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CHAPTER III John Thomas Borrow
 John Thomas Borrow was born two years before his younger brother, that is, on the 15th of April, 1801.  His father, then Serjeant Borrow, was wandering from town to town, and it is not known where his elder son first saw the light.  John Borrow’s nature was cast in a somewhat different mould from that of his brother.  He was his father’s pride.  Serjeant Borrow could not understand George with his extraordinary taste for the society of queer people—the wild Irish and the ragged1 Romanies.  John had far more of the normal in his being.  Borrow gives us in Lavengro our earliest glimpse of his brother:  
He was a beautiful child; one of those occasionally seen in England, and in England alone; a rosy2, angelic face, blue eyes, and light chestnut3 hair; it was not exactly an Anglo-Saxon countenance4, in which, by the by, there is generally a cast of loutishness5 and stupidity; it partook, to a certain extent, of the Celtic character, particularly in the fire and vivacity6 which illumined it; his face was the mirror of his mind; perhaps no disposition7 more amiable8 was ever found amongst the children of Adam, united, however, with no inconsiderable portion of high and dauntless spirit.  So great was his beauty in infancy9, that people, especially those of the poorer classes, would follow the nurse who carried him about in order to look at and bless his lovely face.  At the age of three months an attempt was made to snatch him from his mother’s arms in the streets of London, at the moment she was about to enter a coach; indeed, his appearance seemed to operate so powerfully upon every person who beheld10 him, that my parents were under continual apprehension11 of losing him; his beauty, however, was perhaps surpassed by the quickness of his parts.  He mastered his letters in a few hours, and in a day or two could decipher the names of people on the doors of houses and over the shop-windows.
John received his early education at the Norwich Grammar School, while the younger brother was kept under the paternal12 wing.  Father and mother, with their younger boy George, were always on the move, passing from county to county and from country to country, as Serjeant Borrow, p. 18soon to be Captain, attended to his duties of drilling and recruiting, now in England, now in Scotland, now in Ireland.  We are given a fascinating glimpse of John Borrow in Lavengro by way of a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Borrow over the education of their children.  It was agreed that while the family were in Edinburgh the boys should be sent to the High School, and so at the historic school that Sir Walter Scott had attended a generation before the two boys were placed, John being removed from the Norwich Grammar School for the purpose.  Among his many prejudices of after years Borrow’s dislike of Scott was perhaps the most regrettable, otherwise he would have gloried in the fact that their childhood had had one remarkable13 point in common.  Each boy took part in the feuds14 between the Old Town and the New Town.  Exactly as Scott records his prowess at “the manning of the Cowgate Port,” and the combats maintained with great vigour15, “with stones, and sticks, and fisticuffs,” as set forth16 in the first volume of Lockhart, so we have not dissimilar feats18 set down in Lavengro.  Side by side also with the story of “Green-Breeks,” which stands out in Scott’s narrative19 of his school combats, we have the more lurid20 account by Borrow of David Haggart.  Literary biography is made more interesting by such episodes of likeness21 and of contrast.
We next find John Borrow in Ireland with his father, mother, and brother.  George is still a child, but he is precocious22 enough to be learning the language, and thus laying the foundation of his interest in little-known tongues.  John is now an ensign in his father’s regiment23.  “Ah! he was a sweet being, that boy soldier, a plant of early promise, bidding fair to become in after time all that is great, good, and admirable.”  Ensign John tells his little brother how pleased he is to find himself, although not yet sixteen years old, “a person in authority with many Englishmen under me.  Oh! these last six weeks have passed like hours in heaven.”  That was in 1816, and we do not meet John again until five years later, when we hear of him rushing into the water to save a drowning man, while twenty others were bathing who might have rendered assistance.  Borrow records once again his father’s satisfaction:
“My boy, my own boy, you are the very image of myself, the day I took off my coat in the park to fight Big Ben,” said my p. 19father, on meeting his son, wet and dripping, immediately after his bold feat17.  And who cannot excuse the honest pride of the old man—the stout24 old man?
