Prefaces, notes, dedications etc. by W.S. Gilbert (not including those in the four-volume Original Plays)



Partial list of contents (not complete or in order)


Preface to Pygmalion and Galatea (1872 edition “printed for private circulation”)

Preface to Gretchen (5 May 1879)

Notes preceding Gilbert plays (Pygmalion and Galatea, The Wedding March, The Happy Land, Engaged [12 Oct. 1877], etc.)

Author’s Note for 1902 Doubleday edition of Patience


Preface to TheBab” Ballads.  Much Sound and Little Sense.  

Preface to Fifty “Bab Ballads” (Routledge, 1876)

Dedication of Songs of a Savoyard (Routledge, 1891; dedication dated 3 Sep. 1890)

Note before The Bab Ballads, with which are included Songs of a Savoyard (1898; note dated 4 Dec. 1897)


NOTE preceding Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales (Routledge, 1892)


Foreword to Rutland Barrington by Himself (1908)

Foreword to 1909 edition of Savoy Operas (London:  George Bell, illustrated by R. Flint)




Preface to TheBab” Ballads.  Much Sound and Little Sense.  [1869?]




                It appears nowadays to be an absolute necessity that the subject-matter of even the most insignificant books should be heralded by a Preface; and I believe that there are on record instances of authors who have experienced no difficulty whatever in spinning very slender materials into a three-volume novel, and yet have found themselves terribly perplexed when called upon by their publishers to fill two or three pages with a vindication of their motives in writing it: just as busy people find it very easy to be guilty of an impertinence, but very difficult indeed to apologize satisfactorily for it.

                    I have some reason to believe that the Ballads, which now appear for the first time in a collected form, have achieved a certain whimsical popularity among a special class of readers. I hope to gather, from their publication in a separate volume, whether that popularity (such as it is) is a thing to be gratified with. With respect to the Ballads themselves, I do not know that I have anything very definite to say about them, except that they are not, as a rule, founded upon fact.

                    I have ventured to publish the illustrations with them because, while they are certainly quite as bad as the Ballads, I suppose they are not much worse. If, therefore, the Ballads are worthy of publication in a collected form, the little pictures would have a right to complain if they were omitted. I do not know that they would avail themselves of that right, but I should, nevertheless, have it on my conscience that I had been guilty of partiality.  If, on the other hand, the Ballads should unfortunately be condemned as wholly unworthy of the dignity with which the Publishers have invested them, they will have the satisfaction of feeling that they have companions in misfortune in the rather clumsy sketches that accompany them.





Note preceding Samuel French edition of Pygmalion and Galatea (unsigned but probably by Gilbert)


NOTE. – The statue of Galatea should be modelled expressly to resemble the lady who plays the part.  If this is impracticable, some existing statue may be used, or the actress may represent it, but it is essential that the drapery should be perfectly modest and simple.  The “change” from the statue to the living person is most conveniently effected by means of a properly counter-weighted “turn-table,” on which the actress and statue are placed back to back, with what is technically known as a “backing” between them.  The two curtains that conceal the statue should “travel” on two separate but parallel iron rods, three inches apart, and the curtains should be broad enough to overlap each other three or four inches.  The curtains should be made to open and close by lines worked out of sight.




Preface to Pygmalion & Galatea (1872 edition, “printed for private circulation” by Judd & Co., in British Library)


                I have long ceased to take to myself any exceptional credit when a piece of mine succeeds, or any exceptional blame when it fails.  So many persons have it in their power to affect a stage play for good or ill after it leaves an author’s hands, and before it is presented to the public, that the extent to which he is affected by its fate is out of all proportion to his power of controlling it.  Pygmalion and Galatea has succeeded at the Haymarket not because it is a particularly good comedy (for it is full of faults), but because it was carefully rehearsed and admirably interpreted by comedy-players, and presented to a comedy audience.  My ill-fated comedy, On Guard, which I believe to be a better piece than Pygmalion and Galatea—certainly it required more trouble and thought to compose—failed ignominiously at the Court Theatre, not, I believe, because it was a particularly bad comedy, but because it was pitch-forked on to the stage in ten days, and presented to an audience which has since developed a taste for broad burlesque.  I am as convinced that On Guard would have succeeded at the Haymarket as I am that Pygmalion and Galatea would have been hissed off the stage at the Court.

