George Borrow - The Man and His Books
by Edward Thomas
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"The Gypsy resumed his seat and his cigar. He occasionally looked at the Basque. His glances were at first atrocious, but presently changed their expression, and appeared to me to become prying and eagerly curious. He at last arose, picked up his sword, sheathed it, and walked slowly to the door, when there he stopped, turned round, advanced close to Francisco, and looked him steadfastly in the face. 'My good fellow,' said he, 'I am a Gypsy, and can read baji. Do you know where you will be this time to- morrow?' {154} Then laughing like a hyena, he departed, and I never saw him again.

"At that time on the morrow, Francisco was on his death-bed. He had caught the jail fever, which had long raged in the Carcel de la Corte, where I was imprisoned. In a few days he was buried, a mass of corruption, in the Campo Santo of Madrid."

Having attracted the event, he recorded it with a vividness well set off by his own nonchalance. Again and again he was to repeat this triumph of depicting the wild, and the wild in a condition of activity and often fury.

His success is all the greater because it is unexpected. He sets out "to direct the attention of the public towards the Gypsies; but he hopes to be able to do so without any romantic appeals on their behalf." He is far from having a romantic tone. He wields, as a rule, with any amount of dignity the massive style of the early Victorian "Quarterly Review" and Lane's so-called "Arabian Nights." Thus, speaking of Gypsy fortune- tellers, he says: "Their practice chiefly lies among females, the portion of the human race most given to curiosity and credulity." Sentences like this always remind me of Lord Melbourne's indignation at the thought of religion intruding on private life. His indignation is obviously of the same period as the sentence: "Among the Zingari are not a few who deal in precious stones, and some who vend poisons; and the most remarkable individual whom it has been my fortune to encounter amongst the Gypsies, whether of the Eastern or Western world, was a person who dealt in both these articles." A style like this resembles a paunchy man who can be relied on not to pick the daisies. At times Borrow writes as if he were translating, as in "The anvil rings beneath the thundering stroke, hour succeeds hour, and still endures the hard sullen toil." He adds a little vanity of no value by a Biblical echo now and again, as in the clause: "And it came to pass, moreover, that the said Fajardo . . . " or in "And the chief of that camp, even Mr. Petulengro, stood before the encampment. . . ."

This is a style for information, instruction, edification, and intervals of sleep. It is the style of an age, a class, a sect, not of an individual. Deeds and not words are what count in it. Only by big, wild, or extraordinary things can it be compelled to a semblance of life. Borrow gives it such things a hundred times, and they help one another to be effective. The reader does not forget the Gypsies of Granada:

"Many of them reside in caves scooped in the sides of the ravines which lead to the higher regions of the Alpujarras, on a skirt of which stands Granada. A common occupation of the Gitanos of Granada is working in iron, and it is not infrequent to find these caves tenanted by Gypsy smiths and their families, who ply the hammer and forge in the bowels of the earth. To one standing at the mouth of the cave, especially at night, they afford a picturesque spectacle. Gathered round the forge, their bronzed and naked bodies, illuminated by the flame, appear like figures of demons; while the cave, with its flinty sides and uneven roof, blackened by the charcoal vapours which hover about it in festoons, seems to offer no inadequate representation of fabled purgatory."

The picture of the Gitana of Seville hands on some of its own power to the quieter pages, and at length, with a score of other achievements of the same solid kind, kindles well-nigh every part of the shapeless book. I shall quote it at length:

"If there be one being in the world who, more than another, deserves the title of sorceress (and where do you find a word of greater romance and more thrilling interest?), it is the Gypsy female in the prime and vigour of her age and ripeness of her understanding—the Gipsy wife, the mother of two or three children. Mention to me a point of devilry with which that woman is not acquainted. She can at any time, when it suits her, show herself as expert a jockey as her husband, and he appears to advantage in no other character, and is only eloquent when descanting on the merits of some particular animal; but she can do much more; she is a prophetess, though she believes not in prophecy; she is a physician, though she will not taste her own philters; she is a procuress, though she is not to be procured; she is a singer of obscene songs, though she will suffer no obscene hands to touch her; and though no one is more tenacious of the little she possesses, she is a cutpurse and a shoplifter whenever opportunity shall offer. . . . Observe, for example, the Gitana, even her of Seville.

"She is standing before the portals of a large house in one of the narrow Moorish streets of the capital of Andalusia; through the grated iron door, she looks in upon the court; it is paved with small marble slabs of almost snowy whiteness; in the middle is a fountain distilling limpid water, and all around there is a profusion of macetas, in which flowering plants and aromatic shrubs are growing, and at each corner there is an orange tree, and the perfume of the azahar may be distinguished; you hear the melody of birds from a small aviary beneath the piazza which surrounds the court, which is surrounded by a toldo or linen awning, for it is the commencement of May, and the glorious sun of Andalusia is burning with a splendour too intense for its rays to be borne with impunity. It is a fairy scene such as nowhere meets the eye but at Seville, or perhaps at Fez and Shiraz, in the palaces of the Sultan and the Shah. The Gypsy looks through the iron-grated door, and beholds, seated near the fountain, a richly dressed dame and two lovely delicate maidens; they are busied at their morning's occupation, intertwining with their sharp needles the gold and silk on the tambour; several female attendants are seated behind. The Gypsy pulls the bell, when is heard the soft cry of 'Quien es'; the door, unlocked by means of a string, recedes upon its hinges, when in walks the Gitana, the witch-wife of Multan, with a look such as the tiger-cat casts when she stealeth from her jungle into the plain.

"Yes, well may you exclaim, 'Ave Maria purissima,' ye dames and maidens of Seville, as she advances towards you; she is not of yourselves, she is not of your blood, she or her fathers have walked to your clime from a distance of three thousand leagues. She has come from the far East, like the three enchanted kings to Cologne; but unlike them she and her race have come with hate and not with love. She comes to flatter, and to deceive, and to rob, for she is a lying prophetess, and a she-Thug; she will greet you with blessings which will make your heart rejoice, but your heart's blood would freeze, could you hear the curses which to herself she murmurs against you; for she says, that in her children's veins flows the dark blood of the 'husbands,' whilst in those of yours flows the pale tide of the 'savages,' and therefore she would gladly set her foot on all your corses first poisoned by her hands. For all her love—and she can love—is for the Romas; and all her hate—and who can hate like her?—is for the Busnees; for she says that the world would be a fair world were there no Busnees, and if the Romamiks could heat their kettles undisturbed at the foot of the olive trees; and therefore she would kill them all if she could and if she dared. She never seeks the houses of the Busnees but for the purpose of prey; for the wild animals of the sierra do not more abhor the sight of man than she abhors the countenances of the Busnees. She now comes to prey upon you and to scoff at you. Will you believe her words? Fools! do you think that the being before ye has any sympathy for the like of you?

"She is of the middle stature, neither strongly nor slightly built, and yet her every movement denotes agility and vigour. As she stands erect before you, she appears like a falcon about to soar, and you are almost tempted to believe that the power of volation is hers; and were you to stretch forth your hand to seize her, she would spring above the house- tops like a bird. Her face is oval, and her features are regular but somewhat hard and coarse, for she was born amongst rocks in a thicket, and she has been wind-beaten and sun-scorched for many a year, even like her parents before her; there is many a speck upon her cheek, and perhaps a scar, but no dimples of love; and her brow is wrinkled over, though she is yet young. Her complexion is more than dark, for it is almost that of a Mulatto; and her hair, which hangs in long locks on either side of her face, is black as coal, and coarse as the tail of a horse, from which it seems to have been gathered.

"There is no female eye in Seville can support the glance of hers, so fierce and penetrating, and yet so artful and sly, is the expression of their dark orbs; her mouth is fine and almost delicate, and there is not a queen on the proudest throne between Madrid and Moscow who might not, and would not, envy the white and even rows of teeth which adorn it, which seem not of pearl but of the purest elephant's bone of Multan. She comes not alone; a swarthy two-year old bantling clasps her neck with one arm, its naked body half extant from the coarse blanket which, drawn round her shoulders, is secured at her bosom by a skewer. Though tender of age it looks wicked and sly, like a veritable imp of Roma. Huge rings of false gold dangle from wide slits in the lobes of her ears; her nether garments are rags, and her feet are cased in hempen sandals. Such is the wandering Gitana, such is the witch-wife of Multan, who has come to spae the fortune of the Sevillian countess and her daughters.

"'O may the blessing of Egypt light upon your head, you high-born Lady! (May an evil end overtake your body, daughter of a Busnee harlot!) and may the same blessing await the two fair roses of the Nile here flowering by your side! (May evil Moors seize them and carry them across the water!) O listen to the words of the poor woman who is come from a distant country; she is of a wise people, though it has pleased the God of the sky to punish them for their sins by sending them to wander through the world. They denied shelter to the Majari, whom you call the queen of heaven, and to the Son of God, when they flew to the land of Egypt, before the wrath of the wicked king; it is said that they even refused them a draught of the sweet waters of the great river when the blessed two were athirst. O you will say that it was a heavy crime; and truly so it was, and heavily has the Lord punished the Egyptians. He has sent us a-wandering, poor as you see, with scarcely a blanket to cover us. O blessed lady (accursed be thy dead as many as thou mayest have), we have no money to purchase us bread; we have only our wisdom with which to support ourselves and our poor hungry babes; when God took away their silks from the Egyptians, and their gold from the Egyptians, he left them their wisdom as a resource that they might not starve. O who can read the stars like the Egyptians? and who can read the lines of the palm like the Egyptians? The poor woman read in the stars that there was a rich ventura for all of this goodly house, so she followed the bidding of the stars and came to declare it. O blessed lady (I defile thy dead corse), your husband is at Granada, fighting with King Ferdinand against the wild Corahai! (May an evil ball smite him and split his head!) Within three months he shall return with twenty captive Moors, round the neck of each a chain of gold. (God grant that when he enter the house a beam may fall upon him and crush him!) And within nine months after his return God shall bless you with a fair chabo, the pledge for which you have sighed so long! (Accursed be the salt placed in its mouth in the church when it is baptized!) Your palm, blessed lady, your palm, and the palms of all I see here, that I may tell you all the rich ventura which is hanging over this good house; (May evil lightning fall upon it and consume it!) but first let me sing you a song of Egypt, that the spirit of the Chowahanee may descend more plenteously upon the poor woman.'

