The Life of George Borrow
Herbert Jenkins

Part 2 out of 9

absent, who was to fight him? Mr Petulengro could not do so for less
than five pounds; but with Bess as a second wife the problem would be
solved. She would fight "the Flaming Tinman."

This proves nothing, one way or the other, and can scarcely be said
to "dispel any allusions," as Dr Knapp suggests, or confirm the story
of Isopel. Why did Borrow omit it from Lavengro? Not from caprice
surely. It has been stated that those who know the gypsies can vouch
for the fact that no such suggestion could have been made by a gypsy

It would appear that Isopel Berners existed, but the account of her
given by Borrow in Lavengro and The Romany Rye is in all probability
coloured, just as her stature was heightened by him. If she were
taller than he, she must have appeared a giantess. Borrow was an
impressionist, and he has probably succeeded far better in giving a
faithful picture of Isopel Berners than if he had been
photographically accurate in his measurements.

According to Borrow's own account, he left Willenhall mounted upon a
fine horse, purchased with money lent to him by Mr Petulengro, a
small valise strapped to the saddle, and "some desire to meet with
one of those adventures which upon the roads of England are generally
as plentiful as blackberries." From this point, however, The Romany
Rye becomes dangerous as autobiography. {66b}

For one thing, it was unlike Borrow to remain in debt, and it is
incredible that he should have ridden away upon a horse purchased
with another man's money, without any set purpose in his mind.
Therefore the story of his employment at the Swan Inn, Stafford,
where he found his postilion friend, and the subsequent adventures
must be reluctantly sacrificed. They do not ring true, nor do they
fit in with the rest of the story. That he experienced such
adventures is highly probable; but it is equally probable that he
took some liberty with the dates.

Up to the point where he purchases the horse, Borrow's story is
convincing; but from there onwards it seems to go to pieces, that is
as autobiography. The arrival of Ardry (Arden) at the inn, {67a}
and lion fight that had already taken place (26th July), is in itself
enough to shake our confidence in the whole episode of the inn. In
The Gypsies of Spain Mr Petulengro is made to say:

"I suppose you have not forgot how, fifteen years ago, when you made
horseshoes in the little dingle by the side of the great north road,
I lent you fifty cottors [guineas] to purchase the wonderful trotting
cob of the innkeeper with the green Newmarket coat, which three days
after you sold for two hundred. Well, brother, if you had wanted the
two hundred instead of the fifty, I could have lent them to you, and
would have done so, for I knew you would not be long pazorrhus
[indebted] to me." {67b}

It seems more in accordance with Borrow's character to repay the loan
within three days than to continue in Mr Petulengro's debt for weeks,
at one time making no actual effort to realise upon the horse. The
question as to whether Borrow received a hundred and fifty (as he
himself states) or two hundred pounds is immaterial. It is quite
likely that he sold the horse before he left the dingle, and that the
adventures he narrates may be true in all else save the continued
possession of his steed, that is, with the exception of the Francis
Ardry episode, the encounter with the man in black, and the arrival
at Horncastle during the fair. If Borrow left London on 24th May,
and he could not have left earlier, as has been shown, he must have
visited the Fair (Tamworth) with Mr Petulengro on 26th July, and set
out from Willenhall about 2nd August.

It has been pointed out by that distinguished scholar and gentleman-
gypsy, Mr John Sampson, {68a} that as the Horse Fair at Horncastle
was held 12th-21st August, if Borrow took the horse there it could
not have been in the manner described in The Romany Rye, where he is
shown as spending some considerable time at the inn, if we may judge
by the handsome cheque (10 pounds) offered to him by the landlord as
a bonus on account of his services. Then there was the accident and
the consequent lying-up at the house of the man who knew Chinese, but
could not tell what o'clock it was. To confirm Borrow's itinerary
all this must have been crowded into less than three weeks, fully a
third of which Borrow spent in recovering from his fall. This would
mean that for less than a fortnight's work, the innkeeper offered him
ten pounds as a gratuity, in addition to the bargain he had made,
which included the horse's keep.

Mr Sampson has supported his itinerary with several very important
pieces of evidence. Borrow states in Lavengro that "a young moon
gave a feeble light" as he mounted the coach that was to take him to
Amesbury. The moon was in its first quarter on 24th May. There
actually was a great thunderstorm in the Willenhall district about
the time that Borrow describes (18th July). It is Mr Sampson also
who has identified the fair to which Borrow went with the gypsies as
that held at Tamworth on 26th July.

Whatever else Borrow may have been doing immediately after leaving
the dingle, he appears to have been much occupied in speculating as
to the future. Was he not "sadly misspending his time?" He was
forced to the conclusion that he had done nothing else throughout his
life but misspend his time. He was ambitious. He chafed at his
narrow life. "Oh! what a vast deal may be done with intellect,
courage, riches, accompanied by the desire of doing something great
and good!" {69a} he exclaims, and his thoughts turned instinctively
to the career of his old school-fellow, Rajah Brooke of Sarawak.
{69b} He was now, by his own confession, "a moody man, bearing on my
face, as I well knew, the marks of my strivings and my strugglings,
of what I had learnt and unlearnt." {69c} He recognised the
possibilities that lay in every man, only awaiting the hour when they
should be called forth. He believed implicitly in the power of the
will. {69d} He possessed ambition and a fine workable theory of how
success was to be obtained; but he lacked initiative. He expected
fortune to wait for him on the high-road, just as he knew adventures
awaited him. He would not go "across the country," to use a phrase
of the time common to postilions. He was too independent, perhaps
too sensitive of being patronised, to seek employment. That he cared
"for nothing in this world but old words and strange stories," was an
error into which his friend Mr Petulengro might well fall. The
mightiness of the man's pride could be covered only by a cloak of
assumed indifference. He must be independent of the world, not only
in material things, but in those intangible qualities of the spirit.
It was this that lost him Isopel Berners, whose love he awakened by a
strong right arm and quenched with an Armenian noun. Again, his
independence stood in the way of his happiness. A man is a king, he
seemed to think, and the attribute of kings is their splendid
isolation, their godlike solitude. If his Ego were lonely and crying
out for sympathy, Borrow thought it a moment for solitude, in which
to discipline his insurgent spirit. The "Horrors" were the result of
this self-repression. When they became unbearable, his spirit broke
down, the yearning for sympathy and affection overmastered him, and
he stumbled to his little horse in the desolate dingle, and found
comfort in the faithful creature's whinny of sympathy and its
affectionate licking of his hand. The strong man clung to his dumb
brute friend as a protection against the unknown horror--the
screaming horror that had gripped him.

One quality Borrow possessed in common with many other men of strange
and taciturn personality. He could always make friends when he
chose. Ostlers, scholars, farmers, gypsies; it mattered not one jot
to him what, or who they were. He could earn their respect and
obtain their good-will, if he wished to do so. He demanded of men
that they should have done things, or be capable of doing things.
They must know everything there was to be known about some one thing;
and the ostler, than whom none could groom a horse better, was worthy
of being ranked with the best man in the land. He demanded of every
man that he should justify his existence, and was logical in his
attitude, save in the insignificant particular that he applied the
same rule to himself only in theory.

He was shrewd and a good judge of character, provided it were
Protestant character, and could hold his own with a Jew or a Gypsy.
He was fully justified in his boast of being able to take "precious
good care of" himself, and "drive a precious hard bargain"; yet these
qualities were not to find a market until he was thirty years of age.

Sometime during the autumn (1825) Borrow returned to Norwich, where
he busied himself with literary affairs, among other things writing
to the publishers of Faustus about the bill that was shortly to fall
due. The fact of the book having been destroyed at both the Norwich
libraries, gave him the idea that he might make some profit by
selling copies of the suppressed volume. Hence his offer to Simpkin
& Marshall to take copies in lieu of money.


From the autumn of 1825 until the winter of 1832, when he obtained an
introduction to the British & Foreign Bible Society, only fragmentary
details of Borrow's life exist. He decided to keep sacred to himself
the "Veiled Period," as it came to be called. In all probability it
was a time of great hardship and mortification, and he wished it to
be thought that the whole period was devoted to "a grand philological
expedition," or expeditions. There is no doubt that some portion of
the mysterious epoch was so spent, but not all. Many of the
adventures ascribed to characters in Lavengro and The Romany Rye
were, most probably, Borrow's own experiences during that period of
mystery and misfortune. Time after time he was implored to "lift up
a corner of the curtain"; but he remained obdurate, and the seven
years are in his life what the New Orleans days were in that of Walt

Soon after his return to Norwich, Borrow seems to have turned his
attention to the manuscripts in the green box. In the days of happy
augury, before he had quarrelled with Sir Richard Phillips, there had
appeared in The Monthly Magazine the two following paragraphs:-

"We have heard and seen much of the legends and popular superstitions
of the North, but, in truth, all the exhibitions of these subjects
which have hitherto appeared in England have been translations from
the German. Mr Olaus Borrow, who is familiar with the Northern
Languages, proposes, however, to present these curious reliques of
romantic antiquity directly from the Danish and Swedish, and two
elegant volumes of them now printing will appear in September. They
are highly interesting in themselves, but more so as the basis of
most of the popular superstitions of England, when they were
introduced during the incursions and dominion of the Danes and
Norwegians." (1st September 1824.)

"We have to acknowledge the favour of a beautiful collection of
Danish songs and ballads, of which a specimen will be seen among the
poetical articles of the present month. One, or more, of these very
interesting translations will appear in each succeeding number."
(1st December 1824.)

It seems to have been Borrow's plan to run his ballads serially
through The Monthly Magazine and then to publish them in book-form.
His initial contribution to The Monthly Magazine had appeared in
October 1823. The first of the articles, entitled "Danish Traditions
and Superstitions," appeared August 1824, and continued, with the
omission of one or two months, until December 1825, there being in
all nine articles; but there was only one instalment of "Danish Songs
and Ballads." {73a}

Borrow was determined that these ballads, at least, should be
published, and he set to work to prepare them for the press. Allan
Cunningham, with whom Borrow was acquainted, contributed, at his
request, a metrical dedication. The volume appeared on 10th May, in
an edition of five hundred copies at ten shillings and sixpence each.
It appears that some two hundred copies were subscribed for, thus
ensuring the cost of production. The balance, or a large proportion
of it, was consigned to John Taylor, the London publisher, who
printed a new title-page and sold them at seven shillings each,
probably the trade price for a half-guinea book.

Cunningham wrote to Borrow advising him to send out freely copies for
review, and with each a note saying that it was the translator's
ultimate intention to publish an English version of the whole Kiaempe
Viser with notes; also to "scatter a few judiciously among literary
men." It is doubtful if this sage counsel were acted upon; for there
is no record of any review or announcement of the work. This in
itself was not altogether a misfortune; for Borrow did not prove
himself an inspired translator of verse. Apart from the two hundred
copies sold to subscribers, the book was still-born.

After the publication of Romantic Ballads, Borrow appears to have
returned to London, not to his old lodging at Milman Street, possibly
on account of the associations, but to 26 Bryanston Street, Portman
Square, from which address he wrote to Benjamin Haydon the following
note:- {74a}


I should feel extremely obliged if you would allow me to sit to you
as soon as possible. I am going to the South of France in little
better than a fortnight, and I would sooner lose a thousand pounds
than not have the honour of appearing in the picture.

