SOON after the death of a well-known composer, someone who did not keep pace with the news of the day asked Mr. Gilbert what the maestro in question was doing.
`He is doing nothing,' was the answer.
`Surely he is composing,' persisted the questioner.
`On the contrary,' said Mr. Gilbert, `he is decomposing.'
H. Sutherland Evans, Personal Recollections (1900), pp. 185-186.
'Some people I knew took me over to lunch one Sunday at his house at Harrow Weald. This would have been in 1903, when I was a shy, timid lad of twenty-two. Or, rather, not quite twenty-two, because my birthday is in October, and this was June...'
'Get on, grandpa.'
'Dash it, let me establish atmosphere and build character and all that. The story's no good unless you realize how shy I was. I was just a shrinking floweret, and when I found fourteen other guests there, I felt relieved, because I saw that I could simply sit and be inconspicuous. It was about half-way through lunch when Gilbert started to tell a story.'
`I can't remember, but it was one of those very long stories which you make as dull as possible all through in order to stun the audience with the surprise smash at the finish. It went on and on, and then he paused, preparatory to delivering the snapperoo.'
`And was it worth the wait?'
`That we shall never know, because, as he paused, I, thinking the story was over, let out a yell of mirth. I had rather a distinctive laugh in those days, a little like an explosion of TNT, and it lasted for about five minutes, by which time the company had begun to talk of other things and Gilbert never got the point of it in at all. I can still remember his face as he glared at me. His eyes were like fire, and his whiskers quivered. It was a horrible experience.'
`Still, you have the consolation of knowing that you are the only man who ever stopped W. S. Gilbert telling a funny story.'
`Yes, there's that,' said Plum.
P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls (1954), p. 209.
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