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Isopel Berners - The History of certain doings in a Staffordshire Dingle, July, 1825
by George Borrow
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{39b} Mary Clarke, widow, daughter of Edmund Skepper, was wedded to Borrow on April 23rd, 1840. Her daughter, Henrietta, is still living at a great age at Yarmouth. Borrow gives a characteristic account of these two ladies in the first chapter of Wild Wales. "Of my wife I will merely say that she is a perfect paragon of wives—can make puddings and sweets and treacle posset, and is the best woman of business in East Anglia: of my step-daughter, for such she is though I generally call her daughter, and with good reason seeing that she has always shown herself a daughter to me, that she has all kinds of good qualities and several accomplishments, knowing something of conchology, more of botany, drawing capitally in the Dutch style, and playing remarkably well on the guitar—not the trumpery German thing so-called, but the real Spanish guitar." Borrow's mother had died in August 1858.

{40} This was written in December 1900.

{43} There remains only the Appendix. A delightful resume of grievances brooded over in solitude, cruelly stigmatised by Professor Knapp as "certain posterior interpolations." The ground base of the theme is the wickedness of popery; and when argument gives out Borrow is ready with all the boyish inconsequence of a Charles Kingsley to throw up his cap and shout 'Go it, our side!' 'Down with the Pope!'

{49} Borrow's personal appearance, as we know from the later portrait by his most intimate friend, Dr. Thomas Gordon Hake, must have been sufficiently striking at any period of his life. "His figure was tall and his bearing very noble. He had a finely moulded head and thick white hair—white from his youth; his brown eyes were soft, yet piercing; his mouth had a generous curve—his nose was somewhat of the Semitic type, which gave his face the cast of a young Memnon." This is confirmed by the assurance in Lavengro that a famous heroic painter was extremely anxious to secure Don Jorge as a model for the face and figure of Pharaoh!

{52} "I am not cunning. If people think I am it is because, being made up of art themselves, simplicity of character is a puzzle to them."—Romany Rye, chap. xi.

{61} Gypsy lad.

{62} Blacksmith.

{63a} Tell fortunes.

{63b} Hill Tower: i.e. Norwich.

{63c} Farewell.

{64} Blacksmith.

{65a} Smith.

{65b} The "Wayland Smith" referred to in Kenilworth.

{67a} Horse.

{67b} Horseshoe.

{67c} Striking.

{69a} Horse.

{69b} Knife.

{69c} Hoof.

{69d} Horseshoe nail.

{69e} Great file.

{69f} Tool box.

{71} Poison.

{82} Gipsy chap.

{84a} Going to the village one day.

{84b} Road my gypsy lass.

{86} Mort, i.e., woman, concubine, a cant term.

{87} Again.

{90a} Old man.

{90b} Wretch, hussy.

{91} An old word for knife, used by Urquhart and also by Burns.

{93a} Carcase.

{93b} Knife.

{94a} Donkey.

{94b} Lad.

{106} The main characters in Lavengro are three: the scholar (Borrow himself), the gypsy (Mr. Petulengro), and the priest, or popish propagandist. This last is the man in black. The word-master has in the course of his travels heard a good deal about this man, and he is able to identify him almost at once by his predilection for gin and water, cold, with a lump of sugar in it. He hears of him first from his London friend, Francis Ardry, then from an Armenian merchant whom he met in London, and then again from a brother-author, who describes a silly and intrusive Anglican parson, called Platitude, as a puppet in the hands of "the man in black." The latter he characterises as a sharking priest, who has come over from Italy to proselytize and plunder; he has "some powers of conversation and some learning, but he carries the countenance of an arch-villain; Platitude is evidently his tool."

{107} When Borrow (Lavengro, that is), was in London, his friend Francis Ardry warned him against a certain papistical propagandist: "A strange fellow—a half Italian, half English priest . . . he is fond of a glass of gin and water—and over a glass of gin and water cold, with a lump of sugar in it, he has been more communicative, perhaps, than was altogether prudent. Were I my own master, I would kick him, politics and religious movements, to a considerable distance."

