Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

The Zincali by George Borrow

This manuscript is in book form and consists of drafts for 'The Zincali' or An Account of the Gypsies of Spain published in1841 and also notes by the author George Borrow.

Image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Zincali

Zincali Page 8 Contents

The manuscript was long assumed to contain only initial drafts of The Zincali, and the sales accounts. Only in 2023 was it realised that much of the manuscript was in fact drafts for The Bible in Spain. This makes the manuscript an exciting research source for Borrow scholars. Although briefly described in the 1886 second edition of Petherick’s catalogue of the York Gate Library (but not in the 1882 first edition), and briefly described by Missler (pp.43-45) in his 1952 Presidential Address to the RGSSA, the manuscript has remained almost unknown in Britain. It is mentioned in passing, and incorrectly, as “a manuscript page for The Zincali, kept in the archive of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia” [sic], in Peter Missler’s seminal analysis of Borrow’s sales of the Scio New Testament (Missler, 128, fn 85). Missler was unable to access the accounts in the manuscript, and noted “To my knowledge, no investigator has ever studied or published this page”. The digitisation of the entire manuscript volume now allows scholars from around the world access to this long-forgotten and inaccessible source.

Page 8 of the manuscript - Contents of The Zincali

Borrow's notes
Borrow's notes
Example of Zincali manuscript
Example of Zincali manuscript

RGSSA MS4a Rare Book Room

The full text of the digitised manuscript is available online thanks to a grant organised by Brendan Whyte.

On the back of a trip to Russia (1833-35) on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society, George Borrow was sent on to Portugal and Spain by the Society in 1835, initially to determine the potential for sale and distribution of a vernacular translation of Bible texts. Despite a civil war (the First Carlist War 1833-40) and Catholic Church opposition, Borrow reported back favourably; but rather than import bibles, it was decided to be more economical to print a new Protestant edition in Spain.

Borrow accordingly oversaw publication in 1837 of a Spanish-language New Testament, using an existing Spanish translation from the Latin Vulgate by Felipe Scio de San Miguel, but without the interpretive notes required by Catholic bibles of the time.

Using his own remarkable linguistic ability, and with the assistance of various Gypsies he befriended in Spain, Borrow also produced his own translation of the Gospel of Luke into Gitano (nowadays called Caló), the Spanish gypsy language. He persuaded the Bible Society to fund its publication in 1838, as Embéo e Majaró Lucas (sometimes referred to as ‘the Gypsy Luke’). It was the first book ever published in Caló, and sold well.

In a corrupt war-torn Spain, Borrow was granted semi-official permission to distribute both biblical texts as long as it was done unobtrusively. He was supported in this by the British ambassador Sir George Villiers, who helped extricate him from a brief arrest and imprisonment; but Borrow’s increasingly conspicuous methods eventually saw mere ownership of both publications prohibited and Borrow forced out of the country in 1839.

As part of his translation of Luke, Borrow had compiled a 200-word glossary of Caló, which he had hoped to include as an appendix in Embéo e Majaró Lucas, but the Bible Society forbade this addition. He determined instead to publish it separately with a few introductory remarks on gypsy history, but these soon outgrew the glossary. The amassed material was published by John Murray in 1841 as The Zincali, or, An Account of the Gypsies of Spain. Borrow was very sympathetic to the gypsies, discussing the discrimination against them, but also did not shy away from the less attractive sides of their culture and character.

