A Parody on Iolanthe

In 1880s Chicago, one Davison Dalziel — the thirtysomething proprietor of the Dalziel National Printing Company, the Chicago News Letter, and Dalziel’s Railway Advertising1 — saw his passions for theater, printing, and railway-advertising align when he produced A Parody on Iolanthe (1884).

This 100-page book (50 of operetta and 50 of advertisements) seems to have been crafted with love: love for Iolanthe (which had premiered in November 1882), but also — more importantly — for the Chicago & Alton Railroad!

[A chorus of Rocky Mountain Fairies discovered dancing over the wheat stocks, in the brief interval allowed for purposes of safety between the trains on this road.]

Tripping always, tripping ever,
By each glen, each rock, each river,
We must twirl and we must twine
Round about the Alton line.

The fairies are disconsolate because Iolanthe has been banished for the sin of marrying the Legal Counselor of the Chicago & Alton. Meanwhile, her son Strephon — a fairy from the waist up — loves the Counselor’s ward Phyllis. The chorus of rival railway officials (“Bow, bow, ye folks who ask for passes”) love Phyllis, but she has sworn to marry only an Alton man. The Fairy Queen promotes Strephon to the exalted post of General Passenger Agent of the C. & A., and further sentences the railway heads to follow the Alton’s lead in all things (“You will also be forced to run your trains according to your advertised time-table.” — “Spare us!”). Phyllis marries Strephon; Iolanthe reunites with the Counselor; and when it transpires that the chorus of fairies have all married the chorus of railway heads, the Legal Couselor suggests amending fairy law to read that any fairy dies who does not marry an Alton man. Strephon’s C. & A. absorbs all the rival railways — ipso facto making the rival railway officials into Alton men — and they all ascend together to Fairyland.

I discovered its existence via Project Gutenberg, but the beautiful Art Nouveau illustrations by H.W. McVickar (later the founding art director of Vogue magazine2) are much better appreciated via the Internet Archive’s copy.

Don’t miss the Denver & Rio Grande Railway’s own parody verse on page 89.

Before A Parody on Iolanthe, in mid-1883, Dalziel produced a frankly inferior Parody on Patience

That uniform, Archibald!

Ah, it is the bane of my life. It has the curse of fatal perfection. Since I first put it on, I dare not go through the cars and collect tickets without an escort. All the women I meet fall madly in love with me. At the country depot when my train goes through, the entire female population flock out to get a glimpse of me. The life is one of torment.

in which Patience chooses handsome C. & A. conductor Archibald Grosvenor over his rival, the composite “Colonel Blue,” who has to make do with both Angela and Saphir.

(Feel free to miss the Bonanza Railroad’s parody verse on page 87.)

And subsequently A Parody on Princess Ida

You say you are the daughters of those who run the Alton Line. Well! You’ll find no comfort here. Your bed will be that of the humblest. No downy mattress, soft pillows, or the rock of a Pullman Palace Car to send you to sleep. Your fare will be plain and simple, your beverage nature’s stream. No dining-car lunches at seventy-five cents a meal, which ought to cost $2.00. No delicacies out of season, or fine wines iced, as you get on that line.

in which King Gama is tormented by being made to ride on the Alton line, where there’s nothing whatever to grumble at.

Posted 2020-07-20