Friday, March 4, 2011

Queen Victoria Escapes the Murderous Poet, 1882

Friday, March 4, 2011
Susan reporting:

This week marks the 129th anniversary of a thwarted assassination attempt on the life of Queen Victoria (1819-1901.) Victoria did not like public appearances, and with good reason, too: eight different attempts were made to either assault or assassinate her during her reign.

But the man who tried shoot her on March 2, 1882 was different from the usual attackers with political agendas or grudges. Scotsman Roderick McLean (d. 1921) was an amateur poet who had sent poems to his Queen. Victoria's curt, formal reply to his offering so offended him that he attempted to shoot her as she rode in an open carriage from the Windsor train station. McLean's shot was apparently no better than his poetry, and he was immediately captured and imprisoned. He was tried for treason, and found "not guilty, but insane." Although McLean spent the rest of his life imprisoned at Broadmoor, the Queen was still not satisfied by the verdict, and lobbied Parliament for a new verdict of "guilt, but insane."

But Victoria wasn't through suffering at the hands of bad poets. The splendidly named William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902) was another amateur Scottish poet, as well as weaver and actor. He is best remembered today with the dubious distinction of being "the Worst Poet in British History." True, that's a heady responsibility for any poet. But below is an excerpt from the lengthy poem McGonagall wrote to commemorate Victoria's deliverance, and we'll leave it to you to decide if he measures up (or down.)

Attempted Assassination of the Queen
God prosper long our noble Queen,
And long may she reign!
Maclean he tried to shoot her,
But it was all in vain.

For God He turned the ball aside
Maclean aimed at her head
And he felt very angry
Because he didn't shoot her dead....

Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn't have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.

Victoria is a good Queen,
Which all her subjects know,
And for that God has protected her
From all her deadly foes....

Long may she be spared to roam
Among the bonnie Highland floral,
And spend many a happy day
In the palace of Balmoral....

And when they know of her coming,
Their hearts feel overjoy'd,
Because, in general, she finds work
For men that's unemployed....

I hope God be as a hedge around her,
As He's been all along,
And let her live and die in peace
Is the end of my song.

(If you need the whole poem to judge fairly, here's a link to it, plus other splendid examples of McGonagall's work.)
Above: Queen Victoria (1819-1901), by Bassano, 1882 Glass copy negative, National Portrait Gallery

3 comments:

Hels said...

I knew that there were quite a number of attempts on Victoria's life, but surely not all for reasons of spurned literature. Were some attempts because of serious reasons eg they didn't like her treatment of the sub-continent?

Anna said...

Goodness gracious me! He certainly deserves the distinction. Apart from the unintentionally hilarious imagery, the abundant cliches, the dubious syntax and a whole catalogue of other such horrors - his meter is completely off! Unforgiveable! If I had been Queen Victorian, I'd have had him shipped off to one of the distant colonies ;)

Charles said...

You should get hold of a copy of "The bridge on the silvery Tay and Other Disasters" which contains McGonagall's verse in all its hokiness. In the introduction the poet describes how he walked all the way to Balmoral to present his poem to the Queen but was sent packing by the gatekeeper. He really was a natural.

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