Poet McGonagall at the Working Men’s Club

The entertainment on Saturday evening at this Club was, without exception, the best of the season. There was a crowded audience, many being unable to obtain admission. Mr James Murray occupied the chair. A very excellent programme of songs, readings, and recitations was rendered in highly efficient manner by Messrs Robertson, Kiel, Philip, Peters, Cairns, Campbell, Rea, Farquhar, Wilson, Berry, and Miss Gibson. The principal attraction of the evening, however, was the well-known local poet and tragedian Mr William McGonagall, whose “manner and method” of reading and reciting threw the efforts of all the other performers completely into the shade. We say this not from any disrespect to the other performers, but from the firm conviction that it is utterly impossible for any one to approach Mr McGonagall in that command of facial expression, which, from, no doubt, long and arduous study, he has made peculiarly his own. His reading of his own poems, entitled “Sir Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn,” elicited round after round of applause, although we observed that several, who did not seem to understand or thoroughly appreciate the beauties of the poem, created some annoyance by bursting forth occasionally with immoderate fits of laughter. For an encore Mr McGonagall performed the fifth scene of the fifth act of Macbeth, wherein he personates the character of Macbeth and Seyton. To describe this performance and do full justice to it would be impossible, as no amount of description could convey to the reader the marvellous style of gesture and rapid transition from one character to the other by the actor. In the words of the play bills, “it must be seen believed.” As showing the versatility of his talents, Mr McGonagall afterwards favoured the audience by singing one his own songs entitled “The lassie wi’ the bonnie brown hair,” at the same time informing his audience that it was seldom they saw a poet who composed music for his own songs. He would sing to them not only his own words but his own music also, and he seemed to attach more value to the latter than the former, as he stated he considered the music alone worth £50 to any musician. We cannot conscientiously say that we consider Mr McGonagall so good vocalist as is reader or actor, but he succeeded in singing the song passably well, although no doubt ably assisted by a large portion of the audience, some “wags” amongst which, by the way, endeavouring to make out that the original music, valued at £50, was no other than the old familiar air of “When the kye comes hame.” During the evening Mr McGonagall was presented with a purse of silver in acknowledgement of the valuable services he had rendered to the evening’s entertainment, and also as a mark of appreciation of his great histrionic and poetical abilities, for which he returned his sincere thanks, and left the stage amidst the deafening plaudits of the audience. Votes of thanks to the other performers and to the Chairman brought the proceedings to a close.

Weekly News, 26th April 1879

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