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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

209 The Scottish Gipsies have doubtless an oral literature


[209] The Scottish Gipsies have doubtless an oral literature, like their brethren in other countries. It would be strange indeed if they did not rank as high, in that respect, as many of the barbarous tribes in the world. People so situated, with no written language, are wonderfully apt at picking up, and retaining, any composition that contains poetry and music, to which oral literature is chiefly confined. In that respect, their faculties, like those of the blind, are sharpened by the wants which others do not experience in indulging a feeling common to all mankind.

A striking instance of a people, unacquainted with the art of writing, possessing a literature, is said to have been found in Hawaii; and to such an extent, as to "possess a force and compass that, at the beginning of the study of it, would not have been credited."--ED.

[210] A song which a female Gipsy sang to Mr. Borrow, at Moscow, commenced in this way, "Her head is aching with grief, as if she had tasted wine;" and ended thus, "That she may depart in quest of the lord of her bosom, and share his joys and pleasures."--ED.

This family, like all their race, now became much alarmed at their communications; and it required considerable trouble on my part to allay their fears. The old man was in the greatest anguish of mind, at having committed himself at all, relative to his speech.

I was very sorry for his distress, and renewed my promise not to publish his name, or place of residence, assuring him he had nothing to fear. It is now many years since he died. He was considered a very decent, honest man, and was a great favourite with those who were acquainted with him. But his wife, and some other members of his family, followed the practices of their ancestors.

Publish their language! Give to the world that which they had kept to themselves, with so much solicitude, so much tenacity, so much fidelity, for three hundred and fifty years! A parallel to such a phenomenon cannot be found within the whole range of history.[211] What will the Tinklers, the "poor things," as Sir Walter Scott so feelingly called them--what will they think of me, after the publication of the present work?[212]

[211] Smith, in his "Hebrew people," writes: "The Jews had almost lost, in the _seventy_ years' captivity, their original language; that was now become dead; and they spoke a jargon made up of their own language and that of the Chaldeans, and other nations with whom they had mingled. Formerly, preachers had only explained subjects; now, they were obliged to explain words; words which, in the sacred code, were become obsolete, equivocal, dead."--ED.

[212] The Gipsies have been much annoyed, in late times, by people anxious to find out their secrets. The circumstance caused them, at first, much alarm as to what it meant; but when they came to learn the object of this modern Gipsy-hunting, they became, in a measure, reconciled to their troubles; for they were perfectly satisfied that the labours of these inquisitive people would, in the language of Ruthven, "be in vain." But the attempt of our author, with his "open sesame," caused not a few of them to travel through life with the weight of a millstone hanging about their necks, which the publication, now, is perhaps calculated to lighten. The "giving to the world everything relative to their tribe," was something they were more apt to over than under estimate. To be "put in the papers," judging from the horror with which such is regarded by our own humble people, was bad enough; still, the end of that would, in their peculiar way of thinking, be merely the "lighting of the candles, and curling the hair, of the gentle folk." But to have themselves put in a book--to see themselves, in their imaginations, "carried about in every bit herd-laddie's pouch," was something that aggravated them. The presumptuous pride, the overweening conceit of a high-mettled Scottish Gipsy; his boasted descent--a descent at once high, illustrious, and lost in antiquity; his unbounded contempt for the rabble of town and country--rendered him, under the circumstances, almost incapable of brooking the idea of seeing his race exposed to, what he would consider, the ridicule of the very herds. The very idea of it was to him mortifying and maddening. Well might our author, from having been so much mixed up with the Gipsies, show some hesitancy ere taking a step that would have brought such a nest of hornets about his ears. But, all things considered, my impression is, that the outdoor Gipsies, at the present day, will feel extremely proud of the present work; and that the same may be said of all classes of them, if one subject had been excluded from the volume, over which they will be very apt to growl a little in secret.--ED.


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