‘Bodkin Escapes from his Foes.’ (15 June, 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,—Last week has been anither busy ane wi’ Tibbie an’ me. O’ a’ the ills that ever cam’ ower me this flittin’ business has been the warst by far an’ awa’. Of we could only foresee what is to happen, hoo mony things we do an’ say wad be left undone and unsaid! But, alake! we are short-sichtit mortals, an’ canna forecast the results o’ the very next stap we tak’—whether it may land us in happiness or misery. If Tibbie an’ me had kent what we ken noo, we never wad hae thocht o’ flittin’ frae oor auld hoose, where we had spent sae mony lichtsome happy days, an’ gane to that bug-infested abomination to be made the victims o’ thae hatefu’ blude-sookers. I’ve learnt frae dear-bocht experience that it’s no the brawest hoose that’s the best hoose, even as it’s no a gowd that glitters. Tibbie has gotten her stammagust o’ fine hooses an’ parlous, an’ a’ that kind o’ trumpery; an’ costly as this spring has been to me, I’ll hae time to mak’ up my leeway again afore Tibbie seek to play anither ane on the same key; sae it winna be a’ lost i’ the’ end o’ the day maybe. But withoot farther preface, I maun gie ye a scrift o’ hoo we pairtit company wi’ oor freends—the bugs.

Weel, ye see, on Monday nicht was a week, Tibbie made her bed i’ th’ sofy, as she had done on the previous nicht , drawin’ a cordon sanitaire round her roose wi’ the floor o’ brimstane as afore, but somehoo or ither, by slicht or by micht, her enemies brak through the blockade an’ bore doon on her at full sail, pitchin’ their poisoned darts intil her carcase in a manner that dings me to describe. Tibbie groaned, an’ grat, an’ faucht, an’ flayt the haill nicht through. Sometimes she wad fa’ on a doverin’ o’ sleep—for she was sair dung for want o’ rest. Puir body—but nae sooner was she quiet for five or ten minutes. Than her adversaries began wi’ their auld pranks. A’ that nicht I didna sleep an’ oor though a’ the bits o’ gloffs I got were eekit thegither; but when mornin’ cam’, I says to Tibbie, “This will never do,” quoth I; “we maun see to the end o’ this wark, an’ that without mair parley aboot it, juist. We’ll leave thae bugs to their ain meditations, an’ tak’ oor creep.” Tibbie had been o’ the same opeenion, though she said naething, an’ sae she tried to manifest her acquiescence in my remark wi’ a smile, but, wad ye believe it? her physog was sae swelled an’ thrawn, that it was physically impossible for her to cruik her chafts into the similitude o’ a laugh, though her soul’s salvation had dependit on the issue. Aucht o’clock strak, an’ quoth I to Willie Clippins, “ye’ll gang your wa’s doon, my man, an’ gie my compliments to Maister John Clinkscales, the grocery man at the fit o’ the Shuttle Raw, an’ tell him to haste ‘im up immediately, that I want to speak till ‘im.” “Ay, ay,” quoth Willie, ever ready to execute my orders, like the obedient loonie that he is; “it’s yon man wi’ the muckle wame that stands atween the door cheeks wi’ a white apron on, an’ a pair o’ spartickles on his nose?” “Juist the very man,” quoth I; “noo scoor awa like a twa-year-auld, an’, gin ye fa’, dinna tak’ time to rise again, an’ be sure ye deliver the message as ye’ve received it.” Willie gaed aff as like lichtnin’ as his muckle tae, that is scarcely a’thegither haill yet, wad permit; an’ here I maun tell ye that had brocht us sae muckle vexation. In the coorse o’ a quarter o’ an oor, Mr Clinkscales made his appearance, puffin’ an’ blawin’ like a pair o’ smiddy bellis, for John is ane o’ thae chields that seem to hae mair gut an’ ga’ i’ their composition than onything o’ a mair etherial essence. I bade the body sit doon till he recovered his breath, an’ Willie Clippins I dismissed to the ither end, shuttin’ baith the doors on us, for it disna do to let fools an’ bairns hear a’ ye have to say. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Escapes from his Foes.’ (15 June, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Terribly Hum-Bugged’ (8 June, 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,—It’s an auld sayin’, an’ a true ane, that man is born to trouble as the sparks flee upwards. This truth, at ony rate, appears to haud guid in my case, for I’m sure I’m like the doo that Noah sent oot frae the wark afore the waters were abaitit, I canna find rest for the sole o’ my fit. On ilka side I’m environed wi’ deep waters, whereof the billows threaten to devoor me wi’ their angry jaws. Sin’ I inditit my last epistle, I’ve been in the warst pickle that ever mortal man was in, frae the eatin’ o’ the forbidden fruit doon to this present day an’ generation. As I’ve aye thocht it a relief to hae a sensible body to mak’ my molygrant till, even when my grief was unaswageable by human sympathy, I’ve juist sittin’ doon to tell ye a’ the oots an’ the ins o’ my present tribulation.

