George Borrow - The Man and His Books
by Edward Thomas
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"Belle faintly smiled. 'Come,' said I, 'take another cup of tea.' Belle took another cup of tea, and yet another; we had some indifferent conversation, after which I arose and gave her donkey a considerable feed of corn. Belle thanked me, shook me by the hand, and then went to her own tabernacle, and I returned to mine."

He torments her once more with Armenian and makes her speak in such a way that the reader sees—what he himself did not then see—that she was too sick with love for banter. She bade him farewell with the same transparent significance on the next day, when he was off early to a fair. "I waved my hand towards her. She slowly lifted up her right arm. I turned away and never saw Isopel Berners again." That night as he was going home he said: "Isopel Berners is waiting for me, and the first word that I shall hear from her lips is that she has made up her mind. We shall go to America, and be so happy together." She sent him a letter of farewell, and he could not follow her, he would not try, lest if he overtook her she should despise him for running after her.

I can only say that it is an extraordinary love-making, but then all love- making, when truthfully reported, is extraordinary. There can be little doubt, therefore, that this episode is truthfully reported. Borrow himself has made a comment on himself and women through the mouth of Jasper. The Gypsy had overheard him talking to his sister Ursula for three hours under a hedge, and his opinion was: "I begin to think you care for nothing in this world but old words and strange stories." When, afterwards, invited to kiss the same Ursula, he refused, "having," he says, "inherited from nature a considerable fund of modesty, to which was added no slight store acquired in the course of my Irish education," i.e. at the age of twelve.

After Isopel had gone he bought a fine horse with the help of a loan of 50 pounds from Jasper, and travelled with it across England, meeting adventures and hearing of others. He was for a time bookkeeper at a coaching inn, still with some pounds in his purse. At Horncastle, which he mentions more than once by name, he sold the horse for 150 pounds. As the fair at Horncastle lasted from the 11th to the 21st of August, the date of this last adventure is almost exactly fixed. Here the book ends.

{picture: Horncastle Horse Fair. (From an old print.): page104.jpg}


At the end of these travels Borrow had turned twenty-two. His brother John painted his portrait, but it has disappeared, and Borrow himself, as if fearing lest no adequate picture of him should remain, took pains to leave the material for one. It is a peculiarity of his books that people whom he meets and converses with often remark on his appearance. He must himself have been tolerably familiar with it and used to comment on it. He told his father that a lady thought him like Alfieri's Saul; at a later date Haydon, the painter, said he would "make a capital Pharaoh." Years before, when he was a boy, Petulengro recognised him after a long absence, because there was something in his face to prevent people from forgetting him. Mrs. Herne, his Gypsy enemy, praised him for his "singular and outrageous ugliness." He was lean, long-limbed and tall, having reached his full height of six-feet-two probably before the end of his teens; he had plenty of room to fill before becoming a big man, and yet he was already powerful and clearly destined to be a big man. His hair had for some time been rapidly becoming grey, and was soon to be altogether white: it had once been black, and his strongly-marked eyebrows were still dark brown. His face was oval and inclining to olive in complexion; his nose rounded, but not too large; his mouth good and well-moulded; his eyes dark brown and noticeable indescribably, either through their light or through the curve of the eyelids across them. "You have a flash about that eye of yours," says the old apple woman, and it is she that notices the "blob of foam" on his lips, while he is musing aloud, exclaiming "Necessity!" and cracking his finger-joints. He had an Irish look, or so thought his London acquaintance, Ardry. He looked "rather wild" at times and he had a way of clenching his fist when he was determined not to be put upon, as the bullying coachman found who had said: "One-and-ninepence, sir, or the things which you have brought with you will be taken away from you." Yet he had small hands for his size and "long white fingers," which "would just serve for the business," said the thimble-rigger. Though ready to hit people when he is angry, "a more civil and pleasant-spoken person than yourself," says Ursula, "can't be found." His own opinion was "that he was not altogether deficient in courage and in propriety of behaviour. . . . That his appearance was not particularly against him, his face not being like that of a convicted pickpocket, nor his gait resembling that of a fox that has lost his tail." It is as a "poor thin lad" that he commends himself to us, through the mouth of the old apple woman, at his setting out from London, but as he gets on he shows himself "an excellent pedestrian."

Already in London he has made one or two favourable impressions, as when he convinces the superb waiter that he is "accustomed to claret." But it is upon the roads that he wishes to shine. When the Man in Black asks how he knows him, he answers that "Gypsies have various ways of obtaining information." Later on, he makes the Man in Black address him as "Zingaro." He impresses the commercial traveller as "a confounded sensible young fellow, and not at all opinionated," and Lord Whitefeather as a highwayman in disguise, and the Gypsies as one who never spoke a bad word and never did a bad thing. This is his most impressive moment, when the jockey discovers that he is the Romany Rye and tells him there is scarcely a part of England where he has not heard the name of the Romany Rye mentioned by the Gypsies. Here he makes another praise him. Now let him mount the fine horse he has bought with 50 pounds borrowed from a Gypsy, and is about to sell for 150 pounds at Horncastle Fair.

"After a slight breakfast I mounted the horse, which, decked out in his borrowed finery, really looked better by a large sum of money than on any former occasion. Making my way out of the yard of the inn, I was instantly in the principal street of the town, up and down which an immense number of horses were being exhibited, some led, and others with riders. 'A wonderful small quantity of good horses in the fair this time!' I heard a stout jockey-looking individual say, who was staring up the street with his side towards me. 'Halloo, young fellow!' said he, a few moments after I had passed, 'whose horse is that? Stop! I want to look at him!' Though confident that he was addressing himself to me, I took no notice, remembering the advice of the ostler, and proceeded up the street. My horse possessed a good walking step; but walking, as the reader knows, was not his best pace, which was the long trot, at which I could not well exercise him in the street, on account of the crowd of men and animals; however, as he walked along, I could easily perceive that he attracted no slight attention amongst those who, by their jockey dress and general appearance, I imagined to be connoisseurs; I heard various calls to stop, to none of which I paid the slightest attention. In a few minutes I found myself out of the town, when, turning round for the purpose of returning, I found I had been followed by several of the connoisseur-looking individuals, whom I had observed in the fair. 'Now would be the time for a display,' thought I; and looking around me I observed two five-barred gates, one on each side of the road, and fronting each other. Turning my horse's head to one, I pressed my heels to his sides, loosened the reins, and gave an encouraging cry, whereupon the animal cleared the gate in a twinkling. Before he had advanced ten yards in the field to which the gate opened, I had turned him round, and again giving him cry and rein, I caused him to leap back again into the road, and still allowing him head, I made him leap the other gate; and forthwith turning him round, I caused him to leap once more into the road, where he stood proudly tossing his head, as much as to say, 'What more?' 'A fine horse! a capital horse!' said several of the connoisseurs. 'What do you ask for him?' 'Too much for any of you to pay,' said I. 'A horse like this is intended for other kind of customers than any of you.' 'How do you know that?' said one; the very same person whom I had heard complaining in the street of the paucity of good horses in the fair. 'Come, let us know what you ask for him?' 'A hundred and fifty pounds!' said I; 'neither more nor less.' 'Do you call that a great price?' said the man. 'Why, I thought you would have asked double that amount! You do yourself injustice, young man.' 'Perhaps I do,' said I, 'but that's my affair; I do not choose to take more.' 'I wish you would let me get into the saddle,' said the man; 'the horse knows you, and therefore shows to more advantage; but I should like to see how he would move under me, who am a stranger. Will you let me get into the saddle, young man?' 'No,' said I, 'I will not let you get into the saddle.' 'Why not?' said the man. 'Lest you should be a Yorkshireman,' said I, 'and should run away with the horse.' 'Yorkshire?' said the man; 'I am from Suffolk; silly Suffolk—so you need not be afraid of my running away with the horse.' 'Oh! if that's the case,' said I, 'I should be afraid that the horse would run away with you; so I will by no means let you mount.' 'Will you let me look in his mouth?' said the man. 'If you please,' said I; 'but I tell you, he's apt to bite.' 'He can scarcely be a worse bite than his master,' said the man, looking into the horse's mouth; 'he's four off. I say, young man, will you warrant this horse?' 'No,' said I; 'I never warrant horses; the horses that I ride can always warrant themselves.' 'I wish you would let me speak a word to you,' said he. 'Just come aside. It's a nice horse,' said he, in a half whisper, after I had ridden a few paces aside with him. 'It's a nice horse,' said he, placing his hand upon the pommel of the saddle and looking up in my face, 'and I think I can find you a customer. If you would take a hundred, I think my lord would purchase it, for he has sent me about the fair to look him up a horse, by which he could hope to make an honest penny.' 'Well,' said I, 'and could he not make an honest penny, and yet give me the price I ask?' 'Why,' said the go-between, 'a hundred and fifty pounds is as much as the animal is worth, or nearly so; and my lord, do you see . . .' 'I see no reason at all,' said I, 'why I should sell the animal for less than he is worth, in order that his lordship may be benefited by him; so that if his lordship wants to make an honest penny, he must find some person who would consider the disadvantage of selling him a horse for less than it is worth, as counterbalanced by the honour of dealing with a lord, which I should never do; but I can't be wasting my time here. I am going back to the . . ., where if you, or any person, are desirous of purchasing the horse, you must come within the next half-hour, or I shall probably not feel disposed to sell him at all.' 'Another word, young man,' said the jockey; but without staying to hear what he had to say, I put the horse to his best trot, and re-entering the town, and threading my way as well as I could through the press, I returned to the yard of the inn, where, dismounting, I stood still, holding the horse by the bridle."

