Francis Wharton.

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the month (June) the young Montagu's Harriers are on
the wing ; they have dark brown backs, each feather
edged with chestnut, a white nape, and orange-tawny
breast. Many of the young of the Marsh-Harrier are
uniformly very dark, bronze-black, with rich orange
crowns — strikingly handsome birds. Some have also
patches of the latter colour on the scapulars, others on the
breast — they vary greatly, no two are alike. This species
is not easy to understand ; one imagines that these very
dark specimens are all young birds ; that the old females
are lighter brown with yellow heads, and that the very old
males acquire half-blue wings and tail — I shot one of these
latter with the whole head pure white, each feather
streaked centrally with black. (See photo at p. 242.) But
how is one to account for an individual — otherwise uni-
formly black — having a perfectly developed blue tail and
secondaries ?

During June we were surprised to find the Green Sand-
piper tolerably numerous in the Goto Dofiana. It was a
very solitary species, a single bird frequenting almost each
small pool or water-hole far out among the scrub. We at
first imagined the females must be sitting, but all attempts
to find the nests were of course futile. The Wood- Sand-
piper was observed, on passage, in May.

As the long summer day draws to its close, the infinite

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variety of nocturnal sounds which, during the short twi-
light, suddenly awake into being, strikes strangely on a
northern ear. During the gloaming the air has been alive
with the darting forms of bats, terns, and pratincoles, of
swifts and swallows, all busily hawking after insects or
slow-flying beetles. But before dark these disappear. Of
crepuscular birds, the first to commence the nocturnal
concert is the Eusset-necked Nightjar, which abounds all


over the scrub ; a few minutes later, from the cork-trees,
resounds the note of the Little Owl, then the sharp ring-
ing M-you of Scop's Owl — both in sight, flickering against
the darkening sky; while far and near among the grass
the loud rattle of the mole-cricket starts like an alarum
and from every pool the united croaks of literally milUons
of frogs form, as it were, a background of sound resem-
bling the distant roar of a mighty city.

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The mysterious Eommany race which overruns every
nation in Europe, but intermingles with none, has always
abounded in Spain, and particularly in Andalucia, a land
which is peculiarly favourable to the Ishmaelitish propen-
sities of these human pariahs — as congenial to predatory
wild men as to the wild beasts we elsewhere describe.
Thoroughly typical objects both on the bye ways and
deserts of Spain, and of the animated scenes at her
rural feasts and fairs, to which the gypsies flock like vul-
tures to a carcase, it would be inappropriate here to omit
all mention of this singular race, even though it may be
impossible for us to add anything new to the exhaustive
description of the Spanish gypsy narrated by Borrow in
** The Zincali,'* a work based on intimate acquaintance with
the gitanos and their language. To it we are indebted for
much historic and ethnological information respecting the
gypsy race, and take the liberty of quoting two or three
passages from its pages.*

First appearing on Spanish soil during the early decades
of the fifteenth century, after being driven from land to
land, the Zingari outcasts speedily found a congenial home
— if such a term is applicable to nomadic vagabonds —
amidst the lone and sparsely-peopled regions of Iberia.

Whence they had originally come — whether from Egypt,
as they themselves averred and as their Spanish name

♦ "The Zincali; or, an Account of the Gypsies of Spain.*' By
George Borrow. 2 vols. London, John Murray, 1841.

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imports, or from India, as the term Zincali indicates — it is
not our intention to inquire,* Suffice it that nearly five
centuries ago, this invasion of tinkers, horse-thieves, sor-
cerers, and all-round rogues poured into Europe, and dur-
ing the long period that has since elapsed have maintained
themselves there — not, it is true, in luxury, rather in rags
and apparent poverty — by means of robbery and deceit, at
the expense of the various peoples upon whom, as a swarm
of wasps or locusts, they have thought good to descend.
All this time, too, they have maintained intact both their
racial individuality, their peculiar language, and their
inveterate habits of lying and thieving.