{110} During his travels after his abandonment of Grub Street, "Lavengro" frequently came upon the traces of the man in black. While sojourning for one night with a hospitable though superstitious acquaintance, whom he met after leaving Salisbury, "Lavengro" heard the story of the Rev. Mr. Platitude, a sacerdotalist of weak intellects who had been cajoled from his lawful allegiance to the "good, quiet Church of England," by the wiles of a sharking priest come over from Italy to proselytize and to plunder. From what he then heard of the sharking priest, by putting two and two together, Lavengro was now able to identify him with the "man in black." Subsequently he heard of the efforts of the same clever dialectician to overcome the Methodist preacher Peter Williams—efforts which collapsed upon the appearance of the preacher's wife Winifred. "Wife, wife," muttered the disconcerted priest, "if the fool has a wife he will never do for us." In the course of his wanderings this nineteenth-century S. Augustine often gave himself out to be a teacher of elocution.

{117} The man in black was completely mystified by the knowledge of his own past life which this remark revealed (see Chap. IX. infra.). There were, as have been seen, a variety of threads connecting the man in black with definite scenes in the memory of Lavengro, though the latter did not happen to have seen the "prowling priest" in the flesh before this occasion. While in London Lavengro frequently met a certain Armenian merchant, who much resented the pretensions of the Roman Papa: that he, the Papa, had more to say in heaven than the Armenian patriarch, and that the hillocks of Rome were higher than the ridges of Ararat. "The Papa of Rome," said the Armenian to Lavengro, "has at present many emissaries in this country, in order to seduce the people from their own quiet religion to the savage heresy of Rome; this fellow" (describing the man in black) "came to me partly in the hope of converting me, but principally to extort money for the purpose of furthering the designs of Rome in this country. I humoured the fellow at first, keeping him in play for nearly a month, deceiving and laughing at him. At last he discovered that he could make nothing of me, and departed with the scowl of Caiaphas, whilst I cried after him, 'The roots of Ararat are deeper than those of Rome.'"

This same Armenian subsequently offered Lavengro a desk in his office opposite his deaf Moldavian clerk, having surmised that he would make an excellent merchant because he squinted like a true Armenian. Unhappily for the Flaming Tinman and for Isopel Berners, the word-master refused this singular offer.

{118} A passado at Belle's avowed weakness for that beverage.

{125a} A strange listens.

{125b} Up yonder.

{153} The Catholic controversy was just at its height in 1825, and the Catholic Emancipation Bill received the Royal Assent in April 1829.

{156} The doctrine of economy in a nutshell.

{159} For Borrow's final verdict on Sir Walter Scott, it is only fair to cite his Romano Lavo-Lil, a book on the English Gypsy Language, corresponding to his book on the Zincali or Spanish Gypsies, but published more than forty years later, namely in 1874. Here he relates how he once trudged to Dryburgh "to pay my respects at the tomb of Sir Walter Scott, a man with whose principles I have no sympathy, but for whose genius I have always entertained the most intense admiration."

{218} The story of Mumbo Jumbo and the English servant in Rome is that narrated at great length by the postillion in the last chapter of Lavengro.

{227} See the third Appendix to Romany Rye on this subject of "Foreign Nonsense." For Wolseley's perversion see Dict. Nat. Biog., lxii., p. 323.

{230} A blasphemous work by Albizzi. French version printed, Geneva, 1556.

{237} His deeds were not those of lions, but of foxes.

{238a} "Archibald Arbuthnot: Life, Adventures, and Vicissitudes of Simon [Fraser] Lord Lovat." London, 1746, 12mo.

{238b} For later news of the red-haired Jack-priest and his dupe, Parson Platitude, see Romany Rye, chap. xxvii.

{242} Plenty of gypsy lads; chals and chies, lads and lasses.

{244a} Modest.

{244b} Gentlemen and ladies.

{244c} Drop it.

