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Title: George Bernard Shaw
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "George Bernard Shaw" ***

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Illustrated by W. GRAHAM ROBERTSON.



       *       *       *       *       *

_Introduction to the First Edition_

Most people either say that they agree with Bernard Shaw or that they do
not understand him. I am the only person who understands him, and I do
not agree with him.

                                                          G. K. C.

_The Problem of a Preface_

A peculiar difficulty arrests the writer of this rough study at the very
start. Many people know Mr. Bernard Shaw chiefly as a man who would
write a very long preface even to a very short play. And there is truth
in the idea; he is indeed a very prefatory sort of person. He always
gives the explanation before the incident; but so, for the matter of
that, does the Gospel of St. John. For Bernard Shaw, as for the mystics,
Christian and heathen (and Shaw is best described as a heathen mystic),
the philosophy of facts is anterior to the facts themselves. In due time
we come to the fact, the incarnation; but in the beginning was the Word.

This produces upon many minds an impression of needless preparation and
a kind of bustling prolixity. But the truth is that the very rapidity of
such a man's mind makes him seem slow in getting to the point. It is
positively because he is quick-witted that he is long-winded. A quick
eye for ideas may actually make a writer slow in reaching his goal,
just as a quick eye for landscapes might make a motorist slow in
reaching Brighton. An original man has to pause at every allusion or
simile to re-explain historical parallels, to re-shape distorted words.
Any ordinary leader-writer (let us say) might write swiftly and smoothly
something like this: "The element of religion in the Puritan rebellion,
if hostile to art, yet saved the movement from some of the evils in
which the French Revolution involved morality." Now a man like Mr. Shaw,
who has his own views on everything, would be forced to make the
sentence long and broken instead of swift and smooth. He would say
something like: "The element of religion, as I explain religion, in the
Puritan rebellion (which you wholly misunderstand) if hostile to
art--that is what I mean by art--may have saved it from some evils
(remember my definition of evil) in which the French Revolution--of
which I have my own opinion--involved morality, which I will define for
you in a minute." That is the worst of being a really universal sceptic
and philosopher; it is such slow work. The very forest of the man's
thoughts chokes up his thoroughfare. A man must be orthodox upon most
things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.

Now the same difficulty which affects the work of Bernard Shaw affects
also any book about him. There is an unavoidable artistic necessity to
put the preface before the play; that is, there is a necessity to say
something of what Bernard Shaw's experience means before one even says
what it was. We have to mention what he did when we have already
explained why he did it. Viewed superficially, his life consists of
fairly conventional incidents, and might easily fall under fairly
conventional phrases. It might be the life of any Dublin clerk or
Manchester Socialist or London author. If I touch on the man's life
before his work, it will seem trivial; yet taken with his work it is
most important. In short, one could scarcely know what Shaw's doings
meant unless one knew what he meant by them. This difficulty in mere
order and construction has puzzled me very much. I am going to overcome
it, clumsily perhaps, but in the way which affects me as most sincere.
Before I write even a slight suggestion of his relation to the stage, I
am going to write of three soils or atmospheres out of which that
relation grew. In other words, before I write of Shaw I will write of
the three great influences upon Shaw. They were all three there before
he was born, yet each one of them is himself and a very vivid portrait
of him from one point of view. I have called these three traditions:
"The Irishman," "The Puritan," and "The Progressive." I do not see how
this prefatory theorising is to be avoided; for if I simply said, for
instance, that Bernard Shaw was an Irishman, the impression produced on
the reader might be remote from my thought and, what is more important,
from Shaw's. People might think, for instance, that I meant that he was
"irresponsible." That would throw out the whole plan of these pages, for
if there is one thing that Shaw is not, it is irresponsible. The
responsibility in him rings like steel. Or, again, if I simply called
him a Puritan, it might mean something about nude statues or "prudes on
the prowl." Or if I called him a Progressive, it might be supposed to
mean that he votes for Progressives at the County Council election,
which I very much doubt. I have no other course but this: of briefly
explaining such matters as Shaw himself might explain them. Some
fastidious persons may object to my thus putting the moral in front of
the fable. Some may imagine in their innocence that they already
understand the word Puritan or the yet more mysterious word Irishman.
The only person, indeed, of whose approval I feel fairly certain is Mr.
Bernard Shaw himself, the man of many introductions.



THE PROBLEM OF A PREFACE                 7

THE IRISHMAN                            17

THE PURITAN                             34

THE PROGRESSIVE                         53

THE CRITIC                              87

THE DRAMATIST                          114

THE PHILOSOPHER                        165


_The Irishman_

The English public has commonly professed, with a kind of pride, that it
cannot understand Mr. Bernard Shaw. There are many reasons for it which
ought to be adequately considered in such a book as this. But the first
and most obvious reason is the mere statement that George Bernard Shaw
was born in Dublin in 1856. At least one reason why Englishmen cannot
understand Mr. Shaw is that Englishmen have never taken the trouble to
understand Irishmen. They will sometimes be generous to Ireland; but
never just to Ireland. They will speak to Ireland; they will speak for
Ireland; but they will not hear Ireland speak. All the real amiability
which most Englishmen undoubtedly feel towards Irishmen is lavished upon
a class of Irishmen which unfortunately does not exist. The Irishman of
the English farce, with his brogue, his buoyancy, and his tender-hearted
irresponsibility, is a man who ought to have been thoroughly pampered
with praise and sympathy, if he had only existed to receive them.
Unfortunately, all the time that we were creating a comic Irishman in
fiction, we were creating a tragic Irishman in fact. Never perhaps has
there been a situation of such excruciating cross-purposes even in the
three-act farce. The more we saw in the Irishman a sort of warm and weak
fidelity, the more he regarded us with a sort of icy anger. The more the
oppressor looked down with an amiable pity, the more did the oppressed
look down with a somewhat unamiable contempt. But, indeed, it is
needless to say that such comic cross-purposes could be put into a play;
they have been put into a play. They have been put into what is perhaps
the most real of Mr. Bernard Shaw's plays, _John Bull's Other Island_.

It is somewhat absurd to imagine that any one who has not read a play by
Mr. Shaw will be reading a book about him. But if it comes to that it is
(as I clearly perceive) absurd to be writing a book about Mr. Bernard
Shaw at all. It is indefensibly foolish to attempt to explain a man
whose whole object through life has been to explain himself. But even in
nonsense there is a need for logic and consistency; therefore let us
proceed on the assumption that when I say that all Mr. Shaw's blood and
origin may be found in _John Bull's Other Island_, some reader may
answer that he does not know the play. Besides, it is more important to
put the reader right about England and Ireland even than to put him
right about Shaw. If he reminds me that this is a book about Shaw, I can
only assure him that I will reasonably, and at proper intervals,
remember the fact.

Mr. Shaw himself said once, "I am a typical Irishman; my family came
from Yorkshire." Scarcely anyone but a typical Irishman could have made
the remark. It is in fact a bull, a conscious bull. A bull is only a
paradox which people are too stupid to understand. It is the rapid
summary of something which is at once so true and so complex that the
speaker who has the swift intelligence to perceive it, has not the slow
patience to explain it. Mystical dogmas are much of this kind. Dogmas
are often spoken of as if they were signs of the slowness or endurance
of the human mind. As a matter of fact, they are marks of mental
promptitude and lucid impatience. A man will put his meaning mystically
because he cannot waste time in putting it rationally. Dogmas are not
dark and mysterious; rather a dogma is like a flash of lightning--an
instantaneous lucidity that opens across a whole landscape. Of the same
nature are Irish bulls; they are summaries which are too true to be
consistent. The Irish make Irish bulls for the same reason that they
accept Papal bulls. It is because it is better to speak wisdom
foolishly, like the Saints, rather than to speak folly wisely, like the

This is the truth about mystical dogmas and the truth about Irish bulls;
it is also the truth about the paradoxes of Bernard Shaw. Each of them
is an argument impatiently shortened into an epigram. Each of them
represents a truth hammered and hardened, with an almost disdainful
violence until it is compressed into a small space, until it is made
brief and almost incomprehensible. The case of that curt remark about
Ireland and Yorkshire is a very typical one. If Mr. Shaw had really
attempted to set out all the sensible stages of his joke, the sentence
would have run something like this: "That I am an Irishman is a fact of
psychology which I can trace in many of the things that come out of me,
my fastidiousness, my frigid fierceness and my distrust of mere
pleasure. But the thing must be tested by what comes from me; do not try
on me the dodge of asking where I came from, how many batches of three
hundred and sixty-five days my family was in Ireland. Do not play any
games on me about whether I am a Celt, a word that is dim to the
anthropologist and utterly unmeaning to anybody else. Do not start any
drivelling discussions about whether the word Shaw is German or
Scandinavian or Iberian or Basque. You know you are human; I know I am
Irish. I know I belong to a certain type and temper of society; and I
know that all sorts of people of all sorts of blood live in that society
and by that society; and are therefore Irish. You can take your books of
anthropology to hell or to Oxford." Thus gently, elaborately and at
length, Mr. Shaw would have explained his meaning, if he had thought it
worth his while. As he did not he merely flung the symbolic, but very
complete sentence, "I am a typical Irishman; my family came from

What then is the colour of this Irish society of which Bernard Shaw,
with all his individual oddity, is yet an essential type? One
generalisation, I think, may at least be made. Ireland has in it a
quality which caused it (in the most ascetic age of Christianity) to be
called the "Land of Saints"; and which still might give it a claim to be
called the Land of Virgins. An Irish Catholic priest once said to me,
"There is in our people a fear of the passions which is older even than
Christianity." Everyone who has read Shaw's play upon Ireland will
remember the thing in the horror of the Irish girl at being kissed in
the public streets. But anyone who knows Shaw's work will recognize it
in Shaw himself. There exists by accident an early and beardless
portrait of him which really suggests in the severity and purity of its
lines some of the early ascetic pictures of the beardless Christ.
However he may shout profanities or seek to shatter the shrines, there
is always something about him which suggests that in a sweeter and more
solid civilisation he would have been a great saint. He would have been
a saint of a sternly ascetic, perhaps of a sternly negative type. But he
has this strange note of the saint in him: that he is literally
unworldly. Worldliness has no human magic for him; he is not bewitched
by rank nor drawn on by conviviality at all. He could not understand
the intellectual surrender of the snob. He is perhaps a defective
character; but he is not a mixed one. All the virtues he has are heroic
virtues. Shaw is like the Venus of Milo; all that there is of him is

But in any case this Irish innocence is peculiar and fundamental in him;
and strange as it may sound, I think that his innocence has a great deal
to do with his suggestions of sexual revolution. Such a man is
comparatively audacious in theory because he is comparatively clean in
thought. Powerful men who have powerful passions use much of their
strength in forging chains for themselves; they alone know how strong
the chains need to be. But there are other souls who walk the woods like
Diana, with a sort of wild chastity. I confess I think that this Irish
purity a little disables a critic in dealing, as Mr. Shaw has dealt,
with the roots and reality of the marriage law. He forgets that those
fierce and elementary functions which drive the universe have an impetus
which goes beyond itself and cannot always easily be recovered. So the
healthiest men may often erect a law to watch them, just as the
healthiest sleepers may want an alarum clock to wake them up. However
this may be, Bernard Shaw certainly has all the virtues and all the
powers that go with this original quality in Ireland. One of them is a
sort of awful elegance; a dangerous and somewhat inhuman daintiness of
taste which sometimes seems to shrink from matter itself, as though it
were mud. Of the many sincere things Mr. Shaw has said he never said a
more sincere one than when he stated he was a vegetarian, not because
eating meat was bad morality, but because it was bad taste. It would be
fanciful to say that Mr. Shaw is a vegetarian because he comes of a race
of vegetarians, of peasants who are compelled to accept the simple life
in the shape of potatoes. But I am sure that his fierce fastidiousness
in such matters is one of the allotropic forms of the Irish purity; it
is to the virtue of Father Matthew what a coal is to a diamond. It has,
of course, the quality common to all special and unbalanced types of
virtue, that you never know where it will stop. I can feel what Mr. Shaw
probably means when he says that it is disgusting to feast off dead
bodies, or to cut lumps off what was once a living thing. But I can
never know at what moment he may not feel in the same way that it is
disgusting to mutilate a pear-tree, or to root out of the earth those
miserable mandrakes which cannot even groan. There is no natural limit
to this rush and riotous gallop of refinement.

But it is not this physical and fantastic purity which I should chiefly
count among the legacies of the old Irish morality. A much more
important gift is that which all the saints declared to be the reward of
chastity: a queer clearness of the intellect, like the hard clearness of
a crystal. This certainly Mr. Shaw possesses; in such degree that at
certain times the hardness seems rather clearer than the clearness. But
so it does in all the most typical Irish characters and Irish attitudes
of mind. This is probably why Irishmen succeed so much in such
professions as require a certain crystalline realism, especially about
results. Such professions are the soldier and the lawyer; these give
ample opportunity for crimes but not much for mere illusions. If you
have composed a bad opera you may persuade yourself that it is a good
one; if you have carved a bad statue you can think yourself better than
Michael Angelo. But if you have lost a battle you cannot believe you
have won it; if your client is hanged you cannot pretend that you have
got him off.

There must be some sense in every popular prejudice, even about
foreigners. And the English people certainly have somehow got an
impression and a tradition that the Irishman is genial, unreasonable,
and sentimental. This legend of the tender, irresponsible Paddy has two
roots; there are two elements in the Irish which made the mistake
possible. First, the very logic of the Irishman makes him regard war or
revolution as extra-logical, an _ultima ratio_ which is beyond reason.
When fighting a powerful enemy he no more worries whether all his
charges are exact or all his attitudes dignified than a soldier worries
whether a cannon-ball is shapely or a plan of campaign picturesque. He
is aggressive; he attacks. He seems merely to be rowdy in Ireland when
he is really carrying the war into Africa--or England. A Dublin
tradesman printed his name and trade in archaic Erse on his cart. He
knew that hardly anybody could read it; he did it to annoy. In his
position I think he was quite right. When one is oppressed it is a mark
of chivalry to hurt oneself in order to hurt the oppressor. But the
English (never having had a real revolution since the Middle Ages) find
it very hard to understand this steady passion for being a nuisance, and
mistake it for mere whimsical impulsiveness and folly. When an Irish
member holds up the whole business of the House of Commons by talking of
his bleeding country for five or six hours, the simple English members
suppose that he is a sentimentalist. The truth is that he is a scornful
realist who alone remains unaffected by the sentimentalism of the House
of Commons. The Irishman is neither poet enough nor snob enough to be
swept away by those smooth social and historical tides and tendencies
which carry Radicals and Labour members comfortably off their feet. He
goes on asking for a thing because he wants it; and he tries really to
hurt his enemies because they are his enemies. This is the first of the
queer confusions which make the hard Irishman look soft. He seems to us
wild and unreasonable because he is really much too reasonable to be
anything but fierce when he is fighting.

In all this it will not be difficult to see the Irishman in Bernard
Shaw. Though personally one of the kindest men in the world, he has
often written really in order to hurt; not because he hated any
particular men (he is hardly hot and animal enough for that), but
because he really hated certain ideas even unto slaying. He provokes; he
will not let people alone. One might even say that he bullies, only
that this would be unfair, because he always wishes the other man to hit
back. At least he always challenges, like a true Green Islander. An even
stronger instance of this national trait can be found in another eminent
Irishman, Oscar Wilde. His philosophy (which was vile) was a philosophy
of ease, of acceptance, and luxurious illusion; yet, being Irish, he
could not help putting it in pugnacious and propagandist epigrams. He
preached his softness with hard decision; he praised pleasure in the
words most calculated to give pain. This armed insolence, which was the
noblest thing about him, was also the Irish thing; he challenged all
comers. It is a good instance of how right popular tradition is even
when it is most wrong, that the English have perceived and preserved
this essential trait of Ireland in a proverbial phrase. It _is_ true
that the Irishman says, "Who will tread on the tail of my coat?"

But there is a second cause which creates the English fallacy that the
Irish are weak and emotional. This again springs from the very fact that
the Irish are lucid and logical. For being logical they strictly
separate poetry from prose; and as in prose they are strictly prosaic,
so in poetry they are purely poetical. In this, as in one or two other
things, they resemble the French, who make their gardens beautiful
because they are gardens, but their fields ugly because they are only
fields. An Irishman may like romance, but he will say, to use a frequent
Shavian phrase, that it is "only romance." A great part of the English
energy in fiction arises from the very fact that their fiction half
deceives them. If Rudyard Kipling, for instance, had written his short
stories in France, they would have been praised as cool, clever little
works of art, rather cruel, and very nervous and feminine; Kipling's
short stories would have been appreciated like Maupassant's short
stories. In England they were not appreciated but believed. They were
taken seriously by a startled nation as a true picture of the empire and
the universe. The English people made haste to abandon England in favour
of Mr. Kipling and his imaginary colonies; they made haste to abandon
Christianity in favour of Mr. Kipling's rather morbid version of
Judaism. Such a moral boom of a book would be almost impossible in
Ireland, because the Irish mind distinguishes between life and
literature. Mr. Bernard Shaw himself summed this up as he sums up so
many things in a compact sentence which he uttered in conversation with
the present writer, "An Irishman has two eyes." He meant that with one
eye an Irishman saw that a dream was inspiring, bewitching, or sublime,
and with the other eye that after all it was a dream. Both the humour
and the sentiment of an Englishman cause him to wink the other eye. Two
other small examples will illustrate the English mistake. Take, for
instance, that noble survival from a nobler age of politics--I mean
Irish oratory. The English imagine that Irish politicians are so
hot-headed and poetical that they have to pour out a torrent of burning
words. The truth is that the Irish are so clear-headed and critical that
they still regard rhetoric as a distinct art, as the ancients did. Thus
a man makes a speech as a man plays a violin, not necessarily without
feeling, but chiefly because he knows how to do it. Another instance of
the same thing is that quality which is always called the Irish charm.
The Irish are agreeable, not because they are particularly emotional,
but because they are very highly civilised. Blarney is a ritual; as much
of a ritual as kissing the Blarney Stone.

Lastly, there is one general truth about Ireland which may very well
have influenced Bernard Shaw from the first; and almost certainly
influenced him for good. Ireland is a country in which the political
conflicts are at least genuine; they are about something. They are about
patriotism, about religion, or about money: the three great realities.
In other words, they are concerned with what commonwealth a man lives in
or with what universe a man lives in or with how he is to manage to live
in either. But they are not concerned with which of two wealthy cousins
in the same governing class shall be allowed to bring in the same Parish
Councils Bill; there is no party system in Ireland. The party system in
England is an enormous and most efficient machine for preventing
political conflicts. The party system is arranged on the same principle
as a three-legged race: the principle that union is not always strength
and is never activity. Nobody asks for what he really wants. But in
Ireland the loyalist is just as ready to throw over the King as the
Fenian to throw over Mr. Gladstone; each will throw over anything except
the thing that he wants. Hence it happens that even the follies or the
frauds of Irish politics are more genuine as symptoms and more
honourable as symbols than the lumbering hypocrisies of the prosperous
Parliamentarian. The very lies of Dublin and Belfast are truer than the
truisms of Westminster. They have an object; they refer to a state of
things. There was more honesty, in the sense of actuality, about
Piggott's letters than about the _Times'_ leading articles on them. When
Parnell said calmly before the Royal Commission that he had made a
certain remark "in order to mislead the House" he proved himself to be
one of the few truthful men of his time. An ordinary British statesman
would never have made the confession, because he would have grown quite
accustomed to committing the crime. The party system itself implies a
habit of stating something other than the actual truth. A Leader of the
House means a Misleader of the House.

Bernard Shaw was born outside all this; and he carries that freedom upon
his face. Whether what he heard in boyhood was violent Nationalism or
virulent Unionism, it was at least something which wanted a certain
principle to be in force, not a certain clique to be in office. Of him
the great Gilbertian generalisation is untrue; he was not born either a
little Liberal or else a little Conservative. He did not, like most of
us, pass through the stage of being a good party man on his way to the
difficult business of being a good man. He came to stare at our general
elections as a Red Indian might stare at the Oxford and Cambridge
boat-race, blind to all its irrelevant sentimentalities and to some of
its legitimate sentiments. Bernard Shaw entered England as an alien, as
an invader, as a conqueror. In other words, he entered England as an

_The Puritan_

It has been said in the first section that Bernard Shaw draws from his
own nation two unquestionable qualities, a kind of intellectual
chastity, and the fighting spirit. He is so much of an idealist about
his ideals that he can be a ruthless realist in his methods. His soul
has (in short) the virginity and the violence of Ireland. But Bernard
Shaw is not merely an Irishman; he is not even a typical one. He is a
certain separated and peculiar kind of Irishman, which is not easy to
describe. Some Nationalist Irishmen have referred to him contemptuously
as a "West Briton." But this is really unfair; for whatever Mr. Shaw's
mental faults may be, the easy adoption of an unmeaning phrase like
"Briton" is certainly not one of them. It would be much nearer the truth
to put the thing in the bold and bald terms of the old Irish song, and
to call him "The anti-Irish Irishman." But it is only fair to say that
the description is far less of a monstrosity than the anti-English
Englishman would be; because the Irish are so much stronger in
self-criticism. Compared with the constant self-flattery of the
English, nearly every Irishman is an anti-Irish Irishman. But here again
popular phraseology hits the right word. This fairly educated and fairly
wealthy Protestant wedge which is driven into the country at Dublin and
elsewhere is a thing not easy superficially to summarise in any term. It
cannot be described merely as a minority; for a minority means the part
of a nation which is conquered. But this thing means something that
conquers, and is not entirely part of a nation. Nor can one even fall
back on the phrase of aristocracy. For an aristocracy implies at least
some chorus of snobbish enthusiasm; it implies that some at least are
willingly led by the leaders, if only towards vulgarity and vice. There
is only one word for the minority in Ireland, and that is the word that
public phraseology has found; I mean the word "Garrison." The Irish are
essentially right when they talk as if all Protestant Unionists lived
inside "The Castle." They have all the virtues and limitations of a
literal garrison in a fort. That is, they are valiant, consistent,
reliable in an obvious public sense; but their curse is that they can
only tread the flagstones of the court-yard or the cold rock of the
ramparts; they have never so much as set their foot upon their native

We have considered Bernard Shaw as an Irishman. The next step is to
consider him as an exile from Ireland living in Ireland; that, some
people would say, is a paradox after his own heart. But, indeed, such a
complication is not really difficult to expound. The great religion and
the great national tradition which have persisted for so many centuries
in Ireland have encouraged these clean and cutting elements; but they
have encouraged many other things which serve to balance them. The Irish
peasant has these qualities which are somewhat peculiar to Ireland, a
strange purity and a strange pugnacity. But the Irish peasant also has
qualities which are common to all peasants, and his nation has qualities
that are common to all healthy nations. I mean chiefly the things that
most of us absorb in childhood; especially the sense of the supernatural
and the sense of the natural; the love of the sky with its infinity of
vision, and the love of the soil with its strict hedges and solid shapes
of ownership. But here comes the paradox of Shaw; the greatest of all
his paradoxes and the one of which he is unconscious. These one or two
plain truths which quite stupid people learn at the beginning are
exactly the one or two truths which Bernard Shaw may not learn even at
the end. He is a daring pilgrim who has set out from the grave to find
the cradle. He started from points of view which no one else was clever
enough to discover, and he is at last discovering points of view which
no one else was ever stupid enough to ignore. This absence of the
red-hot truisms of boyhood; this sense that he is not rooted in the
ancient sagacities of infancy, has, I think, a great deal to do with his
position as a member of an alien minority in Ireland. He who has no real
country can have no real home. The average autochthonous Irishman is
close to patriotism because he is close to the earth; he is close to
domesticity because he is close to the earth; he is close to doctrinal
theology and elaborate ritual because he is close to the earth. In
short, he is close to the heavens because he is close to the earth. But
we must not expect any of these elemental and collective virtues in the
man of the garrison. He cannot be expected to exhibit the virtues of a
people, but only (as Ibsen would say) of an enemy of the people. Mr.
Shaw has no living traditions, no schoolboy tricks, no college customs,
to link him with other men. Nothing about him can be supposed to refer
to a family feud or to a family joke. He does not drink toasts; he does
not keep anniversaries; musical as he is I doubt if he would consent to
sing. All this has something in it of a tree with its roots in the air.
The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas; and the only way
to enjoy the sun of April is to be an April Fool. When people asked
Bernard Shaw to attend the Stratford Tercentenary, he wrote back with
characteristic contempt: "I do not keep my own birthday, and I cannot
see why I should keep Shakespeare's." I think that if Mr. Shaw had
always kept his own birthday he would be better able to understand
Shakespeare's birthday--and Shakespeare's poetry.

In conjecturally referring this negative side of the man, his lack of
the smaller charities of our common childhood, to his birth in the
dominant Irish sect, I do not write without historic memory or reference
to other cases. That minority of Protestant exiles which mainly
represented Ireland to England during the eighteenth century did contain
some specimens of the Irish lounger and even of the Irish blackguard;
Sheridan and even Goldsmith suggest the type. Even in their
irresponsibility these figures had a touch of Irish tartness and
realism; but the type has been too much insisted on to the exclusion of
others equally national and interesting. To one of these it is worth
while to draw attention. At intervals during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries there has appeared a peculiar kind of Irishman. He
is so unlike the English image of Ireland that the English have actually
fallen back on the pretence that he was not Irish at all. The type is
commonly Protestant; and sometimes seems to be almost anti-national in
its acrid instinct for judging itself. Its nationalism only appears when
it flings itself with even bitterer pleasure into judging the foreigner
or the invader. The first and greatest of such figures was Swift.
Thackeray simply denied that Swift was an Irishman, because he was not a
stage Irishman. He was not (in the English novelist's opinion) winning
and agreeable enough to be Irish. The truth is that Swift was much too
harsh and disagreeable to be English. There is a great deal of Jonathan
Swift in Bernard Shaw. Shaw is like Swift, for instance, in combining
extravagant fancy with a curious sort of coldness. But he is most like
Swift in that very quality which Thackeray said was impossible in an
Irishman, benevolent bullying, a pity touched with contempt, and a habit
of knocking men down for their own good. Characters in novels are often
described as so amiable that they hate to be thanked. It is not an
amiable quality, and it is an extremely rare one; but Swift possessed
it. When Swift was buried the Dublin poor came in crowds and wept by the
grave of the broadest and most free-handed of their benefactors. Swift
deserved the public tribute; but he might have writhed and kicked in his
grave at the thought of receiving it. There is in G. B. S. something of
the same inhumane humanity. Irish history has offered a third instance
of this particular type of educated and Protestant Irishman, sincere,
unsympathetic, aggressive, alone. I mean Parnell; and with him also a
bewildered England tried the desperate dodge of saying that he was not
Irish at all. As if any thinkable sensible snobbish law-abiding
Englishman would ever have defied all the drawing-rooms by disdaining
the House of Commons! Despite the difference between taciturnity and a
torrent of fluency there is much in common also between Shaw and
Parnell; something in common even in the figures of the two men, in the
bony bearded faces with their almost Satanic self-possession. It will
not do to pretend that none of these three men belong to their own
nation; but it is true that they belonged to one special, though
recurring, type of that nation. And they all three have this peculiar
mark, that while Nationalists in their various ways they all give to the
more genial English one common impression; I mean the impression that
they do not so much love Ireland as hate England.

I will not dogmatise upon the difficult question as to whether there is
any religious significance in the fact that these three rather ruthless
Irishmen were Protestant Irishmen. I incline to think myself that the
Catholic Church has added charity and gentleness to the virtues of a
people which would otherwise have been too keen and contemptuous, too
aristocratic. But however this may be, there can surely be no question
that Bernard Shaw's Protestant education in a Catholic country has made
a great deal of difference to his mind. It has affected it in two ways,
the first negative and the second positive. It has affected him by
cutting him off (as we have said) from the fields and fountains of his
real home and history; by making him an Orangeman. And it has affected
him by the particular colour of the particular religion which he
received; by making him a Puritan.

In one of his numerous prefaces he says, "I have always been on the side
of the Puritans in the matter of Art"; and a closer study will, I think,
reveal that he is on the side of the Puritans in almost everything.
Puritanism was not a mere code of cruel regulations, though some of its
regulations were more cruel than any that have disgraced Europe. Nor was
Puritanism a mere nightmare, an evil shadow of eastern gloom and
fatalism, though this element did enter it, and was as it were the
symptom and punishment of its essential error. Something much nobler
(even if almost equally mistaken) was the original energy in the Puritan
creed. And it must be defined with a little more delicacy if we are
really to understand the attitude of G. B. S., who is the greatest of
the modern Puritans and perhaps the last.

I should roughly define the first spirit in Puritanism thus. It was a
refusal to contemplate God or goodness with anything lighter or milder
than the most fierce concentration of the intellect. A Puritan meant
originally a man whose mind had no holidays. To use his own favourite
phrase, he would let no living thing come between him and his God; an
attitude which involved eternal torture for him and a cruel contempt for
all the living things. It was better to worship in a barn than in a
cathedral for the specific and specified reason that the cathedral was
beautiful. Physical beauty was a false and sensual symbol coming in
between the intellect and the object of its intellectual worship. The
human brain ought to be at every instant a consuming fire which burns
through all conventional images until they were as transparent as glass.

