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George Borrow - The Man and His Books
by Edward Thomas
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He was suffering from ill-health and untranquility of mind which gave his mother anxiety, though his physical strength appears not to have degenerated, for in 1853, at Yarmouth, he rescued a man out of a stormy sea. He was an unpleasant companion for those whom he did not like or could not get on with. Thackeray tried to get up a conversation with him, his final effort being the question, "Have you seen my 'Snob Papers' in 'Punch'?" To which Borrow answered: "In 'Punch'? It is a periodical I never look at." He once met Miss Agnes Strickland:

"Borrow was unwilling to be introduced, but was prevailed on to submit. He sat down at her side; before long she spoke with rapture of his works, and asked his permission to send him a copy of her 'Queens of England.' He exclaimed, 'For God's sake, don't, madam, I should not know where to put them or what to do with them.' On this he rose, fuming, as was his wont when offended, and said to Mr. Donne, 'What a damned fool that woman is!' The fact is that, whenever Borrow was induced to do anything unwillingly, he lost his temper." {208}

The friend who tells this story, Gordon Hake, a poet and doctor at Bury St. Edmunds, tells also that once when he was at dinner with a banker who had recently "struck the docket" to secure payment from a friend of Borrow's, and the banker's wife said to him: "Oh Mr. Borrow, I have read your books with so much pleasure!" the great man exclaimed: "Pray, what books do you mean, madam? Do you mean my account books?" How touchy he was, Mr. Walling shows, by his story of Borrow in Cornwall neglecting a lady all one evening because she bore the name of the man his father had knocked down at Menheniot Fair. Several stories of his crushing remarks prove nothing but that he was big and alarming and uncontrolled.

{picture: Gordon Hake. From the painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. By kind permission of Mrs. George Gordon Hake: page209.jpg}

Very little record of his friendly intercourse with men at this middle period remains. Several letters, of 1853, 1856 and 1857, alone survive to show that he met and received letters from Fitzgerald. That Fitzgerald enjoyed an evening with him in 1856 tells us little; and even so it appears that Fitzgerald only wanted to ask him to read some of the "Northern Ballads"—"but you shut the book"—and that he doubted whether Borrow wished to keep up the acquaintance. They had friends in common, and Fitzgerald had sent Borrow a copy of his "Six Dramas of Calderon," in 1853, confessing that he had had thoughts of sending the manuscript first for an inspection. He also told Borrow when he was about to make the "dangerous experiment" of marriage with Miss Barton "of Quaker memory." In 1857 Borrow came to see him and had the loan of the "Rubaiyat" in manuscript, and Fitzgerald showed his readiness to see more of the "Great Man." In 1859 he sent Borrow a copy of "Omar." He found Borrow's "masterful manners and irritable temper uncongenial," {209} but succeeded, unlike many other friends, in having no quarrel with him. Near the end of his life, in 1875, it was Borrow that tried to renew the acquaintance, but in vain, for Fitzgerald reminded him that friends "exist and enjoy themselves pretty reasonably without me," and asked, was not being alone better than having company?

If Borrow had little consideration for others' feelings, his consideration for his own was exquisite, as this story, belonging to 1856, may help to prove:

"There were three personages in the world whom he always had a desire to see; two of these had slipped through his fingers, so he was determined to see the third. 'Pray, Mr. Borrow, who were they?' He held up three fingers of his left hand and pointed them off with the forefinger of the right: the first, Daniel O'Connell; the second, Lamplighter (the sire of Phosphorus, Lord Berners's winner of the Derby); the third, Anna Gurney. . . ."

One spring day during the Crimean War, when he was walking round Norfolk, he sent word to Anna Gurney to announce his coming, and she was ready to receive him.

"When, according to his account, he had been but a very short time in her presence, she wheeled her chair round and reached her hand to one of her bookshelves and took down an Arabic Grammar, and put it into his hand, asking for explanation of some difficult point, which he tried to decipher; but meanwhile she talked to him continuously; when, said he, 'I could not study the Arabic Grammar and listen to her at the same time, so I threw down the book and ran out of the room.' He seems not to have stopped running till he reached Old Tucker's Inn, at Cromer, where he renewed his strength, or calmed his temper, with five excellent sausages, and then came on to Sheringham. . . ." {210a}

The distance is a very good two miles, and Borrow's age was forty-nine.

He is said also to have been considerate towards his mother, the poor, and domestic animals. Probably he and his mother understood one another. When he could not write to her, he got his wife to do so; and from 1849 she lived with them at Oulton. As to the poor, Knapp tells us that he left behind him letters of gratitude or acknowledgment from individuals, churches, and chapels. As to animals, once when he came upon some men beating a horse that had fallen, he gave it ale of sufficient quantity and strength to set it soon upon the road trotting with the rest of its kind, after the men had received a lecture. {210b} It is also related that when a favourite old cat crawled out to die in the hedge he brought it into the house, where he "laid it down in a comfortable spot and watched it till it was dead." His horse, Sidi Habismilk, the Arab, seems to have returned his admiration and esteem. He said himself, in "Wild Wales," after expressing his relief that a boy and dog had not seen a weazel that ran across his path:

"I hate to see poor wild animals persecuted and murdered, lose my appetite for dinner at hearing the screams of a hare pursued by greyhounds, and am silly enough to feel disgust and horror at the squeals of a rat in the fangs of a terrier, which one of the sporting tribe once told me were the sweetest sounds in 'natur.'"



CHAPTER XXIV—"LAVENGRO" AND "THE ROMANY RYE"

Instead of travelling over the world Borrow wrote his autobiography and spent so many years on it that his contempt for the pen had some excuse. I have already said almost all there is to say about these labours. {212} Knapp has shown that they were protracted to include matters relating to Bowring and long posterior to the period covered by the autobiography, and that the magnitude of these additions compelled him to divide the book in two. The first part was "Lavengro," published in 1851, with an ending that is now, and perhaps was then, obviously due to the knife. The sceptical and hostile criticism of "Lavengro" delayed the appearance of the remainder of the autobiography, "The Romany Rye."

Borrow had to reply to his critics and explain himself. This he did in the Appendix, and thus changed, the book was finished in 1853 or 1854. Something in Murray's attitude while they were discussing publication mounted Borrow on the high horse, and yet again he fumed because Murray had expressed a private opinion and had revealed his feeling that the book was not likely to make money for anyone.

{picture: Cancelled title-page of "Lavengro". (Photographed from the Author's corrected proof copy, by kind permission of Mr. Kyllmann and Mr. Thos. Seccombe.) Photo: W. J. Roberts: page212.jpg}

"Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" describe the author's early adventures and, at the same time, his later opinions and mature character. In some places he turns openly aside to express his feeling or opinion at the time of writing, as, for example, in his praise of the Orangemen, or, on the very first page, where he claims to spring from a family of gentlemen, though "not very wealthy," that the reader may see at once he is "not altogether of low and plebeian origin." But by far more important is the indirect self-revelation when he is recalling that other distant self, the child of three or of ten, the youth of twenty.

Ford had asked Borrow for a book of his adventures and travels, something "thick and slab," to follow "The Bible in Spain." The result shows that Borrow had almost done with outward adventure. "The Bible in Spain" had an atmosphere composed at best of as much Spain as Borrow. But the autobiography is pure inward Borrow: except a few detachable incidents there is nothing in it which is not Borrow's creation, nothing which would have any value apart from his own treatment of it. A man might have used "The Bible in Spain" as a kind of guide to men and places in 1843, and it is possible he would not have been wholly disappointed. The autobiography does not depend on anything outside itself, but creates its own atmosphere and dwells in it without admitting that of the outer world—no: not even by references to events like the campaign of Waterloo or the funeral of Byron; and, as if conscious that this other atmosphere must be excluded, Borrow has hardly mentioned a name which could act upon the reader as a temporary check to the charm. When he does recall contemporary events, and speaks as a Briton to Britons, the rant is of a brave degree that is almost as much his own, and it makes more intense than ever the solitude and inwardness of the individual life going on side by side with war and with politics.

"Pleasant were those days of my early boyhood; and a melancholy pleasure steals over me as I recall them. Those were stirring times of which I am speaking, and there was much passing around me calculated to captivate the imagination. The dreadful struggle which so long convulsed Europe, and in which England bore so prominent a part, was then at its hottest; we were at war, and determination and enthusiasm shone in every face; man, woman and child were eager to fight the Frank, the hereditary, but, thank God, never dreaded enemy of the Anglo-Saxon race. 'Love your country and beat the French, and then never mind what happens,' was the cry of entire England. Oh those were days of power, gallant days, bustling days, worth the bravest days of chivalry, at least; tall battalions of native warriors were marching through the land; there was the glitter of the bayonet and the gleam of the sabre; the shrill squeak of the fife and loud rattling of the drum were heard in the streets of county towns, and the loyal shouts of the inhabitants greeted the soldiery on their arrival or cheered them at their departure. And now let us leave the upland and descend to the sea-board; there is a sight for you upon the billows! A dozen men-of-war are gliding majestically out of port, their long buntings streaming from the top-gallant masts, calling on the skulking Frenchman to come forth from his bights and bays; and what looms upon us yonder from the fog-bank in the East? A gallant frigate towing behind her the long low hull of a crippled privateer, which but three short days ago had left Dieppe to skim the sea, and whose crew of ferocious hearts are now cursing their impudence in an English hold. Stirring times those, which I love to recall, for they were days of gallantry and enthusiasm, and were moreover the days of my boyhood."

