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- The Life of George Borrow - 50/90 -

"When the Bible Society has no further occasion for my poor labours," he wrote {309b} somewhat pathetically, "I hope it will do me justice to the world. I have been its faithful and zealous servant. I shall on a future occasion take the liberty of addressing you as a friend respecting my prospects. I have the materials of a curious book of travels in Spain; I have enough metrical translations from all languages, especially the Celtic and Sclavonic, to fill a dozen volumes; and I have formed a vocabulary of the Spanish Gypsy tongue, and also a collection of the songs and poetry of the Gitanos, with introductory essays. Perhaps some of these literary labours might be turned to account. I wish to obtain honourably and respectably the means of visiting China or particular parts of Africa."

It is clear from this that Borrow saw how unlikely it was that his association with the Bible Society would be prolonged beyond the present commission. For one thing Spain was, to all intents and purposes, closed to the unannotated Scriptures. Something might be done in the matter of surreptitious distribution; but that had its clearly defined limitations, as the authorities were very much alive to the danger of the light that Borrow sought to cast over the gloom of ignorance and superstition.

At Earl Street it was clearly recognised that Borrow's work in Spain was concluded. On 1st November the Sub-Committee resolved that it could "not recommend to the General Committee to engage the further services of Mr Borrow until he shall have returned to this country from his Mission in Spain." Again, on 10th January following, it recommends the General Committee to recall him "without further delay."

Although he had been officially recalled, nothing was further from Borrow's intentions than to retire meekly from the field. He intended to retreat with drums sounding and colours flying, fighting something more than a rearguard action. This man's energy and resource were terrible--to the authorities! Seville he felt was still a fruitful ground, and sending to Madrid for further supplies of Testaments, he commenced operations. "Everything was accomplished with the utmost secrecy, and the blessed books obtained considerable circulation." {309a} Agents were sent into the country and he went also himself, "in my accustomed manner," until all the copies that had arrived from the capital were put into circulation. He then rested for a while, being in need of quiet, as he was indisposed.

By this action Borrow was incurring no little risk. The Canons of the Cathedral watched him closely. Their hatred amounted "almost to a frenzy," and Borrow states that scarcely a day passed without some accusation of other being made to the Civil Governor, all of which were false. People whom he had never seen were persuaded to perjure themselves by swearing that he had sold or given them books. The same system was carried on whilst he was in Africa, because the authorities refused to believe that he was out of Spain.

There now occurred another regrettable incident, and Borrow once more suffered for the indiscretion of those whom he neither knew nor controlled. To Mr Brandram he wrote:

"Some English people now came to Seville and distributed tracts in a very unguarded manner, knowing nothing of the country or the inhabitants. They were even so unwise as TO GIVE TRACTS INSTEAD OF MONEY ON VISITING PUBLIC BUILDINGS, ETC. [!]. These persons came to me and requested my cooperation and advice, and likewise introductions to people spiritually disposed amongst the Spaniards, to all which requests I returned a decided negative. But I foresaw all. In a day or two I was summoned before the Civil Governor, or, as he was once called, the Corregidor, of Seville, who, I must say, treated me with the utmost politeness and indeed respect; but at the same time he informed me that he had (to use his own expression) terrible orders from Madrid concerning me if I should be discovered in the act of distributing the Scriptures or any writings of a religious tendency; he then taxed me with having circulated both lately, especially tracts; whereupon I told him that I had never distributed a tract since I had been in Spain nor had any intention of doing so. We had much conversation and parted in kindness." {310a}

For a few days nothing happened; then, determined to set out on an expedition to La Mancha (the delay had been due to the insecure state of the roads), Borrow sent his passport (24th Nov.) for signature to the Alcalde del Barrio.

"This fellow," Borrow informs Mr Brandram, "is the greatest ruffian in Seville, and I have on various occasions been insulted by him; he pretends to be a liberal, but he is of no principle at all, and as I reside within his district he has been employed by the Canons of the Cathedral to vex and harrass me on every possible occasion."

In the following letter, addressed to the British Charge d'Affaires (the Hon. G. S. S. Jerningham), Borrow gives a full account of what transpired between him and the Alcalde of Seville:-


I beg leave to lay before you the following statement of certain facts which lately occurred at Seville, from which you will perceive that the person of a British Subject has been atrociously outraged, the rights and privileges of a foreigner in Spain violated, and the sanctuary of a private house invaded without the slightest reason or shadow of authority by a person in the employ of the Spanish Government.

