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Title: The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles Author: George Bernard Shaw * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0300481h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit (HTML) Date first posted: March 2003 Date most recently updated: March 2003 This eBook was produced by: Don Lainson email@example.com Production note: An image file, music.jpg, accompanies this html file. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this or any other Project Gutenberg file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Preface on Days of Judgment
THE SIMPLETON OF THE UNEXPECTED ISLES
Period--Approaching Judgment Day
Scene 1 The Emigration Office at a Tropical Port in the British Empire.
Scene 2 A Grassy Cliff-top overhanging the Sea.
Scene 3 A Shelf of Rock halfway down the Cliff.
ACT I The Lawn of a Stately House on the North Coast of a Tropical Island in the Pacific. About 20 years later.
ACT II The Same. A Fine Forenoon Some Years Later. (During this act the lights are dimmed to denote the passage of time).
The Simple Truth of the Matter
The increasing bewilderment of my journalist critics as to why I should write such plays as The Simpleton culminated in New York in February 1935, when I was described as a dignified old monkey throwing coco-nuts at the public in pure senile devilment. This is an amusing and graphic description of the effect I produce on the newspapers; but as a scientific criticism it is open to the matter-of-fact objection that a play is not a coco-nut nor I a monkey. Yet there is an analogy. A coco-nut is impossible without a suitable climate; and a play is impossible without a suitable civilization. If author and journalist are both placid Panglossians, convinced that their civilization is the best of all possible civilizations, and their countrymen the greatest race on earth: in short, if they have had a university education, there is no trouble: the press notices are laudatory if the play is entertaining. Even if the two are pessimists who agree with Jeremiah that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and with Shakespear that political authority only transforms its wielders into angry apes, there is still no misunderstanding; for that dismal view, or a familiar acquaintance with it, is quite common.
Such perfect understanding covers much more than nine hundred and ninety cases out of every thousand new plays. But it does not cover the cases in which the author and the journalist are not writing against the same background. The simplest are those in which the journalist is ignorant and uncultivated, and the author is assuming a high degree of knowledge and culture in his audience. This occurs oftener than it should; for some newspaper editors think that any reporter who has become stage struck by seeing half a dozen crude melodramas is thereby qualified to deal with Sophocles and Euripides, Shakespear and Goethe, Ibsen and Strindberg, Tolstoy and Tchekov, to say nothing of myself. But the case with which I am concerned here is one in which a reasonably well equipped critic shoots wide because he cannot see the target nor even conceive its existence. The two parties have not the same vision of the world. This sort of vision varies enormously from individual to individual. Between the superstatesman whose vision embraces the whole politically organized world, or the astronomer whose vision of the universe transcends the range of our utmost telescopes, and the peasant who fiercely resists a main drainage scheme for his village because others as well as he will benefit by it, there are many degrees. The Abyssinian Danakil kills a stranger at sight and is continually seeking for an excuse to kill a friend to acquire trophies enough to attract a wife. Livingstone risked his life in Africa every day to save a black man's soul. Livingstone did not say to the sun colored tribesman "There is between me and thee a gulf that nothing can fill": he proposed to fill it by instructing the tribesman on the assumption that the tribesman was as capable mentally as himself, but ignorant. That is my attitude when I write prefaces. My newspaper critics may seem incapable of anything better than the trash they write; but I believe they are capable enough and only lack instruction.
I wonder how many of them have given serious thought to the curious changes that take place in the operation of human credulity and incredulity. I have pointed out on a former occasion that there is just as much evidence for a law of the Conservation of Credulity as of the Conservation of Energy. When we refuse to believe in the miracles of religion for no better reason fundamentally than that we are no longer in the humor for them we refill our minds with the miracles of science, most of which the authors of the Bible would have refused to believe. The humans who have lost their simple childish faith in a flat earth and in Joshua's feat of stopping the sun until he had finished his battle with the Amalekites, find no difficulty in swallowing an expanding boomerang universe.
They will refuse to have their children baptized or circumcized, and insist on their being vaccinated, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence that vaccination has killed thousands of children in quite a horrible way whereas no child has ever been a penny the worse for baptism since John the Baptist recommended it. Religion is the mother of scepticism: Science is the mother of credulity. There is nothing that people will not believe nowadays if only it be presented to them as Science, and nothing they will not disbelieve if it be presented to them as religion. I myself began like that; and I am ending by receiving every scientific statement with dour suspicion whilst giving very respectful consideration to the inspirations and revelations of the prophets and poets. For the shift of credulity from religious divination to scientific invention is very often a relapse from comparatively harmless romance to mischievous and even murderous quackery.
Some credulities have their social uses. They have been invented and imposed on us to secure certain lines of behavior as either desirable for the general good or at least convenient to our rulers. I learned this early in life. My nurse induced me to abstain from certain troublesome activities by threatening that if I indulged in them the cock would come down the chimney. This event seemed to me so apocalyptic that I never dared to provoke it nor even to ask myself in what way I should be the worse for it. Without this device my nurse could not have ruled me when her back was turned. It was the first step towards making me rule myself.
Mahomet, one of the greatest of the prophets of God, found himself in the predicament of my nurse in respect of having to rule a body of Arab chieftains whose vision was not co-extensive with his own, and who therefore could not be trusted, when his back was turned, to behave as he himself would have behaved spontaneously. He did not tell them that if they did such and such things the cock would come down the chimney. They did not know what a chimney was. But he threatened them with the most digusting penances in a future life if they did not live according to his word, and promised them very pleasant times if they did. And as they could not understand his inspiration otherwise than as a spoken communication by a personal messenger he allowed them to believe that the angel Gabriel acted as a celestial postman between him and Allah, the fountain of all inspiration. Except in this way he could not have made them believe in anything but sacred stones and the seven deadly sins.
The Christian churches and the Christian Kings were driven to the same device; and when I evolved beyond the cock and chimney stage I found myself possessed with a firm belief that all my Roman Catholic fellow children would inevitably burn in blazing brimstone to all eternity, and even that I myself, in spite of my Protestant advantages, might come to the same endless end if I were not careful. The whole civilized world seemed to be governed that way in those days. It is so to a considerable extent still. A friend of mine lately asked a leading Irish statesman why he did not resort to a rather soulless stroke of diplomacy. Because, replied the statesman, I happen to believe that there is such a place as hell.
Anywhere else than in Ireland the obsolescence of this explanation would have been startling. For somehow there has been a shift of credulity from hell to perishing suns and the like. I am not thinking of the humanitarian revolt against everlasting brimstone voiced by the late Mrs Bradlaugh Bonner, nor of Tolstoy's insistence on the damnation on earth of the undetected, unpunished, materially prosperous criminal. I am leaving out of the question also the thoughtful, sentimental, honorable, conscientious people who need no hell to intimidate them into considerate social behaviour, and who have naturally outgrown the devil with his barbed tail and horns just as I outgrew the cock in the chimney.
But what of the people who are capable of no restraint except that of intimidation? Must they not be either restrained or, as the Russians gently put it, liquidated. No State can afford the expense of providing policemen enough to watch them all continually; consequently the restraint must, like the fear of hell, operate when nobody is looking. Well, a shift of credulity has destroyed the old belief in hell. How then is the social work previously done by that belief to be taken up and carried on? It is easy to shirk the problem by pointing out that the belief in hell did not prevent even the most superstitious people from committing the most damnable crimes. But though we know of these failures of infernal terrorism we have no record of its successes. We know that naïve attempts to bribe divine justice led to a trade in absolutions, pardons, and indulgences which proved by the hardness of the cash the sinners put down and the cost of the cathedrals they put up that there was a continual overdrawing of salvation accounts by firm believers in the brimstone; but we do not know, and never shall know, how many crimes were refrained from that would have been committed but for the dread of damnation. All we can do is to observe and grapple with the effect of the shift of credulity which has robbed hell of its terrors.
No community, however devout, has ever trusted wholly to damnation and excommunication as deterrents. They have been supplemented by criminal codes of the most hideous barbarity (I have been contemporary with Europeans whose amusements included seeing criminals broken on the wheel). Therefore their effect on conduct must be looked for in that very extensive part of it which has not been touched by the criminal codes, or in which the codes actually encourage anti-social action and penalize its opposite, as when the citizen is forced by taxation or compulsory military service to become an accomplice in some act of vulgar pugnacity and greed disguised as patriotism.
Unless and until we get a new column in the census papers on the point we can only guess how far the shift of credulity has actually taken place in countries like our own in which children, far from being protected against the inculcation of the belief in brimstone, are exposed to it in every possible way, and are actually, when they have been confirmed, legally subject to ruinous penalties for questioning it. It happens, however, that in one of the largest States in the world, Russia, the children are protected from proselytizing (otherwise than by the State itself) not only by the negative method called Secular Education, but by positive instruction that there is no personal life after death for the individual, the teaching being that of Ecclesiastes in our own canon "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest." We may take it that no civilized Russian born within the last twenty years has any apprehension of having to suffer after death for sins committed before it. At the same time the list of activities blacklisted by the Russian State as felonious has been startlingly extended; for the Russian Government has turned the country's economic morals down-side up by breaking away from our Capitalist Utopia and adopting instead the views of the Bolshevist prophets whose invectives and warnings fill the last books of the Old Testament, and the Communist principles of Jesus, Peter, and Paul. Not that the Soviet Republic allows the smallest authority to Jesus or Peter, Jeremiah or Micah the Morasthite. They call their economic system, not Bolshevik Christianity, but Scientific Socialism. But as their conclusions are the same, they have placed every Russian under a legal obligation to earn his own living, and made it a capital crime on his part to compel anyone else to do it for him. Now outside Russia the height of honor and success is to be a gentleman or lady, which means that your living is earned for you by other people (mostly untouchables), and that, far from being under an obligation to work, you are so disgraced by the mere suggestion of it that you dare not be seen carrying a parcel along a fashionable thoroughfare. Nobody has ever seen a lady or gentleman carrying a jug of milk down Bond Street or the rue de la Paix. A white person doing such a thing in Capetown would be socially ruined. The physical activities called Sport, which are needed to keep the gentry in health, must be unpaid and unproductive: if payment is accepted for such activities the payee loses caste and is no longer called Mister. Labor is held to be a cross and a disgrace; and the lowest rank known is that of laborer. The object of everyone's ambition is an unearned income; and hundreds of millions of the country's income are lavished annually on ladies and gentlemen whilst laborers are underfed, ill clothed, and sleeping two or three in a bed and ten in a room.
Eighteen years ago this anti-labor creed of ours was the established religion of the whole civilized world. Then suddenly, in one seventh of that world, it was declared a damnable heresy, and had to be rooted out like any other damnable heresy. But as the heretics were carefully taught at the same time that there is no such thing as damnation, how were they to be dealt with? The well-to-do British Liberal, clamoring for freedom of conscience, objects to heretics being restrained in any way: his panacea for that sort of difficulty is Toleration. He thinks that Quakers and Ritualists should tolerate oneanother; and this solution works quite well because it does not now matter a penny to the State or the individual whether a citizen belongs to one persuasion or the other. But it was not always so. George Fox, the heroic founder of the Quakers, could not hear a church bell without dashing into the church and upsetting the service by denouncing the whole business of ritual religion as idolatrous. The bell, he said, "struck on his heart." Consequently it was not possible for the Churches to tolerate George Fox, though both Cromwell and Charles II liked the man and admired him.
Now the heretic in Russia is like Fox. He is not content with a quiet abstract dissent from the State religion of Soviet Russia: he is an active, violent, venomous saboteur. He plans and carries out breakages of machinery, falsifies books and accounts to produce insolvencies, leaves the fields unsown or the harvests to rot unreaped, and slaughters farm stock in millions even at the cost of being half starved (sometimes wholly starved) by the resultant "famine" in his fanatical hatred of a system which makes it impossible for him to become a gentleman. Toleration is impossible: the heretic-saboteur will not tolerate the State religion; consequently the State could not tolerate him even if it wanted to.
This situation, though new to our generation of Liberal plutocrats, is not new historically. The change from paganism and Judaism to Christianity, from the worship of consecrated stones to an exalted monotheism under Mahomet, and from world Catholicism to national individualism at the Reformation, all led to the persecution and virtual outlawry of the heretics who would not accept the change. The original official Roman Catholic Church, which had perhaps the toughest job, was compelled to develop a new judicial organ, called the Inquisition or Holy Office, to deal with heresy; and though in all the countries in which the Reformation triumphed the Inquisition became so unpopular that its name was carefully avoided when similar organs were developed by the Protestant and later on by the Secularist governments, yet the Holy Office cropped up again under all sorts of disguises. Protestant England would never have tolerated the Star Chamber if it had called itself an Inquisition and given Laud the official title borne by Torquemada. In the end all the specific Inquisitions petered out, not in the least through a growth of real tolerance, but because, as the world settled down into the new faiths, and the heretics stopped sabotaging and slaughtering, it was found that the ordinary courts could do all the necessary persecution, such as transporting laborers for reading the works of Thomas Paine, or imprisoning poor men for making sceptical jokes about the parthenogenesis of Jesus.
Thus the Inquisition came to be remembered in England only as an obsolete abomination which classed respectable Protestants with Jews, and burned both. Conceive, then, our horror when the Inquisition suddenly rose up again in Russia. It began as the Tcheka; then it became the Gay-pay-oo (Ogpu); now it has settled down as part of the ordinary police force. The worst of its work is over: the heretics are either liquidated, converted, or intimidated. But it was indispensable in its prime. The Bolsheviks, infected as they were with English Liberal and Agnostic notions, at first tried to do without it; but the result was that the unfortunate Commissars who had to make the Russian industries and transport services work, found themselves obliged to carry pistols and execute saboteurs and lazy drunkards with their own hands. Such a Commissar was Djerjinsky, now, like Lenin, entombed in the Red Square. He was not a homicidally disposed person; but when it fell to his lot to make the Russian trains run at all costs, he had to force himself to shoot a station master who found it easier to drop telegrams into the waste paper basket than to attend to them. And it was this gentle Djerjinsky who, unable to endure the duties of an executioner (even had he had time for them), organized the Tcheka.
Now the Tcheka, being an Inquisition and not an ordinary police court dealing under written statutes and established precedents with defined offences, and sentencing the offenders to prescribed penalties, had to determine whether certain people were public spirited enough to live in a Communist society, and, if not, to blow their brains out as public nuisances. If you would not work and pull your weight in the Russian boat, then the Tcheka had to make you do it by convincing you that you would be shot if you persisted in your determination to be a gentleman. For the national emergencies were then desperate; and the compulsion to overcome them had to be fiercely in earnest.
I, an old Irishman, am too used to Coercion Acts, suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the like, to have any virtuous indignation left to spare for the blunders and excesses into which the original Tcheka, as a body of well intentioned amateurs, no doubt fell before it had learnt the limits of its business by experience. My object in citing it is to draw attention to the legal novelty and importance of its criterion of human worth. I am careful to say legal novelty because of course the criterion must have been used in the world long before St Paul commanded that "if any would not work, neither should he eat." But our courts have never taken that Communist view: they have always upheld unconditional property, private property, real property, do-what-you-like-with-your-own property, which, when it is insanely extended to the common earth of the country, means the power to make landless people earn the proprietors' livings for them. Such property places the social value of the proprietor beyond question. The propertyless man may be challenged as a rogue and a vagabond to justify himself by doing some honest work; but if he earns a gentleman's living for him he is at once vindicated and patted on the back. Under such conditions we have lost the power of conceiving ourselves as responsible to society for producing a full equivalent of what we consume, and indeed more. On the contrary, every inducement to shirk that primary duty is continually before us. We are taught to think of an Inquisition as a tribunal which has to decide whether we accept the divinity of Christ or are Jews, whether we believe in transubstantiation or merely in the Supper, whether we are prelatists or Presbyterians, whether we accept the authority of the Church or the conclusions of our private judgments as the interpreters of God's will, whether we believe in a triune godhead or a single one, whether we accept the 39 Articles or the Westminster Confession, and so on. Such were the tests of fitness to live accepted by the old Inquisitions. The public never dreams of an economic test except in the form of a Means Test to baffle the attempts of the very poor to become sinecurists like ladies and gentlemen.
My own acquaintance with such a possibility began early in life and shocked me somewhat. My maternal grandfather, a country gentleman who was an accomplished sportsman, was out shooting one day. His dog, growing old, made a mistake: its first. He instantly shot it. I learnt that he always shot his sporting dogs when they were past their work. Later on I heard of African tribes doing the same with their grandparents. When I took seriously to economic studies before electric traction had begun I found that tramway companies had found that the most profitable way of exploiting horses was to work them to death in four years. Planters in certain districts had found the like profitable term for slaves to be eight years. In fully civilized life there was no provision except a savagely penal Poor Law for workers thrown out of our industrial establishments as "too old at forty."