"Pleasant were those days," and there is a "melancholy pleasure" in recalling them. The two combine in this autobiography with strange effect, for they set the man side by side with the child as an invisible companion haunting him.

Whatever was the change that came over Borrow in the 'forties, and showed itself in melancholy and unrest, this long-continued contemplation of his childhood betrayed him into a profound change of tone. Neither Africa nor the East could have shown him as much mystery as this wide England of a child ignorant of geography, and it kept hold of him for twice as long as Spain. It offered him relief and escape, and gladly did he accept them, and deeply he indulged in them. He found that he had that within himself as wild as any mountain or maniac-haunted ruin of Spain. For example, he recalled his schooldays in Ireland, and how one day he set out to visit his elder brother, the boy lieutenant:

"The distance was rather considerable, yet I hoped to be back by evening fall, for I was now a shrewd walker, thanks to constant practice. I set out early, and, directing my course towards the north, I had in less than two hours accomplished considerably more than half of the journey. The weather had been propitious: a slight frost had rendered the ground firm to the tread, and the skies were clear; but now a change came over the scene, the skies darkened, and a heavy snow-storm came on; the road then lay straight through a bog, and was bounded by a deep trench on both sides; I was making the best of my way, keeping as nearly as I could in the middle of the road, lest, blinded by the snow which was frequently borne into my eyes by the wind, I might fall into the dyke, when all at once I heard a shout to windward, and turning my eyes I saw the figure of a man, and what appeared to be an animal of some kind, coming across the bog with great speed, in the direction of myself; the nature of the ground seemed to offer but little impediment to these beings, both clearing the holes and abysses which lay in their way with surprising agility; the animal was, however, some slight way in advance, and, bounding over the dyke, appeared on the road just before me. It was a dog, of what species I cannot tell, never having seen the like before or since; the head was large and round; the ears so tiny as scarcely to be discernible; the eyes of a fiery red; in size it was rather small than large; and the coat, which was remarkably smooth, as white as the falling flakes. It placed itself directly in my path, and showing its teeth, and bristling its coat, appeared determined to prevent my progress. I had an ashen stick in my hand, with which I threatened it; this, however, only served to increase its fury; it rushed upon me, and I had the utmost difficulty to preserve myself from its fangs.

"'What are you doing with the dog, the fairy dog?' said a man, who at this time likewise cleared the dyke at a bound.

"He was a very tall man, rather well dressed as it should seem; his garments, however, were like my own, so covered with snow that I could scarcely discern their quality.

"'What are ye doing with the dog of peace?'

"'I wish he would show himself one,' said I; 'I said nothing to him, but he placed himself in my road, and would not let me pass.'

"'Of course he would not be letting you till he knew where ye were going.'

"'He's not much of a fairy,' said I, 'or he would know that without asking; tell him that I am going to see my brother.'

"'And who is your brother, little Sas?'

"'What my father is, a royal soldier.'

"'Oh, ye are going then to the detachment at —-; by my shoul, I have a good mind to be spoiling your journey.'

"'You are doing that already,' said I, 'keeping me here talking about dogs and fairies; you had better go home and get some salve to cure that place over your eye; it's catching cold you'll be in so much snow.'

"On one side of the man's forehead there was a raw and staring wound, as if from a recent and terrible blow.

"'Faith, then, I'll be going, but it's taking you wid me I will be.'

"'And where will you take me?'

"'Why, then, to Ryan's Castle, little Sas.'

"'You do not speak the language very correctly,' said I; 'it is not Sas you should call me—'tis Sassanach,' and forthwith I accompanied the word with a speech full of flowers of Irish rhetoric.

"The man looked upon me for a moment, fixedly, then, bending his head towards his breast, he appeared to be undergoing a kind of convulsion, which was accompanied by a sound something resembling laughter; presently he looked at me, and there was a broad grin on his features.

"'By my shoul, it's a thing of peace I'm thinking ye.'

"But now with a whisking sound came running down the road a hare; it was nearly upon us before it perceived us; suddenly stopping short, however, it sprang into the bog on the right-hand side; after it amain bounded the dog of peace, followed by the man, but not until he had nodded to me a farewell salutation. In a few moments I lost sight of him amidst the snow-flakes."

This is more magical than nine-tenths of the deliberately Celtic prose or verse. I mean that it is real and credible and yet insubstantial, the too too solid flesh is melted into something like the mist over the bogland, and it recalls to us times when an account of our physical self, height, width, weight, colour, age, etc., would bear no relation whatever to the true self. In part, this effect may be due to Ireland and to the fact that Borrow was only there for one short impressionable year of his boyhood, and had never seen any other country like it. But most of it is due to Borrow's nature and the conditions under which the autobiography was composed. While he was writing it he was probably living a more solitary and sedentary life than ever before, and could hear the voices of solitude; he was not the busy riding missionary of "The Bible in Spain," nor the feted author, but the unsocial morbid tinker, philologist, boxer, and religious doubter. It has been said that "he was a Celt of Celts. His genius was truly Celtic." {218a} It has been said that "he inherited nothing from Norfolk save his accent and his love of 'leg of mutton and turnips.'" {218b} Yet his father, the Cornish "Celt," appears to have been entirely unlike him, while he draws his mother, the Norfolk Huguenot, as innately sympathetic with himself. I am content to leave this mystery for Celts and anti-Celts to grow lean on. I have known Celts who said that five and five were ten or, at most, eleven; and Saxons who said twenty-five, and even fifty-five.

Borrow was writing without note books: things had therefore in his memory the importance which his nature had decreed for them, and among these things no doubt he exercised a conscious choice. Behind all was the inexplicable singular force which, Celtic or not, gave the "dream"-like, illusory quality which pervades the books in spite of more positive and arresting qualities sometimes apparently hostile to this one. It is true that his books have in them many rude or simple characters of Gypsies, jockeys, and others, living chiefly by their hands, and it is part of the conscious and unconscious object of the books to exalt them. But these people in Borrow's hands seldom or never give the impression of coarse solid bodies well endowed with the principal appetites. There is, for example, a famous page where the young doubting Borrow listens to a Wesleyan preacher and wishes that his life had been like that man's, and then comes upon his Gypsy friend after a long absence. He asks the Gypsy for news and hears of some deaths:

"'What is your opinion of death, Mr. Petulengro?' said I, as I sat down beside him

"'My opinion of death, brother, is much the same as that in the old song of Pharaoh, which I have heard my grandam sing—

"Canna marel o manus chivios ande puv, Ta rovel pa leste o chavo ta romi."

When a man dies, he is cast into the earth, and his wife and child sorrow over him. If he has neither wife nor child, then his father and mother, I suppose; and if he is quite alone in the world, why, then, he is cast into the earth, and there is an end of the matter.'

"'And do you think that is the end of man?'

"'There's an end of him, brother, more's the pity.'

"'Why do you say so?'

"'Life is sweet, brother.'

"'Do you think so?'

"'Think so!—There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?'

"'I would wish to die—'

"'You talk like a gorgio—which is the same as talking like a fool—were you a Rommany Chal you would talk wiser. Wish to die, indeed!—A Rommany Chal would wish to live for ever!"

"'In sickness, Jasper?'

"'There's the sun and stars, brother.'

"'In blindness, Jasper?'

"'There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever. Dosta, we'll now go to the tents and put on the gloves; and I'll try to make you feel what a sweet thing it is to be alive, brother!'"

But how delicate it is, the two lads talking amidst the furze of Mousehold Heath at sunset. And so with the rest. As he grows older the atmosphere thins but never quite fades away; even Thurtell, the bull-necked friend of bruisers, is as much a spirit as a man.

Mr. Watts-Dunton has complained {220} that Borrow makes Isopel taller than Borrow, and therefore too tall for beauty. But Borrow was not writing for readers who knew, or for those who, if they knew, always remembered, that he was six-feet-two. We know that Lavengro is tall, but we are not told so just before hearing that Isopel is taller; and the effect is that we think, not too distinctly, of a girl who somehow succeeds in being very tall and beautiful. If Borrow had said: "Whereas I was six feet two inches, the girl was six feet two and three-quarter inches," it would have been different, and it would not have been Borrow, who, as I say, was not writing of ponderable, measurable bodies, but of possible immortal souls curiously dressed in flesh that can be almost as invisible. So again, Mr. Watts-Dunton says:

"With regard to Isopel Berners, neither Lavengro, nor the man she thrashed when he stole one of her flaxen hairs to conjure with, gives the reader the faintest idea of Isopel's method of attack or defence, and we have to take her prowess on trust. In a word Borrow was content to give us the wonderful, without taking that trouble to find for it a logical basis which a literary master would have taken. And instances might easily be multiplied of this exaggeration of Borrow's, which is apt to lend a sense of unreality to some of the most picturesque pages of 'Lavengro.'"

But would Mr. Watts-Dunton seriously like to have these scenes touched up by Driscoll or Sullivan. Borrow did not write for real or imaginary connoisseurs.

I do not mean that a man need sacrifice his effect upon the ordinary man by satisfying the connoisseur. No one, for example, will deny that a ship by Mr. Joseph Conrad is as beautiful and intelligible as one by Stevenson; but neither would it be safe to foretell that Mr. Conrad's, the more accurate, will seem the more like life in fifty years' time. Borrow is never technical. If he quotes Gypsy it is not for the sake of the colour effect on those who read Gypsy as they run. His effects are for a certain distance and in a certain atmosphere where technicality would be impertinent.

