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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Who on the Gipsies writes in Fife


I

had obtained some of the Gipsy language from a principal family of the tribe, on condition of not publishing names, or place of residence; and, at many miles' distance, I had also obtained some particulars relative to the customs and manners of the race, from a highly respectable farmer, in the south of Scotland. At his farm, the family alluded to always took up their quarters, in their periodical journeys through the country. The farmer, without ever thinking of the consequences, told them that I was collecting materials for a publication on the Tinklers, in Scotland, and that everything relative to their tribe would be given to the world. The aged chief of the family was thrown into the greatest distress, at the idea of the name and residence of himself and family being made public. I received a letter from the family, deeply lamenting that they had ever communicated a word to me relative to their language, and stating that the old man was like to break his heart, at his own imprudence, being in agony at the thought of his language being published to the world. I assured them, however, that they had no cause for fear, as I had never so much as mentioned their names to their friend, the farmer, and that I would strictly adhere to the promise I had given them. This was one of the many instances in which I was obstructed in my labours, for, however cautious I might personally be, others, who became in some way or other acquainted with my object, were, from inconsiderate meddling,
the cause of many difficulties being thrown in my way, and the consequent loss of much interesting information. But for this unfortunate circumstance, I am sanguine, from the method I took in managing the Gipsies, I would have been able to collect songs, and sentences of their language, and much more information than what has been procured, at whatever value the reader may estimate that; for the Gipsies are always more or less in communication with each other, in their various divisions of the country, especially when threatened with anything deemed dangerous, which they circulate among themselves with astonishing celerity.

Professor Wilson, in a poetical notice of Blackwood's Magazine, writes:

"Few things more sweetly vary civil life Than a barbarian, savage Tinkler tale; Our friend, who on the Gipsies writes in Fife, We verily believe promotes our sale."

And, in revising his works, in 1831, Sir Walter Scott, in a note to Quentin Durward, says, relative to the present work:

"It is natural to suppose, the band, (Gipsy), as it now exists, is much mingled with Europeans; but most of these have been brought up from childhood among them, and learned all their practices. . . . When they are in closest contact with the ordinary peasants around them, they still keep their language a mystery. There is little doubt, however, that it is a dialect of the Hindostanee, from the specimens produced by Grellmann, Hoyland, and others who have written on the subject. But the author, (continues Sir Walter,) has, besides their authority, personal occasion to know, that an individual, out of mere curiosity, and availing himself, with patience and assiduity, of such opportunities as offered, has made himself capable of conversing with any Gipsy whom he meets, or can, like the royal Hal, drink with any tinker, in his own language.[23] The astonishment excited among these vagrants, on finding a stranger participant of their mystery, occasions very ludicrous scenes. It is to be hoped this gentleman will publish the knowledge he possesses on so singular a topic. There are prudential reasons for postponing this disclosure at present, for, although much more reconciled to society since they have been less the objects of legal persecution, the Gipsies are still a ferocious and vindictive people."[24]


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