AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF AN UNPUBLISHED POEM, signed, entitled 'Lines, In Praise of The Royal Marriage' and inscribed at foot in his hand 'Composed, June. the 6th. 1893. - By William McGonagall poet. 48. Step Row. Dundee', 1 page, quarto, lines between stanzas, professional repairs, endorsed in another hand 'The Bards Own', Dundee, 6 June 1893
God bless, the lovely. and Sweet Princess May.
Also, the Duke of York, so handsome and gay.
Long life, and happiness to them, in married life. May they always, be prosperous and free from Strife.
May their hearts, always be full of glee.
And, be Kind, to each other, and ne'er disagree.
And, may the Demon. discontent, never mar their happiness. And, may God. be their Comforter, in time of distress...
And, if they have Children. may they grow in grace. And, be an honour, to The Royal race.
Of The Empress of India. and Great Britain's Queen. Who is faithfull to her Subjects. and ever has been.
The present poem does not appear in Collected Poems, 2006, where it is specifically noted as unpublished. Autograph manuscripts by McGonagall are rare.
William McGonagall, poet and actor, dubbed 'the worst poet in British History' and 'The Great McGonagall', was also known as 'Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant of Burmah' as appointed by 'King Thibaw Min of Burma', and once was described by the Dundee Courier 1902 as 'the poet laureate of the Silvery Tay.' He published more than 200 poems in his lifetime. 'Perhaps the most amazing thing about McGonagall is his failure to lapse back into obscurity' (Chris Hunt). Resurrected by Spike Milligan who recited his verse, he was the subject of a film 'The Great McGonagall' (1974) starring Peter Sellers and Milligan, and appeared as a character in The Goon Show. He inspired characters in Monty Python's Flying Circus, the Muppet Show, the works of Terry Pratchett and the Harry Potter books of J.K. Rowling.
The marriage McGonagall was celebrating in this poem was that of George Duke of York to Princess Victoria Mary (May) of Teck which took place on 6 July 1893. He was to become George V and she his Queen consort. As can be seen in this manuscript McGonagall's punctuation was odd.
'McGonagall's diction was drawn from the high fustian of Scottish popular melodrama, and his metre from the printed poetry of the street. His control of tone was erratic, fluctuating between the lofty and bathetic, and his imagery was frequently conventional...If he had been merely inept, of course, he would simply have been forgotten, like countless other proletarian versifiers. McGonagall's triumph was to forge, by some unfathomable alchemy, the commonplace effects of popular-print rhetoric into an unmistakably personal style. Nobody else has ever sounded quite like him...He was the heir not of Burns and Hogg and Lady Nairne, but of chapbook writers such as Claudero and Dougal Graham, and through them a tradition of metrical journalism going back to the broadside poets of the seventeenth century. An estimated 200,000 people were regularly writing poetry in Victorian Scotland and they found their main publication outlet in the burgeoning popular press of which the Weekly News was an outstanding example. It was there that 'the Great McGonagall' found much of his inspiration; there too his work first appeared in print, while the journal's heartless chronicling of his many mishaps kept him steadily before the public eye as a potential butt and object of ridicule. Unable to endure relentless persecution by local audiences, he moved briefly to Perth, and then, in 1895, to Edinburgh. As a performer of his own works he enjoyed a national reputation in Scotland but he was unable to secure engagements in the music-halls of London or New York. William McGonagall died of a cerebral haemorrhage at his home, 5 South College Street, Edinburgh, on 29 September 1902. He was buried in Greyfriars kirkyard, Edinburgh, in a pauper's grave, but a plaque was later erected to his memory there' (ODNB).
REFERENCES: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Collected Poems, introduction by Chris Hunt, 2006; Norman Watson, Poet McGonagall: A Biography, 2010, where the poem is specifically noted as unpublished.