Mr. Hindes Groome {221a} was more justified in saying:

"Mr. Borrow, no doubt, knows the Gypsies well, and could describe them perfectly. But his love of effect leads him away. In his wish to impress his reader with a certain mysterious notion of himself, he colours his Gypsy pictures (the form of which is quite accurate) in a fantastic style, which robs them altogether of the value they would have as studies from life."

For Groome wrote simply as a Gypsy student. He collected data which can be verified, but do not often give an impression of life, except the life of a young Cambridge man who is devoted to Gypsies. The "Athenaeum" reviewer {221b} begs the question by calling the Gypsy dialogues of Hindes Groome, photographic; and is plainly inaccurate in saying that if they are compared with those in "Lavengro" "the illusion in Borrow's narrative is disturbed by the uncolloquial vocabulary of the speakers." For Borrow's dialogues do produce an effect of some kind of life; those of Hindes Groome instruct us or pique our curiosity, but unless we know Gypsies, they produce no life-like effect.

Who else but Borrow could make the old viper-catcher thus describe the King of the Vipers?—

"It may be about seven years ago that I happened to be far down yonder to the west, on the other side of England, nearly two hundred miles from here, following my business. It was a very sultry day, I remember, and I had been out several hours catching creatures. It might be about three o'clock in the afternoon, when I found myself on some heathy land near the sea, on the ridge of a hill, the side of which, nearly as far down as the sea, was heath; but on the top there was arable ground, which had been planted, and from which the harvest had been gathered—oats or barley, I know not which—but I remember that the ground was covered with stubble. Well, about three o'clock, as I told you before, what with the heat of the day and from having walked about for hours in a lazy way, I felt very tired; so I determined to have a sleep, and I laid myself down, my head just on the ridge of the hill, towards the field, and my body over the side down amongst the heath; my bag, which was nearly filled with creatures, lay at a little distance from my face; the creatures were struggling in it, I remember, and I thought to myself, how much more comfortably off I was than they; I was taking my ease on the nice open hill, cooled with the breezes, whilst they were in the nasty close bag, coiling about one another, and breaking their very hearts all to no purpose; and I felt quite comfortable and happy in the thought, and little by little closed my eyes, and fell into the sweetest snooze that ever I was in in all my life; and there I lay over the hill's side, with my head half in the field, I don't know how long, all dead asleep. At last it seemed to me that I heard a noise in my sleep, something like a thing moving, very faint, however, far away; then it died, and then it came again upon my ear, as I slept, and now it appeared almost as if I heard crackle, crackle; then it died again, or I became yet more dead asleep than before, I know not which, but I certainly lay some time without hearing it. All of a sudden I became awake, and there was I, on the ridge of the hill, with my cheek on the ground towards the stubble, with a noise in my ear like that of something moving towards me, among the stubble of the field; well, I lay a moment or two listening to the noise, and then I became frightened, for I did not like the noise at all, it sounded so odd; so I rolled myself on my belly, and looked towards the stubble. Mercy upon us! there was a huge snake, or rather a dreadful viper, for it was all yellow and gold, moving towards me, bearing its head about a foot and a half above the ground, the dry stubble crackling beneath its outrageous belly. It might be about five yards off when I first saw it, making straight towards me, child, as if it would devour me. I lay quite still, for I was stupefied with horror, whilst the creature came still nearer; and now it was nearly upon me, when it suddenly drew back a little, and then—what do you think?—it lifted its head and chest high in the air, and high over my face as I looked up, flickering at me with its tongue as if it would fly at my face. Child, what I felt at that moment I can scarcely say, but it was a sufficient punishment for all the sins I ever committed; and there we two were, I looking up at the viper, and the viper looking down upon me, flickering at me with its tongue. It was only the kindness of God that saved me: all at once there was a loud noise, the report of a gun, for a fowler was shooting at a covey of birds, a little way off in the stubble. Whereupon the viper sunk its head and immediately made off over the ridge of the hill, down in the direction of the sea. As it passed by me, however—and it passed close by me—it hesitated a moment, as if it was doubtful whether it should not seize me; it did not, however, but made off down the hill. It has often struck me that he was angry with me, and came upon me unawares for presuming to meddle with his people, as I have always been in the habit of doing."

The passages quoted from "Lavengro" are representative only of the spirit of the book, which, as I have suggested, diminishes with Borrow's increasing years, but pervades the physical activity, the "low life" and open air, and prevails over them. I will give one other example of his by no means everyday magic—the incident of the poisoned cake. The Gypsy girl Leonora discovers him and betrays him to his enemy, old hairy Mrs. Herne:

"Leaning my back against the tree I was not long in falling into a slumber; I quite clearly remember that slumber of mine beneath the ash tree, for it was about the sweetest slumber that I ever enjoyed; how long I continued in it I don't know; I could almost have wished that it had lasted to the present time. All of a sudden it appeared to me that a voice cried in my ear, 'Danger! danger! danger!' Nothing seemingly could be more distinct than the words which I heard; then an uneasy sensation came over me, which I strove to get rid of, and at last succeeded, for I awoke. The Gypsy girl was standing just opposite to me, with her eyes fixed upon my countenance; a singular kind of little dog stood beside her.

"'Ha!' said I, 'was it you that cried danger? What danger is there?'

"'Danger, brother, there is no danger; what danger should there be? I called to my little dog, but that was in the wood; my little dog's name is not danger, but stranger; what danger should there be, brother.'

"'What, indeed, except in sleeping beneath a tree; what is that you have got in your hand?'

"'Something for you,' said the girl, sitting down and proceeding to untie a white napkin; 'a pretty manricli, so sweet, so nice; when I went home to my people I told my grandbebee how kind you had been to the poor person's child, and when my grandbebee saw the kekaubi, she said, "Hir mi devlis, it won't do for the poor people to be ungrateful; by my God, I will bake a cake for the young harko mescro."'

"'But there are two cakes.'

"'Yes, brother, two cakes, both for you; my grandbebee meant them both for you—but list, brother, I will have one of them for bringing them. I know you will give me one, pretty brother, grey-haired brother—which shall I have, brother?'

"In the napkin were two round cakes, seemingly made of rich and costly compounds, and precisely similar in form, each weighing about half a pound.

"'Which shall I have, brother?' said the Gypsy girl.

"'Whichever you please.'

"'No, brother, no, the cakes are yours, not mine, it is for you to say.'

"'Well, then, give me the one nearest you, and take the other.'

"'Yes, brother, yes,' said the girl; and taking the cakes, she flung them into the air two or three times, catching them as they fell, and singing the while. 'Pretty brother, grey-haired brother—here, brother,' said she, 'here is your cake, this other is mine. . . .'"

I cannot afford to quote the whole passage, but it is at once as real and as phantasmal as the witch scene in "Macbeth." He eats the poisoned cake and lies deadly sick. Mrs. Herne and Leonora came to see the effect of the poison:

"'Ha, ha! bebee, and here he lies, poisoned like a hog.'

"'You have taken drows, sir,' said Mrs. Herne; 'do you hear, sir? drows; tip him a stave, child, of the song of poison.'

"And thereupon the girl clapped her hands, and sang—

"The Rommany churl And the Rommany girl To-morrow shall hie To poison the sty, And bewitch on the mead The farmer's steed."

"'Do you hear that, sir?' said Mrs. Herne; 'the child has tipped you a stave of the song of poison: that is, she has sung it Christianly, though perhaps you would like to hear it Romanly; you were always fond of what was Roman. Tip it him Romanly, child.'"

It is not much use to remark on "the uncolloquial vocabulary of the speakers." Iago's vocabulary is not colloquial when he says:

"Not poppy nor mandragora Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep That thou ow'dst yesterday."

Borrow is not describing Gypsy life but the "dream" of his own early life. I should say that he succeeds, because his words work upon the indifferent reader in something like the same way as memory worked upon himself. The physical activity, the "low life," and the open air of the books are powerful. These and the England of his youth gave Borrow his refuge from middle age and Victorian England of the middle class. "Youth," he says in "The Romany Rye," "is the only season for enjoyment, and the first twenty-five years of one's life are worth all the rest of the longest life of man, even though these five and twenty be spent in penury and contempt, and the rest in the possession of wealth, honour, respectability, ay, and many of them in strength and health. . . ." Still more emphatically did he think the same when he was looking on his past life in the dingle, feeling his arms and thighs and teeth, which were strong and sound; "so now was the time to labour, to marry, to eat strong flesh, and beget strong children—the power of doing all this would pass away with youth, which was terribly transitory."

{picture: View on Mousehold Heath, near Norwich. (From the painting by "Old Crome" in The National Gallery.) Photo: W. J. Roberts: page227.jpg}

Youth and strength or their extreme opposites alone attracted him, and therefore he is best in writing of men, if we except the tall Brynhild, Isopel, and the old witch, Mrs. Herne, than whom "no she bear of Lapland ever looked more fierce and hairy." In the same breath as he praises youth he praises England, pouring scorn on those who traverse Spain and Portugal in quest of adventures, "whereas there are ten times more adventures to be met with in England than in Spain, Portugal, or stupid Germany to boot." It was the old England before railways, though Mr. Petulengro heard a man speaking of a wonderful invention that "would set aside all the old roads, which in a little time would be ploughed up, and sowed with corn, and cause all England to be laid down with iron roads, on which people would go thundering along in vehicles, pushed forward by fire and smoke." Borrow makes another of his characters also foretell the triumph of railways, and I insist on quoting part of the sentence as another example of Borrow's mysterious way: the speaker has had his information from the projector of the scheme: "which he has told me many of the wisest heads of England have been dreaming of during a period of six hundred years, and which it seems was alluded to by a certain Brazen Head in the story-book of Friar Bacon, who is generally supposed to have been a wizard, but in reality was a great philosopher. Young man, in less than twenty years, by which time I shall be dead and gone, England will be surrounded with roads of metal, on which armies may travel with mighty velocity, and of which the walls of brass and iron by which the friar proposed to defend his native land are types." And yet he makes little of the practical difference between the England of railways and the England of coaches; in fact he hated the bullying coachmen so that he expressed nothing but gladness when they had disappeared from the road. No: it was first as the England of the successful wars with Napoleon, and second as the England of his youth that he idealised it—the country of Byron and Farmer George, not that of Tennyson, Victoria and Albert; for as Byron was one of the new age and yet looked back to Pope and down on Wordsworth, so did Borrow look back.