{247} The Petulengres, a wandering clan of gypsies, led by Jasper Petulengro and his wife Pakomovna are introduced to us in Lavengro (chaps, v. and liv.). The etymology is thus explained by Borrow. "Petulengro: A compound of the modern Greek [Greek text] and the Sanscrit kara; the literal meaning being lord of the horse-shoe (i.e. maker), it is one of the private cognominations of 'the Smiths,' an English gypsy clan." Engro is apparently akin to the English suffix monger, and with it may be compared the Anglo-Saxon suffix smith, in such words as lore- smith or war-smith (warrior). Thus we have sapengro, lavengro, and sherengro, head man. Of the gypsy tribes in England, Borrow in his Zincali (ed. 1846, Introd.) has the following: "The principal gypsy tribes at present in existence are the Stanleys, whose grand haunt is the New Forest; the Lovells, who are fond of London and its vicinity: the Coopers, who call Windsor Castle their home; the Hernes, to whom the north country, more especially Yorkshire, belongeth; and lastly my brethren the Smiths, to whom East Anglia appears to have been allotted from the beginning. All these families have gypsy names, which seem, however, to be little more than attempts at translation of the English ones. Thus the Stanleys are called Bar-engres, which means stony fellows, the Coopers, Wardo-engres or wheelwrights, the Lovells, Camo- mescres, or amorous fellows, the Hernes (German Haaren), Balors, hairs, or hairy fellows, while the Smiths are called Petulengres, that is, horseshoe-fellows, or blacksmiths. Besides the above-named gypsy clans, there are other smaller ones, some of which do not comprise more than a dozen individuals, children included. For example, the Bosviles, the Browns, the Chilcotts, the Grays, Lees, Taylors and Whites; of these the principal is the Bosvile tribe."

{249a} There's a witch and a wizard and their name is Petulengro.

{249b} Tent.

{256} This refers to a notorious match between a lion and six mastiffs, arranged by George Wombwell at Warwick, in July 1825. The fight was that between George Cooper and Ned Baldwin, 5 July, 1825.

{257} Peel's Metropolitan Police, constituted 1829.

{265} Said the gypsy lass to her mother— 'My dear mother, I am with child.' 'And what kind of a man made you with child, My own daughter, my gypsy lass?'

'O my mother, a great gentleman, A rich gentleman, a stranger to our race, Who rides upon a fine stallion, 'Twas he that made me thus with child.'

'Vile little harlot that you are, Be off, good-bye, you leave my tent! Had a Romany lad got thee with child, Then I had said to thee, poor lass! But thou art just a vile harlot By a stranger man to be with child.'

{266} Pig-poisoning.

{269a} Honeycomb.

{269b} Tell their fortunes.

{272} King.

{274} See Introduction, p. 10.

{275} The church of Willenhall, Staffordshire, near Mumpers' Dingle, is, perhaps, intended. The hymn was originally Cennick's, but the verse in question Charles Wesley's. The old tune Helmsley (not St. Thomas) was a favourite of Queen Victoria.

{277} Chieftain.

{286} Dukkerin, fortune-telling: duk or dook, ghost.

{288} See Introduction, p. 9.

{289} The Shakespearean meaning was hysterical passion. See Lear, II., iv. 52:

"O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!"

The word remained fairly common during the seventeenth century. Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick, in her Diary (1667) speaks of herself as suffering from "a fit of the spleen and mother together."

{290} Stranger men.

