A Dialogue Between Father and Son

FATHER

MY son, throw an armful of wood on that fire; then bring up a chair and let’s have a good talk. There ’s nothing so good for a man as the give and take of conversation. I hate a man who wants to do all the talking himself. I was trained to be a good listener; your mother saw to that.

SON

Have you — ?

FATHER

I have, my son. There is tobacco in the jar over there; in those boxes are cigars; and if you must smoke cigarettes, that silver box is full of them — or was, unless your sister has smoked them all. It is positively dreadful the way girls smoke nowadays.

SON

But, father, —

FATHER

I am as free from prejudices as my friend Dr. Johnson, who once remarked, ‘I am a man of the world and take in some degree the color of the world as it moves along’; but —

SON

Father! you are not —

FATHER

No, my son, I am not going to talk about Dr. Johnson, or Boswell either, although it was the most remarkable partnership the world has ever seen, except one which was even more wonderful — that of Gilbert and Sullivan. You have heard me speak of them?

SON

Often, father. You —

FATHER

I remember when I was a boy away from home at school, — it’s forty, going on fifty years ago, — all the boys coming back to school after the Christmas holidays were singing songs that I never heard before. I remember one of them informing me that he was the ‘Monarch of the Sea.’ ‘What ’s that?

I asked. ‘Pinafore,’ he replied. Then another boy, who confided to me that he was called ‘Little Buttercup,’ when I asked him why, also replied, ‘That’s from Pinafore.’ While I was pondering the matter, another announced in a loud treble that he was the ‘Captain of the Pinafore’; and the problem was not simplified when someone replied, ‘And a right good captain, too.’

I hated to appear ignorant, but I had to know. ‘What’s the Pinafore?’ I inquired. Whereupon they turned from me in disgust, and someone said, ‘He’s from New Jersey and don’t know nothin’; why, the Pinafore is an opera; I saw it four times; it’s the most beautiful opera that ever was written — I heard my father tell my mother so.’ It appeared that I was the only boy that had not heard Pinafore, and I was much ashamed. My time came to hear it, at Easter, and like my companions, I heard it not once or twice but many times.

SON

How many times?

FATHER

I haven’t the least idea; all told, twenty, perhaps. You can’t imagine how this dainty little operetta swept over the land. There was no operatic copyright in those days, or the laws were defective, or something; anyhow, no royalties were paid, and opera companies were formed by the score. Pinafore was played in every city in the country, until finally one’s conversation got so cluttered up with bits of it that if a man chanced to say to another, ’I never smoke more than four cigars after dinner,’ he met with the rejoinder, ‘What, never?’ and replied, ‘Well, hardly ever’; then they both laughed as if they were great wits and much pleased with themselves.

SON

Was Pinafore the first —?

FATHER

No, Gilbert had written a number of successful plays, some of which are not quite forgotten; and Sullivan was famous as an organist and a composer of sacred music when he was asked to write the music for an operatic extravaganza, the book of which had been supplied by Gilbert; I have forgotten its name, it makes no difference. It was not a very great success, but it survived the critics, and when it was in due time followed by Pinafore, the world went mad. It was in the spring of 1878, that H. M. S. Pinafore was first produced in England; and it must have been in the following winter that it struck this country with the force of a cyclone.

SON

What does ‘H. M. S.’ mean?

FATHER

‘Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore.’ There never was anything like it. No church choir so mean as not to provide a tenor who for a moment sank his differences with the soprano so far as to sing to her, —

‘ Farewell, my own!
Light of my life, farewell!’

And every plump maiden in the land with a teaspoonful of voice felt that nature had especially endowed her for the part of ‘Buttercup,’ and was perpetually offering ‘scissors and watches and knives’ to all and sundry. Men felt an urge for a dramatic and musical career, which was hard to resist when the sailors struck up the robust chorus: —

‘We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We ’re sober men, and true,
And attentive to our duty.’

And when the sisters and the cousins and the aunts came dancing on, everybody was glad to be on board, as a little flirting seemed in prospect.

SON

But there had been comic operas before?

FATHER

Lots of them, but they were different. Not since Gay fitted the words of The Beggar’s Opera to any music he could find, had there been such a success.

SON

How about the French and the Viennese?

FATHER

Well, you see, originally the words of those operettas were risqué rather than clever; and when they were translated into English, they were merely stupid. Now Gilbert was a poet, and he had an advantage over most poets in that he had ideas and was a most painstaking workman; he made himself a master of the technicalities of his craft: rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration.