As I happen to be one of those troublesome people who are not convinced that whatever is is right these things set me thinking. My thoughts would now be attributed to Bolshevik propaganda; and pains would be taken by our rulers to stop the propaganda under the impression that this would stop the thoughts; but there was no Bolshevik propaganda in those days; and I can assure the Foreign Office that the landed gentry in the person of my grandfather, the tramway companies, and the capitalist planters, made the question of whether individual dogs and men are worth their salt familiar to me a whole generation before the Tcheka ever existed.
It still seems to me a very pertinent question, as I have to pay away about half my earnings in tribute to the lady-and-gentleman business in order to get permission to live on this earth; and I consider it money very ill spent. For if the people who live on my earnings were changed by some Arabian Nights magician into dogs, and handed over to the sporting successors of my grandfather, they would be shot; and if they were changed into horses or slaves they would be worn out by overwork before their natural time. They are now worn out by underwork.
Nevertheless I do not plead a personal grievance, because though I still amuse myself with professional pursuits and make money by them, I also have acquired the position of a gentleman, and live very comfortably on other people's earnings to an extent which more than compensates me for the depredations of which I am myself the victim. Now my grandfather's dog had no such satisfaction. Neither had the tramway horses nor the slaves, nor have the discarded "too old at forty." In their case there was no proper account keeping. In the nature of things a human creature must incur a considerable debt for its nurture and education (if it gets any) before it becomes productive. And as it can produce under modern conditions much more than it need consume it ought to be possible for it to pay off its debt and provide for its old age in addition to supporting itself during its active period. Of course if you assume that it is no use to itself and is there solely to support ladies and gentlemen, you need not bother about this: you can just leave it to starve when it ceases to be useful to its superiors. But if, discarding this view, you assume that a human creature is created for its own use and should have matters arranged so that it shall live as long as it can, then you will have to go into people's accounts and make them all pay their way. We need no Bolshevik propaganda to lead us to this obvious conclusion; but it makes the special inquisitionary work of the Tcheka intelligible. For the Tcheka was simply carrying out the executive work of a constitution which had abolished the lady and gentleman exactly as the Inquisition carried out the executive work of a catholic constitution which had abolished Jupiter and Diana and Venus and Apollo.
Simple enough; and yet so hard to get into our genteel heads that in making a play about it I have had to detach it altogether from the great Russian change, or any of the actual political changes which threaten to raise it in the National-Socialist and Fascist countries, and to go back to the old vision of a day of reckoning by divine justice for all mankind.
Now the ordinary vision of this event is almost pure bugaboo: we see it as a colossal Old Bailey trial, with the good people helped up into heaven and the bad ones cast headlong into hell; but as to what code of law will govern the judgment and classify the judged as sheep or goats as the case may be we have not troubled to ask. We are clear about Judas Iscariot going to hell and Florence Nightingale to heaven; but we are not so sure about Brutus and Cromwell. Our general knowledge of mankind, if we dare bring it into play, would tell us that an immense majority of the prisoners at the bar will be neither saints nor scoundrels, but borderland cases of extreme psychological complexity. It is easy to say that to divine justice nothing is impossible; but the more divine the justice the more difficult it is to conceive how it could deal with every case as one for heaven or hell. But we think we need not bother about it; for the whole affair is thought of as a grand finish to the human race and all its problems, leaving the survivors in a condition of changeless unprogressive bliss or torment for the rest of eternity.
To me this vision is childish; but I must take people's minds as I find them and build on them as best I can. It is no use my telling them that their vision of judgment is a silly superstition, and that there never will be anything of the kind. The only conclusion the pious will draw is that I, at all events, will go to hell. As to the indifferent and the sceptical, I may do them the mischief against which Jesus vainly warned our missionaries. I may root out of their minds the very desirable conception that they are all responsible to divine justice for the use they make of their lives, and put nothing in its place except a noxious conceit in their emancipation and an exultant impulse to abuse it. The substitution of irresponsibility for responsibility may present itself as an advance; but it is in fact a retreat which may leave its victim much less eligible as a member of a civilized community than the crudest Fundamentalist. A prudent banker would lend money on personal security to Bunyan rather than to Casanova. Certainly I should if I were a banker.
Who shall say, then, that an up-to-date Vision of Judgment is not an interesting subject for a play, especially as events in Russia and elsewhere are making it urgently desirable that believers in the Apocalypse should think out their belief a little? In a living society every day is a day of judgment; and its recognition as such is not the end of all things but the beginning of a real civilization. Hence the fable of The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles. In it I still retain the ancient fancy that the race will be brought to judgment by a supernatural being, coming literally out of the blue; but this inquiry is not whether you believe in Tweedledum or Tweedledee but whether you are a social asset or a social nuisance. And the penalty is liquidation. He has appeared on the stage in the person of Ibsen's button moulder. And as history always follows the stage, the button moulder came to life as Djerjinsky. My Angel comes a day after the fair; but time enough for our people, who know nothing of the button moulder and have been assured by our gentleman-ladylike newspapers that Djerjinsky was a Thug.
The button moulder is a fiction; and my Angel is a fiction. But the pressing need for bringing us to the bar for an investigation of our personal social values is not a fiction. And Djerjinsky is not a fiction. He found that as there are no button moulders and no angels and no heavenly tribunals available, we must set up earthly ones, not to ascertain whether Mr Everyman in the dock has committed this or that act or holds this or that belief, but whether he or she is a creator of social values or a parasitical consumer and destroyer of them.
Unfortunately the word tribunal immediately calls up visions not only of judgment but of punishment and cruelty. Now there need be no more question of either of these abominations than there was in the case of my grandfather's dog. My grandfather would have been horribly ashamed of himself if the dog's death had not been instantaneous and unanticipated. And the idea of punishment never entered either his mind or the dog's. (Djerjinsky, by the way, is believed to have devised a similar method of painless liquidation.) It may be expedient that one man should die for the people; but it does not follow in the least that he should be tortured or terrified. Public savagery may demand that the law shall torment a criminal who does something very provoking; for the Sermon on The Mount is still a dead letter in spite of all the compliments we pay it. But to blow a man's brains out because he cannot for the life of him see why he should not employ labor at a profit, or buy things solely to sell them again for more than he gave for them, or speculate in currency values: all of them activities which have for centuries enjoyed the highest respectability, is an innovation which should be carried out with the utmost possible delicacy if public opinion is to be quite reconciled to it. We have also to reckon with the instinctive shrinking from outright killing which makes so many people sign petitions for the reprieve of even the worst murderers, and take no further interest if a reprieve decrees that their lives shall be taken by the slow torture of imprisonment. Then we have a mass of people who think that murderers should be judicially killed, but that the lives of the most mischievous criminals should be held sacred provided they do not commit murder. To overcome these prejudices we need a greatly increased intolerance of socially injurious conduct and an uncompromising abandonment of punishment and its cruelties, together with a sufficient school inculcation of social responsibility to make every citizen conscious that if his life costs more than it is worth to the community the community may painlessly extinguish it.
The result of this, however, will finally be a demand for codification. The citizen will say "I really must know what I may do and what I may not do without having my head shot off." The reply "You must keep a credit balance always at the national bank" is sufficiently definite if the national accountancy is trustworthy and compulsory unemployment made impossible. In fact it is so definite that it finally takes the matter out of the hands of the Inquisition and makes an overdraft an ordinary offence to be dealt with by the police. But police measures are not enough. Any intelligent and experienced administrator of the criminal law will tell you that there are people who come up for punishment again and again for the same offence, and that punishing them is a cruel waste of time. There should be an Inquisition always available to consider whether these human nuisances should not be put out of their pain, or out of their joy as the case may be. The community must drive a much harder bargain for the privilege of citizenship than it now does; but it must also make the bargain not only practicable but in effect much easier than the present very imperfect bargain. This involves a new social creed. A new social creed involves a new heresy. A new heresy involves an Inquisition. The precedents established by the Inquisition furnish the material for a new legal code. Codification enables the work of the Inquisition to be done by an ordinary court of law. Thereupon the Inquisition, as such, disappears, precisely as the Tcheka has disappeared. Thus it has always been; and thus it ever shall be.
The moral of the dramatic fable of The Simpleton is now clear enough. With amateur Inquisitions under one name or another or no name at work in all directions, from Fascist autos-da-fé to American Vigilance Committees with lynching mobs as torturers and executioners, it is time for us to reconsider our Visions of Judgment, and see whether we cannot change them from old stories in which we no longer believe and new stories which are only too horribly true to serious and responsible public tribunals.
By the way, I had better guard myself against the assumption that because I have introduced into my fable a eugenic experiment in group marriage I am advocating the immediate adoption of that method of peopling the world for immediate practice by my readers. Group marriage is a form of marriage like any other; and it is just as well to remind our western and very insular Imperialists that marriage in the British Empire is startlingly different in the east from marriage in the British Isles; but I have introduced it only to bring into the story the four lovely phantasms who embody all the artistic, romantic, and military ideals of our cultured suburbs. On the Day of Judgment not merely do they cease to exist like the useless and predatory people: it becomes apparent that they never did exist. And, enchanting as they may be to our perfumers, who give us the concentrated odor of the flower without the roots or the clay or even the leaves, let us hope they never will.
ON THE INDIAN OCEAN, April 1935
The emigration office at a tropical port in the British Empire. The office is an annex of the harbor and customs sheds on one side and of the railway station on the other. Placards direct passengers TO THE CUSTOMS and TO THE TRAINS through the open doors right and left respectively. The emigration officer, an unsatisfactory young man of unhealthy habits, is sitting writing at his table in the middle of the room. His clerk is at a standing desk against the wall on the customs side. The officer wears tropical clothes, neither too tidy nor too clean. The clerk is in a shabby dark lounge suit.
THE E. O. [finishing his writing] Is that the lot?
CLERK. It's the lot from the French ship; but there is that case standing over from the Liverpool one.
THE E. O. [exasperated] Now look here, Wilks. Are you the emigration officer here or am I? Did I tell you that that girl was to be sent back or did I not?
WILKS. Well I thought--
THE E. O. What business had you to think? I told you she was to go back. I suppose she tipped you to let her come here and make a scene on the chance of getting round me.
WILKS [hotly] Youll either take that back or prove it.
THE E. O. I will neither take it back nor prove it until you explain why you are letting this girl bother me again, though she has no papers, no passports, and is in excess of the quota without any excuse for it.
WILKS. Who's letting her bother you again? She told the High Commissioner that you turned her down; and he told her she had better see you again.
THE E. O. And why the devil didnt you tell me that at first, instead of blithering about her as if she was a common case?
WILKS. The High Commissioner's daughter was on the ship coming back from school. He came down to meet her. This girl had made friends with her or taken care of her or something.
THE E. O. Thats no good. We cant let her through on that.
WILKS. Well, will you see her?
THE E. O. Is she waiting to see me?
WILKS. She says she's waiting to see what will happen to her.
THE E. O. Same thing, isnt it?
WILKS. I suppose so. But she put it as if there was a difference. I think she's a bit mad. But the Medical Officer says she passes all his tests of sanity, though I could see that he has his doubts.
THE E. O. Oh, shut up. You need a medical test yourself, I think. Fetch her in.
Wilks goes out sulkily through the customs door and returns with a young woman. He leads her to the table and then goes back to his desk.
THE Y. W. Good morning, sir. You dont look as well as you did yesterday. Did you stay up too late?
THE E. O. [nonplussed for the moment] I--er--[Collecting himself] Look here, young lady. You have to answer questions here, not to ask them.
THE Y. W. You have been drinking.
THE E. O. [springing up] What the hell do you mean?
THE Y. W. You have. I smell it.
THE E. O. Very well. Back you go by the next boat, my lady.
THE Y. W. [unmoved] At this hour of the morning too! Dont you know you shouldnt?
THE E. O. [to Wilks] Take her away, you. [To the young woman] Out you go.
THE Y. W. I ought to speak to somebody about it. And look at the state the office is in! Whose business is it to see that it's properly dusted? Let me talk to them for you.
THE E. O. What concern is it of yours?
THE Y. W. I hate to see dust lying about. Look! You could write your name in it. And it's just awful to see a young man drinking before eleven in the morning.
WILKS [propitiatory] Dont say anything about it, Miss: I will see to the dust. Everybody starts the day with a drink here. Dont go talking, Miss, will you?
THE E. O. [suddenly breaking down in tears] You can go and tell who you damn well please. For two pins I'd chuck myself into the harbor and have done with it. This climate is hell: you cant stand it unless you drink til you see blue monkeys.
WILKS. Never mind him, Miss: he has nerves. We all have them here sooner or later, off and on. Here! I'll give you a landing ticket; and you just clear off and say nothing. [He takes a ticket from the table and gives it to her].
THE E. O. [weeping] A man's a slave here worse than a nigger. Spied on, reported on, checked and told off til he's afraid to have a pound note in his pocket or take a glass in his hand for fear of being had up for bribery or drinking. I'm fed up with it. Go and report me and be damned to you: what do I care? [He sniffs and blows his nose, relieved by his outburst].
WILKS. Would you have the kindness to clear out, Miss. We're busy. Youre passed all right: nothing to do but shew the ticket. You wont have to go back: we was only joking.
THE Y. W. But I want to go back. If this place is what he says, it is no place for me. And I did so enjoy the voyage out: I ask nothing better than to begin it all over again.
THE E. O. [with the calm of despair] Let her have her own way, Wilks. Shew her the way to the ship and shew her the way to the dock gate. She can take which she pleases. But get her out of this or I shall commit suicide.
THE Y. W. Why? Arnt you happy? It's not natural not to be happy. I'd be ashamed not to be happy.
THE E. O. What is there to make a man happy here?
THE Y. W. But you dont need to be made happy. You ought to be happy from the inside. Then you wouldnt need things to make you happy.
THE E. O. My inside! Oh Lord!
THE Y. W. Well, you can make your inside all right if you eat properly and stop drinking and keep the office dusted and your nice white clothes clean and tidy. You two are a disgrace.
THE E. O. [roaring with rage] Chuck that woman out.
WILKS. Chuck her yourself. What can I do? [Imploringly to her] If youd only have the goodness to go, Miss. We're so busy this morning.
THE Y. W. But I am a stranger here: I have nobody else to talk to. And you have nothing to do until the next boat comes in.
THE E. O. The next boat is due the day after tomorrow at five in the afternoon. Do you expect us to sit here talking to you until then?
THE Y. W. Well, it's I who have to do most of the talking, isnt it? Couldnt you shew me round the town? I'll pay for the taxi.
THE E. O. [feebly rebellious] Look here: you cant go on like this, you know.
THE Y. W. What were you going to do with yourself this morning if I hadnt come?
THE E. O. I--I--Whats that to you?
THE Y. W. I see you hadnt made up your mind. Let me make it up for you. Put on your hat and come along and shew me round. I seem to spend my life making up other people's minds for them.
THE E. O. [helplessly] All right, all right, all right. You neednt make a ballyhoo about it. But I ask myself--
THE Y. W. Dont ask yourself anything, my child. Let life come to you. March.
THE E. O. [at the railway door, to Wilks, in a last effort to assert himself] Carry on, you. [He goes].
THE Y. W. Wouldnt you like to come too?
WILKS. Yes, Miss; but somebody must stay in the office; and it had better be me than him. I am indispensable.
THE Y. W. What a word! Dispensables and indispensables: there you have the whole world. I wonder am I a dispensable or an indispensable. [She goes out through the railway door].