As no one else troubled to paint Borrow either at Horncastle or any other place, and as he took advantage of the fact to such purpose, I must leave this portrait as it is, only I shall remind the reader that it is not a photograph but a portrait of the painter. A little time ago this painter was a consumptive-looking literary hack, and is still a philologist, with eyes a bit dim from too much reading, and subject to frantic melancholy;—a liker of solitude and of men and women who do not disturb it, but a man accustomed to men and very well able to deal with them.


The last words of "The Romany Rye" narrative are: "I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno came originally from India. I think I'll go there." This is his way of giving impressiveness to the "veiled period" of the following seven or eight years, for the benefit of those who had read "The Zincali" and "The Bible in Spain," and had been allured by the hints of earlier travel. In "The Zincali" he has spoken of seeing "Gypsies of various lands, Russian, Hungarian and Turkish; and also the legitimate children of most countries of the world": of being "in the shop of an Armenian at Constantinople," and "lately at Janina in Albania." In "The Bible in Spain" he had spoken of "an acquaintance of mine, a Tartar Khan." He had described strange things, and said: "This is not the first instance in which it has been my lot to verify the wisdom of the saying, that truth is sometimes wilder than fiction;" he had met Baron Taylor and reminded the reader of other meetings "in the street or the desert, the brilliant hall or amongst Bedouin haimas, at Novgorod or Stambul." Before 1833 he had been in Paris and Madrid. "I have been everywhere," he said to the simple company at a Welsh inn. Speaking to Colonel Napier in 1839 at Seville, he said that he had picked up the Gypsy tongue "some years ago in Moultan," and he gave the impression that he had visited most parts of the East.

A little too much has been made of this "veiled period," not by Borrow, but by others. It would have been fair to surmise that if he chose not to write about this period of his life, either there was very little in it, or there was something in it which he was unwilling—perhaps ashamed—to disclose; and what has been discovered suggests that he was in an unsettled state—writing to please himself and perhaps also the booksellers, travelling a little and perhaps meeting some of the adventures which he crammed into those few months of 1825, suffering from "the horrors" either in solitude or with no confidant but his mother.

Borrow himself took no great pains to preserve the veil. For instance, in the preface to his translation of "Y Bardd Cwsg" in 1860, he says that it was made "in the year 1830 at the request of a little Welsh bookseller of his acquaintance" in Smithfield.

In 1826 he was in Norwich: the "Romantic Ballads" were published there, and in May he received a letter from Allan Cunningham, whose cheery commendatory verses ushered in the book. The letter suggests that Borrow was indolent from apathy. The book had no success or notice, which Knapp puts down to his not sending out presentation copies. "I judge, however," says he, "that he sent one to Walter Scott, and that that busy writer forgot to acknowledge the courtesy. Borrow's lifelong hostility to Scott would thus be accounted for;" but the hostility is his reason for supposing that the copy was sent. Some time afterwards, in 1826, he was at 26, Bryanstone Street, Portman Square, and was to sit for the artist, B. R. Haydon, before going off to the South of France. If he went, he may have paid the visits to Paris, Bayonne, Italy and Spain, which he alludes to in "The Bible in Spain"; he may, as Dr. Knapp suggests, have covered the ground of Murtagh's alleged travels in "The Romany Rye," and have been at Pau, with Quesada's army marching to Pamplona, at Torrelodones, and at Seville. But in a letter to the Bible Society in 1838 he spoke of his earlier acquaintance with Spain being confined almost entirely to Madrid. It may be true, as he says in "The Zincali," that "once in the south of France, when he was weary, hungry, and penniless, he observed one of these patterans or Gypsy trails, and, following the direction pointed out, arrived at the resting place of some Gypsies, who received him with kindness and hospitality on the faith of no other word of recommendation than patteran." It may be true that he wandered in Italy, and rested at nightfall by a kiln "about four leagues from Genoa." But by April, 1827, he must have been back in Norwich, according to Knapp, to see Marshland Shales at the fair. Knapp gives certain proof that he was there between September and December. Thereafter, if Knapp was right, he was translating Vidocq's "Memoirs." In 1829 again he was in London, at 17, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and was projecting with John Bowring a collection of "Songs of Scandinavia." He applied for work to the Highland Society and to the British Museum, in 1830. In that summer he was at 7, Museum Street, Bloomsbury. He was not satisfied with his work or its remuneration. He thought of entering the French Army, of going to Greece, of getting work, with Bowring's help, under the Belgian Government. His name "had been down for several years" for the purchase of a commission in the English Army, and Bowring offered to recommend him to "a corps in one of the Eastern Colonies," where he could perfect his Arabic and Persian. In 1842 he wrote a letter to Bowring, printed by Mr. Walling, asking for "as many of the papers and manuscripts which I left at yours some twelve years ago, as you can find," and for advice and a loan of books, and promising that Murray will send a copy of "The Bible in Spain" to "my oldest, I may say my only friend." But whatever Bowring's help, Borrow was "drifting on the sea of the world, and likely to be so," and especially hurt because of the figure he must cut in the eyes of his own people. Was it now, or when he was bookkeeper at the inn in 1825, that he saw so much of the ways of commercial travellers? {114}

It is not necessary to quote from the metrical translations, probably of this period, "selections from a huge, undigested mass of translation, accumulated during several years devoted to philological pursuits," published in "The Targum" of 1835. They were made from originals in the Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Tartar, Tibetian, Chinese, Mandchou, Russian, Malo-Russian, Polish, Finnish, Anglo-Saxon, Ancient Norse, Suabian, German, Dutch, Danish, Ancient Danish, Swedish, Ancient Irish, Irish, Gaelic, Ancient British, Cambrian British, Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, Provencal, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Rommany.

I will, however, quote from "The Sleeping Bard, or Visions of the World, Death and Hell," his translation of Elis Wyn's "Y Bardd Cwsg." The book would please Borrow, because in the City of Perdition Rome stands at the gate of Pride, and the Pope has palaces in the streets of Pleasure and of Lucre; because the Church of England is the fairest part of the Catholic Church, surmounted by "Queen Anne on the pinnacle of the building, with a sword in each hand"; and because the Papist is turned away from the Catholic Church by a porter with "an exceedingly large Bible." "One fair morning," he begins:

"One fair morning of genial April, when the earth was green and pregnant, and Britain, like a paradise, was wearing splendid liveries, tokens of the smile of the summer sun, I was walking upon the bank of the Severn, in the midst of the sweet notes of the little songsters of the wood, who appeared to be striving to break through all the measures of music, whilst pouring forth praise to the Creator. I, too, occasionally raised my voice and warbled with the feathered choir, though in a manner somewhat more restrained than that in which they sang; and occasionally read a portion of the book of 'The Practice of Godliness.'"

And in his vision he saw fiends drive men and women through the foul river of the Fiend to their eternal damnation, where

"I at the first glance saw more pains and torments than the heart of man can imagine or the tongue relate; a single one of which was sufficient to make the hair stand erect, the blood to freeze, the flesh to melt, the bones to drop from their places—yea, the spirit to faint. What is empaling or sawing men alive, tearing off the flesh piecemeal with iron pincers, or broiling the flesh with candles, collop fashion, or squeezing heads flat in a vice, and all the most shocking devices which ever were upon earth, compared with one of these? Mere pastime! There were a hundred thousand shoutings, hoarse cries, and strong groans; yonder a boisterous wailing and horrible outcry answering them, and the howling of a dog is sweet, delicious music when compared with these sounds. When we had proceeded a little way onward from the accursed beach, towards the wild place of Damnation, I perceived, by their own light, innumerable men and women here and there; and devils without number and without rest, incessantly employing their strength in tormenting. Yes, there they were, devils and damned, the devils roaring with their own torments, and making the damned roar by means of the torments which they inflicted upon them. I paid particular observation to the corner which was nearest me. There I beheld the devils with pitchforks, tossing the damned up into the air that they might fall headlong on poisoned hatchets or barbed pikes, there to wriggle their bowels out. After a time the wretches would crawl in multitudes, one upon another, to the top of one of the burning crags, there to be broiled like mutton; from there they would be snatched afar, to the top of one of the mountains of eternal frost and snow, where they would be allowed to shiver for a time; thence they would be precipitated into a loathsome pool of boiling brimstone, to wallow there in conflagration, smoke and the suffocation of horrible stench; from the pool they would be driven to the marsh of Hell, that they might embrace and be embraced by the reptiles, many times worse than serpents and vipers; after allowing them half an hour's dalliance with these creatures the devils would seize a bundle of rods of steel, fiery hot from the furnace, and would scourge them till their howling, caused by the horrible inexpressible pain which they endured, would fill the vast abode of darkness, and when the fiends deemed that they had scourged them enough, they would take hot irons and sear their bloody wounds. . . ."

