A Night with McGonagall

A contributor, who has taken some time to his subject, sends us the following effusion on McGonagall being presented with sausage as a meat offering:—

McGonagall, the silvery, rose,
Inhaled a breath, his chest expanded,
I never “sausage” freaks as those,
What does it mean, he then demanded?

Is it meat that we should drink?
He asks of them, although quite near,
They yelled, it is. Well, then, I think
I’ll take it home (a silent swear).

The poet bowed—he knew, he felt
That every moment brought him nigher
The muse he courted, to his belt
Would often rise, but never higher.

He smiled a smile, and made a pause.
He gazed a gaze, a gate infinite.
Then passed his hat to them, because—
Because they would put something in it.

Farce and Fun in Glasgow

The Story of a Rejected Sausage

The “poet” McGonagall had a reception in Glasgow the other evening that must have gladdened his heart. A few Glasgow pressmen and their friends “sent round the hat,” and engaged “the bard of Tel-el-Kebir, El-Teb, the Capture of Lucknow,” &c., to come through to the western city and give an exhibition of what he modestly calls his “abilities.” The back room of a “pub,” in the east end of the city was hired for the occasion, and about eight o’clock in the evening fifty choice spirits assembled there and constituted themselves into a gathering of citizens to give the poet welcome. McGonagall had arrived early in the afternoon, and was shown round the Exhibition by a well known Glasgow pressman. He expressed in terms of unstinted praise, and in highly poetic language, his appreciation of the show, and his  guide and companion, judging by the glimpses he got of the poet’s eye, “in fierce frenzy rolling,” assured himself that another fine poem was in contemplation. dealing with the Exhibition in that graphic and highly poetic manner in which Mr McGonagall has sung the beauties and the grandeur of the Tay Bridge. Having done the honours the buildings and grounds, poet was conducted “pub.” (it is shocking to mention so low a place in so a high a connection, but truth must be told), arriving there shortly after eight. When the trim and elegant figure of McGonagall, with his intellectual head and the poetic cast in his eyes entered the room the gentlemen present with one accord rose to their feet and gave vent to their feelings in cheer. Does any one suggest that this was done by arrangement? McGonagall bowed his acknowledgements, and was conducted to seat on the Chairman’s right hand. The chair, it may be mentioned, was occupied by a Glasgow journalist. It was an unpretentious room, With sloping whitewashed roof, but with skylights, the walls hung with cheap paper, and the floor of stone covered in places with patches of waxcloth. Mr McGonagall carried in his hand the familiar carpet bag containing the Highland costume which he wears when reciting his poems, and his jaunty, pleased air showed that he appreciated, and presumably understood, the nature of his reception. Song and sentiment opened the entertainment, and then Mr McGonagall retired to don the classic garb of old Gaul, He was introduced by the Chairman in a speech which was remarkable for the gravity with which the praises of the poet were delivered. Addressing him as McGonagall. Scotland’s honoured bard, the Chairman apologised for the familiarity by remarking that one never spoke of Mr Burns or Mr Shakespeare, but Burns and Shakespeare. McGonagall then rose to his feet, and stated that the Chairman would read a letter from Zululand regarding his (McGonagall’s) abilities. The letter having been read. McGonagall recited a new poem on the Battle of Sheriffmuir. taking care to assure his audience that they were the first who had been honoured with hearing of this latest fruit of his genius. (This phrase is not the poet’s) What need to dwell upon the beautiful language in which the bard has recited the tale of Sherriffmuir, including in his poem the names of all the officers present on that doubtful day! Beside his rapturous language, the old Jacobite ballad pales its ineffectual fire, and recedes into nothingness and insignificance. The audience was evidently of this opinion, and a suggestion was unanimously expressed that the valuable MS. be handed round for inspection, so that those who handled it might tell their children’s children of the honour which had been theirs. McGonagall, to adopt the Chairman’s style of address, was careful to explain that he did not usually entrust his precious MS. out of his hands, but was graciously pleased to make an exception on this occasion, and the poem was accordingly passed round. Then the poet recited an effusion of his genius (hats off!), entitled “Bannockburn,” in which he illustrated in vigorous and graphic style the manner in which the English army was put to rout. He skipped about the floor with all the agility of a poet in his teens, and whirled his good sword effectually as to drive a timid gentleman beneath the table (was it McGonagall’s sword that did this?), and to seriously imperil the properly in the room. Such a feast of reason and a flow of soul sure was never before seen in that room. Its dingy walls acquired new lustre, and shone in the light of McGonagall’s genius until every stone of the floor and every square inch of the walls became as sacred in the eyes of those present as the old Mermaid Tavern is in the eyes of all lovers of literature.

“Souls of poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye known,
Happy field. or mossy cavern,
Choicer than the Mermaid  Tavern?”