SON

And Sullivan?

FATHER

Sullivan was the son of an Irishman who was a professional musician. At twelve years of age he knew something of all the instruments in his father’s band; at thirty he was an accomplished composer. When he wanted to secure a certain effect, he knew just how to go about it. Gilbert’s words and Sullivan’s orchestration fit together so perfectly that, to one who has heard the operas, the words suggest the music, and the music the words. Sullivan’s mother had Italian blood in her.

SON

That accounts for much.

FATHER

It does, my son: that’s the stock that produced the most talented musician that England has ever had.

SON

You rank them high.

FATHER

With the immortals — both of them. They were so great that they have not yet fully come into their own. The world is slow to realize that a great comic poet is quite as rare a phenomenon as a great tragic one — and much more useful.

SON

How useful?

FATHER

Why, my boy, the lives of most of us are hideously commonplace; anything that makes us forget how stupid we are, anything that lifts us up and makes us merry, is useful. Gilbert may be remembered when A. Tennyson and R. Browning are forgotten. Too many people believe that the only stuff that survives is that which gives us furiously to think, as someone has said. Falstaff is a greater creation than Hamlet. And a poet who has his verses set to music is doubly blest: they are assured of a long life. Who was it who said, ‘If I can write the songs of a nation, I care not who writes its laws’?

SON

I don’t know.

FATHER

Neither do I. We were talking of Pinafore.

SON

Do you think a New York audience would stand for it to-day?

FATHER

Stand for it! Why, my boy, about ten years ago, — maybe it’s fifteen, time passes so quickly, — they gave a production of Pinafore at the Hippodrome, which for bulk and magnificence surpassed anything ever done in London. I ’m not quite sure that a good deal of Gilbert’s wit was n’t lost in the immensity of the building; but the stage pictures and the choruses were superb. The ship which was the glory of the Queen’s Navee looked like a real battleship. It was anchored in real water, and Buttercup was rowed to it in a real rowboat. When Sir Joseph Porter came on board, in all his magnificence, my bosom so heaved with pride that it was all I could do not to ‘join up with the Navy and see the world,’ as the advertisements tell us to do.

SON

Sir Joseph Porter, he’s the great character, is n’t he?

FATHER

Well, I should n’t say that; he has two capital songs to sing. Let me sing one of ’em for you.

SON

If it’s all the same to you, just tell me about it.

FATHER

All right, listen:

When I was a lad, I served a term
As office boy to an attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!

SON

Why, it’s Josephus Daniels to the life!

FATHER

Sure it is. We get lots of our ideas about government from comic operas, and then take ourselves as seriously as Sitting Bull. The English, on the other hand, don’t hesitate to poke fun at themselves. For centuries Englishmen have been taught to believe that upon the invincibility of their navy Britain’s greatness depends; yet when Sir Joseph Porter, a mere martinet, tells us, in a comic song of many verses, how and by what means he has risen to the control of this great weapon, they positively laugh their heads off. But if anyone in Philadelphia ventures to observe that our streets are unspeakably filthy, our Mayor stops having his photograph taken, and begins talking about what Dr. Johnson said was the last refuge of a scoundrel. It’s a case of the shoe pinching I suppose.

SON

I suppose Buttercup —

FATHER

I have a theory about Buttercup. I don’t think she was originally intended by Gilbert to be attractive. He designed her, I think, to be a fat, disgusting old bumboat woman, a sort of operatic Sarah Gamp, ‘who practised baby-farming when she was young and charming,’ many years before the story begins. I know that Gilbert refers to her as ‘the rosiest, the roundest, and the reddest beauty in all Spithead’; but Gilbert had a pretty taste for paradox, and did n’t always say what he meant or mean what he said. I think the original Buttercup, the girl who created the part, as the saying is, preferred to be young and charming in the present rather than in the past, and got away with it: anyhow, Buttercup has always been a peachy-looking person, the sort of person who at a church fair makes you remember the price when the article is forgotten.

SON

You know the opera by heart?

FATHER

I know the Pinafore from stem to stern, and am on speaking terms with almost every member of her crew. The Pirates of Penzance, the next success, I don’t know as well; I have n’t heard it for years, but it is from it that we get the music that we sing to our national anthem: —

Hail, hail the gang ‘s all here,
What the hell do we care.

