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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

While Gipsyism is natural something that


[267] There is a considerable resemblance between Gipsyism, in its harmless aspect, and Freemasonry; with this difference, that the former is a general, while the latter is a special, society; that is to say, the Gipsies have the language, or some of the words, and the signs, peculiar to the whole race, which each individual or class will use for different purposes. The race does not necessarily, and does not in fact, have intercourse with every other member of it; in that respect, they resemble any ordinary community of men. Masonry, as my reader may be aware, is a society of what may be termed "a mixed multitude of good fellows, who are all pledged to befriend and help each other." The radical elements of Masonry may be termed a "rope of sand," which the vows of the Order work into the most closely and strongly formed coil of any to be found in the world. But it is altogether of an artificial nature; while Gipsyism is natural--something that, when separated from objectionable habits, one might almost call divine; for it is founded upon a question of race--a question of blood. The cement of a creed is weak, in comparison with that which binds the Gipsies together; for a people, like an individual, may have one creed to-day, and another to-morrow; it may be continually travelling round the circle of every form of faith; but blood, under certain circumstances, is absolute and immutable.

There are many

Gipsies Freemasons; indeed, they are the very people to push their way into a Mason's lodge; for they have secrets of their own, and are naturally anxious to pry into those of others, by which they may be benefited. I was told of a Gipsy who died lately, the Master of a Masons' Lodge. A friend, a Mason, told me, the other day, of his having entered a house in Yetholm, where were five Gipsies, all of whom responded to his Masonic signs. Masons should therefore interest themselves in, and befriend, the Gipsies.

Mr. Borrow speaks of the Gipsies "declining" in Spain. Ask a Scotchman about the Scottish Gipsies, and he will answer: "The Scotch Gipsies have pretty much died out." "Died out?" I ask; "that is impossible; for who are more prolific than Gipsies?" "Oh, then, they have become settled, and civilized." "And _ceased to be Gipsies_?" I continue. "Exactly so," he replies. What idea can be more ridiculous than that of saying, that if a Gipsy leaves the tent, settles in a town, and attends church, he ceases to be a Gipsy; and that, if he takes to the tent again, he becomes a Gipsy again? What has a man's occupation, habits, or character, to do with his clan, tribe, or nationality? Does education, does religion, remove from his mind a knowledge of who he is, or change his blood? Are not our own Borderers and Highlanders as much Borderers and Highlanders as ever they were? Are not Spanish Gipsies still Spanish Gipsies, although a change may have come over the characters and circumstances of some of them? It would be absurd to deny it.[268]

[268] The principle, or rather fact, here involved, simple as it is in itself, is evidently very difficult of comprehension by the native Scottish mind. Any person understands perfectly well how a Highlander, at the present day, is still a Highlander, notwithstanding the great change that has come over the character of his race. But our Scottish _literati_ seem to have been altogether at sea, in comprehending the same principle as applicable to the Gipsies. They might naturally have asked themselves, whether _Gipsies_ could have procreated _Jews_; and, if not Jews, how they could have procreated _gorgios_, (as English Gipsies term natives.) A writer in Blackwood's Magazine says, in reference to Billy Marshall, a Gipsy chief, to whom allusion has already been made: "Who were his descendants I cannot tell; I am sure he could not do it himself, if he were living. It is known that they were prodigiously numerous; I dare say numberless." And yet this writer gravely says that "the _race_ is in some risk of becoming extinct(!)" Another writer in Blackwood says: "Their numbers may perhaps have since been diminished, in particular States, by _the progress of civilization_(_!_)" We would naturally pronounce any person crazy who would maintain that there were no Highlanders in Scotland, owing to their having "changed their habits." We could, with as much reason, say the same of those who will maintain this opinion in regard to the Gipsies. There has been a great deal of what is called genius expended upon the Gipsies, but wonderfully little common sense.


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