The Zincali - An Account of the Gypsies of Spain
by George Borrow
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Zincali - An Account of the Gypsies of Spain by George Borrow Scanned and proofed by David Price

The Zincali - An Account of the Gypsies of Spain


IT is with some diffidence that the author ventures to offer the present work to the public.

The greater part of it has been written under very peculiar circumstances, such as are not in general deemed at all favourable for literary composition: at considerable intervals, during a period of nearly five years passed in Spain - in moments snatched from more important pursuits - chiefly in ventas and posadas, whilst wandering through the country in the arduous and unthankful task of distributing the Gospel among its children.

Owing to the causes above stated, he is aware that his work must not unfrequently appear somewhat disjointed and unconnected, and the style rude and unpolished: he has, nevertheless, permitted the tree to remain where he felled it, having, indeed, subsequently enjoyed too little leisure to make much effectual alteration.

At the same time he flatters himself that the work is not destitute of certain qualifications to entitle it to approbation. The author's acquaintance with the Gypsy race in general dates from a very early period of his life, which considerably facilitated his intercourse with the Peninsular portion, to the elucidation of whose history and character the present volumes are more particularly devoted. Whatever he has asserted, is less the result of reading than of close observation, he having long since come to the conclusion that the Gypsies are not a people to be studied in books, or at least in such books as he believes have hitherto been written concerning them.

Throughout he has dealt more in facts than in theories, of which he is in general no friend. True it is, that no race in the world affords, in many points, a more extensive field for theory and conjecture than the Gypsies, who are certainly a very mysterious people come from some distant land, no mortal knows why, and who made their first appearance in Europe at a dark period, when events were not so accurately recorded as at the present time.

But if he has avoided as much as possible touching upon subjects which must always, to a certain extent, remain shrouded in obscurity; for example, the, original state and condition of the Gypsies, and the causes which first brought them into Europe; he has stated what they are at the present day, what he knows them to be from a close scrutiny of their ways and habits, for which, perhaps, no one ever enjoyed better opportunities; and he has, moreover, given - not a few words culled expressly for the purpose of supporting a theory, but one entire dialect of their language, collected with much trouble and difficulty; and to this he humbly calls the attention of the learned, who, by comparing it with certain languages, may decide as to the countries in which the Gypsies have lived or travelled.

With respect to the Gypsy rhymes in the second volume, he wishes to make one observation which cannot be too frequently repeated, and which he entreats the reader to bear in mind: they are GYPSY COMPOSITIONS, and have little merit save so far as they throw light on the manner of thinking and speaking of the Gypsy people, or rather a portion of them, and as to what they are capable of effecting in the way of poetry. It will, doubtless, be said that the rhymes are TRASH; - even were it so, they are original, and on that account, in a philosophic point of view, are more valuable than the most brilliant compositions pretending to describe Gypsy life, but written by persons who are not of the Gypsy sect. Such compositions, however replete with fiery sentiments, and allusions to freedom and independence, are certain to be tainted with affectation. Now in the Gypsy rhymes there is no affectation, and on that very account they are different in every respect from the poetry of those interesting personages who figure, under the names of Gypsies, Gitanos, Bohemians, etc., in novels and on the boards of the theatre.

It will, perhaps, be objected to the present work, that it contains little that is edifying in a moral or Christian point of view: to such an objection the author would reply, that the Gypsies are not a Christian people, and that their morality is of a peculiar kind, not calculated to afford much edification to what is generally termed the respectable portion of society. Should it be urged that certain individuals have found them very different from what they are represented in these volumes, he would frankly say that he yields no credit to the presumed fact, and at the same time he would refer to the vocabulary contained in the second volume, whence it will appear that the words HOAX and HOCUS have been immediately derived from the language of the Gypsies, who, there is good reason to believe, first introduced the system into Europe, to which those words belong.

The author entertains no ill-will towards the Gypsies; why should he, were he a mere carnal reasoner? He has known them for upwards of twenty years, in various countries, and they never injured a hair of his head, or deprived him of a shred of his raiment; but he is not deceived as to the motive of their forbearance: they thought him a ROM, and on this supposition they hurt him not, their love of 'the blood' being their most distinguishing characteristic. He derived considerable assistance from them in Spain, as in various instances they officiated as colporteurs in the distribution of the Gospel: but on that account he is not prepared to say that they entertained any love for the Gospel or that they circulated it for the honour of Tebleque the Saviour. Whatever they did for the Gospel in Spain, was done in the hope that he whom they conceived to be their brother had some purpose in view which was to contribute to the profit of the Cales, or Gypsies, and to terminate in the confusion and plunder of the Busne, or Gentiles. Convinced of this, he is too little of an enthusiast to rear, on such a foundation, any fantastic edifice of hope which would soon tumble to the ground.

The cause of truth can scarcely be forwarded by enthusiasm, which is almost invariably the child of ignorance and error. The author is anxious to direct the attention of the public towards the Gypsies; but he hopes to be able to do so without any romantic appeals in their behalf, by concealing the truth, or by warping the truth until it becomes falsehood. In the following pages he has depicted the Gypsies as he has found them, neither aggravating their crimes nor gilding them with imaginary virtues. He has not expatiated on 'their gratitude towards good people, who treat them kindly and take an interest in their welfare'; for he believes that of all beings in the world they are the least susceptible of such a feeling. Nor has he ever done them injustice by attributing to them licentious habits, from which they are, perhaps, more free than any race in the creation.


I CANNOT permit the second edition of this work to go to press without premising it with a few words.

When some two years ago I first gave THE ZINCALI to the world, it was, as I stated at the time, with considerable hesitation and diffidence: the composition of it and the collecting of Gypsy words had served as a kind of relaxation to me whilst engaged in the circulation of the Gospel in Spain. After the completion of the work, I had not the slightest idea that it possessed any peculiar merit, or was calculated to make the slightest impression upon the reading world. Nevertheless, as every one who writes feels a kind of affection, greater or less, for the productions of his pen, I was averse, since the book was written, to suffer it to perish of damp in a lumber closet, or by friction in my travelling wallet. I committed it therefore to the press, with a friendly 'Farewell, little book; I have done for you all I can, and much more than you deserve.'

My expectations at this time were widely different from those of my namesake George in the VICAR OF WAKEFIELD when he published his paradoxes. I took it as a matter of course that the world, whether learned or unlearned, would say to my book what they said to his paradoxes, as the event showed, - nothing at all. To my utter astonishment, however, I had no sooner returned to my humble retreat, where I hoped to find the repose of which I was very much in need, than I was followed by the voice not only of England but of the greater part of Europe, informing me that I had achieved a feat - a work in the nineteenth century with some pretensions to originality. The book was speedily reprinted in America, portions of it were translated into French and Russian, and a fresh edition demanded.

In the midst of all this there sounded upon my ears a voice which I recognised as that of the Maecenas of British literature: 'Borromeo, don't believe all you hear, nor think that you have accomplished anything so very extraordinary: a great portion of your book is very sorry trash indeed - Gypsy poetry, dry laws, and compilations from dull Spanish authors: it has good points, however, which show that you are capable of something much better: try your hand again - avoid your besetting sins; and when you have accomplished something which will really do credit to - Street, it will be time enough to think of another delivery of these GYPSIES.'

Mistos amande: 'I am content,' I replied; and sitting down I commenced the BIBLE IN SPAIN. At first I proceeded slowly - sickness was in the land, and the face of nature was overcast - heavy rain-clouds swam in the heavens, - the blast howled amid the pines which nearly surround my lonely dwelling, and the waters of the lake which lies before it, so quiet in general and tranquil, were fearfully agitated. 'Bring lights hither, O Hayim Ben Attar, son of the miracle! ' And the Jew of Fez brought in the lights, for though it was midday I could scarcely see in the little room where I was writing. . . .

A dreary summer and autumn passed by, and were succeeded by as gloomy a winter. I still proceeded with the BIBLE IN SPAIN. The winter passed, and spring came with cold dry winds and occasional sunshine, whereupon I arose, shouted, and mounting my horse, even Sidi Habismilk, I scoured all the surrounding district, and thought but little of the BIBLE IN SPAIN.

So I rode about the country, over the heaths, and through the green lanes of my native land, occasionally visiting friends at a distance, and sometimes, for variety's sake, I stayed at home and amused myself by catching huge pike, which lie perdue in certain deep ponds skirted with lofty reeds, upon my land, and to which there is a communication from the lagoon by a deep and narrow watercourse. - I had almost forgotten the BIBLE IN SPAIN.

Then came the summer with much heat and sunshine, and then I would lie for hours in the sun and recall the sunny days I had spent in Andalusia, and my thoughts were continually reverting to Spain, and at last I remembered that the BIBLE IN SPAIN was still unfinished; whereupon I arose and said: 'This loitering profiteth nothing' - and I hastened to my summer-house by the side of the lake, and there I thought and wrote, and every day I repaired to the same place, and thought and wrote until I had finished the BIBLE IN SPAIN.