"Her demeanour now instantly undergoes a change. Hitherto she has been pouring forth a lying and wild harangue, without much flurry or agitation of manner. Her speech, it is true, has been rapid, but her voice has never been raised to a very high key; but she now stamps on the ground, and placing her hands on her hips, she moves quickly to the right and left, advancing and retreating in a sidelong direction. Her glances become more fierce and fiery, and her coarse hair stands erect on her head, stiff as the prickles of the hedgehog; and now she commences clapping her hands, and uttering words of an unknown tongue, to a strange and uncouth tune. The tawny bantling seems inspired with the same fiend, and, foaming at the mouth, utters wild sounds, in imitation of its dam. Still more rapid become the sidelong movements of the Gitana. Movements! she springs, she bounds, and at every bound she is a yard above the ground. She no longer bears the child in her bosom; she plucks it from thence, and fiercely brandishes it aloft, till at last, with a yell, she tosses it high into the air, like a ball, and then, with neck and head thrown back, receives it, as it falls, on her hands and breast, extracting a cry from the terrified beholders. Is it possible she can be singing? Yes, in the wildest style of her people; and here is a snatch of the song, in the language of Roma, which she occasionally screams:

"En los sastos de yesque plai me diquelo, Doscusanas de sonacai terelo,— Corojai diquelo abillar, Y ne asislo chapescar, chapescar."

"On the top of a mountain I stand, With a crown of red gold in my hand,— Wild Moors come trooping o'er the lea, O how from their fury shall I flee, flee, flee? O how from their fury shall I flee?

Such was the Gitana in the days of Ferdinand and Isabella, and much the same is she now in the days of Isabel and Christina. . . ."

Here, it is true, there is a substantial richly-coloured and strange subject matter, such as could hardly be set down in any way or by anyone without attracting the attention. Borrow makes it do more than this. The word "extant" may offend a little, but the writer can afford many such blemishes, for he has life in his pen. He is, as it were himself substantial, richly-coloured, strange and with big strokes and splashes he suggests the thing itself. There have been writers since Borrow's day who have thought to use words so subtly that they are equivalent to things, but in the end their words remain nothing but words. Borrow uses language like a man, and we forget his words on account of the vividness of the things which they do not so much create as evoke. I do not mean that it can be called unconscious art, for it is naively conscious and delighting in itself. The language is that of an orator, a man standing up and addressing a mass in large and emphatic terms. He succeeds not only in evoking things that are very much alive, but in suggesting an artist that is their equal, instead of one, who like so many more refined writers, is a more or less pathetic admirer of living things. In this he resembles Byron. It may not be the highest form of art, but it is the most immediate and disturbing and genial in its effect. Finally, the whole book has body. It can be browsed on. It does not ask a particular mood, being itself the result of no one mood, but of a great part of one man's life. Turn over half a dozen pages and a story, or a picture, or a bit of costume, or of superstition, will invariably be the reward. It reads already like a book rather older than it really is, but not because it has faded. There was nothing in it to fade, being too hard, massive and unvarnished. It remains alive, capable of surviving the Gypsies except in so far as they live within it and its fellow books.


In "The Zincali" Borrow used some of his private notes and others supplied by Spanish friends, together with parts of letters to the Bible Society. It used to be supposed that "The Bible in Spain" was made up almost entirely from these letters. But this has now been disproved by the newly published "Letters of George Borrow to the Bible Society." {163a} These letters are about half the length of "The Bible in Spain," and yet only about a third part of them was used by Borrow in writing that book. Some of his letters were never received by the Society and had probably been lost on the way. But this was more of a disaster to the Society than to Borrow. He kept journals {163b} from which his letters were probably copied or composed; and he was able, for example, in July, 1836, to send the Society a detailed and dated account of his entry into Spain in January, and his intercourse with the Gypsies of Badajoz. It is also possible that the letters lent to him by the Society were far more numerous than those returned by him. He missed little that could have been turned to account, unless it was the suggestion that if he knew the country his safest way from Seville to Madrid was to go afoot in the dress of beggar or Gypsy, and the remark that in Tangier one of his principal associates was a black slave, whose country was only three days journey from Timbuctoo. {163c} He had already in 1835 planned to write "a small volume" on what he was about to see and hear in Spain, and it must have been from notes or full journals kept with this view that he drew for "The Zincali" and still more for "The Bible in Spain." He wrote his journals and letters very much as Cobbett his "Rural Rides," straight after days in the saddle. Except when he was presenting a matter of pure business he was not much troubled by the fact that he was addressing his employers, the Bible Society. He did not always begin "Bible" with a capital B, an error corrected by Mr. Darlow, his editor. He prefixed "Revd. and dear sir," and thought little more about them unless to add such a phrase as: "A fact which I hope I may be permitted to mention with gladness and with decent triumph in the Lord." He did not, however, scorn to make a favourable misrepresentation of his success, as for example in the interview with Mendizabal, which was reduced probably to the level of the facts in its book form. The Society were not always pleased with his frankness and confidence, and the Secretary complained of things which were inconvenient to be read aloud in a pious assembly, less concerned with sinners than with repentance, and not easily convinced by the improbable. He sent them, for example, after a specimen Gypsy translation of the Gospel of St. Luke and of the Lord's Prayer, "sixteen specimens of the horrid curses in use amongst the Spanish Gypsies," with translations into English. These do not re-appear either in "The Bible in Spain" or in the edition of Borrow's letters to the Society. He spared them, apparently, the story of Benedict Moll and many another good thing that was meant for mankind.

I should be inclined to think that a very great part of "The Bible in Spain" was written as the letters were, on the spot. Either it was not sent to the Society for fear of loss, or if copied and sent to them, it was lost on the way or never returned by Borrow after he had used it in writing the book, for the letters are just as careful in most parts as the book, and the book is just as fresh as the letters. When he wrote to the Society, he said that he told the schoolmaster "the Almighty would never have inspired His saints with a desire to write what was unintelligible to the great mass of mankind"; in "The Bible in Spain" he said: "It [i.e., the Bible] would never have been written if not calculated by itself to illume the minds of all classes of mankind." Continuous letters or journals would be more likely to suit Borrow's purpose than notes such as he took in his second tour to Wales and never used. Notes made on the spot are very likely to be disproportionate, to lay undue stress on something that should be allowed to recede, and would do so if left to memory; and once made they are liable to misinterpretation if used after intervals of any length. But the flow and continuity of letters insist on some proportion and on truth at least to the impression of the day, and a balance is ensured between the scene or the experience on the one hand and the observer on the other.

"The Zincali" was not published before Borrow realised what a treasure he had deposited with the Bible Society, and not long afterwards he obtained the loan of his letters to make a new book on his travels in Spain. Borrow's own account, in his preface to the second edition of "The Zincali," is that the success of that book, and "the voice not only of England but of the greater part of Europe" proclaiming it, astonished him in his "humble retreat" at Oulton. He was, he implies, inclined to be too much elated. Then the voice of a critic—whom we know to have been Richard Ford—told him not to believe all he heard, but to try again and avoid all his second hand stuff, his "Gypsy poetry, dry laws, and compilations from dull Spanish authors." And so, he says, he began work in the winter, but slowly, and on through summer and autumn and another winter, and into another spring and summer, loitering and being completely idle at times, until at last he went to his summer house daily and finished the book. But as a matter of fact "The Zincali" had no great success in either public or literary esteem, and Ford's criticism was passed on the manuscript, not the printed book.

Borrow and his wife took about six months to prepare the letters for publication as a book. He took great pains with the writing and only worked when he was in the mood. His health was not quite good, as he implies in the preface to "The Zincali," and he tried "the water system" and also "lessons in singing," to cure his indigestion and sleeplessness. He had the advantage of Ford's advice, to avoid fine writing, mere description, poetry and learned books, and to give plenty of "racy, real, genuine scenes, and the more out of the way the better," stories of adventure, extraordinary things, prisons, low life, Gypsies, and so on. He was now drawing entirely from "his own well," and when the book was out Ford took care to remark that the author had cast aside the learned books which he had used as swimming corks in the "Zincali," and now "leaped boldly into the tide" unaided. John Murray's reader sent back the manuscript to be revised and augmented, and after this was done, "The Bible in Spain" was published, at the end of 1842, when Borrow was thirty- nine.

"The Bible in Spain" was praised and moreover purchased by everyone. It was translated into French, American, Russian, and printed in America. The "Athenaeum" found it a "genuine book"; the "Examiner" said that "apart from its adventurous interest, its literary merit is extraordinary." Ford compared it with an old Spanish ballad, "going from incident to incident, bang, bang, bang!" and with Gil Blas, and with Bunyan. Ford, it must be remembered, had ridden over the same tracks as Borrow in Spain, but before him, and had written his own book with a combination of learning and gusto that is one of the rarest of literary virtues. Like Borrow he wrote fresh from the thing itself when possible, asserting for example that the fat of the hams of Montanches, when boiled, "looked like melted topazes, and the flavour defies language, although we have dined on one this very day, in order to secure accuracy and undeniable prose." For the benefit of the public Ford pointed out that "the Bible and its distribution have been the business of his existence; whenever moral darkness brooded, there, the Bible in his hand, he forced his way."

