“A Burns thou art, in everthing but youth,
A Scarron, minus the envenomed tooth,
The Shakspeare of Dundee.”
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. In this letter Tammas receives a stern response to his accusations in the ‘People’s Journal’ of 13 April 1861. This edition of the paper also saw one of the first tributes of a reader to Tammas in verse (see below).
Master Editor,—I cudna think enuch on Saterday nicht last fin your paper was handed in to me, an’ fin I read yon awfu’ like stuff aboot me, wrote by that nesty, ill-luken like footer, Tam Bodkin. Losh, I thocht my een wisna marrows, especially fin I think on the way he treated me fin I was ower at Dindee; but it was aye my thocht that he was a twa-faced sort o’ buddie; an’ I’ll tell you fat it is, I see it noo. But I think it ‘ill be after this an’ nearer Yule ere I veesit Tam Bodkin agen. Sic a nasty leein’ buddie to say that I cam ower frae Edinbroch no to lat Jamie ken my age. Jamie kens my age better nor Tam Bodkin at ony rate. But I dinna think Jamie ‘ill commit sic a great mistak’ as Tam did ony way, to rin awa’ wi’ Tib Thrampints, an’ her forty-twa, an’ him only twenty-twa, because she had about thirty-sax nots. He shun made a spooley o’ hit after he got it at ony rate, atween a suit o’ new claes an’ ae thing or anither. An’ I assure you, Master Editer, he had muckle need o’ them, for you widna sen a tinkler lookener chield in a’ the Cooget o’ Edinbroch, frae tap to bottom o’t; for there was him an’ anither twa or three chields that taillored awa’ in a garret in the Cooget, and they were a crack to the whole neeberhood, atween their drinkin’ an ae thing or anither. An’ they had only ae coat amon’ them, an’ fin they gid oot they had to do sae ane by ane. But this only happened fin they were sober, for, fin they got on the spree, as they ca’ it, they gid oot withoot their coats a’ thegither, for a’ sort o’ shame left them gin that time. I can tell you, Master Editor, ye maunna believe a’ that Tam Bodkin says aboot me, for he is as leein’ a man as you can get atween this an’ him. An’ anither thing he is real twa-faced. Just to gie ye an idea o’ his twa-facedness, I will begin at the beginnin’ o’ the story. Ye ken, Master Editor, Jamie an’ me was thinkin’ on getting marrit in a week or twa, an’ I didna see my way very clear, fu’ I was to get blankets and other bits o’ odds an’ ends, for I didna like to be tellin’ Jamie an’ a’ buddie I was sae hard up for siller, so fin my puir mother deid she left me some things o’ that kind, and so, you see, I keepit them in my kist a lang time, an’ they were nane the better o’ that. And there was an’ auld acquantance o’ mine they ca’d Mary Cruickshanks, that lived in Edinbroch, that was gaen to be marrit wi’ some chield aboot Dindee, I forget his name just noo, but it disna matter; so Mary was geyan hard up for siller like mysel’, and a great lot mair, so she speired if I wid gi’ her a len’ o’ my things till she wid get them o’ her ain; and so, you see, I gied them to her, an’ her comin’ ower to Dindee I lost sicht o’ her for a while. But i’ th’ noo, fin I was thinkin’ on bein’ marrit, I speired aboot her, an’ I got notice that she lived aboot a place they ca’d the Bucklemaker Wynd, aboot Dindee. So, you see, I thocht I might tak’ a stap ower an’ see if I could fa’ in wi’ her and get my things. So Tibbie an’ me bein’ a kind o’ faraff freends, I thocht I micht get a nicht or twa’s lodgings frae her; so that was the way I ca’d on Tammas Bodkin. Tammas was very anxious to lat you ken a’ fu’ I got on fin I was there, but he didna tell you fu’ he did. I think it micht be nane oot o’ place to tell ye a little aboot him. So, you see, fin I cam’ up the stair and got mysel’ seated on a chair, Tammas seemed to be in an awfu’ hurry aboot some pair o’ breeks he was makin’ to some mason chield, in case he widna get them in time, for he said it was pay nicht, an’ if he didna get them ready, an’ the siller for them, he mightna get it for a lang time, so we got very little cracks oot o’ Tammas for an ‘oor or twa, until he got the breeks doon, an’ that was aboot nine o’clock. So, after we had some chatterin’ aboot this an’ that, and just fin we were haverin’ awa’, there comes a rummel at the door. This was the mason chield for his breeks. So after he had crakit a while aboot the fashions an’ so on, he speered the price o’ them. “Aucht an’ saxpence,” quoth Tammas. “Hae ye ony cheenge?” quoth the mason. “Feint a bawbee,” quoth Tammas. “Then, will ye gang doon the street wi’ me a bittie, an’ we’ll get this note cheenged?” quoth the mason. “No ae fit are ye gaen across this door the nicht?” quoth Tibbie. “The woman’s no in her senses,” quoth Tammas, “will I no daur gang oot to get my siller” “Weel, weel then, dinna bide lang,” quoth Tibbie, “an’ be sure ye dinna gang to the public-hoose.” So Tammas an’ the mason set aff, and staid twa oors or sae, an’ aboot eleven o’clock there comes a reeshel to the door, an’ a laddie hands in a skate that Tammas had bocht. “The deil’s i’ that man wi’ his skate,” quoth Tibbie, “for there’s nae sairin’ o’m wi’ skate.” In half an oor or sae, Tammas comes hame himsel’ wi’ a crinoline for Tibbie as big as a parrot’s cage, an’ he was sae meikle the waur o’ drink that he could scarcely stand his lane. Tibbie gae him a bonny dressin’, as she had a perfect richt to do, an’ sae he slippit awa to his bed, where he lay vomitin’ the hail nicht through. An’ ower an’ aboon a that, he had a whisky bottle in his pouch, whilk he had broken comin’ up the stair, an’ I’m sure the smell o’ the drink was like to turn my stammack a’ nicht. Feint a wink o’ sleep I got, an’ that’s hoo the scoondrel treatit me. I’m thinkin’ it’ll be some time afore Tam Bodkin meddle wi’ me or my age again. Yours truly,
Also appearing in this edition of ‘The People’s Journal’ was the following verse
Address to Tammas Bodkin
Quaint offspring thou of “Delta’s” fertile brain,
It warms my heart to hear thee talk again,
In Scotland’s accents dear;
To hear they troubles told with air sublime,
In prose more piquant than the choicest rhyme
That ever met my ear.
In fancy’s eye, I see thee even now,
Some humorous notion puckering up thy brow,
While glancing to and fro
The needle wings its short and silent flight,
And Tibbie threads another at the light,
With much as white as snow.
Long may the blasted goose swim o’er thy board,
And health, and means, and exercise afford
To Tibbie and to thee;
A Burns thou art, in everthing but youth,
A Scarron, minus the envenomed tooth,
The Shakspeare of Dundee.
I hope ere long to see thy potent pen,
Dip in sincerer ink and point to men
The good they all may gain;
Then shall another banner be unfurl’d
From these proud battlements that gave the world
Gilfillan and M’Cheyne.
London, April 15.