George Bernard Shaw was born in 1856 in Dublin, to a father who was a failed merchant with a serious drinking problem and a mother who was a professional singer. His father once visited a Dublin surgeon to try and get his eye squint corrected. That surgeon happened to be the very successful father of Oscar Wilde. The treatment was not successful.
At the age of 16, Shaw lived through the breakup of his parent’s marriage, as his mother left to live with her singing coach. Shaw stayed with his father, managing to get through school and an early career as a clerk in an estate office, both of which he hated.
In 1876, Shaw moved to London, where he became a unique combination of writer, journalist, politician and celebrity. He often stood on a box in the speaker’s corner of London’s Hyde Park to hold forth on his socialist political views, in spite of a bad stammer and terrible stage fright.
He wrote a variety of plays – some political and some more personal – including Pygmalion, which was later re-written as My Fair Lady for Broadway. Believing that World War One confirmed that capitalist society was bankrupt, Shaw focused more and more on political issues in plays like Heartbreak House and Too True to Be Good. His plays made him an international celebrity.
In 1950, at age 94, he fell off a ladder while trimming a tree at his home near London. The injuries he sustained in the fall lead to his death just a few days later. His dry sense of humor still feels wonderfully contemporary.
"Americans adore me and will go on adoring me until I say something nice about them."
"A doctor's reputation is made by the number of eminent men who die under his care."
"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."
"I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation."
"A happy family is but an earlier heaven."
"Hell is full of musical amateurs."
"A day's work is a day's work, neither more nor less, and the man who does it needs a day's sustenance, a night's repose and due leisure, whether he be painter or ploughman."
"A learned man is an idler who kills time with study. Beware of his false knowledge: it is more dangerous than ignorance."
"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing."
"A man never tells you anything until you contradict him."
"A man ought to be able to be fond of his wife without making a fool of himself about her."
"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell."
"Lack of money is the root of all evil."
"Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough."
"Alcohol is a very necessary article... It makes life bearable to millions of people who could not endure their existence if they were quite sober. It enables Parliament to do things at eleven at night that no sane person would do at eleven in the morning."
"Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life."
"All great truths begin as blasphemies."
"All professions are conspiracies against the laity."
"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."