A Fine Mystery Indeed https://saraleeetter.com/blog1 Exploring Victorian London with sleuth Lucy Turner Wed, 03 May 2017 20:40:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Art and Money: The Peacock Room https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=741 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=741#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 20:40:04 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=741

Rose and Silver

For a man who described his artworks as Harmonies or Symphonies, in his personal life the famous artist James MacNeill Whistler created plenty of discord. One of his greatest quarrels happened with his former friend and artistic patron, F.R. Leyland.

Called the “Liverpool Medici,” Leyland was a self-made man who rose from office-boy to wealthy ship-owner.  He was an accomplished amateur pianist and an art lover with a discriminating eye for both Old Masters and contemporary artists, including Botticelli, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, and Albert Moore.

In order to fulfill his ambitions of living like the culturally enlightened merchant prince he believed himself to be, Leyland bought an elegant house in Kensington, The Mansion, at 49 Prince’s Gate and began to remodel it to suit the needs of a merchant prince. And thus began the saga of “L’art et L’argent (Art and Money), or the Story of the Room.”

Noted interior designer Thomas Jeckyll was hired to remodel the dining room. Jeckyll’s original plan was to cover the walls in Spanish leather hangings that had once belonged to Catherine of Aragon. They were painted with her heraldic device, the open pomegranate, and a series of red Tudor roses, to symbolize her union with Henry VIII. Walnut shelves would hold Leyland’s extensive collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

The centerpiece of the room was to be Whistler’s large painting, Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain.  Toward the end of the remodeling Jeckyll became ill, and Whistler was asked to finish the room and oversee the placement of his painting on the wall.

Then the trouble began. Whistler thought the red Tudor roses painted on the leather wall hangings clashed with the colors in his painting. He wrote to his patron, and Leyland agreed that maybe the flowers could be painted yellow instead. Then the artist wanted to paint a “wave” pattern on the on cornice and wainscoting. Leyland agreed again.

The Peacock Room

Whistler painted, and then he kept painting. “I just painted as I went on – without sketch or design – it grew as I painted…And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy of it!”

He re-finished the ceiling in imitation gold with painted peacock feathers. Then he gilded the walnut shelves. Blue and green paint covered the antique Spanish leather. The panels on the walls were embellished with golden peacocks.

When he was done, Whistler was so pleased with his work that he called the newspapers and held press conferences in the finished room. In a letter to Mrs. Leyland, he confided that he thought his work was wonderful and worth a “large sum.” He billed his patron Leyland 2,000 guineas.

Leyland was definitely not pleased.

The finished room was not at all what he’d expected—nor did he expect to pay 2,000 guineas for work he hadn’t agreed to. Furthermore, the artist’s nerve in calling in the press before he’d even gotten a look at it really upset him. To add insult to all these injuries, Whistler was also having an affair with Leyland’s wife.

Leyland grudgingly agreed to pay £1,000 for Whistler’s work. Oddly, he didn’t kick Whistler out of his house, despite all that had happened. Whistler, deciding that Leyland probably wouldn’t hang three of his other works on the wall opposite Princess, came back to the Mansion and as a final act of defiance, painted two huge peacocks in the empty spot where his pictures were to have gone. One peacock was supposed to be Leyland, standing on a pile of gold coins, and the other peacock, meant to represent Whistler himself, is letting loose with an angry shriek.

Finally, in 1877, Whistler was barred from the house, but that did not put an end to his romance with Mrs. Leyland. When her husband found out, he wrote to the artist: “I am told you were seen walking about with my wife at Lord’s Cricket Ground. It is clear that I cannot expect from you the ordinary conduct of a gentleman. If I find you in her society again I will publicly horsewhip you.”

Thomas Jekyll, the interior designer whose original plans had been completely altered by Whistler, took one look at the Peacock Room and had a breakdown. He was later found in his home, feverishly gilding his bedroom floor and babbling about fruits and flowers and peacocks. He was committed to an asylum, where he died soon afterward.

Despite the enmity that had grown up between them, Leyland never had the Peacock Room re-done. It stayed exactly as Whistler had created it until Leyland’s death in 1896 at the age of 60.

In 1904, the American industrialist Charles Freer bought the entire Peacock Room and had it shipped to the United States, where he installed it in his own dining room in Detroit. When Freer died in 1919, the Peacock Room was permanently installed in the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Peacock Room should be open to viewers again in the summer of 2017.

