William Schwenck Gilbert
Biography of William Schwenck Gilbert
William Schwenck Gilbert, born in London in 1836, was the son of a retired naval surgeon. Except for a kidnapping by Italian brigands in Italy at age two, and a ransomed release, he appears to have had a very normal upbringing. Beyond ordinary schooling, he took training as an artillery officer and was tutored in military science with hopes of participating in the Crimean War. Unfortunately for him, but not for us, he did not graduate until after the War was over. Gilbert subsequently joined the militia and was a member for 20 years.
After finishing his military training Gilbert worked in a government bureau job which he hated. Upon receiving a nice inheritance from an aunt, Gilbert indulged his fancy and became a barrister. Called to the bar at age 28, Gilbert's law career, with no "rich attorney's elderly, ugly daughter" to help him escape mediocrity, lasted just a few years. Before leaving his law practice, however, he married the daughter of an army officer.
Gilbert had shown a proclivity for caustic wit and sarcasm from an early age and it was this talent that put him on the path to greatness. Beginning in 1861, Gilbert contributed dramatic criticism and humorous verse (unsigned) to the popular British magazine FUN. Some of his work was accompanied by cartoons and sketches which were signed "Bab." Many of the characters in the G&S operas were modelled after some of Gilbert's "Bab" characters. A collection of these 'Bab Ballads' was later published in 1869.
The period from 1868 to 1875 was a very fruitful period for Gilbert, primarily because two plays which he wrote in 1871 netted him huge financial rewards. This was also the year that he collaborated briefly with a composer named Sullivan on a production entitled Thespis which did not bring the duo any notoriety. Their collaboration, however, spanned twenty-five years and produced a total of fourteen comic operas of which The Grand Duke, the last in the order, premiered in 1896.
Gilbert was knighted by Edward VII in 1907 and died in 1911, at age 74, while attempting to save a drowning woman.
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William Schwenck Gilbert Poems
The Disagreeable Man
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am: I'm a genuine philanthropist - all other kinds are sham. Each little fault of temper and each social defect In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavour to correct.
The Yarn Of The Nancy Bell
'Twas on the shores that round our coast From Deal to Ramsgate span, That I found alone on a piece of stone An elderly naval man.
The Duke Of Plaza-Toro
In enterprise of martial kind, When there was any fighting, He led his regiment from behind (He found it less exciting).
The Magnet And The Churn
A MAGNET hung in a hardware shop, And all around was a loving crop Of scissors and needles, nails and knives, Offering love for all their lives;
The Policeman's Lot
When a felon's not engaged in his employment, Or maturing his felonious little plans, His capacity for innocent enjoyment Is just as great as any honest man's.
When A Merry Maiden Marries
When a merry maiden marries, Sorrow goes and pleasure tarries; Every sound becomes a song, All is right and nothing's wrong!
The Ghosts' High Noon
When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies, And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies - When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs
Is Life A Boon
Is life a boon? If so, it must befall That Death, whene'er he call, Must call too soon.
Said I To Myself, Said I
When I went to the Bar as a very young man (Said I to myself - said I), I'll work on a new and original plan (Said I to myself - said I),
A Manager's Perplexities
Were I a king in very truth, And had a son - a guileless youth - In probable succession; To teach him patience, teach him tact,
Trial By Jury
DRAMATIS PERSONAE THE LEARNED JUDGE THE PLAINTIFF
[HE.] PRITHEE, pretty maiden - prithee, tell me true (Hey, but I'm doleful, willow, willow waly!) Have you e'er a lover a-dangling after you? Hey, willow waly O!
Haunted? Ay, in a social way By a body of ghosts in dread array; But no conventional spectres they - Appalling, grim, and tricky:
The Love-Sick Boy
When first my old, old love I knew, My bosom welled with joy; My riches at her feet I threw; I was a love-sick boy!
The Independent Bee
A hive of bees, as I've heard say,
Said to their Queen one sultry day,
"Please your Majesty's high position,
The hive is full and the weather is warm,
We rather think, with a due submission,
The time has come when we ought to swarm."
Buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz.
Up spake their Queen and thus spake she -
"This is a matter that rests with me,