Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 4 December 1873
Issue 27864, pg. 10 col B


Mr. Gilbert and the Pall Mall Gazette


Sir,--I have no desire to encumber your columns with a discussion of the question still at issue between the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and myself. But I desire to protest, with all the emphasis at my command, against his gratuitous assumption that the action and interest of The Wicked World depend upon the operation of carnal love on the minds of innocent women. This audacious statement affects the purity of the extracts that follow, as a drop of deadly poison affects a glass of innocent water. He explains that it is permissible to say "carnal love" because that is the author's own description. I repudiate this description altogether. It is not mine, and it is most unfair to put it into my mouth.

The nature of the love referred to is expressly described, over and over again, as "mortal love"--mortal love in all its varying phases of good and evil. Allow me to quote a passage from the play which describes minutely the nature of the love I intended to depict, and which appears to have escaped the critical scrutiny of the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette:--

"With all their misery, with all their sin,
With all the elements of wretchedness
That teem on that unholy world of theirs
They have one great and ever-glorious gift,
That compensates for all they have to bear--
The gift of Love! Not as we use the word,
To signify mere tranquil brotherhood;
But in some sense that is unknown to us.
Their love bears like relation to our own
That the fierce beauty of the noonday sun
Bears to the calm of a soft summer's eve.
It nerves the wearied mortal with hot life,
And bathes his soul in hazy happiness.
The richest man is poor who hath it not,
And he who hath it laughs at poverty.
It hath no conqueror. When Death himself
Has worked his very worst, this love of theirs
Lives still upon the loved one's memory.
It is a strange enchantment, which invests
The most unlovely things with loveliness.
The maiden, fascinated by this spell,
Sees everything as she would have it be:
Her squalid cot becomes a princely home;
Its stunted shrubs are groves of stately elms;
The weedy brook that trickles past her door
Is a broad river fringed with drooping trees;
And of all marvels the most marvellous,
The coarse unholy man who rules her love
Is a bright being--pure as we are pure;
Wise in his folly--blameless in his sin;
The incarnation of a perfect soul,--
A great and ever-glorious demi-god!"

I appeal to your readers whether, in the face of this extract, it is fair to assume that I am referring to carnal love in the gross and sensual interpretation of the term?

The pure character of this "love" is still more clearly indicated in the scene between Selene and Ethais in which Ethais--a misogynist--complains that woman's love is not to de depended upon:--

SEL. (l.c.)     But these are earthly maidens, Ethais--
My love is purer than a mortal's love.
ETH.     Thine is no mortal love if it be pure.
SEL. (horrified).     Then, mortal Ethais, what love is thine?
ETH. (taken aback).     I spake of women--men are otherwise.
SEL.     Man's love is pure, invariably?
ETH.               Pure?
          Pure as thine own!
SEL.          Poor, trusting, cheating souls!

I will trouble you with no more extracts. It appears to me that the question whether the "love" I intended to depict was or was not "carnal love" in the coarse and objectionable sense of the term is the very question that the jury had to try. If it had seemed to them that I had intended to depict the demoralizing operation of "carnal love" upon the minds of perfectly innocent women, they could not possibly have held that the play was innocent. A play founded on so disgusting a motive would have horrified Mrs. Aphra Behn.

The joke put into Lutin's mouth at the end of the prologue, and which is quoted to show that the "love" I refer to is nothing more or less than lust of the grossest kind, was (as I have since ascertained) placed by the late Mr. Charles Dickens in the mouth of Lavinia Wilfer in the fourth chapter of the second volume of Our Mutual Friend. Mrs. Wilfer, addressing her daughter, says, "Pray do you know what would have become of you if I had not bestowed my hand upon R.W., your father, on this day?" "No, Ma," replied Lavvy, "I really do not; and, with the greatest respect for your abilities and information, I very much doubt if you do either."

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Junior-Carlton Club, Dec. 3.

W.S. GILBERT

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