Return of McGonagall, the Poet, to Scotland

His Experiences in America

Diary of the Homeward Voyage

McGonagall, Dundee’s great poet, who left for America on the 8th March last, has again returned to his native land. He reached Bonnie Dundee and the banks the silvery Tay last Friday. The poet’s stay in America lasted about five weeks, during which time he was indebted to the hospitality of several old Dundee residenters. The moment be put his foot on American soil (McGonagall declares) he knew it was not his “native heath.” The New Yorkers did not appreciate the genius of the poet of the silvery Tay. It was selfishness and fear, according to our traveller, which made them chary of encouraging him. “They were afraid I would get a hold in the country, and get the ear of the public. I went round nearly the whole of the New York theatres, and most of them laughed -— yes, laughed at me. I tried Mr Dion Boucicault, and reminded him of our old acquaintanceship in Dundee, but it was of no use. Had it not been for the efforts of some friends and the kindness of the Anchor Line Steamship Company I would have been at this moment starving in New York instead being in Bonnie Scotland.”

The poet during his voyage across the Atlantic kept a diary of each day’s proceedings, which we present to our readers. As was natural in the diary of poet, his thoughts shape themselves into rhyme(?) occasionally, and we are convinced a perusal of these fugitive pieces will serve to exhibit more and more the remarkable genius of the great McGonagall. The inspiration seems to have seized him very often, especially after dinner.

The Diary

Saturday morning, April the 30th 1887.– The sun is shining bright in the blue canopy above, and beautifully studded with white couriers of the air. Quarter to 12 o’clock, and I am on board the Circassia steamer, bound for the fair city of Glasgow –

The passengers are all quite happy and gay,
While the gallant ship holds on her way
O’er the blur waters without delay.

1 o’clock.– Passengers sitting down to dinner of soup, potatoes, and beef – —very good. ’Tis now 6 o’clock P.M., tea over, weather very fine.

Sabbath morning, May the 1st.– A very fine morning, and I am well. 8 o’clock —-Breakfast over -— coffee, bread, and butter – which I have made a hearty meal of, and I reposed very well all night.

And the morning’s sun shining so bright,
Fills passengers hearts with delight,
And my spirits feel light and gay,
In thoughts of seeing again the Silvery Tay.

1 o’clock.– I have partaken of a good dinner of soup, potatoes, and beef.

And the god of day still shines bright,
And the Circassia’s sails are all set, which is a most beautiful sight.

’Tis now 6 o’clock. Supper over. Tea, bread, and butter, very good and fresh – daily -— at least which I consider to be good and wholesome food. Weather still very fine, the sun shining bright above, the blue Atlantic Ocean below, while swiftly the vessel onward does go. ’Tis now 8 o’clock, and all is well, which I am happy for to tell. I am now going to bed,

And may good Angels hover o’er my head, and watch me all night.
And may God permit me to see again the morning’s light.

Monday morning. May the 2d.– The weather is very fine since we left New York. We breakfast at 8 o’clock; coffee, bread, and butter.

And the wind still blows fair,
And the Circassia sails o’er the mighty deep like a bird of the air.
I hope God will speed her on her way
To the beautiful City of Glasgow without delay,
For I am longing to see the banks of the Tay.

1 o’clock.– Weather very fine, and dinner over. ’Tis now six o’clock, and tea is over.

And I will going to my bed shortly to try and sleep,
On the broad Atlantic about five miles deep;
Oh! what depth and expanse of water is there,
And how wonderful the works of the Almighty I do declare.

P.S.- ’Twas very rough during the night,
And the Circassia was tossed to and fro,
And many of the passengers were sick
And their hearts full of woe.

Tuesday Morning, May the 3d.– Breakfast is over,

And the sun shines bright, and the Circassia speeds on with all her might;
And the azure sky is bright and clear,
And the passengers are longing to see their friends most dear,
And unto God are making their moan,
All longing to arrive safely at home.

