The following letter is part of a long series by Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the ‘People’s Journal’ in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland. Below the letter will be a verse submitted by a reader about his four month absence.
Maister Editor,—Durin’ the four months that I’ve been haudin’ my tongue I’ve noticed sundry individuals makin’ a bauchle o’ my name an’ fair fame—twa o’ them even gaun the length o’ wreatin’ sangs aboot my silence, an’ insiniwatin’ that I behooved to be on the spree or engaged in some ither equally unwarrantable operation—an’ ane o’ them, in plain prose, blamin’ me for a want o’ consideration for the comfort an’ requirements o’ his “inner bein’.” Noo, as to the twa sangsters, I sall only say that I enterteen a geniwine contempt baith for them an’ for their sangs; an’ as for the proser, I can only advise him if his “inner bein’” is oot o’ order, to tak’ a dose o’ soothin’ medicine, an’ lie in his bed for a curn days, till sic time as he gets relief. Never havin’ studied physic, of coorse I dinna pretend to prescribe for the “inner bein’” in an authoritative manner, an’ therefore he may either tak’ my advice or lat it alane, as he may feed inclined, but if he choose the latter alternative, an’ ony evil consequences follow, he will hae himsel’ to blame, As regards my ancestry, I beg to refer the reader to the volume I published a year or twa syne, [‘Tammas Bodkin, or the Humours of a Scottish Tailor’] wherein my lineage was traced to a very ancient, if not to a very honourable origin, but I am obliged to own that I canna coont St Columba amang my forbears. The only Saint that ever flourished on my family tree was a certain St Snip, wha lived—I sanna say hoo mony centuries back, for if I were to condescend on dates, folk wad be apt to say I was leein’.
I dinna doot but some o’ thae chields wha hae been sclawryin’ my name an’ reputation were very curious to ken hoo my wreatin’s had ceased in a manner sae sudden an’ unaccoontable to appear in your columns, an’ if they had speered the reason why—wi’ a due regaird to the rules o’ good breedin’, eckcettery—I micht hae been prevailed upon to mak’ them as wise as I am mysel’, but seein’ that they hae chairged me wi’ drunkenness, wi’ a disregaird to their “inner bein’,” an’ wi’ a descent frae St Columba, foul fa’ me if I mak’ them a bit wiser on that head. That I was at Peterhead seein’ the launch o’ the “Lifeboat No. 1” I winna seek to deny, but that I got mysel’ fou on that occasion as has been insiniwated or that I misconduckit mysel’ in ony shape, manner, or respect whatsomever, is what I will daur ony man or woman wha has the slichtest regard to truth an’ verity to affirm. Yes I was at Peterhead seein the lifeboat launched, an’ a grand sicht it was; an’ I may state, mair an’ further, that I intend to gang to Arbraoth an’ see the ither ane launched likewise, provided I live lang eneugh; but if the sons o’ St Tammas gang on dilly-dallyin’ as they’ve been doin’ a’ the simmer, an’ dinna get on wi’ the biggin’ o’ the boat-house some faster, I muckle dreed the launchin’ will hae to be put aff till a future generation, an’ then I’ll no see’t. But I maun yoke to the real business on hand, or else a rebellion in your “inner bein’” will be the dreadfu’ consequence, an’ therefore, withoot farther preface or explanation, I sall proceed to gather up the threed o’ the narrative at the spot where it parted sae suddently when I was payin’ it out in the month of June last.