This is the essential Puritan idea, that God can only be praised by
direct contemplation of Him. You must praise God only with your brain;
it is wicked to praise Him with your passions or your physical habits or
your gesture or instinct of beauty. Therefore it is wicked to worship by
singing or dancing or drinking sacramental wines or building beautiful
churches or saying prayers when you are half asleep. We must not worship
by dancing, drinking, building or singing; we can only worship by
thinking. Our heads can praise God, but never our hands and feet. That
is the true and original impulse of the Puritans. There is a great deal
to be said for it, and a great deal was said for it in Great Britain
steadily for two hundred years. It has gradually decayed in England and
Scotland, not because of the advance of modern thought (which means
nothing), but because of the slow revival of the mediæval energy and
character in the two peoples. The English were always hearty and humane,
and they have made up their minds to be hearty and humane in spite of
the Puritans. The result is that Dickens and W. W. Jacobs have picked up
the tradition of Chaucer and Robin Hood. The Scotch were always
romantic, and they have made up their minds to be romantic in spite of
the Puritans. The result is that Scott and Stevenson have picked up the
tradition of Bruce, Blind Harry and the vagabond Scottish kings. England
has become English again; Scotland has become Scottish again, in spite
of the splendid incubus, the noble nightmare of Calvin. There is only
one place in the British Islands where one may naturally expect to find
still surviving in its fulness the fierce detachment of the true
Puritan. That place is the Protestant part of Ireland. The Orange
Calvinists can be disturbed by no national resurrection, for they have
no nation. In them, if in any people, will be found the rectangular
consistency of the Calvinist. The Irish Protestant rioters are at least
immeasurably finer fellows than any of their brethren in England. They
have the two enormous superiorities: first, that the Irish Protestant
rioters really believe in Protestant theology; and second, that the
Irish Protestant rioters do really riot. Among these people, if
anywhere, should be found the cult of theological clarity combined with
barbarous external simplicity. Among these people Bernard Shaw was born.

There is at least one outstanding fact about the man we are studying;
Bernard Shaw is never frivolous. He never gives his opinions a holiday;
he is never irresponsible even for an instant. He has no nonsensical
second self which he can get into as one gets into a dressing-gown; that
ridiculous disguise which is yet more real than the real person. That
collapse and humorous confession of futility was much of the force in
Charles Lamb and in Stevenson. There is nothing of this in Shaw; his wit
is never a weakness; therefore it is never a sense of humour. For wit is
always connected with the idea that truth is close and clear. Humour,
on the other hand, is always connected with the idea that truth is
tricky and mystical and easily mistaken. What Charles Lamb said of the
Scotchman is far truer of this type of Puritan Irishman; he does not see
things suddenly in a new light; all his brilliancy is a blindingly rapid
calculation and deduction. Bernard Shaw never said an indefensible
thing; that is, he never said a thing that he was not prepared
brilliantly to defend. He never breaks out into that cry beyond reason
and conviction, that cry of Lamb when he cried, "We would indict our
dreams!" or of Stevenson, "Shall we never shed blood?" In short he is
not a humorist, but a great wit, almost as great as Voltaire. Humour is
akin to agnosticism, which is only the negative side of mysticism. But
pure wit is akin to Puritanism; to the perfect and painful consciousness
of the final fact in the universe. Very briefly, the man who sees the
consistency in things is a wit--and a Calvinist. The man who sees the
inconsistency in things is a humorist--and a Catholic. However this may
be, Bernard Shaw exhibits all that is purest in the Puritan; the desire
to see truth face to face even if it slay us, the high impatience with
irrelevant sentiment or obstructive symbol; the constant effort to keep
the soul at its highest pressure and speed. His instincts upon all
social customs and questions are Puritan. His favourite author is

But along with what was inspiring and direct in Puritanism Bernard Shaw
has inherited also some of the things that were cumbersome and
traditional. If ever Shaw exhibits a prejudice it is always a Puritan
prejudice. For Puritanism has not been able to sustain through three
centuries that native ecstacy of the direct contemplation of truth;
indeed it was the whole mistake of Puritanism to imagine for a moment
that it could. One cannot be serious for three hundred years. In
institutions built so as to endure for ages you must have relaxation,
symbolic relativity and healthy routine. In eternal temples you must
have frivolity. You must "be at ease in Zion" unless you are only paying
it a flying visit.

By the middle of the nineteenth century this old austerity and actuality
in the Puritan vision had fallen away into two principal lower forms.
The first is a sort of idealistic garrulity upon which Bernard Shaw has
made fierce and on the whole fruitful war. Perpetual talk about
righteousness and unselfishness, about things that should elevate and
things which cannot but degrade, about social purity and true Christian
manhood, all poured out with fatal fluency and with very little
reference to the real facts of anybody's soul or salary--into this weak
and lukewarm torrent has melted down much of that mountainous ice which
sparkled in the seventeenth century, bleak indeed, but blazing. The
hardest thing of the seventeenth century bids fair to be the softest
thing of the twentieth.

Of all this sentimental and deliquescent Puritanism Bernard Shaw has
always been the antagonist; and the only respect in which it has soiled
him was that he believed for only too long that such sloppy idealism was
the whole idealism of Christendom and so used "idealist" itself as a
term of reproach. But there were other and negative effects of
Puritanism which he did not escape so completely. I cannot think that he
has wholly escaped that element in Puritanism which may fairly bear the
title of the taboo. For it is a singular fact that although extreme
Protestantism is dying in elaborate and over-refined civilisation, yet
it is the barbaric patches of it that live longest and die last. Of the
creed of John Knox the modern Protestant has abandoned the civilised
part and retained only the savage part. He has given up that great and
systematic philosophy of Calvinism which had much in common with modern
science and strongly resembles ordinary and recurrent determinism. But
he has retained the accidental veto upon cards or comic plays, which
Knox only valued as mere proof of his people's concentration on their
theology. All the awful but sublime affirmations of Puritan theology are
gone. Only savage negations remain; such as that by which in Scotland on
every seventh day the creed of fear lays his finger on all hearts and
makes an evil silence in the streets.

By the middle of the nineteenth century when Shaw was born this dim and
barbaric element in Puritanism, being all that remained of it, had added
another taboo to its philosophy of taboos; there had grown up a mystical
horror of those fermented drinks which are part of the food of civilised
mankind. Doubtless many persons take an extreme line on this matter
solely because of some calculation of social harm; many, but not all and
not even most. Many people think that paper money is a mistake and does
much harm. But they do not shudder or snigger when they see a
cheque-book. They do not whisper with unsavoury slyness that such and
such a man was "seen" going into a bank. I am quite convinced that the
English aristocracy is the curse of England, but I have not noticed
either in myself or others any disposition to ostracise a man simply for
accepting a peerage, as the modern Puritans would certainly ostracise
him (from any of their positions of trust) for accepting a drink. The
sentiment is certainly very largely a mystical one, like the sentiment
about the seventh day. Like the Sabbath, it is defended with
sociological reasons; but those reasons can be simply and sharply
tested. If a Puritan tells you that all humanity should rest once a
week, you have only to propose that they should rest on Wednesday. And
if a Puritan tells you that he does not object to beer but to the
tragedies of excess in beer, simply propose to him that in prisons and
workhouses (where the amount can be absolutely regulated) the inmates
should have three glasses of beer a day. The Puritan cannot call that
excess; but he will find something to call it. For it is not the excess
he objects to, but the beer. It is a transcendental taboo, and it is one
of the two or three positive and painful prejudices with which Bernard
Shaw began. A similar severity of outlook ran through all his earlier
attitude towards the drama; especially towards the lighter or looser
drama. His Puritan teachers could not prevent him from taking up
theatricals, but they made him take theatricals seriously. All his plays
were indeed "plays for Puritans." All his criticisms quiver with a
refined and almost tortured contempt for the indulgencies of ballet and
burlesque, for the tights and the _double entente_. He can endure
lawlessness but not levity. He is not repelled by the divorces and the
adulteries as he is by the "splits." And he has always been foremost
among the fierce modern critics who ask indignantly, "Why do you object
to a thing full of sincere philosophy like _The Wild Duck_ while you
tolerate a mere dirty joke like _The Spring Chicken_?" I do not think he
has ever understood what seems to me the very sensible answer of the man
in the street, "I laugh at the dirty joke of _The Spring Chicken_
because it is a joke. I criticise the philosophy of _The Wild Duck_
because it is a philosophy."

Shaw does not do justice to the democratic ease and sanity on this
subject; but indeed, whatever else he is, he is not democratic. As an
Irishman he is an aristocrat, as a Calvinist he is a soul apart; he
drew the breath of his nostrils from a land of fallen principalities and
proud gentility, and the breath of his spirit from a creed which made a
wall of crystal around the elect. The two forces between them produced
this potent and slender figure, swift, scornful, dainty and full of dry
magnanimity; and it only needed the last touch of oligarchic mastery to
be given by the overwhelming oligarchic atmosphere of our present age.
Such was the Puritan Irishman who stepped out into the world. Into what
kind of world did he step?

_The Progressive_

It is now partly possible to justify the Shavian method of putting the
explanations before the events. I can now give a fact or two with a
partial certainty at least that the reader will give to the affairs of
Bernard Shaw something of the same kind of significance which they have
for Bernard Shaw himself. Thus, if I had simply said that Shaw was born
in Dublin the average reader might exclaim, "Ah yes--a wild Irishman,
gay, emotional and untrustworthy." The wrong note would be struck at the
start. I have attempted to give some idea of what being born in Ireland
meant to the man who was really born there. Now therefore for the first
time I may be permitted to confess that Bernard Shaw was, like other
men, born. He was born in Dublin on the 26th of July, 1856.

Just as his birth can only be appreciated through some vision of
Ireland, so his family can only be appreciated by some realisation of
the Puritan. He was the youngest son of one George Carr Shaw, who had
been a civil servant and was afterwards a somewhat unsuccessful
business man. If I had merely said that his family was Protestant (which
in Ireland means Puritan) it might have been passed over as a quite
colourless detail. But if the reader will keep in mind what has been
said about the degeneration of Calvinism into a few clumsy vetoes, he
will see in its full and frightful significance such a sentence as this
which comes from Shaw himself: "My father was in theory a vehement
teetotaler, but in practice often a furtive drinker." The two things of
course rest upon exactly the same philosophy; the philosophy of the
taboo. There is a mystical substance, and it can give monstrous
pleasures or call down monstrous punishments. The dipsomaniac and the
abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same
mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink. But if I
had mentioned that fragment of family information without any ethical
preface, people would have begun at once to talk nonsense about artistic
heredity and Celtic weakness, and would have gained the general
impression that Bernard Shaw was an Irish wastrel and the child of Irish
wastrels. Whereas it is the whole point of the matter that Bernard Shaw
comes of a Puritan middle-class family of the most solid
respectability; and the only admission of error arises from the fact
that one member of that Puritan family took a particularly Puritan view
of strong drink. That is, he regarded it generally as a poison and
sometimes as a medicine, if only a mental medicine. But a poison and a
medicine are very closely akin, as the nearest chemist knows; and they
are chiefly akin in this; that no one will drink either of them for fun.
Moreover, medicine and a poison are also alike in this; that no one will
by preference drink either of them in public. And this medical or
poisonous view of alcohol is not confined to the one Puritan to whose
failure I have referred, it is spread all over the whole of our dying
Puritan civilisation. For instance, social reformers have fired a
hundred shots against the public-house; but never one against its really
shameful feature. The sign of decay is not in the public-house, but in
the private bar; or rather the row of five or six private bars, into
each of which a respectable dipsomaniac can go in solitude, and by
indulging his own half-witted sin violate his own half-witted morality.
Nearly all these places are equipped with an atrocious apparatus of
ground-glass windows which can be so closed that they practically
conceal the face of the buyer from the seller. Words cannot express the
abysses of human infamy and hateful shame expressed by that elaborate
piece of furniture. Whenever I go into a public-house, which happens
fairly often, I always carefully open all these apertures and then leave
the place, in every way refreshed.

In other ways also it is necessary to insist not only on the fact of an
extreme Protestantism, but on that of the Protestantism of a garrison; a
world where that religious force both grew and festered all the more for
being at once isolated and protected. All the influences surrounding
Bernard Shaw in boyhood were not only Puritan, but such that no
non-Puritan force could possibly pierce or counteract. He belonged to
that Irish group which, according to Catholicism, has hardened its
heart, which, according to Protestantism has hardened its head, but
which, as I fancy, has chiefly hardened its hide, lost its sensibility
to the contact of the things around it. In reading about his youth, one
forgets that it was passed in the island which is still one flame before
the altar of St. Peter and St. Patrick. The whole thing might be
happening in Wimbledon. He went to the Wesleyan Connexional School. He
went to hear Moody and Sankey. "I was," he writes, "wholly unmoved by
their eloquence; and felt bound to inform the public that I was, on the
whole, an atheist. My letter was solemnly printed in _Public Opinion_,
to the extreme horror of my numerous aunts and uncles." That is the
philosophical atmosphere; those are the religious postulates. It could
never cross the mind of a man of the Garrison that before becoming an
atheist he might stroll into one of the churches of his own country, and
learn something of the philosophy that had satisfied Dante and Bossuet,
Pascal and Descartes.

In the same way I have to appeal to my theoretic preface at this third
point of the drama of Shaw's career. On leaving school he stepped into a
secure business position which he held steadily for four years and which
he flung away almost in one day. He rushed even recklessly to London;
where he was quite unsuccessful and practically starved for six years.
If I had mentioned this act on the first page of this book it would have
seemed to have either the simplicity of a mere fanatic or else to cover
some ugly escapade of youth or some quite criminal looseness of
temperament. But Bernard Shaw did not act thus because he was careless,
but because he was ferociously careful, careful especially of the one
thing needful. What was he thinking about when he threw away his last
halfpence and went to a strange place; what was he thinking about when
he endured hunger and small-pox in London almost without hope? He was
thinking of what he has ever since thought of, the slow but sure surge
of the social revolution; you must read into all those bald sentences
and empty years what I shall attempt to sketch in the third section. You
must read the revolutionary movement of the later nineteenth century,
darkened indeed by materialism and made mutable by fear and free
thought, but full of awful vistas of an escape from the curse of Adam.

Bernard Shaw happened to be born in an epoch, or rather at the end of an
epoch, which was in its way unique in the ages of history. The
nineteenth century was not unique in the success or rapidity of its
reforms or in their ultimate cessation; but it was unique in the
peculiar character of the failure which followed the success. The French
Revolution was an enormous act of human realisation; it has altered the
terms of every law and the shape of every town in Europe; but it was by
no means the only example of a strong and swift period of reform. What
was really peculiar about the Republican energy was this, that it left
behind it, not an ordinary reaction but a kind of dreary, drawn out and
utterly unmeaning hope. The strong and evident idea of reform sank lower
and lower until it became the timid and feeble idea of progress. Towards
the end of the nineteenth century there appeared its two incredible
figures; they were the pure Conservative and the pure Progressive; two
figures which would have been overwhelmed with laughter by any other
intellectual commonwealth of history. There was hardly a human
generation which could not have seen the folly of merely going forward
or merely standing still; of mere progressing or mere conserving. In the
coarsest Greek Comedy we might have a joke about a man who wanted to
keep what he had, whether it was yellow gold or yellow fever. In the
dullest mediæval morality we might have a joke about a progressive
gentleman who, having passed heaven and come to purgatory, decided to go
further and fare worse. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were an age
of quite impetuous progress; men made in one rush, roads, trades,
synthetic philosophies, parliaments, university settlements, a law that
could cover the world and such spires as had never struck the sky. But
they would not have said that they wanted progress, but that they wanted
the road, the parliaments, and the spires. In the same way the time from
Richelieu to the Revolution was upon the whole a time of conservation,
often of harsh and hideous conservation; it preserved tortures, legal
quibbles, and despotism. But if you had asked the rulers they would not
have said that they wanted conservation; but that they wanted the
torture and the despotism. The old reformers and the old despots alike
desired definite _things_, powers, licenses, payments, vetoes, and
permissions. Only the modern progressive and the modern conservative
have been content with two words.

Other periods of active improvement have died by stiffening at last into
some routine. Thus the Gothic gaiety of the thirteenth century
stiffening into the mere Gothic ugliness of the fifteenth. Thus the
mighty wave of the Renaissance, whose crest was lifted to heaven, was
touched by a wintry witchery of classicism and frozen for ever before it
fell. Alone of all such movements the democratic movement of the last
two centuries has not frozen, but loosened and liquefied. Instead of
becoming more pedantic in its old age, it has grown more bewildered. By
the analogy of healthy history we ought to have gone on worshipping the
republic and calling each other citizen with increasing seriousness
until some other part of the truth broke into our republican temple. But
in fact we have turned the freedom of democracy into a mere scepticism,
destructive of everything, including democracy itself. It is none the
less destructive because it is, so to speak, an optimistic
scepticism--or, as I have said, a dreary hope. It was none the better
because the destroyers were always talking about the new vistas and
enlightenments which their new negations opened to us. The republican
temple, like any other strong building, rested on certain definite
limits and supports. But the modern man inside it went on indefinitely
knocking holes in his own house and saying that they were windows. The
result is not hard to calculate: the moral world was pretty well all
windows and no house by the time that Bernard Shaw arrived on the scene.

Then there entered into full swing that great game of which he soon
became the greatest master. A progressive or advanced person was now to
mean not a man who wanted democracy, but a man who wanted something
newer than democracy. A reformer was to be, not a man who wanted a
parliament or a republic, but a man who wanted anything that he hadn't
got. The emancipated man must cast a weird and suspicious eye round him
at all the institutions of the world, wondering which of them was
destined to die in the next few centuries. Each one of them was
whispering to himself, "What can I alter?"

This quite vague and varied discontent probably did lead to the
revelation of many incidental wrongs and to much humane hard work in
certain holes and corners. It also gave birth to a great deal of quite
futile and frantic speculation, which seemed destined to take away
babies from women, or to give votes to tom-cats. But it had an evil in
it much deeper and more psychologically poisonous than any superficial
absurdities. There was in this thirst to be "progressive" a subtle sort
of double-mindedness and falsity. A man was so eager to be in advance of
his age that he pretended to be in advance of himself. Institutions that
his wholesome nature and habit fully accepted he had to sneer at as
old-fashioned, out of a servile and snobbish fear of the future. Out of
the primal forests, through all the real progress of history, man had
picked his way obeying his human instinct, or (in the excellent phrase)
following his nose. But now he was trying, by violent athletic
exertions, to get in front of his nose.

Into this riot of all imaginary innovations Shaw brought the sharp edge
of the Irishman and the concentration of the Puritan, and thoroughly
thrashed all competitors in the difficult art of being at once modern
and intelligent. In twenty twopenny controversies he took the
revolutionary side, I fear in most cases because it was called
revolutionary. But the other revolutionists were abruptly startled by
the presentation of quite rational and ingenious arguments on their own
side. The dreary thing about most new causes is that they are praised in
such very old terms. Every new religion bores us with the same stale
rhetoric about closer fellowship and the higher life. No one ever
approximately equalled Bernard Shaw in the power of finding really fresh
and personal arguments for these recent schemes and creeds. No one ever
came within a mile of him in the knack of actually producing a new
argument for a new philosophy. I give two instances to cover the kind of
thing I mean. Bernard Shaw (being honestly eager to put himself on the
modern side in everything) put himself on the side of what is called
the feminist movement; the proposal to give the two sexes not merely
equal social privileges, but identical. To this it is often answered
that women cannot be soldiers; and to this again the sensible feminists
answer that women run their own kind of physical risk, while the silly
feminists answer that war is an outworn barbaric thing which women would
abolish. But Bernard Shaw took the line of saying that women had been
soldiers, in all occasions of natural and unofficial war, as in the
French Revolution. That has the great fighting value of being an
unexpected argument; it takes the other pugilist's breath away for one
important instant. To take the other case, Mr. Shaw has found himself,
led by the same mad imp of modernity, on the side of the people who want
to have phonetic spelling. The people who want phonetic spelling
generally depress the world with tireless and tasteless explanations of
how much easier it would be for children or foreign bagmen if "height"
were spelt "hite." Now children would curse spelling whatever it was,
and we are not going to permit foreign bagmen to improve Shakespeare.
Bernard Shaw charged along quite a different line; he urged that
Shakespeare himself believed in phonetic spelling, since he spelt his
own name in six different ways. According to Shaw, phonetic spelling is
merely a return to the freedom and flexibility of Elizabethan
literature. That, again, is exactly the kind of blow the old speller
does not expect. As a matter of fact there is an answer to both the
ingenuities I have quoted. When women have fought in revolutions they
have generally shown that it was not natural to them, by their
hysterical cruelty and insolence; it was the men who fought in the
Revolution; it was the women who tortured the prisoners and mutilated
the dead. And because Shakespeare could sing better than he could spell,
it does not follow that his spelling and ours ought to be abruptly
altered by a race that has lost all instinct for singing. But I do not
wish to discuss these points; I only quote them as examples of the
startling ability which really brought Shaw to the front; the ability to
brighten even our modern movements with original and suggestive

But while Bernard Shaw pleasantly surprised innumerable cranks and
revolutionists by finding quite rational arguments for them, he
surprised them unpleasantly also by discovering something else. He
discovered a turn of argument or trick of thought which has ever since
been the plague of their lives, and given him in all assemblies of their
kind, in the Fabian Society or in the whole Socialist movement, a
fantastic but most formidable domination. This method may be
approximately defined as that of revolutionising the revolutionists by
turning their rationalism against their remaining sentimentalism. But
definition leaves the matter dark unless we give one or two examples.
Thus Bernard Shaw threw himself as thoroughly as any New Woman into the
cause of the emancipation of women. But while the New Woman praised
woman as a prophetess, the new man took the opportunity to curse her and
kick her as a comrade. For the others sex equality meant the
emancipation of women, which allowed them to be equal to men. For Shaw
it mainly meant the emancipation of men, which allowed them to be rude
to women. Indeed, almost every one of Bernard Shaw's earlier plays might
be called an argument between a man and a woman, in which the woman is
thumped and thrashed and outwitted until she admits that she is the
equal of her conqueror. This is the first case of the Shavian trick of
turning on the romantic rationalists with their own rationalism. He
said in substance, "If we are democrats, let us have votes for women;
but if we are democrats, why on earth should we have respect for women?"
I take one other example out of many. Bernard Shaw was thrown early into
what may be called the cosmopolitan club of revolution. The Socialists
of the S.D.F. call it "L'Internationale," but the club covers more than
Socialists. It covers many who consider themselves the champions of
oppressed nationalities--Poland, Finland, and even Ireland; and thus a
strong nationalist tendency exists in the revolutionary movement.
Against this nationalist tendency Shaw set himself with sudden violence.
If the flag of England was a piece of piratical humbug, was not the flag
of Poland a piece of piratical humbug too? If we hated the jingoism of
the existing armies and frontiers, why should we bring into existence
new jingo armies and new jingo frontiers? All the other revolutionists
fell in instinctively with Home Rule for Ireland. Shaw urged, in effect,
that Home Rule was as bad as Home Influences and Home Cooking, and all
the other degrading domesticities that began with the word "Home." His
ultimate support of the South African war was largely created by his
irritation against the other revolutionists for favouring a nationalist
resistance. The ordinary Imperialists objected to Pro-Boers because they
were anti-patriots. Bernard Shaw objected to Pro-Boers because they were

But among these surprise attacks of G. B. S., these turnings of
scepticism against the sceptics, there was one which has figured largely
in his life; the most amusing and perhaps the most salutary of all these
reactions. The "progressive" world being in revolt against religion had
naturally felt itself allied to science; and against the authority of
priests it would perpetually hurl the authority of scientific men. Shaw
gazed for a few moments at this new authority, the veiled god of Huxley
and Tyndall, and then with the greatest placidity and precision kicked
it in the stomach. He declared to the astounded progressives around him
that physical science was a mystical fake like sacerdotalism; that
scientists, like priests, spoke with authority because they could not
speak with proof or reason; that the very wonders of science were mostly
lies, like the wonders of religion. "When astronomers tell me," he says
somewhere, "that a star is so far off that its light takes a thousand
years to reach us, the magnitude of the lie seems to me inartistic." The
paralysing impudence of such remarks left everyone quite breathless; and
even to this day this particular part of Shaw's satiric war has been far
less followed up than it deserves. For there was present in it an
element very marked in Shaw's controversies; I mean that his apparent
exaggerations are generally much better backed up by knowledge than
would appear from their nature. He can lure his enemy on with fantasies
and then overwhelm him with facts. Thus the man of science, when he read
some wild passage in which Shaw compared Huxley to a tribal soothsayer
grubbing in the entrails of animals, supposed the writer to be a mere
fantastic whom science could crush with one finger. He would therefore
engage in a controversy with Shaw about (let us say) vivisection, and
discover to his horror that Shaw really knew a great deal about the
subject, and could pelt him with expert witnesses and hospital reports.
Among the many singular contradictions in a singular character, there is
none more interesting than this combination of exactitude and industry
in the detail of opinions with audacity and a certain wildness in their

This great game of catching revolutionists napping, of catching the
unconventional people in conventional poses, of outmarching and
outmanoeuvring progressives till they felt like conservatives, of
undermining the mines of Nihilists till they felt like the House of
Lords, this great game of dishing the anarchists continued for some time
to be his most effective business. It would be untrue to say that he was
a cynic; he was never a cynic, for that implies a certain corrupt
fatigue about human affairs, whereas he was vibrating with virtue and
energy. Nor would it be fair to call him even a sceptic, for that
implies a dogma of hopelessness and definite belief in unbelief. But it
would be strictly just to describe him at this time, at any rate, as a
merely destructive person. He was one whose main business was, in his
own view, the pricking of illusions, the stripping away of disguises,
and even the destruction of ideals. He was a sort of anti-confectioner
whose whole business it was to take the gilt off the gingerbread.

Now I have no particular objection to people who take the gilt off the
gingerbread; if only for this excellent reason, that I am much fonder of
gingerbread than I am of gilt. But there are some objections to this
task when it becomes a crusade or an obsession. One of them is this:
that people who have really scraped the gilt off gingerbread generally
waste the rest of their lives in attempting to scrape the gilt off
gigantic lumps of gold. Such has too often been the case of Shaw. He
can, if he likes, scrape the romance off the armaments of Europe or the
party system of Great Britain. But he cannot scrape the romance off love
or military valour, because it is all romance, and three thousand miles
thick. It cannot, I think, be denied that much of Bernard Shaw's
splendid mental energy has been wasted in this weary business of gnawing
at the necessary pillars of all possible society. But it would be
grossly unfair to indicate that even in his first and most destructive
stage he uttered nothing except these accidental, if arresting,
negations. He threw his whole genius heavily into the scale in favour of
two positive projects or causes of the period. When we have stated these
we have really stated the full intellectual equipment with which he
started his literary life.

I have said that Shaw was on the insurgent side in everything; but in
the case of these two important convictions he exercised a solid power
of choice. When he first went to London he mixed with every kind of
revolutionary society, and met every kind of person except the ordinary
person. He knew everybody, so to speak, except everybody. He was more
than once a momentary apparition among the respectable atheists. He knew
Bradlaugh and spoke on the platforms of that Hall of Science in which
very simple and sincere masses of men used to hail with shouts of joy
the assurance that they were not immortal. He retains to this day
something of the noise and narrowness of that room; as, for instance,
when he says that it is contemptible to have a craving for eternal life.
This prejudice remains in direct opposition to all his present opinions,
which are all to the effect that it is glorious to desire power,
consciousness, and vitality even for one's self. But this old secularist
tag, that it is selfish to save one's soul, remains with him long after
he has practically glorified selfishness. It is a relic of those chaotic
early days. And just as he mingled with the atheists he mingled with the
anarchists, who were in the eighties a much more formidable body than
now, disputing with the Socialists on almost equal terms the claim to
be the true heirs of the Revolution. Shaw still talks entertainingly
about this group. As far as I can make out, it was almost entirely
female. When a book came out called _A Girl among the Anarchists_,
G. B. S. was provoked to a sort of explosive reminiscence. "A girl among
the anarchists!" he exclaimed to his present biographer; "if they had
said 'A man among the anarchists' it would have been more of an
adventure." He is ready to tell other tales of this eccentric
environment, most of which does not convey an impression of a very
bracing atmosphere. That revolutionary society must have contained many
high public ideals, but also a fair number of low private desires. And
when people blame Bernard Shaw for his pitiless and prosaic coldness,
his cutting refusal to reverence or admire, I think they should remember
this riff-raff of lawless sentimentalism against which his commonsense
had to strive, all the grandiloquent "comrades" and all the gushing
"affinities," all the sweetstuff sensuality and senseless sulking
against law. If Bernard Shaw became a little too fond of throwing cold
water upon prophecies or ideals, remember that he must have passed much
of his youth among cosmopolitan idealists who wanted a little cold water
in every sense of the word.

