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William McGonagall

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William Topaz McGonagall
William McGonagall.jpg
BornMarch 1825
Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh, Scotland
Died29 September 1902 (aged 77)
Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh, Scotland
OccupationWeaver, actor, poet
Known forPoetry
William McGonagall signature.svg

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825[1] – 29 September 1902) was a Scottish weaver, poet and actor. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work.

He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today.

McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public.

Early life[edit]

William McGonagall's parents, Charles and Margaret, were Irish. Throughout his adult life he claimed to have been born in Edinburgh, giving his year of birth variously as 1825[2] or 1830,[3] but his entry in the 1841 Census gives his place of birth, like his parents', as "Ireland".[4] It has been suggested that McGonagall may have falsified his place of birth, as a native-born Scotsman would be better treated under the Poor Law of 1845 than one born in Ireland.[5]


McGonagall moved north and was apprenticed as a handloom weaver in Dundee, following in his father's footsteps. In 1846, he married Jean King; they had five sons and two daughters. Despite the industrial revolution slowly making weavers obsolete, McGonagall appeared to prosper, as there was still need for skilled workers to perform tasks of great complexity.[6]:v

Before he showed an interest in poetry, he displayed a keenness for acting, though Mr Giles' Theatre, where he performed, let him play the title role in Macbeth only if he paid for the privilege. The theatre was filled with his friends and fellow workers, anxious to see what they expected to be an amusing disaster. The play should have ended with Macbeth's death, but McGonagall believed the actor playing Macduff was trying to upstage him, and refused to die.[7][8]

By the 1870s, McGonagall and his family were struggling. Work as a weaver was more difficult to find and his oldest daughter shamed the family by giving birth to an illegitimate child.[6] However, an event changed him. He would write:

The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877.[6]:vi

McGonagall claimed he was inspired to become a poet when he "seemed to feel a strange kind of feeling stealing over [him], and remained so for about five minutes. A flame, as Lord Byron said, seemed to kindle up [his] entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry."[6]:x He wrote his first poem, "An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan", displaying the hallmarks that would characterise his work. Gilfillan, himself an untrained and poorly-reviewed polemic Christian preacher who occasionally dabbled in poetry, commented admiringly "Shakespeare never wrote anything like this."

McGonagall realised if he were to succeed as a poet, he required a patron and wrote to Queen Victoria. He received a letter of rejection, written by a royal functionary, thanking him for his interest.[6]:vii McGonagall took this as praise for his work. During a trip to Dunfermline in 1879, he was mocked by the Chief Templar, who told him his poetry was very bad. McGonagall told the man that "it was so very bad that Her Majesty had thanked [McGonagall] for what [the Chief Templar] had condemned."[6]:viii

The letter gave McGonagall confidence in his "poetic abilities", and he felt his reputation could be enhanced further if he were to give a live performance before the Queen. In July 1878, he walked from Dundee to Balmoral, a distance of about 60 miles (97 km) over mountainous terrain and through a violent thunderstorm to perform for Queen Victoria. When he arrived, he announced himself as "The Queen's Poet". The guards informed him "You're not the Queen's poet! Tennyson is the Queen's poet!" (Alfred Lord Tennyson was the poet laureate). McGonagall presented the letter but was refused entry and had to return home.[3] Undeterred, his poetry writing continued, and he reported events to the newspapers, earning some minor recognition.[6]:vii

Throughout his life McGonagall campaigned against excessive drinking, appearing in pubs and bars to give edifying poems and speeches. These were popular, the people of Dundee possibly recognising that McGonagall was "so giftedly bad he backed unwittingly into genius".[9] He met with the ire of the publicans, on one occasion being pelted with peas for reciting a poem about the evils of "strong drink".[10]

In 1883 he celebrated the official opening of University College, Dundee with the poem "The Inauguration of University College Dundee" which opened with the stanza:[11]

Good people of Dundee, your voices raise,
And to Miss Baxter give great praise;
Rejoice and sing and dance with glee,
Because she has founded a college in Bonnie Dundee.

