The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Appendix X


About Wellington, then, he says, that he believes him at the present day to be infinitely overrated. But there certainly was a time when he was shamefully underrated. Now what time was that? Why, the time of pseudo-Radicalism, par excellence, from ‘20 to ‘32. Oh! the abuse that was heaped on Wellington by those who traded in Radical cant — your newspaper editors and review writers! and how he was sneered at then by your Whigs, and how faintly supported he was by your Tories, who were half ashamed of him; for your Tories, though capital fellows as followers, when you want nobody to back you, are the faintest creatures in the world when you cry in your agony, ‘Come and help me!’ Oh! assuredly Wellington was infamously used at that time, especially by your traders in Radicalism, who howled at and hooted him; said he had every vice — was no general — was beaten at Waterloo — was a poltroon — moreover a poor illiterate creature, who could scarcely read or write; nay, a principal Radical paper said bodily he could not read, and devised an ingenious plan for teaching Wellington how to read. Now this was too bad; and the writer, being a lover of justice, frequently spoke up for Wellington, saying, that as for vice, he was not worse than his neighbours; that he was brave; that he won the fight at Waterloo, from a half-dead man, it is true, but that he did win it. Also, that he believed he had read ‘Rules for the Manual and Platoon Exercises’ to some purpose; moreover, that he was sure he could write, for that he the writer had once written to Wellington, and had received an answer from him; nay, the writer once went so far as to strike a blow for Wellington; for the last time he used his fists was upon a Radical sub-editor, who was mobbing Wellington in the street, from behind a rank of grimy fellows; but though the writer spoke up for Wellington to a certain extent when he was shamefully underrated, and once struck a blow for him when he was about being hustled, he is not going to join in the loathsome sycophantic nonsense which it has been the fashion to use with respect to Wellington these last twenty years. Now what have those years been to England? Why the years of ultra-gentility, everybody in England having gone gentility mad during the last twenty years, and no people more so than your pseudo-Radicals. Wellington was turned out, and your Whigs and Radicals got in, and then commenced the period of ultra-gentility in England. The Whigs and Radicals only hated Wellington as long as the patronage of the country was in his hands, none of which they were tolerably sure he would bestow on them; but no sooner did they get it into their own, than they forthwith became admirers of Wellington. And why? Because he was a duke, petted at Windsor and by foreign princes, and a very genteel personage. Formerly many of your Whigs and Radicals had scarcely a decent coat on their backs; but now the plunder of the country was at their disposal, and they had as good a chance of being genteel as any people. So they were willing to worship Wellington because he was very genteel, and could not keep the plunder of the country out of their hands. And Wellington has been worshipped, and prettily so, during the last fifteen or twenty years. He is now a noble fine-hearted creature; the greatest general the world ever produced; the bravest of men; and — and — mercy upon us! the greatest of military writers! Now the present writer will not join in such sycophancy. As he was not afraid to take the part of Wellington when he was scurvily used by all parties, and when it was dangerous to take his part, so he is not afraid to speak the naked truth about Wellington in these days, when it is dangerous to say anything about him but what is sycophantically laudatory. He said, in ‘32, that as to vice, Wellington was not worse than his neighbours; but he is not going to say, in ‘54, that Wellington was a noble-hearted fellow; for he believes that a more cold-hearted individual never existed. His conduct to Warner, the poor Vaudois, and Marshal Ney, showed that. He said, in ‘32, that he was a good general and a brave man; but he is not going, in ‘54, to say that he was the best general, or the bravest man the world ever saw. England has produced a better general — France two or three — both countries many braver men. The son of the Norfolk clergyman was a braver man; Marshal Ney was a braver man. Oh, that Battle of Copenhagen! Oh, that covering the retreat of the Grand Army! And though he said in ‘32 that he could write, he is not going to say in ‘54 that he is the best of all military writers. On the contrary, he does not hesitate to say that any Commentary of Julius Caesar, or any chapter in Justinus, more especially the one about the Parthians, is worth the ten volumes of Wellington’s Despatches; though he has no doubt that, by saying so, he shall especially rouse the indignation of a certain newspaper, at present one of the most genteel journals imaginable — with a slight tendency to Liberalism, it is true, but perfectly genteel — which is nevertheless the very one which, in ‘32, swore bodily that Wellington could neither read nor write, and devised an ingenious plan for teaching him how to read.

