Monday, December 22, 2008

G.B.S., S.I.B.

When GB Shaw made his trip to America in 1935 many caustic remarks dripped from his lips. An acerbic sense of humor had he. Joseph Mitchell recorded his observations of the man. When a reporter asked Shaw if he was interested in a congress of the literary great to suppress war, Shaw replied, "Why should they suppress war? War is just a method of killing people. There are a great many people who ought to be killed." "Do you think the English people ought to be killed?" Shaw declined to respond. "How about the Irish people?" "Yes, almost all the Irish should be killed." And indeed they should be. Shaw himself was Irish. Stinking Irish bastard.

Shaw opined that the function of American "newspapers" (the television of that day) existed for the purpose of concealing the truth. A reporter responded, "I would like to tell you I think that isn't true." "I am very amazed at your state of innocence." Shaw continued, "Sometimes I stand amazed at the American people and wonder what will happen to them." "Do you think there is any hope of us changing?" "You better ask the Almighty about that." "I didn't know you had relations with the Almighty, Mr. Shaw." "No, but the American people have." "Where do you think you will go when you die, Mr. Shaw." "I sincerely hope when I die it will be the end of me. Do you think I am entertaining an eternity of George Bernard Shaw? How do you like the idea?"

"Do you enjoy making insulting remarks?" "Now, look here. If I say to an American, 'You've got a hat on,' he runs up and says, 'See here, what do you mean saying I have a hat on.'" "What do you think the next civilization will be?" "For all we know, the next civilization may be Negro." "Do you find humanity as stupid as you did when you were young?" "I look at the children leaving the schoolhouses. They seem to be the same old lot. I'm disappointed."

Later Mr. Shaw was asked about the Scottsboro case. "Blow the Scottsboro case! I didn't come here to interfere with your silly laws." In a speech the previous evening at the New York Opera House he had called the American Constitution "a charter of anarchy." "I meant just that! It should be set aside! It is merely an accumulation of efforts on the part of a people to escape governing themselves." In the Scottsboro case, the Supreme Court upheld the principle that defendants have a fundamental right to competent council.

On stage the night before Shaw had asserted, per Mitchell, that regarding the economic crisis of that decade, "even the smallest smattering of knowledge of political science would teach us that the first thing to do to get out of the present mess is to nationalize the banks." Shaw must no doubt have meant economic science rather than political. He spent a good portion of his sixteen thousand oratorical words and 100 minutes berating every salient American institution, for which he was applauded, vigorously, by the cosmopolitan crowd. Mitchell recorded that the audience "displayed more laughter than applause when he said America might possibly save the world."

Shaw believed that private charity was a "pernicious invasion of public duty." Earlier that year, when sent a postcard requesting a charitable donation to the Children's Aid Society of London, Shaw scrawled on the back of the card, "why not give the little invalids a gorgeous party and then, when they have eaten and danced themselves to sleep, turn on the gas and let them all wake up in heaven?" He was an idealist then, a Utopian socialist, avid supporter and apologist for Stalin, denier and explainer of the pogroms, a vegetarian, anti-tobacconist, and an agitator for the adoption of a new purely phonemic alphabet -- a socialist as I say, an atheist, and a stinking Irish bastard ... but I seem to have lost the thread of my thought.



Anonymous said...

Your commentaries concerning some of the more tiresome individuals of Western Civ are always an enjoyable read.

I recall your dispelling some rather undeserved myths attempting to crop up around the singularly loathsome Mr. Tom Paine in a response to a flattering column on Townhall a number of years back and have been an avid follower of your chronicles since that time.

I am wondering if you have ever managed to include in your anthologies, anything on Mr. H.L. Mencken, another, in my opinion, borish thug masquerading as a Western intellectual.

Jack H said...

Well, first, thank you. It's a haphazard affair, who fails before my baleful eye. I'm not so much Speaker for the Dead as Court Jester. I did read once that Mencken was the one primarily responsible for recasting the Puritans as joyless, unbending bigots. It may be that borish intellectual thug is an apt discription. It the piece I raided for Shaw, he mentions his admiration for M. Hm.