                The supreme importance of careful rehearsal is not sufficiently recognised in England.  As far as my experience shows anything, it shows that when my pieces have been carefully rehearsed they have succeeded, and when they have been insufficiently rehearsed they have failed.  The following statement will show that I do not make this assertion without good reason.  “La Vivandiere” was rehearsed for three weeks and ran about 120 nights; “The Merry Zingara” was rehearsed for three weeks, and ran about 200 nights; “Ages Ago” was rehearsed for three weeks, and ran 350 nights; “The Princess” was rehearsed for three weeks, and ran 90 nights; “The Palace of Truth” was rehearsed for a month, and ran 155 nights; “A Sensation Novel” was rehearsed for three weeks, and ran 120 nights; “Randall’s Thumb” was rehearsed for a month, and ran nearly 140 nights (in town and country); “Creatures of Impulse” was rehearsed for a month, and ran (in town and country) about 120 nights; “An Old Score” was rehearsed for five days, and ran 24 nights; “On Guard” was rehearsed for ten days, and ran 18 nights.

                In the case of “Pygmalion and Galatea,” Miss M. Robertson and Miss Caroline Hill had it in their power to make or mar the piece.  I attribute its success mainly to the admirable manner in which their parts were interpreted by these ladies.  I believe that it very seldom happens that an English author has the good fortune to find his carelessly expressed intentions so carefully respected, or his crude ideas so judiciously improved upon.

                                                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT





Dedication of The Wicked World (Samuel French, 1873)














Note preceding The Wedding March (Samuel French edition, 1873; unsigned but almost certainly by Gilbert)


The dresses of the wedding party should be quaint, countrified and rather old-fashioned in character, but not too much exaggerated.  Indeed the success of the piece depends principally on the absence of exaggeration in dress and make-up.  Major-General Bunthunder, Captain Bapp , the Policeman, Woodpecker, Poppytop, and the Duke of Turniptopshire, should rely for the fun of their parts on the most improbable things being done in the most earnest manner by persons of every-day life.  A certain amount of exaggeration is permissible in Uncle Bopaddy, Cripps, and Cousin Foodle.  The Marchioness should be particularly lady-like and earnest.  General Bunthunder and Captain Bapp are in full uniform.




Note preceding The Happy Land (J.W. Last, 1873)


                    NOTE. - This book contains the EXACT TEXT of the piece as played on the occasion of the Lord Chamberlain's official visit to the Court Theatre, on the 6th March, 1873. Those who will take the trouble to compare the original text with the expurgated version, as played nightly at the Court Theatre, will be in a position to appreciate the value of the Lord Chamberlain's alterations.

                                             THE AUTHORS




Note preceding Original Plays (1876)


                The Story upon which “The Palace of Truth” is founded is probably as old as the “Arabian Nights.”  “The Princess” is a respectful parody of Mr. Tennyson’s exquisite poem.  It has been generally held, I believe, 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.”

                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT.




Preface to Fifty “Bab Ballads” (Routledge, 1876)




                The “BAB BALLADS” appeared originally in the columns of “FUN,” when that periodical was under the editorship of the late TOM HOOD.  They were subsequently republished in two volumes, one called “THE

BAB BALLADS,” the other “MORE BAB BALLADS.”  The period during which they were written extended over some three or four years; many, however, were composed hastily, and under the discomforting necessity of having to turn out a quantity of lively verse by a certain day in every week.  As it seemed to me (and to others) that the volumes were disfigured by the presence of these hastily written impostors, I thought it better to withdraw from both volumes such Ballads as seemed to show evidence of carelessness or undue haste, and to publish the remainder in the compact form under which they are now presented to the reader.

                    It may interest some to know that the first of the series, “The Yarn of the Nancy Bell,” was originally offered to “PUNCH,”—to which I was, at that time, an occasional contributor.  It was, however, declined by the then Editor, on the ground that it was “too cannibalistic for his readers’ tastes.”



24 The Boltons, South Kensington,

                August, 1876.




