HotFreeBooks.com
The Gypsies
by Charles G. Leland
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcribed from the 1882 Houghton, Mifflin and Company edition by David Price, ccx074@pglaf.org



THE GYPSIES

BY CHARLES G. LELAND

AUTHOR OF "THE ENGLISH GYPSIES AND THEIR LANGUAGE," "ANGLO-ROMANY BALLADS," "HANS BREITMANN'S BALLADS," ETC.

BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Copyright, 1882, BY CHARLES G. LELAND.

All rights reserved.



PREFACE.

The reader will find in this book sketches of experiences among gypsies of different nations by one who speaks their language and is conversant with their ways. These embrace descriptions of the justly famed musical gypsies of St. Petersburg and Moscow, by whom the writer was received literally as a brother; of the Austrian gypsies, especially those composing the first Romany orchestra of that country, selected by Liszt, and who played for their friend as they declared they had never played before for any man; and also of the English, Welsh, Oriental, and American brethren of the dark blood and the tents. I believe that the account of interviews with American gypsies will possess at least the charm of novelty, but little having as yet been written on this extensive and very interesting branch of our nomadic population. To these I have added a characteristic letter in the gypsy language, with translation by a lady, legendary stories, poems, and finally the substance of two papers, one of which I read before the British Philological Society, and the other before the Oriental Congress at Florence, in 1878. Those who study ethnology will be interested to learn from these papers, subsequently combined in an article in the "Saturday Review," that I have definitely determined the existence in India of a peculiar tribe of gypsies, who are par eminence the Romanys of the East, and whose language is there what it is in England, the same in vocabulary, and the chief slang of the roads. This I claim as a discovery, having learned it from a Hindoo who had been himself a gypsy in his native land. Many writers have suggested the Jats, Banjars, and others as probable ancestors or type-givers of the race; but the existence of the Rom himself in India, bearing the distinctive name of Rom, has never before been set forth in any book or by any other writer. I have also given what may in reason be regarded as settling the immensely disputed origin of the word "Zingan," by the gypsies' own account of its etymology, which was beyond all question brought by them from India.

In addition to this I have given in a chapter certain conversations with men of note, such as Thomas Carlyle, Lord Lytton, Mr. Roebuck, and others, on gypsies; an account of the first and family names and personal characteristics of English and American Romanys, prepared for me by a very famous old gypsy; and finally a chapter on the "Shelta Thari," or Tinkers' Language, a very curious jargon or language, never mentioned before by any writer except Shakespeare. What this tongue may be, beyond the fact that it is purely Celtic, and that it does not seem to be identical with any other Celtic dialect, is unknown to me. I class it with the gypsy, because all who speak it are also acquainted with Romany.

For an attempt to set forth the tone or feeling in which the sketches are conceived, I refer the reader to the Introduction.

When I published my "English Gypsies and their Language," a reviewer declared that I "had added nothing to our" (that is, his) "knowledge on the subject." As it is always pleasant to meet with a man of superior information, I said nothing. And as I had carefully read everything ever printed on the Romany, and had given a very respectable collection of what was new to me as well as to all my Romany rye colleagues in Europe, I could only grieve to think that such treasures of learning should thus remain hidden in the brain of one who had never at any time or in any other way manifested the possession of any remarkable knowledge. Nobody can tell in this world what others may know, but I modestly suggest that what I have set forth in this work, on the origin of the gypsies, though it may be known to the reviewer in question, has at least never been set before the public by anybody but myself, and that it deserves further investigation. No account of the tribes of the East mentions the Rom or Trablus, and yet I have personally met with and thoroughly examined one of them. In like manner, the "Shelta Thari" has remained till the present day entirely unknown to all writers on either the languages or the nomadic people of Great Britain. If we are so ignorant of the wanderers among us, and at our very doors, it is not remarkable that we should be ignorant of those of India.



INTRODUCTION.

I have frequently been asked, "Why do you take an interest in gypsies?"

And it is not so easy to answer. Why, indeed? In Spain one who has been fascinated by them is called one of the aficion, or affection, or "fancy;" he is an aficionado, or affected unto them, and people there know perfectly what it means, for every Spaniard is at heart a Bohemian. He feels what a charm there is in a wandering life, in camping in lonely places, under old chestnut-trees, near towering cliffs, al pasar del arroyo, by the rivulets among the rocks. He thinks of the wine skin and wheaten cake when one was hungry on the road, of the mules and tinkling bells, the fire by night, and the cigarito, smoked till he fell asleep. Then he remembers the gypsies who came to the camp, and the black-eyed girl who told him his fortune, and all that followed in the rosy dawn and ever onward into starry night.

"Y se alegre el alma llena De la luz de esos luceros."

And his heart is filled with rapture At the light of those lights above.

This man understands it. So, too, does many an Englishman. But I cannot tell you why. Why do I love to wander on the roads to hear the birds; to see old church towers afar, rising over fringes of forest, a river and a bridge in the foreground, and an ancient castle beyond, with a modern village springing up about it, just as at the foot of the burg there lies the falling trunk of an old tree, around which weeds and flowers are springing up, nourished by its decay? Why love these better than pictures, and with a more than fine-art feeling? Because on the roads, among such scenes, between the hedge-rows and by the river, I find the wanderers who properly inhabit not the houses but the scene, not a part but the whole. These are the gypsies, who live like the birds and hares, not of the house-born or the town-bred, but free and at home only with nature.

I am at some pleasant watering-place, no matter where. Let it be Torquay, or Ilfracombe, or Aberystwith, or Bath, or Bournemouth, or Hastings. I find out what old churches, castles, towns, towers, manors, lakes, forests, fairy-wells, or other charms of England lie within twenty miles. Then I take my staff and sketch-book, and set out on my day's pilgrimage. In the distance lie the lines of the shining sea, with ships sailing to unknown lands. Those who live in them are the Bohemians of the sea, homing while roaming, sleeping as they go, even as gypsies dwell on wheels. And if you look wistfully at these ships far off and out at sea with the sun upon their sails, and wonder what quaint mysteries of life they hide, verily you are not far from being affected or elected unto the Romany. And if, when you see the wild birds on the wing, wending their way to the South, and wish that you could fly with them,—anywhere, anywhere over the world and into adventure,—then you are not far in spirit from the kingdom of Bohemia and its seven castles, in the deep windows of which AEolian wind-harps sing forever.

Now, as you wander along, it may be that in the wood and by some grassy nook you will hear voices, and see the gleam of a red garment, and then find a man of the roads, with dusky wife and child. You speak one word, "Sarishan!" and you are introduced. These people are like birds and bees, they belong to out-of-doors and nature. If you can chirp or buzz a little in their language and know their ways, you will find out, as you sit in the forest, why he who loves green bushes and mossy rocks is glad to fly from cities, and likes to be free of the joyous citizenship of the roads, and everywhere at home in such boon company.

When I have been a stranger in a strange town, I have never gone out for a long walk without knowing that the chances were that I should meet within an hour some wanderer with whom I should have in common certain acquaintances. These be indeed humble folk, but with nature and summer walks they make me at home. In merrie England I could nowhere be a stranger if I would, and that with people who cannot read; and the English-born Romany rye, or gentleman speaking gypsy, would in like manner be everywhere at home in America. There was a gypsy family always roaming between Windsor and London, and the first words taught to their youngest child were "Romany rye!" and these it was trained to address to me. The little tot came up to me,—I had never heard her speak before,—a little brown-faced, black-eyed thing, and said, "How-do, Omany 'eye?" and great was the triumph and rejoicing and laughter of the mother and father and all the little tribe. To be familiar with these wanderers, who live by dale and down, is like having the bees come to you, as they did to the Dacian damsel, whose death they mourned; it is like the attraction of the wild deer to the fair Genevieve; or if you know them to be dangerous outlaws, as some are, it is like the affection of serpents and other wild things for those whom nature has made their friends, and who handle them without fear. They are human, but in their lives they are between man as he lives in houses and the bee and bird and fox, and I cannot help believing that those who have no sympathy with them have none for the forest and road, and cannot be rightly familiar with the witchery of wood and wold. There are many ladies and gentlemen who can well-nigh die of a sunset, and be enraptured with "bits" of color, and captured with scenes, and to whom all out-of-doors is as perfect as though it were painted by Millais, yet to whom the bee and bird and gypsy and red Indian ever remain in their true inner life strangers. And just as strange to them, in one sense, are the scenes in which these creatures dwell; for those who see in them only pictures, though they be by Claude and Turner, can never behold in them the fairy-land of childhood. Only in Ruysdael and Salvator Rosa and the great unconscious artists lurks the spell of the Romany, and this spell is unfelt by Mr. Cimabue Brown. The child and the gypsy have no words in which to express their sense of nature and its charm, but they have this sense, and there are very, very few who, acquiring culture, retain it. And it is gradually disappearing from the world, just as the old delicately sensuous, naive, picturesque type of woman's beauty—the perfection of natural beauty—is rapidly vanishing in every country, and being replaced by the mingled real and unreal attractiveness of "cleverness," intellect, and fashion. No doubt the newer tend to higher forms of culture, but it is not without pain that he who has been "in the spirit" in the old Sabbath of the soul, and in its quiet, solemn sunset, sees it all vanishing. It will all be gone in a few years. I doubt very much whether it will be possible for the most unaffectedly natural writer to preserve any of its hieroglyphics for future Champollions of sentiment to interpret. In the coming days, when man shall have developed new senses, and when the blessed sun himself shall perhaps have been supplanted by some tremendous electrical light, and the moon be expunged altogether as interfering with the new arrangements for gravity, there will doubtless be a new poetry, and art become to the very last degree self-conscious of its cleverness, artificial and impressional; yet even then weary scholars will sigh from time to time, as they read in our books of the ancient purple seas, and how the sun went down of old into cloud-land, gorgeous land, and then how all dreamed away into night!

