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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

Mr. John Sampson.

I may regret my own missed opportunities the less, as English and Welsh Gypsy folk-tales have found at length an ideal collector in my friend, Mr. John Sampson, the librarian of University College, Liverpool. No man could be better equipped for the task than he, as the nineteen stories here of

p. lvi

his collecting will amply prove. Long a master of English Rómani, he has also during the last few years been making a profound study of the 'deep' Welsh dialect, the best-preserved of all the Gypsy dialects with the doubtful exception of that of the Turkish Tchinghiané. His promised work on the subject is anxiously looked for. But, more than this, he possesses the rare gift of being able to take down a story in the very words, the very accents even, of its teller. Hundreds of times have I listened to Gypsies' talk, and in these stories of his I seem to hear it again: a phonograph could not reproduce it more faithfully. His 'Tales in a Tent' (Gypsy Lore Journal, April 1892, pp. 199-211) contained in a charming setting, from which, indeed, it has seemed a sin to wrench them, the three English-Gypsy stories of 'Bobby Rag,' 'De Little Fox,' and 'De Little Bull-calf,' given here as Nos. 51, 52, 53. They were got near Liverpool--the middle one from Wasti Gray, and the two others from her husband, Johnny Gray, who also told Mr. Sampson the story of 'The Horse that coined Golden Guineas.' 1 Then in 1896 from Matthew Wood, felling trees upon Cader Idris, and in 1897 from Cornelius Price in Lancashire, Mr. Sampson heard twenty-seven Welsh-Gypsy stories, about which he writes thus in letters:--

'On the slopes of Cader I have laboured for days together taking down these things in a sort of phrenzy. No work could be more exhausting. To note every accent, to follow the story, and to keep the wandering wits of my Rómani raconteur to the point, all helped to make it trying work. For days together I have heard no English spoken, the Woods always talking Rómani, and the Gentiles Welsh. It is as well I did so at the time, for Matthew Wood has cleared his mountain of trees, and departed, God knows whither. Three journeys into Wales, and many letters to post-offices and police-stations, have failed to find him. Nor can I chance upon his mother again. Matthew got these stories from his grandmother, Black Ellen, who, he says, knew two hundred stories, many of them so long that their narration occupied four or five hours. In listening to these tales, I think what struck me most was the severity of their style, reminiscent of Paspati's and other Continental collections. A single word serves often as a sentence--"Chalé," they ate; "Ratí," it was night.

p. lvii

[paragraph continues] The latter beats for compression the Virgilian "Nox erat." . . . I have added lately to my tales to the number of five or six, taken down chiefly in English from a South Welsh Gypsy named Cornelius Price. . . . I have Cornelius's pedigree somewhere among my papers. The Prices are a South Wales family, not of the purest descent, who entered Wales from Hereford some generations ago. Some of them intermarried with the Ingrams. Cornelius is a son of Amos Price, from whom my old tinker Murray got most of his Rómani lore, including the version of the old ballad 'Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave,' which I sent to MacRitchie, and which he sent to Professor Child. It has beautiful lines, like--

"She lifted up his dying head,
And kissed his cheek and chin,"

side by side with others like--

"And when he came to his brother dear,
He was in a hell of a fright."

[paragraph continues] It is printed in Child's collection. Cornelius got his stories from Nebuchadnēzar Price, his uncle. I met him at Wavertree, near Liverpool, but he has since left for Chester way, returning south. He is a man of middle age, or rather younger, perhaps, say thirty-five, a pleasant, harum-scarum fellow. His younger brother, he tells me, knows many more tales than he himself. . . . Some of the best tales Price forgets, or only remembers interesting fragments. Such as a story of a bull who fights a ------- query, what? If he conquers, he tells the hero, the stream will flow down to him blood one side only, but, if he is defeated, blood each side. The bull is defeated, and, following his instructions, the hero cuts a thong from his tail upwards, finds in his body a "Sword of Swiftness," and makes a belt of the hide. Of what tale is this a fragment? Cornelius assures me that his youngest brother knows thirty to fifty very long tales. . . . Had I time, I believe I could collect hundreds of such tales from English and Welsh Gypsies.'

(Three or four years ago I found myself in a library--I would not for worlds say where--alone with a complete set of the forty Reports of the Challenger Expedition. I drew out a volume reverently--its pages had never been opened. Tastes differ, and I own that myself I should be quite as much interested by the discovery (say) of a Welsh-Gypsy version of the 'Grateful Dead,' as by eight hundred and odd pages on the 'Abdominal Secretions of the Lower Gasteropoda.' Nay, I would even venture to suggest that a fraction, a very small fraction, of the money yearly devoted to the Endowment of Research by government, by our colleges, and by individual

p. lviii

generosity, might well be apportioned to the collecting and preserving of English and Welsh Gypsy folk-tales. Every year will make the task harder; but, as it is, I believe Mr. Sampson could bag the whole lot in a couple of three months' summer holidays. Holidays, quotha! I wonder what Mr. Sampson would say to my notion of holidays.)


lvi:1 The notes of that story are unfortunately lost, but it is a version of Grimm's No. 36, 'The Wishing-table, the Gold-ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack,' Basile's first tale in the Pentamerone (1637), etc. No European folk-tale is more widely spread than this in India, where we find 'The Story of Foolish Sachuli' (Maive Stokes's Indian Fairy-tales, p. 27), 'The Indigent Brahman' (Rev. Lal Behari Day's Folk-tales of Bengal, p. 53), and 'The Jackal, the Barber, and the Brahman' (Mary Frere's Old Deccan Days, p. 174). A fragment of the story comes into our Slovak-Gypsy one of The Old Soldier' (No. 60).

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