THE GYPSY IN EUROPE
§ 1. The Gypsy in Hungary
THE Czigany, as they are called, appeared early in the fifteenth century, and were supposed to have fled from Moghol persecution. King Sigismund, father of the heroic John Hunyadi,l allowed them to settle in his realm, and the law called them “mere peasants.” In 1496 Bishop Sigismund at Fünf‑Kirchen ordered iron cannon‑balls from the Gypsies to be used against the Turkish invaders of Hungary; and he was doughtily supported against the Turks by King Zindelo, Dukes Miguel and Andrew, by Counts Manuel and Juan, by the “noble knight” Pedro, and by the chief Tomas Polgar.
1 Hence probably the Hungarian Hunyadis are popularly supposed to have Gypsy blood. John’s mother (A.D. 1400) is said to have been a fair Wallach, Elizabeth Marsinai, possibly of Romani blood. The legend of the boy recovering his unknown father’s ring from a plundering jackdaw, his appearance at Buda, and his receiving the gift of Hunyad town and sixty villages, is well known. The Turk’s bell was first heard in invaded Hungary during the reign of Sigismund. John Hunyadi drove them from Servia and Bosnia, and vainly proposed a league of Christian powers. When Corvinus passed away after a reign of forty‑two years, the lieges said of him, and still say, “King Matthias is dead, and Justice died with him.”
The reforms of 1848 found them in a state of slavery, adscripti glebæ, who could not legally take service away from their birthplace. Their condition was worse than that of the Wallach peasant, who says of his haughty Magyar Magnate, “A lord is a lord born in hell.” Some forty years ago Mr. Paget1 says Gypsies were exposed for sale in the neighbouring province of Wallachia. In the Hungary of the bad old régime the relation of the landowning peasant, however oppressive might have been his obligations, was never that of master and slave. If the agriculturist chose to give up his session‑lands, the ground he occupied by hereditary use, he could go where he pleased. Practically this was rare; it was equivalent to giving up his means of subsistence, and he preferred the tax‑paying while all the nobles went free, and the odious burden of the “Robot” corvée, or forced labour, two and in some cases three days a week. Hence he hated the military conscription, the only means of civilizing him established by Austria in 1849.2 But the Czigany, however deep‑rooted is his love of liberty, never
1 Hungary and Transylvania, 1839. Before 1848 the Church, the State, and the nobles were the only landowners; the peasant, however, had leave to occupy certain tracts (session‑lands) under his lord.
2 Mr. Andrew F. Crosse, Round about the Carpathians (Blackwoods, 1878), declares (p. 146) that this “conscription was enforced with every species of official brutality.” Austria was dealing with a conquered and a peculiar, stiff‑necked people. Lord Palmerston’s hatred of Austria was, we are told, the best passport to Hungarian sympathy.
preserved the modicum of freedom to which the Hungarian clung.
Though now legally free, the Czigany’s deep respect for everything aristocratic attaches him to the ruling caste. In Transylvania “Magyar” is a distinctive term for class as well as race. The Czigany who do not assimilate with the thrifty Saxons prefer to be mere hangers‑on at the castle of the Hungarian Magnate, as in England of old they take his name; and they profess the same faith—Catholic, Protestant, or nothing. Notwithstanding their incurable propensity for pilfering, they are trusted as messengers and carriers; like the old Spanish arriero, they form a general “parcels-delivery company.” And they are ubiquitous, for never a door is left unlocked lest a Gypsy will slip in and steal. In old days they were most efficient spies upon Christian and Muslim, and they trimmed between the twain to their own advantage. They also made the best of smugglers; they dug for treasure, and they washed for paillettes of gold the Transylvanian affluents of the Danube. At times they set out upon plundering excursions, which extended to Italy, France, and Spain. They are still accused of incendiarism by the Wallachs, who apparently thus seek to hide the malpractices resulting from their inordinate lust of revenge, the ugly survival of the savage character. These people forget that “curses, like chickens, come home to
roost,” and will play with fire even when it damages themselves.
The settled Gypsy’s dwelling is even more primitive than the Wallachs. The hut is formed, like the African’s, with plaited sticks, and swish is plastered into the gaps. Before the hut entrance often stands the nomad cart, two wheeled and tilted, and always stands the tripod supporting the iron pot—a sight, like the scarlet cloak, once familiar to us, but now disappeared from England. In time the earth is grass‑grown; and as the hovel is rarely more than seven feet high, it looks rather like an exaggerated ant‑hill or a tumulus than a habitation for man. Yet the ragged inmate, whose children go about in nature’s garb, is clever with his hands. He is the best blacksmith in the country, and he fashions simple wooden articles for household use with dexterity and even with taste. Despite his wretched surroundings, he keeps his good spirits, he sings to his work, and he plays the violin in his leisure hours.
