a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: Geneva Author: George Bernard Shaw * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0300551h.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 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 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
GO TO Project Gutenberg of Australia HOME PAGE
Period--The present. Geneva.
ACT I. The Office of the International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation. A May morning.
ACT II. Office of the Secretary of the League of Nations. Late afternoon.
ACT III. Lounge of a Fashionable Restaurant overlooking the Lake of Geneva. Afternoon (some time later).
ACT IV. A Salon in the Old Palace of the Hague. Ten a.m.
New Shaw Play and Germany
For the Press
Further Meditations on Shaw's "Geneva"
England Frightened and Great
England Secure and Lazy
History Stops Yesterday: Statecraft Works Blindfold
We Split the Atom
An Amoral Victory
Civilization's Will to Live
Always Defeated by Democracy
Incompetent Governments are the Cruellest
Pseudo Messiah and Madman
We Can and Must Live Longer
The Next Discovery
When I had lived for 58 years free from the fear that war could come to my doorstep, the thing occurred. And when the war to end war had come to a glorious victory, it occurred again, worse than ever. I have now lived through two "world wars" without missing a meal or a night's sleep in my bed, though they have come near enough to shatter my windows, break in my door, and wreck my grandfather clock, keeping me for nine years of my life subject to a continual apprehension of a direct hit next time blowing me and my household to bits.
I cannot pretend that this troubled me much: people build houses and live on the slopes of Etna and Vesuvius and at the foot of Stromboli as cheerfully as on Primrose Hill. I was too old to be conscribed for military service; and the mathematical probabilities were enormously against a bomb coming my way; for at the worst of the bombardments only from ten to fifteen inhabitants of these islands were killed by air raids every day; and a dozen or so out of fortyfive millions is not very terrifying even when each of us knows that he or she is as likely as not to be one of the dozen. The risk of being run over by a motor bus, which townsmen run daily, is greater.
It was this improbability which made pre-atomic air raiding futile as a means of intimidating a nation, and enabled the government of the raided nation to prevent the news of the damage reaching beyond its immediate neighborhood. One night early in the resumed war I saw, from a distance of 30 miles, London burning for three hours. Next morning I read in the newspapers that a bomb had fallen on the windowsill of a city office, and been extinguished before it exploded. Returning to London later on I found that half the ancient city had been levelled to the ground, leaving only St. Paul's and a few church towers standing. The wireless news never went beyond "some damage and a few casualties in Southern England" when in fact leading cities and seaports had been extensively wrecked. All threatening news was mentioned only in secret sessions of parliament, hidden under heavy penalties until after the victory. In 1941, after the Dunkirk rout, our position was described by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons in secret session as so desperate that if the enemy had taken advantage of it we should have been helplessly defeated; and it is now the fashion to descant dithyrambically on the steadfast heroism with which the nation faced this terrible emergency. As a matter of fact the nation knew nothing about it. Had we been told, the Germans would have overheard and rushed the threatened invasion they were bluffed into abandoning. Far from realizing our deadly peril, we were exulting in the triumph of our Air Force in "the Battle of Britain" and in an incident in South America in which three British warships drove one German one into the river Plate. Rather than be interned with his crew the German captain put to sea again against hopeless odds; scuttled his ship; and committed suicide. The British newspapers raved about this for weeks as a naval victory greater than Salamis, Lepanto, and Trafalgar rolled into one.
Later on our flight from Tobruk to the border of Egypt did not disturb us at home: it was reported as a trifling setback, whilst trumpery captures of lorries or motor bicycles by British patrols figured as victories. After major engagements German losses were given in figures: Allies' losses were not given at all, the impression left being that the Allies had killed or taken tens of thousands of Axis troops without suffering any casualties worth mentioning. Only by listening to the German broadcasts, similarly cooked, could the real facts and fortunes of the war be estimated. Of course the truth leaked out months later; but it produced only a fresh orgy of bragging about our heroic fortitude in the face of the deadly peril we knew nothing of.
All this was necessary and inevitable. It was dangerous to tell the truth about anything, even about the weather. The signposts on the roads had to be taken down and hidden lest they should help an invader to find his way. It was a crime to give an address with a date, or to scatter a few crumbs for the birds. And it was an act of heroic patriotism to drop a bomb weighing ten thousand pounds on dwellings full of women and children, or on crowded railway trains. Our bombing of foreign cities not only in Germany but in countries which we claimed to be "liberating" became so frightful that at last the word had to be given to two of our best broadcasters of war reports to excuse them on the ground that by shortening the war they were saving the lives of thousands of British soldiers.
Meanwhile nobody noticed how completely war, as an institution, had reduced itself to absurdity. When Germany annexed Poland in 1939, half of it was snatched out of her jaws by Soviet Russia. The British Commonwealth having bound itself to maintain inviolate the frontiers of Poland as they were left after the fighting of 1914-18 with a Polish corridor cut right through Prussia to the Baltic, was committed to declare war on Germany and Russia simultaneously. But the British people and their rulers were in no mood to black out their windows and recommence the Four Years War in defence of this distant and foreign corridor. Being, as usual, unprepared for war, we tried to appease Germany and yet keep the peace with Soviet Russia.
ENGLAND FRIGHTENED AND GREAT
Nations should always be prepared for war, just as people with any property to leave should always have made their wills. But as most of them never do make their wills, and the rest seldom keep them revised and up to date, States, however militarist, are never fully prepared for war. England will do nothing outside her routine until she is thoroughly frightened; but when England is frightened England is capable of anything. Philip II of Spain frightened her. Louis XIV of France frightened her. Napoleon frightened her. Wilhelm II of the German Reich frightened her. But instead of frightening the wits out of her they frightened the wits into her. She woke up and smashed them all. In vain did the Kaiser sing Deutschland über Alles, and Hitler claim that his people were the Herrenvolk created by God to rule the earth. The English were equally convinced that when Britain first at Heaven's command arose from out the azure main she was destined to rule the waves, and make the earth her footstool. This is so natural to Englishmen that they are unconscious of it, just as they cannot taste water because it is always in their mouths. Long before England first sang Rule Britannia at Cliveden she had annihilated Philip's Invincible Armada to the music of the winds and waves, and, after being defeated again and again by General Luxemburg, made hay of the French armies at Blenheim, Ramillies, and Malplaquet to the senseless gibberish of Lillibullerobullenalah. She not only took on Hitler singlehanded without a word to the League of Nations nor to anyone else, but outfought him, outbragged him, outbullied him, outwitted him in every trick and turn of warfare, and finally extinguished him and hanged his accomplices.
ENGLAND SECURE AND LAZY
The drawback to England's capacity for doing impossible things when in danger is her incapacity for doing possible things (except repeating what was done last time) in security. The prefabrication in England of harbors for France and planting them there as part of the baggage of the allied invading armies, was a feat which still seems incredible even now that it has actually been achieved; yet during the 20 years armistice England could not bridge the Severn below Gloucester, harness the Pentland tides, nor tap the volcanic fires of the earth's boiling core, much less mechanize the coalmines or even design an alphabet capable of saving billionsworth of British time, ink, and paper, by spelling English speech sounds unequivocally and economically. The moment the Cease Fire is sounded England forgets all the lessons of the war and proves the truth of Dr Inge's old comment on the Anglo-Irish situation as illustrating the difficulty of driving in double harness people who remember nothing with people who forget nothing. Still, as forgetful people who act in the present can master vindictive people who only brood on the past there is much to be said for England's full share of human thoughtlessness. It is sometimes better not to think at all than to think intensely and think wrong.
Statesmen who know no past history are dangerous because contemporary history cannot be ascertained. No epoch is intelligible until it is completed and can be seen in the distance as a whole, like a mountain. The victorious combatants in the battle of Hastings did not know that they were inaugurating feudalism for four centuries, nor the Red Roses on Bosworth Field and the Ironsides at Naseby know that they were exchanging it for Whig plutocracy. Historians and newspaper editors can see revolutions three centuries off but not three years off, much less three hours. Had Marx and Engels been contemporaries of Shakespear they could not have written the Communist Manifesto, and would probably have taken a hand, as Shakespear did, in the enclosure of common lands as a step forward in civilization.
HISTORY STOPS YESTERDAY: STATECRAFT WORKS BLINDFOLD
This is why history in our schools stops far short of the present moment, and why statesmen, though they can learn the lessons of history from books, must grope their way through daily emergencies within the limits of their ignorance as best they can. If their vision is vulgar and vindictive the guesses they make may be worse than the war. That vision has not widened nor that ability grown of late. But the perils of the situation have increased enormously. Men are what they were; but war has become many times more destructive, not of men, who can be replaced, but of the plant of civilization, the houses and factories, the railways and airways, the orchards and furrowed fields, and the spare subsistence which we call capital, without which civilized mankind would perish. Even the replacement of the slain is threatened because the latest bombs are no respecters of sex; and where there are no women there will soon be no warriors. In some of the air raids, more women were killed than men. The turning point of the war was the siege of Stalingrad, written up by the newspapers more dithyrambically than any siege in history since the siege of Troy. But when the Greeks captured Troy they had the city for their pains as well as the glory. When the Red Army triumphed at Stalingrad they had nothing but festering corpses to bury, heaps of rubble to clear away, and a host of prisoners to feed. Meanwhile the British and American armies were "liberating" French cities, Dutch cities, Belgian cities, Italian cities: that is, they were destroying them exactly as they were destroying German cities, and having to house and feed their surviving inhabitants after wrecking their water mains, electric power stations and railway communications. From the national point of view this was conquest, glory, patriotism, bravery, all claiming to be necessary for security. From the European wider angle it was folly and devilment, savagery and suicide. The ready money collected for it (wars cannot be fought on credit) was called Savings: a barefaced wicked lie. All the belligerents have been bled white, and will find, when they claim their "savings" back from their governments, that their Chancellors of the Exchequer will reply, like the juvenile spendthrift exhorted to pay his debts by Richelieu in Lytton's play, "Willingly, your Eminence: where shall I borrow the money?"; for not a farthing of it (say 12 millions shot away every day for six years) remains; and all of it that achieved its purpose of ruin has imposed on us the added burden of repairing what we have destroyed.
