‘Bodkin Visits the Shows’ (31 August, 1861)

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.

Maister Editor,—Though my profession disna juist lead me into the market-place sae aften as the like o’ Jeames Witherspoon, wha maun therein seek customers for his stots an’ staigs, pigs an’ petawtis, girse an’ grain, an’ grath o’ that kind, yet I dinna deny the pleasure that it gi’es me to tak’ a daunder doon the toon on a Fair day, juist to see a’ the sweetie booths an’ toy-stalls, wi’ their queer drolleries, surroundt wi’ scores o’ admirin’ totums, haudin’ oot their bits o’ bawbees for staks o’ rock, Noah’s arks, an’ jumpin’ jacks. There wad be nae use moraleezin’ on the subject, but I canna help remarkin’ that, if I were a disciple o’ Lavater—as I’m no—I wadna wish for a better field for study an’ observation than juist in “merchants maist do congregate.” There ye’ll see a’ kinds o’ cattle—rich men an’ puir men, tall men an’ small men, lean men an’ fat men, men wi’ ae e’e an men wi’ nae e’e, honest men an’ unhangit blackguards, forbye women o’ a’ descriptions, ower numerous to mention—some o’ them, indeed, the less said aboot them the better. Guid guide us a’!—what a warld o’ faces flittin’ hither an’ thither, an’ no twa o’ them exactly alike. There goes a chield wi’ an enormous nose on the face o’m, bent doon at the end, after the cut o’ an eagle’s neb. Here is something unco kenspeckle about that bill; ye wad recognise it again amang a thoosand noses. There comes ane wi’ his proboscis curled up at the pont in a manner quite different frae the eagle-nebbit gentleman. He taks snuff, I can see, an’ that accounts for the peculiar cut o’ his beak, for the incessant snifterin’ an’ sneerin’ up o’ the Irish blackguard has evidently had the effect o’ gien’ the extremity o’ his “nut” an ill-faured set in a sky-ward direction. Yonder is a chap wi’ a mooth that reminds me o’ the shakers in Jeames Witherspoon’s thrashin’ mill, only instead o’ castin’ oot the strae it has evidently been intended for takin’ in an’ grindin’ doon the corn, an’ no that little o’t it does grind. Even noo it is busy masticatin’ a sixpenny cake o’ gingerbread, an’, my certie, I’m richt wae for the bread, for it is comin’ to grief, an’ nae mistak’. I wad rather haud that tatie-trap gaen for a week than a fortnicht. Everything is beautifully ordered, however, for had this gentleman been less wide o’ the wa-gang, he wad never hae been able to deliver the quantity o’ vittles necessary to stuff that expansive paunch o’ his. In this case, there is complete harmony between the capacity o’ the “trap” an’ the capacity o’ the “crap,” the twa things bein’ clearly intended to work to one anither’s hands. But here am I haverin awa’ at this rate withoot comin’ to the real point.

Weel, ye see, Tibbie an’ me flang on oor second-best duds juist i’ the gloamin’ on Tuesday nicht, an’ awa’ we gaed doon Reform Street, keepin’ an e’e on ilka side o’ us, to mak’ sure we wadna miss a sicht o’ onything that was worth lookin’ at. It remindit me o’ the days o’ langsyne, when I was clad in my first pair o’ corduroys, wi’ raws o’ clear brass buttons rannin’ frae my waist up the breast o’ my bit jacket to my very shoother heads, an’ when I had attained to the prood distinction o’ pooches, if the bit slits in the ooter seams half way doon the legs o’ my breekies could be dignified wi’ the title o’ pooches, an’ when I had a ruffle roond my neck, an’ a blue bannet on my head, wi’ a red worsted cherry on the tap thereof. For twa or three nichts afore the market day, I mind hoo difficult it was to fa’ asleep, thinkin’ aboot the magnificent purchases I wad mak’ wi’ the five bawbees I had been collectin’ sae eydently during the previous half-year, an’ when I did fa’ asleep, hoo I was hauntit w’ visions—happy visions!—o’ curly Andrews, black-man, Parliament-cake, wooden horses, tootin’-horns, an’ penny trumpets. Ay, an’ a’ thae sunny days o’ youth are gaen, an’ noo I’m an auld man, wi’ here an’ there a tooth awantin’, an’ wi’ here an’ there a white hair peepin’ oot frae amang the dark grund o’ my whiskers, an’ I can spend pounds noo at a market, if I were fool eneuch to fling awa’ my means on that which satisfieth not—for bawbees, I could spend then, but am I aw whit happier in eighteen hunder an’ sixty-one than I was eighteen hunder an’ ten? Hoosomdever, let us taste life’s glad moments as they flee, an’ though they’ve lost the honied-sweetness they ance had, they are still richt welcome to the weary soul. But here am I moraleesin’ again when I should be describin’ a’ the uncos that cam’ across the field o’ my observation.

