Potted History

"Take all the remarkable people in history, Rattle them off to a popular tune."


1870 - 1874

1870: Gilbert's play The Princess with its subtitle 'A Whimsical Allegory, Being a Respectful Perversion of Mr. Tennyson's Poem' is produced at the Olympic Theatre on January 8th. The work contains 'borrowed' music from Hervé and Offenbach.

Historic Note:
The story of The Princess tells of three men who disguise themselves as women to access an all woman's university. The original production had the part of Hollering played by a woman, Maria Simpson. His brothers played their characters en travestied which were the rule in burlesque. The play ran until April, went on tour, and then lay dormant until it was revived as Princess Ida.

HOLLERING: Here lives the porter, Cyril. I'll be bound
He's quite as learned as the rest of them,
Half Newton and half Bacon! Here he comes.
Enter GOB from lodge
CYRIL: Half Bacon? No,--all Bacon I should say!
GOB Now then, what is it?
HOLLERING: I'm a royal prince;
These gentlemen are followers of mine;
We hold King Gama's letters, charging you
To bear us safely to the Council Hall,
In which the Princess Ida holds her state.
GOB: Ho! ho! ho! ho!
HOLLERING: How now?--you mock at us? (Draws sword.)
GOB: Mock you? Why, bless your heart and soul alive,
No man may place his foot within those walls;
It's death to disobey our Princess, sir!
FLORIAN: It's double death to disobey your king! (draws.)
CYRIL: It's treble death to disobey ourselves! (draws.)
GOBBO: But, sirs, I am the only man alive
Who ever enters!
GOBBO: Yes! Once a year
I am led through their ranks that they may see
What sort of thing's a man! "See here!" she cries.
"See--this is what you lose in losing man!
This is a courtly knight--well born, well formed!"
(I'm comely, sirs; but, bless you, I'm no knight!)
"Look, girls," she cries, "this is a courtly knight--
A type of all that's beautiful in man!"
(aloud) And then they make me gibber, squeak, and mow;
Then, with much deference and mock courtesy,
They bow me to my duty at the gate!
FLORIAN: Are there no males whatever in those walls?
GOBBO: None, gentlemen, excepting letter mails!
And they are driven (as males often are
In other large communities)--by women!
If you'll believe me, gentlemen, I swear,
She's so confoundedly particular,
She'll scarcely suffer Dr. Watts's hymns;
And all the animals she owns are "hers"!
The ladies rise at cockcrow every morn--
HILARION: Oh, then they have male poultry!
GOBBO: Not at all.
(confidentially.) The crowing's done by an accomplished hen!

To check out the complete 'Princess' click here

1870: Gilbert's operetta The Gentleman in Black opens on May 26th at the Charing Cross Theatre. The music is by Frederic Clay.

GENTLEMAN IN BLACK: I have the power of transferring your soul into his body for one calendar month--at the end of the month your soul reverts to its original tabernacle. What do you say? Shall I do it?
GENTLE: Only for one month. This is the thirteenth August, 1584, on the thirteenth September your souls will revert to their proper bodies.
BARON: Agreed. Go it.
GENTLE: Very good. Behold--I go it!


Otto's body, grim and droll,
Shrine young Hans's simple soul;
Otto's soul, of moral shoddy,
Occupy young Hans's body!

[He makes passes, and flashes fire. Hans immediately assumes the ferocious demeanour of the Baron --the Baron assumes the loutish demeanour of Hans. N.B.--For the sake of convenience, Hansís body with the Baron's soul will be distinguished as the "False Hans," the Baron's body with Hans's soul as the "Real Hans."]

GENTLE: There, it's done! How do you like it?
FALSE HANS: Potz-tausend himmel Sackerment noch emmal! This is a tight fit!
REAL HANS (chuckles as Hans did--looking in mirror): What an ugly brute I am!
FALSE HANS (indignantly): Potz-tausend! What do you wean by that? You're a devilish good-looking fellow, sir. Look at me! here's a sight! And I've got to go about like this for a month-- and in these clothes, too! Potz-tausend himmel Sackerment noch emmal! [Pulls at cloth of his coat.]
REAL HANS: I say, baron, don't do that--that's my best doublet, and it won't stand trifling with.