Gypsies are the human types of this vanishing, direct love of nature, of this mute sense of rural romance, and of al fresco life, and he who does not recognize it in them, despite their rags and dishonesty, need not pretend to appreciate anything more in Callot's etchings than the skillful management of the needle and the acids. Truly they are but rags themselves; the last rags of the old romance which connected man with nature. Once romance was a splendid mediaeval drama, colored and gemmed with chivalry, minnesong, bandit-flashes, and waving plumes; now there remain but a few tatters. Yes, we were young and foolish then, but there are perishing with the wretched fragments of the red Indian tribes mythologies as beautiful as those of the Greek or Norseman; and there is also vanishing with the gypsy an unexpressed mythology, which those who are to come after us would gladly recover. Would we not have been pleased if one of the thousand Latin men of letters whose works have been preserved had told us how the old Etruscans, then still living in mountain villages, spoke and habited and customed? But oh that there had ever lived of old one man who, noting how feelings and sentiments changed, tried to so set forth the souls of his time that after-comers might understand what it was which inspired their art!

In the Sanskrit humorous romance of "Baital Pachisi," or King Vikram and the Vampire, twenty-five different and disconnected trifling stories serve collectively to illustrate in the most pointed manner the highest lesson of wisdom. In this book the gypsies, and the scenes which surround them, are intended to teach the lesson of freedom and nature. Never were such lessons more needed than at present. I do not say that culture is opposed to the perception of nature; I would show with all my power that the higher our culture the more we are really qualified to appreciate beauty and freedom. But gates must be opened for this, and unfortunately the gates as yet are very few, while Philistinism in every form makes it a business of closing every opening to the true fairy-land of delight.

The gypsy is one of many links which connect the simple feeling of nature with romance. During the Middle Ages thousands of such links and symbols united nature with religion. Thus Conrad von Wurtzburg tells in his "Goldene Schmiede" that the parrot which shines in fairest grass-green hue, and yet like common grass is never wet, sets forth the Virgin, who bestowed on man an endless spring, and yet remained unchanged. So the parrot and grass and green and shimmering light all blended in the ideal of the immortal Maid-Mother, and so the bird appears in pictures by Van Eyck and Durer. To me the gypsy-parrot and green grass in lonely lanes and the rain and sunshine all mingle to set forth the inexpressible purity and sweetness of the virgin parent, Nature. For the gypsy is parrot-like, a quaint pilferer, a rogue in grain as in green; for green was his favorite garb in olden time in England, as it is to-day in Germany, where he who breaks the Romany law may never dare on heath to wear that fatal fairy color.

These words are the key to the following book, in which I shall set forth a few sketches taken during my rambles among the Romany. The day is coming when there will be no more wild parrots nor wild wanderers, no wild nature, and certainly no gypsies. Within a very few years in the city of Philadelphia, the English sparrow, the very cit and cad of birds, has driven from the gardens all the wild, beautiful feathered creatures whom, as a boy, I knew. The fire-flashing scarlet tanager and the humming-bird, the yellow-bird, blue-bird, and golden oriole, are now almost forgotten, or unknown to city children. So the people of self-conscious culture and the mart and factory are banishing the wilder sort, and it is all right, and so it must be, and therewith basta. But as a London reviewer said when I asserted in a book that the child was perhaps born who would see the last gypsy, "Somehow we feel sorry for that child."



THE RUSSIAN GYPSIES.

It is, I believe, seldom observed that the world is so far from having quitted the romantic or sentimental for the purely scientific that, even in science itself, whatever is best set forth owes half its charm to something delicately and distantly reflected from the forbidden land of fancy. The greatest reasoners and writers on the driest topics are still "genial," because no man ever yet had true genius who did not feel the inspiration of poetry, or mystery, or at least of the unusual. We are not rid of the marvelous or curious, and, if we have not yet a science of curiosities, it is apparently because it lies for the present distributed about among the other sciences, just as in small museums illuminated manuscripts are to be found in happy family union with stuffed birds or minerals, and with watches and snuff-boxes, once the property of their late majesties the Georges. Until such a science is formed, the new one of ethnology may appropriately serve for it, since it of all presents most attraction to him who is politely called the general reader, but who should in truth be called the man who reads the most for mere amusement. For Ethnology deals with such delightful material as primeval kumbo-cephalic skulls, and appears to her votaries arrayed, not in silk attire, but in strange fragments of leather from ancient Irish graves, or in cloth from Lacustrine villages. She glitters with the quaint jewelry of the first Italian race, whose ghosts, if they wail over the "find," "speak in a language man knows no more." She charms us with etchings or scratchings of mammoths on mammoth-bone, and invites us to explore mysterious caves, to picnic among megalithic monuments, and speculate on pictured Scottish stones. In short, she engages man to investigate his ancestry, a pursuit which presents charms even to the illiterate, and asks us to find out facts concerning works of art which have interested everybody in every age.

Ad interim, before the science of curiosities is segregated from that of ethnology, I may observe that one of the marvels in the latter is that, among all the subdivisions of the human race, there are only two which have been, apparently from their beginning, set apart, marked and cosmopolite, ever living among others, and yet reserved unto themselves. These are the Jew and the gypsy. From time whereof history hath naught to the contrary, the Jew was, as he himself holds in simple faith, the first man. Red Earth, Adam, was a Jew, and the old claim to be a peculiar people has been curiously confirmed by the extraordinary genius and influence of the race, and by their boundless wanderings. Go where we may, we find the Jew—has any other wandered so far?

Yes, one. For wherever Jew has gone, there, too, we find the gypsy. The Jew may be more ancient, but even the authentic origin of the Romany is lost in ancient Aryan record, and, strictly speaking, his is a prehistoric caste. Among the hundred and fifty wandering tribes of India and Persia, some of them Turanian, some Aryan, and others mixed, it is of course difficult to identify the exact origin of the European gypsy. One thing we know: that from the tenth to the twelfth century, and probably much later on, India threw out from her northern half a vast multitude of very troublesome indwellers. What with Buddhist, Brahman, and Mohammedan wars,—invaders outlawing invaded,—the number of out-castes became alarmingly great. To these the Jats, who, according to Captain Burton, constituted the main stock of our gypsies, contributed perhaps half their entire nation. Excommunication among the Indian professors of transcendental benevolence meant social death and inconceivable cruelty. Now there are many historical indications that these outcasts, before leaving India, became gypsies, which was the most natural thing in a country where such classes had already existed in very great numbers from early times. And from one of the lowest castes, which still exists in India, and is known as the Dom, {19} the emigrants to the West probably derived their name and several characteristics. The Dom burns the dead, handles corpses, skins beasts, and performs other functions, all of which were appropriated by, and became peculiar to, gypsies in several countries in Europe, notably in Denmark and Holland, for several centuries after their arrival there. The Dom of the present day also sells baskets, and wanders with a tent; he is altogether gypsy. It is remarkable that he, living in a hot climate, drinks ardent spirits to excess, being by no means a "temperate Hindoo," and that even in extreme old age his hair seldom turns white, which is a noted peculiarity among our own gypsies of pure blood. I know and have often seen a gypsy woman, nearly a hundred years old, whose curling hair is black, or hardly perceptibly changed. It is extremely probable that the Dom, mentioned as a caste even in the Shastras, gave the name to the Rom. The Dom calls his wife a Domni, and being a Dom is "Domnipana." In English gypsy, the same words are expressed by Rom, romni, and romnipen. D, be it observed, very often changes to r in its transfer from Hindoo to Romany. Thus doi, "a wooden spoon," becomes in gypsy roi, a term known to every tinker in London. But, while this was probably the origin of the word Rom, there were subsequent reasons for its continuance. Among the Cophts, who were more abundant in Egypt when the first gypsies went there, the word for man is romi, and after leaving Greece and the Levant, or Rum, it would be natural for the wanderers to be called Rumi. But the Dom was in all probability the parent stock of the gypsy race, though the latter received vast accessions from many other sources. I call attention to this, since it has always been held, and sensibly enough, that the mere fact of the gypsies speaking Hindi-Persian, or the oldest type of Urdu, including many Sanskrit terms, does not prove an Indian or Aryan origin, any more than the English spoken by American negroes proves a Saxon descent. But if the Rom can be identified with the Dom—and the circumstantial evidence, it must be admitted, is very strong—but little remains to seek, since, according to the Shastras, the Doms are Hindoo.

