Monday, June 30, 2014


If you type the above words in your favorite internet search engine, you'll see that they have been pronounced by a number of musicians and/or music critics, including Sting. This phrase has also been used to entitle studies on the alleged benefits of music as a skill-building tool

What everybody who I've heard use this phrase has missed so far, however, is the earliest known source of this maxim in a literary text. Such honor belongs to Shaw's Love Among the Artists. In this novel, one of the main characters (a composer), complains about how little one can make out of music for different reasons. And yet, when interrogated about the rationale behind his love for music, money does not rank very high: 

“…That fantasia of mine has been pirated and played in every musical capital in Europe ; and I could not afford to buy you a sable jacket out of what I have made by it.”

"It is very hard, certainly. But do you really care about money?"

"Ha! ha! No, of course not. Music is its own reward. Composers are not human: they can live on diminished sevenths ; and be contented with a pianoforte for a wife, and a string quartette for a family.”

It is not too difficult to link the main idea in these words with Shaw's general insights on music, as demonstrated in his music criticism and his general appraisal of performers, composers, and people in the music business. To begin with, this idea of music being its own reward is further elaborated in Love Among the Artists, just like some sort of fundamental axiom, when Aurelie remarks: 

"Music is my destiny, as painting is thine."

In principle, this may seem like an early contradiction to Shaw's notion that "art for art's sake" is just nonsense, as he put it in the Epistle Dedicatory to Man and Superman

"No doubt I must recognize, as even the Ancient Mariner did, that I must tell my story entertainingly if I am to hold the wedding guest spellbound in spite of the siren sounds of the loud bassoon. But "for art's sake" alone I would not face the toil of writing a single sentence."

Lohengrin - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News
However, music seems to be quite a different realm for Shaw, for whom it still remains as "the chastest of the muses" in many respects. 

"In Mr Cellier’s scores, music is still the chastest of the Muses. In Offenbach’s she is—what shall I say?—I am ashamed of her. I no longer wonder that the Germans came to Paris and sup­pressed her with fire and thunder. Here in England how respect­able she is! Virtuous and rustically innocent her 6-8 measures are, even when Dorothy sings ’‘Come, fill up your glass to the brim!’' She learnt her morals from Handel, her ladylike manners from Mendelssohn, her sentiment from the Bailiff's Daughter of Islington."

At any rate, I shall not go on about a topic I know so little about, lest I become one of those music critics Shaw dreaded

"Nobody knows better than I do that a musical critic who is always talking about music is quite as odious as an ordinary man who is always talking about himself. I venture to hope that I have never been guilty of the latter vice; and I shall try to steer dear of the former."

I will not go as far as to say that Shaw succeeded in his ethical endeavors, but that's one of the reasons we still talk about him!

Design for the Act3 finale of 'Der Freischütz' 1821 - NGO4p503

Friday, June 20, 2014


Temperatures are reaching 40ºC (or 105ªºF) in my hometown (Córdoba), and all I can think of is hell - both as a place and as an expletive. For me, hell is my kitchen, the only room in the house without air conditioning. But, what was hell for Shaw? Well, there are a few answers to that question in his plays, prefaces, and novels alone. 
Let's start with the quotation that I used for the title of this post. As you probably know, it belongs to the second scene of the third act of Man and Superman - "Don Juan in Hell." What you may not know is that it is a modified line from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Specifically, it is the opening line of part three (Hell) of "Peter Bell the Third"

Hell is a city much like London --
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
                 And there is little or no fun done;                   
Small justice shown, and still less pity.

Substituting Seville for London makes sense in the context of the play, but does not say much about Shaw's notions about hell as a place of damnation and punishment. To begin with the lighter side, we also catch a glimpse of what Shaw thought of as hell in "Don Juan in Hell;" when the eponymous character says:

"Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned."

No wonder that, for a music critic, this should be quite an accurate approach to the concept of hell. 

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Dante And Virgil In Hell (1850).jpg
"William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Dante And Virgil In Hell (1850)" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

If we look at the way hell is interpreted in folklore, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," as the proverb goes. However, some Shavian characters beg to differ. First, Augustus (Augustus Does His Bit) refuses to believe in this proverb because he does not want to admit his own incompetence: 

AUGUSTUS. This is perfectly monstrous. Not in the least what I intended.