Yours sincerely,


In his account of how he first became acquainted with Haydon, Borrow
shows himself as anything but desirous of appearing in a picture.
When John tells of the artist's wish to include him as one of the
characters in a painting upon which he is engaged, Borrow replies:
"I have no wish to appear on canvas." It is probable that in some
way or other Haydon offended his sitter, who, regretting his
acquiescence, antedated the episode and depicted himself as refusing
the invitation. Such a liberty with fact and date would be quite in
accordance with Borrow's autobiographical methods.

Borrow wrote in Lavengro, "I have been a wanderer the greater part of
my life; indeed I remember only two periods, and these by no means
lengthy, when I was, strictly speaking, stationary." {75a} One of
the "two periods" was obviously the eight years spent at Norwich,
1816-24, the other is probably the years spent at Oulton. Thus the
"Veiled Period" may be assumed to have been one of wandering. The
seven years are gloomy and mysterious, but not utterly dark. There
is a hint here, a suggestion there--a letter or a paragraph, that
gives in a vague way some idea of what Borrow was doing, and where.
It seems comparatively safe to assume that after the publication of
Romantic Ballads he plunged into a life of roving and vagabondage,
which, in all probability, was brought to an abrupt termination by
either the loss or the exhaustion of his money. Anything beyond this
is pure conjecture. {75b}

After he became associated with the British & Foreign Bible Society,
his movements are easily accounted for; but all we have to guide us
as to what countries he had seen before 1833 is an occasional hint.
He casually admits having been in Italy, {75c} at Bayonne, {75d}
Paris, {75e} Madrid, {75f} the south of France. {75g} "I have
visited most of the principal capitals of the world," he writes in
1843; and again in the same year, "I have heard the ballad of Alonzo
Guzman chanted in Danish, by a hind in the wilds of Jutland." {76a}
"I have lived in different parts of the world, much amongst the
Hebrew race, and I am well acquainted with their words and
phraseology," {76b} he writes; and on another occasion: "I have seen
gypsies of various lands, Russian, Hungarian, and Turkish; and I have
also seen the legitimate children of most countries of the world."
{76c} An even more significant admission is that made when Colonel
Elers Napier, whom Borrow met in Seville in 1839, enquired where he
had obtained his knowledge of Moultanee. "Some years ago, in
Moultan," was the reply; then, as if regretting that he had confessed
so much, showed by his manner that he intended to divulge nothing
more. {76d}

"Once, during my own wanderings in Italy," Borrow writes, "I rested
at nightfall by the side of a kiln, the air being piercingly cold; it
was about four leagues from Genoa." {76e} Again, "Once in the south
of France, when I was weary, hungry, and penniless, I observed one of
these last patterans {76f} [a cross marked in the dust], and
following the direction pointed out, arrived at the resting-place of
'certain Bohemians,' by whom I was received with kindness and
hospitality, on the faith of no other word of recommendation than
patteran." {76g} In a letter of introduction to the Rev. E. Whitely,
of Oporto, the Rev. Andrew Brandram, of the Bible Society, wrote in
1835: "With Portugal he [Borrow] is already acquainted, and speaks
the language." This statement is significant, for only during the
"Veiled Period" could Borrow have visited Portugal.

It may be argued that Borrow was merely posing as a great traveller,
but the foregoing remarks are too casual, too much in the nature of
asides, to be the utterances of a poseur. A man seeking to impress
himself upon the world as a great traveller would probably have been
a little more definite.

The only really reliable information as to Borrow's movements after
his arrival in London is contained in the note to Haydon. In all
probability he went to Paris, where possibly he met Vidocq, the
master-rogue turned detective. {77a} It has been suggested by Dr
Knapp that he went to Paris, and thence on foot to Bayonne and
Madrid, after which he tramped to Pamplona, where he gets into
trouble, is imprisoned, and is released on condition that he leave
the country; he proceeds towards Marseilles and Genoa, where he takes
ship and is landed safely in London. The data, however, upon which
this itinerary is constructed are too frail to be convincing. There
is every probability that he roamed about the Continent and met with
adventures--he was a man to whom adventures gravitated quite
naturally--but the fact of his saying that he had been imprisoned on
three occasions, and there being only two instances on record at the
time, cannot in itself be considered as conclusive evidence of his
having been arrested at Pamplona. {77b}

In the spring of 1827 Borrow was unquestionably at Norwich, for he
saw the famous trotting stallion Marshland Shales on the Castle Hill
(12th April), and did for that grand horse "what I would neither do
for earl or baron, doffed my hat." {78a} Borrow apparently remained
with his mother for some months, to judge from certain entries (29th
September to 19th November) in his hand that appear in her account

In December 1829 he was back again in London at 77 Great Russell
Street, W.C. He was as usual eager to obtain some sort of work. He
wrote to "the Committee of the Honourable and Praiseworthy
Association, known by the name of the Highland Society . . . a body
animate with patriotism, which, guided by philosophy, produces the
noblest results, and many of whose members stand amongst the very
eminent in the various departments of knowledge."

The project itself was that of translating into English "the best and
most approved poetry of the Ancient and Modern Scoto-Gaelic Bards,
with such notes on the usages and superstitions therein alluded to,
as will enable the English reader to form a clear and correct idea of
the originals." In the course of a rather ornate letter, Borrow
offers himself as the translator and compiler of such a work as he
suggests, avowing his willingness to accept whatsoever remuneration
might be thought adequate compensation for his expenditure of time.
Furthermore, he undertakes to complete the work within a period of
two years.

On 7th December he wrote to Dr Bowring, recently returned from

"Lest I should intrude upon you when you are busy, I write to enquire
when you will be unoccupied. I wish to show you my translation of
The Death of Balder, Ewald's most celebrated production, which, if
you approve of, you will perhaps render me some assistance in
bringing forth, for I don't know many publishers. I think this will
be a proper time to introduce it to the British public, as your
account of Danish literature will doubtless cause a sensation." {79a}

On 29th December he wrote again:-

"When I had last the pleasure of being at yours, you mentioned that
we might at some future period unite our strength in composing a kind
of Danish Anthology. Suppose we bring forward at once the first
volume of the Danish Anthology, which should contain the heroic
supernatural songs of the K[iaempe] V[iser]."

It was suggested that there should be four volumes in all, and the
first, with an introduction that Borrow expressed himself as not
ashamed of, was ready and "might appear instanter, with no further
trouble to yourself than writing, if you should think fit, a page or
two of introductory matter." Dr Bowring replied by return of post
that he thought that no more than two volumes could be ventured on,
and Borrow acquiesced, writing: "The sooner the work is advertised
translate from all languages, of which they are fully as ignorant as
Lockhart is of Spanish."

Borrow was full of enthusiasm for the project, and repeated that the
first volume was ready, adding: "If we unite our strength in the
second, I think we can produce something worthy of fame, for we shall
have plenty of matter to employ talent upon." A later letter, which
was written from 7 Museum Street (8th January), told how he had "been
obliged to decamp from Russell St. for the cogent reason of an
execution having been sent into the house, and I thought myself happy
in escaping with my things."

He drew up a prospectus, endeavouring "to assume a Danish style,"
which he submitted to his collaborator, begging him to "alter . . .
whatever false logic has crept into it, find a remedy for its
incoherencies, and render it fit for its intended purpose. I have
had for the two last days a rising headache which has almost
prevented me doing anything."

It would appear that Dr Bowring did not altogether approve of the
"Danish style," for on 14th January Borrow wrote, "I approve of the
prospectus in every respect; it is business-like, and there is
nothing flashy in it. I do not wish to suggest one alteration . . .
When you see the foreign Editor," he continues, "I should feel much
obliged if you would speak to him about my reviewing Tegner, and
enquire whether a GOOD article on Welsh poetry would be received. I
have the advantage of not being a Welshman. I would speak the truth,
and would give translations of some of the best Welsh poetry; and I
really believe that my translations would not be the worst that have
been made from the Welsh tongue."

The prospectus, which appeared in several publications ran as

"Dr Bowring and Mr George Borrow are about to publish, dedicated to
the King of Denmark, by His Majesy's permission, THE SONGS OF
SCANDINAVIA, in 2 vols. 8vo, containing a Selection of the most
interesting of the Historical and Romantic Ballads of North-Western
Europe, with Specimens of the Danish and Norwegian Poets down to the
present day.

Price to Subscribers, 1 pound, 1s.--to Non-Subscribers 1 pound, 5s.
The First Volume will be devoted to Ancient Popular Poetry; the
Second will give the choicest productions of the Modern School,
beginning with Tullin." {81a}

The Songs of Scandinavia now became to Borrow what the Celebrated
Trials had been four years previously, a source of constant toil. On
one occasion he writes to Dr Bowring telling him that he has just
translated an ode "as I breakfasted." What Borrow lived on at this
period it is impossible to say. It may be assumed that Mrs Borrow
did not keep him, for, apart from the slender proportions of the
income of the mother, the unconquerable independence of the son must
be considered; and Borrow loved his mother too tenderly to allow her
to deprive herself of luxuries even to keep him. He borrowed money
from her at various times; but he subsequently faithfully repaid her.
Even John was puzzled. "You never tell me what you are doing," he
writes to his brother at the end of 1832; "you can't be living on

Borrow appears to have kept Dr Bowring well occupied with suggestions
as to how that good-natured man might assist him. Although he is to
see him on the morrow, he writes on the evening of 21st May regarding
another idea that has just struck him:

"As at present no doubt seems to be entertained of Prince Leopold's
accepting the sovereignty of Greece, would you have any objection to
write to him concerning me? I should be very happy to go to Greece
in his service. I do not wish to go in a civil or domestic capacity,
and I have, moreover, no doubt that all such situations have been
long since filled up; I wish to go in a military one, for which I am
qualified by birth and early habits. You might inform the Prince
that I have been for years on the Commander-in-Chiefs list for a
commission, but that I have not had sufficient interest to procure an
appointment. One of my reasons for wishing to reside in Greece is,
that the mines of Eastern literature would be accessible to me. I
should soon become an adept in Turkish, and would weave and transmit
to you such an anthology as would gladden your very heart. As for
the Songs of Scandinavia, all the ballads would be ready before
departure, and as I should have books, I would in a few months send
you translations of the modern Lyric Poetry. I hope this letter will
not displease you. I do not write it from FLIGHTINESS, but from
thoughtfulness. I am uneasy to find myself at four and twenty
drifting on the sea of the world, and likely to continue so."

On 22nd May Dr Bowring introduced Borrow to Dr Grundtvig, the Danish
poet, who required some transcriptions done. On 7th June, Borrow
wrote to Dr Bowring:

"I have looked over Mr Gruntvig's (sic) manuscript. It is a very
long affair, and the language is Norman Saxon. 40 pounds would not
be an extravagant price for a transcript, and so they told him at the
Museum. However, as I am doing nothing particular at present, and as
I might learn something from transcribing it, I would do it for 20
pounds. He will call on you to-morrow morning, and then, if you
please, you may recommend me. The character closely resembles the
ancient Irish, so I think you can answer for my competency."

At this time there were a hundred schemes seething through Borrow's
eager brain. Hearing that "an order has been issued for the making a
transcript of the celebrated Anglo-Saxon Codex of Exeter, for the use
of the British Museum," he applied to some unknown correspondent for
his interest and help to obtain the appointment as transcriber. The
work, however, was carried out by a Museum official.

