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  • 1841
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‘The Gypsy fiend of Manga mead,
Who never gave a straw,
He would destroy, for very greed,
The good Egyptian law.

‘The false Juanito day and night
Had best with caution go;
The Gypsy carles of Yeira height
Have sworn to lay him low.’

However some of the Gitanos may complain that there is no longer union to be found amongst them, there is still much of that fellow- feeling which springs from a consciousness of proceeding from one common origin, or, as they love to term it, ‘blood.’ At present their system exhibits less of a commonwealth than when they roamed in bands amongst the wilds, and principally subsisted by foraging, each individual contributing to the common stock, according to his success. The interests of individuals are now more distinct, and that close connection is of course dissolved which existed when they wandered about, and their dangers, gains, and losses were felt in common; and it can never be too often repeated that they are no longer a proscribed race, with no rights nor safety save what they gained by a close and intimate union. Nevertheless, the Gitano, though he naturally prefers his own interest to that of his brother, and envies him his gain when he does not expect to share in it, is at all times ready to side with him against the Busno, because the latter is not a Gitano, but of a different blood, and for no other reason. When one Gitano confides his plans to another, he is in no fear that they will be betrayed to the Busno, for whom there is no sympathy, and when a plan is to be executed which requires co-operation, they seek not the fellowship of the Busne, but of each other, and if successful, share the gain like brothers.

As a proof of the fraternal feeling which is not unfrequently displayed amongst the Gitanos, I shall relate a circumstance which occurred at Cordova a year or two before I first visited it. One of the poorest of the Gitanos murdered a Spaniard with the fatal Manchegan knife; for this crime he was seized, tried, and found guilty. Blood-shedding in Spain is not looked upon with much abhorrence, and the life of the culprit is seldom taken, provided he can offer a bribe sufficient to induce the notary public to report favourably upon his case; but in this instance money was of no avail; the murdered individual left behind him powerful friends and connections, who were determined that justice should take its course. It was in vain that the Gitanos exerted all their influence with the authorities in behalf of their comrade, and such influence was not slight; it was in vain that they offered extravagant sums that the punishment of death might be commuted to perpetual slavery in the dreary presidio of Ceuta; I was credibly informed that one of the richest Gitanos, by name Fruto, offered for his own share of the ransom the sum of five thousand crowns, whilst there was not an individual but contributed according to his means – nought availed, and the Gypsy was executed in the Plaza. The day before the execution, the Gitanos, perceiving that the fate of their brother was sealed, one and all quitted Cordova, shutting up their houses and carrying with them their horses, their mules, their borricos, their wives and families, and the greatest part of their household furniture. No one knew whither they directed their course, nor were they seen in Cordova for some months, when they again suddenly made their appearance; a few, however, never returned. So great was the horror of the Gitanos at what had occurred, that they were in the habit of saying that the place was cursed for evermore; and when I knew them, there were many amongst them who, on no account, would enter the Plaza which had witnessed the disgraceful end of their unfortunate brother.

The position which the Gitanos hold in society in Spain is the lowest, as might be expected; they are considered at best as thievish chalans, and the women as half sorceresses, and in every respect thieves; there is not a wretch, however vile, the outcast of the prison and the presidio, who calls himself Spaniard, but would feel insulted by being termed Gitano, and would thank God that he is not; and yet, strange to say, there are numbers, and those of the higher classes, who seek their company, and endeavour to imitate their manners and way of speaking. The connections which they form with the Spaniards are not many; occasionally some wealthy Gitano marries a Spanish female, but to find a Gitana united to a Spaniard is a thing of the rarest occurrence, if it ever takes place. It is, of course, by intermarriage alone that the two races will ever commingle, and before that event is brought about, much modification must take place amongst the Gitanos, in their manners, in their habits, in their affections, and their dislikes, and, perhaps, even in their physical peculiarities; much must be forgotten on both sides, and everything is forgotten in the course of time.

The number of the Gitano population of Spain at the present day may be estimated at about forty thousand. At the commencement of the present century it was said to amount to sixty thousand. There can be no doubt that the sect is by no means so numerous as it was at former periods; witness those barrios in various towns still denominated Gitanerias, but from whence the Gitanos have disappeared even like the Moors from the Morerias. Whether this diminution in number has been the result of a partial change of habits, of pestilence or sickness, of war or famine, or of all these causes combined, we have no means of determining, and shall abstain from offering conjectures on the subject.


IN the autumn of the year 1839, I landed at Tarifa, from the coast of Barbary. I arrived in a small felouk laden with hides for Cadiz, to which place I was myself going. We stopped at Tarifa in order to perform quarantine, which, however, turned out a mere farce, as we were all permitted to come on shore; the master of the felouk having bribed the port captain with a few fowls. We formed a motley group. A rich Moor and his son, a child, with their Jewish servant Yusouf, and myself with my own man Hayim Ben Attar, a Jew. After passing through the gate, the Moors and their domestics were conducted by the master to the house of one of his acquaintance, where he intended they should lodge; whilst a sailor was despatched with myself and Hayim to the only inn which the place afforded. I stopped in the street to speak to a person whom I had known at Seville. Before we had concluded our discourse, Hayim, who had walked forward, returned, saying that the quarters were good, and that we were in high luck, for that he knew the people of the inn were Jews. ‘Jews,’ said I, ‘here in Tarifa, and keeping an inn, I should be glad to see them.’ So I left my acquaintance, and hastened to the house. We first entered a stable, of which the ground floor of the building consisted, and ascending a flight of stairs entered a very large room, and from thence passed into a kitchen, in which were several people. One of these was a stout, athletic, burly fellow of about fifty, dressed in a buff jerkin, and dark cloth pantaloons. His hair was black as a coal and exceedingly bushy, his face much marked from some disorder, and his skin as dark as that of a toad. A very tall woman stood by the dresser, much resembling him in feature, with the same hair and complexion, but with more intelligence in her eyes than the man, who looked heavy and dogged. A dark woman, whom I subsequently discovered to be lame, sat in a corner, and two or three swarthy girls, from fifteen to eighteen years of age, were flitting about the room. I also observed a wicked-looking boy, who might have been called handsome, had not one of his eyes been injured. ‘Jews,’ said I, in Moorish, to Hayim, as I glanced at these people and about the room; ‘these are not Jews, but children of the Dar-bushi-fal.’

‘List to the Corahai,’ said the tall woman, in broken Gypsy slang, ‘hear how they jabber (hunelad como chamulian), truly we will make them pay for the noise they raise in the house.’ Then coming up to me, she demanded with a shout, fearing otherwise that I should not understand, whether I would not wish to see the room where I was to sleep. I nodded: whereupon she led me out upon a back terrace, and opening the door of a small room, of which there were three, asked me if it would suit. ‘Perfectly,’ said I, and returned with her to the kitchen.

‘O, what a handsome face! what a royal person!’ exclaimed the whole family as I returned, in Spanish, but in the whining, canting tones peculiar to the Gypsies, when they are bent on victimising. ‘A more ugly Busno it has never been our chance to see,’ said the same voices in the next breath, speaking in the jargon of the tribe. ‘Won’t your Moorish Royalty please to eat something?’ said the tall hag. ‘We have nothing in the house; but I will run out and buy a fowl, which I hope may prove a royal peacock to nourish and strengthen you.’ ‘I hope it may turn to drow in your entrails,’ she muttered to the rest in Gypsy. She then ran down, and in a minute returned with an old hen, which, on my arrival, I had observed below in the stable. ‘See this beautiful fowl,’ said she, ‘I have been running over all Tarifa to procure it for your kingship; trouble enough I have had to obtain it, and dear enough it has cost me. I will now cut its throat.’ ‘Before you kill it,’ said I, ‘I should wish to know what you paid for it, that there may be no dispute about it in the account.’ ‘Two dollars I paid for it, most valorous and handsome sir; two dollars it cost me, out of my own quisobi – out of my own little purse.’ I saw it was high time to put an end to these zalamerias, and therefore exclaimed in Gitano, ‘You mean two brujis (reals), O mother of all the witches, and that is twelve cuartos more than it is worth.’ ‘Ay Dios mio, whom have we here?’ exclaimed the females. ‘One,’ I replied, ‘who knows you well and all your ways. Speak! am I to have the hen for two reals? if not, I shall leave the house this moment.’ ‘O yes, to be sure, brother, and for nothing if you wish it,’ said the tall woman, in natural and quite altered tones; ‘but why did you enter the house speaking in Corahai like a Bengui? We thought you a Busno, but we now see that you are of our religion; pray sit down and tell us where you have been.’ . .

MYSELF. – ‘Now, my good people, since I have answered your questions, it is but right that you should answer some of mine; pray who are you? and how happens it that you are keeping this inn?’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘Verily, brother, we can scarcely tell you who we are. All we know of ourselves is, that we keep this inn, to our trouble and sorrow, and that our parents kept it before us; we were all born in this house, where I suppose we shall die.’

MYSELF. – ‘Who is the master of the house, and whose are these children?’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘The master of the house is the fool, my brother, who stands before you without saying a word; to him belong these children, and the cripple in the chair is his wife, and my cousin. He has also two sons who are grown-up men; one is a chumajarri (shoemaker), and the other serves a tanner.’

MYSELF. – ‘Is it not contrary to the law of the Cales to follow such trades?’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘We know of no law, and little of the Cales themselves. Ours is the only Calo family in Tarifa, and we never left it in our lives, except occasionally to go on the smuggling lay to Gibraltar. True it is that the Cales, when they visit Tarifa, put up at our house, sometimes to our cost. There was one Rafael, son of the rich Fruto of Cordova, here last summer, to buy up horses, and he departed a baria and a half in our debt; however, I do not grudge it him, for he is a handsome and clever Chabo – a fellow of many capacities. There was more than one Busno had cause to rue his coming to Tarifa.’

MYSELF. – ‘Do you live on good terms with the Busne of Tarifa?’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘Brother, we live on the best terms with the Busne of Tarifa; especially with the errays. The first people in Tarifa come to this house, to have their baji told by the cripple in the chair and by myself. I know not how it is, but we are more considered by the grandees than the poor, who hate and loathe us. When my first and only infant died, for I have been married, the child of one of the principal people was put to me to nurse, but I hated it for its white blood, as you may well believe. It never throve, for I did it a private mischief, and though it grew up and is now a youth, it is – mad.’

MYSELF. – ‘With whom will your brother’s children marry? You say there are no Gypsies here.’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘Ay de mi, hermano! It is that which grieves me. I would rather see them sold to the Moors than married to the Busne. When Rafael was here he wished to persuade the chumajarri to accompany him to Cordova, and promised to provide for him, and to find him a wife among the Callees of that town; but the faint heart would not, though I myself begged him to comply. As for the curtidor (tanner), he goes every night to the house of a Busnee; and once, when I reproached him with it, he threatened to marry her. I intend to take my knife, and to wait behind the door in the dark, and when she comes out to gash her over the eyes. I trow he will have little desire to wed with her then.’