THE CLERK [explaining]. Hell, they says, is paved with good intentions.
AUGUSTUS [springing to his feet]. Do you mean to insinuate that hell is paved with MY good intentions—with the good intentions of His Majesty's Government?

Some years earlier, Shaw had also reinterpreted this proverb in his fifth and last novel (An Usocial Socialist) in rather different terms but with a similar underlying idea. In this case Smilash argues against Miss Wilson's prejudices that

"You seek to impose your ideas on others, ostracizing those who reject them. Believe me, mankind has been doing nothing else ever since it began to pay some attention to ideas. It has been said that a benevolent despotism is the best possible form of government. I do not believe that saying, because I believe another one to the effect that hell is paved with benevolence, which most people, the proverb being too deep for them, misinterpret as unfulfilled intentions."

In all, perhaps the best thing about hell as a deterrent concept is the fact that it is eternal and unavoidable. That is the way it is presented in "A Treatise on Parents and Children," the preface to Misalliance, in an attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of secular education (?)

"Secular education is an impossibility. Secular education comes to this: that the only reason for ceasing to do evil and learning to do well is that if you do not you will be caned. This is worse than being taught in a church school that if you become a dissenter you will go to hell; for hell is presented as the instrument of something eternal, divine, and inevitable: you cannot evade it the moment the schoolmaster's back is turned."

And yet, hell can be as "real as a turnip" for those who have experienced loss, anguish, or any other of the terrible feelings that make us human. As Margaret puts it in Fanny's First Play

MARGARET. It's no use, mother. I dont care for you and Papa any the less; but I shall never get back to the old way of talking again. Ive made a sort of descent into hell—
MRS KNOX. Margaret! Such a word!
MARGARET. You should have heard all the words that were flying round that night. You should mix a little with people who dont know any other words. But when I said that about a descent into hell I was not swearing. I was in earnest, like a preacher.
MRS KNOX. A preacher utters them in a reverent tone of voice.
MARGARET. I know: the tone that shews they dont mean anything real to him. They usent to mean anything real to me. Now hell is as real to me as a turnip; and I suppose I shall always speak of it like that. Anyhow, Ive been there; and it seems to me now that nothing is worth doing but redeeming people from it.

At any rate, I don't think we should trust any of our preconceived notions about hell. After all, as the Devil reminds us, we tend to take on faith second-hand opinions about hell from people who have never been there: 

DEVIL. [...] Hell is a place far above their comprehension: they derive their notion of it from two of the greatest fools that ever lived, an Italian and an Englishman. The Italian described it as a place of mud, frost, filth, fire, and venomous serpents: all torture. This ass, when he was not lying about me, was maundering about some woman whom he saw once in the street. The Englishman described me as being expelled from Heaven by cannons and gunpowder; and to this day every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the Bible. What else he says I do not know; for it is all in a long poem which neither I nor anyone else ever succeeded in wading through.

I wonder who the Italian and the Englishman may be?

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Shaw aficionados will surely know that the above quotation is from Candida (1898). Morell was explaining his views on happiness and how "An honest man feels that he must pay Heaven for every hour of happiness with a good spell of hard, unselfish work to make others happy." That is the rationale for his words, although there's always room for some socialist / anti-capitalist discourse

By the way, if you want to see some really nice photos of two German productions of Candidathe Deutsche Fotothek contains a large collection of digitized Shaviana, including pictures of the playwright and productions of many of his plays.  

Fotothek df pk 0000013 006 Szenenbilder

However, my interest in beginning with the Candida quotation is purely syntactic. As I write these lines, King Philip VI of Spain is ascending to the throne of my country, which reminds me of another Shaw quotation with a very similar syntactic structure:

"The established Government has no more right to call itself the State than the smoke of London has to call itself the weather."

These words, taken from Shaw's A Manifesto. Fabian Tract 2 (1884), reveal themselves as particularly relevant, now that the Spanish government - just as all the other governments in monarchies all over the world experience every so often - has suddenly realized they are also subjects of a monarch that embodies the State. Of course, Shaw was probably referring to the transiency of governments (whether democratic or not) - the State being the only relatively permanent institution. 

Well, at least we're lucky that the new king  only has two daughters, for we learnt from Shaw that 

"Women make the best sovereigns. The Salic law is a mistake: it should be the other way about. Constitutional monarchy is not a man’s job: it is a woman’s. The relation of a king to his ministers is intolerable: the relation of a queen to them is much better."

