‘Bodkin Has a Fearful Night of it’ (9 November, 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’m no gi’en to quarrel wi’ the weather, nor wi’ ony o’ the ither arrangements o’ Providence, but I canna help remarkin’ that the cauld in the end o’ last week has gi’en me something like the influenza, or, as Tibbie calls it, the “Fleen’ Nancy.” Were I as weel proteckit frae the bitin’ breath o’ auld John Frost by a hap-warm o’ creesh as s my friend Saunders Mucklepaunch the butcher, for instance, I could afford to set what philosophers ca’ the climatic influences at defiance; but, like the maist o’ my professional britherhood, I’m furnished wi’ a tabernacle that is but spairly fortified against the cranreuch an’ the nirlin’ winds o’ the winter solstice. Had it no been for the care bestowed on me by my adorable Tibbie, lang, lang ere noo wad I ha’e been ower that bourne whence nae traveller ever returns; but thanks to her thrift, an’ providence, an’ incomparable housewifery, here am I to this oor an’ day yet, aye able to stap aboot, an’ crack a joke—aye able to wield my needle—aye able to tak’ my bite an’ soup—an’, to mak’ a lang story short, aye i’ the land o’ the livin’, instead o’ bein’—as I micht ha’e been, but for Tibbie’s carefu’ nursin’—i’ the land o’ the leal. That’s the view that Tibbie taks o’ the subject at ony rate; an’ as she doesna like to be contradickit, an’ as I’ve nae objections to her believin’ that I hold my life frae her as my feudal superior an’ lord-paramount, I mak’ her quite welcome to nurse the idea in her bosom, the mar sae as it presents a powerfu’ incentive to her to exert hersel’ to the utmost for my comfort. An’, to gi’e Tibbie her due, she is a burnin’ an’ a shinin’ licht in my hoosehold. The provision she maks for my corporeal delectation is something quite marvellous. Within the last week or twa she has made nae fewer than half-a-dizzen o’ double-milled flannel sarks, four worsted slips, wrocht by her ain twa hands, an’ seven or aucht pairs o’ stockin’s o’ the very best lambs’ wool that she could get in a’ Reform Street—forbye twa pairs o’ pin mittens—ane o’ them for every day, an’ the ither for Sunday’s wear—an’ a’ to enable me

“To thole the winter’s sleety dribble

An’ cranreuch cauld.”

But, as Burns observes in the very neist verse—

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft agley,”

An’ sae it faired wi’ Tibbie’s schemes for the comfort o’ my corpus. The sudden cheenge o’ the temperature i’ the end o’ last week completely nirled my neb, an’ sent the cauld shivers shootin’ like arrows through my very banes an’ marrow. A’ Saturday an’ Sabbath I was juist at deid’s door, scarcely able to wingle a’e leg bye the ither. My head-piece was completely stappit up, an’ as douf an’ fushionless-like as an auld foggie turnip; an’ an attempt to blaw my nose garred a’ the internal organization thereof crack an’ fizz like a ginger-beer bottle castin’ the cork. My throat was like an open sepulchre in a literal sense, as it was a’ red flesh, an’ was as dry as a whistle. I couldna lat ower my spittle withoot doin’ violence to my feelin’s. My respiratory machinery, too, was as stiff as a rusty lock, an’ the words cam’ up frae the bottom o’ my chest wi’ a hoarse an’ raspin-like soond, as if they had been generated n the interior o’ a bass fiddle, or the drone o’ a bagpipe. Tibbie declared it was ugesome to hear me, an’ frichtsome to see me. Tibbie is a great physician in her ain hame-ower way—she kens a’ aboot the virtues o’ marshmallows, horehund, and docken blades, an’, as I tell her sometimes, if she wad juist set up business as a quack doctor, an’ advertise like Holloway, she wad be able by-and-bye to retire on a fortune. She has great faith in Colosynth’s pills, as an antidote to a disordered stamack; an’ for a cauld, she kens o’ naething better than to bathe the feet in het water, sup a pint o’ boilin’ brochan, sweetened wi’ treacle, an’ swallow a Dover’s poother to induce a copious perspiration. An auld wife’s cure that maybe, but auld wives’ cures are no aye the warst.