Ye’ll recollect—but in case ye hae forgotten, I may just gie yer memory a refresher by statin’—that Tibbie an’ me had been in Glasgow as the guests o’ Sergeant M’Donald, in the Saatmarket—that we had received a hasty summons to Dundee on business conneckit wi’ a pair o youngsters that had—a wee thocht prematurely as Tibbie surmised—made their appearance at the Crescent—that we had bidden fareweel to Mr an’ Mrs M’Donald wi’ mair haste than was quite consistent wi’ ceremony, wi’ the view o’ catchin’ the train that leaves Glasgow on the back o’ four o’clock post meridian—that we had caught said train wi’ a sair striddle, an’ no withoot garrin’ the puir cab-horse pit doon his heels rather faster than cab-horses are wont to do—an’ that we had tane oor seats an’ had gotten sae far on oor journey—hoo far I canna say, for I dinna mind, nor wad it signifee a button to be preceese in regard to sic a triflin’ matter—but we were somewhaur atween Queen Street Station an’ Coolairs when the threed o’ my previous narrative brak aff, an’ at this stage accordingly it behooves to be picked up an’ spliced.
Aweel, ye see, we’ll suppose that this operation has been accomplished, an’ that we are fleein’ frae Sanet Mungo’s—as John Bunyan’s hero did frae the City o’ Destruction—at the rate o’ twenty or thirty miles an ‘oor. The journey at first promised to be unco dowie an’ tedisum. For miles an’ miles after ye leave Glasgow the face o’ Natur’ is far frae comely—little to be seen but barren muirs, coal heughs, an’ steam engines—a’ very necessary things nae doot; but I maun confess that when abroad in search o’ pleasure I like to see a bonnier sicht than a bing o’ coals, an’ though steam engines are very ingenious pieces o’ mechanism, yet I wad never think o’ gaun frae hame to see them, as I can aye see plenty o’ them ony day at my ain door-cheek; an’ as for the face o’ Natur’, it maun either be smilin’ like the Carse o’ Gowrie or frownin’ like the Pass o’ Killiecrankie afore it can captivate my heart. I carena a flee for yer cauld, flat, unfruitfu’, unpicturesque wildernesses. Ony landscape that wishes to secure my admiration an’ esteem maun mak’ up its mind either to be a garden teemin’ wi’ the spoils o’ Flora an’ Ceres, or a wild waste consistin’ o’ lofty mountains, frownin’ precipices, roarin’ linns an’ cascades, an’ pathless forests, inhabited by elves an’ fairies, an’ hoolets, an’ brocks, an’ wild cats, an’ ither fearsome bein’s. Noo, the traveller looks in vain for onything o’ this description on the railway route atweesh Strath Clyde an’ the “Links o’ Forth,” stretchin’ to the sooth-east o’ Stirlin’. As soon as the valley o’ the silvery Forth heaves in sicht, hooever, the e’e becomes enchanted wi’ the grandeur an’ glory o’ the michty works o’ creation. To the left ye get a distant glimpse o’ the Campsie Fells, an’ at the still greater distance ye see the snawy taps o’ the Perthsire Alps; while on the richt ye behold the Forth windin’ like a great sea serpent through fields as fruitfu’ an bonnie as the Garden o’ Eden, an’ beyond the river the chils lift up their lofty taps to kiss the cluds, wi Damyat for their sentinel, keepin’ watch ower “dale an’ down.” It’s no withoot guid reason that the auld rhyme says:—
“The lairdship o’ the bonnie Links o’ Forth
Is better than an Earldom o’ the North,”
though I wud be very weel content wi’ the heirship o’ either o’ them.
