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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Borrow's writings upon the Gipsies


day is gone by when it cannot be said who John Bunyan was. In Cowper's time, his _name_ dare not be mentioned, "lest it should move a sneer." Let us hope that we are living in happier times. Tinkering was Bunyan's _occupation_; his _race_ the Gipsy--a fact that cannot be questioned. His having been a Gipsy adds, by contrast, a lustre to his name, and reflects an immortality upon his character; and he stands out, from among all the men of the latter half of the seventeenth century, in all his solitary grandeur, a monument of the grace of God, and a prodigy of genius. Let us, then, enroll John Bunyan as the first (that is known to the world) of eminent Gipsies, the prince of allegorists, and one of the most remarkable of men and Christians. What others of this race there may be who have distinguished themselves among mankind, are known to God and, it may be, some of the Gipsies. The saintly Doctor to whom I have alluded was one of this singular people; and one beyond question, for his admission of the fact cannot be denied by any one. Any life of John Bunyan, or any edition of his works, that does not contain a record of the fact of his having been a Gipsy, lacks the most important feature connected with the man that makes everything relating to him personally interesting to mankind. It should even contain a short dissertation on the Gipsies, and have, as a frontispiece, a Gipsy's camp, with all its appurtenances. The reader may believe that such a thing may be seen, and that, perhaps,
not before long.

It strikes me as something very singular, that Mr. Borrow, "whose acquaintance with the Gipsy race, in general, dates from a very early period of his life;" who "has lived more with Gipsies than Scotchmen;" and than whom "no one ever enjoyed better opportunities for a close scrutiny of their ways and habits," should have told us so little about the Gipsies. In all his writings on the Gipsies, he alludes to two mixed Gipsies only--the Spanish half-pay captain, and the English flaming tinman--in a way as if these were the merest of accidents, and meant nothing. He has told us nothing of the Gipsies but what was known before, with the exception, as far as my memory serves me, of the custom of the Spanish Gipsy, dressing her daughter in such a way as to protect her virginity; the existence of the tribe, in a civilized state, in Moscow; and the habit of the members of the race possessing two names; all of which are, doubtless, interesting pieces of information. The Spanish Gipsy marriage ceremony was described, long before him, by Dr. Bright; and Twiss, as far back as 1723, bears testimony to the virtue of Gipsy females, inasmuch as they were not to be procured in any way. Twiss also bears very positive testimony on a point to which Mr. Borrow has not alluded, viz.: the honesty of Spanish Gipsy innkeepers, in one respect, at least, that, although he frequently left his linen, spoons, &c., at their mercy, he never lost an article belonging to him. He alludes, in his travels, to the subject of the Gipsies incidentally; and his testimony is, therefore, worthy of every credit, on the points on which he speaks. In Mr. Borrow's writings upon the Gipsies, we find only sketches of certain individuals of the race, whom he seems to have fallen in with, and not a proper account of the nation. These writings have done more injury to the tribe than, perhaps, anything that ever appeared on the subject. I have met with Gipsies--respectable young men--who complained bitterly of Mr. Borrow's account of their race; and they did that with good reason; for his attempt at generalization on the subject of the people, is as great a curiosity as ever I set my eyes upon. How unsatisfactory are Mr. Borrow's opinions on the Gipsy question, when he speaks of the "decadence" of the race, when it is only passing from its first stage of existence--the tent. This he does in his Appendix to the Romany Rye; and it is nearly all that can be drawn from his writings on the Gipsies, in regard to their future history.

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