It must be magnificent to hear it sung by our statesmen in Washington (‘all available male voices without orchestra’) just after passing some particularly iniquitous piece of legislation, such as the recent tariff bill.

SON

Why iniquitous?

FATHER

Silly would be a better word. Europe owes us ten billions or so. Say it slowly, and it makes your head swim. It is payable in gold: we have the gold. Europe says, ‘Take merchandise.’ ‘No,’ we reply, in effect, ‘we want gold,’ knowing perfectly well that it is impossible for Europe to send it, and that it would be unwise for us to take it if we could get it.

SON

Don’t the Secretary of the Treasury know this?

FATHER

Sure, but the Secretary of the Treasury is up against an untrained mob playing politics.

SON

England seems to have plenty of money —

FATHER

Yes, and she knows how to use it. The war gave us a chance which, while we were telling the world how great we were, we let slip: all the time England was sawing wood and saying nothing. Anyone who had said two years ago that she could put her dollar exchange where it now is, and keep it there, would have been told that he was crazy.

SON

They are a wonderful people.

FATHER

They are, my son. While we were talking about making the world safe for democracy, they were making it safe for themselves.

SON

How about Patience?

FATHER

Patience is lovely! I adore it. A few years ago, going in town on the train, I picked up my copy of the New York Sun and read something to this effect : ‘Any of our readers capable of appreciating the witty rhymes of the late W. S. Gilbert will do well not to lose the opportunity of hearing De Wolf Hopper in Patience. His reading of the well-known verses, “Am I alone and unobserved?” is so inimitable, that we venture to say that never before has this recitative been given with such exquisite humor.’

SON

You felt personally addressed, I suppose?

FATHER

I did, my son, I went right on: I only stopped in Philadelphia long enough to telegraph home, ‘Called to New York on important business,’ and buy a railway ticket. When the curtain went up, I was prepared for unalloyed delight; and when the Colonel, in his gorgeous uniform, left the stage, and Bunthorne, in great dejection at being outshone, first making sure that he was alone, began his famous lines, I knew that I was having it.

Am I alone,
And unobserved? I am!
Then let me own
I ’m an æsthetic sham!
This air severe
Is but a mere Veneer
This cynic smile
Is but a wile Of guile!
This costume chaste
Is but good taste
Misplaced!
Let me confess!
A languid love for lilies does not blight me!
Lank limbs and haggard cheeks do not delight me!
I do not care for dirty greens
By any means.
I do not long for all one sees
That’s Japanese.
I am not fond of uttering platitudes
In stained-glass attitudes.
In short, my mediævalism’s affectation,
Born of a morbid love of admiration!

SON

It ’s too deep for me; what’s it all about?

FATHER

Long before you were born, the whole English-speaking world, led by Oscar Wilde, became æsthetic.

SON

Became what?

FATHER

Æsthetic: that is to say, it had a yearning for an inward and spiritual grace, of which the outward and visible sign was the lily and the sunflower. A single peacock’s feather in a blue vase suggested that one’s mind was in harmony with one’s surroundings. The craze lent itself admirably to Gilbert’s peculiar humor. Listen to one of the best songs that Gilbert ever wrote or Sullivan ever set to music:

If you’re anxious for to shine, in the high æsthetic line, as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant them everywhere.
You must lie among the daisies, and discourse in subtle phrases, of your complicated state of mind;
The meaning does n’t matter, if it’s only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.
And every one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!

I wish you would let me sing it.

SON

Calm yourself, my dear father; be content with reciting it.

FATHER

Listen to this bit: —

Oh, to be wafted away
From this black Aceldama of sorrow,
Where the dust of an earthly to-day
Is the earth of a dusty to-morrow!

SON

Which means what?

FATHER

That ’s exactly the question that Patience, the milkmaid, asked, and was told that it was poetry, that it came from the heart — ‘Heart Foam,’he called it.

SON

Just chaff, in other words.

FATHER

Exactly; mere fooling. A good deal of poetry is like that. Next to me sat a lady, a widow I should say, of mature years, with a young man evidently her son. ‘This carries me back to the early eighties,’ I heard her whisper to him as the curtain fell on the first act; and as I was beating my hands to a pulp in applause, I heard the young man say to his mother, witheringly, ‘And you enjoy this sort of thing! I call it punk.’ I could not restrain myself: turning to the lady, I said, ‘Pay no attention to your son, madam; he does n’t know any better; I have one just like him at home: address your remarks to me. Was there ever such a rhymer as Gilbert or such music as Sullivan’s?