" Who are these gitanos ? " querulously asks the learned
Lorenzo Palminero more than three hundred years ago
(** El Estudioso Cortesano," Alcala, 1587). " Who are these
Gitanos ? I answer : these vile people first began to show
themselves in Germany in the year 1417, where they call
them Tartars, or Gentiles ; in Italy they are termed Ciani.
[In Spain the Arabs (Moors) knew the gypsies by only one
name, cJiarami = thieves.] They pretend that they come
from Lower Egypt, and that they wander about as a
penance, and to prove this they show letters from the King
of Poland. They lie, however, for they do not lead the
lives of penitents, but of dogs and thieves. A learned
person [himself] in the year 1540 prevailed upon them,
by dint of much persuasion, to show him the King's
letter, and from it he gathered that the time of pen-
ance had already expired. He spoke to them in the
Egyptian tongue. They said, however, as it was a long
time since their departure from Egypt, they could no
longer understand it. He then spoke to them in the vulgar
Greek, such as is used at present in the Morea and Archi-
pelago. Some understood it, others did not, so that as all
did not understand it, we may conclude that the language

* Whatever may have been their origin, their language demonstrates
that the Spanish gypsies are not (as has been suggested) rehcs of
the expelled Moors, Arabs, or MorUcos^ with whose tongue theirs has
no affinity. Many of the Bommany words appear to be of Sanscrit

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they use is a feigned one, got up by thieves for the purpose
of concealing their robberies, like the jargon of blind

From their earliest appearance in Spain the roving
bands of the Eommany were found to be a public nuisance ;
but so rapidly grew the evil weed and took root in the soil,
that by the middle of the fifteenth century the gypsies had
established a rudely-organized system of violence, robbery
and roguery from Biscay to the Mediterranean. The
country roads were unsafe, infested with dark-skinned
highwaymen ; while rural districts were subjected to whole-
sale depredation, bands of these outcasts settling them-
selves in the adjacent hills, wastes, or forests, whence
they plundered and virtually beleaguered the sparse and
defenceless villages of all the country around. Once
established amidst the sierras and wildernesses, it was
no easy matter to dislodge them, or even to hold them
in check. Spain has ever been a land of the guerilla —
little war — and of the guerillero ; and the gypsies,
though by no means a warlike race, were not lacking
in courage and in those qualities of hardihood and
dash which constitute the most dangerous guerilleros.
They possessed, moreover, the strength of union, an
Ishmaelitish bond of brotherhood which held the out-
laws together, while dividing them as by a great gulf
from the peoples amidst whom they had come to
dwell. They had also their secret language. Neither
civil nor miUtary power could make itself effective against
" Will-o*-the-wisps,*' who are here to-day, gone to-morrow,
whose homes were the forest-thicket and mountain-cave,
who, with their fast and trusty horses and donkeys (their
" stock-in-trade ") could transport their whole tribe in dead
of night to distant places with a speed almost equal to
that of the wild beasts of the sierras, to whom they were
so near akin.

The nominal employment of the gypsies was that of
tinkers, workers in iron, and horse-traffickers: under
which guise they really subsisted by cattle-lifting and
horse-stealing, either by force, or fraud, according as

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circumstances might suggest. The female gypsies, or
gitanas, more than doubled the ill-gotten gains of their
husbands by the arts of sorcery and divination, by selling
charms and love-philtres, stealing by legerdemain, and
exercising the various branches of what are termed the
" occult sciences " — in other words, practising upon the
silly credulity of the weaker portion of humanity — as well
as by other and more loathsome avocations* The credulity
of their victims appears incredible, though it is hardly less
marvellous than the tact and effrontery displayed by the
gypsy women in their cozening and charlatan tricks.
Their knowledge of human nature and how to reach its
weak points, was remarkable in a race so low, so degraded,
and wholly ilUterate. They possessed the cunning and
boldness of the wild beast, and combined with it a hatred
of the " Busne," or Gentile, which the wild beast has not.

The bitterness of hatred which was cherished by the
gitanos towards all of gentile race, appears incomprehen-
sible, unless it springs from some old-time ** first cause,"
the nature of which is long forgotten. Treacherous, cruel
and vindictive, they had the wit to conceal their ill-will
beneath soft words, and thus obtained means of commit-
ting atrocities against the " gentile," the records of which
make one shudder.