WILKS [alone] Let life come to you. Sounds all right, that. Let life come to you. Aye; but suppose life doesnt come to you! Look at me! What am I? An empire builder: thats what I am by nature. Cecil Rhodes: thats me. Why am I a clerk with only two shirts to my back, with that young waster wiping his dirty boots on me for doing the work he cant do himself, though he gets all the praise and all the pudding? Because life never came to me like it came to Rhodes. Found his backyard full of diamonds, he did; and nothing to do but wash the clay off them and be a millionaire. I had Rhodes's idea all right. Let the whole earth be England, I said to the school teacher; and let Englishmen govern it. Nobody put that into my head: it came of itself. But what did I find in my backyard? Next door's dead cat. Could I make myself head of a Chartered Company with a dead cat? And when I threw it back over the wall my mother said "You have thrown away your luck, my boy" she says "you shouldnt have thrown it back: you should have passed it on, like a chain letter. Now you will never have no more luck in this world." And no more I have. I says to her "I'll be in the papers yet some day" I says "like Cecil Rhodes: you see if I'm not." "Not you, my lad" she says. "Everything what comes to you you throw it back." Well, so I do. Look at this girl here. "Come with me" she says. And I threw the cat back again. "Somebody must be left in the office" I says. "I am indispensable" I says. And all the time I knew that nobody neednt be in the office, and that any Jew boy could do all I do here and do it better. But I promised my mother I'd get into the papers; and I will. I have that much of the Rhodes touch in me. [He sits at the table and writes on a luggage label; then reads what he has written] "Here lies a man who might have been Cecil Rhodes if he had had Rhodes's luck. Mother, farewell: your son has kept his word." [He ties the label to the lapel of his coat] Wheres that fool's gun? [He opens a drawer and takes out a brandy flask and an automatic pistol, which he throws on the table]. I'll damned well shew em whether I'm an empire builder or not. That lassie shant say that I didnt leave the place tidy either, though she can write in the dust of it with her finger. [He shuts the drawer, and places the chair trimly at the table. Then he goes to his desk and takes out a duster, with which he wipes first the desk and then the table. He replaces the duster in the desk, and takes out a comb and a hand mirror. He tidies his hair; replaces the comb and glass in the desk; closes it and sets the stool in its place before it. He then returns to the table, and empties the flask at a draught]. Now for it. The back of the head: thats the Russian touch. [He takes the pistol and presents it over his shoulder to his occiput]. Let the whole earth be England; and let Englishmen rule it. [Singing] Rule Britannia: Britannia rules the wa--
He blows his brains out and falls dead. The Station Master enters.
THE STATION MASTER. Here! Who's been shooting here? [He sees the body] Wilks!! Dear! dear! dear! What a climate! The fifth this month. [He goes to the door]. Hallo there, Jo. Bring along the stretcher and two or three with you. Mr Wilks has shot himself.
JO [without, cheerfully] Right you are, sir.
THE STATION MASTER. What a climate! Poor old Wilks!
A grassy cliff top overhanging the sea. A seat for promenaders. The young woman and the emigration officer stand on the brink.
THE Y. W. Pity theres no beach. We could bathe.
THE E. O. Not us. Not likely. Theres sharks there. And killer whales, worse than any sharks.
THE Y. W. It looks pretty deep.
THE E. O. I should think it is. The biggest liners can get close up. Like Plymouth. Like Lulworth Cove. Dont stand so close. Theres a sort of fascination in it; and you might get giddy.
They come away from the edge and sit on the seat together: she on his left, he nearest the sea.
THE Y. W. It's lovely here. Better than the town.
THE E. O. Dont deceive yourself. It's a horrible place. The climate is something terrible. Do you know that if you hadnt come in this morning I'd have done myself in.
THE Y. W. Dont talk nonsense. Why should you do yourself in?
THE E. O. Yes I should. I had the gun ready in the drawer of that table. I'd have shot Wilks and then shot myself.
THE Y. W. Why should you shoot poor Wilks? What has he done?
THE E. O. I hate him. He hates me. Everybody here hates everybody else. And the fellow is so confoundedly smug and happy and satisfied: it drives me mad when I can hardly bear my own life. No fear of him shooting himself: not much. So I thought I'd save him the trouble.
THE Y. W. But that would be murder.
THE E. O. Not if I shot myself after. That would make us quits.
THE Y. W. Well, I am surprised to hear a young man like you, in the prime of life as you might say, talking like that. Why dont you get married?
THE E. O. My salary's too small for a white woman. Theyre all snobs; and they want a husband only to take them home out of this.
THE Y. W. Why, it's an earthly paradise.
THE E. O. Tell them so; and see what theyll say to you.
THE Y. W. Well, why not marry a colored woman?
THE E. O. You dont know what youre talking about. Ive tried. But now theyre all educated they wont look at a white man. They tell me I'm ignorant and that I smell bad.
THE Y. W. Well, so you do. You smell of drink and indigestion and sweaty clothes. You were quite disgusting when you tried to make up to me in the taxi. Thats why I got out, and made for the sea air.
THE E. O. [rising hurriedly] I cant stand any more of this. [He takes a wallet of papers from his breast pocket and throws them on the seat]. Hand them in at the office, will you: theyll be wanted there. I am going over.
He makes for the edge of the cliff. But there is a path down the cliff face, invisible from the seat. A native priest, a handsome man in the prime of life, beautifully dressed, rises into view by this path and bars his way.
PRIEST. Pardon, son of empire. This cliff contains the temple of the goddess who is beyond naming, the eternal mother, the seed and the sun, the resurrection and the life. You must not die here. I will send an acolyte to guide you to the cliff of death, which contains the temple of the goddess's brother, the weeder of the garden, the sacred scavenger, the last friend on earth, the prolonger of sleep and the giver of rest. It is not far off: life and death dwell close together: you need prolong your unhappiness only a bare five minutes. The priest there will attend to your remains and see they are disposed of with all becoming rites.
THE E. O. [to the young woman] Is he real; or is it the drink?
THE Y. W. He's real. And, my word! isnt he jolly good looking? [To the priest] Youll excuse this young man, sir, wont you? He's been drinking pretty hard.
THE PRIEST [advancing between them] Blame him not, sweet one. He comes from a strange mad country where the young are taught languages that are dead and histories that are lies, but are never told how to meat and drink and clothe themselves and reproduce their species. They worship strange ancient gods; and they play games with balls marvellously well; but of the great game of life they are ignorant. Here, where they are in the midst of life and loveliness, they die by their own hands to escape what they call the horrors. We do not encourage them to live. The empire is for those who can live in it, not for those who can only die in it. Take your friend to the cliff of death; and bid him farewell tenderly; for he is very unhappy.
THE E. O. Look here: I am an Englishman; and I shall commit suicide where I please. No nigger alive shall dictate to me.
THE PRIEST. It is forbidden.
THE E. O. Who's to stop me? Will you?
The priest shakes his head and makes way for him.
THE Y. W. Oh, you are not going to let him do it, are you?
THE PRIEST [holding her back] We never offer violence to the unhappy. Do not interfere with his destiny.
THE E. O. [planting himself on the edge and facing the abyss] I am going to do it: see? Nobody shall say that I lived a dog's life because I was afraid to make an end of it. [He bends his knees to spring, but cannot]. I WILL. [He makes another effort, bending almost to his haunches, but again fails to make the spring-up a spring-over].
THE PRIEST. Poor fellow! Let me assist you. [He shoots his foot against the E. O.'s posterior and sends him over the cliff].
THE E. O. [in a tone of the strongest remonstrance as he is catapulted into the void] Oh! [A prodigious splash].
THE Y. W. Murderer!
THE PRIEST. Not quite. There are nets below, and a palisade to keep out the sharks. The shock will do him good.
THE Y. W. Well, I never!
THE PRIEST. Come, young rose blossom, and feast with us in the temple.
THE Y. W. Not so much rose blossom, young man. Are there any priestesses down there?
THE PRIEST. Of course. How can men feast without women?
THE Y. W. Well, let life come to you I always say; and dont cry out until youre hurt. After you, sir.
A shelf of rock half way down the cliff forms an esplanade between the sea and a series of gigantic images of oriental deities in shallow alcoves cut in the face of the wall of rock. A feast of fruit and bread and soft drinks is spread on the ground. The young woman is sitting at it between the priest on her right nearest the sea and a very handsome young native priestess in robes of dusky yellow silk on her left nearest the images.
THE Y. W. You know, to me this is a funny sort of lunch. You begin with the dessert. We begin with the entrées. I suppose it's all right; but I have eaten so much fruit and bread and stuff that I dont feel I want any meat.
THE PRIEST. We shall not offer you any. We dont eat it.
THE Y. W. Then how do you keep up your strength?
THE PRIEST. It keeps itself up.
THE Y. W. Oh, how could that be? [To the priestess] You wouldnt like a husband that didnt eat plenty of meat, would you? But then youre a priestess; so I suppose it doesnt matter to you, as you cant marry.
THE PRIESTESS. I am married.
THE Y. W. Oh! And you a priestess!
THE PRIESTESS. I could not be a priestess if I were not married. How could I presume to teach others without a completed human experience? How could I deal with children if I were not a mother?
THE Y. W. But that isnt right. My sister was a teacher; but when she married they took her job away from her and wouldnt let her teach any more.
THE PRIESTESS. The rulers of your country must be mad.
THE Y. W. Oh no. Theyre all right: just like other people. [To the priest] I say, reverend. What about the poor lad you kicked over the cliff? Is he really safe? I dont feel easy about him.
THE PRIEST. His clothes are drying in the sun. They will lend him some clothes and send him up here as soon as he has recovered from his ducking.
An English lady tourist, Baedeker in hand, has wandered in, trying to identify the images with the aid of her book. She now comes behind the seated group and accosts the priest.
THE L. T. Excuse me; but can you tell me which of these figures is the principal god?
THE PRIEST [rising courteously] The principal one? I do not understand.
THE L. T. I get lost among all these different gods: it is so difficult to know which is which.
THE PRIEST. They are not different gods. They are all god.
THE L. T. But how can that be? The figures are different.
THE PRIEST. God has many aspects.
THE L. T. But all these names in the guide book?
THE PRIEST. God has many names.
THE L. T. Not with us, you know.
THE PRIEST. Yes: even with you. The Father, the Son, the Spirit, the Immaculate Mother--
THE L. T. Excuse me. We are not Catholics.
THE PRIESTESS [sharply] Are your temples then labelled "For men only"?
THE L. T. [shocked] Oh, really! So sorry to have troubled you. [She hurries away].
THE PRIEST [resuming his seat] You should not be rude to the poor lady. She is English, and doesn’t understand.
THE PRIESTESS. I find these heathen idolaters very trying. Is it really kind to treat them according to their folly instead of to our wisdom?
THE Y. W. Here! Steady on, you. Who are you calling heathen idolaters? Look at all those images. I should say, if you ask me, that the boot is on the other leg.
THE PRIEST. Those images are not idols: they are personifications of the forces of nature by which we all live. But of course to an idolater they are idols.
THE Y. W. You talk a lot about religion here. Cant you think of something livelier? I always say let life come to you; and dont bother about religion.
THE PRIESTESS. An excellent rule. But the more you let life come to you, the more you will find yourself bothering about religion.
The Emigration Officer rises into view in a spotless white robe. He is clean and rather pale, but looks regenerated.
THE Y. W. Oh boy, you do look the better for your dip. Why, he's an angel, a lamb. What have you done to him?
THE E. O. [seating himself at the end of the table with his back to the sea] Well, if you want to know, this blighter kicked me into the sea; and when I'd swallowed a ton or two of your best salt water they fished me out in a net and emptied me out. I brought up my immortal soul. They gave me what I thought was a nice cup of their tea to settle my stomach; but it made me ten times as sick as I was before. Theres nothing of the man you met this morning left except his skin and bones. You may regard me as to all intents and purposes born again.
THE PRIEST. Do you still wish to kill yourself?
THE E. O. When you have been through what I have been through since they fished me out of the water you wont worry about trifles as I used to, old man.
THE Y. W. Thats right. Let life come to you, I always say.
THE E. O. Yes, let life come. The premises are quite empty.
THE LADY TOURIST [returning and addressing the priest] Excuse me; but I have been thinking so much about you since you spoke to me. Would you mind accepting and reading this little tract?
THE PRIEST [rising and coming forward to her, meanwhile reading the title with a polite show of interest] "Where will you spend eternity?"
THE L. T. [strangely moved] I have been haunted by your face. I could not bear to think of your spending eternity in torment. I feel sure it is a Christian face.
THE PRIEST. It is very kind of you. I will read the tract with the greatest attention. Thank you.
The lady, having no excuse for staying, moves away reluctantly towards the images.
THE PRIESTESS [calling after her imperiously] Where have you spent eternity so far, may I ask? That which has no end can have no beginning?
THE L. T. Excuse me: I have no desire to speak to you.
THE Y. W. [indicating the priest] Fallen in love with him, have you? Well, let yourself rip. Let life come to you.
THE L. T. Oh! How dare you? Really! Really!! [She goes out indignantly].
THE PRIESTESS. Another conquest, Pra?
THE Y. W. Is his name Pra?
THE PRIESTESS. He has many names; but he answers to Pra when you call him.
THE Y. W. Oh, what a way to put it! The man isnt a dog, is he?
THE PRIESTESS. He inspires a doglike devotion in women. He once did in me; so I know.
THE PRIEST. Dont be vindictive, Prola. I dont do it on purpose. [He sits down again, this time next to her on her left].
THE PRIESTESS. No: you do it by instinct. That, also, is rather doglike.
THE PRIEST. No matter: I shall soon get the poor lady beyond the doglike stage.
THE E. O. [who has been unable to take his eyes off the priestess] Is your name Prola?
THE PRIEST. She has many names: some of them terrible ones; but she answers to Prola when you call her.
THE PRIESTESS. Young man: are my eyes like the fishpools of Heshbon?
THE E. O. Well, I have never seen the fishpools of Heshbon; but your eyes make me feel like that.
THE Y. W. Seems to me theres some sort of magic about this old cave thats dangerous. If you don’t mind, I'll bid you all good morning. I always say let life come to you; but here it's coming a bit too thick for me. [She rises].
THE PRIESTESS. Wait. We can share him.
THE Y. W. Well I never! [She flops back into her seat, flabbergasted].
THE PRIESTESS. Hush. Look.
The Lady Tourist returns and again goes to the priest.
THE L. T. Excuse me; but could I have a word with you alone?
THE PRIEST [rising] Certainly. Come with me.
They go into the caves together.
THE E. O. What about a word with me alone, Prola?
THE Y. W. [with redoubled emphasis] Well I NEVER!!
THE PRIESTESS [to the Officer] You are not yet sufficiently regenerated. But you may hope.
THE Y. W. You take care, boy. I think youve got a touch of the sun. You cant be too careful in the tropics.
An English male tourist enters from among the images. He is on the young side of middle age, with pleasant aristocratic appearance and manners.
THE M. T. Excuse me: I have mislaid my wife. English lady with a guide book. Wears glasses. Bi-focals.
THE Y. W. Her husband! Oh, I say!
THE E. O. [rising deferentially] Just left us, Sir Charles.
THE M. T. Hallo! Weve met before, I think, havnt we?
THE E. O. When you landed, Sir Charles. I am the emigration officer.
SIR CHARLES. Ah, of course: yes. You know Lady Farwaters by sight. Which way did she go?
THE E. O. I am sorry: I didnt notice.
SIR CHARLES [worried] I wonder what she can be doing.
THE Y. W. So do I.
SIR CHARLES. I beg your pardon?
THE Y. W. Granted.
THE PRIESTESS [rising and coming to him] May I shew you round the temple, Sir Charles? We shall probably find her there.
SIR CHARLES [who has not yet hitherto looked particularly at her] No thank you, no, no.
THE PRIESTESS. It is interesting. I am not a professional guide: I am a priestess; and I will see that you are not asked for anything. You had better come with me.
SIR CHARLES. No: I--[he looks at her. His tone changes instantly]. Well, yes, if you will be so good. Certainly. Thank you.
They go into the alcoves together.
THE Y. W. [leaving the table] Oh boy, what do you think of this abode of love? Lady Farwaters, as white as Canterbury veal, has fallen for a brown bishop; and her husband, the whitest English west-end white, has been carried off to her den by an amber colored snake charmer. Lets get out of it while we're safe.
THE E. O. I feel quite safe, thank you. I have been cleaned up. You havnt.
THE Y. W. What do you mean, I havnt?
THE E. O. I mean that you were quite right to object to me half an hour ago. Your offensive personal remarks were fully justified. But now the tables are turned. I havnt gone through the fire; but Ive gone through the water. And the water has gone through me. It is for me now to object and to make personal remarks.
THE Y. W. Make as much as one; and you will get your face smacked.
THE E. O. [seizing her by the wrist and the back of her collar] Go and get cleaned up, you disgusting little devil. [He rushes her to the edge].
THE Y. W. [screaming] No.
THE E. O. Yes. [He hurls her over].
A scream cut short by a splash. The E. O. sits down at the table and attacks the remains of the feast ravenously.
THE PROLOGUE ENDS
The lawn of a stately house on the north coast of a tropical island in the Pacific commands a fine view of the ocean and of a breakwater enclosing a harbor, large enough to accommodate a fleet, but at present shipless. The western face of the house is reached by a terrace and a flight of steps. The steps lead down to a crescent formed by two curved stone seats separated by a patch of sward surrounding a circular well with a low marble parapet. This parapet, like the stone seats, has silk cushions scattered about it.
