Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by Eve Sobol, South Bend, Indiana, USA
MAN AND SUPERMAN
A COMEDY AND A PHILOSOPHY
By Bernard Shaw
EPISTLE DEDICATORY TO ARTHUR BINGHAM WALKLEY
My dear Walkley:
You once asked me why I did not write a Don Juan play. The levity
with which you assumed this frightful responsibility has probably
by this time enabled you to forget it; but the day of reckoning
has arrived: here is your play! I say your play, because qui
facit per alium facit per se. Its profits, like its labor, belong
to me: its morals, its manners, its philosophy, its influence on
the young, are for you to justify. You were of mature age when
you made the suggestion; and you knew your man. It is hardly
fifteen years since, as twin pioneers of the New Journalism of
that time, we two, cradled in the same new sheets, made an epoch
in the criticism of the theatre and the opera house by making it
a pretext for a propaganda of our own views of life. So you
cannot plead ignorance of the character of the force you set in
motion. Yon meant me to epater le bourgeois; and if he protests,
I hereby refer him to you as the accountable party.
I warn you that if you attempt to repudiate your responsibility,
I shall suspect you of finding the play too decorous for your
taste. The fifteen years have made me older and graver. In you I
can detect no such becoming change. Your levities and audacities
are like the loves and comforts prayed for by Desdemona: they
increase, even as your days do grow. No mere pioneering journal
dares meddle with them now: the stately Times itself is alone
sufficiently above suspicion to act as your chaperone; and even
the Times must sometimes thank its stars that new plays are not
produced every day, since after each such event its gravity is
compromised, its platitude turned to epigram, its portentousness
to wit, its propriety to elegance, and even its decorum into
naughtiness by criticisms which the traditions of the paper do
not allow you to sign at the end, but which you take care to sign
with the most extravagant flourishes between the lines. I am not
sure that this is not a portent of Revolution. In eighteenth
century France the end was at hand when men bought the
Encyclopedia and found Diderot there. When I buy the Times and
find you there, my prophetic ear catches a rattle of twentieth
However, that is not my present anxiety. The question is, will
you not be disappointed with a Don Juan play in which not one of
that hero's mille e tre adventures is brought upon the stage? To
propitiate you, let me explain myself. You will retort that I
never do anything else: it is your favorite jibe at me that what
I call drama is nothing but explanation. But you must not expect
me to adopt your inexplicable, fantastic, petulant, fastidious
ways: you must take me as I am, a reasonable, patient,
consistent, apologetic, laborious person, with the temperament of
a schoolmaster and the pursuits of a vestryman. No doubt that
literary knack of mine which happens to amuse the British public
distracts attention from my character; but the character is there
none the less, solid as bricks. I have a conscience; and
conscience is always anxiously explanatory. You, on the contrary,
feel that a man who discusses his conscience is much like a woman
who discusses her modesty. The only moral force you condescend to
parade is the force of your wit: the only demand you make in
public is the demand of your artistic temperament for symmetry,
elegance, style, grace, refinement, and the cleanliness which
comes next to godliness if not before it. But my conscience is
the genuine pulpit article: it annoys me to see people
comfortable when they ought to be uncomfortable; and I insist on
making them think in order to bring them to conviction of sin. If
you don't like my preaching you must lump it. I really cannot
In the preface to my Plays for Puritans I explained the
predicament of our contemporary English drama, forced to deal
almost exclusively with cases of sexual attraction, and yet
forbidden to exhibit the incidents of that attraction or even to
discuss its nature. Your suggestion that I should write a Don
Juan play was virtually a challenge to me to treat this subject
myself dramatically. The challenge was difficult enough to be
worth accepting, because, when you come to think of it, though we
have plenty of dramas with heroes and heroines who are in love
and must accordingly marry or perish at the end of the play, or
about people whose relations with one another have been
complicated by the marriage laws, not to mention the looser sort
of plays which trade on the tradition that illicit love affairs
are at once vicious and delightful, we have no modern English
plays in which the natural attraction of the sexes for one
another is made the mainspring of the action. That is why we
insist on beauty in our performers, differing herein from the
countries our friend William Archer holds up as examples of
seriousness to our childish theatres. There the Juliets and
Isoldes, the Romeos and Tristans, might be our mothers and
fathers. Not so the English actress. The heroine she impersonates
is not allowed to discuss the elemental relations of men and
women: all her romantic twaddle about novelet-made love, all her
purely legal dilemmas as to whether she was married or
"betrayed," quite miss our hearts and worry our minds. To console
ourselves we must just look at her. We do so; and her beauty
feeds our starving emotions. Sometimes we grumble ungallantly at
the lady because she does not act as well as she looks. But in a
drama which, with all its preoccupation with sex, is really void
of sexual interest, good looks are more desired than histrionic
Let me press this point on you, since you are too clever to raise
the fool's cry of paradox whenever I take hold of a stick by the
right instead of the wrong end. Why are our occasional attempts
to deal with the sex problem on the stage so repulsive and dreary
that even those who are most determined that sex questions shall
be held open and their discussion kept free, cannot pretend to
relish these joyless attempts at social sanitation? Is it not
because at bottom they are utterly sexless? What is the usual
formula for such plays? A woman has, on some past occasion, been
brought into conflict with the law which regulates the relations
of the sexes. A man, by falling in love with her, or marrying
her, is brought into conflict with the social convention which
discountenances the woman. Now the conflicts of individuals with
law and convention can be dramatized like all other human
conflicts; but they are purely judicial; and the fact that we are
much more curious about the suppressed relations between the man
and the woman than about the relations between both and our
courts of law and private juries of matrons, produces that
sensation of evasion, of dissatisfaction, of fundamental
irrelevance, of shallowness, of useless disagreeableness, of
total failure to edify and partial failure to interest, which is
as familiar to you in the theatres as it was to me when I, too,
frequented those uncomfortable buildings, and found our popular
playwrights in the mind to (as they thought) emulate Ibsen.
I take it that when you asked me for a Don Juan play you did not
want that sort of thing. Nobody does: the successes such plays
sometimes obtain are due to the incidental conventional melodrama
with which the experienced popular author instinctively saves
himself from failure. But what did you want? Owing to your
unfortunate habit--you now, I hope, feel its inconvenience--of
not explaining yourself, I have had to discover this for myself.
First, then, I have had to ask myself, what is a Don Juan?
Vulgarly, a libertine. But your dislike of vulgarity is pushed to
the length of a defect (universality of character is impossible
without a share of vulgarity); and even if you could acquire the
taste, you would find yourself overfed from ordinary sources
without troubling me. So I took it that you demanded a Don Juan
in the philosophic sense.
Philosophically, Don Juan is a man who, though gifted enough to
be exceptionally capable of distinguishing between good and evil,
follows his own instincts without regard to the common statute,
or canon law; and therefore, whilst gaining the ardent sympathy
of our rebellious instincts (which are flattered by the
brilliancies with which Don Juan associates them) finds himself
in mortal conflict with existing institutions, and defends
himself by fraud and farce as unscrupulously as a farmer defends
his crops by the same means against vermin. The prototypic Don
Juan, invented early in the XVI century by a Spanish monk, was
presented, according to the ideas of that time, as the enemy of
God, the approach of whose vengeance is felt throughout the
drama, growing in menace from minute to minute. No anxiety is
caused on Don Juan's account by any minor antagonist: he easily
eludes the police, temporal and spiritual; and when an indignant
father seeks private redress with the sword, Don Juan kills him
without an effort. Not until the slain father returns from heaven
as the agent of God, in the form of his own statue, does he
prevail against his slayer and cast him into hell. The moral is a
monkish one: repent and reform now; for to-morrow it may be too
late. This is really the only point on which Don Juan is
sceptical; for he is a devout believer in an ultimate hell, and
risks damnation only because, as he is young, it seems so far off
that repentance can be postponed until he has amused himself to
his heart's content.
But the lesson intended by an author is hardly ever the lesson
the world chooses to learn from his book. What attracts and
impresses us in El Burlador de Sevilla is not the immediate
urgency of repentance, but the heroism of daring to be the enemy
of God. From Prometheus to my own Devil's Disciple, such enemies
have always been popular. Don Juan became such a pet that the
world could not bear his damnation. It reconciled him
sentimentally to God in a second version, and clamored for his
canonization for a whole century, thus treating him as English
journalism has treated that comic foe of the gods, Punch.
Moliere's Don Juan casts back to the original in point of
impenitence; but in piety he falls off greatly. True, he also
proposes to repent; but in what terms? "Oui, ma foi! il faut
s'amender. Encore vingt ou trente ans de cette vie-ci, et puis
nous songerons a nous." After Moliere comes the artist-enchanter,
the master of masters, Mozart, who reveals the hero's spirit in
magical harmonies, elfin tones, and elate darting rhythms as of
summer lightning made audible. Here you have freedom in love and
in morality mocking exquisitely at slavery to them, and
interesting you, attracting you, tempting you, inexplicably
forcing you to range the hero with his enemy the statue on a
transcendant plane, leaving the prudish daughter and her priggish
lover on a crockery shelf below to live piously ever after.
After these completed works Byron's fragment does not count for
much philosophically. Our vagabond libertines are no more
interesting from that point of view than the sailor who has a
wife in every port, and Byron's hero is, after all, only a
vagabond libertine. And he is dumb: he does not discuss himself
with a Sganarelle-Leporello or with the fathers or brothers of
his mistresses: he does not even, like Casanova, tell his own
story. In fact he is not a true Don Juan at all; for he is no
more an enemy of God than any romantic and adventurous young
sower of wild oats. Had you and I been in his place at his age,
who knows whether we might not have done as he did, unless
indeed your fastidiousness had saved you from the empress
Catherine. Byron was as little of a philosopher as Peter the
Great: both were instances of that rare and useful, but
unedifying variation, an energetic genius born without the
prejudices or superstitions of his contemporaries. The resultant
unscrupulous freedom of thought made Byron a greater poet than
Wordsworth just as it made Peter a greater king than George III;
but as it was, after all, only a negative qualification, it did
not prevent Peter from being an appalling blackguard and an
arrant poltroon, nor did it enable Byron to become a religious
force like Shelley. Let us, then, leave Byron's Don Juan out of
account. Mozart's is the last of the true Don Juans; for by the
time he was of age, his cousin Faust had, in the hands of Goethe,
taken his place and carried both his warfare and his
reconciliation with the gods far beyond mere lovemaking into
politics, high art, schemes for reclaiming new continents from
the ocean, and recognition of an eternal womanly principle in the
universe. Goethe's Faust and Mozart's Don Juan were the last
words of the XVIII century on the subject; and by the time the
polite critics of the XIX century, ignoring William Blake as
superficially as the XVIII had ignored Hogarth or the XVII
Bunyan, had got past the Dickens-Macaulay Dumas-Guizot stage and
the Stendhal-Meredith-Turgenieff stage, and were confronted with
philosophic fiction by such pens as Ibsen's and Tolstoy's, Don
Juan had changed his sex and become Dona Juana, breaking out of
the Doll's House and asserting herself as an individual instead
of a mere item in a moral pageant.
