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This etext was produced by Eve Sobol, South Bend, Indiana, USA



N.B. The Euripidean verses in the second act of Major Barbara are
not by me, or even directly by Euripides. They are by Professor
Gilbert Murray, whose English version of The Baccha; came into
our dramatic literature with all the impulsive power of an
original work shortly before Major Barbara was begun. The play,
indeed, stands indebted to him in more ways than one.
G. B. S.

Before dealing with the deeper aspects of Major Barbara, let me,
for the credit of English literature, make a protest against an
unpatriotic habit into which many of my critics have fallen.
Whenever my view strikes them as being at all outside the range
of, say, an ordinary suburban churchwarden, they conclude that I
am echoing Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy,
or some other heresiarch in northern or eastern Europe.

I confess there is something flattering in this simple faith in
my accomplishment as a linguist and my erudition as a
philosopher. But I cannot tolerate the assumption that life and
literature is so poor in these islands that we must go abroad for
all dramatic material that is not common and all ideas that are
not superficial. I therefore venture to put my critics in
possession of certain facts concerning my contact with modern

About half a century ago, an Irish novelist, Charles Lever, wrote
a story entitled A Day's Ride: A Life's Romance. It was published
by Charles Dickens in Household Words, and proved so strange to
the public taste that Dickens pressed Lever to make short work of
it. I read scraps of this novel when I was a child; and it made
an enduring impression on me. The hero was a very romantic hero,
trying to live bravely, chivalrously, and powerfully by dint
of mere romance-fed imagination, without courage, without means,
without knowledge, without skill, without anything real except
his bodily appetites. Even in my childhood I found in this poor
devil's unsuccessful encounters with the facts of life, a
poignant quality that romantic fiction lacked. The book, in spite
of its first failure, is not dead: I saw its title the other day
in the catalogue of Tauchnitz.

Now why is it that when I also deal in the tragi-comic irony of
the conflict between real life and the romantic imagination, no
critic ever affiliates me to my countryman and immediate
forerunner, Charles Lever, whilst they confidently derive me from
a Norwegian author of whose language I do not know three words,
and of whom I knew nothing until years after the Shavian
Anschauung was already unequivocally declared in books full of
what came, ten years later, to be perfunctorily labelled
Ibsenism. I was not Ibsenist even at second hand; for Lever,
though he may have read Henri Beyle, alias Stendhal, certainly
never read Ibsen. Of the books that made Lever popular, such as
Charles O'Malley and Harry Lorrequer, I know nothing but the
names and some of the illustrations. But the story of the day's
ride and life's romance of Potts (claiming alliance with Pozzo di
Borgo) caught me and fascinated me as something strange and
significant, though I already knew all about Alnaschar and Don
Quixote and Simon Tappertit and many another romantic hero mocked
by reality. From the plays of Aristophanes to the tales of
Stevenson that mockery has been made familiar to all who are
properly saturated with letters.

Where, then, was the novelty in Lever's tale? Partly, I think, in
a new seriousness in dealing with Potts's disease. Formerly, the
contrast between madness and sanity was deemed comic: Hogarth
shows us how fashionable people went in parties to Bedlam to
laugh at the lunatics. I myself have had a village idiot
exhibited to me as some thing irresistibly funny. On the stage
the madman was once a regular comic figure; that was how Hamlet
got his opportunity before Shakespear touched him. The
originality of Shakespear's version lay in his taking the lunatic
sympathetically and seriously, and thereby making an advance
towards the eastern consciousness of the fact that lunacy may be
inspiration in disguise, since a man who has more brains than his
fellows necessarily appears as mad to them as one who has less.
But Shakespear did not do for Pistol and Parolles what he did for
Hamlet. The particular sort of madman they represented, the
romantic makebeliever, lay outside the pale of sympathy in
literature: he was pitilessly despised and ridiculed here as he
was in the east under the name of Alnaschar, and was doomed to
be, centuries later, under the name of Simon Tappertit. When
Cervantes relented over Don Quixote, and Dickens relented over
Pickwick, they did not become impartial: they simply changed
sides, and became friends and apologists where they had formerly
been mockers.

In Lever's story there is a real change of attitude. There is no
relenting towards Potts: he never gains our affections like Don
Quixote and Pickwick: he has not even the infatuate courage of
Tappertit. But we dare not laugh at him, because, somehow, we
recognize ourselves in Potts. We may, some of us, have enough
nerve, enough muscle, enough luck, enough tact or skill or
address or knowledge to carry things off better than he did; to
impose on the people who saw through him; to fascinate Katinka
(who cut Potts so ruthlessly at the end of the story); but for
all that, we know that Potts plays an enormous part in ourselves
and in the world, and that the social problem is not a problem of
story-book heroes of the older pattern, but a problem of Pottses,
and of how to make men of them. To fall back on my old phrase, we
have the feeling--one that Alnaschar, Pistol, Parolles, and
Tappertit never gave us--that Potts is a piece of really
scientific natural history as distinguished from comic story
telling. His author is not throwing a stone at a creature of
another and inferior order, but making a confession, with the
effect that the stone hits everybody full in the conscience and
causes their self-esteem to smart very sorely. Hence the failure
of Lever's book to please the readers of Household Words. That
pain in the self-esteem nowadays causes critics to raise a cry of
Ibsenism. I therefore assure them that the sensation first came
to me from Lever and may have come to him from Beyle, or at least
out of the Stendhalian atmosphere. I exclude the hypothesis of
complete originality on Lever's part, because a man can no more
be completely original in that sense than a tree can grow out of

Another mistake as to my literary ancestry is made whenever I
violate the romantic convention that all women are angels when
they are not devils; that they are better looking than men; that
their part in courtship is entirely passive; and that the human
female form is the most beautiful object in nature. Schopenhauer
wrote a splenetic essay which, as it is neither polite nor
profound, was probably intended to knock this nonsense violently
on the head. A sentence denouncing the idolized form as ugly has
been largely quoted. The English critics have read that sentence;
and I must here affirm, with as much gentleness as the
implication will bear, that it has yet to be proved that they
have dipped any deeper. At all events, whenever an English
playwright represents a young and marriageable woman as being
anything but a romantic heroine, he is disposed of without
further thought as an echo of Schopenhauer. My own case is a
specially hard one, because, when I implore the critics who are
obsessed with the Schopenhaurian formula to remember that
playwrights, like sculptors, study their figures from life, and
not from philosophic essays, they reply passionately that I am
not a playwright and that my stage figures do not live. But even
so, I may and do ask them why, if they must give the credit of my
plays to a philosopher, they do not give it to an English
philosopher? Long before I ever read a word by Schopenhauer, or
even knew whether he was a philosopher or a chemist, the
Socialist revival of the eighteen-eighties brought me into
contact, both literary and personal, with Mr Ernest Belfort Bax,
an English Socialist and philosophic essayist, whose handling of
modern feminism would provoke romantic protests from Schopenhauer
himself, or even Strindberg. As a matter of fact I hardly noticed
Schopenhauer's disparagements of women when they came under my
notice later on, so thoroughly had Mr Bax familiarized me with
the homoist attitude, and forced me to recognize the extent to
which public opinion, and consequently legislation and
jurisprudence, is corrupted by feminist sentiment.

But Mr Bax's essays were not confined to the Feminist question.
He was a ruthless critic of current morality. Other writers have
gained sympathy for dramatic criminals by eliciting the alleged
"soul of goodness in things evil"; but Mr Bax would propound some
quite undramatic and apparently shabby violation of our
commercial law and morality, and not merely defend it with the
most disconcerting ingenuity, but actually prove it to be a
positive duty that nothing but the certainty of police
persecution should prevent every right-minded man from at once
doing on principle. The Socialists were naturally shocked, being
for the most part morbidly moral people; but at all events they
were saved later on from the delusion that nobody but Nietzsche
had ever challenged our mercanto-Christian morality. I first
heard the name of Nietzsche from a German mathematician, Miss
Borchardt, who had read my Quintessence of Ibsenism, and told me
that she saw what I had been reading: namely, Nietzsche's
Jenseits von Gut and Bose. Which I protest I had never seen, and
could not have read with any comfort, for want of the necessary
German, if I had seen it.

Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer, is the victim in England of a
single much quoted sentence containing the phrase "big blonde
beast." On the strength of this alliteration it is assumed that
Nietzsche gained his European reputation by a senseless
glorification of selfish bullying as the rule of life, just as it
is assumed, on the strength of the single word Superman
(Ubermensch) borrowed by me from Nietzsche, that I look for the
salvation of society to the despotism of a single Napoleonic
Superman, in spite of my careful demonstration of the folly of
that outworn infatuation. But even the less recklessly
superficial critics seem to believe that the modern objection to
Christianity as a pernicious slave-morality was first put forward
by Nietzsche. It was familiar to me before I ever heard of
Nietzsche. The late Captain Wilson, author of several queer
pamphlets, propagandist of a metaphysical system called
Comprehensionism, and inventor of the term "Crosstianity" to
distinguish the retrograde element in Christendom, was wont
thirty years ago, in the discussions of the Dialectical Society,
to protest earnestly against the beatitudes of the Sermon on the
Mount as excuses for cowardice and servility, as destructive of
our will, and consequently of our honor and manhood. Now it is
true that Captain Wilson's moral criticism of Christianity was
not a historical theory of it, like Nietzsche's; but this
objection cannot be made to Mr Stuart-Glennie, the successor of
Buckle as a philosophic historian, who has devoted his life to
the elaboration and propagation of his theory that Christianity
is part of an epoch (or rather an aberration, since it began as
recently as 6000BC and is already collapsing) produced by the
necessity in which the numerically inferior white races found
themselves to impose their domination on the colored races by
priestcraft, making a virtue and a popular religion of drudgery
and submissiveness in this world not only as a means of achieving
saintliness of character but of securing a reward in heaven. Here
you have the slave-morality view formulated by a Scotch
philosopher long before English writers began chattering about

As Mr Stuart-Glennie traced the evolution of society to the
conflict of races, his theory made some sensation among
Socialists--that is, among the only people who were seriously
thinking about historical evolution at all--by its collision with
the class-conflict theory of Karl Marx. Nietzsche, as I gather,
regarded the slave-morality as having been invented and imposed
on the world by slaves making a virtue of necessity and a
religion of their servitude. Mr Stuart-Glennie regards the
slave-morality as an invention of the superior white race to
subjugate the minds of the inferior races whom they wished to
exploit, and who would have destroyed them by force of numbers if
their minds had not been subjugated. As this process is in
operation still, and can be studied at first hand not only in our
Church schools and in the struggle between our modern proprietary
classes and the proletariat, but in the part played by Christian
missionaries in reconciling the black races of Africa to their
subjugation by European Capitalism, we can judge for ourselves
whether the initiative came from above or below. My object here
is not to argue the historical point, but simply to make our
theatre critics ashamed of their habit of treating Britain as an
intellectual void, and assuming that every philosophical idea,
every historic theory, every criticism of our moral, religious
and juridical institutions, must necessarily be either imported
from abroad, or else a fantastic sally (in rather questionable
taste) totally unrelated to the existing body of thought. I urge
them to remember that this body of thought is the slowest of
growths and the rarest of blossomings, and that if there is such
a thing on the philosophic plane as a matter of course, it is
that no individual can make more than a minute contribution to
it. In fact, their conception of clever persons
parthenogenetically bringing forth complete original cosmogonies
by dint of sheer "brilliancy" is part of that ignorant credulity
which is the despair of the honest philosopher, and the
opportunity of the religious impostor.


It is this credulity that drives me to help my critics out with
Major Barbara by telling them what to say about it. In the
millionaire Undershaft I have represented a man who has become
intellectually and spiritually as well as practically conscious
of the irresistible natural truth which we all abhor and
repudiate: to wit, that the greatest of evils and the worst of
crimes is poverty, and that our first duty--a duty to which every
other consideration should be sacrificed--is not to be poor.
"Poor but honest," "the respectable poor," and such phrases are
as intolerable and as immoral as "drunken but amiable,"
"fraudulent but a good after-dinner speaker," "splendidly
criminal," or the like. Security, the chief pretence of
civilization, cannot exist where the worst of dangers, the danger
of poverty, hangs over everyone's head, and where the alleged
protection of our persons from violence is only an accidental
result of the existence of a police force whose real business is
to force the poor man to see his children starve whilst idle
people overfeed pet dogs with the money that might feed and
clothe them.

It is exceedingly difficult to make people realize that an evil
is an evil. For instance, we seize a man and deliberately do him
a malicious injury: say, imprison him for years. One would not
suppose that it needed any exceptional clearness of wit to
recognize in this an act of diabolical cruelty. But in England
such a recognition provokes a stare of surprise, followed by an
explanation that the outrage is punishment or justice or
something else that is all right, or perhaps by a heated attempt
to argue that we should all be robbed and murdered in our beds if
such senseless villainies as sentences of imprisonment were not
committed daily. It is useless to argue that even if this were
true, which it is not, the alternative to adding crimes of our
own to the crimes from which we suffer is not helpless
submission. Chickenpox is an evil; but if I were to declare that
we must either submit to it or else repress it sternly by seizing
everyone who suffers from it and punishing them by inoculation
with smallpox, I should be laughed at; for though nobody could
deny that the result would be to prevent chickenpox to some
extent by making people avoid it much more carefully, and to
effect a further apparent prevention by making them conceal it
very anxiously, yet people would have sense enough to see that
the deliberate propagation of smallpox was a creation of evil,
and must therefore be ruled out in favor of purely humane and
hygienic measures. Yet in the precisely parallel case of a man
breaking into my house and stealing my wife's diamonds I am
expected as a matter of course to steal ten years of his life,
torturing him all the time. If he tries to defeat that monstrous
retaliation by shooting me, my survivors hang him. The net result
suggested by the police statistics is that we inflict atrocious
injuries on the burglars we catch in order to make the rest take
effectual precautions against detection; so that instead of
saving our wives' diamonds from burglary we only greatly decrease
our chances of ever getting them back, and increase our chances
of being shot by the robber if we are unlucky enough to disturb
him at his work.

But the thoughtless wickedness with which we scatter sentences of
imprisonment, torture in the solitary cell and on the plank bed,
and flogging, on moral invalids and energetic rebels, is as
nothing compared to the stupid levity with which we tolerate
poverty as if it were either a wholesome tonic for lazy people or
else a virtue to be embraced as St Francis embraced it. If a man
is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor.
If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to
the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance,
let him be poor. If he chooses to spend his urban eighteen
shillings a week or his agricultural thirteen shillings a week on
his beer and his family instead of saving it up for his old age,
let him be poor. Let nothing be done for "the undeserving": let
him be poor. Serve him right! Also--somewhat inconsistently--
blessed are the poor!

Now what does this Let Him Be Poor mean? It means let him be
weak. Let him be ignorant. Let him become a nucleus of disease.
Let him be a standing exhibition and example of ugliness and
dirt. Let him have rickety children. Let him be cheap and let him
drag his fellows down to his price by selling himself to do their
work. Let his habitations turn our cities into poisonous
congeries of slums. Let his daughters infect our young men with
the diseases of the streets and his sons revenge him by turning
the nation's manhood into scrofula, cowardice, cruelty,
hypocrisy, political imbecility, and all the other fruits of
oppression and malnutrition. Let the undeserving become still
less deserving; and let the deserving lay up for himself, not
treasures in heaven, but horrors in hell upon earth. This being
so, is it really wise to let him be poor? Would he not do ten
times less harm as a prosperous burglar, incendiary, ravisher or
murderer, to the utmost limits of humanity's comparatively
negligible impulses in these directions? Suppose we were to
abolish all penalties for such activities, and decide that
poverty is the one thing we will not tolerate--that every adult
with less than, say, 365 pounds a year, shall be painlessly but
inexorably killed, and every hungry half naked child forcibly
fattened and clothed, would not that be an enormous improvement
on our existing system, which has already destroyed so many
civilizations, and is visibly destroying ours in the same way?

Is there any radicle of such legislation in our parliamentary
system? Well, there are two measures just sprouting in the
political soil, which may conceivably grow to something valuable.
One is the institution of a Legal Minimum Wage. The other, Old
Age Pensions. But there is a better plan than either of these.
Some time ago I mentioned the subject of Universal Old Age
Pensions to my fellow Socialist Mr Cobden-Sanderson, famous as an
artist-craftsman in bookbinding and printing. "Why not Universal
Pensions for Life?" said Cobden-Sanderson. In saying this, he
solved the industrial problem at a stroke. At present we say
callously to each citizen: "If you want money, earn it," as if
his having or not having it were a matter that concerned himself
alone. We do not even secure for him the opportunity of earning
it: on the contrary, we allow our industry to be organized in
open dependence on the maintenance of "a reserve army of
unemployed" for the sake of "elasticity." The sensible course
would be Cobden-Sanderson's: that is, to give every man enough to
live well on, so as to guarantee the community against the
possibility of a case of the malignant disease of poverty, and
then (necessarily) to see that he earned it.

