‘Bodkin Dealing in Idols’ (16 March, 1861)

The following epistle is an early 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.

Maister Editor,—I dinna like to be victimeesed especially by a wheen blockheads, an’ that I’ve allooed mysel’ for ance to be sairly bamboozled by some gentry o’ that description maks me as mad as a March hare whenever I think o’t. But if I didna pay them back in their ain coin—aye, baith principal an’ interest tae—I’ll leave ye to judge when ye have heard my story.

Weel, ae day last week there was a lang, snekin’, seedy lookin’ chap cam into my shop, wi’ a sinister-lookin’ e’e i’ the head o’m, inquirin’ if I could mak’ a pair o’ cutikins for him. “Cutikins, min,” quoth I, “cutikins are no fashionable noo-a-days; hoosomever, if ye will hae cutikens, it’s cutikens ye will hae, for a better hand at cuttin’ cutikens than Mr Waugh, my ‘prentice-maister, didna wield shears atween Maidenkirk an’ John o’ Groats, that I’m certain o,’ for he made them for the auld Duke o’ Bucklew—an’ I wad hae been less o’ a philosopher than folk gie me credit for had I no made mysel’ as perfite at the business as my maister.” A’ the time I was speakin’ till’m he keepit glowerin’ roon’ the shop, an’ I thocht he tane particular notice o’ a glass case, containin’ a quantity o’ dolls an’ trockery o’ that kind, whilk my gude wife advised me to add to my stock o’ wearin’ appairll [sic], as she had been told by some body, that it was an unco profitable business to sell thae play-fair things.

Amang the ither things, there was a great big strappin’ hizzie o’ a doll, ‘od as like life as ever ye saw, an’ nearly as large; so, after glowerin’ a while at it through the glass, the chield says—”A very fine figure that.”

“Aye, she’s a sonsie-lookin’ dame,” quoth I, “it’s only a pity that she’s no flesh an’ blude, or she micht mak’ a fine wife for somebody.” “Very heavenly-lookin’ ideal beauty, pure, spiritual, immaculate,” quoth the chap, wi’ mony mair phrases to the same effeck, an’ I really began to think him a wee thocht romantic. He seemed to be muckle tane up wi’ the wax figure, an’ began to mutter something till himsel’ aboot “Ave Maria,” or some sic nonsense, an’ I actually made him oot, in my ain mind, to be a fool. At last an’ lang, he spiered the price o’ the article. “Weel,” quoth I, “I dinna deal in thae things, but if ye’ve a mind to buy, I’se ca’ in the gudewife, for they belang to a speakilation o’ hers.” So the wife was sent for, an’ a bargain was concludit, the chield payin’ some five or sax shillin’s for the doll, an’ whan he laid doon the siller, thinks I, “My man, a fule an’ his money’s soon pairtit.” Hooever, that was his business, an’ no mine. He got it rowed up in a lump o’ paper, an’ set aff wi’t in his oxter, still chatterin’ till himsel’ something aboot “aves” an’ “Marias.”

But to let you into the thread o’ my story, I maun tell ye I was a member of the Reformation Society, tho’ I had naething to do wi’ the Presidentship thereof. I was aye a strong enemy o’ the Pope an’ a’ his scarlet crew, an’ I thocht it my duty wi’ my superior licht to do a’ in my pooer to enlichten ithers. I was never in a Popish Kirk, nor did I ken muckle aboot their tenets, but I had been informed that they prayed to the saints, an’ offered incense to the Virgin Mary. Baith o’ thae things I kent were sinfu,’ an’ as a Christian man, I considered it my duty to lend my moral wecht to put it doon.

Weel, ye see, it was joost the second nicht after the chield had bocht the doll that twa o’ the members o’ the Reformation Society cam’ into my shop, promiscuously as it were, an’ after some general conversation aboot the weather an’ sae forth, we fell into a crack aboot the sin o’ sellin’ the instruments o’ idolatry to the benichted Papists. We a’ agreed that the man wha did sic a thing was joost like Balaam earnin’ the wages o’ unrichtiousness, an’ far frae bein’ a fit band to put at the head o’ the Reformation Society. “But,” quoth ane o’ them—Jamie Anger by name, a hoose carpenter by trade—”are ye sure ye’re ain hands are clean in this matter, Mr Bodkin?” “Clean in what matter?” quoth I. “Ou, Tammas,” quoth he, “it winna do to equivocate; search ye’re ain conscience an’ ye’ll find the anser therein.” “The sorra’s i’ th’ man!” quoth I; “if ye’ve ony chairge to mak’ against me mak’ it, an’ hae dune wi’t.” “Weel,” quoth he, “did not you, Thomas Bodkin, two days agone sell an eemage o’ the Virgin Mary to Mr So-an’-so, the Papist?” “That I selt an eemage is very true, or rather my wife did sae, but that it was an eemage o’ the Virgin Mary or ony ither particular virgin, is mair than I ken o’, or than ye have ony right to inquire into. I selt a doll, sir, an’ what hae ye got to do wi’ that is what I wad like to ken?” “Oh, Mr Bodkin,” quoth the ither chap—his name I canna tell—but I’ve seen somebody unco like him tootin’ “fresh herrin’, twa a penny, twa a penny, come on,” somewhere aboot the narrow o’ the Murraygate—”Oh, Mr Bodkin, ye ken we’re twa members o’ the Reformation Society, an’ we’ve thocht it oor duty to some an’ speak to ye as an errin’ brither, that ye may be brocht to see the iniquity o’ yer ways, an’ cast awa yer idols.” “To the mischief wi’ you an’ yer thochts a’ thegether o’ ye” quoth I—for my choler was gettin’ up—”do ye ca’ thae things idols?” an’ I showed them a boxfu’ o’ squeekin’ dolls an’ anither o’ pigmannies.” “Weel, they’re eemages,” quoth Jamie Anger, “an’ if they fa’ into the hands o’ a Papist wha kens but he may worship them? for they are aboot as saint-like as ony o’ the apostles that Mr Gilruth sells at tenpence the dizzen.” “Weel, James,” quoth I, “even if they were intendit to be worshippit, I wad be nae waur than ye are, for it’s nae sae lang sin’ ye contrackit for the joiner wark o’ a Popish chapel, an’ carved a timmer cross fo’t, an’ if the ae thing is no as bad, or waur than the ither, I’ll oondertak’ to swallow that guse. Ye see the door?” quoth I, pointin’ in that direction wi’ the neb o’ my thoom. “Aye do I,” quoth Jamie. “Weel, mak’ ye’re legs ye’re freen’s, walk!” The herrin’ merchant made a motion as if he wad reason the matter wi’ me, but I could hae nae farther patience wi’ their humbug, an’ sae I taen them by the cuffs o’ their coats, rappit their heads thegither, applied my fit to their hinder quarters, an’ pitched them into the street. Yours,

Tammas Bodkin.

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