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Yankee Gypsies(美国吉普赛人)

Yankee Gypsies
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Yankee Gypsies
John Greenleaf Whittier
Yankee Gypsies
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"Here's to budgets, packs, and wallets; Here's to all the wandering
train." BURNS.(1)
I CONFESS it, I am keenly sensitive to "skyey influences." (2) I
profess no indifference to the movements of that capricious old gentleman
known as the clerk of the weather. I cannot conceal my interest in the
behavior of that patriarchal bird whose wooden similitude gyrates on the
church spire. Winter proper is well enough. Let the thermometer go to zero
if it will; so much the better, if thereby the very winds are frozen and
unable to flap their stiff wings. Sounds of bells in the keen air, clear,
musical, heart-inspiring; quick tripping of fair moccasined feet on
glittering ice pavements; bright eyes glancing above the uplifted muff like
a sultana's behind the folds of her *yashmak;*(3) schoolboys coasting
down street like mad Greenlanders; the cold brilliance of oblique
sunbeams flashing back from wide surfaces of glittering snow, or blazing
upon ice jewelry of tree and roof: there is nothing in all this to complain of.
A storm of summer has its redeeming sublimities,--its slow, upheaving
mountains of cloud glooming in the western horizon like new-created
volcanoes, veined with fire, shattered by exploding thunders. Even the
wild gales of the equinox have their varieties,--sounds of wind- shaken
woods and waters, creak and clatter of sign and casement, hurricane puffs,
and down-rushing rain-spouts. But this dull, dark autumn day of thaw and
rain, when the very clouds seem too spiritless and languid to storm
outright or take themselves out of the way of fair weather; wet beneath
and above, reminding one of that rayless atmosphere of Dante's Third
Circle, where the infernal Priessnitz(4) administers his hydropathic
torment,--
"A heavy, cursed, and relentless drench,-- The land it soaks is putrid;"
or rather, as everything animate and inanimate is seething in warm
mist, suggesting the idea that Nature, grown old and rheumatic, is trying
the efficacy of a Thomsonian steam-box(5) on a grand scale; no sounds
save the heavy plash of muddy feet on the pavements; the monotonous,
melancholy drip from trees and roofs; the distressful gurgling of
waterducts, swallowing the dirty amalgam of the gutters; a dim, leadencolored horizon of only a few yards in diameter, shutting down about one,

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beyond which nothing is visible save in faint line or dark projection; the
ghost of a church spire or the eidolon of a chimney-pot,--he who can
extract pleasurable emotions from the alembic of such a day has a trick of
alchemy with which I am wholly unacquainted.
(1) From the closing air in *The Jolly Beggars,* a cantata. (2) "A
breath thou art Servile to all the skyey influences, That dost this habitation,
where thou keep'st Hourly afflict." Shakespeare: *Measure for Measure,*
act III. scene 1. (3) "She turns and turns again, and carefully glances
around her on all sides, to see that she is safe from the eyes of
Mussulmans, and then suddenly withdrawing the yashmak she shines upon
your heart and soul with all the pomp and might of her beauty." Kinglake's
*Eothen,* chap. iii. In a note to *Yashmak* Kinglake explains that it is
not a mere semi- transparent veil, but thoroughly conceals all the features
except the eyes: it is withdrawn by being pulled down. (4) Vincenz
Priessnitz was the originator of the water-cure. After experimenting upon
himself and his neighbors he took up the profession of hydropathy and
established baths at his native place, Grafenberg in Silesia, in 1829. He
died in 1851. (5) Dr. Samuel Thomson, a New Hampshire physician,
advocated the use of the steam bath as a restorer of system when diseased.
He died in 1843 and left behind an autobiography (*Life and Medical
Discoveries*) which contains a record of the persecutions he underwent.
Hark! a rap at my door. Welcome anybody just now. One gains nothing
by attempting to shut out the sprites of the weather. They come in at the
keyhole; they peer through the dripping panes; they insinuate themselves
through the crevices of the casement, or plump down chimney astride of
the raindrops.
I rise and throw open the door. A tall, shambling, loose- jointed figure;
a pinched, shrewd face, sun-brown and wind- dried; small, quick-winking
black eyes,--there he stands, the water dripping from his pulpy hat and
ragged elbows.
I speak to him; but he returns no answer. With a dumb show of misery,
quite touching, he hands me a soiled piece of parchment, whereon I read
what purports to be a melancholy account of shipwreck and disaster, to the
particular detriment, loss, and damnification of one Pietro Frugoni, who is,

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in consequence, sorely in want of the alms of all charitable Christian
persons, and who is, in short, the bearer of this veracious document, duly
certified and indorsed by an Italian consul in one of our Atlantic cities, of
a high-sounding, but to Yankee organs unpronounceable, name.
Here commences a struggle. Every man, the Mahometans tell us, has
two attendant angels,--the good one on his right shoulder, the bad on his
left. "Give," says Benevolence, as with some difficulty I fish up a small
coin from the depths of my pocket. "Not a cent," says selfish Prudence;
and I drop it from my fingers. "Think," says the good angel, "of the poor
stranger in a strange land, just escaped from the terrors of the sea-storm, in
which his little property has perished, thrown half-naked and helpless on
our shores, ignorant of our language, and unable to find employment
suited to his capacity." "A vile impostor!" replies the left-hand sentinel;
"his paper purchased from one of those ready-writers in New York who
manufacture beggar-credentials at the low price of one dollar per copy,
with earthquakes, fires, or shipwrecks, to suit customers."
Amidst this confusion of tongues I take another survey of my visitant.
Ha! a light dawns upon me. That shrewd, old face, with its sharp, winking
eyes, is no stranger to me. Pietro Frugoni, I have seen thee before. *Si,
signor,* that face of thine has looked at me over a dirty white neckcloth,
with the corners of that cunning mouth drawn downwards, and those small
eyes turned up in sanctimonious gravity, while thou wast offering to a
crowd of half-grown boys an extemporaneous exhortation in the capacity
of a travelling preacher. Have I not seen it peering out from under a
blanket, as that of a poor Penobscot Indian, who had lost the use of his
hands while trapping on the Madawaska? Is it not the face of the forlorn
father of six small children, whom the "marcury doctors" had "pisened"
and crippled? Did it not belong to that down-east unfortunate who had
been out to the "Genesee country"(1) and got the "fevernnager," and
whose hand shook so pitifully when held out to receive my poor gift? The
same, under all disguises,--Stephen Leathers, of Barrington,--him, and
none other! Let me conjure him into his own likeness:--
(1) The *Genesee country* is the name by which the western part of
New York, bordering on Lakes Ontario and Erie, was known, when, at the

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close of the last and beginning of this century, it was to people on the
Atlantic coast the Great West. In 1792 communication was opened by a
road with the Pennsylvania settlements, but the early settlers were almost
all from New England.
"Well, Stephen, what news from old Barrington?"
"Oh, well, I thought I knew ye," he answers, not the least disconcerted.
"How do you do? and how's your folks? All well, I hope. I took this 'ere
paper, you see, to help a poor furriner, who could n't make himself
understood any more than a wild goose. I though I'd just start him for'ard a
little. It seemed a marcy to do it."
Well and shiftily answered, thou ragged Proteus. One cannot be angry
with such a fellow. I will just inquire into the present state of his Gospel
mission and about the condition of his tribe on the Penobscot; and it may
be not amiss to congratulate him on the success of the steam-doctors in
sweating the "pisen" of the regular faculty out of him. But he evidently has
no wish to enter into idle conversation. Intent upon his benevolent errand
he is already clattering down stairs. Involuntarily I glance out of the
window just in season to catch a single glimpse of him ere he is swallowed
up in the mist.
He has gone; and, knave as he is, I can hardly help exclaiming, "Luck
go with him!" He has broken in upon the sombre train of my thoughts and
called up before me pleasant and grateful recollections. The old farmhouse nestling in its valley; hills stretching off to the south and green
meadows to the east; the small stream which came noisily down its ravine,
washing the old garden-wall and softly lapping on fallen stones and mossy
roots of beeches and hemlocks; the tall sentinel poplars at the gateway; the
oak-forest, sweeping unbroken to the northern horizon; the grass-grown
carriage-path, with its rude and crazy bridge,--the dear old landscape of
my boyhood lies outstretched before me like a daguerreotype from that
picture within, which I have borne with me in all my wanderings. I am a
boy again, once more conscious of the feeling, half terror, half exultation,
with which I used to announce the approach of this very vagabond and his
"kindred after the flesh."
The advent of wandering beggars, or "old stragglers," as we were wont