And this would have particularly pleased Borrow, who disliked and condemned smoking:

"For one of late origin I will not deny, O Cerberus, that thou hast brought to us many a booty from the island of our enemies, by means of tobacco, a weed the cause of much deceit; for how much deceit is practised in carrying it about, in mixing it, and in weighing it: a weed which entices some people to bib ale; others to curse, swear, and to flatter in order to obtain it, and others to tell lies in denying that they use it: a weed productive of maladies in various bodies, the excess of which is injurious to every man's body, without speaking of his soul: a weed, moreover, by which we get multitudes of the poor, whom we should never get did they not set their love on tobacco, allow it to master them, and pull the bread from the mouths of their children."

In the preface to this book as it was finally published in 1860, Borrow said that the little Welsh bookseller had rejected it for fear of being ruined—"The terrible descriptions of vice and torment would frighten the genteel part of the English public out of their wits. . . . I had no idea, till I read him in English, that Elis Wyn had been such a terrible fellow."

In September, 1830, Borrow left London and returned to Norwich, having done nothing which attracted attention or deserved to. His brother's opinion was that his want of success in life was due chiefly to his being unlike other people. So far as his failure in literature went, it was due to the fact that he was doing either poorly or only moderately well work that very few people wanted to read, viz., chiefly verse translations from unfashionable languages. It may be also that his health was partly the cause and was in turn lowered by the long continued failure. When Borrow, at the age of forty or more, came to write about the first twenty-two years of his life, he not only described himself suffering from several attacks of "the horrors," but also with almost equal vividness three men suffering from mental afflictions of different kinds: the author who lived alone and was continually touching things to avert the evil chance; the old man who had saved himself from being overwhelmed in his terrible misfortunes by studying the inscriptions on Chinese pots, but could not tell the time; and the Welshman who wandered over the country preaching and living piously, but haunted by the knowledge that in his boyhood he had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. The most vivid description of his "horrors," which he said in 1834 always followed if they did not result from weakness, is in the eighty-fourth chapter of "Lavengro":

"Heaviness had suddenly come over me, heaviness of heart, and of body also. I had accomplished the task which I had imposed upon myself, and now that nothing more remained to do, my energies suddenly deserted me, and I felt without strength, and without hope. Several causes, perhaps, co-operated to bring about the state in which I then felt myself. It is not improbable that my energies had been overstrained during the work, the progress of which I have attempted to describe; and every one is aware that the results of overstrained energies are feebleness and lassitude—want of nourishment might likewise have something to do with it. During my sojourn in the dingle my food had been of the simplest and most unsatisfying description, by no means calculated to support the exertions which the labour I had been engaged upon required; it had consisted of coarse oaten cakes, and hard cheese, and for beverage I had been indebted to a neighbouring pit, in which, in the heat of the day, I frequently saw, not golden or silver fish, but frogs and efts swimming about. I am, however, inclined to believe that Mrs. Herne's cake had quite as much to do with the matter as insufficient nourishment. I had never entirely recovered from the effects of its poison, but had occasionally, especially at night, been visited by a grinding pain in the stomach, and my whole body had been suffused with cold sweat; and indeed these memorials of the drow have never entirely disappeared—even at the present time they display themselves in my system, especially after much fatigue of body, and excitement of mind. So there I sat in the dingle upon my stone, nerveless and hopeless, by whatever cause or causes that state had been produced—there I sat with my head leaning upon my hand, and so I continued a long, long time. At last I lifted my head from my hand, and began to cast anxious, unquiet looks about the dingle—the entire hollow was now enveloped in deep shade—I cast my eyes up; there was a golden gleam on the tops of the trees which grew towards the upper parts of the dingle; but lower down, all was gloom and twilight—yet, when I first sat down on my stone, the sun was right above the dingle, illuminating all its depths by the rays which it cast perpendicularly down—so I must have sat a long, long time upon my stone. And now, once more, I rested my head upon my hand, but almost instantly lifted it again in a kind of fear, and began looking at the objects before me, the forge, the tools, the branches of the trees, endeavouring to follow their rows, till they were lost in the darkness of the dingle; and now I found my right hand grasping convulsively the three forefingers of the left, first collectively, and then successively, wringing them till the joints cracked; then I became quiet, but not for long.

"Suddenly I started up, and could scarcely repress the shriek which was rising to my lips. Was it possible? Yes, all too certain; the evil one was upon me; the inscrutable horror which I had felt in my boyhood had once more taken possession of me. I had thought that it had forsaken me; that it would never visit me again; that I had outgrown it; that I might almost bid defiance to it; and I had even begun to think of it without horror, as we are in the habit of doing of horrors of which we conceive we run no danger; and lo! when least thought of, it had seized me again. Every moment I felt it gathering force, and making me more wholly its own. What should I do?—resist, of course; and I did resist. I grasped, I tore, and strove to fling it from me; but of what avail were my efforts? I could only have got rid of it by getting rid of myself; it was a part of myself, or rather it was all myself. I rushed among the trees, and struck at them with my bare fists, and dashed my head against them, but I felt no pain. How could I feel pain with that horror upon me! and then I flung myself on the ground, gnawed the earth, and swallowed it; and then I looked round; it was almost total darkness in the dingle, and the darkness added to my horror. I could no longer stay there; up I rose from the ground, and attempted to escape; at the bottom of the winding path which led up the acclivity I fell over something which was lying on the ground; the something moved, and gave a kind of whine. It was my little horse, which had made that place its lair; my little horse; my only companion and friend, in that now awful solitude. I reached the mouth of the dingle; the sun was just sinking in the far west, behind me; the fields were flooded with his last gleams. How beautiful everything looked in the last gleams of the sun! I felt relieved for a moment; I was no longer in the horrid dingle; in another minute the sun was gone, and a big cloud occupied the place where he had been; in a little time it was almost as dark as it had previously been in the open part of the dingle. My horror increased; what was I to do?—it was of no use fighting against the horror; that I saw; the more I fought against it, the stronger it became. What should I do: say my prayers? Ah! why not? So I knelt down under the hedge, and said, 'Our father'; but that was of no use; and now I could no longer repress cries; the horror was too great to be borne. What should I do: run to the nearest town or village, and request the assistance of my fellow-men? No! that I was ashamed to do; notwithstanding the horror was upon me, I was ashamed to do that. I knew they would consider me a maniac, if I went screaming amongst them; and I did not wish to be considered a maniac. Moreover, I knew that I was not a maniac, for I possessed all my reasoning powers, only the horror was upon me—the screaming horror! But how were indifferent people to distinguish between madness and this screaming horror? So I thought and reasoned; and at last I determined not to go amongst my fellow men, whatever the result might be. I went to the mouth of the dingle, and there, placing myself on my knees, I again said the Lord's Prayer; but it was of no use; praying seemed to have no effect over the horror; the unutterable fear appeared rather to increase than diminish; and I again uttered wild cries, so loud that I was apprehensive they would be heard by some chance passenger on the neighbouring road; I therefore went deeper into the dingle; I sat down with my back against a thorn bush; the thorns entered my flesh, and when I felt them, I pressed harder against the bush; I thought the pain of the flesh might in some degree counteract the mental agony; presently I felt them no longer; the power of the mental horror was so great that it was impossible, with that upon me, to feel any pain from the thorns. I continued in this posture a long time, undergoing what I cannot describe, and would not attempt if I were able. Several times I was on the point of starting up and rushing anywhere; but I restrained myself, for I knew I could not escape from myself, so why should I not remain in the dingle? So I thought and said to myself, for my reasoning powers were still uninjured. At last it appeared to me that the horror was not so strong, not quite so strong upon me. Was it possible that it was relaxing its grasp, releasing its prey? O what a mercy! but it could not be—and yet I looked up to heaven, and clasped my hands, and said 'Our Father.' I said no more; I was too agitated; and now I was almost sure that the horror had done its worst.

"After a little time I arose, and staggered down yet farther into the dingle. I again found my little horse on the same spot as before, I put my hand to his mouth; he licked my hand. I flung myself down by him and put my arms round his neck, the creature whinnied, and appeared to sympathise with me; what a comfort to have any one, even a dumb brute, to sympathise with me at such a moment! I clung to my little horse, as if for safety and protection. I laid my head on his neck, and felt almost calm; presently the fear returned, but not so wild as before; it subsided, came again, again subsided; then drowsiness came over me, and at last I fell asleep, my head supported on the neck of the little horse. I awoke; it was dark, dark night—not a star was to be seen—but I felt no fear, the horror had left me. I arose from the side of the little horse, and went into my tent, lay down, and again went to sleep. . . ."

