Monday, March 24, 2014


According to a recent article on The Independent online, and also to a number of sites having to do with vegetarianism and veganism, Bernard Shaw once asked: 

"While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?"

Although I have not been able to trace these exact words to any document in my database, the phrase "the living graves of murdered beasts" was plausibly written by Shaw in a poem attributed to him, entitled "Living Graves." It reads as follows: 

We are the living graves of murdered beasts,
Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites.
We never pause to wonder at our feasts,
If animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
We pray on Sundays that we may have light,
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread.
We’re sick of War, we do not want to fight –
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread,
And yet – we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
Like carrion crows, we live and feed on meat,
Regardless of the suffering and pain
We cause by doing so, if thus we treat
Defenseless animals for sport or gain,
How can we hope in this world to attain
The PEACE we say we are so anxious for.
We pray for it, o’er hecatombs of slain,
To God, while outraging the moral law.
Thus cruelty begets its offspring – WAR 

I say this poem is "attributed" to Shaw because, as far as I know, the only (likely to be) thorough collection of poems by Bernard Shaw is housed at the University of Guelph, so maybe the ISS members who are also members of faculty at Guelph can corroborate this. Two of the sources that make a Shavian attribution to this poem are The Shaw Review (Issue 11, 1968, p. 81, actually a reference to Issue VI of The Independent Shavian, where there seems to be an essay discussing the authorship of the poem) and G. H. Bowker's introduction to Shaw on Vivisection (1951).

Be that as it may, I think we've found a winner, ant it is not Shaw. Isadora Duncan, in her autobiographical My Life writes the following (granted, while discussing Shaw's views on meat-eating and vegetarianism):

At most, we can call this one a Shaw-inspired quotation. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


In the last few days I've had the chance to witness as some sort of "stone guest" a number of messages exchanged among some of the most brilliant Shavians in the world. Although the apparent topic of the messages was the origin and development of several periodical publications that dealt with the life and works of Bernard Shaw, each new sender could not help but reminisce about the people they had met while working at, collaborating with, or even setting the foundations for said publications (The Shaw Review, for example). The sad part being, of course, that some of them were no longer among us. 

This brings to mind a couple of Shaw quotations that are worth dusting off. The first one, a clear example that nostalgic recollections are nothing new, appears in chapter 14 of The Irrational Knot, when Marian says "Reminiscences make one feel so deliciously aged and sad." That is definitely true, even if one is not - in principle - aged and sad. Well, that is what nostalgia means etimologically, "the pain of something else" - that is not in the here and now. 

The other quotation, a much needed complement to the first one, comes from Back to Methuselah (Part 5 - As Far as Thought Can Reach). There, the He-Ancient reminds us of something we often need to remind ourselves: 

"Life is not meant to be easy, my child; 
but take courage: it can be delightful." 

I personally couldn't agree more. 

Isidor Kaufmann - War Time Reminiscences

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


This is one of the most popular quotations attributed to Shaw. In fact, it is kind of a meta-quotation - a quotation about quoting. Personally, I couldn't resist using it for one of my essays, although I wasn't absolutely sure whether it was apocryphal, so I had to be extra-careful not to make any direct attibutions. Kind of cheating, I know. 
However, I have been doing some research with my database and I've found the following on page 31 of The Independent Shavian (38:1/2)

Does anyone have a copy of this book? It can be ordered online, but the none of the versions on googlebooks allow a snippet view so that we could locate at least the relevant page. 

Also, these words have been allegedly taken from an earlier article from The Independent Shavian (19:2), which I don't own myself. Does anybody have a copy to corroborate this was quoted accurately. At any rate, it would be really helpful if someone can post in the comments section below the excerpt in which "Shaw may be found explaining" his own words. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Richard Dietrich, treasurer and webmaster of the ISS, wanted to know if the following quotation was Shaw's: 

"the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place"

Well, so far my database says that these words were never uttered by Bernard Shaw, although one can never be absolutely sure about these things. Better-informed opinions are welcome. 

However, I've found a few items that make this quotation even less plausible, regardless of the accuracy and scope of my search. 
  • Two of the few people (on the web) who claim to source this quotation in a published book, indicate the preface to The Doctor's Dilemma as the source. Nothing close to the above sentence can be found in the preface or the play. This bold (and false) reference is from 245 of The Rabbi and the CEO: The Ten Commandments for 21st Century Leaders.
  • This dictum is quoted elsewhere in a number of slightly altered versions, especially of the second half of the sentence. Among these are "the illusion that it has occurred" or "the illusion that it has been achieved."
  • The quotation is also attributed to a number of prominent figures, among whom Albert Einstein is often mentioned. On page 194 of Effective Opportunity Management for Projects: Exploiting Positive Risk, for example, you'll see one of the many Einstenian attributions. 
As usual, whenever one makes one of these searches even a seeming failure has a silver lining. On this occasion, I found a curious critical comment in Archibald Henderson's Bernard Shaw: A Critical Biography (1911) when I started looking for the individual words of the quotation after an "exact match" query would not return any results.

