George Borrow.

The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2


The College The Rector Shibboleth National Prejudices Youthful Sports Jews of Lisbon Bad Faith Crime and Superstition.

One afternoon Antonio said to me, It has struck me, Senhor,5151
The Portuguese form.

that your worship would like to see the college of the English.5252
The missing word would seem to be Catholics. Borrow was fond of such, apparently meaningless, mystery.

By all means, I replied, pray conduct me thither. So he led me through various streets until we stopped before the gate of a large building, in one of the most elevated situations in Lisbon. Upon our ringing, a kind of porter presently made his appearance, and demanded our business. Antonio explained it to him. He hesitated for a moment; but, presently bidding us enter, conducted us to a large gloomy-looking stone hall, where, begging us to be seated, he left us. We were soon joined by a venerable personage, seemingly about seventy, in a kind of flowing robe or surplice, with a collegiate cap upon his head. Notwithstanding his age there was a ruddy tinge upon his features, which were perfectly English. Coming slowly up he addressed me in the English tongue, requesting to know how he could serve me. I informed him that I was an English traveller, and should be happy to be permitted to inspect the college, provided it were customary to show it to strangers. He informed me that there could be no objection to accede to my request, but that I came at rather an unfortunate moment, it being the hour of refection. I apologized, and was preparing to retire, but he begged me to remain, as in a few minutes the refection would be over, when the principals of the college would do themselves the pleasure of waiting on me.

We sat down on the stone bench, when he commenced surveying me attentively for some time, and then cast his eyes on Antonio. Whom have we here? said he to the latter; surely your features are not unknown to me. Probably not, your reverence, replied Antonio, getting up, and bowing most profoundly. I lived in the family of the Countess , at Cintra, when your venerability was her spiritual guide. True, true, said the old gentleman, sighing, I remember you now. Ah, Antonio, things are strangely changed since then. A new government a new system a new religion, I may say. Then, looking again at me, he demanded whither I was journeying.

I am going to Spain, said I, and have stopped at Lisbon by the way. Spain, Spain! said the old man. Surely you have chosen a strange time to visit Spain; there is much blood-shedding in Spain at present, and violent wars and tumults. I consider the cause of Don Carlos as already crushed, I replied; he has lost the only general capable of leading his armies to Madrid. Zumalacarregui, his Cid, has fallen. Do not flatter yourself; I beg your pardon, but do not think, young man, that the Lord will permit the powers of darkness to triumph so easily. The cause of Don Carlos is not lost: its success did not depend on the life of a frail worm like him whom you have mentioned. We continued in discourse some little time, when he arose, saying that by this time he believed the refection was concluded.

He had scarcely left me five minutes when three individuals entered the stone hall, and advanced slowly towards me. The principals of the college, said I to myself; and so indeed they were. The first of these gentlemen, and to whom the other two appeared to pay considerable deference, was a thin, spare person, somewhat above the middle height; his complexion was very pale, his features emaciated but fine, his eyes dark and sparkling; he might be about fifty. The other two were men in the prime of life. One was of rather low stature; his features were dark, and wore that pinched and mortified expression so frequently to be observed in the countenance of the English.: the other was a bluff, ruddy, and rather good-looking young man. All three were dressed alike in the usual college cap and silk gown. Coming up, the eldest of the three took me by the hand, and thus addressed me in clear silvery tones:

Welcome, sir, to our poor house. We are always happy to see in it a countryman from our beloved native land; it will afford us extreme satisfaction to show you over it; it is true that satisfaction is considerably diminished by the reflection that it possesses nothing worthy of the attention of a traveller; there is nothing curious pertaining to it save, perhaps, its economy, and that, as we walk about, we will explain to you. Permit us, first of all, to introduce ourselves to you. I am rector of this poor English house of refuge; this gentleman is our professor of humanity; and this (pointing to the ruddy personage) is our professor of polite learning, Hebrew, and Syriac.

Myself. I humbly salute you all. Excuse me if I inquire who was the venerable gentleman who put himself to the inconvenience of staying with me whilst I was awaiting your leisure.

Rector. Oh, a most admirable personage, our almoner, our chaplain; he came into this country before any of us were born, and here he has continued ever since. Now let us ascend that we may show you our poor house. But how is this, my dear sir, how is it that I see you standing uncovered in our cold, damp hall?

Myself. I can easily explain that to you; it is a custom which has become quite natural to me. I am just arrived from Russia, where I have spent some years. A Russian invariably takes off his hat whenever he enters beneath a roof, whether it pertain to hut, shop, or palace. To omit doing so would be considered as a mark of brutality and barbarism, and for the following reason: in every apartment of a Russian house there is a small picture of the Virgin stuck up in a corner, just below the ceiling the hat is taken off out of respect to her.

