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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

And licence of this wandering life


"A

curious preliminary dissertation records some facts respecting the German Gipsies, which are not uninteresting.

"From the authorities collected by Wiessenburch, it appears that these wanderers first appeared in Germany during the reign of Sigismund. The exact year has been disputed; but it is generally placed betwixt 1416 and 1420. They appeared in various bands, under chiefs, to whom they acknowledged obedience, and who assumed the titles of dukes and earls. These leaders originally affected a certain degree of consequence, travelling well equipped, and on horseback, and bringing hawks and hounds in their retinue. Like John Faw, 'Lord of Little Egypt,' they sometimes succeeded in imposing upon the Germans the belief in their very apocryphal dignity, which they assumed during their lives, and recorded upon their tombs, as appears from three epitaphs, quoted by Dr. Wiessenburch. One is in a convent at Steinbach, and records that on St. Sebastians' eve, 1445, 'died the Lord Pannel, Duke of Little Egypt, and Baron of Hirschhorn, in the same land.' A monumental inscription at Bautmer, records the death of the 'Noble Earl Peter, of Lesser Egypt, in 1453;' and a third, at Pferz, as late as 1498, announces the death of the 'high-born, Lord John, Earl of Little Egypt, to whose soul God be gracious and merciful.'

"In describing the state of the German Gipsies, in 1726, the author whom we are quoting gives the leading

features proper to those in other countries. Their disposition to wandering, to idleness, to theft, to polygamy, or rather promiscuous licence, are all commemorated; nor are the women's pretentions to fortune-telling, and their practice of stealing children, omitted. Instead of travelling in very large bands, as at their first arrival, they are described as forming small parties, in which the females are far more numerous than the men, and which are each under command of a leader, chosen rather from reputation than by right of birth. The men, unless when engaged in robbery or theft, lead a life of absolute idleness, and are supported by what the women can procure by begging, stealing or telling fortunes. These resources are so scanty that they often suffer the most severe extremities of hunger and cold. Some of the Gipsies executed at Giessen pretended that they had not eaten a morsel of bread for four days before they were apprehended; yet are they so much attached to freedom, and licence of this wandering life, that, notwithstanding its miseries, it has not only been found impossible to reclaim the native Gipsies, who claim it by inheritance, but even those who, not born in that state, have associated themselves with their bands, and become so wedded to it, as to prefer it to all others.[36]

[36] The natives here alluded to were evidently Germans, married to Gipsy women, or Germans brought up from infancy with the Gipsies, or mixed Gipsies, taking after Germans in point of appearance.--ED.

"As an exception, Wiessenburch mentions some gangs, where the men, as in Scotland, exercise the profession of travelling smiths, or tinkers, or deal in pottery, or practise as musicians. Finally, he notices that in Hungary the gangs assumed their names from the countries which they chiefly traversed, as the band of Upper Saxony, of Brandenburg, and so forth. They resented, to extremity, any attempt on the part of other Gipsies to intrude on their province; and such interference often led to battles, in which they shot each other with as little remorse as they would have done to dogs.[37] By these acts of cruelty to each other, they became gradually familiarized with blood, as well as with arms, to which another cause contributed, in the beginning of the 18th century.


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