 

 

 

Sources and further reading:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/arts-culture/a-look-inside-the-peacock-room/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Peacock_Room

 

The Aesthetic Movement, https://www.amazon.com/Aesthetic-Movement-Lionel-Lambourne/dp/071486319X  by Lionel Lambourne

 

Images:

By James Abbott McNeill Whistler – This file was derived from James McNeill Whistler – La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine – Google Art Project.jpg:, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22553630

Peacock room: By Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M Sackler Gallery – https://www.flickr.com/photos/freersackler/14063370032/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32462467

 

 

 

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A Trip to the Dentist – Victorian Style https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=732 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=732#respond Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:15:16 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=732

Vintage scrap art from the Graphics Fairy

So I went to the dentist yesterday, and completely forgot about the blog post I’d planned to write!

However, in an effort to assume an attitude of gratitude toward dentistry, I decided to research what it would be like to go to the dentist in Victorian times.

Now I am very grateful.

The watchword for the Victorian era was “progress.” Modernization through science and automation allowed our Victorian forebears to live longer and better than their parents ever did. From the beginning of the 1800s to the middle of the 19th century, dentistry had progressed from the local blacksmith’s side business in un-anaesthetized tooth extraction using pliers to less painful procedures with better health outcomes for the patient.

Even though the practice of brushing one’s teeth had been known and practiced since ancient times (either by chewing on a fibrous stick or twig, or using toothpicks or  little metal scrapers to clean the teeth, or brushing with a boar-bristle toothbrush and a paste made with salt and bicarbonate of soda), toothaches still happened – and often the only remedy available was extraction. In fact, problems with teeth were so common that in some areas, some people opted to have all their teeth removed just to avoid further pain.

Ad from the British library collection

This led to a good business in dentures which were made of wood (not a good choice since saliva would eventually turn the wood to mush), porcelain, animal bone, ivory, hardened rubber and even gold. Often real human teeth were used in the dentures: “Waterloo teeth” scavenged from the corpses on the battlefield, teeth robbed from graves, or the teeth of poor people who raised desperately needed funds by allowing someone to plunder their mouths.

In 1856, the College of Dentists of England was formed, largely through the efforts of a young dentist in Croydon, England named Samuel Lee Rymer. Across the Atlantic, by the 1870s American dentistry was being brought into the modern age by a Civil War-era practitioner named G.V. Black. Mostly self-taught, Dr. Black invented over 100 hand instruments and even developed silver alloys for restoring teeth. His system for classifying different types of cavities and how they should be filled is still in use today.

Dental anesthesia had also progressed from a swig of whiskey before tooth-pulling to other methods. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, was the first chemical used for pain relief, but Horace Wells, the American dentist who pioneered the practice, was not able to reliably provide the correct mix of gas and air.

Other solutions, including chloroform (also unreliable and sometimes leading to death), and liquid cocaine injected into the jaw (less dangerous but the needles were huge), were also tried.

Foot-powered dental drill

As dentistry improved, practitioners were able to use drills to remove cavities – but the drills were operated by a foot-pedal, like sewing machines. This was better than extracting the whole tooth.

However, as one Victorian era writer noted, to avoid cavities one should eat whole-meal bread instead of refined white bread, and avoid sugary treats. Good advice even today!

Aren’t you glad that you didn’t live during the Victorian era? I am – at least in terms of dentistry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images: Foot powered dental drill : By Royalbroil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4755880

 

Article Sources:

http://www.clevelandorthodontics.com/blog/questions/victorian/

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/19th-century-dental-hygiene/

http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/565139/teeth-dentistry-Drills-Dentures-And-Dentistry

https://www.theguardian.com/society/gallery/2014/jun/16/a-history-of-dentistry-in-pictures

http://www.deardoctor.com/articles/national-museum-of-dentistry/

http://www.victorianlondon.org/health/toothpaste.htm

http://rockemeet.com/fear-of-the-dentist-be-glad-that-you-werent-born-in-the-victorian-era/

http://bizarrevictoria.livejournal.com/95923.html

https://www.pinterest.com/amy_lynn47/victorian-dentistry/

 

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The Sentry’s Song: Politics are Crazy! https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=723 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=723#respond Wed, 19 Apr 2017 15:29:38 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=723

Gilbert’s drawing of a singing soldier – probably Private Willis

In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 hit Iolanthe, a troupe of flighty, gauzy fairies go toe-to-toe with Britain’s venerable House of Lords. Guess who wins?

(Spoiler alert: They both do.)

