HotFreeBooks.com
Lavengro - The Scholar, The Gypsy, The Priest
by George Borrow
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcribed from the 1900 Macmillian and Co. Edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org



LAVENGRO THE SCHOLAR, THE GYPSY, THE PRIEST

BY GEORGE BORROW

ILLUSTRATED BY E. J. SULLIVAN

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY AUGUSTINE BIRRELL, Q.C., M.P.

London MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1900

All rights reserved

First published in "Macmillan's Illustrated Standard Novel," 1896 Reprinted 1900

{picture:George Borrow: page0.jpg}



INTRODUCTION

The author of Lavengro, the Scholar, the Gypsy, and the Priest has after his fitful hour come into his own, and there abides securely. Borrow's books,—carelessly written, impatient, petulant, in parts repellant,—have been found so full of the elixir of life, of the charm of existence, of the glory of motion, so instinct with character, and mood, and wayward fancy, that their very names are sounds of enchantment, whilst the fleeting scenes they depict and the deeds they describe have become the properties and the pastimes for all the years that are still to be of a considerable fraction of the English-speaking race.

And yet I suppose it would be considered ridiculous in these fine days to call Borrow a great artist. His fascination, his hold upon his reader, is not the fascination or the hold of the lords of human smiles and tears. They enthrall us; Borrow only bewitches. Isopel Berners, hastily limned though she be, need fear comparison with no damsel that ever lent sweetness to the stage, relish to rhyme, or life to novel. She can hold up her head and take her own part amidst all the Rosalinds, Beatrices, and Lucys that genius has created and memory can muster. But how she came into existence puzzles us not a little. Was she summoned out of nothingness by the creative fancy of Lavengro, or did he really first set eyes upon her in the dingle whither she came with the Flaming Tinman, whose look Lavengro did not like at all? Reality and romance, though Borrow made them wear double harness, are not meant to be driven together. It is hard to weep aright over Isopel Berners. The reader is tortured by a sense of duty towards her. This distraction prevents our giving ourselves away to Borrow. Perhaps after all he did meet the tall girl in the dingle, in which case he was a fool for all his pains, losing a gift the gods could not restore.

Quite apart from this particular doubt, the reader of Borrow feels that good luck, happy chance, plays a larger part in the charm of the composition than is quite befitting were Borrow to be reckoned an artist. But nobody surely will quarrel with this ingredient. It can turn no stomach. Happy are the lucky writers! Write as they will, they are almost certain to please. There is such a thing as 'sweet unreasonableness.'

But no sooner is this said than the necessity for instant and substantial qualification becomes urgent, for though Borrow's personal vanity would have been wounded had he been ranked with the literary gentlemen who do business in words, his anger would have been justly aroused had he been told he did not know how to write. He did know how to write, and he acquired the art in the usual way, by taking pains. He might with advantage have taken more pains, and then he would have done better; but take pains he did. In all his books he aims at producing a certain impression on the minds of his readers, and in order to produce that impression he was content to make sacrifices; hence his whimsicality, his out-of-the-wayness, at once his charm and his snare, never grows into wantonness and seldom into gross improbability. He studied effects, as his frequent and impressive liturgical repetitions pleasingly demonstrate. He had theories about most things, and may, for all I know, have had a theory of cadences. For words he had no great feeling except as a philologist, and is capable of strange abominations. 'Individual' pursues one through all his pages, where too are 'equine species,' 'finny tribe'; but finding them where we do even these vile phrases, and others nearly as bad, have a certain humour.

This chance remark brings me to the real point. Borrow's charm is that he has behind his books a character of his own, which belongs to his books as much as to himself; something which bears you up and along as does the mystery of the salt sea the swimmer. And this something lives and stirs in almost every page of Borrow, whose restless, puzzling, teasing personality pervades and animates the whole.

He is the true adventurer who leads his life, not on the Stock Exchange amidst the bulls and bears, or in the House of Commons waiting to clutch the golden keys, or in South Africa with the pioneers and promoters, but with himself and his own vagrant moods and fancies. There was no need for Borrow to travel far afield in search of adventures. Mumpers' Dell was for him as good an environment as Mexico; a village in Spain or Portugal served his turn as well as both the Indies; he was as likely to meet adventures in Pall Mall as in the far Soudan. Strange things happen to him wherever he goes; odd figures step from out the hedgerow and engage him in wild converse; beggar-women read Moll Flanders on London Bridge; Armenian merchants cuff deaf and dumb clerks in London counting- houses; prize-fighters, dog-fanciers, Methodist preachers, Romany ryes and their rawnees move on and off. Why should not strange things happen to Lavengro? Why should not strange folk suddenly make their appearance before him and as suddenly take their departure? Is he not strange himself? Did he not puzzle Mr. Petulengro, excite the admiration of Mrs. Petulengro, the murderous hate of Mrs. Herne, and drive Isopel Berners half distracted?

Nobody has, so far, attempted to write the life of George Borrow. Nor can we wonder. How could any one dare to follow in the phosphorescent track of Lavengro and The Romany Rye, or add a line or a hue to the portraits there contained of Borrow's father and mother—the gallant soldier who had no chance, and whose most famous engagement took place, not in Flanders, or in Egypt, or on the banks of the Indus or Oxus, but in Hyde Park, his foe being Big Ben Brain; and the dame of the oval face, olive complexion, and Grecian forehead, sitting in the dusky parlour in the solitary house at the end of the retired court shaded by lofty poplars? I pity 'the individual' whose task it should be to travel along the enchanted wake either of Lavengro in England or Don Jorge in Spain. Poor would be his part; no better than that of Arthur in 'The Bothie':—

And it was told, the Piper narrating and Arthur correcting, Colouring he, dilating, magniloquent, glorying in picture, He to a matter-of-fact still softening, paring, abating, He to the great might-have-been upsoaring, sublime and ideal, He to the merest it-was restricting, diminishing, dwarfing, River to streamlet reducing, and fall to slope subduing: So it was told, the Piper narrating, corrected of Arthur.

George Borrow, like many another great man, was born in Norfolk, at East Dereham, in 1803, and at an early age began those rambles he has made famous, being carried about by his father, Captain Borrow, who was chiefly employed as a recruiting officer. The reader of Lavengro may safely be left to make out his own itinerary. Whilst in Edinburgh Borrow attended the High School, and acquired the Scottish accent. It is not too much to say that he has managed to make even Edinburgh more romantic simply by abiding there for a season. From Scotland he went to Ireland, and learnt to ride, as well as to talk the Irish tongue, and to seek etymologies wherever they were or were not to be found. But for a famous Irish cob, whose hoofs still sound in our ears, Borrow, so he says, might have become a mere philologist. From Ireland he returned with his parents to Norwich, and resumed studies, which must have been, from a schoolmaster's point of view, grievously interrupted, under the Rev. Edward Valpy at King Edward's School. Here he seems to have been for two or three years. Dr. Jessopp has told us the story of Borrow's dyeing his face with walnut juice, and Valpy gravely inquiring of him, 'Borrow, are you suffering from jaundice, or is it only dirt?' The Rajah of Sarawak, Sir Archdale Wilson, and the Rev. James Martineau were at school with 'Lavengro.' Dr. Jessopp, who in 1859 became headmaster of King Edward's School, and who has been a Borrovian from the beginning, found the school tradition to be that Borrow, who never reached the sixth form, was indolent and even stupid. In 1819,—the reader will be glad of a date,—Borrow left school, and was articled to a solicitor in Norwich, and sat for some eight hours every day behind a lofty deal desk copying deeds and, it may be presumed, making abstracts of title,—a harmless pursuit which a year or two later entirely failed to engage the attention of young Mr. Benjamin Disraeli in Montague Place. Neither of these distinguished men can honestly be said ever to have acquired what is called the legal mind, a mental equipment which the younger of them had once the effrontery to define as a talent for explaining the self-evident, illustrating the obvious and expatiating on the commonplace. 'By adopting the law,' says Borrow, 'I had not ceased to be Lavengro.' He learnt Welsh when he should have been reading Blackstone. He studied German under the direction of the once famous William Taylor of Norwich, who in 1821 wrote to Southey: 'A Norwich young man is construing with me Schiller's William Tell, with a view of translating it for the press. His name is George Henry Borrow, and he has learnt German with extraordinary rapidity. Indeed, he has the gift of tongues, and though not yet eighteen, understands twelve languages—English, Welsh, Erse, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. He would like to get into the office for Foreign Affairs, but does not know how.'