When Borrow was actually in Spain he was much influenced by the conditions of the moment. The sun of Spain would shine so that he prized it above English civilization. The anarchy and wildness of Spain at another time would make him hate both men and land. But more lasting than joy in the sun and misery at the sight of misery was the feeling that he was "adrift in Spain, the land of old renown, the land of wonder and mystery, with better opportunities of becoming acquainted with its strange secrets and peculiarities than, perhaps, ever yet were afforded to any individual, certainly to a foreigner." When he entered it, by crossing a brook, out of Portugal, he shouted the Spanish battle-cry in ecstasy, and in the end he described his five years in Spain as, "if not the most eventful"—he cannot refrain from that vainglorious dark hint—yet "the most happy years" of his existence. Spain was to him "the most magnificent country in the world": it was also "one of the few countries in Europe where poverty is not treated with contempt, and I may add, where the wealthy are not blindly idolized." His book is a song of wild Spain when Spain was Spain.

Borrow, as we already know, had in him many of the powers that go to make a great book, yet "The Zincali" was not a great book. The important power developed or employed later which made "The Bible in Spain" a great book was the power of narrative. The writing of those letters from Spain to the Bible Society had taught him or discovered in him the instinct for proportion and connection which is the simplest, most inexplicable and most essential of literary gifts. With the help of this he could write narrative that should suggest and represent the continuity of life. He could pause for description or dialogue or reflection without interrupting this stream of life. Nothing need be, and nothing was, alien to the narrator with this gift; for his writing would now assimilate everything and enrich itself continually.

The reader could follow, as he preferred, the Bible distribution in particular, or the Gypsies, or Borrow himself, through the long ways and dense forests of the book, and through the moral darkness of Spain. It could be treated as a pious book, and as such it was attacked by Catholics, as "Lavengro" still is. For certainly Borrow made no secret of his piety. When "a fine young man of twenty-seven, the only son of a widowed mother . . . the best sailor on board, and beloved by all who were acquainted with him" was swept off the ship in which Borrow was sailing, and drowned, as he had dreamed he would be, the author exclaimed: "Truly wonderful are the ways of Providence!" When a Spanish schoolmaster suggested that the Testament was unintelligible without notes, Borrow informed him that on the contrary the notes were far more difficult, and "it would never have been written if not calculated of itself to illume the minds of all classes of mankind." The Bible was, in his published words, "the well-head of all that is useful and conducive to the happiness of society"; and he told the poor Catalans that their souls' welfare depended on their being acquainted with the book he was selling at half the cost price. He could write not unlike the author of "The Dairyman's Daughter," as when he exclaimed: "Oh man, man, seek not to dive into the mystery of moral good and evil; confess thyself a worm, cast thyself on the earth, and murmur with thy lips in the dust, Jesus, Jesus!" He thought the Pope "the head minister of Satan here on earth," and inspired partly by contempt of Catholics, he declared that "no people in the world entertain sublimer notions of the uncreated eternal God than the Moors . . . and with respect to Christ, their ideas even of Him are much more just than those of the Papists." And he said to the face of the Spanish Prime Minister: "It is a pleasant thing to be persecuted for the Gospel's sake." Nor was this pure cant; for he meant at least this, that he loved conflict and would be fearless and stubborn in battle; and, as he puts it, he was "cast into prison for the Gospel's sake."

In 1843, no doubt, what first recommended this book to so many thousands was the Protestant fervour and purpose of the book, and the romantic reputation of Spain. At this day Borrow's Bible distribution is mainly of antiquarian and sectarian interest. We should not estimate the darkness of Madrid by the number of Testaments there in circulation and daily use, nor on the other hand should we fear, like Borrow, to bring them into contempt by making them too common. Yet his missionary work makes the necessary backbone of the book. He was, as he justly said, "no tourist, no writer of books of travels." His work brought him adventure as no mere wandering could have done. What is more, the man's methods are still entertaining to those who care nothing about the distribution itself. Where he found the remains of a robber's camp he left a New Testament and some tracts. To carry the Bibles over the flinty hills of Galicia and the Asturias he bought "a black Andalusian stallion of great power and strength, . . . unbroke, savage and furious": the cargo, he says, would tame the animal. He fixed his advertisement on the church porch at Pitiegua, announcing the sale of Testaments at Salamanca. He had the courage without the ferocity of enthusiasm, and in the cause of the Bible Society he saw and did things which little concerned it, which in fact displeased it, but keep this book alive with a great stir and shout of life, with a hundred pages where we are shown what the poet meant by "forms more real than living men." We are shown the unrighteous to the very life. What matters it then if the author professes the opinion that "the friendship of the unrighteous is never of long duration"? Nevertheless, these pious ejaculations are not without their value in the composition of the author's amazing character.

Borrow came near to being a perfect traveller. For he was, on the one hand, a man whose individuality was carved in clear bold lines, who had a manner and a set of opinions as remarkable as his appearance. Thus he was bound to come into conflict with men wherever he went: he would bring out their manners and opinions, if they had any. But on the other hand he had abounding curiosity. He was bold but not rude: on the contrary he was most vigilantly polite. He took snuff, though he detested it; he avoided politics as much as possible: "No, no!" he said, "I have lived too long with Romany chals and Petulengres to be of any politics save Gypsy politics," in spite of what he had said in '32 and was to say again in '57. When he and the Gypsy Antonio came to Jaraicejo they separated by Antonio's advice. The Gypsy got through the town unchallenged by the guard, though not unnoticed by the townspeople. But Borrow was stopped and asked by a man of the National Guard whether he came with the Gypsy, to which he answered, "Do I look a person likely to keep company with Gypsies?" though, says he, he probably did. Then the National asked for his passport:

"I remembered having read that the best way to win a Spaniard's heart is to treat him with ceremonious civility. I therefore dismounted, and taking off my hat, made a low bow to the constitutional soldier, saying, 'Senor Nacional, you must know that I am an English gentleman travelling in this country for my pleasure. I bear a passport, which on inspecting you will find to be perfectly regular. It was given me by the great Lord Palmerston, Minister of England, whom you of course have heard of here. At the bottom you will see his own handwriting. Look at it and rejoice; perhaps you will never have another opportunity. As I put unbounded confidence in the honour of every gentleman, I leave the passport in your hands whilst I repair to the posada to refresh myself. When you have inspected it, you will perhaps oblige me so far as to bring it to me. Cavalier, I kiss your hands.'

"I then made him another low bow, which he returned with one still lower, and leaving him now staring at the passport and now looking at myself, I went into a posada, to which I was directed by a beggar whom I met.

"I fed the horse, and procured some bread and barley, as the Gypsy had directed me. I likewise purchased three fine partridges of a fowler, who was drinking wine in the posada. He was satisfied with the price I gave him, and offered to treat me with a copita, to which I made no objection. As we sat discoursing at the table, the National entered with the passport in his hand, and sat down by us.

"National.—'Caballero, I return you your passport; it is quite in form. I rejoice much to have made your acquaintance. I have no doubt that you can give me some information respecting the present war.'

"Myself.—'I shall be very happy to afford so polite and honourable a gentleman any information in my power.'"

He won the hearts of the people of Villa Seca by the "formality" of his behaviour and language; for he tells us that in such remote places might still be found the gravity of deportment and the grandiose expressions which are scoffed at as exaggerations in the romances. He speaks of himself in one place as strolling about a town or neighbourhood, entering into conversation with several people whom he met, shopkeepers, professional men, and others. Near Evora he sat down daily at a fountain and talked with everyone who came to it. He visited the College of the English Catholics at Lisbon, excusing himself, indeed, by saying that his favourite or his only study was man. His knowledge of languages and his un-English appearance made it easier for him to become familiar with many kinds of men. He introduced himself among some Jews of Lisbon, and pronounced a blessing: they took him for a powerful rabbi, and he favoured their mistake so that in a few days he knew all that related to these people and their traffic. On his journey in Galicia, when he was nearing Finisterra, the men of the cabin where he rested took him for a Catalan, and "he favoured their mistake and began with a harsh Catalan accent to talk of the fish of Galicia, and the high duties on salt." When at this same cabin he found there was no bed, he went up into the loft and lay down on the boards' without complaint. So in the prison at Madrid he got on so well with the prisoners that on the third day he spoke their language as if he were "a son of the prison." At Gibraltar he talked to the man of Mogador in Arabic and was taken for "a holy man from the kingdoms of the East," especially when he produced the shekel which had been given him by Hasfeldt: a Jew there believed him to be a Salamancan Jew. At Villafranca a woman mistook his voice in the dark for that of "the German clockmaker from Pontevedra." For some time in 1839 he went among the villages dressed in a peasant's leather helmet, jacket and trousers, and resembling "a person between sixty and seventy years of age," so that people addressed him as Uncle, and bought his Testaments, though the Bible Society, on hearing it, "began to inquire whether, if the old man were laid up in prison, they could very conveniently apply for his release in the proper quarter." {173}

He saw men and places, and with his pen he created a land as distinct, as wild, as vast, and as wonderful as the Spain of Cervantes. He did this with no conscious preconceived design. His creation was the effect of a multitude of impressions, all contributory because all genuine and true to the depth of Borrow's own nature. He had seen and felt Spain, and "The Bible in Spain" shows how; nor probably could he have shown it in any other way. Not but what he could speak of Spain as the land of old renown, and of himself—in a letter to the Bible Society in 1837—as an errant knight, and of his servant Francisco as his squire. He did not see himself as he was, or he would have seen both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in one, now riding a black Andalusian stallion, now driving an ass before him.

Only a power as great as Borrow's own could show how this wild Spain was built up. For it was not done by this and that, but by a great man and a noble country in a state of accord continually vibrating.

Thus he drew near to Finisterra with his wild Gallegan guide:

"It was a beautiful autumnal morning when we left the choza and pursued our way to Corcuvion. I satisfied our host by presenting him with a couple of pesetas; and he requested as a favour that if on our return we passed that way, and were overtaken by the night, we would again take up our abode beneath his roof. This I promised, at the same time determining to do my best to guard against the contingency, as sleeping in the loft of a Gallegan hut, though preferable to passing the night on a moor or mountain, is anything but desirable.