His English geography is far vaguer than his Spanish. He creeps—walking or riding—over this land with more mystery. The variety and difficulties of the roads were less, and actual movement fills very few pages. He advances not so much step by step as adventure by adventure. Well might he say, a little impudently, "there is not a chapter in the present book which is not full of adventures, with the exception of the present one, and this is not yet terminated"—it ends with a fall from his horse which stuns him. There is an air of somnambulism about some of the travel, especially when he is escaping alone from London and hack- writing. He shows great art in his transitions from day to day, from scene to scene, making it natural that one hour of one day should have the importance of the whole of another year, and one house more than the importance of several day's journeys. It matters not that he crammed more than was possible between Greenwich and Horncastle fairs, probably by transplanting earlier or later events. Time and space submit to him: his old schoolfellows were vainly astonished that he gave no chapters to them and his years at Norwich Grammar School. Thus England seems a great and a strange land on Borrow's page, though he does not touch the sea or the mountains, or any celebrated places except Stonehenge. His England is strange, I think, because it is presented according to a purely spiritual geography in which the childish drawling of "Witney on the Windrush manufactures blankets," etc., is utterly forgot. Few men have the courage or the power to be honestly impressionistic and to say what they feel instead of compromising between that and what they believe to be "the facts."

It is also strange on account of the many adventures which it provides, and these will always attract attention, because England in 1911 is not what it was in 1825, but still more because few men, especially writing men, ever take their chance upon the roads of England for a few months together. At the same time it must be granted that Borrow had a morbid fear of being dull or at least of being ordinary. He was a partly conscious provider of entertainment when he made the book so thick with incidents, scenes and portraits, and each incident, scene and portrait so perfect after its kind. Where he overdoes his emphasis or refinement, can only be decided by differing tastes. Some, for example, cannot abide his description of the sleepless man who had at last discovered a perfect opiate in Wordsworth's poetry. I find myself stopping short at the effect of sherry and Popish leanings on the publican and his trade, and still more the effect of his return to ale and commonsense religion: how everyone bought his liquids and paid for them and wanted to treat him, while the folk of his parish had already made him a churchwarden. This might have been writ sarcastic by a witty Papist.

Probably Borrow used the device of recognition and reappearances to satisfy a rather primitive taste in fiction, and to add to the mystery, though I will again suggest that a man who travelled and went about among men as he did would take less offence at these things. The re-appearances of Jasper are natural enough, except at the ford when Borrow is about to pass into Wales: those of Ardry less so. But when Borrow contrives to hear more of the old china collector and of Isopel also from the jockey, and shuffles about the postillion, Murtagh, the Man in Black, and Platitude, and introduces Sir John Bowring for punishment, he makes "The Romany Rye" much inferior to "Lavengro."

These devices never succeed, except where their extravagance makes us laugh heartily—as when on Salisbury Plain he meets returning from Botany Bay the long lost son of his old London Bridge apple-woman. The devices are unnecessary and remain as stiffening stains upon a book that is otherwise full of nature and human nature.



CHAPTER XXV—"LAVENGRO" AND "THE ROMANY RYE": THE CHARACTERS

As the atmosphere of the two autobiographical books is more intense and pure than that of "The Bible in Spain," so the characters in it are more elaborate. "The Bible in Spain" contained brilliant sketches and suggestions of men and women. In the autobiography even the sketches are intimate, like that of the "Anglo-Germanist," William Taylor; and they are not less surprising than the Spanish sketches, from the Rommany chal who "fought in the old Roman fashion. He bit, he kicked, and screamed like a wild cat of Benygant; casting foam from his mouth, and fire from his eyes"—from this man upwards and downwards. Some are highly finished, and these are not always the best. For example, the portrait of his father, the stiff, kindly, uncomprehending soldier, strikes me as a little too much "done to a turn." It is a little too like a man in a book, and so perfectly consistent, except for that one picturesque weakness—the battle with Big Ben, whose skin was like a toad. Borrow probably saw and cared very little for his father, and therefore found it too easy to idealise and produce a mere type, chiefly out of his head. His mother is more certainly from life, and he could not detach himself from her sufficiently to make her clear; yet he makes her his own mother plainly enough. His brother has something of the same unreality and perfection as his father. These members of his family belong to one distinct class of studies which includes among others the publisher, Sir Richard Phillips. They are of persons not quite of his world whom he presents to us with admiration, or, on the other hand, with dislike, but in either case without sympathy. They do not contribute much to the special character of the autobiography, except in humour. The interviews with Sir Richard Phillips, in particular, give an example of Borrow's obviously personal satire, poisonous and yet without rancour. He is a type. He is the charlatan, holy and massive and not perfectly self-convincing. When Borrow's money was running low and he asked the publisher to pay for some contributions to a magazine, now deceased:

"'Sir,' said the publisher, 'what do you want the money for?'

"'Merely to live on,' I replied; 'it is very difficult to live in this town without money.'

"'How much money did you bring with you to town?' demanded the publisher.

"'Some twenty or thirty pounds,' I replied.

"'And you have spent it already?'

"'No,' said I, 'not entirely; but it is fast disappearing.'

"'Sir,' said the publisher, 'I believe you to be extravagant; yes, sir, extravagant!'

"'On what grounds do you suppose me to be so?'

"'Sir,' said the publisher, 'you eat meat.'

"'Yes,' said I, 'I eat meat sometimes; what should I eat?'

"'Bread, sir,' said the publisher; 'bread and cheese.'

"'So I do, sir, when I am disposed to indulge; but I cannot often afford it—it is very expensive to dine on bread and cheese, especially when one is fond of cheese, as I am. My last bread and cheese dinner cost me fourteen pence. There is drink, sir; with bread and cheese one must drink porter, sir.'

"'Then, sir, eat bread—bread alone. As good men as yourself have eaten bread alone; they have been glad to get it, sir. If with bread and cheese you must drink porter, sir, with bread alone you can, perhaps, drink water, sir.'

"However, I got paid at last for my writings in the review, not, it is true, in the current coin of the realm, but in certain bills; there were two of them, one payable at twelve, and the other at eighteen months after date."

The incident serves to diversify the narrative, and may be taken from his own London experiences, while the particular merriment of the rhyme is Borrow's; but it is not of the essence of the book, and fits only indifferently into the mysterious "Arabian Nights" London, the city of the gallant Ardry and the old apple-woman who called him "dear" and called Moll Flanders "blessed Mary Flanders." Sir Richard will not mysteriously re-appear, nor will Captain and Mrs. Borrow. I should say, in fact, that characters of this class have scarcely at all the power of motion. What is more, they take us not only a little way out of Borrow's world sometimes, but away from Borrow himself.

Apart from these characters, the men and women of "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" are all in harmony with one another, with Borrow, and with Borrow's world. Jasper Petulengro and his wife, his sister Ursula, the gigantic Tawno Chikno, the witch Mrs. Herne, and the evil sprite Leonora, Thurtell, the fighting men, the Irish outlaw Jerry Grant, who was suspected of raising a storm by "something Irish and supernatural" to win a fight, Murtagh, that wicked innocent, the old apple-woman, Blazing Bosville, Isopel Berners, the jockey who drove one hundred and ten miles in eleven hours to see "the only friend he ever had in the world," John Thurtell, and say, "God Almighty bless you, Jack!" before the drop fell, the old gentleman who had learned "Sergeant Broughton's guard" and knocked out the bullying coachman, the Welsh preacher and his wife, the Arcadian old bee-keeper, the rat-catcher—all these and their companions are woven into one piece by the genius of their creator, Borrow. I can imagine them all greeting him together as the Gypsies did, and much as the jockey did afterwards:

"Here the Gipsy gemman see, With his Roman jib and his rome and dree— Rome and dree, rum and dry Rally round the Rommany Rye."

He waves his wand and they disappear. He made them as Jerry Grant made the storm and beat Sergeant Bagg. In "Lavengro" he actually does raise such a storm, though Knapp affected to discover it in a newspaper of the period. Sampson and Martin are fighting at North Walsham, and a storm comes on:

"There's wind and dust, a crash, rain and hail; is it possible to fight amidst such a commotion? Yes! the fight goes on; again the boy strikes the man full on the brow, but it is no use striking that man, his frame is of adamant. 'Boy, thy strength is beginning to give way, thou art becoming confused'; the man now goes to work, amidst rain and hail. 'Boy, thou wilt not hold out ten minutes longer against rain, hail, and the blows of such an antagonist.'

