The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Appendix VII

Same Subject Continued

Now what could have induced Scott to write novels tending to make people Papists and Jacobites, and in love with arbitrary power? Did he think that Christianity was a gaudy mummery? He did not, he could not, for he had read the Bible; yet was he fond of gaudy mummeries, fond of talking about them. Did he believe that the Stuarts were a good family, and fit to govern a country like Britain? He knew that they were a vicious, worthless crew, and that Britain was a degraded country as long as they swayed the sceptre; but for those facts he cared nothing, they governed in a way which he liked, for he had an abstract love of despotism, and an abhorrence of everything savouring of freedom and the rights of man in general. His favourite political picture was a joking, profligate, careless king, nominally absolute; the heads of great houses paying court to, but in reality governing, that king, whilst revelling with him on the plunder of a nation, and a set of crouching, grovelling vassals (the literal meaning of vassal is a wretch), who, after allowing themselves to be horsewhipped, would take a bone if flung to them, and be grateful; so that in love with mummery, though he knew what Christianity was, no wonder he admired such a Church as that of Rome, and that which Laud set up; and by nature formed to be the holder of the candle to ancient worm-eaten and profligate families, no wonder that all his sympathies were with the Stuarts and their dissipated, insolent party, and all his hatred directed against those who endeavoured to check them in their proceedings, and to raise the generality of mankind something above a state of vassalage that is wretchedness. Those who were born great, were, if he could have had his will, always to remain great, however worthless their characters. Those who were born low, were always to remain so, however great their talents; though if that rule were carried out, where would he have been himself?

In the book which he called the ‘History of Napoleon Bonaparte,’ in which he plays the sycophant to all the legitimate crowned heads in Europe, whatever their crimes, vices, or miserable imbecilities, he, in his abhorrence of everything low which by its own vigour makes itself illustrious, calls Murat of the sabre the son of a pastry-cook, of a Marseilleise pastry-cook. It is a pity that people who give themselves hoity-toity airs — and the Scotch in general are wonderfully addicted to giving themselves hoity-toity airs, and checking people better than themselves with their birth 199 and their country — it is a great pity that such people do not look at home — son of a pastry-cook, of a Marseilleise pastry-cook! Well, and what was Scott himself? Why, son of a pettifogger, of an Edinburgh pettifogger. ‘Oh, but Scott was descended from the old cow-stealers of Buccleuch, and therefore —’ Descended from old cow-stealers, was he? Well, had he had nothing to boast of beyond such a pedigree, he would have lived and died the son of a pettifogger and been forgotten, and deservedly so; but he possessed talents, and by his talents rose like Murat, and like him will be remembered for his talents alone, and deservedly so. ‘Yes, but Murat was still the son of a pastry-cook, and though he was certainly good at the sabre, and cut his way to a throne, still —’ Lord! what fools there are in the world; but as no one can be thought anything of in this world without a pedigree, the writer will now give a pedigree for Murat, of a very different character from the cow-stealing one of Scott, but such a one as the proudest he might not disdain to claim. Scott was descended from the old cow-stealers of Buccleuch — was he? Good! and Murat was descended from the old Moors of Spain, from the Abencerages (sons of the saddle) of Granada. The name Murat is Arabic, and is the same as Murad (Le Desire, or the wished-for one). Scott, in his genteel life of Bonaparte, says that ‘when Murat was in Egypt the similarity between the name of the celebrated Mameluke Mourad and that of Bonaparte’s Meilleur Sabreur was remarked, and became the subject of jest amongst the comrades of the gallant Frenchman.’ But the writer of the novel of Bonaparte did not know that the names were one and the same. Now, which was the best pedigree, that of the son of the pastry-cook, or that of the son of the pettifogger? Which was the best blood? Let us observe the workings of the two bloods. He who had the blood of the ‘sons of the saddle’ in him became the wonderful cavalier of the most wonderful host that ever went forth to conquest, won for himself a crown, and died the death of a soldier, leaving behind him a son, only inferior to himself in strength, in prowess, and in horsemanship. The descendant of the cow-stealer became a poet, a novel writer, the panegyrist of great folks and genteel people; became insolvent because, though an author, he deemed it ungenteel to be mixed up with the business part of authorship; died paralytic and broken-hearted because he could no longer give entertainments to great folks; leaving behind him, amongst other children, who were never heard of, a son, who, through his father’s interest, had become lieutenant-colonel in a genteel cavalry regiment. A son who was ashamed of his father because his father was an author — a son who — paugh! — why ask which was the best blood?

So, owing to his rage for gentility, Scott must needs become the apologist of the Stuarts and their party; but God made this man pay dearly for taking the part of the wicked against the good; for lauding up to the skies miscreants and robbers, and calumniating the noble spirits of Britain, the salt of England, and his own country. As God had driven the Stuarts from their throne, and their followers from their estates, making them vagabonds and beggars on the face of the earth, taking from them all they cared for, so did that same God, who knows perfectly well how and where to strike, deprive the apologist of that wretched crew of all that rendered life pleasant in his eyes, the lack of which paralyzed him in body and mind, rendered him pitiable to others, loathsome to himself — so much so that he once said, ‘Where is the beggar who would change place with me, notwithstanding all my fame?’ Ah! God knows perfectly well how to strike. He permitted him to retain all his literary fame to the very last — his literary fame for which he cared nothing; but what became of the sweetnesses of life, his fine house, his grand company, and his entertainments? The grand house ceased to be his; he was only permitted to live in it on sufferance, and whatever grandeur it might still retain to soon became as desolate a looking house as any misanthrope could wish to see. Where were the grand entertainments and the grand company? There are no grand entertainments where there is no money; no lords and ladies where there are no entertainments — and there lay the poor lodger in the desolate house, groaning on a bed no longer his, smitten by the hand of God in the part where he was most vulnerable. Of what use telling such a man to take comfort, for he had written the ‘Minstrel’ and ‘Rob Roy’— telling him to think of his literary fame? Literary fame, indeed! he wanted back his lost gentility:

   ‘Retain my altar,

I care nothing for it — but oh! touch not my beard.’

