- X. The Lafayette L. Butler Collection
[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]
In 1957, LaFayette L. Butler, then seventy, noticed a Sunday newspaper piece about my work on Shaw—possibly the first, ever—and wrote to me. He had a lot of stuff I might want to examine, he offered kindly. Hazelton was about three hours from Penn State, a rather easy drive even before Interstate 80 shortened the time, and I took up his offer to visit, sometimes taking a colleague or a grad student with me. Later, even my daughter, Erica, came along to play Butler’s big grand piano for him, freeing me to explore the holdings crammed into the three levels of the large frame double house—long runs of first editions, musty and often more interesting books, and files of manuscripts, mostly on late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century writers. By then Butler had become nearly blind, but stubbornly still collected. The visits did not make a Shavian of Erica, but I owe parts of several books, and some articles, to my work at the Laurel Street hoard.
After Butler’s death in 1975 his son Charles followed testamentary instructions and arranged for the Bertrand Library at Bucknell to receive several major collections from the Butler archives, the largest, perhaps, those on Shaw and on other Irish writers.
What had first interested me as a young scholar examining Butler’s collection were two albums—scrapbooks—one of them put together after Shaw’s death by the dealer M. H. Mushlin from scraps and discards, assembled for greater value, that Shaw’s secretary, Blanche Patch, had retrieved from wastebaskets. He did the same with the Shaw letters to Alice Lockett, also purchased from Patch, that are in the Dwight Strong collection [see 137–139]. In the days before shredders, the contents of a trash bin could contain useful documentation. Miss Patch made up for her poor [End Page 173] pay and meager bequest by frugally poking through the rubbish. More significantly, Butler collected hundreds of Shaw letters to (and from) actors, directors, editors, translators, friends, colleagues, and aspiring cadgers, not nearly all of them yet published. They range from wise to cranky, from prophetic to foolish, and in sum are an index to Shaw’s personality. Many are from Shaw’s later years, among them a response to an inquirer questioning why G.B.S. continued his efforts to influence popular thinking when it was obvious that no one was listening. We have to keep trying, Shaw wrote back, for “nobody can prove we won’t succeed next time.” He kept trying.
The manuscripts, documents, articles, and books encompass the full range of Shaw’s career. A letter to Mary Grace Walker in 1885 apologizes for not returning her handkerchief; a letter to Shaw from Dean Inge in 1950 is described in an attached note by Miss Patch as the last message that she read to Shaw after he had been moved back from the hospital following treatment for his hip fracture, to die, as he wished, in his home at Ayot St. Lawrence. Many letters concern productions and translations of Shaw’s plays, the most amusing being those about performances in Hungary in 1906 and earlier. After writing one note confirming that the Society of Authors (acting as his agent) had been trying to collect Hungarian royalties for him on “stolen” plays, Shaw supplemented that with a postcard on which he drew, in exasperation, a skull and crossbones, labeled “The Flag of Boodle Pest.” You cannot persuade me otherwise, Shaw insisted underneath the emblem of piracy: “If he paid hundreds he owed millions.” The correspondent is Reginald Golding Bright (published in Advice to a Young Critic).
Shaw’s experiences with his translators, worldwide (aside from those with Siegfried Trebitsch and related German-language productions), remain a large area still untreated by scholars. Related documentation is in the Butler papers. A further area still to be explored, and rich with material in the Butler archive, is Shaw’s complex relations with his secretaries and editorial assistants over many years, including F. E. Loewenstein and John Wardrop, as well as “Judy” Musters and Blanche...