Scots Poet William McGonagall Visits America, 1887

This paper was first published in Scotia: Interdisciplinary Journal of Scottish Studies, Vol XVII 1993.

The reputation of nineteenth-century Scots poet William McGonagall is steadily rising. Within recent years, intellectuals have rediscovered his verses, and his followers have established a number of international “McGonagall Clubs.” In his native Scotland, the poet’s fame is secure. His Poetic Gems (1890) has gone through over nineteen editions, and booksellers report that his verses sell second only to the national bard, Robert Burns. McGonagall’s career has been dramatized by Scotland’s Grampian Television, by a Dundee Repertory Company and even by a performance in the West End of London. The Junior Chamber of Commerce of Dundee, his adopted city has contemplated erecting a statue in his honor.1

Wherein does his fame lie? ]ust this: William McGonagall was the worst poet ever to write the English language. Literary critic Nicholas T. Parsons once spoke of his “depth of ungiftedness,” while British humor magazine Punch claimed him “the greatest bad verse writer of his age,”2

Ever since the turn of the century readers have howled with laughter over McGonagall’s Poetic Gems, More Poetic Gems, and Last Poetic Gems because “the appalling badness of everything he wrote can be immediately appreciated”3

McGonagall rejected both “appropriate” Victorian themes and conventional meter as he penned his numerous verses. His lines rush forward to reach their rhyme at any cost. Completely indiscriminate, he tells us everything we do not care to know about a subject. Although he has had thousands of imitators, none has ever been able to approach the master. The opening lines from “The Battle of El-Teb” illustrate his skill:

Ye sons of Great Britain, I think it no shame
To write in praise of brave General Graham
Whose name will be handed down to
posterity without any stigma,
Because at the battle of El-Teb, he
defeated Osman Digna.4

In the spring of 1887, William McGonagall sought his fortune among the music halls and small stages of New York City For several weeks he pounded the pavement in search of an opportunity to recite his poems and give dramatic readings from Shakespeare. When the theaters declined to book him, he began hawking his poems on broadside sheets among the New York crowds. But after six weeks, no one purchased a single verse. Thus rejected, McGonagall sailed back to Scotland, never to return, although he did draw upon American themes for a number of his later poems.

McGonagall’s failure to gain a New York hearing lay primarily in the cultural divide that separated Victorian Scotland from Victorian America. His poetry was too deeply rooted in Scottish and Irish history to have made much impression on non-ethnic American audiences of 1887. Only if Americans had recognized his “democratization of poetry” might he have touched a responsive chord in the United States. It would be almost a century before American readers began to appreciate the most well-known Scottish versifier of his day, the self-termed “poet and tragedian,” William McGonagall.5

William McGonagall was born in Edinburgh, probably in 1825, to a poor family of Irish immigrants. His father was a handloom weaver who moved the family to Paisley Glasgow, South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, and Dundee in search of work. Because of dire poverty young William’s formal education consisted of only a few months’ schooling in South Ronaldsay and Glasgow. Afterwards, however, he read widely on his own, exhibiting a passion for Shakespeare’s plays, especially Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet and Richard III. Trained also as a handloom weaver, he married, had a family of four boys and two girls, and settled in Dundee.

But his thespian inclinations refused to settle down. McGonagall entertained his fellow mill workers with “declamations” or “recitations” from various plays whenever he could find an audience. Finally he convinced the manager of Giles Theater, Lindsay Street Quarry, Dundee, that he could fill the hall by dramatizing scenes from Macbeth. Mr. Giles demanded a pound fee in advance, but McGonagall proved good to his word. All his workmates showed up to watch him (with Mrs. Giles playing Lady Macbeth), and they responded with a resounding ovation. What McGonagall lacked in talent he made up in enthusiasm. By the late 1870s he was recognized as a local “ham” actor of some skill. He even wrote an essay on Shakespeare’s works.