PORNY’S War of the Gods.

He dies, his children die too, and then comes the crowning judgment of God on what remained of his race, and the house which he had built. He was not a Papist himself, nor did he wish anyone belonging to him to be Popish, for he had read enough of the Bible to know that no one can be saved through Popery, yet had he a sneaking affection for it, and would at all times, in an underhand manner, give it a good word both in writing and discourse, because it was a gaudy kind of worship, and ignorance and vassalage prevailed so long as it flourished; but he certainly did not wish any of his people to become Papists, nor the house which he had built to become a Popish house, though the very name he gave it savoured of Popery. But Popery becomes fashionable through his novels and poems — the only one that remains of his race, a female grandchild, marries a person who, following the fashion, becomes a Papist, and makes her a Papist too. Money abounds with the husband who buys the house, and then the house becomes the rankest Popish house in Britain. A superstitious person might almost imagine that one of the old Scottish Covenanters, whilst the grand house was being built from the profits resulting from the sale of writings favouring Popery and persecution, and calumniatory of Scotland’s saints and martyrs, had risen from the grave, and banned Scott, his race, and his house, by reading a certain psalm.

In saying what he has said about Scott the author has not been influenced by any feeling of malice or ill-will, but simply by a regard for truth, and a desire to point out to his countrymen the harm which has resulted from the perusal of his works; he is not one of those who would depreciate the talents of Scott, he admires his talents, both as a prose writer and a poet. As a poet especially he admires him, and believes him to have been by far the greatest, with perhaps the exception of Mickiewicz, who only wrote for unfortunate Poland, that Europe has given birth to during the last hundred years. As a prose writer he admires him less, it is true, but his admiration for him in that capacity is very high, and he only laments that he prostituted his talents to the cause of the Stuarts and gentility. What book of fiction of the present century can you read twice, with the exception of ‘Waverley’ and ‘Rob Roy?’ There is ‘Pelham,’ it is true, which the writer of these lines has seen a Jewess reading in the steppe of Debreczin, and which a young Prussian Baron, a great traveller, whom he met at Constantinople in ‘44, told him he always carried in his valise. And in conclusion he will say, in order to show the opinion which he entertains of the power of Scott as a writer, that he did for the spectre of the wretched Pretender what all the kings of Europe could not do for his body — placed it on the throne of these realms, and for Popery what Popes and Cardinals strove in vain to do for three centuries — brought back its mummeries and nonsense into the temples of the British Isles.

Scott during his lifetime had a crowd of imitators, who, whether they wrote history so called, poetry so called, or novels — nobody would call a book a novel if he could call it anything else — wrote Charlie o’er the water nonsense, and now that he has been dead a quarter of a century, there are others daily springing up who are striving to imitate Scott in his Charlie o’er the water nonsense — for nonsense it is, even when flowing from his pen. They, too, must write Jacobite histories, Jacobite songs, and Jacobite novels, and much the same figure as the scoundrel menials in the comedy cut when personating their masters, and retailing their masters’ conversation do they cut as Walter Scotts. In their histories, they too talk about the Prince and Glenfinnan, and the pibroch; and in their songs about ‘Claverse’ and ‘Bonny Dundee.’ But though they may be Scots, they are not Walter Scotts. But it is perhaps chiefly in the novel that you see the veritable hog in armour; the time of the novel is of course the ‘15 or ‘45; the hero a Jacobite, and connected with one or other of the enterprises of those periods; and the author, to show how unprejudiced he is, and what original views he takes of subjects, must needs speak up for Popery, whenever he has occasion to mention it; though, with all his originality, when he brings his hero and the vagabonds with which he is concerned before a barricadoed house, belonging to the Whigs, he can make them get into it by no other method than that which Scott makes his rioters employ to get into the Tolbooth, burning down the door.

To express the more than utter foolishness of this latter Charlie o’er the water nonsense, whether in rhyme or prose, there is but one word, and that word a Scotch word. Scotch, the sorriest of jargons, compared with which even Roth Welsch is dignified and expressive, has yet one word to express what would be inexpressible by any word or combination of words in any language, or in any other jargon in the world; and very properly; for as the nonsense is properly Scotch, so should the word be Scotch which expresses it; that word is ‘fushionless,’ pronounced fooshionless; and when the writer has called the nonsense fooshionless — and he does call it fooshionless — he has nothing more to say, but leaves the nonsense to its fate.

199 The writer has been checked in print by the Scotch with being a Norfolk man. Surely, surely, these latter times have not been exactly the ones in which it was expedient for Scotchmen to check the children of any county in England with the place of their birth, more especially those who have had the honour of being born in Norfolk — times in which British fleets, commanded by Scotchmen, have returned laden with anything but laurels from foreign shores. It would have been well for Britain had she had the old Norfolk man to dispatch to the Baltic or the Black Sea, lately, instead of Scotch admirals. (G. B.)

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