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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The detested expression Gitano


Borrow concludes, in regard to the Spanish Gipsies, thus: "We have already expressed our belief that the caste has diminished of latter years; whether this diminution was the result of one or many causes combined; of a _partial change of habits_, of pestilence or sickness, of war or famine, or of a _freer intercourse with the Spanish population_, we have no means of determining, and shall abstain from offering conjectures on the subject." In this way does he leave the question just where he found it. Is there any reason to doubt that Gipsydom is essentially the same in Spain as in Great Britain; or that its future will be guided by any other principles than those which regulate that of the British Gipsies? Indeed, I am astonished that Mr. Borrow should advance the idea that Gipsies should _decrease_ by "changing their habits;" they might not _encrease so fast_, in a settled life, as when more exposed to the air, and not molested by the Spanish Government. I am no less astonished that he should think they would decrease by "a freer intercourse with the Spanish population;" when, in fact, such mixtures are well known to go with the Gipsies; the mixture being, in the estimation of the British Gipsies, calculated to strengthen and invigorate the race itself. Had Mr. Borrow kept in mind the case of the half-blood Gipsy captain, he could have had no difficulty in learning what became of mixed Gipsies.[270]

[270] Mr. Borrow surely cannot mean that

a Gipsy ceases to be a Gipsy, when he settles down, and "turns over a new leaf;" and that this "change of habits" changes his descent, blood, appearance, language and nationality! What, then, does he mean, when he says that the Spanish Gipsies have decreased by "a partial change of habits?"

And does an infusion of Spanish blood, implied in a "freer intercourse with the Spanish population," lead to the Gipsy element being wiped out; or does it lead to the Spanish feeling being lost in Gipsydom? Which is the element to be operated upon--the Spanish or the Gipsy? Which is the _leaven_? The Spanish element is the _passive_, the Gipsy the _active_. As a question of philosophy, the most simple of comprehension, and, above all, as a matter of fact, the foreign element introduced, _in detail_, into the _body_ of Gipsydom, goes with that body, and, in feeling, becomes incorporated with it, although, in physical appearance, it changes the Gipsy race, so that it becomes "confounded with the residue of the population," but remains Gipsy, as before. A Spanish Gipsy is a Spaniard as he stands, and it would be hard to say what we should ask him to do, to become more a Spaniard than he is already.

It doubtless holds in Spain, as in Great Britain, that as the Gipsy enters into settled life, and engages in a respectable calling, he hides his descent, and even mixes his blood with that of the country, and becomes ashamed of the name before the public; but is as much, at heart, a Gipsy, as any others of his race. And this theory is borne out by Mr. Borrow himself, when he speaks of "the unwillingness of the Spanish Gipsies to utter, when speaking of themselves, the detested expression Gitano; a word which seldom escapes their mouths." We might therefore conclude, that the Spanish Gipsies, with the exception of the more original and bigoted stock, would _hide their nationality_ from the common Spaniards, and so escape their notice. It is not at all likely that the half-pay Gipsy captain would mention to the public that he was a Gipsy, although he admitted it to Mr. Borrow, under the peculiar circumstances in which he met him. My Spanish acquaintance informs me that the Gitanos, generally, hide their nationality from the rest of the world.

Such a case is evidently told by Mr. Borrow, in the vagabond Gipsy, Antonio, at Badajoz, who termed a rich Gipsy, living in the same town, a hog, because he evidently would not countenance him. Antonio may possibly have been kicked out of his house, in attempting to enter it. He accused him of having married a Spaniard, and of fain attempting to pass himself for a Spaniard. As regards the wife, she might have been a Gipsy with very little of "the blood" in her veins; or a Spaniard, reared by Gipsies; or an ordinary Spanish maiden, to whom the Gipsy would teach his language, as sometimes happens among the English Gipsies. His wishing to pass for a Spaniard had nothing to do with his being, but not wishing to be known as, a Gipsy. The same is done by almost all our Scottish Gipsies. In England, those who do not follow the tent--I mean the more mixed and better-class--are even afraid of each other. "Afraid of what?" said I, to such an English Gipsy; "ashamed of being Gipsies?" "No, sir," (with great emphasis;) "not ashamed of being Gipsies, but of being _known to other people as Gipsies_." "A world of difference," I replied. What does the world hold to be a _Gipsy_, and what does it hold to be the _feelings of a man_? If we consider these two questions, we can have little difficulty in understanding the wish of such Gipsies to disguise themselves. It is in this way, and in the mixing of the blood, that this so-called "dying out of the Gipsies" is to be accounted for.[271]

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