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)”