You are doomed to deserved failure

(…and we’re back. Many, many heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of well-wishers; Karina and baby are doing extremely well. I literally don’t have the time to reply to you all individually, but your messages were very much appreciated. Thanks again.)

An attempt to secure the writing talents of George Bernard Shaw in 1924 initiated a wonderful exchange of letters – three of which are seen here – that went on to span the best part of a decade. The celebrated playwright and critic had been approached by T. H. Campbell-Howes – a clearly determined magazine publisher who at the time produced a publication by the name of Indian Business – and responded with the first succinct reply below. As can be seen, Campbell-Howes didn’t accept the rejection, and was still receiving insightful refusals as late as 1932.

Many thanks to T. H. Campbell-Howes’ granddaughter, Kirsten, for supplying the letters.

Transcripts follow.


First Letter


11th July 1924.

Dear Mr Campbell Howes

You are doomed to deserved failure if you start a magazine with contributors of 68. That is not the way to get off the old lines. Leave the old men to the old magazines.

Your business is to discover young lions (age limit 37 at most) and form a staff of them. If you cannot do that there is no reason why you should start a magazine at all; for in no other way can you improve upon Fleet Street as it exists.

I am not interested in the least, having been there far too often before; and all I can do is to advise you as above, and dismiss the matter from my heavily overburdened consideration.


(Signed, ‘G. Bernard Shaw.’)

T.H.Campbell Howes Esq
c/o Gee & Co.,Ltd
6 Kirby Street,
Hatton Garden, w.C.

Second Letter

Red Roofs,
River Bank,
Staines Bridge.

July 14th 1924.

Dear Mr. Shaw,

Thanks for your discouraging letter of the 11th inst., it only makes me more determined to proceed upon the lines I have laid down. Owing to the Northcliffe regime, young lions of Fleet St., are at a discount and have slumped badly. For the first time, I find myself in entire disagreement with you; where I can depend upon the man under 37 I will do so, but I should be mad indeed to throw to the four winds the tried and trusted men of the old school. Life would be a muck indeed if we admitted that 37 was the limit for progressive ideas. Your own story disproves it. Has your progressiveness been dormant since 37? No,- up to the last you will contrive to stir mens minds, and, if you were 98 instead of 68 I would try to persuade you to write for my publications. I had hoped for your help in a new effort to stir mens minds to function in the right direction, – instead, you tell me you are not interested in the least. Frankly – I do’nt believe it, and in the long run, when “Business” is flourishing, you’ll agree with me. Anyhow, I’ll admit I’m grieviously disappointed. The real leaders are perilously few and I can understand how heavily overburdened they are. Those burdens have their compensations however and do not deserve being thrown to the wolves of 37.

Yours truly,

(Signed, ‘ T. H. Campbell-Howes’)

George Bernard Shaw Esq.
19 Adelphi Terrace. W.C.2.

Third Letter

From Bernard Shaw


30th June 1932.

Dear Mr Campbell Howes

In my opinion magazines of the kind you contemplate are obsolete; that is why publishers still talk about them enthusiastically but wont back them. It is not that the people want muck; they dont; they either want their highbrow stuff pretty good or dont want it at all. But they get as much as they want in the best Sunday papers and in the literary pages of the dailies. It is their refuse that goes to the ghosts of the old dead reviews to keep them walking: the Edinburgh, the Fortnightly, the Contemporary – if these still pretend to exist; the fact that I dont know is a wreath on their graves.

Suppose you started a new one. You will not be able to pay me as much for an article as The Observer, nor to give me the a tenth of its circulation. Therefore I will send all my really important stuff to The Observer, and give you only what is unsaleable elsewhere. You will not be able to capture the old subscriptions to the Edinburgh, which are mere habits. You will have to compete with half a dozen weekly reviews more or less subsidized. I had to find £1000 to start the Political Science Quarterly as an organ of Fabian policy. No publisher would touch it at his own risk. I have not the faintest hope of ever receiving a dividend. I helped to start The New Statesman and The New Age. My shares are not, and have never been, worth tuppence. But for publishers advertisements none of them could continue to appear. Have you the smallest reason to suppose that you could do any better than they have done?

Europa is unique. It supplied a want – not a very widely felt want, but a pressing one. And if Europa does not die it will certainly kill you if you have to keep it up to the mark singlehanded.

In short, don’t.


(Signed, ‘G. Bernard Shaw’)

T.H.Campbell-Howes Esq.
21/D, Avonmore Road,
Kensington, W.14.