‘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)”

‘Bodkin Travels Without a Ticket’ (21 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,—I promised to gi’e ye a scrift o’ hoo we were fendin’ an’ farin’ at Cockmylane, an’ as I dinna like to mak’ a promise withoot performin’ it, I sall endeavour, noo that Andro Sooter s awa’ to his bed, an’ Tibbie is streekit to her stockin’, to snatch an oor or twa frae the dresscoat I mentioned in my last epistle, in order to set doon twa or three unco queer adventures o’ mine since we cam’ to reside in these pairts. In regard to that coat, I may juist observe parenthetically, that I’m generally sae tired wi’ my daily perambulations to an’ fro through this country side, viewin’ a’ the uncos I can clap an e’e on, that by the time Andro Sooter creeps awa’ to his roost, I find mysel’ in a better trim for sleepin’ than for exercisin’ my warldly callin’, sae ye may conclude, wi’ every probability, o’ bein’ perfectly correct in yer surmises that the coat has made but little progress as yet; an’, to tell the truth, I’ve only got the length o’ lookin’ at the claith, an’ thinkin’ aboot beginnin’ in doonricht earnest, maybe the day after tomorrow, or at least some nicht soon, but we’ll see as to that when the time comes. Tibbie, hooever, has dune some guid, for she has already finished ae stockin’, and has the marrow o’t doon as far as the intaks at the heel; but then, ye’ll observe, Tibbie hauds the wires gaen at ony orra time; such as when Mrs Sooter is oot milkin’ her kye, or awa’ wi’ her butter; but as for me, I’ve nae orra time to spare, for frae the peep o’ day to the dewy shades o’ even’, I’m either oot on the hairst rig alang wi’ Mr Sooter, helpin’ him to grieve the shearers, or I’m awa’ wi’ Andro’s fowlin’ piece on my shoother, like Robinson Crusoe, for twa or three oors on end, amusin’ mysel’ wi’ shootin’ corbies, peesweits, an’ colliehoods, an’ ither fowls o’ the air than dinna exactly come oonder the provisions o’ her Majesty’s game laws. I wasna four-an’-twenty hoors at Cockmylane, ere I had completely cleared the toon o’ sparrows an’ yellow-yorlins, insomuch that not ane o’ them wad daur to show neb in my presence. So, on Tuesday mornin’, I had made up my mind to extend my sportin’ tour to a wide stretch o’ muirland that lies aboot a mile or sae sooth by wast frae Cockmylane, wi’ the view o’ tryin’ my hand at the craws an’ earnbleaters that Andro informed me were plentiful thereaboot. So I taks doon the fowlin’ piece, tells Mrs Sooter that I wad be back by dinner time at the very latest, an’ awa’ I goes. For a pairt o’ the way the hie road leads precisely in the direction o’ the muir whereunto I was journeyin’, an’ as I am joggin’ alang, a big lumberin’ machine o’ a carriage comes up containin’ a gentleman, wha, I perceived, e’ed my fowlin’ piece wi’ a suspicious glance i’ the by-ga’en, but he made nae remark an’ as little dd I. Thae coontry gentlemen wad as soon meet the diel wi’ a half dizzen o’ his angels at his heels as meet an honest tailor like mysel’ wi’ a fowlin’ piece ower his shoother. So Andro Sooter told me, an’ Andro has better opportunities o’ pickin’ up information on that subject than he is disposed to be a’thegither thankfu’ for.

