Back to Methuselah
George Bernard Shaw

Part 6 out of 7

see them. You feel yourself my superior, I know: nay, you are my
superior: have I not bowed my knee to you by instinct? Yet I challenge
you to a test of our respective powers. Can you calculate what the
methematicians call vectors, without putting a single algebraic symbol
on paper? Can you launch ten thousand men across a frontier and a chain
of mountains and know to a mile exactly where they will be at the end
of seven weeks? The rest is nothing: I got it all from the books at my
military school. Now this great game of war, this playing with armies
as other men play with bowls and skittles, is one which I must go on
playing, partly because a man must do what he can and not what he would
like to do, and partly because, if I stop, I immediately lose my power
and become a beggar in the land where I now make men drunk with glory.

THE ORACLE. No doubt then you wish to know how to extricate yourself
from this unfortunate position?

NAPOLEON. It is not generally considered unfortunate, madam. Supremely
fortunate rather.

THE ORACLE. If you think so, go on making them drunk with glory. Why
trouble me with their folly and your vectors?

NAPOLEON. Unluckily, madam, men are not only heroes: they are also
cowards. They desire glory; but they dread death.

THE ORACLE. Why should they? Their lives are too short to be worth
living. That is why they think your game of war worth playing.

NAPOLEON. They do not look at it quite in that way. The most worthless
soldier wants to live for ever. To make him risk being killed by the
enemy I have to convince him that if he hesitates he will inevitably be
shot at dawn by his own comrades for cowardice.

THE ORACLE. And if his comrades refuse to shoot him?

NAPOLEON. They will be shot too, of course.

THE ORACLE. By whom?

NAPOLEON. By their comrades.

THE ORACLE. And if they refuse?

NAPOLEON. Up to a certain point they do not refuse.

THE ORACLE. But when that point is reached, you have to do the shooting
yourself, eh?

NAPOLEON. Unfortunately, madam, when that point is reached, they shoot

THE ORACLE. Mf! It seems to me they might as well shoot you first as
last. Why don't they?

NAPOLEON. Because their love of fighting, their desire for glory, their
shame of being branded as dastards, their instinct to test themselves in
terrible trials, their fear of being killed or enslaved by the enemy,
their belief that they are defending their hearths and homes, overcome
their natural cowardice, and make them willing not only to risk their
own lives but to kill everyone who refuses to take that risk. But if war
continues too long, there comes a time when the soldiers, and also the
taxpayers who are supporting and munitioning them, reach a condition
which they describe as being fed up. The troops have proved their
courage, and want to go home and enjoy in peace the glory it has earned
them. Besides, the risk of death for each soldier becomes a certainty if
the fighting goes on for ever: he hopes to escape for six months, but
knows he cannot escape for six years. The risk of bankruptcy for the
citizen becomes a certainty in the same way. Now what does this mean for

THE ORACLE. Does that matter in the midst of such calamity?

NAPOLEON. Psha! madam: it is the only thing that matters: the value
of human life is the value of the greatest living man. Cut off that
infinitesimal layer of grey matter which distinguishes my brain from
that of the common man, and you cut down the stature of humanity from
that of a giant to that of a nobody. I matter supremely: my soldiers do
not matter at all: there are plenty more where they came from. If you
kill me, or put a stop to my activity (it is the same thing), the
nobler part of human life perishes. You must save the world from
that catastrophe, madam. War has made me popular, powerful, famous,
historically immortal. But I foresee that if I go on to the end it will
leave me execrated, dethroned, imprisoned, perhaps executed. Yet if I
stop fighting I commit suicide as a great man and become a common one.
How am I to escape the horns of this tragic dilemma? Victory I
can guarantee: I am invincible. But the cost of victory is the
demoralization, the depopulation, the ruin of the victors no less than
of the vanquished. How am I to satisfy my genius by fighting until I
die? that is my question to you.

THE ORACLE. Were you not rash to venture into these sacred islands with
such a question on your lips? Warriors are not popular here, my friend.

NAPOLEON. If a soldier were restrained by such a consideration, madam,
he would no longer be a soldier. Besides [_he produces a pistol_], I
have not come unarmed.

THE ORACLE. What is that thing?

NAPOLEON. It is an instrument of my profession, madam. I raise this
hammer; I point the barrel at you; I pull this trigger that is against
my forefinger; and you fall dead.

THE ORACLE. Shew it to me [_she puts out her hand to take it from him_].

NAPOLEON [_retreating a step_] Pardon me, madam. I never trust my life
in the hands of a person over whom I have no control.

THE ORACLE [_sternly_] Give it to me [_she raises her hand to her

NAPOLEON [_dropping the pistol and covering his eyes_] Quarter! Kamerad!
Take it, madam [_he kicks it towards her_]: I surrender.

THE ORACLE. Give me that thing. Do you expect me to stoop for it?

NAPOLEON [_taking his hands from his eyes with an effort_] A poor
victory, madam [_he picks up the pistol and hands it to her_]: there was
no vector strategy needed to win it. [Making a pose of his humiliation]
But enjoy your triumph: you have made me--ME! Cain Adamson Charles
Napoleon! Emperor of Turania! cry for quarter.

THE ORACLE. The way out of your difficulty, Cain Adamson, is very

NAPOLEON [_eagerly_] Good. What is it?

THE ORACLE. To die before the tide of glory turns. Allow me [_she shoots

_He falls with a shriek. She throws the pistol away and goes haughtily
into the temple._

NAPOLEON [_scrambling to his feet_] Murderess! Monster! She-devil!
Unnatural, inhuman wretch! You deserve to be hanged, guillotined, broken
on the wheel, burnt alive. No sense of the sacredness of human life! No
thought for my wife and children! Bitch! Sow! Wanton! [_He picks up the
pistol_]. And missed me at five yards! Thats a woman all over.

_He is going away whence he came when Zoo arrives and confronts him
at the head of a party consisting of the British Envoy, the Elderly
Gentleman, the Envoy's wife, and her daughter, aged about eighteen. The
envoy, a typical politician, looks like an imperfectly reformed criminal
disguised by a good tailor. The dress of the ladies is coeval with that
of the Elderly Gentleman, and suitable for public official ceremonies in
western capitals at the XVIII-XIX fin de siecle._

_They file in under the portico. Zoo immediately comes out imperiously
to Napoleon's right, whilst the Envoy's wife hurries effusively to his
left. The Envoy meanwhile passes along behind the columns to the door,
followed by his daughter. The Elderly Gentleman stops just where he
entered, to see why Zoo has swooped so abruptly on the Emperor of

ZOO [_to Napoleon, severely_] What are you doing here by yourself? You
have no business to go about here alone. What was that noise just now?
What is that in your hand?

_Napoleon glares at her in speechless fury; pockets the pistol; and
produces a whistle._

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. Arnt you coming with us to the oracle, sire?

NAPOLEON. To hell with the oracle, and with you too [_he turns to go_]!

THE ENVOY'S WIFE} [_together_] {Oh, sire!!
ZOO} {Where are you going?}

NAPOLEON. To fetch the police. [_He goes out past Zoo, almost jostling
her, and blowing piercing blasts on his whistle_].

ZOO [_whipping out her tuning-fork and intoning_] Hallo Galway Central.
[_The whistling continues_]. Stand by to isolate. [_To the Elderly
Gentleman, who is staring after the whistling Emperor_] How far has he

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. To that curious statue of a fat old man.

ZOO [_quickly, intoning_] Isolate the Falstaff monument isolate hard.
Paralyze--[_the whistling stops_]. Thank you. [_She puts up her
tuning-fork_]. He shall not move a muscle until I come to fetch him.

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. Oh! he will be frightfully angry! Did you hear what he
said to me?

ZOO. Much we care for his anger!

THE DAUGHTER [_coming forward between her mother and Zoo_]. Please,
madam, whose statue is it? and where can I buy a picture postcard of it?
It is so funny. I will take a snapshot when we are coming back; but they
come out so badly sometimes.

ZOO. They will give you pictures and toys in the temple to take away
with you. The story of the statue is too long. It would bore you [_she
goes past them across the courtyard to get rid of them_].

THE WIFE [_gushing_] Oh no, I assure you.

THE DAUGHTER [_copying her mother_] We should be so interested.

ZOO. Nonsense! All I can tell you about it is that a thousand years ago,
when the whole world was given over to you shortlived people, there was
a war called the War to end War. In the war which followed it about ten
years later, hardly any soldiers were killed; but seven of the capital
cities of Europe were wiped out of existence. It seems to have been a
great joke: for the statesmen who thought they had sent ten million
common men to their deaths were themselves blown into fragments with
their houses and families, while the ten million men lay snugly in the
caves they had dug for themselves. Later on even the houses escaped; but
their inhabitants were poisoned by gas that spared no living soul.
Of course the soldiers starved and ran wild; and that was the end of
pseudo-Christian civilization. The last civilized thing that happened
was that the statesmen discovered that cowardice was a great patriotic
virtue; and a public monument was erected to its first preacher, an
ancient and very fat sage called Sir John Falstaff. Well [_pointing_],
thats Falstaff.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_coming from the portico to his granddaughter's
right_] Great Heavens! And at the base of this monstrous poltroon's
statue the War God of Turania is now gibbering impotently.

ZOO. Serve him right! War God indeed!

THE ENVOY [_coming between his wife and Zoo_] I don't know any history:
a modern Prime Minister has something better to do than sit reading
books; but--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_interrupting him encouragingly_] You make
history, Ambrose.

THE ENVOY. Well, perhaps I do; and perhaps history makes me. I hardly
recognize myself in the newspapers sometimes, though I suppose leading
articles are the materials of history, as you might say. But what I want
to know is, how did war come back again? and how did they make those
poisonous gases you speak of? We should be glad to know; for they might
come in very handy if we have to fight Turania. Of course I am all for
peace, and don't hold with the race of armaments in principle; still, we
must keep ahead or be wiped out.

