The Life of George Borrow
Herbert Jenkins

Part 7 out of 9

I ever married one of them,'--I hope and trust you will not cancel
the paper, for we can't afford to lose a scrap of your queer sparkle
and 'thousand bright daughters circumvolving.' I have recommended
its insertion in Blackwood, Fraser, or some of those clever
Magazines, who will be overjoyed to get such a hand as yours, and I
will bet any man 5 pounds that your paper will be the most popular of
all they print."

It is evident that Ford was genuinely distressed, and in his anxiety
to be loyal to his friend rather overdid it. His letter has an air
of patronage that the writer certainly never intended. The
outstanding feature is its absolute selflessness. Ford never seems
to think of himself, or that Borrow might have made a concession to
their friendship. Happy Ford! The unfortunate episode estranged
Borrow from Ford. Letters between them became less and less frequent
and finally ceased altogether, although Borrow did not forget to send
to his old friend a copy of Lavengro when it appeared.

Worries seemed to rain down upon Borrow's head about this time.
Samuel Morton Peto (afterwards Sir Samuel) had decided to enrich
Lowestoft by improving the harbour and building a railway to Reedham,
about half-way between Yarmouth and Norwich. He was authorised by
Parliament and duly constructed his line, which not even Borrow's
anger could prevent from passing through the Oulton Estate, between
the Hall and the Cottage. Borrow could not fight an Act of
Parliament, which forced him to cross a railway bridge on his way to
church; but he never forgave the man who had contrived it, or his
millions. His first thought had been to fly before the invader. All
quiet would be gone from the place. "Sell and be off," advised Ford;
"I hope you will make the railway pay dear for its whistle," quietly
observed John Murray. At first Borrow was inclined to take Ford's
advice and settle abroad; but subsequently relinquished the idea.

He was not, however, the man quietly to sit down before what he
conceived to be an unjustifiable outrage to his right to be quiet.
He never forgave railways, although forced sometimes to make use of
them. Samuel Morton Peto became to him the embodiment of evil, and
as "Mr Flamson flaming in his coach with a million" he is
immortalised in The Romany Rye.

It is said that Sir Samuel boasted that he had made more than the
price he had paid for Borrow's land out of the gravel he had taken
from off it. On one occasion, after he had bought Somerleyton Hall,
happening to meet Borrow, he remarked that he never called upon him,
and Borrow remembering the boast replied, "I call on you! Do you
think I don't read my Shakespeare? Do you think I don't know all
about those highwaymen Bardolph and Peto?" {372a}

The neighbourhood of Oulton appears to have been infested with
thieves, and poachers found admirable "cover" in the surrounding
plantations, or small woods. On several occasions Borrow himself had
been attacked at night on the highway between Lowestoft and Oulton.
Once he had even been shot at and nearly overpowered. John Murray
(the Second) on hearing of one of these assaults had written (1841)
artfully enquiring, "Were your wood thieves Gypsies, and have the
Cales got notice of your publication [The Zincali]?"

Borrow had written to John Murray, Junr. (10th May 1842):-

"I have been dreadfully unwell since I last heard from you--a regular
nervous attack. At present I have a bad cough, caught by getting up
at night in pursuit of poachers and thieves. A horrible
neighbourhood this--not a magistrate dares do his duty." On 18th
September 1843 he again wrote to John Murray: "One of the
Magistrates in this district is just dead. Present my compliments to
Mr Gladstone and tell him that the The Bible in Spain would have no
objection to become 'a great unpaid!'"

Gladstone is said greatly to have admired The Bible in Spain, even to
the extent of writing to John Murray counselling him to have amended
a passage that he considered ill-advised. Gladstone's letter was
sent on to Borrow, and he acknowledges its receipt (6th November
1843) in the following terms:-

"Many thanks for the perusal of Mr Gladstone's letter. I esteem it a
high honour that so distinguished a man should take sufficient
interest in a work of mine as to suggest any thing in emendation. I
can have no possible objection to modify the passage alluded to. It
contains some strong language, particularly the sentence about the
scarlet Lady, which it would be perhaps as well to omit."

The offending passage was that in which Borrow says, when describing
the interior of the Mosque at Tangier: "I looked around for the
abominable thing, and found it not; no scarlet strumpet with a crown
of false gold sat nursing an ugly changeling in a niche." In later
editions the words "no scarlet strumpet," etc., were changed to "the
besetting sin of the pseudo-Christian Church did not stare me in the
face in every corner."

The amendment was little likely to please a Churchman of Gladstone's
calibre, or procure for the writer the magistracy he coveted, even if
it had been made less grudgingly. "We must not make any further
alterations here," Borrow wrote to Murray a few days later,
"otherwise the whole soliloquy, which is full of vigor and poetry,
and moreover of TRUTH, would be entirely spoiled. As it is, I cannot
help feeling that [it] is considerably damaged." There seems very
little doubt that this passage was referred to in the letter that
John Murray encloses in his of 10th July 18431 with this reference:
"(The writer of the enclosed note is a worthy canon of St Paul's, and
has evidently seen only the 1st edition)." Borrow replied:-

"Pray present my best respects to the Canon of St Paul's and tell him
from me that he is a burro, which meaneth Jackass, and that I wish he
would mind his own business, which he might easily do by attending a
little more to the accommodation of the public in his ugly

Borrow appears to have set his mind on becoming a magistrate. He had
written to Lockhart (November 1843) enquiring how he had best proceed
to obtain such an appointment. Lockhart was not able to give him any
very definite information, his knowledge of such things, as he
confessed, "being Scotch." For the time being the matter was allowed
to drop, to be revived in 1847 by a direct application from Borrow to
Lord Clarendon to support his application with the Lord Chancellor.
His claims were based upon (1) his being a large landed-proprietor in
the district (Mrs Borrow had become the owner of the Oulton Hall
Estate during the previous year); (2) the fact that the neighbourhood
was over-run with thieves and undesirable characters; (3) that there
was no magistrate residing in the district. Lord Clarendon promised
his good offices, but suggested that as all such appointments were
made through the Lord-Lieutenant of the County, the Earl of
Stradbroke had better be acquainted with what was taking place. This
was done through the Hon. Wm. Rufus Rous, Lord Stradbroke's brother,
whose interest was obtained by some of Borrow's friends.

After a delay of two months, Lord Stradbroke wrote to Lord Clarendon
that he was quite satisfied with "the number and efficiency of the
Magistrates" and also with the way in which the Petty Sessions were
attended. He could hear of no complaint, and when the time came to
increase the number of J.P.'s, he would be pleased to add Borrow's
name to the list, provided he were advised to do so by "those
gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood, who, living on terms of
intimacy with them [the Magistrates], will be able to maintain that
union of good feeling which . . . exists in all our benches of Petty

Borrow would have made a good magistrate, provided the offender were
not a gypsy. He would have caused the wrong-doer more fear the
instrument of the law rather than the law itself, and some of his
sentences might possibly have been as summary as those of Judge

"It was a fine thing," writes a contemporary, "to see the great man
tackle a tramp. Then he scented the battle from afar, bearing down
on the enemy with a quivering nostril. If the nomad happened to be a
gypsy he was courteously addressed. But were he a mere native
tatterdemalion, inclined to be truculent, Borrow's coat was off in a
moment, and the challenge to decide there and then who was the better
man flung forth. I have never seen such challenges accepted, for
Borrow was robust and towering." {375a}

It is not strange that Borrow's application failed; for he never
refused leave to the gypsies to camp upon his land, and would
sometimes join them beside their campfires. Once he took a guest
with him after dinner to where the gypsies were encamped. They
received Borrow with every mark of respect. Presently he "began to
intone to them a song, written by him in Romany, which recounted all
their tricks and evil deeds. The gypsies soon became excited; then
they began to kick their property about, such as barrels and tin
cans; then the men began to fight and the women to part them; an
uproar of shouts and recriminations set in, and the quarrel became so
serious that it was thought prudent to quit the scene." {376a} "In
nothing can the character of a people be read with greater certainty
and exactness than in its songs," {376b} Borrow had written. {376c}

These disappointments tended to embitter Borrow, who saw in them only
a conspiracy against him. There is little doubt that Lord
Stradbroke's enquiries had revealed some curious gossip concerning
the Master of Oulton Hall, possibly the dispute with his rector over
the inability of their respective dogs to live in harmony; perhaps
even the would-be magistrate's predilection for the society of
gypsies, and his profound admiration for "the Fancy" had reached the
Lord-Lieutenant's ears.

The unfortunate and somewhat mysterious dispute with Dr Bowring was
another anxiety that Borrow had to face. He had once remarked, "It's
very odd, Bowring, that you and I have never had a quarrel." {376d}
In the summer of 1842 he and Bowring seem to have been on excellent
terms. Borrow wrote asking for the return of the papers and
manuscripts that had remained in Bowring's hands since 1829, when the
Songs of Scandinavia was projected, as Borrow hoped to bring out
during the ensuing year a volume entitled Songs of Denmark. The
cordiality of the letter may best be judged by the fact that in it he
announces his intention of having a copy of the forthcoming Bible in
Spain sent "to my oldest, I may say my ONLY friend."

In 1847 Bowring wrote to Borrow enquiring as to the Russian route
through Kiakhta, and asking if he could put him in the way of
obtaining the information for the use of a Parliamentary Committee
then enquiring into England's commercial relations with China.
Borrow's reply is apparently no longer in existence; but it drew from
Bowring another letter raising a question as to whether "'two hundred
merchants are allowed to visit Pekin every three years.' Are you
certain this is in practice now? Have you ever been to Kiakhta?" It
would appear from Bowring's "if summoned, your expenses must be paid
by the public," that Borrow had suggested giving evidence before the
Committee, hence Bowring's question as to whether Borrow could speak
from personal knowledge of Kiakhta.

Borrow's claim against Bowring is that after promising to use all his
influence to get him appointed Consul at Canton, he obtained the post
for himself, passing off as his own the Manchu-Tartar New Testament
that Borrow had edited in St Petersburg. There is absolutely no
other evidence than that contained in Borrow's Appendix to The Romany
Rye. There is very little doubt that Bowring was a man who had no
hesitation in seizing everything that presented itself and turning
it, as far as possible, to his own uses. In this he was doing what
most successful men have done and will continue to do. He had been
kind to Borrow, and had helped him as far as lay in his power. He no
doubt obtained all the information he could from Borrow, as he would
have done from anyone else; but he never withheld his help. It has
been suggested that he really did mention Borrow as a candidate for
the Consulship and later, when in financial straits and finding that
Borrow had no chance of obtaining it, accepted Lord Palmerston's
offer of the post for himself. It is, however, idle to speculate
what actually happened. What resulted was that Bowring as the "Old
Radical" took premier place in the Appendix-inferno that closed The
Romany Rye. {378a}

Fate seemed to conspire to cause Borrow chagrin. Early in 1847 it
came to his knowledge that there were in existence some valuable
Codices in certain churches and convents in the Levant. In
particular there was said to be an original of the Greek New
Testament, supposed to date from the fourth century, which had been
presented to the convent on Mount Sinai by the Emperor Justinian.
Borrow received information of the existence of the treasure, and
also a hint that with a little address, some of these priceless
manuscripts might be secured to the British Nation. It was even
suggested that application might be made to the Government by the
Trustees of the British Museum. {378b} Borrow's reply to this was an
intimation that if requested to do so he would willingly undertake
the mission. Nothing, however, came of the project, and the
remainder of the manuscript of the Greek Testament (part of it had
been acquired in 1843 by Tischendorf) was presented by the monks to
Alexander II. and it is now in the Imperial Library at St Petersburg.