"So we again started at a rapid pace along rough bridleways and footpaths, amidst furze and brushwood. In about an hour we obtained a view of the sea, and directed by a lad, whom we found on the moor employed in tending a few miserable sheep, we bent our course to the north-west, and at length reached the brow of an eminence, where we stopped for some time to survey the prospect which opened before us.

"It was not without reason that the Latins gave the name of Finisterrae to this district. We had arrived exactly at such a place as in my boyhood I had pictured to myself as the termination of the world, beyond which there was a wild sea, or abyss, or chaos. I now saw far before me an immense ocean, and below me a long and irregular line of lofty and precipitous coast. Certainly in the whole world there is no bolder coast than the Gallegan shore, from the debouchement of the Minho to Cape Finisterra. It consists of a granite wall of savage mountains, for the most part serrated at the top, and occasionally broken, where bays and firths like those of Vigo and Pontevedra intervene, running deep into the land. These bays and firths are invariably of an immense depth, and sufficiently capacious to shelter the navies of the proudest maritime nations.

"There is an air of stern and savage grandeur in everything around which strongly captivates the imagination. This savage coast is the first glimpse of Spain which the voyager from the north catches, or he who has ploughed his way across the wide Atlantic; and well does it seem to realize all his visions of this strange land. 'Yes,' he exclaims, 'this is indeed Spain—stern, flinty Spain—land emblematic of those spirits to which she has given birth. From what land but that before me could have proceeded those portentous beings who astounded the Old World and filled the New with horror and blood—Alba and Philip, Cortez and Pizarro—stern colossal spectres looming through the gloom of bygone years, like yonder granite mountains through the haze, upon the eye of the mariner? Yes, yonder is indeed Spain—flinty, indomitable Spain—land emblematic of its sons!'

"As for myself, when I viewed that wide ocean and its savage shore, I cried, 'Such is the grave, and such are its terrific sides; those moors and wilds over which I have passed are the rough and dreary journey of life. Cheered with hope, we struggle along through all the difficulties of moor, bog, and mountain, to arrive at—what? The grave and its dreary sides. Oh, may hope not desert us in the last hour—hope in the Redeemer and in God!'

"We descended from the eminence, and again lost sight of the sea amidst ravines and dingles, amongst which patches of pine were occasionally seen. Continuing to descend, we at last came, not to the sea, but to the extremity of a long, narrow firth, where stood a village or hamlet; whilst at a small distance, on the western side of the firth, appeared one considerably larger, which was indeed almost entitled to the appellation of town. This last was Corcuvion; the first, if I forget not, was called Ria de Silla. We hastened on to Corcuvion, where I bade my guide make inquiries respecting Finisterra. He entered the door of a wine-house, from which proceeded much noise and vociferation, and presently returned, informing me that the village of Finisterra was distant about a league and a half. A man, evidently in a state of intoxication, followed him to the door. 'Are you bound for Finisterra, cavalheiros?' he shouted.

"'Yes, my friend,' I replied; 'we are going thither.'

"'Then you are going amongst a flock of drunkards' (fato de borrachos), he answered. 'Take care that they do not play you a trick.'

"We passed on, and striking across a sandy peninsula at the back of the town, soon reached the shore of an immense bay, the north-westernmost end of which was formed by the far-famed cape of Finisterra, which we now saw before us stretching far into the sea.

"Along the beach of dazzling white sand we advanced towards the cape, the bourne of our journey. The sun was shining brightly, and every object was illumined by his beams. The sea lay before us like a vast mirror, and the waves which broke upon the shore were so tiny as scarcely to produce a murmur. On we sped along the deep winding bay, overhung by gigantic hills and mountains. Strange recollections began to throng upon my mind. It was upon this beach that, according to the tradition of all ancient Christendom, St. James, the patron saint of Spain, preached the gospel to the heathen Spaniards. Upon this beach had once stood an immense commercial city, the proudest in all Spain. This now desolate bay had once resounded with the voices of myriads, when the keels and commerce of all the then known world were wafted to Duyo.

"'What is the name of this village?' said I to a woman, as we passed by five or six ruinous houses at the bend of the bay, ere we entered upon the peninsula of Finisterra.

"'This is no village,' said the Gallegan—'this is no village, Sir Cavalier; this is a city—this is Duyo.'

"So much for the glory of the world! These huts were all that the roaring sea and the tooth of time had left of Duyo, the great city! Onward now to Finisterra."

He spends little time on such declamatory description, but it is essential to the whole effect. This particular piece is followed by the difficulty of a long ascent, by a sleep of exhaustion on a rude and dirty bed, by Borrow's arrest as the Pretender, Don Carlos, in disguise, by an escape from immediate execution into the hands of an Alcalde who read "Jeremy Bentham" day and night; all this in one short chapter.

Equally essential is the type of landscape represented by the solitary ruined fort in the monotonous waste between Estremoz and Elvas, which he climbed to over stones that cut his feet:

"Being about to leave the place, I heard a strange cry behind a part of the wall which I had not visited; and hastening thither, I found a miserable object in rags seated upon a stone. It was a maniac—a man about thirty years of age, and I believe deaf and dumb. There he sat, gibbering and mowing, and distorting his wild features into various dreadful appearances. There wanted nothing but this object to render the scene complete; banditti amongst such melancholy desolation would have been by no means so much in keeping. But the manaic on his stone, in the rear of the wind-beaten ruin overlooking the blasted heath, above which scowled the leaden heaven, presented such a picture of gloom and misery as I believe neither painter nor poet ever conceived in the saddest of their musings. 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."

At Oropesa he heard from the barber-surgeon of the mysterious Guadarrama mountains, and of the valley that lay undiscovered and unknown for thousands of years until a hunter found there a tribe of people speaking a language unknown to anyone else and ignorant of the rest of men. Rough wild ways intersect the book. Thunder storms overhang it. Immense caverns echo beneath it. The travellers left behind a mill which "stood at the bottom of a valley shaded by large trees, and its wheels were turning with a dismal and monotonous noise," and they emerged, by the light of "a corner of the moon," on to the wildest heath of the wildest province of Spain, ignorant of their way, making for a place which the guide believed not to exist. They passed a defile where the carrier had been attacked on his last journey by robbers, who burnt the coach by means of the letters in it, and butchered all except the carrier, who had formerly been the master of one of the gang: as they passed, the ground was still saturated with the blood of one of the murdered soldiers and a dog was gnawing a piece of his skull. Borrow was told of an old viper catcher caught by the robbers, who plundered and stripped him and then tied his hands behind him and thrust his head into his sack, "which contained several of these horrible reptiles alive," and so he ran mad through the villages until he fell dead. As a background, he had again and again a scene like that one, whose wild waters and mountains, and the "Convent of the Precipices" standing out against the summit, reminded him at once of Salvator Rosa and of Stolberg's lines to a mountain torrent: "The pine trees are shaken. . . ." Describing the cave at Gibraltar, he spoke of it as always having been "a den for foul night birds, reptiles, and beasts of prey," of precipice after precipice, abyss after abyss, in apparently endless succession, and of an explorer who perished there and lay "even now rotting in the bowels of the mountain, preyed upon by its blind and noisome worms."

When he saw a peaceful rich landscape in a bright sunny hour, as at Monte Moro, he shed tears of rapture, sitting on and on in those reveries which, as he well knew, only enervate the mind: or he felt that he would have desired "no better fate than that of a shepherd on the prairies or a hunter on the hills of Bembibre": or looking through an iron-grated door at a garden court in Seville he sighed that his fate did not permit him to reside in such an Eden for the remainder of his days. For as he delights in the dismal, grand, or wild, so he does with equal intensity in the sweetness of loveliness, as in the country about Seville: "Oh how pleasant it is, especially in springtide, to stray along the shores of the Guadalquivir! Not far from the city, down the river, lies a grove called Las Delicias, or the Delights. It consists of trees of various kinds, but more especially of poplars and elms, and is traversed by long, shady walks. This grove is the favourite promenade of the Sevillians, and there one occasionally sees assembled whatever the town produces of beauty or gallantry. There wander the black-eyed Andalusian dames and damsels, clad in their graceful silken mantillas; and there gallops the Andalusian cavalier on his long-tailed, thick-maned steed of Moorish ancestry. As the sun is descending, it is enchanting to glance back from this place in the direction of the city; the prospect is inexpressibly beautiful. Yonder in the distance, high and enormous, stands the Golden Tower, now used as a toll-house, but the principal bulwark of the city in the time of the Moors. It stands on the shore of the river, like a giant keeping watch, and is the first edifice which attracts the eye of the voyager as he moves up the stream to Seville. On the other side, opposite the tower, stands the noble Augustine Convent, the ornament of the faubourg of Triana; whilst between the two edifices rolls the broad Guadalquivir, bearing on its bosom a flotilla of barks from Catalonia and Valencia. Farther up is seen the bridge of boats which traverses the water. The principal object of this prospect, however, is the Golden Tower, where the beams of the setting sun seem to be concentrated as in the focus, so that it appears built of pure gold, and probably from that circumstance received the name which it now bears. Cold, cold must the heart be which can remain insensible to the beauties of this magic scene, to do justice to which the pencil of Claude himself were barely equal. Often have I shed tears of rapture whilst I beheld it, and listened to the thrush and the nightingale piping forth their melodious songs in the woods, and inhaled the breeze laden with the perfume of the thousand orange gardens of Seville.

'Kennst du das land wo die citronen bluhen?'"

If a scene was not in fact superlative his creative memory would furnish it with what it lacked, giving the cathedral of Palencia, for example, windows painted by Murillo.


