Very few afternoons in my life compare for joy with that on which, when I was about twenty years old, I discovered the poetry of William McGonagall, who is by common consent the worst poet in the English language, unlikely ever to be overtaken in the race to the bottom. Indeed, some have made the enlarged claim that he is the worst poet in any language, but this claim would seem to require linguistic abilities beyond even those of Sir Richard Burton. Suffice it to say that, where the English language is concerned, to open a volume of McGonagall on any page is sufficient to convince even the most exacting critic that the lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins, written in another context, are apposite to his verse: “No worst,/ There is none.”

It was a cloudless summer day, and I lay down on the grass with the tartan paper– covered volume printed in Dundee. I did not rise thereafter for between two and three hours and then had...


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