"And now the storm was at its height; the black thundercloud had broken into many, which assumed the wildest shapes and the strangest colours, some of them unspeakably glorious; the rain poured in a deluge, and more than one water-spout was seen at no great distance: an immense rabble is hurrying in one direction; a multitude of men of all ranks, peers and yokels, prize-fighters and Jews, and the last came to plunder, and are now plundering amidst that wild confusion of hail and rain, men and horses, carts and carriages. But all hurry in one direction, through mud and mire; there's a town only three miles distant which is soon reached, and soon filled, it will not contain one-third of that mighty rabble; but there's another town farther on—the good old city is farther on, only twelve miles; what's that! who'll stay here? onward to the old town.

"Hurry skurry, a mixed multitude of men and horses, carts and carriages, all in the direction of the old town; and, in the midst of all that mad throng, at a moment when the rain gushes were coming down with particular fury, and the artillery of the sky was pealing as I had never heard it peal before, I felt some one seize me by the arm—I turned round and beheld Mr. Petulengro.

"'I can't hear you, Mr. Petulengro,' said I; for the thunder drowned the words which he appeared to be uttering.

"'Dearginni,' I heard Mr. Petulengro say, 'it thundereth. I was asking, brother, whether you believe in dukkeripens?'

"'I do not, Mr. Petulengro; but this is strange weather to be asking me whether I believe in fortunes.'

"'Grondinni,' said Mr. Petulengro, 'it haileth. I believe in dukkeripens, brother.'

"'And who has more right,' said I, 'seeing that you live by them? But this tempest is truly horrible.'

"'Dearginni, grondinni ta villaminni! It thundereth, it haileth, and also flameth,' said Mr. Petulengro. 'Look up there, brother!'

"I looked up. Connected with this tempest there was one feature to which I have already alluded—the wonderful colours of the clouds. Some were of vivid green; others of the brightest orange; others as black as pitch. The Gypsy's finger was pointed to a particular part of the sky.

"'What do you see there, brother?'

"'A strange kind of cloud.'

"'What does it look like, brother?'

"'Something like a stream of blood.'

"'That cloud foreshoweth a bloody dukkeripen.'

"'A bloody fortune!' said I. 'And whom may it betide?'

"'Who knows?' said the Gypsy.

"Down the way, dashing and splashing, and scattering man, horse, and cart to the left and right, came an open barouche, drawn by four smoking steeds, with postillions in scarlet jackets, and leather skull-caps. Two forms were conspicuous in it; that of the successful bruiser, and of his friend and backer, the sporting gentleman of my acquaintance.

"'His!' said the Gypsy, pointing to the latter, whose stern features wore a smile of triumph, as, probably recognizing me in the crowd, he nodded in the direction of where I stood, as the barouche hurried by.

"There went the barouche, dashing through the rain gushes', and in it one whose boast it was that he was equal to 'either fortune.' Many have heard of that man—many may be desirous of knowing yet more of him. I have nothing to do with that man's after life—he fulfilled his dukkeripen. 'A bad, violent man!' Softly, friend; when thou wouldst speak harshly of the dead, remember that thou hast not yet fulfilled thy own dukkeripen!"

As Borrow fits these pugilists into the texture of his autobiography, so he does men who appear not once but a dozen times. Take Jasper Petulengro out of the books and he does not amount to much. In them he is a figure of most masculine beauty, a king, a trickster, and thief, but simple, good with his fists, loving life, manly sport and fair play. He and Borrow meet and shake hands as "brothers" when they are little boys. They meet again, by chance, as big boys, and Jasper says: "Your blood beat when mine was near, as mine always does at the coming of a brother; and we became brothers in that lane." Jasper laughs at the Sapengro and Lavengro and horse-witch because he lacks two things, "mother sense and gentle Rommany," and he has something to do with teaching Borrow the Gypsy tongue and Gypsy ways, and the "mother sense" of shifting for himself. The Gypsies approve him also as "a pure fist master." In return he teaches Mrs. Chikno's child to say his prayers in Rommany. They were willing—all but Mrs. Herne—that he should marry Mr. Petulengro's sister, Ursula. It is always by chance that they meet, and chance is very favourable. They meet at significant times, as when Borrow has been troubled by the preacher and the state of his own soul, or when he is sick of London and hack-writing and poverty. In fact, the Gypsies, and his "brother" Jasper in particular, returning and returning, are the motive of the book. They connect Borrow with what is strange, with what is simple, and with what is free. The very last words of "The Romany Rye," spoken as he is walking eastward, are "I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno came originally from India. I think I'll go there." They are not a device. The re-appearances of these wandering men are for the most part only pleasantly unexpected. Their mystery is the mystery of nature and life. They keep their language and their tents against the mass of civilization and length of time. They are foreigners but as native as the birds. It is Borrow's triumph to make them as romantic as their reputation while yet satisfying Gypsy students as to his facts.

Jasper is almost like a second self, a kind of more simple, atavistic self, to Borrow, as in that characteristic picture, where he is drawing near to Wales with his friends, the Welsh preacher and his wife. A brook is the border and they point it out. There is a horseman entering it: "he stops in the middle of it as if to water his steed." They ask Lavengro if he will come with them into Wales. They persuade him:

"'I will not go with you,' said I. 'Dost thou see that man in the ford?'

"'Who is staring at us so, and whose horse has not yet done drinking? Of course I see him.'

"'I shall turn back with him. God bless you!'

"'Go back with him not,' said Peter, 'he is one of those whom I like not, one of the clibberty-clabber, as Master Ellis Wyn observes—turn not with that man.'

"'Go not back with him,' said Winifred. 'If thou goest with that man, thou wilt soon forget all our profitable counsels; come with us.'

"'I cannot; I have much to say to him. Kosko Divous, Mr. Petulengro.'

"'Kosko Divvus, Pal,' said Mr. Petulengro, riding through the water; 'are you turning back?'

"I turned back with Mr. Petulengro."

At another time Jasper twists about like a weasel bewitching a bird, and in so doing puts 50 pounds unnoticed into Lavengro's pocket. Lavengro is indignant at the pleasantry. But Jasper insists; the money is for him to buy a certain horse; if he will not take the money and buy the horse there will be a quarrel. He has made the money by fair fighting in the ring, has nowhere to put it, and seriously thinks that it were best invested in this fine horse, which accordingly Borrow purchases and takes across England, and sells at Horncastle Fair for 150 pounds. The next scene shows Tawno Chikno at his best. Borrow has been trotting the horse and racing it against a cob, amid a company that put him "wonderfully in mind of the ancient horse-races of the heathen north," so that he almost thought himself Gunnar of Lithend. But Tawno was the man to try the horse at a jump, said Jasper. Tawno weighed sixteen stone, and the owner thought him more likely to break the horse's back. Jasper became very much excited, and offered to forfeit a handful of guineas if harm was done.

"'Here's the man. Here's the horse-leaper of the world. . . .' Tawno, at a bound, leaped into the saddle, where he really looked like Gunnar of Hlitharend, save and except that the complexion of Gunnar was florid, whereas that of Tawno was of nearly Mulatto darkness; and that all Tawno's features were cast in the Grecian model, whereas Gunnar had a snub nose. 'There's a leaping-bar behind the house,' said the landlord. 'Leaping-bar!' said Mr. Petulengro, scornfully. 'Do you think my black pal ever rides at a leaping bar? No more than at a windle-straw. Leap over that meadow wall, Tawno.' Just past the house, in the direction in which I had been trotting, was a wall about four feet high, beyond which was a small meadow. Tawno rode the horse gently up to the wall, permitted him to look over, then backed him for about ten yards, and pressing his calves against the horse's sides, he loosed the rein, and the horse launching forward, took the leap in gallant style. 'Well done, man and horse!' said Mr. Petulengro; 'now come back, Tawno.' The leap from the side of the meadow was, however, somewhat higher; and the horse, when pushed at it, at first turned away; whereupon Tawno backed him to a greater distance, pushed the horse to a full gallop, giving a wild cry; whereupon the horse again took the wall, slightly grazing one of his legs against it. 'A near thing,' said the landlord, 'but a good leap. Now, no more leaping, so long as I have control over the animal.'"

A very different beautiful scene is where Mrs. Petulengro braids Isopel's fair hair in Gypsy fashion, half against her will, and Lavengro looks on, showing Isopel at a glance his disapproval of the fashion, while Petulengro admires it. If it is not too much to quote, I will do so, because it is the clearest and most detailed picture of more than one figure in the whole of the autobiography. Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro have come to visit Isopel, and Lavengro has fetched her to his tent, where they are awaiting her:

"So Belle and I advanced towards our guests. As we drew nigh Mr. Petulengro took off his hat and made a profound obeisance to Belle, whilst Mrs. Petulengro rose from her stool and made a profound curtsey. Belle, who had flung her hair back over her shoulders, returned their salutations by bending her head, and after slightly glancing at Mr. Petulengro, fixed her large blue eyes full upon his wife. Both these females were very handsome—but how unlike! Belle fair, with blue eyes and flaxen hair; Mrs. Petulengro with olive complexion, eyes black, and hair dark—as dark could be. Belle, in demeanour calm and proud; the Gypsy graceful, but full of movement and agitation. And then how different were those two in stature! The head of the Romany rawnie scarcely ascended to the breast of Isopel Berners. I could see that Mrs. Petulengro gazed on Belle with unmixed admiration: so did her husband. 'Well,' said the latter, 'one thing I will say, which is, that there is only one on earth worthy to stand up in front of this she, and that is the beauty of the world, as far as man flesh is concerned, Tawno Chikno; what a pity he did not come down! . . .'