McGonagall’s reputation soon extended beyond his dramatizations of Shakespeare. It all began with an epiphany in June of 1877, at the time of the Dundee Fair, when the muse of poetry tapped him on the shoulder and said “write, write.”6 Searching for a theme in his dreary Paton’s Lane home, the fifty-two-year-old McGonagall wrote a poem on a prominent Free Kirk minister and eminent literary critic, George Gilfillan. He submitted it to the Dundee Weekly News and they printed it in the next issue. Shortly afterwards, he followed with another piece on the new Tay bridge. Then came a steady series of poems on a variety of themes: historical events, various disasters, great victories of the Empire, and local accomplishments. His works dealt with temperance issues, the rise of Liberalism, and God’s providence over humankind.7 By writing poems on such events as woman’s suffrage, the capture of a whale in the Firth of Tay, the crusade to extend the franchise to working people, and local and natural disasters, McGonagall drew on a well-understood British literary convention: the eighteenth-century broadside ballad. Forged from a string of easily memorized verses, these ballads recapitulated both local and international incidents. Through them, the illiterate and semi-literate learned the events of the day. By turning his poetry into a form of newspaper “reportage,” McGonnagall became a “public poet” of Victorian Scotland, a person whose “themes were high” but whose “verse was low”8

McGonagall frequently had his poems printed on 9″ x 12″ broadsheets by David Winter, a famed Dundee printer, whose firm still exists. Then he hawked them himself throughout the town. Every Saturday he could be found in the Dundee Green Market selling his broadsheets. The price was one pence a poem but he seldom carried change, and always welcomed “donations.” His frock coat, long hair, and slightly stooped appearance made him a widely recognized eccentric, almost a “licensed buffoon” for the city of Dundee.

He made much of his living from his poetry We know that on at least two occasions, he wrote poems on request from local merchants. A Dundee clothing company once traded him an outlandish outfit for a poem celebrating their wares. This has not survived. But another he wrote at the bidding of the Sunlight Soap firm has. One stanza reads:

You can use it with great pleasure and ease
Without wasting any elbow grease:
And when washing the most dirty clothes
The sweat won’t be dripping from your nose.9

Equally profitable, but far more controversial, were the various “dramatic readings” that McGonagall gave for various theaters and private clubs. He turned himself into a one-man variety show for these “Entertainments.” A surviving program, written in his own hand, shows that he recited ten pieces: some Shakespeare, passages from other poets, a song, and, of course, numerous selections from his own verse. The audience seldom failed to be amused. As the editor of the Dundee Weekly News noted in 1878, “The human midriff may hold out against McGonagall as Poet or McGonagall as a reader, but McGonagall as poet and reader is a combination which, we are afraid, would have doubled up even Nestor.”10

Part of the merriment came from audience participation in the performance. Sometimes they joined in the recitations, sometimes they tried to drown out the poet by singing or shouting. On numerous occasions, the rowdies took over. One once struck him across the face with a wet towel. At other times, onlookers pelted him with eggs, herring, potatoes and stale bread while he performed.11 At one such gathering, McGonagall and a rival poet named Pace (in civilian life a bellman) recited in unison until a group of school boys in the front row drenched them with flour and dye and drove them from the stage.12

The poet took all such attacks with magnanimity. Firmly believing in his own worth, he blamed the responses on jealousy or vulgar philistinism. The several times that the cheering crowd carried him off on their shoulders after a performance reinforced his faith in his own works. Never could he discern whether an audience was hollering “rubbish” or “encore.” In fact, it didn’t seem to matter. Borrowing the literary forms of his day, McGonagall considered himself the finest wordsmith since Shakespeare. Whether this was an honest belief or a sly ruse remains a matter of dispute.

Eventually, such “sport” approached near riot conditions. In 1890, the Magistrates of Dundee actually forbade McGonagall to perform within the city. He petitioned the Marquis of Lothian at the Scottish Office for the right to display his talents but received little encouragement. In 1894, he departed Dundee for Edinburgh, where he eked out his living in a slightly more hospitable environment. Still, his extant letters show him in constant debt. He died in Edinburgh in 1902 but no one has been able to discover his grave; presumably he lies in the paupers’ burial ground.

Given this persona, it is not surprising that McGonagall fell prey to numerous hoaxes. University students once sent him a thirty pound check drawn on a failed Glasgow bank. Another student group bestowed a “title” upon him, “Grand Knight of the Holy Order of the White Elephant,” allegedly from the king of Burma, which he thereafter proudly displayed. A local man pretended to be the famed London actor, Dion Boucicault, and urged him to come join the West End theaters. One of the most cruel hoaxes came when John Willcox “wrote” McGonagall’s Autobiography (1885) with the dedication: “Dedicated to himself, knowing none greater.” The fictitious autobiography had to be withdrawn under threat of libel, but was reissued in 1905, three years after its subject’s death.13 “McGonagall baiting” became a popular Scottish indoor sport during the late Victorian era.

In March of 1887, about six months after he had been maliciously lured to London, McGonagall decided to try his luck on the American stage. He began taking up a subscription to fund his passage to New York. “Friend and foe” alike contributed, many doubtlessly viewing it as yet another hoax. Alexander C. Lamb, proprietor of the Temperance Hotel, Reform Street, in Dundee saw through the ruse. He told the “poet and tragedian” (as he always signed himself) that, if necessary, he would fund his passage home.

Mid-month, McGonagall boarded the train to Glasgow and then the next day booked passage on the steamship Circassia for America. The ship held about 500 Irish and Scottish immigrants, most, like the poet, travelling steerage class. Such immigrant vessels usually developed an instant feeling of community and, as was customary, the steward called on any with theatrical or musical talent to give an on-board concert. Accordingly, McGonagall donned his Highland costume and performed, dismayed only that all proceeds for the evening went to the Lifeboat Fund.

After a twelve-day voyage, he arrived at the immigrant receiving station in Castle Garden, New York, down to his last eight shillings. Fearing to declare that he was a poet, lest he be sent back, he listed his occupation as “weaver.” Then, in a mode of bravado, he plunked down his shillings and said “Change that: It is all I require in the meantime.” Once through immigration, he sought out an old Dundee friend who lived on 49th Street and was dutifully taken in and fed for the duration of his stay.

After a few days, he began a relentless search for engagements in the New York City Music Halls. When he received no encouragement, he blamed everything on a conspiracy against British actors. He may have been partially correct, for ever since the Astor Place Riot of 1849, Americans had been suspicious of British thespians. In addition, New York City still bitterly recalled the lack of British support for the Union cause during the Civil War. The ill will and damage caused by the marauding British-built Alabama also lay fresh in many New York minds. Whatever the reason, McGonagall could not break onto the New York stage.

Thus, he turned to selling broadside versions of his poetry on the streets, as he had done in Dundee. The response proved totally negative. “To the deuce with that,” one man told him. “We won’t buy that here. You’d better go home to Scotland.” Perplexed at the lack of sales, McGonagall discussed the matter with his hosts, who politely suggested that the cause might lie in the fact that McGonagall’s broadsides all prominently displayed the Royal Coat of Arms on the masthead, as well as (depending on the poem) statements of support from such British luminaries as William Gladstone or Lord Wolseley. This, too, offended American sensibilities, but McGonagall indignantly refused to cut them off his broadsides. Tremendously devoted to Queen Victoria — he had once made a pilgrimage to Balmoral to read his verse to her — he considered himself a loyal member of the British Empire. Finally, his hosts helped arrange a semi—private “recital” one Sunday evening, with a small admission fee. But when “the great poet McGonagall” was introduced, he astonished the gathering by refusing to perform on the Sabbath as contrary to God’s will. His audience assured him that Sunday performances were quite acceptable in New York, but this moved him not. He felt it an offence against God. One man taunted him with: ”What do you know about God? Did He ever pay your rint?” and urged him to return to Scotland. Even his hostess became annoyed: “If ye dinna recite to obleege the company ye’ll just need tae gang out. Ye ought to be ashamed o’ yerself, for look how ye have affronted me before my neighbors.” The poet left in a huff, but he had the last word: “But I haven’t affronted God.”

