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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

To the great surprise of their Berwickshire neighbours


somewhat similar case of pardoning Gipsies is related by a writer in Blackwood's Magazine, as having occurred towards the end of last century; the individual procuring the pardon being the excitable Duchess of Gordon, the same, I presume, whom Burns' genius "fairly lifted off her feet." The following are the circumstances, as given by this writer: A Berwickshire farmer had been missing sheep, and lay in wait, one night, with a servant, for the depredators. They seized upon Tam Gordon, the captain of the Spittal Gipsies, and his son-in-law, Ananias Faa, in the very act of stealing the sheep; when the captain drew a knife, to defend himself. They were convicted and condemned for the crime; "but afterwards, to the great surprise of their Berwickshire neighbours, obtained a pardon, a piece of unmerited and ill-bestowed clemency, for which, it was generally understood, they were indebted to the interest of a noble northern family, of their own name. We recollect hearing a sort of ballad upon Tam's exploits, and his deliverance from the gallows, through the intercession of a celebrated duchess, but do not recollect any of the words."[304]

[304] I should suppose that this was Captain Gordon who behaved himself like a prince, at the North Queensferry. _See page 172._

A transaction like this must strike the reader as something very remarkable. Sheep-stealing, at the time mentioned, was a capital offence, for which

there was almost no pardon; and more especially in the case of people who were of notorious "habit and repute Gipsies," caught in the very act, which was aggravated by their drawing an "invasive weapon." Not only were they condemned, but we may readily assume that the "country-side" were crying, "Hang and bury the vagabonds;" and death seemed certain; when in steps the duchess, and snatches them both from the very teeth of the gallows. What guarantee have we that the duchess was not a Gipsy? It certainly was not likely that a Gipsy woman would step out of her tent, and seize a coronet; but what cannot we imagine to have taken place, in "the blood" working its way up, during the previous 250 years? What guarantee have we that Professor Wilson was not "taking a look at the old thing," when rambling with the Gipsies, in his youth? There are Gipsy families in Edinburgh, to-day, of as respectable standing, and of as good descent, as could be said of him, or many others who have distinguished themselves in the world.

We must not forget that, when the Gipsies entered Scotland, it was for better or for worse, just for what was to "turn up." Very soon after their arrival, the country would become their country, as much as that of the ordinary natives; so that Scotland became their home, as much as if it had always been that of their race, except their retaining a tradition of their recent arrival from some part of the East, and a singular sense of being part and parcel of "the Egyptians that were scattered over the face of the earth;" neither of which the odious prejudice against "the blood" allowed them to forget; assuming that they were willing, and, moreover, that the cast of their minds allowed them, to do either. The idea which has been expressed by the world, generally, of the Gipsy tribe gradually assimilating with the native race, and ultimately "getting lost among it," applies to the principle at issue; for, as I have already said, it _has_ got greatly lost, in point of appearance, and general deportment, among the ordinary natives, but has remained, heart and soul, Gipsy, as before. Even with the native race, we will find that the blood of the lowly is always getting mixed with that in the higher circles of life. We have the case of a girl going to service with a London brewer, then becoming his wife, then his widow, then employing a lawyer to manage her affairs, and afterwards marrying him, who, in his turn, became Earl of Clarendon, and father, by her, of the queen of James II. Towards the end of last, or beginning of the present, century, we hear of a poor actress, who commenced life in a provincial theatre, marrying one of the Coutts, the bankers, and dying Duchess of St. Albans. Such events have been of much more common occurrence in less elevated spheres of life; and the Gipsy race has had its share of them. For this reason, it is really impossible to say, who, among the Scotch, are, and who are not, of the Gipsy tribe; such a thorough mess has the "mixing of the blood" made of the Scottish population. Notwithstanding all that, there is a certain definite number of "Gipsies" in Scotland, known to God only; while each Gipsy is known in his or her conscience to belong to the tribe. This much is certain, that we need not consult the census returns for the number of the tribe in Scotland. However easy, or however difficult, it may be, to define what a Gipsy, in regard to external or internal circumstances, is, this much is certain, that the feeling in his mind as to his being a Gipsy, is as genuine and emphatic as is the feeling in the mind of a Jew being a Jew.

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