Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 43

Progress — Glorious John — Utterly unintelligible — What a difference.

By the month of October I had, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles, accomplished about two-thirds of the principal task which I had undertaken, the compiling of the Newgate lives; I had also made some progress in translating the publisher’s philosophy into German. But about this time I began to see very clearly that it was impossible that our connection should prove of long duration; yet, in the event of my leaving the big man, what other resource had I— another publisher? But what had I to offer? There were my ballads, my Ab Gwilym, but then I thought of Taggart and his snuff, his pinch of snuff. However, I determined to see what could be done, so I took my ballads under my arm, and went to various publishers; some took snuff, others did not, but none took my ballads or Ab Gwilym, they would not even look at them. One asked me if I had anything else — he was a snuff-taker — I said yes; and going home, returned with my translation of the German novel, to which I have before alluded. After keeping it for a fortnight, he returned it to me on my visiting him, and, taking a pinch of snuff, told me it would not do. There were marks of snuff on the outside of the manuscript, which was a roll of paper bound with red tape, but there were no marks of snuff on the interior of the manuscript, from which I concluded that he had never opened it.

I had often heard of one Glorious John, who lived at the western end of the town; on consulting Taggart, he told me that it was possible that Glorious John would publish my ballads and Ab Gwilym, that is, said he, taking a pinch of snuff, provided you can see him; so I went to the house where Glorious John resided, and a glorious house it was, but I could not see Glorious John — I called a dozen times, but I never could see Glorious John. Twenty years after, by the greatest chance in the world, I saw Glorious John, and sure enough Glorious John published my books, but they were different books from the first; I never offered my ballads or Ab Gwilym to Glorious John. Glorious John was no snuff-taker. He asked me to dinner, and treated me with superb Rhenish wine. Glorious John is now gone to his rest, but I— what was I going to say? — the world will never forget Glorious John.

So I returned to my last resource for the time then being — to the publisher, persevering doggedly in my labour. One day, on visiting the publisher, I found him stamping with fury upon certain fragments of paper. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘you know nothing of German; I have shown your translation of the first chapter of my Philosophy to several Germans: it is utterly unintelligible to them.’ ‘Did they see the Philosophy?’ I replied. ‘They did, sir, but they did not profess to understand English.’ ‘No more do I,’ I replied, ‘if that Philosophy be English.’

The publisher was furious — I was silent. For want of a pinch of snuff, I had recourse to something which is no bad substitute for a pinch of snuff, to those who can’t take it, silent contempt; at first it made the publisher more furious, as perhaps a pinch of snuff would; it, however, eventually calmed him, and he ordered me back to my occupations, in other words, the compilation. To be brief, the compilation was completed, I got paid in the usual manner, and forthwith left him.

He was a clever man, but what a difference in clever men!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/lavengro/chapter43.html

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