Transcribed from the 1913 Jarrold & Sons edition by David Price, email email@example.com
SOUVENIR OF THE GEORGE BORROW CELEBRATION
Norwich, July 5th, 1913
BY JAMES HOOPER
PREPARED AND PUBLISHED FOR THE COMMITTEE
JARROLD & SONS PUBLISHERS LONDON AND NORWICH
[Picture: Picture of George Borrow]
The Committee are indebted to numerous Borrovians for the loan of Illustrations and Contributions of literary items to the text, to Miss C. M. Nichols, R.E., for her charming Pen Pictures of nooks and corners of Borrow's old home in Willow Lane, the Rev. F. W. Orde Ward for his appreciative stanzas, and Mr. E. Peake for his Ode to the Flower, whilst special mention must be made of Mr. A. J. Munnings' inspiring design of George Borrow and Petulengro overlooking the City of Norwich for the cover.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS George Borrow Frontispiece Staircase doorway, Borrow's house facing page 4 George Borrow's birthplace, 8 Dumpling Green, East Dereham Plan of Dumpling Green, East 9 Dereham Roger Kerrison 9 Crown and Angel, St. Stephen's 12 The grammar school 13 Borrow's house, Willow Lane 16 The winding river, near Norwich 17 The Yare at Earlham, near Norwich 17 The Strangers' Hall, Norwich 20 Earlham bridge 21 Bowling Green Inn 24 William Simpson 24 Tuck's Court, St. Giles 24 John Crome 25 The Windmill on Mousehold Heath 28 Ned Painter 29 Norwich castle and cattle market 32 in Borrow's time Marshland Shales 33 A quaint corner in Borrow's house 36 William Taylor 40 George Borrow's house, Oulton, 40 near Lowestoft George Borrow in 1848 40 George Borrow (painted by his 41 brother) Corner of Borrow's bedroom 44 George Borrow's grave, Brompton 48 cemetery
[Picture: Staircase doorway to attic in Borrow's House/ By C. M. Nichols, R.E.]
Man of the Book, thou Pilgrim of the Road, The love of travel Drave thee on ever with pursuing goad; Trust was thy burning light, Truth was thy load— Sweet riddles for the weary to unravel, Within thy breast Glowed the pure fire of an Eternal Quest.
The Bible was thy chart, the open sky Thy roof and rafter Often, and thou didst learn night's mystery; Learning some tale from each poor passer-by, Some gracious secret for the grand Hereafter. Master of lore Occult, and wanderer on the wildest shore.
What country was not trodden by thy feet, Nor bared its bosom And fragrance to the life it leapt to greet? From field and upland or where waters meet Was stolen, the virgin dew, the veiled blossom. Its native tongue On stranger lips, in every climate hung.
Pursuer of shy paths, all hunted things All creatures lonely, Gypsy and fox and hawk with slanted wings; These drank with thee at the same cosmic springs, These were thy teachers and thy playmates only. Nature gave up To them and thee alike, her hidden cup.
Who brought its glory back to cloistered Wales, And wrung their treasure From sacred books and dim sequestered vales? Who found the gold in haunted heights and dales, And showed a wondering world its pride and pleasure? Divine and strong Stood out the altar, with its flame of song.
Thy bardlike power, the passion of thy thirst For something greater, Awoke old Cymric melodies the first; Till all the mountains into music burst, And their lost glory crowned the recreator. Outpoured as wine Thy magic words made every shade a shrine.
Priest of the portals into the Unknown, Taught by no college, And free of every fountain but thine own; A waif, an exile, by the breezes blown Hither and thither to fresh fields of knowledge, That giant form, Fearless, and still no moment, rode the storm.
From land to land a pilgrim, yet at home Where'er thy journey Thou didst a dweller in the Eternal come; The dust thy floor, the heaven of stars thy dome, To break a lance for Truth in some new tourney. With Nature blent Art thou, and the wide world thy monument.
Thou gypsy of all time, no lot seems strange, No life was sterile To that free spirit, wrought by rugged change; Thy heart found rest in strife, and did outrange The farthest fancy, and woo the sorest peril. Hardships and lack Were comrades, and the milestones on thy track.
F. W. ORDE WARD.
GEORGE HENRY BORROW.
The time is ripe, and over ripe, for a commemorative celebration of George Borrow in a city with which he was so long, and so intimately, associated as he was with Norwich. His increasing fame as a foremost literary man of the nineteenth century is amply witnessed to by the various biographies of him, and the numerous appreciations of him by writers of repute, and Mr. Clement Shorter's forthcoming "Life of Borrow" will certainly add to the cult.
The following sketch of this wayward genius is mainly devoted to outstanding characteristics, with necessarily brief accounts of his works and journeyings. It seems convenient to sum up his career in the four divisions which follow.
Section I. (1803-15)—EARLY WANDERING DAYS.
Borrow's father, Thomas Borrow, was a patriotic, pugnacious, but God-fearing Cornishman, born at an old homestead known as Trethinnick, in the parish of St. Cleer, in which his forbears had been settled well back in the seventeenth century, probably earlier. To quote Dr. Knapp: "They feared God, honoured the king, and believed in 'piskies' and Holy Wells."
Thomas Borrow, handsome, tall, and muscular, was an adept in the athletic sports for which Cornwall is famous, and early signalised himself by his prowess as a boxer. As he grew up, George Borrow himself became an ardent admirer of "the Fancy," and when asked "What is the best way to get through life quietly?" was wont to say, "Learn to box, and keep a civil tongue in your head."
In 1778, when nineteen years of age, Thomas Borrow was articled for five years to a maltster; but just as that period expired, at Menheniot Fair a bicker arose in which Borrow and other young heroes triumphed over the braves of that town. Constables appeared, but were promptly felled by the brawny Borrow, and, to crown his misdeeds, he knocked over the head-borough, who happened to be his maltster master. He wisely fled, and shortly after enlisted as a private soldier in the Coldstream Guards, and was soon quartered in London. In 1792, as a sergeant, he was transferred to the West Norfolk Regiment of Militia, with headquarters at East Dereham. A company of players from Norwich frequently visited that nice little town, and in one of them appeared, as a supernumerary, Ann Perfrement, the pretty daughter of a small farmer of Dumpling Green, on the outskirts of the town. This maiden, of Huguenot descent, fascinated the Cornish soldier, and the two were married at Dereham Church on February 11th, 1793. The regiment was then about to start a wandering course over the highways of England—at Colchester; in Norfolk; then at Sheerness, Sandgate, and Dover; at Colchester once more; in Kent; Essex again, and then, in 1802-3, at East Dereham, where George was born July 5th, 1803, in the house of his maternal grandparents. On July 17th he was baptized George Henry, names of the king and of the eldest brother of Captain Thomas Borrow.
[Picture: Plan of Dumpling Green, East Dereham. By permission of Mr. Murray]
As a mere infant Borrow was gloomy and fond of solitude, "ever conscious," he says, "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." Of this earliest period he tells a characteristic story of drawing strange lines in the dust with his fingers, when a Jew pedlar came up and said: "The child is a sweet child, and he has all the look of one of our own people"; but when he leaned forward to inspect the lines in the dust, "started back, and grew white as a sheet; then, taking off his hat, he made some strange gestures to me, cringing, chattering, . . . and shortly departed, muttering something about 'holy letters,' and talking to himself in a strange tongue." This, in the first chapter of "Lavengro," is in the true Borrovian mystery-man style.
[Picture: George Borrow's birthplace, Dumpling Green, East Dereham]
Again and again Borrow, throughout his life, suffered from some nervous ailment which defied definition; thus, when he was fifteen, his strength and appetite deserted him and he pined and drooped, but an ancient female, a kind of doctress, who had been his nurse in his infancy, gave him a decoction of a bitter root growing on commons and desolate places, from which he took draughts till he was convalescent. In any estimate of Borrow's life the strange attacks of what he called "the Fear" or "the Horrors" must be taken into account. At times they even produced a suicidal tendency, as when, in 1824, he wrote to his friend Roger Kerrison, "Come to me immediately; I am, I believe, dying." The facsimile of this note in Knapp's "Life of Borrow" is as tremulous as if the writer was suffering from delirium tremens, which, of course, he was not.
[Picture: Roger Kerrison]
We have in "Lavengro" a very interesting account of the boy Borrow being taken twice every Sunday to the fine parish church at East Dereham, where, from a corner of a spacious pew, he would fix his eyes on the dignified high-Church rector and the dignified high-Church clerk, "from whose lips would roll many a portentous word descriptive of the wondrous works of the Most High." The rector was the Rev. F. J. H. Wollaston, B.D., who was himself patron of the living, which reverted to the Crown in 1841. At East Dereham, too, he came in touch with that exquisite old gentlewoman, Lady Fenn, widow of Sir John Fenn, editor of the "Paston Letters," as she passed to and fro from her mansion on some errand of bounty or of mercy, leaning on her gold-headed cane, whilst the sleek old footman walked at a respectful distance behind. But Borrow's admiration for Philo, the clerk, was greatest—"Peace to thee, thou fine old chap, despiser of dissenters, and hater of papists, as became a dignified and high-Church clerk."