Another project appears to have been to obtain a post at the British
Museum. On 9th March 1830 he had written to Dr Bowring:

"I have thought over the Museum matter, which we were talking about
last night, and it appears to me that it would be the very thing for
me, provided that it could be accomplished. I should feel obliged if
you would deliberate upon the best mode of proceeding, so that when I
see you again I may have the benefit of your advice."

In reply Dr Bowring commended the scheme, and promised to assist "by
every sort of counsel and exertion. But it would injure you," he
proceeds, "if I were to take the initiative. [The Gibraltar house of
Bowring & Murdock had recently failed.] Quietly make yourself master
of that department of the Museum. We must then think of how best to
get at the Council. If by any management they can be induced to ask
my opinion, I will give you a character which shall take you to the
top of Hecla itself. You have claims, strong ones, and I should
rejoice to see you NICHED in the British Museum."

Again failure! Disappointment seemed to be dogging Borrow's
footsteps at this period. For years past he had been seeking some
sort of occupation, into which he could throw all that energy and
determination of character that he possessed. He was earnest and
able, and he knew that he only required an opportunity of showing to
the world what manner of man he was. He seemed doomed to meet
everywhere with discouragement; for no one wanted him, just as no one
wanted his translations of the glorious Ab Gwilym. He appeared
before the world as a failure, which probably troubled him very
little; but there was another aspect of the case that was in his
eyes, "the most heartbreaking of everything, the strange, the
disadvantageous light in which I am aware that I must frequently have
appeared to those whom I most love and honour." {83a}

On 14th September he wrote to Dr Bowring:

"I am going to Norwich for some short time, as I am very unwell and
hope that cold bathing in October and November may prove of service
to me. My complaints are, I believe, the offspring of ennui and
unsettled prospects. I have thoughts of attempting to get into the
French service, as I should like prodigiously to serve under Clausel
in the next Bedouin campaign. I shall leave London next Sunday and
will call some evening to take my leave; I cannot come in the
morning, as early rising kills me."

A year later he writes again to Dr Bowring, who once more has been
exerting himself on his friend's behalf:

11th September 1831.


I return you my most sincere thanks for your kind letter of the 2nd
inst., and though you have not been successful in your application to
the Belgian authorities in my behalf, I know full well that you did
your utmost, and am only sorry that at my instigation you attempted
an impossibility.

The Belgians seem either not to know or not to care for the opinion
of the great Cyrus who gives this advice to his captains. 'Take no
heed from what countries ye fill up your ranks, but seek recruits as
ye do horses, not those particularly who are of your own country, but
those of merit.' The Belgians will only have such recruits as are
born in Belgium, and when we consider the heroic manner in which the
native Belgian army defended the person of their new sovereign in the
last conflict with the Dutch, can we blame them for their
determination? It is rather singular, however, that resolved as they
are to be served only by themselves they should have sent for 5000
Frenchmen to clear their country of a handful of Hollanders, who have
generally been considered the most unwarlike people in Europe, but
who, if they had fair play given them, would long ere this time have
replanted the Orange flag on the towers of Brussels, and made the
Belgians what they deserve to be, hewers of wood and drawers of

And now, my dear Sir, allow me to reply to a very important part of
your letter; you ask me whether I wish to purchase a commission in
the British service, because in that case you would speak to the
Secretary at War about me. I must inform you therefore that my name
has been for several years upon the list for the purchase of a
commission, and I have never yet had sufficient interest to procure
an appointment. If I can do nothing better I shall be very glad to
purchase; but I will pause two or three months before I call upon you
to fulfil your kind promise. It is believed that the Militia will be
embodied in order to be sent to that unhappy country Ireland, and
provided I can obtain a commission in one of them, and they are kept
in service, it would be better than spending 500 pounds about one in
the line. I am acquainted with the Colonels of the two Norfolk
regiments, and I daresay that neither of them would have any
objection to receive me. If they are not embodied I will most
certainly apply to you, and you may say when you recommend me that
being well grounded in Arabic, and having some talent for languages,
I might be an acquisition to a corps in one of our Eastern Colonies.
I flatter myself that I could do a great deal in the East provided I
could once get there, either in a civil or military capacity; there
is much talk at present about translating European books into the two
great languages, the Arabic and Persian; now I believe that with my
enthusiasm for these tongues I could, if resident in the East, become
in a year or two better acquainted with them than any European has
been yet, and more capable of executing such a task. Bear this in
mind, and if before you hear from me again you should have any
opportunity to recommend me as a proper person to fill any civil
situation in those countries or to attend any expedition thither, I
pray you to lay hold of it, and no conduct of mine shall ever give
you reason to repent it.

I remain,
My Dear Sir,
Your most obliged and obedient Servant,

P.S.--Present my best remembrances to Mrs B. and to Edgar, and tell
them that they will both be starved. There is now a report in the
street that twelve corn-stacks are blazing within twenty miles of
this place. I have lately been wandering about Norfolk, and I am
sorry to say that the minds of the peasantry are in a horrible state
of excitement; I have repeatedly heard men and women in the harvest-
field swear that not a grain of the corn they were cutting should be
eaten, and that they would as lieve be hanged as live. I am afraid
all this will end in a famine and a rustic war.

It was pride that prompted Borrow to ask Dr Bowring to stay his hand
for the moment about a commission. There was no reasonable
possibility of his being able to raise 500 pounds. Even if his
mother had possessed it, which she did not, he would not have drained
her resources of so large an amount. His subsequent attitude towards
the Belgians was characteristic of him. To his acutely sensitive
perceptions, failure to obtain an appointment he sought was a rebuff,
and his whole nature rose up against what, at the moment, appeared to
be an intolerable slight.

Nothing came of the project of collaboration between Bowring and
Borrow beyond an article on Danish and Norwegian literature that
appeared in The Foreign Quarterly Review (June 1830), in which Borrow
supplied translations of the sixteen poems illustrating Bowring's
text. In all probability the response to the prospectus was deemed
inadequate, and Bowring did not wish to face a certain financial

From Borrow's own letters there is no question that Dr Bowring was
acting towards him in a most friendly manner, and really endeavouring
to assist him to obtain some sort of employment. It may be, as has
been said, and as seems extremely probable, that Bowring used his
"facility in acquiring and translating tongues deliberately as a
ladder to an administrative post abroad," {86a} but if Borrow "put a
wrong construction upon his sympathy" and was led into "a veritable
cul-de-sac of literature," {86b} it was no fault of Bowring's.

Borrow's relations with Dr Bowring continued to be most cordial for
many years, as his letters show. "Pray excuse me for troubling you
with these lines," he writes years later; "I write to you, as usual,
for assistance in my projects, convinced that you will withhold none
which it may be in your power to afford, more especially when by so
doing you will perhaps be promoting the happiness of our fellow-
creatures." This is very significant as indicating the nature of the
relations between the two men.

Borrow was to experience yet another disappointment. A Welsh
bookseller, living in the neighbourhood of Smithfield, commissioned
him to translate into English Elis Wyn's The Sleeping Bard, a book
printed originally in 1703. The bookseller foresaw for the volume a
large sale, not only in England but in Wales; but "on the eve of
committing it to the press, however, the Cambrian-Briton felt his
small heart give way within him. 'Were I to print it,' said he, 'I
should be ruined; the terrible descriptions of vice and torment would
frighten the genteel part of the English public out of its wits, and
I should to a certainty be prosecuted by Sir James Scarlett . . . Myn
Diawl! I had no idea, till I had read him in English, that Elis Wyn
had been such a terrible fellow.'" {87a}

With this Borrow had to be content and retire from the presence of
the little bookseller, who told him he was "much obliged . . . for
the trouble you have given yourself on my account," {87b} and his
bundle of manuscript, containing nearly three thousand lines, the
work probably of some months, was to be put aside for thirty years
before eventually appearing in a limited edition.

It cannot be determined with exactness when Borrow relinquished the
unequal struggle against adverse circumstances in London. He had met
with sufficient discouragement to dishearten him from further effort.
Perhaps his greatest misfortune was his disinclination to make
friends with anybody save vagabonds. He could attract and earn the
friendship of an apple-woman, thimble-riggers, tramps, thieves,
gypsies, in short with any vagrant he chose to speak to; but his
hatred of gentility was a great and grave obstacle in the way of his
material advancement. His brother John seemed to recognise this; for
in 1831 he wrote, "I am convinced that YOUR WANT OF SUCCESS IN LIFE
is more owing to your being unlike other people than to any other

It would appear that, finding nothing to do in London, Borrow once
more became a wanderer. He was in London in March; but on 27th,
28th, and 29th July 1830 he was unquestionably in Paris. Writing
about the Revolution of La Granja (August 1836) and of the energy,
courage and activity of the war correspondents, he says:

"I saw them [the war correspondents] during the three days at Paris,
mingled with canaille and gamins behind the barriers, whilst the
mitraille was flying in all directions, and the desperate cuirassiers
were dashing their fierce horses against these seemingly feeble
bulwarks. There stood they, dotting down their observations in their
pocket-books as unconcernedly as if reporting the proceedings of a
reform meeting in Covent Garden or Finsbury Square." {88a}

This can have reference only to the "Three Glorious Days" of
Revolution, 27th to 29th July 1830, during which Charles X. lost, and
Louis-Philippe gained, a throne. He returned to Norwich sometime
during the autumn of 1830. {88b} In November he was entering upon
his epistolary duel with the Army Pay Office in connection with
John's half-pay as a lieutenant in the West Norfolk Militia.

In 1826 John had gone to Mexico, then looked upon as a land of
promise for young Englishmen, who might expect to find fortunes in
its silver mines. Allday, brother of Roger Kerrison, was there, and
John Borrow determined to join him. Obtaining a year's leave of
absence from his colonel, together with permission to apply for an
extension, he entered the service of the Real del Monte Company,
receiving a salary of three hundred pounds a year. He arranged that
his mother should have his half-pay, and it was in connection with
this that George entered upon a correspondence with the Army Pay
Office that was to extend over a period of fifteen months.

Originally John had arranged for the amounts to be remitted to
Mexico, and he sent them back again to his mother. This involved
heavy losses in connection with the bills of exchange, and wishing to
avoid this tax, John sent to his brother an official copy of a
Mexican Power of Attorney, which George strove to persuade the Army
Pay Office was the original.

Tact was unfortunately not one of George Borrow's acquirements at
this period, and in this correspondence he adopted an attitude that
must have seriously prejudiced his case. "I am a solicitor myself,
Sir," he states, and proceeds to threaten to bring the matter before
Parliament. He writes to the Solicitor of the Treasury "as a member
of the same honourable profession to which I was myself bred up," and
demands whether he has not law, etc., on his side. The outcome of
the correspondence was that the disembodied allowance was refused on
the plea "that Lieutenant Borrow having been absent without Leave
from the Training of the West Norfolk Militia has, under the
provisions of the 12th Section of the Militia Pay and Clothing Act,
forfeited his Allowance." In consequence, payment was made only for
the amount due from 25th June 1829 to 24th December 1830. The whole
tone of Borrow's letters was unfortunate for the cause he pleaded.
He wrote to the Secretary of State for War as he might have written
to the little Welsh bookseller with "the small heart." He was
indignant at what he conceived to be an injustice, and was unable to
dissemble his anger.

George had thought of joining his brother, but had not received any
very marked encouragement to do so. John despised Mexican methods.
On one occasion he writes apropos of George's suggestion of the army,
"If you can raise the pewter, come out here rather than that, and
ROB." One sage thing at least John is to be credited with, when he
wrote to his brother, "Do not enter the army; it is a bad spec." It
would have been for George Borrow.

