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Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Dalrymple wrote an interesting column this week about William McGonagall, who is apparently known as the "worst poet in the English language." I've never heard of him, but it seems he was quite delusional in his self-estimation, comparing himself to Shakespeare even. The article costs $3 to read in its entirety, but it is a well-spent $3 in my opinion. Here's a small snippet:
No matter how much ridicule or even physical abuse McGonagall suffered from his audiences, he never lost faith in himself and always found an explanation for it that allowed him to preserve his self-respect. (On one occasion, ill-treatment stimulated his muse there and then: “Gentlemen, if you please,/ Stop throwing peas.”) It was this psychological armor-plating that limited the effects of the cruelty of his audiences, but it was cruelty, and gross cruelty, nonetheless. There is nothing, after all, to suggest that McGonagall was other than harmless and even kindly. It was a nineteenth-century equivalent of paying to see the lunatics in Bedlam, and now, when I laugh so heartily at McGonagall’s verses, I feel that I am participating in this unfeeling cruelty. Even if the deluded are happy, you do not laugh at their delusions, for there is something intrinsically pitiable about the quality of being deluded.

A world that did not laugh at his verse, however, or refused to enjoy itself with them out of supersensitivity to his memory would be a horrible world too. Only a man with a heart of stone, said Oscar Wilde, could read the death of Little Nell without laughing; only someone with the most frightening self-control could read the following lines, from “The Wreck of the Whaler ‘Oscar,’” with a straight face, or wish them expunged altogether from the human record: “’Twas on the 1st of April, and in the year Eighteen thirteen/ That the whaler ‘Oscar’ was wrecked not far from Aberdeen.” So on the one hand cruelty, and on the other the human necessity to laugh: an irresolvable antinomy of almost Kantian proportions.


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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

Darius Teichroew's favorite books »