The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 4

The Proposal — The Scotch Novel — Latitude — Miracles — Pestilent Heretics — Old Fraser — Wonderful Texts — No Armenian

The man in black having helped himself to some more of his favourite beverage and tasted it, I thus addressed him: ‘The evening is getting rather advanced, and I can see that this lady,’ pointing to Belle, ‘is anxious for her tea, which she prefers to take cosily and comfortably with me in the dingle. The place, it is true, is as free to you as to ourselves, nevertheless, as we are located here by necessity, whilst you merely come as a visitor, I must take the liberty of telling you that we shall be glad to be alone as soon as you have said what you have to say, and have finished the glass of refreshment at present in your hand. I think you said some time ago that one of your motives for coming hither was to induce me to enlist under the banner of Rome. I wish to know whether that was really the case.’

‘Decidedly so,’ said the man in black; ‘I come here principally in the hope of enlisting you in our regiment, in which I have no doubt you could do us excellent service.’

‘Would you enlist my companion as well?’ I demanded.

‘We should be only too proud to have her among us, whether she comes with you or alone,’ said the man in black, with a polite bow to Belle.

‘Before we give you an answer,’ I replied, ‘I would fain know more about you; perhaps you will declare your name?’

‘That I will never do,’ said the man in black; ‘no one in England knows it but myself, and I will not declare it, even in a dingle; as for the rest, Sono un Prete Cattolico Appostolico — that is all that many a one of us can say for himself, and it assuredly means a great deal.’

‘We will now proceed to business,’ said I. ‘You must be aware that we English are generally considered a self-interested people.’

‘And with considerable justice,’ said the man in black, drinking. ‘Well, you are a person of acute perception, and I will presently make it evident to you that it would be to your interest to join with us. You are at present, evidently, in very needy circumstances, and are lost, not only to yourself, but the world; but should you enlist with us, I could find you an occupation not only agreeable, but one in which your talents would have free scope. I would introduce you in the various grand houses here in England, to which I have myself admission, as a surprising young gentleman of infinite learning, who by dint of study has discovered that the Roman is the only true faith. I tell you confidently that our popish females would make a saint, nay a God of you; they are fools enough for anything. There is one person in particular with whom I should wish to make you acquainted, in the hope that you would be able to help me to perform good service to the holy see. He is a gouty old fellow, of some learning, residing in an old hall near the great western seaport, and is one of the very few amongst the English Catholics possessing a grain of sense. I think you could help us to govern him, for he is not unfrequently disposed to be restive, asks us strange questions — occasionally threatens us with his crutch; and behaves so that we are often afraid that we shall lose him, or rather, his property, which he has bequeathed to us, and which is enormous. I am sure that you could help us to deal with him; sometimes with your humour, sometimes with your learning, and perhaps occasionally with your fists.’

‘And in what manner would you provide for my companion?’ said I.

‘We would place her at once,’ said the man in black, ‘in the house of two highly-respectable Catholic ladies in this neighbourhood, where she would be treated with every care and consideration till her conversion should be accomplished in a regular manner; we would then remove her to a female monastic establishment, where, after undergoing a year’s probation, during which time she would be instructed in every elegant accomplishment, she should take the veil. Her advancement would speedily follow, for, with such a face and figure, she would make a capital lady abbess, especially in Italy, to which country she would probably be sent; ladies of her hair and complexion — to say nothing of her height — being a curiosity in the south. With a little care and management she could soon obtain a vast reputation for sanctity; and who knows but after her death she might become a glorified saint — he! he! Sister Maria Theresa, for that is the name I propose you should bear. Holy Mother Maria Theresa — glorified and celestial saint, I have the honour of drinking to your health,’ and the man in black drank.

‘Well, Belle,’ said I, ‘what have you to say to the gentleman’s proposal?’

‘That if he goes on in this way I will break his glass against his mouth.’

‘You have heard the lady’s answer,’ said I.