Now it is all very well for you at the beginning of the XX
century to ask me for a Don Juan play; but you will see from the
foregoing survey that Don Juan is a full century out of date for
you and for me; and if there are millions of less literate people
who are still in the eighteenth century, have they not Moliere
and Mozart, upon whose art no human hand can improve? You would
laugh at me if at this time of day I dealt in duels and ghosts
and "womanly" women. As to mere libertinism, you would be the
first to remind me that the Festin de Pierre of Moliere is not a
play for amorists, and that one bar of the voluptuous
sentimentality of Gounod or Bizet would appear as a licentious
stain on the score of Don Giovanni. Even the more abstract parts
of the Don Juan play are dilapidated past use: for instance, Don
Juan's supernatural antagonist hurled those who refuse to repent
into lakes of burning brimstone, there to be tormented by devils
with horns and tails. Of that antagonist, and of that conception
of repentance, how much is left that could be used in a play by
me dedicated to you? On the other hand, those forces of middle
class public opinion which hardly existed for a Spanish nobleman
in the days of the first Don Juan, are now triumphant everywhere.
Civilized society is one huge bourgeoisie: no nobleman dares now
shock his greengrocer. The women, "marchesane, principesse,
cameriere, cittadine" and all, are become equally dangerous: the
sex is aggressive, powerful: when women are wronged they do not
group themselves pathetically to sing "Protegga il giusto
cielo": they grasp formidable legal and social weapons, and
retaliate. Political parties are wrecked and public careers
undone by a single indiscretion. A man had better have all the
statues in London to supper with him, ugly as they are, than be
brought to the bar of the Nonconformist Conscience by Donna
Elvira. Excommunication has become almost as serious a business
as it was in the X century.
As a result, Man is no longer, like Don Juan, victor in the duel
of sex. Whether he has ever really been may be doubted: at all
events the enormous superiority of Woman's natural position in
this matter is telling with greater and greater force. As to
pulling the Nonconformist Conscience by the beard as Don Juan
plucked the beard of the Commandant's statue in the convent of
San Francisco, that is out of the question nowadays: prudence and
good manners alike forbid it to a hero with any mind. Besides, it
is Don Juan's own beard that is in danger of plucking. Far from
relapsing into hypocrisy, as Sganarelle feared, he has
unexpectedly discovered a moral in his immorality. The growing
recognition of his new point of view is heaping responsibility on
him. His former jests he has had to take as seriously as I have
had to take some of the jests of Mr W. S. Gilbert. His
scepticism, once his least tolerated quality, has now triumphed
so completely that he can no longer assert himself by witty
negations, and must, to save himself from cipherdom, find an
affirmative position. His thousand and three affairs of
gallantry, after becoming, at most, two immature intrigues
leading to sordid and prolonged complications and humiliations,
have been discarded altogether as unworthy of his philosophic
dignity and compromising to his newly acknowledged position as
the founder of a school. Instead of pretending to read Ovid he
does actually read Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, studies
Westermarck, and is concerned for the future of the race instead
of for the freedom of his own instincts. Thus his profligacy and
his dare-devil airs have gone the way of his sword and mandoline
into the rag shop of anachronisms and superstitions. In fact, he
is now more Hamlet than Don Juan; for though the lines put into
the actor's mouth to indicate to the pit that Hamlet is a
philosopher are for the most part mere harmonious platitude
which, with a little debasement of the word-music, would be
properer to Pecksniff, yet if you separate the real hero,
inarticulate and unintelligible to himself except in flashes of
inspiration, from the performer who has to talk at any cost
through five acts; and if you also do what you must always do in
Shakespear's tragedies: that is, dissect out the absurd
sensational incidents and physical violences of the borrowed
story from the genuine Shakespearian tissue, you will get a true
Promethean foe of the gods, whose instinctive attitude towards
women much resembles that to which Don Juan is now driven. From
this point of view Hamlet was a developed Don Juan whom
Shakespear palmed off as a reputable man just as he palmed poor
Macbeth off as a murderer. To-day the palming off is no longer
necessary (at least on your plane and mine) because Don Juanism
is no longer misunderstood as mere Casanovism. Don Juan himself
is almost ascetic in his desire to avoid that misunderstanding;
and so my attempt to bring him up to date by launching him as a
modern Englishman into a modern English environment has produced
a figure superficially quite unlike the hero of Mozart.
And yet I have not the heart to disappoint you wholly of another
glimpse of the Mozartian dissoluto punito and his antagonist the
statue. I feel sure you would like to know more of that statue--
to draw him out when he is off duty, so to speak. To gratify you,
I have resorted to the trick of the strolling theatrical manager
who advertizes the pantomime of Sinbad the Sailor with a stock of
second-hand picture posters designed for Ali Baba. He simply
thrusts a few oil jars into the valley of diamonds, and so
fulfils the promise held out by the hoardings to the public eye.
I have adapted this simple device to our occasion by thrusting
into my perfectly modern three-act play a totally extraneous act
in which my hero, enchanted by the air of the Sierra, has a dream
in which his Mozartian ancestor appears and philosophizes at
great length in a Shavio-Socratic dialogue with the lady, the
statue, and the devil.
But this pleasantry is not the essence of the play. Over this
essence I have no control. You propound a certain social
substance, sexual attraction to wit, for dramatic distillation;
and I distil it for you. I do not adulterate the product with
aphrodisiacs nor dilute it with romance and water; for I am
merely executing your commission, not producing a popular play
for the market. You must therefore (unless, like most wise men,
you read the play first and the preface afterwards) prepare
yourself to face a trumpery story of modern London life, a life
in which, as you know, the ordinary man's main business is to get
means to keep up the position and habits of a gentleman, and the
ordinary woman's business is to get married. In 9,999 cases out
of 10,000, you can count on their doing nothing, whether noble
or base, that conflicts with these ends; and that assurance is
what you rely on as their religion, their morality, their
principles, their patriotism, their reputation, their honor and
On the whole, this is a sensible and satisfactory foundation for
society. Money means nourishment and marriage means children; and
that men should put nourishment first and women children first
is, broadly speaking, the law of Nature and not the dictate of
personal ambition. The secret of the prosaic man's success, such
as it is, is the simplicity with which he pursues these ends: the
secret of the artistic man's failure, such as that is, is the
versatility with which he strays in all directions after
secondary ideals. The artist is either a poet or a scallawag: as
poet, he cannot see, as the prosaic man does, that chivalry is at
bottom only romantic suicide: as scallawag, he cannot see that it
does not pay to spunge and beg and lie and brag and neglect his
person. Therefore do not misunderstand my plain statement of the
fundamental constitution of London society as an Irishman's
reproach to your nation. From the day I first set foot on this
foreign soil I knew the value of the prosaic qualities of which
Irishmen teach Englishmen to be ashamed as well as I knew the
vanity of the poetic qualities of which Englishmen teach Irishmen
to be proud. For the Irishman instinctively disparages the
quality which makes the Englishman dangerous to him; and the
Englishman instinctively flatters the fault that makes the
Irishman harmless and amusing to him. What is wrong with the
prosaic Englishman is what is wrong with the prosaic men of all
countries: stupidity. The vitality which places nourishment and
children first, heaven and hell a somewhat remote second, and the
health of society as an organic whole nowhere, may muddle
successfully through the comparatively tribal stages of
gregariousness; but in nineteenth century nations and twentieth
century empires the determination of every man to be rich at all
costs, and of every woman to be married at all costs, must,
without a highly scientific social organization, produce a
ruinous development of poverty, celibacy, prostitution, infant
mortality, adult degeneracy, and everything that wise men most
dread. In short, there is no future for men, however brimming
with crude vitality, who are neither intelligent nor politically
educated enough to be Socialists. So do not misunderstand me in
the other direction either: if I appreciate the vital qualities
of the Englishman as I appreciate the vital qualities of the bee,
I do not guarantee the Englishman against being, like the bee (or
the Canaanite) smoked out and unloaded of his honey by beings
inferior to himself in simple acquisitiveness, combativeness, and
fecundity, but superior to him in imagination and cunning.
The Don Juan play, however, is to deal with sexual attraction,
and not with nutrition, and to deal with it in a society in which
the serious business of sex is left by men to women, as the
serious business of nutrition is left by women to men. That the
men, to protect themselves against a too aggressive prosecution
of the women's business, have set up a feeble romantic convention
that the initiative in sex business must always come from the
man, is true; but the pretence is so shallow that even in the
theatre, that last sanctuary of unreality, it imposes only on the
inexperienced. In Shakespear's plays the woman always takes the
initiative. In his problem plays and his popular plays alike the
love interest is the interest of seeing the woman hunt the man
down. She may do it by blandishment, like Rosalind, or by
stratagem, like Mariana; but in every case the relation between
the woman and the man is the same: she is the pursuer and
contriver, he the pursued and disposed of. When she is baffled,
like Ophelia, she goes mad and commits suicide; and the man goes
straight from her funeral to a fencing match. No doubt Nature,
with very young creatures, may save the woman the trouble of
scheming: Prospero knows that he has only to throw Ferdinand and
Miranda together and they will mate like a pair of doves; and
there is no need for Perdita to capture Florizel as the lady
doctor in All's Well That Ends Well (an early Ibsenite heroine)
captures Bertram. But the mature cases all illustrate the
Shakespearian law. The one apparent exception, Petruchio, is not
a real one: he is most carefully characterized as a purely
commercial matrimonial adventurer. Once he is assured that
Katharine has money, he undertakes to marry her before he has
seen her. In real life we find not only Petruchios, but
Mantalinis and Dobbins who pursue women with appeals to their
pity or jealousy or vanity, or cling to them in a romantically
infatuated way. Such effeminates do not count in the world
scheme: even Bunsby dropping like a fascinated bird into the jaws
of Mrs MacStinger is by comparison a true tragic object of pity
and terror. I find in my own plays that Woman, projecting herself
dramatically by my hands (a process over which I assure you I
have no more real control than I have over my wife), behaves just
as Woman did in the plays of Shakespear.
And so your Don Juan has come to birth as a stage projection of
the tragi-comic love chase of the man by the woman; and my Don
Juan is the quarry instead of the huntsman. Yet he is a true Don
Juan, with a sense of reality that disables convention, defying
to the last the fate which finally overtakes him. The woman's
need of him to enable her to carry on Nature's most urgent work,
does not prevail against him until his resistance gathers her
energy to a climax at which she dares to throw away her customary
exploitations of the conventional affectionate and dutiful poses,
and claim him by natural right for a purpose that far transcends
their mortal personal purposes.
Among the friends to whom I have read this play in manuscript are
some of our own sex who are shocked at the "unscrupulousness,"
meaning the total disregard of masculine fastidiousness, with
which the woman pursues her purpose. It does not occur to them
that if women were as fastidious as men, morally or physically,
there would be an end of the race. Is there anything meaner
then to throw necessary work upon other people and then disparage
it as unworthy and indelicate. We laugh at the haughty American
nation because it makes the negro clean its boots and then proves
the moral and physical inferiority of the negro by the fact that
he is a shoeblack; but we ourselves throw the whole drudgery of
creation on one sex, and then imply that no female of any
womanliness or delicacy would initiate any effort in that
direction. There are no limits to male hypocrisy in this matter.
No doubt there are moments when man's sexual immunities are made
acutely humiliating to him. When the terrible moment of birth
arrives, its supreme importance and its superhuman effort and
peril, in which the father has no part, dwarf him into the
meanest insignificance: he slinks out of the way of the humblest
petticoat, happy if he be poor enough to be pushed out of the
house to outface his ignominy by drunken rejoicings. But when the
crisis is over he takes his revenge, swaggering as the
breadwinner, and speaking of Woman's "sphere" with condescension,
even with chivalry, as if the kitchen and the nursery were less
important than the office in the city. When his swagger is
exhausted he drivels into erotic poetry or sentimental
uxoriousness; and the Tennysonian King Arthur posing as Guinevere
becomes Don Quixote grovelling before Dulcinea. You must admit
that here Nature beats Comedy out of the field: the wildest
hominist or feminist farce is insipid after the most commonplace
"slice of life." The pretence that women do not take the
initiative is part of the farce. Why, the whole world is strewn
with snares, traps, gins and pitfalls for the capture of men by
women. Give women the vote, and in five years there will be a
crushing tax on bachelors. Men, on the other hand, attach
penalties to marriage, depriving women of property, of the
franchise, of the free use of their limbs, of that ancient symbol
of immortality, the right to make oneself at home in the house of
God by taking off the hat, of everything that he can force Woman
to dispense with without compelling himself to dispense with her.
All in vain. Woman must marry because the race must perish
without her travail: if the risk of death and the certainty of
pain, danger and unutterable discomforts cannot deter her,
slavery and swaddled ankles will not. And yet we assume that the
force that carries women through all these perils and hardships,
stops abashed before the primnesses of our behavior for young
ladies. It is assumed that the woman must wait, motionless, until
she is wooed. Nay, she often does wait motionless. That is how
the spider waits for the fly. But the spider spins her web. And
if the fly, like my hero, shows a strength that promises to
extricate him, how swiftly does she abandon her pretence of
passiveness, and openly fling coil after coil about him until he
is secured for ever!
If the really impressive books and other art-works of the world
were produced by ordinary men, they would express more fear of
women's pursuit than love of their illusory beauty. But ordinary
men cannot produce really impressive art-works. Those who can are
men of genius: that is, men selected by Nature to carry on the
work of building up an intellectual consciousness of her own
instinctive purpose. Accordingly, we observe in the man of genius
all the unscrupulousness and all the "self-sacrifice" (the two
things are the same) of Woman. He will risk the stake and the
cross; starve, when necessary, in a garret all his life; study
women and live on their work and care as Darwin studied worms and
lived upon sheep; work his nerves into rags without payment, a
sublime altruist in his disregard of himself, an atrocious
egotist in his disregard of others. Here Woman meets a purpose as
impersonal, as irresistible as her own; and the clash is
sometimes tragic. When it is complicated by the genius being a
woman, then the game is one for a king of critics: your George
Sand becomes a mother to gain experience for the novelist and to
develop her, and gobbles up men of genius, Chopins, Mussets and
the like, as mere hors d'oeuvres.
I state the extreme case, of course; but what is true of the
great man who incarnates the philosophic consciousness of Life
and the woman who incarnates its fecundity, is true in some
degree of all geniuses and all women. Hence it is that the
world's books get written, its pictures painted, its statues
modelled, its symphonies composed, by people who are free of the
otherwise universal dominion of the tyranny of sex. Which leads
us to the conclusion, astonishing to the vulgar, that art,
instead of being before all things the expression of the normal
sexual situation, is really the only department in which sex is a
superseded and secondary power, with its consciousness so
confused and its purpose so perverted, that its ideas are mere
fantasy to common men. Whether the artist becomes poet or
philosopher, moralist or founder of a religion, his sexual
doctrine is nothing but a barren special pleading for pleasure,
excitement, and knowledge when he is young, and for contemplative
tranquillity when he is old and satiated. Romance and Asceticism,
Amorism and Puritanism are equally unreal in the great Philistine
world. The world shown us in books, whether the books be
confessed epics or professed gospels, or in codes, or in
political orations, or in philosophic systems, is not the main
world at all: it is only the self-consciousness of certain
abnormal people who have the specific artistic talent and
temperament. A serious matter this for you and me, because the
man whose consciousness does not correspond to that of the
majority is a madman; and the old habit of worshipping madmen is
giving way to the new habit of locking them up. And since what we
call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the
substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life,
of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real, education,
as you no doubt observed at Oxford, destroys, by supplantation,
every mind that is not strong enough to see through the imposture
and to use the great Masters of Arts as what they really are and
no more: that is, patentees of highly questionable methods of
thinking, and manufacturers of highly questionable, and for the
majority but half valid representations of life. The schoolboy
who uses his Homer to throw at his fellow's head makes perhaps
the safest and most rational use of him; and I observe with
reassurance that you occasionally do the same, in your prime,
with your Aristotle.
Fortunately for us, whose minds have been so overwhelmingly
sophisticated by literature, what produces all these treatises
and poems and scriptures of one sort or another is the struggle
of Life to become divinely conscious of itself instead of blindly
stumbling hither and thither in the line of least resistance.
Hence there is a driving towards truth in all books on matters
where the writer, though exceptionally gifted is normally
constituted, and has no private axe to grind. Copernicus had no
motive for misleading his fellowmen as to the place of the sun in
the solar system: he looked for it as honestly as a shepherd
seeks his path in a mist. But Copernicus would not have written
love stories scientifically. When it comes to sex relations, the
man of genius does not share the common man's danger of capture,
nor the woman of genius the common woman's overwhelming
specialization. And that is why our scriptures and other art
works, when they deal with love, turn from honest attempts at
science in physics to romantic nonsense, erotic ecstasy, or the
stern asceticism of satiety ("the road of excess leads to the
palace of wisdom" said William Blake; for "you never know what is
enough unless you know what is more than enough").
There is a political aspect of this sex question which is too big
for my comedy, and too momentous to be passed over without
culpable frivolity. It is impossible to demonstrate that the
initiative in sex transactions remains with Woman, and has been
confirmed to her, so far, more and more by the suppression of
rapine and discouragement of importunity, without being driven to
very serious reflections on the fact that this initiative is
politically the most important of all the initiatives, because
our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap
misgovernment, will ruin us if our citizens are ill bred.
When we two were born, this country was still dominated by a
selected class bred by political marriages. The commercial class
had not then completed the first twenty-five years of its new
share of political power; and it was itself selected by money
qualification, and bred, if not by political marriage, at least
by a pretty rigorous class marriage. Aristocracy and plutocracy
still furnish the figureheads of politics; but they are now
dependent on the votes of the promiscuously bred masses. And
this, if you please, at the very moment when the political
problem, having suddenly ceased to mean a very limited and
occasional interference, mostly by way of jobbing public
appointments, in the mismanagement of a tight but parochial
little island, with occasional meaningless prosecution of
dynastic wars, has become the industrial reorganization of
Britain, the construction of a practically international
Commonwealth, and the partition of the whole of Africa and
perhaps the whole of Asia by the civilized Powers. Can you
believe that the people whose conceptions of society and conduct,
whose power of attention and scope of interest, are measured by
the British theatre as you know it to-day, can either handle this
colossal task themselves, or understand and support the sort of
mind and character that is (at least comparatively) capable of
handling it? For remember: what our voters are in the pit and
gallery they are also in the polling booth. We are all now under
what Burke called "the hoofs of the swinish multitude." Burke's
language gave great offence because the implied exceptions to its
universal application made it a class insult; and it certainly
was not for the pot to call the kettle black. The aristocracy he
defended, in spite of the political marriages by which it tried
to secure breeding for itself, had its mind undertrained by silly
schoolmasters and governesses, its character corrupted by
gratuitous luxury, its self-respect adulterated to complete
spuriousness by flattery and flunkeyism. It is no better to-day
and never will be any better: our very peasants have something
morally hardier in them that culminates occasionally in a Bunyan,
a Burns, or a Carlyle. But observe, this aristocracy, which was
overpowered from 1832 to 1885 by the middle class, has come back
to power by the votes of "the swinish multitude." Tom Paine has
triumphed over Edmund Burke; and the swine are now courted
electors. How many of their own class have these electors sent to
parliament? Hardly a dozen out of 670, and these only under the
persuasion of conspicuous personal qualifications and popular
eloquence. The multitude thus pronounces judgment on its own
units: it admits itself unfit to govern, and will vote only for a
man morphologically and generically transfigured by palatial
residence and equipage, by transcendent tailoring, by the glamor
of aristocratic kinship. Well, we two know these transfigured
persons, these college passmen, these well groomed monocular
Algys and Bobbies, these cricketers to whom age brings golf
instead of wisdom, these plutocratic products of "the nail and
sarspan business as he got his money by." Do you know whether to
laugh or cry at the notion that they, poor devils! will drive a
team of continents as they drive a four-in-hand; turn a jostling
anarchy of casual trade and speculation into an ordered
productivity; and federate our colonies into a world-Power of the
first magnitude? Give these people the most perfect political
constitution and the soundest political program that benevolent
omniscience can devise for them, and they will interpret it into
mere fashionable folly or canting charity as infallibly as a
savage converts the philosophical theology of a Scotch missionary
into crude African idolatry.
I do not know whether you have any illusions left on the subject
of education, progress, and so forth. I have none. Any
pamphleteer can show the way to better things; but when there is
no will there is no way. My nurse was fond of remarking that you
cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and the more I see
of the efforts of our churches and universities and literary
sages to raise the mass above its own level, the more convinced I
am that my nurse was right. Progress can do nothing but make the
most of us all as we are, and that most would clearly not be
enough even if those who are already raised out of the lowest
abysses would allow the others a chance. The bubble of Heredity
has been pricked: the certainty that acquirements are negligible
as elements in practical heredity has demolished the hopes of the
educationists as well as the terrors of the degeneracy mongers;
and we know now that there is no hereditary "governing class" any
more than a hereditary hooliganism. We must either breed
political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on
us by the failure of the older alternatives. Yet if Despotism
failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance
has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable
voters: that is, of political critics who, if they cannot govern
in person for lack of spare energy or specific talent for
administration, can at least recognize and appreciate capacity
and benevolence in others, and so govern through capably
benevolent representatives? Where are such voters to be found
to-day? Nowhere. Promiscuous breeding has produced a weakness of
character that is too timid to face the full stringency of a
thoroughly competitive struggle for existence and too lazy and
petty to organize the commonwealth co-operatively. Being cowards,
we defeat natural selection under cover of philanthropy: being
sluggards, we neglect artificial selection under cover of
delicacy and morality.
