An unpublished manuscript by the 19th century Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall is up for auction at Bonham's this spring, and is expected to fetch something in the neighborhood of $4,600, according to the Guardian. This price is not despite its notable badness, but exactly because of it: McGonagall, born in 1825 in Edinburgh, is widely considered to be the world's worst poet.
The achievement, if one can call it that, has kept McGonagall's work in print over a century after his death, even as his more talented (not to mention mediocre) contemporaries are forgotten.
Incompetence, it seems, is having the last laugh.
McGonagall penned about 200 pieces of doggerel during his ill-begotten career. At his day job, he was a weaver and actor, though one theater asked for payment before letting him play the role of Macbeth.
Still, McGonagall made a fairly good living giving readings of his poems, and was offered engagements throughout Scotland (at some, the public was allowed to pelt him with bread and herrings). He was considered a great source of amusement and a kind of unwitting performance artist; it seems he was either unaware of or did not care for the opinions of others.
His most famous poem is titled, perhaps appropriately, "The Tay Bridge Disaster."
In 2008, a signed folio of McGonagall's poems sold for about $7,500 in Edinburgh. The current poem up for auction, part of a batch of manuscripts owned by the collector Roy Davids, is called "In Praise of the Royal Marriage" and was written on June 6, 1893, to celebrate the wedding of the soon-to-be King George V to Princess Victoria Mary. It is indeed a prime example of McGonagall's astonishing tin ear for rhythm, and distain for the appropriate word:
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, my God, be their comforter, in time of distress...
And, if they have children, may they grow grace.
And, be an honour, to the royal race. Of the empress of India, and Great Britain's Queen. Who is faithful to her subjects, and ever has been.
It may not be the world's worst poem (for my money, that honor belongs to Theophile Jules-Henri Marzials's poem "A Tragedy," which ends with the line "Drop / Dead. / Plop, flop. / Plop.") but it is unassailably, and it seems also valuably, bad.
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