So sang Keats, and the future poet of McGonagall’s Glasgow meeting might adopt the language if he could do so in all gravity and without laughing. But to return to the business, or rather the pleasure of the meeting. Mr McGonagall, to give him his due, provided the bulk of the entertainment, and let those laugh who will at his performance, is it not the case that he drove Henry Irving and the whole Lyceum company off the stage—with envy? Oh, dear, yes! That is Mr McGonagall’s best answer to these scorners who venture to doubt his “abilities.’’ In response to repeated requests, Mr McGonagall recited his poem on the Tay Bridge, the Chairman carefully explaining that if this noble poem had not been written the Bridge would probably have been standing to this day. It was, in fact, believed that the publication of the poem hastened the fall of the Bridge, but that, of course, did not affect the stability the poem, which still stands, an unique work of genius. Mr McGonagall recited the poem amid applause and laughter, which was unaccountable, and could only be put down to the professional jealousy of some minor poet of Glasgow. Than followed the stirring lines on Tel-el-Kebir, in which Mr McGonagall contrived to clear a big space in the middle of the room. There is one remarkable feature about Mr McGonagall’s entertainments, and that is that he never succeeds in clearing the room of his audience. Now, many minor artists invariably succeed in doing this, and some never succeed in getting an audience to fill a hall, but Mr McGonagall can both get an audience and keep it spell-bound (does any one venture to disagree?) by his own unaided efforts. The night was now wearing on. and conversation was becoming general, when some one suggested that, as McGonagall was attired in appropriate costume, he might give a recitation from “Macbeth.’’ Explaining incidentally that he did not know how “other tragedians interpreted the character, but this was his way of doing it,” McGonagall then recited a scene from “Macbeth” in a manner as unique as he only could be capable of perpetrating—the word is used advisedly. McGonagall now desired a rest— his exertions were telling upon him. A gentleman then rose, and in a speech in the right “King  Cambyses vein,” moved that the poet be enrolled a member of the Dennistoun Literary, Artistic, Geological, Zoological, and Chronological Society. They had many distinguished members on their roll, he said—a parson called Jamieson, or Tennyson (he wasn’t sure which), Browning, Huxley, the Duke of Argyll, Henry M. Stanley. McGinty, and  many others. He was sure, however, the members would agree with him that they would be doing themselves a great honour if they added to that list the name of their illustrious guest, McGonagall. This was seconded by the Chairman, who remarked that several years ago Mr Gladstone had it in his power to confer a great distinction, namely, the Poet Laureateship, but that he bestowed the honour upon some obscure rhymster named any son or Tennyson, he didn’t profess to know or care This was a distinct slight of McGonagall’s claims, and the Chairman firmly believed that to this fact due Mr Gladstone’s defeat at the general election following his injudicious appointment of the Poet Laureateship. To all this McGonagall nodded a gratified consent, which rose to enthusiasm when a member suggested that the name of their latest honorary member should be placed at the very top of the list above those of all the other members. This proposal was carried nem. con., and then McGonagall rose to reply. He thanked them for the honour they had done him, which was, he said, more than any of his pretended friends had ever thought of doing. “You will observe,” he added, “how I put it; I say my pretended friends.” McGonagall then indulged in a long disquisition against the people of Dundee, and especially the Magistrates, who, he declared, were instrumental in preventing him earning many a bright pound that would have been beneficial to him. “I ask the citizens of Glasgow,” he continued, “what right have any Magistrates to boycott a professional who, it is well known, pleases the more intelligent community? They might as well boycott Henry Irving. I have been through the world and have obtained a hearing, and Henry Irving can do no more. It is spite or spleen, and it is a cruel action. They would crush me, and take from me my means of earning a living, and make me die before my time.” McGonagall then entered into a long explanation of how several lawyers in Dundee had declined to take up his case, because they were afraid the Magistrates would boycott them. They could not find record of such an action in or out of history, and it had seriously affected his professional position and prospects. Managers would not give him engagements, because they thought there was something wrong with him. But he would get his chance yet, and expected to get an engagement in the People’s Palace in London. The Chairman then gave the right hand of fellowship to McGonagall, who was declared a member of the Society, and entitled to all its privileges(!). The most important ceremony of the evening was yet to come. Mine host appeared at the door groaning with the weight of large something which he carried on an immense plate. It was covered with cloth, and its contents were known to only a few of those present. It was placed upon the table in front of McGonagall and uncovered, when it was seen to be a huge sausage, much larger than the ordinary size, and decorated with green ribbons. McGonagall sat unmoved, but it was easy to see that the poetic ire had been roused. He said nothing, however, and the Chairman read a letter stating that the article was the gift of an anonymous admirer who was unable to be present at the meeting. The note was signed “J. M.,” and the Chairman surmised that the initials must represent John Muir, the Lord Provost. The meeting enthusiastically, though with much unaccountable laughter, proclaimed its belief to the same effect, and then McGonagall rose to reply. He firmly and indignantly refused to accept the gift. No explanation would satisfy him. He declared that the gentleman was ashamed of his gift, or he would have signed his name, an admirable bit of reasoning which no one attempted to confute. Then the poet waxed pathetic. “What,” he exclaimed, “would my Dundee friends say if they heard of this?” This was evidently the sausage. “But they will never hear of it,” he continued; “I will keep it a dead secret; I will never breathe it to a living soul.” The company were somewhat nonplussed, for they had imagined that the sausage would be cheerfully accepted. Finally, however, the Chairman handed to the poet the more lucrative reward which he declared was his due. He pocketed the insult—that is, the sausage—and retired to his modest hotel.

Weekly News, 14th March 1891

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