‘Bodkin For Provost’ (19 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’ve something to tell ye worth speaking aboot. If Providence hadna endowed me wi’ a considerable share o’ self-controul, my case micht hae been rather serious; an’ even as it is, I’m like to hae grave doots at times whether my head or my heels be umost. As for Tibbie, she’s as heigh as the hills, an’ Mrs Davidson may henceforth hide her diminished head. Ay, ay, I’ve aye been o’ opinion that true worth winna gang oonrewarded, even in this warld; but its only noo that I can speak on the subject frae personal experience. Od, after a’, wha wad hae thocht it? I’m sure last week at this time I had as little anticipation o’ bein’ offered the Provostship o’ Dundee as I had o’ bein’ made Cham o’ Tartary, or the Pope o’ Room; but wonders will never cease. That I, Tammas Bodkin, a plain, blunt man, whase sober wishes never learned to stray eyond the humble situation o’ a puir, hard-wrought, yet upright-honest teelyour, should nevertheless an’ notwithstanding have been made sic a chosen vessel o’ by my fellow-citizens, is mair than I can comprehend; but to my story.

Weel, ye see, t was juist on Monday nicht, shortly after lichtin’ time, that I’m sittin’ pullin’ away at the needle, Willie Clippins bein’ busy scourin’ the guse at the back o’ the inner door, when I hears an unco scraughlin’ an’ fitierin’ on the stair. There was naethin’ wonderfu’ in that, an’ I juist concluded in my ain mind that it wad be some customer seekin’ his way up to get his inches taen. Presently, hooever, I hears Mr Phelim O’Grady’s tongue, an’ quoth he, “Och, shure, an’ is it Misther Bodkin ye’ll be after? Thin this way wid yes, gin’l’m; its meself that can show yes the way.” So Phelim lifts the sneck, puts in his curly pow, an’, quoth he, “Misther Bodkin, a word wid ye, sir; here is three gin’l’m as would desire to spake wid ye, sir.” So I banged doon frae the boord, taen three staps to the stair head, an’ there sure eneuch were three honest lookin’ gentlemen. Phelim touched his hat, an’ quoth he, “Och, shure, an’ doesn’t the blessed book say that the labourer is worthy ov his hire?” Whereupon one o’ the gentlemen taen the delicate hint, an’ slippit a saxpence into the hand o’ their cicerone, wha forthwith taen his departure, showerin’ a profusion o’ thanks an’ blessin’s on all an’ sundry no exceptin’ Tibbie an’ me—the twa most exemplary Christians, in Phelim’s present opinion, to be found in a’ Dundee, an’ the liberties thereof.

As TIbbie was ower the lugs in some hoose-cleanin’ operations, it behooved me to show the gentlemen into my ain apartment, so I directit them to seat themsels on the boord, while I taen my ain proper station thereon by way o’ example. Havin’ had time to take a visie o’ the strangers, I began to mak sundry observations on the state o’ the weather, the craps, and the stagnation o’ trade, but they said little, lookit unco fidgetty, an’ seemed to hae something on their stammacks o’ mair importance than ordinary. At last an’ lang, ane o’ them, wha seemed to be maister bummer, taen oot his sneeshin-milll, primed his nose therewithal, handit the box to me, pulled a paper frae his oxter pouch, hoastit twice or thrice, and then proceeded to state the object o’ their visit. “Mr Bodkin,” quoth he, “we have been appointed a deputation, by a large and important meeting of your fellow-townsmen, to wait upon you in regard to the filling up of the chief magistrate’s chair in this great, wealthy—and—and—and, I may say, most extraordinary community. You are aware, Sir, that in a few weeks the town will be without a Provost, and in our perplexity we have turned to you, Sir, believing, as we most firmly do believe, that with you, Mr Bodkin, at the head of the civic affairs,—we—we—would not—I say we should at least have the right man in the right place.” (“Hear,” “Hear,” “Hear,” from the other two gentlemen.) The orator had evidently got beyond his depth, for he hummed, an’ he ha’d, an’ he cuist up the whites o’ his e’en, but the words were like to be dour to draw, an’ at last to mak’ the best o’ a bad job, he unfaulds the paperie he held in his hand, an’, quoth he, “In fact, Mr Bodkin, the document I hold in my hand will explain the—the—the—oor object better than I can do;” so he proceeded to read as follows:—

