George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

(George) Bernard Shaw (July 26, 1856 – November 2, 1950) was an Irish playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and the Academy Award in 1938 for Pygmalion. After those of William Shakespeare, Shaw's plays are some of the most widely produced in English language theatre.

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George Bernard Shaw Quotes

A broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for a man in London if he has a comfortable income.

A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.

A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.

A genius can't be forced; nor can you make an ape an alderman.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

A happy family is but an earlier heaven.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

A little learning is a dangerous thing, but we must take that risk because a little is as much as our biggest heads can hold.

A man never tells you anything until you contradict him.

A man of great common sense and good taste - meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage.

A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows.

A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell.

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.

All great truths begin as blasphemies.

All my life affection has been showered upon me, and every forward step I have made has been taken in spite of it.

Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one.

Americans adore me and will go on adoring me until I say something nice about them.

An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.

An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for the blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it.

An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.

An index is a great leveller.

Animals are my friends... and I don't eat my friends.

Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.

Baseball has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended.

Beauty is a short-lived tyranny.

Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days?

Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself.

Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self interest backed by force.

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.

Choose silence of all virtues, for by it you hear other men's imperfections, and conceal your own.

Clever and attractive women do not want to vote; they are willing to let men govern as long as they govern men.

Crude classifications and false generalizations are the curse of organized life.

Cruelty would be delicious if one could only find some sort of cruelty that didn't really hurt.

Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.

Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.

Do not try to live forever. You will not succeed.

Do not waste your time on Social Questions. What is the matter with the poor is Poverty; what is the matter with the rich is Uselessness.

England and America are two countries separated by the same language.

Every man over forty is a scoundrel.

Every person who has mastered a profession is a skeptic concerning it.

Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.

Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does.

Fashions are the only induced epidemics, proving that epidemics can be induced by tradesmen.

Few of us have vitality enough to make any of our instincts imperious.

Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.

Find enough clever things to say, and you're a Prime Minister; write them down and you're a Shakespeare.

First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity.

Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature!

General consultant to mankind.

Give a man health and a course to steer, and he'll never stop to trouble about whether he's happy or not.

Hatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated.

He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

He's a man of great common sense and good taste - meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage.

Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.

Hell is full of musical amateurs.

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo.

How can what an Englishman believes be hearsay? It is a contradiction in terms.

I absolutely forbid any such outrage.

I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.

I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

I never resist temptation, because I have found that things that are bad for me do not tempt me.

I never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer. Inside the cage he is at least safe from people.

I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.

I want to be all used up when I die.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

I'm an atheist and I thank God for it.

I'm only a beer teetotaller, not a champagne teetotaller.

If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion.

If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.

If parents would only realize how they bore their children!

If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance.

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

If you injure your neighbour, better not do it by halves.

If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.

In a battle all you need to make you fight is a little hot blood and the knowledge that it's more dangerous to lose than to win.

In heaven an angel is nobody in particular.

In this world there is always danger for those who are afraid of it.

Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.

It is most unwise for people in love to marry.

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion.

It's so hard to know what to do when one wishes earnestly to do right.

Lack of money is the root of all evil.

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart's desire; the other is to get it.

Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

Life levels all men. Death reveals the eminent.

Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else.

Man can climb to the highest summits, but he cannot dwell there long.

Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open.

Martyrdom: The only way a man can become famous without ability.

Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.

Men have to do some awfully mean things to keep up their respectability.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles.

Most people do not pray; they only beg.

My reputation grows with every failure.

Never fret for an only son, the idea of failure will never occur to him.

Never waste jealousy on a real man: it is the imaginary man that supplants us all in the long run.

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.

No man who is occupied in doing a very difficult thing, and doing it very well, ever loses his self-respect.

No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.

Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.

Nothing is worth doing unless the consequences may be serious.

Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no sincerer love than the love of food.

Only on paper has humanity yet achieved glory, beauty, truth, knowledge, virtue, and abiding love.

Parentage is a very important profession, but no test of fitness for it is ever imposed in the interest of the children.

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.

Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.

People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them.

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to the country and to mankind is to bring up a family.

Political necessities sometime turn out to be political mistakes.

Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.

Property is organized robbery.

Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman, but believing what he read made him mad.

Science never solves a problem without creating ten more.

Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.

She had lost the art of conversation but not, unfortunately, the power of speech.

Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.

Socialism is the same as Communism, only better English.

Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.

