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- The Life of George Borrow - 7/90 -

On 2nd April 1824, George Borrow was cast upon the world of London by the death of his father, "with an exterior shy and cold, under which lurk much curiosity, especially with regard to what is wild and extraordinary, a considerable quantity of energy and industry, and an unconquerable love of independence." {40a}

It had become necessary for him to earn his own livelihood. Captain Borrow's pension had ceased with his death, and the old soldier's savings of a lifetime were barely sufficient to produce an income of a hundred pounds a year for his widow. The provision made in the will for his younger son during his minority would operate only for about four months, as he would be of age in the following July. {40b} The clerkship with Simpson & Rackham would expire at the end of March. Borrow had outlined his ambitions in a letter written on 20th January 1824, when he was ill and wretched, to Roger Kerrison, then in London: "If ever my health mends [this has reference to a very unpleasant complaint he had contracted], and possibly it may by the time my clerkship is expired, I intend to live in London, write plays, poetry, etc., abuse religion and get myself prosecuted," for he was tired of the "dull and gloomy town." It was therefore with a feeling of relief that, on the evening of 1st April, he took his seat on the top of the London coach, his hopes centred in a small green box that he carried with him. It contained his stock-in-trade as an author: his beloved manuscripts, "closely written over in a singular hand."

Among the bundles of papers were:

(i.) The Ancient Songs of Denmark, heroic and romantic, translated by himself, with notes philological, critical and historical.

(ii.) The Songs of Ab Gwilym, the Welsh Bard, also translated by himself, with notes critical, philological and historical. {41a}

(iii.) A romance in the German style.

In addition to his manuscripts, Borrow had some twenty or thirty pounds, his testimonials, and a letter from William Taylor to Sir Richard Phillips, the publisher, to whose New Magazine he had already contributed a number of translations of poems. He had also printed in The Monthly Magazine and The New Monthly Magazine translations of verse from the German, Swedish, Dutch, Danish and Spanish, and an essay on Danish ballad writing.

On the morning of 2nd April there arrived at 16 Milman Street, Bedford Row, London, W.C.,

"A lad who twenty tongues can talk, And sixty miles a day can walk; Drink at a draught a pint of rum, And then be neither sick nor dumb; Can tune a song and make a verse, And deeds of Northern kings rehearse; Who never will forsake his friend While he his bony fist can bend; And, though averse to broil and strife, Will fight a Dutchman with a knife; O that is just the lad for me, And such is honest six-foot-three." {42a}

It was through the Kerrisons that Borrow went to 16 Milman Street, where Roger was lodging. His apartments seem to have been dismal enough, consisting of "a small room, up two pair of stairs, in which I was to sit, and another, still smaller, above it, in which I was to sleep." After the first feeling of loneliness had passed, dispelled largely by a bright fire and breakfast, he sallied forth, the contents of the green box under his arm, to present his letter of introduction to Sir Richard Phillips, {42b} in whom centred his hopes of employment.

On arriving at the publisher's house in Tavistock Square, he was immediately shown into Sir Richard's study, where he found "a tall, stout man, about sixty, dressed in a loose morning gown," and with him his confidential clerk Bartlett (the Taggart of Lavengro). Sir Richard was at first enthusiastic and cordial, but when he learned from William Taylor's letter that Borrow had come up to earn his livelihood by authorship, his manner underwent a marked change. The bluff, hearty expression gave place to "a sinister glance," and Borrow found that within that loose morning gown there was a second Sir Richard.

He learned two things--first, that Sir Richard Phillips had retired from publishing and had reserved only The Monthly Magazine; {43a} secondly, that literature was a drug upon the market. With airy self-assertiveness, the ex-publisher dismissed the contents of the green box that Borrow had brought with him, which had already aroused considerable suspicion in the mind of the maid who had admitted him to the publisher's presence.

When he had thoroughly dashed the young author's hopes of employment, Sir Richard informed him of a new publication he had in preparation, The Universal Review [The Oxford Review of Lavengro], which was to support the son of the house and the wife he had married. With a promise that he should become a contributor to the new review, an earnest exhortation to write a story in the style of The Dairyman's Daughter, and an invitation to dinner for the following Sunday, the first interview between George Borrow and Sir Richard Phillips ended, and Borrow left the great man's presence to begin his exploration of London, first leaving his manuscripts at Milman Street. During the rest of the day he walked "scarcely less than thirty miles about the big city." It was late when he returned to his lodgings, thoroughly tired, but with a copy of The Dairyman's Daughter, for "a well- written tale in the style" of which Sir Richard Phillips "could afford as much as ten pounds." The day had been one of the most eventful in Borrow's life.

