Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Doctor Johnson and Major Barbara


Wendy Hiller in Major Barbara (1941)

        These are the men who, without virtue, labour, or hazard, are growing rich, as their country is impoverished; they rejoice, when obstinacy or ambition adds another year to slaughter and devastation; and laugh, from their desks, at bravery and science, while they are adding figure to figure, and cipher to cipher, hoping for a new contract from a new armament, and computing the profits of a siege or tempest.  

Samuel Johnson, Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands, 1771

Louis Calvert (l) as Andrew Undershaft, the munitions magnate, and Harley Granville-Barker (r) as Adolphus Cusins in the original London production of Major Barbara (1905).

John Bacon, Statue of Dr. Samuel Johnson, North Quire Door, St. Paul's Cathedral, London, 1796

Reader Note:  I came across this very fine sentence written by Doctor Samuel Johnson while reading Jonathan Dymond's "An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity", a Quaker text originally published in London during 1823-24 and later reprinted in Philadelphia in 1892 by the Friends' Book Store on Arch Street.  Reading it caused me to recall George Bernard Shaw's 1905 play "Major Barbara", which features as one of its principal characters a munitions and liquor tycoon named Andrew Undershaft. (The character was apparently based on the famous international arms dealers Basil Zaharoff and Siegfried Krupp.) Undershaft's daughter, Salvation Army "Major Barbara" Undershaft, strongly disapproves of her father's profession and her derogation of his activities fuels the action of the play.  "Major Barbara" was made into a highly enjoyable and entertaining film by Gabriel Pascal (who several years earlier had directed Shaw's "Pygmalion" on film) in 1941, featuring the amazing Wendy Hiller in the title role. (Hiller played an unforgettable Eliza Doolitle in "Pygmalion".)  The film also starred a young, very handsome Rex Harrison as Adolphus Cusins and the always enjoyable Robert Morley as Andrew Undershaft.  I haven't seen "Major Barbara" recently, but would like to see it again this summer.  I have never been to the Falkland Islands either, but perhaps I will travel there someday.  I've never journeyed below the Equator and I definitely think I would be interested.  Caroline, Jane and I are planning on visiting Brazil (but not nearly as far south as the Falklands) next year to visit our friend Mara in her new home, which fills me with some trepidation, but I've been told that the area where she lives  is magical, that I'm unlikely to be kidnapped, and, of course, we really want to see Mara and her family.  I also really, really enjoy the food, the fado and the toucans.

Apolitical Falkland Island Residents 
(Click on this image and the top photo of Wendy Hiller to see them at their best.) 


  1. For some reason your mention of the Falkland Islands filled me with an abrupt desire to go there. I already knew abstractly that I was in need of a change, motion, but it was strange to be reminded so viscerally.

    When shall we go?

  2. I'd be happy to discuss this in detail. Anna Fisher (do you remember her?) taught English there after graduating Swarthmore in 1974. She said that it was very peaceful and that the sheep were great. I think that's just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). Curtis