ZOO. You can make the gases for yourselves when your chemists find out
how. Then you will do as you did before: poison each other until there
are no chemists left, and no civilization. You will then begin all over
again as half-starved ignorant savages, and fight with boomerangs
and poisoned arrows until you work up to the poison gases and high
explosives once more, with the same result. That is, unless we have
sense enough to make an end of this ridiculous game by destroying you.

THE ENVOY [_aghast_] Destroying us!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I told you, Ambrose. I warned you.


ZOO [_impatiently_] I wonder what Zozim is doing. He ought to be here to
receive you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Do you mean that rather insufferable young man
whom you found boring me on the pier?

ZOO. Yes. He has to dress-up in a Druid's robe, and put on a wig and a
long false beard, to impress you silly people. I have to put on a purple
mantle. I have no patience with such mummery; but you expect it from us;
so I suppose it must be kept up. Will you wait here until Zozim comes,
please [_she turns to enter the temple_].

THE ENVOY. My good lady, is it worth while dressing-up and putting on
false beards for us if you tell us beforehand that it is all humbug?

ZOO. One would not think so; but if you wont believe in anyone who is
not dressed-up, why, we must dress-up for you. It was you who invented
all this nonsense, not we.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But do you expect us to be impressed after this?

ZOO. I don't expect anything. I know, as a matter of experience, that
you will be impressed. The oracle will frighten you out of your wits.
[_She goes into the temple_].

THE WIFE. These people treat us as if we were dirt beneath their feet. I
wonder at you putting up with it, Amby. It would serve them right if we
went home at once: wouldnt it, Eth?

THE DAUGHTER. Yes, mamma. But perhaps they wouldnt mind.

THE ENVOY. No use talking like that, Molly. Ive got to see this oracle.
The folks at home wont know how we have been treated: all theyll know
is that Ive stood face to face with the oracle and had the straight tip
from her. I hope this Zozim chap is not going to keep us waiting much
longer; for I feel far from comfortable about the approaching interview;
and thats the honest truth.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I never thought I should want to see that man
again; but now I wish he would take charge of us instead of Zoo. She was
charming at first: quite charming; but she turned into a fiend because I
had a few words with her. You would not believe: she very nearly killed
me. You heard what she said just now. She belongs to a party here which
wants to have us all killed.

THE WIFE [_terrified_] Us! But we have done nothing: we have been as
nice to them as nice could be. Oh, Amby, come away, come away: there is
something dreadful about this place and these people.

THE ENVOY. There is, and no mistake. But youre safe with me: you ought
to have sense enough to know that.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am sorry to say, Molly, that it is not merely
us four poor weak creatures they want to kill, but the entire race of
Man, except themselves.

THE ENVOY. Not so poor neither, Poppa. Nor so weak, if you are going to
take in all the Powers. If it comes to killing, two can play at that
game, longlived or shortlived.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, Ambrose: we should have no chance. We are
worms beside these fearful people: mere worms.

_Zozim comes from the temple, robed majestically, and wearing a wreath
of mistletoe in his flowing white wig. His false beard reaches almost to
his waist. He carries a staff with a curiously carved top._

ZOZIM [_in the doorway, impressively_] Hail, strangers!

ALL [_reverently_] Hail!

ZOZIM. Are ye prepared?

THE ENVOY. We are.

ZOZIM [_unexpectedly becoming conversational, and strolling down
carelessly to the middle of the group between the two ladies_] Well, I'm
sorry to say the oracle is not. She was delayed by some member of your
party who got loose; and as the show takes a bit of arranging, you will
have to wait a few minutes. The ladies can go inside and look round the
entrance hall and get pictures and things if they want them.

{Thank you.}
THE WIFE} [_together_] {I should like to,} [_They go into_]
THE DAUGHTER} {very much.} [_the temple_]

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_in dignified rebuke of Zozim's levity_] Taken in
this spirit, sir, the show, as you call it, becomes almost an insult to
our common sense.

ZOZIM. Quite, I should say. You need not keep it up with me.

THE ENVOY [_suddenly making himself very agreeable_] Just so: just so.
We can wait as long as you please. And now, if I may be allowed to seize
the opportunity of a few minutes' friendly chat--?

ZOZIM. By all means, if only you will talk about things I can

THE ENVOY. Well, about this colonizing plan of yours. My father-in-law
here has been telling me something about it; and he has just now let out
that you want not only to colonize us, but to--to--to--well, shall we
say to supersede us? Now why supersede us? Why not live and let live?
Theres not a scrap of ill-feeling on our side. We should welcome a
colony of immortals--we may almost call you that--in the British Middle
East. No doubt the Turanian Empire, with its Mahometan traditions,
overshadows us now. We have had to bring the Emperor with us on this
expedition, though of course you know as well as I do that he has
imposed himself on my party just to spy on me. I dont deny that he has
the whip hand of us to some extent, because if it came to a war none of
our generals could stand up against him. I give him best at that game:
he is the finest soldier in the world. Besides, he is an emperor and
an autocrat; and I am only an elected representative of the British
democracy. Not that our British democrats wont fight: they will fight
the heads off all the Turanians that ever walked; but then it takes so
long to work them up to it, while he has only to say the word and march.
But you people would never get on with him. Believe me, you would not be
as comfortable in Turania as you would be with us. We understand you. We
like you. We are easy-going people; and we are rich people. That will
appeal to you. Turania is a poor place when all is said. Five-eighths of
it is desert. They dont irrigate as we do. Besides--now I am sure this
will appeal to you and to all right-minded men--we are Christians.

ZOZIM. The old uns prefer Mahometans.

THE ENVOY [_shocked_] What!

ZOZIM [_distinctly_] They prefer Mahometans. Whats wrong with that?

THE ENVOY. Well, of all the disgraceful--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_diplomatically interrupting his scandalized
son-in-law_] There can be no doubt, I am afraid, that by clinging too
long to the obsolete features of the old pseudo-Christian Churches we
allowed the Mahometans to get ahead of us at a very critical period of
the development of the Eastern world. When the Mahometan Reformation
took place, it left its followers with the enormous advantage of having
the only established religion in the world in whose articles of faith
any intelligent and educated person could believe.

THE ENVOY. But what about our Reformation? Dont give the show away,
Poppa. We followed suit, didnt we?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Unfortunately, Ambrose, we could not follow suit
very rapidly. We had not only a religion to deal with, but a Church.

ZOZIM. What is a Church?

THE ENVOY. Not know what a Church is! Well!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You must excuse me; but if I attempted to explain
you would only ask me what a bishop is; and that is a question that no
mortal man can answer. All I can tell you is that Mahomet was a truly
wise man; for he founded a religion without a Church; consequently when
the time came for a Reformation of the mosques there were no bishops and
priests to obstruct it. Our bishops and priests prevented us for two
hundred years from following suit; and we have never recovered the start
we lost then. I can only plead that we did reform our Church at last. No
doubt we had to make a few compromises as a matter of good taste;
but there is now very little in our Articles of Religion that is not
accepted as at least allegorically true by our Higher Criticism.

THE ENVOY [_encouragingly_] Besides, does it matter? Why, _I_ have never
read the Articles in my life; and I am Prime Minister! Come! if my
services in arranging for the reception of a colonizing party would be
acceptable, they are at your disposal. And when I say a reception I mean
a reception. Royal honors, mind you! A salute of a hundred and one guns!
The streets lined with troops! The Guards turned out at the Palace!
Dinner at the Guildhall!

ZOZIM. Discourage me if I know what youre talking about! I wish Zoo
would come: she understands these things. All I can tell you is that
the general opinion among the Colonizers is in favor of beginning in a
country where the people are of a different color from us; so that we
can make short work without any risk of mistakes.

THE ENVOY. What do you mean by short work? I hope--

ZOZIM [_with obviously feigned geniality_] Oh, nothing, nothing,
nothing. We are thinking of trying North America: thats all. You see,
the Red Men of that country used to be white. They passed through a
period of sallow complexions, followed by a period of no complexions
at all, into the red characteristic of their climate. Besides, several
cases of long life have occurred in North America. They joined us here;
and their stock soon reverted to the original white of these islands.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But have you considered the possibility of your
colony turning red?

ZOZIM. That wont matter. We are not particular about our pigmentation.
The old books mention red-faced Englishmen: they appear to have been
common objects at one time.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_very persuasively_] But do you think you would
be popular in North America? It seems to me, if I may say so, that on
your own shewing you need a country in which society is organized in a
series of highly exclusive circles, in which the privacy of private life
is very jealously guarded, and in which no one presumes to speak to
anyone else without an introduction following a strict examination of
social credentials. It is only in such a country that persons of special
tastes and attainments can form a little world of their own, and protect
themselves absolutely from intrusion by common persons. I think I may
claim that our British society has developed this exclusiveness to
perfection. If you would pay us a visit and see the working of our caste
system, our club system, our guild system, you would admit that nowhere
else in the world, least of all, perhaps in North America, which has a
regrettable tradition of social promiscuity, could you keep yourselves
so entirely to yourselves.

ZOZIM [_good-naturedly embarrassed_] Look here. There is no good
discussing this. I had rather not explain; but it wont make any
difference to our Colonizers what sort of short-livers they come across.
We shall arrange all that. Never mind how. Let us join the ladies.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_throwing off his diplomatic attitude and
abandoning himself to despair_] We understand you only too well, sir.
Well, kill us. End the lives you have made miserably unhappy by opening
up to us the possibility that any of us may live three hundred years. I
solemnly curse that possibility. To you it may be a blessing, because
you do live three hundred years. To us, who live less than a hundred,
whose flesh is as grass, it is the most unbearable burden our poor
tortured humanity has ever groaned under.