Undershaft, the hero of Major Barbara, is simply a man who,
having grasped the fact that poverty is a crime, knows that when
society offered him the alternative of poverty or a lucrative
trade in death and destruction, it offered him, not a choice
between opulent villainy and humble virtue, but between energetic
enterprise and cowardly infamy. His conduct stands the Kantian
test, which Peter Shirley's does not. Peter Shirley is what we
call the honest poor man. Undershaft is what we call the wicked
rich one: Shirley is Lazarus, Undershaft Dives. Well, the misery
of the world is due to the fact that the great mass of men act
and believe as Peter Shirley acts and believes. If they acted and
believed as Undershaft acts and believes, the immediate result
would be a revolution of incalculable beneficence. To be wealthy,
says Undershaft, is with me a point of honor for which I am
prepared to kill at the risk of my own life. This preparedness
is, as he says, the final test of sincerity. Like Froissart's
medieval hero, who saw that "to rob and pill was a good life," he
is not the dupe of that public sentiment against killing which is
propagated and endowed by people who would otherwise be killed
themselves, or of the mouth-honor paid to poverty and obedience
by rich and insubordinate do-nothings who want to rob the poor
without courage and command them without superiority. Froissart's
knight, in placing the achievement of a good life before all the
other duties--which indeed are not duties at all when they
conflict with it, but plain wickednesses--behaved bravely,
admirably, and, in the final analysis, public-spiritedly.
Medieval society, on the other hand, behaved very badly indeed in
organizing itself so stupidly that a good life could be achieved
by robbing and pilling. If the knight's contemporaries had been
all as resolute as he, robbing and pilling would have been the
shortest way to the gallows, just as, if we were all as resolute
and clearsighted as Undershaft, an attempt to live by means of
what is called "an independent income" would be the shortest way
to the lethal chamber. But as, thanks to our political imbecility
and personal cowardice (fruits of poverty both), the best
imitation of a good life now procurable is life on an independent
income, all sensible people aim at securing such an income, and
are, of course, careful to legalize and moralize both it and all
the actions and sentiments which lead to it and support it as an
institution. What else can they do? They know, of course, that
they are rich because others are poor. But they cannot help that:
it is for the poor to repudiate poverty when they have had enough
of it. The thing can be done easily enough: the demonstrations to
the contrary made by the economists, jurists, moralists and
sentimentalists hired by the rich to defend them, or even doing
the work gratuitously out of sheer folly and abjectness, impose
only on the hirers.

The reason why the independent income-tax payers are not solid in
defence of their position is that since we are not medieval
rovers through a sparsely populated country, the poverty of those
we rob prevents our having the good life for which we sacrifice
them. Rich men or aristocrats with a developed sense of life--men
like Ruskin and William Morris and Kropotkin--have enormous
social appetites and very fastidious personal ones. They are not
content with handsome houses: they want handsome cities. They are
not content with bediamonded wives and blooming daughters: they
complain because the charwoman is badly dressed, because the
laundress smells of gin, because the sempstress is anemic,
because every man they meet is not a friend and every woman not a
romance. They turn up their noses at their neighbors' drains, and
are made ill by the architecture of their neighbors' houses.
Trade patterns made to suit vulgar people do not please them (and
they can get nothing else): they cannot sleep nor sit at ease
upon "slaughtered" cabinet makers' furniture. The very air is not
good enough for them: there is too much factory smoke in it. They
even demand abstract conditions: justice, honor, a noble moral
atmosphere, a mystic nexus to replace the cash nexus. Finally
they declare that though to rob and pill with your own hand on
horseback and in steel coat may have been a good life, to rob and
pill by the hands of the policeman, the bailiff, and the soldier,
and to underpay them meanly for doing it, is not a good life, but
rather fatal to all possibility of even a tolerable one. They
call on the poor to revolt, and, finding the poor shocked at
their ungentlemanliness, despairingly revile the proletariat for
its "damned wantlessness" (verdammte Bedurfnislosigkeit).

So far, however, their attack on society has lacked simplicity.
The poor do not share their tastes nor understand their
art-criticisms. They do not want the simple life, nor the
esthetic life; on the contrary, they want very much to wallow in
all the costly vulgarities from which the elect souls among the
rich turn away with loathing. It is by surfeit and not by
abstinence that they will be cured of their hankering after
unwholesome sweets. What they do dislike and despise and are
ashamed of is poverty. To ask them to fight for the difference
between the Christmas number of the Illustrated London News and
the Kelmscott Chaucer is silly: they prefer the News. The
difference between a stockbroker's cheap and dirty starched white
shirt and collar and the comparatively costly and carefully dyed
blue shirt of William Morris is a difference so disgraceful to
Morris in their eyes that if they fought on the subject at all,
they would fight in defence of the starch. "Cease to be slaves,
in order that you may become cranks" is not a very inspiring call
to arms; nor is it really improved by substituting saints for
cranks. Both terms denote men of genius; and the common man does
not want to live the life of a man of genius: he would much
rather live the life of a pet collie if that were the only
alternative. But he does want more money. Whatever else he may be
vague about, he is clear about that. He may or may not prefer
Major Barbara to the Drury Lane pantomime; but he always prefers
five hundred pounds to five hundred shillings.

Now to deplore this preference as sordid, and teach children that
it is sinful to desire money, is to strain towards the extreme
possible limit of impudence in lying, and corruption in
hypocrisy. The universal regard for money is the one hopeful fact
in our civilization, the one sound spot in our social conscience.
Money is the most important thing in the world. It represents
health, strength, honor, generosity and beauty as conspicuously
and undeniably as the want of it represents illness, weakness,
disgrace, meanness and ugliness. Not the least of its virtues is
that it destroys base people as certainly as it fortifies and
dignifies noble people. It is only when it is cheapened to
worthlessness for some, and made impossibly dear to others, that
it becomes a curse. In short, it is a curse only in such foolish
social conditions that life itself is a curse. For the two
things are inseparable: money is the counter that enables life to
be distributed socially: it is life as truly as sovereigns and
bank notes are money. The first duty of every citizen is to
insist on having money on reasonable terms; and this demand is
not complied with by giving four men three shillings each for ten
or twelve hours' drudgery and one man a thousand pounds for
nothing. The crying need of the nation is not for better morals,
cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen
sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship
of the Trinity, but simply for enough money. And the evil to be
attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft,
demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any
other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply

Once take your eyes from the ends of the earth and fix them on
this truth just under your nose; and Andrew Undershaft's views
will not perplex you in the least. Unless indeed his constant
sense that he is only the instrument of a Will or Life Force
which uses him for purposes wider than his own, may puzzle you.
If so, that is because you are walking either in artificial
Darwinian darkness, or to mere stupidity. All genuinely religious
people have that consciousness. To them Undershaft the Mystic
will be quite intelligible, and his perfect comprehension of his
daughter the Salvationist and her lover the Euripidean republican
natural and inevitable. That, however, is not new, even on the
stage. What is new, as far as I know, is that article in
Undershaft's religion which recognizes in Money the first need
and in poverty the vilest sin of man and society.

This dramatic conception has not, of course, been attained per
saltum. Nor has it been borrowed from Nietzsche or from any man
born beyond the Channel. The late Samuel Butler, in his own
department the greatest English writer of the latter half of the
XIX century, steadily inculcated the necessity and morality of a
conscientious Laodiceanism in religion and of an earnest and
constant sense of the importance of money. It drives one almost
to despair of English literature when one sees so extraordinary a
study of English life as Butler's posthumous Way of All Flesh
making so little impression that when, some years later, I
produce plays in which Butler's extraordinarily fresh, free and
future-piercing suggestions have an obvious share, I am met with
nothing but vague cacklings about Ibsen and Nietzsche, and am
only too thankful that they are not about Alfred de Musset and
Georges Sand. Really, the English do not deserve to have great
men. They allowed Butler to die practically unknown, whilst I, a
comparatively insignificant Irish journalist, was leading them by
the nose into an advertisement of me which has made my own life a
burden. In Sicily there is a Via Samuele Butler. When an English
tourist sees it, he either asks "Who the devil was Samuele
Butler?" or wonders why the Sicilians should perpetuate the
memory of the author of Hudibras.

Well, it cannot be denied that the English are only too anxious
to recognize a man of genius if somebody will kindly point him
out to them. Having pointed myself out in this manner with some
success, I now point out Samuel Butler, and trust that in
consequence I shall hear a little less in future of the novelty
and foreign origin of the ideas which are now making their way
into the English theatre through plays written by Socialists.
There are living men whose originality and power are as obvious
as Butler's; and when they die that fact will be discovered.
Meanwhile I recommend them to insist on their own merits as an
important part of their own business.


