I can forgive Alfred Nobel for inventing dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.–George Bernard Shaw, who refused his Nobel Prize money on this day in 1926
Although on record as a skeptic of literary prizes — “They eat up money; elicit a lot of trash; and invariably go to some second best composition” — it was mostly the Nobel cash award that upset Shaw. In the Fabian spirit, and because he already had “sufficient money for my needs,” Shaw requested that the Nobel committee use the cash to publish some good English translations of Swedish literature. When the committee balked, Shaw set up his own trust fund to accomplish his goal. As described in Michael Holroyd’s Bernard Shaw, the fund only diverted the calamity’s course and turned it to a flood:
When the news of the prize was announced, thousands of people all over Europe “wrote to me for loans, mostly for the entire sum,” Shaw told [Augustin] Hamon. “When the further news came that I had refused it another million or so wrote to say that if I was rich enough to throw away money like that, I could afford to adopt their children, or pay off the mortgages on their houses…or let them have £XXXX to be repaid punctually next May, or to publish a priceless book explaining the mystery of the universe. It says a good deal for female virtue that only two women proposed that I should take them on as mistresses.” To grapple with the emergency he began practicing a complicated facial expression which combined universal benevolence with a savage determination to rescue no one from financial ruin.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.