John o’ Arnha’
John o’ Arnha, the hero of the poem of that name by Mr. Geo.
Beattie, was one of the town-officers of Montrose about fifty years ago, and
one too who always carried with him the air of magisterial authority, and
caused it to be felt. He had the look of one that would not be trifiled
with, carrying always along with him an oaken cudgel. It was not safe for
the wicked hoys to come within his reach, for when he brandished his stick,
on a market day or at the shore, he would have driven them from him like the
spray off the rock when the storm rages. He never seemed to have a friendly
word to say to any one, but always stood or walked alone, whatever he may
have done when George Beattie or James Watt got him into a quiet corner, and
gave him a tumbler of porter; yet John was not a man that indulged in drink,
or took ardent spirits, as the other town-officers did, for they sometimes
exceeded, and on one occasion were called before the magistrates to be
reproved for their conduct, he being along with them; so when the
magistrates had redd them up, John looked over his shoulder and said, in
going away, to the other officers, “Tak ye that, billies; ye wid na tak my
warnin’, but I aye telt ye it wid come to that,” thus showing that they
alone, and not he, had need of the reproof. John, though stern, had been
mild and gentle in his addresses to the softer sex, for he had no fewer than
five wives, the last of whom was Maidie Jack, once servant to Dr. Hunter.
One day, John Ronald, a mason, met him as he was passing by, when they were
building the addition to the Star Inn in the New Wynd, and said, “Ow, John,
Tin thinking you’ll be gey an' weel aff if you hae got something wi’ a’ your
wives.” “How could that be,” he said, “when ilk ane o’ them cam’ wi’ auld
kists, an’ I had to send them awa’ wi’ new anes.” One fine summer morning, a
man met him in the Little Roady, and said, “John, this fine shower will mak’
a’thing rise out o’ the grund.” “I sud na wus that,” said John, “for if my
four wives were to rise up, there wud na be muckle peace between them and
Maidie.” Mr. Macpherson, of Spittal of Garvock, had bought a monstrous large
ox from Sir Alex. Ramsay of Fasque, of 19 stones Dutch, and it was led into
the town with ribbons flying as a great show, and put into a shed about the
New Wynd, belonging to Mr. Middleton, the plumber. Mr. David Barclay, seeing
John coming up, says, “O, there’s John, we’ll take him to see the ox, and
see what be says about it.” Well, they waited till he should come out, and
asked him what he thought of it. “O!” says John, “nae-thing ava; I’ve seen a
cow with twa calves sucking her, each of them bigger than he.” He had always
a large magniloquent way of speaking, as may be seen'by the occasion taken
of it in the poem. John to the last ate off a covered table in his own
house, and kept up his independence. Maidie long survived him, and troqued
away with swine, but before that she kept and entertained lodgers in the New
Wynd, in that part of it called the “ Happy Land.” They had wont to keep
cows and sell milk in John’s time; and once when a boy went in for milk as
John was dressing, he said, “Wait, laddie, and Maidie will be in just now;
but, what d’ye think? the mouse has whelped in my coat-sleeve hanging up
there the time that I’ve been lying here.” Now, the truth was, the house was
full of cats, and no mouse could have lived in it.
This boy, being a mislear'd rascal, used to run in behind
John with a bounce and a spring, and knock his hat over his eyes, and by
speed of foot was out of reach before John could see who it was. It was a
wonder he was not afraid to go for the milk after that. Mr. Alex. Neilson,
being a trustee, laid Maidie’s head in the grave, and has John's snuff- box.
Mr. Eyder and his company often had our hero in the Star Inn, heard him
relate his wondrous adventures, and so personified his character as to form
a comedy, which was acted in the theatre. He died at Montrose, on Saturday,
11th October, 1828, at the age of 91, .40 years of which he spent in the
service of and attendance upon the good old rulers of the burgh. Until
within a short period of his death he maintained a stout and hale
appearance; and though on the superannuated list for several years, he
continued to the last to take a pride in his scarlet coat. His remains were
attended to their resting-place by the Magistrates and Council, many of the
respectable citizens, and his brother officers.
Captain Gibson, of Ferry Street, with another gentleman, was
coming down his own stair when Tam was passing, and said, "Oh, Tam, I never
saw you with such a skinny, pale-faced horse before." "Oh!" says Tam, "if
you had glowered as lang out o' a halter, your face would have been pale
too." George Beattie and a friend met him in the Churchyard, and the former
remarked, "This is one of our originals, we'll get something good from him.
