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George Borrow (1803–1881)

Author of Lavengro

53+ Works 1,243 Members 15 Reviews 4 Favorited

About the Author

Borrow was employed by the (Protestant) Bible Society to distribute bibles in Catholic Spain in 1835. He encountered much opposition and was on one occasion imprisoned for three weeks. The famous account of his experience has little to do with the Bible and much to do with the people, land, and show more perils of his journey. Borrow is as racy in his descriptions of places as of people. Lavengro (1851) and its sequel, The Romany Rye (1857), are like novels in their interest and excitement. They are stories of gypsies, rich in gypsy lore, superstitions, and customs. Borrow spent many years in close association with Spanish gypsies and translated the Gospel of St. Luke into their language. His linguistic abilities were remarkable; he gives much space to word derivations, particularly in Lavengro. His books abound in pugnacious passages; his attacks on Sir Walter Scott (see Vol. 1), on prizefighters, and on "papists" are indicative of some of his sharp prejudices. He wrote marvelously, however, and those who admire him are devotees for life. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by George Borrow

Lavengro (1900) 322 copies
The Bible in Spain (1843) 253 copies
The Romany Rye (1857) 178 copies
Lavengro and the Romany Rye (1940) 51 copies
Romano Lavo-Lil (1924) 25 copies
English Gypsy Language (1874) 14 copies
Ballads of All Nations (1927) 4 copies
The Talisman (2010) 2 copies
The Songs of Ranild (2011) 1 copy
Viaxe por Galicia (1993) 1 copy

Associated Works

Great English Short Stories (1930) — Contributor — 20 copies
International Short Stories English (Volume 2) (1910) — Contributor — 8 copies
Famous Stories of Five Centuries (1934) — Contributor — 4 copies
The Turkish Jester or, The Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi (2009) — Translator, some editions — 4 copies

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Reviews

A wonderfully odd trawl through 19th century Cymru by leggy eccentric George Borrow, who describes everything he sees and talks to almost everyone - albeit in a kind of condescending manner. Definitely worth a read if you're interested in Cymru and its history. Be warned, at one point he is massively racist towards a black man and expresses pro-slavery opinions.
 
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elahrairah | 2 other reviews | Mar 27, 2024 |
“George Borrow was a fine old English Victorian white man who also just happened to be a flaming racist from time to time,” explained the schoolmaster. “Perfect for children!”

I can’t imagine that George simply fabricated all the facts wholesale—ie when he says that Romani/Gypsy has a very small vocabulary and often features rather MacGyvered (if you will) work-a-rounds (there’s a word for rabbit, I think it was, but a hare is a ‘(long-)ear fellow’, a common construction—say if there were a word for priest but not deacon, the deacon would become a ‘church fellow’, or something like that. It is very imprecise, but personally I don’t know the difference between a rabbit and a hare—and who goes to church if they don’t like you? Not an old-school Gypsy, you know!), and lapses into and borrowings from the host country language. George also criticizes them for not speaking using ‘correct’ grammar, for example in declension according to gender. But then, C.S. Lewis thought that Old English was practically the same thing as modern English and that you were like a little kid in your English if you didn’t know Old English, (even though French is probably more similar, to Modern English), and Old English has genders and Modern English doesn’t, so—I guess that white men are just strange little leprechauns sometimes. But yeah, to finish my paragraph-sentence, I can’t imagine that he just dreamed the whole thing up and that Gypsy has as many nouns as Attic Greek, but you know, Top 40 English probably has a small lexicon as well, and some people like it better than Bach. But for a nineteenth-century life that thought is literally impossible, and only partially due to literal economics and technology. There’s also the “economics and technology” of culture. For George Borrow, Bach was undoubtedly good, and the race music of America or whatever was bad. You either ignored it, or put it in the picture to make yourself look better. That’s an 1803-1881 life, you know.

But it is still a very cheap, (out of copyright), book about a very under-appreciated culture, even today.

And it’s obviously not personal to George. Sometimes the past is just a country with slightly criminal laws, in the way they treated, say, Jews & Gypsies.

