Sinfye, Sinfye! how do you do? Daughter of Rome, good day to you! What are you thinking here to do?
After a time the evil practices of the Gypsies began to be noised about, and terrible laws were enacted against people "using the manner of Egyptians"--Chies were scourged by dozens, Chals hung by scores. Throughout the reign of Elizabeth there was a terrible persecution of the Gypsy race; far less, however, on account of the crimes which they actually committed, than from a suspicion which was entertained that they harboured amidst their companies priests and emissaries of Rome, who had come to England for the purpose of sowing sedition and inducing the people to embrace again the old discarded superstition. This suspicion, however, was entirely without foundation. The Gypsies call each other brother and sister, and are not in the habit of admitting to their fellowship people of a different blood and with whom they have no sympathy. There was, however, a description of wandering people at that time, even as there is at present, with whom the priests, who are described as going about, sometimes disguised as serving-men, sometimes as broken soldiers, sometimes as shipwrecked mariners, would experience no difficulty in associating, and with whom, in all probability, they occasionally did associate--the people called in Acts of Parliament sturdy beggars and vagrants, in the old cant language Abraham men, and in the modern Pikers. These people have frequently been confounded with the Gypsies, but are in reality a distinct race, though they resemble the latter in some points. They roam about like the Gypsies, and, like them, have a kind of secret language. But the Gypsies are a people of Oriental origin, whilst the Abrahamites are the scurf of the English body corporate. The language of the Gypsies is a real language, more like the Sanscrit than any other language in the world; whereas the speech of the Abrahamites is a horrid jargon, composed for the most part of low English words used in an allegorical sense--a jargon in which a stick is called a crack; a hostess, a rum necklace; a bar-maid, a dolly-mort; brandy, rum booze; a constable, a horny. But enough of these Pikers, these Abrahamites. Sufficient to observe that if the disguised priests associated with wandering companies it must have been with these people, who admit anybody to their society, and not with the highly exclusive race the Gypsies.
For nearly a century and a half after the death of Elizabeth the Gypsies seem to have been left tolerably to themselves, for the laws are almost silent respecting them. Chies, no doubt, were occasionally scourged for cauring, that is filching gold and silver coins, and Chals hung for grychoring, that is horse-stealing; but those are little incidents not much regarded in Gypsy merripen. They probably lived a life during the above period tolerably satisfactory to themselves--they are not an ambitious people, and there is no word for glory in their language--but next to nothing is known respecting them. A people called Gypsies are mentioned, and to a certain extent treated of, in two remarkable works--one a production of the seventeenth, the other of the eighteenth century--the first entitled the 'English Rogue, or the Adventures of Merriton Latroon,' the other the 'Life of Bamfield Moore Carew'; but those works, though clever and entertaining, and written in the raciest English, are to those who seek for information respecting Gypsies entirely valueless, the writers having evidently mistaken for Gypsies the Pikers or Abrahamites, as the vocabularies appended to the histories, and which are professedly vocabularies of the Gypsy language, are nothing of the kind, but collections of words and phrases belonging to the Abrahamite or Piker jargon. At the commencement of the last century, and for a considerable time afterwards, there was a loud cry raised against the Gypsy women for stealing children. This cry, however, was quite as devoid of reason as the suspicion entertained of old against the Gypsy communities of harbouring disguised priests. Gypsy women, as the writer had occasion to remark many a long year ago, have plenty of children of their own, and have no wish to encumber themselves with those of other people. A yet more extraordinary charge was, likewise, brought against them--that of running away with wenches. Now, the idea of Gypsy women running away with wenches! Where were they to stow them in the event of running away with them? and what were they to do with them in the event of being able to stow them? Nevertheless, two Gypsy women were burnt in the hand in the most cruel and frightful manner, somewhat about the middle of the last century, and two Gypsy men, their relations, sentenced to be hanged, for running away with a certain horrible wench of the name of Elizabeth Canning, who, to get rid of a disgraceful burden, had left her service and gone into concealment for a month, and on her return, in order to account for her absence, said that she had been run away with by Gypsies. The men, however, did not undergo their sentence; for, ere the day appointed for their execution arrived, suspicions beginning to be entertained with respect to the truth of the wench's story, they were reprieved, and, after a little time, the atrocious creature, who had charged people with doing what they neither did nor dreamt of doing, was tried for perjury, convicted, and sentenced to transportation. Yet so great is English infatuation that this Canning, this Elizabeth, had a host of friends, who stood by her, and swore by her to the last, and almost freighted the ship which carried her away with goods, the sale of which enabled her to purchase her freedom of the planter to whom she was consigned, to establish herself in business, and to live in comfort, and almost in luxury, in the New World during the remainder of her life.
