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Come, princes of the ragged regiment,
ALTHOUGH the character of those gypsey tribes, which formerly inundated most of the nations of Europe, and which in some degree still subsist among them as a distinct people, is generally understood, the reader will pardon my saying a few words respecting their situation in Scotland.
It is well known that the gypsies were, at an early period, acknowledged as a separate and independent race by one of the Scottish monarchs, and that they were less favourably distinguished by a subse
quent law, which rendered the character of gypsey equal, in the judicial balance, to that of common and habitual thief, and prescribed his punishment accordingly. Notwithstanding the severity of this and other statutes, the fraternity prospered amid the distresses of the country, and received large accessions from among those whom famine, oppression, or the sword of war, had deprived of the ordinary means of subsistence. They lost in a great measure, by this intermixture, the national character of Egyptians, and became a mingled race, having all the idleness and predatory habits of their eastern ancestors, with a ferocity which they probably borrowed from the men of the north who joined their so. ciety. They travelled in different bands, and had rules among themselves, by which each tribe was confined to its own district. The slightest invasion of the precincts which had been assigned to another tribe produced desperate skirmishes, in which there was often much blood shed.
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 ineanly 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 advantageous, 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 coun. try weddings, markets, burials, and other the like public occasions, they are to be seen, both man and woman, perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together."
Notwithstanding the deplorable picture presented in this extract, and which Fletcher 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