So much for England frightened into fighting. The question now is has war become frightful enough to frighten her out of it? In the last months the bombs launched by young British warriors from airplanes at the risk of their lives grew to such prodigious weight and destructiveness that they wrecked not merely houses but whole streets, and scattered blazing phosphorus and magnesium on such a scale that the victims, chiefly women with children who could not escape by flight as a few of the men did, were stifled by having nothing to breathe but white hot air, and then burnt to cinders and buried under the piles of rubble that had been their houses. We rained these monster bombs on Germany until the destruction of their railways and munition factories made retaliation in kind impossible. Our flame throwing from tanks finished the fugitives.
WE SPLIT THE ATOM
But the resources of decivilization were not exhausted. When we were exulting in our demolition of cities like Cologne and Hamburg we were very considerably frightened by the descent on London of new projectiles, unmanned yet aimed and guided, which demolished not only streets but districts. And when we and our allies "liberated" German-occupied territory (blowing its cities to smithereens largely in the process) we discovered that the manufacture of these new horrors had been planned for on such a scale that but for their capture in time the tables might have been turned on us with a vengeance.
But we had another card up our sleeve: this time a trump so diabolical that when we played it the war, which still lingered in Japan, was brought to an abrupt stop by an Anglo-American contrivance which may conceivably transform the globe into a cloud of flaming gas in which no form of life known to us could survive for a moment. That such explosions have visibly occurred on other stars (called novas) is vouched for by our astronomers, who have seen them with their naked eyes and studied their photographs and spectrographs for years past. When England and the United States of North America got ahead of Germany and Japan with this terrific weapon all their opponents at once surrendered at discretion.
AN AMORAL VICTORY
This time there could be no sustainable pretence of a moral victory, though plenty were made as usual; for nothing yet discovered has cured mankind of lying and boasting. It was what Wellington called Waterloo, a very near thing; for had the Germans not concentrated on the jet propulsion of pilotless aeroplanes instead of on the atomic bomb, they might have contrived it before us and made themselves masters of the situation if not of the world. They may yet cheapen and improve on it. Or they may discover a gas lighter than air, deadly but not destructive. And then where shall we be? Ethical victories endure. Discoveries cannot be guaranteed for five minutes.
Still, though the victory was not a triumph of Christianity it was a triumph of Science. American and British scientists, given carte blanche in the matter of expense, had concentrated on a romantic and desperate search for a means of harnessing the mysterious forces that mould and hold atoms into metals, minerals, and finally into such miracles as human geniuses, taking some grains of metal and a few salts purchasable at the nearest oil-shop and fashioning with them the head of Shakespear, to say nothing of my own. It is already known that the energy that makes uranium out of molecules, escapes by slow radiation and both kills and cures living organisms, leaving behind it not radium but lead. If this disintegration could be speeded up to instantaneousness it would make a heat so prodigious that a couple of morsels of uranium dropped from a plane and timed to collide and disintegrate above a city could convert that city and its inhabitants into a heap of flaming gas in a fraction of a second. The experiment was tried on two Japanese cities. Four square miles of them vanished before the experimenters could say Jack Robinson.
There is no getting away from the fact that if another world war be waged with this new weapon there may be an end of our civilization and its massed populations. Even for those philosophers who are of opinion that this would not be any great loss there is a further possibility. An atomic bomb attached to a parachute and exploded in the air would devastate only as many square miles as it was meant to; but if it hung fire and exploded in the earth it might start a continuous process of disintegration in which our planet would become a nova to astronomers on Mars, blazing up and dimming out, leaving nothing of it and of us in the sky but a gaseous nebula.
It seems that if "the sport of kings" is to continue it must be fought under Queensberry rules classing atomic bombs with blows below the belt, and barring them. But it was the British refusal to bar aerial bombardment that made the air battles of the world war lawful; and these air battles had already reduced war to economic absurdity before the atomic bomb came into action. War had become logical: enemies were massacred or transported: wayleave was abolished. Thus the victors were left with the terror of their own discovery, and the vanquished with the hope that they may soon discover for themselves how to disintegrate uranium or perhaps some other element with ten times its energy. And two of the great allies, England and America, flatly refuse to share the secret of the new bomb with Russia, the third. Villages in India are still wiped out to "larn" their mostly harmless inhabitants not to snipe at British soldiers. The alarm is general: the cry of all hands, the triumphant even more than the subjugated, is that there must be an end of war. But all the other cries are as warlike as ever. The victorious Allies agree in demanding that Germans and Japanese must be treated as Catholic Ireland was treated by England in the seventeenth century.
Some of them are now consoling themselves with the hope that the atomic bomb has made war impossible. That hope has often been entertained before. Colonel Robinson, in The Nineteenth Century And After, has given a list of previous discoveries, dating back to B.C., which have developed the technique of killing from the single combats of the Trojan war, fought man to man, to artillery operations and air raids in which the combatants are hundreds of miles apart on the ground or thousands of feet up in the air dropping bombs and flying away at a speed of ten miles per second, never seeing one another nor the mischief they do. At every development it is complained that war is no longer justifiable as a test of heroic personal qualities, and demonstrated that it has become too ruinous to be tolerated as an institution. War and imperialist diplomacy persist none the less.
CIVILIZATION'S WILL TO LIVE ALWAYS DEFEATED BY DEMOCRACY
Mankind, though pugnacious, yet has an instinct which checks it on the brink of selfdestruction. We are still too close to the time when men had to fight with wild beasts for their lives and with one another for their possessions, and when women had to choose fighters for their mates to protect them from robbery and rapine at their work as mothers, nurses, cooks, and kitchen gardeners. There are still places in the world where after tribal battles the victors eat the vanquished and the women share the feast with the warriors. In others foreign explorers, visitors, and passengers are killed as strangers. The veneer of civilization which distinguishes Europeans from these tribesmen and their wives is dangerously thin. Even English ladies and gentlemen "go Fantee" occasionally. Christmas cards will not prevent them from using atomic bombs if they are again frightened and provoked. But the magnitude of the new peril rouses that other instinct, stronger finally than pugnacity, that the race must not perish. This does not mean that civilization cannot perish. Civilizations have never finally survived: they have perished over and over again because they failed to make themselves worth their cost to the masses whom they enslaved. Even at home they could not master the art of governing millions of people for the common good in spite of people's inveterate objection to be governed at all. Law has been popularly known only as oppression and taxation, and politics as a clamor for less government and more liberty. That citizens get better value for the rates and taxes they pay than for most other items in their expenditure never occurs to them. They will pay a third of their weekly earnings or more to an idle landlord as if that were a law of nature; but a collection from them by the rate collector they resent as sheer robbery: the truth being precisely the reverse. They see nothing extravagant in basing democracy on an assumption that every adult native is either a Marcus Aurelius or a combination of Saint Teresa and Queen Elizabeth Tudor, supremely competent to choose any tinker tailor soldier sailor or any good-looking well dressed female to rule over them. This insane prescription for perfect democracy of course makes democracy impossible and the adventures of Cromwell, Napoleon, Hitler, and the innumerable conquistadores and upstart presidents of South American history inevitable. There never has been and never will be a government which is both plebiscitary and democratic, because the plebs do not want to be governed, and the plutocrats who humbug them, though they are so far democratic that they must for their own sakes keep their slaves alive and efficient, use their powers to increase their revenues and suppress resistance to their appropriation of all products and services in excess of this minimum. Substitute a plebeian government, and it can only carry on to the same point with the same political machinery, except that the plunder goes to the Trade Unions instead of to the plutocrats. This may be a considerable advance; but when the plebeian government attempts to reorganize production collectively so as to increase the product and bring the highest culture within the reach of all who are capable of it, and make the necessary basic material prosperity general and equal, the dread and hatred of government as such, calling itself Liberty and Democracy, reasserts itself and stops the way. Only when a war makes collective organization compulsory on pain of slaughter, subjugation, and nowadays extinction by bombs, jet propelled or atomic, is any substantial advance made or men of action tolerated as Prime Ministers. The first four years of world war forced us to choose a man of action as leader; but when the armistice came we got rid of him and had a succession of premiers who could be trusted to do nothing revolutionary. Our ideal was "a commonplace type with a stick and a pipe and a half bred black and tan." Even Franklin Roosevelt won his first presidential election more by a photograph of himself in the act of petting a baby than by his political program, which few understood: indeed he only half understood it himself. When Mr Winston Churchill, as a man of action, had to be substituted for the fainéants when the war was resumed, his big cigars and the genial romantic oratory in which he glorified the war maintained his popularity until the war was over and he opened the General Election campaign by announcing a domestic policy which was a hundred years out of fashion, and promised nothing to a war weary proletariat eager for a Utopia in which there should be no military controls and a New World inaugurated in which everybody was to be both employed and liberated.
Mr Churchill at once shared the fate of Lloyd George; and the Utopians carried the day triumphantly. But the New World proved the same as the old one, with the same fundamental resistance to change of habits and the same dread of government interference surviving in the adult voter like the child's dread of a policeman.
It may be asked how it is that social changes do actually take place under these circumstances. The reply is that other circumstances create such emergencies, dangers, and hardships, that the very people who dread Government action are the first to run to the Government for a remedy, crying that "something must be done." And so civilization, though dangerously slowed down, forces its way piecemeal in spite of stagnant ignorance and selfishness.
Besides, there are always ancient constitutions and creeds to be reckoned with; and these are not the work of adult suffrage, but inheritances from feudal and ecclesiastical systems which had to provide law and order during the intervals between dominating personalities, when ordinary governments had to mark time by doing what was done last time until the next big boss came along and became a popular idol, worshipped at the polls by 99 per cent majorities.
