Back to Methuselah
George Bernard Shaw
Part 5 out of 7
BARNABAS. If they force me to it I will obtain legislation against
marriages above the age of seventy-eight.
THE ARCHBISHOP. There is not time for that before we are married, Mr
Accountant General. Be good enough to get out of the lady's way.
BARNABAS. There is time to send the lady to the lethal chamber before
anything comes of your marriage. Dont forget that.
MRS LUTESTRING. What nonsense, Mr Accountant General! Good afternoon,
Mr President. Good afternoon, Mr Chief Secretary. [_They rise and
acknowledge her salutation with bows. She walks straight at the
Accountant General, who instinctively shrinks out of her way as she
leaves the room_].
THE ARCHBISHOP. I am surprised at you, Mr Barnabas. Your tone was like
an echo from the Dark Ages. [_He follows the Domestic Minister_].
_Confucius, shaking his head and clucking with his tongue in deprecation
of this painful episode, moves to the chair just vacated by the
Archbishop and stands behind it with folded palms, looking at the
President. The Accountant General shakes his fist after the departed
visitors, and bursts into savage abuse of them._
BARNABAS. Thieves! Cursed thieves! Vampires! What are you going to do,
BARNABAS. Yes, do. There must be dozens of these people in existence.
Are you going to let them do what the two who have just left us mean to
do, and crowd us off the face of the earth?
BURGE-LUBIN [_sitting down_] Oh, come, Barnabas! What harm are they
doing? Arnt you interested in them? Dont you like them?
BARNABAS. Like them! I hate them. They are monsters, unnatural monsters.
They are poison to me.
BURGE-LUBIN. What possible objection can there be to their living as
long as they can? It does not shorten our lives, does it?
BARNABAS. If I have to die when I am seventy-eight, I don't see
why another man should be privileged to live to be two hundred and
seventy-eight. It does shorten my life, relatively. It makes us
ridiculous. If they grew to be twelve feet high they would make us all
dwarfs. They talked to us as if we were children. There is no love lost
between us: their hatred of us came out soon enough. You heard what the
woman said, and how the Archbishop backed her up?
BURGE-LUBIN. But what can we do to them?
BARNABAS. Kill them.
BARNABAS. Lock them up. Sterilize them somehow, anyhow.
BURGE-LUBIN. But what reason could we give?
BARNABAS. What reason can you give for killing a snake? Nature tells you
to do it.
BURGE-LUBIN. My dear Barnabas, you are out of your mind.
BARNABAS. Havnt you said that once too often already this morning?
BURGE-LUBIN. I don't believe you will carry a single soul with you.
BARNABAS. I understand. I know you. You think you are one of them.
CONFUCIUS. Mr Accountant General: you may be one of them.
BARNABAS. How dare you accuse me of such a thing? I am an honest man,
not a monster. I won my place in public life by demonstrating that the
true expectation of human life is seventy-eight point six. And I will
resist any attempt to alter or upset it to the last drop of my blood if
BURGE-LUBIN. Oh, tut tut! Come, come! Pull yourself together. How can
you, a descendant of the great Conrad Barnabas, the man who is still
remembered by his masterly Biography of a Black Beetle, be so absurd?
BARNABAS. You had better go and write the autobiography of a jackass. I
am going to raise the country against this horror, and against you, if
you shew the slightest sign of weakness about it.
CONFUCIUS [_very impressively_] You will regret it if you do.
BARNABAS. What is to make me regret it?
CONFUCIUS. Every mortal man and woman in the community will begin to
count on living for three centuries. Things will happen which you do not
foresee: terrible things. The family will dissolve: parents and children
will be no longer the old and the young: brothers and sisters will meet
as strangers after a hundred years separation: the ties of blood will
lose their innocence. The imaginations of men, let loose over the
possibilities of three centuries of life, will drive them mad and wreck
human society. This discovery must be kept a dead secret. [_He sits
BARNABAS. And if I refuse to keep the secret?
CONFUCIUS. I shall have you safe in a lunatic asylum the day after you
BARNABAS. You forget that I can produce the Archbishop to prove my
CONFUCIUS. So can I. Which of us do you think he will support when I
explain to him that your object in revealing his age is to get him
BARNABAS [_desperate_] Burge: are you going to back up this yellow
abomination against me? Are we public men and members of the Government?
or are we damned blackguards?
CONFUCIUS [_unmoved_] Have you ever known a public man who was not what
vituperative people called a damned blackguard when some inconsiderate
person wanted to tell the public more than was good for it?
BARNABAS. Hold your tongue, you insolent heathen. Burge: I spoke to you.
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, you know, my dear Barnabas, Confucius is a very
long-headed chap. I see his point.
BARNABAS. Do you? Then let me tell you that, except officially, I will
never speak to you again. Do you hear?
BURGE-LUBIN [_cheerfully_] You will. You will.
BARNABAS. And don't you ever dare speak to me again. Do you hear? [_He
turns to the door_].
BURGE-LUBIN. I will. I will. Goodbye, Barnabas. God bless you.
BARNABAS. May you live forever, and be the laughingstock of the whole
world! [_he dashes out in a fury_].
BURGE-LUBIN [_laughing indulgently_] He will keep the secret all right.
I know Barnabas. You neednt worry.
CONFUCIUS [_troubled and grave_] There are no secrets except the secrets
that keep themselves. Consider. There are those films at the Record
Office. We have no power to prevent the Master of the Records from
publishing this discovery made in his department. We cannot silence the
American--who can silence an American?--nor the people who were there
today to receive him. Fortunately, a film can prove nothing but a
BURGE-LUBIN. Thats very true. After all, the whole thing is confounded
nonsense, isnt it?
CONFUCIUS [_raising his head to look at him_] You have decided not to
believe it now that you realize its inconveniences. That is the English
method. It may not work in this case.
BURGE-LUBIN. English be hanged! It's common sense. You know, those two
people got us hypnotized: not a doubt of it. They must have been kidding
us. They were, werent they?
CONFUCIUS. You looked into that woman's face; and you believed.
BURGE-LUBIN. Just so. Thats where she had me. I shouldn't have believed
her a bit if she'd turned her back to me.
CONFUCIUS [_shakes his head slowly and repeatedly_]???
BURGE-LUBIN. You really think--? [_he hesitates_].
CONFUCIUS. The Archbishop has always been a puzzle to me. Ever since
I learnt to distinguish between one English face and another I have
noticed what the woman pointed out: that the English face is not an
adult face, just as the English mind is not an adult mind.
BURGE-LUBIN. Stow it, John Chinaman. If ever there was a race divinely
appointed to take charge of the non-adult races and guide them and train
them and keep them out of mischief until they grow up to be capable of
adopting our institutions, that race is the English race. It is the only
race in the world that has that characteristic. Now!
CONFUCIUS. That is the fancy of a child nursing a doll. But it is ten
times more childish of you to dispute the highest compliment ever paid
BURGE-LUBIN. You call it a compliment to class us as grown-up children.
CONFUCIUS. Not grown-up children, children at fifty, sixty, seventy.
Your maturity is so late that you never attain to it. You have to be
governed by races which are mature at forty. That means that you are
potentially the most highly developed race on earth, and would be
actually the greatest if you could live long enough to attain to
BURGE-LUBIN [_grasping the idea at last_] By George, Confucius, youre
right! I never thought of that. That explains everything. We are just
a lot of schoolboys: theres no denying it. Talk to an Englishman about
anything serious, and he listens to you curiously for a moment just as
he listens to a chap playing classical music. Then he goes back to
his marine golf, or motoring, or flying, or women, just like a bit of
stretched elastic when you let it go. [_Soaring to the height of his
theme_] Oh, youre quite right. We are only in our infancy. I ought to
be in a perambulator, with a nurse shoving me along. It's true: it's
absolutely true. But some day we'll grow up; and then, by Jingo, we'll
CONFUCIUS. The Archbishop is an adult. When I was a child I was
dominated and intimidated by people whom I now know to have been weaker
and sillier than I, because there was some mysterious quality in their
mere age that overawed me. I confess that, though I have kept up
appearances, I have always been afraid of the Archbishop.
BURGE-LUBIN. Between ourselves, Confucius, so have I.
CONFUCIUS. It is this that convinced me. It was this in the woman's face
that convinced you. Their new departure in the history of the race is no
fraud. It does not even surprise me.
BURGE-LUBIN. Oh, come! Not surprise you! It's your pose never to be
surprised at anything; but if you are not surprised at this you are not
CONFUCIUS. I am staggered, just as a man may be staggered by an
explosion for which he has himself laid the charge and lighted the fuse.
But I am not surprised, because, as a philosopher and a student of
evolutionary biology, I have come to regard some such development as
this as inevitable. If I had not thus prepared myself to be credulous,
no mere evidence of films and well-told tales would have persuaded me to
believe. As it is, I do believe.
BURGE-LUBIN. Well, that being settled, what the devil is to happen next?
Whats the next move for us?
CONFUCIUS. We do not make the next move. The next move will be made by
the Archbishop and the woman.
BURGE-LUBIN. Their marriage?
CONFUCIUS. More than that. They have made the momentous discovery that
they are not alone in the world.
BURGE-LUBIN. You think there are others?
CONFUCIUS. There must be many others. Each of them believes that he or
she is the only one to whom the miracle has happened. But the Archbishop
knows better now. He will advertise in terms which only the longlived
people will understand. He will bring them together and organize them.