Weel, ye see, awa’ rolled the gentleman in the carriage, an’ as I was anxious to spare my legs till I got to the sportin’ grund, ye’ll no hinder me to slip in ahent the vehikle an’ seat mysel’ on the back settlements thereof. It was far frae bein’ a comfortable seat, as it was completely covered ower wi’ iron spikes, as a safeguard against the pranks o’ the juvenile portion o’ society, wha are ever ready to ride on a carriage if sae be they can do sae free gratis for naething. Hoosomdever, I managed to mak’ gude my quarters, though it was certainly purchasin’ easdom for my legs at the expense o’ anither portion o’ my body. I reached my destination in the name o’ naetime withoot ony mishap occurrin’, but, lo, and be, hold! when I essayed to dismount, I stuck fast! Yea, dootless, I was firmly nailed to my seat! I edged mysel’ aboot in a’ the directions o’ the compass, but oot o’ the bit I couldna get. I tried to disentangle the hinder pairts o’ my garments frae their intimate association wi’ the iron spikes, but in vain—no ae inch wad they budge, an’ the carriage drave on’ at a dashin’ pace, too, thus renderin’ it still mair difficult for me to do ought for my ain deliverance. I had but ae hand to work oot my salvation wi’, for my ither hand was wholly engrossed wi’ keepin’ hauds o’ Andro Sooter’s gun. I micht hae called oot to stop the coach, an’ I wad dootless hae gotten some assistance to dismount, but I was dubious as to the kind o’ service I wad receive frae Maister Jarvie, no to mention the great personage inside, seein’ I was travellin’ withoot a ticket as it were, havin’ nae earthly business to be where I was. It was exceedingly sinfu’ o’ me sae for to violate the rules o’ gude breedin’ as to ride withoot an invitation, that I’ll frankly admit; an’ if I sid live to the age o’ Methusalem, catch me do the like again. Here was justice pursuin’ me for my transgression, nor did the haill amount o’ my punishment consist in bein’ carried like John Gilpin, father than I had originally bargained for, though that was mortification eneuch, but there was the annoyance occasioned to certain salient points o’ my corporation by reason o’ the sharp-pointed iron spikes aforesaid—the pain whereof became, in the process o’ time, almost mair than I was able to bear. The Apostle Paul spak’ o ‘haein’ a thorn in the flesh, but, my certie, I had a score o’ them in my hide a’ at ae time. I fought bravely for my freedom like a rotten in a trap, until I saw it was nae use fechtin’ ony langer, an’ then I just resigned mysel’ to despair, concentrating a’ the energies o’ my soul an’ body on making the best I could o’ a bad bargain—that is, fidgin’ aboot frae ae position to anither as the demands o’ nature micht suggest. In this way the carriage sped onwards in the direction o’ Cupar; so, when we were passin’ through Darsie Muir, the bairns on the street cam’ runnin’ after us, envyin’ me, nae doot, o’ my ride, though, if they had kent a’, they had mair reason to bless their stars that they had the free use o’ their ain legs; for I’m certain sure at that blessed moment I wad hae gi’en the best croon-piece that ever was in my aucht to have had the soles o’ my feet at the grund again. After this, I sanna envy the man that rdes in a chariot, for, though he may sit on a hair cushion, an’ keeps up as fair an ootside appearance as I did on my involuntary journey to Cupar, he may yet hae his ain iron spikes o’ some kind or ither in soul or body to render his life as miserable as mine was on that luckless forenoon’s jaunt. The bairns havin’ got up wi’ a shout “hangin’ behind!” Jarvie garred his whup wallop twice or thrice ower the tap o’ the vehickle to frichten aff intruders, whereby he gae my fingers sundry cruel cuts that added considerably to the discomforts o’ my situation. Hoosomdever, I keepit my seat in spite o’ the whup, for the very gude an’ sufficient reason, that I couldna get doon. No an urchin did we pass on the road but he wad stand in an attitude o’ admiration, an’ wish himsel’ in my shoon; no a field o’ shearers did we pass but they wad rest frae their labour in order to inspect and pass their opinion on the passing equipage, an’ especially to speculate on the gentleman riding behind, who, they argued, could be naething less than the butler, or the footman, or the flunkey at the very least. Dog on it! it was ill eneuch to hae a score o’ iron spikes in my body, but to be ca’d a flunkey, that sent the iron into my very soul. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Travels Without a Ticket’ (21 September, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 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,—Ae mornn’ i’ th’ end o’ last week, I receives, amang my ither rather extensive correspondence, a letter that wasna juist a’thegither like a business letter, because it was written in a hammert hand o’ wreat, on an auld-fashioned sheet o’ letter-paper, withoot an’ envelope, and sealed wi’ a thimble; an’ so, my curiosity bein’ a wee thocht excitit, I seizes hauds o’ the epistle, first an’ foremost, breaks it open, an’ reads as follows:—


the four o’ September,

18 hundered and 61.