Weel, ye see, to begin at the beginnin’, by superhuman efforts, Tibbie had made a’thing trig an’ braw aboot oor new hoose by the approach o’ Saturday nicht, an’, sair worn oot though she was wi’ the hard wark, she was yet “as canty as a kittlin’,” an’ couldna eneuch admire the effecks o’ her handiwark in a’ the holes an’ corners o’ the bit biggin’, especially the parlour—Tibbie couldna get her sairin’ o’ lookin’ at it. A’ the bits o’ nick-nacks were tried in a thoosan’ different positions, wi’ the view o’ garrin’ them produce the grandest possible effeck at the sma’est possible expense; an’ sae, after everything had been arranged to her entire, an’, I may say, intense, satisfaction, Mrs Davidson was sent for. Alang she cam’ on Saturday nicht, an’ Tibbie taen care to hae on her net-mutch, an’ a braw new sawton apron that she got to the boot o’ the bargain when she was buyin’ her window curtains (so she said to me, an’ I’ve nae richt to misdoot her word), an’ a’ to mak’ her appear brawer an’ younger lookin’ than Mrs Davidson. I juist stood an’ beheld the twa o’ them, for I faund it to be physically impossible for me to edge in my word into the conversation. Tibbie waxed exceedingly eloquent, an’ enlairged on the guid properties o’ the hoose, an’ the splendaciousness o’ the parlour, in a manner that was truly edifeein’ an’ marvellous in a woman o’ her edication. Mrs Davidson did aboot a tenth pairt o’ the conversation, Tibbie she gaed through nine-tenths thereof, an’ I did the rest. So Tibbie bade Mrs Davidson sit doon on a new sofy, an’ then cam’ a interteenment o’ wine an’ cake, whereof we a’ partook, an’ drank succes to the new hoose. I thocht i’ my ain mind that less micht hae saired than waistin’ my means and substance on wine at half-a-croon or three shillins the bottle for the sake o’ Mrs Davidson; but I said naething, the mair sae as it was a’ done oot o’ a guid intention on Tibbie’s pairt, in order to tak the shine oot o’ Mrs Davidson—an achievement that wad refleck fully as muckle honour on me as on Tibbie. So after sittin’ a half-oor or sae—rather ooneasily as I thocht—Mrs Davidson raise an’ tane her departure. “I needna bid ye come alang some nicht an’ see me,” quoth she, wi’ a toss o’ her head, an’ in a voice falterin’ wi’ vexation an’ rage combined, “for ye’ll be thinkin’ yersels ower high noo for kennin’ ony o’ yer auld acquaintances.” An’ awa her ladyship gaed unco skeigh lookin’, an’ I’m thinkin’ John Davidson heard aboot oor new sofy an’ carpet, an’ window-pole, an’ moreen curtains, i’ the deafest side o’ his head afore he got sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids that nicht. No ae wink o’ rest will he get, puir man, till Mrs Davidson be upsides wi’ Mrs Bodkin.