Note to Engaged (Samuel French edition, 1877)




                It is absolutely essential to the success of this piece that it should be played with the most perfect earnestness and gravity throughout.  There should be no exaggeration in costume, make-up, or demeanour; and the characters, one and all, should appear to believe, throughout, in the perfect sincerity of their words and actions.  Directly the actors show that they are conscious of the absurdity of their utterances the piece begins to drag.


                                                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT

                24, THE BOLTONS,

                                12th October, 1877.




WSG's preface to Gretchen (London:  Newman & Co, 1879, mentioned in Stedman, p. 168)




                This piece was produced at the Olympic Theatre under the lessee-ship of Lord Londesborough, on Monday, 24th March, 1879, and was received with exceptional favour by a crowded house.  On the ensuing Saturday morning, after an experience of five nights, the company received a fortnight's notice of dismissal, because (to quote a letter addressed to me by the ostensible manager of the theatre), "Lord Londesborough is not disposed to lose any money, and the first week barely paid its working expenses."  That is to say, the company, who had laboured at rehearsal for nearly six weeks, were unexpectedly thrown out of employ, and the play, which had cost its author ten months of incessant toil, was held up to public contempt as a conspicuous failure, because the receipts of the first week (in mid-Lent) showed, not a loss, but a profit of only ten pounds per night on the working expenses.  Within four days of the publication of the notice of dismissal, I ascertained that Lord Londesborough had arranged to transfer the theatre to another manager.

                It is a source of incessant reproach to us who labour for the stage, that our work is careless, that we steal our plots, and that we are actuated by no worthier ambition than to make money.  It is as well that those who hold us in such poor esteem should have some idea of the kind of encouragement that is occasionally meted out to us.

                                                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT.

24, The Boltons, South Kensington,

                                5th May, 1879.




Dedication of Songs of a Savoyard (Routledge, 1891)









                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT

3rd Sept., 1890




NOTE preceding Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales (Routledge, 1892)


                This Book contains several Tales upon which the Author subsequently founded plays, which achieved more or less success.  Foggerty’s Fairy” is the groundwork of a play of that name, which was produced six years since at the Criterion Theatre.  “An Elixir of Love” is the basis of “The Sorcerer.”  “Creatures of Impulse,” “The Wicked World,” and “Comedy and Tragedy,” in their original forms, will also be found in this book.  None of the Tales, except “Comedy and Tragedy,” were written with a view to subsequent dramatization.


                                                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT


[The two tales, “Johnny Pounce” and “Maxwell and I,” are printed by permission of the owners of the Copyright Messrs, GROOMBRIDGE & SONS.]            




Note before The Bab Ballads, with which are included Songs of a Savoyard (1898)




About thirty years since, several of “The Bab Ballads” (most of which had appeared, from time to time, in the pages of Fun) were collected by me, and published by Messrs. George Routledge and Sons. This volume passed through several editions, and, in due course, was followed by a second series under the title of “More Bab Ballads,” which achieved a popularity equal to that of its predecessor. Subsequently, excerpts were made from these two volumes, and, under the title of “Fifty Bab Ballads,” had a very considerable sale; but I soon discovered that in making the selection for this volume I had discarded certain Ballads that were greater favourites with my readers than with me. Nevertheless this issue was followed by many editions, English and American, of  Bab Ballads,” “More Bab Ballads,” and “Fifty Bab Ballads,” to the no little bewilderment of such of the public as had been good enough to concern themselves with my verses. So it became desirable (for our own private ends) that this confusion should be definitely cleared up; and thus it came to pass that a reissue of the two earlier collections, in one volume, was decided upon.

                    Some seven years since, I collected the most popular of the songs and ballads which I had written for the series of light operas with which my name is associated, and published them under the title of “Songs of a Savoyard.” It recently occurred to me that these songs had so much in common with “The Bab Ballads” that it might be advisable to weld the two books into one. This is, briefly, the history of the present volume.

                    I have always felt that many of the original illustrations to “The Bab Ballads” erred gravely in the direction of  unnecessary extravagance. This defect I have endeavoured to correct through the medium of the two hundred new drawings which I have designed for this volume. I am afraid I cannot claim for them any other recommendation.





