City Gossip

Poet McGonagall has fulfilled my expectations. Last week I hinted that the lifeboat demonstration was likely to furnish a fitting theme for the Laureate of Dundee, and now I am pleased to be able at my leisure to survey the result of his poetic treatment of a memorable event in the history of our city. The Poet burst in upon me on Thursday forenoon. His manner was unusually exuberant, a radiant smile overspread his elastic features, and there was a cheery ring in that grandly-modulated voice.

I glanced up, and the inevitable roll was there. I guessed the nature of the contents; but I was careful not to commit the same mistake a second time, and I therefore allowed the great man to speak. “A new poem,” he exclaimed with great energy. “This is it now – the lifeboat demonstration.” “So you have kept your promise, Poet” I said, as bang went another penny, “why you have brought in everything. That must have been a very difficult undertaking.”

“Difficult;” said Mr McGonagall meditatively; “yes, it was rather difficult.” Then taking me into his confidence – which I hope I am not betraying – he lowered his voice to that pitch which is known as a stage whisper and remarked – “Do you know a certain party asked me how I got all the trades to rhyme? I said to him that was my business; do you see?” This last sentence was accompanied by a sudden contraction of his other eye, which indicated that the Poet has no immediate intention of parting with the secrets of his trade.

In his very latest poem, McGonagall gives a vivid description of the procession, varied by characteristic observations, and seasoned with imaginative touches, which, last, of course, is just another name for poetic license, the only sort of license that may be treated with impunity. From the minute details presented in this poem, the reader might naturally suppose that the venerable Poet, perched upon a lamp-post, had jotted down in his note-book everything in the procession that came under the glance of his eagle eye; but such, let me give positive assurance, was not the case. As a fact, startling as it may appear, the Poet did not see the procession. At the time it was passing, literature was engrossing his notice. In his home in Step Row he remained to read the story of “Lizzie Munro” in the Weekly News.

McGonagall does not tire your patience with a tedious introduction. He plunges into the subject at once. Nor can it be said that he is ambiguous. That there can be no mistake whatever, he is careful to give the exact date. By this plan, confusion is avoided. Here is the opening verse:-

’Twas in the year of 1892, and on the 24th of September,
Which the inhabitants of Dundee will long remember,
The great Lifeboat Demonstration,
Which caused a great sensation.

Then he proceeds to describe the parts of the procession – “the trades and bodies all in rotation” – tells us

The Mars boys were there with their band
Leading the van, which looked very grand.

I am not very sure if I understand which particular vehicle this was that elicited the Poet’s admiration.

There were a body of Sailors all in a row,
And Firemen, Brassfounders, and Operative Masons also,
Besides Carpenters and Joiners, and Manchester Oddfellows,
Also Boilermakers and Blacksmiths that can blow the bellows.

The Poet, I think, lays himself open to charges of partiality when he speaks of

Patternmakers, and Painters, most beautiful to he seen,
All marching in the procession towards the Magdalen Green.

I am afraid that the other trades will rather resent the notion that patternmakers and painters have a monopoly on beauty; but the circumstances must be accounted for by the Poet having been tempted to repeat himself in one of his earliest gems. I might quote a great deal more, but must conclude with this notice of the big loaf carried by the bakers:-

Such as a big Loaf of over fifty pounds,
And the cheers of the spectators had no bounds,
When they saw it held aloft along with a sheaf of corn,
They declared they never saw the like since they were born.

I have mentioned that of Thursday McGonagall showed an exuberance of spirits not usual with him. Was it the boom in the local poetry market, or was it due to another cause – the disappearance of a rival. “So your friend is gone,” said a gentleman to McGonagall, alluding to the death of Lord Tennyson. “The Bard of Tel-el-Kebir, &c.” made the end of his stick come down upon the floor with much force, and striking a picturesque attitude he said, “He was no friend of mine, sir. I once communicated with him, and got no answer. He never replied to me; do you believe that, now?”

In spite of this contemptuous treatment which our Poet received, I should not be surprised though he buries his resentment and treats us to and ode on the late Lord Tennyson. If the production could be depended upon to sell, the thing might be regarded as an accomplished fact. He is a versatile genius, and just now his hands seem to be fully occupied. With one rival in the fiend less to count upon, McGonagall’s star once more appears to be rising.

Weekly News, 8th October 1892

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