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to call them, was an event of no ordinary interest in the generally
monotonous quietude of our farm-life. Many of them were well known;
they had their periodical revolutions and transits; we would calculate them
like eclipses or new moons. Some were sturdy knaves, fat and saucy; and,
whenever they ascertained that the "men folks" were absent, would order
provisions and cider like men who expected to pay for them, seating
themselves at the hearth or table with the air of Falstaff,--"Shall I not take
mine ease in mine inn?" Others, poor, pale, patient, like Sterne's monk,(1)
came creeping up to the door, hat in hand, standing there in their gray
wretchedness with a look of heartbreak and forlornness which was never
without its effect on our juvenile sensibilities. At times, however, we
experienced a slight revulsion of feeling when even these humblest
children of sorrow somewhat petulantly rejected our proffered bread and
cheese, and demanded instead a glass of cider. Whatever the temperance
society might in such cases have done, it was not in our hearts to refuse
the poor creatures a draught of their favorite beverage; and was n't it a
satisfaction to see their sad, melancholy faces light up as we handed them
the full pitcher, and, on receiving it back empty from their brown,
wrinkled hands, to hear them, half breathless from their long, delicious
draught, thanking us for the favor, as "dear, good children"! Not
unfrequently these wandering tests of our benevolence made their
appearance in interesting groups of man, woman, and child, picturesque in
their squalidness, and manifesting a maudlin affection which would have
done honor to the revellers at Poosie-Nansie's, immortal in the cantata of
Burns. (2) I remember some who were evidently the victims of
monomania,--haunted and hunted by some dark thought,--possessed by a
fixed idea. One, a black-eyed, wild- haired woman, with a whole tragedy
of sin, shame, and suffering written in her countenance, used often to visit
us, warm herself by our winter fire, and supply herself with a stock of
cakes and cold meat; but was never known to answer a question or to ask
one. She never smiled; the cold, stony look of her eye never changed; a
silent, impassive face, frozen rigid by some great wrong or sin. We used to
look with awe upon the "still woman," and think of the demoniac of
Scripture who had a "dumb spirit."

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(1) Whom he met at Calais, as described in his *Sentimental Journey.*
(2) The *cantata* is *The Jolly Beggars,* from which the motto heading
this sketch was taken. *Poosie-Nansie* was the keeper of a tavern in
Mauchline, which was the favorite resort of the lame sailors, maimed
soldiers, travelling ballad-singers, and all such loose companions as hang
about the skirts of society. The cantata has for its theme the rivalry of a
"pigmy scraper with his fiddle" and a strolling tinker for a beggar woman:
hence the *maudlin affection.*
One--I think I see him now, grim, gaunt, and ghastly, working his slow
way up to our door--used to gather herbs by the wayside and called
himself doctor. He was bearded like a he-goat, and used to counterfeit
lameness; yet, when he supposed himself alone, would travel on lustily, as
if walking for a wager. At length, as if in punishment of his deceit, he met
with an accident in his rambles and became lame in earnest, hobbling ever
after with difficulty on his gnarled crutches. Another used to go stooping,
like Bunyan's pilgrim, under a pack made of an old bed-sacking, stuffed
out into most plethoric dimensions, tottering on a pair of small, meagre
legs, and peering out with his wild, hairy face from under his burden like a
big-bodied spider. That "man with the pack" always inspired me with awe
and reverence. Huge, almost sublime, in its tense rotundity, the father of
all packs, never laid aside and never opened, what might there not be
within it? With what flesh-creeping curiosity I used to walk round about it
at a safe distance, half expecting to see its striped covering stirred by the
motions of a mysterious life, or that some evil monsters would leap out of
it, like robbers from Ali Baba's jars or armed men from the Trojan horse!
There was another class of peripatetic philosophers--half pedler, half
mendicant--who were in the habit of visiting us. One we recollect, a lame,
unshaven, sinister-eyed, unwholesome fellow, with his basket of old
newspapers and pamphlets, and his tattered blue umbrella, serving rather
as a walking-staff than as a protection from the rain. he told us on one
occasion, in answer to our inquiring into the cause of his lameness, that
when a young man he was employed on the farm of the chief magistrate of
a neighboring State; where, as his ill luck would have it, the governor's
handsome daughter fell in love with him. He was caught one day in the

