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

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Letter 91: 15th February, 1839

To the Rev. A. Brandram
(ENDORSED: recd. Feby. 25, 1839) MADRID, 16 CALLE SANTIAGO, 15 FEBRY. 1839.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, - In my last communication I stated that I had got everything in readiness to commence operations in the neighbourhood of Madrid, and indeed since that period I have entered upon my labours in reality, though unforeseen circumstances produced an unavoidable delay of several days. It is with feelings of gratitude to the Almighty that I now state that considerable success has attended my feeble efforts in the good cause. All the villages within the distance of four leagues to the east of Madrid have been visited, and Testaments to the number of nearly two hundred have been disposed of. It will be here necessary for me to inform you that these villages, for the most part, are very small; some of them consisting of not more than a dozen houses, or I should rather say miserable cabins. I left my servant Antonio to superintend matters in Madrid, and proceeded with Vitoriano, the peasant from Villa Seca, in the direction which I have already mentioned. We however soon parted company, and pursued different routes. The first village at which I made an attempt was Cobenna, about three leagues from Madrid. I was dressed in the fashion of the peasants of the neighbourhood of Segovia in Old Castile, namely, I had on my head a species of leather helmet, or MONTERA, with a jacket and trowsers of the same material. I had the appearance of a person between sixty and seventy years of age, and drove before me a BURRICO, with a sack of Testaments lying across its back. On nearing the village I met a genteel-looking young woman leading a little boy by the hand. As I was about to pass her with the customary salutation of 'VAYA USTED CON DIOS,' she stopped, and after looking at me for a moment she said; 'Uncle (TIO), what is that you have on your BURRICO? Is it soap?' I replied, 'Yes; it is soap to wash souls clean.' She demanded what I meant; whereupon I told her that I carried cheap and godly books for sale. On her requesting to see one, I produced a copy from my pocket, and handed it to her. She instantly commenced reading it with a loud voice, and continued so for at least ten minutes, occasionally exclaiming, 'QUE LECTURA TAN BONITA, QUE LECTURA TAN LINDA!' ('What beautiful, what charming reading!') At last, on my informing her that I was in a hurry and could not wait any longer, she said, 'True, true,' and asked me the price of the book. I told her 'But three REALS'; whereupon she said that though what I asked was very little, it was more than she could afford to give, as there was little or no money in those parts. I said I was sorry for it, but that I could not dispose of the book for less than I had demanded, and accordingly resuming it, wished her farewell and left her. I had not, however, proceeded thirty yards, when the boy came running behind me, shouting out of breath: 'Stop, uncle! the book, the book.' Upon overtaking me he delivered me the three REALS in copper, and seizing the Testament, ran back to her, who I suppose was his sister, flourishing the book over his head with great glee.

On arriving at the village I directed my steps to a house around the door of which I saw several persons gathered, chiefly women. On my displaying my books their curiosity was instantly aroused, and every person had speedily one in his hand, many reading aloud. However, after waiting nearly an hour I had disposed of but one copy, all complaining bitterly of the distress of the times and the almost total want of money, though at the same time they acknowledged that the books were wonderfully cheap and appeared to be very good and Christian-like. I was about to gather up my merchandise and depart, when on a sudden the curate of the place made his appearance. After having examined the books for some time with considerable attention, he asked me the price of a copy, and upon my informing him that it was three REALS, he replied that the binding was worth more, and that he was much afraid that I had stolen the books, and that it was perhaps his duty to send me to prison as a suspicious character. He added however that the books were good books, however they might be obtained, and concluded by purchasing and paying for two copies. The poor people no sooner heard their curate recommend the volumes, than all were eager to secure one, and hurried here and there for the purpose of procuring money, so that between twenty and thirty copies were sold almost in an instant. This adventure not only affords an instance of the power still possessed by the Spanish clergy over the minds of the people, but likewise that such influence is not always exerted in a manner favourable to the maintenance of ignorance and superstition.

In another village on my showing a Testament to a woman, she said that she had a child at school for whom she should like to purchase one, but that she must first know whether the book was calculated to be of service to him. She then went away, and presently returned with the schoolmaster, followed by all the children under his care. She then, showing the schoolmaster a book, enquired if it would answer for her son. The schoolmaster called her a simpleton for asking such a question, and said that he knew the book well, and there was not its equal in the world. (NO HAY OTRO EN EL MUNDO.) He instantly purchased five copies for his pupils, regretting that he had no more money, 'For in that case,' said he, 'I would buy the whole cargo.' Upon hearing this, the woman purchased four copies: namely, one for her son, another for her husband who was dead, a third for herself, and a fourth for her brother, whom, she said, she was expecting home that night from Madrid.

In this manner we proceeded, not however with uniform success. In some villages the people were so poor and needy that they had literally no money; even in these, however, we managed to dispose of a few copies in exchange for barley or refreshments. (Is this right?)
On entering one very small hamlet, Vitoriano was stopped by the curate, who on learning what he carried told him that unless he instantly departed, he would cause him to be imprisoned, and write to Madrid in order to give information of what was going on. The excursion lasted about eight days. Immediately after my return, I despatched Vitoriano to Caramanchel, a village at the distance of half a league from Madrid, the only one towards the west which had not been visited last year. He stayed there about an hour and disposed of twelve copies, and then returned, as he is exceedingly timid and was afraid of being met by the thieves who swarm on that road in the evening. In a few days I depart for Guadalajara and the villages of Alcarria.