Dan H. Laurence: George Bernard Shaw scholar

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The Independent Online

Dan H. Laurence was the bibliographer's bibliographer. In the painstaking search for the publications, in any form, of any writer, no one else was more pertinacious and skilful. Books and signed articles were easy, although he was adept at spotting unrecorded variant issues. But when it came to tracing a letter to a newspaper, an anonymous paragraph or some other ephemeral piece, with no more to go on than a vague or casual mention in an author's correspondence, he was in his element.

All these gifts, put to work on authors as diverse as Henry James and Albert Einstein, were in fact but a training for what became his life's work, the retrieval and editing of everything written by George Bernard Shaw. Anyone less determined would have looked at the great mass of writing produced over almost a century and turned elsewhere, seeing the plays and their prefaces, music criticism, and the thousands of letters and articles on peace, vegetarianism, healthy clothing and so on as just too much for any other human being to tackle. Laurence thought otherwise, and devoted the rest of his life to proving the point.

He was born Daniel Hyman Goldstein in the Bronx, New York, in 1920 and never lost the outward appearance and voice of his youth. During the Second World War he served in the Army Air Force in the Pacific and Australia, where he met and married; his wife died shortly after. On return he changed his name to Laurence, carefully avoiding (though others did not) exact similarity to D.H. Lawrence. In 1946 he graduated from Hofstra University on Long Island, taking his master's degree in 1950. He taught English at Hofstra until 1962 when he moved to New York University. He moved finally to San Antonio in 1970 to be near, but not too near, the great collection of modern manuscripts at the University of Texas.

By now, he was well launched on his bibliographical career, and had first ventured into Shavian waters. In 1957 A Bibliography of Henry James, compiled by Laurence and James's biographer, Leon Edel, appeared in the "Soho Bibliographies" series, with expanded editions in 1961 and 1982. After this came the bibliography of Einstein that appeared with the edition of his complete works in 1960. The task of retrieving Shaw's uncollected writings also began in 1960 with How to Become a Musical Critic, followed in 1962 by Platform and Pulpit and The Matter with Ireland (with David Greene).

Laurence then moved on to Shaw's correspondence, publishing the Collected Letters 1874-97 in 1965 and Collected Letters 1898-1910 in 1972, completing the series of 2,500 letters in 1988. A host of other collections and editions, including the Complete Plays with Their Prefaces (1975) and Complete Musical Criticism (1981). The capstone of his work on Shaw was Bernard Shaw: a bibliography, in two fat volumes, published in the "Soho" series in 1983. With it he proved that a definitive map of Shaw's published writings was not, as suspected, an impossible task.

What might appear an arduous and placid life of scholarship was never like that. He was quick of speech and apt to shoot from the hip, and there was a kind of joyful pugnacity about all Laurence's dealings with those who came across him. This came to the fore in the row over the writing of the biography of Shaw. Shaw left his copyrights to the Society of Authors. Laurence, whose editions and bibliographical research had done so much to put Shaw back on the map in the years after his death, felt he was the natural choice as biographer. Instead, the Society of Authors chose Michael Holroyd. Laurence, suspecting insider trading, was vituperative, and temporarily resigned office as literary adviser to the estate and editor of the correspondence. No one came well out of this very public quarrel, although Holroyd later paid generous tribute to Laurence's scholarship.

To visit Laurence at San Antonio was to see a very different Dan. He was a generous host, and, if an unstoppable talker, was never boring. He wrote an entertaining apologia in A Portrait of the Author as a Bibliography (1983). He went on working indefatigably, his last published work an edition of St Joan (2003).

Nicolas Barker

Daniel Hyman Goldstein (Dan H. Laurence), editor and bibliographer: born New York 28 March 1920; married; died San Antonio, Texas 5 February 2008.