For some months past I have been a resident at Seville in a house situated in a square called the "Plazuela de la Pila Seca." In this house I possess apartments, the remainder being occupied by an English Lady and her daughter, the former of whom is the widow of an officer of the highest respectability who died in the naval service of Great Britain. On the twenty-fourth of last November, I sent a servant, a Native of Spain, to the Office of the "Ayuntamiento" of Seville for the purpose of demanding my passport, it being my intention to set out the next day for Cordoba. The "Ayuntamiento" returned for answer that it was necessary that the ticket of residence (Billete de residencia) which I had received on sending in the Passport should be signed by the Alcalde of the district in which I resided, to which intimation I instantly attended. I will here take the liberty of observing that on several occasions during my residence at Seville, I have experienced gross insults from this Alcalde, and that more than once when I have had occasion to leave the Town, he has refused to sign the necessary document for the recovery of the passport; he now again refused to do so, and used coarse language to the Messenger; whereupon I sent the latter back with money to pay any fees, lawful or unlawful, which might be demanded, as I wished to avoid noise and the necessity of applying to the Consul, Mr Williams; but the fellow became only more outrageous. I then went myself to demand an explanation, and was saluted with no inconsiderable quantity of abuse. I told him that if he proceeded in this manner I would make a complaint to the Authorities through the British Consul. He then said if I did not instantly depart he would drag me off to prison and cause me to be knocked down if I made the slightest resistance. I dared him repeatedly to do both, and said that he was a disgrace to the Government which employed him, and to human nature. He called me a vile foreigner. We were now in the street and a mob had collected, whereupon I cried: "Viva Inglaterra y viva la Constitucion." The populace remained quiet, notwithstanding the exhortations of the Alcalde that they would knock down "the foreigner," for he himself quailed before me as I looked him in the face, defying him. At length he exclaimed, with the usual obscene Spanish oath, "I will make you lower your head" (Yo te hare abajar la cabeza), and ran to a neighbouring guard-house and requested the assistance of the Nationals in conducting me to prison. I followed him and delivered myself up at the first summons, and walked to the prison without uttering a word; not so the Alcalde, who continued his abuse until we arrived at the gate, repeatedly threatening to have me knocked down if I moved to the right or left.

I was asked my name by the Authorities of the prison, which I refused to give unless in the presence of the Consul of my Nation, and indeed to answer any questions. I was then ordered to the Patio, or Courtyard, where are kept the lowest thieves and assassins of Seville, who, having no money, cannot pay for better accommodation, and by whom I should have been stripped naked in a moment as a matter of course, as they are all in a state of raging hunger and utter destitution. I asked for a private cell, which I was told I might have if I could pay for it. I stated my willingness to pay anything which might be demanded, and was conducted to an upper ward consisting of several cells and a corridor; here I found six or seven Prisoners, who received me very civilly, and instantly procured me paper and ink for the purpose of writing to the Consul. In less than an hour Mr Williams arrived and I told him my story, whereupon he instantly departed in order to demand redress of the Authorities. The next morning the Alcalde, without any authority from the Political [Civil] Governor of Seville, and unaccompanied by the English Consul, as the law requires in such cases, and solely attended by a common Escribano, went to the house in which I was accustomed to reside and demanded admission. The door was opened by my Moorish Servant, Hayim Ben-Attar, whom he commanded instantly to show the way to my apartments. On the Servant's demanding by what authority he came, he said, "Cease chattering" (Deje cuentos), "I shall give no account to you; show me the way; if not, I will take you to prison as I did your master: I come to search for prohibited books." The Moor, who being in a strange land was somewhat intimidated, complied and led him to the rooms occupied by me, when the Alcalde flung about my books and papers, finding nothing which could in the slightest degree justify his search, the few books being all either in Hebrew or Arabic character (they consisted of the Mitchna and some commentaries on the Coran); he at last took up a large knife which lay on a chair and which I myself purchased some months previous at Santa Cruz in La Mancha as a curiosity--the place being famous for those knives--and expressed his determination to take it away as a prohibited article. The Escribano, however, cautioned him against doing so, and he flung it down. He now became very vociferous and attempted to force his way into some apartments occupied by the Ladies, my friends; but soon desisted and at last went away, after using some threatening words to my Moorish Servant. Late at night of the second day of my imprisonment, I was set at liberty by virtue of an order of the Captain General, given on application of the British Consul, after having been for thirty hours imprisoned amongst the worst felons of Andalusia, though to do them justice I must say that I experienced from them nothing but kindness and hospitality.

The above, Sir, is the correct statement of the affair which has now brought me to Madrid. What could have induced the Alcalde in question to practise such atrocious behaviour towards me I am at a loss to conjecture, unless he were instigated by certain enemies

The Life of George Borrow - 50/90

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