An Accursed Race by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, An Accursed Race, by Elizabeth Gaskell

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: An Accursed Race

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Release Date: May 17, 2005 [eBook #2531]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1896 Smith, Elder and Co. "From Lizzie Leigh and
Other Tales" edition by David Price, email Proofed
by Jennifer Lee, Alev Akman and Andy Wallace.

Elizabeth Gaskell

We have our prejudices in England. Or, if that assertion offends any of
my readers, I will modify it: we have had our prejudices in England. We
have tortured Jews; we have burnt Catholics and Protestants, to say
nothing of a few witches and wizards. We have satirized Puritans, and we
have dressed-up Guys. But, after all, I do not think we have been so bad
as our Continental friends. To be sure, our insular position has kept us
free, to a certain degree, from the inroads of alien races; who, driven
from one land of refuge, steal into another equally unwilling to receive
them; and where, for long centuries, their presence is barely endured,
and no pains is taken to conceal the repugnance which the natives of
"pure blood" experience towards them.

There yet remains a remnant of the miserable people called Cagots in the
valleys of the Pyrenees; in the Landes near Bourdeaux; and, stretching up
on the west side of France, their numbers become larger in Lower
Brittany. Even now, the origin of these families is a word of shame to
them among their neighbours; although they are protected by the law,
which confirmed them in the equal rights of citizens about the end of the
last century. Before then they had lived, for hundreds of years,
isolated from all those who boasted of pure blood, and they had been, all
this time, oppressed by cruel local edicts. They were truly what they
were popularly called, The Accursed Race.

All distinct traces of their origin are lost. Even at the close of that
period which we call the Middle Ages, this was a problem which no one
could solve; and as the traces, which even then were faint and uncertain,
have vanished away one by one, it is a complete mystery at the present
day. Why they were accursed in the first instance, why isolated from
their kind, no one knows. From the earliest accounts of their state that
are yet remaining to us, it seems that the names which they gave each
other were ignored by the population they lived amongst, who spoke of
them as Crestiaa, or Cagots, just as we speak of animals by their generic
names. Their houses or huts were always placed at some distance out of
the villages of the country-folk, who unwillingly called in the services
of the Cagots as carpenters, or tilers, or slaters--trades which seemed
appropriated by this unfortunate race--who were forbidden to occupy land,
or to bear arms, the usual occupations of those times. They had some
small right of pasturage on the common lands, and in the forests: but the
number of their cattle and live-stock was strictly limited by the
earliest laws relating to the Cagots. They were forbidden by one act to
have more than twenty sheep, a pig, a ram, and six geese. The pig was to
be fattened and killed for winter food; the fleece of the sheep was to
clothe them; but if the said sheep had lambs, they were forbidden to eat
them. Their only privilege arising from this increase was, that they
might choose out the strongest and finest in preference to keeping the
old sheep. At Martinmas the authorities of the commune came round, and
counted over the stock of each Cagot. If he had more than his appointed
number, they were forfeited; half went to the commune, half to the
baillie, or chief magistrate of the commune. The poor beasts were
limited as to the amount of common which they might stray over in search
of grass. While the cattle of the inhabitants of the commune might
wander hither and thither in search of the sweetest herbage, the deepest
shade, or the coolest pool in which to stand on the hot days, and lazily
switch their dappled sides, the Cagot sheep and pig had to learn
imaginary bounds, beyond which if they strayed, any one might snap them
up, and kill them, reserving a part of the flesh for his own use, but
graciously restoring the inferior parts to their original owner. Any
damage done by the sheep was, however, fairly appraised, and the Cagot
paid no more for it than any other man would have done.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sat 27th May 2017, 9:49