‘Bodkin Achieves a Great Victory’ (11 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,—Last nicht, when Tibbie was makin’ ready to gang out for some bits o’ errands, I says till her, “Tibbie, dinna forget my tobacco.” Noo there wasna muckle ill in that, as maun be plain to ony body wi’ half an ee i’ their head; but it sae happened that Tibbie hadna been in a very complowsible frame o’ mind a’ day, because she had oonfortunately broken a Cheeny saucer i’ the forenoon, when she was washin’ up the breakfast dishes, an’ when Tibbie plays ony pliskie o’ that kind she’s sure to seek consolation in settin’ forth lood an’ angry complaints against ither folk’s debosherie. Never ae word wi’ Tibbie aboot her ain shortcomins. When she taks ane o’ thae toits, the very cat, puir beastie, can hardly get her kyte filled for the neist fortnicht, an’ maun mak mony a hasty retreat below the bed to escape the wecht o’ the bissim. It’s just a way Tibbie has, but she’s far frae bein’ an ill body for a’ that, for although it’s a failin’ o’ hers, far frae pleasant at times either to me or to baudrons, yet I maun needs say it “leans to virtue’s side.” Weel ye see Tibbie was in ane o’ thae tantrums o’ her’s last nicht, when my tobacco-box happened to be toom; an’ so says she, “Evil speed that nasty pipe o’ yours, Tammas, for it’s nae that little siller it costs ae way an’ anither, forbye stinkin’ the haill hoose wi’ the reek o’t, an’ then when ye come to yer bed I’m sure I canna lie wi’ my face to ye withoot bein’ nearly scomficed wi’ the smell o’ yer breath; an’ for spittin’! I’m sure that grate, I needna try to keep clean; an’ the hearthstane, too, is aye keepit in a perfect fricht,—a’ sclauried ower wi’ slaiver. ‘Od, it’s no every wife that wad thole what I’ve to suffer.” “Hoity-toity, Tibbie lass,” quoth I, after she had gane on for aboot ten minits at this rate, “Ye’ve surely been studyin’ social science an’ hoosehold economy this fornoon, but there was nae word o’ this last week when ye were garrin’ the shillins flee like sclatestanes doon bye in Reform Street, an’ some o’t tae withoot speerin’ my leave!” “Speerin’ your leave! Haigh I ‘sure ye! Is that a way to speak to yer wife, Tammas?” an’ Tibbie’s heart grew grit, an’ she becam’ unco affeckitlike. But Tibbie has a strong stalk o’ carl-hemp in her natur’, an’ sae her tears soon yieldit to the dominion o’ her tongue, an’ quoth she, “Atween that newspaper wark o’ yours, an’ smokin’ tobacco, there’s as meikle time an’ siller wastit as wad haud the like o’ me in baith meat an’ claes, an’ you wad gang to cast up the twa or three shillin’s I spent last week for the bits o’ duds to my back! Fie, for shame, min! But there was nane o’ a’ that afore we were marrit, for I’m sure ye cam’ slinkin’ alang to Lasswade as if butter wadna’ melt i’ yer mooth.” “Hoolie! Hoolie! Tibbie,” quoth I, “there was nane o’ a’ this wi’ you either afore we were marrit, for I was as sair on the tobacco at that time as ever I’ve been sinsyne, an’ mony was the time ye tel’t me, when we wad indulge in a smourich ahent the door, that my lips were as sweet as hinny, an’ my ‘breath like caller air;’ but noo it seems ye’ve grown sae mim-moo’d i’ yer way that ye maun turn yer back on me as gin I were nae better than a brock.” “Ay, but ye had nae business castin’ up my bits o’ duds to me, Tammas.” “Ay, but ye had nae business castin’ up my tobacco to me, Tibbie.” “An’ that Journal, Tammas—I’m sure ye sit late an’ ear’ either readin’ or wreatin’ blethers for’t, an’ I canna get a word oot o’ ye. ‘Deed, ever sin ye had oucht to do wi’ thae newspapers, ye’ve been neither comfort nor company to me, Tammas; an’ there’s no a word can be spoken i’ th’ hoose but ye maun