City Gossip

The second book of McGonagall is before the world at last. The first made a sensation, but the second will set the Law Hill on fire At first sight the contrast between the two volumes is very striking. “Poetic Gems,” No. 1, was dressed in yellow, like the modest primrose, peeping amidst the moss in shady nooks in early spring. The second is like the red, red rose newly blown in June. Our poet’s works first appear in “yeller covers;” now he comes forth in bold, fiery red, like the flag of the sea reavers, bidding defiance to all pedants and critics that dare to assail him. Metaphorically, such is the outward appearance of the new volume; inwardly, it is the greatest work ever issued from the Dundee press.

Let us open the volume and analyse the contents. You are arrested at the very threshold and constrained to gaze on the well known face of the author which forms the frontispiece. A striking likeness it is, far superior to the last. The poet is of opinion that the portrait is his very image—a clear, true portrait, that makes him look like a great tragedian and poet, as he really is. Then the author, in his neatest calligraphy presents his compliments to every purchaser who is weak enough to invest the sum of one shilling for the possession of such a treasure.

Pass over the title page, which has no new feature except the motto, which is taken from Shakespeare, instead of McGonagall. Certainly that is a great tribute paid to the genius of the Bard of Avon from his superior, the Bard of the Tay. The biographical reminiscences are confined to the poet’s experiences amongst the publicans. Astounding are those revelations of McGonagall. The moral depravity to which that class have descended ought to make every one engaged in the liquor traffic blush unseen, like desert flowers. “The first man that threw peas at me was a publican,” he says. “Think of that; think of the indignity heaped the poet by a spiteful grampus of a publican,” and all because the poet, while singing “The Rattling Boy,” exclaimed in the song, “To the Devil with your glass.”

But consider further the terrible effects of that publican’s example. To that one act of that one publican in one public house one night can be traced the wanton destruction of eggs, and their consequent high price, by the wild rabble who in halls, penny gaffs, and circus rings showered them in thousands on the poet’s head. It’s a fact no one can deny. The publicans have been the root of all the ills and misfortunes that have befallen McGonagall in the course of his chequered career. If that’s any comfort to them they can smile and welcome.

That’s all I can say regarding the biography without spoiling the sale. Ye who desire to know more, buy a copy for yourselves. We have preserved in Book Second the tribute from Zululand and the Glasgow University students, with certificates of character from Professor Knight, the Rev. George Gilfillan, and others—all of which show what other great men think of the great McGonagall. Coming to the “gems,”’ the place of honour is given to the Stanley poem. All the world knows the circumstances under which that piece was written, and the world will approve of its preservation, and acknowledge that it deserved to be rescued from oblivion Here is the first stanza from “Jottings of New York,” a city to which the poet paid a flying visit. The lines show that McGonagall keeps his eyes about him when he goes abroad:—

O! mighty city of New York, you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent—the truth be it told;
They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,,
Because many of them were thirteen storeys high.

He did not stay long in New York, but saw enough, and more than enough to fill his heart with disgust. The people made their house ring with dancing and singing on Sabbath nights, which made him fly at the sight. Men with shameless effrontry went to the “pubs,” and brought home beer in tin cans to “treat their neighbours and families dear.” Though New York was a “beautiful sight to seen.” he did not like it, for thus he concludes, and I believe he says truly:—

“And, believe me, the morning I sailed from New York
For Bonnie Dundee my heart felt light as a cork.”

The universality of the poet is wonderful. He roams the world for subjects, and sings of men and things

“From Greenland’s icy mountains
To India’s coral strand.”

His patriotic and national spirit shines full, however, when he launches out on “Loch Katrine” to describe the Glasgow Water Works. The Royal Review inspires his genius. He tells in thrilling language how the volunteers testified their loyalty by getting soaked to the skin, and tramped ankle deep in mud in the Queens Park, and died of bronchitis and  consumption afterwards. Then there are the new historical poems of Culloden and Sheriffmuir, which only require to be seen to be appreciated. This is about all I have got to say, for If I quote any more the book would not pay.

I have just learned with feelings of the greatest pleasure that the “poet” has generously presented a copy of the second volume to the Dundee Free Library. That act alone is sufficient to show the noble spirit that burns within the poet’s breast. With all her faults he loves Dundee, and his contributions to the Free library are creditable to his mind and heart Here is the letter in which he makes the presentation, and the reply:—

To the Dundee Free Library I present the second series of “Poetic Gems,” for the benefit of its readers, hoping it will meet with their appreciation as hitherto. Believe me, yours sincerely,

William  McGonagall, Poet.
March the 20th. 1891.

Free Library, Museum, and Art Gallery,
Albert Institute, Dundee, March 26th, 1891.

Dear Sir,—l am instructed by the Committee to acknowledge receipt of the donation named the other side, and also to tender you their grateful thanks for the same. Yours respectfully,

John Maclauchlan,
Chief Librarian and Curator.

Poetic Gems, second series, selected from the works of William McGonagall, poet and tragedian, with biographical reminiscences by the author. Dundee, 1891.

The book will he bound in “calf,” no doubt, with gilt edges, clasps, and gold bars, in honour of the poet and his handsome gift.

Weekly News, 28th March 1891

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