It only takes five years to make an attorney, and Borrow ought therefore, had he served out his time, to have become a gentleman by Act of Parliament in 1824 or 1825. He did not do so, though he appears to have remained in Norwich until after 1826. In that year appeared his Romantic Ballads from the Danish, printed by Simon Wilkins of Norwich by subscription. Dr. Jessopp opines that the Romantic Ballads must have brought their translator 'a very respectable sum after paying all the expenses of publication.' I hope it was so, but, as Dr. Johnson once said about the immortality of the soul, I should like more evidence of it. When Borrow left Norwich for London, it is hard to say. It was after the death of his father, and was not likely to have been later than 1828. His only introduction appears to have been one from William Taylor to Sir Richard Phillips, 'the publisher' known to all readers of Lavengro. Sir Richard was one of the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, and in addition to sundry treatises on the duties of juries, was the author of two lucubrations, respectively entitled The Phaenomena called by the name of Gravitation proved to be Proximate Effects of the Orbicular and Rotary Motions of the Earth and On the New Theory of the System of the Universe. In Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica, 1824, Sir Richard is thus contemptuously referred to: 'This personage is the editor of The Monthly Magazine, in which many of his effusions may be found with the signature of "Common Sense."' It is not too much to say that but for Borrow this nefarious man would be utterly forgotten; as it is, he lives for ever in the pages of Lavengro, a hissing and a reproach. Authors have an ugly trick of getting the better of their publishers in the long run. After leaving London Borrow began the wanderings described in Lavengro and The Romany Rye. Those concluded, probably in 1829 or 1830, he crossed the British Channel, and like another Goldsmith, wandered on foot over the Continent of Europe, visiting France, Italy, Austria, and Russia. Of his adventures in these countries there is unhappily no record. In St. Petersburg he must have made a long stay, for there he superintended the translation of the Bible into Mandschu- Tartar, and published in 1835 his Targum; or Metrical Translations from Thirty Languages and Dialects. In 1835 Borrow returned to London, and being already known to the Bible Society for his biblical labours in Russia, was offered, and accepted, the task of circulating the Scriptures in the Spanish Peninsula. As for his labours in this field, which occupied him so agreeably for four or five years, are they not narrated in The Bible in Spain, a book first published by 'Glorious John Murray' in three volumes in 1843? This is the book which made Borrow famous, though his earlier work, The Zincali; or an Account of the Gypsies of Spain (two vols. 1841), had attracted a good deal of notice. But The Bible in Spain took readers by storm, and no wonder! Sir Robert Peel named it in the House of Commons; its perusal imparted a new sensation, the sensation of literature, to many a pious subscriber to the Bible Society. The book, wherever it went,—and it went where such like books do not often go,—carried joy and rapture with it. Young people hailed it tumultuously and cherished it tenderly. There were four editions in three volumes in the year of publication. What was thought of the book by the Bible Society I do not know. Perhaps 'he of the countenance of a lion,' of whom we read in the forty-fifth chapter of Lavengro, scarcely knew what to say about it; but the precise-looking man with the ill-natured countenance, no doubt, forbade his family to read The Bible in Spain.

In 1840 Borrow married the widow of a naval officer and settled in Norfolk, where his aged mother was still living. His house was in Oulton Broad; and here he became a notable, the hero of many stories, and the friend of man, provided he was neither literary nor genteel. Here also he finished Lavengro (1851), and wrote The Romany Rye (1857), Wild Wales (1862), and Romano Lavo-Lil: the Word-Book of the Romany (1874). For a time Borrow had a house in London in Hereford Square, where his wife died in 1869. He died himself at Oulton in August 1881, leaving behind him, so it is frequently asserted, many manuscript volumes, including treatises on Celtic poetry, on Welsh and Cornish and Manx literature, as well as translations from the Norse and Russ and the jest-books of Turkey. Some, at all events, of these works were advertised as 'ready for the press' in 1858.

The Bible in Spain was a popular book, and in 1843, the year of its publication, its author, a man of striking appearance, was much feted and regarded by the lion-hunters of the period. Borrow did not take kindly to the den. He was full of inbred suspicions and, perhaps, of unreasonable demands. He resented the confinement of the dinner-table, the impalement of the ball-room, the imprisonment of the pew. Like the lion in Browning's poem, 'The Glove'—

You saw by the flash on his forehead, By the hope in those eyes wide and steady, He was leagues in the desert already, Driving the flocks up the mountain.

He began to write Lavengro in London in 1843. His thoughts went back to his old friend Petulengro, who pronounced life to be sweet: 'There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things. There's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?' Yes, or to live cribbed, cabined, and confined in a London square! No wonder 'Lavengro' felt cross and uncomfortable. Nor did he take much pleasure in the society of the other lions of the hour, least of all of such a lion as Sir John Bowring, M.P. Was not Bowring 'Lavengro' as much as Borrow himself? Had he not—for there was no end to his impudence—travelled in Spain, and actually published a pamphlet in the vernacular? Was he not meditating translations from a score of languages he said he knew? Was he not, furthermore, an old Radical and Republican turned genteel? Were not his wife and daughters more than half suspected of being Jacobites, followers of the Reverend Mr. Platitude, and addicted to 'Charley o'er the Waterism'? Borrow did not get on with Bowring.

When Borrow shook the dust of London off his feet, and returned into Norfolk with Lavengro barely begun on his hands, he carried away with him into his retreat the antipathies and prejudices, the whimsical dislikes and the half-real, half-sham disappointments and chagrins which London, that fertile mother of megrims, had bred in him, and dropped them all into the ink with which he wrote his famous book. Gentility he forswore. Whatever else Lavengro might turn out, genteel he was not to be; and sure enough, when Lavengro made his appearance in 1851 genteel he most certainly was not.

There was not the same public to welcome the Gypsy as had hailed the Colporteur. The pious phrases which had garnished so plentifully the earlier book had now almost wholly disappeared. There is no evidence that Lavengro ever offered Petulengro a Bible. Even the denunciations of Popery have a dubious sound. What is sometimes called 'the religious world' were no longer buyers of Borrow. Nor was 'the polite world' much better pleased. The polite reader was both puzzled and annoyed. First of all: Was the book true—autobiography or romance? A polite reader objects to be made a fool of. One De Foe in a couple of centuries is enough for a polite reader. Then the glorification of ale and of gypsies and prize-fighters—would it not be better at once to dub the book vulgar, and so have done with it for ever? An ill-regulated book, a strange book, a mad book, a book which condemns the world's way. If I may judge from the reviews, this is how Lavengro struck many, but by no means all. The book had its passionate admirers, its lovers from the first. Men, women, and boys took it to their hearts. Happy day when Lavengro first fell into boyish hands. It brought adventure and the spirit of adventure to your doorstep. No need painfully to walk to Hull, and there take shipping with Robinson Crusoe; no need to sail round the world with Captain Cook, or even to shoot lions in Bechuanaland with that prince of missionaries, Mr. Robert Moffat; for were there not gypsies on the common half a mile from one's homestead, and a dingle at the end of the lane? But the general verdict was, '"Lavengro" has gone too far.'

Borrow was not the man to whistle and let the world go by. His advice to his country men and women was: 'To be courteous to everybody as Lavengro was, but always independent like him, and if people meddle with them, to give them as good as they bring, even as he and Isopel Berners were in the habit of doing; and it will be as well for him to observe that he by no means advises women to be too womanly, but, bearing the conduct of Isopel Berners in mind, to take their own parts, and if anybody strikes them to strike again.'

This is not the spirit which is patient under reproof. Borrow was not going to be sentenced by the gentility party. He would fulfil his dukkeripen. Lavengro having ended abruptly enough, Borrow took .up the tale where he had left it off; and though he kept his admirers on the tenter-hooks for six years, did at last in 1857 give to the world The Romany Rye, to which he added an Appendix. Ah! that Appendix! It is Borrow's Apologia, and therefore must be read. It is interesting and amusing, and is therefore easily read. But it is a cruel and outrageous bit of writing all the same, proving, were proof needed, that it is every whit as easy to be spiteful and envious in dells as in drawing-rooms, and as vain and egotistical on a Norfolk Broad as in Grosvenor Square. In this Appendix Borrow defends 'Lavengro,' both the book and the man, at some length, and with enormous spirit. At gentility in all its manifestations he runs amuck. The Stuarts have a chapter to themselves. Jacobites, old and new; Papists, old and new; and, alas! Sir Walter Scott as the father of 'Charley o'er the Waterism,' all fall by turn under the lash of Lavengro. The attack on the memory of Sir Walter is brutal. Not so, we may be sure, did Pearce, and Cribb, and Spring, and Big Ben Brain, and Broughton, heroes of renown, win name and fame in the brave days of old. They never struck a man when he was down, or gloated over a rival's fall. However, it will not do to get angry with George Borrow. One could never keep it up. Still, the Appendix is a pity.

