The cultural equivalent of Richard M. Nixon’s “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” speech was delivered by a disgruntled forty-one-year-old critic, failed novelist, and undistinguished playwright named George Bernard Shaw in 1898. In his final column as a critic in the then-towering Saturday Review, for which he toiled even as he struggled to get his own plays produced, Shaw lambasted the public for being unworthy of him. “Do I receive any spontaneous recognition for the prodigies of skill and industry I lavish on an unworthy institution and a stupid public?,” he wrote. “Not a bit of it: half my time is spent in telling people what a clever man I am. It’s no use merely doing clever things in England.” He complained, “It is humiliating, too, after making the most dazzling displays of professional ability, to have to tell...


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