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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Some Gipsy take to suitable learning


the Gipsies has been started

in reference to their language; whether it is a speech distinct from any other surrounding it, or a few slang words or expressions connected together by the usual languages of the countries in which the race is to be found. The slightest consideration will remove the doubt, and lead us to the former conclusion. It is true there must needs be some native words mixed up with it; for what language, in ancient or modern times, has come down free of a mixture with others? If that be the case with languages classified, written, and spoken in a community, with no disturbing element near it to corrupt it, is it to be expected that the speech of a people like the Gipsies can be free of similar additions or substitutions, when it possesses none of these advantages for the preservation of its entirety and purity? From the length of time the people have been in Europe, and the frequency of intercourse which they have been forced by circumstances, in modern times especially, to have with its natives, it would appear beyond measure surprising that even a word of their language is spoken at all. And this fact adds great weight to Sir Walter Scott's remark, when he says that "their language is a great mystery;" and to that of Dr. Bright, when he speaks of its existence as being "little short of the miraculous." But when we consider, on strictly philosophical principles, the phenomenon of the perpetuation of the Gipsy language, we will find that there is nothing so very wonderful about it after
all. The race have always associated closely and exclusively together; and their language has become to them like the worship of a household god--hereditary, and is spoken among themselves under the severest of discipline. It is certain that it is spoken at the present day, by some of the race, nearly as well as the Gaelic of many of the immediate descendants of the emigrants in some of the small Highland settlements in America, when it has not been learned by book, even to the extent of conversing on any subject of ordinary life, without apparently using English words. But, as is common with people possessing two languages, the Gipsies often use them interchangeably in expressing the smallest idea. Besides the way mentioned by which the Gipsy language has been corrupted, there is another one peculiar to all speeches, and which is, that few tongues are so copious as not to stand in need of foreign words, either to give names to things or wants unknown in the place where the language originated, or greater meaning or elucidation to a thing than it is capable of; and preeminently so in the case of a barbarous people, with few ideas beyond the commonest wants of daily life, entering states so far advanced toward that point of civilization which they have now reached. But the question as to the extent of the Gipsy language never can be conclusively settled, until some able philologist has the unrestricted opportunity of daily intercourse with the race; or, as a thing more to be wished than obtained, some Gipsy take to suitable learning, and confer a rarity of information upon the reader of history everywhere: for the attempt at getting a single word of the language from the Gipsies, is, in almost every case, impracticable. Sir Walter Scott seems to have had an intention of writing an account of the Gipsies himself; for, in a letter to Murray, as given by Lockhart, he writes: "I have been over head and ears in work this summer, or I would have sent the Gipsies; indeed I was partly stopped by finding it impossible to procure a few words of their language." For this reason, the words furnished in this work, although few, are yet numerous, when the difficulties in the way of getting them are considered. Under the chapter of Language will be found some curious anecdotes of the manner in which these were collected.

Of the production itself little need be said. Whatever may be the opinion of the public in regard to it, this may be borne in mind, that the collecting of the materials out of which it is formed was attended with much trouble, and no little expense, but with a singular degree of pleasure, to the author; and that but for the urgent and latest request of him whom, when alive or dead, Scotchmen have always delighted to honour, it might never have assumed its present form. It is what it professes to be--a history, in which the subject has been stripped of everything pertaining to fiction or even colouring; so that the reader will see depicted, in their true character, this singular people, in the description of whom, owing to the suspicion and secrecy of their nature, writers generally have indulged in so much that is trifling and even fabulous.


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