Upon two of these modern crusades he concentrated, and, as I have said,
he chose them well. The first was broadly what was called the
Humanitarian cause. It did not mean the cause of humanity, but rather,
if anything, the cause of everything else. At its noblest it meant a
sort of mystical identification of our life with the whole life of
nature. So a man might wince when a snail was crushed as if his toe were
trodden on; so a man might shrink when a moth shrivelled as if his own
hair had caught fire. Man might be a network of exquisite nerves running
over the whole universe, a subtle spider's web of pity. This was a fine
conception; though perhaps a somewhat severe enforcement of the
theological conception of the special divinity of man. For the
humanitarians certainly asked of humanity what can be asked of no other
creature; no man ever required a dog to understand a cat or expected the
cow to cry for the sorrows of the nightingale.

Hence this sense has been strongest in saints of a very mystical sort;
such as St. Francis who spoke of Sister Sparrow and Brother Wolf. Shaw
adopted this crusade of cosmic pity but adopted it very much in his own
style, severe, explanatory, and even unsympathetic. He had no
affectionate impulse to say "Brother Wolf"; at the best he would have
said "Citizen Wolf," like a sound republican. In fact, he was full of
healthy human compassion for the sufferings of animals; but in
phraseology he loved to put the matter unemotionally and even harshly. I
was once at a debating club at which Bernard Shaw said that he was not a
humanitarian at all, but only an economist, that he merely hated to see
life wasted by carelessness or cruelty. I felt inclined to get up and
address to him the following lucid question: "If when you spare a
herring you are only being oikonomikal, for what oikos are you being
nomikal?" But in an average debating club I thought this question might
not be quite clear; so I abandoned the idea. But certainly it is not
plain for whom Bernard Shaw is economising if he rescues a rhinoceros
from an early grave. But the truth is that Shaw only took this economic
pose from his hatred of appearing sentimental. If Bernard Shaw killed a
dragon and rescued a princess of romance, he would try to say "I have
saved a princess" with exactly the same intonation as "I have saved a
shilling." He tries to turn his own heroism into a sort of superhuman
thrift. He would thoroughly sympathise with that passage in his
favourite dramatic author in which the Button Moulder tells Peer Gynt
that there is a sort of cosmic housekeeping; that God Himself is very
economical, "and that is why He is so well to do."

This combination of the widest kindness and consideration with a
consistent ungraciousness of tone runs through all Shaw's ethical
utterance, and is nowhere more evident than in his attitude towards
animals. He would waste himself to a white-haired shadow to save a shark
in an aquarium from inconvenience or to add any little comforts to the
life of a carrion-crow. He would defy any laws or lose any friends to
show mercy to the humblest beast or the most hidden bird. Yet I cannot
recall in the whole of his works or in the whole of his conversation a
single word of any tenderness or intimacy with any bird or beast. It was
under the influence of this high and almost superhuman sense of duty
that he became a vegetarian; and I seem to remember that when he was
lying sick and near to death at the end of his _Saturday Review_ career
he wrote a fine fantastic article, declaring that his hearse ought to be
drawn by all the animals that he had not eaten. Whenever that evil day
comes there will be no need to fall back on the ranks of the brute
creation; there will be no lack of men and women who owe him so much as
to be glad to take the place of the animals; and the present writer for
one will be glad to express his gratitude as an elephant. There is no
doubt about the essential manhood and decency of Bernard Shaw's
instincts in such matters. And quite apart from the vegetarian
controversy, I do not doubt that the beasts also owe him much. But when
we come to positive things (and passions are the only truly positive
things) that obstinate doubt remains which remains after all eulogies of
Shaw. That fixed fancy sticks to the mind; that Bernard Shaw is a
vegetarian more because he dislikes dead beasts than because he likes
live ones.

It was the same with the other great cause to which Shaw more
politically though not more publicly committed himself. The actual
English people, without representation in Press or Parliament, but
faintly expressed in public-houses and music-halls, would connect Shaw
(so far as they have heard of him) with two ideas; they would say first
that he was a vegetarian, and second that he was a Socialist. Like most
of the impressions of the ignorant, these impressions would be on the
whole very just. My only purpose here is to urge that Shaw's Socialism
exemplifies the same trait of temperament as his vegetarianism. This
book is not concerned with Bernard Shaw as a politician or a
sociologist, but as a critic and creator of drama. I will therefore end
in this chapter all that I have to say about Bernard Shaw as a
politician or a political philosopher. I propose here to dismiss this
aspect of Shaw: only let it be remembered, once and for all, that I am
here dismissing the most important aspect of Shaw. It is as if one
dismissed the sculpture of Michael Angelo and went on to his sonnets.
Perhaps the highest and purest thing in him is simply that he cares more
for politics than for anything else; more than for art or for
philosophy. Socialism is the noblest thing for Bernard Shaw; and it is
the noblest thing in him. He really desires less to win fame than to
bear fruit. He is an absolute follower of that early sage who wished
only to make two blades of grass grow instead of one. He is a loyal
subject of Henri Quatre, who said that he only wanted every Frenchman to
have a chicken in his pot on Sunday; except, of course, that he would
call the repast cannibalism. But _cæteris paribus_ he thinks more of
that chicken than of the eagle of the universal empire; and he is always
ready to support the grass against the laurel.

Yet by the nature of this book the account of the most important Shaw,
who is the Socialist, must be also the most brief. Socialism (which I am
not here concerned either to attack or defend) is, as everyone knows,
the proposal that all property should be nationally owned that it may be
more decently distributed. It is a proposal resting upon two principles,
unimpeachable as far as they go: first, that frightful human calamities
call for immediate human aid; second, that such aid must almost always
be collectively organised. If a ship is being wrecked, we organise a
lifeboat; if a house is on fire, we organise a blanket; if half a nation
is starving, we must organise work and food. That is the primary and
powerful argument of the Socialist, and everything that he adds to it
weakens it. The only possible line of protest is to suggest that it is
rather shocking that we have to treat a normal nation as something
exceptional, like a house on fire or a shipwreck. But of such things it
may be necessary to speak later. The point here is that Shaw behaved
towards Socialism just as he behaved towards vegetarianism; he offered
every reason except the emotional reason, which was the real one. When
taxed in a _Daily News_ discussion with being a Socialist for the
obvious reason that poverty was cruel, he said this was quite wrong; it
was only because poverty was wasteful. He practically professed that
modern society annoyed him, not so much like an unrighteous kingdom, but
rather like an untidy room. Everyone who knew him knew, of course, that
he was full of a proper brotherly bitterness about the oppression of the
poor. But here again he would not admit that he was anything but an

In thus setting his face like flint against sentimental methods of
argument he undoubtedly did one great service to the causes for which he
stood. Every vulgar anti-humanitarian, every snob who wants monkeys
vivisected or beggars flogged has always fallen back upon stereotyped
phrases like "maudlin" and "sentimental," which indicated the
humanitarian as a man in a weak condition of tears. The mere personality
of Shaw has shattered those foolish phrases for ever. Shaw the
humanitarian was like Voltaire the humanitarian, a man whose satire was
like steel, the hardest and coolest of fighters, upon whose piercing
point the wretched defenders of a masculine brutality wriggled like

In this quarrel one cannot wish Shaw even an inch less contemptuous, for
the people who call compassion "sentimentalism" deserve nothing but
contempt. In this one does not even regret his coldness; it is an
honourable contrast to the blundering emotionalism of the jingoes and
flagellomaniacs. The truth is that the ordinary anti-humanitarian only
manages to harden his heart by having already softened his head. It is
the reverse of sentimental to insist that a nigger is being burned
alive; for sentimentalism must be the clinging to pleasant thoughts. And
no one, not even a Higher Evolutionist, can think a nigger burned alive
a pleasant thought. The sentimental thing is to warm your hands at the
fire while denying the existence of the nigger, and that is the ruling
habit in England, as it has been the chief business of Bernard Shaw to
show. And in this the brutalitarians hate him not because he is soft,
but because he is hard, because he is not to be softened by conventional
excuses; because he looks hard at a thing--and hits harder. Some foolish
fellow of the Henley-Whibley reaction wrote that if we were to be
conquerors we must be less tender and more ruthless. Shaw answered with
really avenging irony, "What a light this principle throws on the defeat
of the tender Dervish, the compassionate Zulu, and the morbidly humane
Boxer at the hands of the hardy savages of England, France, and
Germany." In that sentence an idiot is obliterated and the whole story
of Europe told; but it is immensely stiffened by its ironic form. In the
same way Shaw washed away for ever the idea that Socialists were weak
dreamers, who said that things might be only because they wished them to
be. G. B. S. in argument with an individualist showed himself, as a
rule, much the better economist and much the worse rhetorician. In this
atmosphere arose a celebrated Fabian Society, of which he is still the
leading spirit--a society which answered all charges of impracticable
idealism by pushing both its theoretic statements and its practical
negotiations to the verge of cynicism. Bernard Shaw was the literary
expert who wrote most of its pamphlets. In one of them, among such
sections as _Fabian Temperance Reform_, _Fabian Education_ and so on,
there was an entry gravely headed "Fabian Natural Science," which stated
that in the Socialist cause light was needed more than heat.

Thus the Irish detachment and the Puritan austerity did much good to the
country and to the causes for which they were embattled. But there was
one thing they did not do; they did nothing for Shaw himself in the
matter of his primary mistakes and his real limitation. His great defect
was and is the lack of democratic sentiment. And there was nothing
democratic either in his humanitarianism or his Socialism. These new and
refined faiths tended rather to make the Irishman yet more aristocratic,
the Puritan yet more exclusive. To be a Socialist was to look down on
all the peasant owners of the earth, especially on the peasant owners of
his own island. To be a Vegetarian was to be a man with a strange and
mysterious morality, a man who thought the good lord who roasted oxen
for his vassals only less bad than the bad lord who roasted the vassals.
None of these advanced views could the common people hear gladly; nor
indeed was Shaw specially anxious to please the common people. It was
his glory that he pitied animals like men; it was his defect that he
pitied men only too much like animals. Foulon said of the democracy,
"Let them eat grass." Shaw said, "Let them eat greens." He had more
benevolence, but almost as much disdain. "I have never had any feelings
about the English working classes," he said elsewhere, "except a desire
to abolish them and replace them by sensible people." This is the
unsympathetic side of the thing; but it had another and much nobler
side, which must at least be seriously recognised before we pass on to
much lighter things.

Bernard Shaw is not a democrat; but he is a splendid republican. The
nuance of difference between those terms precisely depicts him. And
there is after all a good deal of dim democracy in England, in the sense
that there is much of a blind sense of brotherhood, and nowhere more
than among old-fashioned and even reactionary people. But a republican
is a rare bird, and a noble one. Shaw is a republican in the literal and
Latin sense; he cares more for the Public Thing than for any private
thing. The interest of the State is with him a sincere thirst of the
soul, as it was in the little pagan cities. Now this public passion,
this clean appetite for order and equity, had fallen to a lower ebb, had
more nearly disappeared altogether, during Shaw's earlier epoch than at
any other time. Individualism of the worst type was on the top of the
wave; I mean artistic individualism, which is so much crueller, so much
blinder and so much more irrational even than commercial individualism.
The decay of society was praised by artists as the decay of a corpse is
praised by worms. The æsthete was all receptiveness, like the flea. His
only affair in this world was to feed on its facts and colours, like a
parasite upon blood. The ego was the all; and the praise of it was
enunciated in madder and madder rhythms by poets whose Helicon was
absinthe and whose Pegasus was the nightmare. This diseased pride was
not even conscious of a public interest, and would have found all
political terms utterly tasteless and insignificant. It was no longer a
question of one man one vote, but of one man one universe.

I have in my time had my fling at the Fabian Society, at the pedantry of
schemes, the arrogance of experts; nor do I regret it now. But when I
remember that other world against which it reared its bourgeois banner
of cleanliness and common sense, I will not end this chapter without
doing it decent honour. Give me the drain pipes of the Fabians rather
than the panpipes of the later poets; the drain pipes have a nicer
smell. Give me even that business-like benevolence that herded men like
beasts rather than that exquisite art which isolated them like devils;
give me even the suppression of "Zæo" rather than the triumph of
"Salome." And if I feel such a confession to be due to those Fabians who
could hardly have been anything but experts in any society, such as Mr.
Sidney Webb or Mr. Edward Pease, it is due yet more strongly to the
greatest of the Fabians. Here was a man who could have enjoyed art among
the artists, who could have been the wittiest of all the _flâneurs_; who
could have made epigrams like diamonds and drunk music like wine. He has
instead laboured in a mill of statistics and crammed his mind with all
the most dreary and the most filthy details, so that he can argue on the
spur of the moment about sewing-machines or sewage, about typhus fever
or twopenny tubes. The usual mean theory of motives will not cover the
case; it is not ambition, for he could have been twenty times more
prominent as a plausible and popular humorist. It is the real and
ancient emotion of the _salus populi_, almost extinct in our
oligarchical chaos; nor will I for one, as I pass on to many matters of
argument or quarrel, neglect to salute a passion so implacable and so

_The Critic_

It appears a point of some mystery to the present writer that Bernard
Shaw should have been so long unrecognised and almost in beggary. I
should have thought his talent was of the ringing and arresting sort;
such as even editors and publishers would have sense enough to seize.
Yet it is quite certain that he almost starved in London for many years,
writing occasional columns for an advertisement or words for a picture.
And it is equally certain (it is proved by twenty anecdotes, but no one
who knows Shaw needs any anecdotes to prove it) that in those days of
desperation he again and again threw up chances and flung back good
bargains which did not suit his unique and erratic sense of honour. The
fame of having first offered Shaw to the public upon a platform worthy
of him belongs, like many other public services, to Mr. William Archer.

I say it seems odd that such a writer should not be appreciated in a
flash; but upon this point there is evidently a real difference of
opinion, and it constitutes for me the strangest difficulty of the
subject. I hear many people complain that Bernard Shaw deliberately
mystifies them. I cannot imagine what they mean; it seems to me that he
deliberately insults them. His language, especially on moral questions,
is generally as straight and solid as that of a bargee and far less
ornate and symbolic than that of a hansom-cabman. The prosperous English
Philistine complains that Mr. Shaw is making a fool of him. Whereas Mr.
Shaw is not in the least making a fool of him; Mr. Shaw is, with
laborious lucidity, calling him a fool. G. B. S. calls a landlord a
thief; and the landlord, instead of denying or resenting it, says, "Ah,
that fellow hides his meaning so cleverly that one can never make out
what he means, it is all so fine spun and fantastical." G. B. S. calls a
statesman a liar to his face, and the statesman cries in a kind of
ecstasy, "Ah, what quaint, intricate and half-tangled trains of thought!
Ah, what elusive and many-coloured mysteries of half-meaning!" I think
it is always quite plain what Mr. Shaw means, even when he is joking,
and it generally means that the people he is talking to ought to howl
aloud for their sins. But the average representative of them undoubtedly
treats the Shavian meaning as tricky and complex, when it is really
direct and offensive. He always accuses Shaw of pulling his leg, at the
exact moment when Shaw is pulling his nose.

This prompt and pungent style he learnt in the open, upon political tubs
and platforms; and he is very legitimately proud of it. He boasts of
being a demagogue; "The cart and the trumpet for me," he says, with
admirable good sense. Everyone will remember the effective appearance of
Cyrano de Bergerac in the first act of the fine play of that name; when
instead of leaping in by any hackneyed door or window, he suddenly
springs upon a chair above the crowd that has so far kept him invisible;
"les bras croisés, le feutre en bataille, la moustache hérissée, le nez
terrible." I will not go so far as to say that when Bernard Shaw sprang
upon a chair or tub in Trafalgar Square he had the hat in battle, or
even that he had the nose terrible. But just as we see Cyrano best when
he thus leaps above the crowd, I think we may take this moment of Shaw
stepping on his little platform to see him clearly as he then was, and
even as he has largely not ceased to be. I, at least, have only known
him in his middle age; yet I think I can see him, younger yet only a
little more alert, with hair more red but with face yet paler, as he
first stood up upon some cart or barrow in the tossing glare of the gas.

The first fact that one realises about Shaw (independent of all one has
read and often contradicting it) is his voice. Primarily it is the voice
of an Irishman, and then something of the voice of a musician. It
possibly explains much of his career; a man may be permitted to say so
many impudent things with so pleasant an intonation. But the voice is
not only Irish and agreeable, it is also frank and as it were inviting
conference. This goes with a style and gesture which can only be
described as at once very casual and very emphatic. He assumes that
bodily supremacy which goes with oratory, but he assumes it with almost
ostentatious carelessness; he throws back the head, but loosely and
laughingly. He is at once swaggering and yet shrugging his shoulders, as
if to drop from them the mantle of the orator which he has confidently
assumed. Lastly, no man ever used voice or gesture better for the
purpose of expressing certainty; no man can say "I tell Mr. Jones he is
totally wrong" with more air of unforced and even casual conviction.

This particular play of feature or pitch of voice, at once didactic and
yet not uncomrade-like, must be counted a very important fact,
especially in connection with the period when that voice was first
heard. It must be remembered that Shaw emerged as a wit in a sort of
secondary age of wits; one of those stale interludes of prematurely old
young men, which separate the serious epochs of history. Oscar Wilde was
its god; but he was somewhat more mystical, not to say monstrous, than
the average of its dried and decorous impudence. The _two survivals_ of
that time, as far as I know, are Mr. Max Beerbohm and Mr. Graham
Robertson; two most charming people; but the air they had to live in was
the devil. One of its notes was an artificial reticence of speech, which
waited till it could plant the perfect epigram. Its typical products
were far too conceited to lay down the law. Now when people heard that
Bernard Shaw was witty, as he most certainly was, when they heard his
_mots_ repeated like those of Whistler or Wilde, when they heard things
like "the Seven deadly Virtues" or "Who _was_ Hall Caine?" they expected
another of these silent sarcastic dandies who went about with one
epigram, patient and poisonous, like a bee with his one sting. And when
they saw and heard the new humorist they found no fixed sneer, no frock
coat, no green carnation, no silent Savoy Restaurant good manners, no
fear of looking a fool, no particular notion of looking a gentleman.
They found a talkative Irishman with a kind voice and a brown coat; open
gestures and an evident desire to make people really agree with him. He
had his own kind of affectations no doubt, and his own kind of tricks of
debate; but he broke, and, thank God, forever the spell of the little
man with the single eye glass who had frozen both faith and fun at so
many tea-tables. Shaw's humane voice and hearty manner were so obviously
more the things of a great man than the hard, gem-like brilliancy of
Wilde or the careful ill-temper of Whistler. He brought in a breezier
sort of insolence; the single eye-glass fled before the single eye.

Added to the effect of the amiable dogmatic voice and lean, loose
swaggering figure, is that of the face with which so many caricaturists
have fantastically delighted themselves, the Mephistophelean face with
the fierce tufted eyebrows and forked red beard. Yet those caricaturists
in their natural delight in coming upon so striking a face, have
somewhat misrepresented it, making it merely Satanic; whereas its actual
expression has quite as much benevolence as mockery. By this time his
costume has become a part of his personality; one has come to think of
the reddish brown Jaeger suit as if it were a sort of reddish brown fur,
and were, like the hair and eyebrows, a part of the animal; yet there
are those who claim to remember a Bernard Shaw of yet more awful aspect
before Jaeger came to his assistance; a Bernard Shaw in a dilapidated
frock-coat and some sort of straw hat. I can hardly believe it; the man
is so much of a piece, and must always have dressed appropriately. In
any case his brown woollen clothes, at once artistic and hygienic,
completed the appeal for which he stood; which might be defined as an
eccentric healthy-mindedness. But something of the vagueness and
equivocation of his first fame is probably due to the different
functions which he performed in the contemporary world of art.

He began by writing novels. They are not much read, and indeed not
imperatively worth reading, with the one exception of the crude and
magnificent _Cashel Byron's Profession_. Mr. William Archer, in the
course of his kindly efforts on behalf of his young Irish friend, sent
this book to Samoa, for the opinion of the most elvish and yet
efficient of modern critics. Stevenson summed up much of Shaw even from
that fragment when he spoke of a romantic griffin roaring with laughter
at the nature of his own quest. He also added the not wholly unjustified
postscript: "I say, Archer,--my God, what women!"

The fiction was largely dropped; but when he began work he felt his way
by the avenues of three arts. He was an art critic, a dramatic critic,
and a musical critic; and in all three, it need hardly be said, he
fought for the newest style and the most revolutionary school. He wrote
on all these as he would have written on anything; but it was, I fancy,
about the music that he cared most.

It may often be remarked that mathematicians love and understand music
more than they love or understand poetry. Bernard Shaw is in much the
same condition; indeed, in attempting to do justice to Shakespeare's
poetry, he always calls it "word music." It is not difficult to explain
this special attachment of the mere logician to music. The logician,
like every other man on earth, must have sentiment and romance in his
existence; in every man's life, indeed, which can be called a life at
all, sentiment is the most solid thing. But if the extreme logician
turns for his emotions to poetry, he is exasperated and bewildered by
discovering that the words of his own trade are used in an entirely
different meaning. He conceives that he understands the word "visible,"
and then finds Milton applying it to darkness, in which nothing is
visible. He supposes that he understands the word "hide," and then finds
Shelley talking of a poet hidden in the light. He has reason to believe
that he understands the common word "hung"; and then William
Shakespeare, Esquire, of Stratford-on-Avon, gravely assures him that the
tops of the tall sea waves were hung with deafening clamours on the
slippery clouds. That is why the common arithmetician prefers music to
poetry. Words are his scientific instruments. It irritates him that they
should be anyone else's musical instruments. He is willing to see men
juggling, but not men juggling with his own private tools and
possessions--his terms. It is then that he turns with an utter relief to
music. Here are all the same fascination and inspiration, all the same
purity and plunging force as in poetry; but not requiring any verbal
confession that light conceals things or that darkness can be seen in
the dark. Music is mere beauty; it is beauty in the abstract, beauty in
solution. It is a shapeless and liquid element of beauty, in which a man
may really float, not indeed affirming the truth, but not denying it.
Bernard Shaw, as I have already said, is infinitely far above all such
mere mathematicians and pedantic reasoners; still his feeling is partly
the same. He adores music because it cannot deal with romantic terms
either in their right or their wrong sense. Music can be romantic
without reminding him of Shakespeare and Walter Scott, with whom he has
had personal quarrels. Music can be Catholic without reminding him
verbally of the Catholic Church, which he has never seen, and is sure he
does not like. Bernard Shaw can agree with Wagner, the musician, because
he speaks without words; if it had been Wagner the man he would
certainly have had words with him. Therefore I would suggest that Shaw's
love of music (which is so fundamental that it must be mentioned early,
if not first, in his story) may itself be considered in the first case
as the imaginative safety-valve of the rationalistic Irishman.

This much may be said conjecturally over the present signature; but more
must not be said. Bernard Shaw understands music so much better than I
do that it is just possible that he is, in that tongue and atmosphere,
all that he is not elsewhere. While he is writing with a pen I know his
limitations as much as I admire his genius; and I know it is true to say
that he does not appreciate romance. But while he is playing on the
piano he may be cocking a feather, drawing a sword or draining a flagon
for all I know. While he is speaking I am sure that there are some
things he does not understand. But while he is listening (at the Queen's
Hall) he may understand everything, including God and me. Upon this part
of him I am a reverent agnostic; it is well to have some such dark
continent in the character of a man of whom one writes. It preserves two
very important things--modesty in the biographer and mystery in the

For the purpose of our present generalisation it is only necessary to
say that Shaw, as a musical critic, summed himself up as "The Perfect
Wagnerite"; he threw himself into subtle and yet trenchant eulogy of
that revolutionary voice in music. It was the same with the other arts.
As he was a Perfect Wagnerite in music, so he was a Perfect Whistlerite
in painting; so above all he was a Perfect Ibsenite in drama. And with
this we enter that part of his career with which this book is more
specially concerned. When Mr. William Archer got him established as
dramatic critic of the _Saturday Review_, he became for the first time
"a star of the stage"; a shooting star and sometimes a destroying comet.

On the day of that appointment opened one of the very few exhilarating
and honest battles that broke the silence of the slow and cynical
collapse of the nineteenth century. Bernard Shaw the demagogue had got
his cart and his trumpet; and was resolved to make them like the car of
destiny and the trumpet of judgment. He had not the servility of the
ordinary rebel, who is content to go on rebelling against kings and
priests, because such rebellion is as old and as established as any
priests or kings. He cast about him for something to attack which was
not merely powerful or placid, but was unattacked. After a little quite
sincere reflection, he found it. He would not be content to be a common
atheist; he wished to blaspheme something in which even atheists
believed. He was not satisfied with being revolutionary; there were so
many revolutionists. He wanted to pick out some prominent institution
which had been irrationally and instinctively accepted by the most
violent and profane; something of which Mr. Foote would speak as
respectfully on the front page of the _Freethinker_ as Mr. St. Loe
Strachey on the front page of the _Spectator_. He found the thing; he
found the great unassailed English institution--Shakespeare.

But Shaw's attack on Shakespeare, though exaggerated for the fun of the
thing, was not by any means the mere folly or firework paradox that has
been supposed. He meant what he said; what was called his levity was
merely the laughter of a man who enjoyed saying what he meant--an
occupation which is indeed one of the greatest larks in life. Moreover,
it can honestly be said that Shaw did good by shaking the mere idolatry
of Him of Avon. That idolatry was bad for England; it buttressed our
perilous self-complacency by making us think that we alone had, not
merely a great poet, but the one poet above criticism. It was bad for
literature; it made a minute model out of work that was really a hasty
and faulty masterpiece. And it was bad for religion and morals that
there should be so huge a terrestrial idol, that we should put such
utter and unreasoning trust in any child of man. It is true that it was
largely through Shaw's own defects that he beheld the defects of
Shakespeare. But it needed someone equally prosaic to resist what was
perilous in the charm of such poetry; it may not be altogether a mistake
to send a deaf man to destroy the rock of the sirens.

This attitude of Shaw illustrates of course all three of the divisions
or aspects to which the reader's attention has been drawn. It was partly
the attitude of the Irishman objecting to the Englishman turning his
mere artistic taste into a religion; especially when it was a taste
merely taught him by his aunts and uncles. In Shaw's opinion (one might
say) the English do not really enjoy Shakespeare or even admire
Shakespeare; one can only say, in the strong colloquialism, that they
swear by Shakespeare. He is a mere god; a thing to be invoked. And
Shaw's whole business was to set up the things which were to be sworn by
as things to be sworn at. It was partly again the revolutionist in
pursuit of pure novelty, hating primarily the oppression of the past,
almost hating history itself. For Bernard Shaw the prophets were to be
stoned after, and not before, men had built their sepulchres. There was
a Yankee smartness in the man which was irritated at the idea of being
dominated by a person dead for three hundred years; like Mark Twain, he
wanted a fresher corpse.

These two motives there were, but they were small compared with the
other. It was the third part of him, the Puritan, that was really at war
with Shakespeare. He denounced that playwright almost exactly as any
contemporary Puritan coming out of a conventicle in a steeple-crowned
hat and stiff bands might have denounced the playwright coming out of
the stage door of the old Globe Theatre. This is not a mere fancy; it is
philosophically true. A legend has run round the newspapers that Bernard
Shaw offered himself as a better writer than Shakespeare. This is false
and quite unjust; Bernard Shaw never said anything of the kind. The
writer whom he did say was better than Shakespeare was not himself, but
Bunyan. And he justified it by attributing to Bunyan a virile acceptance
of life as a high and harsh adventure, while in Shakespeare he saw
nothing but profligate pessimism, the _vanitas vanitatum_ of a
disappointed voluptuary. According to this view Shakespeare was always
saying, "Out, out, brief candle," because his was only a ballroom
candle; while Bunyan was seeking to light such a candle as by God's
grace should never be put out.

It is odd that Bernard Shaw's chief error or insensibility should have
been the instrument of his noblest affirmation. The denunciation of
Shakespeare was a mere misunderstanding. But the denunciation of
Shakespeare's pessimism was the most splendidly understanding of all his
utterances. This is the greatest thing in Shaw, a serious optimism--even
a tragic optimism. Life is a thing too glorious to be enjoyed. To be is
an exacting and exhausting business; the trumpet though inspiring is
terrible. Nothing that he ever wrote is so noble as his simple reference
to the sturdy man who stepped up to the Keeper of the Book of Life and
said, "Put down my name, Sir." It is true that Shaw called this heroic
philosophy by wrong names and buttressed it with false metaphysics; that
was the weakness of the age. The temporary decline of theology had
involved the neglect of philosophy and all fine thinking; and Bernard
Shaw had to find shaky justifications in Schopenhauer for the sons of
God shouting for joy. He called it the Will to Live--a phrase invented
by Prussian professors who would like to exist, but can't. Afterwards he
asked people to worship the Life-Force; as if one could worship a
hyphen. But though he covered it with crude new names (which are now
fortunately crumbling everywhere like bad mortar) he was on the side of
the good old cause; the oldest and the best of all causes, the cause of
creation against destruction, the cause of yes against no, the cause of
the seed against the stony earth and the star against the abyss.

