Gilbert and Sullivan – Together

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.

 

 

The Sullivan – Edison Connection

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

 

W.S. Gilbert and P.G. Wodehouse

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?

When Gilbert Met Sullivan

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)

 

 

 

I’m Guest Blogging!

Today, your humble correspondent is guest blogging over at the Bluestocking Belles! This entertaining group of ladies write stories and blog together because history is fun and love is worth working for.

In today’s article, I have interviewed my fictional version of W. S. Gilbert, who plays a part in my upcoming historical mystery novel, A SHORT SHARP SHOCK.

CLICK HERE to go to the Bluestocking Belles’ TeaTime Tattler to find out more about Mr. Gilbert, Lucy Turner, and the blasted country house party.

I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy my interview with The Passionate Mr. Gilbert!

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – The Power of the Pen

Harried Beecher Stowe

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Supposedly, this is what Abraham Lincoln said when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862.  In any event, her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a deep and lasting impact on the public not only in America but around the world, according to the Harriet Beecher Stowe center. From that source I learned:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin originally appeared in installments published in an anti-slavery newspaper, The National Era, in 1851. The next year it was published as a two-volume book. It sold 300,000 copies in its first year, and became the second best-selling book of the 19th century after the Bible. A best-seller in the US, Britain, Europe and Asia, it was eventually translated into 60 languages.

Because the book personalized the political and economic arguments about slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped many 19th-century Americans determine what kind of country they wanted.  Frederick Douglass wrote of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that “nothing could have better suited the moral and humane requirements of the hour. Its effect was amazing, instantaneous, and universal.”

Eliza escapes across the frozen Ohio River, carrying her baby and herself to freedom.

The book had as many critics as supporters. The poet Langston Hughes called the novel, “the most cussed and discussed book of its time.”

Southerners claimed that the stories were wildly exaggerated, which led Beecher Stowe to publish a second book, called A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which she detailed the first-hand accounts that she had collected and on which she based the events in her novel, including the runaway slave Eliza’s dramatic escape from slave-hunters by leaping from ice floe to ice floe across the winter-bound Ohio River.

I would guess that W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan might have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or at least heard of it. The first London edition of the book came out in May, 1852, and sold over one million copies. By the time both men had reached their adult years (in the 1860s), the book was widely known and there were even stage adaptations of the work.

According to the Gilder Lehrman history site, even Queen Victoria had a copy of the book.

On the eve of publication, Stowe presented a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. In this accompanying letter addressed to Prince Albert, Stowe acknowledged that England had made some strides since the “less enlightened days” in their treatment of an “oppressed race.” She then appealed to the sympathetic hearts of the British people and their queen, writing “the author is encouraged by the thought that beneath the royal insignia of England throbs that woman’s and mother’s heart.”

Slavery had been abolished in England in 1807, and in the British colonies in 1833 (albeit gradually; The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 legally freed 700,000 in the West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, and 40,000 in South Africa, but not in the territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon).

The fugitives were safe.

On  Friday, September 3, 1852 the London Times published an article entitled “The English Opinion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is at every railway book-stall in England, and in every third traveler’s hand. The book is a decided hit. It takes its place with “Pickwick,” with Louis Napoleon, with the mendicant who suddenly discovers himself heir to £20,000 a year, and, in fact, with every man whose good fortune it has been to fall asleep Nobody, and to awake in the morning an institution in the land. It is impossible not to feel respect for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

I hadn’t read Uncle Tom’s Cabin before, so even though I considered some of the portrayals of the characters to be problematic, I was struck by how exciting the story was. It is clear to me why Uncle Tom’s Cabin left such an indelible mark on history.

Have you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

Eliza: By A.S. Seer’s Union Square Print., N.Y. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Fugitives Safe: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3656435
Harriet Beecher Stowe by Painter Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887); Engraver: Unknown – Modified version of public domain image. Library of Congress LC-USZ62-10476 (3-18), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3656415

Entertaining house guests, Victorian-style

Before the Internet—even before television and radio—beamed professional entertainment directly into our homes, what did people do for fun?

Our Victorian ancestors, especially those of the middle and upper classes, had plenty of leisure time to fill. One way to enjoy oneself was to invite friends over to stay for a while—three days was the standard visit. But once you had your circle of intimates gathered at your country home, what were you to do with them?

Welcoming your guests

The proper time for arrival was mid-afternoon, around teatime. Guests often arrived by train, so a good host would arrange for the guests to be met at the train station. Servants would convey the trunks, suitcases and other baggage to the house, and a carriage would be waiting to bring the guests themselves to the house.

