George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
From Literary Anecdotes About 19th Century Authors Born After 1829

THAT I can write as I do without having to think about my style is due to my having been as a child steeped in the Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress, and Cassell's Illustrated Shakespeare. I was taught to hold the Bible in such reverence that when one day, as I was buying a pennyworth of sweets in a little shop in Dublin, the shopkeeper tore a leaf out of a dismembered Bible to wrap them in, I was horrified, and half expected to see him struck by lightning. All the same I took the sweets and ate them; for to my Protestant mind the shopkeeper, as a Roman Catholic, would go to hell as such, Bible or no Bible, and was no gentleman anyhow. Besides, I liked eating sweets.

George Bernard Shaw, Everybody's Political What's What (1944), p. 181.

I WELL remember Mr. Shaw relating a sad anecdote whose date must have fallen among the eighties. As Mr. Shaw put it, like every poor young man when he first comes to London he possessed no presentable garments at all save a suit of dress clothes. In this state he received an invitation to a soiree from some gentleman high in the political world—I think it was Mr. Haldane. This gentleman was careful to add a postscript in the kindness of his heart, begging Mr. Shaw not to dress, since everyone would be in their morning clothes. Mr. Shaw was accordingly put into an extraordinary state of perturbation. He pawned or sold all the articles of clothing in his possession, including his evening suit, and with the proceeds purchased a decent suit of black, resembling, as he put it, that of a Wesleyan minister. Upon his going up the staircase of the house to which he was invited, the first person he perceived was Mr. Balfour, in evening dress; the second was Mr. Wyndham in evening dress; and immediately he was introduced into a dazzling hall that was one sea of white shirt fronts relieved by black swallow-tails. He was the only undressed person in the room. Then his kind host presented himself, his face beaming with philanthropy and with the thought of kindly encouragement that he had given to struggling genius! I think Mr. Shaw does not `dress' at all nowadays, and, in the dress affected, at all events by his disciples, the grey homespuns, the soft hats, the comfortable bagginess about the knees, and the air that the pockets have of always being full of apples, the last faint trickle of Pre-Raphaelite influence is to be perceived.

Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights (1911), pp.127-128.

I was present at their meeting in the rooms of the late Fitzgerald Molloy in Red Lion Square. There were only the four of us. Shaw was on the threshold of his career; Oscar had already `arrived'. But for once he was content to listen, and Shaw, delighted to meet such a listener, let himself go. His subject was a magazine, the founding of which he had in mind, and he held forth at great length on its scope and outlook. When he came to a halt, Oscar said

`That has all been most interesting, Mr. Shaw; but there's one point you haven't mentioned, and an all-important one —you haven't told us the title of your magazine.'
`Oh, as for that,' said Shaw, `what I'd want to do would be to impress my own personality on the public — I'd call it Shaw's Magazine: Shaw—Shaw—Shaw!'

And he banged his fist on the table.

`Yes,' said Oscar, `and how would you spell it?'

Shaw joined heartily in our laughter against him.

Hesketh Pearson, The Life of Oscar Wilde (1946), p. 158.

PARTLY to facilitate the labours of Mr. George Bernard Shaw's biographers, and partly by way of relieving my own conscience, I think I ought to give a short history of the genesis of Widowers' Houses. Far away back in the olden days, while as yet the Independent Theatre slumbered in the womb of Time, together with the New Drama, the New Criticism, the New Humour, and all the other glories of our renovated world, I used to be a daily frequenter of the British Museum Reading Room. Even more assiduous in his attendance was a young man of tawny complexion and attire, beside whom I used frequently to find myself seated. My curiosity was piqued by the odd conjunction of his subjects of research. Day after day for weeks he had before him two books, which he studied alternately, if not simultaneously—Karl Marx's Das Kapital (in French), and an orchestral score of Tristan und Isolde. I did not know then how exactly this quaint juxtaposition symbolized the main interests of his life. Presently I met him at the house of a common acquaintance, and we conversed for the first time. I learned from himself that he was the author of several unpublished masterpieces of fiction. Construction, he owned with engaging modesty, was not his strong point, but his dialogue was incomparable. Now, in those days, I had still a certain hankering after the rewards, if not the glories, of the playwright. With a modesty in no way inferior to Mr. Shaw's, I had realized that I could not write dialogue a bit; but I still considered myself a born constructor. So I proposed, and Mr. Shaw agreed to, a collaboration. I was to provide him with one of the numerous plots I kept in stock, and he was to write the dialogue.

So said, so done. I drew out, scene by scene, the scheme of a twaddling cup-and-saucer comedy vaguely suggested by Augier's Ceinture Dorée. The details I forget, but I know it was to be called Rhinegold, was to open, as Widowers' House, actually does, in a hotel-garden on the Rhine, and was to have two heroines, a sentimental and a comic one, according to the accepted Robertson-Byron-Carton formula. I fancy the hero was to propose to the sentimental heroine, believing her to be the poor niece instead of the rich daughter of the sweater, or slum-landlord, or whatever he may have been; and I know he was to carry on in the most heroic fashion, and was ultimately to succeed in throwing the tainted treasure of his father-in-law, metaphorically speaking, into the Rhine. All this I gravely propounded to Mr. Shaw, who listened with no less admirable gravity.