I need hardly repeat the commonplaces about the music of the Hungarian Gypsy, and the legends concerning Catalani and Liszt. Strolling bands, in civilized attire, and performing upon divers instruments, are and have been for some time well known to the capitals of Europe. So great is the contrast between their art and their surroundings, that more than one traveller has suspected this mar‑
vellous gift of pathetic strains to be a “language brought with them in their exile from another and a higher state of existence.” I find in it only the marriage of Eastern with Western melody, the high science of the former, so little appreciated by the ignorant Anglo‑Indian, with the perfect practice of the latter.
Though utterly unalphabetic, these people have a strange power of stirring their hearers’ hearts. They play by ear, in style unsurpassed by the best training, the violin, the ’cello, and the zither, with which London is now familiarized. The airs, often their own, tell a thrilling national tale in a way that makes an indelible impression upon the stranger. Now it is the expression of turmoil, battle, and defeat, followed by a long wail of woe, of passionate grief, mostly in the minor key. Then it suddenly passes to the major in a wild burst of joy, of triumph, of exultation, of rapture, which carries along with it the hearer in irresistible sympathy. It has all the charm of contrast; of extremes, excitement and depression; subjection and deliverance, delight and despair. The strains rob the excitable Hungarian of his reason; he drinks in the music till he is drunk.
The Gypsy is capable of a noble self‑sacrifice, and Mr. Crosse tells a tale which proves it. He passed in a wild, romantic glen a steep, overhanging rock known throughout the land as the “Gypsy’s stone.”
About the middle of the last century, it is supposed, there was a famine; and the Czigany, poorer than their neighbours, were reduced to beg or starve. When turned away by certain hard‑hearted villagers, one poor fellow refused to go, declaring that his children were dying of hunger. “Then,” said one of the boors in a mocking tone, “I will give your family a side of bacon, if you will jump from that rock.” “You hear his promise!” cried the Czigan, appealing to the crowd. Without another word he rushed from amongst them, clambered up the rock, and took the leap, which was—death.
This is exactly what we might expect under the circumstances from a Hindu. The system of Badli—in plain English, paying a man to “take blame” and to be hanged for you—is the best proof.
It should be remembered that a Hungarian was the first to publish the “Indic origin” of the Romani tongue. At the end of 1765 an interesting communiqué was addressed to the Vienna Gazette by Captain Szekely de Doba. He related that the Protestant parson Stephen Vali while studying at Leyden made acquaintance with certain Malabar youths sent there by the Dutch Government, and their vernacular reminded him of the Gypsy tongue which he had heard in his home at Almasch. They also assured him that in Malabar there is a district called Zigania (?), which suggested a comparison with the German Zigeuner. At their
dictation he wrote down almost a thousand words, and returning to Almasch he was surprised to find the Czigan understanding them.
Then set in the first period (1775‑1800) of Sanskrit and Zend study, accompanied by publications of Bengali, Urdu, and others of the eighteen Prakrit tongues still spoken in the great Peninsula. This led to careful study of Romani. The celebrated Mezzofanti did not hesitate to assign it high rank amongst the thirty‑two languages he had studied; and when he lost his mind (1832) he never confounded it with other idioms. Then followed in 1837 the Gospel of St. Luke translated into Spanish Caló by “Gypsy Borrow,” who, however, inserted Castilian words from Father Scio instead of forming them from Gypsy roots.
§ 2. The Gypsies of Spain.
We have ample material for studying the Spanish Gypsy, or Flamanco, as he is contemptuously called, probably because he entered Andalusia in the train of the Flemings during the first third of the fifteenth century. Yet it is somewhat remarkable that Europe believed up to the end of that century the purely Spanish origin of the Gypsies.
Pasquier, describing the arrival of these “penitents” in Paris A.D. 1427, adds that from that time all France was infested by these vagabonds, but that the
first horde was replaced by the Biscayan and other peoples of the same origin. This suggests an early occupation of the Peninsula; although Francisca de Cordova in his Didasculia declared they were first known in Germany, and the general belief now is that the last horde entered Europe by the highroads of Andalusia and Bulgaria, or rather Greece, and they must have been settled for many years in these countries.
Northern Spaniards find in Andalusian blood a distinct Gypsy innervation.