McGonagall constantly struggled with money and earned money by selling his poems in the streets, or reciting them in halls, theatres and public houses. When he was in periods of financial insecurity, his friends supported him with donations.[6]:viii In 1880, he sailed to London to seek his fortune, and in 1887 to New York. In both instances, he returned unsuccessful.[6]:vii

He found lucrative work performing his poetry at a local circus. He read his poems while the crowd was permitted to pelt him with eggs, flour, herrings, potatoes and stale bread. For this, he received fifteen shillings a night. McGonagall seemed happy with this arrangement, but the events became so raucous that the city magistrates were forced to put a ban on them.[6]:vii-ix McGonagall was outraged and wrote a poem in response entitled "Lines in Protest to the Dundee Magistrates":

Fellow citizens of Bonnie Dundee
Are ye aware how the magistrates have treated me?
Nay, do not stare or make a fuss
When I tell ye they have boycotted me from appearing in Royal Circus,
Which in my opinion is a great shame,
And a dishonour to the city's name (...)

Throughout his life McGonagall seemed oblivious to the general opinion of his poems, even when his audience were pelting him with eggs and vegetables. Author Norman Watson speculates in his biography of McGonagall that he may have been on the "autism-Asperger's spectrum". Christopher Hart, writing in The Sunday Times, says that this seems "likely".[12]

In 1890, McGonagall was in dire straits financially. To help him, his friends funded the publication of a collection of his work, Poetic Gems. The proceeds provided McGonagall with enough money to live on for a time.[6]:ix By 1893, he was annoyed by his mistreatment in the streets and wrote an angry poem threatening to leave Dundee. One newspaper quipped that he'd probably stay for another year once he realised "that Dundee rhymes with 1893".[6]:x Though trying his hand at writing prose and endorsements for local businesses for a short time,[6]:x in 1894, he and his wife were forced to move to Perth.

Soon after, he received a letter purporting to be from representatives of King Thibaw Min of Burma. In it, he was informed that the King had knighted him as Topaz McGonagall, Grand Knight of the Holy Order of the White Elephant Burmah.[13] Despite the fact that this was a fairly transparent hoax,[6]:x McGonagall would refer to himself as "Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant, Burmah" in his advertising for the rest of his life.[14]

In 1895, McGonagall and his wife moved to Edinburgh. Here, McGonagall met with some success, becoming a "cult figure"[6]:x and was in great demand. It did not last long, and by 1900 he was once again destitute and now old and sickly. Though he was now too frail to walk the streets selling his poems, donations from friends, as ever, kept him afloat.[6]:xi

He died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. A grave-slab installed to his memory in 1999 is inscribed:

William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian
"I am your gracious Majesty
ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, the Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee."

Additionally, a plaque above 5 South College Street in Edinburgh shows an image of McGonagall, and bears the inscription:

William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian
Died Here
29 September 1902

Tay Bridge Disaster[edit]

Original Tay Bridge (from the north).
Original Tay Bridge (from the south) the day after the disaster.

"The Tay Bridge Disaster" has been widely reproduced, and recounts the events of the evening of 28 December 1879, when, during a severe gale, the Tay Rail Bridge near Dundee collapsed as a train was passing over it. It began:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

(Modern sources give the death toll as 75.)

And finished:

I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.[15]

More than a year before the disaster,[16] McGonagall had written a poem in praise of the Tay Bridge: "The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay", in which he specifically expressed a desire

that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green

Once the new replacement bridge had been built, he composed an ode to the new construction: "An Address to the New Tay Bridge" "Strong enough all windy storms to defy".

In popular culture[edit]

In comedy[edit]

  • The memory of McGonagall was resurrected by comedian Spike Milligan. A character called McGoonagall frequently appears in The Goon Show, alternately played by Milligan and Peter Sellers. Milligan also occasionally gave readings of McGonagall's verse.
  • An episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a McGonagall-esque poet called Ewan McTeagle,[17] whose poems were actually prose requests for money.