These words have been extracted from a 1913 letter to Sylvia Brooke, quoted in Stanley Weintraub's Shaw's People: Victoria to Churchill, and remain the only consolation for many in Spain. However, it has always been the custom everywhere not to follow Shaw's advice, and so we find ourselves "up to our necks in trouble."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


One of the reasons why I haven't had the chance to update this blog for more than a week can be summed up in one word: exams. I have been making them, printing them, grading them, giving feedback on them - even crying over them. So, I thought I'd have a look at what Shaw had to say about exams, given that he had such scanty formal education, and that he did not think much of his school years, not to mention the educational system he had to endure. Perhaps the best piece of Shavian wit on exams can be found in one of the most precious items of my Shaw collection: THE SPOKEN WORD, a 2-CD set with a selection of his historic radio broadcasts

In a broadcast entitled "Talks for Sixth Forms: Modern Education," Shaw discusses everything he considers of interest for young children, including a piece of advice I've already mentioned in this blog. This audio extract used to be available online on the BBC website, but the link provided here is now broken. At least, Radio 4 still offers a nice audio clip with a decent account of Shaw's life and works. At any rate, perhaps one of the most amusing bits in this talk is the quotation I used for the title of this post: 

"If you want to succeed in exams, you must not let yourself get interested in the subject."

However paradoxical, it is true that for someone of Shaw's talent and imagination, Victorian schools must have been stifling, to say the least. I guess that is why he describes his school years as an "educationally null imprisonment" where "I learnt nothing from the curriculum, and at last forgot a good deal of what my uncle had taught me." These and similar remarks belong to the opening paragraphs of "Shame and Wounded Snobbery," one of his famous Sixteen Self Sketches. Perhaps you may want to read a review of the first edition in The Spectator. It's no wonder, then, that A Treatise on Parents and Children (the preface to Misalliance) should include another piece of Shavian wit deriding the type of schooling that children had to undergo in his lifetime: 

"...there is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor."

James Leigh Joynes, Vanity Fair, 1887-07-16

Other people have endorsed similar views in later BBC broadcasts, but with very different aesthetic interests. 

Monday, June 9, 2014


This has to be one of the few times when I've come across a quotable Shaw line that needs further explanation because it is based on a figurative use of language. Although, in fact, when the line is read in context it becomes crystal clear. 

Once again, we find these words in one of the pieces of criticism compiled under the title London Music in 1888-9 as Heard by Corno di Bassetto. On page 369 (article dated 9 May 1890) we can read how the young Shaw "delights in flattery," especially the flattery by "artists whom I have criticized" who "attach sufficient importance to my opinion to spend a postage stamp in an attempt to humbug me." "Even when there is no mistaking it for sincere admiration." These, for Shaw, are the "wise ones."

So, to sum up, Shaw encourages all corresponding artists to

"Flatter by all means; and remember that you cannot lay it on too thick. The net pleases the bird no less than the bait."

But we should make no mistakes. Right after these words Shaw warns flatterers to "be particularly careful not to discuss artistic points with me; for nothing is easier than to drop some remark that will make me your enemy for life."

This fragment led me to search for other times when Shaw, perhaps later in his life, expressed a similar (or not) opinion on the habit of flattery. Among the many examples one can find, it is interesting to note how he links the concept of flattery on two separate occasions to the playwriting career of Arthur W. Pinero. First, because he believes that sometimes he "conquered the public by the ex­quisite flattery of giving them plays that they really liked, whilst persuading them that such appreciation was only possible from persons of great culture and intellectual acuteness." (Dramatic Opinions and Essays.  Vol. I, p. 50)

Arthur Wing Pinero 01

And also because, as expressed in a letter to William Archer (Bernard Shaw Collected Letters. Vol. II: 1898-1910, p. 361), Shaw thinks the critical habit of not expressing one's real opinion on Pinero's work will likely harm Pinero more than do him any good. Thus, Shaw reminds Archer that "In your letter to me, you say the absolute truth about Pinero; but when you write about him for the public, and for himself (which is the main thing) you will lie like a Trojan about him & lure him down to further Iris abysses" - in total ignorance of the fact, he continues, that "flattery will ruin a man more surely & swiftly than any extremity of abuse."

This should come as no surprise, given that it is only a particular instantiation of a general idea that Shaw had always entertained (Dramatic Opinions and Essays. Vol. II. p. 339): 

"Englishmen are particularly susceptible to this sort of flattery, because intellectual subtlety is not their strong point. In dealing with them you must make them believe that you are appealing to their brains when you are really appealing to their senses and feelings."