But I find there’s a faut somewhere in the threed o’ my narrative, an’ therefore I maun haul in a curn o’t again, in order that I may devote a few sentences to Tibbie. The train wasna weel started frae Glasgow when she begoud a lecture on the twinnies, includin’ bairns in general, wherein she manifested a wonderfu’ acquaintanceship wi’ the subject, considerin’ that she has never been blessed wi’ ony bairns o’ her ain; an’ I’m safe to say her tong-rake never had a moment’s devald till we reached Larbert. It was a mercy in ae sense that we had a compairtment to oorsels twa, for had there been strangers i’ the carriage they wad hae been sure to set her doon as perfectly deleerit, but it was an unlucky circumstance in anither sense, as I subsequently discovered, for the presence o’ a stranger in the carriage wad hae compelled her to think laigh in till hersel’. I faund oot this highly important fact when we reached Larbert, whaur there stappit into the carriage a little fat sonsie mannie wi’ a double chin, a nose in shape and colour like a petawtie pear, an’ a paunch blawn oot wi’ roast beef an’ maut licker until it had attained to the capacity o’ the bag o’ a great Heelan’ bagpipe. He was the very pictur’ o’ health, guid nature, an’ impudence. Laughter was imprintit on his jolly coontenance, an’ I verily believe the smirk wad maintain its grund in presence o’ the Foul Fiend himsel’, let him look as fierce an’ roar as lood as ony hungry lion that ever roamed atween Jerusalem and Jerico. Judgin’ by his manner o’ speech, he hailed frae besooth the Border—or, in plainer languidge, he seemed to be an Englishman. Noo, an Englishman is to Tibbie an object o’ as great aversion as a Jew was to a Samaritan an’ vicie versie. For ae thing she doesna approve o’ their smousterin’ ways o’ livin’. She thinks they eat ower mony pies an’ pock-puddins for bein’ soond moralists. Their style o’ speakin’, too, is a puzzle to her, an’ they believe in Bishops, barrel-organs, an’ the Beuk o’ Common Prayer, whereof she entertains a special abhorrence. Therefore, as soon as this mirky-faced Englishman set his roond rosy nose withinside the carriage Tibbie’s vivacity an’ garrulity immediately forsook her an’ fled, an she sat henceforth as cauld an’ silent as Lot’s wife done in saat, castin’ noo an’ then a suspicious glance towards oor jolly fallow-traveller through the close texture o’ her thick worsted veil.
“Good morning, sir,” quoth the Englishman, addressin’ his discoorse to me, as he plantit himsel’ doon alangside o’ Tibbie.
“Tolerable weather,” quoth I, pullin’ oot my watch, “but ye maun hae sleepit in if ye tak’ this for mornin’, for I see it is aboot five o’clock post meridiem, an’ we ca’ that afternoon in this pairt o’ the country.”
This afftak’ seemed to please Tibbie exceedingly, for she trampit on my fit, bit her lip, winkit hard, gied a bit sly hotter o’ a laugh, as muckle as to say “that’s ane for the Englishman—go it, Tammas,”
“Maybe so,” observed the Englishman smilin’, “that comes of your being so far behind the age in those parts.”
“Wrang again,” quoth I, “If ony o’s be ahent the age it maun be yersel, for whereas you Englishers ca’ 5 P.M. mornin, we ca’ it aternoon, an’ therefore we’re rather ahead o’ ye in regaird to the time o’ day, an’ it wad be dooms strange if we werena as far afaore ye in regaird to what ye ca’ the age.”
“You will admit, at least,” quoth the Englishman, “that we are ahead of you in one respect,—our country is larger than yours.”
“I wad be laith to mak’ ony sic admission,” quoth I, “Scotland is as big as England, an’ maybe bigger if ye coont everything.”
“Indeed!” quoth the Englishman, wi’ a laugh o’ mingled surprise an’ incredulity, “how do you make that out, old fellow?”
“Evil speed yer impudence,” quoth Tibbie, “Hoo daur ye ca’ my guidman an auld fallow? ‘Od he looks ten year younger an’ twenty per cent. better than you do an any rate. Haigh, I ‘sure ye! It sets ye weel indeed to jaw my guidman aboot his age.”
“Weisht! weisht!” quoth I, leanin’ forrit an’ clappin’ her on the shoother to appease her wrath, “leave the gentleman to me—I’ll settle him—dinna ye distress yersel’.”
The man, seein’ he had offendit Tibbie, was bent on makin’ an apology till her, but I assured him that nae apology was required, as affronts were only as ye taen them, an’ that I was perfectly prepared to do business on the reciprocity principle in sae far as insults were concerned, an’ sae the storm blew ower withoot farther damage.