It may be said that the man who had gone through this, and could describe it, would find it easy enough to depict other sufferings of the same kind, though in later or less violent stages. It is certain, however, that for such a one to acquire the habit of touching was easy. He says himself, that after the night with the author who had this habit and who feared ideas more than thunder and lightning, he himself touched things and wondered if "the long-forgotten influence" had returned. Mr. Walling says that "he has been informed" that Borrow "suffered in his youth from the touching mania," and like many other readers probably, I had concluded the same. But Mr. Watts-Dunton had already told us that "in walking through Richmond Park," when an old man, Borrow "would step out of his way constantly to touch a tree and was offended if observed." The old man diverting himself with Chinese inscriptions on teapots would be an easy invention for Borrow; he may not have done this very thing, but he had done similar things. Here again, Mr. Walling says that "he has been told" the incident was drawn from Borrow's own experience. As to Peter Williams and the sin against the Holy Ghost, Borrow hinted to him that his case was not exceptional:

"'Dost thou then imagine,' said Peter, 'the sin against the Holy Ghost to be so common an occurrence?'

"'As you have described it,' said I, 'of very common occurrence, especially amongst children, who are, indeed, the only beings likely to commit it.'

"'Truly,' said Winifred, 'the young man talks wisely.'

"Peter was silent for some moments, and appeared to be reflecting; at last, suddenly raising his head, he looked me full in the face, and, grasping my hand with vehemence, he said, 'Tell me, young man, only one thing, hast thou, too, committed the sin against the Holy Ghost?'

"'I am neither Papist nor Methodist,' said I, 'but of the Church, and, being so, confess myself to no one, but keep my own counsel; I will tell thee, however, had I committed at the same age, twenty such sins as that which you committed, I should feel no uneasiness at these years—but I am sleepy, and must go to rest.'"

This is due to probably something more than a desire to make himself and his past impressive. The man's story in several places reminds me of Borrow, where, for instance, after he has realised his unpardonable sin, he runs wild through Wales, "climbing mountains and wading streams, burnt by the sun, drenched by the rain," so that for three years he hardly knew what befel him, living with robbers and Gypsies, and once about to fling himself into the sea from a lofty rock.

If it be true, as it is likely, that Borrow suffered in a more extended manner than he showed in his accounts of the horrors, the time of the suffering is still uncertain. Was it before his first escape from London, as he says in "Lavengro"? Was it during his second long stay in London or after his second escape? Or was it really not long before the actual narrative was written in the 'forties? There is some reason for thinking so. The most vivid description of "the horrors," and the account of the touching gentleman and of Peter Williams, together with a second reference to "the horrors" or the "evil one," all occur in a section of "Lavengro" equal to hardly more than a sixth of the whole. And further, when Borrow was writing "Wild Wales," or when he met the sickly young man at the "Castle Inn" of Caernarvon, he thought of himself as always having had "the health of an elephant." I should be inclined to conclude at least that when he was forty great mental suffering was still fresh in his mind, something worse than the heavy melancholy which returned now and then when he was past fifty.


From the phrase, "He said in '32," which Borrow uses of himself in Chapter X. of the Appendix to "The Romany Rye," it was to be concluded that he was writing political articles in 1832; and Dr. Knapp was able to quote a manuscript of the time where he says that "there is no Radical who would not rejoice to see his native land invaded by the bitterest of her foreign enemies," etc., and also a letter, printed in the "Norfolk Chronicle," on August 18, 1832, on the origin of the word "Tory."

At the end of this year he became friendly with the family of Skepper, including the widowed Mrs. Mary Clarke, then 36 years old, who lived at Oulton Hall, near Lowestoft, in Suffolk. With or through them he met the Rev. Francis Cunningham, Vicar of St. Margaret's, Lowestoft, who had married a sister of the Quaker banker, Joseph John Gurney, and through the offices of these two, Borrow was invited to go before the British and Foreign Bible Society, as a candidate for employment in some branch of the Society's work where his knowledge of languages would be useful. He walked to London for the purpose in December, 1832. The Society was satisfied and sent him back to Norwich to learn the Manchu-Tartar language. There he wrote a letter, which, if we take Dr. Knapp's word for it, was "a sort of recantation of the Taylorism of 1824." Being now near thirty, and perhaps having his worst "horrors" behind him, or at least having reason to think so if he was already fond of Mrs. Clarke, whom he afterwards married, it was easy for him to fall into the same way of speaking as these good and kindly people, and to abuse Buddhism, which he did not understand, for their delectation. Mrs. Clarke had four or five hundred pounds a year of her own, and one child, a daughter, then about fourteen years old. Perhaps it was natural that he should remember then, as he did later, the words of the cheerful and forgetful wise man: "I have been young and now am grown old, yet never have I seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread."

From a gloomily fanatical atheist Borrow changed to a cheerfully fanatical Protestant, described as "of the middle order in society, and a very produceable person." {126} He was probably never a good atheist of the reasonable critical type like William Taylor, whose thinking was too dull and too difficult for him. Above all it was too negative and unrelated to anything but the brain for the man who wrote "Lines to Six- foot-three" and consorted with Gypsies. He had taken atheism along with Taylor's literary and linguistic teaching, perhaps with some eagerness at first as a form of protest against conventionally pious and respectable Norwich life. The Bible Society and Mrs. Clarke and her friends came radiant and benevolent to his "looped and windowed" atheism. They gave him friends and money: they gave him an occupation on which he felt, and afterwards found, that he could spend his hesitating energies. He gathered up all his powers to serve the Bible Society. He suffered hunger, cold, imprisonment, wounded feet, long hours of indoor labour and long hours of dismal attendance upon inexorable official delay. Personally he irritated Mr. Brandram, the secretary, and his bold and unexpected ways gave the Society something to put up with, but he was always a faithful and enthusiastic servant. He had many reasons for being grateful to them. He, who was going to get himself imprisoned for atheism, had already become, as Mr. Cunningham thought, a man "of certain Christian principle," if "of no very exactly defined denomination of Christians." He certainly did become an unquestioning wild missionary—though not merely wild, for he was discreet in his boldness; he was careful to save the Society money; he made himself respected by the highest English and Spanish officials in Spain; so that in 1837, for the first time in the Society's history, an English ambassador made their cause a national one. He wanted to shout and the Bible Society gave him something to shout for. He wanted to fight and they gave him something to fight for. Twenty years afterwards, in writing the Appendix to "The Romany Rye," he looked back on his travels in Spain as on a campaign:

"It is true he went to Spain with the colours of that Society on his hat—oh! the blood glows in his veins! oh! the marrow awakes in his old bones when he thinks of what he accomplished in Spain in the cause of religion and civilisation with the colours of that Society on his hat, and its weapon in his hand, even the sword of the word of God; how with that weapon he hewed left and right, making the priests fly before him, and run away squeaking: 'Vaya! que demonio es este!' Ay, and when he thinks of the plenty of bible swords which he left behind him, destined to prove, and which have already proved, pretty calthrops in the heels of Popery. 'Hallo! Batuschca,' he exclaimed the other night, on reading an article in a newspaper; 'what do you think of the present doings in Spain? Your old friend the zingaro, the gitano who rode about Spain, to say nothing of Galicia, with the Greek Buchini behind him as his squire, had a hand in bringing them about; there are many brave Spaniards connected with the present movement who took Bibles from his hands, and read them and profited by them."

He was as sure in 1839 as in 1857 of the diabolic power and intention of Popery, that "unrelenting fiend," whose secrets few, he said, knew more than himself. {128a}

In the gladness of his now fully exerted powers of body and mind, travelling in wild country and observing and conflicting with men, he adopted not merely the unctuous phraseology of "I am at present, thanks be to the Lord, comfortable and happy," {128b} but a more attractive religious arrogance. "That I am an associate of Gypsies and fortune-tellers I do not deny," he says, "and why should I be ashamed of their company when my Master mingled with publicans and thieves." {128c} He painted himself as a possible martyr among the wild Catholics, a St. Stephen. When he suffered at the same time from hardship and the Society's disfavour, he exclaimed: "It was God's will that I, who have risked all and lost almost all in the cause, be taunted, suspected, and the sweat of agony and tears which I have poured out be estimated at the value of the water of the ditch or the moisture which exudes from rotten dung. But I murmur not, and hope I shall at all times be willing to bow to the dispensations of the Almighty." {128d} He exulted in melodramatic nature, in the sublime of Salvator Rosa, in the desperate, wild, and strange. His very prayers, as reported by himself to the Secretary, distressed the Society because they were "passionate." True, he could sometimes, under the inspiration of the respectable Secretary, write like a perfect middle-class English Christian. He condemned the Sunday amusements of Hamburg, for example, remarking that "England, with all her faults, has still some regard to decency, and will not tolerate such a shameful display of vice" (as rope-dancing) "in so sacred a season, when a decent cheerfulness is the freest form in which the mind or countenance ought to invest themselves." {129a} He argued against the translator of the Bible into Manchu that concessions should not be made to a Chinese way of thought, because it was the object of the Society to wean the Chinese from their own customs and observances, not to encourage them. But the opposite extreme was more congenial to Borrow. He would go to the market place in a remote Spanish village and display his Testaments on the outspread horsecloth, crying: "Peasants, peasants, I bring you the Word of God at a cheap price." {129b} He would disguise himself, travelling with a sack of Testaments on his donkey; and when a woman asked if it was soap he had, he answered: "Yes; it is soap to wash souls clean." This was the man to understand Peter Williams, the Welsh preacher who had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost and wandered about preaching and refusing a roof. Neither must it be forgotten that this was the man who, in a conversation not reported to the Bible Society, said: "What befalls my body or soul was written in a gabicote a thousand years before the foundation of the world."

