TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: In the printed version
of this text, all
apostrophes for contractions such as "can't", "wouldn't" and "he'd"
were omitted, to read as "cant", "wouldnt", and "hed". This etext
edition restores the omitted apostrophes.
PREFACE TO PYGMALION.
A Professor of Phonetics.
As will be seen later on, Pygmalion needs, not a preface, but a sequel,
which I have supplied in its due place. The English have no respect for
their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They
spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds
like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without
making some other Englishman hate or despise
him. German and Spanish
to foreigners: English is not accessible
Englishmen. The reformer
England needs today is an energetic
enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular
play. There have been heroes of that kind crying in the wilderness
many years past. When I became interested in the subject towards the
end of the eighteen-seventies, Melville Bell was dead; but Alexander J.
Ellis was still a living patriarch, with an impressive
covered by a velvet
skull cap, for which he would apologize to public
meetings in a very courtly manner. He and Tito Pagliardini, another
phonetic veteran, were men whom it was impossible to dislike. Henry
Sweet, then a young man, lacked their sweetness
of character: he was
about as conciliatory to conventional
mortals as Ibsen or Samuel
Butler. His great ability
as a phonetician (he was, I think, the best
of them all at his job) would have entitled him to high official
recognition, and perhaps enabled him to popularize his subject, but for
his Satanic contempt
for all academic
dignitaries and persons in
general who thought more of Greek than of phonetics. Once, in the days
when the Imperial Institute rose in South Kensington, and Joseph
Chamberlain was booming the Empire, I induced the editor of a leading
an article from Sweet on the imperial
importance of his subject. When it arrived, it contained nothing but a
savagely derisive attack on a professor of language and literature
whose chair Sweet regarded as proper to a phonetic expert
article, being libelous, had to be returned as impossible; and I had to
renounce my dream of dragging its author into the limelight. When I met
him afterwards, for the first time for many years, I found to my
astonishment that he, who had been a quite tolerably presentable young
man, had actually
managed by sheer scorn to alter his personal
appearance until he had become a sort of walking repudiation of Oxford
and all its traditions. It must have been largely in his own despite
that he was squeezed into something called a Readership of phonetics
there. The future of phonetics rests probably with his pupils, who all
swore by him; but nothing could bring the man himself into any sort of
compliance with the university, to which he nevertheless
divine right in an intensely
Oxonian way. I daresay his papers, if he
has left any, include some satires that may be published without too
destructive results fifty years hence. He was, I believe, not in the
least an ill-natured man: very much the opposite, I should say; but he
would not suffer fools gladly.
Those who knew him will recognize in my third act the allusion
patent Shorthand in which he used to write postcards, and which may be
acquired from a four and six-penny manual
published by the Clarendon
Press. The postcards which Mrs. Higgins describes are such as I have
received from Sweet. I would decipher a sound which a cockney would
represent by zerr, and a Frenchman by seu, and then write demanding
with some heat what on earth it meant. Sweet, with boundless
for my stupidity, would reply that it not only meant but obviously
the word Result, as no other Word containing that sound, and capable
making sense with the context, existed in any language spoken
That less expert
mortals should require fuller indications was beyond
Sweet's patience. Therefore, though the whole point of his "Current
Shorthand" is that it can express every sound in the language
perfectly, vowels as well as consonants, and that your hand has to make
no stroke except the easy and current ones with which you write m, n,
and u, l, p, and q, scribbling them at whatever
angle comes easiest to
you, his unfortunatedetermination
to make this remarkable
serve also as a Shorthand reduced it in his own practice
to the most inscrutable of cryptograms. His true objective
provision of a full, accurate, legible script
for our noble but
ill-dressed language; but he was led past that by his contempt
popular Pitman system
of Shorthand, which he called the Pitfall system.
