Embéo e Majaró Lucas.[...] El evangelio segun S. Lucas. Madrid

BORROW George (1837 (1838))


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8vo (145 x 98mm). 91 leaves, [2], 177, [3]pp (first and last leaves blank). Mid-20th-century maroon calf, bound for Starkie by Luis Caballero, Madrid, foot of spine lettered in gilt W.S. (minor wear to extremities). 


A lovely copy of the first book printed in the Romani language, with exceptional provenance: linguist, novelist and travelogue writer George Borrow’s (1803-81) translation of the Gospel of St Luke into Romani, owned and annotated by Walter Starkie (1894-1976), Irish Hispanist, scholar, fiddle-player, and traveller.  

In 1837 Borrow was in Spain, engaged in distributing - on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society - the Spanish translation of the New Testament  by the Piarist priest Felipe Scio de San Miguel (1738-96). Borrow’s time and work in Spain and Portugal for the BFBS between 1835 and 1840 cemented an already well-established love for Romany culture, people and language, inflected in Spain by the cultural specificities of the Ibero-Romani population there. In his letters to the organisation in that period, Borrow mentions that he was proposing to print his translation into Romani of St Luke’s Gospel, completed some years before. It was agreed with the BFBS that 250 copies would be printed (without the Romani/Spanish vocabulary envisaged) but Borrow, never one to be bound by what the BFBS said, printed 500, of which initially he had 300 copies bound (a further 200 copies were bound later). A gifted linguist – made all the more impressive by the fact that he received little formal instruction in languages – Borrow also had printed a translation into Basque of the same gospel by a Dr Oteiza (probably Juan José Vicente Oteiza Izuzquiza, a physician from Tolosa), around the same time as the present edition was published. In 1838 an order for Borrow’s arrest was issued, one of the reasons being that he was peddling a book printed in Gibraltar, the introduction of which into Spain was expressly forbidden. Knapp (I, 279) writes that the book was the present Romani translation of St Luke ‘which, although it omitted the place of issue on the title-page, was known to have been printed in Madrid.’    

The linguistic basis of the Romani language is Indo-European, showing kinship with Sanskrit and its derivatives; but it has many dialects, traces of the countries through which over centuries the Roma migrated. There was (is) no written or printed Romani literature; the earliest Romani words to appear in print are in a book printed in London in 1542 by the sometime Carthusian, traveller, and physician, Andrew Boorde (c. 1490-1549) his Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (STC 3383). The Roma population in Spain at the time that Borrow lived and worked there was, and still is, concentrated in Granada, Seville and elsewhere; they speak Caló, a specific argot. Accordingly, on the verso of the title Borrow writes  ‘the interpreter [GB] makes this statement in Caló, which we shall translate into simple Busnee:- ‘This Gospel was turned into Spanish-Gypsy by George Borrow, a servant of the Bible Society, in the City of Badajóz, on the frontier of Portugal, in the winter of the Year of Our Lord, 1836’ (Knapp (I, 272)). A second edition of this text was printed in London in 1872.  

The present volume was owned, bound for and has been annotated by Walter Starkie, whose many books told of his travels with the Romani people in different parts of Europe, particularly Spain. Acquired in 1949 when he was in Madrid as the first director of the British Institute, which he founded, Starkie refers to the work, presumably this very copy, in his book In Sara’s Tents (John Murray, 1953, p.121): ‘Don Jorgito el Inglés [who] is a legend in various parts of Spain, especially among collectors who preserve reverently Don Jorgito’s translation of the Gospel of Saint Luke into Spanish Romani. On one occasion a copy was given to me by a friend whose grandfather had been presented with it by the Romany Rye himself.’ In the margins of this copy, Starkie has written translations (into English) in bright, vermilion ink on pages 7,9,15, 21-23,27-30, 46, 64, 81, 94, 95. The 1961 Everyman edition of Borrow’s most famous work, The Bible in Spain (1843) has a preface by Starkie, taking the place of that by Edward Thomas in the edition of 1906.    

Provenance: 1. 'V[?indel] cat. 170 no 121'. Possibly Pedro Vindel (1865-1921) or his son Francisco (1894-1960), both distinguished booksellers. 2. Ink inscription "Walter Starkie, Madrid 1949" on flyleaf in blue ink; Walter Starkie (1894-1976), his manuscript marginalia and underlining throughout. 

Collie and Fraser, pp. 112-3, B.5. Darlow and Moule 4542. 

Refs.: Yaron Matras, I met Lucky People (Penguin Books, 2015); ibid Romani A linguistic introduction (CUP, 2002). William I. Knapp, Life, Writings, and Correspondence of George Borrow derived from official and other authentic sources (London: J. Murray; New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1899).

Stock Code: 252094

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