Act II of this charming opera begins with a quiet interlude as Private Willis stands on sentry duty. He is dressed as a soldier (although it seems  that is an inaccuracy, for the Houses of Parliament are actually guarded by police officers and not the army).

We meet him as he’s standing at the door in Palace Yard, at the eastern (or Whitehall) end of Sir Charles Barry’s great neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament – which was only completed five years before Iolanthe was written.  He sings:

When all night long a chap remains

On sentry-go, to chase monotony

He exercises of his brains,

That is, assuming that he’s got any.

 

So the poor fellow, while on his solitary sentry duty, has nothing to do but think – and he assures us that he does have a brain to think with:

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.

 

Although the best education may be reserved for the children of the wealthy, that doesn’t prevent a person from developing actual wisdom. So here are the fruits of Private Willis’ mental labors:

I often think it’s comical – Fal, lal, la!

How Nature always does contrive – Fal, lal, la!

That every boy and every gal

That’s born into the world alive

Is either a little Liberal

Or else a little Conservative!

Fal, lal, la!

 

Gilbert, with his love of wordplay, indulges himself “a little” here – using little in the sense of “small,” and also in the sense of “slightly.” This makes me happy.

When Gilbert wrote these lyrics circa 1882, the British parliament had a strong two-party system—Liberals and Conservatives. Nowadays, the Labour Party occupies the liberal end of the spectrum. Annotator Ian Bradley, in The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan, commented that “[s]ubstitution of ‘a little Socialist’ for ‘a little Liberal’ would have provided a more accurate description of the prevailing political climate for most of the twentieth century, although in our present era of mould-breaking goodness knows what a modern Private Willis should sing. Perhaps it is best, after all, to leave him in those happy days when there were just Liberals and Conservatives.’

However, this has not been the case in some productions of Iolanthe – for example, this performance in Southampton Operatic Society’s 2005 production of Iolanthe changes the word “liberal” to “Labourite.”  From the comments, you can observe that some people objected to this change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B55YgD1gr0c

However, he continues:

When in that House M.P.’s divide,

If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too,

They’ve got to leave that brain outside,

And vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.

 

This is a practice that many Americans may not be familiar with: the Division of the Assembly. Here’s an explanation from the UK Parliament’s official website :

Members of both Houses register their vote for or against issues by physically going into two different areas either side of their debating chambers. This is known as ‘dividing the House’, while the areas concerned are ‘division lobbies’. Therefore, a vote is called a ‘division’.

 

According to Wikipedia,  this is  a more accurate way of counting a vote than a voice vote. Typically, a division is taken when the result of a voice vote is challenged or when a two-thirds vote is required. Moving on:

But then the prospect of a lot

Of dull M. P.’s in close proximity,

All thinking for themselves, is what

No man can face with equanimity.

 

This passage above is a cynical Gilbertian comment – although it’s bad that Members of Parliament should be required to stop thinking and vote as their party leaders tell them to, it would be much worse to let all those mentally dull MPs think for themselves! Nobody could face such an alarming prospect with equanimity (i.e., calmly).

Then let’s rejoice with loud Fal la – Fal la la!

That Nature always does contrive – Fal lal la!

That every boy and every gal

That’s born into the world alive

Is either a little Liberal

Or else a little Conservative!

Fal lal la!

Therefore, it’s a good thing that the system is the way it is, because it works out for the best in the end.

 

What do you think? Should our elected representatives follow their leaders or follow their consciences? It certainly does sound like a choice between order and chaos.

 

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Sir Harry Flashman: Fictional Victorian Anti-Hero https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=716 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=716#respond Wed, 12 Apr 2017 15:40:55 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=716 My favorite fictional anti-hero is Sir Harry Flashman, Victorian war hero and quintessential rogue. He was created by George Macdonald Fraser in the 1970s, so there may be readers today who have not had the pleasure of reading the Flashman Papers, as the stories are known.

Let Harry introduce himself:

“I’ve been a Danish prince, a Texas slave-dealer, an Arab sheik, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, and a Yankee navy lieutenant in my time, among other things, and none of ’em was as hard to sustain as my lifetime’s impersonation of a British officer and gentleman.”

― George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman in the Great Game

Fraser was inspired by a character in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, written by Thomas Hughes in 1857. The young hero of that book was bullied by a Harry Flashman who is later kicked out of the Rugby school for drunkenness. Fraser decided to have that character grow up into an illustrious Victorian soldier who, despite being a scoundrel, a toady and a coward, somehow manages to emerge from each adventure looking like a hero.

