City Gossip

City Gossip

McGonagall is in very poor circumstances, and in very low spirits in consequence. His memorial has been well signed, but owing to the death of Mr W. H. Smith its presentation has had to be delayed. It would unwise at the present juncture to trouble the new First Lord on his entering on his new office. So McGonagall must wait But it is hard to wait with empty purse and cleaned out larder. Our great poet, forbidden by his medical advisers to compose any more, his occupation and his source of revenue are alike fled. Perhaps the memorial may bring him a pension. Perhaps—but till be gets it he must live. Now, you rich men and women of Dundee, who are ever ready to subscribe for pinafores and rattles or any little comfort for the savages of Kamtchatka or Timbuctoo, here is very deserving object at your own doors—a starving poet crying for bread. For the love of Burns and Shakespeare, do not give him a stone, or wait till he has gone—gone, never to come back any more.

Weekly News, 31st October 1891

Our “poet” McGonagall has resolved on a bold stroke to attain wealth and fame. Poets are said to enjoy an occasional festival on nectar and ambrosia with the gods, but such “bursts” of spiritual feeding won’t keep the mortal frame long together. Poets want bread as well as other prosaic mortals, and, unfortunately, they don’t often get enough, without reference to butter or treacle. At least, this has been the experience of our poet McGonagall, and as things go on, they don’t seem to improve In that respect. As Burns says, “fouk maun do something for their bread,” and so must poets.

Well, McGonagall has been doing his level best all along to keep his domestic pot boiling, but it has been a hard struggle. Old age and poverty are creeping on him with all their gaunt accompaniments, and the lookout is bleak indeed. He applied to the Queen for a Civil List pension, but “plush and red tape” has barred the access to the Royal presence. In vain have been his appeals to the Lord Provost of Dundee, the Earl of Strathmore, and other high functionaries, he has been cold-shouldered,  and bowed out with the frostiest of freezing politeness.

If you want anything well done, do it yourself, is sound advice and McGonagall has acted on it this time. Baffled in all quarters to find patrons, he has resolved to seize the bull by the horns himself. With his own hand, brain, and pen the poet has drawn out a memorial to W. H. Smith, First Lord of the Treasury, for which he is now canvassing for signatures. The memorial, which is written on a good sheet of paper. and headed by the Royal Arms, sets forth that “William McGonagall, who has been enlightening us with poetical effusions for the last fourteen years, is now in failing health, and has been forbidden by the doctors to compose any more pieces; he is now sixty-two years of age, and in poor circumstances; he has been a loyal and respectable citizen, and he prays that His Lordship will be generous enough to grant him small annuity.”

The memorial concludes with “God save the Queen and the following stanza, which the poet composed impromptu one morning while he was contemplating the sad fact that there was no bread in the house for breakfast, and no money to buy it with:—

“Pity the sorrows of a poor poet
When he wants bread;
Help him while living,
For he requires no help when dead.”

The memorial, when signed by many of the citizens of Dundee and other towns in Scotland whose names can be procured, will forwarded to the proper quarter. The result will anxiously watched by many, but more especially the poet. He has already been very successful in obtaining signatures. Why should any one refuse or hesitate to give their name to such a petition? And yet there is strange hesitancy in high quarters. Naturally the poet expected that the first gentleman of the city—the Lord Provost—would have adhibited his name at the head of the list. The poet gave him the first chance, but his Lordship modestly declined the honour. “Come back when your sheet is full,” said his Lordship, and then—ay, what then?—will he sneak his name down the bottom, or slip it into some obscure corner, as if he were ashamed of having anything to do with the business, or will he point blank refuse to sign? McGonagall has had some experience of Lord Provosts and Magistrates already. He will not be sorely disappointed if none of the City Fathers attest their sign and seal to his humble petition.

Weekly News, 19th September 1891

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