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.'
THE ONE-EYED.- 'Not I -
'SABOCA ENRECAR MARIA ERERIA, (60)
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.
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