In the interval25 the war had ended, and Napoleon had departed for St. Helena.  Peace had led to the pensioning of militia26 officers, or reducing to half-pay of the juniors.  The elder Borrow had settled in Norwich.  George was set to study at the Grammar School there, while his brother worked in Old Crome’s studio, for here was a moment when Norwich had its interesting Renaissance27, and John Borrow was bent28 on being an artist.  He had worked with Crome once before—during the brief interval that Napoleon was at Elba—but now he set to in real earnest, and we have evidence of a score of pictures by him that were catalogued in the exhibitions of the Norwich Society of Artists between the years 1817 and 1824.  They include one portrait of the artist’s father, and two of his brother George.  Old Crome died in 1821, and then John went to London to study under Haydon.  Borrow declares that his brother had real taste for painting, and that “if circumstances had not eventually diverted his mind from the pursuit, he would have attained29 excellence30, and left behind him some enduring monument of his powers.”  “He lacked, however,” he tells us, “one thing, the want of which is but too often fatal to the sons of genius, and without which genius is little more than a splendid toy in the hands of the possessor—perseverance31, dogged perseverance.”  It is when he is thus commenting on his brother’s characteristics that Borrow gives his own fine if narrow eulogy32 of Old Crome.  John Borrow seems to have continued his studies in London under Haydon for a year, and then to have gone to Paris to copy pictures at the Louvre.  He mentions a particular copy that he made of a celebrated33 picture by one of the Italian masters, for which a Hungarian nobleman paid him well.  His three years’ absence was brought to an abrupt34 termination by news of his father’s illness.  He returned to Norwich in time to stand by that father’s bedside when he died.  The elder Borrow died, as we have seen, in February, 1824.  The little home in King’s Court was kept on for the mother, and as John was making money by his pictures it was understood that he should stay with her.  On the 1st April, however, George p. 20started for London, carrying the manuscript of Romantic Ballads35 from the Danish to Sir Richard Phillips, the publisher.  On the 29th of the same month he was joined by his brother John.  John had come to London at his own expense, but in the interests of the Norwich Town Council.  The council wanted a portrait of one of its mayors for St. Andrew’s Hall—that Valhalla of Norwich municipal worthies36 which still strikes the stranger as well-nigh unique in the city life of England.  The municipality would fain have encouraged a fellow-citizen, and John Borrow had been invited to paint the portrait.  “Why,” it was asked, “should the money go into a stranger’s pocket and be spent in London?”  John, however, felt diffident of his ability and declined, and this in spite of the fact that the £100 offered for the portrait must have been very tempting37.  “What a pity it was,” he said, “that Crome was dead.”  “Crome,” said the orator38 of the deputation that had called on John Borrow,
“Crome; yes, he was a clever man, a very clever man, in his way; he was good at painting landscapes and farm-houses, but he would not do in the present instance, were he alive.  He had no conception of the heroic, sir.  We want some person capable of representing our mayor standing39 under the Norman arch of the cathedral.” [20]
At the mention of the heroic John bethought himself of Haydon, and suggested his name; hence his visit to London, and his proposed interview with Haydon.  The two brothers went together to call upon the “painter of the heroic” at his studio in Connaught Terrace, Hyde Park.  There was some difficulty about their admission, and it turned out afterwards that Haydon thought they might be duns, as he was very hard up at the time.  His eyes glistened40 at the mention of the £100.  “I am not very fond of painting portraits,” he said, “but a mayor is a mayor, and there is something grand in that idea of the Norman arch.”  And thus Mayor Hawkes came to be painted by Benjamin Haydon, and his portrait may be found, not without diligent41 search, among the many municipal worthies that figure on the walls of that most picturesque42 old Hall in Norwich.  Here is Borrow’s description of the painting:
The original mayor was a mighty43, portly man, with a bull’s head, black hair, body like that of a dray horse, and legs and p. 21thighs corresponding; a man six foot high at the least.  To his bull’s head, black hair, and body the painter had done justice; there was one point, however, in which the portrait did not correspond with the original—the legs were disproportionably short, the painter having substituted his own legs for those of the mayor.
