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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

He would cease to be a packman


[297] A writer in the Penny Cyclopaedia illustrates this absurd idea, in very plain terms, when he says: "In England, the Gipsies have much diminished, of late years, in consequence of the enclosure of lands, and the laws against vagrants." Sir Walter Scott's idea of the Gipsies has been followed in a pictorial history of Scotland, lately issued from the Scottish press.

In explaining this subject, it is by no means necessary to "crack an egg" for the occasion. There is doubtless a "hitch," but it is a hitch so close under our very noses, that it has escaped the observation of the world. Still, the point can be readily enough realized by any one. Take, for example, the Walker family. Walker knows well enough who his father, grandfather, and so forth were; and holds himself to be a Walker. Is it not so with the Gipsies? What is it but a question of "folk?" A question more familiar to Scotch people than any other people. If one's ancestors were all Walkers, is not the present Walker still a Walker? If such or such a family was originally of the Gipsy race, is it not so still? How did Billy Marshall happen to be a Gipsy? Was he a Gipsy because he lived in a tent? or, did he live in a tent, like a Gipsy of the old stock? If Billy was a Gipsy, surely Billy's children must also have been Gipsies!

The error committed by writers, with reference to the so-called "dying-out" of the Gipsy race, arises from their

not distinguishing between the questions of race, blood, descent, and language, and a style of life, or character, or mode of making a living. Suppose that a native Scottish cobbler should leave his last, and take to peddling, as a packman, and ultimately settle again in a town, as a respectable tradesman. On quitting "the roads," he would cease to be a packman; nor could his children after him be called packmen, because the whole family were native Scotch from the first; following the pack having been only the occupation of the father, during part of his life. Should a company of American youths and maidens take to the swamp, cranberrying and gipsying, for a time, it could not be said that they had become Gipsies; for they were nothing but ordinary Americans. Should the society of Quakers dissolve into its original elements, it would just be English blood quakerized, returning to English blood before it was quakerized. But it is astonishing that intelligent men should conceive, and others retail, the ideas that have been expressed in regard to the destiny of the Gipsy race. What avails the lessons of history, or the daily experience of every family of the land, the common sense of mankind, or the instinct of a Hottentot, if no other idea of the fate of the Gipsy race can be given than that referred to? Upon the principle of the Gipsies "dying out," by settling, and changing their habits, it would appear that, when at home, in the winter, they were not Gipsies; but that they were Gipsies, when they resumed their habits, in the spring! On the same principle, it would appear, that, if every Gipsy in the world were to disappear from the roads and the fields, and drop his original habits, there would be no Gipsies in the world, at all! What idea can possibly be more ridiculous?[298]

[298] The following singular remarks appeared in a very late number of Chambers' Journal, on the subject of the Gipsies of the Danube: "As the wild cat, the otter, and the wolf, generally disappear before the advance of civilization, the wild races of mankind are, in like manner and degree, gradually coming to an end, and from the same causes(!) The waste lands get enclosed, the woods are cut down, the police becomes yearly more efficient, and the Pariahs vanish with their means of subsistence. [Where do they go to?] In England, there are, at most, 1,500 Gipsies(!) Before the end of the present century, they will probably be extinct over Western Europe(!)"


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