In Fraser’s stories, Flashman fights in many of the Victorian era’s most well-known battles, including the Charge of the Light Brigade, the first Anglo-Afghan War, and the Battle of Little Bighorn as well as getting himself mixed up in political situations in the United States, China, India, South Africa, and Abyssinia, to name just a few locations. Married to a beautiful ninny named Elspeth, he also beds thousands of women, famous, infamous, and unknown, all around the world. His lovers, who include Lola Montez, Lillie Langtry, and the Empress Dowager Cixi, are all willing bed-mates (if untrustworthy schemers in their own right).  Harry’s attitude toward women is definitely politically incorrect, so sensitive persons should beware.

There have been 12 historical fiction novels detailing Flashy’s disreputable adventures, as well as Royal Flash, a movie that came out in 1975 starring Malcolm MacDowell. According to IMDB reviews, the movie pleased some and disappointed others – and I have to admit that in my mind, Oliver Reed would have been the perfect Flashman. I can’t understand why he would play Otto von Bismark instead, and let Malcolm (who doesn’t physically resemble the strapping Flashman) play the title role.

I also own a couple of audiobook versions on CD, Flash for Freedom, read by Rupert Penry-Jones (detailing how Flashy unwillingly got involved in the Triangle Trade and later helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad), and Flashman on the March (about his mission to rescue Britons held hostage by the mad emperor of Abyssinia) read by Toby Stephens. Both are excellent.

To give you an idea of the books, let me share some of my favorite quotes from the Flashman Papers. The following are from Goodreads and from the blog Flashman’s Retreat, a compendium of some of Flashman’s best quotes.

On bravery:

This myth called bravery, which is half panic, half lunacy (in my case, all panic), pays for all; in England you can’t be a hero and bad. There’s practically a law against it.

Flashman

On the Charge of the Light Brigade:

Mind you. I’m harmless, by comparison – I don’t send ’em off, stuffed with lies and rubbish, to get killed or maimed for nothing except a politician’s vanity or a manufacturer’s profit. Oh, I’ll sham it with the best in public, and sport my tinware, but I know what I am, and there’s no room for honest pride in me, you see. But if there was – just a little bit, along with the disgust and hatred and selfishness – I’d keep it for them, those seven hundred British sabres.

Flashman at the Charge

On diplomatic trips to Paris:

My advice to young chaps is to never mind the Moulin Rouge and Pigalle, but make for some diplomatic mêlée on the Rue de Lisbonne, catch the eye of a well-fleshed countess, and ere the night’s out you’ll have learned something you won’t want to tell your grandchildren.

Flashman and the Tiger

On statesmanship:

There’s a point, you know, where treachery is so complete and unashamed that it becomes statesmanship.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light

On royalty:

You never know what to expect on encountering royalty. I’ve seen ’em stark naked except for wings of peacock feathers (Empress of China), giggling drunk in the embrace of a wrestler (Maharani of the Punjab), voluptuously wrapped in wet silk (Queen of Madagascar), wafting to and fro on a swing (Rani of Jhansi), and tramping along looking like an out-of-work charwoman (our own gracious monarch).

Flashman on the March

Do you think Flashman sounds like a fun character to read? I think he’s one of the best!

 

Stack of Flashman novels

 

 

 

Cover image:  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3163609

Stack of books: By SchroCat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24424576

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Gilbert at Law https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=713 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=713#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 13:33:51 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=713

W. S. Gilbert

The first complete Gilbert and Sullivan work that we have today is Trial by Jury, a one-act comic opera that takes place in a courtroom – a venue that Gilbert knew well.

Although Gilbert had been writing plays since he was a boy (the earliest ones were performed by his mother and two younger sisters, who were all interested in amateur dramatics), as a young man he didn’t see play-writing as a career option.

But what was he to do? He got a job as an assistant clerk in the newly-formed Education Department, but loathed every minute of “the detestable thralldom of this baleful office,” as he put it.

As an antidote to the boredom, he joined a volunteer militia, first as an Ensign with the Fifth West Yorkshire Militia, and then switched to the Civil Service Rifle Volunteers where he soon rose to become Lieutenant of the Second Company.

But then in 1861, he received a legacy of £300 from his great-aunt and godmother, Mary Schwenk. It changed his life.

Gilbert wrote: “On the happiest day of my life I sent in my resignation. With £100 I paid my call to the Bar (I had previously entered myself as a student at the Inner Temple), with another £100 I obtained access to a conveyancer’s chambers, and with the third £100 I furnished a set of chambers of my own, and began life afresh as a barrister-at-law.”