Leaving Dereham in April, 1810, Captain Borrow and his family were transferred to Norman Cross, in the parish of Yaxley, some four miles from Peterborough, to guard a large number of French prisoners in sixteen long casernes, or barracks. At this place little Borrow, now seven years old, made a friend, quite to his liking, in a wild sequestered spot which was his favourite haunt; for he was allowed to pass his time principally in wandering about the neighbouring country. It was at this wild nook he came to know a viper-catcher and herbalist, a quaint figure in a skin cap, and with stout gaiters, who was catching a viper when the boy first made his acquaintance. "'What do you think of catching such a thing as that with the naked hand?' asked the old fellow. 'What do I think?' said I. 'Why, that I could do as much myself.'" This ruffled the old man's pride, but later he became quite friendly and explained that he hunted the vipers for their fat, to make unguents especially for rheumatism, and also collected simples, knowing he virtues of such as had medicinal value. On one of his excursions this primitive sportsman told him the marvellous tale of the King of the Vipers. The old fellow was wakened from his sleep one sultry day by a dreadful viper moving towards him—"all yellow and gold . . . bearing its head about a foot and a-half above the ground, the dry stubble crackling beneath its outrageous belly . . . then it lifted its head and chest high in the air, and high over my face as I looked up, flickering at me with its tongue as if it would fly at my face. Child," continued the narrator, "what I felt at that moment I can scarcely say, but it was a sufficient punishment for all the sins I ever committed; and there we two were, I looking up at the viper, and the viper looking down upon me, flickering at me with its tongue." Happily a sharp gun report close at hand frightened the reptile away. Before leaving the neighbourhood the viper-catcher presented his child friend with a specimen which he had tamed and rendered harmless by removing the fangs. This creature the queer boy fed with milk and often carried with him in his walks.
This episode resulted in experiences which coloured all the rest of Borrow's life, for, soon after, when he first came among gypsy tents, and saw the long-haired woman with skin dark and swarthy like that of a toad, and a particularly evil expression, and when her husband threatened to baste the intruder with a ladle, the boy broke forth into what in Romany would be called a "gillie," or ditty, ending—
"My father lies concealed within my tepid breast, And if to me you offer any harm or wrong, I'll call him forth to help me with his forked tongue."
The story cannot be mangled without losing its wild significance, but, on further threats, Borrow, to use his own words, "made a motion which the viper understood; and now partly disengaging itself from my bosom, where it had lain perdu, it raised its head to a level with my face, and stared upon my enemy with its glittering eyes."
The superstitious gypsies were effectively terrified, and invited the lad into their tent: "Don't be angry, and say no; but look kindly upon us, and satisfied, my precious little God Almighty."
They had taken him for a goblin, but when he explained that he was not "one of them there," the man said, "You are a sap-engro, a chap who catches snakes, and plays tricks with them." Then, when the boy proceeded to read them a bit of "Robinson Crusoe," it was voted that it "beat the rubricals hollow." Next followed the momentous meeting with Ambrose Smith—the Jasper Petulengro of Borrow's pages—and, as the band of gypsies were departing, Jasper, turning round, leered into the little Gorgio's face, held out his hand, and said, "Goodbye, Sap, I daresay we shall meet again; remember we are brothers, two gentle brothers." Gazing after the retreating company, the sap-engro said to himself, "A strange set of people, I wonder who they can be." Such was Borrow's first introduction to the Romany folk.
From July, 1811, to July, 1814, the Borrows led a nomadic life, yet at each tarrying-place Captain Borrow sent his sons to the best school available, and George, in these three years' travelling with the regiment, acquired Lilly's Latin Grammar by heart. A Dereham schoolmaster had assured Captain Borrow that "there is but one good school book in the world—the one I use in my seminary—Lilly's Latin Grammar." There is, it may be added, good evidence that Shakespeare was taught out of this venerable work.
Early in 1813 our interesting family were in Edinburgh, where the Borrow boys were sent to the celebrated High School, and George entered with zest into the faction fights between the Auld and the New Toon. More, and better than this, he picked up just such a wild character as fitted in with his romantic scheme of things. This was David Haggart, son of a gamekeeper and guilty of nearly every crime in the Statute Book under various aliases—John Wilson, John Morrison, John McColgan, David O'Brien, and "The Switcher." Haggart enlisted as a drummer-boy in Captain Borrow's recruiting-party at Leith Races in July, 1813, being then just twelve years old; but soon tiring of discipline and scanty pay, obtained his discharge, soon after embarking on a career of crime which culminated in his well-deserved hanging at Edinburgh in 1821, at the age of twenty.
[Picture: Crown and Angel, St. Stephen's. From Drawing by Mr. H. W. Tuck]
In June, 1814, the West Norfolk Regiment was ordered south; some went by sea, those who preferred by land. Captain Borrow chose the latter, and on July 18th his division entered Norwich, and the Earl of Orford, colonel of the regiment, entertained the officers and their friends at the Maid's Head Hotel. At this time Captain Borrow and his family went to lodge at the Crown and Angel, an ancient hostelry in St. Stephen's Street. From that convenient centre, the recruiting-parties under Captain Borrow were very successful in obtaining men, by beat of drum instead of by ballot, as had previously been the practice. But troubles arose in Ireland, and in August, 1815, the West Norfolks were again on the move. They found themselves at Cork early in September, and marched on to Clonmel.
During their short interval at Norwich, George went to the Grammar School, and his brother studied painting with "Old Crome."
[Picture: The Grammar School]
Captain Borrow commanded a division, and George walked by his side, holding the stirrup-leather of his horse, while John Thomas Borrow, gazetted ensign in May and lieutenant in December, was in his place in the regiment. At Clonmel the Borrows lodged with a handsome athletic man and his wife, who enthusiastically welcomed them. "I have made bold to bring up a bottle of claret," said the Orangeman, ". . . and when your honour and your family have dined, I will make bold too to bring up Mistress Hyne from Londonderry, to introduce to your honour's lady, and then we'll drink to the health of King George, God bless him; to the 'glorious and immortal'—to Boyne water—to your honour's speedy promotion to be Lord-Lieutenant."
Here at Clonmel our hero "read the Latin tongue and the Greek letters with a nice old clergyman, who sat behind a black oaken desk, with a huge Elzevir Flaccus before him." "Here," says Borrow, "I was in the habit of sitting on a large stone, before the roaring fire in the huge open chimney, and entertaining certain of the Protestant young gentlemen of my own age . . . with extraordinary accounts of my own adventures and those of the corps, with an occasional anecdote extracted from the story-books of Hickathrift and Wight Wallace, pretending to be conning the lesson all the while." Borrow calls Hickathrift his countryman; the legend is that Tom Hickathrift ridded the Fenland between Lynn and Wisbech, of a monstrous giant, by slaying him with the axle-tree of his cart. I gave the full story of this Norfolk giant-killer in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, for January, 1896. The boy's genius for story telling was quite exceptional, and when he was at Norwich Grammar School, as his schoolfellow Dr. Martineau informed me, "He used to gather about him three or four favourite schoolfellows, after they had learned their class lesson and before the class was called up, and with a sheet of paper and book on his knee, invent and tell a story, making rapid little pictures of each _Dramatis _Persona_. The plot was woven and spread out with much ingenuity, and the characters were various and well-discriminated. But two of them were sure to turn up in every tale, the Devil and the Pope: and the working of the drama invariably had the same issue—the utter ruin and disgrace of these two Potentates."
At Clonmel it was his good luck to make friends with one more notable character, another figure in his gallery of strange personages—Murtagh, a Papist gasoon, sent to school by his father to be "made a saggrart of and sent to Paris and Salamanca." But the gasoon loved cards better. George had a new pack, which soon changed hands. "You can't learn Greek, so you must teach Irish!" said George. "Before Christmas, Murtagh was playing at cards with his brother Denis, and I could speak a considerable quantity of broken Irish."
In January, 1816, the regiment was moved on to Templemore, a charming town in mid-Tipperary, where the Borrows remained but a short time, reaching Norwich again on May 13th, and tarrying at the Crown and Angel till they settled at the historic little house in King's Court, Willow Lane, which they leased from a builder named Thomas King. At the instance of Sir Peter Eade, it was re-named Borrow's Court, and the tablet commemorating the residence there of George Borrow was affixed on November 6th, 1891. Now, by the generosity of the Lord Mayor of Norwich (Arthur Michael Samuel), in this year of grace 1913, it has become a possession of the City of Norwich as a Borrow Museum in perpetuity.
At Templemore George Borrow, tall and large-limbed for a lad of thirteen, still had adventures; for on an excursion to visit his brother at Loughmore, he encountered the fierce "Dog of Peace" and its master, Jerry Grant, the outlaw—"a fairy man, in league with fairies and spirits, and able to work much harm by supernatural means, on which account the peasants held him in great awe." The account of Sergeant Bagge's encounter with this wizardly creature is in Borrow's best style. The sergeant thought he had the fellow fast by the throat, but suddenly "the man seemed to melt away from his grasp, and the wind howled more and more, and the night poured down darker and darker, the snow and the sleet thicker and more blinding. 'Lord have mercy upon us!' said Bagge, who concluded that the tussle was 'not fair but something Irish and supernatural.'" "I daresay," comments George to his brother, "he's right. I have read of witchcraft in the Bible."
At Templemore, too, our boy of thirteen learned to ride, mounted on a tremendous "gallant specimen of the genuine Irish cob," said by Borrow to be nearly extinct in his day. This horse had been the only friend in the world of his groom, but after a blow would not let him mount. So young Borrow mounted the animal barebacked, for, said the groom, "If you are ever to be a frank rider, you must begin without a saddle; . . . leave it all to him." Following the groom's directions, the cob gave his young rider every assistance, and great was the lad's joy! "Oh, that ride! that first ride!—most truly it was an epoch in my existence; and I still look back to it with feelings of longing and regret. People may talk of first love—it is a very agreeable event, I daresay—but give me the flush and triumph, and glorious sweat of a first ride, like mine on the mighty cob! . . . By that one trial I had become free . . . of the whole equine species." Thus began Borrow's passion for the equine race, and he avows that with him the pursuit of languages was always modified by his love of horses. As a wonderful pendant to this riding exploit, Borrow tells the tale of the Irish smith who, by a magical word, which thrilled the boy, absolutely maddened the cob, until the wizard soothed it by uttering another word "in a voice singularly modified, but sweet and almost plaintive."
With this weird episode ends the tale, as "coloured up and poetized" in "Lavengro," of Borrow's earliest journeyings and adventures; truly in his case adventures were to the adventurous. Having had all the wild experiences just outlined, small wonder that the strange lad was not very adaptable when, as a free scholar, he came under the rule of the Rev. Edward Valpy at Norwich Grammar School.
Section II. NORWICH (1816-24)—SCHOOL, LAW, AND LANGUAGES.
