‘Bodkin Takes a Second Thought’ (26 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,—After I had time to reflect on the temptin’ offer I received through the medium o’ Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, an’ Sporrible, I began to think that I micht peradventure pay ower dear for my whistle, by acceptin’ o’ the civic honours whereof I made mention in my last epistle. Yea, verily, my joy endured but for a nicht, an’, when next mornin’ cam’ roond, lo! an’ behold a’ was vanity an’ vexation o’ spirit. Ye see every question has twa sides—a bricht side an’ a dark ane. At first I could see naething but the fair side o’ the subject broached by Maister Butterbaps. My visions consisted wholly o’ gowd chains, purple an’ fine linen, cockit hats, an’ a twa-horse coach, wi’ Tibbie an’ me inside, an’ Willie on the dickie thereof. Thinks I what a grand thing it will be to see a’ the nobbery liftin’ their hats to my spouse an’ me whenever we micht tak’ it into oor heads, as we wad do every lawfu’ afternoon, to air oorsels, arm in arm, in Reform Street, or in the Nethergate, an’ to hae a’ the linen lords i’ the Coogate, wha generally carry their heads sae heigh, bobbin’ aboot at my heels, an’ proodto let it be kent that they had been at a pairty at the Provost’s the ither nicht, where there was some jolly sport gaen, an’ lots o’ liquor. Then I pictured mysel’ presidin’ ower a public meetin’ o’ my fellow-citizens in the Corn Exchange Hall, where I wad be lookit up to as a sort o’ deity, an’ where every word that I might utter, hooever stupid, wad call forth a perfect thunder-bolt o’ applause, an’ be duly recordit i’ the newspapers next morning. Aye, an’ I wad get my photograph stuck up i’ the picture-shops amang the distinguished men, such as Lord Brougham, Sir David Brewster, an’ Louis Napoleon, an’ strangers o’ an inquiring turn o’ mind wad be speerin’ at ane anither, What respectable-looking old gentleman is that, beside the Prince Consort, dressed in the black surtout, white vest, and priest-gray trousers? Where to some wide-awake chap wad reply, That is the portrait of a very eminent man—no less than that of Thomas Bodkin, Esq., Provost of Dundee. Then wad follow sundry exclamatory observations on my noble physique, which I refrain frae settin’ doon in black an’ white, oot o’ a tender regard for the points o’ admiration that it wad be necessary for the printer to employ. Then, too, what glorious public dinners I wad hae the felicity o’ presidin’ ower! An earl wad sit at my richt hand, an’ a lord on my left, while alang the sides o’ the table wad be ranged twa or three honourables, half-a-dizzen o’ country squires, an’ nae end o’ Bailies, Cooncillors, an’ Police Commissioners. I wad hae to propose the loyal an’ patriotic toasts, too, an’ peers o’ the realm wad tak’ up the “hip-hip-hooray!” frae my honoured lips. An’ them, what a command I wad be able to exercise ower Tibbie! Though she sets but little value on the words o’ plain Tammas Bodkin, yet she wad never venture to gainsay the Provost. Thus wad I be honoured baith at hame an’ abroad. Such were some o’ the vain imaginations that passed through my mind when contemplatin’ the fair side o’ the municipal honours wherewith my fellow-citizens proposed to invest me.

