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DR KNAPP has thrown away as good a chance as ever came ambitious biographer. He elected to write the Life of George Borrow, and with patient industry he collected a perfect mountain of material. He not only acquired the books and papers of Lavengro, but he even explored all such local journals and pamphlets as might contain a distant allusion to his idol. He lived where Borrow lived; he followed Borrow's footsteps in England as in Spain; that he might prove himself as expert a "philologist' as his master, he has studded his text with gems from all the foreign tongues he knows, though English should have been sufficient for his purpose. No detail seems too insignificant for him: with praiseworthy energy he has tracked the most notable of Borrow's schoolfellows; he has drawn a ground - plan of "the Borrow House at Norwich. In brief, he has told us a thousand things which touch Lavengro more or less remotely; but he has completely failed to draw a recognisable portrait of his romantic subject.
Borrow says somewhere that it was from the 'Newgate Calendar' that he learned the art of writing genuine English. Whether Dr Knapp has studied the lives of thieves we know not, but it is certain that genuine
English is beyond his reach. Apparently he has read deeply of Carlyle, the worst model that ever befogged a pedant's style, and believes that he can reproduce the humour of 'Sartor Resartus.' Yet his style is not mere Carlylese; it is Carlylese vilely tempered by the daily paper. For him Borrow is "our George" if he is not "Don Jorge "; when a pack of schoolboys expect a flogging from Dr Valpy, they are in his phrase "candidates for the Valpeian scourge"; worse still, he says of Lockhart, "Of course there was one more unfortunate candidate for the pickle of our peregrine hater." In these terms does he announce John Borrow's birth: "This scion of an ancient house made his début on the stage some time in the year 1800. The font over which he was held is unknown. It must be sought either at Chelmsford or at Colchester. But in the latter town the barracks stood in the three parishes of St James, St Leonard, and St Mary Magdalen. In the present decline of Peter's pence and rise of parochial fees, experience has taught its lesson. Natus est-he was born. He was likewise named: first, after his paternal grandsire, John ; then after his sire, Thomas, and finally after the whole family, Borrow." The fatigue of a book composed after this pre
1 Life, Writings, and Correspondence of George Borrow. By William J. Knapp, Ph.D., LL.D. London: John Murray.
tentiously trite manner easily be imagined, and there are many worse specimens to be found. It is thus, for instance, that he translates the simple statement that Borrow was bathing: “He was engaged in stirring the briny waters of the German Ocean with his ponderous corpus." How Borrow himself would have laughed at so gross a perversion of what he believed to be genuine English! "Ponderous corpus" indeed! Natus est! Why not nati sumus or nati sunt? But that's what it is to be a philologist, and to possess the gift of tongues.
While Dr Knapp is not very judicious in his choice of words, he displays little more wisdom in the selection of his facts. He tells us in his preface that the cool judgment of his publisher persuaded him to curtail his book, yet the book as it stands is padded with pages of irrelevance. He can find room for such common notes of invitation as the following: "Dear Mr Borrow,-We have a few friends coming to us next Wednesday evening. Will you be persuaded to join us at 9 o'clock?" Yet he withholds the description of the battle between Painter and Oliverthat famous battle from which Kean got a hint for his Richard -though it should surely be a masterpiece of romantic reporting. Then he has rescued many a review from the columns of ancient journals, which long ago did their work of offence, and have earned oblivion. To Borrow they were red rags; they are pallid sheets to us, and
not even Dr Knapp's loyalty can bring back a single touch of colour to their faded abuse.
But from beginning to end the book is marred by a lack of proportion, by the author's inability to distinguish between the trifling and the essential. A new fact is not important from mere novelty, and to proceed with Dr Knapp's reckless curiosity is to risk making not a biography but a rubble-heap. However, Dr Knapp's defect is easily intelligible: he has failed because he is an American. Now, the American who professes a sympathy with England, and does not harbour an ambition to twist the lion's tail, is apt to approach our country with too shy a reverence. Having few shrines of his own to worship, he goes abroad to bow the knee, and once beyond the reach of telephones and electric bells, he displays a capacity for devotion which is admirable and touching. The American, in fact, is the modern pilgrim. As our remote ancestors visited Jerusalem, so our reputed descendants seek out the tombs of poets and novelists. They recite verses in the groves of Kenilworth, or under the shadow of Shakespeare's cottage. They explore the graveyards to discover where their heroes lie buried, and they commonly bring back stories of dilapidation and neglect. But like all neophytes they push their worship too far; they comprehend in a general admiration everything that is personal; they are surprised at what we take for granted; and they invest the most trivial
circumstances with an importance which they never possessed. It is an amiable indiscretion, no doubt; but it is blinding to the intelligence, and we doubt whether a dozen Americans of to-day see the life of the Old World in a sensible light. Dr Knapp, for instance, cannot rid himself of his transatlantic prejudice, and he surveys the ordinary facts of Borrow's life with the astonishment of a yokel gazing at the Lord Mayor's coach. A similar prejudice prevents him from seeing the real qualities of his subject. A man, who was inspired always by a love of action, who, as we shall presently see, admired gypsies, prizefighters, and highwaymen far above writers and philologists, must not be judged by the common standards. If you would understand him, you must yield to his vagaries, and confess the imperiousness of his tastes. Yet Dr Knapp, despite his doglike respect for Borrow, proves in a dozen instances his lack of sympathy. Though the example of Borrow has persuaded him to study the gypsies and their language, he proves that he has never conquered the general dislike of the roving people. He denounces the rumour that Borrow's mother was a gypsy as an unworthy and unjustifiable slur." Why slur, Dr Knapp, why slur? Have not many brave men and beautiful women carried gypsy blood in their veins? And is not Borrow the last man in the world who would have resented the mistake? But Lavengro himself
Nor is Dr Knapp more fortunate in his few references to boxing, which was in Borrow's eyes the finest and most necessary of the arts. "The lad knew of his own father's early proclivity for the ring," he writes, "and thought it only dutiful to occasionally put on the gloves." Of course he thought it nothing of the kind; and even if we overlook the split infinitive, we find in this statement a complete misunderstanding of Borrow's character. He did not put on the gloves for the sake of duty,-he was a fighter born and bred; his father's scrap with Big Ben was his most glorious memory, a memory not effaced by his own battle with the Flaming Tinman, when once more "Long Melford" did its work. If he was a better hand at the gloves than at the naked fist, his morleys were always ready, and for his biographer to mention duty and fighting in the same sentence is to misrepresent his pride and character. He was master of many accomplishments, but he was proud of none so much as of his power to hit a man when he was angry.