Among the papers left at Borrow's death was a fragment of a political
article in dispraise of the Radicals. The editorial "We" suggests
that Borrow might possibly have been engaged in political journalism.
The statement made by him that he "frequently spoke up for
Wellington" {90a} may or may not have had reference to contributions
to the press. The fragment itself proves nothing. Many would-be
journalists write "leaders" that never see the case-room.

It is useless to speculate further regarding the period that Borrow
himself elected to veil from the eyes, not only of his
contemporaries, but those of another generation. Men who have
overcome adverse conditions and achieved fame are not as a rule
averse from publishing, or at least allowing to be known, the
difficulties that they had to contend with. Borrow was in no sense
of the word an ordinary man. He unquestionably suffered acutely
during the years of failure, when it seemed likely that his life was
to be wasted, barren of anything else save the acquirement of a score
or more languages; keys that could open literary storehouses that
nobody wanted to explore, to the very existence of which, in fact,
the public was frigidly indifferent.

"Poor George . . . I wish he was making money . . . He works hard
and remains poor," is the comment of his brother John, written in the
autumn of 1830. To no small degree Borrow was responsible for his
own failure, or perhaps it would be more just to say that he had been
denied many of the attributes that make for success. His
independence was aggressive, and it offended people. Even with the
Welsh Preacher and his wife he refused to unbend.

"'What a disposition!'" Winifred had exclaimed, holding up her hands;
"'and this is pride, genuine pride--that feeling which the world
agrees to call so noble. Oh, how mean a thing is pride! never before
did I see all the meanness of what is called pride!'" {91a}

This pride, magnificent as the loneliness of kings, and about as
unproductive of a sympathetic view of life, always constituted a
barrier in the way of Borrow's success. There were innumerable other
obstacles: his choice of friends, his fierce denunciatory hatred of
gentility, together with humbug, which he always seemed to confuse
with it, the attacks of the "Horrors," his grave bearing, which no
laugh ever disturbed, and, above all, his uncompromising hostility to
the things that the world chose to consider excellent. The world in
return could make nothing of a man who was a mass of moods and
sensibilities, strange tastes and pursuits. It is not remarkable
that he should fail to make the stir that he had hoped to make.

With the unerring instinct of a hypersensitive nature, he knew his
merit, his honesty, his capacity--knew that he possessed one thing
that eventually commands success, which "through life has ever been
of incalculable utility to me, and has not unfrequently supplied the
place of friends, money, and many other things of almost equal
importance--iron perseverance, without which all the advantages of
time and circumstance are of very little avail in any undertaking."
{91b} It was this dogged determination that was to carry him through
the most critical period of his life, enable him to earn the approval
of those in whose interests he worked, and eventually achieve fame
and an unassailable place in English literature.


It is not a little curious that no one should have thought of putting
Borrow's undoubted gifts as a linguist to some practical use. He
himself had frequently cast his eyes in the direction of a political
appointment abroad. It remained, however, for the Rev. Francis
Cunningham, {92a} vicar of Lowestoft, in Suffolk, to see in this
young man against whom the curse of Babel was inoperative, a sword
that, in the hands of the British and Foreign Bible Society, might be
wielded with considerable effect against the heathen.

Borrow appears to have become acquainted with the Rev. Francis
Cunningham through the Skeppers of Oulton Hall, near Lowestoft, of
whom it is necessary to give some account. Edmund Skepper had
married Anne Breame of Beetley, who, on the death of her father, came
into 9000 pounds. She and her husband purchased the Oulton Hall
estate, upon which Anne Skepper seems to have been given a five per
cent. mortgage. There were two children of the marriage, Breame
(born 1794) and Mary (born 1796). The boy inherited the estate, and
the girl the mortgage, worth about 450 pounds per annum. Mary
married Henry Clarke, a lieutenant in the Navy (26th July 1817), who
within eight months died of consumption. Two months later Mrs Clarke
gave birth to a daughter, who was christened Henrietta Mary. Mrs
Clarke became acquainted with the Cunninghams while they were at
Pakefield, and there is every reason to believe that she was
instrumental in introducing Borrow to Cunningham. It is most
probable that they met during Borrow's visit at Oulton Hall in
November 1832.

The Rev. Francis Cunningham appears to have been impressed by
Borrow's talent for languages, and fully alive to his value to an
institution such as the Bible Society, of which he, Cunningham, was
an active member. He accordingly addressed {93a} to the secretary,
the Rev. Andrew Brandram, the following letter:

27th Dec. 1832.


A young farmer in this neighbourhood has introduced me to-day to a
person of whom I have long heard, who appears to me to promise so
much that I am induced to offer him to you as a successor of Platt
and Greenfield. {93b} He is a person without University education,
but who has read the Bible in thirteen languages. He is independent
in circumstances, of no very defined denomination of Christians, but
I think of certain Christian principle. I shall make more enquiry
about him and see him again. Next week I propose to meet him in
London, and I could wish that you should see him, and, if you please,
take him under your charge for a few days. He is of the middle order
in Society, and a very produceable person.

I intend to be in town on Tuesday morning to go to the Socy. P. C. K.
On Wednesday is Dr Wilson's meeting at Islington. He may be in town
on Monday evening, and will attend to any appointment.

Will you write me word by return of post, and believe me ever

Most truly and affectionately yours,


The recommendation was well-timed, for the Bible Society at that
particular moment required such a man as Borrow for a Manchu-Tartar
project it had in view. In 1821 the Bible Society had commissioned
Stepan Vasilievitch Lipovzoff, {94a} of St Petersburg, to translate
the New Testament into Manchu, the court and diplomatic language of
China. A year later, an edition of 550 copies of the First Gospel
was printed from type specially cast for the undertaking. A hundred
copies were despatched to headquarters in London, and the remainder,
together with the type, placed with the Society's bankers at St
Petersburg, {94b} until the time should arrive for the distribution
of the books.

Three years after (1824), the overflowing Neva flooded the cellars in
which the books were stored, causing their irretrievable ruin, and
doing serious damage to the type. This misfortune appeared
temporarily to discourage the authorities at home, although Mr
Lipovzoff was permitted to proceed with the work of translation,
which he completed in two years from the date of the inundation.

In 1832 the Rev. Wm. Swann, of the London Missionary Society,
discovered in the famous library of Baron Schilling de Canstadt at St
Petersburg the manuscript of a Manchu translation of "the principal
part of the Old Testament," and two books of the New. The discovery
was considered to be so important that Mr Swann decided to delay his
departure for his post in Siberia and make a transcription, which he
did. The Manchu translation was the work of Father Puerot,
"originally a Jesuit emissary at Pekin [who] passed the latter years
of his life in the service of the Russian Mission in the capacity of
physician." {95a}

The immediate outcome of Mr Cunningham's letter was an interview
between Borrow and the Bible Society's officials. With
characteristic energy and determination, Borrow trudged up to London,
covering the 112 miles on foot in 27.5 hours. His expenses by the
way amounted to fivepence-halfpenny for the purchase of a roll, two
apples, a pint of ale and a glass of milk. On reaching London he
proceeded direct to the Bible Society's offices in Earl Street, in
spite of the early hour, and there awaited the arrival of the Rev.
Andrew Brandram (Secretary), and the Rev. Joseph Jowett (Literary

The story of Borrow's arrival at Earl Street was subsequently told,
by one of the secretaries at a provincial meeting in connection with
the Bible Society. The Rev. Wentworth Webster writes:

"I was little more than a boy when I first heard George Borrow spoken
of at the annual dinner given by a connection of my family to the
deputation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in a country town
near London . . . I can distinctly recall one of the secretaries
telling of his first meeting with Borrow, whom he found waiting at
the offices of the Society one morning;--how puzzled he was by his
appearance; how, after he had read his letter of introduction, he
wished to while away the time until a brother secretary should
arrive, and did not want to say anything to commit himself to such a
strange applicant; so he began by politely hoping that Borrow had
slept well. 'I am not aware that I fell asleep on the road,' was the
reply; I have walked from Norwich to London.'" {96a}

It would appear that this conference took place on Friday, 4th
January; for on that day there is an entry in the records of the
Society of the loan to George Borrow of several books from the
Society's library. On this and subsequent occasions, Borrow was
examined as to his capabilities, the result appearing to be quite
satisfactory. To judge from the books lent to Borrow, one of the
subjects would seem to have been Arabic.

Borrow appeared before the Committee on 14th January, with the result
that they seemed to be "quite satisfied with me and my philological
capabilities," which they judged of from the report given by the
Secretary and his colleague. A more material sign of approval was
found in the undertaking to defray "the expenses of my journey to and
from London, and also of my residence in that city, in the most
handsome manner." {96b} That is to say, the Committee voted him the
sum of ten pounds.

Borrow had been formally asked if he were prepared to learn Manchu
sufficiently well to edit, or translate, into that language such
portions of the Scriptures as the Society might decide to issue,
provided means of acquiring the language were put within his reach,
and employment should follow as soon as he showed himself proficient.
To this Borrow had willingly agreed. At this period, the idea
appears to have been to execute the work in London.

Shortly after appearing before the Committee Borrow returned to
Norwich, this time by coach, with several books in the Manchu-Tartar
dialect, including the Gospel of St Matthew and Amyot's Manchu-French
Dictionary. His instructions were to learn the language and come up
for examination in six months' time. Possibly the time limit was
suggested by Borrow himself, for he had said that he believed he
could master any tongue in a few months.

After two or three weeks of incessant study of a language that Amyot
says "one may acquire in five or six years," Borrow, who, it should
be remembered, possessed no grammar of the tongue, wrote to Mr

"It is, then, your opinion that, from the lack of anything in the
form of Grammar, I have scarcely made any progress towards the
attainment of Manchu: {97a} perhaps you will not be perfectly
miserable at being informed that you were never more mistaken in your
life. I can already, with the assistance of Amyot, translate Manchu
with no great difficulty, and am perfectly qualified to write a
critique on the version of St Matthew's Gospel, which I brought with
me into the country . . . I will now conclude by beseeching you to
send me, as soon as possible, WHATEVER CAN SERVE TO ENLIGHTEN ME IN
RESPECT TO MANCHU GRAMMAR, for, had I a Grammar, I should in a
month's time be able to send a Manchu translation of Jonah."

The racy style of Borrow's letters must have been something of a
revelation to the Bible Society's officers, who seem to have shown
great tact and consideration in dealing with their self-confident
correspondent There is something magnificent in the letters that
Borrow wrote about this period; their directness and virility, their
courage and determination suggest, not a man who up to the thirtieth
year of his age has been a conspicuous failure, as the world gauges
failure; but one who had grown confident through many victories and
is merely proceeding from one success to another.

Whilst in London, Borrow had discussed with Mr Brandram "the Gypsies
and the profound darkness as to religion and morality that envolved
them." {98a} The Secretary told him of the Southampton Committee for
the Amelioration of the Condition of the Gypsies that had recently
been formed by the Rev. James Crabbe for the express purpose of
enlightening and spreading the Gospel among the Romanys.
Furthermore, Mr Brandram, on hearing of Borrow's interest in, and
knowledge of, the gypsies, had requested him immediately on his
return to Norwich to draw up a vocabulary of Mr Petulengro's
language, during such time as he might have free from his other
studies. Borrow showed himself, as usual, prolific of suggestions,
all of which involved him in additional labour. He enquired through
Mr Jowett if Mr Brandram would write about him to the Southampton
Committee. He wished to translate into the gypsy tongue the Gospel
of St John, "which I could easily do," he tells Mr Jowett, "with the
assistance of one or two of the old people, but then they must be
paid, for the gypsies are more mercenary than the Jews."