Next to Borrow's vagabondage, which, though I tremble to say it, has a decidedly literary flavour, and his delightful camaraderie or willingness to hob-a-nob with everybody, I rank his eloquence. Great is plot, though Borrow has but little, and that little mechanical; delightful is incident, and Borrow is full of incident—e.g. the poisoning scene in Chapter LXXI., where will you match it, unless it be the very differently-treated scene of the robbers' cave in The Heart of Midlothian? and glorious, too, is motion, and Borrow never stagnates, never gathers moss or mould. But great also is eloquence. 'If a book be eloquent,' says Mr. Stevenson, that most distinguished writer, 'its words run thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers.' Eloquence is a little unfashionable just now. We are not allowed very much of it in our romances and travels. What are called 'situations' grow stronger every day, and language is strong too, but outbursts, apostrophes, rhapsodies no longer abound. Perhaps they are forbidden by Art. Nobody is ever eloquent in real life. A man's friends would not put up with it. But a really eloquent book is a great possession. Plots explode, and incidents, however varied and delightful, unless lit up by the occasional lightning-flash of true eloquence, must after a while lose their freshness. Borrow was not afraid to be eloquent, nor were other writers of his time. The first Lord Lytton is now a somewhat disparaged author, nor had Borrow any affection for him, considering him to belong to the kid-glove school; but Lytton's eloquence, though often playing him shabby tricks, now dashing his head against the rocks of bathos, now casting him to sprawl unbecomingly amongst the oozy weeds of sentiment, will keep him alive for many a long day. As I write, a passage in The Caxtons comes to my mind, and as it illustrates my meaning, I will take down The Caxtons and transcribe the passage, and let those laugh who may. I will likewise christen it 'By the Fireside':—

O young reader, whoever thou art, or reader at least who has been young, canst thou not remember some time when, with thy wild troubles and sorrows as yet borne in secret, thou hast come back from that hard, stern world, which opens on thee when thou puttest thy foot out of the threshold of home, come back to the four quiet walls, wherein thine elders sit in peace, and seen with a sort of sad amaze how calm and undisturbed all is there? That generation which has gone before thee in the path of passion, the generation of thy parents (not so many years, perchance, remote from thine own), how immovably far off, in its still repose, it seems from thy turbulent youth. It has in it a stillness as of a classic age, antique as the statues of the Greeks, that tranquil monotony of routine into which those lives that preceded thee have merged, the occupations that they have found sufficing for their happiness by the fireside—in the arm-chair and corner appropriated to each—how strangely they contrast thy own feverish excitement! And they make room for thee, and bid thee welcome, and then resettle to their hushed pursuits as if nothing had happened! Nothing had happened! while in thy heart, perhaps, the whole world seems to have shot from its axis, all the elements to be at war! And you sit down, crushed by that quiet happiness which you can share no more, and smile mechanically, and look into the fire; and, ten to one, you say nothing till the time comes for bed, and you take up your candle, and creep miserably to your lonely room.

This is not the eloquence of Borrow, though the thought might have been his; it may not be in that grand style of which we hear so much and read so little, but—and this is the substance of the matter—it is interesting, it is moving, and worth pages of choppy dialogue. You read it, first of all, it may be in your youth, when your heart burnt within you as you wondered what was going to happen, but you can return to it in sober age and read it over again with a smile it has taken a lifetime to manufacture. And then Miss Bronte's books! what rhetoric is there! And Eothen! Why has not Eothen gone the way of all other traces of Eastern travel? It has humour—delightful humour, no doubt, but it is its eloquence, that picture of the burning, beating sun following the traveller by day, which keeps Eothen alive.

Borrow's eloquence is splendid, manly, and desperately courageous. What an apostrophe is that to old Crome at the end of the twenty-first chapter! Lavengro is full of riches. As for his courage, who else could begin a passage 'O England,' and emerge triumphantly a page and a half lower down as Borrow does in The Bible in Spain?

O England! long, long may it be ere the sun of thy glory sink beneath the wave of darkness! Though gloomy and portentous clouds are now gathering rapidly round thee, still, still may it please the Almighty to disperse them, and to grant thee a futurity longer in duration and still brighter in renown than thy past! Or if thy doom be at hand, may that doom be a noble one, and worthy of her who has been styled the Old Queen of the water! May thou sink, if thou dost sink, amidst blood and flame, with a mighty noise, causing more than one nation to participate in thy downfall! Of all fates, may it please the Lord to preserve thee from a disgraceful and a slow decay; becoming ere extinct a scorn and a mockery for those self-same foes who now, though they envy and abhor thee, still fear thee, nay, even against their will, honour and respect thee!

Arouse thee, whilst yet there is time, and prepare thee for the combat of life and death! Cast from thee the foul scurf which now encrusts thy robust limbs, which deadens their force, and makes them heavy and powerless! Cast from thee thy false philosophers, who would fain decry what, next to the love of God, has hitherto been deemed most sacred, the love of the mother land! Cast from thee thy false patriots, who, under the pretext of redressing the wrongs of the poor and weak, seek to promote internal discord, so that thou mayest become only terrible to thyself! And remove from thee the false prophets who have seen vanity and divined lies; who have daubed thy wall with untempered mortar, that it may fall; who have strengthened the hands of the wicked, and made the hearts of the righteous sad. O, do this, and fear not the result, for either shall thy end be a majestic and an enviable one, or God shall perpetuate thy reign upon the waters, thou old Queen!

George Borrow,—and this is the last of his virtues with which I shall weary you,—had a true English heart. He could make friends with anybody and be at home anywhere, but though he had a mighty thirst he had never, in the words of the elder Pitt, 'drunk of the potion described in poetic fictions which makes men forget their country.'

I have the permission of the Rev. A. W. Upcher to reprint the following letter addressed by him some time ago to the Athenaeum .—

One summer day during the Crimean War we had a call from George Borrow, who had not enjoyed a visit to Anna Gurney so much as he had expected. In a walking tour round Norfolk he had given her a short notice of his intended call, and she was ready to receive him. When, according to his account, 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.' He seems not to have stopped running till he reached Old Tucker's Inn at Cromer, where he renewed his strength, or calmed his temper, with five excellent sausages, and then came on to Sheringham. He told us there were three personages in the world whom he always had a desire to see; two of these had slipped through his fingers, so he was determined to see the third. 'Pray, Mr. Borrow, who were they?' He held up three fingers of his left hand and pointed them off with the forefinger of the right: the first, Daniel O'Connell; the second, Lamplighter (the sire of Phosphorus, Lord Berners's winner of the Derby); the third, Anna Gurney. The first two were dead and he had not seen them; now he had come to see Anna Gurney, and this was the end of his visit. I took him up to the Hall, he talking of many persons and occasionally doubling his fist, and giving a sort of warning like that of his Isopel Berners (in Lavengro) to give the Flaming Tinman 'Long Melford' with his right hand. As soon as we reached the Hall a battle- piece by Wouvermans was the first thing that caught his eye and greatly interested him. He told me of a descendant of Wouvermans—an officer in the Austrian army—whom he knew. Then entering the drawing- room and looking out of the bay-window through the oak wood on the deep blue sea beyond, he seemed for some time quite entranced by the lovely, peaceful view, till at last I felt I must arouse him, and said, 'A charming view, Mr. Borrow!' With a deep sigh he slowly answered, 'Yes!—please God the Russians don't come here.'



PREFACE

In the following pages I have endeavoured to describe a dream, partly of study, partly of adventure, in which will be found copious notices of books, and many descriptions of life and manners, some in a very unusual form.

The scenes of action lie in the British Islands;—pray be not displeased, gentle reader, if perchance thou hast imagined that I was about to conduct thee to distant lands, and didst promise thyself much instruction and entertainment from what I might tell thee of them. I do assure thee that thou hast no reason to be displeased, inasmuch as there are no countries in the world less known by the British than these selfsame British Islands, or where more strange things are every day occurring, whether in road or street, house or dingle.

The time embraces nearly the first quarter of the present century: this information again may, perhaps, be anything but agreeable to thee; it is a long time to revert to, but fret not thyself, many matters which at present much occupy the public mind originated in some degree towards the latter end of that period, and some of them will be treated of.

The principal actors in this dream, or drama, are, as you will have gathered from the title-page, a Scholar, a Gypsy, and a Priest. Should you imagine that these three form one, permit me to assure you that you are very much mistaken. Should there be something of the Gypsy manifest in the Scholar, there is certainly nothing of the Priest. With respect to the Gypsy—decidedly the most entertaining character of the three—there is certainly nothing of the Scholar or the Priest in him; and as for the Priest, though there may be something in him both of scholarship and gypsyism, neither the Scholar nor the Gypsy would feel at all flattered by being confounded with him.

Many characters which may be called subordinate will be found, and it is probable that some of these characters will afford much more interest to the reader than those styled the principal. The favourites with the writer are a brave old soldier and his helpmate, an ancient gentlewoman who sold apples, and a strange kind of wandering man and his wife.

Amongst the many things attempted in this book is the encouragement of charity, and free and genial manners, and the exposure of humbug, of which there are various kinds, but of which the most perfidious, the most debasing, and the most cruel, is the humbug of the Priest.

