24/6/07

THE BIBLE IN SPAIN.

Richard Ford, the great Hispanophile and the author of the Handbook for Travellers in Spain and Readers at Home, encouraged George Borrow to write about his adventures in Spain. “Write about yourself ” Ford told him, “and give us adventures, witches, tales, bandits…” Borrow’s bestseller, The Bible in Spain, published in 1843, became the book of the year and made the author a celebrity in Great Britain. Since then, George Borrow has been considered one of the first promoters of the romantic vision of Spain. According to the journalist and writer Tom Burns Marañón, who uses the word ‘hispanomania’ to explain the feeling of attraction that romantic travellers in the nineteenth and twentieth century felt for Spain, says: “the image of Spain in Great Britain is essentially a product, a romantic and idealistic picture drawn by people like Borrow.”

The account of his famous journey appears in The Bible in Spain (1843). George Borrow draws a personal image of Spain, that of an oriental country left behind by time. He begins his book of adventures as a British patriot, a real protestant who wants to accomplish his dangerous mission of propagating true faith amongst the Spaniards. On his arrival, Borrow immediately joined with great enthusiasm a low life full of folklore and gypsies. The gypsies soon accepted him because of his eccentricity and he even learnt their language ‘Caló’. From then on he was called ‘don Jorgito el ingles’, a pícaro (a rogue), a bohemian, and a man very fond of the true life he found in his beloved, romantic Spain. Borrow felt no interest in Spanish nobility or its upper classes, although he had to have dealings with them in order to print his bibles. He stayed with the people, with the peasants and the shepherds and he travelled with caravans of muleros (muleteers), which gave him protection and shared their food with him, mainly ‘pan con bacalao’ (cod with bread).

Borrow with his great capacity for observation draws a personal picture of Spain and Spanish society. He felt very comfortable with the lower classes and considered them more interesting than the upper classes who he thought were “the most brainless of all beings.” Borrow observed that poverty was not badly looked on in Spain, it was part of the country, and “Spaniards live as their ancestors did six centuries ago.” The years Borrow spent in Spain were the happiest of his life. He discovered and imagined a wonderful place with a warm climate, an authentic country which seemed to him more real and alive than impersonal, industrial Great Britain. However, the most important aspect of Borrow’s picture is Spain as a country deeply marked by the people, mainly the peasants, muleteers, and soldiers. They give the country vitality and character. When Borrow visited, it was an ancient powerful, but exhausted country in a decadent state, but it had kept some of its glorious past. Although excessively romantic, Borrow’s The Bible in Spain is a homage to the Spanish spirit.

Fragment of an article published by Carlos Pranger in Costa de Almeria News 22/06/2007.