He also informed Mr Jowett that he had a brother in Mexico,
subsequently assuring him that he had no doubt of John's willingness
to assist the Society in "flinging the rays of scriptural light o'er
that most benighted and miserable region." He sent to his brother,
at Mr Jowett's request, first a sheet, and afterwards a complete
copy, of the Gospel of St Luke translated into Nahuatl, the
prevailing dialect of the Mexican Indians, by Mariano Paz y Sanchez.

In addition to learning Manchu, Borrow is credited with correcting
and passing for press the Nahuatl version of St. Luke. {99b} The
Bible Society's records, however, point to the fact that this work
was carried through by John Hattersley, who later was to come up with
Borrow for examination in Manchu. In the light of this, the
following passage from one of John's letters is puzzling in the
extreme:- "I have just received your letter of the 16th of February,
together with your translation of St Luke. I am glad you have got
the job, but I must say that the Bible Society are just throwing away
their time."

He goes on to explain how many dialects there are in Mexico. "The
job" can only refer to the Mexican translation, as, at that period,
Borrow was merely studying Manchu. He had received no appointment
from the Society. It may have happened that Borrow expressed a wish
to look through the proofs and that a set was sent to him for this
purpose; but there seems no doubt that the actual official
responsibility for the work rested with Hattersley. A very important
point in support of this view is that there is no record of Borrow
being paid anything in connection with this Mexican translation,
beyond the amount of fifteen shillings and fivepence, which he had
expended in postage on the advance sheet and complete copy sent to
John. To judge from the subsequent financial arrangements between
the Society and its agent, it is very improbable that he was given
work to do without payment.

After seven weeks' study Borrow wrote again to Mr Jowett:

"I am advancing at full gallop, and . . . able to translate with
pleasure and facility the specimens of the best authors who have
written in the language contained in the compilation of the Klaproth.
But I confess that the want of a Grammar has been, particularly in
the beginning of my course, a great clog to my speed, and I have
little doubt that had I been furnished with one I should have
attained my present knowledge of Manchu in half the time. I was
determined, however, not to be discouraged, and, not having a hatchet
at hand to cut down the tree with, to attack it with my knife; and I
would advise every one to make the most of the tools which happen to
be in his possession until he can procure better ones, and it is not
improbable that by the time the good tools arrive he will find he has
not much need of them, having almost accomplished his work." {100a}

There is a hint of the difficulties he was experiencing in his
confession that tools would still be of service to him, in particular
"this same tripartite Grammar which Mr Brandram is hunting for, my
ideas respecting Manchu construction being still very vague and
wandering." {100b} There is also a request for "the original
grammatical work of Amyot, printed in the Memoires." {100c}

Borrow had been studying Manchu for seven weeks when, feeling that
his glowing report of the progress he was making might be regarded as
"a piece of exaggeration and vain boasting," he enclosed a specimen
translation from Manchu into English. This he accompanied with an
assurance that, if required, he could at that moment edit any book
printed in the Manchu dialect. About this period Mr Jowett and his
colleagues passed from one sensation to another. The calm confidence
of this astonishing man was more than justified by his performance.
His attitude towards life was strange to Earl Street.

Nineteen weeks from the date of commencing his study of Manchu,
Borrow wrote again to Mr Jowett with unmistakable triumph: "I have
mastered Manchu, and I should feel obliged by your informing the
Committee of the fact, and also my excellent friend Mr Brandram." He
proceeds to indicate some of the many difficulties with which he has
had to contend, the absolute difference of Manchu from all the other
languages that he has studied, with the single exception of Turkish;
the number of its idiomatic phrases, which must of necessity be
learnt off by heart; the little assistance he has had in the nature
of books. Finally he acknowledges "the assistance of God," and asks
"to be regularly employed, for though I am not in want, my affairs
are not in a very flourishing condition."

The response to this letter was an invitation to proceed to London to
undergo an examination. His competitor was John Hattersley, upon
whom, in the event of Borrow's failure, would in all probability have
devolved the duty of assisting Mr Lipovzoff. A Manchu hymn, a paean
to the great Futsa, was the test. Each candidate prepared a
translation, which was handed to the examiners, who in turn were to
report to the Sub-Committee. Borrow returned to Norwich to await the
result. This was most probably towards the end of June. {101a}

Mr Jowett wrote encouragingly to Borrow of his prospects of obtaining
the coveted appointment. In acknowledgment of this letter, Borrow
dashed off a reply, magnificent in its confidence and manly
sincerity. It was a defiance to the fate that had so long dogged his

"What you have written has given me great pleasure," he wrote, "as it
holds out hope that I may be employed usefully to the Deity, to man,
and myself. I shall be very happy to visit St Petersburg and to
become the coadjutor of Lipovzoff, {102a} and to avail myself of his
acquirements in what you very happily designate a most singular
language, towards obtaining a still greater proficiency in it. I
flatter myself that I am for one or two reasons tolerably well
adapted for the contemplated expedition, for besides a competent
knowledge of French and German, I possess some acquaintance with
Russian, being able to read without much difficulty any printed
Russian book, and I have little doubt that after a few months
intercourse with the natives, I should be able to speak it fluently.
It would ill become me to bargain like a Jew or a Gypsy as to terms;
all I wish to say on that point is, that I have nothing of my own,
having been too long dependent on an excellent mother, who is not
herself in very easy circumstances."

Whilst still waiting for the confirmation by the General Committee of
the Sub-Committee's resolution, which was favourable to Borrow, Mr
Jowett wrote to him (5th July), telling him how good were his
prospects; but warning him not to be too confident of success. The
Sub-Committee had recommended that Borrow's services should be
engaged that he might go to St Petersburg and assist Mr Lipovzoff in
editing St Luke and the Acts and any other portions of the New
Testament that it was thought desirable to publish in Manchu. Should
the Russian Government refuse to permit the work to be proceeded
with, Borrow was to occupy himself in assisting the Rev. Wm. Swan to
transcribe and collate the manuscript of the Old Testament in Manchu
that had recently come to light. At the same time, he was to seize
every opportunity that presented itself of perfecting himself in
Manchu. For this he was to receive a salary of two hundred pounds a
year to cover all expenses, save those of the journey to and from St
Petersburg, for which the Society was to be responsible. Borrow was
advised to think carefully over the proposal, and, if it should prove
attractive to him, to hold himself in readiness to start as soon as
the General Committee should approve of the recommendation that was
to be placed before it. In conclusion, Mr Jowett proceeded to
administer a gentle rebuke to the confident pride with which the
candidate indited his letters. Only a quotation can show the tact
with which the admonition was conveyed.

"Excuse me," wrote the Literary Superintendent, "if as a clergyman,
and your senior in years though not in talent, I venture, with the
kindest of motives, to throw out a hint which may not be without its
use. I am sure you will not be offended if I suggest that there is
occasionally a tone of confidence in speaking of yourself, which has
alarmed some of the excellent members of our Committee. It may have
been this feeling, more than once displayed before, which prepared
one or two of them to stumble at an expression in your letter of
yesterday, in which, till pointed out, I confess I was not struck
with anything objectionable, but at which, nevertheless, a humble
Christian might not unreasonably take umbrage. It is where you speak
of the prospect of becoming 'useful to the Deity, to man, and to
yourself.' Doubtless you meant the prospect of glorifying God."

Borrow had yet to learn the idiom of Earl Street, which he showed
himself most anxious to acquire. He clearly recognised that the
Bible Society required different treatment from the Army Pay Office,
or the Solicitor of the Treasury. It was accustomed to humility in
those it employed, and a trust in a higher power, and Borrow's self-
confident letters alarmed the members of the Committee. How
thoroughly Borrow appreciated what was required is shown in a letter
that he wrote to his mother from Russia, when anticipating the return
of his brother. "Should John return home," he warns her, "by no
means let him go near the Bible Society, for he would not do for

Borrow's reply to the Literary Superintendent's kindly worded
admonition was entirely satisfactory and "in harmony with the rule
laid down by Christ himself." It was something of a triumph, too,
for Mr Jowett to rebuke a man of such sensitiveness as Borrow,
without goading him to an impatient retort.

The meeting of the General Committee that was to decide upon Borrow's
future was held on 22nd July, and on the following day Mr Jowett
informed him that the recommendation of the Sub-Committee had been
adopted and confirmed, at the same time requesting him to be at Earl
Street on the morning of Friday, 26th July, that he might set out for
St Petersburg the following Tuesday. On 25th July Borrow took the
night coach to London. On the 29th he appeared before the Editorial
Sub-Committee and heard read the resolution of his appointment, and
drafts of letters recommending him to the Rev. Wm. Swan and Dr I. J.
Schmidt, a correspondent of the Society's in St Petersburg and a
member of the Russian Board of Censors. Finally, there was impressed
upon him "the necessity of confining himself closely to the one
object of his mission, carefully abstaining from mingling himself
with political or ecclesiastical affairs during his residence in
Russia. Mr Borrow assured them of his full determination religiously
to comply with this admonition, and to use every prudent method for
enlarging his acquaintance with the Manchu language." {104a}

The salary was to date from the day he embarked, and on account of
expenses to St Petersburg he drew the sum of 37 pounds. The actual
amount he expended was 27 pounds, 7s. 6d., according to the account
he submitted, which was dated 2nd October 1834. It is to be feared
that Borrow was not very punctual in rendering his accounts, as Mr
Brandram wrote to him (18th October 1837): --"I know you are no
accountant, but do not forget that there are some who are. My memory
was jogged upon this subject the other day, and I was expected to say
to you that a letter of figures would be acceptable."

It is not unnatural that those who remembered Borrow as one of
William Taylor's "harum-scarum" young men, who at one time intended
to "abuse religion and get prosecuted," should find in his
appointment as an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society a
subject for derisive mirth. Harriet Martineau's voice was heard well
above the rest. "When this polyglott gentleman appeared before the
public as a devout agent of the Bible Society in foreign parts," she
wrote, "there was one burst of laughter from all who remembered the
old Norwich days." {105a} Like hundreds of other men, Borrow had, in
youth, been led to somewhat hasty and ill-considered conclusions; but
this in itself does not seem to be sufficiently strong reason why he
should not change his views. Many young men pass through an
aggressively irreligious phase without suffering much harm. Harriet
Martineau was rather too precipitate in assuming that what a man
believes, or disbelieves, at twenty, he holds to at thirty; such a
view negatives the reformer. Perhaps the chief cause of the change
in Borrow's views was that he had touched the depths of failure.
Here was an opening that promised much. He was a diplomatist when it
suited his purpose, and if the old poison were not quite gone out of
his system, he would hide his wounds, or allow the secretaries to
bandage them with mild reproof.