Behind the crescent the lawn is banked to a higher level and becomes a flower garden, sheltered from the wind by shrubberies. To the west of the flower garden the lawn falls away to the sea, but not to sea level, all that is visible of the port being the top of the lighthouse. There are trees enough in all directions to provide shade everywhere.
However, the raised flower garden is the centre of interest; for in it are four shrines marking the corners of a square. In the two foremost shrines two girl-goddesses sit crosslegged. In the two further ones two youthful gods are sitting in the same fashion. The ages of the four appear to be between 17 and 20. They are magically beautiful in their Indian dresses, softly brilliant, making the tropical flowers of the garden seem almost crude beside them. Their expressions are intent, grave, and inscrutable. They face south with their backs to the sea. The goddess to the east has raven black hair, a swarthy skin, and robes of a thousand shades of deep carnation, in contrast to the younger one on her right, who is a ravishing blonde in a diaphanous white and gold sari. There is a parallel contrast between the two youths, the one on the west being the younger and more delicate, and the one on his left older and more powerfully framed.
The four figures give the garden a hieratic aspect which has its effect on a young English clergyman, who wanders into the grounds at the north west corner, looking curiously and apprehensively about him with the air of a stranger who is trespassing. When he catches sight of the four figures he starts nervously and whips off his hat; then approaches them on tiptoe. He has a baby complexion, and a childish expression, credulous and disarmingly propitiatory. His age is at most 24.
Down the steps at this moment comes Pra, about twenty years older than when we saw him last, but splendidly preserved. His approach is dignified and even courteous, though not warmly so. He evidently wants to know what the stranger is doing in his garden.
THE CLERGYMAN [nervously, hat in hand] I beg your pardon. I fear I am trespassing. I am a stranger here; and I could not find a road up from the beach. I thought I might cut across through your grounds. [Indicating the figures] But I assure you I had no idea I was intruding on consecrated ground.
PRA. You are not on consecrated ground, except in so far as all ground is consecrated.
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, excuse me. I thought--those idols--
THE CLERGYMAN. No, of course not idols. I meant those gods and goddesses--
PRA. They are very beautiful, are they not? [He speaks without awe or enthusiasm, with a touch of pity for the parson and weariness on his own part].
THE CLERGYMAN. They are most beautiful. Quite marvellous even to me, an English clergyman. I can hardly wonder at your worshipping them, though of course you shouldnt.
PRA. Beauty is worshipful, within limits. When you have worshipped your fill may I shew you the shortest way out? It is through the house. Where do you wish to go, by the way?
THE CLERGYMAN. I dont know. I am lost.
THE CLERGYMAN. Yes, quite lost. I dont know where I am. I mean I dont even know what country I am in.
PRA. You are in the Unexpected Isles, a Crown Colony of the British Empire.
THE CLERGYMAN. Do you mean the isles that came up out of the sea when I was a baby.
PRA. Yes. [Pointing to the breakwater] That is the harbor of the port of Good Adventure.
THE CLERGYMAN. They put me on shore there.
PRA. Who put you on shore?
THE CLERGYMAN. The pirates.
THE CLERGYMAN. Yes. I was their chaplain.
PRA. You were their--! [He turns to the house and calls] Prola. Prola.
PROLA'S VOICE. Yes. What is it?
PRA. Come out here.
Prola comes down the steps. She, like Pra, is twenty years older; but the years have only made her beauty more impressive.
THE CLERGYMAN [gaping at her in an undisguised awe and admiration] Oh dear! Is this the lady of the house?
PROLA [coming past Pra to the Clergyman] Who is this gentleman?
PRA. He does not seem to know. I think he has escaped from the asylum.
THE CLERGYMAN [distressed] Oh, dear beautiful lady, I am not mad. Everybody thinks I am. Nobody believes what I say, though it is the simple truth. I know it is very hard to believe.
PROLA. In the Unexpected Isles nothing is unbelievable. How did you get in here?
THE CLERGYMAN. I lost my way trying to find a short cut up from the beach. I climbed the fence. I am so sorry.
PROLA. Really sorry?
THE CLERGYMAN. I did not mean to intrude. I apologize most sincerely.
PROLA. I did not ask you to apologize: you are quite welcome. I asked were you really sorry. Do you regret finding yourself in this garden?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh no. It's like the Garden of Eden: I should like to stay here forever. [Suddenly breaking down to the verge of tears] I have nowhere to go.
PROLA. Perhaps he is weak with hunger.
THE CLERGYMAN. No: it's not that. I have been under a great strain for a long time; and now that I have escaped--and the beauty of those four--and your lovely awfulness--and--oh [collapsing on the stone seat] I am making a fool of myself. I always make a fool of myself. Dont mind me.
PRA. He thinks he has been chaplain in a pirate ship.
THE CLERGYMAN [rising in desperate protest] But I have. I have. They kidnapped me at Weston Super Mare where I was doing locum tenens for the Rector of Saint Biddulphs. It was on a Sunday afternoon: I had my clerical clothes on after taking the afternoon service. "You look so innocent and respectable" they said. "Just what we want!" They took me all over the world, where I couldnt speak the language and couldnt explain.
PRA. And they wanted you to minister to them spiritually?
THE CLERGYMAN. No no: that was what was so dreadful. They were crooks, racketeers, smugglers, pirates, anything that paid them. They used me to make people believe that they were respectable. They were often so bored that they made me hold a service and preach; but it was only to make themselves ill laughing at me. Though perhaps I shouldnt say that. Some of them were such dear nice fellows: they assured me it did them no end of good. But they got tired of me and put me ashore here. [He again resorts to the stone seat, clasping his temples distractedly] Oh dear! oh dear! nothing ever happens to me that happens to other people. And all because I was not a natural baby. I was a nitrogen baby.
PROLA. A nitrogen baby!
PRA [to Prola] Steady. There may be something in this. [He goes to the clergyman and sits down beside him] What do you mean by a nitrogen baby?
THE CLERGYMAN. You see, my father is a famous biological chemist.
PROLA. I do not see. Your father may be a biological chemist; but biological chemists' children are like other people's children.
THE CLERGYMAN. No. No, I assure you. Not my father's children. You dont know my father. Even my Christian name is Phosphor.
PRA. Is what?
THE CLERGYMAN. Phosphor. [He spells it] P.H.O.S.P.H.O.R. The name of the morning star. Phosphorus, you know. The stuff they make matches with. Such a name to baptize a boy by! Please dont call me by it.
PRA. Come come! Neither your father nor your godfathers and godmothers could change your human nature by giving you an unusual name in baptism.
THE CLERGYMAN. But it wasnt only the name. My father fed our cows on nitrogen grass.
PRA. Nitrogen gas, you mean.
THE CLERGYMAN. No: nitrogen grass. Some sort of grass that came up when he sprinkled our fields with chemicals. The cows ate it; and their butter was very yellow and awfully rich. So was the milk. I was fed on that sort of milk and butter. And the wheat in my bread was grown from special nitrates that my father made.
PRA [to Prola] I believe he is not mad after all.
THE CLERGYMAN. I assure you I am not. I am weakminded; but I am not mad.
PRA. I have read some very interesting articles about this by an English chemist named Hammingtap.
THE CLERGYMAN. Thats my father. My name is Hammingtap. The old family name is Hummingtop; but my grandfather changed it when he was at Oxford.
PRA. Prola: our young friend here may really be a new sort of man. Shall we go in and tell the others about him? We might take him into the family for a while, as an experiment.
THE CLERGYMAN [alarmed] Oh please, no. Why does everyone want to make an experiment of me?
PROLA. All men and women are experiments. What is your religion?
THE CLERGYMAN. The Christian religion, of course. I am a clergyman.
PROLA. What is the Christian religion?
THE CLERGYMAN. Well, it is--well, I suppose it is the Christian religion. I thought everybody knew. But then of course you are a heathen.
PROLA. What does the Christian religion mean to you?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, to me it means everything that is good and lovely and kind and holy. I don’t profess to go any further than that.
PROLA. You need not. You had better not. Wait here until we return. We may find some use for you. Come, Pra.
She goes up the steps into the house, followed by Pra. The Clergyman, left with the four figures, looks at them, looks round to make sure that nobody is watching. Then he steals up to the fair goddess.
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, how lovely you are! How I wish you were alive and I could kiss your living lips instead of the paint on a hard wooden image. I wonder is it idolatry to adore you? St Peter in Rome is only a bronze image; but his feet have been worn away by the kisses of Christian pilgrims. You make me feel as I have never felt before. I must kiss you. [He does so and finds that she is alive. She smiles as her eyes turn bewitchingly towards him]. Oh!!! [He stands gasping, palpitating].
THE ELDER YOUTH. Beware.
THE YOUNGER. On guard.
THE FAIR GIRL. Let him worship. His lips are sweet and pure.
THE DARK ONE. "For he on honey dew hath fed"--
THE FAIR ONE.--"and drunk the milk of paradise."
THE DARK ONE. I, Vashti, can see his aura. It is violet.
THE FAIR ONE. I, Maya, can see his halo. It is silvery.
VASHTI. Blessed are the shining ones!
MAYA. Blessed are the simple ones!
THE ELDER YOUTH. Beware. I, Janga, warn thee.
THE YOUNGER YOUTH. On guard. I, Kanchin, shew thee the red light.
JANGA. Their eyebrows are drawn bows.
KANCHIN. Their arrows feel sweet in the heart--
JANGA.--but are deadly.
KANCHIN. The ground within reach of their arms is enchanted.
JANGA. Vashti is lovely even to her brothers.
KANCHIN. Little children would die for Maya.
KANCHIN. On guard.
JANGA. Trust them not.
KANCHIN. They will break thy spear.
JANGA. They will pierce thy shield.
VASHTI. Fear not, beginner: I will strengthen thee.
MAYA. Strive not, beloved: I will keep thy soul for thee.
THE 2 YOUTHS [together, fortissimo] Beware.
The two girl-goddesses suddenly and simultaneously spring from their shrines and march down upon him, Vashti to his left, Maya to his right.
VASHTI. Dare you tread the plains of heaven with us, young pilgrim?
MAYA. We are waves of life in a sea of bliss. Dare you breast them, young swimmer?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, I dont know whether you are gods and goddesses or real people. I only know that you fill my heart with inexpressible longings.
MAYA. We are the awakening.
VASHTI. We are the way.
MAYA. We are the life.
VASHTI. I am the light. Look at me. [She throws her arm round him and turns his face to hers].
MAYA. I am the fire. Feel how it glows [She also throws her arm round him].
LADY FARWATERS comes from the house, and pauses at the top of the steps to take in what is going on.
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, one at a time, please.
VASHTI. Perfect love casteth out choice.
MAYA. In love there is neither division nor measure.
LADY FARWATERS [rushing to him and dragging him away from them] Stop it, children: you are driving the man mad. Go away, all of you.
The two youths spring from their pedestals and whirl the girls away through the shrubberies.
VASHTI [invisible, calling] I will return in dreams.
MAYA [similarly] I leave my arrow in your heart.
LADY FARWATERS. You musnt mind them.
Prola and Pra come down the steps, followed by Sir Charles Farwaters and by Hugo Hyering C.B. and Mrs Hyering. Hyering is the former emigration officer, now an elderly and very different man, disciplined, responsible and well groomed. His wife is the emigrant girl twenty years older and better drilled socially, but still very much her old self. Lady Farwaters, once a gaunt and affected tourist visiting cave temples and distributing tracts to the heathen, is now a bland and attractive matron.
PRA. Mr Hammingtap: let me introduce you to the Governor of the Unexpected Isles, Sir Charles Farwaters.
SIR CHARLES [offering his hand] How do you do, Mr Hammingtap?
THE CLERGYMAN [jerkily nervous] Very pleased. [They shake hands].
Sir Charles sits down in the middle of the stone seat nearest the steps.
PRA. Lady Farwaters.
LADY FARWATERS [smiles and proffers her hand]!
THE CLERGYMAN. Most kind--er. [He shakes].
Lady Farwaters sits down in the middle of the other stone seat.
PRA. This is Mr Hugo Hyering, political secretary to the Isles.
THE CLERGYMAN. How do you do, Sir Hugo?
HYERING [shaking hands] Not Sir Hugo. [Introducing] Mrs Hyering.
MRS HYERING [shaking hands] C.B., in case you are addressing a letter. [She sits down on Sir Charles's left].
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, I am so sorry.
HYERING. Not at all. [He sits on Lady Farwaters' right].
PRA [indicating the parapet of the well] You had better sit here.
THE CLERGYMAN [sitting down as directed] Thank you.
Prola sits down on Sir Charles's left, and Pra on Lady Farwaters' left.
LADY FARWATERS. You have made the acquaintance of our four children, Mr Hammingtap?
THE CLERGYMAN. I couldnt help it. I mean--
PROLA. We know what you mean. You need not explain.
THE CLERGYMAN. But I assure you I--that is--
MRS HYERING. Dont apologize, Mr Hammingtap. We know quite well what our daughters are capable of when they are attracted by a young stranger.
THE CLERGYMAN. I did not understand. They are so sunburnt, and their dresses are so eastern: I thought they were orientals.
SIR CHARLES. They are half orientals. You see, the family is a mixed one. This lady, whom you may address as Prola, and this gentleman, known as Pra, are both entirely oriental, and very dominant personalities at that; so that naturally our children would have a strong oriental strain, would they not?
THE CLERGYMAN [hastily] Oh, of course. Quite. Certainly. [He looks piteously at their gracious unconcerned faces, which tell him nothing]. I beg your pardon. I am frightfully sorry; but my nerves are in rags; and I cannot follow what you are saying.
HYERING. Oh yes you can. It's all right: you have understood perfectly.
MRS HYERING. Buck up, Mr Hammingtap. Let life come to you.
LADY FARWATERS. Our family arrangements are not those usual in England. We are making a little domestic experiment--
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, not an experiment, I hope. Chemical experiments are bad enough: I am one myself; but they are scientific. I dont think I could countenance a domestic experiment. And in spite of what you say I am not sure that I am not going mad.
SIR CHARLES. We are distracting you. Let us change the subject. Would you like to be a bishop?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh dear! Can you make me one?
SIR CHARLES. Well, my recommendation would probably be decisive. A bishop is needed here: a bishop in partibus infidelium. Providence seems to have thrown you on this shore for the purpose, like Jonah. Will you undertake it?
THE CLERGYMAN. I should like to have a bishop's salary, certainly. But unfortunately I am weak-minded.
SIR CHARLES. Many bishops are; and they are the best sort. A strongminded bishop is a horror.
THE CLERGYMAN. I am too young.
SIR CHARLES. You will not remain so. Most bishops are too old.
THE CLERGYMAN [tempted] It would be rather a lark, wouldnt it?
MRS HYERING. Thats right, Mr Hammingtap: let life come to you.
PRA. What objection have you to be a bishop?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, none, I assure you. Of course no clergyman could object to be a bishop. But why do you want to make me one?
SIR CHARLES. I will be quite frank with you, Mr Hammingtap. Twenty years ago my wife and I, with Mr and Mrs Hyering, joined this eastern gentleman and his colleague in a eugenic experiment. Its object was to try out the result of a biological blend of the flesh and spirit of the west with the flesh and spirit of the east. We formed a family of six parents.
THE CLERGYMAN. Six?
SIR CHARLES. Yes, six. The result has been a little disappointing from the point of view of numbers; but we have produced four children, two of each sex, and educated them in the most enlightened manner we were capable of. They have now grown up; consequently the time has arrived when the family group must be extended by young persons of their own age, so that the group may produce a second generation. Now sooner or later this extension of the family group will set people talking.
THE CLERGYMAN. It would strike my people dumb, if I grasp your meaning rightly.
SIR CHARLES. You do. I mean exactly what I say. There will be a struggle with public opinion in the empire. We shall not shirk it: it is part of our plan to open people's minds on the subject of eugenics and the need for mixing not only western and eastern culture but eastern and western blood. Still, we do not want to be stopped, as the Mormons were, or as the Oneida Community would have been if it had not voluntarily broken up. We want to set the intelligent people talking, and to strike the stupid people dumb. And we think we could do both by adding a bishop to the family.
MRS HYERING. And that is where you come in, young man.
PRA. There is another consideration that weighs with us: at least with me. I am convinced that there is something lacking in the constitution of the children. It may be a deficiency of nitrogen. It certainly is a deficiency of something that is essential to a complete social human being.
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, I cannot believe that. They seemed to me to be quite perfect. I cannot imagine anyone more perfect than Maya.
PRA. Well, what did you think of Maya's conscience, for example?