Yet we must get an electorate of capable critics or collapse as
Rome and Egypt collapsed. At this moment the Roman decadent phase
of panem et circenses is being inaugurated under our eyes. Our
newspapers and melodramas are blustering about our imperial
destiny; but our eyes and hearts turn eagerly to the American
millionaire. As his hand goes down to his pocket, our fingers go
up to the brims of our hats by instinct. Our ideal prosperity is
not the prosperity of the industrial north, but the prosperity of
the Isle of Wight, of Folkestone and Ramsgate, of Nice and Monte
Carlo. That is the only prosperity you see on the stage, where
the workers are all footmen, parlourmaids, comic lodging-letters
and fashionable professional men, whilst the heroes and heroines
are miraculously provided with unlimited dividends, and eat
gratuitously, like the knights in Don Quixote's books of
The city papers prate of the competition of Bombay with
Manchester and the like. The real competition is the competition
of Regent Street with the Rue de Rivoli, of Brighton and the
south coast with the Riviera, for the spending money of the
American Trusts. What is all this growing love of pageantry, this
effusive loyalty, this officious rising and uncovering at a wave
from a flag or a blast from a brass band? Imperialism: Not a bit
of it. Obsequiousness, servility, cupidity roused by the
prevailing smell of money. When Mr Carnegie rattled his millions
in his pockets all England became one rapacious cringe. Only,
when Rhodes (who had probably been reading my Socialism for
Millionaires) left word that no idler was to inherit his estate,
the bent backs straightened mistrustfully for a moment. Could it
be that the Diamond King was no gentleman after all? However, it
was easy to ignore a rich man's solecism. The ungentlemanly
clause was not mentioned again; and the backs soon bowed
themselves back into their natural shape.
But I hear you asking me in alarm whether I have actually put all
this tub thumping into a Don Juan comedy. I have not. I have only
made my Don Juan a political pamphleteer, and given you his
pamphlet in full by way of appendix. You will find it at the end
of the book. I am sorry to say that it is a common practice with
romancers to announce their hero as a man of extraordinary
genius, and to leave his works entirely to the reader's
imagination; so that at the end of the book you whisper to
yourself ruefully that but for the author's solemn preliminary
assurance you should hardly have given the gentleman credit for
ordinary good sense. You cannot accuse me of this pitiable
barrenness, this feeble evasion. I not only tell you that my hero
wrote a revolutionists' handbook: I give you the handbook at full
length for your edification if you care to read it. And in that
handbook you will find the politics of the sex question as I
conceive Don Juan's descendant to understand them. Not that I
disclaim the fullest responsibility for his opinions and for
those of all my characters, pleasant and unpleasant. They are all
right from their several points of view; and their points of view
are, for the dramatic moment, mine also. This may puzzle the
people who believe that there is such a thing as an absolutely
right point of view, usually their own. It may seem to them that
nobody who doubts this can be in a state of grace. However that
may be, it is certainly true that nobody who agrees with them can
possibly be a dramatist, or indeed anything else that turns upon
a knowledge of mankind. Hence it has been pointed out that
Shakespear had no conscience. Neither have I, in that sense.
You may, however, remind me that this digression of mine into
politics was preceded by a very convincing demonstration that the
artist never catches the point of view of the common man on the
question of sex, because he is not in the same predicament. I
first prove that anything I write on the relation of the sexes is
sure to be misleading; and then I proceed to write a Don Juan
play. Well, if you insist on asking me why I behave in this
absurd way, I can only reply that you asked me to, and that in
any case my treatment of the subject may be valid for the artist,
amusing to the amateur, and at least intelligible and therefore
possibly suggestive to the Philistine. Every man who records his
illusions is providing data for the genuinely scientific
psychology which the world still waits for. I plank down my view
of the existing relations of men to women in the most highly
civilized society for what it is worth. It is a view like any
other view and no more, neither true nor false, but, I hope, a
way of looking at the subject which throws into the familiar
order of cause and effect a sufficient body of fact and
experience to be interesting to you, if not to the play-going
public of London. I have certainly shown little consideration for
that public in this enterprise; but I know that it has the
friendliest disposition towards you and me as far as it has any
consciousness of our existence, and quite understands that what I
write for you must pass at a considerable height over its simple
romantic head. It will take my books as read and my genius for
granted, trusting me to put forth work of such quality as shall
bear out its verdict. So we may disport ourselves on our own
plane to the top of our bent; and if any gentleman points out
that neither this epistle dedicatory nor the dream of Don Juan in
the third act of the ensuing comedy is suitable for immediate
production at a popular theatre we need not contradict him.
Napoleon provided Talma with a pit of kings, with what effect on
Talma's acting is not recorded. As for me, what I have always
wanted is a pit of philosophers; and this is a play for such a
I should make formal acknowledgment to the authors whom I have
pillaged in the following pages if I could recollect them a11.
The theft of the brigand-poetaster from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is
deliberate; and the metamorphosis of Leporello into Enry Straker,
motor engineer and New Man, is an intentional dramatic sketch for
the contemporary embryo of Mr H. G. Wells's anticipation of the
efficient engineering class which will, he hopes, finally sweep
the jabberers out of the way of civilization. Mr Barrio has also,
whilst I am correcting my proofs, delighted London with a servant
who knows more than his masters. The conception of Mendoza
Limited I trace back to a certain West Indian colonial secretary,
who, at a period when he and I and Mr Sidney Webb were sowing our
political wild oats as a sort of Fabian Three Musketeers, without
any prevision of the surprising respectability of the crop that
followed, recommended Webb, the encyclopedic and inexhaustible,
to form himself into a company for the benefit of the
shareholders. Octavius I take over unaltered from Mozart; and I
hereby authorize any actor who impersonates him, to sing "Dalla
sua pace" (if he can) at any convenient moment during the
representation. Ann was suggested to me by the fifteenth century
Dutch morality called Everyman, which Mr William Poel has lately
resuscitated so triumphantly. I trust he will work that vein
further, and recognize that Elizabethan Renascence fustian is no
more bearable after medieval poesy than Scribe after Ibsen. As I
sat watching Everyman at the Charterhouse, I said to myself Why
not Everywoman? Ann was the result: every woman is not Ann; but
Ann is Everywoman.
That the author of Everyman was no mere artist, but an
artist-philosopher, and that the artist-philosophers are the only
sort of artists I take quite seriously, will be no news to you.
Even Plato and Boswell, as the dramatists who invented Socrates
and Dr Johnson, impress me more deeply than the romantic
playwrights. Ever since, as a boy, I first breathed the air of
the transcendental regions at a performance of Mozart's
Zauberflote, I have been proof against the garish splendors and
alcoholic excitements of the ordinary stage combinations of
Tappertitian romance with the police intelligence. Bunyan, Blake,
Hogarth and Turner (these four apart and above all the English
Classics), Goethe, Shelley, Schopenhaur, Wagner, Ibsen, Morris,
Tolstoy, and Nietzsche are among the writers whose peculiar sense
of the world I recognize as more or less akin to my own. Mark the
word peculiar. I read Dickens and Shakespear without shame or
stint; but their pregnant observations and demonstrations of life
are not co-ordinated into any philosophy or religion: on the
contrary, Dickens's sentimental assumptions are violently
contradicted by his observations; and Shakespear's pessimism is
only his wounded humanity. Both have the specific genius of the
fictionist and the common sympathies of human feeling and thought
in pre-eminent degree. They are often saner and shrewder than the
philosophers just as Sancho-Panza was often saner and shrewder
than Don Quixote. They clear away vast masses of oppressive
gravity by their sense of the ridiculous, which is at bottom a
combination of sound moral judgment with lighthearted good
humor. But they are concerned with the diversities of the world
instead of with its unities: they are so irreligious that they
exploit popular religion for professional purposes without
delicacy or scruple (for example, Sydney Carton and the ghost in
Hamlet!): they are anarchical, and cannot balance their exposures
of Angelo and Dogberry, Sir Leicester Dedlock and Mr Tite
Barnacle, with any portrait of a prophet or a worthy leader: they
have no constructive ideas: they regard those who have them as
dangerous fanatics: in all their fictions there is no leading
thought or inspiration for which any man could conceivably risk
the spoiling of his hat in a shower, much less his life. Both are
alike forced to borrow motives for the more strenuous actions of
their personages from the common stockpot of melodramatic plots;
so that Hamlet has to be stimulated by the prejudices of a
policeman and Macbeth by the cupidities of a bushranger. Dickens,
without the excuse of having to manufacture motives for Hamlets
and Macbeths, superfluously punt his crew down the stream of his
monthly parts by mechanical devices which I leave you to
describe, my own memory being quite baffled by the simplest
question as to Monks in Oliver Twist, or the long lost parentage
of Smike, or the relations between the Dorrit and Clennam
families so inopportunely discovered by Monsieur Rigaud Blandois.
The truth is, the world was to Shakespear a great "stage of
fools" on which he was utterly bewildered. He could see no sort
of sense in living at all; and Dickens saved himself from the
despair of the dream in The Chimes by taking the world for
granted and busying himself with its details. Neither of them
could do anything with a serious positive character: they could
place a human figure before you with perfect verisimilitude; but
when the moment came for making it live and move, they found,
unless it made them laugh, that they had a puppet on their hands,
and had to invent some artificial external stimulus to make it
work. This is what is the matter with Hamlet all through: he has
no will except in his bursts of temper. Foolish Bardolaters make
a virtue of this after their fashion: they declare that the play
is the tragedy of irresolution; but all Shakespear's projections
of the deepest humanity he knew have the same defect: their
characters and manners are lifelike; but their actions are forced
on them from without, and the external force is grotesquely
inappropriate except when it is quite conventional, as in the
case of Henry V. Falstaff is more vivid than any of these serious
reflective characters, because he is self-acting: his motives are
his own appetites and instincts and humors. Richard III, too, is
delightful as the whimsical comedian who stops a funeral to make
love to the corpse's widow; but when, in the next act, he is
replaced by a stage villain who smothers babies and offs with
people's heads, we are revolted at the imposture and repudiate
the changeling. Faulconbridge, Coriolanus, Leontes are admirable
descriptions of instinctive temperaments: indeed the play of
Coriolanus is the greatest of Shakespear's comedies; but
description is not philosophy; and comedy neither compromises the
author nor reveals him. He must be judged by those characters
into which he puts what he knows of himself, his Hamlets and
Macbeths and Lears and Prosperos. If these characters are
agonizing in a void about factitious melodramatic murders and
revenges and the like, whilst the comic characters walk with
their feet on solid ground, vivid and amusing, you know that the
author has much to show and nothing to teach. The comparison
between Falstaff and Prospero is like the comparison between
Micawber and David Copperfield. At the end of the book you know
Micawber, whereas you only know what has happened to David, and
are not interested enough in him to wonder what his politics or
religion might be if anything so stupendous as a religious or
political idea, or a general idea of any sort, were to occur to
him. He is tolerable as a child; but he never becomes a man, and
might be left out of his own biography altogether but for his
usefulness as a stage confidant, a Horatio or "Charles his
friend" what they call on the stage a feeder.