Amongst the various devices employed by the gitanos
to plunder their victims, may be mentioned the follow*
ing :—

Hokkaiw Baro. — The great trick, or swindle, varying
from the " confidence trick " in its multifarious forms,
up to the boldest and most barefaced deceptions, often on
a grand scale.

La Bajiy or, in Spanish, huena ventura. — Fortune-telling,
by chiromancy, necromancy, and other divinations.

Ustilar Pastelas. — Stealing by legerdemain or sleight of

Querelar Nasela, — The evil eye.

Drao = poison. — Both these latter devices were em*
ployed to produce epidemics among men or flocks, when
the reputed medical or veterinary skill of the gitanos was

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called into requisition ; and, being aware of the origin of
the disease, they seldom failed to effect its cure.

The gitanos were, and are divided into two classes : one
section have more or less settled colonies in the Spanish
towns and cities, where they dwell in quarters apart from
the natives^ known as gitanerias, wherein they ply their
trade of tinkers, horse-dealers and shearers, sorcerers, and
general thieves ; and from whence, in pursuance of their
inveterate vagabondism, they sally forth from time to time
to attend distant fairs and markets to dispose of their
stolen goods ; and, as occasion arises, to perpetrate fresh
crimes. The other section is more exclusively nomadic,
roaming at large over the wilds of Spain, having no home
save the shelter of forest or sierra, and to some extent
actually migratory.

The daily life of the Spanish gypsy has always been
characterized by a squalor and degradation exceeding
that of the residuum of any European nation. They
appear to have been devoid of the faintest conception
of religion beyond that undefined sense of superstition
which is common to savage races all over the world,
or to possess any sense of morality, decency, or self-
respect. Their food was of the foulest — they shrank not
from carrion, and have been accused, apparently not
without reason, of cannibalism, for which in early days
many a gitano swung from the gibbet. Male and female
alike, they were adepts at devilry and crime of every degree,
yet amidst such a category of evil, they still possessed the
one singular virtue of esteeming purity in their women.
We quote the following picture of life in a gitaneria from
Borrow (" Zincah," i., p. 76 et seq.) :—*' The gitanerias at
even-fall were frequently resorted to by individuals widely
differing in station from the inmates of these places — we
allude to the young and dissolute nobility and hidalgos of
Spain. The gypsy women and girls were the principal attrac-
tion to these visitors. Wild and singular as these females
are in their appearance, there can be no doubt, for the fact
has been frequently proved, that they are capable of
exciting passions of the most ardent kind, particularly in

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the bosoms of those who are not of their race, which
passion of course becomes the more violent when the
almost utter impossibility of gratifying it is known. No
females in the world can be more licentious in word or
gesture, in dance and song, than the gitanas, but there
they stop ; and so of old, if their titled visitors presumed
to seek for more, an unsheathed dagger or gleaming
knife speedily repulsed those who expected that the gift
most dear among the sect of the Roma was within the
reach of a Busne.

** Such visitors, however, were always encouraged to a
certain point, and by this and various other means the
gitanos acquired connections which frequently stood them
in good stead in the hour of need. What availed it to the
honest labourers of the neighbourhood, or the citizens of
the town to make complaints to the Corregidor respecting
thefts and frauds committed by the gitanos when perhaps
the sons of that very Corregidor frequented the nightly
dances at the gitaneria, and were deeply enamoured of
some of the dark-eyed singing girls ? What availed com-
plaints when perhaps a gypsy sybil, the mother of those
very girls, had free admission to the house of the Cor-
regidor at all times and seasons, and spa'ed the huena
Ventura of his daughters, promising them counts and dukes,
or Andalucian knights in marriage, or prepared philtres
for his lady by which she was always to reign supreme in
the affections of her husband? And above all, what
availed it to the plundered to complain that his mule or
horse had been stolen when the gitano robber, perhaps
the husband of the sybil and the father of the black-eyed
Gitanillas, was at that moment actually in treaty with my
lord the Corregidor himself, to supply him with some
spkndid, thick-maned, long-tailed steed at a small price,
to be obtained, as the reader may well suppose, by an
infraction of the laws ? The favour and protection which
the gitanos experienced from persons of high rank is
alluded to in the Spanish laws, and can only be accounted
for by the motives above detailed."

