The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 48

Projected Journey — A Scene of Blood — The Friar — Seville — Beauties of Seville — Orange Trees and Flowers — Murillo — The Guardian Angel — Dionysius — My Coadjutors — Demand for the Bible.

By the middle of April I had sold as many Testaments as I thought Madrid would bear; I therefore called in my people, for I was afraid to overstock the market, and to bring the book into contempt by making it too common. I had, indeed, by this time, barely a thousand copies remaining of the edition which I had printed two years previously; and with respect to Bibles, every copy was by this time disposed of, though there was still a great demand for them, which, of course, I was unable to satisfy.

With the remaining copies of the Testament, I now determined to betake myself to Seville, where little had hitherto been effected in the way of circulation: my preparations were soon made. The roads were at this time in a highly dangerous state, on which account I thought to go along with a convoy, which was about to start for Andalusia. Two days, however, before its departure, understanding that the number of people who likewise proposed to avail themselves of it was likely to be very great, and reflecting on the slowness of this way of travelling, and moreover the insults to which civilians were frequently subjected from the soldiers and petty officers, I determined to risk the journey with the mail. This resolutions I carried into effect. Antonio, whom I had resolved to take with me, and my two horses, departed with the convoy, whilst in a few days I followed with the mail courier. We travelled all the way without the slightest accident, my usual wonderful good fortune accompanying us. I might well call it wonderful, for I was running into the den of the lion; the whole of La Mancha, with the exception of a few fortified places, being once more in the hands of Palillos and his banditti, who, whenever it pleased them, stopped the courier, burnt the vehicle and letters, murdered the paltry escort, and carried away any chance passenger to the mountains, where an enormous ransom was demanded, the alternative being four shots through the head, as the Spaniards say.

The upper part of Andalusia was becoming rapidly nearly as bad as La Mancha. The last time the mail had passed, it was attacked at the defile of La Rumblar by six mounted robbers; it was guarded by an escort of as many soldiers, but the former suddenly galloped from behind a solitary venda, and dashed the soldiers to the ground, who were taken quite by surprise, the hoofs of the robbers’ horses making no noise on account of the sandy nature of the ground. The soldiers were instantly disarmed and bound to olive trees, with the exception of two, who escaped amongst the rocks; they were then mocked and tormented by the robbers, or rather fiends, for nearly half an hour, when they were shot; the head of the corporal who commanded being blown to fragments with a blunderbuss. The robbers then burned the coach, which they accomplished by igniting the letters by means of the tow with which they light their cigars. The life of the courier was saved by one of them, who had formerly been his postillion; he was, however, robbed and stripped. As we passed by the scene of the butchery, the poor fellow wept, and, though a Spaniard, cursed Spain and the Spaniards, saying that he intended shortly to pass over to the Moreria, to confess Mahomet, and to learn the law of the Moors, for that any country and religion were better than his own. He pointed to the tree where the corporal had been tied; though much rain had fallen since, the ground around was still saturated with blood, and a dog was gnawing a piece of the unfortunate wretch’s skull. A friar travelled with us the whole way from Madrid to Seville; he was of the missionaries, and was going to the Philippine islands, to conquer (para conquistar), for such was his word, by which I suppose he meant preaching to the Indians. During the whole journey he exhibited every symptom of the most abject fear, which operated upon him so that he became deadly sick, and we were obliged to stop twice in the road and lay him amongst the green corn. He said that if he fell into the hands of the factious, he was a lost priest, for that they would first make him say mass, and then blow him up with gunpowder. He had been professor of philosophy, as he told me, in one of the convents (I think it was San Thomas) of Madrid before their suppression, but appeared to be grossly ignorant of the Scriptures, which he confounded with the works of Virgil.