Borrow was only seven weeks in getting so far as to be able to translate from Manchu, though it had been said, as he pointed out, that the language took five or six years to acquire. It cost him an even shorter time to acquire the dialect of his employers, for in less than a month after he had retired to Norwich to learn Manchu, he was writing thus:

"Revd. and Dear Sir,—I have just received your communication, and notwithstanding it is Sunday morning, and the bells with their loud and clear voices are calling me to church, I have sat down to answer it by return of post. . . .

"Return my kind and respected friend, Mr. Brandram, my best thanks for his present of 'The Gypsies' Advocate,' and assure him that, next to the acquirement of Mandchou, the conversion and enlightening of those interesting people occupy the principal place in my mind. . . . {130}

Never had his linguistic power a greater or more profitable triumph than in this acquisition. As this was probably a dialect not unknown at Earlham, Norwich, and Oulton, among people whom he loved, respected, or beheld successful, the difficulty of the task was a little decreased. Thurtell and Haggart had passed away, Petulengro had not yet reappeared. There was no one to tell him that he was living in a country and an age that were afterwards to appear among the most ignorant and cruel on record. He himself had not yet discovered the "gentility-nonsense," nor did he ever discover that gentility was of the same family, if it was not an albinism of the same species, as pious and oily respectability. So delighted was he with the new dialect that he rolled it on his tongue to the confusion of habitues, who had to rap him over the knuckles for speaking of becoming "useful to the Deity, to man, and to himself."

In July, 1833, Borrow was appointed, with a salary of 200 pounds a year and expenses, to go to St. Petersburg, to help in editing a Manchu translation of the New Testament, or transcribing and collating a translation of the Old, accompanied by a warning against "a tone of confidence in speaking of yourself" in such a phrase as "useful to the Deity, to man, and to yourself." Borrow accepted the correction, and Norwich laughed at him in his new suit. At the end of July he sailed, and as at this time he had no objection to gentility he regretted the end of his passage with so many "genteel, well-bred and intelligent passengers," though he had suffered from sea-sickness, followed by "the horrors."

St. Petersburg he thought the finest of the many capitals he had seen. He made the acquaintance of several men who could help him with their learning and their books, and above all he gained the friendship of John P. Hasfeldt, a Dane, a little older than himself, who was interpreter to the Danish Legation and teacher of European languages, evidently a man after Borrow's own heart, with his opinion that "The greater part of those products of art, called 'the learned,' would not be able to earn a living if our Lord were not a guardian of fools." The copying of the Old Testament was finished by the end of the year, without having prevented Borrow from profiting by his unusual facilities for the acquisition of languages. He had then to superintend, or as it fell out, to help largely with his own hands, the printing of the first Manchu translation of the New Testament, with type which had first to be cleansed of ten years' rust and with compositors who knew nothing of Manchu. Lacking almost in time to eat or to sleep he impressed the Bible Society by his prodigious labours under "the blessing of a kind and gracious Providence watching over the execution of a work in which the wide extension of the Saviour's glory is involved."

He was living cheaply, suffering sometimes from "the horrors," and curing them with port wine—sending money home to his mother, bidding her to employ a maid and to read and "think as much of God as possible." Nor was he doing merely what he was bound to do. For example, he translated some of the "Homilies of the Church of England" into Russian and into Manchu. He also published in St. Petersburg his "Targum" and "Talisman," a short further collection of translations from Pushkin, Mickiewicz, and from Russian national songs. The work was finished and formally and kindly approved by the Bible Society. He had proposed long before that he should distribute the books himself, wandering overland with them by Lake Baikal and Kiakhta right to Pekin; but the Russian Government refused a passport. Dr. Knapp believes that this intention of going among the Tartars and overland from Russia to Pekin was the sole ground for his crediting himself with travels in the Far East. In the flesh he had to content himself with a journey to Novgorod and Moscow. As he had visited the Jews at Hamburg so he did the Gypsies at Moscow. This adventure moved him to his first characteristic piece of prose, in a letter to the Society. This letter, which was afterwards printed in the "Athenaeum," {132} and incorporated in "The Zincali," mentions the Gypsies who have become successful singers and married noblemen, but continues:

"It is not, however, to be supposed that all the female Gypsies are of this high, talented and respectable order: amongst them are many low and profligate females, who sing at taverns or at the various gardens in the neighbourhood, and whose husbands and male connexions subsist by horse jobbing and like kinds of traffic. The principal place of resort of this class is Marina Rotche, lying about two versts from Moscow, and thither I drove, attended by a valet de place. Upon my arriving there, the Gypsies swarmed out from their tents, and from the little tradeer, or tavern, and surrounded me; standing on the seat of the caleche, I addressed them in a loud voice in the dialect of the English Gypsies, with which I have some slight acquaintance. A scream of wonder instantly arose, and welcomes and greetings were poured forth in torrents of musical Rommany, amongst which, however, the most prominent air was, 'Ah kak mi toute karmama,' 'Oh, how we love you'; for at first they supposed me to be one of their brothers, who they said, were wandering about in Turkey, China, and other parts, and that I had come over the great pawnee, or water, to visit them. . . . I visited this place several times during my sojourn at Moscow, and spoke to them upon their sinful manner of living, upon the advent and suffering of Christ Jesus, and expressed, upon my taking leave of them, a hope that they would be in a short period furnished with the word of eternal life in their own language, which they seemed to value and esteem much higher than the Russian."

The tone of this letter suggests that it was meant for the Bible Society—and a copy was addressed to them—but at this date it is possible to see in it an outline of the Gypsy gentleman, very much the gentleman, the "colossal clergyman" of later days.

Borrow liked the Russians, and for some reasons was sorry to leave them and Hasfeldt in September, 1835. But for other reasons he was glad. He would see his mother and comfort her for the loss of her elder son in November, 1833, as he had already done to some extent by telling her that he would "endeavour to get ordained." He also would see Mrs. Clarke, with whom he had been corresponding for the past two years. Both she and his mother had been unwilling for him to go to Pekin.


Borrow's chief regret at leaving Russia was that his active life was interrupted, perhaps at an end. He was dreading the old life of unprofitable study with no complete friends. But luckily, when he had only been a month in England, the Bible Society resolved to send him to Lisbon and Oporto, to look for openings for circulating the Bible in Portugal and perhaps in Spain. After this they had thoughts of sending him to China by sea. In November, 1835, he sailed for Lisbon.

Spain was at this time the victim of private quarrels which had been allowed to assume public importance. King Ferdinand VII. had twice been restored to an unloving people by foreign, especially English, aid. This King had for heir his brother Carlos, until his fourth wife, Maria Christina, bore him a daughter, Isabella, in 1830; and to secure her succession he set aside the Salic law. In 1833 he died. Isabella II. was proclaimed Queen, and Christina Regent. Christinists and Carlists were soon at war, and very bloody war. The English intervened, once diplomatically, once with a foreign legion. The war wavered, with success now to the Carlist Generals Zumalacarregui and Cabrera and now to the Christinist Espartero. There were new Prime Ministers about twice yearly. The parties were divided amongst themselves, and treachery was common. The only result that could always be foreseen was that the people and the country would suffer. Not until 1841 did Espartero finally defeat Cabrera.

Portugal, in 1835, had just had its eight years of civil war between the partisans of a child—Maria II.—aged seven, and her uncle, Miguel, ending in the departure of Miguel. Borrow made a preliminary journey in the forlorn country and decided for Spain instead. Escaping the bullets of Portuguese soldiers, he crossed the boundary at the beginning of 1836 and entered Badajoz. There he met the Gypsies, and put off his journey to Madrid to see more of them and translate the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke into their tongue. At Merida he stopped again for a Gypsy wedding. His guide was the Gypsy, Antonio Lopez, who sold him the donkey which he rode as far as Talavera. At Madrid his business was to print the New Testament in a Spanish Catholic translation. He had to wait; but with a new Cabinet permission was obtained and arrangements for the printing were made. The Revolution of La Granja, which he describes in "The Bible in Spain," caused another delay. Then, in October, after a visit to the Gypsies of Granada, he returned to London.

He had written long letters to the Bible Society, and one which was combined and published in the "Athenaeum" with that written from Moscow. It is dated, Madrid, July 19, 1836, but describes his visit to Badajoz on January 6. He says, on entering Badajoz:

"I instantly returned thanks to God, who had protected me during a journey of five days through the wilds of the Alemtejo, the province of Portugal the most infested by robbers and desperate characters, and which I had traversed with no other human companion than a lad, nearly idiotic, who was to convey back the mules which carried myself and luggage."

