The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Appendix III

On Foreign Nonsense

With respect to the third point, various lessons which the book reads to the nation at large, and which it would be well for the nation to ponder and profit by.

There are many species of nonsense to which the nation is much addicted, and of which the perusal of Lavengro ought to give them a wholesome shame. First of all, with respect to the foreign nonsense so prevalent now in England. The hero is a scholar, but, though possessed of a great many tongues, he affects to be neither Frenchman, nor German, nor this or that foreigner; he is one who loves his country, and the language and literature of his country, and speaks up for each and all when there is occasion to do so. Now, what is the case with nine out of ten amongst those of the English who study foreign languages? No sooner have they picked up a smattering of this or that speech than they begin to abuse their own country and everything connected with it, more especially its language. This is particularly the case with those who call themselves German students. It is said, and the writer believes with truth, that when a woman falls in love with a particularly ugly fellow, she squeezes him with ten times more zest than she would a handsome one if captivated by him. So it is with these German students; no sooner have they taken German in hand than there is nothing like German. Oh, the dear delightful German! How proud I am that it is now my own, and that its divine literature is within my reach! And all this whilst mumbling the most uncouth speech, and crunching the most crabbed literature in Europe. The writer is not an exclusive admirer of everything English; he does not advise his country people never to go abroad, never to study foreign languages, and he does not wish to persuade them that there is nothing beautiful or valuable in foreign literature; he only wishes that they would not make themselves fools with respect to foreign people, foreign languages or reading; that if they chance to have been in Spain, and have picked up a little Spanish, they would not affect the arts of Spaniards; that, if males they would not make Tom-fools of themselves by sticking cigars into their mouths, dressing themselves in zamarras, and saying ‘Carajo!’ 191 and, if females, that they would not make zanies of themselves by sticking cigars into their mouths, flinging mantillas over their heads, and by saying, ‘Carai,’ and perhaps ‘Carajo’ too; or if they have been in France or Italy, and have picked up a little French or Italian, they would not affect to be French or Italians; and particularly, after having been a month or two in Germany, or picked up a little German in England, they would not make themselves foolish about everything German, as the Anglo–German in the book does — a real character, the founder of the Anglo–German school in England, and the cleverest Englishman who ever talked or wrote encomiastic nonsense about Germany and the Germans. Of all infatuations connected with what is foreign, the infatuation about everything that is German, to a certain extent prevalent in England, is assuredly the most ridiculous. One can find something like a palliation for people making themselves somewhat foolish about particular languages, literatures, and people. The Spanish certainly is a noble language, and there is something wild and captivating in the Spanish character, and its literature contains the grand book of the world. French is a manly language. The French are the most martial people in the world; and French literature is admirable in many respects. Italian is a sweet language, and of beautiful simplicity; its literature, perhaps, the first in the world. The Italians! — wonderful men have sprung up in Italy. Italy is not merely famous for painters, poets, musicians, singers, and linguists — the greatest linguist the world ever saw, the late Cardinal Mezzofanti, was an Italian; but it is celebrated for men — men emphatically speaking: Columbus was in Italian, Alexander Farnese was an Italian, so was the mightiest of the mighty, Napoleon Bonaparte. But the German language, German literature, and the Germans! The writer has already stated his opinion with respect to German; he does not speak from ignorance or prejudice; he has heard German spoken, and many other languages. German literature! he does not speak from ignorance; he has read that and many a literature, and he repeats — however, he acknowledges that there is one fine poem in the German language; that poem is the ‘Oberon’— a poem, by-the-by, ignored by the Germans — a speaking fact — and, of course, by the Anglo–Germanists. The Germans! he has been amongst them, and amongst many other nations, and confesses that his opinion of the Germans, as men, is a very low one. Germany, it is true, has produced one very great man, the monk who fought the Pope, and nearly knocked him down; but this man his countrymen — a telling fact — affect to despise, and, of course, the Anglo–Germanists. The father of Anglo–Germanism was very fond of inveighing against Luther.

The madness, or rather foolery, of the English for foreign customs, dresses, and languages, is not an affair of today, or yesterday — it is of very ancient date, and was very properly exposed nearly three centuries ago by one Andrew Borde, who, under the picture of a ‘Naked man, with a pair of shears in one hand and a roll of cloth in the other,’ 192 inserted the following lines along with others:

‘I am an Englishman, and naked I stand here,

Musing in my mind what garment I shall weare;

For now I will weare this, and now I will weare that,

Now I will weare, I cannot tell what.

All new fashions be pleasant to mee,

I will have them, whether I thrive or thee;

What do I care if all the world me fail?

I will have a garment reach to my taille;

Then am I a minion, for I wear the new guise.

The next yeare after I hope to be wise,

Not only in wearing my gorgeous array,

For I will go to learning a whole summer’s day;

I will learn Latine, Hebrew, Greek, and French,

And I will learn Dutch, sitting on my bench.

I had no peere if to myself I were true,

Because I am not so, divers times do I rue.

Yet I lacke nothing, I have all things at will

If I were wise and would hold myself still,

And meddle with no matters but to me pertaining,

But ever to be true to God and my king.

But I have such matters rowling in my pate,

That I will and do . . . I cannot tell what,’ etc.

191 An obscene oath. (G.B.)

192 See ‘Muses’ Library,’ pp. 86, 87. London, 1738 (G. B.). Reprinted from the original edition in the Early English Text Society (1870).

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