The information as to the existence of the manuscripts, it is
alleged, was given to the Museum Trustees by the Hon. Robert Curzon,
who had travelled much in Egypt and the Holy Land. It was certainly
no fault of his that the mission was not sent out, and Borrow's
subsequent antagonism to him and his family is difficult to
understand and impossible to explain.

Borrow had achieved literary success: before the year 1847 The
Zincali was in its Fourth Edition (nearly 10,000 copies having been
printed) and The Bible in Spain had reached its Eighth Edition
(nearly 20,000 copies having been printed). He was an unqualified
success; yet he had been far happier when distributing Testaments in
Spain. The greyness and inaction of domestic life, even when
relieved by occasional excursions with Sidi Habismilk and the Son of
the Miracle, were irksome to his temperament, ever eager for
occupation and change of scene. He was like a war-horse champing his
bit during times of peace.

"Why did you send me down six copies [of The Zincali]?" he bursts out
in a letter to John Murray (29th Jan. 1846). "Whom should I send
them to? Do you think I have six friends in the world? Two I have
presented to my wife and daughter (in law). I shall return three to
you by the first opportunity."

In 1847, through the Harveys, he became acquainted with Dr Thomas
Gordon Hake, who was in practice at Brighton 1832-37 and at Bury St
Edmunds 1839-53, and who was also a poet. The two families visited
each other, and Dr Hake has left behind him some interesting stories
about, and valuable impressions of, Borrow. Dr Hake shows clearly
that he did not allow his friendship to influence his judgment when
in his Memoirs he described Borrow as

"one of those whose mental powers are strong, and whose bodily frame
is yet stronger--a conjunction of forces often detrimental to a
literary career, in an age of intellectual predominance. His temper
was good and bad; his pride was humility; his humility was pride; his
vanity in being negative, was one of the most positive kind. He was
reticent and candid, measured in speech, with an emphasis that made
trifles significant." {379a}

This rather laboured series of paradoxes quite fails to give a
convincing impression of the man. A much better idea of Borrow is to
be found in a letter (1847) by a fellow-guest at a breakfast given by
the Prussian Ambassador. He writes that there was present

"the amusing author of The Bible in Spain, a man who is remarkable
for his extraordinary powers as a linguist, and for the originality
of his character, not to speak of the wonderful adventures he
narrates, and the ease and facility with which he tells them. He
kept us laughing a good part of breakfast time by the oddity of his
remarks, as well as the positiveness of his assertions, often rather
startling, and like his books partaking of the marvellous." {380a}

Abandoning paradox, Dr Hake is more successful in his description of
Borrow's person.

"His figure was tall," he tells us, "and his bearing very noble; he
had a finely moulded head, and thick white hair--white from his
youth; his brown eyes were soft, yet piercing; his nose somewhat of
the 'semitic' type, which gave his face the cast of the young Memnon.
His mouth had a generous curve; and his features, for beauty and true
power, were such as can have no parallel in our portrait gallery."

When not occupied in writing, Borrow would walk about the estate with
his animals, between whom and their master a perfect understanding
existed. Sidi Habismilk would come to a whistle and would follow him
about, and his two dogs and cat would do the same. When he went for
a walk the dogs and cat would set out with him; but the cat would
turn back after accompanying him for about a quarter of a mile.

The two young undergraduates who drove in a gig from Cambridge to
Oulton to pay their respects to Borrow (circa 1846) described him as

"in training some young horses to follow him about like dogs and come
at the call of his whistle. As my two friends {381b} were talking
with him, Borrow sounded his whistle in a paddock near the house,
which, if I remember rightly, was surrounded by a low wall.
Immediately two beautiful horses came bounding over the fence and
trotted up to their master. One put his nose into Borrow's
outstretched hand and the other kept snuffing at his pockets in
expectation of the usual bribe for confidence and good behaviour."

Borrow's love of animals was almost feminine. The screams of a hare
pursued by greyhounds would spoil his appetite for dinner, and he
confessed himself as "silly enough to feel disgust and horror at the
squeals of a rat in the fangs of a terrier." {381c} When a favourite
cat was so ill that it crawled away to die in solitude, Borrow went
in search of it and, discovering the poor creature in the garden-
hedge, carried it back into the house, laid it in a comfortable place
and watched over it until it died. His care of the much persecuted
"Church of England cat" at Llangollen {381d} is another instance of
his tender-heartedness with regard to animals.

Borrow had ample evidence that he was still a celebrity. "He was
much courted . . . by his neighbours and by visitors to the sea-
side," Dr Hake relates; but unfortunately he allowed himself to
become a prey to moods at rather inappropriate moments. As a lion,
Borrow accompanied Dr Hake to some in the great houses of the
neighbourhood. On one occasion they went to dine at Hardwick Hall,
the residence of Sir Thomas and Lady Cullum. The last-named
subsequently became a firm friend of Borrow's during many years.

"The party consisted of Lord Bristol; Lady Augusta Seymour, his
daughter; Lord and Lady Arthur Hervey; Sir Fitzroy Kelly; Mr
Thackeray, and ourselves. At that date, Thackeray had made money by
lectures on The Satirists, and was in good swing; but he never could
realise the independent feelings of those who happen to be born to
fortune--a thing which a man of genius should be able to do with
ease. He told Lady Cullum, which she repeated to me, that no one
could conceive how it mortified him to be making a provision for his
daughters by delivering lectures; and I thought she rather
sympathised with him in this degradation. He approached Borrow, who,
however, received him very dryly. As a last attempt to get up a
conversation with him, he said, 'Have you read my Snob Papers in

"'In Punch?' asked Borrow. 'It is a periodical I never look at!'

"It was a very fine dinner. The plates at dessert were of gold; they
once belonged to the Emperor of the French, and were marked with his
"N" and his Eagle.

"Thackeray, as if under the impression that the party was invited to
look at him, thought it necessary to make a figure, and absorb
attention during the dessert, by telling stories and more than half
acting them; the aristocratic party listening, but appearing little
amused. Borrow knew better how to behave in good company, and kept
quiet; though, doubtless he felt his mane." {382a}

There were other moments when Borrow caused acute embarrassment by
his rudeness. Once his hostess, a simple unpretending woman desirous
only of pleasing her distinguished guest, said, "Oh, Mr Borrow, I
have read your books with so much pleasure!" "Pray, what books do
you mean, madam? Do you mean my account books?" was the ungracious
retort. He then rose from the table, fretting and fuming and walked
up and down the dining-room among the servants "during the whole of
the dinner, and afterwards wandered about the rooms and passage, till
the carriage could be ordered for our return home." {383a} The
reason for this unpardonable behaviour appears to have been ill-
judged loyalty to a friend. His host was a well-known Suffolk banker
who, having advanced a large sum of money to a friend of Borrow's,
the heir to a considerable estate, who was in temporary difficulties,
then "struck the docket" in order to secure payment. Borrow confided
to another friend that he yearned "to cane the banker." His loyalty
to his friend excuses his wrath; it was his judgment that was at
fault. He should undoubtedly have caned the banker, in preference to
going to his house as a guest and revenging his friend upon the
gentle and amiable woman who could not be held responsible for her
husband's business transgressions.

Unfortunate remarks seemed to have a habit of bursting from Borrow's
lips. When Dr Bowring introduced to him his son, Mr F. J. Bowring,
and with pardonable pride added that he had just become a Fellow of
Trinity, Borrow remarked, "Ah! Fellows of Trinity always marry their
bed-makers." Agnes Strickland was another victim. Being desirous of
meeting him and, in spite of Borrow's unwillingness, achieving her
object, she expressed in rapturous terms her admiration of his works,
and concluded by asking permission to send him a copy of The Queens
of England, to which he ungraciously replied, "For God's sake, don't,
madam; I should not know where to put them or what to do with them."
"What a damned fool that woman is!" he remarked to W. B. Donne, who
was standing by. {383b}

There is a world of meaning in a paragraph from one of John Murray's
(the Second) letters (21st June 1843) to Borrow in which he enquires,
"Did you receive a note from Mme. Simpkinson which I forwarded ten
days ago? I have not seen her since your abrupt departure from her

It is rather regrettable that the one side of Borrow's character has
to be so emphasised. He could be just and gracious, even to the
point of sternly rebuking one who represented his own religious
convictions and supporting a dissenter. After a Bible Society's
meeting at Mutford Bridge (the nearest village to Oulton Hall), the
speakers repaired to the Hall to supper. One of the guests, an
independent minister, became involved in a heated argument with a
Church of England clergyman, who reproached him for holding
Calvinistic views. The nonconformist replied that the clergy of the
Established Church were equally liable to attack on the same ground,
because the Articles of their Church were Calvinistic, and to these
they had all sworn assent. The reply was that the words were not
necessarily to be taken in their literal sense. At this Borrow
interposed, attacking the clergyman in a most vigorous fashion for
his sophistry, and finally reducing him to silence. The Independent
minister afterwards confessed that he had never heard "one man give
another such a dressing down as on that occasion." {384a}

Borrow was capable of very deep feeling, which is nowhere better
shown than in his retort to Richard Latham whom he met at Dr Hake's
table. Well warmed by the generous wine, Latham stated that he
should never do anything so low as dine with his publisher. "You do
not dine with John Murray, I presume?" he added. "Indeed I do,"
Borrow responded with deep emotion. "He is a most kind friend. When
I have had sickness in the house he has been unfailing in his
goodness towards me. There is no man I more value." {384b}

Borrow was a frequent visitor to the Hakes at Bury St Edmunds. W. B.
Donne gives a glimpse to him in a letter to Bernard Barton (12th
Sept. 1848).

"We have had a great man here--and I have been walking with him and
aiding him to eat salmon and mutton and drink port--George Borrow--
and what is more we fell in with some gypsies and I heard his speech
of Egypt, which sounded wondrously like a medley of broken Spanish
and dog Latin. Borrow's face lighted by the red turf fire of the
tent was worth looking at. He is ashy-white now--but twenty years
ago, when his hair was like a raven's wing, he must have been hard to
discriminate from a born Bohemian. Borrow is best on the tramp: if
you can walk 4.5 miles per hour, as I can with ease and do by choice,
and can walk 15 of them at a stretch--which I can compass also--then
he will talk Iliads of adventures even better than his printed ones.
He cannot abide those Amateur Pedestrians who saunter, and in his
chair he is given to groan and be contradictory. But on Newmarket-
heath, in Rougham Woods he is at home, and specially when he meets
with a thorough vagabond like your present correspondent." {385a}

The present Mr John Murray recollects Borrow very clearly as

"tall, broad, muscular, with very heavy shoulders" and of course the
white hair. "He was," continues Mr Murray, "a figure which no one
who has seen it is likely to forget. I never remember to have seen
him dressed in anything but black broad cloth, and white cotton socks
were generally distinctly visible above his low shoes. I think that
with Borrow the desire to attract attention to himself, to inspire a
feeling of awe and mystery, must have been a ruling passion."