Among the tribes whose union formed the European gypsy was, in all probability, that of the Nats, consisting of singing and dancing girls and male musicians and acrobats. Of these, we are told that not less than ten thousand lute-players and minstrels, under the name of Luri, were once sent to Persia as a present to a king, whose land was then without music or song. This word Luri is still preserved. The saddle-makers and leather-workers of Persia are called Tsingani; they are, in their way, low caste, and a kind of gypsy, and it is supposed that from them are possibly derived the names Zingan, Zigeuner, Zingaro, etc., by which gypsies are known in so many lands. From Mr. Arnold's late work on "Persia," the reader may learn that the Eeli, who constitute the majority of the inhabitants of the southern portion of that country, are Aryan nomads, and apparently gypsies. There are also in India the Banjari, or wandering merchants, and many other tribes, all spoken of as gypsies by those who know them.

As regards the great admixture of Persian with Hindi in good Romany, it is quite unmistakable, though I can recall no writer who has attached sufficient importance to a fact which identifies gypsies with what is almost preeminently the land of gypsies. I once had the pleasure of taking a Nile journey in company with Prince S—-, a Persian, and in most cases, when I asked my friend what this or that gypsy word meant, he gave me its correct meaning, after a little thought, and then added, in his imperfect English, "What for you want to know such word?—that old word—that no more used. Only common people—old peasant-woman—use that word—gentleman no want to know him." But I did want to know "him" very much. I can remember that one night, when our bon prince had thus held forth, we had dancing girls, or Almeh, on board, and one was very young and pretty. I was told that she was gypsy, but she spoke no Romany. Yet her panther eyes and serpent smile and beaute du diable were not Egyptian, but of the Indian, kalo-ratt,—the dark blood, which, once known, is known forever. I forgot her, however, for a long time, until I went to Moscow, when she was recalled by dancing and smiles, of which I will speak anon.

I was sitting one day by the Thames, in a gypsy tent, when its master, Joshua Cooper, now dead, pointing to a swan, asked me for its name in gypsy. I replied, "Boro pappin."

"No, rya. Boro pappin is 'a big goose.' Sakku is the real gypsy word. It is very old, and very few Romany know it."

A few days after, when my Persian friend was dining with me at the Langham Hotel, I asked him if he knew what Sakku meant. By way of reply, he, not being able to recall the English word, waved his arms in wonderful pantomime, indicating some enormous winged creature; and then, looking into the distance, and pointing as if to some far-vanishing object, as boys do when they declaim Bryant's address "To a Water-Fowl," said,—

"Sakku—one ver' big bird, like one swen—but he not swen. He like the man who carry too much water up-stairs {22} his head in Constantinople. That bird all same that man. He sakkia all same wheel that you see get water up-stairs in Egypt."

This was explanatory, but far from satisfactory. The prince, however, was mindful of me, and the next day I received from the Persian embassy the word elegantly written in Persian, with the translation, "a pelican." Then it was all clear enough, for the pelican bears water in the bag under its bill. When the gypsies came to Europe they named animals after those which resembled them in Asia. A dog they called juckal, from a jackal, and a swan sakku, or pelican, because it so greatly resembles it. The Hindoo bandarus, or monkey, they have changed to bombaros, but why Tom Cooper should declare that it is pugasah, or pukkus-asa, I do not know. {23} As little can I conjecture the meaning of the prefix mod, or mode, which I learned on the road near Weymouth from a very ancient tinker, a man so battered, tattered, seamed, riven, and wrinkled that he looked like a petrifaction. He had so bad a barrow, or wheel, that I wondered what he could do with it, and regarded him as the very poorest man I had ever seen in England, until his mate came up, an alter ego, so excellent in antiquity, wrinkles, knobbiness, and rags that he surpassed the vagabond pictures not only of Callot, Dore, and Goya, but even the unknown Spanish maker of a picture which I met with not long since for sale, and which for infinite poverty defied anything I ever saw on canvas. These poor men, who seemed at first amazed that I should speak to them at all, when I spoke Romany at once called me "brother." When I asked the younger his name, he sank his voice to a whisper, and, with a furtive air, said,—

"Kamlo,—Lovel, you know."

"What do you call yourself in the way of business?" I asked. "Katsamengro, I suppose."

Now Katsamengro means scissors-master.

"That is a very good word. But chivo is deeper."

"Chivo means a knife-man?"

"Yes. But the deepest of all, master, is Modangarengro. For you see that the right word for coals isn't wongur, as Romanys generally say, but Angara."

Now angara, as Pott and Benfey indicate, is pure Sanskrit for coals, and angarengro is a worker in coals, but what mod means I know not, and should be glad to be told.

I think it will be found difficult to identify the European gypsy with any one stock of the wandering races of India. Among those who left that country were men of different castes and different color, varying from the pure northern invader to the negro-like southern Indian. In the Danubian principalities there are at the present day three kinds of gypsies: one very dark and barbarous, another light brown and more intelligent, and the third, or elite, of yellow-pine complexion, as American boys characterize the hue of quadroons. Even in England there are straight-haired and curly-haired Romanys, the two indicating not a difference resulting from white admixture, but entirely different original stocks.

It will, I trust, be admitted, even from these remarks, that Romanology, or that subdivision of ethnology which treats of gypsies, is both practical and curious. It deals with the only race except the Jew, which has penetrated into every village which European civilization has ever touched. He who speaks Romany need be a stranger in few lands, for on every road in Europe and America, in Western Asia, and even in Northern Africa, he will meet those with whom a very few words may at once establish a peculiar understanding. For, of all things believed in by this widely spread brotherhood, the chief is this,—that he who knows the jib, or language, knows the ways, and that no one ever attained these without treading strange paths, and threading mysteries unknown to the Gorgios, or Philistines. And if he who speaks wears a good coat, and appears a gentleman, let him rest assured that he will receive the greeting which all poor relations in all lands extend to those of their kin who have risen in life. Some of them, it is true, manifest the winsome affection which is based on great expectations, a sentiment largely developed among British gypsies; but others are honestly proud that a gentleman is not ashamed of them. Of this latter class were the musical gypsies, whom I met in Russia during the winter of 1876 and 1877, and some of them again in Paris during the Exposition of 1878.



ST. PETERSBURG.

There are gypsies and gypsies in the world, for there are the wanderers on the roads and the secret dwellers in towns; but even among the aficionados, or Romany ryes, by whom I mean those scholars who are fond of studying life and language from the people themselves, very few have dreamed that there exist communities of gentlemanly and lady-like gypsies of art, like the Bohemians of Murger and George Sand, but differing from them in being real "Bohemians" by race. I confess that it had never occurred to me that there was anywhere in Europe, at the present day, least of all in the heart of great and wealthy cities, a class or caste devoted entirely to art, well-to-do or even rich, refined in manners, living in comfortable homes, the women dressing elegantly; and yet with all this obliged to live by law, as did the Jews once, in Ghettos or in a certain street, and regarded as outcasts and cagots. I had heard there were gypsies in Russian cities, and expected to find them like the kerengri of England or Germany,—house-dwellers somewhat reformed from vagabondage, but still reckless semi-outlaws, full of tricks and lies; in a word, gypsies, as the world understands the term. And I certainly anticipated in Russia something queer,—the gentleman who speaks Romany seldom fails to achieve at least that, whenever he gets into an unbroken haunt, an unhunted forest, where the Romany rye is unknown,—but nothing like what I really found. A recent writer on Russia {26} speaks with great contempt of these musical Romanys, their girls attired in dresses by Worth, as compared with the free wild outlaws of the steppes, who, with dark, ineffable glances, meaning nothing more than a wild-cat's, steal poultry, and who, wrapped in dirty sheep-skins, proudly call themselves Mi dvorane Polaivii, Lords of the Waste. The gypsies of Moscow, who appeared to me the most interesting I have ever met, because most remote from the Surrey ideal, seemed to Mr. Johnstone to be a kind of second-rate Romanys or gypsies, gypsified for exhibition, like Mr. Barnum's negro minstrel, who, though black as a coal by nature, was requested to put on burnt cork and a wig, that the audience might realize that they were getting a thoroughly good imitation. Mr. Johnstone's own words are that a gypsy maiden in a long queue, "which perhaps came from Worth," is "horrible," "corruptio optimi pessima est;" and he further compares such a damsel to a negro with a cocked hat and spurs. As the only negro thus arrayed who presents himself to my memory was one who lay dead on the battle-field in Tennessee, after one of the bravest resistances in history, and in which he and his men, not having moved, were extended in "stark, serried lines" ("ten cart-loads of dead niggers," said a man to me who helped to bury them), I may be excused for not seeing the wit of the comparison. As for the gypsies of Moscow, I can only say that, after meeting them in public, and penetrating to their homes, where I was received as one of themselves, even as a Romany, I found that this opinion of them was erroneous, and that they were altogether original in spite of being clean, deeply interesting although honest, and a quite attractive class in most respects, notwithstanding their ability to read and write. Against Mr. Johnstone's impressions, I may set the straightforward and simple result of the experiences of Mr. W. R. Ralston. "The gypsies of Moscow," he says, "are justly celebrated for their picturesqueness and for their wonderful capacity for music. All who have heard their women sing are enthusiastic about the weird witchery of the performance."