Quick glances of intelligence were exchanged by the three gentlemen. I had stumbled upon their shibboleth, and proclaimed myself an Ephraimite, and not of Gilead. I have no doubt that up to that moment they had considered me as one of themselves a member, and perhaps a priest, of their own ancient, grand, and imposing religion, for such it is, I must confess an error into which it was natural that they should fall. What motives could a Protestant have for intruding upon their privacy? What interest could he take in inspecting the economy of their establishment? So far, however, from relaxing in their attention after this discovery, their politeness visibly increased, though, perhaps, a scrutinizing observer might have detected a shade of less cordiality in their manner.

Rector. Beneath the ceiling in every apartment? I think I understood you so. How delightful how truly interesting; a picture of the Blessed Virgin beneath the ceiling in every apartment of a Russian house! Truly, this intelligence is as unexpected as it is delightful. I shall from this moment entertain a much higher opinion of the Russians than hitherto most truly an example worthy of imitation. I wish sincerely that it was our own practice to place an image of the Blessed Virgin beneath the ceiling in every corner of our houses. What say you, our professor of humanity? What say you to the information so obligingly communicated to us by this excellent gentleman?

Humanity Professor. It is indeed most delightful, most cheering, I may say; but I confess that I was not altogether unprepared for it. The adoration of the Blessed Virgin is becoming every day more extended in countries where it has hitherto been unknown or forgotten. Dr. W-, when he passed through Lisbon, gave me some most interesting details with respect to the labours of the propaganda in India. Even England, our own beloved country..

My obliging friends showed me all over their poor house. It certainly did not appear a very rich one; it was spacious, but rather dilapidated. The library was small, and possessed nothing remarkable; the view, however, from the roof, over the greater part of Lisbon and the Tagus, was very grand and noble. But I did not visit this place in the hope of seeing busts, or books, or fine prospects, I visited this strange old house to converse with its inmates; for my favourite, I might say my only, study is man. I found these gentlemen much what I had anticipated; for this was not the first time that I had visited an English.. establishment in a foreign land. They were full of amiability and courtesy to their heretic countryman, and though the advancement of their religion was with them an object of paramount importance, I soon found that, with ludicrous inconsistency, they cherished, to a wonderful degree, national prejudices almost extinct in the mother land, even to the disparagement of those of their own darling faith. I spoke of the English., of their high respectability, and of the loyalty which they had uniformly displayed to their sovereign, though of a different religion, and by whom they had been not unfrequently subjected to much oppression and injustice.

Rector. My dear sir, I am rejoiced to hear you; I see that you are well acquainted with the great body of those of our faith in England. They are, as you have well described them, a most respectable and loyal body; from loyalty, indeed, they never swerved, and though they have been accused of plots and conspiracies, it is now well known that such had no real existence, but were merely calumnies invented by their religious enemies. During the civil wars the English.. cheerfully shed their blood and squandered their fortunes in the cause of the unfortunate martyr, notwithstanding that he never favoured them, and invariably looked upon them with suspicion. At present the English.. are the most devoted subjects of our gracious sovereign. I should be happy if I could say as much for our Irish brethren; but their conduct has been oh, detestable! Yet what can you expect? The true.. blush for them. A certain person is a disgrace to the church of which he pretends to be the servant. Where does he find in our canons sanction for his proceedings, his undutiful expressions towards one who is his sovereign by divine right, and who can do no wrong? And above all, where does he find authority for inflaming the passions of a vile mob against a nation intended by nature and by position to command them?

Myself. I believe there is an Irish college in this city?

Rector. I believe there is; but it does not flourish; there are few or no pupils. Oh!

I looked through a window, at a great height, and saw about twenty or thirty fine lads sporting in a court below. This is as it should be, said I; those boys will not make worse priests from a little early devotion to trap-ball and cudgel playing. I dislike a staid, serious, puritanic education, as I firmly believe that it encourages vice and hypocrisy.

We then went into the Rectors room, where, above a crucifix, was hanging a small portrait.

Myself. That was a great and portentous man, honest withal. I believe the body of which he was the founder, and which has been so much decried, has effected infinitely more good than it has caused harm.

Rector. What do I hear? You, an Englishman, and a Protestant, and yet an admirer of Ignatius Loyola?