“Yes, freend,” quoth I, returnin’ to the topic o’ conversation, “an’ ye canna see hoo I can mak oot that Scotland is as big as England! Weel, I’ll tell ye. Ye see yours is a level country, whereas oors is a mountaineous one. Noo, if a’ oor mountains were rolled oot as flat as a girdle, Scotland wad be as big as England.”
“Ay, an’ a guid hantle bigger,” quoth Tibbie.
“An’ as Tibbie observes, maybe a good hantle bigger,” quoth I. “So ye see Scotland is nae sma’ drink.”
“There is a deal of drink consumed in it, at any rate,” quoth the Englishman; “and not very small drink either, I am told.”
“That I canna’ an’ winna’ deny,” quoth I; “but no sae muckle mair in proportion to oor population than is drucken in England to justifee the drawin’ o’ invidious comparasons atween the twa coontries. English browsters canna’ mak’ whisky—if they could ye wad soon learn to drink it. I’m free to say this, at ony rate, when you Englishers come north ye’re just as fond o’ the drap dram as ither folk.”
“And, pray, what Englishman would venture into this uncivilised wilderness?” was the provoking rejoinder. “We would as soon think of living in Siberia. You Scots are more given to going south than we to coming north. I’ve been told that the very parasitical insects that luxuriate on the heads of your population have an instinctive desire to be south, for if you catch one and lay it down on a table it will be sure to crawl towards the south.”
“That’s hoo the English are sic a lousy set,” quoth I, “a’ oor superabundant insect population emigrate, like the swallows, to soothern latitudes, and findin’ the commissariat arrangements to their mind, they never seek to gang farther than England. An’ as for Englishmen never comin’ north, I’m able to furnish ye wi’ proofs to the contrary. I ken o’ thirty thoosan’ Englishmen wha cam’ north to this very neeborhood ae day, an’ they never gaed hame again.”
“I never heard of that extensive emigration,” quoth the Englishman.
“Maybe no,” quoth I, “but I’ve heard tell o’t; an’ if ye like to stap ower by a few park-breeds there, to a place ca’d Bannockburn, ye’ll see whaur they were buried.”
This wasna an original observation I was weel aware, but it answered my purpose, an’ it rayther taen the conceit oot o’ my fellow-traveller, wha vouchsafed nae remark in reply to it, but sat bitin’ his thoom nails, an’ lookin’ as if, like Artemus Ward, he was aboot to offer a five pound note to ony gentleman of “good morrul character who would tell him whot his name was & whot town he livd into.”
He hadna recovered his speech when the train dashed into the station at Stirlin’, whaur the threed o’ this narrative will be resoomed neist week by
Please now, Mr Editor, give me a hearin’,
An’ tell me whaur’s Bodkin, for a’ body’s speerin’.
Some say that he’s dead, and forsaken this warl’,
An’ they’ll never hear mair frae their auld friendly carl;
Some say that he’s aff amang the hills roamin’,
And clim’ing the heights o’ the lofty Ben Lomond—
Or doon in the glens ‘mang the low theekit shielans,
An’ forgotten us a’ midst the scenes o’ the Hielans;
An others they say he’s been at Peterhead
At the launch o’ the Lifeboat, an’ wished her “God speed;”
An perhaps, when out there, he’s got aff on the spree,
An’ never been fit to gang back to Dundee.
But I’m thinkin’ mysel’ maybe Tibby is laid
By the hand o’ affliction upon a sick bed,
An’ Tam he mann work his Tibby’s wark noo,
Wi’ the tears in his e’e and the sweat on his broo.
If sae be, ’tis likely he’ll play some mischanter,
An’ awa’ wi the water he’d fling the decanter,
Or be brakin’ a bowl or smashin’ a plate—
Perhaps the auld teapot that sat by the grate.
But I doubt I will need to be stoppin’ my rhyme,
For Tam’s maybe laughin’ at me a’ the time,
An’ busy engaged at his needle and thread—
But we hope to hear soon frae him, living or dead.
J.R., Dyce. (Published 2 September, 1865)