THE CLERGYMAN [bewildered] Her conscience? I suppose--I dont know--I--
PRA. Precisely. You dont know. Well, we do know. Our four wonderful children have all sorts of talents, all sorts of accomplishments, all sorts of charms. And we are heartily tired of all their attractions because, though they have artistic consciences, and would die rather than do anything ugly or vulgar or common, they have not between the whole four of them a scrap of moral conscience. They have been very carefully fed: all the vitamins that the biological chemists have discovered are provided in their diet. All their glands are scientifically nourished. Their physical health is perfect. Unfortunately the biological chemists have not yet discovered either the gland that produces and regulates the moral conscience or the vitamins that nourish it. Have you a conscience, Mr Hammingtap?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh yes: I wish I hadnt. It tortures me. You know, I should have enjoyed being a pirate's chaplain sometimes if it hadnt been for my terrible conscience. It has made my life one long remorse; for I have never had the strength of mind to act up to it.
PRA. That suggests very strongly that the conscientious man is, chemically speaking, the nitrogenic man. Here, then, we have four young adults, insufficiently nitrogenized, and therefore deficient in conscience. Here also we have a young adult saturated with nitrogen from his cradle, and suffering from a morbid excess of conscience. A union between him and our girls is clearly indicated.
THE CLERGYMAN. You mean that I ought to marry one of them?
PRA. Not at all. They would regard that as an invidious proceeding.
THE CLERGYMAN. Invidious! I dont understand.
LADY FARWATERS [goodnaturedly] Let me try to break it to you, Mr Hammingtap. The two girls attract you very much, dont they?
THE CLERGYMAN. How can one help being attracted, Lady Farwaters? Theyre quite beautiful.
LADY FARWATERS. Both of them?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, as a clergyman I could not be attracted by more than one at a time. Still, somehow, I seem to love them all in an inexpressible sort of way. Only, if there were any question of marriage, I should have to choose.
PROLA. And which would you choose?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh, I should choose Maya.
PROLA. Maya would at once reject you.
THE CLERGYMAN [much dejected] I suppose so. I know I am no catch for Maya. Still, she was very kind to me. In fact--but perhaps I oughtnt to tell you this--she kissed me.
SIR CHARLES. Indeed? That shews that she contemplates a union with you.
LADY FARWATERS. You must not think she would reject you on the ground of any personal unworthiness on your part.
THE CLERGYMAN. Then on what ground? Oh, I shouldnt have kissed her.
MRS HYERING. Oho! You said it was she who kissed you.
THE CLERGYMAN. Yes: I know I should have explained that. But she let me kiss her.
MRS HYERING. That must have been a thrill, Mr Hammingtap. Life came to you that time, didnt it?
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh please, I cant speak of it. But why should she reject me if I make her an honorable proposal?
LADY FARWATERS. Because she will consider your honorable proposal dishonorable, Mr Hammingtap, unless it includes all the ladies of the family. You will not be allowed to pick and choose and make distinctions. You marry all or none.
THE CLERGYMAN. Oh dear! My poor little brain is giving way. I cant make sense of what you are saying. I know that your meaning must be perfectly right and respectable, Lady Farwaters; but it sounds like a dreadful sort of wickedness.
LADY FARWATERS. May I try to explain?
THE CLERGYMAN. Please do, Lady Farwaters. But I wish you wouldnt call me Mr Hammingtap. I am accustomed to be called Iddy among friends.
MRS HYERING. What does Iddy stand for?
THE CLERGYMAN. Well, in our home I was known as the idiot.
MRS HYERING. Oh! I am sorry: I didnt know.
THE CLERGYMAN. Not at all. My sister was the Kiddy; so I became the Iddy. Do please call me that. And be kind to me. I am weakminded and lose my head very easily; and I can see that you are all wonderfully clever and strongminded. That is why I could be so happy here. I can take in anything if you will only tell it to me in a gentle hushabyebaby sort of way and call me Iddy. Now go on, Lady Farwaters. Excuse me for interrupting you so long.
LADY FARWATERS. You see, Iddy--
IDDY. Oh, thanks!
LADY FARWATERS [continuing]--our four children are not like European children and not like Asiatic children. They have the east in their brains and the west in their blood. And at the same time they have the east in their blood and the west in their brains. Well, from the time when as tiny tots they could speak, they invented fairy stories. I thought it silly and dangerous, and wanted to stop them; but Prola would not let me: she taught them a game called the heavenly parliament in which all of them told tales and added them to the general stock until a fairyland was built up, with laws and religious rituals, and finally a great institution which they called the Superfamily. It began by my telling them in my old conventional English way to love oneanother; but they would not have that at all: they said it was vulgar nonsense and made them interfere with oneanother and hate oneanother. Then they hit out for themselves the idea that they were not to love oneanother, but that they were to be oneanother.
IDDY. To be oneanother! I dont understand.
SIR CHARLES. Neither do I. Pra and Prola think they understand it; but Lady Farwaters and I dont; and we dont pretend to. We are too English. But the practical side of it--the side that concerns you--is that Vashti and Maya are now grown up. They must have children. The boys will need a young wife.
IDDY. You mean two wives.
LADY FARWATERS. Oh, a dozen, if so many of the right sort can be found.
IDDY. But--but--but that would be polygamy.
PROLA. You are in the east, Mr Iddy. The east is polygamous. Try to remember that polygamists form an enormous majority of the subjects of the British Empire, and that you are not now in Clapham.
IDDY. How dreadful! I never thought of that.
LADY FARWATERS. And the girls will need a young husband.
IDDY [imploringly] Two young husbands, Lady Farwaters. Oh please, two.
LADY FARWATERS. I think not, at first.
IDDY. Oh! But I am not an oriental. I am a clergyman of the Church of England.
HYERING. That means nothing to Vashti.
PRA. And still less to Maya.
IDDY. But--but--oh dear! dont you understand? I want to marry Maya. And if I marry Maya I cannot marry Vashti. An English clergyman could not marry two women.
LADY FARWATERS. From their point of view they are not two women: they are one. Vashti is Maya; and Maya is Vashti.
IDDY. But even if such a thing were possible how could I be faithful to Vashti without being unfaithful to Maya? I couldnt bear to be unfaithful to Maya.
LADY FARWATERS. Maya would regard the slightest unfaithfulness to Vashti as a betrayal of herself and a breach of your marriage vow.
IDDY. But thats nonsense: utter nonsense. Please dont put such things into my head. I am trying so hard to keep sane; but you are terrifying me. If only I could bring myself never to see Maya again I should rush out of this garden and make for home. But it would be like rushing out of heaven. I am most unhappy; and yet I am dreadfully happy. I think I am under some sort of enchantment.
MRS HYERING. Well, stick to the enchantment while it lasts. Let life come to you.
PRA. May I remind you that not only Vashti and Maya, but all the ladies here, are included in the superfamily compact.
IDDY. Oh, how nice and comfortable that would be! They would be mothers to me.
PROLA [rebuking Pra] Let him alone, Pra. There is such a thing as calf love. Vashti and Maya are quite enough for him to begin with. Maya has already driven him half mad. There is no need for us old people to drive him quite out of his senses. [She rises] This has gone far enough. Wait here alone, Mr Hammingtap, to collect your thoughts. Look at the flowers; breathe the air; open your soul to the infinite space of the sky. Nature always helps.
IDDY [rising] Thank you, Lady Prola. Yes: that will be a great help.
PROLA. Come. [She goes up the steps and into the house].
They all rise and follow her, each bestowing a word of counsel or comfort on the distracted clergyman.
PRA. Relax. Take a full breath and then relax. Do not strangle yourself with useless anxieties. [He goes].
LADY FARWATERS. Cast out fear, Iddy. Warm heart. Clear mind. Think of having a thousand friends, a thousand wives, a thousand mothers. [She pats him on the shoulder and goes].
SIR CHARLES. Stand up to it, my boy. The world is changing. Stand up to it. [He goes].
MRS HYERING. Dont let that conscience of yours worry you. Let life come to you. [She goes].
HYERING. Try to sleep a little. The morning has been too much for you. [He goes].
IDDY. Sleep! I will not sleep. They want me to disgrace my cloth; but I wont. I wont relax: I wont disobey my conscience: I wont smell those flowers: I wont look at the sky. Nature is not good for me here. Nature is eastern here: it's poison to an Englishman. I will think of England and tighten myself up and pull myself together. England! The Malverns! the Severn plain! the Welsh border! the three cathedrals! England that is me: I that am England! Damn and blast all these tropical paradises: I am an English clergyman; and my place is in England. Floreat Etona! Back to England and all that England means to an Englishman! In this sign I shall conquer. [He turns resolutely to go out as he came in, and finds himself face to face with Maya, who has stolen in and listened gravely and intently to his exhortation].
IDDY [collapsing in despair on the parapet of the well] Oh, Maya, let me go, let me go.
MAYA [sinking beside him with her arm round his neck] Speak to me from your soul, and not with words that you have picked up in the street.
IDDY. Respect my cloth, Miss Farwaters.
MAYA. Maya. Maya is my name. I am the veil of the temple. Rend me in twain.
IDDY. I wont. I will go home and marry some honest English girl named Polly Perkins. [Shuddering in her embrace] Oh, Maya, darling: speak to me like a human being.
MAYA. That is how I speak to you; but you do not recognize human speech when you hear it: you crave for slang and small talk, and for readymade phrases that mean nothing. Speak from your soul; and tell me: do you love Vashti? Would you die for Vashti?
MAYA [with a flash of rage, springing up] Wretch! [Calmly and conclusively] You are free. Farewell. [She points his way through the house].
IDDY [clutching at her robe] No, no. Do not leave me. I love you--you. I would die for you. That sounds like a word picked up in the street; but it is true. I would die for you ten times over.
MAYA. It is not true. Words, words, words out of the gutter. Vashti and Maya are one: you cannot love me if you do not love Vashti: you cannot die for me without dying for Vashti.
IDDY. Oh, I assure you I can.
MAYA. Lies, lies. If you can feel one heart throb for me that is not a throb for Vashti: if for even an instant there are two women in your thoughts instead of one, then you do not know what love can be.
IDDY. But it's just the contrary. I--
VASHTI [who has entered silently, sits beside him and throws an arm round his shoulders] Do you not love me? Would you not die for me?
IDDY. [mesmerized by her eyes] Oh DEAR!!! Yes: your eyes make my heart melt: your voice opens heaven to me: I love you. I would die a thousand times for you.
VASHTI. And Maya? You love Maya. You would die a million times for Maya?
IDDY. Yes, yes. I would die for either, for both: for one, for the other--
MAYA. For Vashti Maya?
IDDY. For Vashti Maya, for Maya Vashti.
VASHTI. Your lives and ours are one life.
MAYA [sitting down beside him] And this is the Kingdom of love.
The three embrace with interlaced arms and vanish in black darkness.
A fine forenoon some years later. The garden is unchanged; but inside the distant breakwater the harbor is crowded with cruisers; and on the lawn near the steps is a writing table littered with papers and furnished with a wireless telephone. Sir Charles is sitting at the end of it with his back to the house. Seated near him is Pra. Both are busy writing. Hyering enters.
SIR CHARLES. Morning, Hyering.
HYERING. Morning. [He sits at the other end of the table after waving an acknowledgment of Pra's indication of a salaam]. Anything fresh?
SIR CHARLES [pointing to the roadstead] Look! Five more cruisers in last night. The papers say it is the first time the fleets of the British Empire have ever assembled in one place.
HYERING. I hope it will never happen again. If we dont get rid of them quickly there will be the biggest naval battle on record. They are quarrelling already like Kilkenny cats.
SIR CHARLES. What about?
HYERING. Oh, about everything. About moorings, about firing salutes: which has the right to fire first? about flags, about shore parties, about nothing. We shall never be able to keep the peace between them. The Quebec has got alongside the Belfast. The Quebec has announced Mass at eleven on All Saints Day; and the Belfast has announced firing practice at the same hour. Do you see that sloop that came in last night?
SIR CHARLES. What is it?
HYERING. The Pitcairn Island fleet. They are Seventh Day Adventists, and are quite sure the Judgment Day is fixed for five o'clock this afternoon. They propose to do nothing until then but sing hymns. The Irish Free State admiral threatens to sink them if they dont stop. How am I to keep them quiet?
PRA. Dont keep them quiet. Their squabbles will make them forget what they were sent here for.
HYERING. Forget! not they. I have six ultimatums from their admirals, all expiring at noon today. Look. [He takes a batch of letters from his pocket and throws them on the table].
SIR CHARLES [pointing to the letters on the table] Look at these!
PRA. All about Iddy.
SIR CHARLES. Iddy has got into the headlines at home. The cables are humming with Iddy. Iddy has convulsed the Empire, confound him!
HYERING. Anything fresh from London or Delhi?
SIR CHARLES. The same old songs. The Church of England wont tolerate polygamy on any terms, and insists on our prosecuting Iddy if we cannot whitewash him. Delhi declares that any attempt to persecute polygamy would be an insult to the religions of India.
PRA. The Cultural Minister at Delhi adds a postscript to say that as he has been married two hundred and thirtyfour times, and could not have lived on his salary without the dowries, the protest of the Church of England shews a great want of consideration for his position. He has a hundred and seventeen children surviving.
SIR CHARLES. Then there's a chap I never heard of, calling himself the Caliph of British Islam. He demands that Iddy shall put away all his wives except four.
HYERING. What does the Foreign Office say to that?
PRA. The Foreign Office hails it as a happy solution of a difficulty that threatened to be very serious.
HYERING. What do you think about it all yourself, Pra?
PRA. Think! Thought has no place in such discussions. Each of them must learn that its ideas are not everybody's ideas. Here is a cablegram from the League of British Imperial Womanhood, Vancouver and Pretoria. "Burn him alive and his hussies with him." Do you expect me to think about such people?
HYERING. Nobody has made any practical suggestion, I suppose?
PRA. The United States intervene with a friendly suggestion that the parties should be divorced. But the Irish Free State will not hear of divorce, and points out that if the parties become Catholics their marriages can be annulled with the greatest ease.
HYERING. Oh, the west! the west! the west!
PRA. Oh, the east! the east! the east! I tried to reconcile them; and I had only two successes: you and Lady Farwaters.
HYERING. You kicked me into the sea.
SIR CHARLES. You made love to Lady Farwaters.
PRA. I had to use that method with very crude novices; and Lady Farwaters, with her English ladylike bringing-up, was so crude that she really could not understand any purely intellectual appeal. Your own mind, thanks to your public school and university, was in an even worse condition; and Prola had to convert you by the same elementary method. Well, it has worked, up to a point. The insight you obtained into eastern modes of thought has enabled you to govern the eastern crown colonies with extraordinary success. Downing Street hated you; but Delhi supported you; and since India won Dominion status Delhi has been the centre of the British Empire. You, Hyering, have had the same diplomatic success in the east for the same reason. But beyond this we have been unable to advance a step. Our dream of founding a millennial world culture: the dream which united Prola and Pra as you first knew them, and then united us all six, has ended in a single little household with four children, wonderful and beautiful, but sterile. When we had to find a husband for the blossoming girls, only one man was found capable of merging himself in the unity of the family: a man fed on air from his childhood. And how has this paragon turned out? An impotent simpleton. It would be impossible to conceive a human being of less consequence in the world. And yet, look! There is the Imperial Armada, in which every petty province insists on its separate fleet, every trumpery islet its battleship, its cruiser, or at least its sloop or gunboat! Why are they here, armed to the teeth, threatening what they call their sanctions? a word that once meant the approval of the gods, and now means bombs full of poison gas. Solely on account of the simpleton. To reform his morals, half of them want to rain destruction on this little household of ours, and the other half is determined to sink them if they attempt it.
HYERING. They darent use their bombs, you know.
PRA. True; but what is to prevent them from taking to their fists and coming ashore to fight it out on the beach with sticks and bottles and stones, or with their fists? What do the ultimatums say, Hyering?
HYERING [reading them] Number one from the English admiral. "If the polygamist-adulterer Hammingtap is not handed over by noon tomorrow" that is today "I shall be obliged to open fire on Government House." Number two, from the commander of the Bombay Squadron. "Unless an unequivocal guarantee of the safety and liberty of Mr Hammingtap be in my hands by noon today" that came this morning "I shall land a shore party equipped with machine guns and tear gas bombs to assist the local police in the protection of his person." Number three: "I have repeatedly informed you that the imperial province of Holy Island demands the immediate and exemplary combustion of the abominable libertine and damnable apostate known as Phosfor Hammingtap. The patience of the Holy Island fleet will be exhausted at noon on the 13th" today "and the capital of the Unexpected Islands must take the consequences." Number four--
SIR CHARLES. Oh, bother number four! They are all the same: not one of them has originality enough to fix half-past-eleven or a quarter-to-one.
HYERING. By the way, Pra, have you taken any steps? I havnt.
