‘Clodpole on Reform’ (16 April, 1859)

“The hyaena is said to laugh when devoorin’ its victim, an in like manner oor legislators never laugh looder than when they are betrayin’ an’ victimizin’ the people.”

The following is a early, Scots, satirical column written by W.D. Latto. Before he became editor of ‘The People’s Journal’ and began his series of columns by the character Tammas Bodkin, Latto used the pseudonym Jock Clodpole.

Ayont the Ingle, April 7, 1859.

Mr Editur,—Though I haena fashed ye wi’ ony o’ my lucubrations for a gude while, yet ye manna suppose that, frae my rural retreat, I’ve been a’ thegither as indifferent spectator o’ the ongaens, baith at hame an’ abroad, durin’ the last month or twa. The storm-clud o’ war that threatened some weeks syne to burst ower Europe an’ deluge it wi’ blude, has cleared aff for the present, an’ we can meanwhile breath freely, an’ fix oor attention on hame-politics. We country bodies are sometimes accused o’ bein’ an’ ignorant pack o’ mortals, an’ ance on a time that was true enough—ower true in fact; but thanks to the extensive circulation o’ newspapers, we are fast comin’ upsides wi’ oor neebors in toons. As eery body has been takin’ notes o’ the late discussion in Parliament anent reform, an’ as we too hae oor ain ideas aboot it, as weel as you toon’s folks, I hope ye’ll no objeck to alloo me a corner o’ yer paper in order that a’ kinds o’ opinions may be fairly an’ fully represented. I wad say in the ootset that the rural population canna be ower meikle obleeged to Mr Disraeli for his gude intentions, for ane o’ the francheese in coonties frae a fifty to a ten poind occupancy, thus puttin’ us on a par wi’ the burghs. I’ve observed that this was ane o’ the grand objections that Lord John an’, indeed, almost every body, Whig, Tory, an’ Radical, had to urge against the measure. They said that it wasna constitutional to hae the francheese the same in coonties as in burghs. Noo that may be sae for ought that I ken to the contrary, for I’m no weel acquainted ava wi’ that impalpable thing ca’d the constitution; but, speakin’ i’ the meantime as a plain country man, an’ lookin’ nae farther than my ain interests i’ the matter, I wad say that Disraeli’s plan o’ reform was joost the verra thing for me. Gin his scheme could hae been carried oot, I wad hae been a greater man than ony o’ yer toon’s folk o’ a similar station wi’ mysel’, notwithstandin’ a’ their windy pride an’ sovereign contempt for country Johnnies. Joost suppose Disraeli’s bill the law o’ the land. Verra weel, then, I come into Dundee on a market-day, clothed in hodden-grey an stawpin on my ploughman shanks—my appearance is onything but elegant or fashionable; nae matter for that, I can haud up my head wi’ the best in the market, for I’m a voter; an’, instead o’ jeerin’ at my awkward manners an’ despisin’ my ignorance, every body ‘ll be constrained to look up to me wi’ due reverence an’ respeck. Plenty o’ them may hae three or four times mair siller than I hae, but that wad be neither here nor there, for my vote wad amply compensate for my povery an’ want o’ proper breedin’. The rental o’ my bit farm o’ Scouriebrae is joost £10 per annum —its an auld lease, an’ when it expires the laird will tak’ gude care to screw me up to £30 or £40, or turn me adrift a’ thegither gin I dinna sing unco sma’—but nae matter, £10 is the figure i’ the noo; an’ takin’ it a’ ower head, an ae year wi’ anither, it may be worth to me £30 mair, sae that this latter soom is a’ that I hae to live upon an’ bring up a sma’ family wi’ forbye. An unco humble way o’ doin’ ye’ll be apt to say; but nae matter, only gie Mr Disraeli his will an’ I’ll be a voter, nae doot o’ that. Gin everybody in Parliament had only thocht like Mr Disraeli, I, Jock Clodpole, wi’ an income o’ £30 a-year, wad hae had a vote, while the man livin’ in a burgh, an’ carnin’ a similar soom wad hae had nane ava, unless he flang awa a third o’ his income in the shape o’ hoose rent, and gin he sid do sae what wad he eat, an’ wherewithal wad he be clothed? I canna see ony principle o’ justice or no justice, we wha were to reap the benefits o’t wad hae been great fules had we no gien it a hearty welcome an’ warm support.

I’m richt glad to think that Mr Disraeli hasna forgotten his auld agricultural freens. When he was in office the last time he promised us protection, an’ failed because naebody was clever enough to see the gude it wad do, an’ noo, as a sort o’ compensation for oor disappointed hopes on that occasion, he wad hae fain favoured us wi’ a bigger share o’ legislative power than he wad gie to the manufacturin’ and commercial classes; an’ gin he has failed again in realizin’ his intentions it has shown at least that he means well, and a well meanin’ man is ower scarce a commodity to be despised in this warld.

