Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I have recently come across a novel by Daniel D. Victor, entiled The Final Page of Baker Street. As all my readers have already guessed, the protagonist of the story is someone called Sherlock Holmes, although the storry is narrated through the eyes of some Dr. Watson. 

Despite the chronological overlap between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bernard Shaw, and the popularity of Sherlock Holmes in Shaw's lifetime, these are no reasons to mention Victor's novel here. 

Sherlock Holmes statue at Meiringen2
There is a passage in the novel, however, that drew my attention because of the people mentioned in it and because of the quotation it referred to. The passage reads as follows: 

"I chuckled in sympathy. "Didn't Oscar Wilde have something to say about the shame of wasting youth on the young?"
"I believe you'll find that most people attribute the sentiment to Bernard Shaw," Holmes said. 

Well, I have to admit that - as usual - the astute detective is right. Before I even tried to search for this quotation in my database - to no avail - I found that The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs contains an entry for "youth is wasted on the young." Perhaps the most interesting thing it says is that "on no evident basis, the saying is commonly attributed to Shaw."

This is a misconception that seems to have spread into the collective imagination of Shavians as well. For example, on page 47 of The Independent Shavian 36.1-2 (1998), the section "Society Activities" reads: 

"On Friday evening of March 27 the Bernard Shaw Society celebrated the birthday of Dan H. Laurence, the pre-eminent Shaw scholar end editor. The place was the American Irish Historical Society and the birthday cake bore the slogan: “Youth is Wasted on the Young.” Our distinguished celebrant favored the guests with a talk entitled “Shaking the Family Tree: The Shaws and Gurleys of Dublin.”"

In principle, this does not mean any preconception about who coined that saying - although we can all read between the lines. In a more conspicuous claim, "The Continuing Checklist of Shaviana" published in SHAW 31 (2001) contains the following entry: 

"Ryan, Nicholas. “Land Where the Kids Rule.” Review of Wasted on the Young (2010), film screened in Sydney, Australia, directed by Ben C. Lucas, and taken from the pronouncement of Shaw: “Youth is wasted on the young.” 9 March 2011."

However, I have been able to find no connection whatsoever between these words and Bernard Shaw. Better informed opinions, welcome. 

The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Once this question has been settled, I suggest you return to two of our favourite fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes and Corno di Bassetto (Shaw's alter ego as a music critic) in Stanley Weintraub's engrossing article in the Times Literary Supplement (available only by subscription). 

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