George Borrow.

The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2

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“I presume I am speaking to an Englishman, sir,” said he, in as good English as it was possible for one not an Englishman to speak.

Myself. – You know me to be an Englishman; but I should find some difficulty in guessing to what country you belong.

Stranger. – May I take a seat?

Myself. – A singular question. Have you not as much right to sit in the public apartment of an inn as myself?

Stranger. – I am not certain of that. The people here are not in general very gratified at seeing me seated by their side.

Myself. – Perhaps owing to your political opinions, or to some crime which it may have been your misfortune to commit.

Stranger. – I have no political opinions, and I am not aware that I ever committed any particular crime. I am hated for my country and my religion.

Myself. – Perhaps I am speaking to a Protestant, like myself?

Stranger. – I am no Protestant. If I were, they would be cautious here of showing their dislike, for I should then have a government and a consul to protect me. I am a Jew – a Barbary Jew, a subject of Abderrahman.

Myself. – If that be the case, you can scarcely complain of being looked upon with dislike in this country, since in Barbary the Jews are slaves.

Stranger. – In most parts, I grant you, but not where I was born, which was far up the country, near the deserts. There the Jews are free, and are feared, and are as valiant men as the Moslems themselves; as able to tame the steed, or to fire the gun. The Jews of our tribe are not slaves, and I like not to be treated as a slave either by Christian or Moor.

Myself. – Your history must be a curious one; I would fain hear it.

Stranger. – My history I shall tell to no one. I have travelled much, I have been in commerce, and have thriven. I am at present established in Portugal, but I love not the people of Catholic countries, and least of all these of Spain. I have lately experienced the most shameful injustice in the Aduana of this town, and when I complained, they laughed at me, and called me Jew. Wherever he turns, the Jew is reviled, save in your country, and on that account my blood always warms when I see an Englishman. You are a stranger here. Can I do aught for you? You may command me.

Myself. – I thank you heartily, but I am in need of no assistance.

Stranger. – Have you any bills? I will accept them if you have.

Myself. – I have no need of assistance; but you may do me a favour by accepting of a book.

Stranger. – I will receive it with thanks. I know what it is. What a singular people! The same dress, the same look, the same book. Pelham gave me one in Egypt. Farewell! Your Jesus was a good man, perhaps a prophet; but.. farewell!

Well may the people of Pontevedra envy the natives of Vigo their bay, with which, in many respects, none other in the world can compare.

On every side it is defended by steep and sublime hills, save on the part of the west, where is the outlet to the Atlantic; but in the midst of this outlet, up towers a huge rocky wall, or island, which breaks the swell, and prevents the billows of the western sea from pouring through in full violence. On either side of this island is a passage, so broad that navies might pass through at all times in safety. The bay itself is oblong, running far into the land, and so capacious that a thousand sail of the line might ride in it uncrowded. The waters are dark, still, and deep, without quicksands or shallows, so that the proudest man-of-war might lie within a stone’s throw of the town ramparts without any fear of injuring her keel.

Of many a strange event, and of many a mighty preparation, has this bay been the scene. It was here that the bulky dragons of the grand Armada were mustered; and it was from hence that, fraught with the pomp, power, and terror of Old Spain, the monster fleet, spreading its enormous sails to the wind, and bent on the ruin of the Lutheran isle, proudly steered; – that fleet, to build and man which half the forests of Galicia had been felled, and all the mariners impressed from the thousand bays and creeks of the stern Cantabrian shore. It was here that the united flags of Holland and England triumphed over the pride of Spain and France; when the burning timbers of exploded war-ships soared above the tops of the Gallegan hills, and blazing galleons sank with their treasure-chests whilst drifting in the direction of Sampayo. It was on the shores of this bay that the English guards first emptied Spanish bodegas, whilst the bombs of Cobham were crushing the roofs of the castle of Castro, and the vecinos of Pontevedra buried their doubloons in cellars, and flying posts were conveying to Lugo and Orense the news of the heretic invasion and the disaster of Vigo. All these events occurred to my mind as I stood far up the hill, at a short distance from the fort, surveying the bay.

“What are you doing there, Cavalier?” roared several voices. “Stay, Carracho! if you attempt to run we will shoot you!” I looked round and saw three or four fellows in dirty uniforms, to all appearance soldiers, just above me, on a winding path, which led up the hill. Their muskets were pointed at me. “What am I doing? Nothing, as you see,” said I, “save looking at the bay; and as for running, this is by no means ground for a course.” “You are our prisoner,” said they, “and you must come with us to the fort.” “I was just thinking of going there,” I replied, “before you thus kindly invited me. The fort is the very spot I was desirous of seeing.” I thereupon climbed up to the place where they stood, when they instantly surrounded me, and with this escort I was marched into the fort, which might have been a strong place in its time, but was now rather ruinous. “You are suspected of being a spy,” said the corporal, who walked in front. “Indeed?” said I. “Yes,” replied the corporal, “and several spies have lately been taken and shot.”

Upon one of the parapets of the fort stood a young man, dressed as a subaltern officer, and to this personage I was introduced. “We have been watching you this half-hour,” said he, “as you were taking observations.” “Then you gave yourselves much useless trouble,” said I. “I am an Englishman, and was merely looking at the bay. Have the kindness now to show me the fort.”.