“At a public meeting of the electors of the Second Ward, for the purpose of nominating candidates for the seats at the Council Board about to be vacant—Mr Thomas Butterbaps in the chair—Inter alia, it was moved, second, and unanimously agreed to—1st, That, in view of the many legal obstacles to the prosperity and peace of this burgh, it is now more than ever necessary that representatives should be sent to the Council Board endoved with sufficient talent and energy to bring order out of chaos; and, in particular, that at the present moment the chief magistracy of this burgh ought to be held by a gentleman of preeminent ability, marvellous tact, and commanding genius. 2. That Thomas Bodkin, Esq., Tailor and Clothier, 99 Gutterhole Close, is possessed of all the qualifications mentioned n the preceding resolution, and would therefore be a most suitable person to occupy the principal seat at the Council Board of this burgh. 3. That this meeting pledge themselves to do all in their power to promote the election of that respected individual, with a view to his elevation to the Provostship for the ensuing term. 4. That Messrs Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, and Sparrible be appointed a deputation to wait on Mr Bodkin to obtain that gentleman’s consent to be put in nomination, agreeably to the tenor of the foregoing resolutions. 5. That the present meeting be adjourned till the evening of Saturday next when Messrs Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, and Sparrible will be prepared to report the result of their interview with Mr Bodkin, in order that immediate steps may be taken to secure his triumphant return at the head of the poll.

                                    (Signed)          “Thomas Butterbaps,

                                                                        “Chairman.”

Having read the paper, Mr Butterbaps—for that was the gentleman’s name—put it into my hand, an’ expressed a hope that I wad respond to the universally expressed desire o’ the electors, by allooin’ mysel’ to be put in nomination for the Provostship.

I was never sairer dumfoondered in a’ my born days, an’ for some time I could do naething but juist sit an’ glower wi’ a vacant stare, first at Maister Butterbaps, syne at Maister M’Swiggan, an’ lastly at Maister Sparrible. I tried to speak, but my tongue wadna answer my expectations. My heart was a’ in a flutter, an’ my pulse gaed fleein’ at the rate o’ a hunder an’ thirty i’ the minute. Never was my midriff in sic a state o’ flichterment since that nicht—weel do I remember it to this oor an’ day yet—whereon I, in a state o’ fear an’ tremblin’, ventured, for the first tmie, to pop the all-important question to Tibbie. My emotion for a few minutes barred a’ utterance, an’ I’m thinkin’ Messrs Butterbaps an’ Co. wad be like to set me doon in their ain mind as an unco queer candidate for civic dignity. Hoosomdever, I tried to put the best face I could on the business, an’ sat cross-legged, like some eastern dervish, strokin’ my beard an’ contemplatin’ my ain perfections.

At length an’ lang, havin’ collected my thocts, I broke silence as follows:—“Maister Buttbaps an’ gentlemen,—It is dootless a source o’ nae that little pride an’ glorification to me that I sid be held in sae high esteem amang my fellow-citizens as to be thocht fit to occupy the place o’ a ruler an’ a judge ower this—to use the eloquent an’ forcible language o’ Mr Butterbaps—most extraordinary community. My chief ambition has hitherto been to coort the retirement o’ this my humble garret, an’ to enjoy the retirement o’ this my humble garret, an’ to enjoy the society o’ my most estimable an’ invaluable wife, regardless o’ a’ the honours an’ riches that fa’ to the lot o’ the great an’ the noble, an’ only solicitous that my name an’ occupation sid be kenned to my customers, for which reason I’ve caused it to be painted on the close-mooth, an’ that my fame as a teelyour sid spread only as far abroad as my handiwark may happen to be carried, an’ no ae inch farther. Yea, dootless, Maister Butterbaps an’ gentlemen, I’ve never aspired to sit on high amang the people. Here, on this boord, I’ve been far happier knappin’ awa’ at my needle, whistlin’ a spring to keep mysel oot o’ langer, an’ lettin’ Willie Clippins there see through the mysteries o ‘his profession, that I could possibly hae been had I been born to sit on the Woolsack as Lord Chancellor o’ England, or even to be the chief magistrate o’ Dundee. Gentlemen, I receive wi’ due respect the flatterin’ invitation o’ the intelligent electors wha have duputed you to lay their resolutions at my fitstool, but seein’ that the matter is ane o’ very grave importance, I’m no able to gie ye a definite answer at this precise moment o’ time, the mair especially as it behoves Tibbie to say whether or no she is inclined to undertake the cares an’ responsibilities o’ being the wife o’ the Provost o’ this most extraordinary community. My resolution, as weel as Tibbie’s, will be made known to you, gentlemen, in gude time to enable you to mak’ yer report to the meetin’ on Saturday nicht.”

So the deputation withdrew, deeply impressed, nae doot, wi’ my superior wisdom an’ enlichtenment. But I goes to Tibbie, wha was on her knees scoorin’ the floor wi’ sand an’ an oowen clout. “Tibbie, woman!” quoth I, “nae mair scrubbin o’ floors wi’ ye noo, get aff yer knees, an’ put on yer very best apparel, yer crinoline, Tibbie! an yer satin goon! an’ yer braw new bannet! an ye maun get a boa an’ a muff! aye an’ ye maun buy a cameo brooch as big as a teacup, an’ ye maun hae a gowd watch, an’ a gowd locket, an’ a chain o’ the same metal, as lang an’ as strang as wad hang on ox. That nichtcap shall never never mair grieve ye, Tibbie, for never mair shall it cover my croon. I’ll hae a three neukit hat noo, Tibbie, an’ a gowd chain roond my neck, an’ I’ll be clothed in purple an’ fine linen, Tibbie. We maun ha’e a carriage an’ pair o’ oor ain, too, an’ Willie Clippins, we’ll ha’e his corpus encased in blue coat wi’ brass buttons; a black beaver wi’ a ginger-bread ornament on the side thereof shall adorn his upper story; on his breast there shall be a vest of purest white; on his limbs a pair o’ the finest yellow slacks; an’ on his hands he shall sport the most spotless white cotton mittens. On the dickie shall ride Willie Clippins as maister o’ the ceremonies, when you and me, Tibbie”—“The deil’s i’ the man,” quoth Tibbie, “hae ye tint yer senses a’thegither, or are ye the waur o’ liquor, or what i’ the face o’ God’s earth is the matter wi’ ye, Tammas?” “Ye may weel speer that, Tibbie,” quoth I, “know then, oh! thou most incomparable o’ women, an’ most adorable o’ wives, that I am to be the Provost o’ Dundee!” “The Provost o’ the auld Hakes!” quoth Tibbie, “tak’ up yer nicht-cap there an’ put it on the head o’ ye, an’ dinna act like a fool or a madman.” “But it’s a fact, Tibbie, that I’m tellin’ ye; say ye the word an’ I’m the Provost o’ Dundee, an’ you’ll be the Mistress Provost thereof, as sure as the sun is in the lift, Tibbie. Then will ye be the wife o’ as great a man as Cincinnatus or President Lincoln.” “I tell ye,” quoth Tibbie, “if ye gang na to yer ain end o’ the hoose an’ let me get on wi’ my wark, i’se gie ye a Cincinawties ower the lugs wi’ this washin’ cloot—noo, mind what I’m tellin’ ye, Tammas!” Od it wad hae been an unco thing to have had my patriotic ardour cooled wi’ a wet cloot; an’, as I ken Tibie to be a woman o’ her word, I thocht it best to tak’ her advice.

Ben I gaed to the boord to Willie an’ discussed the maitter in a’ its bearins wi’ him, an’, I can tell you, there was nae mair wark wi’ either o’ us for that nicht. The guse stood scoored an’ ready for action, but she had time eneuch to cool again afore her services were required. Willie was quite liftit up when I told him the honours that were in store for him, an’ he was actually for startin’ that very nicht to mak’ his ain livery, but I persuaded him to postpone operations until we sid see what Tibbie wad say on the subject, an especially until we sid ken the result o’ the election, if sae be it sid happen to be Tibbie’s will an’ pleasure that I sid actually come forward as a candidate.

By supper-time Tibbie had finished her scourin’ operations, an’ was in a mair compowsible frame o’ spirit than before; so we sat doon an’ had a social crack ower the matter. Tibbie was as proud as Lucifer at the thocht o’ bein’ liftit frae the dung-hill as it were to sit amang princes, an’ she quoted various edifyin’ texts o’ Scripture bearin’ upon the subject. We sat up till past twal’ o’clock discussin’ the pros an’ the cons o’ the business, an’ even after we were in oor roose, we lay crackin’ aboot it for anither twenty minutes or half-an-oor, until Tibbie began to answer me through her nose, when I judged it expedient to postpone the farther consideration o’ the case till anither day. A’ that nicht I lay dozin’i an’ dreamin’ aboot Cooncllers, an’ Bailies, an Provosts. I even imagined that I was the length o’ bein’ Emperor o’ China, clothed in the dragon robes, wi’ scores o’ manderins knockin’ their foreheads on the grund afore my throne in the Imperial Palace o’ Licht an’ Splendour; but lack-a-day, the creak o’ Phelim O’Grady’s barrow gaen up the close next mornin’ aroused me frae my lofty dreams an’ told me that I was naething but plain

Tammas Bodkin.

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