My recent discovery (thanks to information supplied by Andrew Crowther) that William S. Gilbert (of later Gilbert and Sullivan fame) wrote the first four sections of London Characters (1871), a book about Victorian London, is not without significance.

When Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera H.M.S. Pinafore opened May 25, 1878, the British Empire was at its height, and the audience no doubt included many people who felt that being English was a mark of superiority. Such persons would be treated to Gilbert's witty mocking of such an attitude, supported by Sullivan's pompous-sounding music:

He is an Englishman!
For he himself has said it,
And it's greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!
That he is an Englishman!

He is an Englishman!
For he might have been a Roosian,
A French or Turk or Proosian,
Or perhaps Italian!
Or perhaps Italian!

He is an Englishman!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!

The sections of London Characters written and illustrated by Gilbert are free from the sort of racial slurs found at two points in the portions of London Characters written by the lawyer Mr. Jones (who identifies himself in the not-illustrated "Scenes in Court" section immediately following the illustrated sections by Gilbert).

In the section "More 'Witnesses' " Mr. Jones described "the witness who causes considerable amusement in court": "He produces his considerable amusement (not with any design on his part, however,) by means well known to the two end men in a band of [Negro] serenaders." (The word in brackets is the only place in my transcription of "London Charcters" where I have consciously replaced a word of the original text.)

Then, in "The Old Bailey" section, Mr. Jones had some terrible things to say about Jewish attorneys:

... the dirty, cunning-looking, hook-nosed, unsavoury little Jews, with thick gold rings on their stubby fingers, and crisp black hair curling down their backs, the rule. They are the embodiment of meat, drink, washing, and professional reputation to the needy barristers whom they employ, and, as such, their intimacy is, of course, much courted and in great request. Of course many Old Bailey barristers are utterly independent of this ill-favoured race; but there are, unfortunately, too many men to be found whose only road to professional success lies in the good-will of these gentry. There are, among the thieves' lawyers, men of acute intelligence and honourable repute, and who do their work extremely well; but the majority of them are sneaking, underhand, grovelling practitioners, who are utterly unrecognized by men of good standing.

Most of the portions written by Mr. Jones are very informative and contain some really good-natured humor as well. By singling out his insensitive remarks, I am simply stressing the fact that London Characters had at least two authors. Mr. Jones we never hear of again. Mr. Gilbert began collaborating with Arthur S. Sullivan in 1871, and together they produced light operas that continue to delight audiences all over the world.

Since Gilbert was for a time a lawyer himself, that might explain his association with Mr. Jones in producing London Characters, and considering Mr. Jones's prejudices, that might also explain why Gilbert did not have his name listed as an author. Gilbert's refusal to have his name on the title page would mean that Mr. Jones could not have his name there either, because to do so would be to take credit for the sections written by Gilbert which had previously appeared in the London Society magazine.

References

Andrew Crowther's web site: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ajcrowth/babliophile.htm

1868 London Society article by W. S. Gilbert practically identical in both text and illustrations with a section of the same title in London Characters (1871): http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ajcrowth/panto.htm


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Last modified 24 November 2012