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young lady's room by her father; whereupon the irascible old gentleman
pitched him unceremoniously out of the window, laming him for life, on a
brick pavement below, like Vulcan on the rocks of Lemnos.(1) As for the
lady, he assured us "she took on dreadfully about it." "Did she die?" we
inquired, anxiously. There was a cunning twinkle in the old rogue's eye as
he responded, "Well, no she did n't. She got married."
(1) It was upon the Isle of Lemnos that Vulcan was flung by Jupiter,
according to the myth, for attempting to aid his mother Juno.
Twice a year, usually in the spring and autumn, we were honored with
a call from Jonathan Plummer, maker of verses, pedler and poet, physician
and parson,--a Yankee troubadour,-- first and last minstrel of the valley of
the Merrimac, encircled, to my wondering young eyes, with the very
nimbus of immortality. He brought with him pins, needles, tape, and
cotton-thread for my mother; jack-knives, razors, and soap for my father;
and verses of his own composing, coarsely printed and illustrated with
rude wood-cuts, for the delectation of the younger branches of the family.
No love-sick youth could drown himself, no deserted maiden bewail the
moon, no rogue mount the gallows, without fitting memorial in Plummer's
verses. Earthquakes, fires, fevers, and shipwrecks he regarded as personal
favors from Providence, furnishing the raw material of song and ballad.
Welcome to us in our country seclusion, as Autolycus to the clown in
"Winter's Tale,"(1) we listened with infinite satisfaction to his reading of
his own verses, or to his ready improvisation upon some domestic incident
or topic suggested by his auditors. When once fairly over the difficulties at
the outset of a new subject his rhymes flowed freely, "as if he had eaten
ballads, and all men's ears grew to his tunes." His productions answered,
as nearly as I can remember, to Shakespeare's description of a proper
ballad,-- "doleful matter merrily set down, or a very pleasant theme sung
lamentably." He was scrupulously conscientious, devout, inclined to
theological disquisitions, and withal mighty in Scripture. He was
thoroughly independent; flattered nobody, cared for nobody, trusted
nobody. When invited to sit down at our dinner-table he invariably took
the precaution to place his basket of valuables between his legs for safe
keeping. "Never mind they basket, Jonathan," said my father; "we shan't

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steal thy verses." "I 'm not sure of that," returned the suspicious guest. "It
is written, 'Trust ye not in any brother.'"
(1) "He could never come better," says the clown in Shakespeare's
*The Winter's Tale,* when Autolycus, the pedler, is announced; "he shall
come in. I love a ballad but even too well, if it be doleful matter merrily
set down, or a very pleasant thing indeed and sung lamentably." Act IV.
scene 4.
Thou, too, O Parson B.,--with thy pale student's brow and rubicund
nose, with thy rusty and tattered black coat overswept by white, flowing
locks, with thy professional white neckcloth scrupulously preserved when
even a shirt to thy back was problematical,--art by no means to be
overlooked in the muster- roll of vagrant gentlemen possessing the
*entree* of our farmhouse. Well do we remember with what grave and
dignified courtesy he used to step over its threshold, saluting its inmates
with the same air of gracious condescension and patronage with which in
better days he had delighted the hearts of his parishioners. Poor old man!
He had once been the admired and almost worshipped minister of the
largest church in the town where he afterwards found support in the winter
season, as a pauper. He had early fallen into intemperate habits; and at the
age of three-score and ten, when I remember him, he was only sober when
he lacked the means of being otherwise. Drunk or sober, however, he
never altogether forgot the proprieties of his profession; he was always
grave, decorous, and gentlemanly; he held fast the form of sound words,
and the weakness of the flesh abated nothing of the rigor of his stringent
theology. He had been a favorite pupil of the learned and astute
Emmons,(1) and was to the last a sturdy defender of the peculiar dogmas
of his school. The last time we saw him he was holding a meeting in our
district school-house, with a vagabond pedler for deacon and travelling
companion. The tie which united the ill-assorted couple was doubtless the
same which endeared Tam O'Shanter to the souter:(2)--
"They had been fou for weeks thegither."
He took for his text the first seven verses of the concluding chapter of
Ecclesiastes, furnishing in himself its fitting illustration. The evil days had
come; the keepers of the house trembled; the windows of life were