THE ENVOY. Hullo, Poppa! Steady! How do you make that out?

ZOZIM. What is three hundred years? Short enough, if you ask me. Why, in
the old days you people lived on the assumption that you were going to
last out for ever and ever and ever. Immortal, you thought yourselves.
Were you any happier then?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. As President of the Baghdad Historical Society
I am in a position to inform you that the communities which took this
monstrous pretension seriously were the most wretched of which we have
any record. My Society has printed an editio princeps of the works of
the father of history, Thucyderodotus Macolly-buckle. Have you read his
account of what was blasphemously called the Perfect City of God, and
the attempt made to reproduce it in the northern part of these islands
by Jonhobsnoxius, called the Leviathan? Those misguided people
sacrificed the fragment of life that was granted to them to an imaginary
immortality. They crucified the prophet who told them to take no thought
for the morrow, and that here and now was their Australia: Australia
being a term signifying paradise, or an eternity of bliss. They tried
to produce a condition of death in life: to mortify the flesh, as they
called it.

ZOZIM. Well, you are not suffering from that, are you? You have not a
mortified air.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Naturally we are not absolutely insane and
suicidal. Nevertheless we impose on ourselves abstinences and
disciplines and studies that are meant to prepare us for living three
centuries. And we seldom live one. My childhood was made unnecessarily
painful, my boyhood unnecessarily laborious, by ridiculous preparations
for a length of days which the chances were fifty thousand to one
against my ever attaining. I have been cheated out of the natural joys
and freedoms of my life by this dream to which the existence of these
islands and their oracles gives a delusive possibility of realization.
I curse the day when long life was invented, just as the victims of
Jonhobsnoxius cursed the day when eternal life was invented.

ZOZIM. Pooh! You could live three centuries if you chose.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That is what the fortunate always say to the
unfortunate. Well, I do not choose. I accept my three score and ten
years. If they are filled with usefulness, with justice, with mercy,
with good-will: if they are the lifetime of a soul that never loses its
honor and a brain that never loses its eagerness, they are enough for
me, because these things are infinite and eternal, and can make ten of
my years as long as thirty of yours. I shall not conclude by saying live
as long as you like and be damned to you, because I have risen for the
moment far above any ill-will to you or to any fellow-creature; but I
am your equal before that eternity in which the difference between your
lifetime and mine is as the difference between one drop of water
and three in the eyes of the Almighty Power from which we have both

ZOZIM [_impressed_] You spoke that piece very well, Daddy. I couldnt
talk like that if I tried. It sounded fine. Ah! here comes the ladies.

_To his relief, they have just appeared on the threshold of the temple._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_passing from exaltation to distress_] It means
nothing to him: in this land of discouragement the sublime has become
the ridiculous. [_Turning on the hopelessly puzzled Zozim_] 'Behold,
thou hast made my days as it were a span long; and mine age is even as
nothing in respect of thee.'

{Poppa, Poppa: dont look like
THE WIFE.} [_running_] {that.
THE DAUGHTER.}[_to him_] {Oh, granpa, whats the matter?

ZOZIM [_with a shrug_] Discouragement!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_throwing off the women with a superb gesture_]
Liar! [_Recollecting himself, he adds, with noble courtesy, raising his
hat and bowing_] I beg your pardon, sir; but I am NOT discouraged.

_A burst of orchestral music, through which a powerful gong sounds, is
heard from the temple. Zoo, in a purple robe, appears in the doorway._

ZOO. Come. The oracle is ready.

_Zozim motions them to the threshold with a wave of his staff. The Envoy
and the Elderly Gentleman take off their hats and go into the temple on
tiptoe, Zoo leading the way. The Wife and Daughter, frightened as they
are, raise their heads uppishly and follow flatfooted, sustained by a
sense of their Sunday clothes and social consequence. Zozim remains in
the portico, alone._

ZOZIM [_taking off his wig, beard, and robe, and bundling them under his
arm_] Ouf! [He goes home].


_Inside the temple. A gallery overhanging an abyss. Dead silence. The
gallery is brightly lighted; but beyond is a vast gloom, continually
changing in intensity. A shaft of violet light shoots upward; and a very
harmonious and silvery carillon chimes. When it ceases the violet ray

_Zoo comes along the gallery, followed by the Envoy's daughter, his
wife, the Envoy himself, and the Elderly Gentleman. The two men are
holding their hats with the brims near their noses, as if prepared to
pray into them at a moment's notice. Zoo halts: they all follow her
example. They contemplate the void with awe. Organ music of the kind
called sacred in the nineteenth century begins. Their awe deepens. The
violet ray, now a diffused mist, rises again from the abyss._

THE WIFE [_to Zoo, in a reverent whisper_] Shall we kneel?

ZOO [_loudly_] Yes, if you want to. You can stand on your head if you
like. [_She sits down carelessly on the gallery railing, with her back
to the abyss_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_jarred by her callousness_] We desire to behave
in a becoming manner.

ZOO. Very well. Behave just as you feel. It doesn't matter how you
behave. But keep your wits about you when the pythoness ascends, or you
will forget the questions you have come to ask her.

THE ENVOY} {[[_very nervous, takes out a paper to_]
} [[_simul-_] {[_refresh his memory_]] Ahem!
THE DAUGHTER} [_taneously_]]{[[_alarmed_]] The pythoness? Is she
} {a snake?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Tch-ch! The priestess of the oracle. A sybil. A
prophetess. Not a snake.

THE WIFE. How awful!

ZOO. I'm glad you think so.

THE WIFE. Oh dear! Dont you think so?

ZOO. No. This sort of thing is got up to impress you, not to impress me.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I wish you would let it impress us, then, madam.
I am deeply impressed; but you are spoiling the effect.

ZOO. You just wait. All this business with colored lights and chords on
that old organ is only tomfoolery. Wait til you see the pythoness.

_The Envoy's wife falls on her knees, and takes refuge in prayer._

THE DAUGHTER [_trembling_] Are we really going to see a woman who has
lived three hundred years?

ZOO. Stuff! Youd drop dead if a tertiary as much as looked at you. The
oracle is only a hundred and seventy; and you'll find it hard enough to
stand her.

THE DAUGHTER [_piteously_] Oh! [_she falls on her knees_].

THE ENVOY. Whew! Stand by me, Poppa. This is a little more than I
bargained for. Are you going to kneel; or how?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Perhaps it would be in better taste.

_The two men kneel._

_The vapor of the abyss thickens; and a distant roll of thunder seems to
come from its depths. The pythoness, seated on her tripod, rises slowly
from it. She has discarded the insulating robe and veil in which she
conversed with Napoleon, and is now draped and hooded in voluminous
folds of a single piece of grey-white stuff. Something supernatural
about her terrifies the beholders, who throw themselves on their faces.
Her outline flows and waves: she is almost distinct at moments, and
again vague and shadowy: above all, she is larger than life-size, not
enough to be measured by the flustered congregation, but enough to
affect them with a dreadful sense of her supernaturalness._

ZOO. Get up, get up. Do pull yourselves together, you people.

_The Envoy and his family, by shuddering negatively, intimate that it
is impossible. The Elderly Gentleman manages to get on his hands and

ZOO. Come on, Daddy: you are not afraid. Speak to her. She wont wait
here all day for you, you know.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising very deferentially to his feet_] Madam:
you will excuse my very natural nervousness in addressing, for the first
time in my life, a--a--a--a goddess. My friend and relative the Envoy is
unhinged. I throw myself upon your indulgence--

ZOO [_interrupting him intolerantly_] Dont throw yourself on anything
belonging to her or you will go right through her and break your neck.
She isnt solid, like you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I was speaking figuratively--

ZOO. You have been told not to do it. Ask her what you want to know; and
be quick about it.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stooping and taking the prostrate Envoy by the
shoulders_] Ambrose: you must make an effort. You cannot go back to
Baghdad without the answers to your questions.

THE ENVOY [_rising to his knees_] I shall be only too glad to get back
alive on any terms. If my legs would support me I'd just do a bunk
straight for the ship.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, no. Remember: your dignity--

THE ENVOY. Dignity be damned! I'm terrified. Take me away, for God's

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_producing a brandy flask and taking the cap
off_] Try some of this. It is still nearly full, thank goodness!

THE ENVOY [_clutching it and drinking eagerly_] Ah! Thats better. [_He
tries to drink again. Finding that he has emptied it, he hands it back
to his father-in-law upside down_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_taking it_] Great heavens! He has swallowed
half-a-pint of neat brandy. [_Much perturbed, he screws the cap on
again, and pockets the flask_].

THE ENVOY [_staggering to his feet; pulling a paper from his pocket; and
speaking with boisterous confidence_] Get up, Molly. Up with you, Eth.

_The two women rise to their knees._

THE ENVOY. What I want to ask is this. [_He refers to the paper_]. Ahem!
Civilization has reached a crisis. We are at the parting of the ways. We
stand on the brink of the Rubicon. Shall we take the plunge? Already a
leaf has been torn out of the book of the Sybil. Shall we wait until the
whole volume is consumed? On our right is the crater of the volcano: on
our left the precipice. One false step, and we go down to annihilation
dragging the whole human race with us. [_He pauses for breath_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_recovering his spirits under the familiar
stimulus of political oratory_] Hear, hear!

ZOO. What are you raving about? Ask your question while you have the
chance. What is it you want to know?

THE ENVOY [_patronizing her in the manner of a Premier debating with a
very young member of the Opposition_] A young woman asks me a question.
I am always glad to see the young taking an interest in politics. It is
an impatient question; but it is a practical question, an intelligent
question. She asks why we seek to lift a corner of the veil that shrouds
the future from our feeble vision.