In literature and publications[edit]

  • A collection of 35 broadsheet poems of McGonagall, the majority signed by him, was bought for £6,600 (including commission) from Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh auctioneers, on 16 May 2008.[18][19]
  • Satirical magazine Private Eye has printed a number of McGonagallesque poems concerning great events of the day, usually under the byline William Rees-McGonagall, a portmanteau of McGonagall's name and that of William Rees-Mogg. For example, in 2007, they covered the success of the Scottish National Party in the Scottish Parliament election.
  • McGonagall was the subject of the newspaper column Ripley's Believe It or Not! on 11 October 2007, saying he "was often considered the world's worst poet, even by his own publisher, yet his writings are still in print a century after his death!"
  • Milligan further recounted McGonagall's life story in the pastiche novel William McGonagall – the Truth at Last, co-written with Jack Hobbs.[20]
  • In The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, the Nac Mac Feegle have a battle poet, or Gonnagle, who repels the enemy through the awfulness of his poetry. Training up a successor, 'the old bard congratulates the young one: "That, lad," he said proudly, "was some of the worst poetry I have heard for a long time. It was offensive to the ear and a torrrture to the soul...a verrry commendable effort! We'll make a gonnagle out o' ye yet!"...a touching tribute to the memory of William McGonagall...famously excruciating Scottish poet'.[21]
  • In the Harry Potter books, author J.K. Rowling chose the surname of the Professor of Transfiguration, Minerva McGonagall, because she had heard of McGonagall and loved the surname.[22]
  • The life of the bard, and Corstorphine Round Table's particular affection for the poet, is celebrated in a comic graphic novel by one of its former members, Charles Nasmyth.[23]
  • The Scots Language translation of Asterix names the village bard "Magonaglix" in reference to McGonagall.[24]

In live performances[edit]

In motion pictures[edit]

  • A 1974 movie called The Great McGonagall starred Spike Milligan as a fictionalised William McGonagall. Peter Sellers played Queen Victoria.
  • In episode 13 of season 2 of the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries, a murder victim is holding a copy of a book entitled "The Collected Works of William Topaz McGonagall". While the death appears accidental, the detective suspects foul play because "it is highly unlikely that anyone would voluntarily reach for a volume of McGonagall."
  • In 2016, The Atlantic premiered a short documentary about the life of McGonagall entitled "worst.poet.ever."[25]

In music[edit]

In radio[edit]

  • Dundonian actor Brian Cox compared the comic character Bob Servant to McGonagall while playing Servant in a radio adaptation. Servant is the creation of Dundonian author Neil Forsyth, who has acknowledged McGonagall as an influence in the Bob Servant character.[27]
  • Cox went on to play the part of William McGonagall in the radio play Topaz, a fictional depiction of his trip to Balmoral which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 26 October 2013.[28]

Honours and memorials[edit]

A plaque above McGonagall's last residence records his death in 1902
Memorial plaque near to McGonagall's grave in Edinburgh dated 1999
McGonagall square in Dundee

McGonagall's home city of Dundee maintains several reminders of his life:

  • The William Topaz McGonagall Appreciation Society held a McGonagall Supper on board the frigate Unicorn on 12 June 1997, during which the courses were allegedly served in reverse order, starting with the coffee and ending with the starters. A short play was performed by local actors.[29]
  • Beginning in 2004, the Dundee Science Centre Education Outreach has hosted an annual Charity McGonagall Gala Dinner,[30] in which guests eat their meal backwards from dessert to starter and hear the welcome address as they depart, "combining traditional and unconventional entertainment, with four-course dinner, complimentary wine and whisky".
  • There is a McGonagall Square in the West End of Dundee.[31]
  • A number of inscriptions of his poetry have been made, most notably along the side of the River Tay on the pavement of Riverside Drive in Dundee. This monument contains a deliberate spelling mistake.[32]
  • Dundee Central Library maintains a William McGonagall Collection of his works.[33]

He is buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. From c.1950 to 1995 a memorial bench stood on the path immediately to the north side of the church commemorating McGonagall and bearing the typically McGonagall-esque inscription "Feeling tired and need a seat? Sit down here, and rest your feet". Unfortunately the bench fell into disrepair and was not replaced. It is not known what became of its small plaque.

List of poems[edit]

McGonagall's poems were published by his friends, in a series of books bearing variations on the title Poetic Gems. In the modern era, the entire series is reprinted in a single collection called The Complete McGonagall. Note that although the Poetic Gems books are listed in chronological order, the time at which the poem was published often has no bearing on when it was written; the "Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan" and "Requisition to the Queen" were amongst McGonagall's earliest written poems, yet they appear in More Poetic Gems and Last Poetic Gems respectively.