Tibbie’s triumph was complete. She was as prood as ever was a general after gainin’ a great victory. She had eclipsed Mrs Davidson! Tibbie laid doon her head that nicht on her pillow wi’ the consciousness that she had done her duty, an’ she was as happy as the Queen o’ Sheba, or rather, as Solomon was after showin’ that lady a’ his riches an’ the glory was after showin’ that lady a’ his riches an’ the glory o’ his excellence. For me, I lay doon thinkin’ o’ the poor o’ siller that Tibbie’s plenishin’ fever had cost, an’ yet I did’na grudge her aither, for Tibbie has been a guid wife to me. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Terribly Hum-Bugged’ (8 June, 1861)”

‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere. Continue reading “‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)”

‘Mrs Bodkin’s New Bannet’ (4 May, 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,—On Monday nicht, Tibbie an’ me were sittin’ afore the fire crackin’ aboot things in general, and toastin’ oor taes preparatory to creepin’ into oor roost, when Tibbie she says, “Tammas, I maun hae a new bannet.” “Weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “what maun be, maun juist be, an’ canna be helpit; but what has put that i’ yer noddle enow?” “Ou, ye see, this is the time o’ year o’ new bannets, an’ ither folk are gettin’ them, an’ gin ye dinna want yer wife to be an outlin, ye maun juist draw yer huggar.” “But ither folk had been needin’ new bannets maybe, an’ I’m sure your black silk ane is as gude as ever, an’ for the season o’ the year, I dinna see what that has to do wi’ a new bannet. For my pairt, Tibbie, my hat sairs me in a’ weathers, an’ at a’ seasons, an’ I think yours micht do the same.” “Yea; d’ye think sae, Tammas? But ye see doctors differ, lad; an’ sae a bannet I maun hae.” “No till ye can show me the propriety o’t, Tibbie; an’ as sune as ye can do that, I sauna stand i’ th’ way o’ a bannet.” “Weel, Tammas, there’s Mrs Davidson, at the fit o’ the close—an’ I’m certain sure John Davidson’s wage is nae a great deal—an’ yet she has gotten a new bannet, an’ nae that little expense it has been. There’s Mrs Macfarlane an’ four o’ her dochters—a’ dependin’ on Donald’s auchteen shillin’s i’ th’ week—an’ they’ve a’ gotten bran new bannets. An’ no to multiply examples, Tammas, there’s Mrs Walker was at the kirk yesterday wi’ ane o’ the dearest bannets in a’ Reform Street on the head o’ ‘r, an’ her guidman is naething better than a tailor like yersel’, Tammas, wi’ a sma’er than ye hae, Tammas. Noo, what for no sid I do get a new bannet amon’ sae mony new bannets? ‘Deed, there’s scarcely a respectable body comes into the kirk, but has got a new bannet, an’ gin ye want yer wife to be rankit amang the riff-raff, I can gang to the kirk next Sabbath wi’ my auld Leghorn that I was marrit in!” “Na, na, there’s nae use for that, Tibbie, as lang as ye’ve the black silk ane,” quoth I. “How could ony body gang either to kirk or market wi’ that?” quoth Tibbie, haudin’ up the pastebrod frame. “But whereawa is silk coverin’ o’t?” quoth I. “Aha, Tammas lad,” quoth Tibbie, “I pickit it don this forenoon when ye were oot, sae ye see I maun hae a new bannet.” “Dog on it!” quoth I, “there’s nae gettin’ roond you women-folk neither by force nor flattery, I see. Sure eneuch ye maun get a new bannet noo, but see ye haud wi’ moderate things. Mind my exchecker winna thole a dear bannet, an’ ye’re no gaen to tak on things like thae three leddies ye’ve mentioned, haudin’ the beagles rinnin’ aboot oor hoose on a cravin’ expedition the way they do aboot their’s, for its weel kenned they’re no sterlin’ for a’ their bravity.” Tibbie heard a’ this discoorse an’ said naething. Awa she gaed doon to Reform Street next mornin’, an’ it was past twal o’clock afore I saw the face o’r again. Thae women folk for bidin’ when they get into a haberdasher’s shop! They