References to Gilbert & Sullivan in
the Works of P.G. Wodehouse
allusions to Gilbert & Sullivan operas or Bab Ballads
- The Pothunters (1902)
on the banjo was worth hearing.
His rendering of extracts from the works of Messers Gilbert and
Sullivan was an intellectual treat.
the word for his guidance in this emergency, he felt instinctively, was
“mum.” (Ch. 9)
- A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)
had the satisfying feeling that their duty had been done. (Ch. 4)
sisters, cousins, aunts, and parents flocked to the school in platoons
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)
thing of my own,” he added, quoting England’s greatest
librettist. “I call it “Heart
Foam.” I shall not publish
it…” (Ch. 7)
firm, my moral pecker,” thought Gethryn, and braced himself up for the
conflict. (Ch. 10)
blank astonishment…had been, in the words of the bard, a mere veneer, a
wile of guile. (Ch. 16)
natural pride is too enormous.
Descended from a primordial atomic globule, like Pooh-Bah…” (Ch. 17)
- Tales of St. Austin’s (1903, short
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
the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.
philosophers may sing
the troubles of a king,
of pleasures there are many and of troubles there are none,
the culminating pleasure
we treasure beyond measure
the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.
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!”
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)
detail to give artistic verisimilitude to a bald and unconvincing
narrative” (Ch. 5)
James Rupert Leather-Twigg (that was his singular name, as Mr Gilbert has
it) (Ch. 10)
fact was that Mr Seymour had had the same experience as General Stanley
in The Pirates of Penzance:
“The man who finds his conscience
No peace at all
And, as I lay in bed awake,
thought I heard a noise.” (Ch.
left with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done. (Ch. 18)
- William Tell Told Again (1904)
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.
- The Head of Kay’s (1905)
Bishop of Rumtifoo (Ch.
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
That phantom curate laughing all
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)
it was, not being able to “peep with security into futurity,” he imagined
that the worst was over. (Ch.
Why, what was
was the cat,”
Mr. Mulholland… (Ch. 16)
- Love Among the Chickens (1906,
- “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)
was no time for airy persiflage. (Ch.
- The White Feather (1907)
the satisfying sandwich.” (Ch.
and cousins and aunts (Ch. 20)
- The Globe “By the Way” Book (1908)
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.”)
brigand’s lot would be a happier one” (p. 100)
- The Luck Stone (1908)
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)
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)
Pooh-Bah, it revolts them, but they do it. (Ch. 3)
- The Little Nugget (1913)
is no time for airy persiflage.” (Ch.
24; = “The Eighteen-Carat Kid” 1913, Ch. 11)
- The Man Upstairs and Other Stories
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)
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)
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)
been telling him how you made such a hit as the pin in Pinafore!” (Ch.
- Jill the Reckless (US title The Little Warrior, 1920)
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”)
the policeman knew, just as pure and fair may beat in Belgrave Square as in the lowly air
of Seven Dials… (Ch. 5.2)
sisters, their cousins, and their aunts (Ch. 6.1)
said it was an effort to restore the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition. Say, who are these Gilbert and Sullivan
guys, anyway?” (Ch. 9.3)
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)
sisters, by cousins, and by aunts (Ch. 2)
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!””
Marlowe was a warm supporter of the Alphonso method.
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)
the theatre with his sisters and his cousins and his aunts” (Ch. 6.3)
- Ukridge (US title He Rather Enjoyed It, 1924)
of Battling Billson”:
photographically lined on the tablets of my mind when a yesterday
had faded from its page
Arm of Looney Coote”: constabulary
duty was to be done
- Bill the Conqueror (1924)
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)
the enterprising burglar isn’t burgling [sic] (Ch. 15)
- Meet Mr. Mulliner (short stories,
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)
call me Frederick the Infallible, for I am never wrong.” (Ch. 2)
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)
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.
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)
(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)
Bodkin…couldn’t play the pin in Pinafore” (UK
Ch. 12, US Ch.
- Uncle Dynamite (1948)
first-class Earl who keeps his carriage” (Ch. 1)
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)
policeman’s unhappy lot (Ch 13.1)
- The Old Reliable (1951)
came into his face that keen look which policemen wear when constabulary
duty is to be done. (Ch.
- Pigs Have Wings (1952)
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
and US versions different)
the men in the Bab Ballad who both knew Robinson, they both knew Jerome
Kern. (Ch. 1.2)
at Gilbert and Sullivan, they were like a dose of Paris-green to each
other but they worked together all right.” (Ch. 5.5)
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)
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!,
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,
and cousins and aunts (Ch. 1)
- French Leave (1956)
feeling like W.S. Gilbert’s Lord Lardy, “How strange are the customs of France!”
resumed her progress… (Ch.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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.