Borrow was frequently the guest of his publisher at Albemarle Street,
in times well within the memory of Mr Murray, who relates how on one

"Borrow was at a dinner-party in company with Whewell {385b} [who by
the way it has been said was the original of the Flaming Tinman,
although there is very little to support the statement except the
fact that Dr Whewell was a proper man with his hands] both of them
powerful men, and both of them, if report be true, having more than a
superficial knowledge of the art of self-defence. A controversy
began, and waxed so warm that Mrs Whewell, believing a personal
encounter to be imminent, fainted, and had to be carried out of the
room. Once when Borrow was dining with my father he disappeared into
a small back room after dinner, and could not be found. At last he
was discovered by a lady member of the family, stretched on a sofa
and groaning. On being spoken to and asked to join the other guests,
he suddenly said: Go away! go away! I am not fit company for
respectable people. There was no apparent cause for this strange
conduct, unless it were due to one of those unaccountable fits to
which men of genius (and this description will be allowed him by
many) are often subject.

"On another occasion, when dining with my father at Wimbledon, he was
regaled with a 'haggis,' a dish which was new to him, and of which he
partook to an extent which would have astonished many a hardy
Scotsman. One summers day, several years later, he again came to
dinner, and having come on foot, entered the house by a garden door,
his first words--without any previous greetings--were: 'Is there a
haggis to-day?'" {386a}


During all these years Lavengro had been making progress towards
completion, irregular and spasmodic it would appear; but still each
year brought it nearer to the printer. "I cannot get out of my old
habits," Borrow wrote to Dawson Turner (15th January 1844), "I find I
am writing the work . . . in precisely the same manner as The Bible
in Spain, viz., on blank sheets of old account books, backs of
letters, etc. In slovenliness of manuscript I almost rival Mahomet,
who, it is said, wrote his Coran on mutton spade bones." "His
[Borrow's] biography will be passing strange if he tells the WHOLE
truth," Ford writes to a friend (27th February 1843). "He is now
writing it by my advice. I go on . . . scribbling away, though with
a palpitating heart," Borrow informs John Murray (5th February 1844),
"and have already plenty of scenes and dialogues connected with my
life, quite equal to anything in The Bible in Spain. The great
difficulty, however, is to blend them all into a symmetrical whole."
On 17th September 1846 he writes again to his publisher:

"I have of late been very lazy, and am become more addicted to sleep
than usual, am seriously afraid of apoplexy. To rouse myself, I rode
a little time ago to Newmarket. I felt all the better for it for a
few days. I have at present a first rate trotting horse who affords
me plenty of exercise. On my return from Newmarket, I rode him
nineteen miles before breakfast."

Another cause of delay was the "shadows" that were constantly
descending upon him. His determination to give only the best of
which he was capable, is almost tragic in the light of later events.
To his wife, he wrote from London (February 1847): "Saw M[urray] who
is in a hurry for me to begin [the printing]. I will not be hurried
though for anyone."

In the Quarterly Review, July 1848, under the heading of Mr Murray's
List of New Works in Preparation, there appeared the first
announcement of Lavengro, an Autobiography, by George Borrow, Author
of The Bible in Spain, etc., 4 vols. post 8vo. This was repeated in
October. During the next two months the book was advertised as Life;
A Drama, in The Athenaeum and The Quarterly Review, and the first
title-page (1849) was so printed. On 7th October John Murray wrote
asking Borrow to send the manuscript to the printer. This was
accordingly done, and about two-thirds of it composed. Then Borrow
appears to have fallen ill. On 5th January 1849 John Murray wrote to
Mrs Borrow:

"I trust Mr Borrow is now restored to health and tranquillity of
mind, and that he will soon be able to resume his pen. I desire this
on his own account and for the sake of poor Woodfall [the printer],
who is of course inconvenienced by having his press arrested after
the commencement of the printing."

Writing on 27th November 1849, John Murray refers to the work having
been "first sent to press--now nearly eighteen months." This is
clearly a mistake, as on 7th October 1848, thirteen and a half months
previously, he asks Borrow to send the manuscript to the printer that
he may begin the composition. John Murray was getting anxious and
urges Borrow to complete the work, which a year ago had been offered
to the booksellers at the annual trade-dinner.

"I know that you are fastidious, and that you desire to produce a
work of distinguished excellence. I see the result of this labour in
the sheets as they come from the press, and I think when it does
appear it will make a sensation," wrote the tactful publisher.
"Think not, my dear friend," replied Borrow, "that I am idle. I am
finishing up the concluding part. I should be sorry to hurry the
work towards the last. I dare say it will be ready by the middle of
February." The correspondence grew more and more tense. Mrs Borrow
wrote to the printer urging him to send to her husband, who has been
overworked to the point of complaint, "one of your kind encouraging
notes." Later Borrow went to Yarmouth, where sea-bathing produced a
good effect upon his health; but still the manuscript was not sent to
the despairing printer. "I do not, God knows! wish you to overtask
yourself," wrote the unhappy Woodfall; "but after what you last said,
I thought I might fully calculate on your taking up, without further
delay, the fragmentary portions of your 1st and 2nd volumes and let
us get them out of hand."

Letters continued to pass to and fro, but the balance of manuscript
was not forthcoming until November 1850, when Mrs Borrow herself took
it to London. Another trade-dinner was at hand, and John Murray had
written to Mrs Borrow, "If I cannot show the book then--I must throw
it up." To Mrs Borrow this meant tragedy. The poor woman was
distracted, and from time to time she begs for encouraging letters.
In response to one of these appeals, John Murray wrote with rare
insight into Borrow's character, and knowledge of what is most likely
to please him: "There are passages in your book equal to De Foe."

The preface when eventually submitted to John Murray disturbed him
somewhat. "It is quaint," he writes to Mrs Borrow, "but so is
everything that Mr Borrow writes." He goes on to suggest that the
latter portion looks too much as if it had been got up in the
interests of "Papal aggression," and he calls attention to the oft-
repeated "Damnation cry". There appears to have been some
modification, a few "Damnation Cries" omitted, the last sheet passed
for press, and on 7th February 1851 Lavengro was published in an
edition of three thousand copies, which lasted for twenty-one years.

The appearance of Lavengro was indeed sensational: but not quite in
the way its publisher had anticipated. Almost without exception the
verdict was unfavourable. The book was attacked vigorously. The
keynote of the critics was disappointment. Some reviews were purely
critical, others personal and abusive, but nearly all were
disapproving. "Great is our disappointment" said the Athenaeum. "We
are disappointed," echoed Blackwood. Among the few friendly notices
was that of Dr Hake, in which he prophesied that "Lavengro's roots
will strike deep into the soil of English letters." Even Ford wrote
(8th March):

"I frankly own that I am somewhat disappointed with the very LITTLE
you have told us about YOURSELF. I was in hopes to have a full,
true, and particular account of your marvellously varied and
interesting biography. I do hope that some day you will give it to

In this chorus of dispraise Borrow saw a conspiracy. "If ever a book
experienced infamous and undeserved treatment," he wrote, {390a} "it
was that book. I was attacked in every form that envy and malice
could suggest." In The Romany Rye he has done full justice to the
subject, exhibiting the critics with blood and foam streaming from
their jaws. In the original draft of the Advertisement to the same
work he expresses himself as "proud of a book which has had the
honour of being rancorously abused and execrated by every unmanly
scoundrel, every sycophantic lacquey, and EVERY POLITICAL AND
RELIGIOUS RENEGADE in Britain." A few years previously, Borrow had
written to John Murray, "I have always myself. If you wish to please
the public leave the matter [the revision of The Zincali] to me."
{391a} From this it is evident that Borrow was unprepared for
anything but commendation from critics and readers.

Dr Bowring had some time previously requested the editor of The
Edinburgh Review to allow him to review Lavengro; but no notice ever
appeared. In all probability he realised the impossibility of
writing about a book in which he and his family appeared in such an
unpleasant light. It is unlikely that he asked for the book in order
to prevent a review appearing in The Edinburgh, as has been

In the Preface, Lavengro is described as a dream; yet there can be
not a vestage of doubt that Borrow's original intention had been to
acknowledge it as an autobiography. This work is a kind of biography
in the Robinson Crusoe style, he had written in 1844. This he
contradicted in the Appendix to The Romany Rye; yet in his manuscript
autobiography {391b} (13th Oct. 1862) he says: "In 1851 he published
Lavengro, a work in which he gives an account of his early life."
Why had Borrow changed his mind?

When Lavengro was begun, as a result of Ford's persistent appeals,
Borrow was on the crest of the wave of success. He saw himself the
literary hero of the hour. The Bible in Spain was selling in its
thousands. The press had proclaimed it a masterpiece. He had seen
himself a great man. The writer of a great book, however, does not
occupy a position so kinglike in its loneliness as does gentleman a
gypsy, round whom flock the gitanos to kiss his hand and garments as
if he were a god or a hero. The literary and social worlds that The
Bible in Spain opened to Borrow were not to be awed by his mystery,
or, disciplined into abject hero-worship by one of those steady
penetrating gazes, which cowed jockeys and alguacils. They claimed
intellectual kinship and equality, the very things that Borrow had no
intention of conceding them. He would have tolerated their
"gentility nonsense" if they would have acknowledged his paramountcy.
He found that to be a social or a literary lion was to be a tame
lion, and he was too big for that. His conception of genius was that
it had its moods, and mediocrity must suffer them.

Borrow would rush precipitately from the house where he was a guest;
he would be unpardonably rude to some inoffensive and well-meaning
woman who thought to please him by admiring his books; he would
magnify a fight between their respective dogs into a deadly feud
between himself and the rector of his parish: thus he made enemies
by the dozen and, incidentally, earned for himself an extremely
unenviable reputation. A hero with a lovable nature is twice a hero,
because he is possessed of those qualities that commend themselves to
the greater number. Wellington could never be a serious rival in a
nation's heart to dear, weak, sensitive, noble Nelson, who lived for
praise and frankly owned to it.

Borrow's lovable qualities were never permitted to show themselves in
public, they were kept for the dingle, the fireside, or the inn-
parlour. That he had a sweeter side to his nature there can be no
doubt, and those who saw it were his wife, his step-daughter, and his
friends, in particular those who, like Mr Watts-Dunton and Mr A.
Egmont Hake, have striven for years to emphasise the more attractive
part of his strange nature.

Borrow's attitude towards literature in itself was not calculated to
gain friends for him. He was uncompromisingly and caustically severe
upon some of the literary idols of his day, men who have survived
that terrible handicap, contemporary recognition and appreciation.