And at the proper season the BIBLE IN SPAIN was given to the world; and the world, both learned and unlearned, was delighted with the BIBLE IN SPAIN, and the highest authority (1) said, 'This is a much better book than the GYPSIES'; and the next great authority (2) said, 'something betwixt Le Sage and Bunyan.' 'A far more entertaining work than DON QUIXOTE,' exclaimed a literary lady. 'Another GIL BLAS,' said the cleverest writer in Europe. (3) 'Yes,' exclaimed the cool sensible SPECTATOR, (4) 'a GIL BLAS in water-colours.'

And when I heard the last sentence, I laughed, and shouted, 'KOSKO PENNESE PAL!' (5) It pleased me better than all the rest. Is there not a text in a certain old book which says: Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! Those are awful words, brothers; woe is me!

'Revenons a nos Bohemiens!' Now the BIBLE IN SPAIN is off my hands, I return to 'these GYPSIES'; and here you have, most kind, lenient, and courteous public, a fresh delivery of them. In the present edition, I have attended as much as possible to the suggestions of certain individuals, for whose opinion I cannot but entertain the highest respect. I have omitted various passages from Spanish authors, which the world has objected to as being quite out of place, and serving for no other purpose than to swell out the work. In lieu thereof, I have introduced some original matter relative to the Gypsies, which is, perhaps, more calculated to fling light over their peculiar habits than anything which has yet appeared. To remodel the work, however, I have neither time nor inclination, and must therefore again commend it, with all the imperfections which still cling to it, to the generosity of the public.

A few words in conclusion. Since the publication of the first edition, I have received more than one letter, in which the writers complain that I, who seem to know so much of what has been written concerning the Gypsies, (6) should have taken no notice of a theory entertained by many, namely, that they are of Jewish origin, and that they are neither more nor less than the descendants of the two lost tribes of Israel. Now I am not going to enter into a discussion upon this point, for I know by experience, that the public cares nothing for discussions, however learned and edifying, but will take the present opportunity to relate a little adventure of mine, which bears not a little upon this matter.

So it came to pass, that one day I was scampering over a heath, at some distance from my present home: I was mounted upon the good horse Sidi Habismilk, and the Jew of Fez, swifter than the wind, ran by the side of the good horse Habismilk, when what should I see at a corner of the heath but the encampment of certain friends of mine; and the chief of that camp, even Mr. Petulengro, stood before the encampment, and his adopted daughter, Miss Pinfold, stood beside him.

MYSELF. - 'Kosko divvus (7), Mr. Petulengro! I am glad to see you: how are you getting on?'

MR. PETULENGRO. - 'How am I getting on? as well as I can. What will you have for that nokengro (8)?'

Thereupon I dismounted, and delivering the reins of the good horse to Miss Pinfold, I took the Jew of Fez, even Hayim Ben Attar, by the hand, and went up to Mr. Petulengro, exclaiming, 'Sure ye are two brothers.' Anon the Gypsy passed his hand over the Jew's face, and stared him in the eyes: then turning to me he said, 'We are not dui palor (9); this man is no Roman; I believe him to be a Jew; he has the face of one; besides, if he were a Rom, even from Jericho, he could rokra a few words in Rommany.'

Now the Gypsy had been in the habit of seeing German and English Jews, who must have been separated from their African brethren for a term of at least 1700 years; yet he recognised the Jew of Fez for what he was - a Jew, and without hesitation declared that he was 'no Roman.' The Jews, therefore, and the Gypsies have each their peculiar and distinctive countenance, which, to say nothing of the difference of language, precludes the possibility of their having ever been the same people.

MARCH 1, 1843.


THIS edition has been carefully revised by the author, and some few insertions have been made. In order, however, to give to the work a more popular character, the elaborate vocabulary of the Gypsy tongue, and other parts relating to the Gypsy language and literature, have been omitted. Those who take an interest in these subjects are referred to the larger edition in two vols. (10)


THROUGHOUT my life the Gypsy race has always had a peculiar interest for me. Indeed I can remember no period when the mere mention of the name of Gypsy did not awaken within me feelings hard to be described. I cannot account for this - I merely state a fact.

Some of the Gypsies, to whom I have stated this circumstance, have accounted for it on the supposition that the soul which at present animates my body has at some former period tenanted that of one of their people; for many among them are believers in metempsychosis, and, like the followers of Bouddha, imagine that their souls, by passing through an infinite number of bodies, attain at length sufficient purity to be admitted to a state of perfect rest and quietude, which is the only idea of heaven they can form.

Having in various and distant countries lived in habits of intimacy with these people, I have come to the following conclusions respecting them: that wherever they are found, their manners and customs are virtually the same, though somewhat modified by circumstances, and that the language they speak amongst themselves, and of which they are particularly anxious to keep others in ignorance, is in all countries one and the same, but has been subjected more or less to modification; and lastly, that their countenances exhibit a decided family resemblance, but are darker or fairer according to the temperature of the climate, but invariably darker, at least in Europe, than those of the natives of the countries in which they dwell, for example, England and Russia, Germany and Spain.

The names by which they are known differ with the country, though, with one or two exceptions, not materially for example, they are styled in Russia, Zigani; in Turkey and Persia, Zingarri; and in Germany, Zigeuner; all which words apparently spring from the same etymon, which there is no improbability in supposing to be 'Zincali,' a term by which these people, especially those of Spain, sometimes designate themselves, and the meaning of which is believed to be, THE BLACK MEN OF ZEND OR IND. In England and Spain they are commonly known as Gypsies and Gitanos, from a general belief that they were originally Egyptians, to which the two words are tantamount; and in France as Bohemians, from the circumstance that Bohemia was one of the first countries in civilised Europe where they made their appearance.

But they generally style themselves and the language which they speak, Rommany. This word, of which I shall ultimately have more to say, is of Sanscrit origin, and signifies, The Husbands, or that which pertaineth unto them. From whatever motive this appellation may have originated, it is perhaps more applicable than any other to a sect or caste like them, who have no love and no affection beyond their own race; who are capable of making great sacrifices for each other, and who gladly prey upon all the rest of the human species, whom they detest, and by whom they are hated and despised. It will perhaps not be out of place to observe here, that there is no reason for supposing that the word Roma or Rommany is derived from the Arabic word which signifies Greece or Grecians, as some people not much acquainted with the language of the race in question have imagined.

I have no intention at present to say anything about their origin. Scholars have asserted that the language which they speak proves them to be of Indian stock, and undoubtedly a great number of their words are Sanscrit. My own opinion upon this subject will be found in a subsequent article. I shall here content myself with observing that from whatever country they come, whether from India or Egypt, there can be no doubt that they are human beings and have immortal souls; and it is in the humble hope of drawing the attention of the Christian philanthropist towards them, especially that degraded and unhappy portion of them, the Gitanos of Spain, that the present little work has been undertaken. But before proceeding to speak of the latter, it will perhaps not be amiss to afford some account of the Rommany as I have seen them in other countries; for there is scarcely a part of the habitable world where they are not to be found: their tents are alike pitched on the heaths of Brazil and the ridges of the Himalayan hills, and their language is heard at Moscow and Madrid, in the streets of London and Stamboul.


They are found in all parts of Russia, with the exception of the government of St. Petersburg, from which they have been banished. In most of the provincial towns they are to be found in a state of half-civilisation, supporting themselves by trafficking in horses, or by curing the disorders incidental to those animals; but the vast majority reject this manner of life, and traverse the country in bands, like the ancient Hamaxobioi; the immense grassy plains of Russia affording pasturage for their herds of cattle, on which, and the produce of the chase, they chiefly depend for subsistence. They are, however, not destitute of money, which they obtain by various means, but principally by curing diseases amongst the cattle of the mujiks or peasantry, and by telling fortunes, and not unfrequently by theft and brigandage.

Their power of resisting cold is truly wonderful, as it is not uncommon to find them encamped in the midst of the snow, in slight canvas tents, when the temperature is twenty-five or thirty degrees below the freezing-point according to Reaumur; but in the winter they generally seek the shelter of the forests, which afford fuel for their fires, and abound in game.

The race of the Rommany is by nature perhaps the most beautiful in the world; and amongst the children of the Russian Zigani are frequently to be found countenances to do justice to which would require the pencil of a second Murillo; but exposure to the rays of the burning sun, the biting of the frost, and the pelting of the pitiless sleet and snow, destroys their beauty at a very early age; and if in infancy their personal advantages are remarkable, their ugliness at an advanced age is no less so, for then it is loathsome, and even appalling.

A hundred years, could I live so long, would not efface from my mind the appearance of an aged Ziganskie Attaman, or Captain of Zigani, and his grandson, who approached me on the meadow before Novo Gorod, where stood the encampment of a numerous horde. The boy was of a form and face which might have entitled him to represent Astyanax, and Hector of Troy might have pressed him to his bosom, and called him his pride; but the old man was, perhaps, such a shape as Milton has alluded to, but could only describe as execrable - he wanted but the dart and kingly crown to have represented the monster who opposed the progress of Lucifer, whilst careering in burning arms and infernal glory to the outlet of his hellish prison.

But in speaking of the Russian Gypsies, those of Moscow must not be passed over in silence. The station to which they have attained in society in that most remarkable of cities is so far above the sphere in which the remainder of their race pass their lives, that it may be considered as a phenomenon in Gypsy history, and on that account is entitled to particular notice.

Those who have been accustomed to consider the Gypsy as a wandering outcast, incapable of appreciating the blessings of a settled and civilised life, or - if abandoning vagabond propensities, and becoming stationary - as one who never ascends higher than the condition of a low trafficker, will be surprised to learn, that amongst the Gypsies of Moscow there are not a few who inhabit stately houses, go abroad in elegant equipages, and are behind the higher orders of the Russians neither in appearance nor mental acquirements. To the power of song alone this phenomenon is to be attributed. From time immemorial the female Gypsies of Moscow have been much addicted to the vocal art, and bands or quires of them have sung for pay in the halls of the nobility or upon the boards of the theatre. Some first-rate songsters have been produced among them, whose merits have been acknowledged, not only by the Russian public, but by the most fastidious foreign critics. Perhaps the highest compliment ever paid to a songster was paid by Catalani herself to one of these daughters of Roma. It is well known throughout Russia that the celebrated Italian was so enchanted with the voice of a Moscow Gypsy (who, after the former had displayed her noble talent before a splendid audience in the old Russian capital, stepped forward and poured forth one of her national strains), that she tore from her own shoulders a shawl of cashmire, which had been presented to her by the Pope, and, embracing the Gypsy, insisted on her acceptance of the splendid gift, saying, that it had been intended for the matchless songster, which she now perceived she herself was not.

The sums obtained by many of these females by the exercise of their art enable them to support their relatives in affluence and luxury: some are married to Russians, and no one who has visited Russia can but be aware that a lovely and accomplished countess, of the noble and numerous family of Tolstoy, is by birth a Zigana, and was originally one of the principal attractions of a Rommany choir at Moscow.

But it is not to be supposed that the whole of the Gypsy females at Moscow are of this high and talented description; the majority of them are of far lower quality, and obtain their livelihood by singing and dancing at taverns, whilst their husbands in general follow the occupation of horse-dealing.

Their favourite place of resort in the summer time is Marina Rotze, a species of sylvan garden about two versts from Moscow, and thither, tempted by curiosity, I drove one fine evening. On my arrival the Ziganas came flocking out from their little tents, and from the tractir or inn which has been erected for the accommodation of the public. Standing on the seat of the calash, I addressed them in a loud voice in the English dialect of the Rommany, of which I have some knowledge. A shrill scream of wonder was instantly raised, and welcomes and blessings were poured forth in floods of musical Rommany, above all of which predominated the cry of KAK CAMENNA TUTE PRALA - or, How we love you, brother! - for at first they mistook me for one of their wandering brethren from the distant lands, come over the great panee or ocean to visit them.

After some conversation they commenced singing, and favoured me with many songs, both in Russian and Rommany: the former were modern popular pieces, such as are accustomed to be sung on the boards of the theatre; but the latter were evidently of great antiquity, exhibiting the strongest marks of originality, the metaphors bold and sublime, and the metre differing from anything of the kind which it has been my fortune to observe in Oriental or European prosody.

One of the most remarkable, and which commences thus:

'Za mateia rosherroro odolata Bravintata,'

(or, Her head is aching with grief, as if she had tasted wine) describes the anguish of a maiden separated from her lover, and who calls for her steed:

'Tedjav manga gurraoro' -

that she may depart in quest of the lord of her bosom, and share his joys and pleasures.

A collection of these songs, with a translation and vocabulary, would be no slight accession to literature, and would probably throw more light on the history of this race than anything which has yet appeared; and, as there is no want of zeal and talent in Russia amongst the cultivators of every branch of literature, and especially philology, it is only surprising that such a collection still remains a desideratum.

The religion which these singular females externally professed was the Greek, and they mostly wore crosses of copper or gold; but when I questioned them on this subject in their native language, they laughed, and said it was only to please the Russians. Their names for God and his adversary are Deval and Bengel, which differ little from the Spanish Un-debel and Bengi, which signify the same. I will now say something of


Hungary, though a country not a tenth part so extensive as the huge colossus of the Russian empire, whose tzar reigns over a hundred lands, contains perhaps as many Gypsies, it not being uncommon to find whole villages inhabited by this race; they likewise abound in the suburbs of the towns. In Hungary the feudal system still exists in all its pristine barbarity; in no country does the hard hand of this oppression bear so heavy upon the lower classes - not even in Russia. The peasants of Russia are serfs, it is true, but their condition is enviable compared with that of the same class in the other country; they have certain rights and privileges, and are, upon the whole, happy and contented, whilst the Hungarians are ground to powder. Two classes are free in Hungary to do almost what they please - the nobility and - the Gypsies; the former are above the law - the latter below it: a toll is wrung from the hands of the hard-working labourers, that most meritorious class, in passing over a bridge, for example at Pesth, which is not demanded from a well-dressed person - nor from the Czigany, who have frequently no dress at all - and whose insouciance stands in striking contrast with the trembling submission of the peasants. The Gypsy, wherever you find him, is an incomprehensible being, but nowhere more than in Hungary, where, in the midst of slavery, he is free, though apparently one step lower than the lowest slave. The habits of the Hungarian Gypsies are abominable; their hovels appear sinks of the vilest poverty and filth, their dress is at best rags, their food frequently the vilest carrion, and occasionally, if report be true, still worse - on which point, when speaking of the Spanish Gitanos, we shall have subsequently more to say: thus they live in filth, in rags, in nakedness, and in merriness of heart, for nowhere is there more of song and dance than in an Hungarian Gypsy village. They are very fond of music, and some of them are heard to touch the violin in a manner wild, but of peculiar excellence. Parties of them have been known to exhibit even at Paris.

In Hungary, as in all parts, they are addicted to horse-dealing; they are likewise tinkers, and smiths in a small way. The women are fortune-tellers, of course - both sexes thieves of the first water. They roam where they list - in a country where all other people are held under strict surveillance, no one seems to care about these Parias. The most remarkable feature, however, connected with the habits of the Czigany, consists in their foreign excursions, having plunder in view, which frequently endure for three or four years, when, if no mischance has befallen them, they return to their native land - rich; where they squander the proceeds of their dexterity in mad festivals. They wander in bands of twelve and fourteen through France, even to Rome. Once, during my own wanderings in Italy, I rested at nightfall by the side of a kiln, the air being piercingly cold; it was about four leagues from Genoa. Presently arrived three individuals to take advantage of the warmth - a man, a woman, and a lad. They soon began to discourse - and I found that they were Hungarian Gypsies; they spoke of what they had been doing, and what they had amassed - I think they mentioned nine hundred crowns. They had companions in the neighbourhood, some of whom they were expecting; they took no notice of me, and conversed in their own dialect; I did not approve of their propinquity, and rising, hastened away.

When Napoleon invaded Spain there were not a few Hungarian Gypsies in his armies; some strange encounters occurred on the field of battle between these people and the Spanish Gitanos, one of which is related in the second part of the present work. When quartered in the Spanish towns, the Czigany invariably sought out their peninsular brethren, to whom they revealed themselves, kissing and embracing most affectionately; the Gitanos were astonished at the proficiency of the strangers in thievish arts, and looked upon them almost in the light of superior beings: 'They knew the whole reckoning,' is still a common expression amongst them. There was a Cziganian soldier for some time at Cordoba, of whom the Gitanos of the place still frequently discourse, whilst smoking their cigars during winter nights over their braseros.

The Hungarian Gypsies have a peculiar accent when speaking the language of the country, by which they can be instantly distinguished; the same thing is applicable to the Gitanos of Spain when speaking Spanish. In no part of the world is the Gypsy language preserved better than in Hungary.

The following short prayer to the Virgin, which I have frequently heard amongst the Gypsies of Hungary and Transylvania, will serve as a specimen of their language.-

Gula Devla, da me saschipo. Swuntuna Devla, da me bacht t' aldaschis cari me jav; te ferin man, Devla, sila ta niapaschiata, chungale manuschendar, ke me jav ande drom ca hin man traba; ferin man, Devia; ma mek man Devla, ke manga man tre Devies-key.

Sweet Goddess, give me health. Holy Goddess, give me luck and grace wherever I go; and help me, Goddess, powerful and immaculate, from ugly men, that I may go in the road to the place I purpose: help me, Goddess; forsake me not, Goddess, for I pray for God's sake.


In Wallachia and Moldavia, two of the eastern-most regions of Europe, are to be found seven millions of people calling themselves Roumouni, and speaking a dialect of the Latin tongue much corrupted by barbarous terms, so called. They are supposed to be in part descendants of Roman soldiers, Rome in the days of her grandeur having established immense military colonies in these parts. In the midst of these people exist vast numbers of Gypsies, amounting, I am disposed to think, to at least two hundred thousand. The land of the Roumouni, indeed, seems to have been the hive from which the West of Europe derived the Gypsy part of its population. Far be it from me to say that the Gypsies sprang originally from Roumouni- land. All I mean is, that it was their grand resting-place after crossing the Danube. They entered Roumouni-land from Bulgaria, crossing the great river, and from thence some went to the north- east, overrunning Russia, others to the west of Europe, as far as Spain and England. That the early Gypsies of the West, and also those of Russia, came from Roumouni-land, is easily proved, as in all the western Gypsy dialects, and also in the Russian, are to be found words belonging to the Roumouni speech; for example, primavera, spring; cheros, heaven; chorab, stocking; chismey, boots; - Roum - primivari, cherul, chorapul, chisme. One might almost be tempted to suppose that the term Rommany, by which the Gypsies of Russia and the West call themselves, was derived from Roumouni, were it not for one fact, which is, that Romanus in the Latin tongue merely means a native of Rome, whilst the specific meaning of Rome still remains in the dark; whereas in Gypsy Rom means a husband, Rommany the sect of the husbands; Romanesti if married. Whether both words were derived originally from the same source, as I believe some people have supposed, is a question which, with my present lights, I cannot pretend to determine.


No country appears less adapted for that wandering life, which seems so natural to these people, than England. Those wildernesses and forests, which they are so attached to, are not to be found there; every inch of land is cultivated, and its produce watched with a jealous eye; and as the laws against trampers, without the visible means of supporting themselves, are exceedingly severe, the possibility of the Gypsies existing as a distinct race, and retaining their original free and independent habits, might naturally be called in question by those who had not satisfactorily verified the fact. Yet it is a truth that, amidst all these seeming disadvantages, they not only exist there, but in no part of the world is their life more in accordance with the general idea that the Gypsy is like Cain, a wanderer of the earth; for in England the covered cart and the little tent are the houses of the Gypsy, and he seldom remains more than three days in the same place.

At present they are considered in some degree as a privileged people; for, though their way of life is unlawful, it is connived at; the law of England having discovered by experience, that its utmost fury is inefficient to reclaim them from their inveterate habits.

Shortly after their first arrival in England, which is upwards of three centuries since, a dreadful persecution was raised against them, the aim of which was their utter extermination; the being a Gypsy was esteemed a crime worthy of death, and the gibbets of England groaned and creaked beneath the weight of Gypsy carcases, and the miserable survivors were literally obliged to creep into the earth in order to preserve their lives. But these days passed by; their persecutors became weary of pursuing them; they showed their heads from the holes and caves where they had hidden themselves, they ventured forth, increased in numbers, and, each tribe or family choosing a particular circuit, they fairly divided the land amongst them.

In England, the male Gypsies are all dealers in horses, and sometimes employ their idle time in mending the tin and copper utensils of the peasantry; the females tell fortunes. They generally pitch their tents in the vicinity of a village or small town by the road side, under the shelter of the hedges and trees. The climate of England is well known to be favourable to beauty, and in no part of the world is the appearance of the Gypsies so prepossessing as in that country; their complexion is dark, but not disagreeably so; their faces are oval, their features regular, their foreheads rather low, and their hands and feet small. The men are taller than the English peasantry, and far more active. They all speak the English language with fluency, and in their gait and demeanour are easy and graceful; in both points standing in striking contrast with the peasantry, who in speech are slow and uncouth, and in manner dogged and brutal.

The dialect of the Rommany, which they speak, though mixed with English words, may be considered as tolerably pure, from the fact that it is intelligible to the Gypsy race in the heart of Russia. Whatever crimes they may commit, their vices are few, for the men are not drunkards, nor are the women harlots; there are no two characters which they hold in so much abhorrence, nor do any words when applied by them convey so much execration as these two.

The crimes of which these people were originally accused were various, but the principal were theft, sorcery, and causing disease among the cattle; and there is every reason for supposing that in none of these points they were altogether guiltless.

With respect to sorcery, a thing in itself impossible, not only the English Gypsies, but the whole race, have ever professed it; therefore, whatever misery they may have suffered on that account, they may be considered as having called it down upon their own heads.

Dabbling in sorcery is in some degree the province of the female Gypsy. She affects to tell the future, and to prepare philtres by means of which love can be awakened in any individual towards any particular object; and such is the credulity of the human race, even in the most enlightened countries, that the profits arising from these practices are great. The following is a case in point: two females, neighbours and friends, were tried some years since, in England, for the murder of their husbands. It appeared that they were in love with the same individual, and had conjointly, at various times, paid sums of money to a Gypsy woman to work charms to captivate his affections. Whatever little effect the charms might produce, they were successful in their principal object, for the person in question carried on for some time a criminal intercourse with both. The matter came to the knowledge of the husbands, who, taking means to break off this connection, were respectively poisoned by their wives. Till the moment of conviction these wretched females betrayed neither emotion nor fear, but then their consternation was indescribable; and they afterwards confessed that the Gypsy, who had visited them in prison, had promised to shield them from conviction by means of her art. It is therefore not surprising that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when a belief in sorcery was supported by the laws of all Europe, these people were regarded as practisers of sorcery, and punished as such, when, even in the nineteenth, they still find people weak enough to place confidence in their claims to supernatural power.

The accusation of producing disease and death amongst the cattle was far from groundless. Indeed, however strange and incredible it may sound in the present day to those who are unacquainted with this caste, and the peculiar habits of the Rommanees, the practice is still occasionally pursued in England and many other countries where they are found. From this practice, when they are not detected, they derive considerable advantage. Poisoning cattle is exercised by them in two ways: by one, they merely cause disease in the animals, with the view of receiving money for curing them upon offering their services; the poison is generally administered by powders cast at night into the mangers of the animals: this way is only practised upon the larger cattle, such as horses and cows. By the other, which they practise chiefly on swine, speedy death is almost invariably produced, the drug administered being of a highly intoxicating nature, and affecting the brain. They then apply at the house or farm where the disaster has occurred for the carcase of the animal, which is generally given them without suspicion, and then they feast on the flesh, which is not injured by the poison, which only affects the head.

The English Gypsies are constant attendants at the racecourse; what jockey is not? Perhaps jockeyism originated with them, and even racing, at least in England. Jockeyism properly implies THE MANAGEMENT OF A WHIP, and the word jockey is neither more nor less than the term slightly modified, by which they designate the formidable whips which they usually carry, and which are at present in general use amongst horse-traffickers, under the title of jockey whips. They are likewise fond of resorting to the prize-ring, and have occasionally even attained some eminence, as principals, in those disgraceful and brutalising exhibitions called pugilistic combats. I believe a great deal has been written on the subject of the English Gypsies, but the writers have dwelt too much in generalities; they have been afraid to take the Gypsy by the hand, lead him forth from the crowd, and exhibit him in the area; he is well worth observing. When a boy of fourteen, I was present at a prize-fight; why should I hide the truth? It took place on a green meadow, beside a running stream, close by the old church of E-, and within a league of the ancient town of N-, the capital of one of the eastern counties. The terrible Thurtell was present, lord of the concourse; for wherever he moved he was master, and whenever he spoke, even when in chains, every other voice was silent. He stood on the mead, grim and pale as usual, with his bruisers around. He it was, indeed, who GOT UP the fight, as he had previously done twenty others; it being his frequent boast that he had first introduced bruising and bloodshed amidst rural scenes, and transformed a quiet slumbering town into a den of Jews and metropolitan thieves. Some time before the commencement of the combat, three men, mounted on wild-looking horses, came dashing down the road in the direction of the meadow, in the midst of which they presently showed themselves, their horses clearing the deep ditches with wonderful alacrity. 'That's Gypsy Will and his gang,' lisped a Hebrew pickpocket; 'we shall have another fight.' The word Gypsy was always sufficient to excite my curiosity, and I looked attentively at the newcomers.

I have seen Gypsies of various lands, Russian, Hungarian, and Turkish; and I have also seen the legitimate children of most countries of the world; but I never saw, upon the whole, three more remarkable individuals, as far as personal appearance was concerned, than the three English Gypsies who now presented themselves to my eyes on that spot. Two of them had dismounted, and were holding their horses by the reins. The tallest, and, at the first glance, the most interesting of the two, was almost a giant, for his height could not have been less than six feet three. It is impossible for the imagination to conceive anything more perfectly beautiful than were the features of this man, and the most skilful sculptor of Greece might have taken them as his model for a hero and a god. The forehead was exceedingly lofty, - a rare thing in a Gypsy; the nose less Roman than Grecian, - fine yet delicate; the eyes large, overhung with long drooping lashes, giving them almost a melancholy expression; it was only when the lashes were elevated that the Gypsy glance was seen, if that can be called a glance which is a strange stare, like nothing else in this world. His complexion was a beautiful olive; and his teeth were of a brilliancy uncommon even amongst these people, who have all fine teeth. He was dressed in a coarse waggoner's slop, which, however, was unable to conceal altogether the proportions of his noble and Herculean figure. He might be about twenty-eight. His companion and his captain, Gypsy Will, was, I think, fifty when he was hanged, ten years subsequently (for I never afterwards lost sight of him), in the front of the jail of Bury St. Edmunds. I have still present before me his bushy black hair, his black face, and his big black eyes fixed and staring. His dress consisted of a loose blue jockey coat, jockey boots and breeches; in his hand was a huge jockey whip, and on his head (it struck me at the time for its singularity) a broad-brimmed, high-peaked Andalusian hat, or at least one very much resembling those generally worn in that province. In stature he was shorter than his more youthful companion, yet he must have measured six feet at least, and was stronger built, if possible. What brawn! - what bone! - what legs! - what thighs! The third Gypsy, who remained on horseback, looked more like a phantom than any thing human. His complexion was the colour of pale dust, and of that same colour was all that pertained to him, hat and clothes. His boots were dusty of course, for it was midsummer, and his very horse was of a dusty dun. His features were whimsically ugly, most of his teeth were gone, and as to his age, he might be thirty or sixty. He was somewhat lame and halt, but an unequalled rider when once upon his steed, which he was naturally not very solicitous to quit. I subsequently discovered that he was considered the wizard of the gang.

I have been already prolix with respect to these Gypsies, but I will not leave them quite yet. The intended combatants at length arrived; it was necessary to clear the ring, - always a troublesome and difficult task. Thurtell went up to the two Gypsies, with whom he seemed to be acquainted, and with his surly smile, said two or three words, which I, who was standing by, did not understand. The Gypsies smiled in return, and giving the reins of their animals to their mounted companion, immediately set about the task which the king of the flash-men had, as I conjecture, imposed upon them; this they soon accomplished. Who could stand against such fellows and such whips? The fight was soon over - then there was a pause. Once more Thurtell came up to the Gypsies and said something - the Gypsies looked at each other and conversed; but their words then had no meaning for my ears. The tall Gypsy shook his head - 'Very well,' said the other, in English. 'I will - that's all.'

Then pushing the people aside, he strode to the ropes, over which he bounded into the ring, flinging his Spanish hat high into the air.

GYPSY WILL. - 'The best man in England for twenty pounds!'

'THURTELL. - 'I am backer!'

Twenty pounds is a tempting sum, and there men that day upon the green meadow who would have shed the blood of their own fathers for the fifth of the price. But the Gypsy was not an unknown man, his prowess and strength were notorious, and no one cared to encounter him. Some of the Jews looked eager for a moment; but their sharp eyes quailed quickly before his savage glances, as he towered in the ring, his huge form dilating, and his black features convulsed with excitement. The Westminster bravoes eyed the Gypsy askance; but the comparison, if they made any, seemed by no means favourable to themselves. 'Gypsy! rum chap. - Ugly customer, - always in training.' Such were the exclamations which I heard, some of which at that period of my life I did not understand.

No man would fight the Gypsy. - Yes! a strong country fellow wished to win the stakes, and was about to fling up his hat in defiance, but he was prevented by his friends, with - 'Fool! he'll kill you!'

As the Gypsies were mounting their horses, I heard the dusty phantom exclaim -

'Brother, you are an arrant ring-maker and a horse-breaker; you'll make a hempen ring to break your own neck of a horse one of these days.'

They pressed their horses' flanks, again leaped over the ditches, and speedily vanished, amidst the whirlwinds of dust which they raised upon the road.

The words of the phantom Gypsy were ominous. Gypsy Will was eventually executed for a murder committed in his early youth, in company with two English labourers, one of whom confessed the fact on his death-bed. He was the head of the clan Young, which, with the clan Smith, still haunts two of the eastern counties.


It is difficult to say at what period the Gypsies or Rommany made their first appearance in England. They had become, however, such a nuisance in the time of Henry the Eighth, Philip and Mary, and Elizabeth, that Gypsyism was denounced by various royal statutes, and, if persisted in, was to be punished as felony without benefit of clergy; it is probable, however, that they had overrun England long before the period of the earliest of these monarchs. The Gypsies penetrate into all countries, save poor ones, and it is hardly to be supposed that a few leagues of intervening salt water would have kept a race so enterprising any considerable length of time, after their arrival on the continent of Europe, from obtaining a footing in the fairest and richest country of the West.

It is easy enough to conceive the manner in which the Gypsies lived in England for a long time subsequent to their arrival: doubtless in a half-savage state, wandering about from place to place, encamping on the uninhabited spots, of which there were then so many in England, feared and hated by the population, who looked upon them as thieves and foreign sorcerers, occasionally committing acts of brigandage, but depending chiefly for subsistence on the practice of the 'arts of Egypt,' in which cunning and dexterity were far more necessary than courage or strength of hand.

It would appear that they were always divided into clans or tribes, each bearing a particular name, and to which a particular district more especially belonged, though occasionally they would exchange districts for a period, and, incited by their characteristic love of wandering, would travel far and wide. Of these families each had a sher-engro, or head man, but that they were ever united under one Rommany Krallis, or Gypsy King, as some people have insisted, there is not the slightest ground for supposing.

It is possible that many of the original Gypsy tribes are no longer in existence: disease or the law may have made sad havoc among them, and the few survivors have incorporated themselves with other families, whose name they have adopted. Two or three instances of this description have occurred within the sphere of my own knowledge: the heads of small families have been cut off, and the subordinate members, too young and inexperienced to continue Gypsying as independent wanderers, have been adopted by other tribes.

The principal Gypsy tribes at present in existence are the Stanleys, whose grand haunt is the New Forest; the Lovells, who are fond of London and its vicinity; the Coopers, who call Windsor Castle their home; the Hernes, to whom the north country, more especially Yorkshire, belongeth; and lastly, my brethren, the Smiths, - to whom East Anglia appears to have been allotted from the beginning.

All these families have Gypsy names, which seem, however, to be little more than attempts at translation of the English ones:- thus the Stanleys are called Bar-engres (11), which means stony-fellows, or stony-hearts; the Coopers, Wardo-engres, or wheelwrights; the Lovells, Camo-mescres, or amorous fellows the Hernes (German Haaren) Balors, hairs, or hairy men; while the Smiths are called Petul-engres, signifying horseshoe fellows, or blacksmiths.

It is not very easy to determine how the Gypsies became possessed of some of these names: the reader, however, will have observed that two of them, Stanley and Lovell, are the names of two highly aristocratic English families; the Gypsies who bear them perhaps adopted them from having, at their first arrival, established themselves on the estates of those great people; or it is possible that they translated their original Gypsy appellations by these names, which they deemed synonymous. Much the same may be said with respect to Herne, an ancient English name; they probably sometimes officiated as coopers or wheelwrights, whence the cognomination. Of the term Petul-engro, or Smith, however, I wish to say something in particular.

There is every reason for believing that this last is a genuine Gypsy name, brought with them from the country from which they originally came; it is compounded of two words, signifying, as has been already observed, horseshoe fellows, or people whose trade is to manufacture horseshoes, a trade which the Gypsies ply in various parts of the world, - for example, in Russia and Hungary, and more particularly about Granada in Spain, as will subsequently be shown. True it is, that at present there are none amongst the English Gypsies who manufacture horseshoes; all the men, however, are tinkers more or less, and the word Petul-engro is applied to the tinker also, though the proper meaning of it is undoubtedly what I have already stated above. In other dialects of the Gypsy tongue, this cognomen exists, though not exactly with the same signification; for example, in the Hungarian dialect, PINDORO, which is evidently a modification of Petul-engro, is applied to a Gypsy in general, whilst in Spanish Pepindorio is the Gypsy word for Antonio. In some parts of Northern Asia, the Gypsies call themselves Wattul (12), which seems to be one and the same as Petul.

Besides the above-named Gypsy clans, there are other smaller ones, some of which do not comprise more than a dozen individuals, children included. For example, the Bosviles, the Browns, the Chilcotts, the Grays, Lees, Taylors, and Whites; of these the principal is the Bosvile tribe.

After the days of the great persecution in England against the Gypsies, there can be little doubt that they lived a right merry and tranquil life, wandering about and pitching their tents wherever inclination led them: indeed, I can scarcely conceive any human condition more enviable than Gypsy life must have been in England during the latter part of the seventeenth, and the whole of the eighteenth century, which were likewise the happy days for Englishmen in general; there was peace and plenty in the land, a contented population, and everything went well. Yes, those were brave times for the Rommany chals, to which the old people often revert with a sigh: the poor Gypsies, say they, were then allowed to SOVE ABRI (sleep abroad) where they listed, to heat their kettles at the foot of the oaks, and no people grudged the poor persons one night's use of a meadow to feed their cattle in. TUGNIS AMANDE, our heart is heavy, brother, - there is no longer Gypsy law in the land, - our people have become negligent, - they are but half Rommany, - they are divided and care for nothing, - they do not even fear Pazorrhus, brother.

Much the same complaints are at present made by the Spanish Gypsies. Gypsyism is certainly on the decline in both countries. In England, a superabundant population, and, of late, a very vigilant police, have done much to modify Gypsy life; whilst in Spain, causes widely different have produced a still greater change, as will be seen further on.

Gypsy law does not flourish at present in England, and still less in Spain, nor does Gypsyism. I need not explain here what Gypsyism is, but the reader may be excused for asking what is Gypsy law. Gypsy law divides itself into the three following heads or precepts:-

Separate not from THE HUSBANDS. Be faithful to THE HUSBANDS. Pay your debts to THE HUSBANDS.

By the first section the Rom or Gypsy is enjoined to live with his brethren, the husbands, and not with the gorgios (13) or gentiles; he is to live in a tent, as is befitting a Rom and a wanderer, and not in a house, which ties him to one spot; in a word, he is in every respect to conform to the ways of his own people, and to eschew those of gorgios, with whom he is not to mix, save to tell them HOQUEPENES (lies), and to chore them.

The second section, in which fidelity is enjoined, was more particularly intended for the women: be faithful to the ROMS, ye JUWAS, and take not up with the gorgios, whether they be RAIOR or BAUOR (gentlemen or fellows). This was a very important injunction, so much so, indeed, that upon the observance of it depended the very existence of the Rommany sect, - for if the female Gypsy admitted the gorgio to the privilege of the Rom, the race of the Rommany would quickly disappear. How well this injunction has been observed needs scarcely be said; for the Rommany have been roving about England for three centuries at least, and are still to be distinguished from the gorgios in feature and complexion, which assuredly would not have been the case if the juwas had not been faithful to the Roms. The gorgio says that the juwa is at his disposal in all things, because she tells him fortunes and endures his free discourse; but the Rom, when he hears the boast, laughs within his sleeve, and whispers to himself, LET HIM TRY.

The third section, which relates to the paying of debts, is highly curious. In the Gypsy language, the state of being in debt is called PAZORRHUS, and the Rom who did not seek to extricate himself from that state was deemed infamous, and eventually turned out of the society. It has been asserted, I believe, by various gorgio writers, that the Roms have everything in common, and that there is a common stock out of which every one takes what he needs; this is quite a mistake, however: a Gypsy tribe is an epitome of the world; every one keeps his own purse and maintains himself and children to the best of his ability, and every tent is independent of the other. True it is that one Gypsy will lend to another in the expectation of being repaid, and until that happen the borrower is pazorrhus, or indebted. Even at the present time, a Gypsy will make the greatest sacrifices rather than remain pazorrhus to one of his brethren, even though he be of another clan; though perhaps the feeling is not so strong as of old, for time modifies everything; even Jews and Gypsies are affected by it. In the old time, indeed, the Gypsy law was so strong against the debtor, that provided he could not repay his brother husband, he was delivered over to him as his slave for a year and a day, and compelled to serve him as a hewer of wood, a drawer of water, or a beast of burden; but those times are past, the Gypsies are no longer the independent people they were of yore, - dark, mysterious, and dreaded wanderers, living apart in the deserts and heaths with which England at one time abounded. Gypsy law has given place to common law; but the principle of honour is still recognised amongst them, and base indeed must the Gypsy be who would continue pazorrhus because Gypsy law has become too weak to force him to liquidate a debt by money or by service.

Such was Gypsy law in England, and there is every probability that it is much the same in all parts of the world where the Gypsy race is to be found. About the peculiar practices of the Gypsies I need not say much here; the reader will find in the account of the Spanish Gypsies much that will afford him an idea of Gypsy arts in England. I have already alluded to CHIVING DRAV, or poisoning, which is still much practised by the English Gypsies, though it has almost entirely ceased in Spain; then there is CHIVING LUVVU ADREY PUVO, or putting money within the earth, a trick by which the females deceive the gorgios, and which will be more particularly described in the affairs of Spain: the men are adepts at cheating the gorgios by means of NOK-ENGROES and POGGADO-BAVENGROES (glandered and broken-winded horses). But, leaving the subject of their tricks and Rommany arts, by no means an agreeable one, I will take the present opportunity of saying a few words about a practice of theirs, highly characteristic of a wandering people, and which is only extant amongst those of the race who still continue to wander much; for example, the Russian Gypsies and those of the Hungarian family, who stroll through Italy on plundering expeditions: I allude to the PATTERAN or TRAIL.

It is very possible that the reader during his country walks or rides has observed, on coming to four cross-roads, two or three handfuls of grass lying at a small distance from each other down one of these roads; perhaps he may have supposed that this grass was recently plucked from the roadside by frolicsome children, and flung upon the ground in sport, and this may possibly have been the case; it is ten chances to one, however, that no children's hands plucked them, but that they were strewed in this manner by Gypsies, for the purpose of informing any of their companions, who might be straggling behind, the route which they had taken; this is one form of the patteran or trail. It is likely, too, that the gorgio reader may have seen a cross drawn at the entrance of a road, the long part or stem of it pointing down that particular road, and he may have thought nothing of it, or have supposed that some sauntering individual like himself had made the mark with his stick: not so, courteous gorgio; ley tiro solloholomus opre lesti, YOU MAY TAKE YOUR OATH UPON IT that it was drawn by a Gypsy finger, for that mark is another of the Rommany trails; there is no mistake in this. Once in the south of France, when I was weary, hungry, and penniless, I observed one of these last patterans, and following the direction pointed out, arrived at the resting-place of 'certain Bohemians,' by whom I was received with kindness and hospitality, on the faith of no other word of recommendation than patteran. There is also another kind of patteran, which is more particularly adapted for the night; it is a cleft stick stuck at the side of the road, close by the hedge, with a little arm in the cleft pointing down the road which the band have taken, in the manner of a signpost; any stragglers who may arrive at night where cross-roads occur search for this patteran on the left-hand side, and speedily rejoin their companions.

By following these patterans, or trails, the first Gypsies on their way to Europe never lost each other, though wandering amidst horrid wildernesses and dreary defiles. Rommany matters have always had a peculiar interest for me; nothing, however, connected with Gypsy life ever more captivated my imagination than this patteran system: many thanks to the Gypsies for it; it has more than once been of service to me.

The English Gypsies at the present day are far from being a numerous race; I consider their aggregate number, from the opportunities which I have had of judging, to be considerably under ten thousand: it is probable that, ere the conclusion of the present century, they will have entirely disappeared. They are in general quite strangers to the commonest rudiments of education; few even of the most wealthy can either read or write. With respect to religion, they call themselves members of the Established Church, and are generally anxious to have their children baptized, and to obtain a copy of the register. Some of their baptismal papers, which they carry about with them, are highly curious, going back for a period of upwards of two hundred years. With respect to the essential points of religion, they are quite careless and ignorant; if they believe in a future state they dread it not, and if they manifest when dying any anxiety, it is not for the soul, but the body: a handsome coffin, and a grave in a quiet country churchyard, are invariably the objects of their last thoughts; and it is probable that, in their observance of the rite of baptism, they are principally influenced by a desire to enjoy the privilege of burial in consecrated ground. A Gypsy family never speak of their dead save with regret and affection, and any request of the dying individual is attended to, especially with regard to interment; so much so, that I have known a corpse conveyed a distance of nearly one hundred miles, because the deceased expressed a wish to be buried in a particular spot.

Of the language of the English Gypsies, some specimens will be given in the sequel; it is much more pure and copious than the Spanish dialect. It has been asserted that the English Gypsies are not possessed of any poetry in their own tongue; but this is a gross error; they possess a great many songs and ballads upon ordinary subjects, without any particular merit, however, and seemingly of a very modern date.


What has been said of the Gypsies of Europe is, to a considerable extent, applicable to their brethren in the East, or, as they are called, Zingarri; they are either found wandering amongst the deserts or mountains, or settled in towns, supporting themselves by horse-dealing or jugglery, by music and song. In no part of the East are they more numerous than in Turkey, especially in Constantinople, where the females frequently enter the harems of the great, pretending to cure children of 'the evil eye,' and to interpret the dreams of the women. They are not unfrequently seen in the coffee-houses, exhibiting their figures in lascivious dances to the tune of various instruments; yet these females are by no means unchaste, however their manners and appearance may denote the contrary, and either Turk or Christian who, stimulated by their songs and voluptuous movements, should address them with proposals of a dishonourable nature, would, in all probability, meet with a decided repulse.

Among the Zingarri are not a few who deal in precious stones, and some who vend poisons; and the most remarkable individual whom it has been my fortune to encounter amongst the Gypsies, whether of the Eastern or Western world, was a person who dealt in both these articles. He was a native of Constantinople, and in the pursuit of his trade had visited the most remote and remarkable portions of the world. He had traversed alone and on foot the greatest part of India; he spoke several dialects of the Malay, and understood the original language of Java, that isle more fertile in poisons than even 'far Iolchos and Spain.' From what I could learn from him, it appeared that his jewels were in less request than his drugs, though he assured me that there was scarcely a Bey or Satrap in Persia or Turkey whom he had not supplied with both. I have seen this individual in more countries than one, for he flits over the world like the shadow of a cloud; the last time at Granada in Spain, whither he had come after paying a visit to his Gitano brethren in the presidio of Ceuta.

Few Eastern authors have spoken of the Zingarri, notwithstanding they have been known in the East for many centuries; amongst the few, none has made more curious mention of them than Arabschah, in a chapter of his life of Timour or Tamerlane, which is deservedly considered as one of the three classic works of Arabian literature. This passage, which, while it serves to illustrate the craft, if not the valour of the conqueror of half the world, offers some curious particulars as to Gypsy life in the East at a remote period, will scarcely be considered out of place if reproduced here, and the following is as close a translation of it as the metaphorical style of the original will allow.

'There were in Samarcand numerous families of Zingarri of various descriptions: some were wrestlers, others gladiators, others pugilists. These people were much at variance, so that hostilities and battling were continually arising amongst them. Each band had its chief and subordinate officers; and it came to pass that Timour and the power which he possessed filled them with dread, for they knew that he was aware of their crimes and disorderly way of life. Now it was the custom of Timour, on departing upon his expeditions, to leave a viceroy in Samarcand; but no sooner had he left the city, than forth marched these bands, and giving battle to the viceroy, deposed him and took possession of the government, so that on the return of Timour he found order broken, confusion reigning, and his throne overturned, and then he had much to do in restoring things to their former state, and in punishing or pardoning the guilty; but no sooner did he depart again to his wars, and to his various other concerns, than they broke out into the same excesses, and this they repeated no less than three times, and he at length laid a plan for their utter extermination, and it was the following:- He commenced building a wall, and he summoned unto him the people small and great, and he allotted to every man his place, and to every workman his duty, and he stationed the Zingarri and their chieftains apart; and in one particular spot he placed a band of soldiers, and he commanded them to kill whomsoever he should send to them; and having done so, he called to him the heads of the people, and he filled the cup for them and clothed them in splendid vests; and when the turn came to the Zingarri, he likewise pledged one of them, and bestowed a vest upon him, and sent him with a message to the soldiers, who, as soon as he arrived, tore from him his vest, and stabbed him, pouring forth the gold of his heart into the pan of destruction, (14) and in this way they continued until the last of them was destroyed; and by that blow he exterminated their race, and their traces, and from that time forward there were no more rebellions in Samarcand.'

It has of late years been one of the favourite theories of the learned, that Timour's invasion of Hindostan, and the cruelties committed by his savage hordes in that part of the world, caused a vast number of Hindoos to abandon their native land, and that the Gypsies of the present day are the descendants of those exiles who wended their weary way to the West. Now, provided the above passage in the work of Arabschah be entitled to credence, the opinion that Timour was the cause of the expatriation and subsequent wandering life of these people, must be abandoned as untenable. At the time he is stated by the Arabian writer to have annihilated the Gypsy hordes of Samarcand, he had but just commenced his career of conquest and devastation, and had not even directed his thoughts to the invasion of India; yet at this early period of the history of his life, we find families of Zingarri established at Samarcand, living much in the same manner as others of the race have subsequently done in various towns of Europe and the East; but supposing the event here narrated to be a fable, or at best a floating legend, it appears singular that, if they left their native land to escape from Timour, they should never have mentioned in the Western world the name of that scourge of the human race, nor detailed the history of their flight and sufferings, which assuredly would have procured them sympathy; the ravages of Timour being already but too well known in Europe. That they came from India is much easier to prove than that they fled before the fierce Mongol.

Such people as the Gypsies, whom the Bishop of Forli in the year 1422, only sixteen years subsequent to the invasion of India, describes as a 'raging rabble, of brutal and animal propensities,' (15) are not such as generally abandon their country on foreign invasion.



GITANOS, or Egyptians, is the name by which the Gypsies have been most generally known in Spain, in the ancient as well as in the modern period, but various other names have been and still are applied to them; for example, New Castilians, Germans, and Flemings; the first of which titles probably originated after the name of Gitano had begun to be considered a term of reproach and infamy. They may have thus designated themselves from an unwillingness to utter, when speaking of themselves, the detested expression 'Gitano,' a word which seldom escapes their mouths; or it may have been applied to them first by the Spaniards, in their mutual dealings and communication, as a term less calculated to wound their feelings and to beget a spirit of animosity than the other; but, however it might have originated, New Castilian, in course of time, became a term of little less infamy than Gitano; for, by the law of Philip the Fourth, both terms are forbidden to be applied to them under severe penalties.

That they were called Germans, may be accounted for, either by the supposition that their generic name of Rommany was misunderstood and mispronounced by the Spaniards amongst whom they came, or from the fact of their having passed through Germany in their way to the south, and bearing passports and letters of safety from the various German states. The title of Flemings, by which at the present day they are known in various parts of Spain, would probably never have been bestowed upon them but from the circumstance of their having been designated or believed to be Germans, - as German and Fleming are considered by the ignorant as synonymous terms.

Amongst themselves they have three words to distinguish them and their race in general: Zincalo, Romano, and Chai; of the first two of which something has been already said.

They likewise call themselves 'Cales,' by which appellation indeed they are tolerably well known by the Spaniards, and which is merely the plural termination of the compound word Zincalo, and signifies, The black men. Chai is a modification of the word Chal, which, by the Gitanos of Estremadura, is applied to Egypt, and in many parts of Spain is equivalent to 'Heaven,' and which is perhaps a modification of 'Cheros,' the word for heaven in other dialects of the Gypsy language. Thus Chai may denote, The men of Egypt, or, The sons of Heaven. It is, however, right to observe, that amongst the Gitanos, the word Chai has frequently no other signification than the simple one of 'children.'

It is impossible to state for certainty the exact year of their first appearance in Spain; but it is reasonable to presume that it was early in the fifteenth century; as in the year 1417 numerous bands entered France from the north-east of Europe, and speedily spread themselves over the greatest part of that country. Of these wanderers a French author has left the following graphic description: (16)

'On the 17th of April 1427, appeared in Paris twelve penitents of Egypt, driven from thence by the Saracens; they brought in their company one hundred and twenty persons; they took up their quarters in La Chapelle, whither the people flocked in crowds to visit them. They had their ears pierced, from which depended a ring of silver; their hair was black and crispy, and their women were filthy to a degree, and were sorceresses who told fortunes.'

Such were the people who, after traversing France and scaling the sides of the Pyrenees, poured down in various bands upon the sunburnt plains of Spain. Wherever they had appeared they had been looked upon as a curse and a pestilence, and with much reason. Either unwilling or unable to devote themselves to any laborious or useful occupation, they came like flights of wasps to prey upon the fruits which their more industrious fellow-beings amassed by the toil of their hands and the sweat of their foreheads; the natural result being, that wherever they arrived, their fellow-creatures banded themselves against them. Terrible laws were enacted soon after their appearance in France, calculated to put a stop to their frauds and dishonest propensities; wherever their hordes were found, they were attacked by the incensed rustics or by the armed hand of justice, and those who were not massacred on the spot, or could not escape by flight, were, without a shadow of a trial, either hanged on the next tree, or sent to serve for life in the galleys; or if females or children, either scourged or mutilated.

The consequence of this severity, which, considering the manners and spirit of the time, is scarcely to be wondered at, was the speedy disappearance of the Gypsies from the soil of France.