Poetic Gems[edit]

Alas! Lord and Lady Dalhousie are dead, and buried at last,
Which causes many people to feel a little downcast.
  • Death of Prince Leopold: refers to the death of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany.
  • Funeral of the German Emperor: refers to the death of William I, German Emperor.
  • The Famous Tay Whale: a celebration of the Tay whale, a humpback killed in the Firth of Tay in 1883, making money for a showman and enabling Sir John Struthers to write a monograph on its anatomy.
  • The Battle Of Tel-El-Kebir: a celebration of the British victory over the Egyptian army in the Battle of Tel el-Kebir.
  • The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: a description of the older Tay Bridge.
  • The Newport Railway: a description of the railway running across the Tay Bridge.
  • Address to the New Tay Bridge: a description of the rebuilt Tay Bridge, after the Tay Bridge Disaster.
Beautiful new railway bridge of the Silvery Tay,
With thy beautiful side-screens along your railway.
He was a public benefactor in many ways,
Especially in erecting an asylum for imbecile children to spend their days.
  • The Rattling Boy from Dublin: a song in verse/chorus form.
  • Burial of the Rev. George Gilfillan.
  • The Battle of El-Teb: a narrative of the second of the Battles of El Teb, in which George Graham defeated the Egyptian Army.
Ye sons of Great Britain, I think no shame
To write in praise of brave General Graham!
Whose name will be handed down to posterity without any stigma,
Because, at the battle of El-Teb, he defeated Osman Digna.
  • The Battle of Abu Klea: a narrative of the British victory over the Sudanese.
  • A Christmas Carol: also in verse/chorus form.
  • The Christmas Goose: a satirical poem about a rich gentleman reclaiming a stolen goose from a poor boy.
No matter how the poor are clothed,
Or if they starve at home,
We'll drink our wine, and eat our goose,
Aye, and pick it to the bone.
  • An Autumn Reverie: a description of autumn, with further references to the plight of the poor.
  • Wreck of the Steamer London while on her way to Australia: narrative of the sinking of SS London (1864) in the Bay of Biscay.
  • Wreck of the Thomas Dryden in Pentland Firth: a narrative of the wreckage of the Thomas Dryden.
  • Attempted Assassination of the Queen: a poem in thanks for the failure of Roderick McLean's attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria.
  • Saving a Train: a narrative of Carl Springel's self-sacrificing effort to halt a train before it reached a broken bridge.
  • The Moon.
  • The Beautiful Sun.
  • Grace Darling, or the Wreck of the Forfarshire: a narrative of the wreckage of the SS Forfarshire (ship) and of Grace Darling's rescue of several survivors from the wreck.

More Poetic Gems[edit]

  • The Destroying Angel, Or The Poet's Dream: a fictional narrative in which an angel burns down all of the public houses in Dundee, thereby bringing temperance.
  • Lines in defence of the stage: McGonagall's defence of the theatre against clerical objections.
  • Calamity in London: Family of Ten burned to death: a narrative of a fire in Dixie Street, Bethnal Green, London.
  • The Black Watch Memorial: in praise of a memorial to the Black Watch, the 3rd Highland Regiment.
  • Lost on the Prairie: a story of a party of workmen becoming lost in the snow in the American prairie and being rescued by a horse named Old Jack.
  • The Irish Convict's Return: a poem written in the first-person from the view of an Irish convict returning to Ireland after having been transported to Australasia. No name is given.
  • Little Jamie: a poem in traditional Scots describing a young boy named Jamie.
  • Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan: see above.
  • Address to Shakespeare.
  • The Fair Maid of Perth's House: a description of the Maid of Perth's House, in Curfew Row, Perth, Scotland.
  • The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations: a description of the celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
  • Ode to the Queen.
  • Death of the Queen: on the death of Queen Victoria.
  • A Humble Heroine: a narrative of the action of Agnes Harkness, the "Heroine of Matagorda",[34] who brought desperately needed water to soldiers at the siege. The poem refers to her as "Mrs Reston" after her soldier husband, James Reston.
  • Nora, the Maid of Killarney: a narrative song. Notable as one of three poems for which the original broadside publication is held in the National Museum of Scotland.[35] The original authorship gives the author as "A new song by Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant, Burma".
  • The Bonnie Lass O'Dundee.
  • The Little Match Girl.
  • A Tale of Elsinore.
  • The Bonnie Sidlaw Hills: one of a long series of poems in praise of various places in Scotland, almost all either addressed to "lovers of the picturesque" or to unknown women; in this case, "Bonnie Clara".
  • Bonnie Callander: addressed to "Bonnie Helen".
  • Bonnie Kilmany: addressed to "Bonnie Annie".
  • Bonnie Montrose.
  • Beautiful Comrie: addressed to "lovers of the picturesque".
  • Beautiful North Berwick.
  • Beautiful Crieff: "Lovers of the picturesque".
  • Beautiful Balmoral: "Lovers of the picturesque".
  • The Beautiful Village of Penicuik.
  • Beautiful Nairn.
All ye tourists who wish to be away
From the crowded city for a brief holiday;
The town of Nairn is worth a visit, I do confess,
And its only about fifteen miles from Inverness.
  • Beautiful Torquay. "Lovers of the picturesque".
  • The Ancient town of Leith.
  • The City of Perth.
  • Bonnie Dundee in 1878.
  • Loch Ness.
  • The Silvery Tay.
  • The Den O' Fowlis.
  • Inauguration of the Hill O'Balgay.
  • Little Popeet: The Lost Child: a story of a lost child in France.
  • The Bonnie Lass of Ruily.
  • Mary, the Maid O' The Tay. In traditional Scots.

Still More Poetic Gems[edit]

  • Adventure in the Life of King James V of Scotland: a narrative of the "Gudeman of Ballengeich",[36] in which King James V is attacked while travelling in disguise and aided by a bondsman named John Howieson, whom he later rewards.
On one occasion King James the Fifth of Scotland, when alone, in disguise,
Near by the Bridge of Cramond met with rather a disagreeable surprise.
  • The Clepington Catastrophe: description of a fire occurring in a store in Clepington, on the outskirts of Dundee.
  • The Rebel Surprise near Tamai: narrative of an ambush by Arab forces against a British unit led by "General M'Neill".
  • The battle of Cressy: narrative of the British victory over the French in the Battle of Crécy.
  • Wreck of the Barque "Wm. Paterson" of Liverpool.
  • Sorrows of the Blind.
  • General Gorden, the Hero of Khartoum.
  • Burning of the Exeter Theatre.
  • John Rouat the Fisherman.
  • Hanchen, the Maid of the Mill.
  • Wreck of the Schooner "Samuel Crawford".
  • Wreck of the Whaler "Oscar".
  • Jurry Carrister, the Heroine of Lucknow Mine.
  • The Horrors of Majuba.
  • Miraculous Escape of Robert Allan, the Fireman.
  • Collision in the English Channel.
  • The Battle of Shina, in Africa, fought in 1800.
  • Beautiful Edinburgh.
  • Women's Suffrage.
  • Lord Robert's Triumphal Entry into Pretoria.
  • Tribute to Mr J. Graham Henderson, the World's Fair Judge.
  • Wreck of the Columbine.
  • Balmoral Castle.
  • A New Temperance Poem, in Memory of my Departed parents, who were Sober Living & God Fearing People.

Yet More Poetic Gems[edit]