He was not a deep reader, hardly a reader at all in the accepted
meaning of the word. He frankly confessed that books were to him of
secondary importance to man as a subject for study. In his
criticisms of literature, he was apt to confuse the man with his
works. His hatred of Scott is notorious; it was not the artist he so
cordially disliked, but the politician; he admitted that Scott "wrote
splendid novels about the Stuarts." {393a} He hailed him as "greater
than Homer;" {393b} but the House of Stuart he held in utter
detestation, and when writing or speaking of Scott he forgot to make
a rather necessary distinction. He wrote:

"He admires his talents both as a prose writer and a poet; as a poet
especially. {393c} . . . As a prose writer he admires him less, it
is true, but his admiration for him in that capacity is very high,
and he only laments that he prostituted his talents to the cause of
the Stuarts and gentility . . . in conclusion, he will say, in order
to show the opinion which he entertains of the power of Scott as a
writer, that he did for the spectre of the wretched Pretender what
all the kings of Europe could not do for his body--placed it on the
throne of these realms." {393d}

In later years Borrow paid a graceful tribute to Scott's memory.
When at Kelso, in spite of the rain and mist, he "trudged away to
Dryburgh to pay my respects to the tomb of Walter Scott, a man with
whose principles I have no sympathy, but for whose genius I have
always entertained the most intense admiration." {393e} It was just
the same with Byron, "for whose writings I really entertained
considerable admiration, though I had no particular esteem for the
man himself." {393f}

With Wordsworth it was different, and it was his cordial dislike of
his poetry that prompted Borrow to introduce into The Romany Rye that
ineffectual episode of the man who was sent to sleep by reading him.
Tennyson he dismissed as a writer of "duncie books."

For Dickens he had an enthusiastic admiration as "a second Fielding,
a young writer who . . . has evinced such talent, such humour,
variety and profound knowledge of character, that he charms his
readers, at least those who have the capacity to comprehend him."
{394a} He was delighted with The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist.

His reading was anything but thorough, in fact he occasionally showed
a remarkable ignorance of contemporary writers. Mr A. Egmont Hake
tells how:

"His conversation would sometimes turn on modern literature, with
which his acquaintance was very slight. He seemed to avoid reading
the products of modern thought lest his own strong opinions should
undergo dilution. We were once talking of Keats whose fame had been
constantly increasing, but of whose poetry Borrow's knowledge was of
a shadowy kind, when suddenly he put a stop to the conversation by
ludicrously asking, in his strong voice, 'Have they not been trying
to resuscitate him?'" {394b}

By the time that Lavengro appeared, Borrow was estranged from his
generation. The years that intervened between the success of The
Bible in Spain and the publication of Lavengro had been spent by him
in war; he had come to hate his contemporaries with a wholesome,
vigorous hatred. He would give them his book; but they should have
it as a stray cur has a bone--thrown at them. Above all, they should
not for a moment be allowed to think that it contained an intimate
account of the life of the supreme hater who had written it. When
there had been sympathy between them, Borrow was prepared to allow
his public to peer into the sacred recesses of his early life. Now
that there was none, he denied that Lavengro was more than "a dream",
forgetting that he had so often written of it as an autobiography,
had even seen it advertised as such, and insisted that it was

When Lavengro was published Borrow was an unhappy and disappointed
man. He had found what many other travellers have found when they
come home, that in the wilds he had left his taste and toleration for
conventional life and ideas. The life in the Peninsula had been
thoroughly congenial to a man of Borrow's temperament: hardships,
dangers, imprisonments,--they were his common food. He who had
defied the whole power of Spain, found himself powerless to prevent
his Rector from keeping a dog, or a railway line from being cut
through his own estate and his peace of mind disturbed by the rumble
of trains and the shriek of locomotive-whistles. He had beaten the
Flaming Tinman and Count Ofalia, but Samuel Morton Peto had
vanquished and put him to flight by virtue of an Act of Parliament,
in all probability without being conscious of having achieved a
signal victory. Borrow's life had been built up upon a wrong
hypothesis: he strove to adapt, not himself to the Universe; but the
Universe to himself.

It is easy to see that a man with this attitude of mind would regard
as sheer vindictiveness the adverse criticism of a book that he had
written with such care, and so earnest an endeavour to maintain if
not improve upon the standard created in a former work. It never for
a moment struck him that the men who had once hailed him "great",
should now admonish him as a result of the honest exercise of their
critical faculties. No; there was conspiracy against him, and he
tortured himself into a pitiable state of wrath and melancholy. A
later generation has been less harsh in its judgment. The
controversial parts of Lavengro have become less controversial and
the magnificent parts have become more magnificent, and it has taken
its place as a star of the second magnitude.

The question of what is actual autobiography and what is so coloured
as to become practically fiction, must always be a matter of opinion.
The early portion seems convincing, even the first meeting with the
gypsies in the lane at Norman Cross. It has been asked by an eminent
gypsy scholar how Borrow knew the meaning of the word "sap", or why
he addressed the gypsy woman as "my mother". When the Gypsy refers
to the "Sap there", the child replies, "what, the snake"? The
employment of the other phrase is obviously an inadvertent use of
knowledge he gained later.

In writing to Mrs George Borrow (24th March 1851) to tell her that W.
B. Donne had been unable to obtain Lavengro for The Edinburgh Review
as it had been bespoken a year previously by Dr Bowring, Dr Hake adds
that Donne had written "putting the editor in possession of his view
of Lavengro, as regards verisimilitude, vouching for the
Daguerreotype-like fidelity of the picture in the first volume, etc.,
etc., in order to prevent him from being TAKEN IN BY a spiteful
article." This passage is very significant as being written by one
of Borrow's most intimate friends, with the sure knowledge that its
contents would reach him. It leaves no room for doubt that, although
Borrow denied publicly the autobiographical nature of Lavengro, in
his own circle it was freely admitted and referred to as a life.

"What is an autobiography?" Borrow once asked Mr Theodore Watts-
Dunton (who had called his attention to several bold coincidences in
Lavengro). "Is it the mere record of the incidents of a man's life?
or is it a picture of the man himself--his character, his soul?"
{396a} Mr Watts-Dunton confirms Borrow's letters when he says "That
he [Borrow] sat down to write his own life in Lavengro I know. He
had no idea then of departing from the strict line of fact."

At times Borrow seemed to find his pictures flat, and heightened the
colour in places, as a painter might heighten the tone of a drapery,
a roof or some other object, not because the individual spot required
it, but rather because the general effect he was aiming at rendered
it necessary. He did this just as an actor rouges his face, darkens
his eyebrows and round his eyes, that he may appear to his audience a
living man and not an animated corpse.

Borrow was drawing himself, striving to be as faithful to the
original as Boswell to Johnson. Incidents! what were they? the straw
with which the bricks of personality are made. A comparison of
Lavengro with Borrow's letters to the Bible Society is instructive;
it is the same Borrow that appears in both, with the sole difference
that in the Letters he is less mysterious, less in the limelight than
in Lavengro.

Mr Watts-Dunton, with inspiration, has asked whether or not Lavengro
and The Romany Rye form a spiritual autobiography; and if they do,
whether that autobiography does or does not surpass every other for
absolute truth of spiritual representation. Borrow certainly did
colour his narrative in places. Who could write the story of his
early life with absolute accuracy? without dwelling on and
elaborating certain episodes, perhaps even adjusting them somewhat?
That would not necessarily prove them untrue.

There are, unquestionably, inconsistencies in Lavengro and The Romany
Rye -they are admitted, they have been pointed out. There are many
inaccuracies, it must be confessed; but because a man makes a mistake
in the date of his birth or even the year, it does not prove that he
was not born at all. Borrow was for ever making the most inaccurate
statements about his age.

In the main Lavengro would appear to be autobiographical up to the
period of Borrow's coming to London. After this he begins to indulge
somewhat in the dramatic. The meeting with the pickpocket as a
thimble-rigger at Greenwich might pass muster were it not for the
rencontre with the apple-woman's son near Salisbury. The Dingle
episode may be accepted, for Mr John Sampson has verified even the
famous thunder-storm by means of the local press. Isopel Berners is
not so easy to settle; yet the picture of her is so convincing, and
Borrow was unable to do more than colour his narrative, that she too
must have existed.

The failure of Lavengro is easily accounted for. Borrow wrote of
vagabonds and vagabondage; it did not mitigate his offence in the
eyes of the critics or the public that he wrote well about them. His
crime lay in his subject. To Borrow, a man must be ready and able to
knock another man down if necessity arise. When nearing sixty he
lamented his childless state and said very mournfully: "I shall soon
not be able to knock a man down, and I have no son to do it for me."
{398a} He glorified the bruisers of England, in the face of
horrified public opinion. England had become ashamed of its bruisers
long before Lavengro was written, and this flaunting in its face of
creatures that it considered too low to be mentioned, gave mortal
offence. That in Lavengro was the best descriptions of a fight in
the language, only made the matter worse. Borrow's was an age of
gentility and refinement, and he outraged it, first by glorifying
vagabondage, secondly by decrying and sneering at gentility.

"Qui n' a pas l'esprit de son age,
De son age a tout le malheur."

And Borrow proved Voltaire's words.

It is not difficult to understand that an age in which prize-fighting
is anathema should not tolerate a book glorifying the ring; but it is
strange that Borrow's simple paganism and nature-worship should not
have aroused sympathetic recognition. Poetry is ageless, and such
passages as the description of the sunrise over Stonehenge should
have found some, at least, to welcome them, even when found in
juxtaposition with bruisers and gypsies.

Borrow loved to mystify, but in Lavengro he had overreached himself.
"Are you really in existence?" wrote one correspondent who was
unknown to Borrow, "for I also have occasionally doubted whether
things exist, as you describe your own feelings in former days."

John Murray wrote (8th Nov. 1851):-

"I was reminded of you the other day by an enquiry after Lavengro and
its author, made by the Right Honourable John Wilson Croker. Knowing
how fastidious and severe a critic he is, I was particularly glad to
find him expressing a favourable opinion of it; and thinking well of
it his curiosity was piqued about you. Like all the rest of the
world, he is mystified by it. He knew not whether to regard it as
truth or fiction. How can you remedy this defect? I call it a
defect, because it really impedes your popularity. People say of a
chapter or of a character: 'This is very wonderful, IF TRUE; but if
fiction it is pointless.'--Will your new volumes explain this and
dissolve the mystery? If so, pray make haste and get on with them.
I hope you have employed the summer in giving them the finishing

"There are," says a distinguished critic, {399a} "passages in
Lavengro which are unsurpassed in the prose literature of England--
unsurpassed, I mean, for mere perfection of style--for blending of
strength and graphic power with limpidity and music of flow."
Borrow's own generation would have laughed at such a value being put
upon anything in Lavengro.

Another thing against the books success was its style. It lacked
what has been described as the poetic ecstacy or sentimental verdure
of the age. Trope, imagery, mawkishness, were all absent, for Borrow
had gone back to his masters, at whose head stood the glorious Defoe.
Borrow's style was as individual as the man himself. By a curious
contradiction, the tendency is to overlook literary lapses in the
very man towards whom so little latitude was allowed in other
directions. Many Borrovians have groaned in anguish over his misuse
of that wretched word "Individual." A distinguished man of letters
{400a} has written:- "I would as lief read a chapter of The Bible in
Spain as I would Gil Blas; nay, I positively would give the
preference to Senor Giorgio." Another critic, and a severe one, has

"It is not as philologist, or traveller, or wild missionary, or folk-
lorist, or antiquary, that Borrow lives and will live. It is as the
master of splendid, strong, simple English, the prose Morland of a
vanished road-side life, the realist who, Defoe-like, could make
fiction seem truer than fact. To have written the finest fight in
the whole world's literature, the fight with the Flaming Tinman, is
surely something of an achievement." {400b}

It is Borrow's personality that looms out from his pages. His
mastery over the imagination of his reader, his subtle instinct of
how to throw his own magnetism over everything he relates, although
he may be standing aside as regards the actual events with which he
is dealing, is worthy of Defoe himself. It is this magnetism that
carries his readers safely over the difficult places, where, but for
the author's grip upon them, they would give up in despair; it is
this magnetism that prompts them to pass by only with a slight
shudder, such references as the feathered tribe, fast in the arms of
Morpheus, and, above all, those terrible puns that crop up from time
to time. There is always the strong, masterful man behind the words
who, like a great general, can turn a reverse to his own advantage.

