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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

And conversing with him at Abbotsford


At the same time I was much encouraged, by the author of Guy Mannering, to prosecute my enquiries, by receiving several communications from him, and conversing with him at Abbotsford, on the subject.

I received a letter from Sir Walter, in which he says:

"This letter has been by me many weeks, waiting for a frank, and besides, our mutual friend, Mr. Laidlaw, under whose charge my agricultural operations are now proceeding in great style, gave me some hope of seeing you in this part of the country. I should like much to have asked you some questions about the Gipsies, and particularly that great mystery--their language. I cannot determine, in my own mind, whether it is likely to prove really a corrupt eastern dialect, or whether it has degenerated into mere jargon."

About the same time I received the following letter from Mr. William Laidlaw, the particular friend of Sir Walter Scott, and manager of his estate at Abbotsford, as mentioned in the foregoing letter; the author of "Lucy's Flittin," and a contributor to Blackwood:

"I was very seriously disappointed at not seeing you when you were in this (part of the) country, and so was no less a person than the mighty minstrel himself. He charged me to let him know whenever you arrived, for he was very anxious to see you. What would it be to you to take the coach, and three days before you, and again see your father and mother, come here on an evening, and call on Mr. Scott next day? We would then get you full information upon the science of defence in all its departments. Quarterstaff is now little practised; but it was a sort of legerdemain way of fighting that I never had _muckle broo of_, although I know somewhat of the method. It was a most unfortunate and stupid trick of the man to blow you up with your kittle acquaintances. I hope they will forgive and forget. I am very much interested about the language (Gipsy). Mr. Scott has repeatedly said, that whatever you hear or see, you should _never let on to naebody_, no doubt excepting himself. Be sure and come well provided with specimens of the vocables, as he says he might perhaps have it in his power to assist you in your enquiries."

Shortly after this, Sir Walter wrote me as follows:

"The inclosed letter has long been written. I only now send it to show that I have not been ungrateful, though late in expressing my thanks. The progress you have been able to make in the Gipsy language is most extremely interesting. My acquaintance with most European languages, and with slang words and expressions, enables me to say positively, that the Gipsy words you have collected have no reference to either, with the exception of three or four.[14] I have little doubt, from the sound and appearance, that they are Oriental, probably Hindostanee. When I go to Edinburgh, I shall endeavour to find a copy of Grellmann, to compare the language of the German Gipsies with that of the Scottish tribes. As you have already done so much, I pray you to proceed in your enquiries, but by no means to make anything public, as it might spread a premature alarm, and obstruct your future enquiries. It would be important to get the same words from different individuals; and in order to verify the collection, I would recommend you to set down the names of the persons by whom they were communicated. It would be important to know whether they have a real language, with the usual parts of speech, or whether they have a collection of nouns, combined by our own language. I suspect the former to be the case, from the specimens I have had. I should like much to see the article you proposed for the magazine. I am not squeamish about delicacies, where knowledge is to be sifted out and acquired. I like Ebony's[15] idea of a history of the Gipsies very much, and I wish you would undertake it. I gave all my scraps to the magazine at its commencement, but I think myself entitled to say that you are welcome to the use of them, should you choose to incorporate them into such a work. Do not be in too great a hurry, but get as many materials as you can."[16]


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