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 Patch.
Books in the Butler collection include many early Shaw editions, runs of scarce journals like Annie Besant’s Our Corner (to which Shaw contributed), and obscure early scholarly studies, such as Louis Segal’s early monograph, Bernard Shaw: A Study, published in London in 1912. Also archived are obscure critiques in obscure periodicals, such as Walter R. Hawden’s “George Bernard Shaw, the Philosopher of the Century,” in a 1911 issue of The Abolitionist. There are also striking association volumes, such as an edition of Shakespeare’s poems designed and printed in 1893 by William Morris with a presentation inscription to Shaw from Morris. [End Page 174] Since these were expensive limited editions, the gift implies something about their special relationship.
Although the Bertrand Library has a useful register of items to assist in response to inquiries, and a name-reference index to letters, documents, and the many photographs in the collection, there are some gaps and mistranscriptions. The collection deserves visits from serious scholars, and is supplemented by other Shaw-related items elsewhere in Bucknell’s holdings. An added bonus for scholars traveling extended distances is that little more than an hour’s drive from Lewisburg is Penn State, which has additional manuscript and documentary material by, and related to, Shaw. These include Shavian self-interviews, his unique question-and-answer device to deflect actual—and intrusive—interviewers, as well as letters, documents, proofs, and publications.
Both archives show Shaw from aspiring writer to great man bedeviled by admirers, cranks, colleagues, peers, and parasites. Some ask for advice, others an autograph; on occasion Shaw may have learned a little. A correspondent in May 1947, two months before Shaw completed, at 91, his long-gestating “Comedy of No Manners,” Buoyant Billions, a scene of which was written as far back as 1936, had tried Shaw’s patience. The letter-writer wanted Shaw to become his mentor so that he—the writer—could learn how to “make the World a better place to live in.” Scornfully, Shaw put him off in red ink in his shaky, aged holograph, “Probably you do not know enough to manage a baked potato stall, much less the world. Anyhow KEEP OFF, and read my books [instead]. I have nothing to add to them.” The letter appears in facsimile on p. 355 of Vivian Elliot’s Dear Mr Shaw.
[apOn the verso of his letter (and Shaw’s response) the inquirer noted in pencil, “Now we are getting somewhere. . . .” Not, perhaps, the total naif that G.B.S. assumed him to be, Mr. E. A. Sheppard obviously sold Shaw’s message with signature. Otherwise, LaFayette Butler could not have acquired it. But not a total loss for Shaw, who may have incorporated a little of the self-described idealist into his play, completed six weeks later. Young Junius Smith in candid innocence describes himself as “a world betterer. . . . All intelligent men of my age are world betterers today.”
Life imitating art or art imitating life? The Butler collection is full of provocative things.
Stanley Weintraub is Evan Pugh Professor of Arts and Humanities Emeritus at the Pennsylvania State University. He has written or edited twenty volumes about or by GBS, and was editor of SHAW until 1989.
For information: The Lafayette L. Butler Collection
(Curator of Special Collections, Doris Dysinger), Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library, Lewisburg, PA 17837; phone: (570) 577-3101; fax: (570) 577-1237; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; url: http://www.isr.bucknell.edu/research (under “Online Catalogue,” keyword-search “Lafayette Butler and Shaw”)