In his style perhaps, after all, lay the secret of Borrow's
unsuccess. He was writing for another generation; speaking in a
voice too strong to be heard other than as a strange noise by those
near to him. It may be urged that The Bible in Spain disproves these
conclusions; but The Bible in Spain was a peculiar book. It was a
chronicle of Christian enterprise served up with sauce picaresque.
It pleased and astonished everyone, especially those who had grown a
little weary of godly missioners. It had the advantage of being
spontaneous, having been largely written on the spot, whereas
Lavengro and The Romany Rye were worked on and laboured at for years.
Above all, it had the inestimable virtue of being known to be True.
To the imaginative intellectual, Truth or Fiction are matters of
small importance, he judges by Art; but to the general public of
limited intellectual capacity, Truth is appreciated out of all
proportion to its artistic importance. If Borrow had published The
Bible in Spain after the failure of Lavengro, it would in all
probability have been as successful as it was appearing before.


One of the finest traits in Borrow's character was his devotion to
his mother. He was always thoughtful for her comfort, even when
fighting that almost hopeless battle in Russia, and later in the
midst of bandits and bloody patriots in Spain. She was now, in 1849,
an old woman, too feeble to live alone, and it was decided to
transfer her to Oulton. An addition to the Hall was constructed for
her accommodation, and she was to be given an attendant-companion in
the person of the daughter of a local farmer.

For thirty-three years she had lived in the little house in Willow
Lane; yet it was not she, but Borrow, who felt the parting from old
associations. "I wish," she writes to her daughter-in-law on 16th
September 1849, "my dear George would not have such fancies about the
old house; it is a mercy it has not fallen on my head before this."
The old lady was anxious to get away. It would not be safe, she
thought, for her to be shut up alone, as the old woman who had looked
after her could, for some reason or other, do so no longer. She
urges her daughter-in-law to represent this to Borrow.

"There is a low, noisy set close to me," she continues. "I shall not
die one day sooner, or live one day longer. If I stop here and die
on a sudden, half the things might be lost or stolen, therefore it
seems as if the Lord would provide me a SAFER HOME. I have made up
my mind to the change and only pray that I may be able to get through
the trouble."

It would appear that the move, which took place at the end of
September, was brought about by the old lady's appeals and
insistence, and that Borrow himself was not anxious for it. He felt
a sentimental attachment to the old place, which for so many years
had been a home to him.

In 1853 Borrow removed to Great Yarmouth. During the summer of that
year, Dr Hake had peremptorily ordered Mrs George Borrow not to spend
the ensuing winter and spring at Oulton, and the move was made in
August. The change was found to be beneficial to Mrs Borrow and
agreeable to all, and for the next seven years (Aug. 1853-June 1860)
Borrow's headquarters were to be at Great Yarmouth, where he and his
family occupied various lodgings.

Shortly before leaving Oulton, Borrow had received the following
interesting letter from FitzGerald:-

BOULGE, WOODBRIDGE, 22nd July 1853.

MY DEAR SIR,--I take the liberty of sending you a book [Six Dramas
from Calderon], of which the title-page and advertisement will
sufficiently explain the import. I am afraid that I shall in general
be set down at once as an impudent fellow in making so free with a
Great Man; but, as usual, I shall feel least fear before a man like
yourself, who both do fine things in your own language and are deep
read in those of others. I mean, that whether you like or not what I
send you, you will do so from knowledge and in the candour which
knowledge brings.

I had even a mind to ask you to look at these plays before they were
printed, relying on our common friend Donne for a mediator; but I
know how wearisome all MS. inspection is; and, after all, the whole
affair was not worth giving you such a trouble. You must pardon all
this, and believe me,--Yours very faithfully,


Soon after his arrival by the sea, Borrow performed an act of bravery
of which The Bury Post (17th Sept. 1852) gave the following account,
most likely written by Dr Hake:-

"INTREPIDITY.--Yarmouth jetty presented an extra-ordinary and
thrilling spectacle on Thursday, the 8th inst., about one o'clock.
The sea raged frantically, and a ship's boat, endeavouring to land
for water, was upset, and the men were engulfed in a wave some thirty
feet high, and struggling with it in vain. The moment was an awful
one, when George Borrow, the well-known author of Lavengro, and The
Bible in Spain, dashed into the surf and saved one life, and through
his instrumentality the others were saved. We ourselves have known
this brave and gifted man for years, and, daring as was this deed we
have known him more than once to risk his life for others. We are
happy to add that he has sustained no material injury."

Borrow was a splendid swimmer. {404a} In the course of one of his
country walks with Robert Cooke (John Murray's partner), with whom he
was on very friendly terms, "he suggested a bathe in the river along
which they were walking. Mr Cooke told me that Borrow, having
stripped, took a header into the water and disappeared. More than a
minute had elapsed, and as there were no signs of his whereabouts, Mr
Cooke was becoming alarmed, lest he had struck his head or been
entangled in the weeds, when Borrow suddenly reappeared a
considerable distance off, under the opposite bank of the stream, and
called out 'What do you think of that?'" {404b}

Elizabeth Harvey, in telling the same story, says that on coming up
he exclaimed: "There, if that had been written in one of my books,
they would have said it was a lie, wouldn't they?"

The paragraph about Borrow's courage was printed in various
newspapers throughout the country, amongst others in the Plymouth
Mail under the heading of "Gallant Conduct of Mr G. Borrow," and was
read by Borrow's Cornish kinsmen, who for years had heard nothing of
Thomas Borrow. Apparently quite convinced that George was his son,
they deputed Robert Taylor, a farmer of Penquite Farm (who had
married Anne Borrow, granddaughter of Henry Borrow), to write to
Borrow and invite him to visit Trethinnick. The letter was dated
10th October and directed to "George Borrow, Yarmouth." Borrow
replied as follows:-

YARMOUTH, 14th Octr., 1853.

MY DEAR SIR,--I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your letter
of the 10th inst. in which you inform me of the kind desire of my
Cornish relatives to see me at Trethinnock (sic). Please to inform
them that I shall be proud and happy to avail myself of their
kindness and to make the acquaintance of "one and all" {405a} of
them. My engagements will prevent my visiting them at present, but I
will appear amongst them on the first opportunity. I am delighted to
learn that there are still some living at Trethinnock who remember my
honoured father, who had as true a Cornish heart as ever beat.

I am at present at Yarmouth, to which place I have brought my wife
for the benefit of her health; but my residence is Oulton Hall,
Lowestoft, Suffolk. With kind greetings to my Cornish kindred, in
which my wife and my mother join,--I remain, my dear Sir, ever
sincerely yours, -


Borrow was not free to visit his kinsfolk until the following
Christmas. First advising Robert Taylor of his intention, and
receiving his approval and instructions for the journey, Borrow set
out from Great Yarmouth on 23rd December. He spent the night at
Plymouth. Next morning on finding the Liskeard coach full, he
decided to walk. Leaving his carpet-bag to be sent on by the mail,
and throwing over his arm the cloak that had seen many years of
service, he set out upon his eighteen-mile tramp. He arrived at
Liskeard in the afternoon, and was met by his cousin Henry Borrow and
Robert Taylor, as well as by several local celebrities.

After tea Borrow, accompanied by Robert Taylor, rode to Penquite,
four miles away. "Ride by night to Penquite, Borrow records in his
Journal. House of stone and slate on side of a hill. Mrs Taylor.
Hospitable reception. Christmas Eve. Log on fire." He found alive
of his own generation, Henry, William, Thomas, Elizabeth (who lived
to be 94 years of age) and Nicholas, the children of Henry Borrow,
Captain Borrow's eldest brother. Also Anne, daughter of Henry, who
married Robert Taylor, and their daughter, likewise named Anne, and
William Henry, son of Nicholas.

In the Cornish Note Books there appears under the date of 3rd January
the following entry: "Rain and snow. Rode with Mr Taylor to dine at
Trethinnick. House dilapidated. A family party. Hospitable
people." On first entering his father's old home tears had sprung to
Borrow's eyes, and he was much affected. There was present at the
dinner the vicar of St Cleer, the Rev. J. R. P. Berkeley, a pleasant
Irish clergyman who, years later, was able to give to Dr Knapp an
account of what took place. He noticed the "vast difference in
appearance and manners between the simple yet shrewd Cornish farmers
and the betravelled gentleman their kinsman;" yet for all this there
were shades of resemblance--in a look, some turn of thought or tone
of voice. George Borrow was not at his best that evening, Mr
Berkeley relates of the dinner at Trethinnick:

"his feelings were too much excited. He was thinking of the time
when his father's footsteps and his father's voice re-echoed in the
room in which we were sitting. His eyes wandered from point to
point, and at times, if I was not mistaken, a tear could be seen
trembling in them. At length he could no longer control his
feelings. He left the hall suddenly, and in a few moments, but for
God's providential care, the career of George Borrow would have been
ended. There was within a few feet of the house a low wall with a
drop of some feet into a paved yard. He walked rapidly out, and, it
being nearly dark, he stepped one side of the gate and fell over the
wall. He did not mention the accident, although he bruised himself a
good deal, and it was some days before I heard of it. His words to
me that evening, when bidding me good-bye, were: 'Well, we have
shared the old-fashioned hospitality of old-fashioned people in an
old-fashioned house.'" {407a}

Borrow created something of a sensation in the neighbourhood. As a
celebrity his autograph was much sought after; but he would gratify
nobody. His hosts experienced many little surprises from their
guest's strange ways. He would plunge into a moorland pool to fetch
a bird that had fallen to his gun, or, round the family fireside, he
would shout his ballads of the North, at one time alarming his
audience by seizing a carving-knife and brandishing it about in the
air to emphasize the passionate nature of his song. When a card-
party proved too dull he slipped off and found his way into some
slums, picking up all the disreputable characters he could find,
working off his knowledge of cant on them, and getting out of them
what he could. {407b}

On one occasion when dining at the house of a local celebrity he was
suddenly missed from table during dessert.

"A search revealed him in a remote room surrounded by the children of
the house, whom he was amusing by his stories and catechising in the
subject of their studies and pursuits. He excused his absence by
saying that he had been fascinated by the intelligence of the
children, and had forgotten about the dinner." {407c}

His hatred of gentility led him into some actions that can only be
characterised as childish. Even in Cornwall he was on the lookout
for his fetish. On one occasion when dining with the ex-Mayor of
Liskeard, he pulled out of his pocket and used instead of a
handkerchief, a dirty old grease-stained rag with which he was wont
to clean his gun. {408a} This was done as a protest against
something or other that seemed to him to suggest mock refinement.