…. (explaining the world to a Gypsy) No no no. There’s the priest and then there’s the sub-priest and then there’s the deacon and then there’s the deacon’s helper and then there’s the church fellow and then there’s your father and then there’s your mother and then there’s you and then there’s your sister. ~You’re going to need many many more words, little baby Hermes, child of the East!

…. After the introduction and the actual word-list, much of the book is these lists of sayings and (Christian) prayers and other examples of undigested, un-annotated, un-analyzed examples of the Gypsy language: just a line or two or a paragraph maybe of text in Gypsy, and then the English. I’m not sure how I feel about that, you know. Obviously the different language versions of Wikipedia say different things about each article, but even if they did, a glancing at a text dump in one language and then a translation isn’t the same as actually growing into that language. I guess you could do it all yourself, but one wonders what George is for, you know. One starts to question one’s motivation. Anyway, the nineteenth century has reputation for being the pure old times before technology and bad new things, but really, they had text dumps back then too, really.

…. And I really think that he should have simply borrowed the Gypsy word gadjo (gadji) for “non-Romani” instead of using the strange substitute of “Gentile”. [Gorgio, I think was his dialect’s version. But he simply should NOT have called it ‘Gentiles’. I suppose there are no hyper-literate and essentially spoken word cultures, only Saxons and barbarians?] There’s Joseph Campbell; there’s believing that we are all one; there’s bringing down the walls of politics and race—and then there’s, “I can’t keep you people straight”, you know. Using “gentile” to substitute to “gadjo” is “I can’t keep you people straight”, you know—people from Britain and England and Scotland and New England—I can’t keep you people straight! Isn’t it all just England? ~You know: it has nothing to do with seeing the Gypsy and the Gadjo as both equally human; Bob Marley saying “one love” or Bono saying “one blood” (in “One”). Racist old curious men from the 19th century would have none of that, you know. But they didn’t care about the differences, either.

…. But what is remarkable is that someone so unfriendly as an old folklorist, sometimes simply repeating middle-racist cant about thievery, often embracing gendered and ethnocentric ‘exoticism’ sort of cant—were by far not the worst of the old enemies of the people on the bottom, you know: just the most wild ill accusations slung about, “maybe the Romani are Catholic!” etc. etc…. Just disturbed peasant bullshit, you know, which the old middle-racist Victorian folklorist didn’t believe, even if all his attention is on ‘disproving’ or whatever, these crazy things, rather than any sort of feeling as to what that felt like, you know, to be on the receiving end of that ill English medieval peasant (Protestant Middle Ages) bullshit, you know.

Or what their life was like when it was good, without making them sound like right jolly thieving devils, and nothing else, you know….

It’s funny, on the surface, hip-hop and tarot couldn’t seem more different; a lot of people think of the cards as being kinda Anglo, I bet, you know. So it’s funny, you know—although maybe it should be obvious than anything kinda ‘marginal’ isn’t quite ‘Anglo’, perhaps—how the Gypsy race so intertwined with tarot in history existed and were perceived in this very ‘rap game’ kind of a way, you know. They live a mysterious, fast life…. Ah, the devils! And yet, we use them so!….

…. And I’m being completely serious, you know. Being normal is Anglo. Being Episcopalian is Anglo. Made for TV Dickens movies and things like that are Anglo. Even science is Anglo—the normal, carping kind; it’s like the normal person trying to shake off the Episcopal sleepiness become like ~relatable~. Tarot cards, though, aren’t ‘normal’. We needed the Gypsies.

…. I mean, it’s not against the law to read the cards anymore, like it used to be against the law to be a Gypsy, (to play ordinary card games, to play soccer, etc., etc.), but still, today, the town tarot reader is probably the most ‘marginal’ storefront, the most ‘marginal’ business owner, in most towns, you know—and especially in some people’s minds, you know. One time I was with my dad, and we walked by the local psychic’s storefront, and he said…. Well, what he said doesn’t give you the sense of it. It was how he said it. That’s the funny thing about the whole ‘I read the book’ movement, you know. Good TV, good acting, good physical intelligence, means something. Someone decided at some point that there’s not as much of a market for slowly-but-steadily developed, real TV, if you like, and I guess they’re right that people don’t have patience and aren’t consistent enough for it….

