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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 238-242.




AN artist friend of mine, who was engaged in the composition of a large picture, representing a gypsy camp, told me that he had travelled in America some hundreds of miles in search of these singular people, who, it seems, have at last crossed the Atlantic, and now form a new element in our heterogeneous population. But, like Evangeline, he never found more than the place where they had been. Gypsies are a wandering race, and have an instinct of moving from place to place — probably a little quickened by a wholesome fear of the town constable. The artist also informed me that, at present, gypsies are becoming quite numerous here, and that already there are two kings of the gypsies controlling two branches of this vagabond race in this country. I ventured to suggest that this idea of their being numerous was probably owing to the fact that they wandered about, and so were counted several times over, like the Irishman’s flea. However, be it as it may, he never found his encampment; and began his sketch from recollections of those he had seen so many times in Europe.

It was during one of the loveliest days in our Indian Summer that I had occasion to ride across Westchester 239 County, to see a gentleman upon business. The leaves had not yet wholly deserted the trees, but the branches were becoming visible on them. A profusion of the most brilliant hues met the eye at every turn. Every leaf twinkled like a colored jewel in the sunlight; and the peculiar blue haze of vapor that rolls up from the moist earth, hung like a silvery veil over the distant landscape, and added its contrasting charms to the rich colors of the foreground. At last the waters of the Sound appeared in the distance, and I had reached the end of my journey. Passing the gate-lodge to an extensive domain, I rode through a natural wood of huge oaks and maples, magnificent in gorgeous colors, until I came to a turn in the road occasioned by a sharp, edgy granite rock that intruded itself directly in the way at this point; and, turning this huge obstacle, I came in view of something that filled me with surprise and delight. It was a gypsy camp.

As I had not time to examine it — and, indeed, it seemed to be entirely deserted — I rode onward rapidly, to finish the object of my journey first, determining to pay it a visit on my return. On my arrival, I found the ladies of the mansion-house not a little excited about their strange visitors. They only wanted to pluck up a little courage, and then they would go to-morrow and investigate the mysteries of palmistry, although there was some little financial difficulty in the way; for in order to insure good luck, you know, you must first cross the gypsy’s palm with a silver sixpence, — and, alas! where was a silver sixpence to be found?

As I rode homeward I had occasion to observe that my 240 friend’s domains were, in some places, more extensive than valuable. The rising grounds were covered with gigantic forest trees, through which the road wound in beautiful undulations, bringing into view picturesque glimpses of nature, seemingly as if the owner had made all the studies for effect peculiar to an English park. After threading a mile or more of this forest landscape, the road opened upon extensive salt marshes, perfectly level, and extending out to the waters of the Sound and the horizon line. The sun, now sinking in the west, appeared like a vast bonfire, amidst glowing clouds, and its ruddy light flushed the surface of the meadows, illuminating every pool and winding water creek, with gleams of crimson flame. Another turn in the road, and passing through a clump of trees, I rode into the camp. It was pitched on the inside of the huge gray rock I spoke of, over which hung a few scattered maples in all the glory of foliage peculiar to the Indian Summer. The vast marshes, spreading out to the horizon line, added repose and solitude to the scene. On the side opposite the rock, and beyond the tent, a struggling array of leafless bushes were arrayed with a great variety of old frippery, and portions of children’s dresses hung out to dry — a perfect harlequinade of brilliant colors; and near the tent a group of children in motley, with a couple of gypsy women seated on the ground, dressed with that peculiar taste for picturesque costume for which the race has been so often noted, formed a composition which no beholder with the least emotion for art could look at without feeling an exquisite sense of pleasure.

They were English gypsies; the women with the peculiar 241 charm of complexion of the race, — clear olive, with a blush of red in the cheeks; fine forms, but slender and diminutive; fine features, bright black eyes, and teeth which might have been white but for the tobacco pipe. Like the Jews, the gypsies are a race, but not a nation. But while the Jews usually have fixed abodes, these are the true apostles of the ancient and honorable fraternity of vagabonds. By profession they are tinkers, farriers, poachers, mountebanks, fortune-tellers, beggars, thieves, and sometimes worse.

To no people doe the term outcast so properly belong. Formerly it was supposed they came from “Egypt,” and hence the name they bore; but in the secret language of the gypsy tribes, no word of Coptic is to be found, while many of Hindostanee, or even Sanscrit, can be traced, showing clearly their Asiatic origin. And here they are, thrown by the wave of over-populous Europe upon this western hemisphere. A people who have lived under all forms of government, and yet subject to their own laws; under all religions, yet preserving only some relics of Asiatic superstitions; amidst all languages, yet speaking among themselves the language of the East; ignorant of dictionaries and vocabularies, yet teaching this mysterious tongue, until it has become the thieves’ language all over the world. No laws can restrain them, no benevolence reclaim them, no temptation of wealth and ease can induce them to adopt a fixed residence, but ever to wander is their lot. Living in the midst of nations of mixed races which have become homogeneous by intermarriage, these singular people preserve the pure blood of the Hindoo for 242 thousands of generations, and with it an instinctive habit of laziness, of trickery, of voluptuousness. Strange people! What effect will America, that great amalgam of strange peoples, have upon you? Will you too, gypsies! become Americans and fight for the old flag? Never! As there are fixed and wandering stars in the heavens, so will there be fixed and wandering tribes on the earth, for all time!


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