The English Gipsies and Their Language
by Charles G. Leland
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Transcribed from the 1874 Trubner & Co. edition by David Price, email


Author of "Hans Breitmann's Ballads," "The Music Lesson of Confucius," Etc. Etc.

Second Edition


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As Author of this book, I beg leave to observe that all which is stated in it relative to the customs or peculiarities of Gipsies was gathered directly from Gipsies themselves; and that every word of their language here given, whether in conversations, stories, or sayings, was taken from Gipsy mouths. While entertaining the highest respect for the labours of Mr George Borrow in this field, I have carefully avoided repeating him in the least detail; neither have I taken anything from Simson, Hoyland, or any other writer on the Rommany race in England. Whatever the demerits of the work may be, it can at least claim to be an original collection of material fresh from nature, and not a reproduction from books. There are, it is true, two German Gipsy letters from other works, but these may be excused as illustrative of an English one.

I may here in all sincerity speak kindly and gratefully of every true Gipsy I have ever met, and of the cheerfulness with which they have invariably assisted me in my labour to the extent of their humble abilities. Other writers have had much to say of their incredible distrust of Gorgios and unwillingness to impart their language, but I have always found them obliging and communicative. I have never had occasion to complain of rapacity or greediness among them; on the contrary, I have often wondered to see how the great want of such very poor people was generally kept in check by their natural politeness, which always manifests itself when they are treated properly. In fact, the first effort which I ever made to acquire a knowledge of English Rommany originated in a voluntary offer from an intelligent old dame to teach me "the old Egyptian language." And as she also suggested that I should set forth the knowledge which I might acquire from her and her relatives in a book (referring to Mr Borrow's having done so), I may hold myself fully acquitted from the charge of having acquired and published anything which my Gipsy friends would not have had made known to the public.

Mr Borrow has very well and truly said that it is not by passing a few hours among Gipsies that one can acquire a knowledge of their characteristics; and I think that this book presents abundant evidence that its contents were not gathered by slight and superficial intercourse with the Rommany. It is only by entering gradually and sympathetically, without any parade of patronage, into a familiar knowledge of the circumstances of the common life of humble people, be they Gipsies, Indians, or whites, that one can surprise unawares those little inner traits which constitute the characteristic. However this may be, the reader will readily enough understand, on perusing these pages—possibly much better than I do myself—how it was I was able to collect whatever they contain that is new.

The book contains some remarks on that great curious centre and secret of all the nomadic and vagabond life in England, THE ROMMANY, with comments on the fact, that of the many novel or story-writers who have described the "Travellers" of the Roads, very few have penetrated the real nature of their life. It gives several incidents illustrating the character of the Gipsy, and some information of a very curious nature in reference to the respect of the English Gipsies for their dead, and the strange manner in which they testify it. I believe that this will be found to be fully and distinctly illustrated by anecdotes and a narrative in the original Gipsy language, with a translation. There is also a chapter containing in Rommany and English a very characteristic letter from a full-blood Gipsy to a relative, which was dictated to me, and which gives a sketch of the leading incidents of Gipsy life—trading in horses, fortune-telling, and cock-shying. I have also given accounts of conversations with Gipsies, introducing in their language and in English their own remarks (noted down by me) on certain curious customs; among others, on one which indicates that many of them profess among themselves a certain regard for our Saviour, because His birth and life appear to them to be like that of the Rommany. There is a collection of a number of words now current in vulgar English which were probably derived from Gipsy, such as row, shindy, pal, trash, bosh, and niggling, and finally a number of Gudli or short stories. These Gudli have been regarded by my literary friends as interesting and curious, since they are nearly all specimens of a form of original narrative occupying a middle ground between the anecdote and fable, and abounding in Gipsy traits. Some of them are given word for word as they are current among Gipsies, and others owe their existence almost entirely either to the vivid imagination and childlike fancies of an old Gipsy assistant, or were developed from some hint or imperfect saying or story. But all are thoroughly and truly Rommany; for every one, after being brought into shape, passed through a purely "unsophisticated" Gipsy mind, and was finally declared to be tacho, or sound, by real Rommanis. The truth is, that it is a difficult matter to hear a story among English Gipsies which is not mangled or marred in the telling; so that to print it, restitution and invention become inevitable. But with a man who lived in a tent among the gorse and fern, and who intermitted his earnest conversation with a little wooden bear to point out to me the gentleman on horseback riding over the two beautiful little girls in the flowers on the carpet, such fables as I have given sprang up of themselves, owing nothing to books, though they often required the influence of a better disciplined mind to guide them to a consistent termination.

The Rommany English Vocabulary which I propose shall follow this work is many times over more extensive than any ever before published, and it will also be found interesting to all philologists by its establishing the very curious fact that this last wave of the primitive Aryan-Indian ocean which spread over Europe, though it has lost the original form in its subsidence and degradation, consists of the same substance—or, in other words, that although the grammar has wellnigh disappeared, the words are almost without exception the same as those used in India, Germany, Hungary, or Turkey. It is generally believed that English Gipsy is a mere jargon of the cant and slang of all nations, that of England predominating; but a very slight examination of the Vocabulary will show that during more than three hundred years in England the Rommany have not admitted a single English word to what they correctly call their language. I mean, of course, so far as my own knowledge of Rommany extends. To this at least I can testify, that the Gipsy to whom I was principally indebted for words, though he often used "slang," invariably discriminated correctly between it and Rommany; and I have often admired the extraordinary pride in their language which has induced the Gipsies for so many generations to teach their children this difference. {0a} Almost every word which my assistant declared to be Gipsy I have found either in Hindustani or in the works of Pott, Liebich, or Paspati. On this subject I would remark by the way, that many words which appear to have been taken by the Gipsies from modern languages are in reality Indian.

And as I have honestly done what I could to give the English reader fresh material on the Gipsies, and not a rewarming of that which was gathered by others, I sincerely trust that I may not be held to sharp account (as the authors of such books very often are) for not having given more or done more or done it better than was really in my power. Gipsies in England are passing away as rapidly as Indians in North America. They keep among themselves the most singular fragments of their Oriental origin; they abound in quaint characteristics, and yet almost nothing is done to preserve what another generation will deeply regret the loss of. There are complete dictionaries of the Dacotah and many other American Indian languages, and every detail of the rude life of those savages has been carefully recorded; while the autobiographic romances of Mr Borrow and Mr Simson's History contain nearly all the information of any value extant relative to the English Gipsies. Yet of these two writers, Mr Borrow is the only one who had, so to speak, an inside view of his subject, or was a philologist.

In conclusion I would remark, that if I have not, like many writers on the poor Gipsies, abused them for certain proverbial faults, it has been because they never troubled me with anything very serious of the kind, or brought it to my notice; and I certainly never took the pains to hunt it up to the discredit of people who always behaved decently to me. I have found them more cheerful, polite, and grateful than the lower orders of other races in Europe or America; and I believe that where their respect and sympathy are secured, they are quite as upright. Like all people who are regarded as outcasts, they are very proud of being trusted, and under this influence will commit the most daring acts of honesty. And with this I commend my book to the public. Should it be favourably received, I will add fresh reading to it; in any case I shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I did my best to collect material illustrating a very curious and greatly-neglected subject. It is merely as a collection of material that I offer it; let those who can use it, do what they will with it.

If I have not given in this book a sketch of the history of the Gipsies, or statistics of their numbers, or accounts of their social condition in different countries, it is because nearly everything of the kind may be found in the works of George Borrow and Walter Simson, which are in all respectable libraries, and may be obtained from any bookseller.

I would remark to any impatient reader for mere entertainment, who may find fault with the abundance of Rommany or Gipsy language in the following pages, that the principal object of the Author was to collect and preserve such specimens of a rapidly-vanishing language, and that the title-page itself indirectly indicates such an object. I have, however, invariably given with the Gipsy a translation immediately following the text in plain English—at times very plain—in order that the literal meaning of words may be readily apprehended. I call especial attention to this fact, so that no one may accuse me of encumbering my pages with Rommany.

While writing this book, or in fact after the whole of the first part was written, I passed a winter in Egypt; and as that country is still supposed by many people to be the fatherland of the Gipsies, and as very little is known relative to the Rommany there, I have taken the liberty of communicating what I could learn on the subject, though it does not refer directly to the Gipsies of England. Those who are interested in the latter will readily pardon the addition.

There are now in existence about three hundred works on the Gipsies, but of the entire number comparatively few contain fresh material gathered from the Rommany themselves. Of late years the first philologists of Europe have taken a great interest in their language, which is now included in "Die Sprachen Europas" as the only Indian tongue spoken in this quarter of the world; and I believe that English Gipsy is really the only strongly-distinct Rommany dialect which has never as yet been illustrated by copious specimens or a vocabulary of any extent. I therefore trust that the critical reader will make due allowances for the very great difficulties under which I have laboured, and not blame me for not having done better that which, so far as I can ascertain, would possibly not have been done at all. Within the memory of man the popular Rommany of this country was really grammatical; that which is now spoken, and from which I gathered the material for the following pages, is, as the reader will observe, almost entirely English as to its structure, although it still abounds in Hindu words to a far greater extent than has been hitherto supposed.


The Rommany of the Roads.—The Secret of Vagabond Life in England.—Its peculiar and thoroughly hidden Nature.—Gipsy Character and the Causes which formed it.—Moral Results of hungry Marauding.—Gipsy ideas of Religion. The Scripture story of the Seven Whistlers.—The Baker's Daughter.—Difficulties of acquiring Rommany.—The Fable of the Cat.—The Chinese, the American Indian, and the Wandering Gipsy.

Although the valuable and curious works of Mr George Borrow have been in part for more than twenty years before the British public, {1} it may still be doubted whether many, even of our scholars, are aware of the remarkable, social, and philological facts which are connected with an immense proportion of our out-of-door population. There are, indeed, very few people who know, that every time we look from the window into a crowded street, the chances are greatly in favour of the assertion, that we shall see at least one man who bears in his memory some hundreds of Sanscrit roots, and that man English born; though it was probably in the open air, and English bred, albeit his breeding was of the roads.