Now, after the above statement no one will venture to say, if the writer should be disposed to bear hard upon Radicals, that he would be influenced by a desire to pay court to princes, or to curry favour with Tories, or from being a blind admirer of the Duke of Wellington; but the writer is not going to declaim against Radicals, that is, real Republicans, or their principles; upon the whole, he is something of an admirer of both. The writer has always had as much admiration for everything that is real and honest as he has had contempt for the opposite. Now, real Republicanism is certainly a very fine thing, a much finer thing than Toryism, a system of common robbery, which is, nevertheless, far better than Whiggism 205 — a compound of petty larceny, popular instruction, and receiving of stolen goods. Yes, real Republicanism is certainly a very fine thing, and your real Radicals and Republicans are certainly very fine fellows, or rather were fine fellows, for the Lord only knows where to find them at the present day — the writer does not. If he did he would at any time go five miles to invite one of them to dinner, even supposing that he had to go to a workhouse in order to find the person he wished to invite. Amongst the real Radicals of England, those who flourished from the year ‘16 to ‘20, there were certainly extraordinary characters, men partially insane, perhaps, but honest and brave — they did not make a market of the principles which they professed, and never intended to do so; they believed in them, and were willing to risk their lives in endeavouring to carry them out. The writer wishes to speak in particular of two of these men, both of whom perished on the scaffold — their names were Thistlewood and Ings. 206 Thistlewood, the best known of them, was a brave soldier, and had served with distinction as an officer in the French service; he was one of the excellent swordsmen of Europe; had fought several duels in France, where it is no child’s play to fight a duel; but had never unsheathed his sword for single combat, but in defence of the feeble and insulted. He was kind and open-hearted, but of too great simplicity; he had once ten thousand pounds left him, all of which he lent to a friend, who disappeared and never returned him a penny. Ings was an uneducated man, of very low stature, but amazing strength and resolution; he was a kind husband and father, and though a humble butcher, the name he bore was one of the royal names of the heathen Anglo–Saxons. These two men, along with five others, were executed, and their heads hacked off, for levying war against George the Fourth; the whole seven dying in a manner which extorted cheers from the populace; the most of them uttering philosophical or patriotic sayings. Thistlewood, who was, perhaps, the most calm and collected of all, just before he was turned off, said: ‘We are now going to discover the great secret.’ Ings, the moment before he was choked, was singing ‘Scots wha ha’ wi’ Wallace bled.’ Now, there was no humbug about those men, nor about many more of the same time and of the same principles. They might be deluded about Republicanism, as Algernon Sidney was, and as Brutus was, but they were as honest and brave as either Brutus or Sidney, and as willing to die for their principles. But the Radicals who succeeded them were beings of a very different description; they jobbed and traded in Republicanism, and either parted with it, or at the present day are eager to part with it for a consideration. In order to get the Whigs into power, and themselves places, they brought the country by their inflammatory language to the verge of a revolution, and were the cause that many perished on the scaffold; by their incendiary harangues and newspaper articles they caused the Bristol conflagration, for which six poor creatures were executed; they encouraged the mob to pillage, pull down and burn, and then rushing into garrets looked on. Thistlewood tells the mob the Tower is a second Bastile; let it be pulled down. A mob tries to pull down the Tower; but Thistlewood is at the head of that mob; he is not peeping from a garret on Tower Hill like Gulliver at Lisbon. Thistlewood and Ings say to twenty ragged individuals, Liverpool and Castlereagh are two satellites of despotism; it would be highly desirable to put them out of the way. And a certain number of ragged individuals are surprised in a stable in Cato Street, making preparations to put Castlereagh and Liverpool out of the way, and are fired upon with muskets by Grenadiers, and are hacked at with cutlasses by Bow Street runners; but the twain who encouraged those ragged individuals to meet in Cato Street are not far off, they are not on the other side of the river, in the Borough, for example, in some garret or obscure cellar. The very first to confront the Guards and runners are Thistlewood and Ings; Thistlewood whips his long thin rapier through Smithers’ lungs, and Ings makes a dash at Fitzclarence with his butcher’s knife. Oh, there was something in those fellows! — honesty and courage! — but can as much be said for the inciters of the troubles of ‘32. No; they egged on poor ignorant mechanics and rustics, and got them hanged for pulling down and burning, whilst the highest pitch to which their own daring ever mounted was to mob Wellington as he passed in the streets.

