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´╗┐Title: Yankee Gypsies
Author: Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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YANKEE GYPSIES

by John Greenleaf Whittier



     "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,
leaden-colored horizon of only a few yards in diameter, shutting down
about one, 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, 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
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
farm-house 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
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."

     (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 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 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 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 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, 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, self-reproachfully. 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 olive-complexioned, 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 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 well-contrived 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 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. 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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