Tribute From Three Students at Glasgow University

This “tribute” and its covering letter was sent to McGonagall in 1891. As always when he was being made fun of, he missed the point entirely and was happy to accept apparent praise from such educated men.

The University,
Glasgow, February 1891.

To William McGonagall,
Poet and Tragedian,
City of Dundee.

Dear Sir, – We, the undersigned, beg to send you herewith an Ode we have composed in your honour. We have had the extreme pleasure of reading your “Poetic Gems,” and have embodied our sentiments in the poem referred to. We do not hope to receive a very favourable criticism upon our small effort, but as young men desirous to imitate the master of poetic art we have discovered in you, we trust you will be as lenient as possible with your enthusiastic disciples. We do not wish to rival your splendid achievements, as that would be as presumptuous as it would be futile, but if we can, afar off, emulate the performances of the poet of Dundee, or in a remote way catch any of his inspiration, our reward will be truly great. We beg, therefore, that you will write us, and inform us what you think of our poem. You might also reply, as far as you are able, to the following questions:

  1. What grammar would you recommend as a preliminary study to the writing of poetry?
  2. Is a College education an aid to write poetry, and what University would you recommend?
  3. Is the most intellectual benefit to be derived from a study of the McGonagallian or Shakespearian school of poetry?
  4. Does your own success in the realms of poetry enable you to estimate what special capacity any of us may have for lyric poetry or the drama?
  5. Would you recommend any of us to try our chance at the histronic art: and if not, why not? Is Macbeth or Richard III the best character to take up?
  6. Would you recommend us to write direct to the Queen as a patron of poetry; or should we go to Balmoral to see her there?
  7. What chances do you consider we have in knocking out Tennyson as Poet Laureate?
  8. If we should resolve upon going to Balmoral, which route would you recommend? Also name any “models” that may be known to you in that direction; stating landlady’s name, and if married or single.

We are, your admiring followers,
Henry John Macdonald.
A. F. Campbell.
S. Donald Stewart.

Ode to William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian, Dundee

Among the poets of the present day
There is no one on earth who can possibly be able for to gainsay
But that William McGonagall, poet and tragedian,
Is truly the greatest poet that was ever found above or below the meridian.

’Twas in year ’91, in the first month of spring,
On a very cold night, and the frost in full swing,
I met my friend Mactavish walking along the street,
And he gave me your “Poetic Gems” for to read them as a treat.

I took them home, and read them, and exclaimed,
Eureka! Eureka! McGonagall I proclaim
To have the deepest insight into human nature of any man I know,
As the reading of his “Gems” doth most emphatically show.

He reaches with poetic power the higher flights of song,
And like the eagle near the clouds, he soars serene and strong;
No common fowl is he, to roost on fence or crow about a barn,
He warbles sweet his wood-notes wild, and tell no common “yarn.”

A better poet was never seen in the city of Dundee at any time,
And never again shall be, as far as I can see in the meantime:
His poem on the Tay Bridge is most beautiful to be read,
As I found by reading it one cold night before I went to bed.

Also his poem about the Emperor of Germany’s funeral is the work of a master-mind,
And rivals in merit the greatest plays that the “Bard of Avon” left behind,
And it will be read when Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is totally forgotten,
And all other poetic gems save those of William McGonagall are rotten.

But not till then will the world ever come to see
The wealth and beauty of the “Poetic Gems” of McGonagall, poet and tragedian, of Dundee;
And though his book can now be bought at the modest price of a shilling,
You can never get anywhere, at any price, a product quite so thrilling.

At the beginning of the volume is to be seen the classic head
Of the greatest tragedian that ever the boards did tread,
For to act the Thane of Fife, or discourse with spirits from beneath,
And cry in tones of thunder: “Command! they stand upon the heath.”

Also his ode on the death of George Gilfillan
Shows that he was a true gentleman and no villain;
His poem on the funeral of the illustrious Prince Leopold
Would also make any one weep for to behold.

Any one who would read his lines on Queen Victoria
Would never again be troubled with melancholia,
Because she has been a good Queen, and by no means bad,
Which, if she were, would indeed be sad.

And though she did not receive McGonagall at her castle of Balmoral
The wreath that binds the poet’s brow should be something more than floral,
A wreath that will flourish evergreen in all the coming time,
When the name of the great McGonagall shall be known from clime to clime.

They will one day yet rear him monuments of brass, and weep upon his grave,
Though when he was living they would hardly have give him the price of a shave;
But his peerless, priceless “Poetic Gems” will settle once for all
The claim to immortality of William McGonagall.


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