Now, these people were humbugs, which Thistlewood and Ings were not. They raved and foamed against kings, queens, Wellington, the aristocracy, and what not, till they had got the Whigs into power, with whom they were in secret alliance, and with whom they afterwards openly joined in a system of robbery and corruption, more flagitious than the old Tory one, because there was more cant about it; for themselves they got consulships, commissionerships, and in some instances governments; for their sons clerkships in public offices; and there you may see those sons with the never-failing badge of the low scoundrel-puppy, the gilt chain at the waistcoat pocket; and there you may hear and see them using the languishing tones, and employing the airs and graces which wenches use and employ who, without being in the family way, wish to make their keepers believe that they are in the family way. Assuredly great is the cleverness of your Radicals of ‘32, in providing for themselves and their families. Yet, clever as they are, there is one thing they cannot do — they get governments for themselves, commissionerships for their brothers, clerkships for their sons, but there is one thing beyond their craft — they cannot get husbands for their daughters, who, too ugly for marriage, and with their heads filled with the nonsense they have imbibed from gentility novels, go over from Socinus to the Pope, becoming sisters in fusty convents, or having heard a few sermons in Mr. Platitude’s ‘chapelle,’ seek for admission at the establishment of mother S—— who, after employing them for a time in various menial offices, and making them pluck off their eyebrows hair by hair, generally dismisses them on the plea of sluttishness; whereupon they return to their papas to eat the bread of the country, with the comfortable prospect of eating it still in the shape of a pension after their sires are dead. Papa (ex uno disce omnes) living as quietly as he can; not exactly enviably it is true, being now and then seen to cast an uneasy and furtive glance behind, even as an animal is wont who has lost by some mischance a very sightly appendage; as quietly however as he can, and as dignifiedly, a great admirer of every genteel thing and genteel personage, the Duke in particular, whose ‘Despatches,’ bound in red morocco, you will find on his table. A disliker of coarse expressions and extremes of every kind, with a perfect horror for revolutions and attempts to revolutionize, exclaiming now and then, as a shriek escapes from whipped and bleeding Hungary, a groan from gasping Poland, and a half-stifled curse from down-trodden but scowling Italy, ‘Confound the revolutionary canaille, why can’t it be quiet!’ In a word, putting one in mind of the parvenu in the ‘Walpurgis Nacht.’ The writer is no admirer of Gothe, but the idea of that parvenu was certainly a good one. Yes, putting one in mind of the individual who says:

‘Wir waren wahrlich auch nicht dumm,

   Und thaten oft was wir nicht sollten;

Doch jetzo kehrt sich alles um und um,

   Und eben da wir’s fest erhalten wollten.’

(‘We were no fools, as every one discern’d,

   And stopp’d at nought our projects in fulfilling;

But now the world seems topsy-turvy turn’d,

   To keep it quiet just when we were willing.’)

Now, this class of individuals entertain a mortal hatred for ‘Lavengro’ and its writer, and never lose an opportunity of vituperating both. It is true that such hatred is by no means surprising. There is certainly a great deal of difference between Lavengro and their own sons; the one thinking of independence and philology, whilst he is clinking away at kettles, and hammering horse-shoes in dingles; the others stuck up at public offices with gilt chains at their waistcoat-pockets, and giving themselves the airs and graces of females of a certain description. And there certainly is a great deal of difference between the author of ‘Lavengro’ and themselves — he retaining his principles and his brush; they with scarlet breeches on, it is true, but without their republicanism and their tails. Oh, the writer can well afford to be vituperated by your pseudo-Radicals of ‘32!

Some time ago the writer was set upon by an old Radical 207 and his wife; but the matter is too rich not to require a chapter to itself.

205 As the present work will come out in the midst of a vehement political contest, people may be led to suppose that the above was written expressly for the time. The writer, therefore, begs to state that it was written in the year 1854. He cannot help adding that he is neither Whig, Tory, nor Radical, and cares not a straw what party governs England, provided it is governed well. But he has no hopes of good government from the Whigs. It is true that amongst them there is one very great man, Lord Palmerston, who is indeed the sword and buckler, the chariots and the horses of the party; but it is impossible for his lordship to govern well with such colleagues as he has — colleagues which have been forced upon him by family influence, and who are continually pestering him into measures anything but conducive to the country’s honour and interest. If Palmerston would govern well, he must get rid of them; but from that step, with all his courage and all his greatness, he will shrink. Yet how proper and easy a step it would be! He could easily get better, but scarcely worse, associates. They appear to have one object in view, and only one — jobbery. It was chiefly owing to a most flagitious piece of jobbery, which one of his lordship’s principal colleagues sanctioned and promoted, that his lordship experienced his late parliamentary disasters (G. B.).

206 The Cato Street conspirators, a reminiscence of Borrow’s ‘Celebrated Trials.’

207 Sir John Bowring.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:18