Once at the house, the guest rooms would be all ready with everything they might need—toiletries, needles and pins, brushes, writing paper and pens, and entertaining reading materials.

Entertainment

Reading aloud – tableau with WS Gilbert, Maud Tree, “the Playwright”, and Beerbohm Tree

A good host and hostess would have put some thought into providing entertainment for the guests. Outdoors, there might be opportunities for hunting, or horseback riding, or hiking. In good weather, croquet matches might be held on the lawn. Indoors, options included reading, working jigsaw puzzles, and other quiet activities.

Also, groups of guests might like to indulge in conversation or dancing. Someone could read aloud, or if a guest was good at singing or playing an instrument, they might give a recital. The most active guests could dress up in costume and present a “tableau vivant.”

Tableau vivants

From the French phrase meaning “living picture,” a tableau vivant was when a person or group of people recreated a scene from a famous painting, a moment from a book or a play, or even an idea.

Using costumes, props, and backdrops, the participants would pose in the proper attitudes of the original scene. A curtain would be drawn back revealing the models, who stayed silent and frozen for about thirty seconds. Sometimes a poem or music accompanied the scene, and there might even be a large wooden frame placed around the scene, giving it the appearance of a painted canvas inside a picture frame.

With the advent of photography, the scenes could then be photographed and preserved. Julia Margaret Cameron created a number of fantasy images featuring friends and family dressed in medieval or legendary costumes. No doubt this was big fun for the Victorians, since many of them seemed to enjoy fancy-dress (costumes).

Arthur Sullivan belonged to a group of friends who called themselves the Moray Minstrels and met at Moray Lodge, the home of Arthur James Lewis.  Just for fun, they would hold musical evenings on a monthly basis – they put on the very first performance of Sullivan’s “Cox and Box,” on which he collaborated with writer F.C. Burnand.

Here is a photograph of the costume-wearing Moray Minstrels, plus sisters Kate and Ellen Terry – both were actresses; Kate was married to Arthur James Lewis.  Arthur Sullivan is seated on the far left; the woman seated closest to him is Ellen Terry, the other woman in the picture is Kate Terry, and seated on the floor in front is cartoonist George Du Maurier.

Moray Minstrels, from “Gilbert & Sullivan and their Victorian World” by Christopher Hibbert

 

Victorian Women – Pioneers of Photography

View from the window at Le Gras

Although for centuries humans have known the principle of the “camera obscura” – in which light passing through a pinhole can throw an upside-down and reversed image onto the opposite wall of a darkened room –  it wasn’t until 1826 or 1827 that a Frenchman named Nicéphore Niépce figured out a way to preserve the images.

Photography was born.

Nicéphore Niépce’s photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras is believed to be the oldest surviving camera photograph. His discoveries were quickly followed by those of such photographic pioneers as Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot, who publicly announced their own photographic processes in January 1839.

To preserve a photographic image, the challenges included how to capture the image, and how to transfer the captured “negative” onto a positive surface. One of the ways to print a photograph from a negative was to make an albumen print, and another way was the wet collodion printing process.

Albumen, or egg whites, can be used with silver nitrate to produce a photographic print. The paper must be first dipped into a solution made with albumen, and then dried. Once it’s dried, the paper is taken into a darkroom and “sensitized” by being placed in a bath of silver nitrate, then dried again. Once that’s complete, then the negative plate is placed on the prepared paper and the whole thing is exposed to light until the picture develops. After that, the silver is washed off, a toner applied and then the print is dried. Finally your image is ready to be admired! The process is fully described in this interesting resource: http://www.cwreenactors.com/collodion/21steps.htm

Alternatively, collodion – a highly flammable, gooey mixture of guncotton dissolved in sulfuric and nitric acid with ethyl alcohol and ether added – can be used in the place of the albumen. Less exposure time is needed with the collodion than with albumen. As the solvent evaporates, it dries to a clear, celluloid-like film.

For a step-by-step description, visit http://www.alternativephotography.com/the-wetplate-collodion-process/

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins

Most of the early pioneers of photography were male. The science of photography involved expensive, dangerous chemicals and new processes. Furthermore, dabbling in such advanced technology went against Victorian expectations of female behavior.

Nevertheless, there were a few women pioneers in those early days of the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s. Among them were Anna Atkins, Viscountess Hawarden, and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Anna Atkins (nee Children) was the only child of a prominent scientist, John George Children, who gave her “an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time.” It was her great interest in botany that led her to explore the cyanotype process – she was interested in using cyanotype to preserve images of various types of seaweed. She did this by placing the dried seaweed on the cyanotype-treated paper, and then exposing it to light.