Utterly dismayed at New York’s disregard for the Sabbath and his own lack of employment opportunities, he wrote Alexander Lamb for money to take him from “this second Babylon.” As promised, Lamb cabled enough money so that he could cross second class. A chastened McGonagall boarded the same steamship, Circassia, for the return voyage. He performed a second time for the Lifeboard Fund but noted that “a gentleman” also gave him a few shillings as a token of appreciation for his performance. After fourteen days aboard ship, he landed in Glasgow and soon returned to “Bonnie Dundee” by “the Silvery Tay.” He sold the story of his New York adventures to a reporter for 7s 6d, and versified them as follows:14

Jottings of New York

A Descriptive Poem

Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only thing that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.
And as for Central Park, it is lovely to be seen.
Especially in the summer season when its shrubberies and trees are green;
And Burns’ statue is there to be seen.
Surrounded by trees, on the beautiful sward so green;
Also, Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott,
Which by Englishmen and Scotchmen will ne’er be forgot.
There the people on the Sabbath-day in thousands resort
All loud in conversation and searching for sport,
Some of them viewing the menagerie of wild beasts there
And also beautiful black swans, I do declare.
And there’s beautiful boats to be seen there,
And the joyous shouts of the children do rend the air,
While the boats sail along with them o’er Lohengrin Lake
And the fare is five cents for children and adults ten is all they take.
And there’s also summer-house shades and merry-go—rounds,
And with the merry laughter of the children the Park resounds
During the livelong Sabbath-day,
Enjoying the merry-go-round play.
Then there’s the elevated railroads, about five storeys high,
Which the inhabitants can see and hear night and day passing by,
Oh! such a mass of people daily do throng,
No less than five hundred thousand daily pass along,
And all along the City you can get for five cents.
And, believe me, among the passengers there are few discontents.
And the top of the houses are all flat,
And in the warm weather the people gather to chat,
Besides on the house-tops they dry their clothes,
And also many people all night on the house—tops repose.
And numerous ships and steamboats are there to be seen,
Sailing along the East River Water so green;
’Tis certainly a most beautiful sight
To see them sailing o’er the smooth water day and night.
And Brooklyn Bridge is a very great height,
And fills the stranger’s heart with wonder at first sight,
But with all its loftiness, I venture to say,
For beauty it cannot surpass the new Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay.
And there’s also ten thousand rumsellers there,
Oh! wonderful to think, I do declare!
To accommodate the people of that city therein,
And to encourage them to commit all sorts of sin.
And on the Sabbath-day, ye will see many a man
Going for beer with a tin can,
And seems proud to be seen carrying home the beer
To treat his neighbours and family dear.
Then at night numbers of the people dance and sing,
Making the walls of their houses to ring
With their songs and dancing on Sabbath night,
Which I witnessed with disgust, and fled from the sight.
And with regard to New York and the sights I did see,
One street in Dundee is more worth to me,
And, believe me, the morning I sailed from New York
For Bonnie Dundee, my heart it felt as light as a cork.15

Although McGonagall never crossed the Atlantic again, he occasionally utilized American themes for his later verses. Eight of his approximately 120 poems deal with distinctively American topics, all of which illustrate his poetic technique in detail. While most Victorian poets gained inspiration from contemplating nature, the mystery of death, or the charms of a lover, McGonagall heard his muse by leafing through the evening newspaper.