When I arrived in St. Petersburg, one of my first inquiries was for gypsies. To my astonishment, they were hard to find. They are not allowed to live in the city; and I was told that the correct and proper way to see them would be to go at night to certain cafes, half an hour's sleigh-ride from the town, and listen to their concerts. What I wanted, however, was not a concert, but a conversation; not gypsies on exhibition, but gypsies at home,—and everybody seemed to be of the opinion that those of "Samarcand" and "Dorot" were entirely got up for effect. In fact, I heard the opinion hazarded that, even if they spoke Romany, I might depend upon it they had acquired it simply to deceive. One gentleman, who had, however, been much with them in other days, assured me that they were of pure blood, and had an inherited language of their own. "But," he added, "I am sure you will not understand it. You may be able to talk with those in England, but not with ours, because there is not a single word in their language which resembles anything in English, German, French, Latin, Greek, or Italian. I can only recall," he added, "one phrase. I don't know what it means, and I think it will puzzle you. It is me kamava tut."

If I experienced internal laughter at hearing this it was for a good reason, which I can illustrate by an anecdote: "I have often observed, when I lived in China," said Mr. Hoffman Atkinson, author of "A Vocabulary of the Yokohama Dialect," "that most young men, particularly the gay and handsome ones, generally asked me, about the third day after their arrival in the country, the meaning of the Pidgin-English phrase, 'You makee too muchee lov-lov-pidgin.' Investigation always established the fact that the inquirer had heard it from 'a pretty China girl.' Now lov-pidgin means love, and me kamava tut is perfectly good gypsy anywhere for 'I love you;' and a very soft expression it is, recalling kama-deva, the Indian Cupid, whose bow is strung with bees, and whose name has two strings to it, since it means, both in gypsy and Sanskrit, Love-God, or the god of love. 'It's kama-duvel, you know, rya, if you put it as it ought to be,' said Old Windsor Froggie to me once; 'but I think that Kama-devil would by rights come nearer to it, if Cupid is what you mean.'"

I referred the gypsy difficulty to a Russian gentleman of high position, to whose kindness I had been greatly indebted while in St. Petersburg. He laughed.

"Come with me to-morrow night to the cafes, and see the gypsies; I know them well, and can promise that you shall talk with them as much as you like. Once, in Moscow, I got together all in the town—perhaps a hundred and fifty—to entertain the American minister, Curtin. That was a very hard thing to do,—there was so much professional jealousy among them, and so many quarrels. Would you have believed it?"

I thought of the feuds between sundry sturdy Romanys in England, and felt that I could suppose such a thing, without dangerously stretching my faith, and I began to believe in Russian gypsies.

"Well, then, I shall call for you to-morrow night with a troika; I will come early,—at ten. They never begin to sing before company arrive at eleven, so that you will have half an hour to talk to them."

It is on record that the day on which the general gave me this kind invitation was the coldest known in St. Petersburg for thirty years, the thermometer having stood, or rather having lain down and groveled that morning at 40 degrees below zero, Fahr. At the appointed hour the troika, or three-horse sleigh, was before the Hotel d'Europe. It was, indeed, an arctic night, but, well wrapped in fur-lined shubas, with immense capes which fall to the elbow or rise far above the head, as required, and wearing fur caps and fur-lined gloves, we felt no cold. The beard of our istvostshik, or driver, was a great mass of ice, giving him the appearance of an exceedingly hoary youth, and his small horses, being very shaggy and thoroughly frosted, looked in the darkness like immense polar bears. If the general and myself could only have been considered as gifts of the slightest value to anybody, I should have regarded our turn-out, with the driver in his sheep-skin coat, as coming within a miracle of resemblance to that of Santa Claus, the American Father Christmas.

On, at a tremendous pace, over the snow, which gave out under our runners that crunching, iron sound only heard when the thermometer touches zero. There is a peculiar fascination about the troika, and the sweetest, saddest melody and most plaintive song of Russia belong to it.



THE TROIKA.

Vot y'dit troika udalaiya.

Hear ye the troika-bell a-ringing, And see the peasant driver there? Hear ye the mournful song he's singing, Like distant tolling through the air?

"O eyes, blue eyes, to me so lonely, O eyes—alas!—ye give me pain; O eyes, that once looked at me only, I ne'er shall see your like again.

"Farewell, my darling, now in heaven, And still the heaven of my soul; Farewell, thou father town, O Moscow, Where I have left my life, my all!"

And ever at the rein still straining, One backward glance the driver gave; Sees but once more a green low hillock, Sees but once more his loved one's grave.

"Stoi!"—Halt! We stopped at a stylish-looking building, entered a hall, left our skubas, and I heard the general ask, "Are the gypsies here?" An affirmative being given, we entered a large room, and there, sure enough, stood six or eight girls and two men, all very well dressed, and all unmistakably Romany, though smaller and of much slighter or more delicate frame than the powerful gypsy "travelers" of England. In an instant every pair of great, wild eyes was fixed on me. The general was in every way a more striking figure, but I was manifestly a fresh stranger, who knew nothing of the country, and certainly nothing of gypsies or gypsydom. Such a verdant visitor is always most interesting. It was not by any means my first reception of the kind, and, as I reviewed at a glance the whole party, I said within myself:—

"Wait an instant, you black snakes, and I will give you something to make you stare."

This promise I kept, when a young man, who looked like a handsome light Hindoo, stepped up and addressed me in Russian. I looked long and steadily at him before I spoke, and then said:—

"Latcho divvus prala!" (Good day, brother.)

"What is that?" he exclaimed, startled.

"Tu jines latcho adosta." (You know very well.) And then, with the expression in his face of a man who has been familiarly addressed by a brazen statue, or asked by a new-born babe, "What o'clock is it?" but with great joy, he cried:—

"Romanichal!"

In an instant they were all around me, marveling greatly, and earnestly expressing their marvel, at what new species of gypsy I might be; being in this quite unlike those of England, who, even when they are astonished "out of their senses" at being addressed in Romany by a gentleman, make the most red-Indian efforts to conceal their amazement. But I speedily found that these Russian gypsies were as unaffected and child-like as they were gentle in manner, and that they compared with our own prize-fighting, sturdy-begging, always-suspecting Romany roughs and rufianas as a delicate greyhound might compare with a very shrewd old bull-dog, trained by an unusually "fly" tramp.

That the girls were first to the fore in questioning me will be doubted by no one. But we had great trouble in effecting a mutual understanding. Their Romany was full of Russian; their pronunciation puzzled me; they "bit off their words," and used many in a strange or false sense. Yet, notwithstanding this, I contrived to converse pretty readily with the men,—very readily with the captain, a man as dark as Ben Lee, to those who know Benjamin, or as mahogany, to those who know him not. But with the women it was very difficult to converse. There is a theory current that women have a specialty of tact and readiness in understanding a foreigner, or in making themselves understood; it may be so with cultivated ladies, but it is my experience that, among the uneducated, men have a monopoly of such quick intelligence. In order fully to convince them that we really had a tongue in common, I repeated perhaps a hundred nouns, giving, for instance, the names of various parts of the body, of articles of apparel and objects in the room, and I believe that we did not find a single word which, when pronounced distinctly by itself, was not intelligible to us all. I had left in London a Russo-Romany vocabulary, once published in "The Asiatic Magazine," and I had met with Bohtlinghk's article on the dialect, as well as specimens of it in the works of Pott and Miklosich, but had unfortunately learned nothing of it from them. I soon found, however, that I knew a great many more gypsy words than did my new friends, and that our English Romany far excels the Russian in copia verborum.