By the middle of the fifteenth century the bands of the

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Eommany had become a serious danger in rural Spain,
and their ability to act daringly in concert was demon-
strated by their attempt to massacre the whole populace
and sack the town of Logrofio. That town at the moment
was stricken down by a pestilence, which it was more
than suspected had been caused by the Zincales them-
selves having poisoned with their drao the springs
whence Logrofio was supplied with water. Already, before
the gypsy assault, the greater part of the populace had
perished of the disease, and the annihilation of the
survivors was only averted by the singular foresight and
energy of one man — Francisco Alvarez. This Alvarez in
his early life was said to have been admitted to the com-
munity of a gitano tribe, to have married a daughter of
its chief, and eventually to have become the chief himselL
Around the details of the affair hangs some uncertainty ;
but the historic fact that the gitanos actually attempted
the massacre and plunder of a considerable Spanish town
has been well attested, among others by Francisco de
Cordova on his "Didascalia " (Lugduni, 1615).

The beginning of the seventeenth century saw the evil
still on the increase, despite repressive measures. Bands
of these human fiends, many hundreds strong, roamed
over the highlands of Castile and Arragon, and were only
dispersed, after plundering and devastating the country,
when suflBcient military force had at length been col-
lected. The gypsies speedily searched out the richest
provinces of the land — New Castile, La Mancha, Estre-
madura, Murcia, Valencia and Andalucia, and troubled
but little the poor, wild, mountain-regions of the Asturias,
Galicia, and the hill-country of Biscay.

The impunity with which these people set at nought
during hundreds of years the successive laws which were
enacted for their repression, is a curious point in connec-
tion with their history. As early as 1499, Ferdinand and
Isabella, at Medina del Campo, interdicted, under heavy
penalties, their vagrant propensities ; ordered them to find
fixed occupations, and to settle in the different towns and
villages within a short specified period. In default they

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were to be expelled from Spanish soil. This act was con-
firmed and supplemented with more vigorous penalties by
Charles I. at Toledo in 1539, and again by Philip II. in
1586, at Madrid.

By an enactment of Philip IV. at Madrid, 1633, the
former laws were confirmed, but in order still further to
penalize the profession and race of gypsies, their dress,
their language, and even the name of gitanos, were
declared illegal, and suppressed imder pain of servitude in
the galleys, or banishment. The gypsies were forbidden
to form colonies or tribes, to intermarry, or to trade at
markets and fairs ; while the local authorities were com-
missioned to " hunt them down, take and deUver them,"
even beyond the boundaries of their respective jurisdic-
tions. Still further legal fulminations against the gypsies
were promulgated by Charles II. in 1692 and 1695, but all
alike proved futile.

Similarly Philip V., in 1726, again increased the penal-
ties on gitanismo, banishing the sect from Madrid and
other royal cities, and in 1745, by a yet fiercer edict,
he directed that they were to be " hunted down with fire
and sword ; that even the sanctity of the temples was to
be invaded in their pursuit, and the gitanos dragged from
the horns of the altar, should they flee thither for refuge."

Such, during three centuries (1499-1783), was the set
policy of Spain towards her gypsy population. They were
a proscribed race, treated as aliens and outlaws, forbidden
to intermarry, and their very name, dress, and language
were interdicted under severe penalties. Yet in spite of
it all the gypsies continued to flourish, to increase in
numbers, and to ply their customary trades of thieving,
sorcery, and the rest, without the slightest check.

Whether undei* any circumstances these repressive
measured were or were not the means best calculated
to attain the object in view, it is at least certain that their
failure was assured beforehand by the negligent way
in which they were put in force ; or rather by the fact
they Wer6 never put in force at all. The gypsies, and
especially the females, as we have already mentioned.

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by virtue of their divinations and certain other services
which they rendered to the upper and ruling classes of
Spain, had secured friends, or at least neutrals, amongst
the very people in whose hands lay the administration of
the laws. They were thus able to annul, and even to
ridicule, the successive legal enactments formulated to
exterminate them.

