Knight of the white elephant

After last month criticizing the venerated Ayn Rand in the pages of the New Criterion, Dalrymple this month defends the man widely considered the worst poet in the English language, William McGonagall.

Not on literary grounds, it must be said. I admit to being ignorant of McGonagall until now, but I did actually laugh out loud in a coffeehouse today upon reading the Tay Bridge Disaster – and you will, too.

Dalrymple cautions:


Yet even as I laughed, a still, small voice — very small, and very still for the present — caused me a faint unease, the veil’d melancholy that always enters the very temple of delight….William McGonagall was a ridiculous and yet, in many ways, an admirable figure, worthy of our sympathy, compassion, and respect rather than of our disdain. If invincible delusion had not inured him to the cruel insults and practical jokes of his contemporaries, his life would have been truly tragic. But then again, were it not for that invincible delusion—that he was a theatrical and poetic genius unprecedented since the time of Shakespeare—his life would have passed in the utmost anonymity.
I find it hard to think of McGonagall as anything other than a figure of fun, but I can’t imagine disliking the man.

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