References to Gilbert & Sullivan in the Works of P.G. Wodehouse



I.          Specific allusions to Gilbert & Sullivan operas or Bab Ballads


  • The Pothunters (1902)
    • …Charteris on the banjo was worth hearing.  His rendering of extracts from the works of Messers Gilbert and Sullivan was an intellectual treat.  (Chapter 6)
    • No, the word for his guidance in this emergency, he felt instinctively, was “mum.”  (Ch. 9)
  • A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)
    • They had the satisfying feeling that their duty had been done.  (Ch. 4)
    • …and sisters, cousins, aunts, and parents flocked to the school in platoons (Ch. 4)
    • And he rather liked the idea of being turned into a sort of limited liability company, like the Duke of Plaza-Toro, at a pound a share.  (Ch. 6)
    • “Little thing of my own,” he added, quoting England’s greatest librettist.  “I call it “Heart Foam.”  I shall not publish it…”  (Ch. 7)
    • “Be firm, my moral pecker,” thought Gethryn, and braced himself up for the conflict.  (Ch. 10)
    • …his blank astonishment…had been, in the words of the bard, a mere veneer, a wile of guile.  (Ch. 16)
    • “My natural pride is too enormous.  Descended from a primordial atomic globule, like Pooh-Bah…”  (Ch. 17)
  • Tales of St. Austin’s (1903, short stories)
    • “Manoeuvres of Charteris”:  “Beneath my ban that mystic man shall suffer, coûte qui coûte, Matilda.” 
    • “Author”:  a mere veneer, a wile of guile, as the bard has it.
    • “Work”:  (preceded by quotation)

With a pleasure that’s emphatic

We retire to our attic

                                                With the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.

                                                Oh! philosophers may sing

                                                Of the troubles of a king,

                                                But of pleasures there are many and of troubles there are none,

                                                And the culminating pleasure

                                                That we treasure beyond measure

                                                Is the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.

                                                                                                                                                - W.S. Gilbert

    •  “Notes”:  he had substituted Bab Ballads for the words of Virgil
    • “Notes”:  It is the sort of thing Mr Gilbert’s “rapturous maidens” might have said:  “How Botticellian!  How Fra Angelican!  How perceptively intense and consummately utter!”
    • “The Tom Brown Question” (originally published in Public School Magazine, Dec. 1901):  “I am young, says one of Gilbert’s characters, the Grand Duke, I think, but, he adds, I am not so young as that.”  (cf. A Prefect’s Uncle Ch. 7:  he may have been young, but he was not so young as that.)
  • The Gold Bat (1904)
    • “corroborative detail to give artistic verisimilitude to a bald and unconvincing narrative” (Ch. 5)
    • One James Rupert Leather-Twigg (that was his singular name, as Mr Gilbert has it)  (Ch. 10)
    • The fact was that Mr Seymour had had the same experience as General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance:

“The man who finds his conscience ache

No peace at all enjoys;

And, as I lay in bed awake,

                I thought I heard a noise.”  (Ch. 12)

    • O’Hara left with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done.  (Ch. 18)
  • William Tell Told Again (1904)
    • The Lord High Executioner entered the presence. He was a kind-looking old gentleman with white hair, and he wore a beautiful black robe, tastefully decorated with death’s-heads.  (Ch. 1)
  • The Head of Kay’s (1905)
    • The Bishop of Rumtifoo  (Ch. 5)
    • Mr W.S. Gilbert once wrote a poem about a certain bishop who, while fond of amusing himself, objected to his clergy doing likewise.  And the consequence was that whenever he did so amuse himself, he was always haunted by a phantom curate, who joined him in his pleasures, much to his dismay.  On one occasion he stopped to watch a Punch and Judy show,

And heard, while Punch was being treated penally,

That phantom curate laughing all hyaenally.

The disgust and panic of this eminent cleric was as nothing compared with that of Fenn…  In a box to the left of the dress-circle sat, “laughing all hyaenally,” the following distinguished visitors…  (Ch. 15)

    • As it was, not being able to “peep with security into futurity,” he imagined that the worst was over.  (Ch. 16)
    • “Goodness me,

Why, what was that?

                                Silent be,

                                                It was the cat,”

                                chanted Mr. Mulholland…  (Ch. 16)

  • Love Among the Chickens (1906, revised 1920)
    • “I am called Archibald the All Right, for I am infallible.”  (Ch. 13) (This line also appears at the end of Chapter 17 of a typescript of Psmith USA, [reproduced in Millennium Concordance, vol. 7 p. 349]  but was cut before it was published as Psmith Journalist)
    • It was no time for airy persiflage.  (Ch. 21)
  • The White Feather (1907)
    • “Cut the satisfying sandwich.”  (Ch. 3)
    • sisters and cousins and aunts  (Ch. 20)
  • The Globe “By the Way” Book (1908)
    • “Maxims of the Mighty” (p. 72):  “If it were left to me, I don’t know which I would less rather be, the Censor or a black-beetle.  Except that the Censor could tread on the black-beetle.”  -- Sir W.S. Gilbert  (cf. Mike, Chapter 56:  “I don’t know which I’d least soon be, Downing or a black-beetle, except that if one was Downing one could tread on the black-beetle.”)
    • “a brigand’s lot would be a happier one” (p. 100)
  • The Luck Stone (1908)
    • With the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done  (Ch. 8)
  • Mike (1909; later reprinted as Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith/Enter Psmith)
    • Jellicoe, in order to give verisimilitude, as it were, to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative  (Ch. 41, = Mike and Psmith Ch. 12)
  • Psmith in the City (1910)
    • Like Pooh-Bah, it revolts them, but they do it.  (Ch. 3)
  • The Little Nugget (1913)
    • “This is no time for airy persiflage.”  (Ch. 24; = “The Eighteen-Carat Kid” 1913, Ch. 11)
  • The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (1914)
    • “Deep Waters”:  “When a man’s afraid,” shrewdly sings the bard, “a beautiful maid is a cheering sight to see.”
  • Something Fresh (US title Something New) (1915)
    • “His lordship’s secretary he calls himself, but he’s really everything rolled into one like the man in the play.”

     Ashe…inquired if Miss Willoughby meant Pooh Bah in “The Mikado,” of which there had been a revival in London recently.  Miss Willoughby did mean Pooh Bah.  (Ch. 5.5)

  • A Damsel in Distress (1919)
    • “And the Yeomen of the Guard had just been produced at the Savoy” (Ch. 16; this passage also refers to Nellie Farren, Johnnie Toole, and Meyer Lutz)
  • The Coming of Bill (US title Their Mutual Child, 1919)
    • “I been telling him how you made such a hit as the pin in Pinafore!” (Ch. 4)
  • Jill the Reckless (US title The Little Warrior, 1920)
    • “Your uncle had a whangee with him, and the episode remains photographically lined on the tablets of my mind when a yesterday has faded from its page.”  (Ch. 4.1, from Bab Ballad “The Story of Prince Agib”)
    • Hearts, the policeman knew, just as pure and fair may beat in Belgrave Square as in the lowly air of Seven Dials…  (Ch. 5.2)
    • their sisters, their cousins, and their aunts (Ch. 6.1)
    • “He said it was an effort to restore the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition.  Say, who are these Gilbert and Sullivan guys, anyway?”  (Ch. 9.3)
    • “I hear,” she said, “that this piece is a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan opera.” … “In writing the book, I had Gilbert before me as a model. …  The book is as good as anything Gilbert ever wrote….”  “And you have avoided Gilbert’s mistake of being too fanciful.” … “The music…has all of Sullivan’s melody…”  “It was just the same in Gilbert and Sullivan’s day” (etc.; Ch. 10.1)
  • The Girl on the Boat (US title Three Men and a Maid, 1922)
    • by sisters, by cousins, and by aunts (Ch. 2)
    • His methods are those of Sir W.S. Gilbert’s Alphonso.

“Alphonso, who for cool assurance all creation licks,

He up and said to Emily, who has cheek enough for six:

“Miss Emily, I love you.  Will you marry?  Say the word!”

And Emily said:  “Certainly, Alphonso.  Like a bird!””

                                Sam Marlowe was a warm supporter of the Alphonso method.

