In 1881, George Bernard Shaw fell in love with Alice Lockett, a nursing student likely in her late teens. In the letter below, he pleads for her forgiveness for a miscommunication the night before. Their love affair lasted three years.
36 Osnaburgh Street NW
9th September 1883
Forgive me. I don’t know why, on my honor; but in playing on my own thoughts for the entertainment of the most charming of companions last night, I unskillfully struck a note that pained her—unless she greatly deceived me. I have felt remorseful ever since, and she has been reproaching herself all day for willfully missing a train. Heavens! to regret having dared at last to be frank and kind! Did you not see at that moment a set of leading strings fall from you and hang themselves upon me in the form of golden chains? The heart of any other man would have stopped during those seconds after you had slowly turned your back upon the barrier and yet were still in doubt. Mine is a machine and did not stop; but it did something strange. It put me in suspense, which is the essence of woman’s power over man, and which you had never made me feel before—and I was always certain of what you would do until that question of the train arose. And I repaid you for the luxury by paining you. I did not intend to do so any more than you intended to please me, so forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive me.
I cannot (or perhaps will not) resist the impulse to write to you. Believe nothing that I say—and I have a wicked tongue, a deadly pen, and a cold heart—I shall be angry with myself tomorrow for sending you this, and yet, when I next meet you, I shall plunge headlong into fresh cause for anger.
Farewell, dear Alice. There! is it not outrageous? Burn it. Do not read it. Alas! it is too late: you have read it.
From Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1874-1897. Edited by Dan H. Laurence. London: Max Reinhardt, 1965. 877 pp.