But though Gypsies have occasionally experienced injustice; though Patricos and Sherengroes were hanged by dozens in Elizabeth's time on suspicion of harbouring disguised priests; though Gypsy women in the time of the Second George, accused of running away with wenches, were scorched and branded, there can be no doubt that they live in almost continual violation of the laws intended for the protection of society; and it may be added, that in this illegal way of life the women have invariably played a more important part than the men. Of them, amongst other things, it may be said that they are the most accomplished swindlers in the world, their principal victims being people of their own sex, on whose credulity and superstition they practise. Mary Caumlo, or Lovel, was convicted a few years ago at Cardiff of having swindled a surgeon's wife of eighty pounds, under pretence of propitiating certain planets by showing them the money. Not a penny of the booty was ever recovered by the deluded victim; and the Caumli, on leaving the dock, after receiving sentence of a year's imprisonment, turned round and winked to some brother or sister in court, as much as to say: "Mande has gared the luvvu; mande is kek atugni for the besh's starripen"--"I have hid the money, and care nothing for the year's imprisonment." Young Rawnie P. of N., the daughter of old Rawnie P., suddenly disappeared with the whole capital of an aged and bedridden gentlewoman, amounting to nearly three hundred pounds, whom she had assured that if she were intrusted with it for a short time she should be able to gather certain herbs, from which she could make decoctions, which would restore to the afflicted gentlewoman all her youthful vigour. Mrs. Townsley of the Border was some time ago in trouble at Wick, only twenty-five miles distant from Johnny Groat's House, on a charge of fraudulently obtaining from a fisherman's wife one shilling, two half-crowns, and a five-pound note by promising to untie certain witch-locks, which she had induced her to believe were entwined in the meshes of the fisherman's net, and would, if suffered to remain, prevent him from catching a single herring in the Firth. These events occurred within the last few years, and are sufficiently notorious. They form a triad out of dozens of a similar kind, in some of which there are features so odd, so strangely droll, that indignation against the offence is dispelled by an irresistible desire to laugh.
But Gypsyism is declining, and its days are numbered. There is a force abroad which is doomed to destroy it, a force which never sleepeth either by day or night, and which will not allow the Roman people rest for the soles of their feet. That force is the Rural Police, which, had it been established at the commencement instead of towards the middle of the present century, would have put down Gypsyism long ago. But, recent as its establishment has been, observe what it has produced. Walk from London to Carlisle, but neither by the road's side, nor on heath or common, will you see a single Gypsy tent. True Gypsyism consists in wandering about, in preying upon the Gentiles, but not living amongst them. But such a life is impossible in these days; the Rural Force will not permit it. "It is a hard thing, brother," said old Agamemnon Caumlo to the writer, several years ago; "it is a hard thing, after one has pitched one's little tent, lighted one's little fire, and hung one's kettle by the kettle-iron over it to boil, to have an inspector or constable come up, and say, 'What are you doing here? Take yourself off, you Gypsy dog!'" A hard thing, indeed, old Agamemnon; but there is no help for it. You must e'en live amongst the Gorgios. And for years past the Gypsies have lived amongst the Gorgios, and what has been the result? They do not seem to have improved the Gentiles, and have certainly not been improved by them. By living amongst the Gentiles they have, to a certain extent, lost the only two virtues they possessed. Whilst they lived apart on heaths and commons, and in shadowy lanes, the Gypsy women were paragons of chastity, and the men, if not exactly patterns of sobriety, were, upon the whole, very sober fellows. Such terms, however, are by no means applicable to them at the present day. Sects and castes, even of thieves and murderers, can exist as long as they have certain virtues, which give them a kind of respect in their own eyes; but, losing those virtues, they soon become extinct. When the salt loses its savour, what becomes of it? The Gypsy salt has not altogether lost its savour, but that essential quality is every day becoming fainter, so that there is every reason to suppose that within a few years the English Gypsy caste will have disappeared, merged in the dregs of the English population.
There are many curious things connected with the Gypsies, but perhaps nothing more so than what pertains to their names. They have a double nomenclature, each tribe or family having a public and a private name, one by which they are known to the Gentiles, and another to themselves alone. Their public names are quite English; their private ones attempts, some of them highly singular and uncouth, to render those names by Gypsy equivalents. Gypsy names may be divided into two classes, names connected with trades, and surnames or family names. First of all, something about trade names.
There are only two names of trades which have been adopted by English Gypsies as proper names, Cooper and Smith: these names are expressed in the English Gypsy dialect by Vardo-mescro and Petulengro. The first of these renderings is by no means a satisfactory one, as Vardo-mescro means a cartwright, or rather a carter. To speak the truth, it would be next to impossible to render the word 'cooper' into English Gypsy, or indeed into Gypsy of any kind; a cooper, according to the common acceptation of the word, is one who makes pails, tubs, and barrels, but there are no words in Gypsy for such vessels. The Transylvanian Gypsies call a cooper a bedra-kero or pail-maker, but bedra is not Gypsy, but Hungarian, and the English Gypsies might with equal propriety call a cooper a pail-engro. On the whole the English Gypsies did their best when they rendered 'cooper' into their language by the word for 'cartwright.'
Petulengro, the other trade name, is borne by the Gypsies who are known to the public by the English appellation of Smith. It is not very easy to say what is the exact meaning of Petulengro: it must signify, however, either horseshoe-fellow or tinker: petali or petala signifies in Gypsy a horseshoe, and is probably derived from the Modern Greek [Greek: ]; engro is an affix, and is either derived from or connected with the Sanscrit kara, to make, so that with great feasibility Petulengro may be translated horseshoe-maker. But bedel in Hebrew means 'tin,' and as there is little more difference between petul and bedel than between petul and petalon, Petulengro may be translated with almost equal feasibility by tinker or tin-worker, more especially as tinkering is a principal pursuit of Gypsies, and to jal petulengring signifies to go a-tinkering in English Gypsy. Taken, however, in either sense, whether as horseshoe-maker or tin- worker (and, as has been already observed, it must mean one or the other), Petulengro may be considered as a tolerably fair rendering of the English Smith.