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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Seems to have characterized that of Asia


It does not appear possible, from the peculiar mould in which the European mind has been cast, for it to have remained in that state of immobility which, from the remotest antiquity, seems to have characterized that of Asia; in which continent society has remained torpid and inactive, contented with what it has inherited, without making any effort at change or advancement. This peculiarity of character, in connexion with the influences of the Christian religion, seems to have had the effect of bringing about that thorough amalgamation of races and ideas in the various countries of Europe in which more than one people happened to occupy the same territory, or come under the jurisdiction of the same government, when no material difference in religion existed. In no country has such an amalgamation been more happily consummated than in our own; if not altogether as to blood, at least as to feeling, the more important thing of the two; the physical differences, in occasional instances, appearing in some localities, on the closest observation of those curious individuals who make such a subject the object of their learned researches.

Notwithstanding what has been said, how does it happen that in Europe, but especially in our own country, there exists, and has for four hundred years existed, a pretty numerous body of men distinct in their feelings from the general population, and some of them in a state of barbarism nearly as great as when they made their appearance amongst us? Such a thing would appear to us in no way remarkable in the stationary condition so long prevalent in Asia; where, in the case of India, for example, are to be found, inhabiting the same territory, a heterogeneous population, made up of the remnants of many nations; where so many languages are spoken, and religions or superstitions professed, and the people divided into so many castes, which are separated from each other on the most trivial, and, to Europeans, ridiculous and generally incomprehensible points; some eating together, and others not; some eating mutton, and others not; some beef and fowls, others vegetables, milk, butter and eggs, but no flesh or fish; those going to sea not associating with those remaining at home; some not following the occupation of others; and all showing the most determined antipathy to associate with each other;--where, from the numerous facilities so essential toward the perpetuation of peculiar modes of life, and the want of the powerful elements of assimilation and amalgamation so prominent in our division of the human race, a people may continue in a stereotyped state of mind and habits for an indefinite length of time. But in a country that is generally looked upon as the bulwark of the Reformation, and the stronghold of European civilization, how does it happen that we find a people, resembling in their nature, though not in the degree, the all but fabulous tribe that was lately to be found in the dreary wastes of Newfoundland, flying from the approach, and crossing the imagination of the fishermen like a spectre? Or like the wild men of the jungle, in some of the oceanic parts of Asia, having no homes, roaming during the dry season in the forests, and sleeping under or on the branches of trees, and in the rainy season betaking themselves to caves or sheltering beneath rocks, making their beds of leaves, and living on what they can precariously find, such as roots and wild honey; yet, under the influence of the missionary, many of them now raising crops, building dwellings, erecting schoolhouses, keeping the Sabbath, and praising God? But some of the Gipsies with us may be said to do few of these things. They live among us, yet are not of us; they come in daily contact with us, yet keep such distance from the community as a wild fowl, that occasionally finds its way into the farm-yard, does in shrinking from the close scrutiny of the husbandman. They cling like bats to ruined houses, caves, and old lime-kilns; and pitch their tents in dry water-courses, quarry-holes, or other sequestered places, by the way-side, or on the open moor, and even on dung-heaps for the warmth to be derived from them during the winter season, and live under the bare boughs of the forest during the summer;--yet amid all this apparent misery, through fair means or foul, they fare well, and lead what some call a happy life; while everything connected with them is most solicitously wrapt up in inscrutable mystery. These Gipsies exhibit to the European mind the most inexplicable moral problem on record; in so far as such phenomena are naturally expected to be found among a people whom the rays of civilization have never reached; while, in the case of the Gipsies, the first principles of nature would seem to be set at defiance.


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