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,—After I had time to reflect on the temptin’ offer I received through the medium o’ Butterbaps, M’Swiggan, an’ Sporrible, I began to think that I micht peradventure pay ower dear for my whistle, by acceptin’ o’ the civic honours whereof I made mention in my last epistle. Yea, verily, my joy endured but for a nicht, an’, when next mornin’ cam’ roond, lo! an’ behold a’ was vanity an’ vexation o’ spirit. Ye see every question has twa sides—a bricht side an’ a dark ane. At first I could see naething but the fair side o’ the subject broached by Maister Butterbaps. My visions consisted wholly o’ gowd chains, purple an’ fine linen, cockit hats, an’ a twa-horse coach, wi’ Tibbie an’ me inside, an’ Willie on the dickie thereof. Thinks I what a grand thing it will be to see a’ the nobbery liftin’ their hats to my spouse an’ me whenever we micht tak’ it into oor heads, as we wad do every lawfu’ afternoon, to air oorsels, arm in arm, in Reform Street, or in the Nethergate, an’ to hae a’ the linen lords i’ the Coogate, wha generally carry their heads sae heigh, bobbin’ aboot at my heels, an’ proodto let it be kent that they had been at a pairty at the Provost’s the ither nicht, where there was some jolly sport gaen, an’ lots o’ liquor. Then I pictured mysel’ presidin’ ower a public meetin’ o’ my fellow-citizens in the Corn Exchange Hall, where I wad be lookit up to as a sort o’ deity, an’ where every word that I might utter, hooever stupid, wad call forth a perfect thunder-bolt o’ applause, an’ be duly recordit i’ the newspapers next morning. Aye, an’ I wad get my photograph stuck up i’ the picture-shops amang the distinguished men, such as Lord Brougham, Sir David Brewster, an’ Louis Napoleon, an’ strangers o’ an inquiring turn o’ mind wad be speerin’ at ane anither, What respectable-looking old gentleman is that, beside the Prince Consort, dressed in the black surtout, white vest, and priest-gray trousers? Where to some wide-awake chap wad reply, That is the portrait of a very eminent man—no less than that of Thomas Bodkin, Esq., Provost of Dundee. Then wad follow sundry exclamatory observations on my noble physique, which I refrain frae settin’ doon in black an’ white, oot o’ a tender regard for the points o’ admiration that it wad be necessary for the printer to employ. Then, too, what glorious public dinners I wad hae the felicity o’ presidin’ ower! An earl wad sit at my richt hand, an’ a lord on my left, while alang the sides o’ the table wad be ranged twa or three honourables, half-a-dizzen o’ country squires, an’ nae end o’ Bailies, Cooncillors, an’ Police Commissioners. I wad hae to propose the loyal an’ patriotic toasts, too, an’ peers o’ the realm wad tak’ up the “hip-hip-hooray!” frae my honoured lips. An’ them, what a command I wad be able to exercise ower Tibbie! Though she sets but little value on the words o’ plain Tammas Bodkin, yet she wad never venture to gainsay the Provost. Thus wad I be honoured baith at hame an’ abroad. Such were some o’ the vain imaginations that passed through my mind when contemplatin’ the fair side o’ the municipal honours wherewith my fellow-citizens proposed to invest me.
But, as I’ve already observed, the subject has a dark side as weel as a bricht side, it behooved me to tak’ a peep o’ the dark ane. Weel, ye see, first an’ foremost, there were thae litigations wherewith the Cooncil is threatened. Law has been to me an abomination a’ the days o’ my life; I canna thole to think aboot it. I’ve aye been a man o’ peace, an’ I hope ever will be. I hate the very name o’ law. The only discomfortin’ thocht I had in marryin’ Tibbie was that I wad be her faither’s son-in-law. The very name o’ the law-brod soonds uncoothily in my ears. The most serious objection I had against comin’ to Dundee was that I wad be under the needcessity o’ glowerin’ at the Law every time I gaed to the door. Ance I had the offer o’ an apprentice—an’ a sharp-lookin’ callant he was—but when I speered his name, behold it Jamie Law! His name, puir fallow, was fatal to his pretensions. It’s maybe a prejudice o’ mine, but that little word law is far frae bein’ a favourite wi’ me. Noo, hoo could I be the Provost o’ Dundee withoot rubbin’ shoothers wi’ the law? The Hosptial Fund an’ Monorgan’s Croft wad be the death o’ me. They wad destroy my peace o ‘mind, an’ render a’ my honours barren an’ unfruitfu’. An’ then, what if the COoncil should hae the piper to pay for? Lawyers winna work for naething, an’ if the case sid gang against the Cooncil, wha kens but the Cooncil will hae to fork the bawbees oot o’ their ain pouches? Cockit hats, gowd chains, an’ a’ the lave o’t, wad be very fine, dootless, but to see a’ my warldly effects, frae oor spleet new sofy doon to the sheers an’ the guse, exposed for sale at the Cross by warrant o’ the Shirra—that wad scarcely be a consummation to be wished for, yet it is a thing that micht happen. I’ve haen mony a warsle wi’ the warld i’ my time noo; I’ve feastit on dry brose to my breakfast, an’ petawtis an’ saut to my dinner, but I’ve aye managed to pay a’body twenty shillin’s i’ the pound to this day an’ date, an’ happen what may, I’se try to do that same even until the end o’ the chapter. Noo, I’m jealousin’ if I were to accept o’ the Provostship o’ Dundee, what wi’ drivin’ aboot in a coach, an’ sportin’ gowd chains, an’ giein’ grand feasts, an’ livin’ in a splendid sixty or auchty pound hoose at the wast end, an’ keepin’ up a retinue o’ man servants an’ maid servants, no to speak o’ giein’ employment to half the lawyers in Edinbro’,—I wad very soon be gazetted, alang wi’ company that wa reflect very little credit either on me or on the toon o’ Dundee. Nae doot the same thing has happened ower an’ ower again afore this time o’ day, but it can never happen withoot provin’ a public scandal to a’ concerned, an’ I’m determined never to purchase a temporary honour at the expense o’ bringin’ a lastin’ disgrace on my ain honest name, forby inflictin’ a serious befylement on a most honourable office. A’ thae things I thocht ower in my ain mind, but said never a word to Tibbie aboot them. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Takes a Second Thought’ (26 October, 1861)”