- Something Fishy (US title The Butler Did It, 1957)
whose voice would have been the better for treatment with sandpaper was
rendering extracts from the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. (Ch. 7)
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.””
- Cocktail Time (1958)
lined on the tablets of his memory [sic] when yesterday had faded from
its page. (Ch. 14)
see no objection to flowers in moderation.” (Ch. 14)
- Service with a Smile (1961)
such instrument as the one described by the poet Gilbert as looking far
less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw. (Ch. 7.3)
were his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.” (Ch. 11.1)
lingering with boiling oil in it (??)
- Author! Author! (1962)
(“Savoy Operas”) Gilbert always said that a lyrist can’t do decent stuff
that way [writing words to fit a melody].
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)
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!
could I do it?
I mixed those children up,
not a creature knew it!
was produced in 1878 and is still going strong, and nobody seems to have
noticed that it don’t add up right. (pp.
- Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)
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,
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.
- Plum Pie (short stories, 1966)
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.”
on Humour (p. 284 of UK edition):
wise men dread a bandit
- A Pelican at Blandings (US title No Nudes Is Good Nudes, 1969)
cousins, and uncles (Ch. 8.1)
- The Girl in Blue (1970)
lingering with boiling oil in it” (Ch. 2.2)
- Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (US
title The Plot That Thickened,
lingering with boiling oil in it (Ch. 10.2)
- Bachelors Anonymous (1973)
gives verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing
narrative.” (Ch. 12.1)
Uncollected stories, articles, etc.
(or those collected posthumously):
- The Uncollected Wodehouse (1976)
“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
(p. 103): with the satisfying
feeling that his duty had been done
- Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere
Extra”: “It’s like eight hours at
the seaside to him if he catches you at anything.”
of Study 16”: He must think out a
punishment that would fit the crime.
call me Archibald the All Right, for I am infallible.”
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.”
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
“Today he is not well.”
- The Man of Means (1914)
give verisimilitude to their otherwise bald and unconvincing raspberry
jam (Ch. 1)
was like the crew of the Nancy Bell.
They got eaten one by one, till I was the only one left.” (Ch. 4)
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.””
Chronicle (see also parodies, Part VI)
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.
School Magazine – see below
mere veneer (10/15/1902)
the coster’s finished jumping on his mother… (2/25/03)
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”)
know what GILBERT says of us, “We spectres are a jollier crew than you perhaps
suppose.” Shrewd man, GILBERT.” (10/7/03)
hard-worked draper I… (9/7/04, verse to
metre of A wandering minstrel I)
Tanner. “My idea is—something
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)
just as pure and fair may beat in Belgrave
Square as in the lowly air of Seven Dials. (6/9/54)
Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage (Nov. 1955?)
paraphrase the author of the Bab Ballads:
She taught them “Bother!” also
wickedness the germs,
And often muttered Darns and
No sailor of the other sex
While porting helms and swabbing
use such awful terms. (5/12/57?)
can see no objection to peripheral vascular disease in moderation. (6/22/57)
and Sullivan fans will recall the Judge’s snatch of song towards the end of
Trial by Jury:
The question, gentlemen, is one
ask for guidance—this is my reply;
He says, when tipsy, he would
thrash and kick her;
make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try!
(Nov. 1964, p. 78): W.S. (Savoy Operas)
Gilbert was making sick jokes before Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce were born.
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]
Fair (UK) (see also parodies below)
his powers are autocratic. He is, to
quote an evening paper, President, King, Kaiser, Tsar, Mikado, Pooh-Bah…” (“New York Crowds,”Nov.
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,
firm, my moral pecker (“The
Ballad of the Interviewer,” March 23, 1905)
judge’s lot is far the happiest one (Feb. 18,
Fair (U.S., theatre reviews and essays; see also The Uncollected Wodehouse above)
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)
have no objection, however, to mothers, in moderation. (May 1917)
am called Archibald the All-Right, for I am infallible. (Dec. 1917)
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
luxury, yet, I admonish you,
I am an intellectual chap
think of things that would astonish you.”
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):
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.
Great Neck, Feb. 8, 1920.
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
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”)
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)
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?”
Todhunter smirked coyly.
well, I’ve got a way with me, Sam—that’s how it is.” …
you got it with you now?”
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
MINESTRA. I don’t know.
He’s got a way with him.
ARROSTINO. Has he got it with him now?)
- Mulliner Nights (1933)
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
- 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
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.
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?”
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
Possible allusions to/echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan operas etc.
(many are probably coincidental)
- The Pothunters (1902)
Livy, then. And a good job
too.” (Ch. 5)
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)
mind of no common order (Ch.
