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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

As distinguished from the philologist


part, which I did on purpose,

to hear what she would say, she gradually changed her mind, and came over to my opinion. She said that they were exceedingly good-hearted people, and that some of them had frequently paid a night's lodging for herself and family. I now ventured to put a question to her, half in Gipsy and half in English. After a short pause and hesitation, she signified that she understood what I said. I then asked one or two questions in Gipsy words only. A Gipsy, with crockery-ware in a basket, happened to pass us at the very moment I was speaking to her; and to show her the knowledge I had of her speech and people, I said, "There is a _nawken_"--(there is a Gipsy.) She, in a very civil and polite manner, immediately replied, "Sir, I hope you will not take it ill, when I use the freedom of saying that you must have been among the people you are enquiring about, otherwise you could not speak to me in that way." To show her that I did not despise her for understanding my Gipsy words, I gave her a few pence more, and spoke kindly to her. She then became quite cheerful and frank, as if we had been old acquaintances. Instead of trying to impose upon me, by tales of grief and woe, and feigned piety, she appeared happy and contented, her whole conduct indicating that it was useless to play off her tricks upon me, as she was now sensible that I knew exactly what she was, and yet did not treat her contemptuously. She said her husband's name was Wilson, and her own Jackson, (the names of two Gipsy tribes;)
that she could tell fortunes, and was acquainted with the _Irish_ words I spoke, being afraid to call them by their right name. She further stated that every one of the people I was enquiring about spoke in the same language.

About half an hour after I parted with her, on the road, I met her in the village of North Queensferry, while I was walking with a friend. I then put a question to her in Gipsy words, in the presence of this third party, who knew not what she was, to see how she would conduct herself in public. She seemed surprised at my question, as if she did not understand a word of it--to prevent it being discovered to others of the community that she was a Gipsy. But she publicly praised me highly, for having given her something to help her poor children; and, with her trumped-up story at her tongue's end, proceeded on her travels.

These poor people were much alarmed when I let them see that I knew they were Gipsies. They thought I was despising them, and treating them with contempt; or they were afraid of being apprehended under the old sanguinary laws, condemning the whole unfortunate race to death; for the Gipsies, as I have already said, still believe that these bloody statutes are in full force against them at the present day.

I was advised by Sir Walter Scott, as mentioned in the Introduction, to "get the same words from different individuals; and, to verify the collection, to set down the names of the persons by whom they were communicated;" which I have done. For this reason, the words now furnished will appear as the confessions of so many individuals, rather than a vocabulary drawn up in the manner in which such is usually done; and which will be more satisfactory to the general reader, as well as the philologist, than if I had presented the words by themselves, without any positive or circumstantial evidence of their genuineness. To the general reader, as distinguished from the philologist, the anecdotes connected with the collection may prove interesting, if the words themselves have no attraction for him; while they will satisfy the latter, as far as they go, as to the existence of a language which has almost always been denied, yet which is known, at the present day, to a greater number of the population of the country than could at first have been imagined; this part of it having been drawn from a variety of individuals, at different and widely-separated times and places. On this account, I hope that the minuteness of the details of the present enquiry may not appear tedious, but, on the contrary, interesting, to my readers generally; inasmuch as the present collection is the first, as far as I know, of the Scottish Gipsy language that has ever been made; although the people themselves have lived amongst us for three hundred and fifty years, and talked it every hour of the day, but hardly ever in the hearing of the other inhabitants, excepting, occasionally, a word of it now and then, to disguise their discourse from those around them; which, on being questioned, they have always passed off for _cant_, to prevent the law taking hold of them, and punishing them for being Gipsies. These details will also show that our Scottish Tinklers, or Gipsies, are sprung from the common stock from which are descended those that are to be found in the other parts of Europe, as well as those that are scattered over the world generally; what secrecy they observe in all matters relative to their affairs; what an extraordinary degree of reluctance and fear they evince in answering questions tending to develop their history; and, consequently, how difficult it is to learn anything satisfactory about them.[194]


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