‘Bodkin Trips the Light Fantastic Toe’ (5 October, 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,—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)”

‘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)”