Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

“ stood it must be seen; its peculiarity consists in a thin glaze “ which steals over its repose, and seems to emit a phosphoric “ light.” (Vol. i. p. 307.) He cites instances of its effects “piercing the core ;" the basilisk appears to be less fatal.

It is much more difficult to discuss these matters than is generally supposed. The essence of the gipsy is exclusiveness: they wage war to the knife against all not of their caste; they never show their real colours when dealing with a stranger-a mask is on their face, honey on their lips, and gall in their hearts ; like laughing hyænas, they smile, and murder while they smile. They are always diplomatizingalways acting a part, and no stranger is admitted behind the scenes : hence the erroneous notions which are entertained by the vulgar ignorant concerning these wily deceivers; the gipsy has become a character of convention, of fancy-ball costume, of melodrame, of romance, and of books, in which Mr. Borrow has long come to a conclusion that they are not to be studied. If he refers to those of Spaniards, from whom, alas! he has so largely quoted, nothing can be more correct. Into the fire with them all! as Don Quixote's housekeeper said of her master's library: but Meg Merrilies and Hayraddin of Walter Scott, the vocabulary of Grellmann, and the little volume of Hoyland, deserve the intervention of the curate. The correctness of Grellmann is strongly borne out by Mr. Borrow's own book. Spaniards are not Germans: even Cervantes, with all his knowledge of picaresque life in Spain, breaks down when he handles a gipsy. He had not the cipher to read their secret character; his gitanilla is not a true gitana, but a Spaniard in disguise-a lamb in wolf's clothing. Mr. Borrow rejects the whole novel beyond the opening sentences, which announce that the race was especially created to be thieves, that robbing is an inseparable accident to their nature, and ceases only with their life. Apropos to these traits, Cervantes has in his Rinconete y Cortadillo anticipated by two centuries and more the leading incidents and characters in ‘Oliver Twist :' Monipodio keeps the pickpocket seminary, and, like Fagin, pays, feeds and slangs the pupils; Maniferro and Chiquizmaque are his Bates and Artful Dodger; Cariharta is Nancy, who dotes on the brute Repolido (Bill Sykes), in spite of his murderous ill-usage. But there is no

thing new under the sun. If any person can “book something new” in this low line, which now rides in the ascendant, it is our author, who, feeling his power, claims a right to speak ex cathedrá. He understands the gipsy language better than any one gipsy in existence: this knowledge is the real power with that race; it is the open sesame, which everywhere operates like magic. Mr. Borrow details many instances of the instantaneous effect produced by one little word spoken at the right time; it is the secret of their universal freemasonry; it has raised for him the darkling curtain of the Zincalo tent, has beaten down the barrier of caste: he has everywhere been received as a brother into their homes and hearts—he formed one of the cabinet, and his papers carry on their faces an official authenticity. Salvator Rosa never could have stamped on canvas the wilds and bandits of Calabria, had he not long made those scenes his home, those picturesque robbers his companions.

Mr. Borrow was born with a decided bump of philogitaniveness: he covets the things of Egypt by instinct, like M. Thiers. He owns the soft impeachment_his first page opens with this confession :

"I should find some difficulty if called upon to assign a reason why this singular race has, throughout my life, been that which has most invariably interested me; for I can remember no period when the mentioning of the name of gipsy did not awaken feelings within my mind hard to be described, but in which a strange pleasure predominated. The gipsies themselves, to whom I have stated this circumstance, account for it on the supposition that the soul which at present animates my body has at some former period tenanted that of one of their people; for many among them are believers in metempsychosis ;” and not only in transmigration of souls only, but of bodies, and metamorphosis. Mr. Borrow is always taken for one who “ has the face of a gitano” (vol. i. p. 221), which is anything but a bad compliment; he, however, is not the only man of serious pursuits who has been bewitched by a gipsy face. He cites a similar case :

"An Augustine friar of Seville, called Father Manso, who lived some twenty years ago, is still remembered for his passion for the gitános ; he seemed to be under the influence of fascination, and passed every moment that he could steal from his clerical occupations in their company. His conduct at last became so notorious that he fell under the censure of the Inquisition, before which he was summoned; whereupon he alleged, in his defence, that his sole motive for following the gitános was zeal for their spiritual conversion."-Vol. ii. p. 57.

These rogues have their knack of conversion too, and not only in the transmutation of a stolen child or horse. Mr. Borrow mentions the case of Lillax, a noun pronoun, which, in their lingo, signifies Thomas, Tomas. This is a word manufactured by the “« fancy' of Seville. Lillar, in gipsy, sig“ nifying to take,” in Spanish, Tomár, they, by slightly mo“ difying the word, have attempted to make it serve for 66 Tomás,' or Thomas :' whereby, unwittingly, they have “ converted an apostle into a thief or shop-lifter; for such is Lillax, according to the principle of the gipsy tongue." (Vol. ii. p. 62.)