    • When a man’s afraid, sings the bard, a beautiful maid is a cheering sight to see.  (Ch. 7)
  • The Adventures of Sally (US title Mostly Sally, 1923)
    • “fill the theatre with his sisters and his cousins and his aunts” (Ch. 6.3)
  • Ukridge (US title He Rather Enjoyed It, 1924)
    • “Debut of Battling Billson”:  photographically lined on the tablets of my mind when a yesterday had faded from its page
    • “Long Arm of Looney Coote”:  constabulary duty was to be done
  • Bill the Conqueror (1924)
    • “You don’t want a jumpy husband, surely?  Not a fellow like the chap in the Bab Ballads who “couldn’t walk into a room without ejaculating “Boom!” which startled ladies greatly.”  (Ch. 1.4)
  • Sam the Sudden (US title Sam in the Suburbs, 1925)
    • When the enterprising burglar isn’t burgling [sic]  (Ch. 15)
  • Meet Mr. Mulliner (short stories, 1927)
    • “Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo”:  The village Choral Society had been giving a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Sorcerer…

“Ah me!  I was a pa-ale you-oung curate then!” chanted Mr. Mulliner. …

“My nephew Augustus was a curate, and very young and extremely pale….  Precisely, in short, the sort of young curate who seems to have been so common in the ’eighties, or whenever it was that Gilbert wrote “The Sorcerer.””

  • If I Were You (1931)
    • “They call me Frederick the Infallible, for I am never wrong.”  (Ch. 2)
    • “Well, it’s like the story of the “Baby’s Vengeance” in the Bab Ballads….  Never read it?  Well, there were two babies, the right one and the wrong one.  I’m the wrong one.”  (Ch. 8)
    • “this changing of one baby for another of greater rank…is such a stock situation of melodrama that the late W.S. Gilbert satirized it in his poem, “The Baby’s Vengeance.””  (Ch. 23)
      • Wodehouse and Guy Bolton’s play Who’s Who, on which this novel was based, contains the line “There’s one of Gilbert’s Bab Ballads with very much the same story.”
  • Louder and Funnier (1932)
    • “Thrillers” (essay describing a villain planning to kill the heroine):  From this he would work up through the animal kingdom in easy stages till eventually he arrived at heroines.
  • The Luck of the Bodkins (1936; US version revised, with different chapter numbers)
    • “Monty Bodkin…couldn’t play the pin in Pinafore” (UK Ch. 12, US Ch. 13)
  • Uncle Dynamite (1948)
    • “a first-class Earl who keeps his carriage” (Ch. 1)
    • “Do you remember,” he asked, “the time I played Dick Deadeye in Pinafore at that amateur performance in aid of the Lower Barnatoland Widows and Orphans? … Do you remember the scene where Dick Deadeye goes to the captain to warn him his daughter is going to elope, and won’t come out with anything definite? … Well, Potter was like that.  Mystic.”  (Ch. 7.4)
    • The policeman’s unhappy lot (Ch 13.1)
  • The Old Reliable (1951)
    • There came into his face that keen look which policemen wear when constabulary duty is to be done.  (Ch. 16)
  • Pigs Have Wings (1952)
    • But though, like the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe, “on fire that glows with heat intense she had turned the hose of commonsense…” [sic] (Ch. 3.1)
  • Bring on the Girls (1953, theatre memoirs; UK and US versions different)
    • Like the men in the Bab Ballad who both knew Robinson, they both knew Jerome Kern.  (Ch. 1.2)
    • “Look at Gilbert and Sullivan, they were like a dose of Paris-green to each other but they worked together all right.”  (Ch. 5.5)
    • It was one of those pieces which are quite all right—business excellent—nothing to complain of—but not sensational.  It was the “Ruddigore” of the series.  (Ch. 9.3)
    • “The memory of that day is photographically lined on the tablets of my mind when a yesterday has faded from its page.”

“As W.S. Gilbert wrote in the Bab Ballads.”

“W.S. Gilbert is the author I’m talking about.  Some people I knew took me over to lunch one Sunday at his house in Harrow Weald.  This would have been in 1903….”  (Ch. 15.2; see Over Seventy below for this anecdote; other versions of this anecdote in America I Like You Ch. 7.3, Punch 4/4/56, and in the article “They’ll Go No More A-Buttling,” Town and Country magazine, Oct. 1947)

  • Performing Flea (letters, 1953; US revised version as Author! Author!, 1962)
    • “Huy Day by Day”:  It was, he said, a special order that had gone out, and the penalty for not obeying it was—I forget what, but something lingering with boiling oil in it.
  • Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (US title Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, 1954)
    • sisters and cousins and aunts  (Ch. 1)
  • French Leave (1956)
    • Terry, feeling like W.S. Gilbert’s Lord Lardy, “How strange are the customs of France!” resumed her progress…  (Ch. 4.3)
    • He was aware he was being insulted, but his attitude towards insults was much the same as that of Pooh-Bah in The Mikado.  (Ch. 6.1)
    • It was one of those lunches which mark epochs and remain photographically lined on the tablets of the mind when a yesterday has faded from its page.  (Ch. 8.1)
  • America, I Like You (US 1956)
    • All the dancing we ever did resembled that of the lawyer in Gilbert and Sullivan who danced a dance in Westminster Hall like a semidespondent fury, for he thought he never would hit on a chance of addressing a British jury.  (Ch. 4.2)
  • Over Seventy, 1957 (revised UK version of America, I Like You)
    • Earls on the whole have made a very good showing in fiction.  With baronets setting them a bad example by being almost uniformly steeped in crime, they have preserved a gratifyingly high standard of behavior. … And in real life I can think of almost no earls whose hearts were not as pure and fair as those of dwellers in the lowlier air of Seven Dials.  (Ch. 3.4; cf. America, I Like You 5.2)
    • A mutual friend had taken me to lunch at the house of W.S. (Savoy Operas) Gilbert, and midway through the meal the great man began to tell a story. … there was Sir William Schwenk [sic] Gilbert telling this story, and there was I, tucked away inside my brother Armine’s frock-coat and my cousin George’s trousers, drinking it respectfully in.  It did not seem to me a very funny story, but I knew it must be because this was W.S. Gilbert telling it, so when the pause before the punch line came, thinking that this was the end, I laughed.

I had rather an individual laugh in those days, something like the explosion of one of those gas mains that slay six.  Infectious, I suppose you would call it, for the other guests, seeming a little puzzled, as if they had expected something better from the author of The Mikado, all laughed politely, and conversation became general.  And it was at this juncture that I caught my host’s eye.

I shall always remember the glare of pure hatred which I saw in it.  If you have seen  photographs of Gilbert, you will be aware that even when in repose his face was inclined to be formidable and his eye not the sort of eye you would willingly catch.  And now his face was far from being in repose.  His eyes, beneath their beetling brows, seared my very soul.  (Ch. 4.1)

    • My mind drifts off into the past and, like the man in the Bab Ballads, I wonder how the playmates of my youth are getting on—McConnell, S.B. Walters, Paddy Byles, and Robinson.  (Ch. 20.1)
  • Something Fishy (US title The Butler Did It, 1957)
    • Somebody whose voice would have been the better for treatment with sandpaper was rendering extracts from the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.  (Ch. 7)
    • “…reminds me of a poem my old guv’nor used to read to me when I was a kid.  About a feller named Alphonso and a wench called Emily.  How did it go, now?  Used to know it by heart once.  Ah, yes.  “Alphonso, who for cool assurance all creation licks, he up and said to Emily, who has cheek enough for six … “Miss Emily, I love yer.  Will you marry?  Say the word,” and Emily said “Certainly, Alphonso, like a bird.””  (Ch. 13)
  • Cocktail Time (1958)
    • Photographically lined on the tablets of his memory [sic] when yesterday had faded from its page.  (Ch. 14)
    • “I see no objection to flowers in moderation.”  (Ch. 14)
  • Service with a Smile (1961)
    • …some such instrument as the one described by the poet Gilbert as looking far less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw.  (Ch. 7.3)
    • “So were his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.”  (Ch. 11.1)
    • Something lingering with boiling oil in it (??)
  • Author! Author! (1962)
    • W.S. (“Savoy Operas”) Gilbert always said that a lyrist can’t do decent stuff that way [writing words to fit a melody].  (p. 15)
    • Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the son of the Savoy Operas’ D’Oyly Carte (p. 28)
    • “In Russia,” says Khrushchev… “we have a proverb—A chicken that crosses the road does so to get to the other side, but wise men dread a bandit.”  (p. 36)
    • In Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore Captain Corcoran has a daughter who, one presumes, is twenty-three or so.  She falls in love with Ralph Rackstraw, the sailor, who can’t be much more than twenty-five.  The Captain, as the father of a girl of that age, can hardly be less than forty-five, more probably fifty.  And the big surprise at the final curtain is Little Buttercup’s revelation that the Captain and Ralph were left in her charge as babies and

Oh, bitter is my cup!