‘I have,’ said the man in black, ‘and shall not press the matter. I can’t help, however, repeating that she would make a capital lady abbess: she would keep the nuns in order, I warrant her; no easy matter! Break the glass against my mouth — he! he! How she would send the holy utensils flying at the nuns’ heads occasionally, and just the person to wring the nose of Satan should he venture to appear one night in her cell in the shape of a handsome black man. No offence, madam, no offence, pray retain your seat,’ said he, observing that Belle had started up; ‘I mean no offence. Well, if you will not consent to be an abbess, perhaps you will consent to follow this young Zingaro, and to co-operate with him and us. I am a priest, madam, and can join you both in an instant, connubio stabili, as I suppose the knot has not been tied already.’

‘Hold your mumping gibberish,’ said Belle, ‘and leave the dingle this moment, for though ‘t is free to every one, you have no right to insult me in it.’

‘Pray be pacified,’ said I to Belle, getting up, and placing myself between her and the man in black, ‘he will presently leave, take my word for it — there, sit down again,’ said I, as I led her to her seat; then, resuming my own, I said to the man in black: ‘I advise you to leave the dingle as soon as possible.’

‘I should wish to have your answer to my proposal first,’ said he.

‘Well, then, here you shall have it: I will not entertain your proposal; I detest your schemes: they are both wicked and foolish.’

‘Wicked,’ said the man in black, ‘have they not — he! he! — the furtherance of religion in view?’

‘A religion,’ said I, ‘in which you yourself do not believe, and which you contemn.’

‘Whether I believe in it or not,’ said the man in black, ‘it is adapted for the generality of the human race; so I will forward it, and advise you to do the same. It was nearly extirpated in these regions, but it is springing up again, owing to circumstances. Radicalism is a good friend to us; all the liberals laud up our system out of hatred to the Established Church, though our system is ten times less liberal than the Church of England. Some of them have really come over to us. I myself confess a baronet who presided over the first radical meeting ever held in England — he was an atheist when he came over to us, in the hope of mortifying his own Church — but he is now — ho! ho! — a real Catholic devotee — quite afraid of my threats; I make him frequently scourge himself before me. Well, Radicalism does us good service, especially amongst the lower classes, for Radicalism chiefly flourishes amongst them; for though a baronet or two may be found amongst the radicals, and perhaps as many lords — fellows who have been discarded by their own order for clownishness, or something they have done — it incontestably flourishes best among the lower orders. Then the love of what is foreign is a great friend to us; this love is chiefly confined to the middle and upper classes. Some admire the French, and imitate them; others must needs be Spaniards, dress themselves up in a zamarra, stick a cigar in their mouths, and say, “Carajo.” Others would pass for Germans; he! he! the idea of any one wishing to pass for a German! but what has done us more service than anything else in these regions — I mean amidst the middle classes — has been the novel, the Scotch novel. The good folks, since they have read the novels, have become Jacobites; and, because all the Jacobs were Papists, the good folks must become Papists also, or, at least, papistically inclined. The very Scotch Presbyterians, since they have read the novels, are become all but Papists; I speak advisedly, having lately been amongst them. There’s a trumpery bit of a half papist sect, called the Scotch Episcopalian Church, which lay dormant and nearly forgotten for upwards of a hundred years, which has of late got wonderfully into fashion in Scotland, because, forsooth, some of the long-haired gentry of the novels were said to belong to it, such as Montrose and Dundee; and to this the Presbyterians are going over in throngs, traducing and vilifying their own forefathers, or denying them altogether, and calling themselves descendants of — ho! ho! ho! — Scottish Cavaliers!!! I have heard them myself repeating snatches of Jacobite ditties about “Bonnie Dundee,” and —

‘“Come, fill up my cup, and fill up my can,

And saddle my horse, and call up my man.”

There’s stuff for you! Not that I object to the first part of the ditty. It is natural enough that a Scotchman should cry, “Come, fill up my cup!” more especially if he’s drinking at another person’s expense — all Scotchmen being fond of liquor at free cost: but “Saddle his horse!!!”— for what purpose I would ask? Where is the use of saddling a horse, unless you can ride him? and where was there ever a Scotchman who could ride?’

‘Of course you have not a drop of Scotch blood in your veins,’ said I, ‘otherwise you would never have uttered that last sentence.’

‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ said the man in black; ‘you know little of Popery if you imagine that it cannot extinguish love of country, even in a Scotchman. A thorough-going Papist — and who more thorough-going than myself — cares nothing for his country; and why should he? he belongs to a system, and not to a country.’

‘One thing,’ said I, ‘connected with you, I cannot understand; you call yourself a thorough-going Papist, yet are continually saying the most pungent things against Popery, and turning to unbounded ridicule those who show any inclination to embrace it.’

‘Rome is a very sensible old body,’ said the man in black, ‘and little cares what her children say, provided they do her bidding. She knows several things, and amongst others, that no servants work so hard and faithfully as those who curse their masters at every stroke they do. She was not fool enough to be angry with the Miquelets of Alba, who renounced her, and called her “puta” all the time they were cutting the throats of the Netherlanders. Now, if she allowed her faithful soldiers the latitude of renouncing her, and calling her “puta” in the market-place, think not she is so unreasonable as to object to her faithful priests occasionally calling her “puta” in the dingle.’

‘But,’ said I, ‘suppose some one were to tell the world some of the disorderly things which her priests say in the dingle?’

‘He would have the fate of Cassandra,’ said the man in black; ‘no one would believe him — yes, the priests would: but they would make no sign of belief. They believe in the Alcoran des Cordeliers 37 — that is, those who have read it; but they make no sign.’

‘A pretty system,’ said I, ‘which extinguishes love of country and of everything noble, and brings the minds of its ministers to a parity with those of devils, who delight in nothing but mischief.’

‘The system,’ said the man in black, ‘is a grand one, with unbounded vitality. Compare it with your Protestantism, and you will see the difference. Popery is ever at work, whilst Protestantism is supine. A pretty Church, indeed, the Protestant! Why it can’t even work a miracle.’

‘Can your Church work miracles?’ I demanded.

‘That was the very question,’ said the man in black, ‘which the ancient British clergy asked of Austin Monk, after they had been fools enough to acknowledge their own inability. “We don’t pretend to work miracles; do you?” “Oh! dear me, yes,” said Austin; “we find no difficulty in the matter. We can raise the dead, we can make the blind see; and to convince you, I will give sight to the blind. Here is this blind Saxon, whom you cannot cure, but on whose eyes I will manifest my power, in order to show the difference between the true and the false Church;” and forthwith, with the assistance of a handkerchief and a little hot water, he opened the eyes of the barbarian. So we manage matters! A pretty Church, that old British Church, which could not work miracles — quite as helpless as the modern one. The fools! was birdlime so scarce a thing amongst them? — and were the properties of warm water so unknown to them, that they could not close a pair of eyes and open them?’

‘It’s a pity,’ said I, ‘that the British clergy at that interview with Austin, did not bring forward a blind Welshman, and ask the monk to operate upon him.’

‘Clearly,’ said the man in black; ‘that’s what they ought to have done; but they were fools without a single resource.’ Here he took a sip at his glass.

‘But they did not believe in the miracle?’ said I.

‘And what did their not believing avail them?’ said the man in black. ‘Austin remained master of the field, and they went away holding their heads down, and muttering to themselves. What a fine subject for a painting would be Austin’s opening the eyes of the Saxon barbarian, and the discomfiture of the British clergy! I wonder it has not been painted! — he! he!’

‘I suppose your Church still performs miracles occasionally?’ said I.

‘It does,’ said the man in black. ‘The Rev. —— has lately been performing miracles in Ireland, destroying devils that had got possession of people; he has been eminently successful. In two instances he not only destroyed the devils, but the lives of the people possessed — he! he! Oh! there is so much energy in our system; we are always at work, whilst Protestantism is supine.’

