Tuesday, June 6, 2017


The other day I stumbled upon an article on the "Pains of Imprisonment" by a scholar based in Oslo, Norway. The article (allegedly) quotes one of "Shaw's memorable phrases"

“If the prison does not underbid the slum in human misery, the slum will empty and the prison will fill."

Since this article did not provide a source for the quotation, and given that I could not find it in my database either, I turned to the Internet as a last resource. It did not take me long to realize that this phrase is quoted a number of times in different documents, from newspaper articles to scholarly books. Luckily for me, one of those books actually cited a source. In this doctoral dissertation on The Relationship Between Mass Incarceration andCrime in the Neoliberal Period in the United States, the quotation is sourced as part of Shaw's The Crime of Imprisonment (1946).  

Dan H. Laurence's Soho Bibliography lists this item (first published separately in 1925) and has something else to say about it. 

Now that I had the title of the book, I realized that it could not be freely available online because it had been published in 1946. However, as a preface to the Webbs' English Prisons Under Local Government (1922), my chances were much higher. 

In general terms, I guess this quotation may be related to a number of other works by Shaw (whether essays, speeches, or plays) where poverty is the driving force behind many of the ills of society. I'm sure each reader has their favorite one (please leave a comment about this if you will). 

Because this is a very complex topic and I am not an expert on the matter, I would like to direct readers to a couple of recent publications by fellow Shavian Peter Gahan, who edited "Six Fabian Lectures on Redistribution of Income" in SHAW 36.1 ("Shaw and Money") and, more importantly, has published a book that connects Shaw, the Webbs, and the problem of poverty and social inequality (Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb on Poverty and Equality in the Modern World, 1905–1914). 

The day will come when both the slum and the prison will be empty. At least, I hope so. 

Monday, April 3, 2017


A couple of days ago, ISS member George Austin, from New Zealand, shared with me the following newspaper clipping: 

He told me that in his capacity as marketing person for the Thames Society of Arts, he had chosen this Shaw quotation as the best way to synthesize why groups like theirs are so necessary in today's world. Of course, I asked for permission to reproduce the advertisement as an excuse to share the source of this quotation with you. 

As many of you may already know, this pithy sentence is originally from Part V of Back to Methuselah: "As Far as Thought Can Reach." 

THE HE-ANCIENT. And you, Ecrasia: you cling to your highly artistic dolls as the noblest projections of the Life Force, do you not?
ECRASIA. Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

That is why I thought I'd provide a few extra references by authors who have discussed this quotation in their Shaw-related scholarship. 

To begin with, several authors have included this quotation in compilations of the "wit and wisdom" of Bernard Shaw. Among them, we can mention Stephen Winsten, who used it on page 10 of his The Quintessence of G.B.S.

Perhaps more apropos is Stanely Weintraub's discussion of the extended context of this quotation in his edited collection of Shaw's art criticism: Bernard Shaw on the London Art Scene, 1885-1950 (p. 32-33): 

"But Arjillax, having matured from abbreviated adolescence, "cannot pretend to be satisfied now with modelling pretty children," although the immature Ecrasia maintains with the steadfastness of youth, "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable'" To her the She-Ancient suggests better wisdom. "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. 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." Yet the art-starved Ancients are unhappy and bored, their lives long but bleak, their brave new world gained at great price."

This paragraph is also reproduced, verbatim, in the section on "Shaw in the Picture Galleríes and the Picture Galleries in Shaw's Plays" in The Unexpected Shaw, by the same author (p. 86).

Other Shaw scholars have chosen to paraphrase this quotation --without mentioning it-- in order to illustrate Shaw's stance on art at large and in relation to more pragmatic pursuits. 

Michael Holroyd, for example, explains in Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition (p. 84) that in the 1880s

A similar tension between art and 'reality' (whether it be economics or philosophy) is expressed by Charles A. Berst in Bernard Shaw and the Art of Drama (p. xiii): 

But these notions also pervade Shaw's dramatic texts. Remember, for instance, Caesar's words (and the discussion thereof in Elise Adam's Bernard Shaw and the Aesthetes, p. 114 - full text available online):

All of the above should be taken as part and parcel of Shaw's philosophy. After all, as one of his characters would put it in Immaturity (1879)

By the way, the "somebody" who says that life witout art (and artists) is "brutality" is probably John Ruskin. As Eric Bentley reminds us in his Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950 (p. 34): 

Well, I hope I made these last few minutes worth the while. Because, what is life without art?