But being ‘nice’ and mighty and fine is all well and good, and ‘the only thing that matters’, you know—until it isn’t. Science and modernity are beginning to understand that, half the time, that we’re animals, living, moving things, and not fundamentally a race of philologists (or philologists’ servants), you know…. Although the other half of the time people think it’s our destiny to turn into robots, basically.

“…. but X is not Gypsy, but Hungarian.”

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art not….”

But “compare” is not English, but French.

🥸

…. The sociology or whatever it is is kinda interesting, although there’s actually not a lot of actual language learning content; he really should have just done many word lists with overlapping content so that by the end you actually remembered some of the words, although that wouldn’t be grand, you know. Some of the sociology or whatever seems authentic, such as the boxing—I just watched my first sitting of “Rocky”, and I can imagine the least English men in England, (especially), forming a boxing league, you know—although he usually presents Gypsy habits in more or less the worst possible light, especially the men, and the women he either dismisses or codependent-praises them, you know: congratulations on being codependent, right…. When maybe they weren’t at all, in reality; even he’s not sure, really. “Oh, they’re dolls, folks, helpless; also very violent.” It’s hard not to wonder if he’s simply making fun of them, you know: affirming them somewhat only by not understanding that any attention is a sort of affirmation, perhaps. And then he uses their language, in untranslated terms in an English soliloquy, only for the purposes of eliding over ‘impolite’ things, and it’s like, wow…. Wow, bro…. (shakes) Don’t do that shit, bro….

…. Socialism is an old-fashioned, and usually a macho radicalism, for atavistic-rebel-teenagers and crotchety old men, you know; however, reading George rant about the poor class of races in the old days, and watching the first twenty minutes of “Rocky”, (for me, doing the movies for two hours straight would be bingeing, you know; I wouldn’t read the same book for two hours straight, and really I bet the whole reading session would not last that long…. I thought about watching thirty minutes, since thirty minutes divides nicely into two hours, but “Rocky” is low-key intense, you know; it’s a lot), have kinda made me see that not every Single instance of class as an issue is just the ranting of angry defeatist people convinced above all else that life could never work for them, come what may, you know. It can be important in some instances to have respect for socialism as the necessary rebellion native to a more materialistic age, you know—a different age; I don’t know quite how to say it. Of course, the average “I’ve gotta get out of California” (“Lady Bird” movie) American would probably last about five minutes in Europe before hitting their head against village culture and statist bureaucracy and deciding it was all fascism and driving their car out into the woods while playing loud American music, you know. Sometimes Europeans probs just think that their system is Just Better—no downside, Just Better—because America is a much stronger society with a huge shadow side and immense personal crappiness at times. It doesn’t actually mean that living in a little Catholic village from 1414 regulated by a sleepy-oppressive bureaucracy (and festering anti-immigrant quasi-fascism) is Earthly Paradise, you know….

But when you read about the capitalism of the old days, a consciousness that still exists, albeit in reduced, semi-shriveled form, you kinda get how people wanted to grab the crowbar of the socialist machine and just bash it, you know. The people on top were totally in the belief that they should have money and prestige because of their racial worth, and tried to fix the game and play with the levers, from academia to business, to make sure that that worked out for them, right. And compromise was so far outside of what was possible in their sick little brains that it could only meet with either a fake laugh or some other expression of contempt, you know….

There was certainly something that had to go, you know, and whatever it was, it did NOT want to go: and it hasn’t….

…. And it is true that it wasn’t ALL the white Englishmen who controlled everything; class is right about that, I guess. Only the MOST white Englishmen, of certain families, districts, or neighborhoods. I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that a beautiful staircase that you can remember yourself proposing marriage on, or accepting it, or imagine yourself proposing it, or whatever, is not the same as the act of swinging a crowbar in somebody’s already bloodied face, you know. Beauty IS a good; this obvious fact is sometimes a little too much for the overworked minds of socialist intellectuals, but usually even people of poor means, and especially women and sensitive people, and indeed, even tough but non-brutish men, value certain works of even visual art and items of dress and decoration, for their beauty, right…. But it cannot be forgotten either, that there INDEED can be a shadow to these things, the little-minded inbred racist who views the family estate and ancestral wealth as evidence that their class, family, race, or whatever it is, even their gender, perhaps, their male professionalism or inheritance rights, are evidence for their insecure little self to have worth in the only way that their weak-hearted heads know: to withdraw it, as far as it is in their power, from others, whether their enemies abroad, or the Gypsy family in the other part of London.