The criss-cross experiences of his boyhood, together with his mixed Cornish and Gallic heredity, were elements that very largely helped to create the whimsical character of George Borrow. We have now come to the time when the old soldier, with his pension of eight shillings a day, and his excellent and devoted wife, settled with their two sons at the little house in Willow Lane, Norwich.
[Picture: Borrow's House, Willow Lane]
For a short time in 1814, when his parents lodged in St. Stephen's, young George was sent to the Grammar School; but now, in 1816, settled comfortably in Norwich, he was again sent to the Grammar School, under the Rev. Edward Valpy, called by Dr. Knapp "a severe master," by Mr. Walling "a martinet," whose "principal claims to fame," says Mr. Jenkins, "are his severity, his having flogged the conqueror of the 'Flaming Tinman,' and his destruction of the School Records of Admission, which dated back to the sixteenth century." Against this chorus of denunciation, I will quote from a letter the late Dr. Martineau wrote me about Borrow: "It is true that I had to hoist (not 'horse') Borrow for his flogging; but not that there was anything exceptional, or capable of leaving permanent scars in the infliction: Mr. Valpy was not given to excess of that kind." It is a pity that the earliest biographers did not get the opinion of some of Borrow's surviving schoolfellows as to their old master. Dr. Knapp, in 1899, stated that Dr. Martineau (died January 11th, 1900), and Dr. W. E. Image, D.L., J.P., of Herringswell House, Suffolk (died September 26th, 1903), were the only survivors of Borrow's schoolmates. Amongst these was Thomas Borrow Burcham, the London Police Magistrate, who, there is good reason to believe, was a cousin of George's, as his father married a Mary Perfrement, and T. B. Burcham was christened at East Dereham Church.
[Picture: The Winding River, near Norwich. Lent by Mrs. E. Peake]
[Picture: The Yare at Earlham, near Norwich. By Mr. E. Peake]
It is quite noteworthy that Borrow makes no mention of his term at the Grammar School in "Lavengro," but, after his Irish experiences, opens a chapter with the following eloquent description of Norwich:—
"A fine old city, truly, is that, view it from whatever side you will, but it shows best from the east, where the ground, bold and elevated, overlooks the fair and fertile valley in which it stands. Gazing from those heights, the eye beholds a scene which cannot fail to awaken, even in the least sensitive bosom, feelings of pleasure and admiration. At the foot of the heights flows a narrow and deep river, with an antique bridge communicating with a long and narrow suburb, flanked on either side by rich meadows of the brightest green, beyond which spreads the city, the fine old city, perhaps the most curious specimen at present extant of the genuine old English town. Yes, there it spreads from north to south, with its venerable houses, its numerous gardens, its thrice twelve churches, its mighty mound, which, if tradition speaks true, was raised by human hands to serve as the grave heap of an old heathen king, who sits deep within it, with his sword in his hand and his gold and silver treasures about him. There is a grey old castle upon the top of that mighty mound; and yonder, rising three hundred feet above the soil, from among those noble forest trees, behold that old Norman master-work, that cloud encircled cathedral spire, around which a garrulous army of rooks and choughs continually wheel their flight. Now, who can wonder that the children of that fine old city are proud of her, and offer up prayers for her prosperity? I, myself, who was not born within her walls, offer up prayers for her prosperity, that want may never visit her cottages."
"It was yonder, to the west, that the great naval hero of Britain first saw the light; he who annihilated the sea pride of Spain and dragged the humble banner of France in triumph at his stern. He was born yonder to the west, and of him there is a glorious relic in that old town; in its dark flint guildhouse, the roof of which you can just descry rising above that maze of buildings, in the upper hall of justice, is a species of glass shrine, in which the relic is to be seen: a sword of curious workmanship, the blade is of keen Toledan steel, the heft of ivory and mother-of-pearl. 'Tis the sword of Cordova, won in the bloodiest fray off St. Vincent's promontory, and presented by Nelson to the old capital of the much-loved land of his birth. Yes, the proud Spaniard's sword is to be seen in yonder guildhouse, in the glass case affixed to the wall; many other relics has the good old town, but none prouder than the Spaniard's sword."
After these descriptive passages, he at once passes to the questionings of his father and mother as to the career of "the other child," much more difficult to settle in life than his more sober-minded elder brother, who had, as Dr. Martineau informed me, "quite too much sense" to join in the wild escapade described by Dr. Knapp in one of his most "purple patches." Captain Borrow was sadly exercised about his younger son, and exclaimed, in the discussion about his prospects, "Why, he has neither my hair nor eyes; and then his countenance! Why, 'tis absolutely swarthy, God forgive me! I had almost said like that of a gypsy, but I have nothing to say against that; the boy is not to be blamed for the colour of his face, nor for his hair and eyes; but, then, his ways and manners!"
Our glimpses of the Grammar School life are meagre, but we can readily understand that to a lad of Borrow's temperament the routine of a well-ordered school was naturally distasteful, though he loved to gain knowledge from any unconventional source open to him. So we find him studying French and Italian with "one banished priest," the Rev. Thomas D'Eterville, M.A., of Caen University, who, as Borrow says, "lived in an old court of the old town," having come to Norwich in 1793. He advertised his "school in St. Andrew's," and this was situated in Locket's Yard, now built over by Messrs. Harmer's factory. Later he resided in the Strangers' Hall, then occupied by priests of the adjoining Roman Catholic Chapel of St. John, now superseded by the grand church which towers on the crest of St. Giles's Hill. The Norman priest was robust, with a slight stoop, but a rapid and vigorous step, "sixty or thereabouts," when Borrow was his pupil in 1816, according to "Lavengro." But he was really considerably younger, for when he died at Caen, February 22nd, 1843, his age was given as seventy-six. In a local obituary notice he was described as "a well-known and respected inhabitant of Norwich for upwards of forty years, who retired a few months ago to end his days in his native country." He made a small fortune, and there were rumours that he was engaged in the contraband trade. In a suppressed passage, reproduced by Dr. Knapp in his notes to "Lavengro," D'Eterville says he found friends here, and was able to ride a good horse to visit pupils in the country; also that he always carried pistols, which Borrow said he had seen. Here, then, was another character after Borrow's heart, especially as he told his pupil that one day he would be a great philologist. Of course, young Borrow was by no means the sort of lad to spend all his time on books. He loved to sally forth with an old condemned musket, and did such execution that he seldom returned (sad to say!) without a string of bullfinches, blackbirds, and linnets hanging round his neck. Yet, as Mr. Jenkins says, Borrow's "love of animals was almost feminine." With less zest he went fishing—too listless a pastime to interest him much, for he often fell into a doze by the water side, and sometimes let his rod drop into the stream. His poetical but strictly accurate account of Earlham is worth quoting:
"At some distance from the city, behind a range of hilly ground which rises towards the south-west, is a small river, the waters of which, after many meanderings, eventually enter the principal river of the district, and assist to swell the tide which it rolls down to the ocean. It is a sweet rivulet, and pleasant it is to trace its course from its spring-head, high up in the remote regions of East Anglia, till it arrives in the valley behind yon rising ground; and pleasant is that valley, truly a goodly spot, but most lovely where yonder bridge crosses the little stream. Beneath its arch the waters rush garrulously into a blue pool, and are there stilled for a time, for the pool is deep, and they appear to have sunk to sleep. Farther on, however, you hear their voice again, where they ripple gaily over yon gravelly shallow. On the left, the hill slopes gently down to the margin of the stream. On the right is a green level, a smiling meadow, grass of the richest decks the side of the slope; mighty trees also adorn it, giant elms, the nearest of which, when the sun is nigh at its meridian, fling a broad shadow upon the face of the pool; through yon vista you catch a glimpse of the ancient brick of an old English hall. It has a stately look, that old building, indistinctly seen, as it is, among those umbrageous trees; you might almost suppose it an earl's home; and such it was, or rather upon its site stood an earl's home, in the days of old, for there some old Kemp, some Sigurd, or Thorkild, roaming in quest of a hearthstead, settled down in the gray old time, when Thor and Freya were yet gods, and Odin was a portentous name. Yon old hall is still called the Earl's Home."
It was while fishing in "a sweet rivulet" in the grounds of the old hall one summer's day that "a voice, clear and sonorous as a bell," asked, "Canst thou answer to thy conscience for pulling all those fish out of the water, and leaving them to gasp in the sun?" The speaker was none other than the learned Friend, Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847), who as a young man read nearly all the Old Testament in Hebrew in the early morning. It was natural, therefore, that he should ask the young angler if he knew Hebrew, having confessed, according to "Lavengro," that he himself could not read Dante. This is clearly wrong, for writing to Thomas Fowell Buxton, in 1808, he mentions that he is reading Sophocles, some Italian, Livy, etc., and in the following year he informs his sister, Hannah Buxton, that he is engaged, inter alia, on Apollonius Rhodius, the Greek Testament, and Ariosto.
[Picture: The Strangers' Hall, Norwich. From Painting by Ventnor. Lent by Mr. E. Peake]
Borrow had good reason to respect and admire the Quakers, as is evidenced in "Wild Wales" (Chap. CVI.), for when a Methodist called them "a bad lot," and said he at first thought Borrow was a Methodist minister (!), and hoped to hear from him something "conducive to salvation," Borrow's severe answer was: "So you shall. Never speak ill of people of whom you know nothing. If that isn't a saying conducive to salvation, I know not what is." It is not very creditable, in my opinion, that the late Mr. J. B. Braithwaite, in his "Memoirs of J. J. Gurney" (two volumes, 1854), never once mentions Borrow by name. I have no doubt, however, that the following passage refers to him: "'Wilt thou execute a little commission for me at Arch's?' said Joseph John Gurney, addressing another of his young friends, whom he had kindly taken one day to dine at his lodgings during the interval between the sittings of the Yearly Meeting. His young friend, of course, readily assented. J. J. Gurney wrote a few lines on a slip of paper which he handed to his young friend, enclosed to his bookseller's; but without giving to his young companion any intimation of its contents. The note was duly delivered, and the circumstance was forgotten until, after a lapse of a few weeks, the young friend, no less to his surprise than to his delight, received a large parcel, sent to him, as he was informed, at Joseph John Gurney's request, consisting of thirty volumes, comprising the Lexicons of Simonis and Schleusner, and the Scholia of the Rosenmullers (the father and son) on the Old and New Testaments: a great prize indeed to a youthful student. Many were the instances in which he thus encouraged, amongst his young friends, a taste for reading, more especially in those pursuits in which he himself delighted."