The dash of a d’Orsay, divested of quackery —
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackeray —
Victor Emmanuel — peak-haunting Peveril —
Thomas Aquinas, and Doctor Sacheverell.

‘Isn’t it wonderful! I don’t know who invented the patter song, but no one but Gilbert knew how to use it; and the cleverer Gilbert’s words are, the more delightful is Sullivan’s music.’ We had a fine time catching one another up on our favorite lines from this opera and from that; and by the time the curtain went up on the second act, it would n’t have made any difference to either of us if that unresponsive son had gone home.

SON

We ’ve got the music of those operas somewhere, but the words are published in book form, I suppose?

FATHER (Pointing)

Do you see those three pea-green volumes over there on the second shelf from the top?

SON (Going over to a bookcase)

These?

FATHER

Yes, that is the only presentation copy of Gilbert I have ever seen. Evidently, he gave very few books away. Those volumes were given to Captain Shaw, Chief of the London Fire Brigade. In the first volume is an inscription in Gilbert’s hand from Iolanthe:

O Captain Shaw!
Type of true love kept under!
Could thy brigade
With cold cascade
Quench my great love, I wonder?

Captain Shaw, I am told, was in the audience on the first night of Iolanthe, and was greatly embarrassed at this reference to himself. And there is an inscript ion in each of the other volumes.

SON

Very nice.

FATHER

You may be sure it is. The fact is that you have never, well, ’hardly ever,’ heard a really good operetta. It is so much easier to be stupid than witty; and as for music, why there ’s enough good music in The Mikado to make a dozen Broadway successes. Take any recent operetta and you ’ll find two tunes, or three at most, and not very good ones, interwoven into the piece over and over again. The men who are writing to-day have neither imagination nor training; Sullivan, if his reputation as a composer of light operas had n’t overshadowed his other accomplishments, would nevertheless have been a very respectable figure in the musical world.

SON

Which was the greater? Gilbert or

FATHER

You might as well ask which is the more important, food or drink? Gilbert wrote the book and turned it over to Sullivan, who wrote the music. He fitted the music to the words so perfectly that, clever as they are, without the melodies we associate with them they seem rather forced and unconvincing. Try the music on the piano; the result is the same: lovely, but lacking something. Put ’em together; it ’s a sort of wedding. Whom God hath joined let no man put asunder. The fact is that, when after years of coöperation there was a falling out between the two men, neither accomplished anything.

SON

Did they quarrel?

FATHER

Yes, and over nothing: a strip of carpet, I believe. There was a third man in the great partnership, D’Oyly Carte, almost an equal genius. He bought a bit of carpet, which Gilbert thought was an unnecessary expense; Sullivan sided with Carte, and the fat was in the fire. Carte was the producer, a stage manager raised to the nth power. No detail was so insignificant as not to receive his attention. He was a tremendous worker — every act, every scene, as finally given, was the result of the most careful study. The world hardly realizes how much of our stagecraft is due to D’Oyly Carte. No stage had ever been lit with electric light until he first used it, in 1881, in Patience, at the Savoy Theatre. It was a great experiment, and ‘if it works,’ Carte said in his announcement, ‘it will enable us to secure effects hitherto impossible.’ I wish he could see upper Broadway to-night.

SON

It’s a gay white way all right. I never heard of — what’s his name, D’Oyly Carte?

FATHER

He was the greatest theatrical manager of his day who was not an actor. I don’t suppose there ever was such an actor-manager as Irving. The only survivor of the famous group is Rupert D’Oyly Carte; he it is who now produces the operas in England, and he is every whit as particular as his father, He was very nice to me the last time I was in London, and gave me photographs of all three of the great men.

SON

They must have had lots of fun together.

FATHER

Yes, and they worked like the very devil. All three men were autocrats as well as geniuses. ‘You are not in the picture,’ D’Oyly Carte would shout at a rehearsal to someone who sought to obtrude himself somewhat. ‘ My music, if you please,’ Sullivan would suggest to some tenor singing off key. And woe betide the poor wretch who dared to inject a little wit of his own: ‘his doom was extremely hard’; for Gilbert was ‘techy’ to the last degree. ‘Do you think you can improve upon my humor?’ and there was never an answer.