All the evidence available so far is to the effect that since the dawn of history there has been no change in the natural political capacity of the human species. The comedies of Aristophanes and the Bible are at hand to convince anyone who doubts this. But this does not mean that enlightenment is impossible. Without it our attempts at democracy will wreck our civilization as they have wrecked all the earlier civilizations we know of. The ancient empires were not destroyed by foreign barbarians. They assimilated them easily. They destroyed themselves: their collapse was the work of their own well meaning native barbarians. Yet these barbarians, like our own at present, included a percentage of thinkers who had their imaginations obsessed by Utopias in which perfectly wise governments were to make everybody prosperous and happy. Their old men saw visions and their young men dreamed dreams just as they do now. But they were not all such fools as to believe that their visions and dreams could be realized by Tom, Dick, and Harriet voting for Titus Oates, Lord George Gordon, Horatio Bottomley, Napoleon, or Hitler. My experience as an enlightener, which is considerable, is that what is wrong with the average citizen is not altogether deficient political capacity. It is largely ignorance of facts, creating a vacuum into which all sons of romantic antiquarian junk and cast-off primitive religion rushes. I have to enlighten sects describing themselves as Conservatives, Socialists, Protestants, Catholics, Communists, Fascists, Fabians, Friends (Quakers), Ritualists, all bearing labels which none of them can define, and which indicate tenets which none of them accept as practical rules of life and many of them repudiate with abhorrence when they are presented without their labels. I was baptized as a member of the then established Protestant Episcopal Church in Ireland. My religious education left me convinced that I was entitled to call myself a Protestant because I believed that Catholics were an inferior species who would all go to hell when they died; and I daresay the Roman Catholic children with whom I was forbidden to play believed that the same eternity of torment awaited me in spite of Pope Pius the Ninth's humane instruction to them to absolve me on the plea of invincible ignorance. We were both taught to worship "a tenth rate tribal deity" of the most vindictive, jealous, and ruthless pugnacity, equally with his Christlike son. Just so today Conservatives know nothing of the Tory creed, but are convinced that the rulers of Russia are bloodstained tyrants, robbers and murderers, and their subjects slaves without rights or liberties. All good Russians believe equally that the capitalist rulers of the Western plutocracies are ruthless despots out for nothing but exploiting labor in pursuit of surplus value, as Marx called rent, interest, and profit. They group themselves in political parties and clubs in which none of them knows what he or she is talking about. Some of them have Utopian aspirations and have read the prophets and sages, from Moses to Marx, and from Plato to Ruskin and Inge; but a question as to a point of existing law or the function of a County Council strikes them dumb. They are more dangerous than simpletons and illiterates because on the strength of their irrelevant schooling they believe themselves politically educated, and are accepted as authorities on political subjects accordingly.
Now this political ignorance and delusion is curable by simple instruction as to the facts without any increase of political capacity. I am ending as a sage with a very scrappy and partial knowledge of the world. I do not see why I should not have begun with it if I had been told it all to begin with: I was more capable of it then than I am now in my dotage. When I am not writing plays as a more or less inspired artist I write political schoolbooks in which I say nothing of the principles of Socialism or any other Ism (I disposed of all that long ago), and try to open my readers' eyes to the political facts under which they live. I cannot change their minds; but I can increase their knowledge. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing; but we must take that risk because a little is as much as our biggest heads can hold; and a citizen who knows that the earth is round and older than six thousand years is less dangerous than one of equal capacity who believes it is a flat groundfloor between a first floor heaven and a basement hell.
INCOMPETENT GOVERNMENTS ARE THE CRUELLEST
The need for confining authority to the instructed and capable has been demonstrated by terrible lessons daily for years past. As I write, dockfulls of German prisoners of war, male and female, are being tried on charges of hideous cruelties perpetrated by them at concentration camps. The witnesses describe the horrors of life and death in them; and the newspapers class the accused as fiends and monsters. But they also publish photographs of them in which they appear as ordinary human beings who could be paralleled from any crowd or army.
These Germans had to live in the camps with their prisoners. It must have been very uncomfortable and dangerous for them. But they had been placed in authority and management, and had to organize the feeding, lodging, and sanitation of more and more thousands of prisoners and refugees thrust upon them by the central government. And as they were responsible for the custody of their prisoners they had to be armed to the teeth and their prisoners completely disarmed. Only eminent leadership, experience, and organizing talent could deal with such a situation.
Well, they simply lacked these qualities. They were not fiends in human form; but they did not know what to do with the thousands thrown on their care. There was some food; but they could not distribute it except as rations among themselves. They could do nothing with their prisoners but overcrowd them within any four walls that were left standing, lock them in, and leave them almost starving to die of typhus. When further overcrowding became physically impossible they could do nothing with their unwalled prisoners but kill them and burn the corpses they could not bury. And even this they could not organize frankly and competently: they had to make their victims die of illusage instead of by military law. Under such circumstances any miscellaneous collection of irresistibly armed men would be demoralized; and the natural percentage of callous toughs among them would wallow in cruelty and in the exercise of irresponsible authority for its own sake. Man beating is better sport than bear baiting or cock fighting or even child beating, of which some sensational English cases were in the papers at home at the time. Had there been efficient handling of the situation by the authorities (assuming this to have been possible) none of these atrocities would have occurred. They occur in every war when the troops get out of hand.
The German government was rotten at the centre as well as at the periphery. The Hohenzollern monarchy in Germany, with an enormous military prestige based on its crushing defeat of the Bonapartist French Army in 1871 (I was fifteen at the time, and remember it quite well) was swept away in 1918 by the French Republic. The rule of the monarch was succeeded by the rule of anybody chosen by everybody, supposed, as usual, to secure the greatest common measure of welfare, which is the object of democracy, but which really means that a political career is open to any adventurer. It happened that in Munich in 1930 there was a young man named Hitler who had served in the Four Years War. Having no special military talent he had achieved no more as a soldier than the Iron Cross and the rank of corporal. He was poor and what we call no class, being a Bohemian with artistic tastes but neither training nor talent enough to succeed as an artist, and was thus hung up between the bourgeoisie for which he had no income and the working class for which he had no craft. But he had a voice and could talk, and soon became a beer cellar orator who could hold his audience. He joined a cellar debating society (like our old Cogers Hall) and thereby brought its numbers up to seven. His speeches soon attracted considerable reinforcements and established him as a leading spirit. Much of what he spouted was true. As a soldier he had learnt that disciplined men can make short work of mobs; that party parliaments on the British model neither could nor would abolish the poverty that was so bitter to him; that the Treaty of Versailles under which Germany, defeated and subjected far beyond the last penny she could spare, could be torn up clause by clause by anyone with a big enough army to intimidate the plunderers; and that Europe was dominated economically by a plutocracy of financiers who had got the whip hand even of the employers. So far he was on solid ground, with unquestionable facts to support him. But he mixed the facts up with fancies such as that all plutocrats are Jews; that the Jews are an accursed race who should be exterminated as such; that the Germans are a chosen race divinely destined to rule the world; and that all she needs to establish her rule is an irresistible army. These delusions were highly flattering to Hans, Fritz, and Gretchen at large as well as to the beer drinkers in the cellar; and when an attempt was made to silence the new Hitlerites by hired gangsters, Hitler organized a bodyguard for himself so effectively that the opposition was soon sprawling in the street.
With this stock in trade Hitler found himself a born leader, and, like Jack Cade, Wat Tyler, Essex under Elizabeth Tudor, Emmet under Dublin Castle, and Louis Napoleon under the Second Republic, imagined he had only to appear in the streets with a flag to be acclaimed and followed by the whole population. He tried the experiment with a general from the Four Years War at his side and such converts to his vogue and eloquence as his beer cellar orations had made. With this nucleus he marched through the streets. A rabble gathered and followed to see the fun, as rabbles always will in cities. In London I have seen thousands of citizens rushing to see why the others were rushing, and to find out why. It looked like a revolutionary émeute. On one occasion it was a runaway cow. On another it was Mary Pickford, "World's Sweetheart" of the old silent films, driving to her hotel in a taxi.
For a moment Hitler may have fancied that a success like that of Mussolini's march to Rome (he went by train) was within his grasp. He had the immediate precedent of Kurt Eisner's successful Putsch to encourage him. But Eisner was not resisted. When Hitler and his crowd came face to face with the Government troops they did not receive him as the grognards of the Bourbon army received Napoleon on his return from Elba. They opened fire on him. His rabble melted and fled. He and General Ludendorff had to throw themselves flat on the pavement to avoid the bullets. He was imprisoned for eight months for his escapade, not having frightened the Government enough to be considered worth killing as Cade, Tyler, and Essex were killed. In prison, he and his companion-secretary Hess, wrote a book entitled Mein Kampf (My Struggle, My Program, My Views or what you please).
Like Louis Napoleon he had now learnt his lesson: namely, that Putsches are a last desperate method, not a first one, and that adventurers must come to terms with the captains of finance and industry, the bankers, and the Conservatives who really control the nations wherever the people choose what rulers they please, before he can hope to be accepted by them as a figure head. Hitler had sufficient histrionic magnetism to strike this bargain even to the extent of being made perpetual chancellor of the German Realm with more than royal honors, though his whole stock-in-trade was a brazen voice and a doctrine made up of scraps of Socialism, mortal hatred of the Jews, and complete contempt for pseudo-democratic parliamentary mobocracy.
PSEUDO MESSIAH AND MADMAN
So far he was the creature and tool of the plutocracy. But the plutocracy had made a bad bargain. The moment it made Hitler a figure head, popular idolatry made a prophet and a hero of him, and gave him a real personal power far in excess of that enjoyed by any commercial magnate. He massacred all his political rivals not only with impunity but with full parliamentary approval. Like St Peter on a famous earlier occasion the German people cried "Thou art the Christ", with the same result. Power and worship turned Hitler's head; and the national benefactor who began by abolishing unemployment, tearing up the Treaty of Versailles, and restoring the selfrespect of sixty millions of his fellow countrymen, became the mad Messiah who, as lord of a Chosen Race, was destined to establish the Kingdom of God on earth--a German kingdom of a German God--by military conquest of the rest of mankind. Encouraged by spineless attempts to appease him he attacked Russia, calculating that as a crusader against Soviet Communism he would finally be joined by the whole Capitalist West.