‘You must not imagine,’ said I, ‘that all Protestants are supine; some of them appear to be filled with unbounded zeal. They deal, it is true, not in lying miracles, but they propagate God’s Word. I remember only a few months ago, having occasion for a Bible, going to an establishment, 38 the object of which was to send Bibles all over the world. The supporters of that establishment could have no self-interested views; for I was supplied by them with a noble-sized Bible at a price so small as to preclude the idea that it could bring any profit to the vendors.’

The countenance of the man in black slightly fell. ‘I know the people to whom you allude,’ said he; ‘indeed, unknown to them, I have frequently been to see them, and observed their ways. I tell you frankly that there is not a set of people in this kingdom who have caused our Church so much trouble and uneasiness. I should rather say that they alone cause us any; for as for the rest, what with their drowsiness, their plethora, their folly, and their vanity, they are doing us anything but mischief. These fellows are a pestilent set of heretics, whom we would gladly see burnt; they are, with the most untiring perseverance, and in spite of divers minatory declarations of the holy father, scattering their books abroad through all Europe, and have caused many people in Catholic countries to think that hitherto their priesthood have endeavoured, as much as possible, to keep them blinded. There is one fellow amongst them for whom we entertain a particular aversion; a big, burly parson, with the face of a lion, the voice of a buffalo, and a fist like a sledge-hammer. The last time I was there, I observed that his eye was upon me, and I did not like the glance he gave me at all; I observed him clench his fist, and I took my departure as fast as I conveniently could. Whether he suspected who I was, I know not; but I did not like his look at all, and do not intend to go again.’

‘Well, then,’ said I, ‘you confess that you have redoubtable enemies to your plans in these regions, and that even amongst the ecclesiastics there are some widely different from those of the plethoric and Platitude schools.’

‘It is but too true,’ said the man in black; ‘and if the rest of your Church were like them we should quickly bid adieu to all hope of converting these regions, but we are thankful to be able to say that such folks are not numerous; there are, moreover, causes at work quite sufficient to undermine even their zeal. Their sons return at the vacations, from Oxford and Cambridge, puppies, full of the nonsense which they have imbibed from Platitude professors; and this nonsense they retail at home, where it fails not to make some impression, whilst the daughters scream — I beg their pardons — warble about Scotland’s Montrose, and Bonny Dundee, and all the Jacobs; so we have no doubt that their papas’ zeal about the propagation of such a vulgar book as the Bible will in a very little time be terribly diminished. Old Rome will win, so you had better join her.’

And the man in black drained the last drop in his glass.

‘Never,’ said I, ‘will I become the slave of Rome.’

‘She will allow you latitude,’ said the man in black; ‘do but serve her, and she will allow you to call her “puta” at a decent time and place, her Popes occasionally call her “puta.” A Pope has been known to start from his bed at midnight and rush out into the corridor, and call out “puta” three times in a voice which pierced the Vatican; that Pope was —’

‘Alexander the Sixth, I dare say,’ said I; ‘the greatest monster that ever existed, though the worthiest head which the popish system ever had — so his conscience was not always still. I thought it had been seared with a brand of iron.’

‘I did not allude to him, but to a much more modern Pope,’ said the man in black; ‘it is true he brought the word, which is Spanish, from Spain, his native country, to Rome. He was very fond of calling the Church by that name, and other Popes have taken it up. She will allow you to call her by it if you belong to her.’

‘I shall call her so,’ said I, ‘without belonging to her, or asking her permission.’

‘She will allow you to treat her as such if you belong to her,’ said the man in black; ‘there is a chapel in Rome where there is a wondrously fair statue — the son of a cardinal — I mean his nephew — once — Well, she did not cut off his head, but slightly boxed his cheek and bade him go.’

‘I have read all about that in “Keysler’s Travels,”’ said I; ‘do you tell her that I would not touch her with a pair of tongs, unless to seize her nose.’