But life as a brand-new barrister-at-law proved difficult. His few clients included a number of entertaining characters.

His first appearance as a barrister was at Liverpool, where he had to deal with an Irish woman who was charged with stealing a coat. According to Gilbert, the moment he rose to his feet the woman began to yell.

“Ah, ye devil, sit down!” she shouted. “Don’t listen to him, yer honner! He’s known in all the slums of Liverpool! Sit down, ye spalpeen! He’s as drunk as a lord, yer honner, begging yer lordship’s pardon!”

Every time Gilbert tried to speak, she drowned him out with her insults. The Recorder of the court was laughing too hard to stop her.

Another client was an excitable Frenchman who, when Gilbert won his case for him, embraced him in open court and kissed him on both cheeks.

It was with a third client that Gilbert learned the danger of assuming too much about the person one is defending. This client was a very religious woman on her way to a prayer meeting, when she was accused of pickpocketing by a fellow traveler. Sure enough, the traveler’s purse was found in her pocket. The woman told Gilbert that she always carried her hymn-book in that pocket, so she didn’t realize anything else had been put in there.  As a result, Gilbert assumed the purse was planted on this poor devout woman by some evildoer.

Hesketh Pearson, in Gilbert and Sullivan, reported that the young barrister cross-examined the arresting policeman as follows:

“You say you found the purse in her pocket, my man?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you find anything else?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What?”

“Two other purses, a watch with the bow broken, three handkerchiefs, two silver pencil-cases, and a hymn-book.”

The items in question were produced as exhibits amid roars of laughter.

Then, when Gilbert called the witnesses he’d asked to appear in court to testify to his client’s good character, exactly none of them were present.

When the judge handed down a sentence of 18 months’ hard labor, the woman pulled off one of her heavy boots and threw it at Gilbert’s head. He ducked. The boot missed him, and hit a reporter in a sensitive spot, which may have been the reason for the tone of the news report that appeared the next day, criticizing Gilbert’s handling of the case.

But on a brighter note, Gilbert’s experience in the courts of law helped him create Trial by Jury, one of the funniest and most original comic operas ever to be set in a courtroom.

Performances of Trial by Jury may be viewed on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuPwTdRLLLY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq4ftBaRuwY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRYuNIlB7yI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbIncUh9IF8

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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Sullivan’s Dilemma https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=708 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=708#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 15:17:05 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=708

Sir Arthur Sullivan

Poor Arthur Sullivan! Though hailed as England’s answer to Mozart, honored with a knighthood at the relatively young age of 42, friend to the crowned heads of Europe and frequently ‘living large’ as a guest of royalty, happiness and health eluded him.

Beginning in 1872 when he was 30 years old, Sullivan suffered from kidney stones. Wikipedia describes the pain as “excruciating, intermittent pain that radiates from the flank to the groin or to the inner thigh,” and says it’s one of the strongest pain sensations known. Surgical removal of stones was the best-known procedure at the time, but it had a high risk of death from bleeding and infection. Apparently, Sullivan did not take that risk.

He lived in constant fear of a recurrence of the disease. As Hesketh Pearson put it in Gilbert and Sullivan, “the presence or near-presence of this disease drove him to work in a frantic effort to forget it, and its complete absence was such a relief that he would take advantage of the blessed interregnum and revel in the futilities of social life or dream away the hours in some rural retreat.”

The other problem that plagued Sullivan and diminished his happiness was of a spiritual sort – his dissatisfaction with the course his career had taken. He aspired to be taken seriously as a genius who wrote important musical compositions, but he was painfully aware that he was best known for his popular and commercially successful tunes. Pearson again: “He was secretly discontented with the serious work that he had already done, that he felt he ought to go on doing, that his friends were always begging him to do, and therefore a little ashamed of the fact that the lighter type of composition came to him with such frightening facility. It was the old story once again of the natural comedian who wanted to play Hamlet.”

It was a real dilemma: the money he earned from his commercially popular work enabled him to circulate in the aristocratic social circles he enjoyed most, but the very commercialism of working for money was anathema to those aristocrats – and made him less worthy in their eyes.

Between his terror of being unable to work when his disease flared up, and his reluctance to work when he felt ashamed of its lowbrow nature, Sullivan ended up cramming all of his composing into brief but intense periods of round-the-clock effort followed by near collapse.

