Letters of George Borrow to Bible Society HTML version

Letter 28: 15th December, 1835
To the Rev. A. Brandram
(ENDORSED: recd. Jan. 10, 1836)
AT length I departed for Mafra; the principal part of the way lay over steep and
savage hills, very dangerous for horses, and I had reason to repent, before I got
back to Cintra, that I had not mounted one of the sure-footed mules of the
country. I reached Mafra in safety; it is a large village, which has by degrees
sprung up in the vicinity of an immense building, originally intended to serve as a
convent and palace, and which next to the Escurial is the most magnificent
edifice in the Peninsula. In this building is to be seen the finest library in Portugal,
comprising books in all sciences and languages, and which, if not suited to the
place in which the building stands, which is almost a desert, is yet well suited to
the size and grandeur of the building which contains it. But here are now no
monks to take care of it; they have been driven forth, some of them to beg their
bread, some of them to serve under the banners of Don Carlos in Spain, and
many, as I have been informed, to prowl about as banditti. The place is now
abandoned to two or three menials, and exhibits an aspect of solitude and
desolation which is truly appalling. Whilst I was viewing the cloisters an
exceedingly fine and intelligent-looking lad came up to me, and asked (I suppose
in the hope of obtaining a trifle) if I would permit him to show me the village
church, which he told me was well worth seeing. I said 'No,' but that if he would
show me the village school, I should be much obliged to him. He looked at me
with astonishment, and assured me that there was nothing to be seen in the
school, at which not more than half a dozen boys were instructed, and that he
himself was one of the number; but I told him that he should show me no other
place, and he at last unwillingly attended me. On the way he said that the
schoolmaster was one of the brothers of the convent who had lately been
expelled, and that he was a very learned man and spoke French and Greek. We
went past a stone cross, and the boy bent and crossed himself with much
devotion: I mention this circumstance, as it was the first instance of devotion
which I had observed amongst the Portuguese since my arrival. When near the
house where the schoolmaster resided, he pointed it out to me and then hid
himself behind a wall, where he waited till I returned.
On stepping over the threshold I was confronted by a short stout man, between
sixty and seventy years of age, dressed in a blue jerkin and grey trousers,
without shirt or waistcoat. He looked at me sternly, and enquired in the French
language what was my pleasure. I apologised for intruding upon him, and stated
that, being informed that he occupied the situation of schoolmaster to the place, I
had come to pay my respects to him, and to beg to be informed respecting the
manner of instruction which he adopted. He said that whosoever told me that he