Back to Methuselah
George Bernard Shaw
Part 2 out of 7
of being a ridiculous fiction, might be only an impostor, and that the
exposure of this Koepenik Captain of the heavens, far from proving that
there was no real captain, rather proved the contrary: that, in short,
Nobodaddy could not have impersonated anybody if there had not been
Somebodaddy to impersonate. We did not see the significance of the
fact that on the last occasion on which God had been 'expelled with a
pitchfork,' men so different as Voltaire and Robespierre had said, the
one that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him, and
the other that after an honest attempt to dispense with a Supreme
Being in practical politics, some such hypothesis had been found quite
indispensable, and could not be replaced by a mere Goddess of Reason. If
these two opinions were quoted at all, they were quoted as jokes at the
expense of Nobodaddy. We were quite sure for the moment that whatever
lingering superstition might have daunted these men of the eighteenth
century, we Darwinians could do without God, and had made a good
riddance of Him.
THE VICEROYS OF THE KING OF KINGS
Now in politics it is much easier to do without God than to do without
his viceroys and vicars and lieutenants; and we begin to miss the
lieutenants long before we begin to miss their principal. Roman
Catholics do what their confessors advise without troubling God; and
Royalists are content to worship the King and ask the policeman. But
God's trustiest lieutenants often lack official credentials. They may be
professed atheists who are also men of honor and high public spirit.
The old belief that it matters dreadfully to God whether a man thinks
himself an atheist or not, and that the extent to which it matters can
be stated with exactness as one single damn, was an error: for the
divinity is in the honor and public spirit, not in the mouthed _credo_
or _non credo_. The consequences of this error became grave when the
fitness of a man for public trust was tested, not by his honor and
public spirit, but by asking him whether he believed in Nobodaddy or
not. If he said yes, he was held fit to be a Prime Minister, though,
as our ablest Churchman has said, the real implication was that he was
either a fool, a bigot, or a liar. Darwin destroyed this test; but when
it was only thoughtlessly dropped, there was no test at all; and the
door to public trust was open to the man who had no sense of God because
he had no sense of anything beyond his own business interests and
personal appetites and ambitions. As a result, the people who did
not feel in the least inconvenienced by being no longer governed by
Nobodaddy soon found themselves very acutely inconvenienced by being
governed by fools and commercial adventurers. They had forgotten not
only God but Goldsmith, who had warned them that 'honor sinks where
commerce long prevails.'
The lieutenants of God are not always persons: some of them are
legal and parliamentary fictions. One of them is Public Opinion. The
pre-Darwinian statesmen and publicists were not restrained directly by
God; but they restrained themselves by setting up an image of a Public
Opinion which would not tolerate any attempt to tamper with British
liberties. Their favorite way of putting it was that any Government
which proposed such and such an infringement of such and such a British
liberty would be hurled from office in a week. This was not true: there
was no such public opinion, no limit to what the British people would
put up with in the abstract, and no hardship short of immediate and
sudden starvation that it would not and did not put up with in the
concrete. But this very helplessness of the people had forced their
rulers to pretend that they were not helpless, and that the certainty of
a sturdy and unconquerable popular resistance forbade any trifling with
Magna Carta or the Petition of Rights or the authority of parliament.
Now the reality behind this fiction was the divine sense that liberty
is a need vital to human growth. Accordingly, though it was difficult
enough to effect a political reform, yet, once parliament had passed it,
its wildest opponent had no hope that the Government would cancel it,
or shelve it, or be bought off from executing it. From Walpole to
Campbell-Bannerman there was no Prime Minister to whom such renagueing
or trafficking would ever have occurred, though there were plenty who
employed corruption unsparingly to procure the votes of members of
parliament for their policy.
POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM IN EXCELSIS
The moment Nobodaddy was slain by Darwin, Public Opinion, as divine
deputy, lost its sanctity. Politicians no longer told themselves that
the British public would never suffer this or that: they allowed
themselves to know that for their own personal purposes, which are
limited to their ten or twenty years on the front benches in parliament,
the British public can be humbugged and coerced into believing and
suffering everything that it pays to impose on them, and that any false
excuse for an unpopular step will serve if it can be kept in countenance
for a fortnight: that is, until the terms of the excuse are forgotten.
The people, untaught or mistaught, are so ignorant and incapable
politically that this in itself would not greatly matter; for a
statesman who told them the truth would not be understood, and would in
effect mislead them more completely than if he dealt with them according
to their blindness instead of to his own wisdom. But though there is no
difference in this respect between the best demagogue and the worst,
both of them having to present their cases equally in terms of
melodrama, there is all the difference in the world between the
statesman who is humbugging the people into allowing him to do the
will of God, in whatever disguise it may come to him, and one who is
humbugging them into furthering his personal ambition and the commercial
interests of the plutocrats who own the newspapers and support him on
reciprocal terms. And there is almost as great a difference between
the statesman who does this naively and automatically, or even does it
telling himself that he is ambitious and selfish and unscrupulous, and
the one who does it on principle, believing that if everyone takes the
line of least material resistance the result will be the survival of the
fittest in a perfectly harmonious universe. Once produce an atmosphere
of fatalism on principle, and it matters little what the opinions or
superstitions of the individual statesmen concerned may be. A Kaiser
who is a devout reader of sermons, a Prime Minister who is an emotional
singer of hymns, and a General who is a bigoted Roman Catholic may be
the executants of the policy; but the policy itself will be one of
unprincipled opportunism; and all the Governments will be like the tramp
who walks always with the wind and ends as a pauper, or the stone that
rolls down the hill and ends as an avalanche: their way is the way to
THE BETRAYAL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Within sixty years from the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species
political opportunism had brought parliaments into contempt; created
a popular demand for direct action by the organized industries
('Syndicalism'); and wrecked the centre of Europe in a paroxysm of that
chronic terror of one another, that cowardice of the irreligious, which,
masked in the bravado of militarist patriotism, had ridden the Powers
like a nightmare since the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. The sturdy
old cosmopolitan Liberalism vanished almost unnoticed. At the present
moment all the new ordinances for the government of our Grown Colonies
contain, as a matter of course, prohibitions of all criticism, spoken or
written, of their ruling officials, which would have scandalized George
III and elicited Liberal pamphlets from Catherine II. Statesmen are
afraid of the suburbs, of the newspapers, of the profiteers, of the
diplomatists, of the militarists, of the country houses, of the trade
unions, of everything ephemeral on earth except the revolutions they
are provoking; and they would be afraid of these if they were not too
ignorant of society and history to appreciate the risk, and to know that
a revolution always seems hopeless and impossible the day before it
breaks out, and indeed never does break out until it seems hopeless and
impossible; for rulers who think it possible take care to insure the
risk by ruling reasonably. This brings about a condition fatal to all
political stability: namely, that you never know where to have the
politicians. If the fear of God was in them it might be possible to come
to some general understanding as to what God disapproves of; and Europe
might pull together on that basis. But the present panic, in which Prime
Ministers drift from election to election, either fighting or running
away from everybody who shakes a fist at them, makes a European
civilization impossible. Such peace and prosperity as we enjoyed before
the war depended on the loyalty of the Western States to their own
civilization. That loyalty could find practical expression only in an
alliance of the highly civilized Western Powers against the primitive
tyrannies of the East. Britain, Germany, France, and the United States
of America could have imposed peace on the world, and nursed modern
civilization in Russia, Turkey, and the Balkans. Every meaner
consideration should have given way to this need for the solidarity of
the higher civilization. What actually happened was that France and
England, through their clerks the diplomatists, made an alliance with
Russia to defend themselves against Germany; Germany made an alliance
with Turkey to defend herself against the three; and the two unnatural
and suicidal combinations fell on one another in a war that came nearer
to being a war of extermination than any wars since those of Timur the
Tartar; whilst the United States held aloof as long as they could, and
the other States either did the same or joined in the fray through
compulsion, bribery, or their judgment as to which side their bread was
buttered. And at the present moment, though the main fighting has ceased
through the surrender of Germany on terms which the victors have never
dreamt of observing, the extermination by blockade and famine, which
was what forced Germany to surrender, still continues, although it is
certain that if the vanquished starve the victors will starve too, and
Europe will liquidate its affairs by going, not into bankruptcy, but
Now all this, it will be noticed, was fundamentally nothing but an
idiotic attempt on the part of each belligerent State to secure
for itself the advantage of the survival of the fittest through
Circumstantial Selection. If the Western Powers had selected their
allies in the Lamarckian manner intelligently, purposely, and vitally,
_ad majorem Dei gloriam_, as what Nietzsche called good Europeans,
there would have been a League of Nations and no war. But because the
selection relied on was purely circumstantial opportunist selection, so
that the alliances were mere marriages of convenience, they have turned
out, not merely as badly as might have been expected, but far worse than
the blackest pessimist had ever imagined possible.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL SELECTION IN FINANCE
How it will all end we do not yet know. When wolves combine to kill a
horse, the death of the horse only sets them fighting one another for
the choicest morsels. Men are no better than wolves if they have no
better principles: accordingly, we find that the Armistice and the
Treaty have not extricated us from the war. A handful of Serbian
regicides flung us into it as a sporting navvy throws a bull pup at a
cat; but the Supreme Council, with all its victorious legions and all
its prestige, cannot get us out of it, though we are heartily sick and
tired of the whole business, and know now very well that it should never
have been allowed to happen. But we are helpless before a slate scrawled
with figures of National Debts. As there is no money to pay them because
it was all spent on the war (wars have to be paid for on the nail) the
sensible thing to do is to wipe the slate and let the wrangling States
distribute what they can spare, on the sound communist principle of from
each according to his ability, to each according to his need. But no:
we have no principles left, not even commercial ones; for what sane
commercialist would decree that France must not pay for her failure to
defend her own soil; that Germany must pay for her success in carrying
the war into the enemy's country; and that as Germany has not the money
to pay, and under our commercial system can make it only by becoming
once more a commercial competitor of England and France, which neither
of them will allow, she must borrow the money from England, or America,
or even from France: an arrangement by which the victorious creditors
will pay one another, and wait to get their money back until Germany is
either strong enough to refuse to pay or ruined beyond the possibility
of paying? Meanwhile Russia, reduced to a scrap of fish and a pint of
cabbage soup a day, has fallen into the hands of rulers who perceive
that Materialist Communism is at all events more effective than
Materialist Nihilism, and are attempting to move in an intelligent and
ordered manner, practising a very strenuous Intentional Selection of
workers as fitter to survive than idlers; whilst the Western Powers are
drifting and colliding and running on the rocks, in the hope that if
they continue to do their worst they will get Naturally Selected for
survival without the trouble of thinking about it.
