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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

John Wilson (Christopher North) (1785–1854)

Naked Bullmanship

From “Noctes Ambrosianæ”

Tickler.Now for your adventure, my dear Shepherd.

Shepherd.Wisht—and you’s hear’t. I gaed out, ae day, ayont the knowe—the same, Mr. North, that shows aboon the bit field, you kent, where I tried to raise a conterbant crap o’ tobacco—and sat doun on a brae amang the brackens, then a red as the heavens in sunsit, tootin awa on the horn, ettlin first at B flat, and then at A sharp, when I hears at the close o’ the lesson, what I thocht the grandest echo that ever cam frae a mountain tap—an echo like the rair o’ the ghost o’ one o’ the Bulls o’ Bashan, gane mad amang other horned spectres like himself in the hollow o’ the cloudy sky.

English Opium-Eater.Mr. North, allow me to direct your attention to that image, which seems to me perfectly original, and, at the same time, perfectly true to nature. Original I am entitled to call it, since I remember nothing resembling it, either essentially or accidentally, either in prose or verse, in the literature of antiquity, in that of the middle—ordinarily, but ignorantly, called the dark ages—in that which arose after the revival of letters—though assuredly letters had not sunk into a state from which it could be said with any precision that they did revive—or in that of our own times, which seems to me to want that totality and unity which alone constitute an age, otherwise but a series of unconnected successions, destitute of any causative principle of cohesion or evolvement. True to nature no less am I entitled to call the image, inasmuch as it giveth, not indeed, “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,” but to an airy something, namely, the earthly bellowing of an animal, whose bellow is universally felt to be terrific, nay, moreover, and therefore, sublime. (For that terror lieth at the root—if not always, yet, of verity, in by far the greater number of instances—of the true sublime, from early boyhood my intellect saw, and my imagination felt, to be among the great primal intuitive truths of our spiritual frame.) It giveth, I repeat, to the earthly bellowing of such an animal an aerial character, which, for the moment, deludes the mind into a belief of the existence of a cloudy kine, spectral in the sky-region, else thought to be the dwelling-place of silence and vacuity, and has an affecting, impressive, nay, most solemn and almost sacred feeling, that visits us at those times only when our being, disentangling her wings from all clay encumbrances, is strong in the consciousness of her Deathless Me—so Fichte and Schelling speak.

Shepherd.Weel, sir, you see, doun cam on my Deathless Me the Bonassus, head cavin, tailtuft on high, hinderlegs visible ower his neck and shouthers and his hump clothed in thunder, louder in his ae single sell than a wheelin’ charge o’ a haill regiment o’ dragoon cavalry on the Portobello sands. Doun cam the Bonassus, I say, like the Horse Life Guards takin a park af French artillery at Waterloo, richt doun, Heaven hae mercy! Upon me, his ain kind maister, wha had fed him on turnips, hay, and straw ever since Lammas, till the monster was as fat’s he could lie in the hide o’ him, and naething had I to defend myself wi’ but that silly coo’s-horn. A’ the collies were at hame. Yet in my fricht, deadly as it was, I was thankfu’ wee Jamie wasna there lookin for primroses, for he micht hae lost his judgment. You understand, my Bonassus had mista’en my B sharp for anither Bonassus challengin him to single combat.

English Opium-Eater.A very plausible theory.

Shepherd.Thank you, sir, for that commentary on my text, for it has gien me time to plouter amang the jaws o’ the cod. Faithit was nae theory, sir, it was practice—and afore I could fin my feet, he was sae close upon me that I could see up his nostrils. Just at that moment I remembered that I had on an auld red jacket (the ane that was ance sky-blue, you ken, Mr. North, that I had gotten it dyed) and that made the Bonassus just an even doun Bedlamite. For amaist all horned hate and abhor red coats.

North.So I have heard the army say—alike in town and country.

Shepherd.What was to be done? I thocht o’ tootin the horn, as the trompeter did when run aff wi’ in the mouth o’ a tiger; but then I recollected that it was all the horn’s blame that the Bonassus was there. So I lost no time in that speculation, but slipping aff my breeks, jacket, waistcoat, shirt, and a’ just as you’ve seen an actor on the stage, I appeared before him suddenly, as naked as the day I was born, and sic is the awe, sir, wi’ which a human being in puris naturalibus, inspires the maddest o’ the brute creation—I had tried it ance before on a mastiff—that he was a’ at ance, in a single moment, stricken o’ a heap, just the very same as if the butcher had sank the head o’ an aix intil his horn pan. His knees trummled like a new-drapped lamb’s; his tail, tuft and a’ had nae mair power in’t than a broken thristle-stalk; his een goggled instead o’ glowered, a heart-felt difference. I assure you.

English Opium-Eater.It seems to be, Mr. Hogg—but you will pardon me if I am mistaken—a distinction without a difference, as the logicians say.

Shepherd.Aye, De Quinshy, ma man, logician as you are, had you stood in my shoon, you had gotten yourselves on both horns o’ the dilemma.

North.Did you cut off his retreat to the Loch, James, and take him prisoner?

Shepherd.I did. Poor silly sumph! I canna help thinkin that he swarfed; though perhaps he was only pretendin. So I mounted him, and, putting my worsted garters through his nose (it had been bored when he was a wild beast in a caravan), I keepit peggin his ribs wi’ my heels, till after grontin and grownin, and raisen his great, big, unwieldy red bulk half up frae the earth, and then swelterin doun again, if ance, at least a dizzen times, till I began absolutely to weary o’ my situation in life, he finally recovered his feet, and, as if inspired with a new speerit, aff like lichtain to the mountains.

North.What! without a saddle, James? You must have felt the loss—I mean the want of leather.

Shepherd.We ride a’ manner o’ animals barebacked in the forest, sir. I hae seen a bairn, no aboun fowre year auld, ridin hame the bull at the gloamin, a’ the kye at his tail, like a squadron o’ cavalry about Joachim Murat, King o’ Naples. But, as I was sayin, awa went the Bonassus due west. Though you could hardly call it e’en a snaffle, yet I soon found that I had a strong purchase, and bore him down frae the hights to the turnpike road that cuts the country frae Silkirk to Moffat. There does I encounter three gigfu’s o’ gentlemen and leddies, wha shrieked as if at the visible superstition o’ the waterkelpie on the waterhorse, mistakin day for nicht in the delirium o’ fever, and thinkin that it had been the moonshinin down on his green pastures aneath the Loch, when it was but the shadow of a lurid cloud. But I soon vanished into distance.

Tickler.Where the deuce were your clothes all this time, my dear, matter-of-fact Shepherd?

Shepherd.Aye, there was the rub. In the enthusiasm of the moment I had forgotten them—nay, such was the state of excitement to which I had worked myself up, that, till I met the three gigfu’s af ladies and gentlemen—a marriage party—full in the face, I was not, Mr. De Quinshy, aware af being so like the truth. Then I felt, all in a moment, that I was a Mazeppa. But had I turned back, they would have supposed that I had intended to accompany them to Silkirk, and therefore, to allay all such fears, I made a show o’ fleein far awa’ into the interior—into the cloud-land of Loch Skene and the Grey Mare’s Tail.