have sae mony things to glower at, an’ turn ower an’ ower an’ roond an’ roond, an’ pink at it wi’ the ae e’e steekit like a hen searching for barley pickles, an’ they’ve sae mony questions to speer aboot this thing an’ the ither thing, an’ they’ve to stand an’ consider, an’ they canna mak up their minds whether to tak ane wi’ a dark grund an’ a white spat in’t, or wi’ a white grund an’ a dark spat in’t, an’ they’re no sure whether the colours are ast or lowse, an’ this thing wad please them but it’s ower dear, an’ that thing is cheap eneuch but it disna please, an’ so on they gae. That’s no my way again, when I gang to buy a piece o’ claith—an’ I’ve brocht nae that little o’t i’ my time, noo—my mind’s made up at ance. Nae stanin’ yamerin’ an’ hagglin’ wi’ me! But herein Tibbie an’ I, as in some ither respects, differ in oor politicks, an’ sae as I was sayin’ it was past twal o’clock when her leddyship cam hame. She had a band-box in ae hand an’ a meikle bundle i’ the ither. Ben to the kitchen she gaed wi’ her merchandeese, an’ as for me I held gaen at the needle an’ made nae observation. Five minutes or sae passed ower, an’ at last an’ lang Tibbie cries “Tammas, come here.” So ben the hoose I goes, an’ there stands Tibbie afore the lookin’ glass wi’ her new bannet on, giein’ hersel’ a’ the pridefu’ airs she could think on, an’ a geyan costly lookin’ loom o’ a headpiece it was, wi’ as mony ribbons an’ gumflowrs an’ ither useless fall-alls on’t as micht hae saired the best leddy o’ the land. Hoosomdever, I said naething, either guid, bad, or indifferent. “An’ hoo d’ye like my bannet?” quoth Tibbie. “I’m thinkin’ I’ll like the bill waur than the bannet,” quoth I, “but I maun needs say its a handsome lookin’ bannet, Tibbie, an’ gars ye look a dizzen years younger than ye are; in fact had ye no testifeed to the contrary, I wad really believe ye had been born in the year o’ the great comet after a’.” Tibbie was delighted wi’ her bannet, an’ she was pleased to see me delighted also. “But Tibbie,” quoth I “what’s in this parcel that ye’ve stowed awa in the bed as if it were smuggled gear?” “Ou ye see, Tammas, the man wadna let me awa withoot takin’ a black cloth mantle, for, as he said, I wadna be a’ o’ a piece withoot it; an’ I’m sure I telled him weel hoo angry ye wad be, but he wadna mind my tellin’; so I was just forced to tak’ the mantle.” “It seems to me, Tibbie, that the man, whaever he is, has far mair command o’ ye than ever I had, for I’m sure if I had tried to force ye to tak’ a mantle against yer wull ye wadna hae been ruled by me.” “Ay, but Tammas your force is aye exertit in an opposite direckson, juist try to orce a new goon on me, an’ ye’ll see.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “the mantle winna break me a’ thegither, sae ye can lowse it doon an’ try’t on.” Tibbie didna sae twa biddens to do that ye may be sure, an’ sae oot tumbles a dandy mantle o’ the very newest cut an’ complexion. Tibbie put it on, an’ I maun say it addit still farther to her youthfu’ appearance. But Tibbie was ower narrow ower the curpin to set oot the mantle properly, an’ sae I suggestit the crinoline that I had presentit her wi’ some weeks sune. Tibbie agreed to this, an’ the crinoline was produced, but Tibbie’s gown was ower narrow i’ th’ skirt. The crinoline made her look juist like a meikle water-stoup, or a candle extinguisher. “That winna do,” quoth Tibbie. “Na, it winna do,” quoth I. “I see nae thing fo’t, but to get a new gown,” quoth Tibbie; “an’ I ken where to gang, for the man let me see a gown-piece that wad become my complexion to a very tee.” “My treasury winna stand it, Tibbie, positeevely; an’ gin ye want to see my name i’ th’ Gazette. amang ither weirdless folk, Tibbie, ye may buy the gown, but no itherwise.” “Feint a fear o’ that, Tammas; for as ye say yersel’ sometimes—

“We’ve aye been providit for,

An’ sae will we yet.”

