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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The employments of the original Gipsies


or shortly after, their arrival, they seem to have divided the country among themselves; each tribe exercising its rights over its own territory, to the exclusion of others, just as a native lord would have done against other natives; with a system of passes, regulated by councils of local or provincial chieftains, and a king, over all. The Scottish Gipsies, from the very first, seem to have been thoroughly versed in their vocation, from having had about a hundred years' experience, in some other part of Europe, before they settled in Scotland; although stragglers of their race evidently had made their appearance in the country many years before. What might have been the number of Gipsies then in Scotland, it is impossible to conjecture; it must have been considerable, if we judge from what is said in Wraxall's History of France, vol. 2, page 32, when, in reference to the Act of Queen Elizabeth, in 1563, he states, that, in her reign, the Gipsies throughout England were supposed to exceed ten thousand. The employments of the original Gipsies, within their respective districts, seem to have been what is described under the head of Tweed-dale and Clydesdale Gipsies; that is, tinkering, making spoons and other wares, petty trading, telling fortunes, living as much as possible at free-quarters, dealing in horses, and visiting fairs. It is extremely likely that those who travelled Tweed-dale, for example, always averaged about the same number, down to the time of the American Revolution,
(except in times of civil commotion, when they would have the country pretty much to themselves,) and were confined to such of the families of the respective tribes, or the members of these families, in whom the right was hereditary. The consequence seems to have been, that perhaps the younger members of the family had to betake themselves to towns and villages, and engage in whatever they could possibly turn their hands to. Some would, of course, take to the highway, and kindred fields of industry. Admitting that the circumstances attending the Gipsies in Scotland, at that time, and subsequently, were the same, as regards the manner of making a living, which attend those in England, at the present day, (with this difference, that they could more easily roam at large then than now,) and we can have no difficulty in coming to a conclusion how the surplus of the tented Gipsy population was disposed of. Among the English Gipsies of to-day, taking year with year, and tent with tent, there is, yearly, a continual moving out of the tent; a kind of Gipsy crop is annually gathered from tented Gipsydom; and some of these gradually find themselves drawn into almost every kind of mechanical or manual labour, even to working in coal-mines and iron-works; others become peddlers, itinerant auctioneers, and _tramps_ of almost every imaginable kind; not to speak of those who visit fairs, in various capacities, or engage in various settled traffic.

Put a Gipsy to any occupation you like, and he shows a capability and handiness that is astonishing, if he can only muster up steadiness in his new vocation. But it is difficult to break him off the tent; he will return, and lounge, for weeks together, about that of his father, or some other relative. But get him fairly out of the tent, married, and, in a degree, settled to some occupation, in a town where there are not too many of his own race in close proximity to him, but where he gets mixed up, in his daily avocation, with the common natives, and he sooner or later falls into the ranks. Still, his intimate associations are always with Gipsies; for his ardent attachment to his people, and a corresponding resentment of the prejudice that exists against it, keep him aloof from any intimate intercourse with the ordinary inhabitants; his associations with them hardly ever extending beyond the commons or the public-house. If he experiences an attack from his old habits, he will take to the tramp, from town to town, working at his mechanical occupation; leaving his wife and children at home. But it is not long before he returns. His children, having been born and reared in a town, become habituated to a settled life, like other people.

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