[Picture: Earlham Bridge. From Photograph. Lent by Mr. E. Peake]
Who can wonder at Mr. Clement Shorter's indignation when, in his address in Norwich on the Borrow Centenary in 1903, after enumerating many great Norwich people, he endeavoured to show "that Borrow, the very least of those men and women in public estimation for a good portion of his life, and perhaps the least in popular judgment ever since his death, was really the greatest, was really the man of all others, to whom this beautiful city should do honour if it asks for a name out of its nineteenth-century history to crown with local recognition."
In his Tombland Fair chapter is this vivid patch of local colour:
"I was standing on the castle hill in the midst of a fair of horses. I have already had occasion to mention this castle. It is the remains of what was once a Norman stronghold, and is perched upon a round mound or monicle, in the midst of the old city. Steep is this mound and scarped, evidently by the hand of man; a deep gorge, over which is flung a bridge, separates it, on the south, from a broad swell of open ground called "the hill"; of old the scene of many a tournament and feat of Norman chivalry, but now much used as a show place for cattle, where those who buy and sell beeves and other beasts resort at stated periods."
Perhaps Borrow inherited from his father—the conqueror of Big Ben Brain, "whose skin was brown and dusky as that of a toad"—the love of fisticuffs which was so prominently marked in his career. It was this which led him to become the pupil in boxing of "the terrible Thurtell," executed for the murder of Weare, January 9th, 1824 (his father, Thomas Thurtell, was Sheriff of Norwich in 1815, Mayor in 1828, and died April 8th, 1846, at the good old age of eighty-one. He lived at Harford Hall Farm, Lakenham, a largish house standing back from the highway, towards the end of the Ipswich Road, on the left-hand side going from Norwich, some little distance this side of Harford Bridges in the river valley below). The celebrated chapter on "The Bruisers of England" ("Lavengro," Chap. XXVI.) has been warmly applauded by many writers as a very fine example of Borrow's style. That it undoubtedly is, but some critics were unsympathetic about pugilism, amongst them the late Rev. Whitwell Elwin, who, in the Quarterly Review (January-April, 1857), wrote: "Mr. Borrow's notions of what constitutes cant have not always been the same. In his 'Gypsies of Spain' he speaks of pugilistic combats as 'disgraceful and brutalizing exhibitions,' but in the Appendix to 'The Romany Rye' we find that he now considers such language to be cant. This is one of the cases in which second thoughts are worst." Another reviewer deprecates Borrow's glorifying attitude towards "the very worst amongst the bad, such as David Haggart and John Thurtell; and not content with turning away the edge of an instinctive condemnation of crime, actually entitles the prize-fighters, the brutality of whose profession can scarcely be exaggerated, 'the priests of an old religion.'" More recently, while advocating the Children's Bill in the House of Commons (March 24th, 1908), Mr. Shaw said that "George Borrow never did a worse service to humanity than by writing 'Lavengro,' with its glorification of vagabond life." Though one cannot acquit Borrow of inconsistency, we must remember that "The Gypsies of Spain" was written in 1840, and that he sent a notice of it to Mr. Brandram of the Bible Society in March of that year, ending his letter with the words: "I hope yet to die in the cause of my Redeemer." For my part, I am convinced that Borrow's real opinion of pugilism is contained in several passages of the Appendix to "The Romany Rye," where he justifies "his favourite pursuits, hunting after strange characters, or analysing strange words and names," and expressed the belief that he would not be refused admission to heaven because of "some inclination to put on certain gloves, not white kid, with any friend who may be inclined for a little old-English diversion, and a readiness to take a glass of ale, with plenty of malt in it, and as little hop as may well be—ale at least two years old—with the aforesaid friend when the diversion is over." He says he is "not ashamed to speak to a beggar in rags, and will associate with anybody, provided he can gratify a laudable curiosity." More emphatically still, he asks: "Can the rolls of the English aristocracy exhibit names belonging to more heroic men than those who were called respectively Pearce, Cribb, and Spring?" Both "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye," be it noted, were written long after Borrow's association with the Bible Society had come to an end.
Those who wish to visualize in some degree the rendezvous of "the bruisers of England, men of tremendous renown," should look upon the building, once the Bowling Green Hotel, by Chapel Field Gardens. It is now an Orphan's Home, bought for that purpose for seven hundred pounds in January, 1870, but the initials "R.G." on the north wall still recall the memory of Richard Gurney, "the retired coachman with one leg," who died August 11th, 1829, aged forty-eight. The stabling still remains in use, but the bowling green now forms part of the property of the Bethel Hospital: it adjoins the theatre, and is occupied by tennis courts for the recreation of the patients. The Bowling Green Hotel in its heyday was a place of much importance; for being so close to the theatre, it was the chosen hostelry for many great theatrical stars—Mrs. Charles Kean and others. Many amusing anecdotes are told of the guests in a booklet on "Old Norfolk Inns," published by Messrs. Jarrold in 1888, but now unfortunately out of print. Borrow gives an account of the mixed assemblage at this inn, gathered for the great fight of July 17th, 1820, between Ned Painter ("Ned Flatnose"), of Norwich, and Oliver.
He is wrong about the planting of the trees in Chapel Field "at the restoration of sporting Charles," for they were planted in 1746, by Sir Thomas Churchman, then lessee of the Field.
A good contemporary account of the big fight, in which Painter won, may be found in "Norfolk Annals" (compiled from the files of the Norfolk Chronicle), vol. i. p. 184. This was Painter's last appearance in the prize-ring. He was landlord of the White Hart, just above St. Peter Mancroft Church, from 1823 to 1835, and in that inn there is still a portrait of the famous Ned. He occupied the meadows on which Thorpe Station was built.
[Picture: Bowling Green Inn (now Orphan's Home). From Drawing by H. W. Tuck]
Borrow's introduction of the celebrated fast trotter "Marshland Shales" at the Tombland Fair of March 19th, 1818, is an anachronism, for that noble animal did not present himself on the Castle Hill till 1827. He had been sold for 305 guineas in 1810, and again sold in 1827; he died in 1835, aged thirty-three. Sir Walter Gilbey states that "though the Norfolk Hackney achieved its fame through Blaze (foaled 1733), who begat the original Shales, foaled in 1755, and the foundations of this invaluable breed were thus laid in George II.'s time, we must have regard to the period during which the breed achieved its celebrity both at home and abroad, and that period is the long reign of George III." Dr. Knapp expresses himself as much terrified by the invasion of the free path by "a party rushing madly up, striving to keep pace with a mettlesome steed . . . at the sight of whose enormous hoofs and shaggy fetlocks you are all but ready to perish." Such niggling super refinement would be quite repugnant to Borrow's highway robustious temperament.
[Picture: Portrait of William Simpson. From Painting in Blackfriars' Hall, by Thomas Phillips, R.A., Norwich Corporation Collection]
It was at this Horse Fair that he became conscious of being watched by someone, till at last he was accosted: "What! the sap-engro? Lor! the sap-engro upon the hill!" Then Jasper revealed himself. He had been dodging about inspecting young Borrow, and said he believed Borrow had felt his presence—"a sign, brother, that we are akin, that we are dui palor—two relations. Your blood beat when mine was near, as mine always does at the coming of a brother." The two pals walked on over "the old Norman Bridge" till they reached the gypsy tents on Mousehold, where Borrow had a memorable conversation with Jasper (Ambrose Smith), and incurred the wrath of the malignant Mrs. Herne, who objected to the strange Gorgio "stealing" her language. But he continually consorted with Jasper, studying the language, the characters, and the manners of the gypsies. So quickly did he pick up Romany words that Jasper said: "We'll no longer call you Sap-engro, brother, but rather Lav-engro, which in the language of the Gorgios meaneth Word Master." The handsome Tawno Chikno would have preferred to call him Cooro-mengro, as he had found him "a pure fist master." Mrs. Herne could not stand this intimacy, for she so hated the Gorgio that she said she would like to mix a little poison with his water, so she left her party with her blessing, and this gillie to cheer their hearts:
"In all kinds of weather Have we lived together; But now we are parted, I goes broken hearted. Ye are no longer Rommany. To gain a bad brother, Ye have lost a good mother."
[Picture: Tuck's Court, St. Giles]
[Picture: Portrait of John Crome. By Michael W. Sharpe]
About three years later, Lavengro and Jasper had that conversation on Mousehold, in which this classic passage occurs:—
"Life is sweet, brother."
"Do you think so?"
"Think so! There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise the wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?"
"I would wish to die—"
"You talk like a gorgio—which is the same as talking like a fool—were you a Rommany Chal you would talk wiser. Wish to die indeed! A Rommany Chal would wish to live for ever!"
"In sickness, Jasper?"
"There's the sun and stars, brother."
"In blindness, Jasper?"
"There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever. Dosta, we'll now go to the tents and put on the gloves; and I'll try to make you feel what a sweet thing it is to be alive, brother!"