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darkened. A few months later the silver cord was loosed, the golden bowl
was broken, and between the poor old man and the temptations which
beset him fell the thick curtains of the grave.
(1) Nathaniel Emmons was a New England theologian of marked
character and power, who for seventy years was connected with a church
in that part of Wrentham, Mass., now called Franklin. He exercised
considerable influence over the religious thought of New England, and is
still read by theologians. He died in 1840, in his ninety-sixth year. (2)
Souter (or cobbler) Johnny, in Burns's poetic tale of *Tam O'Shanter,* had
been *fou* or *full* of drink with Tam for weeks together. One day we
had a call from a "pawky auld carle"(1) of a wandering Scotchman. To
him I owe my first introduction to the songs of Burns. After eating his
bread and cheese and drinking his mug of cider he gave us Bonny Doon,
Highland Mary, and Auld Lang Syne. He had a rich, full voice, and
entered heartily into the spirit of his lyrics. I have since listened to the
same melodies from the lips of Dempster(2) (than whom the Scottish bard
has had no sweeter or truer interpreter), but the skilful performance of the
artist lacked the novel charm of the gaberlunzie's singing in the old
farmhouse kitchen. Another wanderer made us acquainted with the
humorous old ballad of "Our gude man cam hame at e'en." He applied for
supper and lodging, and the next morning was set at work splitting stones
in the pasture. While thus engaged the village doctor came riding along the
highway on his fine, spirited horse, and stopped to talk with my father.
The fellow eyed the animal attentively, as if familiar with all his good
points, and hummed over a stanza of the old poem:--
"Our gude man cam hame at e'en, And hame cam he; And there he
saw a saddle horse Where nae horse should be. 'How cam this horse here?
How can it be? How cam this horse here Without the leave of me?' 'A
horse?' quo she. 'Ay, a horse,' quo he. 'Ye auld fool, ye blind fool,-- And
blinder might ye be,-- 'T is naething but a milking cow My mamma sent to
me.' 'A milch cow?' quo he. 'Ay, a milch cow,' quo she. 'Weel, far hae I
ridden, And muckle hae I seen; But milking cows wi' saddles on Saw I
never nane.'"(3)
(1) From the first line of *The Gaberlunzie Man,* attributed to King

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James V. of Scotland,-- "The pawky auld carle came o'er the lee." The
original like Whittier's was a sly old fellow, as an English phrase would
translate the Scottish. *The Gaberlunzie Man* is given in Percy's
*Reliques of Ancient Poetry* and in Child's *English and Scottish
Ballads,* viii. 98. (2) William R. Dempster, a Scottish vocalist who had
recently sung in America, and whose music to Burns's song "A man 's a
man for a' that" was very popular. (3) The whole of this song may be
found in Herd's *Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs,* ii. 172. That very
night the rascal decamped, taking with him the doctor's horse, and was
never after heard of.
Often, in the gray of the morning, we used to see one or more
"gaberlunzie men," pack on shoulder and staff in hand, emerging from the
barn or other outbuildings where they had passed the night. I was once
sent to the barn to fodder the cattle late in the evening, and, climbing into
the mow to pitch down hay for that purpose, I was startled by the sudden
apparition of a man rising up before me, just discernible in the dim
moonlight streaming through the seams of the boards. I made a rapid
retreat down the ladder; and was only reassured by hearing the object of
my terror calling after me, and recognizing his voice as that of a harmless
old pilgrim whom I had known before. Our farmhouse was situated in a
lonely valley, half surrounded with woods, with no neighbors in sight. One
dark, cloudy night, when our parents chanced to be absent, we were sitting
with our aged grandmother in the fading light of the kitchen fire, working
ourselves into a very satisfactory state of excitement and terror by
recounting to each other all the dismal stories we could remember of
ghosts, witches, haunted houses, and robbers, when we were suddenly
startled by a loud rap at the door. A strippling of fourteen, I was very
naturally regarded as the head of the household; so, with many misgivings,
I advanced to the door, which I slowly opened, holding the candle
tremulously above my head and peering out into the darkness. The feeble
glimmer played upon the apparition of a gigantic horseman, mounted on a
steed of a size worthy of such a rider,--colossal, motionless, like images
cut out of the solid night. The strange visitant gruffly saluted me; and,
after making several ineffectual efforts to urge his horse in at the door,