MYSELF. – ‘Do many Busne from the country put up at this house?’

GYPSY HAG. – ‘Not so many as formerly, brother; the labourers from the Campo say that we are all thieves; and that it is impossible for any one but a Calo to enter this house without having the shirt stripped from his back. They go to the houses of their acquaintance in the town, for they fear to enter these doors. I scarcely know why, for my brother is the veriest fool in Tarifa. Were it not for his face, I should say that he is no Chabo, for he cannot speak, and permits every chance to slip through his fingers. Many a good mule and borrico have gone out of the stable below, which he might have secured, had he but tongue enough to have cozened the owners. But he is a fool, as I said before; he cannot speak, and is no Chabo.’

How far the person in question, who sat all the while smoking his pipe, with the most unperturbed tranquillity, deserved the character bestowed upon him by his sister, will presently appear. It is not my intention to describe here all the strange things I both saw and heard in this Gypsy inn. Several Gypsies arrived from the country during the six days that I spent within its walls; one of them, a man, from Moron, was received with particular cordiality, he having a son, whom he was thinking of betrothing to one of the Gypsy daughters. Some females of quality likewise visited the house to gossip, like true Andalusians. It was singular to observe the behaviour of the Gypsies to these people, especially that of the remarkable woman, some of whose conversation I have given above. She whined, she canted, she blessed, she talked of beauty of colour, of eyes, of eyebrows, and pestanas (eyelids), and of hearts which were aching for such and such a lady. Amongst others, came a very fine woman, the widow of a colonel lately slain in battle; she brought with her a beautiful innocent little girl, her daughter, between three and four years of age. The Gypsy appeared to adore her; she sobbed, she shed tears, she kissed the child, she blessed it, she fondled it. I had my eye upon her countenance, and it brought to my recollection that of a she-wolf, which I had once seen in Russia, playing with her whelp beneath a birch-tree. ‘You seem to love that child very much, O my mother,’ said I to her, as the lady was departing.

GYPSY HAG. – ‘No lo camelo, hijo! I do not love it, O my son, I do not love it; I love it so much, that I wish it may break its leg as it goes downstairs, and its mother also.’

On the evening of the fourth day, I was seated on the stone bench at the stable door, taking the fresco; the Gypsy innkeeper sat beside me, smoking his pipe, and silent as usual; presently a man and woman with a borrico, or donkey, entered the portal. I took little or no notice of a circumstance so slight, but I was presently aroused by hearing the Gypsy’s pipe drop upon the ground. I looked at him, and scarcely recognised his face. It was no longer dull, black, and heavy, but was lighted up with an expression so extremely villainous that I felt uneasy. His eyes were scanning the recent comers, especially the beast of burden, which was a beautiful female donkey. He was almost instantly at their side, assisting to remove its housings, and the alforjas, or bags. His tongue had become unloosed, as if by sorcery; and far from being unable to speak, he proved that, when it suited his purpose, he could discourse with wonderful volubility. The donkey was soon tied to the manger, and a large measure of barley emptied before it, the greatest part of which the Gypsy boy presently removed, his father having purposely omitted to mix the barley with the straw, with which the Spanish mangers are always kept filled. The guests were hurried upstairs as soon as possible. I remained below, and subsequently strolled about the town and on the beach. It was about nine o’clock when I returned to the inn to retire to rest; strange things had evidently been going on during my absence. As I passed through the large room on my way to my apartment, lo, the table was set out with much wine, fruits, and viands. There sat the man from the country, three parts intoxicated; the Gypsy, already provided with another pipe, sat on his knee, with his right arm most affectionately round his neck; on one side sat the chumajarri drinking and smoking, on the other the tanner. Behold, poor humanity, thought I to myself, in the hands of devils; in this manner are human souls ensnared to destruction by the fiends of the pit. The females had already taken possession of the woman at the other end of the table, embracing her, and displaying every mark of friendship and affection. I passed on, but ere I reached my apartment I heard the words mule and donkey. ‘Adios,’ said I, for I but too well knew what was on the carpet.

In the back stable the Gypsy kept a mule, a most extraordinary animal, which was employed in bringing water to the house, a task which it effected with no slight difficulty; it was reported to be eighteen years of age; one of its eyes had been removed by some accident, it was foundered, and also lame, the result of a broken leg. This animal was the laughing-stock of all Tarifa; the Gypsy grudged it the very straw on while alone he fed it, and had repeatedly offered it for sale at a dollar, which he could never obtain. During the night there was much merriment going on, and I could frequently distinguish the voice of the Gypsy raised to a boisterous pitch. In the morning the Gypsy hag entered my apartment, bearing the breakfast of myself and Hayim. ‘What were you about last night?’ said I.

‘We were bargaining with the Busno, evil overtake him, and he has exchanged us the ass, for the mule and the reckoning,’ said the hag, in whose countenance triumph was blended with anxiety.

‘Was he drunk when he saw the mule?’ I demanded.

‘He did not see her at all, O my son, but we told him we had a beautiful mule, worth any money, which we were anxious to dispose of, as a donkey suited our purpose better. We are afraid that when he sees her he will repent his bargain, and if he calls off within four-and-twenty hours, the exchange is null, and the justicia will cause us to restore the ass; we have, however, already removed her to our huerta out of the town, where we have hid her below the ground. Dios sabe (God knows) how it will turn out.’

When the man and woman saw the lame, foundered, one-eyed creature, for which and the reckoning they had exchanged their own beautiful borrico, they stood confounded. It was about ten in the morning, and they had not altogether recovered from the fumes of the wine of the preceding night; at last the man, with a frightful oath, exclaimed to the innkeeper, ‘Restore my donkey, you Gypsy villain!’

‘It cannot be, brother,’ replied the latter, ‘your donkey is by this time three leagues from here: I sold her this morning to a man I do not know, and I am afraid I shall have a hard bargain with her, for he only gave two dollars, as she was unsound. O, you have taken me in, I am a poor fool as they call me here, and you understand much, very much, baribu.’ (47)

‘Her value was thirty-five dollars, thou demon,’ said the countryman, ‘and the justicia will make you pay that.’

‘Come, come, brother,’ said the Gypsy, ‘all this is mere conversation; you have a capital bargain, to-day the mercado is held, and you shall sell the mule; I will go with you myself. O, you understand baribu; sister, bring the bottle of anise; the senor and the senora must drink a copita.’ After much persuasion, and many oaths, the man and woman were weak enough to comply; when they had drunk several glasses, they departed for the market, the Gypsy leading the mule. In about two hours they returned with the wretched beast, but not exactly as they went; a numerous crowd followed, laughing and hooting. The man was now frantic, and the woman yet more so. They forced their way upstairs to collect their baggage, which they soon effected, and were about to leave the house, vowing revenge. Now ensued a truly terrific scene, there were no more blandishments; the Gypsy men and women were in arms, uttering the most frightful execrations; as the woman came downstairs, the females assailed her like lunatics; the cripple poked at her with a stick, the tall hag clawed at her hair, whilst the father Gypsy walked close beside the man, his hand on his clasp-knife, looking like nothing in this world: the man, however, on reaching the door, turned to him and said: ‘Gypsy demon, my borrico by three o’clock – or you know the rest, the justicia.’

The Gypsies remained filled with rage and disappointment; the hag vented her spite on her brother. ”Tis your fault,’ said she; ‘fool! you have no tongue; you a Chabo, you can’t speak’; whereas, within a few hours, he had perhaps talked more than an auctioneer during a three days’ sale: but he reserved his words for fitting occasions, and now sat as usual, sullen and silent, smoking his pipe.

The man and woman made their appearance at three o’clock, but they came – intoxicated; the Gypsy’s eyes glistened – blandishment was again had recourse to. ‘Come and sit down with the cavalier here,’ whined the family; ‘he is a friend of ours, and will soon arrange matters to your satisfaction.’ I arose, and went into the street; the hag followed me. ‘Will you not assist us, brother, or are you no Chabo?’ she muttered.

‘I will have nothing to do with your matters,’ said I.

‘I know who will,’ said the hag, and hurried down the street.

The man and woman, with much noise, demanded their donkey; the innkeeper made no answer, and proceeded to fill up several glasses with the ANISADO. In about a quarter of an hour, the Gypsy hag returned with a young man, well dressed, and with a genteel air, but with something wild and singular in his eyes. He seated himself by the table, smiled, took a glass of liquor, drank part of it, smiled again, and handed it to the countryman. The latter seeing himself treated in this friendly manner by a caballero, was evidently much flattered, took off his hat to the newcomer, and drank, as did the woman also. The glass was filled, and refilled, till they became yet more intoxicated. I did not hear the young man say a word: he appeared a passive automaton. The Gypsies, however, spoke for him, and were profuse of compliments. It was now proposed that the caballero should settle the dispute; a long and noisy conversation ensued, the young man looking vacantly on: the strange people had no money, and had already run up another bill at a wine-house to which they had retired. At last it was proposed, as if by the young man, that the Gypsy should purchase his own mule for two dollars, and forgive the strangers the reckoning of the preceding night. To this they agreed, being apparently stultified with the liquor, and the money being paid to them in the presence of witnesses, they thanked the friendly mediator, and reeled away.

Before they left the town that night, they had contrived to spend the entire two dollars, and the woman, who first recovered her senses, was bitterly lamenting that they had permitted themselves to be despoiled so cheaply of a PRENDA TAN PRECIOSA, as was the donkey. Upon the whole, however, I did not much pity them. The woman was certainly not the man’s wife. The labourer had probably left his village with some strolling harlot, bringing with him the animal which had previously served to support himself and family.

I believe that the Gypsy read, at the first glance, their history, and arranged matters accordingly. The donkey was soon once more in the stable, and that night there was much rejoicing in the Gypsy inn.

Who was the singular mediator? He was neither more nor less than the foster child of the Gypsy hag, the unfortunate being whom she had privately injured in his infancy. After having thus served them as an instrument in their villainy, he was told to go home. . . .


It was at Madrid one fine afternoon in the beginning of March 1838, that, as I was sitting behind my table in a cabinete, as it is called, of the third floor of No. 16, in the Calle de Santiago, having just taken my meal, my hostess entered and informed me that a military officer wished to speak to me, adding, in an undertone, that he looked a STRANGE GUEST. I was acquainted with no military officer in the Spanish service; but as at that time I expected daily to be arrested for having distributed the Bible, I thought that very possibly this officer might have been sent to perform that piece of duty. I instantly ordered him to be admitted, whereupon a thin active figure, somewhat above the middle height, dressed in a blue uniform, with a long sword hanging at his side, tripped into the room. Depositing his regimental hat on the ground, he drew a chair to the table, and seating himself, placed his elbows on the board, and supporting his face with his hands, confronted me, gazing steadfastly upon me, without uttering a word. I looked no less wistfully at him, and was of the same opinion as my hostess, as to the strangeness of my guest. He was about fifty, with thin flaxen hair covering the sides of his head, which at the top was entirely bald. His eyes were small, and, like ferrets’, red and fiery. His complexion like a brick, a dull red, checkered with spots of purple. ‘May I inquire your name and business, sir?’ I at length demanded.

STRANGER. – ‘My name is Chaleco of Valdepenas; in the time of the French I served as bragante, fighting for Ferdinand VII. I am now a captain on half-pay in the service of Donna Isabel; as for my business here, it is to speak with you. Do you know this book?’

MYSELF. – ‘This book is Saint Luke’s Gospel in the Gypsy language; how can this book concern you?’

STRANGER. – ‘No one more. It is in the language of my people.’

MYSELF. – ‘You do not pretend to say that you are a Calo?’

STRANGER. – ‘I do! I am Zincalo, by the mother’s side. My father, it is true, was one of the Busne; but I glory in being a Calo, and care not to acknowledge other blood.’

MYSELF. – ‘How became you possessed of that book?’

STRANGER. – ‘I was this morning in the Prado, where I met two women of our people, and amongst other things they told me that they had a gabicote in our language. I did not believe them at first, but they pulled it out, and I found their words true. They then spoke to me of yourself, and told me where you live, so I took the book from them and am come to see you.’

MYSELF. – ‘Are you able to understand this book?’

STRANGER. – ‘Perfectly, though it is written in very crabbed language: (48) but I learnt to read Calo when very young. My mother was a good Calli, and early taught me both to speak and read it. She too had a gabicote, but not printed like this, and it treated of a different matter.’

MYSELF. – ‘How came your mother, being a good Calli, to marry one of a different blood?’

STRANGER. – ‘It was no fault of hers; there was no remedy. In her infancy she lost her parents, who were executed; and she was abandoned by all, till my father, taking compassion on her, brought her up and educated her: at last he made her his wife, though three times her age. She, however, remembered her blood and hated my father, and taught me to hate him likewise, and avoid him. When a boy, I used to stroll about the plains, that I might not see my father; and my father would follow me and beg me to look upon him, and would ask me what I wanted; and I would reply, Father, the only thing I want is to see you dead.’

MYSELF. – ‘That was strange language from a child to its parent.’

STRANGER. – ‘It was – but you know the couplet, (49) which says, “I do not wish to be a lord – I am by birth a Gypsy – I do not wish to be a gentleman – I am content with being a Calo!”‘

MYSELF. – ‘I am anxious to hear more of your history – pray proceed.’

STRANGER. – ‘When I was about twelve years old my father became distracted, and died. I then continued with my mother for some years; she loved me much, and procured a teacher to instruct me in Latin. At last she died, and then there was a pleyto (law-suit). I took to the sierra and became a highwayman; but the wars broke out. My cousin Jara, of Valdepenas, raised a troop of brigantes. (50) I enlisted with him and distinguished myself very much; there is scarcely a man or woman in Spain but has heard of Jara and Chaleco. I am now captain in the service of Donna Isabel – I am covered with wounds – I am – ugh! ugh! ugh – !’

He had commenced coughing, and in a manner which perfectly astounded me. I had heard hooping coughs, consumptive coughs, coughs caused by colds, and other accidents, but a cough so horrible and unnatural as that of the Gypsy soldier, I had never witnessed in the course of my travels. In a moment he was bent double, his frame writhed and laboured, the veins of his forehead were frightfully swollen, and his complexion became black as the blackest blood; he screamed, he snorted, he barked, and appeared to be on the point of suffocation – yet more explosive became the cough; and the people of the house, frightened, came running into the apartment. I cries, ‘The man is perishing, run instantly for a surgeon!’ He heard me, and with a quick movement raised his left hand as if to countermand the order; another struggle, then one mighty throe, which seemed to search his deepest intestines; and he remained motionless, his head on his knee. The cough had left him, and within a minute or two he again looked up.

‘That is a dreadful cough, friend,’ said I, when he was somewhat recovered. ‘How did you get it?’

GYPSY SOLDIER. – ‘I am – shot through the lungs – brother! Let me but take breath, and I will show you the hole – the agujero.’

He continued with me a considerable time, and showed not the slightest disposition to depart; the cough returned twice, but not so violently; – at length, having an engagement, I arose, and apologising, told him I must leave him. The next day he came again at the same hour, but he found me not, as I was abroad dining with a friend. On the third day, however, as I was sitting down to dinner, in he walked, unannounced. I am rather hospitable than otherwise, so I cordially welcomed him, and requested him to partake of my meal. ‘Con mucho gusto,’ he replied, and instantly took his place at the table. I was again astonished, for if his cough was frightful, his appetite was yet more so. He ate like a wolf of the sierra; – soup, puchero, fowl and bacon disappeared before him in a twinkling. I ordered in cold meat, which he presently despatched; a large piece of cheese was then produced. We had been drinking water.

‘Where is the wine?’ said he.

‘I never use it,’ I replied.

He looked blank. The hostess, however, who was present waiting, said, ‘If the gentleman wish for wine, I have a bota nearly full, which I will instantly fetch.’

The skin bottle, when full, might contain about four quarts. She filled him a very large glass, and was removing the skin, but he prevented her, saying, ‘Leave it, my good woman; my brother here will settle with you for the little I shall use.’

He now lighted his cigar, and it was evident that he had made good his quarters. On the former occasion I thought his behaviour sufficiently strange, but I liked it still less on the present. Every fifteen minutes he emptied his glass, which contained at least a pint; his conversation became horrible. He related the atrocities which he had committed when a robber and bragante in La Mancha. ‘It was our custom,’ said he, ‘to tie our prisoners to the olive-trees, and then, putting our horses to full speed, to tilt at them with our spears.’ As he continued to drink he became waspish and quarrelsome: he had hitherto talked Castilian, but he would now only converse in Gypsy and in Latin, the last of which languages he spoke with great fluency, though ungrammatically. He told me that he had killed six men in duels; and, drawing his sword, fenced about the room. I saw by the manner in which he handled it, that he was master of his weapon. His cough did not return, and he said it seldom afflicted him when he dined well. He gave me to understand that he had received no pay for two years. ‘Therefore you visit me,’ thought I. At the end of three hours, perceiving that he exhibited no signs of taking his departure, I arose, and said I must again leave him. ‘As you please, brother,’ said he; ‘use no ceremony with me, I am fatigued, and will wait a little while.’ I did not return till eleven at night, when my hostess informed me that he had just departed, promising to return next day. He had emptied the bota to the last drop, and the cheese produced being insufficient for him, he sent for an entire Dutch cheese on my account; part of which he had eaten and the rest carried away. I now saw that I had formed a most troublesome acquaintance, of whom it was highly necessary to rid myself, if possible; I therefore dined out for the next nine days.

For a week he came regularly at the usual hour, at the end of which time he desisted; the hostess was afraid of him, as she said that he was a brujo or wizard, and only spoke to him through the wicket.

On the tenth day I was cast into prison, where I continued several weeks. Once, during my confinement, he called at the house, and being informed of my mishap, drew his sword, and vowed with horrible imprecations to murder the prime minister of Ofalia, for having dared to imprison his brother. On my release, I did not revisit my lodgings for some days, but lived at an hotel. I returned late one afternoon, with my servant Francisco, a Basque of Hernani, who had served me with the utmost fidelity during my imprisonment, which he had voluntarily shared with me. The first person I saw on entering was the Gypsy soldier, seated by the table, whereon were several bottles of wine which he had ordered from the tavern, of course on my account. He was smoking, and looked savage and sullen; perhaps he was not much pleased with the reception he had experienced. He had forced himself in, and the woman of the house sat in a corner looking upon him with dread. I addressed him, but he would scarcely return an answer. At last he commenced discoursing with great volubility in Gypsy and Latin. I did not understand much of what he said. His words were wild and incoherent, but he repeatedly threatened some person. The last bottle was now exhausted: he demanded more. I told him in a gentle manner that he had drunk enough. He looked on the ground for some time, then slowly, and somewhat hesitatingly, drew his sword and laid it on the table. It was become dark. I was not afraid of the fellow, but I wished to avoid anything unpleasant. I called to Francisco to bring lights, and obeying a sign which I made him, he sat down at the table. The Gypsy glared fiercely upon him – Francisco laughed, and began with great glee to talk in Basque, of which the Gypsy understood not a word. The Basques, like all Tartars, (51) and such they are, are paragons of fidelity and good nature; they are only dangerous when outraged, when they are terrible indeed. Francisco, to the strength of a giant joined the disposition of a lamb. He was beloved even in the patio of the prison, where he used to pitch the bar and wrestle with the murderers and felons, always coming off victor. He continued speaking Basque. The Gypsy was incensed; and, forgetting the languages in which, for the last hour, he had been speaking, complained to Francisco of his rudeness in speaking any tongue but Castilian. The Basque replied by a loud carcajada, and slightly touched the Gypsy on the knee. The latter sprang up like a mine discharged, seized his sword, and, retreating a few steps, made a desperate lunge at Francisco.

The Basques, next to the Pasiegos, (52) are the best cudgel-players in Spain, and in the world. Francisco held in his hand part of a broomstick, which he had broken in the stable, whence he had just ascended. With the swiftness of lightning he foiled the stroke of Chaleco, and, in another moment, with a dexterous blow, struck the sword out of his hand, sending it ringing against the wall.

The Gypsy resumed his seat and his cigar. He occasionally looked at the Basque. His glances were at first atrocious, but presently changed their expression, and appeared to me to become prying and eagerly curious. He at last arose, picked up his sword, sheathed it, and walked slowly to the door; when there he stopped, turned round, advanced close to Francisco, and looked him steadfastly in the face. ‘My good fellow,’ said he, ‘I am a Gypsy, and can read baji. Do you know where you will be at this time to-morrow?’ (53) Then, laughing like a hyena, he departed, and I never saw him again.

At that time on the morrow, Francisco was on his death-bed. He had caught the jail fever, which had long raged in the Carcel de la Corte, where I was imprisoned. In a few days he was buried, a mass of corruption, in the Campo Santo of Madrid.


THE Gitanos, in their habits and manner of life, are much less cleanly than the Spaniards. The hovels in which they reside exhibit none of the neatness which is observable in the habitations of even the poorest of the other race. The floors are unswept, and abound with filth and mud, and in their persons they are scarcely less vile. Inattention to cleanliness is a characteristic of the Gypsies, in all parts of the world.

The Bishop of Forli, as far back as 1422, gives evidence upon this point, and insinuates that they carried the plague with them; as he observes that it raged with peculiar violence the year of their appearance at Forli. (54)

At the present day they are almost equally disgusting, in this respect, in Hungary, England, and Spain. Amongst the richer Gitanos, habits of greater cleanliness of course exist than amongst the poorer. An air of sluttishness, however, pervades their dwellings, which, to an experienced eye, would sufficiently attest that the inmates were Gitanos, in the event of their absence.

What can be said of the Gypsy dress, of which such frequent mention is made in the Spanish laws, and which is prohibited together with the Gypsy language and manner of life? Of whatever it might consist in former days, it is so little to be distinguished from the dress of some classes amongst the Spaniards, that it is almost impossible to describe the difference. They generally wear a high- peaked, narrow-brimmed hat, a zamarra of sheep-skin in winter, and, during summer, a jacket of brown cloth; and beneath this they are fond of exhibiting a red plush waistcoat, something after the fashion of the English jockeys, with numerous buttons and clasps. A faja, or girdle of crimson silk, surrounds the waist, where, not unfrequently, are stuck the cachas which we have already described. Pantaloons of coarse cloth or leather descend to the knee; the legs are protected by woollen stockings, and sometimes by a species of spatterdash, either of cloth or leather; stout high-lows complete the equipment.

Such is the dress of the Gitanos of most parts of Spain. But it is necessary to remark that such also is the dress of the chalans, and of the muleteers, except that the latter are in the habit of wearing broad sombreros as preservatives from the sun. This dress appears to be rather Andalusian than Gitano; and yet it certainly beseems the Gitano better than the chalan or muleteer. He wears it with more easy negligence or jauntiness, by which he may be recognised at some distance, even from behind.

It is still more difficult to say what is the peculiar dress of the Gitanas; they wear not the large red cloaks and immense bonnets of coarse beaver which distinguish their sisters of England; they have no other headgear than a handkerchief, which is occasionally resorted to as a defence against the severity of the weather; their hair is sometimes confined by a comb, but more frequently is permitted to stray dishevelled down their shoulders; they are fond of large ear-rings, whether of gold, silver, or metal, resembling in this respect the poissardes of France. There is little to distinguish them from the Spanish women save the absence of the mantilla, which they never carry. Females of fashion not unfrequently take pleasure in dressing a la Gitana, as it is called; but this female Gypsy fashion, like that of the men, is more properly the fashion of Andalusia, the principal characteristic of which is the saya, which is exceedingly short, with many rows of flounces.

True it is that the original dress of the Gitanos, male and female, whatever it was, may have had some share in forming the Andalusian fashion, owing to the great number of these wanderers who found their way to that province at an early period. The Andalusians are a mixed breed of various nations, Romans, Vandals, Moors; perhaps there is a slight sprinkling of Gypsy blood in their veins, and of Gypsy fashion in their garb.

The Gitanos are, for the most part, of the middle size, and the proportions of their frames convey a powerful idea of strength and activity united; a deformed or weakly object is rarely found amongst them in persons of either sex; such probably perish in their infancy, unable to support the hardships and privations to which the race is still subjected from its great poverty, and these same privations have given and still give a coarseness and harshness to their features, which are all strongly marked and expressive. Their complexion is by no means uniform, save that it is invariably darker than the general olive hue of the Spaniards; not unfrequently countenances as dark as those of mulattos present themselves, and in some few instances of almost negro blackness. Like most people of savage ancestry, their teeth are white and strong; their mouths are not badly formed, but it is in the eye more than in any other feature that they differ from other human beings.

There is something remarkable in the eye of the Gitano: should his hair and complexion become fair as those of the Swede or the Finn, and his jockey gait as grave and ceremonious as that of the native of Old Castile, were he dressed like a king, a priest, or a warrior, still would the Gitano be detected by his eye, should it continue unchanged. The Jew is known by his eye, but then in the Jew that feature is peculiarly small; the Chinese has a remarkable eye, but then the eye of the Chinese is oblong, and even with the face, which is flat; but the eye of the Gitano is neither large nor small, and exhibits no marked difference in its shape from the eyes of the common cast. Its peculiarity 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. That the Gypsy eye has sometimes a peculiar effect, we learn from the following stanza:-

‘A Gypsy stripling’s glossy eye
Has pierced my bosom’s core,
A feat no eye beneath the sky
Could e’er effect before.’

The following passages are extracted from a Spanish work, (55) and cannot be out of place here, as they relate to those matters to which we have devoted this chapter.

‘The Gitanos have an olive complexion and very marked physiognomy; their cheeks are prominent, their lips thick, their eyes vivid and black; their hair is long, black, and coarse, and their teeth very white. The general expression of their physiognomy is a compound of pride, slavishness, and cunning. They are, for the most part, of good stature, well formed, and support with facility fatigue and every kind of hardship. When they discuss any matter, or speak among themselves, whether in Catalan, in Castilian, or in Germania, which is their own peculiar jargon, they always make use of much gesticulation, which contributes to give to their conversation and to the vivacity of their physiognomy a certain expression, still more penetrating and characteristic.

To this work we shall revert on a future occasion.

‘When a Gitano has occasion to speak of some business in which his interest is involved, he redoubles his gestures in proportion as he knows the necessity of convincing those who hear him, and fears their impassibility. If any rancorous idea agitate him in the course of his narrative; if he endeavour to infuse into his auditors sentiments of jealousy, vengeance, or any violent passion, his features become exaggerated, and the vivacity of his glances, and the contraction of his lips, show clearly, and in an imposing manner, the foreign origin of the Gitanos, and all the customs of barbarous people. Even his very smile has an expression hard and disagreeable. One might almost say that joy in him is a forced sentiment, and that, like unto the savage man, sadness is the dominant feature of his physiognomy.

‘The Gitana is distinguished by the same complexion, and almost the same features. In her frame she is as well formed, and as flexible as the Gitano. Condemned to suffer the same privations and wants, her countenance, when her interest does not oblige her to dissemble her feelings, presents the same aspect of melancholy, and shows besides, with more energy, the rancorous passions of which the female heart is susceptible. Free in her actions, her carriage, and her pursuits, she speaks, vociferates, and makes more gestures than the Gitano, and, in imitation of him, her arms are in continual motion, to give more expression to the imagery with which she accompanies her discourse; her whole body contributes to her gesture, and to increase its force; endeavouring by these means to sharpen the effect of language in itself insufficient; and her vivid and disordered imagination is displayed in her appearance and attitude.

‘When she turns her hand to any species of labour, her hurried action, the disorder of her hair, which is scarcely subjected by a little comb, and her propensity to irritation, show how little she loves toil, and her disgust for any continued occupation.

‘In her disputes, the air of menace and high passion, the flow of words, and the facility with which she provokes and despises danger, indicate manners half barbarous, and ignorance of other means of defence. Finally, both in males and females, their physical constitution, colour, agility, and flexibility, reveal to us a caste sprung from a burning clime, and devoted to all those exercises which contribute to evolve bodily vigour, and certain mental faculties.

‘The dress of the Gitano varies with the country which he inhabits. Both in Rousillon and Catalonia his habiliments generally consist of jacket, waistcoat, pantaloons, and a red faja, which covers part of his waistcoat; on his feet he wears hempen sandals, with much ribbon tied round the leg as high as the calf; he has, moreover, either woollen or cotton stockings; round his neck he wears a handkerchief, carelessly tied; and in the winter he uses a blanket or mantle, with sleeves, cast over the shoulder; his head is covered with the indispensable red cap, which appears to be the favourite ornament of many nations in the vicinity of the Mediterranean and Caspian Sea.

‘The neck and the elbows of the jacket are adorned with pieces of blue and yellow cloth embroidered with silk, as well as the seams of the pantaloons; he wears, moreover, on the jacket or the waistcoat, various rows of silver buttons, small and round, sustained by rings or chains of the same metal. The old people, and those who by fortune, or some other cause, exercise, in appearance, a kind of authority over the rest, are almost always dressed in black or dark-blue velvet. Some of those who affect elegance amongst them keep for holidays a complete dress of sky- blue velvet, with embroidery at the neck, pocket-holes, arm-pits, and in all the seams; in a word, with the exception of the turban, this was the fashion of dress of the ancient Moors of Granada, the only difference being occasioned by time and misery.

‘The dress of the Gitanas is very varied: the young girls, or those who are in tolerably easy circumstances, generally wear a black bodice laced up with a string, and adjusted to their figures, and contrasting with the scarlet-coloured saya, which only covers a part of the leg; their shoes are cut very low, and are adorned with little buckles of silver; the breast, and the upper part of the bodice, are covered either with a white handkerchief, or one of some vivid colour; and on the head is worn another handkerchief, tied beneath the chin, one of the ends of which falls on the shoulder, in the manner of a hood. When the cold or the heat permit, the Gitana removes the hood, without untying the knots, and exhibits her long and shining tresses restrained by a comb. The old women, and the very poor, dress in the same manner, save that their habiliments are more coarse and the colours less in harmony. Amongst them misery appears beneath the most revolting aspect; whilst the poorest Gitano preserves a certain deportment which would make his aspect supportable, if his unquiet and ferocious glance did not inspire us with aversion.’


WHILST their husbands are engaged in their jockey vocation, or in wielding the cachas, the Callees, or Gypsy females, are seldom idle, but are endeavouring, by various means, to make all the gain they can. The richest amongst them are generally contrabandistas, and in the large towns go from house to house with prohibited goods, especially silk and cotton, and occasionally with tobacco. They likewise purchase cast-off female wearing-apparel, which, when vamped up and embellished, they sometimes contrive to sell as new, with no inconsiderable profit.

Gitanas of this description are of the most respectable class; the rest, provided they do not sell roasted chestnuts, or esteras, which are a species of mat, seek a livelihood by different tricks and practices, more or less fraudulent; for example –

LA BAHI, or fortune-telling, which is called in Spanish, BUENA VENTURA. – This way of extracting money from the credulity of dupes is, of all those practised by the Gypsies, the readiest and most easy; promises are the only capital requisite, and the whole art of fortune-telling consists in properly adapting these promises to the age and condition of the parties who seek for information. The Gitanas are clever enough in the accomplishment of this, and in most cases afford perfect satisfaction. Their practice chiefly lies amongst females, the portion of the human race most given to curiosity and credulity. To the young maidens they promise lovers, handsome invariably, and sometimes rich; to wives children, and perhaps another husband; for their eyes are so penetrating, that occasionally they will develop your most secret thoughts and wishes; to the old, riches – and nothing but riches; for they have sufficient knowledge of the human heart to be aware that avarice is the last passion that becomes extinct within it. These riches are to proceed either from the discovery of hidden treasures or from across the water; from the Americas, to which the Spaniards still look with hope, as there is no individual in Spain, however poor, but has some connection in those realms of silver and gold, at whose death he considers it probable that he may succeed to a brilliant ‘herencia.’ The Gitanas, in the exercise of this practice, find dupes almost as readily amongst the superior classes, as the veriest dregs of the population. It is their boast, that the best houses are open to them; and perhaps in the space of one hour, they will spae the bahi to a duchess, or countess, in one of the hundred palaces of Madrid, and to half a dozen of the lavanderas engaged in purifying the linen of the capital, beneath the willows which droop on the banks of the murmuring Manzanares. One great advantage which the Gypsies possess over all other people is an utter absence of MAUVAISE HONTE; their speech is as fluent, and their eyes as unabashed, in the presence of royalty, as before those from whom they have nothing to hope or fear; the result being, that most minds quail before them. There were two Gitanas at Madrid, one Pepita by name, and the other La Chicharona; the first was a spare, shrewd, witch- like female, about fifty, and was the mother-in-law of La Chicharona, who was remarkable for her stoutness. These women subsisted entirely by fortune-telling and swindling. It chanced that the son of Pepita, and husband of Chicharona, having spirited away a horse, was sent to the presidio of Malaga for ten years of hard labour. This misfortune caused inexpressible affliction to his wife and mother, who determined to make every effort to procure his liberation. The readiest way which occurred to them was to procure an interview with the Queen Regent Christina, who they doubted not would forthwith pardon the culprit, provided they had an opportunity of assailing her with their Gypsy discourse; for, to use their own words, ‘they well knew what to say.’ I at that time lived close by the palace, in the street of Santiago, and daily, for the space of a month, saw them bending their steps in that direction.

One day they came to me in a great hurry, with a strange expression on both their countenances. ‘We have seen Christina, hijo’ (my son), said Pepita to me.

‘Within the palace?’ I inquired.

‘Within the palace, O child of my garlochin,’ answered the sibyl: ‘Christina at last saw and sent for us, as I knew she would; I told her “bahi,” and Chicharona danced the Romalis (Gypsy dance) before her.’

‘What did you tell her?’

‘I told her many things,’ said the hag, ‘many things which I need not tell you: know, however, that amongst other things, I told her that the chabori (little queen) would die, and then she would be Queen of Spain. I told her, moreover, that within three years she would marry the son of the King of France, and it was her bahi to die Queen of France and Spain, and to be loved much, and hated much.’

‘And did you not dread her anger, when you told her these things?’

‘Dread her, the Busnee?’ screamed Pepita: ‘No, my child, she dreaded me far more; I looked at her so – and raised my finger so – and Chicharona clapped her hands, and the Busnee believed all I said, and was afraid of me; and then I asked for the pardon of my son, and she pledged her word to see into the matter, and when we came away, she gave me this baria of gold, and to Chicharona this other, so at all events we have hokkanoed the queen. May an evil end overtake her body, the Busnee!’

Though some of the Gitanas contrive to subsist by fortune-telling alone, the generality of them merely make use of it as an instrument towards the accomplishment of greater things. The immediate gains are scanty; a few cuartos being the utmost which they receive from the majority of their customers. But the bahi is an excellent passport into houses, and when they spy a convenient opportunity, they seldom fail to avail themselves of it. It is necessary to watch them strictly, as articles frequently disappear in a mysterious manner whilst Gitanas are telling fortunes. The bahi, moreover, is occasionally the prelude to a device which we shall now attempt to describe, and which is called HOKKANO BARO, or the great trick, of which we have already said something in the former part of this work. It consists in persuading some credulous person to deposit whatever money and valuables the party can muster in a particular spot, under the promise that the deposit will increase many manifold. Some of our readers will have difficulty in believing that any people can be found sufficiently credulous to allow themselves to be duped by a trick of this description, the grossness of the intended fraud seeming too palpable. Experience, however, proves the contrary. The deception is frequently practised at the present day, and not only in Spain but in England – enlightened England – and in France likewise; an instance being given in the memoirs of Vidocq, the late celebrated head of the secret police of Paris, though, in that instance, the perpetrator of the fraud was not a Gypsy. The most subtle method of accomplishing the hokkano baro is the following:-

When the dupe – a widow we will suppose, for in these cases the dupes are generally widows – has been induced to consent to make the experiment, the Gitana demands of her whether she has in the house some strong chest with a safe lock. On receiving an affirmative answer, she will request to see all the gold and silver of any description which she may chance to have in her possession. The treasure is shown her; and when the Gitana has carefully inspected and counted it, she produces a white handkerchief, saying, Lady, I give you this handkerchief, which is blessed. Place in it your gold and silver, and tie it with three knots. I am going for three days, during which period you must keep the bundle beneath your pillow, permitting no one to go near it, and observing the greatest secrecy, otherwise the money will take wings and fly away. Every morning during the three days it will be well to open the bundle, for your own satisfaction, to see that no misfortune has befallen your treasure; be always careful, however, to fasten it again with the three knots. On my return, we will place the bundle, after having inspected it, in the chest, which you shall yourself lock, retaining the key in your possession. But, thenceforward, for three weeks, you must by no means unlock the chest, nor look at the treasure – if you do it will fly away. Only follow my directions, and you will gain much, very much, baribu.

The Gitana departs, and, during the three days, prepares a bundle as similar as possible to the one which contains the money of her dupe, save that instead of gold ounces, dollars, and plate, its contents consist of copper money and pewter articles of little or no value. With this bundle concealed beneath her cloak, she returns at the end of three days to her intended victim. The bundle of real treasure is produced and inspected, and again tied up by the Gitana, who then requests the other to open the chest, which done, she formally places A BUNDLE in it; but, in the meanwhile, she has contrived to substitute the fictitious for the real one. The chest is then locked, the lady retaining the key. The Gitana promises to return at the end of three weeks, to open the chest, assuring the lady that if it be not unlocked until that period, it will be found filled with gold and silver; but threatening that in the event of her injunctions being disregarded, the money deposited will vanish. She then walks off with great deliberation, bearing away the spoil. It is needless to say that she never returns.

There are other ways of accomplishing the hokkano baro. The most simple, and indeed the one most generally used by the Gitanas, is to persuade some simple individual to hide a sum of money in the earth, which they afterwards carry away. A case of this description occurred within my own knowledge, at Madrid, towards the latter part of the year 1837. There was a notorious Gitana, of the name of Aurora; she was about forty years of age, a Valencian by birth, and immensely fat. This amiable personage, by some means, formed the acquaintance of a wealthy widow lady; and was not slow in attempting to practise the hokkano baro upon her. She succeeded but too well. The widow, at the instigation of Aurora, buried one hundred ounces of gold beneath a ruined arch in a field, at a short distance from the wall of Madrid. The inhumation was effected at night by the widow alone. Aurora was, however, on the watch, and, in less than ten minutes after the widow had departed, possessed herself of the treasure; perhaps the largest one ever acquired by this kind of deceit. The next day the widow had certain misgivings, and, returning to the spot, found her money gone. About six months after this event, I was imprisoned in the Carcel de la Corte, at Madrid, and there I found Aurora, who was in durance for defrauding the widow. She said that it had been her intention to depart for Valencia with the ‘barias,’ as she styled her plunder, but the widow had discovered the trick too soon, and she had been arrested. She added, however, that she had contrived to conceal the greatest part of the property, and that she expected her liberation in a few days, having been prodigal of bribes to the ‘justicia.’ In effect, her liberation took place sooner than my own. Nevertheless, she had little cause to triumph, as before she left the prison she had been fleeced of the last cuarto of her ill- gotten gain, by alguazils and escribanos, who, she admitted, understood hokkano baro much better than herself.

When I next saw Aurora, she informed me that she was once more on excellent terms with the widow, whom she had persuaded that the loss of the money was caused by her own imprudence, in looking for it before the appointed time; the spirit of the earth having removed it in anger. She added that her dupe was quite disposed to make another venture, by which she hoped to retrieve her former loss.

USTILAR PASTESAS. – Under this head may be placed various kinds of theft committed by the Gitanos. The meaning of the words is stealing with the hands; but they are more generally applied to the filching of money by dexterity of hand, when giving or receiving change. For example: a Gitana will enter a shop, and purchase some insignificant article, tendering in payment a baria or golden ounce. The change being put down before her on the counter, she counts the money, and complains that she has received a dollar and several pesetas less than her due. It seems impossible that there can be any fraud on her part, as she has not even taken the pieces in her hand, but merely placed her fingers upon them; pushing them on one side. She now asks the merchant what he means by attempting to deceive the poor woman. The merchant, supposing that he has made a mistake, takes up the money, counts it, and finds in effect that the just sum is not there. He again hands out the change, but there is now a greater deficiency than before, and the merchant is convinced that he is dealing with a witch. The Gitana now pushes the money to him, uplifts her voice, and talks of the justicia. Should the merchant become frightened, and, emptying a bag of dollars, tell her to pay herself, as has sometimes been the case, she will have a fine opportunity to exercise her powers, and whilst taking the change will contrive to convey secretly into her sleeves five or six dollars at least; after which she will depart with much vociferation, declaring that she will never again enter the shop of so cheating a picaro.

Of all the Gitanas at Madrid, Aurora the fat was, by their own confession, the most dexterous at this species of robbery; she having been known in many instances, whilst receiving change for an ounce, to steal the whole value, which amounts to sixteen dollars. It was not without reason that merchants in ancient times were, according to Martin Del Rio, advised to sell nothing out of their shops to Gitanas, as they possessed an infallible secret for attracting to their own purses from the coffers of the former the money with which they paid for the articles they purchased. This secret consisted in stealing a pastesas, which they still practise. Many accounts of witchcraft and sorcery, which are styled old women’s tales, are perhaps equally well founded. Real actions have been attributed to wrong causes.

Shoplifting, and other kinds of private larceny, are connected with stealing a pastesas, for in all dexterity of hand is required. Many of the Gitanas of Madrid are provided with large pockets, or rather sacks, beneath their gowns, in which they stow away their plunder. Some of these pockets are capacious enough to hold, at one time, a dozen yards of cloth, a Dutch cheese and a bottle of wine. Nothing that she can eat, drink, or sell, comes amiss to a veritable Gitana; and sometimes the contents of her pocket would afford materials for an inventory far more lengthy and curious than the one enumerating the effects found on the person of the man- mountain at Lilliput.

CHIVING DRAO. – In former times the Spanish Gypsies of both sexes were in the habit of casting a venomous preparation into the mangers of the cattle for the purpose of causing sickness. At present this practice has ceased, or nearly so; the Gitanos, however, talk of it as universal amongst their ancestors. They were in the habit of visiting the stalls and stables secretly, and poisoning the provender of the animals, who almost immediately became sick. After a few days the Gitanos would go to the labourers and offer to cure the sick cattle for a certain sum, and if their proposal was accepted would in effect perform the cure.

Connected with the cure was a curious piece of double dealing. They privately administered an efficacious remedy, but pretended to cure the animals not by medicines but by charms, which consisted of small variegated beans, called in their language bobis, (56) dropped into the mangers. By this means they fostered the idea, already prevalent, that they were people possessed of supernatural gifts and powers, who could remove diseases without having recourse to medicine. By means of drao, they likewise procured themselves food; poisoning swine, as their brethren in England still do, (57) and then feasting on the flesh, which was abandoned as worthless: witness one of their own songs:-

‘By Gypsy drow the Porker died,
I saw him stiff at evening tide,
But I saw him not when morning shone, For the Gypsies ate him flesh and bone.’

