McGonagall at the Circus

Last night McGonagall, the city “poet” made his second appearance this week at the Nethergate Circus, to demonstrate “How Macbeth should be played.” The building was packed. McGonagall had no sooner been announced than those sitting in the vicinity of the stage withdrew to a safe distance, knowing full well that if they remained In these seats a share of the “offerings” meant for gallant Mac might come their way and make things unpleasant. Striding on to the stage, McGonagall commenced his performance, but his stay was of the briefest description. From all parts of the house, as soon as he emerged from the curtain, came a fierce fusilade of rotten eggs, decayed oranges, old bread, bones, sticks, and tin cans — the latter greatly predominating and the “poet,” who had previously informed the press reporters that he would not stay a moment after the first missile was thrown, kept his word. He did not escape, however, without one or two hits, although fortunately none of the tin cans or larger projectiles found their mark. On disappearing his return was loudly demanded, and for some time the scene inside the circus was a most animated one. Baron Zeigler, lessee of the building, attempted to restore order, but for a few minutes his efforts were in vain. At last, however, he obtained a hearing, and announced that McGonagall was willing to come back provided he would not be fired at. This announcement was received with cheers, and cries of “Gie the man a chance.” To ensure the safety of the “poet,” the proprietor said he would go on the boards along with Mac, who once more stalked on to the stage, and again met with a great ovation. Bearing in his hand what purported to be the message from his ill-fated army, Macbeth tore it into shreds in what appeared to be a whirlwind of passion; then, with extended arms, he scanned the roof of the building, declaiming wildly all the while. Tho audience for a moment or two listened with a profound silence which to ordinary mortals would have seemed ominous of evil, but not so to the “tragedian.” On he went in his harangue, and a deafening cheer rose from pit, gallery, and boxes. Thus encouraged Mac held bravely his way, treading the stage with tragic strides and waving his arms in furious style. But now a stray “shot” from the gallery heralded the approaching storm. A terrific outburst from the “poet” and the climax was reached. Immediately a shower of ancient eggs, tin cans, potatoes, bags of soot, bags of flour, and packages of mysterious compounds flew from all parts towards the devoted head of the “poet.” “Macbeth” cowered before the blast, then fled. A tremendous shout was raised, and before the last notes had died away McGonagall, brandishing his glittering sword, rushed upon the stage. Before a sound could be uttered by him another hurricane of missiles, more overpowering than the one before, descended. “Macbeth’s” courage, although no doubt “screwed to the sticking point,” wavered; the “tragedian” gasped, turned, and, struggling through the thickening downpour, rushed from the stage. The gallery yelled with delight, but gradually the shouts of triumph gave place to enthusiastic cheering, the audience being evidently intent on again luring the “tragedian” from his hiding place. This, however, was not be. McGonagall had tasted in a very literal sense the “sweets” of popularity, and was not to be drawn. After the audience had nearly shouted themselves hoarse, the band struck up the National Anthem, and the vast crowd slowly dispersed, evidently highly pleased with the night’s diversion. After the crowd had disappeared, the “poet” was seen stealthily leaving the scene of his triumph, and with cautious steps hieing towards his “garden of the muses” in Paton’s Lane.

Evening Telegraph, 2nd February 1889

Comments (3) »

  1. Dan E
    In the year 2016, on the 2nd day of February at 7:55 pm

    I find this so very sad that he had to go through this time and time again, an old man in his late sixties or so he could be classed in those days when lives were shorter then than today. It also says a lot about the people in those times as they could afford to throw food and such, times were indeed hard for almost all working class people at that time. The trade that he had started at as a weaver had suffered recession and having a large family would have made it harder for him to make a living. William would have had to do something drastic just to put bread on the table I believe that this is what became a necessity just to feed his growing family. Yes we can all sit back in our rather affluent present age with all the mod cons that we have today, I was borne in the depression and we had it bad then so I know what he would have had to endure because of the circumstances that were there then. Well he may have had something about him that didn’t seem quite right to others, believe me I have met similar people in my life and some of them with better circumstances than old William.

  2. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2016, on the 9th day of February at 5:29 pm

    I agree with you, Dan. One of the things I genuinely admire McGonagall for is his personal courage in facing crowds like this in order to put bread on his family’s table. It certainly gives the lie to the notion that people used to respect their elders in the “olden days”!

    You can’t blame William for hightailing it off to the more genteel crowds of Edinburgh a few years later, can you?

  3. Dan E
    In the year 2016, on the 12th day of February at 8:24 pm

    I remember this time I was out with a friend in an old Hoky-Tonk pub when this man came in, his suit had seen better days and is hair was long. Thinking back now there was a resemblance to old William, except this man was an artist and didn’t seem to mind being laughed at. He stopped in the middle of this roudy bar took out some sketches and paintings held them aloft for all to see with all the noise and mocking going on, I thought he must be desperate to do that and he was. My first impression was that he was just a bum and the paintings and sketches weren’t his, however when he got enough money to buy a drink he went straight to the bar for a drink. On taking a rather large swallow he sat down at a table and started to sketch the scene around him, on seeing his work it was very well done and he had captured something of that time. That bar has long gone and the area redeveloped and has turned back into a sink hole, I often think that quick sketch had captured a bit of history that I now would have liked to own. I had gone to art school for a number of years so I know his work was very good, reading about William reminds me in a way of that man.

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