For go where you will, though you may not know it, you encounter at every step, in one form or the other, the Rommany. True, the dwellers in tents are becoming few and far between, because the "close cultivation" of the present generation, which has enclosed nearly all the waste land in England, has left no spot in many a day's journey, where "the travellers," as they call themselves, can light the fire and boil the kettle undisturbed. There is almost "no tan to hatch," or place to stay in. So it has come to pass, that those among them who cannot settle down like unto the Gentiles, have gone across the Great Water to America, which is their true Canaan, where they flourish mightily, the more enterprising making a good thing of it, by prastering graias or "running horses," or trading in them, while the idler or more moral ones, pick up their living as easily as a mouse in a cheese, on the endless roads and in the forests. And so many of them have gone there, that I am sure the child is now born, to whom the sight of a real old-fashioned gipsy will be as rare in England as a Sioux or Pawnee warrior in the streets of New York or Philadelphia. But there is a modified and yet real Rommany-dom, which lives and will live with great vigour, so long as a regularly organised nomadic class exists on our roads—and it is the true nature and inner life of this class which has remained for ages, an impenetrable mystery to the world at large. A member of it may be a tramp and a beggar, the proprietor of some valuable travelling show, a horse-dealer, or a tinker. He may be eloquent, as a Cheap Jack, noisy as a Punch, or musical with a fiddle at fairs. He may "peddle" pottery, make and sell skewers and clothes-pegs, or vend baskets in a caravan; he may keep cock-shys and Aunt Sallys at races. But whatever he may be, depend upon it, reader, that among those who follow these and similar callings which he represents, are literally many thousands who, unsuspected by the Gorgios, are known to one another, and who still speak among themselves, more or less, that curious old tongue which the researches of the greatest living philologists have indicated, is in all probability not merely allied to Sanscrit, but perhaps in point of age, an elder though vagabond sister or cousin of that ancient language.

For THE ROMMANY is the characteristic leaven of all the real tramp life and nomadic callings of Great Britain. And by this word I mean not the language alone, which is regarded, however, as a test of superior knowledge of "the roads," but a curious inner life and freemasonry of secret intelligence, ties of blood and information, useful to a class who have much in common with one another, and very little in common with the settled tradesman or worthy citizen. The hawker whom you meet, and whose blue eyes and light hair indicate no trace of Oriental blood, may not be a churdo, or pash-ratt, or half-blood, or half-scrag, as a full Gipsy might contemptuously term him, but he may be, of his kind, a quadroon or octoroon, or he may have "gipsified," by marrying a Gipsy wife; and by the way be it said, such women make by far the best wives to be found among English itinerants, and the best suited for "a traveller." But in any case he has taken pains to pick up all the Gipsy he can. If he is a tinker, he knows Kennick, or cant, or thieves' slang by nature, but the Rommany, which has very few words in common with the former, is the true language of the mysteries; in fact, it has with him become, strangely enough, what it was originally, a sort of sacred Sanscrit, known only to the Brahmins of the roads, compared to which the other language is only commonplace Prakrit, which anybody may acquire.

He is proud of his knowledge, he makes of it a deep mystery; and if you, a gentleman, ask him about it, he will probably deny that he ever heard of its existence. Should he be very thirsty, and your manners frank and assuring, it is, however, not impossible that after draining a pot of beer at your expense, he may recall, with a grin, the fact that he has heard that the Gipsies have a queer kind of language of their own; and then, if you have any Rommany yourself at command, he will perhaps rakker Rommanis with greater or less fluency. Mr Simeon, in his "History of the Gipsies," asserts that there is not a tinker or scissors- grinder in Great Britain who cannot talk this language, and my own experience agrees with his declaration, to this extent—that they all have some knowledge of it, or claim to have it, however slight it may be.

So rare is a knowledge of Rommany among those who are not connected in some way with Gipsies, that the slightest indication of it is invariably taken as an irrefutable proof of relationship with them. It is but a few weeks since, as I was walking along the Marine Parade in Brighton, I overtook a tinker. Wishing him to sharpen some tools for me, I directed him to proceed to my home, and en route spoke to him in Gipsy. As he was quite fair in complexion, I casually remarked, "I should have never supposed you could speak Rommany—you don't look like it." To which he replied, very gravely, in a tone as of gentle reproach, "You don't look a Gipsy yourself, sir; but you know you are one—you talk like one."

Truly, the secret of the Rommany has been well kept in England. It seems so to me when I reflect that, with the exception of Lavengro and the Rommany Rye, {5} I cannot recall a single novel, in our language, in which the writer has shown familiarity with the real life, habits, or language of the vast majority of that very large class, the itinerants of the roads. Mr Dickens has set before us Cheap Jacks, and a number of men who were, in their very face, of the class of which I speak; but I cannot recall in his writings any indication that he knew that these men had a singular secret life with their confreres, or that they could speak a strange language; for we may well call that language strange which is, in the main, Sanscrit, with many Persian words intermingled. Mr Dickens, however, did not pretend, as some have done, to specially treat of Gipsies, and he made no affectation of a knowledge of any mysteries. He simply reflected popular life as he saw it. But there are many novels and tales, old and new, devoted to setting forth Rommany life and conversation, which are as much like the originals as a Pastor Fido is like a common shepherd. One novel which I once read, is so full of "the dark blood," that it might almost be called a gipsy novel. The hero is a gipsy; he lives among his kind—the book is full of them; and yet, with all due respect to its author, who is one of the most gifted and best- informed romance writers of the century, I must declare that, from beginning to end, there is not in the novel the slightest indication of any real and familiar knowledge of gipsies. Again, to put thieves' slang into the mouths of gipsies, as their natural and habitual language, has been so much the custom, from Sir Walter Scott to the present day, that readers are sometimes gravely assured in good faith that this jargon is pure Rommany. But this is an old error in England, since the vocabulary of cant appended to the "English Rogue," published in 1680, was long believed to be Gipsy; and Captain Grose, the antiquary, who should have known better, speaks with the same ignorance.

It is, indeed, strange to see learned and shrewd writers, who pride themselves on truthfully depicting every element of European life, and every type of every society, so ignorant of the habits, manners, and language of thousands of really strange people who swarm on the highways and bye-ways! We have had the squire and the governess, my lord and all Bohemia—Bohemia, artistic and literary—but where are our Vrais Bohemiens?—Out of Lavengro and Rommany Rye—nowhere. Yet there is to be found among the children of Rom, or the descendants of the worshippers of Rama, or the Doms or Coptic Romi, whatever their ancestors may have been, more that is quaint and adapted to the purposes of the novelist, than is to be found in any other class of the inhabitants of England. You may not detect a trace of it on the roads; but once become truly acquainted with a fair average specimen of a Gipsy, pass many days in conversation with him, and above all acquire his confidence and respect, and you will wonder that such a being, so entirely different from yourself, could exist in Europe in the nineteenth century. It is said that those who can converse with Irish peasants in their own native tongue, form far higher opinions of their appreciation of the beautiful, and of the elements of humour and pathos in their hearts, than do those who know their thoughts only through the medium of English. I know from my own observation that this is quite the case with the Indians of North America, and it is unquestionably so with the Gipsy. When you know a true specimen to the depths of his soul, you will find a character so entirely strange, so utterly at variance with your ordinary conceptions of humanity, that it is no exaggeration whatever to declare that it would be a very difficult task for the best writer to convey to the most intelligent reader an idea of his subject's nature. You have in him, to begin with, a being whose every condition of life is in direct contradiction to what you suppose every man's life in England must be. "I was born in the open air," said a Gipsy to me a few days since; "and put me down anywhere, in the fields or woods, I can always support myself." Understand me, he did not mean by pilfering, since it was of America that we were speaking, and of living in the lonely forests. We pity with tears many of the poor among us, whose life is one of luxury compared to that which the Gipsy, who despises them, enjoys with a zest worth more than riches.

"What a country America must be," quoth Pirengro, the Walker, to me, on the occasion just referred to. "Why, my pal, who's just welled apopli from dovo tem—(my brother, who has just returned from that country), tells me that when a cow or anything dies there, they just chuck it away, and nobody ask a word for any of it." "What would you do," he continued, "if you were in the fields and had nothing to eat?"

I replied, "that if any could be found, I should hunt for fern-roots."

"I could do better than that," he said. "I should hunt for a hotchewitchi,—a hedge-hog,—and I should be sure to find one; there's no better eating."

Whereupon assuming his left hand to be an imaginary hedge-hog, he proceeded to score and turn and dress it for ideal cooking with a case- knife.

"And what had you for dinner to-day?" I inquired.

"Some cocks' heads. They're very fine—very fine indeed!"

Now it is curious but true that there is no person in the world more particular as to what he eats than the half-starved English or Irish peasant, whose sufferings have so often been set forth for our condolence. We may be equally foolish, you and I—in fact chemistry proves it—when we are disgusted at the idea of feeding on many things which mere association and superstition render revolting. But the old fashioned gipsy has none of these qualms—he is haunted by no ghost of society—save the policeman, he knows none of its terrors. Whatever is edible he eats, except horse-meat; wherever there is an empty spot he sleeps; and the man who can do this devoid of shame, without caring a pin for what the world says—nay, without even knowing that he does not care, or that he is peculiar—is independent to a degree which of itself confers a character which is not easy to understand.

I grew up as a young man with great contempt for Helvetius, D'Holbach, and all the French philosophers of the last century, whose ideal man was a perfect savage; but I must confess that since I have studied gipsy nature, my contempt has changed into wonder where they ever learned in their salons and libraries enough of humanity to theorise so boldly, and with such likeness to truth, as they did. It is not merely in the absolute out-of-doors independence of the old-fashioned Gipsy, freer than any wild beast from care for food, that his resemblance to a "philosopher" consists, or rather to the ideal man, free from imaginary cares. For more than this, be it for good or for evil, the real Gipsy has, unlike all other men, unlike the lowest savage, positively no religion, no tie to a spiritual world, no fear of a future, nothing but a few trifling superstitions and legends, which in themselves indicate no faith whatever in anything deeply seated. It would be difficult, I think, for any highly civilised man, who had not studied Thought deeply, and in a liberal spirit, to approach in the least to a rational comprehension of a real Gipsy mind. During my life it has been my fortune to become intimate with men who were "absolutely" or "positively" free-thinkers—men who had, by long study and mere logic, completely freed themselves from any mental tie whatever. Such men are rare; it requires an enormous amount of intellectual culture, an unlimited expenditure of pains in the metaphysical hot-bed, and tremendous self- confidence to produce them—I mean "the real article." Among the most thorough of these, a man on whom utter and entire freedom of thought sat easily and unconsciously, was a certain German doctor of philosophy named P—-. To him God and all things were simply ideas of development. The last remark which I can recall from him was "Ja, ja. We advanced Hegelians agree exactly on the whole with the Materialists." Now, to my mind, nothing seems more natural than that, when sitting entire days talking with an old Gipsy, no one rises so frequently from the past before me as Mr P—-. To him all religion represented a portion of the vast mass of frozen, petrified developments, which simply impede the march of intelligent minds; to my Rommany friend, it is one of the thousand inventions of gorgio life, which, like policemen, are simply obstacles to Gipsies in the search of a living, and could he have grasped the circumstances of the case, he would doubtless have replied "Avali, we Gipsies agree on the whole exactly with Mr P—-." Extremes meet.