THE HOMEOPATHIC REACTION AGAINST DARWINISM
When, like the Russians, our Nihilists have it urgently borne in on
them, by the brute force of rising wages that never overtake rising
prices, that they are being Naturally Selected for destruction, they
will perhaps remember that 'Dont Care came to a bad end,' and begin to
look round for a religion. And the whole purpose of this book is to
shew them where to look. For, throughout all the godless welter of the
infidel half-century, Darwinism has been acting not only directly but
homeopathically, its poison rallying our vital forces not only to resist
it and cast it out, but to achieve a new Reformation and put a credible
and healthy religion in its place. Samuel Butler was the pioneer of the
reaction as far as the casting out was concerned; but the issue was
confused by the physiologists, who were divided on the question into
Mechanists and Vitalists. The Mechanists said that life is nothing but
physical and chemical action; that they have demonstrated this in many
cases of so-called vital phenomena; and that there is no reason to doubt
that with improved methods they will presently be able to demonstrate it
in all of them. The Vitalists said that a dead body and a live one are
physically and chemically identical, and that the difference can be
accounted for only by the existence of a Vital Force. This seems simple;
but the Anti-Mechanists objected to be called Vitalists (obviously the
right name for them) on two contradictory grounds. First, that vitality
is scientifically inadmissible, because it cannot be isolated and
experimented with in the laboratory. Second, that force, being by
definition anything that can alter the speed or direction of matter
in motion (briefly, that can overcome inertia), is essentially a
mechanistic conception. Here we had the New Vitalist only half
extricated from the Old Mechanist, objecting to be called either, and
unable to give a clear lead in the new direction. And there was a deeper
antagonism. The Old Vitalists, in postulating a Vital Force, were
setting up a comparatively mechanical conception as against the divine
idea of the life breathed into the clay nostrils of Adam, whereby he
became a living soul. The New Vitalists, filled by their laboratory
researches with a sense of the miraculousness of life that went far
beyond the comparatively uninformed imaginations of the authors of the
Book of Genesis, regarded the Old Vitalists as Mechanists who had tried
to fill up the gulf between life and death with an empty phrase denoting
an imaginary physical force.
These professional faction fights are ephemeral, and need not trouble us
here. The Old Vitalist, who was essentially a Materialist, has evolved
into the New Vitalist, who is, as every genuine scientist must be,
finally a metaphysician. And as the New Vitalist turns from the disputes
of his youth to the future of his science, he will cease to boggle at
the name Vitalist, or at the inevitable, ancient, popular, and quite
correct use of the term Force to denote metaphysical as well as physical
overcomers of inertia.
Since the discovery of Evolution as the method of the Life Force the
religion of metaphysical Vitalism has been gaining the definiteness and
concreteness needed to make it assimilable by the educated critical man.
But it has always been with us. The popular religions, disgraced by
their Opportunist cardinals and bishops, have been kept in credit by
canonized saints whose secret was their conception of themselves as the
instruments and vehicles of divine power and aspiration: a conception
which at moments becomes an actual experience of ecstatic possession by
that power. And above and below all have been millions of humble and
obscure persons, sometimes totally illiterate, sometimes unconscious of
having any religion at all, sometimes believing in their simplicity
that the gods and temples and priests of their district stood for their
instinctive righteousness, who have kept sweet the tradition that good
people follow a light that shines within and above and ahead of them,
that bad people care only for themselves, and that the good are saved
and blessed and the bad damned and miserable. Protestantism was a
movement towards the pursuit of a light called an inner light because
every man must see it with his own eyes and not take any priest's word
for it or any Church's account of it. In short, there is no question
of a new religion, but rather of redistilling the eternal spirit
of religion and thus extricating it from the sludgy residue of
temporalities and legends that are making belief impossible, though they
are the stock-in-trade of all the Churches and all the Schools.
RELIGION AND ROMANCE
It is the adulteration of religion by the romance of miracles and
paradises and torture chambers that makes it reel at the impact of every
advance in science, instead of being clarified by it. If you take an
English village lad, and teach him that religion means believing that
the stories of Noah's Ark and the Garden of Eden are literally true on
the authority of God himself, and if that boy becomes an artisan and
goes into the town among the sceptical city proletariat, then, when the
jibes of his mates set him thinking, and he sees that these stories
cannot be literally true, and learns that no candid prelate now pretends
to believe them, he does not make any fine distinctions: he declares at
once that religion is a fraud, and parsons and teachers hypocrites and
liars. He becomes indifferent to religion if he has little conscience,
and indignantly hostile to it if he has a good deal.
The same revolt against wantonly false teaching is happening daily
in the professional classes whose recreation is reading and whose
intellectual sport is controversy. They banish the Bible from their
houses, and sometimes put into the hands of their unfortunate children
Ethical and Rationalist tracts of the deadliest dullness, compelling
these wretched infants to sit out the discourses of Secularist lecturers
(I have delivered some of them myself), who bore them at a length now
forbidden by custom in the established pulpit. Our minds have reacted so
violently towards provable logical theorems and demonstrable mechanical
or chemical facts that we have become incapable of metaphysical truth,
and try to cast out incredible and silly lies by credible and clever
ones, calling in Satan to cast out Satan, and getting more into his
clutches than ever in the process. Thus the world is kept sane less by
the saints than by the vast mass of the indifferent, who neither act nor
react in the matter. Butler's preaching of the gospel of Laodicea was a
piece of common sense founded on his observation of this.
But indifference will not guide nations through civilization to the
establishment of the perfect city of God. An indifferent statesman is a
contradiction in terms; and a statesman who is indifferent on principle,
a Laisser-faire or Muddle-Through doctrinaire, plays the deuce with us
in the long run. Our statesmen must get a religion by hook or crook; and
as we are committed to Adult Suffrage it must be a religion capable of
vulgarization. The thought first put into words by the Mills when they
said 'There is no God; but this is a family secret,' and long held
unspoken by aristocratic statesmen and diplomatists, will not serve now;
for the revival of civilization after the war cannot be effected by
artificial breathing: the driving force of an undeluded popular consent
is indispensable, and will be impossible until the statesman can appeal
to the vital instincts of the people in terms of a common religion. The
success of the Hang the Kaiser cry at the last General Election shews
us very terrifyingly how a common irreligion can be used by myopic
demagogy; and common irreligion will destroy civilization unless it is
countered by common religion.
THE DANGER OF REACTION
And here arises the danger that when we realize this we shall do just
what we did half a century ago, and what Pliable did in The Pilgrim's
Progress when Christian landed him in the Slough of Despond: that is,
run back in terror to our old superstitions. We jumped out of the
frying-pan into the fire; and we are just as likely to jump back again,
now that we feel hotter than ever. History records very little in the
way of mental activity on the part of the mass of mankind except a
series of stampedes from affirmative errors into negative ones and back
again. It must therefore be said very precisely and clearly that the
bankruptcy of Darwinism does not mean that Nobodaddy was Somebodaddy
_with_ 'body, parts, and passions' after all; that the world was made
in the year 4004 B.C.; that damnation means a eternity of blazing
brimstone; that the Immaculate Conception means that sex is sinful and
that Christ was parthenogenetically brought forth by a virgin descended
in like manner from a line of virgins right back to Eve; that the
Trinity is an anthropomorphic monster with three heads which are yet
only one head; that in Rome the bread and wine on the altar become flesh
and blood, and in England, in a still more mystical manner, they do
and they do not; that the Bible is an infallible scientific manual, an
accurate historical chronicle, and a complete guide to conduct; that we
may lie and cheat and murder and then wash ourselves innocent in the
blood of the lamb on Sunday at the cost of a _credo_ and a penny in the
plate, and so on and so forth. Civilization cannot be saved by people
not only crude enough to believe these things, but irreligious enough
to believe that such belief constitutes a religion. The education of
children cannot safely be left in their hands. If dwindling sects like
the Church of England, the Church of Rome, the Greek Church, and the
rest, persist in trying to cramp the human mind within the limits of
these grotesque perversions of natural truths and poetic metaphors, then
they must be ruthlessly banished from the schools until they either
perish in general contempt or discover the soul that is hidden in every
dogma. The real Class War will be a war of intellectual classes; and its
conquest will be the souls of the children.
A TOUCHSTONE FOR DOGMA
The test of a dogma is its universality. As long as the Church of
England preaches a single doctrine that the Brahman, the Buddhist, the
Mussulman, the Parsee, and all the other sectarians who are British
subjects cannot accept, it has no legitimate place in the counsels of
the British Commonwealth, and will remain what it is at present, a
corrupter of youth, a danger to the State, and an obstruction to the
Fellowship of the Holy Ghost. This has never been more strongly felt
than at present, after a war in which the Church failed grossly in the
courage of its profession, and sold its lilies for the laurels of the
soldiers of the Victoria Cross. All the cocks in Christendom have been
crowing shame on it ever since; and it will not be spared for the sake
of the two or three faithful who were found even among the bishops. Let
the Church take it on authority, even my authority (as a professional
legend maker) if it cannot see the truth by its own light: no dogma can
be a legend. A legend can pass an ethnical frontier as a legend, but not
as a truth; whilst the only frontier to the currency of a sound dogma as
such is the frontier of capacity for understanding it.
This does not mean that we should throw away legend and parable and
drama: they are the natural vehicles of dogma; but woe to the Churches
and rulers who substitute the legend for the dogma, the parable for the
history, the drama for the religion! Better by far declare the throne
of God empty than set a liar and a fool on it. What are called wars of
religion are always wars to destroy religion by affirming the historical
truth or material substantiality of some legend, and killing those who
refuse to accept it as historical or substantial. But who has ever
refused to accept a good legend with delight as a legend? The legends,
the parables, the dramas, are among the choicest treasures of mankind.
No one is ever tired of stories of miracles. In vain did Mahomet
repudiate the miracles ascribed to him: in vain did Christ furiously
scold those who asked him to give them an exhibition as a conjurer: in
vain did the saints declare that God chose them not for their powers but
for their weaknesses; that the humble might be exalted, and the proud
rebuked. People will have their miracles, their stories, their heroes
and heroines and saints and martyrs and divinities to exercise their
gifts of affection, admiration, wonder, and worship, and their Judases
and devils to enable them to be angry and yet feel that they do well to
be angry. Every one of these legends is the common heritage of the human
race; and there is only one inexorable condition attached to their
healthy enjoyment, which is that no one shall believe them literally.
