‘Bodkin on the Boards’ (3 August, 1861)

“I’m weel aware that they are unco misleared vaigs, thae reporters, an’ wreat a great deal mair o’ the truth at times than it is for the comfort o’ some folks’ stammacks that the warld sid ken aboot. It was a far better warld afore the airt o’ takin’ shorthand notes was heard tell o’. Then folk that couldna speak sense could speak as muckle nonsense as they had a mind to, withoot the danger o’ ha’en their nonsense printit for the amusement o’ the present generation, an’ the astonishment o’ posterity.”

The following is one of the many epistles 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. Here, Tammas continues his attack on the Parish board’s legislation in regards to the collection of poor rates. See 23 March 61.

Maister Editor,—We’ve twa Parochial Boards in Dundee, or at least conneckit wi’ Dundee. We’ve the Liff an’ Benvie Board, and we’ve the Dundee Board. In baith o’ thae sapient conclaves, there is what I may ca’ a clerical element. The Liff an’ Benvie Board includes the Rev. Mr M’Lean—wha is the only member that sits an’ votes therein by virtue o’ his office, an’ by the authority an’ ordination o’ an Act o’ Parliament. So he tane care to inform his fellow-Boarders the ither day. In the Dundee Board there is also a clerical blade, in whose eyes the title “reverend” is despised, an’ wha is therefore just plain Saunders Easson. Saunders disna claim to be the only member o’ Dundee Board by Act o’ Parliament but he claims to hae far mair wit an’ wisdom aboot him wi’ regaird to the interpretation o’ Parliamentary Scripture than ony o’ his Parochial brethren. I’ve been takin’ a note o’ the ongaens o’ thae twa clericals matters, an’ though I’ve said naething, I haena been withoot my ain thochts. I’ve thocht, for instance, that it’s an unco queer phenomenon that men wha stand up i’ the poopit on the Sabbath-day an’ exhort their hearers to render obedience to the pooers that be, an’ to be chartable to the puir an’ needy, an’ sae furth, sid get up i’ the Parochial Board on a week day, an’ propose to set an Act o’ Parliament at defiance, for the purpose o’ haudin’ the noses o’ the puir an’ needy at the grundinstane a little langer. For decency’s sake, folk sid aye let their conduct be as closely conformable to their profession as possible. It’s no by folk’s sayins that they should be judged, but by their doins. When the twa things agree thegither it’s a sicht most beautiful to behold, but when practice fa’s oot wi’ principle, an’ the twa come to loggerheads, t’s a sicht that does violence to a’ my ideas o’ propriety an’ decency, an’ is like to gar me tyne a’ faith in the uprichtness o’ the human species.

But to be mair specific, I maun tak’ up oor reverend freends ane by ane; an’ first for the Reverend Saunders Easson. It’s weel kenned that Saunders has been ane o’ the great stoops o’ Means an’ Substance. He is a great freend o’ the puir; an’, on the principle o’ garrin’ the dead bury their dead, he wad gar the puir maintain their puir. When the puir grow impaient, an’ cry oot the reason o’ their sar oppression, he would let them cry; no ae fit wad he stir to oondo the heavy burdens, an’ let the oppressed gang free. If he had been Pharoah, King o’ Egypt, he would have held the Israelites at brick-makin’ in spite o’ their remonstrances by the hand o’ Moses. He would have defied the puddocks, an’ the locusts, an’ the ither beasties, an’ finished his career i’ th’ Red Sea i’ th’ end o’ the day. See hoo he treats Mr Baxter’s Bill. The Poor Law Amendment Bill sid come wi’ aboot as muckle authority to Saunders Easson as did the Word o’ the Lord to the heathenish King o’ Egypt, an’ yet he exhibits a strong inclination to harden his heart, an’ refuse permission to the puir ratepayin’ bondsmen o’ Dundee to shake themselves free o’ Means an’ Substance. Dootless, Pharoah wad tak the opinion o’ coonsel on the subject o’ settin’ the Israelites free. He wad consult the magicians, an’ the magicians wad be dead against obeyin’ the words o’ the Lord; they wad find some hole to get oot o’ the scrape. Saunders Easson is also for takin’ the opinion o’ coonsel; the words o’ the Poor Law Amendment Act is explicit eneuch, but the modern magicians in the Parliament Hoose will maybe find some means o’ settin’ the law at defiance. They wad better mind their eye, hooever, for gin they attempt to come Means and Substance ower me again, no ae bawbee will I pay, an’ I’m sure I wad like to act honestly wi’ everybody. Mr Baxter’s Bill was clearly meant to apply to Dundee, an’ gin coonsel really come to the conclusion that Dundee maun be excludit frae the operations o’ the Act, they can only do sae by some legal quibble that it wad be beneath the dignity o’ an honourable man like Mr Easson to tak advantage o’. It’s a pity that the parish o’ Dundee wasna specially mentioned in the Act, an’ then there could hae been nae excuse for flingin awa siller on takin’ the opinion o’ coonsel. I’m no sure but it micht hae been an improvement had the Act stated that the legal opinions an’ historic doots o’ Alexander Easson, Esquire, manufacturer, Dundee, were to be henceforth considered as unlawfu’, null an’ void, an’ o’ nae force or effect whatever. That wad surely hae convinced him that the parish o’ Dundee was meant to come oonder the full swing o’ the new law. Had I been at Mr Baxter’s lug when he drew up the Bill, I wad, oondoubtedly, have suggestit that improvement.