To check out the complete 'Gentlemen In Black' click here

1870: Gilbert attempts another comic opera Our Island Home with music by Thomas German Reed. This opens at the Gallery of Illustration on June 20th.

Historic Note:
This could have very well worked out as being the very first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. German Reed had hoped Sullivan would set the music and had written to ask him. Sullivan stipulated a higher price than the gallery could afford so Reed wrote the music himself.

1870: Sullivan writes the Overture Di Ballo for the Birmingham Festival on August 31st.

1870: Queen Victoria asks for a complete set of Sullivan's works to be sent to Windsor.

1870: Gilbert's fairy comedy The Palace of Truth is first produced at the Haymarket Theatre on November 19th. The play is one of Gilbert's greatest successes prior to his collaboration with Gilbert.

KING PHANOR: That palace is enchanted. Every one
Who enters there is bound to speak the truth--
The simple, unadulterated truth.
To every question that is put to him
He must return the unaffected truth.
And, strange to say, while publishing the truth
He's no idea that he is doing so;
And while he lets innumerable cats
Out of unnumbered bags, he quite believes
That all the while he's tightening the strings
That keep them from a too censorious world.
What do you say to that?
QUEEN ALTEMIRE (Amazed):Say? Would the world
Were one such palace, Phanor!
KING PHANOR:If it were,
At least we all should meet on equal terms;
But to be taken from a world in which
That influence don't exist, and to be placed
Inside a fairy palace where it does
(Accompanied, moreover, by one's wife),
Might take one at a disadvantage!
I am prepared to undergo the test
If you'll accompany me.
KING PHANOR:No, no, no!
You are a worthy woman, Altemire,
But, Altemire, you have your faults!
I am a woman!
KING PHANOR:Yes, exactly so!
If you were not a woman, Altemire,
Or, being one, were some one else's wife,
I'd take you there tomorrow!

To check out the complete 'Palace of Truth' click here

Historic Note:
Financially Gilbert did very well with The Palace of Truth. He was paid 4 guineas a night till February, 1871 and 2 guineas thereafter. On tour Gilbert asked 3 guineas a night.

1871: Gilbert's comedy Randall's Thumb opens the Royal Court Theatre on January 25th. After the deletion of 'all oaths', at the command of the Lord Chamberlain, it runs for 100 nights.

1871: Gilbert's play A Sensational Novel opens at the Gallery of Illustration on January 30th.

1871: Named after the prince Consort, who died ten years earlier, the Royal Albert Hall is declared open by Queen Victoria on March 29th.
1871: Gilbert's drama, Creatures of Impulse opens at the Royal Court Theatre on April 15th. It runs for only six weeks.

1871: Sullivan composers the dramatic Cantata On Shore and Sea for the May 1st opening of the International Exhibition in London. This is part of the first major concert at the recently opened Royal Albert Hall.

1871: Gilbert's adaptation of Great Expectations opens at the Royal Court Theatre on May 29th. It runs for a sensational five months.

Historic Note:
On censorship and Great Expectations Gilbert wrote:
"It afforded, however, a curious example of the manner in which the Censorship of those days dealt with plays submitted to it for licence. It seems that it was the custom of the then Licence of Plays to look through the MS. of a new piece, and strike out all irreverent words, substituting for them words of an inoffensive character. In Great Expectations, Magwitch, the returned convict, had to say to Pip: 'Here you are, in the chambers fit for a Lord.' The MS. was returned to the theatre with the word 'Lord' struck out, and 'Heaven' substituted, in pencil!".

1871: Sullivan composes the Hymn Onward Christian Soldiers.

1871: Sullivan writes the Incidental music to The Merchant of Venice for a production at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. This opens on September 19th.

1871: Gilbert's comedy On Guard opens at the Royal Court Theatre on October 28th

1871: Gilbert's comedy Pygmalion and Galatea opens at the Haymarket Theatre on December 9th. Over the years this particular play proves to be a commercial success with Gilbert receiving as much as £40,000.

