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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

When the Gipsies entered Europe


If

there is little reason for thinking that the Gipsies left India owing to the cruelties of Timour, there is less for supposing, as Mr. Borrow supposes, that their being called Egyptians originated, not with themselves, but with others; for he says that the tale of their being Egyptians "probably originated amongst the priests and learned men of the east of Europe, who, startled by the sudden apparition of bands of people foreign in appearance and language, skilled in divination and the occult arts, endeavoured to find in Scripture a clue to such a phenomenon; the result of which was that the Romas (Gipsies) of Hindostan were suddenly transformed into Egyptian penitents, a title which they have ever since borne in various parts of Europe." Why should the priests and learned men of the east of Europe go to the Bible to find the origin of such a people as the Gipsies? What did priests and learned men know of the Bible at the beginning of the fifteenth century? Did every priest, at that time, know there even was such a book as the Bible in existence? The priests and learned men of the east of Europe were more likely to turn to the eastern nations for the origin of the Gipsies, than to Egypt, were the mere matter of the skill of the Gipsies in divination and the occult arts to lead them to make any enquiry into their history. But what could have induced the priests and learned men to take any such particular interest in the Gipsies? When the Gipsies entered Europe, they would feel under
the necessity of saying who they were. Having committed themselves to that point, how could they afterwards call themselves by that name which Mr. Borrow supposes the priests and learned men to have given them? Or, I should rather say, how could the priests and learned men think of giving them a name after they themselves had said who they were? And did the priests and learned men invent the idea of the Gipsies being pilgrims, or bestow upon their leaders the titles of dukes, earls, lords, counts and knights of Little Egypt? Assuredly not; all these matters must have originated with the Gipsies themselves. The truth is, Mr. Borrow has evidently had no opportunities of learning, or, at least, has not duly appreciated, the real mental acquirements of the early Gipsies, an idea of which will be found in the history of the race on their first general arrival in Scotland, about a hundred years after they were first taken notice of in Europe, during which time they are not supposed to have made any great progress in mental condition. I may venture to say that the prophecy of Ezekiel,[8] in regard to the scattering of the Egyptians, does not apply to the Gipsies, for this reason, that such of these Egyptians as were _carried away captive_ would become lost among other nations, while the "mixed multitude" which left Egypt with the Jews, travelled East, _their own masters_, and became the origin of the Gipsy nation throughout the world. If we could but find traces of an Egyptian origin among the Gipsies of Asia, say Central and Western Asia, the question would be beyond dispute. But that might be a matter of some trouble. I am inclined to believe that the people in India corresponding to the Gipsies in Europe, will be found among those tented tribes who perform certain services to the British armies; at all events there is such a tribe in India, who are called Gipsies by the Europeans who come in contact with them. A short time ago, one of these people, who followed the occupation of a camel driver in India, found his way to England, and "pulled up" with some English Gipsies, whom he recognized as his own people; at least he found that they had the ways and ceremonies of them. But it would be unreasonable to suppose that such a tribe in India did not follow various occupations. Bishop Heber, on several occasions, speaks of certain tents of people whom he met in India, as Gipsies. But I can conceive nothing more difficult than an attempt to elucidate the history of any of the infinity of sects, castes, or tribes to be met with in India.[9] What evidently leads Mr. Borrow and others astray, in the matter of the origin of the Gipsies, is, that they conclude that, because the language spoken by the Gipsies is apparently, or for the most part, Hindostanee, therefore the people speaking it originated in Hindostan; as just a conclusion as it would be to maintain that the Negroes in Liberia originated in England because they speak the English language!


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