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Borrow's Account of the Gipsies of Spain. 367 society. Till these points are demonstrated, not asserted, however great our fears may be that unity is the idle dream of the enthusiast, we not only may, but are in duty bound to give no heed to this objection to the making of a fair trial of a comprehensive church.
We must express, in conclusion, the strong sense of admiration and respect with which the perusal of Dr. Whately's work has impressed us. A broad and generous liberality, a total absence of every wish to magnify his office, and a genuine spirit of charity, are the honourable, and unfortunately rare characteristics of this eminent prelate.
GEORGE BORRow, late Agent of the British and Foreign
MR. BORROW, in spite of his name and subject, is a very original author, which is something nowadays, when men, women and children all write, and all very much like one another. He is the legitimate father of his own book; he has neither kidnapped nor disfigured the offspring of other people's brains; the smell of the field and tent is on his pages, not that of a folio-garnished laboratory, where new books are manufactured out of old materials. He has never been initiated into that mystery ; his works, like those of all clever but self-taught artists, whether handling pen or pencil, show that he has never had a regular master; the rough gipseycolt has never been in the hands of Dr. Dionysius Lardner.
Mr. Borrow suits his style to his theme. His desultory chapters stroll from subject to subject, defying the critic as his vagrant heroes do the constable; there is no mistake in their costune or complexion; they are tanned with the brownest dye of the Sierra Morena; they tell the tale of their birth, parentage and education, picked up, just as they came to his hand, on the highways and byways. Mr. Borrow, finding his capacious pockets were getting too full and too heavy for his locomotive propensities, has turned out the heterogeneous items without giving himself the trouble to arrange them; he has jumped into type just as an otter does into a pond, from an instinctive feeling that it would be a comfort. We have here the cream of his mind, the first run of the grapes before the screw of the press has been applied, or the process of rectification or adulteration commenced.
He pleads, in defence of sins of omission and commission, “a want of leisure to amend his rude, unpolished and unconnected pages,” etc.; "he has suffered the tree to remain where he felled it.” This excuse will not do. No defendant can be permitted to take advantage of his own láches. If he comes into court a claimant for the honours and profits of literature, he must observe the rules of the tribunal. There are indeed plenty of cubic feet of sound timber in his tree, but he must saw it up himself; the public customer looks for scantlings, not for logs. Mr. Borrow is too full of curious stuff to be allowed to bolt out of the course at his first start for want of breaking.
We do not quarrel hypercritically with mere style; rough notes, dotted down on the spot with the coarsest lead-pencil, are worth, as Gray said, a cartload of recollections refurbished in the closet. The sayings and doings of gipsies can scarcely be written down
“upon gilt-edged paper,
With a neat crow-quill slight and new." There is a certain fitness in a bold, broad touch, which gives to sketches made from real nature a force and identity that is denied to the labor improbus of the in-door studio. This we every year see painfully exemplified at the Royal Academy exhibitions. It is precisely when Mr. Borrow takes the most pains that he fails; he cannot conceal the art, the study which he has bestowed; his high-wrought passages, as might be expected from his acquaintance with Spanish literature, are apt to be somewhat stilty and overdone. His own natural style, although irregular, is racy, graphic and vigorous : he only wants to be put in the right way, for we fully acquit him of writing negligently on purpose; his whole book shows that the quality of his mind is honest, practical and straightforward, and that he hates pretension and affectation. Our objections lie to the plan, to the framework of his book; there is no well-defined object steadily begun, continued and worked out: like a petted spaniel he plays with his food, and never picks the bone clean after the fashion of a hungry terrier. His portfolio contains sparkling and detached bits of scenery and costume, but no panoramic view, which, taken from a commanding eminence, brings the whole subject before the mind's eye, and fixes a defined impression on the memory. It is too fragmentary, too much a thing of shreds and patches ; it may be compared to the several tunes of an itinerant organ, which, however pleasing in themselves, are anything but a sonata, and, what is worse, the same airs come over and over again. Thus we have frequent repetitions in these pages, and the amount of information which, if brought together, would have been considerable, is weakened by being scattered.
