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[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

The New York Public Library’s quirky Arents Tobacco Collection and its huge Manuscripts and Archives Division contain generous handfuls of Shavian holographic gems. The principal draw for researchers, however, is the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection with its full card-catalogue drawer—roughly 1500 cards—itemizing a treasury of Bernard Shaw holdings, [End Page 160] many still unpublished or published only in part. But first, what of the scores of other drawers? The core of the Berg Collection of first editions, original manuscripts, and autograph letters by English and American men and women of letters, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was brought together by two brothers, both distinguished New York City physicians. In 1940 Dr. Albert A. Berg presented it to the NYPL in memory of his brother and co-collector, Henry W. The collection now numbers approximately 35,000 pieces of printed material and 115,000 manuscripts or corrected typescripts. The Shavian holdings include nearly 700 of his letters; around 125 manuscripts, ranging from such trivialities as royalty receipts to such special items as the corrected typescript of You Never Can Tell; nearly two hundred first-edition books; many of his most obscure pamphlets and broadsides; some thirty photos and portraits and twenty-five self-caricatures; and an impressive gathering of rough proofs/rehearsal copies. The richest finds are among the correspondence and manuscripts.

A good deal of the correspondence is unpublished, including runs of letters to translators. The largest such holding, 560 items, is to Shaw’s German translator. While much of it appeared in Samuel A. Weiss’s Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch, there remain some seventy notes, wires, acknowledgments, and such that Weiss excluded. Also unpublished—and considerably more interesting—are sixty-five letters and cards to Trebitsch from Shaw’s wife, Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, which record a growing friendship over the decades. Rewarding, too, are the thirty letters that Shaw sent to his Swedish translator, Hugo Vallentin, and Vallentin’s secretary and successor, Ebba Byström, along with another dozen to his Polish translator, Floryan Sobieniowski. These illuminate the practical problems attendant on worldwide translation and production of Shaw’s plays. (Elsewhere in the collection is a typescript with holograph corrections entitled “Caesar and Cleopatra Prologue as adapted for the Polish Stage by the translator Floryan Sobieniowski,” dated 19 September 1928.)

While browsing through the correspondence, I was captured by the thirty-five letters to Henry S. Salt (1851–1939), only six of which appear in the Shaw Collected Letters. Read together, they betray a longing in Shaw for the relatively simple life led by Salt, who was an Eton master for a time and secretary of the Humanitarian League. The Salt letters, written over a span of nearly sixty years until Salt’s death, also sound many of Shaw’s familiar political themes, as does the intense correspondence with other devotees of the socialist movement of the 1880s and 1890s—James Leigh Joynes, Edward Carpenter, H.M. Hyndman, William Morris, and the American novelist and social philosopher Hamlin Garland. Literary finds in the collection are letters to and from Yeats and Lady Gregory that relate [End Page 161] to the first production of The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet and to the aborted effort to produce John Bull’s Other Island at the Irish Literary Theatre. And one should not pass over the letters, though not many, to Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Thomas Hardy, Lord Dunsany, St. John Ervine, and Cecil Lewis (who directed films of Arms and the Man and How He Lied to Her Husband and worked on the screenplay for Pygmalion).

Among the Berg’s manuscripts are reminders of sorrier moments in Shaw’s career. One is a notebook dated 10 January 1882, in Pitman shorthand and titled “The Voice: Its Artistic Production, Development, and Preservation,” obviously an abandoned sample of Shaw’s ghostwriting efforts for his mother’s voice teacher, Vandeleur Lee. (A typewritten transliteration dated 1947 accompanies it.) Also intriguing is an unpublished galley of notes, probably intended for the Hellenic Travellers’ Club Proceedings, taken by a reporter, that record a G.B.S. lecture on “The Greek Theatre” given to fellow members of the Club aboard the S.S. Théophile Gautier, 29 March 1931. The galley reflects an uncharacteristic loss of focus by Shaw; his talk sprawled across the entire history of drama from circus, to medieval, to Elizabethan. Confronted with the telltale galley, Shaw gamely corrected it to about the half-way point, then apparently gave it up as a lost cause.

Turning to the dozen or so play manuscripts, scholars may examine firsthand Shaw’s heavily edited notebook draft of Widowers’ Houses, which was reproduced in the Garland facsimile edition of the early texts (with Jerald E. Bringle as editor of this play). Text detectives will take still more pleasure in the accompanying unpublished typescript of the notebooks, also copiously edited in Shaw’s hand. Among other play manuscripts are G.B.S.’s typescript (carbon) of John Bull’s Other Island, signed, undated, to Lady Gregory, which has a few passages not included in the printed version; a typescript (carbon) of The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet with Shaw’s manuscript corrections; and Shaw’s own first edition copy of The Doctor’s Dilemma, Getting Married, & The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet, with Shaw’s manuscript corrections in preparation for the second edition.