Now you cannot say this of the works of the artist-philosophers.
You cannot say it, for instance, of The Pilgrim's Progress. Put
your Shakespearian hero and coward, Henry V and Pistol or
Parolles, beside Mr Valiant and Mr Fearing, and you have a sudden
revelation of the abyss that lies between the fashionable author
who could see nothing in the world but personal aims and the
tragedy of their disappointment or the comedy of their
incongruity, and the field preacher who achieved virtue and
courage by identifying himself with the purpose of the world as
he understood it. The contrast is enormous: Bunyan's coward stirs
your blood more than Shakespear's hero, who actually leaves you
cold and secretly hostile. You suddenly see that Shakespear, with
all his flashes and divinations, never understood virtue and
courage, never conceived how any man who was not a fool could,
like Bunyan's hero, look back from the brink of the river of
death over the strife and labor of his pilgrimage, and say "yet
do I not repent me"; or, with the panache of a millionaire,
bequeath "my sword to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage,
and my courage and skill to him that can get it." This is the
true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by
yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before
you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature
instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and
grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to
making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the
being used by personally minded men for purposes which you
recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or
mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the
revolt against it is the only force that offers a man's work to
the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so
willingly employ as pandar, buffoon, beauty monger,
sentimentalizer and the like.
It may seem a long step from Bunyan to Nietzsche; but the
difference between their conclusions is purely formal. Bunyan's
perception that righteousness is filthy rags, his scorn for Mr
Legality in the village of Morality, his defiance of the Church
as the supplanter of religion, his insistence on courage as the
virtue of virtues, his estimate of the career of the
conventionally respectable and sensible Worldly Wiseman as no
better at bottom than the life and death of Mr Badman: all this,
expressed by Bunyan in the terms of a tinker's theology, is what
Nietzsche has expressed in terms of post-Darwinian,
post-Schopenhaurian philosophy; Wagner in terms of polytheistic
mythology; and Ibsen in terms of mid-XIX century Parisian
dramaturgy. Nothing is new in these matters except their
novelties: for instance, it is a novelty to call Justification by
Faith "Wille," and Justification by Works "Vorstellung." The sole
use of the novelty is that you and I buy and read Schopenhaur's
treatise on Will and Representation when we should not dream of
buying a set of sermons on Faith versus Works. At bottom the
controversy is the same, and the dramatic results are the same.
Bunyan makes no attempt to present his pilgrims as more sensible
or better conducted than Mr Worldly Wiseman. Mr W. W.'s worst
enemies, as Mr Embezzler, Mr Never-go-to-Church-on-Sunday, Mr Bad
Form, Mr Murderer, Mr Burglar, Mr Co-respondent, Mr Blackmailer,
Mr Cad, Mr Drunkard, Mr Labor Agitator and so forth, can read the
Pilgrim's Progress without finding a word said against them;
whereas the respectable people who snub them and put them in
prison, such as Mr W.W. himself and his young friend Civility;
Formalist and Hypocrisy; Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatick
(who were clearly young university men of good family and high
feeding); that brisk lad Ignorance, Talkative, By-Ends of
Fairspeech and his mother-in-law Lady Feigning, and other
reputable gentlemen and citizens, catch it very severely. Even
Little Faith, though he gets to heaven at last, is given to
understand that it served him right to be mobbed by the brothers
Faint Heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, all three recognized members of
respectable society and veritable pillars of the law. The whole
allegory is a consistent attack on morality and respectability,
without a word that one can remember against vice and crime.
Exactly what is complained of in Nietzsche and Ibsen, is it not?
And also exactly what would be complained of in all the
literature which is great enough and old enough to have attained
canonical rank, officially or unofficially, were it not that
books are admitted to the canon by a compact which confesses
their greatness in consideration of abrogating their meaning; so
that the reverend rector can agree with the prophet Micah as to
his inspired style without being committed to any complicity in
Micah's furiously Radical opinions. Why, even I, as I force
myself; pen in hand, into recognition and civility, find all the
force of my onslaught destroyed by a simple policy of
non-resistance. In vain do I redouble the violence of the
language in which I proclaim my heterodoxies. I rail at the
theistic credulity of Voltaire, the amoristic superstition of
Shelley, the revival of tribal soothsaying and idolatrous rites
which Huxley called Science and mistook for an advance on the
Pentateuch, no less than at the welter of ecclesiastical and
professional humbug which saves the face of the stupid system of
violence and robbery which we call Law and Industry. Even
atheists reproach me with infidelity and anarchists with nihilism
because I cannot endure their moral tirades. And yet, instead of
exclaiming "Send this inconceivable Satanist to the stake," the
respectable newspapers pith me by announcing "another book by
this brilliant and thoughtful writer." And the ordinary citizen,
knowing that an author who is well spoken of by a respectable
newspaper must be all right, reads me, as he reads Micah, with
undisturbed edification from his own point of view. It is
narrated that in the eighteenseventies an old lady, a very devout
Methodist, moved from Colchester to a house in the neighborhood
of the City Road, in London, where, mistaking the Hall of Science
for a chapel, she sat at the feet of Charles Bradlaugh for many
years, entranced by his eloquence, without questioning his
orthodoxy or moulting a feather of her faith. I fear I small be
defrauded of my just martyrdom in the same way.
However, I am digressing, as a man with a grievance always does.
And after all, the main thing in determining the artistic quality
of a book is not the opinions it propagates, but the fact that
the writer has opinions. The old lady from Colchester was right
to sun her simple soul in the energetic radiance of Bradlaugh's
genuine beliefs and disbeliefs rather than in the chill of such
mere painting of light and heat as elocution and convention can
achieve. My contempt for belles lettres, and for amateurs who
become the heroes of the fanciers of literary virtuosity, is not
founded on any illusion of mind as to the permanence of those
forms of thought (call them opinions) by which I strive to
communicate my bent to my fellows. To younger men they are
already outmoded; for though they have no more lost their logic
than an eighteenth century pastel has lost its drawing or its
color, yet, like the pastel, they grow indefinably shabby, and
will grow shabbier until they cease to count at all, when my
books will either perish, or, if the world is still poor enough
to want them, will have to stand, with Bunyan's, by quite
amorphous qualities of temper and energy. With this conviction I
cannot be a bellettrist. No doubt I must recognize, as even the
Ancient Mariner did, that I must tell my story entertainingly if
I am to hold the wedding guest spellbound in spite of the siren
sounds of the loud bassoon. But "for art's sake" alone I would
not face the toil of writing a single sentence. I know that there
are men who, having nothing to say and nothing to write, are
nevertheless so in love with oratory and with literature that
they keep desperately repeating as much as they can understand of
what others have said or written aforetime. I know that the
leisurely tricks which their want of conviction leaves them free
to play with the diluted and misapprehended message supply them
with a pleasant parlor game which they call style. I can pity
their dotage and even sympathize with their fancy. But a true
original style is never achieved for its own sake: a man may pay
from a shilling to a guinea, according to his means, to see,
hear, or read another man's act of genius; but he will not pay
with his whole life and soul to become a mere virtuoso in
literature, exhibiting an accomplishment which will not even make
money for him, like fiddle playing. Effectiveness of assertion is
the Alpha and Omega of style. He who has nothing to assert has no
style and can have none: he who has something to assert will go
as far in power of style as its momentousness and his conviction
will carry him. Disprove his assertion after it is made, yet its
style remains. Darwin has no more destroyed the style of Job nor
of Handel than Martin Luther destroyed the style of Giotto. All
the assertions get disproved sooner or later; and so we find the
world full of a magnificent debris of artistic fossils, with the
matter-of-fact credibility gone clean out of them, but the form
still splendid. And that is why the old masters play the deuce
with our mere susceptibles. Your Royal Academician thinks he can
get the style of Giotto without Giotto's beliefs, and correct his
perspective into the bargain. Your man of letters thinks he can
get Bunyan's or Shakespear's style without Bunyan's conviction or
Shakespear's apprehension, especially if he takes care not to
split his infinitives. And so with your Doctors of Music, who,
with their collections of discords duly prepared and resolved or
retarded or anticipated in the manner of the great composers,
think they can learn the art of Palestrina from Cherubim's
treatise. All this academic art is far worse than the trade in
sham antique furniture; for the man who sells me an oaken chest
which he swears was made in the XIII century, though as a matter
of fact he made it himself only yesterday, at least does not
pretend that there are any modern ideas in it, whereas your
academic copier of fossils offers them to you as the latest
outpouring of the human spirit, and, worst of all, kidnaps young
people as pupils and persuades them that his limitations are
rules, his observances dexterities, his timidities good taste,
and his emptinesses purities. And when he declares that art
should not be didactic, all the people who have nothing to teach
and all the people who don't want to learn agree with him
I pride myself on not being one of these susceptible: If you
study the electric light with which I supply you in that
Bumbledonian public capacity of mine over which you make merry
from time to time, you will find that your house contains a great
quantity of highly susceptible copper wire which gorges itself
with electricity and gives you no light whatever. But here and
there occurs a scrap of intensely insusceptible, intensely
resistant material; and that stubborn scrap grapples with the
current and will not let it through until it has made itself
useful to you as those two vital qualities of literature, light
and heat. Now if I am to be no mere copper wire amateur but a
luminous author, I must also be a most intensely refractory
person, liable to go out and to go wrong at inconvenient moments,
and with incendiary possibilities. These are the faults of my
qualities; and I assure you that I sometimes dislike myself so
much that when some irritable reviewer chances at that moment to
pitch into me with zest, I feel unspeakably relieved and
obliged. But I never dream of reforming, knowing that I must take
myself as I am and get what work I can out of myself. All this
you will understand; for there is community of material between
us: we are both critics of life as well as of art; and you have
perhaps said to yourself when I have passed your windows, "There,
but for the grace of God, go I." An awful and chastening
reflection, which shall be the closing cadence of this
immoderately long letter from yours faithfully,
G. BERNARD SHAW.
Roebuck Ramsden is in his study, opening the morning letters. The
study, handsomely and solidly furnished, proclaims the man of
means. Not a speck of dust is visible: it is clear that there are
at least two housemaids and a parlormaid downstairs, and a
housekeeper upstairs who does not let them spare elbow-grease.
Even the top of Roebuck's head is polished: on a sunshiny day he
could heliograph his orders to distant camps by merely nodding.
In no other respect, however, does he suggest the military man.
It is in active civil life that men get his broad air of
importance, his dignified expectation of deference, his
determinate mouth disarmed and refined since the hour of his
success by the withdrawal of opposition and the concession of
comfort and precedence and power. He is more than a highly
respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly
respectable men, a chairman among directors, an alderman among
councillors, a mayor among aldermen. Four tufts of iron-grey
hair, which will soon be as white as isinglass, and are in other
respects not at all unlike it, grow in two symmetrical pairs
above his ears and at the angles of his spreading jaws. He wears
a black frock coat, a white waistcoat (it is bright spring
weather), and trousers, neither black nor perceptibly blue, of
one of those indefinitely mixed hues which the modern clothier
has produced to harmonize with the religions of respectable men.