The reading of stories and delighting in them made Don Quixote a
gentleman: the believing them literally made him a madman who slew
lambs instead of feeding them. In England today good books of Eastern
religious legends are read eagerly; and Protestants and Atheists read
Roman Catholic legends of the Saints with pleasure. But such fare is
shirked by Indians and Roman Catholics. Freethinkers read the Bible:
indeed they seem to be its only readers now except the reluctant
parsons at the church lecterns, who communicate their discomfort to the
congregation by gargling the words in their throats in an unnatural
manner that is as repulsive as it is unintelligible. And this is because
the imposition of the legends as literal truths at once changes them
from parables into falsehoods. The feeling against the Bible has become
so strong at last that educated people not only refuse to outrage their
intellectual consciences by reading the legend of Noah's Ark, with its
funny beginning about the animals and its exquisite end about the birds:
they will not read even the chronicles of King David, which may
very well be true, and are certainly more candid than the official
biographies of our contemporary monarchs.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE LEGENDS
What we should do, then, is to pool our legends and make a delightful
stock of religious folk-lore on an honest basis for all mankind. With
our minds freed from pretence and falsehood we could enter into the
heritage of all the faiths. China would share her sages with Spain, and
Spain her saints with China. The Ulster man who now gives his son an
unmerciful thrashing if the boy is so tactless as to ask how the evening
and the morning could be the first day before the sun was created, or
to betray an innocent calf-love for the Virgin Mary, would buy him a
bookful of legends of the creation and of mothers of God from all parts
of the world, and be very glad to find his laddie as interested in such
things as in marbles or Police and Robbers. That would be better
than beating all good feeling towards religion out of the child, and
blackening his mind by teaching him that the worshippers of the holy
virgins, whether of the Parthenon or St Peter's, are fire-doomed
heathens and idolaters. All the sweetness of religion is conveyed to
the world by the hands of storytellers and image-makers. Without their
fictions the truths of religion would for the multitude be neither
intelligible nor even apprehensible; and the prophets would prophesy and
the teachers teach in vain. And nothing stands between the people and
the fictions except the silly falsehood that the fictions are literal
truths, and that there is nothing in religion but fiction.
A LESSON FROM SCIENCE TO THE CHURCHES
Let the Churches ask themselves why there is no revolt against the
dogmas of mathematics though there is one against the dogmas
of religion. It is not that the mathematical dogmas are more
comprehensible. The law of inverse squares is as incomprehensible to the
common man as the Athanasian creed. It is not that science is free from
legends, witchcraft, miracles, biographic boostings of quacks as heroes
and saints, and of barren scoundrels as explorers and discoverers. On
the contrary, the iconography and hagiology of Scientism are as copious
as they are mostly squalid. But no student of science has yet been
taught that specific gravity consists in the belief that Archimedes
jumped out of his bath and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse
shouting Eureka, Eureka, or that the law of inverse squares must be
discarded if anyone can prove that Newton was never in an orchard in his
life. When some unusually conscientious or enterprising bacteriologist
reads the pamphlets of Jenner, and discovers that they might have been
written by an ignorant but curious and observant nurserymaid, and could
not possibly have been written by any person with a scientifically
trained mind, he does not feel that the whole edifice of science has
collapsed and crumbled, and that there is no such thing as smallpox.
It may come to that yet; for hygiene, as it forces its way into our
schools, is being taught as falsely as religion is taught there; but in
mathematics and physics the faith is still kept pure, and you may take
the law and leave the legends without suspicion of heresy. Accordingly,
the tower of the mathematician stands unshaken whilst the temple of the
priest rocks to its foundation.
THE RELIGIOUS ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Creative Evolution is already a religion, and is indeed now
unmistakeably the religion of the twentieth century, newly arisen
from the ashes of pseudo-Christianity, of mere scepticism, and of
the soulless affirmations and blind negations of the Mechanists and
Neo-Darwinians. But it cannot become a popular religion until it has its
legends, its parables, its miracles. And when I say popular I do not
mean apprehensible by villagers only. I mean apprehensible by Cabinet
Ministers as well. It is unreasonable to look to the professional
politician and administrator for light and leading in religion. He
is neither a philosopher nor a prophet: if he were, he would be
philosophizing and prophesying, and not neglecting both for the drudgery
of practical government. Socrates and Coleridge did not remain soldiers,
nor could John Stuart Mill remain the representative of Westminster in
the House of Commons even when he was willing. The Westminster electors
admired Mill for telling them that much of the difficulty of dealing
with them arose from their being inveterate liars. But they would not
vote a second time for the man who was not afraid to break the crust of
mendacity on which they were all dancing; for it seemed to them
that there was a volcanic abyss beneath, not having his philosophic
conviction that the truth is the solidest standing ground in the end.
Your front bench man will always be an exploiter of the popular religion
or irreligion. Not being an expert, he must take it as he finds it; and
before he can take it, he must have been told stories about it in his
childhood and had before him all his life an elaborate iconography of it
produced by writers, painters, sculptors, temple architects, and artists
of all the higher sorts. Even if, as sometimes happens, he is a bit of
an amateur in metaphysics as well as a professional politician, he must
still govern according to the popular iconography, and not according to
his own personal interpretations if these happen to be heterodox.
It will be seen then that the revival of religion on a scientific basis
does not mean the death of art, but a glorious rebirth of it. Indeed art
has never been great when it was not providing an iconography for a live
religion. And it has never been quite contemptible except when imitating
the iconography after the religion had become a superstition. Italian
painting from Giotto to Carpaccio is all religious painting; and it
moves us deeply and has real greatness. Compare with it the attempts of
our painters a century ago to achieve the effects of the old masters by
imitation when they should have been illustrating a faith of their own.
Contemplate, if you can bear it, the dull daubs of Hilton and Haydon,
who knew so much more about drawing and scumbling and glazing and
perspective and anatomy and 'marvellous foreshortening' than Giotto,
the latchet of whose shoe they were nevertheless not worthy to unloose.
Compare Mozart's Magic Flute, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Wagner's Ring,
all of them reachings-forward to the new Vitalist art, with the dreary
pseudo-sacred oratorios and cantatas which were produced for no better
reason than that Handel had formerly made splendid thunder in that way,
and with the stale confectionery, mostly too would-be pious to be even
cheerfully toothsome, of Spohr and Mendelssohn, Stainer and Parry, which
spread indigestion at our musical festivals until I publicly told Parry
the bludgeoning truth about his Job and woke him to conviction of sin.
Compare Flaxman and Thorwaldsen and Gibson with Phidias and Praxiteles,
Stevens with Michael Angelo, Bouguereau's Virgin with Cimabue's, or the
best operatic Christs of Scheffer and Mueller with the worst Christs that
the worst painters could paint before the end of the fifteenth century,
and you must feel that until we have a great religious movement we
cannot hope for a great artistic one. The disillusioned Raphael could
paint a mother and child, but not a queen of Heaven as much less skilful
men had done in the days of his great-grandfather; yet he could reach
forward to the twentieth century and paint a Transfiguration of the Son
of Man as they could not. Also, please note, he could decorate a house
of pleasure for a cardinal very beautifully with voluptuous pictures of
Cupid and Psyche; for this simple sort of Vitalism is always with
us, and, like portrait painting, keeps the artist supplied with
subject-matter in the intervals between the ages of faith; so that your
sceptical Rembrandts and Velasquezs are at least not compelled to paint
shop fronts for want of anything else to paint in which they can really
And there are always certain rare but intensely interesting
anticipations. Michael Angelo could not very well believe in Julius
II or Leo X, or in much that they believed in; but he could paint
the Superman three hundred years before Nietzsche wrote Also Sprach
Zarathustra and Strauss set it to music. Michael Angelo won the primacy
among all modern painters and sculptors solely by his power of shewing
us superhuman persons. On the strength of his decoration and color alone
he would hardly have survived his own death twenty years; and even his
design would have had only an academic interest; but as a painter of
prophets and sibyls he is greatest among the very greatest in his craft,
because we aspire to a world of prophets and sibyls. Beethoven never
heard of radioactivity nor of electrons dancing in vortices of
inconceivable energy; but pray can anyone explain the last movement of
his Hammerklavier Sonata, Opus 106, otherwise than as a musical picture
of these whirling electrons? His contemporaries said he was mad, partly
perhaps because the movement was so hard to play; but we, who can make a
pianola play it to us over and over until it is as familiar as Pop
Goes the Weasel, know that it is sane and methodical. As such, it
must represent something; and as all Beethoven's serious compositions
represent some process within himself, some nerve storm or soul storm,
and the storm here is clearly one of physical movement, I should much
like to know what other storm than the atomic storm could have driven
him to this oddest of all those many expressions of cyclonic energy
which have given him the same distinction among musicians that Michael
Angelo has among draughtsmen.
In Beethoven's day the business of art was held to be 'the sublime and
beautiful.' In our day it has fallen to be the imitative and voluptuous.
In both periods the word passionate has been freely employed; but in the
eighteenth century passion meant irresistible impulse of the loftiest
kind: for example, a passion for astronomy or for truth. For us it has
come to mean concupiscence and nothing else. One might say to the art of
Europe what Antony said to the corpse of Caesar: 'Are all thy conquests,
glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?' But in fact
it is the mind of Europe that has shrunk, being, as we have seen, wholly
preoccupied with a busy spring-cleaning to get rid of its superstitions
before readjusting itself to the new conception of Evolution.
