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  • [A Devil of a Fellow: Self-Criticism]
  • Bernard Shaw

[Published in a German translation by Siegfried Trebitsch, as “Ein Teufelskerl: Selbstkritik”, in Die Zeit (Vienna), 22 February 1903 (1:1–4, 2:1–4, 3:1), three days before the opening of The Devil’s Disciple (the first Shaw play performed on the German-speaking stage) at the Raimund Theater, Vienna. [C1419] The original manuscript in the British Library (50694, ff. 52–66) consists of a holograph draft, except for ff. 52, 56–59, and 66, which are partly or principally typewritten, with alterations in Shaw’s hand, captioned (on f. 52) “FEUILLETON FUR DIE ZEIT.”, with note in Shaw’s hand on lower half of the leaf: “One copy of this on thin paper to G. Bernard Shaw 10 Adelphi Terrace W.C. Wanted on Saturday morning (the 4th Feb) before 11 o’clock.” This is the first publication of the original text, emended to eliminate stylistic inconsistencies (mostly of punctuation and use of ampersands) and misspellings.]

Now that I am about to be introduced as a dramatic poet to the German-speaking peoples, I must warn the citizens of Vienna that my plays are not to everybody’s taste. They are what people call “undramatic”: that is to say, they have no murders and no adulteries in them. Somehow, adultery bores me; and so does murder. Most gentlemen think that their lives are more important than anything else in the world; and all ladies are taught to believe that their fidelity is still more important than even their lives. I confess I cannot bring myself to make a great fuss about either the one or the other. The drama of the police news and the divorce court makes me yawn. On the other hand the people who go to sleep everywhere except in the police court or the divorce court do not enjoy my plays. It is a matter of taste. [End Page 247]

It may be asked why I, a foreigner, should trouble Vienna with my plays instead of keeping them for my own country. I can only say in reply that I am quite guiltless in the matter. One day when I was away from home a Viennese gentleman called on my wife with an introduction from my friend William Archer. On his visiting card was inscribed the name Siegfried Trebitsch. He demanded an authorization to translate my plays into German. My wife politely explained that there were difficulties—difficulties raised by the copyright laws and the course of business. The impetuous Trebitsch replied that he was surprised to hear a woman of sense talking in such a manner; that such excellent plays as mine were wasted in the foolish English theatre; that Vienna alone could do them justice; that he must, could, should and would translate them; and that he had not come all the way from Austria to listen to quibbles about the copyright law. My wife was crushed. To propitiate him she invited him to lunch. He came, and crushed me.1 I never resist a man who is in earnest. He professed strong conviction that I am a writer of European importance, a stimulating thinker, a fascinating playwright, with a magic touch in the theatre and a profound insight into human character and destiny. In this I most fully agreed with him. Such an opinion seemed to me to stamp him as a man of rare and penetrating judgment. He has my fullest authority to propagate his views about me in all the German-speaking countries and elsewhere. I am too modest to say such things about myself; but when I find another man intelligent enough to say them, I am far too polite to contradict him.

In the matter of the translation, Trebitsch has been as good as his word. Like all really able men I am congenitally incapable of acquiring foreign languages; but I have been so steeped in German music, and consequently in German poetry, all my life (having indeed learned more of my art as a writer for the stage from Mozart than from Shakespear, Molière or any literary dramatist) that I cannot help believing that I...

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