Most of his American poems treated contemporary or historical events that he had read about in the papers. In each case, he told the tale in clumsy verse largely to provide a moral message. In “Captain Teach, alias Black Beard” he wrote of Edmund Teach, “a native of Bristol, and sailed from that port / On board a privateer, in search of sport.” His piracy along the Carolina coast during the eighteenth century brought him infamy:

Black Beard derived his
Name from his long black beard
Which terrified America
More than any comet that had ever appeared.

Eventually, the pirate met his fate at the hands of the brave Lieutenant Maynard, and all ended well.

Saving a Train” told of an incident when a bridge over the Ohio River collapsed in a flood. A local woman piled her furniture by the side of the tracks, lit it afire, and waved a red gown to stop the train, just in time:

Then round a curve the red eye of the engine came at last
Whilst the poor old woman and her daughter stood aghast;
But thank God, the engine stopped near the roaring fire
And the train was saved, as the Old woman did desire.

British writer E. Nesbit later used the same theme for her popular book, The Railway Children.

In “Saved by Music,” McGonagall related the tale of Dick, an African-American fiddler, who kept a pack of wolves at bay by his musical skills. “Lost on the Prairie” told of a brave horse, “Old Jack,” who led a band of men home in a storm. His “A Soldier’s Reprieve” related the famous story of Abraham Lincoln’s pardoning of private William Scott for sleeping on duty. “The Pennsylvania Disaster” put the saga of the Johnstown flood into verse, praising heroism and urging resigned acceptance of fate:

But heaven’s
Will must be done, I’ll venture to say
And accidents will happen until doomsday.

Perhaps his most unique American poem dealt with the death of Fred Marsden, a minor playwright, who had allegedly over-indulged his daughter; she, in turn, bankrupted him. This opens:

A pathetic tragedy I will relate
Concerning poor Fred Marsden’s fate,
Who suffocated himself by the fumes of gas
On the 18th of May,
And in the year of 1858, alas!

None of his American poems is in any way distinctive. McGonagall simply read about an incident across the Atlantic (usually a disaster) and recorded the tale in his inimitable rhyme.16

The New York City stage managers who denied McGonagall the opportunity to perform in 1887 knew their audiences. American theatre goers would probably not have appreciated either his dramatic “recitations” or his original poems.17 In Grover Cleveland’s United States, the art of “recitation” was usually limited to formal Victorian parlors or served as a form of community entertainment in frontier schoolhouses. While the New York stage boasted its share of “ham actors,” it produced no buffoon who strode the stage solely to be ridiculed.

McGonagall’s whole persona lay deeply rooted in Gaelic, rather than American traditions. In a sense he took on the stage role of the “court jester” for an audience of theatre going “aristocrats.” His other role was that of “public poet” for the masses, a position not unlike the fine artists retained by the wealthy, whose purpose it was to record the events of the day for posterity.

As literary critic Hamish Henderson has shown, McGonagall’s poems drew heavily from the Irish folk poetry that he absorbed during his childhood. In this oral tradition, many a ballad began with an invitation: “Come all ye fair and tender maidens” or “Come all ye noble patriots, and listen to my song.” Alternatively, they opened with the dates of the specific event under celebration: “It was upon the 12th of July in
1690 famous.”18 Non-Gaelic America had no similar tradition of balladry.

McGonagall’s best poems were too firmly grounded in Celtic or British Empire history to have been easily grasped by 1887, non-Gaelic New York City audiences. His “The Battle of Tel-el-kebir,” “The Sunderland Calamity,” “The Battle of Glencoe,” or “The Battle of Omdurman” would not likely have been comprehended by most New Yorkers. His most famous dramatic performance, “The Rattling Boy from Dublin” which usually brought the house down as the audience joined in on the chorus, was similarly parochial.

