‘Mrs Bodkin’s New Bannet’ (4 May, 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,—On Monday nicht, Tibbie an’ me were sittin’ afore the fire crackin’ aboot things in general, and toastin’ oor taes preparatory to creepin’ into oor roost, when Tibbie she says, “Tammas, I maun hae a new bannet.” “Weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “what maun be, maun juist be, an’ canna be helpit; but what has put that i’ yer noddle enow?” “Ou, ye see, this is the time o’ year o’ new bannets, an’ ither folk are gettin’ them, an’ gin ye dinna want yer wife to be an outlin, ye maun juist draw yer huggar.” “But ither folk had been needin’ new bannets maybe, an’ I’m sure your black silk ane is as gude as ever, an’ for the season o’ the year, I dinna see what that has to do wi’ a new bannet. For my pairt, Tibbie, my hat sairs me in a’ weathers, an’ at a’ seasons, an’ I think yours micht do the same.” “Yea; d’ye think sae, Tammas? But ye see doctors differ, lad; an’ sae a bannet I maun hae.” “No till ye can show me the propriety o’t, Tibbie; an’ as sune as ye can do that, I sauna stand i’ th’ way o’ a bannet.” “Weel, Tammas, there’s Mrs Davidson, at the fit o’ the close—an’ I’m certain sure John Davidson’s wage is nae a great deal—an’ yet she has gotten a new bannet, an’ nae that little expense it has been. There’s Mrs Macfarlane an’ four o’ her dochters—a’ dependin’ on Donald’s auchteen shillin’s i’ th’ week—an’ they’ve a’ gotten bran new bannets. An’ no to multiply examples, Tammas, there’s Mrs Walker was at the kirk yesterday wi’ ane o’ the dearest bannets in a’ Reform Street on the head o’ ‘r, an’ her guidman is naething better than a tailor like yersel’, Tammas, wi’ a sma’er than ye hae, Tammas. Noo, what for no sid I do get a new bannet amon’ sae mony new bannets? ‘Deed, there’s scarcely a respectable body comes into the kirk, but has got a new bannet, an’ gin ye want yer wife to be rankit amang the riff-raff, I can gang to the kirk next Sabbath wi’ my auld Leghorn that I was marrit in!” “Na, na, there’s nae use for that, Tibbie, as lang as ye’ve the black silk ane,” quoth I. “How could ony body gang either to kirk or market wi’ that?” quoth Tibbie, haudin’ up the pastebrod frame. “But whereawa is silk coverin’ o’t?” quoth I. “Aha, Tammas lad,” quoth Tibbie, “I pickit it don this forenoon when ye were oot, sae ye see I maun hae a new bannet.” “Dog on it!” quoth I, “there’s nae gettin’ roond you women-folk neither by force nor flattery, I see. Sure eneuch ye maun get a new bannet noo, but see ye haud wi’ moderate things. Mind my exchecker winna thole a dear bannet, an’ ye’re no gaen to tak on things like thae three leddies ye’ve mentioned, haudin’ the beagles rinnin’ aboot oor hoose on a cravin’ expedition the way they do aboot their’s, for its weel kenned they’re no sterlin’ for a’ their bravity.” Tibbie heard a’ this discoorse an’ said naething. Awa she gaed doon to Reform Street next mornin’, an’ it was past twal o’clock afore I saw the face o’r again. Thae women folk for bidin’ when they get into a haberdasher’s shop! They have sae mony things to glower at, an’ turn ower an’ ower an’ roond an’ roond, an’ pink at it wi’ the ae e’e steekit like a hen searching for barley pickles, an’ they’ve sae mony questions to speer aboot this thing an’ the ither thing, an’ they’ve to stand an’ consider, an’ they canna mak up their minds whether to tak ane wi’ a dark grund an’ a white spat in’t, or wi’ a white grund an’ a dark spat in’t, an’ they’re no sure whether the colours are ast or lowse, an’ this thing wad please them but it’s ower dear, an’ that thing is cheap eneuch but it disna please, an’ so on they gae. That’s no my way again, when I gang to buy a piece o’ claith—an’ I’ve brocht nae that little o’t i’ my time, noo—my mind’s made up at ance. Nae stanin’ yamerin’ an’ hagglin’ wi’ me! But herein Tibbie an’ I, as in some ither respects, differ in oor politicks, an’ sae as I was sayin’ it was past twal o’clock when her leddyship cam hame. She had a band-box in ae hand an’ a meikle bundle