Table-Talk of G. B. S. Conversations on Things in General Between George Bernard Shaw and His Biographer

by Archibald Henderson. New York: Harper and Brothers. 12mo. xvi+162 pp. $2.00.
PROFESSOR ARCHIBALD HENDERSON may assert property rights in Bernard Shaw quite as undisputedly as Boswell lays claim to Johnson. Other biographers, McCabe, Burton, Mencken, Chesterton, there have been, but their existence implies nothing. For have not certain ill-advised individuals from time to time arisen who dared compete even with Boswell as biographers of the mighty Doctor? No matter. Mr. Shaw is earmarked Henderson property. To no one else has he vouchsafed the opportunities he has granted to our North Carolina Professor. The inquiring American dwelt with his subject for weeks at a time, observing him in his native habit as he lived. The questions he asked — or most, of them — Mr. Shaw answered, and out of all this in 1911 emerged the Henderson authorized biography of Bernard Shaw.
Now the natural result of such a book is obviously bound to be either a lifelong friendship or an undying hatred. In this case, happily for the rest of us, it turned out to be a lasting friendship; and Mr. Henderson, having observed of late that the life of Shaw has advanced several years beyond the last page of his biography, — that is the worst of trying to immortalize in advance a genius who is frankly out for Methuselah’s laurels, — now brings us down to date with a little volume of conversations — the ‘ table-talk ‘ in the title must not be taken too literally — on all manner of things: Einstein and Tolstoi, the probable pleasure of kissing Mary Pickford and the claims to scholarship of H. G. Wells, American literature and that unhappy treaty made at Versailles, the architecture of skyscrapers, the Ruhr, the size of the universe, the Dawes Plan, the errors of the astronomers, and the alluring possibility that G. B. S. may at some exciting date in the future try his hand at the movies!
All this in a series of five dialogues, with a minimum of stage directions, plus a couple of rather thin cartoons somewhat clumsily inserted. More Shaw and less Henderson would have improved the book, which is nevertheless very good as it stands. It has the added merit of settling a question which has been vexing a good many souls ever since the disquieting rumor got about that the last Shaw play had been written.
‘Will you write any more plays?’ asks Henderson in the course of a conversation.
‘Will a duck swim?’ replies the colloquial Mr. Shaw. ‘How can I help it?’
The fire, the intellectual daring, and the gay wit of the Shaw legend, which is also the Shaw reality, are all here. The conversation crackles like nothing so much as one of Mr. Shaw’s own prefaces — not quite like the dialogue in one of his plays, for Mr. Shaw is responsible for only one half of it and is, moreover, being catechized by a professor turned journalist, who thus possesses a double portion of inquisitorial guile. Mr. Henderson hurls a question or a maliciously provocative statement of fact, Mr. Shaw tosses back a quip or a paradox or a serious analysis, and thus the thought, like a tennis ball, bounces back and forth to the end of the book. Very bright, very amusing, very good reading; but sometimes it sounds a little too studied, a trifle too mannered — perhaps even a bit too brilliant — to be genuine conversation.