Glimpses of undeveloped Shaws surface from the period when he was grinding out his failed novels and before his career as a critic of books, art, music, and drama took off. In one l884 manuscript Shaw supplies the music to two poems by Caroline Radford: “How She Comes” and “Ah Love, I Lack Thy Kisses.” Foreshadowing his career as critic, Shaw opines in a letter of 31 March 1884 to Miss Radford: “I believe you can do better.” As documents in the Berg show, its first curator, John D. Gordan, took a bit of a risk with these acquisitions. Scrawled across a letter of inquiry from an earlier potential buyer of the Radford material is the ninety-three year old Shaw’s attempt to deny everything: “All a mistake. I never knew anyone named Caroline Radford, nor ever composed any music for her or [End Page 162] for anyone else.” Gordan bought the material anyway, and Shaw later had to acknowledge the songs as his. If you want DNA proof, the Berg has a score written by Shaw’s musical mother Lucinda Elizabeth (Gurly) Carr Shaw for “The Angel’s Message,” a poem by Cashel Hoey. Another peripheral Shaw tried his hand at verse early on, as evidenced by the draft poem, “A Valentine,” in Shaw’s holograph. According to Dan H. Laurence, the date is about 1880 and the inspiration is Mabel Collier, one of Shaw’s lady friends of the period.

Shavians visiting the NYPL must not overlook the Arents Collection and the Manuscripts and Archives Division, now housed together. Presented to the library in 1943, the Arents is the product of more than forty years of collecting by George Arents Jr., a New Yorker prominent in the tobacco trade. Focused on tobacco, the collection includes invaluable manuscripts from Walter Raleigh onward to amusing modern oddities. Thus, among a half dozen Shaw letters referring to smoking and tobacco, we find an indignant note (dated 5 February 1898), to a pipe-shop owner who had sent him a sample pipe, which Shaw, the drama critic, had reason to suspect was an intended bribe. For no apparent nicotinian reason, the Arents contains John Farleigh’s engravings for the Limited Editions Club’s Back to Methuselah, together with Shaw’s own sketches and suggestions to the artist. These could be stimulating to future directors and set designers of Back to Methuselah. One example: in the margin, Shaw sketches in ink two characters in the play, Burge and Lubin, in such a way as to “suggest a composite figure; symbol of cylinder turning into inverted cone; at the apex a path leading to the Superman. The idea is to show that the same thought is in the mind of both.” (By the bye, I’ve hit upon nicotinious justification for the inclusion of Back to Methuselah in Arents’ collection: Shaw has the biologist Conrad Barnabas say to Burge and Lubin that “the men who want to live for ever wont cut off . . . a pipe of tobacco.”)

The collections gathered in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are estimated to contain more than nine million pieces, ranging from Sumerian and Babylonian stone tablets to twentieth-century publishers’ archives. Among the latter are the records of the New York branch of Macmillan, in which we find an exchange of some dozen letters about the possible publication in 1903 of Man and Superman. It ends with G. B. S.’s outrage at Macmillan’s contract terms: “[Your] demand that the author shall also bind himself to you for life for better for worse, takes away my breath” (CL 2: 337). In files devoted to letters to actors, there is 1905 correspondence to Annie Russell, then in rehearsal for the title role of Major Barbara, in which Shaw reveals his sensitivity toward a gifted actor, advising her to follow her own insights into the character. By contrast, letters to Louis Calvert, rehearsing Undershaft in the same production, show how calculatedly outrageous Shaw could be with a gifted actor whom he found lazy. [End Page 163]

The Division is home to many more Shavian items, both weighty and light: an unpublished paper on “the terms of the treaty to end the Great War”; five questions on fashion and dress along with Shaw’s autograph replies; letters to Henry Charles Duffin relating to that author’s Quintessence of Bernard Shaw; a discarded defense of Roger Casement, holding that he should be treated as a prisoner of war. I could go on but space is limited. Go riffle through the cards and summon the rough proofs/rehearsal copies for yourself.

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Some Principal Shaw Research Sources

Daniel Leary

Daniel Leary is Professor Emeritus of English at City College of New York. He has published a score of articles on Shaw and edited SHAW 3: Shaw’s Plays in Performance. His latest publication, with Dan H. Laurence, is the third and last volume of Shaw’s Complete Prefaces.

For information: The New York Public Library Collections

The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature (Curator, George Rodney Phillips), Humanities and Social Science Library, New York Public Library, Fifth Ave. at 42nd St., New York, NY 10018-2788; phone: (212) 930-0802; fax: (212) 642-0143; e-mail:; url:

The George Arents Jr. Tobacco Collection, Rare Books Division, Humanities and Social Science Library, New York Public Library, Fifth Ave. at 42nd St., New York, NY 10018-2788; phone: (212) 930-0805; fax: (212) 302-4815; e-mail:; url:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, (Curator, Mimi Bowling), Humanities and Social Science Library, New York Public Library, Fifth Ave. at 42nd St., New York, NY 10018-2788; phone: (212) 930-0801; fax: (212) 302-4815; e-mail:; url:

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