This Day in History – March 2nd, 1882

Maclean-Rod--Pte-LeckmelmFrom 1842 to 1882 there eight attempts to kill or assault Queen Victoria, the last being on March 2nd, 1882. Scottish poet Roderick McLean attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria at Windsor, England, with a pistol. His motive was purportedly a curt reply to some poetry that he had mailed to the Queen.

Tried for high treason on April 20th, 1882, McLean was found “not guilty, but insane” by a jury after five minutes’ deliberation, and he lived out his remaining days in Broadmoor Asylum. The verdict prompted the Queen to ask for a change in English law so that those implicated in cases with similar outcomes would be considered as “guilty, but insane.”

A poem was later written about McLean’s attempt on the Queen’s life by William Topaz McGonagall, considered by some the worst poet in the English language. He wrote about 200 poems, including his notorious “The Tay Bridge Disaster“, which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall’s skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today.

william-mcgonagallMcGonagall has been acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might generate dull, uninspiring verse. McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate. The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public.

“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.

There’s a divinity that hedges a king,

And so it does seem,

And my opinion is, it has hedged

Our most gracious Queen.

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.

She is noble and generous,

Her subjects must confess;

There hasn’t been her equal

Since the days of good Queen Bess.

Long may she be spared to roam

Among the bonnie Highland floral,

And spend many a happy day

In the palace of Balmoral.

Because she is very kind

To the old women there,

And allows them bread, tea, and sugar,

And each one get a share.

And when they know of her coming,

Their hearts feel overjoy’d,

Because, in general, she finds work

For men that’s unemploy’d.

And she also gives the gipsies money

While at Balmoral, I’ve been told,

And, mind ye, seldom silver,

But very often gold.

I hope God will protect her

By night and by day,

At home and abroad,

When she’s far away.

May He 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.

Flourish 3

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