- A Prefect’s Uncle (1903)
that convey any significance to your mind?” (Ch. 2)
urged him to discontinue his investigations and talk about the
weather. (Ch. 3)
Jephson always preferred the rapier of sarcasm to the bludgeon of
abuse. (Ch. 10)
talk about the weather.” (Ch.
began to think that there must have been some good in Farnie after
all. (Ch. 17)
- Tales of St. Austin’s (1903, short
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
- The Head of Kay’s (1905): admission on presentation of a visiting
card (Ch. 9)
- Love Among the Chickens (1906,
manners of a marquis (Ch. 5)
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”
merits of my pleadings (Ch.
- The Globe “By the Way” Book (1908)
eyes must glow with an inborn love of the Tariff reform (p. 14)
wife’s sister (pp. 78 and 111)
- The Swoop (1909)
demanded that every man in the army should be a general (Ch. 4)
- a mere
accident of birth (Ch. 5)
trombone (Ch. 7)
- Mike: He had not his Book of Etiquette by him
at the moment (Ch.
- A Gentleman of Leisure: It was too much happiness. (Ch. 20)
- The Man Upstairs and Other Stories
Advice of Counsel” [person told to consult, thinks he was told to insult;
in Exile”: “It is simply
rude.” “A little more,” said Mr.
Vince, “and I shall begin to think you don’t like it.”
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.
- Piccadilly Jim (1917): Ann possessed a mind of no common order. (Ch. 1)
- Jill the Reckless:
aren’t Bobby Morrison?” “I am
not. More than that, I never was!”
intervals for refreshment (Ch. 4.1)
return to the scenes of his former triumphs (Ch. 20.1)
of Archie: “I’m a
student of human nature, and I know a thing or two” (Ch. 16)
- The Clicking of Cuthbert
Rough Stuff”: Her brother and her
brassey were the only things she loved
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)
Exerts the Old Cerebellum”:
Bingo”: “Oh, tush! Not to say pish!”
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”
- Money for Nothing (1928): The sun whose rays (Ch. 14); Book of Etiquette (Ch.
- 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):
are proverbially bad, but surely, felt Percy Pilbeam, there was no excuse
for them to be as bad as all that.
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.
- 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)
off the villagers when they want to marry their deceased wives’ sisters
we alone and unobserved?” (Ch. 15; “alone and unobserved” also in
“The Amazing Hat Mystery” in Young
Men in Spats, and Ring for
- Lord Emsworth and Others: “Ukridge and the Home from Home” quips
and cranks; “I’ve studied human nature pretty closely, and I know one
- 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.
- Joy in the Morning (1946)
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.
don’t want to carp or criticize (Ch.
- Full Moon (1947): He proceeded to trip thither (Ch. 8.1)
- Uncle Dynamite (1948)
sympathy (Ch. 8.1)
she told herself that Mother would be all right. She had a comfortable chair and all the
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
“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
- 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)
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.
- 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.”
quoted in McIlvaine’s bibliography, p. 368: Innocent Merriment
names used by Wodehouse
of Dunstable (Uncle Fred in the
Ralph Rackstraw (Louder and Funnier
“Thrillers,” = Saturday Evening Post 5/25/29)
( a parrot, in “Up from the Depths” in Nothing
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)
(Punch, Dec. 30 1903)
Maynard (“Honeysuckle Cottage,” Meet Mr.
Wellington Gedge (Hot Water)
from works of Gilbert & Sullivan that recur frequently in Wodehouse
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)
detail” e.g. The Gold Bat Ch. 5, Mike and Psmith, Laughing Gas Ch. 15, Ring for Jeeves Ch. 19, Bachelors Anonymous
elect (Love Among the Chickens,
Ch. 18; also mothers-in-law elect, “Archibald’s Benefit,” “Reginald’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”)
slave of duty: Quick Service Ch. 7; Service
with a Smile Ch. 4.1; “Mr. McGee’s Big Day”
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
[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)
Parodies of Gilbert
(1) “In the Air” (Evening News, March 26, 1903)
(With apologies to Mr. W.S.
[According to German experts the
wind frequently acts as a means of conveying microbes of peculiar deadliness
from one place to another.]
microbes in the bellow of the blast,
sickness in the growling of the gale.
There are numerous diseases
In the pleasantest of breezes,
in the air that we inhale.
It is always most unpleasant
To find out that germs are
especially in the air that we inhale.
are a vehicle for gout.
brings you asthma while you wait.
Every breath of air that blows
Fraught with “flu,”
or sciatica, they state.
(If they terrify unduly,
Or are simply speaking truly,
personally not prepared to state.)
But if it’s so, sing bury down
It’s evident, very, our days are done.
Away we’ll go, and open our
For mutes and hearses. Our course is run.
beauty in extreme old age, we know,
venerable beauty’s not for us.
When what Romans called the
In its deadly grip has got us,
die without unnecessary fuss.
(Though it may seem strange and
We shall simply hand our checks
without unnecessary fuss.)
wind blow chill and biting from the East,
wafted soft and balmy from the South,
Be it sighing, be it brawling,
It is equally appalling,
suicide in opening the mouth.
Which being so, sing bury down
(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
The lot of
an emperor is one
comfort-loving man should shun;
free from skittles, beer,
things designed to cheer.
worries small, and worries great,
worries and worries of state,
But the one
that most distresses me
terrible lack of privacy.
It rather tries my temper, for
I’m such a retiring Emperor.
Savoy I sit all day
people would go away;
disgusted, wrapped in gloom,
go out of my sitting-room.
minute fresh callers call,
men on the stairs and men in the hall,
And I go to
the door, and I turn the key,
everyone of them’s after me.
Which is exasperating for
A rather retiring Emperor.
There are strenuous
daily for interviews;
camera fiends in tens and scores,
and other bores,
Men who are
anxious to sell me hats,
boots, umbrellas, and spats,
simply yearn to do
whatever I want them to.
Which causes me annoyance, for
I’m such a retiring Emperor.
“the compliment implied
with legitimate pride,”
But often I
feel, as my door I bar,
carry their compliments much too far.
That sort of thing becomes a
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.]
twentieth birthday I had tried
success to win a bride;
had been returned with thanks
ladies in endless ranks.
of the balm that the jilted lacks,
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.
purse wouldn’t stand the drain,
At the age
of thirty I tried again;
clothes of the latest style,
wanted my heart and hand.
State, in its brutal, callous way,
tax it made me pay.
Pounds to the number of
I paid for being a bachelor.
birthday found me still
Jack in search of a Jill;
hopeless, dull, and stout,
too, with a twinge of gout;
And for all
my exertions I could not
willing to share my lot,
But did the
State feel sorry for me?
multiplied my fine by three.
Seventy pounds and a couple more
I paid for being a bachelor.
these lines with a borrowed quill
On the back
of an unpaid tailor’s bill.
As clever readers
will doubtless guess,
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
[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
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
[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.
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
The bard, in fact, provides the major portion of the
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
His acting’s always funny, while avoiding all vulgarity:
As Hamlet, when he had his conversations with the phantom,
Not certain that he didn’t beat the leading lights of
(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.)
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.
3) THE PLOUGHMAN’S SONG
wandering ploughman I
Through furrow solitary
lonely plough I ply.
In quaint and courtly
I hold not Fact, but
quality that wins.
you in contemplative mood?
I’ll jest with you.
Oh, willow, willow.
fiscal problems do you brood?
I’ll do so, too.
Oh, willow, willow.
the House of Peers
charm attentive ears,
My celebrated sneer’s
surpassed by few.
Oh, willow, willow.
if strenuous activity is needed,
If my party calls their
Rosebery to the fray,
let their cries of “Lead us!” pass unheeded,
Or check them with a mild
“some other day!”
papers drop a hint that I am shirking,
I really don’t care greatly
if they do;
at talking (as opposed to honest working)
I yield, as I remarked
before, to few.
if you call for an empty jest,
I’ll make one while you
quip and quirk and pun and the rest,
as long as you please with infinite jest;
Work is a thing I hate.
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,
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
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”
G&S allusions or parallels:
p. 27 (?): A host with but a single aim, We fight in
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,
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)
39 (Policeman’s song):
was but a lad, I told my father
meant to join the Force. Did he approve?
shook his head, as if he thought this rather
rash and injudicious kind of move.
boy,” he answered, “you shall have your will, but
fear that you will find, before you’ve done,
true is that remark of Mr. Gilbert:
pleeceman’s lot is not a happy one.”
one, you know, as modest as they make ‘em,
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
Addendum II (added April 2010): Public
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,”
“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”):
And they argued it out as sich
…the same remark applies equally to the
Games Committee at Tonbridge.
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]
…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
“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
“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.
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 …
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
“Treating of Cribs,” Jan. 1902
“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….”
“It is never, never saddled with its
babyhood’s defect, But earns from
everyone consideration and respect.”
(cf. “Mister William”)
Is he a man on human plan designed, or
is he not? (cf. “The Sailor Boy to His Lass”)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compiled by Arthur Robinson, Lewis
Library, LaGrange College, Georgia (USA)
Last updated 22 February 2013