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George Bernard Shaw
Anglo-Irish dramatist and socialist
(1856-1950)



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I know Miss Warren is a great devotee of the Gospel of Getting On.
-- Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893)

Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
-- Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

Again, there is the illusion of "increased command over Nature," meaning that cotton is cheap and that ten miles of country road on a bicycle have replaced four on foot. But even if man's increased command over Nature included any increased command over himself (the only sort of command relevant to his evolution into a higher being), the fact remains that it is only by running away from the increased command over Nature to country places where Nature is still in primitive command over Man that he can recover from the effects of the smoke, the stench, the foul air, the overcrowding, the racket, the ugliness, the dirt which the cheap cotton costs us.
-- Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Notes

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.
-- Arms and the Man (1898), Act 1

We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.
-- Candida (1898), Act 1

It is easy -- terribly easy -- to shake a man's faith in himself. To take take advantage of that to break a man's spirit is devil's work.
-- Candida (1898), Act 1

There is nothing so bad or so good that you will not find Englishmen doing it; but you will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles; he bullies you on manly principles; he supports his king on loyal principles and cuts his head off on republican principles.
-- The Man of Destiny (1898)

If you leave your art, the world will beat you back to it. The world has not an ambition worth sharing, or a prize worth handling. Corrupt successes, disgraceful failures, or sheeplike vegetation are all it has to offer. I prefer Art, which gives me a sixth sense of beauty, with self-respect: perhaps also an immortal reputation in return for honest endeavour in a labour of love.
-- Love Among the Artists (1900)

Geniuses are horrid, intolerant, easily offended, sleeplessly self-conscious men, who expect their wives to be angels with no further business in life than to pet and worship their husbands. Even at the best they are not comfortable men to live with; and a perfect husband is one who is perfectly comfortable to live with.
-- Love Among the Artists (1900)

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inumanity.
-- The Devil's Disciple (1901), Act 2

SWINDON: What will history say?
BURGOYNE: History, sir, will tell lies as usual.
-- The Devil's Disciple (1901), Act 3

The British soldier can stand up to anything except the Britsh War Office.
-- The Devil's Disciple (1901), Act 3

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

A lifetime of happiness: no man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, soon than work at anything but his art.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

Englishmen will never be slaves: they are free to do whatever the Government and public opinion allow them to do.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

In the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself; and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaugher of plague, pestilience and famine.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

As an old soldier I admit the cowardice; it's as universal as sea sickness, and matters just as little.
-- Man and Superman (1903)

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-- Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.
-- Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)

Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.
-- Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)

Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.
-- Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)





The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty ... our first duty -- a duty to which every other consideration should be sacrificed -- is not to be poor.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Preface

Society, with all its prisons and bayonets and whips and ostracisms and starvations, is powerless in the face of the Anarchist who is prepared to sacrifice his own life in the battle with it. Our natural safety from the cheap and devastating explosives which every Russian student can make ... lies in the fact that brave and resolute men, when they are rascals, will not risk their skins for the good of humanity, and, when they are sympathetic enough to care for humanity, abhor murder, and never commit it until their consciences are outraged beyond endurance. The remedy is, then, simply not to outrage their consciences.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Preface

You cannot have power for good without having power for evil too. Even mother's milk nourishes murderers as well as heroes.
-- Major Barbara (1907)

My religion? Well, my dear, I am a Millionaire. That is my religion.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Act 2

I can't talk religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Act 2

Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Act 3

Like all young men, you greatly exaggerate the difference between one young woman and another.
-- Major Barbara (1907), Act 3

It is not the sale of my soul that troubles me: I have sold it too often to care about that. I have sold it for a professorship. I have sold it for an income. ... What is all human conduct but the daily and hourly sale of our souls for trifles?
-- Major Barbara (1907)

A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation's nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again.
-- John Bull's Other Island (1907), Preface

You cannot be a hero without being a coward.
-- John Bull's Other Island (1907), Preface

An Irishman's heart is nothing but his imagination.
-- John Bull's Other Island (1907), Act 1

What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering.
-- John Bull's Other Island (1907), Act 4

Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.
-- The Showing-up of Blanco Posnet (1911)

All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
-- The Doctor's Dilemma (1911), Act I

Revolutionary movements attract those who are not good enough for established institutions as well as those who are too good for them.
-- Androcles and the Lion (1913)

In fact, no sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of superstition than Paul boldly set it on its legs again in the name of Jesus.
-- Androcles and the Lion (1913)

It's all the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date.
-- Fanny's First Play (1914)

It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.
-- Pygmalion (1916), Preface

I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady.
-- Pygmalion (1916), Act 2

PICKERING: Have you no morals, man?
DOOLITTLE: Can't afford them, Governor.
-- Pygmalion (1916), Act 2

I'm one of the undeserving poor ... up agen middle-class morality all the time ... What is middle-class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.
-- Pygmalion (1916), Act 2

Walk! Not bloody likely.
-- Pygmalion (1916), Act 3

All great truths begin as blasphemies.
-- Annajanska (1917)

Go anywhere in England where there are natural, wholesome, contented, and really nice English people; and what do you always find? That the stables are the real centre of the household.
-- Heartbreak House (1919), Act 3

The captain is in his bunk, drinking bottled ditchwater; and the crew is gambling in the forecastle. She will strike and split and sink. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favour of England because you were born in it?
-- Heartbreak House (1919), Act 3

Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues, your toys and your dolls.
-- Back to Methuselah (1921)

They have redeemed themselves from their vileness, and turned away from their sins. Best of all, they are still not satisfied...
-- Back to Methuselah (1921)

Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
-- Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923), epilogue

It is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to think otherwise than in the fashion of their own period.
-- Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)

One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who haven't and don't.
-- The Apple Cart (1928), Act I

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
-- Everybody's Political What's What? (1944), Ch. 30


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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