In such scenes, naturally, Borrow placed nothing common and nothing mean. He must have a madman among the ruins, or by a pool a peasant woman sitting, who has been mad ever since her child was drowned there, or a mule and a stallion fighting with hoofs and teeth. The clergy, in their ugly shovel hats and long cloaks, glared at him askance as he passed by their whispering groups in Salamanca: at the English College in Valladolid, he thought of "those pale, smiling, half-foreign priests who, like stealthy grimalkins, traversed green England in all directions" under the persecution of Elizabeth. If he painted an archbishop plainly dressed in black cassock and silken cap, stooping, feeble, pale and emaciated, he set upon his finger a superb amethyst of a dazzling lustre—Borrow never saw a finer, except one belonging to an acquaintance of his own, a Tartar Khan.

The day after his interview with the archbishop he had a visit from Benedict Mol. This man is proved to have existed by a letter from Rey Romero to Borrow mentioning "The German of the Treasure." {181} "True, every word of it!" says Knapp: "Remember our artist never created; he painted from models." Because he existed, therefore every word of Borrow's concerning him is true. As Borrow made him, "He is a bulky old man, somewhat above the middle height, and with white hair and ruddy features; his eyes were large and blue, and, whenever he fixed them on anyone's countenance, were full of an expression of great eagerness, as if he were expecting the communication of some important tidings. He was dressed commonly enough, in a jacket and trousers of coarse cloth of a russet colour; on his head was an immense sombrero, the brim of which had been much cut and mutilated, so as in some places to resemble the jags or denticles of a saw."

And thus, at Madrid in 1836, he told his story on the first meeting, as men had to do when they were interrogated by Borrow:

"Upon my asking him who he was, the following conversation ensued between us:

"'I am a Swiss of Lucerne, Benedict Mol by name, once a soldier in the Walloon Guard, and now a soap-boiler, para servir usted.'

"'You speak the language of Spain very imperfectly,' said I; 'how long have you been in the country?'

"'Forty-five years,' replied Benedict. 'But when the guard was broken up I went to Minorca, where I lost the Spanish language without acquiring the Catalan.'

"'You have been a soldier of the King of Spain,' said I; 'how did you like the service?'

"'Not so well but that I should have been glad to leave it forty years ago; the pay was bad, and the treatment worse. I will now speak Swiss to you; for, if I am not much mistaken, you are a German man, and understand the speech of Lucerne. I should soon have deserted from the service of Spain, as I did from that of the Pope, whose soldier I was in my early youth before I came here; but I had married a woman of Minorca, by whom I had two children: it was this that detained me in these parts so long. Before, however, I left Minorca, my wife died; and as for my children, one went east, the other west, and I know not what became of them. I intend shortly to return to Lucerne, and live there like a duke.'

"'Have you then realized a large capital in Spain?' said I, glancing at his hat and the rest of his apparel.

"'Not a cuart, not a cuart; these two wash-balls are all that I possess.'

"'Perhaps you are the son of good parents, and have lands and money in your own country wherewith to support yourself.'

"'Not a heller, not a heller. My father was hangman of Lucerne, and when he died, his body was seized to pay his debts.'

"'Then doubtless,' said I, 'you intend to ply your trade of soap-boiling at Lucerne. You are quite right, my friend; I know of no occupation more honourable or useful.'

"'I have no thoughts of plying my trade at Lucerne,' replied Benedict. 'And now, as I see you are a German man, Lieber Herr, and as I like your countenance and your manner of speaking, I will tell you in confidence that I know very little of my trade, and have already been turned out of several fabriques as an evil workman; the two wash-balls that I carry in my pocket are not of my own making. In kurtzen, I know little more of soap-boiling than I do of tailoring, horse-farriery, or shoe-making, all of which I have practised.'

"'Then I know not how you can hope to live like a hertzog in your native canton, unless you expect that the men of Lucerne, in consideration of your services to the Pope and to the King of Spain, will maintain you in splendour at the public expense.'

"'Lieber Herr,' said Benedict, 'the men of Lucerne are by no means fond of maintaining the soldiers of the Pope and the King of Spain at their own expense; many of the guard who have returned thither beg their bread in the streets: but when I go, it shall be in a coach drawn by six mules with a treasure, a mighty schatz which lies in the church of St. James of Compostella, in Galicia.'

"'I hope you do not intend to rob the church,' said I. 'If you do, however, I believe you will be disappointed. Mendizabal and the Liberals have been beforehand with you. I am informed that at present no other treasure is to be found in the cathedrals of Spain than a few paltry ornaments and plated utensils.'

"'My good German Herr,' said Benedict, 'it is no church schatz; and no person living, save myself, knows of its existence. Nearly thirty years ago, amongst the sick soldiers who were brought to Madrid, was one of my comrades of the Walloon Guard, who had accompanied the French to Portugal; he was very sick, and shortly died. Before, however, he breathed his last, he sent for me, and upon his death-bed told me that himself and two other soldiers, both of whom had since been killed, had buried in a certain church in Compostella a great booty which they had made in Portugal; it consisted of gold moidores and of a packet of huge diamonds from the Brazils: the whole was contained in a large copper kettle. I listened with greedy ears, and from that moment, I may say, I have known no rest, neither by day nor night, thinking of the schatz. It is very easy to find, for the dying man was so exact in his description of the place where it lies, that were I once at Compostella I should have no difficulty in putting my hand upon it. Several times I have been on the point of setting out on the journey, but something has always happened to stop me. When my wife died, I left Minorca with a determination to go to St. James; but on reaching Madrid, I fell into the hands of a Basque woman, who persuaded me to live with her, which I have done for several years. She is a great hax, {184} and says that if I desert her she will breathe a spell which shall cling to me for ever. Dem Got sey dank, she is now in the hospital, and daily expected to die. This is my history, Lieber Herr.'"

Notice that Borrow continues:

"I have been the more careful in relating the above conversation, as I shall have frequent occasion to mention the Swiss in the course of these journals."

Benedict Mol had the faculty of re-appearance. In the next year at Compostella the moonlight fell on his grey locks and weatherbeaten face and Borrow recognised him. "Och," said the man, "mein Gott, es ist der Herr!" (it is that gentleman). "Och, what good fortune, that the Herr is the first person I meet in Compostella." Even Borrow could scarcely believe his eyes. Benedict had come to dig for the treasure, and in the meantime proposed to live at the best hotel and pay his score when the digging was done. Borrow gave him a dollar, which he paid to a witch for telling him where exactly the treasure lay. A third time, to his own satisfaction and Borrow's astonishment, he re-appeared at Oviedo. He had, in fact, followed Borrow to Corunna, having been despitefully used at Compostella, met highwaymen on the road, and suffered hunger so that he slaughtered a stray kid and devoured it raw. From Oviedo he trod in Borrow's footsteps, which was "a great comfort in his horrible journeys." "A strange life has he led," said Borrow's Greek servant, "and a strange death he will die—it is written on his countenance." He re-appeared a fourth time at Madrid, in light green coat and pantaloons that were almost new, and a glossy Andalusian hat "of immense altitude of cone," and leaning not on a ragged staff but "a huge bamboo rattan, surmounted by the grim head of either a bear or lion, curiously cut out of pewter." He had been wandering after Borrow in misery that almost sent him mad:

"Oh, the horror of wandering about the savage hills and wide plains of Spain without money and without hope! Sometimes I became desperate, when I found myself amongst rocks and barrancos, perhaps after having tasted no food from sunrise to sunset, and then I would raise my staff towards the sky and shake it, crying, Lieber herr Gott, ach lieber herr Gott, you must help me now or never. If you tarry, I am lost. You must help me now, now! And once when I was raving in this manner, methought I heard a voice—nay, I am sure I heard it—sounding from the hollow of a rock, clear and strong; and it cried, 'Der schatz, der schatz, it is not yet dug up. To Madrid, to Madrid! The way to the schatz is through Madrid.'"

But now he had met people who supported him with an eye to the treasure. Borrow tried to persuade him to circulate the Gospel instead of risking failure and the anger of his clients. Luckily Benedict went on to Compostella:

"He went, and I never saw him more. What I heard, however, was extraordinary enough. It appeared that the government had listened to his tale, and had been so struck with Benedict's exaggerated description of the buried treasure, that they imagined that, by a little trouble and outlay, gold and diamonds might be dug up at St. James sufficient to enrich themselves and to pay off the national debt of Spain. The Swiss returned to Compostella 'like a duke,' to use his own words. The affair, which had at first been kept a profound secret, was speedily divulged. It was, indeed, resolved that the investigation, which involved consequences of so much importance, should take place in a manner the most public and imposing. A solemn festival was drawing nigh, and it was deemed expedient that the search should take place upon that day. The day arrived. All the bells in Compostella pealed. The whole populace thronged from their houses; a thousand troops were drawn up in a square; the expectation of all was wound up to the highest pitch. A procession directed its course to the church of San Roque. At its head were the captain-general and the Swiss, brandishing in his hand the magic rattan; close behind walked the meiga, the Gallegan witch-wife, by whom the treasure-seeker had been originally guided in the search; numerous masons brought up the rear, bearing implements to break up the ground. The procession enters the church; they pass through it in solemn march; they find themselves in a vaulted passage. The Swiss looks around. 'Dig here,' said he suddenly. 'Yes, dig here,' said the meiga. The masons labour; the floor is broken up—a horrible and fetid odour arises. . .

"Enough, no treasure was found, and my warning to the unfortunate Swiss turned out but too prophetic. He was forthwith seized and flung into the horrid prison of St. James, amidst the execrations of thousands, who would have gladly torn him limb from limb.

"The affair did not terminate here. The political opponents of the government did not allow so favourable an opportunity to escape for launching the shafts of ridicule. The Moderados were taunted in the cortes for their avarice and credulity, whilst the Liberal press wafted on its wings through Spain the story of the treasure-hunt at St. James.