"Again, Shaw goes to the length of explaining dubious and laconic remarks of his characters, thus totally destroying the realistic illusion that this conversation is actually taking place." And a few lines later he goes on to say that "With all Shaw's praiseworthy efforts to create the realistic illusion of life by making us forget that his characters are only fictions of the stage, he occasionally destroys that illusion by making us remember that they are only the puppets of Bernard Shaw." (p.414-15)

What do you think? Same old, same old. 

Honoré Daumier - Le Nouveau Paris- Comme c'est heureux pour les gens pressés qu'on ait élargi les voies de communicat... - Google Art Project

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Over the course of the last few years, I've been using statistical data that I've compiled manually on the works of Bernard Shaw. The links below give you access to a number of spreadsheets containing the full list of words of each of Shaw's plays, prefaces, and novels. There are a couple of missing items (Immaturity being one of them), but for the most part everything else is there. 

The spreadsheets contain six columns, distributed as follows: 

N: The number (in descending order of frequency) the word occupies; i.e., word 1 is the most frequent. 
Word: The word itself, always spelled in capitals. 
Freq: The absolute frequency of the word; i.e. how many times we find it in the text. 
%: The percentage the frequency of the word represents out of the total number of words in the text. The cell is left blank if the percentage is lower than 0,01%.

The last two columns, Text and the second % are set to 1 and 100 by default, respectively. These two sets of data would only be relevant if we were studying more than one text at a time, and we wanted to know in how many of them the word appears, regardless of its aggregate frequency. 

From my experience as a corpus linguist, there are a couple of caveats you may want to consider. First of all, word processors have a tendency to abhor Shaw's spelling, so if you are going to analyze his use of contractions, you may be in for a hard time. Also, some examples of eye dialect (I'm thinking of John Bull's Other Island or Pygmalion, for example) count as separate words even though they may actually be phonetic spellings of a given word. So the safest policy if you want to study the dialectological varieties in Shaw's plays is to read the source texts carefully rather than plunge into statistical analysis head first. 

I hope you enjoy this, and if you find it useful, you might want to join the International Shaw Society and support this and other initiatives. 


Another Shaw quotation that some people wanted to verify. Personally, I hope I do not become a habit myself. 

The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934):  

PRA. No matter: we shall both disappear presently; and I have still some curiosity left. Did you ever really care for me? I know I began as a passion and have ended as a habit, like all husbands; but outside that routine there is a life of the intellect that is quite independent of it. What have I been to you in that life? A help or a hindrance?

Marilyn Monroe Joe DiMaggio January 1954

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


One of our friends wanted to know the source of the following Shaw quotation: 

"I have never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer. Inside the cage he is at least safe from other men."

Well, although I think this quotation may be attested in other sources, Archibald Henderson's George Bernard Shaw: His Life and Works (A Critical Biography) is the oldest written record I could find (1911). On page 204 we can read the above excerpt and some more contextual material, also relevant to the quotation: 

"for man is the only animal of which I am thoroughly and cravenly afraid. I have never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer. Inside the cage he is at least safe from other men. There is not much harm in a lion. He has no ideals, no religion, no politics, no chivalry, no gentility; in short, no reason for destroying anything that he does not want to eat."

A lion tamer at Bertram Mills Touring Circus, Ascot (3588573761)


The above quotation is another famous Shavian quip that needs sourcing. In this case, we find these words in a conversation between Napoleon and The Lady in The Man of Destiny (1898)

  • NAPOLEON. Aha! I thought so: a little romance to get the papers back. (He throws the packet on the table and confronts her with cynical goodhumor.) Per Bacco, little woman, I can't help admiring you. If I could lie like that, it would save me a great deal of trouble.
  • LADY (wringing her hands). Oh, how I wish I really had told you some lie! You would have believed me then. The truth is the one thing that nobody will believe.
I suppose we can put this maxim in the same folder as "all great truths begin as blasphemies" and Shaw's alleged dramatic technique of saying things "with the utmost levity" although "the real joke was that he was in earnest." Truth be told, we wouldn't believe him anyway. 

Napoleon, the Man of Destiny (1909)