On the following Sunday Borrow dined at Tavistock Square, and met Lady Phillips, young Phillips and his bride. He learned that Sir Richard was a vegetarian of twenty years' standing and a total abstainer, although meat and wine were not banished from his table. When publisher and potential author were left alone, the son having soon followed the ladies into the drawing-room, Borrow heard of Sir Richard's amiable intentions towards him. He was to compile six volumes of the lives and trials of criminals [the Newgate Lives and Trials of Lavengro], each to contain not less than a thousand pages. {44a} For this work he was to receive the munificent sum of fifty pounds, which was to cover all expenses incurred in the purchase of books, papers and manuscripts necessary to the compilation of the work. This was only one of the employments that the fertile brain of the publisher had schemed for him. He was also to make himself useful in connection with the forthcoming Universal Review. "Generally useful, sir--doing whatever is required of you"; for it was not Sir Richard's custom to allow young writers to select their own subjects.

With impressive manner and ponderous diction, Sir Richard Phillips unfolded his philanthropic designs regarding the young writer to whom his words meant a career. He did not end with the appointment of Borrow as general utility writer upon The Universal Review; but proceeded to astonish him with the announcement that to him, George Borrow, understanding German in a manner that aroused the "strong admiration" of William Taylor, was to be entrusted the translating into that tongue of Sir Richard Phillips' book of Philosophy. {44b} If translations of Goethe into English were a drug, Sir Richard Phillips' Proximate Causes was to prove that neither he nor his book would be a drug in Germany. For this work the remuneration was to be determined by the success of the translation, an arrangement sufficiently vague to ensure eventual disagreement.

When Sir Richard had finished his account of what were his intentions towards his guest, he gave him to understand that the interview was at an end, at the same time intimating how seldom it was that he dealt so generously with a young writer. Borrow then rose from the table and passed out of the house, leaving his host to muse, as was his custom on Sunday afternoons, "on the magnificence of nature and the moral dignity of man."

For the next few weeks Borrow was occupied in searching in out-of- the-way corners for criminal biography. If he flagged, a visit from his philosopher-publisher spurred him on to fresh effort. He received a copy of Proximate Causes, with an injunction that he should review it in The Universal Review, as well as translate it into German. He was taken to and introduced to the working editor {45a} of the new publication, which was only ostensibly under the control of young Phillips.

In the provision that he should purchase at his own expense all the necessary materials for Celebrated Trials, Borrow found a serious tax upon his resources; but a harder thing to bear with patience and good-humour were the frequent visits he received from Sir Richard himself, who showed the keenest possible interest in the progress of the compilation. He had already caused a preliminary announcement to be made {45b} to the effect that:

"A Selection of the most remarkable Trials and Criminal Causes is printing, in five volumes. {46a} It will include all famous cases, from that of Lord Cobham, in the reign of Henry the Fifth, to that of John Thurtell: and those connected with foreign as well as English jurisprudence. Mr Borrow, the editor, has availed himself of all the resources of the English, German, French, and Italian languages; and his work, including from 150 to 200 {46b} of the most interesting cases on record, will appear in October next." {46c}

Sir Richard's visits to Milman Street were always accompanied by numerous suggestions as to criminals whose claims to be included in this literary chamber of horrors were in his, Sir Richard's, opinion unquestionable. The English character of the compilation was soon sacrificed in order to admit notable malefactors of other nationalities, and the drain upon the editor's small capital became greater than ever.

The leisure that he allowed himself, Borrow spent in exploring the city, or in the company of Francis Arden (Ardrey in Lavengro), whom he had met by chance in the coffee-room of a hotel. The two appear to have been excellent friends, perhaps because of the dissimilarity of their natures. "He was an Irishman," Borrow explains, "I an Englishman; he fiery, enthusiastic and opened-hearted; I neither fiery, enthusiastic, nor open-hearted; he fond of pleasure and dissipation, I of study and reflection." {46d}

They went to the play together, to dog-fights, gaming-houses, in

The Life of George Borrow - 7/90

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