|Gilbert > Letters > Pygmalion
TO THE EDITOR OF THE OBSERVER.
SIR: Permit me to make a few observations in reply to your critic’s strictures on the preface to my comedy, "Pygmalion and Galatea."
I printed the piece "for private circulation only"—a fact conspicuously indicated on the wrapper and title page. I was under the impression that this intimation would have protected the preface from public comment.
In that preface I gave my reasons for believing that my unlucky comedy, "On Guard," is a better piece than its more fortunate successor "Pygmalion and Galatea." It would be preposterous on my part to suppose that such a "small beer chronicle" could have any interest for the public at large; but I think I am justified in believing that it has not been read with indifference by certain private and personal friends, who have for some years been good enough to interest themselves in the working of my dramatic brewery. It was for the information of such private and personal friends, and for their information alone, that the preface was written.
I have distributed only eighteen copies of the book with the preface, eight, as a matter of course, to those members of the Haymarket company, to whom I am mainly indebted for such success as the piece has achieved. The other ten I have given to personal friends. I have carefully extracted the preface from a dozen other copies which I have sent to a provincial manager, for purely business purposes.
On the strength—or rather, on the weakness—of its first night’s performance "On Guard" was unanimously condemned by the press. I cannot, therefore, be surprised to find that your critic is disposed to "sigh over, if not laugh at" my statement that I believe it to be a better piece than "Pygmalion and Galatea." At the same time I am entitled to my own opinion on the subject. The piece was rehearsed, in conjunction with two other pieces,in ten days, and during much of that time half the stage was occupied by carpenters, while the rehearsal, such as it was, took place on the other half. I had no opportunity whatever of judging of the effect of my piece, as a whole, until the night of performance; in point of fact, I was in the position of an artist, who, having to paint a large picture, is permitted to see only six square inches of his canvas at a time. On the first night the piece was practically a failure; during the last week of its very short run the piece was most favourably received by good "houses." Your critic says, "On the subject of the supreme importance of careful rehearsing we (that is to say, he and I) are on ‘all fours.’ Over and over again we have urged the necessity of greater care in this respect, and pointed out how bitterly authors and art suffer from the listlessness and carelessness—not to say ignorance—of many who take up a position as manager or manageress of a theatre," yet he is so inconsistent as to "sigh over or laugh at" my imbecility in attributing the failure of any piece to such a cause as insufficient rehearsing!
I am sorry that the accomplished gentleman to whom I am indebted for many notices couched in forms of eulogy, which I have not the presumption to believe that I deserve, should have made public my private opinion on the respective merits of two of my pieces, because that opinion, given without explanation, inevitably suggests the idea that I have been guilty of the intolerable vanity of supposing that the reasons that conduced to the success of one piece and to the failure of another have some special interest for the public at large; but I am quite sure that he published it in perfect good faith, and in ignorance of the extremely limited and purely personal character of the circulation that I intended for it.
7th February, 1872.
[Mr. W.S. Gilbert complains that the preface to the edition of Pygmalion and Galatea, printed "for private circulation only," has not been protected from public comment. The preface in question formed the subject of a eulogistic notice in the Birmingham Gazette of Friday, February 2d, and was again quoted in the Era, which was published on Saturday morning, February 3d. Our remarks, therefore, of the 4th February were based upon facts which had already been made public. We rejoice to find that when the play is printed for the public the preface in question will be omitted.]
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