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Ait VBm. ik. eiOutt 





A Study in Modern Satire 





ISAAC GOLDBERG, A. M, Ph. D. (Harp.) 

J ' J 

''But it's a topscy-turyey world, ain't it?" 

— Gilbert's "Charity", Act IL 




I ■ 


Copyright, MCMXIII (All Rights ReMrved) 







Th« .sole purpose of tbe present little book to to lead 
the reader to a more intimate acquaintance with the 
works of Sir William S. Oilbert—plays for the most 
part easily readable, thoroughly enjoyable, wholesomely 
and fearlessly satiric^ I have thought to serve this pur- 
pose best by arranging plays not in chronological order, 
but according as they are written in prose, verse, or 
comic opera form. For the sake of greater lucidity I 
have incorporated the non-musical material into Part I, 
leaving the operas and considerations arising therefrom 

> to the latter half of the Essay, Part II. The important 

^ thing has been to extract the satire, not merely to give 

"S plots. 

The majority of Gilbert's works are easily obtainable; 

f there are here included all that have appeared in the 

edition of Chatto and Windus (four series), London. 
The edition might well be issued from new plates and 
undergo some attempt at editing. Where dates are giv- 
en, they are from the edition mentioned, or from the 
partial list printed in a note to Percy Fitzgerald's most 

I entertaining work, "The 3avoy Opera", to which much 

reference will be made in the following pages. 

If I may be permitted to anticipate a few words of 

the opening chapter, the object here is not to "place" 

' Gilbert in literature; such an attempt at such a time 

were premature. To the reader who has delved in the 

' classic humorists more than one touch of Plautus and 

I Moliere will be disoemable. Sheridan, Swift, Thackeray 

^ will naturally suggest themselves as standards by 


which to classify. Even the redoubtable George Bern- 
ard Shaw exhibits the effects of Gilbert So does 
Kipling, in his "Departmental Ditties*', show the effect 
of the "Bab Ballads'** 

In regard to the "topsey-tnryey'' theories of Gilbert, 
it is instructive to repeat a casual reference (in Edgar 
Inters '^Komische Oper") to a similar theory entertained 
by the erratic romancer and composer, E. T. A. Hoff- 
man. The latter, in an essay entitled "The Poet and 
the Composer", seems to ipostnlate for Comic Opera 
that very mixture of romantic impossibility with every 
day life which is so helpful in creating the "topsey-tur- 
vey" atmdsphere. From what we know of Hoffman's 
character and his peculiar gifts, it is entirely possiible 
that he foresaw such opera as we now call "Gilbertian". 
The German writer (who, it mie^t incidentally be added, 
is the hero of Offenbach's "Tales of HofCman") must 
rightly come into some share of the honors, although it 
is not probable that he influenced Gilbert 

If the essay here presented meets with the success 
which Gilbert certainly deserves, the author has in view 
the publication of a book to be called "Gilbert and Sul- 
livan", in which the comic operas will be analyzed both 
from the literary and musical standpoint. 

It would be but simple gratitude to mention here the 
pleasant obligations incurred during the preparation of 
this little effort, were they less numerous. I cannot 
omit, however, the aid of Mr. Frank L Commanday ih 
the mechanical make-up of the book; nor can I fail to 
acknowledge the invaluable influence of my parents 
from whom I first imbibed the love of Gilbert and Sul- 
livan. Lastly, but by no means leastly, I desire to reg- 
ister my thanks to Professors J. D. M. Ford and C. H. 
Grandgent of Harvard University, for that encourage- 
ment which comes not from words but rather radiates 
from personality. L G. 


Chapter I — ^Introductory — ^The Comio Stage 1>efore GU* 
bert— '*Bab Ballads" — CharacteristioB of RhTme and 
Rh3rthm--nie Fairy Blement in Gilbert— His Re- 
forms and purpose n 

Chapter II — Gilbert's Prose Plays — Comedy, Melodrama 
and Faroe — Gilbert's Prose 29 

Chapter III— Gilbert's Vene PUyt— An a Vcnc Writer 55 

9art Wm 

Chapter IV— The Famous Gilbert-Sullivan Operas— The 
Savoy Theatre — Other Libretti— Satire as an Ingre- 
dient of Comic Opera g3 

Chapter V — Gilbert and Sullivan— Contemporary Comio 
Opersr— Conclusion 142 

$art i^ne 


On page 21 the first full paragraph should read: •'Pa- 
tience ' ' was evolved from * ' The Rival Curates. ' ' Gilbert, 
not wishing unduly to offend the dergy, took advantage of 
the contemporary SBsthetic craze to use it as a background 
for his operetta. 

On page 109 Irving is by an oversight wrongly referred to 
as an early Koko in the "Mikado.'' 

21 i^ttibp in iHobern i^attre 


Introductory — ^The Comic Stage Before Qllbert — 
"Bab Ballads" — Character istlca of' Rhyme and 
Rhythm — ^The Fairy Element In Gilbert — His Re- 
forms and His Purpose — 

The general tendency of students end laymen 
alike to assign to those who move us to laughter 
a comparatively inferior rank is, perhaps, based on 
the assumption that there is nothing of serious con- 
sequence about laughter. We remember those who 
make us weep; the mirth-maker vanishes with the 
laugh. And yet, if only from the difficulty of 
causing intelligent laughter, and the personal genius 
required in such a task, we should not be too readi- 
ly inclined to dismiss the laugh-maker from seri- 
ous observation. 

Perhaps Nature itself has led us astray in this re- 




gard. There is sometbing so inherently permanent 
about sorrow, something so inherently evanescent 
about gladness; the facial manifestations of either 
cause a wrinkling of the features, yet it is the 
wrinkle of sottow that remains. F^ makes a 
deeper impression than pleasure, and is longer re- 
membered. Tears belong to joy as well as to grief. 
The new-bom babe is ushered into the world with 
its own wailing; it is a matter of weeks before it 
learns to smile. In the same glad laughter with 
which the bride greets the first embrace of her lover 
are mingled tears at departing from the parental 

If, then, our very natures have foredoomed us 
to deeper susceptibility to painful impressions, we 
fijhould be all the more grateful to thos« ^ho have 
roused our mirth. It is but a sombre ennoblement 
of the soul that Tragedy can effect unless we temper 
our natures with the compensations of Comedy. 

The difficulty of perpetuating laugihter becomes 
all the more evident when we recall that Franco 
has but one Moliere, Spain but a single Cervantes. 
It has taken America some three centuries to pro- 
duce Mark Twain. 

But it is not with these th*at Gilbert claims affinity. 
England's comic vein runs to the satirical, and al- 
ready our author has been classed with Thackeray 
and Swift. Certain it is that he lacks Swift's viru- 
lence (by no means essential to satire) and that he 
resembles the 'author of ''Vanity Fair" in his powers 



of wit. It is too early to attempt a placing of 
Gilbert. After all, it is the ofSice of critidsm rather 
to essay intelligent appreciation than to affect the 
foresight of assigning rank. 

The faculty of laughter was held by Aristotle to 
be a distinguishing trait between mian and beast. 
One might well go further and discern in the dif- 
ferent kinds of human laughter the relative degree 
of refinement in the individual. Modem psycho- 
logists have^ indeed, long discriminated between the 
various kinds of human laughter, particularly as 
regards the source of the comic impulse. Leaving 
the search for first causes to the scientists, we tm*n 
to that which, to us, is the most important of laugh- 
ter's effects: its powerful function as a social cor- 
rective. To say of Comedy that it uses laughter to 
correct manners is rather too narrow; such a defini- 
tion is more suited to that division of the Comic to 
which Gilbert gave his greatest efforts — Satire. 

Wit and Humor, the chief ammunition in Gil- 
bert's satirical battery, may be variously distin- 
guished. Wit' operates in flashes of repartee, quipsi 
and quirks, conceits, unexpected turns, brilUant sal- 
lies, puns; humor is independent of wordplay and 
is broader. Wit brightens detail, himior character- 
izes the ensemble; wit illumines, humor pervades; 
the essence of wit is point, the essence of- humor 
is incongruity. Thus, while the dialogue of a play 
may be highly witty, the action may be just as in- 
tensely humorous. 



Wit alone, moreover, cannot sustain a true 
comedy, and it is significant that Gilbert is at his 
best in farce and comic opera, both of them genres 
which depend so much upon brilliancy of detail. 
It should not on this account be inferred that he 
lacks structural power. On the contrary, it is this 
very grasp of form which infuses his Ubretti, es- 
pecially, with a vitality that will long outlive rivalry. 

Gilbert's comic spirit, then, is not so much a 
mood as it is a point of view. His world may well 
be called, from a favorite phrase of his own, "topsey- 
turveydom.*" He excels iq twisting normal at- 
titudes to an unfamiliar angle that reveals what be- 
fore had been hidden. His wit works upon com- 
mon material as the sun upon a prism: what was 
but colorless glass scintillates, under his warming 
touch, into a wealth of bright hues. Punning, that 
weakest of resources, plays no mean part in his 
work, yet rarely oflfends; in fact, he is most liable 
to err on the side of whimsical conceits which are 
in themselves so tenuous (so intellectual, one might 
say) as hardly to endure the atmosphere of the 

With characteristic modesty, the author himself 
denied his right to the adjective "Gilbertian" ; yet 

♦The etymology of this oft-recurring word may 
be of interest to some. It comes from the old 
expression "top side t' other way", leading 
(through phonetic process) to "topsey-turvey", 
also spelled without the e's. 



so individual are his methods, so inimitable his 
technique, that the word, despite Gilbert, has al- 
ready gained currency. To call a comic opera today 
^^Gilbertian" is to bestow highest praise; more's the 
pity that so few deserve it. The topsey-turvey situa- 
tion, where ordinary points of view are reversed and 
carried out to their logical conclusion, — ^the auto- 
biographic song, — ^the dexterously rhymed, trickily 
rhythmed, breathless patter song, — ^the self-centred 
seriousness of the comic personages (all of which 
will come into their due share of consideration in 
the following pages) are among the elements that 
enter into the composition of the word "Gilbertian". 
To define the term adequately, however, would re- 
quire a little volume in itself; in fact, the present 
work may well be taken as such a definition. 

Gilbert's service to the English comic stage may 
best be appreciated by a review of what had pre- 
ceded his work. Parlor entertainers had a practical 
monopoly of the amusement enterprise. In addi- 
tion to these, who often developed great skill and lat- 
er contributed to the ranks of the Savoy Theatre's 
comic staff, the stage harbored the most anemic bur- 
lesques. The theatre-goer listened to the dullest of 
topical songs with the silliest refrains im-aginable. 
Think of a chorus like the following being applaud- 
ed, encored "six times" nightly : 

Take that bauble away. 

Sell it, change it or spout it 
But here It shall no longer stay — 

No more bones, if you please, about it. 




Yet this ifi the type of drivel which, according to 
Fitzgerald, held forth in the good old days. 

As for the burlesques, one may easily guess the 
state of their refinement when we are told that the 
chief male character was usually taken by a woman, 
supposed to be the prince, as the stereotyped pat- 
tern then went. ''The duenna, or termagant mat* 
ron was played by the low comedian". Such was 
the condition of the stage when Gilbert appeared. 
Any element of refined taste was sadly at a dis- 
count, although, naturally, germs of social satire 
would creep out now and then. Nor did Gilbert 
himself strike out far from the beaten path, for his 
first work, "Dulcamara", was a burlesque. He was 
nevertheless, by the very nature of his personal 
gifts, foreordained to raise the tone of the contemp- 
orary comic stage. Indeed, we see from a letter 
which he addreased to Mr. Fitzgerald (author of 
the book already referred to) that it was his express 
intention to raise the public taste. This was at the 
time of his next attempt, a parody on "Robert the 
Devil". His special aptitude, however, first appears 
in "La Vivandiere" (1868), where his satire versus 
the English reveals the true latent powers of the 

The atmosphere of the comic opera is present in 
almost every piece that came from Gilbert's pen. 
Whether in his prose plays or even in his initial 
efforts — ^the "Bab Ballads" — one discerns almost im- 
mediately that special sense of punning perspicuity, 






brilliant repartee, inverted relations and impossible 
''fairy'^ dharaoter that forms so great a part of his 
comic operas, for Which, of all his works, he is so 
justly famous. 

The ''Bab Ballads", a collection of witty, whim- 
sical rhymes commenced in "Fun", in 1861, fore- 
cast much of Gilbert's later rhythmical and rhym- 
ing spunk. Here, for the first time, we are intro- 
duced to the kingdom of "topsey-turvey" over which 
Gilbert for so long a time ruled. In the Ballad 
entitled ''My Dream" occurs a detailed account of 
the now famous realms "where babies much to their 
surprise, are bom astonishingly wise". We have 
here what is really the basic principle of Gilbert's 
comic outlook: 

Th<e other night, from cares exempt, 
I slept—and what d'you think I dreamt? 
I dreamt that somehow I had come 
To dwell in Topsey — Turveydom! — 

Where vice is virtue — ^virtue, vice: 
Where nice is nasty — ^nasty, nice: 
Where right is wrong and wrong is right — 
Where white is black and black is white. 

For that which we call folly here 
Is wisdom in that favored sphere; 
The wisdom we so highly prize 
Is blatant folly in their eyes. 

Policemen march all folks away 
Who practise virtue every day — 




Of coarse, I mean to say» you know, 
Wliat we call virtue here below. 

For only scoundrels dare to do 
What we consider Just and true. 
And only good men do, in tAct, 
What we should think a dirty act 

But strangest of these social twirls. 
The girls are boys-^the boys are girls! 
The men are women, too — (but then. 
Per contra, women are all men. 


How strange," said I to one I saw, 

Tou quite upset our every law. 
However can you get along 
So systematically wrong?" 

"Dear me," my mad informant said, 
"Have you no eyes within your head? 
Tou sneer when you your head should doit: 
Why, we begin where you leave off! 

"Your wisest men are very far 
Liess learned than our babies are." 
I muaed a while — and then, oh me! 
I framed this brilliant repartee: 

"Although your babes are wiser far 
Than our most valued sages are. 
Your sages, with their toys and cots. 
Are duller than our idiots!" 

But this remark, I grieve to state. 
Came Just a little bit too late; 




For as I framed it in my head, 
I woke and found myself in bed. 

Still I could wisli that, 'stead of here, 
My lot were In that favored sphere! — 
Where greatest fools bear off the bell 
I ought to do extremely well. 

As we shall see, Gilbert did remain, figuratively 
speaking, in the land tiiat this dream had brought 
to him. The Ballads, founded for the most pari 
upon situations of the most delightful impossibility, 
sprinkled here and there with a moral spice, tho- 
roughly pervaded with the logic of "topsey-turvey- 
dom", afford an excellent example of that nonsense 
which, now and then, is relished by the best of 
men. As has been hinted, the germs of much of 
the author's later work make their first appearance 

"Pinafore", for instance, that breezy satire on the 
English navy which earned Queen Victoria's dis- 
pleasure, owes its origin clearly to several of the 
Ballads. In "Captain Reece", commander of the 
good ship Mantelpiece, we meet the prototype of 
Admiral Porter, with his embarrassing multitude of 
female relatives. In "Ge neral John" we find the 
motif of inverted relationships that provides the 
denouement of the (^era. Says Private James to 
the General: 

"A glimmering thought occurs to me, 
(Its source I can't unearth) 



But Fve a kind of notion we 
Were cruelly changed at birth." 

Lovers of "II Trovatore" immediately recall a aim* 
ikr tragedy. This is a favorite device of the 
author's, and is used in several other of his works. 
In the "Bumhoat Woman's Story" we first come 
upon Little Buttercup, whose waltz had a vogue fat 
exceeding the ill-merited popularity of the "Merry 
Widow" time. 

In "The Yarn of the Nancy Bell", a sailor, who 
recalls the Ancient Mariner with his eerie tone, 
foreshadows the multiple official personality of Pooh 
Bah in the "Mikado". Sings the sailor: 

''Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold 
And the mate of the Nancy brig, 

And a bo'tnin tight and a midsbipmite 
And the crew of the captain's gig." 

This queer anomaly is explained in characteristic 
Gilbertian fashion; for the sailor has belonged to 
an unfortunate expedition in which the hardship 
came to such a pass that cannibalism was resorted 
to by the crew. Each has swallowed the other un- 
til he of the song has eaten the remaining one I 
Containing, as he does, all the others, he is indeed 
all of them, as he sings! The name Pooh Bali 
itself, long become a synonym for grasping sham- 
statesmen, comes from the Ballad euphoniously en- 
titled "King Borria Bungalee Boo". Among the 
subjects of this potenate with the alliterative cap- 



tion we find not only a Pooh Bah, but also Piah 
Tuah — another in the "Mikado". 

Mr. Fitzgerald would see in the "Rival Curates" 
the genesis of "Patience". This may well be, as the 
aesthetic antithesis represented in the rivals' struggle 
for supremacy is somewhat analogous to the poetic 
rivalry between Bunthome and Orosvenor amidst 
the "twenty lovesick maidens". 

Careful reading of the Ballads as a whole will 
reveal their absolute importance to a full understand- 
ing of Gilbert's work, especially his operas. Germs 
of later situations occur repeatedly, and serve to 
indicate the expansive power of the author's econo- 
mical methods. 

Delightfully characteristic, too, is the "Discon- 
tented Broker", who, despite his terpsichorean ef- 
forts to rid himself of an ever increasing paunch, 
dances himself into a spherical mass of flesh. "The 
Precocious Baby" is a Whimsical warning to infant 
prodigies lest they study themselves into doddering 
senility at the age of five ! As evidence of his early 
addiction to pimning, a quatrain from "The Cunn- 
ing Woman" is indicative: 

No stock exchange disturbed the lad 

With oYerwhelming shocks — 
Bill ploughed with all the shares he had, 

Jane planted all her stocks. 

"The Fairy Curate" is a most clever adaptation of 
the fairy realms to Gilbert's special abilities, and 
incidentally furnishes the starting point of "lo- 





lanthe". Regulation satire against the clergy is not 
missing in the "Ballads", and particularly effective 
are "The Phantom Curate" and "The Bishop and 
the Busman". Not even the theatre is spared, as 
is so well E^own by the tale of Micah Sowls, who, 
upon being urged to go to Drury Lane by hia 
bishop, found the famous playhouse an even duller 
place than his soporific parsonage. Definite the fact 
that the worthy reverend had gone to the play with 
the secret anticipation of one who had heretofore 
considered it the height of wordliness 

He slept away until 

The farce that closed the bill 

Had warned him not to stay. 

And then he went away. 
"I thought," said he, "I was a dreary thing 
I thought my voice quite destitute of ring, 
I thought my ranting . could distract the brain, 
But oh! I hadn't been to Drury Lane. 

"Forgive me, Drury Lane, 

Thou penitential fane, 

VHiere sinners should be cast 

To mourn their wicked past!" 

And so on, through a wide range of satirical shafts. 
All that is lacking to comic opera, in many cases, 
is a broadening of the action and the oomplemaat 
of music. 

In view of an intellect like Gilbert's, so wholly 
given to amiable perversity of conception, to whole- 
some absurdities, to topsey-turvey in general, it was 
but natural that he should embrace the ''fairy" play, 



which, too, appears in germ in the ''BalladB" which 
we have just left 

There is thus something more than mere caprice 
in Gilbert's persistent use of the fairy element 
throughout his work. Gratifying as it is to the 
human desire to let the fancy wander in magic 
realms, this elem^it contains a fundamental com- 
patability with Gilbert's talents and the purpose to 
which he devoted them. Under the spell of the 
wand we are less prone to criticize incongruity ; nay, 
we are led to expect the improbable, which, so to 
speak, acqilires tihereby a logic all its own. The 
satirist is thus enabled to introduce special situa- 
tions without offending the sense of probability. 

That the author was alive to the essential incon- 
gruity of the fairy play is further shown in the 
farcical denouement of "Foggerty's Fairy", where 
Foggerty actually "proves" to the fairy in question, 
by a most laughable perversion of logic, that she 
has not even existed so far as he is concerned. To 
make the point more effective, he uses as his main 
assumption the very condition which die had laid 
down to him as a guarantee of her protection. Only 
a reading of the original can bring out the full 
scope of the witty involutions. Excellent use of the 
magic element is made in "Creatures of Impulse", 
"The Palace of Truth", "The Wicked World", 
"Pygmaleon and Galatea", "Broken Hearts", and 
"liie Gentleman in Black", not to mention several 
of the comic operaa. 



Gilbert wrote with a twofold purpose. He aimed 
first of ally to write effective social satire; secondly, 
to lead the public away from its vulgar notions of 
what constituted comic material. He has little use 
for the empty laugh. Far from turning his stage 
into a pulpit, he is, at his best, equally distant from 
the cheap appeal to the sense of horse-play. He 
maintains a spirited independence. For he himself 
has written it ("And it's greatly to his creditP') 

"At peer or prince, at prince or peer, 
I aim my shaft and know no fear." 

And then again, in the same opera ("Yeomen of the 
Guard"), as if to temper the defiant spirit of the 
previous couplet, 

"When they're offered to the world in merry guise, 
Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will — 

For he who'd make his fellow creatures wise 
Should always gild the philosophic pill!" 

He will not permit his audience to look down upon 
the laugh maker as a mere hireling mummer. 
Sings Bartolo, in "The Mountebanks": 

Though I'm a buffoon, recollect, 
I command your respect! 

I cannot for money 

Be vulgarly funny. 
My object's to make you reflect! 




Other downg make yoa laugh till you sink 
When they tip you a wink; 

With attitude antic 

They render you frantic; 
I don't I compel you to think! 

A little bald, perhaps, but not when we remember 
the genre. He detests shams of all kinds. Against 
the soulless spotlessness of obtrusive Puritanism 
he has given us in the Prologue to the ''Wicked 
World", four lines worthy of Pope at his best: 

As perfect silence, undisturhed for years 
Will hreed at length a humming in the ears. 
So from their very purity within 
Arise the promptings of their only ein. 

That only sin, — ^an overweening sense of righteous- 
ness — ^Gilbert continually combats. Not only the 
immaculate arrogance of the ''holier than thou" at- 
titude does he satirize, but also the petty foibles of 
prominent social figures whose rank might have 
been thought to render them immune. 