Monday, March 6, 2017


Sometimes one gets carried away when browsing the Internet, and you end up reading an article published eight years ago. In this case, the alleged Shaw quotation is one of those that, to quote the Italian dictum, "se non è vero è ben trovato." A truly Shavian turn of phrase. 

Unknown painter - The Torture of St Victor - WGA23584

Indeed, it doesn't take long to confirm that the sentence in question appears in one of Shaw's plays. Well, actually, it is from the preface to one of them. Misalliance to be precise. You can either read the preface (and the whole play) here. Or you may choose to listen to the preface in the voice of Robert Shaw here

Whatever the case, you'll soon come across the relevant passage: 

Art Teaching
"By art teaching I hasten to say that I do not mean giving children lessons in freehand drawing and perspective. I am simply calling attention to the fact that fine art is the only teacher except torture. I have already pointed out that nobody, except under threat of torture, can read a school book. The reason is that a school book is not a work of art. Similarly, you cannot listen to a lesson or a sermon unless the teacher or the preacher is an artist."

It should come as no surprise that Shaw compares education to torture, given his personal experience with formal schooling and his success as a self-taught genius. 

But being the avid linguist I am, I was more interested in finding out whether Shaw resorted to drawing parallels with torture with any frequency. I wanted to shed some light on what things or issues Shaw (or his characters) compares to torture. The answer (below) may surprise you - although I hope it is more bearable than its subject matter. 

DOYLE [...]. If you want to interest him in Ireland you've got to call the unfortunate island Kathleen ni Hoolihan and pretend she's a little old woman. It saves thinking. It saves working. It saves everything except imagination, imagination, imagination; and imagination's such a torture that you can't bear it without whisky. [With fierce shivering self-contempt] At last you get that you can bear nothing real at all: you'd rather starve than cook a meal; you'd rather go shabby and dirty than set your mind to take care of your clothes and wash yourself; you nag and squabble at home because your wife isn't an angel, and she despises you because you're not a hero; and you hate the whole lot round you because they're only poor slovenly useless devils like yourself...

Of course, it should not be forgotten that in the very preface to this play ("Preface for Politicians") Shaw argues that hanging "is the least sensational form of public execution: it lacks those elements of blood and torture for which the military and bureaucratic imagination lusts."

For precisely "blood and torture" can help us gauge a man of true military disposition, but with a classic Shavian twist. As Shaw explains in a letter to Frank Harris (20 October 1916):

"There is an old story, told sometimes about Mazarin, sometimes about Richelieu, of a minister's antechamber hung with pictures: those on one side being all idyllic landscapes and scenes of domestic sentiment: those on the other scenes of battle and blood and torture. The minister, when he wanted to size up a new man, watched how he took the pictures. If he clung to the battle pictures, the minister knew that he was a timid man of peace, for whom action and daring were full of romantic fascination. If he wallowed in cottage senti­ment and the Maiden's Prayer, he was immediately marked down for military preferment and [a] dangerous job."

But once again Shaw returns to art as the ultimate form of torture. His letter to Arnold Bennett (20 October 1921) begins thus: 

"My dear Bennett
The art of pleasing an audience is a very easy one compared to the art of torturing it. Last Tuesday night the artistic torture which was the object of the style of execution adopted was inevitably mixed up with the non-artistic torture of a terrible strain of nervousness, of the mental indigestion of half assimilated parts, of bewilderment, of voices that could be steady at first only by forcing them, and of the excitement and terror of parts that felt wonderful but were quite incomprehensible. That alloy of non-artistic terror will, I hope, presently disappear, and make the difficult parts as smooth and certain as the easy parts were last night. But the artistic torture will be all the more poignant; for none of the difficulties are shirked. Strictly between ourselves, the production was hurried under finan­cial pressure."

THE 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.

"...we have been judging and punishing ever since Jesus told us not to; and I defy anyone to make out a convincing case for believing that the world has been any better than it would have been if there had never been a judge, a prison, or a gallows in it all that time. We have simply added the misery of punishment to the misery of crime, and the cruelty of the judge to the cruelty of the criminal. We have taken the bad man, and made him worse by torture and degradation, incidentally making ourselves worse in the process. It does not seem very sensible, does it?"

