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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Passing laws against the Gipsies


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that the intelligent reader

will agree with me, after all that has been said, in estimating it as very large. There seems no reason for thinking that the Gipsies suffered so greatly, by the laws passed against them, as people have imagined; for the cunning of the Gipsy, and the wild, or partly uncultivated, face of all the countries of Europe would afford him many facilities to evade the laws passed against him. We have already seen what continental writers have said of the race, relative to the laws passed against it: "But, instead of passing the boundaries, they only slunk into hiding places, and, shortly after, appeared in as great numbers as before." And this seems to have been invariably the case over the whole of Europe. Mr. Borrow, as we have already seen, speaks of every Spanish monarch, on succeeding to the crown, passing laws against the Gipsies. If former laws were put in force, there would be no occasion for making so many new ones; the very fact of so many laws having been passed against the Gipsy race, in Spain, is sufficient proof of each individual law never having been put to much execution, but rather, as has already been said, (page 394,) of its having been customary for every king of Spain to issue such against them. It does not appear that any force was employed to hunt the Gipsies out of the country, but that matters were left to the ordinary local authorities, whom the tribe would, in many instances, manage to render passive, or beyond whose jurisdiction they would remove for the time
being. The laws passed against the nobility and commonalty of Spain, for protecting the Gipsies, (page 114,) is a very instructive commentary on those for the extermination of the body itself. But the case most in point is in the Scottish laws passed against the Gipsies. Upon the passing of the Act of James VI., in 1609, we find that the Gipsies "dispersed themselves in certain secret and obscure places of the country"; and that, when the storm was blown over, they "began to take new breath and courage, and unite themselves in infamous companies and societies, under commanders" (page 114). The extreme bitterness displayed in Scots acts of parliament against the best classes of the population, for protecting and entertaining the tribe, and, consequently, rendering the other acts nugatory, has a very important bearing upon the subject. We find that the Gipsies wandered up and down France for a hundred years, unmolested; and that, so numerous had they become, that, in 1545, the King of France entertained the idea of embodying four thousand of them, to act as pioneers in taking Boulogne, then in possession of England. The last notice which we have of the French Gipsies was that made by Grellmann, when he says: "In France, before the Revolution, there were but few, for the obvious reason, that every Gipsy who could be apprehended, fell a sacrifice to the police." Grellmann, however, had not studied the subject sufficiently deep to account for the destiny of the race. If they were so very numerous in France, in 1545, the natural encrease, in whatever position in life it might be, must have been very great during the following 235 years. I have learned, from the best of authority, that there are many Gipsies in Flanders.[309] If the Gipsies in England were estimated at above ten thousand, during the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, how many may they not be now, including those of every kind of mixture of blood, character, and position in life? If there is one Gipsy in the British Isles, there cannot be less than a quarter of a million, and, possibly, as many as six hundred thousand; and, instead of there being sixty thousand in Spain, and constantly _decreasing_, (_disappearing_ is the right word,) we may safely estimate them at three hundred thousand. The reader has already been informed of what becomes of all the Gipsies. As a case in point, I may ask, who would have imagined that there was such a thing in Edinburgh as a factory, filled, not merely with Gipsies, but with _Irish_ Gipsies? The owner of the establishment was doubtless a Gipsy; for how did so many Gipsies come to work in it, or how did he happen to know that his workmen were _all_ Gipsies, or that even _one_ of them was a Gipsy?


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