"Mrs. Petulengro says: 'You are very beautiful, madam, though you are not dressed as I could wish to see you, and your hair is hanging down in sad confusion; allow me to assist you in arranging your hair, madam; I will dress it for you in our fashion; I would fain see how your hair would look in our poor Gypsy fashion; pray allow me, madam?' and she took Belle by the hand.

"'I really can do no such thing,' said Belle, withdrawing her hand; 'I thank you for coming to see me, but . . .'

"'Do allow me to officiate upon your hair, madam,' said Mrs. Petulengro; 'I should esteem your allowing me a great mark of condescension. You are very beautiful, madam, and I think you doubly so, because you are so fair; I have a great esteem for persons with fair complexions and hair; I have a less regard for people with dark hair and complexions, madam.'

"'Then why did you turn off the lord, and take up with me?' said Mr. Petulengro; 'that same lord was fair enough all about him.'

"'People do when they are young and silly what they sometimes repent of when they are of riper years and understandings. I sometimes think that had I not been something of a simpleton, I might at this time be a great court lady. Now, madam,' said she, again taking Belle by the hand, 'do oblige me by allowing me to plait your hair a little?'

"'I have really a good mind to be angry with you,' said Belle, giving Mrs. Petulengro a peculiar glance.

"'Do allow her to arrange your hair,' said I, 'she means no harm, and wishes to do you honour; do oblige her and me too, for I should like to see how your hair would look dressed in her fashion.'

"'You hear what the young rye says?' said Mrs. Petulengro. 'I am sure you will oblige the young rye, if not myself. Many people would be willing to oblige the young rye, if he would but ask them; but he is not in the habit of asking favours. He has a nose of his own, which he keeps tolerably exalted; he does not think small-beer of himself, madam; and all the time I have been with him, I never heard him ask a favour before; therefore, madam, I am sure you will oblige him.' . . ."

The men talk together, Jasper telling about the passing of the "old-fashioned good-tempered constables," the advent of railways, and the spoiling of road life.

". . . 'Now, madam,' said Mrs. Petulengro, 'I have braided your hair in our fashion: you look very beautiful, madam; more beautiful, if possible, than before.' Belle now rose, and came forward with her tire-woman. Mr. Petulengro was loud in his applause, but I said nothing, for I did not think Belle was improved in appearance by having submitted to the ministry of Mrs. Petulengro's hand. Nature never intended Belle to appear as a Gypsy; she had made her too proud and serious. A more proper part for her was that of a heroine, a queenly heroine,—that of Theresa of Hungary, for example; or, better still, that of Brynhilda the Valkyrie, the beloved of Sigurd, the serpent-killer, who incurred the curse of Odin, because, in the tumult of spears, she sided with the young king, and doomed the old warrior to die, to whom Odin had promised victory.

"Belle looked at me for a moment in silence; then turning to Mrs. Petulengro, she said, 'You have had your will with me; are you satisfied?' 'Quite so, madam,' said Mrs. Petulengro, 'and I hope you will be so too, as soon as you have looked in the glass.' 'I have looked in one already,' said Belle,' and the glass does not flatter.' . . ."

Here it is easy to notice how the uncolloquial and even ugly English does not destroy the illusion of the scene, but entirely subserves it and makes these two or three pages fine painter's work for richness and still drama.

I have not forgotten the Man in Black, though I gladly would. Not that I am any more in sympathy with his theology than Borrow's, if it is more interesting and venerable. But in this priest, Borrow's method, always instinctively intense if not exaggerated, falls to caricature. I have no objection to caricature; when it is of a logical or incidental kind I enjoy it, even in "The Romany Rye"; I enjoy, for example, the snoring Wordsworthian, without any prejudice against Wordsworth. "The Catholic Times" as late as 1900 was still angry with Borrow's "crass anti-Catholic bigotry." I should have expected them to laugh consumedly at a priest, a parson and a publican who deserve places in the same gallery with wicked earls and noble savages of popular fiction. It may be true that this "creation of Borrow's most studied hatred" is, as Mr. Seccombe says, {242} "a triumph of complex characterisation." He is "a joyous liver and an unscrupulous libertine, sceptical as Voltaire, as atheistic as a German professor, as practical as a Jew banker, as subtle as a Jesuit, he has as many ways of converting the folks among whom he is thrown as Panurge had of eating the corn in ear. For the simple and credulous—crosses and beads; for the hard-hearted and venal—material considerations; for the cultured and educated—a fine tissue of epigrams and anthropology; for the ladies—flattery and badinage. A spiritual ancestor of Anatole France's marvellous full-length figure of Jerome Coignard, Borrow's conception takes us back first to Rabelais and secondly to the seventeenth-century conviction of the profound Machiavellism of Jesuitry."

But in "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" he is an intruder with a design of turning these books into tracts. He is treated far more elaborately than any other character except the author's, and with a massive man's striving after subtlety. Moreover, Borrow has made it impossible to ignore him or to cut him out, by interlacing him with every other character in these two books. With sad persistency and naive ingenuity he brings it about that every one shall see, or have seen in the past, this terrible priest. Borrow's natural way of dealing with such a man would be that of the converted pugilist who, on hearing of an atheist in the vicinity, wanted to go and "knock the beggar down for Jesus' sake"; and a variation upon this would have been delightful and in harmony with the rest of the book. But clever as the priest is, Borrow himself is stronger, honester and cleverer, too. Of course, the priest leads him to some good things. Above all, he leads to the incident of the half-converted publican, who is being ruined by sherry and Popery. Borrow pursuades him to take ale, which gives him the courage to give up thoughts of conversion, and to turn on his enemies and re-establish himself, to make a good business, become a churchwarden, and teach boxing to the brewer's sons, because it is "a fine manly English art and a great defence against Popery." It is at least a greater defence than Borrow's pen, or deserves to be.



CHAPTER XXVI—"LAVENGRO" AND "THE ROMANY RYE": THE STYLE

The writing of the autobiography differs from that of "The Bible in Spain." It is less flowing and more laboured. It has less movement and buoyancy, but more delicacy and variety. It is a finer and more intimate style, which over and over again distinguishes Borrow from the Victorian pure and simple. The dialogue is finer; it is used less to disguise or vary narrative, and more to reveal character and make dramatic effect; and it is even lyrical at times. Borrow can be Victorian still. This example is from the old man's history in "The Romany Rye":

"My mother had died about three years previously. I felt the death of my mother keenly, but that of my father less than was my duty; indeed, truth compels me to acknowledge that I scarcely regretted his death. The cause of this want of proper filial feeling was the opposition which I had experienced from him in an affair which deeply concerned me. I had formed an attachment for a young female in the neighbourhood, who, though poor, was of highly respectable birth, her father having been a curate of the Established Church."

This better one is from "Lavengro":

"And then Francis Ardry proceeded to make me his confidant. It appeared that he had had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the most delightful young Frenchwoman imaginable, Annette La Noire by name, who had just arrived from her native country with the intention of obtaining the situation of governess in some English family; a position which, on account of her many accomplishments, she was eminently qualified to fill. Francis Ardry had, however, persuaded her to relinquish her intention for the present, on the ground that, until she had become acclimated in England, her health would probably suffer from the confinement inseparable from the occupation in which she was desirous of engaging; he had, moreover—for it appeared that she was the most frank and confiding creature in the world—succeeded in persuading her to permit him to hire for her a very handsome first floor in his own neighbourhood, and to accept a few inconsiderable presents in money and jewellery."

But coarse and rigid as this is the same vocabulary, the same ample, oratorical tone, will help Borrow to genial, substantial effects such as the dinner with the landlord and the commercial traveller: "The dinner was good, though plain, consisting of boiled mackerel—rather a rarity in those parts at that time—with fennel sauce, a prime baron of roast beef after the mackerel, then a tart and noble Cheshire cheese; we had prime sherry at dinner, and whilst eating the cheese prime porter, that of Barclay, the only good porter in the world. After the cloth was removed we had a bottle of very good port; and whilst partaking of the port I had an argument with the commercial traveller on the subject of the corn-laws."

What is more, this is the vocabulary and tone of the whole book, and how far the total effect is from coarseness and rigidity I cannot show now if I have not done so already. Borrow's gusto triumphs over this style in descriptions of men riding, fighting, talking or drinking. His sense of mystery triumphs over it continually as the prevailing atmosphere must prove. The gusto and the mystery are all the more impressive because the means are entirely concealed, except when the writer draws himself up for an apostrophe, and that is not much too often nor always tedious. The style is capable of essential simplicity, though not of refined simplicity, just as a man with a hard hat, black clothes and a malacca cane may be a good deal simpler and more at home with natural things than a hairy hygienic gentleman. I will quote one example—the old bee-keeper in "The Romany Rye":

"I was bidding him farewell, when he hemmed once or twice, and said that as he did not live far off, he hoped that I would go with him and taste some of his mead. As I had never tasted mead, of which I had frequently read in the compositions of the Welsh bards, and, moreover, felt rather thirsty from the heat of the day, I told him that I should have great pleasure in attending him. Whereupon, turning off together, we proceeded about half a mile, sometimes between stone walls, and at other times hedges, till we reached a small hamlet, through which we passed, and presently came to a very pretty cottage, delightfully situated within a garden, surrounded by a hedge of woodbines. Opening a gate at one corner of the garden, he led the way to a large shed which stood partly behind the cottage, which he said was his stable; thereupon he dismounted and led his donkey into the shed, which was without stalls, but had a long rack and manger. On one side he tied his donkey, after taking off her caparisons, and I followed his example, tying my horse at the other side with a rope halter which he gave me; he then asked me to come in and taste his mead, but I told him that I must attend to the comfort of my horse first, and forthwith, taking a wisp of straw, rubbed him carefully down. Then taking a pailful of clear water which stood in the shed, I allowed the horse to drink about half a pint; and then turning to the old man, who all the time had stood by looking at my proceedings, I asked him whether he had any oats? 'I have all kinds of grain,' he replied; and, going out, he presently returned with two measures, one a large and the other a small one, both filled with oats, mixed with a few beans, and handing the large one to me for the horse, he emptied the other before the donkey, who, before she began to despatch it, turned her nose to her master's face and fairly kissed him. Having given my horse his portion, I told the old man that I was ready to taste his mead as soon as he pleased, whereupon he ushered me into his cottage, where, making me sit down by a deal table in a neatly-sanded kitchen, he produced from an old- fashioned closet a bottle, holding about a quart, and a couple of cups, which might each contain about half a pint, then opening the bottle and filling the cups with a brown-coloured liquor, he handed one to me, and taking a seat opposite to me, he lifted the other, nodded, and saying to me—'Health and welcome,' placed it to his lips and drank.