"But I must sit down." I observed on this and other occasions that Russian gypsies are very naif. And as it is in human nature to prefer sitting by a pretty girl, these Slavonian Romanys so arrange it according to the principles of natural selection—or natural politeness—that, when a stranger is in their gates, the two prettiest girls in their possession sit at his right and left, the two less attractive next again, et seriatim. So at once a damsel of comely mien, arrayed in black silk attire, of faultless elegance, cried to me, pointing to a chair by her side, "Bersh tu alay, rya!" (Sit down, sir),—a phrase which would be perfectly intelligible to any Romany in England. I admit that there was another damsel, who is generally regarded by most people as the true gypsy belle of the party, who did not sit by me. But, as the one who had "voted herself into the chair," by my side, was more to my liking, being the most intelligent and most gypsy, I had good cause to rejoice.

I was astonished at the sensible curiosity as to gypsy life in other lands which was displayed, and at the questions asked. I really doubt if I ever met with an English gypsy who cared a farthing to know anything about his race as it exists in foreign countries, or whence it came. Once, and once only, I thought I had interested White George, at East Moulsey, in an account of Egypt, and the small number of Romanys there; but his only question was to the effect that, if there were so few gypsies in Egypt, wouldn't it be a good place for him to go to sell baskets? These of Russia, however, asked all kinds of questions about the manners and customs of their congeners, and were pleased when they recognized familiar traits. And every gypsyism, whether of word or way, was greeted with delighted laughter. In one thing I noted a radical difference between these gypsies and those of the rest of Europe and of America. There was none of that continually assumed mystery and Romany freemasonry, of superior occult knowledge and "deep" information, which is often carried to the depths of absurdity and to the height of humbug. I say this advisedly, since, however much it may give charm to a novel or play, it is a serious impediment to a philologist. Let me give an illustration.

Once, during the evening, these Russian gypsies were anxious to know if there were any books in their language. Now I have no doubt that Dr. Bath Smart, or Prof. E. H. Palmer, or any other of the initiated, will perfectly understand when I say that by mere force of habit I shivered and evaded the question. When a gentleman who manifests a knowledge of Romany among gypsies in England is suspected of "dixonary" studies, it amounts to lasciate ogni speranza,—give up all hope of learning any more.

"I'm glad to see you here, rya, in my tent," said the before-mentioned Ben Lee to me one night, in camp near Weybridge, "because I've heard, and I know, you didn't pick up your Romany out of books."

The silly dread, the hatred, the childish antipathy, real or affected, but always ridiculous, which is felt in England, not only among gypsies, but even by many gentlemen scholars, to having the Romany language published is indescribable. Vambery was not more averse to show a lead pencil among Tartars than I am to take notes of words among strange English gypsies. I might have spared myself any annoyance from such a source among the Russian Romanys. They had not heard of Mr. George Borrow; nor were there ugly stories current among them to the effect that Dr. Smart and Prof. E. H. Palmer had published works, the direct result of which would be to facilitate their little paths to the jail, the gallows, and the grave.

"Would we hear some singing?" We were ready, and for the first time in my life I listened to the long-anticipated, far-famed magical melody of Russian gypsies. And what was it like? May I preface my reply to the reader with the remark that there are, roughly speaking, two kinds of music in the world,—the wild and the tame,—and the rarest of human beings is he who can appreciate both. Only one such man ever wrote a book, and his nomen et omen is Engel, like that of the little English slaves who were non Angli, sed angeli. I have in my time been deeply moved by the choruses of Nubian boatmen; I have listened with great pleasure to Chinese and Japanese music,—Ole Bull once told me he had done the same; I have delighted by the hour in Arab songs; and I have felt the charm of our red-Indian music. If this seems absurd to those who characterize all such sound and song as "caterwauling," let me remind the reader that in all Europe there is not one man fonder of music than an average Arab, a Chinese, or a red Indian; for any of these people, as I have seen and know, will sit twelve or fifteen hours, without the least weariness, listening to what cultivated Europeans all consider as a mere charivari. When London gladly endures fifteen-hour concerts, composed of morceaux by Wagner, Chopin, and Liszt, I will believe that art can charm as much as nature.

The medium point of intelligence in this puzzle may be found in the extraordinary fascination which many find in the monotonous tum-tum of the banjo, and which reappears, somewhat refined, or at least somewhat Frenchified, in the Bamboula and other Creole airs. Thence, in an ascending series, but connected with it, we have old Spanish melodies, then the Arabic, and here we finally cross the threshold into mystery, midnight, and "caterwauling." I do not know that I can explain the fact why the more "barbarous" music is, the more it is beloved of man; but I think that the principle of the refrain, or repetition in music, which as yet governs all decorative art and which Mr. Whistler and others are endeavoring desperately to destroy, acts in music as a sort of animal magnetism or abstraction, ending in an extase. As for the fascination which such wild melodies exert, it is beyond description. The most enraptured audience I ever saw in my life was at a Coptic wedding in Cairo, where one hundred and fifty guests listened, from seven P.M. till three A.M., and Heaven knows how much later, to what a European would call absolute jangling, yelping, and howling.

The real medium, however, between what I have, for want of better words, called wild and tame music exists only in that of the Russian gypsies. These artists, with wonderful tact and untaught skill, have succeeded, in all their songs, in combining the mysterious and maddening charm of the true, wild Eastern music with that of regular and simple melody, intelligible to every Western ear. I have never listened to the singing or playing of any distinguished artist—and certainly never of any far-famed amateur—without realizing that neither words nor melody was of the least importance, but that the man's manner of performance or display was everything. Now, in enjoying gypsy singing, one feels at once as if the vocalists had entirely forgotten self, and were carried away by the bewildering beauty of the air and the charm of the words. There is no self-consciousness, no vanity,—all is real. The listener feels as if he were a performer; the performer is an enraptured listener. There is no soulless "art for the sake of art," but art for direct pleasure.

"We intend to sing only Romany for you, rya," said the young lady to my left, "and you will hear our real gypsy airs. The Gaji [Russians] often ask for songs in our language, and don't get them. But you are a Romanichal, and when you go home, far over the baro kalo pani [the broad black water, that is, the ocean], you shall tell the Romany how we can sing. Listen!"

And I listened to the strangest, wildest, and sweetest singing I ever had heard,—the singing of Lurleis, of sirens, of witches. First, one damsel, with an exquisitely clear, firm voice, began to sing a verse of a love-ballad, and as it approached the end the chorus stole in, softly and unperceived, but with exquisite skill, until, in a few seconds, the summer breeze, murmuring melody over a rippling lake, seemed changed to a midnight tempest, roaring over a stormy sea, in which the basso of the kalo shureskro (the black captain) pealed like thunder. Just as it died away a second girl took up the melody, very sweetly, but with a little more excitement,—it was like a gleam of moonlight on the still agitated waters, a strange contralto witch-gleam; and then again the chorus and the storm; and then another solo yet sweeter, sadder, and stranger,—the movement continually increasing, until all was fast, and wild, and mad,—a locomotive quickstep, and then a sudden silence—sunlight—the storm had blown away.

Nothing on earth is so like magic and elfin-work as when women burst forth into improvised melody. The bird only "sings as his bill grew," or what he learned from the elders; yet when you hear birds singing in woodland green, throwing out to God or the fairies irrepressible floods of what seems like audible sunshine, so well does it match with summer's light, you think it is wonderful. It is mostly when you forget the long training of the prima donna, in her ease and apparent naturalness, that her song is sweetest. But there is a charm, which was well known of old, though we know it not to-day, which was practiced by the bards and believed in by their historians. It was the feeling that the song was born of the moment; that it came with the air, gushing and fresh from the soul. In reading the strange stories of the professional bards and scalds and minstrels of the early Middle Age, one is constantly bewildered at the feats of off-hand composition which were exacted of the poets among Celts or Norsemen. And it is evident enough that in some mysterious way these singers knew how to put strange pressure on the Muse, and squeeze strains out of her in a manner which would have been impossible at present.

Yet it lingers here and there on earth among wild, strange people,—this art of making melody at will. I first heard it among Nubian boatmen on the Nile. It was as manifest that it was composed during the making as that the singers were unconscious of their power. One sung at first what may have been a well-known verse. While singing, another voice stole in, and yet another, softly as shadows steal into twilight; and ere I knew it all were in a great chorus, which fell away as mysteriously, to become duos, trios,—changing in melody in strange, sweet, fitful wise, as the faces seen in the golden cloud in the visioned aureole of God blend, separate, burn, and fade away ever into fresher glory and tints incarnadined.

Miss C. F. Gordon Cumming, after informing us that "it is utterly impossible to give you the faintest shadow of an idea of the fascination of Tahitian himenes," proceeds, as men in general and women in particular invariably do, to give what the writer really believes is a very good description indeed. 'T is ever thus, and thus 't will ever be, and the description of these songs is so good that any person gifted with imagination or poetry cannot fail to smile at the preceding disavowal of her ability to give an idea.

