William Topaz McGonagall
Biography of William Topaz McGonagall
William Topaz McGonagall was born of rather poor Irish parents in Edinburgh, Scotland, in March 1825. In his nearly unreadable, rambling biographical notes1, one eventually learns that he sprang from a family of five children and that he worked with his father as a handloom weaver. His education appears to have been patchy, but, in his own words, 'William has been like the immortal Shakespeare he had learned more from nature than he ever learned at school'. The family settled in Dundee while William was still a boy, and he lived there for the rest of his life. He died in 1902.
As a grown man, he continued to work in the family trade, and married one Jean King in 1846. At about this time he also began to participate in amateur theatrics, acting in Shakespearean drama at the Dundee theatre. The Muse of Poetry appears to have captured his imagination, if not his talent, in the 1870s, beginning with a paean to a new railway bridge over the Tay River at Dundee in 1877. By McGonagall's own account, the poem was '... received with eclat and [he] was pronounced by the Press the Poet Laureate of the Tay Bridge...'.
And after that he never stopped. His first collection of Poetic Gems was published in 1878, and he published several more Collected Gems during his lifetime as well as many broadsheets. He also toured Scotland, England, and New York in the United States, giving public readings for which he charged admission. At these readings he would dress in full Scottish Highland costume. He is reported to have been a cult figure in his lifetime, although his audiences were often rather stormy with those in attendance given to catcalling.
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William Topaz McGonagall Poems
A Descriptive Poem on the Silvery Tay
Beautiful silvery Tay, With your landscapes, so lovely and gay, Along each side of your waters, to Perth all the way; No other river in the world has got scenery more fine,
A Christmas Carol
Welcome, sweet Christmas, blest be the morn That Christ our Saviour was born! Earth's Redeemer, to save us from all danger, And, as the Holy Record tells, born in a manger.
Fellow men! why should the lords try to despise And prohibit women from having the benefit of the parliamentary Franchise? When they pay the same taxes as you and me, I consider they ought to have the same liberty.
The Tay Bridge Disaster
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,
A New Temperance Poem, in Memory of My D...
My parents were sober living, and often did pray For their family to abstain from intoxicating drink alway; Because they knew it would lead them astray Which no God fearing man will dare to gainsay.
An Address to Shakespeare
Immortal! William Shakespeare, there's none can you excel, You have drawn out your characters remarkably well, Which is delightful for to see enacted upon the stage For instance, the love-sick Romeo, or Othello, in a rage;
A Humble Heroine
'Twas at the Seige of Matagarda, during the Peninsular War, That a Mrs Reston for courage outshone any man there by far; She was the wife of a Scottish soldier in Matagarda Port, And to attend to her husband she there did resort.
A Soldier's Reprieve
'Twas in the United States of America some years ago An aged father sat at his fireside with his heart full of woe, And talking to his neighbour, Mr Allan, about his boy Bennie That was to be shot because found asleep doing sentinel duty.
Adventures of King Robert the Bruce
King Robert the Bruce's deadly enemy, John of Lorn, Joined the English with eight hundred Highlanders one morn, All strong, hardy, and active fearless mountaineers, But Bruce's men attacked them with swords and spears.
A Tale of Christmas Eve
'Twas Christmastide in Germany, And in the year of 1850, And in the city of Berlin, which is most beautiful to the eye; A poor boy was heard calling out to passers-by.
An All-Night Sea Fight
Ye sons of Mars, come list to me, And I will relate to ye A great and heroic naval fight, Which will fill your hearts with delight.
A New Year's Resolution to Leave Dundee
Welcome! thrice welcome! to the year 1893, For it is the year I intend to leave Dundee, Owing to the treatment I receive, Which does my heart sadly grieve.
A Requisition to the Queen
Smiths Buildings No. 19 Patons Lane, Dundee. Sept the 6th. 1877.
An Address to the New Tay Bridge
Beautiful new railway bridge of the Silvery Tay, With your strong brick piers and buttresses in so grand array, And your thirteen central girders, which seem to my eye Strong enough all windy storms to defy.
Beautiful Rothesay, your scenery is most grand,
You cannot be surpassed in fair Scotland.
Tis healthy for holiday makers, to go there,
For the benefit of their health, by inhaling the pure air
And to hear the innocent birds, on a fine Summer day,
Carolling their sweet songs, so lively and gay,
Therefore, holiday makers, be advised by me,
And visit beautiful Rothesay, by the side of the Sea.