Many returned by the way they came, to Germany, Hungary, and the woods and forests of Bohemia; but there is little doubt that by far the greater portion found a refuge in the Peninsula, a country which, though by no means so rich and fertile as the one they had quitted, nor offering so wide and ready a field for the exercise of those fraudulent arts for which their race had become so infamously notorious, was, nevertheless, in many respects, suitable and congenial to them. If there were less gold and silver in the purses of the citizens to reward the dexterous handler of the knife and scissors amidst the crowd in the market-place; if fewer sides of fatted swine graced the ample chimney of the labourer in Spain than in the neighbouring country; if fewer beeves bellowed in the plains, and fewer sheep bleated upon the hills, there were far better opportunities afforded of indulging in wild independence. Should the halberded bands of the city be ordered out to quell, seize, or exterminate them; should the alcalde of the village cause the tocsin to be rung, gathering together the villanos for a similar purpose, the wild sierra was generally at hand, which, with its winding paths, its caves, its frowning precipices, and ragged thickets, would offer to them a secure refuge where they might laugh to scorn the rage of their baffled pursuers, and from which they might emerge either to fresh districts or to those which they had left, to repeat their ravages when opportunity served.

After crossing the Pyrenees, a very short time elapsed before the Gypsy hordes had bivouacked in the principal provinces of Spain. There can indeed be little doubt, that shortly after their arrival they made themselves perfectly acquainted with all the secrets of the land, and that there was scarcely a nook or retired corner within Spain, from which the smoke of their fires had not arisen, or where their cattle had not grazed. People, however, so acute as they have always proverbially been, would scarcely be slow in distinguishing the provinces most adapted to their manner of life, and most calculated to afford them opportunities of practising those arts to which they were mainly indebted for their subsistence; the savage hills of Biscay, of Galicia, and the Asturias, whose inhabitants were almost as poor as themselves, which possessed no superior breed of horses or mules from amongst which they might pick and purloin many a gallant beast, and having transformed by their dexterous scissors, impose him again upon his rightful master for a high price, - such provinces, where, moreover, provisions were hard to be obtained, even by pilfering hands, could scarcely be supposed to offer strong temptations to these roving visitors to settle down in, or to vex and harass by a long sojourn.

Valencia and Murcia found far more favour in their eyes; a far more fertile soil, and wealthier inhabitants, were better calculated to entice them; there was a prospect of plunder, and likewise a prospect of safety and refuge, should the dogs of justice be roused against them. If there were the populous town and village in those lands, there was likewise the lone waste, and uncultivated spot, to which they could retire when danger threatened them. Still more suitable to them must have been La Mancha, a land of tillage, of horses, and of mules, skirted by its brown sierra, ever eager to afford its shelter to their dusky race. Equally suitable, Estremadura and New Castile; but far, far more, Andalusia, with its three kingdoms, Jaen, Granada, and Seville, one of which was still possessed by the swarthy Moor, - Andalusia, the land of the proud steed and the stubborn mule, the land of the savage sierra and the fruitful and cultivated plain: to Andalusia they hied, in bands of thirties and sixties; the hoofs of their asses might be heard clattering in the passes of the stony hills; the girls might be seen bounding in lascivious dance in the streets of many a town, and the beldames standing beneath the eaves telling the 'buena ventura' to many a credulous female dupe; the men the while chaffered in the fair and market-place with the labourers and chalanes, casting significant glances on each other, or exchanging a word or two in Rommany, whilst they placed some uncouth animal in a particular posture which served to conceal its ugliness from the eyes of the chapman. Yes, of all provinces of Spain, Andalusia was the most frequented by the Gitano race, and in Andalusia they most abound at the present day, though no longer as restless independent wanderers of the fields and hills, but as residents in villages and towns, especially in Seville.


HAVING already stated to the reader at what period and by what means these wanderers introduced themselves into Spain, we shall now say something concerning their manner of life.

It would appear that, for many years after their arrival in the Peninsula, their manners and habits underwent no change; they were wanderers, in the strictest sense of the word, and lived much in the same way as their brethren exist in the present day in England, Russia, and Bessarabia, with the exception perhaps of being more reckless, mischievous, and having less respect for the laws; it is true that their superiority in wickedness in these points may have been more the effect of the moral state of the country in which they were, than of any other operating cause.

Arriving in Spain with a predisposition to every species of crime and villainy, they were not likely to be improved or reclaimed by the example of the people with whom they were about to mix; nor was it probable that they would entertain much respect for laws which, from time immemorial, have principally served, not to protect the honest and useful members of society, but to enrich those entrusted with the administration of them. Thus, if they came thieves, it is not probable that they would become ashamed of the title of thief in Spain, where the officers of justice were ever willing to shield an offender on receiving the largest portion of the booty obtained. If on their arrival they held the lives of others in very low estimation, could it be expected that they would become gentle as lambs in a land where blood had its price, and the shedder was seldom executed unless he was poor and friendless, and unable to cram with ounces of yellow gold the greedy hands of the pursuers of blood, - the alguazil and escribano? therefore, if the Spanish Gypsies have been more bloody and more wolfishly eager in the pursuit of booty than those of their race in most other regions, the cause must be attributed to their residence in a country unsound in every branch of its civil polity, where right has ever been in less esteem, and wrong in less disrepute, than in any other part of the world.

However, if the moral state of Spain was not calculated to have a favourable effect on the habits and pursuits of the Gypsies, their manners were as little calculated to operate beneficially, in any point of view, on the country where they had lately arrived. Divided into numerous bodies, frequently formidable in point of number, their presence was an evil and a curse in whatever quarter they directed their steps. As might be expected, the labourers, who in all countries are the most honest, most useful, and meritorious class, were the principal sufferers; their mules and horses were stolen, carried away to distant fairs, and there disposed of, perhaps, to individuals destined to be deprived of them in a similar manner; whilst their flocks of sheep and goats were laid under requisition to assuage the hungry cravings of these thievish cormorants.

It was not uncommon for a large band or tribe to encamp in the vicinity of a remote village scantily peopled, and to remain there until, like a flight of locusts, they had consumed everything which the inhabitants possessed for their support; or until they were scared away by the approach of justice, or by an army of rustics assembled from the surrounding country. Then would ensue the hurried march; the women and children, mounted on lean but spirited asses, would scour along the plains fleeter than the wind; ragged and savage-looking men, wielding the scourge and goad, would scamper by their side or close behind, whilst perhaps a small party on strong horses, armed with rusty matchlocks or sabres, would bring up the rear, threatening the distant foe, and now and then saluting them with a hoarse blast from the Gypsy horn:-

'O, when I sit my courser bold, My bantling in my rear, And in my hand my musket hold - O how they quake with fear!'

Let us for a moment suppose some unfortunate traveller, mounted on a handsome mule or beast of some value, meeting, unarmed and alone, such a rabble rout at the close of eve, in the wildest part, for example, of La Mancha; we will suppose that he is journeying from Seville to Madrid, and that he has left at a considerable distance behind him the gloomy and horrible passes of the Sierra Morena; his bosom, which for some time past has been contracted with dreadful forebodings, is beginning to expand; his blood, which has been congealed in his veins, is beginning to circulate warmly and freely; he is fondly anticipating the still distant posada and savoury omelet. The sun is sinking rapidly behind the savage and uncouth hills in his rear; he has reached the bottom of a small valley, where runs a rivulet at which he allows his tired animal to drink; he is about to ascend the side of the hill; his eyes are turned upwards; suddenly he beholds strange and uncouth forms at the top of the ascent - the sun descending slants its rays upon red cloaks, with here and there a turbaned head, or long streaming hair. The traveller hesitates, but reflecting that he is no longer in the mountains, and that in the open road there is no danger of banditti, he advances. In a moment he is in the midst of the Gypsy group, in a moment there is a general halt; fiery eyes are turned upon him replete with an expression which only the eyes of the Roma possess, then ensues a jabber in a language or jargon which is strange to the ears of the traveller; at last an ugly urchin springs from the crupper of a halting mule, and in a lisping accent entreats charity in the name of the Virgin and the Majoro. The traveller, with a faltering hand, produces his purse, and is proceeding to loosen its strings, but he accomplishes not his purpose, for, struck violently by a huge knotted club in an unseen hand, he tumbles headlong from his mule. Next morning a naked corse, besmeared with brains and blood, is found by an arriero; and within a week a simple cross records the event, according to the custom of Spain.

'Below there in the dusky pass Was wrought a murder dread; The murdered fell upon the grass, Away the murderer fled.'

To many, such a scene, as above described, will appear purely imaginary, or at least a mass of exaggeration, but many such anecdotes are related by old Spanish writers of these people; they traversed the country in gangs; they were what the Spanish law has styled Abigeos and Salteadores de Camino, cattle-stealers and highwaymen; though, in the latter character, they never rose to any considerable eminence. True it is that they would not hesitate to attack or even murder the unarmed and defenceless traveller, when they felt assured of obtaining booty with little or no risk to themselves; but they were not by constitution adapted to rival those bold and daring banditti of whom so many terrible anecdotes are related in Spain and Italy, and who have acquired their renown by the dauntless daring which they have invariably displayed in the pursuit of plunder.

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