But the Capitalist West was much too shortsighted and jealous to do anything so intelligent. It shook hands with Stalin and stabbed Hitler in the back. He put up a tremendous fight, backed by his fellow adventurers in Italy and Spain; but, being neither a Julius Caesar nor a Mahomet, he failed to make his initial conquests welcome and permanent by improving the condition of the inhabitants. On the contrary he made his name execrated wherever he conquered. The near West rose up against him, and was joined by the mighty far West of America. After twelve years of killing other people he had to kill himself, and leave his accomplices to be hanged.
The moral for conquerors of empires is that if they substitute savagery for civilization they are doomed. If they substitute civilization for savagery they make good, and establish a legitimate title to the territories they invade. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and made it possible for a stranger to travel there without being killed by the native Danakils he was rendering the same service to the world as we had in rendering by the same methods (including poison gas) in the north west provinces of India, and had already completed in Australia, New Zealand, and the Scottish Highlands. It was not for us to throw stones at Musso, and childishly refuse to call his puppet king Emperor. But we did throw stones, and made no protest when his star was eclipsed and he was scandalously lynched in Milan. The Italians had had enough of him; for he, too, was neither a Caesar nor a Mahomet.
Contemplating the careers of these two poor devils one cannot help asking was their momentary grandeur worth while? I pointed out once that the career of Bourrienne, Napoleon's valet-secretary for a while, was far longer, more fortunate, easier and more comfortable in every commonsense way, than that of Napoleon, who, with an interval of one year, was Emperor for fourteen years. Mussolini kept going for more than twenty. So did Louis Napoleon, backed by popular idolization of his uncle, who had become a national hero, as Hitler will become in Germany presently. Whether these adventurers would have been happier in obscurity hardly matters; for they were kept too busy to bother themselves about happiness; and the extent to which they enjoyed their activities and authority and deification is unknown. They were finally scrapped as failures and nuisances, though they all began by effecting some obvious reforms over which party parliaments had been boggling for centuries. Such successes as they had were reactions from the failures of the futile parliamentary talking shops, which were themselves reactions from the bankruptcies of incompetent monarchs, both mobs and monarchs being products of political idolatry and ignorance. The wider the suffrage, the greater the confusion. "Swings to the Left" followed by "swings to the Right" kept the newspapers and the political windbags amused and hopeful. We are still humbugging ourselves into the belief that the swings to the Left are democratic and those to the Right imperial. They are only swings from failure to failure to secure substantial democracy, which means impartial government for the good of the governed by qualified rulers. Popular anarchism defeats them all.
Upstart dictators and legitimate monarchs have not all been personal failures. From Pisistratus to Porfirio, Ataturk, and Stalin, able despots have made good by doing things better and much more promptly than parliaments. They have kept their heads and known their limitations. Ordinary mortals like Nero, Paul of Russia, our James the Second, Riza Khan in Iran, and some of the small fry of degenerate hereditary tribal chiefs like Theebaw in Burma have gone crazy and become worse nuisances than mad dogs. Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts gives no idea of the extent to which flattery, deference, power, and apparently unlimited money, can upset and demoralize simpletons who in their proper places are good fellows enough. To them the exercise of authority is not a heavy and responsible job which strains their mental capacity and industry to the utmost, but a delightful sport to be indulged for its own sake, and asserted and reasserted by cruelty and monstrosity.
Democracy and equality, without which no State can achieve the maximum of beneficence and stability, are still frightfully misunderstood and confused. Popular logic about them is, like most human logic, mere association of ideas, or, to call it by the new name invented by its monstrous product Pavlov, conditional reflex. Government of the people for the people, which is democracy, is supposed to be achievable through government by the people in the form of adult suffrage, which is finally so destructive of democracy that it ends in a reaction into despot-idolatry. Equality is supposed to mean similarity of political talent, which varies as much as musical or mathematical or military capacity from individual to individual, from William Rufus to Charles II, from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, from Monmouth and Prince Charlie to Alexander and Napoleon. Genuine democracy requires that the people shall choose their rulers, and, if they will, change them at sufficient intervals; but the choice must be limited to the public spirited and politically talented, of whom Nature always provides not only the necessary percentage, but superfluity enough to give the people a choice. Equality, which in practice means intermarriageability, is based on the hard facts that the greatest genius costs no more to feed and clothe and lodge than the narrowest minded duffer, and at a pinch can do with less, and that the most limited craftsman or laborer who can do nothing without direction from a thinker, is, if worth employing at all, as necessary and important socially as the ablest director. Equality between them is either equality of income and of income only or an obvious lie.
Equality of income is practicable enough: any sporting peer with his mind bounded by the racecourse can dine on equal terms with an astronomer whose mental domain is the universe. Their children are intermarriageable without misalliance. But when we face the democratic task of forming panels of the persons eligible for choice as qualified rulers we find first that none of our tests are trustworthy or sufficient, and finally that we have no qualified rulers at all, only bosses. The rule of vast commonwealths is beyond the political capacity of mankind at its ablest. Our Solons, Caesars and Washingtons, Lenins, Stalins and Nightingales, may be better than their best competitors; but they die in their childhood as far as statesmanship is concerned, playing golf and tennis and bridge, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol as part of their daily diet, hunting, shooting, coursing, reading tales of murder and adultery and police news, wearing fantastic collars and cuffs, with the women on high heels staining their nails, daubing their lips, painting their faces: in short, doing all sorts of things that are child's play and not the exercises or recreations of statesmen and senators. Even when they have read Plato, the Gospels, and Karl Marx, and to that extent know what they have to do, they do not know how to do it, and stick in the old grooves for want of the new political technique which is evolving under pressure of circumstances in Russia. Their attempts at education and schooling end generally in boy farms and concentration camps with flogging blocks, from which the prisoners when they adolesce emerge as trained prejudiced barbarians with a hatred of learning and discipline, and a dense ignorance of what life is to nine tenths of their compatriots.
Here and there, however, cases of extraordinary faculty shew what mankind is capable of within its existing framework. In mathematics we have not only Newtons and Einsteins, but obscure illiterate "lightning calculators," to whom the answers to arithmetical and chronological problems that would cost me a long process of cyphering (if I could solve them at all) are instantly obvious. In grammar and scripture I am practically never at a loss; but I have never invented a machine, though I am built like engineers who, though they are never at a loss with machinery, are yet so unable to put descriptions of their inventions into words that they have to be helped out by patent agents of no more than common literary ability. Mozart, able in his infancy to do anything he pleased in music, from the simplest sonata to the most elaborate symphony or from the subtlest comic or tragic opera to fugal settings of the Mass, resembled millions of Austrians who could not to save their lives hum a line of Deutschland über Alles nor compose a bar of music playable by one finger, much less concerted for 30 different orchestral instruments. In philosophy we spot Descartes and Kant, Swift and Schopenhauer, Butler and Bergson, Richard Wagner and Karl Marx, Blake and Shelley, Ruskin and Morris, with dozens of uncrucified Jesuses and saintly women in every generation, look like vindictive retaliators, pugnacious sportsmen, and devout believers in ancient tribal idols. The geniuses themselves are steeped in vulgar superstitions and prejudices: Bunyan and Newton astound us not only by their specific talents but by their credulity and Bible fetichism. We prate gravely of their achievements and faculties as attainments of mankind, as if every Italian were Michael Angelo and Raphael and Dante and Galileo rolled into one, every German a Goethe, and every Englishman a compound of Shakespear and Eddington. Of this folly we have had more than enough. The apparent freaks of nature called Great Men mark not human attainment but human possibility and hope. They prove that though we in the mass are only child Yahoos it is possible for creatures built exactly like us, bred from our unions and developed from our seeds, to reach the heights of these towering heads. For the moment, however, when we are not violently persecuting them we are like Goldsmith's villagers, wondering how their little heads can carry all they know and ranking them as passing rich on four hundred pounds a year when they are lucky enough to get paid for their work instead of persecuted.
WE CAN AND MUST LIVE LONGER
Considering now that I have lived fourteen years longer than twice as long as Mozart or Mendelssohn, and that within my experience men and women, especially women, are younger at fifty than they were at thirty in the middle of the nineteenth century, it is impossible to resist at least a strong suspicion that the term of human life cannot be fixed at seventy years or indeed fixed at all. If we master the art of living instead of digging our graves with our teeth as we do at present we may conceivably reach a point at which the sole cause of death will be the fatal accident which is statistically inevitable if we live long enough. In short, it is not proved that there is such a thing as natural death: it is life that is natural and infinite.
How long, then, would it take us to mature into competent rulers of great modern States instead of, as at present, trying vainly to govern empires with the capacity of village headmen. In my Methuselah cycle I put it at three hundred years: a century of childhood and adolescence, a century of administration, and a century of oracular senatorism.
But nobody can foresee what periods my imaginary senators will represent. The pace of evolutionary development is not constant: the baby in the womb recapitulates within a few months an evolution which our biologists assure us took millions of years to acquire. The old axiom that Nature never jumps has given way to a doubt whether Nature is not an incorrigible kangaroo. What is certain is that new faculties, however long they may be dreamt of and desired, come at last suddenly and miraculously like the balancing of the bicyclist, the skater, and the acrobat. The development of homo sapiens into a competent political animal may occur in the same way.
THE NEXT DISCOVERY
Meanwhile here we are, with our incompetence armed with atomic bombs. Now power civilizes and develops mankind, though not without having first been abused to the point of wiping out entire civilizations. If the atomic bomb wipes out ours we shall just have to begin again. We may agree on paper not to use it as it is too dangerous and destructive; but tomorrow may see the discovery of that poisonous gas lighter than air and capable before it evaporates through the stratosphere of killing all the inhabitants of a city without damaging its buildings or sewers or water supplies or railways or electric plants. Victory might then win cities if it could repopulate them soon enough, whereas atomic bombing leaves nothing for anyone, victor or vanquished. It is conceivable even that the next great invention may create an overwhelming interest in pacific civilization and wipe out war. You never can tell.
AYOT SAINT LAWRENCE, 1945
A May morning in Geneva, in a meagrely equipped office with secondhand furniture, much the worse for wear, consisting of a dingy writing table with an old typewriter on it in the middle of the room, a revolving chair for the typist, an old press which has not been painted or varnished for many years, and three chairs for visitors against the wall near the door. The stove, an undecorated iron one of the plainest sort, designed rather for central heating in a cellar than for an inhabited apartment, is to the typist's right, the press facing it at the opposite side on the typist's left. The door is beside the press. The window is behind the typist.
A young Englishwoman is seated in the revolving chair. From the state of the table she seems to have been working at the compilation of a card index, as there are cards scattered about, and an open case to put them in, also a pile of foolscap from which she has been copying the card inscriptions. But at present she is not at work. She is smoking and reading an illustrated magazine with her heels on the table. A thermos flask, a cup and saucer, and a packet of cigarettes are beside her on a sliding shelf drawn out from the table. She is a self-satisfied young person, fairly attractive and well aware of it. Her dress, though smartly cut, is factory made; and her speech and manners are London suburban.
Somebody knocks at the door. She hastily takes her heels off the table; jumps up; throws her cigarette into the stove; snatches the things off the sliding shelf and hides them in the press; finally resumes her seat and looks as busy as possible.
THE TYPIST [calling] Entrez, s'il vous plait.
A middle-aged gentleman of distinguished appearance, with a blond beard and moustache, top hatted, frock coated, and gloved, comes in. He contemplates the room and the young woman with evident surprise.
HE. Pardon, mademoiselle: I seek the office of the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation.
SHE. Yes: thats quite all right. Take a seat, please.
HE [hesitating] Thank you; but my business is of great importance: I must see your chief. This is not the head office, is it?
SHE. No: the head office is in Paris. This is all there is here. Not much of a place, is it?
HE. Well, I must confess that after visiting the magnificent palace of the International Labor Office and the new quarters of the Secretariat, I expected to find the Committee for Intellectual Co-operation lodged in some imposingly monumental structure.
SHE. Oh, isnt it scandalous? I wish youd write to the papers about it. Do please sit down.
HE. Thank you. [He is about to take one of the chairs from the wall].
SHE. No, not that one: one of its legs isnt safe: it's there only for show. Will you please take the other?
HE. Can the Committee not afford you a new chair?
SHE. It cant afford anything. The intellectual budget is the interest on two million paper francs that one is glad to get threepence for: they used to be tuppence. So here I am in one rotten little room on the third floor of a tumbledown old house full of rats. And as to my salary I should be ashamed to name it. A Church charity would be ashamed to pay it.
HE. I am utterly astounded. [He takes a sound chair from the wall; places it near the office table; and sits down]. The intellectual co-operation of sixty nations must be a very extensive business. How can it possibly be conducted in this bare little place?
SHE. Oh, I conduct it all right. It's never in a hurry, you know.
HE. But really--pardon me if I am taking too much of your time--
SHE. Oh, thats quite all right. I'm only too glad to have a bit of chat with somebody. Nobody ever comes in here: people dont seem to know that the Committee exists.
HE. Do you mean that you have nothing to do?
SHE. Oh no. I tell you I have to do all the intellectual co-operation. I have to do it singlehanded too: I havnt even an office boy to help me. And theres no end to the work. If it werent, as I say, that theres no hurry about it, I should never get through it. Just look here at this nice little job theyve given me! A card index of all the universities with the names and addresses of their bursars and their vice chancellors. And there is a correspondence about the protection of professional titles that takes up half my time.
HE. And do they call that intellectual co-operation?
SHE. Well, what else would you call it?
HE. It is mere compilation. How are the intellectual giants who form your committee bringing the enormous dynamic force of their brains, their prestige, their authority, to bear on the destinies of the nations? What are they doing to correct the mistakes of our ignorant politicians?
SHE. Well, we have their names on our notepaper, you know. What more can they do? You cant expect them to sit in this little hole talking to people. I have never seen one of them.
HE. So they leave it all to you?
SHE. Oh, I wouldnt say all. Theres the head office in Paris, you know, and some offices in other countries. I suppose they do their bit; and anyhow we all do a lot of writing to oneanother. But I must say it's as dull as ditchwater. When I took the job I thought it was going to be interesting, and that I'd see all the great men. I am ambitious, you know: I won a London County Council scholarship. I wanted a job that would draw out my faculties, if you understand me. But theres nothing to do here that any common typist couldnt do. And nobody ever comes near the place. Oh, it is dull.
HE. Shall I give you an interesting job, mademoiselle? One that would get you appreciated and perhaps a little talked about?
SHE. I'll just jump at it--if it is all right.
HE. How all right?
SHE. Morally, you know. No hanky panky. I am respectable; and I mean to keep respectable.
HE. I pledge you my word that my intentions are completely honorable.
SHE. Well, what about the pay? And how long will the job last? The work here may be dull; and the pay is just short of starvation; but I have the appointment for 25 years certain; and I darent give it up for anything chancy. You dont know what it is to be out of a job.
HE. I shall not ask you to give up your post here. On the contrary, it is essential that you should keep it. But I think I can make it more interesting for you. And I should of course make you a suitable present if at any time you found that your emoluments here were insufficient.
SHE. They are. But I mustnt take bribes, you know.
HE. You need not. Any friendly service I may be able to render will be entirely independent of your official work here.
SHE. Look here: I dont half like this. Whats the game?
THE JEW. I must begin by explaining that I am a Jew.
SHE. I dont believe you. You dont look like one.
THE JEW. I am not a primitive Hittite. You cannot draw my nose in profile by simply writing down the number six. My hair is not black, nor do I wear it in excessively oiled ringlets. I have all the marks of a German blond. German is my native language: in fact I am in every sense a German. But I worship in the synagogue; and when I worship I put my hat on, whereas a German takes it off. On this ground they class me as a non-Aryan, which is nonsense, as there is no such thing as an Aryan.
SHE. I'm so glad to hear you say that. The Germans here say that I am an Aryan; but I tell them I am nothing of the kind: I'm an Englishwoman. Not a common Englishwoman, of course: I'm a Camberwell woman; and though the west end may turn up its nose at Camberwell, Camberwell is better than Peckham any day in the week.
THE JEW. No doubt. I have not been there.
SHE. I never could abide Peckham people. They are disliked everywhere. It's instinctive, somehow. Havnt you noticed it?
THE JEW. All peoples are disliked in the lump. The English are disliked: the Germans are disliked: the French are disliked. The Protestants are disliked; and all their hundreds of sects dislike oneanother. So are the Catholics, the Jesuits, the Freemasons. You tell me that the inhabitants of Peckham are disliked: no doubt they deserve it.
SHE. They do.
THE JEW. Some of the greatest men have disliked the human race. But for Noah, its Creator would have drowned it. Can we deny that He had good reasons for disliking it? Can I deny that there are good reasons for disliking Jews? On the contrary, I dislike most of them myself.
SHE. Oh, dont say that. Ive known lots of quite nice Jews. What I say is why pick on the Jews, as if they were any worse than other people?
THE JEW. That is precisely my business here today. I find you most intelligent--most sympathetic.
SHE. Come now! none of that. Whats the game?
THE JEW. I have been assaulted, plundered, and driven from my native soil by its responsible ruler. I, as a ruined individual, can do nothing. But the League of Nations can act through its Committee for Intellectual Co-operation. The Committee can act through the permanent court of International Justice at the Hague, which is also an organ of the League. My business here is to ask the Committee to apply to the court for a warrant against the responsible ruler. I charge him with assault and battery, burglary--
SHE. Burglary! Did they break into your house?
THE JEW. I cannot speak of it. Everything I treasured. Wrecked! Smashed! Defiled! Never will I forgive: never can I forget.
SHE. But why didnt you call the police?
THE JEW. Mademoiselle: the police did it. The Government did it. The Dictator who controls the police is responsible before Europe! before civilization! I look to the League of Nations for redress. It alone can call unrighteous rulers to account. The initiative must be taken by its Committee for Intellectual Co-operation: that is, for the moment, by you, mademoiselle.
SHE. But what can I do? I cant go out and collar your unrighteous ruler.
THE JEW. No, mademoiselle. What you must do is to write to the International Court, calling on it to issue a warrant for the arrest of my oppressor on a charge of attempting to exterminate a section of the human race.
SHE. Well, it seems like taking a lot on myself, doesnt it?
THE JEW. Not at all. You will be acting, not for yourself, but for the intellect of Europe. I assure you it is the correct course.
SHE. But I'm not sure that I know how to write a letter with all those police court things in it.
THE JEW. It is quite simple. But if you will allow me I will draft the letter for you.
SHE. Oh I say, Mister Jew, I dont like this.
THE JEW. Then write the letter yourself. I am sure you will do it perfectly. It will be an opportunity for you to shew the Committee what you are made of.
SHE. Well, look here. I have a particular friend, an American journalist. Would you mind if I shewed him your draft before I send it off?
THE JEW. An American journalist! Excellent, excellent. By all means submit my draft to him and ask him to correct it if necessary. My English is German English, and may leave something to be desired.
SHE. Yes: thatll be splendid. Thank you ever so much.
THE JEW. Not at all. [Rising] I will bring the draft in the course of the afternoon. Au revoir, then.
SHE. Au revoir.
They shake hands cordially. Meanwhile the door is opened by an obstinate-looking middle-aged man of respectable but not aristocratic appearance, speaking English like a shopkeeper from the provinces, or perhaps, by emigration, the dominions.
NEWCOMER. Can I see the boss, miss?
SHE [with haughty nonchalance in a would-be distinguished accent startlingly unlike her unaffected deference to the gentlemanlike Jew] I am sorry. Our chiefs are scattered over Europe, very eminent persons, you know. Can I do anything?
NEWCOMER [looking at the Jewish gentleman] I'm afraid I'm interrupting.
THE JEW. Not at all: my business is finished. [Clicking his heels and bowing] Until the afternoon, mademoiselle. Monsieur--[He bows to the newcomer, and goes out].
SHE. You can sit down.
NEWCOMER. I will keep you only a minute, miss. [He sits and takes out some notes he has made].
SHE. Be as quick as you can, please. I am busy this morning.
