Small Talk

I have received from Mr. William McGonagall, poet and tragedian, now resident at Perth, a copy of the second series of his “Poetic Gems.” Mr. McGonagall is one of the Scotch candidates for the Laureateship. He has paid more than one visit to her Majesty at Balmoral–on one occasion in the costume of Roderick Dhu–but owing to some misunderstanding, probably caused by the intervention of a gilded and officious menial, he was not admitted to the royal presence. Still, the Queen cannot be unacquainted with his extraordinary merits, which are the theme of general acclamation in Scotland. In this volume I find an ode written by three admirers at Glasgow University; also an address from the same, in which his advice is sought as to the best way to prepare for a poetical career. One of the questions runs thus: “Is the most intellectual benefit to be derived from a study of the McGonagallian or Shaksperian school of poetry?” A man who is approached with this deference must possess talents of no common order. Mr. McGonagall’s genius is untutored in the sense in which the genius of Shakspere was untutored, and of Burns and of Walt Whitman. I take at random from the “Gems” a stanza in a descriptive poem about New York. The bard is in Central Park—

And there’s beautiful boats to be seen there,
And the joyous shouts of children do rend the air,
While the boats sail along with them o’er Lohengrin’s Lake,
And the fare is five cents for children, and adults ten is all I take.

There is a rugged simplicity here, and an idiomatic vigour, which give to the description of McGonagall as an untutored genius quite an exceptional significance.

The Sketch, 12th December 1894

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