Yet let no one think that irreligion is advocated in this book. With respect to religious tenets I wish to observe that I am a member of the Church of England, into whose communion I was baptized, and to which my forefathers belonged. Its being the religion in which I was baptized, and of my forefathers, would be a strong inducement to me to cling to it; for I do not happen to be one of those choice spirits 'who turn from their banner when the battle bears strongly against it, and go over to the enemy,' and who receive at first a hug and a 'viva,' and in the sequel contempt and spittle in the face; but my chief reason for belonging to it is, because, of all churches calling themselves Christian ones, I believe there is none so good, so well founded upon Scripture, or whose ministers are, upon the whole, so exemplary in their lives and conversation, so well read in the book from which they preach, or so versed in general learning, so useful in their immediate neighbourhoods, or so unwilling to persecute people of other denominations for matters of doctrine.

In the communion of this Church, and with the religious consolation of its ministers, I wish and hope to live and die, and in its and their defence will at all times be ready, if required, to speak, though humbly, and to fight, though feebly, against enemies, whether carnal or spiritual.

And is there no priestcraft in the Church of England? There is certainly, or rather there was, a modicum of priestcraft in the Church of England, but I have generally found that those who are most vehement against the Church of England are chiefly dissatisfied with her because there is only a modicum of that article in her—were she stuffed to the very cupola with it, like a certain other Church, they would have much less to say against the Church of England.

By the other Church, I mean Rome. Its system was once prevalent in England, and, during the period that it prevailed there, was more prolific of debasement and crime than all other causes united. The people and the government at last becoming enlightened by means of the Scripture spurned it from the island with disgust and horror, the land instantly after its disappearance becoming a fair field, in which arts, sciences, and all the amiable virtues flourished, instead of being a pestilent marsh where swine-like ignorance wallowed, and artful hypocrites, like so many Wills-o'-the-wisp, played antic gambols about, around, and above debased humanity.

But Popery still wished to play her old part, to regain her lost dominion, to reconvert the smiling land into the pestilential morass, where she could play again her old antics. From the period of the Reformation in England up to the present time, she has kept her emissaries here, individuals contemptible in intellect, it is true, but cat-like and gliding, who, at her bidding, have endeavoured, as much as in their power has lain, to damp and stifle every genial, honest, loyal, and independent thought, and to reduce minds to such a state of dotage as would enable their old Popish mother to do what she pleased with them.

And in every country, however enlightened, there are always minds inclined to grovelling superstition—minds fond of eating dust and swallowing clay—minds never at rest, save when prostrate before some fellow in a surplice; and these Popish emissaries found always some weak enough to bow down before them, astounded by their dreadful denunciations of eternal woe and damnation to any who should refuse to believe their Romania; but they played a poor game—the law protected the servants of Scripture, and the priest with his beads seldom ventured to approach any but the remnant of those of the eikonolatry—representatives of worm-eaten houses, their debased dependants, and a few poor crazy creatures amongst the middle classes—he played a poor game, and the labour was about to prove almost entirely in vain, when the English legislature, in compassion or contempt, or, yet more probably, influenced by that spirit of toleration and kindness which is so mixed up with Protestantism, removed almost entirely the disabilities under which Popery laboured, and enabled it to raise its head and to speak out almost without fear.

And it did raise its head, and, though it spoke with some little fear at first, soon discarded every relic of it; went about the land uttering its damnation cry, gathering around it—and for doing so many thanks to it—the favourers of priestcraft who lurked within the walls of the Church of England; frightening with the loudness of its voice the weak, the timid, and the ailing; perpetrating, whenever it had an opportunity, that species of crime to which it has ever been most partial—Deathbed robbery; for as it is cruel, so is it dastardly. Yes, it went on enlisting, plundering, and uttering its terrible threats till—till it became, as it always does when left to itself, a fool, a very fool. Its plunderings might have been overlooked, and so might its insolence, had it been common insolence, but it—, and then the roar of indignation which arose from outraged England against the viper, the frozen viper, which it had permitted to warm itself upon its bosom.

But thanks, Popery, you have done all that the friends of enlightenment and religious liberty could wish; but if ever there were a set of foolish ones to be found under heaven, surely it is the priestly rabble who came over from Rome to direct the grand movement—so long in its getting up.

But now again the damnation cry is withdrawn, there is a subdued meekness in your demeanour, you are now once more harmless as a lamb. Well, we shall see how the trick—'the old trick'—will serve you.



CHAPTER I

Birth—My father—Tamerlane—Ben Brain—French Protestants—East Anglia—Sorrow and troubles—True peace—A beautiful child—Foreign grave—Mirrors—Alpine country—Emblems—Slow of speech—The Jew—Strange gestures.

On an evening of July, in the year 18—, at East D—-, a beautiful little town in a certain district of East Anglia, I first saw the light.

My father was a Cornish man, the youngest, as I have heard him say, of seven brothers. He sprang from a family of gentlemen, or, as some people would call them, gentillatres, for they were not very wealthy; they had a coat of arms, however, and lived on their own property at a place called Tredinnock, which being interpreted means the house on the hill, which house and the neighbouring acres had been from time immemorial in their possession. I mention these particulars that the reader may see at once that I am not altogether of low and plebeian origin; the present age is highly aristocratic, and I am convinced that the public will read my pages with more zest from being told that I am a gentillatre by birth with Cornish blood {5} in my veins, of a family who lived on their own property at a place bearing a Celtic name, signifying the house on the hill, or more strictly the house on the hillock.

My father was what is generally termed a posthumous child—in other words, the gentillatre who begot him never had the satisfaction of invoking the blessing of the Father of All upon his head; having departed this life some months before the birth of his youngest son. The boy, therefore, never knew a father's care; he was, however, well tended by his mother, whose favourite he was; so much so, indeed, that his brethren, the youngest of whom was considerably older than himself, were rather jealous of him. I never heard, however, that they treated him with any marked unkindness, and it will be as well to observe here that I am by no means well acquainted with his early history, of which, indeed, as I am not writing his life, it is not necessary to say much. Shortly after his mother's death, which occurred when he was eighteen, he adopted the profession of arms, which he followed during the remainder of his life, and in which, had circumstances permitted, he would probably have shone amongst the best. By nature he was cool and collected, slow to anger, though perfectly fearless, patient of control, of great strength; and, to crown all, a proper man with his hands.

With far inferior qualifications many a man has become a field-marshal or general; similar ones made Tamerlane, who was not a gentillatre, but the son of a blacksmith, emperor of one-third of the world; but the race is not always for the swift, nor the battle for the strong, indeed I ought rather to say very seldom; certain it is, that my father, with all his high military qualifications, never became emperor, field-marshal, or even general: indeed, he had never an opportunity of distinguishing himself save in one battle, and that took place neither in Flanders, Egypt, nor on the banks of the Indus or Oxus, but in Hyde Park.

Smile not, gentle reader, many a battle has been fought in Hyde Park, in which as much skill, science, and bravery have been displayed as ever achieved a victory in Flanders or by the Indus. In such a combat as that to which I allude, I opine that even Wellington or Napoleon would have been heartily glad to cry for quarter ere the lapse of five minutes, and even the Blacksmith Tartar would, perhaps, have shrunk from the opponent with whom, after having had a dispute with him, my father engaged in single combat for one hour, at the end of which time the champions shook hands and retired, each having experienced quite enough of the other's prowess. The name of my father's antagonist was Brain.

What! still a smile? did you never hear that name before? I cannot help it! Honour to Brain, who four months after the event which I have now narrated was champion of England, having conquered the heroic Johnson. Honour to Brain, who, at the end of other four months, worn out by the dreadful blows which he had received in his manly combats, expired in the arms of my father, who read the Bible to him in his latter moments—Big Ben Brain.

You no longer smile, even you have heard of Big Ben.

I have already hinted that my father never rose to any very exalted rank in his profession, notwithstanding his prowess and other qualifications. After serving for many years in the line, he at last entered as captain in the militia regiment of the Earl of —-, at that period just raised, and to which he was sent by the Duke of York to instruct the young levies in military manoeuvres and discipline; and in this mission I believe he perfectly succeeded, competent judges having assured me that the regiment in question soon came by his means to be considered as one of the most brilliant in the service, and inferior to no regiment of the line in appearance or discipline.

As the headquarters of this corps were at D—- the duties of my father not unfrequently carried him to that place, and it was on one of these occasions that he became acquainted with a young person of the neighbourhood, for whom he formed an attachment, which was returned; and this young person was my mother.

She was descended from a family of French Protestants, natives of Caen, who were obliged to leave their native country when old Louis, at the instigation of the Pope, thought fit to revoke the Edict of Nantes: their name was Petrement, and I have reason for believing that they were people of some consideration; that they were noble hearts, and good Christians, they gave sufficient proof in scorning to bow the knee to the tyranny of Rome. So they left beautiful Normandy for their faith's sake, and with a few louis d'ors in their purse, a Bible in the vulgar tongue, and a couple of old swords, which, if report be true, had done service in the Huguenot wars, they crossed the sea to the isle of civil peace and religious liberty, and established themselves in East Anglia.

