‘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?” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Has a Fearful Night of it’ (9 November, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Rejects Another Tempting Offer’ (2 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 afternoon I happened to be oot on business that behooved to be done by a wiser head an’ a mair experienced hand than Willie’s, though, to gie the loonie his due, he can be trustit noo wi’ maist jobs i’ the tailorin’ line, an’ at rinnin’ a bit errand, especially, he has few marrows an’ nae superiors o’ his ain eild within the four corners o’ Dundee. Hoosomdever, I mak’ a point o’ doin’ a’ the very particular jobs wi’ my ain twa hands, an’ gaen a’ the mair important messages wi’ my ain twa feet, in order that, if onything sid gang wrang wi’ them—a circumstance no that likely to happen, hooever, when I hae the orderin’ thereof mysel’—the blame may be mine, an’ mine only.

Weel, ye see, I was abroad on the day in question on an errand that I wadna hae trustit Tibbie wi’, far less Willie Clippins; an’, to be short, an’ at the same time, explicit, I may juist say that my object was to kity gentleman—a customer o’ mine—wha had come to the praiseworthy resolution o’ takin’ to himsel’ a wife. A marriage coat I always exercise my utmost skill on, baith for my ain credit an’ for that o’ the bridegroom. A marriage coat maun please at least twa pairties. It maun please the gudeman himsel’, an’ it maun suit the fancy o’ the gudewife. Noo, a young wife, wi’ nae encumbrance on her hand, has little else to do but juist to sit an’ criticise the abuliement o’ her husband, an’ spy oot ferlies in the handiwark o’ his tailor, an’, if sae be she find faut wi’ ought that can be fairly laid to his door, ten to ane but the gudeman will be ordered to employ anither craftsman the next time he needs a coat—an order, of course, that maun be implicitly obeyed. Havin’ surmountit the perils o’ the bridal coat, hooever, I’ve less misgivin’s aboot the next ane that is required, because, besides havin’ already secured the confidence an’ favour o’ the gudewife, she will by that time hae got a wee cherub in her lap, whase “guips, an’ cranks, an’ wanton wiles” will engross nae that little o’ the critical observation that erstwhile was bestowage coat. The short an’ the lang o’t is, I never but gang hame wi’ a marriage coat mysel’, in order that I may see wi’ my ain een whether or no the fit be perfection, an’ never do I leave it until perfection has been attained.

In takin’ hame the particular coat specified, I behooved to gang through the Coogate. So, as I was stoitin’ alang, wi’ the broon paper parcel in my oxter, an’ croonin’ twa verses o’ a sang laigh in to mysel’, to shorten the gaid a bit, on passin’ the mooth o’ an entry, whereat stood a rather weel-dressed young gentleman, tovin’ awa at a cigar, an’ wha had evidently been makin’ desperate though unsuccessful efforts to raise a luxuriant crap o’ hair aboot his mou’, I feels something gie a smart pouk at my coat-tail. Gien’ a gline ower my richt shoother, my e’e lichtit on the dandified object aforesaid, wha tipped me a mysterious wink, an’ made sundry signs for me to follow him doon the entry. I aye like to be accommodatin’ to everybody, an’ so I turns on my heel, an’ abandons mysel’ to his leadin’ strings. On the cheek o’ the entry I observed the name “B. Bobbins,” paintit in moderate-sized Roman capitals, so I cam’ to the immediate conclusion that I was aboot to hae an interview wi’ Mr B. B., on what business it fairly dang me to imagine. At the ben end o’ the passage there was a door leadin’ into a sma’ apartment, that served Mr B. B. as a sort o’ coontin’-room, though my private opinion is that the said B. B. has unco little to coont in it, except it be his ain ten fingers. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Rejects Another Tempting Offer’ (2 November, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Takes a Second Thought’ (26 October, 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,—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)”

‘Bodkin For Provost’ (19 October, 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’ve something to tell ye worth speaking aboot. If Providence hadna endowed me wi’ a considerable share o’ self-controul, my case micht hae been rather serious; an’ even as it is, I’m like to hae grave doots at times whether my head or my heels be umost. As for Tibbie, she’s as heigh as the hills, an’ Mrs Davidson may henceforth hide her diminished head. Ay, ay, I’ve aye been o’ opinion that true worth winna gang oonrewarded, even in this warld; but its only noo that I can speak on the subject frae personal experience. Od, after a’, wha wad hae thocht it? I’m sure last week at this time I had as little anticipation o’ bein’ offered the Provostship o’ Dundee as I had o’ bein’ made Cham o’ Tartary, or the Pope o’ Room; but wonders will never cease. That I, Tammas Bodkin, a plain, blunt man, whase sober wishes never learned to stray eyond the humble situation o’ a puir, hard-wrought, yet upright-honest teelyour, should nevertheless an’ notwithstanding have been made sic a chosen vessel o’ by my fellow-citizens, is mair than I can comprehend; but to my story.

Weel, ye see, t was juist on Monday nicht, shortly after lichtin’ time, that I’m sittin’ pullin’ away at the needle, Willie Clippins bein’ busy scourin’ the guse at the back o’ the inner door, when I hears an unco scraughlin’ an’ fitierin’ on the stair. There was naethin’ wonderfu’ in that, an’ I juist concluded in my ain mind that it wad be some customer seekin’ his way up to get his inches taen. Presently, hooever, I hears Mr Phelim O’Grady’s tongue, an’ quoth he, “Och, shure, an’ is it Misther Bodkin ye’ll be after? Thin this way wid yes, gin’l’m; its meself that can show yes the way.” So Phelim lifts the sneck, puts in his curly pow, an’, quoth he, “Misther Bodkin, a word wid ye, sir; here is three gin’l’m as would desire to spake wid ye, sir.” So I banged doon frae the boord, taen three staps to the stair head, an’ there sure eneuch were three honest lookin’ gentlemen. Phelim touched his hat, an’ quoth he, “Och, shure, an’ doesn’t the blessed book say that the labourer is worthy ov his hire?” Whereupon one o’ the gentlemen taen the delicate hint, an’ slippit a saxpence into the hand o’ their cicerone, wha forthwith taen his departure, showerin’ a profusion o’ thanks an’ blessin’s on all an’ sundry no exceptin’ Tibbie an’ me—the twa most exemplary Christians, in Phelim’s present opinion, to be found in a’ Dundee, an’ the liberties thereof.

As TIbbie was ower the lugs in some hoose-cleanin’ operations, it behooved me to show the gentlemen into my ain apartment, so I directit them to seat themsels on the boord, while I taen my ain proper station thereon by way o’ example. Havin’ had time to take a visie o’ the strangers, I began to mak sundry observations on the state o’ the weather, the craps, and the stagnation o’ trade, but they said little, lookit unco fidgetty, an’ seemed to hae something on their stammacks o’ mair importance than ordinary. At last an’ lang, ane o’ them, wha seemed to be maister bummer, taen oot his sneeshin-milll, primed his nose therewithal, handit the box to me, pulled a paper frae his oxter pouch, hoastit twice or thrice, and then proceeded to state the object o’ their visit. “Mr Bodkin,” quoth he, “we have been appointed a deputation, by a large and important meeting of your fellow-townsmen, to wait upon you in regard to the filling up of the chief magistrate’s chair in this great, wealthy—and—and—and, I may say, most extraordinary community. You are aware, Sir, that in a few weeks the town will be without a Provost, and in our perplexity we have turned to you, Sir, believing, as we most firmly do believe, that with you, Mr Bodkin, at the head of the civic affairs,—we—we—would not—I say we should at least have the right man in the right place.” (“Hear,” “Hear,” “Hear,” from the other two gentlemen.) The orator had evidently got beyond his depth, for he hummed, an’ he ha’d, an’ he cuist up the whites o’ his e’en, but the words were like to be dour to draw, an’ at last to mak’ the best o’ a bad job, he unfaulds the paperie he held in his hand, an’, quoth he, “In fact, Mr Bodkin, the document I hold in my hand will explain the—the—the—oor object better than I can do;” so he proceeded to read as follows:— Continue reading “‘Bodkin For Provost’ (19 October, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Studies Craniology’ (12 October, 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 mentioned i’ my last epistle hoo Tibbie an’ me made a rin ower by to Dundee frae Cockmylane on the Saturday’s afternoon to see wi’ oor ain een whether or no Willie Clippins was keepin’ a’ thing square an’ trim aboot the hoose, an’ especially to see if the tortoise hadna made a voyage doonstairs to Maister Phelim O’Grady, an’, as I observed i’ the said epistle, we faund Willie faithfu’ in everything. He had boiled the petawtis accordin’ to Tibbie’s instructions an’ he wrocht up the drawers an’ slacks accordin’ to mine, so baith Tibbie an’ me were mair than satisfied wi’ the mainer wherein the bit loonie had acquitted himsel’. Havin’ finished a’ the bits o’ jobs I had set him to the road wi’ afore I left, he had had recourse to the professional services o’ Maister Stitch, an’ I faun that the twa o’ them had been layin’ their heads thegither on the previous nicht, an’ had actually shapen a pair o’ corduroy slacks, whereat Willie was eydently employed when I burst in oonexpectedly upon his meditations. The slacks were nae that ill cut out, a’thing considered, just a wee thocht ower wide across the hams if onything, but that was soon rectified by takin’ oot the beasin’ steeks an’ pairin’ the maiter o’ a half inch or sae aff the skirpin’, whereby they were rendered in every respect exactly to my mind.

Tibbie made an inspection o’ the kitchen, an’ discovered that the tortoise had fyled the floor in twa places, ane o’ them bein’ oonder the bed, an’ the ither atween the airm-chair an’ the wa’, but as Willie’s instructions didna extend farther than to see that the beastie got its bite o’ meat in due season, an’ keepit oot o’ Phelim O’Grady’s clutches, he couldna be held responsible for the defilement o’ the floor, an’ sae Tibbie juist dichtit it up wi’ an oowen clout, an’ said naething. Hoosomdever, on gaen’ into the pantry, Tibbie discovers that her claes raip is in twa halves, an’ so, when Willie was interrogated aboot it, he confessed that he had been tryin’ Blondin’s exploits ae day w’t, an’ that he was just half-way alang, balancin’ himsel’ wi’ the law-brod, an’ carryin’ the guse in his teeth, when the raip brak, an’ doon cam’ Clippins, guse, an’ law-brod, wi’ an awfu’ ruddie on the floor, whereby Mistress O’Grady was nearly frichtened oot o’ her seven senses. Mair an’ ootower a’ that, the dinle o’ the dooncome had taen effect on the partition wa’ separatin’ the shop frae the kitchen, whereon Tibbie’s delf wares were arranged in raws, an’ sae, on coontin’ her crockerie, Tibbie missed a jug that she had got frae Phelim O’Grady four months syne, in excheenge for a pund o’ harren cloots an’ a lapfu’ o’ banes, the jug havin’ fa’en’ i’ the floor an’ flown to flinders aboot twa seconds after Willie an’ the guse had pairted company wi’ the claes line. Tibbie was aboot to raise a ruction i’ the hoose anent the mismagglement o’ her raip an’ the loss o’ her jug, but I taen speech in hand wi’ her, an’ stood up bauldly in Willie’s defence, showin’ that he micht peradventure become as great a funambulist as Blondin himsel’, when he wad, nae doot, mak’ ample mends for the mischanter he had fa’en into, besides refleckin’ nae that little credit on me as havin’ set him i’ the way o’ weel-doin’. An’ even settin’ aside considerations o’ that kind, laddies will be laddies, an’ maun be allooed some length o’ tether, an’ it wad be as daft like in us to attempt to put an auld head upon young shoothers as it was in Willie, puir chield, to essay walkin’ wi’ the guse in his teeth alang a string that was scarcely fit to bear the wecht o’ half-a-dizzen o’ sarks newly oot o’ the washin’-tub. By this means I manage to skoog Willie frae the dirdum o’ Tibbie’s sealdin’ tongue.

As Tibbie an’ me couldna think o’ beginnin’ to do onything, seein’ oor visit was but a transitory ane, I made the suggestion that we sid gang doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall an’ hear Fooler an’ Wells, an’ get oor heads read. “Oor heads redd,” quoth Tibbie, “I can redd my head at hame, Tammas, an’ if need be I’se redd yours too.” Tibbie was actually for refusing to visit the phrenologists, until I told her that John Davidson an’ Mrs Davidson had baith been ther gettin’ their heads read, an’ that it wad gar us look unco baugh aside them if we didna gang through the same ordeal. Tibbie couldna thole the idea o’ Mr an’ Mrs Davidson bein’ before us in ony respect, no even as to the reddin’ o’ her head, an’ therefore, if Fooler an’ Wells had read Mr an’ Mrs Davidson’s heads, oondoubtedly they sid read Tibbie’s an’ mine. A’ the time we were argie-bargiein’ aboot it, Tibbie was oonder the impression that Fooler an’ Wells were naething but fashionable hairdressers, an’ that they wad simply kaim oor hair, an’ maybe apply a slaik o’ bear’s grease or Macassar oil to it. So when she saw me at the lookin’-glass sheddin’ my hair—as I always do afore gaen oot to mingle in polite society—she observes, “Tammas, there’s nae earthly use o’ ye wastin’ yer time, an’ wearin’ the kaim, reddin’ yer hair here, when ye’re juist gaen to pay Fooler an’ Wells for performin’ that duty; my certie, if they get the payment, I sid let them work the wark.” So I was oonder the needcessity o’ explainin’ to her that by getting oor heads read was meant gettin’ oor bumps examined, but Tibbie protestit that she kent that brawley, withoot needin’ me to tell her. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Studies Craniology’ (12 October, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 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,—Andro Sooter had resolved to hae a few o’ his brither farmers inveetit to his maiden feast, to gie them a blow-oot o’ meat an’ drink, an’ as he was particularly anxious that I sid be present on that great occasion, in order that he micht hae an opportunity o’ introducin’ me to the wide circle o’ his aristocratic acquaintance, he wadna hear o’ Tibbie an’ me gaen hame till the ploy was ower, though I maun confess I was gettin’ ooneasy aboot hoo Willie Clippins wad be managin’ matters in my absence. Hoosomdever, Tibbie and me made a fleein’ visit to Dundee on a Saturday afternoon, staid ower the Sabbath, an’gaed back to Cockmylane on the followin’ Monday, an’ I am happy to say Willie was found faithfu’ in a’ his maister’s hoose-hold—everything, baith but the hoose an’ ben the hoose, bein’ in perfect order, the tortoise aye to the fore, an’ lookin’ as fresh-like as it did that day it was cleckit. I may just mention that Tibbie an’ me gaed doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall on the Saturday nicht, an’ got oor bumps read by Fooler an’ Wells, an’ if a’s weel next week Ise gie ye a bit sketch o’ hoo we got on in presence o’ the philosophers.

There was great preparation at Cockmylane for the harvest-home. It was evidently to be a feast o’ fat things. Tibbie lent her invaluable assistance to Mrs Sooter in the culinary department, baith by strength o’ airm an’ by word o’ mooth. There were beef-steak pies, an’ stuffed chickens, an’ roast, an’ boiled, an’ ankers o’ whisky an’ oceans o’ beer. A huge, owergrown Sandy Cawmel was condemned to death on the heads o’ the business, in order that his harrigalds micht be available for belly-timber to the numerous ghaists that were expectit to be present frae a’ the region roond aboot. Andro is a handy bodie, an’ can kill a swine wi’ ony mortal man. As he required some assistance, hooever, I was drafted into the service, my duty eing to haud on by the lugs, while ane o’ the ploughman chields grippit by the hind legs. Of coorse Maister Cawmel was rather noisy in his remonstrances, an’ a the idlers within hearin’ o’m cam’ rinnin’ to see what was the cause o’ the uproar, an’ amang the rest cam’ a baker chield frae Leuchars, wha had a basketfu’ o’ cookies, buns, an’ shortbread for Mrs Sooter, that had been ordered for the approachin’ feast. So he set doon his basket, an’ beheld while Andro was stickin’ the swine. Od, I was right wae for the puir brute, but what maun be canna be helpit, an’ it’s a clear case that pigs canna be convertit into pork withoot lettin’ their wind oot. Weel, ye see grumphy, after gettin’ the length o’ the gully, was far frae bein’ in a comfortable perdicament, an’ so when we quat oor grips o’m, he bangs up to his feet an’ rins aff, bleedin’ like a very swine, as he was. Takin’ the direction o’ the baxter loon, he made an ill-advised bolt straught at the basket o’ baps an’ shortly, thrust his head richt through the bow thereof, an’ awa’ he gaed wi’t hangin’ on by the tail, an’ fechtin’ wi’ a’ his micht an’ main to recover the basket. Before he could succeed in that, hooever, the bread had been rendered quite useless either for beast or body, an’ so he had nae help for it but just to gang back the road he cam’, an’ get a fresh supply. I was sair vexed for the bit loonie, an’ yet when I beheld hoo his grumphieship whuppit up the basket an’ set aff wi’t, an’ hoo the baxter hang on by the tail, I couldna help gi’en way a wee thocht to my mirthfu’ disposition.

At length the great feast nicht cam’ roond, an’ Tibbie an’ me arrayed oorsels in oor best abuliement for the occasion. There was a great forgatherin’ o’ the neebourin’ farmers, their wives, their sons, their dochters their man-servants, and their maid-servants. While the representatives o’ the farmer’s ha’ were accommodated in the parlour, the ploughmanity o’ the district, consistin’ o’ the Jocks an’ the Jennies, frae the bothies an’ the cotter hooses, had the liberty o’ the kitchen an’ the barn-laft, that had been cleaned oot as a ball room, an’ lichted up wi’ twa dizzen o’ penny candles, stuck into turnips, an’ arranged here an’ there alang the crap wa’s. Of coorse, Tibbie an’ me were introduced to a’ the genteel company as they arrved, an’ I was told a’ their names an’ the names o’ their farms, but I’ve an’ ill memory for names, as the phrenology folk informed me, an’ therefore it’s but few o’ them I remember. Hoosomdever, they were, withoot exception, a sichtly set o’ men an’ women—a’ plump, red an’ rosy—lookin’ as if they were blessed wi’ gude stammacks, an’ plenty o’ the very best o’ fodder to fill them withal. The aulder portion o’ them were frank an’ ootspoken in their ain hammert fashion, expressin’ what they thocht wi’ great vehemence, some o’ them, speakin’ nae that little withoot troublin’ themsels wi’ muckle thocht, an’ the whole o’ them speakin’ simultaneously, insomuch that I was like to be bedundered wi’ the noise. The junior squad [?] had less to say than their seniors, bein’, if onything, a wee thocht blate, owin’ to their seein’ less o’ society than the like o’ Tibbie an’ me. Hoosomdever, when they did venture to open their mouths, stots an’ staigs formed the staple o’ the men’s conversation, as did bye, an’ calves, an’ butter, an’ cheese, that o’ the leddies. Sae lang as the crack was confined to agricultured matters, I had but unco little to say, but when it deviated into politics an’ foreign affairs I faund my superior enlichtenment in very great request an’ the utmost deference paid to my opinions, as was but richt an’ proper, considerin’ the opportunities I had in my youth o’ studyin’ polite learnin’ oonder Maister Mansie Waugh, an’ subsequently o’ addin’ to my stock o’ usefu’ knowledge by the observation an’ experience o’ a lang lifetme.

Tea bein’ ower, it was next proposed that the company sid adjourn to the ball-room, where we found the shearers an’ ploughman lougin’ [?] bauk-height to the speerit stirnin’ soonds o’ Sandy Burgess’s fiddle. Andro had heard o’ Sandy’s fame—as wha that lives atween Fife Ness an’ Torryburn hasna heard o’t—an’ he had sent for him a’ the way frae Coup-ma-Horn twa days afore the ball, in order that Andro, an’ me, an’ Mrs Sooter, an’ Tibbie, micht get a little insicht frae him into the sirt o’ dancin’ polkas, an’ strathspeys, an’ country dances, whereby we micht be able to acquit oorsels creditably in the presence o’ sic an enlichtened company as it wad behoove us to shake oor shanks afore. For twa days, therefore, we had laubered wi’ commendable zeal in the parlour floor, an’ noo I was up to the fore-stap an’ the back-stap, an’ a dance ca’d the “Deil amang the teelyours,” while Andro Sooter had gien special attentions to the “Hay-makers,” as bein’ conneckit wi’ his ain profession. Tibbie an’ Mrs Sooter had been taught a’ the oots-an’-ins a’ the foursome reel, an’ Sandy thocht that, wi’ gleg partners, to gie us the wink o’ command, ony ane o’ us wad be able to gang through the figure o’ ony dance that was likely to be proposed. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Shows His Mettle’ (28 September, 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 mornin’ succeedin’ my sportin’ jaunt to Cupar, Tibbie an’ me were up by peep o’ day makin’ preparations for the hairst rig. Armed wi’ a couple o’ splinder new scythe heuks that had never before cut girs or grain, Tibbie an’ me were equal to ony emergency that might arise; an’ by my certie, though I say’t mysel’—an’ I’m no gien to sklentin’ nor blowstin’ aboot my achievements—there wasna a shearer within the boonds o’ Cockmylane that could lay saut to oor tails; but ye’ll hear.

Andro Sooter was up reishlin’ aboot the doors by the back o’ five o’clock, makin’ an inspection o’ the face o’ the heavens, settlin’ in his ain mind whether it was to be fair weather or foul, an’ oot bye at the field o’ barley that awaited oor whittles, feelin’ if it was dry and fit for shearin’. Andro is a great weather-prophet, an’ a diligent student o’ the Jockteleear .He can tell, frae the appearance o’ the risin’ sun, whether the day will be wet or dry. If he sees midgies dancin’ i’ the sun, that’s a sign o’ something, an’ if he sees a weather-gaw i’ the east or the north, that’s anither sign; and if the simmercouts be risin’ frae the grund ae day, he’ll tell ye what will happen the next. There’s no a pyet that can chatter upo’ the hoose-head but Andro can draw an inference frae the circumstance. Maister Sooter doesna patronise the new-fangled kind o’ weather-glasses, w’i dials like watch-faces; but he has ane o’ his ain manufacture that he reposes implicit faith in, consistin’ o’ a narrow phial, filled wi’ some kind o’ clear graith, an’ suspendit frae the roof wi’ its bottom umost, an’ as the contents rise or fa’, Andro divines in accordance therewith. The result o’ Andro’s scrutiny o’ the heavens that mornin’ was that we wad certainly hae fair weather for the next four-and-twenty oors, an’ maybe up to twal o’clock next day; but for ony langer continuation o’t, he wadna gie his guarentee.

Havin’ made his preliminary observations an’ dispositions, he taen doon his nowt’s horn frae the kitchen hallan, went oot to the tap o’ the midden-head, an’ there blew a blast that micht hae weel waukened the seven sleepers, if sae be they had been within ear-shot. It remindit me o’ Jack the Giant Killer an’ the blasts that he blew whenever he was aboot to execute some o’ his murderous projects. The horn was the warnin’ to the shearers to rax doon their heuks an’ turn oot to the labours o’ the day. The tootin’ hadna lastit aboon twa minutes, when the shearers began to mak’ their appearance, the cottar wives creepin’ slowly frae their hooses, lockin’ their doors, an’ puttin’ the keys i’ their pouches, some o’ them wi’ a string o’ weans at their heels, the puir things havin’ hardly had time to rake open their e’e-holes; an’ ae reistit-lookin’ hizzie o’ a wife, in particular, wi’ a black cutty pipe in her chafts, whereat she sookit like a gelly, sendin’ forth cluds o’ reek like a locomotive engine. Feigh! feigh! I can thole to see a man blawin’ at a pipe, an’ I can tak’ a draw mysel’ wi’ ony mortal man, but it’s perfectly ugesome to see a woman at that trade. I have a sort o’ instinctive notion that the jade wha can deliberately sit doon an’ blast tobacco, wadna stick at drinkin’ whisky an’ fillin’ hersel’ fou’; an’ if a woman, sittin’ at her ain chimla cheek wi’ a pipe in her ooth is a most disgustin’ picture, it’s ten times waur when she has the daurin’ impudence to come furth tovin’ an’ reekin’ in the sicht o’ the sun. But, to return frae this disgression, I wad observe that the maist o’ Andro’s shearers were feed hands frae Dundee, wha were accommodatit wi’ very primitive lodgings in the strae barn, or i’ the laft aboon twa dizzen o’ young hizzies doon frae their roosts, an’ a pooer o’ jaw they had amang themsels aboot ae thing an’ anither, part whereof fell to the share o’ Tibbie an’ me. There was ae limmer especially, wi’ red hair an’ fairn-tickled face, that spak for hersel’, an’ I’m certain sure for anither dizzen o’ orinary haverils. Pity the puir man that gets her for a wife, for if she doesna turn oot a slattern an’ a randy, my judgment is muckle at faut. On oor way to the field, this Heelan’-lookin’ quean held her tongue ga’en aboot Tibbie an’ me, an’ she wondered what gude we could do on a hairst rig, twa puir auld fizzenless creatures, that couldna step across a gaa-fur withoot a staff to steady them, an’ she wad gie them a heat afore breakfast time if her soul bade in her body; an’ then she began to tell a’ aboot my gouk’s errand to Corn-Crake Terrace, a’ aboot my interview wi’ the weel-faured servant lass there, wha was a cousin o’ hers, an’ a’ aboot my numerous ither adventures an’ achievements, the major pairt whereof she had in her head like a horn, windin’ up her discoorse wi’ sundry objurgatory strictures as to my bein’ the cause o’ their bein’ sent the nicht afore on a bootless errand ower a’ the coontry side, when they had mair need to be in their beds. A’ this, an’ muckle mair to the same effect, I overheard—

“An’ muckle thocht oor gudeman to himsel’,

But never a word he spak, O.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Shows His Mettle’ (28 September, 1861)”