ZOO. I don't. I ask you to tell the oracle what you want, and not keep
her sitting there all day.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_warmly_] Order, order!

ZOO. What does 'Order, order!' mean?

THE ENVOY. I ask the august oracle to listen to my voice--

ZOO. You people seem never to tire of listening to your voices; but it
doesn't amuse us. What do you want?

THE ENVOY. I want, young woman, to be allowed to proceed without
unseemly interruptions.

_A low roll of thunder comes from the abyss._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. There! Even the oracle is indignant. [_To the
Envoy_] Do not allow yourself to be put down by this lady's rude clamor,
Ambrose. Take no notice. Proceed.

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. I cant bear this much longer, Amby. Remember: I havn't
had any brandy.

HIS DAUGHTER [_trembling_] There are serpents curling in the vapor. I am
afraid of the lightning. Finish it, Papa; or I shall die.

THE ENVOY [_sternly_] Silence. The destiny of British civilization is at
stake. Trust me. I am not afraid. As I was saying--where was I?

ZOO. I don't know. Does anybody?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_tactfully_] You were just coming to the
election, I think.

THE ENVOY [_reassured_] Just so. The election. Now what we want to
know is this: ought we to dissolve in August, or put it off until next

ZOO. Dissolve? In what? [_Thunder_]. Oh! My fault this time. That means
that the oracle understands you, and desires me to hold my tongue.

THE ENVOY [_fervently_] I thank the oracle.

THE WIFE [_to Zoo_] Serve you right!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Before the oracle replies, I should like to be
allowed to state a few of the reasons why, in my opinion, the Government
should hold on until the spring. In the first--

_Terrific lightning and thunder. The Elderly Gentleman is knocked flat;
but as he immediately sits up again dazedly it is clear that he is none
the worse for the shock. The ladies cower in terror. The Envoy's hat is
blown off; but he seizes it just as it quits his temples, and holds it
on with both hands. He is recklessly drunk, but quite articulate, as he
seldom speaks in public without taking stimulants beforehand._

THE ENVOY [_taking one hand from his hat to make a gesture of stilling
the tempest_] Thats enough. We know how to take a hint. I'll put the
case in three words. I am the leader of the Potterbill party. My party
is in power. I am Prime Minister. The Opposition--the Rotterjacks--have
won every bye-election for the last six months. They--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_scrambling heatedly to his feet_] Not by fair
means. By bribery, by misrepresentation, by pandering to the vilest
prejudices [_muttered thunder_]--I beg your pardon [_he is silent_].

THE ENVOY. Never mind the bribery and lies. The oracle knows all about
that. The point is that though our five years will not expire until the
year after next, our majority will be eaten away at the bye-elections
by about Easter. We can't wait: we must start some question that will
excite the public, and go to the country on it. But some of us say do it
now. Others say wait til the spring. We cant make up our minds one way
or the other. Which would you advise?

ZOO. But what is the question that is to excite your public?

THE ENVOY. That doesnt matter. I dont know yet. We will find a question
all right enough. The oracle can foresee the future: we cannot.
[_Thunder_]. What does that mean? What have I done now?

ZOO. [_severely_] How often must you be told that we cannot foresee the
future? There is no such thing as the future until it is the present.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Allow me to point out, madam, that when the
Potterbill party sent to consult the oracle fifteen years ago, the
oracle prophesied that the Potterbills would be victorious at the
General Election; and they were. So it is evident that the oracle can
foresee the future, and is sometimes willing to reveal it.

THE ENVOY. Quite true. Thank you, Poppa. I appeal now, over your head,
young woman, direct to the August Oracle, to repeat the signal favor
conferred on my illustrious predecessor, Sir Fuller Eastwind, and to
answer me exactly as he was answered.

_The oracle raises her hands to command silence._

ALL. Sh-sh-sh!

_Invisible trombones utter three solemn blasts in the manner of Die


ZOO [_quickly_] Hush. The oracle is going to speak.

THE ORACLE. Go home, poor fool.

_She vanishes; and the atmosphere changes to prosaic daylight. Zoo comes
off the railing; throws off her robe; makes a bundle of it; and tucks it
under her arm. The magic and mystery are gone. The women rise to their
feet. The Envoy's party stare at one another helplessly._

ZOO. The same reply, word for word, that your illustrious predecessor,
as you call him, got fifteen years ago. You asked for it; and you got
it. And just think of all the important questions you might have asked.
She would have answered them, you know. It is always like that. I
will go and arrange to have you sent home: you can wait for me in the
entrance hall [_she goes out_].

THE ENVOY. What possessed me to ask for the same answer old Eastwind

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But it was not the same answer. The answer to
Eastwind was an inspiration to our party for years. It won us the

THE ENVOY'S DAUGHTER. I learnt it at school, granpa. It wasn't the same
at all. I can repeat it. [_She quotes_] 'When Britain was cradled in the
west, the east wind hardened her and made her great. Whilst the east
wind prevails Britain shall prosper. The east wind shall wither
Britain's enemies in the day of contest. Let the Rotterjacks look to

THE ENVOY. The old man invented that. I see it all. He was a doddering
old ass when he came to consult the oracle. The oracle naturally said
'Go home, poor fool.' There was no sense in saying that to me; but as
that girl said, I asked for it. What else could the poor old chap do but
fake up an answer fit for publication? There were whispers about it; but
nobody believed them. I believe them now.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Oh, I cannot admit that Sir Fuller Eastwind was
capable of such a fraud.

THE ENVOY. He was capable of anything: I knew his private secretary.
And now what are we going to say? You don't suppose I am going back to
Baghdad to tell the British Empire that the oracle called me a fool, do

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Surely we must tell the truth, however painful it
may be to our feelings.

THE ENVOY. I am not thinking of my feelings: I am not so selfish as
that, thank God. I am thinking of the country: of our party. The truth,
as you call it, would put the Rotterjacks in for the next twenty years.
It would be the end of me politically. Not that I care for that: I am
only too willing to retire if you can find a better man. Dont hesitate
on my account.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, Ambrose: you are indispensable. There is no
one else.

THE ENVOY. Very well, then. What are you going to do?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My dear Ambrose, you are the leader of the party,
not I. What are you going to do?

THE ENVOY. I am going to tell the exact truth; thats what I'm going to
do. Do you take me for a liar?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_puzzled_] Oh. I beg your pardon. I understood
you to say--

THE ENVOY [_cutting him short_] You understood me to say that I am going
back to Baghdad to tell the British electorate that the oracle repeated
to me, word for word, what it said to Sir Fuller Eastwind fifteen years
ago. Molly and Ethel can bear me out. So must you, if you are an honest
man. Come on.

_He goes out, followed by his wife and daughter._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_left alone and shrinking into an old and
desolate figure_] What am I to do? I am a most perplexed and wretched
man. [_He falls on his knees, and stretches his hands in entreaty over
the abyss_]. I invoke the oracle. I cannot go back and connive at a
blasphemous lie. I implore guidance.

_The Pythoness walks in on the gallery behind him, and touches him on
the shoulder. Her size is now natural. Her face is hidden by her hood.
He flinches as if from an electric shock; turns to her; and cowers,
covering his eyes in terror._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No: not close to me. I'm afraid I can't bear it.

THE ORACLE [_with grave pity_] Come: look at me. I am my natural size
now: what you saw there was only a foolish picture of me thrown on a
cloud by a lantern. How can I help you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. They have gone back to lie about your answer. I
cannot go with them. I cannot live among people to whom nothing is real.
I have become incapable of it through my stay here. I implore to be
allowed to stay.

THE ORACLE. My friend: if you stay with us you will die of

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. If I go back I shall die of disgust and despair.
I take the nobler risk. I beg you, do not cast me out.

_He catches her robe and holds her._

THE ORACLE. Take care. I have been here one hundred and seventy years.
Your death does not mean to me what it means to you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is the meaning of life, not of death, that
makes banishment so terrible to me.

THE ORACLE. Be it so, then. You may stay.

_She offers him her hands. He grasps them and raises himself a little by
clinging to her. She looks steadily into his face. He stiffens; a little
convulsion shakes him; his grasp relaxes; and he falls dead._

THE ORACLE [_looking down at the body_] Poor shortlived thing! What else
could I do for you?


As Far as Thought can Reach

_Summer afternoon in the year 31,920 A.D. A sunlit glade at the southern
foot of a thickly wooded hill. On the west side of it, the steps and
columned porch of a dainty little classic temple. Between it and the
hill, a rising path to the wooded heights begins with rough steps of
stones in the moss. On the opposite side, a grove. In the middle of the
glade, an altar in the form of a low marble table as long as a man, set
parallel to the temple steps and pointing to the hill. Curved marble
benches radiate from it into the foreground; but they are not joined to
it: there is plenty of space to pass between the altar and the benches.

A dance of youths and maidens is in progress. The music is provided by a
few fluteplayers seated carelessly on the steps of the temple. There are
no children; and none of the dancers seems younger than eighteen. Some
of the youths have beards. Their dress, like the architecture of the
theatre and the design of the altar and curved seats, resembles Grecian
of the fourth century B.C., freely handled. They move with perfect
balance and remarkable grace, racing through a figure like a farandole.
They neither romp nor hug in our manner.

At the first full close they clap their hands to stop the musicians, who
recommence with a saraband, during which a strange figure appears on the
path beyond the temple. He is deep in thought, with his eyes closed
and his feet feeling automatically for the rough irregular steps as he
slowly descends them. Except for a sort of linen kilt consisting mainly
of a girdle carrying a sporran and a few minor pockets, he is naked. In
physical hardihood and uprightness he seems to be in the prime of life;
and his eyes and mouth shew no signs of age; but his face, though fully
and firmly fleshed, bears a network of lines, varying from furrows to
hairbreadth reticulations, as if Time had worked over every inch of it
incessantly through whole geologic periods. His head is finely domed
and utterly bald. Except for his eyelashes he is quite hairless. He is
unconscious of his surroundings, and walks right into one of the dancing
couples, separating them. He wakes up and stares about him. The couple
stop indignantly. The rest stop. The music stops. The youth whom he has
jostled accosts him without malice, but without anything that we should
call manners._

THE YOUTH. Now, then, ancient sleepwalker, why don't you keep your eyes
open and mind where you are going?