The lawyer, the soldier, (here the writer draws 
upon personal experiences in both professions) the 
naval official, creatures of pomp and circumstance, 
are all proper targets for his verbal arrows ; similar 
types abound in his libretti. Of his tribe are the 
philisophical pirate who sees in his occupation, when 
compared to modem cultivated society, a highly 
respectable pursuit; the tearful peasant whose only 
isource of income is train-wrecking; the demure 
young miss who is thoroughly, yet modestly, alive 



to her attractive powers; all of them, in their way, 
perfectly serious individuals. Gilbert delights in 
piercing the thin armor of hypocritical devotion^o 
"^^^is^'i in revealing true motives and false aSectiou. 
Another source of his satirical gaiety is to point oui 
the good in menials and the intrinsic uselessness of 
their "superiors". (See the Ballad "Phrenology '\) 
There is, indeed, in him, something of Mark 
Twain's attitude when the American wrote that he 
always felt somewhat inclined to side a bit with 
Satan, since nobody had ever uttered a word in 
favor of that much abused personage. The English- 
man, however, is hardly the devil's advocate. Some- 
thing, too, of Twain's outlook upon humanity per- 
vades Gilbert's writings. Such a book as the 
"Prince and the Pauper", with ite inverted relation- 
ships and "topsey-turveydom" used as a powerful 
moral agent, is purely Gilbertian in spirit, widely 
though it differ in execution. There can scarcely 
be a basis for any essential similarity in the methods 
of the two writers, however. 

Gilbert's reform of the comic stage is built upon 
a principle which was not entirely new to the Eng- 
lish mind. Lewis Carrol, author of the famous 
"Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking 
Glass", had already preceded him. Whereas the 
previous conception of fun had been built on the 
foundation of burlesque— the distortion of the natur- 
al, the rendering of exalted objects in a grotesque 
mimicry, — ^the new idea was more related to the 




mock-heroic— the in conipniity of petty figores^ en- 
flage d in dignified pu rsuits. As Fitzgerald puts it, 
Carrol and Gilbert tried to ''fashion an eccentnc, 
super-earthly story into shape, and deal with it co- 
herently and logically, so as to compel our sympa- 

Theory is one thing; practise ,>another. It is 
doubtful if any other than Gilbert, with his special 
gifts, could actually have educated the public up 
to his standard. The best proof of this is that now 
his voice is forever stilled, and the stage is fast re- 
turning to its former inanities. 

Gilbert was fond of characterizing his works as 
being new and ''entirely original". This claim is 
far from being an idle boast, especiaUy when we 
take into account his own definition of the word. 
"It has generally been held, I believe", he writes, 
in a prefatory notice to the first volume of his print- 
ed plays, "that if a dramatist uses the mere outline 
of an existing story for dramatic purposes, he is at 
liberty to describe his play as 'original' ". This is 
a point hardly worth insisting upon, in view of the 
methods of Shakespeare himself. 

Summarizing, then, we find in Gilbert the wedd- 
ing of a comic outlook to an unobtrusively moral 
purpose, thus begetting a wholesome satirist. This, 
combined with his special point of view and his 
particular gifts, seems to have made him preeminent- 
ly suited to the comic opera, a form upon which, as 
we shall see later in detail, he has left his impress 


m ■ 



for all time. A skilful manipulator of both plot 
and situation, he is less oonoemed with character 
delineation than with character exploitation for 
comic effect. Throughout it all shines a manly 
courage— not the cowardly optimism that would be- 
lieve all things well because it fears to combat the 
ill, but the virile optimism that sees the ill and is 
determined to laugh it out of society. 

We now turn to the works themselves, and to a 
consideration of his prose, his verse and general 
technical efficiency. 




Gilbert's proM plays— Comedy, Melodrama and 
Farce — Qllberfe prose. 

The first play which we have to consider, though 
called by its author a comedy, is really the most 
blood-tingling of melodramiBS, weak in conceptiou 
and generally inefficient in execution. The play 
is valuable not for itself, but as indicating im- 
mediately the author's ideas on important questions, 
and demonstrating his temperamental ineptitude for 
Hie genre. 

"Randall's Thumb" (1871) recounts the machi- 
nations of a young adventurer by the name of 
Bandall, who, because of certain "proofs" of man- 
slaughter agamst his associate Buckstone, uses the 
latter by compulsion to establish Randall's right to 
a fortime that has been left by an aged woman, sup- 
posedly Randall's wife. The said woman has left 
her money to her niece, and in order the better to 
foimd his claims, Randall's purpose is to worm out 



of the niece previous data concerning her deceased 
aunt. This niece, Edith, Buckstone is to ^sound", 
reporting his results to Bandall, under whose thumb 
he is. To Buckstone's consternation, he discovers 
in Edith a former sweetheart of his, and their meet- 
ing serves to renew the old flames. Buckstone, 
conscious of his own innocence in the murder case 
(of which Randall holds the melodramatic ^'proofs'^ 
threatening his ally with exposure when he balks 
at the espionage imposed upon him) repudiates the 
villainous Randall, strengthened with the power of 
Edith's love. In a most cheaply stagey set of scenes 
it turns out that Randall did not really marry 
Edith's aunt, — ^that he had "cooked" up his evidence 
of such a marriage, — ^that Buckstone is really no 
murderer, — ^that the man who saves Buckstone from 
unjust persecution has been in love with Edith all 
the time. The happiness of the reunited couple, 
Buckstone and Edith, and Randall's complete 
humiliation bring the "comedy" to a close. 

Even so scanty an outline were superfluous, were 
it not to indicate a side of Gilbert of which his ad- 
mirers generally are ignorant. He allows his char- 
acters to tell half the plot rather than act it, using 
them meanwhile as mouthpieces for his opinions. 
Because he wishes to take a fling at the courts, he 
introduces the following conversation at a time when 
the speakers are in anything but a jocular mood : 

Buck. You know I am innocent of any crime. 
Rand. Stop. What do you underatand by tke 





word "erime"? 

Buck. An offease against the law. 

Rand. Childish! A crime is that unfortunate 
comhination of circnmstancea which in- 
duces a jury to return a verdict of guilty. 

All of which may be acceptable in itself, but la- 
mentably out of place here. Again, Edith voices 
a most laudable opinion, which Gilbert later works 
up in two plays of widely differing merit : 

"Who am I, Reginald", she asks» when Buck&tone 
protests his unworthiness of her, in true lover 
fashion, "that I should set myself up as a Judge 
of your conduct? I have been so hedged about 
from the very approach of temptation, that I can 
only guess at the meaning of the word. I have 
been Jealously guarded through life by strong, 
and wise, and loving counsellors. I have never 
had one wish thwarted. I have revelled in the 
happiest life that this world can bestow, and 
shall I sit in Judgment upon you who have been 
left from boyhood to your own courses — turned 
adrift into the world without friends, without 
counsel and without example — to fight the world 
unadvised, unaided, and alone? 

This is the very theme of "The Wicked World" 
and "Charity". It throws light equally on his lack 
of restraint and on his passion for social justice. 

In "Creatures of Impulse", a musical fairy tale 
(1871) we come to an atmosphere more native to 
our author — ^the first of his delightful fairy plays. 
One thinks of the legends we used to read in An- 



A mysterious old woman dwells in an inkeeper's 
place, refusing to pay, refusing to eat, refusing to 
leave. No tactics are of avail in getting her to 
abandon her post When finally the puzzled land- 
lord induces several of his friends to attempt the 
hitherto impossible feat, it turns out that the old 
woman is really a fairy, and the punishment that she 
metes out to the various deceivers who try to lure 
her forth set them in a most embarrassing series of 
antics. Poor yoimg Peter is forced to go around 
inviting everybody to fight with him; Pipette, the 
pert little maid, must needs go her way begging 
all to kiss her — she who was ever as bashful as 
propriety would wish. The doughty sergeant, fear- 
less as a lion-himter, becomes the incarnation of 
timidity; the village miser actually begs to be re- 
lieved of his precious savings. 

The wide popularity of the little piece is doubt- 
less due to the incidental horse-play, as well as to 
the whimsical rigor of the punishments. To the 
student it represents the initial effort of Gilbert's 
to be coupled with the "topeey-turvey" element upon 
the stage. 

"Sweethearts" (1874) is well named by the author 
an original dramatic contrast. The basic idea, 
rather too much in evidence, is yet readily accepted 
through the genial cleverness with which the plot 
is handled. 

Jenny, a yoimg coquette, refuses the advances of 
Harry Spreadbrow. Although she truly loves him, 



not even the news that he is about to embark for 
India can succeed in softening her attitude; not 
until he has disappeared from the garden, after a 
most heart-rending scene (not unmixed with 
humor) does Jenny break down and give vent to 
violent sobbing. 

Thirty years pass. Jenny, still unmarried, sits 
in the selfsame garden conversing with her maid. 
Time has softened all. A sycamore which the youth- 
ful lovers had planted in the previous act is now 
grown into a large tree; the Virginia creepers aie 
tipped by the iSngers of Autumn. In a highly ef- 
fective scene, Jenny counsels her maid not to refuse 
the suit of her lover Tom. The lesson which thirty 
years of longing have impressed upon Jenny comes 
straight from the heart of the mistress to the maid. 
Ruth, too, vacillates, though she loves Tom. "Then 
take the advice of an old lady", bursts out Jenny, 

"and tell him before it's too late If I'd taken 

the advice I'm giving you, I shouldn't be a lonely 
old lady at a time of life when a good husband has 
his greatest value". 

No sooner are these words uttered than enter 
Spreadow, now a baronet. He is under the impres- 
sion that Jenny is long a wife, and at first takes 
her for another. In a dialogue full of pungent 
wit, yet not without its incentive to reflection, each 
finally discovers that the other is yet single. But 
what a difference between the woman and the man I 
She remembers each trifling detail of the scene in 




the garden thirty years ago, while he has forgotten 
her last name, — confesses to having made love to 
a governess on the passage to India, — ^forgets the 
tree they had planted together, calling it a beech, — 
and worst of all, forgets the exchange of flowers 
they had made at their romantic parting. Nay, 
all these thirty years has Jenny preserved his rose, 
and when she takes, it tenderly from the pocket- 
book where she has so long kept it, Spreadbow is 
overwhelmed by the womanliness of it all. 

Spread. I was deceived, my dear Jane — de- 
ceived! I had no idea that you at- 
tached BO much value to my flower. 

Jen. We were both deceived, Henry Spread- 

Spread. Then is it possible that in treating me 
as you did, Jane, you were acting a 

Jen. We were both acting parts-Ht>ut the 
play is over, and there's an end of it 
(With atsumed cheerfulnets) Let us 
talk of something else. 

Spread. No, no, Jane, the play is not over — ^we 
will talk of nothing else — ^the play is 
not nearly over. (Music in orchestra, 
"John Anderson, my Jo.") My dear 
Jane — (rising and taking her hand), 
my very dear Jane — believe me, for I 
speak from my hardened old heart, so 
far from the play ibeing over, the seri- 
ous interest is only just beginning. 

The whole is a decidedly efiFective contrast, the 
first act more convincing than the second, which 



ends up rather too pleasantly, yet not oflFensively 
80. The diction exhibits some of the favorite tricks 
of Plautus, who very evidently is no stranger to 

"Tom Cobb" (1875) is an iminspiring, yet high- 
ly amusing farce with a typically Gilbertian out- 
come. Cobb and Whipple are rivals for the hand 
of Matilda, daughter of Col. O'Fipp. The colonel 
has an embarrassing habit of borrowing heavUy 
from his prospective son-in-law and has reduced Cobb 
to penury. Whipple, now uppermost in Matilda's 
mind, hypocritically plans to aid Cobb to elude hia 
creditors in the following novel manner. Whipple 
has a patient, an old invalid, also named Tom Cobb, 
who has just died, friendless and unknown. Now 
young Tom, allowing it to be believed that the dead 
Tom is he, is to absent himself for several months, 
thus ridding himself of his debts. This is done, 
when it is discovered that old Cobb had left a 
fortime, which is immediately pounced upon by 
the grasping O'Fipp. 

Tom now returns and threatens to make trouble 
for the colonel, who bribes him, at the rate of a 
pound per week, to assume another name. Exposal 
is the only alternative, and Tom is hedged into ac- 
cepting. Enter new complications. Major General 
Fitzpatrick, the name assumed by Cobb, seems to 
be a real personage with a past intimately connected 
with the gushy Caroline Effingham. She, ir 
company with her family, insist that Tom Is noae 



other than Fitzpatrick, her poet lover. And he, 
poor boy^ who has bargained off his own identity, 
is forced, under threats of breach of promise, to 
assume the role of poet. His most palpable plat- 
itudes are copied into note-books by the sentimental 
family, who pester him daily with applications for 
"great thoughts". 

This is more than Tom can bear. Incensed at 
the miserly O'Fipp's revocation of his weekly al- 
lowance, he discloses the secret of his true identity, 
expecting arrest, but finds that instead, a fortune 
awaits him. The coquettish Matilda rushes from 
Whipple back to Cobb, but no — ^he takes the effusive 
Caroline, to the utter collapse of O'Fipp. 

Such an analysis of necessity omits the dialogue, 
which is the life of this farce, as indeed of all. The 
very fact th<at it intends to be nothing more than 
farce renders it safe from the accusation of being 
artificial and impossible. The gushy Caroline, her 
gloomy brother, the crafty colonel, plus poor Tom 
in the vortex of all the complications that beset 
him, form a vehicle for brilliant conversation, ex- 
cellent mock-sobriety and hilarious fun in general. 
Cobb as the platitudinous poet prefigures the Buti- 
ithome whose. "Hollow, Hollow, Hollow", rouses 
the aesthetic ecstasy of his choric following. 
Throughout his works, Gilbert is particularly fond 
of parodying the gushy worship of thoughtless 
drivel that masquerades as poetry. 

'TDan'l Dxuice, Blacksmith" (1876) belies the 



author's caption; new and "original" drama. Tb'* 
play is neither original nor is it drama. Moreover, 
though; (like other of the plays) indicative as con- 
taining sidelights on Gilbert's social opinions, it is 
melodrama of the stagiest, lacking proportion, care- 
less in construction, aiming purely after effect which 
is purchased at the expense of art. 

Dan'l Druce has long ago cast off his real name 
because of a villainous Jasper Combe who took 
from him wife and child. He becomes, after the 
fashion of Silas Mamer (from which book one of 
the episodes of the play is borrowed) a miserly 
recluse. An exciting train of events culminates in 
the robbery of his gold, while a child is left in its 
place. This child, Dorothy, he brings up as h^.s 
very own, and when, years later, she grows up and 
reciprocates the love of Geoffrey, an honest village 
lad, the old blacksmith is loath to let her go. To 
make things worse, (both for the characters and 
the play) Geoffrey is forced seemingly to renounce 
his love, on accoimt of a certain powerful official, 
who turns out to be none other than the same 
Jasper Combe who has wronged Druoe. Nay, 
Dorothy is the very child of Druce, whom Combe 
had kept after the death of Druce's wife. He it 
was, too, who had committed the robbery in the 
first act, leaving the child behind rather than be 
hindered in his flight and thus caught by his pur- 
suers. This is brought out in the most melodramat- 
ic fashion. Of course, Geoffrey gets Dorothy and 



all ends well. 

The opening of the play is good, but a fast deter- 
ioration sets in. There are mysterious pasts to half 
the personages, fortuitous indentification, tense 
moments to tickle the palate of the veriest gal- 
lery-deity. It would seem that Gilbert's hand grows 
i^^nsteady whem he leaves the course of straight 
farce and satire and turns to other channels. Of 
this we shall have abundant proof before the close 
of the chapter. Even here he cannot resist the 
temptation of putting in Reuben, a figure whose 
talk and action mark him as purely <if the comic 
opera variety. Quite superfluous to add, the di- 
alogue is for the most part excellent; Gilbert may 
be depended upon for that. Druce's character pos- 
sesses some degree of consistency; the others are 
mere lay-figures. 

The three farces that follow are of the hilarious 
brand where Gilbert shines. His fancy knows no 
restraint (which may explain his ineptitude for 
straight comedy) ; surprise follows upon surprise, at 
times no space for breatti between the laughs. i5'or 
the nonce he possesses little other motive than to 
deafen the ears of Dignity with bursts of unre- 
strained mirth. So much the worse for that kind 
of dignity which such wholesome mirth can ofifend. 

"Engaged" (1877) chronicles the amatory en- 
tanglements of Cheviot Hill, a young man of 
wealth who is possessed of a not unfamiliar but 
highly inconvenient habit of making profuse love 



to every pretty girl that meets his gaase, utterly re- 
gardless of previous declarations. His friend Bel- 
vawney, who receives an allowance so long as Hiil 
refrains from marriage, keeps busy preventing that 
happy consmnmation. Belvawney, moreover, is 
courting the mercenary Miss Traheme, who will 
have none of him imless his income is guaranteed. 
She has fled from the formidable Major McGil- 
licudy's side at the altar; even now he is in hot 
pursuit of the defecting bride, with the wedding 
cake in his hands. 

The device by which Gilbert brings these forces 
together at the opening of the play is truly a tech- 
nical tour de force. Angus Macallister, a Scotch 
lad in love with Maggie, is so tender-hearted that 
throughout the play he drips tears at the slightest 
provocation. He is engaged in the innocent trade 
of train-wrecking — ^in such a manner that none may 
be hurt (for that would spoil his business, which 
is to run up to the scene of the wreck and oflFer 
the services of his humble cottage fare, thus reap- 
ing a large profit.) Truly a congenial occupation. 
One of the wrecks thus contrived thrusts upon him 
Hill, Belvawney and Miss Traheme. The last two 
are fleeing from the irate McGillicudy who is on the 
very next train. Hill falls in love with Maggie, 
but no sooner does he behold Miss Traheme than 
his habit asserts itself, and she becomes "the tree 
upon which the fruit of my heart is growing". In 



order to foil the Major he marries Miss Traherne 
in Scotch fashion; by an open mutual declaration. 
But this is only the beginning of the confusion. 

The succeeding acts gyrate under the speed of 
Hill's philandering mania. Minnie, to whom Hill 
was engaged prior to the commencement of the 
action, proves to be also close friends with Miss 
Traherne. The question arises as to whether the 
Scotch marriage was binding, as the house where 
it took place was on the English side of the bound- 
ary line. News gains currency that Hill's bank 
has failed, thus causing a lull in the advances of 
the rival claimants for his hand. The radiant con- 
fusion of the action defies cold analysis. After a 
labyrinth of involutions, it turns out that the mar- 
riage was in Scotland after all, as it took place in 
the gardai of the house — Scotch territory. More- 
over the bank's failure was a fiction of Belvawney's 
to keep Hill from matrimony. "With the happy 
mating of Hill and Miss Traherne, the farce comes 
to a close. 

"The Fairy's Dilemma", labelled a domestic pant- 
omine, is in reality a fairy farce with much of the 
inferior horse-play that Gilbert is famous for es- 
chewing rather than employing. 

Fairy Rosebud finds herself in a predicament sim- 
ilar to that of Koko ("Mikado") when he is forced 
to commit an execution under penalty of destruction 
of office. She, in her line, is under the necessity 




of protecting some worthy couple. The opportunity 
lacking, she is compelled; (somewhat after the 
fashion of Bostand's ^^Romantiques") to cook up 
a scheme with the rhyme-monging demon, Alcohol 
(a suggestive name) who loves her and will willing* 
ly comply. He is to carry oflf some engaged young 
miss, while Rosebud will put in a dramatic appear- 
ance as saviour, just at the psychological moment. 
Through a misunderstanding quite beyond the 
power of the supernatural faculties of these sprites 
(even fairies have their limitations I) mistakes re- 
sult which tangle up the matrimonial affairs of 
Clergyman Parfitt and his wife Clarissa, together 
with those of Col. Mauleverer and his Lady Angela, 
all four of whom stand in fear of Judge Whortle. 
The latter, a queer figure, (though furiously oppos- 
ing the marriage of his daughter Clarissa) holds 
as his greatest pride the fact that he is known as 
the humorous judge whose court rocks with merri- 
ment due to his wit. 

Clarissa is stolen by mistake, and the only way 
the fairy can exculpate herself is to turn the trio 
of remaining lovers and the judge into the conven- 
tional pantomime figures, — ^Harlequin, Colum- 
bine, Pantaloon and Clown. As such they per- 
form the most ludicrous antics, against their will, 
even as the similar figures in "Creatures of Im- 
pulse". The end is brought about by the clergy- 
man's consent to marry Alcohol and Rosebud, on 



condition that he and his friends be put back into 
their natural states. Which is done, and the play 
comes to a close. 

As an instance of just how low a genius can aim 
to produce a laugh, witness the following from De- 
mon Alcohol's mouth. He is excusing himself for 
coming late: 

A thousand •pardons! Driylng here from town 
My brand-new Demon motor-car broke down; 
A puncture long delayed me — ^this fatality 
Affects one's character for puncture-allty. 

How much superior to such jejune punning is the 
remark of the Judge (when he is changed to the 
buffoon Pantaloon) : 

Deary me! It's not so great a change as I 
should have supposed! 

Between the two citations lies all the difference be- 
tween colorless word-play and genuine satire. Al- 
though the play as a whole lacks Gilbert's general 
brilliancy of repartee, it makes up for it in the 
laughable situations. The atmosphere is plainly 
that of comic opera, as is that of the next farce 
to which we turn. 

"Foggerty's Fairy'' (1884) reaches the heights of 
whimsicality without once pandering to vulgar 

Foggerty is engaged to ttnarry Jenny Talbot. 
She has a particular passion for him as a youth 
who has never before loved, and has been won away 



from Wilkinshaw by him, through a revelation of 
a former affaire d'amour on the part of that per- 
sonage. Now Foggerty is not entirely innocent of 
previous amours himself, having been involved 
with Delia Spiff, aimt of Jenny. Troublesome De- 
lia arrives just in time to spoil the wedding, with 
which the play opens. In the midst of all this 
hubbub, Foggerty is visited by his tutelary fairy, 
Bebecca, who gives him a curious pill to swallow. 
The said pill, when taken eliminates not only any 
troublesome past, but also all the consequences, di- 
rect and indirect, which would naturally come from 
it. Foggerty swallows it, thus eliminating Delia 
Spiff, and Jenny as well. He gets more than he 
bargained for. 

The next act discovers Foggerty in an entirely 
new atmosphere. Matters, in accordance with the 
peculiar property of the pill, are now where they 
would have been had Delia never entered his life. 
He finds himself being sued for breach of promise 
by a Malvina de Vere, who later turns out to be an 
adventuress whose specialty lies in luring men into 
costly suits. — a type not entirely extinct in real 
life.^ Thanks to the efficacy of the pill, Jenny ap- 
pears to be engaged to Wilkinshaw, as of yore. She, 
however, learns from Malvina that Wilkinshaw has 
loved before. For he, too, is a victim of the ad- 
venturess' wiles. Jenny oscillates back to Fog- 

The final act is fairly meteoric in its rapidly scint- 



illating course. Foggerty, fearing a costly suit in 
court, finds his finances utteriy depleted after sett- 
ling with Malvina. So bewildered is he, that Uie 
poor chap is put under surveillance for insanity* 
On the point of being taken to the asylum he swal- 
lows another fairy pill, thus summoning again Re- 
becca to his aid. He engages in a debate with her, 
reminding her that she, too, is one of the consequen- 
ces which never would have occured before the 
Spiff affair, — that she is therefore bound to straight- 
en out his troubles in order to exculpate herself. 
Matters return to their original state — ^Foggerty 
marries Jenny, while "Wilkinshaw entrusts his fu- 
ture to Malvina's charms. 