‘She is fond of lucre,’ said the man in black; ‘but does not grudge a faithful priest a little private perquisite,’ and he took out a very handsome gold repeater.

‘Are you not afraid,’ said I, ‘to flash that watch before the eyes of a poor tinker in a dingle?’

‘Not before the eyes of one like you,’ said the man in black.

‘It is getting late,’ said I; ‘I care not for perquisites.’

‘So you will not join us?’ said the man in black.

‘You have had my answer,’ said I.

‘If I belong to Rome,’ said the man in black, ‘why should not you?’

‘I may be a poor tinker,’ said I, ‘but I may never have undergone what you have. You remember, perhaps, the fable of the fox who had lost his tail?’

The man in black winced, but almost immediately recovering himself, he said, ‘Well, we can do without you, we are sure of winning.’

‘It is not the part of wise people,’ said I, ‘to make sure of the battle before it is fought; there’s the landlord of the public-house, who made sure that his cocks would win, yet the cocks lost the main, and the landlord is little better than a bankrupt.’

‘People very different from the landlord,’ said the man in black, ‘both in intellect and station, think we shall surely win; there are clever machinators among us who have no doubt of our success.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I will set the landlord aside, and will adduce one who was in every point a very different person from the landlord, both in understanding and station, he was very fond of laying schemes, and, indeed, many of them turned out successful. His last and darling one, however, miscarried, notwithstanding that by his calculations he had persuaded himself that there was no possibility of its failing — the person that I allude to was old Fraser —’

‘Who?’ said the man in black, giving a start, and letting his glass fall.

‘Old Fraser of Lovat,’ said I, ‘the prince of all conspirators and machinators; he made sure of placing the Pretender on the throne of these realms. “I can bring into the field so many men,” said he; “my son-inlaw, Cluny, so many, and likewise my cousin, and my good friend;” then speaking of those on whom the government reckoned for support he would say, “So and so are lukewarm, this person is ruled by his wife, who is with us, the clergy are anything but hostile to us, and as for the soldiers and sailors, half are disaffected to King George, and the rest cowards.” Yet, when things came to a trial, this person whom he had calculated upon to join the Pretender did not stir from his home, another joined the hostile ranks, the presumed cowards turned out heroes, and those whom he thought heroes ran away like lusty fellows at Culloden; in a word, he found himself utterly mistaken, and in nothing more than himself; he thought he was a hero, and proved himself nothing more than an old fox; he got up a hollow tree, didn’t he, just like a fox?

‘“L’opere sue non furon leonine, ma di volpe.”’

The man in black sat silent for a considerable time, and at length answered, in rather a faltering voice, ‘I was not prepared for this; you have frequently surprised me by your knowledge of things, which I should never have expected any person of your appearance to be acquainted with, but that you should be aware of my name is a circumstance utterly incomprehensible to me. I had imagined that no person in England was acquainted with it; indeed, I don’t see how any person should be, I have revealed it to no one, not being particularly proud of it. Yes, I acknowledge that my name is Fraser, and that I am of the blood of that family or clan, of which the rector of our college once said, that he was firmly of opinion that every individual member was either rogue or fool. I was born at Madrid, of pure, oime, Fraser blood. My parents at an early age took me to —— 39 where they shortly died, not, however, before they had placed me in the service of a cardinal, with whom I continued some years, and who, when he had no further occasion for me, sent me to the college, in the left-hand cloister of which, as you enter, rest the bones of Sir John D——; 40 there, in studying logic and humane letters, I lost whatever of humanity I had retained when discarded by the cardinal. Let me not, however, forget two points — I am a Fraser, it is true, but not a Flannagan: I may bear the vilest name of Britain, but not of Ireland; I was bred up at the English house, and there is at —— a house for the education of bog-trotters; I was not bred up at that; beneath the lowest gulf there is one yet lower; whatever my blood may be it is at least not Irish; whatever my education may have been I was not bred at the Irish seminary — on those accounts I am thankful — yes, per dio! I am thankful. After some years at college — but why should I tell you my history, you know it already perfectly well, probably much better than myself. I am now a missionary priest labouring in heretic England, like Parsons and Garnet of old, save and except that, unlike them, I run no danger, for the times are changed. As I told you before, I shall cleave to Rome — I must; no hay remedio, as they say at Madrid, and I will do my best to further her holy plans — he! he! — but I confess I begin to doubt of their being successful here — you put me out; old Fraser of Lovat! I have heard my father talk of him; he had a gold-headed cane, with which he once knocked my grandfather down — he was an astute one, but, as you say, mistaken, particularly in himself. I have read his life by Arbuthnot, it is in the library of our college. Farewell! I shall come no more to this dingle — to come would be of no utility; I shall go and labour elsewhere, though . . . how you came to know my name, is a fact quite inexplicable — farewell to you both.’

