Monday, March 7, 2016


A few weeks ago, I was reading some new publications in order to decide whether their references to Shaw would be of interest to readers of the Continuing Checklist of Shaviana. One such publication was Nimrod Tal's The American Civil War in British Culture: Representations and Responses, 1870 to the Present. In chapter 3, "British Intellectuals and Abraham Lincoln" we read that "Bernard Shaw saw a cult of Lincoln in England" (p. 95), although no source is provided either in the text or in a note.

I tried to search for the source of these alleged words by Shaw in my database, but I could not find anything vaguely related to a "cult."

Luckily for me, however, this notion of Shaw's acknowledgment of a "cult of Lincoln in England" is to be found in other publications on the subject. So, for example, Adam I. P. Smith, in his article "The ‘Cult’ of Abraham Lincoln and the Strange Survival of Liberal England in the Era of the World Wars," not only cites Shaw as the source of these words, but in a footnote he provides three references where I expected to find the sources I was looking for. 

The first one is Mark E. Neely's The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia, where we can read (p. 53) that "George Bernard Shaw told Lincoln collector Judd Stewart that there was 'a cult of Lincoln in England, received of late from Lord Charnwood's very penetrating biography.'"

The source of Shaw's words is further corroborated by some documents that have been recently digitized from the Files of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. These documents include a 1981 issue of Lincoln Lore, the Bulletin of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, which was edited by the aforementioned Mark E. Neely. There, we read an almost verbatim reproduction of what he had written in his The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia: "George Bernard Shaw told Lincoln collector Judd Stewart that Charnwood's "very penetrating biography" created "a cult of Lincoln in England." 

Of course, although Shaw's opinion as quoted by Neely is plausible, we are still left with a personal record of a conversation of which there is no further evidence. Whether one chooses to take this with a grain of salt is a personal decision, but I cannot end this post without bringing to your attention the fact that Shaw read all the books about Lincoln we have just mentioned - and then some. 

If you search for "Lincoln" on the website of the National Trust Collections, and you limit your search to the items found in Shaw's Corner, you will find that Shaw owned copies of both Drinkwater's play and Charnwood's biography - as well as another biography of Lincoln by Basil Williams. 

Shaw may or may not have said that there was a "cult," but he was no doubt aware of the stature of Abrahm Lincoln as an icon of history and culture.

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