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George Borrow The Man and His Books   By: (1878-1917)

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GEORGE BORROW THE MAN AND HIS BOOKS

BY EDWARD THOMAS

AUTHOR OF

"THE LIFE OF RICHARD JEFFERIES," "LIGHT AND TWILIGHT," "REST AND UNREST," "MAURICE MAETERLINCK," ETC.

WITH PORTRAITS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

LONDON CHAPMAN & HALL, LTD. 1912

Printed by JAS. TRUSCOTT AND SON, LTD., London, E.C.

{picture: George Borrow, (From the painting by H. W. Phillips, R.A., in the possession of Mr. John Murray, by whose kind permission the picture is reproduced.): page0.jpg}

NOTE

The late Dr. W. I. Knapp's Life (John Murray) and Mr. Watts Dunton's prefaces are the fountains of information about Borrow, and I have clearly indicated how much I owe to them. What I owe to my friend, Mr. Thomas Seccombe, cannot be so clearly indicated, but his prefaces have been meat and drink to me. I have also used Mr. R. A. J. Walling's sympathetic and interesting "George Borrow." The British and Foreign Bible Society has given me permission to quote from Borrow's letters to the Society, edited in 1911 by the Rev. T. H. Darlow; and Messrs. T. C. Cantrill and J. Pringle have put at my disposal their publication of Borrow's journal of his second Welsh tour, wonderfully annotated by themselves ("Y Cymmrodor," 1910). These and other sources are mentioned where they are used and in the bibliography.

DEDICATION TO E. S. P. HAYNES

MY DEAR HAYNES,

By dedicating this book to you, I believe it is my privilege to introduce you and Borrow. This were sufficient reason for the dedication. The many better reasons are beyond my eloquence, much though I have remembered them this winter, listening to the storms of Caermarthen Bay, the screams of pigs, and the street tunes of "Fall in and follow me," "Yip i addy," and "The first good joy that Mary had."

Yours, EDWARD THOMAS.

LAUGHARNE, CAERMARTHENSHIRE, December , 1911.

CHAPTER I BORROW'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

The subject of this book was a man who was continually writing about himself, whether openly or in disguise. He was by nature inclined to thinking about himself and when he came to write he naturally wrote about himself; and his inclination was fortified by the obvious impression made upon other men by himself and by his writings. He has been dead thirty years; much has been written about him by those who knew him or knew those that did: yet the impression still made by him, and it is one of the most powerful, is due mainly to his own books. Nor has anything lately come to light to provide another writer on Borrow with an excuse. The impertinence of the task can be tempered only by its apparent hopelessness and by that necessity which Voltaire did not see.

I shall attempt only a re arrangement of the myriad details accessible to all in the writings of Borrow and about Borrow. Such re arrangement will sometimes heighten the old effects and sometimes modify them. The total impression will, I hope, not be a smaller one, though it must inevitably be softer, less clear, less isolated, less gigantic. I do not wish, and I shall not try, to deface Borrow's portrait of himself; I can only hope that I shall not do it by accident. There may be a sense in which that portrait can be called inaccurate. It may even be true that "lies damned lies" {1} helped to make it. But nobody else knows anything like as much about the truth, and a peddling biographer's mouldy fragment of plain fact may be far more dangerous than the manly lying of one who was in possession of all the facts. In most cases the fact to use an equivocal term is dead and blown away in dust while Borrow's impression is as green as grass. His "lies" are lies only in the same sense as all clothing is a lie.

For example, he knew a Gypsy named Ambrose Smith, and had sworn brotherhood with him as a boy. He wrote about this Gypsy, man and boy, and at first called him, as the manuscripts bear witness, by his real name, though Borrow thought of him in 1842 as Petulengro. In print he was given the name Jasper Petulengro Petulengro being Gypsy for shoesmith and as Jasper Petulengro he is now one of the most unforgetable of heroes; the name is the man, and for many Englishmen his form and character have probably created quite a new value for the name of Jasper... Continue reading book >>




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