No, it doesn't.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Caricature of George Bernard Shaw

Yes, my dear fellow Shavians. It's that time of the year again. The time of the year that, as Shaw put it,

"Christmas is forced upon a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press; on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred."

But this blog is solely concerned with sourcing quotations, and that's what we're going to do. The bad-tempered remark above is to be found in an article published in the Saturday Review (1 January 1898), entitled "Peace and Goodwill to Managers." The article is included in Vol. III of The Drama Observed, 1897-1911, as well as in Shaw's Dramatic Criticism from the Saturday Review, 1895-1898 and Dramatic Opinions and Essays (Vol. II), this one available online.  

The "rant" against Christmas that opens the article is, in fact, a little longer than the quotation above. It reads: 

"I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas in these articles. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous, and demoralizing subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages."

This quotation has been used by some authors to illustrate Shaw's well-known dislike for Christmas and the celebrations it conventionally involves. For example, Hesketh Pearson quotes this passage in two of his biographical volumes: G.B.S.: A Full Length Portrait (p. 146) and Bernard Shaw: A Biography (p. 176). 

George Bernard Shaw, his life and works; a critical biography (authorized) (1911) (14595271509)

This, of course, is not the only passage by Shaw where one gets an idea of how much he truly "hated" Christmas. Some are even harsher, like the fragment from one of his pieces of music criticism (Music in London, 1890-94 Vol. III, p. 113. 20 December 1893):

"Like all intelligent people, I greatly dislike Christmas. It revolts me to see a whole nation refrain from music for weeks together in order that every man may rifle his neighbour's pockets under cover of a ghastly general pretence of festivity. It is really an atrocious institution, this Christmas. 
We must be gluttonous because it is Christmas. We must be drunken because it is Christmas. We must be insincerely generous; we must buy things that nobody wants, and give them to people we don't like; we must go to absurd entertainments, that make even our little children satirical; we must writhe under venal officiousness from legions of freebooters, all because it is Christmas - that is, because the mass of the population, including the all powerful middle class tradesmen, depend on a week of licence and brigandage, waste and intemperance to clear off its outstanding liabilities at the end of the year. As for me, I shall fly from it all tomorrow or next day to some remote spot miles from a shop, where nothing worse can befall me than a serenade from a few peasants, or some equally harmless survival of medieval mummery, shyly proffered, not advertised, moderate in its expectations, and soon over. In town there is, for the moment, nothing for me or any honest man to do."

But all Shaw quotations are not quite complete without their share of anti-climax. However, since the author does not supply the anti-climax this time, I guess circumstances will. That is the only explanation I find for The Bernard Shaw Christmas Flea Market, of course. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Just the other day I was turning over the pages of Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason, when I realized that he quotes Shaw twice in two different articles: one about blues guitarist and singer B.B. King and another on Jazz trumpetist Louis Armstrong. On both occasions, the quotations read more or less the same, something along the lines that "anybody can make a beginning."

Although no source is provided -and the wording is slightly different- in either case, I thought these words were likely to come from one of Shaw's critical pieces on music. Bingo!

The first volume of Music in London (1890-1894) contains an article dated 9 December 1891 in which he criticizes another form of "bardolatry" during Mozart's centenary. As he says in the second paragraph, "The word is, of course, Admire, admire, admire." But Shaw refuses to simply please his readers and remains aware of the fact that many Mozart 

"...worshippers cannot bear to be told that their hero was not the founder of a dynasty. But in art the highest success is to be the last of your race, not the first. Anybody, almost, can make a beginning: the difficulty is to make an end—to do what cannot be bettered."

This piece, because it includes Dickens among other artists who were the last of their generation, is also quoted in the introduction to Dan H. Laurence and Martin Quinn's Shaw on Dickens

Needless to say, another thing that struck me - although it should come as no surprise - is that this jazz and pop music critic was indeed familiar with Shaw's music criticism. It amazes me to think of how influential Shaw has been and remains to be in so many fields and for so long. 

But to return to the dichotomy of beginnings and ends in art, readers may wish perhaps to learn that this is not the only time that Shaw used the same rhetorical parallelism - although in a rather different sense and spere.  

