Ten “New” Gems

Filed under: Site News; in the year 2019, on the 21st day of February at 11:35 am

I’ve added ten new poetic gems to the site, that come fresh from holdings of the Dundee Central Library. The library has a considerable collection of McGonagalia, including 41 manuscripts written in the poet’s own hand. But more treasures lie among their huge assemblage of 344 broadsheets, once hawked by the great man himself on the streets of Dundee.

McGonagall only produced two books of poems in his lifetime, the first and second volumes of Poetic Gems, published in 1890 and 1891 respectively. His usual practice was to have broadsheets printed with just one or two poems on them, that he could sell on the street for a penny or two. It is from these broadsheets that the content of all subsequent volumes of “gems” have been drawn.

But some have still managed to slip through the net. This latest trove brings their number up to 40, and the overall number of gems on the site to 257. Is that it? Is that the completion of Absolutely Final Poetic Gems? No it isn’t. I’m aware of one broadsheet, sold at auction a decade ago, that I don’t have in my collection, no doubt there are others out there too.

So, without further ado, here are ten works of dubious poetic genius, unseen outside the library’s reading room for over a century:

Taken as a whole, the selection makes quite a representative sample of the great man’s oeuvre. We have two dedicated to places in Scotland, and two describing appearances of Her Majesty in all the excruciating detail McGonagall could muster. Then there are two historical works: one involving, curiously, Willie’s only known portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots (whose life story could have furnished him with subject matter for a whole book of disastrous gems), the other concerns a spectacularly unsuccessful pirate. Two local clergymen are celebrated, one posthumously after his habit of bathing “at dangerous places where other swimmers were afraid” finally catches up with him. Finally, we have two moral tales, the main moral being “don’t be poor in Victorian Scotland.”

I hope these offerings entertain, and help distract from our current catalogue of disasters. Let me know what you think…