Monday, March 21, 2011



Excerpts from George Borrow (1803-1881), Lavengro (1851):

Chapter III (on Defoe's Robinson Crusoe):
Reader, is it necessary to name the book which now stood open in my hand, and whose very prints, feeble expounders of its wondrous lines, had produced within me emotions strange and novel? Scarcely, for it was a book which has exerted over the minds of Englishmen an influence certainly greater than any other of modern times; which has been in most people's hands, and with the contents of which even those who cannot read are to a certain extent acquainted; a book from which the most luxuriant and fertile of our modern prose writers have drunk inspiration; a book, moreover, to which, from the hardy deeds which it narrates, and the spirit of strange and romantic enterprise which it tends to awaken, England owes many of her astonishing discoveries both by sea and land, and no inconsiderable part of her naval glory.
Chapter VII (on the Scotch):
From what I have heard and seen, I should say that upon the whole they are a very decent set of people; they seem acute and intelligent, and I am told that their system of education is so excellent that every person is learned—more or less acquainted with Greek and Latin. There is one thing, however, connected with them, which is a great drawback—the horrid jargon which they speak. However learned they may be in Greek and Latin, their English is execrable; and yet I'm told it is not so bad as it was. I was in company, the other day, with an Englishman who has resided here many years. We were talking about the country and the people. 'I should like both very well,' said I, 'were it not for the language. I wish sincerely our Parliament, which is passing so many foolish acts every year, would pass one to force these Scotch to speak English.'
Chapter IX:
Oh yes! It is easier to apply epithets of opprobrium to people than to make yourself acquainted with their history and position.
Chapter XI:
Ah, that Irish! How frequently do circumstances, at first sight the most trivial and unimportant, exercise a mighty and permanent influence on our habits and pursuits!—how frequently is a stream turned aside from its natural course by some little rock or knoll, causing it to make an abrupt turn! On a wild road in Ireland I had heard Irish spoken for the first time; and I was seized with a desire to learn Irish, the acquisition of which, in my case, became the stepping-stone to other languages. I had previously learnt Latin, or rather Lilly; but neither Latin nor Lilly made me a philologist. I had frequently heard French and other languages, but had felt little desire to become acquainted with them; and what, it may be asked, was there connected with the Irish calculated to recommend it to my attention?

First of all, and principally, I believe, the strangeness and singularity of its tones; then there was something mysterious and uncommon associated with its use. It was not a school language, to acquire which was considered an imperative duty; no, no; nor was it a drawing-room language, drawled out occasionally, in shreds and patches, by the ladies of generals and other great dignitaries, to the ineffable dismay of poor officers' wives. Nothing of the kind; but a speech spoken in out-of-the-way desolate places, and in cut-throat kens, where thirty ruffians, at the sight of the king's minions, would spring up with brandished sticks and an 'ubbubboo like the blowing up of a powder-magazine.' Such were the points connected with the Irish, which first awakened in my mind the desire of acquiring it; and by acquiring it I became, as I have already said, enamoured of languages. Having learnt one by choice, I speedily, as the reader will perceive, learnt others, some of which were widely different from Irish.