1 o’clock.– Dinner is over, and the wind is a little ahead of us,

But the gallant vessel makes quick sailing against wind and tide
And dashes the white horses away from side to side.

’Tis now six o’clock, and all’s well, and the tea is over, and the passengers’ hearts seems light and gay, but shortly will be going to bed-

 And may all good angels protect them while asleep.
When tossed to and fro on the briny deep.
Oh, may God protect the mariner while at sea,
For seldom his heart can be full of glee,
Especially while crossing the broad Atlantic,
I’m sure ’tis enough to drive them frantic
To see nothing but water for thousands of miles around
Must fill their minds with a silence profound,
And sometimes, no doubt, will sigh and weep
In the still watches of the night, while on the briny deep.
But God watches all His creatures on sea or land,
And stills the waves at His command,
And those that trust Him need not be afraid,
For when they call on Him, He’ll send them aid –
At least such has been the case with me
Since I left Bonnie Dundee.
Mr Henry, the steward, is a very good man
To deny it but few of the passengers can,
Because he sees to their daily wants,
And their reasonable requests he always grants.

There was a great fog during the night

And the Captain, with a careful eye, was on the look-out,
For the safety of the passengers and the good ship, no doubt.

’Tis now Wednesday morning, May the 4th, and I am well. The sea is calm and beautiful this morning, and the passengers are all well, as far as I do know; and breakfast is over, and the passengers’ hearts seems free from woe, and the sun shines bright, and nothing is to be seen or heard as far as the eye can reach save the seagulls on the wing and their loud screech. Dinner is over and all’s well.

And ship most beautiful o’er the Atlantic does ride,
As proud and defiant as a new-made bride.

Tea is over, which I have enjoyed heartily, and the passengers also. And in a short time I will retire to my couch to try to sleep far into morning.

May, the 5th – a very fine morning.
And Sol’s bright rays is the mighty Atlantic adorning,
And the Circassia holds on her way,
And the passengers feel light and gay;
But some of them are longing to be home again from off the briny deep,
For they can get but little sleep
While toss’d to and fro,
With the cold sweat on their brow
And their sickly hearts full of woe.

’Tis now six o’clock P.M., and the passengers are sitting down to tea, and myself among the rest. Tea is over, and all is well, and the weather is good. ’Tis now eight o’clock, and I will be soon in the arms of Morpheus.

May the 6th, and the wind blows fair,
And the eye can discern nothing but the sea gulls soaring high in mid air;
While lightly the Circassia skims o’er the sea,
Like an imprisoned bird set free
And her sails are all unfurled to the blast,
And the passengers are not the least downcast.
And as the Circassia leaves far behind her the shores of New York,
My heart feels as light as a twopenny beer bottle cork.

’Tis now six o’clock, and the weather still holds good –
And the passengers’ health is good,
And they are just after getting their tea
A very pleasant sight to see
And they shortly will retire to rest,
To try to sleep as they think best,
Which will help to wile the tedious hours away
During the night while the Circassia sails on without delay.

There was a concert last night, which several ladies and gentlemen took part in, which came off with great eclat. Many of them acquitted themselves admirably, especially myself. By particular request I consented to do so. I recited “Hamlet Meditating on Self-Destruction.” also my poem, “Bruce of Bannockburn.” &c., “Scene from Macbeth,” also “Lord Ullin’s Daughter,” and sang my Irish comic song, “The Rattling Boy from Dublin Town” and received tremendous applause. At the termination of the concert, which was a great success, in my opinion; looking to the occupation of the passengers it was really good, considering their circumstances in life.

May the 5th.– A cold morning; and I have received 5s as a presentation for my valuable services at the concert.

Breakfast is over and all’s well
And the wind it blows strong,
And the Circassia speeds rapidly along.
’Tis now six o’clock and the supper is past,
And still very cold blows the blast;
And the passengers are happy, every soul,
But some are longing to be be at their goal.

