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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Associations and manners of Gitanos


[271] Mr. Borrow mentions, in the twenty-second chapter of the "Bible in Spain," having met several cavalry soldiers from Granada, Gipsies _incog._ who were surprised at being discovered to be Gipsies. They had been impressed, but carried on a trade in horses, in league with the captain of their company. They said: "We have been to the wars, but not to fight; we left that to the Busne. We have kept together, and like true Calore, have stood back to back. We have made money in the wars."

It is singular that Mr. Borrow should attribute the change which has come over the Spanish Gipsies, so much to the law passed by Charles III. in 1783; and that he should characterize it as an enlightened, wise, and liberal law; distinguished by justice and clemency; and as being calculated to exert considerable influence over the destiny of the race; nay, as being the principal, if not the only, cause for the "decline" of it in Spain. It was headed: "Rules for _repressing_ and _chastising_ the vagrant mode of life, and other excesses, of those who are called Gitanos." Article II. forbids, under penalties, the Gipsies "using their _language_, dress, or vagrant kind of life, which they had hitherto followed." Article XI. prohibits them from "wandering about the roads and uninhabited places, even with the pretext of _visiting markets and fairs_." Article IX. reads thus: "Those _who have abandoned the dress, name, language or jargon, associations and

manners of Gitanos_, and shall have, moreover, chosen and established a domicile, but shall not have devoted themselves to any office or employment, though it be only that of day-labourer, shall be _proceeded against as common vagrants_." Articles XVI. and XVII. enact, that "the children, and young people of both sexes, who are not above sixteen years of age, shall be separated from their parents, _who wander about and have no employment_, [which was forbidden by the law itself,] and shall be destined to learn something, or shall be placed out in hospices or houses of instruction." Article XX. _dooms to death, without remission, Gipsies who, for the second time, relapse into their old habits_.

I cannot agree with Mr. Borrow, when he says, that this law "differs in _character_" from any which had hitherto been enacted, in connection with the body in Spain, if I take those preceding it, as given by himself. The only difference between it and some of the previous laws is, that it allowed the Gipsy to be admitted to whatever office or employment _to which he might apply himself_, and likewise to any guilds or communities; but it prohibited him from settling in the capital, or any of the royal residences; and forbade him, _on pain of death_, to publicly profess what he was--that is, a Gipsy. With the trifling exceptions mentioned, the law of Charles III. was as foolish a one as ever was passed against the Gipsies. These very exceptions show what the letter, whatever the execution, of previous laws must have been. Nor can we form any opinion as to the effects the law in question had upon the Gipsies, unless we know how it was carried out. The law of the Empress Maria Theresa produced no effect upon the Gipsies in Hungary. "In Hungary," says Mr. Borrow, "two classes are free to do what they please--the nobility and the Gipsies--the one above the law, the other below it." And what did Mr. Borrow find the Gipsies in Hungary? In England, the last instances of condemnation, under the old sanguinary laws, happened a few years before the Restoration, although these were not repealed till 23d Geo. III., c. 54. The Gipsies in England can follow any employment, common to the ordinary natives, they please: and how has Mr. Borrow described them there? In Scotland, the tribe have been allowed to do nothing, not even acknowledge their existence, as Gipsies: and this work describes what they are in that country.


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