I have been away for a few days, in Killicrankie. When I’m in that part of the world I always find time to visit my favourite bookshop, The Watermill at Aberfeldy (click the link, on the right). As always, I had coffee there. And, as always, I spent more money than I meant to on books. On the bookshop counter were copies of William Topaz McGonagall’s poems. I didn’t buy one because I have had a copy of these for years. My guess is that more books of his collected poems have sold than those of Robert Burns, but that is not for me to say. I’m no more struck on Burns than I am on Shelley, Wordsworth or Coleridge. For me they are men of their time, writing about a bygone age that we no longer understand and which has no great appeal to us. But McGonagall… well, McGonagall is always good for a laugh. And more importantly he provides us with a salutory lesson: McGonagall thought he was good. Not only did he think he was good, he probably couldn’t understand why he wasn’t poet-laureate, or why Queen Victoria didn’t recognise him.
No doubt she wasn’t amused. She would have been, had she read his stuff. There are Scots who believe that McGonagall should be considered as the Scots national poet rather than Burns. They might well say that. I couldn’t possibly comment.
And, if you really don’t know, click this.