In Spain, as elsewhere, the Gypsy made himself hated by his systematic contempt of the laws of meum and teum; whilst he was protected by two widely different conditions: the first was his poverty (“As poor as a Gypsy” is still a proverb); secondly, he was a spy equally useful to Christian and unbeliever. Yet action was not wanting. In 1499 was published the Gran Pragmatica (Royal Ordinance) of Medina del Campo, under the influence of a fanatic archbishop, banishing on and after the term of sixty days the Egyptian and foreign tinkers (caldereros), and forbidding return under pain of mutilation. This Pragmatica was renewed under Charles V. by the Cortes of Toledo and of Madrid, with the additional punishment of perpetual slavery for those found wandering a third time. Yet in 1560, on his marriage at Toledo with Isabelle of France, Gypsy dances formed part of the festivities. He was com‑
paratively mild, and after moderating the old rigorous laws he ordered the outcasts to live in towns. In 1586 the same king allowed them to sell their goods at ten fairs and markets under certain conditions.
These nomads picked up information from all classes, and the women, with their black magic, sorcery, and devilry, palmistry, love‑potions, and poisons, penetrated into every secret. The Holy Office, established in January, 1481, disdained to persecute such paupers; and the strong arm of the law could not do more than hang a few witches. Ticknor remarks: “Encouraged by the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, also by that of the Moors in 1609‑11, Dr. Sancho de Moncada, a professor in the University of Toledo, addressed Philip III. in a discourse published in 1619, urging that monarch to drive out the Gypsies, but he failed.”
Another authority says that he himself, 1618, had prepared a memorial to that effect, adding, “It is very vicious to tolerate such a pernicious and perverse race.” Cordova, writing in 1615, accused them of preparing, some years before, an organized attack upon Sogrovo town when the pest raged, and declares that it was saved from such by the arts of a certain wizard who had mysterious relations with the vagabonds.
The charges of cannibalism became universal, founded probably upon the fact that Gypsies do not disdain the flesh of animals poisoned by them.
That many of the persecuted outcasts were compelled to fly the country we shall see presently in the Morerias of Brazil; and when religious zeal cooled down, political interests took its place, and led to the great legal persecution. Philip IV. in 1633 prohibited the Gypsy dress and dialect, expelled them from the Ghettos, and by rendering intermarriage illegal aimed at fusing the vagrants with other subjects. In 1692 Charles II. ordered them to practise nothing but agriculture. The decree was renewed in 1695, and article 16 threatened punishment to all, gentle and simple, who aided and abetted them. Philip V. in 1726 banished from Madrid certain Gypsy women who had petitioned in favour of their persecuted husbands. Nineteen years afterwards (1745) he ordered the fugitives to return to his dominions under pain of fire and steel, denying to them even the right of asylum in sacred places. This terrible decree was renewed in 1746‑49.
Better days now began to dawn. The racial hatred and brutality suffered by the Gypsies became by slow degrees to be considered the abrogations of past ages. Already, in 1783, Don Carlos of Spain followed the Emperor Joseph of Germany, 1782, and revoked the ultra‑Draconian laws which aimed at the extinction of a people, and substituted decrees contrasting strongly with the Pragmatica of 1499; he even threatened pains and penalties to those who hindered the Gypsies in their occupations. In fact,
the Gitano, no longer the Egipciano, was allowed intermarriage with his caste, his family rights were recognized, and he was allowed to choose his own trade. He was forbidden only to wear any special dress, to display his language in public, or to exercise the ignoble parts of his calling. Briefly, after having been for centuries of persecution a social pariah, he became a subject. The change must be attributed only to the French philosophical school, and the works of the encyclopedists, which presently led to the greatest beneffis of modern ages, the first French Revolution of 1789. It made men and citizens where it found serfs and slaves.
These humanitarian measures bore their natural consequences. Under the effect of toleration the Gypsies lost much of the savage wildness which distinguished them in the depths of the Toledo Mountains, the Sierra Morena, and the wild Alpujarras. They Rocked to the valleys of the Ebro, the Tagus, and the Guadiana, where many, waxing rich and caring little for a community of goods, lost much of their devotion to caste and their fear and horror of their Christian fellow‑citizens. And the grey‑beards did not fail to complain that the Zincálo was speedily becoming a Gacho or a Busno, opprobrious terms applied to non‑Gypsies.