"'Health and thanks,' I replied; and being very thirsty, emptied my cup at a draught; I had scarcely done so, however, when I half repented. The mead was deliciously sweet and mellow, but appeared strong as brandy; my eyes reeled in my head, and my brain became slightly dizzy. 'Mead is a strong drink,' said the old man, as he looked at me, with a half smile on his countenance. 'This is, at any rate,' said I, 'so strong, indeed, that I would not drink another cup for any consideration.' 'And I would not ask you,' said the old man; 'for, if you did, you would most probably be stupid all day, and wake next morning with a headache. Mead is a good drink, but woundily strong, especially to those who be not used to it, as I suppose you are not.' 'Where do you get it?' said I. 'I make it myself,' said the old man, 'from the honey which my bees make.' 'Have you many bees?' I inquired. 'A great many,' said the old man. 'And do you keep them,' said I, 'for the sake of making mead with their honey?' 'I keep them,' he replied, 'partly because I am fond of them, and partly for what they bring me in; they make me a great deal of honey, some of which I sell, and with a little I make me some mead to warm my poor heart with, or occasionally to treat a friend with like yourself.' 'And do you support yourself entirely by means of your bees?' 'No,' said the old man; 'I have a little bit of ground behind my house, which is my principal means of support.' 'And do you live alone?' 'Yes,' said he; 'with the exception of the bees and the donkey, I live quite alone.' 'And have you always lived alone?' The old man emptied his cup, and his heart being warmed with the mead, he told me his history, which was simplicity itself. His father was a small yeoman, who, at his death, had left him, his only child, the cottage, with a small piece of ground behind it, and on this little property he had lived ever since. About the age of twenty- five he had married an industrious young woman, by whom he had one daughter, who died before reaching years of womanhood. His wife, however, had survived her daughter many years, and had been a great comfort to him, assisting him in his rural occupations; but, about four years before the present period, he had lost her, since which time he had lived alone, making himself as comfortable as he could; cultivating his ground, with the help of a lad from the neighbouring village, attending to his bees, and occasionally riding his donkey to market, and hearing the word of God, which he said he was sorry he could not read, twice a week regularly at the parish church. Such was the old man's tale.

"When he had finished speaking, he led me behind his house, and showed me his little domain. It consisted of about two acres in admirable cultivation; a small portion of it formed a kitchen garden, while the rest was sown with four kinds of grain, wheat, barley, pease, and beans. The air was full of ambrosial sweets, resembling those proceeding from an orange grove; a place, which though I had never seen at that time, I since have. In the garden was the habitation of the bees, a long box, supported upon three oaken stumps. It was full of small round glass windows, and appeared to be divided into a great many compartments, much resembling drawers placed sideways. He told me that, as one compartment was filled, the bees left it for another; so that, whenever he wanted honey, he could procure some without injuring the insects. Through the little round windows I could see several of the bees at work; hundreds were going in and out of the doors; hundreds were buzzing about on the flowers, the woodbines, and beans. As I looked around on the well-cultivated field, the garden, and the bees, I thought I had never before seen so rural and peaceful a scene."

It may be said of this that it is the style of the time, modified inexplicably at almost every point by the writer's character. The Bible and the older-fashioned narrative English of Defoe and Smollett have obviously lent it some phrases, and also a nakedness and directness that is half disdainful of the emotions and colours which it cannot hide. Still further to qualify the Victorianism which he was heir to, Borrow took over something from the insinuating Sterne. Mr. Thomas Seccombe {250} has noticed Sterne particularly in Borrow's picture of his father, one of the most deliberate and artificial portions of the book:

"The ironical humour blent with pathos in his picture of this ill-rewarded old disciplinarian (who combined a tenderness of heart with a fondness for military metaphor that frequently reminds one of 'My Uncle Toby'), the details of the ailments and the portents that attended his infantile career, and, above all, the glimpses of the wandering military life from barrack to barrack and from garrison to garrison, inevitably remind the reader of the childish reminiscences of Laurence Sterne, a writer to whom it may thus early be said that George Borrow paid no small amount of unconscious homage."

The same critic has remarked on "the Sterne-like conclusion of a chapter: 'Italy—what was I going to say about Italy?'" It was perhaps Sterne who taught him the use of the dash when no more words are necessary or ready to meet the case, and also when no more are permissible by contemporary taste. The passage where Ardry and his French mistress talk to Borrow, she using her own language, is like "The Sentimental Journey." And, as Mr. Seccombe has suggested, Borrow found in Sterne's a precedent for the rate of progress in his autobiography.

But innumerable are the possible styles which combine something from the Bible, Defoe, and Sterne, with something else upon a Victorian foundation. Borrow's something else, which dominates and welds the rest, is the most important. It expresses the man, or rather it allows the man's qualities to appear, his melancholy, his independence, his curiosity, his love of strong men and horses. Of little felicities there are very few. It has gusto always at command, and mystery also. We feel in it a kind of reality not often associated with professional literature, but rather with the letters of men who are not writers and with the speech of illiterate men of character. The great difference between them and Borrow is that their speech can rarely be represented in print except by another genius, and that their letters only now and then reach the level which Borrow continues at and often rises above. Yet he has something in common with such men—for example, in his feeling for Nature. In Spain, it is true, he gave way to declamatory descriptions of grandeur and desolation: in England, where he saw nothing of the kind, he wrote little description, and the impression of the country through which he is passing is that of an inarticulate outdoor man, strong and sincere but vague. Here, again, he has something in common with the eighteenth- century man, who liked the country, but would probably agree that one green field was like another. He writes like the man who desired a gentle wife, an Arabic book, the haunch of a buck, and Madeira old. He reminds us of an even older or simpler type when he apostrophises the retired pugilist:

"'Tis a treat to see thee, Tom of Bedford, in thy 'public' in Holborn way, whither thou hast retired with thy well-earned bays. 'Tis Friday night, and nine by Holborn clock. There sits the yeoman at the end of his long room, surrounded by his friends: glasses are filled, and a song is the cry, and a song is sung well suited to the place; it finds an echo in every heart—fists are clenched, arms are waved, and the portraits of the mightly fighting men of yore, Broughton, and Slack, and Ben, which adorn the walls, appear to smile grim approbation, whilst many a manly voice joins in the bold chorus:

'Here's a health to old honest John Bull, When he's gone we shan't find such another, And with hearts and with glasses brim full, We will drink to old England, his mother.'"

There is little doubt of the immortality of this good old style, and it testifies to the full heart and perhaps the full glass also of George Borrow; but it was not this passage in particular that made Whitwell Elwin call his writing "almost affectedly simple."

{picture: Ned Turner, Tom Cribb: page253.jpg}



CHAPTER XXVII—BORROW AND LOW LIFE

"Lavengro" in 1851 and "The Romany Rye" in 1857 failed to impress the critics or the public. Men were disappointed because "Lavengro" was "not an autobiography." They said that the adventures did not bear "the impress of truth." They suggested that the anti-Papistry was "added and interpolated to suit the occasion of the recent Papal aggression." They laughed at its mystery-making. They said that it gave "a false dream in the place of reality." Ford regretted that Borrow had "told so little about himself." Two friends praised it and foretold long life for it. Whitwell Elwin in 1857 said that "the truth and vividness of the descriptions both of scenes and persons, coupled with the purity, force and simplicity of the language, should confer immortality upon many of its pages." "The Saturday Review" found that he had humour and romance, and that his writing left "a general impression of the scenery and persons introduced so strongly vivid and life-like," that it reminded them of Defoe rather than of any contemporary author; they called the books a "strange cross between a novel and an autobiography." In 1857 also, Emile Montegut wrote a study of "The Gypsy Gentleman," which he published in his "Ecrivains Modernes de l'Angleterre." He said that Borrow had revived a neglected literary form, not artificially, but as being the natural frame for the scenes of his wandering life: he even went so far as to say that the form and manner of the picaresque or rogue novel, like "Gil Blas," is the inevitable one for pictures of the low and vagabond life. This form, said he, Borrow adopted not deliberately but intuitively, because he had a certain attitude to express: he rediscovered it, as Cervantes and Mendoza invented it, because it was the most appropriate clothing for his conceptions. Borrow had, without any such ambition, become the Quevedo and the Mendoza of modern England.

The autobiography resembles the rogue novel in that it is well peppered with various isolated narratives strung upon the thread of the hero's experience. It differs chiefly in that the study of the hero is serious and without roguery. The conscious attempt to make it as good as a rogue novel on its own ground caused some of the chief faults of the book, the excess of recognitions and re-appearances, the postillion's story, and the visits of the Man in Black.

