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GILBERT AND SULLIVAN

Part 1: The Correspondence, Diaries, Literary Manuscripts and Prompt Copies of W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) from the British Library, London

Brief Chronology

1836


Birth of William Schwenck Gilbert (henceforth WSG), the only son of four children born to William Gilbert, novelist and former navy surgeon, and Anne (Morris) Gilbert. His second name was the surname of his godmother.

WSG abducted by bandits in Naples and ransomed for £25.

1842

Birth of Arthur Sullivan.

1844

Birth of Richard D’Oyly Carte.

WSG at school at Western Grammar School, Brompton (1846-1849)

WSG at school at Great Ealing School (1849-1852), where he gains a taste for writing and performing drama and is made Head Boy.

1855

WSG at university at King’s College, London (1855-1857), graduating with a BA. He considers further education at Oxford but, with the Crimean War in progress, he considers a military career. WSG enters the Inner Temple as a student

1856

The Treaty of Paris ends the Crimean War (1853-1856) and WSG abandons his plan to join the Royal Artillery Corps.

1857

WSG receives a commission in the militia (3rd battalion Gordon Highlanders). WSG joins the Civil Service (Privy Council office) and serves 1857-1861. Sullivan commences studies at Royal Academy of Music.

WSG is published for the first time - his translation of the “Laughing Song” from Auber’s Manon Lescaut appears in a playbill for one of Alfred Mellon’s promenade concerts. Sullivan studies music at Leipzig Conservatory.

WSG receives a windfall of £300 and retires from the Civil Service. He commences contributions to Fun - a humorous periodical edited by Henry James Byron - and is asked to contribute a column of copy and a half page illustration to each issue. He does so until 1871.

1862

Performance of Sullivan’s music to The Tempest at Crystal Palace.

1863

WSG pays £100 and is called to the Bar and spends the remainder of his windfall to gain access to chambers. WSG writes for Punch, The Cornhill Magazine, London Society, Tinsley’s Magazine, Illustrated Times, Invalide Russe and Temple Bar on an occasional basis. WSG writes Uncle Baby for the Lyceum Theatre, commencing his theatrical career. It runs for 7 weeks.

1865

Tom Hood the younger takes over as Editor of Fun and continues to encourage regular contributions from WSG. WSG draws 84 illustrations for The Magic Mirror - a novel by his father, William Gilbert.

1866

WSG writes Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack, a “Christmas piece” for the St James’s Theatre. WSG writes Allow me to explain, a farce, for the Prince of Wales Theatre. WSG writes Highly improbable, a farce, for the Royalty Theatre. WSG joins the Northern circuit, plying his profession in London, Manchester and Liverpool for two years without much reward. Punch rejects a ballad by WSG and he refuses to deal with them forthwith. Sullivan composes music for Cox and Box, a comic opera adapted by F C Burnand from a farce by J M Morton, performed the following year at the Adelphi Theatre.

1867

WSG marries Lucy Agnes Turner. The first Bab Ballad appears in Fun. WSG becomes captain of his militia regiment. WSG writes and directs (for the first time) La Vivandière, or True to the Corps, a burlesque, for the Queen’s Theatre. WSG writes Harlequin Cock Robin, a pantomime, for the Lyceum Theatre. Sullivan writes Marmion for the Royal Philharmonic Society.

1868

WSG writes The Merry Zingara, or the Tipsy Gipsy and the Popsy Wopsy, a burlesque, for the Royal Theatre. WSG ends his legal career. His first three plays earn him more than his earnings for two years on the northern circuit. WSG writes No Cards, an operetta, for the Gallery of Illustration. The new Gaiety Theatre opens with WSG’s Robert the Devil, an operatic burlesque. Richard D’Oyly Carte writes Dr Ambrosias, His Secret, an opera, for St George’s opera house.

