George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
The Lure of the Platform: An Accidental Browningite

FOR THOSE LEAN, DESPERATE DAYS FROM 1876 TO 1885, WE MUST CARRY THE picture of two Bernard Shaws: one by day and one by night. the daylight Shaw growing seedier and seedier in attire, imposingly tall, striding, upstanding, apparently resolute, but really only industrious, could write, but could not bring himself to importune editors and publishers for employment. The lamplight Shaw was a young man of address, suitably clad in evening clothes, mingling with a society which he was studying but of which he was not a part.

Shaw was ruthless in his own self-revelations. He makes mockery of himself in a situation which was little short of heartbreaking. What strange creature is this who laughs at his father, and utilizes his mother for his own selfish ends? It is the wayward Irish genius, who would be ruthless in his truth-facing, even at the sacrifice of his own parents. It is the sacrificing objectivity of the artist and humorist who not only see the truth through is slay him but turn the dread spectre round and expose it as a turnip ghost.

Through his mother's acquaintance with Theo Marzials and her association with Malcolm Lawson, whom she aided in the chorus of the Gluck Society which he was conducted, Shaw was invited to visit the Lawson family who lived in one of the handsome old houses in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Another brother, Cecil, was already known as a great landscape painter; and there were two sisters who sang with joy and intensity. Shaw was the Complete Outsider: "outside society, outside politics, outside the Church." Irreverence was the mark of his manner, heresy the note of his opinions. His dread of society was tragic; and of the Sunday evening calls at the Lawsons', he records: "I suffered such agonies of shyness that I sometimes walked up and down the Embankment for twenty minutes or more before venturing to knock at the door: indeed I should have funked it altogether, and hurried home asking myself what was the use of torturing myself when it so easy to run away, if I had not been instinctively aware that I must never let myself off in this manner if I meant ever to do anything in the world." He could hold up his end in an intellectual or artistic discussion. But he tried to learn from everyone whom he thought better informed than himself; and as his method of drawing them

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