The "Bab" Ballads are a collection of light verse by W. S. Gilbert, illustrated with his own comic drawings. They became famous on their own, as well as being a source for plot elements, characters and songs that Gilbert would recycle in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
IT appears now-a-days to be an absolute necessity that the subject-matter of even the most insignificant books should be heralded by a Preface; and I believe that there are on record instances of authors who have experienced no difficulty whatever in spinning very slender materials into a three-volume novel, and yet have found themselves terribly perplexed when called upon by their publishers to fill two or three pages with a vindication of their motives in writing it: just as busy people find it very easy to be guilty of an impertinence, but very difficult indeed to apologise satisfactorily for it.
I have some reason to believe that the Ballads, which now appear for the first time in a collected form, have achieved a certain whimsical popularity among a special class of readers. I hope to gather, from their publication in a separate volume, whether that popularity (such as it is) is a thing to be gratified with. With respect to the Ballads themselves, I do not know that I have anything very deﬁnite to say about them, except that they are not, as a rule, founded upon fact.
I have ventured to publish the illustrations with them because, while they are certainly quite as bad as the Ballads, I suppose they are not much worse. If, therefore, the Ballads are worthy of publication in a collected form, the little pictures would have a right to complain if they were omitted. I do not know that they would avail themselves of that right, but I should, nevertheless, have it on my conscience that had been guilty of partiality. If, on the other hand, the Ballads should unfortunately be condemned as wholly unworthy of the dignity with which Mr. Hotten has invested them, they will have the satisfaction of feeling that they have companions in misfortune in the rather clumsy sketches that accompany them.