I’m doing a bit of reading on George Bernard Shaw while waiting for his three volumes of music criticism to arrive. From what I gather, Shaw’s writing should be, if nothing else, stonkingly good fun. I finally settled on buying the books when I read about the pseudonym he wrote under, Corni di Bassetto. It’s a ‘wretched instrument’, we are told — ‘the devil himself could not make a basset horn sparkle’.
The first book on Shaw I bought was a worn but attractive first edition of Chesterton’s very unbiographical biography (for pennies might I add; Chesterton first editions aren’t hard to come by). As I turned to page 22, a curious photograph fell out:
I love it. I imagine they are father and daughter playing some silly game. Looking at his uniform, it must be around the time of, or before, the First World War. And searching online, I am told that his cuff insignia is that of a lieutenant. There are no notes either on the photo or in the book to indicate date, name or place.
I quite often find odd stuff falling out of old books. Shopping lists, newspaper cuttings (often reviews of the book), torn fragments of notes, envelopes with old stamps reminding us of that wonderful pre-decimal currency we did away with. People must have picked up any old rubbish to use as a bookmark — yet I, decades later, find such rubbish terribly fascinating.
But I doubt the above photo was used as a bookmark. I wonder how it ended up in the book — did the daughter grow up and keep the book and photo as memories of her father? did she die, her books donated to a shop, and that’s how I found it?
Who knows. But getting back to Mr Bassetto, here’s a quotation from Chesterton’s book on Shaw (p. 37):
He is a daring pilgrim who has set out from the grave to find the cradle. He started from points of view which no one else was clever enough to discover, and he is at last discovering points of view which no one else was ever stupid enough to ignore.
I really can’t wait to read his music criticism.