‘Bodkin in Clover’ (6 July, 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,—Last week I ga’e ye a scrift o’ hoo we were gettin’ on at Crummiehillocks, but I had to break aff i’ the thread o’ my discoorse. I’ve sittin’ doon enoo—though I’m certain sure I’ve mair need to be at the needle—to detail the hinder end o’ my story.

Weel, ye see, after discussin’ oor curds an’ cream an’ a cawker apiece, Jeames an’ me set aff to mak’ a survey o’ the farm steadin’, an’ a’ the oots an’ ins o’ the concern. First an’ foremost we made a superficial examination o’ the thrashin’ mill, an’ Jeames describit a’ hoo the corn was put in, an’ hoo it cam’ oot, hoo the fanners blew awa’ the chaff an’ the licht-corn, an’ hoo the heavy grain was preserved to be food for man an’ beast, an’ I was greatly enlichtened an’ edified by his mechanical exposition, an’ a poor o’ conversation we had boot this, that, an’ the ither thing. It sae happened, hooever, that the mill was infestit wi’ a colony o’ rottans, an’ juist i’ the middle o’ oor discoorse there pouts oot a fierce lookin’ rascal frae behind a sack, an’ dairts wi’ the velocity o’ greased lichtenin’ in below a heap o’ wechts an’ riddles, an’ graith o’ that kind, that were lyin’ in a corner o’ the barn floor. Jeames vowed vengeance against the souple scoundrel, an’ so he arms himsel’ wi’ a broom besom, an’ made his dispositions for an assault on the Malakoff [note: A reference to the siege of Sevastopol]. Wi’ the besom o’ destruction uplifit aboon his head, Jeames drew up his forces in front o’ the enemy’s stronghold, fairly blockin’ up the only practicable way o’ retreat open to the beleagured garrison. My duty was, airmed wi’ my siller-headed cane, to march bauldly in an’ storm the citadel. It taks me lang to describe the action, but the haill affair didna last ootower three quarters o’ a minute. In I marched at double quick time, an’ bravely commenced the attack by tisslin’ up the wechts and riddles wi’ the view o’ dislodgin’ the enemy. Oot he dartit like a rocket, an’ Jeames let at him wi’ a poorfu’ blenter, but missed his mark like mony ane mair. So I lent a reishel at him next, an’ also missed. The puir bewilderet mortal was at his wits’ end an’ bounded hither an’ thither, Jeames lounderin’ at him wi’ the besom, an’ me paikin’ awa’ wi’ my cane. Bein’ mair zealous than prudent, hooever, an’ mair anxious to tak’ the life o’ the rottan than to preserve my ain, I had the misfortune to thrust my head-piece within the sweep o’ Jeames’s besom, an’ sae doon he cam’ what he could draw ower the croon o’ my hat, whereby it was knockit firmly doon ower my coontenance, completely steekin’ up my daylichts, an’ deprivin’ me for the time bein’ o’ the use o’ my speaking apparawtus. Naethin’ but my chouks were veesible, as Jeames informed my afterwards. Jeames flang awa’ the besom, an’ of coorse I flang awa’ my cane. I banged up my hands to edge up my tile, an’ Jeames he flew to my assistance, thinkin’ he had brained me, but by a special interposition o’ mercyment, I wasna ae whit the waur, the hat bein’ the only party that had felt the brunt o’ the blow. But the hat wasna the warst pairt o’ the ploy, for in the hurrybustle o’ the business, the ill-faur’d tuke o’ a rottan had the impudence to rin up the very leg o’ my slacks, wi’ the view, nae doot, o’ makin’ good his quarters in that quiet climate. I banged doon my hands to arrest his progress, but he was ower souple for me, an’ sae he ran up the ae leg an’ doon the ither, an’ a’ the time I keepit dancin’ an duntin’ my feet upo’ the floor, as if I had been afflickit wi’ St Vitus’ Dance. Jeames didna ken aboot the rottan bein’ sic a near neebor, an’, my mooth bein’ shut up wi’ the hat, I couldna communicate the necessary information on the subjeck; an’ sae, when he saw me glaumin’ at my legs, he ran awa’ wi’ the erroneous impression that, in the hurrybustle o’ the moment—for the hail mischanter was the wark o’ an instant or twa—he had somehow or ither come athort my cyrpin as well as my head-piece. Jeames was muckle concerned aboot it, puir chield, an’ quoth he, “Tammas, I haena hurt ye sair, hae I?” But feint a word could I reply, except a hollow groan that micht, by a violent stretch o’ the imagination, be translatit into the monosyllabie “No!” Jeames soon jealoused what was up wi’ me, an’ sae he applied himsel’ wi’ vigour to oonship my hat, wherein he at last succeedit, muckle to my relief, an’ nae that little to his satisfaction, seein’ there was nae hole knockit in my skull, as he had half-expeckit. I thereupon lodged a complaint iw’ Jeames against the unwarrantable proceedin’s o’ his rottanship, an’ sae he soon settled wi’ him, seizin’ hauds o’ ‘m through the claith wi’ his ponderous neives that had the faculty o’ a smith’s vice, an’ crackin’ his very banes, as if they had been naething but a wheen pipe-stapples. I shook him oot o’ the leg o’ my slacks, an’ he lay i’ the floor—

“A towsie tyke, black, grim, an’ large.”