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dismounted and followed me into the room, evidently enjoying the terror
which his huge presence excited. Announcing himself as the great Indian
doctor, he drew himself up before the fire, stretched his arms, clinched his
fists, struck his broad chest, and invited our attention to what he called his
"mortal frame." He demanded in succession all kinds of intoxicating
liquors; and on being assured that we had none to give him, he grew angry,
threatened to swallow my younger brother alive, and, seizing me by the
hair of my head as the angel did the prophet at Babylon,(1) led me about
from room to room. After an ineffectual search, in the course of which he
mistook a jug of oil for one of brandy, and, contrary to my explanations
and remonstrances, insisted upon swallowing a portion of its contents, he
released me, fell to crying and sobbing, and confessed that he was so
drunk already that his horse was ashamed of him. After bemoaning and
pitying himself to his satisfaction he wiped his eyes, and sat down by the
side of my grandmother, giving her to understand that he was very much
pleased with her appearance; adding that, if agreeable to her, he should
like the privilege of paying his addresses to her. While vainly endeavoring
to make the excellent old lady comprehend his very flattering proposition,
he was interrupted by the return of my father, who, at once understanding
the matter, turned him out of doors without ceremony.
(1) See Ezekiel viii. 3.
On one occasion, a few years ago, on my return from the field at
evening, I was told that a foreigner had asked for lodgings during the night,
but that, influenced by his dark, repulsive appearance, my mother had very
reluctantly refused his request. I found her by no means satisfied with her
decision. "What if a son of mine was in a strange land?" she inquired, selfreproachfully. Greatly to her relief, I volunteered to go in pursuit of the
wanderer, and, taking a cross-path over the fields, soon overtook him. He
had just been rejected at the house of our nearest neighbor, and was
standing in a state of dubious perplexity in the street. He was an olivecomplexioned, black-bearded Italian, with an eye like a live coal, such a
face as perchance looks out on the traveller in the passes of the
Abruzzi,(1)--one of those bandit visages which Salvator(2) has painted.
With some difficulty I gave him to understand my errand, when he

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overwhelmed me with thanks, and joyfully followed me back. He took his
seat with us at the supper-table; and, when we were all gathered around
the hearth that cold autumnal evening, he told us, partly by words and
partly by gestures, the story of his life and misfortunes, amused us with
descriptions of the grape-gatherings and festivals of his sunny clime,
edified my mother with a recipe for making bread of chestnuts; and in the
morning, when, after breakfast, his dark sullen face lighted up and his
fierce eye moistened with grateful emotion as in his own silvery Tuscan
accent he poured out his thanks, we marvelled at the fears which had so
nearly closed our door against him; and, as he departed, we all felt that he
had left with us the blessing of the poor.
(1) Provinces into which the old Kingdom of Naples was divided. (2)
Salvator Rosa was a Neapolitan by birth, and was said to have been
himself a bandit in his youth; his landscapes often contain figures drawn
from the wild life of the region.
It was not often that, as in the above instance, my mother's prudence
got the better of her charity. The regular "old stragglers" regarded her as an
unfailing friend; and the sight of her plain cap was to them an assurance of
forthcoming creature-comforts. There was indeed a tribe of lazy strollers,
having their place of rendezvous in the town of Barrington, New
Hampshire, whose low vices had placed them beyond even the pale of her
benevolence. They were not unconscious of their evil reputation; and
experience had taught them the necessity of concealing, under wellcontrived disguises, their true character. They came to us in all shapes and
with all appearances save the true one, with most miserable stories of
mishap and sickness and all "the ills which flesh is heir to." It was
particularly vexatious to discover, when too late, that our sympathies and
charities had been expended upon such graceless vagabonds as the
"Barrington beggars." An old withered hag, known by the appellation of
Hopping Pat,--the wise woman of her tribe,--was in the habit of visiting us,
with her hopeful grandson, who had "a gift for preaching" as well as for
many other things not exactly compatible with holy orders. He sometimes
brought with him a tame crow, a shrewd, knavish-looking bird, who, when
in the humor for it, could talk like Barnaby Rudge's raven. He used to say

