Coming to Himself in Criticism
THERE ARE TWO PHOTOGRAPHS OF Shaw, MADE IN LONDON WHEN HE WAS twenty-three years old, which are more eloquent than any written commentary. Into a faraway world of the imagination gaze pale eyes, rapt in contemplation; the extremely sparse beard, longish, curly, suggests a strange, ascetic Christ without benignance; the full, sensitive lips with ironic contours proclaim the satirist. About the face, the figure, the pose lurks the suggestion of shy superiority, of deliberate aloofness. A certain arrogance, the unwarranted consciousness of being in a "superior position as an Irishman," somehow carried him through a decade of unbroken failure.
In literature his taste was always singularly mature. As a child he loathed and despised children's books, "for their dishonesty, their hypocrisy, their sickly immorality, and their damnable dulness." The irrepressible desire for self-expression found a no-thoroughfare outlet in a long correspondence with an English lady, Elinor Huddart, whose fervently imaginative novels would have made her known, Shaw once asserted, had he been able to persuade her to make her name public, or at least to stick to the same pen name, instead of changing it for every book. At the age of fifteen, Shaw began making characteristically satirical and obfuscating contributions to "literature," as evidenced by the following among "Editorial Replies" in a short-lived magazine, addressed G. B. Shaw (Torca Cottage, Torca Hill, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Ireland): "You should have registered your letter; such a combination of wit and satire ought not to have been conveyed at the ordinary rate of postage. As it was, your arguments were so weighty we had to pay two pence extra for them."1
After Shaw went to London, he laid determined and prolonged siege to the stronghold of journalism, with one of the most amazing failures in the history of literature. It is an ironic commentary on the most ethical journalist and public-spirited man of our day that he should have begun his journalist career as a "ghost" writer. To help him, Vandaleur Lee had accepted the post of music critic to The Hornet, a paper owned by one Captain Donald Shaw, no____________________