Syllables govern the world.

Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.

The art of government is the organisation of idolatry.

The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.

The British soldier can stand up to anything except the British War Office.

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

The faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier.

The fickleness of the women I love is only equalled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me.

The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.

The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.

The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.

The liar's punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.

The love of economy is the root of all virtue.

The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and about all time.

The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty-stricken man makes the same mistake about the rich man.

The minority is sometimes right; the majority always wrong.

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.

The natural term of the affection of the human animal for its offspring is six years.

The only secrets are the secrets that keep themselves.

The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.

The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can't find them, make them.

The perfect love affair is one which is conducted entirely by post.

The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.

The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation.

The test of a man or woman's breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.

The things most people want to know about are usually none of their business.

The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.

The truth is, hardly any of us have ethical energy enough for more than one really inflexible point of honor.

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.

There are only two classes in good society in England: the equestrian classes and the neurotic classes.

There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.

There is no satisfaction in hanging a man who does not object to it.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.

Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. That is what it is for. Spend all you have before you die; do not outlive yourself.

Very few people can afford to be poor.

Virtue is insufficient temptation.

Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.

We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.

We learn from experience that men never learn anything from experience.

We must always think about things, and we must think about things as they are, not as they are said to be.

What Englishman will give his mind to politics as long as he can afford to keep a motor car?

What is virtue but the Trade Unionism of the married?

What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

When a man says money can do anything, that settles it: he hasn't got any.

When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.

When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.

Which painting in the National Gallery would I save if there was a fire? The one nearest the door of course.

Why should we take advice on sex from the pope? If he knows anything about it, he shouldn't!

Why, except as a means of livelihood, a man should desire to act on the stage when he has the whole world to act in, is not clear to me.

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

You are going to let the fear of poverty govern you life and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.

You can always tell an old soldier by the inside of his holsters and cartridge boxes. The young ones carry pistols and cartridges; the old ones, grub.

You cannot be a hero without being a coward.

You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"

You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.

Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.

Youth is wasted on the young.

Quotes originally compiled by

George Bernard Shaw Chronological Biography

1852 George Carr Shaw and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly marry.

1853 Lucinda Frances Shaw is born.

1855 Elinor Agnes Shaw is born.

1856 George Bernard Shaw born, 26 July.

1866 Shaw’s parents form ménage à trois at Torca Cottage with George Vandeleur Lee.

1867 Lee moves into Hatch Street residence.

1871 Leaves school, becomes a clerk.

1872 Juvenile literary collaboration with Matthew Edward McNulty.

1873 Mother emigrates to London.

1876 Sister Elinor Agnes dies on the Isle of Wight, 27 March. Shaw emigrates to London, 31 March.

1877 Does ghostwriting for Lee (begun November 1876).

1878 My Dear Dorothea and Passion Play (latter was unfinished).

1879 Completes Immaturity, first novel, and tries work at the Edison Telephone Company.

1880 Begins addressing audiences at Zetetical Society. Writes second novel, The Irrational Knot. Meets Sidney Webb.

1881 Becomes a vegetarian. Begins third novel. Contracts smallpox.

1882 Completes third novel, Love Among the Artists. Meets Alice Lockett. Hears Henry George speak.

1883 Completes fourth novel, Cashel Byron’s Profession. Competes in amateur boxing championships. Reads Karl Marx. Writes fifth novel, An Unsocial Socialist.

1884 Joins Fabian Society. Abortive dramatic collaboration with William Archer. A serialized Unsocial Socialist attracts the attention of William Morris.

1885 Father dies. Begins wearing Jaeger wool. Begins affair with Jenny Patterson. “Mystic Betrothal” to May Morris. Frequent visits to cottage of Henry and Kate Salt; Edward Carpenter also frequent visitor. Book reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette (to December 1888).

1886 George Vandeleur Lee dies. Writes art criticism for The World (through November 1890).

1887 Intimate friendship with Annie Besant. Speaks and marches in socialist demonstration on Bloody Sunday, in Trafalgar Square.

1888 Havelock Ellis invites a contribution to his Contemporary Science series. Involved with numerous women. Busy journalist, Fabian speaker.

1889 Writes music criticism as “Corno di Bassetto” in The Star (through May 1890). Edits Fabian Essays, writes two. Protests Labouchere Ammendment.