And many other Huguenot families bent their steps thither, and devoted themselves to agriculture or the mechanical arts; and in the venerable old city, the capital of the province, in the northern shadow of the Castle of De Burgh, the exiles built for themselves a church where they praised God in the French tongue, and to which, at particular seasons of the year, they were in the habit of flocking from country and from town to sing—

'Thou hast provided for us a goodly earth; thou waterest her furrows, thou sendest rain into the little valleys thereof, thou makest it soft with the drops of rain, and blessest the increase of it.'

I have been told that in her younger days my mother was strikingly handsome; this I can easily believe: I never knew her in her youth, for though she was very young when she married my father (who was her senior by many years), she had attained the middle age before I was born, no children having been vouchsafed to my parents in the early stages of their union. Yet even at the present day, now that years threescore and ten have passed over her head, attended with sorrow and troubles manifold, poorly chequered with scanty joys, can I look on that countenance and doubt that at one time beauty decked it as with a glorious garment? Hail to thee, my parent! as thou sittest there, in thy widow's weeds, in the dusky parlour in the house overgrown with the lustrous ivy of the sister isle, the solitary house at the end of the retired court shaded by lofty poplars. Hail to thee, dame of the oval face, olive complexion, and Grecian forehead; by thy table seated with the mighty volume of the good Bishop Hopkins spread out before thee; there is peace in thy countenance, my mother; it is not worldly peace, however, not the deceitful peace which lulls to bewitching slumbers, and from which, let us pray, humbly pray, that every sinner may be roused in time to implore mercy not in vain! Thine is the peace of the righteous, my mother, of those to whom no sin can be imputed, the score of whose misdeeds has been long since washed away by the blood of atonement, which imputeth righteousness to those who trust in it. It was not always thus, my mother; a time was, when the cares, pomps, and vanities of this world agitated thee too much; but that time is gone by, another and a better has succeeded; there is peace now on thy countenance, the true peace; peace around thee, too, in thy solitary dwelling, sounds of peace, the cheerful hum of the kettle and the purring of the immense angola, which stares up at thee from its settle with its almost human eyes.

No more earthly cares and affections now, my mother! Yes, one. Why dost thou suddenly raise thy dark and still brilliant eye from the volume with a somewhat startled glance? What noise is that in the distant street? Merely the noise of a hoof; a sound common enough: it draws nearer, nearer, and now it stops before thy gate. Singular! And now there is a pause, a long pause. Ha! thou hearest something—a footstep; a swift but heavy footstep! thou risest, thou tremblest, there is a hand on the pin of the outer door, there is some one in the vestibule, and now the door of thy apartment opens, there is a reflection on the mirror behind thee, a travelling hat, a gray head and sunburnt face. My dearest Son!—My darling Mother!

Yes, mother, thou didst recognise in the distant street the hoof-tramp of the wanderer's horse.

I was not the only child of my parents; I had a brother some three years older than myself. He was a beautiful child; one of those occasionally seen in England, and in England alone; a rosy, angelic face, blue eyes, and light chestnut hair; it was not exactly an Anglo-Saxon countenance, in which, by the bye, there is generally a cast of loutishness and stupidity; it partook, to a certain extent, of the Celtic character, particularly in the fire and vivacity which illumined it; his face was the mirror of his mind; perhaps no disposition more amiable was ever found amongst the children of Adam, united, however, with no inconsiderable portion of high and dauntless spirit. So great was his beauty in infancy, that people, especially those of the poorer classes, would follow the nurse who carried him about in order to look at and bless his lovely face. At the age of three months an attempt was made to snatch him from his mother's arms in the streets of London, at the moment she was about to enter a coach; indeed, his appearance seemed to operate so powerfully upon every person who beheld him, that my parents were under continual apprehension of losing him; his beauty, however, was perhaps surpassed by the quickness of his parts. He mastered his letters in a few hours, and in a day or two could decipher the names of people on the doors of houses and over the shop-windows.

As he grew up, his personal appearance became less prepossessing, his quickness and cleverness, however, rather increased; and I may say of him, that with respect to everything which he took in hand he did it better and more speedily than any other person. Perhaps it will be asked here, what became of him? Alas! alas! his was an early and a foreign grave. As I have said before, the race is not always for the swift, nor the battle for the strong.

And now, doubtless, after the above portrait of my brother, painted in the very best style of Rubens, the reader will conceive himself justified in expecting a full-length one of myself, as a child, for as to my present appearance, I suppose he will be tolerably content with that flitting glimpse in the mirror. But he must excuse me; I have no intention of drawing a portrait of myself in childhood; indeed it would be difficult, for at that time I never looked into mirrors. No attempts, however, were ever made to steal me in my infancy, and I never heard that my parents entertained the slightest apprehension of losing me by the hands of kidnappers, though I remember perfectly well that people were in the habit of standing still to look at me, ay, more than at my brother; from which premisses the reader may form any conclusion with respect to my appearance which seemeth good unto him and reasonable. Should he, being a good-natured person, and always inclined to adopt the charitable side in any doubtful point, be willing to suppose that I, too, was eminently endowed by nature with personal graces, I tell him frankly that I have no objection whatever to his entertaining that idea; moreover, that I heartily thank him, and shall at all times be disposed, under similar circumstances, to exercise the same species of charity towards himself.

With respect to my mind and its qualities I shall be more explicit; for, were I to maintain much reserve on this point, many things which appear in these memoirs would be highly mysterious to the reader, indeed incomprehensible. Perhaps no two individuals were ever more unlike in mind and disposition than my brother and myself: as light is opposed to darkness, so was that happy, brilliant, cheerful child to the sad and melancholy being who sprang from the same stock as himself, and was nurtured by the same milk.

Once, when travelling in an Alpine country, I arrived at a considerable elevation; I saw in the distance, far below, a beautiful stream hastening to the ocean, its rapid waters here sparkling in the sunshine, and there tumbling merrily in cascades. On its banks were vineyards and cheerful villages; close to where I stood, in a granite basin with steep and precipitous sides, slumbered a deep, dark lagoon, shaded by black pines, cypresses, and yews. It was a wild, savage spot, strange and singular; ravens hovered above the pines, filling the air with their uncouth notes, pies chattered, and I heard the cry of an eagle from a neighbouring peak; there lay the lake, the dark, solitary, and almost inaccessible lake; gloomy shadows were upon it, which, strangely modified, as gusts of wind agitated the surface, occasionally assumed the shape of monsters. So I stood on the Alpine elevation, and looked now on the gay distant river, and now at the dark granite-encircled lake close beside me in the lone solitude, and I thought of my brother and myself. I am no moraliser; but the gay and rapid river, and the dark and silent lake, were, of a verity, no had emblems of us two.

So far from being quick and clever like my brother, and able to rival the literary feat which I have recorded of him, many years elapsed before I was able to understand the nature of letters, or to connect them. A lover of nooks and retired corners, I was as a child in the habit of fleeing from society, and of sitting for hours together with my head on my breast. What I was thinking about, it would be difficult to say at this distance of time; I remember perfectly well, however, being ever conscious of a peculiar heaviness within me, and at times of a strange sensation of fear, which occasionally amounted to horror, and for which I could assign no real cause whatever.

By nature slow of speech, I took no pleasure in conversation, nor in hearing the voices of my fellow-creatures. When people addressed me, I not unfrequently, especially if they were strangers, turned away my head from them, and if they persisted in their notice burst into tears, which singularity of behaviour by no means tended to dispose people in my favour. I was as much disliked as my brother was deservedly beloved and admired. My parents, it is true, were always kind to me; and my brother, who was good nature itself, was continually lavishing upon me every mark of affection.

There was, however, one individual who, in the days of my childhood, was disposed to form a favourable opinion of me. One day, a Jew—I have quite forgotten the circumstance, but I was long subsequently informed of it—one day a travelling Jew knocked at the door of a farmhouse in which we had taken apartments; I was near at hand sitting in the bright sunshine, drawing strange lines on the dust with my fingers, an ape and dog were my companions; the Jew looked at me and asked me some questions, to which, though I was quite able to speak, I returned no answer. On the door being opened, the Jew, after a few words, probably relating to pedlery, demanded who the child was, sitting in the sun; the maid replied that I was her mistress's youngest son, a child weak here, pointing to her forehead. The Jew looked at me again, and then said: ''Pon my conscience, my dear, I believe that you must be troubled there yourself to tell me any such thing. It is not my habit to speak to children, inasmuch as I hate them, because they often follow me and fling stones after me; but I no sooner looked at that child than I was forced to speak to it—his not answering me shows his sense, for it has never been the custom of the wise to fling away their words in indifferent talk and conversation; the child is a sweet child, and has all the look of one of our people's children. Fool, indeed! did I not see his eyes sparkle just now when the monkey seized the dog by the ear?—they shone like my own diamonds—does your good lady want any—real and fine? Were it not for what you tell me, I should say it was a prophet's child. Fool, indeed! he can write already, or I'll forfeit the box which I carry on my back, and for which I should be loth to take two hundred pounds!' He then leaned forward to inspect the lines which I had traced. All of a sudden he started back, and grew white as a sheet; then, taking off his hat, he made some strange gestures to me, cringing, chattering, and showing his teeth, and shortly departed, muttering something about 'holy letters,' and talking to himself in a strange tongue. The words of the Jew were in due course of time reported to my mother, who treasured them in her heart, and from that moment began to entertain brighter hopes of her youngest born than she had ever before ventured to foster.