They will hasten from all parts of the earth. They will become a great
BURGE-LUBIN [_a little alarmed_] I say, will they? I suppose they will.
I wonder is Barnabas right after all? Ought we to allow it?
CONFUCIUS. Nothing that we can do will stop it. We cannot in our souls
really want to stop it: the vital force that has produced this change
would paralyse our opposition to it, if we were mad enough to oppose.
But we will not oppose. You and I may be of the elect, too.
BURGE-LUBIN. Yes: thats what gets us every time. What the deuce ought we
to do? Something must be done about it, you know.
CONFUCIUS. Let us sit still, and meditate in silence on the vistas
BURGE-LUBIN. By George, I believe youre right. Let us.
_They sit meditating, the Chinaman naturally, the President with visible
effort and intensity. He is positively glaring into the future when the
voice of the Negress is heard._
THE NEGRESS. Mr President.
BURGE-LUBIN [_joyfully_] Yes. [_Taking up a peg_] Are you at home?
THE NEGRESS. No. Omega, zero, x squared.
_The President rapidly puts the peg in the switchboard; works the dial;
and presses the button. The screen becomes transparent; and the Negress,
brilliantly dressed, appears on what looks like the bridge of a steam
yacht in glorious sea weather. The installation with which she is
communicating is beside the binnacle._
CONFUCIUS [_looking round, and recoiling with a shriek of disgust_] Ach!
Avaunt! Avaunt! [_He rushes from the room_].
BURGE-LUBIN. What part of the coast is that?
THE NEGRESS. Fishguard Bay. Why not run over and join me for the
afternoon? I am disposed to be approachable at last.
BURGE-LUBIN. But Fishguard! Two hundred and seventy miles!
THE NEGRESS. There is a lightning express on the Irish Air Service at
half-past sixteen. They will drop you by a parachute in the bay. The
dip will do you good. I will pick you up and dry you and give you a
BURGE-LUBIN. Delightful. But a little risky, isnt it?
THE NEGRESS. Risky! I thought you were afraid of nothing.
BURGE-LUBIN. I am not exactly afraid; but--
THE NEGRESS [_offended_] But you think it is not good enough. Very well
[_she raises her hand to take the peg out of her switchboard_].
BURGE-LUBIN [_imploringly_] No: stop: let me explain: hold the line just
one moment. Oh, please.
THE NEGRESS [_waiting with her hand poised over the peg_] Well?
BURGE-LUBIN. The fact is, I have been behaving very recklessly for some
time past under the impression that my life would be so short that
it was not worth bothering about. But I have just learnt that I may
live--well, much longer than I expected. I am sure your good sense will
tell you that this alters the case. I--
THE NEGRESS [_with suppressed rage_] Oh, quite. Pray don't risk your
precious, life on my account. Sorry for troubling you. Goodbye. [_She
snatches out her peg and vanishes_].
BURGE-LUBIN [_urgently_] No: please hold on. I can convince you--[_a
loud buzz-uzz-uzz_]. Engaged! Who is she calling up now? [_Represses the
button and calls_] The Chief Secretary. Say I want to see him again,
just for a moment.
CONFUCIUS'S VOICE. Is the woman gone?
BURGE-LUBIN. Yes, yes: it's all right. Just a moment, if--[_Confucius
returns_] Confucius: I have some important business at Fishguard. The
Irish Air Service can drop me in the bay by parachute. I suppose it's
quite safe, isnt it?
CONFUCIUS. Nothing is quite safe. The air service is as safe as any
other travelling service. The parachute is safe. But the water is not
BURGE-LUBIN. Why? They will give me an unsinkable tunic, wont they?
CONFUCIUS. You will not sink; but the sea is very cold. You may get
rheumatism for life.
BURGE-LUBIN. For life! That settles it: I wont risk it.
CONFUCIUS. Good. You have at last become prudent: you are no longer what
you call a sportsman: you are a sensible coward, almost a grown-up man.
I congratulate you.
BURGE-LUBIN [_resolutely_] Coward or no coward, I will not face an
eternity of rheumatism for any woman that ever was born. [_He rises and
goes to the rack for his fillet_] I have changed my mind: I am going
home. [_He cocks the fillet rakishly_] Good evening.
CONFUCIUS. So early? If the Minister of Health rings you up, what shall
I tell her?
BURGE-LUBIN. Tell her to go to the devil. [_He goes out_].
CONFUCIUS [_shaking his head, shocked at the President's impoliteness_]
No. No, no, no, no, no. Oh, these English! these crude young
civilizations! Their manners! Hogs. Hogs.
Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman
_Burrin pier on the south shore of Galway Bay in Ireland, a region of
stone-capped hills and granite fields. It is a fine summer day in the
year 3000 A.D. On an ancient stone stump, about three feet thick and
three feet high, used for securing ships by ropes to the shore, and
called a bollard or holdfast, an elderly gentleman sits facing the land
with his head bowed and his face in his hands, sobbing. His sunburnt
skin contrasts with his white whiskers and eyebrows. He wears a black
frock-coat, a white waistcoat, lavender trousers, a brilliant silk
cravat with a jewelled pin stuck in it, a tall hat of grey felt, and
patent leather boots with white spats. His starched linen cuffs protrude
from his coat sleeves; and his collar, also of starched white linen, is
Gladstonian. On his right, three or four full sacks, lying side by side
on the flags, suggest that the pier, unlike many remote Irish piers,
is occasionally useful as well as romantic. On his left, behind him, a
flight of stone steps descends out of sight to the sea level.
A woman in a silk tunic and sandals, wearing little else except a cap
with the number 2 on it in gold, comes up the steps from the sea, and
stares in astonishment at the sobbing man. Her age cannot be guessed:
her face is firm and chiselled like a young face; but her expression is
unyouthful in its severity and determination._
THE WOMAN. What is the matter?
_The elderly gentleman looks up; hastily pulls himself together; takes
out a silk handkerchief and dries his tears lightly with a brave attempt
to smile through them; and tries to rise gallantly, but sinks back._
THE WOMAN. Do you need assistance?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No. Thank you very much. No. Nothing. The heat.
[_He punctuates with sniffs, and dabs with his handkerchief at his eyes
and nose._] Hay fever.
THE WOMAN. You are a foreigner, are you not?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No. You must not regard me as a foreigner. I am a
THE WOMAN. You come from some part of the British Commonwealth?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amiably pompous_] From its capital, madam.
THE WOMAN. From Baghdad?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes. You may not be aware, madam, that these
islands were once the centre of the British Commonwealth, during a
period now known as The Exile. They were its headquarters a thousand
years ago. Few people know this interesting circumstance now; but I
assure you it is true. I have come here on a pious pilgrimage to one of
the numerous lands of my fathers. We are of the same stock, you and I.
Blood is thicker than water. We are cousins.
THE WOMAN. I do not understand. You say you have come here on a pious
pilgrimage. Is that some new means of transport?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again shewing signs of distress_] I find it
very difficult to make myself understood here. I was not referring to a
machine, but to a--a--a sentimental journey.
THE WOMAN. I am afraid I am as much in the dark as before. You said also
that blood is thicker than water. No doubt it is; but what of it?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Its meaning is obvious.
THE WOMAN. Perfectly. But I assure you I am quite aware that blood is
thicker than water.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_sniffing: almost in tears again_] We will leave
it at that, madam.
THE WOMAN [going _nearer to him and scrutinizing him with some concern_]
I am afraid you are not well. Were you not warned that it is dangerous
for shortlived people to come to this country? There is a deadly disease
called discouragement, against which shortlived people have to take very
strict precautions. Intercourse with us puts too great a strain on them.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_pulling himself together huffily_] It has no
effect on me, madam. I fear my conversation does not interest you. If
not, the remedy is in your own hands.
THE WOMAN [_looking at her hands, and then looking inquiringly at him_]
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_breaking down_] Oh, this is dreadful. No
understanding, no intelligence, no sympathy--[_his sobs choke him_].
THE WOMAN. You see, you are ill.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nerved by indignation_] I am not ill. I have
never had a day's illness in my life.
THE WOMAN. May I advise you?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have no need of a lady doctor, thank you,
THE WOMAN [_shaking her head_] I am afraid I do not understand. I said
nothing about a butterfly.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well, _I_ said nothing about a butterfly.
THE WOMAN. You spoke of a lady doctor. The word is known here only as
the name of a butterfly.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_insanely_] I give up. I can bear this no longer.
It is easier to go out of my mind at once. [_He rises and dances about,
I'd be a butterfly, born in a bower,
Making apple dumplings without any flour.
THE WOMAN [_smiling gravely_] It must be at least a hundred and fifty
years since I last laughed. But if you do that any more I shall
certainly break out like a primary of sixty. Your dress is so
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_halting abruptly in his antics_] My dress
ridiculous! I may not be dressed like a Foreign Office clerk; but
my clothes are perfectly in fashion in my native metropolis, where
yours--pardon my saying so--would be considered extremely unusual and
THE WOMAN. Decent? There is no such word in our language. What does it
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It would not be decent for me to explain. Decency
cannot be discussed without indecency.
THE WOMAN. I cannot understand you at all. I fear you have not been
observing the rules laid down for shortlived visitors.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Surely, madam, they do not apply to persons of my
age and standing. I am not a child, nor an agricultural laborer.
