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,—Andro Sooter had resolved to hae a few o’ his brither farmers inveetit to his maiden feast, to gie them a blow-oot o’ meat an’ drink, an’ as he was particularly anxious that I sid be present on that great occasion, in order that he micht hae an opportunity o’ introducin’ me to the wide circle o’ his aristocratic acquaintance, he wadna hear o’ Tibbie an’ me gaen hame till the ploy was ower, though I maun confess I was gettin’ ooneasy aboot hoo Willie Clippins wad be managin’ matters in my absence. Hoosomdever, Tibbie and me made a fleein’ visit to Dundee on a Saturday afternoon, staid ower the Sabbath, an’gaed back to Cockmylane on the followin’ Monday, an’ I am happy to say Willie was found faithfu’ in a’ his maister’s hoose-hold—everything, baith but the hoose an’ ben the hoose, bein’ in perfect order, the tortoise aye to the fore, an’ lookin’ as fresh-like as it did that day it was cleckit. I may just mention that Tibbie an’ me gaed doon to the Corn Excheenge Hall on the Saturday nicht, an’ got oor bumps read by Fooler an’ Wells, an’ if a’s weel next week Ise gie ye a bit sketch o’ hoo we got on in presence o’ the philosophers.
There was great preparation at Cockmylane for the harvest-home. It was evidently to be a feast o’ fat things. Tibbie lent her invaluable assistance to Mrs Sooter in the culinary department, baith by strength o’ airm an’ by word o’ mooth. There were beef-steak pies, an’ stuffed chickens, an’ roast, an’ boiled, an’ ankers o’ whisky an’ oceans o’ beer. A huge, owergrown Sandy Cawmel was condemned to death on the heads o’ the business, in order that his harrigalds micht be available for belly-timber to the numerous ghaists that were expectit to be present frae a’ the region roond aboot. Andro is a handy bodie, an’ can kill a swine wi’ ony mortal man. As he required some assistance, hooever, I was drafted into the service, my duty eing to haud on by the lugs, while ane o’ the ploughman chields grippit by the hind legs. Of coorse Maister Cawmel was rather noisy in his remonstrances, an’ a the idlers within hearin’ o’m cam’ rinnin’ to see what was the cause o’ the uproar, an’ amang the rest cam’ a baker chield frae Leuchars, wha had a basketfu’ o’ cookies, buns, an’ shortbread for Mrs Sooter, that had been ordered for the approachin’ feast. So he set doon his basket, an’ beheld while Andro was stickin’ the swine. Od, I was right wae for the puir brute, but what maun be canna be helpit, an’ it’s a clear case that pigs canna be convertit into pork withoot lettin’ their wind oot. Weel, ye see grumphy, after gettin’ the length o’ the gully, was far frae bein’ in a comfortable perdicament, an’ so when we quat oor grips o’m, he bangs up to his feet an’ rins aff, bleedin’ like a very swine, as he was. Takin’ the direction o’ the baxter loon, he made an ill-advised bolt straught at the basket o’ baps an’ shortly, thrust his head richt through the bow thereof, an’ awa’ he gaed wi’t hangin’ on by the tail, an’ fechtin’ wi’ a’ his micht an’ main to recover the basket. Before he could succeed in that, hooever, the bread had been rendered quite useless either for beast or body, an’ so he had nae help for it but just to gang back the road he cam’, an’ get a fresh supply. I was sair vexed for the bit loonie, an’ yet when I beheld hoo his grumphieship whuppit up the basket an’ set aff wi’t, an’ hoo the baxter hang on by the tail, I couldna help gi’en way a wee thocht to my mirthfu’ disposition.
At length the great feast nicht cam’ roond, an’ Tibbie an’ me arrayed oorsels in oor best abuliement for the occasion. There was a great forgatherin’ o’ the neebourin’ farmers, their wives, their sons, their dochters their man-servants, and their maid-servants. While the representatives o’ the farmer’s ha’ were accommodated in the parlour, the ploughmanity o’ the district, consistin’ o’ the Jocks an’ the Jennies, frae the bothies an’ the cotter hooses, had the liberty o’ the kitchen an’ the barn-laft, that had been cleaned oot as a ball room, an’ lichted up wi’ twa dizzen o’ penny candles, stuck into turnips, an’ arranged here an’ there alang the crap wa’s. Of coorse, Tibbie an’ me were introduced to a’ the genteel company as they arrved, an’ I was told a’ their names an’ the names o’ their farms, but I’ve an’ ill memory for names, as the phrenology folk informed me, an’ therefore it’s but few o’ them I remember. Hoosomdever, they were, withoot exception, a sichtly set o’ men an’ women—a’ plump, red an’ rosy—lookin’ as if they were blessed wi’ gude stammacks, an’ plenty o’ the very best o’ fodder to fill them withal. The aulder portion o’ them were frank an’ ootspoken in their ain hammert fashion, expressin’ what they thocht wi’ great vehemence, some o’ them, speakin’ nae that little withoot troublin’ themsels wi’ muckle thocht, an’ the whole o’ them speakin’ simultaneously, insomuch that I was like to be bedundered wi’ the noise. The junior squad [?] had less to say than their seniors, bein’, if onything, a wee thocht blate, owin’ to their seein’ less o’ society than the like o’ Tibbie an’ me. Hoosomdever, when they did venture to open their mouths, stots an’ staigs formed the staple o’ the men’s conversation, as did bye, an’ calves, an’ butter, an’ cheese, that o’ the leddies. Sae lang as the crack was confined to agricultured matters, I had but unco little to say, but when it deviated into politics an’ foreign affairs I faund my superior enlichtenment in very great request an’ the utmost deference paid to my opinions, as was but richt an’ proper, considerin’ the opportunities I had in my youth o’ studyin’ polite learnin’ oonder Maister Mansie Waugh, an’ subsequently o’ addin’ to my stock o’ usefu’ knowledge by the observation an’ experience o’ a lang lifetme.
Tea bein’ ower, it was next proposed that the company sid adjourn to the ball-room, where we found the shearers an’ ploughman lougin’ [?] bauk-height to the speerit stirnin’ soonds o’ Sandy Burgess’s fiddle. Andro had heard o’ Sandy’s fame—as wha that lives atween Fife Ness an’ Torryburn hasna heard o’t—an’ he had sent for him a’ the way frae Coup-ma-Horn twa days afore the ball, in order that Andro, an’ me, an’ Mrs Sooter, an’ Tibbie, micht get a little insicht frae him into the sirt o’ dancin’ polkas, an’ strathspeys, an’ country dances, whereby we micht be able to acquit oorsels creditably in the presence o’ sic an enlichtened company as it wad behoove us to shake oor shanks afore. For twa days, therefore, we had laubered wi’ commendable zeal in the parlour floor, an’ noo I was up to the fore-stap an’ the back-stap, an’ a dance ca’d the “Deil amang the teelyours,” while Andro Sooter had gien special attentions to the “Hay-makers,” as bein’ conneckit wi’ his ain profession. Tibbie an’ Mrs Sooter had been taught a’ the oots-an’-ins a’ the foursome reel, an’ Sandy thocht that, wi’ gleg partners, to gie us the wink o’ command, ony ane o’ us wad be able to gang through the figure o’ ony dance that was likely to be proposed. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 1861)”