Fabian Essayist and Street-Corner Orator
THE MEETINGS OF THE FABIAN SOCIETY, FOR THE FIRST FEW YEARS, WERE OCCAsions for tumultuous and often heated discussion. There were Individualists and Anarchists, Secularists and Atheists, Millites and Marxists, conservatives and catastrophists in the little band. Few of them knew what they wanted, or even had made clear to themselves the meaning of Socialism; but they were volubly vocal with their partial knowledge and prejudice and ignorance. Aside from the society's discussions, there were speeches to be made outside to gatherings of all sorts, as Socialist propaganda. Deficient in training as a public speaker, Shaw was nevertheless just "r'arin' to go." In a preface to Three Plays for Puritans, published in later years, he voiced a signal trait of his character in the sentiment: "I leave the delicacies of retirement to those who are gentlemen first and literary workmen afterwards. The cart and trumpet for me."
After his conversion to Socialism Shaw grew increasingly zealous as a public speaker. He was realizing himself at last, and was on fire with his Socialistic views. In a letter to me, he said:
I was so full of it at first that I dragged it in by the ears on all occasions, and presently so annoyed an audience South Place that for the only time in my life I was met with a demonstration of impatience. I took the hint so rapidly & apprehensively that no great harm was done; but I still remember it as an unpleasant & mortifying discovery that there is a limit even to the patience of that poor helpless long-suffering animal, the public, with political speakers. It had never occurred before; and it never occurred again.
I now set to work to apply my dogged practice to propagating Socialism. In 1883 I accepted an invitation to address a workmen's club at Woolwich; and I thought at first of writing a lecture & even of committing it to memory; for it seemed hardly possible to speak for an hour without text when I had thitherto only spoken for ten minutes in a debate. But I saw that if I were to speak often on Socialism--as. I fully meant to do--writing and learning by rote would be impossible for mere want of time. I made a few notes, being by this time cool enough to use them. The lecture was called Thieves, and was a demonstration that the proprietor of an unearned income inflicted on the community exactly the same injury as a burglar does.