SON

I suppose The Mikado —

FATHER

You are quite right. In England The Gondoliers has always been extremely popular; but The Mikado is, in the world’s judgment, the highwater mark of their achievement. You see, its humor is not as subtle as Gilbert’s humor sometimes is—as it is in Patience, for example. The music of The Mikado is marvelous, the stage pictures were novel and beautiful, and nothing could be more witty than Gilbert’s verses. Of course they can’t be translated, but they try to nevertheless.

SON

Have you —?

FATHER

Yes, once: in Germany. All my life I have been told how superbly they gave opera there. ‘It makes no difference where you go or what you see, it will be magnificent; such orchestras, such ensembles! ’ Well, some years ago, I found myself in Dresden. We had arrived late, and after securing a room at the Bellevue, I inquired of a man in superb uniform if he could get me two good seats for the operg. He said it would be difficult, but he would try. I told him to try hard, and I helped him to. After a dinner, quickly eaten, I got my tickets and hurried off to the Opera House, arriving just in time. Making my way over the ample feet of people who declined to move an inch, I was amazed to hear three raps of a baton, and the orchestra began the overture of The Mikado, of all things in the world: The Mikado with the humor left out. It was a conscientious German performance: the orchestra of eighty or a hundred pieces played for dear life; not a fly-speck but they played it. The stage was vast. ‘Die kleine Fraulein Yum Yum ’ was a young giantess usually cast for Brunhilde parts. The piece, usually so exquisite and dainty and full of fun, was oversung and underacted.

I felt as unhappy as I did when I once heard Walkürie in Rome.

SON

London has spoiled you for —

FATHER

London has spoiled me for many things; but I have heard good performances of Gilbert and Sullivan out of London. I heard the first performance of The Mikado given in Philadelphia, and I remember the pretty girl I took with me.

SON

She ’s a grandmother now, I presume.

FATHER

She is; but do not refer to it. I am a grandfather. It is not so appalling to be a grandfather as to be married to a grandmother. We were speaking of The Mikado. I had end seats on the right-hand side of the front row of the balcony; they were the most expensive seats I had ever bought up to that time; and I remember that I took my girl home in a coupé. Most people used street-cars in those days, drawn by horses, the floors of which, in winter, were covered with what had once been nice clean straw, strewn knee-deep, but which soon became matted down and wet and filthy; and when the streets got blocked with snow, the cars were constantly getting off the tracks. It seems only yesterday.

SON

Who was the girl?

FATHER

Never mind, my son. You don’t see such girls nowadays; they don’t make ’em any longer. All through the performance I thought of taking that girl home in the coupé. You never saw Mrs. John Drew in a play called Engaged — also by Gilbert, by the way? No, of course you did n’t — she was John Drew’s mother. Well, there is a scene in that play which came to my mind. A man and a girl get into a cab and drive off from a country inn, leaving the host to remark meditatively, as the vehicle disappears down the road, ‘He’s got his arm around her waist — if I know anything of human nature — in a cab.’

SON

No wonder you like The Mikado.

FATHER

The last time I heard it was a few months ago, in England. We landed at Plymouth, and went at once to Exeter, where we put up at that charming oldworld hotel, the Clarence. Driving to the hotel, I saw posters announcing a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan; and before I asked for my room, I inquired if the company was still there. ‘No, last night was the last night,’ I was told. Where had the company gone? The divinity that worked the beer-pump ‘did n’t know but would inquire.’ Either to Bournemouth or to Westonsuper-Mare, I was later informed, which is like saying, either to Newport or to Coney Island. After dinner, I walked around to the little provincial theatre, and there learned, to my disgust, that the company had gone to Westonsuper-Mare for a week. ‘Very well,’ I said to myself, ‘we will go to Weston.’

SON

You don’t speak of Weston with enthusiasm.