I am convinced that many artists feel as Sullivan did, that working for a monetary reward is somehow doing a disservice to one’s art. Do you feel that way? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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Gilbert and Sullivan – Together https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=703 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=703#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:14:06 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=703 In the 1870s, Arthur Sullivan was a rising young composer whose reputation was growing steadily. At the same time, William S. Gilbert was a rising young dramatist whose plays were attracting an increasingly wider audience.

They lived in the same city, they had friends in common, and each probably knew of the other’s work—we know Gilbert had heard Sullivan’s music, because he had reviewed Sullivan and Burnand’s operetta, Cox and Box, as the theater critic for Fun magazine.

They had even collaborated on a Christmas entertainment, Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old. It was a successful venture in its limited way, but both men evidently considered the project a one-off. So neglected was it, that the music to Thespis has been lost except for a tune that Sullivan re-used for a chorus song in The Pirates of Penzance: “Climbing Over the Rocky Mountains.”

It was the impresario Rupert D’Oyly Carte who brought the two together and encouraged the formation of the partnership that was to change the course of musical theater.

Gilbert had expanded his Bab ballad (comic poem) Trial By Jury for his friend Carl Rosa’s opera company to perform, and Rosa had agreed to write the music for it. Tragically, however, Rosa’s wife Euphrosyne, who had also been friends with Gilbert since childhood, died in childbirth at age 37 in January 1874. Carl Rosa no longer had the heart to continue his work, and the libretto had been returned.

The next year, D’Oyly Carte was trying to find a libretto for Sullivan to write the music for, and he persuaded Gilbert to take Trial by Jury to Sullivan.

It would have been hard to find two less likely collaborators. Everything about them, including their appearances, personalities, and preferences, were diametrically opposed. In his book Gilbert and Sullivan, Hesketh Pearson comments on how completely opposite the two men were:

“…the librettist, a tall military-looking gentleman with fair hair, rosy complexion, bright blue eyes and high massive forehead, who spoke quickly and jerkily in a deep hearty voice; and the composer, a short, plump, daintily-clad person, with a thick neck, dark hair and eyes, olive-tinted mobile face, sensuous lips and tender expression, whose voice was wistful and full of feeling.”

Still, Gilbert was not the kind of businessman to leave an unproduced manuscript around to gather dust if he could help it. On a cold, snowy February 20, 1875, Gilbert went to visit Sullivan at Albert Mansions in Victoria Street.

Sullivan recalled the event for his biographer, Arthur Lawrence, in Sir Arthur Sullivan: Life Story, Letters and Reminiscences  :

“It was on a very cold morning,” Sir Arthur tells me, “with the snow falling heavily, that Gilbert came round to my place, clad in a heavy fur coat. He had called to read over to me the MS of ‘Trial by Jury.’ He read it through, as it seemed to me, in a perturbed sort of way, with a gradual crescendo of indignation, in the manner of a man considerably disappointed with what he had written. As soon as he had come to the last word he closed up the manuscript violently, apparently unconscious of the fact that he had achieved his purpose so far as I was concerned, inasmuch as I was screaming with laughter the whole time.”

Less than five weeks later, the music had been written, the cast rehearsed, and the new one-act operetta was ready for opening night.

Even though it followed a very popular opera by Offenbach, La Perichole, the performance was an immediate hit, as this quote from Michael Ainger’s Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography attests:

“To judge by the unceasing and almost boisterous hilarity which formed a sort of running commentary on the part of the audience,” said The Times, “Trial by Jury suffered nothing whatever from so dangerous a juxtaposition. On the contrary, it may fairly be said to have borne away the palm.”  The sheer enjoyment the audience experienced came not from the words or the music alone but from the unusually happy combination of the two, a point that was seized on by the critics as exceptional: “so completely is each imbued with the same spirit,” commented the Daily News, “That it would be as difficult to conceive the existence of Mr. Gilbert’s verses without Mr. Sullivan’s music, as of Mr. Sullivan’s music without Mr. Gilbert’s verses. Each gives each a double charm.”

And so the partnership was born.

Though both were moderately successful in their separate spheres, and in later years, both Gilbert and Sullivan would feel that they each had limited their own talents in deference to the other’s artistic needs, the truth is that it took both of them together to create their extraordinary works.

I think it’s impossible to choose one over the other. What do you say? Do you prefer the music or the words? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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The Sullivan – Edison Connection https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=695 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=695#respond Wed, 15 Mar 2017 16:07:25 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=695

Sir Arthur Sullivan

The advent of sound recording both astonished and terrified Arthur Sullivan – astonished by its wonderful power, and terrified that “so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.”

