The following epistle is the second appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ of 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. In this column Tammas takes aim at the controversialist Joseph Barker who made a public appearance in Dundee, performing a lecture at the Bell Street Church and Hall. This article received some not entirely complimentary feedback from the readers which will appear below.
“Foulk wi’ a thirst after notoriety sid hae nae notice ta’en o’ them, an’ they wad soon cease to play their ootlandish antics. That’s my real opinion on this subject.”
Maister Editor,—Muckle against the wull o’ my gudewife, I paid a visit to Bell Street Hall on Monday nicht to hear what an unbeliever wad hae to say for himsel’. On gettin’ inside, I faund Mr Barker at his nicht’s wark, an’ a very extraordinary kind of wark it was, for it seemed to be his main object to turn everything that we’ve been accustomed to hold sacred into ridicule for the purpose o’ exciting laughter amo’ the audience, wha were to a’ appearance composed for the maist part o’ tailors (like mysel’), shoemakers, engineers, wabsters, wi’ here an’ there a thochtless laddie o’ a clerk, an’ atour an’ aboom a’ some sax or aucht women. Nae doot a gude hantle o’ them were there joost for fun—to see an’ be seen—an’ to hear what the oonbelievein’ man wad say. That was the object at ony rate; but losh, I didna like to look up for fear o’ bein’ kent, for it micht hae circulated through a’ the toon that I, Tammas Bodkin, was an infidel, and what wad hae been the upshot o’ that? Never anither pair o’ slacks wad I hae got to mak’ for Andrew Trotter, for Andrew is an elder o’ the Kirk, and wadna hae ony fellowship wi’ the warks o’ darkness. My business wad hae sufered for it, but I am glad to say I saw naebody there that I kenned except Mr John Davidson, an’ I took care to keep oot o’ his sicht. Ye see, I dinna care noo wha kens I was ane o’ Mr Barker’s hearers, for I can prevent a’ mischief by at once showin’ that I gaed there for the purpose o’ confutin’ the onsoond doctrines, an’ no for swallowin’ them. I saw a great many snuffers an’ dirty faces among the audience, an’ I’m of opinion that snuff, dirt, and infedility gang thegither. Aboot the lecture itsel’ I’ve unco little to tell. There was nae argument in it frae beginnin’ to end. Some very smart jokes were uttered aboot persons and things that it would be wrang to name in this place, but I could see nae attempt at onything like logical reasonin’ in the hail discourse. He boasted o’ his science an’ his earnest pursuit o’ knowledge, but for the pairt I think there is as muckle science and knowledge in my guse as in a’ I heard uttered durin’ the oor an’ a quarter that the lecture lasted. Mr Barker winna believe in the Holy Trinity because he canna oonderstand fu’ there can be three persons in the Godhead, an’ yet only ae Supreme Bein’, but wi’ a’ his science can he tell me by what chemical process the snail maks for itsel’ a buckie? Does Mr Barker oonderstand a’ the mysteries o’ creation, in the heeven aboon an’ in the earth below, an’ in the waters oonder the earth? Surely he winna say sae; an’ if he disna oonderstand the warks o’ the Almichty, fu’ does he think to oonderstand a’ aboot the Almichty himsel’? Mr Barker was ooncertain whether or no there is anither warld; but he says if we do weel for ourselves an’ for ithers in this warld, we are makin’ the best preparation for the next ane, if there is sic a thing; an’ if no, we’ll at least get the benefit o’ oor gude behavior in this present warld. But what if there sid be anither warld joost as the Bible describes? In that case I wadna like to stand in Mr Barker’s boots. Na, na, I’ll stick by the Bible, for if it is true (an’ o’ that I am thoroughly convinced), I am in the safe road to the next warld; an’ if it’s no true (an’ nane but the shameless an’ reprobate deny its truthfulness), to do what it bids us will do us at the least nae harm. The morality o’ the New Testament is as soond as ony morality that we are likely to get frae Mr Barker. I dinna wonder at Mr John Davidson makin’ an onslaught on the irreverent lecturer. If I had been as gude o’ speakin’ as o’ wieldin’ the pen. I wad hae dune something similar mysel’.
