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THE amusing Memoirs of James Allan, the unrivalled piper, have been published by various persons, and have commanded different degrees of attention and approbation. But the present writer has succeeded in procuring many interesting and well-authenticated anecdotes in the eventful life of this singular character, and which, he trusts, will render this work peculiarly valuable and essentially original. Besides, the biographical sketches of Allan's life that have appeared, evince much haste and carelessness, and are expressed in a style either low and vulgar, or bombastical and inappropriate.
If a writer may be permitted to quote himself, I shall venture to repeat the observations which were made on this subject on another occasion :-“What claims can a vagrant piper have to the remembrance of posterity? Should any one be so contracted as querulously to ask this question, I reply, many; for there never lived a human being, however obscure, degraded, and comparatively unimportant, whose life, if faithfully and correctly narrated, would not furnish lessons and examples eminently conducive to the extension of knowledge and happiness.
“ That profound observer of men and manners, Lord Bacon, prefers biography to every other species of historical composition, because it exhibits the smaller passages and motions of men and manners;' and the celebrated Dr. Johnson remarks, that the mischievous consequences of vice and folly, of irregular desires and predominant passions, are best discovered by those relations which are levelled with the general surface of life.'
“But the moral portrait of James Allan is peculiarly entitled to the attention of mankind, as it presents such a variety of curious and interesting features as must prove highly gratifying to persons of all ages, pursuits, and conditions of life.
“Here the philosopher may view the workings of the human mind, trace the power of external objects, and the influence of early habits, in generating those moral motives which constitute character.
“ The moralist will find in these memoirs a convincing proof of the absolute necessity of morality in order to produce individual happiness; and that vice and folly, whatever seductive forms they may assume, will always terminate in disappointment and misery.
“ The antiquary will find repeated notices of those popular observances, vulgar errors, and ancient customs, which afford the best elucidation of the history of other times; being highly illustrative of the character and pursuits of our superstitious, warlike, and turbulent forefathers.
“In this brief history, the curious will be amused with a lively representation of an interesting class of people, not yet wholly extinct; and in whom the habits of a vulgar, erratic life, and a disregard of the laws and institutions of society, are so combined with many excellent qualities, as to produce an effect striking and peculiar.
“ The lovers of music will here behold repeated testimonies of the truth of our divine bard's eulogy on this heavenly art, and that it does indeed possess charms calculated to soothe the savage breast.' The complacent reception this wandering minstrel experienced in the most wild and inhospitable regions, evinces that the love of music is an instinct subsisting in our nature. This feeling is excellently adapted for soothing the cares, and augmenting the happiness of life; and it possesses the rare felicity of combining pleasure and innocence, which are too often at variance.
“Every man, in short, must peruse with pleasure and profit the history of a man who was so rarely endowed ; whose errors, crimes, and misfortunes were so numerous and remarkable; and whose fortitude, courage, and sufferings would, had he been capable of recording their nature and succession, have formed one of the most useful and splendid exhibitions of human exertions ever offered to the attention of mankind.
“ The life of this singular character has all the air of a romance, the incidents being so various and extraordinary ; but the relation possesses such genuine marks of authenticity as must satisfy the most scrupulous. Allan was extremely illiterate, and utterly incapable of perusing the narratives of the adventurous voyager and the curious traveller, much less of collecting and arranging their scattered remarks on the manners and customs which prevail in distant and unfrequented countries, with a view to impose upon the public. Yet his observations in China, in India, in Tartary, and in other countries, exactly correspond with those published by the most learned, accurate, and esteemed travellers, and afford such presumptive and internal evidences of the substantial veracity of this history, as must dissipate the most marvellous and obstinate credulity.
“ Few of the local events that distinguished the chequered and vagrant life of Allan rest on his own authority alone: they are known to numerous and respectable living witnesses. The shades of difference that may distinguish their modes of relation are inseparable from that species of testimony."
In explanation of the above, it is necessary to observe that many of the occurrences in Allan's eventful life were, at different times, related by himself to various persons in the confidence of private conversation; and as he never suspected that his words would be penned, much less published to the world, his vanity was the less likely to give a false and plausible colouring to his achievements. He could have no ambition to rival Psalmanazer. Indeed, his ignorance of letters was so great, that he never knew the alphabet; and though he was occasionally seen in company perusing the newspapers with much apparent interest, yet he never ventured upon this exhibition unless he had first noticed the figure of a horse, a cock, or a house, by which he distinguished the top from the bottom of the paper.
It is a curious fact, that the first signature of his present majesty George the Fourth, when Prince Regent, officially addressed to the sheriff of Durham, was affixed to a free pardon for James Allan, then under sentence of transportation for life. But ere this merciful document arrived, the aged sufferer had descended into the tranquil grave, and was thus placed beyond the reach of human relief and of royal clemency.
The memoirs of this famous piper will be found interspersed with much curious information respecting the Gipsy tribes, whose persons have always been objects of persecution, instead of the protection of the laws. It is calculated that about eight hundred thousand Gipsies are scattered over Europe, of which number eighteen thousand reside in England. A people so numerous and so singular is certainly entitled to general attention; though their history, their condition, and their habits, are only very imperfectly understood.