  • Summary History of Sir William Wallace.
  • The Heatherblend Club Banquet.
  • Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins; refers to Tommy Atkins, not a real person, but the generic name for a British soldier.
  • The Relief of Mafeking.
  • The Battle of Glencoe.
  • The Capture of Havana.
  • The Battle of Waterloo.
  • The Albion Battleship Calamity.
  • An All Night Sea Fight: refers to the capture of HMS Pique (1795) by the British Navy.
  • Wreck of the Steamer "Stella".
  • Wreck of the Steamer "Storm Queen".
  • Wreck of the "Abercrombie Robinson".[37]
  • Loss of the "Victoria".
  • Burning of the Ship "Kent".
  • Wreck of the "Indian Chief".
  • Death of Captain Ward.
  • Disastrous Fire at Scarborough.
  • Burial of Mr Gladstone, the Political Hero.
  • Death of the Rev. Dr Wilson.
  • Captain Teach alias Black Beard: brief telling of the life and defeat of Blackbeard.
Black Beard derived his name from his long black beard,
Which terrified America more than any comet that had ever appeared.
  • Ode to the King. To Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
  • A Soldier's Reprieve.
  • Richard Piggot, the Forger.
  • The Troubles of Matthew Mahoney.
  • The Pennsylvania Disaster.
  • The Sprig of Moss.

Further Poetic Gems[edit]

  • To Mr James Scrymgeour, Dundee.
  • The Battle of Bannockburn.
  • Edinburgh.
  • Glasgow.
So let the beautiful city of Glasgow flourish,
And may the inhabitants always find food their bodies to nourish.
  • The Battle of Flodden Field.
  • Greenland's Icy Mountains.
  • Tribute to Henry M. Stanley.
  • Jottings of New York.
  • Beautiful Monikie.
  • Death of the Old Mendicant.
  • Loch Katrine.
  • Forget-me-not.
  • The Royal Review.
  • The Nithsdale Widow and her Son.
  • Jack o' the Cudgel.
  • The Battle of Culloden.
  • The Battle of Sheriffmuir.
  • Execution of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose.
  • Baldovan.
  • Loch Leven.
  • The Castle of Mains.
  • Montrose.
  • Broughty Ferry.
  • Robert Burns.
  • Adventures of Robert the Bruce.
  • A Tale of the Sea.
  • Jottings of London.
But during my short stay, and while wandering there,
Mr Spurgeon was the only man I heard speaking proper English I do declare.
  • Annie Marshall the Foundling.
  • Bill Bowls the Sailor.
  • Young Munro the Sailor.
  • A Tribute to Mr Murphy and the Blue Ribbon Army.

Yet Further Poetic Gems[edit]

  • The Sunderland Calamity: refers to the Victoria Hall disaster
  • Inauguration of the University College, Dundee.
  • The Great Franchise Demonstration, Dundee, 20 September 1884.
  • Wreck of the Barque "Lynton" While Bound for Aspinall, Having on Board 1000 Tons of Coal.
  • The Great Yellow River Inundation in China.
  • Death of Fred Marsden, the American Playwright.
  • Excursion Steamer Sunk in the Tay.
  • Funeral of the Late Ex-Provost Rough, Dundee.
  • The Crucifixion of Christ.
  • Death and Burial of Lord Tennyson.
  • New Year's Resolution to Leave Dundee: McGonagall's published declaration of his intent to leave Dundee in 1893 owing to his treatment by the local people:
Every morning when I got out
The ignorant rabble they do shout
"There goes Mad McGonagall"
In derisive shouts, as loud as they can bawl,
And lifts stones and snowballs, and throws them at me;
And such actions are shameful to be heard in the City of Dundee.
  • Beautiful Balmerino.
  • Lines in Memoriam regarding the Entertainment I Gave on 31 March 1893, in Reform Street Hall, Dundee.
  • Lines in Praise of Mr J. Graham Henderson: in praise of a local tailor who give McGonagall a suit.
  • The Terrific Cyclone of 1893.
  • Tribute to Dr Murison: in praise of a local doctor who helped McGonagall while he was "ill with inflammation".
He told me at once what was ailing me;
He said I had been writing too much poetry,
And from writing poetry I would have to refrain,
Because I was suffering from inflammation on the brain.
  • The Kessack Ferry-Boat Fatality.
  • Lines in Praise of the Lyric Club Banquet which was held in the Queen's Hotel, Perth, on the Evening of 5 September 1894.
  • Lines in Praise of Professor Blackie.
  • Funeral of the Late Prince Henry of Battenburg.
  • Burning of the People's Variety Theatre, Aberdeen.
  • The Storming of Dargai Heights.
  • Saving a Train: a different poem to the one appearing in Poetic Gems.
  • The Battle of Atbara.
  • Lines in Reply to the Beautiful Poet who Welcomed News of my Departure from Dundee: actually addressed to the editor of the Dundee Weekly News, attacking an individual who had published a poem in response to New Year's Resolution to Leave Dundee saying, effectively, good riddance.
Therefore I laugh at such bosh that appears in print.
So I hope from me you'll take the hint,
And never publish such bosh of poetry again,
Or else you'll get the famous Weekly News a bad name.
  • The Battle of Omdurman.
  • The Village of Tayport and its Surroundings.
  • The Blind Girl.
  • Wreck of the Steamer "Mohegan".
  • The Hero of Rorke's Drift.

