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HOME > Biographical > The Life of George Borrow > CHAPTER XV St. Petersburg and John P. Hasfeld
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CHAPTER XV St. Petersburg and John P. Hasfeld
 Borrow travelled by way of Hamburg and Lübeck to Travemünde, whence he went by sea to St. Petersburg, now called Petrograd, where he arrived on the twentieth of August, 1833.  He was back in London in September, 1835, and thus it will be seen that he spent two years in Russia.  After the hard life he had led, everything was now rose-coloured.  “Petersburg is the finest city in the world,” he wrote to Mr. Jowett; “neither London nor Paris nor any other European capital which I have visited has sufficient pretensions1 to enter into comparison with it in respect to beauty and grandeur2.”  But the striking thing about Borrow in these early years was his capacity for making friends.  He had not been a week in St. Petersburg before he had gained the regard of one William Glen, who, in 1825, had been engaged by the Bible Society to translate the Old Testament3 into Persian.  The clever Scot, of whom Borrow was informed by a competent judge that he was “a Persian scholar of the first water,” was probably too heretical for the Society, which recalled him, much to his chagrin4.  “He is a very learned man, but of very simple and unassuming manners,” wrote Borrow to Jowett.  His version of the Psalms5 appeared in 1830, and of Proverbs in 1831.  Thus he was going home in despair, but seems to have had “good talk” on the way with Borrow in St. Petersburg.  In 1845 his complete Old Testament in Persian appeared in Edinburgh.  This William Glen has been confused with another William Glen, a law student, who taught Carlyle Greek, but they had nothing in common.  Borrow and Carlyle could not possibly have had friends in common.  Borrow was drawn6 towards this William Glen by his enthusiasm for the Persian language.  But Glen departed out of his life very quickly.  Hasfeld, who entered it about the same time, was to stay longer.  Hasfeld was a Dane, now thirty-three years of age, p. 98who, after a period in the Foreign Office at Copenhagen, had come to St. Petersburg as an interpreter to the Danish Legation, but made quite a good income as a professor of European languages in cadet schools and elsewhere.  The English language and literature would seem to have been his favourite topic.  His friendship for Borrow was a great factor in Borrow’s life in Russia and elsewhere.  If Borrow’s letters to Hasfeld should ever come to light, they will prove the best that he wrote.  Hasfeld’s letters to Borrow were preserved by him.  Three of them are in my possession.  Others were secured by Dr. Knapp, who made far too little use of them.  They are all written in Danish on foreign notepaper: flowery, grandiloquent7 productions we may admit, but if we may judge a man by his correspondents, we have a revelation of a more human Borrow than the correspondence with the friends at Earl Street reveals:  
St. Petersburg, 6/18 November, 1836.
My dear Friend,—Much water has run through the Neva since I last wrote to you, my last letter was dated 5/17th April; the last letter I received from you was dated Madrid, 23rd May, and I now see with regret that it is still unanswered; it is, however, a good thing that I have not written as often to you as I have thought about you, for otherwise you would have received a couple of letters daily, because the sun never sets without you, my lean friend, entering into my imagination.  I received the Spanish letter a day or two before I left for Stockholm, and it made the journey with me, for it was in my mind to send you an epistle from Svea’s capital, but there were so many petty hindrances8 that I was nearly forgetting myself, let alone correspondence.  I lived in Stockholm as if each day were to be my last, swam in champagne9, or rested in girls’ embraces.  You doubtless blush for me; you may do so, but don’t think that that conviction will murder my almost shameless candour, the only virtue10 which I possess, in a superfluous11 degree.  In Sweden I tried to be lovable, and succeeded, to the astonishment12 of myself and everybody else.  I reaped the reward on the most beautiful lips, which only too often had to complain that the fascinating Dane was faithless like the foam13 of the sea and the ice of spring.  Every wrinkle which seriousness had impressed on my face vanished in joy and smiles; my frozen heart melted and pulsed with the rapid beat of gladness; in short, I was not recognisable.  Now I have come back to my old wrinkles, and make sacrifice again on the altar of friendship, and when the incense14, this letter, reaches you, then prove to me your pleasure, wherever you may be, and let an echo of friendship’s voice resound15 from Granada’s Alhambra or Sahara’s deserts.  But I know that you, p. 99good soul, will write and give me great pleasure by informing me that you are happy and well; when I get a letter from you my heart rejoices, and I feel as if I were happy, and that is what happiness consists of.  Therefore let your soldierlike letters march promptly16 to their place of arms—paper—and move in close columns to St. Petersburg, where they will find warm winter quarters.  I have received a letter from my correspondent in London, Mr. Edward Thomas Allan, No. 11 North Audley St.; he informs me that my manuscript has been promenading17 about, calling on publishers without having been well received; some of them would not even look at it, because it smelt18 of Russian leather; others kept it for three or six weeks and sent it back with “Thanks for the loan.”  They probably used it to get rid of the moth19 out of their old clothes.  It first went to Longman and Co.’s, Paternoster Row; Bull of Hollis St.; Saunders and Otley, Conduit St.; John Murray of Albemarle St., who kept it for three weeks; and finally it went to Bentley of New Burlington St., who kept it for SIX weeks and returned it; now it is to pay a visit to a Mr. Colburn, and if he won’t have the abandoned child, I will myself care for it.  If this finds you in London, which is quite possible, see whether you can do anything for me ............
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