Myself. I will say nothing with respect to the doctrine of the Jesuits, for, as you have observed, I am a Protestant; but I am ready to assert that there are no people in the world better qualified, upon the whole, to be entrusted with the education of youth. Their moral system and discipline are truly admirable. Their pupils, in after-life, are seldom vicious and licentious characters, and are in general men of learning, science, and possessed of every elegant accomplishment. I execrate the conduct of the liberals of Madrid in murdering last year the helpless fathers, by whose care and instruction two of the finest minds of Spain have been evolved the two ornaments of the liberal cause and modern literature of Spain, for such are Toreno and Martinez de la Rosa.5353
Toreno (17861843), a statesman and historian, thrice banished on account of his liberal opinions, died in exile in Paris. His friend Martinez de la Rosa (17891862), who experienced a somewhat similar fate, was the author of some dramas and a satire entitled El Cementerio de Monco. See Kennedy, Modern Poets and Poetry of Spain, p. 169. Torenos historical works have been translated into French.


Gathered in small clusters about the pillars at the lower extremities of the gold and silver streets in Lisbon, may be observed, about noon in every day, certain strange-looking men whose appearance is neither Portuguese nor European. Their dress generally consists of a red cap, with a blue silken tassel at the top of it, a blue tunic girded at the waist with a red sash, and wide linen pantaloons or trousers. He who passes by these groups generally hears them conversing in broken Spanish or Portuguese, and occasionally in a harsh guttural language, which the oriental traveller knows to be the Arabic, or a dialect thereof. These people are the Jews of Lisbon.5454
When the Jews were banished from Spain by the Catholic sovereign in 1492, they were received into Portugal by the more liberal John II., on payment of a tax or duty of eight cruzados. Armourers and smiths paid four cruzados only. Before the marriage of his cousin, King Emmanuel, with the widowed Princess Isabella in 1497, the Jews were subject to renewed persecution in Portugal by arrangement between Isabella the Catholic and her son-in-law (see Burkes History of Spain, chaps, xlvi., xlix.).

Into the midst of one of these groups I one day introduced myself, and pronounced a beraka, or blessing. I have lived in different parts of the world, much amongst the Hebrew race, and am well acquainted with their ways and phraseology. I was rather anxious to become acquainted with the state of the Portuguese Jews, and I had now an opportunity. The man is a powerful rabbi, said a voice in Arabic; it behoves us to treat him kindly. They welcomed me. I favoured their mistake, and in a few days I knew all that related to them and their traffic in Lisbon.5555
See Appendix to this volume.


The Jews of Europe at the present time are divided into two classes synagogues, as some call them the Portuguese and German. Of these the most celebrated is the Portuguese. Jews of this class are generally considered as more polished than the others, better educated, and more deeply versed both in the language of Scripture and the traditions of their forefathers. In London there is a stately edifice which is termed the synagogue of the Portuguese Jews, where the rites of the Hebrew religion are performed with all possible splendour and magnificence. Knowing all this, one would naturally expect, on arriving in Portugal, to find ones self in the head-quarters of that Judaism with which the mind has been accustomed to associate so much that is respectable and imposing. It was, therefore, with feelings of considerable surprise that I heard from the beings, whom I have attempted to describe above, the following account of themselves: We are not of Portugal, said they; we come from Barbary, some from Algier, some from the Levant, but mostly from Barbary, yonder-away! And they pointed to the south-west.

And where are the Jews of Portugal, I demanded: the proper children of the country?

We know of none but ourselves, replied the Barbaresques, though we have heard say that there are others: if so, they do not come near us, and they do right, for we are an evil people, O thou Tsadik, and thieves to a man. A ship comes every year from Swirah;5656
A seaport town in North Africa, better known by the name of Mogadore (see chap. lii.).

it brings a cargo of thieves, for it brings Jews.

And your wives and families, said I, where are they?

In Swirah, or Salee, or other places from whence we come. We bring not our wives with us, nor our families: many of us have escaped hither barely with life, flying from the punishment due to our crimes. Some live in sin with the daughters of the Nazarene: for we are an evil race, O Tsadik, and do not observe the precepts of the law.

And have you synagogues and teachers?

Both, O thou righteous one, yet little can be said of either: our chenourain are vile places, and our teachers are like ourselves, bound in the galoot of sin. One of them keeps in his house a daughter of the Nazarene; he is from Swirah, and what good ever came from that shore?

You say your teachers are evil: do ye hearken unto their words?

Of course we hearken unto them: how could we do else and live? Our teachers are evil men, and live by fraud, like ourselves; yet still are they masters, men to be dreaded and obeyed. Have they not witchcraft at their command, and angels? Have they not words of power, and the Shem Hamphorash?5757
The name that may not be spoken; that is, Jehovah or Yahweh (see Glossary, sub verb.).