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he could "do nothin' at exhortin' without a white handkercher on his neck
and money in his pocket,"--a fact going far to confirm the opinions of the
Bishop of Exeter and the Puseyites generally, that there can be no priest
without tithes and surplice.
These people have for several generations lived distinct from the great
mass of the community, like the gypsies of Europe, whom in many
respects they closely resemble. They have the same settled aversion to
labor and the same disposition to avail themselves of the fruits of the
industry of others. They love a wild, out-of-door life, sing songs, tell
fortunes, and have an instinctive hatred of "missionaries and cold water."
It has been said--I know not upon what grounds--that their ancestors were
indeed a veritable importation of English gypsyhood; but if so, they have
undoubtedly lost a good deal of the picturesque charm of its unhoused and
free condition. I very much fear that my friend Mary Russell Mitford,--
sweetest of England's rural painters,--who has a poet's eye for the fine
points in gypsy character, would scarcely allow their claims to fraternity
with her own vagrant friends, whose camp-fires welcomed her to her new
home at Swallowfield.(1) (1) See in Miss Mitford's *Our Village.*
"The proper study of mankind is man;" and, according to my view, no
phase of our common humanity is altogether unworthy of investigation.
Acting upon this belief two or three summers ago, when making, in
company with my sister, a little excursion into the hill-country of New
Hampshire, I turned my horse's head towards Barrington for the purpose
of seeing these semi-civilized strollers in their own home, and returning,
once for all, their numerous visits. Taking leave of our hospitable cousins
in old Lee with about as much solemnity as we may suppose Major
Laing(1) parted with his friends when he set out in search of desert-girdled
Timbuctoo, we drove several miles over a rough road, passed the Devil's
Den unmolested, crossed a fretful little streamlet noisily working its way
into a valley, where it turned a lonely, half-ruinous mill, and, climbing a
steep hill beyond, saw before us a wide, sandy level, skirted on the west
and north by low, scraggy hills, and dotted here and there with dwarf
pitch-pines. In the centre of this desolate region were some twenty or
thirty small dwellings, grouped together as irregularly as a Hottentot kraal.

Yankee Gypsies
15
Unfenced, unguarded, open to all comers and goers, stood that city of the
beggars,--no wall or paling between the ragged cabins to remind one of
the jealous distinctions of property. The great idea of its founders seemed
visible in its unappropriated freedom. Was not the whole round world their
own? and should they haggle about boundaries and title-deeds? For them,
on distant plains, ripened golden harvests; for them, in far-off workshops,
busy hands were toiling; for them, if they had but the grace to note it, the
broad earth put on her garniture of beauty, and over them hung the silent
mystery of heaven and its stars. That comfortable philosophy which
modern transcendentalism has but dimly shadowed forth--that poetic
agrarianism, which gives all to each and each to all--is the real life of this
city of unwork. To each of its dingy dwellers might be not unaptly applied
the language of one who, I trust, will pardon me for quoting her beautiful
poem in this connection:--
"Other hands may grasp the field and forest, Proud proprietors in
pomp may shine, . . . . . . . Thou art wealthier,--all the world is thine."(2)
(1) Alexander Gordon Laing was a major in the British army, who
served on the west coast of Africa and made journeys into the interior in
the attempt to establish commercial relations with the natives, and
especially to discover the sources of the Niger. He was treacherously
murdered in 1826 by the guard that was attending him on his return from
Timbuctoo to the coast. His travels excited great interest in their day in
England and America. (2) From a poem, *Why Thus Longing?* by Mrs.
Harriet Winslow Sewall, preserved in Whittier's *Songs of Three
Centuries.*
But look! the clouds are breaking. "Fair weather cometh out of the
north." The wind has blown away the mists; on the gilded spire of John
Street glimmers a beam of sunshine; and there is the sky again, hard, blue,
and cold in its eternal purity, not a whit the worse for the storm. In the
beautiful present the past is no longer needed. Reverently and gratefully
let its volume be laid aside; and when again the shadows of the outward
world fall upon the spirit may I not lack a good angel to remind me of its
solace, even if he comes in the shape of a Barrington beggar.

 

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