For this comment, which has been put on record forever, we can thank George Edward Gouraud, an American war hero and a 19th century technology wonk.

George’s father, a French engineer, came to America in 1839 to introduce daguerreotype photography to the United States. Young George was born in 1842, and he was orphaned when both his parents died five years later. He fought for the U.S. Army in the American Civil War, and received the Medal of Honor for his bravery as a captain with the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry. He was later brevetted as a Lieutenant Colonel. After the War he became affiliated with famed inventor Thomas Edison, who was based in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

In 1873 George moved his family to England, to be Edison’s agent in Europe. Gouraud loved all the new electric inventions – he had so many electric marvels installed in his house at Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, in South London that it became known as “Little Menlo,” after Edison’s place.

One of the cool new electric gadgets that Edison created was the “Perfected Phonograph” – perfected after more than a decade of experimentation (1877-1888) by Edison and a number of rival inventors (including Alexander Graham Bell), who worked to discover ways to capture and play back sounds. The “records,” as the wax cylinders were called then, were developed by both the Gramophone company and Edison. A patent-sharing arrangement allowed both to market the cylinders.

Gouraud received the Perfected Phonograph from Edison in 1888, and on August 14, 1888 he held a press conference at Little Menlo to introduce this latest technological advance to London. The event included a performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord” on piano and cornet – one of the first musical recordings ever made.

Sir Arthur Sullivan himself visited Little Menlo on 5 October 1888, as a guest at one of Gouraud’s “phonograph parties” for members of high society. After dinner, Sullivan recorded a speech to be sent to Thomas Edison, saying, in part:

I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.

In the years following, George Gouraud made several recordings of contemporaries, including Tennyson reading the Charge of the Light Brigade, and Florence Nightingale addressing her “dear old comrades of Balaclava.”

You may listen to the recordings online at https://www.nps.gov/edis/learn/photosmultimedia/very-early-recorded-sound.htm

Experts tell us that technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace. It is amazing to me that almost 130 years ago, there was no way to record the sounds of the world around us. My aunt lived to be 100 years old, and her husband, my uncle, lived to 102 – so the invention of sound recording was made barely more than one long human lifetime ago.

Today, we can capture not only sounds but moving pictures as well with a press of a button on our phones.

What technologies have developed within your lifetime? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Credits: Phonograph by Norman Bruderhofer, www.cylinder.de – own work (transferred from de:File:Phonograph.jpg), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=427395

George Gouraud by Carlo Pellegrini – Published in Vanity Fair, 13 April 1889.This version from http://www.rare-prints.com/Vanity/little_menlo.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10592645

 

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W.S. Gilbert and P.G. Wodehouse https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=688 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=688#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:07:13 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=688 W.S. Gilbert’s comic operas with Arthur Sullivan inspired generations of artists to come, including Pelham Greville Wodehouse, the creator of Bertie Wooster and his peerless butler, Jeeves.

P.G. Wodehouse

(If you haven’t read the Jeeves and Wooster books yet, you are in for a treat! You can find them in print, as audiobooks and also as a fabulous television series featuring Hugh Laurie as Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. Check your library, Amazon, or Netflix.)

P.G. Wodehouse, known to friends and family as “Plum,” was born in 1881, when Gilbert was nearing the height of his popularity. The two only met once, when Plum was a boy. Unfortunately, their meeting didn’t produce the fondest of memories!

It happened like this:

In his youth, P.G. Wodehouse was taken to lunch at Grims Dyke, W.S. Gilbert’s handsome home in Harrow Weald in northwest London.
Hesketh Pearson, in Gilbert: His Life and Strife, reported that “…halfway through the meal, Gilbert started to tell the sort of yarn that begins dully and ends brightly.”

Wodehouse confessed, in David A Jasen’s biography, A Portrait of a Master:

“I had a rather distinctive laugh in those days, something like the last bit of water going down the waste pipe in a bath. Infectious, I suppose you would call it.”

So there the young man sat quietly, listening to a story told by his idol, W.S. Gilbert – and if W.S. Gilbert told a story, it must be funny. But this story, in Plum’s opinion, was dull. What’s a young fan to do?

Plum decided he couldn’t let his host down. So, when W.S. paused in telling the story, the young man thought the story was complete. He let loose his loud, distinctive laugh.

Wrong move! The pause was just for dramatic effect, and Plum had spoiled the whole story by laughing before Gilbert got to the punch line. 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. Thanks to Plum, the whole story fell flat.

