The McGonagall on Tour

A Talk with the Poet

McGonagall — the great McGonagall — whose immortal verses on the battles of El Teb, &c., &c., place him on a level with the writer of the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” is in our midst! With a modesty which is natural to the man he carefully abstained from announcing his intention to visit the Montrose burghs, otherwise we are certain his welcome would have been one to be remembered. In paying a brief visit to the burghs, Mr McGonagall has conferred upon the inhabitants an honour which we hope they are capable of appreciating and setting down at its true value. Neglect in their early days is the penalty all great men have to pay for immortality, and if ever poet has earned that reward that poet is McGonagall. A fitting tribute to his genius is what we demand of the people of Brechin on his behalf. A perusal of a correspondent’s interview with the Great Man will better enable our readers to judge of his astounding genius.

The state of his health, He informed the pressman, was not all that could be desired, and then with a condescension that did him honour, he proceeded to unbosom himself regarding his sufferings, the treatment of the doctors, who, after reminding him of his duty to his country, called upon him take care of himself, drugged him with something like six dozen pills!

“Dear me!” gasped the newspaper man, but, quickly recovering, he remarked that it would be splendid advertisement for the pill manufacturers if it were known their medicine has been used by man of his intellectual standing.

“Yes, that did occur to me,” said McGonagall modestly, apparently oblivious of the fact that either the pills or his system must be of extraordinary strength. “It did occur to me write a poem in praise of the pills,” he continued, “but I was ordered by my doctor to write nothing more for six months, and if you don’t obey the doctor, whom will you obey?”

“Surely the gentleman who gave you this advice was careless of the interests of your fame as a poet?”

His brains are so powerful.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I care not whether the people of Dundee miss my new effusions or not. They are unable to estimate my genius at its true value. I think my malady lies in my head. I have been told that my brains are too powerful, and that I get too enthusiastic. I had an affection of the ear and a doctor told me that the brains sometimes leaked out at the ear and the tuber closed.”

“Oh. tuberculosis,” laughed the journalist, but the poet declined to notice the little joke.

Going on to speak of his perambulations, Mr McGonagall said he left Dundee about a week ago, and travelled by way of Coupar Angus, Blairgowrie, Alyth, Newtyle, Glamis, and Forfar. He had been well received by the people on the route, and had disposed of many copies of his poems. His poems, he remarked, were attracting much attention all over the country, but he observed it was only educated people who could thoroughly appreciate his poetry. His poems, he found, sold best in penny sheets, although his collected works was the principal book on the drawing-room table of many a well-educated man. In selling his books in a cheap form, he was actuated by the desire to place the best of poetical readings in the hands of the poorer classes.

His Opinion of Tennyson.

Our interviewer then ventured to ask why the great name of McGonagall was never associated with the names of such men Tennyson and Swinburne, and whether he had ever corresponded with either these.

Mr McGonagall’s reply showed his contempt for such an association of names. He did not wish to boast, but he considered that he had a better claim to pre-eminence than either of those poets. Compare the best of their works with any of his war-like pieces, or his verses on the Tay whale, and the comparison, he flattered himself, would startle the admirers of these rhymers. Tennyson’s title to occupy the position of Poet Laureate, he would not take the trouble to dispute, but, he added, “I have no doubt in my own mind who should hold that office.” He once took occasion to send copies of his works to Tennyson as a birthday present, but receipt of them was never acknowledged, a discourtesy of which the poet complained most bitterly. “Jealousy might have something to do with the neglect,” said Mr McGonagall, but he would not do more than hit at such a thing. It was permissible to ask, however, why Tennyson and others should be in receipt of large pensions, while he was allowed to live in abject poverty. Posterity, however, would do him justice, and he cared for nothing else.

What his Bumps Declare.

Continuing, the poet informed our correspondent that his head had been examined by phrenologists who one and all declared that in him the poetical faculty was developed to an extent unheard of in other poets. Recently while a doctor was feeling his bumps, another physician entered, and remarked, with pleasure beaming in his countenance, “It’s not every day we have a great poet’s head to examine.”

A hint having been thrown out that he and Swinburne were aspirants for the Laureateship, our poet observed with commendable modesty that had no fear of the result when the office became vacant.

Conversation drifting to the drama, the illustrious one was good enough to tell that in his time he had played many parts. Macbeth was his favourite character, though he had also appeared in Hamlet.

“A Dundonian, I presume?” our correspondent interrupted.

“No, he was the Prince of Denmark,” was the mild rejoinder.

With the exception of these two plays, Macbeth and Hamlet, Mr McGonagall had but a poor opinion of Shakespeare’s works. Constant reading of that dramatist had, he found, a bad effect upon his style, and he had to turn to his own writings to counteract this effect.

At this point Mr McGonagall rose take his departure, remarking that when his talent obtained recognition he would not forget his interviewer, who, he had observed, was man of intelligence and good parts, though somewhat ignorant of the great poets.

With a hearty shake of the hand interviewer and interviewed parted, hoping to meet in better times.


Brechin Herald, 18th August 1891

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