24. THE MAN

OWING to the general belief that seriousness is synonymous with dullness it is almost impossible to convince people that the gayest man of his age was its most serious writer. Yet such was the case, and Bernard Shaw was the man. They will not even believe that a wit and humorist can also be a consistent philosopher; yet it is a fact that the creed which Shaw had preached in his thirtieth year was repeated by him without variation in his ninetieth. He had not changed, but the age had; and he, more than anyone else, had changed it.

His seriousness, his consistency, his gaiety, and his wit were to some extent inherited from a mother who never made a joke in her life and a father who never could resist one; but to this inheritance some impish ancestor had contributed the clown and play actor, which, more than any other strain in Shaw's nature, bewildered and shocked his contemporaries. He never seemed to be the same man for twenty minutes together. At one moment he was talking with vatic earnestness about the destiny of the human race; at the next he was treating certain specimens of it with burlesque ridicule and sending his hearers into fits of laughter. A little later he was exposing some social abuse with a solemnity that would have impressed a convocation of clergy, following this with a display of mental acrobatics that would have provoked the applause and envy of any knockabout comedian. If he did not stand on his own head, he usually managed to make other people feel that they were standing on theirs.

His own explanation of his public conduct is true so far as it goes, but it is not complete. He was nervous and timid by nature, he says, and so had to create a personality suitable to the various parts he had to play. He saw things differently from other people, he states, and felt about them differently, so he found that all he had to do in order to get a hearing was to explain his viewpoint with absolute clarity and express his serious opinions with the utmost levity. Both these confessions should be amplified. He created a character adaptable to his parts because he was a born actor, not merely because he was nervous and timid; and he put forward his views with levity because he was a born clown, not solely because he wished to gain an audience. It is the combination of actor and critic, of clown and prophet, that makes him unique in litera-

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G. B. S.: A Postscript
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • By the Same Author: *
  • Title Page iii
  • To Eleanor O'Connell v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Trials of a Biographer 1
  • I. a Back Number 3
  • 3. the Mythical G.B.S. 5
  • 4. Lies and Libels 8
  • 5. No Laughing Matter 13
  • 6. Sexless Appeal 21
  • 10. a Shavian Production 45
  • A Postscript 59
  • 11. Shaw Criticizes His Biographer 61
  • 13. Stella and Isadora 73
  • 15. a New Alphabet 75
  • 16. Playwright or Propagandist? 79
  • 17. Shaw Dictates His Obituary 84
  • 18. Pilgrims at Ayot 86
  • 9 Three Score Years and Thirty 88
  • 20. a Bardic Battle 90
  • 23. Bewitched 103
  • Aspects of Shaw 117
  • 24. the Man 119
  • 26. the Reformer 122
  • 27. His First Appearance 125
  • 28. an Obituary 127
  • 29. the Modern Methuselah 133
  • Index 135
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