"'After all, it was a trampa {187} of Don Jorge's,' said one of my enemies. 'That fellow is at the bottom of half the picardias which happen in Spain.'

"Eager to learn the fate of the Swiss, I wrote to my old friend Rey Romero, at Compostella. In his answer he states: 'I saw the Swiss in prison, to which place he sent for me, craving my assistance, for the sake of the friendship which I bore to you. But how could I help him? He was speedily after removed from St. James, I know not whither. It is said that he disappeared on the road.'

"Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Where in the whole cycle of romance shall we find anything more wild, grotesque, and sad than the easily authenticated history of Benedict Mol, the treasure-digger of St. James?"

Knapp, by the way, prints this very letter from Rey Romero. It was his son who saw Benedict in prison, and he simply says that he does not know what has become of him.

As Dr. Knapp says, Borrow painted from a model. That is to say, he did like everybody else. Of course he did not invent. Why should a man with such a life invent for the purpose of only five books? But there is no such thing as invention (in the popular sense), except in the making of bad nonsense rhymes or novels. A writer composes out of his experience, inward, outward and histrionic, or along the protracted lines of his experience. Borrow felt that adventures and unusual scenes were his due, and when they were not forthcoming he revived an old one or revised the present in the weird light of the past. Is this invention?

Pictures like that of Benedict Mol are not made out of nothing by Borrow or anybody else. Nor are they copies. The man who could merely copy nature would never have the eyes to see such beauties as Benedict Mol. It must be noticed how effective is the re-appearance, the intermingling of such a man with "ordinary life," and then finally the suggestion of one of Borrow's enemies that he was put up to it by Don Jorge—"That fellow is at the bottom of half the picardias which happen in Spain." What glory for Don Jorge. The story would have been entertaining enough as a mere isolated short story: thus scattered, it is twice as effective as if it were a mere fiction, whether labelled "a true story" or introduced by an ingenious variation of the same. It is one of Borrow's triumphs never to let us escape from the spell of actuality into a languid acquiescence in what is "only pretending." The form never becomes a fiction, even to the same extent as that of Turgenev's "Sportsman's Sketches"; for Borrow is always faithful to the form of a book of travel in Spain during the 'thirties. In "Don Quixote" and "Gil Blas," the lesser narratives are as a rule introduced without much attempt at probability, but as mere diversions. They are never such in "The Bible in Spain," though they are in "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye." The Gypsy hag of Badajoz, who proposed to poison all the Busne in Madrid, and then away with the London Caloro to the land of the Moor—his Greek servant Antonio, even though he begins with "Je vais vous raconter mon histoire du commencement jusqu'ici."—the Italian whom he had met as a boy and who now regretted leaving England, the toasted cheese and bread, the Suffolk ale, the roaring song and merry jests of the labourers,—and Antonio again, telling him "the history of the young man of the inn,"—these story-tellers are not merely consummate variations upon those of the "Decameron" and "Gil Blas." The book never ceases to be a book of travel by an agent of the Bible Society. It is to its very great advantage that it was not written all of a piece with one conscious aim. The roughness, the merely accurate irrelevant detail here and there, the mention of his journal, and the references to well-known and substantial people, win from us an openness and simplicity of reception which ensure a success for it beyond that of most fictions. I cannot refuse complete belief in the gigantic Jew, Abarbanel, for example, when Borrow has said: "I had now a full view of his face and figure, and those huge featured and Herculean form still occasionally revisit me in my dreams. I see him standing in the moonshine, staring me in the face with his deep calm eyes." I do not feel bound to believe that he had met the Italian of Corunna twenty years before at Norwich, though to a man with his memory for faces such re-appearances are likely to happen many times as often as to an ordinary man. But I feel no doubt about Judah Lib, who spoke to him at Gibraltar: he was "about to exclaim, 'I know you not,' when one or two lineaments struck him, and he cried, though somewhat hesitatingly, 'surely this is Judah Lib.'" He continues: "It was in a steamer in the Baltic in the year '34, if I mistake not." That he had this strong memory is certain; but that he knew it, and was proud of it, and likely to exaggerate it, is almost equally certain.

It was natural that such a knight should have squires of high degree, as Francisco the Basque and the two Antonios, Gypsy and Greek. Antonio the Greek left Borrow to serve a count as cook, but the count attacked him with a rapier, whereupon he gave notice in the following manner:

"Suddenly I took a large casserole from the fire in which various eggs were frying; this I held out at arm's length, peering at it along my arm as if I were curiously inspecting it—my right foot advanced, and the other thrown back as far as possible. All stood still, imagining, doubtless, that I was about to perform some grand operation; and so I was: for suddenly the sinister leg advancing, with one rapid coup de pied I sent the casserole and its contents flying over my head, so that they struck the wall far behind me. This was to let them know that I had broken my staff and had shaken the dust off my feet. So casting upon the count the peculiar glance of the Sceirote cooks when they feel themselves insulted, and extending my mouth on either side nearly as far as the ears, I took down my haversack and departed, singing as I went the song of the ancient Demos, who, when dying, asked for his supper, and water wherewith to lave his hands:

[Greek verse]

And in this manner, mon maitre, I left the house of the Count of —-."

The morning after Francisco died, when Borrow was lying in bed ruminating on his loss, he heard someone cleaning boots and singing in an unknown tongue, so he rang the bell. Antonio appeared. He had, he said, engaged himself to the Prime Minister at a high salary, but on hearing of Borrow's loss, he "told the Duke, though it was late at night, that he would not suit me; and here I am." Again he left Borrow. When he returned it was in obedience to a dream, in which he saw his master ride on a black horse up to his inn—yet this was immediately after Borrow's landing on his third visit to Spain, of which "only two individuals in Madrid were aware." This Greek was acquainted with all the cutthroats in Galicia; he could tell a story like Sterne, and in every way was a servant who deserved no less a master than Monsieur Georges.

Francisco has already sufficiently adorned these pages. As for the other Antonio, the Gypsy, he guided Borrow through the worst of Spain on his way to Madrid. This he offered to do in such terms that Borrow's hint at the possible danger of accepting it falls flat. He was as mysterious as Borrow himself, and being asked why he was taking this particular road, he answered: "It is an affair of Egypt, brother, and I shall not acquaint you with it; peradventure it relates to a horse or an ass, or peradventure it relates to a mule or a macho; it does not relate to yourself, therefore I advise you not to inquire about it—Dosta. . . ." He carried a loadstone in his bosom and swallowed some of the dust of it, and it served both for passport and for prayers. When he had to leave Borrow he sold him a savage and vicious she ass, recommending her for the same reason as he bought her, because "a savage and vicious beast has generally four excellent legs."


Borrow's Spanish portrait of himself was worthy of its background. Much was required of him in a world where a high fantastical acrobatic mountebankery was almost a matter of ceremony, where riders stand on their heads in passing their rivals and cooks punt a casserole over their heads to the wall behind by way of giving notice: much was required of him and he proved worthy. He saw himself, I suppose, as a great imaginative master of fiction sees a hero. His attitude cannot be called vanity: it is too consistent and continuous and its effect by far too powerful. He puts his own name into the speeches of other men in a manner that is very rare: he does not start at the sound of Don Jorge. He said to the silent archbishop: "I suppose your lordship knows who I am? . . . I am he whom the Manolos of Madrid call Don Jorgito el Ingles; I am just come out of prison, whither I was sent for circulating my Lord's Gospel in this Kingdom of Spain." He allows the archbishop to put this celebrity on horseback: "Vaya! how you ride! It is dangerous to be in your way." His horses are magnificent: "What," he asks, "what is a missionary in the heart of Spain without a horse? Which consideration induced me now to purchase an Arabian of high caste, which had been brought from Algiers by an officer of the French legion. The name of this steed, the best I believe that ever issued from the desert, was Sidi Habismilk."

Who can forget Quesada and his two friends lording it on horseback over the crowd, and Borrow shouting "Viva Quesada," or forget the old Moor of Tangier talking of horses?—

"'Good are the horses of the Moslems,' said my old friend; 'where will you find such? They will descend rocky mountains at full speed and neither trip nor fall; but you must be cautious with the horses of the Moslems, and treat them with kindness, for the horses of the Moslems are proud, and they like not being slaves. When they are young and first mounted, jerk not their mouths with your bit, for be sure if you do they will kill you—sooner or later you will perish beneath their feet. Good are our horses, and good our riders—yea, very good are the Moslems at mounting the horse; who are like them? I once saw a Frank rider compete with a Moslem on this beach, and at first the Frank rider had it all his own way, and he passed the Moslem. But the course was long, very long, and the horse of the Frank rider, which was a Frank also, panted; but the horse of the Moslem panted not, for he was a Moslem also, and the Moslem rider at last gave a cry, and the horse sprang forward, and he overtook the Frank horse, and then the Moslem rider stood up in his saddle. How did he stand? Truly he stood on his head, and these eyes saw him. He stood on his head in the saddle as he passed the Frank rider, and he cried, Ha, ha! as he passed the Frank rider; and the Moslem horse cried, Ha, ha! as he passed the Frank breed, and the Frank lost by a far distance. Good are the Franks, good their horses; but better are the Moslems, and better the horses of the Moslems.'"

It is said that he used to ride his black Andalusian horse in Madrid with a Russian skin for a saddle and without stirrups. He had, he says, been accustomed from childhood to ride without a saddle. Yet Borrow could do without a horse. He never fails to make himself impressive. He stoops to his knee to scare a huge and ferocious dog by looking him full in the eyes. The spies, as he sat waiting for the magistrate at Madrid, whisper, "He understands the seven Gypsy jargons," or "He can ride a horse and dart a knife full as well as if he came from my own country." The captain of the ship tells a friend in a low voice, overheard by Borrow: "That fellow who is lying on the deck can speak Christian, too, when it serves his purpose; but he speaks others which are by no means Christian. He can talk English, and I myself have heard him chatter in Gitano with the Gypsies of Triana. He is now going amongst the Moors; and when he arrives in their country, you will hear him, should you be there, converse as fluently in their gibberish as in Christiano—nay, better, for he is no Christian himself. He has been several times on board my vessel already; but I do not like him, as I consider that he carries something about with him which is not good."

