McGonagall was reputed to have said many things. Most of the following quotes are directly from either his own writings or from reliable sources, such as contemporary newspapers. I think they help to give us a sense of the wonderful eccentricity of this character.



And if I ever return to Dundee again

I hope it will be with the laurels of fame

Placed upon my brow by Dame Fortune, that fickle Jade




“What is Genius?

'Tis a thing seldom rewarded

If you are in poverty

'Tis sure to be disregarded.

But if you are a rich man,

Your company is courted

By the high and the low,

Throughout the world wherever you go.

Whereas the poor man

By his fellow-workmen is spurn'd;

They look upon him with a jealous eye,

And their noses upturn'd.

And they say to themselves,

You are no better than we. . . . “


--from What is Genius? (previously unpublished)


                                    “I can get no remuneration for the labours of my brain.”


“A prophet has no home in the city of his persecution.”


“I was hard up for money at the time, and being rather at a loss how to get a little of that filthy lucre, as some people term it. But, my dear readers, I never considered it to be either filthy or bad. Money is most certainly the most useful commodity in society that I know of. It is certainly good when not abused; but, if abused, the fault rests with the abuser---the money is good never the less. For my own part, I have always found it to be one of my best friends.”


“I am not a strolling mountebank that would do the like in the open air for a few coppers. Take me into one of the rooms in the

Lodge, and pay me for it, and I will give you a recital, and upon no consideration will I consent to do it in the open air.”



“The only man I ever knew who could come up to me in versatility was Edmund Kean; he could tell a story, he could sing a comic song, and declaim a tragedy."


Interviewer: Did you never think of writing a tragedy with yourself as the hero?

“No, but I have all the tragic feelings within me.”


Parties desirous of being taught elocution may be waited on at their own Residences by WM M’Gonagall; Fees Moderate.

      --from McGonagall’s business card


Lovers of Shakespeare, in one word, the works of the Great Interpreter of the human heart, are universal. He has drawn out his characters as natural as life; he found the stage in a rude state—coarse as brick—and he left it as marble.

                              --from “Shakespear Reviewed” by McGonagall





McGonagall drew the attention of many journalists and writers who wrote some fascinating things about him: appalling portrait, a fish-belly face, as if of something half-human struggling out of the aboriginal slime. All the incurable illiteracy, the inaccessibility to the least enlightenment, and the unquenchable hope of the man are to be seen in the eyes. It is, indeed, a face to make one despair of humanity.  

-- Hugh MacDiarmid Describing McGonagall’s photograph in Scottish Eccentrics


Among the male members was one who often attracted my attention. He had such a grim and ghastly look about him that I was impressed with the idea that he looked upon acting as a rather grave and important occupation. He had likewise such an air of sorrow and melancholy about him that one could not help thinking there was some cankering care or secret sorrow gnawing away his peace of mind. And yet at times, if you watched him narrowly you could observe that when any of the leading members of the company got hissed for not playing their parts well a Mephistolian gleam of pleasure would flit across his countenance, which would afterwards change into a settled and conceited expression as much as to say, If I only had the opportunity of playing those parts...I would soon show you how they should be acted.

                                    --Old Stager, from The People’s Journal (1872)



He was a strange, weird, drab figure, and suggested more than anything else a broken down actor. He wore his hair long and sheltered it with a wide rimmed hat. Slow of movement, with a slight stoop, acquired at that hand-loom formerly, but latterly at the desk, when he left off weaving cloth to take up the more congenial task of weaving  dreams, leaning as he walked on a stout stick, he moved about the streets, from shop to shop, from office to office, and from house to house in the residential parts of the town, vending his broadsides. 

                                          --Lowden McCartney from an introduction to a posthumous edition of McGonagall’s Poetic Gems


The Bard of Dundee held the stage alone. He was an old man, but, with his athletic though slightly stooping figure and his dark hair, he did not look more than forty-five; and he appeared to have been shaved the night before. He wore a Highland dress of Rob Roy tartan--and boy's size. After reciting some of his own poems, to an accompaniment of whistles and catcalls, the Bard armed himself with a most dangerous-looking broadsword, and strode up and down the platform, declaiming "Give me another horse!-Bind up my wounds!"  His voice rose to a howl. He thrust and slashed at imaginary foes.  A shower of apples and oranges fell on the platform. Almost before they touched it, they were met by the fell edge of Mcgonagall’s claymore and cut  to pieces. The Bard was beaded with perspiration and orange juice. The audience yelled with delight; Mcgonagall yelled louder still, with a fury which I fancy was not wholly feigned. It was like a squalid travesty of the wildest scenes of Don Quixote and Orlando Furioso. I left the hall early, saddened and disgusted. The mental condition of the Melancholy Dane, Hamlet, was not more debatable than that of Mcgonagall .

                                          --William Power, from My Scotland


It must be 40 years since he used to hawk his "poems" through the places of business here [in Edinburgh]. . . . So long as you bought you were at liberty to humour him to the top of his bent. We young fellows used to pretend to take his poems seriously, and, after buying, he would "let himself go" for our benefit. . . .

                                                                                    --letter to editor from Newspaper Clippings in Edinburgh Library