Last Poetic Gems[edit]

  • Farewell Address at the Argyle Hall, Tuesday, 22 June 1880.
  • The Last Berkshire Eleven: the Heroes of Maiwand.
  • The Demon Drink.
  • Grif of the Bloody Hand.
  • A Summary History of Lord Clive.
  • The Battle of the Nile.
  • Beautiful Aberfoyle.
  • The Convict's Return.
  • The Battle of Alexandria, or the Reconquest of Egypt.
  • Saved by Music.
  • Beautiful Newport on the Braes o' the Silvery Tay.
  • The Battle of Corunna.
  • A Tale of Christmas Eve.
  • The Battle of Gujrat.
  • Bill Bowls the Sailor.
  • The Battle of the Alma, fought in 1854.
  • Beautiful Rothesay.
  • The Battle of Inkermann.
  • Little Pierre's Song.
  • The Capture of Lucknow.
  • The Burns Statue.
  • The Hero of Kalpore: an Incident of the Indian Mutiny.
  • Jack Honest, or the Widow and her Son.
  • The Downfall of Delhi.
  • The River of Leith.
  • The Ashantee War: the Fall of Coomassie.
  • The Beautiful City of Perth.
  • General Robert in Afghanistan.
  • Requisition to the Queen.
Most Mighty Empress of India, and Englands beloved Queen,
Most Handsome to be Seen.
I wish you every Success.
And that heaven may you bless.
For your Kindness to the poor while they are in distress.
I hope the Lord will protect you while living
And hereafter when your Majesty is dead.
I hope Thee Lord will place an eternal Crown
upon your Head.
I am your Gracious Majesty ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, The Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee.

Unpublished or unverified poetic gems[edit]

