Sunday, September 09, 2007

Quotes from G.B.S.

The weekends are a wonderful time for taking long walks in the woods, sitting out on the porch and playing the classical guitar, and for reading. I've been reading George Bernard Shaw by Chesterton, partly for pleasure, and partly for school, in which it is still a pleasure.

I can't say that the quotes I've chosen have struck me because of some particular philsophical profoundness, but simply because I found them amusing. The first for Shaw, the second for the landlord and the statesmen. The latter's ecstatic cries really are too cute... I can't decide if they remind me more of Frederic from the Pirates of Penzance or Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, both of whom fall often into such amusing and slightly bewildering raptures.

Any ordinary leader-writer (let us say) might writes swiftly and smoothly something like this: "The element of religion in the Puritan rebellion, if hostile to art, yet saved the movement from some of the evils in which the French Revolution involved morality." Now a man like Mr. Shaw, who has his own views on everything, would be forced to make the sentence long and broken instead of swift and smooth. He would say something like: "The element of religion, as I explain religion, in the Puritan rebellion (which you wholly misunderstand), if hostile to art--that is what I mean by art--may have saved it from some evils (remember my definition of evil) in which the French Revolution--of which I have my own opinion--involved morality, which I will define for you in a minute."


I hear many people complain that Bernard Shaw deliberately mystifies them. I cannot imagine what they mean; it seems to me that he deliberately insults them. His language, especially on moral questions, is generally as straight and solid as that of a bargee and far less ornate and symbolic than that of a hansom-cabman. The properous English Philistine complains that Mr. Shaw is making a fool of him. Whereas Mr. Shaw is not in the least making a fool of him; Mr. Shaw is, with laborious lucidity, calling him a fool. G.B.S. calls a landlord a thief; and the landlord, instead of denying it, says, "Ah, that fellow hides his meaning so cleverly that one can never make out what he means, it is all so fine spun and fantastical." G.B.S. calls a statesman a liar to his face, and the statesman cries in a kind of ecstasy: "Ah, what quaint, intricate, and half-tangled trains of thought! Ah, what elusive and many-coloured mysteries of half-meaning!"

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