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The Romany Rye

George Borrow

  Transcribed from by the 1903 Methuen & Co. edition by David Price, [email protected]. Many thanks to Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library,UK, for kindly supplying the images from which this transcription was made.


  A Sequel to 'Lavengro'





  [Picture: Bushbury Church]


  'Lavengro' and 'The Romany Rye' are one book, though the former waspublished in 1851 and the latter not until 1857. After a slumber of sixyears the dingle re-awakes to life, Lavengro's hammer shatters thestillness, and the blaze of his forge again lights up its shadows, whileall the strange persons of the drama take up their parts at the pointwhere the curtain had been so abruptly rung down. The post-chaiseoverturned in the last chapter of 'Lavengro' is repaired in the first ofthis sequel, the Man in Black proceeds with his interrupted disquisition,and Borrow resumes his cold-blooded courtship of poor Isopel, playingwith her feelings as a cat with a mouse. The dingle episode is dividedequally between the two works; and had not 'Glorious John,' after aseries of peremptory notes from the author, at last consented to publish'The Romany Rye' 'to oblige Mr. Borrow,' we had lost some of the mostdelightful scenes of which that enchanted spot was the theatre.

  What part of this narrative is _Dichtung _and what is _Wahrheit _has beena debated question. In his chapter on pseudo-critics in the appendix tothe present book, Borrow denies that he ever called 'Lavengro' anautobiography, or authorized any other person to call it so. But it hadbeen advertised for some months as, 'Lavengro: an Autobiography'; whileas early as 1843 Borrow writes to Murray that he is engaged upon hislife; and as late as 1862, in an account of himself written for Mr. JohnLonge of Norwich, Borrow says that 'in 1851 he published "Lavengro," awork in which he gives an account of his early life.' There is indeed nodoubt that the earlier part of 'Lavengro' is, in the main, a true historyof the life and adventures of George Borrow, however embellished here orthere with Borrovian touches; it is only of the truth of the occurrencesjust before and after leaving London that scepticism has been expressed.Borrow's story, however, is so circumstantial that we should at least beable to discover whether this part of his history is credible andconsistent.

  Plainly, the year when Borrow leaves London is 1825. 'Somewhat more thana year before,' in March (or rather April) {0a} of the year of Byron'sfuneral, {0b} he had entered the 'Big City,' a youth verging on manhood.In his preface to 'Lavengro' he speaks of the time as embracing 'nearlythe first quarter of the present century,' and in 'The Romany Rye' refersto having edited the _Newgate Chronicle _some months ago. {0c} We knowalso that his youthful contributions to literature ceased with histranslation of Klinger's 'Faustus,' published on April 18, 1825. Aboutthis time, then, when Borrow was literally reduced to his last shilling,he describes himself as visiting a fair in the neighbourhood of London.He refuses a loan of 50 pounds from Jasper Petulengro, and, returninghomewards, notices in a publisher's window a request for a tale or novel.Subsisting on bread and water, he writes in a week the 'Life of JosephSell,' for which he receives 20 pounds, and twelve days after attendingthe fair leaves London. Passing through Salisbury, he travels northwardand encamps in a dingle, where he is poisoned by his old enemy Mrs.Herne. Saved by the timely intervention of a methodist preacher and hiswife, he recovers on the following day (Sunday), and nine days lateraccompanies his friends to the Welsh border. Here he again meets Jasper,returning with him the greater part of the day's journey, settling in'Mumpers' Dingle,' where he is visited by his gypsy friends, four daysbefore the Sunday upon which they all attend church.

  A casual remark of Mr. Petulengro's on this occasion affords a valuableclue to the precise date. 'Any news stirring, Mr. Petulengro?' saidBorrow; 'have you heard anything of the great religious movements?''Plenty,' said Mr. Petulengro; 'all the religious people, more especiallythe evangelicals, those who go about distributing tracts, are very angryabout the fight between Gentleman Cooper and White-headed Bob, which theysay ought not to have been permitted to take place; and then they aretrying all they can to prevent the fight between the lion and the dogs,which they say is a disgrace to a Christian country.' The prize-fightbetween Baldwin and Cooper was fought on Tuesday, July 5, 1825, nearMaidenhead. The combat between the lion, Nero, and six dogs took placeat Warwick on Tuesday, July 26, and for months beforehand had been thesubject of much discussion in the London and provincial press. {0d} TheWednesday, therefore, when the gypsies visited Borrow in the dingle musthave fallen between these two events--_i.e._, must have been the 6th,13th, or 20th of July. The fair to the south-east of London, towardswhich Borrow was attracted by a huge concourse of people, all moving inthe same direction, is unmistakably the Greenwich Fair, held onWhit-Monday, May 23, 1825. {0e} He must, then, have set out after thisdate, and on a Tuesday, as we calculate by reckoning backwards from thefirst Sunday passed with Peter Williams. The gypsies' visit occurred onthe 58th day of his tour, so that he must have left London on Tuesday,May 24, 1825, since to have started on any later day would have carriedhim beyond the date of the lion fight.

  From these data we can now construct an exact diary of Borrow'sadventures, from the day on which he left London to that on which hearrived at the posting-inn on the Great North Road.