Two men were passing him in the street, and seeing the face of one he touched his arm: "I said a certain word, to which, after an exclamation of surprise, he responded in the manner I expected." They were Gypsies. He continues:

"They left me in haste and went about the town informing the rest that a stranger had arrived who spoke Rommany as well as themselves, who had the eyes and face of a Gitano, and seemed to be of the 'cratti' or blood. In less than half an hour the street before the inn was filled with the men, women and children of Egypt. I went out amongst them, and my heart sank within me as I surveyed them; so much squalidness, dirt and misery I had never before seen amongst a similar number of human beings; but the worst of all was the evil expression of their countenances, denoting that they were familiar with every species of crime, and it was not long before I found that their countenances did not belie them. After they had asked me an infinity of questions, and felt my hands, face, and clothes, they returned to their homes."

He stayed with them nearly three weeks, he says; about ten days, says Dr. Knapp. Borrow continues:

"The result of my observations was a firm belief that the Spanish Gitanos are the most vile, degraded and wretched people upon the earth. The great wickedness of these outcasts may, perhaps, be attributed to their having abandoned their wandering life and become inmates of the towns, where, to the original bad traits of their character, they have superadded the evil and vicious habits of the rabble. . . . They listened with admiration, but alas, not of the truths, the eternal truths I was telling them, but at finding that their broken jargon could be written and read; the only words of assent to the heavenly doctrine which I ever obtained, and which were rather of the negative kind, were the following, from a woman—'Brother! you tell us strange things, though perhaps you do not lie; a month since I would sooner have believed these tales than that I should this day have seen one who could write Rommany.' . . ."

He preserves the clergyman, but deepens the Gypsy stain. The "Athenaeum" was "not at liberty on this occasion" to publish the name of this man whom Gypsies called "Brother," but apparently it would not be the name of any writer hitherto known to readers of the "Athenaeum."

He was a month in England, and then left for Spain to print and distribute Testaments. He had hardly put his feet on Spanish soil than, said the Marquis of Santa Colona, {137} he "looked round, saw some Gypsies lounging there, said something that the Marquis could not understand, and immediately 'that man became une grappe de Gitanos.' They hung round his neck, clung to his knees, seized his hands, kissed his feet, so that the Marquis hardly liked to join his comrade again, after such close embraces by so dirty a company." At Cordova he was very well received by the Gypsies "on the supposition that he was one of their own race." He says in "The Gypsies of Spain":

"As for myself, I was admitted without scruple to their private meetings, and was made a participator of their most secret thoughts. During our intercourse, some remarkable scenes occurred: one night more than twenty of us, men and women, were assembled in a long low room on the ground floor, in a dark alley or court in the old gloomy town of Cordova. After the Gitanos had discussed several jockey plans, and settled some private bargains amongst themselves, we all gathered round a huge brasero of flaming charcoal, and began conversing sobre las cosas de Egypto, when I proposed that, as we had no better means of amusing ourselves, we should endeavour to turn into the Calo language some piece of devotion, that we might see whether this language, the gradual decay of which I had frequently heard them lament, was capable of expressing any other matters than those which related to horses, mules, and Gypsy traffic. It was in this cautious manner that I first endeavoured to divert the attention of these singular people to matters of eternal importance. My suggestion was received with acclamations, and we forthwith proceeded to the translation of the Apostle's Creed. I first recited in Spanish, in the usual manner and without pausing, this noble confession, and then repeated it again, sentence by sentence, the Gitanos translating as I proceeded. They exhibited the greatest eagerness and interest in their unwonted occupation, and frequently broke into loud disputes as to the best rendering—many being offered at the same time. In the meanwhile, I wrote down from their dictation, and at the conclusion I read aloud the translation, the result of the united wisdom of the assembly, whereupon they all raised a shout of exultation, and appeared not a little proud of the composition."

In his desire to see the Gypsies and the ways of the people he more than doubled his difficulties, and suffered from cold and the rudeness of the roads and of the people. But in spite of the internecine civil war he got safe to Madrid. Printing was begun in 1837, and when copies were ready Borrow advertised them and arranged for their distribution. He himself set out with his servant, Antonio Buchini, a Greek of Constantinople, who had served an infinity of masters, and once been a cook to the overbearing General Cordova, and answered the General's sword with a pistol. They travelled to Salamanca, Valladolid, Leon, Astorga, Villafranca, Lugo, Coruna, to Santiago, Vigo, and again to Coruna, to Ferrol, Oviedo, Santander, Burgos, Valladolid, and so back to Madrid in October. He had suffered from fever, dysentery and ophthalmia on the journey. According to Dr. Knapp it was the most unpropitious country possible. If chosen by anything but ignorance, it must have been by whim and the unconscious desire to delight posterity and amaze Dr. Knapp. Borrow had met, among others, Benedict Mol, the Swiss seeker after treasure hidden in the earth under the Church of San Roque at St. James' of Compostella. This traveller was not his only acquaintance. He formed a friendship at Madrid with the Spanish scholar, Luis de Usoz, afterwards editor of "The Early Spanish Reformers," who became a member of the Bible Society, helped Borrow in editing the Spanish Testament, and looked after his interests while he was away from Madrid. At St. James' itself he made a friend and a co-operator of the old bookseller, Rey Romero, who knew Benedict Moll.

Borrow returned to the sale of Testaments at Madrid, and to his own favourite project of printing his Spanish Gypsy translation of the Gospel of St. Luke. To advertise his Testaments he posted up and sent about flaming tricoloured placards. This was too much for the Moderate Government which had followed the Liberals: the sale of Testaments was stopped, and that for thirty years after. The officials had been irritated by the far graver indiscretions of another but irregular agent of the Bible Society, Lieutenant Graydon, R.N., "a fervid Irish Protestant." {139} Apparently this man had advertised Bibles in Valencia as to be sold at very low prices and even given away; had printed abuse of the Spanish clergy and Government, and had described himself as co- operating with Borrow. Except at Madrid, the Bibles and Testaments in Borrow's depots throughout Spain were seized by the Government. The books had at last to be sent out of the country, British Consuls were forbidden to countenance religious agents; and in the opinion of the Consul at Seville, J. M. Brackenbury, this was directly due to Graydon's indiscretions. The Society were kind to him. They cautioned him not to attack Popery, but to leave the Bible to speak for itself. The caution was vain, but in spite of the harm done to Borrow and themselves they recalled Graydon with but a qualified disavowal of his conduct. Borrow did not conceal from the Society his opinion that this man, with his "lunatic vagaries," had been the "evil genius" of the Bible cause and of himself. The incident did no good to the already bickering relations between Borrow and the Rev. A. Brandram, the Secretary. Evidently Borrow's character jarred upon Brandram, who took revenge by a tone of facetious cavil and several criticisms upon Borrow's ways, upon his confident masculine tone, for example, his "passionate" prayer, and his confession of superstitious obedience to an ominous dream. Brandram even took the trouble to remind Borrow that when it came to distribution in Russia his success had ended: which was true but not through any fault of his. Borrow took the criticism as if applied to his Spanish work also, saying: "It was unkind and unjust to taunt me with having been unsuccessful in distributing the Scriptures. Allow me to state that no other person under the same circumstances would have distributed the tenth part. Yet had I been utterly unsuccessful, it would have been wrong to charge me with being so, after all I have undergone—and with how little of that are you acquainted." {140} If Borrow had been as revengeful as Dr. Knapp believed him, he would not have allowed Brandram to escape an immortality of hate in "Lavengro" or "The Romany Rye."

Borrow irritated the Spanish Government yet a little more by issuing his Gypsy "Luke," and in May, 1838, he was illegally imprisoned in the Carcel de Corte, where he insisted upon staying until he was set free with honour and the payment of his expenses. He vindicated his position by a letter to a newspaper, pointing out that his Society was neither sectarian nor political, and that he was their sole authorised agent. This led directly to the breaking of his connection with the Bible Society, who reprimanded him for his letter and virtually recalled him from Spain.

Nevertheless Borrow made a series of excursions into the country to sell his Testaments, until in August he was definitely recalled. He returned to England, as he says himself, for "change of scene and air" after an attack of fever. He obtained a new lease from the Bible Society and was back in Spain at the end of 1838. Early in 1839 he made further excursions with Antonio Lopez to sell his Testaments, until he had to stop. Thereupon he went to Seville. He was still forming plans on behalf of the Society. He wished to go to La Mancha, the worst part of Spain, then through Saragossa and into France.

At Seville it was, in May, 1839, that Colonel Napier met him. Nobody knew who, or of what nationality, he was—this "mysterious Unknown," the white-haired young man, with dark eyes of almost supernatural penetration and lustre, who gave himself out to be thirty instead of thirty-five, who spoke English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Romaic to those who best understood these languages. Borrow and Napier rode out together to the ruins of Italica:

"We sat down," he says, "on a fragment of the walls; the "Unknown" began to feel the vein of poetry creeping through his inward soul, and gave vent to it by reciting, with great emphasis and effect, the following well-known and beautiful lines:

"Cypress and ivy, weed and wallflower, grown Matted and massed together, hillocks heap'd On what were chambers, arch crush'd, column strown In fragments, choked up vaults, and frescoes steep'd In subterranean damps, where the owl peep'd, Deeming it midnight:—Temples, baths, or halls— Pronounce who can; for all that Learning reap'd From her research hath been, that these are walls."