Weel, ye see, on Saturday nicht, Tibbie gets a’ her prescriptions prepared, an’ I placed mysel’ entirely oonder her jurisdiction. I believe I wad hae swallowed a dose o’ arsenic at her biddin’, wi’ the same feelin’ o’ resignation that I swallowed the pills an’ the Dover’s poother. Twa pills was to be the dose, an’ so she put them into a jug wi’ a narrow mooth, wherein there was a wee sup water to synd them doon wi’. I coupit up the jug, an’ swallowed the contents wi’ a sair struggle—my stamack, meanwhile, giein’ sundry intimations that the pills were very unwelcome visitors. In ither words, I was like to send them up again ootricht. Hoosomdever, by desperate effort, I succeedit in forcin’ Messrs Colosynth to preserve the status quo. Tibbie, havin’ put me through a’ my ither facin’s, concluded her doctorin’ by rowin’ up my head in a wab o’ flannel, an’ clappin’ on it my identical white night-cap as a sort o’ cope-stane to keep the ither theekin’ frae hirslin’ aff in my sleep. Whereupon I creepit awa’ to my roost, an’ happit mysel’ ower head an’ ears amang the gude warm blankets. In ten minutes I was asleep an’ on waukenin’ aboot eleven o’clock, when Tibbie cam’ to her bed, I was as weet, though scarcely as dirty, as if I had been hauled through the “fulzie” in Camperdown Dock. But O thae vile pills! They lay at the root o’ my tongue like twa mill-stanes. Every time I waukened through that lang and wearisome nicht, an’ I’m sure I did sae a score o’ times, there they lay like twa imps o’ darknes [sic] playin’ their “fantastic tricks” in my puir inside. If Tibbie hadna assured me to the contrary, I wad hae oondoubtedly believed as gospel the idea that mair than ance taen possession o’ my brain that she had by mistak’ gi’en me a couple o’ buck shot instead o’ the orthodox Colosynth’s.

It was somewhere aboot three o’clock i’ the mornin’, as Tibbie discovered afterwards on risin’ an’ feelin’ the hands o’ the clock, that I fell into an awfu’ quandary in my sleep, something sae horrible an’ awfu’ that I’ll think o’t wi’ fear an’ tremblin’ even until my deein’ day. I felt as if there was a mountain restin’ on the region o’ my stamack, weighin’ me doon—doon—doon—to the very centre o’ the earth. Desperately did I struggle to fling aff the fearfu’ incubus, but alas! a’ my struggles were in vain. I was powerless as Prometheus when he lay bound hand an’ fit on the tap o’ Mount Caucasus, wi’ the eagle preyin’ upon his vitals. I thocht I was in the ither warld, but in what department thereof I couldna exactly determine. Fearfu’ sichts did I behold, that made my very hair stand on end—or at least attempt to stand on end—for Tibbie had taen due precautions against a contingency o’ that kind by rowin’ up my head in a panoply o’ flannel. On my breast-bane sat a fiend o’ monstrous shape an’ hue, whase peepers were like the bull’s eyes on the paunches o’ a couple o’ policemen; whase mooth, half-a-yard wife, displayed twa raws o’ teeth that blinkit fire when they snashed forgainst ane anither; an’ whase body was covered wi’ spines, like the quills o’ the fretfu’ porcupine. In the ae hand it wielded a pick, an’ in the ither a shovel, wherewith it commenced to drive a shaft doon into my very heart.

“Avast there, will ye,” quoth I, “D’ye mean to murder me?”

“Ye blethern’ scamp,” quoth he, “Ye’ve been fillin’ the Journal, for months an’ months on end, wi’ stuff that canna be ony langer tholed, an’ dearly sall ye pay for yer folly, for I’ve been commissioned by the avengin’ sprites to punish ye for yer iniquity. This very nicht I thocht to possess my soul in patience, but behold when I opened the paper, there was that everlastin’ nonsense o’ yours. Noo, what hae ye got to say for yersel, why sentence o’ death sidna gang furth against ye?”

Afore I had power to reply, the fiendish-lookin’ monster drove his pick into the left ventricle o’ my heart, whereby, as I thocht, I was instantly deprived o’ life. In this state I lay for some time as motionless as a stane, yet I couldna hae been dead a’thegither, for I aye felt the load that weighed me to the earth, an’ when I again opened my e’en they forgathered wi’ anither apparition nae less frichtsome. His hair was composed o’ rosety ends, coiled thegither like the serpentite locks o’ the Furies; his e’en were twa huge balls o’ cobbler’s wax, wi’ a burnin’ spunk stuck n the centre o’ each; his jaws were a pair o’ cuddie-heels, wi’ enormous hob-nails for teeth; his body was covered wi’ an immense envelopment o’ leather; while frae his left airm there depended a targe o’ the teuchest bull’s hide, thickly studded wi’ tackets, whereon was emblazoned the motto, “Crispianus.” In his left hand he wielded a knife, wherewith he aimed a deadly blow at my throat. I tried to cry oot “murder!” as lood as I could yell, thinkin’ that Tibbie micht, peradventure, come to my assistance; but he preventit me by whiskin’ a rosety plaister on my mooth, an’, quoth he, wi’ a sarcastic nicker, that gratit on my very heart-strings—

“Aha! Bodkin, ye’re in the gled’s hands noo. Will ye promise, afore I put the spunk oot o’ ye, that ye’ll stick to your guse, an’ wreat nae mair nonsense frae this time furth for ever?”

Of coorse, as my mooth was hermetically sealed, it was physically impossible for me to mak’ a reply. So Maister Crispianus gied me a filthy dig oonder the fifth rib wi’ his sheenin’ blade, that taen, my breath completely awa.

Hoo lang I lay in the deid-thraws, totally unconscious o’ a’ that was transpirin’ aroond me, an’ sensible only o’ the burden that was pressin’ on my abdominal region, is no for me to say; but when I began to recover my senses I was overpowered wi’ joy to find that the plaister had been removed frae my mooth, an’ the leathern imp naewhere to be seen. On castin’ a furtive glance at the bed-skelf, hooever, there sat the identical spectreo’ Miss Phemy Fairntickle, leerin’ doon into my face wi’ an’ exultant smile, the very marrows o’ that wherewith she regairded Tibbie an’ me that mornin’ when we were on the road to the harvest-field at Cock-my-lane. Her hair was as tawtit ian’ as red as ever—rather mair sae, as t appeared to me at that moment—an’ the idea struck me, whereat I couldna help laughin’ ootricht, in spite o’ the incubus tat oppressed me, that Phemy’s bust, wi’ the words, “Nec tamen consumebatur” surroundin’ it, wad mak’ an excellent coat o’ airms for the Kirk o’ Scotland. Her face was tattooed a’ ower wi’ freckles, an’ when she opened her mooth or winkit her e’en, they emitted a sort o’ phosphorescent glow—

“Like red risin’ rays frae the moon.”

She held a scythe heuk in her richt hand, the edge whereof she felt wi’ her thoomb to prove its sharpness. Havin’ satisfied hersel’ on that point, she opened on me wi’ a certain lecture, preparatory to nickin’ my threed an’ stappin’ my breath wi’ that fearfu’ instrument o’ death which she ever and anon brandished roond her head by way of impartin’ due emphasis to her words. “They gang far aboot that never meet, Tammas, lad,” quoth the fiery furty. “Ye made a bonny fule o’ me through a’ the country side atween Torryburn an’ the Bullers o’ Buchan, an’ said that I kissed ye i’ the corn-yard, thinkin’ ye were somebody else, when it was a great lee ye said; but ye’re weel kent to be naithing but a leein’ vaig; an’ noo ye maun answer for a’ the injuries ye’ve dune to me an’ to mony ane mair forbye me wi’ that worthless head o’ yours.”

I fought sair to get oot a word in my ain defence, but my tongue clave to the roof o’ my mooth, an’ ne’er a word could I utter. “Winna ye ask my pardon?” quoth Miss Fairntickle, “afore I sever yer worthless head frae yer equally worthless body? No ae word! Then tak that!” So wi’ ae fell swoop o’ her heuk, she sneckit aff my head. I felt for an instant the cauld steel rispin’ through the cartilages o’ my neck, an’ then a’ was blank! I was a corpse! Still there was that mountain on my breast weighin’ me doon, doon, doon to the depths profound.