After some conversation, he said, “I wish to be civil to people of your nation; you may therefore consider yourself at liberty.” I bowed, made my exit, and proceeded down the hill. Just before I entered the town, however, the corporal, who had followed me unperceived, tapped me on the shoulder. “You must go with me to the governor,” said he. “With all my heart,” I replied. The governor was shaving when we were shown up to him. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and held a razor in his hand. He looked very ill-natured, which was perhaps owing to his being thus interrupted in his toilet. He asked me two or three questions, and on learning that I had a passport, and was the bearer of a letter to the English consul, he told me that I was at liberty to depart. So I bowed to the governor of the town, as I had done to the governor of the fort, and making my exit, proceeded to my inn.

At Vigo I accomplished but little in the way of distribution, and, after a sojourn of a few days, I returned in the direction of Saint James.


Chap. v. p. 67

In the early editions this chapter ended as follows: —

I found them a vile, infamous rabble, about two hundred in number. With a few exceptions, they consist of escapados from the Barbary shore, from Tetuan, from Tangier, but principally from Mogadore; fellows who have fled to a foreign land from the punishment due to their misdeeds. Their manner of life in Lisbon is worthy of such a goodly assemblage of amis r?unis. The generality of them pretend to work in gold and silver, and keep small peddling shops; they, however, principally depend for their livelihood on an extensive traffic in stolen goods which they carry on. It is said that there is honour among thieves, but this is certainly not the case with the Jews of Lisbon, for they are so greedy and avaricious, that they are constantly quarrelling about their ill-gotten gain, the result being that they frequently ruin each other. Their mutual jealousy is truly extraordinary. If one, by cheating and roguery, gains a cruzado in the presence of another, the latter instantly says, “I cry halves,” and if the first refuse he is instantly threatened with an information. The manner in which they cheat each other has, with all its infamy, occasionally something extremely droll and ludicrous. I was one day in the shop of a Swiri, or Jew of Mogadore, when a Jew from Gibraltar entered, with a Portuguese female, who held in her hand a mantle, richly embroidered with gold.

Gibraltar Jew (speaking in broken Arabic). – Good day, O Swiri; God has favoured me this day; here is a bargain by which we shall both gain. I have bought this mantle of the woman almost for nothing, for it is stolen; but I am poor, as you know, I have not a cruzado; pay her therefore the price, that we may then forthwith sell the mantle and divide the gain.

Swiri. – Willingly, brother of Gibraltar; I will pay the woman for the mantle; it does not appear a bad one.

Thereupon he flung two cruzados to the woman, who forthwith left the shop.

Gibraltar Jew. – Thanks, brother Swiri; this is very kind of you. Now let us go and sell the mantle, the gold alone is well worth a moidore. But I am poor, and have nothing to eat; give me, therefore, the half of that sum and keep the mantle; I shall be content.

Swiri. – May Allah blot out your name, you thief! What mean you by asking me for money? I bought the mantle of the woman and paid for it. I know nothing of you. Go out of my doors, dog of a Nazarene; if not, I will pay you with a kick.

The dispute was referred to one of the sabios, or priests; but the sabio, who was also from Mogadore, at once took the part of the Swiri, and decided that the other should have nothing. Whereupon the Gibraltar Jew cursed the sabio, his father, mother, and all his family. The sabio replied, “I put you in nduis,” – a kind of purgatory or hell. “I put you in seven nduis,” retorted the incensed Jew, over whom, however, superstitious fear speedily prevailed; he faltered, became pale, and dropping his voice, retreated, trembling in every limb.

The Jews have two synagogues in Lisbon, both are small; one is, however, tolerably well furnished, it has its reading-desk, and in the middle there is a rather handsome chandelier; the other is little better than a sty, filthy to a degree, without ornament of any kind. The congregation of this last are thieves to a man; no Jew of the slightest respectability ever enters it.

How well do superstition and crime go hand in hand! These wretched beings break the eternal commandments of their Maker without scruple; but they will not partake of the beast of the uncloven foot, and the fish which has no scales. They pay no regard to the denunciations of holy prophets against the children of sin, but they quake at the sound of a dark cabalistic word pronounced by one perhaps their equal or superior in villainy; as if God would delegate the exercise of his power to the workers of iniquity.

I was one day sauntering along the Caesodr?, when a Jew, with whom I had previously exchanged a word or two, came up and addressed me.

Jew. – The blessing of God upon you, brother; I know you to be a wise and powerful man, and I have conceived much regard for you; it is on that account that I wish to put you in the way of gaining much money. Come with me, and I will conduct you to a place where there are forty chests of tea. It is a sereka, and the thieves are willing to dispose of it for a trifle; for there is search being made, and they are in much fear. I can raise one-half of what they demand, do you supply the other, we will then divide it, each shall go his own way and dispose of his portion.

Myself. – Wherefore, O son of Arbat, do you propose this to me, who am a stranger? Surely you are mad. Have you not your own people about you whom you know, and in whom you can confide?

Jew. – It is because I know our people here that I do not confide in them; we are in the galoot of sin. Were I to confide in my brethren there would be a dispute, and perhaps they would rob me, and few of them have any money. Were I to apply to the sabio he might consent, but when I ask for my portion he would put me in ndui. You I do not fear; you are good, and would do me no harm, unless I attempted to deceive you, and that I dare not do, for I know you are powerful. Come with me, master, for I wish to gain something, that I may return to Arbat, where I have children..

Such are Jews in Lisbon.


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