Really there wasna muckle to be seen in Reform Street worthy o’ bein’ committit to black an’ white. There were sweeties in sackfu’s, an’ gingerbread in mountains; there were sour apples an’ sourer plums in barrowfu’s; there were toys o’ a’ kinds for the delectation o’ the juvenility; an’ there were mobs o’ men an’ women, lads an’ lasses, kind papas, an’ mitherly-heartit mammas, wi’ bairns in their arms, bairns on the richt hand, an’ bairns on the left—nae end o’ bairns—some o’ them wi’ faces sairly besmeared wi’ candy-glue, an’ the whole o’ them supremely happy. So, after inspectin’ the ferlies in Reform Street, Tibbie an’ me made oor way wi’ a sair wrastle back to Meadowside, an’ wha did we foregather wi’ there but wi’ John Davidson an’ Mrs Davidson, bent on ga’en alang to the Quarry to see the shows. Tibbie an’ me ben’ on the same errand, we a’ ga’ed thegither, an’ as it was morally—or, as I sid maybe say, physically abreast, I suggested that the better plan wad be for us to gang in single file, me first, an’ Tibbie haudin’ on by my coat-tail, Mrs Davidson hingin’ on by Tibbie’s skirt, an’ John Davidson bringin’ up the rear wi’ the hood o’ his gudewife’s mantle in his hand. This suggestion bein’ adoptit, we set oot in grand style, an’ got through the crood wi’ nae difficultly, an’ the beauty o’t was that sae lang as we held a firm grip, we couldna lose ane anither. The first show we cam’ to we entered, the charge bein’ “honly a pinnie heach,” as the showman said. Gude guide us! what a stew o’ heat there was inside. The very sweat was hailin’ aff my coontenance, an’ Tibbie was nearly faintin’. The great attractions in this “hexibition” were the learned ‘orse, an’ the fat gentleman, ane o’ Phelim O’Grady’s countrymen. There were also erudite puggies that ga’ed through a variety o’ antics that were truly wonderfu’ to behold. Tibbie couldna think eneuch o’ the monkeys, and stated it as her opinion that the invention o’ man was past findn’ out. A ring was made for the educated powney to “perfoam” in; an’ roond aboot an’ roond aboot he ran, pickin’ oot sundry individuals i’ the company that were addickit to certain pernicious habits. Amang the rest he was ordered to point oot the lady that couldna get sleep i’ the nicht-time for thinkin’ on her sweethearts, an’ wha did his impudence fix on but on my Tibbie? Od I could hae gi’en him a paik i’ the side o’ the head wi’ my steekit neive! To go an’ set the haill company a-roarin’ an’ laughin’ at an’ honest woman, an’ a married wife, that I’m certain sure never cherished a thocht o’ ony man o’ woman born except o’ me her lawfu’ husband! John Davidson and Mrs Davidson were laughin’ wi’ the lave; but my certie John didna laugh when the powney next pointit him oot as bein’ in the practice o’ doin’ something I sanna say what. Na, na, John, there was nae laughin’ w’ ye then; sae I wad advise ye henceforth no to laugh at ither folks’ calamities, but juist to keep a lowin’ sough. The next notability “hintradooced” to oor notice was Mr Makaloon, the Irish giant aforesaid, Phelim O’Grady’s freend. It didna require half an e’e to perceive that he was mair like his meat than his wark. This warld is ill divided in some respects, for I’m sure, had Providence vouchsafed me twa or three stane o’ his beef, it wad hae dune me a gude turn, an’ been nae that sma’ a mercy to Mr Makaloon. Od, as Tibbie wittily observed—for Tibbie is an unco hand at a pun when she likes—“there was as muckle creesh on him as wad mak’ twa gude big Loons.” “Ay, ay, Tibbie,” quoth I, tryin’ to keep upsides wi’ her in the wit and wisdom line, “he is, dootless, a muckle loon.” So the man-mountain waddled aboot the show-room an’ crackit like a pen gun—makin’ himsel’ quite at hame,—but what did he do think ye, but made proposals o’ marriage to the lady that the powney had pointed oot as bein’ o’ a peculiarly amorous temperament, and that lady bein’ my Tibbie, she, of coorse, was again the observed o’ a’ observers. Aye, an’ he even began to mak’ arrangements aboot the waddin’-nicht, tellin’ her she wad require to tak’ aff her crinoline on that great occasion. But, quoth I till him, “Hooly, hooly, my man, this lady is my lawfu’ weddit wife, an’ if she were not sae, she wad be dull i’ the taste to draw up wi’ a porkepik like you.” My word! that tane him doon a peg, an’ sae he slunk behind the curtain as if his nose had been bleedin’, an’ we made for the door.

