W. S. Gilbert was born November 18, 1836, in London, the son of a former naval surgeon. During his childhood Gilbert traveled extensively throughout Europe with his parents, receiving his early education in France. Gilbert displayed an interest in literature and theater at an early age. When his family returned to London he continued his schooling at the Great Ealing School and then King’s College. In 1861, after brief careers as a barrister and government clerk, Gilbert turned his attention to writing light prose, verse, theatre reviews, and articles for a number of British journals, most notably the humor magazine Fun, to which he contributed the bulk of his comic poems, famously known as the “Bab” Ballads. These were frequently accompanied by his own grotesque cartoon illustrations. In 1866, his career as a dramatist was launched with the successful production of a burlesque entitled Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack. In all, Gilbert wrote over 75 works for the stage throughout his life, including the fourteen operas with Arthur Sullivan. He was knighted in 1907 for his contributions as a dramatic author. Gilbert died on May 29, 1911, at his Grim’s Dyke estate.
Featured here are exhibit items pertaining to W. S. Gilbert, his career as a comic journalist, and his many works for the stage apart from his collaboration with Sullivan.