Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 2.djvu/131

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Gilbert
Gilbert
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logical topsy-turveydom in a vein so peculiar to Gilbert as to justify the bestowal on it of the epithet 'Gilbertian.' He himself disclaimed any knowledge of Gilbertian humour, stating that 'all humour properly so called is based upon a grave and quasi-respectful treatment of the ludicrous.' His satire hits current foibles with unvarying urbanity and with no Aristophanic coarseness. The success of his operas was largely due to their freedom from vulgarity and to the excellence of the lyrics, which not only were musical and perfect in form but applied mastery of metro to the expression of the most whimsical and fanciful ideas. He had little or no ear for tune, but a wonderful ear for rhythm. Gilbert's words and metre underwent no change in the process of musical setting.

Gilbert believed that the playwright should dominate the theatre. He was a master of stage management. In a privately printed preface to 'Pygmalion and Galatea' he pointed out that 'the supreme importance of careful rehearsing is not sufficiently recognised in England.' His experience, for which he vouched by statistics, taught him that when his pieces were carefully rehearsed they succeeded, and when they were insufficiently rehearsed they failed. A sufficient rehearsal for a play he then considered to be three weeks or a month. His conduct at the rehearsals of his adaptation of 'Ought we to visit her' (a comedy in three acts by Messrs. Edwardes and Gilbert), produced at the Royalty on 17 Jan. 1874, led to a quarrel with Miss Henrietta Hodson [q. v. Suppl. II], which was renewed over the production of 'Pygmalion and Galatea' in January 1877. Miss Hodson published 'A Letter' in the same year complaining of Gilbert's dictatorial action, to which Gilbert replied in 'A Letter addressed to the Members of the Dramatic Profession.' Gilbert developed the practice of Tom Robertson, who was perhaps the first English playwright to impress his personal views at rehearsal on the actor. Gilbert rehearsed his pieces in his study by means of a model stage and figures, and every group and movement were settled in the author's mind before the stage rehearsals began. Until Gilbert took the matter in hand choruses were practically nothing more than a part of the stage setting. It was in 'Thespis' that Gilbert began to carry out his expressed determination to get the chorus to play its proper part in the performance.

Gilbert had in ordinary society a ready, subtle, and incisive wit. He was aggressive and combative and rarely let the discomfort of a victim deprive him and his companions of a brilliant epigram or a ready repartee. Nevertheless he had a kind heart, and was only a cynic after the manner of Thackeray. Many of the artists who worked under him bore testimony to his personal kindness. He was not interested in sport. He had a constitutional objection to taking life in any form. 'I don't think I ever wittingly killed a blackbeetle,' he said, and added 'The time will come when the sport of the present day will be regarded very much as we regard the Spanish bull-fight or the bear-baiting of our ancestors' (William Archer, Red Conversations).

He married in 1867 Lucy Agnes, daughter of Captain Thomas Metcalf Blois Turner, Bombay engineers. His wife survived him without issue. A portrait painted by Frank Holl, R.A., in 1887 is destined for the National Portrait Gallery. He also owned a portrait of himself by Herman Gustavo Herkomer and a bronze statuette by Andrea Lucchesi.

Besides the plays already mentioned, Gilbert wrote the following dramatic pieces : 'Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren, or Fortunatus, the Three Bears, the Three Wishes, and the Little Man who wooed the Little Maid,' pantomime (26 Dec. 1866) 'Allow Me to Explain,' farce, altered from the French (Prince of Wales's Theatre, 4 Nov. 1867); 'Highly Improbable,' farce (New Royalty, 5 Dec. 1867); 'No Cards' (German Reeds, 29 March 1869); 'An Old Score,' comedy-drama in three acts (Gaiety Tlieatre, 19 July 1869); 'The Gentleman in Black,' opera bouffe in two acts, music by Frederick Clay (Charing Cross Theatre, 26 May 1870); 'Our Island Home' (Gallery of Illustration, 20 June 1870); 'A Medical Man,' a comedietta (Drawing Room Plays, 1870); 'The Realms of Joy,' farce by F. Latour Tomline, i.e. Gilbert (Royalty Theatre, 18 Oct. 1873); 'Committed for Trial,' a piece of absurdity in two acts, founded on 'Le Reveillon' of H. Meilhac and L. Halevy (Globe Theatre, 24 Jan. 1874, revived at the Criterion, 12 Feb. 1877, as 'On Bail'); 'Topsy-turveydom,' extravaganza (Criterion Theatre, 21 Mar. 1873); 'King Candaules' (1875); 'Eyes and No Eyes, or the Art of Seeing,' a vaudeville, music by T. German Reed, founded on Hans Andersen's 'The Emperor's New Clothes' (St. George's Hall, 5 July 1875) ; 'Princess Toto,' comic opera in three acts, music