George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
A False Start

AFTER ATTENDING FOUR SUCCESSIVE SCHOOLS, WHERE HE WAS NEITHER KEPT AT A continuous drill nor regularly beaten for neglecting his studies--the only methods which would have succeded with such a boy--Shaw finally gave up school, as he had given up Sunday school: because he didn't like it and didn't believe in it. A year or so earlier, he had already decided that "for the moment he must go into business and earn some money, and begin to be a grown-up man." He applied to a firm of cloth merchants, Scott, Spain and Rooney, located on one of the quays in Dublin. Scott was on the point of employing him when Rooney came in and "saved him from the bales" with which he would have been loaded down on this job. From this drudgery, to which the thirteen-year-old lad had been introduced by a friend of the family, with his parents' consent, he was happy to escape.

At the age of fifteen, one of his uncles secured for him the respectable post of office boy to a prominent firm of Dublin estate agents, Uniacke Townshend and Company, beginning with eighteen shillings a month. He was still a boy when the cashier vanished, and the junior clerk, as he called himself, was rushed in as a "pinch hitter." He made good against his will, and remained in the office until near the close of his nineteenth year. In the course of the four years his salary, which began at fifty-four dollars, reached the opulent sum of four hundred and twenty dollars a year. As the direct result of his instructive business training as a clerk and man of all work in an estate agent's office, Bernard acquired a sense of the value of money and its conservation.

Shaw has told us, "My employers acted also as private bankers and, to a certain extent, confidential agents to their clients, and hence I became accustomed to handling large sums of money, meeting men of all conditions, and getting glimpses of country house life behind the scenes." He was not like the clerk so admirably described in Misalliance, a prisoner in a wire cage, to whom people came to transact business. Shaw was a "go-getter." Every day on some of the fifty estates managed by Uniacke Townshend and Company, as he retailed the routine to his former chief on The Saturday Review, he "had to pay head rents, quit rents, mortgage interests, jointures, annuities, insurance premiums, and what not." Another monotonous task was to pay the Dublin bills

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