You are here: Archive Home > Gilbert > Letters > The Happy Land
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Gilbert's Letters to the Press

"The Happy Land."  Daily Telegraph, March 7, 1873, p. 5.


SIR, - Will you permit me to defend my position as one of the authors of "The Happy Land?"  In your most tolerant notice of that piece you anticipate a part of our defence in the following paragraph:  "The authors will no doubt say, ‘You permit your free criticism in the newspapers, you sanction your magazine sketches, you tolerate your journalism comments, you never raise an objection when the composers of cartoons for the comic papers caricature public men every week—why then should you not permit the same licence on the stage?"  And you reply by declaring that the case does not run on all fours, because, in the newspapers, there is a right of appeal, on the stage none.

Now, permit me to ask you, Sir, how are Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Ayrton, and Mr. Lowe, to exercise this right of appeal against, let us say, the satire of a "Punch" cartoon?  Can you imagine Mr. Gladstone writing to the editor of "Punch" to protest against his being represented in the costume and character of a footman? or Mr. Ayrton, to protest against his appearing with all the attributes of a British beadle? or Mr. Lowe, to declare that he is not as white as he is painted?  If this right of appeal against the "Punch" cartoon exists, how is it to be exercised?  and if it can’t be exercised, what advantage is to be derived from its existence?  These gentlemen have a right to appeal (such as it is) at the Court Theatre.  They may come into the stalls and hiss.  But the imagination refuses to picture Messrs. Gladstone, Ayrton, and Lowe standing in front of a stationer’s window, and hissing a "Punch" cartoon.  Such an act would be wholly undignified.

The doings of public men, from the very highest to the very lowest, are, I suppose, open to public comment.  "Si licet, etc."  I will take my own case as a dramatist.  I write a piece, into which I pour the brain-sweat of many months.  It represents so much hard work—steady, honest, faithful, persistent brain work, executed in the face of, let us say, grave domestic trouble, heavy pecuniary embarrassments, serious illness, or, perhaps, all three.  Well, my piece is produced, and it fails because it is hopelessly dull.  Are the possible drawbacks under which I have labored taken into consideration by my critics?  No.  My piece is publicly hissed off the stage, and I am personally held up to the very bitterest ridicule in the columns of every newspaper in the kingdom.  I am treated—not as a well-meaning man who has done his best and failed, but as an abject imposter, who cannot be too universally "shown up."  Well, I don’t complain.  I have challenged criticism, and I must take the consequence.  I could say much that would disarm my critics, but I prefer to wrap myself in my mantle.  That is my position—as a very humble and utterly unworthy "public man."

The soundest objection to the conversion of the stage into a political arena is, I think, to be found in the fact that pieces produced to further political ends would, in many cases, excite riot and dissension among the audience.  That objection certainly does not hold good in the case of "The Happy Land," for the audiences have, at each representation, expressed the most enthusiastic and unqualified approval of the nonsense set before them.  We were careful to confine ourselves to topics concerning which there could scarcely be two opinions, and I think we were entitled to reap the benefits of our discretion. – I am, Sir, your obedient servant,


Royal Court Theatre, March 5.

P.S. -  I may explain that the expression "a regular bully," to which you call attention, is not to be found in the manuscript.

Archive Home | Gilbert | Letters

   Page modified 9 May 2013 Copyright 2013 © The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.