John Borrow described Robert Hawkes to his brother as a person of many qualifications:
—big and portly, with a voice like Boanerges; a religious man, the possessor of an immense pew; loyal, so much so that I once heard him say that he would at any time go three miles to hear any one sing God save the King; moreover, a giver of excellent dinners.  Such is our present mayor, who, owing to his loyalty44, his religion, and a little, perhaps, to his dinners, is a mighty favourite.
Haydon, who makes no mention of the Borrows in his Correspondence or Autobiography45, although there is one letter of George Borrow’s to him in the former work, had been in jail for debt three years prior to the visit of the Borrows.  He was then at work on his greatest success in “the heroic”—The Raising of Lazarus, a canvas nineteen feet long by fifteen high.  The debt was one to house decorators, for the artist had ever large ideas.  The bailiff, he tells us, [21] was so agitated46 at the sight of the painting of Lazarus in the studio that he cried out, “Oh, my God!  Sir, I won’t arrest you.  Give me your word to meet me at twelve at the attorney’s, and I’ll take it.”  In 1821 Haydon married, and a little later we find him again “without a single shilling in the world—with a large picture before me not half done.”  In April, 1822, he is arrested at the instance of his colourman, “with whom I had dealt for fifteen years,” and in November of the same year he is arrested again at the instance of “a miserable47 apothecary48.”  In April, 1823, we find him in the King’s Bench Prison, from which he was released in July.  The Raising of Lazarus meanwhile had gone to pay his upholsterer £300, and his Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem had been sold for £240, although it had brought him £3000 in receipts at exhibitions.  Clearly heroic pictures did not pay, and Haydon here took up “the torment49 of portrait-painting” as he called it.
p. 22“Can you wonder,” he wrote in July, 1825, “that I nauseate50 portraits, except portraits of clever people.  I feel quite convinced that every portrait-painter, if there be purgatory51, will leap at once to heaven, without this previous purification.”
Perhaps it was Mayor Hawkes who helped to inspire this feeling.  Yet the hundred pounds that John Borrow was able to procure52 must have been a godsend, for shortly before this we find him writing in his diary of the desperation that caused him to sell his books.  “Books that had cost me £20 I got only £3 for.  But it was better than starvation.”  Indeed it was in April of this year that the very baker53 was “insolent,” and so in May, 1824, as we learn from Tom Taylor’s Life, he produced “a full-length portrait of Mr. Hawkes, a late Mayor of Norwich, painted for St. Andrew’s Hall in that city.”  But I must leave Haydon’s troubled career, which closes so far as the two brothers are concerned with a letter from George to Haydon written the following year from 26 Bryanston Street, Portman Square:
Dear Sir,—I should feel extremely obliged if you would allow me to sit to you as soon as possible.  I am going to the south of France in little better than a fortnight, and I would sooner lose a thousand pounds than not have the honour of appearing in the picture.—Yours sincerely,
George Borrow. [22]
As Borrow was at the time in a most impoverished54 condition, it is not easy to believe that he would have wished to be taken at his word.  He certainly had not a thousand pounds to lose.  But he did undoubtedly55, as we shall see, take that journey on foot through the south of France, after the manner of an earlier vagabond of literature—Oliver Goldsmith.  Haydon was to be far too much taken up with his own troubles during the coming months to think any more about the Borrows when he had once completed the portrait of the mayor, which he had done by July of this year.  Borrow’s letter to him is, however, an obvious outcome of a remark dropped by the painter on the occasion of his one visit to his studio when the following conversation took place:
“I’ll stick to the heroic,” said the painter; “I now and then dabble56 in the comic, but what I do gives me no pleasure, the p. 23comic is so low; there is nothing like the heroic.  I am engaged here on a heroic picture,” said he, pointing to the canvas; “the subject is ‘Pharaoh dismissing Moses from Egypt,’ after the last plague—the death of the first-born,—it is not far advanced—that finished figure is Moses”: they both looked at the canvas, and I, standing behind, took a modest peep.  The picture, as the painter said, was not far advanced, the Pharaoh was merely in outline; my eye was, of course, attracted by the finished figure, or rather what the painter had called the finished figure; but, as I gazed upon it, it appeared to me that there was something defective—something unsatisfactory in the figure.  I concluded, however, that the painter, notwithstanding what he had said, had omitted to give it the finishing touch.  “I intend this to be my best picture,” said the painter; “what I want now is a face for Pharaoh; I have long been meditating57 on a face for Pharaoh.”  Here, chancing to cast his eye upon my countenance, of whom he had scarcely taken any manner of notice, he remained with his mouth open for some time.  “Who is this?” said he at last.  “Oh, this is my brother, I forgot to introduce him—.”
We wish that the acquaintance had extended further, but this was not to be.  Borrow was soon to commence the wanderings which were to give him much unsatisfactory fame, and the pair never met again.  Let us, however, return to John Borrow, who accompanied Haydon to Norwich, leaving his brother for some time longer to the tender mercies of Sir Richard Phillips.  John, we judge, seems to have had plenty of shrewdness, and was not without a sense of his own limitations.  A chance came to him of commercial success in a distant land, and he seized that chance.  A Norwich friend, Allday Kerrison, had gone out to Mexico, and writing from Zacatecas in 1825 asked John to join him.  John accepted.  His salary in the service of the Real del Monte Company was to be £300 per annum.  He sailed for Mexico in 1826, having obtained from his Colonel, Lord Orford, leave of absence for a year, it being understood that renewals58 of that leave of absence might be granted.  He was entitled to half-pay as a Lieutenant59 of the West Norfolk Militia, and this he settled upon his mother during his absence.  His career in Mexico was a failure.  There are many of his letters to his mother and brother extant which tell of the difficulties of his situation.  He was in three Mexican companies in succession, and was about to be sent to Columbia to take charge of a mine when he was stricken with a fever, and died at Guanajuato on 22nd November, 1833.  He had far exceeded any leave that his Colonel could p. 24in fairness grant, and before his death his name had been taken off the army rolls.
I have said that there are letters of John Borrow’s extant.  These show a keen intelligence, great practicality, and common sense.  George—in 1829—had asked his brother as to joining him in Mexico.  “If the country is soon settled I shall say ‘yes,’” John answers.  With equal wisdom he says to his brother, “Do not enter the army; it is a bad spec.”  In this same year, 1829, John writes to ask whether his mother and brother are “still living in that windy house of old King’s; it gives me the rheumatism60 to think of it.”  In 1830 he writes to his mother that he wishes his brother were making money.  “Neither he nor I have any luck, he works hard and remains61 poor.”  In February of 1831 John writes to George suggesting that he should endeavour to procure a commission in the regiment, and in July of the same year to try the law again:
I am convinced that your want of success in life is more owing to your being unlike other people than to any other cause.
John, as we have seen, died in Mexico of fever.  George was at St. Petersburg working for the Bible Society when his mother writes from Norwich to tell him the news.  John had died on 22nd November, 1833.  “You are now my only hope,” she writes, “. . . do not grieve, my dear George.  I trust we shall all meet in heaven.  Put a crape on your hat for some time.”  Had George Borrow’s brother lived it might have meant very much in his life.  There might have been nephews and nieces to soften62 the asperity63 of his later years.  Who can say?  Meanwhile, Lavengro contains no happier pages than those concerned with this dearly loved brother.

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