But, as I’ve already observed, the subject has a dark side as weel as a bricht side, it behooved me to tak’ a peep o’ the dark ane. Weel, ye see, first an’ foremost, there were thae litigations wherewith the Cooncil is threatened. Law has been to me an abomination a’ the days o’ my life; I canna thole to think aboot it. I’ve aye been a man o’ peace, an’ I hope ever will be. I hate the very name o’ law. The only discomfortin’ thocht I had in marryin’ Tibbie was that I wad be her faither’s son-in-law. The very name o’ the law-brod soonds uncoothily in my ears. The most serious objection I had against comin’ to Dundee was that I wad be under the needcessity o’ glowerin’ at the Law every time I gaed to the door. Ance I had the offer o’ an apprentice—an’ a sharp-lookin’ callant he was—but when I speered his name, behold it Jamie Law! His name, puir fallow, was fatal to his pretensions. It’s maybe a prejudice o’ mine, but that little word law is far frae bein’ a favourite wi’ me. Noo, hoo could I be the Provost o’ Dundee withoot rubbin’ shoothers wi’ the law? The Hosptial Fund an’ Monorgan’s Croft wad be the death o’ me. They wad destroy my peace o ‘mind, an’ render a’ my honours barren an’ unfruitfu’. An’ then, what if the COoncil should hae the piper to pay for? Lawyers winna work for naething, an’ if the case sid gang against the Cooncil, wha kens but the Cooncil will hae to fork the bawbees oot o’ their ain pouches? Cockit hats, gowd chains, an’ a’ the lave o’t, wad be very fine, dootless, but to see a’ my warldly effects, frae oor spleet new sofy doon to the sheers an’ the guse, exposed for sale at the Cross by warrant o’ the Shirra—that wad scarcely be a consummation to be wished for, yet it is a thing that micht happen. I’ve haen mony a warsle wi’ the warld i’ my time noo; I’ve feastit on dry brose to my breakfast, an’ petawtis an’ saut to my dinner, but I’ve aye managed to pay a’body twenty shillin’s i’ the pound to this day an’ date, an’ happen what may, I’se try to do that same even until the end o’ the chapter. Noo, I’m jealousin’ if I were to accept o’ the Provostship o’ Dundee, what wi’ drivin’ aboot in a coach, an’ sportin’ gowd chains, an’ giein’ grand feasts, an’ livin’ in a splendid sixty or auchty pound hoose at the wast end, an’ keepin’ up a retinue o’ man servants an’ maid servants, no to speak o’ giein’ employment to half the lawyers in Edinbro’,—I wad very soon be gazetted, alang wi’ company that wa reflect very little credit either on me or on the toon o’ Dundee. Nae doot the same thing has happened ower an’ ower again afore this time o’ day, but it can never happen withoot provin’ a public scandal to a’ concerned, an’ I’m determined never to purchase a temporary honour at the expense o’ bringin’ a lastin’ disgrace on my ain honest name, forby inflictin’ a serious befylement on a most honourable office. A’ thae things I thocht ower in my ain mind, but said never a word to Tibbie aboot them.

Tibbie bein’ anxious to consult Mrs Davidson on the subject, we agreed to invite her an’ John to their tea at oor hoose afore we sid settle on the answer we wad gie to Maister Butterbaps. So Tibbie prepared a hearty blow-oot o’ toast, an’ cookies, an’ bun, an’ a’ kinds o’ confusionary wares, an’ despatched Willie Clippins wi’ a card o’ invitation, addressed to Maister and Mrs Davidson, wherein they were informed that “Provost and Mrs Bodkin wad be happy to have their company to tea,” an’ at such a time. Tibbie put on her very best abuliment for the great occasion, as it behooved her to do, being the wife o’ a Provost that was to be. Mrs Davidson was naething till her. As for me, I considered that my official dignity wad stand me instead o’ superfluous corporeal adorment, an’ that it wad render me an’ object o’ awe an’ reverence, even in my sark sleeves. Mrs Davidson, wha aforetimes was wont to be rather dictatorial to Tibbie, was noo unco reverential in her bearin’ an’ evidently lookit up to my gudewife as to a superior intelligence. There wasna the same free intercheenge o’ sentiments atween them as formerly, for evidently Mrs Davidson couldna disabuse her mind o’ the feelin’ that she was in the presence o’ a real livin’ Provost and Provostess, whase every word an’ action should be a rule o’ faith an’ practice to the haill community, opposition whereto wad be a little short o’ assault an’ battery. The short an’ the lang o’t was that John Davidson an’ his worthy spouse drank oor tea na’ ate our bannocks, without sayin’ either aye or no aboot the Provostshp. Mrs Davidson couldna venture to say nay to the Provost, an’ far less to the Provost’s wife, because, as she observed, she had a profound respect for dignities; an’ she wadna alloo hersel’ to say aye, because, bein’ jealous o’ Tibbie an’ me gettin’ farther up i’ the buckle than John an’ her, she had really formed a secret resolution to employ a’ the influence she possessed amang the wives o’ her acquaintance to stir up opposition to my election. This fact I ascertained afterwards. Howsomdever, her opposition was a matter o’ very sma’ moment to me.

Tibbie was just washin’ up the tea-dishes when there comes a reishle to the door. So, when I gaed to see what was wantit, there was Maister Tammas Butterbaps wi’ a message frae my supporters, wha were at that moment assembled in anxious deliberation on the means to be employed to circumvent the serious opposition to my election that had oonexpectedly arisen. My presence at the meeting was instantly required, in order that immediate action micht be ta’en to secure my return.

Aweel, I flang on my coat an’ accompanied Maister Butterbaps, but wi’ nae intention o’ signifyin’ my acceptance o’ the Provostship; though—like the ministers o’ the Gospel, wha, when they get a call to anither congregation, dinna juist bauldly tell their minds on the subject at aince, but him an’ haw an’ had folk dancin’ at their tails frae Presbytery to Synod, an’ frae Synod to Assembly, an’ a’ to get folk to look at them an’ speak aboot them—I was determined to ha’e a visie o’ my supporters, an’ maybe mak’ a speech, endin’ of coorse, wi’ a point-blank refusal to be Provost o’ Dundee on ony terms, oonder present circumstances. Awa we gaed arm-in-arm to the place o’ meetin’, which Maister Butterbaps informed me was somewhere near the fit o’ the Bannet Hill. On comin’ opposite the door o’ a public hoose, the sign whereof was a foamin’ tankard, wi’ the motto, “Drink an’ pay,” my conductor haltit, an’, quoth he, “Here, Mr Bodkin, the meetin’ is assembled; follow me, an’ I’ll introduce you to the electors.” In he gaed, an’ ben to an inner chamber, me at his tail, an’ the landlord actin’ as a sort o’ reargaird, his coontenance betokenin’ that he was expectin’ an order for anither half-mutchkin o’ tody. So I was duly introduced to the meetin’, an’ an unco sina’ meetin’ it was to be charged w’ the important duty o’ selectin’ a Provost for sic a toon as Dundee. The meetin’, in fact, consisted o’ mysel’, Messrs Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, an’ Sparrible, an’ ither three individuals whase names I neither kent nor did I tarry to inquire. Ilk ane o’ them had a glass an’ a tumbler afore him, an’ there were twa articles o’ the same description on the richt hand o’ the chairman set apart for my especial benefit. I stood an’ gazed aroond the table, mentally takin’ the measure o’ the assembled patriots, while Mr Butterbaps rang the bell an’ ordered in a fresh supply o’ het water, an’ anither fill o’ the half-mutchkin measure. “Gentlemen,” quoth I, “an’ this is what ye ca’ a meetin’ o’ my supporters?” “Of your supporters, Mr Bodkin,” quoth a bedrucken-like body wha sat at the left o’ the chairman, an’ wha was sae far owercome wi’ liquor that his tongue wad scarcely ply roond the words, “ye shee Bockin’ we’re the free an’ independigt—hic—electures of Dundee—hic—and we are resholved Mr Bunkum to play the juice—hic—with that Hosh—hic—Spital Foond. Now, when you, Mr Boaking—hic—are made Prosoft, will you vote for the abolition of the ministers and the poor—hic—and for the money to be applied to the erection of a fountain—hic—at the Cross—to spue out the purest whisky toddy every lawful night after eleven o’clock—hic—and also on the whole of Shunday? You shee, Mr Bodking, I’m a practical short of chap, and I musht have a practical ansher.” “It strikes me, my man,” quoth I, “that ye’ve mair o’ the spiritual than the practical aboot ye i’ the meantime at ony rate. Hoosomdever,” quoth I, turnin’ to the chairman, wha seemed to hae mair common sense, an’ to be better able to exercise his tongue, “I cam’ here to confer wi’ sane men, an’ no to patter nonsense wi’ folk that are either daft or drunk.” “Daft or drunk, Mr Bodking,” quoth the free an’ independent “electure,” risin’ indignantly, an’ squarin’ his neives in my face; “Ish it me you mean?” “Order,” vociferated the Chairman, risin’ to his feet, an’ pushin’ the puir inebriate doon in his seat. “Order! I say; Mr Bodkin is an honourable gentleman, and must be treated with becoming reverence. I believe, Mr Bodkin, you have been informed by the deputation from our body, which waited on you the other evening, that we have made choice of you for a seat at the Council Board, with a view to your elevation to the chief magistracy of this burgh? At that time we anticipated no opposition to your election. Now, however, matters have taken quite an unexpected turn, and another gentleman—Mr John Davidson—is in the field, with all the influence of petticoat-dom on his side. There is time yet to gain the battle, but there is no time to lose. Now, what is your decision?” “I wad juist answer yer question, Mr Chairman,” quoth I, “after the guid Scotch fashion, by speerin’ anither:—Wha authorised you to look oot for a Provost?” “We did so on our own sole authority,” quoth he, “for, as my friend on my left observed, are we not all free and independent electors?” “An’ wha wad back up your proposition,” think ?” [sic] quoth I. “Let us alone for that,” quoth he, wi’ a knowin’ wink, “there isn’t a publican in the ward who would dare to refuse us his vote ,except old Boggles, of the Blue Horse, who had the audacity to dispute the payment of a gill the other day with my friend on my left here, and he has started Mr Davidson in opposition to you, Mr Bodkin, out of pure revenge for the imaginary loss of paltry sixpence. That shows his patriotism, at any rate, to be of very little value when he would send the affairs of the burgh to wreck and ruin for the sake of a gill of whisky! But it matters not, Mr Bodkin, we will rally round your banner the public-house interest, and your influence will secure the tailoring interest, and the two interests combined will be more than a match for old Boggles and his ‘monstrous regiment of women.’ So, hooray for Bodkin and the Provostship! Hooray! hooray!”

By this time I began to perceive that I had landit amang a parcel o’ drucken blackguards. The “free an’ independent electure,” as he ca’d himsel’, had by this tme fa’en asleep, an’ there were ithers o’ the company beginnin’ to nod their acknowledgents to the drowsy god; so I put on my hat an’ walked furth without deignin’ to bid them gude nicht. Dog on it! that a club o’ weirdless, drucken scoondrels o’ bakers an’ blacksmiths, an’ wabsters, sid hae ta’en t upon them to lead me into sic a ploy! The like o’t was never heard tell o’ atween Dan an’ Beersheba. Yea, an’ Boniface had the assurance next day to send me an accoont, amountin’ to 19s 11 ¾ d, for the drink that had been consumed at the meetin’s in connection wi’ my election, although the fent ae drap o’ the liquor ever crossed my craig! Hoosomdever, I sent him back word that he sid seek his payment frae the pairties wha drank the liquor, for that I had neither ordered it nor wad I be accoontable for the payment thereof. By the time I got back to number ninety-nine, Maister an’ Mrs Davidson had taen their departure—a message havin’ arrived to the effect that Maister Davidson’s presence was required at Mr Boggles o’ the Blue Horse, for what purpose may easily be jealoused, Tibbie is as mad as a March hare at the villains for their impudence, an’ I wad advise Messrs Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, an’ Sparrible to keep oot o’ her clutches, for if Tibbie does get her tongue upon them, they’ll get their kail through the reek better than they got frae

Tammas Bodkin.

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