THE WOMAN [_severely_] They apply to you very strictly. You are expected
to confine yourself to the society of children under sixty. You
are absolutely forbidden to approach fully adult natives under any
circumstances. You cannot converse with persons of my age for long
without bringing on a dangerous attack of discouragement. Do you realize
that you are already shewing grave symptoms of that very distressing and
usually fatal complaint?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not, madam. I am fortunately in no
danger of contracting it. I am quite accustomed to converse intimately
and at the greatest length with the most distinguished persons. If you
cannot discriminate between hay fever and imbecility, I can only say
that your advanced years carry with them the inevitable penalty of
THE WOMAN. I am one of the guardians of this district; and I am
responsible for your welfare--
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. The Guardians! Do you take me for a pauper?
THE WOMAN. I do not know what a pauper is. You must tell me who you are,
if it is possible for you to express yourself intelligibly--
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_snorts indignantly_]!
THE WOMAN [_continuing_]--and why you are wandering here alone without a
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_outraged_] Nurse!
THE WOMAN. Shortlived visitors are not allowed to go about here without
nurses. Do you not know that rules are meant to be kept?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. By the lower classes, no doubt. But to persons
in my position there are certain courtesies which are never denied by
well-bred people; and--
THE WOMAN. There are only two human classes here: the shortlived and
the normal. The rules apply to the shortlived, and are for their own
protection. Now tell me at once who you are.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_impressively_] Madam, I am a retired gentleman,
formerly Chairman of the All-British Synthetic Egg and Vegetable Cheese
Trust in Baghdad, and now President of the British Historical and
Archaeological Society, and a Vice-President of the Travellers' Club.
THE WOMAN. All that does not matter.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again snorting_] Hm! Indeed!
THE WOMAN. Have you been sent here to make your mind flexible?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. What an extraordinary question! Pray do you find
my mind noticeably stiff?
THE WOMAN. Perhaps you do not know that you are on the west coast of
Ireland, and that it is the practice among natives of the Eastern Island
to spend some years here to acquire mental flexibility. The climate has
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_haughtily_] I was born, not in the Eastern
Island, but, thank God, in dear old British Baghdad; and I am not in
need of a mental health resort.
THE WOMAN. Then why are you here?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Am I trespassing? I was not aware of it.
THE WOMAN. Trespassing? I do not understand the word.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Is this land private property? If so, I make no
claim. I proffer a shilling in satisfaction of damage (if any), and am
ready to withdraw if you will be good enough to shew me the nearest way.
[_He offers her a shilling_].
THE WOMAN [_taking it and examining it without much interest_] I do not
understand a single word of what you have just said.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am speaking the plainest English. Are you the
THE WOMAN [_shaking her head_] There is a tradition in this part of the
country of an animal with a name like that. It used to be hunted and
shot in the barbarous ages. It is quite extinct now.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_breaking down again_] It is a dreadful thing to
be in a country where nobody understands civilized institutions. [_He
collapses on the bollard, struggling with his rising sobs_]. Excuse me.
THE WOMAN [_taking a tuning-fork from her girdle and holding it to her
ear; then speaking into space on one note, like a chorister intoning
a psalm_] Burrin Pier Galway please send someone to take charge of a
discouraged shortliver who has escaped from his nurse male harmless
babbles unintelligibly with moments of sense distressed hysterical
foreign dress very funny has curious fringe of white sea-weed under his
THE GENTLEMAN. This is a gross impertinence. An insult.
THE WOMAN [_replacing her tuning-fork and addressing the elderly
gentleman_] These words mean nothing to me. In what capacity are you
here? How did you obtain permission to visit us?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_importantly_] Our Prime Minister, Mr Badger
Bluebin, has come to consult the oracle. He is my son-in-law. We are
accompanied by his wife and daughter: my daughter and granddaughter. I
may mention that General Aufsteig, who is one of our party, is really
the Emperor of Turania travelling incognito. I understand he has a
question to put to the oracle informally. I have come solely to visit
THE WOMAN. Why should you come to a place where you have no business?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Great Heavens, madam, can anything be more
natural? I shall be the only member of the Travellers' Club who has set
foot on these shores. Think of that! My position will be unique.
THE WOMAN. Is that an advantage? We have a person here who has lost both
legs in an accident. His position is unique. But he would much rather be
like everyone else.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. This is maddening. There is no analogy whatever
between the two cases.
THE WOMAN. They are both unique.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Conversation in this place seems to consist of
ridiculous quibbles. I am heartily tired of them.
THE WOMAN. I conclude that your Travellers' Club is an assembly of
persons who wish to be able to say that they have been in some place
where nobody else has been.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Of Course if you wish to sneer at us--
THE WOMAN. What is sneer?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_with a wild sob_] I shall drown myself.
_He makes desperately for the edge of the pier, but is confronted by
a man with the number one on his cap, who comes up the steps and
intercepts him. He is dressed like the woman, but a slight moustache
proclaims his sex._
THE MAN [_to the elderly gentleman_] Ah, here you are. I shall really
have to put a collar and lead on you if you persist in giving me the
slip like this.
THE WOMAN. Are you this stranger's nurse?
THE MAN. Yes. I am very tired of him. If I take my eyes off him for a
moment, he runs away and talks to everybody.
THE WOMAN [_after taking out her tuning-fork and sounding it, intones as
before_] Burrin Pier. Wash out. [_She puts up the fork, and addresses
the man_]. I sent a call for someone to take care of him. I have been
trying to talk to him; but I can understand very little of what he says.
You must take better care of him: he is badly discouraged already. If
I can be of any further use, Fusima, Gort, will find me. [_She goes
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Any further use! She has been of no use to me.
She spoke to me without any introduction, like any improper female. And
she has made off with my shilling.
THE MAN. Please speak slowly. I cannot follow. What is a shilling? What
is an introduction? Improper female doesnt make sense.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Nothing seems to make sense here. All I can tell
you is that she was the most impenetrably stupid woman I have ever met
in the whole course of my life.
THE MAN. That cannot be. She cannot appear stupid to you. She is a
secondary, and getting on for a tertiary at that.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. What is a tertiary? Everybody here keeps talking
to me about primaries and secondaries and tertiaries as if people were
THE MAN. The primaries are in their first century. The secondaries are
in their second century. I am still classed as a primary [_he points to
his number_]; but I may almost call myself a secondary, as I shall be
ninety-five next January. The tertiaries are in their third century. Did
you not see the number two on her badge? She is an advanced secondary.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That accounts for it. She is in her second
THE MAN. Her second childhood! She is in her fifth childhood.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again resorting to the bollard_] Oh! I cannot
bear these unnatural arrangements.
THE MAN [_impatient and helpless_] You shouldn't have come among us.
This is no place for you.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nerved by indignation_] May I ask why? I am a
Vice-President of the Travellers' Club. I have been everywhere: I hold
the record in the Club for civilized countries.
THE MAN. What is a civilized country?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is--well, it is a civilized country.
[_Desperately_] I don't know: I--I--I--I shall go mad if you keep on
asking me to tell you things that everybody knows. Countries where you
can travel comfortably. Where there are good hotels. Excuse me; but,
though you say you are ninety-four, you are worse company than a child
of five with your eternal questions. Why not call me Daddy at once?
THE MAN. I did not know your name was Daddy.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My name is Joseph Popham Bolge Bluebin Barlow,
THE MAN. That is five men's names. Daddy is shorter. And O.M. will not
do here. It is our name for certain wild creatures, descendants of
the aboriginal inhabitants of this coast. They used to be called the
O'Mulligans. We will stick to Daddy.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. People will think I am your father.
THE MAN [_shocked_] Sh-sh! People here never allude to such
relationships. It is not quite delicate, is it? What does it matter
whether you are my father or not?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My worthy nonagenarian friend: your faculties are
totally decayed. Could you not find me a guide of my own age?
THE MAN. A young person?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not. I cannot go about with a young
THE MAN. Why?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Why! Why!! Why!!! Have you no moral sense?
THE MAN. I shall have to give you up. I cannot understand you.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But you meant a young woman, didn't you?
THE MAN. I meant simply somebody of your own age. What difference does
it make whether the person is a man or a woman?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I could not have believed in the existence of
such scandalous insensibility to the elementary decencies of human
THE MAN. What are decencies?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_shrieking_] Everyone asks me that.
THE MAN [_taking out a tuning-fork and using it as the woman did_] Zozim
on Burrin Pier to Zoo Ennistymon I have found the discouraged shortliver
he has been talking to a secondary and is much worse I am too old he is
asking for someone of his own age or younger come if you can. [_He puts
up his fork and turns to the Elderly Gentleman_]. Zoo is a girl of
fifty, and rather childish at that. So perhaps she may make you happy.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Make me happy! A bluestocking of fifty! Thank
THE MAN. Bluestocking? The effort to make out your meaning is fatiguing.
Besides, you are talking too much to me: I am old enough to discourage
you. Let us be silent until Zoo comes. [_He turns his back on the
Elderly Gentleman, and sits down on the edge of the pier, with his legs
dangling over the water_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly. I have no wish to force my
conversation on any man who does not desire it. Perhaps you would like
to take a nap. If so, pray do not stand on ceremony.
THE MAN. What is a nap?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exasperated, going to him and speaking with
great precision and distinctness_] A nap, my friend, is a brief period
of sleep which overtakes superannuated persons when they endeavor to
entertain unwelcome visitors or to listen to scientific lectures. Sleep.