Were we not to hearken to them, could they not consign our souls to horror, to mist and vapour, to mire and clay? Even as thou couldst, O righteous one!

Such was the extraordinary language in connexion with themselves which they held to me, and which I have no reason to doubt, as it was subsequently corroborated in more ways than one. 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 slight 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 villany; as if, as has been well observed, God would delegate the exercise of his power to the workers of iniquity.

It is quite certain that at one period the Jews of Portugal were deservedly celebrated for wealth, learning, and polished manners; the Inquisition, however, played sad havoc with them. Those who escaped the auto da f?, without becoming converts to Popish idolatry, took refuge in foreign lands, particularly in England, where they still retain their original designation. At present, notwithstanding all religions are tolerated in Portugal, the genuine Jews of the country do not show themselves;5858
Strange anecdotes, however, are told, tending to prove that Jews of the ancient race are yet to be found in Portugal: it is said that they have been discovered under circumstances the most extraordinary. I am the more inclined to believe in their existence from certain strange incidents connected with a certain race, which occurred within the sphere of my own knowledge, and which will be related further on. Note by Borrow.

in their stead are seen the rabble of Barbary, and these only in the streets of Lisbon outcasts who make no secret of their own degradation.


Cold of Portugal Extortion prevented Sensation of Loneliness The Dog The Convent Enchanting Landscape Moorish Fortresses Prayer for the Sick.

About a fortnight after my return from Evora, having made the necessary preparations, I set out on my journey for Badajoz, from which town I intended to take the diligence to Madrid. Badajoz lies about a hundred miles distant from Lisbon, and is the principal frontier town of Spain in the direction of the Alemtejo. To reach this place, it was necessary to re-travel the road as far as Monte Moro, which I had already passed in my excursion to Evora; I had therefore very little pleasure to anticipate from novelty of scenery. Moreover, in this journey I should be a solitary traveller, with no other companion than the muleteer, as it was my intention to take my servant no farther than Aldea Gallega, for which place I started at four in the afternoon. Warned by former experience, I did not now embark in a small boat, but in one of the regular passage felouks, in which we reached Aldea Gallega, after a voyage of six hours; for the boat was heavy, there was no wind to propel it, and the crew were obliged to ply their huge oars the whole way. In a word, this passage was the reverse of the first safe in every respect, but so sluggish and tiresome, that I a hundred times wished myself again under the guidance of the wild lad, galloping before the hurricane over the foaming billows. From eight till ten the cold was truly terrible, and though I was closely wrapped in an excellent fur shoob, with which I had braved the frosts of Russian winters, I shivered in every limb, and was far more rejoiced when I again set my foot on the Alemtejo, than when I landed for the first time, after having escaped the horrors of the tempest.

I took up my quarters for the night at a house to which my friend who feared the darkness had introduced me on my return from Evora, and where, though I paid mercilessly dear for everything, the accommodation was superior to that of the common inn in the square. My first care now was to inquire for mules to convey myself and baggage to Elvas, from whence there are but three short leagues to the Spanish town of Badajoz. The people of the house informed me that they had an excellent pair at my disposal, but when I inquired the price, they were not ashamed to demand four moidores. I offered them three, which was too much, but which, however, they did not accept; for, knowing me to be an Englishman, they thought they had an excellent opportunity to practise imposition, not imagining that a person so rich as an Englishman must be, would go out in a cold night for the sake of obtaining a reasonable bargain. They were, however, much mistaken, as I told them that rather than encourage them in their knavery I should be content to return to Lisbon; whereupon they dropped their demand to three and a half; but I made them no answer, and, going out with Antonio, proceeded to the house of the old man who had accompanied us to Evora. We knocked a considerable time, for he was in bed; at length he arose and admitted us, but on hearing our object, he said that his mules were again gone to Evora, under the charge of the boy, for the purpose of transporting some articles of merchandize. He, however, recommended us to a person in the neighbourhood who kept mules for hire, and there Antonio engaged two fine beasts for two moidores and a half. I say he engaged them, for I stood aloof and spoke not, and the proprietor, who exhibited them, and who stood half dressed, with a lamp in his hand, and shivering with cold, was not aware that they were intended for a foreigner till the agreement was made, and he had received a part of the sum in earnest. I returned to the inn well pleased, and having taken some refreshment, went to rest, paying little attention to the people, who glanced daggers at me from their small Jewish eyes.