Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Responses to Climbing Over

1.2.1 A possible explanation for LC/MD
1.2.2 The Gilbert letter a forgery?
1.2.3 The License Copy
1.2.4 Searle's Book

Michael Walters wrote: In congratulating Marc for his magnificent discourse on "Climbing over". I do want to say that I hope a version will be published in a journal, so that it may be read by those who are not on the net. Andrew Crowther added: I have nothing to add to Marc's masterly analysis of the arguments about "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain", except that I want Gilbert's version of events to be true, no matter what the mere facts say....Little thrills always go down my spine when I listen to this Chorus, at least partly because I know it's one of the few fragments of that most tantalising of lost works. It makes one realise how precarious historical continuity is, and how lucky we are that this Chorus has survived. And, strangely enough, the Chorus itself reminds us of this theme of transience: "Though the moments quickly die,/Greet them gaily as they fly!"

1.2.1 A possible explanation for LC/MD

Jeff DeMarco commented: Marc makes good points - here's a thought that might counter some of them. Perhaps Original Intent called for using the libretto of CORM, but Sullivan had composed new music for it, left behind with his act I sketches. When he came to attempting to recreate this in NY, it is conceivable that the two versions were clashing in his head, and he found it easier to simply insert the prior setting from the Thespis score. None of this is evidence, but a possible (if unlikely) explanation of the LC/MD evidence.

Marc Shepherd replied: This has never struck me as particularly likely because of Dan Kravetz's argument: CORM is such a brilliant number, it's almost inconceivable that Sullivan could have had another, better, setting in mind. Also, this explanation is at odds with Gilbert's letter, which says that the words AND the music were lifted when S. found he had left his sketches behind. Since G's letter is at the cornerstone of Happy Accident, it would be odd to accept an explanation that depends on the letter being partially false.

1.2.2 The Gilbert letter a forgery?

Don Smith wrote: Marc Shepherd has done an incredible job in his history of the transfer of "Climbing Over" from Thespis into Pirates . He is to be congratulated for his wonderful essay. (Tom Shepard agreed here: Yes he has. And I am truly grateful for it. Thanks, Marc.)

Don Smith continued: There is only one point which merits further discussion (at least from me): That is the 'Gilbert' letter to Percy de Strzelecki, which Marc quotes in full. The only person who saw the 'original' was Townley Searle. The copy cited by Mr. Swartwout in his introduction was obviously a hand-written copy (photocopying did not exist.) I have seen quite a number of uncomplimentary references (in print) describing Townley Searle as a "rogue" and "scoundrel."


One old-time English book dealer has written that he would never buy letters from Searle because he had been burned several times. Without the evidence of the Searle letter, the "Happy Accident" story would appear to have no foundation at all. Michael Walters replied: That is EXACTLY the point I made when this matter came up a couple of years ago, but nobody took any notice!!!

Bruce Miller observed: Marc's comprehensive and well thought out essay represents my position reasonably well, but while I agree that the evidence is indeed mixed, I am not prepared to accede to the leap he has made in fully embracing what he describes as the "original intent" theory. One can only say at this point that a case can be made for either position, and one can argue as to which is more or less likely. But the truth of these matters can sometimes be the less than most obvious solution, and twists of fate do play their part. I suppose my position is very much as Marc has stated it; I am unprepared to accept any version as fact until it is so demonstrated, and until that point we are bound to accept the assertions made by the principals involved until these are conclusively disproved. However, if Don Smith's hunch is correct (that the famous Gilbert letter of 1902 is a fraud, concocted post mortem by a scoundrel), then the situation is completely different and all bets are off.

1.2.3 The License Copy

Bruce Miller wrote: The entire matter seems to revolve about the license copy when it was written, in what country, and how it came to be submitted officially. Until we have more substantial information about these questions, Marc does not have his smoking gun. The fact that it contains "both" the original, discarded entrance and the CORM words suggests more questions than it answers. There is certainly no reason to find it unusual or weird that the LC would have been sent off to England earlier and separately from the Paignton materials; the answer perhaps lies in the D'Oyly Carte archives, in some as yet unexamined correspondence.

And despite the fact that LC and the Morgan Library libretto have been given some attention, neither has been subject to a full scholarly analysis, either singly or in comparison with each other. Before this is done, we can accept only what has been reported, which is to this point fragmentary.

As to the cannibalization of the Thespis score, and the implications this may or may not have had, let us recall that this was a copyist's score, not Sullivan's autograph. No one knows what has become of the latter, but we do know that on the documented occasions Sullivan lifted actual pages from the score for use elsewhere (CORM and the recently discovered ballet music), it was from this copyist's score and not the autograph.

My mind is open, as Marc has suggested. The more we delve into this enigma there are new questions. I had not heard the authenticity of Gilbert's letter challenged previously, for example. But to date there are too many gaps in our knowledge to be able to state with certainty that G & S made the decision to include the CORM movement into Pirates prior to leaving for America. There is some circumstantial evidence, but not enough to nail the case shut. As in the Perola vs. Periola debate, what seems as if it "should" have been is not necessarily what it actually "was." Things are seldom what they seem...but Marc has certainly done a great job with his hypothesis based on the facts we "do" have.

1.2.4 Searle's Book

Peter Withey wrote: Page 1 of Townley Searle's book starts:

CAUTION TO AMERICAN Pirates .The Copyright of the Dialogue and Music of this piece, for the United States and Canada, has been assigned to Mr FIELD, of the Boston Museum, by agreement, dated 7th December, 1871.

Note printed in Thespis, the first Gilbert & Sullivan Opera. The last paragraph:

The above was written by way of a preface to the limited edition, issued privately by the author a few months back. The edition was limited to 5 copies on Japan vellum at 100 guineas, 25 copies at 10 guineas and 270 copies at 3 guineas, with decorations in gold and colours. Of these, a very few copies remain for sale, and enquiries may be addressed to the publishers.

The Publishers were Alexander-Ouseley Ltd. London. Sorry, I can not help with the full address, but if you can find it, they may still have a few copies left :-))) The normal edition was priced at 5 shillings (25 pence). For those who may not know, a guinea was 21 Shillings sterling, or 1 pound and 5 pence in today's money. I wonder what the price would be today? Good hunting!

Marc Shepherd replied: I have seen copies of the Searle book -I believe one of the 270 "low-priced" copies. They are individually numbered, like lithographs. A copy in good condition sells for about $150-200, I believe. I wonder who bought the copies on Japan vellum at 100 guineas? In today's money, that's an "extraordinary" price to pay for a very ordinary book. And Michael Walters commented: Perhaps these were also a figment of Searle's imagination, or a purely selling gimmick?

David Duffey replied: I have a copy of the 1931 edition. I see that I bought it on 27 November 1964 (I had the bad habit then of signing and dating books when I purchased them). I have always thought that the final paragraph was a joke or at least the 100 and 25 guinea part of it. I cannot now remember the price I paid, which indicates that it was not very expensive. When I bought Rollins and Witts in 1962 for 35 shillings it was major expenditure in today's currency that was £1.75 from a weekly wage of £8.50 (after tax).


Page created 28 April 1998