Sleep. [_Bawling into his ear_] Sleep.
THE MAN. I tell you I am nearly a secondary. I never sleep.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_awestruck_] Good Heavens!
_A young woman with the number one on her cap arrives by land. She looks
no older than Savvy Barnabas, whom she somewhat resembles, looked a
thousand years before. Younger, if anything._
THE YOUNG WOMAN. Is this the patient?
THE MAN [_scrambling up_] This is Zoo. [_To Zoo_] Call him Daddy.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_vehemently_] No.
THE MAN [_ignoring the interruption_] Bless you for taking him off my
hands! I have had as much of him as I can bear. [_He goes down the steps
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_ironically taking off his hat and making a
sweeping bow from the edge of the pier in the direction of the
Atlantic Ocean_] Good afternoon, sir; and thank you very much for your
extraordinary politeness, your exquisite consideration for my feelings,
your courtly manners. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. [_Clapping
his hat on again_] Pig! Ass!
ZOO [_laughs very heartily at him_]!!!
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_turning sharply on her_] Good afternoon, madam.
I am sorry to have had to put your friend in his place; but I find that
here as elsewhere it is necessary to assert myself if I am to be treated
with proper consideration. I had hoped that my position as a guest would
protect me from insult.
ZOO. Putting my friend in his place. That is some poetic expression, is
it not? What does it mean?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Pray, is there no one in these islands who
understands plain English?
ZOO. Well, nobody except the oracles. They have to make a special
historical study of what we call the dead thought.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Dead thought! I have heard of the dead languages,
but never of the dead thought.
ZOO. Well, thoughts die sooner than languages. I understand your
language; but I do not always understand your thought. The oracles will
understand you perfectly. Have you had your consultation yet?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I did not come to consult the oracle, madam. I am
here simply as a gentleman travelling for pleasure in the company of my
daughter, who is the wife of the British Prime Minister, and of General
Aufsteig, who, I may tell you in confidence, is really the Emperor of
Turania, the greatest military genius of the age.
ZOO. Why should you travel for pleasure! Can you not enjoy yourself at
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I wish to see the World.
ZOO. It is too big. You can see a bit of it anywhere.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_out of patience_] Damn it, madam, you don't want
to spend your life looking at the same bit of it! [_Checking himself_] I
beg your pardon for swearing in your presence.
ZOO. Oh! That is swearing, is it? I have read about that. It sounds
quite pretty. Dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam.
Say it as often as you please: I like it.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_expanding with intense relief_] Bless you for
those profane but familiar words! Thank you, thank you. For the first
time since I landed in this terrible country I begin to feel at home.
The strain which was driving me mad relaxes: I feel almost as if I were
at the club. Excuse my taking the only available seat: I am not so young
as I was. [_He sits on the bollard_]. Promise me that you will not hand
me over to one of these dreadful tertiaries or secondaries or whatever
you call them.
ZOO. Never fear. They had no business to give you in charge to Zozim.
You see he is just on the verge of becoming a secondary; and these
adolescents will give themselves the airs of tertiaries. You naturally
feel more at home with a flapper like me. [_She makes herself
comfortable on the sacks_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Flapper? What does that mean?
ZOO. It is an archaic word which we still use to describe a female who
is no longer a girl and is not yet quite adult.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. A very agreeable age to associate with, I find. I
am recovering rapidly. I have a sense of blossoming like a flower. May I
ask your name?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Miss Zoo.
ZOO. Not Miss Zoo. Zoo.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Precisely. Er--Zoo what?
ZOO. No. Not Zoo What. Zoo. Nothing but Zoo.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_puzzled_] Mrs Zoo, perhaps.
ZOO. No. Zoo. Cant you catch it? Zoo.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Of course. Believe me, I did not really think you
were married: you are obviously too young; but here it is so hard to
ZOO [_hopelessly puzzled_] What?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Marriage makes a difference, you know. One can
say things to a married lady that would perhaps be in questionable taste
to anyone without that experience.
ZOO. You are getting out of my depth: I dont understand a word you are
saying. Married and questionable taste convey nothing to me. Stop,
though. Is married an old form of the word mothered?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Very likely. Let us drop the subject. Pardon me
for embarrassing you. I should not have mentioned it.
ZOO. What does embarrassing mean?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well, really! I should have thought that so
natural and common a condition would be understood as long as human
nature lasted. To embarrass is to bring a blush to the cheek.
ZOO. What is a blush?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amazed_] Dont you blush???
ZOO. Never heard of it. We have a word flush, meaning a rush of blood to
the skin. I have noticed it in my babies, but not after the age of two.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Your babies!!! I fear I am treading on very
delicate ground; but your appearance is extremely youthful; and if I may
ask how many--?
ZOO. Only four as yet. It is a long business with us. I specialize in
babies. My first was such a success that they made me go on. I--
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_reeling on the bollard_] Oh! dear!
ZOO. Whats the matter? Anything wrong?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In Heaven's name, madam, how old are you?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My knees are trembling. I fear I am really ill.
Not so young as I was.
ZOO. I noticed that you are not strong on your legs yet. You have many
of the ways and weaknesses of a baby. No doubt that is why I feel called
on to mother you. You certainly are a very silly little Daddy.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stimulated by indignation_] My name, I repeat,
is Joseph Popham Bolge Bluebin Barlow, O.M.
ZOO. What a ridiculously long name! I cant call you all that. What did
your mother call you?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You recall the bitterest struggles of my
childhood. I was sensitive on the point. Children suffer greatly from
absurd nicknames. My mother thoughtlessly called me Iddy Toodles. I
was called Iddy until I went to school, when I made my first stand for
children's rights by insisting on being called at least Joe. At fifteen
I refused to answer to anything shorter than Joseph. At eighteen I
discovered that the name Joseph was supposed to indicate an unmanly
prudery because of some old story about a Joseph who rejected the
advances of his employer's wife: very properly in my opinion. I then
became Popham to my family and intimate friends, and Mister Barlow
to the rest of the world. My mother slipped back into Iddy when her
faculties began to fail her, poor woman; but I could not resent that, at
ZOO. Do you mean to say that your mother bothered about you after you
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Naturally, madam. She was my mother. What would
you have had her do?
ZOO. Go on to the next, of course. After eight or nine children become
quite uninteresting, except to themselves. I shouldnt know my two eldest
if I met them.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again drooping_] I am dying. Let me die. I wish
ZOO [_going to him quickly and supporting him_] Hold up. Sit up
straight. Whats the matter?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_faintly_] My spine, I think. Shock. Concussion.
ZOO [_maternally_] Pow wow wow! What is there to shock you? [_Shaking
him playfully_] There! Sit up; and be good.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_still feebly_] Thank you. I am better now.
ZOO [_resuming her seat on the sacks_] But what was all the rest of that
long name for? There was a lot more of it. Blops Booby or something.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_impressively_] Bolge Bluebin, madam: a
historical name. Let me inform you that I can trace my family back for
more than a thousand years, from the Eastern Empire to its ancient seat
in these islands, to a time when two of my ancestors, Joyce Bolge
and Hengist Horsa Bluebin, wrestled with one another for the prime
ministership of the British Empire, and occupied that position
successively with a glory of which we can in these degenerate days form
but a faint conception. When I think of these mighty men, lions in war,
sages in peace, not babblers and charlatans like the pigmies who now
occupy their places in Baghdad, but strong silent men, ruling an empire
on which the sun never set, my eyes fill with tears: my heart bursts
with emotion: I feel that to have lived but to the dawn of manhood in
their day, and then died for them, would have been a nobler and happier
lot than the ignominious ease of my present longevity.
ZOO. Longevity! [_she laughs_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes, madam, relative longevity. As it is, I have
to be content and proud to know that I am descended from both those
ZOO. You must be descended from every Briton who was alive in their
time. Dont you know that?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Do not quibble, madam. I bear their names, Bolge
and Bluebin; and I hope I have inherited something of their majestic
spirit. Well, they were born in these islands. I repeat, these islands
were then, incredible as it now seems, the centre of the British Empire.
When that centre shifted to Baghdad, and the Englishman at last returned
to the true cradle of his race in Mesopotamia, the western islands were
cast off, as they had been before by the Roman Empire. But it was to the
British race, and in these islands, that the greatest miracle in history
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes: the first man to live three hundred years
was an Englishman. The first, that is, since the contemporaries of
ZOO. Oh, that!