{picture:All of a sudden he started back, and grew white as a sheet: page13.jpg}



CHAPTER II

Barracks and lodgings—A camp—The viper—A delicate child—Blackberry time—Meun and tuum—Hythe—The Golgotha—Daneman's skull—Superhuman stature—Stirring times—The sea-bord.

I have been a wanderer the greater part of my life; indeed I remember only two periods, and these by no means lengthy, when I was, strictly speaking, stationary. I was a soldier's son, and as the means of my father were by no means sufficient to support two establishments, his family invariably attended him wherever he went, so that from my infancy I was accustomed to travelling and wandering, and looked upon a monthly change of scene and residence as a matter of course. Sometimes we lived in barracks, sometimes in lodgings, but generally in the former, always eschewing the latter from motives of economy, save when the barracks were inconvenient and uncomfortable; and they must have been highly so indeed, to have discouraged us from entering them; for though we were gentry (pray bear that in mind, gentle reader), gentry by birth, and incontestably so by my father's bearing the commission of good old George the Third, we were not fine gentry, but people who could put up with as much as any genteel Scotch family who find it convenient to live on a third floor in London, or on a sixth at Edinburgh or Glasgow. It was not a little that could discourage us: we once lived within the canvas walls of a camp, at a place called Pett, in Sussex; and I believe it was at this place that occurred the first circumstance, or adventure, call it which you will, that I can remember in connection with myself: it was a strange one, and I will relate it.

It happened that my brother and myself were playing one evening in a sandy lane, in the neighbourhood of this Pett camp; our mother was at a slight distance. All of a sudden, a bright yellow, and, to my infantine eye, beautiful and glorious, object made its appearance at the top of the bank from between the thick quickset, and, gliding down, began to move across the lane to the other side, like a line of golden light. Uttering a cry of pleasure, I sprang forward, and seized it nearly by the middle. A strange sensation of numbing coldness seemed to pervade my whole arm, which surprised me the more, as the object to the eye appeared so warm and sunlike. I did not drop it, however, but, holding it up, looked at it intently, as its head dangled about a foot from my hand. It made no resistance; I felt not even the slightest struggle; but now my brother began to scream and shriek like one possessed. 'O mother, mother!' said he, 'the viper!—my brother has a viper in his hand!' He then, like one frantic, made an effort to snatch the creature away from me. The viper now hissed amain, and raised its head, in which were eyes like hot coals, menacing, not myself, but my brother. I dropped my captive, for I saw my mother running towards me; and the reptile, after standing for a moment nearly erect, and still hissing furiously, made off, and disappeared. The whole scene is now before me, as vividly as if it occurred yesterday—the gorgeous viper, my poor dear frantic brother, my agitated parent, and a frightened hen clucking under the bushes—and yet I was not three years old.

It is my firm belief that certain individuals possess an inherent power, or fascination, over certain creatures, otherwise I should be unable to account for many feats which I have witnessed, and, indeed, borne a share in, connected with the taming of brutes and reptiles. I have known a savage and vicious mare, whose stall it was dangerous to approach, even when bearing provender, welcome, nevertheless, with every appearance of pleasure, an uncouth, wiry-headed man, with a frightfully seamed face, and an iron hook supplying the place of his right hand, one whom the animal had never seen before, playfully bite his hair, and cover his face with gentle and endearing kisses; and I have already stated how a viper would permit, without resentment, one child to take it up in his hand, whilst it showed its dislike to the approach of another by the fiercest hissings. Philosophy can explain many strange things, but there are some which are a far pitch above her, and this is one.

I should scarcely relate another circumstance which occurred about this time but for a singular effect which it produced upon my constitution. Up to this period I had been rather a delicate child; whereas, almost immediately after the occurrence to which I allude, I became both hale and vigorous, to the great astonishment of my parents, who naturally enough expected that it would produce quite a contrary effect.

It happened that my brother and myself were disporting ourselves in certain fields near the good town of Canterbury. A female servant had attended us, in order to take care that we came to no mischief: she, however, it seems, had matters of her own to attend to, and, allowing us to go where we listed, remained in one corner of a field, in earnest conversation with a red-coated dragoon. Now it chanced to be blackberry time, and the two children wandered under the hedges, peering anxiously among them in quest of that trash so grateful to urchins of their degree. We did not find much of it, however, and were soon separated in the pursuit. All at once I stood still, and could scarcely believe my eyes. I had come to a spot where, almost covering the hedge, hung clusters of what seemed fruit—deliciously-tempting fruit—something resembling grapes of various colours, green, red, and purple. Dear me, thought I, how fortunate! yet have I a right to gather it? is it mine? for the observance of the law of meum and tuum had early been impressed upon my mind, and I entertained, even at that tender age, the utmost horror for theft; so I stood staring at the variegated clusters, in doubt as to what I should do. I know not how I argued the matter in my mind; the temptation, however, was at last too strong for me, so I stretched forth my hand and ate. I remember, perfectly well, that the taste of this strange fruit was by no means so pleasant as the appearance; but the idea of eating fruit was sufficient for a child, and, after all, the flavour was much superior to that of sour apples, so I ate voraciously. How long I continued eating I scarcely know. One thing is certain, that I never left the field as I entered it, being carried home in the arms of the dragoon in strong convulsions, in which I continued for several hours. About midnight I awoke, as if from a troubled sleep, and beheld my parents bending over my couch, whilst the regimental surgeon, with a candle in his hand, stood nigh, the light feebly reflected on the whitewashed walls of the barrack-room.

Another circumstance connected with my infancy, and I have done. I need offer no apology for relating it, as it subsequently exercised considerable influence over my pursuits. We were, if I remember right, in the vicinity of a place called Hythe, in Kent. One sweet evening, in the latter part of summer, our mother took her two little boys by the hand, for a wander about the fields. In the course of our stroll we came to the village church; an old, gray-headed sexton stood in the porch, who, perceiving that we were strangers, invited us to enter. We were presently in the interior, wandering about the aisles, looking on the walls, and inspecting the monuments of the notable dead. I can scarcely state what we saw; how should I? I was a child not yet four years old, and yet I think I remember the evening sun streaming in through a stained window upon the dingy mahogany pulpit, and flinging a rich lustre upon the faded tints of an ancient banner. And now once more we were outside the building, where, against the wall, stood a low-eaved pent-house, into which we looked. It was half filled with substances of some kind, which at first looked like large gray stones. The greater part were lying in layers; some, however, were seen in confused and mouldering heaps, and two or three, which had perhaps rolled down from the rest, lay separately on the floor. 'Skulls, madam,' said the sexton; 'skulls of the old Danes! Long ago they came pirating into these parts; and then there chanced a mighty shipwreck, for God was angry with them, and He sunk them; and their skulls, as they came ashore, were placed here as a memorial. There were many more when I was young, but now they are fast disappearing. Some of them must have belonged to strange fellows, madam. Only see that one; why, the two young gentry can scarcely lift it!' And, indeed, my brother and myself had entered the Golgotha, and commenced handling these grim relics of mortality. One enormous skull, lying in a corner, had fixed our attention, and we had drawn it forth. Spirit of eld, what a skull was yon!

{picture:'Skulls, madam,' said the sexton; 'skulls of the old Danes.': page18.jpg}

I still seem to see it, the huge grim thing; many of the others were large, strikingly so, and appeared fully to justify the old man's conclusion that their owners must have been strange fellows; but, compared with this mighty mass of bone, they looked small and diminutive like those of pigmies; it must have belonged to a giant, one of those red- haired warriors of whose strength and stature such wondrous tales are told in the ancient chronicles of the north, and whose grave-hills, when ransacked, occasionally reveal secrets which fill the minds of puny moderns with astonishment and awe. Reader, have you ever pored days and nights over the pages of Snorro?—probably not, for he wrote in a language which few of the present day understand, and few would be tempted to read him tamed down by Latin dragomans. A brave old book is that of Snorro, containing the histories and adventures of old northern kings and champions, who seemed to have been quite different men, if we may judge from the feats which they performed, from those of these days; one of the best of his histories is that which describes the life of Harald Haardraade, who, after manifold adventures by land and sea, now a pirate, now a mercenary of the Greek emperor, became king of Norway, and eventually perished at the battle of Stamford Bridge, whilst engaged in a gallant onslaught upon England. Now, I have often thought that the old Kemp, whose mouldering skull in the Golgotha of Hythe my brother and myself could scarcely lift, must have resembled in one respect at least this Harald, whom Snorro describes as a great and wise ruler and a determined leader, dangerous in battle, of fair presence and measuring in height just five ells, {19} neither more nor less.