NEWCOMER. Yes: you have the brainwork of the world on your shoulders here. When any of the nations goes off the rails, this is the place to have it put back. Thats so, isnt it?
SHE [with aplomb] Undoubtedly.
NEWCOMER. Well, it's like this. In my country weve had an election. We thought it lay between our usual people: the National Party and the Labor Party; but it was won by an upstart kind of chap who called himself a Business Democrat. He got a clear majority over the Nationals and the Labor Party; so it was up to him to form a Government. And what do you suppose the fellow did when he became Prime Minister?
SHE [bored] Cant imagine, I'm sure.
NEWCOMER. He said he had been returned to power as a business democrat, and that the business part of it meant that he was not to waste time, but to get the nation's work done as quickly as possible.
SHE. Quite, quite. Nothing to complain of in that, is there?
NEWCOMER. Wait. I'm going to astonish you. He said the country had decided by its democratic vote that it should be governed by him and his party for the next five years, and that no opposition could be tolerated. He said the defeated minority must step down and out instead of staying there to obstruct and delay and annoy him. Of course the Opposition werent going to stand that: they refused to leave the Chamber. So he adjourned the House until next day; and when the Opposition turned up the police wouldnt let them in. Most of them couldnt get as far as the doors, because the Prime Minister had organized a body of young men called the Clean Shirts, to help the police.
NEWCOMER. Well!!! Is that all you have to say to me?
SHE. What do you expect me to say? It seems all right to me. It's what any man of business would do. Wouldnt you?
NEWCOMER. Of course I should do it in business; but this is politics.
SHE. Well! arnt politics business?
NEWCOMER. Of course theyre not. Just the opposite. You know that, dont you?
SHE. Oh, quite, quite.
NEWCOMER. What I say is, business methods are business methods; and parliamentary methods are parliamentary methods.
SHE [brightly] "And never the twain shall meet," as Kipling puts it.
NEWCOMER. No: I dont hold with Kipling. Too imperialist for me. I'm a democrat.
SHE. But not a business democrat, if I follow you.
NEWCOMER. No, no: not a business democrat. A proper democrat. I'm all for the rights of minorities.
SHE. But I always thought that democracy meant the right of the majority to have its way.
NEWCOMER. Oh no: that would be the end of all liberty. You have nothing to say against liberty, I hope.
SHE. I have nothing to say against anything. I am not here to discuss politics with everyone who walks into my office. What do you want?
NEWCOMER. Well, heres a Prime Minister committing high treason and rebellion and breach of privilege; levying armed forces against the Crown; violating the constitution; setting up a dictatorship and obstructing the lawful ingress of duly elected members to the legislative Chamber. Whats to be done with him?
SHE. Quite simple. I shall apply to the International Court at the Hague for a warrant for his arrest on all those charges. You can look in at the end of the week, when the answer from the Hague will have arrived. You will supply me with the man's name and the particulars--
NEWCOMER [putting his notes on the table before her] Here they are, miss. By Gosh, thats a splendid idea.
SHE. Thank you. That is all. Good morning.
NEWCOMER [rising and going to the door] Well, you know how to do business here: theres no mistake about that. Good morning, miss.
As he is going out the door opens in his face; and a widow comes in: a Creole lady of about forty, with the remains of a gorgeous and opulent southern beauty. Her imposing style and dress at once reduce the young lady of the office to nervous abjection.
THE WIDOW. Are you the president of the Intellectual Co-operation Committee of the League of Nations?
NEWCOMER. No, maam. This lady will do all you require [he goes out].
THE WIDOW. Am I to take that seriously? My business is important. I came here to place it before a body of persons of European distinction. I am not prepared to discuss it with an irresponsible young woman.
SHE. I am afraid I dont look the part, do I? I am only the staff, so to speak. Still, anything I can do I shall be most happy.
THE WIDOW. But where are your chiefs?
SHE. Ah, there you have me. They live all over the world, as you might say.
THE WIDOW. But do they not come here to attend to their business?
SHE. Well, you see, there is really nothing for them to attend to. It's only intellectual business, you know.
THE WIDOW. But do they not take part in the Assembly of the League?
SHE. Some of them have been, once. Nobody ever goes to the Assembly twice if they can help it.
THE WIDOW. But I must see somebody--somebody of importance.
SHE. Well, I'm sorry. Theres nobody but me. I can do whatever is necessary. Did you by any chance want a warrant from the International Court at the Hague?
THE WIDOW. Yes: that is exactly what I do want. A death warrant.
SHE. A what?!!
THE WIDOW. A death warrant. I will sit down, if you will allow me.
SHE. Oh please--
THE WIDOW [sitting down] Do you see that? [She takes an automatic pistol from her bag, and throws it on the table].
SHE. Oh, thats not allowed in Geneva. Put it up quick. Somebody might come in.
THE WIDOW [replacing the pistol in her bag] This is the most absurd place. In my country everybody carries a gun.
SHE. What country, may I ask?
THE WIDOW. The Republic of the Earthly Paradise.
SHE. My mother has a school prize called The Earthly Paradise. What a coincidence!
THE WIDOW. Then you know that the Earthly Paradise is one of the leading States in the world in culture and purity of race, and that its capital contained more than two thousand white inhabitants before the last revolution. There must be still at least fifteen hundred left.
SHE. But is it a member of the League?
THE WIDOW. Of course it is. And allow me to remind you that by its veto it can put a stop to all action by the League until its affairs are properly attended to.
SHE. Can it? I didnt know that. Of course I shall be only too pleased to apply for a warrant; but I'd rather not call it a death warrant. Death warrant sounds a bit thick, if you understand me. All you need do is to give me a list of the charges you make against--well, against whoever it is.
THE WIDOW. Simply one charge of the wilful murder of my late husband by the President of the Earthly Paradise.
SHE. Surely if a president kills anyone it's an execution; but if anyone kills a president it's an assassination.
THE WIDOW. And is not that just the state of things the League of Nations is here to put a stop to?
SHE. Oh, dont ask me. All I know about the League is that it pays my salary. Just give me the gentleman's name and who he murdered. Murder stories are thrillingly interesting.
THE WIDOW. You would not think so if you lived in a country where there is at least one murder in every family.
SHE. What an awful place! Is it as barbarous as that?
THE WIDOW. Barbarous! Certainly not. The Earthly Paradise is the most civilized country in the world. Its constitution is absolutely democratic: every president must swear to observe it in every particular. The Church is abolished: no moral authority is recognized except that of the people's will. The president and parliament are elected by adult suffrage every two years. So are all the judges and all the officials, even the road sweepers. All these reforms, which have made The Earthly Paradise the most advanced member of the League of Nations, were introduced by my late husband the sixth president. He observed the constitution strictly. The elections were conducted with absolute integrity. The ballot was secret. The people felt free for the first time in their lives. Immediately after the elections the budget was passed providing for two years. My husband then prorogued the Parliament until the end of that period, and governed the country according to his own ideas whilst the people enjoyed themselves and made money in their own ways without any political disturbances or arguments. He was re-elected three times, and is now known in the Paradise as the father of his country.
SHE. But you said he was murdered, and that the president murdered him. How could that be if he was the president? He couldnt murder himself.
THE WIDOW. Unhappily he had certain weaknesses. He was an affectionate husband: I may even say an uxorious one; but he was very far from being faithful to me. When he abolished the Church he would have abolished marriage also if public opinion would have stood for it. And he was much too indulgent to his enemies. Naturally, whenever he won an election his opponent raised an army and attempted a revolution; for we are a high spirited race and do not submit to the insult of defeat at the polls. But my husband was a military genius. He had no difficulty in putting down these revolutions; but instead of having his opponent shot in the proper and customary way, he pardoned him and challenged him to try again as often as he pleased. I urged him again and again not to trifle with his own safety in this way. Useless: he would not listen to me. At last I found out the reason. He was carrying on an intrigue with his opponent's wife, my best friend. I had to shoot her--shoot her dead--my dearest friend [she is overcome with emotion].
SHE. Oh, you shouldnt have done that. That was going a little too far, wasnt it?
THE WIDOW. Public opinion obliged me to do it as a selfrespecting wife and mother. God knows I did not want to do it: I loved her: I would have let her have ten husbands if I had had them to give. But what can you do against the etiquette of your class? My brothers had to fight duels and kill their best friends because it was etiquette.
SHE. But where were the police? Werent you tried for it?
THE WIDOW. Of course I was tried for it; but I pleaded the unwritten law and was acquitted. Unfortunately the scandal destroyed my husband's popularity. He was defeated at the next election by the man he had so foolishly spared. Instead of raising an army to avenge this outrage, my husband, crushed by the loss of his mistress, just moped at home until they came and shot him. They had come to shoot me; and [with a fresh burst of tears] I wish to Heaven they had; but I was out at the time; so they thought they might as well shoot my husband as there was nobody else to shoot.
SHE. What a dreadful thing for you!
THE WIDOW. Not at all. It served him right, absolutely. He never spoke to me after I had to kill the woman we both loved more than we loved oneanother. I believe he would have been only too glad if they had shot me; and I dont blame him. What is the use of the League of Nations if it cannot put a stop to such horrors?
SHE. Well, it's not the League's business, is it?
THE WIDOW. Not the League's business! Do you realize, young woman, that if the League does not bring the murderer of my husband to justice my son will be obliged to take up a blood feud and shoot the murderer with his own hands, though they were at the same school and are devoted to oneanother? It is against Nature, against God: if your committee does not stop it I will shoot every member of it, and you too. [She rises]. Excuse me. I can bear no more of this: I shall faint unless I get into the fresh air. [She takes papers and a card from her bag and throws them on the table]. There are the particulars. This is my card. Good morning. [She goes as abruptly as she came in].
SHE. [rising] Good--
But the widow has gone and the young office lady, greatly upset, drops back into her seat with a prolonged Well!!!!!
A smart young American gentleman looks in.
THE GENTLEMAN. Say, baby: who is the old girl in the mantilla? Carmen's grandmother, eh? [He sits on the table edge, facing her, on her right].