When Major Barbara was produced in London, the second act was
reported in an important northern newspaper as a withering attack
on the Salvation Army, and the despairing ejaculation of Barbara
deplored by a London daily as a tasteless blasphemy. And they
were set right, not by the professed critics of the theatre, but
by religious and philosophical publicists like Sir Oliver Lodge
and Dr Stanton Coit, and strenuous Nonconformist journalists like
Mr William Stead, who not only understood the act as well as the
Salvationists themselves, but also saw it in its relation to the
religious life of the nation, a life which seems to lie not only
outside the sympathy of many of our theatre critics, but actually
outside their knowledge of society. Indeed nothing could be more
ironically curious than the confrontation Major Barbara effected
of the theatre enthusiasts with the religious enthusiasts. On the
one hand was the playgoer, always seeking pleasure, paying
exorbitantly for it, suffering unbearable discomforts for it, and
hardly ever getting it. On the other hand was the Salvationist,
repudiating gaiety and courting effort and sacrifice, yet always
in the wildest spirits, laughing, joking, singing, rejoicing,
drumming, and tambourining: his life flying by in a flash of
excitement, and his death arriving as a climax of triumph. And,
if you please, the playgoer despising the Salvationist as a
joyless person, shut out from the heaven of the theatre,
self-condemned to a life of hideous gloom; and the Salvationist
mourning over the playgoer as over a prodigal with vine leaves in
his hair, careering outrageously to hell amid the popping of
champagne corks and the ribald laughter of sirens! Could
misunderstanding be more complete, or sympathy worse misplaced?

Fortunately, the Salvationists are more accessible to the
religious character of the drama than the playgoers to the gay
energy and artistic fertility of religion. They can see, when it
is pointed out to them, that a theatre, as a place where two or
three are gathered together, takes from that divine presence an
inalienable sanctity of which the grossest and profanest farce
can no more deprive it than a hypocritical sermon by a snobbish
bishop can desecrate Westminster Abbey. But in our professional
playgoers this indispensable preliminary conception of sanctity
seems wanting. They talk of actors as mimes and mummers, and, I
fear, think of dramatic authors as liars and pandars, whose main
business is the voluptuous soothing of the tired city speculator
when what he calls the serious business of the day is over.
Passion, the life of drama, means nothing to them but primitive
sexual excitement: such phrases as "impassioned poetry" or
"passionate love of truth" have fallen quite out of their
vocabulary and been replaced by "passional crime" and the like.
They assume, as far as I can gather, that people in whom passion
has a larger scope are passionless and therefore uninteresting.
Consequently they come to think of religious people as people who
are not interesting and not amusing. And so, when Barbara cuts
the regular Salvation Army jokes, and snatches a kiss from her
lover across his drum, the devotees of the theatre think they
ought to appear shocked, and conclude that the whole play is an
elaborate mockery of the Army. And then either hypocritically
rebuke me for mocking, or foolishly take part in the supposed
mockery! Even the handful of mentally competent critics got into
difficulties over my demonstration of the economic deadlock in
which the Salvation Army finds itself. Some of them thought that
the Army would not have taken money from a distiller and a cannon
founder: others thought it should not have taken it: all assumed
more or less definitely that it reduced itself to absurdity or
hypocrisy by taking it. On the first point the reply of the Army
itself was prompt and conclusive. As one of its officers said,
they would take money from the devil himself and be only too glad
to get it out of his hands and into God's. They gratefully
acknowledged that publicans not only give them money but allow
them to collect it in the bar--sometimes even when there is a
Salvation meeting outside preaching teetotalism. In fact, they
questioned the verisimilitude of the play, not because Mrs Baines
took the money, but because Barbara refused it.

On the point that the Army ought not to take such money, its
justification is obvious. It must take the money because it
cannot exist without money, and there is no other money to be
had. Practically all the spare money in the country consists of a
mass of rent, interest, and profit, every penny of which is bound
up with crime, drink, prostitution, disease, and all the evil
fruits of poverty, as inextricably as with enterprise, wealth,
commercial probity, and national prosperity. The notion that you
can earmark certain coins as tainted is an unpractical
individualist superstition. None the less the fact that all our
money is tainted gives a very severe shock to earnest young souls
when some dramatic instance of the taint first makes them
conscious of it. When an enthusiastic young clergyman of the
Established Church first realizes that the Ecclesiastical
Commissioners receive the rents of sporting public houses,
brothels, and sweating dens; or that the most generous
contributor at his last charity sermon was an employer trading in
female labor cheapened by prostitution as unscrupulously as a
hotel keeper trades in waiters' labor cheapened by tips, or
commissionaire's labor cheapened by pensions; or that the only
patron who can afford to rebuild his church or his schools or
give his boys' brigade a gymnasium or a library is the son-in-law
of a Chicago meat King, that young clergyman has, like Barbara, a
very bad quarter hour. But he cannot help himself by refusing to
accept money from anybody except sweet old ladies with
independent incomes and gentle and lovely ways of life. He has
only to follow up the income of the sweet ladies to its
industrial source, and there he will find Mrs Warren's profession
and the poisonous canned meat and all the rest of it. His own
stipend has the same root. He must either share the world's guilt
or go to another planet. He must save the world's honor if he is
to save his own. This is what all the Churches find just as the
Salvation Army and Barbara find it in the play. Her discovery
that she is her father's accomplice; that the Salvation Army is
the accomplice of the distiller and the dynamite maker; that they
can no more escape one another than they can escape the air they
breathe; that there is no salvation for them through personal
righteousness, but only through the redemption of the whole
nation from its vicious, lazy, competitive anarchy: this
discovery has been made by everyone except the Pharisees and
(apparently) the professional playgoers, who still wear their Tom
Hood shirts and underpay their washerwomen without the slightest
misgiving as to the elevation of their private characters, the
purity of their private atmospheres, and their right to repudiate
as foreign to themselves the coarse depravity of the garret and
the slum. Not that they mean any harm: they only desire to be, in
their little private way, what they call gentlemen. They do not
understand Barbara's lesson because they have not, like her,
learnt it by taking their part in the larger life of the nation.


Barbara's return to the colors may yet provide a subject for the
dramatic historian of the future. To go back to the Salvation
Army with the knowledge that even the Salvationists themselves
are not saved yet; that poverty is not blessed, but a most
damnable sin; and that when General Booth chose Blood and Fire
for the emblem of Salvation instead of the Cross, he was perhaps
better inspired than he knew: such knowledge, for the daughter of
Andrew Undershaft, will clearly lead to something hopefuller than
distributing bread and treacle at the expense of Bodger.

It is a very significant thing, this instinctive choice of the
military form of organization, this substitution of the drum for
the organ, by the Salvation Army. Does it not suggest that the
Salvationists divine that they must actually fight the devil
instead of merely praying at him? At present, it is true, they
have not quite ascertained his correct address. When they do,
they may give a very rude shock to that sense of security which
he has gained from his experience of the fact that hard words,
even when uttered by eloquent essayists and lecturers, or carried
unanimously at enthusiastic public meetings on the motion of
eminent reformers, break no bones. It has been said that the
French Revolution was the work of Voltaire, Rousseau and the
Encyclopedists. It seems to me to have been the work of men who
had observed that virtuous indignation, caustic criticism,
conclusive argument and instructive pamphleteering, even when
done by the most earnest and witty literary geniuses, were as
useless as praying, things going steadily from bad to worse
whilst the Social Contract and the pamphlets of Voltaire were at
the height of their vogue. Eventually, as we know, perfectly
respectable citizens and earnest philanthropists connived at the
September massacres because hard experience had convinced them
that if they contented themselves with appeals to humanity and
patriotism, the aristocracy, though it would read their appeals
with the greatest enjoyment and appreciation, flattering and
admiring the writers, would none the less continue to conspire
with foreign monarchists to undo the revolution and restore the
old system with every circumstance of savage vengeance and
ruthless repression of popular liberties.

The nineteenth century saw the same lesson repeated in England.
It had its Utilitarians, its Christian Socialists, its Fabians
(still extant): it had Bentham, Mill, Dickens, Ruskin, Carlyle,
Butler, Henry George, and Morris. And the end of all their
efforts is the Chicago described by Mr Upton Sinclair, and the
London in which the people who pay to be amused by my dramatic
representation of Peter Shirley turned out to starve at forty
because there are younger slaves to be had for his wages, do not
take, and have not the slightest intention of taking, any
effective step to organize society in such a way as to make that
everyday infamy impossible. I, who have preached and
pamphleteered like any Encyclopedist, have to confess that my
methods are no use, and would be no use if I were Voltaire,
Rousseau, Bentham, Mill, Dickens, Carlyle, Ruskin, George,
Butler, and Morris all rolled into one, with Euripides, More,
Moliere, Shakespear, Beaumarchais, Swift, Goethe, Ibsen, Tolstoy,
Moses and the prophets all thrown in (as indeed in some sort I
actually am, standing as I do on all their shoulders). The
problem being to make heroes out of cowards, we paper apostles
and artist-magicians have succeeded only in giving cowards all
the sensations of heroes whilst they tolerate every abomination,
accept every plunder, and submit to every oppression.
Christianity, in making a merit of such submission, has marked
only that depth in the abyss at which the very sense of shame is
lost. The Christian has been like Dickens' doctor in the debtor's
prison, who tells the newcomer of its ineffable peace and
security: no duns; no tyrannical collectors of rates, taxes, and
rent; no importunate hopes nor exacting duties; nothing but the
rest and safety of having no further to fall.