Madge Robertson and William Kendall in Pygmalion and Galatea

Historic Note:
Pygmalion and Galatea was so popular that other Pygmalions were rushed to the stage. In January, 1872, Ganymede and Galatea opened at the Gaiety. This was a comic version of von Suppé's Die Schöne Galatea, with Sullivan's brother, Frederic, in the cast. In March, William Brough's Pygmalion; or, The Statue Fair was revived and in May a visiting French company produced Victor Massé's Galathée.

1871: Decima Moore, who created the role of Casilda, is born in Brighton on December 11th.

1871: Gilbert and Sullivan write their first comic opera together, Thespis or The Gods Grown Old. This opens at the Gaiety Theatre on December 26th and runs for only 80 nights. The Times reviewer said "The ballet in the second act seemed a little out of place, and the finale somewhat wanting in the spirit which marked the remainder of the piece; but these, doubtless, were matters incident to a first reproduction. The piece, as a whole, deserves high praise."

Thespis Programme

Historic Note:
Thespis was a hasty piece of work, for Gilbert was simultaneously engaged on two other plays. It was, however, still moderately successful and was withdrawn only at the end of the pantomime season, outlasting a number of other special productions. Thespis was a classical extravaganza written to serve the great stars of the Gaiety, who at the time included J.L Toole, Nellie Farren (who appeared in tights as Mercury) and the Payne Brothers - the most famous Harlequin and Clown of their day.

1872: Sullivan writes the huge Festival Te Deum in thanksgiving for the Prince of Wales recovery from typhoid. It is first performed on May 1st to an audience of 26,000 in the Crystal Palace.

Historic Note:
Crystal Palace, famous exhibition hall designed by Sir Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, England. Because of its great size and its innovative use of glass and iron in prefabricated units, it was a milestone in the development of modern architecture. After the exhibition closed, the prefabricated building was dismantled and then reconstructed at Sydenham in south London. The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936.

"Crystal Palace," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000

1872: Gilbert's play Pygmalion and Galatea opens in New York, at Lester Wallack's Theatre, on October 1st. It later opens in Boston on December 23rd.

1872: Gilbert's comedies A Medical Man and Happy Arcadia open on the 24th (St George's Hall) and 28th (Royal Gallery of Illustration) of October. Frederic Clay writes the music for the latter.

1873: Gilbert's play The Wicked World 'an entirely original Fairy Comedy' makes it's first appearance at the Haymarket Theatre on January 4th. It runs for 200 nights which Gilbert proudly notes, is "a very good run in those days."

The Wicked World

1873: Gilbert's political satire The Happy Land is first produced at the Court theatre on March 3rd. It caricatures William Gladstone, Acton Smee Ayrton and Robert Lowe. Few in the audience can have entertained doubts as to the identities of those being satirised.

1873: Sullivan's second Oratorio The Light of the World is performed at Birmingham on August 27th.

1873: Famous D'Oyly Carte baritone, Leo Sheffield, is born in Yorkshire on November 15th. He made his first stage appearance at the Savoy in December 1906 and remained with the company for 25 years. He died in 1951.

1873: Gilbert's comedy The Wedding March opens at the Court Theatre on November 15th.

1874: Gilbert's play Charity is produced at the Haymarket Theatre on January 3rd.

Historic Note:
Although Charity was a failure in England it was produced with great style at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York. It had a run of forty-two nights which was a good run for America. This gave Gilbert no pleasure for the producer added characters and revised the text without asking permission. The American court wouldn't issue an injunction either.

1874: Gilbert's comedies Ought We to Visit Her? (Royalty Theatre Jan 17th), Committed for Trial (Globe Theatre Jan 24th), The Blue-Legged Lady (Court Theatre March 4th) and Topsy-Turvydom (Criterion Theatre March 21st) are first performed. The latter has music by Alfred Cellier.

Gilbert in 1874

1874: The Two-act comedy Sweethearts opens at the Prince of Wales's Theatre on November 7th.

1874: For the Christmas production, at the Gaiety Theatre, Sullivan writes the incidental music to Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Continue on to 1875 To the Operas