In addition, McGonagall drew from the strong Gaelic tradition of the “people’s poet.” Mid-Victorian Britain produced a number of similar “poets of the people.” Robert Burns established the pattern as the famed “Ploughman poet” in the eighteenth century and his successor, at the time of Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, gained fame as “The Ettrick Shepherd.” Similarly, there were a number of milkmaid poets, cotter poets, bricklayer poets, navvy poets, policeman poets, railway poets and so on. McGonagall might well have been termed the “weaver poet.” Indeed, his hecklers often interrupted his poems with cries of “where’s your shuttle, Willie?” America, of course, had no similar poetic tradition.19

In fact, the poet has always played a rather ambiguous role in American life. While Walt Whitman’s “poetry of democracy” generally sold well, the verses written by Emily Dickinson remained unknown until 1890, four years after her death. The more popular “people’s poets” of that era — James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene Field, Paul L. Dunbar, and Edgar A. Guest — were often politely ignored by the ruling literary establishment.

During the fin de siècle years, the American poet often proved an object of derision. Many American newspapers ridiculed the “Spring poet” with his bundle of poems tied by a ribbon. The stereotype included: pallid features, long hair, foppish manners, and poverty One cartoon image depicted an editor booting the errant versifier down the stairs.20 As an observer once noted, “It really takes a Scot to appreciate McGonagall.”21

The only area where McGonagall might have touched American audiences in 1887 lay with his celebration of “poetic democracy.” If he could write verse, thousands might have said, why not I. Indeed, that arena is where his reputation remains the most secure.

As far as can be determined, McGonagall’s carved out his meager living solely from his poetry and recitations until his death in 1902. In spite of pleas from his family, he never returned to the weaving trade. With his passing, a number of observers began to reassess his enigmatic role. The Scottish People’s Journal noted that if his audiences differed with him on the value of his verse, they never failed to be entertained and amused. The obituary writer of the Dundee Evening News commented on McGonagall’s marked absence from the city during the last seven years and confessed that Dundee would miss the “grand old man.” An anonymous Dundee broadside concluded: “The world will have an empty stall / Bereft of great McGonagall.”22 Even one of McGonagall’s own poems points to the theme of his eventual passing:

I earnestly hope the inhabitants of the beautiful city of Dundee
Will appreciate this little volume got up by me,
And when they read its pages,
I hope it will fill their hearts with delight.
While seated around the fireside on a cold winter’s night;
And some of them, no doubt, Will let a silent tear fall
In dear remembrance of William McGonagall.

McGonagall’s poems may, indeed, bring tears, but today they are more likely to be tears of laughter.23 As one editor has observed, “His ability to make bad rhymes amounted to genius.”24

Most of Scotland knew of William McGonagall during his lifetime. Scots newspapers continue to print articles on him with regularity.25 And Scottish emigrants all across the globe have kept his name alive in many lands. Recently, his verse has begun to be appreciated in the United States as well.

Why would a national literary culture choose to celebrate the bathetic and banal over genuinely creative literary verse? There are several possible explanations. A society bombarded by electronic media has found it challenging to maintain any boundaries between “high” and “low” literary culture. One result of media saturation has been to “homogenize” cultural traditions. Similarly, the “shrinking of the world” has reduced the parochial nature of his verse. In addition, the rise of literary modernism, with an emphasis on deconstructionism, has eroded confidence in any elite poetic Truth. The end result is a renewed focus on verses written in a “democratic,” easily understood style. McGonagall’s poetry certainly fits this genre.

But perhaps the most enduring appeal of McGonagall’s verses lies in the universal need to laugh. Americans are just now appreciating what Scots have known for over a century: His poetry is hilarious. In 1962, the Dundee Evening Telegraph spoke of McGonagall’s fame assuming “almost mythical proportions.”26 The last barrier fell when the Edinburgh Burns Club held a ceremony to honor his birth in their city.

His reputation is now so secure that all outlandishly bad verse is instantly attributed to him. No one knows the true author of:

As I was walkin’ down the road,
I met a coo—a bull, by Gode!

or

Twa birds sat on a barrow,
One was a sprung, the
Other a sparrow.

or

Here’s to Queen Victoria, in all her regalia,
One foot in London, the other in Australia.