{291} Ursula is evidently intended by Borrow to typify the gypsy chi. And the key to the type is supplied in the Gypsies in Spain (see especially chap. vii.). The gypsies, says Borrow, arc almost entirely ignorant of the grand points of morality; but on one point they are in general wiser than those who have had far better opportunities than such unfortunate outcasts of regulating their steps and distinguishing good from evil. They know that chastity is a jewel of high price, and that conjugal fidelity is capable of occasionally flinging a sunshine even over the dreary hours of a life passed in the contempt of almost all laws, whether human or divine. There is a word in the gypsy language to which those who speak it attach ideas of peculiar reverence, far superior to that connected with the name of the Supreme Being, the creator of themselves and the universe. This word is Lacha, which with them is the corporeal chastity of the females; we say corporeal chastity, for no other do they hold in the slightest esteem; it is lawful among them, nay praiseworthy, to be obscene in look, gesture and discourse, to be accessories to vice, and to stand by and laugh at the worst abominations of the Busne (gorgios, or gentiles) provided their Lacha ye trupos, or corporeal chastity, remains unblemished. The gypsy child, from her earliest years, is told by her strange mother that a good Calli need only dread one thing in this world, and that is the loss of her Lacha, in comparison with which that of life is of little consequence, as in such an event she will be provided for, but what provision is there for a gypsy who has lost her Lacha. "Bear this in mind, my child," she will say, "and now eat this bread and go forth and see what you can steal." The Romany, in a word, is the sect of the Husbands (and Wives) and their first precept is this: Be faithful to the Roms (husbands) and take not up with the gorgios, whether they be raior (gentlemen) or baior (fellows).

{293} Godly book.

{295a} Chore, to steal.

{295b} Hokkawar, to cheat.

{295c} Lubbeny, the whore.

{296} God.

{298} Choomer, a kiss.

{299a} Uncle.

{299b} Father.

{301} Batu, father; coko, uncle.

{302a} Law.

{302b} With child.

{303} Tan, tent.

{305} Tent.

{306} Old Fulcher was an amateur in the meanest kinds of petty larceny whose deplorable end is described in chapter xli. of the Romany Rye.

{307} The boxer who lost the fight near the Castle Hill (Norwich).

{312} Poknees, magistrate.

{318} Steal.

{326} See Introduction, p. 9. This is the book the MS. of which Lavengro sold for 20 pounds, and upon the proceeds of which he started upon the ramble which led him to the dingle. The Life of Joseph Sell is not known to Bibliography; but the incident is nevertheless probably drawn from Borrow's own career.

{330} "Good."

{337} The next time the compassionate word-master visited the landlord, he found him a 'down pin' no longer, but the centre of an adulatory crowd. The way in which he surmounted the sea of troubles that beset him is described with much humour in The Romany Rye (chap. xvii). The main factors in his relief were (1) Strong ale, taken by the advice of Lavengro, which leads to Catchpole knocking down the radical, Hunter, and winning back the admiration of the tap-room, (2) a loan from the parson of Willenhall, who wished to save a muscular fellow-Protestant from the clutches of the man in black. The brewer now became very civil, a coach was appointed to stop at the inn, and, in short, Catchpole is left by Lavengro riding upon the summit of the wave of popularity and good fortune.

{343} Jacobus Villotte, his Dictionarium Latino-Armenium, Rome, 1714.

{348} And this, alas! is the last glimpse we are to have of Isopel Berners, a heroine whose like we shall scarce encounter again in the whole wide world of romance. Charles Kingsley says of her, indeed, that she is far too good not to be true. The likeness is undoubtedly a masterpiece, yet, though Borrow has drawn the outline firmly, he leaves much for the imagination to fill in. Languid indeed must be the imagination that can fail to be stimulated by Borrow's outline of his Brynhilda. Cast in the mould of Britannia, queen, however, not of the waves but of the woodland, poor yet noble, and innocent of every mean ambition of gentility, faithful, valiant, and proud,—as she stands pale and commanding, in the sunshine at the dingle's mouth, in all her virginal dignity, is she not a figure worthy to rank with the queens of Beauty and Romance, with Dido "with a willow in her hand," with the deeply-loving Rebecca as with a calm and tender dignity she bids for ever adieu to the land of Wilfred of Ivanhoe?

{361} After the receipt of this letter three nights elapsed, and then the word-master himself left the dingle for the last time. The third night he spent alone in his encampment "in a very melancholy manner, with little or no sleep, thinking of Isopel Berners; and in the morning when I quitted the place, I shed several tears, as I reflected that I should probably never again see the spot where I had passed so many hours in her company."

THE END

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