Be that as it may, whether Mr. Borrow converted them or they converted him, he was always taken for a real gipsy by real gipsies, who treated him like “a foreign king*,"travelling incognito. The descriptions of his levees are most amusing, although scarcely indited with the decorum of a court circular. Mr. Borrow seldom speaks of himself; the few hints that he drops of his own biography, of his adventurous perils by sea and land, his hair-breadth escapes, the strange fitful characters which have crossed his path, serve only to excite further curiosity t to know more about an author, who prefers talking rather about other people than of himself. This is not the vice of our age, in which even the tough tympana of public dinner-waiters are deafened by the broadsides discharged by other Egyptian worthies in their own honour. Mr. Borrow never attempts to reconcile his gipsy and biblical predilections—his irresistible love for the society of this most godless people—with his own sincere and deeply-founded religious pursuits, which it is impossible to doubt: the juxtaposition of the pastor and his flock, like Don Quixote and the galley-slaves, produces a constant grotesque combi

* The Spanish gipsy equivalent is baricuntus—"le grand conde"-from baro, great, and cuntus, count.

+ While these sheets were going through the press we were informed that Mr. Borrow is far advanced in a new work, The Bible in Spain; in which he will tell us all about what happened to himself,

nation of things that have no apparent connexion with each other, at which it is impossible not to smile. These incongruities are quite cosas de España, everyday occurrences in Spain, that land of anomalies, contrasts and contradictions, and in nothing more than in the theatrical pantomimes which they perform in their churches, mingling the sublime with the ridiculous, the most absurd representations in the midst of the pomp and circumstance of a magnificent religious ceremonial.

Mr. Borrow is too single-hearted, too sincere in doing his duty to the admirable society whose bread he has so long eaten, and to whom he has dedicated his best services of mind and body, to be afraid to tell the truth, and the whole truth. He is never ashamed of his calling, or afraid to “ take the gipsy by the hand.” He rushes in medias res, and tells us that, when a boy of fourteen, he was present at a prizefight got up by the notorious Thurtell and · Gipsy Will.' We refer our reader to his graphic account of this scene, which made an indelible impression on his youthful memory. Suffice it to say, that Thurtell taught him boxing, and Gipsy Will riding; in due time Greek and Latin were added to these accomplishments. The untimely end of his preceptors is well known; their works brought their authors to the gallows: their practical pupil, who looked to effects—whose motto was “ respice finem et funem”—went into another and more creditable line. The unpleasant winding up of his tutors' affairs taught him that their ethics were radically rotten: once convinced of the errors of their ways, his next stage was to convince others, and those the first whose wants were the greatest : whoever is looking out for publicans and sinners is nowhere more likely to be suited than among the people whom he selected. Now their conversion was not altogether disagreeable to a good man and a good judge of a horse: these moral and physical qualities are, we suspect, the causes which made Mr. Borrow a missionary: a love for athletic exercise, for riding gallant steeds, marked his early youth; he felt his innate strength, and longed to wrestle with Apollyon, as the infant Hercules did with the snakes; his joy was centred in the wild independence of un

VOL. XIII.—No, XXVI. 20

shackled liberty, in the trusting to individual prowess, to his own resources; he longed to live in contact with healthful nature, far from thick-pent cities. He loved the excitement of travel, of danger, where toil becomes a pleasure of itself, and hardship a duty, when hallowed by a martyr-sustaining object. Let the puny and lily-livered, who have never felt the force of these propelling elements, condemn as boisterous this career-they are ignorant of the impossibility of resistance; and abstinence can only be truly estimated by the violence of temptation. Mr. Borrow fairly succumbs : in the middle of one of his sermons at Cordova it occurs to him that the breed of horses of that ancient city is first-rate ; off he goes at full gallop, like an old hunter who hears a horn, into a masterly sketch of the Andalucian barb, and how to groom him. Mr. Borrow, in the land of Saint Jago, fought on horseback; and, knowing that oats carry the rider, took equal care of his good beast and of himself. He looked more to the feed than to the whip. He was no Faquir, “qui s'enfonce des clous au derrière, pour avoir de la considération:" he exclaimed with honest Sancho, that true son of hungry and thirsty Spain, “ How orthodox is this olla ! how catholic this val de peñas !

A faculty for standing hardships and hard ridings is necessary to a missionary who hopes to benefit the souls of a nomad and jockey race. He will be exposed to the pitiless buffeting of the storm, and to the worse ill-usage of those who sting the hand held out to save them; stripes and prisons, not ribbons and palaces, must be his portion: and Mr. Borrow has seen the interior of half the gaols in the Peninsula ; a privilege which few travelled authors have enjoyed, although they richly deserved it by the publication of their misspent. Years in Spain :' six months in one would have mended their pens. In that sad study Cervantes composed his' Don Quixote;' and there Mr. Borrow collected some of the curious materials for the singular vocabulary given in the second volume, p.148. All this was quite a matter of course to one employed in circulating the Bible in that hotbed of bigoted Romanism. Thus Mr. Borrow breaks off in the middle of a story,-“ On the tenth day I was cast into prison, where I continued several

« PredošláPokračovať »