Withoot a new gown, I canna wear the wantle; an’ withoot the mantle, I canna wear the bannet; an’ withoot the bannet, I maun bide at hame frae the kirk, an’ be a Pagan. Sae that’s the short an’ the lang o’t, Tammas.” “Sae in that way, Tibbie, yer soul’s salvation depends on the bannet?” “Ay, an’ on the ither things, Tammas.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie, ye sanna need that I stand atween ye an’ ye future happiness, either in this warld or in the warld to come, an’ sae ye may e’en get the gown, but dinna gang to extravagance wi’t; for mind my purse winna stand it.” Tibbie was clean lifted up wi’ her braw dress, an’ she’s been a gude bairn aye sinsyne. Doon to Reform Street she gaed that very afternoon, an’ she’s haen the dressmaker i’ th’ hoose for the last twa days, an’ noo Tibbie ‘ll be able to haud up her head i’ th’ kirk on Sabbath wi’ the best o’ them. It’s been an unco expenive rax this o’ hers, but after a’, I think she’ll be a’ the siller the better o’t, though she’s been in twa senses a dead, dear wife to

Tammas Bodkin.

‘Hugh Sutherland, Ahoy! A Play in One Act’ (8 April, 1871)

The following play appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ following the conclusion of a singular newstory that had been ongoing for a few weeks. Hugh Sutherland, a tailor, applied for an interdict against the Provost James Yeaman, as well as the magistrates and town council of Dundee. This body were going to use public money to fund a banquet in honour of the royal marriage between Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne. The case ultimately failed but gained some notoriety in the London press, critics of Sutherland claimed it was an opportunistic piece of advertising whereas the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ proclaimed: “we sadly require a few Hugh Sutherlands on this side of the Border to teach our guardians, vestrymen, and others that they can no longer be allowed to indulge in their gluttony at the public expense.” Clippings from the ‘Journal’s’ coverage of the story will appear below.

Time,—The nineteenth century. Place,—A garret at the foot of Hilltown. Dramatis Personae,—1, Mrs Mysie Macdoons; 2, Baldie, her eldest son, aged 9 years; 3, Joe, the youngest son, aged 7 years; 4, Hugh Sutherland, the tailor.

Enter Hugh with his suit, composed of his goose, smoothing board, tape scissors, chalk, &c.

MYSIE—Gudeness sake are you here at last, Huie? O, you’ve been lang o’ coming; but, like a bad shilling, ye aye turn up. My twa laddies hae been oot o’ a’ patience for ye, and nae wonder, for they are inside oot. Nae want of ventilation wi’ them, I can tell you. Sanitary deputations, so far as they are concerned, can remain at home. They havena got to the kirk or Sabbath schule thae twa last Sabbaths for want o’ claes, an’ they hae positively fallen off in their religious instruction. They canna even get oot to the bools, poor things! and yesterday was washing day, and bairns at hame on such an important occasion are aye a bather. Is there onything about tailors in the Education Bill, Huie?

HUGH—Weel, Mysie, I’ll jist sit doon an’ hae a draw at my cuttie, which will gie ye time to rin’ doon. Nothing like getting off the bile in the morning—nothing, Mysie.

MYSIE—There’s nae bile aboot me, man—only a wee thing cranky; and there is nothing like telling ane’s mind.


MYSIE—Weel, when you are blasting, I will look oot some o’ the gudeman’s trowsers, to be made doon for the callants. There is naething like economy, Huie.


MYSIE—Here’s a pair of corderoys which I think might do for Baldie. There is nothing like corderoys for wear, Huie.


BALDIE—But, mither, the breeks are a’ clooted, d’ ye see.

HUGH (withdrawing his pipe, and sending a curling volume of smoke aloft)Never mind, my young fashionable; I will put the cloots at the back, and you will never see them.