Two years later, John Murray published Borrow’s bestseller, The Bible in Spain, an account of his three years in Iberia and Tangiers on behalf of the Bible Society, written after his return to England, and based in part on the letters and reports he sent back to his employer. The first draft was ready in late 1841 but was expanded by 50% after suggestions for improvement from the publisher’s reader, Henry Milton. A second, enlarged, draft was completed by Spring 1842, and published in time for Christmas that year. It was an immediate success, running to five editions by the end of 1843, as well as a mass-produced cheap edition. Almost simultaneously, pirated US editions of 10,000 copies or more flooded the North American market. Despite the dully religious-sounding title, it is a keenly observed and fascinating travelogue, by a wilful Englishman abroad, of a war-ravaged, conservative and superstitious Spain, well off the route of the typical ‘Grand Tour’. Borrow’s interactions with people of all ethnicities and classes was socially radical for his time. He himself does not appear in the most favourable light, especially to the eyes of a modern reader, but this only makes the book the more interesting, and it remains his most read and readable book today.

The “Zincali” manuscript is a bound volume, acquired by the RGSSA as part of the York Gate Library, whose bookplate appears inside its front cover.

Its contents include a page of notes in Spanish, with Borrow’s initials at the end; four pages of Spanish-language accounts for the sale of the Scio New Testament in a neat hand (not Borrow’s), the first page including some unrelated English notes by Borrow; a title page mock-up for The Zincali; and six more pages of sales accounts. Next come four draft chapters for the second half of The Zincali, each with a working title, though these titles only made their way in part into the final publication:

Chapter 1, “Circumstances attending my first meeting with the gypsies of Spain” [whole chapter]; Chapter 2, “The Gitanos of Madrid, those of Granada and of other towns in Spain” [whole chapter]; Chapter 3, “Some general remarks on the present state of the Gitanos” [first half of chapter]; Chapter 4 [crossed out] 5 [but actually chapter 6 in the published book], “Treats of certain tricks and practices of the Gypsy females” [whole chapter].

Then comes a much less neatly laid out series of whole and partial chapters for The Bible in Spain, in a seemingly random order. While each chapter begins on a new page, there is no real indication of the breaks between them, as none have chapter numbers or titles, and some have substantial emendations:

Chapters 1 [whole], 22 [whole], 23 [first half], 28 [second half], 25 [first half], 26 [whole], 31 [middle section], 9 [first half & final sixth], 10 [whole], 11 [opening and middle section], 12 [whole?], 29 [last third], 30 [last third] & 13 [whole], although this latter chapter is interrupted by 2/3 of a page of sales accounts, this time for the ‘Gypsy Luke’.

The manuscript ends with a draft of a letter by Borrow, of as-yet unidentified date and addressee; the “Preface” to the first edition of The Zincali; and the “Advertisement” (i.e. introductory notes) to the Gitano vocabulary that was the initial kernel of that book.

Caballero, Alberto González, (ed.) (1998). El Evangelio de San Lucas en Caló. Córdoba: Ediciones El Almendro. A modern edition of ‘the Gypsy Luke’, in a bilingual Caló/Spanish edition.

Collie, Michael & Fraser, Angus, (1984). George Borrow: A bibliographical study. Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1984

Finnis, H.I., (1952). “The MSS. of the York Gate Library”, Proceedings of the R.G.S. Australasia, SA Branch, v.53, pp.29-45.

Missler, Peter, (2009). A Daring Game: George Borrow’s sales of the Scio New Testament (Madrid, 1837), Norfolk (Eng.): Durrant.

Missler, Peter, (online). Story of the Four Books: The Story of George Borrow’s four ‘Spanish’ publications, https://georgeborrowstudies.net/georgeborrowstudies/fourbooks.html (accessed Nov 2023)

Petherick, Edward Augustus, (1886). Catalogue of the York Gate Library formed by Mr. S. William Silver: an index to the literature of geography, maritime and inland discovery, commerce and colonisation, 2nd ed., John Murray, London

The Adelaide Rowing Club (ARC) was originally called the I Zingari Rowing Club which was formed in 1882. This name referred to an exclusive cricket club in London called I Zingari "The Gypsies" because it never had a premises or headquarters. It is not known why the name was adopted in Adelaide but presumably because members of the London cricket club, who were also keen rowers, moved to live in Adelaide. Keeping up the tradition ARC still name their eight oared racing shells I’Zingari.