THE ANCIENT [_mild, bland, and indulgent_] I did not know there was a
nursery here, or I should not have turned my face in this direction.
Such accidents cannot always be avoided. Go on with your play: I will
turn back.

THE YOUTH. Why not stay with us and enjoy life for once in a way? We
will teach you to dance.

THE ANCIENT. No, thank you. I danced when I was a child like you.
Dancing is a very crude attempt to get into the rhythm of life. It would
be painful to me to go back from that rhythm to your babyish gambols: in
fact I could not do it if I tried. But at your age it is pleasant: and I
am sorry I disturbed you.

THE YOUTH. Come! own up: arnt you very unhappy? It's dreadful to see
you ancients going about by yourselves, never noticing anything, never
dancing, never laughing, never singing, never getting anything out of
life. None of us are going to be like that when we grow up. It's a dog's

THE ANCIENT. Not at all. You repeat that old phrase without knowing
that there was once a creature on earth called a dog. Those who are
interested in extinct forms of life will tell you that it loved the
sound of its own voice and bounded about when it was happy, just as you
are doing here. It is you, my children, who are living the dog's life.

THE YOUTH. The dog must have been a good sensible creature: it set you
a very wise example. You should let yourself go occasionally and have a
good time.

THE ANCIENT. My children: be content to let us ancients go our ways and
enjoy ourselves in our own fashion.

_He turns to go._

THE MAIDEN. But wait a moment. Why will you not tell us how you enjoy
yourself? You must have secret pleasures that you hide from us, and that
you never get tired of. I get tired of all our dances and all our tunes.
I get tired of all my partners.

THE YOUTH [_suspiciously_] Do you? I shall bear that in mind.

_They all look at one another as if there were some sinister
significance in what she has said._

THE MAIDEN. We all do: what is the use of pretending we don't? It is

SEVERAL YOUNG PEOPLE. No, no. We don't. It is not natural.

THE ANCIENT. You are older than he is, I see. You are growing up.

THE MAIDEN. How do you know? I do not look so much older, do I?

THE ANCIENT. Oh, I was not looking at you. Your looks do not interest

THE MAIDEN. Thank you.

_They all laugh._

THE YOUTH. You old fish! I believe you don't know the difference between
a man and a woman.

THE ANCIENT. It has long ceased to interest me in the way it interests
you. And when anything no longer interests us we no longer know it.

THE MAIDEN. You havnt told me how I shew my age. That is what I want to
know. As a matter of fact I am older than this boy here: older than he
thinks. How did you find that out?

THE ANCIENT. Easily enough. You are ceasing to pretend that these
childish games--this dancing and singing and mating--do not become
tiresome and unsatisfying after a while. And you no longer care to
pretend that you are younger than you are. These are the signs of
adolescence. And then, see these fantastic rags with which you have
draped yourself. [_He takes up a piece of her draperies in his hand_].
It is rather badly worn here. Why do you not get a new one?

THE MAIDEN. Oh, I did not notice it. Besides, it is too much trouble.
Clothes are a nuisance. I think I shall do without them some day, as you
ancients do.

THE ANCIENT. Signs of maturity. Soon you will give up all these toys and
games and sweets.

THE YOUTH. What! And be as miserable as you?

THE ANCIENT. Infant: one moment of the ecstasy of life as we live it
would strike you dead. [_He stalks gravely out through the grove_].

_They stare after him, much damped._

THE YOUTH [_to the musicians_] Let us have another dance.

_The musicians shake their heads; get up from their seats on the steps;
and troop away into the temple. The others follow them, except the
Maiden, who sits down on the altar._

A MAIDEN [_as she goes_] There! The ancient has put them out of
countenance. It is your fault, Strephon, for provoking him. [_She
leaves, much disappointed_].

A YOUTH. Why need you have cheeked him like that? [_He goes grumbling_].

STREPHON [_calling after him_] I thought it was understood that we are
always to cheek the ancients on principle.

ANOTHER YOUTH. Quite right too! There would be no holding them if we
didn't. [_He goes_].

THE MAIDEN. Why don't you really stand up to them? _I_ did.

ANOTHER YOUTH. Sheer, abject, pusillanimous, dastardly cowardice. Thats
why. Face the filthy truth. [_He goes_].

ANOTHER YOUTH [_turning on the steps as he goes out_] And don't you
forget, infant, that one moment of the ecstasy of life as I live it
would strike you dead. Haha!

STREPHON [_now the only one left, except the Maiden_] Arnt you coming,

THE MAIDEN [_shakes her head_]!

THE YOUTH [_hurrying back to her_] What is the matter?

THE MAIDEN [_tragically pensive_] I dont know.

THE YOUTH. Then there is something the matter. Is that what you mean?

THE MAIDEN. Yes. Something is happening to me. I dont know what.

THE YOUTH. You no longer love me. I have seen it for a month past.

THE MAIDEN. Dont you think all that is rather silly? We cannot go on as
if this kind of thing, this dancing and sweethearting, were everything.

THE YOUTH. What is there better? What else is there worth living for?

THE MAIDEN. Oh, stuff! Dont be frivolous.

THE YOUTH. Something horrible is happening to you. You are losing all
heart, all feeling. [_He sits on the altar beside her and buries his
face in his hands_]. I am bitterly unhappy.

THE MAIDEN. Unhappy! Really, you must have a very empty head if there is
nothing in it but a dance with one girl who is no better than any of the
other girls.

THE YOUTH. You did not always think so. You used to be vexed if I as
much as looked at another girl.

THE MAIDEN. What does it matter what I did when I was a baby? Nothing
existed for me then except what I tasted and touched and saw; and I
wanted all that for myself, just as I wanted the moon to play with. Now
the world is opening out for me. More than the world: the universe. Even
little things are turning out to be great things, and becoming intensely
interesting. Have you ever thought about the properties of numbers?

THE YOUTH [_sitting up, markedly disenchanted_] Numbers!!! I cannot
imagine anything drier or more repulsive.

THE MAIDEN. They are fascinating, just fascinating. I want to get away
from our eternal dancing and music, and just sit down by myself and
think about numbers.

THE YOUTH [_rising indignantly_] Oh, this is too much. I have suspected
you for some time past. We have all suspected you. All the girls
say that you have deceived us as to your age: that you are getting
flat-chested: that you are bored with us; that you talk to the ancients
when you get the chance. Tell me the truth: how old are you?

THE MAIDEN. Just twice your age, my poor boy.

THE YOUTH. Twice my age! Do you mean to say you are four?

THE MAIDEN. Very nearly four.

THE YOUTH [_collapsing on the altar with a groan_] Oh!

THE MAIDEN. My poor Strephon: I pretended I was only two for your sake.
I was two when you were born. I saw you break from your shell; and
you were such a charming child! You ran round and talked to us all so
prettily, and were so handsome and well grown, that I lost my heart to
you at once. But now I seem to have lost it altogether: bigger things
are taking possession of me. Still, we were very happy in our childish
way for the first year, werent we?

STREPHON. I was happy until you began cooling towards me.

THE MAIDEN. Not towards you, but towards all the trivialities of our
life here. Just think. I have hundreds of years to live: perhaps
thousands. Do you suppose I can spend centuries dancing; listening to
flutes ringing changes on a few tunes and a few notes; raving about the
beauty of a few pillars and arches; making jingles with words; lying
about with your arms round me, which is really neither comfortable nor
convenient; everlastingly choosing colors for dresses, and putting them
on, and washing; making a business of sitting together at fixed hours
to absorb our nourishment; taking little poisons with it to make us
delirious enough to imagine we are enjoying ourselves; and then having
to pass the nights in shelters lying in cots and losing half our lives
in a state of unconsciousness. Sleep is a shameful thing: I have not
slept at all for weeks past. I have stolen out at night when you were
all lying insensible--quite disgusting, I call it--and wandered about
the woods, thinking, thinking, thinking; grasping the world; taking it
to pieces; building it up again; devising methods; planning experiments
to test the methods; and having a glorious time. Every morning I have
come back here with greater and greater reluctance; and I know that the
time will soon come--perhaps it has come already--when I shall not come
back at all.

STREPHON. How horribly cold and uncomfortable!

THE MAIDEN. Oh, don't talk to me of comfort! Life is not worth living if
you have to bother about comfort. Comfort makes winter a torture,
spring an illness, summer an oppression, and autumn only a respite. The
ancients could make life one long frowsty comfort if they chose. But
they never lift a finger to make themselves comfortable. They will not
sleep under a roof. They will not clothe themselves: a girdle with a few
pockets hanging to it to carry things about in is all they wear: they
will sit down on the wet moss or in a gorse bush when there is dry
heather within two yards of them. Two years ago, when you were born, I
did not understand this. Now I feel that I would not put myself to the
trouble of walking two paces for all the comfort in the world.

STREPHON. But you don't know what this means to me. It means that you
are dying to me: yes, just dying. Listen to me [_he puts his arm around

THE MAIDEN [_extricating herself_] Dont. We can talk quite as well
without touching one another.

STREPHON [_horrified_] Chloe! Oh, this is the worst symptom of all! The
ancients never touch one another.

THE MAIDEN. Why should they?

STREPHON. Oh, I don't know. But don't you want to touch me? You used to.