When at Wolsdon as the guest of the Pollards there arrived a lady and
gentleman of the name of Hambly, according to the Note Books. In
spite of this brief reference, Borrow immediately recognised a hated
name. Never was one of the name good, he informed Mr Berkeley. He
may even have been informed that they were descendants of the
Headborough whom his father had knocked down. He showed his
detestation for the name by being as rude as he could to those who
bore it.

Borrow was as incapable of dissimulating his dislikes as he was of
controlling his moods. Even during his short stay at Penquite he was
on one occasion, at least, plunged into a deep melancholy, sitting
before a huge fire entirely oblivious to the presence of others in
the room. Mrs Berkeley, who, with the vicar himself, was a caller,
thinking to produce some good effect upon the gloomy man, sat down at
the piano and played some old Irish and Scottish airs. After a time
Borrow began to listen, then he raised his head, and finally "he
suddenly sprang to his feet, clapped his hands several times, danced
about the room, and struck up some joyous melody. From that moment
he was a different man." He told them "tales and side-splitting
anecdotes," he joined the party at supper, and when the vicar and his
wife rose to take their leave he pressed Mrs Berkeley's hands, and
told her that her music had been as David's harp to his soul.

To the young man he met during this visit who informed him that he
had left the Army as it was no place for a gentleman, Borrow replied
that it was no place for a man who was not a gentleman, and that he
was quite right in leaving it. To speak against the Army to Borrow
was to speak against his honoured father.

How Borrow struck his Cornish kinsfolk is shown in a letter written
by his hostess to a friend. "I must tell you," she writes, "a bit
about our distinguished visitor." She gives one of the most valuable
portraits of Borrow that exists. He was to her:

"A fine tall man of about six feet three, well-proportioned and not
stout; able to walk five miles an hour successively; rather florid
face without any hirsute appendages; hair white and soft; eyes and
eyebrows dark; good nose and very nice mouth; well-shaped hands--
altogether a person you would notice in a crowd. His character is
not so easy to portray. The more I see of him the less I know of
him. He is very enthusiastic and eccentric, very proud and
unyielding. He says very little of himself, and one cannot ask him
if inclined to . . . He is a marvel in himself. There is no one here
to draw him out. He has an astonishing memory as to dates when great
events have taken place, no matter in what part of the world. He
seems to know everything." {409a}

Borrow was gratified at the welcome he received, and was much pleased
with the neighbourhood and its people. "My relations are most
excellent people," he wrote to his wife, "but I could not understand
more than half they said." He was puzzled to know why the head of a
family, which was reputed to be worth seventy thousand pounds, should
live in a house which could not boast of a single grate--"nothing but
open chimneys."

He remained at Penquite for upwards of a fortnight, at one time
galloping over snowy hills and dales with Anne Taylor, Junr., "as
gallant a girl as ever rode," at another, alert as ever for fragments
of folk-lore or philology, jotting down the story of a pisky-child
from the dictation of his cousin Elizabeth.

On 9th January Borrow left Penquite on a tour to Truro, Penzance,
Mousehole, and Land's End, armed with the inevitable umbrella,
grasped in the centre by the right hand, green, manifold and bulging,
that so puzzled Mr Watts-Dunton and caused him on one occasion to ask
Dr Hake, "Is he a genuine Child of the Open Air?" It was one of the
first things to which Borrow's pedestrian friends had to accustom
themselves. With this "damning thing . . . gigantic and green,"
Borrow set out upon his excursion, now examining some Celtic barrow,
now enquiring his way or the name of a landmark, occasionally singing
in that tremendous voice of his, "Look out, look out, Swayne Vonved!"

At Mousehole he called upon a relative, H. D. Burney (who was, it
would seem, in charge of the Coast Guard Station), to whom he had a
letter of introduction from Robert Taylor. Mr Burney entertained him
with stories, showed him places and things of interest in the
neighbourhood, and accompanied him on his visit to St Michael's
Mount. Borrow returned to Penquite on the 25th with a considerable
store of Cornish legends and Cornish words, and the knowledge that
you can only see Cornwall or know anything about it by walking
through it.

The next excursion was to the North Coast, Pentire Point, Tintagel,
King Arthur's Castle, etc. On the 1st of February he left Penquite,
and slept the night at Trethinnick. The next morning he set out on
horseback accompanied by Nicholas Borrow.

To the vicar of St Cleer and his family, Borrow was a very welcome
visitor. Mr Berkeley's eldest son, a boy of ten years of age, on
being introduced to the distinguished caller, gazed at him for some
moments and then without a word left the room and, going straight to
his mother in another apartment cried, "Well, mother, that IS a man."
Borrow was delighted when he heard of the child's enthusiasm. Mr
Berkeley give a picture of his distinguished visitor far more
prepossessing than many that exist. He was particularly struck, as
was everybody, by the beauty of Borrow's hands, and their owner's
vanity over them as the legacy of his Huguenot ancestors. Mr
Berkeley found Borrow's countenance pleasing, betokening calm
firmness, self-confidence and a mind under control, though capable of
passion. He could on occasion prove a delightful talker, and he gave
to the vicar's family a new maxim to implant upon their Christianity,
the old prize-fighters receipt for a quiet life: "Learn to box, and
keep a civil tongue in your head." He would often drop in at the
vicarage in the evening, when he would

"sit in the centre of a group before the fire with his hands on his
knees--his favourite position--pouring forth tales of the scenes he
had witnessed in his wanderings. . . . Then he would suddenly spring
from his seat and walk to and fro the room in silence; anon he would
clap his hands and sing a Gypsy song, or perchance would chant forth
a translation of some Viking poem; after which he would sit down
again and chat about his father, whose memory he revered as he did
his mother's; {411a} and finally he would recount some tale of
suffering or sorrow with deep pathos--his voice being capable of
expressing triumphant joy or the profoundest sadness."

It was Borrow's intention to write a book about his visit to
Cornwall, and he even announced it at the end of The Romany Rye. He
was delighted with the Duchy, and evidently gave his relatives to
understand that it was his intention to use the contents of his Note
Books as the nucleus of a book. "He will undoubtedly write a
description of his visit," Mrs Taylor wrote to her friend. "I walked
through the whole of Cornwall and saw everything," Borrow wrote to
his wife after his return to London. "I kept a Journal of every day
I was there, and it fills TWO pocket books."

Borrow left Cornwall the second week in February and was in London on
the 10th, where he was to break his journey home in order to obtain
some data at the British Museum for the Appendix of The Romany Rye.
On 13th February he writes to his wife:-

"For three days I have been working hard at the Museum, I am at
present at Mr Webster's, but not in the three guinea lodgings. I am
in rooms above, for which I pay thirty shillings a week. I live as
economically as I can; but when I am in London I am obliged to be at
certain expense. I must be civil to certain friends who invite me
out and show me every kindness. Please send me a five pound note by
return of post."

His wife appears to have been anxious for his return home, and on the
17th he writes to her:-

"It is hardly worth while making me more melancholy than I am. Come
home, come home! is the cry. And what are my prospects when I get
home? though it is true that they are not much brighter here. I have
nothing to look forward to. Honourable employments are being given
to this and that trumpery fellow; while I, who am an honourable man,
must be excluded from everything."

Of literature he expressed himself as tired, there was little or
nothing to be got out of it, save by writing humbug, which he refused
to do. "My spirits are very low," he continues, "and your letters
make them worse. I shall probably return by the end of next week;
but I shall want more money. I am sorry to spend money for it is our
only friend, and God knows I use as little as possible, but I can't
travel without it." {412b} A few days later there is another letter
with farther reference to money, and protests that he is spending as
little as possible. "Perhaps you had better send another note," he
writes, "and I will bring it home unchanged, if I do not want any
part of it. I have lived very economically as far as I am concerned
personally; I have bought nothing, and have been working hard at the
Museum." {413a}

These constant references to money seem to suggest either some
difference between Borrow and his wife, or that he felt he was
spending too much upon himself and was anticipating her thoughts by
assuring her of how economically he was living. He had an
unquestioned right to spend, for he had added considerable sums to
the exchequer from the profits of his first two books.

Borrow returned to Yarmouth on 25th February. The Romany Rye was now
rapidly nearing completion; but there was no encouragement to publish
a new book. He worked at The Romany Rye, not because he saw profit
in it, not because he was anxious to give another book to an uneager
public; but because of the sting in its tail, because of the
thunderbolt Appendix in which he paid off old scores against the
critics and his personal enemies. The Romany Rye was to him a work
of hate; it was a bomb disguised as a book, which he intended to
throw into the camp of his foes. He was tired of literature, by
which he meant that he was tired of producing his best for a public
that neither wanted nor understood it. He forgot that the works of a
great writer are sometimes printed in his own that they may be read
in another generation.


During the months that followed Borrow's return to Great Yarmouth,
the question of the coming summer holiday was discussed. From the
first Borrow himself had been for Wales. He was eager to pursue his
Celtic researches further north. "I should not wonder if he went
into Wales before he returns," Mrs Robert Taylor had written to her
friend during Borrow's stay in Cornwall. His wife and Henrietta had
"a hankering after what is fashionable," and suggested Harrogate or
Leamington. To which Borrow replied that there was nothing he "so
much hated as fashionable life." He, however, gave way, the two
women followed suit, as he had intended they should, and Wales was
decided upon. For Borrow the literature of Wales had always
exercised a great attraction. Her bards were as no other bards. Ab
Gwilym was to him the superior of Chaucer, and Huw Morris "the
greatest songster of the seventeenth century." It was, he confessed,
a desire to put to practical use his knowledge of the Welsh tongue,
"such as it was," that first gave him the idea of going to Wales.

The party left Great Yarmouth on 27th July 1854, spending one night
at Peterborough and three at Chester. They reached Llangollen, which
was to be their head-quarters, on 1st August. On 9th August Mrs
George Borrow wrote to the old lady at Oulton, "We all much enjoy
this wonderful and beautiful country. We are in a lovely quiet spot.
Dear George goes out exploring the mountains, and when he finds
remarkable views takes us of an evening to see them."

Borrow wanted to see Wales and get to know the people, and, above
all, to speak with them in their own language, and on 27th August he
started upon a walking tour to Bangor, where he was to meet his wife
and Henrietta, who were to proceed thither by rail. It was during
this excursion that he encountered the delightful Papist-Orange
fiddler, whose fortunes and fingers fluctuated between "Croppies Get
Up" and "Croppies Lie Down."

From Bangor Borrow explored the surrounding places of interest. He
ascended Snowdon arm-in-arm with Henrietta, singing "at the stretch
of my voice a celebrated Welsh stanza," the boy-guide following
wonderingly behind. In spite of the fatigues of the climb, "the
gallant girl" reached the summit and heard her stepfather declaim two
stanzas of poetry in Welsh, to the grinning astonishment of a small
group of English tourists and the great interest of a Welshman, who
asked Borrow if he were a Breton.

