Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 13 October 1880
Issue 30011, pg. 11 col G


To the Editor of the Times


Sir,--Of the merit of the dispute between Miss Ward and Mr. Merivale I have no certain knowledge, but as Miss Ward has referred to me as an author who would probably sanction a managerial alteration in his play, provided that such alteration has been "approved by Press and public," a very vague expression--I must be permitted to assure Miss Ward, with every respect for her remarkable ability as an actress, that under no circumstances would I sanction any alteration in the text of a play of mine, whatever the effect of that alteration might be, unless it had been previously submitted to me for my approval. No man is bound to have his fortune made for him against his will.

A manager producing a play in which he has a limited interest is in the position of a publisher who has purchased the right to print and sell one or more editions of a novel. No such publisher, however experienced he might be, would be permitted to suppress a chapter on the ground of its supposed unimportance. The fact that when the publisher's interest in the work had expired, the author would be able "to congratulate himself that the chapter he deemed so important will be quite fresh and ready for use" (I adapt Miss Ward's words) would not be held by a Court of Equity to exonerate the publisher from all liability on the score of his suppression.

In the case of Forget-me-Not it would seem that the play had achieved a most exceptional success before it occurred to Miss Ward to make the suppression of which Mr. Merivale complains.

As evidence that I am not eccentric among dramatic authors in my view of an author's privileges, I may mention that the Dramatic Authors' Society have within the last few months passed a rule by which all members of that society are required to make their agreements with managers on one of the society's forms. These forms contain a clause to the effect that any departure from the author's text without the author's sanction shall be deemed to be a violation of contract. But as a matter of fact I have invariably found that London managers are disposed to extend the utmost courtesy to the authors who write for their theatres.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

London, Oct. 12.

W.S. GILBERT

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