The Bible in Spain by George Borrow

George Borrow
The Bible in Spain

This is one of my favourite types of purchases, a beautiful old hard-backed book with a handwritten inscription inside and with no summary on the back to guide me as to what type of story it contains. There is an extended title inside, however, which reads ‘The journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman in an attempt to circulate the scriptures in the Peninsula’. And the preface, written by George Borrow in 1842, says that he was sent to Spain by the Bible Society during 1835-1838 as its agent. So it appears to be a true story of George Borrow’s travels and experiences. And there's a map, also another of my favourite things in a book. I am very very hopeful of this gamble I’ve taken in buying this book.

The Bible in Spain by George Borrow available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

This is one of my favourite types of purchases, a beautiful old hard-backed book with a handwritten inscription inside and with no summary on the back to guide me as to what type of story it contains. There is an extended title inside, however, which reads ‘The journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman in an attempt to circulate the scriptures in the Peninsula’. And the preface, written by George Borrow in 1842, says that he was sent to Spain by the Bible Society during 1835-1838 as its agent. So it appears to be a true story of George Borrow’s travels and experiences. And there’s a map, also another of my favourite things in a book. I am very very hopeful of this gamble I’ve taken in buying this book.

Hmmm, well, disappointingly it isn’t particularly exciting reading, but it is so old and so charming because of its age, that I am determined to persevere. It’s a book to kind of pick up and read a bit of and plod along with, much like the author plods along himself on his journey. His writing style is old-fashioned and quite unemotional and dry to read, which surprises me considering some of the exciting places he sees and the challenges he faces, I’d have thought he could have made it all sound far more dramatic but he always just plays everything down, perhaps this is his reserved Englishness or his religious belief to just trust in God. At times he seems quite foolhardy, venturing into mountain passes which he knows are controlled by bandits who rob and kill people, but he is never hurt and he obviously believes this is because God is looking out for him. He is imprisoned a few times, but has total faith in his rights of justice as an Englishman, though it made me wonder why he risks his safety like this. 

He is an odd man, he obviously passionately loves Spain and travelling, and I wonder how much the bible sales and deliveries are just an excuse to enable him to travel, he just seems to potter along, enjoying himself and dispersing a few bibles along the way, and I do wonder what his employers think of him really, he just seems to do as he pleases with a token gesture of working for The Bible Society but really just pleasing himself. 

His descriptions of the scenery are interesting, though not as awe-inspiring as I’d imagine they could be described, because, as I said before, he makes it all sound quite dry and factual. I wish his map was better which details his journeys, as I wanted to follow his route on his map as I read the book but it isn’t really a detailed enough map, and some of the place names are slightly different to today so I often struggled to imagine quite where he is. He does sound fairly enthusiastic (well, enthusiastic for him!) about a few places he goes to, he makes Gibraltar sound like a fascinating place and he is obviously very proud of England’s successes in battles there, especially Nelson’s battles, and I am particularly intrigued by his mention of St Michael’s Cave which he describes as a dangerous and mysterious place full of unexplored abysses in which people have died trying to explore and that no-one has ever explored fully or discovered its depth and size, although I see when I google it now that it is part of the regular tourist trail with concerts and lights. He is also very taken with the beauty of Seville. 

He is clearly exceptional with languages, and he has a huge respect for the different nationalities he meets, particularly the Romany Gypsies, although he frequently describes Jews as ‘cunning’ and seems to have less respect for them. And intriguingly, he mentions a few times about evading people’s attempts to find out who he is and his country of birth and his nationality, and this made me wonder why he felt this needed concealing. I noticed a few people asked him if he is Jewish, so I wondered if he is and this is why he conceals his nationality, as Jews were often looked down upon at that time, but then he also seems to look down on them himself with his comment about them being cunning, and I can’t see anything on Wikipedia (my go-to guide) about him being Jewish. 

It wasn’t really a book that grabbed me and I wish he could have been a bit more emotive in his descriptions, but I love the old-fashioned charm of it and the insight into Spain at that time and I love seeing the old book on my bookcase. And I have read that Robert Louis Stevenson took this book with him when writing Travels with a Donkey, and I have that book on my bookcase waiting to be read, so that’s a nice link. And I see that Guy Arnold followed the route of Borrow’s travels in his book In the Footsteps of George Borrow, so that may also be an interesting read.

The Bible in Spain by George Borrow available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

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