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HOME > Biographical > The Life of George Borrow > CHAPTER XVI The Manchu Bible—“Targum”—“The Talisman”
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CHAPTER XVI The Manchu Bible—“Targum”—“The Talisman”
 As for the absurd object for which Borrow was sent to Russia the less said the better.  Any of my readers who care for the survey of human folly1 associated with undiscriminating Bible worship can read of this particular example in the Society’s own records. [102]  The Bible Society wanted the Bible to be set up in the Manchu language, the official language of the Chinese Court and Government.  A Russian scholar named Lipóftsof, who had spent twenty years in China, undertook in 1821 to translate the New Testament2 into Manchu for £560.  Lipóftsof had done his work in 1826, and had sent two manuscript copies to London.  In 1832 the Rev3. William Swan of the London Missionary4 Society in passing through St. Petersburg discovered a transcript5 of a large part of the Old and New Testament in Manchu, made by one Pierot, a French Jesuit, many years before.  This transcript was unavailable, but a second was soon afterwards forthcoming for free publication if a qualified7 Manchu scholar could be found to see it through the Press.  Mr. Swan’s communication of these facts to the Bible Society in London gave Borrow his opportunity.  It was his task to find the printers, buy the paper, and hire the qualified compositors for setting the type.  It must be admitted Borrow worked hard for his £200 a year.  First he had to ask the diplomatists for permission from the Russian Government, not now so friendly to British missionary zeal8.  The Russian Bible Society had been suppressed in 1826.  He succeeded here.  Then he had to continue his studies in the Manchu language.  He had written from Norwich to Mr. Jowett on 9th June, 1833, “I have mastered Manchu,” but on 20th January, 1834, we find him writing to the p. 103same correspondent: “I pay about six shillings, English, for each lesson, which I grudge9 not, for the perfect acquirement of Manchu is one of my most ardent10 wishes.” [103a]  Then he found the printers—a German firm, Schultz and Beneze—who probably printed the two little books of Borrow’s own for him as a “make weight.”  He purchased paper for his Manchu translation with an ability that would have done credit to a modern newspaper manager.  Every detail of these transactions is given in his letters to the Bible Society, and one cannot but be amused at Borrow’s explanation to the Reverend Secretary of the little subterfuges11 by which he proposed to “best” the godless for the benefit of the godly:  
Knowing but too well that it is the general opinion of the people of this country that Englishmen are made of gold, and that it is only necessary to ask the most extravagant12 price for any article in order to obtain it, I told no person, to whom I applied13, who I was, or of what country; and I believe I was supposed to be a German. [103b]
Then came the composing or setting up of the type of the book.  When Borrow was called to account by his London employers, who were not sure whether he was wasting time, he replied: “I have been working in the printing-office as a common compositor, between ten and thirteen hours every day.”  In another letter Borrow records further difficulties with the printers after the composition had been effected.  Several of the working printers, it appears, “went away in disgust.”  Then he adds:
I was resolved “to do or die,” and, instead of distressing14 and perplexing the Committee with complaints, to write nothing until I could write something perfectly15 satisfactory, as I now can; and to bring about that result I have spared neither myself nor my own money.  I have toiled16 in a close printing-office the whole day, during ninety degrees of heat, for the purpose of setting an example, and have bribed17 people to work whom nothing but bribes18 would induce so to do.  I am obliged to say all this in self-justification.  No member of the Bible Society would ever have heard a syllable19 respecting what I have undergone but for the question, “What has Mr. Borrow been about?” [103c]
p. 104It is not my intention to add materially to the letters of Borrow from Russia and from Spain that have already been published, although many are in my possession.  They reveal an aspect of the life of Borrow that has been amply dealt with already, and it is an aspect that interests me but little.  Here, however, is one hitherto unpublished letter that throws much light upon Borrow’s work at this time, and shows, moreover, how well he was learning the cant20 phrases which found acceptance with his friends in Earl Street:
To the Rev. Andrew Brandram
St. Petersburg, 18th Oct., 1833.
Reverend Sir,—Supposing that you will not be displeased21 to hear how I am proceeding22, I have taken the liberty to send a few lines by a friend [104] who is leaving Russia for England.  Since my arrival in Petersburg I have been occupied eight hours every day in transcribing23 a Manchu manuscript of the Old Testament belonging to Baron24 Schilling, and I am happy to be able to say that I have just completed the last of it, the Rev. Mr. Swan, the Scottish missionary, having before my arrival copied the previous part.  Mr. Swan departs to his mission in Siberia in about two months, during most part of which time I shall be engaged in collating25 our transcripts26 with the original.  It is a great blessing27 that the Bible Society has now prepared the whole of the Sacred Scriptures28 in Manchu, which will doubtless, when printed, prove of incalculable benefit to tens of millions who have hitherto been ignorant of the will of God, putting their trust in idols29 of wood and stone instead of in a crucified Saviour30.  I am sorry to say that this country in respect to religion is in a state almost as lamentable31 as the darkest regions of the East, and the blame of this rests entirely32 upon the Greek hierarchy33, who discountenance all attempts to the spiritual improvement of the people, who, poor things, are exceedingly willing to receive instruction, and, notwithstanding the scantiness34 of their means in general for the most part, eagerly buy the tracts35 which a few pious36 English Christians37 cause to be printed and hawked38 in the neighbourhood.  But no one is better aware, Sir, than yourself that without the Scriptures men can never be brought to a true sense of their fallen and miserable39 state, and of the proper means to be employed to free themselves from the thraldom40 of Satan.  The last few copies which remained of the New Testament in Russian were purchased and distributed a few days ago, and it is lamentable to be compelled to state that at the present there appears no probability of another edition being permitted in the modern language.  It is true that there are near twenty thousand copies of the Sclavonic bible in the shop which is entrusted41 with the sale of p. 105the books of the late Russian Bible Society, but the Sclavonian translation is upwards42 of a thousand years old, having been made in the eighth century, and differs from the dialect spoken at present in Russia as much as the old Saxon does from the modern English.  Therefore it cannot be of the slightest utility to any but the learned, that is, to about ten individuals in one thousand.  I hope and trust that the Almighty43 will see fit to open some door for the illumination of this country, for it is not to be wondered if vice44 and crime be very prevalent here when the people are ignorant of the commandments of God.  Is it to be wondered that the people follow their every day pursuits on the Sabbath when they know not the unlawfulness of so doing?  Is it to be wondered that they steal when only in dread45 of the laws of the country, and are not deterred46 by the voice of conscience which only exists in a few?  This accounts for their profanation
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