Auld Freend,

I have na seen or heerd tell o’ ye for more nor thirty year, and the last time I seed ye—ye’ll mind was in the year that Burke was hanged, and we were attackted by the gangrel Irishman on the hie road between Dalkeith and Musselburgh, and you thought he was the murderer Hare, and gave him such a wallop under the fifth rib, that his heels went over his head, and he landed into the middle of a whin bush; and you’ll mind how you and me parted at Mungo Mathew’s public, close by the toll bar, after we had had a half mutchkin thegither bekause it was a wet morning. After that I losed sight of you entirely, bekause I went to Ayrshire to work at the Iron-Stane, and after I wrought there for nine or ten year, I gaed out to Austreelia, and I made my fortune herding sheep to Mr Jone Wauchope, at a place thirty mile up from Melbourne, called Bloody Gully. I came home five year syne, and have took a farm, ye’ll see the name of it at the tap of this letter, and it is about six mile on this side of Cupar, and about two mile and a half on the other side of the coach-road to the water-side. I’m very comfortable, and I have a wife, and my farm is three plews lawbour, and I am very busy with the shearing just now, or I would have tried to find you out, for I’m sometimes at the market on Friday, but Mistress Sooter an’ me would be happy if Tibbie an’ you could come over and spend a week or 2 with us, and we will tak’ no denial, and you must come over to Newport with the 9 o’clock boat on Monday morning, and I will be at the water-side with a cart to drive you to Cockmylane, and I have to be at Newport at anyrate for a basketfu’ of ale, and a barrel o’ shearers’ bread. I found oot that you were in Dundee by seeing your letters and sae muckle about you in the newspaper. I must close this letter, because it is nine o’clock at night, and I am tired and sleepy, and we have to be up at five o’clock if it is a fair morning.

No more at present, but remains your auld friend,

Andrew Sooter,

tenant of Cockmylane.

Dog on it! the readin’ o’ this letter revived auld and kindly recollectons. I had nearly forgotten a’ aboot Andro Sooter, but when he mentioned my encoonter wi’ the drucken Irishman twa-an’-thirty years syne, my memory brichtened up, an’ I mind the particulars o’ that ploy, an’ a’ aboot drinkin the half-mutchkin wi’ Andro at the toll house, as weel as if they had happened only yesterday or the day afore. At that time, Andro, a young daft chield, aboot twenty years auld, was castin’ drains on a farm in the neeborhood o’ Dalkeith, an’ i’ the lang winter e’enins he was wont to come into the shop and chat awa wi’ the ‘prentices an’ journeymen, and he employed us to mak’ his stacks for him, an’ shape his corduroy cutikins, the sewin’ whereof he was wont to execute wi’ his ain hands, for he was aye a savin’ kind o’ a’ loon. Ay, ay, an’ Andro had warsled sae far up i’ the warld as to hae a farm o’ his ain. Weel, wha wad hae thocht it? For Andro was never kent to be a philosopher, but he was aye a wee thocht gruppy i’ his way, and attendit faithfully to his business, an’ after a’, it’s yer canny eydent, sayin’ kind o’ folk that grow rich, an’ no yer men o’ talent an’ genius. A’ thae thochts passed through my mind when I had read Andro’s letter, an’ sae I steps my ways ben to Tibbie, an’ reads the letter to her, an’ we had a consultation aboot oor invitation to Cockmylane, the result whereof was that we would be at Newport on Monday at the ‘oor appointit. We cam’ the mair readily to this conclusion, that we had half made up oor minds to tak lodgin’s for a week or ten days ower at Newport or doon bye at Carnoustie, at onyrate, for the sake o’ Tibbie’s health, that has been onything but in a satisfactory state sin’ we cam’ to live in this oonsavoury locality o’ the toon, amang the odours o’ fish-guts an’ the sickly aroma o’ Phelim O’Grady’s auld rags an’ rotten banes. The invitation to Cockmylane was therefore a special dispensation o’ Providence, that removed a’ financial obstacles to oor holiday jaunt an’ especially relieved me o’ the irksome duty o’ hagglin’ wi’ greedy landladies aboot room rent, an’ the price o’ gas an’ coal, an’ the perquisites due to the servent for cleanin’ oor shoon. That was what I never could put up wi’, an’ preserve my mental serenity, ever sin’ I cam’ to fend for mysel’ in this warld; an’ mony’s the time I’ve suffered mysel’ to be victmeezed rather than kick up a stoor aboot a paltry shillin’ or twa, an’ that’s dootless pairtly the reason why i’m the poor man I am at this oor an’ day. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Visits Blondin’ (7 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. In this article Tammas describes the performance of the legendary acrobat Charles Blondin, who performed in Dundee as part of his tour of Scotland. The previous year he had become a celebrity following a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.

Advertisement in the 31/08/1861 edition:

Grand Open-Air Fete

In That Large Double Shipbuilding

Shed, No. 2 Marine Parade,

The World-Renowned M.


