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


[paragraph continues] Nor even for cannibalism need Mr. Lang go far back or far afield. In 1782 in Hungary, next door to Germany, forty-five Gypsies, men and women, were beheaded, broken on the wheel, quartered alive, or hanged, for cannibalism. Arrested first by way of wise precaution, they were racked till they confessed to theft and murder, then were brought to the spot where they said their victims should be buried, and, no victims forthcoming, were promptly racked again. 'We ate them,' at last was their dispairing cry, and straightway the Gypsies were hurried to the scaffold; straightway the newspapers all over Europe rang with blood-curdling narratives of ' Gypsy cannibalism.' Then, when it all was over, the Emperor Joseph sent a commission down, the outcome of whose investigations was that nobody was missing, that no one had been murdered--but the Gypsies. That was in Hungary, a century ago; but even: in England, in 1859, a judge seems to have entertained a similar suspicion. In that year, at the York assizes, a Gypsy lad, Guilliers Heron, was tried for a robbery, of which, by

p. lxxiv

the bye, he was innocent. One of the prisoner's brothers' (I quote from the Times of Thursday, 10th March, p. 11), said they were all at tea with the prisoner at five o'clock in their tent, and, when asked what they had to eat, he said they had a "hodgun" cooked, which is the provincial name for a hedgehog. His Lordship (Mr. Justice Byles): "What do you say you had--cooked urchin?" Gypsy: "Yes, cooked hodgun. I'm very fond of cooked hodgun" (with a grin). His Lordship's mind seemed to be filled with horrible misgivings, when the meaning of the provincialism was explained amid much laughter.' Cannibalism is a common feature of Gypsy folk-tales, as this collection will show; but it is far commoner, and on a far grander scale, in the folk-tales of India, where a rakshasi makes nothing of polishing off the entire population of a city, plus the goats and sheep, horses and elephants. How does Mr. Lang account for this, for Germany remained savage long ages after India? I rather fancy, though I cannot be certain, that cannibalism in folk-tales tapers off pretty regularly westward from India. 1


lxxiv:1 I have discussed the subject-matter of the last two pages more fully in my paper, 'The Influence of the Gypsies on the Superstitions of the English Folk' (Trans. Internat. Folklore Congress, 1891, pp. 292-308).

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