Monday, March 19, 2012

Wind on the Heath



              There's a wind on the heath brother, who would wish to die ?

Norwich's connection to the Romantic movement is embodied in the figure of the author George Borrow (1803-1881). As a teenager Borrow studied languages, in particular the German language, under the tutorship of William Taylor (1765-1836). Taylor was the scholar who personally  influenced and encouraged Coleridge and Wordsworth to read his translations of German romantic literature. Together Coleridge and Wordsworth in the early poetry of their Lyrical Ballads (1798) inaugurated romanticism into English literature. This was in no small measure due to both poets being introduced to German authors such as Goethe and Lessing by William Taylor, a name nowadays scarcely known either inside or outside the medieval walls of Norwich.

George Borrow himself cuts as a dashing Byronic-like figure. Of athletic build and over 6 feet tall with a shock of white, not blonde, hair, as a young man he roamed the length and breadth of Britain in gypsy fashion as an itinerant tinker. He also travelled extensively through Spain, as well as visiting Morocco and Russia. Borrow was in near equal measure, an intrepid traveller,  a scholar and polyglot  and  on occasions, a rabid anti-papal preacher and belligerent pugilist. He's depicted above contemplating the splendid view of Norwich from Saint James Hill, adjacent to the large expanse of heathland known as Mousehold and is accompanied by the hat-wearing gypsy Petulenegro, an equally colourful character who, in addition to making his life-affirming statement, adopts the youthful Borrow to teach him the Romany language and traditions. 


George Borrow recounts his semi-autobiographical adventures on the highways and byways of England in Lavengro (1851) and in its sequel Romany Rye (1857). When the adventures of the self-styled scholar, gypsy, priest in Borrow's first book, The Bible in Spain (1843) were first published, such was the travelogue's popularity that its sales exceeded those of Charles Dickens' latest tale, A Christmas Carol  (1843). 


Borrow's homage to Norwich, the urban setting of his youth, and his acknowledgement of the city's civic pride can be found in Lavengro - 


A fine old city, perhaps the most curious specimen at present extant of the genuine old English Town. ..There it spreads from north to south, with its venerable houses, its numerous gardens, its thrice twelve churches, its mighty mound....There is an old grey castle on top of that mighty mound: and yonder rising three hundred feet above the soil, from amongst those noble forest trees, behold that old Norman master-work, that cloud-enriched cathedral spire ...Now who can wonder that the children of that fine old city are proud, and offer up prayers for her prosperity?



The classic panorama photograph of  Norwich looking south from Saint James Hill. From left to right above the horizon-line - the Norman Castle, the church of Saint Peter Mancroft, City Hall bell-tower and the Norman Cathedral (centre). On the right, the tower of Saint Giles and the Roman Catholic Cathedral are in view.

Ascending the steep chalk ridge route which leads onto the celebrated  prospect of Norwich, one sunny Sunday morning on a romantic mission, I remember a short verse shared in memory with the beloved -

I will climb up that hill
a million times
just to see you.
But I refuse to come down.


Notes - Verse by Mati Klarwein
Wiki-links   -  George Borrow  -   William Taylor
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