The Hero OF Niagara,

Will Exhibit His

Daring Feats And Wonderful Performances,

On Wednesday 4th September.

Maister Editor,—Its mony a year an’ day sin I was wont to look on wi’ wonderment at the antics on ticht raips displayed by the gangerel showfolk that were wont to frequent Dalkeith fair, when I was sairin’ my apprenticeship to Maister Waugh, o’ immortal memory. Some o’ their achievements were really, in my opinion, no to be surpassed. Hooever, this is a go-a-head generation. We’ve made gigantic strides in science, an’ learnin’, an’ politics, an’ religion, an’ even, it wad seem, in dancin’ on a string. In my youthfu’ days, the play-actors never ventured on a raip at a greater elevation than four or five feet frae the grund, nor langer than four or five yards, whereas, noo-a-days, they wad think naething o’ sittin’ stridelegs on the arch o’ a rainbow, an’ balancin’ themselves wi’ ane o’ Jupiter’s thunderbolts. That’ll be the next wonderment, whaever lives to see it. When readin’ the Witch o’ Fife [part of the ‘Queen’s Wake’ by James Hogg], it has been a source o’ nae that little perplexity to me to oonderstand hoo the auld withered hag could keep her seat on a broomstick in the coorse o’ her aerial flicht to Carlisle, but that feat is nae langer a mystery to me, for if Blondin, wha is far frae bein’ a warlock—for there are nae warlocks noo—can preserve his head and his heels in their proper relative situations up in the region o’ the clouds, there is naethin’ to hinder an auld wife, in compact wi’ the foul fiend o’ the bottomless pit, frae scourin’ the regions o’ space, frae the zenith to the nadir, wi’ naething better to support her than a broomstick.

I had seen a gude hantle aboot Maister Blondin in the newspapers, an’ I maun say my curiosity was excited to behold an’ judge for mysel’, whether what the papers had said aboot him was in a’ respeets correct, for I’ve met wi’ sae mony doonricht lees in print in the coorse o’ my experience that I’m no very forward in believein’ a’ that I forgather wi’ in black an’ white, withoot, in the first place, submittin’ it to the process o’ ocular demonstration. But hoo was I to get Tibbie’s consent? That was the subject o’ lang an’ dreich cogitation, but at last an’ lang I fell upon a plan, an’ it was this. Tibbie, I kent, was as sceptical aboot Blondin’s feats as I was, so, after readin’ the adverteesment aboot him comin’ to Dundee, quoth I, “Tibbie, I’m fairly convertit; the papers hae been tellin’ naething but the truth; an’ we maun believe what they say, for ye ken it wad be wrang to steek oor een upon the truth.” “Yea, yea,” quoth Tibbie, “but I’m no convertit though; the days o’ miracles have ceased ye ken, sae I winna believe the blethers aboot Blondlin, an’ I wonder, Tammas, that ye are sae simple as to tak’ up yer head wi’ a curn havers.” “But it’s no havers,” quoth I. “But it is havers,” quoth Tibbie. “It’s no havers,” quoth I. “It is havers,” quoth she; an’ sae on we gaed until I got her corruption fairly waukened up, an’ she was as het i’ the temper as my guse. “Weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “wad ye believe the testimony o’ yer ain seven senses?” “That wad I,” quoth she. “Then doon you an’ me shall go on Wednesday nicht to the Marine Parade, an’ judge for oorsels,” quoth I. “Seein’s believin’” quoth Tibbie; “an’ gin Blunderin’ does what the papers say he does, I’se eat my mutch.” “That wad be unco teuch chawin’, Tibbie” quoth I, “an’ I wad rather see ye eatin’ a mair nourishin’ diet.” “My certie!” quoth Tibbie, “it wad be easier for me to do that then it wad be for Blondlin to hurle barrows, whummel heels ower head, an’ cook pancakes on a raip, a hunder feet up i’ the air.” “Weel, Tibbie, gin he dinna do thae things that ye say, i’se swallow my nicht-cap, an’ I wadna like to put it to sic a use, considerin’ whaur it cam’ frae.” Tibbie was aye a wee thocht jealous aboot that nicht-cap, an’ sae she fired up like blazes, ten times waur than ever, an’ quoth she, “weel, Tammas, we’ll gang an’ see wha wins the wager.” “A bargain be’t,” quoth I. Sae this was hoo I got Tibbie’s consent to oor visit to Maister Blondin. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Visits Blondin’ (7 September, 1861)”