We stopped at Manzanares as usual; it was Sunday morning, and the market-place was crowded with people. I was recognised in a moment, and twenty pair of legs instantly hurried away in quest of the prophetess, who presently made her appearance in the house to which we had retired to breakfast. After many greetings on both sides, she proceeded, in her Latin, to give me an account of all that had occurred in the village since I had last been there, and of the atrocities of the factious in the neighbourhood. I asked her to breakfast, and introduced her to the friar, whom she addressed in this manner: “Anne Domine Reverendissime facis adhuc sacrificium?” But the friar did not understand her, and waxing angry, anathematized her for a witch, and bade her begone. She was, however, not to be disconcerted, and commenced singing, in extemporary Castilian verse, the praises of friars and religious houses in general. On departing I gave her a peseta, upon which she burst into tears, and intreated that I would write to her if I reached Seville in safety.

We did arrive at Seville in safety, and I took leave of the friar, telling him that I hoped to meet him again at Philippi. As it was my intention to remain at Seville for some months, I determined to hire a house, in which I conceived I could live with more privacy, and at the same time more economically than in a posada. It was not long before I found one in every respect suited to me. It was situated in the Plazuela de la Pila Seca, a retired part of the city, in the neighbourhood of the cathedral, and at a short distance from the gate of Xeres; and in this house, on the arrival of Antonio and the horses, which occurred within a few days, I took up my abode.

I was now once more in beautiful Seville and had soon ample time and leisure to enjoy its delights and those of the surrounding country; unfortunately, at the time of my arrival, and indeed for the next ensuing fortnight, the heaven of Andalusia, in general so glorious, was overcast with black clouds, which discharged tremendous showers of rain, such as few of the Sevillians, according to their own account, had ever seen before. This extraordinary weather had wrought no little damage in the neighbourhood, causing the Guadalquivir, which, during the rainy season, is a rapid and furious stream, to overflow its banks and to threaten an inundation. It is true that intervals were occurring when the sun made his appearance from his cloudy tabernacle, and with his golden rays caused everything around to smile, enticing the butterfly forth from the bush, and the lizard from the hollow tree, and I invariably availed myself of these intervals to take a hasty promenade.

O how pleasant it is, especially in springtide, to stray along the shores of the Guadalquivir. Not far from the city, down the river, lies a grove called Las Delicias, or the Delights. It consists of trees of various kinds, but more especially of poplars and elms, and is traversed by long shady walks. This grove is the favourite promenade of the Sevillians, and there one occasionally sees assembled whatever the town produces of beauty or gallantry. There wander the black-eyed Andalusian dames and damsels, clad in their graceful silken mantillas; and there gallops the Andalusian cavalier, on his long-tailed thick-maned steed of Moorish ancestry. As the sun is descending, it is enchanting to glance back from this place in the direction of the city; the prospect is inexpressibly beautiful. Yonder in the distance, high and enormous, stands the Golden Tower, now used as a toll-house, but the principal bulwark of the city in the time of the Moors. It stands on the shore of the river, like a giant keeping watch, and is the first edifice which attracts the eye of the voyager as he moves up the stream to Seville. On the other side, opposite the tower, stands the noble Augustine convent, the ornament of the faubourg of Triana, whilst between the two edifices rolls the broad Guadalquivir, bearing on its bosom a flotilla of barks from Catalonia and Valencia. Farther up is seen the bridge of boats which traverses the water. The principal object of this prospect, however, is the Golden Tower, where the beams of the setting sun seem to be concentrated as in a focus, so that it appears built of pure gold, and probably from that circumstance received the name which it now bears. Cold, cold must the heart be which can remain insensible to the beauties of this magic scene, to do justice to which the pencil of Claude himself were barely equal. Often have I shed tears of rapture whilst I beheld it, and listened to the thrush and the nightingale piping forth their melodious songs in the woods, and inhaled the breeze laden with the perfume of the thousand orange gardens of Seville:

“Kennst du das land wo die citronem bluhen?”

The interior of Seville scarcely corresponds with the exterior: the streets are narrow, badly paved, and full of misery and beggary. The houses are for the most part built in the Moorish fashion, with a quadrangular patio or court in the centre, where stands a marble fountain, constantly distilling limpid water. These courts, during the time of the summer heats, are covered over with a canvas awning, and beneath this the family sit during the greater part of the day. In many, especially those belonging to the houses of the wealthy, are to be found shrubs, orange trees, and all kinds of flowers, and perhaps a small aviary, so that no situation can be conceived more delicious than to lie here in the shade, hearkening to the song of the birds and the voice of the fountain.