FATHER

A middle-class English wateringplace is pretty dreadful, and it is n’t on the sea; it ’s on the Bristol Channel; and when the tide is out, it is n’t even on that. On our arrival, we got a room at the best hotel on the esplanade. ‘Where is the Mare?’ your mother inquired, as she looked out upon an illimitable expanse of mud, upon which young Britons were disporting themselves, seemingly by millions. You never saw so many or such sturdy youngsters. And far off in the distance was a streak of water — the Bristol Channel. ‘ If the opera is very good, we can stand it for three days,’ I said to myself; and the opera was. The Gondoliers packed the house to the doors. I had last seen it thirty-odd years before, with my friend Francis Wilson, the inimitable, as the Duke of PlazaToro, who

In enterise of martial kind,
When there was any fighting,
He led his regiment from behind —
He found it less exciting.
But when away his regiment ran,
His place was at the fore, O—
That celebrated.
Cultivated,
Underrated
Nobleman,
The Duke of Plaza-Toro! —

and much more besides. How it carried me back! It had never been a success in America; even I, enthusiast as I am, had never cared much for it; but it is enormously popular in England, where it ranks with The Mikado and The Yeoman of the Guard, which we heard the next day.

SON

Did n’t you hear that in New York a few seasons ago?

FATHER

No, that was Ruddigore. We went over to New York two or three times purposely to hear it. It was a very ambitious revival and very successful.

SON

Tell me about The Mikado.

FATHER

Don’t rush me, my boy; I don’t often get a chance like this. We were speaking of The Yeoman of the Guard. I had n’t seen it for years, and had forgotten how lovely it is. The curtain goes up, revealing that little square plot of ground, Tower Green, on which so much of England’s best blood has been shed. In the background is the gloomy old Tower of London. The scene is laid in the time of Henry the Eighth; and when the Beefeaters and the rest of the chorus crowd the stage, it makes about as pretty a historical picture as I have ever seen. There is humor in The Yeoman, but there is pathos, too. You have had examples of Gilbert at play with words. Listen to him in serious mood:

Is life a boon?
If so, it must befall
That Death, whene’er he call.
Must call too soon.
Though fourscore years he give,
Yet one would pray to live
Another moon!
What kind of plaint have I,
Who perish in July?
I might have had to die,
Perchance, in June!

SON

Obviously a song for the tenor —

FATHER

Yes, but you should hear the duet between Jack Point, the clown, and Elsie Maynard, his sweetheart. They are two wandering minstrels singing in the public streets, as they still do in London. Jack Point is a clown out of Shakespeare.

SON

I never thought much —

FATHER

I feared so; but you would think a lot of Jack Point if you could hear him sing, ‘I have a song to sing, O!’ It’s positively delicious. Then the Governor of the Tower comes along, and Jack asks him if he is not in need of a jester. ‘ What qualifications have you?’ says the Governor. Jack replies, ‘Marry, sir, I have a very pretty wit. I can rhyme you extempore; I can convulse you with quip and conundrum.’ ‘How came you to leave your last employ? ’ says the Governor. ‘ Why sir,’ says Jack, ‘it was in this wise. My Lord was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was considered that one of my jokes was unsuited to His Grace’s family circle. In truth, I ventured to ask a poor riddle, sir — wherein lay the difference between His Grace and poor Jack Point? His Grace was pleased to give it up, sir. And thereupon I told him that whereas His Grace was paid ten thousand pounds a year for being good, poor Jack Point was good — for nothing. ’T was but a harmless jest, but it offended His Grace, who whipped me and set me in the stocks for a scurril rogue, and so we parted.’

SON

How can you remember all that?

FATHER

That’s nothing. I have a memory for the unimportant; but I can’t be sure of my own telephone number. There’s some more; you see Gilbert could write clever prose as well as clever verse. It takes nerve for an author to say, ’Now I’m going to be witty, and get away with it. To return: ’I don’t think much of that,’ says the Governor; ‘is that the best you can do?’ ‘It is much admired, sir. But I will try again,’ says Jack. ‘Say that I sat me down hurriedly on something sharp?’ says the Governor. ‘Sir, I should say that you had sat down on the spur of the moment,’says Jack. ‘Suppose I caught you kissing the kitchen wench under my very nose?’ says the Governor. ’Under her very nose, good sir — not under yours! That is where I would kiss her. Do you take me, sir?’ says Jack. But for all this fooling, the play ends in gloom; for Elsie marries the handsome tenor, which is a habit pretty girls have on the stage, and Jack Point dies of a broken heart.

SON

Which is unusual in a comic opera.