Some say Anna Atkins was the first woman to produce a camera photograph. What we do know is that Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs. Only 17 copies of this historically important book are now known to exist.

One of Viscountess Harwarden’s photos of her daughters

Clementina Maude, Viscountess Hawarden, turned to photography in 1857 or 1858, while living in Ireland at her husband’s estate. In 1859 she moved to London, where she set up a photographic studio in her home in South Kensington. Considered an amateur photographer, her work was nevertheless praised for its artistic excellence. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and also a photographer, was among those who admired Hawarden’s work.

In the approximately 7 years that she was actively photographing, she created 800 photographs. Her photographs include images of her children, particularly her daughters – she had eight children in all.  Scholar Carol Mavor says the photographs raise “issues of gender, motherhood and sexuality.”

Probably the best known of the early female photographers is Julia Margaret Cameron. She created many portraits of Victorian aristocrats and artists, many of them dressed up as Shakespearean characters or legendary figures.

Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, by Julia Margaret Cameron

When she was 48, she was given a camera as a present, and thus began her photographic career which lasted from 1864 to 1875.

During the 11 years in which she was active in photography, Cameron treated photography as an art as well as a science, manipulating the wet collodion process to give her images a dreamlike feel. As a result, her soft-focus images and cropped portraits were appreciated more by the pre-Raphaelite artists than the photographic critics of the day.

Photography was in its infancy at the beginning of the Victorian era – as a pursuit, it was exacting, expensive, and high-tech. These women were among the vanguard of explorers in a new field that merged chemistry and art. They used their skills to express ideas about botany, family, and about how we present ourselves to the world.

Individuals living in 1850 probably felt like new technology and scientific information was being thrown at them so fast they could barely catch their breath. And yet, today’s scientific discoveries and inventions are being developed even faster than they were 170 years ago. But no matter what the historical age, men and women have been willing to explore ever deeper into the mysteries of our world.

How about you? Do you like exploring new ideas, or do you prefer the comfort of the familiar? Let me know in the comments.

 

Modest Maidens Captured by Kodak, by Bab

 

 

By Joseph Nicéphore Niépce – Rebecca A. Moss, Coordinator of Visual Resources and Digital Content Library, via email. College of Liberal Arts Office of Information Technology, University of Minnesota. http://www.dcl.umn.edu, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107219

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=455356

By Clementia Hawarden – http://year117deadlysins.blogspot.com/2011/04/envy.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15312439

By Julia Margaret Cameron – HQGPeFPsjI99sA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22179500

Sir Arthur Sullivan – A Knight of the Realm

Sir Arthur Sullivan

The year 1882 had brought financial reverses and difficulties to Arthur Sullivan. His physical health was declining, but he started the new year knowing he would have to work hard to regain his financial security. What would 1883 bring to him?

In February, he signed a five-year contract with D’Oyly Carte and William S. Gilbert, which would provide him with one-third of the Savoy Theater’s net profits “after deducting all expenses and charges of producing the said operas.”

By the spring of that year, Sullivan was involved with the preparations for the formal opening of the Royal College of Music. This school was to be a conservatory where top-notch musicians could be trained. Sullivan’s friend George Grove would be the first director.

As Michael Ainger reports in Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography:

Sullivan noted in his diary on 29 April that the Prince of Wales had said on shaking hands, “I congratulate you on the great honor we have in store for you.” – I suppose he means he is going to place me on the Council of the R.C. of Music! What an honor!” thought Sullivan. The following week, on Monday 3 May, Sullivan received a letter from the prime minister offering him a knighthood, “in recognition,” wrote Gladstone, “of your distinguished talents as a composer and of the services which you have rendered to the promotion of the art of music generally in this country.” Sullivan humbly accepted.

What a thrill for Sullivan! An even greater honor than he had imagined. The Prince of Wales announced Sullivan’s knighthood at the Royal College of Music’s opening ceremony the next week, on May 7, 1883.

Ainger continues:

On 22 May, Sullivan went down “by special train” to Windsor Castle to be knighted along with George Grove, then aged 63, and George Macfarren, age 70. He recorded the event in his diary in formal terms, leaving aside the emotion of the occasion. “I bowed low – then knelt down – the Queen took the Equerry’s sword & laid it first on right then on left shoulder – said softly “Sir Arthur” & gave me her hand to kiss – then I rose – bowed low again & backed out.”