The farce is an excellent example of its kind. 
The characters are without exception comic opera 
personages, and part of the dialogue and actioa 
actually appears in some of Gilbert's later operas. 
We should scarcely feel surprise to have Foggerty 
break into a topical song, or to hear the fairies at 
the end join in a dance and chorus. As an in- 
stance of the author's whimsicality, witness the fol^ 
lowing excerpt: 

Rebecca: — ^And your father met your mother in 
this wise. Some thirty-six years ago, as he was 
walking down Regent Street, his attentions 
were directed to a sculptor's shop in which was 
a remarkable monument to a Colonel Culpepper, 
who died of a cold caught in going into the 
Ganges to rescue a favorite dog which had fallen 
into it. An old schoolfellow passed by, and. 



toaching your father on the shoulder, asked him 
to dinner. Tour father went, and at the dinner 
met your mother, whom he eventually married. 
And that's how you came about 
Foggerty: — ^I see. If my father hadn't had that 
invitation to dinner, I should never have been 

Rebecca: — ^No doubt; but your existence is prim- 
arily due to a much more remote cause. If your 
father hadn't loitered opposite the sculptor's 
shop, his schoolfellow would never have met 
him. If Colonel Culpepper hadn't died, your 
father would never have stopped to looF at his 
monument Tf Colonel Culpepper's favorite dog 
had never tumbled into the Ganges, the colonel 
would never have caught the cold that led to his 
death. If that favorite dog's father had never 
met that favorite dog's mother that favorite dog 
would never have been born, neither would you. 
And yet you're proud of your origint 

The inherent truth at the bottom of this fanciful 
genealogical excursion renders it all the more ef- 
fective. One thinks of Pascal : "If Cleopatra's nose 
had been shorter, the face of the world would have 
been changed". Even so have we been told that a 
bad dish of fried onions lost Napoleon the battle 
of Waterioo. Verily, there is a necromancy in 
little things I 

"Comedy and Tragedy" (1884) reveals the author 
in a serious mood, and not without power. It is 
an excellent type of the one-act drama (too little 
cultivated here), skilfully motivated, with an in- 
terest intense and cumulative, leading to a oonvinc- 



ing, dramatic climax. The dialogue is arrow-like 
in its incisive swiftness. 

For a long time the Duke of Orleans has in- 
sulted the actress D'Aulnay with his arrogant at- 
tentions. With vengeful cunning she plans a ruse, 
for the Duke has refused to fight a duel with her 
husband, since he is an actor, beneath the dignity 
of a nobleman's steel. Monsieur D'Aulnay, how- 
ever, is really a nobleman, and has adopted the 
profession through love of his wife. 

Clarice lets it be generally understood that she 
and her husband have part^. Under the pretext 
of a jollification party, she invites the Duke, among 
others, to the supposed orgy. Once the Duke be- 
gins his attentions at the opening of the celebration, 
out steps D'Aulnay from a hiding place, challeng- 
ing the Duke again, and maintaining his own no- 
bility in no imcertain words. They retire to a 
duel in the garden, while the guests, ignorant of 
what is taking place, ask Clarice to give an exhibi 
tion of her histrionic skill. She, concealing her 
inner anguish, burning with the thought that she 
is being avenged, outdoes herself "in a comic selec- 
tion. Hearing her husband's cries in the garden, 
she suddenly reveals her whole secret, begging the 
men to go the assistance of her spouse. The aud- 
ience applauds enthusiastically, thinking this but a 
part of her marvellous acting. At last her obvious 
earnestness is understood. The door is opened. 
Enter D'Aulnay. He has redeemed the honor of 



his wife. 

The exposition of the play is a masterpiece of 
dramaturgic economy. Clarice's comic selection in 
the midst of her husband's duel, the ignorance of 
her hearers and their refusal to believe that she is 
not feigning, all these are portrayed with a power 
elsewhere unmatched in Gilbert. Clarice is a real 
character, and her impassioned answer to her sister 
Patdine, who tries to dissuade her from the ap- 
parent moral descent which the party would in- 
dicate, is full of the defensive spirit that inspired 
Sudermann's "Magda", and Bjornsen's "Fisher 
Maiden". Pauline pleads with her to remember 
her honored profession. 

Clarice:— (bitterly) Proud! Honored! Bah! 
Tou play with words. I am an actress-by law 
proscribed, by the Church excommunicated! 
While I live women gather their skirts about 
them as I pass; when I die I am to be buried, 
as dogs are buried, in unholy ground. . . .In the 
meantime, I am the recognized prey of the 
spoiler-the traditional property of him who will 
best pay for me: an actress, with a body, God 
help her! but without a soul: unrecognized by 
the State, abjured by the Church, and utterly 
despised of all! In the face of all these com- 
pliments, believe me, it is not easy to preserve 
one's self-respect, Pauline. 

If the excellent piece which we have just dis- 
missed would seem to indicate that Gilbert posses- 
sed the ability to write first class drama, the follow- 
ing plfty> "Charity" (1886) immediately dispels 



that notion. We are clearly back at melodrama, 
with little more success than in ''Dan'l Druce'*. 
The work, while eminently flattering to the ethical 
sense, lacks art We are not only led, but actually 
pushed to the 'lesscm" of the sermon. Arbitrary 
situations abound; little true character is revealed. 
The genre is clearly not for Gilbert, nor do the ex- 
cellent sentiments of his ^'thesis" redeem the play 
as a piece of stage literature. 

The story of Ruth, the "fallen" woman, and her 
protectress Mrs. Van Brugh, of sanctimonious 
Smailey's virtuous condemnation of the sinner, of 
the revelation that Smailey himself is the man who 
has led Ruth to her downfall, contains little that 
is new. The manner in which Ruth turns the 
tables on her Tartufiian accuser, and the sub-plot 
concerning Mrs. Van Brugh's illegitimate daughter, 
reveal clearly Gilbert's instinct for social justice, but 
just as clearly demonstrate his ineptitude for 
drama. The characters are overdrawn, while tho 
detectivona minor personage-pleases most because he 
is least real. Unwittingly Gilbert has satirized him- 
self, for his moral sincerity is rendered quite laugh- 
able through the vehicle he intended should sub- 
serve it. 

A glimmer of Bernard Shaw's methods is afforded 

by Ruth's vindictive words in the first act: 

"I sometimes think as if they'd bin half as ready 
to show me how to go right as they was to 
punish me for going wrong, I might have took 
to the right turning and stuck to it afore this". 



The moral of tihe play comes from the mouth of 
MiB. Van Brugh: 

"Who shall say what the very best of us might 
not have been but for the accident of education 
and good example?" 

Was it not Wesley who, upon seeing a criminal led 
to the gallows, exclaimed, "There, but for grace of 
God, goes John Wesley?" 

If "Brantinghame Hall" (1888) proves anything 
(beside the very obvious fact that Gilbert has here 
written the stagiest, most impossible of sentiment- 
al melodramas, in a style the very opposite to that 
which is connoted by his name) it is this: that 
just as thoughtless laughter may be provoked by 
horse-play, so may tears be compelled to flow by 
false pathos. It would be hard to find a more 
tensely constructed piece; noble self-orifice, forg- 
eries, hidden records, villain of the blackest type, — 
a regular "marry-me-or-Ill-foreclose-the-mortgage" 

Ruth, the innocent daughter of an ex-convict, 
marries Arthur Redmayne in Australia, without the 
knowledge of Redmayne's folks. Lord Redmayne, 
the father, is a poor noble, and a mortgage on his 
house is held by Ralph Crampton, lover of Ruth 
and enemy of her husband. Redmayne, on a trip 
to England, is forced to leave his wife behind to 
care for her invalid father. He is supposedly 
droned in the passage. 

All the money left by the yovmg husband (of 



course a fortune was due him from some unknown 
source) is passed over to his father, as Ruth's ex- 
istence is not known in England. When, therefore, 
Ruth appears in England, there is an aid to Lord 
Redmayne's gladness. He had planned with his 
fortune to pay off the mortgage, but if Ruth is, as 
she claims, his son's wife, the fortune belongs to 
her. She nobly offers to relinquish her right to 
the money, but the aristocratic Lord will accept no 
favors from an ex-convict's daughter who has mar- 
ried his (now deceased) son without his knowledge. 
Enter the villain Crampton, who offers, on his part, 
to surrender his mortgage claim if Ruth will mar- 
ry him. She refuses, but when she sees the straits 
in which her husband's father is placed, she resolves 
upon an almost inhuman piece of self-immolation 
— she denies that she ever married Redmayne and 
declares she will accept Crampton. In justice to 
the latter, it must be added that he really believes 
Ruth had jnever wedded Lord Redmayne's son. 
When, therefore, he finds out that Ruth is really 
that man's wife, he is led to repentance by the dis- 
covery of her noble life. And to cap the climax, 
what should happen but Redmayne's return. He 
has not been drowned after all, but, it would seem, 
was just keeping out of the way so as to let mat- 
ters become serious and thwi descend as the God 
from the Machine. 

It is almost superfluous to add tha* the play is 
technically cheap and deficient, that there is no 




real character, that it wallows in sentimentality 
throughout. A spark of the better Gilbert shines 
forth in Thursby's exclamation to Ruth, when he 
finds out that she has perjured herself in order to 
benefit his client, Lord Redmayne : 

"If you're an average sample of Australia pro- 
duce, the sooner a shipload of you is shot into 
London society, the better!" 

Perhaps London society was surprised to hear that 
it was capable of any improvement. 

"The Fortune Hunter" is not so preposterous as 
the preceding melodramas. There is more satire 
and the dialogue is not quite so prolix; it hardly 
redeems Gilbert in this field of writing, however. 

Before the opening of the action, Armand de 
Breville has been engaged to a rich Chicago heiress, 
Euphemia Dundee. She has broken it oflf and mar- 
ried a decrepit old Duke for his title. Armand, of 
an adventuresome disposition, woos and wins Di- 
ana Oaverel, an Australian heiress, who has been 
imsuccessfuUy wooed by Sir Outhbert Jameson, a 
middle-aged baronet. The aged Duke dies, and 
when it turns out that Armand, according to an 
article in the French code, can absolve his own 
marriage because it took place before his tw^ity- 
fifth year, he does so, in hopes of winning the now 
free Duchess. Meanwhile a child is bom to Diana, 
and the mother begs, for the child's sake, that the 
marriage between her and Armand be not nul- 
lified. She has lost all k>ve for Armand himself, 




for 6he sees him in his true light. He, on the 
other hand, is for onoe really in earnest when ho 
begs her to receive him again; Diana refuses; she 
will have only protection for her child. Sir Cuth- 
bert comes in just as Armand had made an un- 
successful attempt at suicide; Armand goads the 
baronet into a duel, thrusting himself upon his 
opponent's sword. Dying, he commends Diana and 
the child to Sir Cuthbert's care. 

There is at least ^ome reason in the action, some 
hint of adequate characterization, yet the truly 
agreeable episodes are those which would be much 
better placed in a comic opera libretto. The Ameri- 
can people come in for a few shafts in typical 
Gilbert style. "This is not the United States", crie? 
an excited individual, "this is a free country". — 
De Breville comments thusly upon our economics: 

But United Statesmen, what a blind, Illogical race 
you are! Tou profess to place enormous import 
duties upon all commodities that you are unable 
to produce, and yet you admit, on free-trade 
principles, the British Peer, who drains more dol- 
lars out of your country in a day than your 
Customs wUl produce you in a twelvemonth! 

Which is something for American heiresses to think 
of when they marry foreign noblemen. Gilbert's 
high regard for women is ever evident, except in 
the few places in his libretti where he permits him- 
self to place them in embarrassing positions, inno- 



cently enough and harmlessly enough, as the sever- 
est censor must admit. Says De Breville, of the fair 
and much poetized, yet harshly recriminated, sex: 

When I started in life as a cynic I thought to 
find a ready text in every woman I met. I hegin 
to think that if cynics are to Justify their ex- 
istence they must work on the surface, for when 
they penetrate beneath, they too often find them- 
selves face to face with their own refutation! 

We shall find, in the verse play "Gretchen'' an 
even greater tribute to Woman, from the mouth of 
none other than Mephistopheles. 

"The Gentleman in Black", a music play of the 
fairy type, is best reckoned with the prose play.. 
Its satire is superficial, as is, in general, Uie repartee, 
but there is plenty of laughter. 

Hans is to marry Bertha, but she is fascinated 
by the ugly Baron von Schlachtenstein, whose face 
is more formidable than his name. Through the 
aid of the gentleman in black, a figure bearing some 
analogy to the old woman-fairy in "Creatures of 
Impulse", Han's soul changes bodies with tho 
Baron's soul, thus causing a hopeless set of con- 
fusions which terminate only after Hans has come 
near to losing his bride to the Baron and has more- 
over had forced upon him the Baron's wife and 
children. This matter of mistaken personage?? 
which forms the basis of Plautus's "Menaechmi'' 
and Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" is a favor- 
ite device of Gilbert's, who, in distinction to the 



Latin playwright and the Avon bard, us^ the er- 
rors thus caused with a social-satiric purpose. In 
this particular case Hans turns out really to be the 
Baron after all; and the Baron really Hans, as they 
were changed in the cradle. We immediately think 
of the "Bab Ballads", of "Pinafore", of "The Gon- 
doliers", where the same baby-chan^g motif oc- 
curs. Perhaps Gilbert has been too economical in 
hifi motifs, yet it is perfectly true that one can hear 
"Pinafore" and the "Gondoliers" in succession and 
yet not notice the repeated device. Such a fact 
argues well for Gilbert's methods and Sullivan'? 

Coming to the end of our consideration of Gil- 
bert's prose efforts we see that he is essentially sat* 
irical. His attempts at melodrama and straight co^ 
medy are rendered abortive by the very factors 
which make him so brilliant in social satire: his 
comic perspicuity and unrestrained fancy. Later 
we shall see that similar causes prevented him from 
writing genuine poetry, despite his undoubted 
powers of versification. 

As a writer of prose Gilbert excels in pregnant 
phraseology and inimitable dialogue. He adapts 
himself at will to current slang or to the most 
polished refinements of seventeenth century speech. 
His tendeiicly to prolixity (for he is a natural 
causeur) is easily redeemed by his other qualities. 
Most wit perishes with a first reading, but Gilbert 
thrives on second and third hearings, so engaging 



he is at his best. Dignity is his last claim, yet h« 
is not lacking in genial grace. The unexpected 
turn at the end of a phrase, so characteristic of 
Plautus, finds prominent usage by our author. At 
will, too, he switches from the airiest, most incon- 
sequential persiflage to the most impassioned lan- 
guage. He is a past master in all the resources of 
rhetoric. And if the good Homer nod betimes, 
who shall gainsay the privilege to Gilbert? 

L." 155] 

- '*■* ^ 


Gilbert's Verse Plays— As a Verse Writer. 

To many there will be more satisfaction in read- 
ing the verse plays of Gilbert as compared to the 
prose. Not that there is any real inherent superior- 
ity in the case of the poetized efforts, unless it be 
in the more clarified plots and the consequently 
simplified action. To compensate for these assumed 
advantages, there is the closer attention which 
verse requires, and the greater difficulty of scoring 
a "hit" with the average audience. Gilbert alter- 
nates between prose and verse with unconcerned 
ease. It is plainly to be seen that he never meas- 
ured his iambs with a foot rule, nor did his musical 
ear aid him to any extent in refining his lines. In 
fact, one can easily imagine, as the lines are enun- 
ciated, that they are prose. Much of the illusion of 
poetry comes from the printed alignment rather 
than from the spoken word. 

It is but simple justice to add that Gilbert did 




not profess to be a poet, that his purpose is avowed- 
ly satiric, and if it must be said, his verse is much 
better than that of many a professed poet. 

In several of the plays the verse atmosphere is 
a decided gain, even granting the essential faults 
in Gilbert's poetic aWlity. In none of them is it 
a drawback. In many passages the author fairly 
steps across the threshold of Poesy, but not to re- 
m<ain for long. First and last Gilbert is a satirist, 
and knows his place, wherein he surpasses some 
Poets Laureate. Gilbert was too human to care for 
Art for Art's sake ; outside of his libretti he forsook 
Art, perhaps, too often. 

"The Princess" (1870) is designated by its 
author as a "respecful parody of Mr. Tennyson's 
exquisite poem". Though dependent for much of 
its effect upon rather conventional satire against 
woman, one may venture the heresy that many will 
enjoy it more than the technically superior effort 
of Tennyson's. Gilbert's satire has this advantage 
over the poet's philosophy: whereas the growing 
feminist movement makes much of Tennyson's con- 
servatism rather anachronistic, wit knows no epoch. 

The comic opera atmosphere is here, undis- 
guised. Songs are introduced s»et to already pop- 
ular airs. Amidst unexcelled repartee and spark- 
ling conceits, laughter holds the stage in willing 

The plot is fairly Tennyson's own. Prince Hil- 
arion, betrothed to Princess Ida at the "extremely 



early age of one", advances upon the stronghold of 
Ida's university for wom^i. After a most ingenious 
siege (as in the poetlaureate's work, so here the men 
gain entrance by a ruse) Hilarion wins Ida away 
from her misanthropic ideal, while his comrades 
are equally fortunate in pairing off with her loyal 

Nothing but the mock-sobriety of the actors (up- 
on which Gilbert ever insisted as a cardinal neces- 
sity in the comedian's art) prevents burlesque. 
The scene of the storming of Castle Adamiant is as 
well conceived and as cleverly executed as anything 
in the author, with its siege of "light guitars" and a 
scaling party of tenors, all furnish^ with their 
photographs. Here indeed is a formidable assault! 
The stronghold of Ida and her half thousand man- 
hating students is under "fire"; from the loving 
"enemy" comes the order : 

Bid the director of the poets direct 

And post five hundred yalentines, and see 

They get them by tonight's delivery. 

Go tell the gallant lady who commands 

The horse brigade of royal mUllners 

To place five hundred toilet tables out 

V^ithin full view of Princess Ida's walls. 

Upon them place five hundred mirrors; then 

Lay out five hundred robes of French design; 

And if they still hold out they're more than women! 

If all this fails I have a deadlier scheme: 

Five hundred waltzing ibaohelors-tried men 

Who can waltz forwards, backwards, anyhow — 

Shall twirl and twist before their daziled eyes. 

Thrumming soft music on a light guitar. 



And the ''moral" of it all? Note the simile and 
the deduction from it: 

Singers know 

How sweetly at a piano 
A tenor and soprano 
Together sound. 
This will show 
That man and woman verily 
Can get along more merrily 
Together bound. 

Not much can be said of the play's blank verse. It 
cedes everywhere to the more urgent exigencies of 
pointed diction. So evident to the author's mind 
was the operatic atmosphere of the piece that, 
fourteen years later he revised it with slight modif- 
ications and it was set to music by Sir Arthur 

As opera it adds little to the reputation of either 
the librettist or the composer ; comic opera in blank 
verse would have been altogether fatal to any other 
than Gilbert, whose sheer brilliancy carries the day. 

The operatic form "Princess Ida" (1884), shows 
the same plot, with but one hundred girls instead 
of five himdred students, obviously for stage reasons. 
The dialogue remains practically unaltered. Satire 
against the soldiery is introduced in the songs, while 
King Gama, (who in the original Gilbertian 
version — "perversion" the author calls it — ^was 
a queer figure whose sole pleasure lay in having 
something to grumble at) becomes the prototype 
of the philanthropical Mikado, deviser of the fa- 



mous scheme for making ''the punishment fit the 
crime". Sings Gama: 

Each little fault of temper and each social defect 
In my erring feUow creatures I endeayor to correct 

I lore my fellow creatures — ^I do all the good I can. 
Yet eyery body says I'm such a disagreeable man. 
And I can't think why. 

Another of the popular trios in the "Mikado" (be- 
gining "To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark 
dock") is thus prefigured: 

For a month to dwell 
In a dungeon cell. 

Growing thin and wizen 

In a solitary prison. 

The moral of the opera becomes : 

It were profanity 
For poor humanity 
To treat as vanity 

The sway of loye. 
In no locality 
Or principality 
Is our morality 

Its sway aboye. 

Much as has been quoted, it is impossible to resist 
the closing dialogue, which is new to the opera. 
The final question is an unanswerable, triumphant 
union of whimsey and logic. 

Princess: Oh, I had hoped 

To band all women with my maiden throng 



And make tbem all abjure tyrannic man! 

A noble aim! 
Princess: Tou ridicule it now. 

But If I carried out this glorious scheme. 

At my exalted name Posterity 

Would 'bow in gratitude! 
Hildebrand: But pray reflect 

If you enlist all women in your cause 

And make them all abjure tyrannic Man, 

The obvious question then arises, "How 

Is this Posterity to be provided?" 

Gilbert's satire is most artistically merged with 
the fairy element m "The Palaoe of Truth" (1870). 
As the author admits, the idea is as old as the 
Arabian Nights, but his play is none the less ac- 
ceptable on that acoimt. Need it be said that it 
abounds in excellent wit and in situation presenting 
ample scope for effective shafts? The courtly 
flatterer, the intriguing lover, the artful female, 
duelling, hypocrisy, all receive telling arrows. 

The existence of a palace which causes all within 
its walls to speak the real truth of their opinions 
offers unlimited opportunities for the imaginative 
thinker. Who of us, indeed, were fain to risk 
abiding in such precincts? What a gratification to 
the moral sense to see the sudden changes that visit 
the courtiers of King Pbanor when they enter the 
virtue-compelling palace and find all engaged in 
unmasking themselves unwittingly. 