FATHER

That brings up a very nice point. As originally written, Jack Point merely swoons away at Elsie Maynard’s feet, after kissing the edge of her garment; that is how it was played by Grossmith, who created the rôle. Well, years ago, Harry Lytton, the last of the great Savoyards, was playing the part in Bath. He, on his own, died on the stage. The stage-manager was furious, and telegraphed to London to D’Oyly Carte: ’Lytton impossible as Jack Point. What shall I do?’ Instantly Carte took train for Bath and, unknown to the company, witnessed the performance. After the last act he went behind the curtain, said that he had greatly enjoyed the performance, shook hands cordially with Lytton, and without another word returned to London. It was evident to all, although not a word had been said, that the great man was not displeased with the innovation, and so the part has been played that way ever since.

SON

What is your favorite?

FATHER

The last one I have heard; but the world says Mikado. It is comic and it is an opera — with talk; Gilbert at his very best, likewise Sullivan. It was the last opera we heard at Weston. Glory! how compact it is with fun and with music! It is a tour-de-force, both in words and music: Sullivan contrived to give a pseudo-Japanese character to a lot of his choruses; and the fact that some of the best of his duets and quartettes might have been sung in church did not interfere with their effectiveness when given by men and maidens in Japanese costume.

SON

Do the English —

FATHER

Certainly they do. Everyone knows his Gilbert and Sullivan as well as, or better than, I do.

SON

That’s going some.

FATHER

One day last summer John Burns and I had a day’s bookhunting together. We started from his house on Clapham Common shortly after breakfast one morning, and as we were tramping through Battersea Park a man passed us whistling The Mikado. ‘Do you know that song?’ I inquired. ‘Know it!' Burns replied, ‘of course I do, every word of it. I have played in it, he continued. ‘What part ?' I inquired. ‘The Mikado,’ he replied. Of course, with his deep bass voice, I might have known it. Instantly he began, —

‘A more humane Mikado never
Did in Japan exist,
To nobody second,
I’m certainly reckoned
A true philanthropist.
It is my very humane endeavour
To make, to some extent,
Each evil liver
A running river
Of harmless merriment.’

I waited impatiently for him to get through, when I struck up ‘A Wandering Minstrel’; then both of us began, ‘Taken from a County Jail,’and no one hearing us would have supposed that we were a pair of elderly bookcollectors out for a day’s sport.

Sox

Gilbert’s wit is pretty caustic —

FATHER

At times, yes. He created for our amusement a topsy-turvy world, but a world no more grotesque than that created in all seriousness by our political marionettes at Washington. The law against flirting, for example, —

Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered, or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded, —

is no more ridiculous than our law against the sale of intoxicants.

SON

Speaking of intoxicants, I met Bill Nye at the Club to-day and he told me to ask you if you wanted to buy any perfectly good Scotch; that he knew —

FATHER

If we are going to discuss buying whisky, come over here where the Chief of Police won’t hear us.

SON

Don’t bother about the Chief of Police: he has been fixed by the prohibition officer.

FATHER

Now, there you are! That illustrates just what I have been saying: our socalled prohibition is quite as absurd as anything created by Gilbert in his most whimsical moments. Infractions of the law against flirting in his comic kingdom on the stage were punished by decapitation; whereas we very gravely reward our lawbreakers with fortunes beyond the dreams of avarice. A prohibition officer allows it to become known that out of a salary of three thousand a year he expects to save a million. He can give points to PoohBah, and beat him at his own game. One feels that Pooh-Bah is fooling with stage money; but our officials are playing with the real thing.

SON

I should worry.

FATHER

Indeed, you should, my son, more than I, because it’s your world rather than mine that the politicians are making such a mess of under the guise of reform. Do you remember what kind of a stage they had in England when they reopened the theatres that had been closed under Cromwell?

No.

SON

FATHER

It was the worst ever.

SON

You were talking about —

FATHER

After The Mikado anything would have been an anticlimax; so early the next morning we got a fast train up to London.

SON

Where you felt, happy ?

FATHER

Yes. ‘My Old Lady London’ was in tears when we arrived; but I got my arm around her very considerable waist and gave her a hug, and she brightened up; and what is more, stayed that way.

SON

So you think Gilbert and Sullivan have come to stay ?

