Portrait of George Borrow


In St. Petersburg, in 1791, Friedrich Maximilian von Klinger (1753–1831) published his book Faustus.  It’s not know how George Borrow came across a copy (in German), but the likelihood is that it was via William Taylor of Norwich.

According to Knapp, George Borrow translated Faustus into English whilst completing his apprenticeship with Messrs. Simpson and Rackham in Tuck’s Court, Norwich, during 1822 and 1823.  Knapp, interprets the following from Lavengro as a reference to the Faustus, believing it was one of the three large translations George Borrow took to be published in London:

a romance in the German style; on which, I confess, I set very little value [src: Lavengro, p. 189]

Richard Phillips the publisher was initially interested, but declined to publish it, “No, sir, the time for those things is also gone by; German, at present, is a drug”.  It was, however, announced in The Monthly Magazine for July 1824:

The editor of the preceding has ready for the press, a Life of Faustus, his Death, and Descent into Hell, which will also appear in the next winter [src: George Borrow: A Bibliographic Study, p. 91]

Eventually George Borrow published it through W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, London, on 18th April 1825.  The preface is dated Norwich, 1825, but it’s believed that George Borrow was in London during that period—another Borrovian puzzle.

Borrow was very insistent on the colouring:

For God’s sake remember to tell the people who are to colour the engravings that the flames coming out of the bottles and glaces must be blue. It would be a rum go if they were of any other colour when they are stated in the book to be blue [src: George Borrow: A Bibliographic Study, p. 91]

A review in the Literary Gazette of 16 July 1825, p. 461, shows the typical reaction:

“This is another work to which no respectable publisher ought to have allowed his name to be put.  The political allusion and metaphysics, which may have made it popular among a low class in Germany, do not sufficiently season its lewd scenes and coarse descriptions for British palates.  We have occasionally publications for the fireside,—these are only fit for the fire [src: Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, Vol. 1, p. 101]

George Borrow, however, saw value in the notoriety of the work, and in September 1825 wrote to the publishers:

Willow Lane, St. Giles, Norwich.

Dear Sir,—As your bill will become payable in a few days, I am willing to take thirty copies of Faustus instead of the money.  The book has been burnt in both the libraries here, and, as it has been talked about, I may, perhaps, be able to dispose of some [copies] in the course of a year or so.—Yours,

G. Borrow

Perhaps few reviewers got past the title page:

Faustus: His Life, Death, and Descent into Hell.  Translated from the German [of Friedrich Maximilian von Klinger].—“Speed thee, speed thee, | Liberty lead thee, | Many this night shall hearken and heed thee. | Far abroad, | Demigod, | Who shall appal thee! | Javal, or devil, or what else we call thee.—Hymn to the Devil.

Simpkin, Marshall & Co. reissued the book in 1840, but only the title page was changed.

The last publication during George Borrow’s life was in 1864, by W. Kent and Co.


Faustus has been noted in a number of issues of the George Borrow Bulletin: 11, 17, 50; 14, 23; 18, 13f; 19, 84-90; 20, 55-57; 25, 13, 23; 29, 63.

Clement Shorter thought George Borrow had translated the French translation, published in Amsterdam, into English, on the basis that the frontispiece (The Corporation Feast) came from that edition. [src: The Life of George Borrow, Shorter, p. 62].

George Borrow had a humorous dig at Norwich in Faustus:

They found the people of the place modelled after so unsightly a pattern, with such ugly figures and flat features, that the devil owned he had never seen them equalled, except by the inhabitants of an English town called N—, when dressed in their Sunday’s best.

Faustus, p. 71.

In the original German it was Nuremberg.

source: George Borrow: A Bibliographic Study, p. 91

source: Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, Vol. 1, p. 101