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

John Roberts.

Twenty to thirty years ago I knew hundreds of Gypsies in most parts of England and Wales. But the Rómani dialect was in those days my all-in-all; I would walk or ride thirty miles, and feel richly rewarded if I came back with two or three new words, such as mormússi, midwife, or taltoráiro, crow. I knew little or nothing about folklore, and cared less; the few stray odds and ends of it that I picked up among the people are scattered mostly through my In Gypsy Tents (Edinb. 1880). At Virginia Water, in 1872, I remember old Matty Cooper telling me how the plaice went about calling out, 'I'm the King of the Fishes,' which was why her mouth was made crooked (cf. Grimm's No. 172, The Sole'); and from a Boswell in, I think, 1875, I got the lying story of 'Happy Boz’ll,' which I give here, No. 36. But my one great find was my lighting on the Welsh-Gypsy harper, John Roberts (1815-94), of Newtown in Montgomeryshire. In Gypsy Tents contains a great deal about him and by him (pp. 78-81, 94-99, 149-158, 197-216, 269-278, 290-294, 299-319, 372-377) here, then, it may suffice to say that, though not a full-blooded Gypsy, he could speak Rómani, yes, and write Rómani, as no other Gypsy I have ever met at home or on the Continent. I know, indeed, of no other instance where the teller of folk-tales has also been able himself to transcribe them. He wrote out for me the two long folk-tales reprinted here (Nos. 54 and 55), and he had a wealth of others: I fear that many of them have perished with him. He was one of the finest of Welsh harpers; he spoke Welsh, English, and Rómani with equal fluency; and he was a man besides of rare intelligence. His tales, he would have it, were all derived from the Arabian Nights, 'leastwise if it was not from my poor old mother, or else from my grandmother, and she was a wonderful woman for telling stories.'

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