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The magazine Fun was first published in 1861, with H. J. Byron as its editor, as a rival to Punch. Gilbert's first contribution to the magazine, which cannot now be identified, consisted of a three quarter column article and a half page wood block drawing. He continued to contribute verses and articles to Fun over the next ten years, illustrating them with his own wood block drawings. Examples of these may be found on the Archive pages relating to the Bab Ballads and his short stories.

Illustration for On Pantomimic Unities, published in Fun, 1864

Gilbert had no formal training as an artist, although from March 1868 to September 1871 he was a member of the Langham Sketching Club where he would have had the opportunity to draw from live models. But at the time of his first contribution to Fun, Gilbert knew enough to be able to draw in pencil or ink directly onto the prepared surface of a woodblock which, when engraved, would produce an image with heavy black and white contrasts so important for grotesque effects.

When fourty-four of the Bab Ballads were collected and published for the first time in book form in 1868, Gilbert apologised for the illustrations:

I have ventured to publish the illustrations with them because, while they are certainly quite as bad as the Ballads, I suppose they are not much worse. If, therefore, the Ballads are worthy of publication in a collected form, the little pictures would have a right to complain if they were omitted. I do not know that they would avail themselves of that right, but I should, nevertheless, have it on my conscience that I had been guilty of partiality. If, on the other hand, the Ballads should unfortunately be condemned as wholly unworthy of the dignity with which Mr. Hotten [the publisher] has invested them, they will have the satisfaction of feerling that they have companions in misfortune in the rather clumsy sketches that accompany them.

This was not just Gilbert being self-deprecating: he became more and more dissatified with the illustrations over the years and when the Bab Ballads were republished in 1897 combined with the 1892 collection of lyrics from the operas, Songs of a Savoyard, he provided numerous new drawings, writing in the preface that he had long felt that many of the original drawings erred gravely in the direction of unnecessary extravagance.

An original and revised illustration for General John.

'So did The Bab Ballads,' commented Max Beerbohm, reviewing the volume. 'That is why the first drawings were so exactly right for them. To make these drawings equally right, Mr. Gilbert ought to have rewritten the poems. I am grateful that his innate love of logic did not drive him to this double vandalism.'

The 1892 volume was also illustrated by Gilbert, and these illustrations may be of use to performing societies wishing to illustrate programmes or design posters for their productions. HIgh resolution versions of these iluustrations may be found indexed under each opera:

Trial by Jury
The Sorcerer
H. M. S Pinafore
The Pirates of Penzance
Princess Ida
The Mikado
The Yeomen of the Guard
The Gondoliers
Utopia Limited*
The Grand Duke*

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