1890 Meets Florence Farr. Music critic “G.B.S.” in The World (through August 1894).

1891 The Quintessence of Ibsenism.

1892 Ménage à trois with May Morris and H. H. Sparling begins in December. Completes Widowers’ Houses (begun 1884).

1893 Ends affair with Jenny Patterson. Writes The Philanderer, Mrs. Warren’s Profession (banned by censor).

1894 Completes Arms and the Man, writes Candida. Edward Carpenter’s Homogenic Love published (appears January 1895).

1895 Writes The Man of Destiny. A Degenerate’s View of Nordau (revised as The Sanity of Art, 1908). Oscar Wilde imprisoned.

1895-1898 Writes theater criticism for The Saturday Review.

1895-1900 Maintains “paper courtship” with Ellen Terry.

1896 Meets Charlotte Payne-Townshend. Completes You Never Can Tell, writes The Devil’s Disciple.

1897 Elected vestryman, St. Pancras ward. Havelock Ellis publishes Sexual Inversion.

1898 Health breaks down. Marries Charlotte Payne-Townshend. Defends George Bedborough, who was arrested for selling Sexual Inversion. Writes The Perfect Wagnerite, Caesar and Cleopatra.

1899 Convalesces, writes Captain Brassbound’s Conversion.

1900 Casts Harley Granville Barker as Eugene Marchbanks in Candida.

1901 Writes The Admirable Bashville.

1902 Completes Man and Superman (published 1903).

1903 Works with Harley Granville Barker in staging The Admirable Bashville at the Imperial Theatre.

1904 Writes John Bull’s Other Island, How He Lied to Her Husband.

1904-1907 Provides most of the financial backing for the Royal Court Theatre venture of John Eugene Vedrenne and Harley Granville Barker.

1905 Writes Major Barbara.

1906 Harley Granville Barker marries Lillah McCarthy. Writes The Doctor’s Dilemma.

1908 Completes Getting Married.

1909 Writes The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet (banned by censor), Press Cuttings (banned by censor), The Fascinating Foundling, Misalliance.

1910 Writes The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

1911 Completes Fanny’s First Play.

1912 Writes Androcles and the Lion; writes Pygmalion; infatuated with his Eliza, Mrs. Patrick Campbell; writes Overruled.

1913 Mother dies. Writes Great Catherine.

1914 Common Sense About the War appears.

1915 Writes playlets The Inca of Perusalem, O’Flaherty, V.C.

1916 Fails to persuade Barker not to leave Lillah McCarthy for Helen Huntington. Begins Heartbreak House.

1917 Completes Heartbreak House (published 1919), writes Augustus Does His Bit, Annajanska.

1918-1920 Back to Methuselah (published 1921).

1920 Sister Lucinda Frances dies.

1921 Completes translation and adaptation of Jitta’s Atonement, drama by Siegfried Trebitsch, his German translator.

1922 Meets T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).

1923 Writes Saint Joan. T.E. Lawrence calls himself T.E. Shaw.

1924 William Archer dies. Edits Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, published 1926.

1925 Shaw publicly embarrasses Barker.

1926 Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (for 1925).

1927 Completes The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.

1928 Writes Apple Cart. Protests censorship of Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. Meets Gene Tunney.

1929 Vacations with Gene Tunney on Italian isle of Brioni. Writes a preface to the Ellen Terry correspondence (published 1931). Addresses the International Congress of the World League for Sexual Reform.

1930-1938 Collected edition of works appears.

1931 Visits Russia, meets Josef Stalin, Maxim Gorki, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Meets Mahatma Gandhi. Writes Too True to Be Good.

1932 Writes and publishes The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, a fable.

1933 First visit to America. Writes Village Wooing, On the Rocks.

1934 Writes The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, The Millionairess, The Six of Calais.

1936 Writes Geneva (final revision 1947), Cymbeline Refinished.

1938 Edits Oscar Wilde, by Frank Harris.

1939 Wins Academy Award for the screenplay of Pygmalion (for 1938). Completes In Good King Charles’s Golden Days.

1943 Charlotte Shaw dies.

1944 Publishes Everybody’s Political What’s What? a labor of several years.

1946 Harley Granville Barker dies. Writes a tribute to him.

1947 Completes Buoyant Billions.

1948 Writes Farfetched Fables.

1949 Writes Shakes Versus Shaw. Publishes Sixteen Self Sketches. Revises Harley Granville-Barker, by Hesketh Pearson.

1950 Writes Why She Would Not to celebrate his ninety-fourth birthday. Works on Bernard Shaw’s Rhyming Picture Guide to Ayot Saint Lawrence. George Bernard Shaw dies in November.

Biographical Source - Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman, Sally Peters, Yale University Press, 1996.

Original chronology compiled by ShawChicago

George Bernard Shaw Biography

"My life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is a privilege to do for it whatsoever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
Shaw, at Brighton, 1907

For specific dates and information, see Shaw's Chronology. Also, check out the Shaw Links page for further research.

Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland on July 26, 1856, to George Carr Shaw, who was in the wholesale grain trade, and Lucinda Elisabeth (Gurly) Shaw. Experiencing poverty and a troubled family life at an early age, Shaw took refuge in reading books such as The Arabian Nights, The Pilgrim's Progress, Shakespeare, the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the poetry of Byron and Shelley. He claimed he had been fascinated by the novels of Charles Dickens, eagerly devouring the melodrama of Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities by the age of seven.

In 1866 the family moved into a better neighborhood. Shaw went to the Wesleyan Connexional School, then moved to a private school near Dalkey, then to Dublin's Central Model School and ended his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. Despite all his schooling, he claimed that he "had learned little and was largely self-educated."

At the age of 15 he went to work as a junior clerk. In 1876 he moved to London, joining his sister and mother, who had created a career as a music teacher. Shaw did not return to Ireland for nearly thirty years.

Seeing himself as not having "any real work" in London, Shaw set out to become a novelist, but with little success. Between 1879 and 1884, he produced five books: Immaturity, The Irrational Knot, Love Among the Artists, Cashel Byron's Profession and An Unsocial Socialist.

The literary world was relatively unimpressed with his novelistic talents, so Shaw turned to art, music and drama criticism, churning out over a million words which he said, in later years, were unintelligible and outdated. His criticism appeared in the The Star (1886-1890), the Pall Mall Gazette (1885 - 1889), The World (1890 - 1894) and The Saturday Review (1895 - 1898). His music criticism has been collected in Shaw's Music (1981).

In 1884, Shaw joined the Fabian Society, a middle-class socialist group, which also attracted H.G. Wells. He served on its executive committee from 1885 to 1911. As a public speaker, Shaw gained status as one of the most sought-after orators in England.

It was in London that Shaw became acquainted with his two most famous Irish literary contemporaries, Yeats and Oscar Wilde, and formed rather uneasy friendships with both. Yeats and Shaw spent much time with William Morris, Yeats appreciating the arts and crafts side of Morris, and Shaw more the political and socialist side. They shared the same mistress, the actress Florence Farr, who produced a season of plays by Irish writers backed by Annie Horniman, later the benefactress of the Abbey Theatre. When Yeats and Todhunter's plays failed, Florence appealed to Shaw to save the season. He gave her the play he had just finished writing, Arms and the Man. It became his first popular success.

In 1898, at the age of forty-two, and after thirteen years of philandering, he married Charlotte Payne Townshend, a wealthy Irish woman and fellow Fabian. Neither wished to marry, but Shaw, under the misapprehension that he was dying, proposed to her, offering her widowhood. It was an unorthodox, but happy marriage that lasted until Charlotte's death in 1943.

In 1904 Shaw wrote his 'Irish' play John Bull's Other Island, which began his wide popularity in England and abroad. John Bull's Other Island was staged at the Royal Court Theatre where its success put the seal on his reputation as a dramatist in London.

Shaw lived and worked over an enormous period of time. As a playwright he made the most comprehensive contribution to dramatic literature in the English language, writing over fifty plays and creating a string of masterpieces which continue to be widely performed, including: Arms and the Man, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, Pygmalion (later adapted as My Fair Lady), Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah and Saint Joan. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1925.

In the last three decades of his life Bernard Shaw's fame as sage, mystic and prophet was widespread; he was probably one of the most quoted individuals of his time. In his native Ireland he was known as a communist and an atheist. Most of Shaw's contemporaries regarded him as an irritating but talented egotist. Shaw perhaps summed it up best himself when he said "I am not altogether an orthodox man".

In 1947 when he was 92 he wrote: " I cannot hold my tongue nor my pen. As long as I live I must write. If I stopped writing I should die for wanting something to do." Shaw died in 1950 at the age of 94.

Original biography compiled by ShawChicago

(For more information see Wikipedia)


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