i’ the ither. Ben to the kitchen she gaed wi’ her merchandeese, an’ as for me I held gaen at the needle an’ made nae observation. Five minutes or sae passed ower, an’ at last an’ lang Tibbie cries “Tammas, come here.” So ben the hoose I goes, an’ there stands Tibbie afore the lookin’ glass wi’ her new bannet on, giein’ hersel’ a’ the pridefu’ airs she could think on, an’ a geyan costly lookin’ loom o’ a headpiece it was, wi’ as mony ribbons an’ gumflowrs an’ ither useless fall-alls on’t as micht hae saired the best leddy o’ the land. Hoosomdever, I said naething, either guid, bad, or indifferent. “An’ hoo d’ye like my bannet?” quoth Tibbie. “I’m thinkin’ I’ll like the bill waur than the bannet,” quoth I, “but I maun needs say its a handsome lookin’ bannet, Tibbie, an’ gars ye look a dizzen years younger than ye are; in fact had ye no testifeed to the contrary, I wad really believe ye had been born in the year o’ the great comet after a’.” Tibbie was delighted wi’ her bannet, an’ she was pleased to see me delighted also. “But Tibbie,” quoth I “what’s in this parcel that ye’ve stowed awa in the bed as if it were smuggled gear?” “Ou ye see, Tammas, the man wadna let me awa withoot takin’ a black cloth mantle, for, as he said, I wadna be a’ o’ a piece withoot it; an’ I’m sure I telled him weel hoo angry ye wad be, but he wadna mind my tellin’; so I was just forced to tak’ the mantle.” “It seems to me, Tibbie, that the man, whaever he is, has far mair command o’ ye than ever I had, for I’m sure if I had tried to force ye to tak’ a mantle against yer wull ye wadna hae been ruled by me.” “Ay, but Tammas your force is aye exertit in an opposite direckson, juist try to orce a new goon on me, an’ ye’ll see.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “the mantle winna break me a’ thegither, sae ye can lowse it doon an’ try’t on.” Tibbie didna sae twa biddens to do that ye may be sure, an’ sae oot tumbles a dandy mantle o’ the very newest cut an’ complexion. Tibbie put it on, an’ I maun say it addit still farther to her youthfu’ appearance. But Tibbie was ower narrow ower the curpin to set oot the mantle properly, an’ sae I suggestit the crinoline that I had presentit her wi’ some weeks sune. Tibbie agreed to this, an’ the crinoline was produced, but Tibbie’s gown was ower narrow i’ th’ skirt. The crinoline made her look juist like a meikle water-stoup, or a candle extinguisher. “That winna do,” quoth Tibbie. “Na, it winna do,” quoth I. “I see nae thing fo’t, but to get a new gown,” quoth Tibbie; “an’ I ken where to gang, for the man let me see a gown-piece that wad become my complexion to a very tee.” “My treasury winna stand it, Tibbie, positeevely; an’ gin ye want to see my name i’ th’ Gazette. amang ither weirdless folk, Tibbie, ye may buy the gown, but no itherwise.” “Feint a fear o’ that, Tammas; for as ye say yersel’ sometimes—

“We’ve aye been providit for,

An’ sae will we yet.”

Withoot a new gown, I canna wear the wantle; an’ withoot the mantle, I canna wear the bannet; an’ withoot the bannet, I maun bide at hame frae the kirk, an’ be a Pagan. Sae that’s the short an’ the lang o’t, Tammas.” “Sae in that way, Tibbie, yer soul’s salvation depends on the bannet?” “Ay, an’ on the ither things, Tammas.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie, ye sanna need that I stand atween ye an’ ye future happiness, either in this warld or in the warld to come, an’ sae ye may e’en get the gown, but dinna gang to extravagance wi’t; for mind my purse winna stand it.” Tibbie was clean lifted up wi’ her braw dress, an’ she’s been a gude bairn aye sinsyne. Doon to Reform Street she gaed that very afternoon, an’ she’s haen the dressmaker i’ th’ hoose for the last twa days, an’ noo Tibbie ‘ll be able to haud up her head i’ th’ kirk on Sabbath wi’ the best o’ them. It’s been an unco expenive rax this o’ hers, but after a’, I think she’ll be a’ the siller the better o’t, though she’s been in twa senses a dead, dear wife to

Tammas Bodkin.

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