THE MAIDEN. Yes: that is true: I used to. We used to think it would be
nice to sleep in one another's arms; but we never could go to sleep
because our weight stopped our circulations just above the elbows. Then
somehow my feeling began to change bit by bit. I kept a sort of interest
in your head and arms long after I lost interest in your whole body. And
now that has gone.

STREPHON. You no longer care for me at all, then?

THE MAIDEN. Nonsense! I care for you much more seriously than before;
though perhaps not so much for you in particular. I mean I care more for
everybody. But I don't want to touch you unnecessarily; and I certainly
don't want you to touch me.

STREPHON [_rising decisively_] That finishes it. You dislike me.

THE MAIDEN [_impatiently_] I tell you again, I do not dislike you; but
you bore me when you cannot understand; and I think I shall be happier
by myself in future. You had better get a new companion. What about the
girl who is to be born today?

STREPHON. I do not want the girl who is to be born today. How do I know
what she will be like? I want you.

THE MAIDEN. You cannot have me. You must recognize facts and face them.
It is no use running after a woman twice your age. I cannot make my
childhood last to please you. The age of love is sweet; but it is short;
and I must pay nature's debt. You no longer attract me; and I no longer
care to attract you. Growth is too rapid at my age: I am maturing from
week to week.

STREPHON. You are maturing, as you call it--I call it ageing--from
minute to minute. You are going much further than you did when we began
this conversation.

THE MAIDEN. It is not the ageing that is so rapid. It is the realization
of it when it has actually happened. Now that I have made up my mind to
the fact that I have left childhood behind me, it comes home to me in
leaps and bounds with every word you say.

STREPHON. But your vow. Have you forgotten that? We all swore together
in that temple: the temple of love. You were more earnest than any of

THE MAIDEN [_with a grim smile_] Never to let our hearts grow cold!
Never to become as the ancients! Never to let the sacred lamp be
extinguished! Never to change or forget! To be remembered for ever as
the first company of true lovers faithful to this vow so often made and
broken by past generations! Ha! ha! Oh, dear!

STREPHON. Well, you need not laugh. It is a beautiful and holy compact;
and I will keep it whilst I live. Are you going to break it?

THE MAIDEN. Dear child: it has broken itself. The change has come in
spite of my childish vow. [_She rises_]. Do you mind if I go into the
woods for a walk by myself? This chat of ours seems to me an unbearable
waste of time. I have so much to think of.

STREPHON [_again collapsing on the altar and covering his eyes with his
hands_] My heart is broken. [_He weeps_].

THE MAIDEN [_with a shrug_] I have luckily got through my childhood
without that experience. It shews how wise I was to choose a lover half
my age. [_She goes towards the grove, and is disappearing among the
trees, when another youth, older and manlier than Strephon, with crisp
hair and firm arms, comes from the temple, and calls to her from the

THE TEMPLE YOUTH. I say, Chloe. Is there any sign of the Ancient yet?
The hour of birth is overdue. The baby is kicking like mad. She will
break her shell prematurely.

THE MAIDEN [_looks across to the hill path; then points up it, and
says_] She is coming, Acis.

_The Maiden turns away through the grove and is lost to sight among the

Acis [_coming to Strephon_] Whats the matter? Has Chloe been unkind?

STREPHON. She has grown up in spite of all her promises. She deceived us
about her age. She is four.

ACIS. Four! I am sorry, Strephon. I am getting on for three myself;
and I know what old age is. I hate to say 'I told you so'; but she was
getting a little hard set and flat-chested and thin on the top, wasn't

STREPHON [_breaking down_] Dont.

ACIS. You must pull yourself together. This is going to be a busy day.
First the birth. Then the Festival of the Artists.

STREPHON [_rising_] What is the use of being born if we have to decay
into unnatural, heartless, loveless, joyless monsters in four short
years? What use are the artists if they cannot bring their beautiful
creations to life? I have a great mind to die and have done with it
all. [_He moves away to the corner of the curved seat farthest from the
theatre, and throws himself moodily into it_].

_An Ancient Woman has descended the hill path during Strephon's lament,
and has heard most of it. She is like the He-Ancient, equally bald,
and equally without sexual charm, but intensely interesting and rather
terrifying. Her sex is discoverable only by her voice, as her breasts
are manly, and her figure otherwise not very different. She wears no
clothes, but has draped herself rather perfunctorily with a ceremonial
robe, and carries two implements like long slender saws. She comes to
the altar between the two young men._

THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to Strephon_] Infant: you are only at the beginning of
it all. [_To Acis_] Is the child ready to be born?

ACIS. More than ready, Ancient. Shouting and kicking and cursing. We
have called to her to be quiet and wait until you come; but of course
she only half understands, and is very impatient.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. Very well. Bring her out into the sun.

ACIS [_going quickly into the temple_] All ready. Come along.

_Joyous processional music strikes up in the temple._

THE SHE-ANCIENT [_going close to Strephon_]. Look at me.

STREPHON [_sulkily keeping his face _averted] Thank you; but I don't
want to be cured. I had rather be miserable in my own way than callous
in yours.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. You like being miserable? You will soon grow out of
that. [_She returns to the altar_].

_The procession, headed by Acis, emerges from the temple. Six youths
carry on their shoulders a burden covered with a gorgeous but light
pall. Before them certain official maidens carry a new tunic, ewers of
water, silver dishes pierced with holes, cloths, and immense sponges.
The rest carry wands with ribbons, and strew flowers. The burden is
deposited on the altar, and the pall removed. It is a huge egg._

THE SHE-ANCIENT [_freeing her arms from her robe, and placing her saws
on the altar ready to her hand in a businesslike manner_] A girl, I
think you said?

ACIS. Yes.

THE TUNIC BEARER. It is a shame. Why cant we have more boys?

SEVERAL YOUTHS [_protesting_] Not at all. More girls. We want new girls.

A GIRL'S VOICE FROM THE EGG. Let me out. Let me out. I want to be born.
I want to be born. [_The egg rocks_].

ACIS [_snatching a wand from one of the others and whacking the egg with
it_] Be quiet, I tell you. Wait. You will be born presently.

THE EGG. No, no: at once, at once. I want to be born: I want to be born.
[_Violent kicking within the egg, which rocks so hard that it has to be
held on the altar by the bearers_].

THE SHE-ANCIENT. Silence. [_The music stops; and the egg behaves

_The She-Ancient takes her two saws, and with a couple of strokes rips
the egg open. The Newly Born, a pretty girl who would have been guessed
as seventeen in our day, sits up in the broken shell, exquisitely fresh
and rosy, but with filaments of spare albumen clinging to her here and

THE NEWLY BORN [_as the world bursts on her vision_] Oh! Oh!!
Oh!!! Oh!!!! [_She continues this ad libitum during the following

ACIS. Hold your noise, will you?

_The washing begins. The Newly Born shrieks and struggles._

A YOUTH. Lie quiet, you clammy little devil.

A MAIDEN. You must be washed, dear. Now quiet, quiet, quiet: be good.

ACIS. Shut your mouth, or I'll shove the sponge in it.

THE MAIDEN. Shut your eyes. Itll hurt if you don't.

ANOTHER MAIDEN. Dont be silly. One would think nobody had ever been born

THE NEWLY BORN [_yells_]!!!!!!

ACIS. Serve you right! You were told to shut your eyes.

THE YOUTH. Dry her off quick. I can hardly hold her. Shut it, will you;
or I'll smack you into a pickled cabbage.

_The dressing begins. The Newly Born chuckles with delight._

THE MAIDEN. Your arms go here, dear. Isnt it pretty? Youll look lovely.

THE NEWLY BORN [_rapturously_] Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Oh!!!!

ANOTHER YOUTH. No: the other arm: youre putting it on back to front. You
are a silly little beast.

ACIS. Here! Thats it. Now youre clean and decent. Up with you! Oopsh!
[_He hauls her to her feet. She cannot walk at first, but masters it
after a few steps_]. Now then: march. Here she is, Ancient: put her
through the catechism.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. What name have you chosen for her?

ACIS. Amaryllis.

THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to the Newly Born_] Your name is Amaryllis.

THE NEWLY BORN. What does it mean?

A YOUTH. Love.

A MAIDEN. Mother.


THE NEWLY BORN [_to Acis_] What is your name?

ACIS. Acis.

THE NEWLY BORN. I love you, Acis. I must have you all to myself. Take me
in your arms.

ACIS. Steady, young one. I am three years old.

THE NEWLY BORN. What has that to do with it? I love you; and I must have
you or I will go back into my shell again.

ACIS. You cant. It's broken. Look here [_pointing to Strephon, who has
remained in his seal without looking round at the birth, wrapped up in
his sorrow_]! Look at this poor fellow!

THE NEWLY BORN. What is the matter with him?

ACIS. When he was born he chose a girl two years old for his sweetheart.
He is two years old now himself; and already his heart is broken because
she is four. That means that she has grown up like this Ancient here,
and has left him. If you choose me, we shall have only a year's
happiness before I break your heart by growing up. Better choose the
youngest you can find.

THE NEWLY BORN. I will not choose anyone but you. You must not grow up.
We will love one another for ever. [_They all laugh_]. What are you
laughing at?

THE SHE-ANCIENT. Listen, child--

THE NEWLY BORN. Do not come near me, you dreadful old creature. You
frighten me.

ACIS. Just give her another moment. She is not quite reasonable yet.
What can you expect from a child less than five minutes old?

THE NEWLY BORN. I think I feel a little more reasonable now. Of course I
was rather young when I said that; but the inside of my head is changing
very rapidly. I should like to have things explained to me.

ACIS [_to the She-Ancient_] Is she all right, do you think?

_The She-Ancient looks at the Newly Born critically; feels her bumps
like a phrenologist; grips her muscles and shakes her limbs; examines
her teeth; looks into her eyes for a moment; and finally relinquishes
her with an air of having finished her job._

THE SHE-ANCIENT. She will do. She may live.