He has not been out of doors yet to-day; so he still wears his
slippers, his boots being ready for him on the hearthrug.
Surmising that he has no valet, and seeing that he has no
secretary with a shorthand notebook and a typewriter, one
meditates on how little our great burgess domesticity has been
disturbed by new fashions and methods, or by the enterprise of
the railway and hotel companies which sell you a Saturday to
Monday of life at Folkestone as a real gentleman for two guineas,
first class fares both ways included.
How old is Roebuck? The question is important on the threshold of
a drama of ideas; for under such circumstances everything depends
on whether his adolescence belonged to the sixties or to the
eighties. He was born, as a matter of fact, in 1839, and was a
Unitarian and Free Trader from his boyhood, and an Evolutionist
from the publication of the Origin of Species. Consequently he
has always classed himself as an advanced thinker and fearlessly
Sitting at his writing table, he has on his right the windows
giving on Portland Place. Through these, as through a proscenium,
the curious spectator may contemplate his profile as well as the
blinds will permit. On his left is the inner wall, with a stately
bookcase, and the door not quite in the middle, but somewhat
further from him. Against the wall opposite him are two busts on
pillars: one, to his left, of John Bright; the other, to his
right, of Mr Herbert Spencer. Between them hang an engraved
portrait of Richard Cobden; enlarged photographs of Martineau,
Huxley, and George Eliot; autotypes of allegories by Mr G.F.
Watts (for Roebuck believed in the fine arts with all the
earnestness of a man who does not understand them), and an
impression of Dupont's engraving of Delaroche's Beaux Artes
hemicycle, representing the great men of all ages. On the wall
behind him, above the mantelshelf, is a family portrait of
A chair stands near the writing table for the convenience of
business visitors. Two other chairs are against the wall between
A parlormaid enters with a visitor's card. Roebuck takes it, and
nods, pleased. Evidently a welcome caller.
RAMSDEN. Show him up.
The parlormaid goes out and returns with the visitor.
THE MAID. Mr Robinson.
Mr Robinson is really an uncommonly nice looking young fellow. He
must, one thinks, be the jeune premier; for it is not in reason
to suppose that a second such attractive male figure should
appear in one story. The slim shapely frame, the elegant suit of
new mourning, the small head and regular features, the pretty
little moustache, the frank clear eyes, the wholesome bloom
and the youthful complexion, the well brushed glossy hair, not
curly, but of fine texture and good dark color, the arch of good
nature in the eyebrows, the erect forehead and neatly pointed
chin, all announce the man who will love and suffer later on.
And that he will not do so without sympathy is guaranteed by an
engaging sincerity and eager modest serviceableness which stamp
him as a man of amiable nature. The moment he appears, Ramsden's
face expands into fatherly liking and welcome, an expression
which drops into one of decorous grief as the young man
approaches him with sorrow in his face as well as in his black
clothes. Ramsden seems to know the nature of the bereavement. As
the visitor advances silently to the writing table, the old man
rises and shakes his hand across it without a word: a long,
affectionate shake which tells the story of a recent sorrow
common to both.
RAMSDEN. [concluding the handshake and cheering up] Well, well,
Octavius, it's the common lot. We must all face it someday. Sit
Octavius takes the visitor's chair. Ramsden replaces himself in
OCTAVIUS. Yes: we must face it, Mr Ramsden. But I owed him a
great deal. He did everything for me that my father could have
done if he had lived.
RAMSDEN. He had no son of his own, you see.
OCTAVIUS. But he had daughters; and yet he was as good to my
sister as to me. And his death was so sudden! I always intended
to thank him--to let him know that I had not taken all his care
of me as a matter of course, as any boy takes his father's care.
But I waited for an opportunity and now he is dead--dropped
without a moment's warning. He will never know what I felt. [He
takes out his handkerchief and cries unaffectedly].
RAMSDEN. How do we know that, Octavius? He may know it: we
cannot tell. Come! Don't grieve. [Octavius masters himself and
puts up his handkerchief]. That's right. Now let me tell you
something to console you. The last time I saw him--it was in
this very room--he said to me: "Tavy is a generous lad and the
soul of honor; and when I see how little consideration other men
get from their sons, I realize how much better than a son he's
been to me." There! Doesn't that do you good?
OCTAVIUS. Mr Ramsden: he used to say to me that he had met only
one man in the world who was the soul of honor, and that was
RAMSDEN. Oh, that was his partiality: we were very old friends,
you know. But there was something else he used to say about you.
I wonder whether I ought to tell you or not!
OCTAVIUS. You know best.
RAMSDEN. It was something about his daughter.
OCTAVIUS. [eagerly] About Ann! Oh, do tell me that, Mr Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Well, he said he was glad, after all, you were not his
son, because he thought that someday Annie and you--[Octavius
blushes vividly]. Well, perhaps I shouldn't have told you. But he
was in earnest.
OCTAVIUS. Oh, if only I thought I had a chance! You know, Mr
Ramsden, I don't care about money or about what people call
position; and I can't bring myself to take an interest in the
business of struggling for them. Well, Ann has a most exquisite
nature; but she is so accustomed to be in the thick of that sort
of thing that she thinks a man's character incomplete if he is
not ambitious. She knows that if she married me she would have to
reason herself out of being ashamed of me for not being a big
success of some kind.
RAMSDEN. [Getting up and planting himself with his back to the
fireplace] Nonsense, my boy, nonsense! You're too modest. What
does she know about the real value of men at her age? [More
seriously] Besides, she's a wonderfully dutiful girl. Her
father's wish would be sacred to her. Do you know that since she
grew up to years of discretion, I don't believe she has ever once
given her own wish as a reason for doing anything or not doing
it. It's always "Father wishes me to," or "Mother wouldn't like
it." It's really almost a fault in her. I have often told her she
must learn to think for herself.
OCTAVIUS. [shaking his head] I couldn't ask her to marry me
because her father wished it, Mr Ramsden.
RAMSDEN. Well, perhaps not. No: of course not. I see that. No:
you certainly couldn't. But when you win her on your own merits,
it will be a great happiness to her to fulfil her father's desire
as well as her own. Eh? Come! you'll ask her, won't you?
OCTAVIUS. [with sad gaiety] At all events I promise you I shall
never ask anyone else.
RAMSDEN. Oh, you shan't need to. She'll accept you, my boy--
although [here be suddenly becomes very serious indeed] you have
one great drawback.
OCTAVIUS. [anxiously] What drawback is that, Mr Ramsden? I should
rather say which of my many drawbacks?
RAMSDEN. I'll tell you, Octavius. [He takes from the table a book
bound in red cloth]. I have in my hand a copy of the most
infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most
blackguardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the
common hangman. I have not read it: I would not soil my mind with
such filth; but I have read what the papers say of it. The title
is quite enough for me. [He reads it]. The Revolutionist's
Handbook and Pocket Companion by John Tanner, M.I.R.C., Member of the
Idle Rich Class.
OCTAVIUS. [smiling] But Jack--
RAMSDEN. [testily] For goodness' sake, don't call him Jack under
my roof [he throws the book violently down on the table, Then,
somewhat relieved, he comes past the table to Octavius, and
addresses him at close quarters with impressive gravity]. Now,
Octavius, I know that my dead friend was right when he said you
were a generous lad. I know that this man was your schoolfellow,
and that you feel bound to stand by him because there was a
boyish friendship between you. But I ask you to consider the
altered circumstances. You were treated as a son in my friend's
house. You lived there; and your friends could not be turned from
the door. This Tanner was in and out there on your account
almost from his childhood. He addresses Annie by her Christian
name as freely as you do. Well, while her father was alive, that
was her father's business, not mine. This man Tanner was only a
boy to him: his opinions were something to be laughed at, like a
man's hat on a child's head. But now Tanner is a grown man and
Annie a grown woman. And her father is gone. We don't as yet know
the exact terms of his will; but he often talked it over with me;
and I have no more doubt than I have that you're sitting there
that the will appoints me Annie's trustee and guardian.
[Forcibly] Now I tell you, once for all, I can't and I won't have
Annie placed in such a position that she must, out of regard for
you, suffer the intimacy of this fellow Tanner. It's not fair:
it's not right: it's not kind. What are you going to do about it?
OCTAVIUS. But Ann herself has told Jack that whatever his
opinions are, he will always be welcome because he knew her dear
RAMSDEN. [out of patience] That girl's mad about her duty to her
parents. [He starts off like a goaded ox in the direction of John
Bright, in whose expression there is no sympathy for him. As he
speaks, he fumes down to Herbert Spencer, who receives him still
more coldly] Excuse me, Octavius; but there are limits to social
toleration. You know that I am not a bigoted or prejudiced man.
You know that I am plain Roebuck Ramsden when other men who have
done less have got handles to their names, because I have stood
for equality and liberty of conscience while they were truckling
to the Church and to the aristocracy. Whitefield and I lost
chance after chance through our advanced opinions. But I draw the
line at Anarchism and Free Love and that sort of thing. If I am
to be Annie's guardian, she will have to learn that she has a
duty to me. I won't have it: I will not have it. She must forbid
John Tanner the house; and so must you.
The parlormaid returns.
RAMSDEN. [calling his attention to the servant] Ssh! Well?
THE MAID. Mr Tanner wishes to see you, sir.
RAMSDEN. Mr Tanner!
RAMSDEN. How dare Mr Tanner call on me! Say I cannot see him.
OCTAVIUS. [hurt] I am sorry you are turning my friend from your
door like that.
THE MAID. [calmly] He's not at the door, sir. He's upstairs in
the drawingroom with Miss Ramsden. He came with Mrs Whitefield
and Miss Ann and Miss Robinson, sir.
Ramsden's feelings are beyond words.
OCTAVIUS. [grinning] That's very like Jack, Mr Ramsden. You must
see him, even if it's only to turn him out.
RAMSDEN. [hammering out his words with suppressed fury] Go
upstairs and ask Mr Tanner to be good enough to step down here.
[The parlormaid goes out; and Ramsden returns to the fireplace,
as to a fortified position]. I must say that of all the
confounded pieces of impertinence--well, if these are Anarchist
manners I hope you like them. And Annie with him! Annie! A-- [he
OCTAVIUS. Yes: that's what surprises me. He's so desperately
afraid of Ann. There must be something the matter.
Mr John Tanner suddenly opens the door and enters. He is too
young to be described simply as a big man with a beard. But it is
already plain that middle life will find him in that category. He
has still some of the slimness of youth; but youthfulness is not
the effect he aims at: his frock coat would befit a prime
minister; and a certain high chested carriage of the shoulders, a
lofty pose of the head, and the Olympian majesty with which a
mane, or rather a huge wisp, of hazel colored hair is thrown back
from an imposing brow, suggest Jupiter rather than Apollo. He is
prodigiously fluent of speech, restless, excitable (mark the
snorting nostril and the restless blue eye, just the
thirty-secondth of an inch too wide open), possibly a little mad.