I oonderstand this champion o’ infidelity has been lecturin’ on love an’ marriage, an’ so forth, showin’ fu’ foulk sid coort, an’ fu’ they sid manage their households, but it wad set him better to bide at hame, an’ attend to his ain connubial affairs, an’ let the foulk o’ Dundee kiss their sweethearts an’ controul their domestic concerns, as it best pleases themsels’, an’ as they were able to do lang afore Mr Barker was born.
I dinna object to foulk makin’ an honest tippence, in a harmless line o’ business, but when they set aboot it by ootragin’ public opinion, I’m apt to get unco ooncharitable wi’ them. I wadna advise lynchin’, or tarrin’ an’ featherin’, or the cauld water cure wi’ thae kind o’ birkies, but I wad certainly strongly advise that they sid be left to preach to empty benches. The want o’ the tippences wad hae a poorfu’ effect in the way o’ coolin’ the zeal o’ their heterodoxy.
To mak’ an atonement for gaen doon to Pandemonium on Monday nicht, I, wi’ the advice an’ consent o’ my gude-wife aforesaid, patronised Mr John Bowes in the upper sanctuary on Thursday nicht. On John’s discoorse it’s needless to waste mony words, for he was joost as decidedly orthodox as Joseph was decidedly heterodox. If a blessin’ frae on high be vouchsaved on that particular edifice, John Bowes an’ his bairns are sure to get the first an’ last o’t. I canna but admire the arrangement o’ the twa conventicles. Doon below may be likened to the bottomless pit, the abode o’ the Arch Enemy an’ his angels, while the upper story may be supposed to represent the heavenly Zion, where dwell the spirits o’ just men made perfect. This thing at least I’m certain o’, when listenin’ to John Bowes I felt as if in anither warld a’thegither frae what I felt when in the nether regions, whilk smelt o’ fire an’ brimstane. Still, I think John an’ his freends wad hae served a gude cause better by takin’ nae notice whatever o ‘the infidel an’ his lectures. Foulk wi’ a thirst after notoriety sid hae nae notice ta’en o’ them, an’ they wad soon cease to play their ootlandish antics. That’s my real opinion on this subject.
By the bye, as I’m on things sacred at ony rate, I maun ha’e a single word aboot this Arbroath affair. I’ve had a ca’ frae a sister’s son o’ mine, wha is an extensive muck merchant in the city o’ St Tammas, an’ he tells me he was at the Presbytery meetin’ on Wednesday, an’ heard the hail stramash. A’ I wad say aboot this business i’ the meantime is, that ministers are an ill-greein’ pack. I micht hae said muckle mair, but the gudewife tells me that the fire is wearin’ low, an’ as I’ve Andrew Trotter’s slacks to iron, I maun, set to wark afore the guse grows cauld.—Yours,
‘Bodkin “Hauled Over the Coals”‘ (9, March 1861)
We have received three long epistles in reply to what was said by “Tammas Bodkin” a week or two ago, on “Orthodoxy and Hetrodoxy.” These letters, which together would occupy about a couple of columns of the ‘Journal’, give old snip a pretty sound drubbing for his meddling with the late “Bell Street Brawl,” but as the matter is now getting old, and as it is better to let old sores heal up than to keep probing and irritating them, we have decided to withhold all the three letters. It must be admitted that Tammas employed rather strong language in some parts of his letter, but then he felt strongly on the subject, and it is a privilege which we should always concede to a tailor, that his temper may be allowed to have full swing, provided it don’t exceed the temperature of his own goose. Men who can see both the beginning and the end of things—who can penetrate the mysteries of the Godhead, and reason about their Maker as if he were such an one as themselves, should think foul scorn to lift a lance with a poor tailor, who can scarcely discern between his right hand and his left. One of our correspondents mentions that he is prepared to prove that “not only did a portion of the audience who cheered Mr Bowes, mob Mr Barker on his way to his hotel from the hall, kick at him, and strike him with a stone, but on the evenings of the two first lectures some of the church party forced the doors of the hall below, despite the efforts of the door-keepers.” This fact—if it is a fact—we were not aware of before now, and we hesitate not to say that, if any of Mr Barker’s opponents did go to the length of providing the muscularity of their Christianity in the way described, their conduct is wholly indefensible, nay, worthy of the most emphatic condemnation. Stones and boot points are syllogisms wholly alien to the genius of Christianity, and most certainly those who resort to such arguments must be very hard pressed indeed. As to those who forced their way into the hall, we can only express a hope that they had previously paid their “tip-pence.”