Portrait of George Borrow

Embéo E Majaró Lucas

Whilst George Borrow was in Badajoz, Portugal, in January 1836, he began work on translating the Gospel of St. Luke into the Romany dialect of the Spanish Gypsies, known as Caló.  He sent a sample of the translation (Chapter 15 of St. Luke) in a letter to Andrew Brandam (undated but received 15 February 1836), and in a letter sent on 13 February 1836 writes:

do you wish me ... finish my translation of St. Luke into Rommany, with the assistance of the Gypsies of those places, who are far more conversant with their native language than their brethren in other parts of Spain

source: Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 145

The Bible Society decided to have the St. Luke translation and on 1837 George Borrow writes:

The Gospel of Saint Luke, in the Rommany language, is nearly ready for the press.  It is my intention to subjoin a vocabulary of all the words used, with an explanation in the Spanish language

source: Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 205

By 27 April 1837, George Borrow was writing his friend John Hasfeld (not of the Bible Society) of his plans to publish the book:

I shall return to Madrid for the purpose of carrying through the press my own translation of the Gospel of St. Luke in the language of the Spanish Gypsies

source: Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 210

The Bible Society authorized George Borrow to print 250 copies, but insisted there was to be no vocabulary.  On 5 December 1837 George Borrow wrote to Mary Clarke (his future wife):

My Gipsy Translation of Luke is ready for the press, and I shall commence printing it as soon as I return to Madrid.

source: The Life of George Borrow, Shorter, p. 119

On 25 December 1837 George Borrow informed the Bible Society of the printing:

The versions of St. Luke in Gitano and Basque have been committed to the press; and as the compositors are entirely ignorant of these languages a most strict surveillance is required, which I hope will be admitted as an excuse for having so long delayed to answer.  I expect that within a fortnight my task will be completed

source: Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 273

George Borrow actually printed 500 copies, not the 250 authorized, and his subsequent financial account to the Bible Society gives the costs as:


print for 500 copies of the Gypsy Luke


paper for the Gypsy Luke


binding for 300 copies of the Gypsy Luke, at 3 reals a copy


In January 1838 the first copies of The Gypsy Luke were printed, bound and delivered to George Borrow’s bible bookshop in Madrid, where they sold quickly because it was the world’s first printed Romany book.  The Spanish authorities soon suppressed the book, but allowed public libraries to purchase copies.

On 27 January 1870 William Ireland Knapp, a missionary in Spain (and George Borrow’s future biographer), wrote to the Bible Society suggesting that a reprint of The Gypsy Luke was needed.  The Bible Society agreed and asked George Borrow to revise the book for a second printing.  George Borrow undertook the work and after a lot of changes, meetings etc., a new edition was brought out by the Bible Society in 1872.  It’s unclear how George Borrow could have improved the translation, as it was decades since he’d been in Spain, and would not have progressed in the language.

Today The Gypsy Luke is a rare and sought after book, particularly the 1838 Madrid edition.  Considerable research has been carried out, mainly by Peter Missler of the George Borrow Society, and much more is known of the work than is given here.  In particular see The George Borrow Bulletin, Series 1, No. 19, p. 56–59.

source: George Borrow, A Bibliographical Study, Collie and Fraser, p. 109–117.

source: The Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society, edited by T. H. Darlow.

source: The Life, Letters and Writings of George Borrow, William Knapp, Vol. I.

source: Sidelights on George Borrow's Gypsy Luke. The Bible Translator, Vol. 32, No. 3, July 1981, pp. 329-37.