I never forgot the Daneman's skull; like the apparition of the viper in the sandy lane, it dwelt in the mind of the boy, affording copious food for the exercise of imagination. From that moment with the name of Dane were associated strange ideas of strength, daring, and superhuman stature; and an undefinable curiosity for all that is connected with the Danish race began to pervade me; and if, long after, when I became a student I devoted myself with peculiar zest to Danish lore and the acquirement of the old Norse tongue and its dialects, I can only explain the matter by the early impression received at Hythe from the tale of the old sexton, beneath the pent-house, and the sight of the Danish skull.

And thus we went on straying from place to place, at Hythe to-day, and perhaps within a week looking out from our hostel-window upon the streets of old Winchester, our motions ever in accordance with the 'route' of the regiment, so habituated to change of scene that it had become almost necessary to our existence. Pleasant were these days of my early boyhood; and a melancholy pleasure steals over me as I recall them. Those were stirring times of which I am speaking, and there was much passing around me calculated to captivate the imagination. The dreadful struggle which so long convulsed Europe, and in which England bore so prominent a part, was then at its hottest; we were at war, and determination and enthusiasm shone in every face; man, woman, and child were eager to fight the Frank, the hereditary, but, thank God, never dreaded enemy of the Anglo-Saxon race. 'Love your country and beat the French, and then never mind what happens,' was the cry of entire England. Oh, those were days of power, gallant days, bustling days, worth the bravest days of chivalry at least; tall battalions of native warriors were marching through the land; there was the glitter of the bayonet and the gleam of the sabre; the shrill squeak of the fife and loud rattling of the drum were heard in the streets of country towns, and the loyal shouts of the inhabitants greeted the soldiery on their arrival, or cheered them at their departure. And now let us leave the upland, and descend to the sea-bord; there is a sight for you upon the billows! A dozen men-of-war are gliding majestically out of port, their long buntings streaming from the top-gallant masts, calling on the skulking Frenchman to come forth from his bights and bays; and what looms upon us yonder from the fog-bank in the east? a gallant frigate towing behind her the long low hull of a crippled privateer, which but three short days ago had left Dieppe to skim the sea, and whose crew of ferocious hearts are now cursing their imprudence in an English hold. Stirring times those, which I love to recall, for they were days of gallantry and enthusiasm, and were moreover the days of my boyhood.



CHAPTER III

Pretty D——-The venerable church—The stricken heart—Dormant energies—The small packet—Nerves—The books—A picture—Mountain-like billows—The footprint—Spirit of De Foe—Reasoning powers—Terrors of God—Heads of the dragons—High-Church clerk—A journey—The drowned country.

And when I was between six and seven years of age we were once more at D—-, the place of my birth, whither my father had been despatched on the recruiting service. I have already said that it was a beautiful little town—at least it was at the time of which I am speaking—what it is at present I know not, for thirty years and more have elapsed since I last trod its streets. It will scarcely have improved, for how could it be better than it then was? I love to think on thee, pretty quiet D—-, thou pattern of an English country town, with thy clean but narrow streets branching out from thy modest market-place, with thine old-fashioned houses, with here and there a roof of venerable thatch, with thy one half-aristocratic mansion, where resided thy Lady Bountiful—she, the generous and kind, who loved to visit the sick, leaning on her gold-headed cane, whilst the sleek old footman walked at a respectful distance behind. Pretty quiet D—-, with thy venerable church, in which moulder the mortal remains of England's sweetest and most pious bard.

Yes, pretty D—-, I could always love thee, were it but for the sake of him who sleeps beneath the marble slab in yonder quiet chancel. It was within thee that the long-oppressed bosom heaved its last sigh, and the crushed and gentle spirit escaped from a world in which it had known nought but sorrow. Sorrow! do I say? How faint a word to express the misery of that bruised reed; misery so dark that a blind worm like myself is occasionally tempted to exclaim, Better had the world never been created than that one so kind, so harmless, and so mild, should have undergone such intolerable woe! But it is over now, for, as there is an end of joy, so has affliction its termination. Doubtless the All-wise did not afflict him without a cause: who knows but within that unhappy frame lurked vicious seeds which the sunbeams of joy and prosperity might have called into life and vigour? Perhaps the withering blasts of misery nipped that which otherwise might have terminated in fruit noxious and lamentable. But peace to the unhappy one, he is gone to his rest; the death-like face is no longer occasionally seen timidly and mournfully looking for a moment through the window-pane upon thy market-place, quiet and pretty D-; the hind in thy neighbourhood no longer at evening-fall views, and starts as he views, the dark lathy figure moving beneath the hazels and alders of shadowy lanes, or by the side of murmuring trout streams, and no longer at early dawn does the sexton of the old church reverently doff his hat, as, supported by some kind friend, the death- stricken creature totters along the church-path to that mouldering edifice with the low roof, inclosing a spring of sanatory waters, built and devoted to some saint, if the legend over the door be true, by the daughter of an East Anglian king.

But to return to my own history. I had now attained the age of six: shall I state what intellectual progress I had been making up to this period? Alas! upon this point I have little to say calculated to afford either pleasure or edification; I had increased rapidly in size and in strength: the growth of the mind, however, had by no means corresponded with that of the body. It is true, I had acquired my letters, and was by this time able to read imperfectly; but this was all: and even this poor triumph over absolute ignorance would never have been effected but for the unremitting attention of my parents, who, sometimes by threats, sometimes by entreaties, endeavoured to rouse the dormant energies of my nature, and to bend my wishes to the acquisition of the rudiments of knowledge; but in influencing the wish lay the difficulty. Let but the will of a human being be turned to any particular object, and it is ten to one that sooner or later he achieves it. At this time I may safely say that I harboured neither wishes nor hopes; I had as yet seen no object calculated to call them forth, and yet I took pleasure in many things which perhaps unfortunately were all within my sphere of enjoyment. I loved to look upon the heavens, and to bask in the rays of the sun, or to sit beneath hedgerows and listen to the chirping of the birds, indulging the while in musing and meditation as far as my very limited circle of ideas would permit; but, unlike my brother, who was at this time at school, and whose rapid progress in every branch of instruction astonished and delighted his preceptors, I took no pleasure in books, whose use, indeed, I could scarcely comprehend, and bade fair to be as arrant a dunce as ever brought the blush of shame into the cheeks of anxious and affectionate parents.

But the time was now at hand when the ice which had hitherto bound the mind of the child with its benumbing power was to be thawed, and a world of sensations and ideas awakened to which it had hitherto been an entire stranger. One day a young lady, an intimate acquaintance of our family, and godmother to my brother, drove up to the house in which we dwelt; she stayed some time conversing with my mother, and on rising to depart, she put down on the table a small packet, exclaiming, 'I have brought a little present for each of the boys: the one is a History of England, which I intend for my godson when he returns from school, the other is . . .'—and here she said something which escaped my ear, as I sat at some distance, moping in a corner,—'I intend it for the youngster yonder,' pointing to myself; she then departed, and, my mother going out shortly after, I was left alone.

I remember for some time sitting motionless in my corner, with my eyes bent upon the ground; at last I lifted my head and looked upon the packet as it lay on the table. All at once a strange sensation came over me, such as I had never experienced before—a singular blending of curiosity, awe, and pleasure, the remembrance of which, even at this distance of time, produces a remarkable effect upon my nervous system. What strange things are the nerves—I mean those more secret and mysterious ones in which I have some notion that the mind or soul, call it which you will, has its habitation; how they occasionally tingle and vibrate before any coming event closely connected with the future weal or woe of the human being. Such a feeling was now within me, certainly independent of what the eye had seen or the ear had heard. A book of some description had been brought for me, a present by no means calculated to interest me; what cared I for books? I had already many into which I never looked but from compulsion; friends, moreover, had presented me with similar things before, which I had entirely disregarded, and what was there in this particular book, whose very title I did not know, calculated to attract me more than the rest? yet something within told me that my fate was connected with the book which had been last brought; so, after looking on the packet from my corner for a considerable time, I got up and went to the table.

The packet was lying where it had been left—I took it up; had the envelope, which consisted of whitish brown paper, been secured by a string or a seal, I should not have opened it, as I should have considered such an act almost in the light of a crime; the books, however, had been merely folded up, and I therefore considered that there could be no possible harm in inspecting them, more especially as I had received no injunction to the contrary. Perhaps there was something unsound in this reasoning, something sophistical; but a child is sometimes as ready as a grown-up person in finding excuses for doing that which he is inclined to. But whether the action was right or wrong, and I am afraid it was not altogether right, I undid the packet: it contained three books; two from their similarity seemed to be separate parts of one and the same work; they were handsomely bound, and to them I first turned my attention. I opened them successively, and endeavoured to make out their meaning; their contents, however, as far as I was able to understand them, were by no means interesting: whoever pleases may read these books for me, and keep them, too, into the bargain, said I to myself.