Ah, that Irish! I am much indebted to it in more ways than one. But I am afraid I have followed the way of the world, which is very much wont to neglect original friends and benefactors. I frequently find myself, at present, turning up my nose at Irish when I hear it in the street; yet I have still a kind of regard for it, the fine old language:
A labhair Padruic n'insefail nan riogh.
Chapter XIII:
It has been said, I believe, that the more languages a man speaks, the more a man is he; which is very true, provided he acquires languages as a medium for becoming acquainted with the thoughts and feelings of the various sections into which the human race is divided; but, in that case, he should rather be termed a philosopher than a philologist—between which two the difference is wide indeed! An individual may speak and read a dozen languages, and yet be an exceedingly poor creature, scarcely half a man; and the pursuit of tongues for their own sake, and the mere satisfaction of acquiring them, surely argues an intellect of a very low order; a mind disposed to be satisfied with mean and grovelling things; taking more pleasure in the trumpery casket than in the precious treasure which it contains; in the pursuit of words, than in the acquisition of ideas.
I might, otherwise, have become a mere philologist; one of those beings who toil night and day in culling useless words for some opus magnum which Murray will never publish, and nobody ever read...
Chapter XVII:
'I call God Duvel, brother.'
'It sounds very like Devil.'
'It doth, brother, it doth.'
'And what do you call divine, I mean godly?'
'Oh! I call that duvelskoe.'
'I am thinking of something, Jasper.'
'What are you thinking of, brother?'
'Would it not be a rum thing if divine and devilish were originally one and the same word?'
'It would, brother, it would—'
'We'll no longer call you Sap-engro, brother,' said he; but rather Lav-engro, which in the language of the gorgios meaneth Word-master.'
Chapter XXI:
O ye gifted ones, follow your calling, for, however various your talents may be, ye can have but one calling capable of leading ye to eminence and renown; follow resolutely the one straight path before you, it is that of your good angel, let neither obstacles nor temptations induce ye to leave it; bound along if you can; if not, on hands and knees follow it, perish in it, if needful; but ye need not fear that; no one ever yet died in the true path of his calling before he had attained the pinnacle. Turn into other paths, and for a momentary advantage or gratification ye have sold your inheritance, your immortality. Ye will never be heard of after death.
Chapter XXII:
But I toiled in vain, for I had neither grammar nor dictionary of the language; and when I sought for them could procure neither; and I was much dispirited, till suddenly a bright thought came into my head, and I said, although I cannot obtain a dictionary or grammar, I can perhaps obtain a Bible in this language, and if I can procure a Bible, I can learn the language, for the Bible in every tongue contains the same thing, and I have only to compare the words of the Danish Bible with those of the English, and, if I persevere, I shall in time acquire the language of the Danes...
Chapter XXIII:
'I like that every one should have an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual; 'and, what is more, declare it. Nothing displeases me more than to see people assenting to everything that they hear said; I at once come to the conclusion that they are either hypocrites, or there is nothing in them.'
'I respect a man for entertaining an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual. 'I hold certain opinions; but I should not respect an individual the more for adopting them. All I wish for is tolerance, which I myself endeavour to practise. I have always loved the truth, and sought it; if I have not found it, the greater my misfortune.'
Chapter XXIV:
'He kept school there, I was his first scholar; he flogged Greek into me till I loved him—and he loved me: he came to see me last year, and sat in that chair; I honour Parr—he knows much, and is a sound man.'
Chapter XXV:
Translation is at best an echo, and it must be a wonderful echo to be heard after the lapse of a thousand years.
'When a man dies, he is cast into the earth, and his wife and child sorrow ovr him. If he has neither wife nor child, then his father and mother, I suppose; and if he is quite alone in the world, why, then, he is cast into the earth, and there is an end of the matter.'
'And do you think that is the end of a man?'
'There's an end of him, brother, more's the pity.'
'Why do you say so?'
'Life is sweet, brother.'
'Do you think so?'
'Think so!—There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?'
Chapter XXX:
'But, sir, surely you would not pander to a scoundrelly taste?'
'Then, sir, I must give up business altogether.'
Chapter XXXVI: translate from a foreign language into your own is a widely different thing from translating from your own into a foreign language...
I never could understand why reviews were instituted; works of merit do not require to be reviewed, they can speak for themselves, and require no praising; works of no merit at all will die of themselves, they require no killing.
It is no easy thing to tell a story plainly and distinctly by mouth; but to tell one on paper is difficult indeed, so many snares lie in the way. People are afraid to put down what is common on paper, they seek to embellish their narratives, as they think, by philosophic speculations and reflections; they are anxious to shine, and people who are anxious to shine can never tell a plain story.
Chapter XL:
'...every heart has its bitters.'
Chapter XLI:
Homer himself has never yet entirely recovered from the injury he received by Lord Chesterfield's remark that the speeches of his heroes were frequently exceedingly low.
Chapter XLVII:
'Learning without money is anything but desirable,' said the Armenian, 'as it unfits a man for humble occupations.'
Chapter LXIII:
'I come from some distance,' said I; 'indeed, I am walking for exercise, which I find as necessary to the mind as the body. I believe that by exercise people would escape much mental misery.'
Chapter LXVIII:
Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and proper drink of Englishmen. He is not deserving of the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is good ale, like that which has just made merry the hearts of this poor family; and yet there are beings, calling themselves Englishmen, who say that it is a sin to drink a cup of ale, and who, on coming to this passage will be tempted to fling down the book and exclaim, 'The man is evidently a bad man, for behold, by his own confession, he is not only fond of ale himself, but is in the habit of tempting other people with it.' Alas! alas! what a number of silly individuals there are in this world...
Chapter LXXIII:
'Then thou, doubtless, meanest to go to church,' said Peter, again addressing me; 'there is a church on the other side of that wooded hill.' 'No,' said I, 'I do not mean to go to church.' 'May I ask thee wherefore?' said Peter. 'Because,' said I, 'I prefer remaining beneath the shade of these trees, listening to the sound of the leaves and the tinkling of the waters.'
Chapter LXXXIII:
There was one thing, however, which stood me in good stead in my labour, the same thing which through life has ever been of incalculable utility to me, and has not unfrequently supplied the place of friends, money, and many other things of almost equal importance—iron perseverance, without which all the advantages of time and circumstance are of very little avail in any undertaking.
Chapter XC:
'What do you take me for?' said I.
'Why,' said the man in black, 'I should consider you to be a philologist, who, for some purpose, has taken up a gypsy life; but I confess to you that your way of answering questions is far too acute for a philologist.'
'And why should not a philologist be able to answer questions acutely?' said I.
'Because the philological race is the most stupid under heaven,' said the man in black; 'they are possessed, it is true, of a certain faculty for picking up words, and a memory for retaining them; but that any one of the sect should be able to give a rational answer, to say no hing of an acute one, on any subject—even though the subject were philology—is a thing of which I have no idea.'
Chapter XCIII (free translation from Luigi Pulci's Morgante):
To which Margutte answered with a sneer,
I like the blue no better than the black,
My faith consists alone in savoury cheer,
In roasted capons, and in potent sack;
But above all, in famous gin and clear,
Which often lays the Briton on his back;
With lump of sugar, and with lymph from well,
I drink it, and defy the fiends of hell.

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