Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Biographical > The Life of George Borrow > CHAPTER XIII Sir John Bowring
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
CHAPTER XIII Sir John Bowring
 “Poor George. . . . I wish he were making money.  He works hard and remains1 poor”—thus wrote John Borrow to his mother in 1830 from Mexico, and it disposes in a measure of any suggestion of mystery with regard to five of those years that he wished to veil.  They were not spent, it is clear, in rambling2 in the East, as he tried to persuade Colonel Napier many years later.  They were spent for the most part in diligent3 attempt at the capture of words, in reading the poetry and the prose of many lands, and in making translations of unequal merit from these diverse tongues.  This is indisputably brought home to me by the manuscripts in my possession.  These manuscripts represent years of work.  Borrow has been counted a considerable linguist4, and he had assuredly a reading and speaking acquaintance with a great many languages.  But this knowledge was acquired, as all knowledge is, with infinite trouble and patience.  I have before me hundreds of small sheets of paper upon which are written English words and their equivalents in some twenty or thirty languages.  These serve to show that Borrow learnt a language as a small boy in an old-fashioned system of education learns his Latin or French—by writing down simple words—“father,” “mother,” “horse,” “dog,” and so on with the same word in Latin or French in front of them.  Of course Borrow had a superb memory and abundant enthusiasm, and so was enabled to add one language to another and to make his translations from such books as he could obtain with varied5 success.  I believe that nearly all the books that he handled came from the Norwich library, and when Mrs. Borrow wrote to her elder son to say that George was working hard, as we may fairly assume, from the reply quoted, that she did, she was recalling this laborious6 work at translation that must have gone on for years.  We have seen p. 82the first fruit in the translation from the German—or possibly from the French—of Klinger’s Faustus; we have seen it in Romantic Ballads7 from the Danish, the Irish, and the Swedish.  Now there really seemed a chance of a more prosperous utilisation of his gift, for Borrow had found a zealous9 friend who was prepared to go forward with him in his work of giving to the English public translations from the literatures of the northern nations.  This friend was Dr. John Bowring, who made a very substantial reputation in his day.  
Bowring has told his own story in a volume of Autobiographical Recollections, a singularly dull book for a man whose career was at once so varied and so full of interest.  He was born at Exeter in 1792 of an old Devonshire family, and entered a merchant’s office in his native city on leaving school.  He early acquired a taste for the study of languages, and learnt French from a refugee priest precisely10 in the way in which Borrow had done.  He also acquired Italian, Spanish, German and Dutch, continuing with a great variety of other languages.  Indeed, only the very year after Borrow had published Faustus, he published his Ancient Poetry and Romances of Spain, and the year after Borrow’s Romantic Ballads came Bowring’s Servian Popular Poetry.  With such interest in common it was natural that the two men should be brought together, but Bowring had the qualities which enabled him to make a career for himself, and Borrow had not.  In 1811, as a clerk in a London mercantile house, he was sent to Spain, and after this his travels were varied.  He was in Russia in 1820, and in 1822 was arrested at Calais and thrown into prison, being suspected by the Bourbon Government of abetting11 the French Liberals.  Canning as Foreign Minister took up his cause, and he was speedily released.  He assisted Jeremy Bentham in founding The Westminster Review in 1824.  Meanwhile he was seeking official employment, and in conjunction with Mr. Villiers, afterwards Earl of Clarendon, and that ambassador to Spain who befriended Borrow when he was in the Peninsula, became a commissioner12 to investigate the commercial relations between England and France.  After the Reform Bill of 1832 Bowring was frequently a candidate for Parliament, and was finally elected for Bolton in 1841.  In the meantime he assisted Cobden in the formation of the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838.  Having suffered great monetary13 losses in p. 83the interval14 he applied15 for the appointment of Consul16 at Canton, of which place he afterwards became Governor, being knighted in 1854.  At one period of his career at Hong Kong his conduct was made the subject of a vote of censure17 in Parliament, Lord Palmerston, however, warmly defending him.  Finally returning to England in 1862, he continued his literary work with unfailing zest18.  He died at Exeter, in a house very near that in which he was born, in 1872.  His extraordinary energies cannot be too much praised, and there is no doubt but that in addition to being the possessor of great learning he was a man of high character.  