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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Both Scottish and English Gipsies call this Gipsy law


the singularity of their race

and habits, they everywhere met with. The race then became born into that state of things. What would subsequent generations know of the origin of the feud? All that they knew was, that the law made them outlaws and outcasts; that they were subject, as Gipsies, to be hung, before they were born. Such a Gipsy might be compared to Pascal's man springing up out of an island: casting his eyes around him, he finds nothing but a legal and social proscription hanging over his head, in whatever direction he may turn. Whatever might be assumed to have been the original, innate disposition of a Gipsy, the circumstances attending him, from his birth to his death, were certainly not calculated to improve him, but to make him much worse than he might otherwise have been. The worst that can be said of the Scottish Gipsies, in times past, has been stated by our author. With all their faults, we find a vein of genuine nobility of character running through all their actions, which is the more worthy of notice, considering that they were at war with society, and society at war with them. Not the least important feature is that of gratitude for kind and hospitable treatment. In that respect, a true Scottish Gipsy has always been as true as steel; and that is saying a great deal in his favour. The instance given by our author, (pages 361-363,) is very touching, and to the point. I do not know how it may be, at the present day, in Scotland, where are to be found so many Irish Gipsies, of whom the
Scottish and English Gipsies have not much good to say, notwithstanding the assistance they render each other when they meet, (page 324.) If the English farmers are questioned, I doubt not that a somewhat similar testimony will be borne to the English Gipsies, to this extent, at least, that, when civilly and hospitably treated, and personally acquainted, they will respect the farmers' property, and even keep others off it. Indeed, both Scottish and English Gipsies call this "Gipsy law." It is certainly not the Scottish Gipsies, or, I may venture to say, the English Gipsies, to whom Mr. Borrow's words may be applied, when he says: "I have not expatiated on their gratitude towards good people, who treat them kindly, and take an interest in their welfare; for I believe, that, of all beings in the world, they are the least susceptible of such a feeling." Such a character may apply to the Spanish Gipsies for anything I know to the contrary; and the causes to which it may be attributed must be the influences which the Spanish character, and general deportment towards the tribe, have exercised over them. In speaking of the bloody and wolfish disposition which especially characterizes the Gitanos, Mr. Borrow says: "The cause to which this must be attributed, must be their residence in a country, unsound in every branch of its civil polity, where right has ever been in less esteem, and wrong in less disrepute, than in any other part of the world." Grellmann bears as poor testimony to the character of the Hungarian Gipsies, in the matter of gratitude, as Mr. Borrow does to the Spanish Gipsies, to whom I apprehend his remarks are intended to apply. But both of these authors give an opinion, unaccompanied by facts. Their opinion may be correct, however, so far as it is applicable to the class of Gipsies, or the individuals, to whom they refer. Gratitude is even a characteristic of the lower animals. "For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed and hath been tamed of mankind," saith St. James; the means of attaining to which is frequently kindness. I doubt not that the same can be said of Gipsies anywhere; for surely we can expect to find as much gratitude in them as can be called forth from things that creep, fly, or swim in the sea. It is unreasonable, however, to look for much gratitude from such Gipsies as the two authors in question have evidently alluded to; for this reason: that it is a virtue rarely to be met with from those "to whom much has been given;" and, consequently, very little should be required of those to whom _nothing_ has been given, in the estimation of their fellow-creatures. In doing a good turn to a Gipsy, it is not the act itself that calls forth, or perhaps merits, a return in gratitude; but it is the way in which it is done: for, while he is doubtless being benefited, he is, frequently if not generally, as little sympathized with, personally, as if he were some loathsome creature to which something had been thrown.

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