_They all wave their hands and shout for joy._

THE NEWLY BORN [_indignant_] I may live! Suppose there had been anything
wrong with me?

THE SHE-ANCIENT. Children with anything wrong do not live here, my
child. Life is not cheap with us. But you would not have felt anything.

THE NEWLY BORN. You mean that you would have murdered me!

THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is one of the funny words the newly born bring
with them out of the past. You will forget it tomorrow. Now listen. You
have four years of childhood before you. You will not be very happy; but
you will be interested and amused by the novelty of the world; and your
companions here will teach you how to keep up an imitation of happiness
during your four years by what they call arts and sports and pleasures.
The worst of your troubles is already over.

THE NEWLY BORN. What! In five minutes?

THE SHE-ANCIENT. No: you have been growing for two years in the egg. You
began by being several sorts of creatures that no longer exist, though
we have fossils of them. Then you became human; and you passed in
fifteen months through a development that once cost human beings twenty
years of awkward stumbling immaturity after they were born. They had to
spend fifty years more in the sort of childhood you will complete in
four years. And then they died of decay. But you need not die until your
accident comes.

THE NEWLY BORN. What is my accident?

THE SHE-ANCIENT. Sooner or later you will fall and break your neck; or a
tree will fall on you; or you will be struck by lightning. Something or
other must make an end of you some day.

THE NEWLY BORN. But why should any of these things happen to me?

THE SHE-ANCIENT. There is no why. They do. Everything happens to
everybody sooner or later if there is time enough. And with us there is

THE NEWLY BORN. Nothing need happen. I never heard such nonsense in all
my life. I shall know how to take care of myself.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. So you think.

THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think: I know. I shall enjoy life for ever and

THE SHE-ANCIENT. If you should turn out to be a person of infinite
capacity, you will no doubt find life infinitely interesting. However,
all you have to do now is to play with your companions. They have many
pretty toys, as you see: a playhouse, pictures, images, flowers, bright
fabrics, music: above all, themselves; for the most amusing child's toy
is another child. At the end of four years, your mind will change: you
will become wise; and then you will be entrusted with power.

THE NEWLY BORN. But I want power now.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. No doubt you do; so that you could play with the world
by tearing it to pieces.

THE NEWLY BORN. Only to see how it is made. I should put it all together
again much better than before.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. There was a time when children were given the world to
play with because they promised to improve it. They did not improve it;
and they would have wrecked it had their power been as great as that
which you will wield when you are no longer a child. Until then your
young companions will instruct you in whatever is necessary. You are not
forbidden to speak to the ancients; but you had better not do so, as
most of them have long ago exhausted all the interest there is in
observing children and conversing with them. [_She turns to go_].

THE NEWLY BORN. Wait. Tell me some things that I ought to do and ought
not to do. I feel the need of education. They all laugh at her, except
the She-Ancient.

THE SHE-ANCIENT. You will have grown out of that by tomorrow. Do what
you please. [_She goes away up the hill path_].

_The officials take their paraphernalia and the fragments of the egg
back into the temple._

ACIS. Just fancy: that old girl has been going for seven hundred years
and hasnt had her fatal accident yet; and she is not a bit tired of it

THE NEWLY BORN. How could anyone ever get tired of life?

ACIS. They do. That is, of the same life. They manage to change
themselves in a wonderful way. You meet them sometimes with a lot of
extra heads and arms and legs: they make you split laughing at them.
Most of them have forgotten how to speak: the ones that attend to us
have to brush up their knowledge of the language once a year or so.
Nothing makes any difference to them that I can see. They never enjoy
themselves. I don't know how they can stand it. They don't even come to
our festivals of the arts. That old one who saw you out of your shell
has gone off to moodle about doing nothing; though she knows that this
is Festival Day?

THE NEWLY BORN. What is Festival Day?

ACIS. Two of our greatest sculptors are bringing us their latest
masterpieces; and we are going to crown them with flowers and sing
dithyrambs to them and dance round them.

THE NEWLY BORN. How jolly! What is a sculptor?

ACIS. Listen here, young one. You must find out things for yourself, and
not ask questions. For the first day or two you must keep your eyes and
ears open and your mouth shut. Children should be seen and not heard.

THE NEWLY BORN. Who are you calling a child? I am fully a quarter of
an hour old [_She sits down on the curved bench near Strephon with her
maturest air_].

VOICES IN THE TEMPLE [_all expressing protest, disappointment, disgust_]
Oh! Oh! Scandalous. Shameful. Disgraceful. What filth! Is this a joke?
Why, theyre ancients! Ss-s-s-sss! Are you mad, Arjillax? This is an
outrage. An insult. Yah! etc. etc. etc. [_The malcontents appear on the
steps, grumbling_].

ACIS. Hullo: whats the matter? [_He goes to the steps of the temple_].

_The two sculptors issue from the temple. One has a beard two feet long:
the other is beardless. Between them comes a handsome nymph with marked
features, dark hair richly waved, and authoritative bearing._

THE AUTHORITATIVE NYMPH [_swooping down to the centre of the glade with
the sculptors, between Acis and the Newly Born_] Do not try to browbeat
me, Arjillax, merely because you are clever with your hands. Can you
play the flute?

ARJILLAX [_the bearded sculptor on her right_] No, Ecrasia: I cannot.
What has that to do with it? [_He is half derisive, half impatient,
wholly resolved not to take her seriously in spite of her beauty and
imposing tone_].

ECRASIA. Well, have you ever hesitated to criticize our best flute
players, and to declare whether their music is good or bad? Pray have I
not the same right to criticize your busts, though I cannot make images
anymore than you can play?

ARJILLAX. Any fool can play the flute, or play anything else, if he
practises enough; but sculpture is a creative art, not a mere business
of whistling into a pipe. The sculptor must have something of the god
in him. From his hand comes a form which reflects a spirit. He does not
make it to please you, nor even to please himself, but because he must.
You must take what he gives you, or leave it if you are not worthy of

ECRASIA [_scornfully_] Not worthy of it! Ho! May I not leave it because
it is not worthy of me?

ARJILLAX. Of you! Hold your silly tongue, you conceited humbug. What do
you know about it?

ECRASIA. I know what every person of culture knows: that the business of
the artist is to create beauty. Until today your works have been full of
beauty; and I have been the first to point that out.

ARJILLAX. Thank you for nothing. People have eyes, havnt they, to see
what is as plain as the sun in the heavens without your pointing it out?

ECRASIA. You were very glad to have it pointed out. You did not call me
a conceited humbug then. You stifled me with caresses. You modelled me
as the genius of art presiding over the infancy of your master here
[_indicating the other sculptor_], Martellus.

MARTELLUS [_a silent and meditative listener, shudders and shakes his
head, but says nothing_].

ARJILLAX [_quarrelsomely_] I was taken in by your talk.

ECRASIA. I discovered your genius before anyone else did. Is that true,
or is it not?

ARJILLAX. Everybody knew I was an extraordinary person. When I was born
my beard was three feet long.

ECRASIA. Yes; and it has shrunk from three feet to two. Your genius
seems to have been in the last foot of your beard; for you have lost

MARTELLUS [_with a short sardonic cachinnation_] Ha! My beard was three
and a half feet long when I was born; and a flash of lightning burnt it
off and killed the ancient who was delivering me. Without a hair on my
chin I became the greatest sculptor in ten generations.

ECRASIA. And yet you come to us today with empty hands. We shall
actually have to crown Arjillax here because no other sculptor is

ACIS [_returning from the temple steps to behind the curved seat on the
right of the three_] Whats the row, Ecrasia? Why have you fallen out
with Arjillax?

ECRASIA. He has insulted us! outraged us! profaned his art! You know
how much we hoped from the twelve busts he placed in the temple to be
unveiled today. Well, go in and look at them. That is all I have to
say. [_She sweeps to the curved seat, and sits down just where Acis is
leaning over it_].

ACIS. I am no great judge of sculpture. Art is not my line. What is
wrong with the busts?

ECRASIA. Wrong with them! Instead of being ideally beautiful nymphs and
youths, they are horribly realistic studies of--but I really cannot
bring my lips to utter it.

_The Newly Born, full of curiosity, runs to the temple, and peeps in._

ACIS. Oh, stow it, Ecrasia. Your lips are not so squeamish as all that.
Studies of what?

THE NEWLY BORN [_from the temple steps_] Ancients.

ACIS [_surprised but not scandalized_] Ancients!

ECRASIA. Yes, ancients. The one subject that is by the universal consent
of all connoisseurs absolutely excluded from the fine arts. [_To
Arjillax_] How can you defend such a proceeding?

ARJILLAX. If you come to that, what interest can you find in the statues
of smirking nymphs and posturing youths you stick up all over the place?

ECRASIA. You did not ask that when your hand was still skilful enough to
model them.

ARJILLAX. Skilful! You high-nosed idiot, I could turn such things out by
the score with my eyes bandaged and one hand tied behind me. But what
use would they be? They would bore me; and they would bore you if you
had any sense. Go in and look at my busts. Look at them again and yet
again until you receive the full impression of the intensity of
mind that is stamped on them; and then go back to the pretty-pretty
confectionery you call sculpture, and see whether you can endure its
vapid emptiness. [_He mounts the altar impetuously_] Listen to me, all
of you; and do you, Ecrasia, be silent if you are capable of silence.

ECRASIA. Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. Scorn! That is
what I feel for your revolting busts.

ARJILLAX. Fool: the busts are only the beginning of a mighty design.

ACIS. Go ahead, old sport. We are listening.

