusion to state a beautiful piece of conduct of Sir George Villiers. I have commissioned one of the Bishops to request for me an interview with the Archbishop of Toledo. Sir George on hearing this said:- 'Tell the Archbishop that I also am anxious for the favour of an interview, in order that I may assist in clearing up any doubt, which he may still entertain, respecting the intentions of the Bible Society; he has only to state the day, and I will wait upon him.'


P.S. - I yesterday transmitted you a Spanish newspaper in which I have published an advertisement, disclaiming in the name of the Bible Society any writings which may have been circulated tending to lower the authorities, civil and ecclesiastic, in the eyes of the people, and denying that it is its intention or wish to make proselytes from the Catholic form of worship. I took this step by advice, I had likewise a particular reason of MY OWN.

Marin is still here looking out for some secular employ, but he is continually haunting me. He tells me that he is preparing an accounts of all his dealings with G [Graydon] and R [Rule], in which he details the promises made him to induce him to sign a document purporting to be a separation from the Roman Church. He says that he was abandoned because he refused to preach publicly against the Chapter of Valencia, which step would have insured him a dungeon. This may be true or false, but I have taken my precautions.


A rumour having been spread that some individuals, calling themselves agents of the British and Foreign Bible Society, under the pretext of circulating copies of the Holy Scriptures, have traversed several towns on the eastern and western coasts of Spain, and have published writings in which the respect due to the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Spain has not been observed, but on the contrary an intention has evidently been manifested in them to disparage them in the eyes of the population of those parts, I hasten to make the following public Declaration:

That such individuals - if it be certain that there are such - have in this respect acted upon their own responsibility, without permission and even in direct opposition to the intentions of the Bible Society, inasmuch as on the principles of the New Testament similar attempts are to be reprobated and regarded with horror, being in direct opposition to the express commands of the Saviour and His Apostles, who in their addresses and writings have on various occasions exhorted the faithful to shew respect and obedience to their masters and superiors, even when they were heretics or idolaters.

And as it has been stated that certain persons, under pretext of being agents of the British and Foreign Bible Society, have shown zeal in persuading, and have actually in some cases persuaded, various individuals to sign documents purporting to be declarations of separation from the Catholic Faith - I herewith publicly declare that the British and Foreign Bible Society has no connection with such persons; and should there be any such, it is not disposed either to confirm or to approve their proceedings, but on the contrary is desirous of stating in the most energetic and solemn manner that it disavows and rejects all connexion or intercourse with them.

The British and Foreign Bible Society is composed of individuals belonging to all sects, in which those are divided who follow the faith of Jesus Christ, amongst whom are seen co-operating for one grand and holy object, followers of the Apostles, Romans, and members of the Greek and [of the] English Church, whose design is the propagation of the word of Christ in all countries, separating wholly from the forms of discipline of the Church, [which are] matters of secondary consideration, which for a long time have filled the world with bloodshed and calamity, and have tended to keep up in the hearts of Christians unhappy and malignant feuds. Far from being desirous of making proselytes among those professing the Catholic worship, the Bible Society is at all times disposed to hold out the hand of Christian fraternity to the clergy of Spain and to co-operate with those who believe, as the Catholic clergy assuredly do, 'that all shall be saved, who, believing in Jesus Christ, show it by their good works.'

Madrid MAY 12, 1838,
Office of the Bible Society,
Calle del Principe.
(Signed) GEORGE BORROW, Sole authorised Agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Spain.