The American at Tangier is perplexed by his speaking both Moorish and Gaelic, by hearing from an Irish woman that he is "a fairy man."

He does not confine himself to the mysterious sublime. He tells us, for example, that Mendizabal, the Prime Minister, was a huge athletic man, "somewhat taller than myself, who measure six-feet-two without my shoes." Several times he was mistaken for a Jew, and once for a Rabbi, by the Jews themselves. Add to this the expression that he put on for the benefit of the farrier at Betanzos: he was stooping to close the vein that had been opened in the leg of his horse, and he "looked up into the farrier's face, arching his eyebrows. 'Carracho! what an evil wizard!' muttered the farrier, as he walked away."

{picture: Mendizabal, The Spanish Minister: page194.jpg}

In the wilds he grew a beard—he had one at Jaraicejo—and it is perhaps worth noticing this, to rebut the opinion that he could not grow a beard, and that he was therefore as other men are with the same disability. He speaks more than once of his shedding tears, and at Lisbon he kissed the stone above Fielding's grave. But these are little things of little importance in the landscape portrait which emerges from the whole of the book, of the grave adventurer, all but always equal in his boldness and his discretion, the lord of those wild ways and wild men, who "rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm" all over Spain.

In brief, he is the very hero that a wondering and waiting audience would be satisfied to see appearing upon such a stage. Except Dante on his background of Heaven and Hell, and Byron on his background of Europe and Time, no writer had in one book placed himself with greater distinction before the world. His glory was threefold. He was the man who was a Gypsy in politics, because he had lived with Gypsies so long. He was the man who said to the Spanish Prime Minister: "It is a pleasant thing to be persecuted for the Gospel's sake." He was the man of whom it was said by an enemy, after the affair of Benedict Mol, that Don Jorge was at the bottom of half the knavish farces in Spain.

Very little of Borrow's effectiveness can seriously be attributed to this or that quality of style, for it will all amount to saying that he had an effective style. But it may be permissible to point out that it is also a style that is unnoticeable except for what it effects. It runs at times to rotten Victorianism, both heavy and vague, as when he calls El Greco or Domenico "a most extraordinary genius, some of whose productions possess merit of a very high order." He is capable of calling the eye the "orb of vision," and the moon "the beauteous luminary." I quote a passage lest it should seem incredible:

"The moon had arisen when we mounted our horses to return to the village, and the rays of the beauteous luminary danced merrily on the rushing waters of the Tagus, silvered the plain over which we were passing, and bathed in a flood of brightness the bold sides of the calcareous hill of Villaluengo, the antique ruins which crowned its brow. . . ."

Description, taking him away from men and from his active self, often lured him into this kind of thing. And, nevertheless, such is Borrow that I should by no means employ a gentleman of refinement to go over "The Bible in Spain" and cross out the like. It all helps in the total of half theatrical and wholly wild exuberance and robustness. Another minute contributory element of style is the Biblical phrasing. His home and certainly his work for the Society had made him familiar with the Bible. He quotes it several times in passages which bring him into comparison, if not equality, with Jesus and with Paul. A little after quoting, "Ride on, because of the word of righteousness," he writes: "I repaired to the aqueduct, and sat down beneath the hundred and seventh arch, where I waited the greater part of the day, but he came not, whereupon I arose and went into the city." He is fond of "even," saying, for example, or making Judah Lib say, "He bent his way unto the East, even to Jerusalem." The "beauteous luminary" vein and the Biblical vein may be said to be inseparable from the long cloak, the sombrero, the picturesque romance and mystery of Spain, as they appeared to one for whom romance and mystery alike were never without pomp. But with all his rant he is invariably substantial, never aerial, and he chequers it in a Byronic manner with a sudden prose reference to bugs, or a question, or a piece of dialogue.

His dialogue can hardly be over-praised. It is life-like in its effect, though not in its actual phrases, and it breaks up the narrative and description over and over again at the right time. What he puts into the mouth of shepherds with whom he sits round the fire is more than twice as potent as if it were in his own narrative; he varies the point of view, and yet always without allowing himself to disappear from the scene—he, the senor traveller. These spoken words are, it is true, in Borrow's own style, with little or no colloquialism, but they are simpler. They also, in their turn, are broken up by words or phrases from the language of the speaker. The effect of this must vary with the reader. The learned will not pause, some of the unlearned will be impatient. But as a glossary was afterwards granted at Ford's suggestion, and is now to be had in the cheapest editions of "The Bible in Spain," these few hundred Spanish or Gypsy words are at least no serious stumbling block. I find them a very distinct additional flavour in the style. A good writer can afford these mysteries. Children do not boggle at the unpronounceable names of a good book like "The Arabian Nights," but rather use them as charms, like Izaak Walton's marrow of the thighbone of a heron or a piece of mummy. The bullfighter speaks:

"'Cavaliers and strong men, this cavalier is the friend of a friend of mine. Es mucho hombre. There is none like him in Spain. He speaks the crabbed Gitano, though he is an Inglesito.'

"'We do not believe it,' replied several grave voices. 'It is not possible.'

"'It is not possible, say you? I tell you it is.—Come forward, Balseiro, you who have been in prison all your life, and are always boasting that you can speak the crabbed Gitano, though I say you know nothing of it—come forward and speak to his worship in the crabbed Gitano.'

"A low, slight, but active figure stepped forward. He was in his shirt sleeves, and wore a montero cap; his features were handsome, but they were those of a demon.

"He spoke a few words in the broken Gypsy slang of the prison, inquiring of me whether I had ever been in the condemned cell, and whether I knew what a gitana was.

"'Vamos Inglesito,' shouted Sevilla, in a voice of thunder, 'answer the monro in the crabbed Gitano.'

"I answered the robber, for such he was, and one, too, whose name will live for many years in the ruffian histories of Madrid—I answered him in a speech of some length, in the dialect of the Estremenian Gypsies.

"'I believe it is the crabbed Gitano,' muttered Balseiro. 'It is either that or English, for I understand not a word of it.'

"'Did I not say to you,' cried the bullfighter, 'that you knew nothing of the crabbed Gitano? But this Inglesito does. I understood all he said. Vaya, there is none like him for the crabbed Gitano. He is a good ginete, too; next to myself, there is none like him, only he rides with stirrup leathers too short.—Inglesito, if you have need of money, I will lend you my purse. All I have is at your service, and that is not a little; I have just gained four thousand chules by the lottery. Courage, Englishman! Another cup. I will pay all—I, Sevilla!'

"And he clapped his hand repeatedly on his breast, reiterating, 'I, Sevilla! I—'"

Borrow breaks up his own style in the same way with foreign words. As Ford said in his "Edinburgh Review" criticism:

"To use a Gypsy term for a linguist, 'he knows the seven jargons'; his conversations and his writings resemble an intricate mosiac, of which we see the rich effect, without comprehending the design. . . . Mr. Borrow, in whose mouth are the tongues of Babel, selects, as he dashes along currente calamo, the exact word for any idiom which best expresses the precise idea which sparkles in his mind."

This habit of Borrow's should be compared with Lamb's archaisms, but, better still, with Robert Burton's interlardation of English and Latin in "The Anatomy of Melancholy."

Here again what I may call his spotted dog style is only a part of the whole, and as the whole is effective, we solemnly conclude that this is due in part to the spotted dog. My last word is that here, as always in a good writer, the whole is greater than the mere sum of the parts, just as with a bad writer the part is always greater than the whole. Or a truer way of saying this is that many elements elude discovery, and therefore the whole exceeds the discoverable parts. Nor is this the whole truth, for the mixing is much if not all, and neither Borrow nor any critic knows anything about the mixing, save that the drink is good that comes of it.


Six three-volume editions of "The Bible in Spain" were issued within the first twelve months: ten thousand copies of a cheap edition were sold in four months. In America it was sold rapidly without benefit to Borrow. It was translated into German in 1844 and French in 1845. Borrow came up to town and did not refuse to meet princes, bishops, ambassadors, and members of Parliament. He was pleased and flattered by the sales and the reviews, and declared that he had known it would succeed. He did not quite know what to say to an invitation from the Royal Institution, but as to the Royal Academy, it would "just suit him," because he was a safe man, he said, fitted by nature for an Academician. He did not think much of episcopal food, wine, or cigars. He was careful of his hero and disliked hearing him abused or treated indifferently. If he had many letters, he answered but few. He had made nothing yet out of literature because the getting about to receive homage, etc., had been so expensive: he did not care, for he hated to speak of money matters, yet he could not but mention the fact. When the money began to arrive he did not resent it by any means, as he was to buy a blood horse with it—no less. His letters have a jolly, bullying, but offhand and jerky tone, and they are very short. He gives Murray advice on publishing and is willing to advise the Government how to manage the Irish—"the blackguards."

He was now, by virtue of his wife, a "landed proprietor," and filled the part with unction, though but little satisfaction. For he was not a magistrate, and he had to get up in the middle of the night to look after "poachers and thieves," as he says in giving a reason for an illness. In the summer-house at Oulton hung his father's coat and sword, but it is to be noticed that to the end of his life an old friend held it "doubtful whether his father commenced his military career with a commission." Borrow probably realised the importance of belonging to the ruling classes and having a long steady pedigree. "If report be true," says the same friend, {201} "his mother was of French origin, and in early life an actress." The foreignness as an asset overcame his objection to the French, and "an actress" also sounded unconventional. The friend continues: "But the subject of his family was one on which Borrow never touched. He would allude to Borrowdale as the country whence they came, and then would make mysterious allusions to his father's pugilistic triumphs. But this is certain, that he has not left a single relation behind him." Yet he had many relatives in Cornwall and did not scorn to visit their houses. He would only talk of his works to intimate friends, and "when he went into company it was as a gentleman, not because he was an author."