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes, that, as you call it so flippantly. Are you
aware, madam, that at that immortal moment the English race had lost
intellectual credit to such an extent that they habitually spoke of
one another as fatheads? Yet England is now a sacred grove to which
statesmen from all over the earth come to consult English sages who
speak with the experience of two and a half centuries of life. The land
that once exported cotton shirts and hardware now exports nothing but
wisdom. You see before you, madam, a man utterly weary of the week-end
riverside hotels of the Euphrates, the minstrels and pierrots on the
sands of the Persian Gulf, the toboggans and funiculars of the Hindoo
Koosh. Can you wonder that I turn, with a hungry heart, to the mystery
and beauty of these haunted islands, thronged with spectres from a magic
past, made holy by the footsteps of the wise men of the West. Consider
this island on which we stand, the last foothold of man on this side
of the Atlantic: this Ireland, described by the earliest bards as an
emerald gem set in a silver sea! Can I, a scion of the illustrious
British race, ever forget that when the Empire transferred its seat to
the East, and said to the turbulent Irish race which it had oppressed
but never conquered, 'At last we leave you to yourselves; and much good
may it do you,' the Irish as one man uttered the historic shout 'No:
we'll be damned if you do,' and emigrated to the countries where there
was still a Nationalist question, to India, Persia, and Corea, to
Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli. In these countries they were ever
foremost in the struggle for national independence; and the world rang
continually with the story of their sufferings and wrongs. And what poem
can do justice to the end, when it came at last? Hardly two hundred
years had elapsed when the claims of nationality were so universally
conceded that there was no longer a single country on the face of the
earth with a national grievance or a national movement. Think of the
position of the Irish, who had lost all their political faculties by
disuse except that of nationalist agitation, and who owed their position
as the most interesting race on earth solely to their sufferings! The
very countries they had helped to set free boycotted them as intolerable
bores. The communities which had once idolized them as the incarnation
of all that is adorable in the warm heart and witty brain, fled from
them as from a pestilence. To regain their lost prestige, the Irish
claimed the city of Jerusalem, on the ground that they were the lost
tribes of Israel; but on their approach the Jews abandoned the city
and redistributed themselves throughout Europe. It was then that these
devoted Irishmen, not one of whom had ever seen Ireland, were counselled
by an English Archbishop, the father of the oracles, to go back to their
own country. This had never once occurred to them, because there was
nothing to prevent them and nobody to forbid them. They jumped at the
suggestion. They landed here: here in Galway Bay, on this very ground.
When they reached the shore the older men and women flung themselves
down and passionately kissed the soil of Ireland, calling on the young
to embrace the earth that had borne their ancestors. But the young
looked gloomily on, and said 'There is no earth, only stone.' You will
see by looking round you why they said that: the fields here are of
stone: the hills are capped with granite. They all left for England next
day; and no Irishman ever again confessed to being Irish, even to his
own children; so that when that generation passed away the Irish race
vanished from human knowledge. And the dispersed Jews did the same lest
they should be sent back to Palestine. Since then the world, bereft of
its Jews and its Irish, has been a tame dull place. Is there no pathos
for you in this story? Can you not understand now why I am come to visit
the scene of this tragic effacement of a race of heroes and poets?
ZOO. We still tell our little children stories like that, to help them
to understand. But such things do not happen really. That scene of the
Irish landing here and kissing the ground might have happened to a
hundred people. It couldn't have happened to a hundred thousand: you
know that as well as I do. And what a ridiculous thing to call people
Irish because they live in Ireland! you might as well call them Airish
because they live in air. They must be just the same as other people.
Why do you shortlivers persist in making up silly stories about the
world and trying to act as if they were true? Contact with truth hurts
and frightens you: you escape from it into an imaginary vacuum in which
you can indulge your desires and hopes and loves and hates without any
obstruction from the solid facts of life. You love to throw dust in your
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is my turn now, madam, to inform you that I do
not understand a single word you are saying. I should have thought that
the use of a vacuum for removing dust was a mark of civilization rather
than of savagery.
ZOO [_giving him up as hopeless_] Oh, Daddy, Daddy: I can hardly believe
that you are human, you are so stupid. It was well said of your people
in the olden days, 'Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.'
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nobly_] My body is dust, madam: not my soul.
What does it matter what my body is made of? the dust of the ground,
the particles of the air, or even the slime of the ditch? The important
thing is that when my Creator took it, whatever it was, He breathed into
its nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. Yes,
madam, a living soul. I am not the dust of the ground: I am a living
soul. That is an exalting, a magnificent thought. It is also a great
scientific fact. I am not interested in the chemicals and the microbes:
I leave them to the chumps and noodles, to the blockheads and the
muckrakers who are incapable of their own glorious destiny, and
unconscious of their own divinity. They tell me there are leucocytes
in my blood, and sodium and carbon in my flesh. I thank them for the
information, and tell them that there are blackbeetles in my kitchen,
washing soda in my laundry, and coal in my cellar. I do not deny their
existence; but I keep them in their proper place, which is not, if I may
be allowed to use an antiquated form of expression, the temple of the
Holy Ghost. No doubt you think me behind the times; but I rejoice in my
enlightenment; and I recoil from your ignorance, your blindness, your
imbecility. Humanly I pity you. Intellectually I despise you.
ZOO. Bravo, Daddy! You have the root of the matter in you. You will not
die of discouragement after all.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have not the smallest intention of doing so,
madam. I am no longer young; and I have moments of weakness; but when
I approach this subject the divine spark in me kindles and glows, the
corruptible becomes incorruptible, and the mortal Bolge Bluebin Barlow
puts on immortality. On this ground I am your equal, even if you survive
me by ten thousand years.
ZOO. Yes; but what do we know about this breath of life that puffs you
up so exaltedly? Just nothing. So let us shake hands as cultivated
Agnostics, and change the subject.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Cultivated fiddlesticks, madam! You cannot change
this subject until the heavens and the earth pass away. I am not an
Agnostic: I am a gentleman. When I believe a thing I say I believe it:
when I don't believe it I say I don't believe it. I do not shirk my
responsibilities by pretending that I know nothing and therefore can
believe nothing. We cannot disclaim knowledge and shirk responsibility.
We must proceed on assumptions of some sort or we cannot form a human
ZOO. The assumptions must be scientific, Daddy. We must live by science
in the long run.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have the utmost respect, madam, for the
magnificent discoveries which we owe to science. But any fool can make
a discovery. Every baby has to discover more in the first years of its
life than Roger Bacon ever discovered in his laboratory. When I was
seven years old I discovered the sting of the wasp. But I do not ask
you to worship me on that account. I assure you, madam, the merest
mediocrities can discover the most surprising facts about the physical
universe as soon as they are civilized enough to have time to study
these things, and to invent instruments and apparatus for research. But
what is the consequence? Their discoveries discredit the simple stories
of our religion. At first we had no idea of astronomical space. We
believed the sky to be only the ceiling of a room as large as the earth,
with another room on top of it. Death was to us a going upstairs into
that room, or, if we did not obey the priests, going downstairs into
the coal cellar. We founded our religion, our morality, our laws, our
lessons, our poems, our prayers, on that simple belief. Well, the moment
men became astronomers and made telescopes, their belief perished. When
they could no longer believe in the sky, they found that they could no
longer believe in their Deity, because they had always thought of him
as living in the sky. When the priests themselves ceased to believe in
their Deity and began to believe in astronomy, they changed their name
and their dress, and called themselves doctors and men of science. They
set up a new religion in which there was no Deity, but only wonders
and miracles, with scientific instruments and apparatus as the wonder
workers. Instead of worshipping the greatness and wisdom of the Deity,
men gaped foolishly at the million billion miles of space and worshipped
the astronomer as infallible and omniscient. They built temples for his
telescopes. Then they looked into their own bodies with microscopes, and
found there, not the soul they had formerly believed in, but millions of
micro-organisms; so they gaped at these as foolishly as at the millions
of miles, and built microscope temples in which horrible sacrifices
were offered. They even gave their own bodies to be sacrificed by the
microscope man, who was worshipped, like the astronomer, as infallible
and omniscient. Thus our discoveries instead of increasing our wisdom,
only destroyed the little childish wisdom we had. All I can grant you is
that they increased our knowledge.
ZOO. Nonsense! Consciousness of a fact is not knowledge of it: if it
were, the fish would know more of the sea than the geographers and the
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That is an extremely acute remark, madam. The
dullest fish could not possibly know less of the majesty of the ocean
than many geographers and naturalists of my acquaintance.
ZOO. Just so. And the greatest fool on earth, by merely looking at a
mariners' compass, may become conscious of the fact that the needle
turns always to the pole. Is he any the less a fool with that
consciousness than he was without it?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Only a more conceited one, madam, no doubt.
Still, I do not quite see how you can be aware of the existence of a
thing without knowing it.
ZOO. Well, you can see a man without knowing him, can you not?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_illuminated_] Oh how true! Of course, of course.
There is a member of the Travellers' Club who has questioned the
veracity of an experience of mine at the South Pole. I see that man
almost every day when I am at home. But I refuse to know him.
ZOO. If you could see him much more distinctly through a magnifying
glass, or examine a drop of his blood through a microscope, or dissect
out all his organs and analyze them chemically, would you know him then?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not. Any such investigation could
only increase the disgust with which he inspires me, and make me more
determined than ever not to know him on any terms.
ZOO. Yet you would be much more conscious of him, would you not?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I should not allow that to commit me to any
familiarity with the fellow. I have been twice at the Summer Sports at
the South Pole; and this man pretended he had been to the North Pole,
which can hardly be said to exist, as it is in the middle of the sea. He
declared he had hung his hat on it.
ZOO [_laughing_] He knew that travellers are amusing only when they are
telling lies. Perhaps if you looked at that man through a microscope you
would find some good in him.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do not want to find any good in him. Besides,
madam, what you have just said encourages me to utter an opinion of
mine which is so advanced! so intellectually daring! that I have never
ventured to confess to it before, lest I should be imprisoned for
blasphemy, or even burnt alive.
ZOO. Indeed! What opinion is that?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_after looking cautiously round_] I do not
approve of microscopes. I never have.