He then arose, and without further salutation departed from the dingle, in which I never saw him again. ‘How in the name of wonder, came you to know that man’s name?’ said Belle, after he had been gone some time.

‘I, Belle? I knew nothing of the fellow’s name, I assure you.’

‘But you mentioned his name.’

‘If I did, it was merely casually, by way of illustration. I was saying how frequently cunning people were mistaken in their calculations, and I adduced the case of old Fraser of Lovat, as one in point; I brought forward his name because I was well acquainted with his history, from having compiled and inserted it in a wonderful work, which I edited some months ago, entitled “Newgate Lives and Trials,” 41 but without the slightest idea that it was the name of him who was sitting with us; he, however, thought that I was aware of his name. Belle! Belle! for a long time I doubted in the truth of Scripture, owing to certain conceited discourses which I had heard from certain conceited individuals, but now I begin to believe firmly; what wonderful texts there are in Scripture, Belle! “The wicked trembleth where — where —”’

‘“They were afraid where no fear was; thou hast put them to confusion, because God hath despised them,”’ said Belle; ‘I have frequently read it before the clergyman in the great house of Long Melford. But if you did not know the man’s name, why let him go away supposing that you did?’

‘Oh, if he was fool enough to make such a mistake, I was not going to undeceive him — no, no! Let the enemies of old England make the most of all their blunders and mistakes, they will have no help from me; but enough of the fellow, Belle, let us now have tea, and after that —’

‘No Armenian,’ said Belle, ‘but I want to ask a question: pray, are all people of that man’s name either rogues or fools?’

‘It is impossible for me to say, Belle, this person being the only one of the name I have ever personally known. I suppose there are good and bad, clever and foolish, amongst them, as amongst all large bodies of people; however, after the tribe had been governed for upwards of thirty years by such a person as old Fraser, it were no wonder if the greater part had become either rogues or fools; he was a ruthless tyrant, Belle, over his own people, and by his cruelty and rapaciousness must either have stunned them into an apathy approaching to idiocy, or made them artful knaves in their own defence. The qualities of parents are generally transmitted to their descendants — the progeny of trained pointers are almost sure to point, even without being taught; if, therefore, all Frasers are either rogues or fools, as this person seems to insinuate, it is little to be wondered at, their parents or grandparents having been in the training-school of old Fraser; but enough of the old tyrant and his slaves. Belle, prepare tea this moment or dread my anger. I have not a gold-headed cane like old Fraser of Lovat, but I have, what some people would dread much more, an Armenian rune-stick.’

37 L’Alcoran des Cordeliers: c’est a dire Recueil des plus notables bourdes et blasphemes de ceux qui ont ose comparer Sainct Francois a Jesus Christ; tire du grand livre des conformitez, iadis compose par frere Barthelemi de Pise. — 12o, Geneve, 1578.

38 The British and Foreign Bible Society. Borrow acted as the Society’s agent in Russia and Spain, 1833–1839.

39 Rome.

40 Sir Thomas Dereham, d. 1739.

41 ‘Celebrated Trials and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence, from the Earliest Records to the Year 1825.’ 6 vols., 8o, published March 19, 1825.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51