The Gitanos of Spain are supposed to number from fifty to sixty thousand, and the increased toleration of society is rapidly concentrating them into the great
towns. They abound in Madrid, Cadiz, Malaga, Granada, Cordova, Ciudad Real, Murcia, Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Valladolid, and Badajoz. In parts of Upper Aragon and the Alpujarras Mountains they are troglodytes rather than nomad hordes. Even in the northern provinces, Old Castile, Asturias, and Galicia, where they formerly were most hated and feared, they are now freely allowed to settle. A complete assimilation is expected from the position which they have acquired in places like Cadiz and Malaga. They are beginning to educate themselves in a country where hardly 20 per cent. can read, and where a grandee of the last generation was a kind of high‑caste chalan (horse‑cooper) or torero (bull‑fighter)—the Gitano’s peculiar trades. Though they preserve the Gypsy tradition, some of them traffic largely in cattle and own extensive butcheries; they keep inns and taverns; they deal with the chief merchants; and they live in luxury. Gitanos of the poorer classes buy and barter animals; act jockeys and race‑riders; people the bull‑ring (especially in Andalusia); work nails and ironmongery, as at Granada and Cordova; and plait the coloured baskets for which Murcia, Valencia, and Barcelona are famous. Their women sell poultry and old rags; prepare buns (buñuelos) and black puddings (morcillas de sangre); engage themselves as tavern cooks; are excellent smugglers; and find in interpreting dreams, in philter‑selling, and in fortune‑
telling the most lucrative industries. They sing and play various instruments, accompanying the music with the most voluptuous and licentious dances and attitudes; but woe to the man who would obtain from these Bayaderes any boon beyond their provocative exhibition. From the Indus to Gibraltar the contrast of obscenity in language and in songs with corporal chastity—a lacha ye drupo, “body shame,” as they term it—has ever been a distinctive characteristic. No brothel in Europe can boast of containing a Gypsy woman.* The mother carefully watches and teaches her child to preserve the premices for the Rom, the Gypsy husband. At marriages they preserve the old Jewish and Muslim rite, that disappeared from Spain only with the accession of the house of Austria. Even Isabella of Castile, when she was married at Valladolid to Ferdinand of Aragon, allowed her “justificative proofs” to be displayed before the wedding‑guest. Gypsy marriages, like those of the high‑caste Hindus, entail ruinous expense; the revelry lasts three days; the “Gentile” is freely invited; and the profusion of meats and drinks often makes the bridegroom a debtor for life. I have explained this practice in Hindustan as the desire to prove that the first marriage is the marriage.
The Spanish Gypsies are remarkable for beauty
[* The brothels of Buda‑Pesth and other large cities of Austro-Hungary have often one Gypsy woman among their inmates.]
in early youth: for magnificent eyes and hair, regular features, light and well‑knit figures, easy gait, and graceful bearing. Their locks, like the Hindus, are lamp‑black, and without a sign of wave; and they preserve the characteristic eye. The form is perfect, and it has an especial look to which is attributed the power of engendering grandes passions—one of the privileges of the eye. I have often remarked its fixity and brilliance, which flashes like phosphoric light, the gleam which in some eyes denotes madness. I have also noted the “far‑off look” which seems to gaze at something beyond you, and the alternation from the fixed stare to a glazing or filming over of the pupil.1 Hence the English song:
A Gypsy stripling’s glossy (?) eye
Has pierced my bosom’s core,
A feat no eye beneath the sky
Could e’er effect before.
And in Spain it is remarked that the Gypsy man often makes a conquest of the Busno’s wife.
The women are more voluble in language and licentious in manners than the men. These characteristics, combined with the most absolute repulsion for other favours, even to the knife, explain
1 I find my opinion confirmed by an older observer: “The peculiarity of the Gypsy eye consists chiefly in a strange, staring expression, which, to be understood, must be seen, and in a thin glaze which steals over it when in repose, and seems to emit phosphoric light” (The Gypsies, by Samuel Roberts).
how many sons of grandees and great officials took part in the nightly orgies and by day favoured the proscribed caste. Moreover, the Gitana protected herself by the possession of family secrets. Besides soothsaying and philter‑selling, she had a store of the Raiz del buen Baron (the goodman’s, i.e. the devil’s, root), alias Satan’s herb, which relieved incommodious burdens. At fairs, while the husbands were chapping and chaffering, the good‑wives made Money by the process called coger á la mano (to catch in hand); that is, pilfering coins by sleight during the process of exchanging. Amongst other malpractices is one called in Romani Youjano báro (the great trick), translated gran socaliña (great trick) by Jermimo de Alcalá in his novel the Historia de Alonzo, mozo de muchos amos (a youth with many uncles), written in the early seventeenth century. Rich and covetous widows were persuaded to deposit jewels and money in dark and unfrequented places, with the idea of finding buried treasure. Useless to say that the Gypsy woman was the only gainer by the transaction.
