Romantic Ballads

The Monthly Magazine, September 1824, had announced that “Mr. Olaus Borrow(i.e. George Borrow) had “a beautiful Collection of Danish Songs and Ballads” of which samples would appear in “each successive number”, which indeed happened in the October and November editions.

However, following the break with the publisher Sir Richard Phillips, George Borrow left London with the whole work unpublished.

In late 1825 George Borrow had returned to Norwich and, able to point to the already published material as evidence of his ability, he set about raising subscribers to publish a book of his Danish translations.  One hundred and sixty-one subscribers were found and the book, Romantic Ballads, was published at Norwich in 1826 by S. Wilkin of Upper Haymarket.  Of the copies 500 printed, 161 went to the subscribers, and George Borrow “disposed” of around 39 more copies in Norwich.  George Borrow then asked Allan Cunningham (who had provided the introduction to the book), to ask John Taylor of Pall Mall, a London publisher, to take the remaining 300 copies.  Allan Cunningham wrote back:

Taylor will undertake to publish the remaining copies.  His advice is to make the price seven shillings and to print a new title-page

source: Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, Vol. 1, p. 118

Some of the 300 copies were sent to London, to Wighman & Cramp, 24 Paternoster Row, who inserted a new title page.  As Angus Frazer and Michael Collie point out, this means the first edition exists in three separate states: The original Norwich subscriber copies, the John Taylor copies,  and the Wigham & Cramp copies.

In 1913 Jarrold and Sons of Norwich republished the book in facsimile.


The 161 subscribers to Romantic Ballads paid 10s. 6d. per copy, as George Borrow said “amply paying all expenses”.  William I. Knapp claimed that a remaining 300 then went to the John Taylor (which leaves 39 unaccounted for unless Knapp isn’t being precise), and these were to be sold at 7s. — an early introduction to remainder publishing.

On the list of subscribers is the name of John Thurtell, the murder of Weare, who had been executed on 9th January 1824.  This implies that George Borrow had been building up subscribers for some time. 

William Knapp said that the first notice of the book appeared on the last page of Borrow’s later success, The Bible in Spain.  Knapp believed George Borrow sent a complimentary copy to Walter Scott, who presumably didn’t acknowledge it, and this led to Borrow’s anti-Scott stance.

The Norfolk Record Office has a letter from Francis Palgrave to Borrow (17 June 1826, MS 11319 P138C) suggesting John Murray as a publisher of Borrow’s translations.  It also says Palgrave had sent a copy to Lockhart (editor of the Quarterly Review).  No review appeared but Lockhart did refer favourably to it in his review of Translations of Servian Minstrelsy.

Romantic Ballads has been covered in The George Borrow Bulletin: 9, 14; 14, 23; 15, 44, 74f; 17, 57ff; 18, 76; 20, 60; 22, 44; 25, 37.

source: George Borrow, A Bibliographical Study, pp. 94–99

source: The Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, pp. 114–118

source: George Borrow Bulletin, Series 1, No. 9, p. 14.

source: George Borrow as a Linguist, p. 100