                However could I do it?

I mixed those children up,

                And not a creature knew it!

                                Pinafore was produced in 1878 and is still going strong, and nobody seems to have noticed that it don’t add up right.  (pp. 40-41)

  • Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)
    • “Rather like one of the lovesick maidens in Patience.”


“Patience.  Gilbert and Sullivan.  Haven’t you ever seen it?

“Oh, yes, now I recollect.  My Aunt Agatha made me take her son Thos to it once.  Not at all a bad little show, I thought, though a little highbrow.”  (Ch. 2)

  • Galahad at Blandings (US title The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood, 1965)
    • He was not quite sure what was the penalty for the crimes he had committed, but he had an idea that it was something lingering with boiling oil in it, and the thought depressed him.  (Ch. 10.2)
  • Plum Pie (short stories, 1966)
    • “Life with Freddie”:  “Did you ever see Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury?  I played the Usher in Trial by Jury once….  Judson Phipps always reminds me of the Defendant in that operetta.  To refresh your memory, he was constantly getting engaged and then changing his mind and sneaking out of it.”
    • Note on Humour (p. 284 of UK edition):  wise men dread a bandit
  • A Pelican at Blandings (US title No Nudes Is Good Nudes, 1969)
    • sisters, cousins, and uncles (Ch. 8.1)
  • The Girl in Blue (1970)
    • “something lingering with boiling oil in it” (Ch. 2.2)
  • Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (US title The Plot That Thickened, 1972)
    • something lingering with boiling oil in it (Ch. 10.2)
  • Bachelors Anonymous (1973)
    • “It gives verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”  (Ch. 12.1)


Uncollected stories, articles, etc. (or those collected posthumously):


  • The Uncollected Wodehouse (1976)
    • Article “On the Writing of Lyrics” (reprinted from Vanity Fair, June 1917):  This is one of the thousand reasons why new Gilberts do not arise.  Gilbert had the advantage of being a genius, but he had the additional advantage of writing for a public which permitted him to use his full vocabulary, and even to drop into foreign languages, even Latin and a little Greek when he felt like it.  (I allude to that song in “The Grand Duke.”)
    • “Misunderstood” (p. 103):  with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done
  • Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere
    • Jackson’s Extra”:  “It’s like eight hours at the seaside to him if he catches you at anything.”
    • “Reformation of Study 16”:  He must think out a punishment that would fit the crime.
    • “The Last Place”:
      • “They call me Archibald the All Right, for I am infallible.”
      • Like the heroes of Mr. Gilbert’s Etiquette,

“At first they didn’t quarrel very openly, I’ve heard.

They nodded when they met, and now and then exchanged a word.

The word grew rare, and rarer still the nodding of the head,

And when they meet each other now, they cut each other dead.”

    • “Blenkinsop’s Benefit”:  It concluded with apt quotations from the works of Mr. W.S. Gilbert, a particular protégé of Benson’s, such as:

“Gentlemen, will you allow us to offer you a magnificent banquet?”

“Cut the satisfying sandwich, broach the exhilarating Marsala, and let us rejoice today if we never rejoice again.”

“Tell me, major, are you fond of toffee?”

“Today he is not well.”

  • The Man of Means (1914)
    • To give verisimilitude to their otherwise bald and unconvincing raspberry jam  (Ch. 1)
    • “It was like the crew of the Nancy Bell.  They got eaten one by one, till I was the only one left.”  (Ch. 4)
  • Preface to Mike and Psmith (1969 edition):  Wodehouse writes that his character Psmith was based on “the son of D’Oyly Carte, the man who produced the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.”  (In his later introduction to The World of Psmith, Wodehouse says Psmith was inspired by “Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the son of the Savoy opera’s D’Oyly Carte.”)

·         Quoted in interview (“Thank You, Plum,” Sunday Times, 20 July 1969):  “Wodehouse…had lunch with Gilbert himself; in the Harrow Weald in 1906.  He committed the solecism of laughing before Gilbert had quite finished a joke he was telling.  He didn’t care a great deal for Gilbert’s private humour.  “He used to say there was a special kind of wasp that followed him round while he was playing croquet.  I always thought he was rather a small joke man.””




·         Daily Chronicle (see also parodies, Part VI)

o    “Modern Improvements” (23 Sep. 1903) “…a man-eating tiger, Hailing, as the bard observes, From the Congo or the Niger”

o    May 14, 1904 (review of The Prince of Pilsen):  ““Heidelberg”…is an unaccompanied octette for male voices, not unlike the numbers which Sullivan wrote so beautifully.  There is in it the slightest reminiscence of the “I hear the soft note of an echoing voice” of “Patience” fame.”

·         London Opinion (June 11, 1904):  The logical Hungarians argue that, as a gentleman has been told off to be killed, a gentleman must be killed. …  She declines.  She may be a daughter of Hungary, but she is not such a daughter of Hungary as all that.

·         Public School Magazine – see below

·         Punch

o    a mere veneer (10/15/1902)

o    When the coster’s finished jumping on his mother… (2/25/03)

o    No longer on his mother does the coster gaily leap (5/27/03; this verse also contains the phrase “felon finds no balm in his employment”)

o    “You know what GILBERT says of us, “We spectres are a jollier crew than you perhaps suppose.”  Shrewd man, GILBERT.”  (10/7/03)

o    A hard-worked draper I…  (9/7/04, verse to metre of A wandering minstrel I)

o    Mr. Tanner.  “My idea is—something Gilbertian.”

Mr. Risque.  “Well, you’ve got it, haven’t you?  Your stout fairy who nestles in a buttercup is copied from Iolanthe; your genie who has to talk in rhyme comes from The Fairy’s Dilemma; your chorus of policemen from The Pirates of Penzance; and your policeman lost in London from Peter Forth in the Bab Ballads.  One would think that was enough Gilbert for the piece…”  (10/17/06)

o    Hearts just as pure and fair may beat in Belgrave Square as in the lowly air of Seven Dials.  (6/9/54)

o    The Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage (Nov. 1955?)

o    To paraphrase the author of the Bab Ballads:

She taught them “Bother!” also “Blow!”

        Of wickedness the germs,

And often muttered Darns and hecks.

No sailor of the other sex

While porting helms and swabbing decks

        Would use such awful terms.  (5/12/57?)

o    I can see no objection to peripheral vascular disease in moderation.  (6/22/57)

o    Gilbert and Sullivan fans will recall the Judge’s snatch of song towards the end of Trial by Jury:

The question, gentlemen, is one of liquor;

        You ask for guidance—this is my reply;

He says, when tipsy, he would thrash and kick her;

        Let’s make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try!

·         Show (Nov. 1964, p. 78):  W.S. (Savoy Operas) Gilbert was making sick jokes before Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce were born.

·         Time and Tide (“London,” 6 Dec. 1958; also “Capital Recollections,” Euragonna Apr. 20 1958 p. 26):  London resembles the lady of whom Sir W.S. Gilbert wrote in “Trial by Jury” in being seen at its best in the dusk with a light behind it.

