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- The Life of George Borrow - 30/90 -


Manchester, probably for reasons of economy, indifferent to the fact that she was utterly unseaworthy, and that most of the other passengers had abandoned her. During his enforced stay in Lisbon, whilst the ship was being patched up, Borrow saw Mr Wilby and made enquiry into the state of the Society's affairs in Portugal. Many changes had taken place and the country was in a distracted state.

After a week's delay at Lisbon the Manchester continued her voyage to Cadiz, where she arrived without further mishap on the 21st. During this voyage a fellow passenger with Borrow was the Marques de Santa Coloma. "According to the expression of the Marques, when they stepped on to the quay at Cadiz, Borrow looked round, saw some Gitanos lounging there, said something that the Marques could not understand, and immediately 'that man became une grappe de Gitanos.' They hung round his neck, clung to his knees, seized his hands, kissed his feet, so that the Marques hardly liked to join his comrade again after such close embraces by so dirty a company." {186a}

Borrow now found himself in his allotted field--unhappy, miserable, distracted Spain. Gomez, the Carlist leader, had been sweeping through Estremadura like a pestilence, and Borrow fully expected to find Seville occupied by his banditti; but Carlists possessed no terrors for him. Unless he could do something to heal the spiritual wounds of the wretched country, he assured Mr Brandram, he would never again return to England.

On 1st December Mr Brandram wrote to Borrow expressing deep sympathy with all he had been through, and adding: "If you go forward . . . we will help you by prayer. If you retreat we shall welcome you cordially." He appears to have written before consulting with the Committee, who, on hearing of the actual state of affairs in Spain, became filled with misgiving and anxiety for the safety of their agent, who seemed to be destitute of fear. Mr Brandram had been content for Borrow to go forward if he so decided, but, as he wrote later, "your prospective dangers, while they created an absorbing interest, were viewed in different lights by the Committee," who thought they had "no right to commit you to such perils. My own feeling was that, while I could not urge you forward, there were peculiarities in your history and character that I would not keep you back if you were minded to go. A few felt with me--most, however, thought that you should have been restrained." {187a} It was decided therefore to forbid him to proceed on his hazardous adventure, and accordingly a letter was addressed to him care of the British Consul at Cadiz. If Borrow received this he disregarded the instructions it contained.

Cadiz proved to be in a state of great confusion. It was reported that numerous bands of Carlists were in the neighbourhood, and the whole city was in a state of ferment in consequence. In the coffee- houses the din of tongues was deafening; would-be orators, sometimes as many as six at one time, sprang up upon chairs and tables and ventilated their political views. The paramount, nay, the only, interest was not in the words of Christ; but the probable doings of the Carlists.

On the night of his arrival Borrow was taken ill with what, at the time, he thought to be cholera, and for some time in the little "cock-loft or garret" that had been allotted to him at the over- crowded French hotel, he was "in most acute pain, and terribly sick," drinking oil mixed with brandy. For two days he was so exhausted as to be able to do nothing.

On the morning of the 24th he embarked in a small Spanish steamer bound for Seville, which was reached that same night. The sun had dissipated the melancholy and stupor left by his illness, and by the time he arrived at Seville he was repeating Latin verses and fragments of old Spanish ballads to a brilliant moon. The condition of affairs at Seville was as bad if not worse than at Cadiz. There was scarcely any communication with the capital, the diligences no longer ran, and even the fearless arrieros (muleteers) declined to set out. Famine, plunder and murder were let loose over the land. Bands of banditti robbed, tortured and slew in the name of Don Carlos. They stripped the peasantry of all they possessed, and the poor wretches in turn became brigands and preyed upon those weaker than themselves. Through all this Borrow had to penetrate in order to reach Madrid. Had the road been familiar to him he would have performed the journey alone, dressed either as a beggar or as a gypsy. It is obvious that he appreciated the hazardous nature of the journey he was undertaking, for he asked Mr Brandram, in the event of his death, to keep the news from old Mrs Borrow as long as possible and then to go down to Norwich and break it to her himself.

At Seville Borrow encountered Baron Taylor, {188a} whom he states that he had first met at Bayonne (during the "veiled period"), and later in Russia, beside the Bosphorus, and finally in the South of Ireland. Than Baron Taylor there was no one for whom Borrow entertained "a greater esteem and regard . . . There is a mystery about him which, wherever he goes, serves not a little to increase the sensation naturally created by his appearance and manner." {189a} Borrow was much attracted to this mysterious personage, about whom nothing could be asserted "with downright positiveness."