Borrow's school era was closed appropriately, says Dr. Knapp, by the mysterious distemper already referred to, which would, he thought, end his life; but as he recovered a career had to be decided upon, and, apparently on the advice of his friend Roger Kerrison, the law was chosen. So on Monday, March 30th, 1819, George Borrow was articled for a term of five years to the highly respectable firm of Simpson & Rackham, whose offices were in Tuck's Court, St. Giles's, still occupied by solicitors in the persons of Messrs. Leathes Prior & Son. "So," says Borrow, "I sat behind a desk many hours in the day, ostensibly engaged in transcribing documents of various kinds. The scene of my labours was a strange old house, occupying one side of a long and narrow court, into which, however, the greater number of the windows looked not, but into an extensive garden, filled with fruit trees, in the rear of a large handsome house, belonging to a highly respectable gentleman." This was William Simpson, Town Clerk of Norwich from 1826 till his death, in 1834, having succeeded Elisha de Hague, who attested Borrow's articles. The portraits of both these worthies hang in Blackfriars Hall, that of De Hague by Sir William Beechey, that of Simpson by Thomas Phillips, whose son, H. W. Phillips, painted Borrow's portrait in 1843: it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. As articled clerk Borrow lived at Mr. Simpson's house in the Upper Close, which has long since disappeared.
Mr. Simpson was a genial and indulgent employer, so probably young Borrow found little to prevent him from bringing Ab Gwilym into company with Blackstone: by adopting the law the ardent young linguist had not ceased to be Lav-engro; indeed, the acquisition of languages was his chief pursuit. He already knew, in a way, Latin, Greek, Irish, French, Italian, Spanish, and what Dr. Knapp calls "the broken jargon" then current in England as gypsy. From a misshapen Welsh groom this queer lawyer's clerk learned Welsh pronunciation, and to the consternation of his employer, "turned Sir Edward from the door," and gladly admitted the petty versifier Parkerson who sold his sheets to the highest bidder in the streets; worse even than this was his audacity in contending against a wealthy archdeacon that Ab Gwilym was the superior of Ovid. This gentleman was probably the Rev. John Oldershaw, Archdeacon of Norfolk from 1797 till his death, January 31st, 1847, aged ninety-three. As he was one of the most active magistrates in the county, he would naturally be on friendly terms with so prominent a lawyer as Mr. Simpson, whose handsome wife, moreover, was in the habit of giving entertainments which rather worried her spouse. The episode of the Wake of Freya, included in Chapter XX. of Dr. Knapp's edition of "Lavengro," and the fine eulogy of Crome in the succeeding chapter, should inspire every reader's genuine interest. Here is the memorable Crome passage: "A living master? Why, there he comes! thou hast had him long, he has long guided thy young hand towards the excellence which is yet far from thee, but which thou canst attain if thou shouldst persist and wrestle, even as he has done, midst gloom and despondency—ay, and even contempt; he who now comes up the creaking stair to thy little studio in the second floor to inspect thy last effort before thou departest, the little stout man whose face is very dark, and whose eye is vivacious; that man has attained excellence, destined some day to be acknowledged, though not till he is cold, and his mortal part returned to its kindred clay. He has painted, not pictures of the world, but English pictures, such as Gainsborough himself might have done; beautiful rural pieces, with trees which might well tempt the wild birds to perch upon them; thou needest not run to Rome, brother, after pictures of the world, whilst at home there are pictures of England; nor needest thou even go to London, the big city, in search of a master, for thou hast one at home in the old East Anglian town who can instruct thee whilst thou needest instruction. Better stay at home, brother, at least for a season, and toil and strive 'midst groanings and despondency till thou hast attained excellence even as he has done—the little dark man with the brown coat and the top-boots, whose name will one day be considered the chief ornament of the old town, and whose works will at no distant period rank among the proudest pictures of England—and England against the world! thy master, my brother, thy, at present, all too little considered master—Crome."
Borrow was frankly bored by his experiences in law; he tired of his surroundings, but relaxation came when an old couple gave him a venerable collection of Danish ballads, jetsam of the sea, left with the yeoman and his wife by some shipwrecked red-haired man. This was enough to waken his greedy curiosity, and he at once shook off his listlessness, and set to work to learn Danish, by the aid of a Danish Bible bought of a Muggletonian preacher, who was also a bookseller. In less than a month he was able to read his prize. A correspondent in "Notes and Queries" (April 3rd, 1852) suggested that Borrow confounded Muggleton with Huntington, which, indeed, seems likely enough.
[Picture: The Windmill on Mousehold Heath. By John Crome]
In the old Corporation Library Borrow was enabled to pursue his studies in Scandinavian literature, and having become acquainted with William Taylor, "one of the most extraordinary men that Norwich ever produced," learned German from him with wonderful rapidity. He was a frequent visitor at Taylor's house, 21, King Street, which has just been demolished for the extension of some motor works. Though a pronounced Free-thinker, Taylor was a friend of Southey, and gave his young pupil excellent advice. Mr. Elwin once said to me that most of the Norwich antipathetic references to Borrow arose from his waywardness and wildness as a youth, and considered that there was no evidence that he was ever dissipated or loose in his life. We may largely discount Harriet Martineau's acid references to Taylor's harum-scarum young men, especially as she romanced about that very wild young man Polidori, Byron's erstwhile physician, who, during his stay in Norwich—1817-8—was ever at the Martineaus' house.
[Picture: Ned Painter. From an Engraving. Lent by Mr. C. J. A. Howes]
Whatever were the faults of "Godless Billy," as the Norwich people called Taylor, it was at his table that Borrow met the most intellectual people of Norwich, and of visitors who were amongst Taylor's admirers. One of these, in July, 1821, was Dr. Bowring (afterwards Sir John), so unjustly and rancorously pilloried in Appendix XI. of "The Romany Rye," in 1857. Another guest at the same time was Dr. Lewis Evans, physician to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, 1821-50, a hot-tempered Welshman who had served with distinction in Spain during the Peninsular War. In 1823 William Taylor declared that Borrow translated with facility and elegance twenty different languages.
On Monday, February 11th, 1822, Captain Borrow made his will, and perhaps it was not a mere coincidence that it was a Monday, also on February 11th, but back in 1793, that he married his beloved wife at East Dereham. The old soldier again became concerned about the fate of George when out of his articles, and was anything but heartened by being informed that the young lawyer's clerk had acquired Armenian from a book obtained from a clergyman's widow, who took a fancy, so he says, to him, and even drew his portrait—the expression of his countenance putting her in mind of Alfieri's Saul. The worthy Captain died February 28th, 1824, and was buried in St. Giles's churchyard on March 4th. There never appears to have been any memorial stone, and I have found it impossible to locate the exact position of the grave. As a corner of the churchyard was cut off to widen the street, and to remove a dangerous corner, under the City of Norwich Act of 1867, it is quite likely that the remains are now under the roadway.
In an obituary notice in the Norwich Mercury of March 6th, 1824, Captain Borrow's passing is described thus: "He rose from his bed about four, apparently as well as he has usually been in the winter time; returned to it without the least assistance, and in less than a quarter of an hour was a corpse in the arms of his sons, leaving those who knew his worth and deeply lament his loss." "It will be a shocking thing for George and John," wrote Allday Kerrison to his brother Roger.
Borrow's articles with Simpson & Rackham expired on March 30th, 1824, and a new epoch, packed with extraordinary vicissitudes, was to follow.
Section III. (1824-35)—LONDON—EARLY WRITINGS—A NORWICH MAYOR—GYPSYING—"VEILED PERIOD"—BIBLE SOCIETY.
Borrow describes his father's death in the following memorable passage in "Lavengro": "Clasping his hands he uttered another name clearly. It was the name of Christ. With that name upon his lips the brave old soldier sank back upon my bosom, and with his hands still clasped yielded up his soul." This concluded Volume I. of the original edition of the work.
He begins the first chapter of the second volume abruptly, thus: "One-and-ninepence, sir, or the things which you have brought with you will be taken from you!"
Such was Borrow's first greeting in London when, on the morning of April 2nd, 1824, he alighted from the Norwich coach in the yard of the Swan with Two Necks, in a lane now swallowed up by Gresham Street. He proceeded to the lodgings of his friend Roger Kerrison, at 16, Millman Street, Bedford Row; but in May he had developed such alarming, even suicidal, symptoms that Kerrison, fearing he might be involved in a tragedy, hastily moved off to Soho. Borrow was now to begin the real battle of life, and he had to put in practice, as best he might, his motto, "Fear God, and take your own part." He had left behind in Norwich the mother he loved so well, she who ever defended him when his odd speeches and unconventional proceedings called forth criticism or censure. His friend William Taylor had given him introductions in London, and "honest six-foot-three," conscious of possessing unusual powers, mental and physical, set forth to seek literary work. So, with some papers from a little green box, he looked up Sir Richard Phillips, in Tavistock Square, presented him a letter from Mr. So-and-So (W. Taylor), and was promptly assured "literature is a drug." The following Sunday, however, he dined with the old publisher, who was soon to retire to Brighton, and was commissioned to compile six volumes of "Celebrated Trials," etc., "from the earliest records to the year 1825." What a caprice of Fate that the young aspirant should, on the very threshold of his adult career, be thrown into these coulisses of criminal biography! That a taste already keen to search out the birds of prey that haunt the fringe of decorous society, should be immersed, as it were, in a stream of criminal records! Old songs of Denmark, the poems of Ab Gwilym ("worth half a dozen of Chaucer"!), the "romance in the German style," all were ruthlessly swept aside to give place to a catena of lives of notorious evildoers!
The Lives and Trials appeared in March, 1825, with a preface by Sir Richard; but without Borrow's name. The intellectual impressions which this task, reaching 3,600 pages, produced on Borrow's mind were, said the publisher, "mournful." The grisly and sordid stories of crime and criminals he had to edit reduced him to a state of gloomy depression.
