The Autobiography of Sir William Topaz McGonagall – Part 3

Well, the next stirring event in my life which I consider worth narrating happened this way. Being out one day at the little village of Fowlis, about six miles from Dundee, and being in rather poor circumstances, I thought of trying to get a schoolroom to give an entertainment. But when I applied for the schoolroom I met with a refusal Therefore, not to be beat, I resolved to try to get the smithy, and was fortunate in getting it. Then I went all over the village, or amongst the people, inviting them to my entertainment, chiefly from my own works and from Shakespeare. The prices were to be– Adults 2d., boys and girls 1d., and the performance was to commence at eight o’clock precisely. Well, when I had made it known amongst the villagers, some of them promised to come– chiefly ploughmen and some of the scholars. To while away the time, I called at the smith’s house. The family had just sat down to supper, and the smith bade me draw in a chair to the table and take some supper, which consisted of tea end plenty of oaten cakes and loaf bread; also ham, cheese, and butter. So of course I drew in by my chair to the table, and fared very sumptuously, because I had got no refreshment since the morning before leaving Dundee. After supper, the smith said he would gang doon to the smithy wi’ me, and gie it a bit redd up and get the lamp lighted.

The Smithy Entertainment

In a short time a few ploughmen came, and of course I was at the door to take the money, and they asked me the charge of admission, and I said– “Twopence, please.” Then a few more people came — old and young — and they all seemed to be quite happy in expectation of the coming entertainment. When it was near eight o’clock the smith told me I would need to make ready to begin, so I told him to take the money at the door, and I would begin. He said he would do that cheerfully, and he took his stand at the door, and I addressed the audience as follows:– “Ladies and gentlemen, with your permission, I will now make a beginning by reciting my famous poem, ‘Bruce at Bannockburn.'” Before it was half finished I received great applause; and when finished they were all delighted. Then followed “The Battle of Tel-El-Kebir” and a scene from “Macbeth”; also “The Rattling Boy from Dublin,” which concluded the evening’s entertainment. The proceeds taken at the door amounted to 4s. 9d., and of course I was well pleased with what I had realised, because it is a very poor locality in that part of the country. Well, I thanked the audience for their patronage; also the smith for allowing me the use of his smithy, and, bidding him good-night, I came away resolving to travel home again straightway. Well, as I drew near to Fowlis Schoolroom I heard the pattering of feet behind me and the sound of men’s voices. So I was instantly seized with an indefinable fear, and I grasped my stick firmly in my right hand, and stood stock still, resolved to wait until the party behind would come up, and stood right in front of me, and neither of us spoke, when the centre man of the three whispered something to the two men that was with him, and then he threw out both arms, with the intention, no doubt, as I thought, of pulling my hat down over my eyes; but no sooner were his arms thrown out than my good oaken cudgel came across his body with full force.

My Dear Friends,– I cannot describe to you my feelings at that moment. The cold sweat started to my forehead, but I was resolved to strike out in self-defence. Well, when I brought my good oaken cudgel over the ringleader’s body he sprang back, and whispered to his companions, and they were forced to retire. As they were going the same road home as I was going, I thought it advisable not to go, so I took a back road, which leads up to the village of Birkhill, five miles from Dundee, and when I arrived at the village it was past eleven o’clock at night. I went direct to the constable’s house and rapped at the door, and it was answered by himself demanding who was there. I said, “A friend,” so he opened the door, and he said– “Oh, it’s you, Mr McGonagall. Come in. Well, sir, what do you want at this late hour?” “Well, sir,” I said, “I’ve been down to-night giving an entertainment in the Smithy of Fowlis, and I’ve been attacked near to the Schoolroom of Fowlis by three men that followed me. One of the three, the centre one. threw out both of his arms, with the intention, no doubt, of pulling my hat down over my eyes; but this stick, sir, of mine, went whack against his body, which made him and his companions retire from the field. And now, as I am rather afraid to pass through Lord Duncan’s woods, which are rather dreary and lonely, and the night being so dark, I want you sir, to escort me through the woods.” Then he said he couldn’t do that, looking to the lateness of the night, but, said he, “Just you go on, and if anyone offers to molest you, just shout as loud as you can, and I’ll come to you.” “But, my dear sir,” I said, “three men could have me murdered before you could save me.” “Well,” he said, ” I’ll stand at the door for a little to see if anyone molests you, and I’ll bid you good-night, Mr McGonagall, and safe home.” I remember while passing through Lord Duncan’s woods I recited to myself–

Yet though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill,
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

Well, thank God, my dear friends, I arrived safe home to Dundee shortly after twelve o’clock, and my family were very glad to see me safe home again, asking me why I had been so late in coming home. When I told them what I had been doing, giving an entertainment in the Smithy of Fowlis, and had been set upon by three men, they were astonished to hear it, end said that I should thank God that had saved me from being murdered. However, the four shillings and ninepence I fetched home with me — that I had gained from my entertainment — I gave all to my wife, and she was very thankful to get it, became the wolf was at the door, and it had come very opportune. Well, after I had warmed myself at the fire, and taken a cup of tea, and bread and butter, I went to bed, but didn’t sleep very sound. I suppose that was owing to the three men that attacked me in the home-coming. Well, my dear readers, the next stirring event that I will relate is my trip to America.

Comments (1) »

  1. Dan E
    In the year 2016, on the 16th day of February at 8:32 pm

    I can’t help but admire Williams tenacity he seems to be this under dog adventurer that takes on life and conquers it, he may not get much out of it moneterely but ordinary working class folk didn’t really expect to much in those times.
    Our hero William just wanted to make some kind of living for him and his family, who could argue with that?
    He may have been an eccentric character that drew lesser minds to mock and scof him but he had something they didn’t have and that was a longing to be someone, oh yes; and remembered long after they were gone.
    It is rather touching to see that away from the city crowds that those country folk appeared to actually appreciate his talents as entertainment was rare out there in those days.

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