Then I thought the matter had dropped, for I heard no more of it for many weeks. I used to see Mr. Shaw at the Museum, laboriously writing page after page of the most exquisitely neat shorthand at the rate of about three words a minute; but it did not occur to me that this was our play. After about six weeks he said to me, `Look here, I've written half the first act of that comedy, and I've used up all your plot. Now I want some more to go on with.' I told him that my plot was a rounded and perfect organic whole, and that I could no more eke it out in this fashion than I could provide him or myself with a set of supplementary arms and legs; but this would have taken him far too long. He tried to decipher some of it orally, but the process was too lingering and painful for endurance. So he simply gave me an outline in narrative of what he had done; and I saw that, so far from having used up my plot, he had not even touched it.

There the matter rested for months and years. Mr. Shaw would now and then hold out vague threats of finishing `our play', but I felt no serious alarm. I thought (judging from my own experience in other cases) that when he came to read over in cold blood what he had written, he would see what impossible stuff it was. Perhaps my free utterance of this view piqued him; perhaps he felt impelled to remove from the Independent Theatre the reproach of dealing solely in foreign products. The fire of his genius, at all events was not to be quenched by my persistent applications of the wet-blanket. He finished his play; Mr. Grein, as in duty bound, accepted it; and the result was the performance of Friday last [December 1892] at the Independent Theatre.

William Archer, The World, 14 December 1892.

WHEN I arrived at my door after these dissipations I found Fitzroy Square, in which I live, deserted. It was a clear, dry cold night; and the carriage-way round the circular railing presented such a magnificent hippodrome that I could not resist trying to go just once round in Vincenti's fashion. It proved frightfully difficult. After my fourteenth fall I was picked up by a policeman. `What are you doing here?' he said, keeping fast hold of me. `I'bin watching you for the last five minutes.' I explained, eloquently and enthusiastically. He hesitated a moment, and then said, `Would you mind holding my helmet while I have a try? It don't look so hard.' Next moment his nose was buried in the macadam and his right knee was out through his torn garment. He got up bruised and bleeding, but resolute. `I never was beaten yet,' he said, `and I won't be beaten now. It was my coat that tripped me.' We both hung our coats on the railings, and went at it again. If each round in the square had been a round in a prize fight, we should have been less damaged and disfigured; but we persevered, and by four o'clock the policeman had just succeeded in getting round twice without a rest or a fall, when an inspector arrived, and asked him bitterly whether that was his notion of fixed point duty. `I allow it ain't fixed point', said the constable, emboldened by his new accomplishment; `but I'll lay a half-sovereign you can't do it.' The inspector could not resist the temptation to try (I was whirling round before his eyes in the most fascinating manner); and he made rapid progress after half an hour or so. We were subsequently joined by an early postman and by a milkman, who unfortunately broke his leg and had to be carried to hospital by the other three. By that time I was quite exhausted, and could barely crawl into bed. It was perhaps a foolish scene; but nobody who has witnessed Vincenti's performance will feel surprised at it.

George Bernard Shaw, The Star, 21 February 1890; reprinted in London Music in 1888-1889 (The Works, xxxiii (1938), 299-300).

The first performance was boisterous. The author took a curtain call, and was received with cheers. When they had subsided, and before G.B.S. could utter a syllable, a solitary hiss was heard in the gallery. It was made by R. Goulding Bright, who was afterwards a very successful literary agent, and it was made, as he told me, under a misapprehension. He thought that G.B.S., in his satire on florid Balkan soldiers, was reflecting on the British Army. G.B.S. bowed to him, and remarked, `I quite agree with you, sir, but what can two do against so many?'.

St. John Ervine, Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends (1956), p. 265.

Basil DEAN told a good rehearsal story. He said that they rehearsed Shaw's Pygmalion for nine weeks at `His Majesty's' and that in the middle Mrs. Pat Campbell went away for two weeks on her honeymoon. When she returned she merely said by way of explanation: `George [her new husband] 'is a golden man.' There was some trouble about her rendering. When she had altered it she said to Shaw, `Is that better?' Shaw said: `No, it isn't. I don't want any of your flamboyant creatures, I want a simple ordinary human creation such as I have drawn.' He was getting shirty. Mrs. Campbell was taken aback. She replied, however: `You are a terrible man, Mr. Shaw. One day you'll eat a beefsteak and then God help all women.' It is said that Shaw blushed.

The Journals of Arnold Bennett, 1911-1921 (1932), p. 252.

I remember a critic who was interfered with, not on artistic, but on purely political grounds. Austin Harrison was critic of the Daily Mail, and when I began to make trouble in the theatre Austin Harrison was interested and wrote long notices of my plays. They were either not put in or they were cut extremely short. When Harrison, not understanding why this happened, asked Lord Northcliffe the reason, Northcliffe said, `I am not running my paper to advertise a damned Socialist'

Shaw on Theatre, ed. E. J. West (1960), p. 243.

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