Yet in the poorest corner of this soul-destroying Christendom
vitality suddenly begins to germinate again. Joyousness, a sacred
gift long dethroned by the hellish laughter of derision and
obscenity, rises like a flood miraculously out of the fetid dust
and mud of the slums; rousing marches and impetuous dithyrambs
rise to the heavens from people among whom the depressing noise
called "sacred music" is a standing joke; a flag with Blood and
Fire on it is unfurled, not in murderous rancor, but because fire
is beautiful and blood a vital and splendid red; Fear, which we
flatter by calling Self, vanishes; and transfigured men and women
carry their gospel through a transfigured world, calling their
leader General, themselves captains and brigadiers, and their
whole body an Army: praying, but praying only for refreshment,
for strength to fight, and for needful MONEY (a notable sign,
that); preaching, but not preaching submission; daring ill-usage
and abuse, but not putting up with more of it than is inevitable;
and practising what the world will let them practise, including
soap and water, color and music. There is danger in such
Activity; and where there is danger there is hope. Our present
security is nothing, and can be nothing, but evil made


For the present, however, it is not my business to flatter the
Salvation Army. Rather must I point out to it that it has almost
as many weaknesses as the Church of England itself. It is
building up a business organization which will compel it
eventually to see that its present staff of enthusiast-commanders
shall be succeeded by a bureaucracy of men of business who will
be no better than bishops, and perhaps a good deal more
unscrupulous. That has always happened sooner or later to great
orders founded by saints; and the order founded by St William
Booth is not exempt from the same danger. It is even more
dependent than the Church on rich people who would cut off
supplies at once if it began to preach that indispensable revolt
against poverty which must also be a revolt against riches. It is
hampered by a heavy contingent of pious elders who are not really
Salvationists at all, but Evangelicals of the old school. It
still, as Commissioner Howard affirms, "sticks to Moses," which
is flat nonsense at this time of day if the Commissioner means,
as I am afraid he does, that the Book of Genesis contains a
trustworthy scientific account of the origin of species, and that
the god to whom Jephthah sacrificed his daughter is any less
obviously a tribal idol than Dagon or Chemosh.

Further, there is still too much other-worldliness about the
Army. Like Frederick's grenadier, the Salvationist wants to live
for ever (the most monstrous way of crying for the moon); and
though it is evident to anyone who has ever heard General Booth
and his best officers that they would work as hard for human
salvation as they do at present if they believed that death would
be the end of them individually, they and their followers have a
bad habit of talking as if the Salvationists were heroically
enduring a very bad time on earth as an investment which will
bring them in dividends later on in the form, not of a better
life to come for the whole world, but of an eternity spent by
themselves personally in a sort of bliss which would bore any
active person to a second death. Surely the truth is that the
Salvationists are unusually happy people. And is it not the very
diagnostic of true salvation that it shall overcome the fear of
death? Now the man who has come to believe that there is no such
thing as death, the change so called being merely the transition
to an exquisitely happy and utterly careless life, has not
overcome the fear of death at all: on the contrary, it has
overcome him so completely that he refuses to die on any terms
whatever. I do not call a Salvationist really saved until he is
ready to lie down cheerfully on the scrap heap, having paid scot
and lot and something over, and let his eternal life pass on to
renew its youth in the battalions of the future.

Then there is the nasty lying habit called confession, which the
Army encourages because it lends itself to dramatic oratory, with
plenty of thrilling incident. For my part, when I hear a convert
relating the violences and oaths and blasphemies he was guilty of
before he was saved, making out that he was a very terrible
fellow then and is the most contrite and chastened of Christians
now, I believe him no more than I believe the millionaire who
says he came up to London or Chicago as a boy with only three
halfpence in his pocket. Salvationists have said to me that
Barbara in my play would never have been taken in by so
transparent a humbug as Snobby Price; and certainly I do not
think Snobby could have taken in any experienced Salvationist on
a point on which the Salvationist did not wish to be taken in.
But on the point of conversion all Salvationists wish to be taken
in; for the more obvious the sinner the more obvious the miracle
of his conversion. When you advertize a converted burglar or
reclaimed drunkard as one of the attractions at an experience
meeting, your burglar can hardly have been too burglarious or
your drunkard too drunken. As long as such attractions are relied
on, you will have your Snobbies claiming to have beaten their
mothers when they were as a matter of prosaic fact habitually
beaten by them, and your Rummies of the tamest respectability
pretending to a past of reckless and dazzling vice. Even when
confessions are sincerely autobiographic there is no reason to
assume at once that the impulse to make them is pious or the
interest of the hearers wholesome. It might as well be assumed
that the poor people who insist on showing appalling ulcers to
district visitors are convinced hygienists, or that the curiosity
which sometimes welcomes such exhibitions is a pleasant and
creditable one. One is often tempted to suggest that those who
pester our police superintendents with confessions of murder
might very wisely be taken at their word and executed, except in
the few cases in which a real murderer is seeking to be relieved
of his guilt by confession and expiation. For though I am not, I
hope, an unmerciful person, I do not think that the inexorability
of the deed once done should be disguised by any ritual, whether
in the confessional or on the scaffold.

And here my disagreement with the Salvation Army, and with all
propagandists of the Cross (to which I object as I object to all
gibbets) becomes deep indeed. Forgiveness, absolution, atonement,
are figments: punishment is only a pretence of cancelling one
crime by another; and you can no more have forgiveness without
vindictiveness than you can have a cure without a disease. You
will never get a high morality from people who conceive that
their misdeeds are revocable and pardonable, or in a society
where absolution and expiation are officially provided for us
all. The demand may be very real; but the supply is spurious.
Thus Bill Walker, in my play, having assaulted the Salvation
Lass, presently finds himself overwhelmed with an intolerable
conviction of sin under the skilled treatment of Barbara.
Straightway he begins to try to unassault the lass and
deruffianize his deed, first by getting punished for it in kind,
and, when that relief is denied him, by fining himself a pound to
compensate the girl. He is foiled both ways. He finds the
Salvation Army as inexorable as fact itself. It will not punish
him: it will not take his money. It will not tolerate a redeemed
ruffian: it leaves him no means of salvation except ceasing to be
a ruffian. In doing this, the Salvation Army instinctively
grasps the central truth of Christianity and discards its central
superstition: that central truth being the vanity of revenge and
punishment, and that central superstition the salvation of the
world by the gibbet.

For, be it noted, Bill has assaulted an old and starving woman
also; and for this worse offence he feels no remorse whatever,
because she makes it clear that her malice is as great as his
own. "Let her have the law of me, as she said she would," says
Bill: "what I done to her is no more on what you might call my
conscience than sticking a pig." This shows a perfectly natural
and wholesome state of mind on his part. The old woman, like the
law she threatens him with, is perfectly ready to play the game
of retaliation with him: to rob him if he steals, to flog him if
he strikes, to murder him if he kills. By example and precept the
law and public opinion teach him to impose his will on others by
anger, violence, and cruelty, and to wipe off the moral score by
punishment. That is sound Crosstianity. But this Crosstianity has
got entangled with something which Barbara calls Christianity,
and which unexpectedly causes her to refuse to play the hangman's
game of Satan casting out Satan. She refuses to prosecute a
drunken ruffian; she converses on equal terms with a blackguard
whom no lady could be seen speaking to in the public street: in
short, she behaves as illegally and unbecomingly as possible
under the circumstances. Bill's conscience reacts to this just as
naturally as it does to the old woman's threats. He is placed in
a position of unbearable moral inferiority, and strives by every
means in his power to escape from it, whilst he is still quite
ready to meet the abuse of the old woman by attempting to smash a
mug on her face. And that is the triumphant justification of
Barbara's Christianity as against our system of judicial
punishment and the vindictive villain-thrashings and "poetic
justice" of the romantic stage.