When Borrow came to answer his critics in the Appendix to "The Romany Rye," he assumed that they thought him vulgar for dealing in Gypsies and the like. He retorted:

"Rank, wealth, fine clothes and dignified employments, are no doubt very fine things, but they are merely externals, they do not make a gentleman, they add external grace and dignity to the gentleman and scholar, but they make neither; and is it not better to be a gentleman without them than not a gentleman with them? Is not Lavengro, when he leaves London on foot with twenty pounds in his pocket, entitled to more respect than Mr. Flamson flaming in his coach with a million? And is not even the honest jockey at Horncastle, who offers a fair price to Lavengro for his horse, entitled to more than the scroundrel lord, who attempts to cheat him of one-fourth of its value. . . ."

He might have said the books were a long tract to prove that many waters cannot quench gentlemanliness, or "once a gentleman always a gentleman." As a rule, when Borrow gets away from life and begins to think about it, he ceases to be an individual and becomes a tame and entirely convenient member of society, fit for the Commission of the Peace or a berth at the British Museum. After he has made 20 pounds by pen-slavery and saved himself from serious poverty, he exclaims:

"Reader, amidst the difficulties and dangers of this life, should you ever be tempted to despair, call to mind these latter chapters of the life of Lavengro. There are few positions, however difficult, from which dogged resolution and perseverance may not liberate you."

When he comes to discuss his own work he says that "it represents him, however, as never forgetting that he is the son of a brave but poor gentleman, and that if he is a hack author, he is likewise a scholar. It shows him doing no dishonourable jobs, and proves that if he occasionally associates with low characters, he does so chiefly to gratify the curiosity of a scholar. In his conversations with the apple-woman of London Bridge, the scholar is ever apparent, so again in his acquaintance with the man of the table, for the book is no raker up of the uncleanness of London, and if it gives what at first sight appears refuse, it invariably shows that a pearl of some kind, generally a philological one, is contained amongst it; it shows its hero always accompanied by his love of independence, scorning in the greatest poverty to receive favours from anybody, and describes him finally rescuing himself from peculiarly miserable circumstances by writing a book, an original book, within a week, even as Johnson is said to have written his 'Rasselas,' and Beckford his 'Vathek,' and tells how, leaving London, he betakes himself to the roads and fields.

"In the country it shows him leading a life of roving adventure, becoming tinker, Gypsy, postillion, ostler; associating with various kinds of people, chiefly of the lower classes, whose ways and habits are described; but, though leading this erratic life, we gather from the book that his habits are neither vulgar nor vicious, that he still follows to a certain extent his favourite pursuits, hunting after strange characters, or analysing strange words and names. At the conclusion of Chapter XLVII., which terminates the first part of the history, it hints that he is about to quit his native land on a grand philological expedition.

"Those who read this book with attention—and the author begs to observe that it would be of little utility to read it hurriedly—may derive much information with respect to matters of philology and literature; it will be found treating of most of the principal languages from Ireland to China, and of the literature which they contain. . . ."

Away from the dingle and Jasper his view of life is as follows—ale, Tate and Brady, and the gloves:

"But, above all, the care and providence of God are manifested in the case of Lavengro himself, by the manner in which he is enabled to make his way in the world up to a certain period, without falling a prey either to vice or poverty. In his history there is a wonderful illustration of part of the text quoted by his mother, 'I have been young, and now am old, yet never saw I the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread.' He is the son of good and honourable parents, but at the critical period of life, that of entering into the world, he finds himself without any earthly friend to help him, yet he manages to make his way; he does not become a Captain in the Life Guards, it is true, nor does he get into Parliament, nor does the last chapter conclude in the most satisfactory and unobjectionable manner, by his marrying a dowager countess, as that wise man Addison did, or by his settling down as a great country gentleman, perfectly happy and contented, like the very moral Roderick Random, or the equally estimable Peregrine Pickle; he is hack author, Gypsy, tinker, and postillion, yet, upon the whole, he seems to be quite as happy as the younger sons of most earls, to have as high feelings of honour; and when the reader loses sight of him, he has money in his pocket honestly acquired, to enable him to commence a journey quite as laudable as those which the younger sons of earls generally undertake. Surely all this is a manifestation of the kindness and providence of God: and yet he is not a religious person; up to the time when the reader loses sight of him, he is decidedly not a religious person; he has glimpses, it is true, of that God who does not forsake him, but he prays very seldom, is not fond of going to church; and, though he admires Tate and Brady's version of the Psalms, his admiration is rather caused by the beautiful poetry which that version contains than the religion; yet his tale is not finished—like the tale of the gentleman who touched objects, and that of the old man who knew Chinese without knowing what was o'clock; perhaps, like them, he is destined to become religious, and to have, instead of occasional glimpses, frequent and distinct views of his God; yet, though he may become religious, it is hardly to be expected that he will become a very precise and strait-laced person; it is probable that he will retain, with his scholarship, something of his Gypsyism, his predilection for the hammer and tongs, and perhaps some inclination to put on certain gloves, not white kid, with any friend who may be inclined for a little old English diversion, and a readiness to take a glass of ale, with plenty of malt in it, and as little hop as may well be—ale at least two years old—with the aforesaid friend, when the diversion is over; for, as it is the belief of the writer that a person may get to heaven very comfortably without knowing what's o'clock, so it is his belief that he will not be refused admission there because to the last he has been fond of healthy and invigorating exercises, and felt a willingness to partake of any of the good things which it pleases the Almighty to put within the reach of His children during their sojourn upon earth."

It is quite evident then that Borrow does not advocate the open air, the tinkers' trade, and a-roving-a-roving, for the sons of gentlemen. It is not apparent that the open air did his health much good. As for tinkering, it was, he declares, a necessity and for lack of anything better to do, and he realised that he was only playing at it. When he was looking for a subject for his pen he rejected Harry Simms and Jemmy Abershaw because both, though bold and extraordinary men, were "merely highwaymen."

On the other hand, when he has known a "bad man" he cannot content himself with mere disapproval. Take, for example, his friends the murderers, Haggart and Thurtell. He shows Haggart as an ambitious lad too full of life, "with fine materials for a hero." He calls the fatalist's question: "Can an Arabian steed submit to be a vile drudge?"—nonsense, saying: "The greatest victory which a man can achieve is over himself, by which is meant those unruly passions which are not convenient to the time and place." Then he exclaims:

"But peace to thee, poor David! why should a mortal worm be sitting in judgment over thee? The Mighty and Just One has already judged thee, and perhaps above thou hast received pardon for thy crimes, which could not be pardoned here below; and now that thy feverish existence has closed, and thy once active form become inanimate dust, thy very memory all but forgotten, I will say a few words about thee, a few words soon also to be forgotten. Thou wast the most extraordinary robber that ever lived within the belt of Britain; Scotland rang with thy exploits, and England, too, north of the Humber; strange deeds also didst thou achieve when, fleeing from justice, thou didst find thyself in the sister Isle; busy wast thou there in town and on curragh, at fair and race-course, and also in the solitary place. Ireland thought thee her child, for who spoke her brogue better than thyself?—she felt proud of thee, and said, 'Sure, O'Hanlon is come again.' What might not have been thy fate in the far west in America, whither thou hadst turned thine eye, saying, 'I will go there, and become an honest man!' But thou wast not to go there, David—the blood which thou hadst shed in Scotland was to be required of thee; the avenger was at hand, the avenger of blood. Seized, manacled, brought back to thy native land, condemned to die, thou wast left in thy narrow cell, and told to make the most of thy time, for it was short; and there, in thy narrow cell, and thy time so short, thou didst put the crowning stone to thy strange deeds, by that strange history of thyself, penned by thine own hand in the robber tongue. Thou mightest have been better employed, David!—but the ruling passion was strong with thee, even in the jaws of death. Thou mightest have been better employed!—but peace be with thee, I repeat, and the Almighty's grace and pardon."

He makes the jockey speak in the same fashion of Thurtell whom he went to see hanged, according to an old agreement:

"I arrived at H—- just in the nick of time. There was the ugly jail—the scaffold—and there upon it stood the only friend I ever had in the world. Driving my Punch, which was all in a foam, into the midst of the crowd, which made way for me as if it knew what I came for, I stood up in my gig, took off my hat, and shouted, 'God Almighty bless you, Jack!' The dying man turned his pale grim face towards me—for his face was always somewhat grim, do you see—nodded and said, or I thought I heard him say, 'All right, old chap.' The next moment . . . my eyes water. He had a high heart, got into a scrape whilst in the Marines, lost his half-pay, took to the turf, ring, gambling, and at last cut the throat of a villain who had robbed him of nearly all he had. But he had good qualities, and I know for certain that he never did half the bad things laid to his charge; for example, he never bribed Tom Oliver to fight cross, as it was said he did, on the day of the awful thunderstorm. Ned Flatnose fairly beat Tom Oliver, for though Ned was not what's called a good fighter, he had a particular blow, which if he could put in he was sure to win. His right shoulder, do you see, was two inches farther back than it ought to have been, and consequently his right fist generally fell short; but if he could swing himself round, and put in a blow with that right arm, he could kill or take away the senses of anybody in the world. It was by putting in that blow in his second fight with Spring that he beat noble Tom. Spring beat him like a sack in the first battle, but in the second Ned Painter—for that was his real name—contrived to put in his blow, and took the senses out of Spring; and in like manner he took the senses out of Tom Oliver.

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