Although the image of the separate and distinctive Gypsy race has appeared in an enormous variety of texts over an extremely long historical period, the origins of this particular definition and representation of the group can be identified in the writings of key individuals whose work, for a combination of reasons, gave scholarly legitimacy to the racial perspective. Unsurprisingly, the appearance of the racial Gypsy coincides with, and develops alongside, the emergence and growth of the concept of race, as discussed previously The chronological starting point for this chapter is, then, the late eighteenth century and the treatise on Gypsies by the German scholar Heinrich Grellmann. In the English context, and following the English translation and publication of his text, we next see ideas about the racial Gypsy appearing in the works of the Christian reformers of the early nineteenth century and the works of the well-known writer George Borrow. Other miscellaneous individuals then also became fascinated by the group, and by 1888 many had formed themselves into the Gypsy Lore Society, an umbrella organisation for Gypsy lorists and Romany Rais the world over. 1 The importance of these individuals and groups rests in the fact that, although the notion of the racial Gypsy may have been born in the late eighteenth century and nurtured through the nineteenth century in various studies and publications, the core ideas have lived on, and arguably continue to thrive, into the twenty-first century.
It was not until the publication of Heinrich Grellmann’s influential treatise that we can see evidence of systematic and detailed research, which developed into the first unambiguous statement of the Gypsies’ racial identity. 2 His classic text, translated into English in 1787, is said to have caused an ‘epidemic’ of interest in the Gypsies, and throughout the nineteenth century his study was used as a standard and definitive reference work by a wide range of writers on Gypsy matters, with many authors reproducing unashamedly sizeable verbatim sections from the original in their own publications. 3 His work influenced early nineteenth-century definitions and representations of the group, incorporated features from the earlier accounts of the Egyptians and informed the later researches of the Gypsy lorists.