In his lecture "The Simple Truth about Socialism," included -among other works- in Louis Crompton's The Road to Equality (pp. 155-194), Shaw argues that "we must improve the nation if we are to im­prove its institutions"; in other words, that we must strive to produce the "Superman" before attempting any profound socio-political reform. This idea, however, is not devoid of problems for

"The Eugenic Society feels quite sure, apparently, that it can make a beginning by at least breeding out tuberculosis, epilepsy, dipsomania, and lunacy; but for all we know to the contrary, the Superman may be tubercu­lous from top to toe; he is quite likely to be a controlled epileptic; his sole diet may be overproof spirit; and he will cer­tainly be as mad as a hatter from our point of view. We really know nothing about him. Our worst failures today may be simply first attempts at him, and our greatest successes the final perfection of the type that is passing away. Under these cir­cumstances there is nothing to be done in the way of a stud farm. We must trust to nature: that is, to the fancies of our males and females. No doubt some of the fancies are morbid; but they must all have some meaning: that is, some purpose; and the purpose must he in the main a vital one, or it would hardly have survived. At all events, that is the best we can make of the situation."

Given the previous opinion on what it means to "make a beginning," it seems quite clear that Shaw is renouncing eugenics at this stage -be it because it is immoral or impractical. Shaw's interest in and discussion of eugenics and its methods, however, are multifaceted, so I won't go beyond recommending the most recent book I know of that covers this topic: Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism: Longing for Utopia.

This blog, alas, can only make a beginning. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016


A few months ago I came across a new bibliographical reference - almost by chance - of which I knew very little at first: only that its title was "Well Printed Books." Upon further investigation I found out that the item in question was not a book or an article, but rather a piece of art. More specifically, one by Tara McLeod (http://peartreepress.co.nz/), a "hand-print book-maker" based in New Zealand. Among his works, there is a beautiful broadsheet of a Shaw quotation that reads

"Well printed books are just as scarce as well written ones, and every author should remember that the most costly books derive their value from the craft of the printer and not from the author's genius."

I must admit I fell in love with the quotation, as well as with the quality of the printing and typesetting - to the extent that I went to great lengths to get one of the few copies available at the National Library of New Zealand (thanks are due to their staff, who went beyond their duty to make this possible). Here is what the framed piece looks like on my office wall. 

Initially, this piece was commissioned by the National Library Of New Zealand in 2015 for their exhibition “The Book Beautiful,” which seems to have been worth a visit

However, as you probably have guessed by now, this post is actually meant to find out more about the source and context of the quotation. Well, wait no more. These words belong to Shaw's essay "On Modern Typography," which opens with a note of gratitude "to the printer, and the printer's reader" and ends on "the moral of what I have been saying," summed up in the above quotation. 

Of course, by the reverse token, printers who do not do their job professionally - as it apparently happened with some page proofs of The Devil's Disciple (Collected Letters, 1898-1910, p. 226), "should be boiled down into tallow forthwith & sold for what he will fetch." This passage can also be read in the more recent Bernard Shaw and His Publishers, edited by Michel W. Pharand. 

Although most Shavians know of Shaw's interest in printing and typesetting - and practically every other process involved in publishing a book - is won't hurt anybody to remind readers of how this interest was spurred by his friendship with William Morris

George Frederic Watts portrait of William Morris 1870

And one gets a pretty accurate idea of how serious Shaw was about the whole printing business when one reads his letter to Grant Richards (9th September 1898) with the detailed specifications for the forthcoming edition of The Perfect Wagnerite

"If you choose the big type (as I anticipate from your letter you are likely to) then you must impress upon Clark that every defect in the printing will be ten times more glaring with the larger than with the smaller. There must be no holes and rivers of white patching the page. As a first step to attain this, the huge gaps left at the beginnings of each sentence on the sample page must be vehemently forbidden. The spaces between the words must be kept as narrow and even as possible: it is better to divide words at the end of the line with hyphens than to spoil the line by excessive spacing merely to “justify” without dividing, as some printers make a point of doing. There should be no greater space between the point at the end of a sentence and the capital, than between the last letter of one word and the first of the next within the sentence. In short, the color of the block of printing should be as even as possible. The printing of the sample couldn’t possibly be worse in this respect."