Among the various reasons for the remarkable vitahty
of the Rommany sect in thus surviving centuries of
oppression, there stand out prominently the strong tribal
cohesion inter se of the Zincali : their marriage customs
and the aversion with which they regarded any alliance
with the Busne, or Gentile. A gitano might, in rare
instances,, marry a Spanish female, but in no case did
a gitana consent to take a husband outside her own race.
Thus the errate — the ** black blood *' of the Rommany,
on which above all they prided themselves, was preserved
uncontaminated. Whether, had the repressive laws been
vigorously carried out, they would have met with better
results, is an open question.

At length, in 1783, a fresh departure in policy was
inaugurated by Charles III., or perhaps it would be safer
to say, during the reign of that monarch, for he was more
of a Nimrod than a statesman, and appears to have occu-
pied himself with grand hatidas for stags, wild boars, and
other game, rather than with the welfare of his people, and
this at the very time when the magnificent colonial empire
of Spain was gradually slipping from his grasp. Whoever
it may have been that inspired the new gypsy law of 1788,
its author at least recognized the failure of the penal
decrees of the three preceding centuries, and instituted in
their place a more humane method of dealing with the

Under the new law the gypsies were, in the first place,
declared " not to be so by nature or origin, nor to proceed
from an infected root." It was enacted that to such of
them as should abandon their distinctive mode of life,
dress, and language, the whole share of offices, employ-
ments, trades and occupations, should be open equally

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with other Spanish subjects. The whole range of trade,
art, science, and the professions, were thrown open to such
of the gitanos as should abjure their former vagabond
life with all its evil associations ; and penalties were
imposed on any who should attempt to molest them or to
oppose their entry within the pale of civilized life.

Finally, the law was declared to be equal as between a
reclaimed gypsy and any other " vassal " of Spain : but a
death-penalty was prescribed against such of the nomad
race as declined this invitation to embrace an honest life,
and who continued their former habits.

The effect of this measure is marked, though the gitano
survives. Fifty years of equal rights accomplished in this
case what centuries of oppression had failed to achieve.
Gitanismo is certainly not extinguished, but it was
modified and brought more or less under control. The
numbers of the gitanos have ever since decreased : they are
slowly relinquishing their vagrant habits, and live more in
cities and towns, and less in the mountains and fields.
Ages, probably, would be required wholly to eradicate the
inveterate criminality practised from birth by the Eom-
many race since unknown times — if, indeed, its entire
eradication is possible. But certainly the humane measure
of Charles III. during the lifetime of a man produced
more tangible results than the persecution of preceding

The gitano caste in Spain were at one time estimated at
60,000. Fifty years ago, after half a century of equal
laws, their numbers had fallen to 40,000, of which one-
third were inhabitants of Andalucia ; while at the present
day, even that total might probably be reduced by one-half.

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Hitherto we have dealt with the subject of the Spanish
gypsy in a past tense and from an historic point of view.
It remains to add that the Eommany sect, thouf^h de-
creasing in numbers and largely divested of their former
dangerous character, continues plentiful enough through-
out Spain, and especially in the southern provinces, their
best known colonies being at the Triana suburb of Seville,
and in the rock-caves of the Alpuj arras at Granada,
where certain tribes form one of the "stock sights"
familiar to travellers in Southern Spain. Though the
later laws have checked their vagabondism, yet the instinct
of Ishmael survives, and, especially in the summer-time,
the gypsies wander over the Andalucian vegas and flock
to rural fairs, where the men drive their ancient trade of
dealing in horses — mostly stolen, and all " faked " and
got-up for sale, though in these matters the gypsies are
perhaps no worse than their gentile rivals.

At the fairs the wealthier gypsies also trade in precious
stones and jewellery ; the poorer in hardware, ** tinkery,"
and the like. The gitanas, gaudily arrayed in colours of
startling hues, and blazing with heavy golden ornaments,
deal in divinations and tell the biiena rentura as of old,
the younger girls ever ready to engage in their lissom
dances and in the wild suggestive singing characteristic
of the Eommany race.

Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 22 of 36)