The Turkish Jester

The Turkish Jester, a translation from the Turkish by George Borrow, was published in 1884, three years after Borrow died.  This page contains some brief notes, and is not intended as the current state of research on the topic.

William Knapp, George Borrow’s first biographer, says that the Turkish title of this work is Menâkibi Nâsir-Ed-Din Khojah and that it was published in Constantinople in 1249.  It’s not known when George Borrow made this translation, but in October 1832 he presented his wife Mary Borrow with a translation of Bluebeard into Turkish, so he had some ability in the language then.

Again, Borrow, who had just been to Bucharest, wrote to his wife on 14 August 1844:

“I have been chiefly occupied of late in rubbing up my Turkish a little, which I had almost forgotten; there was a time when I wrote it better than any other language.”

Fraser and Collie, p. 121, quoting Shorter

In an entry in his Manx notebook, 10 October 1855, Borrow noted he was translating some Turkish.

It may be that Edward FitzGerald, Borrow’s friend and a translator of Turkish (cf. Omar Khyam), encouraged Borrow’s translation, as on 27 October 1856 he sent Borrow a Turkish dictionary:

My dear Sir,—It is I who send you the new Turkish Dictionary which ought to go by this Post;  my reasons being that I bought it really only for the purpose of doing that little good to the spirited Publisher of the book (who thought when he began it that the War was to last), and I send it to you because I should be glad of your good opinion, if you can give it.  I am afraid you will hardly condescend to use it, for you abide in the old Meninsky; but if you will use it, I shall be very glad.”

Knapp, Vol. 2, p. 347

Borrow’s book The Romany Rye, published 18 May 1857, contains an extract from The Turkish Jester (the story of Cogia Efendy) and contained an advertisement for the forthcoming publication of The Turkish Jester.

Edward FitzGerald in a letter to Prof. E. Cowell, dated 23/24 January 1859, makes mention of a long work translated from the Turkish by Borrow:

I was with Borrow a week ago at Donne’s, and also at Yarmouth three months ago: he is well, but not yet agreed with Murray.  He read me a long Translation he had made from the Turkish: which I could not admire, and his Taste becomes stranger than ever.”

Letters of Edward FitzGerald, Vol. 1, p. 317

When George Borrow died on 26th July 1881, The Turkish Jester had not been published.

In 1883 William Webber purchased Borrow’s manuscripts, and intended to publish it himself.  However, Webber then joined Jarrold’s who later claimed that they had published the book, although the title page is not theirs and has the publisher as W. Webber, Dial Lane, Ipswich.  Possibly Webber had already arranged printing, and Jarrold’s provided the advertising and distribution?

Each copy had a certificate saying that there were only 150 copies, but suspiciously no certificate was numbered, and Webber might have used the 150 copies as a selling device.

The work was later included in the Norwich Edition of George Borrow’s works, Volume 16.


Simon Keeton gave a personal interpretation of Borrow’s Turkish Jester in the George Borrow Society Bulletin, 2nd Series No. 14.  The same edition of the Bulletin also reprinted a review of the book (not Borrow’s translation) published in 1834.


George Borrow, A Bibliographic Study, Fraser and Collie, pp. 120–122.

The Life, Writings, and Correspondence of George Borrow, William Knapp.

Letters of Edward FitzGerald, Macmillan and Co., 1901.

A transcription of The Turkish Jester is available for free from Project Gutenberg