Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Although Bernard Shaw is associated in the minds of many with longevity, old age, and arcane wisdom, the above words come from one of his public broadcasts, entitled 'School'. The full text of the speech, broadcast in 1937, can be read via The Listener Historical Archive (if you have a subscription, that is. You can apply for a free trial if you live in Canada or the USA, though). 

There is also a snippet view available of Leonard Conolly's Bernard Shaw and the BBC (p. 197) where you can read the transcript of the speech. The broader context of the quotation reads as follows: 

"Some of your schoolfellows may surprise you by getting hanged. Others, of whom you may have the lowest opinion, will turn out to be geniuses, and become some of the great men of your time. Therefore always be nice to young people. Some little beast who is no good at games and whose head you may possibly have clouted for indulging a sarcastic wit and a sharp tongue at your ex­pense may grow into a tremendous swell, like Rudyard Kipling. You never can tell."

Passages like these have inspired some people to create visual and metaphorical representations of it, like in the following video I've found, with Shaw's original audio: 

Monday, April 28, 2014


Most Shavians are familiar with the above quotation. They are part of a longer speech by the Serpent in the first part of Back to Methuselah. I've chosen to expand the context a little bit, so we can grasp its full meaning. 

THE SERPENT. The serpent never dies. Some day you shall see me come out of this beautiful skin, a new snake with a new and lovelier skin. That is birth.
EVE. I have seen that. It is wonderful.
THE SERPENT. If I can do that, what can I not do? I tell you I am very subtle. When you and Adam talk, I hear you say 'Why?' Always 'Why?' You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?' I made the word dead to describe my old skin that I cast when I am renewed. I call that renewal being born.

One of the reasons why we love Shaw quotations is their pithy wisdom. Another, is the fact that they have become objects of culture and they have been passed down both in popular discourse and in the words of other great thinkers and authors. I thought I could give you a glimpse of how iconic Shaw's words are sometimes by using this quotation as an example. 

To begin with the best known paraphrase of these words, here's a video of John F. Kennedy's address to the Irish Gail (Parliament) in 1963. You can listen to Kennedy's rendering of the Shavian line at 16:55. 

Five years later, during a speech at the University of Kansas, Robert F. Kennedy turned to Shaw again for inspiration. You'll hear Robert's slightly modified paraphrase of Shaw's quotation (although he acknowledges the source) at the 30:35 mark. 

Still, I think my favourite instance of how this Shaw quotation can be used has to be the following fragment from Seinfeld (Season 3, Ep. 19, "The Limo"). I mean, 'why not?'

Friday, April 18, 2014


These words are part of the opening scene of Widowers' Houses, in which some of the characters are vacationing at Remagen on the Rhine. Sartorius, who had not introduced himself thus far and is therefore succintly referred to as "The Gentleman," does not share Cokane's sense of excitement about hearing one's mother tongue while abroad.  

THE GENTLEMAN [to Cokane] We are fellow travellers, I believe, sir.
COKANE. Fellow travellers and fellow countrymen. Ah, we rarely feel the charm of our own tongue until it reaches our ears under a foreign sky. You have no doubt noticed that ?
THE GENTLEMAN [a little puzzled] Hm ! From a romantic point of view, possibly, very possibly. As a matter of fact, the sound of English makes me feel at home; and I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad. It is not precisely what one goes to the expense for. 

I guess anyone who has travelled abroad for pleasure can relate to this. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


We live in a time when the salaries of certain professionals, whether athletes or CEOs, are under public scrutiny because of their obvious disparities- to their favor - when compared to those of the average person. Although I would not dream of promoting absolute income equality, it is worth remembering the words of - you guessed it! Bernard Shaw in his novel An Unsocial Socialist (Chapter V, p. 108 in the edition I link to)

"A day's work is a day's work, neither more nor less, and the man who does it needs a day's sustenance, a night's repose, and due leisure, whether he be painter or ploughman."

Income equality may be out of the question, but decent working conditions should be within easy reach. 

George Bernard Shaw taking his sun bath cure at Madeira, 1925

Monday, April 7, 2014


As Bernard Shaw cleverly put it in his preface to Androcles and the Lion: "Jesus's teaching has nothing to do with miracles. If his mission had been simply to demonstrate a new method of restoring lost eyesight, the miracle of curing the blind would have been entirely relevant. But to say 'You should love your enemies; and to convince you of this I will now proceed to cure this gentleman of cataract' would have been, to a man of Jesus's intelligence, the proposition of an idiot."

But for Shaw science was not different from religion, in the sense that without an ethical framework, it meant nothing but jaw-dropping miracles without any wisdom to be gained from them. Hence, the following parallelism from Back to Methuselah

"When the priests themselves ceased to believe in their Deity and began to believe in astronomy, they changed their name and their dress, and called themselves doctors and men of science. They set up a new religion in which there was no Deity, but only wonders and miracles, with scientific instruments and apparatus as the wonder workers. Instead of worshipping the greatness and wisdom of the Deity, men gaped foolishly at the million billion miles of space and worshipped the astronomer as infallible and omniscient. They built temples for his telescopes. [...] Thus our discoveries instead of increasing our wisdom, only destroyed the little childish wisdom we had. All I can grant you is that they increased our knowledge."

Tissot Daniel in the Lion's Den

Friday, April 4, 2014


In a recent email, Bernard F. Dukore reminds us of a very relevant quotation. In light of recent events, it seems fair to conclude that Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote the following lines in the Preface to The Apple Cart

"Money talks: money prints: money broadcasts: money reigns; and kings and labor leaders alike have to register its decrees, and even, by a staggering paradox, to finance its enterprises and guarantee its profits.  Democracy is no longer bought: it is bilked."

The modern tycoons of Breakages, Limited must be rubbing their hands. I wonder what King Magnus would think of all this. 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Among the many quotations that Shaw left for posterity on the disputes between science and religion, one of the most striking ones is in the Preface on Days of Judgment to The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles

Religion is the mother of scepticism: Science is the mother of credulity. 

I suggest you take a look at the context so you can judge the validity of the claim for yourselves. However, as Shaw put it a few lines before the above quotation: 

"I have pointed out on a former occasion that there is just as much evidence for a law of the Conservation of Credulity as of the Conservation of Energy.  When we refuse to believe in the miracles of religion for no better reason fundamentally than that we are no longer in the humor for them we refill our minds with the miracles of science, most of which the authors of the Bible would have refused to believe.  The humans who have lost their simple childish faith in a flat earth and in Joshua's feat of stopping the sun until he had finished his battle with the Amalekites, find no difficulty in swallowing an expanding boomerang universe."

JoshuaSun Martin

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Bernard Shaw wrote the following in his "Preface on Doctors" to The Doctor's Dilemma

"Nobody supposes that doctors are less virtuous than judges; but a judge whose salary and reputation depended on whether the verdict was for plaintiff or defendant, prosecutor or prisoner, would be as little trusted as a general in the pay of the enemy."

Even though we instinctively trust doctors, and they have earned a well-deserved reputation worldwide, it is striking how a profession that has only been saving patients in the last century or so (anything before that in medical practice did more harm than good, with no knowledge of what germs were, to put but an obvious example) can be held in such good esteem. To some extent, the pecuniary dilemma that Shaw poses is still relevant, as recent investigations regarding the cost of health services seem to corroborate. 

Amputations 18c