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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

That was the character of a superior Gipsy


It

is certainly a singular position which is occupied, from generation to generation, and century to century, by our settled Scottish, as well as other, Gipsies, who are not known to the world as such, yet maintain a daily intercourse with others not of their own tribe. It resembles a state of semi-damnation, with a drawn sword hanging over their heads, ready to fall upon them at any moment. But the matter cannot be mended. They are Gipsies, by every physical and mental necessity, and they accommodate themselves to their circumstances as they best may. This much is certain, that they have the utmost confidence in their incognito, as regards their descent, personal feelings, and exclusively private associations. The word "Gipsy," to be applied to them by strangers, frightens them, in contemplation, far more than it does the children of the ordinary natives; for they imagine it a dreadful thing to be known to their neighbours as Gipsies. Still, they have never occupied any other position; they have been born in it, and reared in it; it has even been the nature of the race, from the very first, always to "work in the dark." In all probability, it has never occurred to them to imagine that it will ever be otherwise: nor do they evidently wish it; for they can see no possible way to have themselves acknowledged, by the world, as Gipsies. The very idea horrifies them. So far from letting the world know anything of them, as Gipsies, their constant care is to keep it in perpetual darkness
on the subject. Of all men, these Gipsies may say:

". . . . . . rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others we know not of."

Indeed, the only thing that worries such a Gipsy is the idea that the public should know all about _him_; otherwise, he feels a supreme satisfaction in being a Gipsy; as well as in having such a history of his race as I have informed him I proposed publishing, provided I do not in any way mix _him_ up with it, or "let _him_ out." By bringing up the body in the manner done in this work, by making a sweep of the whole tribe, the responsibility becomes spread over a large number of people; so that, should the Gipsy become, by any means, known, personally, to the world, he would have the satisfaction of knowing that he had others to keep him company; men occupying respectable positions in life, and respected, by the world at large, as individuals.

Here, then, we have one of the principal reasons for everything connected with the Gipsies being hidden from the rest of mankind. They have always been looked upon as arrant vagabonds, while they have looked upon their ancestors as illustrious and immortal heroes. How, then, are we to bridge over this gulf that separates them, in feeling, from the rest of the world? The natural reply is, that we should judge them, not by their condition and character in times that are past, but by what they are to-day.

That the Gipsies were a barbarous race when they entered Europe, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, is just what could have been expected of any Asiatic, migratory, tented horde, at a time when the inhabitants of Europe were little better than barbarous, themselves, and many of them absolutely so. To speak of the Highland clans, at that time, as being better than barbarous, would be out of the question; as to the Irish people, it would be difficult to say what they really were, at the same time. Even the Lowland Scotch, a hundred years after the arrival of the Gipsies in Europe, were, with some exceptions, divided into two classes--"beggars and rascals," as history tells us. Is it, therefore, unreasonable to say, that, in treating of the Gipsies of to-day, we should apply to them the same principles of judgment that have been applied to the ordinary natives? If we refer to the treaty between John Faw and James V., in 1540, we will very readily conclude that, three centuries ago, the leaders of the Gipsies were very superior men, in their way; cunning, astute, and slippery Oriental barbarians, with the experience of upwards of a century in European society generally; well up to the ways of the world, and the general ways of Church and State; and, in a sense, at home with kings, popes, cardinals, nobility, and gentry. That was the character of a superior Gipsy, in 1540. In 1840, we find the race represented by as fine a man as ever graced the Church of Scotland. "Grand was the repose of his lofty brow, dark eye, and aspect of soft and melancholy meaning. It was a face from which every evil and earthly passion seemed purged. A deep gravity lay upon his countenance, which had the solemnity, without the sternness, of one of our old reformers. You could almost fancy a halo completing its apostolic character." Some of the Scottish Gipsies of to-day could very readily exclaim:


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