Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 8 November 1889
Issue 32851, pg. 10, col F


Gilbert v. Boosey


Sir,--I shall feel obliged if you will permit me to direct the attention of dramatic authors to the position in which they are placed by the decision of Lords Justices Cotton and Fry in the above case.

A recent decision of Mr. Justice Denman had the effect of permitting Messrs. Boosey and Co. to introduce into my version of Les Brigands certain songs and dialogue, invented, I am told, by an ex-music-hall singer, and against this decision I appealed. The remedy for which I applied was an interim injunction to prevent Messrs. Boosey from performing an altered or mutilated version of the piece unless my name was withdrawn from the play bill. One of the songs to which I took especial exception begins as follows:--

"We are a fine set of fellows, we are, we are,
But such are the workings of fate,
That whatever the work we are ordered to do,
We are always a minute too late.
But such are the workings of fate,
That some amorous swells come and collar our gals,
We have always been a minute too late.
So we cut and run, cut and run,
Finding the Carbineers is anything but fun;
But always at home in safety,
We mash the little dears, the little dears,
The slashing Carbineers."

Now I am not so unreasonable as to demand a considerable share of artistic respect for a mere adaptation of a French opéra bouffe, but in common honesty I think I am entitled to ask that I shall not be made to shine with the lustre of another man's intellect. No man is bound to have his fortune made for him against his will, and I believe I am justified in asking that a song which is not my song shall not be put forward on the public stage as my song, even though Lord Justice Cotton is not satisfied that there is anything in the substitution of their song which can in any way cast discredit on Mr. Gilbert or on his reputation, both dramatic and otherwise.

If a grocer buys a tin of Colman's mustard, and, having adulterated it with a mustard that is not Colman's, nevertheless sells it across the counter as Colman's, the majesty of the law is outraged, and the thunderbolts of the Courts of Chancery are not invoked in vain. This is a situation which the Courts of Chancery can grasp; it appeals to them as a mercantile outrage concerning which there can be no two opinions. The Courts of Chancery have invariably shown themselves hopelessly unable to apply this simple principle to works written for the stage. I have endeavoured throughout a career extending over a quarter of a century to keep my pieces free from the abominations that disfigure so many stage plays of the lighter class, and it is surely unjust that such reputation as I have acquired for good taste and discretion should by the decision of Lords Justices Cotton and Fry be placed absolutely at the mercy of an ex-music-hall singer.

I am your obedient servant,

Savoy Theatre, Nov. 7.
W.S. GILBERT
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