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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The superior class of Scottish Gipsies


the Gipsies that appear to the general eye have fallen much from what they were. The superior class of Scottish Gipsies, possessing the talents and policy necessary to accommodate themselves to the change of circumstances around them, have adopted the modes of ordinary life to such an extent, and so far given up their wandering habits, as to baffle any chance of discovery by any one unacquainted with their history, and who will not, like a bloodhound, follow them into the retreats in which they and their descendants are now to be found. Such Gipsies are still a restless race, and nourish that inveterate attachment to their blood and language which is peculiar to all of them. When we consider the change that has come over the face of society during the last hundred years, or even during a much shorter time, we will find many causes that have contributed to that which has come over the Gipsy character in its more atrocious aspect. All classes of our own people, from the highest to the lowest, have experienced the change; and nowhere to a greater extent than in the Highlands, where, in little more than a hundred years, a greater reformation has been effected, than took almost any other part of the world perhaps three centuries to accomplish; and where the people, as a body, have emerged, from a state of sanguinary barbarism, into the most lawful and the most moral and religious subjects of the British Empire. The Gipsies have likewise felt the change. Even the wildest of them have
had the more outrageous features of their character subdued; but it is sometimes as an animal of prey, sans teeth, sans claws, sans everything. Officials, in the zeal of their callings, often greatly distress those that go about--compelling them, in their wanderings, to "move on;" and look after them so closely, that when they become obnoxious to the inhabitants, the offence has hardly occurred, ere, to use an expression, they are snapped up before they have had time to squeak. Amid such a state of things, it is difficult for Gipsies to flourish in their glory; still, such of them as go about in the olden form are deemed very annoying.

The dread which has always been entertained toward the Gipsies has been carefully fostered by them, and has become the principal means contributing to their toleration. They have always been combined in a brotherhood of sentiment and interest, even when deadly feuds existed among them; an injury toward one being generally taken up by others; and have presented that union of sympathy, and lawless violence toward the community, which show what a few audacious and desperate men, under such circumstances, will sometimes do in a well regulated society. Sir Walter Scott, relative to the original of one of his heroines, says: "She was wont to say that she could bring, from the remotest parts of the island friends, to revenge her quarrel, while she sat motionless in her cottage; and frequently boasted that there was a time when she was of still more considerable importance, when there were at her wedding fifty saddled asses, and unsaddled asses without number." But of their various crimes, none have had such terrors for the grown-up person as those of fire-raising and child-stealing. The Gipsy could easily steal into a well guarded but scattered premises, by night, and, in an instant, spread devastation around him, and irretrievable ruin to the rural inhabitant. But that which has, perhaps, contributed most to the feeling in question, has been their habit of child-stealing, the terrors of which have grown up with the people from infancy. This trait in the Gipsy character has certainly not been so common, in latter times, as some others; still, it has taken place. As an instance, it may be mentioned that Adam Smith, the author of the great work called "An Enquiry into the Causes of the Wealth of Nations," was actually carried off by the Gipsies, when a child, and was some hours in their possession before recovery. It is curious to think what might have been the political state of so many nations, and of Great Britain in particular, at the present time, if the father of political economy and free-trade, as he is generally called, had had to pass his life in a Gipsy encampment, and, like a white transferred to an Indian wigwam, under similar circumstances, acquired all their habits, and become more incorrigibly attached to them than the people themselves; tinkering kettles, pots, pans and old metal, in place of separating the ore of a beautiful science from the debris which had been for generations accumulating around it, and working it up into one of the noblest monuments of modern times.

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