[Picture: Norwich Castle and Cattle Market in Borrow's Time. From a Lithograph. Lent by Norwich Public Library]
His melancholy was abated by an unexpected visit from his soldier-artist brother (April 29th, 1824), of whom, after an affectionate embrace, he asked: "How is my mother, and how is the dog?" Old Mrs. Borrow, down in Willow Lane, was getting past her fits of crying over the loss of her husband, and frequently had the Prayer Book in her hand, but oftener the Bible. John Borrow had been offered one hundred pounds by a Committee to paint Robert Hawkes, Mayor of Norwich in 1822, a prominent draper, who became extremely popular for "the nobly liberal spirit in which he sustained the splendour of civic hospitality." Mr. T. O. Springfield, commonly called "T.O.," was spokesman of the Committee—a little watchmaker with a hump, Borrow called him. Dr. Knapp denies that he was a watchmaker, but such he was in his early days, though he became very wealthy through speculations in silk, and Mayor of Norwich 1829 and 1836. Quite a character, his tombstone in the Rosary cemetery bears this honourable record: "A merciful magistrate, a successful merchant, A consistent politician, A benevolent benefactor, He devoted the energies of a vigorous intellect, and the sympathies of a warm heart, to the prosperity of his native city and the welfare of its inhabitants. Beloved, honoured and regretted, He died April 24th, 1855." John did not feel equal to painting little Mr. Hawkes "striding under the Norman arch out of the cathedral," but said, "I can introduce you to a great master of the heroic, fully competent to do justice to your mayor." "T.O." thought the money should not go to London, but John prevailed, and so came up to London to interview B. R. Haydon, who, owning himself confoundedly hard up, at once accepted the commission. But George comes in as Haydon's beau ideal for that face of Pharaoh the artist desired to paint; later on Borrow asked Haydon for a sitting, saying he would "sooner lose a thousand pounds than not have the honour of appearing in the picture." No trace of any such portrait can be found. Haydon's portrait of Hawkes hangs in St. Andrew's Hall in close proximity to that of his friend "T.O.," painted by Philip Westcott.
[Picture: Marshland Shales]
"I have often thought," says Borrow, very characteristically, "what a capital picture might have been made by my brother's friend, if, instead of making the mayor issue out of the Norman arch, he had painted him moving under the sign of the Checquers (sic), or the Three Brewers, with mace—yes, with mace—the mace appears in the picture issuing out of the Norman arch behind the mayor—but likewise with Snap, and with whiffler, quart pot, and frying-pan, Billy Blind, and Owlenglass, Mr. Petulengro, and Pakomovna."
Borrow's real literary career had begun with the translation of "Faustus" (1825), a rather lurid German work by F. von Klinger, one of whose plays, Sturm und Drang, gave the name to a whole period of German literature. The book was received very unfavourably, but Borrow meant having his Danish Ballads published, and in 1826 they were issued by S. Wilkin, Upper Haymarket, Norwich, in an edition of five hundred copies, of which two hundred were reserved for Norwich and sold at half a guinea each copy; the rest went to London. Allan Cunningham wrote a very eulogistic metrical dedication. The subscription list reveals a very varied list of subscribers, including Bishop Bathurst, Benjamin Haydon, Thomas Campbell, and John Thurtell, who was hanged before the book appeared. Borrow's biographers generally treat these ballads with scarcely veiled contempt, though Lockhart, whose brilliant renderings of Spanish ballads are unsurpassed, wrote of his complete skill in the Scandinavian languages, and his "copious body of translations from their popular minstrelsies, not at all to be confounded with that of certain versifiers. . . . His Norse ditties have the unforgeable stamp of authenticity on every line." W. Bodham Donne, a well-known critic, even went so far as to rank them above Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome." A fine facsimile edition of Borrow's "Romantic Ballads" was brought out by Messrs. Jarrold in the early part of this year.
A rupture with Phillips, almost inevitable, set Borrow wandering, and very soon he became acquainted with the old fruit-woman who found a valid defence for theft in the history of "the blessed Mary Flanders," a dog's-eared volume of "Moll Flanders," wherein Borrow found "the air, the style, the spirit of the writer of the book" which first taught him to read—Defoe, of course. This classic is "supreme as a realistic picture of low life in the large."
A quite different figure appears in the person of Francis Arden, a handsome young Irishman with whom Borrow became acquainted in the coffee-room of an hotel, and with him obtained some knowledge of "the strange and eccentric places of London." When Arden burst out laughing one day Borrow said he would, perhaps, have joined if it were ever his wont to laugh, and his friends said that, though he enjoyed a joke, he did not seem to have the power of laughing. But in Borrow we expect contrarieties, so we find him saying that when he detected a man poking fun at him in Welsh he flung back his head, closed his eyes, and laughed aloud; and later on, walking in Wales with the rain at his back, he flung his umbrella over his shoulder and laughed. "Oh, how a man laughs who has a good umbrella when he has the rain at his back" ("Wild Wales," pp. 301, 470).
Passing by Borrow's meetings with the Armenian merchant, we come to the time when, as he says, he found himself reduced to his last half-crown, and set about writing the "Life and Adventures of Joseph Sell, the Great Traveller," an entirely fictitious personage. This was completed within a week, towards the end of May, 1825, and the story brought the author a welcome twenty pounds. Such is the record. Dr. Knapp believes that there was such a story, probably part of a series, but Mr. Jenkins gives good reasons for thinking that "Joseph Sell" was not written till 1829, when Borrow would more probably be in want of money than just after payment for his "Trials" (in every sense trials) from Phillips. Anyway, on May 24th, 1825, Borrow left London. At starting he encountered Arden driving a cabriolet, who asked him whither he was bound. "I don't know," replied Borrow, "all I can say is that I am about to leave London." Being out of condition, he tired of walking, mounted a coach, "tipped the blunt" to the driver, and alighted at Amesbury, near Stonehenge, whence he began a ramble which became a perfect Iliad of strange happenings. His health improved, his spirits rose, as he tramped on, his journeyings varying from twenty to twenty-five miles a day. On the fifth day of his tramp he met at an inn the mysterious stranger who "touched," as Borrow himself did, against the evil eye; Dr. Johnson was an habitual toucher, and even Macaulay owned to a kindred feeling. While a guest of the "touching" gentleman, Borrow was introduced to the Rev. Mr. Platitude, a notable character in his literary portrait gallery—"he did not go to college a gentleman; he went an ass and returned a prig," writes Borrow fiercely. No biographer, so far as I know, has identified Platitude, but Mr. Donne evidently knew him, for he calls Borrow's account a "gross and unfair caricature." I believe I have identified "the rascally Unitarian minister who went over to the High Church," with the Rev. Theophilus Browne, Fellow and Tutor of Peterhouse, Cambridge, who quitted the Church for conscience sake, obtained an appointment at the York Unitarian College, and was minister at the Octagon Chapel in 1809, but was paid to resign the following year. He died at Bath in May, 1835. The historian of the Octagon applies Milton's line to him:
"New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large."
Arriving at Tamworth, Borrow entered a cottage inn, and, as was his custom, called "House!" as loud as he could. Whilst drinking his beer he cheered the heart of the sorrowful Jack Slingsby by buying his whole tinker's stock-in-trade—beat, plant, pony, and all—concluding that "a tinker is his own master, a scholar is not." Poor Slingsby had been driven off the road by the great Flaming Tinman, "Black Jack," whose clan name was Anselo Herne, who, thrusting a Bible into Slingsby's mouth, forced him to swear his Bible oath that he would surrender his beat. Here was a truly picturesque situation after Borrow's own taste, and, no doubt with a joyful heart, he paid Slingsby five pounds ten shillings for his tinker's outfit, bought a wagoner's frock from the landlady, and felt ready enough to encounter the dreaded "Black Jack."
[Picture: A quaint corner in Borrow's House. By C. M. Nichols, R.E.]
Borrow avers that he fled from London "from fear of consumption," that he must do something or go mad, so, having a knowledge of smithing that enabled him to acquire the tinkering craft, he became a sort of Petulengro himself. A few days after pitching his tent in Mumper's Dingle, near Willenhall, as he slept against an ash tree, a voice seemed to cry in his ear Danger! Danger! and he awoke to see Leonora, a pretty gypsy girl of thirteen, wearing a handsome necklace of corals and gold. She offered him a manricli, or cake, saying "Eat, pretty brother, grey-haired brother." After some demur, he ate part of it; it was poisoned, and he fell into a swoon. Soon he heard the voice of the malicious old hag Mrs. Herne, who, gloating over her enemy, told him he had taken drows, as, however he began to move they set their juggal (dog) at him; but the animal, fled from the flash of the tinker's eye, and Mrs. Herne realised that he would live—the dook (spirit of divination) told her so. The arrival of the Welsh preacher Peter Williams, and his wife Winifred, in their cart put the gypsy witch-wife and her daughter to flight. The Welshman administered some oil, which, after two hours of suspense, and with the help of an opiate, saved the life of Lavengro. During this companionship Borrow found that Williams suffered excruciating spiritual terrors from the conviction that he had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost—pechod Ysprydd Glan!
Borrow left his Welsh friends to join no less a personage than Jasper Petulengro, "one of the clibberty-clabber," quoted Peter from a Welsh poet; Borrow's pal had a wondrous story to tell of Mrs. Herne, of the "drows," who had "been her own hinjiri," i.e. hanged herself. The girl Leonora told Jasper that she had tracked Borrow and found him, alive and well, 'discussing religion with a Methody, and that when she told the old woman, Mrs. Herne said it was all up with her, and she must take a long journey. In March, 1911, died Isaac Herne, of the same family, son of beautiful Sinfi; he was known as "King of the Gypsies," and to the last would tell of his meetings and talks with the "Romany Rye." Unlike his clanswoman, who was buried "like a Roman woman of the old blood," he was buried in gorgious fashion—in the graveyard of Manston Church, near Leeds.
Borrow soon parted from Jasper, and settled himself in the beautiful Mumper's Dingle, where he had the historic fight with the "Flaming Tinman," getting the victory by using his "Long Melford," on the advice of that towering and handsome female bearing the name of Isopel Berners, who now comes on the scene, and who will ever remain one of the most fascinating figures in the wonderful gallery of Borrovian characters.
"I never saw such a face and figure," exclaims Borrow, "both regal—why, you look like Ingeborg, Queen of Norway; she had twelve brothers, you know, and could lick them all, though they were heroes—
"'On Dovrefeld in Norway, Were once together seen, The twelve heroic brothers Of Ingeborg the queen.'"
(See "Romantic Ballads," p. 59.)
