Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 48

What to do — Strong enough — Fame and profit — Alliterative euphony — Excellent fellow — Listen to me — A plan — Bagnigge Wells.

Anxious thoughts frequently disturbed me at this time with respect to what I was to do, and how support myself in the Great City. My future prospects were gloomy enough, and I looked forward and feared; sometimes I felt half disposed to accept the offer of the Armenian, and to commence forthwith, under his superintendence, the translation of the Haik Esop; but the remembrance of the cuffs which I had seen him bestow upon the Moldavian, when glancing over his shoulder into the ledger or whatever it was on which he was employed, immediately drove the inclination from my mind. I could not support the idea of the possibility of his staring over my shoulder upon my translation of the Haik Esop, and, dissatisfied with my attempts, treating me as he had treated the Moldavian clerk; placing myself in a position which exposed me to such treatment would indeed be plunging into the fire after escaping from the frying-pan. The publisher, insolent and overbearing as he was, whatever he might have wished or thought, had never lifted his hand against me, or told me that I merited crucifixion.

What was I to do? turn porter? I was strong; but there was something besides strength required to ply the trade of a porter — a mind of a particularly phlegmatic temperament, which I did not possess. What should I do? enlist as a soldier? I was tall enough; but something besides height is required to make a man play with credit the part of soldier, I mean a private one — a spirit, if spirit it can be called, which will not only enable a man to submit with patience to insolence and abuse, and even to cuffs and kicks, but occasionally to the lash. I felt that I was not qualified to be a soldier, at least a private one; far better be a drudge to the most ferocious of publishers, editing Newgate lives, and writing in eighteenpenny reviews — better to translate the Haik Esop, under the superintendence of ten Armenians, than be a private soldier in the English service; I did not decide rashly — I knew something of soldiering. What should I do? I thought that I would make a last and desperate attempt to dispose of the ballads and of Ab Gwilym.

I had still an idea that, provided I could persuade any spirited publisher to give these translations to the world, I should acquire both considerable fame and profit; not, perhaps, a world-embracing fame such as Byron’s; but a fame not to be sneered at, which would last me a considerable time, and would keep my heart from breaking; — profit, not equal to that which Scott had made by his wondrous novels, but which would prevent me from starving, and enable me to achieve some other literary enterprise. I read and re-read my ballads, and the more I read them the more I was convinced that the public, in the event of their being published, would freely purchase, and hail them with the merited applause. Were not the deeds and adventures wonderful and heart-stirring — from which it is true I could claim no merit, being but the translator; but had I not rendered them into English, with all their original fire? Yes, I was confident I had; and I had no doubt that the public would say so. And then, with respect to Ab Gwilym, had I not done as much justice to him as to the Danish ballads; not only rendering faithfully his thoughts, imagery, and phraseology, but even preserving in my translation the alliterative euphony which constitutes one of the most remarkable features of Welsh prosody? Yes, I had accomplished all this; and I doubted not that the public would receive my translations from Ab Gwilym with quite as much eagerness as my version of the Danish ballads. But I found the publishers as intractable as ever, and to this day the public has never had an opportunity of doing justice to the glowing fire of my ballad versification, and the alliterative euphony of my imitations of Ab Gwilym.

I had not seen Francis Ardry since the day I had seen him taking lessons in elocution. One afternoon as I was seated at my table, my head resting on my hands, he entered my apartment; sitting down, he inquired of me why I had not been to see him.

‘I might ask the same question of you,’ I replied. ‘Wherefore have you not been to see me?’ Whereupon Francis Ardry told me that he had been much engaged in his oratorical exercises, also in escorting the young Frenchwoman about to places of public amusement; he then again questioned me as to the reason of my not having been to see him.

I returned an evasive answer. The truth was, that for some time past my appearance, owing to the state of my finances, had been rather shabby; and I did not wish to expose a fashionable young man like Francis Ardry, who lived in a fashionable neighbourhood, to the imputation of having a shabby acquaintance. I was aware that Francis Ardry was an excellent fellow; but, on that very account, I felt, under existing circumstances, a delicacy in visiting him.

It is very possible that he had an inkling of how matters stood, as he presently began to talk of my affairs and prospects. I told him of my late ill success with the booksellers, and inveighed against their blindness to their own interest in refusing to publish my translations. ‘The last that I addressed myself to,’ said I, ‘told me not to trouble him again unless I could bring him a decent novel or a tale.’

‘Well,’ said Frank, ‘and why did you not carry him a decent novel or a tale?’

‘Because I have neither,’ said I; ‘and to write them is, I believe, above my capacity. At present I feel divested of all energy — heartless, and almost hopeless.’

‘I see how it is,’ said Francis Ardry, ‘you have overworked yourself, and, worst of all, to no purpose. Take my advice; cast all care aside, and only think of diverting yourself for a month at least.’

‘Divert myself!’ said I; ‘and where am I to find the means?’

‘Be that care on my shoulders,’ said Francis Ardry. ‘Listen to me — my uncles have been so delighted with the favourable accounts which they have lately received from T— of my progress in oratory, that, in the warmth of their hearts, they made me a present yesterday of two hundred pounds. This is more money than I want, at least for the present; do me the favour to take half of it as a loan — hear me,’ said he, observing that I was about to interrupt him; ‘I have a plan in my head — one of the prettiest in the world. The sister of my charmer is just arrived from France; she cannot speak a word of English; and, as Annette and myself are much engaged in our own matters, we cannot pay her the attention which we should wish, and which she deserves, for she is a truly fascinating creature, although somewhat differing from my charmer, having blue eyes and flaxen hair; whilst, Annette, on the contrary — But I hope you will shortly see Annette. Now, my plan is this — Take the money, dress yourself fashionably, and conduct Annette’s sister to Bagnigge Wells.’

‘And what should we do at Bagnigge Wells?’

‘Do!’ said Francis Ardry. ‘Dance!’

‘But,’ said I, ‘I scarcely know anything of dancing.’

‘Then here’s an excellent opportunity of improving yourself. Like most Frenchwomen, she dances divinely; however, if you object to Bagnigge Wells and dancing, go to Brighton, and remain there a month or two, at the end of which time you can return with your mind refreshed and invigorated, and materials, perhaps, for a tale or novel.’

‘I never heard a more foolish, plan,’ said I, ‘or one less likely to terminate profitably or satisfactorily. I thank you, however, for your offer, which is, I daresay, well meant. If I am to escape from my cares and troubles, and find my mind refreshed and invigorated, I must adopt other means than conducting a French demoiselle to Brighton or Bagnigge Wells, defraying the expense by borrowing from a friend.’

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