Very different from the attitude of Harriet Martineau was that of
John Venning, an English merchant resident at Norwich and recently
returned from St Petersburg, where his charity and probity had placed
him in high favour with the Emperor and the Goverment officials. Mr
Venning gave Borrow letters of introduction to a number of
influential personages at St Petersburg, including Prince Alexander
Galitzin and Baron Schilling de Canstadt. Dr Bowring obtained a
letter from Lord Palmerston to someone whose name is not known.
There were letters of introduction from other hands, so that when he
was ready to sail Borrow found himself "loaded with letters of
recommendation to some of the first people in Russia. Mr Venning's
packet has arrived with letters to several of the Princes, so that I
shall be protected if I am seized as a spy; for the Emperor is
particularly cautious as to the foreigners whom he admits. It costs
2 pounds, 7s. 6d. merely for permission to go to Russia, which alone
is enough to deter most people." {106a}

Before leaving England, Borrow paid into his mother's account at her
bank the sum of seventeen pounds, an amount that she had advanced to
him either during his unproductive years, or on account of his
expenses in connection with the expedition to St Petersburg.


On 19th/31st July 1833 Borrow set out on a journey that was to some
extent to realise his ambitions. He was to be trusted and encouraged
and, what was most important of all, praised for what he
accomplished; for Borrow's was a nature that responded best to the
praise and entire confidence of those for whom he worked.

Travelling second class for reasons of economy, he landed at Hamburg
at seven in the morning of the fourth day, after having experienced
"a disagreeable passage of three days, in which I suffered much from
sea-sickness." {107a} Exhausted by these days of suffering and want
of sleep, the heat of the sun brought on "a transient fit of
delirium," {107b} in other words, an attack of the "Horrors." Two
fellow-passengers (Jews), with whom he had become acquainted,
conveyed him to a comfortable hotel, where he was visited by a
physician, who administered forty drops of laudanum, caused his head
to be swathed in wet towels, ordered him to bed, and charged a fee of
seven shillings. The result was that by the evening he had quite

One of Borrow's first duties was to write a lengthy letter to Mr
Jowett, telling him of his movements, describing the city, the
service at a church he attended, the lax morality of the Hamburgers
in permitting rope-dancers in the park, and the opening of dancing-
saloons, "most infamous places," on the Lord's day. "England, with
all her faults," he proceeds, "has still some regard to decency, and
will not tolerate such a shameless display of vice on so sacred a
season, when a decent cheerfulness is the freest form in which the
mind or countenance ought to invest themselves." In conclusion, he
announced his intention of leaving for Lubeck on the sixth, {108a}
and he would be on the Baltic two days later en route for St
Petersburg. "My next letter, provided it pleases the Almighty to
vouchsafe me a happy arrival, will be from the Russian capital." By
"a fervent request that you will not forget me in your prayers," he
demonstrated that Mr Jowett's hint had not been forgotten.

The distance between Hamburg and Lubeck is only about thirty miles,
yet it occupied Borrow thirteen hours, so abominable was the road,
which "was paved at intervals with huge masses of unhewn rock, and
over this pavement the carriage was very prudently driven at a
snail's pace; for, had anything approaching speed been attempted, the
entire demolition of the wheels in a few minutes must have been the
necessary result. No sooner had we quitted this terrible pavement
than we sank to our axle-trees in sand, mud, and water; for, to
render the journey perfectly delectable, the rain fell in torrents
and ceaselessly." {108b} The state of the road Borrow attributed to
the ill-nature of the King of Denmark, for immediately on leaving his
dominions it improved into an excellent carriageway.

On 28th July/9th August Borrow took steamer from Travemunde, and
three days later landed at St Petersburg. His first duty was to call
upon Mr Swan, whom he found "one of the most amiable and interesting
characters" he had ever met. The arrival of a coadjutor caused Mr
Swan considerable relief, as he had suffered in health in consequence
of his uninterrupted labours in transcribing the Manchu manuscript.

Borrow was enthusiastic in his admiration of the capital of "our dear
and glorious Russia." St Petersburg he considered "the finest city
in the world" {109a} other European capitals were unworthy of
comparison. The enormous palaces, the long, straight streets, the
grandeur of the public buildings, the noble Neva that flows
majestically through "this Queen of the cities," the three miles long
Nevsky Prospect, paved with wood; all aroused in him enthusiasm and
admiration. "In a word," he wrote to his mother, "I can do little
else but look and wonder." All that he had read and heard of the
capital of All the Russias had failed to prepare him for this scene
of splendour. The meeting and harmonious mixing of East and West
early attracted his attention. The Oriental cultivation of a twelve-
inch beard among the middle and lower classes, placed them in marked
contrast with the moustached or clean-shaven patricians and
foreigners. In short, Russia gripped hold of and warmed Borrow's
imagination. Here were new types, curious blendings of nationalities
unthought of and strange to him, a mine of wealth to a man whose
studies were never books, except when they helped him the better to
understand men.

Another thing that attracted him to Russia was the great kindness
with which he was received, both by the English Colony and the
natives: to the one he appealed by virtue of a common ancestry; to
the other, on account of his knowledge of the Russian tongue, not to
speak of his mission, which acted as a strong recommendation to their
favour. On his part Borrow reciprocated the esteem. If he were an
implacable enemy, he was also a good friend, and he thoroughly
appreciated the manner in which he was welcomed by his countrymen,
especially the invitation he received from one of them to make his
house his home until he found a suitable dwelling. To his mother he

"The Russians are the best-natured, kindest people in the world, and
though they do not know as much as the English [he was not referring
to the Colony], they have not their fiendish, spiteful dispositions,
and if you go amongst them and speak their language, however badly,
they would go through fire and water to do you a kindness." Later,
when in Portugal, he heartily wished himself "back in Russia . . .
where I had left cherished friends and warm affections."

High as was his opinion of the Russians, he was at a loss to
understand how they had earned their reputation as "the best general
linguists in the world." He found Russian absolutely necessary to
anyone who wished to make himself understood. French and German as
equivalents were of less value in St Petersburg than in England.

At first Borrow took up his residence "for nearly a fortnight in a
hotel, as the difficulty of procuring lodgings in this place is very
great, and when you have procured them you have to furnish them
yourself at a considerable expense . . . eventually I took up my
abode with Mr Egerton Hubbard, a friend of Mr Venning's [at 221
Galernoy Ulitza], where I am for the present very comfortably
situated." {110a} He stayed with Mr Hubbard for three months; but
was eventually forced to leave on account of constant interruptions,
probably by his fellow-boarders, in consequence of which he could
neither perform his task of transcription nor devote himself to
study. He therefore took a small lodging at a cost of nine shillings
a week, including fires, where he could enjoy quiet and solitude.
His meals he got at a Russian eating-house, dinner costing fivepence,
"consequently," he writes to his mother, "I am not at much expense,
being able to live for about sixty pounds a year and pay a Russian
teacher, who has five shillings for one lesson a week."

One of Borrow's earliest thoughts on arriving at St Petersburg had
been to present his letters of introduction. Within two days of
landing he called upon Prince Alexander Galitzin, {111a} accompanied
by his fellow-lodger, young Venning. One of the most important, and
at the same time useful, friendships that he made was with Baron
Schilling de Canstadt, the philologist and savant, who, later, with
his accustomed generosity, was to place his unique library at
Borrow's disposition. The Baron was one of the greatest bibliophiles
of his age, and possessed a collection of Eastern manuscripts and
other priceless treasures that was world-famous. He spared neither
expense nor trouble in procuring additions to his collection, which
after his death was acquired by the Imperial Academy of Science at St
Petersburg. In this literary treasure-house Borrow found facilities
for study such as he nowhere else could hope to obtain.

Another friendship that Borrow made was with John P. Hasfeldt, a man
of about his own age attached to the Danish Legation, who also gave
lessons in languages. Borrow seems to have been greatly attracted to
Hasfeldt, who wrote to him with such cordiality. It was Hasfeldt who
gave to Borrow as a parting gift the silver shekel that he invariably
carried about with him, and which caused him to be hailed as blessed
by the Gibraltar Jews.

In his letter Hasfeldt shows himself a delightful correspondent. His
generous camaraderie seemed to warm Borrow to response, as indeed
well it might. Who could resist the breezy good humour of the
following from a letter addressed to Borrow by Hasfeldt years later?

"Do you still eat Pike soup? Do you remember the time when you lived
on that dish for more than six weeks, and came near exterminating the
whole breed? And the pudding that accompanied it, that always lay as
hard as a stone on the stomach? This you surely have not forgotten.
Yes, your kitchen was delicately manipulated by Machmoud, your Tartar
servant, who only needed to give you horse-meat to have merited a
diploma. Do you still sing when you are in a good humour? Doubtless
you are not troubled with many friends to visit you, for you are not
of the sort who are easily understood, nor do you care to have
everyone understand you; you prefer to have people call you grey and
let you gae."

Other friends Borrow made, including Nikolai Ivanovitch Gretch,
{112a} the grammarian, and Friedrich von Adelung, {112b}} who
assisted him with the loan of books and MSS. in Oriental tongues.

The story of Borrow's labours in connection with the printing of the
Manchu version of the New Testament, forms a remarkable study of
unswerving courage and will-power triumphing over apparently
insurmountable obstacles. The mere presence of difficulties seemed
to increase his eagerness and determination to overcome them.
Disappointments he had in plenty; but his indomitable courage and
untiring energy, backed up by the earnest support he received from
Earl Street, enabled him to emerge from his first serious undertaking
with the knowledge that he had succeeded where failure would not have
been discreditable.

He threw himself into his work with characteristic eagerness. At the
end of the first two months he had transcribed the Second Book of
Chronicles and the Gospel of St Matthew. He formed a very high
opinion of the work of the translator, and took the opportunity of
paying a tribute to the followers of Ignatius Loyola (Father Puerot
was a Jesuit). "When," he writes, "did a Jesuit any thing which he
undertook, whether laudable or the reverse, not far better than any
other person?" yet they laboured in vain, for "they thought not of
His glory, but of the glory of their order." {113a}

Borrow discovered that Mr Lipovzoff knew nothing of the Bible
Society's scheme for printing the New Testament in Manchu; but he
found, what was of even greater importance to him, that the old man
knew no European language but Russian. Thus the frequent
conversations and explanations all tended to improve Borrow's
knowledge of the language of the people among whom he was living.

Mr Lipovzoff struck Borrow as being "rather a singular man," as he
took occasion to inform Mr Jowett, apparently utterly indifferent as
to the fate of his translation, excellent though it was. As a matter
of fact, Mr Lipovzoff was occupied with his own concerns, and, as an
official in the Russian Foreign Office, most likely saw the
inexpediency of a too eager enthusiasm for the Bible Society's
Manchu-Tartar programme. He was probably bewildered by the fierce
energy of its honest and compelling agent, who had descended upon St
Petersburg to do the Society's bidding with an impetuosity and
determination foreign to Russian official life. Borrow was on fire
with zeal and impatient of the apathy of those around him.

He soon began to show signs of that singleness of purpose and
resourcefulness that, later, was to arouse so much enthusiasm among
the members of the Bible Society at home. The transcribing and
collating Puerot's version of the Scriptures occupied the remainder
of the year. On the completion of this work, it had been arranged
that Mr Swan should return to his mission-station in Siberia. The
next step was to obtain official sanction to print the Lipovzoff
version of the New Testament. Dr Schmidt, to whom Borrow turned for
advice and information, was apparently very busily occupied with his
own affairs, which included the compilation of a Mongolian Grammar
and Dictionary. The Doctor was optimistic, and promised to make
enquiries about the steps to be taken to obtain the necessary
permission to print; but Borrow heard nothing further from him.

