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,
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 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.
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;
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.
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 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.
The Crucifixion of Christ
Composed, by Special Request, 18th June 1890 Then Pilate, the Roman Governor, took Jesus and scourged Him,
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.
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.
The Battle of Waterloo
'Twas in the year 1815, and on the 18th day of June, That British cannon, against the French army, loudly did boom, Upon the ever memorable bloody field of Waterloo; Which Napoleon remembered while in St. Helena, and bitterly did rue.
An Excursion Steamer Sunk in the Tay
'Twas in the year of 1888, and on July the 14th day, That an alarming accident occurred in the River Tay. Which resulted in the sinking of the Tay Ferries' Steamer "Dundee," Which was a most painful and sickening sight to see.
The Battle of Atbara
Ye Sons of Great Britain, pray list to me,
And I'll tell ye of a great victory.
Where the British defeated the Dervishes, without delay,
At the Battle of Atbara, without dismay.
The attack took place, 'twas on the 8th of April, in the early morning dawn,
And the British behaved manfully to a man;
And Mahmud's front was raked fearfully, before the assault began,
By the disposition of the force under Colonel Long :