Extraordinary Freak of a Dundee “Poet”

William McGonagall at Balmoral

Genius Still Unrecognised

Mr McGonagall, whose literary productions have for some time past been interesting the inhabitants of Dundee, has just performed a feat which in all likelihood dwarf all his former public appearances. On Monday last week Mr McGonagall, finding that from the dullness presently existing in the handloom weaver trade in Dundee he would not get a “web,” resolved that he would go off to Balmoral on a visit to Her Majesty. Accordingly at eight o’clock on that morning, Mr McGonagall with a light heart started, and for obvious reasons determined to “drive his own pair.” The distance from Dundee to Balmoral is about 63 miles, and to a less buoyant mind it might have acted as a cooling influence on the perfervid loyalty which had initiated the journey; but to Mr McGonagall distance seemed nothing when he thought of the bright welcome he would receive from Her Majesty at the end of the journey. Mr McGonagall had, to use his own words, “resolved to go through fire and water to see the Queen;” and that he literally carried out his purpose will at once be conceded when we mention that he was marching through the Spittal of Glenshee during the time the great thunder storm occurred on Tuesday last. On Monday night Alyth was the resting-place of Mr McGonagall; and on Tuesday the thunder storm so thoroughly drenched him that he was fain to seek shelter in a shepherd’s hut. Here he got “brose,” and had his clothes dried, and a sound sleep on a heather bed thoroughly comforted him. Wednesday morning dawned brightly, and after more “brose” McGonagall stepped gaily forth.

On Wednesday (we will as nearly as possible give Mr McGonagall’s own words) just as the great bell in the palace tower struck two, I knocked at the door of the lodge which is at the entrance of the avenue to the northern home of our beloved Queen. A servant answered the door, and I asked “Is your master in?” The answer was “Yes,” and I asked to see him. He came, and I stated that I had come from Dundee and wished to see Her Majesty – He inquired what I wanted, and I replied that I was “Her Majesty’s “Poet,” producing a copy of my poems to show there was no deception. He stated that Tennyson had filled that position for some time, and he had heard of no new appointment. I immediately handed him Sir Thomas Biddulph’s letter, and he, after reading it, intimated that it did not suffice as a means of introduction to Her Majesty, and that I ought to have had a letter from Lord Ponsonby or Sir Thomas Biddulph expressly granting admission to the Royal presence. He, however, consented to go to the palace and make enquiries, and after an absence of about twenty minutes he returned with the answer “WE DON’T WANT TO BE BOTHERED WITH YOU.”

This answer was not exactly what Mr McGonagall expected, but he soothed his disappointment with the reflection that “he had got over disappointments before and he would get over this.” Mr McGonagall states that after this answer had been received the gentleman, along with one or two others attempted to make merry at his expense, but he gave them one or two specimens of repartee which evidently astonished them, and elicited the recommendation that he had better be cautious or he might find himself in a prison or a lunatic asylum. Mr McGonagall treated these insinuations with contempt, and after mentioning that he would inform the Dundee people of the discourtesy with which a noble genius had been treated, turned sadly away, without having been gratified with the wished-for interview. Mr McGonagall waited about, however, and a friendly-disposed herd laddie kindly pointed out Her Majesty as she drove past in her carriage, unconscious of the wealth of poetic inspiration seated by the roadside; and thus the poet fulfilled one object of his journey.

Mr McGonagall enjoyed splendid weather on his return journey and reached Dundee footsore and weary, pleased with having seen Her Majesty, but disappointed that a personal interview was not extended to him. Mr McGonagall, with a readiness which does his loyalty credit, exonerates Her Majesty from any blame in connection with the coldness of the reception accorded him, and even speaks tenderly of the strictness of the strictness of the officials who refused him admission. He entertains an opinion that the present Socialistic movement in Germany have made Her Majesty’s servants more careful, and this view is strengthened by several of the questions put to him. The poet also speaks gratefully of the kindness of the inhabitants of the districts he passed through, each and all of whom vied in supplying him with necessary food.


Evening Telegraph, 19th June 1878

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