Another objection consists in the avoidance of the philosophy of the subject, which offers matter of higher interest and of more rational curiosity than the husk and actual life of these not very reputable gentry. In spite of much amusement and instruction, we laid down the volumes with a certain feeling of disappointment. The author starts with announcing his preference of facts to theories and conjectures : he will not grapple with the unsubstantial abstract: he flies at the tangible and material. He has never lived among philosophers; perhaps he is not even a member of the Royal Institution. The sole of his foot has never rested; his course has been more erratic than that of any gipsy, more eccentric than that of his brother-missionary Mr. Wolff, the wandering Jew. Like all men of strong natural sense, and especially when a powerful physical organization is thereunto added, he has a tendency to undervalue the speculations of the literary recluse, whose world is the library, whose strength lies in the intellect; his practical career has rendered his mind synthetical, not analytical; he heaps up facts and effects, without caring to resolve them to their original causes. This is to be regretted, for no man is better qualified to clear up the obscurer questions concerning this strange people, whose history, in the words of Viola, is almost “a blank, my lord.” How little do we know of their original condition and caste! How singular their analogies with the present condition of the Jews, as revealed in the volumes of the De Lissau family!—both wanderers and outcasts on the face of the earth-both branded Cain-like-both inspiring dislike and distrust, which they repay on those who despise them with tenfold interest—both “ peeled nations,” living alone amongst all others, never amalgamating, but hermetically sealed up and palisadoed with deep-rooted prejudices, which neither time nor space, persecution nor increasing civilization, have been able to break down. These and other questions have not altogether escaped Mr. Borrow's notice; but “ he has avoided as much as “ possible those events which must always remain shrouded in “ obscurity.” The only point on which he can “have no doubt is, that they are human beings and have immortal souls” (vol. i. p. 4)—a fact, by the way, of which neither the gipsies themselves, nor their Spanish historians, are by any means so certain. If Mr. Borrow, with all his acquaintance with the subject, cannot arrive at any more satisfactory conclusion, we must infer that he considers all inquiry hopeless, and is too honest to hold out expectations which his experience has taught him are not likely to be realised. However, if he does shy when he cannot see clearly before him, he never makes that darker which was dark enough before; he is no cuttlefish commentator, who gets out of a scrape by concealing himself in a learned obfuscation of his own creating.
Mr. Borrow, whether his avoidance of obscurer questions be intentional or forced upon him, makes ample amends by his living details of the existing state of things. The gipsies of Spain naturally enact the first parts; the scene is interwoven with interludes of their brethren in other lands. One fact is perfectly clear, that, whether in Europe or Asia, however they may modify themselves in minor points to the climate and customs of the different countries in which they may settle, they everywhere are one and the same people in language, caste, moral, immoral and physical peculiarities; they cling everywhere to essentials with the tenacity of their pincers. Nowhere have they any religion whatever, or any other idea of gaining a livelihood except by deceit and rapine ; they are the foxes and false-teared crocodiles of the human species. The race, although scattered in all parts, without written laws, intercommunication, or the binding power of a common religion, lead everywhere a wandering, unsettled life, have a fondness for gaudy colours, avoid agricultural pursuits, follow the same mechanical operations, and those after the fashion of the East, each artificer carrying his own rude and portable apparatus. A similar identity pervades the mortal coil in which their (assumed) immortal souls are enclosed; an idiosyncracy, a family likeness, runs through the whole race; the original type is preserved by the inviolable chastity of their women, which, however some may doubt, is evidenced the moment they are seen; they have nothing in common with the physical characteristics of the people among whom they live; no blue-eyed, fair-haired child convicts its dark mother of wantonness with the European; their Hindoo physiognomy is indelible; form and beauty are their birthright; their bodies are sinewy, slight and well-made; their complexion darker than that of the people among whom they chance to settle ; a female gipsy is sometimes quite bewitching : Reglita was admired at Seville more than the Medicean Venus is at Florence. The Evil One when angling for men's souls had no such a kill-devil in his book; she was all colour, movement, attraction and symmetry; those who doted upon a Rubens' nymph abhorred her. Providentially these gipsy charms are short-lived; toil, want and exposure are her lot, and canker her early bloom. Beauty is a delicate creature, the child of ease, expense and attention; it must be bathed in May-dew and fed on the honeysuckle. These pretty gipsies age into the incarnation of haghood, with chappy finger and shrivelled lip; their cheeks, furrowed by the long indulgence of evil passions, calcined like the tawny, lava-seared slopes of Vesuvius, become those of living mummies; sex becomes obliterated, as Madame de Hondetot candidly admitted,—"autrefois, quand j'étais femme.” In revenge, however, they increase in vice and malice; age and the loss of teeth whet their appetite to bite, and to prepare raw material for that purpose; like old French people who lose their good looks, they become better cooks: no partridge-stew ever dressed by Ude tastes like one concocted by a gipsy restaurateuse. Their evil eye never grows old; death alone can close that. To ask what a young gipsy's eye is like, is the question of a blind man, for whose benefit Mr, Borrow observes, that “to be under