One Sunday an old Gipsy was assuring me, with a great appearance of piety, that on that day she neither told fortunes nor worked at any kind of labour—in fact, she kept it altogether correctly.

"Avali, dye," I replied. "Do you know what the Gipsies in Germany say became of their church?"

"Kek," answered the old lady. "No. What is it?"

"They say that the Gipsies' church was made of pork, and the dogs ate it."

Long, loud, and joyously affirmative was the peal of laughter with which the Gipsies welcomed this characteristic story.

So far as research and the analogy of living tribes of the same race can establish a fact, it would seem that the Gipsies were, previous to their quitting India, not people of high caste, but wandering Pariahs, outcasts, foes to the Brahmins, and unbelievers. All the Pariahs are not free-thinkers, but in India, the Church, as in Italy, loses no time in making of all detected free-thinkers Pariahs. Thus we are told, in the introduction to the English translation of that very curious book, "The Tales of the Gooroo Simple," which should be read by every scholar, that all the true literature of the country—that which has life, and freedom, and humour—comes from the Pariahs. And was it different in those days, when Rabelais, and Von Hutten, and Giordano Bruno were, in their wise, Pariahs and Gipsies, roving from city to city, often wanting bread and dreading fire, but asking for nothing but freedom?

The more I have conversed intimately with Gipsies, the more have I been struck by the fact, that my mingled experiences of European education and of life in the Far West of America have given me a basis of mutual intelligence which had otherwise been utterly wanting. I, myself, have known in a wild country what it is to be half-starved for many days—to feel that all my thoughts and intellectual exertions, hour by hour, were all becoming centered on one subject—how to get something to eat. I felt what it was to be wolfish and even ravening; and I noted, step by step, in myself, how a strange sagacity grew within me—an art of detecting food. It was during the American war, and there were thousands of us pitifully starved. When we came near some log hut I began at once to surmise, if I saw a flour sack lying about, that there was a mill not far distant; perhaps flour or bread in the house; while the dwellers in the hut were closely scanned to judge from their appearance if they were well fed, and of a charitable disposition. It is a melancholy thing to recall; but it is absolutely necessary for a thinker to have once lived such a life, that he may be able to understand what is the intellectual status of those fellow beings whose whole life is simply a hunt for enough food to sustain life, and enough beer to cheer it.

I have spoken of the Gipsy fondness for the hedgehog. Richard Liebich, in his book, Die Zigeuner in ihrem Wesen und in ihrer Sprache, tells his readers that the only indication of a belief in a future state which he ever detected in an old Gipsy woman, was that she once dreamed she was in heaven. It appeared to her as a large garden, full of fine fat hedgehogs. "This is," says Mr Liebich, "unquestionably very earthly, and dreamed very sensuously; reminding us of Mahommed's paradise, which in like manner was directed to the animal and not to the spiritual nature, only that here were hedgehogs and there houris."

Six or seven thousand years of hungry-marauding, end by establishing strange points of difference between the mind of a Gipsy and a well-to-do citizen. It has starved God out of the former; he inherited unbelief from his half fed Pariah ancestors, and often retains it, even in England, to this day, with many other unmistakable signs of his Eastern- jackal origin. And strange as it may seem to you, reader, his intercourse with Christians has all over Europe been so limited, that he seldom really knows what religion is. The same Mr Liebich tells us that one day he overheard a Gipsy disputing with his wife as to what was the true character of the belief of the Gentiles. Both admitted that there was a great elder grown up God (the baro puro dewel), and a smaller younger God (the tikno tarno dewel). But the wife maintained, appealing to Mr Liebich for confirmation, that the great God no longer reigned, having abdicated in favour of the Son, while the husband declared that the Great older God died long ago, and that the world was now governed by the little God who was, however, not the son of his predecessor, but of a poor carpenter.

I have never heard of any such nonsense among the English wandering Gipsies with regard to Christianity, but at the same time I must admit that their ideas of what the Bible contains are extremely vague. One day I was sitting with an old Gipsy, discussing Rommany matters, when he suddenly asked me what the word was in the waver temmeny jib, or foreign Gipsy, for The Seven Stars.

"That would be," I said, "the Efta Sirnie. I suppose your name for it is the Hefta Pens. There is a story that once they were seven sisters, but one of them was lost, and so they are called seven to this day—though there are only six. And their right name is the Pleiades."

"That gudlo—that story," replied the gipsy, "is like the one of the Seven Whistlers, which you know is in the Scriptures."


"At least they told me so; that the Seven Whistlers are seven spirits of ladies who fly by night, high in the air, like birds. And it says in the Bible that once on a time one got lost, and never came back again, and now the six whistles to find her. But people calls 'em the Seven Whistlers—though there are only six—exactly the same as in your story of the stars."

"It's queer," resumed my Gipsy, after a pause, "how they always tells these here stories by Sevens. Were you ever on Salisbury Plain?"


"There are great stones there—bori bars—and many a night I've slept there in the moonlight, in the open air, when I was a boy, and listened to my father tellin' me about the Baker. For there's seven great stories, and they say that hundreds of years ago a baker used to come with loaves of bread, and waste it all a tryin' to make seven loaves remain at the same place, one on each stone. But one all'us fell off, and to this here day he's never yet been able to get all seven on the seven stones."

I think that my Gipsy told this story in connection with that of the Whistlers, because he was under the impression that it also was of Scriptural origin. It is, however, really curious that the Gipsy term for an owlet is the Maromengro's Chavi, or Baker's Daughter, and that they are all familiar with the monkish legend which declares that Jesus, in a baker's shop, once asked for bread. The mistress was about to give him a large cake, when her daughter declared it was too much, and diminished the gift by one half.

"He nothing said, But by the fire laid down the bread, When lo, as when a blossom blows— To a vast loaf the manchet rose; In angry wonder, standing by, The girl sent forth a wild, rude cry, And, feathering fast into a fowl, Flew to the woods a wailing owl."

According to Eilert Sundt, who devoted his life to studying the Fanten and Tataren, or vagabonds and Gipsies of Sweden and Norway, there is a horrible and ghastly semblance among them of something like a religion, current in Scandinavia. Once a year, by night, the Gipsies of that country assemble for the purpose of un-baptizing all of their children whom they have, during the year, suffered to be baptized for the sake of gifts, by the Gorgios. On this occasion, amid wild orgies, they worship a small idol, which is preserved until the next meeting with the greatest secresy and care by their captain. I must declare that this story seems very doubtful to me.

I have devoted this chapter to illustrating from different points the fact that there lives in England a race which has given its impress to a vast proportion of our vagabond population, and which is more curious and more radically distinct in all its characteristics, than our writers, with one or two exceptions, have ever understood. One extraordinary difference still remains to be pointed out—as it has, in fact, already been, with great acumen, by Mr George Borrow, in his "Gipsies in Spain," and by Dr Alexander Paspati, in his "Etudes sur les Tchinghianes ou Bohemiens de l'Empire Ottoman" (Constantinople, 1870); also by Mr Bright, in his "Hungary," and by Mr Simson. It is this, that in every part of the world it is extremely difficult to get Rommany words, even from intelligent gipsies, although they may be willing with all their heart to communicate them. It may seem simple enough to the reader to ask a man "How do you call 'to carry' in your language?" But can the reader understand that a man, who is possibly very much shrewder than himself in reading at a glance many phases of character, and in countless trickeries, should be literally unable to answer such a question? And yet I have met with many such. The truth is, that there are people in this world who never had such a thing as an abstract idea, let us say even of an apple, plumped suddenly at them—not once in all their lives—and, when it came, the unphilosophical mind could no more grasp it, than the gentleman mentioned by G. H. Lewes (History of Philosophy), could grasp the idea of substance without attribute as presented by Berkeley. The real Gipsy could talk about apples all day, but the sudden demand for the unconnected word, staggers him—at least, until he has had some practice in this, to him, new process. And it is so with other races. Professor Max Muller once told me in conversation, as nearly as I can recollect, that the Mohawk Indian language is extremely rich in declension, every noun having some sixteen or seventeen inflexions of case, but no nominative. One can express one's relations to a father to a most extraordinary extent, among the dilapidated descendants of that once powerful tribe. But such a thing as the abstract idea of a father, or of 'father' pur et simple, never entered the Mohawk mind, and this is very like the Gipsies.

When a rather wild Gipsy once gives you a word, it must be promptly recorded, for a demand for its repetition at once confuses him. On doit saisir le mot echappe au Nomade, et ne pas l'obliger a le repeter, car il le changera selon so, facon, says Paspati. Unused to abstract efforts of memory, all that he can retain is the sense of his last remark, and very often this is changed with the fleeting second by some associated thought, which materially modifies it. It is always difficult, in consequence, to take down a story in the exact terms which a philologist desires. There are two words for "bad" in English Gipsy, wafro and vessavo; and I think it must have taken me ten minutes one day to learn, from a by no means dull gipsy, whether the latter word was known to him, or if it were used at all. He got himself into a hopeless tangle in trying to explain the difference between wafro and naflo, or ill, until his mind finally refused to act on vessavo at all, and spasmodically rejected it. With all the patience of Job, and the meekness of Moses, I awaited my time, and finally obtained my information.