The head bummer o’ the Liff an’ Benvie Board, as I’ve hintit, is the Rev. Mr M’Lean—a great economist—wha can show, as clear as twa an’ twa mak’ four, that a man w’ twal shillin’s a-week is weel able to feed and cleed himsel’ an’ sax or aucht o’ a family, an’ still hae ten or eleven shillin’s ower to gi’e to the puir. I wish he wad come an’ gi’e my Tibbie a lesson on the subjeck, for although there’s only her an me i’ the hoose, I’m certain sure my household expenses are something mair than twal shillin’s a-week, withoot ony deductions for poor rates. An’ whan I says this I dinna mean to say that Tibbie is gi’en to wastery. Na na; Tibbie is a canny savin’ bodie in everything but in bannets, an’ sofas, an’ moreen curtains,’ an’ things o’ that kind; an’ though she does lay oot nae that little siller on thae kinds o’ gear, yet still an’ on we ha’e the things to look at. They’re no like meat an’ drink, that tak’ to themsel’s the wings o’ the mornin’, an’ are nae mair seen. I wad suggest to the Rev. Mr M’Lean that he come to Dundee an’ gi’e the puir folk a series o’ lectures on the science o’ bringin’ up a family on twa shillin’s a-week; an’, gin he wad oondertak’ on his pairt to do that, I’ll use ony sma’ influence I ha’e to prevent the reporters frae comin’ to the meetin’s and makin’ a laughin’-stock o’m. I’m weel aware that they are unco misleared vaigs, thae reporters, an’ wreat a great deal mair o’ the truth at times than it is for the comfort o’ some folks’ stammacks that the warld sid ken aboot. It was a far better warld afore the airt o’ takin’ shorthand notes was heard tell o’. Then folk that couldna speak sense could speak as muckle nonsense as they had a mind to, withoot the danger o’ ha’en their nonsense printit for the amusement o’ the present generation, an’ the astonishment o’ posterity. The Rev. Mr M’Lean is frichtened at the idea o’ bein’ laughed at; but, gin his words an’ deeds didna hae something inherently funny an’ ridiculous aboot them, it wad be impossible for either newspaper reporters or newspaper readers to turn them into laughter. It is generally folk’s ain blame when they are laughed at. Let common sense rule the tongue, an’ consistency the conduct, an’ then only the fool will find food for laughter. Na, na, yer reverence; gin ye wad only do what is richt an’ proper, nae fear o’ ony body laughin’ at ye. Even if a wheen fools sid laugh, let them laugh. What saith the scriptures?—“As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool.” Ony way, the Parochial Committee is no the Inquisition, an’ the ratepayers maun ken what’s what. If the Parochial Boards delegate their functions to Committees, thae Committees maun submit their doin’s to the licht o’ day, as the Boards themsel’s wad hae to do. Withoot applyin’ to counsel on the subject, such are the opinions o’

Tammas Bodkin.

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