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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

In reference to the English Gipsies


"And thus 'tis ever; what's within our ken, Owl-like, we blink at, and direct our search To fartherest Inde, in quest of novelties; Whilst here at home, upon our very thresholds, Ten thousand objects hurtle into view, Of interest wonderful."

But to give a fair description of the tented Gipsy life, I cannot employ more appropriate language than that of Doctor Bright, when, in reference to the English Gipsies, he says: "I am confident that we are apt to appreciate much too lightly the actual happiness enjoyed by this class of people, who, beneath their ragged tents, in the pure air of the heath, may well excite the envy of many of the poor, though better provided with domestic accommodation, in the unwholesome haunts of the town. At the approach of night, they draw around their humble but often abundant board, and then retiring to their tent, leave a faithful dog to guard its entrance. With the first rays of morning, they again meet the day, pursue their various occupations, or, rolling up their tents and packing all their property on an ass, set forward to seek the delights of some fresh heath, or the protection of some shaded copse. I leave it to those who have visited the habitations of the poor, to draw a comparison between the activity, the free condition, and the pure air enjoyed by the Gipsy, and the idleness, the debauchery, and the filth in which the majority of the poorer classes are enveloped."--"No sooner does

a stranger approach their fire on the heath, than a certain reserve spreads itself through the little family. The women talk to him in mystic language; they endeavour to amuse him with secrets of futurity; they suspect him to be a spy upon their actions; and he generally departs as little acquainted with their true character as he came. Let this, however, wear away; let him gain their confidence, and he will find them conversable, amusing, sensible and shrewd; civil, but without servility; proud of their independence; and able to assign reasons for preferring their present condition to any other in civilized society. He will find them strongly attached to each other, and free from many cares which too often render the married life a source of discontent."

In what direction may we look for the causes of such an anomaly in the history of our common civilization? This question, however, will be discussed by and by: in the meantime let us consider the fact itself.

In the early part of the fifteenth century there first appeared in Europe large hordes of a people of singular complexion and hair, and mode of life--apparently an Asiatic race--which, in spite of the sanguinary efforts of the governments of the countries through which they passed, continued to spread over the continent, and have existed in large numbers to this day; many of them in the same condition, and following the same modes of life, now as then; and preserving their language, if not in its original purity, yet without its having lost its character. This circumstance has given rise in recent times to several researches, with no certain result, as to the country which they left on entering Europe, and still less as to the place or the circumstances of their origin. The latter is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that, in the instances of even the most polished nations of antiquity, nothing is to be found as to their origin beyond what is contained in the myths and fables of their earliest poets and historians. But considering the traces that have been left of the origin and early history of the people and kingdoms of Europe, subsequent to the fall of the Roman Empire, amid the barbarism and confusion attending their establishment, and, in many respects, the darkness immediately and for a long time following it, we would naturally think that, for an event happening so recently as the fifteenth century, some reliable traces would have been discovered and bequeathed to us on a subject that has baffled the antiquarians of modern times.


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