FATHER

Forever, I should say: as literature and as music. Centuries hence some gifted professor of English will be lecturing on the stage in the time of Victoria, and in his despair will temporarily adjourn his class while a piano is got in upon which to demonstrate the words of Gilbert with the music of Sullivan. Hazlitt attributed the great success of a revival in his time of The Beggar’s Opera (a revival of which, in our own time, recently had its thousandth performance in London) to the uniting of sense with sound. To these two things these men united another: namely, wit; and wit without nastiness is one of the rarest things in the world. Never before, not since, and maybe never again, will two such great artists work together in such perfect harmony for the amusement of the world. One of the marvels of Gilbert and Sullivan is that, throughout all the years of their alliance, there was never a word spoken that could not have been spoken in church, or a costume worn that would not pass almost, unnoticed in the streets to-day; that is to say, girls now reveal quite as much of themselves on the streets as they used to do on the stage. I don’t see any reason in morals why they should n’t display themselves for nothing on the streets quite as much as they do for money on the stage; but in my time it wasn’t done. I wonder what D’Oyly Carte would say to the indecency of the Frolics and Follies and Scandals of to-day?

SON

Did you ever see either of —

FATHER

I once saw Sullivan go through the motions of conducting the orchestra for a part of The Mikado. I was in the gallery of a very large theatre when the interesting event took place; and the back of his head, from where I sat, looked in no way remarkable. Actually he looked like a successful stockbroker. The distinguished-looking member of the trio was D’Oyly Carte. Gilbert I never saw.

SON

He must have had a host of friends.

FATHER

I think not. Sullivan was much more popular. Gilbert was always saying something that rankled. A good story was told me only the other day by Austin Gray. Gilbert’s next-door neighbor in the country was a Sir Thomas Day, of Day and Martin’s Jams and Pickles. Having acquired a title and got into society, Sir Thomas had become very aristocratic, and strongly disliked any reference being made to the way in which he had made his money. One day Gilbert’s dogs got into his coverts and killed a few partridges. Sir Thomas wrote haughtily to Gilbert, ordering him to keep his dogs in better order. Gilbert wrote back politely — ‘Dear Sir Thomas, I have just received your letter about the loss of your partridges, and I am taking steps to keep my dogs from trespassing on your preserves in the future. Yours sincerely, W. S. Gilbert. P. S. You will pardon the use of the word “preserves,” won’t you;

SON

Clever!

FATHER

Very. And there is another story, of Gilbert’s remark to Lady Tree on the night when her husband was playing Hamlet for the first time. After the curtain fell, Lady Tree went up to him and, expressing her pleasure at seeing him, asked him his opinion of the performance. ‘I would not have missed it for anything,’ was the reply; ‘it was funny without being vulgar.’

SON

That was a nasty one.

FATHER

So Lady Tree thought.

SON

Are they always playing Gilbert and Sullivan ?

FATHER

Somewhere, yes. In that vast Empire upon which the sun never sets, from morning till night, as Somerset Maugham wittily says, I have no doubt performances are constantly going on. At the present moment, there are two excellent companies playing in England; and there was an enormously successful revival in London a year ago; and I hear there is to be one in New York; the time is ripe for it. D’Oyly Carte, the son of his father, does not permit the slightest deviation from tradition. As the operas were given by their creators a generation ago, so are they given to-day, and so will they be given a generation hence.

SON

When did Gilbert die?

FATHER

Gilbert died as recently as 1911; Sullivan, with the turn of the century. His death was the occasion of a public funeral, and he was buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

SON

Are there any monuments to them?

FATHER

Yes. In the Embankment Gardens, not far from the scene of his great triumphs, there is a beautiful memorial to the man who set the whole world a-singing. It consists of a granite shaft surmounted with a bust of the composer; a bronze figure representing Grief clings to the pedestal, against which lies a broken lyre and a lute. It is one of the few successful allegorical pieces in modern London, and hardly requires the inscription, ‘Sir Arthur Sullivan,’ to make it known to the passer-by. And a few hundred yards east, near the unspeakably ugly Charing Cross railway bridge, is a huge plinth of granite forming a part of the Thames Embankment. Against this has been placed a bronze portrait in profile of ‘W. S. Gilbert, Playwright and Poet.’ Under the portrait are the words, ‘His foe was folly and his weapon wit.’ It is badly placed; it should have been nearer, to the memorial of Sullivan. That it serves to relieve the monotony of an otherwise dead granite wall is nothing to the point. But after all, what difference does it make how far apart their memorials are placed? Gilbert and Sullivan, an immortal partnership, will live eternally together in the heads and hearts of those who love merriment and melody.

SON (Yawning)

I think I ’ll call it a day.

FATHER

Good-night, my boy. I’ve been very much interested in listening to you. You’ve grown to be an excellent talker; you take after your mother — boys are very apt to.