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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

That the Tinklers had no language of their own


"O! hald your tongue, my father," he says, "And see that ye dinna weep for me! For they may ravish me o' my life, But they canna banish me fro Heavin hie.

"Fare ye weel, fair Maggie, my wife! The last time we came ower the muir, 'Twas thou bereft me of my life, And wi' the Bishop thou play'd the whore.

"Here, Johnie Armstrang, take thou my sword, That is made o' the metal sae fine; And when thou comest to the English side, Remember the death of Hughie the Graeme."[201]

[201] On mentioning to Sir Walter Scott, when at Abbotsford, that the Gipsies were very partial to Hughie the Graeme, he caused his eldest daughter, afterwards Mrs. Lockhart, to sing this ancient Border song, which she readily did, accompanying her voice with the harp. We were, at the time, in the room which contained his old armour and other antiquities; to which place he had asked me, after tea, to hear his daughter play on the harp. She sang Hughie the Graeme, in a plain, simple, unaffected manner, exactly in the style in which I have heard the humble country-girls singing the same song, in the south of Scotland. Sir Walter was much interested about the Gipsies; and when I repeated to him a short sentence in their speech, he, with great feeling, exclaimed, "Poor things! do you hear that?" This was the first time, I believe, that he ever heard a Scottish Gipsy word pronounced. It appeared to me that the mind of the great magician was not wholly divested of the fear that the Gipsies might, in some way or other, injure his young plantations.

I will now give the testimony of the Gipsy chief from whom I received the "blowing up" alluded to, by Mr. Laidlaw, in the Introduction to the work.[202]

[202] See pages 58 and 65.--ED.

One of the greatest fairs in Scotland is held, annually, on the 18th day of July, at St. Boswell's Green, in Roxburghshire. I paid a visit to this fair, for the purpose of taking a view of the Gipsies. An acquaintance, whom I met at the fair, observed to me, that he was sure if any one could give me information regarding the Tinklers, it would be old ----, the horner, at ----. To ensure a kind reception from the Gipsies, it was agreed upon, between us, that I should introduce myself by mentioning who my ancestors were, on whose numerous farms, (sixteen, rented by my grandfather, in 1781,[203]) their forefathers had received many a night's quarters, in their out-houses. We soon found out the old chieftain, sitting in a tent, in the midst of about a dozen of his tribe, all nearly related to him. The moment I made myself known to them, the whole of the old persons immediately expressed their gratitude for the humane treatment they, and their forefathers, had received at the farms of my relatives. They were extremely glad to see me; and "God bless you," was repeated by several of the old females. "Ay," said they, "those days are gone. Christian charity has now left the land. We know the people are growing more hard and uncharitable every year." I found the old man shrewd, sensible, and intelligent; far beyond what could have been expected from a person of his caste and station in life. He, besides, possessed all that merriness and jocularity which I have often observed among a number of the males of his race. After some conversation with this chief, who appeared about eighty years of age, I enquired if his people, who, in large bands, about sixty years ago, traversed the south of Scotland, had not an ancient language, peculiar to themselves. He hesitated a little, and then readily replied, that the Tinklers had no language of their own, except a few cant words. I observed to him that he knew better--that the Tinklers had, beyond dispute, a language of their own; and that I had some knowledge of its existence at the present day. He, however, declared that they had no such language, and that I was wrongly informed. In the hearing of all the Gipsies in the tent, I repeated to him four or five Gipsy words and expressions. At this he appeared amazed; and on my adding some particulars relative to some of the ancestors of the tribe then present, enumerating, I think, three generations of their clan, one of the old females exclaimed, "Preserve me, he kens a' about us!" The old chief immediately took hold of my right hand, below the table, with a grasp as if he were going to shake it: and, in a low and subdued tone of voice, so as none might near but myself, requested me to say not another word in the place where we were sitting, but to call on him, at the town of ----, and he would converse with me on that subject. I considered it imprudent to put any more questions to him relative to his speech, on this occasion, and agreed to meet him at the place he appointed.


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