To what extent is a great comic writer the product of his time? How far is he (or she) influenced by factors of personal psychology upbringing and environment? To what is the writing actually part of a long continuum in which there is continuity within change and change within continuity? The Progress of Fun considers principally the last of these areas, focussing on the case of W.S. Gilbert and challenging the frequently held view that he is pre-eminently a typical Victorian. This it does by tracing his roots back to Ancient Greek comedy and to the various comedic developments that have dominated Western Europe thereafter. Also included is a careful examination of the constraints and limitations that in various forms have long affected comedy-writing, and an evaluation of Gilbert’s particular skills and legacy within the on-going process. The whole is a suitable prelude to a second volume (Pipes and Tabors) which will consider Genre in W.S. Gilbert, again relating it to comedic precedents and the universally timeless within the particular.