of Pitman was a triumph
of business organization: there was
paper to persuade
you to learn Pitman: there were cheap
textbooks and exercise books and transcripts of speeches for you to
copy, and schools where experienced
teachers coached you up to the
necessary proficiency. Sweet could not organize
his market in that
fashion. He might as well have been the Sybil who tore up the leaves of
prophecy that nobody would attend to. The four and six-penny manual,
mostly in his lithographed handwriting, that was never vulgarly
advertized, may perhaps some day be taken up by a syndicate
upon the public as The Times pushed the Encyclopaedia Britannica; but
until then it will certainly not prevail
against Pitman. I have bought
three copies of it during my lifetime; and I am informed by the
publishers that its cloistered existence
is still a steady and healthy
one. I actuallylearned
two several times; and yet the
shorthand in which I am writing
these lines is Pitman's. And the reason
is, that my secretary cannot transcribe Sweet, having been perforce
taught in the schools of Pitman. Therefore, Sweet railed at Pitman as
vainly as Thersites railed at Ajax: his raillery, however it may have
eased his soul, gave no popular vogue to Current Shorthand. Pygmalion
Higgins is not a portrait
of Sweet, to whom the adventure of Eliza
Doolittle would have been impossible; still, as will be seen, there are
touches of Sweet in the play. With Higgins's physique and temperament
Sweet might have set the Thames on fire. As it was, he impressed
himself professionally on Europe to an extent
that made his comparative
personal obscurity, and the failure
of Oxford to do justice to his
eminence, a puzzle
to foreign specialists in his subject. I do not
blame Oxford, because I think Oxford is quite right in demanding a
certain social amenity from its nurslings (heaven knows it is not
exorbitant in its requirements!); for although I well know how hard it
is for a man of genius
with a seriously
underrated subject to maintain
serene and kindly relations with the men who underrate it, and who keep
all the best places for less important subjects which they profess
and sometimes without much capacity
still, if he overwhelms them with wrath and disdain, he cannot expect
them to heap honors on him.
Of the later generations of phoneticians I know little. Among them
towers the Poet Laureate, to whom perhaps Higgins may owe his Miltonic
sympathies, though here again I must disclaim all portraiture. But if
the play makes the public aware that there are such people as
phoneticians, and that they are among the most important people in
England at present, it will serve its turn.
I wish to boast that Pygmalion has been an extremely
all over Europe and North America as well as at home. It is so
intensely and deliberately
didactic, and its subject is esteemed so
dry, that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who
repeat the parrot
cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to
prove my contention
that art should never be anything else.
Finally, and for the encouragement
of people troubled with accents that
cut them off from all high employment, I may add that the change
wrought by Professor Higgins in the flower girl is neither impossible
nor uncommon. The modern concierge's daughter who fulfils her ambition
by playing the Queen of Spain in Ruy Blas at the Theatre Francais is
only one of many thousands of men and women who have sloughed off their
native dialects and acquired a new tongue. But the thing has to be done
scientifically, or the last state of the aspirant may be worse than the
first. An honest and natural slum dialect
is more tolerable than the
attempt of a phonetically untaught person to imitate
of the golf club; and I am sorry to say that in spite of the efforts of
our Academy of Dramatic Art, there is still too much sham golfing
English on our stage, and too little of the noble English of Forbes
Covent Garden at 11.15 p.m. Torrents of heavy summer rain. Cab whistles
in all directions. Pedestrians running
into the market and under the portico of St. Paul's Church, where there
are already several people, among them a lady and her daughter in
evening dress. They are all peering out gloomily
at the rain, except
one man with his back turned to the rest, who seems wholly
with a notebook
in which he is writing
The church clock strikes the first quarter.
THE DAUGHTER [in the space between the central pillars, close to the
one on her left] I'm getting chilled to the bone. What can Freddy be
doing all this time? He's been gone twenty minutes.
THE MOTHER [on her daughter's right] Not so long. But he ought to have
got us a cab by this.
A BYSTANDER [on the lady's right] He won't get no cab not until
half-past eleven, missus, when they come back after dropping their
THE MOTHER. But we must have a cab. We can't stand here until half-past
eleven. It's too bad.
THE BYSTANDER. Well, it ain't my fault, missus.
THE DAUGHTER. If Freddy had a bit of gumption, he would have got one at
the theatre door.
THE MOTHER. What could he have done, poor boy?
THE DAUGHTER. Other people got cabs. Why couldn't he?
Freddy rushes in out of the rain from the Southampton Street side, and
comes between them closing a dripping umbrella. He is a young man of
twenty, in evening dress, very wet around the ankles.
THE DAUGHTER. Well, haven't you got a cab?
FREDDY. There's not one to be had for love or money.
THE MOTHER. Oh, Freddy, there must be one. You can't have tried.
THE DAUGHTER. It's too tiresome. Do you expect us to go and get one
FREDDY. I tell you they're all engaged. The rain was so sudden: nobody
was prepared; and everybody had to take a cab. I've been to Charing
Cross one way and nearly to Ludgate Circus the other; and they were all
THE MOTHER. Did you try Trafalgar Square?
FREDDY. There wasn't one at Trafalgar Square.
THE DAUGHTER. Did you try?
FREDDY. I tried as far as Charing Cross Station. Did you expect me to
walk to Hammersmith?
THE DAUGHTER. You haven't tried at all.
THE MOTHER. You really are very helpless, Freddy. Go again; and don't
come back until you have found a cab.
FREDDY. I shall simply get soaked for nothing.
THE DAUGHTER. And what about us? Are we to stay here all night in this
draught, with next to nothing on. You selfish
FREDDY. Oh, very well: I'll go, I'll go. [He opens his umbrella
dashes off Strandwards, but comes into collision
with a flower girl,
who is hurrying in for shelter, knocking her basket out of her hands. A
blinding flash of lightning, followed instantly
by a rattling peal of
thunder, orchestrates the incident]
THE FLOWER GIRL. Nah then, Freddy: look wh' y' gowin, deah.
FREDDY. Sorry [he rushes off].
THE FLOWER GIRL [picking up her scattered flowers and replacing them in
the basket] There's menners f' yer! Te-oo banches o voylets trod into
the mad. [She sits down on the plinth of the column, sorting her
flowers, on the lady's right. She is not at all an attractive
She is perhaps eighteen, perhaps twenty, hardly older. She wears a
little sailor hat of black straw that has long been exposed to the dust
and soot of London and has seldom if ever been brushed. Her hair needs
washing rather badly: its mousy color can hardly be natural. She wears
a shoddy black coat that reaches nearly to her knees and is shaped to
her waist. She has a brown skirt with a coarse
apron. Her boots are
much the worse for wear. She is no doubt as clean as she can afford to
be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty. Her features are no
worse than theirs; but their condition leaves something to be desired;
and she needs the services of a dentist].
THE MOTHER. How do you know that my son's name is Freddy, pray?
THE FLOWER GIRL. Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y' de-ooty
bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel's flahrzn
than ran awy atbaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f'them? [Here, with
apologies, this desperate
attempt to represent her dialect
must be abandoned
as unintelligible outside London.]
THE DAUGHTER. Do nothing of the sort, mother. The idea!
THE MOTHER. Please allow me, Clara. Have you any pennies?
THE DAUGHTER. No. I've nothing smaller than sixpence.
THE FLOWER GIRL [hopefully] I can give you change for a tanner, kind
THE MOTHER [to Clara] Give it to me. [Clara parts reluctantly]. Now [to
the girl] This is for your flowers.
THE FLOWER GIRL. Thank you kindly, lady.
THE DAUGHTER. Make her give you the change. These things are only a
penny a bunch.
THE MOTHER. Do hold your tongue, Clara. [To the girl]. You can keep the
THE FLOWER GIRL. Oh, thank you, lady.
THE MOTHER. Now tell me how you know that young gentleman's name.
THE FLOWER GIRL. I didn't.
THE MOTHER. I heard you call him by it. Don't try to deceive
THE FLOWER GIRL [protesting] Who's trying
you? I called him
Freddy or Charlie same as you might yourself if you was talking to a
stranger and wished to be pleasant. [She sits down beside her basket].
THE DAUGHTER. Sixpence thrown away! Really, mamma, you might have
spared Freddy that. [She retreats in disgust
behind the pillar].
gentleman of the amiable
military type rushes into shelter,
and closes a dripping umbrella. He is in the same plight
very wet about the ankles. He is in evening dress, with a light
overcoat. He takes the place left vacant
by the daughter's retirement.
THE GENTLEMAN. Phew!
THE MOTHER [to the gentleman] Oh, sir, is there any sign of its
THE GENTLEMAN. I'm afraid not. It started worse than ever about two
minutes ago. [He goes to the plinth beside the flower girl; puts up his
foot on it; and stoops to turn down his trouser ends].
THE MOTHER. Oh, dear! [She retires sadly and joins her daughter].
THE FLOWER GIRL [taking advantage
of the military gentleman's proximity
to establish friendly relations with him]. If it's worse it's a sign
it's nearly over. So cheer up, Captain; and buy a flower off a poor
THE GENTLEMAN. I'm sorry, I haven't any change.
THE FLOWER GIRL. I can give you change, Captain,