We read that the old Gypsy dress was repeatedly forbidden by law; but Spanish tradition preserves no memory of what the dress was. I have little doubt that the immigrants of the fifteenth century had retained to some extent the Hindu costume, the Pagrí (head‑cloth) and the Dhoti (waist‑cloth). So in Moscow I have seen the Gypsy dancing‑girls
assume the true toilette of the Hindustani Nachni, the Choli, or bodice, and the Peshwáz, or petticoat of many folds. Some writers imagine that the “picturesque vagabonds,” Calós, had borrowed their peculiar garb from the Moors.
In these days the well‑to‑do Spanish Rom affects the Andalusian costume, more or less rich. He delights in white linen, especially the “biled shirt,” often frilled and embroidered. The materials are linen and cotton, silk, plush, velvet, and broadcloth. The favourite tints are blue, red, and marking colours. The short jacket or pelisse (zamarra) is embroidered and adorned with frogs (alamares) or large silver buttons; the waistcoat is mostly red, and a sash of crimson silk with fringed ends supports the waist; the overalls narrow at the ankle, where they meet boots or buskins (borcegúies), slippers or sandals (alpargatas). Finally, the long lank locks, which hang somewhat like the Polish Jew’s along the cheeks, are crowned with the Gypsy sombrero or porkpie, and sometimes with the red Catalan gorro (bonnet), not unlike the glengarry.
The Romi also has retained the dress worn till lately in Andalusia, and now gradually becoming obsolete. The gleaming hair is gathered in a Diana knot at the neck, and lit up with flowers of the gaudiest hue; it lies in bands upon the temples, and the whole is often covered with an embroidered kerchief. A cloak of larger or lesser dimensions
thrown over the shoulders hardly conceals the bodice and the short, skimpy petticoat (saya), which is embroidered, adorned with bunches of ribbons, trimmings, and other cheap finery.
The Spanish Gypsies have not preserved, like the Hungarian, their old habit of long expeditions for begging and plundering purposes. Consequently they have lost the practice of the Pateran or Trail, the road‑marks by which they denote direction. These are fur twigs, or similar heaps of newly gathered grass disposed at short distances. At cross‑roads the signs are placed on the right side of that followed. Sometimes they trace upon the ground a cross whose longer arm shows the way, or they nail one stake to another. The Norwegian Gypsies trace with their whips a mark on the snow called Faano; it resembles a sack with a shut mouth. In the course of ages they have lost that marvellous power of following the spoor which their kinsmen on the Indus preserve to perfection. They retain a peculiarly shrill whistle, for which the Guanches were famous. By the signs and the whistles two parties could communicate with each other; and if anything particular occurred, messengers were sent to report it.
The Gypsy language was looked upon as a mere conventional jargon, and its Indian origin, as has been shown elsewhere, was not recognized before the middle of last century. It was, moreover, con‑
founded with the Germania (Thieves’ Latin), whose vocabulary, collected by Juan Hidalgo of Saragona, has found its way into the Diccionario de la Academia. The only Gypsy words it contains are those borrowed from the Caló by the bullies and ruffians of the days of Quevedo. Many corruptions and barbarisms, however, have been introduced into books by pseudo-literati of “white blood,” who prided themselves upon their knowledge of Romani. For instance, Meriden means Coral; and as in Spanish reduplication of the consonant changes the word, an inventor, in order to express Corral (Curral, Kraal, cattle‑yard), produced the most barbarous term Merridden. This was the work of aficionados (fanciers) like the Augustine friar Manso de Sevilla in the Cartuja or Carthusian convent of Jirez, whose famous breed of horses brought them into direct communication with the Gypsies. Happily, however, the language was spoken, not written; and thus, as Mr. Buckle held of legend and tradition, its purity was preserved.
Gypsy verse is generally improvised to the twanging and tapping of the guitar, sometimes to the guitar and castanet, and oftentimes without music. Much that has been printed appears to be of that spurious kind unintelligible to the Gypsies themselves. The favourite form is in quartettes, more or less carefully rhymed; they are impressed upon the hearers’ memory; and thus they pass from mouth
to mouth throughout Spain. Borrow gives a few translations of Gypsy songs in Romani. The Cantes Flamancos of Demófico, in phonetic Andalusian, chanted at the fairs and markets, in the cafés and ventas, the streets and alleys of Seville, date from the last century. The poetry is weak, the moral is not always irreproachable; but the sentiment is strong and touching. These Cantes are sung by many a tailor and many a barber who have not a drop of Gypsy blood in their veins. They can hardly be accepted as genuine Gypsy work.