He is carefully dressed, not from the vanity that cannot resist
finery, but from a sense of the importance of everything he does
which leads him to make as much of paying a call as other men do
of getting married or laying a foundation stone. A sensitive,
susceptible, exaggerative, earnest man: a megalomaniac, who would
be lost without a sense of humor.
Just at present the sense of humor is in abeyance. To say that he
is excited is nothing: all his moods are phases of excitement. He
is now in the panic-stricken phase; and he walks straight up to
Ramsden as if with the fixed intention of shooting him on his own
hearthrug. But what he pulls from his breast pocket is not a
pistol, but a foolscap document which he thrusts under the
indignant nose of Ramsden as he exclaims--
TANNER. Ramsden: do you know what that is?
RAMSDEN. [loftily] No, Sir.
TANNER. It's a copy of Whitefield's will. Ann got it this
RAMSDEN. When you say Ann, you mean, I presume, Miss Whitefield.
TANNER. I mean our Ann, your Ann, Tavy's Ann, and now, Heaven
help me, my Ann!
OCTAVIUS. [rising, very pale] What do you mean?
TANNER. Mean! [He holds up the will]. Do you know who is
appointed Ann's guardian by this will?
RAMSDEN. [coolly] I believe I am.
TANNER. You! You and I, man. I! I!! I!!! Both of us! [He flings
the will down on the writing table].
RAMSDEN. You! Impossible.
TANNER. It's only too hideously true. [He throws himself into
Octavius's chair]. Ramsden: get me out of it somehow. You don't
know Ann as well as I do. She'll commit every crime a respectable
woman can; and she'll justify every one of them by saying that it
was the wish of her guardians. She'll put everything on us; and
we shall have no more control over her than a couple of mice over
OCTAVIUS. Jack: I wish you wouldn't talk like that about Ann.
TANNER. This chap's in love with her: that's another
complication. Well, she'll either jilt him and say I didn't
approve of him, or marry him and say you ordered her to. I tell
you, this is the most staggering blow that has ever fallen on a
man of my age and temperament.
RAMSDEN. Let me see that will, sir. [He goes to the writing table
and picks it up]. I cannot believe that my old friend Whitefield
would have shown such a want of confidence in me as to associate
me with-- [His countenance falls as he reads].
TANNER. It's all my own doing: that's the horrible irony of it.
He told me one day that you were to be Ann's guardian; and like a
fool I began arguing with him about the folly of leaving a young
woman under the control of an old man with obsolete ideas.
RAMSDEN. [stupended] My ideas obsolete!!!!!
TANNER. Totally. I had just finished an essay called Down with
Government by the Greyhaired; and I was full of arguments and
illustrations. I said the proper thing was to combine the
experience of an old hand with the vitality of a young one. Hang
me if he didn't take me at my word and alter his will--it's
dated only a fortnight after that conversation--appointing me as
joint guardian with you!
RAMSDEN. [pale and determined] I shall refuse to act.
TANNER. What's the good of that? I've been refusing all the way
from Richmond; but Ann keeps on saying that of course she's only
an orphan; and that she can't expect the people who were glad to
come to the house in her father's time to trouble much about her
now. That's the latest game. An orphan! It's like hearing an
ironclad talk about being at the mercy of the winds and waves.
OCTAVIUS. This is not fair, Jack. She is an orphan. And you ought
to stand by her.
TANNER. Stand by her! What danger is she in? She has the law on
her side; she has popular sentiment on her side; she has plenty
of money and no conscience. All she wants with me is to load up
all her moral responsibilities on me, and do as she likes at the
expense of my character. I can't control her; and she can
compromise me as much as she likes. I might as well be her
RAMSDEN. You can refuse to accept the guardianship. I shall
certainly refuse to hold it jointly with you.
TANNER. Yes; and what will she say to that? what does she say
to it? Just that her father's wishes are sacred to her, and that
she shall always look up to me as her guardian whether I care to
face the responsibility or not. Refuse! You might as well refuse
to accept the embraces of a boa constrictor when once it gets
round your neck.
OCTAVIUS. This sort of talk is not kind to me, Jack.
TANNER. [rising and going to Octavius to console him, but still
lamenting] If he wanted a young guardian, why didn't he appoint
RAMSDEN. Ah! why indeed?
OCTAVIUS. I will tell you. He sounded me about it; but I refused
the trust because I loved her. I had no right to let myself be
forced on her as a guardian by her father. He spoke to her about
it; and she said I was right. You know I love her, Mr Ramsden;
and Jack knows it too. If Jack loved a woman, I would not compare
her to a boa constrictor in his presence, however much I might
dislike her [he sits down between the busts and turns his face to
RAMSDEN. I do not believe that Whitefield was in his right senses
when he made that will. You have admitted that he made it under
TANNER. You ought to be pretty well obliged to me for my
influence. He leaves you two thousand five hundred for your
trouble. He leaves Tavy a dowry for his sister and five thousand
OCTAVIUS. [his tears flowing afresh] Oh, I can't take it. He was
too good to us.
TANNER. You won't get it, my boy, if Ramsden upsets the will.
RAMSDEN. Ha! I see. You have got me in a cleft stick.
TANNER. He leaves me nothing but the charge of Ann's morals, on
the ground that I have already more money than is good for me.
That shows that he had his wits about him, doesn't it?
RAMSDEN. [grimly] I admit that.
OCTAVIUS. [rising and coming from his refuge by the wall] Mr
Ramsden: I think you are prejudiced against Jack. He is a man of
honor, and incapable of abusing--
TANNER. Don't, Tavy: you'll make me ill. I am not a man of honor:
I am a man struck down by a dead hand. Tavy: you must marry her
after all and take her off my hands. And I had set my heart on
saving you from her!
OCTAVIUS. Oh, Jack, you talk of saving me from my highest
TANNER. Yes, a lifetime of happiness. If it were only the first
half hour's happiness, Tavy, I would buy it for you with my last
penny. But a lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it:
it would be hell on earth.
RAMSDEN. [violently] Stuff, sir. Talk sense; or else go and waste
someone else's time: I have something better to do than listen to
your fooleries [he positively kicks his way to his table and
resumes his seat].
TANNER. You hear him, Tavy! Not an idea in his head later than
eighteen-sixty. We can't leave Ann with no other guardian to turn
RAMSDEN. I am proud of your contempt for my character and
opinions, sir. Your own are set forth in that book, I believe.
TANNER. [eagerly going to the table] What! You've got my book!
What do you think of it?
RAMSDEN. Do you suppose I would read such a book, sir?
TANNER. Then why did you buy it?
RAMSDEN. I did not buy it, sir. It has been sent me by some
foolish lady who seems to admire your views. I was about to
dispose of it when Octavius interrupted me. I shall do so now,
with your permission. [He throws the book into the waste paper
basket with such vehemence that Tanner recoils under the
impression that it is being thrown at his head].
TANNER. You have no more manners than I have myself. However,
that saves ceremony between us. [He sits down again]. What do you
intend to do about this will?
OCTAVIUS. May I make a suggestion?
RAMSDEN. Certainly, Octavius.
OCTAVIUS. Aren't we forgetting that Ann herself may have some
wishes in this matter?
RAMSDEN. I quite intend that Annie's wishes shall be consulted in
every reasonable way. But she is only a woman, and a young and
inexperienced woman at that.
TANNER. Ramsden: I begin to pity you.
RAMSDEN. [hotly] I don't want to know how you feel towards me, Mr
TANNER. Ann will do just exactly what she likes. And what's more,
she'll force us to advise her to do it; and she'll put the blame
on us if it turns out badly. So, as Tavy is longing to see her--
OCTAVIUS. [shyly] I am not, Jack.
TANNER. You lie, Tavy: you are. So let's have her down from the
drawing-room and ask her what she intends us to do. Off with you,
Tavy, and fetch her. [Tavy turns to go]. And don't be long for
the strained relations between myself and Ramsden will make the
interval rather painful [Ramsden compresses his lips, but says
OCTAVIUS. Never mind him, Mr Ramsden. He's not serious. [He goes
RAMSDEN [very deliberately] Mr Tanner: you are the most impudent
person I have ever met.
TANNER. [seriously] I know it, Ramsden. Yet even I cannot wholly
conquer shame. We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed
of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our
relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of
our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins. Good
Lord, my dear Ramsden, we are ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in
an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom instead of keeping a
carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of two and a
groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more things
a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. Why, you're
ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing you're
not ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and
even that only means that you're ashamed to have heterodox
opinions. Look at the effect I produce because my fairy godmother
withheld from me this gift of shame. I have every possible virtue
that a man can have except--
RAMSDEN. I am glad you think so well of yourself.
TANNER. All you mean by that is that you think I ought to be
ashamed of talking about my virtues. You don't mean that I
haven't got them: you know perfectly well that I am as sober and
honest a citizen as yourself, as truthful personally, and much
more truthful politically and morally.
RAMSDEN. [touched on his most sensitive point] I deny that. I
will not allow you or any man to treat me as if I were a mere
member of the British public. I detest its prejudices; I scorn
its narrowness; I demand the right to think for myself. You pose
as an advanced man. Let me tell you that I was an advanced man
before you were born.
TANNER. I knew it was a long time ago.
RAMSDEN. I am as advanced as ever I was. I defy you to prove that
I have ever hauled down the flag. I am more advanced than ever I
was. I grow more advanced every day.
TANNER. More advanced in years, Polonius.
RAMSDEN. Polonius! So you are Hamlet, I suppose.
TANNER. No: I am only the most impudent person you've ever met.
That's your notion of a thoroughly bad character. When you want
to give me a piece of your mind, you ask yourself, as a just and
upright man, what is the worst you can fairly say of me. Thief,
liar, forger, adulterer, perjurer, glutton, drunkard? Not one of
these names fit me. You have to fall back on my deficiency in
shame. Well, I admit it. I even congratulate myself; for if I
were ashamed of my real self, I should cut as stupid a figure as
any of the rest of you. Cultivate a little impudence, Ramsden;
and you will become quite a remarkable man.
RAMSDEN. I have no--
TANNER. You have no desire for that sort of notoriety. Bless you,
I knew that answer would come as well as I know that a box of
matches will come out of an automatic machine when I put a penny
in the slot: you would be ashamed to say anything else.