·         Tit-Bits  [I haven’t seen this, but according to Wooster Sauce 17, Wodehouse refers to Gilbert in the article “Black Beetles,” 8/22/08, and quotes from The Gondoliers in the article “Dancing.” 9/19/08]

·         Vanity Fair (UK) (see also parodies below)

o    “… his powers are autocratic.  He is, to quote an evening paper, President, King, Kaiser, Tsar, Mikado, Pooh-Bah…”  (“New York Crowds,”Nov. 19, 1904)

o    He…might still be taken for a Young Greek God in the dusk with a light behind him.  (“As It Might Have Been:  A Domestic Drama,” Feb. 9, 1905)

o    Be firm, my moral pecker (“The Ballad of the Interviewer,” March 23, 1905)

o    A judge’s lot is far the happiest one (Feb. 18, 1906)

·         Vanity Fair (U.S., theatre reviews and essays; see also The Uncollected Wodehouse above)

o    I may be hypercritical, but to my mind a musical comedy loses in charm when one of its principal characters is a corpse and the female chorus are dressed as widows.  Gilbert might have treated the scheme of “Go To It” so as to rob it of its unpleasantness… (Dec. 1916)

o    I have no objection, however, to mothers, in moderation.  (May 1917)

o    I am called Archibald the All-Right, for I am infallible.  (Dec. 1917)

o    (June 1920, “The Theatrical Year,” list of the season’s biggest musical successes):  The two we most want to see again are Irene and Ruddigore.  The success of the latter was the most pleasing event of the season.  The ultimate test of a musical piece is, Would you like to be in the orchestra and have to see it every night?  We shouldn’t mind a bit doing some light work like banging the cymbals nightly at Ruddigore.” 

·         Excerpt from Wodehouse’s diary (1900?)  quoted in Jasen, P.G. Wodehouse: Portrait of a Master, pp. 19-20:

Money Received for Literary Work


“Though never nurtured in the lap

                Of luxury, yet, I admonish you,

I am an intellectual chap

                And think of things that would astonish you.”

W.S. Gilbert

·         Interview in New York Times (7 Nov. 1915):  “Since W.S. Gilbert, England has had no humorist of the first rank.  Gilbert was an originator; he got a new angle on things.  But the English humorists since his time have worked to a pattern…”

·         Interview in Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1968:  [Wodehouse is quoted as saying that at “20 or so” he lunched with Gilbert “and was advised by the great man that it’s better to write the lyrics before the composer comes up with the music.”]

·         Letter dated 13 August 1964, quoted on p. 517 of P.G. Wodehouse:  A Life in Letters (ed. Sophie Ratcliffe, 2011):  “When I was your age, my two idols were W.S. Gilbert, the Savoy opera man, and Conan Doyle  … A mutual friend took me to his (Gilbert’s) house and I killed one of G’s best stories by laughing in the wrong place!”

·         Letter to the New York Times (Feb. 15, 1920):


To the Dramatic Critic:

                Mr. Williams is all wrong.  (I'm not arguing, I'm just telling him.)  There is no possible excuse for omitting Robin's song in the second act of "Ruddigore."  Mr. Williams says "the purport of the song is that a baronet's title is hardly worthy the labor of acquiring it.  To a New York audience of today this is not a thesis of the most absorbing interest."  The argument reminds one of F.P.A.'s experience with the theatrical manager who, chiding him for introducing Mr. Taft's name into one of his lyrics, said:  "The territories we play are not familiar with Taft."  Considering that "Ruddigore" is all about baronets, that at one point in the second act there are eight baronets on the stage at the same time, a song which touches on the drawbacks to a baronet's life can hardly be considered out of the picture.  If Gilbert is to be submitted to the test of what the average Broadway audience understands and appreciates, why not cut the Lord Chancellor out of "Iolanthe" and the Beefeaters out of "The Yeomen of the Guard"?

                On the night I went to the Park Theatre "wood alcohol" had been withdrawn in favor of "deadly nightshade," but "Yonkers" was still batting for "Basingstoke" and killing one of the best scenes in the piece.  If Gilbert were still alive and had decided to substitute an American name for Basingstoke, Yonkers is the last he would have chosen.  He rather made a point of avoiding the obvious.  He deliberately selected "Basingstoke" at a time when you only had to mention "Brixton" on the London stage to bring the house down.

                It seems odd that managements which revive Gilbert and Sullivan cannot completely persuade themselves that these pieces are sacred in the eyes of the only people who are going to go and see them.  They are not producing a new musical comedy for the general public.  They are reviving classics.  They are in a position of trust, and they ought to realize it, the blighters.

                                                                                                                                P.G. WODEHOUSE.

   Great Neck, Feb. 8, 1920.



II.        Allusions or possible allusions to operas etc. that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote separately


·         From the essay “Work” (originally in Public School Magazine, reprinted in Tales of St. Austin’s): “They’ll shrink abashed and swear they have not skill at that, as Gilbert says.”  The quotation is from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  (Wodehouse had played Guildenstern in an amateur performance in 1900.)

  • Mike (1909):  Pickergill II whistling “The Lost Chord” flat (Ch. 10)
  • A Gentleman of Leisure
    • Who was it said that the point of a joke was like the point of a needle—so small that it is apt to disappear entirely when directed straight at oneself?  (Ch. 2; cf. His Excellency:  “the point of a joke is like the point of a needle—hold the needle sideways and it’s plain enough, but when it is directed straight at you—well, it’s not always very easy to see the point of it”)
    • He was of the same type as the man in the comic opera who proposed to the lady because somebody bet him he wouldn’t.  (Ch. 6; cf. His Excellency, “…you just proposed because somebody bet you you wouldn’t”; also Sunset at Blandings Ch. 9, he had proposed to her because somebody betted he wouldn’t)
  • Sam the Sudden (Ch. 16.2)
    • “What did she see in you? … It couldn’t have been your looks—we’ll dismiss that right away, of course.  It couldn’t have been your conversation or intellect, because you haven’t any.  Then what was it?”

                Mr. Todhunter smirked coyly.

                “Oh, well, I’ve got a way with me, Sam—that’s how it is.” …

                “Have you got it with you now?”

     (cf. the following exchange from Gilbert’s 1892 comic opera The Mountebanks:

                                                ARROSTINO.  Now tell me, Minestra, candidly—what was it you saw in him to admire?  It’s not his face, of course; nor his figure—we’ll put them out of the question.  It can’t be his conversation, because he hasn’t any.

                                                MINESTRA.  I don’t know.  He’s got a way with him.

                                                ARROSTINO.  Has he got it with him now?)

  • Mulliner Nights (1933)
    • “The Knightly Quest of Mervyn”:  songs sung at a smoking concert include “I’ll Sing Thee Songs of Araby,” “The Midshipmite,” and “Ho, Jolly Jenkin!”  [Clay’s “I’ll Sing Thee Songs of Araby” is also mentioned in Love Among the Chickens, original version, Ch. 1; in Uneasy Money, Ch. 10; and in an article by Wodehouse in Punch, April 3, 1907]
  • Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey”:  the sound of a great Amen
  • The Luck of the Bodkins:  This novel contains a probably coincidental echo of Gilbert’s play Foggerty’s Fairy in the comments of the steward Peasmarch, e.g. “The bloke-who-shot-the-Emperor’s father would never have met the bloke-who-shot-the-Emperor’s mother, so there wouldn’t have been any bloke to shoot the Emperor so there wouldn’t have been any War, so there wouldn’t have been any lipsticks, so the young lady next door wouldn’t have had one to write on your bathroom wall with.”  (Ch. 9 UK ed., Ch. 8 US)
  • Pigs Have Wings (Ch. 10.2):  “a deliberate and systematic viper” (cf. Tom Cobb, “Deliberate and systematic viper!” – suggested by Andrew Crowther)
  • Something Fishy (Ch. 21):  “I remember reading a story once… that has always stuck in my mind.  It was about a burglar who burgled a house and the owner caught him and held him up with a gun and made him take all his clothes off and then showed him politely out the front door.”  (cf. Gilbert’s story “The Burglar’s Story,” reprinted in Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales)
  • Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (Ch. 13, scene in court):  “One of my crowd on that occasion, a lady accused of being drunk and disorderly and resisting the police, did on receipt of her sentence throw her boot at him, but with a poor aim, succeeding only in beaning the magistrate’s clerk.”  (cf. Gilbert’s story “My Maiden Brief”)
  • “Creatures of Impulse” (Wodehouse story, published in Strand Magazine, October 1914):  the title may (or may not) be inspired by Gilbert’s story and play of the same title.
  • Letter to Ellaline Terriss dated 20 May 1962 (on p. 511 of P.G. Wodehouse:  A Life in Letters):  “I wonder how many people there are today beside myself who saw you in His Excellency.  I always remember being taken to that play and loving it.  I’ve always heard that the music was no good, but I thought it fine.  Do you remember the ‘practical jokes’ trio—you and Grossmith and someone else?”
  • A recurring line in Gilbert’s play Engaged has Cheviot Hill referring to the various women he loves as “the tree upon which the fruit of my heart is growing—my Past, my Present, my Future…”  Versions of this line (original with Gilbert, as far as I can determine by Googling) are found in many books:
    • The Clicking of Cuthbert (“The Salvation of George Mackintosh”):  “He said I was the essence of his every hope, the tree on which the fruit of his life grew; his Present, his Future, his Past.”
    • The Heart of a Goof (“Rodney Fails to Qualify”):  “You are the tree on which the fruit of my life hangs”
    • Lord Emsworth and Others (“The Letter of the Law”):  “she admitted in so many words that I was the tree on which the fruit of her life hung”
    • Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (“Bingo and the Peke Crisis”):  the tree…on which the fruit of Bingo’s life hung
    • Joy in the Morning, Ch. 16:  “She said I was the tree on which the fruit of her life hung”
    • The Mating Season, Ch. 25:  “admitted that I was the tree on which the fruit of her life grew”
    • Ring for Jeeves, Ch. 6:  the tree on which the fruit of his life hung
    • Cocktail Time, Ch. 9:  she was the tree on which the fruit of his life hung
    • A Few Quick Ones (“Leave It to Algy”):  “tree on which the fruit of my life hangs”
    • Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, Ch. 18:  Vanessa being the tree on which the fruit of his life hung


III.             Possible allusions to/echoes of  Gilbert & Sullivan operas etc. (many are probably coincidental)


  • The Pothunters (1902)
    • “Exit Livy, then.  And a good job too.”  (Ch. 5)
    • “Keep that fact steadily before you.”  (cf. The Gem Collector Ch. 10, “He had to keep that fact steadily before him”; The Girl in Blue Ch. 11.5, He would keep the thought of that hundred steadily before him)
    • a mind of no common order (Ch. 16)
  • A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)
    • “Does that convey any significance to your mind?”  (Ch. 2)
    • Tact urged him to discontinue his investigations and talk about the weather.  (Ch. 3)
    • Mr. Jephson always preferred the rapier of sarcasm to the bludgeon of abuse.  (Ch. 10)
    • “Let’s talk about the weather.”  (Ch. 10)
    • He began to think that there must have been some good in Farnie after all.  (Ch. 17)
  • Tales of St. Austin’s (1903, short stories)
    • “Now Talking about Cricket”:  I trust I make myself clear. … The bowler’s lot…is the happier one.
  • The Gold Bat (1904):  a man may do what he likes with his own (Ch. 3)
  • The Head of Kay’s (1905):  admission on presentation of a visiting card (Ch. 9)
  • Love Among the Chickens (1906, revised 1920)
    • the manners of a marquis (Ch. 5)
    • “greatly to my credit…that I did not instantly put myself up to be raffled for, or rush out into the streets and propose marriage to the first lady I met” (Ch. 14)
    • the merits of my pleadings (Ch. 20)
  • The Globe “By the Way” Book (1908)
    • Her eyes must glow with an inborn love of the Tariff reform (p. 14)
    • deceased wife’s sister (pp. 78 and 111)
  • The Swoop (1909)
    • They demanded that every man in the army should be a general (Ch. 4)
    • a mere accident of birth (Ch. 5)
    • second trombone (Ch. 7)
  • Mike:  He had not his Book of Etiquette by him at the moment (Ch. 19)
  • A Gentleman of Leisure:  It was too much happiness.  (Ch. 20)
  • The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (1914)
    • “By Advice of Counsel” [person told to consult, thinks he was told to insult; cf. Thespis?]
    • “Ruth in Exile”:  “It is simply rude.”  “A little more,” said Mr. Vince, “and I shall begin to think you don’t like it.”
    • “Archibald’s Benefit”: (1)  inclined to be stout; (2) How few men, dear reader, are engaged to girls with svelte figures, brown hair, and large blue eyes, now sparkling and vivacious, now dreamy and soulful, but always large and blue! How few, I say. You are, dear reader, and so am I, but who else? Archibald was one of the few who happened to be. … You, dear reader, play an accurate, scientific game and beat your opponent with ease every time you go the links, and so do I; but Archibald was not like us.  (cf. Gilbert’s “Unappreciated Shakespeare”; suggested by Steve Lichtenstein)
  • Psmith Journalist (1915):  [of a thug] “Was he restored to his friends and his relations?”  (Ch. 17)
  • Piccadilly Jim (1917):  Ann possessed a mind of no common order.  (Ch. 1)
  • Jill the Reckless:
    • “You aren’t Bobby Morrison?”  “I am not.  More than that, I never was!” (Ch. 2.2)
    • with intervals for refreshment (Ch. 4.1)
    • the return to the scenes of his former triumphs (Ch. 20.1)
  • Indiscretions of Archie:  I’m a student of human nature, and I know a thing or two” (Ch. 16)
  • The Clicking of Cuthbert
    • “The Rough Stuff”:  Her brother and her brassey were the only things she loved
    • “The Coming of Gowf”:  [references to the Lord High Chamberlain, and also to Palace Prattlings, a society gossip paper]
  • The Adventures of Sally:  poor wandering lad (Ch. 10.2)
  • The Inimitable Jeeves (US title Jeeves, 1923)
    • “Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum”:  Ghastly!  Ghastly!
    • “Comrade Bingo”:  “Oh, tush!  Not to say pish!”
    • “The Great Sermon Handicap”:  “I don’t want any lunch!” said Bingo.
  • Sam the Sudden:  wandering minstrel (Ch. 4); “the birds, the breeze, the trees, the bees” (Ch. 21.2)
  • Money for Nothing (1928):  The sun whose rays (Ch. 14); Book of Etiquette (Ch. 15.1)
  • Mr. Mulliner Speaking (1929):  “Those in Peril on the Tee”:  “Slowly but surely I was teaching her to love me, and now it can never be.”
  • Summer Lightning (US title Fish Preferred, 1929): 
    • Baronets are proverbially bad, but surely, felt Percy Pilbeam, there was no excuse for them to be as bad as all that.  (Ch. 7.3)
    • trace of diffidence or shyness (Ch. 13.2; “diffidence or shyness” also in Uneasy Money Ch. 6)
  • If I Were You:  “I’ve something to say that’ll make their ’air curl” (Ch. 19)
  • Mulliner Nights:  “Best Seller”:  second trombone
  • Blandings Castle and Elsewhere:  “Monkey Business”:  “All my life I have been cursed by this fatal attraction of mine for the sex.”
  • Young Men in Spats:  “I’m shocked.  That’s what I am.  Shocked.”  (“Fate”)
  • Laughing Gas (1936)
    • ticks off the villagers when they want to marry their deceased wives’ sisters (Ch. 9)
    • “Are we alone and unobserved?”  (Ch. 15; “alone and unobserved” also in “The Amazing Hat Mystery” in Young Men in Spats, and Ring for Jeeves Ch. 9)
  • Lord Emsworth and Others:  “Ukridge and the Home from Home” quips and cranks; “I’ve studied human nature pretty closely, and I know one thing”
  • Summer Moonshine (1937):  Possibly he consoled himself, like so many baffled Baronets in the fiction and drama of an earlier age, with the thought that a time would come.  (Ch. 15)
  • Joy in the Morning (1946)
    • “I believe I get jugged.  Or is it only when you marry a Ward of Chancery without the Lord Chancellor hoisting the All Right flag?”  (Ch. 7)
    • I don’t want to carp or criticize  (Ch. 29)
  • Full Moon (1947):  He proceeded to trip thither (Ch. 8.1)
  • Uncle Dynamite (1948)
    • heartfelt sympathy (Ch. 8.1)
    • Then she told herself that Mother would be all right.  She had a comfortable chair and all the illustrated papers.
  • The Mating Season (1949):  “Hullo, hullo, hullo.” … “It’s a hunting song.”  (Ch. 6)
  • Nothing Serious, “Rodney Has a Relapse”:  I retired to rest that night with the gratifying feeling that I had done my day’s good deed. 
  • The Old Reliable:  Bill was touched by his simple eloquence.  (Ch. 13)
  • Barmy in Wonderland (US title Angel Cake, 1952):  “the birds, the bees, the breeze, the trees, all nature in chorus seemed to call to me to give him a hot foot.”  (Ch. 8)
  • Pigs Have Wings:  a living ganglion of conflicting emotions (Ch. 3.1)
  • Jeeves in the Offing (US title How Right You Are, Jeeves, 1960):  in aid of a deserving charity (Ch. 2); “dry the starting tear”(Ch. 12)
  • The Ice in the Bedroom (1961):  It was, he told himself, merely the breeze sighing in the trees.  (Ch. 24)
  • Frozen Assets (US title Biffen’s Millions, 1964):  in a highly nervous state (Ch. 2)
  • Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968):  Grasp an opportunity which won’t occur again (Ch. 8.3)
  • The Girl in Blue:  “start blooming like the flowers in spring” (Ch. 10)
  • Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin:  the sacred ties of friendship (Ch. 7.3)
  • Bachelors Anonymous:  “sealed book” (Ch. 5); “live on bread and cheese and kisses” (Ch. 6.2; a Wodehouse fan informs me that this phrase appeared in Jonathan swift’s 1738 Polite Conversation)
  • Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (US title The Cat-Nappers, 1974):  success might crown his efforts (Ch. 14)
  • Story “The Pro”:  Pearson’s sub-deputy-under-acting-assistant-vice-secretary (cf. The Grand Duke’s “Acting Temporary Sub-Deputy Assistant Vice-Chamberlain”) [cf. “Deputy Assistant Lyric Writer” in “Franklin’s Favorite Daughter,” Cosmopolitan July 1929)
  • The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow:  May 1906 title “Peeps into Futurity”; June 1906 “big, big D.”; Sep, 1906 Sangazure Towers; Sep. 1907 “Should Mormons marry all their deceased wives’ sisters?”
  • Daily Chronicle  27 Jan 1904:  Often has Edwin disagreed With Angelina, I’ve heard tell…
  • Daily Express 9 Nov. 1903 “The Parrot”:  [Parrot sings] “I consume not steak nor chop, I Take a lily or a poppy, And I gaze at it enraptured…”
  • Evening News “The Prodigal” (June 15, 1903):  “He [a baby] sneered when offered by his nurse Some quite delightful pap”  (cf. Bab Ballad “The Precocious Baby”)
  • Punch “joy and jollity” (9/19/56, also in Playboy article “The Courting of the Muse”); “dry the starting tear” (7/20/60); “anecdotes disparaging their wives” (3/27/63)  (There is also a reference to Rutland Barrington in Punch, Oct. 3, 1906)
  • “Adventure of the Missing Bee,” Vanity Fair (UK), Dec. 1, 1904:  “If you look at his left shoulder-blade…”
  • Complete Lyrics of P.G. Wodehouse:  flowers would bloom in the spring (p. 37), mere veneer (p. 188), Wealth’s just a bore; some prize it, I despise it (p. 242)
  • Candle-light (play adaptation):  “I have no objection to the truth—in moderation” (p. 24); “What—never?” (p. 37); “Didn’t he kiss you under my very nose?”  “No.  Under my nose.” (pp. 78-9)
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep (play):  “If you don’t like the harp, I’ll play any other instrument in reason.”
  • The Inside Stand (play, in Act II of which the hero explains to the heroine that he was prodding an attractive woman’s leg to see if she had a gun):  JOSEPHINE.  “Well, after this I shall always believe everything you tell me.”  FREDDIE.  “Then we ought to be very, very happy.”
  • Letter quoted in McIlvaine’s bibliography, p. 368:  Innocent Merriment



