Gilbert not Sullivan

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Anyone who has trod the boards to belt out a musical theatre number has heard, and possibly appeared in a Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera.  A staple of the amateur dramatic circuit for decades if not centuries.

William Shenwenck Gilbert had a number of careers in his life.  As a child in Italy he was (according to his own account) kidnapped and ransomed back to his family by Neapolitan bandits, a plot point that frequently found its way into his librettos.

He intended to become an artillery officer, but missed out because the Crimean War ended too early for him.  He became a Civil Service Clerk and hated the job.  When he inherited an income from his aged aunt (the plot points keep mounting) he opted to become a barrister.  He attributed his lack of success at the bar to his inability to find the ugly daughter of a successful senior counsel to marry.

He turned his natural wit into a career writing humorous cartoons, sketches and verse for FUN magazine under the nom de plume of BAB.  A successful playwright in his own right it was his collaboration with Arthur Sullivan that ensured his enduring reputation.

Happy birthday Mr Gilbert, born November 18th 1836 and who died, in the style of a musical theatre twist of a heart attack, while saving the live of a young lady he was teaching to swim.

 

The Yarn Of The Nancy Bell; by William Schwenck Gilbert

’twas on the shores that round our coast
from Deal to Ramsgate span,
that I found alone on a piece of stone
an elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
and weedy and long was he,
and I heard this wight on the shore recite,
in a singular minor key:

“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.”

And he shook his fists and he tore his hair,
’til I really felt afraid,
for I couldn’t help thinking the man had been drinking,
and so I simply said:

“Oh, elderly man, it’s little I know
of the duties of men of the sea,
and I’ll eat my hand if I understand
however you can be

at once a cook, and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.”

Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which
is a trick all seamen larn,
and having got rid of a thumping quid,
he spun this painful yarn:

“’twas in the good ship NANCY BELL
that we sailed to the Indian Sea,
and there on a reef we come to grief,
which has often occurred to me.

and pretty nigh all the crew was drowned
(there was seventy-seven o’ soul),
and only ten of the NANCY’S men
said ‘Here!’ to the muster-roll.

There was me and the cook and the captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and the bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.

For a month we’d neither vittles nor drink,
’til a-hungry we did feel,
so we drawed a lot, and, accordin’ shot
the captain for our meal.

The next lot fell to the NANCY’S mate,
and a delicate dish he made;
then our appetite with the midshipmite
we seven survivors stayed.

And then we murdered the bo’sun tight,
and he much resembled pig;
then we vittled free, did the cook and me,
on the crew of the captain’s gig.

Then only the cook and me was left,
and the delicate question, ‘Which
of us two goes to the kettle?’ arose,
and we argued it out as such.

For I loved that cook as a brother, I did,
And the cook he worshipped me;
but we’d both be blowed if we’d either be stowed
in the other chap’s hold, you see.

‘I’ll be eat if you dines off me,’ says Tom;
‘Yes, that,’ says I, ‘you’ll be, –
I’m boiled if I die, my friend,’ quoth I;
and ‘Exactly so,’ quoth he.

Says he, ‘Dear James, to murder me
were a foolish thing to do,
for don’t you see that you can’t cook me,
while I can – and will – cook you!’

So he boils the water, and takes the salt
and the pepper in portions true
(which he never forgot), and some chopped shalot,
and some sage and parsley too.

‘Come here,’ says he, with a proper pride,
which his smiling features tell,
”twill soothing be if I let you see
how extremely nice you’ll smell.’

And he stirred it round and round and round,
and he sniffed at the foaming froth;
when I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals
in the scum of the boiling broth.

And I eat that cook in a week or less,
and – as I eating be
the last of his chops, why, I almost drops,
for a vessel in sight I see!

And I never larf, and I never smile,
and I never lark nor play,
but sit and croak, and a single joke
I have – which is to say:

‘Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig!'”

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