For the credit of literature it must be pointed out that the
situation is only partly novel. Victor Hugo long ago gave us the
epic of the convict and the bishop's candlesticks, of the
Crosstian policeman annihilated by his encounter with the
Christian Valjean. But Bill Walker is not, like Valjean,
romantically changed from a demon into an angel. There are
millions of Bill Walkers in all classes of society to-day; and
the point which I, as a professor of natural psychology, desire
to demonstrate, is that Bill, without any change in his character
whatsoever, will react one way to one sort of treatment and
another way to another.

In proof I might point to the sensational object lesson provided
by our commercial millionaires to-day. They begin as brigands:
merciless, unscrupulous, dealing out ruin and death and slavery
to their competitors and employees, and facing desperately the
worst that their competitors can do to them. The history of the
English factories, the American trusts, the exploitation of
African gold, diamonds, ivory and rubber, outdoes in villainy the
worst that has ever been imagined of the buccaneers of the
Spanish Main. Captain Kidd would have marooned a modern Trust
magnate for conduct unworthy of a gentleman of fortune. The law
every day seizes on unsuccessful scoundrels of this type and
punishes them with a cruelty worse than their own, with the
result that they come out of the torture house more dangerous
than they went in, and renew their evil doing (nobody will employ
them at anything else) until they are again seized, again
tormented, and again let loose, with the same result.

But the successful scoundrel is dealt with very differently, and
very Christianly. He is not only forgiven: he is idolized,
respected, made much of, all but worshipped. Society returns him
good for evil in the most extravagant overmeasure. And with what
result? He begins to idolize himself, to respect himself, to live
up to the treatment he receives. He preaches sermons; he writes
books of the most edifying advice to young men, and actually
persuades himself that he got on by taking his own advice; he
endows educational institutions; he supports charities; he dies
finally in the odor of sanctity, leaving a will which is a
monument of public spirit and bounty. And all this without any
change in his character. The spots of the leopard and the stripes
of the tiger are as brilliant as ever; but the conduct of the
world towards him has changed; and his conduct has changed
accordingly. You have only to reverse your attitude towards him--
to lay hands on his property, revile him, assault him, and he
will be a brigand again in a moment, as ready to crush you as you
are to crush him, and quite as full of pretentious moral reasons
for doing it.

In short, when Major Barbara says that there are no scoundrels,
she is right: there are no absolute scoundrels, though there are
impracticable people of whom I shall treat presently. Every
practicable man (and woman) is a potential scoundrel and a
potential good citizen. What a man is depends on his character;
but what he does, and what we think of what he does, depends on
his circumstances. The characteristics that ruin a man in one
class make him eminent in another. The characters that behave
differently in different circumstances behave alike in similar
circumstances. Take a common English character like that of Bill
Walker. We meet Bill everywhere: on the judicial bench, on the
episcopal bench, in the Privy Council, at the War Office and
Admiralty, as well as in the Old Bailey dock or in the ranks of
casual unskilled labor. And the morality of Bill's
characteristics varies with these various circumstances. The
faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier: the
manners and habits of a duke would cost a city clerk his
situation. In short, though character is independent of
circumstances, conduct is not; and our moral judgments of
character are not: both are circumstantial. Take any condition of
life in which the circumstances are for a mass of men practically
alike: felony, the House of Lords, the factory, the stables, the
gipsy encampment or where you please! In spite of diversity of
character and temperament, the conduct and morals of the
individuals in each group are as predicable and as alike in the
main as if they were a flock of sheep, morals being mostly only
social habits and circumstantial necessities. Strong people know
this and count upon it. In nothing have the master-minds of the
world been distinguished from the ordinary suburban season-ticket
holder more than in their straightforward perception of the fact
that mankind is practically a single species, and not a menagerie
of gentlemen and bounders, villains and heroes, cowards and
daredevils, peers and peasants, grocers and aristocrats, artisans
and laborers, washerwomen and duchesses, in which all the grades
of income and caste represent distinct animals who must not be
introduced to one another or intermarry. Napoleon constructing a
galaxy of generals and courtiers, and even of monarchs, out of
his collection of social nobodies; Julius Caesar appointing as
governor of Egypt the son of a freedman--one who but a short time
before would have been legally disqualified for the post even of
a private soldier in the Roman army; Louis XI making his barber
his privy councillor: all these had in their different ways a
firm hold of the scientific fact of human equality, expressed by
Barbara in the Christian formula that all men are children of one
father. A man who believes that men are naturally divided into
upper and lower and middle classes morally is making exactly the
same mistake as the man who believes that they are naturally
divided in the same way socially. And just as our persistent
attempts to found political institutions on a basis of social
inequality have always produced long periods of destructive
friction relieved from time to time by violent explosions of
revolution; so the attempt--will Americans please note--to found
moral institutions on a basis of moral inequality can lead to
nothing but unnatural Reigns of the Saints relieved by licentious
Restorations; to Americans who have made divorce a public
institution turning the face of Europe into one huge sardonic
smile by refusing to stay in the same hotel with a Russian man of
genius who has changed wives without the sanction of South
Dakota; to grotesque hypocrisy, cruel persecution, and final
utter confusion of conventions and compliances with benevolence
and respectability. It is quite useless to declare that all men
are born free if you deny that they are born good. Guarantee a
man's goodness and his liberty will take care of itself. To
guarantee his freedom on condition that you approve of his moral
character is formally to abolish all freedom whatsoever, as every
man's liberty is at the mercy of a moral indictment, which any
fool can trump up against everyone who violates custom, whether
as a prophet or as a rascal. This is the lesson Democracy has to
learn before it can become anything but the most oppressive of
all the priesthoods.

Let us now return to Bill Walker and his case of conscience
against the Salvation Army. Major Barbara, not being a modern
Tetzel, or the treasurer of a hospital, refuses to sell Bill
absolution for a sovereign. Unfortunately, what the Army can
afford to refuse in the case of Bill Walker, it cannot refuse in
the case of Bodger. Bodger is master of the situation because he
holds the purse strings. "Strive as you will," says Bodger, in
effect: "me you cannot do without. You cannot save Bill Walker
without my money." And the Army answers, quite rightly under the
circumstances, "We will take money from the devil himself sooner
than abandon the work of Salvation." So Bodger pays his
conscience-money and gets the absolution that is refused to Bill.
In real life Bill would perhaps never know this. But I, the
dramatist, whose business it is to show the connexion between
things that seem apart and unrelated in the haphazard order of
events in real life, have contrived to make it known to Bill,
with the result that the Salvation Army loses its hold of him at

But Bill may not be lost, for all that. He is still in the grip
of the facts and of his own conscience, and may find his taste
for blackguardism permanently spoiled. Still, I cannot guarantee
that happy ending. Let anyone walk through the poorer quarters of
our cities when the men are not working, but resting and chewing
the cud of their reflections; and he will find that there is one
expression on every mature face: the expression of cynicism. The
discovery made by Bill Walker about the Salvation Army has been
made by every one of them. They have found that every man has his
price; and they have been foolishly or corruptly taught to
mistrust and despise him for that necessary and salutary
condition of social existence. When they learn that General
Booth, too, has his price, they do not admire him because it is a
high one, and admit the need of organizing society so that he
shall get it in an honorable way: they conclude that his
character is unsound and that all religious men are hypocrites
and allies of their sweaters and oppressors. They know that the
large subscriptions which help to support the Army are
endowments, not of religion, but of the wicked doctrine of
docility in poverty and humility under oppression; and they are
rent by the most agonizing of all the doubts of the soul, the
doubt whether their true salvation must not come from their most
abhorrent passions, from murder, envy, greed, stubbornness, rage,
and terrorism, rather than from public spirit, reasonableness,
humanity, generosity, tenderness, delicacy, pity and kindness.
The confirmation of that doubt, at which our newspapers have been
working so hard for years past, is the morality of militarism;
and the justification of militarism is that circumstances may at
any time make it the true morality of the moment. It is by
producing such moments that we produce violent and sanguinary
revolutions, such as the one now in progress in Russia and the
one which Capitalism in England and America is daily and
diligently provoking.

At such moments it becomes the duty of the Churches to evoke all
the powers of destruction against the existing order. But if they
do this, the existing order must forcibly suppress them. Churches
are suffered to exist only on condition that they preach
submission to the State as at present capitalistically organized.
The Church of England itself is compelled to add to the
thirty-six articles in which it formulates its religious tenets,
three more in which it apologetically protests that the moment
any of these articles comes in conflict with the State it is to
be entirely renounced, abjured, violated, abrogated and abhorred,
the policeman being a much more important person than any
of the Persons of the Trinity. And this is why no tolerated
Church nor Salvation Army can ever win the entire confidence of
the poor. It must be on the side of the police and the military,
no matter what it believes or disbelieves; and as the police and
the military are the instruments by which the rich rob and
oppress the poor (on legal and moral principles made for the
purpose), it is not possible to be on the side of the poor and of
the police at the same time. Indeed the religious bodies, as the
almoners of the rich, become a sort of auxiliary police, taking
off the insurrectionary edge of poverty with coals and blankets,
bread and treacle, and soothing and cheering the victims with
hopes of immense and inexpensive happiness in another world when
the process of working them to premature death in the service of
the rich is complete in this.


