Friday, April 01, 2011


The Romany Rye

Excerpts from George Borrow, The Romany Rye (1857):

Chapter XII:
What had been the profit of the tongues which I had learnt? had they ever assisted me in the day of hunger? No, no! it appeared to me that I had always misspent my time...
Chapter XVI (letter from Isopel Berners):
The world can bully, and is fond, provided it sees a man in a kind of difficulty, of getting about him, calling him coarse names, and even going so far as to hustle him: but the world, like all bullies, carries a white feather in its tail, and no sooner sees the man taking off his coat, and offering to fight its best, than it scatters here and there, and is always civil to him afterwards.
Chapter XXI:
When he had finished speaking, he led me behind his house, and showed me his little domain. It consisted of about two acres in admirable cultivation; a small portion of it formed a kitchen garden, while the rest was sown with four kinds of grain, wheat, barley, peas, and beans. The air was full of ambrosial sweets, resembling those proceeding from an orange grove; a place which though I had never seen at that time, I since have. In the garden was the habitation of the bees, a long box, supported upon three oaken stumps. It was full of small round glass windows, and appeared to be divided into a great many compartments, much resembling drawers placed sideways. He told me that, as one compartment was filled, the bees left it for another; so that, whenever he wanted honey, he could procure some without injury to the insects. Through the little round windows I could see several of the bees at work; hundreds were going in and out of the doors; hundreds were buzzing about on the flowers, the woodbines, and beans. As I looked around on the well-cultivated field, the garden, and the bees, I thought I had never before seen so rural and peaceful a scene.
Chapter XXIII (presumably mocking the soporific power of Wordsworth's poetry):
I took the volume, and glanced over the contents. It was written in blank verse, and appeared to abound in descriptions of scenery; there was much mention of mountains, valleys, streams, and waterfalls, harebells and daffodils. These descriptions were interspersed with dialogues, which, though they proceeded from the mouths of pedlars and rustics, were of the most edifying description; mostly on subjects moral or metaphysical, and couched in the most gentlemanly and unexceptionable language, without the slightest mixture of vulgarity, coarseness, or piebald grammar. Such appeared to me to be the contents of the book; but before I could form a very clear idea of them, I found myself nodding, and a surprising desire to sleep coming over me.
Chapter XXX:
Youth is the only season for enjoyment, and the first twenty-five years of one's life are worth all the rest of the longest life of man, even though those five-and-twenty be spent in penury and contempt, and the rest in the possession of wealth, honours, respectability, ay, and many of them in strength and health...
What a beautiful country is England! People run abroad to see beautiful countries, and leave their own behind unknown, unnoticed—their own the most beautiful!
Chapter XLII:
"Well, some are born to be hanged, and some are not; and many of those who are not hanged are much worse than those who are."
Chapter XLIV:
Here I stood, looking vacantly on what was going on, musing on the strange infatuation of my species, who judge of a person's words, not from their intrinsic merit, but from the opinion—generally an erroneous one—which they have formed of the person.
Appendix, Chapter III:
Now what is the case with nine out of ten amongst those of the English who study foreign languages? No sooner have they picked up a smattering of this or that speech than they begin to abuse their own country, and everything connected with it, more especially its language. This is particularly the case with those who call themselves German students. It is said, and the writer believes with truth, that when a woman falls in love with a particularly ugly fellow, she squeezes him with ten times more zest than she would a handsome one, if captivated by him. So it is with these German students; no sooner have they taken German in hand than there is nothing like German. Oh, the dear delightful German! How proud I am that it is now my own, and that its divine literature is within my reach! And all this whilst mumbling the most uncouth speech, and crunching the most crabbed literature in Europe.
Appendix, chapter VIII (on the temperance movement):
Let the reader note particularly the purpose to which this cry has been turned in America; the land, indeed, par excellence, of humbug and humbug cries.

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