Nor is the King himself (who happens to be pos- 
sessed of a magic box that countracts the truth- 



telling influences of the castle) without fear of the 
consequences of such an institution. Royally, in- 
deed, has he been deceiving his queen. And Prince 
Philamir, whose extreme vanity is exposed in the 
wonder-working temple of Truth — how hypocritic- 
ally he woos the woman whose love merely flatters 
and gluts his masculine egotism. Could anything 
surpass the ludicrous, unconscious plight of a court- 
ier who, having before his entrance to the temple 
flattered a wretched singer . with enthusiastic ap- 
plause, now is caused to reveal his opinions in no 
ambiguous terms? And to increase the laughable- 
ness of the situation, like the master he is, Gilbert 
directs that these true opinions be given by the 
actor accompanied with the very actions of applause 
and approbation which the courtier had employed 
in his hyprocritical approval of the previous act. 
The opposition thus established between the con- 
trasting denotation of words and actions at once 
symbolizes the duplicity of the exposed flatterer and 
adds to the comic situation. Significantly enough, 
everybody becomes inspired with a desire to get 
hold of the counteracting charm, which is purloined 
from the king. When, through various causes it 
is successively transfered from one to the other, 
then indeed does confusion reign. Truth and sham 
flow strangely from the same lips, according as the 
charm is or is not in the speaker's possession. Bang 
and Queen, Prince and his admirers, courtiers all, 
fairly whirl in an imbroglio of contradictory action. 




When at last the magic box is broken through the 
queen's indignation, Gilbert launches a parting shot : 

Qelanor: Tou know not what you've done The 

castle's charm 
Is bound up with that mystic talisman! 
Now that the box is broken, these fair 

Are disenchanted! 
Phanor: P'raps 'tis quite as well. 

Without craving pardon of the prosodists for 80 
pedestrian a contraction as '^p'raps" in the classic 
blank verse, note the crushing, cynic irony of King 
Phanor's remark. Into such a temple should all 
TartuflFes be inveigled. What delicious, unwitting 
self-condemnation would flow from their lipsl 

A typical figure is Mirza, reminding one of Smai- 
ley in "Charity". Self-lauded paragon of virtue, 
the Palace of Truth reveals her to be a fitting sub- 
ject for Azema's taunt at the general disillusion- 
ment with which the play concludes : 

To doubt an maids who of their virtue boast: 
That they're the worst who moralize the most. 

There is something deeper than a smile beneath the 
queen's words on honor. Clearly she voices the 
satirist's thought when she exclaims: 

Oh, honor, honor. 
Let no one take you at the estimate 
Your self elected champions prize you at! 
More harm is worked in that one virtue's name 
Than springs from half the vices of the earth! 



The ancient myth of ^'Pygmaleon and Galatea'' 
(1871) long familiar to us from Shakespeare's use 
of it in "The Winter's Tale", is turned to most ef- 
fective satirical use by Gilbert. Technically, it is su- 
perior to the two plays preceding, both in its improv* 
ed versification and its homogeneous plot. The frank 
opinions of the unprejudiced mind of the statue 
Galatea, when she comes to life, are piquantly iron- 
ical. Her unclouded eyes see readily through the 
veil of convention which dims the vision of most 
creatures. To be a soldier is, to her, to be "a paid 
assassin", nor is there irony lacking in the sculp- 
tor's reply: 

Pygmaleon: (annoyed) There spoke the thor- 
oughly untutored mind. 
So coarse a sentiment might fairly pass 
V^lth mere Arcadians — ^a cultured state 
Holds soldiers at a higher estimate. 

Galatea: He kills and he is paid to kill. 

Pygmaleon: No doubt. 

But then he kills to save his countryman. 


Whether his countryman be right or wrong? 


He don't go into that-it'a quite enough 
That there are enemies for him to kill: 
He goes and kills them when his 6rders come 

With a passing blush for another pedestrian "don'c'' 
in the classic iambic, it is indicative to remember 
that the shaft aganst militarism occurs in the opera- 
tic version of "Princess Ida". Was it not the author 



of the "French Eevolution" who spoke of the mil- 
itary heroes, with their "thefts and brawls, named 
glorious victories"? 

Pygmaleon, making love to the beautiful marble 
Galatea (she has just been infused with the breath 
of life), forgets the warning of his jealous wife 
Cynisca, and her curse of blindness is called down 
upon him, ill though he deserve it. Accidentally, 
and beyond all cavil of doubt, his true love for 
Cynisca is proven in a tender love passage with 
Galatea, whom he in his blindness believes to be hU 
wife. His sight is finally restored, while Galatea 
returns to her marble state. A pleasing sub-plot 
furnishes the author with additional opportunity to 
exploit his favorite themes. 

Speaking of Chrysos, Pygmaleon thus character- 
izes the ignorant patron of art in words not at all 
inapposite to many members of that haggling tribe 

He is an ignorant buffoon, 
But purses hold a higher rank than brains. 
And he is rich;.... 
He is a fashion and he knows it well. 
In buying sculpture he appraises it 
As he'd appraise a master-mason's work — 
So much for marble and so much for time, 
So much for working tools-but still he buys, 
And so he is a patron of the arts! 

The play offers much in the line of passages that 
might be used to show Gilbert's latent powers of 
true poetic expression. It is particularly well writ- 



ten and technically faultless. 

"The Wicked World" (1873) bears some analo- 
gies to "Charity" in its obvious satire against not 
only hypocrisy but "an overweening sense of right- 
eousness". The action, like so many of Gilbert's 
verse plays, affects the Greek limitations of a single 
day, and is in three acts. The fairy element is 
agSn used to good purpose, while th7satire is far 
above the blatant carping that too often masquerades 
in its guise. The vein of seriousness is well mixed 
with the all-pervading humorism, words come aptly ; 
the verse, metrically good, is in spirit but per- 

Upon a realm above the earth, supposed to lie on 
the upper side of a cloud, dwell a host of maidens 
in loveless blessedness. As they peer inquisitively 
over the dizzy heights of their abode, they speculate 
in muffled tones on the race that inhabits the whir- 
ling globe below. Every soul on this island of the 
clouds has its earthly coimterpart, with the exception 
that the inhabitant of the clouds is free of sin, 
while the earthly replica seems to know no virtue. 
With innocent arrogance the sky-dwellers (among 
whom some male souls fmd a place) look down 
upon the earth as a place of malice, envy, vanity 
and wickedness. None the less, when Lutin, one 
of the males, returns from a visit to earth, he is 
besieged by a host eager for newB. When approached 
with the possibiU^ of having a real man come 
from earth to visit them, they object in horror. 


One of them ventures a hazardous opinion : 

Man is everything detestaible — 

Base in his nature, base in thought and deed. 

Loathsome beyond all things that creep and crawl 

Still, sister, I must own I've sometimes thought 

That we who shape the fortunes of mankind. 

And grant such wishes as are free from harm. 

Might possibly fulfil our generous task 

With surer satisfaction to himself 

Had we some notion what these wishes were! 

It is actually determined upon to summon to this 
faultless realm some of the earthly counterparts, 
poor creatures that they are. 

Now comes the test. When subjected to similar 
conditions as those that try the inhabitants of our 
own imperfect sphere, these airy images of moral 
perfection, placed with a proper symbolism among 
the clouds, reveal themselves to be but as frail aa 
their counterparts. Envy, jealousy, malice, all the 
sins in the category, straightway appear. Love, 
that poisoner of earthly happiness, proves equally 
mighty in the clouds; disillusion and shame come 
to the forme? models of purity. Love and human- 
ity are banished from the realm, while Selene voices 
the commoii contrition: 

Oh, sister, let that shame 
Sit heavily on all-for all have sinned. 
Oh, let us lay this lesson to our hearts; 
Let us achieve our work with humble souls, 
Free from the folly of self-righteousness. 
Behold, is there so wide a gulf between 



The humble wretch, who, being tempted, falls 
And that good man who rears an honored head 
Because temptation hath not come to him? 

It is an object lesson in dramaturgy to compare with 
this play the inferior prose effort, "Charity", which 
was written more than a dozen years after the verse 
play. The basic motive underlying each is the 
same, as a comparison of Mrs. Van Brugh's words 
in the later play will show, yet how superior is the 
present work with its fairy atmosphere, its poetic 
treatment, and above all, its "lesson" properly sub- 
ordinated to the higher considerations of art. For 
Gilbert's sake, one would have preferred the worse 
play to have preceded the other by some dozen 
years; as the matter stands, it throws instructive 
light upon the really erratic progress traced by most 
great writers. From the examination of too many 
biographies, one would suppose that a writer neces- 
sarily improves with age and successive effort. It 
is more often the case that the facts are not so kind 
to those writers who delight in tracing suspiciously 
gradual development 

Thirty-seven years later Gilbert recognized the es- 
sentially operatic nature of this play, and made it 
into a comic opera, with music set by German, for 
Sullivan's voice was now some years silent. Ending 
as it does ujyon a note of antagonism to love, it 
challanges the audience in its most susceptible feel- 
ing. Outside of the necessary introduction of songs, 
the action of the play remains the same. The fol- 



lowing from the opera reminds one of the "Prin- 
cess"; with its unanswerable question as to posterity : 

Phyllon: — ^The state of your emotions you 

Delineate succinctly: 
But come — ^what would you have me do? 
Tell me the truth distinctly. 
Darine: — ^Do? Hurl thyself to yonder earth, 

With sorrow unabated, 
And end a life from hour of birth 
To bitter anguish fated! 
Phyllon: — ^I see your point, but (pardon me) 
Did all heart-broken youths agree 
In death to drown their miseree. 
The world within a week would be 


But, ^ as in the verse play, the maidens banish love 
from their realms. This is one of the few operas 
of Gilbert that has an "unhappy" ending. The 
other, which shall be reviewed in the following 
chapter, is the "Yeomen of the Guard", one of the 
best of the "Savoy" series. A comparison of the 
technical aspects of the "Wicked World" as play 
and as opera (in the musical version it is called 
"Fallen Fairies") is here imnecessary. The tech- 
nique of the comic opera libretto is a law unto 
itself, and must be reserved for the following pages. 
Still another of the delightful fairy plays is 
"Broken Hearts" (1875). As in the "Wicked 
World", so here, the atmosphere is well-sustained 
and the technique particularly skilful. Flashes of 
real poetry gleam now and then from out the effec- 
tive, if generally iminspired verse. 



The story is a model of simplicity. Upon the 
island of Broken Hearts dwell a quartet of maidens 
whose menial wants are served by a deformed dwarf, 
Mousta, a very Caliban upon this island of maids 
who have, save Vavir, loved in vain. Here they 
abide, pledged to a man-abjuring virginity. Mous- 
ta, though outwardly a Caliban, is a very Cyrano 
when it comes to love-making. Like that romantic 
wooer, too, he realizes the drawbacks of his repell- 
ing exterior, and seeks in a magic book for a charm 

To make the crooked straight; to heal the halt; 
And clothe unsightly forms with comeliness. 

The maidens are amused to hear from this being 
of all ill-shapen creatures, that he craves love, even 
as a man. He warns them, lest the charm he seeks 
shall work. Once let his form be beautiful, none 
shall resist the eloquence of his passion. 

The love which the maidens have refused to man 
finds vent in a quasi-pantheistic adoration of in- 
animate objects. Lady Hilda worships a brooklet, 
Melusine adores her mirror, Vavir unbosoms her 
soul to a sun-dial. 

Into the midst of this queer set enters Florian, 
surprising the guardian dwarf, who has been on the 
watch for intruders. In vain the island's Caliban 
tells the young prince that man is forbidden in the 
sacred precincts of Broken Hearts. During the 
altercation, it appears that Florian has entered by 
means of a veil of invisibility. This fact Mousta 
stores up for future remembrance. 



Meanwhile Florian, through the aid of his veil, 
pretends to be the spirit of the sun-dial, and makes 
love to the sun-dial's mate, Vavir. She spreads the 
wonderful news of the dial's wooing among her 
associates. Now speaks the mirror, too, in the same 
fadiion to Melusine. Nay, Hilda's brook finds a 
voice to charm from her the secret of her first love. 
And who should this first love have been, but 
Florian himself I 

Mousta's envy, roused to desperate pitch, leads 
to the purloining of the magic veil. With this 
protection, he, too, can woo in unseen bliss. Flor- 
ian, with no veil to hide him, is detected by Vavir, 
who recognizes in his voice the dial's spirit. A 
human love sttiites her, and the pair pledge their 
troth. In the interim, Mousta makes desperate love 
to Hilda, for whom he has ever longed. Hilda, 
won by the passionate wooing of the unseen voice 
(which she is led to believe is the spirit of the well) 
pledges her troth, too, on condition that the spirit 
assume the flesh. Judge, then, her consternation 
when Mousta stands before her! In fiery anger 
she seizes the veil from him, vowing to disappear 

The rest of the play resolves itself into a sacrifice 
upon Hilda's part. Herself invisible, she sees 
Florian, her former lover; yet realizing that Vavir 
is dying for love of him, she persuades him to save 
the innocent maid's life by vowing a feigned pas- 
sion. This he does, but it is too late. Vavir dies. 



In the invisible veil some might detect a symbol 
of one kind or another, but Gilbert is not given to 
symbolism. Moudta and Vavir possess distinct in- 
dividualities as characters to be remembered. 
There is, in the former, none of the grovelling serv- 
itude that Caliban stands for. The queer worship 
of brook, mirror and dial remind one of the aesthe- 
tical young man in "Patience", walking up Pica- 
dilly with his lily — ^his "vegetable bride" — ^in his 
hand. A soliloquy of Mousta's throws light on Gil- 
bert's methods: 

Oh, ho! Toung knight! I'm sorry for Vavir 
Well, it concerns me not; the girl is fair; 
And traps are set for her because she's fair; 
And she'll fall into them because she's fair. 
Good looks 

Should pay some penalty — ^that's only fair. 
Better be such as I am, after all 

Into a vein of serious thought is injected a pun, 
which, with due respect to the author, is but a fair 

We have seen that Gilbert takes his suggestions 
from widely differing sources. Here an Arabian 
Nights tale takes seed in his memory, there a poem 
of Tennyson's germinates into a "whimsical alle- 
gory" ; now an incident in "Silas Marner" forms 
the pivot of a melodrama, now a classic myth lends 
itself to his ready wit. 

For "Gretchen" (1879) we are indebted to 
"Faust", whence comes the leading idea of the play, 



as well as a scene from the second act. Otherwise^ 
the dialogue is original, as is the general tendency 
of the play. For once, Gilbert has written a good 
drama of admirable restraint and a certain poetic 

The main interest is centred upon the trio Gott- 
fried, Faustus and Gretchen. Mephisto is purely 
secondary, and is saved from degenerating into a 
mere comic windbag. Gottfried replaces the Valen- 
tine of Goethe's work, but is here Gretchen's lover, 
not brother. His warm picture of Gretchen it is 
that stirs the youthful blood of the former dare- 
devil Faustus, now turned priest because of a wom- 
an's faithlessness. It is with the most secular of 
parables that Gottfried weans his quondam ally 
away from holy seclusion: 

Oh, for shame! iPor shame! 
To hold the world to be a hollow world 
Because one heart has proved a hollow heart! 
Now hear a parable. But ten days since 
A swindling huckster gave me a bad ducat; 
Now by my head, I thought that ducat good: 
It seemed so fair and bright — ^and as it lay 
Upon my open palm, I read thereon 
A pious legend drawn from holy writ! 
Believing that a ducat, wreathed about 
With such a goodly warrant, could not lie, 
I loved that ducat and I trusted it! 
Well, well, that ducat proved to be but base. 
With a deep sigh — for gold is scarce with me — 
I cast that ducat from me. But did I, 
On that account, forswear all ducats? No^ 



My love for ducats — and my need of them — 
Are just as keen as ever. 

Fau^us, roused by Gottfried's alluring talk, con- 
jures up the devil, who adds to the priest's awaken- 
ing lust, offering him the pleasures of youth's hey- 
day. No compact is signed. Faustus expressly 
tells the emissary of evil that, once aided by a pure 
woman, he will fi^t him with the arms of woman's 

Lured on by Mephisto, Faustus wins away the 
love of Gretchen from Gottfried. There is thus 
added to the Goethe version an element that in- 
creases the tragic appeal. Gottfried, returning from 
the wars, is thunderstruck at what he hears, and 
only the supplications of Gretchen save Faustus 
from the lover's sword. Gretchen, in anguish at 
the misery of which she is the innocent cause, dies 
in Martha's cottage. 

The tragedy of Gretchen's love is dignified, if not 
so symbolic and compelling as Goethe's eternal fig- 
ure. The gloom of the ill-fated love of Gottfried 
and the priest for the pure maiden is intensified 
by the retribution visited upon Gottfried. His 
words have lured Faustus from the holy life; his 
Gretchen pays the price of the priest's apostasy. 

The comic relief is provided by Mephisto, who 
proves to be a decidedly modem devil of truly 
Shavian bringing-up. When Faustus seems to be 
taken aback to see so comely a personage appear 
from the nether realms, Mephisto shows himself 



equal to the oocasion: 

I*m not the horrible embodiment 

Tou doctors of the church have painted me. 

A very Satyr, with a dragon's tail — 

A nursemaid's devil! Oh, short-sighted priests. 

My policy is to allure mankind, 

Not to repel them! 

As to women, the devil is no less revolutionary : 

Why there's no harm in women. 
I didn't make them! They're my deadliest foe! 
Why, he who of his own unfettered will 
Cuts himself off from pure communion 
With blameless womanhood, withdraws himself 
From a far holier influence than he finds 
Within these sad and silent solitudes. 

A trace, too, of the satire against the clergy in the 
Bab Ballads finds vent in the fling of Mephisto 
versus the holy tribe 

Who pray for mankind in the aggregate 
And damn them all in detail! 

Lisa, a character not found in the Goethe play, 
is used with great effect to for^hadow the disgrace 
of Gretchen. The last two acts are particularly 

Having parodied Tennyson, Gilbert would scarce- 
ly shrink from approaching the great Shakespeare 
himself with the same intentions. In "Rosencrantz 
and Guildenstern" (1893) no less a masterpiece 
than "Hamlet" furnishes the theme. The argu- 
ment (in Gilbert's words) follows: 



Kins Claudius, when a young man, wrote a five- 
act tragedy which was damned, and all reference 
to it forbidden under penalty of death. The king 
has a eon — Hamlet — ^whose tendency to soliloquy 
has so alarmed his mother, Queen Gertrude, that 
■he has sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, 
to devise some Court revels for his entertain- 
ment Rosencrantz is a former lover of Ophelia 
(to whom Hamlet is bethrothed), and they lay 
their heads together to devise a plan by which 
Hamlet may be put out of the way. Some Court 
theatricals are in preparation. Ophelia and Rosen- 
crantz persuade Hamlet to play his father's 
tragedy before the king and Court. .Hamlet, who 
is unaware of the proscription, does so, and he 
is banished, and Rosencrantz happily united to 

Grilbert takes a most apposite fling at the thousand 
and one actors and critics who have essayed their 
talents in the interpretation of the famous Dane. 
"What is he like?" asks Guildenstem of Ophelia, 
referring to Hamlet. 

Ophelia: Alike for no two seasons at a time. 
Sometimes he's tall, — sometimes he's very short — 
Now with iblack hair — now with a flaxen wig — 
Sometimes an English accent — ^then a French — 
Then English with a strong provincial "burr". 
Once an American, and once a Jew — 
But Danish never, take him how you will! 

And strange to say, whate'er his tongue may be. 
Whether he's dark or flaxen — ^English — ^French — 
Though we're in Denmark, A. D., ten-six-two — 
He always dresses as King James the First! 

Guildenstem: Oh, he is surely mad! 



Ophelia: Well, there again 

Opinion is divided. Some men hold 

That he's the sanest, far, of all sane men — 
Some that he's really sane, hut shamming mad — 
Some that he's really mad, but shamming sane — 
Some that he will be mad, same that he was 
Some that he couldn't be. But on the whole 
(As far as I can make out what they mean) 

The favorite theory's somewhat like this: 
Hamlet is idiotically sane 
With lucid intervals of lunacy. 

And lest we forget the multitudinous army of 
playwrights, listen to what Ophelia confesses in re- 
gard to her censorial father, who 

spends his long official days 
In reading all the rubbishing new plays. 
From ten to four at work he may be found: 
And then — ^my father sleeps exceeding sound! 

The parody is more than usually brilliant, full 
of temptations for punning and datirical gibes. 
Lines from Shakespeare are twisted into the most 
whimsical of shapes. "Gentlemen", cries Hamlet 

It must be patent to the merest dunce 
Three persons can't solilquize at once! 

The episode of the pipe is caricatured, when Ros- 
encrantz takes the proferred flute and plays a horn- 
pipe on it. The advice to the players (in prose) h 
important as containing Gilbert's idea of the comic 
actor — an idea that was personally impressed upon 
all the players who ever figured in a Gilbert pro- 



duction. Th« importence of the passage m^ts 
quotation in full: 

Hamlet: — ^We are ready, sir. But, >before we be- 
gin, I would speak a word to jou who are to play 
this piece. I hare choBen this play in the face 
of sturdy opposition from my well-esteemed 
friends, who were for playing a piece with less 
bombastick fury and more frolick. (Addressing 
the King) But I have thought this a fit play to 
be presented by reason of that very pedantical 
bombast and windy obstructive rhetorick that 
they do rightly despise. For I hold that there is 
no such antick fellow as your bombastical hero 
who doth so earnestly spout forth his folly as to 
make his hearers belive that he is unconscious of 
all incongruity; whereas, he who doth so mark, 
label, and underscore his antick speeches as to 
show that he is alive to their absurdity, seem- 
eth to utter them under protest, and to take 
part with his audience against himself. (Turn- 
ing to players) For which reason, I pray, you, 
let there be no huge red noses, nor extravagant 
monstrous wigs, nor coarse men garbed as wo- 
men, in this comi-tragedy; for such things are 
as much to say, "I am a comic fellow — I pray 
you laugh at me, and hold what I say to l»e 
cleverly ridiculous." Such labelling of humor is 
an impertinence to your audience, for it seem- 
eth to imply that they are unable to recognize 
a joke unless it be pointed out to them. I pray 
you avoid it. 

This advice, coming in the surroundings where 
we find it, is -an excellent illustration of the imder- 
lying sobriety evm in Gilbert's most hilarious mo- 



ments. It is no mere paradox to say that comic 
actors, too, miist take their profession serionsly, nor 
could they do better ihan to take Hamlet's advice, 
just cited, and con it over well. 

As a writer of verse, we find Gilbert to be more 
inclined to sacrifice beauty to point than to let the 
imagination soar in the realms of thought. Gilbeii 
is not a poet. If his eye rolls in a fine frenzy, it 
is not that he may give to airy nothings a local 
habitation and a name, but that he may conjure 
out of even a tragedy like "Hamlet" elements of 
mirth-provoking efficacy. Not his imagination, but 
his fancy, is the ruler of his verse as well as of his 
prose. In isolated passages, indeed, one is scarcely 
surprised to come upon lines of STistained power and 
piercing vision. Potentially Gilbert is a poet, but 
he has not so written himself down. He holds the 
mirror up to nature, but it is a purposely distorting 
mirror that throws back reflections none the less 
true for their comical virtues. 