These himenes are not—and here such of my too expectant young lady-readers as are careless in spelling will be sadly disappointed—in any way connected with weddings. They are simply the natural music of Tahiti, or strange and beautiful part-songs. "Nothing you have ever heard in any other country," says our writer, "bears the slightest resemblance to these wild, exquisite glees, faultless in time and harmony, though apparently each singer introduces any variations which may occur to him or to her. Very often there is no leader, and apparently all sing according to their own sweet will. One voice commences; it may be that of an old native, with genuine native words (the meaning of which we had better not inquire), or it may be with a Scriptural story, versified and sung to an air originally from Europe, but so completely Tahitianized that no mortal could recognize it, which is all in its favor, for the wild melodies of this isle are beyond measure fascinating.

"After one clause of solo, another strikes in—here, there, everywhere—in harmonious chorus. It seems as if one section devoted themselves to pouring forth a rippling torrent of 'Ra, ra, ra—ra—ra!' while others burst into a flood of 'La, la—la—la—la!' Some confine their care to sound a deep, booming bass in a long-continued drone, somewhat suggestive (to my appreciative Highland ear) of our own bagpipes. Here and there high falsetto notes strike in, varied from verse to verse, and then the choruses of La and Ra come bubbling in liquid melody, while the voices of the principal singers now join in unison, now diverge as widely as it is possible for them to do, but all combine to produce the quaintest, most melodious, rippling glee that ever was heard."

This is the himene; such the singing which I heard in Egypt in a more regular form; but it was exactly as the writer so admirably sets it forth (and your description, my lady traveler, is, despite your disavowal, quite perfect and a himene of itself) that I heard the gypsy girls of St. Petersburg and of Moscow sing. For, after a time, becoming jolly as flies, first one voice began with "La, la, la—la—la!" to an unnamed, unnamable, charming melody, into which went and came other voices, some bringing one verse or no verse, in unison or alone, the least expected doing what was most awaited, which was to surprise us and call forth gay peals of happy laughter, while the "La, la, la—la—la!" was kept up continuously, like an accompaniment. And still the voices, basso, soprano, tenor, baritone, contralto, rose and fell, the moment's inspiration telling how, till at last all blended in a locomotive-paced La, and in a final roar of laughter it ended.

I could not realize at the time how much this exquisite part-singing was extemporized. The sound of it rung in my head—I assure you, reader, it rings there yet when I think of it—like a magic bell. Another day, however, when I begged for a repetition of it, the girls could recall nothing of it. They could start it again on any air to the unending strain of "La—la—la;" but the "La—la—la" of the previous evening was avec les neiges d'antan, with the smoke of yesterday's fire, with the perfume and bird-songs. "La, la, la—la—la!"

In Arab singing, such effects are applied simply to set forth erotomania; in negro minstrelsy, they are degraded to the lowest humor; in higher European music, when employed, they simply illustrate the skill of composer and musician. The spirit of gypsy singing recalled by its method and sweetness that of the Nubian boatmen, but in its general effect I could think only of those strange fits of excitement which thrill the red Indian and make him burst into song. The Abbe Domenech {42} has observed that the American savage pays attention to every sound that strikes upon his ear when the leaves, softly shaken by the evening breeze, seem to sigh through the air, or when the tempest, bursting forth with fury, shakes the gigantic trees that crack like reeds. "The chirping of the birds, the cry of the wild beasts, in a word, all those sweet, grave, or imposing voices that animate the wilderness, are so many musical lessons, which he easily remembers." In illustration of this, the missionary describes the singing of a Chippewa chief, and its wild inspiration, in a manner which vividly illustrates all music of the class of which I write.

"It was," he says, "during one of those long winter nights, so monotonous and so wearisome in the woods. We were in a wigwam, which afforded us but miserable shelter from the inclemency of the season. The storm raged without; the tempest roared in the open country; the wind blew with violence, and whistled through the fissures of the cabin; the rain fell in torrents, and prevented us from continuing our route. Our host was an Indian, with sparkling and intelligent eyes, clad with a certain elegance, and wrapped majestically in a large fur cloak. Seated close to the fire, which cast a reddish gleam through the interior of his wigwam, he felt himself all at once seized with an irresistible desire to imitate the convulsions of nature, and to sing his impressions. So, taking hold of a drum which hung near his bed, he beat a slight rolling, resembling the distant sounds of an approaching storm; then, raising his voice to a shrill treble, which he knew how to soften when he pleased, he imitated the whistling of the air, the creaking of the branches dashing against one another, and the particular noise produced by dead leaves when accumulated in compact masses on the ground. By degrees the rollings of the drum became more frequent and louder, the chants more sonorous and shrill, and at last our Indian shrieked, howled, and roared in a most frightful manner; he struggled and struck his instrument with extraordinary rapidity. It was a real tempest, to which nothing was wanting, not even the distant howling of the dogs, nor the bellowing of the affrighted buffaloes."

I have observed the same musical inspiration of a storm upon Arabs, who, during their singing, also accompanied themselves on a drum. I once spent two weeks in a Mediterranean steamboat, on board of which were more than two hundred pilgrims, for the greater part wild Bedouins, going to Mecca. They had a minstrel who sang and played on the darabuka, or earthenware drum, and he was aided by another with a simple nai, or reed-whistle; the same orchestra, in fact, which is in universal use among all red Indians. To these performers the pilgrims listened with indescribable pleasure; and I soon found that they regarded me favorably because I did the same, being, of course, the only Frank on board who paid any attention to the singing—or any money for it. But it was at night and during storms that the spirit of music always seemed to be strongest on the Arabs, and then, amid roaring of wild waters and thundering, and in dense darkness, the rolling of the drum and the strange, bewildering ballads never ceased. It was the very counterpart, in all respects, of the Chippewa storm song.

After the first gypsy lyric there came another, to which the captain especially directed my attention as being what Sam Petulengro calls "reg'lar Romany." It was I rakli adro o lolo gad (The girl in the red chemise), as well as I can recall his words,—a very sweet song, with a simple but spirited chorus; and as the sympathetic electricity of excitement seized the performers we were all in a minute "going down the rapids in a spring freshet."

"Bagan tu rya, bagan!" (Sing, sir,—sing) cried my handsome neighbor, with her black gypsy eyes sparkling fire. "Jines hi bagan etoeto latcho Romanes." (You can sing that,—it's real Romany.) It was evident that she and all were singing with thorough enjoyment, and with a full and realizing consciousness of gypsyism, being greatly stimulated by my presence and sympathy. I felt that the gypsies were taking unusual pains to please the Romany rye from the dur' tem, or far country, and they had attained the acme of success by being thoroughly delighted with themselves, which is all that can be hoped for in art, where the aim is pleasure and not criticism.

There was a pause in the performance, but none in the chattering of the young ladies, and during this a curious little incident occurred. Wishing to know if my pretty friend could understand an English gypsy lyric, I sang in an undertone a ballad, taken from George Borrow's "Lavengro," and which begins with these words:—

"Pende Eomani chai ke laki dye; 'Miri diri dye, mi shom kameli.'"

I never knew whether this was really an old gypsy poem or one written by Mr. Borrow. Once, when I repeated it to old Henry James, as he sat making baskets, I was silenced by being told, "That ain't no real gypsy gilli. That's one of the kind made up by gentlemen and ladies." However, as soon as I repeated it, the Russian gypsy girl cried eagerly, "I know that song!" and actually sang me a ballad which was essentially the same, in which a damsel describes her fall, owing to a Gajo (Gorgio, a Gentile,—not gypsy) lover, and her final expulsion from the tent. It was adapted to a very pretty melody, and as soon as she had sung it, sotto voce, my pretty friend exclaimed to another girl, "Only think, the rye from America knows that song!" Now, as many centuries must have passed since the English and Russian gypsies parted from the parent stock, the preservation of this song is very remarkable, and its antiquity must be very great. I did not take it down, but any resident in St. Petersburg can, if so inclined, do so among the gypsies at Dorat, and verify my statement.

Then there was a pretty dance, of a modified Oriental character, by one of the damsels. For this, as for the singing, the only musical instrument used was a guitar, which had seven strings, tuned in Spanish fashion, and was rather weak in tone. I wished it had been a powerful Panormo, which would have exactly suited the timbre of these voices. The gypsies were honestly interested in all I could tell them about their kind in other lands; while the girls were professionally desirous to hear more Anglo-Romany songs, and were particularly pleased with one beginning with the words:—

"'Me shom akonyo,' gildas yoi, Men buti ruzhior, Te sar i chiriclia adoi Pen mengy gilior.'"

