Sunday, June 5, 2016


Bernard Shaw's words (whether apocryphal or not) are often used in today's tourism industry to advertise different places he visited. See, for example, the letter about Skellig Michael (Ireland) that we discussed here; or the oft-quoted compliment about Dubrovnik. But perhaps the highest compliment he paid to a location were the parting words as he finished his tour of New Zealand: "It's the best country I've been in." 

This is, at least, what many different sources claim. Martin Parker, in his article "New Zealand or Aotearoa - A Confused Culture" mentions this quotation; similarly, this guide on Going to Live in New Zealand also entices prospective visitors with Shaw's words. 

Shavian sources mention this anecdote as well, and they all coincide that Shaw praised New Zealand in superlative terms as he was boarding the cruiser that would take him back to England. Perhaps the most detailed account of his visit that is freely available online is Isidor Saslav's article in the Stout Centre Review, which also includes this parting eulogy

In a very interesting, succint discussion, Michael Holroyd (Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition, p. 670) expands on the reasons behind Shaw's like for New Zealand: 

"After crossing the sea to what Mark Twain had called ‘Junior England’, Shaw experienced something of what Trollope had found the previous century - ‘You are, as it were, next door to your own house.’ So New Zealand came to suggest an idealized Ireland. ‘If I were beginning life, I am not sure that I would not start in New Zealand,’ he said. ‘ . . . I, being an old Victorian, am much more at home here than in London. You are quite natural to me . . .’ Such tributes suggest a mirage reflecting what his life might have been like in another Ireland without a tearful childhood and the divisive violence of Irish politics. ‘If I showed my true feelings I would cry,’ he told a photographer on board the Rangitane who had asked him to give his brightest smile on leaving New Zealand: ‘it’s the best country I’ve been in.’"

If, however, we focus on the exact source of these words, all researchers provide the same answer: an article in The Dominion, dated 16 April 1934. For example, Julie Fry and Hayden Glass quote this article in their book Going Places: Migration, Economics and the Future of New Zealand. Even better, the compilation What I Said in N.Z.: The Newspaper Utterances of Mr. George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand (p. 29) reproduces the whole article.  

If you wish to read more about what Shaw was reported as saying during his visit to New Zealand, you may peruse the excellent digital repository of newspapers of the National Library of New Zealand. I have taken the liberty of selecting one in particular, where Shaw states that "the trouble about New Zealand is that it is too pleasing a place." 

At any rate, although it goes without saying that New Zealand is one of the natural paradises on earth, I would like to finish this post with another country that Shaw held in high esteem, one should think. Specifically, Dan H. Laurence, in the introduction to the second part (1931-1936) of his fourth volume of collected letters, writes

"When their second world cruise ended in 1936, the Shaws disem­barked for what GBS may by then have realised would be the last time. Asked by a journalist, "After visiting twenty-nine countries, what do you think would be the best country to live in?" Shaw's succinct reply was, "I should say Heaven."

New Zealand or Heaven? You make the call. 

George Bernard Shaw and Sir Joseph James Kinsey