May the 6th. and a very fine morning.

And the sun is shining bright,
And the wind it blows fair;
And the Circassia sails on like a bird of the air,
With her sails all spread to the breeze,
Skimming o’er the blue waters at her ease

’Tis now one o’clock, and dinner is over; a very substantial meal, I can say— plum pudding, beef, potatoes, and broth, which I have made a good meal of and also the passengers. Six o’clock, and supper is over, and all’s well.

Thank God from whom all blessings flow,
While onward the noble vessel does go,
And the passengers’ hearts are free from care,
And each one happier than another,
Like sister and like brother,
I feel rather fatigued with the ship rolling to and fro,
So to my bed I will go,
And try to sleep until the morning light,
Bidding some of the passengers a good-night.

P S.— There was an accident occurred about twelve o’clock noon. The piston of one of the engines broke down, and delayed the vessel a day longer than otherwise would have been if it had not happened. We are all safe.

May, the 8th.— All’s well.

A very fine morning, and the sun shines clear,
And to the shores of Bonnie Scotland we are drawing near –
The land of Scott and Robert Burns –
And for these men all Scotland mourns;
But, alas! they can never return again,
Therefore to mourn for them is all in vain.
And the Circassia holds on her way
To the city of Glasgow without delay.
May the 9th, and a very fine morning.
And thank God I am well
And the passengers as far as I can tell;
And the ship is heavily rolling,
Which is rather unconsoling.

May 9th.— And all’s well, and the passengers are going up on deck—

To have a little conversation,
And look on in consternation
At the white crested waves
As the Circassia upheaves
Out of the trough of the blue sea,
While the big waves are roaring and raging furiously.
’Tis now eight o’clock and I’ll retire to rest,
Which I consider to be best,
And try the tedious hours to beguile
While the vessel sails many a mile.

Tuesday, May the 10th.— Nothing of importance.

May the 11th.— A rainy morning, but all’s well, and breakfast is over. Eleven o’clock, and in sight of Tory Island—

And the sun is breaking forth from under a cloud,
And the Atlantic billows roar aloud.
While the Circassia sails steadily on.
And not one of the passengers seems the least woe-begone.

There was a great concert held last night in the second cabin, and several ladies and gentlemen acquitted themselves in very artistic manner, and I was requested by particular desire to join in it, and did so to the general satisfaction the audience. I sang “Rattling Boy from Dublin,” by request; also, I recited by request, “Lord Ullin’s Daughter,” and “Othello’s Apology,” and received enthusiastic applause for my service.

May. the 11th, and the beautiful romantic island of Arran is in sight.
Which fills my heart with delight,
To see once more again
The land of puir auld Scotland, my native hame,
Which I have been longing to see;
Likewise my auld toon, Bonnie Dundee,
Of which one street is better to me than the city of New York,
And the sight of it will make my heart as light as a cork.

We are now in sight of Alisa Craig, or Paddy’s Mile Stone — one entire mass of rugged rock, and frightful to the eye,

And very dangerous to mariners when passing,
And in form it resembles the Law Hill, by Dundee
But is really very frightful for to see

10 o’clock.—Passing the Island of Cumbrae, which rather rugged and wild in its appearance, but its green verdure helps to beautify it, and makes it rather attractive in its appearance than it would be without it. Then little further on can be seen the handsome little village of Millport, near by the seaside,

A nice watering place wherein to reside in the summer time;
In truth the scenery there is really sublime,
And for bathing there ‘twould be good for one’s health
And health is far superior to wealth.

Passed Dumbarton Castle about three o’clock
Then at half-past three o’clock and the Circassia was berthed in Glasgow Dock,
On the river Clyde, at a quarter past five o’clock.

So ends this ever memorable voyage of mine to America, which I will remember while I live; but

I am thankful to God that I am safe home again to Bonnie Dundee,
For no other town like it can I see.


People’s Journal, 21st May 1887

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