The impatience of such minds in narrative is amusing. Let us suppose that I am asking some kushto Rommany chal for a version of AEsop's fable of the youth and the cat. He is sitting comfortably by the fire, and good ale has put him into a story-telling humour. I begin—

"Now then, tell me this adree Rommanis, in Gipsy—Once upon a time there was a young man who had a cat."

Gipsy.—"Yeckorus—'pre yeck cheirusa raklo lelled a matchka"—

While I am writing this down, and long before it is half done, the professor of Rommany, becoming interested in the subject, continues volubly—

—"an' the matchka yeck sala dicked a chillico apre a rukk—(and the cat one morning saw a bird in a tree"—)

I.—"Stop, stop! Hatch a wongish! That is not it! Now go on. The young man loved this cat so much"—

Gipsy (fluently, in Rommany), "that he thought her skin would make a nice pair of gloves"—

"Confound your gloves! Now do begin again"—

Gipsy, with an air of grief and injury: "I'm sure I was telling the story for you the best way I knew how!"

Yet this man was far from being a fool. What was it, then? Simply and solely, a lack of education—of that mental training which even those who never entered a schoolhouse, receive more or less of, when they so much as wait patiently for a month behind a chair, or tug for six months at a plough, or in short, acquire the civilised virtue of Christian patience. That is it. We often hear in this world that a little education goes a great way; but to get some idea of the immense value of a very little education indeed, and the incredible effect it may have upon character, one should study with gentleness and patience a real Gipsy.

Probably the most universal error in the world is the belief that all men, due allowance being made for greater or less knowledge, or "talents," have minds like our own; are endowed with the same moral perception, and see things on the whole very much as we do. Now the truth is that a Chinese, whose mind is formed, not by "religion" as we understand it, but simply by the intense pressure of "Old Custom," which we do not understand, thinks in a different manner from an European; moralists accuse him of "moral obliquity," but in reality it is a moral difference. Docility of mind, the patriarchal principle, and the very perfection of innumerable wise and moral precepts have, by the practice of thousands of years, produced in him their natural result. Whenever he attempts to think, his mind runs at once into some broad and open path, beautifully bordered with dry artificial flowers, {21} and the result has been the inability to comprehend any new idea—a state to which the Church of the Middle Ages, or any too rigidly established system, would in a few thousand years have reduced humanity. Under the action of widely different causes, the gipsy has also a different cast of mind from our own, and a radical moral difference. A very few years ago, when I was on the Plains of Western Kansas, old Black Kettle, a famous Indian chief said in a speech, "I am not a white man, I am a wolf. I was born like a wolf on the prairies. I have lived like a wolf, and I shall die like one." Such is the wild gipsy. Ever poor and hungry, theft seems to him, in the trifling easy manner in which he practises it, simply a necessity. The moral aspects of petty crime he never considers at all, nor does he, in fact, reflect upon anything as it is reflected on by the humblest peasant who goes to church, or who in any way feels himself connected as an integral part of that great body-corporate—Society.


The Old Fortune-Teller and her Brother.—The Patteran, or Gipsies' Road- Mark .—The Christian Cross, named by Continental Gipsies Trushul, after the Trident of Siva.—Curious English-Gipsy term for the Cross.—Ashwood Fires on Christmas Day.—Our Saviour regarded with affection by the Rommany because he was like themselves and poor.—Strange ideas of the Bible.—The Oak.—Lizards renew their lives.—Snails.—Slugs.—Tobacco Pipes as old as the world.

"Duveleste; Avo. Mandy's kaired my patteran adusta chairuses where a drum jals atut the waver," which means in English—"God bless you, yes. Many a time I have marked my sign where the roads cross."

I was seated in the cottage of an old Gipsy mother, one of the most noted fortune-tellers in England, when I heard this from her brother, himself an ancient wanderer, who loves far better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep when he wakes of a morning.

It was a very small but clean cottage, of the kind quite peculiar to the English labourer, and therefore attractive to every one who has felt the true spirit of the most original poetry and art which this country has produced. For look high or low, dear reader, you will find that nothing has ever been better done in England than the pictures of rural life, and over nothing have its gifted minds cast a deeper charm.

There were the little rough porcelain figures of which the English peasantry are so fond, and which, cheap as they are, indicate that the taste of your friends Lady —- for Worcester "porcelain," or the Duchess of —- for Majolica, has its roots among far humbler folk. In fact there were perhaps twenty things which no English reader would have supposed were peculiar, yet which were something more than peculiar to me. The master of the house was an Anglo-Saxon—a Gorgio—and his wife, by some magic or other, the oracle before-mentioned.

And I, answering said—

"So you all call it patteran?" {24}

"No; very few of us know that name. We do it without calling it anything."

Then I took my stick and marked on the floor the following sign—

[Sign: ill24.jpg]

"There," I said, "is the oldest patteran—first of all—which the Gipsies use to-day in foreign lands. In Germany, when one band of Gipsies goes by a cross road, they draw that deep in the dust, with the end of the longest line pointing in the direction in which they have gone. Then, the next who come by see the mark, and, if they choose, follow it."

"We make it differently," said the Gipsy. "This is our sign—the trin bongo drums, or cross." And he drew his patteran thus—

[Cross: ill25.jpg]

"The long end points the way," he added; "just as in your sign."

"You call a cross," I remarked, "trin bongo drums, or the three crooked roads. Do you know any such word as trushul for it?"

"No; trushilo is thirsty, and trushni means a faggot, and also a basket."

"I shouldn't wonder if a faggot once got the old Rommany word for cross," I said, "because in it every stick is crossed by the wooden withy which binds it; and in a basket, every wooden strip crosses the other."

I did not, however, think it worth while to explain to the Gipsies that when their ancestors, centuries ago, left India, it was with the memory that Shiva, the Destroyer, bore a trident, the tri-cula in Sanscrit, the trisul of Mahadeva in Hindustani, and that in coming to Europe the resemblance of its shape to that of the Cross impressed them, so that they gave to the Christian symbol the name of the sacred triple spear. {26} For if you turn up a little the two arms of a cross, you change the emblem of suffering and innocence at once into one of murder—just as ever so little a deviation from goodness will lead you, my dear boy, into any amount of devilry.

And that the unfailing lucid flash of humour may not be wanting, there lightens on my mind the memory of The Mysterious Pitchfork—a German satirical play which made a sensation in its time—and Herlossohn in his romance of Der Letzte Taborit (which helped George Sand amazingly in Consuelo), makes a Gipsy chieftain appear in a wonderfully puzzling light by brandishing, in fierce midnight dignity, this agricultural parody on Neptune's weapon, which brings me nicely around to my Gipsies again.

If I said nothing to the inmates of the cottage of all that the trushul or cross trident suggested, still less did I vex their souls with the mystic possible meaning of the antique patteran or sign which I had drawn. For it has, I opine, a deep meaning, which as one who knew Creuzer of old, I have a right to set forth. Briefly, then, and without encumbering my book with masses of authority, let me state that in all early lore, the road is a symbol of life; Christ himself having used it in this sense. Cross roads were peculiarly meaning-full as indicating the meet-of life with life, of good with evil, a faith of which abundant traces are preserved in the fact that until the present generation suicides were buried at them, and magical rites and diabolic incantations are supposed to be most successful when practised in such places. The English path, the Gipsy patteran, the Rommany-Hindu pat, a foot, and the Hindu panth, a road, all meet in the Sanscrit path, which was the original parting of the ways. Now the patteran which I have drawn, like the Koua of the Chinese or the mystical Swastika of the Buddhists, embraces the long line of life, or of the infinite and the short, or broken lines of the finite, and, therefore, as an ancient magical Eastern sign, would be most appropriately inscribed as a sikker-paskero dromescro—or hand post—to show the wandering Rommany how to proceed on their way of life.

[Svastika: ill27.jpg]

That the ordinary Christian Cross should be called by the English Gipsies a trin bongo drum—or the three cross roads—is not remarkable when we consider that their only association with it is that of a "wayshower," as Germans would call it. To you, reader, it may be that it points the way of eternal life; to the benighted Rommany-English-Hindoo, it indicates nothing more than the same old weary track of daily travel; of wayfare and warfare with the world, seeking food and too often finding none; living for petty joys and driven by dire need; lying down with poverty and rising with hunger, ignorant in his very wretchedness of a thousand things which he ought to want, and not knowing enough to miss them.

Just as the reader a thousand, or perhaps only a hundred, years hence—should a copy of this work be then extant—may pity the writer of these lines for his ignorance of the charming comforts, as yet unborn, which will render his physical condition so delightful. To thee, oh, future reader, I am what the Gipsy is to me! Wait, my dear boy of the Future—wait—till you get to heaven!

Which is a long way off from the Gipsies. Let us return. We had spoken of patteran, or of crosses by the way-side, and this led naturally enough to speaking of Him who died on the Cross, and of wandering. And I must confess that it was with great interest I learned that the Gipsies, from a very singular and Rommany point of view, respect, and even pay him, in common with the peasantry in some parts of England, a peculiar honour. For this reason I bade the Gipsy carefully repeat his words, and wrote them down accurately. I give them in the original, with a translation. Let me first state that my informant was not quite clear in his mind as to whether the Boro Divvus, or Great Day, was Christmas or New Year's, nor was he by any means certain on which Christ was born. But he knew very well that when it came, the Gipsies took great pains to burn an ash-wood fire.

"Avali—adusta cheirus I've had to jal dui or trin mees of a Boro Divvus sig' in the sala, to lel ash-wood for the yag. That was when I was a bitti chavo, for my dadas always would keravit.

"An' we kairs it because foki pens our Saviour, the tikno Duvel was born apre the Boro Divvus, 'pre the puv, avree in the temm, like we Rommanis, and he was brought 'pre pash an ash yag—(Why you can dick dovo adree the Scriptures!).

"The ivy and holly an' pine rukks never pookered a lav when our Saviour was gaverin' of his kokero, an' so they tools their jivaben saw (sar) the wen, and dicks selno saw the besh; but the ash, like the surrelo rukk, pukkered atut him, where he was gaverin, so they have to hatch mullo adree the wen. And so we Rommany chals always hatchers an ash yag saw the Boro Divvuses. For the tickno duvel was chivved a wadras 'pre the puvius like a Rommany chal, and kistered apre a myla like a Rommany, an' jalled pale the tem a mangin his moro like a Rom. An' he was always a pauveri choro mush, like we, till he was nashered by the Gorgios.

"An' he kistered apre a myla? Avali. Yeckorus he putchered the pash- grai if he might kister her, but she pookered him kek. So because the pash-grai wouldn't rikker him, she was sovahalled againsus never to be a dye or lel tiknos. So she never lelled kek, nor any cross either.

"Then he putchered the myla to rikker him, and she penned: 'Avali!' so he pet a cross apre laki's dumo. And to the divvus the myla has a trin bongo drum and latchers tiknos, but the pash-grai has kek. So the mylas 'longs of the Rommanis."

(TRANSLATION.)—"Yes—many a time I've had to go two or three miles of a Great Day (Christmas), early in the morning, to get ash-wood for the fire. That was when I was a small boy, for my father always would do it.

"And we do it because people say our Saviour, the small God, was born on the Great Day, in the field, out in the country, like we Rommanis, and he was brought up by an ash-fire."

Here a sudden sensation of doubt or astonishment at my ignorance seemed to occur to my informant, for he said,—

"Why, you can see that in the Scriptures!"

To which I answered, "But the Gipsies have Scripture stories different from those of the Gorgios, and different ideas about religion. Go on with your story. Why do you burn ash-wood?"

"The ivy, and holly, and pine trees, never told a word where our Saviour was hiding himself, and so they keep alive all the winter, and look green all the year. But the ash, like the oak (lit. strong tree), told of him (lit. across, against him), where he was hiding, so they have to remain dead through the winter. And so we Gipsies always burn an ash- fire every Great Day. For the Saviour was born in the open field like a Gipsy, and rode on an ass like one, and went round the land a begging his bread like a Rom. And he was always a poor wretched man like us, till he was destroyed by the Gentiles.

"And He rode on an ass? Yes. Once he asked the mule if he might ride her, but she told him no. So because the mule would not carry him, she was cursed never to be a mother or have children. So she never had any, nor any cross either.

"Then he asked the ass to carry him, and she said 'Yes;' so he put a cross upon her back. And to this day the ass has a cross and bears young, but the mule has none. So the asses belong to (are peculiar to) the Gipsies."

There was a pause, when I remarked—

"That is a fino gudlo—a fine story; and all of it about an ash tree. Can you tell me anything about the surrelo rukk—the strong tree—the oak?"

"Only what I've often heard our people say about its life."

"And what is that?"

"Dui hundred besh a hatchin, dui hundred besh nasherin his chuckko, dui hundred besh 'pre he mullers, and then he nashers sar his ratt and he's kekoomi kushto." {30}

"That is good, too. There are a great many men who would like to live as long."

"Tacho, true. But an old coat can hold out better than a man. If a man gets a hole in him he dies, but his chukko (coat) can be toofered and sivved apre (mended and sewed up) for ever. So, unless a man could get a new life every year, as they say the hepputs, the little lizards do, he needn't hope to live like an oak."

"Do the lizards get a new life every year?"

"Avali. A hepput only lives one year, and then he begins life over again."

"Do snails live as long as lizards?"

"Not when I find 'em rya—if I am hungry. Snails are good eating. {32} You can find plenty on the hedges. When they're going about in the fields or (are found) under wood, they are not good eating. The best are those which are kept, or live through (literally sleep) the winter. Take 'em and wash 'em and throw 'em into the kettle, with water and a little salt. The broth's good for the yellow jaundice."

"So you call a snail"—

"A bawris," said the old fortune-teller.

"Bawris! The Hungarian Gipsies call it a bouro. But in Germany the Rommanis say stargoli. I wonder why a snail should be a stargoli."

"I know," cried the brother, eagerly. "When you put a snail on the fire it cries out and squeaks just like a little child. Stargoli means 'four cries.'"

I had my doubts as to the accuracy of this startling derivation, but said nothing. The same Gipsy on a subsequent occasion, being asked what he would call a roan horse in Rommany, replied promptly—

"A matchno grai"—a fish-horse.

"Why a matchno grai?"

"Because a fish has a roan (i.e., roe), hasn't it? Leastways I can't come no nearer to it, if it ain't that."

But he did better when I was puzzling my brain, as the learned Pott and Zippel had done before me, over the possible origin of churro or tchurro, "a ball, or anything round," when he suggested—

"Rya—I should say that as a churro is round, and a curro or cup is round, and they both sound alike and look alike, it must be all werry much the same thing." {33}

"Can you tell me anything more about snails?" I asked, reverting to a topic which, by the way, I have observed is like that of the hedgehog, a favourite one with Gipsies.

"Yes; you can cure warts with the big black kind that have no shells."

"You mean slugs. I never knew they were fit to cure anything."

"Why, that's one of the things that everybody knows. When you get a wart on your hands, you go on to the road or into the field till you find a slug, one of the large kind with no shell (literally, with no house upon him), and stick it on the thorn of a blackthorn in a hedge, and as the snail dies, one day after the other, for four or five days, the wart will die away. Many a time I've told that to Gorgios, and Gorgios have done it, and the warts have gone away (literally, cleaned away) from their hands." {34}

Here the Gipsy began to inquire very politely if smoking were offensive to me; and as I assured him that it was not, he took out his pipe. And knowing by experience that nothing is more conducive to sociability, be it among Chippeways or Gipsies, than that smoking which is among our Indians, literally a burnt-offering, {35} I produced a small clay pipe of the time of Charles the Second, given to me by a gentleman who has the amiable taste to collect such curiosities, and give them to his friends under the express condition that they shall be smoked, and not laid away as relics of the past. If you move in etching circles, dear readers, you will at once know to whom I refer.

The quick eye of the Gipsy at once observed my pipe.

"That is a crow-swagler—a crow-pipe," he remarked.

"Why a crow-pipe?"

"I don't know. Some Gipsies call 'em mullos' swaglers, or dead men's pipes, because those who made 'em were dead long ago. There are places in England where you can find 'em by dozens in the fields. I never dicked (saw) one with so long a stem to it as yours. And they're old, very old. What is it you call it before everything" (here he seemed puzzled for a word) "when the world was a-making?"

"The Creation."

"Avali—that's it, the Creation. Well, them crow-swaglers was kaired at the same time; they're hundreds—avali—thousands of beshes (years) old. And sometimes we call the beng (devil) a swagler, or we calls a swagler the beng."


"Because the devil lives in smoke."


Difficulty of coming to an Understanding with Gipsies.—The Cabman.—Rommany for French.—"Wanderlust."—Gipsy Politeness.—The Tinker and the Painting.—Secrets of Bat-catching.—The Piper of Hamelin, and the Tinker's Opinion of the Story.—The Walloon Tinker of Spa.—Argot.

One summer day in London, in 1871, I was seated alone in an artist's studio. Suddenly I heard without, beneath the window, the murmur of two voices, and the sleepy, hissing, grating sound of a scissors-grinder's wheel.

By me lay a few tools, one of which, a chisel, was broken. I took it, went softly to the window, and looked down.

There was the wheel, including all the apparatus of a travelling tinker. I looked to see if I could discover in the two men who stood by it any trace of the Rommany. One, a fat, short, mind-his-own-business, ragged son of the roads, who looked, however, as if a sturdy drinker might be hidden in his shell, was evidently not my "affair." He seemed to be the "Co." of the firm.

But by him, and officiating at the wheeling smithy, stood a taller figure—the face to me invisible—which I scrutinised more nearly. And the instant I observed his hat I said to myself, "This looks like it."

For dilapidated, worn, wretched as that hat was, there was in it an attempt, though indescribably humble, to be something melo-dramatic, foreign, Bohemian, and poetic. It was the mere blind, dull, dead germ of an effort—not even life—only the ciliary movement of an antecedent embryo—and yet it had got beyond Anglo-Saxondom. No costermonger, or common cad, or true Englishman, ever yet had that indefinable touch of the opera-supernumerary in the streets. It was a sombrero.

"That's the man for me," I said. So I called him, and gave him the chisel, and after a while went down. He was grinding away, and touched his hat respectfully as I approached.

Now the reader is possibly aware that of all difficult tasks one of the most difficult is to induce a disguised Gipsy, or even a professed one, to utter a word of Rommany to a man not of the blood. Of this all writers on the subject have much to say. For it is so black-swanish, I may say so centenarian in unfrequency, for a gentleman to speak Gipsy, that the Zingaro thus addressed is at once subjected to morbid astonishment and nervous fears, which under his calm countenance and infinite "cheek" are indeed concealed, but which speedily reduce themselves to two categories.

1. That Rommany is the language of men at war with the law; therefore you are either a detective who has acquired it for no healthy purpose, or else you yourself are a scamp so high up in the profession that it behooves all the little fish of outlawdom to beware of you.

2. Or else—what is quite as much to be dreaded—you are indeed a gentleman, but one seeking to make fun of him, and possibly able to do so. At any rate, your knowledge of Rommany is a most alarming coin of vantage. Certainly, reader, you know that a regular London streeter, say a cabman, would rather go to jail than be beaten in a chaffing match. I nearly drove a hansom into sheer convulsions one night, about the time this chapter happened, by a very light puzzler indeed. I had hesitated between him and another.

"You don't know your own mind," said the disappointed candidate to me.

"Mind your own business," I replied. It was a poor palindrome, {38} reader—hardly worth telling—yet it settled him. But he swore—oh, of course he did—he swore beautifully.

Therefore, being moved to caution, I approached calmly and gazed earnestly on the revolving wheel.

"Do you know," I said, "I think a great deal of your business, and take a great interest in it."

"Yes, sir."

"I can tell you all the names of your tools in French. You'd like to hear them, wouldn't you?"

"Wery much indeed, sir."

So I took up the chisel. "This," I said, "is a churi, sometimes called a chinomescro."

"That's the French for it, is it, sir?" replied the tinker, gravely. Not a muscle of his face moved.

"The coals," I added, "are hangars or wongurs, sometimes called kaulos."

"Never heerd the words before in my life," quoth the sedate tinker.

"The bellows is a pudemengro. Some call it a pishota."

"Wery fine language, sir, is French," rejoined the tinker. In every instance he repeated the words after me, and pronounced them correctly, which I had not invariably done. "Wery fine language. But it's quite new to me."

"You wouldn't think now," I said, affably, "that I had ever been on the roads!"

The tinker looked at me from my hat to my boots, and solemnly replied—

"I should say it was wery likely. From your language, sir, wery likely indeed."

I gazed as gravely back as if I had not been at that instant the worst sold man in London, and asked—

"Can you rakher Rommanis?" (i.e., speak Gipsy.)

And he said he could.

Then we conversed. He spoke English intermingled with Gipsy, stopping from time to time to explain to his assistant, or to teach him a word. This portly person appeared to be about as well up in the English Gipsy as myself—that is, he knew it quite as imperfectly. I learned that the master had been in America, and made New York and Brooklyn glad by his presence, while Philadelphia, my native city had been benefited as to its scissors and morals by him.

"And as I suppose you made money there, why didn't you remain?" I inquired.

The Gipsy—for he was really a Gipsy, and not a half-scrag—looked at me wistfully, and apparently a little surprised that I should ask him such a question.

"Why, sir, you know that we can't keep still. Somethin' kept telling me to move on, and keep a movin'. Some day I'll go back again."

Suddenly—I suppose because a doubt of my perfect Freemasonry had been aroused by my absurd question—he said, holding up a kettle—

"What do you call this here in Rommanis?"

"I call it a kekavi or a kavi," I said. "But it isn't right Rommany. It's Greek, which the Rommanichals picked up on their way here."

And here I would remark, by the way, that I have seldom spoken to a Gipsy in England who did not try me on the word for kettle.

"And what do you call a face?" he added.

"I call a face a mui," I said, "and a nose a nak; and as for mui, I call rikker tiro mui, 'hold your jaw.' That is German Rommany."

The tinker gazed at me admiringly, and then said, "You're 'deep' Gipsy, I see, sir—that's what you are."

"Mo rov a jaw; mo rakker so drovan?" I answered. "Don't talk so loud; do you think I want all the Gorgios around here to know I talk Gipsy? Come in; jal adree the ker and pi a curro levinor."

The tinker entered. As with most Gipsies there was really, despite the want of "education," a real politeness—a singular intuitive refinement pervading all his actions, which indicated, through many centuries of brutalisation, that fountain-source of all politeness—the Oriental. Many a time I have found among Gipsies whose life, and food, and dress, and abject ignorance, and dreadful poverty were far below that of most paupers and prisoners, a delicacy in speaking to and acting before ladies, and a tact in little things, utterly foreign to the great majority of poor Anglo-Saxons, and not by any means too common in even higher classes.

For example, there was a basket of cakes on the table, which cakes were made like soldiers in platoons. Now Mr Katzimengro, or Scissorman, as I call him, not being familiar with the anatomy of such delicate and winsome maro, or bread, was startled to find, when he picked up one biscuit de Rheims, that he had taken a row. Instantly he darted at me an astonished and piteous glance, which said—

"I cannot, with my black tinker fingers, break off and put the cakes back again; I do not want to take all—it looks greedy."

So I said, "Put them in your pocket." And he did so, quietly. I have never seen anything done with a better grace.

On the easel hung an unfinished picture, representing the Piper of Hamelin surrounded by rats without number. The Gipsy appeared to be much interested in it.

"I used to be a rat-catcher myself," he said. "I learned the business under old Lee, who was the greatest rat-catcher in England. I suppose you know, of course, sir, how to draw rats?"

"Certainly," I replied. "Oil of rhodium. I have known a house to be entirely cleared by it. There were just thirty-six rats in the house, and they had a trap which held exactly twelve. For three nights they caught a dozen, and that finished the congregation."

"Aniseed is better," replied the Gipsy, solemnly. (By the way, another and an older Gipsy afterwards told me that he used caraway-oil and the heads of dried herrings.) "And if you've got a rat, sir, anywhere in this here house, I'll bring it to you in five minutes."

He did, in fact, subsequently bring the artist as models for the picture two very pretty rats, which he had quite tamed while catching them.

"But what does the picture mean, sir?" he inquired, with curiosity.

"Once upon a time," I replied, "there was a city in Germany which was overrun with rats. They teased the dogs and worried the cats, and bit the babies in the cradle, and licked the soup from the cook's own ladle."

"There must have been an uncommon lot of them, sir," replied the tinker, gravely.

"There was. Millions of them. Now in those days there were no Rommanichals, and consequently no rat-catchers."

"'Taint so now-a-days," replied the Gipsy, gloomily. "The business is quite spiled, and not to get a livin' by."

"Avo. And by the time the people had almost gone crazy, one day there came a man—a Gipsy—the first Gipsy who had ever been seen in dovo tem (or that country). And he agreed for a thousand crowns to clear all the rats away. So he blew on a pipe, and the rats all followed him out of town."

"What did he blow on a pipe for?"

"Just for hokkerben, to humbug them. I suppose he had oils rubbed on his heels. But when he had drawn the rats away and asked for his money, they would not give it to him. So then, what do you think he did?"

"I suppose—ah, I see," said the Gipsy, with a shrewd look. "He went and drew 'em all back again."

"No; he went, and this time piped all the children away. They all went after him—all except one little lame boy—and that was the last of it."

The Gipsy looked earnestly at me, and then, as if I puzzled, but with an expression of perfect faith, he asked—

"And is that all tacho—all a fact—or is it made up, you know?"

"Well, I think it is partly one and partly the other. You see, that in those days Gipsies were very scarce, and people were very much astonished at rat-drawing, and so they made a queer story of it."

"But how about the children?"

"Well," I answered; "I suppose you have heard occasionally that Gipsies used to chore Gorgios' chavis—steal people's children?"

Very grave indeed was the assent yielded to this explanation. He had heard it among other things.

My dear Mr Robert Browning, I little thought, when I suggested to the artist your poem of the piper, that I should ever retail the story in Rommany to a tinker. But who knows with whom he may associate in this life, or whither he may drift on the great white rolling sea of humanity? Did not Lord Lytton, unless the preface to Pelham err, himself once tarry in the tents of the Egyptians? and did not Christopher North also wander with them, and sing—

"Oh, little did my mother think, The day she cradled me, The lands that I should travel in, Or the death that I should dee; Or gae rovin' about wi' tinkler loons, And sic-like companie"?

"You know, sir," said the Gipsy, "that we have two languages. For besides the Rummany, there's the reg'lar cant, which all tinkers talk."

"Kennick you mean?"

"Yes, sir; that's the Rummany for it. A 'dolly mort' is Kennick, but it's juva or rakli in Rummanis. It's a girl, or a rom's chi."

"You say rom sometimes, and then rum."

"There's rums and roms, sir. The rum is a Gipsy, and a rom is a husband."

"That's your English way of calling it. All the rest of the world over there is only one word among Gipsies, and that is rom."

Now, the allusion to Kennick or cant by a tinker, recalls an incident which, though not strictly Gipsy in its nature, I will nevertheless narrate.

In the summer of 1870 I spent several weeks at Spa, in the Ardennes. One day while walking I saw by the roadside a picturesque old tinker, looking neither better nor worse than the grinder made immortal by Teniers.

I was anxious to know if all of his craft in Belgium could speak Gipsy, and addressed him in that language, giving him at the same time my knife to grind. He replied politely in French that he did not speak Rommany, and only understood French and Walloon. Yet he seemed to understand perfectly the drift of my question, and to know what Gipsy was, and its nature, since after a pause he added, with a significant smile—

"But to tell the truth, monsieur, though I cannot talk Rommany, I know another secret language. I can speak Argot fluently."

Now, I retain in my memory, from reading the Memoirs of Vidocq thirty years ago, one or two phrases of this French thieves' slang, and I at once replied that I knew a few words of it myself, adding—

"Tu sais jaspiner en bigorne?"—you can talk argot?

"Oui, monsieur."

"Et tu vas roulant de vergne en vergne?"—and you go about from town to town?

Grave and keen, and with a queer smile, the tinker replied, very slowly—

"Monsieur knows the Gipsies" (here he shook his head), "and monsieur speaks argot very well." (A shrug.) "Perhaps he knows more than he credits himself with. Perhaps" (and here his wink was diabolical)— "perhaps monsieur knows the entire tongue!"

Spa is full not only of gamblers, but of numbers of well-dressed Parisian sharpers who certainly know "the entire tongue." I hastened to pay my tinker, and went my way homewards. Ross Browne was accused in Syria of having "burgled" onions, and the pursuit of philology has twice subjected me to be suspected by tinkers as a flourishing member of the "dangerous classes."

But to return to my rat-catcher. As I quoted a verse of German Gipsy song, he manifested an interest in it, and put me several questions with regard to the race in other lands.

"I wish I was a rich gentleman. I would like to travel like you, sir, and have nothing to do but go about from land to land, looking after our Rummany people as you do, and learnin' everything Rummany. Is it true, sir, we come from Egypt?"

"No. I think not. There are Gipsies in Egypt, but there is less Rommany in their jib (language) than in any other Gipsy tribe in the world. The Gipsies came from India."

"And don't you think, sir, that we're of the children of the lost Ten Tribes?"

"I am quite sure that you never had a drop of blood in common with them. Tell me, do you know any Gipsy gilis—any songs?"

"Only a bit of a one, sir; most of it isn't fit to sing, but it begins—"

And here he sang:

"Jal 'dree the ker my honey, And you shall be my rom."

And chanting this, after thanking me, he departed, gratified with his gratuity, rejoiced at his reception, and most undoubtedly benefited by the beer with which I had encouraged his palaver—a word, by the way, which is not inappropriate, since it contains in itself the very word of words, the lav, which means a word, and is most antiquely and excellently Gipsy. Pehlevi is old Persian, and to pen lavi is Rommany all the world over "to speak words."


Gipsies and Comteists identical as to "Religion"—Singular Manner of Mourning for the Dead, as practised by Gipsies—Illustrations from Life—Gipsy Job and the Cigars—Oaths by the Dead—Universal Gipsy Custom of never Mentioning the Names of the Dead—Burying valuable Objects with the Dead—Gipsies, Comteists, Hegelians, and Jews—The Rev. James Crabbe.

Comte, the author of the Positivist philosophy, never felt the need of a religion until he had fallen in love; and at the present day his "faith" appears to consist in a worship of the great and wise and good among the dead. I have already spoken of many Gipsies reminding me, by their entirely unconscious ungodliness, of thorough Hegelians. I may now add, that, like the Positivists, they seem to correct their irreligion through the influence of love; and by a strange custom, which is, in spirit and fact, nothing less than adoring the departed and offering to the dead a singular sacrifice.

He who has no house finds a home in family and friends, whence it results that the Gipsy, despite his ferocious quarrels in the clan, and his sharp practice even with near relations, is—all things considered—perhaps the most devoted to kith and kin of any one in the world. His very name—rom, a husband—indicates it. His children, as almost every writer on him, from Grellmann down to the present day, has observed, are more thoroughly indulged and spoiled than any non-gipsy can conceive; and despite all the apparent contradictions caused by the selfishness born of poverty, irritable Eastern blood, and the eccentricity of semi-civilisation, I doubt if any man, on the whole, in the world, is more attached to his own.

It was only three or four hours ago, as I write, on the fifth day of February 1872, that a Gipsy said to me, "It is nine years since my wife died, and I would give all Anglaterra to have her again."

That the real religion of the Gipsies, as I have already observed, consists like that of the Comteists, in devotion to the dead, is indicated by a very extraordinary custom, which, notwithstanding the very general decay, of late years, of all their old habits, still prevails universally. This is the refraining from some usage or indulgence in honour of the departed—a sacrifice, as it were, to their manes—and I believe that, by inquiring, it will be found to exist among all Gipsies in all parts of the world. In England it is shown by observances which are maintained at great personal inconvenience, sometime for years, or during life. Thus, there are many Gipsies who, because a deceased brother was fond of spirits, have refrained, after his departure, from tasting them, or who have given up their favourite pursuits, for the reason that they were last indulged in, in company with the lost and loved one.

As a further illustration, I will give in the original Gipsy-language, as I myself took it down rapidly, but literally, the comments of a full-blooded Gipsy on this custom—the translation being annexed. I should state that the narrative which precedes his comments was a reply to my question, Why he invariably declined my offer of cigars?

"No; I never toovs cigaras, kek. I never toovs 'em kenna since my pal's chavo Job mullered. And I'll pooker tute how it welled."

"It was at the boro wellgooro where the graias prasters. I was kairin the paiass of the koshters, and mandy dicked a rye an' pookered him for a droppi levinor. 'Avali,' he penned, 'I'll del you levinor and a kushto tuvalo too.' 'Parraco,' says I, 'rya.' So he del mandy the levinor and a dozen cigaras. I pet em adree my poachy an' jailed apre the purge and latched odoi my pal's chavo, an' he pook'd mandy, 'Where you jallin to, kako?' And I penned: 'Job, I've lelled some covvas for tute.' 'Tacho,' says he—so I del him the cigaras. Penned he: 'Where did tute latcher 'em?' 'A rye del 'em a mandy.' So he pet em adree his poachy, an' pookered mandy, 'What'll tu lel to pi?' 'A droppi levinor.' So he penned, 'Pauli the grais prasters, I'll jal atut the puvius and dick tute.'

"Eight or nine divvuses pauli, at the K'allis's Gav, his pal welled to mandy and pookered mi Job sus naflo. And I penned, 'Any thing dush?' 'Worse nor dovo.' 'What is the covvo?' Says yuv, 'Mandy kaums tute to jal to my pal—don't spare the gry—mukk her jal!' So he del mi a fino grai, and I kistered eight mee so sig that I thought I'd mored her. An' I pet her dree the stanya, an' I jalled a lay in the puv and' odoi I dicked Job. 'Thank me Duvel!' penned he, 'Kako you's welled acai, and if mandy gets opre this bugni (for 'twas the bugni he'd lelled), I'll del tute the kushtiest gry that you'll beat sar the Romni chuls.' But he mullered.

"And he pens as he was mullerin. 'Kako, tute jins the cigarras you del a mandy?' 'Avali,' I says he, 'I've got 'em acai in my poachy.' Mandy and my pens was by him, but his romni was avree, adree the boro tan, bikinin covvas, for she'd never lelled the bugni, nor his chavos, so they couldn't well a dickin, for we wouldn't mukk em. And so he mullered.

"And when yuv's mullo I pet my wast adree his poachy and there mandy lastered the cigaras. And from dovo chairus, rya, mandy never tooved a cigar.

"Avali—there's adusta Romni chuls that kairs dovo. And when my juvo mullered, mandy never lelled nokengro kekoomi. Some chairuses in her jivaben, she'd lel a bitti nokengro avree my mokto, and when I'd pen, 'Deari juvo, what do you kair dovo for?' she pooker mandy, 'It's kushti for my sherro.' And so when she mullered mandy never lelled chichi sensus.

"Some mushis wont haw mass because the pal or pen that mullered was kammaben to it,—some wont pi levinor for panj or ten besh, some wont haw the kammaben matcho that the chavo hawed. Some wont haw puvengroes or pi tood, or haw pabos, and saw (sar) for the mullos.

"Some won't kair wardos or kil the boshomengro—'that's mandy's pooro chavo's gilli'—and some won't kel. 'No, I can't kel, the last time I kelled was with mandy's poor juvo that's been mullo this shtor besh.'

"'Come pal, let's jal an' have a drappi levinor—the boshomengri's odoi.' 'Kek, pal, kekoomi—I never pi'd a drappi levinor since my bibi's jalled.' 'Kushto—lel some tuvalo pal?' 'Kek—kek—mandy never tooved since minno juvo pelled a lay in the panni, and never jalled avree kekoomi a jivaben.' 'Well, let's jal and kair paiass with the koshters—we dui'll play you dui for a pint o' levinor.' 'Kek—I never kaired the paiass of the koshters since my dadas mullered—the last chairus I ever played was with him.'

"And Lena, the juva of my pal's chavo, Job, never hawed plums a'ter her rom mullered."

(TRANSLATION).—"No, I never smoke cigars. No; I never smoke them now since my brother's son Job died. And I'll tell you how it came.

"It was at the great fair where the horses run (i.e., the races), I was keeping a cock-shy, and I saw a gentleman, and asked him for a drop of ale. 'Yes,' he said, 'I'll give you ale, and a good smoke too.' 'Thank you,' says I, 'Sir.' So he gave me the ale, and a dozen cigars. I put them in my pocket, and went on the road and found there my brother's son, and he asked me, 'Where (are) you going, uncle?' And I said: 'Job, I have something for you.' 'Good,' says he—so I gave him the cigars. He said: 'Where did you find them?' 'A gentleman gave them to me.' So he put them in his pocket, and asked me, 'What'll you take to drink?' 'A drop of ale.' So he said, 'After the horses (have) run I'll go across the field and see you.'

"Eight or nine days after, at Hampton Court, {53} his 'pal' came to me and told me that Job was ill. And I said, 'Anything wrong?' 'Worse nor that.' 'What is the affair?' Said he, 'I want you to go to my pal,—don't spare the horse—let her go!' So he gave me a fine horse, and I rode eight miles so fast that I thought I'd killed her. And I put her in the stable, and I went down into the field, and there I saw Job. 'Thank God!' said he; 'Uncle, you've come here; and if I get over this small-pox (for 'twas the smallpox he'd caught), I'll give you the best horse that you'll beat all the Gipsies.' But he died.

"And he says as he was dying, 'Uncle, you know the cigars you gave me?' 'Yes.' Says he, 'I've got 'em here in my pocket.' I and my sisters were by him, but his wife was outside in the great tent, selling things, for she never had the smallpox, nor his children, so they couldn't come to see, for we wouldn't let them. And so he died.

"And when he was dead, I put my hand in his pocket, and there I found the cigars. And from that time, Sir, I never smoked a cigar.

"Yes! there are plenty of Gipsies who do that. And when my wife died, I never took snuff again. Sometimes in her life she'd take a bit of snuff out (from) my box; and when I'd say, 'Dear wife, what do you do that for?' she'd tell me, 'It's good for my head.' And so when she died I never took any (none) since.

"Some men won't eat meat because the brother or sister that died was fond of (to) it; some won't drink ale for five or ten years; some won't eat the favourite fish that the child ate. Some won't eat potatoes, or drink milk, or eat apples; and all for the dead.

"Some won't play cards or the fiddle—'that's my poor boy's tune'—and some won't dance—'No, I can't dance, the last time I danced was with my poor wife (or girl) that's been dead this four years.'

"'Come, brother, let's go and have a drop of ale; the fiddler is there.' 'No, brother, I never drank a drop of ale since my aunt went (died).' 'Well, take some tobacco, brother?' 'No, no, I have not smoked since my wife fell in the water and never came out again alive.' 'Well, let's go and play at cock-shy, we two'll play you two for a pint o' ale.' 'No, I never played at cock-shy since my father died; the last time I played was with him.'

"And Lena, the wife of my nephew Job, never ate plums after her husband died."

This is a strange manner of mourning, but it is more effective than the mere wearing of black, since it is often a long-sustained and trying tribute to the dead. Its Oriental-Indian origin is apparent enough. But among the German Gipsies, who, I am firmly convinced, represent in language and customs their English brethren as the latter were three centuries ago, this reverence for the departed assumes an even deeper and more serious character. Mr Richard Liebich (Die Zigeuner, Leipzig, 1863), tells us that in his country their most sacred oath is Ap i mulende!—by the dead!—and with it may be classed the equally patriarchal imprecation, "By my father's hand!"

Since writing the foregoing sentence a very remarkable confirmation of the existence of this oath among English Gipsies, and the sacredness with which it is observed, came under my own observation. An elderly Gipsy, during the course of a family difficulty, declared to his sister that he would leave the house. She did not believe he would until he swore by his dead wife—by his "mullo juvo." And when he had said this, his sister promptly remarked: "Now you have sworn by her, I know you will do it." He narrated this to me the next day, adding that he was going to put a tent up, about a mile away, and live there. I asked him if he ever swore by his dead father, to which he said: "Always, until my wife died." This poor man was almost entirely ignorant of what was in the Bible, as I found by questioning him; but I doubt whether I know any Christian on whom a Bible oath would be more binding than was to him his own by the dead. To me there was something deeply moving in the simple earnestness and strangeness of this adjuration.

The German, like the older English Gipsies, carefully burn the clothes and bed of the deceased, and, indeed, most objects closely connected with them, and what is more extraordinary, evince their respect by carefully avoiding mentioning their names, even when they are borne by other persons or are characteristic of certain things. So that when a Gipsy maiden named Forella once died, her entire nation, among whom the trout had always been known only by its German designation, Forelle, at once changed the name, and, to this day it is called by them mulo madscho—the dead fish,—or at times lolo madscho—the red fish.

This is also the case among the English Gipsies. Wishing to have the exact words and views of a real Rommany on this subject, I made inquiry, and noted down his reply, which was literally as follows:—

"Avali; when Rommany chals or juvos are mullos, their pals don't kaum to shoon their navs pauli—it kairs 'em too bongo—so they're purabend to waver navs. Saw don't kair it—kek—but posh do, kenna. My chavo's nav was Horfer or Horferus, but the bitti chavis penned him Wacker. Well, yeck divvus pre the wellgooro o' the graias prasters, my juvo dicked a boro doll adree some hev of a buttika and penned, 'Dovo odoi dicks just like moro Wacker!' So we penned him Wackerdoll, but a'ter my juvo mullered I rakkered him Wacker again, because Wackerdoll pet mandy in cammoben o' my poor juvo."

In English: "Yes. When Gipsy men or women die, their friends don't care to hear their names again—it makes them too sad, so they are changed to other names. All don't do it—no—but half of them do so still. My boy's name was Horfer or Horferus (Orpheus), but the children called him Wacker. Well, one day at the great fair of the races, my wife saw a large doll in some window of a shop, and said, 'That looks just like our Wacker!' So we called him Wackerdoll, but after my wife died I called him Wacker again, because Wackerdoll put me in mind of my poor wife."

When further interrogated on the same subject, he said:

"A'ter my juva mullered, if I dicked a waver rakli with lakis'nav, an' mandy was a rakkerin laki, mandy'd pen ajaw a waver geeri's nav, an rakker her by a waver nav:—dovo's to pen I'd lel some bongonav sar's Polly or Sukey. An' it was the sar covva with my dades nav—if I dicked a mush with a nav that simmed leskers, mandy'd rakker him by a waver nav. For 'twould kair any mush wafro to shoon the navyas of the mullas a't 'were cammoben to him."

Or in English, "After my wife died, if I saw another girl with her name, and I was talking to her, I'd speak another woman's name, and call her by another name; that's to say, I'd take some nick-name, such as Polly or Sukey. And it was the same thing with my father's name—if I saw a man with a name that was the same as his (literally, 'that samed his'), I'd call him by another name. For 'twould make any man grieve (lit. 'bad') to hear the names of the dead that were dear to him."

I suppose that there are very few persons, not of Gipsy blood, in England, to whom the information will not be new, that there are to be found everywhere among us, people who mourn for their lost friends in this strange and touching manner.

Another form of respect for the departed among Gipsies, is shown by their frequently burying some object of value with the corpse, as is, however, done by most wild races. On questioning the same Gipsy last alluded to, he spoke as follows on this subject, I taking down his words:—

"When Job mullered and was chivved adree the puv, there was a nevvi kushto-dickin dui chakkas pakkered adree the mullo mokto. Dighton penned a mandy the waver divvus, that trin thousand bars was gavvered posh yeck o' the Chilcotts. An I've shooned o' some Stanleys were buried with sonnakai wongashees apre langis wastos. 'Do sar the Rommany chals kair adovo?' Kek. Some chivs covvas pash the mullos adree the puv, and boot adusta don't."

In English: "When Job died and was buried, there was a new beautiful pair of shoes put in the coffin (lit. corpse-box). Dighton told me the other day, that three thousand pounds were hidden with one of the Chilcotts. And I have heard of some Stanleys who were buried with gold rings on their fingers. 'Do all the Gipsies do that?' No! some put things with the dead in the earth, and many do not."

Mr Liebich further declares, that while there is really nothing in it to sustain the belief, this extraordinary reverence and regard for the dead is the only fact at all indicating an idea of the immortality of the soul which he has ever found among the Gipsies; but, as he admits, it proves nothing. To me, however, it is grimly grotesque, when I return to the disciples of Comte—the Positivists—the most highly cultivated scholars of the most refined form of philosophy in its latest stage, and find that their ultimate and practical manifestation of la religion, is quite the same as that of those unaffected and natural Positivists, the Gipsies. With these, as with the others, our fathers find their immortality in our short-lived memories, and if among either, some one moved by deep love—as Auguste was by the eyes of Clotilda—has yearned for immortality with the dear one, and cursed in agony Annihilation, he falls upon the faith founded in ancient India, that only that soul lives for ever which has done so much good on earth, as to leave behind it in humanity, ineffaceable traces of its elevation.

Verily, the poor Gipsies would seem, to a humourist, to have been created by the devil, whose name they almost use for God, a living parody and satanic burlesque of all that human faith, doubt, or wisdom, have ever accomplished in their highest forms. Even to the weakest minded and most uninformed manufacturers of "Grellmann-diluted" pamphlets, on the Gipsies, their parallel to the Jews is most apparent. All over the world this black and God-wanting shadow dances behind the solid Theism of "The People," affording proof that if the latter can be preserved, even in the wildest wanderings, to illustrate Holy Writ—so can gipsydom—for no apparent purpose whatever. How often have we heard that the preservation of the Jews is a phenomenon without equal? And yet they both live—the sad and sober Jew, the gay and tipsy Gipsy, Shemite and Aryan—the one so ridiculously like and unlike the other, that we may almost wonder whether Humour does not enter into the Divine purpose and have its place in the Destiny of Man. For my own part, I shall always believe that the Heathen Mythology shows a superiority to any other, in one conception—that of Loki, who into the tremendous upturnings of the Universe always inspires a grim grotesqueness; a laughter either diabolic or divine.

Judaism, which is pre-eminently the principle of religious belief:—the metaphysical emancipation and enlightenment of Germany, and the materialistic positivism of France, are then, as I have indicated, nowhere so practically and yet laughably illustrated as by the Gipsy. Free from all the trammels of faith, and, to the last degree, indifferent and rationalistic, he satisfies the demands of Feuerbach; devoted to the positive and to the memory of the dead, he is the ideal of the greatest French philosophy, while as a wanderer on the face of the earth—not neglectful of picking up things en route—he is the rather blurred facsimile of the Hebrew, the main difference in the latter parallel being that while the Jews are God's chosen people, the poor Gipsies seem to have been selected as favourites by that darker spirit, whose name they have naively substituted for divinity:—Nomen et omen.

I may add, however, in due fairness, that there are in England some true Gipsies of unmixed blood, who—it may be without much reflection—have certainly adopted ideas consonant with a genial faith in immortality, and certain phases of religion. The reader will find in another chapter a curious and beautiful Gipsy custom recorded, that of burning an ash fire on Christmas-day, in honour of our Saviour, because He was born and lived like a Gipsy; and one day I was startled by bearing a Rom say "Miduvel hatch for mandy an' kair me kushto."—My God stand up for me and make me well. "That" he added, in an explanatory tone, "is what you say when you're sick." These instances, however, indicate no deep-seated conviction, though they are certainly curious, and, in their extreme simplicity, affecting. That truly good man, the Rev. James Crabb, in his touching little book, "The Gipsies' Advocate," gave numbers of instances of Gipsy conversions to religion and of real piety among them, which occurred after their minds and feelings had been changed by his labours; indeed, it would seem as if their lively imaginations and warm hearts render them extremely susceptible to the sufferings of Jesus. But this does not in the least affect the extraordinary truth that in their nomadic and natural condition, the Gipsies, all the world over, present the spectacle, almost without a parallel, of total indifference to, and ignorance of, religion, and that I have found true old-fashioned specimens of it in England.

I would say, in conclusion, that the Rev. James Crabb, whose unaffected and earnest little book tells its own story, did much good in his own time and way among the poor Gipsies; and the fact that he is mentioned to the present day, by them, with respect and love, proves that missionaries are not useless, nor Gipsies ungrateful—though it is almost the fashion with too many people to assume both positions as rules without exceptions.


A Gipsy's Letter to his Sister.—Drabbing Horses.—Fortune Telling.—Cock Shys.—"Hatch 'em pauli, or he'll lel sar the Covvas!"—Two German Gipsy Letters.

I shall give in this chapter a few curious illustrations of Gipsy life and character, as shown in a letter, which is illustrated by two specimens in the German Rommany dialect.

With regard to the first letter, I might prefix to it, as a motto, old John Willett's remark: "What's a man without an imagination?" Certainly it would not apply to the Gipsy, who has an imagination so lively as to be at times almost ungovernable; considering which I was much surprised that, so far as I know, the whole race has as yet produced only one writer who has distinguished himself in the department of fiction—albeit he who did so was a giant therein—I mean John Bunyan.

And here I may well be allowed an unintended digression, as to whether Bunyan were really a Gipsy. In a previous chapter of this work, I, with little thought of Bunyan, narrated the fact that an intelligent tinker, and a full Gipsy, asked me last summer in London, if I thought that the Rommany were of the Ten Tribes of Israel? When John Bunyan tells us explicitly that he once asked his father whether he and his relatives were of the race of the Israelites—he having then never seen a Jew—and when he carefully informs his readers that his descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, "my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land," there remains no rational doubt whatever that Bunyan was indeed a Rom of the Rommany. "Applico" of which, as my own special and particular Gipsy is wont to say—it is worth noting that the magician Shakespeare, who knew everything, showed himself superior to many modern dramatists in being aware that the tinkers of England had, not a peculiar cant, but a special language.

And now for the letters. One day Ward'engro of the K'allis's Gav, asked me to write him a letter to his daughter, in Rommany. So I began to write from his dictation. But being, like all his race, unused to literary labour, his lively imagination continually led him astray, and as I found amusement in his so doing, it proved to be an easy matter to induce him to wander off into scenes of gipsy life, which, however edifying they might be to my reader, would certainly not have the charm of novelty to the black-eyed lady to whom they were supposed to be addressed. However, as I read over from time to time to my Rommany chal what I had written, his delight in actually hearing his own words read from writing, partook of all the pride of successful authorship—it was, my dear sir, like your delight over your first proof sheet.

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