company.rnThe plot of Utopia, Limited may well have been too complexrnfor an audience expecting an evening of cheerful tunes andrnlighthearted absurdity, but the libretto is one of Gilbert’s best.rnParamount, the Anglomaniac king of Utopia, is a despot inrnname, but he lives under the shadow of the public exploder,rnwho is empowered to blow up the king with dynamite at thernfirst sign of misbehavior. In The Gondoliers, Gilbert had playedrnwith a monarchy “that’s tempered with republican equality,”rnbut in Utopia’s “despotism tempered with dynamite,” the kingrnis forced to write and publish libels about his own entirely fictitiousrnvices and follies. But, as the king is fond of saying, “It’s arnquaint world.”rnHis daughter, who has been educated in England, returns tornUtopia, bringing with her “the flowers of progress” (the opera’srnsubtitle): a military man, a lawyer, a Lord High Chamberlainrn(to censor morals), a county councillor. Captain Corcoranrn(straight out of Pinafore), and Mr. Goldbury, a “company promoter.”rnThe promoter explains the limited liability company asrna means of investing the least money at the least risk for therngreatest profit. And if the company goes belly up, well, that isrntoo bad for the investors but not for the promoters:rnThough a Rothschild you may bernIn your own capacity.rnAs a Company you’ve come to utter sorrowrnBut the liquidators say,rn”Never mind—you needn’t pay”rnSo you start another company tomorrow.rnAt first the king is dubious about turning his entire kingdom intorna limited liability company. “I do understand you,” he asksrnGoldbury, “that Great Britain / Upon this Joint Stock principlernis governed?” The promoter answers, “We haven’t come tornthat yet, but—/We’re tending rapidly in that direction.”rnGoldbury is given the go-ahead and applies the limited liabilityrnprinciple to every individual in the realm, and before longrn”there is not a christened baby in Utopia who has not already issuedrnhis little prospectus.” (This sounds like Washington,rnD.C., where every policy-geek and political gopher has his ownrnthink-tank or institute.) The king’s first cabinet meeting isrnconducted as a minstrel show, complete with banjo andrnbones—a satiric touch that we may find disquieting for morernthan one reason.rnThe flowers of progress turn out to be weeds, unfortunately,rnand all the little pleasures of Utopian life are ruined:rnUtopia swamped by dull prosperityrnDemands that these detestedrnFlowers of ProgressrnBe sent about their business.rnThe situation appears hopeless until the English-educatedrnprincess advises the king to introduce one last British-style reform,rnnamely “government by party,” which will bring progressrnto a halt: “No political measures will endure because one Partyrnwill assuredly undo all that the other Party has done; and whilerngrouse is to be shot and foxes worried to death, the legislativernaction of the country will be at a standstill.” Half a genuinernloaf, Gilbert seems to be saying, is better than an entire pastryshoprnfilled with imaginary delights that can only be enjoyed inrnsome future state.rnUtopia, Limited opened in 1893, and had a limited success.rnThe partners were long since tired of each other’s company,rnand, as the 20th century loomed nearer, Gilbert’s humorrnseemed increasingly dated. He went on to write other plays,rnbut his greatest successes were behind him, and when he diedrnin 1910, he was already an institution of the previous reign. Byrnthen. Wells had already written The Time Machine and The Warrnof the Worlds, and the science fiction industry was on its way tornbeing established on the broken dreams of the American Century.rnThe Savoy operas have been kept alive, partly for thernbrightness of Gilbert’s wit and the beauty of Sullivan’s music,rnbut they have also suffered from a deadening nostalgia forrntimes gone by.rnGilbert was himself a man of no particular party. He was asrnsuspicious of progressive levelers as he was contemptuous of thernconservative defenders of entrenched interests. Between thernimprobable glories of past golden ages and the impossible beautiesrnof the paradise that awaits us, just around the corner, oncernthe public exploders have done their job—there was little tornchoose. Like Sir Thomas More, he knew that the real purposernof Utopias was satiric, that such fantasies are of no positive usernin planning a society. If Plato thought otherwise, then Platornwas wrong. Like Trollope, W.S. Gilbert is the wholesome Victorianrnantidote to the poisonous fantasies of Nietzsche, Marx,rnand Freud, and taken in regular doses, his works will reform thernmanners, as well as the meters, of our degenerate times. <£>rnSonnet 105rnby MichelangelornTranslated by John Frederick Nimsrn(Non vidergli occhi miei cosa mortale …)rnMy gaze saw no mere mortal on the dayrnI found in your fine eyes quiet like nonernon earth, so pure I saw therein the Onernwho storms my soul with love—a soul like its own.rnAnd weren’t my spirit drawn from God’s alone,rnearth’s outward beauty had left it so aglowrnthat it longed for nothing. Mirage, all that! And sornit soared to the universal form straightway.rnWhen one lives—true life, I mean—his will won’t meshrnwith mortality; nor are things eternal castrnin the mold of time. For skin and bone, no haven.rnUntamed desire’s not love, just a flush of flesh,rnand it kills the soul. Our honest love makes fastrnfriendships on earth. Death, faster though, in heaven.rnMAY 1997/13rnrnrn