I now took up the third book: it did not resemble the others, being longer and considerably thicker; the binding was of dingy calf-skin. I opened it, and as I did so another strange thrill of pleasure shot through my frame. The first object on which my eyes rested was a picture; it was exceedingly well executed, at least the scene which it represented made a vivid impression upon me, which would hardly have been the case had the artist not been faithful to nature. A wild scene it was—a heavy sea and rocky shore, with mountains in the background, above which the moon was peering. Not far from the shore, upon the water, was a boat with two figures in it, one of which stood at the bow, pointing with what I knew to be a gun at a dreadful shape in the water; fire was flashing from the muzzle of the gun, and the monster appeared to be transfixed. I almost thought I heard its cry. I remained motionless, gazing upon the picture, scarcely daring to draw my breath, lest the new and wondrous world should vanish of which I had now obtained a glimpse. 'Who are those people, and what could have brought them into that strange situation?' I asked of myself; and now the seed of curiosity, which had so long lain dormant, began to expand, and I vowed to myself to become speedily acquainted with the whole history of the people in the boat. After looking on the picture till every mark and line in it were familiar to me, I turned over various leaves till I came to another engraving; a new source of wonder—a low sandy beach on which the furious sea was breaking in mountain-like billows; cloud and rack deformed the firmament, which wore a dull and leaden-like hue; gulls and other aquatic fowls were toppling upon the blast, or skimming over the tops of the maddening waves—'Mercy upon him! he must be drowned!' I exclaimed, as my eyes fell upon a poor wretch who appeared to be striving to reach the shore; he was upon his legs, but was evidently half smothered with the brine; high above his head curled a horrible billow, as if to engulf him for ever. 'He must be drowned! he must be drowned!' I almost shrieked, and dropped the book. I soon snatched it up again, and now my eye lighted on a third picture: again a shore, but what a sweet and lovely one, and how I wished to be treading it; there were beautiful shells lying on the smooth white sand, some were empty like those I had occasionally seen on marble mantelpieces, but out of others peered the heads and bodies of wondrous crayfish, a wood of thick green trees skirted the beach and partly shaded it from the rays of the sun, which shone hot above, while blue waves slightly crested with foam were gently curling against it; there was a human figure upon the beach, wild and uncouth, clad in the skins of animals, with a huge cap on his head, a hatchet at his girdle, and in his hand a gun; his feet and legs were bare; he stood in an attitude of horror and surprise; his body was bent far back, and his eyes, which seemed starting out of his head, were fixed upon a mark on the sand—a large distinct mark—a human footprint. . . .

Reader, is it necessary to name the book which now stood open in my hand, and whose very prints, feeble expounders of its wondrous lines, had produced within me emotions strange and novel? Scarcely—for it was a book which has exerted over the minds of Englishmen an influence certainly greater than any other of modern times—which has been in most people's hands, and with the contents of which even those who cannot read are to a certain extent acquainted—a book from which the most luxuriant and fertile of our modern prose writers have drunk inspiration—a book, moreover, to which, from the hardy deeds which it narrates, and the spirit of strange and romantic enterprise which it tends to awaken, England owes many of her astonishing discoveries both by sea and land, and no inconsiderable part of her naval glory.

Hail to thee, spirit of De Foe! What does not my own poor self owe to thee? England has better bards than either Greece or Rome, yet I could spare them easier far than De Foe, 'unabashed De Foe,' as the hunchbacked rhymer styled him.

The true chord had now been touched; a raging curiosity with respect to the contents of the volume, whose engravings had fascinated my eye, burned within me, and I never rested until I had fully satisfied it; weeks succeeded weeks, months followed months, and the wondrous volume was my only study and principal source of amusement. For hours together I would sit poring over a page till I had become acquainted with the import of every line. My progress, slow enough at first, became by degrees more rapid, till at last, under 'a shoulder of mutton sail,' I found myself cantering before a steady breeze over an ocean of enchantment, so well pleased with my voyage that I cared not how long it might be ere it reached its termination.

And it was in this manner that I first took to the paths of knowledge.

About this time I began to be somewhat impressed with religious feelings. My parents were, to a certain extent, religious people; but, though they had done their best to afford me instruction on religious points, I had either paid no attention to what they endeavoured to communicate, or had listened with an ear far too obtuse to derive any benefit. But my mind had now become awakened from the drowsy torpor in which it had lain so long, and the reasoning powers which I possessed were no longer inactive. Hitherto I had entertained no conception whatever of the nature and properties of God, and with the most perfect indifference had heard the divine name proceeding from the mouths of people—frequently, alas! on occasions when it ought not to be employed; but I now never heard it without a tremor, for I now knew that God was an awful and inscrutable Being, the Maker of all things; that we were His children, and that we, by our sins, had justly offended Him; that we were in very great peril from His anger, not so much in this life as in another and far stranger state of being yet to come; that we had a Saviour withal to whom it was necessary to look for help: upon this point, however, I was yet very much in the dark, as, indeed, were most of those with whom I was connected. The power and terrors of God were uppermost in my thoughts; they fascinated though they astounded me. Twice every Sunday I was regularly taken to the church, where, from a corner of the large spacious pew, lined with black leather, I would fix my eyes on the dignified High-Church rector, and the dignified High-Church clerk, and watch the movement of their lips, from which, as they read their respective portions of the venerable liturgy, would roll many a portentous word descriptive of the wondrous works of the Most High.

Rector. Thou didst divide the sea, through thy power: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Philoh. Thou smotest the heads of Leviathan in pieces: and gavest him to be meat for the people in the wilderness.

Rector. Thou broughtest out fountains, and waters out of the hard rocks: thou driedst up mighty waters.

Philoh. The day is thine, and the night is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.

Peace to your memories, dignified rector, and yet more dignified clerk!—by this time ye are probably gone to your long homes, and your voices are no longer heard sounding down the aisles of the venerable church—nay, doubtless, this has already long since been the fate of him of the sonorous 'Amen!'—the one of the two who, with all due respect to the rector, principally engrossed my boyish admiration—he, at least, is scarcely now among the living! Living! why, I have heard say that he blew a fife—for he was a musical as well as a Christian professor—a bold fife, to cheer the Guards and the brave Marines, as they marched with measured step, obeying an insane command, up Bunker's height, whilst the rifles of the sturdy Yankees were sending the leaden hail sharp and thick amidst the red-coated ranks; for Philoh had not always been a man of peace, nor an exhorter to turn the other cheek to the smiter, but had even arrived at the dignity of a halberd in his country's service before his six-foot form required rest, and the gray-haired veteran retired, after a long peregrination, to his native town, to enjoy ease and respectability on a pension of 'eighteenpence a day'; and well did his fellow-townsmen act, when, to increase that ease and respectability, and with a thoughtful regard for the dignity of the good church service, they made him clerk and precentor—the man of the tall form and of the audible voice, which sounded loud and clear as his own Bunker fife. Well, peace to thee, thou fine old chap, despiser of dissenters, and hater of papists, as became a dignified and High-Church clerk; if thou art in thy grave, the better for thee; thou wert fitted to adorn a bygone time, when loyalty was in vogue, and smiling content lay like a sunbeam upon the land, but thou wouldst be sadly out of place in these days of cold philosophic latitudinarian doctrine, universal tolerism, and half-concealed rebellion—rare times, no doubt, for papists and dissenters, but which would assuredly have broken the heart of the loyal soldier of George the Third, and the dignified High-Church clerk of pretty D—-.

We passed many months at this place: nothing, however, occurred requiring any particular notice, relating to myself, beyond what I have already stated, and I am not writing the history of others. At length my father was recalled to his regiment, which at that time was stationed at a place called Norman Cross, in Lincolnshire, or rather Huntingdonshire, at some distance from the old town of Peterborough. For this place he departed, leaving my mother and myself to follow in a few days. Our journey was a singular one. On the second day we reached a marshy and fenny country, which, owing to immense quantities of rain which had lately fallen, was completely submerged. At a large town we got on board a kind of passage- boat, crowded with people; it had neither sails nor oars, and those were not the days of steam-vessels; it was a treck-schuyt, and was drawn by horses. Young as I was, there was much connected with this journey which highly surprised me, and which brought to my remembrance particular scenes described in the book which I now generally carried in my bosom. The country was, as I have already said, submerged—entirely drowned—no land was visible; the trees were growing bolt upright in the flood, whilst farmhouses and cottages were standing insulated; the horses which drew us were up to the knees in water, and, on coming to blind pools and 'greedy depths,' were not unfrequently swimming, in which case, the boys or urchins who mounted them sometimes stood, sometimes knelt, upon the saddle and pillions. No accident, however, occurred either to the quadrupeds or bipeds, who appeared respectively to be quite au fait in their business, and extricated themselves with the greatest ease from places in which Pharaoh and all his host would have gone to the bottom. Nightfall brought us to Peterborough, and from thence we were not slow in reaching the place of our destination.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse