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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A patriotic concert

Friday, December 4th., Thorpe-le-Soken.

Patriotic concert last night in the village schoolroom. Full. All the toffs of the village were there. Rev. Mathews and family dined with us before it. Most of the programme was given by soldiers, except one pro. It was far more amusing than one could have expected. Corporal Snell, with a really superb bass voice, sang two very patriotic, sentimental songs, sound in sentiment but extremely bad in expression. They would have been excruciating in an ordinary voice; but he was thrilling in them. Our Lieutenant Michaelis (a young Australian R.E. officer who is living with us at the moment) was there, after mining the roads, together with a number of his men. The great joke which appealed to parsons and everyone was of a fat lady sitting on a man's hat in a bus. "Madam, do you know what you are sitting on?" "I ought to. I've been sitting on it for 54 years."

This morning, with an endorsement by G.B.S. himself, I received a suggestion from Mark Judge that I should edit Shaw's Manifesto for volume publication.
My considered view is as follows:

"Mr. Bernard Shaw's "Common Sense About the War" is the talk of the town, and it deserves to be. One of its greatest values is its courage, for in it Shaw says many things no one else would have dared to say. It therefore, by breaking the unearthly silence on certain aspects of the situation, perhaps inaugurates a new and healthier period of discussion and criticism on such subjects as recruiting, treatment of soldiers and sailors' dependents, secret diplomacy, militarism, Junkerism, churches, Russia, peace terms, and disarmament. It contains the most magnificent, brilliant, and convincing common sense that could possibly be uttered. No citizen, I think, could rise from the perusal of this tract with a mind unilluminated or opinions unmodified. Hence everybody ought to read it, though everybody will not be capable of appreciating the profoundest parts of it.
Mixed up with the tremendous common sense, however, is a considerable and unusual percentage of that perverseness, waywardness, and harlequinading which are apparently an essential element of Mr. Shaw's best work. This is a disastrous pity, having regard to the immense influence and vogue of Shaw, not only in Germany, but in America, and the pity is more tragic as Shaw has been most absurd about the very matter which most Englishmen regard as most important, namely, Great Britain's actual justification for going to war.
Mr. Shaw's manifesto is lengthy and it will no doubt be reprinted in book form. I repeat what I said in my first paragraph as to the major part of it, but I assert that the objectionable part of the manifesto is so objectionable in its flippancy, in its perversity, in its injustice, and in its downright inexactitude as to amount to a scandal. Mr. Shaw has failed to realize either his own importance or the importance and very grave solemnity of the occasion. The present is no hour for that disingenuous, dialectical bravura which might excusably relieve a domestic altercation. Before reprinting Mr. Shaw should, I suggest; seriously reconsider his position and rewrite."


The outbreak of war in 1914 changed Shaw's life. For Shaw, the war represented the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, the last desperate gasps of the nineteenth-century empires, and a tragic waste of young lives, all under the guise of patriotism. He expressed his opinions in a series of newspaper articles under the title Common Sense About the War. These articles proved to be a disaster for Shaw's public stature: he was treated as an outcast in his adopted country, and there was even talk of his being tried for treason. His dramatic output ground to a halt, and he succeeded in writing only one major play during the war years, Heartbreak House, into which he projected his bitterness and despair about British politics and society.

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