PRA. Yes I have. Dont worry. I have sent a message.
SIR CHARLES. What message?
PRA. The Mayor of the Port earnestly begs the commanders of the imperial fleet to suspend action for another day, as his attention is urgently occupied by a serious outbreak of smallpox in the harbor district.
SIR CHARLES. Good [The boom of a cannon interrupts him] There goes the noonday cannon!
HYERING. I hope they got the message in time.
The garden and its occupants vanish. When they reappear, the harbor is empty: not a ship is visible. The writing table, with its chairs and papers, has been removed and replaced by a small tea-table. Tea is ready. The wireless telephone is still there.
Vashti and Maya are in their shrines. Lady Farwaters is sitting on the western stone seat, with Mrs Hyering beside her on her right. Prola is sitting on the eastern seat. All five ladies are taking tea.
Pra comes from the house with Sir Charles and Hyering. They help themselves to tea. Pra abstains.
SIR CHARLES. Not a blessed ship left in the harbor! Your message certainly did the trick, Pra. [He sits down beside Prola, on her left].
PRA [sitting down between the two British ladies] They may come back.
HYERING [sitting beside Prola, on her right] Not a bit of it. By the time the fleet realizes that it has been humbugged the Empire will be tired of Iddy.
VASHTI. The world is tired of Iddy.
MAYA. I am tired of Iddy.
VASHTI. Iddy is a pestilence.
MAYA. Iddy is a bore.
VASHTI. Let us throw ourselves into the sea to escape from Iddy.
MAYA. Let us throw Iddy into the sea that he may escape from himself.
VASHTI. You are wise, Prola. Tell us how to get rid of Iddy.
MAYA. We cannot endure Iddy for ever, Prola.
PROLA. You two chose him, not I.
MAYA. We were young: we did not know.
VASHTI. Help us, Pra. You have lost faith in us; but your wits are still keen.
MAYA. Pra: we beseech thee. Abolish the incubus.
VASHTI. Give him peace that we may have rest.
MAYA. Give him rest that we may have peace.
VASHTI. Let him be as he was before we knew him.
MAYA. When we were happy.
VASHTI. When he was innocent.
PRA. You raised this strange spirit. I cannot exorcise him.
VASHTI. Rather than endure him I will empty the heavens of their rain and dew.
MAYA. Silence him, O ye stars.
Iddy comes from the house in a condition of lazy self-complacence. He is received in dead silence. Nobody looks at him. He pours himself out a cup of tea. The silence becomes grim. He sits down on the grass at Prola's feet, and sips his tea. The silence continues.
IDDY [at last] I am a futile creature.
They all turn as if stung and look at him. Then they resume their attitudes of deadly endurance.
IDDY. It is a terrible thing to be loved. I dont suppose any man has ever been loved as I have been loved, or loved as I have loved. But there's not so much in it as people say. I am writing a sermon about it. It is a sermon on Eternity.
They look at him as before.
IDDY. The line I am going to take is this. We have never been able to imagine eternity properly. St John of Patmos started the notion of playing harps and singing praises for ever and ever. But the organist tells me that composers have to use the harp very sparingly because, though it makes a very pretty effect at first, you get tired of it so soon. You couldnt go on playing the harp for ever; and if you sang "Worthy is the Lamb" for ever you would drive the Lamb mad. The notion is that you cant have too much of a good thing; but you can: you can bear hardship much longer than you could bear heaven. Love is like music. Music is very nice: the organist says that when the wickedness of mankind tempts him to despair he comforts himself by remembering that the human race produced Mozart; but a woman who plays the piano all day is a curse. A woman who makes love to you all day is much worse; and yet nothing is lovelier than love, up to a point. We all love one another here in a wonderful way: I love Vashti, I love Maya, I love Prola; and they all love me so wonderfully that their three loves are only one love. But it is my belief that some day we'll have to try something else. If we dont we'll come to hate one another.
VASHTI. If it is any consolation to you, Iddy, I can assure you that I already hate you so intensely that if it were in my nature to kill anything I should kill you.
IDDY. There now! I ought to be wounded and horrified; but I'm not: I feel as if youd given me a strawberry ice. Thank you, dear Vashti, thank you. You give me hope that even Maya will get tired of me someday.
MAYA. I have been on the point of beating you to a jelly for ever so long past; but just as my fists were clenched to do it you always managed to come out with some stroke of idiocy that was either so funny or so piteous that I have kissed you instead.
IDDY. You make me happier than I have been for months. But, you know, that does not settle my difficulties. I dont know whether other people are like me or not--
LADY FARWATERS. No, Iddy: you are unique.
IDDY. Anyhow, I have made a discovery as regards myself.
VASHTI. Enough is known already.
MAYA. Seek no further: there is nothing there.
VASHTI. There never has been anything.
IDDY. Shut up, you two. This is something really interesting. I am writing a second sermon.
ALL THE REST [gasp] !!!!!!!
PRA. Was eternity not long enough for one sermon?
IDDY. This one is on love.
VASHTI [springing up] I will cast myself down from a precipice.
MAYA [springing up] I will gas myself.
IDDY. Oh, not until you have heard my sermon, please.
PROLA. Listen to him, children. Respect the wisdom of the fool.
VASHTI [resuming her goddess-in-a-shrine attitude] The oracles of the wise are unheeded. Silence for the King of Idiots.
MAYA [also enshrining herself] Speak, Solomon.
IDDY. Well, the discovery I have made is that we were commanded to love our enemies because loving is good for us and dreadfully bad for them. I love you all here intensely; and I enjoy loving you. I love Vashti; I love Maya; and I adore Prola with a passion that grows and deepens from year to year.
PROLA. Dolt! I am too old.
IDDY. You were never young and you will never be old. You are the way and the light for me. But you have never loved me and never will love me. You have never loved anything human: why should you? Nothing human is good enough to be loved. But every decent human creature has some capacity for loving. Look at me! What a little worm I am! My sermons are wretched stuff, except these last two, which I think really have something in them. I cannot bear being loved, because I know that I am a worm, and that nobody could love me unless they were completely deluded as to my merits. But I can love, and delight in loving. I love Vashti for hating me, because she is quite right to hate me: her hatred is a proof of her beautiful clear judgment. I love Maya for being out of all patience with me, because I know that I am enough to drive anybody mad, and she is wise enough to know how worthless I am. I love Prola because she is far above loving or hating me; and there is something about her dark beauty that--
PROLA [kicking him] Silence, simpleton. Let the unspeakable remain unspoken.
IDDY. I dont mind your kicking me, Prola: you understand; and that is enough for me. And now you see what a jolly fine sermon it will be, and why I shall be so happy here with you from this day on. For I have the joy of loving you all without the burden of being loved in return, or the falsehood of being idolized.
MAYA. Solomon has spoken.
LADY FARWATERS. Do not mock, darlings. There is something in what he says.
MAYA [desperately] But how are we to get rid of him? He is settling down with us for life.
VASHTI. We have brought him on ourselves.
MAYA. We cannot make him hate us.
VASHTI. He will go with us to heaven.
MAYA. In the depths of hell he will find us.
Kanchin and Janga enter processionally, reading newspapers.
They sit enshrined, foursquare with their sisters.
KANCHIN. By wireless.
JANGA. Tomorrow's three o'clock edition.
KANCHIN. The land that brought forth Iddy begins the Apocalypse.
HYERING. What do you mean? Has anything happened in England?
KANCHIN. England has broken loose.
SIR CHARLES. What do you mean? broken loose. Read the news, man. Out with it.
KANCHIN [reading the headlines] Dissolution of the British Empire.
JANGA [reading] Withdrawal of England from the Empire.
KANCHIN. England strikes for independence.
JANGA. Downing Street declares for a right little tight little island.
KANCHIN. The British Prime Minister cuts the cable and gives the new slogan.
JANGA. Back to Elizabeth's England; and to hell with the empire!
KANCHIN. Ireland to the rescue!
JANGA. Free State President declares Ireland cannot permit England to break the unity of the Empire. Ireland will lead the attack on treason and disruption.
KANCHIN. The Prime Minister's reply to the President suppressed as unprintable.
JANGA. Canada claims position of premier Dominion left vacant by the secession of England.
KANCHIN. Australia counterclaims as metropolitan dominion.
JANGA. New Zealand proclaims a butter blockade until its claim to precedence is recognized by Australia.
KANCHIN. South Africa renames Capetown Empire City, and gives notice to all Britishers to clear out of Africa within ten days.
JANGA. His Holiness the Pope calls on all Christendom to celebrate the passing away of the last vain dream of earthly empire, and the unity of all living souls in the Catholic Kingdom of God and his Church.
LADY FARWATERS. That sounds like the voice of a grown-up man through the whooping of a pack of schoolboys.
JANGA [prosaically] So far, there have been no disturbances and little popular interest.
KANCHIN. The various international Boards are carrying on as usual.
JANGA. Today's football--
PROLA. No, Janga: certainly not.
SIR CHARLES. But what becomes of our jobs as Governor and political secretary, Hyering? Will this affect our salaries?
HYERING. They will stop: that is all. We had better proclaim the Unexpected Isles an independent republic and secure the new jobs for ourselves.
VASHTI. The world is tired of republics and their jobberies. Proclaim a kingdom.
MAYA. Or a queendom.
IDDY. Oh yes: let us make Prola queen. And I shall be her chaplain.
PRA. By all means, as far as I am concerned. Prola has always been the real ruler here.
VASHTI. Prola is she who decides.
MAYA. Prola is she who unites.
VASHTI. Prola is she who knows.
MAYA. No one can withstand Prola.
PROLA. Be quiet, you two. You shall not make an idol of me.
KANCHIN. We shall make you Empress of the Isles.
JANGA. Prola the First.
VASHTI. Homage, Prola.
MAYA. Love, Prola.
KANCHIN. Obedience, Prola.
JANGA. Absolute rule, Prola.
PROLA. All your burdens on me. Lazy idle children.
KANCHIN. Hurrah! All burdens on Prola.
JANGA. The burden of thought.
VASHTI. The burden of knowledge.
MAYA. The burden of righteousness.
VASHTI. The burden of justice.
MAYA. The burden of mercy.
PROLA. Cease, cease: these are not burdens to me: they are the air I breathe. I shall rule you as I have always done because you are too lazy to rule yourselves.
HYERING. You can rule us, Prola. But will the public ever understand you?
PRA. They will obey her. They would not do that if they understood.
IDDY. I have just been thinking--
MAYA. Solomon has been thinking.
VASHTI. Thoughts without brains.
IDDY. Will the Antiphonal Quartet, if it wants to give another concert, kindly remove itself out of hearing.
KANCHIN. Silence for the Prophet.
MAYA. Tiddy iddy um. Carry on, darling.
IDDY. Prola can rule this house because she knows what is happening in it. But how is she to be an Empress if she doesnt know what is happening everywhere?
MRS HYERING. She can read the newspapers, cant she, silly?
IDDY. Yes; but fifteen years later, when the statesmen write their memoirs and autobiographies and publish them, we shall find that it never happened at all and what really happened was quite different. We dont know the truth about any of our statesmen until they are dead and cant take libel actions. Nobody knows the sort of people we really are. The papers have been full of us for weeks past; and not a single word they say about us is true. They think I am a sort of Mahdi or Mad Mullah, and that Prola and Vashti and Maya are a troop of immoral dancing girls, and that Sir Charles is a voluptuous sultan and Hyering a co-respondent. They dont live in a world of truth: they live in a world of their own ideas, which have nothing to do with our ideas. Consequently--Therefore--er--er--What was I going to say, Pra? My brain is not strong enough to keep the thread of my remarks. I ought to have written it down.
PRA. What you have arrived at is that we cannot live in a world of political facts, because we shall not know the political facts for years to come. We must therefore live in a world of original ideas, created by ourselves out of our own nature.
IDDY. Yes. We musnt pretend to be omniscient. Even God would not be omniscient if He read the newspapers. We must have an ideal of a beautiful and good world. We must believe that to establish that beautiful and good world on earth is the best thing we can do, and the only sort of religion and politics that is worth bothering about.
PROLA. What about the people who have no original ideas, Iddy?
PRA. The great majority of mankind?
IDDY. Theyll be only too glad to do what you tell them, Prola, if you can make them feel that it's right.
PROLA. And if they are incapable of feeling it?
PROLA. They can do that as easily as I. Any fool can. And there are more of them.
JANGA. Set them to kill one another; and rule.
KANCHIN. Divide and govern.
VASHTI. Feed them on splendid words.
MAYA. Dazzle them with our beauty.
MRS HYERING. Well I never!
IDDY [rising] Excuse me. I'm going into the house to get the field glass. [He goes up the steps].
MRS HYERING. Whatever do you want the field glass for?
IDDY [pointing to the sky] There's a strange bird flying about there. I think it's an albatross. [He goes into the house].
VASHTI, MAYA, KANCHIN, JANGA [hissing after him] Liar. Baby. Dastard. Hypocrite.
SIR CHARLES [laughing] An albatross! Now would anybody in the world, over the age of six, except Iddy, invent such a ridiculous excuse for going to his room to indulge in his poor little secret vice of cigaret smoking?
MAYA. Faugh! The unkissable.
VASHTI. The air poisoner.
KANCHIN. The albatrocity.
MAYA. VASHTI. JANGA [shocked by the pun] Oh!!
LADY FARWATERS. Cant you four darlings do something useful instead of sitting there deafening us with your slogans?
KANCHIN [springing erect] Yes, action. Action!
JANGA [rising similarly] No more of this endless talk! talk! talk!
VASHTI. Yes, action! daring! Let us rob.
MAYA. Let us shoot.
KANCHIN. Let us die for something.
JANGA. For our flag and for our Empress.
VASHTI. For our country, right or wrong.
MAYA. Let there be sex appeal. Let the women make the men brave.
KANCHIN. We must defend our homes.
JANGA. Our women.
VASHTI. Our native soil.
MAYA. It is sweet to die for one's country.
VASHTI. It is glorious to outface death.
ALL FOUR. Yes. Death! death! Glory! glory!
PROLA. Hold your tongues, you young whelps. Is this what we have brought you up for?
PRA. Stop screaming about nothing, will you. Use your minds.
MAYA. We have no minds.
VASHTI. We have imaginations.
KANCHIN. We have made this house a temple.
JANGA. We have made Prola its goddess.
MAYA. We have made it a palace.
VASHTI. A palace for Queen Prola.
KANCHIN. She shall reign.
JANGA. For ever and ever.
VASHTI AND MAYA [in unison] Hail, Prola, our goddess!
KANCHIN AND JANGA [in unison] Hail, Prola, our empress!
ALL FOUR [rushing down to the lawn and throwing themselves on their knees before her] Hail!
PROLA. Will you provoke me to box your ears, you abominable idolaters. Get up this instant. Go and scrub the floors. Do anything that is dirty and grubby and smelly enough to shew that you live in a real world and not in a fool's paradise. If I catch you grovelling to me, a creature of the same clay as yourselves, but fortunately for you with a little more common sense, I will beat the slavishness out of your bones.
MAYA. Oh, what ecstasy to be beaten by Prola!
VASHTI. To feel her rule in the last extremity of pain!
KANCHIN. To suffer for her!
JANGA. To die for her!
PROLA. Get out, all four. My empire is not of such as you. Begone.
MAYA. How lovely is obedience! [She makes an obeisance and runs away through the garden].
VASHTI. Obedience is freedom from the intolerable fatigue of thought. [She makes her obeisance and sails away, disappearing between the garden and the house].
KANCHIN. You speak as an empress should speak. [He salaams and bounds off after Maya].
JANGA. The voice of authority gives us strength and unity. Command us always thus: it is what we need and love. [He strides away in Vashti's footsteps].
PROLA. An excuse for leaving everything to me. Lazy, lazy, lazy! Someday Heaven will get tired of lazy people; and the Pitcairn Islanders will see their Day of Judgment at last.
A distant fusillade of shotguns answers her.
SIR CHARLES. Shooting! What can the matter be?
They all rise and listen anxiously.
A trumpet call rings out from the sky.
HYERING. Where on earth did that come from? There is not such a thing as a trumpet in the island.
The four come rushing back into the garden, wildly excited.
KANCHIN. Look, look, quick! The albatross.
PRA [rising] The albatross!!
MAYA. Yes: Iddy's albatross. Look!
JANGA. Flying over the town.
VASHTI [pointing] There it goes. See.
A second fusillade of shotguns, much nearer.
MAYA. Oh, theyre all trying to shoot it. Brutes!
KANCHIN. They havnt hit it. Here it comes.
MAYA. It's flying this way.
VASHTI. It's swooping down.
