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- The Life of George Borrow - 60/90 -


concerning its progress. The Secretary of the Bible Society has just lent him his letters from Russia, "which will be of great assistance in the Life, as I shall work them up as I did those relating to Spain. The first volume," he continues, "will be devoted to England entirely, and my pursuits and adventures in early life." He recognises that he must be careful of the reputation that he has earned. His new book is to be original, as would be seen when it at last appears; but he confesses that occasionally he feels "tremendously lazy." On another occasion (27th March 1843) he writes to John Murray, Junr.: "I hope by the end of next year that I shall have part of my life ready for the press in 3 vols." Six months later (2nd Oct. 1843) he writes to John Murray:-

"I wish I had another Bible ready; but slow and sure is my maxim. The book which I am at present about will consist, if I live to finish it of a series of Rembrandt pictures interspersed here and there with a Claude. I shall tell the world of my parentage, my early thoughts and habits; how I became a sap-engro, or viper- catcher; my wanderings with the regiment in England, Scotland and Ireland . . . Then a great deal about Norwich, Billy Taylor, Thurtell, etc.; how I took to study and became a lav-engro. What do you think of this as a bill of fare for the FIRST Vol.? The second will consist of my adventures in London as an author in the year '23 (sic), adventures on the Big North Road in '24 (sic), Constantinople, etc. The third--but I shall tell you no more of my secrets."

In a letter to John Murray (25th Oct. 8843), the title is referred to as Lavengro: A Biography. It is to be "full of grave fun and solemn laughter like the Bible." On 6th December he again writes:-

"I do not wish for my next book to be advertised yet; I have a particular reason. The Americans are up to everything which affords a prospect of gain, and I should not wonder that, provided I were to announce my title, and the book did not appear forthwith, they would write one for me and send forth their trash into the world under my name. For my own part I am in no hurry," he proceeds. "I am writing to please myself, and am quite sure that if I can contrive to please myself, I shall please the public also. Had I written a book less popular than the Bible, I should be less cautious; but I know how much is expected from me, and also know what a roar of exultation would be raised by my enemies (and I have plenty) were I to produce anything that was not first rate."

Time after time he insists upon his determination to publish nothing that is not "as good as the last." "I shall go on with my Life," he writes, to Ford (9th Feb. 1844), "but slowly and lazily. What I write, however, is GOOD. I feel it is good, strange and wild as it is." {367a}

From 24th-27th Jan. 1844 that "most astonishing fellow" Richard Ford visited Borrow at Oulton, urging again in person, most likely, the lifting of the veil that obscured those seven mysterious years. Ford has himself described this visit to Borrow in a letter written from Oulton Hall.

"I am here on a visit to El Gitano;" he writes, "two 'rum' coves, in a queer country . . . we defy the elements, and chat over las cosas de Espana, and he tells me portions of his life, more strange even than his book. We scamper by day over the country in a sort of gig, which reminds me of Mr Weare on his trip with Mr THURTELL [Borrow's old preceptor]; 'Sidi Habismilk' is in the stable and a Zamarra [sheepskin coat] now before me, writing as I am in a sort of summer- house called La Mezquita, in which El Gitano concocts his lucubrations, and PAINTS his pictures, for his object is to colour up and poetise his adventures."

By this last sentence Ford showed how thoroughly he understood Borrow's literary methods. A fortnight later Borrow writes to Ford:-

"You can't think how I miss you and our chats by the fireside. The wine, now I am alone, has lost its flavour, and the cigars make me ill. I am frequently in my valley of the shadows, and had I not my summer jaunt [the Eastern Tour] to look forward to, I am afraid it would be all up with your friend and Batushka."

The Eastern Tour considerably interfered with the writing of Lavengro. There was a seven months' break; but Borrow settled down to work on it again, still determined to take his time and produce a book that should be better than The Bible in Spain.