SHE. A murderess. Her dearest friend. She had to. Horrible. Theyve shot her husband. She says she will shoot me unless the League stops it.
HE. Grand! Fine!
SHE. Is that all you care? Well, look at my morning's work! Persecutions, revolutions, murders, all sorts. The office has been full of people all the morning. We shant have it all to ourselves any more.
HE. No, baby; but I shall have some dough to spend. I have been kicking my heels here for months faking news for my people when there was no news. And here you hand me a mouthful. What a scoop for me, honey! You are a peach. [He kisses her].
Someone knocks at the door.
SHE. Shsh! Someone knocking.
They separate hastily, he going to the stove and she composing herself in her chair.
HE. Come in! Entrez! Herein!
A gaitered English bishop enters. He is old, soft, gentle and rather infirm.
THE BISHOP. Excuse me; but does anyone here speak English?
HE [putting on all the style he is capable of] My native language, my lord. Also this lady's. [Exchange of bows]. Will you take a pew, my lord?
BISHOP [sitting] Thank you. Your stairs are somewhat trying to me: I am not so young as I was; and they tell me I must be careful not to overstrain my heart. The journey to Geneva is a terrible one for a man of my years. Nothing but the gravest emergency could have forced me to undertake it.
HE. Is the emergency one in which we can have the honor of assisting you, my lord?
BISHOP. Your advice would be invaluable to me; for I really dont know what to do or where to go here. I am met with indifference--with apathy--when I reveal a state of things that threatens the very existence of civilized society, of religion, of the family, of the purity of womanhood, and even, they tell me, of our commercial prosperity. Are people mad? Dont they know? Dont they care?
HE. My! my! my! [He takes a chair to the end of the table nearest the stove] Pray be seated, my lord. What has happened?
BISHOP [sinking into the chair] Sir: they are actually preaching Communism in my diocese. Communism!!! My butler, who has been in the palace for forty years, a most devoted and respectable man, tells me that my footman--I am the only bishop in England who can afford to keep a footman now--that my footman is a cell.
HE. A sell? You mean that he has disappointed you?
BISHOP. No: not that sort of cell. C. E. double L. A communist cell. Like a bee in a hive. Planted on me by the Communists to make their dreadful propaganda in my household! And my grandson at Oxford has joined a Communist club. The Union--the Oxford Union--has raised the red flag. It is dreadful. And my granddaughter a nudist! I was graciously allowed to introduce my daughters to good Queen Victoria. If she could see my granddaughter she would call the police. Is it any wonder that I have a weak heart? Shock after shock. My own footman, son of the most respectable parents, and actually an Anglo-Catholic!
HE. I can hardly believe it, my lord. What times we are living in!
SHE [with her most official air] Surely this is a case for the International Court at the Hague, my lord.
BISHOP. Yes, yes. An invaluable suggestion. The Court must stop the Bolshies from disseminating their horrible doctrines in England. It is in the treaties.
He is interrupted by the entrance of a very smart Russian gentleman, whom he receives with pleased recognition.
BISHOP [rising] Ah, my dear sir, we meet again. [To the others] I had the pleasure of making this gentleman's acquaintance last night at my hotel. His interest in the Church of England kept us up talking long after my usual hour for retirement. [Shaking his hand warmly] How do you do, my dear friend? how do you do?
RUSSIAN. Quite well, thank you, my lord. Am I interrupting your business?
BISHOP. No no no no: I beg you to remain. You will help: you will sympathize.
RUSSIAN. You are very kind, my lord: I am quite at your service.
BISHOP [murmuring gratefully as he resumes his seat] Thank you. Thank you.
RUSSIAN. Let me introduce myself. I am Commissar Posky of the Sovnarkom and Politbureau, Soviet delegate to the League Council.
BISHOP [aghast, staggering to his feet] You are a Bolshevik!
The Bishop faints. General concern. The men rush to him.
COMMISSAR. Do not lift him yet. He will recover best as he is.
SHE. I have some iced lemonade in my thermos. Shall I give him some?
BISHOP [supine] Where am I? Has anything happened?
HE. You are in the office of the Intellectual Co-operation Committee in Geneva. You have had a slight heart attack.
COMMISSAR. Lie still, comrade. You will be quite yourself presently.
BISHOP [sitting up] It is not my heart. [To the Commissar] It is moral shock. You presented yourself to me yesterday as a cultivated and humane gentleman, interested in the Church of England. And now it turns out that you are a Bolshie. What right had you to practise such a cruel imposture on me? [He rises: the Commissar helps him] No: I can rise without assistance, thank you. [He attempts to do so, but collapses into the arms of the Commissar].
COMMISSAR. Steady, comrade.
BISHOP [regaining his seat with the Commissar's assistance] Again I must thank you. But I shudder at the touch of your bloodstained hands.
COMMISSAR. My hands are not bloodstained, comrade. I have not imposed on you. You have not quite recovered yet, I think. I am your friend of last night. Dont you recognize me?
BISHOP. A Bolshie! If I had known, sir, I should have repudiated your advances with abhorrence.
HE [again posting himself at the stove] Russia is a member of the League, my lord. This gentleman's standing here is the same as that of the British Foreign Secretary.
BISHOP [intensely] Never. Never.
SHE [airily] And what can we do for you, Mr Posky? I'm sorry I cant offer you a chair. That one isnt safe.
COMMISSAR. Pray dont mention it. My business will take only a moment. As you know, the Soviet Government has gone as far as possible in agreeing not to countenance or subsidize any propaganda of Communism which takes the form of a political conspiracy to overthrow the British National Government.
BISHOP. And in violation of that agreement you have corrupted my footman and changed him from an honest and respectable young Englishman into a Cell.
COMMISSAR. Have we? I know nothing of your footman. If he is intelligent enough to become a Communist, as so many famous Englishmen did long before the Russian revolution, we cannot prevent him. But we do not employ him as our agent nor support him financially in any way.
HE. But what, then, is your difficulty, Comrade Posky?
COMMISSAR. We have just discovered that there is a most dangerous organization at work in Russia, financed from the British Isles, having for its object the overthrow of the Soviet system and the substitution of the Church of England and the British Constitution.
BISHOP. And why not, sir? Why not? Could any object be more desirable, more natural? Would you in your blind hatred of British institutions and of all liberty of thought and speech, make it a crime to advocate a system which is universally admitted to be the the best and freest in the world?
COMMISSAR. We do not think so. And as the obligation to refrain from this sort of propaganda is reciprocal, you are bound by it just as we are.
HE. But what is this seditious organization you have just discovered?
COMMISSAR. It is called the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. It has agents everywhere. They call themselves missionaries.
BISHOP. I cannot bear this: the man is insane. I subscribe to the Society almost beyond my means. It is a body of the highest respectability and piety.
COMMISSAR. You are misinformed: its doctrines are of the most subversive kind. They have penetrated to my own household. My wife is a busy professional woman, and my time is taken up altogether by public work. We are absolutely dependent for our domestic work on our housekeeper Feodorovna Ballyboushka. We were ideally happy with this excellent woman for years. In her youth she was a udarnik, what you call a shock worker.
BISHOP. You are all shock workers in Russia now. You have seen the effect on me?
COMMISSAR. That was in the early days of the revolution, when she was young and ardent. Now she is elderly; and her retirement into domestic service suits her years and her helpful and affectionate temperament. Two months ago an extraordinary change came over her. She refused to do any work that was not immediately necessary, on the ground that the end of the world is at hand. She declared that she was in a condition which she described as "saved," and interrupted my work continually with attempts to save me. She had long fits of crying because she could not bear the thought of my wife spending eternity in hell. She accused the Soviets of being the hornets prophesied in the Book of Revelation. We were about to have her certified as insane--most reluctantly; for we loved our dear Ballyboushka--when we discovered that she had been hypnotized by this illegal Society. I warned our Secret Police, formerly known to you as the Gay Pay Ooh. They followed up the clue and arrested four missionaries.
BISHOP. And shot them. Christian martyrs! All who fall into the hands of the terrible Gay Pay Ooh are shot at once, without trial, without the ministrations of the Church. But I will have a memorial service said for them. To that extent at last I can defeat your Godless tyranny.
COMMISSAR. You are quite mistaken: they have not been shot. They will be sent back to England: that is all.
BISHOP [passionately] What right had you to arrest them? How dare you arrest Englishmen? How dare you persecute religion?
COMMISSAR. They have been very patiently examined by our official psychologists, who report that they can discover nothing that could reasonably be called religion in their minds. They are obsessed with tribal superstitions of the most barbarous kind. They believe in human sacrifices, in what they call the remission of sins by the shedding of blood. No man's life would be safe in Russia if such doctrines were propagated there.
BISHOP. But you dont understand. Oh, what dreadful ignorance!
COMMISSAR. Let us pass on to another point. Our police have found a secret document of your State Church, called the Thirty-nine Articles.
BISHOP. Secret! It is in the Prayer Book!
COMMISSAR. It is not read in church. That fact speaks for itself. Our police have found most of the articles incomprehensible; but there is one, the eighteenth, which declares that all Russians are to be held accursed. How would you like it if our chief cultural institution, endowed by our government, the Komintern, were to send its agents into England to teach that every Englishman is to be held accursed?
BISHOP. But surely, surely, you would not compare the Komintern to the Church of England!!
COMMISSAR. Comrade Bishop: the Komintern is the State Church in Russia exactly as the Church of England is the State Church in Britain.
The Bishop slides to the floor in another faint.
SHE. Oh! He's gone off again. Shall I get my thermos?
HE. I should break things to him more gently, Mr Posky. People die of shock. He maynt recover next time. In fact, he maynt recover this time.
COMMISSAR. What am I to do? I have said nothing that could possibly shock any educated reasonable person; but this man does not seem to know what sort of world he is living in.
SHE. He's an English bishop, you know.
COMMISSAR. Well? Is he not a rational human being?
SHE. Oh no: nothing as common as that. I tell you he's a bishop.
BISHOP. Where am I? Why am I lying on the floor? What has happened?
