Liberty Matters

Fold your flapping wings soaring Legislature


The editor of Liberty Matters, Sheldon Richman, was struck by the similarity of the views expressed by Spencer concerning the situation of the poor and those of the protagonist of Gilbert and Sullivan's satire of the British political system the operetta Iolanthe (1882). Strephon is a half human, half fairy, Arcadian shepherd who gets elected to Parliament and proposes a bill to reform the House of Lords. The MP sings the following recitative and aria which Gilbert cut from the operetta early in its run after critics thought it too dark. It can be found on some recordings of modern performances. [130]
My bill has now been read a second time: His ready vote no member now refuses; In verity I wield a pow'r sublime, And one that I can turn to mighty uses! What joy to carry, in the very teeth Of ministry, cross-bench and opposition, Some rather urgent measures quite beneath The ken of Patriot and Politician!
Fold your flapping wings, Soaring legislature! Stoop to little things, Stoop to human nature! Never need to roam, Members patriotic, Let’s begin at home Crime is no exotic! Bitter is your bane Terrible your trials, Dingy Drury Lane! Soapless Seven Dials!
Take a tipsy lout, Gathered from the gutter. Hustle him about, Strap him to a shutter. What am I but he, Washed at hours stated, Fed on filagree, Clothed and educated? He’s a mark of scorn, I might be another, If I had been born Of a tipsy mother.
Take a wretched thief, Through the city sneaking. Pocket handkerchief Ever, ever seeking. What is he but I Robbed of all my chances, Picking pockets by Force of circumstances? I might be as bad, As unlucky, rather, If I’d only had Fagin for a father!
[130.] The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Introduced and Edited by Ian Bradley (Oxfoed University Press, 1996, 2001), pp. 434-6.