In Chapter XV. of "The Romany Rye," Borrow thus describes the last farewell to Belle, as he called her: "I found the Romany party waiting for me, and everything in readiness for departing. Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno were mounted on two old horses. The rest, who intended to go to the fair, amongst whom were two or three women, were on foot. On arriving at the extremity of the plain, I looked towards the dingle. Isopel Berners stood at the mouth, the beams of the early morning sun shone full on her noble face and figure. I waved my hand towards her. She slowly lifted up her right arm. I turned away, and never saw Isopel Berners again."
This little book, concerned chiefly with Norwich, cannot follow the wayfarings of Borrow, so enchantingly described in "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye," in chapters which justify to the full Mr. Birrell's enthusiastic admiration when he wrote: "The delightful, the bewitching, the never sufficiently to be praised George Borrow—Borrow, the Friend of Man, at whose bidding lassitude and languor strike their tents and flee; and health and spirits, adventure and human comradeship, take up the reins of life, whistle to the horses and away you go!"
It is much to be hoped that the Borrow Celebration, to which this booklet is a modest contribution, may lead to a warmer appreciation in Norwich of one of the greatest men who ever trod her streets. "The Romany Rye" has a thoroughly Borrovian ending, much in the manner of Sterne, as many of Borrow's passages are. His pilgrimage of tinkering and adventurous vagrancy between May and August, 1825, came to an end at Boston—"a large town, situate at the entrance of an extensive firth"—where a recruiting sergeant wished to enlist him for the service of the Honourable East India Company. But his references to Petulengro and Tawno Chikno disgusted the soldier, who exclaimed: "Young fellow, I don't like your way of speaking; no, nor your way of looking. You are mad, sir; you are mad; and what's this? Why your hair is grey! You won't do for the Honourable Company—they like red. I'm glad I didn't give you the shilling." Then Borrow soliloquizes: "I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno came originally from India. I think I'll go there." So ends one of the most amazing fragments of autobiography that the world has ever seen; many readers we know leave these unwillingly and return to them again and again with unquenchable zest. Borrow was twenty-three when in the autumn of 1825 he was making his way to Norwich from Lincolnshire, and from then till his employment by the Bible Society in 1833, his movements were very uncertain. The intervening years have been called "the veiled period"—gloomy and mysterious, says Mr. Jenkins, but not utterly dark. He was in Norwich at Tombland Fair in April, 1827, the real date of his doffing his hat to that celebrated horse, "Marshland Shales," and towards the end of the year he was still in Willow Lane, as is proved by entries in his mother's cash book, seen by Dr. Knapp.
Tired of inactivity, Borrow was in London in December, 1829, at 17, Great Russell Street, W.C., eagerly seeking work, scheming for a work on the Songs of Scandinavia, jointly with Bowring, which came to nothing.
It is curious that in a letter to Bowring of September 14th, 1830, he proposes to call on him one evening, as early rising kills him. Quite a strange expression for so open-air a wanderer. That Borrow could not secure employment in the ordinary avenues of the professions and commerce is hardly to be wondered at; he preferred the society of vagabonds, into which he had been driven by his own inclinations as much as, or more than, by force of circumstances. His brother John told him that his want of success in life was more owing to his being unlike other people than to any other cause. His isolating and aggressive pride engendered a tactlessness which often spoilt any chances of advancement that came his way. But he had dogged determination, which, to quote Mr. Jenkins, "was to carry him through the most critical period of his life, enable him to earn the approval of those in whose interests he worked, and eventually achieve fame and an unassailable place in English literature."
It does not come within the scope of this local souvenir to follow Borrow in his career under the Bible Society in Russia and the Peninsula; but we must just note that he obtained his appointment with that society through the Rev. Francis Cunningham, a brother-in-law of the great banker J. J. Gurney, of Earlham, having married his sister Richenda at Earlham Church in 1816. He became Rector of Pakefield in 1814, and of Lowestoft from 1830 till his death in August, 1863.
[Picture: William Taylor]
[Picture: George Borrow's House, Oulton, near Lowestoft]
To this gentleman Borrow was introduced by a young farmer, no doubt Mr. Skepper, of Oulton Hall, on December 27th, 1832. It is believed that it was through the Batemans, of Norwich (of whom the late Sir Frederic Bateman, M.D., was best known), that the acquaintance with the Skeppers began, as the families had intermarried. On the very day of the introduction Mr. Cunningham wrote to the Rev. Andrew Brandram, Secretary of the Bible Society, recommending Borrow as one who could read the Bible in thirteen languages—a very produceable person, of no very defined denomination of Christians, but, thought Mr. Cunningham, of certain Christian principle. Dr. Knapp errs in stating that Borrow owed this introduction to J. J. Gurney ("Life of Borrow," i. p. 152). Anyway, he was invited to interview the Bible Society secretaries, and when one of them hoped he had slept well, replied: "I am not aware that I fell asleep on the road; I have walked from Norwich to London." He records that he did the hundred and twelve miles in twenty-seven hours, his outlay on the journey being 5.5d. for one pint of ale, half-pint of milk, a roll of bread, and two apples. Thus began the period of Bible distribution in Russia and Spain, still a life crowded with adventures and risky situations—the tall, handsome, young Englishman now in a prison, and anon kissing his hands to a group of tittering nuns. "The Bible in Spain" was the chief enduring result of these experiences, a work which secured immediate popularity; moreover, the halo of the Bible Society shed a glamour of unquestionable respectability on Borrow's head. At Seville, in some inexplicable way, Borrow met Mrs. Clarke (born Mary Skepper), the widow of Lieut. Clarke, by whom she had the daughter Henrietta, the "Hen" of "Wild Wales," who in 1865 married Dr. MacOubrey, apparently both a physician and a barrister. Accompanied by her daughter, now about twenty-two, Mrs. Clarke arrived at Seville, and their menage there with Borrow was certainly curious; but on April 3rd, 1840, the whole party, including Hayim Ben Attar, his body servant, and Sidi Habismilk, his Arab steed, boarded the "Royal Adelaide," bound for London, where she berthed on April 16th. The Borrow party at once proceeded to the Spread Eagle Inn, Gracechurch Street, and on April 23rd, George Henry Borrow, "gentleman, of the City of Norwich," was married at St. Peter's, Cornhill, in the City of London to Mary Clarke, "widow, daughter of Edmund Skepper, Esquire." One of the witnesses was Mr. John Pilgrim, a Norwich solicitor. About May 5th the little family left London for Oulton, long to be the home of Lav-engro, and of his faithful and most helpful wife, who had an assured income of 450 pounds, with something over from the estate.
[Picture: George Borrow. From a Photograph by Mr. Pulley, taken in 1848. Lent by Mr. Simms Reeve]
[Picture: George Borrow. Painted by John T. Borrow, a pupil of Old Crome]
Section IV. (1840-81)—OULTON—AUTHORSHIP—BORROW'S APPEARANCE AND LEADING CHARACTERISTICS—TWILIGHT, AND THE END.
Our Ulysses had now found a haven of refuge, and a permanent Calypso who worthily held his heart to the end.
Oulton Cottage, with its banded firs and solemn solitary lake, alive with wild fowl, was an ideal place for Borrow. He had, in his early days, loved Norwich well, and might have settled here but for what Harriet Martineau styles the shout of laughter from all who remembered the old Norwich days, when he appeared "as a devout agent of the Bible Society." It is unquestionable that the jog-trot "daily-round-and-common-task" citizens of Norwich looked askance at him as a sort of lusus naturae, what naturalists call a "sport"—not in the slangy sense. Mr. Egmont Hake ("Macmillan's Magazine," 1882, Vol. XLV.) went so far as to say that Borrow was "perhaps the handsomest man of his day." On the other hand, Caroline Fox, the Quakeress, who called on Borrow in October, 1843, described him as "a tall, ungainly man, with great physical strength, quick, penetrating eye, a confident manner, and a disagreeable tone and pronunciation." It was on April 11th, 1843, that Sir Robert Peel pronounced his striking eulogy on "The Bible in Spain."
Any appreciation of Borrow's works is out of the question in this outline survey. He professed a great liking for his "Lives and Trials"—how full were the Lives "of wild and racy adventures, and in what racy, genuine language they were told." These words are closely applicable to Borrow's own writings; many of the critics fell foul of them, though Lockhart said Borrow had "a true eye for the picturesque, and a fund of real racy humour," while Elwin, fourteen years later (1857), praised his descriptions "as accurate as they are picturesque. They abound in dramatic and delicate strokes of nature, of which no extracts give an adequate idea, and are painted with a force that brings men, events and prospects before the eye with the vividness of reality. In this power of verbal delineation Mr. Borrow has never been outdone. . . . His descriptions of scenery have a peculiar sublimity and grace." A little later, W. Bodham Donne, a Norfolk man and acute critic, said, "We all read Mr. Borrow's books," but lamented his "plunge into the worse than Irish bogs of Polemical Protestantism." Mr. Saintsbury, one of our foremost literary essayists, while asserting, in 1886, that Borrow was not a popular author, stated that "his works greatly influenced Longfellow and Merimee, especially the latter." Blackwood naturally disliked Borrow, said gypsies constituted nine-tenths of his stock-in-trade, and that his chief credential to London was a letter from "an eccentric German teacher"! To-day where will you find a competent scholarly critic who is not a whole-hearted admirer of Borrow's style? His grave and gay pictures of persons and places, are etched in with instinctive faithfulness, and clarity of atmosphere; always excepting such characters as were under the ban of his capricious hatred: "Mr. Flamson," "the Old Radical," Scott and his "gentility nonsense," and so forth. It is doubtful if any but lovers of the open road, can thoroughly enter into the Borrow fellowship, but only such as Mr. E. V. Lucas, Mr. Hilaire Belloc, of the comity of wayfaring men—initiates in the charities of the roads—men who love the dewy perfume of the meadows when the day is young, the blazing splendours of noon on the highway, and the magic of moonlight in many a dale, on many a hill. Men, moreover, who find nothing "low" in listening to the tapestried talk of wayside taverns, where, indeed, even to-day many a scrap of folk-lore and remnant of age-old superstitions may be learned. The spirit of Borrow has inspired and evolved the noble army of caravanners, with Lady Grosvenor and Mr. J. Harris Stone at their head. The people who cannot appreciate Borrow are those who will not lift their eyes from the pavement to be rapt in admiration of a glorious sunset, to whom, indeed, Borrow would appear a silly enigma, or a boor. For, when "the Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy work," comes that rare time when the spirit—unconsciously worshipping—is uplifted in an ecstasy of wonder and joy, who then can but pity the dull eye ever abased to the grime of the trodden path?
