George Bernard Shaw on Shelley - extracts from Shaw's diaries (1881-1892):
1881 [from brief notes written later]
Jan. Became a vegetarian, and remained so until June. [Shaw does not say *why* he became vegetarian, but some time later apparently said it was from reading the works of Shelley in the reading room of the British Museum. However, Shaw was already a huge fan of Wagner's music, and had reviewed Wagner conducting his own music at the Albert Hall in 1877. In october 1880 the entire issue of the Bayreuther Blatter was taken over with articles by Wagner which included his promotion of vegetarianism. The reading room would certainly have had a copy, but only in German.]
13. Wrote letters to Joynes and Sherlock (James Leigh Joynes, 1853-1893, an ex-master at Eton, forced out because of his S.D.F. activities, was a vegetarian and a Shelleyan.)
10. First meeting of the Shelley Society at the Botany Theatre, University College. Stopford Brooke on "Shelley as Poet and Man". (The inaugural meeting of the Shelley Society, at which Shaw is reputed - there is no record of it in the staid abstracts - to have declared, "I am, like Shelley, a Socialist, an Atheist and a Vegetarian.")
9. . . . subscription to Shelley Society £1/1/0
13. In the evening . . . read Shelley's Queen Mab for meeting tomorrow.
14. Shelley Society. Forman on Queen Mab. . . . Finished Queen Mab . . . Spoke at Shelley meeting.
7. Cenci performance (1st on record) at Grand Theatre, Islington. Shelley Society. (To evade state censorship legislation, the Shelley Society presented Shelley's notorious - it dealt with incest - verse drama, The Cenci, at the Grand Theatre, Islington, on the afternoon of 7 May 1886. By being open to Society members only, the play - refused a public license by the Lord Chamberlain - was technically a private performance. Shaw was in charge of promotion for the event, and gave away more press tickets than he should have, forcing him to wheedle several from the play's leading lady.)
11. Wrote Art Notes (on The Cenci) for Our Corner. (His long notice of the Shelley Society Cenci production, OC, June 1886, found the play more a curiosity than a theater piece.) [further comments on the production over the next few days]
12. Shelley Society, "Shelley's Religion" Read by (W.M.) Rosetti.
16. Shelley's Hellas at St. James's Hall. W. S. Selle's music. Shelley Society. [there had been other meetings of the Society which Shaw did not attend]
15. Shelley Society. W. M. Rosetti on "Prometheus Unbound". . . Reading Life of Mme Blavatsky . . . Spoke at Shelley Society. [Mme. Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society - of which Annie Besant became the chair in 1891. Shaw wrote a review of the book a couple of days later.]
9. Shelley Society, "Miss Alma Murray as Beatrice Cenci" B. L. Moseley . . . Spoke at the Shelley Society.
13. Shelley Society, A. Galt on "The Revolt of Islam," and H. B. Forman on "Shelley's Agitation for Reform in 1817." . . . Reading Wagner on conducting. Spoke at Shelley Society. [he reviewed the Wagner book for the Pall Mall Gazette]
14. Shelley Society, E. Aveling on "Shelley's Socialism. . . . Spoke at the Shelley . . . went home. . . Salt came part of the way with us. [The first specific mention of Salt in connection with the Shelley Society, but he was probably there from the start.]
8. Shelley Society [noted but did not attend, mentioned more meeting with the Salts and Joynes at the Wheatsheaf, Shaw's main vegetarian restaurant, this was also a regular occurrence]
14. Shelley Society. Rev. Prof. J. B. Mayor on "Shelley's Metres." [Mayor was the President of the original Manchester based Vegetarian Society, and a professor of Latin at Cambridge. Shaw noted this meeting, but again did not attend]
11. Shelley Society, H. S. Salt on "Julian and Maddalo" [the Shelley Soc. seems to be something of an alternative vegetarian society as Salt did not have a lot to do with the new London VegSoc either... Shaw attended this time and spoke there]
13. Shelley Society. H. Buxton Forman on "Rosalind and Helen" . . . Went to the Shelley Committee but did not stay for the meeting. [Shaw never made any specific mention of being elected to the committee, though he was probably on it from the start.] Went with Salt [presumably also on the committee] to Farringdon Rd. where I spoke [at the Fabian meeting]. Went with Mrs. Besant, who was in the chair . . . to the railway station. [these meetings with Salt and Mrs. Besant were fairly typical of the whole of this year]
19. Meeting of the Shelley Society Committee . . . was insufferably dull. [at some point Arnold Hills became involved with the Shelley Society, which probably didn't help as far as Shaw was concerned]
7. Spent the day making up my mind to pay up my arrears of subscriptions to the Shelley Society, Dialectical Society, and the Wagner Society. [He did renew all of them.]
13. Read a paper on "Shelley's Politics" to the Shelley Society, at University College. . . worked all afternoon at the Shelley lecture. There were only half a dozen people there. Walked a little way with Salt. . .
26. Shelley Society, Stopford Brooke on "The Lyric Poetry of Shelley." . . . At the Shelley affair I stood at the door with Forman and took the shillings.
9/10 [continuing references to Wagner's Parsifal, Mrs. Besant, Shelley Society, Henry & Kate Salt. These have all been around but nothing very significant at this time.]
26. Salt reads a paper on "Thoreau's Theory of Life" at "It." ("It" was a literary club) [Salt went on to write several books on Shelley, Thoreau etc.]
20. Dialectical Society, Capt. Ffoundes on "Theosophic Follies and Fallacies". Shelley Society, Committee. [Shaw noted them, but didn't make it to either of them - no record of whether Annie Besant went to the Dialectical as she was, by now, very much into theosophy.]
12. Shelley Society. Wagner Society [these seemed to clash regularly on Wednesday evenings. Shaw went to the Wagner this time, though in one of his columns he described it as 'badly and wastefully managed'.]
12. On our way back I stopped at Salts' and had tea there. When I returned . . . I wrote some stuff for The Star about Salt's forthcoming lecture at the Shelley Society. (Four unsigned paragraphs . . . The Star, 14 October 1890. "It is an open secret that the bulk of the members [of the Shelley Society] hold Shelley's opinions in abhorrence, and, indeed, regard the Society as a genteel conspiracy to maintain that the poet was a devout upholder of the Church of England and a strict monogamist. One of the most awful blows the society ever received was at one of its earliest public meetings [March 10, 1886], when Bernard Shaw, with an ingenious air of having something particularly acceptable to communicate, got up and began, 'Mr. Chairman: I am a socialist, an atheist, and a vegetarian, and therefore feel that all true Shellyans will welcome my presence here this evening.' &c. &c. Whenever a lecture is delivered to the Society by anyone whose opinions in the least resemble Shelley's the committee invariably stays away, with the exception of William Rosetti, who never flinches from his place in the chair, the indomitable Furnivall, and Mr. Salt . . . . the mildest-mannered man that ever defied society.")
17. Sunday. Go up to Salts' to tea at 18 and go with H.S. [Henry Salt] to his paper on Shelley at the Anarchist place. . .
11. Meeting of Shelley Society to discuss Centenary Celebration, University College. 20. [Shaw put this in the dairy, but did not attend]
13. Meet [Henry] Salt at the Wheatsheaf at 14 and go on with him to see G. W. Foote about the proposed Shelley celebration. Postponed.
10. Was commissioned by the Shelley Committee to take a in hand business of getting a cast for the performance of The Cenci. [Shelley's play which was banned from public performance as it was about incest, they were planning a private showing. Much letter writing followed in the next few days]
9-11. Shelley Society. Cenci Committee. University College. Miss Burney to recite Beatrice (Cenci) [followed by two days Cenci readings with Florence Farr, Henry Salt etc]
4. Cenci Committee. Aerated Bread Shop, Rathbone Place [the next few days saw more meetings and letter writing about The Cenci both at Oxted and in London]
25. Shelley Commemoration Dinner. Wheatsheaf Restaurant. Rathbone Place. 18. - I did not go to the Wheatsheaf until 19. Spoke after the "Banquet". Then hurried off to the meeting at Burton Crescent... ("A Feast for Faddists," Pall Mall Gazette, 27 June 1892. "Mr. Bernard Shaw regretted that Shelley's artistic excellence, now beyond question, overshadowed his importance as a leader of thought.")
14. Cenci scenes, Bedford Park Club. [This appears to be as near as they got to a performance]
15. Wrote notice of The Cenci for The Chronicle ("A Shelley Celebration," Daily Chronicle, 16 July 1892)
3. Wrote puffs of Shelley affair and sent them off to Star and Chronicle. (Only The Star printed his piece, as "Shelley's Birthday," 4 August 1892.)
4. Speak at Shelley Celebration at the Hall of Science. Shelley Celebration at Horsham. . . . back to town with Salt. Salt and I went to the Hall of Science. (In London, Shaw, according to Henry Salt's memoirs, "convulsed the audience by his description of the Horsham apologetics of local dignitaries trying to whitewash Shelley's character." The Shelley Celebration was ironically described in "Shaming the Devil About Shelley," The Albermarle, September 1892.)
6. Worked so hard at the article on Shelley for The Albermarle in the train [to Marple, near Manchester] that I felt quite sick during the last 15 minutes of the journey. . . . [completed and sent over the next few days]
7. Shelley Celebration at South Place Chapel. Paper by H. S. Salt. [noted in diary, didn't go but met Salt during the day]