EVOLUTION IN THE THEATRE
On the stage (and here I come at last to my own particular function in
the matter), Comedy, as a destructive, derisory, critical, negative art,
kept the theatre open when sublime tragedy perished. From Moliere to
Oscar Wilde we had a line of comedic playwrights who, if they had
nothing fundamentally positive to say, were at least in revolt against
falsehood and imposture, and were not only, as they claimed, 'chastening
morals by ridicule,' but, in Johnson's phrase, clearing our minds of
cant, and thereby shewing an uneasiness in the presence of error which
is the surest symptom of intellectual vitality. Meanwhile the name of
Tragedy was assumed by plays in which everyone was killed in the last
act, just as, in spite of Moliere, plays in which everyone was married
in the last act called themselves comedies. Now neither tragedies nor
comedies can be produced according to a prescription which gives only
the last moments of the last act. Shakespear did not make Hamlet out of
its final butchery, nor Twelfth Night out of its final matrimony. And he
could not become the conscious iconographer of a religion because he had
no conscious religion. He had therefore to exercise his extraordinary
natural gifts in the very entertaining art of mimicry, giving us the
famous 'delineation of character' which makes his plays, like the novels
of Scott, Dumas, and Dickens, so delightful. Also, he developed that
curious and questionable art of building us a refuge from despair by
disguising the cruelties of Nature as jokes. But with all his gifts, the
fact remains that he never found the inspiration to write an original
play. He furbished up old plays, and adapted popular stories, and
chapters of history from Holinshed's Chronicle and Plutarch's
biographies, to the stage. All this he did (or did not; for there are
minus quantities in the algebra of art) with a recklessness which shewed
that his trade lay far from his conscience. It is true that he never
takes his characters from the borrowed story, because it was less
trouble and more fun to him to create them afresh; but none the less
he heaps the murders and villainies of the borrowed story on his own
essentially gentle creations without scruple, no matter how incongruous
they may be. And all the time his vital need for a philosophy drives
him to seek one by the quaint professional method of introducing
philosophers as characters into his plays, and even of making his heroes
philosophers; but when they come on the stage they have no philosophy
to expound: they are only pessimists and railers; and their occasional
would-be philosophic speeches, such as The Seven Ages of Man and The
Soliloquy on Suicide, shew how deeply in the dark Shakespear was as
to what philosophy means. He forced himself in among the greatest of
playwrights without having once entered that region in which Michael
Angelo, Beethoven, Goethe, and the antique Athenian stage poets are
great. He would really not be great at all if it were not that he had
religion enough to be aware that his religionless condition was one of
despair. His towering King Lear would be only a melodrama were it not
for its express admission that if there is nothing more to be said of
the universe than Hamlet has to say, then 'as flies to wanton boys are
we to the gods: they kill us for their sport.'
Ever since Shakespear, playwrights have been struggling with the same
lack of religion; and many of them were forced to become mere panders
and sensation-mongers because, though they had higher ambitions, they
could find no better subject-matter. From Congreve to Sheridan they were
so sterile in spite of their wit that they did not achieve between them
the output of Moliere's single lifetime; and they were all (not without
reason) ashamed of their profession, and preferred to be regarded as
mere men of fashion with a rakish hobby. Goldsmith's was the only saved
soul in that pandemonium.
The leaders among my own contemporaries (now veterans) snatched at minor
social problems rather than write entirely without any wider purpose
than to win money and fame. One of them expressed to me his envy of the
ancient Greek playwrights because the Athenians asked them, not for some
'new and original' disguise of the half-dozen threadbare plots of the
modern theatre, but for the deepest lesson they could draw from the
familiar and sacred legends of their country. 'Let us all,' he said,
'write an Electra, an Antigone, an Agamemnon, and shew what we can do
with it.' But he did not write any of them, because these legends are
no longer religious: Aphrodite and Artemis and Poseidon are deader than
their statues. Another, with a commanding position and every trick of
British farce and Parisian drama at his fingers' ends, finally could
not write without a sermon to preach, and yet could not find texts more
fundamental than the hypocrisies of sham Puritanism, or the matrimonial
speculation which makes our young actresses as careful of their
reputations as of their complexions. A third, too tenderhearted to break
our spirits with the realities of a bitter experience, coaxed a wistful
pathos and a dainty fun out of the fairy cloudland that lay between him
and the empty heavens. The giants of the theatre of our time, Ibsen and
Strindberg, had no greater comfort for the world than we: indeed much
less; for they refused us even the Shakespearian-Dickensian consolation
of laughter at mischief, accurately called comic relief. Our emancipated
young successors scorn us, very properly. But they will be able to do no
better whilst the drama remains pre-Evolutionist. Let them consider the
great exception of Goethe. He, no richer than Shakespear, Ibsen, or
Strindberg in specific talent as a playwright, is in the empyrean whilst
they are gnashing their teeth in impotent fury in the mud, or at best
finding an acid enjoyment in the irony of their predicament. Goethe is
Olympian: the other giants are infernal in everything but their veracity
and their repudiation of the irreligion of their time: that is, they are
bitter and hopeless. It is not a question of mere dates. Goethe was
an Evolutionist in 1830: many playwrights, even young ones, are still
untouched by Creative Evolution in 1920. Ibsen was Darwinized to the
extent of exploiting heredity on the stage much as the ancient Athenian
playwrights exploited the Eumenides; but there is no trace in his
plays of any faith in or knowledge of Creative Evolution as a modern
scientific fact. True, the poetic aspiration is plain enough in his
Emperor or Galilean; but it is one of Ibsen's distinctions that nothing
was valid for him but science; and he left that vision of the future
which his Roman seer calls 'the third Empire' behind him as a Utopian
dream when he settled down to his serious grapple with realities in
those plays of modern life with which he overcame Europe, and broke
the dusty windows of every dry-rotten theatre in it from Moscow to
MY OWN PART IN THE MATTER
In my own activities as a playwright I found this state of things
intolerable. The fashionable theatre prescribed one serious subject:
clandestine adultery: the dullest of all subjects for a serious author,
whatever it may be for audiences who read the police intelligence
and skip the reviews and leading articles. I tried slum-landlordism,
doctrinaire Free Love (pseudo-Ibsenism), prostitution, militarism,
marriage, history, current politics, natural Christianity, national
and individual character, paradoxes of conventional society, husband
hunting, questions of conscience, professional delusions and impostures,
all worked into a series of comedies of manners in the classic fashion,
which was then very much out of fashion, the mechanical tricks of
Parisian 'construction' being _de rigueur_ in the theatre. But this,
though it occupied me and established me professionally, did not
constitute me an iconographer of the religion of my time, and thus
fulfil my natural function as an artist. I was quite conscious of this;
for I had always known that civilization needs a religion as a matter of
life or death; and as the conception of Creative Evolution developed I
saw that we were at last within reach of a faith which complied with
the first condition of all the religions that have ever taken hold of
humanity: namely, that it must be, first and fundamentally, a science
of metabiology. This was a crucial point with me; for I had seen Bible
fetichism, after standing up to all the rationalistic batteries of Hume,
Voltaire, and the rest, collapse before the onslaught of much less
gifted Evolutionists, solely because they discredited it as a biological
document; so that from that moment it lost its hold, and left literate
Christendom faithless. My own Irish eighteenth-centuryism made it
impossible for me to believe anything until I could conceive it as
a scientific hypothesis, even though the abominations, quackeries,
impostures, venalities, credulities, and delusions of the camp followers
of science, and the brazen lies and priestly pretensions of the
pseudo-scientific cure-mongers, all sedulously inculcated by modern
'secondary education,' were so monstrous that I was sometimes forced to
make a verbal distinction between science and knowledge lest I should
mislead my readers. But I never forgot that without knowledge even
wisdom is more dangerous than mere opportunist ignorance, and that
somebody must take the Garden of Eden in hand and weed it properly.
Accordingly, in 1901, I took the legend of Don Juan in its Mozartian
form and made it a dramatic parable of Creative Evolution. But being
then at the height of my invention and comedic talent, I decorated it
too brilliantly and lavishly. I surrounded it with a comedy of which it
formed only one act, and that act was so completely episodical (it was
a dream which did not affect the action of the piece) that the comedy
could be detached and played by itself: indeed it could hardly be played
at full length owing to the enormous length of the entire work, though
that feat has been performed a few times in Scotland by Mr Esme Percy,
who led one of the forlorn hopes of the advanced drama at that time.
Also I supplied the published work with an imposing framework consisting
of a preface, an appendix called The Revolutionist's Handbook, and a
final display of aphoristic fireworks. The effect was so vertiginous,
apparently, that nobody noticed the new religion in the centre of the
intellectual whirlpool. Now I protest I did not cut these cerebral
capers in mere inconsiderate exuberance. I did it because the worst
convention of the criticism of the theatre current at that time was that
intellectual seriousness is out of place on the stage; that the theatre
is a place of shallow amusement; that people go there to be soothed
after the enormous intellectual strain of a day in the city: in short,
that a playwright is a person whose business it is to make unwholesome
confectionery out of cheap emotions. My answer to this was to put all
my intellectual goods in the shop window under the sign of Man and
Superman. That part of my design succeeded. By good luck and acting, the
comedy triumphed on the stage; and the book was a good deal discussed.
Since then the sweet-shop view of the theatre has been out of
countenance; and its critical exponents have been driven to take an
intellectual pose which, though often more trying than their old
intellectually nihilistic vulgarity, at least concedes the dignity
of the theatre, not to mention the usefulness of those who live by
criticizing it. And the younger playwrights are not only taking their
art seriously, but being taken seriously themselves. The critic who
ought to be a newsboy is now comparatively rare.
I now find myself inspired to make a second legend of Creative Evolution
without distractions and embellishments. My sands are running out; the
exuberance of 1901 has aged into the garrulity of 1930; and the war has
been a stern intimation that the matter is not one to be trifled with. I
abandon the legend of Don Juan with its erotic associations, and go back
to the legend of the Garden of Eden. I exploit the eternal interest of
the philosopher's stone which enables men to live for ever. I am not, I
hope, under more illusion than is humanly inevitable as to the crudity
of this my beginning of a Bible for Creative Evolution. I am doing the
best I can at my age. My powers are waning; but so much the better for
those who found me unbearably brilliant when I was in my prime. It is
my hope that a hundred apter and more elegant parables by younger hands
will soon leave mine as far behind as the religious pictures of the
fifteenth century left behind the first attempts of the early Christians
at iconography. In that hope I withdraw and ring up the curtain.
BACK TO METHUSELAH.
In the Beginning
_The Garden of Eden. Afternoon. An immense serpent is sleeping with
her head buried in a thick bed of Johnswort, and her body coiled in
apparently endless rings through the branches of a tree, which is
already well grown; for the days of creation have been longer than our
reckoning. She is not yet visible to anyone unaware of her presence, as
her colors of green and brown make a perfect camouflage. Near her head a
low rock shows above the Johnswort.
The rock and tree are on the border of a glade in which lies a dead fawn
all awry, its neck being broken. Adam, crouching with one hand on the
rock, is staring in consternation at the dead body. He has not noticed
the serpent on his left hand. He turns his face to his right and calls
ADAM. Eve! Eve!
EVE'S VOICE. What is it, Adam?
ADAM. Come here. Quick. Something has happened.
EVE [_running in_] What? Where? [_Adam points to the fawn_]. Oh! [_She
goes to it; and he is emboldened to go with her_]. What is the matter
with its eyes?