"In matters of taste you never are sure— Your curry's a poison, your tastelessness pure!"
Borrow's sturdy forthrightness, his abhorrence of suave ambiguities and formal inanities, found vent in most vigorous and unmistakeable language; dogmatic obiter dicta came from his mouth or his pen like so many cudgel-thwacks. His nature was tense and intense, very excitable and subject to aberrant moods—and he was often the victim of a false ply, as the French would say. It cannot be gainsaid that his suspicions of society ways, and of ordinarily conventional literary men, often betrayed him into tactless discourtesies. It is needless to repeat the anecdotes in which he appears in an unfavourable light, some of them probably exaggerations, as, for instance, the well-known story of Borrow snubbing Thackeray, as told by Dr. Hake. Miss Jay, whose father was of the firm of Jay and Pilgrim, told me (November 22nd, 1893) that Borrow was loud in his denunciation of Thackeray's meanness on a certain occasion, and she utterly refused to believe Dr. Hake's version of the alleged boorishness at Hardwick Hall. Borrow was a man of many moods, and Miss Jay seems to have seen him only in his brighter hours: she described him to me as open-hearted and generous, always thought highly of good old ale, and liked Burgundy. "It puts fire into your veins," he would say; if he poured out wine for anyone, he was angry if they did not drink it. But she never knew him to exceed, and, though she often saw him highly excited, never heard him swear. Very similar accounts appeared in the Eastern Daily Press, of October 1st, 1892, over the signature "E.H."
[Picture: Corner of George Borrow's Bedroom, showing a view of city roofs. By C. M. Nichols, R.E.]
Another friend of Borrow's with whom I had many talks was the late Rev. Whitwell Elwin, at Booton Rectory. He was editor of the Quarterly Review (1854-60), and in 1857 had reviewed "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" in excellent style, under the heading "Roving Life in England." Mr. Elwin and his wife were a most delightful couple, models of old-fashioned courtesy and heart-kindness. He knew Borrow well, and quite discredited the innuendoes and insinuations of many Norwich folk about him. It was a joke with the Murray circle that "big Borrow was second fiddle at his home, and there is ample testimony that his wife was a capable manager and looked after his affairs, literary as well as domestic." Though Borrow boasted of his proficiency in the Norfolk dialect, Mr. Elwin told him that he had not cultivated it with his usual success. Mr. Elwin died January 1st, 1900, aged eighty-three.
Quite naturally old Mrs. Borrow grew lonely, and weary of the dilapidated house in Willow Lane, so she was removed to Oulton in September, 1849, and there she died August 16th, 1858. Under imperative orders from Dr. Hake, the Borrows left Oulton and got to Yarmouth, where they lived 1853-5 at John Sharman's, 169, King Street; 1856-7 at 37, Camperdown Place; 1858-9 at 39, Camperdown Place; and finally, November, 1859, to June 30th, 1860, at 24, Trafalgar Place. These tarryings were, however, broken by many excursions—a most interesting one to his kinsfolk in Cornwall in 1853, to Wales in 1854, and the Isle of Man in 1855.
In 1860 Borrow, his wife, and step-daughter, Henrietta Clarke, took up their abode at 22, Hereford Square, Brompton, now distinguished by a County Council tablet. There Borrow remained fourteen years. From there, in 1865, his step-daughter, Henrietta, married Dr. MacOubrey, and then came the most crushing blow of all—the death of his wife, January 30th, 1869.
One is reminded of the epitaph which I have seen on Mrs. Carlyle's tombstone, in Haddington cemetery, in which Carlyle records that the light of his life is gone out; so Borrow's life was shadowed after his wife passed away—she who wrote his letters, staved off the "Horrors," and conducted his financial affairs. Borrow stayed on at Hereford Square until towards the end of 1874. A meeting with C. G. Leland prompted him to issue his last book worth notice—"The Romano-Y-Lavo-Lil"; or Word Book of the English Gypsy Language. This, in the light of the advance made in philology, and very notably in gypsy lore, proved conclusively that Borrow could now no longer be reckoned a "deep 'Gyptian," though the impulse of his work undoubtedly stirred up many scholars to pursue the study of the Romany language. In his latter days in London he sometimes had pleasant intercourse with such kindred spirits as Mr. Watts-Dunton, Mr. Hindes Groome, and he was still robust enough at seventy to plunge into an ice-covered pond on a bitterly cold March morning. When he finally retired to his Oulton cottage, where a Mrs. Barbour was his housekeeper until Dr. and Mrs. MacOubrey joined him in 1878, he began to spend much of his time in Norwich. A life-long friend of his was Miss Lucy Brightwell, a prolific writer and most skilful etcher, who died at her house, No. 3, Surrey Street, April 17th, 1875. Here we must perforce quote Dr. Knapp: "Miss Brightwell was an intimate and constant visitor at the Willow Lane house from her early years. Old Mrs. Borrow mentions her in her letters as 'the child' and 'Lucy,' and the latter in her correspondence calls Mrs. Borrow 'mother.' . . . It was in the garden of Miss Brightwell's house in Surrey Street, Norwich, that the only photograph existing of Mr. Borrow was taken by her brother 'Tom' in 1848. This picture is now so faded that it has defied all attempts to reproduce it in this book." The fact is that Dr. Knapp was refused the use of the photograph, which was not taken by Tom Brightwell, but by Mr. Pulley, a solicitor, of the firm of Field, Son, & Pulley. This picture is now the property of Mrs. Simms Reeve, of Norwich and Brancaster Hall. Her own portrait as a girl is one of several separate figures framed together, Borrow occupying a place in the top row. Fortunately, by the courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Simms Reeve, this interesting portrait of Borrow, when he was forty-five years of age, has now been reproduced, and it is, perhaps, the most valuable item in this souvenir, it also is lent by Mrs. Simms Reeve for the temporary collection of Borrow relics in Norwich Castle Museum. When he came to Norwich in these later days Borrow used to lodge at Mrs. Church's, in Lady Lane, off Bethel Street, known as Ivy House, and much frequented by theatrical people, now adapted to be a Dispensary. A grand-daughter of Borrow's friend W. Bodham Donne wrote me, in 1902, that "Borrow once lodged at Ivy Cottage, Lady's Lane, where a dear old Miss Donne was living." From Lady Lane it is only a few hundred yards to the well-loved little house in Willow Lane, at which his father died, and where his mother lived till her removal to Oulton as stated above.
Little remains to record. Some there are who remember Borrow's tall figure in the streets of Norwich. The old city—"the Norwich I love"—seemed to draw him irresistibly from his hermitage. Nor is this to be wondered at; for all accounts I have seen, and heard also, of the Oulton domestic arrangements during the last few years of his life, agree that they were deplorable. Mr. Elwin told me that, after the death of Borrow's wife, the home was not well looked after, and that Mr. Cooke (Murray's cousin and partner) "told him with tears in his eyes how neglected the home was, and how the noble old man was broken up." Miss Jay also informed me that "after Mrs. Borrow's death Mrs. MacOubrey was wanting in tact to manage him and the affairs of the family, hence the gradual decline of household matters into the disorder and neglect referred to by visitors to Oulton in Borrow's latter days." No wonder the weary old Lav-engro was glad to revisit the scenes of his youth, and found it restful to spend much of his time in the Norfolk Hotel (which stood where the Hippodrome now is), talking with his friends, with a glass before him—"of course to pay for the seat," remarks Dr. Knapp, with an apparent attempt at sarcasm. I know a gentleman in Norwich now who remembers Borrow's visits to the Subscription Library opposite the Guildhall, and his adjournments to the "Norfolk" after asking my informant to join him in a glass of brandy and water.
Borrow's death, July 26th, 1881, was very sudden. Left alone in the house, he was found dead when Dr. and Mrs. MacOubrey returned from a drive to Lowestoft. "It seems fitting," says Mr. Jenkins, "that he should die alone"; but he justly adds, "whatever the facts, it was strange to leave so old and so infirm a man quite unattended." Dr. Knapp affirms that Borrow "had earnestly requested them not to go away, because he felt that he was in a dying state." The corpse of the worn-out veteran was detained in Oulton from July 26th to August 4th—"by reason of the absence of a physician's certificate," says Dr. Knapp. Borrow was buried in Brompton Cemetery beside his wife.
At the time of his death Borrow was practically forgotten, and even first-rate handbooks omitted his name from their obituaries. The case is altered now, and the Borrow Celebration, of which this souvenir will be one memento, bears eloquent testimony to the fact.
Those who enter the Valley of Vision with George Borrow, those who come into touch with the glamour and witchery of him, will ever find a new light in life, and travel in new avenues of happiness. The present Celebration will bring fresh fame to Norwich, and no doubt will give an immense impulse to Borrovian sentiment in his beloved city. We are never likely to have another Borrow!
A FLOWER FROM BORROW'S GRAVE.
A simple flower with heart of gold, What should'st thou know of mortal sorrow? Though thou hadst grown in London mould, Above the grave of mighty Borrow.
So firm the hold, thy creeping root, So true thy purchase on the stone, Thou there defiest the city soot, The careless step, the heat of noon.
An emblem fair of Lavengro, Thou art in all thy brave upbringing; Obscure, he wandered to and fro, Wrote joy on earth by faith upspringing.
Like thee he loved the windy heath; He did not fear though storms might rave, He dreaded not the earth beneath, He chose his own, a London grave.
[Picture: George Borrow's grave, Brompton Cemetery. From Mr. A. Farrants]