"I had been too much taken up with the scene, the verses, and the strange being who was repeating them with so much feeling, to notice the approach of a slight female figure, beautiful in the extreme, but whose tattered garments, raven hair, swarthy complexion, and flashing eyes, proclaimed her to be of the wandering tribe of Gitanos. From an intuitive sense of politeness she stood with crossed arms and a slight smile on her dark and handsome countenance, until my companion had ceased, and then addressed us in the usual whining tone of supplication—'Gentlemen, a little charity; God will repay it to you!' The Gypsy girl was so pretty and her voice so sweet, that I involuntarily put my hand in my pocket.

"'Stop!' said the 'Unknown.' 'Do you remember what I told you of the Eastern origin of these people? You shall see I am correct.' 'Come here, my pretty child,' said he in Moultanee, 'and tell me where are the rest of your tribe.' The girl looked astounded, and replied in the same tongue, but in broken language; when, taking him by the arm, she said in Spanish: 'Come, Caballero, come to one who will be able to answer you'; and she led the way down among the ruins towards one of the dens formerly occupied by the wild beasts, and disclosed to us a set of beings scarcely less savage. The sombre walls of this gloomy abode were illumined by a fire, the smoke from which escaped through a deep fissure in the mossy roof, whilst the flickering flames threw a blood-red glare on the bronzed features of a group of children, two men, and a decrepit old hag who appeared busily engaged in some culinary operations.

"On our entrance, the scowling glance of the males of the party, and a quick motion of the hand towards the folds of the faja (where the clasp- knife is concealed), caused in me, at least, anything but a comfortable sensation; but their hostile intentions were immediately removed by a wave of the hand from our conductress, who, leading my companion towards the sibyl, whispered something in her ear. The old crone appeared incredulous. The 'Unknown' uttered one word; but that word had the effect of magic. She prostrated herself at his feet, and in an instant, from an object of suspicion, he became one of worship to the whole family, to whom on taking leave he made a handsome present, and departed with their united blessings.

"I was, as the phrase goes, dying with curiosity, and as soon as we mounted our horses, exclaimed: 'Where, in the name of goodness, did you pick up your acquaintance with the language of these extraordinary people?' 'Some years ago, in Moultan,' he replied. 'And by what means do you possess such apparent influence over them?' But the 'Unknown' had already said more than he perhaps wished on the subject. He dryly replied that he had more than once owed his life to Gypsies and had reason to know them well; but this was said in a tone which precluded all further queries on my part."

This report is a wonderful testimony to Borrow's power, for he seems to have made the Colonel write almost like himself and produce a picture exactly like those which he so often draws of himself.

From Seville Borrow took a journey of a few weeks to Tangier and Barbary. There he met the strongest man in Tangier, one of the old Moors of Granada, who waved a barrel of water over his head as if it had been a quart pot. There he and his Jewish servant, Hayim Ben Attar, sold Testaments, and, says he, "with humble gratitude to the Lord," the blessed Book was soon in the hands of most of the Christians in Tangier. But with an account of his first day in the city he concluded "The Bible in Spain."

When he was back again in Seville he had the society of Mrs. Clarke and her daughter; Henrietta, who had come to Spain to avoid some legal difficulties and presumably to see Borrow. Before the end of 1839 the engagement of Borrow and Mrs. Clarke was announced without surprising old Mrs. Borrow at Norwich. In November Borrow wrote almost his last long letter to the Bible Society. He had the advantage of a singular address, being for the moment in the prison of Seville, where he had been illegally thrown, after a quarrel with the Alcalde over the matter of a passport. He told them how this "ruffian" quailed before his gaze of defiance. He told them how well he was treated by his fellow prisoners:

{picture: The Summer House, Oulton Cottage. Photo: C. Wilson, Lowestoft: page145.jpg}

"The black-haired man who is now looking over my shoulder is the celebrated thief Palacio, the most expert housebreaker and dexterous swindler in Spain—in a word, the modern Guzman Dalfarache. The brawny man who sits by the brasero of charcoal, is Salvador, the highwayman of Ronda, who has committed a hundred murders. A fashionably dressed man, short and slight in person, is walking about the room: he wears immense whiskers and mustachios; he is one of that most singular race of Jews of Spain; he is imprisoned for counterfeiting money. He is an atheist, but like a true Jew, the name which he most hates is that of Christ: . . ." {144} So well did Borrow choose his company, even in prison. Some of his letters to the Society went astray at this time and he was vainly expected in England. He was able to send them a very high testimony to his discretion from the English Consul at Seville, and he himself reminded them that he had been "fighting with wild beasts" during this last visit. The Society several times repeated his recall, but he did not return, apparently because he wished to remain with Mrs. Clarke in Seville, and because he no longer felt himself at their beck and call. He was also at work on "The Gypsies of Spain." Nevertheless he wrote to the Society in March, 1840, a letter which would have been remarkable from another man about to marry a wife, for he said that he wished to spend the remaining years of his life in the northern parts of China, as he thought he had a call, and still hoped "to die in the cause of my Redeemer." In April he left Spain with Mrs. and Miss Clarke. Fifty or sixty years later Mrs. Joseph Pennell "saw the sign, 'G. Borrow, Agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society,' high upon a house in the Plaza de la Constitucion, in Seville." Borrow was never again in Spain. After reporting himself for the last time to the Society, and making a suggestion which Brandram answered by saying, "the door seems shut," he married Mrs. Clarke on April 23, 1840. She had 450 pounds a year and a home at Oulton. Fifteen or sixteen years later he spoke of his wife and daughter thus: "Of my wife I will merely say that she is a perfect paragon of wives—can make puddings and sweets and treacle posset, and is the best woman of business in Eastern Anglia—of my step daughter—for such she is, though I generally call her daughter, and with good reason, seeing that she has always shown herself a daughter to me—that she has all kinds of good qualities, and several accomplishments, knowing something of conchology, more of botany, drawing capitally in the Dutch style, and playing remarkably well on the guitar—not the trumpery German thing so called—but the real Spanish guitar." His wife wrote letters for him, copied his manuscripts, and helped to correct his proofs. She remained at Oulton, or Yarmouth, while he went about; if he went to Wales or Ireland she sometimes accompanied him to a convenient centre and there remained while he did as he pleased. She admired him, and she appears to have become essential to his life, apart from her income, and not to have resented her position at any time, though grieved by his unconcealed melancholy.

A second time he praised her in print, saying that he had an exceedingly clever wife, and allowed her "to buy and sell, carry money to the bank, draw cheques, inspect and pay tradesmen's bills, and transact all my real business, whilst I myself pore over old books, walk about the shires, discoursing with Gypsies, under hedgerows, or with sober bards—in hedge alehouses."


Borrow and his wife and stepdaughter settled at Oulton Cottage before the spring of 1840 was over. This house, the property of Mrs. Borrow, was separated from Oulton Broad only by a slope of lawn, at the foot of which was a private boat. Away from the house, but equally near lawn and water stood Borrow's library—a little peaked octagonal summer house, with toplights and windows. The cottage is gone, but the summer house, now mantled with ivy, where he wrote "The Bible in Spain" and "Lavengro," is still to be seen. Here, too, he arranged and completed the book written "at considerable intervals during a period of nearly five years passed in Spain—in moments snatched from more important pursuits—chiefly in ventas and posadas (inns), whilst wandering through the country in the arduous and unthankful task of distributing the Gospel among its children,"—"The Zincali: or the Gypsies of Spain." It was published in April, 1841.

This book is a description of Gypsies in Spain and wherever else he has met them, with some history, and, as Borrow says himself, with "more facts than theories." It abounds in quotations from out of the way Spanish books, but was by far "less the result of reading than of close observation." It is patched together from scattered notes with little order or proportion, and cannot be regarded as a whole either in intention or effect. Nor is this wholly due to the odd times and places in which it was written. Borrow had never before written a continuous original work of any length. He had formed no clear idea of himself, his public, or his purpose. Personality was strong in him and it had to be expressed. He was full also of extraordinary observation, and this he could not afford to conceal. It was not easy to satisfy the two needs in one coherent book; he hardly tried, and he certainly did not succeed. Ford described it well in his review of "The Bible in Spain": {148}

"'The Gypsies of Spain' was a Spanish olla—a hotchpotch of the jockey tramper, philologist, and missionary. It was a thing of shreds and patches—a true book of Spain; the chapters, like her bundle of unamalgamating provinces, were just held together, and no more, by the common tie of religion; yet it was strange and richly flavoured with genuine borracha. It was the first work of a diffident, inexperienced man, who, mistrusting his own powers, hoped to conciliate critics by leaning on Spanish historians and Gypsy poets."