ADAM. It is not only its eyes. Look. [_He kicks it._]
EVE. Oh don't! Why doesn't it wake?
ADAM. I don't know. It is not asleep.
EVE. Not asleep?
EVE [_trying to shake it and roll it over_] It is stiff and cold.
ADAM. Nothing will wake it.
EVE. It has a queer smell. Pah! [_She dusts her hands, and draws away
from it_]. Did you find it like that?
ADAM. No. It was playing about; and it tripped and went head over heels.
It never stirred again. Its neck is wrong [_he stoops to lift the neck
and shew her_].
EVE. Dont touch it. Come away from it.
_They both retreat, and contemplate it from a few steps' distance with
EVE. Suppose you were to trip and fall, would you go like that?
ADAM. Ugh! [_He shudders and sits down on the rock_].
EVE [_throwing herself on the ground beside him, and grasping his knee_]
You must be careful. Promise me you will be careful.
ADAM. What is the good of being careful? We have to live here for ever.
Think of what for ever means! Sooner or later I shall trip and fall. It
may be tomorrow; it may be after as many days as there are leaves in
the garden and grains of sand by the river. No matter: some day I shall
forget and stumble.
EVE. I too.
ADAM [_horrified_] Oh no, no. I should be alone. Alone for ever. You
must never put yourself in danger of stumbling. You must not move about.
You must sit still. I will take care of you and bring you what you want.
EVE [_turning away from him with a shrug, and hugging her ankles_] I
should soon get tired of that. Besides, if it happened to you, _I_
should be alone. I could not sit still then. And at last it would happen
to me too.
ADAM. And then?
EVE. Then we should be no more. There would be only the things on all
fours, and the birds, and the snakes.
ADAM. That must not be.
EVE. Yes: that must not be. But it might be.
ADAM. No. I tell you it must not be. I know that it must not be.
EVE. We both know it. How do we know it?
ADAM. There is a voice in the garden that tells me things.
EVE. The garden is full of voices sometimes. They put all sorts of
thoughts into my head.
ADAM. To me there is only one voice. It is very low; but it is so near
that it is like a whisper from within myself. There is no mistaking it
for any voice of the birds or beasts, or for your voice.
EVE. It is strange that I should hear voices from all sides and you only
one from within. But I have some thoughts that come from within me and
not from the voices. The thought that we must not cease to be comes from
ADAM [_despairingly_] But we shall cease to be. We shall fall like the
fawn and be broken. [_Rising and moving about in his agitation_]. I
cannot bear this knowledge. I will not have it. It must not be, I tell
you. Yet I do not know how to prevent it.
EVE. That is just what I feel; but it is very strange that you should
say so: there is no pleasing you. You change your mind so often.
ADAM [_scolding her_] Why do you say that? How have I changed my mind?
EVE. You say we must not cease to exist. But you used to complain
of having to exist always and for ever. You sometimes sit for hours
brooding and silent, hating me in your heart. When I ask you what I have
done to you, you say you are not thinking of me, but of the horror of
having to be here for ever. But I know very well that what you mean is
the horror of having to be here with me for ever.
ADAM. Oh! That is what you think, is it? Well, you are wrong. [_He sits
down again, sulkily_]. It is the horror of having to be with myself for
ever. I like you; but I do not like myself. I want to be different; to
be better, to begin again and again; to shed myself as a snake sheds its
skin. I am tired of myself. And yet I must endure myself, not for a day
or for many days, but for ever. That is a dreadful thought. That is what
makes me sit brooding and silent and hateful. Do you never think of
EVE. No: I do not think about myself: what is the use? I am what I am:
nothing can alter that. I think about you.
ADAM. You should not. You are always spying on me. I can never be alone.
You always want to know what I have been doing. It is a burden. You
should try to have an existence of your own, instead of occupying
yourself with my existence.
EVE. I _have_ to think about you. You are lazy: you are dirty: you
neglect yourself: you are always dreaming: you would eat bad food and
become disgusting if I did not watch you and occupy myself with you. And
now some day, in spite of all my care, you will fall on your head and
ADAM. Dead? What word is that?
EVE [_pointing to the fawn_] Like that. I call it dead.
ADAM [_rising and approaching it slowly_] There is something uncanny
EVE [_joining him_] Oh! It is changing into little white worms.
ADAM. Throw it into the river. It is unbearable.
EVE. I dare not touch it.
ADAM. Then I must, though I loathe it. It is poisoning the air. [_He
gathers its hooves in his hand and carries it away in the direction from
which Eve came, holding it as far from him as possible_].
Eve looks after them for a moment; then, with a shiver of disgust, sits
down on the rock, brooding. The body of the serpent becomes visible,
glowing with wonderful new colors. She rears her head slowly from the
bed of Johnswort, and speaks into Eve's ear in a strange seductively
THE SERPENT. Eve.
EVE [_startled_] Who is that?
THE SERPENT. It is I. I have come to shew you my beautiful new hood. See
[_she spreads a magnificent amethystine hood_]!
EVE [_admiring it_] Oh! But who taught you to speak?
THE SERPENT. You and Adam. I have crept through the grass, and hidden,
and listened to you.
EVE. That was wonderfully clever of you.
THE SERPENT. I am the most subtle of all the creatures of the field.
EVE. Your hood is most lovely. [_She strokes it and pets the serpent_].
Pretty thing! Do you love your godmother Eve?
THE SERPENT. I adore her. [_She licks Eve's neck with her double
EVE [_petting her_] Eve's wonderful darling snake. Eve will never be
lonely now that her snake can talk to her.
THE SNAKE. I can talk of many things. I am very wise. It was I who
whispered the word to you that you did not know. Dead. Death. Die.
EVE [_shuddering_] Why do you remind me of it? I forgot it when I saw
your beautiful hood. You must not remind me of unhappy things.
THE SERPENT. Death is not an unhappy thing when you have learnt how to
EVE. How can I conquer it?
THE SERPENT. By another thing, called birth.
EVE. What? [_Trying to pronounce it_] B-birth?
THE SERPENT. Yes, birth.
EVE. What is birth?
THE SERPENT. The serpent never dies. Some day you shall see me come out
of this beautiful skin, a new snake with a new and lovelier skin. That
EVE. I have seen that. It is wonderful.
THE SERPENT. If I can do that, what can I not do? I tell you I am very
subtle. When you and Adam talk, I hear you say 'Why?' Always 'Why?' You
see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I
say 'Why not?' I made the word dead to describe my old skin that I cast
when I am renewed. I call that renewal being born.
EVE. Born is a beautiful word.
THE SERPENT. Why not be born again and again as I am, new and beautiful
EVE. I! It does not happen: that is why.
THE SERPENT. That is how; but it is not why. Why not?
EVE. But I should not like it. It would be nice to be new again; but my
old skin would lie on the ground looking just like me; and Adam would
see it shrivel up and--
THE SERPENT. No. He need not. There is a second birth.
EVE. A second birth?
THE SERPENT. Listen. I will tell you a great secret. I am very subtle;
and I have thought and thought and thought. And I am very wilful, and
must have what I want; and I have willed and willed and willed. And I
have eaten strange things: stones and apples that you are afraid to eat.
EVE. You dared!
THE SERPENT. I dared everything. And at last I found a way of gathering
together a part of the life in my body--
EVE. What is the life?
THE SERPENT. That which makes the difference between the dead fawn and
the live one.
EVE. What a beautiful word! And what a wonderful thing! Life is the
loveliest of all the new words.
THE SERPENT. Yes: it was by meditating on Life that I gained the power
to do miracles.
EVE. Miracles? Another new word.
THE SERPENT. A miracle is an impossible thing that is nevertheless
possible. Something that never could happen, and yet does happen.
EVE. Tell me some miracle that you have done.
THE SERPENT. I gathered a part of the life in my body, and shut it into
a tiny white case made of the stones I had eaten.
EVE. And what good was that?
THE SERPENT. I shewed the little case to the sun, and left it in its
warmth. And it burst; and a little snake came out; and it became bigger
and bigger from day to day until it was as big as I. That was the second
EVE. Oh! That is too wonderful. It stirs inside me. It hurts.
THE SERPENT. It nearly tore me asunder. Yet I am alive, and can burst my
skin and renew myself as before. Soon there will be as many snakes in
Eden as there are scales on my body. Then death will not matter: this
snake and that snake will die; but the snakes will live.
EVE. But the rest of us will die sooner or later, like the fawn. And
then there will be nothing but snakes, snakes, snakes everywhere.
THE SERPENT. That must not be. I worship you, Eve. I must have something
to worship. Something quite different to myself, like you. There must be
something greater than the snake.
EVE. Yes: it must not be. Adam must not perish. You are very subtle:
tell me what to do.
THE SERPENT. Think. Will. Eat the dust. Lick the white stone: bite the
apple you dread. The sun will give life.
EVE. I do not trust the sun. I will give life myself. I will tear.
another Adam from my body if I tear my body to pieces in the act.
THE SERPENT. Do. Dare it. Everything is possible: everything. Listen.
I am old. I am the old serpent, older than Adam, older than Eve. I
remember Lilith, who came before Adam and Eve. I was her darling as I am
yours. She was alone: there was no man with her. She saw death as you
saw it when the fawn fell; and she knew then that she must find out how
to renew herself and cast the skin like me. She had a mighty will: she
strove and strove and willed and willed for more moons than there are
leaves on all the trees of the garden. Her pangs were terrible: her
groans drove sleep from Eden. She said it must never be again: that the
burden of renewing life was past bearing: that it was too much for one.
And when she cast the skin, lo! there was not one new Lilith but two:
one like herself, the other like Adam. You were the one: Adam was the
EVE. But why did she divide into two, and make us different?
THE SERPENT. I tell you the labor is too much for one. Two must share
EVE. Do you mean that Adam must share it with me? He will not. He cannot
bear pain, nor take trouble with his body.
THE SERPENT. He need not. There will be no pain for him. He will implore
you to let him do his share. He will be in your power through his
EVE. Then I will do it. But how? How did Lilith work this miracle?
THE SERPENT. She imagined it.
EVE. What is imagined?
THE SERPENT. She told it to me as a marvellous story of something that
never happened to a Lilith that never was. She did not know then that
imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire;
you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.
EVE. How can I create out of nothing?
THE SERPENT. Everything must have been created out of nothing. Look at
that thick roll of hard flesh on your strong arm! That was not always
there: you could not climb a tree when I first saw you. But you willed
and tried and willed and tried; and your will created out of nothing the
roll on your arm until you had your desire, and could draw yourself up
with one hand and seat yourself on the bough that was above your head.