$art tirtDo 







The Famous Qllbert-Sulllvan Opera*— The Savoy 
Theatre-Bother UlbrettI — Satire as an ingredient 
of Comic Opera. 

If Gilbert is notable m the forms we have jiLst 
reviewed, he is supreme in comic opera. Not only 
does he mark a new stage in the history of that 
scantily treated genre; he is himself an epoch. 

Perhaps the chief reason for the imabated popu- 
larity of his libretti, as well as for their imexampled 
vitality, is that they include, in addition to his in- 
dividual wit €Uid humor, so much social satire. 
Thus, while they rouse the laughter necessary to 
immediate acceptance, they contain the undercur- 
^ rent of thought and form necessary to their ultimate 
rank as literary products. 

The comic opera as a vehicle for satire is particu- 
larly eflfective. Musical setting serves the double 
purpose (especially in 4ihe hands of a master hu- 
morist like Sullivan) of giving added point to the 



satirical gibes while depriving them of the harsh- 
ness of spoken criticism. Thus, while the English 
army might well have resented the staitement that 
they never tremble before the enemy — "or conceal 
it if they do" — ^when it is sung to them, or even 
spoken amidst the muMcal atmosphere, the same 
army laughs merrily over the line with the rest of 
the audience. Gilbert must have had many a laugh 
up his sleeve at the censors, who yearly passed by 
his powerful indictments of social rank in their ef- 
forts to cat<?h the more serious, but not so effective 

From "Thespis" to "Fallen Fairies", ranging all 
the way from a dramatic cantata with but a hand- 
ful of characters to the most complex stage produc- 
tion involving a host of principals and the now 
traditional "enlarged chorus and orchestra" Gilbert 
literally educated the English public away from the 
popular insipidities to which they had grown ac- 
customed, up to a standard of taste to which all fu- 
ture writers of operetta must aspire. All this with- 
in the limits of less than a half-century. 

Of the Savoy Theatre and the troupe which thero 
brought forth most of our author's works it is not 
here the place to tell.* It is enough to indicate 
that the operas themselves go by the name of their 

♦ The reader is referred to Fitzgerald's "Savoy 
Opera", of which mention has already heen 
made. It is cot critical, but conversationally re- 
miniscent in tone. 



original birthplace; think, then, with what nation- 
wide interest the Savoy announcements were read 
and heralded. For the Savoy Theatre, far from be- 
ing merely a business enterprise, had grown in 
popular esteem to the proportions of a national in- 

"Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old" (1871) rep- 
resents the first instance of collaboration between 
Gilbert and Sullivan. It is, indeed, a highly orig- 
inal, "grotesque" opera, immediately indicative of 
the special capacities which Gilbert gradually per- 
fected. A tendency to challenge the intelligence of 
his audience, to outstrip their powers of comprehen- 
sion, shows itself here in his agreeable, yet too class- 
idal satire. Jokes depending upon Lempriere's 
dictionary are rather hard on a comic opera gather- 
ing. At times the spectator feels like using a fav- 
orite phrase of Gilbert's : "I'm afraid that I am un- 
equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversa- 

In the midst of a most lugubrious convention of 
the gods on Mount Olympus, where the classic 
deities are bewailing the passing of Time and their 
loss of influence upon the world below, comes the 
picnic party of Thespis. Thespis is the leader of 
an actors' troupe and is giving them a holiday. In 
a clash betweep the actors and the gods an agree- 
ment finally takes place: the actors are to assume 
the role of deities for one year while the gods shall 
absent themselves upon earth, travelling incognito 



to investigate their negligent subjects. The mis- 
management of the actor troupe endeavoring to in- 
terpret the functions of the classic gods gives abund- 
ant opportunity for sparkling wit and humor at the 
expense of the profession, and before ihe incompet- 
ent earth-born sham-gods are routed by the return- 
ing vacationists, many a laugh greets the actors 
who are placed in the incongruous position of try- 
ing to act well a part that calls for acting badly I 
Topsey-turvey fairly monopolizes the several hours 
"traffic of the stage". 

The autobiographic song, which really receives 
its initial presentation in the next opera, is here 
foreshadowed in Thespis' song of the chairman ot 
railroad directors, ending: 

'Twas told to me with great compunction, 
By one who had discharged with unction, 
A chairman of directors function 
On the North South East West Diddlesex junction. 
Fol diddle, lol diddle, lol lol lay. 

The last line of the quatrain has a fairly Rabelaisian 
punctiliousness of detail, and is as readily intellig- 
ible as most time-tables and other enlightening rail 
road literature. And here at the outset of his lib- 
retto career, Gilbert puts into the mouth of Thespia 
a shaft against the very sort of melodramatic sen- 
timentality which he himself has perpetrated: 

"But see here you know — ^vlrtae only triumphs 
at night from seven to ten — ^vice gets the hest 
of it during the other twenty-one hours!" 

[86] ,. : ..;>■ 



Evidently he of the troupe who asked^ **What is 
the use of being gods^ if we must work like commou 
mortals?" had never heard of "Noblesse Oblige." 

Mercury, the factotum of the gods, is a sort of 
celestial Pooh-Bah with all the heavenly duties 
rolled into one— he is groom, valet, postman, butler, 
commissionaire, maid-of-all-work, parish-beadle and 
original dustman. But for this drudgery he gets his 
revenge, by singing 

WeU» wen, it's the way of the world. 
And wiU be through aU Its futurity. 

Though noodles are baroned and earled. 
There's nothing for clever obscurity. 

Nor could the Mikado himself, that expert in adapt- 
ing punishment to crime, have m*eted out a more 
fitting penalty ihan the tragi-comic decree of the 
gods against Thespis and his band : 

Away to earth, contemptible comedians. 

And hear our curse before we set you free; 

You shaU all be eminent tragedians 
Whom no one ever goes to see! 

"Trial By Jury" (1876), an original dramatic 
cantata in one act, is, as an example of the mock 
trial, second only to Dickon's well-known episode 
in the "Pickwick Papers". As analysis will reveal, 
it is of a totally different character, its pivot turn- 
ing on social satire rather than on individual cari- 

Edwin and Angelina, defendant and plaintiff in 
the breach of promise case which forms the cw^on, 



have long been by-words denoting couples who have 
gone to law. Though but three quarters of an hour 
m length, the cantata (there is something cynical 
in Gilbert's use of the designation) teems with gibes 
against the bar, against the mercenary evaluation 
of affections supposed to be above material calcula- 
tion, against even the impeccability of the jury 
when confronted by a distressingly beautiful claim- 
ant. Nay, what shall we say when the judge, im- 
patient with the delay in proceedings, dismisses the 
case and himself marries the pretty bride I 

Note the impartiality of the Usher's charge to the 

Oh, Usten to the plaintifTs case: 
Observe the features of h'er face — 

The broken-hearted bride. 
Condole with her distress of mind — 
From (bias fr^e of every kind 

This trial must be tried! 

The stern jury, roused by the Usher's plea, actually 
threaten the defendant when he appears, mandolin 
in hand. And quite in keeping with the later 
Savoy methods, before the judge tries the case he 
must needs indulge in a musical autobiography — 
a form which gives endless opportimity for telling 
quips. To hear a judge recoimt such imdignified 
facts as the news that he really had an appetite; 
that he once had actually known poverty; that he 
had married, for money, a "rich attorney's elderly, 
ugly daughter", who could "very weU pass for 


• .It 


forty-six, in the dusk, with a candle behind her", 
was a novelty. But here was something for the 
legal profession to delight in: 

All thieves who could my fees afford 

Relied on my orations. 
And many a burglar I've restored 

To his friends and his relations! 

Can anything be added to the laughability of such 
a case, being tried by such a judge? Yes, for in 
dances a chorus of bridesmaids, carrying wreaths of 
roses which the claimant presents to the jurors. 
The court is immediately demoralized, with the end 
as above noted. 

Gilbert's characteristics here become more evid- 
ent. Firstly, as we have seen, the chief character 
usually indulges in a series o,f rhythmical memoirs, 
not often calculated to raise his particular type in 
popular esteem. The chorus, too, far from being 
dragged in upon the action (as it is in the great 
percentage of modem musical plays) forms a logi- 
cal offspring of the plot and often assumes, strange- 
ly enough, the function of the Greek chorus, acting 
as commentator upon the proceedings! The rhy- 
thm, the rhymes, tiie wit of Gilbert's later work are 
already present. The counsel's plea fairly soars 
above the heads of the audience, but the intellectual 
neck-stretching caused -thereby is good for the 
genre's admirer's ; they have listened too long to in- 
excusable vapidity. Sings the ooimsel: 




Swiftly fled each honied hour 

Spent with this unmanly niale! 
Cumberwell became a bower, 

Peckham an Arcadian vale. 
Breathing concentrated otto — 
An existence a la Watteau! 

Picture then, my client naming 

And insisting on the day: 
Picture him excuses framing 

Going from her far away; 
Doubly criminal to do so. 
For the maid had bought her trousseau! 

The plaintiff herself pleads no less effeotively: 

Oh, see what a blessing — ^what love and caressing 

I've lost, and remember it, pray, 
When you I'm addressing are ibusy assessing 

The damages Edwin must pay. 

And who can resist the sophistry of the defendant, 
who, though he owns that his heart has been rang- 
ing, avers that 

Of Nature the laws I obey. 

For Nature is constantly changing! 

Truly as logical as Rabelais' excuse for drinking: 
Natura vacuum abhorretl 

The sickly sentimental ballad is well parodied. 
And to cap the climax, — showing how Gilbert's 
keenness loses sight of no opportunity to exploit 
his material to full capacity,— 4he jurors end their 
chorus, not with the conventional "tra la la" but 
with a most appropriate "Trial la law" ! 



"The Sorcerer" (1877) is in many respects the 
weakest of Gilbert's productions. It lacks the spon- 
meity 80 refreshing in his operas, despite the adept 
versification and rhyming. There is, moreover, lit- 
tle satire, and the plot is decidedly weak, especially 
the rather flat denouement. 

Aline and Alexis, whose parents also have a lik- 
ing for one another, are engaged to be married. 
Alexis, intent upon his mission of spreading the 
blessings of love broadcast, enlists the services of J. 
Wellington Wells, dealer in magic and spells. 
Wells, by the aid of a specially brewed potion, 
plimges the entire community into a very delirium 
of passionate ecstasy. We recall the pranks of Puck 
in the "Midsummer Night's Dream". 

Alexis, not content with Aline's protestations of 
undving aflFection, insists upon her drinking the 
ma^c draught, thus perpetuating what may other- 
wise prove to be but a transitory feeling. For this 
overinsistence he is severely pimished, for what 
should Aline do after quaffing the enchanting bev- 
erage but gaze upon the village Vicar, thus falling 
m love with him! Now the complications are at 
the worst, and our senses keenly alive to see what 
the author will do to extricate his characters. What 
a disappointment, then, (particularly when we 
know from Gilbert's other works how cleverly he 
can manage the climax and conclusion of a plot) 
when we behold the spell-weaving Wells sacrifice 
himself to Ahrimanes (even so !) in order that mat- 



ters may be restored to their former statiis. 

The humor of the situations, the general stand- 
ard of the dialogue, the wit, — are all below Gilbert's 
average. Despite the poetic justice of Wells' sac- 
rifice (he pays the penalty of his black art by self- 
immolation) the plot, never brilliant, dies out on 
a false note, as it were. Besides the suggestion of 
the Shakespearian comedy, an echo of "Macbeth" 
soimds through the magician's incantation: 

Now, BhriyeUed hags, with poibon bags. 

Discharge your loathsome loads! 
Spit flame and fire, unholy choir! 

Belch forth your venom, toads! 
Te demons fell, with yelp and yeU, 

Shed curses far afield — 
Ye friends of night, your filthy blight 

In noisome plenty 3rield! 

How far from the Gilbert we most admire is Mr. 
Wells' catalogue of his trade: 

Tes, sir, we practise necromancy in all its 
branches. We've a choice assortment of wish- 
ing-caps, divining-rods, amulets, charms and 
counter charms. We cast you a nativity at a 
low figure, and we have a horoscope at three and 
six that we can guarantee. Our Abudah chests, 
each containing a patent hag who ccmes out and 
prophesies disasters, with a spring complete, are 
strongly recommended. Our Alladan lamps are 
very chaste, and our prophetic tablets, foreteUing 
everything— from a change of ministry to a raise 
in Turkish stocks — are much inquired for. Our 
penny curse— one of the cheapest things in the 




)• ■ • 





trade — ^is considered infallible. We have some 
very superior blessings, too, but they're very 
little asked for. We've only sold one since 
Christmas — ^to a gentleman who bought it to send 
to his mother-in-law — ibut it turned out that he 
was affected in the head, and it's been returned 
on oui; hands. But our sale of penny curses, es- 
pecially on Saturday nights, is tremendous. We 
can't turn 'em out fast enough. 

How labored the camic effort is — ^what a profu- 
sion of words for but a single successful gibe ! How 
far are we from that brevity which is the soul of 
wit! Nothing but the grimaces of an "antick fel- 
low" would raise a laugh with such a speech; and 
grimaces, as Gilbert himself taught, are derogatory 
to the comic actor's art. 

Of all the operas, "Pinafore" (1878) seems, to- 
gether with the "Mikado", to be most popular. 
When first produced, it ran steadily for two years. 
It is said that in Germany, at one time no less than 
forty companies were playing it simultaneously, 
"not including those formed after six P. M. last 
night'; as a facetious critic put it. The operetta 
became literally a "craze". Some of its phrases 
have passed into the language. 

More than any of the operas, "Pinafore" owes 
its genesis to an amalgamation of several of the 
Ballads The general atmosphere was also in Gil- 
bert's mind at the time of the preceding play, in 
which occurs the following significant speech by 
Alexis, whose theory of the levelling influence of 



love upon all ranks has led him to preach even in 

lunatic asylums, where the dubious compliment of 

greatest approbation has been given him. Says 


I have addressed nayYies on the advantages that 
would accrue to them If they married wealthy 
ladles of rank, and not a navvy dissented. 

This selfHsame theory of love's levelling all ranks 
it is which forms the theme of "Pinafore". Such 
fancies are entirely in accord with the topsey-turvey 
spirit. The satire, at times, is stinging, as when, 
for instance. Admiral Porter tells the sailors how 
they may rise to distinction in the navy. The in- 
formation is conveyed in the regulation autobiogra- 
phical song: 

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip 

That they took me into a iMurtnership, 

And that junior partnership, I ween, 

VE^as the only ship that I had ever seen. 
But that kind of ship so suited me. 
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee! 

I grew so rich that I was sent 

By a pocket borough into Parliament 

I always voted at my party's call. 

And I never thought of thinking for myself at all. 
I thought so little, they rewarded me 
By making me the ruler of the Queen's Navee! 

Now landsmen all, whoever you may he, 
If you want to rise to the top of the tree. 
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool. 
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule — 

Stick close to your desks, and never go to see. 
And you all may (be rulers of the Queen's Navee! 


The operetta is as breezy and briny as the seas on 
a fresh summer's day. From the opening chorus 
of sailors to the closing ensemble^ the action and 
the music seem to be alive with the tang of the 
salty deep. 

Balph Sackstraw loves Josephine, daughter of 
Capt. Corcoran. She, however, is loved by none 
other than the redoubtable Admiral Porter, E. C. 
B., a thorough gentleman wh<^e high opinion of 
the British navy knows no boimds, until he dis- 
covers that Balph is his successful rival. The tables 
are most prettily turned. Porter's magnanimous 
maxim, while courting Josephine, had been that 
she needn't be overwhelmed by his truly exalted, 
much superior station, for *love levels all ranks". 
But when it becomes a question of Josephine's mar- 
rying Ralph, — ^no, no, true love levels all ranks — 
but the line must be drawn somewhere! Which 
makes one think of the fairy in "lolanthe", who 
did not object to stoutness — ^in moderation! The 
sailor and his pretty lover are foiled in their at- 
tempt to elope by the spying Dick Deadeye (per- 
haps the most popular villain in comic opera) who, 
in an amusing duet with the captain, divulges the 

Just as Ralph is about to be sent to the dungeon 
cell for his treacherous attempt to elope with a cap- 
tain's daughter, the bumboat woman, Little Butter- 
cup, springs the surprise of the day. She reveals, 
in a typical "mystery" song, that in her youth she 



practised "baby-fanning" — that she had changed 
Balph and Oapt. Corcoran in their cradles, — that 
Balph is the rightful captain and Corcoran the sea- 
man! At this revelation Josephine is lowered in 
Porter's estimation. His protestations of love's 
equalizing powers had been sham. But not so with 
Ralph, for, despite his newly acquired title, he goes 
to Josephine more fervently than ever, and with 
a stirring contrapuntal hymn in praise of the Eng- 
lishman, the opera ends. Fitzgerald has written 
that the story is nothing. "It is the characters and 
the himior that attract", he adds. Quite to the con- 
trary, the story was so cuttingly satirical, that it 
offended the queen. Significantly enough, al- 
though Sullivan was knighted by Victoria, Gilbert 
had to await King Edward for that nominal honor. 
This little two-act gem abounds in quotable in- 
stances. The female chorus, introduced by the ad- 
miral as 

His sisters and his oousins 
Whom he reckons by the dozens, 
And his aunts! 

thus acquire a logical raison d'etre. The dialogue 
fairly bristles with gibes and brilliant repartee. The 
plot, remembering the genre, is perfect. The songs 
are among the best that Gilbert has written. He 
has indeed a pleasure in store for him who has not 
yet heard the "Little Buttercup" aria, Ralph's mad- 
rigal of the nightingale that loved the pale moon's 
ray, and his song opening 


• ■ 


▲ maiden fair to 8ee» 
The pearl of miiiBtrelty, 

A Imd of blushing beauty. 

And who shall omit the Captain's song, with its 
blood-tingling chorus? 

Gapt I do my best to satisty you all — 
AU And with you we're quite content 
Capt You're exceedingly polite 
And I think it only right 
To return the compliment 

Bad language or abuse 
I never never use^ 
Whatever the emergency; 
Though "bother it" I may 
Ocassionally say, 
I never use a big, big D— 
All What never? 
Capt No, never! 
All What never? 
Capt Hardly ever! 
AU Hardly ever swears a big, big D— 

Then give three cheers and one cheer more 
For the well-bred captain of the "Pinafore**! 

The improvement over the "Sorcerer" is every- 
where evident The figure of the Admiral is a 
truly humorous characterization. Dick Deadye re- 
presents a well-planned satire on the stage "viUain", 
and in addition serves the purposes of holding the 
cringing, servile employee up to scorn. The con- 
trast between Porter's empty phrases, his self- suf- 
ficiency and Balph's manly, truthful purpose, went 




straight home. Here was satire, fearlessly unerring 
in aim. It required courage to write this seemingly 
guileless operetta. Indeed, the triumphant ^'He :8 
an Englishman" with which the play closes, seems 
to assert with final emphasis the inherent super- 
iority of the common Britisher. 

The extraordinary success of ^Tinafore" was fol- 
lowed by the delightfully ironical ^Tirates of Pen- 
zance" (1880). 

Frederic has been indentured to a band of pirates 
until his twenty-first birthday. The only woman 
he has seen since his infancy is Ruth, a sort of 
pirates' "Little Buttercup". Frederic swears that 
no sooner shall he be free from his bonds than he 
shall war on his piratical associates till they are 
exterminated. Only a few hours remain for his 
twenty-first birthday — before that time (with 
Gilbertian pimctiliousness) he is of and for the 
roving band of buccaneers — immediately after his 
birthday he shall commence his war. "By the 
love I have for you", he assures his comrades, "I 
swear it". Such a deed of hatred sworn to in the 
name of love is a most laughably humorous in- 
congruity. One wonders whether Gilbert had in 
mind the fanatic who, with sword in hand, would 
massacre the world into universal peace. 

Enter Major Stanley and his bevy of wards in 
chancery, a figure ansdogous to Porter and his fe- 
male relatives. The major gives the author an op- 
portunity to deal with the army as he had with the 



navy in "Pinafore". In a much-quoted patter son^; 
(so named from the pitter-patter of the rhythm as 
it is sung at a fairly breathless pace) we learn that 
he is 

. . .the yery pattern of a modem glneral* 

I've information yegetable, animal and mineral. 

. . .my military knowledge, ihough I'm plucky 

and adventury. 
Has only been brought down to the begininng of 

the century. 

The entrance of the wards in chancery works 
havoc among the buccaneers. Though they are 
pirates of the sea, they fall before the pirates of 
hearts. Moreover, the Major is preserved from the 
band's violence by the fact that he represents him- 
self to be an orphan, to all of whom the band is 
pledged to afford protection. And now arises a 
difficulty that has been much imitated. FredericV 
indenture says that he is to remain a pirate until 
his twenty-first birthday, not twenty-first year. It 
so happens that Frederic was bom on the twenty- 
ninth day of February! At that rate he has had 
but five natal days, and must serve for several score 
years more. (One thinks of Rossini's quip, when 
he reached his 60th year. Having seen the light on 
February twenty-ninth, he boasted of being fifteea 
years old I) The dilemma is put to an end by the 
entrance of the police, who, though beaten by the 
pirates, force the latter to yield at Victoria's name. 
One suspects this compliment as being a kind of 




palliative for the shafts of the previous opera against 
the rulers of the ^'Queen's Navee". It becomes 
evident that all the pirates are really of noble birth 
(can this have any hidden significance?) and thus 
their union with the wards in chancery is a fore- 
gone conclusion. Of course Frederic takes the pret- 
tiest of them; but that is a minor matter from our 
point of view. 

The opera is built on broader lines than any we 
have thus far examined. It assumes, at times, truly 
operatic proportions. The long-winded recitative of 
the conventional Italian opera is excellently parod- 

The police lend a most genial aspect to the scenic 
Aggregation ; the lines in this particular part of the 
play are still popular, we are told, among the 
''force" in England. The pirates represent an op- 
portunity for satire that tempts Gilbert to bold ex- 
pression. Says the pirate King at one time: 

r* don't think much of our profession, but eon- 
trasted with respectability, it is comparatiTely 

The same piratical potentate carols, at another time : 

But many a King on a flrst-class throne 
If he wants to call his crown hit own, 
MuBt manage somehow to get through 
More dirty work than ever I do. 