Oh! what's the matter that you are so fou the day?" "Oh, it's my
birth-day, you maun excuse me." He met him again about a week after in the
same state. "How now, Tam?" "Ou," says Tam, "I'll see you at the market,"
and passed on. The birthday would not do again. Mr. Mollison met him, with a
few red herrings in his hand. "Oh I these are fine herrings, Tammas—what
would they cost you?” “I canna tell you,” says Tam. “O, how is that—have you
not just bought them?” “Yes, but I dinna ken how many bottles of beer I maun
drink wi’ them.” Tam, when leading his horse, always walked with his hands
behind his back, holding the tether or halter in his hand, for he never had
a bridle. A man said to him, “Ou, Tam, that’s a fine horse you have, what
would you sell me that beast for?” "What would you give me?” “Oh, 2½d.”
“Have you that on ye?” says Tam, being well aware that his customer had not
the command of a halfpenny. Tam was in the habit of going into Geo. Crawford
& Co.'s shop for his dram. One day, as usual, Tam stammered in for it, when
Dr. Paterson happened to be in the shop. He did not like to let the Dr. see
what he was to be about, but crossed to the other side of the shop, and
asked for three-bawbees-worth of weighed preens. Of course the shopkeeper
knew his customer, and served him accordingly.
Tirr-ho-buck was famous in his day. Being a cobbler, he
usually wore a full-sized leathern apron, very greasy, and covering him
altogether in front. When he made his appearance the boys would have cried,
“Here’s Tirr, let’s seek a tirr.” I once sought one, but never another, for
he stood in behind me, put his great big hands on my shoulders, and nearly
shook the soul out of the body. He was much about Lady Carnegie of
Kinnaird’s at whose house he did work, and her ladyship was very kind to
him, and saw to all his wants. Jamie Fairweather, the deacon, was always
with him in his own house, and shared with him what kind people g^ye him,
and attended him in his last illness, when he was attended by Dr. Hunter,
who told Jamie to give him two pills, one now and another two or three hours
after, and a powder at eight o’clock. The Dr. called next day, and found his
patient gone, and asked Jamie if he had given him the powder. “No, Sir,”
said he, “it was to be given at eight and he died at six.”
Deacon Grim lived in a low thatched house, above the Port,
where Mr. Cant the hatter’s shop was afterwards, and at his death there were
many claimants for the property. G— B— who came to the town a tinker, was
the successful one. He sold pots and pans at the cross; and often on a
Friday his wife would have had to borrow an apron to carry them in to the
market, till at last the person she borrowed it from said she would make her
a present of it The deacon made himself out to be very poor, but in reality
was a miser, and was suspected to have hoarded up and concealed his wealth,
so the tinker made search everywhere for the concealed treasure, the
neighbours looking in at the window, and one day he thought of lifting up
the hearth-stone, and there he found a kettle-pot full of gold pieces, but
it was noticed that he was never poor behind it.
About fifty years ago, Montrose could boast of only one
letter-carrier, and that one was not noted for speed of foot, for he had a
limping gait, and walked on tiptoe, so that it was said of him, “there comes
dancing Davie Pole, walking on his tiptaes, tor the wearing of his sole.”
His well known foot was heard on the stair announcing his approach before he
called out a letter. There are now three active young men delivering letters
three times a day. I recollect his coming to the house where I lived, and he
made a great noise on the stair with his stick, and his heavy tread was like
as if somebody had fallen on the stair. The sole of his foot was just like
the old crooked sixpence. The average weekly circulation of letters passing
through the post office is 20,000, now owing to the penny postage. This is
also some index of our vastly extended trade and commerce. Postage stamps
forwarded in letters can now be exchanged at many Post Offices for money at
a charge of 2 V per cent., so that 3s. 4d. can be sent for one penny, and
Is. 8d. for £d. Persons having money in the Post Office Savings Bank can
draw it in any other, where they may happen to be. A singular accident befel
one of the pillar letter boxes at Montrose. The street gas pipes having been
opened for the purpose of examination and repair, an escape took place, and
some of the gas found its way. into the letter box. The night watchman, to
light his pipe, struck a match on the top of the box, when a violent
explosion took place, forcing out the door and doing other damage, but
fortunately causing no injury either to the watchman or to the letters.