Though we "got on" after a manner in our Romany talk, I was often obliged to have recourse to my friend the general to translate long sentences into Russian, especially when some sand-bar of a verb or some log of a noun impeded the current of our conversation. Finally, a formal request was made by the captain that I would, as one deep beyond all their experience in Romany matters, kindly tell them what kind of people they really were, and whence they came. With this demand I cheerfully complied, every word being listened to with breathless interest. So I told them what I knew or had conjectured relative to their Indian origin: how their fathers had wandered forth through Persia; how their travels could be traced by the Persian, Greek, or Roumanian words in the language; how in 1417 a band of them appeared in Europe, led by a few men of great diplomatic skill, who, by crafty dealing, obtained from the Pope, the Emperor of Germany, and all the kings of Europe, except that of England, permission to wander for fifty years as pilgrims, declaring that they had been Christians, but, having become renegades, the King of Hungary had imposed a penance on them of half a century's exile. Then I informed them that precisely the same story had been told by them to the rulers in Syria and Egypt, only that in the Mohammedan countries they pretended to be good followers of Islam. I said there was reason to believe that some of their people had been in Poland and the other Slavonic countries ever since the eleventh century, but that those of England must have gone directly from Eastern Europe to Great Britain; for, although they had many Slavic words, such as krallis (king) and shuba, there were no French terms, and very few traces of German or Italian, in the English dialect. I observed that the men all understood the geographical allusions which I made, knowing apparently where India, Persia, and Egypt were situated—a remarkable contrast to our own English "travelers," one of whom once informed me that he would like to go "on the road" in America, "because you know, sir, as America lays along into France, we could get our French baskets cheaper there."

I found, on inquiry, that the Russian gypsies profess Christianity; but, as the religion of the Greek church, as I saw it, appears to be practically something very little better than fetich-worship, I cannot exalt them as models of evangelical piety. They are, however, according to a popular proverb, not far from godliness in being very clean in their persons; and not only did they appear so to me, but I was assured by several Russians that, as regarded these singing gypsies, it was invariably the case. As for morality in gypsy girls, their principles are very peculiar. Not a whisper of scandal attaches to these Russian Romany women as regards transient amours. But if a wealthy Russian gentleman falls in love with one, and will have and hold her permanently, or for a durable connection, he may take her to his home if she likes him, but must pay monthly a sum into the gypsy treasury; for these people apparently form an artel, or society-union, like all other classes of Russians. It may be suggested, as an explanation of this apparent incongruity, that gypsies all the world over regard steady cohabitation, or agreement, as marriage, binding themselves, as it were, by Gand-harbavivaha, as the saint married Vasantasena, which is an old Sanskrit way of wedding. And let me remark that if one tenth of what I heard in Russia about "morals" in the highest or lowest or any other class be true, the gypsies of that country are shining lights and brilliant exemplars of morality to all by whom they are surrounded. Let me also add that never on any occasion did I hear or see among them anything in the slightest degree improper or unrefined. I knew very well that I could, if I chose, talk to such naive people about subjects which would shock an English lady, and, as the reader may remember, I did quote Mr. Borrow's song, which he has not translated. But a European girl who would have endured allusions to tabooed subjects would have at all times shown vulgarity or coarseness, while these Russian Romany girls were invariably lady-like. It is true that the St. Petersburg party had a dissipated air; three or four of them looked like second-class French or Italian theatrical artistes, and I should not be astonished to learn that very late hours and champagne were familiar to them as cigarettes, or that their flirtations among their own people were neither faint, nor few, nor far between. But their conduct in my presence was irreproachable. Those of Moscow, in fact, had not even the apparent defects of their St. Petersburg sisters and brothers, and when among them it always seemed to me as if I were simply with nice gentle creoles or Cubans, the gypsy manner being tamed down to the Spanish level, their great black eyes and their guitars increasing the resemblance.

The indescribably wild and thrilling character of gypsy music is thoroughly appreciated by the Russians, who pay very high prices for Romany performances. From five to eight or ten pounds sterling is usually given to a dozen gypsies for singing an hour or two to a special party, and this is sometimes repeated twice or thrice of an evening. "A Russian gentleman, when he is in funds," said the clerk of the Slavansky Bazaar in Moscow to me, "will make nothing of giving the Zigani a hundred-ruble note," the ruble rating at half a crown. The result is that good singers among these lucky Romanys are well to do, and lead soft lives, for Russia.



MOSCOW.

I had no friends in Moscow to direct me where to find gypsies en famille, and the inquiries which I made of chance acquaintances simply convinced me that the world at large was as ignorant of their ways as it was prejudiced against them. At last the good-natured old porter of our hotel told me, in his rough Baltic German, how to meet these mysterious minstrels to advantage. "You must take a sleigh," he said, "and go out to Petrovka. That is a place in the country, where there are grand cafes at considerable distances one from the other. Pay the driver three rubles for four hours. Enter a cafe, call for something to drink, listen to the gypsies singing, and when they pass round a plate put some money in it. That's all." This was explicit, and at ten o'clock in the evening I hired a sleigh and went.

If the cold which I had experienced in the general's troika in St. Petersburg might be compared to a moderate rheumatism, that which I encountered in the sleigh outside the walls of Moscow, on Christmas Eve, 1876, was like a fierce gout. The ride was in all conscience Russian enough to have its ending among gypsies, Tartars, or Cossacks. To go at a headlong pace over the creaking snow behind an istvostshik, named Vassili, the round, cold moon overhead, church-spires tipped with great inverted golden turnips in the distance, and this on a night when the frost seemed almost to scream in its intensity, is as much of a sensation in the suburbs of Moscow as it could be out on the steppes. A few wolves, more or less, make no difference,—and even they come sometimes within three hours' walk of the Kremlin. Et ego inter lupos,—I too have been among wolves in my time by night, in Kansas, and thought nothing of such rides compared to the one I had when I went gypsying from Moscow.

In half an hour Vassili brought me to a house, which I entered. A "proud porter," a vast creature, in uniform suggestive of embassies and kings' palaces, relieved me of my shuba, and I found my way into a very large and high hall, brilliantly lighted as if for a thousand guests, while the only occupants were four couples, "spooning" sans gene, one in each corner and a small party of men and girls drinking in the middle. I called a waiter; he spoke nothing but Russian, and Russian is of all languages the most useless to him who only talks it "a little." A little Arabic, or even a little Chippewa, I have found of great service, but a fair vocabulary and weeks of study of the grammar are of no avail in a country where even men of gentlemanly appearance turn away with childish ennui the instant they detect the foreigner, resolving apparently that they cannot and will not understand him. In matters like this the ordinary Russian is more impatient and less intelligent than any Oriental or even red Indian. The result of my interview with the waiter was that we were soon involved in the completest misunderstanding on the subject of gypsies. The question was settled by reference to a fat and fair damsel, one of the "spoons" already referred to, who spoke German. She explained to me that as it was Christmas Eve no gypsies would be there, or at any other cafe. This was disappointing. I called Vassili, and he drove on to another "garden," deeply buried in snow.

When I entered the rooms at this place, I perceived at a glance that matters had mended. There was the hum of many voices, and a perfume like that of tea and many papiross, or cigarettes, with a prompt sense of society and of enjoyment. I was dazzled at first by the glare of the lights, and could distinguish nothing, unless it was that the numerous company regarded me with utter amazement; for it was an "off night," when no business was expected,—few were there save "professionals" and their friends,—and I was manifestly an unexpected intruder on Bohemia. As luck would have it, that which I believed was the one worst night in the year to find the gypsy minstrels proved to be the exceptional occasion when they were all assembled, and I had hit upon it. Of course this struck me pleasantly enough as I looked around, for I knew that at a touch the spell would be broken, and with one word I should have the warmest welcome from all. I had literally not a single speaking acquaintance within a thousand miles, and yet here was a room crowded with gay and festive strangers, whom the slightest utterance would convert into friends.

I was not disappointed. Seeking for an opportunity, I saw a young man of gentlemanly appearance, well dressed, and with a mild and amiable air. Speaking to him in German, I asked the very needless question if there were any gypsies present.

"You wish to hear them sing?" he inquired.

"I do not. I only want to talk with one,—with any one."

He appeared to be astonished, but, pointing to a handsome, slender young lady, a very dark brunette, elegantly attired in black silk, said,—

"There is one."

I stepped across to the girl, who rose to meet me. I said nothing for a few seconds, but looked at her intently, and then asked,—

"Rakessa tu Romanes, miri pen?" (Do you talk Romany, my sister?)

She gave one deep, long glance of utter astonishment, drew one long breath, and, with a cry of delight and wonder, said,—

"Romanichal!"

That word awoke the entire company, and with it they found out who the intruder was. "Then might you hear them cry aloud, 'The Moringer is here!'" for I began to feel like the long-lost lord returned, so warm was my welcome. They flocked around me; they cried aloud in Romany, and one good-natured, smiling man, who looked like a German gypsy, mounting a chair, waved a guitar by its neck high in the air as a signal of discovery of a great prize to those at a distance, repeating rapidly,—

"Av'akai, ava'kai, Romanichal!" (Come here; here's a gypsy!)

