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)”