His misunderstanding of Shakespeare arose largely from the fact that he
is a Puritan, while Shakespeare was spiritually a Catholic. The former
is always screwing himself up to see truth; the latter is often content
that truth is there. The Puritan is only strong enough to stiffen; the
Catholic is strong enough to relax. Shaw, I think, has entirely
misunderstood the pessimistic passages of Shakespeare. They are flying
moods which a man with a fixed faith can afford to entertain. That all
is vanity, that life is dust and love is ashes, these are frivolities,
these are jokes that a Catholic can afford to utter. He knows well
enough that there is a life that is not dust and a love that is not
ashes. But just as he may let himself go more than the Puritan in the
matter of enjoyment, so he may let himself go more than the Puritan in
the matter of melancholy. The sad exuberances of Hamlet are merely like
the glad exuberances of Falstaff. This is not conjecture; it is the text
of Shakespeare. In the very act of uttering his pessimism, Hamlet admits
that it is a mood and not the truth. Heaven _is_ a heavenly thing, only
to him it seems a foul congregation of vapours. Man _is_ the paragon of
animals, only to him he seems a quintessence of dust. Hamlet is quite
the reverse of a sceptic. He is a man whose strong intellect believes
much more than his weak temperament can make vivid to him. But this
power of knowing a thing without feeling it, this power of believing a
thing without experiencing it, this is an old Catholic complexity, and
the Puritan has never understood it. Shakespeare confesses his moods
(mostly by the mouths of villains and failures), but he never sets up
his moods against his mind. His cry of _vanitas vanitatum_ is itself
only a harmless vanity. Readers may not agree with my calling him
Catholic with a big C; but they will hardly complain of my calling him
catholic with a small one. And that is here the principal point.
Shakespeare was not in any sense a pessimist; he was, if anything, an
optimist so universal as to be able to enjoy even pessimism. And this is
exactly where he differs from the Puritan. The true Puritan is not
squeamish: the true Puritan is free to say "Damn it!" But the Catholic
Elizabethan was free (on passing provocation) to say "Damn it all!"

It need hardly be explained that Bernard Shaw added to his negative case
of a dramatist to be depreciated a corresponding affirmative case of a
dramatist to be exalted and advanced. He was not content with so remote
a comparison as that between Shakespeare and Bunyan. In his vivacious
weekly articles in the _Saturday Review_, the real comparison upon which
everything turned was the comparison between Shakespeare and Ibsen. He
early threw himself with all possible eagerness into the public disputes
about the great Scandinavian; and though there was no doubt whatever
about which side he supported, there was much that was individual in the
line he took. It is not our business here to explore that extinct
volcano. You may say that anti-Ibsenism is dead, or you may say that
Ibsen is dead; in any case, that controversy is dead, and death, as the
Roman poet says, can alone confess of what small atoms we are made. The
opponents of Ibsen largely exhibited the permanent qualities of the
populace; that is, their instincts were right and their reasons wrong.
They made the complete controversial mistake of calling Ibsen a
pessimist; whereas, indeed, his chief weakness is a rather childish
confidence in mere nature and freedom, and a blindness (either of
experience or of culture) in the matter of original sin. In this sense
Ibsen is not so much a pessimist as a highly crude kind of optimist.
Nevertheless the man in the street was right in his fundamental
instinct, as he always is. Ibsen, in his pale northern style, is an
optimist; but for all that he is a depressing person. The optimism of
Ibsen is less comforting than the pessimism of Dante; just as a
Norwegian sunrise, however splendid, is colder than a southern night.

But on the side of those who fought for Ibsen there was also a
disagreement, and perhaps also a mistake. The vague army of "the
advanced" (an army which advances in all directions) were united in
feeling that they ought to be the friends of Ibsen because he also was
advancing somewhere somehow. But they were also seriously impressed by
Flaubert, by Oscar Wilde and all the rest who told them that a work of
art was in another universe from ethics and social good. Therefore many,
I think most, of the Ibsenites praised the Ibsen plays merely as _choses
vues_, æsthetic affirmations of what can be without any reference to
what ought to be. Mr. William Archer himself inclined to this view,
though his strong sagacity kept him in a haze of healthy doubt on the
subject. Mr. Walkley certainly took this view. But this view Mr. George
Bernard Shaw abruptly and violently refused to take.

With the full Puritan combination of passion and precision he informed
everybody that Ibsen was not artistic, but moral; that his dramas were
didactic, that all great art was didactic, that Ibsen was strongly on
the side of some of his characters and strongly against others, that
there was preaching and public spirit in the work of good dramatists;
and that if this were not so, dramatists and all other artists would be
mere panders of intellectual debauchery, to be locked up as the Puritans
locked up the stage players. No one can understand Bernard Shaw who does
not give full value to this early revolt of his on behalf of ethics
against the ruling school of _l'art pour l'art_. It is interesting
because it is connected with other ambitions in the man, especially
with that which has made him somewhat vainer of being a Parish
Councillor than of being one of the most popular dramatists in Europe.
But its chief interest is again to be referred to our stratification of
the psychology; it is the lover of true things rebelling for once
against merely new things; it is the Puritan suddenly refusing to be the
mere Progressive.

But this attitude obviously laid on the ethical lover of Ibsen a not
inconsiderable obligation. If the new drama had an ethical purpose, what
was it? and if Ibsen was a moral teacher, what the deuce was he
teaching? Answers to this question, answers of manifold brilliancy and
promise, were scattered through all the dramatic criticisms of those
years on the _Saturday Review_. But even Bernard Shaw grew tired after a
time of discussing Ibsen only in connection with the current pantomime
or the latest musical comedy. It was felt that so much sincerity and
fertility of explanation justified a concentrated attack; and in 1891
appeared the brilliant book called _The Quintessence of Ibsenism_, which
some have declared to be merely the quintessence of Shaw. However this
may be, it was in fact and profession the quintessence of Shaw's theory
of the morality or propaganda of Ibsen.

The book itself is much longer than the book that I am writing; and as
is only right in so spirited an apologist, every paragraph is
provocative. I could write an essay on every sentence which I accept and
three essays on every sentence which I deny. Bernard Shaw himself is a
master of compression; he can put a conception more compactly than any
other man alive. It is therefore rather difficult to compress his
compression; one feels as if one were trying to extract a beef essence
from Bovril. But the shortest form in which I can state the idea of _The
Quintessence of Ibsenism_ is that it is the idea of distrusting ideals,
which are universal, in comparison with facts, which are miscellaneous.
The man whom he attacks throughout he calls "The Idealist"; that is the
man who permits himself to be mainly moved by a moral generalisation.
"Actions," he says, "are to be judged by their effect on happiness, and
not by their conformity to any ideal." As we have already seen, there is
a certain inconsistency here; for while Shaw had always chucked all
ideals overboard the one he had chucked first was the ideal of
happiness. Passing this however for the present, we may mark the above
as the most satisfying summary. If I tell a lie I am not to blame myself
for having violated the ideal of truth, but only for having perhaps got
myself into a mess and made things worse than they were before. If I
have broken my word I need not feel (as my fathers did) that I have
broken something inside of me, as one who breaks a blood vessel. It all
depends on whether I have broken up something outside me; as one who
breaks up an evening party. If I shoot my father the only question is
whether I have made him happy. I must not admit the idealistic
conception that the mere shooting of my father might possibly make me
unhappy. We are to judge of every individual case as it arises,
apparently without any social summary or moral ready-reckoner at all.
"The Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule." We must not say that
it is right to keep promises, but that it may be right to keep this
promise. Essentially it is anarchy; nor is it very easy to see how a
state could be very comfortable which was Socialist in all its public
morality and Anarchist in all its private. But if it is anarchy, it is
anarchy without any of the abandon and exuberance of anarchy. It is a
worried and conscientious anarchy; an anarchy of painful delicacy and
even caution. For it refuses to trust in traditional experiments or
plainly trodden tracks; every case must be considered anew from the
beginning, and yet considered with the most wide-eyed care for human
welfare; every man must act as if he were the first man made. Briefly,
we must always be worrying about what is best for our children, and we
must not take one hint or rule of thumb from our fathers. Some think
that this anarchism would make a man tread down mighty cities in his
madness. I think it would make a man walk down the street as if he were
walking on egg-shells. I do not think this experiment in opportunism
would end in frantic license; I think it would end in frozen timidity.
If a man was forbidden to solve moral problems by moral science or the
help of mankind, his course would be quite easy--he would not solve the
problems. The world instead of being a knot so tangled as to need
unravelling, would simply become a piece of clockwork too complicated to
be touched. I cannot think that this untutored worry was what Ibsen
meant; I have my doubts as to whether it was what Shaw meant; but I do
not think that it can be substantially doubted that it was what he said.

In any case it can be asserted that the general aim of the work was to
exalt the immediate conclusions of practice against the general
conclusions of theory. Shaw objected to the solution of every problem in
a play being by its nature a general solution, applicable to all other
such problems. He disliked the entrance of a universal justice at the
end of the last act; treading down all the personal ultimatums and all
the varied certainties of men. He disliked the god from the
machine--because he was from a machine. But even without the machine he
tended to dislike the god; because a god is more general than a man. His
enemies have accused Shaw of being anti-domestic, a shaker of the
roof-tree. But in this sense Shaw may be called almost madly domestic.
He wishes each private problem to be settled in private, without
reference to sociological ethics. And the only objection to this kind of
gigantic casuistry is that the theatre is really too small to discuss
it. It would not be fair to play David and Goliath on a stage too small
to admit Goliath. And it is not fair to discuss private morality on a
stage too small to admit the enormous presence of public morality; that
character which has not appeared in a play since the Middle Ages; whose
name is Everyman and whose honour we have all in our keeping.

_The Dramatist_

No one who was alive at the time and interested in such matters will
ever forget the first acting of _Arms and the Man_. It was applauded by
that indescribable element in all of us which rejoices to see the
genuine thing prevail against the plausible; that element which rejoices
that even its enemies are alive. Apart from the problems raised in the
play, the very form of it was an attractive and forcible innovation.
Classic plays which were wholly heroic, comic plays which were wholly
and even heartlessly ironical, were common enough. Commonest of all in
this particular time was the play that began playfully, with plenty of
comic business, and was gradually sobered by sentiment until it ended on
a note of romance or even of pathos. A commonplace little officer, the
butt of the mess, becomes by the last act as high and hopeless a lover
as Dante. Or a vulgar and violent pork-butcher remembers his own youth
before the curtain goes down. The first thing that Bernard Shaw did when
he stepped before the footlights was to reverse this process. He
resolved to build a play not on pathos, but on bathos. The officer
should be heroic first and then everyone should laugh at him; the
curtain should go up on a man remembering his youth, and he should only
reveal himself as a violent pork-butcher when someone interrupted him
with an order for pork. This merely technical originality is indicated
in the very title of the play. The _Arma Virumque_ of Virgil is a
mounting and ascending phrase, the man is more than his weapons. The
Latin line suggests a superb procession which should bring on to the
stage the brazen and resounding armour, the shield and shattering axe,
but end with the hero himself, taller and more terrible because unarmed.
The technical effect of Shaw's scheme is like the same scene, in which a
crowd should carry even more gigantic shapes of shield and helmet, but
when the horns and howls were at their highest, should end with the
figure of Little Tich. The name itself is meant to be a bathos;
arms--and the man.

It is well to begin with the superficial; and this is the superficial
effectiveness of Shaw; the brilliancy of bathos. But of course the
vitality and value of his plays does not lie merely in this; any more
than the value of Swinburne lies in alliteration or the value of Hood in
puns. This is not his message; but it is his method; it is his style.
The first taste we had of it was in this play of _Arms and the Man_; but
even at the very first it was evident that there was much more in the
play than that. Among other things there was one thing not unimportant;
there was savage sincerity. Indeed, only a ferociously sincere person
can produce such effective flippancies on a matter like war; just as
only a strong man could juggle with cannon balls. It is all very well to
use the word "fool" as synonymous with "jester"; but daily experience
shows that it is generally the solemn and silent man who is the fool. It
is all very well to accuse Mr. Shaw of standing on his head; but if you
stand on your head you must have a hard and solid head to stand on. In
_Arms and the Man_ the bathos of form was strictly the incarnation of a
strong satire in the idea. The play opens in an atmosphere of military
melodrama; the dashing officer of cavalry going off to death in an
attitude, the lovely heroine left in tearful rapture; the brass band,
the noise of guns and the red fire. Into all this enters Bluntschli, the
little sturdy crop-haired Swiss professional soldier, a man without a
country but with a trade. He tells the army-adoring heroine frankly that
she is a humbug; and she, after a moment's reflection, appears to agree
with him. The play is like nearly all Shaw's plays, the dialogue of a
conversion. By the end of it the young lady has lost all her military
illusions and admires this mercenary soldier not because he faces guns,
but because he faces facts.

This was a fitting entrance for Shaw to his didactic drama; because the
commonplace courage which he respects in Bluntschli was the one virtue
which he was destined to praise throughout. We can best see how the play
symbolises and summarises Bernard Shaw if we compare it with some other
attack by modern humanitarians upon war. Shaw has many of the actual
opinions of Tolstoy. Like Tolstoy he tells men, with coarse innocence,
that romantic war is only butchery and that romantic love is only lust.
But Tolstoy objects to these things because they are real; he really
wishes to abolish them. Shaw only objects to them in so far as they are
ideal; that is in so far as they are idealised. Shaw objects not so much
to war as to the attractiveness of war. He does not so much dislike love
as the love of love. Before the temple of Mars, Tolstoy stands and
thunders, "There shall be no wars"; Bernard Shaw merely murmurs, "Wars
if you must; but for God's sake, not war songs." Before the temple of
Venus, Tolstoy cries terribly, "Come out of it!"; Shaw is quite content
to say, "Do not be taken in by it." Tolstoy seems really to propose that
high passion and patriotic valour should be destroyed. Shaw is more
moderate; and only asks that they should be desecrated. Upon this note,
both about sex and conflict, he was destined to dwell through much of
his work with the most wonderful variations of witty adventure and
intellectual surprise. It may be doubted perhaps whether this realism in
love and war is quite so sensible as it looks. _Securus judicat orbis
terrarum_; the world is wiser than the moderns. The world has kept
sentimentalities simply because they are the most practical things in
the world. They alone make men do things. The world does not encourage a
quite rational lover, simply because a perfectly rational lover would
never get married. The world does not encourage a perfectly rational
army, because a perfectly rational army would run away.

The brain of Bernard Shaw was like a wedge in the literal sense. Its
sharpest end was always in front; and it split our society from end to
end the moment it had entrance at all. As I have said he was long
unheard of; but he had not the tragedy of many authors, who were heard
of long before they were heard. When you had read any Shaw you read all
Shaw. When you had seen one of his plays you waited for more. And when
he brought them out in volume form, you did what is repugnant to any
literary man--you bought a book.

The dramatic volume with which Shaw dazzled the public was called,
_Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant_. I think the most striking and typical
thing about it was that he did not know very clearly which plays were
unpleasant and which were pleasant. "Pleasant" is a word which is almost
unmeaning to Bernard Shaw. Except, as I suppose, in music (where I
cannot follow him), relish and receptivity are things that simply do not
appear. He has the best of tongues and the worst of palates. With the
possible exception of _Mrs. Warren's Profession_ (which was at least
unpleasant in the sense of being forbidden) I can see no particular
reason why any of the seven plays should be held specially to please or
displease. First in fame and contemporary importance came the reprint
of _Arms and the Man_, of which I have already spoken. Over all the rest
towered unquestionably the two figures of Mrs. Warren and of Candida.
They were neither of them pleasant, except as all good art is pleasant.
They were neither of them really unpleasant except as all truth is
unpleasant. But they did represent the author's normal preference and
his principal fear; and those two sculptured giantesses largely upheld
his fame.

I fancy that the author rather dislikes _Candida_ because it is so
generally liked. I give my own feeling for what it is worth (a foolish
phrase), but I think that there were only two moments when this powerful
writer was truly, in the ancient and popular sense, inspired; that is,
breathing from a bigger self and telling more truth than he knew. One is
that scene in a later play where after the secrets and revenges of Egypt
have rioted and rotted all round him, the colossal sanity of Cæsar is
suddenly acclaimed with swords. The other is that great last scene in
_Candida_ where the wife, stung into final speech, declared her purpose
of remaining with the strong man because he is the weak man. The wife is
asked to decide between two men, one a strenuous self-confident popular
preacher, her husband, the other a wild and weak young poet, logically
futile and physically timid, her lover; and she chooses the former
because he has more weakness and more need of her. Even among the plain
and ringing paradoxes of the Shaw play this is one of the best reversals
or turnovers ever effected. A paradoxical writer like Bernard Shaw is
perpetually and tiresomely told that he stands on his head. But all
romance and all religion consist in making the whole universe stand on
its head. That reversal is the whole idea of virtue; that the last shall
be first and the first last. Considered as a pure piece of Shaw
therefore, the thing is of the best. But it is also something much
better than Shaw. The writer touches certain realities commonly outside
his scope; especially the reality of the normal wife's attitude to the
normal husband, an attitude which is not romantic but which is yet quite
quixotic; which is insanely unselfish and yet quite cynically
clear-sighted. It involves human sacrifice without in the least
involving idolatry.

The truth is that in this place Bernard Shaw comes within an inch of
expressing something that is not properly expressed anywhere else; the
idea of marriage. Marriage is not a mere chain upon love as the
anarchists say; nor is it a mere crown upon love as the sentimentalists
say. Marriage is a fact, an actual human relation like that of
motherhood which has certain human habits and loyalties, except in a few
monstrous cases where it is turned to torture by special insanity and
sin. A marriage is neither an ecstasy nor a slavery; it is a
commonwealth; it is a separate working and fighting thing like a nation.
Kings and diplomatists talk of "forming alliances" when they make
weddings; but indeed every wedding is primarily an alliance. The family
is a fact even when it is not an agreeable fact, and a man is part of
his wife even when he wishes he wasn't. The twain are one flesh--yes,
even when they are not one spirit. Man is duplex. Man is a quadruped.

Of this ancient and essential relation there are certain emotional
results, which are subtle, like all the growths of nature. And one of
them is the attitude of the wife to the husband, whom she regards at
once as the strongest and most helpless of human figures. She regards
him in some strange fashion at once as a warrior who must make his way
and as an infant who is sure to lose his way. The man has emotions which
exactly correspond; sometimes looking down at his wife and sometimes up
at her; for marriage is like a splendid game of see-saw. Whatever else
it is, it is not comradeship. This living, ancestral bond (not of love
or fear, but strictly of marriage) has been twice expressed splendidly
in literature. The man's incurable sense of the mother in his lawful
wife was uttered by Browning in one of his two or three truly shattering
lines of genius, when he makes the execrable Guido fall back finally
upon the fact of marriage and the wife whom he has trodden like mire:

                "Christ! Maria! God,
     Pompilia, will you let them murder me?"

And the woman's witness to the same fact has been best expressed by
Bernard Shaw in this great scene where she remains with the great
stalwart successful public man because he is really too little to run

There are one or two errors in the play; and they are all due to the
primary error of despising the mental attitude of romance, which is the
only key to real human conduct. For instance, the love making of the
young poet is all wrong. He is supposed to be a romantic and amorous
boy; and therefore the dramatist tries to make him talk turgidly, about
seeking for "an archangel with purple wings" who shall be worthy of his
lady. But a lad in love would never talk in this mock heroic style;
there is no period at which the young male is more sensitive and serious
and afraid of looking a fool. This is a blunder; but there is another
much bigger and blacker. It is completely and disastrously false to the
whole nature of falling in love to make the young Eugene complain of the
cruelty which makes Candida defile her fair hands with domestic duties.
No boy in love with a beautiful woman would ever feel disgusted when she
peeled potatoes or trimmed lamps. He would like her to be domestic. He
would simply feel that the potatoes had become poetical and the lamps
gained an extra light. This may be irrational; but we are not talking of
rationality, but of the psychology of first love. It may be very unfair
to women that the toil and triviality of potato peeling should be seen
through a glamour of romance; but the glamour is quite as certain a fact
as the potatoes. It may be a bad thing in sociology that men should
deify domesticity in girls as something dainty and magical; but all men
do. Personally I do not think it a bad thing at all; but that is another
argument. The argument here is that Bernard Shaw, in aiming at mere
realism, makes a big mistake in reality. Misled by his great heresy of
looking at emotions from the outside, he makes Eugene a cold-blooded
prig at the very moment when he is trying, for his own dramatic
purposes, to make him a hot-blooded lover. He makes the young lover an
idealistic theoriser about the very things about which he really would
have been a sort of mystical materialist. Here the romantic Irishman is
much more right than the very rational one; and there is far more truth
to life as it is in Lover's couplet--

     "And envied the chicken
     That Peggy was pickin'."

than in Eugene's solemn, æsthetic protest against the potato-skins and
the lamp-oil. For dramatic purposes, G. B. S., even if he despises
romance, ought to comprehend it. But then, if once he comprehended
romance, he would not despise it.

The series contained, besides its more substantial work, tragic and
comic, a comparative frivolity called _The Man of Destiny_. It is a
little comedy about Napoleon, and is chiefly interesting as a
foreshadowing of his after sketches of heroes and strong men; it is a
kind of parody of _Cæsar and Cleopatra_ before it was written. In this
connection the mere title of this Napoleonic play is of interest. All
Shaw's generation and school of thought remembered Napoleon only by his
late and corrupt title of "The Man of Destiny," a title only given to
him when he was already fat and tired and destined to exile. They forgot
that through all the really thrilling and creative part of his career he
was not the man of destiny, but the man who defied destiny. Shaw's
sketch is extraordinarily clever; but it is tinged with this unmilitary
notion of an inevitable conquest; and this we must remember when we come
to those larger canvases on which he painted his more serious heroes. As
for the play, it is packed with good things, of which the last is
perhaps the best. The long duologue between Bonaparte and the Irish lady
ends with the General declaring that he will only be beaten when he
meets an English army under an Irish general. It has always been one of
Shaw's paradoxes that the English mind has the force to fulfil orders,
while the Irish mind has the intelligence to give them, and it is among
those of his paradoxes which contain a certain truth.

A far more important play is _The Philanderer_, an ironic comedy which
is full of fine strokes and real satire; it is more especially the
vehicle of some of Shaw's best satire upon physical science. Nothing
could be cleverer than the picture of the young, strenuous doctor, in
the utter innocence of his professional ambition, who has discovered a
new disease, and is delighted when he finds people suffering from it and
cast down to despair when he finds that it does not exist. The point is
worth a pause, because it is a good, short way of stating Shaw's
attitude, right or wrong, upon the whole of formal morality. What he
dislikes in young Doctor Paramore is that he has interposed a secondary
and false conscience between himself and the facts. When his disease is
disproved, instead of seeing the escape of a human being who thought he
was going to die of it, Paramore sees the downfall of a kind of flag or
cause. This is the whole contention of _The Quintessence of Ibsenism_,
put better than the book puts it; it is a really sharp exposition of the
dangers of "idealism," the sacrifice of people to principles, and Shaw
is even wiser in his suggestion that this excessive idealism exists
nowhere so strongly as in the world of physical science. He shows that
the scientist tends to be more concerned about the sickness than about
the sick man; but it was certainly in his mind to suggest here also that
the idealist is more concerned about the sin than about the sinner.

This business of Dr. Paramore's disease while it is the most farcical
thing in the play is also the most philosophic and important. The rest
of the figures, including the Philanderer himself, are in the full sense
of those blasting and obliterating words "funny without being vulgar,"
that is, funny without being of any importance to the masses of men. It
is a play about a dashing and advanced "Ibsen Club," and the squabble
between the young Ibsenites and the old people who are not yet up to
Ibsen. It would be hard to find a stronger example of Shaw's only
essential error, modernity--which means the seeking for truth in terms
of time. Only a few years have passed and already almost half the wit of
that wonderful play is wasted, because it all turns on the newness of a
fashion that is no longer new. Doubtless many people still think the
Ibsen drama a great thing, like the French classical drama. But going to
"The Philanderer" is like going among periwigs and rapiers and hearing
that the young men are now all for Racine. What makes such work sound
unreal is not the praise of Ibsen, but the praise of the novelty of
Ibsen. Any advantage that Bernard Shaw had over Colonel Craven I have
over Bernard Shaw; we who happen to be born last have the meaningless
and paltry triumph in that meaningless and paltry war. We are the
superiors by that silliest and most snobbish of all superiorities, the
mere aristocracy of time. All works must become thus old and insipid
which have ever tried to be "modern," which have consented to smell of
time rather than of eternity. Only those who have stooped to be in
advance of their time will ever find themselves behind it.

But it is irritating to think what diamonds, what dazzling silver of
Shavian wit has been sunk in such an out-of-date warship. In _The
Philanderer_ there are five hundred excellent and about five magnificent
things. The rattle of repartees between the doctor and the soldier about
the humanity of their two trades is admirable. Or again, when the
colonel tells Chartaris that "in his young days" he would have no more
behaved like Chartaris than he would have cheated at cards. After a
pause Chartaris says, "You're getting old, Craven, and you make a
virtue of it as usual." And there is an altitude of aerial tragedy in
the words of Grace, who has refused the man she loves, to Julia, who is
marrying the man she doesn't, "This is what they call a happy
ending--these men."

There is an acrid taste in _The Philanderer_; and certainly he might be
considered a super-sensitive person who should find anything acrid in
_You Never Can Tell_. This play is the nearest approach to frank and
objectless exuberance in the whole of Shaw's work. _Punch_, with wisdom
as well as wit, said that it might well be called not "You Never Can
Tell" but "You Never Can be Shaw." And yet if anyone will read this
blazing farce and then after it any of the romantic farces, such as
_Pickwick_ or even _The Wrong Box_, I do not think he will be disposed
to erase or even to modify what I said at the beginning about the
ingrained grimness and even inhumanity of Shaw's art. To take but one
test: love, in an "extravaganza," may be light love or love in idleness,
but it should be hearty and happy love if it is to add to the general
hilarity. Such are the ludicrous but lucky love affairs of the sportsman
Winkle and the Maestro Jimson. In Gloria's collapse before her bullying
lover there is something at once cold and unclean; it calls up all the
modern supermen with their cruel and fishy eyes. Such farces should
begin in a friendly air, in a tavern. There is something very symbolic
of Shaw in the fact that his farce begins in a dentist's.

The only one out of this brilliant batch of plays in which I think that
the method adopted really fails, is the one called _Widower's Houses_.
The best touch of Shaw is simply in the title. The simple substitution
of widowers for widows contains almost the whole bitter and yet
boisterous protest of Shaw; all his preference for undignified fact over
dignified phrase; all his dislike of those subtle trends of sex or
mystery which swing the logician off the straight line. We can imagine
him crying, "Why in the name of death and conscience should it be tragic
to be a widow but comic to be a widower?" But the rationalistic method
is here applied quite wrong as regards the production of a drama. The
most dramatic point in the affair is when the open and indecent
rack-renter turns on the decent young man of means and proves to him
that he is equally guilty, that he also can only grind his corn by
grinding the faces of the poor. But even here the point is undramatic
because it is indirect; it is indirect because it is merely
sociological. It may be the truth that a young man living on an
unexamined income which ultimately covers a great deal of house-property
is as dangerous as any despot or thief. But it is a truth that you can
no more put into a play than into a triolet. You can make a play out of
one man robbing another man, but not out of one man robbing a million
men; still less out of his robbing them unconsciously.

Of the plays collected in this book I have kept _Mrs. Warren's
Profession_ to the last, because, fine as it is, it is even finer and
more important because of its fate, which was to rouse a long and
serious storm and to be vetoed by the Censor of Plays. I say that this
drama is most important because of the quarrel that came out of it. If I
were speaking of some mere artist this might be an insult. But there are
high and heroic things in Bernard Shaw; and one of the highest and most
heroic is this, that he certainly cares much more for a quarrel than for
a play. And this quarrel about the censorship is one on which he feels
so strongly that in a book embodying any sort of sympathy it would be
much better to leave out Mrs. Warren than to leave out Mr. Redford. The
veto was the pivot of so very personal a movement by the dramatist, of
so very positive an assertion of his own attitude towards things, that
it is only just and necessary to state what were the two essential
parties to the dispute; the play and the official who prevented the

The play of _Mrs. Warren's Profession_ is concerned with a coarse mother
and a cold daughter; the mother drives the ordinary and dirty trade of
harlotry; the daughter does not know until the end the atrocious origin
of all her own comfort and refinement. The daughter, when the discovery
is made, freezes up into an iceberg of contempt; which is indeed a very
womanly thing to do. The mother explodes into pulverising cynicism and
practicality; which is also very womanly. The dialogue is drastic and
sweeping; the daughter says the trade is loathsome; the mother answers
that she loathes it herself; that every healthy person does loathe the
trade by which she lives. And beyond question the general effect of the
play is that the trade is loathsome; supposing anyone to be so
insensible as to require to be told of the fact. Undoubtedly the upshot
is that a brothel is a miserable business, and a brothel-keeper a
miserable woman. The whole dramatic art of Shaw is in the literal sense
of the word, tragi-comic; I mean that the comic part comes after the
tragedy. But just as _You Never Can Tell_ represents the nearest
approach of Shaw to the purely comic, so _Mrs. Warren's Profession_
represents his only complete, or nearly complete, tragedy. There is no
twopenny modernism in it, as in _The Philanderer_. Mrs. Warren is as old
as the Old Testament; "for she hath cast down many wounded, yea, many
strong men have been slain by her; her house is in the gates of hell,
going down into the chamber of death." Here is no subtle ethics, as in
_Widowers' Houses_; for even those moderns who think it noble that a
woman should throw away her honour, surely cannot think it especially
noble that she should sell it. Here is no lighting up by laughter,
astonishment, and happy coincidence, as in _You Never Can Tell_. The
play is a pure tragedy about a permanent and quite plain human problem;
the problem is as plain and permanent, the tragedy is as proud and pure,
as in _OEdipus_ or _Macbeth_. This play was presented in the ordinary
way for public performance and was suddenly stopped by the Censor of

The Censor of Plays is a small and accidental eighteenth-century
official. Like nearly all the powers which Englishmen now respect as
ancient and rooted, he is very recent. Novels and newspapers still talk
of the English aristocracy that came over with William the Conqueror.
Little of our effective oligarchy is as old as the Reformation; and none
of it came over with William the Conqueror. Some of the older English
landlords came over with William of Orange; the rest have come by
ordinary alien immigration. In the same way we always talk of the
Victorian woman (with her smelling salts and sentiment) as the
old-fashioned woman. But she really was a quite new-fashioned woman; she
considered herself, and was, an advance in delicacy and civilisation
upon the coarse and candid Elizabethan woman to whom we are now
returning. We are never oppressed by old things; it is recent things
that can really oppress. And in accordance with this principle modern
England has accepted, as if it were a part of perennial morality, a
tenth-rate job of Walpole's worst days called the Censorship of the
Drama. Just as they have supposed the eighteenth-century parvenus to
date from Hastings, just as they have supposed the eighteenth-century
ladies to date from Eve, so they have supposed the eighteenth-century
Censorship to date from Sinai. The origin of the thing was in truth
purely political. Its first and principal achievement was to prevent
Fielding from writing plays; not at all because the plays were coarse,
but because they criticised the Government. Fielding was a free writer;
but they did not resent his sexual freedom; the Censor would not have
objected if he had torn away the most intimate curtains of decency or
rent the last rag from private life. What the Censor disliked was his
rending the curtain from public life. There is still much of that spirit
in our country; there are no affairs which men seek so much to cover up
as public affairs. But the thing was done somewhat more boldly and
baldly in Walpole's day; and the Censorship of plays has its origin, not
merely in tyranny, but in a quite trifling and temporary and partisan
piece of tyranny; a thing in its nature far more ephemeral, far less
essential, than Ship Money. Perhaps its brightest moment was when the
office of censor was held by that filthy writer, Colman the younger; and
when he gravely refused to license a work by the author of _Our
Village_. Few funnier notions can ever have actually been facts than
this notion that the restraint and chastity of George Colman saved the
English public from the eroticism and obscenity of Miss Mitford.

Such was the play; and such was the power that stopped the play. A
private man wrote it; another private man forbade it; nor was there any
difference between Mr. Shaw's authority and Mr. Redford's, except that
Mr. Shaw did defend his action on public grounds and Mr. Redford did
not. The dramatist had simply been suppressed by a despot; and what was
worse (because it was modern) by a silent and evasive despot; a despot
in hiding. People talk about the pride of tyrants; but we at the present
day suffer from the modesty of tyrants; from the shyness and the
shrinking secrecy of the strong. Shaw's preface to _Mrs. Warren's
Profession_ was far more fit to be called a public document than the
slovenly refusal of the individual official; it had more exactness, more
universal application, more authority. Shaw on Redford was far more
national and responsible than Redford on Shaw.

The dramatist found in the quarrel one of the important occasions of his
life, because the crisis called out something in him which is in many
ways his highest quality--righteous indignation. As a mere matter of the
art of controversy of course he carried the war into the enemy's camp
at once. He did not linger over loose excuses for licence; he declared
at once that the Censor was licentious, while he, Bernard Shaw, was
clean. He did not discuss whether a Censorship ought to make the drama
moral. He declared that it made the drama immoral. With a fine strategic
audacity he attacked the Censor quite as much for what he permitted as
for what he prevented. He charged him with encouraging all plays that
attracted men to vice and only stopping those which discouraged them
from it. Nor was this attitude by any means an idle paradox. Many plays
appear (as Shaw pointed out) in which the prostitute and the procuress
are practically obvious, and in which they are represented as revelling
in beautiful surroundings and basking in brilliant popularity. The crime
of Shaw was not that he introduced the Gaiety Girl; that had been done,
with little enough decorum, in a hundred musical comedies. The crime of
Shaw was that he introduced the Gaiety Girl, but did not represent her
life as all gaiety. The pleasures of vice were already flaunted before
the playgoers. It was the perils of vice that were carefully concealed
from them. The gay adventures, the gorgeous dresses, the champagne and
oysters, the diamonds and motor-cars, dramatists were allowed to drag
all these dazzling temptations before any silly housemaid in the gallery
who was grumbling at her wages. But they were not allowed to warn her of
the vulgarity and the nausea, the dreary deceptions and the blasting
diseases of that life. _Mrs. Warren's Profession_ was not up to a
sufficient standard of immorality; it was not spicy enough to pass the
Censor. The acceptable and the accepted plays were those which made the
fall of a woman fashionable and fascinating; for all the world as if the
Censor's profession were the same as Mrs. Warren's profession.

Such was the angle of Shaw's energetic attack; and it is not to be
denied that there was exaggeration in it, and what is so much worse,
omission. The argument might easily be carried too far; it might end
with a scene of screaming torture in the Inquisition as a corrective to
the too amiable view of a clergyman in _The Private Secretary_. But the
controversy is definitely worth recording, if only as an excellent
example of the author's aggressive attitude and his love of turning the
tables in debate. Moreover, though this point of view involves a
potential overstatement, it also involves an important truth. One of
the best points urged in the course of it was this, that though vice is
punished in conventional drama, the punishment is not really impressive,
because it is not inevitable or even probable. It does not arise out of
the evil act. Years afterwards Bernard Shaw urged this argument again in
connection with his friend Mr. Granville Barker's play of _Waste_, in
which the woman dies from an illegal operation. Bernard Shaw said, truly
enough, that if she had died from poison or a pistol shot it would have
left everyone unmoved, for pistols do not in their nature follow female
unchastity. Illegal operations very often do. The punishment was one
which might follow the crime, not only in that case, but in many cases.
Here, I think, the whole argument might be sufficiently cleared up by
saying that the objection to such things on the stage is a purely
artistic objection. There is nothing wrong in talking about an illegal
operation; there are plenty of occasions when it would be very wrong not
to talk about it. But it may easily be just a shade too ugly for the
shape of any work of art. There is nothing wrong about being sick; but
if Bernard Shaw wrote a play in which all the characters expressed
their dislike of animal food by vomiting on the stage, I think we should
be justified in saying that the thing was outside, not the laws of
morality, but the framework of civilised literature. The instinctive
movement of repulsion which everyone has when hearing of the operation
in _Waste_ is not an ethical repulsion at all. But it is an æsthetic
repulsion, and a right one.

But I have only dwelt on this particular fighting phase because it
leaves us facing the ultimate characteristics which I mentioned first.
Bernard Shaw cares nothing for art; in comparison with morals, literally
nothing. Bernard Shaw is a Puritan and his work is Puritan work. He has
all the essentials of the old, virile and extinct Protestant type. In
his work he is as ugly as a Puritan. He is as indecent as a Puritan. He
is as full of gross words and sensual facts as a sermon of the
seventeenth century. Up to this point of his life indeed hardly anyone
would have dreamed of calling him a Puritan; he was called sometimes an
anarchist, sometimes a buffoon, sometimes (by the more discerning stupid
people) a prig. His attitude towards current problems was felt to be
arresting and even indecent; I do not think that anyone thought of
connecting it with the old Calvinistic morality. But Shaw, who knew
better than the Shavians, was at this moment on the very eve of
confessing his moral origin. The next book of plays he produced
(including The _Devil's Disciple_, _Captain Brassbound's Conversion_,
and _Cæsar and Cleopatra_), actually bore the title of _Plays for

The play called _The Devil's Disciple_ has great merits, but the merits
are incidental. Some of its jokes are serious and important, but its
general plan can only be called a joke. Almost alone among Bernard
Shaw's plays (except of course such things as _How he Lied to her
Husband_ and _The Admirable Bashville_) this drama does not turn on any
very plain pivot of ethical or philosophical conviction. The artistic
idea seems to be the notion of a melodrama in which all the conventional
melodramatic situations shall suddenly take unconventional turns. Just
where the melodramatic clergyman would show courage he appears to show
cowardice; just where the melodramatic sinner would confess his love he
confesses his indifference. This is a little too like the Shaw of the
newspaper critics rather than the Shaw of reality. There are indeed
present in the play two of the writer's principal moral conceptions.
The first is the idea of a great heroic action coming in a sense from
nowhere; that is, not coming from any commonplace motive; being born in
the soul in naked beauty, coming with its own authority and testifying
only to itself. Shaw's agent does not act towards something, but from
something. The hero dies, not because he desires heroism, but because he
has it. So in this particular play the Devil's Disciple finds that his
own nature will not permit him to put the rope around another man's
neck; he has no reasons of desire, affection, or even equity; his death
is a sort of divine whim. And in connection with this the dramatist
introduces another favourite moral; the objection to perpetual playing
upon the motive of sex. He deliberately lures the onlooker into the net
of Cupid in order to tell him with salutary decision that Cupid is not
there at all. Millions of melodramatic dramatists have made a man face
death for the woman he loves; Shaw makes him face death for the woman he
does not love--merely in order to put woman in her place. He objects to
that idolatry of sexualism which makes it the fountain of all forcible
enthusiasms; he dislikes the amorous drama which makes the female the
only key to the male. He is Feminist in politics, but Anti-feminist in
emotion. His key to most problems is, "Ne cherchez pas la femme."

As has been observed, the incidental felicities of the play are frequent
and memorable, especially those connected with the character of General
Burgoyne, the real full-blooded, free-thinking eighteenth century
gentleman, who was much too much of an aristocrat not to be a liberal.
One of the best thrusts in all the Shavian fencing matches is that which
occurs when Richard Dudgeon, condemned to be hanged, asks rhetorically
why he cannot be shot like a soldier. "Now there you speak like a
civilian," replies General Burgoyne. "Have you formed any conception of
the condition of marksmanship in the British Army?" Excellent, too, is
the passage in which his subordinate speaks of crushing the enemy in
America, and Burgoyne asks him who will crush their enemies in England,
snobbery and jobbery and incurable carelessness and sloth. And in one
sentence towards the end, Shaw reaches a wider and more genial
comprehension of mankind than he shows anywhere else; "it takes all
sorts to make a world, saints as well as soldiers." If Shaw had
remembered that sentence on other occasions he would have avoided his
mistake about Cæsar and Brutus. It is not only true that it takes all
sorts to make a world; but the world cannot succeed without its
failures. Perhaps the most doubtful point of all in the play is why it
is a play for Puritans; except the hideous picture of a Calvinistic home
is meant to destroy Puritanism. And indeed in this connection it is
constantly necessary to fall back upon the facts of which I have spoken
at the beginning of this brief study; it is necessary especially to
remember that Shaw could in all probability speak of Puritanism from the
inside. In that domestic circle which took him to hear Moody and Sankey,
in that domestic circle which was teetotal even when it was intoxicated,
in that atmosphere and society Shaw might even have met the monstrous
mother in _The Devil's Disciple_, the horrible old woman who declares
that she has hardened her heart to hate her children, because the heart
of man is desperately wicked, the old ghoul who has made one of her
children an imbecile and the other an outcast. Such types do occur in
small societies drunk with the dismal wine of Puritan determinism. It is
possible that there were among Irish Calvinists people who denied that
charity was a Christian virtue. It is possible that among Puritans there
were people who thought a heart was a kind of heart disease. But it is
enough to make one tear one's hair to think that a man of genius
received his first impressions in so small a corner of Europe that he
could for a long time suppose that this Puritanism was current among
Christian men. The question, however, need not detain us, for the batch
of plays contained two others about which it is easier to speak.

The third play in order in the series called _Plays for Puritans_ is a
very charming one; _Captain Brassbound's Conversion_. This also turns,
as does so much of the Cæsar drama, on the idea of vanity of
revenge--the idea that it is too slight and silly a thing for a man to
allow to occupy and corrupt his consciousness. It is not, of course, the
morality that is new here, but the touch of cold laughter in the core of
the morality. Many saints and sages have denounced vengeance. But they
treated vengeance as something too great for man. "Vengeance is Mine,
saith the Lord; I will repay." Shaw treats vengeance as something too
small for man--a monkey trick he ought to have outlived, a childish
storm of tears which he ought to be able to control. In the story in
question Captain Brassbound has nourished through his whole erratic
existence, racketting about all the unsavoury parts of Africa--a mission
of private punishment which appears to him as a mission of holy justice.
His mother has died in consequence of a judge's decision, and Brassbound
roams and schemes until the judge falls into his hands. Then a pleasant
society lady, Lady Cicely Waynefleet tells him in an easy conversational
undertone--a rivulet of speech which ripples while she is mending his
coat--that he is making a fool of himself, that his wrong is irrelevant,
that his vengeance is objectless, that he would be much better if he
flung his morbid fancy away for ever; in short, she tells him he is
ruining himself for the sake of ruining a total stranger. Here again we
have the note of the economist, the hatred of mere loss. Shaw (one might
almost say) dislikes murder, not so much because it wastes the life of
the corpse as because it wastes the time of the murderer. If he were
endeavouring to persuade one of his moon-lighting fellow-countrymen not
to shoot his landlord, I can imagine him explaining with benevolent
emphasis that it was not so much a question of losing a life as of
throwing away a bullet. But indeed the Irish comparison alone suggests a
doubt which wriggles in the recesses of my mind about the complete
reliability of the philosophy of Lady Cicely Waynefleet, the complete
finality of the moral of _Captain Brassbound's Conversion_. Of course,
it was very natural in an aristocrat like Lady Cicely Waynefleet to wish
to let sleeping dogs lie, especially those whom Mr. Blatchford calls
under-dogs. Of course it was natural for her to wish everything to be
smooth and sweet-tempered. But I have the obstinate question in the
corner of my brain, whether if a few Captain Brassbounds did revenge
themselves on judges, the quality of our judges might not materially

When this doubt is once off one's conscience one can lose oneself in the
bottomless beatitude of Lady Cicely Waynefleet, one of the most living
and laughing things that her maker has made. I do not know any stronger
way of stating the beauty of the character than by saying that it was
written specially for Ellen Terry, and that it is, with Beatrice, one of
the very few characters in which the dramatist can claim some part of
her triumph.

We may now pass to the more important of the plays. For some time
Bernard Shaw would seem to have been brooding upon the soul of Julius
Cæsar. There must always be a strong human curiosity about the soul of
Julius Cæsar; and, among other things, about whether he had a soul. The
conjunction of Shaw and Cæsar has about it something smooth and
inevitable; for this decisive reason, that Cæsar is really the only
great man of history to whom the Shaw theories apply. Cæsar _was_ a Shaw
hero. Cæsar was merciful without being in the least pitiful; his mercy
was colder than justice. Cæsar was a conqueror without being in any
hearty sense a soldier; his courage was lonelier than fear. Cæsar was a
demagogue without being a democrat. In the same way Bernard Shaw is a
demagogue without being a democrat. If he had tried to prove his
principle from any of the other heroes or sages of mankind he would have
found it much more difficult. Napoleon achieved more miraculous
conquest; but during his most conquering epoch he was a burning boy
suicidally in love with a woman far beyond his age. Joan of Arc achieved
far more instant and incredible worldly success; but Joan of Arc
achieved worldly success because she believed in another world. Nelson
was a figure fully as fascinating and dramatically decisive; but Nelson
was "romantic"; Nelson was a devoted patriot and a devoted lover.
Alexander was passionate; Cromwell could shed tears; Bismarck had some
suburban religion; Frederick was a poet; Charlemagne was fond of
children. But Julius Cæsar attracted Shaw not less by his positive than
by his negative enormousness. Nobody can say with certainty that Cæsar
cared for anything. It is unjust to call Cæsar an egoist; for there is
no proof that he cared even for Cæsar. He may not have been either an
atheist or a pessimist. But he may have been; that is exactly the rub.
He may have been an ordinary decently good man slightly deficient in
spiritual expansiveness. On the other hand, he may have been the
incarnation of paganism in the sense that Christ was the incarnation of
Christianity. As Christ expressed how great a man can be humble and
humane, Cæsar may have expressed how great a man can be frigid and
flippant. According to most legends Antichrist was to come soon after
Christ. One has only to suppose that Antichrist came shortly before
Christ; and Antichrist might very well be Cæsar.

It is, I think, no injustice to Bernard Shaw to say that he does not
attempt to make his Cæsar superior except in this naked and negative
sense. There is no suggestion, as there is in the Jehovah of the Old
Testament, that the very cruelty of the higher being conceals some
tremendous and even tortured love. Cæsar is superior to other men not
because he loves more, but because he hates less. Cæsar is magnanimous
not because he is warm-hearted enough to pardon, but because he is not
warm-hearted enough to avenge. There is no suggestion anywhere in the
play that he is hiding any great genial purpose or powerful tenderness
towards men. In order to put this point beyond a doubt the dramatist has
introduced a soliloquy of Cæsar alone with the Sphinx. There if anywhere
he would have broken out into ultimate brotherhood or burning pity for
the people. But in that scene between the Sphinx and Cæsar, Cæsar is as
cold and as lonely and as dead as the Sphinx.

But whether the Shavian Cæsar is a sound ideal or no, there can be
little doubt that he is a very fine reality. Shaw has done nothing
greater as a piece of artistic creation. If the man is a little like a
statue, it is a statue by a great sculptor; a statue of the best
period. If his nobility is a little negative in its character, it is the
negative darkness of the great dome of night; not as in some "new
moralities" the mere mystery of the coal-hole. Indeed, this somewhat
austere method of work is very suitable to Shaw when he is serious.
There is nothing Gothic about his real genius; he could not build a
mediæval cathedral in which laughter and terror are twisted together in
stone, molten by mystical passion. He can build, by way of amusement, a
Chinese pagoda; but when he is in earnest, only a Roman temple. He has a
keen eye for truth; but he is one of those people who like, as the
saying goes, to put down the truth in black and white. He is always
girding and jeering at romantics and idealists because they will not put
down the truth in black and white. But black and white are not the only
two colours in the world. The modern man of science who writes down a
fact in black and white is not more but less accurate than the mediæval
monk who wrote it down in gold and scarlet, sea-green and turquoise.
Nevertheless, it is a good thing that the more austere method should
exist separately, and that some men should be specially good at it.
Bernard Shaw is specially good at it; he is pre-eminently a black and
white artist.

And as a study in black and white nothing could be better than this
sketch of Julius Cæsar. He is not so much represented as "bestriding the
earth like a Colossus" (which is indeed a rather comic attitude for a
hero to stand in), but rather walking the earth with a sort of stern
levity, lightly touching the planet and yet spurning it away like a
stone. He walks like a winged man who has chosen to fold his wings.
There is something creepy even about his kindness; it makes the men in
front of him feel as if they were made of glass. The nature of the
Cæsarian mercy is massively suggested. Cæsar dislikes a massacre, not
because it is a great sin, but because it is a small sin. It is felt
that he classes it with a flirtation or a fit of the sulks; a senseless
temporary subjugation of man's permanent purpose by his passing and
trivial feelings. He will plunge into slaughter for a great purpose,
just as he plunges into the sea. But to be stung into such action he
deems as undignified as to be tipped off the pier. In a singularly fine
passage Cleopatra, having hired assassins to stab an enemy, appeals to
her wrongs as justifying her revenge, and says, "If you can find one
man in all Africa who says that I did wrong, I will be crucified by my
own slaves." "If you can find one man in all the world," replies Cæsar,
"who can see that you did wrong, he will either conquer the world as I
have done or be crucified by it." That is the high water mark of this
heathen sublimity; and we do not feel it inappropriate, or unlike Shaw,
when a few minutes afterwards the hero is saluted with a blaze of

As usually happens in the author's works, there is even more about
Julius Cæsar in the preface than there is in the play. But in the
preface I think the portrait is less imaginative and more fanciful. He
attempts to connect his somewhat chilly type of superman with the heroes
of the old fairy tales. But Shaw should not talk about the fairy tales;
for he does not feel them from the inside. As I have said, on all this
side of historic and domestic traditions Bernard Shaw is weak and
deficient. He does not approach them as fairy tales, as if he were four,
but as "folk-lore" as if he were forty. And he makes a big mistake about
them which he would never have made if he had kept his birthday and hung
up his stocking, and generally kept alive inside him the firelight of a
home. The point is so peculiarly characteristic of Bernard Shaw, and is
indeed so much of a summary of his most interesting assertion and his
most interesting error, that it deserves a word by itself, though it is
a word which must be remembered in connection with nearly all the other

His primary and defiant proposition is the Calvinistic proposition: that
the elect do not earn virtue, but possess it. The goodness of a man does
not consist in trying to be good, but in being good. Julius Cæsar
prevails over other people by possessing more _virtus_ than they; not by
having striven or suffered or bought his virtue; not because he has
struggled heroically, but because he is a hero. So far Bernard Shaw is
only what I have called him at the beginning; he is simply a
seventeenth-century Calvinist. Cæsar is not saved by works, or even by
faith; he is saved because he is one of the elect. Unfortunately for
himself, however, Bernard Shaw went back further than the seventeenth
century; and professing his opinion to be yet more antiquated, invoked
the original legends of mankind. He argued that when the fairy tales
gave Jack the Giant Killer a coat of darkness or a magic sword it
removed all credit from Jack in the "common moral" sense; he won as
Cæsar won only because he was superior. I will confess, in passing, to
the conviction that Bernard Shaw in the course of his whole simple and
strenuous life was never quite so near to hell as at the moment when he
wrote down those words. But in this question of fairy tales my immediate
point is, not how near he was to hell, but how very far off he was from
fairyland. That notion about the hero with a magic sword being the
superman with a magic superiority is the caprice of a pedant; no child,
boy, or man ever felt it in the story of Jack the Giant Killer.
Obviously the moral is all the other way. Jack's fairy sword and
invisible coat are clumsy expedients for enabling him to fight at all
with something which is by nature stronger. They are a rough, savage
substitute for psychological descriptions of special valour or unwearied
patience. But no one in his five wits can doubt that the idea of "Jack
the Giant Killer" is exactly the opposite to Shaw's idea. If it were not
a tale of effort and triumph hardly earned it would not be called "Jack
the Giant Killer." If it were a tale of the victory of natural
advantages it would be called "Giant the Jack Killer." If the teller of
fairy tales had merely wanted to urge that some beings are born stronger
than others he would not have fallen back on elaborate tricks of weapon
and costume for conquering an ogre. He would simply have let the ogre
conquer. I will not speak of my own emotions in connection with this
incredibly caddish doctrine that the strength of the strong is
admirable, but not the valour of the weak. It is enough to say that I
have to summon up the physical presence of Shaw, his frank gestures,
kind eyes, and exquisite Irish voice, to cure me of a mere sensation of
contempt. But I do not dwell upon the point for any such purpose; but
merely to show how we must be always casting back to those concrete
foundations with which we began. Bernard Shaw, as I have said, was never
national enough to be domestic; he was never a part of his past; hence
when he tries to interpret tradition he comes a terrible cropper, as in
this case. Bernard Shaw (I strongly suspect) began to disbelieve in
Santa Claus at a discreditably early age. And by this time Santa Claus
has avenged himself by taking away the key of all the prehistoric
scriptures; so that a noble and honourable artist flounders about like
any German professor. Here is a whole fairy literature which is almost
exclusively devoted to the unexpected victory of the weak over the
strong; and Bernard Shaw manages to make it mean the inevitable victory
of the strong over the weak--which, among other things, would not make a
story at all. It all comes of that mistake about not keeping his
birthday. A man should be always tied to his mother's apron strings; he
should always have a hold on his childhood, and be ready at intervals to
start anew from a childish standpoint. Theologically the thing is best
expressed by saying, "You must be born again." Secularly it is best
expressed by saying, "You must keep your birthday." Even if you will not
be born again, at least remind yourself occasionally that you were born

Some of the incidental wit in the Cæsarian drama is excellent although
it is upon the whole less spontaneous and perfect than in the previous
plays. One of its jests may be mentioned in passing, not merely to draw
attention to its failure (though Shaw is brilliant enough to afford many
failures) but because it is the best opportunity for mentioning one of
the writer's minor notions to which he obstinately adheres. He
describes the Ancient Briton in Cæsar's train as being exactly like a
modern respectable Englishman. As a joke for a Christmas pantomime this
would be all very well; but one expects the jokes of Bernard Shaw to
have some intellectual root, however fantastic the flower. And obviously
all historic common sense is against the idea that that dim Druid
people, whoever they were, who dwelt in our land before it was lit up by
Rome or loaded with varied invasions, were a precise facsimile of the
commercial society of Birmingham or Brighton. But it is a part of the
Puritan in Bernard Shaw, a part of the taut and high-strung quality of
his mind, that he will never admit of any of his jokes that it was only
a joke. When he has been most witty he will passionately deny his own
wit; he will say something which Voltaire might envy and then declare
that he has got it all out of a Blue book. And in connection with this
eccentric type of self-denial, we may notice this mere detail about the
Ancient Briton. Someone faintly hinted that a blue Briton when first
found by Cæsar might not be quite like Mr. Broadbent; at the touch Shaw
poured forth a torrent of theory, explaining that climate was the only
thing that affected nationality; and that whatever races came into the
English or Irish climate would become like the English or Irish. Now the
modern theory of race is certainly a piece of stupid materialism; it is
an attempt to explain the things we are sure of, France, Scotland, Rome,
Japan, by means of the things we are not sure of at all, prehistoric
conjectures, Celts, Mongols, and Iberians. Of course there is a reality
in race; but there is no reality in the theories of race offered by some
ethnological professors. Blood, perhaps, is thicker than water; but
brains are sometimes thicker than anything. But if there is one thing
yet more thick and obscure and senseless than this theory of the
omnipotence of race it is, I think, that to which Shaw has fled for
refuge from it; this doctrine of the omnipotence of climate. Climate
again is something; but if climate were everything, Anglo-Indians would
grow more and more to look like Hindoos, which is far from being the
case. Something in the evil spirit of our time forces people always to
pretend to have found some material and mechanical explanation. Bernard
Shaw has filled all his last days with affirmations about the divinity
of the non-mechanical part of man, the sacred quality in creation and
choice. Yet it never seems to have occurred to him that the true key to
national differentiations is the key of the will and not of the
environment. It never crosses the modern mind to fancy that perhaps a
people is chiefly influenced by how that people has chosen to behave. If
I have to choose between race and weather I prefer race; I would rather
be imprisoned and compelled by ancestors who were once alive than by mud
and mists which never were. But I do not propose to be controlled by
either; to me my national history is a chain of multitudinous choices.
It is neither blood nor rain that has made England, but hope, the thing
that all those dead men have desired. France was not France because she
was made to be by the skulls of the Celts or by the sun of Gaul. France
was France because she chose.

I have stepped on one side from the immediate subject because this is as
good an instance as any we are likely to come across of a certain almost
extraneous fault which does deface the work of Bernard Shaw. It is a
fault only to be mentioned when we have made the solidity of the merits
quite clear. To say that Shaw is merely making game of people is
demonstrably ridiculous; at least a fairly systematic philosophy can be
traced through all his jokes, and one would not insist on such a unity
in all the songs of Mr. Dan Leno. I have already pointed out that the
genius of Shaw is really too harsh and earnest rather than too merry and
irresponsible. I shall have occasion to point out later that Shaw is, in
one very serious sense, the very opposite of paradoxical. In any case if
any real student of Shaw says that Shaw is only making a fool of him, we
can only say that of that student it is very superfluous for anyone to
make a fool. But though the dramatist's jests are always serious and
generally obvious, he is really affected from time to time by a certain
spirit of which that climate theory is a case--a spirit that can only be
called one of senseless ingenuity. I suppose it is a sort of nemesis of
wit; the skidding of a wheel in the height of its speed. Perhaps it is
connected with the nomadic nature of his mind. That lack of roots, this
remoteness from ancient instincts and traditions is responsible for a
certain bleak and heartless extravagance of statement on certain
subjects which makes the author really unconvincing as well as
exaggerative; satires that are _saugrenu_, jokes that are rather silly
than wild, statements which even considered as lies have no symbolic
relation to truth. They are exaggerations of something that does not
exist. For instance, if a man called Christmas Day a mere hypocritical
excuse for drunkenness and gluttony that would be false, but it would
have a fact hidden in it somewhere. But when Bernard Shaw says that
Christmas Day is only a conspiracy kept up by poulterers and wine
merchants from strictly business motives, then he says something which
is not so much false as startlingly and arrestingly foolish. He might as
well say that the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to
sell wedding rings. Or again, take the case of nationality and the unit
of patriotism. If a man said that all boundaries between clans,
kingdoms, or empires were nonsensical or non-existent, that would be a
fallacy, but a consistent and philosophical fallacy. But when Mr.
Bernard Shaw says that England matters so little that the British Empire
might very well give up these islands to Germany, he has not only got
hold of the sow by the wrong ear but the wrong sow by the wrong ear; a
mythical sow, a sow that is not there at all. If Britain is unreal, the
British Empire must be a thousand times more unreal. It is as if one
said, "I do not believe that Michael Scott ever had any existence; but
I am convinced, in spite of the absurd legend, that he had a shadow."