And they came, dark and light, great and small, and got round me, and shook hands, and held to my arms, and asked where I came from, and how I did, and if it wasn't jolly, and what would I take to drink, and said how glad they were to see me; and when conversation flagged for an instant, somebody said to his next neighbor, with an air of wisdom, "American Romany," and everybody repeated it with delight. Then it occurred to the guitarist and the young lady that we had better sit down. So my first acquaintance and discoverer, whose name was Liubasha, was placed, in right of preemption, at my right hand, the belle des belles, Miss Sarsha, at my left, a number of damsels all around these, and then three or four circles of gypsies, of different ages and tints, standing up, surrounded us all. In the outer ring were several fast-looking and pretty Russian or German blonde girls, whose mission it is, I believe, to dance—and flirt—with visitors, and a few gentlemanly-looking Russians, vieuz garcons, evidently of the kind who are at home behind the scenes, and who knew where to come to enjoy themselves. Altogether there must have been about fifty present, and I soon observed that every word I uttered was promptly repeated, while every eye was fixed on me.

I could converse in Romany with the guitarist, and without much difficulty; but with the charming, heedless young ladies I had as much trouble to talk as with their sisters in St. Petersburg. The young gentleman already referred to, to whom in my fancy I promptly gave the Offenbachian name of Prince Paul, translated whenever there was a misunderstanding, and in a few minutes we were all intimate. Miss Sarsha, who had a slight cast in one of her wild black eyes, which added something to the gypsiness and roguery of her smiles, and who wore in a ring a large diamond, which seemed as if it might be the right eye in the wrong place, was what is called an earnest young lady, with plenty to say and great energy wherewith to say it. What with her eyes, her diamond, her smiles, and her tongue, she constituted altogether a fine specimen of irrepressible fireworks, and Prince Paul had enough to do in facilitating conversation. There was no end to his politeness, but it was an impossible task for him now and then promptly to carry over a long sentence from German to Russian, and he would give it up like an invincible conundrum, with the patient smile and head-wag and hand-wave of an amiable Dundreary. Yet I began to surmise a mystery even in him. More than once he inadvertently betrayed a knowledge of Romany, though he invariably spoke of his friends around in a patronizing manner as "these gypsies." This was very odd, for in appearance he was a Gorgio of the Gorgios, and did not seem, despite any talent for languages which he might possess, likely to trouble himself to acquire Romany while Russian would answer every purpose of conversation. All of this was, however, explained to me afterward.

Prince Paul again asked me if I had come out to hear a concert. I said, "No; that I had simply come out to see my brothers and sisters and talk with them, just as I hoped they would come to see me if I were in my own country." This speech produced a most favorable impression, and there was, in a quiet way, a little private conversation among the leaders, after which Prince Paul said to me, in a very pleasant manner, that "these gypsies," being delighted at the visit from the gentleman from a distant country, would like to offer me a song in token of welcome. To this I answered, with many thanks, that such kindness was more than I had expected, for I was well aware of the great value of such a compliment from singers whose fame had reached me even in America. It was evident that my grain of a reply did not fall upon stony ground, for I never was among people who seemed to be so quickly impressed by any act of politeness, however trifling. A bow, a grasp of the hand, a smile, or a glance would gratify them, and this gratification their lively black eyes expressed in the most unmistakable manner.

So we had the song, wild and wonderful like all of its kind, given with that delightful _abandon_ which attains perfection only among gypsies. I had enjoyed the singing in St. Petersburg, but there was a _laisser aller_, a completely gay spirit, in this Christmas-Eve gypsy party in Moscow which was much more "whirling away." For at Dorot the gypsies had been on exhibition; here at Petrovka they were frolicking _en _famille_ with a favored guest,—a Romany rye from a far land to astonish and delight,—and he took good care to let them feel that they were achieving a splendid success, for I declared many times that it was _butsi shukar_, or very beautiful. Then I called for tea and lemon, and after that the gypsies sang for their own amusement, Miss Sarsha, as the incarnation of fun and jollity, taking the lead, and making me join in. Then the crowd made way, and in the space appeared a very pretty little girl, in the graceful old gypsy Oriental dress. This child danced charmingly indeed, in a style strikingly like that of the Almeh of Egypt, but without any of the erotic expressions which abound in Eastern pantomime. This little Romany girl was to me enchanting, being altogether unaffected and graceful. It was evident that her dancing, like the singing of her elder sisters, was not an art which had been drilled in by instruction. They had come into it in infancy, and perfected themselves by such continual practice that what they did was as natural as walking or talking. When the dancing was over, I begged that the little girl would come to me, and, kissing her tiny gypsy hand, I said, "_Spassibo tute kamli_, _eto hi butsi shukar_" (Thank you, dear; that is very pretty), with which the rest were evidently pleased. I had observed among the singers, at a little distance, a very remarkable and rather handsome old woman,—a good study for an artist,—and she, as I also noticed, had sung with a powerful and clear voice. "She is our grandmother," said one of the girls. Now, as every student of gypsies knows, the first thing to do in England or Germany, on entering a tent-gypsy encampment, is to be polite to "the old woman." Unless you can win her good opinion you had better be gone. The Russian city Roms have apparently no such fancies. On the road, however, life is patriarchal, and the grandmother is a power to be feared. As a fortune-teller she is a witch, ever at warfare with the police world; she has a bitter tongue, and is quick to wrath. This was not the style or fashion of the old gypsy singer; but, as soon as I saw the _puri babali dye_, I requested that she would shake hand with me, and by the impression which this created I saw that the Romany of the city had not lost all the feelings of the road.

I spoke of Waramoff's beautiful song of the "Krasneya Sarafan," which Sarsha began at once to warble. The characteristic of Russian gypsy-girl voices is a peculiarly delicate metallic tone,—like that of the two silver bells of the Tower of Ivan Velikoi when heard from afar,—yet always marked with fineness and strength. This is sometimes startling in the wilder effects, but it is always agreeable. These Moscow gypsy girls have a great name in their art, and it was round the shoulders of one of them—for aught I know it may have been Sarsha's great-grandmother—that Catalani threw the cashmere shawl which had been given to her by the Pope as "to the best singer in the world." "It is not mine by right," said the generous Italian; "it belongs to the gypsy."

The gypsies were desirous of learning something about the songs of their kindred in distant lands, and, though no singer, I did my best to please them, the guitarist easily improvising accompaniments, while the girls joined in. As all were in a gay mood faults were easily excused, and the airs were much liked,—one lyric, set by Virginia Gabriel, being even more admired in Moscow than in St. Petersburg, apropos of which I may mention that, when I afterward visited the gypsy family in their own home, the first request from Sarsha was, "Eto gilyo, rya!" (That song, sir), referring to "Romany," which has been heard at several concerts in London. And so, after much discussion of the affairs of Egypt, I took my leave amid a chorus of kind farewells. Then Vassili, loudly called for, reappeared from some nook with his elegantly frosted horse, and in a few minutes we were dashing homeward. Cold! It was as severe as in Western New York or Minnesota, where the thermometer for many days every winter sinks lower than in St. Petersburg, but where there are no such incredible precautions taken as in the land of double windows cemented down, and fur-lined shubas. It is remarkable that the gypsies, although of Oriental origin, are said to surpass the Russians in enduring cold; and there is a marvelous story told about a Romany who, for a wager, undertook to sleep naked against a clothed Muscovite on the ice of a river during an unusually cold night. In the morning the Russian was found frozen stiff, while the gypsy was snoring away unharmed. As we returned, I saw in the town something which recalled this story in more than one moujik, who, well wrapped up, lay sleeping in the open air, under the lee of a house. Passing through silent Moscow on the early Christmas morn, under the stars, as I gazed at the marvelous city, which yields neither to Edinburgh, Cairo, nor Prague in picturesqueness, and thought over the strange evening I had spent among the gypsies, I felt as if I were in a melodrama with striking scenery. The pleasing finale was the utter amazement and almost speechless gratitude of Vassili at getting an extra half-ruble as an early Christmas gift.

As I had received a pressing invitation from the gypsies to come again, I resolved to pay them a visit on Christmas afternoon in their own house, if I could find it. Having ascertained that the gypsy street was in a distant quarter, called the Grouszini, I engaged a sleigh, standing before the door of the Slavanski-Bazaar Hotel, and the usual close bargain with the driver was effected with the aid of a Russian gentleman, a stranger passing by, who reduced the ruble (one hundred kopecks) at first demanded to seventy kopecks. After a very long drive we found ourselves in the gypsy street, and the istvostshik asked me, "To what house?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Gypsies live here, don't they?"

"Gypsies, and no others."

"Well, I want to find a gypsy."

The driver laughed, and just at that instant I saw, as if awaiting me on the sidewalk, Sarsha, Liubasha, and another young lady, with a good-looking youth, their brother.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse