The world of literature has been electrified by the news that a long-lost play by Scottish author William McGonagall has been discovered and is about to be published. Penned in 1886, Jack o’ the Cudgel, or The Hero of a Hundred Fights, is believed to be inspired by Shakespeare. An example of what is in store can be gathered from these excerpts from the recently published William McGonagall Collected Poems:

“Pig-headed giant begone or I’ll make you repent/ For my name is Jack and I hail from Kent.” (Jack o’ the Cudgel)

“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 remembered for a very long time.” (The Tay Bridge Disaster)

“The pleasures of the little birds are all fled/ And with the cold many of them will be found dead/ Because the leaves of the trees are scattered in the blast/ And makes the feathered creatures feel downcast.” (An Autumn Reverie)

“Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light/ Thou seemest most charming to my sight/ As I gaze upon thee in the sky so high/ A tear of joy does moisten mine eye.” (The Moon)

McGonagall died penniless in 1902. The Dundonian wordsmith famously walked to Balmoral Castle in a vain effort to persuade Queen Victoria to appoint him poet laureate.

The Scotsman reported this week that Chris Hunt, editor of the Collected Poems, said: “McGonagall tried his hand at acting before turning to poetry. He thought he could write a play with a brilliant part for himself. I would very much imagine that he saw himself playing the role of Jack, but as usual he didn’t get anywhere with it.”

Peter Fray

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