As has been said already, there must be some truth in every popular
impression. And the impression that Shaw, the most savagely serious man
of his time, is a mere music-hall artist must have reference to such
rare outbreaks as these. As a rule his speeches are full, not only of
substance, but of substances, materials like pork, mahogany, lead, and
leather. There is no man whose arguments cover a more Napoleonic map of
detail. It is true that he jokes; but wherever he is he has topical
jokes, one might almost say family jokes. If he talks to tailors he can
allude to the last absurdity about buttons. If he talks to the soldiers
he can see the exquisite and exact humour of the last gun-carriage. But
when all his powerful practicality is allowed, there does run through
him this erratic levity, an explosion of ineptitude. It is a queer
quality in literature. It is a sort of cold extravagance; and it has
made him all his enemies.

_The Philosopher_

I should suppose that _Cæsar and Cleopatra_ marks about the turning tide
of Bernard Shaw's fortune and fame. Up to this time he had known glory,
but never success. He had been wondered at as something brilliant and
barren, like a meteor; but no one would accept him as a sun, for the
test of a sun is that it can make something grow. Practically speaking
the two qualities of a modern drama are, that it should play and that it
should pay. It had been proved over and over again in weighty dramatic
criticisms, in careful readers' reports, that the plays of Shaw could
never play or pay; that the public did not want wit and the wars of
intellect. And just about the time that this had been finally proved,
the plays of Bernard Shaw promised to play like _Charley's Aunt_ and to
pay like Colman's Mustard. It is a fact in which we can all rejoice, not
only because it redeems the reputation of Bernard Shaw, but because it
redeems the character of the English people. All that is bravest in
human nature, open challenge and unexpected wit and angry conviction,
are not so very unpopular as the publishers and managers in their
motor-cars have been in the habit of telling us. But exactly because we
have come to a turning point in the man's career I propose to interrupt
the mere catalogue of his plays and to treat his latest series rather as
the proclamations of an acknowledged prophet. For the last plays,
especially _Man and Superman_, are such that his whole position must be
re-stated before attacking them seriously.

For two reasons I have called this concluding series of plays not again
by the name of "The Dramatist," but by the general name of "The
Philosopher." The first reason is that given above, that we have come to
the time of his triumph and may therefore treat him as having gained
complete possession of a pulpit of his own. But there is a second
reason: that it was just about this time that he began to create not
only a pulpit of his own, but a church and creed of his own. It is a
very vast and universal religion; and it is not his fault that he is the
only member of it. The plainer way of putting it is this: that here, in
the hour of his earthly victory, there dies in him the old mere denier,
the mere dynamiter of criticism. In the warmth of popularity he begins
to wish to put his faith positively; to offer some solid key to all
creation. Perhaps the irony in the situation is this: that all the
crowds are acclaiming him as the blasting and hypercritical buffoon,
while he himself is seriously rallying his synthetic power, and with a
grave face telling himself that it is time he had a faith to preach. His
final success as a sort of charlatan coincides with his first grand
failures as a theologian.

For this reason I have deliberately called a halt in his dramatic
career, in order to consider these two essential points: What did the
mass of Englishmen, who had now learnt to admire him, imagine his point
of view to be? and second, What did he imagine it to be? or, if the
phrase be premature, What did he imagine it was going to be? In his
latest work, especially in _Man and Superman_, Shaw has become a
complete and colossal mystic. That mysticism does grow quite rationally
out of his older arguments; but very few people ever troubled to trace
the connection. In order to do so it is necessary to say what was, at
the time of his first success, the public impression of Shaw's

Now it is an irritating and pathetic thing that the three most popular
phrases about Shaw are false. Modern criticism, like all weak things,
is overloaded with words. In a healthy condition of language a man finds
it very difficult to say the right thing, but at last says it. In this
empire of journalese a man finds it so very easy to say the wrong thing
that he never thinks of saying anything else. False or meaningless
phrases lie so ready to his hand that it is easier to use them than not
to use them. These wrong terms picked up through idleness are retained
through habit, and so the man has begun to think wrong almost before he
has begun to think at all. Such lumbering logomachy is always injurious
and oppressive to men of spirit, imagination or intellectual honour, and
it has dealt very recklessly and wrongly with Bernard Shaw. He has
contrived to get about three newspaper phrases tied to his tail; and
those newspaper phrases are all and separately wrong. The three
superstitions about him, it will be conceded, are generally these: first
that he desires "problem plays," second that he is "paradoxical," and
third that in his dramas as elsewhere he is specially "a Socialist." And
the interesting thing is that when we come to his philosophy, all these
three phrases are quite peculiarly inapplicable.

To take the plays first, there is a general disposition to describe that
type of intimate or defiant drama which he approves as "the problem
play." Now the serious modern play is, as a rule, the very reverse of a
problem play; for there can be no problem unless both points of view are
equally and urgently presented. _Hamlet_ really is a problem play
because at the end of it one is really in doubt as to whether upon the
author's showing Hamlet is something more than a man or something less.
_Henry IV_ and _Henry V_ are really problem plays; in this sense, that
the reader or spectator is really doubtful whether the high but harsh
efficiency, valour, and ambition of Henry V are an improvement on his
old blackguard camaraderie; and whether he was not a better man when he
was a thief. This hearty and healthy doubt is very common in
Shakespeare; I mean a doubt that exists in the writer as well as in the
reader. But Bernard Shaw is far too much of a Puritan to tolerate such
doubts about points which he counts essential. There is no sort of doubt
that the young lady in _Arms and the Man_ is improved by losing her
ideals. There is no sort of doubt that Captain Brassbound is improved by
giving up the object of his life. But a better case can be found in
something that both dramatists have been concerned with; Shaw wrote
_Cæsar and Cleopatra_; Shakespeare wrote _Antony and Cleopatra_ and also
_Julius Cæsar_. And exactly what annoys Bernard Shaw about Shakespeare's
version is this: that Shakespeare has an open mind or, in other words,
that Shakespeare has really written a problem play. Shakespeare sees
quite as clearly as Shaw that Brutus is unpractical and ineffectual; but
he also sees, what is quite as plain and practical a fact, that these
ineffectual men do capture the hearts and influence the policies of
mankind. Shaw would have nothing said in favour of Brutus; because
Brutus is on the wrong side in politics. Of the actual problem of public
and private morality, as it was presented to Brutus, he takes actually
no notice at all. He can write the most energetic and outspoken of
propaganda plays; but he cannot rise to a problem play. He cannot really
divide his mind and let the two parts speak independently to each other.
He has never, so to speak, actually split his head in two; though I
daresay there are many other people who are willing to do it for him.

Sometimes, especially in his later plays, he allows his clear conviction
to spoil even his admirable dialogue, making one side entirely weak, as
in an Evangelical tract. I do not know whether in _Major Barbara_ the
young Greek professor was supposed to be a fool. As popular tradition
(which I trust more than anything else) declared that he is drawn from a
real Professor of my acquaintance, who is anything but a fool, I should
imagine not. But in that case I am all the more mystified by the
incredibly weak fight which he makes in the play in answer to the
elephantine sophistries of Undershaft. It is really a disgraceful case,
and almost the only case in Shaw of there being no fair fight between
the two sides. For instance, the Professor mentions pity. Mr. Undershaft
says with melodramatic scorn, "Pity! the scavenger of the Universe!" Now
if any gentleman had said this to me, I should have replied, "If I
permit you to escape from the point by means of metaphors, will you tell
me whether you disapprove of scavengers?" Instead of this obvious
retort, the miserable Greek professor only says, "Well then, love," to
which Undershaft replies with unnecessary violence that he won't have
the Greek professor's love, to which the obvious answer of course would
be, "How the deuce can you prevent my loving you if I choose to do so?"
Instead of this, as far as I remember, that abject Hellenist says
nothing at all. I only mention this unfair dialogue, because it marks, I
think, the recent hardening, for good or evil, of Shaw out of a
dramatist into a mere philosopher, and whoever hardens into a
philosopher may be hardening into a fanatic.

And just as there is nothing really problematic in Shaw's mind, so there
is nothing really paradoxical. The meaning of the word paradoxical may
indeed be made the subject of argument. In Greek, of course, it simply
means something which is against the received opinion; in that sense a
missionary remonstrating with South Sea cannibals is paradoxical. But in
the much more important world, where words are used and altered in the
using, paradox does not mean merely this: it means at least something of
which the antinomy or apparent inconsistency is sufficiently plain in
the words used, and most commonly of all it means an idea expressed in a
form which is verbally contradictory. Thus, for instance, the great
saying, "He that shall lose his life, the same shall save it," is an
example of what modern people mean by a paradox. If any learned person
should read this book (which seems immeasurably improbable) he can
content himself with putting it this way, that the moderns mistakenly
say paradox when they should say oxymoron. Ultimately, in any case, it
may be agreed that we commonly mean by a paradox some kind of collision
between what is seemingly and what is really true.

Now if by paradox we mean truth inherent in a contradiction, as in the
saying of Christ that I have quoted, it is a very curious fact that
Bernard Shaw is almost entirely without paradox. Moreover, he cannot
even understand a paradox. And more than this, paradox is about the only
thing in the world that he does not understand. All his splendid vistas
and startling suggestions arise from carrying some one clear principle
further than it has yet been carried. His madness is all consistency,
not inconsistency. As the point can hardly be made clear without
examples, let us take one example, the subject of education. Shaw has
been all his life preaching to grown-up people the profound truth that
liberty and responsibility go together; that the reason why freedom is
so often easily withheld, is simply that it is a terrible nuisance. This
is true, though not the whole truth, of citizens; and so when Shaw
comes to children he can only apply to them the same principle that he
has already applied to citizens. He begins to play with the Herbert
Spencer idea of teaching children by experience; perhaps the most
fatuously silly idea that was ever gravely put down in print. On that
there is no need to dwell; one has only to ask how the experimental
method is to be applied to a precipice; and the theory no longer exists.
But Shaw effected a further development, if possible more fantastic. He
said that one should never tell a child anything without letting him
hear the opposite opinion. That is to say, when you tell Tommy not to
hit his sick sister on the temple, you must make sure of the presence of
some Nietzscheite professor, who will explain to him that such a course
might possibly serve to eliminate the unfit. When you are in the act of
telling Susan not to drink out of the bottle labelled "poison," you must
telegraph for a Christian Scientist, who will be ready to maintain that
without her own consent it cannot do her any harm. What would happen to
a child brought up on Shaw's principle I cannot conceive; I should think
he would commit suicide in his bath. But that is not here the question.
The point is that this proposition seems quite sufficiently wild and
startling to ensure that its author, if he escapes Hanwell, would reach
the front rank of journalists, demagogues, or public entertainers. It is
a perfect paradox, if a paradox only means something that makes one
jump. But it is not a paradox at all in the sense of a contradiction. It
is not a contradiction, but an enormous and outrageous consistency, the
one principle of free thought carried to a point to which no other sane
man would consent to carry it. Exactly what Shaw does not understand is
the paradox; the unavoidable paradox of childhood. Although this child
is much better than I, yet I must teach it. Although this being has much
purer passions than I, yet I must control it. Although Tommy is quite
right to rush towards a precipice, yet he must be stood in the corner
for doing it. This contradiction is the only possible condition of
having to do with children at all; anyone who talks about a child
without feeling this paradox might just as well be talking about a
merman. He has never even seen the animal. But this paradox Shaw in his
intellectual simplicity cannot see; he cannot see it because it is a
paradox. His only intellectual excitement is to carry one idea further
and further across the world. It never occurs to him that it might meet
another idea, and like the three winds in _Martin Chuzzlewit_, they
might make a night of it. His only paradox is to pull out one thread or
cord of truth longer and longer into waste and fantastic places. He does
not allow for that deeper sort of paradox by which two opposite cords of
truth become entangled in an inextricable knot. Still less can he be
made to realise that it is often this knot which ties safely together
the whole bundle of human life.

This blindness to paradox everywhere perplexes his outlook. He cannot
understand marriage because he will not understand the paradox of
marriage; that the woman is all the more the house for not being the
head of it. He cannot understand patriotism, because he will not
understand the paradox of patriotism; that one is all the more human for
not merely loving humanity. He does not understand Christianity because
he will not understand the paradox of Christianity; that we can only
really understand all myths when we know that one of them is true. I do
not under-rate him for this anti-paradoxical temper; I concede that much
of his finest and keenest work in the way of intellectual purification
would have been difficult or impossible without it. But I say that here
lies the limitation of that lucid and compelling mind; he cannot quite
understand life, because he will not accept its contradictions.

Nor is it by any means descriptive of Shaw to call him a Socialist; in
so far as that word can be extended to cover an ethical attitude. He is
the least social of all Socialists; and I pity the Socialist state that
tries to manage him. This anarchism of his is not a question of thinking
for himself; every decent man thinks for himself; it would be highly
immodest to think for anybody else. Nor is it any instinctive licence or
egoism; as I have said before, he is a man of peculiarly acute public
conscience. The unmanageable part of him, the fact that he cannot be
conceived as part of a crowd or as really and invisibly helping a
movement, has reference to another thing in him, or rather to another
thing not in him.

The great defect of that fine intelligence is a failure to grasp and
enjoy the things commonly called convention and tradition; which are
foods upon which all human creatures must feed frequently if they are to
live. Very few modern people of course have any idea of what they are.
"Convention" is very nearly the same word as "democracy." It has again
and again in history been used as an alternative word to Parliament. So
far from suggesting anything stale or sober, the word convention rather
conveys a hubbub; it is the coming together of men; every mob is a
convention. In its secondary sense it means the common soul of such a
crowd, its instinctive anger at the traitor or its instinctive
salutation of the flag. Conventions may be cruel, they may be
unsuitable, they may even be grossly superstitious or obscene; but there
is one thing that they never are. Conventions are never dead. They are
always full of accumulated emotions, the piled-up and passionate
experiences of many generations asserting what they could not explain.
To be inside any true convention, as the Chinese respect for parents or
the European respect for children, is to be surrounded by something
which whatever else it is is not leaden, lifeless or automatic,
something which is taut and tingling with vitality at a hundred points,
which is sensitive almost to madness and which is so much alive that it
can kill. Now Bernard Shaw has always made this one immense mistake
(arising out of that bad progressive education of his), the mistake of
treating convention as a dead thing; treating it as if it were a mere
physical environment like the pavement or the rain. Whereas it is a
result of will; a rain of blessings and a pavement of good intentions.
Let it be remembered that I am not discussing in what degree one should
allow for tradition; I am saying that men like Shaw do not allow for it
at all. If Shaw had found in early life that he was contradicted by
_Bradshaw's Railway Guide_ or even by the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, he
would have felt at least that he might be wrong. But if he had found
himself contradicted by his father and mother, he would have thought it
all the more probable that he was right. If the issue of the last
evening paper contradicted him he might be troubled to investigate or
explain. That the human tradition of two thousand years contradicted him
did not trouble him for an instant. That Marx was not with him was
important. That Man was not with him was an irrelevant prehistoric joke.
People have talked far too much about the paradoxes of Bernard Shaw.
Perhaps his only pure paradox is this almost unconscious one; that he
has tended to think that because something has satisfied generations of
men it must be untrue.

Shaw is wrong about nearly all the things one learns early in life and
while one is still simple. Most human beings start with certain facts of
psychology to which the rest of life must be somewhat related. For
instance, every man falls in love; and no man falls into free love. When
he falls into that he calls it lust, and is always ashamed of it even
when he boasts of it. That there is some connection between a love and a
vow nearly every human being knows before he is eighteen. That there is
a solid and instinctive connection between the idea of sexual ecstasy
and the idea of some sort of almost suicidal constancy, this I say is
simply the first fact in one's own psychology; boys and girls know it
almost before they know their own language. How far it can be trusted,
how it can best be dealt with, all that is another matter. But lovers
lust after constancy more than after happiness; if you are in any sense
prepared to give them what they ask, then what they ask, beyond all
question, is an oath of final fidelity. Lovers may be lunatics; lovers
may be children; lovers may be unfit for citizenship and outside human
argument; you can take up that position if you will. But lovers do not
only desire love; they desire marriage. The root of legal monogamy does
not lie (as Shaw and his friends are for ever drearily asserting) in the
fact that the man is a mere tyrant and the woman a mere slave. It lies
in the fact that _if_ their love for each other is the noblest and
freest love conceivable, it can only find its heroic expression in both
becoming slaves. I only mention this matter here as a matter which most
of us do not need to be taught; for it was the first lesson of life. In
after years we may make up what code or compromise about sex we like;
but we all know that constancy, jealousy, and the personal pledge are
natural and inevitable in sex; we do not feel any surprise when we see
them either in a murder or in a valentine. We may or may not see wisdom
in early marriages; but we know quite well that wherever the thing is
genuine at all, early loves will mean early marriages. But Shaw had not
learnt about this tragedy of the sexes, what the rustic ballads of any
country on earth would have taught him. He had not learnt, what
universal common sense has put into all the folk-lore of the earth,
that love cannot be thought of clearly for an instant except as
monogamous. The old English ballads never sing the praises of "lovers."
They always sing the praises of "true lovers," and that is the final
philosophy of the question.

The same is true of Mr. Shaw's refusal to understand the love of the
land either in the form of patriotism or of private ownership. It is the
attitude of an Irishman cut off from the soil of Ireland, retaining the
audacity and even cynicism of the national type, but no longer fed from
the roots with its pathos or its experience.

This broader and more brotherly rendering of convention must be applied
particularly to the conventions of the drama; since that is necessarily
the most democratic of all the arts. And it will be found generally that
most of the theatrical conventions rest on a real artistic basis. The
Greek Unities, for instance, were not proper objects of the meticulous
and trivial imitation of Seneca or Gabriel Harvey. But still less were
they the right objects for the equally trivial and far more vulgar
impatience of men like Macaulay. That a tale should, if possible, be
told of one place or one day or a manageable number of characters is an
ideal plainly rooted in an æsthetic instinct. But if this be so with the
classical drama, it is yet more certainly so with romantic drama,
against the somewhat decayed dignity of which Bernard Shaw was largely
in rebellion. There was one point in particular upon which the Ibsenites
claimed to have reformed the romantic convention which is worthy of
special allusion.

Shaw and all the other Ibsenites were fond of insisting that a defect in
the romantic drama was its tendency to end with wedding-bells. Against
this they set the modern drama of middle-age, the drama which described
marriage itself instead of its poetic preliminaries. Now if Bernard Shaw
had been more patient with popular tradition, more prone to think that
there might be some sense in its survival, he might have seen this
particular problem much more clearly. The old playwrights have left us
plenty of plays of marriage and middle-age. _Othello_ is as much about
what follows the wedding-bells as _The Doll's House_. _Macbeth_ is about
a middle-aged couple as much as _Little Eyolf_. But if we ask ourselves
what is the real difference, we shall, I think, find that it can fairly
be stated thus. The old tragedies of marriage, though not love stories,
are like love stories in this, that they work up to some act or stroke
which is irrevocable as marriage is irrevocable; to the fact of death or
of adultery.

Now the reason why our fathers did not make marriage, in the middle-aged
and static sense, the subject of their plays was a very simple one; it
was that a play is a very bad place for discussing that topic. You
cannot easily make a good drama out of the success or failure of a
marriage, just as you could not make a good drama out of the growth of
an oak tree or the decay of an empire. As Polonius very reasonably
observed, it is too long. A happy love-affair will make a drama simply
because it is dramatic; it depends on an ultimate yes or no. But a happy
marriage is not dramatic; perhaps it would be less happy if it were. The
essence of a romantic heroine is that she asks herself an intense
question; but the essence of a sensible wife is that she is much too
sensible to ask herself any questions at all. All the things that make
monogamy a success are in their nature undramatic things, the silent
growth of an instinctive confidence, the common wounds and victories,
the accumulation of customs, the rich maturing of old jokes. Sane
marriage is an untheatrical thing; it is therefore not surprising that
most modern dramatists have devoted themselves to insane marriage.

To summarise; before touching the philosophy which Shaw has ultimately
adopted, we must quit the notion that we know it already and that it is
hit off in such journalistic terms as these three. Shaw does not wish to
multiply problem plays or even problems. He has such scepticism as is
the misfortune of his age; but he has this dignified and courageous
quality, that he does not come to ask questions but to answer them. He
is not a paradox-monger; he is a wild logician, far too simple even to
be called a sophist. He understands everything in life except its
paradoxes, especially that ultimate paradox that the very things that we
cannot comprehend are the things that we have to take for granted.
Lastly, he is not especially social or collectivist. On the contrary, he
rather dislikes men in the mass, though he can appreciate them
individually. He has no respect for collective humanity in its two great
forms; either in that momentary form which we call a mob, or in that
enduring form which we call a convention.

The general cosmic theory which can so far be traced through the earlier
essays and plays of Bernard Shaw may be expressed in the image of
Schopenhauer standing on his head. I cheerfully concede that
Schopenhauer looks much nicer in that posture than in his original one,
but I can hardly suppose that he feels more comfortable. The substance
of the change is this. Roughly speaking, Schopenhauer maintained that
life is unreasonable. The intellect, if it could be impartial, would
tell us to cease; but a blind partiality, an instinct quite distinct
from thought, drives us on to take desperate chances in an essentially
bankrupt lottery. Shaw seems to accept this dingy estimate of the
rational outlook, but adds a somewhat arresting comment. Schopenhauer
had said, "Life is unreasonable; so much the worse for all living
things." Shaw said, "Life is unreasonable; so much the worse for
reason." Life is the higher call, life we must follow. It may be that
there is some undetected fallacy in reason itself. Perhaps the whole man
cannot get inside his own head any more than he can jump down his own
throat. But there is about the need to live, to suffer, and to create
that imperative quality which can truly be called supernatural, of whose
voice it can indeed be said that it speaks with authority, and not as
the scribes.

This is the first and finest item of the original Bernard Shaw creed:
that if reason says that life is irrational, life must be content to
reply that reason is lifeless; life is the primary thing, and if reason
impedes it, then reason must be trodden down into the mire amid the most
abject superstitions. In the ordinary sense it would be specially absurd
to suggest that Shaw desires man to be a mere animal. For that is always
associated with lust or incontinence; and Shaw's ideals are strict,
hygienic, and even, one might say, old-maidish. But there is a mystical
sense in which one may say literally that Shaw desires man to be an
animal. That is, he desires him to cling first and last to life, to the
spirit of animation, to the thing which is common to him and the birds
and plants. Man should have the blind faith of a beast: he should be as
mystically immutable as a cow, and as deaf to sophistries as a fish.
Shaw does not wish him to be a philosopher or an artist; he does not
even wish him to be a man, so much as he wishes him to be, in this holy
sense, an animal. He must follow the flag of life as fiercely from
conviction as all other creatures follow it from instinct.

But this Shavian worship of life is by no means lively. It has nothing
in common either with the braver or the baser forms of what we commonly
call optimism. It has none of the omnivorous exultation of Walt Whitman
or the fiery pantheism of Shelley. Bernard Shaw wishes to show himself
not so much as an optimist, but rather as a sort of faithful and
contented pessimist. This contradiction is the key to nearly all his
early and more obvious contradictions and to many which remain to the
end. Whitman and many modern idealists have talked of taking even duty
as a pleasure; it seems to me that Shaw takes even pleasure as a duty.
In a queer way he seems to see existence as an illusion and yet as an
obligation. To every man and woman, bird, beast, and flower, life is a
love-call to be eagerly followed. To Bernard Shaw it is merely a
military bugle to be obeyed. In short, he fails to feel that the command
of Nature (if one must use the anthropomorphic fable of Nature instead
of the philosophic term God) can be enjoyed as well as obeyed. He paints
life at its darkest and then tells the babe unborn to take the leap in
the dark. That is heroic; and to my instinct at least Schopenhauer
looks like a pigmy beside his pupil. But it is the heroism of a morbid
and almost asphyxiated age. It is awful to think that this world which
so many poets have praised has even for a time been depicted as a
man-trap into which we may just have the manhood to jump. Think of all
those ages through which men have talked of having the courage to die.
And then remember that we have actually fallen to talking about having
the courage to live.

It is exactly this oddity or dilemma which may be said to culminate in
the crowning work of his later and more constructive period, the work in
which he certainly attempted, whether with success or not, to state his
ultimate and cosmic vision; I mean the play called _Man and Superman_.
In approaching this play we must keep well in mind the distinction
recently drawn: that Shaw follows the banner of life, but austerely, not
joyously. For him nature has authority, but hardly charm. But before we
approach it it is necessary to deal with three things that lead up to
it. First it is necessary to speak of what remained of his old critical
and realistic method; and then it is necessary to speak of the two
important influences which led up to his last and most important change
of outlook.

First, since all our spiritual epochs overlap, and a man is often doing
the old work while he is thinking of the new, we may deal first with
what may be fairly called his last two plays of pure worldly criticism.
These are _Major Barbara_ and _John Bull's Other Island_. _Major
Barbara_ indeed contains a strong religious element; but, when all is
said, the whole point of the play is that the religious element is
defeated. Moreover, the actual expressions of religion in the play are
somewhat unsatisfactory as expressions of religion--or even of reason. I
must frankly say that Bernard Shaw always seems to me to use the word
God not only without any idea of what it means, but without one moment's
thought about what it could possibly mean. He said to some atheist,
"Never believe in a God that you cannot improve on." The atheist (being
a sound theologian) naturally replied that one should not believe in a
God whom one could improve on; as that would show that he was not God.
In the same style in _Major Barbara_ the heroine ends by suggesting that
she will serve God without personal hope, so that she may owe nothing to
God and He owe everything to her. It does not seem to strike her that
if God owes everything to her He is not God. These things affect me
merely as tedious perversions of a phrase. It is as if you said, "I will
never have a father unless I have begotten him."

But the real sting and substance of _Major Barbara_ is much more
practical and to the point. It expresses not the new spirituality but
the old materialism of Bernard Shaw. Almost every one of Shaw's plays is
an expanded epigram. But the epigram is not expanded (as with most
people) into a hundred commonplaces. Rather the epigram is expanded into
a hundred other epigrams; the work is at least as brilliant in detail as
it is in design. But it is generally possible to discover the original
and pivotal epigram which is the centre and purpose of the play. It is
generally possible, even amid that blinding jewellery of a million
jokes, to discover the grave, solemn and sacred joke for which the play
itself was written.

The ultimate epigram of _Major Barbara_ can be put thus. People say that
poverty is no crime; Shaw says that poverty is a crime; that it is a
crime to endure it, a crime to be content with it, that it is the mother
of all crimes of brutality, corruption, and fear. If a man says to Shaw
that he is born of poor but honest parents, Shaw tells him that the very
word "but" shows that his parents were probably dishonest. In short, he
maintains here what he had maintained elsewhere: that what the people at
this moment require is not more patriotism or more art or more religion
or more morality or more sociology, but simply more money. The evil is
not ignorance or decadence or sin or pessimism; the evil is poverty. The
point of this particular drama is that even the noblest enthusiasm of
the girl who becomes a Salvation Army officer fails under the brute
money power of her father who is a modern capitalist. When I have said
this it will be clear why this play, fine and full of bitter sincerity
as it is, must in a manner be cleared out of the way before we come to
talk of Shaw's final and serious faith. For his serious faith is in the
sanctity of human will, in the divine capacity for creation and choice
rising higher than environment and doom; and so far as that goes, _Major
Barbara_ is not only apart from his faith but against his faith. _Major
Barbara_ is an account of environment victorious over heroic will. There
are a thousand answers to the ethic in _Major Barbara_ which I should
be inclined to offer. I might point out that the rich do not so much buy
honesty as curtains to cover dishonesty: that they do not so much buy
health as cushions to comfort disease. And I might suggest that the
doctrine that poverty degrades the poor is much more likely to be used
as an argument for keeping them powerless than as an argument for making
them rich. But there is no need to find such answers to the
materialistic pessimism of _Major Barbara_. The best answer to it is in
Shaw's own best and crowning philosophy, with which we shall shortly be

_John Bull's Other Island_ represents a realism somewhat more tinged
with the later transcendentalism of its author. In one sense, of course,
it is a satire on the conventional Englishman, who is never so silly or
sentimental as when he sees silliness and sentiment in the Irishman.
Broadbent, whose mind is all fog and his morals all gush, is firmly
persuaded that he is bringing reason and order among the Irish, whereas
in truth they are all smiling at his illusions with the critical
detachment of so many devils. There have been many plays depicting the
absurd Paddy in a ring of Anglo-Saxons; the first purpose of this play
is to depict the absurd Anglo-Saxon in a ring of ironical Paddies. But
it has a second and more subtle purpose, which is very finely contrived.
It is suggested that when all is said and done there is in this
preposterous Englishman a certain creative power which comes from his
simplicity and optimism, from his profound resolution rather to live
life than to criticise it. I know no finer dialogue of philosophical
cross-purposes than that in which Broadbent boasts of his commonsense,
and his subtler Irish friend mystifies him by telling him that he,
Broadbent, has no common-sense, but only inspiration. The Irishman
admits in Broadbent a certain unconscious spiritual force even in his
very stupidity. Lord Rosebery coined the very clever phrase "a practical
mystic." Shaw is here maintaining that all practical men are practical
mystics. And he is really maintaining also that the most practical of
all the practical mystics is the one who is a fool.

