Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Responses to Climbing Over (Continued)

1.2.5 Gilbert's Letter Reconsidered
1.2.6 Thespis in Sorcerer?

1.2.5 Gilbert's Letter Reconsidered

Michael Walters wrote: I looked at Townley Searle's book again last night, something I have not actually done for a very long time. (For he record I paid £10 for my copy on 18 September 1991 at a sale of surplus books from the library of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at one of their London meetings. My copy is a 1931 printing, I didn't know it had been reprinted as Marc says. My copy is entitled "Sir William Schwenck Gilbert: A Topsy-Turvy Adventure", which is slightly different from that previously quoted). I am more uneasy than ever about the Gilbert letter of 1902.

Firstly, the stuff on page 1, part of which was quoted by Peter Withey, seems bosh, and must surely have been written tongue-in-cheek. Are we really supposed to believe that on 7 December 1871, Gilbert & Sullivan sought copyright protection for Thespis in the USA & Canada? And if they had, could a citizen living in Boston have been legally able to hold copyright for Canada as well as the USA? Then all the information about the "pirate" Henry Morgan, is surely far too good to be true, and must be a joke. Apart from the coincidence of the names, how could he have known about their book before it was published? No, no, I think all that is a big joke

Turning to the letter itself, there are several odd things here. Who was Percy de Strzelecki? Its a very odd name. Percy is English, de is French, and the rest sounds Polish. Do Polish surnames ever have French prefixes? Could it be an anagram? I'm no good at anagrams, but there are plenty of others on the net who are. Anyone like to have a go?

Next question. Who was R.E. Swartwout? It, too, sounds an unlikely name. Swartout, yes, but Swartwout? Normally, if an author gets an introduction written for his book, he gets somebody famous. But has anyone ever heard of Swartwout in any other context?

The letter was allegedly published because Mr. de Strzelecki gave his permission. Rubbish! He had no power to give permission. The only person who could was the copyright holder of Gilbert's unpublished manuscripts, presumably Lady Gilbert. Searle must have known that, and have been familiar with the copyright laws. There is no suggestion that the copyright holder's permission was sought, and therefore if the letter is genuine Searle would have been guilty of a serious infringement of copyright.

Lastly. Gilbert's letter was supposedly in reply to a copy of a letter which Mr. de Strzelecki had published in a paper called "The Clarion". It ought to be possible to prove whether this letter was in fact published. Was there ever a national paper called "The Clarion"? I have examined over 70 national newspapers in my researches into the first night press reports of the G&S operas, and I have never heard of it. This, of course, does not prove anything, it could have commenced publication after the period I was researching. And it might have been a local paper rather than a national one, but this seems unlikely, since the last paragraph of Gilbert's letter seems to imply that he had seen the letter in the newspaper itself, and that it was a paper he read. This then, raises another question. Did Gilbert ever write a reply that was published in the paper. It would indeed be very surprising if he did not, it would be the sort of thing he was usually quick to do. And if he did, it is very surprising that nobody noticed these published letters until Searle wrote his book.

Arthur Robinson replied: You've certainly provided additional reasons for being suspicious of Townley Searle. But not everything is a fabrication. The "notice to American pirates" in the 1871 printed libretto of Thespis is genuine--unless the copies I have seen in the Lilly Library of Indiana University are all forgeries. (I thought it pretty bizarre when I saw it, too--I'd never known G&S had given any thoughts to American pirates before we ripped off Pinafore.)

There WAS a Robert Egerton Swartwout, who wrote River and Other Verses (1927), The Monastic Craftsman (1932), The Boat Race Murder (1933), and It Might Have Happened (1934) (no, I'd never heard of him - I found this in the British Library Catalogue of Printed Books. He certainly doesn't seem to have been famous - he'd apparently only published a collection of poems by 1931 - but maybe Searle couldn't find anybody famous to introduce a book by someone as notorious as he was. (Or maybe Searle fabricated the British Library Catalogue of Printed Books!)

Bruce Miller added: The copyright situation was unsettled for many years; both G & S tried any number of times to get their work copyrighted in the USA by having them published by Americans, and even went to the trouble having American musicians arrange the piano-vocal scores for that purpose. This went on for years. My understanding of the Thespis matter was that it was Gilbert who instigated the warning, for the purpose of protecting his libretto (the vocal score was not published). Andrew Crowther commented: For which reason we all should drop a silent tear.

Arthur Robinson wrote: Maybe we should look for the Thespis music in America after all. Maybe some enterprising would-be American pirate with total recall for music went to Thespis in 1871, hoping to produce a version in America without royalties, and accurately transcribed the music. Maybe the pirate returned to America and was unsuccessful in his attempt to put it on, and resignedly stored the copied score in his attic, where it remains to this day, in a house soon to be purchased, contents and all, by a SavoyNetter. Maybe I'll win the lottery.

1.2.6 Thespis in Sorcerer?

Steve Lichtenstein wrote: By the way, FYI, Pirates is NOT NECESSARILY the first Savoy opera in which Sullivan re-used the "Rocky Mountain" music! I was humming through Dr. Daly's first ditty today (one of my favorites in the canon), and I suddenly made the connection: that orchestra melody that precedes both verses of "Time Was When Love and I Were Well Acquainted" bears a striking resemblance to the first phrase of that high arching melody from Thespis/Pirates. Or perhaps I am reading too much into what is after all a common enough melodic pattern. Interesting... melodically speaking, "Climbing over rocky mountain" would seem to be a very similar activity to "Dashing through the snow" (on a one-horse open sleigh, that is!).

Other instances of the descending pattern E-D-C-G (in C Major) that I can think of offhand would include the famous theme from the Pathetique Symphony (by the composer of "the other Iolanthe"), the Golden Apple motif from Das Rheingold ("Gold'nen Aepfel wachsen im ihren Garten"), Salome's unseemly cries of lust in the Richard Strauss opera ("Nichts in der Welt war so schwartz wie dein Haar," etc.), and unless I much mistake, the three-quarters chime of Big Ben. So, probably not a very significant discovery. My apologies for the interruption...


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