Dundee’s Laureate McGonagall

Where is there a man, or woman either for that matter, within the inimitable bounds of the English speaking world who has not heard of the marvellous poetic and histrionic gifts and graces of McGonagall the Great —Dundee’s inimitable Laureate? “If such there breathe,” as Sir Walter Scott has well said, and as McGonagall himself would add thereto-

For intelligence they cannot be very much respected,
For their education must have been sadly neglected.

For the enlightenment of such benighted mortals we shall simply quote the title page of McGonagall’s  latest work, which has just been printed for the author, and very well printed too— by Messrs Winter, Duncan & Co., Dundee. It is as follows:- “Poetic Gems (second series) selected from the works of William McGonagall, Poet and Tragedian, with Biographical Reminiscences  by the Author, and Portrait.” This suggests a dainty dish which might well be set before king. McGonagall once on a time tried set it, or something like it, before Queen Victoria at Balmoral, and she refused to look at it. No matter, hers was the loss if his was the disappointment. Laureate McGonagall should send a copy of this his latest and greatest literary achievement to Her Majesty, and if he fails thereby to secure for himself the reversion of the Laureateship on the demise of present holder of that honourable office, together with its salary of a hundred per annum and the regulation quantity and quality of wine, then it will time to say that there is no such thing as justice in this wicked world. “Poetic Gems!” yes they are gems, every one of them, every line of them. Tennyson, except on that memorable occasion when he “‘stood on tower in the wet,” never had any pretension to hold the candle to McGonagall. Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” compares poorly alongside McGonagall’s “Royal Review” in August 1881, wherein he says or sings:-

All hail to the Empress of India, Great Britain’s Queen-
Long may she live in health, happy and serene-
That came from London, far away,
To review the Scottish Volunteers in grand array;
Most magnificent to be seen,
Nearby Salisbury Crags and its pastures green,
Which will long be remembered by our gracious Queen.

And to the Volunteers it was no lark,
Because they were ankle deep in mud in the Queen’s Park,
Which proved to the Queen they were loyal and true
To endure such hardships at the Royal Review.

To many readers the “Biographical Reminiscences” will be of even more interest than the poems, for while a taste for poetry is confined to the few, plain prose — sound Saxon prose like that of Mr McGonagall — can be understood and appreciated by almost everybody who can master the Fifth Standard. In his capacity of wandering minstrel Mr McGonagall met with no little incivility and downright illtreatment from sundry publicans and sinners whose saloons he sought to enlighten and enliven by his tragic recitals. Some of these worthies actually turned him out of doors when they found that the wandering Orpheus was likely to divert the coppers the inebriates from their tills to his pockets. Speaking on this subject the poet exclaims in the bitterness of his soul— “My friends, a publican is a creature that would wish to decoy all the money out of the people’s pockets that enter his house; he does not want them to give any of their money away for an intellectual entertainment” Too true! too true! But he has his revenge when he calls upon “the friends of Christianity and the friends of humanity”

To join each one with heart and hand,
And help to banish the bane of Society from the land,
And trust in God, and worship Him,
And denounce the publicans because they cause sin.
Therefore cease from strong drink,
And you will likely do well,
Then there’s not so much danger of going to hell!

If people would only act on the doctrine laid down in the last three lines of the above “poetic gem,” they would undoubtedly be “likely to do well” — nay certain. Knowing as we do, however, that Poet Laureates — some of them at least — are exceedingly jealous their copyrights, we refrain from further quotation, and conclude by advising our readers to invest a shilling in Mr McGonagall’s latest volume, which we hope will not be his last. The portrait is an admirable, not to say speaking, likeness.

People’s Journal, 28th March 1891

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