There is something unexpected and fascinating about this reversal of the
usual argument touching enterprise and the business man; this theory
that success is created not by intelligence, but by a certain
half-witted and yet magical instinct. For Bernard Shaw, apparently, the
forests of factories and the mountains of money are not the creations of
human wisdom or even of human cunning; they are rather manifestations of
the sacred maxim which declares that God has chosen the foolish things
of the earth to confound the wise. It is simplicity and even innocence
that has made Manchester. As a philosophical fancy this is interesting
or even suggestive; but it must be confessed that as a criticism of the
relations of England to Ireland it is open to a strong historical
objection. The one weak point in _John Bull's Other Island_ is that it
turns on the fact that Broadbent succeeds in Ireland. But as a matter of
fact Broadbent has not succeeded in Ireland. If getting what one wants
is the test and fruit of this mysterious strength, then the Irish
peasants are certainly much stronger than the English merchants; for in
spite of all the efforts of the merchants, the land has remained a land
of peasants. No glorification of the English practicality as if it were
a universal thing can ever get over the fact that we have failed in
dealing with the one white people in our power who were markedly unlike
ourselves. And the kindness of Broadbent has failed just as much as his
common-sense; because he was dealing with a people whose desire and
ideal were different from his own. He did not share the Irish passion
for small possession in land or for the more pathetic virtues of
Christianity. In fact the kindness of Broadbent has failed for the same
reason that the gigantic kindness of Shaw has failed. The roots are
different; it is like tying the tops of two trees together. Briefly, the
philosophy of _John Bull's Other Island_ is quite effective and
satisfactory except for this incurable fault: the fact that John Bull's
other island is not John Bull's.

This clearing off of his last critical plays we may classify as the
first of the three facts which lead up to _Man and Superman_. The second
of the three facts may be found, I think, in Shaw's discovery of
Nietzsche. This eloquent sophist has an influence upon Shaw and his
school which it would require a separate book adequately to study. By
descent Nietzsche was a Pole, and probably a Polish noble; and to say
that he was a Polish noble is to say that he was a frail, fastidious,
and entirely useless anarchist. He had a wonderful poetic wit; and is
one of the best rhetoricians of the modern world. He had a remarkable
power of saying things that master the reason for a moment by their
gigantic unreasonableness; as, for instance, "Your life is intolerable
without immortality; but why should not your life be intolerable?" His
whole work is shot through with the pangs and fevers of his physical
life, which was one of extreme bad health; and in early middle age his
brilliant brain broke down into impotence and darkness. All that was
true in his teaching was this: that if a man looks fine on a horse it is
so far irrelevant to tell him that he would be more economical on a
donkey or more humane on a tricycle. In other words, the mere
achievement of dignity, beauty, or triumph is strictly to be called a
good thing. I do not know if Nietzsche ever used the illustration; but
it seems to me that all that is creditable or sound in Nietzsche could
be stated in the derivation of one word, the word "valour." Valour means
_valeur_; it means a value; courage is itself a solid good; it is an
ultimate virtue; valour is in itself _valid_. In so far as he maintained
this Nietzsche was only taking part in that great Protestant game of
see-saw which has been the amusement of northern Europe since the
sixteenth century. Nietzsche imagined he was rebelling against ancient
morality; as a matter of fact he was only rebelling against recent
morality, against the half-baked impudence of the utilitarians and the
materialists. He thought he was rebelling against Christianity;
curiously enough he was rebelling solely against the special enemies of
Christianity, against Herbert Spencer and Mr. Edward Clodd. Historic
Christianity has always believed in the valour of St. Michael riding in
front of the Church Militant; and in an ultimate and absolute pleasure,
not indirect or utilitarian, the intoxication of the spirit, the wine of
the blood of God.

There are indeed doctrines of Nietzsche that are not Christian, but
then, by an entertaining coincidence, they are also not true. His hatred
of pity is not Christian, but that was not his doctrine but his disease.
Invalids are often hard on invalids. And there is another doctrine of
his that is not Christianity, and also (by the same laughable accident)
not common-sense; and it is a most pathetic circumstance that this was
the one doctrine which caught the eye of Shaw and captured him. He was
not influenced at all by the morbid attack on mercy. It would require
more than ten thousand mad Polish professors to make Bernard Shaw
anything but a generous and compassionate man. But it is certainly a
nuisance that the one Nietzsche doctrine which attracted him was not the
one Nietzsche doctrine that is human and rectifying. Nietzsche might
really have done some good if he had taught Bernard Shaw to draw the
sword, to drink wine, or even to dance. But he only succeeded in putting
into his head a new superstition, which bids fair to be the chief
superstition of the dark ages which are possibly in front of us--I mean
the superstition of what is called the Superman.

In one of his least convincing phrases, Nietzsche had said that just as
the ape ultimately produced the man, so should we ultimately produce
something higher than the man. The immediate answer, of course, is
sufficiently obvious: the ape did not worry about the man, so why should
we worry about the Superman? If the Superman will come by natural
selection, may we leave it to natural selection? If the Superman will
come by human selection, what sort of Superman are we to select? If he
is simply to be more just, more brave, or more merciful, then
Zarathustra sinks into a Sunday-school teacher; the only way we can work
for it is to be more just, more brave, and more merciful; sensible
advice, but hardly startling. If he is to be anything else than this,
why should we desire him, or what else are we to desire? These questions
have been many times asked of the Nietzscheites, and none of the
Nietzscheites have even attempted to answer them.

The keen intellect of Bernard Shaw would, I think, certainly have seen
through this fallacy and verbiage had it not been that another important
event about this time came to the help of Nietzsche and established the
Superman on his pedestal. It is the third of the things which I have
called stepping-stones to _Man and Superman_, and it is very important.
It is nothing less than the breakdown of one of the three intellectual
supports upon which Bernard Shaw had reposed through all his confident
career. At the beginning of this book I have described the three
ultimate supports of Shaw as the Irishman, the Puritan, and the
Progressive. They are the three legs of the tripod upon which the
prophet sat to give the oracle; and one of them broke. Just about this
time suddenly, by a mere shaft of illumination, Bernard Shaw ceased to
believe in progress altogether.

It is generally implied that it was reading Plato that did it. That
philosopher was very well qualified to convey the first shock of the
ancient civilisation to Shaw, who had always thought instinctively of
civilisation as modern. This is not due merely to the daring splendour
of the speculations and the vivid picture of Athenian life, it is due
also to something analogous in the personalities of that particular
ancient Greek and this particular modern Irishman. Bernard Shaw has much
affinity to Plato--in his instinctive elevation of temper, his
courageous pursuit of ideas as far as they will go, his civic idealism;
and also, it must be confessed, in his dislike of poets and a touch of
delicate inhumanity. But whatever influence produced the change, the
change had all the dramatic suddenness and completeness which belongs to
the conversions of great men. It had been perpetually implied through
all the earlier works not only that mankind is constantly improving, but
that almost everything must be considered in the light of this fact.
More than once he seemed to argue, in comparing the dramatists of the
sixteenth with those of the nineteenth century, that the latter had a
definite advantage merely because they were of the nineteenth century
and not of the sixteenth. When accused of impertinence towards the
greatest of the Elizabethans, Bernard Shaw had said, "Shakespeare is a
much taller man than I, but I stand on his shoulders"--an epigram which
sums up this doctrine with characteristic neatness. But Shaw fell off
Shakespeare's shoulders with a crash. This chronological theory that
Shaw stood on Shakespeare's shoulders logically involved the supposition
that Shakespeare stood on Plato's shoulders. And Bernard Shaw found
Plato from his point of view so much more advanced than Shakespeare that
he decided in desperation that all three were equal.

Such failure as has partially attended the idea of human equality is
very largely due to the fact that no party in the modern state has
heartily believed in it. Tories and Radicals have both assumed that one
set of men were in essentials superior to mankind. The only difference
was that the Tory superiority was a superiority of place; while the
Radical superiority is a superiority of time. The great objection to
Shaw being on Shakespeare's shoulders is a consideration for the
sensations and personal dignity of Shakespeare. It is a democratic
objection to anyone being on anyone else's shoulders. Eternal human
nature refuses to submit to a man who rules merely by right of birth.
To rule by right of century is to rule by right of birth. Shaw found his
nearest kinsman in remote Athens, his remotest enemies in the closest
historical proximity; and he began to see the enormous average and the
vast level of mankind. If progress swung constantly between such
extremes it could not be progress at all. The paradox was sharp but
undeniable; if life had such continual ups and downs, it was upon the
whole flat. With characteristic sincerity and love of sensation he had
no sooner seen this than he hastened to declare it. In the teeth of all
his previous pronouncements he emphasised and re-emphasised in print
that man had not progressed at all; that ninety-nine hundredths of a man
in a cave were the same as ninety-nine hundredths of a man in a suburban

It is characteristic of him to say that he rushed into print with a
frank confession of the failure of his old theory. But it is also
characteristic of him that he rushed into print also with a new
alternative theory, quite as definite, quite as confident, and, if one
may put it so, quite as infallible as the old one. Progress had never
happened hitherto, because it had been sought solely through education.
Education was rubbish. "Fancy," said he, "trying to produce a greyhound
or a racehorse by education!" The man of the future must not be taught;
he must be bred. This notion of producing superior human beings by the
methods of the stud-farm had often been urged, though its difficulties
had never been cleared up. I mean its practical difficulties; its moral
difficulties, or rather impossibilities, for any animal fit to be called
a man need scarcely be discussed. But even as a scheme it had never been
made clear. The first and most obvious objection to it of course is
this: that if you are to breed men as pigs, you require some overseer
who is as much more subtle than a man as a man is more subtle than a
pig. Such an individual is not easy to find.

It was, however, in the heat of these three things, the decline of his
merely destructive realism, the discovery of Nietzsche, and the
abandonment of the idea of a progressive education of mankind, that he
attempted what is not necessarily his best, but certainly his most
important work. The two things are by no means necessarily the same. The
most important work of Milton is _Paradise Lost_; his best work is
_Lycidas_. There are other places in which Shaw's argument is more
fascinating or his wit more startling than in _Man and Superman_; there
are other plays that he has made more brilliant. But I am sure that
there is no other play that he wished to make more brilliant. I will not
say that he is in this case more serious than elsewhere; for the word
serious is a double-meaning and double-dealing word, a traitor in the
dictionary. It sometimes means solemn, and it sometimes means sincere. A
very short experience of private and public life will be enough to prove
that the most solemn people are generally the most insincere. A somewhat
more delicate and detailed consideration will show also that the most
sincere men are generally not solemn; and of these is Bernard Shaw. But
if we use the word serious in the old and Latin sense of the word
"grave," which means weighty or valid, full of substance, then we may
say without any hesitation that this is the most serious play of the
most serious man alive.

The outline of the play is, I suppose, by this time sufficiently well
known. It has two main philosophic motives. The first is that what he
calls the life-force (the old infidels called it Nature, which seems a
neater word, and nobody knows the meaning of either of them) desires
above all things to make suitable marriages, to produce a purer and
prouder race, or eventually to produce a Superman. The second is that in
this effecting of racial marriages the woman is a more conscious agent
than the man. In short, that woman disposes a long time before man
proposes. In this play, therefore, woman is made the pursuer and man the
pursued. It cannot be denied, I think, that in this matter Shaw is
handicapped by his habitual hardness of touch, by his lack of sympathy
with the romance of which he writes, and to a certain extent even by his
own integrity and right conscience. Whether the man hunts the woman or
the woman the man, at least it should be a splendid pagan hunt; but Shaw
is not a sporting man. Nor is he a pagan, but a Puritan. He cannot
recover the impartiality of paganism which allowed Diana to propose to
Endymion without thinking any the worse of her. The result is that while
he makes Anne, the woman who marries his hero, a really powerful and
convincing woman, he can only do it by making her a highly objectionable
woman. She is a liar and a bully, not from sudden fear or excruciating
dilemma; she is a liar and a bully in grain; she has no truth or
magnanimity in her. The more we know that she is real, the more we know
that she is vile. In short, Bernard Shaw is still haunted with his old
impotence of the unromantic writer; he cannot imagine the main motives
of human life from the inside. We are convinced successfully that Anne
wishes to marry Tanner, but in the very process we lose all power of
conceiving why Tanner should ever consent to marry Anne. A writer with a
more romantic strain in him might have imagined a woman choosing her
lover without shamelessness and magnetising him without fraud. Even if
the first movement were feminine, it need hardly be a movement like
this. In truth, of course, the two sexes have their two methods of
attraction, and in some of the happiest cases they are almost
simultaneous. But even on the most cynical showing they need not be
mixed up. It is one thing to say that the mousetrap is not there by
accident. It is another to say (in the face of ocular experience) that
the mousetrap runs after the mouse.

But whenever Shaw shows the Puritan hardness or even the Puritan
cheapness, he shows something also of the Puritan nobility, of the idea
that sacrifice is really a frivolity in the face of a great purpose. The
reasonableness of Calvin and his followers will by the mercy of heaven
be at last washed away; but their unreasonableness will remain an
eternal splendour. Long after we have let drop the fancy that
Protestantism was rational it will be its glory that it was fanatical.
So it is with Shaw. To make Anne a real woman, even a dangerous woman,
he would need to be something stranger and softer than Bernard Shaw. But
though I always argue with him whenever he argues, I confess that he
always conquers me in the one or two moments when he is emotional.

There is one really noble moment when Anne offers for all her cynical
husband-hunting the only defence that is really great enough to cover
it. "It will not be all happiness for me. Perhaps death." And the man
rises also at that real crisis, saying, "Oh, that clutch holds and
hurts. What have you grasped in me? Is there a father's heart as well as
a mother's?" That seems to me actually great; I do not like either of
the characters an atom more than formerly; but I can see shining and
shaking through them at that instant the splendour of the God that made
them and of the image of God who wrote their story.

A logician is like a liar in many respects, but chiefly in the fact
that he should have a good memory. That cutting and inquisitive style
which Bernard Shaw has always adopted carries with it an inevitable
criticism. And it cannot be denied that this new theory of the supreme
importance of sound sexual union, wrought by any means, is hard
logically to reconcile with Shaw's old diatribes against sentimentalism
and operatic romance. If Nature wishes primarily to entrap us into
sexual union, then all the means of sexual attraction, even the most
maudlin or theatrical, are justified at one stroke. The guitar of the
troubadour is as practical as the ploughshare of the husbandman. The
waltz in the ballroom is as serious as the debate in the parish council.
The justification of Anne, as the potential mother of Superman, is
really the justification of all the humbugs and sentimentalists whom
Shaw had been denouncing as a dramatic critic and as a dramatist since
the beginning of his career. It was to no purpose that the earlier
Bernard Shaw said that romance was all moonshine. The moonshine that
ripens love is now as practical as the sunshine that ripens corn. It was
vain to say that sexual chivalry was all rot; it might be as rotten as
manure--and also as fertile. It is vain to call first love a fiction;
it may be as fictitious as the ink of the cuttle or the doubling of the
hare; as fictitious, as efficient, and as indispensable. It is vain to
call it a self-deception; Schopenhauer said that all existence was a
self-deception; and Shaw's only further comment seems to be that it is
right to be deceived. To _Man and Superman_, as to all his plays, the
author attaches a most fascinating preface at the beginning. But I
really think that he ought also to attach a hearty apology at the end;
an apology to all the minor dramatists or preposterous actors whom he
had cursed for romanticism in his youth. Whenever he objected to an
actress for ogling she might reasonably reply, "But this is how I
support my friend Anne in her sublime evolutionary effort." Whenever he
laughed at an old-fashioned actor for ranting, the actor might answer,
"My exaggeration is not more absurd than the tail of a peacock or the
swagger of a cock; it is the way I preach the great fruitful lie of the
life-force that I am a very fine fellow." We have remarked the end of
Shaw's campaign in favour of progress. This ought really to have been
the end of his campaign against romance. All the tricks of love that he
called artificial become natural; because they become Nature. All the
lies of love become truths; indeed they become the Truth.

The minor things of the play contain some thunderbolts of good thinking.
Throughout this brief study I have deliberately not dwelt upon mere wit,
because in anything of Shaw's that may be taken for granted. It is
enough to say that this play which is full of his most serious quality
is as full as any of his minor sort of success. In a more solid sense
two important facts stand out: the first is the character of the young
American; the other is the character of Straker, the chauffeur. In these
Shaw has realised and made vivid two most important facts. First, that
America is not intellectually a go-ahead country, but both for good and
evil an old-fashioned one. It is full of stale culture and ancestral
simplicity, just as Shaw's young millionaire quotes Macaulay and piously
worships his wife. Second, he has pointed out in the character of
Straker that there has arisen in our midst a new class that has
education without breeding. Straker is the man who has ousted the
hansom-cabman, having neither his coarseness nor his kindliness. Great
sociological credit is due to the man who has first clearly observed
that Straker has appeared. How anybody can profess for a moment to be
glad that he has appeared, I do not attempt to conjecture.

Appended to the play is an entertaining though somewhat mysterious
document called "The Revolutionist's Handbook." It contains many very
sound remarks; this, for example, which I cannot too much applaud: "If
you hit your child, be sure that you hit him in anger." If that
principle had been properly understood, we should have had less of
Shaw's sociological friends and their meddling with the habits and
instincts of the poor. But among the fragments of advice also occurs the
following suggestive and even alluring remark: "Every man over forty is
a scoundrel." On the first personal opportunity I asked the author of
this remarkable axiom what it meant. I gathered that what it really
meant was something like this: that every man over forty had been all
the essential use that he was likely to be, and was therefore in a
manner a parasite. It is gratifying to reflect that Bernard Shaw has
sufficiently answered his own epigram by continuing to pour out
treasures both of truth and folly long after this allotted time. But if
the epigram might be interpreted in a rather looser style as meaning
that past a certain point a man's work takes on its final character and
does not greatly change the nature of its merits, it may certainly be
said that with _Man and Superman_, Shaw reaches that stage. The two
plays that have followed it, though of very great interest in
themselves, do not require any revaluation of, or indeed any addition
to, our summary of his genius and success. They are both in a sense
casts back to his primary energies; the first in a controversial and the
second in a technical sense. Neither need prevent our saying that the
moment when John Tanner and Anne agree that it is doom for him and death
for her and life only for the thing unborn, is the peak of his utterance
as a prophet.

The two important plays that he has since given us are _The Doctor's
Dilemma_ and _Getting Married_. The first is as regards its most amusing
and effective elements a throw-back to his old game of guying the men of
science. It was a very good game, and he was an admirable player. The
actual story of the _Doctor's Dilemma_ itself seems to me less poignant
and important than the things with which Shaw had lately been dealing.
First of all, as has been said, Shaw has neither the kind of justice
nor the kind of weakness that goes to make a true problem. We cannot
feel the Doctor's Dilemma, because we cannot really fancy Bernard Shaw
being in a dilemma. His mind is both fond of abruptness and fond of
finality; he always makes up his mind when he knows the facts and
sometimes before. Moreover, this particular problem (though Shaw is
certainly, as we shall see, nearer to pure doubt about it than about
anything else) does not strike the critic as being such an exasperating
problem after all. An artist of vast power and promise, who is also a
scamp of vast profligacy and treachery, has a chance of life if
specially treated for a special disease. The modern doctors (and even
the modern dramatist) are in doubt whether he should be specially
favoured because he is æsthetically important or specially disregarded
because he is ethically anti-social. They see-saw between the two
despicable modern doctrines, one that geniuses should be worshipped like
idols and the other that criminals should be merely wiped out like
germs. That both clever men and bad men ought to be treated like men
does not seem to occur to them. As a matter of fact, in these affairs of
life and death one never does think of such distinctions. Nobody does
shout out at sea, "Bad citizen overboard!" I should recommend the doctor
in his dilemma to do exactly what I am sure any decent doctor would do
without any dilemma at all: to treat the man simply as a man, and give
him no more and no less favour than he would to anybody else. In short,
I am sure a practical physician would drop all these visionary,
unworkable modern dreams about type and criminology and go back to the
plain business-like facts of the French Revolution and the Rights of

The other play, _Getting Married_, is a point in Shaw's career, but only
as a play, not, as usual, as a heresy. It is nothing but a conversation
about marriage; and one cannot agree or disagree with the view of
marriage, because all views are given which are held by anybody, and
some (I should think) which are held by nobody. But its technical
quality is of some importance in the life of its author. It is worth
consideration as a play, because it is not a play at all. It marks the
culmination and completeness of that victory of Bernard Shaw over the
British public, or rather over their official representatives, of which
I have spoken. Shaw had fought a long fight with business men, those
incredible people, who assured him that it was useless to have wit
without murders, and that a good joke, which is the most popular thing
everywhere else, was quite unsalable in the theatrical world. In spite
of this he had conquered by his wit and his good dialogue; and by the
time of which we now speak he was victorious and secure. All his plays
were being produced as a matter of course in England and as a matter of
the fiercest fashion and enthusiasm in America and Germany. No one who
knows the nature of the man will doubt that under such circumstances his
first act would be to produce his wit naked and unashamed. He had been
told that he could not support a slight play by mere dialogue. He
therefore promptly produced mere dialogue without the slightest play for
it to support. _Getting Married_ is no more a play than Cicero's
dialogue _De Amicitiâ_, and not half so much a play as Wilson's _Noctes
Ambrosianæ_. But though it is not a play, it was played, and played
successfully. Everyone who went into the theatre felt that he was only
eavesdropping at an accidental conversation. But the conversation was so
sparkling and sensible that he went on eavesdropping. This, I think, as
it is the final play of Shaw, is also, and fitly, his final triumph. He
is a good dramatist and sometimes even a great dramatist. But the
occasions when we get glimpses of him as really a great man are on these
occasions when he is utterly undramatic.

From first to last Bernard Shaw has been nothing but a
conversationalist. It is not a slur to say so; Socrates was one, and
even Christ Himself. He differs from that divine and that human
prototype in the fact that, like most modern people, he does to some
extent talk in order to find out what he thinks; whereas they knew it
beforehand. But he has the virtues that go with the talkative man; one
of which is humility. You will hardly ever find a really proud man
talkative; he is afraid of talking too much. Bernard Shaw offered
himself to the world with only one great qualification, that he could
talk honestly and well. He did not speak; he talked to a crowd. He did
not write; he talked to a typewriter. He did not really construct a
play; he talked through ten mouths or masks instead of through one. His
literary power and progress began in casual conversations--and it seems
to me supremely right that it should end in one great and casual
conversation. His last play is nothing but garrulous talking, that
great thing called gossip. And I am happy to say that the play has been
as efficient and successful as talk and gossip have always been among
the children of men.

Of his life in these later years I have made no pretence of telling even
the little that there is to tell. Those who regard him as a mere
self-advertising egotist may be surprised to hear that there is perhaps
no man of whose private life less could be positively said by an
outsider. Even those who know him can make little but a conjecture of
what has lain behind this splendid stretch of intellectual
self-expression; I only make my conjecture like the rest. I think that
the first great turning-point in Shaw's life (after the early things of
which I have spoken, the taint of drink in the teetotal home, or the
first fight with poverty) was the deadly illness which fell upon him, at
the end of his first flashing career as a Saturday Reviewer. I know it
would goad Shaw to madness to suggest that sickness could have softened
him. That is why I suggest it. But I say for his comfort that I think it
hardened him also; if that can be called hardening which is only the
strengthening of our souls to meet some dreadful reality. At least it is
certain that the larger spiritual ambitions, the desire to find a faith
and found a church, come after that time. I also mention it because
there is hardly anything else to mention; his life is singularly free
from landmarks, while his literature is so oddly full of surprises. His
marriage to Miss Payne-Townsend, which occurred not long after his
illness, was one of those quite successful things which are utterly
silent. The placidity of his married life may be sufficiently indicated
by saying that (as far as I can make out) the most important events in
it were rows about the Executive of the Fabian Society. If such ripples
do not express a still and lake-like life, I do not know what would.
Honestly, the only thing in his later career that can be called an event
is the stand made by Shaw at the Fabians against the sudden assault of
Mr. H. G. Wells, which, after scenes of splendid exasperations, ended in
Wells' resignation. There was another slight ruffling of the calm when
Bernard Shaw said some quite sensible things about Sir Henry Irving. But
on the whole we confront the composure of one who has come into his own.

The method of his life has remained mostly unchanged. And there is a
great deal of method in his life; I can hear some people murmuring
something about method in his madness. He is not only neat and
business-like; but, unlike some literary men I know, does not conceal
the fact. Having all the talents proper to an author, he delights to
prove that he has also all the talents proper to a publisher; or even to
a publisher's clerk. Though many looking at his light brown clothes
would call him a Bohemian, he really hates and despises Bohemianism; in
the sense that he hates and despises disorder and uncleanness and
irresponsibility. All that part of him is peculiarly normal and
efficient. He gives good advice; he always answers letters, and answers
them in a decisive and very legible hand. He has said himself that the
only educational art that he thinks important is that of being able to
jump off tram-cars at the proper moment. Though a rigid vegetarian, he
is quite regular and rational in his meals; and though he detests sport,
he takes quite sufficient exercise. While he has always made a mock of
science in theory, he is by nature prone to meddle with it in practice.
He is fond of photographing, and even more fond of being photographed.
He maintained (in one of his moments of mad modernity) that photography
was a finer thing than portrait-painting, more exquisite and more
imaginative; he urged the characteristic argument that none of his own
photographs were like each other or like him. But he would certainly
wash the chemicals off his hands the instant after an experiment; just
as he would wash the blood off his hands the instant after a Socialist
massacre. He cannot endure stains or accretions; he is of that
temperament which feels tradition itself to be a coat of dust; whose
temptation it is to feel nothing but a sort of foul accumulation or
living disease even in the creeper upon the cottage or the moss upon the
grave. So thoroughly are his tastes those of the civilised modern man
that if it had not been for the fire in him of justice and anger he
might have been the most trim and modern among the millions whom he
shocks: and his bicycle and brown hat have been no menace in Brixton.
But God sent among those suburbans one who was a prophet as well as a
sanitary inspector. He had every qualification for living in a
villa--except the necessary indifference to his brethren living in
pigstyes. But for the small fact that he hates with a sickening hatred
the hypocrisy and class cruelty, he would really accept and admire the
bathroom and the bicycle and asbestos-stove, having no memory of rivers
or of roaring fires. In these things, like Mr. Straker, he is the New
Man. But for his great soul he might have accepted modern civilisation;
it was a wonderful escape. This man whom men so foolishly call crazy and
anarchic has really a dangerous affinity to the fourth-rate perfections
of our provincial and Protestant civilisation. He might even have been
respectable if he had had less self-respect.

His fulfilled fame and this tone of repose and reason in his life,
together with the large circle of his private kindness and the regard of
his fellow-artists, should permit us to end the record in a tone of
almost patriarchal quiet. If I wished to complete such a picture I could
add many touches: that he has consented to wear evening dress; that he
has supported the _Times_ Book Club; and that his beard has turned grey;
the last to his regret, as he wanted it to remain red till they had
completed colour-photography. He can mix with the most conservative
statesmen; his tone grows continuously more gentle in the matter of
religion. It would be easy to end with the lion lying down with the
lamb, the wild Irishman tamed or taming everybody, Shaw reconciled to
the British public as the British public is certainly largely reconciled
to Shaw.