There is no question that Borrow was genuinely attached to Henrietta.
"I generally call her daughter," he writes, "and with good reason,
seeing that she has always shown herself a daughter to me--that she
has all kinds of good qualities, and several accomplishments, knowing
something of conchology, more of botany, drawing capitally in the
Dutch style," {415a} not to speak of her ability to play on the
Spanish guitar. She was "the dear girl," or "the gallant girl,"
between whom and her stepfather existed a true spirit of comradeship.
In 1844 she wrote to him, "And then that FUNNY look {415b} would come
into your eyes and you would call me 'poor old Hen.'" He seemed
incapable of laughing, and one intimate friend states that she "never
saw him even smiling, but there was a twinkle in his eyes which told
you that he was enjoying himself just the same." {416a}

About this time Mrs George Borrow wrote to old Mrs Borrow at Oulton
Hall, saying that all was well with her son.

"He is very regular in his morning and evening devotions, so that we
all have abundant cause for thankfulness . . . As regards your dear
son and his peace and comfort, you have reason to praise and bless
God on his account . . . He is fully occupied. He keeps a DAILY
Journal of all that goes on, so that he can make a most amusing book
in a month, whenever he wishes to do so."

The first sentence is very puzzling, and would seem to suggest that
Borrow's moods were somehow or other associated with outbursts
against religion. "Be sure you BURN this, or do not leave it about,"
the old lady is admonished.

On the day following the ascent of Snowdon, Mrs Borrow and Henrietta
returned to Llangollen by train, leaving Borrow free to pursue his
wanderings. He eventually arrived at Llangollen on 6th September, by
way of Carnarvon, Festiniog and Bala. After remaining another twenty
days at Llangollen, he despatched his wife and stepdaughter home by
rail. He then bought a small leather satchel, with a strap to sling
it over his shoulder, packed in it a white linen shirt, a pair of
worsted stockings, a razor and a prayer-book. Having had his boots
resoled and his umbrella repaired, he left Llangollen for South
Wales, upon an excursion which was to occupy three weeks. During the
course of this expedition he was taken for many things, from a pork-
jobber to Father Toban himself, as whom he pronounced "the best Latin
blessing I could remember" over two or three dozen Irish reapers to
their entire satisfaction. Eventually he arrived at Chepstow, having
learned a great deal about wild Wales.

One of the excursions that Borrow made from Bangor was to Llanfair in
search of Gronwy, the birthplace of Gronwy Owen. He found in the
long, low house an old woman and five children, descendants of the
poet, who stared at him wonderingly. To each he gave a trifle.
Asking whether they could read, he was told that the eldest could
read anything, whether Welsh or English. In Wild Wales he gives an
account of the interview.

"'Can you write?' said I to the child [the eldest], a little stubby
girl of about eight, with a broad flat red face and grey eyes,
dressed in a chintz gown, a little bonnet on her head, and looking
the image of notableness.

"The little maiden, who had never taken her eyes off of me for a
moment during the whole time I had been in the room, at first made no
answer; being, however, bid by her grandmother to speak, she at
length answered in a soft voice, 'Medraf, I can.'

"'Then write your name in this book,' said I, taking out a pocket-
book and a pencil, 'and write likewise that you are related to Gronwy
Owen--and be sure you write in Welsh.'

"The little maiden very demurely took the book and pencil, and
placing the former on the table wrote as follows:-

"'Ellen Jones yn perthyn o bell i gronow owen.' {417a}

"That is, 'Ellen Jones belonging, from afar off to Gronwy Owen.'"

Ellen Jones is now Ellen Thomas, and she well remembers Borrow coming
along the lane, where she was playing with some other children, and
asking for the house of Gronwy Owen. Later, when she entered the
house, she found him talking to her grandmother, who was a little
deaf as described in Wild Wales. Mrs Thomas' recollection of Borrow
is that he had the appearance of possessing great strength. He had
"bright eyes and shabby dress, more like a merchant than a gentleman,
or like a man come to buy cattle [others made the same mistake].
But, dear me! he did speak FUNNY Welsh," she remarked to a student of
Borrow who sought her out, he could not pronounce the 'll'
[pronouncing the word "pell" as if it rhymed with tell, whereas it
should be pronounced something like "pelth"], and his voice was very
high; but perhaps that was because my grandmother was deaf." He had
plenty of words, but bad pronunciation. William Thomas {418a}
laughed many a time at him coming talking his funny Welsh to him, and
said he was glad he knew a few words of Spanish to answer him with.
Borrow was, apparently, unconscious of any imperfection in his
pronunciation of the "ll". He has written: "'Had you much
difficulty in acquiring the sound of the "ll"?' I think I hear the
reader inquire. None whatever: the double l of the Welsh is by no
means the terrible guttural which English people generally suppose it
to be." {418b}

Mrs Thomas is now sixty-seven years of age (she was eleven and not
eight at the time of Borrow's visit) and still preserves carefully
wrapped up the book from which she read to the white-haired stranger.
The episode was not thought much of at the time, except by the child,
whom it much excited. {418c}

It was in all probability during this, his first tour in Wales, that
Borrow was lost on Cader Idris, and spent the whole of one night in
wandering over the mountain vainly seeking a path. The next morning
he arrived at the inn utterly exhausted. It was quite in keeping
with Borrow's nature to suppress from his book all mention of this
unpleasant adventure. {419a}

The Welsh holiday was unquestionably a success. Borrow's mind had
been diverted from critics and his lost popularity. He had forgotten
that in official quarters he had been overlooked. He was in the land
of Ab Gwilym and Gronwy Owen. "There never was such a place for
poets," he wrote; "you meet a poet, or the birthplace of a poet,
everywhere." {419b} He was delighted with the simplicity of the
people, and in no way offended by their persistent suspicion of all
things Saxon. At least they knew their own poets; and he could not
help comparing the Welsh labouring man who knew Huw Morris, with his
Suffolk brother who had never heard of Beowulf or Chaucer. He
discoursed with many people about their bards, surprising them by his
intimate knowledge of the poets and the poetry of Wales. He found
enthusiasm "never scoffed at by the noble simple-minded genuine
Welsh, whatever treatment it may receive from the coarse-hearted,
sensual, selfish Saxon." {419c} Sometimes he was reminded "of the
substantial yoemen of Cornwall, particularly . . . of my friends at
Penquite." {419d} Wherever he went he experienced nothing but
kindness and hospitality, and it delighted him to be taken for a
Cumro, as was frequently the case.

What Borrow writes about his Welsh is rather contradictory.
Sometimes he represents himself as taken for a Welshman, at others as
a foreigner speaking Welsh. "Oh, what a blessing it is to be able to
speak Welsh!" {420a} he exclaims. He acknowledged that he could read
Welsh with far more ease than he could speak it. There is absolutely
no posing or endeavour to depict himself a perfect Welsh scholar,
whose accent could not be distinguished from that of a native. The
literary results of the Welsh holiday were four Note Books written in
pencil, from which Wild Wales was subsequently written. Borrow was
in Wales for nearly sixteen weeks (1st Aug.--16th November), of which
about a third was devoted to expeditions on foot.

In the annual consultations about holidays, Borrow's was always the
dominating voice. For the year 1855 the Isle of Man was chosen,
because it attracted him as a land of legend and quaint customs and
speech. Accordingly during the early days of September Mrs Borrow
and Henrietta were comfortably settled at Douglas, and Borrow began
to make excursions to various parts of the island. He explored every
corner of it, conversing with the people in Manx, collecting ballads
and old, smoke-stained carvel {420b} (or carol) books, of which he
was successful in securing two examples. He discovered that the
island possessed a veritable literature in these carvels, which were
circulated in manuscript form among the neighbours of the writers.

The old runic inscriptions that he found on the tombstones exercised
a great fascination over Borrow. He would spend hours, or even days
(on one occasion as much as a week), in deciphering one of them.
Thirty years later he was remembered as an accurate, painstaking man.
His evenings were frequently occupied in translating into English the
Manx poem Illiam Dhoo, or Brown William. He discovered among the
Manx traditions much about Finn Ma Coul, or M'Coyle, who appears in
The Romany Rye as a notability of Ireland. He ascended Snaefell,
sought out the daughter of George Killey, the Manx poet, and had much
talk with her, she taking him for a Manxman. The people of the
island he liked.

"In the whole world," he wrote in his 'Note Books,' "there is not a
more honest, kindly race than the genuine Manx. Towards strangers
they exert unbounded hospitality without the slightest idea of
receiving any compensation, and they are, whether men or women, at
any time willing to go two or three miles over mountain and bog to
put strangers into the right road."

During his stay in the Isle of Man, news reached Borrow of the death
of a kinsman, William, son of Samuel Borrow, his cousin, a cooper at
Devonport. William Borrow had gone to America, where he had won a
prize for a new and wonderful application of steam. His death is
said to have occurred as the result of mental fatigue. In this
Borrow saw cause for grave complaint against the wretched English
Aristocracy that forced talent out of the country by denying it
employment or honour, which were all for their "connections and lick-

The holiday in the Isle of Man had resulted in two quarto note books,
aggregating ninety-six pages, closely written in pencil. Again
Borrow planned to write a book, just as he had done on the occasion
of the Cornish visit. Nothing, however, came of it. Among his
papers was found the following draft of a suggested title-page:-


A curious feature of Mrs Borrow's correspondence is her friendly
conspiracies, sometimes with John Murray, sometimes with Woodfall,
the printer, asking them to send encouraging letters that shall
hearten Borrow to greater efforts. On 26th November 1850 John Murray
wrote to her: "I have determined on engraving [by W. Holl] Phillips'
portrait {422a} . . . as a frontispiece to it [Lavengro]. I trust
that this will not be disagreeable to you and the author--in fact I
do it in confident expectation that it will meet with YOUR assent; I
do not ask Mr Borrow's leave, remember."

It must be borne in mind that Mrs Borrow had been in London a few
days previously, in order to deliver to John Murray the manuscript of
Lavengro. Mrs Borrow's reply to this letter is significant. With
regard to the engraving, she writes (28th November), "I LIKE THE IDEA
OF IT, and when Mr Borrow remarked that he did not wish it (as we
expected he would) I reminded him that HIS leave WAS not asked."

Again, on 30th October 1852, Mrs Borrow wrote to Robert Cooke asking
that either he or John Murray would write to Borrow enquiring as to
his health, and progress with The Romany Rye, and how long it would
be before the manuscript were ready for the printer. "Of course,"
she adds, "all this is in perfect confidence to Mr Murray and
yourself as you BOTH of you know my truly excellent Husband well
enough to be aware how much he every now and then requires an impetus
to cause the large wheel to move round at a quicker pace . . . Oblige
me by committing this to the flames, and write to him just as you
would have done, without hearing A WORD FROM ME." On yet another
occasion when she and Borrow were both in London, she writes to Cooke
asking that either he "or Mr Murray will give my Husband a look, if
it be only for a few minutes . . . He seems rather low. Do, NOT let
this note remain on your table," she concludes, "or MENTION it."

