“Her Majesty’s Poet” and his Grocer

On Tuesday, at the Dundee Sheriff Small Debt Court, William McGonagall, who styles himself “Poet to Her Majesty” was sued by David Stewart, grocer, for £6 3s. 6d. as an account for goods supplied to the poet’s family during the last six or eight months. From the state of the pass-book it appeared that the poet had been gradually falling into arrears with his grocer, till the balance had accumulated to upwards of £6. When the case was called Mr. McGonagall appeared in the witness-box, and Mr. Paul bade him state his circumstances to his lordship. —Mr. McGonagall cleared his throat, and with a tragic air thus addressed the Sheriff:- “Well, sir, I am a handloom weaver, and the charge against me here is debt, and poverty is the cause of my being unable to pay. I am willing to pay if I am allowed time to do so.” —The Sheriff: Why have you been getting all these goods since the New Year and not paying for them? —The Poet: The cause is scarcity of work, my lord. —Mr. Paul: I believe, my lord, he has given more of his time to other things — poetry and the drama – than to weaving (Laughter). I believe that has something to do with his difficulties. —The Poet: I have no wages. Some weeks I might earn 7s. or 10s., or 15s., but it is not very regular. —Mr Paul: How much can you give a week? —The Poet: In my present circumstances I could not give more than 1s per week. —The Sheriff: That would take 120 weeks to payoff the debt. (Laughter). You will have to pay 3s. per week.

Leeds Times, 8th June 1878

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