But the initial response is sure to be: the great McGonagall.

Footnotes

  1. James Drawbell, “A Word for McGonagall,” Life and Work (1966), p. 13; David Phillips, No Poet’s Corner in the Abbey (Dundee, 1971) is the only biography. The most recent edition of his work is William McGonagall, Poetic Gems (London, 1989), with a foreword by Billy Connolly. See also, Spike Milligan and lack Hobbes, The Great McGonagall Scrapbook (London, 1975). []
  2. Cited in Drawbell, “A Word for McGonagall,” p. 13. Compare Magnus Magnusson, “The Dignity Within the Absurd” Scotsman Weekend Magazine (23 January, 1965). []
  3. Robert T. Hay, “McGonagall,” The Scots Magazine, 65 (]uly, 1956). The standard editions of his works are: Poetic Gems (Dundee, 1975 [1890]); More Poetic Gems (Dundee, 1969); and Last Poetic Gems (Dundee, 1968). There is no American edition of his works. []
  4. Poetic Gems, p. 50. []
  5. Weekly Scotsman (12 March, 1959). His manuscripts`are in the Dundee Public Library, Dundee,  Scotland. []
  6. All this data comes from The Authentic Autobiography of the Poet McGonagall (Dundee, c. 1901). []
  7. McGonagall to Mr. Belfour, July 22, 1881, McGonagall Papers, Dundee Public Library. []
  8. James Edward Holroyd, “Whit Aboot McGonagall,” clipping from the Lamb Collection, Dundee Public Library, 2086 (28). Cf. the discussions in the “Awful Poet Who Didn’t Know It,” Scotland on Sunday, (10 February, 1991) and Robert T. Hay, “McGonagall,” The Scots Magazine, 65 (July, 1956), pp. 276-281. []
  9. Scrapbook, Dundee Public Library. Cf. Bruce Lenman, “McGonagall’s Dundee,” Scots Magazine (May, 1969), pp. 175-184. []
  10. Dundee Weekly News (27 April, 1978). []
  11. Dundee Advertiser (29 December, 1888). []
  12. Lewis Spence, “The Great MacGonagall,” Scotland’s S.M.T. Magazine (April, 1947), p. 53; Dundee Weekly News (5 July, 1979). []
  13. John Willocks, The Book of the Lamentations of the Poet MacGonagall: An Autobiography (n.p., 1885); a later edition bore the title William McGonagall, Poet (Dundee, 1905). []
  14. “All details are from The Autobiography of Sir William Topaz M’Gonagall, Poet and Tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant, Burmah (n.p., 1901; reprinted from Dundee’s The Weekly News). []
  15. Poetic Gems, p. 98. []
  16. These may all be found in Poetic Gems and Last Poetic Gems. []
  17. David Phillips, No Poets’ Corner of the Abbey (Dundee, 1971), p. 155. []
  18. Hamish Henderson, “McGonagall and the Irish Question” New Edinburgh Review, 14 (August-September, 1971). []
  19. Hugh MacDairmid, Scottish Eccentrics (London, 1936), p. 57. []
  20. Spence, “The Great MacGonagall,” p. 52. []
  21. Weekly Scotsman (3 May, 1962). []
  22. “Wandering ]ohn,” “M’Gonagall— Second-to-none/’ broadside in the Dundee Public Library.
    Weekly News (undated), copy, Dundee Public Library; People’s Journal (4 October, 1902). []
  23. W. J. Smith, in Foreword of Phillips’ No Poet’s Corner (no pagination); Spike Milligan, “The People’s
    William (McGonagall, That ls)/’ Observer Magazine (6 November, 1977). []
  24. Arbroath Herald (3 January, 1964). See also Holroyd, “Whit Aboot McGonagall?” []
  25. See, for example, The Scotsman (25 April, 1992) and letters to the editor in reply (3 May, 1992). []
  26. Dundee Evening Telegraph (19 September, 1962). []