I guess I could quote a hundred other examples, but readers can delve into any of the sources cited here and find many more for themselves; although you may choose to start with Joseph R. Dunlap's interesting survey of these matters published in The Shavian 2.3 (1961, pp. 4-15), fittingly entitled "The Typographical Shaw: GBS and the Revival of Printing." The full text of the article was also published in The Bulletin of the New York Public Library (Oct. 1960), which you can also read below

Sunday, September 25, 2016


A couple of days ago a dear friend asked me if the oft-quoted line "the British and Americans are two peoples separated by a common language..." was actually something Shaw had coined. This quip, and slightly altered versions thereof, has been attributed to Shaw - often by illustrious people who actually met him. For example, The Shavian 6.5 (Spring 1987) includes a brief note that reads as follows: 

However, as the excellent, informative post by The Quote Investigator demonstrates, chances are Shaw never uttered those words; or, at least, as my own database seems to suggest, there is no reliable, extant record of the when and where. 

Given the futility of my sleuthing, I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few passages where Shaw refers to or comments on the English spoken in America - mind you, a rather different version of the language than the one we hear today; and far from being a single, unified variety for that matter.

Differences in semantics and usage between American and British English, for example, could have arguably confused visitors of the 1902 photographic exhibitions of the Linked Ring and the Royal Photographic Society. Shaw did not have a high opinion of one of Edward Steichen's works, but...

"To make matters worse, Mr. Steichen actually labels the lady with the cat in the American language. He calls her a "nude." This may be American modesty; but in English the adjective is only used substantively by old-fashioned dealers to denote a naughty French picture. This use of the word is also exemplified on the books entitled Nudes from the Paris Salon. Consequently English artists use the term Life Study, which is more accurate descriptively, and better grammar to boot." (Bernard Shaw on Photography, p. 88)

A working knowledge, then, of the differences between these two varieties of English is a good thing. Shaw seems to corroborate this notion in his review of Olivia (by W. G. Wills), published in the Saturday Review on 6 Feb. 1897. 

"Its success, if it does succeed, will be due mainly to the acting of Miss Cicely Richards, who pulls it through with great ability, seconded effectively by Mr Cockburn. Miss Esme Beringer's impersonation of the heroine, though altogether artificial, is clever; and Mr Courtenay Thorpe manages to play with some distinction as the father. Mr Abingdon is a comic American interviewer; but the part is beneath criticism. Besides, Mr Abingdon has no command of the American language." (The Drama Observed. Vol. II, p. 771).

This is not the only critical piece by Shaw where we find a reference to "the American language" as a simple way to sketch the idiolect of a performer, somewhat derisively. In Music in London (Vol. II, p. 236), a similar descriptive use of the phrase is made 

An American accent, in addition, does not guarantee a comfortable living - although the opposite is also true. See, for example, the following extract from one of Shaw's letters to Charlotte (31st Oct. 1897): 

"There is a young American musician-a Philadelphian genius-the only American I ever met without an American accent-at present starving in Paris in the usual way. His name is Philip Dalmas..." (Collected Letters, 1874-1897, p. 818)

It is also true, nevertheless, that one can never be too sure about Shaw's real opinion on this question. Let us be reminded of the anecdote included in Allan Chappelow's Shaw the Villager and Human Being - A Biographical Symposium (pp. 217-218)

"Another time I criticised a radio performance of Saint Joan in which the part of St. Joan had been played by an actress with a pronounced American accent. Shaw just roared with laughter, but later told me he had telephoned the B.B.C. about it and told them he did not hear the broadcast himself, but had been told that the actress was wonderful ! That was typical of G.B.S.-you never really knew how he was going to react."

After all, Homer also nods and Shaw - who was chewed out by a listener because of his "slovenly pronunciation" during a broadcast talk - entertained certain American idiosyncrasies in pronunciation. The following fragment, for example, can be read in L.W. Connoly's Bernard Shaw and the BBC (an adapted version was published in "Shaw and BBC English" in The Independent Shavian 42.3 (2004): 

This does not mean that Shaw did not know his American English - quite the contrary. However, some critics beg to differ - however misinformed their claim is. As David Matual points out in his "Shaw's The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet and Tolstoy's The Power of Darkness: Dramatic Kinship and Theological Opposition" (SHAW 1, p. 129), critics like H.L. Mencken "ridicule Shaw's inept reproduction of what he imagined to be American English."

At any rate, I believe what best summarizes Shaw's views on the power of language and what it means in a holistic sense (social, economic, literary, ritualistic) is his response to an adaptation of Hamlet in "contemporary American English" by Irvin Fiske: 

There's the rub!