…. And I suppose it ought not to surprise someone who has read the Narnia books, you know, the extent to which ‘Christianity’ simply means in this case, English belief, English folk custom, loyalty to the Anglo race…. ‘My honor is loyalty’, said the Northerner, and I must keep this world safe for my kind, this world in which there are so many—yes, even in my own land, my dear old land which I love!—who are not of my kind, right….

~ One is glad one knows something, realizing oneself gullible enough, perhaps, to take it all in, in another life!

…. The average 19th century scholar was a fucker, really. I remember once reading the introduction to a perfectly ordinary Oxford dictionary published a few years back, an Oxford American, I think it was; I’m not confident which edition—(I was imitating Malcolm X, or imitating Malcolm X imitating me, and I liked looking up and reading a book about some of the people mentioned in those one-sentence encyclopedia mentions or whatever, right: and if it were a different world and they fucking knew who to mention in it, or if those people hadn’t been fuckers, or whatever, I might have kept it up; as it is I read all the way through A and just started B before discarding my very large one volume dictionary by Oxford, right), but anyway, yeah: so they were describing all the ways it was different from a dictionary of a hundred years ago, or whatever, and I wondered if there was anything in those older ways, and if there was much to speak for in them, not having read the other side…. But basically, those old 1800s scholars and linguists—they were fuckers, you know. Unreconstructed: totally. Even today, it’s not so different. Back then: forget it. Just forget it.

…. God, what a fucker. Idiot Americans go to Paris and try to speak idiot French to precious Parisians and there’s a fire storm: but I suppose if Americans were Victorian English scholars and Parisians were a non-white tribe, we’d go there and quiz THEM and how well THEY spoke THEIR language, and maybe institute a little language reform while we were at it, poking around on vacation. And what then! A bulletin for the Junior Philology Club, to discuss right after Star Trek or some fucking thing! Sick god, almighty!

…. And gosh: I don’t follow the career of any Irish boxers, right: but back in the old days the Irish were Not White…. To be Irish was to be a low-born Mexican, with more than a little Mayan blood!
… (more)
 
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goosecap | Feb 8, 2024 |
This account of a lengthy walking tour in 1854 is an absolute gem- and I have no massive fascination with Wales! In 109 short chapters (I read a couple a day- any more would be too much) the author describes the miles he covers, the sundry folk he meets en route- locals, Irish, gypsies, English...even an Italiian barometer-seller. They have conversations on all manner of things, and Borrow interjects with thoughts on religion and linguistic trivia (he was a philologist and fluent in Welsh). He opines on Welsh poets; he recounts interesting stories; he visits places of interest, describes the scenery, the hostelries...
I was impressed by the miles he covered, and found myself googling places mentioned.
Ansolutely brilliant read and utterly recommended!
… (more)
 
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starbox | 2 other reviews | Jun 1, 2020 |
Picked up for free on the e-reader. The two books are sequential; The Romany Rye picks up right where Lavengro left off. They are semiautobiographical; the narrator is never named but is clearly the author, George Borrow. He narrates various adventures around England; as a hack author, a tinker, a blacksmith, and a language scholar. In this last role, he befriends Gypsies (Romani) and learns some of their language; “lavengro”, according to him, means “word master” in Romani. (In the Introduction, it’s commented that one of the meanings of “lavengro” is “liar”). It’s possible this is an intentional joke on Borrow’s part; he’s often self-deprecating, portraying himself (in the persona of the anonymous narrator) as ultra-naïve; the funniest example is when he attempts to attract his love interest by teaching her Armenian. There’s an appendix, which is the most unsatisfying part; it’s a long diatribe against Papists, Jacobites, Sir Walter Scott, and Scotsmen in general; Borrow had hinted at some of these in the body of the book but was less vituperative about it. Worth a read.… (more)
1 vote
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setnahkt | 4 other reviews | Mar 13, 2018 |

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