                4th December 1897.




Introduction to Patience; or Bunthorne’s Bride by W.S. Gilbert, With new introduction (New York: Doubleday, 1902)




                The genesis of “Patience” is to be found in the “Bab Ballad,” called “The Rival Curates.”  In the original draft of the MS. of my play Reginald Bunthorne and Archibald Grosvenor were two clergymen belonging to adjoining parishes, as in the ballad, and the Reverend Mr. Bunthorne was attended by a team of enthusiastic lady worshippers who had been fascinated by the lamb-like meekness of his demeanour.  In the course of the piece this body of devotees, having discovered that the Reverend Mr. Grosvenor was even meeker than Mr. Bunthorne, transferred their affections, en bloc, to Mr. Grosvenor, one admirer only, Lady Jane, remaining faithful to Mr. Bunthorne.  Enraged at this successful opposition, Mr. Bunthorne commissioned Lady Jane to go to Mr. Grosvenor and explain to him, in the fiercest and most uncompromising terms, that unless he abandoned, at once, his blameless attitude, and forthwith became a reckless and unconventional renegade, holding the broadest possible views of his duties as a clergyman, the consequences to him would be of the most painful and humiliating description.  Lady Jane faithfully and successfully discharged this mission (entrusted in the ballad to the sexton and the beadle), and Mr. Grosvenor, who had no real sympathy with an attitude that only an overwhelming sense of duty had compelled him to adopt, joyfully acceded to Bunthorne's requirements, satisfying his conscience with the excuse that his wholesale violation of clerical proprieties was the effect of an irresistible force majeure.  A body of dragoons was introduced who, having endeavoured in vain to divert the attention of the young ladies from the fascinating curates, determined at length to “take orders,” and, having done so, were rewarded for their enterprising volte face by the ladies who had in the meantime become thoroughly disgusted with the conduct of the adored curates.

                While I was engaged upon the construction of this plot, I became uneasy at the thought of the danger I was incurring by dealing so freely with members of the clerical order, and I felt myself crippled at every turn by the necessity of protecting myself from a charge of irreverence.  So I cast about for a group of personages who should fit, more or less neatly, into the plot as already devised, and who should allow me a freer hand in making them amusing to my audiences.  At that time the so-called “aesthetic craze” was just becoming popular, mainly owing to the late Mr. Du Maurier's admirable pictorial satires in Punch.  As I lay awake one night, worrying over the difficulties that I had prepared for myself, the idea suddenly flashed upon me that if I made Bunthorne and Grosvenor a couple of yearning “aesthetics” and the young ladies their ardent admirers, all anxieties as to the consequences of making them extremely ridiculous would be at once overcome.  Elated at the idea, I ran down at once to my library, and in an hour or so I had entirely rearranged the piece upon a secure and satisfactory basis.  The “aesthetes” were accepted without hesitation by the public, and the piece ran for about two years.  When it was revived after a lapse of nineteen years, the “aesthetic craze” was as dead as Queen Anne, and no little anxiety was felt by the management of the Savoy Theatre as to how the piece would be received.  However, we were not a little surprised and relieved to find that the allusions to the absurdities formerly connected with the mania had lost nothing of their normal significance.  The revival ran merrily for eight months.


                                                                                                                                W.S. GILBERT



Foreword to Rutland Barrington by Himself (1908)




I have been asked by my old friend Mr. Rutland Barrington to write a few words of introduction to his volume of reminiscences. I should have thought that he could do this for himself more effectively than I could do it for him, but perhaps he has formed such a modest estimate of his personal and professional claims to consideration that he is unwilling to draw a bill upon public attention unless his draft is, so to speak, “backed” by one who is in a position to testify to the fact that he is a man of undoubted substance. His action in the matter must be referable either to this motive or to an underlying principle, never to do for himself that which he can induce any one to do for him. Personally, I am disposed to believe that both of these influences may be involved.