W. S. Gilbert

Pearson quotes Wodehouse:

“It was at this point that I caught my host’s eye, and 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 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 me like a flame.
In order to get away from them, I averted my gaze and found myself encountering that of the butler. His eyes were shining with a doglike devotion. I had made his day. I suppose he had heard that story rumbled to its conclusion at least twenty times, probably more, and I had killed it.”

(P.G. Wodehouse once claimed that butlers were always gloomy because so many of their employers were sparkling raconteurs – and butlers were the ones who heard the same sparkling stories told the exact same way, over and over and over again. So the only one who was happy about the boy’s faux pas was the butler!)

In A Life in Letters, a collection of his correspondence, Wodehouse mentioned this story again.

In a letter in August 13, 1964 addressed to a Mr. Schreyer in Remsenburg, New York, Wodehouse said,

Dear Mr. Schreyer,

Thank you so much for your letter. I am delighted that you have enjoyed my books.

When I was your age, my two idols were WS Gilbert, the Savoy opera man, and Conan Doyle – with a slight edge in favor of the latter because I knew him through playing cricket with him, whereas Gilbert was a sort of remote godlike character to me. (I did meet him once. A mutual friend took me to lunch at his (Gilbert’s) house and I killed one of G’s best stories by laughing in the wrong place!)

Yours sincerely

PG Woodhouse

 

Nowadays, a few brave souls have shared their Awkward Celebrity Encounters. I’d say that Wodehouse’s encounter with Gilbert qualifies as very awkward!

What do you think?

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When Gilbert Met Sullivan https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=672 https://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=672#respond Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:43:56 +0000 http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/?p=672 Conventional wisdom has it that W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first met in July of 1870. Their mutual friend Fred Clay formally introduced them at a rehearsal for one of Gilbert’s early plays, Ages Ago.

Gilbert immediately challenged Sullivan with the following question of musical theory: Would the result be the same, he asked, whether one chose to play upon the simple tetrachord of Mercury, that knew no diatonic interval, or the elaborate dis-diapason (four tetrachords, and one redundant note), embracing in its perfect consonance all simple, double and inverted chords?

Apparently, this is a very elaborate piece of nonsense – something that Sullivan recognized right away (Gilbert once said of Sullivan that he always understood a joke immediately and never needed an explanation).

Sullivan thought about it for a moment, then told Gilbert, basically, that it was a very nice question and that he’d have to think about it before giving him a definite answer.  (A typically smooth and diplomatic Sullivan response, I think!)

But was this the first time Gilbert and Sullivan had ever met? Probably not.

Ellen Terry, as The Watchman (c) National Trust, Smallhythe Place; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As a young writer and artist in 1860s London, W S Gilbert had an active social life which included parties, masquerades, impromptu theatricals, and balls. At the same time, the rising young composer Arthur Sullivan also enjoyed an active social life that included parties, amateur theatricals, and musical entertainments.

William and Arthur traveled in many of the same circles of London’s Bohemia – pre-Raphaelite artists, poets and playwrights, actors, singers and musicians, many of whom achieved great fame in their time.

So it seems very likely that they at least knew of one another; In 1867 Gilbert, as theater critic for Fun magazine, attended the first public performance of Cox and Box, for which Sullivan had written the music. In his review, Gilbert commented that “Mr. Sullivan’s music is, in many places, of too high a class for the grotesquely absurd plot to which it is wedded.”

Furthermore, their paths may have crossed very close indeed – the great Victorian actress Ellen Terry, in her autobiography The Story of My Life, has this to say:

Most people know that Tom Taylor was one of the leading playwrights of the sixties as well as the dramatic critic of the Times, editor of Punch, and a distinguished civil servant, but to us he was more than this – he was an institution! I simply cannot remember when I did not know him… Their house in Lavender Sweep was lovely ….

[Taylor] was an enthusiastic amateur actor, his favorite part being Adam in As You Like It, perhaps because tradition says this was a part Shakespeare played; at any rate, he was very good in it. Gilbert and Sullivan, in very far-off days, used to be concerned in these amateur theatricals. Their names were not associated then, but [my sister] Kate and I established a prophetic link by carrying on a mild flirtation, I with Arthur Sullivan, Kate with Mr. Gilbert!

So there you have it – before Gilbert and Sullivan became Gilbert and Sullivan, they came close enough to flirt with two sisters at the same amateur theatricals. It must have been a small world, where all the creatives knew everyone else.

Kate Terry, who flirted with W S Gilbert at amateur theatricals (pictured here posing as Andromeda. Photo by Lewis Carroll)

 

 

 

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