I guess all audiences think that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; or - if we apply to drama the political principles stated in the The Revolutionist's Handbook, one of the addenda to Man and Superman  

"The politician who once had to learn how to flatter Kings has now to learn how to fascinate, amuse, coax, humbug, frighten or otherwise strike the fancy of the electorate."

Revolutionists entering Juarez (LOC)

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Just a quick post to cheer up our followers before the weekend. 

On April 8th, 1934 the Shaws visited Christchurch as part of their tour across New Zealand. During an impromptu reception in their hotel lounge, he was told "about the New Zealand Moa, a wingless bird. Shaw jokes: 'It sounds like a politician to me. One of those politicians who haven't the slightest knowledge of politics.'" 

I found this quotation on page 297 of Gibbs's A Bernard Shaw Chronology, one of those books that is full of amusing anecdotes and sourced Shaw one-liners. A joy to read!

By the way, if you want to know a little more about the hotel the Shaws stayed in, here's an interesting fragment of a documentary that recounts the history of this former hotel, now a home made museum. 

Shaw's visit to New Zealand was such a momentous occasion that there was extensive newspaper coverage. All his interviews ended up being transcribed, word for word, in a book you can read online here. 

To finish with, let me recommend you - a fantastic digitizing initiative from the antipodes (for those of you reading this from western Europe, of course). They have a nice collection of pictures of Shaw and other printed materials. Definitely worth a look. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


In a letter to the Farnham, Haslemere & Hindhead Herald, dated 15 July 1899, Bernard Shaw expressed his opinions on a recent open-air production of As You Like It by a group of amateur actors "in Sir Frederick Pollock's woods on Hindhead." 

The production had received a great deal of critical acclaim; in fact, Shaw himself acknowledged that he had "seen all the parts worse done at one time or another by professional actors at first-rate London theatres."

However - here's where Shaw is at his best - since Shaw believes the players may repeat the effort "under the very erroneous impression that their last attempt cannot be improved upon," he decides to "venture a word of criticism."

Without getting into the details, what leads to the above quotation is the fact that an "able professional in all the arts tries to conceal the artificiality of the technical processes he is forced to employ." In the case of this production, things were quite the opposite. Instead of making the most of the natural scenery to avoid any sense of artificiality, "I hastened to the place of performance, and behold - a cottage piano! My heart sank! 

And, of course, "everybody wore tights" - "it is impossible to persuade an amateur that he is acting unless he has tights on." The lack of verisimilitude of such garment is blatant, for "it may be obvious to any gamekeeper that no man could possibly face the wear and weather of a forest life and keep his voice, or for the matter of that his life, without good boots, breeches, and buckskin."

Deverell Walter Howard A Scene from As You Like It

This introductory - and, I hope, amusing - bit is but one of the many cases in which the theatricality of tights is derisively mocked by Shaw. For example, in London Music in 1888-9 as Heard by Corno di Bassetto (Later Known as Bernard Shaw), Shaw complains about Mr Augustus Harris's "attachment to the tradition of the operatic stage" as an impresario

"The English nation, among whom I am a councillor, no longer supposes that attitudinizing is acting. Neither would I have you suppose that all amative young men wear dove-colored tights, and have pink cheeks with little moustaches. Nor is it the case that all men with grown-up daughters have long white beards reaching to the waist, or that they walk totteringly with staves, raising hands and eyes to heaven whenever they offer an observation." (p. 99)

In the same book, we find another article complaining about the stereotyped use of tights and other items of clothing for the costume of Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. 

"For example, there is only one costume possible for the Count di Luna. He must wear a stiff violet velvet tunic, white satin tights, velvet shoes, and a white turban hat, with a white puggaree falling on a white cloak. No other known costume can remove its wearer so completely from common humanity. No man could sit down in such a tunic and such tights; for the vulgar realism of sitting down is ten times more impossible for the Count di Luna than for the Venus of Milo." (p. 381)

On a completely different note, did you know that the famous tower from which Leonora listened to Manrico's serenades actually exists? In the picture below, it is the quadrangular tower with the flags atop it. The legend of "El Trovador" was first turned into a romantic melodrama by Antonio García Gutiérrez - and later adapted and improved on by Giuseppe Verdi.  I wonder if any of them ever wore tights?

Zaragoza Aljaferia