gang an’ proclaim it upo’ the hoose-taps.” “An’ dinna ye think it’s a great honour, Tibbie, to ha’e yer worth and wisdom recordit i’ th’ newspapers? There’s no anither wife in a’ Dundee—there’s no a leddy in a’ the land—na no even the Queen hersel’, is sae highly honoured as ye are, Tibbie. The Queen maks a speech but ance, or maybe twice, i’ th’ twalmonth, but there’s seldom a week passes that your oratory disna gang furth to the ends o’ the earth.” “An’ I wad think naething o’t, Tammas, gin ye didna gar me aye speak nonsense.” “Gin it didna come on yer ain side to speak nonsense, Tibbie, I doot a’ my garrin’ wad hae little effeck. I’m but a reporter, Tibbie, an’ I’ll uphaud the accuracy o’ my reports; sae gin it be nonsense when its prentit, Tibbie, it maun hae been nonsense when it cam’ oot o’ yer mooth.” “But ye put aff yer time at that wreatin’ wark o’ yours, min, an’ then ye min tell lees to this ane an’ the ither ane, when they come seekin’ their claes an’ them no ready, an’ it’s the same wi’ yer tobacco pipe.” “I spend less time wi’ my pipe than ye do wi’ yer tea, Tibbie, for I’m sure I can tak my tea, smoke a pipe half toom, an’ cut oot a pair o’ drawers, an’ a’ i’ th’ time o’ you drinkin’ yer first twa cups.” “My first twa cups, Tammas! wha ever heard o’ me takin’ mair than twa cups at a doonsittin’?” “Maybe nae body ever heard o’t afore, Tibbie, but they’re sure to hear o’t noo, for I’ll tell a’ the warld that ye think naething o’ drinkin’ half a dizzen—no exactly at ae doonsittin’, Tibbie, for ye’ve maybe to rise ilka twa cups or sae to fill up the pat, but yer’ nae sooner up than yer’ doon again.” “Are ye no fear’d to sit on that boord an’ tell sae mony doonricht lees, Tammas?” “That’s awa frae the question, Tibbie,” quoth I. “An’ what is the question, Tammas?” quoth Tibbie. “Juist this, Tibbie,” quoth I, “whether does my tobacco or your tea cost the maist siller?” “But tea’s meat, Tammas, whereas tobacco’s naething but evendoon wastery.” “Tea’s no meat, Tibbie, for accordin’ to my judgment ye dinna eat yer tea, but drink it; an’ I dinna grudge ye yer drap tea gin ye wad only haud within reasonable boonds wi’ ‘t, but naething ‘ill sair ye, Tibbie, but tea o’ the consistency o’ treacle.” Tibbie gaed aff into hysterics again, but I keepit skelpin’ awa’ at the needle, an’ never fashed my thoom. So when Tibbie was that, she soon waukened oot o’ her trance, an’ commenced flytin’ at the rate o’ sixty miles an oor; but I stuck to my point like a burr, an’ at last an’ lang she had to gie in. “Weel, weel, Tammas,” quoth she, “the wilfu’ maun aye hae their way, an’ it’s hard to sit in Room an’ fecht wi’ the Pope, sae ye man juist gae on smokin’, an’ wreatin’ lees for the papers, but gin ony ill come o’t, dinna blame me for no gi’en ye due warnicement; but ye micht show mair respect for yer lawfu’ wedded wife, wha has made sae mony sacrifices for yer comfort, an’ wha’s heart has been grieved or the space o’ thirty years wi’ yer wilfu’ conduct, than to gang on the way ye’re doin’, Tammas, an’ especially to cast up to me aboot my duds o’ claes, an’ my drappie o’ tea.” “The same line o’ argument applies to me an’ my tobacco, an’ newspaper, Tibbie; an’ sae, as giff-gaff maks guid freends, we’ll juist shake hands, an’ let byeganes be byeganes.” I saw Tibbie was begun to melt by this time, an’ sae when I hung out the white flag she wasna lang o’ capeetulatin’. I tane her in my arms, an’ gae her a kiss for auld lang syne, an’ quoth she, “Tammas, hoo muckle tobacco will I bring?” So I gae her her orders, an’ awa she trottit, wi’ her radicle ower her arm, an she’s been a better bairn sinsyne.—Yours,

Tammas Bodkin.

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