The Comic Legend of William McGonagall

A Pictorial Story Based on the Life of the World's Worst Poet with Illustrated Verse

By Charles Nasmyth, Richard Demarco

Illustrator: Charles Nasmyth

Format: Hardback

The cult-figure of McGonagall was legendary as the 'worst poet of all time'. Mangled metre, rhythm, McGonagall's work was characterised by these much-lampooned features. He was ridiculed in the UK and US from 1870 when his work started to appear in journals and magazines. This title provides a fascinating portrayal of the poet and his verse.

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Gresham Publishing

Gresham is a small, dynamic book publishing company based in Glasgow. Scottish-interest titles are the main focus of their publishing and they endeavour to produce informative and enjoyable books about Scotland, its culture and its history. They publish books and e-books in a wide range of categories, including nostalgia, food and drink, history, humour, children's and reference.

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William McGonagall - weaver, tragedian and poet - ridiculed by his peers for his use of language, has become known as the 'worst poet' of all time, and 'Scotland's other national bard'. His influence has spread far and wide. Spike Milligan renewed interest in the poet - McGonagall making frequent appearances in "The Goon Show", alternatively played by Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. "Harry Potter" readers know of Minerva McGonagall - so named by JK Rowling after the poet. Fans of "The Muppet Show" will recognise Angus McGonagle - the Argyle Gargoyle. In Terry Pratchett's "The Wee Free Men", the Nac Mac Feegle have a Gonagale as a battle poet who uses dreadful poetry to see off the enemy. Monty Python's "Flying Circus" created the McGonagallesque character Ewan McTeagle played by Terry Jones. Billy Connolly's "World Tour Of Scotland" featured him reading McGonagall. "Private Eye" has recently parodied his work. It is the mangled metre, limited vocabulary, clumsy rhythms, distractingly awful rhymes, lack of poetic metaphor and extraordinarily inappropriate imagery of his poems which combine to delight and appal, and his indomitable spirit that made his legend grow.


Having been drawn to poetry in the 1870s he never stopped his efforts, publishing various collections and broadsheets of his work and touring widely giving readings, becoming something of a cult figure in his own lifetime. Scots, young and old, at home and abroad, celebrate his memory, and this new presentation of his work will appeal to those who already hold him dear, and bring a new audience to his work who will learn why he had bestowed upon him the elaborate title, "Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Poet and Knight of the White Elephant, Burmah" and understand why he carried an umbrella to protect himself from rotten fruit. McGonagall, who died in September 1902, is most famous for his account of the Tay Bridge Disaster in 1879 when a storm destroyed the bridge as a train passed over it. Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay! Alas! I am very sorry to say, that ninety lives have been taken away, on the last Sabbath day of 1879, which will be remember'd for a very long time.


"The Comic Legend of William McGonagall" by Charles Nasmyth - with an introduction by Richard Demarco, Scotland's most influential advocate for contemporary art - is a part-satirical, part-factual collection which illustrates the legend and poetry of the maligned Edinburgh-born Dundonian owing as much to the "Broons" and "Oor Wullie" comic strip artist Dudley Watkins as it does to William Blake and the Surrealists. Combining the absurd with elements of social satire and artistic parody, the illustrations, a series of 36 paintings, depict McGonagall in a range of roles and settings, from a romantic partner to Marilyn Monroe to an enemy of Hitler, providing a fascinating portrayal of the poet and his unconventional verse in a quite unique collection. The artist sees McGonagall as a complex character. 'He may have been deluded with regard to his own abilities, but he was motivated by an unshakeable self-belief which is one of the very qualities we associate with genius' - "Scotland on Sunday".

Additional Information

Additional Information

Format Hardback
Imprint Gresham Publishing
Publication Date 27 Sep 2007
ISBN 9781902407531
Number of Pages 48

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'The artist sees McGonagall as a complex character. He may have been deluded with regard to his own abilities, but he was motivated by an unshakeable self-belief which is one of the very qualities we associate with genius.' Scotland on Sunday'Very amusing and well-illustrated.' Five-star review by Amazon reader

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