A Bogus Boucicault

The Bogus Boucicault

To the Editor of the Era

Sir,- Referring to your article in last week’s Era, headed “A Bogus Boucicault,” permit me, through your columns, to tender my best thanks to Mr Dion Boucicault, who has not only generously sympathised with me, but has also in a practical manner evinced the warmest interest in my position by forwarding me, through Mr Hodges, the Acting-Manager of the Dundee Theatre Royal, the handsome contribution of five pounds (£5). A kindness which I shall ever remember.

I am, Sir, yours truly,

WILLAM McGONAGALL, the Dundee Poet.
Dundee, June 23rd, 1880.

The following is the letter forwarded by Mr Hodges to the aggrieved poet:-

“Dear Sir,- On the publication of the particulars of the recent imposition practised upon you by some person absurdly representing himself as Mr Dion Boucicault, I thought it my duty to bring the matter under the notice of the distinguished dramatic author and actor. Some years ago Mr Tom Taylor, the great playwright and present eminent editor of Punch, declined to enter into controversy with a critic who had entirely misconstrued the scope of one of his works, contenting himsaif with observing that ‘to answer a fool according to his folly’ was but a mere waste of time. Mr Boucicault is indignant at the fraud practised in his name, but on your account only. In a  commnunication I have received from him he says:- ‘The hoax was a very cruel one. It was a heartless affair. I should be glad to give the poet proof that actors are incapable of such unkindness. Tell him that all poets feel for one another, and that practical jokers are practical fools.’ Mr Boucicault has intrusted me with the generous contribution of five pounds as a solace to your feelinggs, and I shall be happy to hand the amount over on your calling to-morrow morning at the Theatre Royal. Those who imposed on you ought, at least, to double this. I may add that Mr McFarland, who was from home at the time of the occurrence, expressed his deepest sympathy with you, in which, as you know, I join, and am, yours truly,

N. W. Hodges, Acting-Manager, Theatre Royal.
Dundee, June 22d, 1880.”

The Era, 27th June 1880

Dundee boasts a “Poet” whose name is McGonagall. According to a local contemporary, he, many a time and oft, has soared up beyond the moon on the wings of faith and hope only to come down again by the run in double quick time. For months past, he has been waiting with a patience worthy of a better cause “for something to turn up.” After the favourable reception he lately received from the public, and the flattering decision passed on his talents as a “poet” and an actor, he did expect that some tangible recognition of his genius would soon be forthcoming. Judge then what were his feelings when, on Wednesday last (9th inst.), the postman brought him a letter headed “Theatre Royal,” and subscribed “Dion Boucicault” The contents of that precious epistle were to the effect that the renowned dramatic author had heard of McGonagall’s talents as an actor and a poet, and after reading the account of his late levee which appeared in the Weekly News, he had come to the conclusion to offer him an engagement as a leading actor in one of the travelling star companies. The letter concluded by requesting McGonagall to meet the writer at Straton’s Restaurant at twelve noon that day, where they could have luncheon and talk the matter over together. Such a letter from such a quarter was enough to send McGonagall flying up to the seventh heaven and a storey higher. Here was “the silvery dream” of his life about to be realised at last.. First, there was the immediate promise of a “good beef dinner,” and a prospective engagement in a London Theatre at a good weekly “screw.” Such a chance was not to be met with every day.

Punctual to the hour named in the letter, the “Poet” called at the restaurant, and inquired for Mr Boucicault. The attendants started at the “Poet,” but a “friend” of the “Poet’s,” who just at that precise moment chanced to drop in, came to the rescue and offered to take him to the gentleman, who, he said, was patiently awaiting him in the smoking room. Following his soi-disant friend upstairs, be was led into the presence of a middle-aged man, with a flowing black beard streaked with silver. His face was commonplace enough, and his “togs” were rather seedy, and the “Poet” thought he had not the “smell” of an author or an actor about him. However, the “Poet’s” officious friend introduced the bearded gentleman as “Dion Boucicault,” and the latter shook hands with the “Poet,” and expressed the pleasure he felt at meeting with one whose fame had spread over the whole habitable globe. McGonagall thanked “Dion” for his flattering compliments,  and assured his new-found friend that he was delighted to make his acquaintance. The formalities of introduction over, McGonagall was requested to take a seat, and “Dion” went straight to the business on hand. He said he had been led to the conclusion that if he and the “Poet” could make arrangements for a dramatic tour through the Provinces it would tend to their mutual benefit. The “Poet” “would be most happy.” “What are your terms?” promptly inquired “Dion.” This was to the point, and meant business. The “Poet” scratched his “pow,” and thought for a minute. It would not do to sell his talents for an old song. A guinea a night might do in Dundee, but travelling was expensive. Taking all things into consideration the “Poet ” finally came to the conclusion that £2 a night was a moderate salary to begin with. ” O, you. are very reasonable,” replied “Dion.” “Of course we don’t want to kill you right off, and we propose that you shall only appear four nights in the week, and more if necessary.” Here the “Poet’s ” friend stepped forward and suggested that Mr Boucicault should just conclude to give him £20 a week, pay the first week’s salary in advance, and give him £5 towards the expenses of his outfit. To this arrangement “‘Dion” at once agreed, but when McGonagall insisted that the engagement should be written out and mutually signed, “Dion” jumped to his feet and retired to the other end of the room, and left the “Poet” staring in astonishment at his eccentric patron. While the interview was in progress a number of the “Poet’s” friends and admirers dropped in, and seated themselves within earshot of the “Poet” and the actor. To this group “Dion” now attached himself, and joined in the conversation with all the familiarity of an old acquaintance. The conversation of the party naturally turned on the “Poet’s” versatile powers, and it was suggested that he should recite some of his “effusions” by way of a sample to his new patron. McGonagall would be highly delighted if “Dion” would condescend to hear him. “Bannockburn” was suggested, but the “Poet ” was not in costume. “O, never mind that at present,” said “Dion, “your stick will do for a sword, and here is my handkerchief, you can extemporise it into a waist belt.” Thus equipped, with the red cotton “hanky” round his waist, and his trusty oaken cudgel hanging by his side, the “Poet” launched forth into “the depths of his grand historic piece.” The audience applauded to the echo, and “Dion” declared that if he gave that in London he would “bring down the house.” “Forget me not” and an “Address to the Moon” were subsequently called for, and at last the “Poet” sank on a chair completely exhausted. Some one suggested that refreshments should be provided for the “Poet,” and, after some discussion as to  “what he would take,” a glass of beer and a sandwich was called in. The “Poet” looked askance at the scanty bill of fare, but, as half a sandwich and a glass of bitter was better than no dinner, he restrained his feelings, and partook of the bread and beer. Then “Dion” retired, without even shaking hands with the “Poet,” and one by one the rest of the company followed his example, and left the “Poet” alone in his glory.

A faint suspicion now began to dawn in the “Poet’s” mind that the whole affair was not exactly “up to dick,” and this idea was further strengthened when, by the advice of some friends, he called, in the evening, on the Acting-Manager of the Theatre Royal. Mr Hodges listened with great interest and sympathy to the poor “Poet’s” story. On being shown the letter he informed him that it was a spurious production, that Dion Boucicault never penned such an epistle, as he was not then and never had been in Dundee. We understand that the “Poet” has put the matter in the hands of the authorities, who are busily engaged investigating into the circumstances; and we can assure the authors of this heartless hoax on a poor struggling genius that they may yet be called upon to stand the “Poet” a good dinner to compensate him for the one he was so shabbily cheated and deprived of.

The Era, 20th June 1880

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