—Od, it was ugsum to think o’ haein’ sic a barbarous-lookin’ tenant, wi’ a lang tail, an’ teeth as gleg as needles, rammelin’ up an’ doon the legs o’ my breeks, an’ I canna tell hoo thankfu’ I was to be relieved o’ his society. Jeames an’ me clubbit oor skill thegither, an’ made a few repairs on the croon o’ the hat, insomuch that neither Tibbie nor Mrs Witherspoon jaloused what had happened, an’ we agreed to keep oor ain coonsels on the subjeck, for if they had got their fingers in the pie there wad hae been nae end to their claverin’ aboot it. Continue reading “‘Bodkin in Clover’ (6 July, 1861)”

‘Bodkin Among His Country Cousins’ (29 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,—As Tibbie had been unco sair forfoughten wi’ flittin’ an’ bug slayin’, no to speak o’ her bein’ doon i’ the mooth aboot oor misfortunate selection o’ a hoose wherein nae respectable body wad ever think o’ sokourinin’, the thocht struck me that it micht tend baith to the health o’ her body an’ the serenity o’ her soul to gie her a jaunt for a day or twa i’ the country. That was ane o’ my reasons, an’, atour an’ aboon a’ that, I had passed my word o’ honour, when Kirsty Monypenny was ower frae Edinbro’ on her jaunt, that Tibbie sidna be hindrid, time an’ circumstances convenient, frae payin’ a visit to a cousin o’ hers—a canny, weel-to-do farmer body, i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns—wha had made us promise ower an’ ower again, when he cam’ to Stobb’s Fair, that we wad be sure to gang an’ see them, an’ stay a night or twa wi’ them, in the course o’ the followin’ summer. Bein’ a man o’ my word, I was, of coorse, anxious to redeem my promise. So Tibbie an’ me made it up thegither that we wad set oot wi’ the first train to Laurencekirk on Saturday’s mornin, comin’ back wi’ the last train on Munnanday’s nicht. In view o’ the jaunt, Tibbie keepit her hands busy makin’ an’ mendin’ her bits o’ duds, an’ she had to gang doon to the milliner’s an’ get her bonnet repaired that had been sae sair misgoogled wi’ the squibs on the Queen’s birthday nicht. I coft a hat, splinder new, at a ransom o’ seven an’ saxpence, an’ set to wark to mak’ for mysel’ a braw new coat, o’ a pepper-an’-saut pattern, in lieu o’ the dirt-flee coloured ane that was mischeeved in the Birth-nicht ploy aforesaid. By virtue o’ thae purchases an’ sundry repairs, Tibbie an’ me were providit wi’ wardrobes that wadna do dishonour to the freends we we gaen to visit, an’, gin the truth may be tell’t withoot offence, Tibbie, wi’ her bannet an’ what not, completely taen the shine oot o’ a’ the wives we met in wi’ in the coorse o’ oor journey into the northern pairts o’ the kingdom. This, ye may suppose, was marrow to Tibbie’s banes. In fack she achieved sic a triumph that the remembrance o’ a’ her toils, an’ pains, an’ mortifications, wi’ regaird to the bug mischanter, was completely swallowed up in the gush o’ pleasure that filled her heart at the thochts o’ her millinery victory ower the farmers’ wives i’ the Howe o’ the Mearns. But as I’m anticipatin’ the seam o’ the discoorse, I maun tak’ back a stitch or twa.

The next thing to be considered was, hoo the business was to be carried on durin’ my absence. Willie Clippins was as gleg as a needle at doin’ ony bit plain job, but he was scarcely qualified to sustain the mair important duties o’ measurin’ an’ cuttin’ oot, whilk are baith closely allied to the fine airts an’ mathematics. I say this withoot refleckin’, the the remotest degree, on his penetration; for it’s no in the poor o’ natur’ that a bit hafflin’ laddie can hae the sense an’ gumption, an’ scientific attainments, that properly belang to a maister in Israel, if I may use the expression. Hoosomedever I set to wark, an’ wrought up a’ the particular jobs mysel’, and cut oot twa pair o’ moleskin slacks, three waistcoats, an’ four pair o’ drawers, whilk I beased thegither, an’ markit wi’ chalk, insomuch that Willie wad hae naething else to do but haud the needle gaen gurin’ my absence. If ony body called wantin’ his inches taen, I direckit Willie to rin oot for Andrew Stitch, an auld apprentice o’ mine, noo dooin’ on his ain accoont, wha had offered to tak’ measurements for me if necessity required.

A’ thae preliminaries bein’ settled to my heart’s content, Saturday mornin’ cam’ roond, but I sanna tell ye hoo active Tibbie was in packin’ up ony little thing we micht, or micht not, require on the journey. Every body wha has a Tibbie worth her vittles will ken that withoot bein’ informed; an’ whaever disna hae a Tibbie to pack up his portmanky, sid get ane forthwith, an’ that’s no gien them ony ill advice. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Among His Country Cousins’ (29 June, 1861)”