Havin’ seen the muckle loon, we resolved next to see the muckle lady; sae we mountit the ricketty stair, pair door “pinnie” as before, an’ were straight-way ushered into the presence o’ an innumerable company o’ birds an’ beasts, o’ a’ kinds an’ colours, an’ frae a’ coontries oonder the heevens. There was an ill-tempered lookin’ tyke that the man ca’d the “ihena”—the lion’s provider, an’ there was ane whase name I couldna catch—for the showman was unco Englified in his lingo,an’ rattled aff his story like a day’s wark—but it was a four-footed beast, an’ the man said that in a pinch it could live for sae mony days or weeks by sookin’ its paws. I was determined to hae the heels o’ Tibbie this time, so I observed that there were mair animals than it i’ the warld that lived by sookin’ their pa’s. Tibbie tane up the pun at ance, but John an’ Mrs Davidson couldna oondertand it, an’ I didna gang oot o’ my road to enlichten them on the point. Here we saw a real live ostrich, frae the wilds o’ Africa, an’ I observed Tibbie was castin’ a covetous e’e on some o’ the tail feathers, for her bonnet. The pelican o’ the wilderness, that Kind Dauvid sings aboot i’ th’ hunder an’ second Psalm, was also to be seen, an’ an unco forlorn-lookin’ bird it was, nae great beauty, I can assure ye. There were also a great number o’ little birdies frae Australia, forbye a real life crocodile, frae the river Nile, that lived in an auld kist, an’ a boa frae some east-ower coontry, that neither Tibbie nor me liket to look at, it was sic a ugesome-like animal. Tibbie wondered if it was ane o’ the descendants o’ the serpent that beguiled oor first parents, but the genealogy o’ the family wad seem to be lost, sae we couldna satisfy her on that point. Amang the ither animal curiosities, oor attention was in the next place direckit to the fat wife. A sonsy quean she was, wi’ arms as thick as my leg, an’ legs, though I didna see them, I could well believe them to be as large as the columns used in Egyptian architecture. Her waist, too, was a marvel o’ fatty development. Talk o’ embracin’, it wad tak’ twa pair o’ arms to embrace yon hizzie. What a pair o’ colossal shouthers she had, an’ her face, it was like a nor’-wast moon. Heaven forfend that my Tibbie sid ever come to hae sic a carcass. It’s no a’ my income, that wad haud her o’ meat an’ drink, no to mention claes an’ hoose room. Biddin’ the fat woman gudebye, we next proceedit to the Quarry. What a wonderfu’ scene did we there behold! The shougan boats an’ merry-go-rounds were in full fig, a’ drivn’ most literally, a roarin’ trade. But Tibbie was mindfu’ o’ her exploits at Stobb’s Fair, when she oonfortunately lost control ower her stammack, to the detriment o’ Jeames Witherspoon’s braw plush waistcoat, an’, therefore, she wadna hear o’ tyrin’ the shougan boats on ony accoont. Sae we made way, in single file as before, to what we tane to be the principal point o’ attraction—the establishment wherein the “Dreadfull slaughter with the Americans” was to be seen. Here, amang the spectators, I observed Mr Phelim O’Grady, come to pick up a little larnin’, but Mr O’Grady was far frae bein’ satisfied wid the dioramic representations, for I heard him keepin’ up a runnin’ criticism on them, no by ony means complimentary in its tone. “The devil a bit o’t, Mr Showman,” quoth Phelim; “be jabbers that’s not like the thing at all, at all.” Phelim was richt for ance—it was far frae bein’ like the thing, accordin’ to my ideas. There was Moses an’ the Israelites comin’ oot o’ the land o’ Egypt; an’ the man pointit to an objeck like a cigar stickin’ oot o’ the side o’ a turnip afflickit wi’ the finger an’ tae disease, an’, quoth he. “Here is Moses commandin’ the band to play up an’ lead aff the procession.” Then we saw the Red Sea dividit, an’ the showman informed us that “Fairy” an’ ten thoosand o’ his cavalry were in the process o’ bein’ “drownded” in the waters. We saw Daniel in the Lion’s Den, an’ the lions were certainly fearfully an’ wonderfully made. There was also a sailor lashed to a ladder before twa raws o’ fiery furnaces on board a steamer, where he was most cruelly roastin’ to death, when he fell doon an’ expired, but hoo he could fa’ doon when he was tied up to a ladder we werna informed. Then we saw an assemblage o’ wax figures, some o’ them designed by Madame Tussaud’s artist in Lunnon, as we were duly “infoamed” by his showmanship, but I’m very sure I’ve seen better “speciments” in the barbers’ windows, adorned wi’ glossy perukes, an’ whiskers o’ the most exquisite cut. Hoosomdever, the showman seemed to be prood o’ his dolls, an’ it wad be a pity to say ought on the subject calculated to hurt his “feelinks,” the mair sae as I observed an inscription inside the show which said, “Whe strive to please.” He micht pay juist a wee thocht mair respect to the rules o’ spellin’.

Oot we got to the caller air, amid a hurricane o’ drums, an’ gongs, an’ yellin’s, eneuch to

“Tear the strong pillars of the vault of heaven,

And break up old marble, the repose of princes.”

We had got oor sairin’ o’ the shows, an’ sae we fell into single file ance mair, wi’ oor faces directed hamewards. Comin’ up the brae frae the quarry, there was a tremendous crush, an’ twa or three o’ the pickpocket gentry cam’ wi’ an unco pergaddis atween Tibbie an’ me, an’, as she held on like grim death to my coat-tail, the claith at last gave way wi’ an awfu’ screed, an’ tore richt up the back to the collar. Dog on it! but that wasna a’, for ane o’ the loons, i’ the midst o’ the confusion, slippit his hand into my waistcoat pouch to nab my watch. I was ower supple for him, hooever, for I grippit his richt hand wi’ my left, an’ wi’ my ither hand, doubled up into the shape o’ a mason’s mell, an’ almost as heavy, I lent him sic a swingin’ yark on the “tattie trap,” as Tam Sayers wa ca’ it, that I’m far cheatit if I didna hear a half-dizzen o’ his teeth gaen rattlin’ doon his throat. “That’s hoo Tammas Bodkin intertains pickpockets,” quoth I. So when the crood oonderstood that I was Tammas Bodkin, they got up three cheers in my honour, an’ as for the pickpocket, he made aff wi’ the expedition o’ a Yankee Zouave “frae famed Manassas Junction.” [The First Battle of Mannassas took place on 21 July 1861, just over a month before this was published] Hame we got withoot ony mair mishaps, an’, on submittin’ my coat to a scientific examination, I discovered that the rent was clost by the centre seam, an’ as it was fortunately a wee thocht ower wide across the back as originally designed, I’ve made up my mind to run up a spleet new seam, insomuch that the coat will be rather improved than itherwise by the mischanter. But nae thanks to the pickpocket for that; an’ I wad juist close by advisin’ him no to try ony mair o’ his pranks on

Tammas Bodkin.

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