This particular motif finds even ampler expression 
in the "Gondoliers". As an example of rhyming 




spunk the general's patter song is full of jingles 
that remind us of our own Lowell. Witness such 
combinations as ''lot o' news" and ''hypotenuse" — 
"ZoffanieSy Aristophanes" — "din afore" with "Kn- 
afore". 'He has indeed something of the poet in 
him who could call poetry the "Divine Emollient"/ 

The "Pirates of Penzance" was followed by one 
of the most enduring of the Savoy series^ "Par 
tience" (1881). The sickly sentiment and almost 
morbid preciosity which Oscar Wilde's aesthetic cult 
had engendered had already furnished the basis for 
several satirical eflforts, of which only Gilbert's sur- 
vives. Apart from the influence of Sullivan's beau- 
tiful setting, this longevity is doubtless due to the 
perspicuity of the author in seizing upon the eternal 
aspects of that transitory phase represented by the 
enthusiasts of Wilde. Fitzgerald affirms that the 
opera doubtless did a great deal towards killing off 
the aesthetic "craze". From what we know of Gil- 
bert, we can easily see that the operetta is directed, 
not alone against the author of "The Ballad of 
Reading Gaol", but against all sham in general. 
In fact, the opera recalls, in more than one respect, 
Moliere's "Precieuses Ridicules". 

The action is highly concentrated; the first act 
is, perhaps, as good a single act as Gilbert has given 
us in his libretti. The dialogue sparkles with a 
brilliancy that Wilde himself possessed. The songs 
teem with telling hits. One feels like trahscribing 
the whole opera for citation ; to do less is really an 




injustice to Gilbert. 

Buathome, a sham aesthete, contends with Gros- 
venor, an idyllic poet, for the admiration of the 
rapturous maidens. These enthusiasts ape succes- 
sively the fleshy Bunthome's stained-glass medieval- 
ism and Grosvenor's more modem antics. The 
dragoons, who are used to being lionized by thd 
feminine contingent, languish in neglect, puzzled 
at the inefficiency of the hitherto all-compelling 
military uniform. 

Patience, the milkmaid, really loves Grosvenor, 
but she has become imbued with the idea that love 
must be "unselfish", so, loving Grosvenor, she never- 
theless goes to Bunthome. It were too selfish, sooth, 
to yield to her own genuine passion. The mock- 
sobriety of this super-aesthetic refinement is inimit- 
able. But what a change is in store. Bunthome 
becomes perfection itself, and according to the same 
tenets which brought her to him. Patience leaves 
Bnnthome and goes to Grosvenor, who has be- 
come "ordinary". The aesthetic phenomenon by 
which this psychic transformation is effected forms 
the humor of the opera, which, structurally, re- 
sembles the ballad pattern so popular in the days 
of Balfe. We must cite the first verse of the colonel's 
song entire. It is the best patter song in all the 
operas, not excluding that in the previous opera or 
in 'TEolanthe". 

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery 
Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon, 



Tmke all the remarlcable people in hifltory* 
Rattle them off to a popular tune. 

And then follows a minute recipe; a very Milton* 
ian triumph of name-cataloguing: 

The pluck of Lord Nelson aboard of the Vlctorj — 

Genius of Bismarck devising a plan; 
The humor of Fielding (which sounds contradictorj)— 

Coolness of Paget albout to trepan — 
The science of Mosart*, the eminent musico — 

Wit of Macaulay who wrote of Queen Anne — 
The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Bpucicault — 

Style of the Bishop of Sodor and Man — 
The dash of a D'Orsay divested of quackery — 
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackeray — 
Victor Bmmanuel — ^peak-haunting Peveril, 
Thomas Aquinas and Doctor SachavereU — 

Tupper and Tennyson — Daniel Defoe — 

Anthony TroUope and Mr. Guisot! 
Take of these elements all that Is fusible. 
Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible; 
Set them to simmer and take of the scnm« 
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum! 

The ''twenty lovesick maidens", Jane of the on- 
coming obesity (who can forget her song of the 
second act, as she holds a bass viol lovingly by the 
neck?), Bunthome's "Hollow, Hollow, Hollow**, 
are but windsprays from a veritable sea of sdntil* 
lating touches. It is surprising to read in Fits- 

^The name here was originally '*Juilien", which the 
author changed, in his "Songs of a Savoyard", to that of 
the celebrated genius. 



gerald that he would prefer to have the ^'Hollow" 
poem omitted from the opera. We have alwajrs 
thought it the essence of poetic whimsicality done 
in Gilbert's best manner. The trio beginning ''It's 
clear that medieval art alone retains its zest'' was 
alone enough to dampen the enthusiasm of any 
contemporary aesthete. The author's genius for 
pregnant phrases revels in such a confession as 
Buntfaome's : 

inn I alone. 

And anobserved? I am! 
Then let me own 

I'm an aesthetic sham! 
This air severe 

Is but a mere 

This cynic smile 
Is but a wile 
Of sruUe! 
This costume chaste 
Is but good taste 

Let me confess! 

A languid love for lilies does not blight me! 
Lank limbs and haggard cheeks do not delight me! 

I do not care for dirty greens i 

By any means. 
I do not long for aU one sees 

That's Japanese. 
I am not fond of uttering platitudes 1 

In stained-glass attitudej. j 

In short my medievalism's afFectation 
Is ibom of a morbid love of admiration! ' I 



Much of all this was quite beyond the reacih of the 
audience, and to the reader loses some flavor un- 
less the connection with Wilde is kept in mind. 

Readers of the "Bab Ballads" will remember the 
story of the "Fairy Curate" and the embarrasinj; 
position in which he was placed by his youthful 
looking fairy mother. It is from this slender hint 
that the opera "lolanthe" (1883) germinates. 
^Cbi "lolanthe" the satiric spirit again wells up at 
times bitterly, especially in its political aspect. Gil- 
bert's respects to the ministry and its parliamentary 
associates had been paid in the very first opera we 
have mentioned. Mercury, in "Thespis", complains 
thus of the actors who have been entrusted with the 
duties of the gods: 

I¥om Jupiter down there isn't a dab in it, 
AH of 'em quibble and shuffle and shirk; 
^ A premier in Downing St, forming a cabinet 

Couldn't find people less fit for their work! 

The sentry's song from the opera "lolanthe" (small 
wonder that it was omitted in presentation.) con- 
tains condemnation even more mercilessly frank. 
Private Willis, on duty in the Palace Yard, West- 
minster, assures us that, although he has not been 
nursed in the lap of luxury, he is an intellectual 
chap. Among tlie things that arrest his philoso- 
^ phical muse is the fact 

.. That every boy and every gal, 

> That's bom into the world alive. 





Is either a little Liberal, 
Or else a little Canseryatiye! 
Fal, lal, la! 

Such a slant at the voters of England in their un- 
thinking alignment against each other, especially 
when followed by that nonchalant, yet dangerous 
''Fal, la, la'' from a mere soldier, was formidable 
enough. It acquired triple strength from the verse 
which followed: 


When in that House M. P.'s divide, 

If they've got a brain and cerebeUum, too, 
They've got to leave that brain outside. 

And vote just as their leaders teU 'em to. 
But then the prospect of a lot 

Of M. P.'s in close proximity. 
All thinking for themselves, is what 

No man can face with e<iuanimity. 

Only the man who wrote ''Pinafore" would dare to 
write those lines at that time. 

The general plot is, as in Gilbert's best work, 
very simple indeed. lolanthe, a fairy, has been 
finally pardoned, after more than a score of years' 
banishment, for having married a mortal. The 
fruit of this marriage is Strephon, who, as a result 
of the peculiar parentage which gave him birth, is 
a fairy down to the waist, but from there to his 
toes is mortal. The author makes much, in char- 
acteristic fashion, of this anomaly. Strephon falls 
in love witli Phyllis, a beauty who is in turn 
worshipped by the entire nobility and the very Lord 




Chancellor whose ward she is. Although she loves 
Strephon, she is alienated from him by his atten- 
tions to his own mother, who looks (being a fairy) 
like a sweet miss in the very prime of youth's bloom. 
Strephon is under obligations not to disclose lo- 
lanthe's real relations to him, and suffers the loss 
of Phyllis, who courts the royalty. 

In revenge for this, Strephon, through the fairy 
aid which his mother procures for him, is sent to 
Parliament. Here he has his own way. Immediate- 
ly he puts into effect the threat of the fairy queen ; 

Every bill and every measure 


That may gratify his (1. e. Strephon's) pleasure. 

Though your fury it arouses. 

Shall be passed by both your Houses! 

Tou shall sit, if he sees reason. 

Through the grouse and salmon season! 

He shall end the cherished rights 

You enjoy on Wednesday nights: 

He shall prick tliat annual blister. 

Marriage with deceased wife's sister! 

Titles shall ennoble, then, 

AU the Common Councilmen: 

Peers shall teem in Christendom, 
And the Duke's eralted station 

Be attainable by Com- 
Petitive Examination! 

The mystery of Strephon's youthful mother is 
finally disclosed. Phyllis takes Strephon. More- 
over, the fairies all break their oaths not to marry 
mortals and capture the entire peerage. To cap 
the climax, and to "rub in" the democratic moral 



of the entire work, the Fairy Queen, (who might 
have been expected to marry the highest in rank) 
marries the philosophical sentry, — ^ttiat essence of 
open-mouthed, clear-thinking ''vox populi'', Private 

In structure the work is lucid, clear of purpose 
and direct in effect. There is none of the sneaUng, 
servile truckling to royalty that occurs in so many 
of our modem libretti. There is more intelligence, 
more power, more pleasure, more genuine music in 
''lolanthe" (any other of Gilbert's operas might 
well be included) than may be found in a ton of 
the unwholesome trash that is usurping the modem 
stage in the guise of comic opera. The Lord Chan- 
cellor's song is an admirable example of musical 
autobiography. We think of the Judge in the 
"Trial By Jury" when we listen to such lines as 

My learned profession I'll never disgrace 
By taking a fee with a grin on my face, 
"When I haven't been there to attend to the case, 
(Said I to myself--said I!) 

The same personage's patter song is a model of its 
kind. As a graphic description of the ever-chang- 
ing phantasmagoria of a nightmare it challenges 
any whimsical verse ever written. Fitzgerald has 
well called attention to the amusing effect produced 
by the peer's plea with the fairies that 

High rank inyolyes no shame — 
We boast an equal claim 



With him of humble name 
To bo respected! 

The chorus of peers, both as verse and as music, re- 
preasents composer and librettist at their best. ''lo- 
lanthe" is too little heard in this country. So 
analogous to our own political situations are the 
episodes, that it would require little imagination 
to feel that the operetta was written for us. 

"Princess Ida" (1884) has already been reviewed 
in connection with the verse play from which it was 
adapted to the musical stage. 

In point of popularity, perhaps the "Mikado" 
(1885) carries oflP the palm over every other work 
in the series. It has bc^n heard in every section of 
the world, and has been performed in Japan itself. 
Its exotic atmosphere, its genuine humor, its spont- 
aneous wit, its whimsical plot, have all been subject 
to countless imitations. Its songs are household 
treasures. Its leading part, Koko, has been played 
by such eminent actors as Irving and Mansfield, 
who thus inaugurated their stage career. Indeed, 
it has been noted by n^ less a manager than Maur- 
ice Grau that the Gilbert and Sullivan operas have 
fostered more future "stars" than any other similar 
combination in theatrical annals. It would be but 
telling the truth to say that ever since the opera 
was first produced it has been playing in some part 
or other of the Empire without cease. 

Nanki Poo, the son of the "^eat and virtuous" 



Mikado, has fled from the court to avoid marriage 
with the termagant Katisha, she of the elbow ' Vhich 
people come miles to see". In the disguise of a 
'Second trombone" he lights upon Yum Yum, the 
ward of Koko, the Lord High Executioner. Smitten 
with love for her, he is horrified to find that she is 
about to become the bride of her ogre guardian* 
That worthy swordsman, however, is in a peculiar 
plight. He has failed to execute anybody of late, 
and receives a message from the ruler of Japan 
saying that unless some execution takes place, the 
office will be abolished. Coming accidentally upon 
Nanki Poo, who, in despair, is about to commit 
suicide, he makes a compact with the young fellow. 
Nanki Poo is to allow himself to be executed in 
grand, royal style, thus saving Koko's office. In 
return for this Yum Yum is to be his for one month 
previous to the execution. (Here was a situation 
for Mrs. Grundy to execrate I) Meanwhile we are 
introduced to the mercenary, pompous, sham-states- 
man Pooh Bah, with his compoimd official person- 
ality. Just as Mercury, in "Thespis" is the facto- 
tum of the gods, so is this base grandee the factotum 
of the town Titipu, where the action takes place. 
Through his legal advice, and his willingness to 
lie — ^he calls it "merely corroborative detail, intend- 
ed to give verisimilitude to a bald and unconvincing 
narrative" — a false writ of execution is drawn up, 
signed by all the town officers of Titipu, namely, 
Pooh Bah himself. As a reward for his services, 




he condescends to allow himself to be "grossly in- 
solted" by a large bribe. When, then, the Mikado 
and his suite arrive, what is the consternation of the 
executioner and his allies to find that Nanki Poo 
is the son of the Mikado— that according to law 
his death is punishable by immersion in "boiling 
oil". With true legal insight the worthy potentate 
whose hobby is making the "punishment fit the 
crime", assures the signers of Nanki Poo's death 
warrant that it is really too bad that the law did 
not take into account the fact that such a death 
might be caused unwittingly, or in ignorance of the 
real identity of the victim. They must boil in oil, 
in confomiity to the statute, which (cold consola- 
tion I) will be revised — after the execution I The 
revelation that Nank^ Poo still lives puts an end to 
all the worriment, and Yum Yum remains the 
bride of her royal mate, while Koko must be con- 
tent to take under his wing the self-willed, self- 
affirmed beauty, Katisha. 

The variety of verse and dialogue in this operetta, 
considering what had gone before, is truly surpris- 
ing. At the very time when people were wondering 
what new treats Gilbert and his compeer could pos^ 
sibly have in store after so prodigal a series of 
operas, here came the "Mikado" to double their 
admiration. The high-water mark had been raised 
by the flood of new, unhoped for delights. 

The lyrics of the play are inimitable. Who has 
not heard the "wandering minstrel" s<Hig; Eoko's 



jEamouB 'Taken from a county jail" togeOier with 
the fltimng march that accompanied it; the popular 
''Three Little Maids From School Are We" I the 
sentimental duet between Yum Yum and Nanki 
Poo ; the incomparable trio (Koko, Pish-Tush, Pooh 
Bah) winding up with the triumphant alliteratioD : 

To tit in soleiim silence In a dnU, dark, dock. 
In a pestilential prison, wtth a life-long lock. 
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock. 
From a cheap and chippj Copper on a hig, black 

The trio is a masterpiece of contrapuntal music 
Each singer gives his own song as a separate unit; 
then all three join in repeating their separate 8ong9 
together, resulting in an exhibition of vocal count* 
erpoint that might well be studied by the empty- 
phrased composers of our own day. And lest some 
pampered "tired business-man" imagine that such 
setting is too difficult for the audience to grasp, let 
us hasten with the assurance that this is one of the 
most popular numbers in eA the Savoy operas. 
There is a plethora of beautifully worded songs ; the 
choric ensemble at the close of the first act rises 
to grand opera, without the ridiculous seriousness 
of the conventional grand-opera libretto. 

The first act is such that it seems genius can no 
farther go; yet the second crowns admiration with 
sheer rapturous wonder. Every yrord of the lyrics 
is here literally a gem when taken with the musical 
setting. The ludicrous sobriety of the above-men- 



tioned conventional Italian grand-opera libretto can- 
not hope to compare with the essentially artistic 
mockHSobriety of the comic opera as developed by 
Gilbert. The madrigal; the '^Here's a how-de^o'' 
trio; the Mikado's song; the recital of the false ex- 
ecution of Nanki Poo; Ihe Glee ''See how the Fates 
iheir gifts allot"; the "Tit Willow" elegy:— all are 
incomparable. The appositeness of the Mikado's 
punishments may be gaged by his excruciating 
penalty for billiard sharps: 

The billiard sharp whom any one catches. 
His doom's extremely hard — 

He's made to dwell 

In a dungeon ceU 
On a spot that's always barred. 
And there he plays extravagant matches 
In fitless finger stalls 

On a cloth untrue 

With a twisted cue. 
And eUiptical biUiard balls! 

The rigorous Dante could scarcely have imagined 
a punishment more fittingly severe. All of which 
is in keeping with the Mikado's avowed mission : 

My object all sublime 

I shall achieve in time — 
To let the punishment fit the crime — 
The punishment fit the crime; 

And make each prisoner pent 

Unwillingly represent 
A source of innocent merriment. 

Of innocent merriment! 



''The flowers that bloom in the spring" are still 
quoted as types of eternally irrelevant matter. One 
might be tempted to say that the ''Mikado" is the 
best work of Gilbert and Sullivan, were it not for 
the numerous other candidates for that honor. What 
a testimony to the genius of this greatest pair of 
the world's collaborators, when experienced, recog- 
nized critics each choose a different opera as their 

Gilbert never tires of lashing the court, with its 
ceremonious vacuities. The opening of the opera, 
in the very second verse of the chorus, clears all 
doubts as to the author's opinion in this regard. 
Looking ahead, we may mention a whole scene 
devoted to an imitation of court proceedings in 
"Utopia". Sing the Japanese statesman, standing 
in attitudes which we have been accustomed to be- 
hold on Japanese vases: 

If you think we are worked by strings, 

Uke a Japanese marionette 
Tou don't understand these things: 
It is simply court etiquette. 
Perhaps you suppose tliis throng 
Can't keep it up aU day long? 
If that's your idea you're Wrong. 

Koko's "I've got a little list" (inexcusably omit- 
ted m the Chatto-Windus edition) is an excellent 
catalogue of petty social offenders "who never would 
be missed". 




There's the peatUenUal nuieancea who write for 

All people who have flabby hands and irritating 

laughs — 
AU children who are up in dates and floor you 

with 'em flat. 
All persons who in shaking handb, shake hands 
with you like that (business). 
• •••••• 

The nigger serenader, and others of his race. 
And the piano organist — 
I've got him on the list! 
And the people who eat peppermint and puff 
it in your face, 
They never would be missed! 
They never would be missed! 
Then the idiot who praises, with erihusiastic tone. 
All centuries but this, and every country but his own — 

But why continue a list to which all of us can add 
indefinitely ? 

The character of Pooh Bah is perhaps the great- 
est single creation of Gilbert's. He is the essenco 
of cultivated diplomacy behind which lurks the 
basest of motives. Every word of his is bought and 
paid for; every smile, every courtesy, has its mone- 
tary equivalent. The haughty, pompous individu- 
al, in his multiple capacities, holds Eoko at his 
mercy, and knows it. So that when Eoko wishes 
to plan an expensive celebration of his marriage to 
Yum Yum, and consults Pooh Bah, the following 
takes place: 

Pooh. Of gourse, as First Lord of the Treasury. 
I could propose a special vote tnat would cover 


Sm WM. S. aiLBEBT 

ftll expenses, if it were not that, as a leader of 
tbe Opposition, it would be my duty to resist 
it, tooth and naiL Or, as Pasrmaster General, 
I could so cook the accounts, that as Lord 
High Auditor I should never discover the fraud. 
But then, as Archbishop of Titipn, it would 
be my duty to denounce my own dishonesty 
and give myself into my own custody as First 
Commissioner of Police. 

Koko. That's extremely awkward. 

Pooh. I don*t say all these peoide couldn't be 
squared; but it is right to tell you that I 
shouldn't be sufficiently degraded in my own 
estimation unless I was insulted with a very 
considera/ble bribe. 

This is the official whose ancestry may be traced 
''back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule". 
(Truly a direct slap at the industrious genealogists.) 
He it is who "was born sneering". But he strug- 
gles hard to overcome his defect; he mortifies his 
pride contiually. 

When the great officers of State resigned in a 
body because they were too proud to serve under 
an ex-tailor, did I not unhesitatingly accept aU 
their posts at once? 

But so great is the hyprocrite's desire to break his 
pride (at a profit!) that he dines with middle- 
class people on reasonable terms. "I dance at cheap 
suburban pai'ties for a moderate fee. I accept re- 
freshments at any hands, however lowly. I also 
retail State secrets at a very low figure." This is 
not the best of satire^ perhaps; it is too carping, too 




direct; the figure of Pooh Bah, however, enriched 
the world's store of characters. 

It was a source of chagrin to Gilbert that tibe 
next opera, "Ruddigore" (1887) was never really 
appreciated by the public. Before his untimely 
demise he was even considering a trip to the United 
States to aid in its revival. The work is really an 
excellent parody on the blood-curdling style of 
melodrama, containing much interesting material 
and effective lines. Its outcome is, as a piece of 
perverted logic, on a par with "Foggerty's Fairy". 
Its chorus of professional bridesmaids recalls the 
similar female aggregation in the "Trial by Jury", 
only that the idea is fully developed in the present 

Sometime in the past, the Murgatroyd family, on 
accoimt of its unceasing persecution of witches, has 
been doomed by an evil spirit to commit a crime 
each day. In order to avoid this horrible contin- 
gency, Buthven Murgatroyd hides his baronetcy, 
and passes the ancestral curse to Despard. The 
latter has abandoned his lover Meg, who has gone 
crazy as a result of this masculine infidelity. Buth- 
ven, under the name Bob Oakapple, woos and wins 
Bose, the village beauty; but along comes his 
brother Bichard and wins Bose away from Bob. 
In a passage of rivalry. Bob regains his ascendancy 
over Bose's eifections, leaving Bichard to the re- 
source of revenge. 

To compass his evil designs, Bichard tells Des- 



pard that Rob is really the Murgatroyd who should 
inherit the ancestral crime-committing curse which 
blights Despard's existence. Rose, the vacillating 
ingenue, leaves Rob and goes to Despard. But the 
latter, conscience stricken, returns to his first love — 
Meg. Through all these matrimonial oscillations 
the professional bridesmaids chant their patent 
wedding lay with supreme indifference to the con- 
tracting parties. This is a most delightfully amus- 
ing touch, not without its ulterior significance. 

The second act finds Rob restored to his rightful 
position as possessor of the ancestral doom. Ho 
must commit a crime daily. He commissions his 
servant Adam to steal a girl from the village; in 
nimierous other ways he tries to meet the require- 
ments of his unenviable criminal obligations. But 
so disgusted with his amateur attempts do his an- 
cestors become that they step forth from the picture 
gallery in which they are hung up, and condemn 
him for his lack of brutality. (This idea of the 
portrait gallery comes from an old play of ihe 
author's entitled "Ages Ago", originally written for 
the German Reeds, so successful in England.) 
Adam, true to his master's order, returns with old 
Hannah, a woman who has remained staunch to 
the memory of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. This 
noble, ten years before, had committed suicide 
rather than be bound by his family curse of ex- 
ecuting a felony daily. By a piece of characterist- 
ic logic Rob proves that the dead Roderic (now 



present to him along with the other complaining 
portraits) is really alive. 