Such is the false position from which neither the Salvation Army
nor the Church of England nor any other religious organization
whatever can escape except through a reconstitution of society.
Nor can they merely endure the State passively, washing their
hands of its sins. The State is constantly forcing the
consciences of men by violence and cruelty. Not content with
exacting money from us for the maintenance of its soldiers and
policemen, its gaolers and executioners, it forces us to take an
active personal part in its proceedings on pain of becoming
ourselves the victims of its violence. As I write these lines, a
sensational example is given to the world. A royal marriage has
been celebrated, first by sacrament in a cathedral, and then by a
bullfight having for its main amusement the spectacle of horses
gored and disembowelled by the bull, after which, when the bull
is so exhausted as to be no longer dangerous, he is killed by a
cautious matador. But the ironic contrast between the bullfight
and the sacrament of marriage does not move anyone. Another
contrast--that between the splendor, the happiness, the
atmosphere of kindly admiration surrounding the young couple, and
the price paid for it under our abominable social arrangements in
the misery, squalor and degradation of millions of other young
couples--is drawn at the same moment by a novelist, Mr Upton
Sinclair, who chips a corner of the veneering from the huge meat
packing industries of Chicago, and shows it to us as a sample of
what is going on all over the world underneath the top layer of
prosperous plutocracy. One man is sufficiently moved by that
contrast to pay his own life as the price of one terrible blow at
the responsible parties. Unhappily his poverty leaves him also
ignorant enough to be duped by the pretence that the innocent
young bride and bridegroom, put forth and crowned by plutocracy
as the heads of a State in which they have less personal power
than any policeman, and less influence than any chairman of a
trust, are responsible. At them accordingly he launches his
sixpennorth of fulminate, missing his mark, but scattering the
bowels of as many horses as any bull in the arena, and slaying
twenty-three persons, besides wounding ninety-nine. And of all
these, the horses alone are innocent of the guilt he is avenging:
had he blown all Madrid to atoms with every adult person in it,
not one could have escaped the charge of being an accessory,
before, at, and after the fact, to poverty and prostitution, to
such wholesale massacre of infants as Herod never dreamt of, to
plague, pestilence and famine, battle, murder and lingering
death--perhaps not one who had not helped, through example,
precept, connivance, and even clamor, to teach the dynamiter his
well-learnt gospel of hatred and vengeance, by approving every
day of sentences of years of imprisonment so infernal in its
unnatural stupidity and panic-stricken cruelty, that their
advocates can disavow neither the dagger nor the bomb without
stripping the mask of justice and humanity from themselves also.
Be it noted that at this very moment there appears the biography
of one of our dukes, who, being Scotch, could argue about
politics, and therefore stood out as a great brain among our
aristocrats. And what, if you please, was his grace's favorite
historical episode, which he declared he never read without
intense satisfaction? Why, the young General Bonapart's pounding
of the Paris mob to pieces in 1795, called in playful approval by
our respectable classes "the whiff of grapeshot," though
Napoleon, to do him justice, took a deeper view of it, and would
fain have had it forgotten. And since the Duke of Argyll was not
a demon, but a man of like passions with ourselves, by no means
rancorous or cruel as men go, who can doubt that all over the
world proletarians of the ducal kidney are now revelling in "the
whiff of dynamite" (the flavor of the joke seems to evaporate a
little, does it not?) because it was aimed at the class they hate
even as our argute duke hated what he called the mob.

In such an atmosphere there can be only one sequel to the Madrid
explosion. All Europe burns to emulate it. Vengeance! More blood!
Tear "the Anarchist beast" to shreds. Drag him to the scaffold.
Imprison him for life. Let all civilized States band together to
drive his like off the face of the earth; and if any State
refuses to join, make war on it. This time the leading London
newspaper, anti-Liberal and therefore anti-Russian in politics,
does not say "Serve you right" to the victims, as it did, in
effect, when Bobrikofl; and De Plehve, and Grand Duke Sergius,
were in the same manner unofficially fulminated into fragments.
No: fulminate our rivals in Asia by all means, ye brave Russian
revolutionaries; but to aim at an English princess-monstrous!
hideous! hound down the wretch to his doom; and observe, please,
that we are a civilized and merciful people, and, however much we
may regret it, must not treat him as Ravaillac and Damiens were
treated. And meanwhile, since we have not yet caught him, let us
soothe our quivering nerves with the bullfight, and comment in a
courtly way on the unfailing tact and good taste of the ladies of
our royal houses, who, though presumably of full normal natural
tenderness, have been so effectually broken in to fashionable
routine that they can be taken to see the horses slaughtered as
helplessly as they could no doubt be taken to a gladiator show,
if that happened to be the mode just now.

Strangely enough, in the midst of this raging fire of malice, the
one man who still has faith in the kindness and intelligence of
human nature is the fulminator, now a hunted wretch, with
nothing, apparently, to secure his triumph over all the prisons
and scaffolds of infuriate Europe except the revolver in his
pocket and his readiness to discharge it at a moment's notice
into his own or any other head. Think of him setting out to find
a gentleman and a Christian in the multitude of human wolves
howling for his blood. Think also of this: that at the very
first essay he finds what he seeks, a veritable grandee of Spain,
a noble, high-thinking, unterrified, malice-void soul, in the
guise--of all masquerades in the world!--of a modern editor. The
Anarchist wolf, flying from the wolves of plutocracy, throws
himself on the honor of the man. The man, not being a wolf (nor a
London editor), and therefore not having enough sympathy with his
exploit to be made bloodthirsty by it, does not throw him back to
the pursuing wolves--gives him, instead, what help he can to
escape, and sends him off acquainted at last with a force that
goes deeper than dynamite, though you cannot make so much of it
for sixpence. That righteous and honorable high human deed is not
wasted on Europe, let us hope, though it benefits the fugitive
wolf only for a moment. The plutocratic wolves presently smell
him out. The fugitive shoots the unlucky wolf whose nose is
nearest; shoots himself; and then convinces the world, by his
photograph, that he was no monstrous freak of reversion to the
tiger, but a good looking young man with nothing abnormal about
him except his appalling courage and resolution (that is why the
terrified shriek Coward at him): one to whom murdering a happy
young couple on their wedding morning would have been an
unthinkably unnatural abomination under rational and kindly human

Then comes the climax of irony and blind stupidity. The wolves,
balked of their meal of fellow-wolf, turn on the man, and proceed
to torture him, after their manner, by imprisonment, for refusing
to fasten his teeth in the throat of the dynamiter and hold him
down until they came to finish him.

Thus, you see, a man may not be a gentleman nowadays even if he
wishes to. As to being a Christian, he is allowed some latitude
in that matter, because, I repeat, Christianity has two faces.
Popular Christianity has for its emblem a gibbet, for its chief
sensation a sanguinary execution after torture, for its central
mystery an insane vengeance bought off by a trumpery expiation.
But there is a nobler and profounder Christianity which affirms
the sacred mystery of Equality, and forbids the glaring futility
and folly of vengeance, often politely called punishment or
justice. The gibbet part of Christianity is tolerated. The other
is criminal felony. Connoisseurs in irony are well aware of the
fact that the only editor in England who denounces punishment as
radically wrong, also repudiates Christianity; calls his paper
The Freethinker; and has been imprisoned for two years for


And now I must ask the excited reader not to lose his head on one
side or the other, but to draw a sane moral from these grim
absurdities. It is not good sense to propose that laws against
crime should apply to principals only and not to accessories
whose consent, counsel, or silence may secure impunity to the
principal. If you institute punishment as part of the law, you
must punish people for refusing to punish. If you have a police,
part of its duty must be to compel everybody to assist the
police. No doubt if your laws are unjust, and your policemen
agents of oppression, the result will be an unbearable violation
of the private consciences of citizens. But that cannot be
helped: the remedy is, not to license everybody to thwart the law
if they please, but to make laws that will command the public
assent, and not to deal cruelly and stupidly with lawbreakers.
Everybody disapproves of burglars; but the modern burglar, when
caught and overpowered by a householder usually appeals, and
often, let us hope, with success, to his captor not to deliver
him over to the useless horrors of penal servitude. In other
cases the lawbreaker escapes because those who could give him up
do not consider his breech of the law a guilty action. Sometimes,
even, private tribunals are formed in opposition to the official
tribunals; and these private tribunals employ assassins as
executioners, as was done, for example, by Mahomet before he had
established his power officially, and by the Ribbon lodges
of Ireland in their long struggle with the landlords. Under such
circumstances, the assassin goes free although everybody in the
district knows who he is and what he has done. They do not betray
him, partly because they justify him exactly as the regular
Government justifies its official executioner, and partly because
they would themselves be assassinated if they betrayed him:
another method learnt from the official government. Given a
tribunal, employing a slayer who has no personal quarrel with the
slain; and there is clearly no moral difference between official
and unofficial killing.

