George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 65
The End of the Beginning1

EVERY MOMENT IN HISTORY IS BOTH AN END AND A BEGINNING. THE PRESENT moment insistently compels a retrospect of the colorful and spectacular career of this man of the century who left a distinctive mark upon the thought and culture of our time. This retrospect is taken in the present centennial biography covering the period from 1856 to 1956. The publication of this work, written with the subject's assistance and encouragement, marks the conclusion of unremitting studies, covering more than half a century, of all phases of the life and career of the most widely publicized literary figure of the contemporary era. Since the very beginning of this biographical pilgrimage which began in 1904, I have treated Shaw as a towering genius and one of the world's great masters of the drama. This I have done deliberately in defiance of convention, without considering the ultimate verdict of posterity. This bold assumption of his literary immortality now appears to be justified by the achievements during his lifetime, recorded in the present work. The dial marks the end of a life and the appearance of its record by the biographer: the beginning of posthumous critical contemplation and appraisal of a protean genius, typical of an age, the tone and temper of which he did so much to create.

To find in history Shaw's first authentic congener and true spiritual progenitor, we must turn our thoughts backwards some twenty-three and a half centuries to one of the most dramatic and moving episodes in all of human history. In the year 399 before Christ, Socrates, the great Greek teacher and philosopher, was arraigned before a tribunal of five hundred judges on two charges:

First. "Socrates is an evil-doer and a curious person, searching into things under the earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the better cause, and teaching all this to others."

Second. "Socrates is an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth, who does not receive the gods whom the state receives, but introduces other new divinities."

____________________
1
In an address at the Lord Mayor's Day Luncheon, London, November 10, 1942, the Hon. Winston Churchill said: " GeneralAlexander, with his brilliant comrade and lieutenant, General Montgomery, has gained a glorious and decisive victory in what I think should be called The Battle of Egypt. Rommel's army has been defeated, it has been routed, it has very largely been destroyed as a fighting force. . . . Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

-881-

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