Rob. stop a bit, both of you. 
Rod. This intmsion is unmannerly. 
Han. I'm surprised at you. 
Rob. I can't stop to apologize — an idea has just 
occurred to me. A Baronet of Ruddigore can 
only die through refusing to commit his daily 

Rod. No doubt 

Rob. Therefore, to refute to commit a daily 
crime is tantamount to suicide! 
Rod. It would seem £0. 

Rob. But suicide is, itself, a crime--HUid so, by 
your own showing, you ought never to have died 
at an! 

Rod. I see— I underetand! Then Fm practic- 
ally aliTe! 

Which is the point exactly. So Roderic continues 
to live, taking his faithful Hannah, and Rob takes 
Rose. The witch's curse broken, all ends happily. 

The scene of the gallery is well-conceived and 
most cleverly carried out. The dialogue is full of 
sustained interest. Rose, the amatory weather-vane, 
with her constantly evident reference-book of eti- 
quette, is a good satiric rebuke to the over-modest, 
insincere, '%uch-me-not" sort of creature, though 
not lacking in winsomeness. 

As a sample of the spirited sailor song by Rich- 
ard, the first verse will suffice. The song as a whole 
so vexed certain French officers that Gilbert actually 
received a challenge to a duel. 




I shipped, d'ye see, in a Revenne sloop. 
And, off Gftpe Finistere, 
A merchantman we see, 
A Frenchman going tree. 
So we made for the bold Mounseer, 

D'ye see? 
We made for the bold Monnseer. 
But she proved to be a Frigate — and she up 
with her ports. 
And fires with a thirty-two! 
It come uncommon near. 
But we answered a cheer. 
Which paralyzed the Parly-yoo, 

D'ye see? 
Which paralyzed the Parly-yoo! 

Bob's advice, and it must be granted that he pract- 
ises what he preaches, is summed up in the fonow- 
ing modest terms: 

If you wish in the world to advance. 
Tour merits you're bound to enhance, 

Tott must stir it and stump it. 

And blow your own trumpet. 
Or, trust me, you haven't a chance! 

The prescription has evidently been read, approved 
and acted upon by more than one public chaiacter 
in this fair land. The chorus of Richard's duet 
with Rose is m the same rhythm as the swinging 

"greenery, yaUery 
Grosvenor gallery 
Foot in the grave young man." 

from "Patience". In just the terms that we should 



expect from a sea-faring lover, he chants, with the 
ensemble : 

For she is such a smart little craft 
Such a neat little, sweet little craft — 
Such a bright little— 
Tight little— 
Slii^t UtUe— 
Light little— 
Trim little, slim little craft! 

The eerie song, by Sir Roderic, is a gruesome pic- 
ture of ''the dead of the night's high noon", with 
its weirdly grotesque picture of love among the in- 
habitants of the graveyard. Even in this opera 
Oilbert's wit singles out the M. P. for particular 
drubbing. Robin, in his laughable song of what 
crimes he must commit, takes opportunity to warn 
people that the Baronetcy is not a position wholly 
free from care. The closing verse runs thus: 

Te supple M. P.'s, who go down on your knees. 

Your precious identity sinking. 
And vote black or white as your leaders indite 

(Which saves you the trouble of thinking). 
For your country's good name, her repute, or 

her shame, 

Yon don't care the snufF of a candle- 
But you*re paid for the game when you're told 

that your name 

Will be graced by a baronet's handle — 
Oh! allow me to give you a word of advice— 
The title's uncommonly dear at the price! 

Ah, that America had a Gilbert! What opportuni- 



ties await him I But the majority of our librettiflts 
(the composers may well be included) grovel in the 
dust for money-returns. Flattery, not satire — ^pan- 
dering to low tastesj not cultivation of higher stand- 
ards, is their trade. 

"The Yeomen of the Guard" (1888) was con- 
sidered by Sullivan his best musical getting. It 
can hardly be called Gilbert's best libretto, however, 
despite its evident aspirations to a higher range than 
the Savoy productions had yet entered. 

The opera, inspired by tiie Tower of London, is 
not truly a comic opera, nor is it so denominated 
by the author. This does not prevent Fitzgerald, 
however, from stating that the play ends happily 
for everybody — ^a statement which is flatly contrar 
dieted by the libretto itself. The very last stage 
direction in the play is, "Fairfax embraces Elsie as 
Point falls insensible at their feet". Which does 
not look so happy for poor Point I 

Wilfred, one of the Tower guards, has under his 
care the redoubtable Fairfax. So great is Fairfax's 
fame, that Phoebe has fallen in love with him, al- 
though she has never seen him. Her thoughts are 
bent only on freeing the prisoner whom she loves; 
when, then, her brother Leonard returns from the 
wars (we are in the 16th century) she persuades 
him to a plan whereby Fairfax may be released. 
Meanwhile the condemned prisoner, who is soon tc> 
die, determines upon marrying somebody, anybody, 
so as to foil the man who has had him imprisoned 



in order to come into his wealth. With this pur- 
pose a strolling songstress, Elsie, is united to him, 
and leaves him, presumably forever. 

But the ruse to free Fairfax works successfully, 
and he finds himself free, a married man! To 
make matters worse, Elsie is beloved by her part- 
ner. Jack Point, a merry andrew. To complicate 
matters still more, Phoebe, through whose pluck 
Fairfax has been released, finds that he really loves 
Elsie, despite the queer circumstances of their mar- 
riage. Far from all ending well, both Phoebe and 
Point are forced to nurse an unrequited affection. 

The play is a pleasing, yet not totally satisfactory 
mixture of comedy and drama. The lightness of 
the lyrics, however, is quite out of harmony with 
the sadness of the plot. A lack of proportion makes 
itself felt immediately. 

Jack Point's scenes are well planned, and his 
character is piquantly portrayed, reminding one of 
Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci". Here, too, is a jester 
whose love is taken away from him, whose mission 
it is to sing songs of laughter with a heart of grief. 

Oh! A private ibnffoon is a lU;ll^hearted loon. 

If yon listen to poimlar rumor; 
From morning to night he's bo Joyous and bright, 

And he bubbles with wit and good humor! 

If yon wish to succeed as a Jester you'U need 
To consider each person's auricular: 

What Is all right for B would quite scandalize C 
(For C Is so very particular): 



The ballad ''Is life a boon?" received fitting con- 
secration when its title was engraved upon Sulliv- 
an's memorial monument. The sweet ''Were I thy 
bride" inspired one of the composer's most beautifid 
songs. The choruses are fully up to the author's 
standard. As usual, the producers of the work saw 
to it thaf the picturesque background of the action 
was sumptuously set forth by the most skilful art 
of the scenic director. The chorus of Yeomen i^ 
spirited and full of martial swing: 

Tower Warden 

Under orders. 
Gallant pikemen, valiant sworders! 

Brave in bearing, 

Foemen scaring. 
In their bygone days of daring! 

Ne'er a stranger 

Tbere to danger- 
Each was o'er the world a ranger: 

To the story 

Of our glory 
Each a bold contributory! 

The last line is typical of the author's skill in at 
once compressing his meaning within the metric 
limit and choosing a striking word as a rhyme. 

It will be noted that Gilbert had a special sense 
of atmosphere and scenic beauty. Indeed, so high- 
ly was this sense developed, that the author used to I 
plan his own scenery with meticulous exactness. 
As a stage director his insistence may well be 
guessed when we are told that for the production 



of the ''Mikado" he insisted that every male mem- 
ber of the chorus adopt the Japanese tonsure. No 
mere wigs for this realist I For the scenery of 
''Pinafore" we are told that he visited the harbor 
of Portsmouth and inspected an actual man-of-war I 
This scenic sense it was that finally led him to 
the composition of the "Gondoliers" (1889). The 
lagoons of Venice and the mythical palace of Bar* 
ataria (reminding one of the island to which San- 
cho looked forward as a gift from Don Quixote) 
lend a picturesque environment to a most laughable 
mystery of twins. Nor are we surprised when we 
learn that some old woman has been at work chang- 
ing babies in their .cradles! But, then, we should 
be obliged to her: for, if she hadn't, where would 
the story have come from? 

The action revolves around the twin brother? 
Giuseppe and Marco, gondoliers. One of them is 
discovered to be a King, heir to the Baratarian 
realm. But who is the real king? Until this mo- 
mentous question is decided both Giuseppe and 
Marco embark for the island, to reign jointly. 
They are admonished by their wives, who have been 
recently won in a game of blind man's buff (I), 
and with a typical Spanish dance the first act ends. 

It becomes evident, however, that neither is the 
rightful heir. Due to the baby-changing habit of 
Inez, the royal foster-mother, die has, in the hazy 
past, substituted her own son for the royal prince 
who was entrusted to her care, because tiie latter's 



life was threatened! Luiz, the lover of Gasilda^ is 
the rightful king of Barataria, and aasumes his 
duties at once. 

Such an outline purposely omits the topsey-tur- 
vey complications of the plot, whidi, by this time, 
we have learned to expect from Gilbert. Before 
the claim to the throne is straightened out, a min- 
iature ^'comedy of errors" takes place, interspersed 
with dialogue and songs in Gilbert's most joyous 
vein. The satiric boldness of the author knows 
no restraint. Particularly good is Don Alhambra's 
chant in the second act, — ^a most logical parody on 
the doctrine of absolute equality, relating the plight 
of a good-natured king of old who promoted every- 
body in his realm to the top of the tree. Lord 
Chancellors, Bishops, Field Marshals, all ''grew like 
asparagus in May.*' But the moral is excellent: 

That King, although no one denies 
His heart was of ahnormal sise 
Tet he'd have acted otherwise 

If he had heen acnter. 
The end Is easily foretold, 
VThen every blessed thing yon hold 
Is made of silver or of gold» 

You long for simple pewter. 
When yon have nothing else to wear 
But cloth of gold and satin rare 
For cloth of gold yon cease to 

Up goes the price of shoddy. 
In short, whoever you may he. 
To this conclusion you'll agree. 
When erery one is sombodee, 

Then no one's anybody! 


■ f. i» 


One recalls (ronzalo's speech in the ''Tempest'^ 
about a similar absolute democracy reduced to ab- 
surdity. Bather blunt satire it is which the author 
indulges in against the nobility: 

In short if yon'd kindle 
The •imrk of a swindle 

Lore simpletons into your clatches.... 
Or hoodwink a debtor 
You cannot do better 
Than trot out a Duke or a Dachess. 

The atmosphere is filled with sweet songs as with 
pleasant incense. ''When a merry maiden marries" 
and ''Take a pair of sparkling eyes" are among the 
author' msost spontaneous creations. Their verbal 
melody is^matched only by the enduring music 
which Sullivan has given them. As an example 
of Gilbert's varied wedding choruses, the following 
is characteristically brief, with its petulantly anti- 
climactic ending: 

Bridegroom and bride! 

Knot that's insoluble, 

Voices all voluble 
HaU tt with pride. 
Bridegroom and bride! 

Hail it with merriment; 

It's an experiment 
Frequently tried; 

Gilbert's mirth is never so great but what an in^ 
stinct of restrained sadness seems to brood over his 
muse. The quintette in the first act is, in this re- 
gard, an excellent example of its kind: 



Set aside the doll enlsmm^ 
We shall guess it all too soon; 

Failure brings no kind of stigma— 
Dance we to another tune! 
String the lyre and All the cap. 
Lest on sorrow we shoa;d sup. 

Hop and skip to Fancy's fiddle. 

Hands across and down the middle — 

Life's perhaps the only riddle 

That we shrink from giving up! 

The Italian chorus at the beginning of the opera 
has been recognized as a pleasing satire on the tour- 
ists who return from foreign trips with scraps of 
the country's language in their memory. All in 
all, the "Gondoliers" is as genial a work as Gilbert 
wrote for the Savoyards. Not only in the case of 
this libretto, but in that of all by the author, it is 
difficult to refrain from quoting scene after scene. 

Of the temporary break in the relations between 
composer and author which occurred about this 
time it is neither pleasant nor necessary to speak. 
As an indication of their mutual inter-dependence, 
it is enough to say that neither Gilbert nor Sulliv- 
an wrote anything of lasting consequence in the 

From this it is not to be inferred that the work 
done by Gilbert at this time is lacking in his best 
qualities. The loss of Sullivan's service in setting 
to music the ^^Moimtebanks" (1892) was a loss tc 
the world of music. The composing was done by 
Cellier, who did not live to complete it. The fin- 



ishing touches were entrusted to none other than 
GroBsmiih, leading comedian of the Savoy, who 
also wrote the music to Gilbert's next ^ort 

The plot of the ''Mountebanks" is rather com- 
plicated. It probably owes its origin to inverse 
suggestion from the 'Talace of Truth". Whereas 
in that play people were compelled to tell the real 
truth of their opinions, in this libretto we have an 
equally drastic charm: one which causes people to 
assume in reality the functions and feelings which 
hypocritically they maintain! 

A secret society (disguised as monks, with their 
abode in a monastery, and entering the stage iu 
regulation dress to the chant of a Latin hymn I) 
plans to waylay the Duke and Duchess, holding 
them for a ransom. This scheme is more or less 
interfered with by the criss-cross love affairs that 
go on within the band's numbers. Ultrice, in- 
censed at the love of Alfredo for the flirtatious 
Teresa, procures the bottle upon which the charm 
depends. By her malicious will all the members 
of the band and their allies in the abduction plot 
are changed into just what they pretend to be : the 
band becomes a collection of friars; a young lady 
disguised as an old woman finds genuine wrinkles 
upon her brow; Bartolo and Nita, clock-work im- 
itations, feel their insides click and whir with main- 
springs and cogs ; all is confusion. Only the mercy 
of Ultrice restores the band and its friends to their 
original state, by burning the label of the mysteri- 


Sm WM. a. 0ILBERT 

oua botUe which had acted as charm. 

This topsey-turvey plot serves as the opportunity 
for much satire and mirth-rousing situations. The 
clock-work figures (strolling jester types) remind 
us of the animated doll in the ''Tales of Hoffman'\ 
The subject of ''Hamlet'' is here plainly in Gil- 
bert's mind; it was the next year that he wrote the 
parody "Bosencrantz and Ouildenstem" already re- 
viewed in the third chi^ter. 

Bartolo. What! am I to be the only Hamlet who 
Is not permitted to dlBCover new readings? Bah! 

And there follows a laughable trio based on the 
story of the melancholy Dane. But there is some- 
thing of the spontaneous spirit missing; the lib- 
rettist undoubtedly felt the lack of his former co« 

"Haste to the Wedding" (1892) is really a mus- 
ical farce, and is a free adaptation of "La Chapeau 
de Faille d'ltalie." It contains altogether too much 
horse-play, altogether too little satire, and is writ- 
ten in that French style which has contaminated 
only too many of our more recent libretti. Com- 
posed for the sake of mere laughter, there is little, 
if any, thought to the farce. 

Woodpecker Tapping, on the day of his wedding 
to Maria Maguire, accidentally destroys the hat of 
a woman who dares not return to her husband until 
Woodpecker reduplicates it in some millinery em- 
porium. In order to do this the latter must divert 



the wedding group into a hat shop, where he lights 
upon a former flame of his, Bertha. From now 
on the plot becomes a fracas of ludicrous embroil- 
ments, winding up with the restoration of the hat- 
less woman to her husband, and the disentangle- 
ment of Woodpecker's ravelled skein of prenuptial 

The opening of the musical play deceives us into 
anticipating something of genuine worth: 

Today at eleven 

Toung Woodpecker Tapping 
Will enter the heaven 

Of matrimonee — 
To 'Ria Maguire 

That <beauty entrapping 
Woodpecker esquire 
United wiU be. 
(Dancing) And the bells they will Jingle, 

The wine it will bubble, 
Ab Woodpecker, single, 
Turned Woodpecker double. 
Reforming his ways, which are rather too free 
Walks into the heaven of matrimonee! 

But we are immediately disillusioned, and the plot 
becomes utterly conventional. 

In "Utopia (Lunited)" (1893) we find the old 
collaborators again together. This time we have 
the author back at his old, fearless methods — ^not 
the English navy, not the army, but all England 
with its institutions becomes the object of his in- 
cisive satire. 

In the "Gondoliers" the reader will have met with 



the Duke of Plaza Toro, whose idea it had been to 
organize himself into a limited comi^uiy in order 
to raise funds for his yawning pocketbook« In the 
present opera we have the conception of an entire 
coimtry being run on the limited plan. And who 
knows but what the plan would have worked, were 
it not for the intrusion of the ^'superior" intellig- 
ence of a company of Englishmen? But that is 
anticipating the story. 

The country of Utopia, governed in theory by a 
Despot, but in practise by two wisemen who keep 
a stem watch on the king, has among its numer- 
ous paragons Nekaya and Kalyba, the two dau^- 
ters of the king, who have been brought up by an 
English lady. The rest of the kingdom is in bliss- 
ful ignorance of all things English. An uncon- 
trollable impulse comes over them to improve their 
Utopian existence by the importation of English 
manners and ideas. To this end several English 
worthies, "Flowers of Progress", are imported, verj'^ 
much against the advice of the wia^nen, Scaphio 
and Phantis. Instructors in army tactics, stage 
censors, navy officials, ("Pinafore" is deliberately 
recalled by Gilbert) — are brought to Utopia. They 
are hailed exultantly: 

An Itail, ye types of Bngland's power — 

Te heaven-enUghtened band! 
We bleis the day and bless the hour 

That brought yon to oar land. 

Then commences the almost seditious satire against 



the vaunting Englishman. The King's song, too 
long to quote, is a veritable quiver of arrows aimed 
with unfaltering judgment at the social evils of the 
day: divorce, slums, poverty, the stage, the hered- 
itary peerage, unrecognized literary merit, — ^all in 
a patter song of lilting rhythm and telling point. 
The imitation of the king's reception, of the. empty 
etiquette of royal ceremonials, struck home. The 
wisemen are driven to thoughts of a revolution, so 
corrupted does the fair Utopia become by the in- 
troductioq of English "improvements". The in- 
trusion of English "prosperity" has well nigh 
ruined the land. There is an analogy, in the en- 
tire action, to the "absolute equality" song in the 
"Gondoliers". Listen to the complaint of the Uto- 

Boom? Bah! A fleo tor such boons, say we! 
These boons have brought Utopia to a standstill! 
Our pride and boast — ^the Army and the Navy — 
Have both been reconstructed and remodelled 
Upon so irresistible a basis 
That all the neighboring nations have disarmed — 
And War's impossible! Tour Coanty Councillor 
Has passed such drastic Sanitary laws 
That all the doctors dwindle, starve and die! 
The laws, remodelled by Sir Bailey Barre. 
Have quite extinguished crime and litigation: 
The lawyers starve, and all the jails are let 
As model lodgings for the working-classes! 
In short — 

Utopia, swamped by dull prospeiity. 
Demands that these detested Flowers of Progress 



Be aent about their busineii, and affairs 
Restored to their original complexion! 

The ironic tinge of the satire makes it all the more 

Typically Gilbertian conceits intensify the laugh- 
ableness of the action. The poor king, nominally 
a despot, is forced by the wisemen to write scur- 
rilous articles about himself under a pseudonym in 
the court paper. A truly royal plight does he pre- 
pare for himself by false accusations which he is 
unable to refute I The two daughters Nekaya and 
Kalyba, brou^t up ''on the English sdieme/' are 
a highly effective couple. 

For Bngliih girls are good as gold. 
Extremely modest (so we're told) 
Demurely coy — divinely cold — 
And we are that — and more. 

We show ourselves to loud applause 
From ten to four without a pause — 
Which is an awkward time because 
It cuts into our lunch. 

Our well-known blush — our downcast eyes — 
Our famous look of mild surprise 
(Which competition sUU defie&) — 
Our celebrated "Sir!!!" 

In contradistinction to this mechanically trained 
sort of female creature, Gilbert gives us a rapturous 
description of a genuinely loveable maiden: 



Her soul is as sweet as the ocean air, 
For prudery knows no haven there; 
To find mock-modestj, please apply 
To the conscious blush and the downcast eye. 
Rich in the things contentment brings. 

In every pure enjoyment wealthy, 
Blithe as a beautiful bird she sings. 

For body and mind are hale and healthy. 
Her eyes they thrill with right goodwill — 
Her heart is light as a floating feather — 
As pure and bright as the mountain rill 
That leaps and laughs in the Highland heather: 
Go search the world and seaxch the sea. 
Then come you home and sing with me 
There's no such gold and no such pearl 
As a bright and beautiful English girl! 

Surely if any English maiden might feel offense 
at the twin daughters, here was a song to wipe the 
slight away. Especially here does Gilbert plea for 
truth to one's character. When the Utopians are 
hiformed that the twins are not genuine types of 
the English girl, they cry out in relief: 

Oh, sweet surprise and dear delight 
To flnd it undisputed quite — 
All muety, fusty rules despite — 
That Art is wrong and Natare right! 

It is quite beyond cavil that here (in view of what 
we know of the author's character) Art stood for 
artful affectation, and Nature for the frank develop- 
ment of unaffected self. 

The "Grand Duke" (1896) represents a good 
effort in the decadent style. It is rather florid, 




swollen in construction, inclining toward the more 
recent type of extravaganza. Satire is still present 
in a degree uncomfortable to those against whom 
it is aimed, but there is an air of c(Hiscious com- 
plexity. It is historically significant as being the 
last of the Savoy operas ; the two masters were never 
again to unite their genius. 

Ludwig and Lisa, members of a theatrical troupe 
headed by Ernest Dimimkopf, are celebrating their 
marriage. The troupe is also a secret society whose 
purpose it is to depose the Grand Duke Rudolph of 
Speisesaal and elect Ernest to that exalted station. 
By a pardonable error, a member of the conspiracy 
reveals the secret to the Duke's detective. So in- 
censed is the troupe at this, and so frightened lest 
the Duke take drastic measures, that a statutory 
duel is determined upon between Ludwig, the un- 
witting informant, and Ernest. According to this 
species of duel, the oombattants draw from a pack 
of cards, the highest card winning. The loser jS 
legally dead, all his assets and liabilities (no matter 
of what nature) reverting to the winner. Ernest 
draws a King, Ludwig an Ace— the latter winning. 
Ernest being legally dead, Ludwig, (despite Lisas 
objections) is forced to accept Ernest's Julia — such 
are the requirements of the statutory duel, since 
Julia, being Ernest's lady love, is a matrimonial 
asset, and the law included assets and liabilities of 
every description! 