Again I waukened as if frae a trande, an’ on stairin’ wildly aroond me, wha did I see but the physog o’ Maister Benjamin Bobbins bendin’ ower my couch, an’ playin’ wi’ a hasp o’ yarn, wherein there was a noose ready to receive my neck. Maister B. B., I perceived, was in a towerin’ fury, an’ quoth he, “Bodkin, how dared you, Sir, make public the matters discussed between us the other day in the secresy [sic] of my countin’ room? Was it not enough to refuse to accept the offer I made you, purely out of a benevolent intention on my part? was it not enough to deny me your worthless name to that paltry bill of five hundred? was it not a most outrageous thing in you, Sir, to refuse to make a suit of clothes to me, Sir—a man who can ride in my own carriage, and by the stroke of whose magic pen, potential as the whistle of Roderick Rhu, thousands of pounds sterling are daily coined at the mint of Mumbo-jumbo, and wafted thither on the wings of the morning to replenish my coffers, Sir? and, as if all those unheard-of enormities had not been sufficient for your vile purpose, you must needs set about holding me up to the ridicule of mankind—to the serious damage of my character—and to the irreparable curtailment of my credit! The hour of vengeance is come! Thy days are numbered. Pen nor needle nevermore shalt thou wield!” Whereupon Maister B. B. cuist the kinch in the hasp o’ yarn roond my thrapple, an’ hanged me like a kittlin’. Sair did I fecht for anither moothfu’ o’ caller air, but a’ my struggles were utterly in vain, for Maister B. B. put ane o’ his feet upon my chin, an’ anither upon my breast bane, an’ pulled the string wi’ a’ his pith, whereby my sowl was ance mair “birsed beyond my skin.”

On recoverin my senses, I beheld the heads o’ Messrs Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, an’ Sparrible peepin’ in at the bed-lid. They had come to inform me that I had been elected a Toon Cooncillor, an’, quoth Maister Tammas Butterbaps, “ye’ve been returned by an overwhelmin’ majority, Mr Bodkin, an’ ye canna refuse to come. There’s a’ the law pleas to be settled, an’ if ye dinna tak’ speech in hand wi’ them, they’ll never be settled on this side o’ time. Thae Edinbro’ lawyers, if they’re no croosely dealt wi’, will not only shave the Bairds, but fleece the haill ratepayers o’ Dundee. Sae ye maun come yer wa’l, Tammas, to the Cooncil Room, for yer colleagues are a’ waitin’ for ye, an’ the Provost’s chair stands ready to receive ye.”

I had borne a’ the dirdum o’ the precedin’ spectres wi’ far mair complacency than I could thole the idea o’ bein’ pitched into the Toon Cooncil, an’ especially into the Provostship, against my will. So, by makin’ a superhuman effort, I recovered the command o’ my tongue, an’ quoth I, “Gentlemen, I’ve submitted this nicht to hae a hole dug into my very heart, to be smitten under the fifth rib wi’ a sooter’s knife, to hae my head taen aff by Phemy Fairntickle, an’ to be hanged by Maister Benjamin Bobbins wi’ a hasp o’ yarn—a’ these things I’ve borne wi’ heroic fortitude, an’ wi’ scarcely a murmur; but to be made a Toon Cooncillor o’ Dundee, an’ especially to be the Chief Magistrate thereof under present circumstances, is what I canna submit to, an’ winna submit to; so that’s an end till’t.”

“Oh! but,” quoth Mr Butterbaps, “oor orders are to bring you at all hazards. Seize hauds o’ his shoothers there, Mr M’Swiggan, an’ you, Mr Sparrible, grip him by the legs, an’ we’ll soon mak’ him Provost o’ Dundee!” I was as determined as they were though; an’ so, notwithstandin’ that I had to contend wi’ the mountain that lay on my breast, I kickit wi’ my feet, an’ layed roond me wi’ my arms like a pair o’ flails, an’ at last I roared oot wi’ a my micht, “Tak’ the taings to them, Tibbie woman, or I’ll be the Provost o’ Dundee, as sure as death!”

In an instant I was sensible o’ Tibbie takin’ me by the shoothers, an’ gien me a gentle shake, an’ I heard her weel-kenned an’ welcome voice sayin’ “Tammas! Tammas! are ye dreamin’, Tammas? or what n a’ the world is the matter wi’ ye?” So I opened my een, glowered up, saw Tibbie blinkin’ into my face, wi’ only ae ee open, the ither ane bein’ still fast asleep, heard the gowkoo clock tick, tickin’, awa as usual, an’ was happy to undertand belyve that I was still in the land o’ the livin’, an’ no an inhabitant o’ the shades below, as I was at first inclined to suppose. I described a’ I had seen an’ felt to Tibbie, an’ she cam’ to the conclusion that, what wi’ the pills, an’ what wi’ the Dover’s poother, what wi’ the het brochan, and what wi’ the “Fleein’ Nancy,” I had haen an attack o’ the nichtmare, an’ naething mair. “Weel,” quoth I, “Tibbie, there’s ae thing, an’ that’s nae twa, I sanna grien to trot on sic a mare again, either by nicht or by day; but wow, woman! thae pills o’ yours are still lyin’ at the root o’ my tongue, like twa chuckie stanes. Feint anither wink o’ sleep I’se get wi’ them a’ this blessed nicht. My throat, too, is as dry as a whistle.”

Tibbie volunteered to rise an’ gie me a drink o’ water. So she lichted the gas, seized the porrenger that I had taen my pills oot o’, poured a sup water into it, when she gets oot wi’ an unco squile, “O Tammas! Tammas! hoo could ye feel the pills lyin’ at the root o’ yer tongue, min, when they’re baith i’ the bottom o’ the jug yet!”

“Weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “imagination is a powerfu’ thing after a’, for I could hae maist sworn that I felt the pills disorderin’ my stammack; but hoosomdever, I’m glad ye’ve made the discovery, for I’ll sleep a’ the soonder noo when I ken to a certainty that they are inside the porrenger rather than inside

Tammas Bodkin.”

Bodkin’s Pipe Put Out.

A “Labourer,” residing at Tayport, has lashed himself into an awful fury against honest “Tammas Bodkin.” “Crispin” was angry, “Cyprus” was not well pleased, and “Euphemia Fairntickle’s” wrath was something to strike us with terror and dismay, but never did Bodkin receive such a labouring in “a’ his born days” as he has received from this Tayport “Labourer.” “Last Saturday evening,” he observes, “after I got my supper and my face washed, I gave my wife my week’s wages (as usual) to spend as she thought best, and sat down by the fire with the People’s Journal in the one hand, and the cradle-string in the other. So I read Mrs Young, and then began to Bodkin, but I did not read above a score of lines of Bodkin when, in a fit of disgust, I threw the Journal in the fire!!!” Observe how circumstantial, how methodical this “Labourer” is. First he takes his supper, then he washes his face, then he gives his wages to his wife, then he sits down by the fire, then he takes the Journal in one hand, then he takes the cradle-string in the other, and lastly he proceeds to read. “Generalship,” we are glad to see, pleases him, but Bodkin! Alas! poor Bodkin! He has much to account for. He was the Achan in the camp, who caused the destruction of the whole host of leaders, news—everything! All went to the flames. We hope the chimney didn’t go on fire. But why didn’t this “Labourer” wash his face before taking supper? No wonder that he fell into “a fit of disgust” when he sat down to eat bread “with unwashen hands” and dirt-begrimed face. The marvel is that he did not disgust the wife too. Indeed we are half inclined to think that Bodkin got disgusted and leapt into the fire, instead of waiting to be pitched therein by the enraged “Labourer.” Our friend seriously proposes that we should take the vote of our readers relative to Bodkin, in order to see who are for and who are against him. Of course this would involve an expenditure on the part of our 34,000 subscribers of one penny each, in the shape of postages, which would amount to upwards of £140—a tax which we are very unwilling to saddle them with in these dear times. But if the Tayport “Labourer” will engage to pay the poll-tax for all those who are favourable to Bodkin, we on our part will undertake to clear the score of the party who, like this sapient “Labourer,” consign the Journal to the fire for Bodkin’s sake, and we have a shrewd suspicion which of us will have most to pay. We would, in conclusion, suggest that such of our readers as cannot appreciate Bodkin’s writings, should just pass them over, as most readers do the quack advertisements, without reading them. Even without the space which Bodkin occupies, the Journal would still be a cheap enough pennyworth.

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