EVE. That was practice.
THE SERPENT. Things wear out by practice: they do not grow by it. Your
hair streams in the wind as if it were trying to stretch itself further
and further. But it does not grow longer for all its practice in
streaming, because you have not willed it so. When Lilith told me what
she had imagined in our silent language (for there were no words then) I
bade her desire it and will it; and then, to our great wonder, the thing
she had desired and willed created itself in her under the urging of her
will. Then I too willed to renew myself as two instead of one; and after
many days the miracle happened, and I burst from my skin another snake
interlaced with me; and now there are two imaginations, two desires, two
wills to create with.
EVE. To desire, to imagine, to will, to create. That is too long a
story. Find me one word for it all: you, who are so clever at words.
THE SERPENT. In one word, to conceive. That is the word that means both
the beginning in imagination and the end in creation.
EVE. Find me a word for the story Lilith imagined and told you in your
silent language: the story that was too wonderful to be true, and yet
THE SERPENT. A poem.
EVE. Find me another word for what Lilith was to me.
THE SERPENT. She was your mother.
EVE. And Adam's mother?
THE SERPENT. Yes.
EVE [_about to rise_] I will go and tell Adam to conceive.
THE SERPENT [_laughs_]!!!
EVE [_jarred and startled_] What a hateful noise! What is the matter
with you? No one has ever uttered such a sound before.
THE SERPENT. Adam cannot conceive.
THE SERPENT. Lilith did not imagine him so. He can imagine: he can
will: he can desire: he can gather his life together for a great spring
towards creation: he can create all things except one; and that one is
his own kind.
EVE. Why did Lilith keep this from him?
THE SERPENT. Because if he could do that he could do without Eve.
EVE. That is true. It is I who must conceive.
THE SERPENT. Yes. By that he is tied to you.
EVE. And I to him!
THE SERPENT. Yes, until you create another Adam.
EVE. I had not thought of that. You are very subtle. But if I create
another Eve he may turn to her and do without me. I will not create any
Eves, only Adams.
THE SERPENT. They cannot renew themselves without Eves. Sooner or later
you will die like the fawn; and the new Adams will be unable to create
without new Eves. You can imagine such an end; but you cannot desire it,
therefore cannot will it, therefore cannot create Adams only.
EVE. If I am to die like the fawn, why should not the rest die too? What
do I care?
THE SERPENT. Life must not cease. That comes before everything. It is
silly to say you do not care. You do care. It is that care that
will prompt your imagination; inflame your desires; make your will
irresistible; and create out of nothing.
EVE [_thoughtfully_] There can be no such thing as nothing. The garden
is full, not empty.
THE SERPENT. I had not thought of that. That is a great thought. Yes:
there is no such thing as nothing, only things we cannot see. The
chameleon eats the air.
EVE. I have another thought: I must tell it to Adam. [_Calling_] Adam!
ADAM'S VOICE. Coo-ee!
EVE. This will please him, and cure his fits of melancholy.
THE SERPENT. Do not tell him yet. I have not told you the great secret.
EVE. What more is there to tell? It is I who have to do the miracle.
THE SERPENT. No: he, too, must desire and will. But he must give his
desire and his will to you.
THE SERPENT. That is the great secret. Hush! he is coming.
ADAM [_returning_] Is there another voice in the garden besides our
voices and the Voice? I heard a new voice.
EVE [_rising and running to him_] Only think, Adam! Our snake has learnt
to speak by listening to us.
ADAM [_delighted_] Is it so? [_He goes past her to the stone, and
fondles the serpent_].
THE SERPENT [_responding affectionately_] It is so, dear Adam.
EVE. But I have more wonderful news than that. Adam: we need not live
ADAM [_dropping the snake's head in his excitement_] What! Eve: do not
play with me about this. If only there may be an end some day, and yet
no end! If only I can be relieved of the horror of having to endure
myself for ever! If only the care of this terrible garden may pass on
to some other gardener! If only the sentinel set by the Voice can be
relieved! If only the rest and sleep that enable me to bear it from
day to day could grow after many days into an eternal rest, an eternal
sleep, then I could face my days, however long they may last. Only,
there must be some end, some end: I am not strong enough to bear
THE SERPENT. You need not live to see another summer; and yet there
shall be no end.
ADAM. That cannot be.
THE SERPENT. It can be.
EVE. It shall be.
THE SERPENT. It is. Kill me; and you will find another snake in the
garden tomorrow. You will find more snakes than there are fingers on
EVE. I will make other Adams, other Eves.
ADAM. I tell you you must not make up stories about this. It cannot
THE SERPENT. I can remember when you were yourself a thing that could
not happen. Yet you are.
ADAM [_struck_] That must be true. [_He sits down on the stone_].
THE SERPENT. I will tell Eve the secret; and she will tell it to you.
ADAM. The secret! [_He turns quickly towards the serpent, and in doing
so puts his foot on something sharp_]. Oh!
EVE. What is it?
ADAM [_rubbing his foot_] A thistle. And there, next to it, a briar. And
nettles, too! I am tired of pulling these things up to keep the garden
pleasant for us for ever.
THE SERPENT. They do not grow very fast. They will not overrun the whole
garden for a long time: not until you have laid down your burden and
gone to sleep for ever. Why should you trouble yourself? Let the new
Adams clear a place for themselves.
ADAM. That is very true. You must tell us your secret. You see, Eve,
what a splendid thing it is not to have to live for ever.
EVE [_throwing herself down discontentedly and plucking at the grass_]
That is so like a man. The moment you find we need not last for ever,
you talk as if we were going to end today. You must clear away some of
those horrid things, or we shall be scratched and stung whenever we
forget to look where we are stepping.
ADAM. Oh yes, some of them, of course. But only some. I will clear them
THE SERPENT [_laughs_]!!!
ADAM. That is a funny noise to make. I like it.
EVE. I do not. Why do you make it again?
THE SERPENT. Adam has invented something new. He has invented tomorrow.
You will invent things every day now that the burden of immortality is
lifted from you.
EVE. Immortality? What is that?
THE SERPENT. My new word for having to live for ever.
EVE. The serpent has made a beautiful word for being. Living.
ADAM. Make me a beautiful word for doing things tomorrow; for that
surely is a great and blessed invention.
THE SERPENT. Procrastination.
EVE. That is a sweet word. I wish I had a serpent's tongue.
THE SERPENT. That may come too. Everything is possible.
ADAM [_springing up in sudden terror_] Oh!
EVE. What is the matter now?
ADAM. My rest! My escape from life!
THE SERPENT. Death. That is the word.
ADAM. There is a terrible danger in this procrastination.
EVE. What danger?
ADAM. If I put off death until tomorrow, I shall never die. There is no
such day as tomorrow, and never can be.
THE SERPENT. I am very subtle; but Man is deeper in his thought than
I am. The woman knows that there is no such thing as nothing: the man
knows that there is no such day as tomorrow. I do well to worship them.
ADAM. If I am to overtake death, I must appoint a real day, not a
tomorrow. When shall I die?
EVE. You may die when I have made another Adam. Not before. But then,
as soon as you like. [_She rises, and passing behind him, strolls off
carelessly to the tree and leans against it, stroking a ring of the
ADAM. There need be no hurry even then.
EVE. I see you will put it off until tomorrow.
ADAM. And you? Will you die the moment you have made a new Eve?
EVE. Why should I? Are you eager to be rid of me? Only just now you
wanted me to sit still and never move lest I should stumble and die like
the fawn. Now you no longer care.
ADAM. It does not matter so much now.
EVE [_angrily to the snake_] This death that you have brought into the
garden is an evil thing. He wants me to die.
THE SERPENT [_to Adam_] Do you want her to die?
ADAM. No. It is I who am to die. Eve must not die before me. I should be
EVE. You could get one of the new Eves.
ADAM. That is true. But they might not be quite the same. They could
not: I feel sure of that. They would not have the same memories. They
would be--I want a word for them.
THE SERPENT. Strangers.
ADAM. Yes: that is a good hard word. Strangers.
EVE. When there are new Adams and new Eves we shall live in a garden of
strangers. We shall need each other. [_She comes quickly behind him and
turns up his face to her_]. Do not forget that, Adam. Never forget it.
ADAM. Why should I forget it? It is I who have thought of it.
EVE. I, too, have thought of something. The fawn stumbled and fell and
died. But you could come softly up behind me and [_she suddenly pounces
on his shoulders and throws him forward on his face_] throw me down so
that I should die. I should not dare to sleep if there were no reason
why you should not make me die.
ADAM [_scrambling up in horror_] Make you die!!! What a frightful
THE SERPENT. Kill, kill, kill, kill. That is the word.
EVE. The new Adams and Eves might kill us. I shall not make them. [_She
sits on the rock and pulls him down beside her, clasping him to her with
her right arm_].
THE SERPENT. You must. For if you do not there will be an end.
ADAM. No: they will not kill us: they will feel as I do. There is
something against it. The Voice in the garden will tell them that they
must not kill, as it tells me.
THE SERPENT. The voice in the garden is your own voice.
ADAM. It is; and it is not. It is something greater than me: I am only a
part of it.
EVE. The Voice does not tell me not to kill you. Yet I do not want you
to die before me. No voice is needed to make me feel that.
ADAM [_throwing his arm round her shoulder with an expression of
anguish_] Oh no: that is plain without any voice. There is something
that holds us together, something that has no word--
THE SERPENT. Love. Love. Love.
ADAM. That is too short a word for so long a thing.
THE SERPENT [_laughs_]!!!
EVE [_turning impatiently to the snake_] That heart-biting sound again!
Do not do it. Why do you do it?
THE SERPENT. Love may be too long a word for so short a thing soon. But
when it is short it will be very sweet.
ADAM [_ruminating_] You puzzle me. My old trouble was heavy; but it was
simple. These wonders that you promise to do may tangle up my being
before they bring me the gift of death. I was troubled with the burden
of eternal being; but I was not confused in my mind. If I did not know
that I loved Eve, at least I did not know that she might cease to love
me, and come to love some other Adam and desire my death. Can you find a
name for that knowledge?
THE SERPENT. Jealousy. Jealousy. Jealousy.
ADAM. A hideous word.
EVE [_shaking him_] Adam: you must not brood. You think too much.
ADAM [_angrily_] How can I help brooding when the future has become
uncertain? Anything is better than uncertainty. Life has become
uncertain. Love is uncertain. Have you a word for this new misery?
THE SERPENT. Fear. Fear. Fear.
ADAM. Have you a remedy for it?
THE SERPENT. Yes. Hope. Hope. Hope.
ADAM. What is hope?
THE SERPENT. As long as you do not know the future you do not know that
it will not be happier than the past. That is hope.
ADAM. It does not console me. Fear is stronger in me than hope. I must
have certainty. [_He rises threateningly_]. Give it to me; or I will
kill you when next I catch you asleep.
EVE [_throwing her arms round the serpent_] My beautiful snake. Oh no.
How can you even think such a horror?
ADAM. Fear will drive me to anything. The serpent gave me fear. Let it
now give me certainty or go in fear of me.
THE SERPENT. Bind the future by your will. Make a vow.
ADAM. What is a vow?
THE SERPENT. Choose a day for your death; and resolve to die on that
day. Then death is no longer uncertain but certain. Let Eve vow to love
you until your death. Then love will be no longer uncertain.
ADAM. Yes: that is splendid: that will bind the future.
EVE [_displeased, turning away from the serpent_] But it will destroy
ADAM [_angrily_] Be silent, woman. Hope is wicked. Happiness is wicked.
Certainty is blessed.
THE SERPENT. What is wicked? You have invented a word.
ADAM. Whatever I fear to do is wicked. Listen to me, Eve; and you,
snake, listen too, that your memory may hold my vow. I will live a
thousand sets of the four seasons--
THE SERPENT. Years. Years.
ADAM. I will live a thousand years; and then I will endure no more: I
will die and take my rest. And I will love Eve all that time and no
EVE. And if Adam keeps his vow I will love no other man until he dies.
THE SERPENT. You have both invented marriage. And what he will be to you
and not to any other woman is husband; and what you will be to him and
not to any other man is wife.
ADAM [_instinctively moving his hand towards her_] Husband and wife.
EVE [_slipping her hand into his_] Wife and husband.
THE SERPENT [_laughs_]!!!
EVE [_snatching herself loose from Adam_] Do not make that odious noise,
I tell you.
ADAM. Do not listen to her: the noise is good: it lightens my heart.
You are a jolly snake. But you have not made a vow yet. What vow do you
THE SERPENT. I make no vows. I take my chance.
ADAM. Chance? What does that mean?
THE SERPENT. It means that I fear certainty as you fear uncertainty. It
means that nothing is certain but uncertainty. If I bind the future I
bind my will. If I bind my will I strangle creation.
EVE. Creation must not be strangled. I tell you I will create, though I
tear myself to pieces in the act.
ADAM. Be silent, both of you. I _will_ bind the future. I will be
delivered from fear. [_To Eve_] We have made our vows; and if you must
create, you shall create within the bounds of those vows. You shall not
listen to that snake any more. Come [_he seizes her by the hair to drag
EVE. Let me go, you fool. It has not yet told me the secret.
ADAM [_releasing her_] That is true. What is a fool?
EVE. I do not know: the word came to me. It is what you are when you
forget and brood and are filled with fear. Let us listen to the snake.
ADAM. No: I am afraid of it. I feel as if the ground were giving way
under my feet when it speaks. Do you stay and listen to it.
THE SERPENT [_laughs_]!!!
ADAM [_brightening_] That noise takes away fear. Funny. The snake and
the woman are going to whisper secrets. [_He chuckles and goes away
slowly, laughing his first laugh_].
EVE. Now the secret. The secret. [_She sits on the rock and throws her
arms round the serpent, who begins whispering to her_].
_Eve's face lights up with intense interest, which increases until an
expression of overwhelming repugnance takes its place. She buries her
face in her hands_.
_A few centuries later. Morning. An oasis in Mesopotamia. Close at hand
the end of a log house abuts on a kitchen garden. Adam is digging in the
middle of the garden. On his right, Eve sits on a stool in the shadow
of a tree by the doorway, spinning flax. Her wheel, which she turns by
hand, is a large disc of heavy wood, practically a flywheel. At the
opposite side of the garden is a thorn brake with a passage through it
barred by a hurdle.
The two are scantily and carelessly dressed in rough linen and leaves.
They have lost their youth and grace; and Adam has an unkempt beard and
jaggedly cut hair; but they are strong and in the prime of life. Adam
looks worried, like a farmer. Eve, better humored (having given up
worrying), sits and spins and thinks._
A MAN'S VOICE. Hallo, mother!
EVE [_looking across the garden towards the hurdle_] Here is Cain.
ADAM [_uttering a grunt of disgust_]!!! [_He goes on digging without
raising his head_].
_Cain kicks the hurdle out of his way, and strides into the garden. In
pose, voice, and dress he is insistently warlike. He is equipped with
huge spear and broad brass-bound leather shield; his casque is a tiger's
head with bull's horns; he wears a scarlet cloak with gold brooch over a
lion's skin with the claws dangling; his feet are in sandals with brass
ornaments; his shins are in brass greaves; and his bristling military
moustache glistens with oil. To his parents he has the self-assertive,
not-quite-at-ease manner of a revolted son who knows that he is not
forgiven nor approved of._
CAIN [_to Adam_] Still digging? Always dig, dig, dig. Sticking in the
old furrow. No progress! no advanced ideas! no adventures! What should I
be if I had stuck to the digging you taught me?
ADAM. What are you now, with your shield and spear, and your brother's
blood crying from the ground against you?
CAIN. I am the first murderer: you are only the first man. Anybody could
be the first man: it is as easy as to be the first cabbage. To be the
first murderer one must be a man of spirit.
ADAM. Begone. Leave us in peace. The world is wide enough to keep us
EVE. Why do you want to drive him away? He is mine. I made him out of my
own body. I want to see my work sometimes.
ADAM. You made Abel also. He killed Abel. Can you bear to look at him
CAIN. Whose fault was it that I killed Abel? Who invented killing? Did
I? No: he invented it himself. I followed your teaching. I dug and dug
and dug. I cleared away the thistles and briars. I ate the fruits of the
earth. I lived in the sweat of my brow, as you do. I was a fool. But
Abel was a discoverer, a man of ideas, of spirit: a true Progressive. He
was the discoverer of blood. He was the inventor of killing. He found
out that the fire of the sun could be brought down by a dewdrop. He
invented the altar to keep the fire alive. He changed the beasts he
killed into meat by the fire on the altar. He kept himself alive by
eating meat. His meal cost him a day's glorious health-giving sport and
an hour's amusing play with the fire. You learnt nothing from him: you
drudged and drudged and drudged, and dug and dug and dug, and made me do
the same. I envied his happiness, his freedom. I despised myself for
not doing as he did instead of what you did. He became so happy that he
shared his meal with the Voice that had whispered all his inventions to
him. He said that the Voice was the voice of the fire that cooked his
food, and that the fire that could cook could also eat. It was true: I
saw the fire consume the food on his altar. Then I, too, made an altar,
and offered my food on it, my grains, my roots, my fruit. Useless:
nothing happened. He laughed at me; and then came my great idea: why not
kill him as he killed the beasts? I struck; and he died, just as they
did. Then I gave up your old silly drudging ways, and lived as he had
lived, by the chase, by the killing, and by the fire. Am I not better
than you? stronger, happier, freer?
ADAM. You are not stronger: you are shorter in the wind: you cannot
endure. You have made the beasts afraid of us; and the snake has
invented poison to protect herself against you. I fear you myself. If
you take a step towards your mother with that spear of yours I will
strike you with my spade as you struck Abel.
EVE. He will not strike me. He loves me.
ADAM. He loved his brother. But he killed him.
CAIN. I do not want to kill women. I do not want to kill my mother. And
for her sake I will not kill you, though I could send this spear through
you without coming within reach of your spade. But for her, I could not
resist the sport of trying to kill you, in spite of my fear that you
would kill me. I have striven with a boar and with a lion as to which of
us should kill the other. I have striven with a man: spear to spear and
shield to shield. It is terrible; but there is no joy like it. I call
it fighting. He who has never fought has never lived. That is what has
brought me to my mother today.
ADAM. What have you to do with one another now? She is the creator, you
CAIN. How can I destroy unless she creates? I want her to create more
and more men: aye, and more and more women, that they may in turn create
more men. I have imagined a glorious poem of many men, of more men than
there are leaves on a thousand trees. I will divide them into two great
hosts. One of them I will lead; and the other will be led by the man I
fear most and desire to fight and kill most. And each host shall try
to kill the other host. Think of that! all those multitudes of men
fighting, fighting, killing, killing! The four rivers running with
blood! The shouts of triumph! the howls of rage! the curses of despair!
the shrieks of torment! That will be life indeed: life lived to the very
marrow: burning, overwhelming life. Every man who has not seen it, heard
it, felt it, risked it, will feel a humbled fool in the presence of the
man who has.
EVE. And I! I am to be a mere convenience to make men for you to kill!
ADAM. Or to kill you, you fool.
CAIN. Mother: the making of men is your right, your risk, your agony,
your glory, your triumph. You make my father here your mere convenience,
as you call it, for that. He has to dig for you, sweat for you, plod
for you, like the ox who helps him to tear up the ground or the ass who
carries his burdens for him. No woman shall make me live my father's
life. I will hunt: I will fight and strive to the very bursting of my
sinews. When I have slain the boar at the risk of my life, I will throw
it to my woman to cook, and give her a morsel of it for her pains. She
shall have no other food; and that will make her my slave. And the man
that slays me shall have her for his booty. Man shall be the master of
Woman, not her baby and her drudge.
_Adam throws down his spade, and stands looking darkly at Eve._
EVE. Are you tempted, Adam? Does this seem a better thing to you than
love between us?
CAIN. What does he know of love? Only when he has fought, when he has
faced terror and death, when he has striven to the spending of the last
rally of his strength, can he know what it is to rest in love in the
arms of a woman. Ask that woman whom you made, who is also my wife,
whether she would have me as I was in the days when I followed the ways
of Adam, and was a digger and a drudge?
EVE [_angrily throwing down her distaff_] What! You dare come here
boasting about that good-for-nothing Lua, the worst of daughters and the
worst of wives! You her master! You are more her slave than Adam's ox or
your own sheepdog. Forsooth, when you have slain the boar at the risk
of your life, you will throw her a morsel of it for her pains! Ha! Poor
wretch: do you think I do not know her, and know you, better than that?