Nae doot its ower late noo to bring forrit ony new argument in defence o’ Mr Disraeli’s coonty francheese, but I canna help observin’ that his opponents hae been strangely stannin’ i’ their ain licht by rejectin’ his proposal. Were his plan carried out it wad be the salvation o’ the country. This assertion may soond strange to some wha never refleckit on the subjeck, but for their enlichtenment I’ll explain what I mean. Its weel kenned that the system o’ big farms—gude enough maybe in the main, an’ when keepit within due boonds—has been carried ower far in this country. It is scarcely possible for a man o’ sma’ means to get a farm equal to his capital. Unless he is able to command a thoosan’ pounds or twa he needna think o’ turnin’ farmer, for he wadna hae cash enough to stock a big farm, an’ as things are at present, he couldna get a sma’ ane either for love or money. Noo, gin Mr Disraeli could hae carried oot his coonty francheese, we wad soon hae seen little farms comin’ into fashion again. Tak’ a coonty like Kincardine, for instance, wi’ an auld-farrant Tory for its member—ane o’ the useless obstructions—but wi’ a strong Leeberal element pervadin’ its population, rich as weel as puir, an’ is it no verra likely that under Mr Disraeli’s £10 coonty francheese the Leeberal landlords i’ the Mearns wad lay their leads thegither an’ break up some o’ their big farms into little anes in order to create Leeberal votes enou to swamp the Tory interest? This, of coorse, wad pit the Tories on thier ain defence, an’ they wad gang an’ do likewise. Look again at Fifeshire, which, a dizzen o’ years syne, could only muster a majority o’ sixty-six for Mr Fergus aboon his Tory opponent, an’ is it no geyan probable that the Tory lairds within the “Kingdom” wad soon try to reverse that majority gin they could do sae “at the low price of ten pounds sterling.” In this case, too, the Leeberals wad be compelled to manufacture faggot votes in thier ain defence, an’ sae the contest wad gang on until the sma’ farms wad be as plentifu’ as horse-gowans. This return to the system o’ sma’ farms—amang ither gude things it wad do—wad contribute to the defence o’ the country against foreign invasion, because it wad be the means o’ rearin’ up a race o’ sturdy yeomen:—

“Their country’s stay

In day and hour o’ danger.”

It wad create an inexhaustible supply o’ gude, decent, domestic servants—a class that has been rather diminishin’ in numbers an’ deteriorating in character within the last few years, owin’ in a great measure, I daur say, to the deficiencies o’ their early trainin’. Mithers sid aye hae the trainin’ o’ their dochters to domestic duties under their ain immediate superintendence, an’ gin they dinna hae that, then most assuredly their lasses will grow up to be dirty, thriftless, throughither hizzies, perfectly useless to their employers when they are in service, an’ a ruination an’ a heart-break to thier husbands when they get married. But ploughmen’s wives canna aye get stayed i’ the hoose to look after their families. In ower mony cases they maun gang oot to the fields an’ spread muck, an’ gather stanes, an’ joost leave the aulder to look after the younger anes at hame the best way they can. Let sma’ farms be multiplied, hooever, an’ then we wad soon see a correspondin’ increase in the workin’ class o’ farmers’ wives, wha couldna afford to mak’ fine leddies o’ their dochters, but wad joost hae to bring them up to a’ kinds o’ hoosehold wark, an’ I’m sure that wad set them far better than mumblin’ bad French an’ strummin’ meaningless polkas and gallops on the peeanny.

Still, though I think that Disraeli’s plan wad hae been a benefit to the coonties, yet I dinna wonder that the folk in the burrows’ toons were greatly dissatisfied wi’t as a whole. Had I been a toon-bred chield I wad hae been as mad as the hills to think that I had been treated wi’ sae little consideration. I canna understand hoo Disraeli, wi’ a’ his cleverness an’ sagacity, ever thocht that his bill wad gang doon wi’ the country generally, or what he wad be able to carry it through Parliament. The only parties that shewed the least anxiety for Reform were the toonspeople; the agricultural classes werna seekin’ Reform, an’ were never mair surprised than when they learned that they were to be sae highly favoured. In my opinion the Bill wad hae had a far better chance o’ support had its favours been bestowed on a totally different principle—had the coonty francheese been left intact, an’ the burgh francheese reduced by a half. Maybe the bill, like the man’s razors that werna made to shave, but to sell, wasna in tended to pass, but to gie honourable members an opportunity o’ makin’ a little diversion for themsel’s; an’ gin that was the intention o’t, I’m sure its promoters hae had meikle reason to congratulate ane anither to thier entire success. They profess to regard the subject as a very solemn an’ important ane; an’ yet to glance ower the reports o’ their debates a body wad be apt to suppose that they had been a half-fou, there has been sae meikle laughter an’ daffin gaen on among them. The hyaena is said to laugh when devoorin’ its victim, an in like manner oor legislators never laugh looder than when they are betrayin’ an’ victimizin’ the people. Gin they be philosophers ava, of which there is meekle room for doot, they maun belang to the laughin’ kind o’ them. The haill affair, frae beginning to end, has been a complete farce. The fack is maist feck o’ the Parliamenters wha hae been grabblin sae gibly aboot reform within the last week or twa dinna gie a single strae whether we got reform or no. The debate has dune some guide, hooever, as it has compelled baith sides o’ the Hoose to speak oot on the subject. We ken noo wha’s freends an’ wha’s faes. The Derbyites hae committed themsel’s to a large extension o’ the suffrage in the coonties, and the so-called Leeberals will tak’ care o’ the interests o’ the bughs, sae that atween the twa we may expect by an’ bye to get a reasonable reform, that is should naething tak’ place to afford them an excuse for delayin’ till an indefinite period the settlement o’ the question, such as a rumpus on the Continent, which there is ower great a probability will happen ere long.

I canna help noticin’ in conclusion, that the division on the Reform Bill tane place on Gowk’s Day—a day ever memorable in my history as what on whilk Willie Stringan, the sleekit sinner, sent me on a bootless errand, joost a twalmonth syne. I hope Lord John an’ his followers winna get their comin’ for thier gaein’ as I did on that occasion.

Jock Clodpole.

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