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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

That marriages between adopted Gipsies


I

will now consider the present condition of the Scottish Gipsies. But, to commence with, what is the native capacity of a Gipsy? It is good. Take a common tinkering Gipsy, without a particle of education, and compare him with a common native, without a particle of education, and the tinker, in point of smartness, is worth, perhaps, a dozen of the other. If not a learned, he is at least a travelled, Athenian, considerably rubbed up by his intercourse with the world. This is the proper way by which to judge of the capacity of a Gipsy. It will differ somewhat according to the countries and circumstances in which he is found. Grellmann, about the year 1780, says, of evidently the more original kind of Hungarian Gipsies: "Imagine a people of childish thoughts, whose minds are filled with raw, undigested conceptions, guided more by sense than reason, and using understanding and reflection only so far as they promote the gratification of any particular appetite; and you have a perfect sketch of the general character of the Gipsies." "They are lively, uncommonly loquacious, fickle to an extreme; consequently, inconstant in their pursuits." Bischoff, in speaking of the German Gipsies, in 1827, says: "They have a good understanding, an excellent memory, are quick of comprehension, lively and talkative." Mr. Borrow, in evident allusion to the very lowest, and most ignorant, class of the Spanish Gipsies, says: "They seem to hunt for their bread, as if they were not of the human, but rather
of the animal, species, and, in lieu of reason, were endowed with a kind of instinct, which assists them to a very limited extent, and no further." I admit that this class of Gipsies may have as little intellect as there is in an ant-catcher's nose, but the remark can apply to them exclusively.

Without taking into account any opinion expressed by other writers on the Gipsies, Mr. Borrow says: "Should it be urged that certain individuals have found them very different from what they are represented in these volumes, ('The Gipsies in Spain,') he would frankly say that he yields no credit to the presumed fact." And he refers his readers to his Spanish-Gipsy vocabulary for the words _hoax_ and _hocus_, as a reason for such an opinion! He himself gives descriptions of quite a different caste. For example, he speaks of a rich Gipsy appearing in a fair, at Leon, in Spain, with a twenty thousand dollar credit in his pocket. And of another Gipsy, a native of Constantinople, who had visited the most remote and remarkable portions of the world, "passing over it like a cloud;" and who spoke several dialects of the Malay, and understood the original language of Java. This Gipsy, he says, dealt in precious stones and poisons; and that there is scarcely a bey or satrap in Persia, or Turkey, whom he has not supplied with both. In Moscow, he says, "There are not a few who inhabit stately houses, go abroad in elegant equipages, and are behind the higher orders of the Russians, neither in appearance nor mental acquirements." From these specimens, one might naturally conclude that there was some room for discrimination among different classes of Gipsies, instead of rating them as having the intellect of ant-catchers.

When the Gipsies appeared in Scotland, the natives themselves, as I have already said, were nearly wholly uneducated. Many of the Gipsies, then, and long afterwards, being smart, presumptuous, overbearing, audacious fellows, seem to have assumed great importance, and been looked upon as no small people by the authorities and the inhabitants of the country. In every country in which they have settled, they seem to have instinctively and very readily appreciated the ways and spirit of the people, while, at the same time, they preserved what belonged particularly to themselves--their Gipsyism. Gipsydom being, in its very essence, a "working in among other people," "a people within a people," it followed, that marriages between adopted Gipsies, and even Gipsies themselves, and the ordinary natives, would be encouraged, were it only to contribute to their existence in the country. The issue of such marriages, go where they might, would become centres of little Gipsy circles, which, in their turn, would throw off members that would become the centres of other little Gipsy circles; the leaven of Gipsydom leavening into a lamp everything that proceeded out of itself. To such an extent has this been followed, that, at the present day, the Scottish Gipsies--at least the generality of them--have every outward characteristic of Scotchmen. But the secret of being Gipsies, which they carry in their bosoms, makes them appear a little queer to others; they have a something about them that makes them look somewhat odd to the other Scotchman, who is not "one of them," although he does not know the cause of it.


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