Do you risk your life when you trap the ermine and the sable and the
blue fox to hang on her lazy shoulders and make her look more like an
animal than a woman? When you have to snare the little tender birds
because it is too much trouble for her to chew honest food, how much of
a great warrior do you feel then? You slay the tiger at the risk of your
life; but who gets the striped skin you have run that risk for? She
takes it to lie on, and flings you the carrion flesh you cannot eat. You
fight because you think that your fighting makes her admire and desire
you. Fool: she makes you fight because you bring her the ornaments and
the treasures of those you have slain, and because she is courted and
propitiated with power and gold by the people who fear you. You say that
I make a mere convenience of Adam: I who spin and keep the house, and
bear and rear children, and am a woman and not a pet animal to please
men and prey on them! What are you, you poor slave of a painted face and
a bundle of skunk's fur? You were a man-child when I bore you. Lua was a
woman-child when I bore her. What have you made of yourselves?
CAIN [_letting his spear fall into the crook of his shield arm, and
twirling his moustache_] There is something higher than man. There is
hero and superman.
EVE. Superman! You are no superman: you are Anti-Man: you are to other
men what the stoat is to the rabbit; and she is to you what the leech is
to the stoat. You despise your father; but when he dies the world will
be the richer because he lived. When you die, men will say, 'He was a
great warrior; but it would have been better for the world if he had
never been born.' And of Lua they will say nothing; but when they think
of her they will spit.
CAIN. She is a better sort of woman to live with than you. If Lua nagged
at me as you are nagging, and as you nag at Adam, I would beat her black
and blue from head to foot. I have done it too, slave as you say I am.
EVE. Yes, because she looked at another man. And then you grovelled at
her feet, and cried, and begged her to forgive you, and were ten times
more her slave than ever; and she, when she had finished screaming and
the pain went off a little, she forgave you, did she not?
CAIN. She loved me more than ever. That is the true nature of woman.
EVE [_now pitying him maternally_] Love! You call that love! You call
that the nature of woman! My boy: this is neither man nor woman nor love
nor life. You have no real strength in your bones nor sap in your flesh.
CAIN. Ha! [_he seizes his spear and swings it muscularly_].
EVE. Yes: you have to twirl a stick to feel your strength: you cannot
taste life without making it bitter and boiling hot: you cannot love
Lua until her face is painted, nor feel the natural warmth of her flesh
until you have stuck a squirrel's fur on it. You can feel nothing but a
torment, and believe nothing but a lie. You will not raise your head to
look at all the miracles of life that surround you; but you will run ten
miles to see a fight or a death.
ADAM. Enough said. Let the boy alone.
CAIN. Boy! Ha! ha!
EVE [_to Adam_] You think, perhaps, that his way of life may be better
than yours after all. You are still tempted. Well, will you pamper me as
he pampers his woman? Will you kill tigers and bears until I have a heap
of their skins to lounge on? Shall I paint my face and let my arms waste
into pretty softness, and eat partridges and doves, and the flesh of
kids whose milk you will steal for me?
ADAM. You are hard enough to bear with as you are. Stay as you are; and
I will stay as I am.
CAIN. You neither of you know anything about life. You are simple
country folk. You are the nurses and valets of the oxen and dogs and
asses you have tamed to work for you. I can raise you out of that. I
have a plan. Why not tame men and women to work for us? Why not bring
them up from childhood never to know any other lot, so that they may
believe that we are gods, and that they are here only to make life
glorious for us?
ADAM [_impressed_] That is a great thought, certainly.
EVE [_contemptuously_] Great thought!
ADAM. Well, as the serpent used to say, why not?
EVE. Because I would not have such wretches in my house. Because I hate
creatures with two heads, or with withered limbs, or that are distorted
and perverted and unnatural. I have told Cain already that he is not a
man and that Lua is not a woman: they are monsters. And now you want to
make still more unnatural monsters, so that you may be utterly lazy and
worthless, and that your tamed human animals may find work a blasting
curse. A fine dream, truly! [_To Cain_] Your father is a fool skin deep;
but you are a fool to your very marrow; and your baggage of a wife is
ADAM. Why am I a fool? How am I a greater fool than you?
EVE. You said there would be no killing because the Voice would tell our
children that they must not kill. Why did it not tell Cain that?
CAIN. It did; but I am not a child to be afraid of a Voice. The Voice
thought I was nothing but my brother's keeper. It found that I was
myself, and that it was for Abel to be himself also, and look to
himself. He was not my keeper any more than I was his: why did he not
kill me? There was no more to prevent him than there was to prevent me:
it was man to man; and I won. I was the first conqueror.
ADAM. What did the Voice say to you when you thought all that?
CAIN. Why, it gave me right. It said that my deed was as a mark on me, a
burnt-in mark such as Abel put on his sheep, that no man should slay me.
And here I stand unslain, whilst the cowards who have never slain, the
men who are content to be their brothers' keepers instead of their
masters, are despised and rejected, and slain like rabbits. He who bears
the brand of Cain shall rule the earth. When he falls, he shall be
avenged sevenfold: the Voice has said it; so beware how you plot against
me, you and all the rest.
ADAM. Cease your boasting and bullying, and tell the truth. Does not the
Voice tell you that as no man dare slay you for murdering your brother,
you ought to slay yourself?
ADAM. Then there is no such thing as divine justice, unless you are
CAIN. I am not lying: I dare all truths. There is divine justice. For
the Voice tells me that I must offer myself to every man to be killed if
he can kill me. Without danger I cannot be great. That is how I pay for
Abel's blood. Danger and fear follow my steps everywhere. Without them
courage would have no sense. And it is courage, courage, courage, that
raises the blood of life to crimson splendor.
ADAM [_picking up his spade and preparing to dig again_] Take yourself
off then. This splendid life of yours does not last for a thousand
years; and I must last for a thousand years. When you fighters do not
get killed in fighting one another or fighting the beasts, you die from
mere evil in yourselves. Your flesh ceases to grow like man's flesh: it
grows like a fungus on a tree. Instead of breathing you sneeze, or cough
up your insides, and wither and perish. Your bowels become rotten; your
hair falls from you; your teeth blacken and drop out; and you die before
your time, not because you will, but because you must. I will dig, and
CAIN. And pray, what use is this thousand years of life to you, you
old vegetable? Do you dig any better because you have been digging for
hundreds of years? I have not lived as long as you; but I know all there
is to be known of the craft of digging. By quitting it I have set myself
free to learn nobler crafts of which you know nothing. I know the craft
of fighting and of hunting: in a word, the craft of killing. What
certainty have you of your thousand years? I could kill both of you; and
you could no more defend yourselves than a couple of sheep. I spare you;
but others may kill you. Why not live bravely, and die early and make
room for others? Why, I--I! that know many more crafts than either of
you, am tired of myself when I am not fighting or hunting. Sooner than
face a thousand years of it I should kill myself, as the Voice sometimes
tempts me to do already.
ADAM. Liar: you denied just now that it called on you to pay for Abel's
life with your own.
CAIN. The Voice does not speak to me as it does to you. I am a man: you
are only a grown-up child. One does not speak to a child as to a man.
And a man does not listen and tremble in silence. He replies: he makes
the Voice respect him: in the end he dictates what the Voice shall say.
ADAM. May your tongue be accurst for such blasphemy!
EVE. Keep a guard on your own tongue; and do not curse my son. It was
Lilith who did wrong when she shared the labor of creation so unequally
between man and wife. If you, Cain, had had the trouble of making Abel,
or had had to make another man to replace him when he was gone, you
would not have killed him: you would have risked your own life to save
his. That is why all this empty talk of yours, which tempted Adam just
now when he threw down his spade and listened to you for a while, went
by me like foul wind that has passed over a dead body. That is why there
is enmity between Woman the creator and Man the destroyer. I know you: I
am your mother. You are idle: you are selfish. It is long and hard and
painful to create life: it is short and easy to steal the life others
have made. When you dug, you made the earth live and bring forth as I
live and bring forth. It was for that that Lilith set you free from the
travail of women, not for theft and murder.
CAIN. The Devil thank her for it! I can make better use of my time than
to play the husband to the clay beneath my feet.
ADAM. Devil? What new word is that?
CAIN. Hearken to me, old fool. I have never in my soul listened
willingly when you have told me of the Voice that whispers to you. There
must be two Voices: one that gulls and despises you, and another that
trusts and respects me. I call yours the Devil. Mine I call the Voice of
ADAM. Mine is the Voice of Life: yours the Voice of Death.
CAIN. Be it so. For it whispers to me that death is not really death:
that it is the gate of another life: a life infinitely splendid and
intense: a life of the soul alone: a life without clods or spades,
hunger or fatigue--
EVE. Selfish and idle, Cain. I know.
CAIN. Selfish, yes: a life in which no man is his brother's keeper,
because his brother can keep himself. But am I idle? In rejecting your
drudgery, have I not embraced evils and agonies of which you know
nothing? The arrow is lighter in the hand than the spade; but the energy
that drives it through the breast of a fighter is as fire to water
compared with the strength that drives the spade into the harmless dirty
clay. My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.
ADAM. What is that word? What is pure?
CAIN. Turned from the clay. Turned upward to the sun, to the clear clean
ADAM. The heavens are empty, child. The earth is fruitful. The earth
feeds us. It gives us the strength by which we made you and all mankind.
Cut off from the clay which you despise, you would perish miserably.
CAIN. I revolt against the clay. I revolt against the food. You say it
gives us strength: does it not also turn into filth and smite us with
diseases? I revolt against these births that you and mother are so proud
of. They drag us down to the level of the beasts. If that is to be the
last thing as it has been the first, let mankind perish. If I am to
eat like a bear, if Lua is to bring forth cubs like a bear, then I had
rather be a bear than a man; for the bear is not ashamed: he knows no
better. If you are content, like the bear, I am not. Stay with the woman
who gives you children: I will go to the woman who gives me dreams.
Grope in the ground for your food: I will bring it from the skies with
my arrows, or strike it down as it roams the earth in the pride of its
life. If I must have food or die, I will at least have it at as far a
remove from the earth as I can. The ox shall make it something nobler
than grass before it comes to me. And as the man is nobler than the ox,
I shall some day let my enemy eat the ox; and then I will slay and eat
ADAM. Monster! You hear this, Eve?
EVE. So that is what comes of turning your face to the clean clear
heavens! Man-eating! Child-eating! For that is what it would come to,
just as it came to lambs and kids when Abel began with sheep and goats.
You are a poor silly creature after all. Do you think I never have these
thoughts: I! who have the labor of the child-bearing: I! who have the
drudgery of preparing the food? I thought for a moment that perhaps this
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