Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 41

Decease of the Review — Homer himself — Bread and cheese — Finger and thumb — Impossible to find — Something grand — Universal mixture — Some other publisher.

Time passed away, and with it the Review, which, contrary to the publisher’s expectation, did not prove a successful speculation. About four months after the period of its birth it expired, as all Reviews must for which there is no demand. Authors had ceased to send their publications to it, and, consequently, to purchase it; for I have already hinted that it was almost entirely supported by authors of a particular class, who expected to see their publications foredoomed to immortality in its pages. The behaviour of these authors towards this unfortunate publication I can attribute to no other cause than to a report which was industriously circulated, namely, that the Review was low, and that to be reviewed in it was an infallible sign that one was a low person, who could be reviewed nowhere else. So authors took fright; and no wonder, for it will never do for an author to be considered low. 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.

So the Review ceased, and the reviewing corps no longer existed as such; they forthwith returned to their proper avocations — the editor to compose tunes on his piano, and to the task of disposing of the remaining copies of his Quintilian — the inferior members to working for the publisher, being to a man dependants of his; one, to composing fairy tales; another, to collecting miracles of Popish saints; and a third, Newgate lives and trials. Owing to the bad success of the Review, the publisher became more furious than ever. My money was growing short, and I one day asked him to pay me for my labours in the deceased publication.

‘Sir,’ said the publisher, ‘what do you want the money for?’

‘Merely to live on,’ I replied; ‘it is very difficult to live in this town without money.’

‘How much money did you bring with you to town?’ demanded the publisher.

‘Some twenty or thirty pounds,’ I replied.

‘And you have spent it already?’

‘No,’ said I, ‘not entirely; but it is fast disappearing.’

‘Sir,’ said the publisher, ‘I believe you to be extravagant; yes, sir, extravagant!’

‘On what grounds do you suppose me to be so?’

‘Sir,’ said the publisher, ‘you eat meat.’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘I eat meat sometimes; what should I eat?’

‘Bread, sir,’ said the publisher; ‘bread and cheese.’

‘So I do, sir, when I am disposed to indulge; but I cannot often afford it — it is very expensive to dine on bread and cheese, especially when one is fond of cheese, as I am. My last bread and cheese dinner cost me fourteenpence. There is drink, sir; with bread and cheese one must drink porter, sir.’

‘Then, sir, eat bread — bread alone. As good men as yourself have eaten bread alone; they have been glad to get it, sir. If with bread and cheese you must drink porter, sir, with bread alone you can, perhaps, drink water, sir.’

However, I got paid at last for my writings in the Review, not, it is true, in the current coin of the realm, but in certain bills; there were two of them, one payable at twelve, and the other at eighteen months after date. It was a long time before I could turn these bills to any account; at last I found a person who, at a discount of only thirty per cent, consented to cash them; not, however, without sundry grimaces, and, what was still more galling, holding, more than once, the unfortunate papers high in air between his forefinger and thumb. So ill, indeed, did I like this last action, that I felt much inclined to snatch them away. I restrained myself, however, for I remembered that it was very difficult to live without money, and that, if the present person did not discount the bills, I should probably find no one else that would.

But if the treatment which I had experienced from the publisher, previous to making this demand upon him, was difficult to bear, that which I subsequently underwent was far more so: his great delight seemed to consist in causing me misery and mortification; if, on former occasions, he was continually sending me in quest of lives and trials difficult to find, he now was continually demanding lives and trials which it was impossible to find; the personages whom he mentioned never having lived, nor consequently been tried. Moreover, some of my best lives and trials which I had corrected and edited with particular care, and on which I prided myself no little, he caused to be cancelled after they had passed through the press. Amongst these was the life of ‘Gentleman Harry.’ ‘They are drugs, sir,’ said the publisher, ‘drugs; that life of Harry Simms has long been the greatest drug in the calendar — has it not, Taggart?’

Taggart made no answer save by taking a pinch of snuff. The reader, has, I hope, not forgotten Taggart, whom I mentioned whilst giving an account of my first morning’s visit to the publisher. I beg Taggart’s pardon for having been so long silent about him; but he was a very silent man — yet there was much in Taggart — and Taggart had always been civil and kind to me in his peculiar way.

‘Well, young gentleman,’ said Taggart to me one morning, when we chanced to be alone a few days after the affair of the cancelling, ‘how do you like authorship?’

‘I scarcely call authorship the drudgery I am engaged in,’ said I.

‘What do you call authorship?’ said Taggart.

‘I scarcely know,’ said I; ‘that is, I can scarcely express what I think it.’

‘Shall I help you out?’ said Taggart, turning round his chair, and looking at me.

‘If you like,’ said I.

‘To write something grand,’ said Taggart, taking snuff; ‘to be stared at — lifted on people’s shoulders — ’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘that is something like it.’

Taggart took snuff. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘why don’t you write something grand?’

‘I have,’ said I.

‘What?’ said Taggart.

‘Why,’ said I, ‘there are those ballads.’

Taggart took snuff.

‘And those wonderful versions from Ab Gwilym.’

Taggart took snuff again.

‘You seem to be very fond of snuff,’ said I, looking at him angrily.

Taggart tapped his box.

‘Have you taken it long?’

‘Three-and-twenty years.’

‘What snuff do you take?’

‘Universal mixture.’

‘And you find it of use?

Taggart tapped his box.

‘In what respect?’ said I.

‘In many — there is nothing like it to get a man through; but for snuff I should scarcely be where I am now.’

‘Have you been long here?’

‘Three-and-twenty years.’

‘Dear me,’ said I; ‘and snuff brought you through? Give me a pinch — pah, I don’t like it,’ and I sneezed.

‘Take another pinch,’ said Taggart.

‘No,’ said I, ‘I don’t like snuff.’

‘Then you will never do for authorship; at least for this kind.’

‘So I begin to think — what shall I do?’

Taggart took snuff.

‘You were talking of a great work — what shall it be?’

Taggart took snuff.

‘Do you think I could write one?’

Taggart uplifted his two forefingers as if to tap, he did not however.

‘It would require time,’ said I, with a half sigh.

Taggart tapped his box.

‘A great deal of time; I really think that my ballads — ’

Taggart took snuff.

‘If published, would do me credit. I’ll make an effort, and offer them to some other publisher.’

Taggart took a double quantity of snuff.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32