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,—The ither afternoon I happened to be oot on business that behooved to be done by a wiser head an’ a mair experienced hand than Willie’s, though, to gie the loonie his due, he can be trustit noo wi’ maist jobs i’ the tailorin’ line, an’ at rinnin’ a bit errand, especially, he has few marrows an’ nae superiors o’ his ain eild within the four corners o’ Dundee. Hoosomdever, I mak’ a point o’ doin’ a’ the very particular jobs wi’ my ain twa hands, an’ gaen a’ the mair important messages wi’ my ain twa feet, in order that, if onything sid gang wrang wi’ them—a circumstance no that likely to happen, hooever, when I hae the orderin’ thereof mysel’—the blame may be mine, an’ mine only.
Weel, ye see, I was abroad on the day in question on an errand that I wadna hae trustit Tibbie wi’, far less Willie Clippins; an’, to be short, an’ at the same time, explicit, I may juist say that my object was to kity gentleman—a customer o’ mine—wha had come to the praiseworthy resolution o’ takin’ to himsel’ a wife. A marriage coat I always exercise my utmost skill on, baith for my ain credit an’ for that o’ the bridegroom. A marriage coat maun please at least twa pairties. It maun please the gudeman himsel’, an’ it maun suit the fancy o’ the gudewife. Noo, a young wife, wi’ nae encumbrance on her hand, has little else to do but juist to sit an’ criticise the abuliement o’ her husband, an’ spy oot ferlies in the handiwark o’ his tailor, an’, if sae be she find faut wi’ ought that can be fairly laid to his door, ten to ane but the gudeman will be ordered to employ anither craftsman the next time he needs a coat—an order, of course, that maun be implicitly obeyed. Havin’ surmountit the perils o’ the bridal coat, hooever, I’ve less misgivin’s aboot the next ane that is required, because, besides havin’ already secured the confidence an’ favour o’ the gudewife, she will by that time hae got a wee cherub in her lap, whase “guips, an’ cranks, an’ wanton wiles” will engross nae that little o’ the critical observation that erstwhile was bestowage coat. The short an’ the lang o’t is, I never but gang hame wi’ a marriage coat mysel’, in order that I may see wi’ my ain een whether or no the fit be perfection, an’ never do I leave it until perfection has been attained.
In takin’ hame the particular coat specified, I behooved to gang through the Coogate. So, as I was stoitin’ alang, wi’ the broon paper parcel in my oxter, an’ croonin’ twa verses o’ a sang laigh in to mysel’, to shorten the gaid a bit, on passin’ the mooth o’ an entry, whereat stood a rather weel-dressed young gentleman, tovin’ awa at a cigar, an’ wha had evidently been makin’ desperate though unsuccessful efforts to raise a luxuriant crap o’ hair aboot his mou’, I feels something gie a smart pouk at my coat-tail. Gien’ a gline ower my richt shoother, my e’e lichtit on the dandified object aforesaid, wha tipped me a mysterious wink, an’ made sundry signs for me to follow him doon the entry. I aye like to be accommodatin’ to everybody, an’ so I turns on my heel, an’ abandons mysel’ to his leadin’ strings. On the cheek o’ the entry I observed the name “B. Bobbins,” paintit in moderate-sized Roman capitals, so I cam’ to the immediate conclusion that I was aboot to hae an interview wi’ Mr B. B., on what business it fairly dang me to imagine. At the ben end o’ the passage there was a door leadin’ into a sma’ apartment, that served Mr B. B. as a sort o’ coontin’-room, though my private opinion is that the said B. B. has unco little to coont in it, except it be his ain ten fingers.
Into this apartment I was ushered, Mr B. B. closin’ the door ahent us afore he said a single word, good, bad, or indifferent. Dog on it! there was an eerie feelin’ beginnin’ to creep ower my stammack, for I mindit o’ the Strand tragedy in London an’ jaloused that I micht, peradventure, hae fa’en into the hands o’ anither Mr Roberts. Hoosomdever, I wasna keepit lang in a state o’ suspense for Mr Bobbins kindly desired me to be seatit, an’, quoth he, “Mr Bodkin, I’m extremely sorry, Sir—indeed, I cannot tell how sorry I am, Sir—that you did not think of standing for the Provostship. I can assure you, Sir, I would have supported you to the utmost of my power, Sir; and I know hundreds who would have done the same, Sir—hundreds, Sir!”
