George Bernard Shaw
- "Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into a giant oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay!"
---George Bernard Shaw
Rynn Berry, historical adviser to the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS), writes in his 1993 book, Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes (Lives & Lore from Buddha to the Beatles):
"George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland on August 26, 1856, and died at 'Shaw's Corner' near London in 1950--a life that spanned almost ninety-five years. As an avowed ethical vegetarian, Shaw disdained attributing his longevity to his diet. Nevertheless, both his longevity and his extraordinary creative output as a man of letters reflect no discredit on his fleshless regime. The author of more than thirty plays that have become classics of the modern theater, Shaw also distinguished himself by turns as one of the greatest drama and music critics ever to have put pen to paper.
"The fifth edition (1954) of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, in its biographical article on Shaw, refers to him as 'one of the most brilliant critics, not only of the drama but also of music, who have ever worked in London, or indeed anywhere.' But it is chiefly as a writer of plays, and the prefaces to those plays--which critic John Mason Brown called, 'one of the glories of the language,' and 'in the best prose style since Swift'--that Shaw will be remembered.
"In the late thirties, Edmund Wilson wrote that Shaw's plays were outliving those of his contemporaries. This is no less true today than it was then. During a recent theater season in New York, three of Shaw's plays were running simultaneously, and playing to packed houses--Misalliance, Candida, and My Fair Lady (an adaption of his Pygmalion for the musical stage).
"In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He characteristically donated the entire amount to the Anglo-Swedish Foundation (to spread a knowledge of Scandinavian literature among English readers). On his death in 1950, Shaw left 367,233 pounds. It was one of the largest estates ever left by a writer.
"Not bad for an 'effete vegetarian.' Not bad for a poor Dublin lad whose early life held little promise of the man whom Irving Wardle, theater critic for The Times (London), recently called, 'the greatest world teacher to have arisen from these islands, the means by which countless adolescents have woken up and learned to think for themselves, the knight-errant intellectual who used his sword for common humanity.'"
"It is quite possible Shaw became a vegetarian and a teetotaler for the very reasons he gives--because he was inspired by the example of his hero, the poet Percy Shelley, an atheist, socialist, and a vegetarian. 'I was a cannibal,' admits Shaw, 'It was Shelley who first opened my eyes to the savagery of my diet.'"
In another account, Shaw relates that he was first exposed to the subject of vegetarianism through Shelley's poetry and dramatically asserts: "But of course the enormity of eating the scorched corpses of animals--cannibalism with its heroic dish omitted--becomes impossible the moment it becomes conscious instead of thoughtlessly habitual."
Although mentally precocious as a boy, Shaw acquired an early hatred of pedagogy and schoolmastering that never left him. "He who can, does; he who can't, teaches" is one of his famous sayings (from Man and Superman) in disparagement of teachers.
George Bernard Shaw became a vegetarian at age twenty-five. Shaw's doctors warned him that the diet would kill him. When an old man, he was asked why he didn't go back and show them what good it had done them. He replied, "I would, but they all passed away years ago." Once, someone asked him how it was that he looked so youthful. "I don't," Shaw retorted. "I look my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses?" On another occasion, Shaw remarked, "A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses."
George Bernard Shaw was once ridiculed at a dinner party by G.K. Chesterton, a connoisseur of food. The portly Chesterton commented: "Looking at you, Shaw, people would think there was a famine in England." Shaw retorted: "And looking at you, Chesterton, people would think that you were the cause of it."
"Strangely enough," writes Rynn Berry, "Shaw never raises the subject of vegetarianism in either of his plays, or their prefaces. In the prefaces he addresses topics that he felt were too controversial to be broached in his plays--such as marriage customs, creative evolution (his religion), vivisection, medical malpractice, and censorship. In view of his eagerness to take up the cudgels for such unpopular and idealistic causes as alphabet reform, Fabian socialism, and women's suffrage, it is odd that he should have written so little about vegetarianism. A play from his pen treating of vegetarianism--let's say a vegetarian Candida, or a vegetarian Pygmalion--would certainly have made it fashionable in London, and might well have sparked a worldwide dietary revolution. Yet in furtherance of vegetarianism he wrote no major essays, no books, no plays. It is a curious omission."
George Bernard Shaw, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, wrote:“There is not one word of Pauline Christianity in the characteristic utterances of Jesus…There has really never been a more monstrous imposition perpetrated than the imposition of Paul’s soul upon the soul of Jesus…It is now easy to understand how the Christianity of Jesus…was suppressed by the police and the Church, while Paulinism overran the whole western civilized world, which was at the time the Roman Empire, and was adopted by it as its official faith.”
On the connection between killing animals and killing human beings, Shaw wrote in "Song of Peace":
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread
We are sick of war, we do not want to fight
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead
If we thus treat, defenseless animals for sport or gain
How can we hope in this world to attain
The peace we say we are so anxious for?
We pray for it over hetatombs slain
Cruelty begets her offspring -- War
On various occasions, Shaw rejected efforts by his doctors to have him abandon the vegetarian diet. He proclaimed with mock solemnity: "Life is offered to me on condition of eating beefsteaks...But death is better than cannibalism. My will contains directions for my funeral which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry, and a small aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarfs in honor of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures."