Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boruwlaski, Joseph

BORUWLASKI or BORUSLAWSKI, JOSEPH (1739–1837), dwarf, is chiefly known by the ‘Memoirs of Count Boruwlaski, written hy himself,’ He had no legal right to the title of ‘count,' being an untitled member of the Polish nobility. According to his owm account, Boruwlaski was born in the environs of Halicz, Polish Galicia, in 1739. His parents had six children, three of whom were exceptionally short in stature, whilst the other three were above the middle height. The eldest brother was forty-one inches in height; the second, who was killed in battle at the age of twenty-six, was six feet inches inches; and Joseph, who was the third, did not quite reach thirty-nine inches. His sister Anastasia, who died at the of twenty, was but two feet four inches high. Joseph was neither delicate nor disproportionate. Brought up at first, by a widow, the Starostin de Caorlix, he was, soon after her marriage with the Count de Tamon, transferred to the Countess Humiecka, and travelled with her in France, Holland, Germany, &c. When at Vienna, Maria Theresa took him on her lap and presented him with a ring, which she took from the finger of the young princess Marie Antoinette. At the court of Stanislaus, the titular king of Poland, he met with Bébé (Nicolas Ferry), who was a little taller, and jealous of his rival, and with the Comte de Tressan, who mentions him in the ‘Encyclopédie’ as fully developed and healthy, At Paris he met Raynal and Voltaire, and one of the fermier-generals, Bouret, gave an entertainment in his honour, in which everything was proportioned to the size of the tiny guest. On his return to Poland Boruwlaski fell in love with Isalina Barboutan, a young girl whom his patroness had taken into ber house. Effrts to break off the match were fruitless, and on his marriage Pioruwlaski was discarded by the countess, but the king of Poland gave him a small pension, and, when he decided to travel, provided him with a suitable coach. He now began a wandering career. A comparison of measurements showed that between his visits to Vienna in 1761 and 1781 he had grown ten inches. By the advice of Sir Robert Murray Keith he decided to visit England; but previously he states that he passed through Preshurg, Bellgrade, Adrianople, and, after traversing the deserts, found himself dangerously ill at Damascus, where he was restored by the aid of a Jewish physician. He describes subsequent joumeys to Astrakan, Kazan, Lapland, Finland, and Nova Zembla, and through Croatia, Dalmatia, and Germany. The ‘count’ lived meanwhile upon the proceeds of concerts and the gifts of his acquaintances. From the margrave of Anspach he obtained aletter of introduction to the dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland. After a stormy passage he reached England, und had an audience of George III, when ‘the conversation was often interrupted by the witty sallies of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.’ He travelled in England. Occasional concerts were still the only source of his income. At Blenheim he saw the Duke of Marlborough, who added the dwarfs shoes to his cabinet of curiosities. An attempt to provide for the count by a subscription failed. He again visited France, but at the beginning of the revolution he returned to England. He passed ‘through the whole of Ireland, beginning with Cork.’ At Ballinasloe his appearance in the street caused so great a commotion that the garrison was turned out. At Athlone his concert was ruined by the news of the landing of Hoche at Bantry Bay. He made a brief stay at Douglas, and passed to Whitehaven, Carlisle, Newcastle, and thence to Durham and Hull. On account of his failing means, he decided to go to America; but this design was abandoned, and about 1800 the prebendaries of Durham gave him a residence, the Bank's Cottage, near Durham, where the contributions of his friends enabled him to pass his latter years in peaceful retirement. He was a good linguist, his conversational powers were considerable, and his company was much courted in the city and neighbourhood. Catharine Hutton, who wrote a sketch of the dwarf, says: ‘I never saw a more graceful man, or a more perfect gentleman, than Boruwlaski.’ He had several children, who were of the ordinary size, but in his ‘Memoirs’ is almost silent as to his family affairs. His pride led him to keep up the fiction that he did not exhibit himself for hire—the people merely paid a shilling to his valet to open the door! He was terribly afraid lest George IV, to whom the last edition of his ‘Memoirs’ was dedicated, should offer him money in a direct fashion. The king, however, gave him a watch and chain, and thus spared his pride. Charles Mathews, who introduced him to George IV, and Patmore, who found him ‘domesticated’ with Mathews, speak of him as a fascinating companion, playful, accomplished, and sensible. In answer to Catharine Hutton's request for an autograph, he sent a letter with these rhymes:—

Poland was my cradle,
England is my nest;
Durham is my quiet place,
Where my weary bones shall rest.

He died at the great age of ninety-eight at Bank's Cottage on 5 Sept. 1837. His grave is near that of Stephen Kemble, in the Nine Altars of Durham Cathedral, and is marked only by the initials J. B., but there is a monument to his memory in the church of St. Mary, in the South Bailey, Durham.

The first edition of his ‘Autobiography,’ in both French and English, appeared at London in 1788, with a portrait by W. Hincks. The French part was the dwarf's own work, the English a translation by M. des Carrières. A German translation by Christian August Wichmann appeared at Leipzig in 1789. A second edition of the ‘Memoirs’ was printed at Birmingham in 1792. The final edition was printed at Durham in 1820, and has a portrait from a drawing by John Dowman, A.R.A. In Kay's ‘Edinburgh Portraits’ there is one of Boruwlaski taken from life. At the sale of Fillingham's collection, in 1862, were sold some scarce portraits of Boruwlaski, autograph letters, the handbill for his public breakfast, and the sale catalogue of his effects. One of his shoes, the sole of which is five inches and seven-eighths long, and a glove are now in the Bristol Philosophical Institution. In March 1786 Rowlandson published a caricature representation of Boruwlaski playing on the fiddle before the ‘Grand Seigneur’ and his wives. A full cast of Boruwlaski was taken by Joseph Bonomi shortly before the death of the dwarf.

[The Memoirs named above; Gent. Mag. October 1837; Wood's Giants and Dwarfs; A Memoir of a Celebrated Dwarf, by Catharine Hutton, in Bentley's Miscellany, 1845, xvii. 240; Memoirs of Charles Mathews, iii. 213; Granger's Wonderful Museum, 1804, ii. 1051; Kirby's Wonderful Museum, 8vo, iii. 411; Annual Register, 1760, iii. 78, 1761, iv. 112; Notes and Queries (2nd ser.) i. 154, 240, 358, ii. 157; Grego's Rowlandson the Caricaturist, i. 186; Encyklopedia Powsrechna Orgelbrand, Warsaw, 1860.]

W. E. A. A.