Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
he does express an opinion on everything—­without making a multitude of people shake their fists in impotent anger.  His life—­at least, his public life—­has been a jibe opposed to a rage.  He has gone about, like a pickpocket of illusions, from the world of literature to the world of morals, and from the world of morals to the world of politics, and, everywhere he has gone, an innumerable growl has followed him.

Not that he has not had his disciples—­men and women who believe that what Mr. Shaw says on any conceivable subject is far more important than what The Times or the Manchester Guardian says.  He has never founded a church, however, because he has always been able to laugh at his disciples as unfeelingly as at anybody else.  He has courted unpopularity as other men have courted popularity.  He has refused to assume the vacuous countenance either of an idol or a worshipper, and in the result those of us to whom life without reverence seems like life in ruins are filled at times with a wild lust to denounce and belittle him.  He has been called more names than any other man of letters alive.  When all the other names have been exhausted and we are about to become inarticulate, we even denounce him as a bore.  But this is only the Billingsgate of our exasperation.  Mr. Shaw is not a bore, whatever else he may be.  He has succeeded in the mere business of interesting us beyond any other writer of his time.

He has succeeded in interesting us largely by inventing himself as a public figure, as Oscar Wilde and Stevenson did before him.  Whether he could have helped becoming a figure, even if he had never painted that elongated comic portrait of himself, it is difficult to say.  Probably he was doomed to be a figure just as Dr. Johnson was.  If he had not told us legends about himself, other people would have told them, and they could scarcely have told them so well:  that would have been the chief difference.  Even if Mr. Shaw’s plays should ever become as dead as the essays in The Rambler, his lineaments and his laughter will survive in a hundred stories which will bring the feet of pilgrims to Adelphi Terrace in search of a ghost with its beard on fire.

His critics often accuse him, in regard to the invention of the Shaw myth, of having designed a poster rather than painted a portrait.  And Mr. Shaw always hastens to agree with those who declare he is an advertiser in an age of advertisement.  M. Hamon quotes him as saying:—­

Stop advertising myself!  On the contrary, I must do it more than ever.  Look at Pears’s Soap.  There is a solid house if you like, but every wall is still plastered with their advertisements.  If I were to give up advertising, my business would immediately begin to fall off.  You blame me for having declared myself to be the most remarkable man of my time.  But the claim is an arguable one.  Why should I not say it when I believe that it is true?
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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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