George Henry Borrow (1803-1881) was one of the most peculiar and intriguing Englishmen of the Victorian Age. He was all at once an unparallelled polyglot, the author of extravagant bestsellers, a fearless traveller and a obsessive lone crusader against a large host of — often imaginary — wrongs and evils.
Son of a soldier, pupil of the brilliant Norwich scholar William Taylor, Borrow had no formal education to speak of, but still managed to familiarize himself with two dozen languages before he reached the age of thirty, and nearly fifty languages before he died. In his youth he struck up a life-long friendship with a Gypsy boy, Ambrose Smith; and in his early twenties travelled extensively through the wilds with the gypsies, the “road-people” and the free spirits of the open fields who then inhabited the English countryside.
In 1833 the British and Foreign Bible Society hired him, first to go to St Peterburg to print a Manchu-Tartar version of the New Testament; later to go to Spain, where he produced and distributed a large edition of the New Testament in Spanish. For a pet project, he translated and then printed the first book ever to appear in the Gypsy Language: the 1837 Embéo e Majaró Lucas
(i.e. the Gospel of Luke). His Peninsular experiences resulted in his first books: The Zincali
(1841), a meticulous account of the Spanish Gypsies and their history, and The Bible in Spain
(1843), his greatest best–seller ever, which told of the ups and downs of his Spanish missionary labours between 1836 and 1840. Now a celebrated author, he took a calm eight years to finish his next book Lavengro
(1851) which was a dramatised account of his vagrant youth, and another five to write its sequal, The Romany Rye
(1857). His last major work was Wild Wales
(1862), the 500 page reflection of a lengthy walking tour through the Celtic kingdom, and one of the best books of its time on Wales.
Nearly forgotten as an author by the time of his death, he was the inspiration of wide–spread back-to-nature and camping-with-the-gypsies movement among artistic intellectuals in the years 1890-1930.
For more information, see the page of The George Borrow Society