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The Road to Damascus by August Strindberg

Part 6 out of 6

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Miserables_. The peers naturally called him a renegade, and the
socialists a reformer. Number nine. Count Friedrich Leopold von
Stollberg. He wrote a fanatical book for the Protestants, and then
suddenly became a Catholic! Inexplicable in a sensible man. A
miracle, eh? A little journey to Damascus, perhaps? Number ten.
Lafayette. The heroic upholder of freedom, the revolutionary, who
was forced to leave France as a suspected reactionary, because he
wanted to help Louis XVI; and then was captured by the Austrians
and carried off to Olmuetz as a revolutionary! What was he in


MELCHER. Yes, both. He had the two halves that made a whole--a
whole man. Number eleven. Bismarck. A paradox. The honest diplomat,
who maintained he'd discovered that to tell the truth was the
greatest of ruses. And so was compelled--by the Powers, I suppose?--
to spend the last six years of his life unmasking himself as a
conscious liar. You're tired. Then we'll stop now.

STRANGER. Yes, if one clings to the same ideas all one's life, and
holds the same opinions, one grows old according to nature's laws,
and gets called conservative, old-fashioned, out of date. But if
one goes on developing, keeping pace with one's own age, renewing
oneself with the perennially youthful impulses of contemporary
thought, one's called a waverer and a renegade.

MELCHER. That's as old as the world! But does an intelligent, man
heed what he's called? One is, what one's becoming.

STRANGER. But who revises the periodically changing views of
contemporary opinion?

MELCHER. You ought to answer that yourself, and indeed in this way.
It is the Powers themselves who promulgate contemporary opinion, as
they develop in _apparent_ circles. Hegel, the philosopher of the
present, himself dimorphous, for both a 'left'-minded and a
'right'-minded Hegel can always be quoted, has best explained the
contradictions of life, of history and of the spirit, with his own
magic formula. Thesis: affirmation; Antithesis: negation;
Synthesis: comprehension! Young man, or rather, comparatively young
man! You began life by accepting everything, then went on to
denying everything on principle. Now end your life by comprehending
everything. Be exclusive no longer. Do not say: either--or, but:
not only--but also! In a word, or two words rather, Humanity and




[Choir of the Monastery Chapel. An open coffin with a bier cloth
and two burning candles. The CONFESSOR leads in the STRANGER by the
hand. The STRANGER is dressed in the white shirt of the novice.]

CONFESSOR. Have you carefully considered the step you wish to take?

STRANGER. Very carefully.

CONFESSOR. Have you no more questions?

STRANGER. Questions? No.

CONFESSOR. Then stay here, whilst I fetch the Chapter and the
Fathers and Brothers, so that the solemn act may begin.

STRANGER. Yes. Let it come to pass.

(The CONFESSOR goes out. The STRANGER, left alone, is sunk in

TEMPTER (coming forward). Are you ready?

STRANGER. So ready, that I've no answer left for you.

TEMPTER. On the brink of the grave, I understand! You'll have to
lie in your coffin and appear to die; the old Adam will be covered
with three shovelfuls of earth, and a De Profundis will be sung.
Then you'll rise again from the dead, having laid aside your old
name, and be baptized once more like a new-born child! What will
you be called? (The STRANGER does not reply.) It is written:
Johannes, brother Johannes, because he preached in the wilderness
and ...

STRANGER. Do not trouble me.

TEMPTER. Speak to me a little, before you depart into the long
silence. For you'll not be allowed to speak for a whole year.

STRANGER. All the better. Speaking at last becomes a vice, like
drinking. And why speak, if words do not cloak thoughts?

TEMPTER. _You_ at the graveside. ... Was life so bitter?

STRANGER. Yes. My life was.

TEMPTER. Did you never know one pleasure?

STRANGER. Yes, many pleasures; but they were very brief and seemed
only to exist in order to make the pain of their loss the sharper.

TEMPTER. Can't it be put the other way round: that pain exists in
order to make joy more keen?

STRANGER. It can be put in any way.

(A woman enters with a child to be baptized.)

TEMPTER. Look! A little mortal, who's to be consecrated to

STRANGER. Poor child!

TEMPTER. A human history, that's about to begin. (A bridal couple
cross the stage.) And there--what's loveliest, and most bitter.
Adam and Eve in Paradise, that in a week will be a Hell, and in a
fortnight Paradise again.

STRANGER. What is loveliest, brightest! The first, the only, the
last that ever gave life meaning! I, too, once sat in the sunlight
on a verandah, in the spring beneath the first tree to show new
green, and a small crown crowned a head, and a white veil lay like
thin morning mist over a face ... that was not that of a human
being. Then came darkness!

TEMPTER. Whence?

STRANGER. From the light itself. I know no more.

TEMPTER. It could only have been a shadow, for light is needed to
throw shadows; but for darkness no light is needed.

STRANGER. Stop! Or we'll never come to an end.

(The CONFESSOR and the CHAPTER appear in procession.)

TEMPTER (disappearing). Farewell!

CONFESSOR (advancing with a large black bier-cloth). Lord! Grant
him eternal peace!

CHOIR. May he be illumined with perpetual light!

CONFESSOR (wrapping the STRANGER to the bier-cloth). May he rest in

CHOIR. Amen!


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