From Seville Borrow proceeded to Cordoba, accompanied by "an elderly person, a Genoese by birth," whose acquaintance he had made and whom he hoped later to employ in the distribution of the Testaments. Borrow had hired a couple of miserable horses. The Genoese had not been in the saddle for some thirty years, and he was an old man and timid. His horse soon became aware of this, and neither whip nor spur could persuade it to exert itself. When approaching night rendered it necessary to make a special effort to hasten forward, the bridle of the discontented steed had to be fastened to that of its fellow, which was then urged forward "with spur and cudgel." Both the Genoese and his mount protested against such drastic measures, the one by entreaties to be permitted to dismount, the other by attempting to fling itself down. The only notice Borrow took of these protests was to spur and cudgel the more.

On the night of the third day the party arrived at Cordoba, and was cordially welcomed by the Carlist innkeeper, who, although avowing himself strictly neutral, confessed how great had been his pleasure at welcoming the Carlists when they occupied the City a short time before. It was at this inn that Borrow explained to the elderly Genoese, who had indiscreetly resented his host's disrespectful remarks about the young Queen Isabel, how he invariably managed to preserve good relations with all sorts of factions. "My good man," he said, "I am invariably of the politics of the people at whose table I sit, or beneath whose roof I sleep; at least I never say anything which can lead them to suspect the contrary; by pursuing which system I have more than once escaped a bloody pillow, and having the wine I drank spiced with sublimate." {190a}

Borrow remained at Cordoba much longer than he had intended, because of the reports that reached him of the unsafe condition of the roads. He sent back the old Genoese with the horses, and spent the time in thoroughly examining the town and making acquaintances among its inhabitants. At length, after a stay of ten or eleven days, despairing of any improvement in the state of the country, he continued his journey in the company of a contrabandista, temporarily retired from the smuggling trade, from whom he hired two horses for the sum of forty-two dollars. Borrow allowed no compunction to assail him as to the means he employed when he was thoroughly convinced as to the worthiness of the end he had in view. To further his projects he would cheerfully have travelled with the Pope himself.

The journey to Madrid proved dismal in the extreme. The contrabandista was sullen and gloomy, despite the fact that his horses had been insured against loss and the handsome fee he was to receive for his services. The Despenaperros in the Sierra Morena through which Borrow had to pass, had, even in times of peace, a most evil reputation; but by great good luck for Borrow, the local banditti had during the previous day "committed a dreadful robbery and murder by which they sacked 40,000 reals." {190b} They were in all probability too busily occupied in dividing their spoil to watch for other travellers. Another factor that was much in Borrow's favour was a change in the weather.

"Suddenly the Lord breathed forth a frozen blast," Borrow writes, "the severity of which was almost intolerable. No human being but ourselves ventured forth. We traversed snow-covered plains, and passed through villages and towns to all appearance deserted. The robbers kept close to their caves and hovels, but the cold nearly killed us. We reached Aranjuez late on Christmas day, and I got into the house of an Englishman, where I swallowed nearly a pint of brandy: {191a} it affected me no more than warm water. {191b}

Borrow arrived at Madrid on 26th December, having almost by a miracle avoided death or capture by the human wolves that infested the country. He took up his quarters at 16 Calle de Santiago at the house of Maria Diaz, who was to prove so loyal a friend during many critical periods of his work in Spain. His first care was to call upon the British Minister, and enquire if he considered it safe to proceed with the printing without special application to the new Government. Mr Villiers' answer is interesting, as showing how thoroughly he had taken Borrow under his protection.

"You obtained the permission of the Government of Isturitz," he replied, "which was a much less liberal one than the present; I am a witness to the promise made to you by the former Ministers, which I consider sufficient; you had best commence and complete the work as soon as possible without any fresh application, and should anyone attempt to interrupt you, you have only to come to me, whom you may command at any time." {191c}

Having saved the Bible Society 9000 reals in its paper bill alone, {191d} Borrow proceeded to arrange for the printing. He had already opened negotiations with Charles Wood, who was associated with Andreas Borrego, {192a} the most fashionable printer in Madrid, who not only had the best printing-presses in Spain, but had been specially recommended by Isturitz. It had been tentatively arranged that an edition of 5000 copies of the New Testament should be printed from the version of Father Felipe Scio de San Miguel, confessor to Ferdinand VII., without notes or commentaries, and delivered within three months.

Remembering the advice of Isturitz, Borrow determined to entrust the work to Borrego, including the binding. He was the Government printer, and, furthermore, enjoyed the good opinion of Mr Villiers. Having persuaded Borrego to reduce his price to 10 reals a sheet, he placed the order. It was agreed that the work should be completed in ten weeks from 20th January.

Each sheet was to be passed by Borrow. As a matter of fact he read every word three times; but in order to insure absolute accuracy, he engaged the services of Dr Usoz, "the first scholar in Spain," {192b} who was to be responsible for the final revision, leaving the


The Life of George Borrow - 30/90

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