‘Bodkin on Parochial Matters’ (23 March, 61)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ 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. In this column Tammas returns to the debate in the Liff and Benvie parish regards to changing the mode of assessment for levying the poor-rates (parish tax for poor relief) to ease burden on working people. The adoption of the rental system in favour of the ‘means and substance’ mode of assessment was enacted in a vote on 19th of March 1861. This issue was of particular importance for Dundee, where the ‘People’s Journal’ was campaigning for the rental system to be put in place.

‘Dundee is the only large town in Scotland that adheres to the system [‘means and substance’]. When we first began agitating for a change to rental there were about seventy parishes on the same system as Dundee, but now the number is reduced to eighteen’

Maister Editor,—My guidwife was unco sair displeased at me for wreatin’ in my last letter aboot her speakilation in Virgin Marys, an’ she has threatened to apply to Sir Cresswell Cresswell if I dinna desist frae makin’ a warld’s wonder o’ her and hers, as I did last week. I’m auld eneuch to hae learned that there’s naething to be gained by fechtin’ wi’ a woman, except sour kail an’ reekit tea, an’ therefore I maun hae regaird to her admonition, joost for the sake o’ preventin’ a stour i’ the hoose. I ventured to advise Tib to gang an’ hear George Roy lecturin’ on “The Affections,” thinkin’ that she micht be nane the waur o’ hearin’ her duty to her husband laid doon, but I got an unco short cut for my pains. “Set him up, indeed, to lecture on the Affections,” quoth she, “whan he is sae destitute o’ affection himsel’ as never to hae gotten a wife yet. Folk sid aye practise what they preach, Tammas, an’ when George Roy has been as lang married as I’ve been, he’ll maybe be able to describe the ‘tender flame’ a wee thocht mair minutely than he a’thegither cares aboot. I’ve been a wife for twa dizzen o’ years noo, an’ I think I sid ken a muckle aboot ‘love in a’ its stages and phases’ as ony George Roy. Na, na; if George Roy wad put me up to the plan o’ excerceesin’ my Generalship as successfully ower Tammas Bodkin as Mrs Young did ower ‘our John,’ I wad maybe gang an’ hear him, but no ae fit to hear him speakin’ a parcel o’ nonsense that he kens naething aboot.” Tib was in a real passion, an’ she gaed ben the hoose and clashed the door ahent her wi’ sic a thud that a couple o’ trenchers fell aff the rack in the floor, an’ gaed a’ to crokonition. “Do’d that sairs ye richt weel, my lady,” quo I to mysel’ when I heard her gatherin’ up the broken pigs an’ flingin’ them into the ase backet. Hooever, I didna lat my speerits doon, an’ I’m bound to say I didna let her’s very far up that afternoon, for I tore awa at the needle at nae allooance, an’ sang as heigh as I could roar— Continue reading “‘Bodkin on Parochial Matters’ (23 March, 61)”

‘Bodkin Dealing in Idols’ (16 March, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ 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 dinna like to be victimeesed especially by a wheen blockheads, an’ that I’ve allooed mysel’ for ance to be sairly bamboozled by some gentry o’ that description maks me as mad as a March hare whenever I think o’t. But if I didna pay them back in their ain coin—aye, baith principal an’ interest tae—I’ll leave ye to judge when ye have heard my story.

Weel, ae day last week there was a lang, snekin’, seedy lookin’ chap cam into my shop, wi’ a sinister-lookin’ e’e i’ the head o’m, inquirin’ if I could mak’ a pair o’ cutikins for him. “Cutikins, min,” quoth I, “cutikins are no fashionable noo-a-days; hoosomever, if ye will hae cutikens, it’s cutikens ye will hae, for a better hand at cuttin’ cutikens than Mr Waugh, my ‘prentice-maister, didna wield shears atween Maidenkirk an’ John o’ Groats, that I’m certain o,’ for he made them for the auld Duke o’ Bucklew—an’ I wad hae been less o’ a philosopher than folk gie me credit for had I no made mysel’ as perfite at the business as my maister.” A’ the time I was speakin’ till’m he keepit glowerin’ roon’ the shop, an’ I thocht he tane particular notice o’ a glass case, containin’ a quantity o’ dolls an’ trockery o’ that kind, whilk my gude wife advised me to add to my stock o’ wearin’ appairll [sic], as she had been told by some body, that it was an unco profitable business to sell thae play-fair things.

Amang the ither things, there was a great big strappin’ hizzie o’ a doll, ‘od as like life as ever ye saw, an’ nearly as large; so, after glowerin’ a while at it through the glass, the chield says—”A very fine figure that.”

“Aye, she’s a sonsie-lookin’ dame,” quoth I, “it’s only a pity that she’s no flesh an’ blude, or she micht mak’ a fine wife for somebody.” “Very heavenly-lookin’ ideal beauty, pure, spiritual, immaculate,” quoth the chap, wi’ mony mair phrases to the same effeck, an’ I really began to think him a wee thocht romantic. He seemed to be muckle tane up wi’ the wax figure, an’ began to mutter something till himsel’ aboot “Ave Maria,” or some sic nonsense, an’ I actually made him oot, in my ain mind, to be a fool. At last an’ lang, he spiered the price o’ the article. “Weel,” quoth I, “I dinna deal in thae things, but if ye’ve a mind to buy, I’se ca’ in the gudewife, for they belang to a speakilation o’ hers.” So the wife was sent for, an’ a bargain was concludit, the chield payin’ some five or sax shillin’s for the doll, an’ whan he laid doon the siller, thinks I, “My man, a fule an’ his money’s soon pairtit.” Hooever, that was his business, an’ no mine. He got it rowed up in a lump o’ paper, an’ set aff wi’t in his oxter, still chatterin’ till himsel’ something aboot “aves” an’ “Marias.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Dealing in Idols’ (16 March, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Agitates the Nine Hours Question’ (2 March, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ 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. In this column Tammas discusses the Nine Hours Movement, demands from Edinburgh Masons and joiners to reduce working hours from ten to nine hours a day. This would lead to a strike, following on from similar action in London in 1860. There is also a discussion of a meeting in the Liff and Benvie parish which occurred on the Monday (28 February) in regards to changing the mode of assessment for levying the poor-rates (parish tax for poor relief) to ease burden on working people.

Maister Editor,—The nicht afore last I was sittin’ after supper pickin’ my teeth wi’ my bodkin, when Jamie Mallet, the mason chield, wha lives richt aboon me, gallows button for him. It was rather late, bein’ little oot or in o’ eleven o’clock, an’ after a hard day’s wark my shoothers were achin’, no to mention that my ‘ee-holes were nearly closin’ wi’ sleep; an’ so I wad hae preferred my bed to sewin’ on a button in ordinary circumstances, but as Jamie is a gey neeborly sort o’ body, an’ a tremendus hand for a crack, I bade him come in-bye, an’ I wad see what could be dune. Jamie is mannerly eneuch, an’ began makin’ apologies for disturbin’ me at sic an untimeous time o’ nicht, “but ye see, Tammas,” quoth he, “I canna gang to my wark the morn withoot braces, for, as I need baith hands to my business, it wadna do for me to wield the mell wi’ ae hand an’ haud up my breeks wi’ the ither.” “That’s very true,” quoth I, “an’ I’ll soon put you a’ to richts; but what think ye o’ this nine oors’ movement that the Edinbro’ folks are a’ gaen gyte aboot?” “Weel,” says he, “that’s joost the question I was aboot to put to you, Tammas. What’s your opinion on that point?” “My opinion is joost this, Jamie, that if folk can manage to live on the wages o’ nine oors, they wad me great fules to work ten, but for my pairt it taks me saxteen or auchteen oors’ hard work to win aitmeal an’ petawties for my wife an’ family.” “Na, na, Tammas, ye maun be exaggeratin’ noo surely; ye dinna mean to say that ye’re slaved in that way, except it be ye’re greed o’ gain that gars ye work sae lang oors.” “Weel, Jamie,” quoth I, “greed or no greed, it’s geyan certain that I winna leave a fardin’ behind me. But if hunger didna compel me to work lang oors I wad aften hae to do sae to gratifie the pride o’ my customers. There’s aye the ither birth, an’ death, an’ marriage takin’ place, an’ the folk maun hae their braw new claes at a day’s notice, never considerin’ that my shoothers maun pay for’t. An’ I maun say that the workin’ classes are as oonreasonable as the rich folks, an’ maybe mair, some o’ them. They joost tell me—’Noo, Tammas, ye maun hae them dune by sic an’ sic a time,’ an’, of coorse, I’m obligated to submit to their dictation withoot daurin’ to say that my lugs are my ain, for it wad joost be—’Weel, weel, then, if ye winna anither will,’ an’ sae the matter ends. That’s what I ca’ tyranny, an’ I wad thank ony body wha could tell me hoo to get quit o’t. An’ them, if I dinna hae the duds ready at the preceese time appointed, its ‘O, ye’re joost like a’ the tailor tribe—a set o’ doonright leein’ scoundrels!’ ‘Od, they’re weel aff that hae only ae maister to serve, an’ regular oors to work in, for me, I’ve as mony maisters as I’ve customers, an’ I’m sure there’s no an’ oor o’ a’ the four an’ twenty that I can ca’ my ain!” “Tammas,” quoth he, “it’s a’ true ye say, but ye see machinery has dune sae muckle to lighten oor kind o’ wark, that the human machine can surely afford to tak’ it easy, or what’s the use o’ machinery ava? Ye hae lang oors, Tammas, that’s true, but ye maun remember that ye’re no daidled wi’ dirt, and weet, an’ cauld the way we are. Ye’re aye at hand to steer about the pat an’ lick the theevel, an’ lunt ye’re cutty whenever ye weary; but we mason chields maun trudge awa’ wi’ a piece in oor pouch an’ a pitcher o’ milk in oor hands for maybe sax or aught miles to oor wark, an’ the same distance hame again at nicht, an’ sair as yer shoothers may become wielding that wechty steel bar o’ yours, they wad be still sairer, I’m thinkin’, if ye had to knock, knock, knock awa’ wi’ a meil aboot a stane wecht frae sax to sax, wi’ nae mair time ye could ca’ yer ain than joost to swallow yer steerabout at nine o’clock an’ mump up yer bit aitmeal bannock at twa i’ the afternoon.” “A’ very true, Jamie,” said I, “but hoo will yer maisters stamack that nine oors’ ploy?” “I dinna see what objections they can hae,” said he, “seein’ that we are willin’ to tak’ a reduction o’ pay correspondin’ to the reduction o’ labour.” “Ay, ay, that’ll do a’ weel enuch,” said I, “as lang’s there are planty o’ hands, but as soon as the labour market is no able to supply the demand, the wages will soon rise as high as ever.” “That may happen, Tammas, an’ it canna’ happen ower sune,” quoth Jamie, “an’ if it do happen, the maisters maun joost estimate their jobs a wee thocht higher; that’s a’. Wages o’ a’ kinds are gaen up, an’ what for no masons’ wages? The ministers are gettin’ three or four chalders added to their stipends, an’ the very sweeps are lookin’ for a glass o’ whisky to draik the stour in their thrapples in addition to their ordinary chairge.” “Gin that be the gait o’t, Jamie,” quoth I, “I maun raise my scale o’ chairges too, sae ye winna grudge to gie me saxpence mair for makin’ a waistcoat, ninepence mair for a pair o’ breeks, an’ auchteenpence mair for a coat. At that rate I could afford to keep a journeyman, and sae I could hae my workin’ oors shortened by aught or nine oors, an’ be nae loser.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Agitates the Nine Hours Question’ (2 March, 1861)”