Ford's Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain and Readers at Home appeared in 1845, a work that had cost its author upwards of sixteen years of labour. In a letter to Borrow he characterised it as "a RUM book and has queer stuff in it, although much expurgated for the sake of Spain." Ford was very anxious that Borrow should keep the promise that he had given two years previously to review the Hand-Book when it appeared. "You will do it MAGNIFICENTLY. 'Thou art the man,'" Ford had written with the greatest enthusiasm. On 2nd June an article of thirty-seven folio pages was despatched by Borrow to John Murray for The Quarterly Review, with the following from Mrs Borrow:-

"With regard to the article, it must not be received as a specimen of what Mr Borrow would have produced had he been well, but he considered his promise to Mr Ford sacred--and it is only to be wished that it had been written under more favourable circumstances." Borrow was ill at the time, having been "very unwell for the last month," as Mrs Borrow explains, "and particularly so lately. Shivering fits have been succeeded by burning fever, till his strength was much reduced; and he at present remains in a low, and weak state, and what is worse, we are by no means sure that the disease is subdued."

Ford saw in Borrow "a crack reviewer." " . . . You have," he assured him in 1843, "only to write a LONG LETTER, having read the book carefully and thought over the subject." Ford also wrote to Borrow (26th Oct. 1843): "I have written several letters to Murray recommending them to BAG you forthwith, unless they are demented." There was no doubt in his, Ford's, mind as to the acceptance of Borrow's article.

"If insanity does not rule the Q. R. camp, they will embrace the offer with open arms in their present Erebus state of dullness," he tells Borrow, then, with a burst of confidence continues, "But, barring politics, I confidentially tell you that the Ed[inburgh] Rev. does business in a more liberal and more business-like manner than the Q[uarterly] Rev. I am always dunning this into Murray's head. More flies are caught with honey than vinegar. Soft sawder, especially if plenty of GOLD goes into the composition, cements a party and keeps earnest pens together. I grieve, for my heart is entirely with the Q. R., its views and objects."

The article turned out to be, not a review of the Hand-Book, but a bitter attack on Spain and her rulers. The second part was to some extent germane to the subject, but it appears to have been more concerned with Borrow's view of Spain and things Spanish than with Ford's book. Lockhart saw that it would not do. In a letter to John Murray he explains very clearly and very justly the objections to using the article as it stood.

"I am very sorry," he writes (13th June), "after Borrow has so kindly exerted himself during illness, that I must return his paper. I read the MS. with much pleasure; but clever and brilliant as he is sure always to be, it was very evident that he had not done such an article as Ford's merits required; and I therefore intended to adopt Mr Borrow's lively diatribe, but interweave with his matter and add to it, such observations and extracts as might, I thought, complete the paper in a REVIEW SENSE.

"But it appears that Mr B. won't allow anybody to tamper with his paper; therefore here it is. It will be highly ornamental as it stands to any Magazine, and I have no doubt either Blackwood or Fraser or Colburn will be [only] too happy to insert it next month, if applied to now.

"Mr Borrow would not have liked that, when his Bible in Spain came out, we should have printed a brilliant essay by Ford on some point of Spanish interest, but including hardly anything calculated to make the public feel that a new author of high consequence had made his appearance among us--one bearing the name, not of Richard Ford, but of George Borrow."

Lockhart was right and Borrow was wrong. There is no room for equivocation. Borrow should have sunk his pride in favour of his friendship for Ford, who had, even if occasionally a little tedious in his epistolary enthusiasm, always been a loyal friend; but Borrow was ill and excuses must be made for him. Lockhart wrote also to Ford describing Borrow's paper as "just another capital chapter of his Bible in Spain," which he had read with delight, but there was "hardly a word of REVIEW, and no extract giving the least notion of the peculiar merits and style especially, of the Hand-Book." "He is unwell," continued Lockhart, "I should be very sorry to bother him more at present; and, moreover, from the little he has said of your STYLE, I am forced to infer that a REVIEW of your book by him would never be what I could feel authorised to publish in the Q. R." The letter concludes with a word of condolence that the Hand-Book will have to be committed to other hands.

Ford realised the difficulty of the situation in which he was placed, and strove to wriggle out of it by telling Borrow that his wife had said all along that

"'Borrow can't write anything dull enough for your set; I wonder how 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


The Life of George Borrow - 60/90

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