MYSIE—Then here’s a pair o’ shepherd tartans, which I think should do for Joe.

JOE (looking at the inexpressibles with suspicion)—“Not for Joe.”

HUGH—Why not for Joe, you young Arab? Continue reading “‘Hugh Sutherland, Ahoy! A Play in One Act’ (8 April, 1871)”

‘Bodkin and Mrs Bodkin’ (27 April, 1861)

It was unco dark an’ mochy, an’ scarce a body could be seen on the streets except the policeman on his beat, wi’ his bit cruizie sticin’ on his wame. ‘Od, sair distressed in mind though I was I couldna help moraleezin’ on the ingenuity o’ the chield wha first suggestit the idea o’ stickin’ lamps on policemen’s bellies, for gin a’ tales be true, they’ve far mair enlichtment aboot their stammacks than aboot onything else.

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’ve been in twa minds aboot that ootrageous epistle o’ Kirsty Monnypenny’s—whether I sid sit doon an’ confute the leein’ cutty word for word, or treat her slanders wi’ silent contempt. I’m ower weel kent in Dundee noo for her havers doin’ me ony ill—either morally or in the way o’ business—an’ I’m content to let the verses o’ that Lunnon chield stand as an answer to the ill-scrapit tongue o’ Kirsty Monnypenny. That folk’s ain kith an’ kin sid think less o’ them than the fremyit is naething to mak’ a sang aboot, for that’s been seen ever sin’ the warld began. A man that can haud up his head wi’ Burns, Gilfillan, an’ M’Cheyne, an’ that has been ca’d “the Shakespeare o’ Dundee,” can weel affoord to snap his fingers at Kirsty Monnypenny, an’ sae that’s for her the poukit-like, lingel-tailed hizzie that she is!

But that’s no exackly what I was gaen to say. Ye maun ken, or, if ye dinna ken, I’ll be oonder the necessity o’ tellin’ ye, that Tibbie has a sister marrit to a petawtie merchant in Perth—a place famed ower a’ the ceevileesed warld for its murphy merchants; an’ sae early on Thursday mornin’ last week—bein’ the Fast Day—Tibbie flang on her bonnet an’ a shawl, an’, quoth she, “Tammas, I’m awa’ to Perth to see Eppy’s folk, an’ ye’ll hae the kettle boilin gin nine o’clock the nicht, for I think we’ll be hame aboot that time gin a’ gang fair wi’ us.” “Weel, weel, Tibbie,” quoth I, “them that will to Cupar maun juist gang to Cupar, but I think ye micht hae gane a better gate as this day fa’s than awa’ stravaigin’ to Perth amang a wheen thochtless lads an’ lassies; an’ it wadna be a maitter o’ meikle astonishment to me though something sid come ower ye afore a’s dune. But dinna say that I hindered ye.” “Deed, Tammas, there’s no ane ‘ill hae that to say,” quoth she, “for I sanna be hindered by ony man o’ woman born.” sheave o’ chese, into a radicle basket, slippet auchteen pence into her huggar, an’ tane the road wi’ a curn folk as licht-witted as hersel’, no to mention the profanity o’ the thing. I saw nae mair o’ Tibbie for ae aucht an’ twenty oors at ony rate, but ye’ll hear.