Iddy comes from the house and trots down the steps with a field glass in his hand.
IDDY. Ive been looking at it through the window for the last five minutes. It isnt an albatross. Look at it through this. [He hands the glass to Pra].
KANCHIN. Then what is it?
IDDY. I think it's an angel.
JANGA. Oh get out, you silly idiot.
PRA [looking through the glass] That is no bird.
An angel flies down into the middle of the garden. General stupefaction. He shakes himself. Quantities of bullets and small shot fall from his wings and clothes.
THE ANGEL. Really, your people ought to know better than to shoot at an angel.
MAYA. Are you an angel?
THE ANGEL. Well, what do you suppose I am?
VASHTI. Of course he is an angel. Look at his wings.
THE ANGEL. Attention, please! Have you not heard the trumpet? This is the Judgment Day.
ALL THE REST. The what???!!!
THE ANGEL. The Judgment Day. The Day of Judgment.
SIR CHARLES. Well I'll be damned!
THE ANGEL. Very possibly.
HYERING. Do you mean that the Pitcairn Islanders were right after all?!
THE ANGEL. Yes. You are all now under judgment, in common with the rest of the English speaking peoples. Dont gape at me as if you had never seen an angel before.
PROLA. But we never have.
THE ANGEL [relaxing] True. Ha ha ha! Well, you thoroughly understand, dont you, that your records are now being looked into with a view to deciding whether you are worth your salt or not.
PRA. And suppose it is decided that we are not worth our salt?
THE ANGEL [reassuring them in a pleasantly offhanded manner] Then you will simply disappear: that is all. You will no longer exist. Dont let me keep you all standing. Sit down if you like. Never mind me: sitting and standing are all alike to an angel. However--[he sits down on the parapet of the well].
They sit as before, the four superchildren enshrining themselves as usual.
The telephone rings. Hyering rises and takes it.
HYERING [to the angel] Excuse me. [To the telephone] Yes? Hyering speaking . . . Somebody what? . . . Oh! somebody fooling on the wireless. Well, theyre not fooling: an angel has just landed here to tell us the same thing. . . . An angel. A for arrowroot, N for nitrogen, G for--thats it: an angel. . . . Well, after all, the Judgment Day had to come some day, hadnt it? Why not this day as well as another? . . . I'll ask the angel about it and ring you later. Goodbye. [He rings off]. Look here, angel. The wireless has been on all over Europe. London reports the Judgment Day in full swing; but Paris knows nothing about it; Hilversum knows nothing about it; Berlin, Rome, Madrid, and Geneva know nothing about it; and Moscow says the British bourgeoisie has been driven mad by its superstitions. How do you account for that? If it is the Judgment Day in England it must be the Judgment Day everywhere.
THE ANGEL. Why?
HYERING [sitting down] Well, it stands to reason.
THE ANGEL. Does it? Would it be reasonable to try cases in hundreds of different lands and languages and creeds and colors on the same day in the same place? Of course not. The whole business will last longer than what you call a year. We gave the English speaking folk the first turn in a compliment to one of your big guns--a dean--name of Inge, I think. I announced it to him last night in a dream, and asked him whether the English would appreciate the compliment. He said he thought they would prefer to put it off as long as possible, but that they needed it badly and he was ready. The other languages will follow. The United States of America will be tried tomorrow, Australasia next day, Scotland next, then Ireland--
LADY FARWATERS. But excuse me: they do not speak different languages.
THE ANGEL. They sound different to us.
SIR CHARLES. I wonder how they are taking it in England.
THE ANGEL. I am afraid most of them are incapable of understanding the ways of heaven. They go motoring or golfing on Sundays instead of going to church; and they never open a Bible. When you mention Adam and Eve, or Cain and Abel, to say nothing of the Day of Judgment, they dont know what you are talking about. The others--the pious ones--think we have come to dig up all the skeletons and put them through one of their shocking criminal trials. They actually expect us to make angels of them for ever and ever.
MRS HYERING. See here, angel. This isnt a proper sort of Judgment Day. It's a fine day. It's like Bank Holiday.
THE ANGEL. And pray why should the Day of Judgment not be a fine day?
MRS HYERING. Well, it's hardly what we were led to expect, you know.
JANGA. "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise."
KANCHIN. "The elements shall melt with fervent heat."
JANGA. "The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up."
VASHTI. The stars are fixed in their courses. They have not fallen to the earth.
MAYA. The heavens are silent. Where are the seven thunders?
VASHTI. The seven vials full of the wrath of God?
JANGA. The four horses?
KANCHIN. The two witnesses?
THE ANGEL. My good people, if you want these things you must provide them for yourselves. If you want a great noise, you have your cannons. If you want a fervent heat to burn up the earth you have your high explosives. If you want vials of wrath to rain down on you, they are ready in your arsenals, full of poison gases. Some years ago you had them all in full play, burning up the earth and spreading death, famine, and pestilence. But the spring came and created life faster than you could destroy it. The birds sang over your trenches; and their promise of summer was fulfilled. The sun that shone undisturbed on your pitiful Day of Wrath shines today over Heaven's Day of Judgment. It will continue to light us and warm us; and there will be no noise nor wrath nor fire nor thunder nor destruction nor plagues nor terrors of any sort. I am afraid you will find it very dull.
LADY FARWATERS [politely] Not at all. Pray dont think that.
MRS HYERING. Well, a little good manners never does any harm; but I tell you straight, Mister Angel, I cant feel as if there was anything particular happening, in spite of you and your wings. Ive only just had my tea; and I cant feel a bit serious without any preparation or even an organ playing.
THE ANGEL. You will feel serious enough presently when things begin to happen.
MRS HYERING. Yes; but what things?
THE ANGEL. What was foretold to you. "His angels shall gather together his elect. Then shall two be in the field: the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill. The one shall be taken and the other left."
MRS HYERING. But which? Thats what I want to know.
PROLA. There is nothing new in this taking of the one and leaving the other: natural death has always been doing it.
THE ANGEL. Natural death does it senselessly, like a blind child throwing stones. We angels are executing a judgment. The lives which have no use, no meaning, no purpose, will fade out. You will have to justify your existence or perish. Only the elect shall survive.
MRS HYERING. But where does the end of the world come in?
THE ANGEL. The Day of Judgment is not the end of the world, but the end of its childhood and the beginning of its responsible maturity. So now you know; and my business with you is ended. [He rises]. Is there any way of getting out on the roof of this house?
SIR CHARLES [rising] Certainly: it is a flat roof where we often sit. [He leads the way to the house].
KANCHIN. In theory.
JANGA. In fact we never sit there.
THE ANGEL. That does not matter. All I want is a parapet to take off from. Like the albatross, I cannot rise from the ground without great difficulty. An angel is far from being the perfect organism you imagine. There is always something better.
ALL FOUR [rising and singing vociferously] Eck-cel-see-orr! Eck-cel-see-or!
THE ANGEL [putting his fingers in his ears] Please, no. In heaven we are tired of singing. It is not done now.
[He follows Sir Charles out].
KANCHIN. Lets see him take off.
The four rush up the garden and look up at the roof. The others rise and watch.
JANGA [calling up] Start into the wind, old man. Spring off hard, from the ball of the foot. Dont fall on us.
KANCHIN. Oopsh! Off he goes.
The beating of the angel's wings is heard.
VASHTI. He makes a noise like a vacuum cleaner.
MAYA [wafting kisses] Goodbye, silly old Excelsior.
The noise stops.
JANGA. His wings have stopped beating. He is soaring up the wind.
KANCHIN. He is getting smaller and smaller. His speed must be terrific.
MAYA. He is too small for an albatross.
VASHTI. He is smaller than a canary.
KANCHIN. He is out of sight.
MAYA. There! One last glint of the sun on his wings. He is gone.
The four troop back and resume their seats. The others sit as before, except that Iddy deserts Prola and sits on the well parapet. Sir Charles returns from the house with a batch of wireless messages in his hand.
SIR CHARLES [sitting in his former place] Well, my dears: the Judgment Day is over, it seems.
IDDY. I cant believe it was really the Judgment Day.
IDDY. Well, I thought some special notice would have been taken of the clergy. Reserved seats or something like that. But he treated me as if I were only the organ blower.
SIR CHARLES. There are such a lot of priests in the world, Iddy. It would be impossible to reserve seats for them all.
IDDY. Oh, I meant only the clergy of the Church of England, of course.
MRS HYERING. What I cant get over is their sending along just one angel to judge us, as if we didnt matter.
LADY FARWATERS. He actually went away and forgot to judge us.
PRA. I am not so sure of that.
IDDY. Well, are we sheep or goats? tell me that.
MAYA. You are a sheep, Iddy, my sweet: there can be no doubt about that.
IDDY [bursting into tears] I love you, Maya; and you always say unkind things to me. [He rushes away through the garden, sobbing].
MAYA. Oh, poor Iddy! I'll go and soothe him with a thousand kisses. [She runs after him].
HYERING [to Sir Charles] What have you got there? Any news from London?
SIR CHARLES. Yes: Exchange Telegraph and Reuters. Copyright reserved.
HYERING. Lets have it.
SIR CHARLES [reading] "Judgment Day. Widespread incredulity as to anything having really happened. Reported appearance of angels in several quarters generally disbelieved. Several witnesses are qualifying or withdrawing their statements in deference to the prevailing scepticism."
HYERING. We shall have to be careful too, Charles. Who will believe us if we tell this yarn of an angel flying down into the garden?
SIR CHARLES. I suppose so. I never thought of it in that way. Still, listen to this. [Reading] "Policeman who attempted to arrest angel in Leicester Square removed to mental hospital. Church Assembly at Lambeth Palace decides by a large majority that there has been a Visitation. Dissenting minority, led by the Bishop of Edgbaston, denounces the reports as nonsense that would not impose even on the Society for Psychical Research. His Holiness the Pope warns Christendom that supernatural communications reaching the earth otherwise than through the Church are contrary to the Catholic faith, and, if authentic, must be regarded as demoniacal. Cabinet hastily summoned to discuss the situation. Prime Minister, speaking in emergency meeting at the Mansion House, declares that reports of utterances by angels are hopelessly contradictory, and that alleged verbatim reports by shorthand writers contain vulgar expressions. The Government could not in any case allow the British Empire to be placed in the position of being judged by a commission of a few angels instead of by direct divine authority. Such a slight to the flag would never be tolerated by Englishmen; and the Cabinet was unanimous in refusing to believe that such an outrage had occurred. The Prime Minister's speech was received with thunderous applause, the audience rising spontaneously to sing the National Anthem."
PRA. They would.
SIR CHARLES [looking at another paper] Hallo! Whats this? [Reading] "Later. During the singing of the second verse of the National Anthem at the Mansion House the proceedings were interrupted by the appearance of an angel with a flaming sword who demanded truculently what they meant by ordering God about to do their dirty political work. He was accompanied by unruly cherubim who floated about tweaking the Lord Mayor's nose, pouring ink into the Prime Minister's hat, and singing derisively Con-Found their Poll-It-Ticks. Part of the audience fell to their knees, repeating the Confession. Others rushed frantically to the doors. Two Salvation lasses stemmed the rush, at great personal danger to themselves, by standing in the doorway and singing Let Angels Prostrate Fall. Order was restored by the Prime Minister, who offered the angel an unreserved apology and an undertaking that the offending verse should not be sung again. A new one is to be provided by the Poet Laureate. The Premier's last words were lost through the misconduct of a cherub who butted him violently in the solar plexus. A wave of the angel's sword and a terrible thunderclap then threw the entire audience prone to the floor. When they rose to their feet the angel and the cherubs had disappeared."
HYERING. Oh, an invention. We cant swallow those cherubs, really.
SIR CHARLES [taking up a third paper] This sounds a little more plausible. "A representative of the Fascist Press has called at the War Office to ask whether any steps are being taken to defend the right of public meeting, and to deal with the angelic peril. The Commander-in-Chief, whilst denying that there is any such thing as a right of public meeting by undisciplined and irresponsible persons, declared that the Mansion House incident was quite incomprehensible to him, as he could not conceive how the only really practical part of the National Anthem could give any offence. Any suggestion that it was not the plain duty of the Ruler of the Universe to confound England's enemies could only lead to widespread atheism. The First Lord of the Admiralty, interviewed last night, said that he could not make head or tail of the reports, but that he could assure the public that whatever had really happened, the British Navy would not take it lying down. Later. A Hyde Park orator was thrown into the Serpentine for saying that the British Empire was not the only pebble on the beach. He has been fined thirty shillings for being in unlawful possession of a life buoy, the property of the Royal Humane Society. There can be no doubt that the disparaging remarks and assumed superiority of the angels has started a wave of patriotism throughout the country which is bound to lead to action of some sort."
PRA. Which means, if it means anything, that England's next war will be a war with heaven.
PROLA. Nothing new in that. England has been at war with heaven for many a long year.
VASHTI [inspired] The most splendid of all her wars!
KANCHIN. The last conquest left to her to achieve!
VASHTI. To overcome the angels!
JANGA. To plant the flag of England on the ramparts of Heaven itself! that is the final glory.
PROLA. Oh go away, children: go away. Now that Maya has gone to kiss somebody, there is nothing left for you to glorify but suicide.
VASHTI [rising] I rebel.
JANGA [rising] We rebel against Prola, the goddess empress.
KANCHIN [rising] Prola has turned back from the forlorn hope.
VASHTI. Prola is a coward. She fears defeat and death.
KANCHIN. Without death there can be no heroism.
JANGA. Without faith unto death there can be no faith.
VASHTI. Prola has failed us in the great Day of Judgment.
KANCHIN. Our souls have been called to their final account.
ALL THREE [marching away through the garden] Guilty, Prola: guilty. Adieu, Prola!
PROLA. Oh, adieu until you all want your tea.
PRA. We have taught them everything except common sense.
LADY FARWATERS. We have taught them everything except how to work for their daily bread instead of praying for it.
PROLA. It is dangerous to educate fools.
PRA. It is still more dangerous to leave them uneducated.
MRS HYERING. There just shouldnt be any fools. They wernt born fools: we made fools of them.
PRA. We must stop making fools.
Iddy returns alone. Something strange has happened to him. He stares at them and tries to speak; but no sound comes from his lips.
LADY FARWATERS. What on earth is the matter with you, Iddy? Have you been drinking?
IDDY [in a ghastly voice] Maya.
PROLA. What has happened to Maya?
IDDY. Heaven and earth shall pass away; but I shall not pass away. That is what she said. And then there was nothing in my arms. Nothing. Nothing in my arms. Heaven and earth would pass away; but the love of Maya would never pass away. And there was nothing. [He collapses on the well parapet, overcome, not in tears but in a profound awe].
PRA. Do you mean that she died in your arms?
IDDY. Died? No. I tell you there was nothing. Don’t you understand? Where she had just been there was nothing. There never had been anything.
PROLA. And the others? Quick, Pra: go and find the others.
PRA. What others?
PROLA. The other three: our children. I forget their names.
IDDY. They said "Our names shall live forever." What were their names?
HYERING. They have gone clean out of my head.
SIR CHARLES. Most extraordinary. I cant for the life of me remember. How many of them did you say there were, Prola?
PROLA. Four. Or was it four hundred?
IDDY. There were four. Their names were Love, Pride, Heroism and Empire. Love's pet name was Maya. I loved Maya. I loved them all; but it was through love of Maya that I loved them. I held Maya in my arms. She promised to endure for ever; and suddenly there was nothing in my arms. I have searched for the others; but she and they were one: I found nothing. It is the Judgment.
PROLA. Has she left a great void in your heart, Iddy, that girl who turned to nothing in your arms?
IDDY. No. This is a beautiful climate; and you are beautiful people; but you are not real to me; and the sun here is not what it is in the valley of the Severn. I am glad I am an English clergyman. A village and a cottage: a garden and a church: these things will not turn to nothing. I shall be content with my little black coat and my little white collar and my little treasure of words spoken by my Lord Jesus. Blessed be the name of the Lord: I shall not forget it as I shall forget Maya's. [He goes out seaward like a man in a trance].
LADYFARWATERS [troubled, half rising] But, Iddy,--
PROLA. Let him go. The pigeon knows its way home. Lady Farwaters sinks back into her seat. There is a moment of rather solemn silence. Then the telephone rings.