By drao also they could avenge themselves on their enemies by destroying their cattle, without incurring a shadow of suspicion. Revenge for injuries, real or imaginary, is sweet to all unconverted minds; to no one more than the Gypsy, who, in all parts of the world, is, perhaps, the most revengeful of human beings.

Vidocq in his memoirs states, that having formed a connection with an individual whom he subsequently discovered to be the captain of a band of Walachian Gypsies, the latter, whose name was Caroun, wished Vidocq to assist in scattering certain powders in the mangers of the peasants’ cattle; Vidocq, from prudential motives, refused the employment. There can be no doubt that these powders were, in substance, the drao of the Spanish Gitanos.

LA BAR LACHI, OR THE LOADSTONE. – If the Gitanos in general be addicted to any one superstition, it is certainly with respect to this stone, to which they attribute all kinds of miraculous powers. There can be no doubt, that the singular property which it possesses of attracting steel, by filling their untutored minds with amazement, first gave rise to this veneration, which is carried beyond all reasonable bounds.

They believe that he who is in possession of it has nothing to fear from steel or lead, from fire or water, and that death itself has no power over him. The Gypsy contrabandistas are particularly anxious to procure this stone, which they carry upon their persons in their expeditions; they say, that in the event of being pursued by the jaracanallis, or revenue officers, whirlwinds of dust will arise, and conceal them from the view of their enemies; the horse- stealers say much the same thing, and assert that they are uniformly successful, when they bear about them the precious stone. But it is said to be able to effect much more. Extraordinary things are related of its power in exciting the amorous passions, and, on this account, it is in great request amongst the Gypsy hags; all these women are procuresses, and find persons of both sexes weak and wicked enough to make use of their pretended knowledge in the composition of love-draughts and decoctions.

In the case of the loadstone, however, there is no pretence, the Gitanas believing all they say respecting it, and still more; this is proved by the eagerness with which they seek to obtain the stone in its natural state, which is somewhat difficult to accomplish.

In the museum of natural curiosities at Madrid there is a large piece of loadstone originally extracted from the American mines. There is scarcely a Gitana in Madrid who is not acquainted with this circumstance, and who does not long to obtain the stone, or a part of it; its being placed in a royal museum serving to augment, in their opinion, its real value. Several attempts have been made to steal it, all of which, however, have been unsuccessful. The Gypsies seem not to be the only people who envy royalty the possession of this stone. Pepita, the old Gitana of whose talent at telling fortunes such honourable mention has already been made, informed me that a priest, who was muy enamorado (in love), proposed to her to steal the loadstone, offering her all his sacerdotal garments in the event of success: whether the singular reward that was promised had but slight temptations for her, or whether she feared that her dexterity was not equal to the accomplishment of the task, we know not, but she appears to have declined attempting it. According to the Gypsy account, the person in love, if he wish to excite a corresponding passion in another quarter by means of the loadstone, must swallow, IN AGUARDIENTE, a small portion of the stone pulverised, at the time of going to rest, repeating to himself the following magic rhyme:-

‘To the Mountain of Olives one morning I hied, Three little black goats before me I spied, Those three little goats on three cars I laid, Black cheeses three from their milk I made; The one I bestow on the loadstone of power, That save me it may from all ills that lower; The second to Mary Padilla I give,
And to all the witch hags about her that live; The third I reserve for Asmodeus lame,
That fetch me he may whatever I name.’

LA RAIZ DEL BUEN BARON, OR THE ROOT OF THE GOOD BARON. – On this subject we cannot be very explicit. It is customary with the Gitanas to sell, under this title, various roots and herbs, to unfortunate females who are desirous of producing a certain result; these roots are boiled in white wine, and the abominable decoction is taken fasting. I was once shown the root of the good baron, which, in this instance, appeared to be parsley root. By the good baron is meant his Satanic majesty, on whom the root is very appropriately fathered.


IT is impossible to dismiss the subject of the Spanish Gypsies without offering some remarks on their marriage festivals. There is nothing which they retain connected with their primitive rites and principles, more characteristic perhaps of the sect of the Rommany, of the sect of the HUSBANDS AND WIVES, than what relates to the marriage ceremony, which gives the female a protector, and the man a helpmate, a sharer of his joys and sorrows. The Gypsies are almost entirely ignorant of the grand points of morality; they have never had sufficient sense to perceive that to lie, to steal, and to shed human blood violently, are crimes which are sure, eventually, to yield bitter fruits to those who perpetrate them; but on one point, and that one of no little importance as far as temporal happiness is concerned, they are in general wiser than those who have had far better opportunities than such unfortunate outcasts, of regulating their steps, and distinguishing good from evil. They know that chastity is a jewel of high price, and that conjugal fidelity is capable of occasionally flinging a sunshine even over the dreary hours of a life passed in the contempt of almost all laws, whether human or divine.

There is a word in the Gypsy language to which those who speak it attach ideas of peculiar reverence, far superior to that connected with the name of the Supreme Being, the creator of themselves and the universe. This word is LACHA, which with them is the corporeal chastity of the females; we say corporeal chastity, for no other do they hold in the slightest esteem; it is lawful amongst them, nay praiseworthy, to be obscene in look, gesture, and discourse, to be accessories to vice, and to stand by and laugh at the worst abominations of the Busne, provided their LACHA YE TRUPOS, or corporeal chastity, remains unblemished. The Gypsy child, from her earliest years, is told by her strange mother, that a good Calli need only dread one thing in this world, and that is the loss of Lacha, in comparison with which that of life is of little consequence, as in such an event she will be provided for, but what provision is there for a Gypsy who has lost her Lacha? ‘Bear this in mind, my child,’ she will say, ‘and now eat this bread, and go forth and see what you can steal.’

A Gypsy girl is generally betrothed at the age of fourteen to the youth whom her parents deem a suitable match, and who is generally a few years older than herself. Marriage is invariably preceded by betrothment; and the couple must then wait two years before their union can take place, according to the law of the Cales. During this period it is expected that they treat each other as common acquaintance; they are permitted to converse, and even occasionally to exchange slight presents. One thing, however, is strictly forbidden, and if in this instance they prove contumacious, the betrothment is instantly broken and the pair are never united, and thenceforward bear an evil reputation amongst their sect. This one thing is, going into the campo in each other’s company, or having any rendezvous beyond the gate of the city, town, or village, in which they dwell. Upon this point we can perhaps do no better than quote one of their own stanzas:-

‘Thy sire and mother wrath and hate
Have vowed against us, love!
The first, first night that from the gate We two together rove.’

With all the other Gypsies, however, and with the Busne or Gentiles, the betrothed female is allowed the freest intercourse, going whither she will, and returning at all times and seasons. With respect to the Busne, indeed, the parents are invariably less cautious than with their own race, as they conceive it next to an impossibility that their child should lose her Lacha by any intercourse with THE WHITE BLOOD; and true it is that experience has proved that their confidence in this respect is not altogether idle. The Gitanas have in general a decided aversion to the white men; some few instances, however, to the contrary are said to have occurred.

A short time previous to the expiration of the term of the betrothment, preparations are made for the Gypsy bridal. The wedding-day is certainly an eventful period in the life of every individual, as he takes a partner for better or for worse, whom he is bound to cherish through riches and poverty; but to the Gypsy particularly the wedding festival is an important affair. If he is rich, he frequently becomes poor before it is terminated; and if he is poor, he loses the little which he possesses, and must borrow of his brethren; frequently involving himself throughout life, to procure the means of giving a festival; for without a festival, he could not become a Rom, that is, a husband, and would cease to belong to this sect of Rommany.

There is a great deal of what is wild and barbarous attached to these festivals. I shall never forget a particular one at which I was present. After much feasting, drinking, and yelling, in the Gypsy house, the bridal train sallied forth – a frantic spectacle. First of all marched a villainous jockey-looking fellow, holding in his hands, uplifted, a long pole, at the top of which fluttered in the morning air a snow-white cambric handkerchief, emblem of the bride’s purity. Then came the betrothed pair, followed by their nearest friends; then a rabble rout of Gypsies, screaming and shouting, and discharging guns and pistols, till all around rang with the din, and the village dogs barked. On arriving at the church gate, the fellow who bore the pole stuck it into the ground with a loud huzza, and the train, forming two ranks, defiled into the church on either side of the pole and its strange ornaments. On the conclusion of the ceremony, they returned in the same manner in which they had come.

Throughout the day there was nothing going on but singing, drinking, feasting, and dancing; but the most singular part of the festival was reserved for the dark night. Nearly a ton weight of sweetmeats had been prepared, at an enormous expense, not for the gratification of the palate, but for a purpose purely Gypsy. These sweetmeats of all kinds, and of all forms, but principally yemas, or yolks of eggs prepared with a crust of sugar (a delicious bonne- bouche), were strewn on the floor of a large room, at least to the depth of three inches. Into this room, at a given signal, tripped the bride and bridegroom DANCING ROMALIS, followed amain by all the Gitanos and Gitanas, DANCING ROMALIS. To convey a slight idea of the scene is almost beyond the power of words. In a few minutes the sweetmeats were reduced to a powder, or rather to a mud, the dancers were soiled to the knees with sugar, fruits, and yolks of eggs. Still more terrific became the lunatic merriment. The men sprang high into the air, neighed, brayed, and crowed; whilst the Gitanas snapped their fingers in their own fashion, louder than castanets, distorting their forms into all kinds of obscene attitudes, and uttering words to repeat which were an abomination. In a corner of the apartment capered the while Sebastianillo, a convict Gypsy from Melilla, strumming the guitar most furiously, and producing demoniacal sounds which had some resemblance to Malbrun (Malbrouk), and, as he strummed, repeating at intervals the Gypsy modification of the song:-

‘Chala Malbrun chinguerar,
Birandon, birandon, birandera –
Chala Malbrun chinguerar,
No se bus trutera –
No se bus trutera.
No se bus trutera.
La romi que le camela,
Birandon, birandon,’ etc.

The festival endures three days, at the end of which the greatest part of the property of the bridegroom, even if he were previously in easy circumstances, has been wasted in this strange kind of riot and dissipation. Paco, the Gypsy of Badajoz, attributed his ruin to the extravagance of his marriage festival; and many other Gitanos have confessed the same thing of themselves. They said that throughout the three days they appeared to be under the influence of infatuation, having no other wish or thought but to make away with their substance; some have gone so far as to cast money by handfuls into the street. Throughout the three days all the doors are kept open, and all corners, whether Gypsies or Busne, welcomed with a hospitality which knows no bounds.

