George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview
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Preface
Vicissitudes of a Biographer

On November 2, 1951, the first anniversary of the death of the most brilliant and witty publicist since Voltaire and the most eminent and prolific dramatist of the English-speaking peoples since Shakespeare, I began drafting the last act of the drama of the Centennial Biography of George Bernard Shaw. For more than half a century ( 1905-1956) of my own life, I have endeavored to record and appraise this great life, spanning almost a full century ( 1856-1950).

When, on February 24, 1903, I descended to eight o'clock breakfast at the Harcourt on 57th Street, South Park, Illinois, little did I dream that I was on the threshold of the greatest intellectual venture and spiritual adventure of my life. With the close of this day I was, all unconsciously, taking the first step toward becoming, in the near future, the biographer of a new immortal. Had I realized, at that moment, the daring of my aspiration and the magnitude of the undertaking, I should have shrunk back in alarm and perhaps discarded the most glorious biographical and critical opportunity of the era.

Consider, if you please, the millions of readers of the biography of Shakespeare, meager in fact, doubtful in authenticity, essentially and ultimately unsatisfying in range, event, spirit, and understanding, be the biographer who he may. How often and how unceasingly, throughout three and a half centuries, have these millions voiced or felt measureless and unassuageable regret that Shakespeare had no twin soul, fellow dramatist, boon companion, titled patron, co-player at Globe or Swan to record the events of outer and inner life of the greatest dramatist of all time!

But for the fortuitous invitation of a fellow breakfaster to attend the performance of an unknown play by an unheard-of dramatist, I might well, rather surely would, have forgone that fleeting Opportunity which the poet tells us comes but once--to return no more:

Master of human destinies am I!
Fame, love, and fortune on my footsteps wait.
Cities and fields I walk; I penetrate
Deserts and seas remote, and passing by
Hovel and mart and palace--soon or late
I knock unbidden once at every gate!

"I should like to have you accompany me to the theater tonight," said Miss Maude Miner, an accomplished teacher of the art of expression, who

-xiii-

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