1869

The Bab Ballads are published. WSG illustrates King George’s Middy, a second novel by his father. The Charing Cross Theatre opens with WSG’s The Pretty Druidess, a travesty of Norma. WSG contributes sketches and Frederick Clay supplies music to the musical theatre, including German Reed’s Gallery of Illustration. WSG writes Our Island Home, an operetta, for the Gallery of Illustration. Sullivan composes The Prodigal Son for the Worcester Music festival.

1870

Gilbert writes The Princess, a parody of Tennyson’s poem, for the Olympic Theatre. This later resurfaced as Princess Ida. Buckstone commissions Gilbert to write The Palace of Truth, based on Madame de Genlis’ fairy story, Le Palais de Vérite - it runs for 230 nights. WSG writes An Old Score, a comedy, for the Gaiety Theatre. Sullivan composes Overture di Ballo for Birmingham festival.

1871

WSG writes The Gentleman in Black, a comic opera, for the Charing Cross Theatre. Clay and Gilbert write Ages Ago, for the Gallery of Illustration - this later resurfaces as Ruddigore. Clay introduces WSG to Arthur Sullivan, another contributor to German Reed’s Gallery of Illustration. WSG writes Pygmalion and Galatea, a comedy, for the Haymarket Theatre and it is his greatest success to date (earning WSG £40,000 in his lifetime). Sullivan composes On Shore and Sea for International Exhibition and Te Deum for the Prince of Wales.

1872

WSG writes a number of comedies, including Randall’s Thumb and Creatures of Impulse, for the new Court Theatre. Clay and Gilbert write A Sensation Novel and Happy Arcadia for the Gallery of Illustration.

1873

A second volume of The Bab Ballads is published. WSG writes The Wicked World, a comedy, for the Haymarket Theatre. WSG writes a comedy, On Guard, and an extravaganza, The Happy Land, with Gilbert à Becket, for the Court Theatre. The latter play is banned briefly, because it caricatures Gladstone and other government figures. Sullivan composes Light of the World for the Birmingham festival.

1874

The Piccadilly Annual is published, profusely illustrated by WSG and Leech. Revival of Pygmalion and Galatea. WSG writes Charity for the Haymarket Theatre, about the redemption of a fallen woman. WSG writes Great Expectations, a drama based on Dickens’ novel for the Court Theatre. WSG writes Topsyturveydom, an extravaganza, for the Criterion Theatre. WSG writes On Bail, a comedy, for the Olympic Theatre. WSG writes The Realms of Joy, a farce, for the Royalty Theatre.


1875

Production of Trial by Jury by Gilbert and Sullivan (henceforth G & S) at the Royalty Theatre under the management of Richard D’Oyly Carte. This is a great success, running from March-June and October - December 1875 and prompts the creation of the Comedy Opera Company by Carte. WSG writes Tom Cobb for the St James’s Theatre. WSG writes Broken Hearts for the Court Theatre. WSG writes Ought we to visit her?, a comedy, King Candules, a farce, and The Wedding March, a comedy, for the Royalty Theatre. G & S write Thespis, or the God’s Grown Old for the Gaiety Theatre. Chatto & Windus publish a volume of Gilbert’s plays.

1876

WSG writes Dan’l Druce, a serious drama, for the Haymarket Theatre. WSG writes Princess Toto, an opera, for the Strand Theatre. WSG’s parents separate.


Carte’s Opera Bouffe touring company present works by G & S and Carte.

1877

Production of The Sorcerer by G & S at the Opera Comique - it runs for 175 nights. WSG writes Engaged, a serious drama, for the Haymarket Theatre. WSG writes Sweethearts for the Prince of Wales Theatre.

1878

Production of HMS Pinafore by G & S at the Opera Comique - it runs for 700 nights and is received in America with “enthusiasm bordering upon insanity” (Kate Field, Scribner’s Monthly, xviii, 754). Revival of Pygmalion and Galatea. WSG writes Committed for Trial, and Foggerty’s Fairy, comedies, for the Criterion Theatre. WSG writes The Ne’er Do Well (later renamed The Vagabond), for the Olympic Theatre.

1879

Production of The Pirates of Penzance by G & S at the Fifth Avenue Theatre - G & S personally oversee the production with Alfred Cellier, the musical conductor. WSG writes Gretchen, based on the Faust legend, for the Olympic Theatre.

1880

Production of The Pirates of Penzance by G & S at the Opera Comique - it runs for 633 nights.

1881

Production of Patience, a satire on the aesthetic movement, by G & S at the Opera Comique - it runs for 170 nights before its transfer to the Savoy Theatre.

1882

D’Oyly Carte completes construction of the Savoy Theatre, specifically built for G & S productions, and it opens with Patience - which runs for 408 nights.


Production of Iolanthe by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 398 nights.

1883

WSG writes Eyes and No Eyes, an operetta, for the Gallery of Illustration.


1884

Production of Princess Ida by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 246 nights. First revival of The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury at the Savoy Theatre - they run for 150 nights. WSG writes Comedy and Tragedy for the Lyceum Theatre.

1885

Production of The Mikado by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 672 nights (March 1885 - January 1887) and is performed over 5,000 times in the US.

1886

Sullivan composes setting for Longfellow’s Golden Legend at Leeds festival.

1887

Production of Ruddigore by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 288 nights and makes G & S over £30,000. The first revival of HMS Pinafore by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 120 nights.

1888

First revival of The Pirates of Penzance by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 80 nights. First revival of The Mikado by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 116 nights. Production of The Yeoman of the Guard by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 423 nights (December 1888 - November 1889). WSG writes Brantinghame Hall, a comedy, for the St James’s Theatre.

1889

Production of The Gondoliers by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 554 nights (December 1889 - June 1891). WSG builds the Garrick Theatre.

1890

The G & S partnership is broken following an acrimonious financial dispute (“the carpet quarrel”) between WSG and Carte. WSG suspects Sullivan of siding with Carte. Death of William Gilbert, father of WSG. WSG writes Haste the Wedding, an operetta, for the Criterion Theatre. WSG purchases the Grim’s Dyke estate, Harrow Weald, Middlesex. Publication of Original Comic Operas and Songs of a Savoyard by WSG.

1891

WSG writes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a travesty of Hamlet, for the Court Theatre. WSG is made a JP. Sullivan writes Ivanhoe, a grand opera, for the Royal English Opera House.

1892

Production of The Mountebanks by WSG and Alfred Cellier at the Lyric Theatre.

1893

G & S resume collaboration with Carte. Production of Utopia Limited, or the Flowers of Progress by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 245 nights.


Production of His Excellency by WSG and Osmond Carr at the Lyric Theatre.

1895

Second revival of The Mikado by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 127 nights.

1896

Production of The Grand Duke by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 123 nights and is their final collaboration. Third revival of The Mikado by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 229 nights.

1897

First revival of The Gondoliers by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 62 nights. WSG writes The Fortune Hunter, a comedy, for the Birmingham Theatre.

1898

Second revival of The Gondoliers by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 63 nights. Second revival of The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury at the Savoy Theatre - they run for 102 nights.

1899

Second revival of HMS Pinafore by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 174 nights.

1900

Death of Sir Arthur Sullivan. Second revival of The Pirates of Penzance by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 127 nights. First revival of Patience by G & S at the Savoy Theatre - it runs for 150 nights.

1901

Death of Richard D’Oyly Carte.

WSG writes Harlequin and the Fairy’s Dilemma for the Garrick Theatre.

1907

WSG knighted.

1909

WSG writes Fallen Fairies, with music by Edward German, for the Savoy Theatre.

1911

WSG writes The Hooligan, a serious drama and social commentary, for the Coliseum Theatre. WSG dies of heart failure brought on by his attempt to save a lady drowning in the lake at Grim’s Dyke. He is survived by his wife, Lucy, but they have no children.

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