But as I put these last papers together, having finished this rude
study, I hear a piece of news. His latest play, _The Showing Up of
Blanco Posnet_, has been forbidden by the Censor. As far as I can
discover, it has been forbidden because one of the characters professes
a belief in God and states his conviction that God has got him. This is
wholesome; this is like one crack of thunder in a clear sky. Not so
easily does the prince of this world forgive. Shaw's religious training
and instinct is not mine, but in all honest religion there is something
that is hateful to the prosperous compromise of our time. You are free
in our time to say that God does not exist; you are free to say that He
exists and is evil; you are free to say (like poor old Renan) that He
would like to exist if He could. You may talk of God as a metaphor or a
mystification; you may water Him down with gallons of long words, or
boil Him to the rags of metaphysics; and it is not merely that nobody
punishes, but nobody protests. But if you speak of God as a fact, as a
thing like a tiger, as a reason for changing one's conduct, then the
modern world will stop you somehow if it can. We are long past talking
about whether an unbeliever should be punished for being irreverent. It
is now thought irreverent to be a believer. I end where I began: it is
the old Puritan in Shaw that jars the modern world like an electric
shock. That vision with which I meant to end, that vision of culture and
common-sense, of red brick and brown flannel, of the modern clerk
broadened enough to embrace Shaw and Shaw softened enough to embrace the
clerk, all that vision of a new London begins to fade and alter. The red
brick begins to burn red-hot; and the smoke from all the chimneys has a
strange smell. I find myself back in the fumes in which I started....
Perhaps I have been misled by small modernities. Perhaps what I have
called fastidiousness is a divine fear. Perhaps what I have called
coldness is a predestinate and ancient endurance. The vision of the
Fabian villas grows fainter and fainter, until I see only a void place
across which runs Bunyan's Pilgrim with his fingers in his ears.

Bernard Shaw has occupied much of his life in trying to elude his
followers. The fox has enthusiastic followers, and Shaw seems to regard
his in much the same way. This man whom men accuse of bidding for
applause seems to me to shrink even from assent. If you agree with Shaw
he is very likely to contradict you; I have contradicted Shaw
throughout, that is why I come at last almost to agree with him. His
critics have accused him of vulgar self-advertisement; in his relation
to his followers he seems to me rather marked with a sort of mad
modesty. He seems to wish to fly from agreement, to have as few
followers as possible. All this reaches back, I think, to the three
roots from which this meditation grew. It is partly the mere impatience
and irony of the Irishman. It is partly the thought of the Calvinist
that the host of God should be thinned rather than thronged; that Gideon
must reject soldiers rather than recruit them. And it is partly, alas,
the unhappy Progressive trying to be in front of his own religion,
trying to destroy his own idol and even to desecrate his own tomb. But
from whatever causes, this furious escape from popularity has involved
Shaw in some perversities and refinements which are almost mere
insincerities, and which make it necessary to disentangle the good he
has done from the evil in this dazzling course. I will attempt some
summary by stating the three things in which his influence seems to me
thoroughly good and the three in which it seems bad. But for the
pleasure of ending on the finer note I will speak first of those that
seem bad.

The primary respect in which Shaw has been a bad influence is that he
has encouraged fastidiousness. He has made men dainty about their moral
meals. This is indeed the root of his whole objection to romance. Many
people have objected to romance for being too airy and exquisite. Shaw
objects to romance for being too rank and coarse. Many have despised
romance because it is unreal; Shaw really hates it because it is a great
deal too real. Shaw dislikes romance as he dislikes beef and beer, raw
brandy or raw beefsteaks. Romance is too masculine for his taste. You
will find throughout his criticisms, amid all their truth, their wild
justice or pungent impartiality, a curious undercurrent of prejudice
upon one point: the preference for the refined rather than the rude or
ugly. Thus he will dislike a joke because it is coarse without asking if
it is really immoral. He objects to a man sitting down on his hat,
whereas the austere moralist should only object to his sitting down on
someone else's hat. This sensibility is barren because it is universal.
It is useless to object to man being made ridiculous. Man is born
ridiculous, as can easily be seen if you look at him soon after he is
born. It is grotesque to drink beer, but it is equally grotesque to
drink soda-water; the grotesqueness lies in the act of filling yourself
like a bottle through a hole. It is undignified to walk with a drunken
stagger; but it is fairly undignified to walk at all, for all walking is
a sort of balancing, and there is always in the human being something of
a quadruped on its hind legs. I do not say he would be more dignified if
he went on all fours; I do not know that he ever is dignified except
when he is dead. We shall not be refined till we are refined into dust.
Of course it is only because he is not wholly an animal that man sees he
is a rum animal; and if man on his hind legs is in an artificial
attitude, it is only because, like a dog, he is begging or saying thank

Everything important is in that sense absurd from the grave baby to the
grinning skull; everything practical is a practical joke. But throughout
Shaw's comedies, curiously enough, there is a certain kicking against
this great doom of laughter. For instance, it is the first duty of a
man who is in love to make a fool of himself; but Shaw's heroes always
seem to flinch from this, and attempt, in airy, philosophic revenge, to
make a fool of the woman first. The attempts of Valentine and Charteris
to divide their perceptions from their desires, and tell the woman she
is worthless even while trying to win her, are sometimes almost
torturing to watch; it is like seeing a man trying to play a different
tune with each hand. I fancy this agony is not only in the spectator,
but in the dramatist as well. It is Bernard Shaw struggling with his
reluctance to do anything so ridiculous as make a proposal. For there
are two types of great humorist: those who love to see a man absurd and
those who hate to see him absurd. Of the first kind are Rabelais and
Dickens; of the second kind are Swift and Bernard Shaw.

So far as Shaw has spread or helped a certain modern reluctance or
_mauvaise honte_ in these grand and grotesque functions of man I think
he has definitely done harm. He has much influence among the young men;
but it is not an influence in the direction of keeping them young. One
cannot imagine him inspiring any of his followers to write a war-song or
a drinking-song or a love-song, the three forms of human utterance
which come next in nobility to a prayer. It may seem odd to say that the
net effect of a man so apparently impudent will be to make men shy. But
it is certainly the truth. Shyness is always the sign of a divided soul;
a man is shy because he somehow thinks his position at once despicable
and important. If he were without humility he would not care; and if he
were without pride he would not care. Now the main purpose of Shaw's
theoretic teaching is to declare that we ought to fulfil these great
functions of life, that we ought to eat and drink and love. But the main
tendency of his habitual criticism is to suggest that all the
sentiments, professions, and postures of these things are not only comic
but even contemptibly comic, follies and almost frauds. The result would
seem to be that a race of young men may arise who do all these things,
but do them awkwardly. That which was of old a free and hilarious
function becomes an important and embarrassing necessity. Let us endure
all the pagan pleasures with a Christian patience. Let us eat, drink,
and be serious.

The second of the two points on which I think Shaw has done definite
harm is this: that he has (not always or even as a rule intentionally)
increased that anarchy of thought which is always the destruction of
thought. Much of his early writing has encouraged among the modern youth
that most pestilent of all popular tricks and fallacies; what is called
the argument of progress. I mean this kind of thing. Previous ages were
often, alas, aristocratic in politics or clericalist in religion; but
they were always democratic in philosophy; they appealed to man, not to
particular men. And if most men were against an idea, that was so far
against it. But nowadays that most men are against a thing is thought to
be in its favour; it is vaguely supposed to show that some day most men
will be for it. If a man says that cows are reptiles, or that Bacon
wrote Shakespeare, he can always quote the contempt of his
contemporaries as in some mysterious way proving the complete conversion
of posterity. The objections to this theory scarcely need any elaborate
indication. The final objection to it is that it amounts to this: say
anything, however idiotic, and you are in advance of your age. This kind
of stuff must be stopped. The sort of democrat who appeals to the babe
unborn must be classed with the sort of aristocrat who appeals to his
deceased great-grandfather. Both should be sharply reminded that they
are appealing to individuals whom they well know to be at a disadvantage
in the matter of prompt and witty reply. Now although Bernard Shaw has
survived this simple confusion, he has in his time greatly contributed
to it. If there is, for instance, one thing that is really rare in Shaw
it is hesitation. He makes up his mind quicker than a calculating boy or
a county magistrate. Yet on this subject of the next change in ethics he
has felt hesitation, and being a strictly honest man has expressed it.

"I know no harder practical question than how much selfishness one ought
to stand from a gifted person for the sake of his gifts or on the chance
of his being right in the long run. The Superman will certainly come
like a thief in the night, and be shot at accordingly; but we cannot
leave our property wholly undefended on that account. On the other hand,
we cannot ask the Superman simply to add a higher set of virtues to
current respectable morals; for he is undoubtedly going to empty a good
deal of respectable morality out like so much dirty water, and replace
it by new and strange customs, shedding old obligations and accepting
new and heavier ones. Every step of his progress must horrify
conventional people; and if it were possible for even the most superior
man to march ahead all the time, every pioneer of the march towards the
Superman would be crucified."

When the most emphatic man alive, a man unmatched in violent precision
of statement, speaks with such avowed vagueness and doubt as this, it is
no wonder if all his more weak-minded followers are in a mere whirlpool
of uncritical and unmeaning innovation. If the superior person will be
apparently criminal, the most probable result is simply that the
criminal person will think himself superior. A very slight knowledge of
human nature is required in the matter. If the Superman may possibly be
a thief, you may bet your boots that the next thief will be a Superman.
But indeed the Supermen (of whom I have met many) have generally been
more weak in the head than in the moral conduct; they have simply
offered the first fancy which occupied their minds as the new morality.
I fear that Shaw had a way of encouraging these follies. It is obvious
from the passage I have quoted that he has no way of restraining them.

The truth is that all feeble spirits naturally live in the future,
because it is featureless; it is a soft job; you can make it what you
like. The next age is blank, and I can paint it freely with my favourite
colour. It requires real courage to face the past, because the past is
full of facts which cannot be got over; of men certainly wiser than we
and of things done which we could not do. I know I cannot write a poem
as good as _Lycidas_. But it is always easy to say that the particular
sort of poetry I can write will be the poetry of the future.

This I call the second evil influence of Shaw: that he has encouraged
many to throw themselves for justification upon the shapeless and the
unknown. In this, though courageous himself, he has encouraged cowards,
and though sincere himself, has helped a mean escape. The third evil in
his influence can, I think, be much more shortly dealt with. He has to a
very slight extent, but still perceptibly, encouraged a kind of
charlatanism of utterance among those who possess his Irish impudence
without his Irish virtue. For instance, his amusing trick of self-praise
is perfectly hearty and humorous in him; nay, it is even humble; for to
confess vanity is itself humble. All that is the matter with the proud
is that they will not admit that they are vain. Therefore when Shaw
says that he alone is able to write such and such admirable work, or
that he has just utterly wiped out some celebrated opponent, I for one
never feel anything offensive in the tone, but, indeed, only the
unmistakable intonation of a friend's voice. But I have noticed among
younger, harder, and much shallower men a certain disposition to ape
this insolent ease and certitude, and that without any fundamental
frankness or mirth. So far the influence is bad. Egoism can be learnt as
a lesson like any other "ism." It is not so easy to learn an Irish
accent or a good temper. In its lower forms the thing becomes a most
unmilitary trick of announcing the victory before one has gained it.

When one has said those three things, one has said, I think, all that
can be said by way of blaming Bernard Shaw. It is significant that he
was never blamed for any of these things by the Censor. Such censures as
the attitude of that official involves may be dismissed with a very
light sort of disdain. To represent Shaw as profane or provocatively
indecent is not a matter for discussion at all; it is a disgusting
criminal libel upon a particularly respectable gentleman of the middle
classes, of refined tastes and somewhat Puritanical views. But while
the negative defence of Shaw is easy, the just praise of him is almost
as complex as it is necessary; and I shall devote the last few pages of
this book to a triad corresponding to the last one--to the three
important elements in which the work of Shaw has been good as well as

In the first place, and quite apart from all particular theories, the
world owes thanks to Bernard Shaw for having combined being intelligent
with being intelligible. He has popularised philosophy, or rather he has
repopularised it, for philosophy is always popular, except in peculiarly
corrupt and oligarchic ages like our own. We have passed the age of the
demagogue, the man who has little to say and says it loud. We have come
to the age of the mystagogue or don, the man who has nothing to say, but
says it softly and impressively in an indistinct whisper. After all,
short words must mean something, even if they mean filth or lies; but
long words may sometimes mean literally nothing, especially if they are
used (as they mostly are in modern books and magazine articles) to
balance and modify each other. A plain figure 4, scrawled in chalk
anywhere, must always mean something; it must always mean 2 + 2. But
the most enormous and mysterious algebraic equation, full of letters,
brackets, and fractions, may all cancel out at last and be equal to
nothing. When a demagogue says to a mob, "There is the Bank of England,
why shouldn't you have some of that money?" he says something which is
at least as honest and intelligible as the figure 4. When a writer in
the _Times_ remarks, "We must raise the economic efficiency of the
masses without diverting anything from those classes which represent the
national prosperity and refinement," then his equation cancels out; in a
literal and logical sense his remark amounts to nothing.

There are two kinds of charlatans or people called quacks to-day. The
power of the first is that he advertises--and cures. The power of the
second is that though he is not learned enough to cure he is much too
learned to advertise. The former give away their dignity with a pound of
tea; the latter are paid a pound of tea merely for being dignified. I
think them the worse quacks of the two. Shaw is certainly of the other
sort. Dickens, another man who was great enough to be a demagogue (and
greater than Shaw because more heartily a demagogue), puts for ever the
true difference between the demagogue and the mystagogue in _Dr.
Marigold_: "Except that we're cheap-jacks and they're dear-jacks, I
don't see any difference between us." Bernard Shaw is a great
cheap-jack, with plenty of patter and I dare say plenty of nonsense, but
with this also (which is not wholly unimportant), with goods to sell.
People accuse such a man of self-advertisement. But at least the
cheap-jack does advertise his wares, whereas the don or dear-jack
advertises nothing except himself. His very silence, nay his very
sterility, are supposed to be marks of the richness of his erudition. He
is too learned to teach, and sometimes too wise even to talk. St. Thomas
Aquinas said: "In auctore auctoritas." But there is more than one man at
Oxford or Cambridge who is considered an authority because he has never
been an author.

Against all this mystification both of silence and verbosity Shaw has
been a splendid and smashing protest. He has stood up for the fact that
philosophy is not the concern of those who pass through Divinity and
Greats, but of those who pass through birth and death. Nearly all the
most awful and abstruse statements can be put in words of one syllable,
from "A child is born" to "A soul is damned." If the ordinary man may
not discuss existence, why should he be asked to conduct it? About
concrete matters indeed one naturally appeals to an oligarchy or select
class. For information about Lapland I go to an aristocracy of
Laplanders; for the ways of rabbits to an aristocracy of naturalists or,
preferably, an aristocracy of poachers. But only mankind itself can bear
witness to the abstract first principles of mankind, and in matters of
theory I would always consult the mob. Only the mass of men, for
instance, have authority to say whether life is good. Whether life is
good is an especially mystical and delicate question, and, like all such
questions, is asked in words of one syllable. It is also answered in
words of one syllable, and Bernard Shaw (as also mankind) answers "yes."

This plain, pugnacious style of Shaw has greatly clarified all
controversies. He has slain the polysyllable, that huge and slimy
centipede which has sprawled over all the valleys of England like the
"loathly worm" who was slain by the ancient knight. He does not think
that difficult questions will be made simpler by using difficult words
about them. He has achieved the admirable work, never to be mentioned
without gratitude, of discussing Evolution without mentioning it. The
good work is of course more evident in the case of philosophy than any
other region; because the case of philosophy was a crying one. It was
really preposterous that the things most carefully reserved for the
study of two or three men should actually be the things common to all
men. It was absurd that certain men should be experts on the special
subject of everything. But he stood for much the same spirit and style
in other matters; in economics, for example. There never has been a
better popular economist; one more lucid, entertaining, consistent, and
essentially exact. The very comicality of his examples makes them and
their argument stick in the mind; as in the case I remember in which he
said that the big shops had now to please everybody, and were not
entirely dependent on the lady who sails in "to order four governesses
and five grand pianos." He is always preaching collectivism; yet he does
not very often name it. He does not talk about collectivism, but about
cash; of which the populace feel a much more definite need. He talks
about cheese, boots, perambulators, and how people are really to live.
For him economics really means housekeeping, as it does in Greek. His
difference from the orthodox economists, like most of his differences,
is very different from the attacks made by the main body of Socialists.
The old Manchester economists are generally attacked for being too gross
and material. Shaw really attacks them for not being gross or material
enough. He thinks that they hide themselves behind long words, remote
hypotheses or unreal generalisations. When the orthodox economist begins
with his correct and primary formula, "Suppose there is a Man on an
Island----" Shaw is apt to interrupt him sharply, saying, "There is a
Man in the Street."

The second phase of the man's really fruitful efficacy is in a sense the
converse of this. He has improved philosophic discussions by making them
more popular. But he has also improved popular amusements by making them
more philosophic. And by more philosophic I do not mean duller, but
funnier; that is more varied. All real fun is in cosmic contrasts, which
involve a view of the cosmos. But I know that this second strength in
Shaw is really difficult to state and must be approached by explanations
and even by eliminations. Let me say at once that I think nothing of
Shaw or anybody else merely for playing the daring sceptic. I do not
think he has done any good or even achieved any effect simply by asking
startling questions. It is possible that there have been ages so
sluggish or automatic that anything that woke them up at all was a good
thing. It is sufficient to be certain that ours is not such an age. We
do not need waking up; rather we suffer from insomnia, with all its
results of fear and exaggeration and frightful waking dreams. The modern
mind is not a donkey which wants kicking to make it go on. The modern
mind is more like a motor-car on a lonely road which two amateur
motorists have been just clever enough to take to pieces, but are not
quite clever enough to put together again. Under these circumstances
kicking the car has never been found by the best experts to be
effective. No one, therefore, does any good to our age merely by asking
questions--unless he can answer the questions. Asking questions is
already the fashionable and aristocratic sport which has brought most of
us into the bankruptcy court. The note of our age is a note of
interrogation. And the final point is so plain; no sceptical philosopher
can ask any questions that may not equally be asked by a tired child on
a hot afternoon. "Am I a boy?--Why am I a boy?--Why aren't I a
chair?--What is a chair?" A child will sometimes ask questions of this
sort for two hours. And the philosophers of Protestant Europe have asked
them for two hundred years.

If that were all that I meant by Shaw making men more philosophic, I
should put it not among his good influences but his bad. He did do that
to some extent; and so far he is bad. But there is a much bigger and
better sense in which he has been a philosopher. He has brought back
into English drama all the streams of fact or tendency which are
commonly called undramatic. They were there in Shakespeare's time; but
they have scarcely been there since until Shaw. I mean that Shakespeare,
being interested in everything, put everything into a play. If he had
lately been thinking about the irony and even contradiction confronting
us in self-preservation and suicide, he put it all into _Hamlet_. If he
was annoyed by some passing boom in theatrical babies he put that into
_Hamlet_ too. He would put anything into _Hamlet_ which he really
thought was true, from his favourite nursery ballads to his personal
(and perhaps unfashionable) conviction of the Catholic purgatory. There
is no fact that strikes one, I think, about Shakespeare, except the fact
of how dramatic he could be, so much as the fact of how undramatic he
could be.

In this great sense Shaw has brought philosophy back into
drama--philosophy in the sense of a certain freedom of the mind. This is
not a freedom to think what one likes (which is absurd, for one can only
think what one thinks); it is a freedom to think about what one likes,
which is quite a different thing and the spring of all thought.
Shakespeare (in a weak moment, I think) said that all the world is a
stage. But Shakespeare acted on the much finer principle that a stage is
all the world. So there are in all Bernard Shaw's plays patches of what
people would call essentially undramatic stuff, which the dramatist puts
in because he is honest and would rather prove his case than succeed
with his play. Shaw has brought back into English drama that
Shakespearian universality which, if you like, you can call
Shakespearian irrelevance. Perhaps a better definition than either is a
habit of thinking the truth worth telling even when you meet it by
accident. In Shaw's plays one meets an incredible number of truths by

To be up to date is a paltry ambition except in an almanac, and Shaw has
sometimes talked this almanac philosophy. Nevertheless there is a real
sense in which the phrase may be wisely used, and that is in cases where
some stereotyped version of what is happening hides what is really
happening from our eyes. Thus, for instance, newspapers are never up to
date. The men who write leading articles are always behind the times,
because they are in a hurry. They are forced to fall back on their
old-fashioned view of things; they have no time to fashion a new one.
Everything that is done in a hurry is certain to be antiquated; that is
why modern industrial civilisation bears so curious a resemblance to
barbarism. Thus when newspapers say that the _Times_ is a solemn old
Tory paper, they are out of date; their talk is behind the talk in Fleet
Street. Thus when newspapers say that Christian dogmas are crumbling,
they are out of date; their talk is behind the talk in public-houses.
Now in this sense Shaw has kept in a really stirring sense up to date.
He has introduced into the theatre the things that no one else had
introduced into a theatre--the things in the street outside. The theatre
is a sort of thing which proudly sends a hansom-cab across the stage as
Realism, while everybody outside is whistling for motor-cabs.

Consider in this respect how many and fine have been Shaw's intrusions
into the theatre with the things that were really going on. Daily papers
and daily matinées were still gravely explaining how much modern war
depended on gunpowder. _Arms and the Man_ explained how much modern war
depends on chocolate. Every play and paper described the Vicar who was a
mild Conservative. _Candida_ caught hold of the modern Vicar who is an
advanced Socialist. Numberless magazine articles and society comedies
describe the emancipated woman as new and wild. Only _You Never Can
Tell_ was young enough to see that the emancipated woman is already old
and respectable. Every comic paper has caricatured the uneducated
upstart. Only the author of _Man and Superman_ knew enough about the
modern world to caricature the educated upstart--the man Straker who can
quote Beaumarchais, though he cannot pronounce him. This is the second
real and great work of Shaw--the letting in of the world on to the
stage, as the rivers were let in upon the Augean Stable. He has let a
little of the Haymarket into the Haymarket Theatre. He has permitted
some whispers of the Strand to enter the Strand Theatre. A variety of
solutions in philosophy is as silly as it is in arithmetic, but one may
be justly proud of a variety of materials for a solution. After Shaw,
one may say, there is nothing that cannot be introduced into a play if
one can make it decent, amusing, and relevant. The state of a man's
health, the religion of his childhood, his ear for music, or his
ignorance of cookery can all be made vivid if they have anything to do
with the subject. A soldier may mention the commissariat as well as the
cavalry; and, better still, a priest may mention theology as well as
religion. That is being a philosopher; that is bringing the universe on
the stage.

Lastly, he has obliterated the mere cynic. He has been so much more
cynical than anyone else for the public good that no one has dared since
to be really cynical for anything smaller. The Chinese crackers of the
frivolous cynics fail to excite us after the dynamite of the serious and
aspiring cynic. Bernard Shaw and I (who are growing grey together) can
remember an epoch which many of his followers do not know: an epoch of
real pessimism. The years from 1885 to 1898 were like the hours of
afternoon in a rich house with large rooms; the hours before tea-time.
They believed in nothing except good manners; and the essence of good
manners is to conceal a yawn. A yawn may be defined as a silent yell.
The power which the young pessimist of that time showed in this
direction would have astonished anyone but him. He yawned so wide as to
swallow the world. He swallowed the world like an unpleasant pill before
retiring to an eternal rest. Now the last and best glory of Shaw is that
in the circles where this creature was found, he is not. He has not been
killed (I don't know exactly why), but he has actually turned into a
Shaw idealist. This is no exaggeration. I meet men who, when I knew them
in 1898, were just a little too lazy to destroy the universe. They are
now conscious of not being quite worthy to abolish some prison
regulations. This destruction and conversion seem to me the mark of
something actually great. It is always great to destroy a type without
destroying a man. The followers of Shaw are optimists; some of them are
so simple as even to use the word. They are sometimes rather pallid
optimists, frequently very worried optimists, occasionally, to tell the
truth, rather cross optimists: but they not pessimists; they can exult
though they cannot laugh. He has at least withered up among them the
mere pose of impossibility. Like every great teacher, he has cursed the
barren fig-tree. For nothing except that impossibility is really

I know it is all very strange. From the height of eight hundred years
ago, or of eight hundred years hence, our age must look incredibly odd.
We call the twelfth century ascetic. We call our own time hedonist and
full of praise and pleasure. But in the ascetic age the love of life was
evident and enormous, so that it had to be restrained. In an hedonist
age pleasure has always sunk low, so that it has to be encouraged. How
high the sea of human happiness rose in the Middle Ages, we now only
know by the colossal walls that they built to keep it in bounds. How low
human happiness sank in the twentieth century our children will only
know by these extraordinary modern books, which tell people that it is a
duty to be cheerful and that life is not so bad after all. Humanity
never produces optimists till it has ceased to produce happy men. It is
strange to be obliged to impose a holiday like a fast, and to drive men
to a banquet with spears. But this shall be written of our time: that
when the spirit who denies besieged the last citadel, blaspheming life
itself, there were some, there was one especially, whose voice was heard
and whose spear was never broken.



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     "Just the information that many travellers in England need. All in
     an orderly and sprightly manner."--_Professor William Lyon Phelps,
     Yale University._

     "Well conceived and original."--_Athenæum._

     *** "In these days of universal travel and of the almost universal
     writing of travel books, it is unusual to find an author whose
     point of view is unique and whose subject-matter is unhackneyed.
     Mr. Sherrill has met both of these difficult requirements."--_The

       *       *       *       *       *


Captain Desmond, V.C.

_Ornamental cloth. 12_mo._ $1.50._

     "A story of the Punjab frontier. The theme is that of Kipling's
     'Story of the Gadsbys'--a brilliant and convincing study of an
     undying problem."--_London Post._

The Great Amulet 12_mo._ $1.50.

A love-story dealing with army life in India.

Candles in the Wind 12_mo._ $1.50.

       *       *       *       *       *


The Strongest Plume 12_mo._ $1.50.

     "Deals with a problem quite worthy of serious consideration,
     frankly but restrainedly. Excellent studies of character."--_London
     Daily News._

A Boy's Marriage 12_mo._ $1.50.

The High Adventure 12_mo._ $1.50.

     "Admirably well told with distinctive literary
     skill."--_Philadelphia Press._

The Way Things Happen 12_mo._ $1.50.

     "Fantastic and agreeable--an effort somewhat in the manner of Mr.
     W. J. Locke."--_Glasgow Evening News._

       *       *       *       *       *


Arthur's Hotel 12_mo._ $1.50.

     "Sketches of low life in London. The book will delight visitors to
     the slums."--_New York Sun._

Sixpenny Pieces 12_mo._ $1.50.

     The Story of a "Sixpenny Doctor" in the East end of London. The
     volume is instinct with a realism that differs altogether from the
     so-called realism of the accepted "gutter" novels, for it is the
     realism of life as it is, and not as imagined.

       *       *       *       *       *



     "If you wish to be lifted out of the petty cares of to-day, read
     one of Locke's novels. You may select any from the following titles
     and be certain of meeting some new and delightful friends. His
     characters are worth knowing."--_Baltimore Sun._

The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne
At the Gate of Samaria
A Study in Shadows
Where Love Is
The Demagogue and Lady Phayre
The Belovéd Vagabond
The White Dove
The Usurper

_12mo. Cloth. $1.50 each_.

     Eleven volumes bound in green cloth. Uniform edition in box. $16.50
     per set. Half morocco $45.00 net. Express prepaid.

The Belovéd Vagabond

     "'The Belovéd Vagabond' is a gently-written, fascinating tale. Make
     his acquaintance some dreary, rain-soaked evening and find the
     vagabond nerve-thrilling in your own heart."--_Chicago


     "Septimus is the joy of the year."--_American Magazine._

The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne

     "A literary event of the first importance."--_Boston Herald._

     "One of those rare and much-to-be-desired stories which keep one
     divided between an interested impatience to get on, and an
     irresistible temptation to linger for full enjoyment by the

Where Love Is

     "A capital story told with skill."--_New York Evening Sun._

     "One of those unusual novels of which the end is as good as the
     beginning."--_New York Globe._

       *       *       *       *       *


The Usurper

     "Contains the hall-mark of genius itself. The plot is masterly
     conception, the descriptions are all vivid flashes from a brilliant
     pen. It is impossible to read and not marvel at the skilled
     workmanship and the constant dramatic intensity of the incident,
     situations and climax."--_The Boston Herald._


     "Mr. Locke tells his story in a very true, a very moving, and a
     very noble book. If any one can read the last chapter with dry eyes
     we shall be surprised. 'Derelicts' is an impressive, an important
     book. Yvonne is a creation that any artist might be proud
     of."--_The Daily Chronicle._


     "One of the very few distinguished novels of this present book
     season."--_The Daily Mail._

     "A brilliantly written and eminently readable
     book."--_The London Daily Telegraph._

A Study in Shadows

     "Mr. Locke has achieved a distinct success in this novel. He has
     struck many emotional chords, and struck them all with a firm, sure
     hand. In the relations between Katherine and Raine he had a
     delicate problem to handle, and he has handled it
     delicately."--_The Daily Chronicle._

The White Dove

     "It is an interesting story. The characters are strongly conceived
     and vividly presented, and the dramatic moments are powerfully
     realized."--_The Morning Post._

The Demagogue and Lady Phayre

     "Think of Locke's clever books. Then think of a book as different
     from any of these as one can well imagine--that will be Mr. Locke's
     new book."--_New York World._

At the Gate of Samaria

     "William J. Locke's novels are nothing if not unusual. They are
     marked by a quaint originality. The habitual novel reader
     inevitably is grateful for a refreshing sense of escaping the
     commonplace path of conclusion."--_Chicago Record-Herald._

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