If Borrow were a problem to his wife and to his publisher, he
presented equal difficulties to the country folk about Oulton. To
one he was "a missionary out of work," to another "a man who kep'
'isself to 'isself"; but to none was he the tired lion weary of the
chase. "His great delight . . . was to plunge into the darkening
mere at eventide, his great head and heavy shoulders ruddy in the
rays of the sun. Here he hissed and roared and spluttered, sometimes
frightening the eel-catcher sailing home in the half-light, and
remembering suddenly school legends of river-sprites and monsters of
the deep." {423a}

In the spring following his return from the Isle of Man, Borrow made
numerous excursions on foot through East Anglia. He seemed too
restless to remain long in one place. During a tramp from Yarmouth
to Ely by way of Cromer, Holt, Lynn and Wisbech, he called upon Anna
Gurney. {423b} His reason for doing so was that she was one of the
three celebrities of the world he desired to see. The other two were
Daniel O'Connell {423c} and Lamplighter (the sire of Phosphorus),
Lord Berners winner of the Derby. Two of the world's notabilities
had slipped through his fingers by reason of their deaths, but he was
determined that Anna Gurney, who lived at North Repps, should not
evade him. He gave her notice of his intention to call, and found
her ready to receive him.

"When, according to his account, {424a} he had been but a very short
time in her presence, she wheeled her chair round and reached her
hand to one of her bookshelves and took down an Arabic grammar, and
put it into his hand, asking for explanation of some difficult point,
which he tried to decipher; but meanwhile she talked to him
continuously; when, said he, 'I could not study the Arabic grammar
and listen to her at the same time, so I threw down the book and ran
out of the room.'"

It is said that Borrow ran until he reached Old Tucker's Inn at
Cromer, where he ate "five excellent sausages" and found calm. He
then went on to Sheringham and related the incident to the Upchers.

These lonely walking tours soothed Borrow's restless mind. He had
constant change of scene, and his thoughts were diverted by the
adventures of the roadside. He encountered many and interesting
people, on one occasion an old man who remembered the fight between
Painter and Oliver; at another time he saw a carter beating his horse
which had fallen down. "Give him a pint of ale, and I will pay for
it," counselled Borrow. After the second pint the beast got up and
proceeded, "pulling merrily . . . with the other horses."

Ale was Borrow's sovereign remedy for the world's ills and wrongs.
It was by ale that he had been cured when the "Horrors" were upon him
in the dingle. "Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale,
the true and proper drink of Englishmen," he exclaims after having
heartened Jack Slingsby and his family. "He is not deserving of the
name of Englishman," he continues, "who speaketh against ale, that is
good ale." {425a} To John Murray (the Third) he wrote in his letter
of sympathy on the death of his father: "Pray keep up your spirits,
and that you may be able to do so, take long walks and drink plenty
of Scotch ale with your dinner . . . God bless you."

He liked ale "with plenty of malt in it, and as little hop as well
may be--ale at least two years old." {425b} The period of its
maturity changed with his mood. In another place he gives nine or
ten months as the ideal age. {425c} He was all for an Act of
Parliament to force people to brew good ale. He not only drank good
ale himself; but prescribed it as a universal elixir for man and
beast. Hearing from

Elizabeth Harvey "of a lady who was attached to a gentleman," Borrow
demanded bluntly, "Well, did he make her an offer?" "No," was the
response. "Ah," Borrow replied with conviction, "if she had given
him some good ale he would." {425d} He loved best old Burton, which,
with '37 port, were his favourites; yet he would drink whatever ale
the roadside-inn provided, as if to discipline his stomach. It has
been said that he habitually drank "swipes," a thin cheap ale,
because that was the drink of his gypsy friends; but Borrow's
friendship certainly did not often involve him in anything so


Borrow was not a great correspondent, and he left behind him very few
letters from distinguished men of his time. Among those few were
several from Edward FitzGerald, whose character contrasted so
strangely with that of the tempestuous Borrow. In 1856 FitzGerald

LONDON, 27th October 1856.

My Dear Sir,--It is I who send you the new Turkish Dictionary
[Redhouse's Turkish & English Dictionary] which ought to go by this
Post; my reasons being that I bought it really only for the purpose
of doing that little good to the spirited Publisher of the book (who
thought when he began it that the [Crimean] War was to last), and I
send it to you because I should be glad of your opinion, if you can
give it. I am afraid that you will hardly condescend to USE it, for
you abide in the old Meninsky; but if you WILL use it, I shall be
very glad. I don't think _I_ ever shall; and so what is to be done
with it now it is bought?

I don't know what Kerrich told you of my being too LAZY to go over to
Yarmouth to see you a year ago. No such thing as that. I simply had
doubts as to whether you would not rather remain unlookt for. I know
I enjoyed my evening with you a month ago. I wanted to ask you to
read some of the Northern Ballads too; but you shut the book.

I must tell you. I am come up here on my way to Chichester to be
married! to Miss Barton (of Quaker memory) and our united ages amount
to 96!--a dangerous experiment on both sides. She at least brings a
fine head and heart to the bargain--worthy of a better market. But
it is to be, and I dare say you will honestly wish we may do well.

Keep the book as long as you will. It is useless to me. I shall be
to be heard of through Geldeston Hall, Beccles. With compliments to
Mrs Borrow, believe me,

Yours truly,

P.S.--Donne is well, and wants to know about you.

A few months later FitzGerald wrote again:

6th July 1857.

Dear Borrow,--Will you send me [The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam] by
bearer. I only want to look at him, for that Frenchman {427a} has
been misquoting him in a way that will make [Professor] E. Cowell [of
Cambridge] answerable for another's blunder, which must not be. You
shall have 'Omar back directly, or whenever you want him, and I
should really like to make you a copy (taking my time) of the best
Quatrains. I am now looking over the Calcutta MS. which has 500!--
very many quite as good as those in the MS. you have; but very many
in BOTH MSS. are well omitted.

I have been for a fortnight to Geldeston where Kerrich is not very
well. I shall look for you one day in my Yarmouth rounds, and you
know how entirely disengaged and glad to see you I am here. I have
two fresh Nieces with me--and I find I gave you the WORST wine of two
samples Diver sent me. I wish you would send word by bearer you are
better--this one word written will be enough you see.

My old Parson Crabbe is bowing down under epileptic fits, or
something like, and I believe his brave old white head will soon sink
into the village Churchsward. Why, OUR time seems coming. Make way,
Gentlemen!--Yours very truly,


What effect the sweet gentleness of FitzGerald's nature had upon that
of Borrow is not known, for the replies have not been preserved.
FitzGerald was a man capable of soothing the angriest and most
discontented mind, and it is a misfortune that he saw so little of
Borrow. In the early part of the following year (24th Jan. 1857)
FitzGerald wrote to Professor E. B. Cowell of Cambridge:-

"I was with Borrow a week ago at Donne's, and also at Yarmouth three
months ago: he is well, but not yet agreed with Murray. He read me
a long Translation he had made from the Turkish: which I could not
admire, and his Taste becomes stranger than ever." {428a}

From Wales Mrs George Borrow had written (Sept. 1854) to old Mrs
Borrow: "He [Borrow] will, I expect at Christmas, publish his other
work [The Romany Rye] together with his poetry in all the European
languages." {428b} In November (1854) the manuscript of The Romany
Rye was delivered to John Murray, who appears to have taken his time
in reading it; for it was not until 23rd December that he expressed
his views in the following letter. Even when the letter was written
it was allowed to remain in John Murray's desk for five weeks, not
being sent until 27th January:-

My Dear Borrow,--I have read with care the MS. of The Romany Rye and
have pondered anxiously over it; and in what I am about to write I
think I may fairly claim the privilege of a friend deeply interested
in you personally, as well as in your reputation as author, and by no
means insensible to the abilities displayed in your various works.
It is my firm conviction then, that you will incur the certainty of
failure and run the risque of injuring your literary fame by
publishing the MS. as it stands. Very large omissions seem to me--
and in this, Elwin, {429a} no mean judge, concurs--absolutely
indispensable. That Lavengro would have profited by curtailment, I
stated before its publication. The result has verified my
anticipations, and in the present instance I feel compelled to make
it the condition of publication. You can well imagine that it is not
my INTEREST to shorten a book from two volumes to one unless there
were really good cause.

Lavengro clearly has not been successful. Let us not then risque the
chance of another failure, but try to avoid the rock upon which we
then split. You have so great store of interesting matter in your
mind and in your notes, that I cannot but feel it to be a pity that
you should harp always upon one string, as it were. It seems to me
that you have dwelt too long on English ground in this new work, and
have resuscitated some characters of the former book (such as F.
Ardry) whom your readers would have been better pleased to have left
behind. Why should you not introduce us rather to those novel scenes
of Moscovite and Hungarian life respecting which I have heard you
drop so many stimulating allusions. Do not, I pray, take offence at
what I have written. It is difficult and even painful for me to
assume the office of critic, and this is one of the reasons why this
note has lingered so long in my desk. Fortunately, in the advice I
am tendering I am supported by others of better literary judgment
than myself, and who have also deep regard for you. I will specify
below some of the passages which I would point out for omission.--
With best remembrances, I remain, my dear Borrow, Your faithful
publisher and sincere friend,


Suggestions for Omission.

The Hungarian in No. 6.
The Jockey Story, terribly spun out, No. 7.
Visit to the Church, too long.
Interview with the Irishman, Do.
Learning Chinese, too much repetition in this part of a very
interesting chapter.
The Postilion and Highwayman.
Throughout the MS. condensation is indispensable. Many of the
narratives are carried to a tedious length by details and repetition.
The dialogue with Ursula, the song, etc., border on the indelicate.
I like much Horncastle Fair, the Chinese scholar, except objection
noted above.
Grooming of the horse.
January 27, 1855.

On 29th January, Mrs Borrow wrote to John Murray a letter that was
inspired by Borrow himself. Dr Knapp discovered the original draft,
some of which was in Borrow's own hand. It runs:-

Dear Mr Murray,--We have received your letters. In the first place I
beg leave to say something on a very principal point. You talk about
CONDITIONS of publishing. Mr Borrow has not the slightest wish to
publish the book. The MS. was left with you because you wished to
see it, and when left, you were particularly requested not to let it
pass out of your own hands. But it seems you have shown it to
various individuals whose opinions you repeat. What those opinions
are worth may be gathered from the following fact.

The book is one of the most learned works ever written; yet in the
summary of the opinions which you give, not one single allusion is
made to the learning which pervades the book, no more than if it
contained none at all. It is treated just as if all the philological
and historical facts were mere inventions, and the book a common
novel . . .

With regard to Lavengro it is necessary to observe that if ever a
book experienced infamous and undeserved treatment it was that book.
It was attacked in every form that envy and malice could suggest, on
account of Mr Borrow's acquirements and the success of The Bible in
Spain, and it was deserted by those whose duty it was, in some degree
to have protected it. No attempt was ever made to refute the vile
calumny that it was a book got up against the Popish agitation of
'51. It was written years previous to that period--a fact of which
none is better aware than the Publisher. Is that calumny to be still
permitted to go unanswered?

If these suggestions are attended to, well and good; if not, Mr
Borrow can bide his time. He is independent of the public and of
everybody. Say no more on that Russian Subject. Mr Borrow has had
quite enough of the press. If he wrote a book on Russia, it would be
said to be like The Bible in Spain, or it would be said to be unlike
The Bible in Spain, and would be blamed in either case. He has
written a book in connection with England such as no other body could
have written, and he now rests from his labours. He has found
England an ungrateful country. It owes much to him, and he owes
nothing to it. If he had been a low ignorant impostor, like a person
he could name, he would have been employed and honoured.--I remain,
Yours sincerely,



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