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George Bernard Shaw died last night. University professors agreed that the 94- year-old British playwright was "undoubtedly the world's greatest living man of letters."
At 12:05 a.m. he succumbed in his cottage in Ayot St. Lawrence, England, after a day-long coma and a "commendatory prayer for a sick person at the point of departure," read by a Church of England rector for the one-time professed atheist.
Herschel C. Baker, associate professor of English, said last night that Shaw is "perhaps the last of the great public men of letters," ranking him with writers like Samuel Johnson and Dickens who were also famous in public affairs.
"He would probably like to be remembered as one for whom literature was only an instrument," Baker added, pointing out that Shaw regarded himself more of a thinker than a writer. "Yet he wrote perhaps the best English prose of his generation."
William B. van Lennep, curator of the Theatre Collection, said that "even his bad prose is better in wit and brilliance than the prose of almost any man writing in English today. That's how good he is."
Both agreed that Shaw has been on the downgrade for the past 15 years-- Baker called it "artistic dotage"--and that his death will prevent a further decline.
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