Friday, November 21, 2014


Although this quotation floods the Internet every so often, it is hard to find a single site that sources it. Well, that's what bloggers who like to procrastinate are for. The main reason this quotation has never been properly sourced is that, most likely, it is apocryphal. To begin with, there is not a single occurrence of this quotation in my whole digitized database (the complete plays, novels, and prefaces, plus over 250 books and essays on Shaw). In addition, this very quotation has been attributed to a number of people, including Abraham Lincoln, Cyrus S. Ching, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and a few others. The closest one can get to a proper source is a secondary citation of a couple of newspaper articles I have not been able to read

Given that it is very likely that Shaw did not coin - or ever say, for that matter - this expression, I am going to include here a few of the most amusing things Shaw did say about pigs and/or using the word pig. Well, it's something!

From Our Theatres in theNineties (Vol. II, p. 18): "The most pigheaded Englishman has a much stronger objection to be crushed or killed by institutions and conventions, however sacred or even respectable, than a Russian peasant or a Chinaman. If he commits a sin, he either tells a lie and sticks to it, or else demands "a broadening of thought" which will bring his sin within the limits of the allowable." 

John Bull's Other Island is the Shaw play in which the word "pig" is used most often; typically because the opening scene of Act IV contains the famous 'pig story'. Here are Nora's own words: 

DORAN. There was Patsy Farrll in the back sate wi dhe pig between his knees, n me bould English boyoh in front at the machinery, n Larry Doyle in the road startin the injine wid a bed winch. At the first puff of it the pig lep out of its skin and bled Patsy's nose wi dhe ring in its snout. [Roars of laughter: Keegan glares at them]. Before Broadbint knew hwere he was, the pig was up his back and over into his lap; and bedad the poor baste did credit to Corny's thrainin of it; for it put in the fourth speed wid its right crubeen as if it was enthered for the Gordn Bennett.
NORA [reproachfully]. And Larry in front of it and all! It's nothn to laugh at, Mr Doran.
DORAN. Bedad, Miss Reilly, Larry cleared six yards backwards at wan jump if he cleared an inch; and he'd a cleared seven if Doolan's granmother hadn't cotch him in her apern widhout intindin to. [Immense merriment].
AUNT JUDY, Ah, for shame, Barney! the poor old woman! An she was hurt before, too, when she slipped on the stairs.
DORAN. Bedad, ma'am, she's hurt behind now; for Larry bouled her over like a skittle. [General delight at this typical stroke of Irish Rabelaisianism].
NORA. It's well the lad wasn't killed.
DORAN. Faith it wasn't o Larry we were thinkin jus dhen, wi dhe pig takin the main sthreet o Rosscullen on market day at a mile a minnit. Dh ony thing Broadbint could get at wi dhe pig in front of him was a fut brake; n the pig's tail was undher dhat; so that whin he thought he was putn non the brake he was ony squeezin the life out o the pig's tail. The more he put the brake on the more the pig squealed n the fasther he dhruv.

Finally, from a letter to Mrs. Richard Mansfield (Bernard Shaw Collected Letters, Vol. II, p. 130-133), here is Shaw's vicarious reprimand to Elbert Hubbard for his poor editing and typesetting skills: 

"The fact is, the creature does not know the ABC of good printing. I gave him so precise an account of his ignorance in that letter that he has made some attempt to correct those which admitted of correction by mechanical instruction. For instance, he now aims at having his margins right instead of not knowing anything about them. He no longer sticks two or three fly leaves of dirty brown felt at the end, under the impression that they are “esthetic” because they are ugly and silly. He has discarded his sham “Kelmscott Capitals,” the design of which would have disgraced a learned pig, and substituted colored sham Chinese ones which are much less offensive. But in the essentials of printing he is as hopeless as ever."

Cochon Corse-du-Sud

I know the post was kind of muddy, so I hope you liked it! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014


A couple of days ago Oxford World's Classics posted a tweet in which they quoted Shaw. Here it is: 

These words are part of a 1894 letter to aspiring drama critic Reginald Golding Bright (Bernard Shaw Collected Letters, Vol. I, pp. 460-1) in which Shaw advises him to "give up detesting everything appertaining to Oscar Wilde or to anyone else." Then, he goes on to write the words above, together with an interesting commentary on critical opinions: 

"The critic’s first duty is to admit, with absolute respect, the right of every man to his own style. Wilde’s wit and his fine literary workmanship are points of great value. There is always a vulgar cry both for and against every man or woman of any distinction; and from such cries you cannot keep your mind too clear if you wish to attain distinction yourself. You know the sort of thing I mean: you have heard it about Whistler, Sarah Grand, Ibsen, Wagner—everybody who has a touch of genius. Excuse this scrap of sermon: I would not intrude it upon you if I did not know by experience the great difficulty of forming and holding to a genuine original opinion of public men on their own merits when so many fools are chattering about them in all directions."

It is interesting to note how Shaw once again praises Wilde and defends him from harsh criticism. As you may remember, other entries in this blog have touched on the Shaw-Wilde relationship, particularly on their seemingly conflicting aesthetic views. That is why I never grow tired of finding examples like these. Shaw's words are true in abstrac terms, but the fact that they were originally meant to advise critics on how to approach Wilde's works makes them especially meaningful. 

Keller cartoon from The Wasp of San Francisco depicting Oscar Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


The environmental website One Green Planet recently published a list of quotations on animal rights and against animal cruelty. Unsurprisinly, the list includes a quotation by Bernard Shaw

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them."

This quotation, taken from act II of The Devil's Disciple is not, however, directly related to animals, but rather to fellow human beings at large. Below is the larger context, a conversation between Judith and Anderson:  

 JUDITH. But Richard said— 

ANDERSON (goodhumoredly cutting her short). Pooh! Richard said! He said what he thought would frighten you and frighten me, my dear. He said what perhaps (God forgive him!) he would like to believe. It's a terrible thing to think of what death must mean for a man like that. I felt that I must warn him. I left a message for him.
JUDITH (querulously). What message?
ANDERSON. Only that I should be glad to see him for a moment on a matter of importance to himself; and that if he would look in here when he was passing he would be welcome.
JUDITH (aghast). You asked that man to come here!
JUDITH (sinking on the seat and clasping her hands). I hope he won't come! Oh, I pray that he may not come!
ANDERSON. Why? Don't you want him to be warned?
JUDITH. He must know his danger. Oh, Tony, is it wrong to hate a blasphemer and a villain? I do hate him! I can't get him out of my mind: I know he will bring harm with him. He insulted you: he insulted me: he insulted his mother.
ANDERSON (quaintly). Well, dear, let's forgive him; and then it won't matter.
JUDITH. Oh, I know it's wrong to hate anybody; but—
ANDERSON (going over to her with humorous tenderness). Come, dear, you're not so wicked as you think. The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity. After all, my dear, if you watch people carefully, you'll be surprised to find how like hate is to love. 

This quotation, of course, brings to mind two of the most popular topics of discussion among Shavians. The first, Shaw's concern for animal rights - including his vegetarianism - is often summarized in his famous words, reproduced in Hesketh Pearson's Bernard Shaw: A Biography

"My will con­tains directions for my funeral, which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry, and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow-creatures. It will be, with the excep­tion of the procession into Noah's Ark, the most remarkable thing of the kind ever seen." 

The second idea, that of indifference being one of the worst feelings we can hold for others, even worse than hatred, is frequently found in Shaw's writings. For example, the preface to Heartbreak House reads: 

"It is difficult to say whether indifference and neglect are worse than false doctrine."

As usual, then, Shaw's words are multifaceted and hardly ever a straightforward message, but we must not be indifferent to them - lest we become indifferent to our fellow inhabitants of this planet we call Earth. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Legend has it that in 1949, when Buoyant Billions was being rehearsed at Malvern, Shaw sent Sir Winston Churchill a card with two complimentary tickets for the opening night. The card allegedly read something like: 

Here's two tickets to my new play. Bring a friend - if you have one. 

On a similar note, Churchill is often quoted as having replied with another witty card: 

Cannot attend opening night. Will come to second night - if there is one. 

This apocryphal anecdote thrives on the Internet, and has made its way onto the twitter feed of prominent online personalities, such as reputed demographer Conrad Hackett, who posted a picture of what some claim were the original cards or wires: 

Not only do active online professinals (Hackett has over 72,000 followers) quote this postal conversation as if it had actually happened, but even Shaw scholars include the above exchange in their research publications - albeit with the necessary caveat.  For example, Vivian Elliot in her Dear Mr Shaw: Selections from Bernard Shaw's Postbag (Bloomsbury, 1987) remarks that (p. 234)

"If the story is authentic, Winston Churchill (like his mother before) bettered Shaw in repartee on at least one occasion. When Shaw invited Churchill to the first night of his new play Buoyant Billions in 1949, enclosing two tickets, 'one for yourself and one foryour friend - if you have one,' Churchill replied thanking Mr Shaw and saying that he could not attend the first night... but would be delighted to come on the second - 'if you have one.'"

Others have also taken this anecdote with a grain of salt and researched the long-standing tradition of different versions of this funny exchange. 