_Martellus stretches himself on the sward beside the altar. The Newly
Born sits on the temple steps with her chin on her hands, ready to
devour the first oration she has ever heard. The rest sit or stand at

ARJILLAX. In the records which generations of children have rescued from
the stupid neglect of the ancients, there has come down to us a fable
which, like many fables, is not a thing that was done in the past, but a
thing that is to be done in the future. It is a legend of a supernatural
being called the Archangel Michael.

THE NEWLY BORN. Is this a story? I want to hear a story. [_She runs down
the steps and sits on the altar at Arjillax's feet_].

ARJILLAX. The Archangel Michael was a mighty sculptor and painter. He
found in the centre of the world a temple erected to the goddess of the
centre, called Mediterranea. This temple was full of silly pictures of
pretty children, such as Ecrasia approves.

ACIS. Fair play, Arjillax! If she is to keep silent, let her alone.

ECRASIA. I shall not interrupt, Acis. Why should I not prefer youth and
beauty to age and ugliness?

ARJILLAX. Just so. Well, the Archangel Michael was of my opinion, not
yours. He began by painting on the ceiling the newly born in all their
childish beauty. But when he had done this he was not satisfied; for the
temple was no more impressive than it had been before, except that there
was a strength and promise of greater things about his newly born ones
than any other artist had attained to. So he painted all round these
newly born a company of ancients, who were in those days called prophets
and sybils, whose majesty was that of the mind alone at its intensest.
And this painting was acknowledged through ages and ages to be the
summit and masterpiece of art. Of course we cannot believe such a tale
literally. It is only a legend. We do not believe in archangels; and the
notion that thirty thousand years ago sculpture and painting existed,
and had even reached the glorious perfection they have reached with us,
is absurd. But what men cannot realize they can at least aspire to. They
please themselves by pretending that it was realized in a golden age of
the past. This splendid legend endured because it lived as a desire in
the hearts of the greatest artists. The temple of Mediterranea never was
built in the past, nor did Michael the Archangel exist. But today the
temple is here [_he points to the porch_]; and the man is here [_he
slaps himself on the chest_]. I, Arjillax, am the man. I will place
in your theatre such images of the newly born as must satisfy even
Ecrasia's appetite for beauty; and I will surround them with ancients
more august than any who walk through our woods.

MARTELLUS [_as before_] Ha!

ARJILLAX [_stung_] Why do you laugh, you who have come empty-handed,
and, it seems, empty-headed?

ECRASIA [_rising indignantly_] Oh, shame! You dare disparage Martellus,
twenty times your master.

ACIS. Be quiet, will you [_he seizes her shoulders and thrusts her back
into her seat_].

MARTELLUS. Let him disparage his fill, Ecrasia. [_Sitting up_] My poor
Arjillax, I too had this dream. I too found one day that my images of
loveliness had become vapid, uninteresting, tedious, a waste of time
and material. I too lost my desire to model limbs, and retained only my
interest in heads and faces. I, too, made busts of ancients; but I had
not your courage: I made them in secret, and hid them from you all.

ARJILLAX [_jumping down from the altar behind Martellus in his surprise
and excitement_] You made busts of ancients! Where are they, man? Will
you be talked out of your inspiration by Ecrasia and the fools who
imagine she speaks with authority? Let us have them all set up beside
mine in the theatre. I have opened the way for you; and you see I am
none the worse.

MARTELLUS. Impossible. They are all smashed. [_He rises, laughing_].

ALL. Smashed!

ARJILLAX. Who smashed them?

MARTELLUS. I did. That is why I laughed at you just now. You will smash
yours before you have completed a dozen of them. [_He goes to the end of
the altar and sits down beside the Newly Born_].

ARJILLAX. But why?

MARTELLUS. Because you cannot give them life. A live ancient is better
than a dead statue. [_He takes the Newly Born on his knee: she is
flattered and voluptuously responsive_]. Anything alive is better than
anything that is only pretending to be alive. [_To Arjillax_] Your
disillusion with your works of beauty is only the beginning of your
disillusion with images of all sorts. As your hand became more skilful
and your chisel cut deeper, you strove to get nearer and nearer to truth
and reality, discarding the fleeting fleshly lure, and making images of
the mind that fascinates to the end. But how can so noble an inspiration
be satisfied with any image, even an image of the truth? In the end the
intellectual conscience that tore you away from the fleeting in art to
the eternal must tear you away from art altogether, because art is false
and life alone is true.

THE NEWLY BORN [_flings her arms round his neck and kisses him

MARTELLUS [_rises; carries her to the curved bench on his left; deposits
her beside Strephon as if she were his overcoat; and continues without
the least change of tone_] Shape it as you will, marble remains marble,
and the graven image an idol. As I have broken my idols, and cast away
my chisel and modelling tools, so will you too break these busts of


MARTELLUS. Wait, my friend. I do not come empty-handed today, as you
imagined. On the contrary, I bring with me such a work of art as you
have never seen, and an artist who has surpassed both you and me further
than we have surpassed all our competitors.

ECRASIA. Impossible. The greatest things in art can never be surpassed.

ARJILLAX. Who is this paragon whom you declare greater than I?

MARTELLUS. I declare him greater than myself, Arjillax.

ARJILLAX [_frowning_] I understand. Sooner than not drown me, you are
willing to clasp me round the waist and jump overboard with me.

ACIS. Oh, stop squabbling. That is the worst of you artists. You are
always in little squabbling cliques; and the worst cliques are those
which consist of one man. Who is this new fellow you are throwing in one
another's teeth?

ARJILLAX. Ask Martellus: do not ask me. I know nothing of him. [_He
leaves Martellus, and sits down beside Ecrasia, on her left_].

MARTELLUS. You know him quite well. Pygmalion.

ECRASIA [_indignantly_] Pygmalion! That soulless creature! A scientist!
A laboratory person!

ARJILLAX. Pygmalion produce a work of art! You have lost your artistic
senses. The man is utterly incapable of modelling a thumb nail, let
alone a human figure.

MARTELLUS. That does not matter: I have done the modelling for him.

ARJILLAX. What on earth do you mean?

MARTELLUS [_calling_] Pygmalion: come forth.

_Pygmalion, a square-fingered youth with his face laid out in horizontal
blocks, and a perpetual smile of eager benevolent interest in
everything, and expectation of equal interest from everybody else, comes
from the temple to the centre of the group, who regard him for the most
part with dismay, as dreading that he will bore them. Ecrasia is openly

MARTELLUS. Friends: it is unfortunate that Pygmalion is constitutionally
incapable of exhibiting anything without first giving a lecture about
it to explain it; but I promise you that if you will be patient he will
shew you the two most wonderful works of art in the world, and that they
will contain some of my own very best workmanship. Let me add that they
will inspire a loathing that will cure you of the lunacy of art for
ever. [_He sits down next the Newly Born, who pouts and turns a very
cold right shoulder to him, a demonstration utterly lost on him_].

_Pygmalion, with the smile of a simpleton, and the eager confidence of a
fanatical scientist, climbs awkwardly on to the altar. They prepare for
the worst._

PYGMALION. My friends: I will omit the algebra--

ACIS. Thank God!

PYGMALION [_continuing_]--because Martellus has made me promise to do
so. To come to the point, I have succeeded in making artificial human
beings. Real live ones, I mean.

INCREDULOUS VOICES. Oh, come! Tell us another. Really, Pyg! Get out. You
havnt. What a lie!

PYGMALION. I tell you I have. I will shew them to you. It has been done
before. One of the very oldest documents we possess mentions a tradition
of a biologist who extracted certain unspecified minerals from the earth
and, as it quaintly expresses it, 'breathed into their nostrils the
breath of life.' This is the only tradition from the primitive ages
which we can regard as really scientific. There are later documents
which specify the minerals with great precision, even to their atomic
weights; but they are utterly unscientific, because they overlook the
element of life which makes all the difference between a mere mixture of
salts and gases and a living organism. These mixtures were made over
and over again in the crude laboratories of the Silly-Clever Ages; but
nothing came of them until the ingredient which the old chronicler
called the breath of life was added by this very remarkable early
experimenter. In my view he was the founder of biological science.

ARJILLAX. Is that all we know about him? It doesnt amount to very much,
does it?

PYGMALION. There are some fragments of pictures and documents which
represent him as walking in a garden and advising people to cultivate
their gardens. His name has come down to us in several forms. One of
them is Jove. Another is Voltaire.

ECRASIA. You are boring us to distraction with your Voltaire. What about
your human beings?

ARJILLAX. Aye: come to them.

PYGMALION. I assure you that these details are intensely interesting.
[_Cries of_ No! They are not! Come to the human beings! Conspuez
Voltaire! Cut it short, Pyg! _interrupt him from all sides_]. You will
see their bearing presently. I promise you I will not detain you long.
We know, we children of science, that the universe is full of forces and
powers and energies of one kind and another. The sap rising in a tree,
the stone holding together in a definite crystalline structure, the
thought of a philosopher holding his brain in form and operation with an
inconceivably powerful grip, the urge of evolution: all these forces can
be used by us. For instance, I use the force of gravitation when I put a
stone on my tunic to prevent it being blown away when I am bathing. By
substituting appropriate machines for the stone we have made not only
gravitation our slave, but also electricity and magnetism, atomic
attraction, repulsion, polarization, and so forth. But hitherto the
vital force has eluded us; so it has had to create machinery for itself.
It has created and developed bony structures of the requisite strength,
and clothed them with cellular tissue of such amazing sensitiveness that
the organs it forms will adapt their action to all the normal variations
in the air they breathe, the food they digest, and the circumstances
about which they have to think. Yet, as these live bodies, as we call
them, are only machines after all, it must be possible to construct them

ARJILLAX. Everything is possible. Have you done it? that is the

PYGMALION. Yes. But that is a mere fact. What is interesting is the
explanation of the fact. Forgive my saying so; but it is such a pity
that you artists have no intellect.


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