In nothing do the Jews and Gitanos more resemble each other than in their marriages, and what is connected therewith. In both sects there is a betrothment: amongst the Jews for seven, amongst the Gitanos for a period of two years. In both there is a wedding festival, which endures amongst the Jews for fifteen and amongst the Gitanos for three days, during which, on both sides, much that is singular and barbarous occurs, which, however, has perhaps its origin in antiquity the most remote. But the wedding ceremonies of the Jews are far more complex and allegorical than those of the Gypsies, a more simple people. The Nazarene gazes on these ceremonies with mute astonishment; the washing of the bride – the painting of the face of herself and her companions with chalk and carmine – her ensconcing herself within the curtains of the bed with her female bevy, whilst the bridegroom hides himself within his apartment with the youths his companions – her envelopment in the white sheet, in which she appears like a corse, the bridegroom’s going to sup with her, when he places himself in the middle of the apartment with his eyes shut, and without tasting a morsel. His going to the synagogue, and then repairing to breakfast with the bride, where he practises the same self-denial – the washing of the bridegroom’s plate and sending it after him, that he may break his fast – the binding his hands behind him – his ransom paid by the bride’s mother – the visit of the sages to the bridegroom – the mulct imposed in case he repent – the killing of the bullock at the house of the bridegroom – the present of meat and fowls, meal and spices, to the bride – the gold and silver – that most imposing part of the ceremony, the walking of the bride by torchlight to the house of her betrothed, her eyes fixed in vacancy, whilst the youths of her kindred sing their wild songs around her – the cup of milk and the spoon presented to her by the bridegroom’s mother – the arrival of the sages in the morn – the reading of the Ketuba – the night – the half-enjoyment – the old woman – the tantalising knock at the door – and then the festival of fishes which concludes all, and leaves the jaded and wearied couple to repose after a fortnight of persecution.

The Jews, like the Gypsies, not unfrequently ruin themselves by the riot and waste of their marriage festivals. Throughout the entire fortnight, the houses, both of bride and bridegroom, are flung open to all corners; – feasting and song occupy the day – feasting and song occupy the hours of the night, and this continued revel is only broken by the ceremonies of which we have endeavoured to convey a faint idea. In these festivals the sages or ULEMMA take a distinguished part, doing their utmost to ruin the contracted parties, by the wonderful despatch which they make of the fowls and viands, sweetmeats, AND STRONG WATERS provided for the occasion.

After marriage the Gypsy females generally continue faithful to their husbands through life; giving evidence that the exhortations of their mothers in early life have not been without effect. Of course licentious females are to be found both amongst the matrons and the unmarried; but such instances are rare, and must be considered in the light of exceptions to a principle. The Gypsy women (I am speaking of those of Spain), as far as corporeal chastity goes, are very paragons; but in other respects, alas! – little can be said in praise of their morality.


WHILST in Spain I devoted as much time as I could spare from my grand object, which was to circulate the Gospel through that benighted country, to attempt to enlighten the minds of the Gitanos on the subject of religion. I cannot say that I experienced much success in my endeavours; indeed, I never expected much, being fully acquainted with the stony nature of the ground on which I was employed; perhaps some of the seed that I scattered may eventually spring up and yield excellent fruit. Of one thing I am certain: if I did the Gitanos no good, I did them no harm.

It has been said that there is a secret monitor, or conscience, within every heart, which immediately upbraids the individual on the commission of a crime; this may be true, but certainly the monitor within the Gitano breast is a very feeble one, for little attention is ever paid to its reproofs. With regard to conscience, be it permitted to observe, that it varies much according to climate, country, and religion; perhaps nowhere is it so terrible and strong as in England; I need not say why. Amongst the English, I have seen many individuals stricken low, and broken-hearted, by the force of conscience; but never amongst the Spaniards or Italians; and I never yet could observe that the crimes which the Gitanos were daily and hourly committing occasioned them the slightest uneasiness.

One important discovery I made among them: it was, that no individual, however wicked and hardened, is utterly GODLESS. Call it superstition, if you will, still a certain fear and reverence of something sacred and supreme would hang about them. I have heard Gitanos stiffly deny the existence of a Deity, and express the utmost contempt for everything holy; yet they subsequently never failed to contradict themselves, by permitting some expression to escape which belied their assertions, and of this I shall presently give a remarkable instance.

I found the women much more disposed to listen to anything I had to say than the men, who were in general so taken up with their traffic that they could think and talk of nothing else; the women, too, had more curiosity and more intelligence; the conversational powers of some of them I found to be very great, and yet they were destitute of the slightest rudiments of education, and were thieves by profession. At Madrid I had regular conversaziones, or, as they are called in Spanish, tertulias, with these women, who generally visited me twice a week; they were perfectly unreserved towards me with respect to their actions and practices, though their behaviour, when present, was invariably strictly proper. I have already had cause to mention Pepa the sibyl, and her daughter-in- law, Chicharona; the manners of the first were sometimes almost elegant, though, next to Aurora, she was the most notorious she- thug in Madrid; Chicharona was good-humoured, like most fat personages. Pepa had likewise two daughters, one of whom, a very remarkable female, was called La Tuerta, from the circumstance of her having but one eye, and the other, who was a girl of about thirteen, La Casdami, or the scorpion, from the malice which she occasionally displayed.

Pepa and Chicharona were invariably my most constant visitors. One day in winter they arrived as usual; the One-eyed and the Scorpion following behind.

MYSELF. – ‘I am glad to see you, Pepa: what have you been doing this morning?’

PEPA. – ‘I have been telling baji, and Chicharona has been stealing a pastesas; we have had but little success, and have come to warm ourselves at the brasero. As for the One-eyed, she is a very sluggard (holgazana), she will neither tell fortunes nor steal.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘Hold your peace, mother of the Bengues; I will steal, when I see occasion, but it shall not be a pastesas, and I will hokkawar (deceive), but it shall not be by telling fortunes. If I deceive, it shall be by horses, by jockeying. (58) If I steal, it shall be on the road – I’ll rob. You know already what I am capable of, yet knowing that, you would have me tell fortunes like yourself, or steal like Chicharona. Me dinela conche (it fills me with fury) to be asked to tell fortunes, and the next Busnee that talks to me of bajis, I will knock all her teeth out.’

THE SCORPION. – ‘My sister is right; I, too, would sooner be a salteadora (highwaywoman), or a chalana (she-jockey), than steal with the hands, or tell bajis.’

MYSELF. – ‘You do not mean to say, O Tuerta, that you are a jockey, and that you rob on the highway.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘I am a chalana, brother, and many a time I have robbed upon the road, as all our people know. I dress myself as a man, and go forth with some of them. I have robbed alone, in the pass of the Guadarama, with my horse and escopeta. I alone once robbed a cuadrilla of twenty Gallegos, who were returning to their own country, after cutting the harvests of Castile; I stripped them of their earnings, and could have stripped them of their very clothes had I wished, for they were down on their knees like cowards. I love a brave man, be he Busne or Gypsy. When I was not much older than the Scorpion, I went with several others to rob the cortijo of an old man; it was more than twenty leagues from here. We broke in at midnight, and bound the old man: we knew he had money; but he said no, and would not tell us where it was; so we tortured him, pricking him with our knives and burning his hands over the lamp; all, however, would not do. At last I said, “Let us try the PIMIENTOS”; so we took the green pepper husks, pulled open his eyelids, and rubbed the pupils with the green pepper fruit. That was the worst pinch of all. Would you believe it? the old man bore it. Then our people said, “Let us kill him,” but I said, no, it were a pity: so we spared him, though we got nothing. I have loved that old man ever since for his firm heart, and should have wished him for a husband.’

THE SCORPION. – ‘Ojala, that I had been in that cortijo, to see such sport!’

MYSELF. – ‘Do you fear God, O Tuerta?’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘Brother, I fear nothing.’

MYSELF. – ‘Do you believe in God, O Tuerta?’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘Brother, I do not; I hate all connected with that name; the whole is folly; me dinela conche. If I go to church, it is but to spit at the images. I spat at the bulto of Maria this morning; and I love the Corojai, and the Londone, (59) because they are not baptized.’

MYSELF. – ‘You, of course, never say a prayer.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘No, no; there are three or four old words, taught me by some old people, which I sometimes say to myself; I believe they have both force and virtue.’

MYSELF. – ‘I would fain hear; pray tell me them.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘Brother, they are words not to be repeated.’

MYSELF. – ‘Why not?’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘They are holy words, brother.’

MYSELF. – ‘Holy! You say there is no God; if there be none, there can be nothing holy; pray tell me the words, O Tuerta.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘Brother, I dare not.’

MYSELF. – ‘Then you do fear something.’



and now I wish I had not said them.’

MYSELF. – ‘You are distracted, O Tuerta: the words say simply, ‘Dwell within us, blessed Maria.’ You have spitten on her bulto this morning in the church, and now you are afraid to repeat four words, amongst which is her name.’

THE ONE-EYED. – ‘I did not understand them; but I wish I had not said them.’

. . . . . . .

I repeat that there is no individual, however hardened, who is utterly GODLESS.

The reader will have already gathered from the conversations reported in this volume, and especially from the last, that there is a wide difference between addressing Spanish Gitanos and Gitanas and English peasantry: of a certainty what will do well for the latter is calculated to make no impression on these thievish half- wild people. Try them with the Gospel, I hear some one cry, which speaks to all: I did try them with the Gospel, and in their own language. I commenced with Pepa and Chicharona. Determined that they should understand it, I proposed that they themselves should translate it. They could neither read nor write, which, however, did not disqualify them from being translators. I had myself previously translated the whole Testament into the Spanish Rommany, but I was desirous to circulate amongst the Gitanos a version conceived in the exact language in which they express their ideas. The women made no objection, they were fond of our tertulias, and they likewise reckoned on one small glass of Malaga wine, with which I invariably presented them. Upon the whole, they conducted themselves much better than could have been expected. We commenced with Saint Luke: they rendering into Rommany the sentences which I delivered to them in Spanish. They proceeded as far as the eighth chapter, in the middle of which they broke down. Was that to be wondered at? The only thing which astonished me was, that I had induced two such strange beings to advance so far in a task so unwonted, and so entirely at variance with their habits, as translation.

These chapters I frequently read over to them, explaining the subject in the best manner I was able. They said it was lacho, and jucal, and misto, all of which words express approval of the quality of a thing. Were they improved, were their hearts softened by these Scripture lectures? I know not. Pepa committed a rather daring theft shortly afterwards, which compelled her to conceal herself for a fortnight; it is quite possible, however, that she may remember the contents of those chapters on her death-bed; if so, will the attempt have been a futile one?

I completed the translation, supplying deficiencies from my own version begun at Badajoz in 1836. This translation I printed at Madrid in 1838; it was the first book which ever appeared in Rommany, and was called ‘Embeo e Majaro Lucas,’ or Gospel of Luke the Saint. I likewise published, simultaneously, the same Gospel in Basque, which, however, I had no opportunity of circulating.