In short, all men are anarchists with regard to laws which are
against their consciences, either in the preamble or in the
penalty. In London our worst anarchists are the magistrates,
because many of them are so old and ignorant that when they are
called upon to administer any law that is based on ideas or
knowledge less than half a century old, they disagree with it,
and being mere ordinary homebred private Englishmen without any
respect for law in the abstract, naively set the example of
violating it. In this instance the man lags behind the law; but
when the law lags behind the man, he becomes equally an
anarchist. When some huge change in social conditions, such as
the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, throws our legal and industrial institutions out
of date, Anarchism becomes almost a religion. The whole force of
the most energetic geniuses of the time in philosophy, economics,
and art, concentrates itself on demonstrations and reminders that
morality and law are only conventions, fallible and continually
obsolescing. Tragedies in which the heroes are bandits, and
comedies in which law-abiding and conventionally moral folk are
compelled to satirize themselves by outraging the conscience of
the spectators every time they do their duty, appear
simultaneously with economic treatises entitled "What is
Property? Theft!" and with histories of "The Conflict between
Religion and Science."

Now this is not a healthy state of things. The advantages of
living in society are proportionate, not to the freedom of the
individual from a code, but to the complexity and subtlety of the
code he is prepared not only to accept but to uphold as a matter
of such vital importance that a lawbreaker at large is hardly to
be tolerated on any plea. Such an attitude becomes impossible
when the only men who can make themselves heard and remembered
throughout the world spend all their energy in raising our gorge
against current law, current morality, current respect
ability, and legal property. The ordinary man, uneducated in
social theory even when he is schooled in Latin verse, cannot be
set against all the laws of his country and yet persuaded to
regard law in the abstract as vitally necessary to society. Once
he is brought to repudiate the laws and institutions he knows, he
will repudiate the very conception of law and the very groundwork
of institutions, ridiculing human rights, extolling brainless
methods as "historical," and tolerating nothing except pure
empiricism in conduct, with dynamite as the basis of politics and
vivisection as the basis of science. That is hideous; but what is
to be done? Here am I, for instance, by class a respectable man,
by common sense a hater of waste and disorder, by intellectual
constitution legally minded to the verge of pedantry, and by
temperament apprehensive and economically disposed to the limit
of old-maidishness; yet I am, and have always been, and shall now
always be, a revolutionary writer, because our laws make law
impossible; our liberties destroy all freedom; our property is
organized robbery; our morality is an impudent hypocrisy; our
wisdom is administered by inexperienced or malexperienced dupes,
our power wielded by cowards and weaklings, and our honor false
in all its points. I am an enemy of the existing order for good
reasons; but that does not make my attacks any less encouraging
or helpful to people who are its enemies for bad reasons. The
existing order may shriek that if I tell the truth about it, some
foolish person may drive it to become still worse by trying to
assassinate it. I cannot help that, even if I could see what
worse it could do than it is already doing. And the disadvantage
of that worst even from its own point of view is that society,
with all its prisons and bayonets and whips and ostracisms and
starvations, is powerless in the face of the Anarchist who is
prepared to sacrifice his own life in the battle with it. Our
natural safety from the cheap and devastating explosives which
every Russian student can make, and every Russian grenadier has
learnt to handle in Manchuria, lies in the fact that brave and
resolute men, when they are rascals, will not risk their skins
for the good of humanity, and, when they are sympathetic enough
to care for humanity, abhor murder, and never commit it until
their consciences are outraged beyond endurance. The remedy is,
simply not to outrage their consciences.

Do not be afraid that they will not make allowances. All men make
very large allowances indeed before they stake their own lives in
a war to the death with society. Nobody demands or expects the
millennium. But there are two things that must be set right, or
we shall perish, like Rome, of soul atrophy disguised as empire.
The first is, that the daily ceremony of dividing the wealth of
the country among its inhabitants shall be so conducted that no
crumb shall go to any able-bodied adults who are not producing by
their personal exertions not only a full equivalent for what they
take, but a surplus sufficient to provide for their
superannuation and pay back the debt due for their nurture.

The second is that the deliberate infliction of malicious
injuries which now goes on under the name of punishment be
abandoned; so that the thief, the ruffian, the gambler, and the
beggar, may without inhumanity be handed over to the law, and
made to understand that a State which is too humane to punish
will also be too thrifty to waste the life of honest men in
watching or restraining dishonest ones. That is why we do not
imprison dogs. We even take our chance of their first bite. But
if a dog delights to bark and bite, it goes to the lethal
chamber. That seems to me sensible. To allow the dog to expiate
his bite by a period of torment, and then let him loose in a much
more savage condition (for the chain makes a dog savage) to bite
again and expiate again, having meanwhile spent a great deal of
human life and happiness in the task of chaining and feeding and
tormenting him, seems to me idiotic and superstitious. Yet that
is what we do to men who bark and bite and steal. It would be far
more sensible to put up with their vices, as we put up with their
illnesses, until they give more trouble than they are worth, at
which point we should, with many apologies and expressions of
sympathy, and some generosity in complying with their last
wishes, then, place them in the lethal chamber and get rid of
them. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to expiate
their misdeeds by a manufactured penalty, to subscribe to a
charity, or to compensate the victims. If there is to be no
punishment there can be no forgiveness. We shall never have real
moral responsibility until everyone knows that his deeds are
irrevocable, and that his life depends on his usefulness.
Hitherto, alas! humanity has never dared face these hard facts.
We frantically scatter conscience money and invent systems of
conscience banking, with expiatory penalties, atonements,
redemptions, salvations, hospital subscription lists and what
not, to enable us to contract-out of the moral code. Not content
with the old scapegoat and sacrificial lamb, we deify human
saviors, and pray to miraculous virgin intercessors. We attribute
mercy to the inexorable; soothe our consciences after committing
murder by throwing ourselves on the bosom of divine love; and
shrink even from our own gallows because we are forced to admit
that it, at least, is irrevocable--as if one hour of imprisonment
were not as irrevocable as any execution!

If a man cannot look evil in the face without illusion, he will
never know what it really is, or combat it effectually. The few
men who have been able (relatively) to do this have been called
cynics, and have sometimes had an abnormal share of evil in
themselves, corresponding to the abnormal strength of their
minds; but they have never done mischief unless they intended to
do it. That is why great scoundrels have been beneficent rulers
whilst amiable and privately harmless monarchs have ruined their
countries by trusting to the hocus-pocus of innocence and guilt,
reward and punishment, virtuous indignation and pardon, instead
of standing up to the facts without either malice or mercy. Major
Barbara stands up to Bill Walker in that way, with the result
that the ruffian who cannot get hated, has to hate himself. To
relieve this agony be tries to get punished; but the Salvationist
whom he tries to provoke is as merciless as Barbara, and only
prays for him. Then he tries to pay, but can get nobody to take
his money. His doom is the doom of Cain, who, failing to find
either a savior, a policeman, or an almoner to help him to
pretend that his brother's blood no longer cried from the ground,
had to live and die a murderer. Cain took care not to commit
another murder, unlike our railway shareholders (I am one) who
kill and maim shunters by hundreds to save the cost of automatic
couplings, and make atonement by annual subscriptions to
deserving charities. Had Cain been allowed to pay off his score,
he might possibly have killed Adam and Eve for the mere sake of a
second luxurious reconciliation with God afterwards. Bodger, you
may depend on it, will go on to the end of his life poisoning
people with bad whisky, because he can always depend on the
Salvation Army or the Church of England to negotiate a redemption
for him in consideration of a trifling percentage of his profits.
There is a third condition too, which must be fulfilled before
the great teachers of the world will cease to scoff at its
religions. Creeds must become intellectually honest. At present
there is not a single credible established religion in the world.
That is perhaps the most stupendous fact in the whole
world-situation. This play of mine, Major Barbara, is, I hope,
both true and inspired; but whoever says that it all happened,
and that faith in it and understanding of it consist in believing
that it is a record of an actual occurrence, is, to speak
according to Scripture, a fool and a liar, and is hereby solemnly
denounced and cursed as such by me, the author, to all posterity.

London, June 1906.

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