Nevertheless, "The Zincali" is a book that is still valuable for these two separate elements of personality and extraordinary observation. Probably Borrow, his publisher, and the public, regarded it chiefly as a work of information, picturesquely diversified, and this it still is, though the increase and systematization of Gypsy studies are said to have superseded it. A book of spirit cannot be superseded. But pure information does not live long, and the fact that its information is inaccurate or incomplete does not rot a book like "The Compleat Angler" or the "Georgics." Thus it may happen that the first book on a subject is the best, and its successors mere treatises destined to pave the way for other treatises. "The Gypsies of Spain" is still read as no other book on the Gypsy is read. It is still read, not only by those just infected with Gypsy fever, but by men as men. It does not, indeed, survive as a whole, because it never was a whole, but there is a spirit in the best parts sufficiently strong to carry the reader on over the rest.

To-day very few will do more than smile when Borrow says of the Gypsies, that there can be no doubt "they are human beings and have immortal souls," and that the chief object of his book is to "draw the attention of the Christian philanthropist towards them, especially that degraded and unhappy portion of them, the Gitanos of Spain." In 1841 many of the Christian public probably felt a slight glow of satisfaction at starting on a book that brought the then certain millenium, of a Christian and English cast, definitely nearer. Probably they liked to know that this missionary called pugilistic combats "disgraceful and brutalising exhibitions"; and they were almost as certainly, as we are to-day, delighted with the descriptions that followed, because it brought for the first time clearly before them a real prize-fighting scene, and the author, a terrible child of fourteen, looking on—"why should I hide the truth?" says he. This excellent moral tone accompanied the reader of 1841 with satisfaction to the end. For example, Borrow describes the Gypsies at Tarifa swindling a country man and woman out of their donkey. When he sees them being treated and fondled by their intending robbers, he exclaims: "Behold, poor humanity, thought I to myself, in the hands of devils; in this manner are human souls ensnared to destruction by the fiends of the pit." When he sees them departing penniless and without their donkey, the woman bitterly lamenting it, he comments: "Upon the whole, however, I did not much pity them. The woman was certainly not the man's wife. The labourer had probably left his village with some strolling harlot, bringing with him the animal which had previously served to support himself and a family." Borrow was a man who pronounced the Bible to be "the wonderful Book which is capable of resolving every mystery." He was a man, furthermore, who called sorcery simply "a thing impossible," and thus addressed a writer on chiromancy: "We . . . believe that the lines of the hand have as little connection with the events of life as with the liver and stomach, notwithstanding Aristotle, who you forget was a heathen and cared as little for the Scriptures as the Gitanos, whether male or female."

Another satisfactory side to Borrow's public character, as revealed in "The Zincali," was his contempt for "other nations," such as Spain—"a country whose name has long and justly been considered as synonymous with every species of ignorance and barbarism." His voice rises when he says that "avarice has always been the dominant passion in Spanish minds, their rage for money being only to be compared to the wild hunger of wolves for horseflesh in the time of winter; next to avarice, envy of superior talent and accomplishment is the prevailing passion." These were the people whom he had gone to convert. His contempt for those who were not middle-class Englishmen seemed unmitigated. Speaking of the Gypsies, to whom the schools were open and the laws kinder, he points out that, nevertheless, they remain jockeys and blacksmiths, though it is true they have in part given up their wandering life. But "much," he says, "will have been accomplished if, after the lapse of a hundred years, one hundred human beings shall have been evolved from the Gypsy stock who shall prove sober, honest, and useful members of society," i.e., resembling the Spaniards whom he so condemned.

But if men love a big fellow at the street corner bellowing about sin and the wrath to come, they love him better if he was a black sinner before he became white as the driven snow. Borrow reprimanded Spaniard and Gypsy, but he also knew them: there is even a suspicion that he liked them, though in his public black-coated capacity he had to condemn them and regret that their destiny was perdition. Had he not said, in his preface, that he had known the Gypsies for twenty years and that they treated him well because they thought him a Gypsy? and in another place referred to the time when he lived with the English Gypsies? Had he not, in his introductions, spoken of "my brethren, the Smiths," a phrase then cryptic and only to be explained by revealing his sworn brotherhood with Ambrose Smith, the Jasper Petulengro of later books? He had said, moreover, in a perfectly genuine tone, with no trace of missionary declamation:

"After the days of the great persecution in England against the Gypsies, there can be little doubt that they lived a right merry and tranquil life, wandering about and pitching their tents wherever inclination led them: indeed, I can scarcely conceive any human condition more enviable than Gypsy life must have been in England during the latter part of the seventeenth, and the whole of the eighteenth century, which were likewise the happy days for Englishmen in general; there was peace and plenty in the land, a contented population, and everything went well."

If a man wishes to condemn the seven deadly sins we tolerate him if in the process they are sufficiently well described. If Borrow described the tinker family as wretched, and their donkey as miserable, he added, "though life, seemingly so wretched, has its charms for these outcasts, who live without care and anxiety, without a thought beyond the present hour, and who sleep as sound in ruined posadas and ventas, or in ravines amongst rocks and pines, as the proudest grandee in his palace at Seville or Madrid." If he condemned superstition, he yet thought it possibly "founded on a physical reality"; he regarded the moon as the true "evil eye," and bade men "not sleep uncovered beneath the smile of the moon, for her glance is poisonous, and produces insupportable itching in the eye, and not infrequently blindness." If he believed in the immortality of the soul, he did not disdain to know the vendor of poisons who was a Gypsy. If he stayed three weeks in Badajoz because he knew he should never meet any people "more in need of a little Christian exhortation" than the Gypsies, he did not fill his pages with three weeks of Christian exhortation, but told the story of the Gypsy soldier, Antonio—how he recognised as a Gypsy the enemy who was about to kill him, and saved himself from the uplifted bayonet by crying "Zincalo, Zincalo!" and then, having been revived by him, sat for hours with his late enemy, who said: "Let the dogs fight and tear each other's throats till they are all destroyed, what matters it to the Zincali? they are not of our blood, and shall that be shed for them?" This man who, if he had his way, would have washed his face in the blood of the Busne (those who are not Gypsies), this man called Borrow "brother!" If Borrow distributed Testaments, he knew little more of the recipients than a bolt from the blue, or if he did he cared to tell but little. That little is the story of the Gypsy soldier, Chaleco, who came to him at Madrid in 1838 with a copy of the Testament. He told his story from his cradle up; he imposed himself on Borrow's hospitality, eating "like a wolf of the Sierra," and drinking in proportion. Borrow could only escape from him by dining out. When Borrow was imprisoned the fellow drew his sword at the news and vowed to murder the Prime Minister "for having dared to imprison his brother." In what follows, Borrow reveals in a consummate manner his power of drawing into his vicinity extraordinary events:

"On my release, I did not revisit my lodgings for some days, but lived at an hotel. I returned late one afternoon, with my servant Francisco, a Basque of Hernani, who had served me with the utmost fidelity during my imprisonment, which he had voluntarily shared with me. The first person I saw on entering was the Gypsy soldier, seated by the table, whereon were several bottles of wine which he had ordered from the tavern, of course on my account. He was smoking, and looked savage and sullen; perhaps he was not much pleased with the reception he had experienced. He had forced himself in, and the woman of the house sat in a corner looking upon him with dread. I addressed him, but he would scarcely return an answer. At last he commenced discoursing with great volubility in Gypsy and Latin. I did not understand much of what he said. His words were wild and incoherent, but he repeatedly threatened some person. The last bottle was now exhausted—he demanded more. I told him in a gentle manner that he had drunk enough. He looked on the ground for some time, then slowly, and somewhat hesitatingly, drew his sword and laid it on the table. It was become dark. I was not afraid of the fellow, but I wished to avoid any thing unpleasant. I called to Francisco to bring lights, and obeying a sign which I made him, he sat down at the table. The Gypsy glared fiercely upon him—Francisco laughed, and began with great glee to talk in Basque, of which the Gypsy understood not a word. The Basques, like all Tartars, and such they are, are paragons of fidelity and good nature; they are only dangerous when outraged, when they are terrible indeed. Francisco to the strength of a giant joined the disposition of a lamb. He was beloved even in the patio of the prison, where he used to pitch the bar and wrestle with the murderers and felons, always coming off victor. He continued speaking Basque. The Gypsy was incensed; and, forgetting the languages in which, for the last hour, he had been speaking, complained to Francisco of his rudeness in speaking any tongue but Castilian. The Basque replied by a loud carcajada, and slightly touched the Gypsy on the knee. The latter sprang up like a mine discharged, seized his sword, and, retreating a few steps, made a desperate lunge at Francisco.

"The Basques, next to the Pasiegos, are the best cudgel-players in Spain, and in the world. Francisco held in his hand part of a broomstick, which he had broken in the stable, whence he had just ascended. With the swiftness of lightning he foiled the stroke of Chaleco, and, in another moment, with a dexterous blow, struck the sword out of his hand, sending it ringing against the wall.

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