The private identity of a popular actor is, undoubtedly, an object of infinite curiosity to the general body of playgoers who, having known him for many years under a plurality of physical and moral disguises, are naturally curious to know how he looks, acts, and thinks, when he is playing the leading part in the comedy, drama, tragedy, or farce of his own existence. I was myself the slave of this particular form of curiosity until it was extinguished by familiar intercourse with many distinguished members of the profession. I remember that when I was a boy of thirteen I followed Mr. Tom Barry (the then well-known clown at Astley's Amphitheatre) all the way from Temple Bar to Westminster Bridge, trying to make up my mind to ask him the time. Unfortunately, however, just as I had screwed up my courage to the sticking point, Mr. Barry baffled me by turning suddenly into a public house of refreshment, whither I had not the enterprise to follow him. I may state that I have long given up the practice of shadowing clowns.


Mr. Rutland Barrington's claims upon public attention are so numerous and so generally recognized that the incidents of his professional career, his private life, and his personal opinion on men and things, are sure to prove attractive and interesting to that vast body of his admirers who never see him except with a row of footlights between him and them. They know nothing of his performance in one of the best of his parts certainly the longest himself; and this volume reveals its many delightful characteristics. His native geniality, good humour, and sense of fun qualities to which no one can testify more authoritatively than I find kindred expression in a book which is eloquent both of the man and his methods.






Foreword to 1909 edition of Savoy Operas (London:  George Bell, illustrated by R. Flint)




Each of the four Savoy Libretti which Messrs. Bell have selected for publication in this volume has a little history of its own which, in their opinion, may have some interest for its readers.

The first of these, the "Pirates of Penzance," was produced at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, after a perfunctory "scratch" performance at Paignton, on the previous night, for supposed copyright purposes. The price of admission was fixed, I believe, at a guinea, and only one person was sufficiently enterprising to pay that sum. The performers read their parts from printed copies and the music of the songs was largely extemporized by them. Whether this "performance" did or did not serve to ensure copyright in the United States I do not know, but threats of procedure against intending violators were based upon it and had the necessary deterring effect. The opera was first produced at the Opéra Comique, London, on the 3rd April, 1880.

A tragic incident occurred at the last rehearsal but one. Miss Everard (the admirable Mrs. Partlet of "The Sorcerer" and Little Buttercup of "H.M.S. Pinafore") was standing in the middle of the stage when a heavy "set piece" which had been carelessly "footed," fell forward upon her and caused a fracture of the skull of which the poor lady died in a week. A telegram was immediately despatched to a very clever actress-contralto, Miss Emily Cross, who played the part, letter-perfect and note-perfect, two days later, with great success.

The part of Mabel was played by Miss Marion Hood, a singularly beautiful young lady, and a brilliant vocalist.  I believe it was her first appearance on the professional stage, and her excellent performance served to secure her many valuable offers. Two or three important members of the company claimed to be foreigners, and although they consented, under pressure, to appear under English names, spoke nevertheless with strong Italian or French accents. One of them, an "Italian," was brought to a sense of the situation by Mr. R. Barker, the stage manager, who was celebrated for his frank and unceremonious methods of address. Mr. Barker bore with the Italian gentleman for a week or two, but at last his patience was exhausted and he said to him "Look here, my boy, we shall get on much better if you'll give us a little more Whitechapel and a little less of the Mediterranean." The Italian gentleman took the hint; he became a native of Whitechapel, and the Mediterranean knew him no more.

In "Patience," as originally constructed, Grosvenor and Bunthorne were to have been two curates, one of them jealous of the other's exceeding meekness (the libretto was, in point of fact, suggested by my Bab Ballad "The Rival Curates,") and the Cavalry Officers, whose pretensions to the young ladies of the piece were nullified by the superior attractions of the Curates, finished by resigning their commissions and taking orders.  In the course of its composition I became conscious of the fact that a chorus of comic clergymen would very properly be resented as a serious violation of the canons of good taste, so I converted Grosvenor and Bunthorne into aesthetic absurdities, without any very violent departure from the "root idea" of the piece. One would have thought that when the so-called "aesthetic craze" died out, the popularity of the Opera would have died with it, but, in point of fact, it has survived that social folly nearly thirty years and, at the time of writing, it is as popular as any of the series. It must be admitted, however, that this is mainly referable to the delightful music with which Sir Arthur Sullivan has endowed the libretto, and which, happily, is not dependent for its popularity on the absurdities of a fleeting craze.