I gaed to the kirk, heard twa gude Gospel sermons, an’ I maun say was nae little edified therewith, an’ sae the day passed ower. I was unco lanely i’ the hoose by mysel’, for I had naebody to crack wi’, an’ I thocht aftener than ance that after a’ its a silly bodie that’s no missed. Hoosomdever, I beguiled the time wi’ readin’ the “Crook in the Lot” by the author o’ the “Four-coorse o’ natur’ nine o’clock comes roond. At the chap o’ nine exactly—for I’m as punctual as clock-wark—I had the tea kettle stovin’ awa like a steam engine, but beginnin’ to grow coneasy, an’ sae was the kettle, ye may be sure, for I had a guid beengie o’ fire on, thinkin’ that Tibbie micht be cauld comin’ aff the water. Hoosomdever, I cured the kettle by ekin’ it up wi’ cauld water noo an’ then, but as for mysel’, I was on the pynebauks o’ perplexity, an’ naethin’ could minister serenity to my soul. Eleven o’clock warniced on the gowkoo-knock, wi’ a soond like the commotion in a pepper mill, that garred me a’ start, but still nae Tibbie! Twa o’clock past ower, an’ nae Tibbie! I could thole nae longer. “O Tibbie,” quoth I to mysel’, “the way o’ transgressors is hard! If ye had tane my advice! But it’s ower late noo; I maun gang doon to the shore an’ see the end o’t;” and sae I flang on my dirt flee coloured coat, tane my siller-headed cane in my hand, put a piece in my pooch, an’ set oot as hard as I could bicker, scare kennin’ whether I went, like the patrick of old. It was unco dark an’ mochy, an’ scarce a body could be seen on the streets except the policeman on his beat, wi’ his bit cruizie sticin’ on his wame. ‘Od, sair distressed in mind though I was I couldna help moraleezin’ on the ingenuity o’ the chield wha first suggestit the idea o’ stickin’ lamps on policemen’s bellies, for gin a’ tales be true, they’ve far mair enlichtment aboot their stammacks than aboot onything else. When I got doon to the harbour a great concoorse o’ folk were there assembled, maist feck o’ them lookin’ for their Tibbies, as I was lookin’ for mine. Clearin’ the way wi’ my stick, I got into the midst o’ the crood, an’, quoth I, “Has ony o’ ye heard ocht o’ my Tibbie?” “Whatna’ Tibbie?” quoth a great muckle beardy chield, wha was sookin’ awa’ at a thing intendit to personify a cigar. “Man,” quoth I, “yer edication maun hae been sadly negleckit gin ye dinna ken Tibbie Bodkin, amang a’ the Tibbie’s o’ Dundee.” The very mention o’ Bodkin brocht a host o’ sympatheezers arrond me, an’ I sune cam’ to oonderstand that it was only a half dizzen o’ the exquisite fraternity wha hae nae time to read the papers for blawin’ awa’ at cabbage blades, an’ kaimin’ their mootaches, that had never heard o’ my name an’ fame. Wi’ thae insignificant exceptions, every body in the crood kent Tammas Bodkin an’ Tibbie his wife, an’ they wad hae dune onything to minister to my comfort and consolation. “Where is Mrs Bodkin, Tammas,” inquired a lang black a-viced man, in a Heelan’ clock. “That’s what I want to ken, freend,” quoth I; “she gaed awa’ to Perth this mornin’ wi’ the Lass o’ Gowrie, but where she is noo the Lord only kens, whether she is in the land o’ the livin’ or the leal is beyond my comprehension.” “O, is that all?” quoth the black-a-viced gentleman, “in that case there can be do [sic] doubt she is food for fishes by this time, so you may console yourself with that, my good fellow.” “Ou aye, Tammas,” cried a half-dizzen o’ voices, “ye’ll be yer ain maister noo; for Tibbie’ll never wear the breeks mair; sae ye may mak a bargain wi’ Kirsty Monnypenny, or wi’ the sweet lookin’ quean at Corncrake Terrace whenever ye like.” Sae that was a’ the consolation I got, but, quoth I, “Lads, this is nae jokin’ matter, is there nae word o’ the steamer?” “No ae cheep, an’ never will be,” quoth my miserable comforters. “Then my grey hairs will gang doon in sorrow to the grave!” quoth I. “O Tibbie, Tibbie, woman, gin ye had only stayed at hame, what a difference it wad hae been this nicht baith to you an’ me, but the wilfu’ maun aye hae their way, an’ ye see what it’s come to! Left ye puir husband windowed an’ heartbroken, wi’ naebody i’ th’ wide warld to heat my guse an’ mask my drappie o’ tea, an’ keep a’thing cosh an’ clean aboot the hoose!” I slippit awa ootower frae the crowd, sat doon on a coil o’ ropes, an’ grat mysel’ blind. My memory wandered back thirty years, to the time when Tibbie was in service oot at Lasswade, a canty weelfaured quean, an’ when I was a’prentice wi’ Maister Waugh at Dalkeith, an’ hoo I was wont to trauchle a’ the way ateen the twa places ilka Friday nicht to see her, an’ hoo Rover, her maister’s muckle dog grew sae weel acquent iw’ the soond o’ my fit comin’ in the loan that he ever thocht o’ barkin’ at me, an’ hoo I wad carry a dead mouse i’ my pouch a’ the way frae Dalkeith to gie to the sagawcious brute, an’ hoo Tibbie kenned my dirl on the window, and raise and let me in, and laid on the fire, an’ had aye something gude to taste my gab, an’ a’ hoo we lingered in thehallan at partin’, juist as if we couldna get oor sairin’ o’ kissin’, an’ a’ hoo we kleekit thiegither arm in arm when we wad hae tane a quiet walk on the Sabbath nichts,—a’ thae things and coontless ither pleasant recollections o’ oor courtship an’ married life cam’ croodin’ back on my memory, mingled strangely wi’ the sad thochts o’ Tibbie’s oontimeous end, an’ my ain sorrowfu’ bereavement. Continue reading “‘Bodkin and Mrs Bodkin’ (27 April, 1861)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 1 (14 May, 1881)