ZOO. You call that advanced! Oh, Daddy, that is pure obscurantism.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Call it so if you will, madam; but I maintain
that it is dangerous to shew too much to people who do not know what
they are looking at. I think that a man who is sane as long as he looks
at the world through his own eyes is very likely to become a dangerous
madman if he takes to looking at the world through telescopes and
microscopes. Even when he is telling fairy stories about giants and
dwarfs, the giants had better not be too big nor the dwarfs too small
and too malicious. Before the microscope came, our fairy stories only
made the children's flesh creep pleasantly, and did not frighten
grown-up persons at all. But the microscope men terrified themselves and
everyone else out of their wits with the invisible monsters they saw:
poor harmless little things that die at the touch of a ray of sunshine,
and are themselves the victims of all the diseases they are supposed to
produce! Whatever the scientific people may say, imagination without
microscopes was kindly and often courageous, because it worked on things
of which it had some real knowledge. But imagination with microscopes,
working on a terrifying spectacle of millions of grotesque creatures
of whose nature it had no knowledge, became a cruel, terror-stricken,
persecuting delirium. Are you aware, madam, that a general massacre
of men of science took place in the twenty-first century of the
pseudo-Christian era, when all their laboratories were demolished, and
all their apparatus destroyed?
ZOO. Yes: the shortlived are as savage in their advances as in their
relapses. But when Science crept back, it had been taught its place. The
mere collectors of anatomical or chemical facts were not supposed to
know more about Science than the collector of used postage stamps about
international trade or literature. The scientific terrorist who was
afraid to use a spoon or a tumbler until he had dipt it in some
poisonous acid to kill the microbes, was no longer given titles,
pensions, and monstrous powers over the bodies of other people: he was
sent to an asylum, and treated there until his recovery. But all that is
an old story: the extension of life to three hundred years has provided
the human race with capable leaders, and made short work of such
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_pettishly_] You seem to credit every advance in
civilization to your inordinately long lives. Do you not know that this
question was familiar to men who died before they had reached my own
ZOO. Oh yes: one or two of them hinted at it in a feeble way. An
ancient writer whose name has come down to us in several forms, such
as Shakespear, Shelley, Sheridan, and Shoddy, has a remarkable passage
about your dispositions being horridly shaken by thoughts beyond the
reaches of your souls. That does not come to much, does it?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. At all events, madam, I may remind you, if you
come to capping ages, that whatever your secondaries and tertiaries may
be, you are younger than I am.
ZOO. Yes, Daddy; but it is not the number of years we have behind us,
but the number we have before us, that makes us careful and responsible
and determined to find out the truth about everything. What does it
matter to you whether anything is true or not? your flesh is as grass:
you come up like a flower, and wither in your second childhood. A lie
will last your time: it will not last mine. If I knew I had to die in
twenty years it would not be worth my while to educate myself: I should
not bother about anything but having a little pleasure while I lasted.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Young woman: you are mistaken. Shortlived as we
are, we--the best of us, I mean--regard civilization and learning, art
and science, as an ever-burning torch, which passes from the hand of one
generation to the hand of the next, each generation kindling it to a
brighter, prouder flame. Thus each lifetime, however short, contributes
a brick to a vast and growing edifice, a page to a sacred volume, a
chapter to a Bible, a Bible to a literature. We may be insects; but like
the coral insect we build islands which become continents: like the bee
we store sustenance for future communities. The individual perishes;
but the race is immortal. The acorn of today is the oak of the next
millennium. I throw my stone on the cairn and die; but later comers add
another stone and yet another; and lo! a mountain. I--
ZOO [_interrupts him by laughing heartily at him_]!!!!!!
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_with offended dignity_] May I ask what I have
said that calls for this merriment?
ZOO. Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you are a funny little man, with your
torches, and your flames, and your bricks and edifices and pages and
volumes and chapters and coral insects and bees and acorns and stones
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Metaphors, madam. Metaphors merely.
ZOO. Images, images, images. I was talking about men, not about images.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I was illustrating--not, I hope, quite
infelicitously--the great march of Progress. I was shewing you how,
shortlived as we orientals are, mankind gains in stature from generation
to generation, from epoch to epoch, from barbarism to civilization, from
civilization to perfection.
ZOO. I see. The father grows to be six feet high, and hands on his six
feet to his son, who adds another six feet and becomes twelve feet high,
and hands his twelve feet on to his son, who is full-grown at eighteen
feet, and so on. In a thousand years you would all be three or four
miles high. At that rate your ancestors Bilge and Bluebeard, whom you
call giants, must have been about quarter of an inch high.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not here to bandy quibbles and paradoxes
with a girl who blunders over the greatest names in history. I am in
earnest. I am treating a solemn theme seriously. I never said that the
son of a man six feet high would be twelve feet high.
ZOO. You didn't mean that?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Most certainly not.
ZOO. Then you didn't mean anything. Now listen to me, you little
ephemeral thing. I knew quite well what you meant by your torch handed
on from generation to generation. But every time that torch is handed
on, it dies down to the tiniest spark; and the man who gets it can
rekindle it only by his own light. You are no taller than Bilge or
Bluebeard; and you are no wiser. Their wisdom, such as it was, perished
with them: so did their strength, if their strength ever existed outside
your imagination. I do not know how old you are: you look about five
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Five hundred! Really, madam--
ZOO [_continuing_]; but I know, of course, that you are an ordinary
shortliver. Well, your wisdom is only such wisdom as a man can have
before he has had experience enough to distinguish his wisdom from his
folly, his destiny from his delusions, his--
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In short, such wisdom as your own.
ZOO. No, no, no, no. How often must I tell you that we are made wise not
by the recollections of our past, but by the responsibilities of our
future. I shall be more reckless when I am a tertiary than I am today.
If you cannot understand that, at least you must admit that I have
learnt from tertiaries. I have seen their work and lived under their
institutions. Like all young things I rebelled against them; and in
their hunger for new lights and new ideas they listened to me and
encouraged me to rebel. But my ways did not work; and theirs did; and
they were able to tell me why. They have no power over me except that
power: they refuse all other power; and the consequence is that there
are no limits to their power except the limits they set themselves. You
are a child governed by children, who make so many mistakes and are so
naughty that you are in continual rebellion against them; and as they
can never convince you that they are right: they can govern you only by
beating you, imprisoning you, torturing you, killing you if you disobey
them without being strong enough to kill or torture them.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That may be an unfortunate fact. I condemn it and
deplore it. But our minds are greater than the facts. We know better.
The greatest ancient teachers, followed by the galaxy of Christs who
arose in the twentieth century, not to mention such comparatively modern
spiritual leaders as Blitherinjam, Tosh, and Spiffkins, all taught that
punishment and revenge, coercion and militarism, are mistakes, and that
the golden rule--
ZOO. [_interrupting_] Yes, yes, yes, Daddy: we longlived people know
that quite well. But did any of their disciples ever succeed in
governing you for a single day on their Christ-like principles? It
is not enough to know what is good: you must be able to do it. They
couldn't do it because they did not live long enough to find out how
to do it, or to outlive the childish passions that prevented them from
really wanting to do it. You know very well that they could only keep
order--such as it was--by the very coercion and militarism they were
denouncing and deploring. They had actually to kill one another for
preaching their own gospel, or be killed themselves.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. The blood of the martyrs, madam, is the seed of
ZOO. More images, Daddy! The blood of the shortlived falls on stony
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising, very testy_] You are simply mad on the
subject of longevity. I wish you would change it. It is rather personal
and in bad taste. Human nature is human nature, longlived or shortlived,
and always will be.
ZOO. Then you give up the idea of progress? You cry off the torch, and
the brick, and the acorn, and all the rest of it?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do nothing of the sort. I stand for progress
and for freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent.
ZOO. You are certainly a true Briton.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am proud of it. But in your mouth I feel that
the compliment hides some insult; so I do not thank you for it.
ZOO. All I meant was that though Britons sometimes say quite clever
things and deep things as well as silly and shallow things, they always
forget them ten minutes after they have uttered them.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Leave it at that, madam: leave it at that.
[_He sits down again_]. Even a Pope is not expected to be continually
pontificating. Our flashes of inspiration shew that our hearts are in
the right place.
ZOO. Of course. You cannot keep your heart in any place but the right
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Tcha!
ZOO. But you can keep your hands in the wrong place. In your neighbor's
pockets, for example. So, you see, it is your hands that really matter.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exhausted_] Well, a woman must have the last
word. I will not dispute it with you.
ZOO. Good. Now let us go back to the really interesting subject of our
discussion. You remember? The slavery of the shortlived to images and
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_aghast_] Do you mean to say, madam, that after
having talked my head off, and reduced me to despair and silence by your
intolerable loquacity, you actually propose to begin all over again? I
shall leave you at once.
ZOO. You must not. I am your nurse; and you must stay with me.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I absolutely decline to do anything of the sort
[_he rises and walks away with marked dignity_].
ZOO [_using her tuning-fork_] Zoo on Burrin Pier to Oracle Police at
Ennistymon have you got me?... What?... I am picking you up now but you
are flat to my pitch.... Just a shade sharper.... That's better: still a
little more.... Got you: right. Isolate Burrin Pier quick.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_is heard to yell_] Oh!
ZOO [_still intoning_] Thanks.... Oh nothing serious I am nursing a
shortliver and the silly creature has run away he has discouraged
himself very badly by gadding about and talking to secondaries and I
must keep him strictly to heel.
_The Elderly Gentleman returns, indignant._
ZOO. Here he is you can release the Pier thanks. Goodbye. [_She puts up
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. This is outrageous. When I tried to step off the
pier on to the road, I received a shock, followed by an attack of pins
and needles which ceased only when I stepped back on to the stones.
ZOO. Yes: there is an electric hedge there. It is a very old and very
crude method of keeping animals from straying.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. We are perfectly familiar with it in Baghdad,
madam; but I little thought I should live to have it ignominiously
applied to myself. You have actually Kiplingized me.
ZOO. Kiplingized! What is that?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. About a thousand years ago there were two authors
named Kipling. One was an eastern and a writer of merit: the other,
being a western, was of course only an amusing barbarian. He is said to
have invented the electric hedge. I consider that in using it on me you
have taken a very great liberty.
ZOO. What is a liberty?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exasperated_] I shall not explain, madam. I
believe you know as well as I do. [_He sits down on the bollard in
ZOO. No: even you can tell me things I do not know. Havnt you noticed
that all the time you have been here we have been asking you questions?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Noticed it! It has almost driven me mad. Do you
see my white hair? It was hardly grey when I landed: there were patches
of its original auburn still distinctly discernible.
ZOO. That is one of the symptoms of discouragement. But have you noticed
something much more important to yourself: that is, that you have never
asked us any questions, although we know so much more than you do?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not a child, madam. I believe I have had
occasion to say that before. And I am an experienced traveller. I know
that what the traveller observes must really exist, or he could not
observe it. But what the natives tell him is invariably pure fiction.
ZOO. Not here, Daddy. With us life is too long for telling lies. They
all get found out. Youd better ask me questions while you have the
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. If I have occasion to consult the oracle I shall
address myself to a proper one: to a tertiary: not to a primary flapper
playing at being an oracle. If you are a nurserymaid, attend to your
duties; and do not presume to ape your elders.
ZOO. [_rising ominously and reddening_] You silly--
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_thundering_] Silence! Do you hear! Hold your
ZOO. Something very disagreeable is happening to me. I feel hot all
over. I have a horrible impulse to injure you. What have you done to me?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_triumphant_] Aha! I have made you blush. Now you
know what blushing means. Blushing with shame!
ZOO. Whatever you are doing, it is something so utterly evil that if you
do not stop I will kill you.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_apprehending his danger_] Doubtless you think it
safe to threaten an old man--
ZOO [_fiercely_] Old! You are a child: an evil child. We kill evil
children here. We do it even against our own wills by instinct. Take
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising with crestfallen courtesy_] I did not
mean to hurt your feelings. I--[_swallowing the apology with an effort_]
I beg your pardon. [_He takes off his hat, and bows_].
ZOO. What does that mean?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I withdraw what I said.
ZOO. How can you withdraw what you said?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I can say no more than that I am sorry.
ZOO. You have reason to be. That hideous sensation you gave me is
subsiding; but you have had a very narrow escape. Do not attempt to kill
me again; for at the first sign in your voice or face I shall strike you
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. _I_ attempt to kill you! What a monstrous
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_prudently correcting himself_] I mean
misunderstanding. I never dreamt of such a thing. Surely you cannot
believe that I am a murderer.
ZOO. I know you are a murderer. It is not merely that you threw words at
me as if they were stones, meaning to hurt me. It was the instinct to
kill that you roused in me. I did not know it was in my nature: never
before has it wakened and sprung out at me, warning me to kill or be
killed. I must now reconsider my whole political position. I am no
longer a Conservative.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_dropping his hat_] Gracious Heavens! you have
lost your senses. I am at the mercy of a madwoman: I might have known it
from the beginning. I can bear no more of this. [_Offering his chest for
the sacrifice_] Kill me at once; and much good may my death do you!
ZOO. It would be useless unless all the other shortlivers were killed
at the same time. Besides, it is a measure which should be taken
politically and constitutionally, not privately. However, I am prepared
to discuss it with you.
ZOO. What good have our counsels ever done you? You come to us for
advice when you know you are in difficulties. But you never know you are
in difficulties until twenty years after you have made the mistakes that
led to them; and then it is too late. You cannot understand our advice:
you often do more mischief by trying to act on it than if you had been
left to your own childish devices. If you were not childish you would
not come to us at all: you would learn from experience that your
consultations of the oracle are never of any real help to you. You draw
wonderful imaginary pictures of us, and write fictitious tales and poems
about our beneficent operations in the past, our wisdom, our justice,
our mercy: stories in which we often appear as sentimental dupes of your
prayers and sacrifices; but you do it only to conceal from yourselves
the truth that you are incapable of being helped by us. Your Prime
Minister pretends that he has come to be guided by the oracle; but we
are not deceived: we know quite well that he has come here so that
when he goes back he may have the authority and dignity of one who has
visited the holy islands and spoken face to face with the ineffable
ones. He will pretend that all the measures he wishes to take for his
own purposes have been enjoined on him by the oracle.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But you forget that the answers of the oracle
cannot be kept secret or misrepresented. They are written and
promulgated. The Leader of the Opposition can obtain copies. All the
nations know them. Secret diplomacy has been totally abolished.
ZOO. Yes: you publish documents; but they are garbled or forged. And
even if you published our real answers it would make no difference,
because the shortlived cannot interpret the plainest writings. Your
scriptures command you in the plainest terms to do exactly the contrary
of everything your own laws and chosen rulers command and execute. You
cannot defy Nature. It is a law of Nature that there is a fixed relation
between conduct and length of life.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, no, no. I had much rather discuss your
intention of withdrawing from the Conservative party. How the
Conservatives have tolerated your opinions so far is more than I can
imagine: I can only conjecture that you have contributed very liberally
to the party funds. [_He picks up his hat, and sits down again_].
ZOO. Do not babble so senselessly: our chief political controversy is
the most momentous in the world for you and your like.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_interested_] Indeed? Pray, may I ask what it is?
I am a keen politician, and may perhaps be of some use. [_He puts on his
hat, cocking it slightly_].
ZOO. We have two great parties: the Conservative party and the
Colonization party. The Colonizers are of opinion that we should
increase our numbers and colonize. The Conservatives hold that we should
stay as we are, confined to these islands, a race apart, wrapped up in
the majesty of our wisdom on a soil held as holy ground for us by an
adoring world, with our sacred frontier traced beyond dispute by the
sea. They contend that it is our destiny to rule the world, and that
even when we were shortlived we did so. They say that our power and our
peace depend on our remoteness, our exclusiveness, our separation, and
the restriction of our numbers. Five minutes ago that was my political
faith. Now I do not think there should be any shortlived people at all.
[_She throws herself again carelessly on the sacks_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Am I to infer that you deny my right to live
because I allowed myself--perhaps injudiciously--to give you a slight
ZOO. Is it worth living for so short a time? Are you any good to
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stupent_] Well, upon my soul!
ZOO. It is such a very little soul. You only encourage the sin of pride
in us, and keep us looking down at you instead of up to something higher
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Is not that a selfish view, madam? Think of the
good you do us by your oracular counsels!
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have never heard of any such law, madam.
ZOO. Well, you are hearing of it now.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Let me tell you that we shortlivers, as you call
us, have lengthened our lives very considerably.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. By saving time. By enabling men to cross the
ocean in an afternoon, and to see and speak to one another when they are
thousands of miles apart. We hope shortly to organize their labor, and
press natural forces into their service, so scientifically that the
burden of labor will cease to be perceptible, leaving common men more
leisure than they will know what to do with.
ZOO. Daddy: the man whose life is lengthened in this way may be busier
than a savage; but the difference between such men living seventy years
and those living three hundred would be all the greater; for to a
shortliver increase of years is only increase of sorrow; but to a
long-liver every extra year is a prospect which forces him to stretch
his faculties to the utmost to face it. Therefore I say that we who
live three hundred years can be of no use to you who live less than a
hundred, and that our true destiny is not to advise and govern you, but
to supplant and supersede you. In that faith I now declare myself a
Colonizer and an Exterminator.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Oh, steady! steady! Pray! pray! Reflect, I
implore you. It is possible to colonize without exterminating the
natives. Would you treat us less mercifully than our barbarous
forefathers treated the Redskin and the Negro? Are we not, as Britons,
entitled at least to some reservations?
ZOO. What is the use of prolonging the agony? You would perish slowly
in our presence, no matter what we did to preserve you. You were almost
dead when I took charge of you today, merely because you had talked for
a few minutes to a secondary. Besides, we have our own experience to go
upon. Have you never heard that our children occasionally revert to the
ancestral type, and are born shortlived?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_eagerly_] Never. I hope you will not be offended
if I say that it would be a great comfort to me if I could be placed in
charge of one of those normal individuals.
ZOO. Abnormal, you mean. What you ask is impossible: we weed them all
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. When you say that you weed them out, you send
a cold shiver down my spine. I hope you don't mean that you--that
you--that you assist Nature in any way?
ZOO. Why not? Have you not heard the saying of the Chinese sage Dee
Ning, that a good garden needs weeding? But it is not necessary for us
to interfere. We are naturally rather particular as to the conditions on
which we consent to live. One does not mind the accidental loss of an
arm or a leg or an eye: after all, no one with two legs is unhappy
because he has not three; so why should a man with one be unhappy
because he has not two? But infirmities of mind and temper are quite
another matter. If one of us has no self-control, or is too weak to bear
the strain of our truthful life without wincing, or is tormented by
depraved appetites and superstitions, or is unable to keep free from
pain and depression, he naturally becomes discouraged, and refuses to
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good Lord! Cuts his throat, do you mean?
ZOO. No: why should he cut his throat? He simply dies. He wants to. He
is out of countenance, as we call it.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well!!! But suppose he is depraved enough not to
want to die, and to settle the difficulty by killing all the rest of
ZOO. Oh, he is one of the thoroughly degenerate shortlivers whom we
occasionally produce. He emigrates.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. And what becomes of him then?
ZOO. You shortlived people always think very highly of him. You accept
him as what you call a great man.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You astonish me; and yet I must admit that what
you tell me accounts for a great deal of the little I know of the
private life of our great men. We must be very convenient to you as a
dumping place for your failures.
ZOO. I admit that.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good. Then if you carry out your plan of
colonization, and leave no shortlived countries in the world, what will
you do with your undesirables?
ZOO. Kill them. Our tertiaries are not at all squeamish about killing.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Gracious Powers!
ZOO [_glancing up at the sun_] Come. It is just sixteen o'clock; and you
have to join your party at half-past in the temple in Galway.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising_] Galway! Shall I at last be able to
boast of having seen that magnificent city?
ZOO. You will be disappointed: we have no cities. There is a temple of
the oracle: that is all.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Alas! and I came here to fulfil two
long-cherished dreams. One was to see Galway. It has been said, 'See
Galway and die.' The other was to contemplate the ruins of London.
ZOO. Ruins! We do not tolerate ruins. Was London a place of any
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amazed_] What! London! It was the mightiest city
of antiquity. [_Rhetorically_] Situate just where the Dover Road crosses
the Thames, it--
ZOO [_curtly interrupting_] There is nothing there now. Why should
anybody pitch on such a spot to live? The nearest houses are at a place
called Strand-on-the-Green: it is very old. Come. We shall go across the
water. [_She goes down the steps_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Sic transit gloria mundi!
ZOO [_from below_] What did you say?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_despairingly_] Nothing. You would not
understand. [_He goes down the steps_].
_A courtyard before the columned portico of a temple. The temple door
is in the middle of the portico. A veiled and robed woman of majestic
carriage passes along behind the columns towards the entrance. From the
opposite direction a man of compact figure, clean-shaven, saturnine, and
self-centred: in short, very like Napoleon I, and wearing a military
uniform of Napoleonic cut, marches with measured steps; places his hand
in his lapel in the traditional manner; and fixes the woman with his
eye. She stops, her attitude expressing haughty amazement at his
audacity. He is on her right: she on his left._
NAPOLEON [_impressively_] I am the Man of Destiny.
THE VEILED WOMAN [_unimpressed_] How did you get in here?
NAPOLEON. I walked in. I go on until I am stopped. I never am stopped. I
tell you I am the Man of Destiny.
THE VEILED WOMAN. You will be a man of very short destiny if you wander
about here without one of our children to guide you. I suppose you
belong to the Baghdad envoy.
NAPOLEON. I came with him; but I do not belong to him. I belong to
myself. Direct me to the oracle if you can. If not, do not waste my
THE VEILED WOMAN. Your time, poor creature, is short. I will not waste
it. Your envoy and his party will be here presently. The consultation of
the oracle is arranged for them, and will take place according to the
prescribed ritual. You can wait here until they come [_she turns to go
into the temple_].
NAPOLEON. I never wait. [_She stops_]. The prescribed ritual is,
I believe, the classical one of the pythoness on her tripod, the
intoxicating fumes arising from the abyss, the convulsions of the
priestess as she delivers the message of the God, and so on. That sort
of thing does not impose on me: I use it myself to impose on simpletons.
I believe that what is, is. I know that what is not, is not. The antics
of a woman sitting on a tripod and pretending to be drunk do not
interest me. Her words are put into her mouth, not by a god, but by a
man three hundred years old, who has had the capacity to profit by his
experience. I wish to speak to that man face to face, without mummery or
THE VEILED WOMAN. You seem to be an unusually sensible person. But there
is no old man. I am the oracle on duty today. I am on my way to take my
place on the tripod, and go through the usual mummery, as you rightly
call it, to impress your friend the envoy. As you are superior to that
kind of thing, you may consult me now. [_She leads the way into the
middle of the courtyard_]. What do you want to know?
NAPOLEON [_following her_] Madam: I have not come all this way to
discuss matters of State with a woman. I must ask you to direct me to
one of your oldest and ablest men.
THE ORACLE. None of our oldest and ablest men or women would dream of
wasting their time on you. You would die of discouragement in their
presence in less than three hours.
NAPOLEON. You can keep this idle fable of discouragement for people
credulous enough to be intimidated by it, madam. I do not believe in
THE ORACLE. No one asks you to. A field is something physical, is it
not. Well, I have a field.
NAPOLEON. I have several million fields. I am Emperor of Turania.
THE ORACLE. You do not understand. I am not speaking of an agricultural
field. Do you not know that every mass of matter in motion carries with
it an invisible gravitational field, every magnet an invisible magnetic
field, and every living organism a mesmeric field? Even you have a
perceptible mesmeric field. Feeble as it is, it is the strongest I have
yet observed in a shortliver.
NAPOLEON. By no means feeble, madam. I understand you now; and I may
tell you that the strongest characters blench in my presence, and submit
to my domination. But I do not call that a physical force.
THE ORACLE. What else do you call it, pray? Our physicists deal with it.
Our mathematicians express its measurements in algebraic equations.
NAPOLEON. Do you mean that they could measure mine?
THE ORACLE. Yes: by a figure infinitely near to zero. Even in us the
force is negligible during our first century of life. In our second it
develops quickly, and becomes dangerous to shortlivers who venture into
its field. If I were not veiled and robed in insulating material you
could not endure my presence; and I am still a young woman: one hundred
and seventy if you wish to know exactly.
NAPOLEON [_folding his arms_] I am not intimidated: no woman alive, old
or young, can put me out of countenance. Unveil, madam. Disrobe. You
will move this temple as easily as shake me.
THE ORACLE. Very well [_she throws back her veil_].
NAPOLEON [_shrieking, staggering, and covering his eyes_] No. Stop. Hide
your face again. [_Shutting his eyes and distractedly clutching at his
throat and heart_] Let me go. Help! I am dying.
THE ORACLE. Do you still wish to consult an older person?
NAPOLEON. No, no. The veil, the veil, I beg you.
THE ORACLE [_replacing the veil_] So.
NAPOLEON. Ouf! One cannot always be at one's best. Twice before in my
life I have lost my nerve and behaved like a poltroon. But I warn you
not to judge my quality by these involuntary moments.
THE ORACLE. I have no occasion to judge of your quality. You want my
advice. Speak quickly; or I shall go about my business.
NAPOLEON [_After a moment's hesitation, sinks respectfully on one knee_]
THE ORACLE. Oh, rise, rise. Are you so foolish as to offer me this
mummery which even you despise?
NAPOLEON [_rising_] I knelt in spite of myself. I compliment you on your
THE ORACLE [_impatiently_] Time! time! time! time!
NAPOLEON. You will not grudge me the necessary time, madam, when you
know my case. I am a man gifted with a certain specific talent in a
degree altogether extraordinary. I am not otherwise a very extraordinary
person: my family is not influential; and without this talent I should
cut no particular figure in the world.
THE ORACLE. Why cut a figure in the world?
NAPOLEON. Superiority will make itself felt, madam. But when I say I
possess this talent I do not express myself accurately. The truth is
that my talent possesses me. It is genius. It drives me to exercise it.
I must exercise it. I am great when I exercise it. At other moments I am
THE ORACLE. Well, exercise it. Do you need an oracle to tell you that?
NAPOLEON. Wait. This talent involves the shedding of human blood.
THE ORACLE. Are you a surgeon, or a dentist?
NAPOLEON. Psha! You do not appreciate me, madam. I mean the shedding of
oceans of blood, the death of millions of men.
THE ORACLE. They object, I suppose.
NAPOLEON. Not at all. They adore me.
THE ORACLE. Indeed!
NAPOLEON. I have never shed blood with my own hand. They kill each
other: they die with shouts of triumph on their lips. Those who die
cursing do not curse me. My talent is to organize this slaughter; to
give mankind this terrible joy which they call glory; to let loose the
devil in them that peace has bound in chains.
THE ORACLE. And you? Do you share their joy?
NAPOLEON. Not at all. What satisfaction is it to me to see one fool
pierce the entrails of another with a bayonet? I am a man of princely
character, but of simple personal tastes and habits. I have the virtues
of a laborer: industry and indifference to personal comfort. But I must
rule, because I am so superior to other men that it is intolerable to
me to be misruled by them. Yet only as a slayer can I become a ruler. I
cannot be great as a writer: I have tried and failed. I have no talent
as a sculptor or painter; and as lawyer, preacher, doctor, or actor,
scores of second-rate men can do as well as I, or better. I am not even
a diplomatist: I can only play my trump card of force. What I can do
is to organize war. Look at me! I seem a man like other men, because
nine-tenths of me is common humanity. But the other tenth is a faculty
for seeing things as they are that no other man possesses.
THE ORACLE. You mean that you have no imagination?
NAPOLEON [_forcibly_] I mean that I have the only imagination worth
having: the power of imagining things as they are, even when I cannot
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