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- The Life of George Borrow - 20/90 -


himself, and having saved a few hundred dollars, he resigned his post. He appears soon to have discovered his mistake. First he indulged in an unfortunate speculation, by which he was a considerable loser, then cholera broke out. Without a thought of himself he turned nurse and doctor, witnessing terrible scenes of misery and death and ministering to the poor with an energy and humanity that earned for him the admiration of the whole township. Finally, finding himself in serious financial difficulties, he entered the service of the Colombian Mining Company, and was to be sent to Colombia "for the purpose of introducing the Mexican system of beneficiating there." It only remained for the agreement to be signed, when he was taken ill.

In the letter in which she tells George of their loss, Mrs Borrow expresses fear that he does "not live regular. When you find yourself low," she continues, "take a little wine, but not too much at one time; it will do you the more good; I find that by myself." Her solicitude for George's health is easily understandable. He is now her "only hope," as she pathetically tells him. "Do not grieve, my dear George," she proceeds tenderly, "I trust we shall all meet in heaven. Put a crape on your hat for some time."

George wrote immediately to acknowledge his mother's letter containing the news of John's death, which had given him "the severest stroke I ever experienced. It [the letter] quite stunned me, and since reading its contents I have done little else but moan and lament . . . O that our darling John had taken the advice which I gave him nearly three years since, to abandon that horrid country and return to England! . . . Would that I had died for him! for I loved him dearly, dearly." Borrow's affection for his bright and attractive brother is everywhere manifest in his writings. He never showed the least jealousy when his father held up his first-born as a model to the strange and incomprehensible younger son. His love for and admiration of John were genuine and deep-rooted. In the same letter he goes on to assure his mother that he was never better in his life, and that experience teaches him how to cure his disorders. "The 'Horrors,' for example. Whenever they come I must drink strong Port wine, and then they are stopped instantly. But do not think that I drink habitually, for you ought to know that I abhor drink. The 'Horrors' are brought on by weakness."

He goes on to reassure his mother as to the care he takes of himself, telling her that he has three meals a day, although, as a rule, dinner is a poor one, "for the Russians, in the first place, are very indifferent cooks, and the meat is very bad, as in fact are almost all the provisions." The fish is without taste, Russian salmon having less savour than English skate; the fowls are dry because no endeavour is made to fatten them, and the "mutton stinks worst than carrion, for they never cut the wool."

With great thought and tenderness he tells her that he wishes her "to keep a maid, for I do not like that you should live alone. Do not take one of the wretched girls of Norwich," he advises her, but rather the daughter of one of her tenants. "What am I working for here and saving money, unless it is for your comfort? for I assure you that to make you comfortable is my greatest happiness, almost my only one." Urging her to keep up her spirits and read much of the things that interest her, he concludes with a warning to her not to pay any debts contracted by John. {126a} The letter concludes with the postscript: "I have got the crape."

In July 1834 Borrow again changed his quarters, taking an unfurnished floor, {126b} at the same time hiring a Tartar servant named Mahmoud, {126c} "the best servant I ever had." {126d} The wages he paid this prince of body-servants was thirty shillings a month, out of which Mahmoud supplied himself "with food and everything." Borrow's reason for making this change in his lodgings was that he wanted more room than he had, and furnished apartments were very expensive. The actual furnishing was not a very costly matter to a man of Borrow's simple wants; for the expenditure of seven pounds he provided himself with all he required.

After the letter of 27th June/9th July the Bible Society received no further news of what was taking place in St Petersburg. Week after week passed without anything being heard of its Russian agent's movements or activities. On 25th September/7th October Mr Jowett wrote an extremely moderate letter beseeching Borrow to remember "the very lively interest" taken by the General Committee in the printing of the Manchu version of the New Testament; that people were asking, "What is Mr Borrow doing?" that the Committee stands between its agents and an eager public, desirous of knowing the trials and tribulations, the hopes and fears of those actively engaged in printing or disseminating the Scriptures. "You can have no difficulty," he continues, "in furnishing me with such monthly information as may satisfy the Committee that they are not expending a large sum of money in vain." There was also a request for information as to how "some critical difficulty has been surmounted by the translator, or editor, or both united, not to mention the advance already made in actual printing." On 1st/13th Oct. Borrow had written a brief letter giving an account of his disbursements during the journey to St Petersburg FIFTEEN MONTHS PREVIOUSLY; but he made no mention of what was taking place with regard to the printing.

The letter in which Borrow replied to Mr Jowett is probably the most remarkable he ever wrote. It presents him in a light that must have astonished those who had been so eager to ridicule his appointment as an agent of the Bible Society. The letter runs:-

ST PETERSBURG, 8th [20th] October 1834.

I have just received your most kind epistle, the perusal of which has given me both pain and pleasure--pain that from unavoidable circumstances I have been unable to gratify eager expectation, and pleasure that any individual should have been considerate enough to foresee my situation and to make allowance for it. The nature of my occupations during the last two months and a half has been such as would have entirely unfitted me for correspondence, had I been aware that it was necessary, which, on my sacred word, I was not. Now, and only now, when by the blessing of God I have surmounted all my troubles and difficulties, I will tell, and were I not a Christian I should be proud to tell, what I have been engaged upon and accomplished during the last ten weeks. I have been working in the printing-office, as a common compositor, between ten and thirteen hours every day during that period; the result of this is that St Matthew's Gospel, printed from such a copy as I believe nothing was ever printed from before, has been brought out in the Manchu language; two rude Esthonian peasants, who previously could barely compose with decency in a plain language which they spoke and were accustomed to, have received such instruction that with ease they can each compose at the rate of a sheet a day in the Manchu, perhaps the most difficult language for composition in the whole world. Considerable progress has also been made in St Mark's Gospel, and I will venture to promise, provided always the Almighty smiles upon the undertaking, that the entire work of which I have the superintendence will be published within eight months from the present time. Now, therefore, with the premise that I most unwillingly speak of myself and what I have done and suffered for some time past, all of which I wished to keep locked up in my own breast, I will give a regular and circumstantial account of my proceedings from the day when I received your letter, by which I was authorised by the Committee to bespeak paper, engage with a printer, and cause our type to be set in order.

My first care was to endeavour to make suitable arrangements for the obtaining of Chinese paper. Now those who reside in England, the most civilised and blessed of countries, where everything is to be obtained at a fair price, have not the slightest idea of the anxiety and difficulty which, in a country like this, harass the foreigner who has to disburse money not his own, if he wish that his employers be not shamefully and outrageously imposed upon. In my last epistle to you I stated that I had been asked 100 roubles per ream for such paper as we wanted. I likewise informed you that I believed that it was possible to procure it for 35 roubles, notwithstanding our Society had formerly paid 40 roubles for worse paper than the samples I was in possession of. Now I have always been of opinion that in the expending of money collected for sacred purposes, it behoves the agent to be extraordinarily circumspect and sparing. I therefore was determined, whatever trouble it might cost me, to procure for the Society unexceptionable paper at a yet more reasonable rate than 35 roubles. I was aware that an acquaintance of mine, a young Dane, was particularly intimate with one of the first printers of this city, who is accustomed to purchase vast quantities of paper every month for his various publications. I gave this young gentleman a specimen of the paper I required, and desired him (he was under obligations to me) to inquire of his friend, AS IF FROM CURIOSITY, the least possible sum per ream at which THE PRINTER HIMSELF (who from his immense demand for paper should necessarily obtain it cheaper than any one else) could expect to purchase the article in question. The answer I received within a day or two was 25 roubles. Upon hearing this I prevailed upon my acquaintance to endeavour to persuade his friend to bespeak the paper at 25 roubles, and to allow me, notwithstanding I was a perfect stranger, to have it at that price. All this was brought about. I was introduced to the printer, Mr Pluchard, by the Dane, Mr Hasfeldt, and between the former gentleman and myself a contract was made to the effect that by the end of October he should supply me with 450 reams of Chinese paper at 25 roubles per ream, the first delivery to be made on the 1st of August; for as my order given at an advanced period of the year, when all the paper manufactories were at full work towards the executing of orders already received, it was but natural that I should verify the old apophthegm, 'Last come, last served.' As no orders are attended to in Russia unless money be advanced upon them, I deposited in the hands of Mr Pluchard the sum of 2000 roubles, receiving his receipt for that amount.

Having arranged this most important matter to my satisfaction, I turned my attention to the printing process. I accepted the offer of Messrs Schultz & Beneze to compose and print the Manchu Testament at the rate of 25 roubles per sheet [of four pages], and caused our fount of type to be conveyed to their office. I wish to say here a few words respecting the state in which these types came into my possession. I found them in a kind of warehouse, or rather cellar. They had been originally confined in two cases; but these having burst, the type lay on the floor trampled amidst mud and filth. They were, moreover, not improved by having been immersed within the waters of the inundation of '27 [1824]. I caused them all to be collected and sent to their destination, where they were purified and arranged--a work of no small time and difficulty, at which I was obliged to assist. Not finding with the type what is called 'Durchschuss' by the printers here, consisting of leaden wedges of about six ounces weight each, which form the spaces between the lines, I ordered 120 pounds weight of those at a rouble a pound, being barely enough for three sheets. {129a} I had now to teach the compositors the Manchu alphabet, and to distinguish one character from another. This occupied a few days, at the end of which I gave them the commencement of St Matthew's Gospel to copy. They no sooner saw the work they were called upon to perform than there were loud murmurs of dissatisfaction, and . . . 'It is quite impossible to do the like,' was the cry--and no wonder. The original printed Gospel


The Life of George Borrow - 20/90

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