‘Bodkin Studies Craniology’ (12 October, 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,—I mentioned i’ my last epistle hoo Tibbie an’ me made a rin ower by to Dundee frae Cockmylane on the Saturday’s afternoon to see wi’ oor ain een whether or no Willie Clippins was keepin’ a’ thing square an’ trim aboot the hoose, an’ especially to see if the tortoise hadna made a voyage doonstairs to Maister Phelim O’Grady, an’, as I observed i’ the said epistle, we faund Willie faithfu’ in everything. He had boiled the petawtis accordin’ to Tibbie’s instructions an’ he wrocht up the drawers an’ slacks accordin’ to mine, so baith Tibbie an’ me were mair than satisfied wi’ the mainer wherein the bit loonie had acquitted himsel’. Havin’ finished a’ the bits o’ jobs I had set him to the road wi’ afore I left, he had had recourse to the professional services o’ Maister Stitch, an’ I faun that the twa o’ them had been layin’ their heads thegither on the previous nicht, an’ had actually shapen a pair o’ corduroy slacks, whereat Willie was eydently employed when I burst in oonexpectedly upon his meditations. The slacks were nae that ill cut out, a’thing considered, just a wee thocht ower wide across the hams if onything, but that was soon rectified by takin’ oot the beasin’ steeks an’ pairin’ the maiter o’ a half inch or sae aff the skirpin’, whereby they were rendered in every respect exactly to my mind.

Tibbie made an inspection o’ the kitchen, an’ discovered that the tortoise had fyled the floor in twa places, ane o’ them bein’ oonder the bed, an’ the ither atween the airm-chair an’ the wa’, but as Willie’s instructions didna extend farther than to see that the beastie got its bite o’ meat in due season, an’ keepit oot o’ Phelim O’Grady’s clutches, he couldna be held responsible for the defilement o’ the floor, an’ sae Tibbie juist dichtit it up wi’ an oowen clout, an’ said naething. Hoosomdever, on gaen’ into the pantry, Tibbie discovers that her claes raip is in twa halves, an’ so, when Willie was interrogated aboot it, he confessed that he had been tryin’ Blondin’s exploits ae day w’t, an’ that he was just half-way alang, balancin’ himsel’ wi’ the law-brod, an’ carryin’ the guse in his teeth, when the raip brak, an’ doon cam’ Clippins, guse, an’ law-brod, wi’ an awfu’ ruddie on the floor, whereby Mistress O’Grady was nearly frichtened oot o’ her seven senses. Mair an’ ootower a’ that, the dinle o’ the dooncome had taen effect on the partition wa’ separatin’ the shop frae the kitchen, whereon Tibbie’s delf wares were arranged in raws, an’ sae, on coontin’ her crockerie, Tibbie missed a jug that she had got frae Phelim O’Grady four months syne, in excheenge for a pund o’ harren cloots an’ a lapfu’ o’ banes, the jug havin’ fa’en’ i’ the floor an’ flown to flinders aboot twa seconds after Willie an’ the guse had pairted company wi’ the claes line. Tibbie was aboot to raise a ruction i’ the hoose anent the mismagglement o’ her raip an’ the loss o’ her jug, but I taen speech in hand wi’ her, an’ stood up bauldly in Willie’s defence, showin’ that he micht peradventure become as great a funambulist as Blondin himsel’, when he wad, nae doot, mak’ ample mends for the mischanter he had fa’en into, besides refleckin’ nae that little credit on me as havin’ set him i’ the way o’ weel-doin’. An’ even settin’ aside considerations o’ that kind, laddies will be laddies, an’ maun be allooed some length o’ tether, an’ it wad be as daft like in us to attempt to put an auld head upon young shoothers as it was in Willie, puir chield, to essay walkin’ wi’ the guse in his teeth alang a string that was scarcely fit to bear the wecht o’ half-a-dizzen o’ sarks newly oot o’ the washin’-tub. By this means I manage to skoog Willie frae the dirdum o’ Tibbie’s sealdin’ tongue.

As Tibbie an’ me couldna think o’ beginnin’ to do onything, seein’ oor visit was but a transitory ane, I made the suggestion that we sid gang doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall an’ hear Fooler an’ Wells, an’ get oor heads read. “Oor heads redd,” quoth Tibbie, “I can redd my head at hame, Tammas, an’ if need be I’se redd yours too.” Tibbie was actually for refusing to visit the phrenologists, until I told her that John Davidson an’ Mrs Davidson had baith been ther gettin’ their heads read, an’ that it wad gar us look unco baugh aside them if we didna gang through the same ordeal. Tibbie couldna thole the idea o’ Mr an’ Mrs Davidson bein’ before us in ony respect, no even as to the reddin’ o’ her head, an’ therefore, if Fooler an’ Wells had read Mr an’ Mrs Davidson’s heads, oondoubtedly they sid read Tibbie’s an’ mine. A’ the time we were argie-bargiein’ aboot it, Tibbie was oonder the impression that Fooler an’ Wells were naething but fashionable hairdressers, an’ that they wad simply kaim oor hair, an’ maybe apply a slaik o’ bear’s grease or Macassar oil to it. So when she saw me at the lookin’-glass sheddin’ my hair—as I always do afore gaen oot to mingle in polite society—she observes, “Tammas, there’s nae earthly use o’ ye wastin’ yer time, an’ wearin’ the kaim, reddin’ yer hair here, when ye’re juist gaen to pay Fooler an’ Wells for performin’ that duty; my certie, if they get the payment, I sid let them work the wark.” So I was oonder the needcessity o’ explainin’ to her that by getting oor heads read was meant gettin’ oor bumps examined, but Tibbie protestit that she kent that brawley, withoot needin’ me to tell her.

Weel, awa’ we gaed an’ got introduced to the twa wise men frae the West. Ane o’ them taen me in hand first, an’ thooms. Having by this means soonded the utmost depths o’ my oonderstanding, he began a lang discoorse, every wor whereof was greedily treasured up by Tibbie. Quoth he, “You have a remarkably clear and vigorous intellect.” “That’s a fact that admits o’ nae dispute,” quoth I. “At cuttin’ oot a coat o’ nae dispute,” quoth I. “At cuttin’ oot a coat or a pair o’ slacks, I’ll back my ain intellect against a’ the tailors in Christendom that ever wielded sheers.” “You are somewhat impatient, impetuous, and ardent in all your feelings and emotions; you cannot wait, but must go straight at your object.” “’Deed, sir, ye never said a truer word than that a’ yer days,” quoth Tibbie, “for I’m sure if the petawtis are no boiled precisely at twa o’clock, there’s nae speakin’ till ‘im the haill afternoon. Weel-a-wat, sir, oor Tammas is baith impatient an’ impetuous.” “To tell ye the truth, Maister Phrenologist,” quoth I, “I’ve nae patience wi’ aff-puttin’ tawpies o’ ony kind, an’ if a’ body would do their duty, Tibbie, as they ought to do, I wad hae fewer occasions for displayin’ my impetuosity.” “You are ambitious,” quoth the philosopher, “anxious to distinguish yourself, more willing to lead than to follow, would rather be the first man in a city than the second man in an empire.” “Yea, yea,” quoth I, “so I maun be as great a man as Caesar. Ambitious! Dootless I’m ambitious I’ve been sae as far back as I can mind. In childhood my ambition taen the direction o’ sugar plums an’ curlie-andrews; in youth, I cam’, I saw, I overcam’ Tibbie; she was the principal object o’ my ambition then, as she is the object o’ my fondest affection noo. If I’ve distinguished mysel’ in ony respect, it has been in the way o’ wieldin’ my needle, an’ maybe in wreatin’ a curn havers. “‘Mair willin’ to lead than to follow’—a fact that Phemy Fairntickle kens to her experience. What say ye, Tibbie?” “’Deed, Tammas,” quoth she, “if a’ the truth maun be tell’t, ye’ll neither haud nor drive at times.” “Get on wi’ ye’re show,” quoth I. “You are kind and obliging,” quoth the craniologist; “would do a favour if you could, even at great personal inconvenience.” “Ye’re richt again,” quoth Tibbie, “for he wad pairt wi’ his last bawbee to a beggar wife, if sae be she had a sickly wean in her lap, an’ put on a ruefu’ coontenance till him.” “You appreciate fun,” quoth the craniologist, “and would rather lose a friend than a joke.” “The first pairt o’ yer statement s quite true,” quoth I, “but the ither is in point o’ fact a doonricht lee.” “You like to employ great plainness of speech,” quoth the philospher; “with you a spade is a spade, and nothing less nor more.” “Ay, an’ a lee is a lee, an’ nae mair aboot it,” quoth I. Od, I was angry at him for sayin’ that I set little value on my freends, for I’m sure I wad rather lose twenty jokes, hooever gude, afore I wad offend the like o’ Jeames Witherspoon or Andro Sooter. “You amativeness is very large, but your conjugality is if anything a little defective. You have a strong love for the opposite sex, and if one wife should last your lifetime you will not seek another, but you would not remain long a windower. You would marry a second time, in case you could find a young lady willing to link her fortune to yours.” “My certie, Maister Phrenology,” quoth Tibbie, “that’s just what I’ve aye thocht aboot Tammas; that accoonts for his respect for the hizzie that he saw at Corncrake Terrace; an’ I’ve never been a’thegither satisfeed aboot that nicht-cap that some young leddy, gentle or simple, needs to set her bannet for Tammas as lang as I can help it.” “Hoots, toots, Tibbie,” quoth I, “dinna haver a curn nonsense, woman; that I like the lasses weel I dinna mean to deny, but that I ever cuist covetous een on ane but you, Tibbie, I will deny wi’ a’ my micht an’ main. I would just like to see the man or woman that wad daur to say the contrar.” “You have a remarkable talent for music, which, properly cultured, might have enabled you to rival Beethoven or Mozart. You take great pleasure in singing old Scotch songs, such as ‘The tailor fell through the bed, thimbles an’ a’,’ and ‘The deil amang the tailors.’” “Well, man,” quoth I, “but ye are a witch for a guesser. What next?” “You have a good appetite,” quoth he, “and are particularly fond of skate.” “I could hae told ye that,” quoth I, “afore ye began. Tell me something I dinna ken.” “You might have got a first-rate education had you been put long enough to school.” “Yea, dootless that’s a truism,” quoth I. “You are raither spare in body, proving that you have a muscular temperament.” “So that I put my meat in an ill skin,” quoth I, “that’s what ye mean, I suppose?” “Your hair is inclining to grey, which is a token that you are not quite so young as you have been.” “That’s a very safe inference,” quoth I. “You must avoid alcohol and tobacco,” quoth he. “D’ye hear that Tammas,” quoth Tibbie. “Before going to bed take a little food, composed of oatmeal and water, boiled to the consistency of paste; the same when you rise in the morning. Let your other meals consist chiefly of vegetables and cereals—take no animal food.” “In ither words, I’m no to tak’ parritch an’ milk to breakfast an’ supper, an’ lang kale an’ leeks to my dinner; is that what ye mean?” quoth I. “Exactly so,” quoth he. “No a bit skate allooed me?” quoth I. “Not unless you wish fins an scales to sprout up all over your body,” quoth he. “They maun be dooms lang o’ growin’,” quoth I, “for I’ve eaten skate for the feck o’ fifty years, an’ I’m as little like a fish as ye are; but ye can tak’ the grist o’ Tibbie’s organization noo if ye like, for I’m perfectly satisfied wi’ mysel’ an’ wi’ a’ the warld.” So Tibbie taen aff her bannet, an’ the craniologist put her through her facfu’s in grand style. “You have a very practical mind,” quoth he, “you have more liking for the utile than the dulce.” “An’ what am I to oonderstand by that?” quoth Tibbie. “Just this, Ma’am,” quoth he, “that you would prize a lap-dog, or a tortoise, only in so far as it could be used in making a potful of broth.” “The deil’s i’ the man!” quoth Tibbie; “wha told you aboot the tortoise?” “I feel it in your bumps,” quoth he. “My bumps!” quoth Tibbie; “ye dinna mean to say that I’ve a tortoise in my head?” “I mean to say a great deal more than that, Ma’am,” quoth he. “You are a diligent woman, a careful woman, a cleanly woman. There is’nt [sic] a spot on your linen, nor a bug within your door. Not a clipsheer, nor a golloch, nor a sklater, dares shew face in your pantries—not if you knows it.” “Let me alane for that,” quoth Tibbie. “You are rather short-tempered occasionally, and when contradicted, incline to dash the doors behind you, by way of showing your displeasure.” “That’s a God’s truth,” quoth I. “No withoot I get gude occasion,” quoth Tibie; “an’ ill-usage, ye ken, wad gar even a saint rebel, let-a-be a sinner like me.” “You are rather fond of display, would not allow your neighbour to surpass you in anything. Should the lady next door get an expansive crinoline, you would immediately have one still more expansive.” “O what a story!” quoth Tibbie; “for it was Tammas that coft my crinoline; there where he sits, he canna deny that, an’ I’m sure I was never thinkin’ aboot a thing o’ the kind when he brocht it hame that day.” “Ay, ay, Tibbie,” quoth I, but it was a real God-send for a’ that; an’ wha coft the bannet and the mantle, an’ the sofy, and the carpet, an’ the moreen curtains, Tibbie? Wha but yer ain sel? so dina ye gang to blame me for what I’m as innocent o’ as the child oonborn.” “You are too fond of tea,” quo’ the craniologist, “take a half-a-dozen of cups at a meal if not watched, would require to restrain your appetite for that stimulant, and confine yoursel’ to a regimen similar to that recommended to your husband.” “An’ I wad like to ken wha wad hae the imipudence to watch what I eat or drink in mine ain hoose,” quoth Tibbie. “Indeed, gudeman, ye’ve said quite eneuch, ay, an’ mair than eneuch aboot me.” So Tibbie banged up, put on her bannet, an’ ordered me hame forthwith. Oot at the door we gaed, an’ Tibbie garred it clash ahent us, as muckle as to say, “My man, ye’re greatly mista’en if ye suppose that ye’ve made vegetarians and watertotallers o’ Tibbie an’

Tammas Bodkin.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s