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· The patriotic Fletcher of Saltoun drew a picture of these banditti about a century ago, which 'my readers will peruse with astonishment. : “ There are at this day in Scotland (besides a great many poor families very meanly provided for by the church boxes, with others, who, by living upon bad food, fall into various diseases) two hundred thousand people begging from door to door. These are not only no way advaritageous, but a very grievous burden to so poor a country. And though the number of them be perhaps double to what it was formerly, by reason of this present great distress, yet in all times there have been about one hundred thousand of those vagabonds, who have lived without any regard or subjection either to the laws of the land, or even those of God and nature; ****** No magistrate could ever discover, or be informed, which way one in a hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptized. Many mur
ders have been discovered among them; and they are not only a most unspeakable oppression to poor tenants, (who, if they give not bread, or some kind of provision
to perhaps forty such villains in one day, · are sure to be insulted by them,) but they
rob many poor people who live in houses distant from any neighbourhood. In years of plenty many thousands of them meet together in the mountains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets, burials, and other the like public occasions, they are to be seen, both man and womnan, perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together."
Notwithstanding the deplorable picture presented in this extract, and which Flet. cher himself, though the energetic and eloquent friend of freedom, saw no better mode of correcting than by introducing a system of domestic slavery, the progress of time, and increase both of the means of life and of the power of the laws, gradual
ly reduced this dreadful evil within more narrow bounds. The tribes of gypsies, jockies, or cairds,- for by all these denominations such banditti were known,became few in number, and many were entirely rooted out. Still, however, enough remained to give occasional alarm and constant vexation. Some rude handicrafts were entirely resigned to these itinerants, particularly the art of trencher-making, of manufacturing horn-spoons, and the whole mystery of the tinker. To these they added a petty trade in the coarse sorts of earthen-ware. Such were their ostensible means of livelihood. Each tribe had usually some fixed place of rendezvous, which they occasionally occupied and considered as their standing camp, and in the vicinity of which they generally abstained from depredation. They had even talents and accomplishments, which made them occasionally useful and entertaining. Many cultivated music with success; and the favourite fiddler or piper of a district was often to be found in a gypsey town. They understood all out-of-door sports, especially otter-hunting, fishing, or finding game. In winter, the women told fortunes, the men shewed tricks of legerdemain ; and these accomplishments often helped away a weary or stormy evening in the circle of the “farmer's ha'.” The wildness of their character, and the indomitable pride with which they despised all regular labour, commanded a certain awe, which was not diminished by the consideration, that these strollers were a vindictive race, and were restrained by no check, either of fear or conscience, from taking desperate ven. geance upon those who had offended them. These tribes were, in short, the Parias of Scotland, living like wild Indians among European settlers, and, like them, judged of rather by their own cus-, toms, habits, and opinions, than as if they had been members of the civilized part of the community. Some hordes of them yet remain, chiefly in such situations as
afford a ready escape either into a waste country, or into another jurisdiction. Nor are the features of their character much softened. Their numbers, however, are so greatly diminished, that, instead of one hundred thousand, as calculated by Fletcher, it would now perhaps be impossible to collect above five hundred throughout all Scotland.
A tribe of these itinerants, to whom Meg Merrilie's appertainéd, had long been as stationary as their habits permitted, in a glen upon the estate of Ellangowan. They had there erected a few huts, which they denominated their “ city of refuge,” and where, when not absent on excursions, they harboured unmolested, as the crows that roosted in the old ash-trees around them. They had been such long occupants, that they were considered in some degree as proprietors of the wretched sheelings which they inhabited. This protection they were said anciently to have repaid, by service to the laird in wárj, or,