As usual, the proof of the pudding is in Shaw's own words (at least until someone unearths the actual cards that would prove Shaw a liar). In a letter to Derek Tatham, dated 16th September 1949, and quoted in Volume IV of Bernard Shaw Collected Letters (p. 856), Shaw responds to the journalist who intended to use this story and asked if the playwright "had any objections." Shaw flatly replied: 

"The above is not only a flat lie but a political libel which may possibly damage me. Publish it at your peril, whether in assertion or contradiction."

In fact, Churchill scholars also agree that the above quotation is, in fact, apocryphal. Erica L. Chenoweth, in her All the World's a Stage: Churchill and the Theatre has also found evidence that Churchill himself denied these mock-insults. 

Well, so much for this amusing quotation. But fear not, my dear friends, there will be many more to source and analyze in my next post - if there is one. 

Back to the wall

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Shaw's Corner Twitter feed recently incorporated a Shaw quotation that had been posted by Vintage Books. The quotation reads as follows: 

The source of the quotation is quite easy to find. Towards the end of "As Far As Thought Can Reach," the fifth and last part of Back to Methuselah, the She-Ancient supports Ecrasia's impression that art brings happiness to one's life. 

ECRASIA. You have no right to say that I am not sincere. I have found a happiness in art that real life has never given me. I am intensely in earnest about art. There is a magic and mystery in art that you know nothing of.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Yes, child: art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.

The first time one reads this quotation (at least the bit quoted by Vintage Books), you may have the impression that both Ecrasia and the She-Ancient support a view of art that is not in consonance with Shaw's personal ideas. Nothing new there. After all, why would all Shaw characters think like "the master of puppets"?

However, I must admit that I have omitted some of the She-Ancient's words. Specifically, her final sentence suggests that art as a medium to experience life - and the Life Force - must be superseded by more direct means in order to achieve the ultimate stage in the realization of human beings. 

THE SHE-ANCIENT. [...] But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues, your toys and your dolls.

Thus, these words should perhaps be understood along the lines of the many other instances of Shavian contempt for "art for art's sake". Among these, two oft-quoted passages stand out. The first, from the Epistle Dedicatory to Man and Superman, summarizes Shaw's views on the necessary didacticism of art (and drama): 

"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."

Shaw, Belloc e Chesterton

The other example is from Caesar and Cleopatra, where Apollodorus is the quintessential example (comically distorted, in this case) of the aesthete whose motto is "art for art's sake."

SENTINEL. So you are the carpet merchant
APOLLODORUS (hurt). My friend: I am a patrician.
SENTINEL. A patrician! A patrician keeping a shop instead of following arms!
APOLLODORUS. I do not keep a shop. Mine is a temple of the arts. I am a worshipper of beauty. My calling is to choose beautiful things for beautiful Queens. My motto is Art for Art's sake.
SENTINEL. That is not the password.
APOLLODORUS. It is a universal password.

Even in the preface to one of his latest plays (Farfetched Fables), Shaw could not help but insist on this idea that "the Shavian idiosyncrasy...disgusts the Art for Art's Sake Faction."

It is not difficult to trace this neglect for this idea of art to the seemingly antithetical views that Shaw and Oscar Wilde held in this respect. Indeed, this notion seems to have caught on among critics, because the Introduction to Arms and the Man (written by some mysterious "M.") includes a clear definition of Shavian poetics with special reference to the "Art for Art's sake" controversy: 

"There never was an author who showed less predilection for a specific medium by which to accomplish his results. He recognized, early in his days, many things awry in the world and he assumed the task of mundane reformation with a confident spirit. It seems such a small job at twenty to set the times aright. He began as an Essayist, but who reads essays now-a-days?—he then turned novelist with no better success, for no one would read such preposterous stuff as he chose to emit. He only succeeded in proving that absolutely rational men and women—although he has created few of the latter—can be most extremely disagreeable to our conventional way of thinking.
As a last resort, he turned to the stage, not that he cared for the dramatic art, for no man seems to care less about "Art for Art's sake," being in this a perfect foil to his brilliant compatriot and contemporary, Wilde. He cast his theories in dramatic forms merely because no other course except silence or physical revolt was open to him."

Of course, as was always the case with Shaw, his approach to aestheticism and the theory of literary art is far more complex than these lines can possibly express, even summarily. Others have tried their hand at that, luckily for me. Be that as it may, and regardless of your personal philosophical preferences, we may as well sit back and enjoy good drama, whether for art's sake, for world betterment, or simply for fun. This is something the a Monty Python Flying Circus gag does exceedingly well.