The crushing retort for which Ramsden has been visibly collecting
his forces is lost for ever; for at this point Octavius returns
with Miss Ann Whitefield and her mother; and Ramsden springs up
and hurries to the door to receive them. Whether Ann is
good-looking or not depends upon your taste; also and perhaps
chiefly on your age and sex. To Octavius she is an enchantingly
beautiful woman, in whose presence the world becomes
transfigured, and the puny limits of individual consciousness are
suddenly made infinite by a mystic memory of the whole life of
the race to its beginnings in the east, or even back to the
paradise from which it fell. She is to him the reality of
romance, the leaner good sense of nonsense, the unveiling of his
eyes, the freeing of his soul, the abolition of time, place and
circumstance, the etherealization of his blood into rapturous
rivers of the very water of life itself, the revelation of all
the mysteries and the sanctification of all the dogmas. To her
mother she is, to put it as moderately as possible, nothing
whatever of the kind. Not that Octavius's admiration is in any
way ridiculous or discreditable. Ann is a well formed creature,
as far as that goes; and she is perfectly ladylike, graceful, and
comely, with ensnaring eyes and hair. Besides, instead of making
herself an eyesore, like her mother, she has devised a mourning
costume of black and violet silk which does honor to her late
father and reveals the family tradition of brave unconventionality
by which Ramsden sets such store.
But all this is beside the point as an explanation of Ann's
charm. Turn up her nose, give a cast to her eye, replace her
black and violet confection by the apron and feathers of a flower
girl, strike all the aitches out of her speech, and Ann would
still make men dream. Vitality is as common as humanity; but,
like humanity, it sometimes rises to genius; and Ann is one of
the vital geniuses. Not at all, if you please, an oversexed
person: that is a vital defect, not a true excess. She is a
perfectly respectable, perfectly self-controlled woman, and looks
it; though her pose is fashionably frank and impulsive. She
inspires confidence as a person who will do nothing she does not
mean to do; also some fear, perhaps, as a woman who will probably
do everything she means to do without taking more account of
other people than may be necessary and what she calls right. In
short, what the weaker of her own sex sometimes call a cat.
Nothing can be more decorous than her entry and her reception by
Ramsden, whom she kisses. The late Mr Whitefield would be
gratified almost to impatience by the long faces of the men
(except Tanner, who is fidgety), the silent handgrasps, the
sympathetic placing of chairs, the sniffing of the widow, and the
liquid eye of the daughter, whose heart, apparently, will not let
her control her tongue to speech. Ramsden and Octavius take the
two chairs from the wall, and place them for the two ladies; but
Ann comes to Tanner and takes his chair, which he offers with a
brusque gesture, subsequently relieving his irritation by sitting
down on the corner of the writing table with studied indecorum.
Octavius gives Mrs Whitefield a chair next Ann, and himself takes
the vacant one which Ramsden has placed under the nose of the
effigy of Mr Herbert Spencer.
Mrs Whitefield, by the way, is a little woman, whose faded flaxen
hair looks like straw on an egg. She has an expression of
muddled shrewdness, a squeak of protest in her voice, and an odd
air of continually elbowing away some larger person who is
crushing her into a corner. One guesses her as one of those women
who are conscious of being treated as silly and negligible, and
who, without having strength enough to assert themselves
effectually, at any rate never submit to their fate. There is a
touch of chivalry in Octavius's scrupulous attention to her,
even whilst his whole soul is absorbed by Ann.
Ramsden goes solemnly back to his magisterial seat at the writing
table, ignoring Tanner, and opens the proceedings.
RAMSDEN. I am sorry, Annie, to force business on you at a sad
time like the present. But your poor dear father's will has
raised a very serious question. You have read it, I believe?
[Ann assents with a nod and a catch of her breath, too much
affected to speak].
I must say I am surprised to find Mr Tanner named as joint
guardian and trustee with myself of you and Rhoda. [A pause. They
all look portentous; but they have nothing to say. Ramsden, a
little ruffled by the lack of any response, continues] I don't
know that I can consent to act under such conditions. Mr Tanner
has, I understand, some objection also; but I do not profess to
understand its nature: he will no doubt speak for himself. But we
are agreed that we can decide nothing until we know your views. I
am afraid I shall have to ask you to choose between my sole
guardianship and that of Mr Tanner; for I fear it is impossible
for us to undertake a joint arrangement.
ANN. [in a low musical voice] Mamma--
MRS WHITEFIELD. [hastily] Now, Ann, I do beg you not to put it on
me. I have no opinion on the subject; and if I had, it would
probably not be attended to. I am quite with whatever you three
Tanner turns his head and looks fixedly at Ramsden, who angrily
refuses to receive this mute communication.
ANN. [resuming in the same gentle voice, ignoring her mother's
bad taste] Mamma knows that she is not strong enough to bear the
whole responsibility for me and Rhoda without some help and
advice. Rhoda must have a guardian; and though I am older, I do
not think any young unmarried woman should be left quite to her
own guidance. I hope you agree with me, Granny?
TANNER. [starting] Granny! Do you intend to call your guardians
ANN. Don't be foolish, Jack. Mr Ramsden has always been Grandpapa
Roebuck to me: I am Granny's Annie; and he is Annie's Granny. I
christened him so when I first learned to speak.
RAMSDEN. [sarcastically] I hope you are satisfied, Mr Tanner. Go
on, Annie: I quite agree with you.
ANN. Well, if I am to have a guardian, CAN I set aside anybody
whom my dear father appointed for me?
RAMSDEN. [biting his lip] You approve of your father's choice,
ANN. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I accept it. My
father loved me and knew best what was good for me.
RAMSDEN. Of course I understand your feeling, Annie. It is what I
should have expected of you; and it does you credit. But it does
not settle the question so completely as you think. Let me put a
case to you. Suppose you were to discover that I had been guilty
of some disgraceful action--that I was not the man your poor dear
father took me for. Would you still consider it right that I
should be Rhoda's guardian?
ANN. I can't imagine you doing anything disgraceful, Granny.
TANNER. [to Ramsden] You haven't done anything of the sort, have
RAMSDEN. [indignantly] No sir.
MRS. WHITEFIELD. [placidly] Well, then, why suppose it?
ANN. You see, Granny, Mamma would not like me to suppose it.
RAMSDEN. [much perplexed] You are both so full of natural and
affectionate feeling in these family matters that it is very hard
to put the situation fairly before you.
TANNER. Besides, my friend, you are not putting the situation
fairly before them.
RAMSDEN. [sulkily] Put it yourself, then.
TANNER. I will. Ann: Ramsden thinks I am not fit be your
guardian; and I quite agree with him. He considers that if your
father had read my book, he wouldn't have appointed me. That book
is the disgraceful action he has been talking about. He thinks
it's your duty for Rhoda's sake to ask him to act alone and to
make me withdraw. Say the word and I will.
ANN. But I haven't read your book, Jack.
TANNER. [diving at the waste-paper basket and fishing the book
out for her] Then read it at once and decide.
RAMSDEN. If I am to be your guardian, I positively forbid you to
read that book, Annie. [He smites the table with his fist and
ANN. Of course, if you don't wish it. [She puts the book on the
TANNER. If one guardian is to forbid you to read the other
guardian's book, how are we to settle it? Suppose I order you to
read it! What about your duty to me?
ANN. [gently] I am sure you would never purposely force me into a
painful dilemma, Jack.
RAMSDEN. [irritably] Yes, yes, Annie: this is all very well, and,
as I said, quite natural and becoming. But you must make a choice
one way or the other. We are as much in a dilemma as you.
ANN. I feel that I am too young, too inexperienced, to decide. My
father's wishes are sacred to me.
MRS WHITEFIELD. If you two men won't carry them out I must say it
is rather hard that you should put the responsibility on Ann. It
seems to me that people are always putting things on other people
in this world.
RAMSDEN. I am sorry you take it that way.
ANN. [touchingly] Do you refuse to accept me as your ward,
RAMSDEN. No: I never said that. I greatly object to act with Mr
Tanner: that's all.
MRS. WHITEFIELD. Why? What's the matter with poor Jack?
TANNER. My views are too advanced for him.
RAMSDEN. [indignantly] They are not. I deny it.
ANN. Of course not. What nonsense! Nobody is more advanced than
Granny. I am sure it is Jack himself who has made all the
difficulty. Come, Jack! Be kind to me in my sorrow. You don't
refuse to accept me as your ward, do you?
TANNER. [gloomily] No. I let myself in for it; so I suppose I
must face it. [He turns away to the bookcase, and stands there,
moodily studying the titles of the volumes].
ANN. [rising and expanding with subdued but gushing delight] Then
we are all agreed; and my dear father's will is to be carried
out. You don't know what a joy that is to me and to my mother!
[She goes to Ramsden and presses both his hands, saying] And I
shall have my dear Granny to help and advise me. [She casts a
glance at Tanner over her shoulder]. And Jack the Giant Killer.
[She goes past her mother to Octavius]. And Jack's inseparable
friend Ricky-ticky-tavy [he blushes and looks inexpressibly
MRS WHITEFIELD. [rising and shaking her widow's weeds straight]
Now that you are Ann's guardian, Mr Ramsden, I wish you would
speak to her about her habit of giving people nicknames. They
can't be expected to like it. [She moves towards the door].
ANN. How can you say such a thing, Mamma! [Glowing with
affectionate remorse] Oh, I wonder can you be right! Have I been
inconsiderate? [She turns to Octavius, who is sitting astride
his chair with his elbows on the back of it. Putting her hand on
his forehead the turns his face up suddenly]. Do you want to be
treated like a grown up man? Must I call you Mr Robinson in
OCTAVIUS. [earnestly] Oh please call me Ricky-ticky--tavy, "Mr
Robinson" would hurt me cruelly. She laughs and pats his cheek
with her finger; then comes back to Ramsden]. You know I'm
beginning to think that Granny is rather a piece of impertinence.
But I never dreamt of its hurting you.
RAMSDEN. [breezily, as he pats her affectionately on the back] My
dear Annie, nonsense. I insist on Granny. I won't answer to any
other name than Annie's Granny.
ANN. [gratefully] You all spoil me, except Jack.
TANNER. [over his shoulder, from the bookcase] I think you ought
to call me Mr Tanner.
ANN. [gently] No you don't, Jack. That's like the things you say
on purpose to shock people: those who know you pay no attention
to them. But, if you like, I'll call you after your famous
ancestor Don Juan.
RAMSDEN. Don Juan!
ANN. [innocently] Oh, is there any harm in it? I didn't know.
Then I certainly won't call you that. May I call you Jack until
I can think of something else?
TANKER. Oh, for Heaven's sake don't try to invent anything worse.
I capitulate. I consent to Jack. I embrace Jack. Here endeth my
first and last attempt to assert my authority.
ANN. You see, Mamma, they all really like to have pet names.
MRS WHITEFIELD. Well, I think you might at least drop them until
we are out of mourning.
ANN. [reproachfully, stricken to the soul] Oh, how could you
remind me, mother? [She hastily leaves the room to conceal her
MRS WHITEFIELD. Of course. My fault as usual! [She follows Ann].
TANNER. [coming from the bockcase] Ramsden: we're beaten--
smashed--nonentitized, like her mother.
RAMSDEN. Stuff, Sir. [He follows Mrs Whitefield out of the room].
TANNER. [left alone with Octavius, stares whimsically at him]
Tavy: do you want to count for something in the world?
OCTAVIUS. I want to count for something as a poet: I want to
write a great play.
TANNER. With Ann as the heroine?