Hurrah! for the mighty monster whale
Update for Post für den Wolf:
In early December 1883, a large whale appeared in the estuary of the Tay and disported itself freely to the inhabitants of Dundee, swimming up and down the river. It was later identified as a male Humpback Whale (then Megaptera longimana, now Megaptera novaeangliae). Although worldwide in distribution, migrating between polar waters, it was rarely seen off British coasts, but was thought to have been attracted by the unusual presence that year of immense shoals of young herrings off the East Coast.
Dundee was then Britain’s premier whaling port, some 700 local seamen earning their livelihood in the summer season in hostile arctic waters, hunting the oily monsters.
Read the whole story about Professor John Struthers and his Zoology
at the University of Aberdeen.
Little remembers the illiterate world about William Topaz McGonagall (1830—1902), save the little page in the great anthology Very Bad Poetry, which cites him from giving a pub reading in his native city of Dundee, Scotland: “While […] giving a good recitation, it helps to arrest the company’s attention from the drink. […] Such was the case with me.” Discontented about the audience listening to Mr. McGonagall instead of drinking up, the landlord had a waiter throw a wet towel at the poet and so end the poetry reading. Another time, a publican seems to have thrown some peas at Mr. McGonagall. From this incident, a fine piece of the poet’s optimism — and lovable Scottish tone (so, when reading McGonagall’s works aloud, the use of rhotic r is recommended) — comes unto us: “The reason, I think for the publican throwing peas at me is because I say, to the devil with your glass in my song, ‘The Rattling Boy from Dublin,’ and he, no doubt considered it had a teetotal tendency about it, and, for that reason, he had felt angry, and had thrown the peas at me.”
Very Bad Poetry features its most, if not its most striking, samples by “naive” poet William McGonagall. Only half-ironically, the editors acclaim how “he had no ear for meter, a knack for choosing the most banal of subjects, and a tendency to stretch mightily for a rhyme” — and “drew great crowds to his readings, in spite of — or, more accurately, because of — his lack of talent,” born from his insight: “The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet.” (William McGonagall: Poetic Gems.)
In his poem The Famous Tay Whale, 1883, poetical naivity turns and melts into a sense for practical matters. According to William McGonagall: The Famous Tay Whale, (ending), from: Kathryn and Ross Petras (editors): Very Bad Poetry, Vintage Books, New York 1997:
And my opinion is that God sent the whale in time of need,
No matter what other people may think or what is their creed;
I know fishermen in general are often poor,
And God in his goodness sent it to drive poverty from their door.
So Mr. John Wood has bought it for two hundred and twenty-six pound,
And has brought it to Dundee all safe and all sound;
Which measures 40 feet in length from the snout to the tail,
So I advise the people far and near to see it without fail.
Then hurrah! for the mighty monster whale,
Which has got 17 feet 4 inches from tip to tip of a tail!
Which can be seen for a sixpence of a shilling,
That is to say, if the people are all willing.
Mind the musical version by Mátyás Seiber, 1958, for orchestra, foghorn, espresso coffee machine, and narrator.
Image: The dissection of the Tay Whale by John Struthers, wearing a top hat, in the left of the photograph, December 1883.