The Gitanos of Madrid purchased the Gypsy Luke freely: many of the men understood it, and prized it highly, induced of course more by the language than the doctrine; the women were particularly anxious to obtain copies, though unable to read; but each wished to have one in her pocket, especially when engaged in thieving expeditions, for they all looked upon it in the light of a charm, which would preserve them from all danger and mischance; some even went so far as to say, that in this respect it was equally efficacious as the Bar Lachi, or loadstone, which they are in general so desirous of possessing. Of this Gospel (61) five hundred copies were printed, of which the greater number I contrived to circulate amongst the Gypsies in various parts; I cast the book upon the waters and left it to its destiny.

I have counted seventeen Gitanas assembled at one time in my apartment in the Calle de Santiago in Madrid; for the first quarter of an hour we generally discoursed upon indifferent matters, I then by degrees drew their attention to religion and the state of souls. I finally became so bold that I ventured to speak against their inveterate practices, thieving and lying, telling fortunes, and stealing a pastesas; this was touching upon delicate ground, and I experienced much opposition and much feminine clamour. I persevered, however, and they finally assented to all I said, not that I believe that my words made much impression upon their hearts. In a few months matters were so far advanced that they would sing a hymn; I wrote one expressly for them in Rommany, in which their own wild couplets were, to a certain extent, imitated.

The people of the street in which I lived, seeing such numbers of these strange females continually passing in and out, were struck with astonishment, and demanded the reason. The answers which they obtained by no means satisfied them. ‘Zeal for the conversion of souls, – the souls too of Gitanas, – disparate! the fellow is a scoundrel. Besides he is an Englishman, and is not baptized; what cares he for souls? They visit him for other purposes. He makes base ounces, which they carry away and circulate. Madrid is already stocked with false money.’ Others were of opinion that we met for the purposes of sorcery and abomination. The Spaniard has no conception that other springs of action exist than interest or villainy.

My little congregation, if such I may call it, consisted entirely of women; the men seldom or never visited me, save they stood in need of something which they hoped to obtain from me. This circumstance I little regretted, their manners and conversation being the reverse of interesting. It must not, however, be supposed that, even with the women, matters went on invariably in a smooth and satisfactory manner. The following little anecdote will show what slight dependence can be placed upon them, and how disposed they are at all times to take part in what is grotesque and malicious. One day they arrived, attended by a Gypsy jockey whom I had never previously seen. We had scarcely been seated a minute, when this fellow, rising, took me to the window, and without any preamble or circumlocution, said – ‘Don Jorge, you shall lend me two barias’ (ounces of gold). ‘Not to your whole race, my excellent friend,’ said I; ‘are you frantic? Sit down and be discreet.’ He obeyed me literally, sat down, and when the rest departed, followed with them. We did not invariably meet at my own house, but occasionally at one in a street inhabited by Gypsies. On the appointed day I went to this house, where I found the women assembled; the jockey was also present. On seeing me he advanced, again took me aside, and again said – ‘Don Jorge, you shall lend me two barias.’ I made him no answer, but at once entered on the subject which brought me thither. I spoke for some time in Spanish; I chose for the theme of my discourse the situation of the Hebrews in Egypt, and pointed out its similarity to that of the Gitanos in Spain. I spoke of the power of God, manifested in preserving both as separate and distinct people amongst the nations until the present day. I warmed with my subject. I subsequently produced a manuscript book, from which I read a portion of Scripture, and the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed, in Rommany. When I had concluded I looked around me.

The features of the assembly were twisted, and the eyes of all turned upon me with a frightful squint; not an individual present but squinted, – the genteel Pepa, the good-humoured Chicharona, the Casdami, etc. etc. The Gypsy fellow, the contriver of the jest, squinted worst of all. Such are Gypsies.



THERE is no nation in the world, however exalted or however degraded, but is in possession of some peculiar poetry. If the Chinese, the Hindoos, the Greeks, and the Persians, those splendid and renowned races, have their moral lays, their mythological epics, their tragedies, and their immortal love songs, so also have the wild and barbarous tribes of Soudan, and the wandering Esquimaux, their ditties, which, however insignificant in comparison with the compositions of the former nations, still are entitled in every essential point to the name of poetry; if poetry mean metrical compositions intended to soothe and recreate the mind fatigued by the cares, distresses, and anxieties to which mortality is subject.

The Gypsies too have their poetry. Of that of the Russian Zigani we have already said something. It has always been our opinion, and we believe that in this we are by no means singular, that in nothing can the character of a people be read with greater certainty and exactness than in its songs. How truly do the warlike ballads of the Northmen and the Danes, their DRAPAS and KOEMPE-VISER, depict the character of the Goth; and how equally do the songs of the Arabians, replete with homage to the one high, uncreated, and eternal God, ‘the fountain of blessing,’ ‘the only conqueror,’ lay bare to us the mind of the Moslem of the desert, whose grand characteristic is religious veneration, and uncompromising zeal for the glory of the Creator.

And well and truly do the coplas and gachaplas of the Gitanos depict the character of the race. This poetry, for poetry we will call it, is in most respects such as might be expected to originate among people of their class; a set of Thugs, subsisting by cheating and villainy of every description; hating the rest of the human species, and bound to each other by the bonds of common origin, language, and pursuits. The general themes of this poetry are the various incidents of Gitano life and the feelings of the Gitanos. A Gypsy sees a pig running down a hill, and imagines that it cries ‘Ustilame Caloro!’ (62) – a Gypsy reclining sick on the prison floor beseeches his wife to intercede with the alcayde for the removal of the chain, the weight of which is bursting his body – the moon arises, and two Gypsies, who are about to steal a steed, perceive a Spaniard, and instantly flee – Juanito Ralli, whilst going home on his steed, is stabbed by a Gypsy who hates him – Facundo, a Gypsy, runs away at the sight of the burly priest of Villa Franca, who hates all Gypsies. Sometimes a burst of wild temper gives occasion to a strain – the swarthy lover threatens to slay his betrothed, even AT THE FEET OF JESUS, should she prove unfaithful. It is a general opinion amongst the Gitanos that Spanish women are very fond of Rommany chals and Rommany. There is a stanza in which a Gitano hopes to bear away a beauty of Spanish race by means of a word of Rommany whispered in her ear at the window.

Amongst these effusions are even to be found tender and beautiful thoughts; for Thugs and Gitanos have their moments of gentleness. True it is that such are few and far between, as a flower or a shrub is here and there seen springing up from the interstices of the rugged and frightful rocks of which the Spanish sierras are composed: a wicked mother is afraid to pray to the Lord with her own lips, and calls on her innocent babe to beseech him to restore peace and comfort to her heart – an imprisoned youth appears to have no earthly friend on whom he can rely, save his sister, and wishes for a messenger to carry unto her the tale of his sufferings, confident that she would hasten at once to his assistance. And what can be more touching than the speech of the relenting lover to the fair one whom he has outraged?

‘Extend to me the hand so small,
Wherein I see thee weep,
For O thy balmy tear-drops all
I would collect and keep.’

This Gypsy poetry consists of quartets, or rather couplets, but two rhymes being discernible, and those generally imperfect, the vowels alone agreeing in sound. Occasionally, however, sixains, or stanzas of six lines, are to be found, but this is of rare occurrence. The thought, anecdote or adventure described, is seldom carried beyond one stanza, in which everything is expressed which the poet wishes to impart. This feature will appear singular to those who are unacquainted with the character of the popular poetry of the south, and are accustomed to the redundancy and frequently tedious repetition of a more polished muse. It will be well to inform such that the greater part of the poetry sung in the south, and especially in Spain, is extemporary. The musician composes it at the stretch of his voice, whilst his fingers are tugging at the guitar; which style of composition is by no means favourable to a long and connected series of thought. Of course, the greater part of this species of poetry perishes as soon as born. A stanza, however, is sometimes caught up by the bystanders, and committed to memory; and being frequently repeated, makes, in time, the circuit of the country. For example, the stanza about Coruncho Lopez, which was originally made at the gate of a venta by a Miquelet, (63) who was conducting the said Lopez to the galleys for a robbery. It is at present sung through the whole of the peninsula, however insignificant it may sound to foreign ears:-

‘Coruncho Lopez, gallant lad,
A smuggling he would ride;
He stole his father’s ambling prad, And therefore to the galleys sad
Coruncho now I guide.’

The couplets of the Gitanos are composed in the same off-hand manner, and exactly resemble in metre the popular ditties of the Spaniards. In spirit, however, as well as language, they are in general widely different, as they mostly relate to the Gypsies and their affairs, and not unfrequently abound with abuse of the Busne or Spaniards. Many of these creations have, like the stanza of Coruncho Lopez, been wafted over Spain amongst the Gypsy tribes, and are even frequently repeated by the Spaniards themselves; at least, by those who affect to imitate the phraseology of the Gitanos. Those which appear in the present collection consist partly of such couplets, and partly of such as we have ourselves taken down, as soon as they originated, not unfrequently in the midst of a circle of these singular people, dancing and singing to their wild music. In no instance have they been subjected to modification; and the English translation is, in general, very faithful to the original, as will easily be perceived by referring to the lexicon. To those who may feel disposed to find fault with or criticise these songs, we have to observe, that the present work has been written with no other view than to depict the Gitanos such as they are, and to illustrate their character; and, on that account, we have endeavoured, as much as possible, to bring them before the reader, and to make them speak for themselves. They are a half-civilised, unlettered people, proverbial for a species of knavish acuteness, which serves them in lieu of wisdom. To place in the mouth of such beings the high-flown sentiments of modern poetry would not answer our purpose, though several authors have not shrunk from such an absurdity.

These couplets have been collected in Estremadura and New Castile, in Valencia and Andalusia; the four provinces where the Gitano race most abounds. We wish, however, to remark, that they constitute scarcely a tenth part of our original gleanings, from which we have selected one hundred of the most remarkable and interesting.

The language of the originals will convey an exact idea of the Rommany of Spain, as used at the present day amongst the Gitanos in the fairs, when they are buying and selling animals, and wish to converse with each other in a way unintelligible to the Spaniards. We are free to confess that it is a mere broken jargon, but it answers the purpose of those who use it; and it is but just to remark that many of its elements are of the most remote antiquity, and the most illustrious descent, as will be shown hereafter. We have uniformly placed the original by the side of the translation; for though unwilling to make the Gitanos speak in any other manner than they are accustomed, we are equally averse to have it supposed that many of the thoughts and expressions which occur in these songs, and which are highly objectionable, originated with ourselves. (64)


Unto a refuge me they led,
To save from dungeon drear;
Then sighing to my wife I said,
I leave my baby dear.

Back from the refuge soon I sped,
My child’s sweet face to see;
Then sternly to my wife I said,
You’ve seen the last of me.

O when I sit my courser bold,