This is but the initial complication. In order 





to clear the troupe of the conspiracy charge, Lud- 

wig runs to the impecunious Duke^ who is on the 
verge of suicide — such is the misery of royalty. 
They, in their turn, plan a hatohed up statutory 
duel, in which the real Duke is to lose, so as to run 
away from the plotters, whom he fears. Then, 
after a day (for the statutory law expires within 
twenty-four hours) the Duke will resume his place, 
as the law will be nullified, acting evidently in an 
ex-post-facto manner. After this is so arranged, 
Ludwig, wishing to perpetuate his reign, sees to it 
that the law is put in force for another century. 
But trouble awaits his scheming Royal Highness, 
for, having assumed the station of the Duke, all of 
the latter's infelicities are delegated to him, and 
he rues the hour in which he agreed to the Duke's 
plan. Now it happens that some archive-nosing 
lawyer discovers that in all statutory duels Ace shall 
be reckoned lower, not higher, than King. Ac- 
cordingly, the Duke did not really lose, but actual- 
ly won, the framed-up duel. This discovery re- 
stores everybody to his primitive situation, and all 
ends delightfully. 

The chorus of chamberlains voices a grudging 
welcome to their Duke, in terms not any too flat- 
tering to a royal ruler: 

The good Grand Dnke of Pfennig Halbpfennlg, 
Though, in his own opinion, very very hig, 
In point of fact he's nothing but a miserable prig 
Is the good Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig! 



Though quite contemptible; as every one agrees, 
We must dissemble if we want our bread and cheese. 
So hail him in a chorus, with enthusiasm big. 
The good Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig! 

The spunkily-rhymed patter song by Ludwig, 
teeming with classical lore and actually indulging 
in Latin and Greek, overcomes any objections by 
the sheer pulsations of its rhythm. The noble at- 
tendants of the Prince and Princess of Monte Car- 
lo, (rented and costumed by contract I) are rather 
lax in their manners, but the Princess explains that 
away very easily: 

To account for their shortcomings manifest 

We explain in a whisper bated. 
They are wealthy members of the brewing Interest 
To the Peerage elevated. 
(Hired Nobles) To the Peerage elevated. 
We're very, very rich. 
And accordingly, as sich. 
To the Peerage elevated. 

A good sample of Gilbert's ample powers of euphem- 
ism is afforded by the dialogue between the Prince 
and the Princess. (She is a supposed fiancee of 
Rudolph's who visits him with the intention or ful- 
filling the marriage contract) : 

Princess. But papa, where in the world is the 
Court? There is positively no one here to receive 
us! I can't help feeling Rudolph wants to get 
out of it (because Fm poor. He's a miserly little 
wretch— that's what he Is. 
Prince. Well, I shouldn't go so far as to say 



thai I ihould rather describe him as an enthus- 
iastic collector of coins— of the realm — and we 
must not be too hard upon a numismatist if he 
feels a certain disinclination to part with some 
of his really yery valuable specimens. It's a 
pretty hobby: I've often thought I should like 
to collect some coins myselt 


Truly a hint to all misers! 

"His Excellency", with which this review ends, 
was set to music by Osmand Carr. "Fallen Fairies" 
(1910) modelled upon the author's earlier "Wick- 
ed World" has already been commented upon in 
connection with that verse play. 

"His Excellency" is a well-planned opera imbued 
with the practical joke spirit rather than with any 
satire such as the earlier libretti reveal. 

Griffenfeld, the jovial governor of Elsinore, in 
Hamlet's own country, has a habit of playing prac- 
tical pranks; like meet people addicted to that mild 
mania, he carries his hobby too far. Taking ad- 
vantage of the credibility of Sykke, a sculptor, and 
Tortenssen, a young doctor, he leads them to be- 
lieve that they have received royal appointments. 
The two struggling youngsters are thus emboldened 
to propose to tiie governor's own daughters, Nanna 
and Hiora, only to be flouted in the most humiliat- 
ing manner. 

His excellency's prank-playing habits become the 
talk of the town. His soldiers, who are forced to 
dance ballets in real music hall fashion, find their 
obligations a trifle out of the nature of the military 



code I The populace, aroused, complain to the Re- 
gent. Griffenfeld, secure in his position, here sees 
an opportunity to work off a huge practical joke 
upon the whole commimity. He hires Nils Egils- 
son, presumably a strolling minstrel (how handy 
these wandering songsters do come to be in comic 
opera!) to impersonate the Regent, and to mete out 
condign punishment to him. He is then to expose 
the whole sham amidst the humiliation of the town- 
folk I All of which goes off as planned; but the 
joke turns against poor Griff enf eld. For the min- 
strel is none other than the Regent in disguise, who, 
having heard of this all too jovial governor, had 
come on an investigation to Elsinorel The gover- 
nor is reduced to the rank of a private, while the 
youngsters receive royal appointments indeed, with 
the consent of their maidens to boot. 

The daughters of the governor, who are finally 
won by the youths upon whom their father had 
played his unholy pranks give voice to an utterance 
concerning his amiable Excellency which might 
well be applied to Gilbert himself: 

Dear Papa is never so hsippy as when he is 
making dignified people ridiculons. 

It is not the dignity of true worth that Gilbert as- 
sails, however, for such dignity is not inconsistent 
with wholesome mirth; Gilbert's delight lies in 
holding up to ridicule the assumed dignity of hol- 
low pomp. The governor's punishment is a fine 



piece of justice as well as a hugely humorous situsr 


Topsey tunrey torn the tables! 

Tit for tat and tat for tit — 
As in fusty fairy fables, — 

Badly is the biter bit! 

It is with genuine reluctance that the author 
abandons this part of his work. The libretti of 
Gilbert come to exercise upon the reader an in- 
fluence which amounts to nothing less than a fasc- 
ination. The characteristic qualities which have 
received more or less full treatment in the preced- 
ing pages become a part of the reader's intellectual 
atmosphere. Fitzgerald has well said of Gilbert that 
he "devised a scheme of investing ordinary col- 
loquial phrases that seem almost trifling with a 
kind of latent ironical humor which is ordinarily 
thought too delicate and impalpable for the stage. 
To these utterances he gave an importance and con- 
trast by curious grotesque surroundings; he added 
intended emphasis and brought out their proper 
meaning by assidous instruction of those to whom 
they were intrusted, so that he seemed, as it were, 
to say the things himself". Gilbert the manager 
was on a par with Gilbert the author. The expan- 
sion of his powers has already been noted. 

It will be many, many years before the world 
will know another Gilbert. As great as is his fame 
already, he has yet to come into his own. And 
when he does, the latent powers of the now regener- 
ating comic opera will leap into new glory. 




Gilbert and Sullivan— Contemporary Comic Opera 
— Conclusion^- 

We have seen that Gilbert's real triumphs lay in 
the direction of the comic opera. He found the 
stage a prey to the lowest, least refined of bur- 
lesque; he left it an endowment of the richest wit 
and humor for this genre known in any country. 
It must not be forgotten, nevertheless, that much 
of this glorious success was due to his musical 
partner, Sir Arthur Sullivan. The history of this 
famous alliance is not within the scope of the pres- 
ent essay; several lives of Sullivan treat the matter 
adequately. The intellectual union of these two 
men affords one of the rare examples of a truly 
wonderful coincidence. Sullivan, and no other, was 
just the man at the psychological time to set Gil- 
bert's libretti. His musical humor stands unparal- 
leled in the art. 

Sullivan, on his side, was equally potent as a 
reformer of the stage. He came. to the rescue of 



comic opera at the very time when it was fast suc- 
cumbing to the insidious strains of Offenbach — ^a 
man not without a certain irresponsible genius, but 
wholly lacking moral equanimity. Sullivan purged 
the opera of Frenchy suggestiveness ; he elevated 
the plane of its music, harking back to the earlier 
English composers; he utilized his vast learning in 
establishing a genuinely national, English product. 
He introduced ecclesiastical harmonies, and actually 
adapted the hymn to comic purpose, without ir* 
reverence, be it said, for Sullivan is one of the 
greatest writers of church-music we have. His "On- 
ward Christian Soldiers" is perhaps the most widely 
simg hymn in all hymnaries. His "Lost Chord", 
not really a sacred song, but permeated with re- 
ligious fervor, has been reckoned among the six 
most popular songs ever written. As a composer 
of oratorio Sullivan injected into that form a beauty 
and life usually foreign to it. 

That the author of so much sacred music should 
become the veritable saviour of the comic stage 
speaks itself for Sullivan's versatility. Speaking of 
the Savoy series, Findon says : "Of that wonderful 
melody which flows with such crystal purity and 
charm through the whole of his work, there is no 
need to speak. It has spoken frequently for itself 
throughout the past generation. Its captivating 
quality made gay the drawing-room, and cheered 
the man in the street as he unconsciously himimed 
one of the many airs which winged their way 



through the door of the Savoy Theatre to the four 
comers of the earth. Fitzgerald, speaking of the 
same operas, — ^in a passage to which every lover 
and student of Sullivan will readily consent — 
touches upon the really essential part of Sullivan's 
genius so far as it relates to Gilbert: 

On his part, Sullivan contrived a reaUy wonder- 
ful method of nrasical exinressiou, perfectly ap- 
propriate to the sense, so at almost to foUow 
the inflection of the voice in common conventa- 
tion. I venture to say that no one ever before 
Bo perfectly conveyed the meaning of a sentence 
in common talk by the agency oi musical tones. 
The object was not to find woids to show off 
the music, but to supply music to iUustrate the 

Sullivan put into tone as much humor as the art 
could hold. His orchestration, his settings of thie 
autobiographical songs, his perfect part-writing, his 
unerring instinct in adapting himself to every whim 
of Gilbert's verse, — all combine to place his work 
upon the highest plane of excellence. His scoring 
especially exhibits the reserve, the chastity, the 
economy known alone to genius. His sense of 
rhythm, superior even to Gilbert's, helped the latter 
to obtain a greater variety of combinations, while 
on the other hand, Gilbert's words often suggested 
the very tune to which they were finally joined. 
The collaboration between tiie two was in every 
sense "a marriage of true minds". 

Some idea of the labor involved may be gained 


.' urt<'-T 


from the words of Sullivan himself: 

You must remember that a piece of mniic which 
will take only two minuteg in actual performance 
—quick time — may necessitate two or three 
days* hard work in the mere manual labor of 
orchestration apart from the question of com- 
position. The literary man can avoid sheer 
manual labor in a number of ways, but you can- 
not dictate musical notation to a secretary.... 
and every opera means four or five hundred folio 
pages of music... 

Further insight into Sullivan's pluck may bo 
gleaned from the fact that ''Pinafore", that lilting 
operetta whose every note sends a thrill of pleasure 
through the hearer, was written in Ihe midst of a 
most agonizingly painful disease. 

Some have ignorantly, or maliciously, compared 
Sullivan to Offenbach. Nothing could be more un- 
just. Sullivan represents the very antithesis of the 
Offenbach cult; his main historical significance to 
comic opera, in fact, lies in the story of his gradual 
lifting of the English operetta out of the Offenbach 
rut. This "Offenbach Fallacy", as Findon has well 
named it, is doubtless due to the article by Mao- 
Farren in tiie Britannica, where, it seems, Sullivan 
is deliberately misrepresented as being the English 
Offenbach. Such a definition is a slur upon the 
Englishman, who, in point of melodic spontaneity, 
technical power and ethical purpose, is above com- 
parison with the noncJialant, often ribald Frendh- 
man who sought to redeem himself with the "Tales 



of Hoffman". Sullivan is the Wagner of his genre. 
If Macfarren was unjust to Sullivan, he was 
equally so to Gilbert. In view of the distinction 
which we have made between the mock-heroic and 
the burlesque (see first chaptw) such a judgment 
as Macfarren pronounces on the new style of libretti 
is entirely misleading: 

A new species of composition has sprang into 
being within these thirty years. It maj be de- 
•crilbed as burlesque (!) sometimes of stories 
that have held mankind's reverence foi ages 
(the implication of irreyerence on Qilbert's part 
is . absolutely unjustified) sometime of modem 
social absurdities, but having the ridiculous for 
its main quality, and extravagant in every es- 

Evidently one intellect in England failed to ao- 
preciate the profound significance of Gilbert's re- 
forms. Such opinions written down in a work like 
the Britannica injure the impartiality which is 
necessary to authority. It smacks too mudi of the 

The passing of Gilbert and Sullivan has left a 
void in the Temple of Oomic Opera which may, 
perhaps never again be adequately filled. The mis- 
sion which was theirs finds greater expression wh«i»^ 
brought into direct contrast with the comic opera 
stages of today. 

In England the masters are already forgotten; 
the French "libretto" and American "ragtime'* 



have debauched the stage until it has sunk almost 
to its former level. Even the very pupils of Sul- 
livan (there are honorable exceptions) have aided 
in the rapid descent. German, be it said to his 
credit, has not derogated from the high trust that 
was placed in him when he was given Sullivan's 
unfinished ^'Emerald Isle" to complete. 

Of France, the least said the better. In view of 
the disgraceful connotation which the word 
"French" has acquired in the musical comedy 
world, it is not surprising to learn that the country 
has ever been cold to Sullivan. 

On the other hand, Germany, where Sullivan is 
as well known as in his own land, rules at present 
supreme in the varying phases of latter-day operet- 
ta. In the recent work of Oscar Strauss and Lehar 
signs of regeneration appear. "The Merry Widow", 
although much overestimated, led the way to a host 
of productions with some pretense to art. Strauss's 
"Chocolate Soldier", wholly apart from its connec- 
tion with Shaw's "Arms and the Man", exhibits a 
humorous musical commentary in line with Sul- 
livanesque methods. Bheinhardt's "Spring Maid" 
opened a new vein of charming Viennese melody. 
The libretti of these eflPorts, which suffer more than 
a sea-change when they are "translated" and im- 
ported for home use, are far below the standard of 
the music to which they are set. 

The bane of the so-called Viennese operetta 
is the inevitable waltz which has become a standard 



feature of it This destroys the proportion of the 
whole immediately; it is no exaggeration to aver 
that in order to introduce the waltz with suflScient 
frequen<7 to insure its instantaneous popularity the 
modem ''libretto" is tampered with and even wil- 
fully ruined. 

In America we have thus far produced but two 
writers who can lay claim to any consideration in 
a review of this sort. — ^Reginald de Koven and 
Victor Herbert, ranked hy the writer in the order 
named. Neither has established anything like an 
indigenous comic opera, although they have both 
developed a well-defined individuality. 

In "Robin Hood" the former has written a light- 
opera classic which may well be taken to represent 
America's best effort in the genre. The local color 
of the tale, so well caught by the composer, — ^the 
skilful chorus' work (de Koven nods betimes) — 
the Sullivanesque "Tinker's Song*' — ^the ever-po- 
pular "Promise Me" — ^have become a part of the 
American public's education. The truly Gilbertian 
Sherrif of Nottingham has received added person- 
ality from de Koven's score. But whether from 
reasons of commercial pressure or from lack of in- 
spiration, de Koven has not fulfilled his earlier 
promises; such operas as the "Student King", the 
"Fencing Master" and "The Wedding Trip" show 
that de Koven had it in him, and still has, to write 
enduring opera. He errs not so much in musical 
power or spontaneous melody, as he does hi a sense 



of proportion and in an evident concession to lower 
taste. The librettist of "Robin Hood" (Harry B. 
Smith) has since shown himself a faithful ally of 
the "tired business man". 

As to Victor Herbert, with his store of technical 
ability and natural gifts, it lay also within his 
grasp to regenerate the stage; he has seemed, even 
more than his contemporary, unwilling to sacrifice 
quick receipts to the slower recognition of genuine 
art. "Natoma", his first grand opera, reveals him 
in an indiflferently successful attempt ""to do for 
American Grand Opera what either he or de Koveu 
might have done for Comic Opera in this coun- 
try. "Robin Hood',, though we have named it our 
light-opera classic, is thoroughly English in atmos- 
phere and in execution. 

De Koven and Herbert have each a large follow- 
ing; de Koven's songs have earned him a place 
with our foremost writers; Herbert's songs are of 
no especial worth. In his operettas he is too ready 
to hide paucity of thought under prolixity of or- 
chestration. De Koven, perhaps not so great a 
master of orchestral technique, is superior in spon- 
taneity of melody. Both have written much that 
is absolutely worthless and much that possesses en- 
during quality. Neither has shown a oompreh^i- 
sion of that homogeneity, that architectural solidity, 
that musical unity, which informs every opera by 
Gilbert and Sullivan. 

The reader must not assume from what is said 




that the Gilbert and Sullivan works are perfection 
in its final form. Sullivan's musical settings are of 
more even excellence than Gilbert's libretti; both 
men had an instinctive feeling of what we have 
called the architecture of the operetta. Their work 
exhibits organic structure; to alter a note or to sub- 
stitute or transpose a song would be absolutely fatal. 
The songs themselves, and choruses, far from be- 
ing, as today, thrust in and removed at will, form 
an essential, not an incidental, of the plot. They 
are developments of the action and germane to it, 
not mere functions whose observance is best honored 
in the breach. There is, in these literary, artistic 
libretti, that symmetry, counterpoise, that harmony 
of parts without which a work stands little chance 
of being remembered, however flattering its initial 

Today, instead of the fearless satire which Gil- 
bert at times, perhaps, overdid, we are content to 
receive the most empty balderdash, the most sug- 
gestive smut, luxurious scenery and silk-stodcing 
display. Instead of Sullivan's subtle humor and al- 
most symphonic ensemble, we allow our ears to be 
tickled with luscious harmonies, swollen orchestra- 
tion (which is indeed a boon, since it mercifully 
prevents one from hearing the insipidity of the 
words I) and our eyes with "Frenchy" costumes dif- 
fering from those of cheap burlesque only in their 
cost. In fact, in the majority of cases our leading 
"comic operas" are merely the lowest burlesque 



(with all the indecency that has come to be as- 
sociated with the name) transplanted to a theatre 
charging "respectable" prices. 

The "tired business men" has become symbolic 
of all that is futile and dull in popular entertain- 
ment. His species it is (may it fast decrease) that 
has brought us down to such hodgepodge. There 
is no real collaboration today in the field we are dis- 
cussing ; it is nothing more than the merest kind of 
carpentering that puts a musical production "on the 
road". They grow with the rapidity of mushrooms^ 
and are quite as poisonous. "Stars", which find 
little place in the Gilbert-Sullivan scheme of things, 
usurp the limelight at the expense of the smallest 
pretense to unity. Modem American Comic Opera 
is not a musical institution; it is rather a com- 
mercial enterprise, wherein music is a necessary 
commodity. The same is true, in greater or lees 
degree, everywhere else. 

Reform cannot proceed from managers whose 
sole criterion is the box-office; it can come only in 
part from our composers of serious intentions; the 
public must be educated. 

Even Sullivan and his ally could not have suc- 
ceeded without the co-operation of that indefinite, 
yet all- powerful mass, the public Publics differ 
little all over the world. If such an era of un- 
precedented popularity was possible in England, 
why is it here impossible? Granted that much of 
this phenomenal reception of the Savoy Operas was 


due to the no lees phenomenal gifts (at once das- 
sic and popular) of Gilbert and Sullivan, the fact 
still remains that here is a series of comic operas 
that stands both as a model of classic art and as a 
record for popular approval and instruction. That 
public which supports the genre can alone lead to 
its final regeneration. 

The operas which have formed the main part of 
this little book should be a regular part of the school- 
ing of every child. As music they are models of 
melodic simplicity and power; as libretti, they serve 
to inculcate a more refined standard of humor (even 
if at times healthily boisterous) than we have yet, 
as a nation, attained. To urge that Gilbert is not 
to be understood by the yoimg is to beg the ques- 
tion. Such works as "Gulliver" and "Don Quix- 
ote" possess a significance surely beyond the young 
mind, yet the amusing impossibility of it all ap- 
peals to the juvenile sense. It is one of the peculi- 
arities of many of our satirists that youth and age 
alike find pleasure in their pages. 

Some such training is absolutely necessary to 
counteract the baneful influaice of Sunday-supple- 
ment humor and burlesque, in which term the 
writer insists upon including the average musical 
play. One generation of children trained from 
childhood in the appreciation of Gilbert and Sul- 
livan (graded instruction being implied) would help 
provide a public that would demand, and receive, 
truly worthy comic opera. It has been thought 



worth while to digress for a moment to this point, 
in order to emphasize the fact that our youth, al- 
though trained in the appreciation of art's more 
serious phases, are left wholly unguided as to a 
proper sense of humor. Perhaps this may explain 
why, although many abhor the cheap melodrama 
(being able to recognize its defects from a training 
in the passions which it so badly presents) they 
are still captivated by the no less degrading carica- 
tures of comic opera that pass as worthy examples 
of this little understood genre. 

Inasmuch as one of the main purposes of this 
essay has been to provide a starting point for a 
more adequate knowledge of classic comic opera, 
nothing would be more appropriate than to sum- 
marize, as we conclude, the foregoing chapters with 
special reference to those qualities that stand out a^ 
being distinctly Gilbertian. 

Gilbert's purpose, as we have seen, was twofold: 
to purge the comic stage of its unrefined insipidities 
and to correct social foibles by means of his satiric 
gifts, often injected with the ''amari aliquid" — ^that 
tinge of bitterness — which another might have 
failed altogether to control. In order to accomplish 
his intentions he employed the utmost resources of 
his wit and himior, exercising them mainly in the 
field of comic opera, though by no means neglect- 
ing the verse and the prose play. His special sense 



of "topsey-turverdom", first announced in his "Bab 
Ballads" (which lent many a suggestion to his later 
works) was admirably adapted to his aims^ as was 
the "fairy'' play, practically his own invention. 
Lacking by nature the restraint necessary to straight 
comedy and regular drama, he shines in farce and 
in the libretto; here his genial plots, infused with 
the breath of his rhythmic swing, his rhyming dex- 
terity and his pungent dialogue, pulsate with a live- 
ly merriment that is usually calculated to lead to 
thought. An undercurrent of serious ideas is rare- 
ly absent from Gilbert's best endeavors, and reflects 
the essentially serious nature of the man. He is 
more than mummer, ^d insists on being taken 
none the less in eaimest because he happens to deal 
in frolic rather than sobriety. His quaint conceits, 
his inimitable wit, his substitution of mock-heroic 
for burlesque, cultivated a taste for refined amuse- 
mefat and gave to the world a series of unequalled 

Something like a general plan of the libretti may 
be gained from a composite view of them. We are 
usually presented with a similar set of dharaet^rs^ 
due to the fact that Gilbert (in accordance with the 
ideas of our modem dramaturgic theorists, part- 
icularly Brander Matthews and Clayton Hamilton) 
wrote considerably for a given group of artists. 
Thus, he knew beforehand, and was avowedly 
guided by the knowledge, that Grossmith (after- 
wards composer for Gilbert) was to interpret the