His literary efforts were surprisingly varied.  There are at least thirty-six volumes with his name on the title-page, most of them unreadable to-day; even such works, for example, as his Visit to the Philippine Isles19 and Siam and the Siamese, which involved travel into then little-known lands.  Perhaps the only book by him that to-day commands attention is his translation of Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl.  The most readable of many books by him into which I have dipped is his Servian Popular Poetry of 1827, in which we find interesting stories in verse that remind us of similar stories from the Danish in Borrow’s Romantic Ballads published only the year before.  The extraordinary thing, indeed, is the many points of likeness20 between Borrow and Bowring.  Both were remarkable21 linguists22; both had spent some time in Spain and Russia; both had found themselves in foreign prisons.  They were alike associated in some measure with Norwich—Bowring through friendship with Taylor—and I might go on to many other points of likeness or of contrast.  It is natural, therefore, that the penniless Borrow should have welcomed acquaintance with the more prosperous scholar.  Thus it is that, some thirty years later, Borrow described the introduction by Taylor:
The writer had just entered into his eighteenth year, when he met at the table of a certain Anglo-Germanist an individual, apparently24 somewhat under thirty, of middle stature25, a thin and weaselly figure, a sallow complexion26, a certain obliquity27 of vision, and a large pair of spectacles.  This person, who had lately come from abroad, and had published a volume of translations, had attracted some slight notice in the literary world, and was looked upon as a kind of lion in a small provincial28 capital.  After dinner he argued a great deal, spoke29 vehemently30 against the Church, and uttered the most desperate Radicalism31 that was perhaps ever p. 84heard, saying, he hoped that in a short time there would not be a king or queen in Europe, and inveighing32 bitterly against the English aristocracy, and against the Duke of Wellington in particular, whom he said, if he himself was ever president of an English republic—an event which he seemed to think by no means improbable—he would hang for certain infamous33 acts of profligacy34 and bloodshed which he had perpetrated in Spain.  Being informed that the writer was something of a philologist35, to which character the individual in question laid great pretensions36, he came and sat down by him, and talked about languages and literature.  The writer, who was only a boy, was a little frightened at first.
The quarrels of authors are frequently amusing but rarely edifying37, and this hatred38 of Bowring that possessed39 the soul of poor Borrow in his later years is of the same texture40 as the rest.  We shall never know the facts, but the position is comprehensible enough.  Let us turn to the extant correspondence which, as far as we know, opened when Borrow paid what was probably his third visit to London in 1829:
To Dr. John Bowring
17 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.  [Dec. 6, 1829.]
My dear Sir,—Lest I should intrude41 upon you when you are busy, I write to inquire when you will be unoccupied.  I wish to shew you my translation of The Death of Balder, Ewald’s most celebrated42 production, which, if you approve of, you will perhaps render me some assistance in bringing forth43, for I don’t know many publishers.  I think this will be a proper time to introduce it to the British public, as your account of Danish literature will doubtless cause a sensation.  My friend Mr. R. Taylor has my Kæmpe Viser, which he has read and approves of; but he is so very deeply occupied, that I am apprehensive44 he neglects them: but I am unwilling45 to take them out of his hands, lest I offend him.  Your letting me know when I may call will greatly oblige,—Dear Sir, your most obedient servant,
George Borrow.
To Dr. John Bowring
17 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.  [Dec. 28, 1829.]
My dear Sir,—I trouble you with these lines for the purpose of submitting a little project of mine for your approbation46.  When I had last the pleasure of being at yours, you mentioned that we might at some future period unite our strength in composing a kind of Danish Anthology.  You know, as well as I, that by far the most remarkable portion of Danish poetry is comprised in those ancient popular productions termed Kæmpe p. 85Viser, which I have translated.  Suppose we bring forward at once the first volume of the Danish Anthology, which should contain the heroic and supernatural songs of the K. V., which are certainly the most interesting; they are quite ready for the press with the necessary notes, and with an introduction which I am not ashamed of.  The second volume might consist of the Historic songs and the ballads and Romances, this and the third volume, which should consist of the modern Danish poetry, and should commence with the celebrated “Ode to the Birds” by Morten Borup, might appear in company at the beginning of next season.  To Ölenslager should be <............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved