Tag Archives: George Borrow

15 November, Relics XXIV: The Nightingale of Ceiriog.

Saint Silin’s church

in October 1854 George Borrow is walking through Wales, and has reached the village of Llansilin, where the bard Eos Ceiriog, the Nightingale of Ceiriog (Huw Morris) lived and is buried.

Having discussed my ale, I asked the landlord if he would show me the grave of Huw Morris.  “With pleasure, sir,” said he; “pray follow me.”  He led me to the churchyard, in which several enormous yew trees were standing, probably of an antiquity which reached as far back as the days of Henry the Eighth, when the yew bow was still the favourite weapon of the men of Britain. 

The innkeeper led me directly up to the southern wall, then pointing to a broad discoloured slab, which lay on the ground just outside the wall, he said: “Underneath this stone lies Huw Morris, sir.” 

Forthwith taking off my hat, I went down on my knees and kissed the cold slab covering the cold remains of the mighty Huw, and then, still on my knees, proceeded to examine it attentively.  It is covered over with letters three parts defaced.  All I could make out of the inscription was the date of the poet’s death, 1709.  “A great genius, a very great genius, sir,” said the innkeeper, after I had got on my feet and put on my hat. “He was indeed,” said I; “are you acquainted with his poetry?” “O yes,” said the innkeeper,” from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

If anyone had dared suggest to George Borrow that this respect for a poet’s grave was on a par with Papist superstition, Borrow would have been mighty vexed. He held that Catholics put ‘their hope of salvation on outward forms and superstitious observances’*, and no doubt would have included venerating saints’ relics as one of those observances. He himself went out of his way to visit Llansilin, for the sake of a poet.

*The Bible in Spain.

Photograph by Plucas58 via Wikipedia. Free to use.

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8 November: Borrow’s brolly

Image from Sister Johanna

George Borrow is walking through Wales in November 1854, and does not regard an umbrella as something expendable, to be thrown out when one or two struts have broken! No Bibles for sale this time, but he’s as full of himself as ever. Enjoy his bombast! But we could remind him of Psalm 17:8, ‘Keep me as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.’ Even when the rain is in your face, the Lord will protect you. If you allow him to.

Rain came on, but it was at my back, so I expanded my umbrella, flung it over my shoulder and laughed.  O, how a man laughs who has a good umbrella when he has the rain at his back, aye and over his head too, and at all times when it rains except when the rain is in his face, when the umbrella is not of much service.  O, what a good friend to a man is an umbrella in rain time, and likewise at many other times.  What need he fear if a wild bull or a ferocious dog attacks him, provided he has a good umbrella? he unfurls the umbrella in the face of the bull or dog, and the brute turns round quite scared, and runs away.  Or if a footpad asks him for his money, what need he care provided he has an umbrella? he threatens to dodge the ferrule into the ruffian’s eye, and the fellow starts back and says, “Lord, sir! I meant no harm.  I never saw you before in all my life.  I merely meant a little fun.”  Moreover, who doubts that you are a respectable character provided you have an umbrella? you go into a public-house and call for a pot of beer, and the publican puts it down before you with one hand without holding out the other for the money, for he sees that you have an umbrella and consequently property.  And what respectable man, when you overtake him on the way and speak to him, will refuse to hold conversation with you, provided you have an umbrella?  No one.  The respectable man sees you have an umbrella and concludes that you do not intend to rob him, and with justice, for robbers never carry umbrellas.  O, a tent, a shield, a lance and a voucher for character is an umbrella.  Amongst the very best friends of man must be reckoned an umbrella.

from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

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17 May: Night Prayers and more.

A short while after he saw the swimming friars, George Borrow had to sleep at a riverside inn to catch the steamer en route to North Africa. There was not much room at the inn …

“I now laid my carpet bag on the bench as a pillow, and flung myself down.  I should have been asleep instantly, but he of the red nightcap now commenced snoring awfully, which brought to my mind that I had not yet commended myself to my friend and Redeemer: I therefore prayed, and then sank to repose. I was awakened more than once during the night by cats, and I believe rats, leaping upon my body.  At the last of these interruptions I arose, and looked at my watch; it was half-past three o’clock.  I opened the door and looked out; whereupon some fishermen entered clamouring for their morning draught: the old man was soon on his feet serving them.  One of the men said to me that, if I was going by the steamer, I had better order my things to the wharf without delay, as he had heard the vessel coming down the river.  I dispatched my luggage, and then demanded of the red nightcap what I owed him.  He replied “One real.”  These were the only two words which I heard proceed from his mouth: he was certainly addicted to silence, and perhaps to philosophy, neither of which are much practised in Andalusia. 

From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula. On Kindle or on line.

… At least the friars will have recited Compline together …

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16 May: Dexterity at Natation, or the swimming friars.

“We then walked to the beach, where there were a great number of bathers, all men.  Amongst them were some good swimmers; two, in particular, were out at a great distance in the firth of the Guadalquivir, I should say at least a mile; their heads could just be descried with the telescope.  I was told that they were friars.  I wondered at what period of their lives they had acquired their dexterity at natation.  I hoped it was not at a time when, according to their vows, they should have lived for prayer, fasting, and mortification alone.  Swimming is a noble exercise, but it certainly does not tend to mortify either the flesh or the spirit.

From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula, available on Kindle or on line.

Borrow did not have a high opinion of friars! Clearly they should not enjoy themselves with an evening swim. To be fair, there were many who opposed his mission to bring Spaniards the Bible in the vernacular – he had Bibles and New Testaments in Spanish and the Gospel of Luke in the local Romany dialect, but without the Council of Trent’s official interpretive notes, which were anathema to Borrow as an evangelical Protestant! Times have changed, thank God, and the Catholic Church and Bible Societies are ready to co-operate in many ways.

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