Nothing is more calculated to interest the stranger as he wanders through Seville, than a view of these courts obtained from the streets, through the iron-grated door. Oft have I stopped to observe them, and as often sighed that my fate did not permit me to reside in such an Eden for the remainder of my days. On a former occasion, I have spoken of the cathedral of Seville, but only in a brief and cursory manner. It is perhaps the most magnificent cathedral in all Spain, and though not so regular in its architecture as those of Toledo and Burgos, is far more worthy of admiration when considered as a whole. It is utterly impossible to wander through the long aisles, and to raise one’s eyes to the richly inlaid roof, supported by colossal pillars, without experiencing sensations of sacred awe, and deep astonishment. It is true that the interior, like those of the generality of the Spanish cathedrals, is somewhat dark and gloomy; yet it loses nothing by this gloom, which, on the contrary, rather increases the solemnity of the effect. Notre Dame of Paris is a noble building, yet to him who has seen the Spanish cathedrals, and particularly this of Seville, it almost appears trivial and mean, and more like a town-hall than a temple of the Eternal. The Parisian cathedral is entirely destitute of that solemn darkness and gloomy pomp which so abound in the Sevillian, and is thus destitute of the principal requisite to a cathedral.

In most of the chapels are to be found some of the very best pictures of the Spanish school; and in particular many of the masterpieces of Murillo, a native of Seville. Of all the pictures of this extraordinary man, one of the least celebrated is that which has always wrought on me the most profound impression. I allude to the Guardian Angel (Angel de la Guardia), a small picture which stands at the bottom of the church, and looks up the principal aisle. The angel, holding a flaming sword in his right hand, is conducting the child. This child is, in my opinion, the most wonderful of all the creations of Murillo; the form is that of an infant about five years of age, and the expression of the countenance is quite infantine, but the tread — it is the tread of a conqueror, of a God, of the Creator of the universe; and the earthly globe appears to tremble beneath its majesty.

The service of the cathedral is in general well attended, especially when it is known that a sermon is to be preached. All these sermons are extemporaneous; some of them are edifying and faithful to the Scriptures. I have often listened to them with pleasure, though I was much surprised to remark, that when the preachers quoted from the Bible, their quotations were almost invariably taken from the apocryphal writings. There is in general no lack of worshippers at the principal shrines — women for the most part — many of whom appear to be animated with the most fervent devotion.

I had flattered myself, previous to my departure from Madrid, that I should experience but little difficulty in the circulation of the Gospel in Andalusia, at least for a time, as the field was new, and myself and the object of my mission less known and dreaded than in New Castile. It appeared, however, that the government at Madrid had fulfilled its threat, transmitting orders throughout Spain for the seizure of my books wherever found. The Testaments that arrived from Madrid were seized at the custom-house, to which place all goods on their arrival, even from the interior, are carried, in order that a duty be imposed upon them. Through the management of Antonio, however, I procured one of the two chests, whilst the other was sent down to San Lucar, to be embarked for a foreign land as soon as I could make arrangements for that purpose.

I did not permit myself to be discouraged by this slight contretemps, although I heartily regretted the loss of the books which had been seized, and which I could no longer hope to circulate in these parts, where they were so much wanted; but I consoled myself with the reflection, that I had still several hundred at my disposal, from the distribution of which, if it pleased the Lord, a blessed harvest might still proceed.