Just six months earlier, his friend and investment manager E.A. Hall had informed Sullivan that he’d lost his entire life’s savings. Now, Sullivan’s latest collaboration with Gilbert was a huge financial success, he was firmly part of the highest social circles in England, and he had been made a Knight of the Realm at the young age of 41.

What a difference six months can make! Good thing Sullivan didn’t give up when the going got tough, or he would have missed all the good stuff that was coming his way.

 

 

 

 

Photo of Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice by Mary Steen – http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/egallery/object.asp?collector=12787&display=acquired&pagesize=60&object=2105974&row=894, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9477168

 

 

 

 

 

W.S. Gilbert’s Childhood Family Drama

W. S. Gilbert

Children abducted, children hidden, children mixed up by their caretakers—in William S. Gilbert’s librettos, childhood was a dangerous time.

In H. M. S. Pinafore, two babies were mixed up by a careless “baby farmer” (day care provider). In The Pirates of Penzance, the young hero’s silly nursemaid apprenticed the boy to a pirate instead of a pilot, dooming him to a life of crime. In Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor doesn’t know that he even has a son, much less that his child is the half-mortal, half-fairy Strephon. In The Gondoliers, the infant heir to the throne of Barataria was stolen by the Grand Inquisitor and raised in Venice as a gondolier.

Even though the “secret baby” trope is used in many story genres, Gilbert actually experienced scenes of family drama, revolving around child custody and kidnapping.

As discussed in this earlier blog post, Gilbert himself claimed to have been abducted by brigands in Naples when he was two years old. Although the truth of this story has been questioned (he was only a toddler at the time, so how could he remember it so clearly?), it still seems to have been part of their family’s storytelling.

And it seems that in January of 1845, when Gilbert was only 8 years old, he witnessed another tumultuous family scene involving the forcible separation of a parent from their children. It happened like this:

Gilbert’s drawing of the baby’s abduction in The Gondoliers.

W.S. Gilbert’s father, William senior, had a brother named Joseph. Joseph married Catherine, and they had two sons. By 1841, Joseph had developed tuberculosis and died. His will made his wife, Catherine, the guardian of their children – and a few months before his death, Joseph added a codicil to appoint William Gilbert Senior as the second guardian of the boys. The codicil was not drawn up by the lawyers—it was undated and witnessed not by a solicitor but by William Gilbert’s two servants.

Why? Most likely because Catherine, still in her twenties, might want to marry again. Childhood mortality rates were very high in Victorian days. Catherine’s boys stood to inherit money from their grandfather, and without the codicil, their inheritance would go to Catherine and her new husband instead of to William senior.

At Christmas 1844 Catherine and her two surviving sons, Francis, age 7, and Joseph, age 5, came to stay with the William Gilberts through the new year. At this time, the young widow had become emotionally involved with a Captain Harman Baillie Hopper, and intended to marry him. So in January 1845, Catherine and the Captain left the boys with the Gilberts and went on a little vacation together.

While the couple were away, the boys told their Uncle William (and another relative, John Schwenck) about how they had seen Captain Hopper rubbing ointment on their mother’s leg. That, apparently, made the Captain very tired, and the two of them lay on her bed together talking.

Well, that was a shocker! William senior was so disturbed by this account that when Catherine came back on January 16 to pick up her children, John Schwenck and William Gilbert refused to hand them over.

Undaunted, Catherine came back the next day with her brother, John Francis, and a Bow Street officer. After an angry and tearful scene, she still wasn’t able to get her sons back.  William senior insisted that she had created an “immoral environment” which was unhealthy for her sons. The whole sordid thing wound up in the newspapers. Catherine applied for a writ of habeas corpus on January 20, and got her boys back in March 1845, having apparently proven that she was a fit mother after all.

Was young William S. Gilbert aware of all this drama? It’s likely that he knew about the unhappy situation, even if he might not have actually witnessed the struggle between the widowed sister-in-law and the judgmental and forbidding William senior.

As Andrew Crowther says in Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan: His Life and Character:

“Where is the warmth and affection that one would like to see in Gilbert’s family background? Gilbert himself tells us precious little in the way of reminiscence about his family: a sketch of a grandfather, a few passing comments about his father, practically nothing about his mother and sisters. We are left only with a vague feeling of coldness, darkness and isolation. Little wonder, then, that Gilbert looked instead towards the fantasy world of theatre to provide light, warmth and joy.”

Although there is no way to be sure that this ugly event from Gilbert’s childhood affected the stories he wrote as an adult, it’s possible that they might have been twisted and transmuted into the topsy-turvy scenarios he wrote later on. What do you think? Do the events of our childhood leave us, or do they become part of our “core story” as grownups?

Let me know in the comments!