"Thus circumstanced, and being very uneasy in my mind," he writes, "I
determined to take a bold step, and directly and without further
feeling my way, to petition the Government in my own name for
permission to print the Manchu Scriptures. Having communicated this
determination to our beloved, sincere, and most truly Christian
friend Mr Swan (who has lately departed to his station in Siberia,
shielded I trust by the arm of his Master), it met with his perfect
approbation and cordial encouragement. I therefore drew up a
petition, and presented it with my own hand to His Excellence Mr
Bludoff, Minister of the Interior." {114a}

The minister made reply that he doubted his jurisdiction in the
matter; but that he would consider. Fearful lest the matter should
miscarry or be shelved, Borrow called on the evening of the same day
upon the British Minister, the Hon. J. D. Bligh, "a person of superb
talents, kind disposition, and of much piety," {114b} whose
friendship Borrow had "assiduously cultivated," and who had shown him
"many condescending marks of kindness." {114c} But Mr Bligh was out.
Nothing daunted, Borrow wrote a note entreating his interest with the
Russian officials. On calling for an answer in the morning, he was
received by Mr Bligh, when "he was kind enough to say that if I
desired it he would apply officially to the Minister, and exert all
his influence in his official character in order to obtain the
accomplishment of my views, but at the same time suggested that it
would, perhaps, be as well at a private interview to beg it as a
personal favour." {115a}

There was hesitation, perhaps suspicion, in official quarters. It is
easy to realise that the Government was not eager to assist the agent
of an institution closely allied to the Russian Bible Society, which
it had recently been successful in suppressing. It might with
impunity suppress a Society; but in George Borrow it soon became
evident that the officials had to deal with a man of purpose and
determination who used a British Minister as a two-edged sword.
Borrow was invited to call at the Asiatic Department: he did so, and
learned that if permission were granted, Mr Lipovzoff (who was a
clerk in the Department) was to be censor (over his own translation!)
and Borrow editor. There was still the "If." Borrow waited a
fortnight, then called on Mr Bligh. By great good chance Mr Bludoff
was dining that evening with the British Minister. The same night
Borrow received a message requesting him to call on Mr Bludoff the
next day. On presenting himself he was given a letter to the
Director of Worship, which he delivered without delay, and was told
to call again on the first day of the following week.

THE MANCHU SCRIPTURE." {115b} Baron Schilling had rendered some
assistance in getting the permission, and Borrow was requested to
inform him of "the deep sense of obligation" of the Bible Society, to
which was added a present of some books.

Borrow clearly viewed this as only a preliminary success; he had in
mind the eventual printing of the whole Bible. He was beginning to
feel conscious of his own powers. Mr Swan had gone, and upon
Borrow's shoulders rested the whole enterprise. A mild wave of
enthusiasm passed over the Head Office at Earl Street on receipt of
the news that permission to print had been obtained.

"You cannot conceive," Borrow wrote to Mr Jowett, "the cold,
heartless apathy in respect to the affair, on which I have been
despatched hither as an ASSISTANT, which I have found in people to
whom I looked not unreasonably for encouragement and advice." {116a}
Well might he underline the word "assistant." In this same letter,
with a spasmodic flicker of the old self-confidence, he adds, "In
regard to what we have yet to do, let it be borne in mind, that we
are by no means dependent upon Mr Lipovzoff, though certainly to
secure the services, which he is capable of performing, would be
highly desirable, and though he cannot act outwardly in the character
of Editor (he having been appointed censor), he may privately be of
great utility to us." Borrow seems to have formed no very high
opinion of Mr Lipovzoff's capacity for affairs, although he
recognised his skill as a translator.

At first Borrow seems to have found the severity of the winter very
trying. "The cold when you go out into it," he writes to his mother
(1st/13th Feb. 1834), "cuts your face like a razor, and were you not
to cover it with furs the flesh would be bitten off. The rooms in
the morning are heated with a stove as hot as ovens, and you would
not be able to exist in one for a minute; but I have become used to
them and like them much, though at first they made me dreadfully sick
and brought on bilious headaches."

There was still at the Sarepta House, the premises of the Bible
Society's bankers in St Petersburg, the box of Manchu type, which had
not been examined since the river floods. In addition to this, the
only other Manchu characters in St Petersburg belonged to Baron
Schilling, who possessed a small fount of the type, which he used
"for the convenience of printing trifles in that tongue," as Borrow
phrased it. This was to be put at Borrow's disposal if necessary;
but first the type at the Sarepta House had to be examined. Borrow's
plan was, provided the type were not entirely ruined, to engage the
services of a printer who was accustomed to setting Mongolian
characters, which are very similar to those of Manchu, who would, he
thought, be competent to undertake the work. He suggested following
the style of the St Matthew's Gospel already printed, giving to each
Gospel and the Acts a volume and printing the Epistles and the
Apocalypse in three more, making eight volumes in all.

These he proposed putting "in a small thin wooden case, covered with
blue stuff, precisely after the manner of Chinese books, in order
that they may not give offence to the eyes of the people for whom
they are intended by a foreign and unusual appearance, for the mere
idea that they are barbarian books would certainly prevent them being
read, and probably cause their destruction if ever they found their
way into the Chinese Empire." {117a} Borrow left nothing to chance;
he thought out every detail with great care before venturing to put
his plans into execution.

Although busily occupied in an endeavour to stimulate Russian
government officials to energy and decision, Borrow was not
neglecting what had been so strongly urged upon him, the perfecting
of himself in the Manchu dialect. In reply to an enquiry from Mr
Jowett as to what manner of progress he was making, he wrote

"For some time past I have taken lessons from a person who was
twelve years in Pekin, and who speaks Manchu and Chinese with
fluency. I pay him about six shillings English for each lesson,
which I grudge not, for the perfect acquirement of Manchu is one of
my most ardent wishes." {118a}

This person Borrow subsequently recommended to the Society "to assist
me in making a translation into Manchu of the Psalms and Isaiah," but
the pundit proved "of no utility at all, but only the cause of

Borrow was soon able to transcribe the Manchu characters with greater
facility and speed than he could English. In addition to being able
to translate from and into Manchu, he could compose hymns in the
language, and even prepared a Manchu rendering of the second Homily
of the Church of England, "On the Misery of Man." He had, however,
made the discovery that Manchu was far less easy to him than it had
at first appeared, and that Amyot was to some extent justified in his
view of the difficulties it presented. "It is one of those deceitful
tongues," he confesses in a letter to Mr Jowett, "the seeming
simplicity of whose structure induces you to suppose, after applying
to it for a month or two, that little more remains to be learned, but
which, should you continue to study a year, as I have studied this,
show themselves to you in their veritable colours, amazing you with
their copiousness, puzzling with their idioms."{118b} Its
difficulties, however, did not discourage him; for he had a great
admiration for the language which "for majesty and grandeur of sound,
and also for general copiousness is unequalled by any existing
tongue." {118c}

However great his exertions or discouragements, Borrow never forgot
his mother, to whom he was a model son. On 1st/13th February he sent
her a draft for twenty pounds, being the second since his arrival six
months previously. Thus out of his first half-year's salary of a
hundred pounds, he sent to his mother forty pounds (in addition to
the seventeen pounds he had paid into her account before sailing),
and with it a promise that "next quarter I shall try and send you
thirty," lest in the recent storms of which he had heard, some of her
property should have suffered damage and be in need of repair. The
larger remittance, however, he was unable to make on account of the
illness that had necessitated the drinking of a bottle of port wine
each day (by doctor's orders); but he was punctual in remitting the
twenty pounds. The attack which required so drastic a remedy
originated in a chill caught as the ice was breaking up. "I went
mad," he tells his mother, "and when the fever subsided, I was seized
with the 'Horrors,' which never left me day or night for a week."
{119a} During this illness everyone seems to have been extremely
kind and attentive, the Emperor's apothecary, even, sending word that
Borrow was to order of him anything, medical or otherwise, that he
found himself in need of.


Borrow had at last found work that was thoroughly congenial to him.
It was not in his nature to exist outside his occupations, and his
whole personality became bound up in the mission upon which he was
engaged. Not content with preparing the way for printing the New
Testament in Manchu, he set himself the problem of how it was to be
distributed when printed. He foresaw serious obstacles to its
introduction into China, on account of the suspicion with which was
regarded any and everything European. With a modest disclaimer that
his suggestion arose "from a plenitude of self-conceit and a
disposition to offer advice upon all matters, however far they may be
above my understanding," he proceeds to deal with the difficulties of
distribution with great clearness.

To send the printed books to Canton, to be distributed by English
missionaries, he thought would be productive of very little good, nor
would it achieve the object of the Society, to distribute copies at
seaports along the coasts, because it was unlikely that there would
be many Tartars or people there who understood Manchu. There was a
further obstacle in the suspicion in which the Chinese held all
things English. On the other hand, he tells Mr Jowett,

"there is a most admirable opening for the work on the Russian side
of the Chinese Empire. About five thousand miles from St Petersburg,
on the frontiers of Chinese Tartary, and only nine hundred miles
distant from Pekin, the seat of the Tartar Monarchy, stands the town
of Kiakhta, {121a} which properly belongs to Russia, but the
inhabitants of which are a medley of Tartary, Chinese, and Russ
(sic). As far as this town a Russian or foreigner is permitted to
advance, but his further progress is forbidden, and if he make the
attempt he is liable to be taken up as a spy or deserter, and sent
back under guard. This town is the emporium of Chinese and Russian
trade. Chinese caravans are continually arriving and returning,
bringing and carrying away articles of merchandise. There are
likewise a Chinese and a Tartar Mandarin, also a school where Chinese
and Tartar are taught, and where Chinese and Tartar children along
with Russian are educated." {121b}

The advantages of such a town as a base of operations were obvious.
Borrow was convinced that he could dispose "of any quantity of
Testaments to the Chinese merchants who arrive thither from Pekin and
other places, and who would be glad to purchase them on speculation."

Russia and China were friendly to each other, so much so, that there
was at Pekin a Russian mission, the only one of its kind. These good
relations rendered Borrow confident that books from Russia,
especially books which had not an outlandish appearance, would be
purchased without scruple. "In a word, were an agent for the Bible
Society to reside at this town [Kiakhta] for a year or so, it is my
humble opinion, and the opinion of much wiser people, that if he were
active, zealous and likewise courageous, the blessings resulting from
his labours would be incalculable." {121d}

He might even make excursions into Tartary, and become friendly with
the inhabitants, and eventually perhaps, "with a little management
and dexterity," he might "penetrate even to Pekin, and return in
safety, after having examined the state of the land. I can only say
that if it were my fortune to have the opportunity, I would make the
attempt, and should consider myself only to blame if I did not
succeed." Borrow was to revert to this suggestion on many occasions,
in fact it seems to have been in his mind during the whole period of
his association with the Bible Society.

Acting upon instructions from Earl Street, Borrow proceeded to find
out the approximate cost of printing the Manchu New Testament. He
early discovered that in Russia "the wisdom of the serpent is quite
as necessary as the innocence of the dove," as he took occasion to
inform Mr Jowett. The Russians rendered him estimates of cost as if
of the opinion that "Englishmen are made of gold, and that it is only
necessary to ask the most extravagant price for any article in order
to obtain it."

In St Petersburg Borrow was taken for a German, a nation for which he
cherished a cordial dislike. This mistake as to nationality,
however, did not hinder the Russian tradesmen from asking exorbitant
prices for their services or their goods. At first Borrow "was quite
terrified at the enormous sums which some of the printers . . .
required for the work." At length he applied to the University
Press, which asked 30 roubles 60 copecks (24s. 8d.) per sheet of two
pages for composition and printing. A young firm of German printers,
Schultz & Beneze, was, however, willing to undertake the same work at
the rate of 12.5 roubles (10s.) per two sheets.