PRA [taking up the receiver] Yes? . . . What? . . . Yes: amazing news: we know all about that. What is the latest? . . . Yes: "plot to destroy our most valuable citizens": I got that; but what was the first word? What plot? . . . Oh, Russian plot. Rubbish! havnt you some sensible reports? . . . Special news broadcast just coming in? . . . Good: put me on to it. [To the others] Im through to London Regional. Listen: I'll repeat it as it comes. [He echoes the news] Extraordinary disappearances. Indescribable panic. Stock Exchange closes: only two members left. House of Commons decimated: only fourteen members to be found: none of Cabinet rank. House of Lords still musters fifty members; but not one of them has ever attended a meeting of the Chamber. Mayfair a desert: six hotels left without a single guest. Fresh disappearances. Crowded intercession service at Westminster Abbey brought to a close by disappearance of the congregation at such a rate that the rest fled leaving the dean preaching to the choir. At the Royal Institution Sir Ruthless Bonehead, Egregious Professor of Mechanistic Biology to the Rockefeller Foundation, drew a crowded audience to hear his address on "Whither have they gone?" He disappeared as he opened his mouth to speak. Noted Cambridge professor suggests that what is happening is a weeding-out of nonentities. He has been deprived of his Chair; and The Times, in a leading article, points out that the extreme gravity of the situation lies in the fact that not only is it our most important people who are vanishing, but that it is the most unquestionably useful and popular professions that are most heavily attacked, the medical profession having disappeared almost en bloc, whilst the lawyers and clergy are comparatively immune. A situation of terrible suspense has been created everywhere. Happy husbands and fathers disappear from the family dinner with the soup. Several popular leaders of fashion and famous beauties, after ringing their bells for their maids, have been found non-existent when the bells were answered. More than a million persons have disappeared in the act of reading novels. The Morning Post contains an eloquent protest by Lady Gushing, president of the Titled Ladies' League of Social Service, on the inequality of sacrifice as between the west end and the east, where casualties have been comparatively few. Lady Gushing has since disappeared. There is general agreement that our losses are irreparable, though their bad effects are as yet unfelt. But before long--
HYERING. Whats the use of going on, Pra? The angels are weeding the garden. The useless people, the mischievous people, the selfish somebodies and the noisy nobodies, are dissolving into space, which is the simplest form of matter. We here are awaiting our own doom.
MRS HYERING. What was it the angel said?
PROLA. The lives which have no use, no meaning, no purpose, will fade out. We shall have to justify our existences or perish. We shall live under a constant sense of that responsibility. If the angels fail us we shall set up tribunals of our own from which worthless people will not come out alive. When men no longer fear the judgment of God, they must learn to judge themselves.
SIR CHARLES. I seem to remember somebody saying "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
PROLA. That means "Punish not, that ye be not punished." This is not punishment, but judgment.
HYERING. What is judgment?
PRA. Judgment is valuation. Civilizations live by their valuations. If the valuations are false, the civilization perishes as all the ancient ones we know of did. We are not being punished today: we are being valued. That is the Newest Dispensation.
LADY FARWATERS. I feel an absolute conviction that I shall not disappear and that Charles will not disappear. We have done some queer things here in the east perhaps; but at bottom we are comfortable commonsense probable English people; and we shall not do anything so improbable as disappear.
SIR CHARLES [to his wife] Do not tempt the angels, my dear. Remember: you used to distribute tracts before you met Pra.
LADY FARWATERS. Ssh-sh-sh! Dont remind the angels of those tracts.
HYERING [rising] Look here. I have an uneasy feeling that we'd better get back to our work. I feel pretty sure that we shant disappear as long as we're doing something useful; but if we only sit here talking, either we shall disappear or the people who are listening to us will. What we have learnt here today is that the day of judgment is not the end of the world but the beginning of real human responsibility. Charles and I have still our duties: the Unexpected Islands have to be Governed today just as they had to be yesterday. Sally: if you have given your orders for the housework today, go and cook something or sew something or tidy up the books. Come on, Charles. Lets get to work. [He goes into the house].
SIR CHARLES [to his wife, rising] You might take a turn in the garden, dear: gardening is the only unquestionably useful job. [He follows Hyering into the house].
LADY FARWATERS [rising] Prola: shall I bring you some knitting to occupy you?
PROLA. No, thank you. I have some thinking to do.
LADY FARWATERS. Well, dear: I hope that will count as work. I shall feel safer with my gardening basket. [She goes into the house].
MRS HYERING. J'you think itll be all right if I go and do some crossword puzzles? It cultivates the mind so, dont you think?
PROLA. Does it? Well, do the puzzles and see what will happen. Let life come to you. Goodbye.
MRS HYERING [alarmed] Why do you say goodbye? Do you think I am going to disappear?
PROLA. Possibly. Or possibly I may.
MRS HYERING. Oh then for heaven's sake dont do it in my presence. Wait til Ive gone.
She scuttles up the steps into the house, leaving Prola and Pra alone together.
PRA. Tell me the truth, Prola. Are you waiting for me to disappear? Do you feel that you can do better without me? Have you always felt that you could do better without me?
PROLA. That is a murderer's thought. Have you ever let yourself think it? How often have you said to yourself "I could do better alone, or with another woman"?
PRA. Fairly often, my dear, when we were younger. But I did not murder you. Thats the answer. And you?
PROLA. All that stuff belongs to the past: to the childhood of our marriage. We have now grown together until we are each of us a part of the other. I no longer think of you as a separate possibility.
PRA. I know. I am part of the furniture of your house. I am a matter of course. But was I always that? Was I that in the childhood of our marriage?
PROLA. You are still young enough and manlike enough to ask mischievous questions.
PRA. No matter: we shall both disappear presently; and I have still some curiosity left. Did you ever really care for me? I know I began as a passion and have ended as a habit, like all husbands; but outside that routine there is a life of the intellect that is quite independent of it. What have I been to you in that life? A help or a hindrance?
PROLA. Pra: I always knew from the very beginning that you were an extraordinarily clever fool.
PRA. Good. That is exactly what I am.
PROLA. But I knew also that nobody but a fool would be frivolous enough to join me in doing all the mad things I wanted to do. And no ordinary fool would have been subtle enough to understand me, nor clever enough to keep off the rocks of social ruin. Ive grown fond enough of you for all practical purposes;--
PRA. Thank you.
PROLA.--but Ive never allowed you or any other man to cut me off my own stem and make me a parasite on his. That sort of love and sacrifice is not the consummation of a capable woman's existence: it is the temptation she must resist at all costs.
PRA. That temptation lies in the man's path too. The worst sacrifices I have seen have been those of men's highest careers to women's vulgarities and follies.
PROLA. Well, we two have no reproaches and no regrets on that score.
PRA. No. We are awaiting judgment here quite simply as a union of a madwoman with a fool.
PROLA. Who thought they had created four wonderful children. And who are now brought to judgment and convicted of having created nothing. We have only repeated the story of Helen and Faust and their beautiful child Euphorion. Euphorion also vanished, in his highest flight.
PRA. Yes; but Helen was a dream. You are not a dream. The children did not vanish like Euphorion in their infancy. They grew up to bore me more intensely than I have ever been bored by any other set of human creatures. Come, confess: did they not bore you?
PROLA. Have I denied it? Of course they bored me. They must have bored one another terribly in spite of all their dressing up and pretending that their fairyland was real. How they must have envied the gardener's boy his high spirits!
PRA. The coming race will not be like them. Meanwhile we are face to face with the fact that we two have made a precious mess of our job of producing the coming race by a mixture of east and west. We are failures. We shall disappear.
PROLA. I do not feel like that. I feel like the leader of a cavalry charge whose horse has been shot through the head and dropped dead under him. Well, a dead hobby horse is not the end of the world. Remember: we are in the Unexpected Isles; and in the Unexpected Isles all plans fail. So much the better: plans are only jigsaw puzzles: one gets tired of them long before one can piece them together. There are still a million lives beyond all the Utopias and the Millenniums and the rest of the jigsaw puzzles: I am a woman and I know it. Let men despair and become cynics and pessimists because in the Unexpected Isles all their little plans fail: women will never let go their hold on life. We are not here to fulfil prophecies and fit ourselves into puzzles, but to wrestle with life as it comes. And it never comes as we expect it to come.
PRA. It comes like a thief in the night.
PROLA. Or like a lover. Never will Prola go back to the Country of the Expected.
PRA. There is no Country of the Expected. The Unexpected Isles are the whole world.
PROLA. Yes, if our fools only had vision enough to see that. I tell you this is a world of miracles, not of jigsaw puzzles. For me every day must have its miracle, and no child be born like any child that ever was born before. And to witness this miracle of the children I will abide the uttermost evil and carry through it the seed of the uttermost good.
PRA. Then I, Pra, must continue to strive for more knowledge and more power, though the new knowledge always contradicts the old, and the new power is the destruction of the fools who misuse it.
PROLA. We shall plan commonwealths when our empires have brought us to the brink of destruction; but our plans will still lead us to the Unexpected Isles. We shall make wars because only under the strain of war are we capable of changing the world; but the changes our wars will make will never be the changes we intended them to make. We shall clamor for security like frightened children; but in the Unexpected Isles there is no security; and the future is to those who prefer surprise and wonder to security. I, Prola, shall live and grow because surprise and wonder are the very breath of my being, and routine is death to me. Let every day be a day of wonder for me and I shall not fear the Day of Judgment. [She is interrupted by a roll of thunder]. Be silent: you cannot frighten Prola with stage thunder. The fountain of life is within me.
PRA. But you have given the key of it to me, the Man.
PROLA. Yes: I need you and you need me. Life needs us both.
PRA. All hail, then, the life to come!
PROLA. All Hail. Let it come.
They pat hands eastern fashion.
(A reply to the assertion of Joseph Wood Krutch in The Nation, New York, 6 March 1935, that Shaw's recent plays were merely vaudeville, quite devoid of meaning. Malvern Festival Book, 1935)
Mr Krutch's article comes to me as a very welcome surprise from America. He found my play entertaining, and said so. Only those who have read the torrent of abuse with which the New York Press assailed and overwhelmed The Simpleton can appreciate Mr Krutch's courage in confessing that he enjoyed himself when sitting at it. The kindest thing his colleagues had to say was a description of me as "a dignified monkey shying coco-nuts at a bewildered public." It was really nice to call me dignified, though how a monkey shying coco-nuts can preserve the dignity of Jove hurling thunderbolts is beyond even my ingenuity as a stage-manager. Still, the softening adjective was kindly meant; and I was duly touched by it.
My heart goes out specially to Mr Krutch when he says, "I insist that Mr Shaw's text is diverting; and the only way in which an intelligent spectator can prevent himself from enjoying it is by doing what intelligent spectators at Shaw plays have always been told to do: namely, try to discover its serious meaning." This is excellent. People come to a play as they come to all forms of art, to have their minds agreeably occupied in their hours of leisure. That is what they pay their money for; and my first duty as an honest theatrical tradesman is to give them their money's worth. As to their being "told to" look further and bother themselves with speculations about myself, I can only say that I object to it strenuously, and hereby curse to all eternity the officious duffers who do the telling. If I have ulterior designs, if in occupying the playgoer's mind agreeably I take advantage of his preoccupation to extirpate his worn-out convictions and substitute fresh ones: in short, if I not only occupy his mind but change it, then the last thing I desire is that he should be conscious of the operation. The pickpocket does not want to be caught in the act. The burglar, however proud of his skill and daring, does not whistle for the police. I like my patients to leave the hospital without a suspicion that they have been operated on and are leaving it with a new set of glands.
But what takes place in a theatre is not always a simple matter of you please me and I'll pay you. If the playgoer is to keep up his (or her) power of enjoyment he must not stick in the same groove all his life. He must be prepared to come across from time to time a sort of play that quite upsets his notions of what a play should be. He may not like it at first; but if it takes a grip of the stage, he must go on enduring it until he does like it, or else give up going to the theatre and be derided by the young as a back number. When a play or a picture or a musical composition or a piece of sculpture is disagreeable at first sight, it is a mistake to run away from it, and revile its author for ever after. Of course, if there is nothing new in it, and its disagreeableness is due to mere folly and incompetence on the part of its maker, there is nothing more to be said. But if he is evidently a capable and skilled workman, and therefore must have made his work what it is on purpose and actually liked it, the chances are that you will like it too when you get used to it; for as he is a human being, built just as you are, his peculiar taste is a human taste and may therefore be acquired by any other human being at the same stage of civilized development. I can remember when Wagner's music was generally considered horribly discordant and quite destitute of melody. I can remember when Ibsen was denounced as an obscene and malignant lunatic. Plays of my own, popular enough now, were forbidden by the censorship for many years; and even today, when I am 79, the New York critics can see nothing in my latest play but the antics of a monkey. But they will get used to it in time; and when they shriek out their dislike of my next play, they will deplore it as an ignominious fall from the heights on which I produced that masterpiece, The Simpleton. All my plays are masterpieces except the last one. They always were. The donkey, no matter how fast he scampers, never overtakes the carrot.
There is, in fact, a force in nature which impels all born leaders in the arts continually to extend the scope of their works beyond the established and familiar form and content of such things. And, what is less often recognized, this same force impels audiences to come and endure this pioneering until they first discover that their old favorites have become stale and unbearable, and then that the new ones are not half bad when you get the hang of them.
As Malvern is, I hope, a much more cultivated centre of culture than New York, I have no hesitation in introducing The Simpleton to the British public at the Malvern Festival, though no doubt the London critics will make all their old mistakes about it as if they had not made them every time before. I can assure Mr Krutch that there has not been, as he suggests, any reckless new departure on my part: I have written The Simpleton exactly as I have written all my earlier plays, just as it came into my head. Naturally, it is more far-fetched than its forerunners, because I have already written plays on all the subjects that lay near to hand. I cannot go on repeating Back to Methuselah and Saint Joan, as musical comedy librettists go on repeating their old plots with nothing changed but the names and the tunes. I must go ever further and further afield except when I am coming nearer and nearer home; and it happens that in The Simpleton I am going further and further afield. And if you don't like it you must lump it--for a while--until you get used to the taste.
What I miss in Mr Krutch is a proper respect for the Apocalypse. As a child I was taught to fear the Day of Judgment, which was presented to my young imagination in so clear a fashion that once when I dreamt of it, I thought I had stepped into our garden in the middle of the night and seen above the gloom of the garden wall a great silver radiance in the sky, and in the middle of it a black equestrian statue like that of King William in College Green, Dublin, whom I immediately identified with God, come to judge the world. I did not call on the mountains to hide me; but I slipped back very quickly into the house and fastened the door noiselessly before the all-seeing eye lighted on me; for you cannot get it out of the head of a Christian child, or a Christian adult either, that God cannot be dodged and cheated like an earthly father.
That vision of judgment of mine was not more unlike any conceivable possible event than the great fresco by Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, or that other one by Tintoretto in the ducal palace in Venice, or than the more compact painting by Albrecht Dürer. Such visions and pictures do not impose on the children in this age of science; and I should as soon think of dramatizing Jack and the Beanstalk as Michael Angelo's picture. But in rejecting all this imagery, we are apt to make the usual blunder of emptying the baby out with the bath. By all means dismiss the scenes painted by Tintoretto, Albrecht Dürer, and the rest as having no more reality than a Red Lion on a signboard. Cancel the authority of the Book of Revelation as the hallucinations of a drug addict which should never have been included in the canon. But do not think you have got rid of the idea of a judgment to which all human lives must finally come, and without which life has no meaning. On the contrary, the burning up of the old stage scenery and the exorcism of the old spectres only brings into clearer reality the need for justifying one's existence as well as merely enjoying or suffering it. The question "What good are you?" cannot be disposed of by the simple retort, "Mind your own business!" Even if it were not everybody's business in a civilized society, it is a question which people with properly trained social consciences cannot help asking themselves. In Russia, if the answer is not satisfactory, they occasionally go so far as to shoot you.
You may now declare that if this terrifying judgment is the theme of The Simpleton, you will take care to keep away from it. But you need not fear: you can depend on me to get plenty of fun out of the most dismal subjects and to improve your mind into the bargain. Even if you have to see beauty, chivalry, military heroism, and patriotic madness vanish like the phantasms of a long delirium, they will not pass away in a horror of September massacres, but in a very matter-of-fact and quite amusing manner. So take your courage in both hands, and face its first performance in England like a Briton.
One more word to Mr Krutch. I find it hard to forgive him for saying that I announced, in my last Malvern play, Too True to be Good, that world affairs are now irremediable, and that mankind is damned beyond hope and redemption. I affirm, on the contrary, that never before during my lifetime has the lot of mankind seemed more hopeful, and the beginnings of a new civilization more advanced. The despair of the shell-shocked young gentleman-burglar-clergyman who made such a pitiful attempt to be happy by spending a lump of unearned money, is not my despair, though I share his opinion of the utter unsatisfactoriness of that popular receipt for a good life. I made him a good preacher to warn the world against mere fluency, and the result was that his talking took Mr Krutch in. He must be more careful next time.
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