Where is the creature living in Montrose
That knows not Jemmt Steven? honest man!
Who seldom doth regale his grateful nose
Over the steam of savoury frying-pan;
But dwelleth lone, the best way that he can,
Withouten harm to any living wight;
And in ane humble hole, on sober plan,
Doth eat his bread, and sleepeth all the night—
Ne feeling other pain than from his wretched plight!
Ane crumpled hat he weareth on his head,
Tanned by long usage to a brownish hue;
And darned and stiiched with many-coloured thread
Of thrums and worsted, from some housewife’s clue;
While shreds of greasy flannel, not a few,
Are pinned and sewed, and then wrapped round and round,
So there is little of his face in view,
Because both neck and brow are snugly bound,
And likewise is his head with this tiara crowned.
His coat is pieced with many a patch and clout;
Some plush and new, and others old and bare;
For every tint that fashion can set out,
And every quality of cloth, is there!
Like that which good Da Joseph used to wear—
Of serge, and corduroy, and velveteen;
But which of these came first, I do declare,
No man can tell, who has the patch-work seen—
Not even the tailor’s eye could find it out, I wean.
About his legs ane piece of cloth is rolled,
Which serveth both for gaiters and for hose,
And keepeth him right snugly from the cold,
When saucy Boreas from his cavern blows.
His breeks are very mean, you may suppose;
So likewise are his often-mended shoon,
Through which, whenever he espies his toes
He putteth on a piece of leather soon;
So that the clumsy brogues keep dry the tattered loon.
And thus yclad he saunters through the town,
Most like ane duck that waddles on her way;
Sometimes he walks a little up and down
Upon the pavement, on a sunny day;
And oft his hands in bosom doth he lay.
And oft he scratcheth, yea, and fidgeth too—
But for what reasons I decline to say,
Because it were not seemly that you knew;
Mayhap poor Jemmt hath no better thing to do.
Once Jemmt was in love? But love was cold
In the young maiden’s heart. Ah, well-a-day!
Why need the sequel of the tale be told?
He mourned his loss till reason went astray ;
Yet Beett Ireland ofttimes fills his lay,
Whene’er he chaunts extemporaneous song,
Which he will deftly do for humble pay,—
Yea, for a penny will he please the throng,
Who love to hear his rhymes the sounding notes among.
On Sabbath morn, whene’er the warning hour
Hath stricken ten upon the steeple chime,
Away he marches, and ascends the tower
Where crazy steps assist the foot to climb :
There looks he from ane Gothic hole sublime,
And marks the people as to kirk they wend;
Till, after waiting for a little time,
He sees the minister pass through the Pend,
And then the beadle warns to let the jowing end.
And duly every time, whon on his way,
With staff in hand, he plode through street and wynd,
If window-shuttera on their hinges play,
Most carefully the latches doth he bind:
And if perchance, the sewer may be confined
By mickle stone, or straw, or ragged clout,
'With ready stick, most complaisantly kind,
He dears the same, and lets the puddle out,
To run its dirty course along the public spout.
Well might poor Jemmy be ycleped the king
And leader of the beggars—for each week,
And eke each month, ane bevy doth he bring
From door to door, their wonted alms to seek;
For them and for their wants doth Jemmy speak.
Among them all their pence he loves to share,
At which the loons and carlins chuck the cheek,
Shrug the blythe shoulder, and, with muttered prayer,
Wend to some other house, to see what luck is there.
The waggish boys, on merry mischief bent,
Bo often plague him for their nightly fun :
And he, poor guileless creature! is content
If from their company he can but run ;
Albeit to knock them down there needs but one
Stout effort of his hale and doughty arm ;
But that, indeed, he never yet hath done,
Because he careth not to do them harm ;
And so they plague him still. Oh most unfeeling swarm
The world and its contentions, great and small,
With gains, with losses, and with nothings rife—
Its honours, pleasures, griefs, and troubles all
Together with its scandeland its strife—
These make no part of Jemmy Steven’s life ;
For such it seemeth that he was not bom.
Ah me! withouten family and wife,
He vegetates within his hole, forlorn,
From weary hour to hour—from weary mem to mom.