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Nineteenth-Century Poet Would Bemoan A Lack Of Extinguisher Stands: William McGonagall

Aug 18, 2008
Extinguisher stands were hardly a standard safety option during the all-too-brief career of William McGonagall, the Dundee man commonly known even today as the "Worst Poet In The World." But McGonagall--the poetic chronicler of the Tay Bridge Disaster--would have been the first to applaud the invention, though it surely would have spelled the end of his career.

McGonagall began his life as a weaver, spending much of his time working for and in the jute mills around Dundee in the latter years of the nineteenth century. When a string of mill closures caused McGonagall to suddenly lose his income well into his 50s, however, the Dundee man was struck by the sudden light of inspiration. His new career as a broadside poet began in earnest.

McGonagall's reputation as a terrible poet began early and continued to the end of his life. His work--given the umbrella title "Poetical Gems", published in broadside form, and sold by McGonagall himself on the street corners--remains unrepeatable by modern writers, containing as it does a toxic mixture of idiotic rhymes, total lack of meter or scansion, and questionable choice of subject matter. McGonagall, for his part, was oblivious to his lack of talents (or at least willing to cynically exploit the lack for notoriety and financial gain.) In one famous incident following the death of Tennyson, the current Poet Laureate, McGonagall walked in person to Queen Victoria's Scots castle to apply for the vacant position. Told that Victoria wasn't in, McGonagall walked home to Dundee and promptly sold the story of his experience to the newspapers for a few quick pounds.

McGonagall's subject matter was more often than not famous disasters. His most lasting and infamous work, "The Tay Bridge Disaster", talks at length about how the collapse of the bridge over the "silv'ry Tay" would be remembered "for a very long time." But McGonagall was known to turn his quill to the subject of fires as well, as he did with "Burning of the Exeter Theatre":

And as the flames spread, great havoc they did make,
And the poor souls fought heroically in trying to make their escape.
Oh, it was horrible to see men and women trying to reach the door!
But in many cases death claimed the victory, and their struggles were o'er.

Had fire safety in the nineteenth century been what it is today, we might not have had the poetical services of this man--a subject worthy of at least a moment's thought.

And what's history's verdict on McGonagall? In 2008, McGonagall manuscripts were purchased by an anonymous bidder at auction for over 6500 pounds--more, in other words, than was paid for an early manuscript of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. The lasting literary legacy of Ms. Rowling, despite her obvious and impressive talents, is still somewhat in doubt among critics. But from the money point of view, McGonagall--the worst poet in the world--may have found his share of fame at last. And he didn't even have fire extinguisher stands to rhapsodize about.
About the Author
With details on all the latest fire extinguisher stands it's well worth a look at www.FireProtectionOnline.co.uk
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