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
A Classical Revival
At the outset I may mention it's my sovereign intention To revive the classic memories of Athens at its best, For my company possesses all the necessary dresses, And a course of quiet cramming will supply us with the rest.
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.
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!
Spurn not the nobly born With love affected, Nor treat with virtuous scorn The well connected.
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).
A Merry Madrigal
Brightly dawns our wedding day; Joyous hour, we give thee greeting! Whither, whither art thou fleeting? Fickle moment, prithee stay!
Damon Vs. Pythias
Two better friends you wouldn't pass Throughout a summer's day, Than DAMON and his PYTHIAS, - Two merchant princes they.
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,
Society has quite forsaken all her wicked courses, Which empties our police courts, and abolishes divorces. (Divorce is nearly obsolete in England.) No tolerance we show to undeserving rank and splendour;
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!
My boy, you may take it from me, That of all the afflictions accurst With which a man's saddled And hampered and addled,
Of all the ships upon the blue, No ship contained a better crew Than that of worthy CAPTAIN REECE, Commanding of THE MANTELPIECE.
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;
Gentle Alice Brown
It was a robber's daughter, and her name was ALICE BROWN, Her father was the terror of a small Italian town; Her mother was a foolish, weak, but amiable old thing; But it isn't of her parents that I'm going for to sing.
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!
No terms seemed too extravagant
Upon her to employ -
I used to mope, and sigh, and pant,
Just like a love-sick boy!