IV. Familiar names used by Wodehouse


§  Duke of Dunstable (Uncle Fred in the Springtime, etc.)

§  Sir Ralph Rackstraw (Louder and Funnier “Thrillers,” = Saturday Evening Post 5/25/29)

§  Ko-Ko ( a parrot, in “Up from the Depths” in Nothing Serious)

§  Lord Marmaduke Sangazure (“L’affaire Uncle John,” Public School Magazine Aug. 1901); Lord Sangazure (Punch Aug. 12 1903, Globe By the Way Book pp. 14-5; also Punch “Reformed Sets” Dec. 30 1903; Sangazure also in “The Peculiar case of Flatherwick” Vanity Fair (UK) Mar. 19 1903,  Punch Sep. 26 1906,  Over Seventy 6.2, America I Like You p. 124)

§  Mountararat (Punch, Dec. 30 1903)

§  Rose Maynard (“Honeysuckle Cottage,” Meet Mr. Mulliner)

§  J. Wellington Gedge (Hot Water)



V.  Phrases from works of Gilbert & Sullivan that recur frequently in Wodehouse

Ø  Note:  These may not all originate with Gilbert.  For example, the phrase “the intellectual pressure of the conversation,” found in The Gondoliers and The Grand Duke, had earlier appeared in Charles Dickens’s “The Uncommercial Traveller.”  It is likely that Wodehouse borrowed the phrase from Gilbert, but that Gilbert had borrowed it from Dickens (Gilbert seems to have been more familiar with Dickens’s works than Wodehouse, who had a character in The Girl in Blue state that the Cheeryble Brothers appeared in Oliver Twist).  Similarly, “It’s a poor heart that never rejoices” appeared in Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, and later in The Grand Duke, which Wodehouse quotes from or alludes to several times. 


  •  “[calculated to] bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty”:  “The Rough Stuff,” The Clicking of Cuthbert; Leave It to Psmith Ch. 8.2;  Right Ho, Jeeves Ch. 4; Third Berlin Broadcast; Uncle Dynamite Ch. 14.4; Full Moon Ch. 4.2; “Bramley Is So Bracing” (Nothing Serious); Ice in the Bedroom Ch. 22; The Girl in Blue Ch. 4 (Although this woman had not spoken a word calculated to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty)
  • “corroborative detail” e.g. The Gold Bat Ch. 5, Mike and Psmith, Laughing Gas Ch. 15, Ring for Jeeves Ch. 19, Bachelors Anonymous
  • fathers-in-law elect (Love Among the Chickens, Ch. 18; also mothers-in-law elect, “Archibald’s Benefit,” “Reginald’s Record Knock”)
  • “It’s a poor heart that never rejoices”:  “When Doctors Disagree,” The Man Upstairs; “Luck of the Stiffhams,” Young Men in Spats; “Sonny Boy,” Eggs, Beans and Crumpets; The Old Reliable Ch. 7; Something Fishy Ch. 10; Frozen Assets Ch. .4.3; play Joy in the Morning
  • “may a nephew’s curse”:  Carry On, Jeeves (also “an aunt’s curse” in “Jeeves and the Song of Songs,” Very Good, Jeeves; Right Ho Jeeves Ch. 3; Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit Ch. 3; Jeeves in the Offing Ch. 6;  “may a cousin’s curse,” “The Great Sermon Handicap”)
  • the slave of duty:  Quick Service Ch. 7; Service with a Smile Ch. 4.1; “Mr. McGee’s Big Day”
  • “tender and sentimental subject”:  Laughing Gas Ch. 4 (“have a private word with her on a tender and sentimental subject”); Summer Moonshine Ch. 17; Galahad at Blandings Ch. 12.3
  • “unequal [or not equal] to the intellectual pressure of the conversation”:  Bachelors Anonymous Ch. 11, Big Money Ch. 13, Damsel in Distress 10, The Girl on the Boat 12, The Gold Bat 5, The Head of Kay’s 21, Jill the Reckless 12, Mike 51, Much Obliged, Jeeves 15, The Old Reliable 12, Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin 10.3, A Pelican at Blandings 7.6, Piccadilly Jim 6, Plum Pie (“Life with Freddie”), Service with a Smile 3.3, Something Fishy 15, Something New 9, Spring Fever 14, short story “How Kid Brady Broke Training”; “the intellectual pressure of the conversation” also in Cocktail Time Ch. 10 and 12, Company for Henry 12.2, Frozen Assets 10.3, The Man Upstairs (“In Alcala”), A Prefect’s Uncle 1, Quick Service 11, Sam the Sudden 24, Uncle Dynamite 6.2, The White Feather 3; “the intellectual pressure of the affair” in The White Feather Ch. 3)


VI.       Wodehouse’s Parodies of Gilbert


(1)           “In the Air” (Evening News, March 26, 1903)

                (With apologies to Mr. W.S. Gilbert)


                [According to German experts the wind frequently acts as a means of conveying microbes of peculiar deadliness from one place to another.]


There are microbes in the bellow of the blast,

There is sickness in the growling of the gale.

                There are numerous diseases

                In the pleasantest of breezes,

Epidemics in the air that we inhale.

                It is always most unpleasant

                To find out that germs are present,

And especially in the air that we inhale.


Tornadoes are a vehicle for gout.

A cyclone brings you asthma while you wait.

                Every breath of air that blows is

                Fraught with “flu,” tuberculosis,

Scarlatina or sciatica, they state.

                (If they terrify unduly,

                Or are simply speaking truly,

I am personally not prepared to state.)


                But if it’s so, sing bury down bury,

                   It’s evident, very, our days are done.

                Away we’ll go, and open our purses

                   For mutes and hearses.  Our course is run.


There is beauty in extreme old age, we know,

But that venerable beauty’s not for us.

                When what Romans called the Notus

                In its deadly grip has got us,

We shall die without unnecessary fuss.

                (Though it may seem strange and vexin’,

                We shall simply hand our checks in,

And expire without unnecessary fuss.)

Does the wind blow chill and biting from the East,

Is it wafted soft and balmy from the South,

                Be it sighing, be it brawling,

                It is equally appalling,

There is suicide in opening the mouth.

                Which being so, sing bury down bury, etc.




(2)           “The Emperor’s Song” (Daily Chronicle, October 2, 1903)


                [M. Jacques Lebaudy, “Emperor of the Sahara,” arrived in London on Monday for the purpose of purchasing agricultural implements for his colonists, and is staying at the Savoy Hotel, inaccessible to interviewers and tradesmen.  “His Majesty” has been out on several occasions, but always contrives to escape observation.]


The lot of an emperor is one

Your comfort-loving man should shun;

It’s wholly free from skittles, beer,

And other things designed to cheer.

There are worries small, and worries great,

Private worries and worries of state,

But the one that most distresses me

Is the terrible lack of privacy.

                It rather tries my temper, for

                I’m such a retiring Emperor.


In the Savoy I sit all day

Wishing people would go away;

Cross, disgusted, wrapped in gloom,

I daren’t go out of my sitting-room.

Every minute fresh callers call,

There are men on the stairs and men in the hall,

And I go to the door, and I turn the key,

For everyone of them’s after me.

                Which is exasperating for

                A rather retiring Emperor.


There are strenuous journalistic crews,

Begging daily for interviews;

There are camera fiends in tens and scores,

Philanthropists and other bores,

Men who are anxious to sell me hats,

Waistcoats, boots, umbrellas, and spats,

Men who simply yearn to do

Just whatever I want them to.

                Which causes me annoyance, for

                I’m such a retiring Emperor.


Of course “the compliment implied

Inflates me with legitimate pride,”

But often I feel, as my door I bar,

That they carry their compliments much too far.

                That sort of thing becomes a bore

                To a really retiring Emperor.




(3)           “The Bachelor’s Song” (Daily Chronicle, February 20, 1904)


                [In one of the States of the Argentine Republic bachelors have to pay a fine of £1 a month up to the age of thirty, £2 a month from thirty to thirty-five, and £6 a month after they reach the age of fifty.]


Since my twentieth birthday I had tried

With no success to win a bride;

My heart had been returned with thanks

By cruel ladies in endless ranks.

But, instead of the balm that the jilted lacks,

The State came down on me with a tax,

And I saw my savings disappear

At the rate of twelve pounds every year.

                It came a bit expensive, for

                I wasn’t a wealthy bachelor.


Fearing my purse wouldn’t stand the drain,

At the age of thirty I tried again;

Bought new clothes of the latest style,

Practised a fascinating smile;

But—why, I cannot understand—

Nobody wanted my heart and hand.

And the State, in its brutal, callous way,

Doubled the tax it made me pay.

                Pounds to the number of twenty-four

                I paid for being a bachelor.


My fiftieth birthday found me still

A single Jack in search of a Jill;

Hairless, hopeless, dull, and stout,

Troubled, too, with a twinge of gout;

And for all my exertions I could not

Find anyone willing to share my lot,

But did the State feel sorry for me?

No; it multiplied my fine by three.

                Seventy pounds and a couple more

                I paid for being a bachelor.


I write these lines with a borrowed quill

On the back of an unpaid tailor’s bill.

As clever readers will doubtless guess,

The local workhouse is my address.

                It seems the only refuge for

                A cruelly harried bachelor.




(4)           “The Road to Success,” Vanity Fair (UK), January 5, 1905 (pasted from Madame Eulalie site)

[The Prophet Dowie attributes his success in life to the fact that he had a beard at the age of seventeen. “People”, he said, “used to think me about twenty-five, and I soon got the salary of a man of twenty-five, when I was seventeen.”]

IF you’re anxious to outdistance
In the struggle for existence
Every rival on the scene,
You must imitate yon Dowie,
And try hard to find out how he
Grew a beard at seventeen.
If prosperity you’d snatch, oh,
Spend your hard-earned wealth on Tatcho,
It’s the only thing to do;
And, remember, never harbour
Thoughts of calling in a barber,
Though your chin be rough and blue.

And everyone will say,
As you walk your prosperous way,
“If this young man can grow a beard
(Which has never occurred to me),
Why, what a most particularly gifted sort of youth
This sort of youth must be.”

When your cheek, once smooth and chubby,
Becomes noticeably scrubby,
And your beard grows long and thick;
Then employers, who’d secure you,
Offer princely sums to lure you;
And you simply take your pick.
Though your friends begin to drop you,
Do not let such trifles stop you,
Never heed their foolish whims:
Merchants offer countless dollars
For a clerk in Eton collars
Who resembles George R Sims.

For everyone will say,
As you walk your pard-like way,
“If this young man, who’s still in his teens,
Has beard enough for three,
Why, what a most phenomenally brainy sort of youth
This brainy sort of youth must be.”

(5)        The Paris Policeman,” Vanity Fair (UK), May 17, 1906

 [A policeman has been discovered in Paris who in his spare moments was an Anarchist.]

When the policeman is rejoicing in his leisure,
A time which might hang heavy on his hands,
He takes a most romantic sort of pleasure
As member of some Anarchistic bands.
To “remove” unpleasant people, when he’s picked ’em,
To him’s a task replete with quiet fun;
Yes, in spite of Mr Gilbert’s famous dictum,
A policeman’s lot is quite a happy one.

When he isn’t haling loafers to the station,
Or requesting stagnant crowds to pass along,
A pound of picric gives him recreation;
He flings it in amidst the busy throng.
With a smile upon his face that’s quite seraphic,
He wings a rising statesman with his gun:
And feels, as he manipulates the traffic,
That a gendarme’s lot is quite a happy one.

(6)           “London Studies:  Mr. Beerbohm Tree” (The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, March 1907, p. 5)


He is the very model of the actor (managerial):

He uses Shakespeare’s lines to form a sort of ground-material.

The bard, in fact, provides the major portion of the letter-press;

But the scenery’s his own idea.  (“Superb!  Could not be better!” – Press.) …

If I’m asked to tell the reasons of his well-earned popularity,

His acting’s always funny, while avoiding all vulgarity:

As Hamlet, when he had his conversations with the phantom, I’m

Not certain that he didn’t beat the leading lights of pantomime.


(7)           Sing It!  Pearson’s (UK), July 1907


… Let us imagine a doctor in the delicate position of having to break to a patient the fact that he has influenza. Prose must always be abrupt and unsatisfactory; but the following stanzas would soothe the most nervous:

As on your pulse my finger stayed,
Said I to myself, said I,
“It’s influenza, I’m much afraid,”
(Said I to myself, said I).
“You complained of aches in the back and head:
Much evidence, too, from your tongue I read,
This man must pop straight off to bed,”
Said I to myself, said I.

… The cricket season is approaching. Umpires would do well to couch their decisions somewhat after this style:

When I first put this white coat on,
I vowed I would act on the square,
And always be guided
In what I decided
By what was right and fair.
If I ever had any doubt
As to whether a man was out,
No fieldsman should make me
Nervous, or shake me,
However loud he might shout.
This point I’d decided upon
When I first put my white coat on.

I said, as I stood by the crease,
“If he’s out, well, I won’t say in.
My acts shall not savour
Of fear or of favour;
And may the best side win!”
And you, Sir, I’d have you know
(Prepare yourself for a blow),
Are caught at the wicket;
(I heard you snick it),
So back you will kindly go.
(This tone I’d decided upon
When I first put my white coat on.)



Addendum (added August 2009)


                    The book Bobbles & Plum (2009) reprints satirical playlets co-written by Wodehouse and Bertram Fletcher Robinson between December 1903 and January 1907 for the Daily Express, Vanity Fair, and The World. These include several allusions to G&S, and some lyrics written to G&S metres.  The appendix covers these (and also suggests parallels of which I am dubious, including one to Gilbert’s The Wicked World).  I include below some parallels that seem to be definite or probable; page numbers are for the book.


Parodies include:


(p. 3)           THE PLOUGHMAN’S SONG

A wandering ploughman I

                    Of habits literary,

                    Through furrow solitary

My lonely plough I ply.

Exposing Joseph’s sins

                    In quaint and courtly diction,

                    I hold not Fact, but Fiction,

The quality that wins.

Are you in contemplative mood?

                    I’ll jest with you.

                    Oh, willow, willow.

O’er fiscal problems do you brood?

                    I’ll do so, too.

                    Oh, willow, willow.

Within the House of Peers

I charm attentive ears,

                    My celebrated sneer’s surpassed by few.

                    Oh, willow, willow.

But if strenuous activity is needed,

                    If my party calls their Rosebery to the fray,

I let their cries of “Lead us!” pass unheeded,

                    Or check them with a mild “some other day!”

The papers drop a hint that I am shirking,

                    I really don’t care greatly if they do;

But at talking (as opposed to honest working)

                    I yield, as I remarked before, to few.

So, if you call for an empty jest,

                    I’ll make one while you wait;

I’ll quip and quirk and pun and the rest,

For as long as you please with infinite jest;

                    Yeo-ho, heave-ho!

                    Work is a thing I hate.



(p. 47)         Song:  Lady Highflyer


When I was a child, and went to school,

They always taught me this golden rule:

“A pretty face,” they said, “is worth

An ocean of brains and a ton of birth;

So watch your complexion carefullee,

And you’ll be a leader of societee.”


Chorus. So watch your complexion carefullee,

                And you may be a leader of societee.


I sang and danced for a year or so

As a humble member of the last back row;

Till one of the principals left through pique,

And I got her part (one line) to speak.

I spoke that line so carefullee

That now I’m a leader of societee.


Chorus. She spoke that line in a manner free,

And now she’s a ruler of societee.


I spoke that line till there came the days

Of the actresses’ picture-postcard craze;

I went to the leading firm, and they

Took photographs of me every day.

They photographed me so frequentlee

That now I’m a leader of societee.


Chorus. They photographed her so thoroughlee

That now she’s a leader of societee.


You wouldn’t believe how my postcards sold!

My fame was increased a thousandfold.

And the manager said, “Hullo, hullo!

She must play the lead in our next new show.”

I played that lead so winsomelee

That now I’m a leader of societee.


Chorus. She played the lead so activelee

That now she’s a leader of societee.


One night to supper I was taken by

The elderly Earl of Peckham Rye.

He simply lived in a front-row stall:

He bought me bouquets, and said, “Might he call?”

I played that peer so artfullee

That now I’m a leader of societee.


Chorus. She played the knave so artfullee

That now she’s a leader of societee.


                    Other lyrics written to G&S metres:

                    p. 13 “I’ve heard of the ways” and  p. 36 “Oh, the life of a king” both written to the tune of “If you want a receipt”

                    p. 43 “I’m not a bad fellow at heart” – metre of “My boy, you may take it from me”


Other G&S allusions or parallels:


                    p. 27 (?):  A host with but a single aim, We fight in perfect unity

                    p. 28 (?):  Our loyalty’s free from defect, Our morals are highly correct.

                    p. 36 (?):  Feeling himself on the verge of insanity

                    p. 36:          SIR CAMPBELL.  We ask,

                                         SIR PRIMROSE.                   suggest,

                                         SIR KEIR.                                              insist,

                                         SIR REDMOND.                                                demand that you…

                    p. 38 (???) But tell me, Monsieur, is it true that which we hear, that your country, so beautiful, rejoices in her bold fraternal government, and that your town, so great, has taken the London Council to its heart? (the Appendix, p. 86,.suggests this is an allusion to Utopia, Limited)

p. 39 (Policeman’s song):               

                                         When I was but a lad, I told my father

                                                             I meant to join the Force.  Did he approve?

                                         He shook his head, as if he thought this rather

                                                             A rash and injudicious kind of move.

                                         “My boy,” he answered, “you shall have your will, but

                                                             I fear that you will find, before you’ve done,

                                         How true is that remark of Mr. Gilbert:

                                                             “A pleeceman’s lot is not a happy one.”

                                         I’m one, you know, as modest as they make ‘em,

                                                             With women I am diffident and shy…
p. 46           If you listen, I will tell you, as concisely as I can,

                    Of the numerous advantages accruing to my plan;

                    I’ll free you from the evils which at present fairly pen you in;

                    For I am a philanthropist.  No other kinds are genuine.



Addendum II (added April 2010):  Public School Magazine


                Wodehouse’s articles and stories for the Public School Magazine contain many Gilbert allusions.  Below is a partial list of them (some of the articles were collected in Tales of St. Austin’s and appear above, e.g., “The Tom Brown Question,” “Author,” “Work,” “Notes”).


·          “Football at Dulwich,” Public School Magazine, Oct. 1900:  “The game-captain’s lot on such occasions is not a happy one”

·         “The Ways We Have,” Jan. 1901 - The last Founder’s Day saw an innovation, a skit on “Hamlet,” by W. S. Gilbert, called “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

·         “Under the Flail,” Feb. 1901 (Wodehouse’s “Under the Flail” columns are signed “Jack Point”):

o    And they argued it out as sich

o    …the same remark applies equally to the Games Committee at Tonbridge.

“They are members of a secret society,
Working by the moon’s uncertain disc.

Their motto is “Defiance to Propriety
Without, if may be, inconvenient risk!”    [cf. The Mountebanks]


o    …it was still another case of “Hardly ever” rather than never.

·         “Under the Flail,” “March 1901:  In me, therefore, as in Mr. Rackstraw, there meet on such occasions a combination of antithetical elements which are at eternal war with one another. Driven hither by objective influences, thither by subjective emotions, I become but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms.

·         “Under the Flail” May 1901:  The title was a mere veneer, a wile of guile.

·         “Under the Flail” “June 1901:  A little thing of my own. I call it “Ichabod.”

·         “School Stories,” Aug. 1901:  innocent merriment

·         “Football, My Dear Sir, Why—” Oct. 1901 Mr. W. S. Gilbert has drawn a vivid picture of the difficulties experienced by a curate when he had to explain in dumb show to his deaf housekeeper that his aunt in Spain had sent him a cask of Amontillado, which the wine merchant had presented to her in exchange for the temporary use of two rooms on the second floor [cf. “An Elixir of Love” Ch. 3]; “code of the duello” (?)

·         “Under the Flail” Oct. 1901: In the words of the poet, “They gave me the post of junior clerk”

·         “The Improbabilities of Fiction,” Nov. 1901 

o    The person who, like the Bill [sic] Polter of whom the bard of Harrow Weald sings in the “Bab Ballads,” “takes his pipe and takes his pot, and drunk is never seen to be,” is absolutely unknown in school fiction …

o    the reader is inclined to observe as the illustrious Captain Bagg did to the equally illustrious Mr. Baines Carew, “Hang it, come, I say, you know!”

·         “Under the Flail” Nov 1901:  To echo the bard, “the word for our guidance is mum.”

·         “Treating of Cribs,” Jan. 1902

o    “Providence,” says Mr. Gilbert, “rarely inflicts a bane without supplying the antidote,” referring to the fact that when anyone says to you “Well, what is it?” you can always reply, “What is what?”  (cf. “The Keys of the Strong Room,” Ch. 2 (reprinted as “Johnny Pounce” in Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales, p. 96):  “Providence, however, who seldom inflicts a bane without providing an antidote….”

o    “It is never, never saddled with its babyhood’s defect,  But earns from everyone consideration and respect.”  (cf. “Mister William”)

o    Is he a man on human plan designed, or is he not? (cf. “The Sailor Boy to His Lass”)

o    Cribbing out of school, of course, is common.  Like a false income-tax return, it is expected of you.




If you find errors, or have additions or suggestions, please e-mail me at


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

Last updated 22 February 2013