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,—My prophecy has come true, nor did I need to wait lang for the fulfilment thereof. Tibbie has unbosomed a’ her griefs anent Mrs Davidson’s new apparel; an’, what is mair an’ waur, Tibbie’s pawkie tongue has gotten her the victory! Noo she is as happy as the nicht is lang, for she is upsides wi’ Mrs Davidson; yea, she is actually a gude wheen shillin’s superior to that individual, muckle as she did think o’ her bannet that cost three-an’-thirty “bob.” As sure as ought, after hearin’ a’ Tibbie’s wechty ratiocination, an’ balancin’ the yeas an’ the nays forgainst ane anither, I was driven to the inevitable conclusion that her will behooved to be law, an’ that I micht juist as weel haud my tongue as speak, unless I agreed to let it wag in unison wi’ her’s. Hoo she managed to convince me that she was “half-nakit,” an’ stood greatly in need o’ a backburthen o’ silk mercery an’ haberdashery goods, will be fully, truly, an’ particularly set forth in the sequel o’ my discoorse.
Weel, ye see, for twa or three days after Mrs Davidson’s visit, unco few words passed between Tibie an’ me on ony subject, an’ absolutely nane ava anent the contents o’ that worthy lady’s bandbox an’ broon paper parcels. I foresaw what was maskin’ up, an’ the prospect was onything but pleasant to behold. Weel kenned I that a sacrifice o’ sax or aucht pounds sterlin’ wad be necessary in order to restore Tibbie to her wonted serenity o’ soul an’ smoothness o’ temper; aboot that I had nae doots whatsomever. The contemplation o’ that disagreeable contingency, I ha’e as little doot, not only subtracted frae the habitual radiancy o’ my coontenance, but addit nae that little acerbity to the usual equanimity o’ my temper. It is sometimes necessary, in the way o’ business, to put on a face scarcely consistent wi’ the condition o’ the internal machinery o’ the body, but at ane’s ain fireside, if onywhere, it is surely quite allooable to let the physog shadow forth the feelins o’ the heart. Consequently, when I am angry either wi’ Tibbie or wi’ Willie Clippins, I tak’ gude care to adverteese them o’ the circumstance, by makin’ my physiognomy, as well as my haill walk an’ conversation, serve as the ootward tokens an’ visibilities thereof. There is nae use for a man toilin’ hard to keep a hoose aboon his head, if he is to be sae little the maister thereof as to be under the necessity o’ playin’ the hypocrite at his ain fireside, an’ deceivin’ even the very wife o’ his bosom.
Tibbie is auld-farrand eneugh at discernin’ the signs o’ the times to ken when to speak, an’ when to haud her tongue. T is the sign o’ a gude general to be able to see an’ to seize upon the precise moment when the enemy is in a swither whether to fecht or flee, an’ by leadin’ up his reserves in the nick o’ time, to mak’ a bauld stroke for victory. This faculty my Tibbie possesses to an ooncommon degree. She begins by cajolin’ me wi’ her saft blandishments against whilk my sternest resolutions are no proof o’ shot, an’ ends by leadin’ me captive, like a fule to the correction o’ stocks. In this I canna claim ony singularity for mysel’, for it has been the way o’ the warld ever sn’ t was a warld, an’ will likely remain sae as lang as men an’ women are drawn thegither by the silken cords o’ love, an’ that’ll be, accordin’ to my interpretation o’ the language o’ prophecy, till the crack o’ doom.
Tibbie’s first move towards oilin’ my temper pin was to throw on her bannet ae nicht an’ gang her wa’s doon i’ the gloamin’ to the Fish Market an’ fetch up a skate, as a peace-offerin’. So when she returned, she cries me to the kitchen. “Tammas,” quoth she, “wad ye hae time to look ben for a wee?”
Ben I goes, an’ there in a bucket lies the skate—an object that awakened in my stammack most pleasin’ visions o’ a feast o’ fat things. I’ve haen a lithe side to skate ever sin’ I could discern between my richt hand an’ my left, an’ its a feelin’ that will abide wi’ me as lang as I can tell what is gude for me, an’ after that, I’m thinking, I winna be worth muckle, either to Tibbie or to the warld at lairge. I stood an’ beheld it for a few seconds, then I seized it by the tail, an’ held it up atween me an’ the licht to see if it was a thorny-black, an’ lastly, I restored it to the bucket, but meanwhile I said naething, though I dinna doot my face gave unmistakable tokens o’ the inward satisfaction that I really felt an’ cherished. Tibbie watched the tide in her affairs, took it at the flood, an’ found that it led her on to fortune.
“What think ye o’ my purchase, Tammas?” quoth she, wi’ ane o’ her most winning smiles stealin’ ower her pawkie face; “Isna that a worthy beast! Hoo the fishwives were jokin’ me aboot it, Tammas! but fegs I gied them in their cheenge, an’ never mindit what they said. I think ye’ll get petawtis an’ skate to yer dinner the morn, Tammas.”
Tibbie said a great deal mair to the same purpose, an’ of coorse I gied my assent to the feck o’ her discoorse, for she taen care to mak’ it, even to the most minute particular, an echo o’ my weel-known sentiments on that subject. So, after discussin’ the merits o’ her purchase to oor hearts’ content, I gaed my wa’s ben to the needle, an’ Tibbie she kiltit her sleeves to her shoother heads, an’, knife in hand, set to wark to embowel the skate—an operation at which, n my humble opinion, she hasna her marrow amang a’ the women o’ my acquaintance.
That nicht Tibbe an’ me sat ower the fire till it was past twa o’clock, crackin’ aboot a’ the money experiences we had come through sin’ we had kent ane anither, an’ dwellin’ wi’ feelin’s o’ mutual satisfaction an’ delight on a’ the ploys o’ oor courtin’ days, an’ hoo, as Tibbie suggested, we had never haen cause to regret the day when we entered into the holy bands o’ matrimony, for we had been aye a help an’ a comfort to ane anither on oor earthly pilgrimage, an’ sae wad we yet. That blessed nicht I laid my head doon on my pillow wi’ a feelin’ o’ relief wellin’ aroond the root o’ my heart, for ill do I like to live at vauriance either wi’ beast or body, far less wi’ the wife o’ my bosom. An’ when sleep had closed my drowsy eyelids, I had a sweet vision o’ Tibbie an’ the skate, an’ thrice ere the mornin’ I dreamt it again.
Up to this point, ye’ll observe, Tibie never ance made allusion to Mrs Davidson an’ her haberdashery wares. The grund was perfectly clear for that step noo, hooever, an’ next mornin’ i arose wi’ the full certainty that anither four-an’-twenty oors wadna pass awa’ withoot its bein’ brocht on the carpet. We were sittin’ at oor breakfast when there comes a reishle to the door—the postman’s knock I kent it to be as weel as if I had seen the hand that did it, for it had the authoritative rat-tat-tat o’ bein’ on her Majesty’s service. (God bless an’ comfort her widowed heart in this the day o’ her sair, sair bereavement!) So I rose, opened the door, an’ received a letter wi’ the Aberdeen post mark thereon, an’ addressed to “Tammas Bodkin, Esq., 99 Gutterhole Close, Dundee.” Havin’ broken the seal an’ surveyed the contents thereof, I read alood as follows—Tibie sittin’ wi’ her hands on her haunches, an’ drinkin’ in the words wi’ the greatest avidity:—
“Aberdeen, Dec. 21, 1861.
“My Respected Friend,—Janet is determined on haen a blaw-oot at the New Year, an’ as there will be something extra supper-fine on the cards on that occasion, Janet an’ me are baith o’ opinion that it wad be worth yer while to mak’ a stap northbye an’ help us to demolish the commisariat. Ye’ve mony a leal-heartit freend hereawa’ that wad be richt blithe to see ye; an’ when ye come, be sure an’ bring Tibbie alang wi’ ye, for she’s fully as great a favourite as ye are yersel’. You sooth-aboot gentry dinna tak’ water i’ yer teeth to tell us Northerns sometimes that oor hearts are as hard an’ as cauld as oor native granite, but juist come ye north on New Year’s Day, an’ we’ll show ye anither o’t. My certie, we’ll gi’e ye a prievin’ o’ something far stronger than ‘Cauld kail in Aberdeen,’ an’ far mair palatable an’ substantial than ‘Castocks in Strathbogie.’ No to say we will try to fill ye fou’ be ony manner o’ means, for I’m happy to think that the maist feck o’ the folks hereawa’ are members o’ the Teetotal Society, but we’se gi’e ye a cup o’ tea as strong as ye please—an’, sae far as we hae been able to discover, Tibbie, like the majority o’ her sisterhood, will be the last to cast oot wi’t on that account—an’ for Christmas cakes, an’ buns, an’ short-bread, an’ a’ that kind of graith, we stand unrivalled. So ye maun mak’ up yer mind to come north an’ see yer freends in Bon Accord, for we’ll tak’ nae denial. My Janet is anxious to improve her hand at the manufacture o’ bubble-an’-squeak, an’ she expects to get a lesson on that subject frae Mrs Bodkin. I’ll be on the ootlook for ye on Tuesday come a week, an’, trustin’ to see and speak face to face wi’ ye at that time, I add nae mair at present, but remains, yours truly, “Simon Patch.
“P.S.—I wad tak’ it kind if ye could bring the latest London fashions wi’ ye, an’, by sae doin’, ye will save me a warld o’ trouble. “S.P.”
“Weel, Tibbie, my woman,” quoth I, “what think ye o’ that epistle? Is it no real kind o’ Simon to invite us north? But I’ve aye kent him to be a warm-heartit fellow, ever sin’ I wrocht alangside o’ ‘im in Edinburgh. An’ Janet—I’m sure ye mind o’ Janet an’ him ca’in on us that year after we were marri’t, an’ they were gaen to be marri’t likewise, in the spring o’ the year follown’.”
“Ou, aye,” quoth Tibbie, “I mind brawly o’ that, an’ she was then a geyan weel-faured quean; but ye’ll mind I thocht she was a wee licht-headit, an’ hardly fit to be a wife to a man in Simon’s station.”
“Hoot-awa’, Tibbie,” quoth I, “but it’s lang since then, an’ Janet has had time to sober doon, I’se warrant her. But indeed, Tibbie, first when ye were my wife ye werna ower heavy headit yersel’, for that pairt o’t. But what do ye think, Tibbie? Will we accept Simon’s invitation?”
“For my pairt, I dinna see hoo weel-fauredly we can refuse,” quoth Tibbie.
“That’s preceesely my view o’ the case,” quoth I, “an’ what is mair, Tibbie, I dinna exactly see ony use in refusin’, so I’ll wreat directly, an tell him to expect us on the day an’ date mentioned, providit it doesna rain auld wives an’ pike-staves, nor hail avalanches.”
Doon I sat an’ wrote accordingly, an’ despatched Willie wi’ the letter to the Post-office.
Dinner time comes roond, an’ after I had sitten doon to enjoy a blast o’ my pipe, quoth Tibbie, “But, Tammas, no ae fit will I gang to Aberdeen unless I get a muff, an’ a boy, an’ a new shawl, an’ a new bannet.”
“Aha!” thinks I to mysel’, “is that the way o’t?”
“An’ Tammas,” quoth she, “I’m as thrifty a wife as ever Mrs Davidson was, an’ I think a new dress wad be naething but my due.”
“But, Tibbie,” quoth I, “we maun gang to Aberdeen noo, for ye ken we’ve made a promise to that effect, an’ I wadna for the warld hae it to be said that we wad promise an’ no perform. Na, na, Tibbie, that wad never do.”
“Weel, weel,” quoth Tibbie, “I gang only on ae condition—an’ that is, that I get things to gang wi’ like ither folk. Mrs Patch, I’ll warrant ye, has a muff and a boy, and ye wadna surely hae yer wife to gang an’ sit like a duddy beggar in a company o’ ladies an’ gentlemen. If I were to do sae I ken wha wadna be muckle thocht o’ at ony rate. Ye can tak’ yer mind o’t, hooever, but ye’ve heard my resolution on the subject. If ye dinna like to wreat to say that I’m no somin’, I’se get Mrs Davidson to scribe a letter for me, an’ I’se tak’ gude care to let Mrs Patch understand the reason why i canna accompany my husband. Noo na.”
Tibbie concludit wi’ a wicked toss o’ the head that told me that she really meant what she said.
Sorra tak’k it for a bad job! Here was I on the horns o’ a dilemma! But there was only ae way o’ settlin’ the business, an’ that was to let Tibbie hae her ain way. So I pulled oot my huggar, coontit oot the bawbees—nae less than aucht pound ten—an’ mak’ the best o’ an’ ill bargain she could.
Tibbie returned i’ the gloamin’ laden wi’ her iniquities, an’ laid them a’ oot for my inspection. I sanna try to describe them, for to me they were quite indiscribable [sic]; but it was a source o’ great consolation to Tibbie that she had not only got upsides wi’ Mrs Davidson, but had actually surpassed her in extravagance to the extent o’ five or ten shillin’s on ilka separate article, besides providin’ hersel’ wi’ a pair o’ ladies knickerbocker leggin’s—a piece o’ waistry that Mrs Davidson in her wisdom had never thocht o’, though she will, dootless, hae her legs encased in something o’ the sort by the time Tibbie an’ me return frae the “North countree,” when ye may look oot for something further frae