‘Bodkin on Matters Matrimonial’ (23 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,—The ither nicht i’ the gloamin’, Tibbie bein’ oot for some errands, an’ the hoose bein’ quiet, baith but an’ ben, Willie an’ me fell to oor cracks aboot ae thing an’ anither, an’ so, after settlin’ the American war to oor ain entire satisfaction, an’ regulatin’ the price o’ the meal, an’ petawtis, an’ red herrin’, so as to gar them harmonise wi’ the current rates o’ wages, the conversation at last tane the direction o’ matrimony, whereon we had some unco edifyin’ discoorse. Willie fought rather shy o’ the subject, hooever, as was but natural in him, puir fallow, seein’ he has had nae experience in the ways o’ womankind farther than occasionally gallantin’ wi’ the charmin’ Mary Ann. Hoosomdever, I consider it to be a pairt o’ my duty not only to instruct him in the mystery o’ my proper profession, but also to put some smeddum in him in regaird to matrimony, an’ things in general, an’ therefore I embraced the opportunity o’ readin’ him a lecture on that branch o’ Social Science that I wad venture to ca’ Matrimonial Economy. He is maybe rather young to oonderstand sic a discoorse yet, but, as the proverb says, “Learn young learn fair.”

“Noo, Willie,” quoth I, “as we’re on the subject at ony rate, I maun hae a word, or twa wi’ ye aboot that sweetheart o’ yours, an’ hoo ye maun behave yersel baith before an’ after ye mak’ her yer wife. I think muckle o’ yer taste, Willie—very muckle indeed—for if I were allooed to criticise the looks o’ young leddies I wad say that Mary Ann is juist yer very marrow, sae far as I can judge frae the ootside o’ her, an’ I hope, for you sake as weel as her ain, that her moral qualities are but a faithfu’ reflex o’ her bonny, bloomin’, laughin’ coontenance, that maks her presence a perpetual sunshine.”

I saw that Wilie was in an unco steeriefyke when I entered upon this delicate subject, for his face grew as red as the fire, an’ he bit his lip, an’ he made sundry attempts to clear his throat o’ something that obstinately refused to budge in spite o’ a’ his hoastin’ an’ hawghin’, an’ he held the needle fleein’ wi’ a vigour an’ a velocity nae ordinary, an’ he hung doon his head like a bulrush—an’, takin’ a’thing into acoont, it was as plain as a pike-staff, to my apprehension, that Willie was thinkin’ black-burnin’ shame either o’ himsel’ or o’ me; but, hoosomdever, he was as mim as a moose, an’ said naething, an’ so I proceedit wi’ my discoorse:—

“But, Willie,” quoth I, “ye are but a young man yet, an’ winna be oot wi’ yer apprenticeship for anither twelvemonth, an’ I wad hae ye to exerceese due caution in comin’ oonder obligations either to Mary Ann or to ony o’ her sex. Ye maun remember, Willie, that marriage is a solemn oondertakin’, for when ye get a wife ye’ll be nae langer yer ain maister, but will be, to a certain extent, oonder petticoat government. I am, Willie—everybody is—an’ it wad be needless to deny it. Noo, ye wad need to consider aforehand, Willie, whether ye wad be willin’ to let Mary Ann wear the breeks, as the sayin’ is, for it’s ower late to consider that after the marriage-knot has been tied. Mind ye, there’s nae gettin’ oot o’ that scrape ance ye are fairly in; sae ye wad better look afore ye loup.

“An’ then, Willie, ye man lay bye something to the gude, afore ye oondertak’ the cares, responsibilities, and expenses o’ a wife, an’ no be like ower mony o’ oor profession, wha think themsels fit to set up a hoose o’ thair ain as soon as they hae saved as muckle as will buy them a guse, lawbrod, sheers, thumle, tape measure, an’ a bawbee’s worth o’ needles. Ye maun hae auchty or a hunder pounds at the least i’ yer kist neuk afore ye think o’ marryin’, an’ that will enable ye to set up yer establishment free o’ debt, aye, an’ maybe, wi’ canny guidin’, set ye on the way belyve to begin business on yer ain accoont. That couldna be accomplished either in ae year or twa, an’, if ye tak’ my advice ye winna think o’ rinnin’ yer head into the hymeneal halter afore ye’re sax-an’-twenty, or thirty at the least. Noo, it becomes a question whether Mary Ann wad be willin’ to wait for ye a’ that length o’ time. Indeed, judgin’ frae himan nature, an’ especially frae woman-nature, I dinna think she would; nor could she be expectit to do so if she got anither offer, for in aucht or ten years time Mary Ann winna be the fascinatin’ fairy that she is at present. Na, na, Willie lad, lang afore Mary Ann gets the length o’ sax-an’-twenty she’ll be sighin’ to hersel’ an’ croonin’ ower the words o’ the auld sang

‘Oh, gin I could get but a husband,

E’en though he were never sae sma,

Juist gie me a husband, I’ll tak’ him,

Though scarce like a mannie ava.

Come soutar, some tailor, come tinkler,

Oh come ony ane o’ ye a’!

Come gi’e me a bode, e’er sae little,

I’ll tak’ it an’ never say na’.

Come deaf or come dumb, or come cripple,

Wi’ ae leg, or nae legs ava’,

Or come ye wi’ ae e’e or nae e’e,

I’ll tak’ ye as ready’s wi’ twa’.

Come young, or come auld, or come doited,

Oh come an’ just tak’ me awa’,

Far better be married to something

Than no to be married ava’.’

“Noo dinna suppose that I wad hae ye gaen back wi’ yer word to Mary Ann, if sae be ye’ve made ony promise to her, for that wad be a blackguard’s trick, Willie, an’ I’m sure ye’ll never prove yersel’ a rogue either to man or woman. The man wha pledges his heart an’ hand to a woman, Willie, an’ then leaves her, maybe to dree the warld’s shame an’ scorn, an’, at ony rate, to sab awa’ her very soul in secret, is as false than the Deil. Na, na, if ye’ve pledged yer troth to ane anither, ye maun juist abide by the consequences noo, an’ dinna ye be the first to gang back wi’ yer word, at ony rate. I never experienced what it is to get the lichtie mysel’, but, reasonin’ frae moral principles, I wad conclude that while ‘slichtit love is sair to bide,’ it maun be ten times waur to thole the stangs o’ a guilty conscience. Aye keep a clear conscience, Willie, an’ ye’ll never but sleep soondly unless ye hae the toothache, or put yer stammack oot o’ order, by takn’ cheese to yer supper, or swallowin’ a dose o’ Colosynth’s pills, as I did three weeks syne.

“But, Willie, I wad gie ye a word or twa o’ warnicement, that may be usefu’ to ye as a husband. The women folk dinna like to be gain-said in ony thing they set their heart upon, sae if Mary Ann should signify that she is in want o’ a new goon, or a muff, or a boa, or a shawl, ye manna mak’ ony mou’s aboot it, but juist fork oot. Ye may hae yer ain thochts anent it for a’ that ye ken; but for the life o’ ye say naething, if ye value the peace and comfort o’ yer hoosehold. It’s juist ane o’ the frail pairts o’ the weaker vessels, that they maun be upsides wi’, an’, if possible, aboove an’ beyond their neebors in bravity, baith for their bodies an’ their hooses; an’, as it wad be useless to fecht against what’s born in the flesh, my advice to you is, for the comfort o’ baith pairties, to mak’ a virtue o’ necessity by lettin’ Mary Ann busk hersel’ an’ furnish her hoose in accordance wi’ her ain notions thereanent. This is a matter whereon I can speak frae experience, for I never yet set mysel’ against onything that Tibbie proposed in the millinery or upholstery line o’ business withoot comin’ aff second best, an’, of coorse, w’ my dignity considerably blemished in the conflict. There’s that sofy, for instance, noo lyin’ up i’ the garret a piece o’ useless lumber an’ the carpet, an’ the moreen curtains, lyin’ equally at a wanuse. I was never a’thegither in wi’ the gettin’ o’ them, but Tibbie had set her heart upon them, an’ weel did I ken there wad be nae peace i’ the hoose unless she got her rax oot, an’ she got t, an’ she saw what she made o’t. Hoosomdever, the bawbees werna lost a’thegither, for the things will come to be o’ some use, either to Tibbie an’ me or to oor executors an’ assigns, an’ even if they had been as worthless as they were costly, it wad yet ill become me to grudge them, for Tibbie is a valuable woman, an’ may weel be indulged wi’ a bit whim-wham occasionally to keep her in gude humour. The great point, Willie, in selectin’ a woman whereof to mak’ a wife, is to seek for a gude, discreet, sensible, thrifty, clever, cleanly, painstakin’, diligent, mitherly, kind-heartit, gude-natured, cheefu’, weel-faured, sonsy, strappin’ quean, maybe three or four years younger than yersel; if ye can forgaither wi’ ane wi’ a thae qualities she winna gang far gleyed though ye gie her ever sae lang a tether; but if ye marry a dame wi’ naethin’ but gude looks to recommend her ye’ll rue yer bargain afore the close o’ the honeymune, an’ that’s as sure as yer name’s Willie Clippins. A gude wife, Willie, disna need controllin’, an’ an ill ane winna be controlled, so that it matters little sae far as that is concerned whether Mary Ann sid turn oot to be gude or ill, for yer maun juist mak’ up yer mind to let her hae her ain way.

There’s anither thing, Willie, ye mauna presume to poker up the fire withoot yer gudewife’s permission first socht an’ obtained. I’ve lived mair than thirty years wi’ Tibbie noo, an’ I’ve studied her, method o’ steerin’ the fire wi’ the greatest diligence a’ that time, an’ though an apprenticeship o’ five years made me perfit in my ain profession, yet I’ve ne’er been able even to this oor an’ day to redd the ribs to Tibbie’s entire satisfaction. If I presume to lift a hand to the fire in the mornin’ it never burns richt somehoo durin’ the haill day thereafter. An’, aboove an’ beyond every thing, Willie, ye mauna spit on the grate. That wad be ane o’ the seven deadly sins. Moreover, if ye happen to gang to the door, dinna forget to dicht yer feet on the mat when ye come in again—an’ see that they get the regulation number o’ rubs,—for unless ye gang through a’ the ceremony made an’ providit—ye may as weel let it alane a’ thegither. It disna matter a flee although yer feet may be perfectly clean—cleaner maybe than the thing ye are dichtin’ them on—they must nethertheless submit to the process o’ purification withoot a murmur, otherwise ye may look oot for squalls. Anither thing, Willie, if Mary Ann happen to let soot into the kail pat, ye mauna say a thrawn word aboot the kail. They may be like to choke ye, but ye maun sup them wi’ a cheerfu’ coontenance an’ a ferocious appetite, askin’ nae questions for conscience sake, or, better still, roosin’ them up the while for bein’ the best patfu’ o’ kail that Mary Ann ever cookit. That will please her, an’ naething else will. As a general rule, let yer praise o’ the cookery be in inverse proportion to the quality o’ the meat. An’ Willie, when ye gang to the kitchen fire to cook the guse, dinna ye be liftin’i the pat brod an’ glowerin’ into the pat to spy oot ferlies, for if ye do sae ye may peradventure, get in the side o’ the head wi’ the theevil, and that, ye ken, wad be rather humblin’. If ye catch Mary Ann standin’ afore the press wi’ the lids closed on her head an’ shoothers, ye will probably come to the conclusion, and no be far gleyd maybe in doin sae, that she is takin’i a cup o’ tea on the sly, but ye mauna let ye een see’t nor yer tongue speak aboot it. Ye ken it’s no tint what a friend gets. An’ Willie, ye mauna set yersel up’ to tie yer neckerchief as weel as, or better than, Mary Ann, for that wad gie great offence. You maun just let her undo you knot, an’ tie it ower again as she sees meet, if ye mean to possess yer soul in peace and quietness. If Mary Ann’s sister, or her cousin, or her aunty, or ony ither o’ her male or female relations, come on a friendly visit for a month or sax weeks, ye maun be sure to abdicate the muckle chair in their favour, an’ if the weather be cauld, ye mauna refuse to sleep on a shake-doon i’ the garret floor, in order to alloo Mary Ann and her sister to sleep thegither. An’ Willie, if Mary Ann tak’ three or four hoors to gang an errand that micht be accomplished in twenty minutes, ye may hae yer ain thochts aboot it—but for the life o’ ye, dinna think heigh oot! An’, Willie, if she’s adickit to snorin’ in her sleep, ye mauna wauken her an’ complain that ye canna get a wink o’ rest, but juist liek still an’ listen to it, an’ think it the sweetest music ye ever heard. Muckle did I offend Tibbie on ae occasion, because I introduced an Amerikan [sic] invention, consistn’ o’ an india rubber acoustic tunnel to catch the oonearthly sounds as they proceedit frae her nose, and convey them direct to her ain lug. I sanna say hoo angry Tibbie was, but I never ventured on the experiment again.

“Noo, Willie, I’ve gien ye some insicht into the science o’ matrimonial economy, an’ if ye dinna conduct yersel wi’ prudence baith before an’ after ye get a wife, dinna lay the wyte on yer maister,

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