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Isopel Berners The History of certain doings in a Staffordshire Dingle, July, 1825   By: (1803-1881)

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The History of certain doings in a Staffordshire Dingle, July, 1825: An Episode in the Autobiography of George Borrow .



Printed by Hazell , Watson & Viney , Ld ., London and Aylesbury .



The last century was yet in its infancy when the author of The Romany Rye first saw the light in the sleepy little East Anglian township of East Dereham, in the county distinguished by Borrow as the one in which the people eat the best dumplings in the world and speak the purest English. "Pretty quiet D[ereham]" was the retreat in those days of a Lady Bountiful in the person of Dame Eleanor Fenn, relict of the worthy editor of the Paston Letters . It is better known in literary history as the last resting place of a sad and unquiet spirit, escaped from a world in which it had known nought but sorrow, of "England's sweetest and most pious bard," William Cowper. But Destiny was weaving a robuster thread to connect East Dereham with literature, for George Borrow {1} was born there on July 5th, 1803, and, nomad though he was, the place was always dear to his heart as his earliest home.

In 1816, after ramblings far and wide both in Ireland and in Scotland, the Borrows settled in Norwich, where George was schooled under a master whose name at least is still familiar to English youth, Dr. Valpy (brother of Dr. Richard Valpy). Among his schoolfellows at the grammar school were Rajah Brooke and Dr. James Martineau. George Borrow, a hardened truant from his earliest teens, was once horsed, to undergo a flogging, on the back of James Martineau, and he never afterwards took kindly to the philosophy of that remarkable man. We are glad to know that Edward Valpy's ferule was weak, though his scholarship was strong. Stories were current that even in those days George used to haunt the gipsy tents on that Mousehold Heath which lives eternally in the breezy canvases of "Old Crome," and that he went so far as to stain his face with walnut juice to the right Egyptian hue. "Are you suffering from jaundice, Borrow," asked the Doctor, "or is it merely dirt?" While at Norwich, too, he was greatly influenced in the direction of linguistics by the English "pocket Goethe," William Taylor, the head of a clan known as the Taylors of Norwich, to distinguish them from a race in which the principle of heredity was even more strikingly developed the Taylors of Ongar. In February 1824 his father, the gallant Captain Thomas Borrow, died, and his articles in the firm of a Norwich solicitor having determined, George went to London to commence literary man, in the old sense of the servitude, under the well known bookseller publisher, Sir Richard Phillipps. In Grub Street he translated and compiled galore, but when the trees began to shoot in 1825 he broke his chain and escaped to the country, to the dingle, and to Isopel Berners.

To dwell upon the bare outlines of Borrow's early career would be a superfluously dull proceeding. We shall only add a few names and dates to the framework, supplied with a fidelity that is rare in much more formal works of autobiography, in the pages of Lavengro . From the same pages we may detach just a few of the earlier influences which went to make up the rare and complex individuality of the writer. Borrow's father, a fine old soldier, in revealing his son's youthful idiosyncrasy, projects a clear mental image of his own habit of mind. "The boy had the impertinence to say the classics were much over valued, and amongst other things that some horrid fellow or other, some Welshman, I think (thank God it was not an Irishman), was a better poet than Ovid. {2} That a boy of his years should entertain an opinion of his own, I mean one which militates against all established authority, is astonishing... Continue reading book >>

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