William McGonagall was famous as he was regarded as the worst poet in British history!

A Scotsman from Dundee who over 25 years wrote some 200 poems. They were so bad that he kept being asked to recite his poems at events all over Scotland and the UK. The complaint about him was that he only felt that poetry should rhyme, he wasn’t interested in the more sophisticated requirements, for example, that it should scan, while he was deaf to the use of metaphor for rhetorical effect, however, this had the effect of making his work unintentionally comic.

Of course, he didn’t think he was bad. He felt they were all taking the mickey, while the audiences thought he was a music hall comic, which meant that for 25 years he delighted and appalled audiences all over Scotland, and sometimes they even threw rotten fish at him, which led to him being banned by some local authorities, inevitably increasing his popularity.

He realised that for him to succeed he needed the support of a famous person, so he wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, and received a letter of rejection from one of her staff that included the words “the queen thanked him for his interest…. “.  McGonagall took this as praise for his work and used it as such, even though, of course, it wasn’t!

The interesting thing about him is that throughout his life he campaigned against excessive drinking. He even read his poems about the evils of drink in pubs and bars, something the landlords didn’t like, while he didn’t always impress the patrons, even though they did enjoy the comedy.  

During his lifetime he published over 200 poems, which he printed on broadsheets, then sold in the street. He even published them in books, unfortunately, this didn’t make him much money, which meant that when he died in 1902, he was pauper.

However, his poems live on today, so he can’t have been all bad.

Isn’t history fun!