Lady Eastlake, in March, 1844, calls him "a fine man, but a most disagreeable one; a kind of character that would be most dangerous in rebellious times—one that would suffer or persecute to the utmost. His face is expressive of wrong-headed determination."

A little earlier than this, in October, 1843, Caroline Fox saw him "sitting on one side of the fire and his old mother on the other." It was known to her that "his spirits always sink in wet weather, and to-day was very rainy, but he was courteous and not displeased to be a little lionised, for his delicacy is not of the most susceptible." He was "a tall, ungainly, uncouth man," in her opinion, "with great physical strength, a quick penetrating eye, a confident manner, and a disagreeable tone and pronunciation." In no place does he make anyone praise his voice, and, as he said, it reminded one Spanish woman of a German clockmaker's.

But Borrow was not happy or at ease. He took a riding tour in the east of England; he walked, rowed and fished; but that was not enough. He was restless, and yet did not get away. Evidently he did not conceal the fact that he thought of travelling again. He had talked about Africa and China: he was now talking about Constantinople and Africa. He was often miserable, though he had, so far as he knew, "no particular disorder." If at such times he was away from Oulton, he thought of his home as his only refuge in this world; if he was at home he thought of travel or foreign employment. His disease was, perhaps, now middle age, and too good a memory in his blood and in his bones. Whatever it was it was apparently not curable by his kind of Christianity, nor by a visit from the genial Ford, and a present of caviare and pheasant; nor by the never-out-of-date reminder from friends that he was very well off, etc. If he had been caught by Dissenters, as he should have been, he might by this time have had salvation, and an occupation for life, in founding a new truculent sect of Borrovians. As the Rev. the Romany Rye he might have blazed in an entertaining and becoming manner. As "a sincere member of the old- fashioned Church of England, in which he believes there is more religion, and consequently less cant, than in any other Church in the world," there was nothing for him to do but sit down at Oulton and contemplate the fact. This and the other fact that "he eats his own bread, and is one of the very few men in England who are independent in every sense of the word," were afterwards to be made subjects for public rejoicing in the Appendix to "The Romany Rye."

But in his discontent at the age of forty it cannot have been entirely satisfactory, however flattering, to hear Ford, in the "Edinburgh," saying:

"We wish he would, on some leisure day, draw up the curtain of his own eventful biography. We collected from his former work that he was not always what he now is. The pursuits and society of his youth scarcely could be denominated, in Troloppian euphemism, la creme de la creme; but they stood him in good stead; then and there was he trained for the encounter of Spain . . . whilst sowing his wild oats, he became passionately fond of horseflesh. . . .

"How much has Mr. Borrow yet to remember, yet to tell! let him not delay. His has been a life, one day of which is more crowded than is the fourscore-year vegetation of a squire or alderman. . . . Everything seems sealed on a memory, wax to receive and marble to retain. He is not subjective. He has the new fault of not talking about self. We vainly want to know what sort of person must be the pilgrim in whose wanderings we have been interested. That he has left to other pens. . . ."

Then Ford went on to identify Borrow with the mysterious Unknown of Colonel Napier's newly-published book.

He began to write his autobiography to fulfil the expectations of Ford and his own public. It was not until 1844, exactly four years after his return from Spain, that he set out again on foreign travel. He made stops at Paris, Vienna, Constantinople, Venice, and Rome, but spent most of his time in Hungary and Roumania, visiting the Gypsies and compiling a "vocabulary of the Gypsy language as spoken in Hungary and Transylvania," which still exists in manuscript. He was seven months away altogether.

Knapp possessed documents proving that Borrow was at this and that place, and the Gypsy vocabulary is in the British Museum, but little other record of these seven months remains. Knapp, indeed, takes it for granted that the historical conversation between Borrow and the Magyar in "The Romany Rye" was drawn from his experiences in Hungary and Transylvania in the year 1844; but that is absurd, as the chapter might have been written by a man born and bred in the reading room of the British Museum who had never met any but similar unfortunates. It is very likely that the journey was a failure, and if it had been a success, an account of it would have interrupted the progress of the autobiography, as Ford expected it to do. But the thing was too deliberate to succeed. Borrow's right instinct was to get work which would take him abroad; he failed, and so he travelled because travel offered him relief from his melancholy and unrest. Whether or no he "satisfied his roving demon for a time," as Mr. Walling puts it, is unknown. What is known is that he did not make this journey a subject of mystery or boasting, and that he stayed in England thereafter. He had tasted comfort and celebrity; he had a wife; he was an older man, looking weak in the eyes by the time he was fifty; and he had no motive for travel except discontent with staying at home. He tried to get away again on a mission to the Convent of St. Catherine, on Mount Sinai, to acquire manuscripts for the British Museum; but he failed, and the manuscripts went to St. Petersburg instead of Bloomsbury.

In 1843 Henry Wyndham Phillips, R.A., painted his portrait. He was a restless sitter until the painter remarked: "I have always heard, Mr. Borrow, that the Persian is a very fine language; is it so?" "It is, Phillips; it is." "Perhaps you will not mind reciting me something in the Persian tongue?" said Phillips. "Dear me, no; certainly not." And then "Mr. Borrow's face lit up with the light that Phillips longed for, and he kept declaiming at the top of his voice, while the painter made the most of his opportunity." {205} According to the story, Phillips had the like success with Turkish and Armenian, and successfully stilled Borrow's desire "to get out into the fresh air and sunlight."

In the same way, writing and literary ambition kept Borrow from travel. He stayed at home and he wrote "Lavengro," where, speaking of the rapid flow of time in the years of his youth, he says: "Since then it has flagged often enough; sometimes it has seemed to stand entirely still: and the reader may easily judge how it fares at the present, from the circumstance of my taking pen in hand, and endeavouring to write down the passages of my life—a last resource with most people." At one moment he got satisfaction from professing scorn of authorship, at another, speaking of Byron, he reflected:

"Well, perhaps after all it was better to have been mighty Milton in his poverty and blindness—witty and ingenious Butler consigned to the tender mercies of bailiffs, and starving Otway; they might enjoy more real pleasure than this lordling; they must have been aware that the world would one day do them justice—fame after death is better than the top of fashion in life. They have left a fame behind them which shall never die, whilst this lordling—a time will come when he will be out of fashion and forgotten. And yet I don't know; didn't he write Childe Harold and that ode? Yes, he wrote Childe Harold and that ode. Then a time will scarcely come when he will be forgotten. Lords, squires, and cockneys may pass away, but a time will scarcely come when Childe Harold and that ode will be forgotten. He was a poet, after all—and he must have known it; a real poet, equal to—to—what a destiny!"

It is said that in actual life Borrow refused to be introduced to a Russian scholar "simply because he moved in the literary world." {206}

Yet again he made the glorious Gypsy say that he would rather be a book- writer than a fighting-man, because the book-writers "have so much to say for themselves even when dead and gone":

"'When they are laid in the churchyard, it is their own fault if people a'n't talking of them. Who will know, after I am dead, or bitchadey pawdel, that I was once the beauty of the world, or that you, Jasper, were—'

"'The best man in England of my inches. That's true, Tawno—however, here's our brother will perhaps let the world know something about us.'"

I should think, too, that Borrow was both questioner and answerer in the conversation with the literary man who had the touching mania:

"'With respect to your present troubles and anxieties, would it not be wise, seeing that authorship causes you so much trouble and anxiety, to give it up altogether?'

"'Were you an author yourself,' replied my host, 'you would not talk in this manner; once an author, ever an author—besides, what could I do? return to my former state of vegetation? no, much as I endure, I do not wish that; besides, every now and then my reason tells me that these troubles and anxieties of mine are utterly without foundation; that whatever I write is the legitimate growth of my own mind, and that it is the height of folly to afflict myself at any chance resemblance between my own thoughts and those of other writers, such resemblance being inevitable from the fact of our common human origin. . . ."

Knapp gives at length a story showing what an author Borrow was, and how little his travels had sweetened him. He had long promised to review Ford's "Handbook for Spain," when it should appear. In 1845 he wrote an article and sent it in to the "Quarterly" as a review of the Handbook. It had nothing to do with the book and very little to do with the subject of the book, and Lockhart, the "Quarterly" editor, suggested turning it into a review by a few interpolations and extracts. Borrow would not have the article touched. Both Lockhart and Ford advised him to send it to "Fraser's" or another magazine where it was certain to be welcomed as a Spanish essay by the author of "The Bible in Spain." But no: and the article was never printed anywhere.

Yet Borrow was not settling down to authorship pure and simple. He flew into a passion because a new railway line, in 1846, ran through his estate. He flew into a passion, did nothing, and remained on his estates until 1853, when he and his family went into lodgings at Yarmouth. I have not discovered how much he profited by the intrusion of the railway, except when he pilloried the contractor, his neighbour, Mr. Peto, as Flamson, in the Appendix to "The Romany Rye." Then he tried again to be put on the Commission of the Peace, with no success. He probably spent much of his time in being either suspicious, or ambitious, or indignant. In 1847, for example, he suspected his friend Dr. Bowring—his "only friend" in 1842—of using his work to get for himself the consulship at Canton, which he was professing to obtain for Borrow. The result was the foaming abuse of "The Romany Rye," where Bowring is the old Radical. The affair of the Sinai manuscripts followed close on this. All that he saw of foreign lands was at the Exhibition of 1851, where he frequently accosted foreigners in their own tongue, so that it began to be whispered about that he was "uncanny": he excited so much remark that his daughter thought it better to drag him away.

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