Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 15:19 UK

'Worst poet' outsells boy wizard

McGonagall Poem
McGonagall would be pelted with food when he read his poems

A private collector has paid 6,600 for poems by the man ridiculed as "the world's worst poet".

A total of 35 of William McGonagall's works - many of them autographed - have been up for auction in Edinburgh.

The ditties by "The Tayside Tragedian" went for more than a collection of Harry Potter first editions signed by author JK Rowling.

McGonagall, who died in 1902, was often mocked and had food thrown at him during readings in Dundee.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1825, but spent much of his life in Dundee as a handloom weaver in the jute mills.

He did not start writing poems until he was 47, but went on to write about subjects including Scottish battles and Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

He also took pleasure in writing about death and catastrophe, and his most famous work was a poem about the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.

A section from it reads:

"So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay..."

Alex Dove, from auctioneers Lyon and Turnbull, said: "He was a confident gentleman who thought that his poetry was some of the best.

"He once walked all the way to Balmoral to try to become Poet Laureate. Unfortunately the Queen wasn't in.

"He spent a lot of time on the streets of Dundee trying to sell his poems and performing them, much to the amusement of the residents.

Because some people take offence with it and ridicule it, they fail to realise what McGonagall is trying to say, which is a narrative of all the events he saw
David Kett
Dundee Central Library

"Poet-baiting became quite an activity for the students of the time, where they would encourage him to perform, and then they would throw eggs and vegetables at him.

The new owner's bid for the poems was 5,500, but once commission is included they will have to fork out 6,600.

The Harry Potter books only brought in 6,000.

David Kett from the library service in Dundee believes much of the criticism McGonagall receives is unjustified.

"He's really popular because he promoted himself to an enormous extent and he produced this interesting and unique verse, which has resonated down the ages," he said.

"Because some people take offence with it and ridicule it, they fail to realise what McGonagall is trying to say, which is a narrative of all the events he saw.

"It's bad in parts, but there are parts of the poetry where he does achieve a certain extent of lyricism, describing one of the country parks he mentions 'the bees buzzing in the lyme trees' - really conjures up the image."

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