Again, a sentimental sympathy with footpads and all their works was instinctive
with George Borrow, and was doubtless fostered by his compilation of 'Celebrated Trials.' He was quick to appreciate the free courage of their career; for were they not, also, kings of the highroad? His admiration of Harry Simms never languished, and he would set Haggart, whom he knew, by the side of Tamerlane. Yet Dr Knapp brushes this sympathy roughly away. He does not even condescend to a mention of Simms, and Haggart inspires him to little else than the cold announcement that "he was very properly hanged at Edinburgh jail." Properly, no doubt, from the magistrate's point of view. But Borrow's biographer might have looked beyond the code, and attempted to picture the enthusiasm of a man who never examined too scrupulously the morals of his comrades.
However, Dr Knapp's greatest difficulty was to hold the scales of justice even. Borrow thought the smallest provocation sufficient for enmity. He was a good hater, who in every controversy set his feelings above reason. Such was his nature, and his nature needs no justification. But his biographer, who at other points has fallen short of sympathy, surely goes beyond his brief when he espouses an ancient quarrel. That Borrow disliked Bowring is quite certain, and the reasons for the dislike are to-day immaterial. Yet Dr Knapp sees animus in two perfectly civil letters, and detects
an insult in Bowring's plain question, "Have you ever been at Kiatcha?" Whether Borrow ever did go to Kiatcha is an unsolved problem. He seems to have believed that he did once visit that remote spot, and Bowring might have been excused for seeking information on a point whereon Borrow himself was doubtful. But Dr Knapp transforms himself into a partisan, and makes a confident statement, of which proof is impossible. "Meantime," says he, "Life, a Drama,' by George Borrow, had been advertised; and Bowring, suspecting that the struggles and disappointments of his victim would be treated of in the book, privately engaged the 'Edinburgh Review,' while passing through Italy at the beginning of 1849, for a paper on the 'Life' when it should appear. This holding of the Edinburgh Review' kept all articles on 'Lavengro' from its pages in 1851." To propose a review in order that a book might never be noticed at all is the subtlest villainy, of which Bowring could only be convicted on his own confession. Did he ever tell Dr Knapp of his trick? If not, how does Dr Knapp declare as a fact what can only be an unamiable surmise?
But at the end of his book Dr Knapp brings a charge against Borrow's stepdaughter which certainly should not pass unchallenged, and he brings it with an easy nonchalance, as though it were not worth support. At any rate, he does not support it with a shred of documentary evidence, and we must be forgiven if we decline to ac
cept it on the mere word of a biographer. George Borrow died on the 26th of July 1881, and, says Dr Knapp, "the circumstances were these. The stepdaughter and her husband drove to Lowestoft in the morning on some business of their own, leaving Mr Borrow without a living soul in the house with him. He had earnestly requested them not to go away, because he felt that he was in a dying state; but the response intimated that he had often expressed the same feeling before, and his fears had proved groundless. During the interval of these few hours of abandonment, which nothing can palliate or excuse, George Borrow died as he had lived alone!" It looks like a grave accusation of manslaughter by neglect; and even were it true, it had been better suppressed. But, to use his own phrase, nothing can palliate the suggestion of a serious charge, whereof no proof is offered. Moreover, it is unfortunate that Dr Knapp has a personal grievance against the lady whom he accuses of this shameful neglect. "The Henrietta of that day, he says, "refuses to communicate with the present writer, for reasons best known to herself." Had she suspected his opinion of her, the reason of her silence would be obvious; and though we do not for a moment imply a relation of cause and effect, it would have been prudent in Dr Knapp to suppress either one reference or the other to "the Henrietta of that day."
The biographer, then, has failed to produce a worthy life of George Borrow, because
with all his industry he has not the skill to write nor the tact to arrange his material. In the near future he promises us an annotated edition of 'Lavengro' and 'The Romany Rye,' a work well worth the doing, and one which cannot be successfully achieved without the papers collected by the industrious doctor. But the Life gives us little confidence in its worthy performance, and we regret the inevitable failure the more, because Borrow's strange career deserves elucidation. What a story there was to tell, if the biographer had had the gift of narrative! What adventures to relate for a man who knew the romantic value of words! And the best that can be said of Dr Knapp is that his two volumes are a quarry, from which a competent workman might extract the blocks of a fair monument. But where one writer has failed, there is little chance of another attempt; and we cheerfully take leave of this lost opportunity and look for Borrow in his works.
For, despite his own indignant denial, Borrow's works are one and all chapters of autobiography. It should, therefore, not be difficult to compose a portrait. But Borrow, brave, wilful, arrogant as he was, had the vaguest perception of his own character. His romantic temperament was deeply veined with pedantry, and he would persist in believing himself a philologist when he was merely a rover with an indomitable gift of tongues. Between him and the man he would speak