“Yea, yea,” quoth I, “I’m ‘muckle obliged to ye for yer gude opinion o’ me, Maister—Maister”—
“Benjamin Bobbins, Sir,” quoth he, helpin’ me oot wi’ the sentence.
“For yer gude opinion o’ me, Maister Bobbins,” quoth I, “an’ ye can tell thae hunders o’ my supporters that ye speak o’, that naething wad gie me greater pleasure than to do them a gude turn, if I could do sae withoot bringin’ ruin on my ain hoosehold; but that I’ve mair respect for the auld proverb that says, ‘Charity sid begin at hame,’ than to hamshakel mysel’ wi’ sic a dubious oondertakin’, for the sake o’ what is but a dirtin’ honour at the best.”
“Very true, very true, Mr Bodkn,” quoth Mr Bobbins, “I’m very much of your opinion, Sir; in fact, those are my sentiments to a very tee, Mr Bodkin; and is’nt [sic] that a most singular coincidence, Sir? But— Mr— Bodkin,” quoth he, in a rather embarrassed manner, “that’s not exactly what I wished to speak with you about, Sir. In point of fact, Sir, I—I was anxious to have a little conversation with you on business matters.”
“Aweel,” quoth I, “ye can never tak’ me wrang for that, Mr Bobbins, for I never cross the door-stane withoot takin’ my tape-measure in my pouch; so I’m yer man for a coat or a pair o’ slacks o’ the newest pattern, o’ the very best material, an’ at the lowest possible figure. An’ that ye mayna be in the predicament o’ buyin’ a pig in a poke, here is a specimen o’ my handiwark,” quoth I, turnin’ the marriage coat oot o’ the parcel, an’ haudin’ it up afore him by the cuff o’ the neck. “Made o’ the very best superfine Wast o’ England wool-dyed claith—warranted fast colours—an’ free o’ every particle o’ shoddy—will stand ony kind o’ tear an’ wear ye like to put it till, except fire an’ brimstane, an’ ye’ll tak’ special gude care no to submit it to sic a fiery ordeal for yer ain sake, Mr Bobbins, an’ the price is just three guineas, no ae farthin’ oot or in, an’ cheap it is at that figure, Mr Bobbins, takin’ a’ thing into consideration; only look at the pile o’ that claith, Sir,” quoth I, rubbin’ it wi’ my coat sleeve, an’ haudin’ it up atween him an’ the licht, “saw ye ever ony thing that wad surpass that, Sir?”
“Yes, it is exceedingly pretty, Mr Bodkin—marvellously handsome indeed, Sir—worth double the money, Mr Bodkin—double the money, Sir. But, Mr Bodkin, you have misunderstood me, Sir; I am not exactly in want of a coat just now, Sir, but will be soon, and you shall have the making of it, Sir. By-the-bye, Mr Bodkin—and this is what I would be at, Sir—what would you think of embarking in the Cowgate business? Eh? Wouldn’t that be a capital spec?”
“Aweel,” quoth I, “Mr Bobbins, I maun confess that idea never entered my harran-pan afore, an’ I‘ve haen nae that few projects i’ my head, ae way an’ anither. I’ve thocht, for instance, o’ gaen oot to Australia an’ tryin’ my luck at the diggins, an’ I’ve weighed a’ the pros an’ cons o’ bein’ a hangman, a playactor, a chimney-sweep, an’ the driver o’ a dirt-cart, but I never did think o’ embarkin’ in the business o’ a linen-merchant.”
“I wonder much at that, Mr Bodkin,” quoth Mr Bobbins—“very much indeed, Sir. Why, there is no business that I know of in which a man with small capital—or indeed with no capital at all for that part of it—can more easily make a fortune—an immense fortune, Sir—than in the linen trade. Credit—unlimited credit—an unfailing stock of brass—and a stout heart—these are all the pre-requisites to making a fortune in our line of business, Mr Bodkin. Brass, brass—an inexhaustible supply of brass, Sir—have that at your command, and you will have command of everything else—ride in your carriage in no time! But, of course, if you’ve plenty of cash, you know, the less brass will be required.”
“I suppose by brass ye mean impudence, Mr Bobbins?” quoth I, enquiringly.
“Just so, Mr Bodkin,” quoth he; “nothing wrong in that, you know—why, a poor devil can’t get through the world without it.”
“But suppose I hadna the necessary amount o’ impudence to set up business wi’,” quoth I, “hoo muckle siller wad I need as a substitute?”
“Let me see,” quoth he, harrowin’ his hair wi’ his fingers, an’ lookin’ as if he were in the broon studies, “how much money could you command?”
“Weel,” quoth I, “if I were to sell aff my stock o’ superfine claith, broad an’ narrow, my doeskins, tweeds, corduroys, moleskins, fancy vestin’s, linin’s, buttons, an’ ither bits o’ odds an’ ends, the outcome micht reach the matter o’ twa hunder pounds.”
“Two—hundred—pounds, Mr Bodkin! Why, you are a happy fellow; when I began business—let me see—I hadn’t fifty-pence I could call my own. In truth, had everybody had their own, I wasn’t worth fifty farthings; indeed, I rather suspect I was a hundred or two in debt; and now, look you, Mr Bodkin, I can drive my own carriage. Indeed, a splendid house and a tip-top carriage and pair were the first things I got—and all on credit, Sir. Must keep up an appearance, Sir, or blow out at once. Believe me, Sir, a dashing equipage is worth a capital of ten thousand pounds to a fellow. So, if you think of embarking in the Cowgate business, Mr Bodkin, I would advise you, in a friendly way, dy’e see, to lose to time in setting up a respectable establishment—a most respectable establishment, mind—give sumptuous dinner-parties—cultivate as much hair on your face as you possibly can—sport a cigar on the street—and go abroad in your carriage.”
“Od, ye are a soople chield, Mr Bobbins,” quoth I, “but unfortunately my mither taught me the aucht command, an’ what s required an’ what is forbidden therein; an’ the mischief is, Mr Bobbins, that, though the snaws o’ mair than fifty winters ha’e bleached my grizzly pow, sin’ I learned the rudiments o’ honesty at my mither’s knee, I’ve never, frae that day to this, forgotten her coonsels an’ admonitions; an’ I doot I’m ower auld to forget them noo. An’ besides a’ that, Mr Bobbins, what ken I aboot the technicalities o’ your business? I couldna for the life o’ me tell the difference between an Osnaburg and a Hessian.”
“That’s nothing at all, Mr Bodkin,” quoth he, “nothing at all, Sir. Wouldn’t this be a capital idea though, Mr Bodkin? In fact it would just suit both of us to a hair. Suppose I assume you as a partner in my business—you putting your capital and worldly wisdom into the concern, and I contributing my superior business tact and technical skill. Wouldn’t the name of the firm sound beautifully, Mr Bodkin? Why, the two big B.’s would carry everything before them. Just think of it:—Messrs Bodkin & Bobbins, Linen Merchants, Cowgate, Dundee!”
“But I hae my doots, Mr Bobbins.”
“Oh, no doubts about it, Mr Bodkin.” Quoth he, “and then, after a while, I could go to London and open a branch house there, leaving you master of the situation here. You see, Sir, it is always immensely advantageous to have houses in connection in all the great centres of trade, as it inspires confidence, by making an imposing appearance; and, besides, it enables one to keep an indefinite number of bills on the circle, for, don’t you see, we could just work to each other’s hand. Ha! Mr Bodkin, I fear you’re not up to the science of flying paper kites yet—eh?”
“It’s mony a year an’ day sin’ I had ought to do wi’ kites o’ ony kind, Mr Bobbins,” quoth I, “but ance on a day I could hae flown a dragon wi’ the best that ever tried it.”
“Ah, I thought so, Mr Bodkin, but once you are fairly initiated into our business, we’ll put you up to a thing or two. Well, come now, Mr Bodkin, what do you think of my proposal? Is’nt [sic] it a very fair one?”
“Weel, Mr Bobbins,” quoth I, “a’ yer story, frae the beginning to the end thereof, I’ve hear, an’ taen a note o’, an’ I think juist naething o’t ava. It seems to me if that is the way you Coogate men gang to wark, ye’re naething but a wheen blackguards.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, Mr Bodkin—to bad, Sir,” quoth he; “in business matters people must be allowed a little latitude—can’t be too strait-laced, you know. The eighth commandment, and so forth, may be all quite right in its own place, but it has no recognised authority in the Cowgate.”
“An’ I beg to tell ye mair an’ farther, Mr Bobbins,” quoth I, “for I mean to toom my stamack noo that I’ve begun, they wha keep up an appearance o’ wealth, wi’ their fine hooses, dinner pairties, chariots, an’ horsemen, an’ a’ that kind o’ graith, withoot possessin’ the reality thereof, are juist, in fact, obtainin’ credit an’ money under false pretences, an’ therefore, in place o’ bein’ allooed to carry there heads sae heigh as they do, they sid be sent furth in sackcloth, an’ wi’ close crappit croons, to pick oakum, alang wi’ ither rogues an’ vagabonds. An’ what does a’ their bravity lead to? In twa or three years they come doon wi’ a smash, spreadin’ ruin an’ dismay aroond them. Evil speed their impudence! for I’m sure the only heavy loss I’ve met in wi’ was in consequence o’ gien credit to ane o’ thae paper men that ye’ve sae muckle hauf o’; doon he cam’ ae fine mornin’, an’ left me a twenty pound note oot o’ pooch wi’ ‘im, the scurvy scoondrel that he was. He paid three bawbees i’ the pound, got a settlement, an’ in twa years’ time, he was a greater man than eer; aye, an’ he looks upon me noo, when he passes me by, as if I were nae better than dirt amang his feet! So if that’s a swatch o’ yer Coogate men, Mr Bobbins, I’ve gotten my sairin’ o’ them. Far rather wad I be a puir but honest teelyour, earnin’ an honest penny wi’ my ain twa hands, an’ feastin’ on the humblest fare, than I wad be a linen lord i’ the Coogate, eatin’, an drinkin’, an’ spendin’ what doesna belang to me. A’ my ambition, Mr Bobbins, is to be an honest man, an’, if that doesna constitute me a gentleman, I canna help it. So ye’ve heard my sentiments on the subject. Noo, hae ye ony mair to say? Because it behooves me to be stappin’.”
“Well, if those are your views, Mr Bodkin, I can only say I am sorry for you—very sorry indeed; but you won’t hinder me to think differently, I hope.”
“By nae manner o’ means” quoth I, “a man’s mind is his kingdom, an’ he can rule it as he likes; but remember this, Mr Bobbins, that even kings canna sin wi’ impunity.”
“O! don’t preach to me, Mr Bodkin; I’m a very good Christian, Sir, I do assure you; but I say, Mr Bodkin, you are an obliging fellow?”
“Weel, I sid think sae,” quoth I.
“I thought so too,” quoth he, putttin’ on ane o’ his blandest smiles, an’ layin’ doon before me an oblong bit o’ stamped paper wi’ “£500” inscribed on the corner thereof; “if you won’t enter into a partnership wi’ me, you surely won’t refuse to assist me out of a temporary difficulty. In fact, you would place me under lasting obligations to you by just adhibiting your name to this little bill—a single scart of the pen will do the business, and you will never hear of it again. It is drawn at four months, Sir, you perceive, and by that time I’ll have—let me see—two—six—nine—that’s seventeen—£1700—from my agent at Mumbo-jumbo—a place you don’t know, perhaps, but no matter, it’s in Chili, about thirty-five miles inland from Coquimbo—thirty-five miles as the crow flies, I am told, though I doubt if there are crows in that country, Mr Bodkin, ha! ha! ha! but that’s by the way, you know. Do you write with a steel-pen or with a quill, Sir? Try this quill; most old gentlemen prefer quills, I know; and, after all, they are the most serviceable article. For myself, I can use either the one or the other as occasion serves. Just put your name down here, Sir, and by doing so you will, as I have said, place me under lasting obligations to you.”
“Sall, Mr Bobbins,” quoth I, “ye’re telln’ the truth enoo; ye may say everlasting’ obligations wi’ every probability o’ bein’ quite correct, for thae obligations ye wad dootless never discharge on this side o’ time; an’ ae scart o’ the pen ye sanna get frae me, though it sid be for the salvation o’ yer neck frae the gallows, for, indeed, to be plain wi’ ye, I dinna think ye are worth £500, sowl an’ body, an’ a’thegither o’ ye.”
“Far from Christian sentiments, those, Mr Bodkin,” quoth he; “but at least you won’t refuse to furnish me with a suit of clothes you came under obligations to do that, at any rate.”
“Ay, but that was when I believed in yer honesty,” quot I; “for I’ve aye been simpleton eneuch to tak’ every body for an honest man until he was proved himsel’ a rogue, as ye’ve done, Mr Bobbins.”
So wi’ that I brocht oor corrieneuchin’ to an abrupt termination, taen up my parcel, put on my hat, an’ gaed my wa’s, leavin’ Mr Benjamin Bobbins to chew the cud o’ disappointment, an’ an unco bitter moothfu’ it wad seem to have been, for, as I was steekin’ the door, I overheard him mutterin’ to himself’ through his clenched teeth, “A d—d dirty impudent fellow is that