  • A Tribute to the Rev. Mr Macrae,[38] in praise of a preacher who rejected the Westminster Confession of Faith, which McGonagall found distasteful, in part because of its teaching on the fate of unbaptised infants:
Oh horrible! Most Horrible! For the Westminster Confession of Faith to tell,
That God will inflict eternal punishment on unbaptised babes in Hell.
The Rev. Mr Mcrae has acted a noble part,
And I trust his congregation will not from him depart.
  • An Address to Prince Leopold,[39] written for Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany's visit to the opening of the Tay Bridge.
  • An Ode to the Immortal Bard of Ayr, Robert Burns.
  • Beecham's Pills.
  • Colinton Dell and its Surroundings.
  • Drogheda and its Surroundings.
  • Genius, a poem complaining that genius is disregarded when it appears in poor people.
  • Hawthornden.
  • Lines in memoriam of the late Rev. George Gilfillan.
  • Lines in praise of Sunlight Soap.
  • Lines in praise of the University of St. Andrews Liberal Association Annual Dinner.
  • Lines in protest to the Dundee Magistrates, as above.
  • Royal Visit of the Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne.
  • Song dedicated to Mr Barry Sullivan, Tragedian, without permission (a fragment).
  • Stirling Castle.
  • The Beautiful River Dee.
  • The City of Sligo, And Its Adjacent Surroundings.
  • The Coronation of King Edward the VII.
  • The Dundee Flower Show.
  • The Edinburgh Lifeboat Procession (A Fragment).
  • The Faithful Dog Fido.
  • The Foundering of the Steamer “Spree”, While on her way to New York.
  • The Horse Parade, or Demonstration in respect of the Royal Wedding.
  • The Inauguration Of The Talla Water Scheme.
  • The Life-Boat Demonstration.
  • The New North Bridge Ceremonials.* (unverified) Bonnie Argyll Video on YouTube, supposedly written for a housewife in Kilmartin with whom McGonagall stayed and left with her.
And when cold there is firewood for the picking up, though it is covered with moss, I hear;
But this doesn't matter if you're going to burn it as one commonly does at this time of year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campbell, Donald (2003). Edinburgh: a cultural and literary history. Oxford: Signal Books. p. 65. ISBN 1-902669-73-8.
  2. ^ McGonagall, William. "A Summary History of Poet McGonagall".
  3. ^ a b McGonagall, William. "Brief Autobiography".
  4. ^ "McGonagall in the Census". McGonagall Online.
  5. ^ Watson, Norman (2010). Poet McGonagall: The Biography of William McGonagall. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 1841588849.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Hunt, Chris, ed. (2006). William McGonagall: Collected Poems. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 978-1841584775.
  7. ^ Smith, Gavin (November 2002). "White Elephant". Scotland Magazine (5).
  8. ^ Pile, Stephen (1981). The Book of Heroic Failures. London: Futura. p. 124. ISBN 0708819087.
  9. ^ Pile, Stephen (1981). The Book of Heroic Failures. London: Futura. p. 123. ISBN 0708819087.
  10. ^ McGonagall, William (1934). "Reminiscences". Poetic Gems. Dundee: David Winter.
  11. ^ "From the Archives. Mary Ann Baxter of Balgavies, 1801 – 1884" (PDF). Contact. University of Dundee. December 2009. pp. 28–29. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 April 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
  12. ^ The Sunday Times (London), 7 November 2010.
  13. ^ "The Autobiography of Sir William Topaz McGonagall – Part 7". McGonagall Online. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  14. ^ "William Topaz McGonagall, the Dundee Bard". Historic UK. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  15. ^ Quoted in Terry Pratchett & Jacqueline Simpson, The Folklore of Discworld (London 2008) p. 80
  16. ^ Chronological List of Poems,
  17. ^ As listed. "The Poet McTeagle". Archived from the original on 3 July 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  18. ^ "Books, Maps & Manuscipts – Sale 208 – Lot 298". Lyon & Turnbull.
  19. ^ "'Worst poet' outsells boy wizard". BBC News. 16 May 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2008.
  20. ^ Milligan, Spike; Hobbs, Jack (1978). William McGonagall, The Truth at Last. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 978-0140045499.
  21. ^ Pratchett, Terry; Simpson, Jacqueline (2008). The Folklore of Discworld. London: Doubleday. pp. 79–81. ISBN 9780385611008.
  22. ^ "J.K. Rowling interview transcript, The Connection (WBUR Radio)". Accio Quote!. 12 October 1999. Archived from the original on 6 January 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  23. ^ Nasmyth, Charles (2007). The Comic Legend of William McGonagall: A Pictorial story based on the life of The World's Worst Poet with illustrated verse. New Lanark: Waverley. ISBN 978-1-902407-53-1.
  24. ^ "Asterix The Bonnie Fechter".
  25. ^ Ajaka, Nadine. "William McGonagall: Worst Poet Ever". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-03-21.
  26. ^ "McGonagall Online: The Famous Tay Whale". Retrieved 19 June 2008.
  27. ^ "Brian Cox To Play Dundonian 'Man of The People'". The Dundee Courier. 4 October 2010. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
  28. ^ "Topaz". BBC. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  29. ^ "William Topaz McGonagall Supper – June 12, 1997". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  30. ^ [1][dead link]
  31. ^ "Google Maps". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  32. ^ "Rampant Scotland Newsletter – 5 April 2003". Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  33. ^ "Dundee City Council, Scotland – Central Library, Local History Centre, William McGonagall, Poet and Tragedian". Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  34. ^ [2] Archived 13 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^ "Broadside publication of a poem entitled 'Nora, the Maid of Killarney'". Archived from the original on 19 October 2007. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  36. ^ "Closed". VisitedScotland. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  37. ^ "McGonagall Online – The Wreck of the "Abercrombie Robinson"".
  38. ^ "McGonagall Online – A Tribute to the Rev. Mr Macrae".
  39. ^ "McGonagall Online – An Address to Prince Leopold".

External links[edit]