In contracting for the paper Borrow showed himself quite equal to the
commercial finesse of the Russian. He scoured the neighbourhood
round St Petersburg in a calash at a cost of about four pounds.
Russian methods of conducting business are amazing to the English
mind. At Peterhof, a town about twenty miles out of St Petersburg,
he found fifty reams of a paper such as he required. "Concerning the
price of this paper," he writes, "I could obtain no positive
information, for the Director and first and second clerks were
invariably absent, and the place abandoned to ignorant understrappers
(according to the custom of Russia). And notwithstanding I found out
the Director in St Petersburg, he himself could not tell me the
price." {123a}

Eventually 75 roubles (3 pounds) a ream was quoted for the stock, and
100 roubles (4 pounds) a ream for any further quantity required.
Thus the paper for a thousand copies would run to 40,000 roubles
(1600 pounds), or 32s. a copy. Borrow found that the law of commerce
prevalent in the East was that adopted in St Petersburg. A price is
named merely as a basis of negotiation, and the customer beats it
down to a figure that suits him, or he goes elsewhere. Borrow was a
master of such methods. The sum he eventually paid for the paper was
25 roubles (1 pound) a ream! Of all these negotiations he kept Mr
Jowett well informed. By June he had received from Earl Street the
official sanction to proceed, together with a handsome remittance.

For some time past Borrow had been anxious on account of his brother
John. On 9th/21st November, he had written to his mother telling her
to write to John urging him to come home at once, as he had seen in
the Russian newspapers how the town of Guanajuato had been taken and
sacked by the rebels, and also that cholera was ravaging Mexico.
Later {123b} he tells her of that nice house at Lakenham, {123c}
which he means to buy, and how John can keep a boat and amuse himself
on the river, and adds, "I dare say I shall continue for a long time
with the Bible Society, as they see that I am useful to them and can
be depended upon."

On the day following that on which Borrow wrote asking his mother to
urge his brother to return home, viz., 10th/22nd November, John died.
He was taken ill suddenly in the morning and passed away the same

In February 1832 John Borrow had, much against the advice of his
friends, left the United Mexican Company, which he had become
associated with the previous year. He was of a restless disposition,
never content with what he was doing. Thinking he could better
himself, and having saved a few hundred dollars, he resigned his
post. He appears soon to have discovered his mistake. First he
indulged in an unfortunate speculation, by which he was a
considerable loser, then cholera broke out. Without a thought of
himself he turned nurse and doctor, witnessing terrible scenes of
misery and death and ministering to the poor with an energy and
humanity that earned for him the admiration of the whole township.
Finally, finding himself in serious financial difficulties, he
entered the service of the Colombian Mining Company, and was to be
sent to Colombia "for the purpose of introducing the Mexican system
of beneficiating there." It only remained for the agreement to be
signed, when he was taken ill.

In the letter in which she tells George of their loss, Mrs Borrow
expresses fear that he does "not live regular. When you find
yourself low," she continues, "take a little wine, but not too much
at one time; it will do you the more good; I find that by myself."
Her solicitude for George's health is easily understandable. He is
now her "only hope," as she pathetically tells him. "Do not grieve,
my dear George," she proceeds tenderly, "I trust we shall all meet in
heaven. Put a crape on your hat for some time."

George wrote immediately to acknowledge his mother's letter
containing the news of John's death, which had given him "the
severest stroke I ever experienced. It [the letter] quite stunned
me, and since reading its contents I have done little else but moan
and lament . . . O that our darling John had taken the advice which I
gave him nearly three years since, to abandon that horrid country and
return to England! . . . Would that I had died for him! for I loved
him dearly, dearly." Borrow's affection for his bright and
attractive brother is everywhere manifest in his writings. He never
showed the least jealousy when his father held up his first-born as a
model to the strange and incomprehensible younger son. His love for
and admiration of John were genuine and deep-rooted. In the same
letter he goes on to assure his mother that he was never better in
his life, and that experience teaches him how to cure his disorders.
"The 'Horrors,' for example. Whenever they come I must drink strong
Port wine, and then they are stopped instantly. But do not think
that I drink habitually, for you ought to know that I abhor drink.
The 'Horrors' are brought on by weakness."

He goes on to reassure his mother as to the care he takes of himself,
telling her that he has three meals a day, although, as a rule,
dinner is a poor one, "for the Russians, in the first place, are very
indifferent cooks, and the meat is very bad, as in fact are almost
all the provisions." The fish is without taste, Russian salmon
having less savour than English skate; the fowls are dry because no
endeavour is made to fatten them, and the "mutton stinks worst than
carrion, for they never cut the wool."

With great thought and tenderness he tells her that he wishes her "to
keep a maid, for I do not like that you should live alone. Do not
take one of the wretched girls of Norwich," he advises her, but
rather the daughter of one of her tenants. "What am I working for
here and saving money, unless it is for your comfort? for I assure
you that to make you comfortable is my greatest happiness, almost my
only one." Urging her to keep up her spirits and read much of the
things that interest her, he concludes with a warning to her not to
pay any debts contracted by John. {126a} The letter concludes with
the postscript: "I have got the crape."

In July 1834 Borrow again changed his quarters, taking an unfurnished
floor, {126b} at the same time hiring a Tartar servant named Mahmoud,
{126c} "the best servant I ever had." {126d} The wages he paid this
prince of body-servants was thirty shillings a month, out of which
Mahmoud supplied himself "with food and everything." Borrow's reason
for making this change in his lodgings was that he wanted more room
than he had, and furnished apartments were very expensive. The
actual furnishing was not a very costly matter to a man of Borrow's
simple wants; for the expenditure of seven pounds he provided himself
with all he required.

After the letter of 27th June/9th July the Bible Society received no
further news of what was taking place in St Petersburg. Week after
week passed without anything being heard of its Russian agent's
movements or activities. On 25th September/7th October Mr Jowett
wrote an extremely moderate letter beseeching Borrow to remember "the
very lively interest" taken by the General Committee in the printing
of the Manchu version of the New Testament; that people were asking,
"What is Mr Borrow doing?" that the Committee stands between its
agents and an eager public, desirous of knowing the trials and
tribulations, the hopes and fears of those actively engaged in
printing or disseminating the Scriptures. "You can have no
difficulty," he continues, "in furnishing me with such monthly
information as may satisfy the Committee that they are not expending
a large sum of money in vain." There was also a request for
information as to how "some critical difficulty has been surmounted
by the translator, or editor, or both united, not to mention the
advance already made in actual printing." On 1st/13th Oct. Borrow
had written a brief letter giving an account of his disbursements
during the journey to St Petersburg FIFTEEN MONTHS PREVIOUSLY; but he
made no mention of what was taking place with regard to the printing.

The letter in which Borrow replied to Mr Jowett is probably the most
remarkable he ever wrote. It presents him in a light that must have
astonished those who had been so eager to ridicule his appointment as
an agent of the Bible Society. The letter runs:-

8th [20th] October 1834.

I have just received your most kind epistle, the perusal of which has
given me both pain and pleasure--pain that from unavoidable
circumstances I have been unable to gratify eager expectation, and
pleasure that any individual should have been considerate enough to
foresee my situation and to make allowance for it. The nature of my
occupations during the last two months and a half has been such as
would have entirely unfitted me for correspondence, had I been aware
that it was necessary, which, on my sacred word, I was not. Now, and
only now, when by the blessing of God I have surmounted all my
troubles and difficulties, I will tell, and were I not a Christian I
should be proud to tell, what I have been engaged upon and
accomplished during the last ten weeks. I have been working in the
printing-office, as a common compositor, between ten and thirteen
hours every day during that period; the result of this is that St
Matthew's Gospel, printed from such a copy as I believe nothing was
ever printed from before, has been brought out in the Manchu
language; two rude Esthonian peasants, who previously could barely
compose with decency in a plain language which they spoke and were
accustomed to, have received such instruction that with ease they can
each compose at the rate of a sheet a day in the Manchu, perhaps the
most difficult language for composition in the whole world.
Considerable progress has also been made in St Mark's Gospel, and I
will venture to promise, provided always the Almighty smiles upon the
undertaking, that the entire work of which I have the superintendence
will be published within eight months from the present time. Now,
therefore, with the premise that I most unwillingly speak of myself
and what I have done and suffered for some time past, all of which I
wished to keep locked up in my own breast, I will give a regular and
circumstantial account of my proceedings from the day when I received
your letter, by which I was authorised by the Committee to bespeak
paper, engage with a printer, and cause our type to be set in order.

My first care was to endeavour to make suitable arrangements for the
obtaining of Chinese paper. Now those who reside in England, the
most civilised and blessed of countries, where everything is to be
obtained at a fair price, have not the slightest idea of the anxiety
and difficulty which, in a country like this, harass the foreigner
who has to disburse money not his own, if he wish that his employers
be not shamefully and outrageously imposed upon. In my last epistle
to you I stated that I had been asked 100 roubles per ream for such
paper as we wanted. I likewise informed you that I believed that it
was possible to procure it for 35 roubles, notwithstanding our
Society had formerly paid 40 roubles for worse paper than the samples
I was in possession of. Now I have always been of opinion that in
the expending of money collected for sacred purposes, it behoves the
agent to be extraordinarily circumspect and sparing. I therefore was
determined, whatever trouble it might cost me, to procure for the
Society unexceptionable paper at a yet more reasonable rate than 35
roubles. I was aware that an acquaintance of mine, a young Dane, was
particularly intimate with one of the first printers of this city,
who is accustomed to purchase vast quantities of paper every month
for his various publications. I gave this young gentleman a specimen
of the paper I required, and desired him (he was under obligations to
me) to inquire of his friend, AS IF FROM CURIOSITY, the least
possible sum per ream at which THE PRINTER HIMSELF (who from his
immense demand for paper should necessarily obtain it cheaper than
any one else) could expect to purchase the article in question. The
answer I received within a day or two was 25 roubles. Upon hearing
this I prevailed upon my acquaintance to endeavour to persuade his
friend to bespeak the paper at 25 roubles, and to allow me,
notwithstanding I was a perfect stranger, to have it at that price.
All this was brought about. I was introduced to the printer, Mr
Pluchard, by the Dane, Mr Hasfeldt, and between the former gentleman
and myself a contract was made to the effect that by the end of
October he should supply me with 450 reams of Chinese paper at 25
roubles per ream, the first delivery to be made on the 1st of August;
for as my order given at an advanced period of the year, when all the
paper manufactories were at full work towards the executing of orders
already received, it was but natural that I should verify the old
apophthegm, 'Last come, last served.' As no orders are attended to
in Russia unless money be advanced upon them, I deposited in the
hands of Mr Pluchard the sum of 2000 roubles, receiving his receipt
for that amount.

Having arranged this most important matter to my satisfaction, I
turned my attention to the printing process. I accepted the offer of
Messrs Schultz & Beneze to compose and print the Manchu Testament at
the rate of 25 roubles per sheet [of four pages], and caused our
fount of type to be conveyed to their office. I wish to say here a
few words respecting the state in which these types came into my
possession. I found them in a kind of warehouse, or rather cellar.
They had been originally confined in two cases; but these having
burst, the type lay on the floor trampled amidst mud and filth. They
were, moreover, not improved by having been immersed within the
waters of the inundation of '27 [1824]. I caused them all to be


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