The following is the first of eight stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.

Chapter I.—The Half-Timer.

I was but a small boy when my parents determined to leave that quiet little village in the Howe of Fife where they had been struggling for years to gain a scanty subsistence at the handloom. The income from this was so small that I fear my reader would hardly give me credit for veracity were I to state its limited extent and unavoidable drawbacks.

My elder brother Tom was about to be set on the loom which my mother had formerly occupied, when matters took a turn, and it was that same Tom who brought it about. He had repeatedly heard and readily believed the reports current in the village that in the town of Dundee one could get a choice of employment and good wages, and it appeared to him much wiser to go thither than to drudge on in his native village for a pittance hardly sufficient to afford the bare necessaries of life.

When the thing was mooted at the fireside there was naturally an incredulous response; but happily a sensible neighbour backed up Tom’s energetic representations, and my father, beginning to reflect on the circumstances, and to weigh all contingencies of the case, at length determined to remove his whole family thither.

When we bade farewell to those scenes of my childhood, one cart was sufficient for the conveyance of our whole household effects, my mother, and sister, and me. Tom preferred to walk with my father beside the cart, and after some hours weary journeying we reached Newport on the Tay, and our eyes were greeted with the sight of the port of our destination—Dundee, which lay stretched along the opposite shore, and spread out on the heights behind.

The spectacle of so great a place, while exciting my interest and curiosity, also bewildered me, for sitting jolting in the cart I had exercised my youthful imagination on the kind of place to which we were bound, and had only got the length of a large village with a rivulet flowing through it, its clumps of trees, its tall steeple, and slightly multiplied streets; but that great town where chimney-stalks usurped the place of trees, and where ships added their bewildering fringes to the mighty sea which still separated us from the thousands of houses, dumfoundered [sic] me, and I almost cried with disappointment.

Our cart was taken on board the ferry-boat, and having dismounted I began to walk about the broad deck of the vessel, full of inquiring curiosity at all the wonders I saw. Before I had half exhausted my questions, we were landed on the pier at Dundee, and were walking on the hard causeway toward the town, followed by our cart of furniture.

My father had secured a house, and we were soon crowded into it. To me it seemed as if we had got into a prison, so close was everything. The alley up which I assisted to carry our effects was between dingy stone walls instead of bright green hedges, and the long stair we had to climb fatigued my limbs, so that I was fain to remain beside mother and watch her attempts to light a fire. When I looked out of the window I was surprised to find there was no green thing visible; instead of gardens or fields the only prospect was of tiled roots and chimney tops. Yet that night I slept soundly in my old bed, and next day we began our family life in Dundee. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 1 (14 May, 1881)”