                    "Princess Ida," in its original form, was an extravaganza founded on Tennyson's "Princess" and was produced at the Olympic, with already existing music, in (I think) 1870. It was chiefly remarkable for the admirable performance of the name-part by a remarkably beautiful and talented actress, Miss Mattie Reinhardt, who, if she had not married and left the stage, would assuredly have become one of its principal ornaments. King Gama was superbly played by a very clever comedian, Mr. Elliot, who had just distinguished himself by an admirable performance of Uriah Heep in an adaptation of "David Copperfield."  In my "respectful per-version" of Tennyson's poem the three stalwart sons of King Gama were represented by three very slight and delicate young ladies. Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian were also represented by young ladies, and the effect of three girls playing the parts of men who were disguised as girls involved difficulties which nothing short of the aid of a musical setting by Sir Arthur Sullivan would have overcome. This was an advantage, however, that the piece, in its then form, did not possess.

                    At the Savoy, the part of Princess Ida was excellently played and sung by Miss Leonora Braham, who had already distinguished herself by her delightful impersonation of Patience, in the opera of that name.  The part in "The Princess" required a tall, dignified lady, and such a lady was engaged, but the state of her health prevented her attending rehearsals, and the part was given to Miss Braham at almost the last moment.  Miss Braham was somewhat short in stature, but in every other respect she fully realized the intentions of composer and author.  That superb singer and excellent actress, Miss Rosina Brandram, made her first distinct success as Lady Blanche, and the delightful Jessie Bond revealed a sense of exquisite humour in her joyous impersonation of Melissa.  In the last act the principal ladies were dressed in very imposing armour which was supplied by a Paris armurier.  On the first night I was sitting in the green-room during the progress of the last act, reading a newspaper, when this gentleman, who had come over from Paris to enjoy the effect of his armour upon the stage, broke in upon me in a wild state of delight, "Mais savez-vous, Monsieur," said he, "que vous avez un succès solide?" I replied to the effect that the piece seemed to be going very well.  "Mais vous etes si calme!" he exclaimed with a look of unbounded astonishment.  I suppose he expected to see me kissing all the carpenters.

                    "The Yeomen of the Guard" was somewhat of a departure from the class of piece which was expected of us by the Savoy audience--the story being more of a consistent drama with a certain note of pathos in the development of the character of Jack Point, and as a consequence we awaited the result of the first night's performance with somewhat anxious minds.  However, both press and public accepted the opera with enthusiasm, so all was well.  The genesis of this libretto was a placard advertisement of the Tower Furnishing Company, in which a Beefeater was a conspicuous figure.  I was on my way from Uxbridge to Paddington and, having missed my train at Uxbridge, I had an hour to wait, and so it came to pass that I had plenty of time in which to study the advertisement on the walls.  The Beefeater on the placard suggested to me that an effective libretto might be constructed, the scenes in which should represent two views of the Tower of London, with a body of Beefeaters as male chorus.  My first idea was to make the piece modern, with young ladies, guardsmen, a Lieutenant of the Tower, and forth [sic]; but a picture of a jester in a Magazine which I bought to read while I was waiting suggested to me the advisability of putting the piece back into the sixteenth century in order that I might be able to weave that effectively dramatic figure into the story.  I had christened the piece "The Beefeaters," but Sir Arthur Sullivan considered "Beefeaters" to be an ugly word; so at his urgent instance the title was altered to "The Yeomen of the Guard," notwithstanding the fact that the Yeomen of the Guard, properly so called, have no association whatever with the Tower of London. I believe that this piece was a special favourite of Sir Arthur Sullivan's, and I am certainly disposed to regard it as the best piece of work that he and I have produced in collaboration.  I am also disposed to believe that, if I had not missed that train, I should never have written that piece.  I may mention that some lines from one of the songs "Is life a boon?" were especially honoured by having been selected by the committee of the Sullivan Memorial on the Embankment as worthy to be inscribed on its pedestal.





If you find errors, or have additions or suggestions, please e-mail me at arobinson@lagrange.edu.


Compiled by Arthur Robinson, Lewis Library, LaGrange College, Georgia (USA)


Last updated 20 November 2009