Born in Synge Street, Portobello, Dublin on this day in 1856 Bernard Shaw makes it onto my page more as a playwright as he was not really a poet. I know of only one poem that he wrote and that is satirical. in 1924 and 1925 a writer by the name of Herbert Langford Reed published two anthologies of Limericks.
Langford took a poetic form that was widely employed to tell rude jokes with sexual innuendo and cleaned it up for publication. The result is a lot of sanitized and frankly unremarkable pieces of doggerel. Shaw’s limerick is the perfect critique of the work of Langford Reed.
Shaw himself is rightly seen as a giant of the literature world. How many writers get their own adjective? When you describe something in the manner of Bernard Shaw you call it “Shavian”. It may also be employed as a noun to identify a fan of Shaw.
A prolific writer of brilliant, intelligent and witty drama, rightly a Nobel Laureate. Shaw was less successful with his pursuit of the 20th Century novel and turned down opportunities to pen librettos for opera with Elgar. He was a friend of the Irish Literary Revival, a member of the Protestant ascendancy, albeit at the poorer end, he connected with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell, James Joyce and was friend and inspiration to Sean O’Casey who became a playwright after seeing “John Bull’s Other Island” the play that made Edward VII laugh so hard he broke his chair.
When John Millington Synge passed away Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the post as director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to Shaw, but he declined.
Although he never returned to live here he maintained his links with Ireland throughout his life and in his will he bequeathed the rights of several of his plays to the National Art Gallery in Dublin. One of the plays, Pygmalion, was given a musical overhaul by Lerner and Loewe in 1956 and became the smash hit musical “My Fair Lady” making the art gallery wealthy in the process.
Contemporary with Oscar Wilde and both leading lights on the London theatre scene at the very height of its prominence. Shaw was the later arrival, Wilde already a celebrated star before Shaw emerged on the scene. It is said that Shaw admired all Wilde’s work until “The Importance of Being Ernest” which he detested.
Shaw was a mixed bag. For all you find to love in him you will find plenty to dislike. He was a eugenicist, an anti-vaxxer, he admired aspects of fascism and Hitler, met Stalin and described him as a Georgian Gentleman, was opposed to anti-semetism and his views on religion and spirituality are confusing, conflicting and contradictory. His sexuality is a matter for debate, he was painfully shy and celibate until age 29 and did not marry until age 42 to a woman of his own age.
Langford Reed saved the limerick verse: by George Bernard Shaw
Langford Reed saved the limerick verse,
From being taken away in a hearse.
He made it so clean
Now it’s fit for a queen,
Re-established for better or worse.