I did not commence operations for some time, for I was in a strange place, and scarcely knew what course to pursue. I had no one to assist me but poor Antonio, who was as ignorant of the place as myself. Providence, however, soon sent me a coadjutor, in rather a singular manner. I was standing in the courtyard of the Reyna Posada, where I occasionally dined, when a man, singularly dressed and gigantically tall, entered. My curiosity was excited, and I inquired of the master of the house who he was. He informed me that he was a foreigner, who had resided a considerable time in Seville, and he believed a Greek. Upon hearing this, I instantly went up to the stranger, and accosted him in the Greek language, in which, though I speak it very ill, I can make myself understood. He replied in the same idiom, and, flattered by the interest which I, a foreigner, expressed for his nation, was not slow in communicating to me his history. He told me that his name was Dionysius, that he was a native of Cephalonia, and had been educated for the church, which, not suiting his temper, he had abandoned, in order to follow the profession of the sea, for which he had an early inclination. That after many adventures and changes of fortune, he found himself one morning on the coast of Spain, a shipwrecked mariner, and that, ashamed to return to his own country in poverty and distress, he had remained in the Peninsula, residing chiefly at Seville, where he now carried on a small trade in books. He said that he was of the Greek religion, to which he professed strong attachment, and soon discovering that I was a Protestant, spoke with unbounded abhorrence of the papal system; nay of its followers in general, whom he called Latins, and whom he charged with the ruin of his own country, inasmuch as they sold it to the Turk. It instantly struck me, that this individual would be an excellent assistant in the work which had brought me to Seville, namely, the propagation of the eternal Gospel, and accordingly, after some more conversation, in which he exhibited considerable learning, I explained myself to him. He entered into my views with eagerness, and in the sequel I had no reason to regret my confidence, he having disposed of a considerable number of New Testaments, and even contrived to send a certain number of copies to two small towns at some distance from Seville.

Another helper in the circulation of the Gospel I found in an aged professor of music, who, with much stiffness and ceremoniousness, united much that was excellent and admirable. This venerable individual, only three days after I had made his acquaintance, brought me the price of six Testaments and a Gypsy Gospel, which he had sold under the heat of an Andalusian sun. What was his motive? A Christian one truly. He said that his unfortunate countrymen, who were then robbing and murdering each other, might probably be rendered better by the reading of the Gospel, but could never be injured. Adding, that many a man had been reformed by the Scriptures, but that no one ever yet became a thief or assassin from its perusal.

But my most extraordinary agent, was one whom I occasionally employed in circulating the Scriptures amongst the lower classes. I might have turned the services of this individual to far greater account had the quantity of books at my disposal been greater; but they were now diminishing rapidly, and as I had no hopes of a fresh supply, I was almost tempted to be niggard of the few which remained. This agent was a Greek bricklayer, by name Johannes Chrysostom, who had been introduced to me by Dionysius. He was a native of the Morea, but had been upwards of thirty-five years in Spain, so that he had almost entirely lost his native language. Nevertheless, his attachment to his own country was so strong that he considered whatever was not Greek as utterly barbarous and bad. Though entirely destitute of education, he had, by his strength of character, and by a kind of rude eloquence which he possessed, obtained such a mastery over the minds of the labouring classes of Seville, that they assented to almost everything he said, notwithstanding the shocks which their prejudices were continually receiving. So that, although he was a foreigner, he could at any time have become the Massaniello of Seville. A more honest creature I never saw, and I soon found that if I employed him, notwithstanding his eccentricities, I might entertain perfect confidence that his actions would be no disparagement to the book he vended.

We were continually pressed for Bibles, which of course we could not supply. Testaments were held in comparatively little esteem. I had by this time made the discovery of a fact which it would have been well had I been aware of three years before; but we live and learn. I mean the inexpediency of printing Testaments, and Testaments alone, for Catholic countries. The reason is plain: the Catholic, unused to Scripture reading, finds a thousand things which he cannot possibly understand in the New Testament, the foundation of which is the Old. “Search the Scriptures, for they bear witness of me,” may well be applied to this point. It may be replied, that New Testaments separate are in great demand, and of infinite utility in England, but England, thanks be to the Lord, is not a papal country; and though an English labourer may read a Testament, and derive from it the most blessed fruit, it does not follow that a Spanish or Italian peasant will enjoy similar success, as he will find many dark things with which the other is well acquainted, and competent to understand, being versed in the Bible history from his childhood. I confess, however, that in my summer campaign of the preceding year, I could not have accomplished with Bibles what Providence permitted me to effect with Testaments, the former being far too bulky for rural journeys.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32