HE. You are in the Intellectual Co-operation Bureau in Geneva; and you have just been told that the Russian Komintern is analogous to the Church of England.
BISHOP [springing to his feet unaided, his eyes blazing] I still have life enough left in me to deny it. Karl Marx--Antichrist--said that the sweet and ennobling consolations of our faith are opium given to the poor to enable them to endure the hardships of that state of life to which it has pleased God to call them. Does your Komintern teach that blasphemy or does it not?
COMMISSAR. Impossible. There are no poor in Russia.
BISHOP. Oh! [he drops dead].
HE [feeling his pulse] I am afraid you have shocked him once too often, Comrade. His pulse has stopped. He is dead.
POSKY. Was he ever alive? To me he was incredible.
SHE. I suppose my thermos is of no use now. Shall I ring up a doctor?
HE. I think you had better ring up the police. But I say, Mr Posky, what a scoop!
COMMISSAR. A scoop? I do not understand. What is a scoop?
HE. Read all the European papers tomorrow and youll see.
Office of the secretary of the League of Nations. Except for the small writing table at which the secretary is seated there is no office furniture. The walls are covered with engraved prints or enlarged photographs of kings, presidents, and dictators, mostly in military uniforms. Above these bellicose pictures the cornice is decorated with a row of plaster doves in low relief. There is one large picture in oils, representing a lifesize Peace, with tiny figures, also in military uniforms, kneeling round her feet and bowing their heads piously beneath the wreath which she offers them. This picture faces the secretary from the other side of the room as he sits at his table with his back to the window presenting his left profile to anyone entering from the door, which is in the middle of the wall between them. A suite of half a dozen chairs is ranged round the walls, except one, which stands near the writing table for the convenience of people interviewing the secretary.
He is a disillusioned official with a habit of dogged patience acquired in the course of interviews with distinguished statesmen of different nations, all in a condition of invincible ignorance as to the spirit of Geneva and the constitution of the League of Nations, and each with a national axe to grind. On this occasion he is rather exceptionally careworn. One pities him, as he is of a refined type, and, one guesses, began as a Genevan idealist. Age fifty or thereabouts.
There is a telephone on the table which he is at present using.
THE SECRETARY. Yes: send her up instantly. Remind me of her name. What?! . . . Ammonia? Nonsense! that cant be her name. Spell it . . . V E? . . . Oh, B E. Do you mean to say that her name is Begonia? Begonia Brown? . . . Farcical.
He replaces the receiver as Begonia enters. She is the Intellectual Co-operation typist. She is in walking dress, cheap, but very smart.
THE SECRETARY. Miss Brown?
BEGONIA [with her best smile] Yes.
THE SECRETARY. Sit down.
BEGONIA [complying] Kew [short for Thank you].
THE SECRETARY [gravely] You have heard the news, no doubt?
BEGONIA. Oh yes. Jack Palamedes has won the dancing tournament. I had ten francs on him; and I have won a hundred. Had you anything on?
THE SECRETARY [still more gravely] I am afraid you will think me very ignorant, Miss Brown; but I have never heard of Mr Palamedes.
BEGONIA. Fancy that! He's the talk of Geneva, I assure you.
THE SECRETARY. There are other items of news, Miss Brown. Germany has withdrawn from the League.
BEGONIA. And a good riddance, if you ask me. My father lost a lot of money through the war. Otherwise--you wont mind my telling you--youd never have got me slaving at a typewriter here for my living.
THE SECRETARY. No doubt. A further item is that the British Empire has declared war on Russia.
BEGONIA. Well, what could you expect us to do with those awful Bolshies? We should have done it long ago. But thank goodness we're safe in Geneva, you and I.
THE SECRETARY. We are safe enough everywhere, so far. The war is one of sanctions only.
BEGONIA. More shame for us, say I. I should give those Bolshies the bayonet: thats the way to talk to scum of that sort. I cant contain myself when I think of all the murder and slavery of them Soviets--[correcting herself] those Soviets.
THE SECRETARY. In consequence Japan has declared war on Russia and is therefore in military alliance with Britain. And the result of that is that Australia, New Zealand and Canada have repudiated the war and formed an anti-Japanese alliance with the United States under the title of the New British Federation. South Africa may join them at any moment.
BEGONIA [flushing with indignation] Do you mean that theyve broken up our dear Empire?
THE SECRETARY. They have said nothing about that.
BEGONIA. Oh, then thats quite all right. You know, when I was at school I was chosen five times to recite on Empire Day; and in my very first year, when I was the smallest child there, I presented the bouquet to King George's sister, who came to our prize giving. Say a word against the Empire, and you have finished with Begonia Brown.
THE SECRETARY. Then you went to school, did you?
BEGONIA. Well, of course: what do you take me for? I went to school for seven years and never missed a single day. I got fourteen prizes for regular attendance.
THE SECRETARY. Good God!
BEGONIA. What did you say?
THE SECRETARY. Nothing. I was about to tell you what has happened in Quetzalcopolis, the chief seaport of the Earthly Paradise.
BEGONIA. I know. In Central America, isnt it?
THE SECRETARY. Yes. The mob there has attacked the British Consulate, and torn down the British flag.
BEGONIA [rising in a fury] Insulted the British flag!!!
THE SECRETARY. They have also burnt down three convents and two churches.
BEGONIA. Thats nothing: theyre only Catholic churches. But do you mean to say that they have dared to touch the British flag?
THE SECRETARY. They have. Fortunately it was after hours and the staff had gone home. Otherwise they would assuredly have been massacred.
BEGONIA. Dirty swine! I hope the British fleet will not leave a stone standing or a nigger alive in their beastly seaport. Thatll teach them.
THE SECRETARY. There is only one other trifle of news. The little Dominion of Jacksonsland has declared itself an independent republic.
BEGONIA. It ought to be ashamed of itself. Republics are a low lot. But dont you be anxious about that: the republicans will soon be kicked out. The people may be misled for a while; but they always come back to king and country.
THE SECRETARY. And now, Miss Brown, I must ask you whether you fully realize that all this is your doing?
THE SECRETARY. Yours and nobody else's. In every one of these cases, it was your hand that started the series of political convulsions which may end in the destruction of civilization.
BEGONIA [flattered] Really? How?
THE SECRETARY. Those letters that you sent to the Court of International Justice at the Hague--
BEGONIA. Oh, of course. Yes. Fancy that!
THE SECRETARY. But did you not know what you were doing? You conducted the correspondence with very remarkable ability--more, I confess, than I should have given you credit for. Do you mean to tell me that you did not foresee the consequences of your action? That you did not even read the newspapers to see what was happening?
BEGONIA. I dont read political news: it's so dry. However, I seem to be having a big success; and I wont pretend I am not gratified.
THE SECRETARY. Unfortunately the Powers do not consider it a success. They are blaming me for it.
BEGONIA. Oh, if there is any blame I am ready to take it all on myself.
THE SECRETARY. That is very magnanimous of you, Miss Brown.
BEGONIA. Not so magnanimous either: thank you all the same. I tell you I back the Empire; and the Empire will back me. So dont be uneasy.
THE SECRETARY. You are very possibly right. And now may I ask you a personal question? How did you become interested in the League of Nations? How did you get this post of yours, which has placed the world's destiny so unexpectedly in your hands?
BEGONIA. Was I interested in the League? Let me see. You know that there is a Society called the League of Nations Union, dont you?
THE SECRETARY. I do. I shudder whenever I think of it.
BEGONIA. Oh, theres no harm in it. I'd never heard of it until last year, when they opened a branch in Camberwell with a whist drive. A friend gave me a ticket for it. It was opened by the Conservative candidate: an innocent young lad rolling in money. He saw that I was a cut above the other girls there, and picked me for his partner when he had to dance. I told him I'd won a County Council scholarship and was educated and knew shorthand and a bit of French and all that, and that I was looking out for a job. His people fixed me up for Geneva all right. A perfect gentleman I must say: never asked so much as a kiss. I was disappointed.
THE SECRETARY. Disappointed at his not kissing you?
BEGONIA. Oh no: there were plenty of kisses going from better looking chaps. But he was a bit of a sucker; and I thought he had intentions; and of course he would have been a jolly good catch for me. But when his people got wind of it they packed him off for a tour round the Empire, and got me this job here--to keep me out of his way, I suppose. Anyhow here I am, you see.
THE SECRETARY. Were you examined as to your knowledge and understanding of the Covenant of the League, and its constitution?
BEGONIA. No. They didnt need to examine me to find out that I was educated. I had lots of prizes and certificates; and there was my L.C.C. scholarship. You see, I have such a good memory: examinations are no trouble to me. Theres a book in the office about the League. I tried to read it; but it was such dry stuff I went to sleep over it.
THE SECRETARY [rising] Well, Miss Brown, I am glad to have made your acquaintance, and delighted to learn that though you have produced a first class political crisis, including what promises to be a world war, and made an amazing change in the constitution of the British Empire all in the course of a single morning's work, you are still in high spirits and in fact rather proud of yourself.
BEGONIA [she has also risen] Oh, I am not a bit proud; and I'm quite used to being a success. You know, although I was always at the top of my class at school, I never pretended to be clever. Silly clever, I call it. At first I was frightened of the girls that went in for being clever and having original ideas and all that sort of crankiness. But I beat them easily in the examinations; and they never got anywhere. That gave me confidence. Wherever I go I always find that lots of people think as I do. The best sort of people always do: the real ladies and gentlemen, you know. The others are oddities and outsiders. If you want to know what real English public opinion is, keep your eye on me. I'm not a bit afraid of war: remember that England has never lost a battle, and that it does no harm to remind the foreigners of it when they get out of hand. Good morning. So pleased to have met you.
They shake hands; and he goes to the door and opens it for her. She goes out much pleased with herself.
THE SECRETARY [ruminating dazedly] And thats England! [The telephone rings. He returns to the table to attend to it]. Yes? . . . Which Foreign Secretary? Every hole and corner in the Empire has its own Foreign Secretary now. Do you mean the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Orpheus Midlander? . . . Well, why didnt you say so? Shew him up at once.
Sir Orpheus comes in. He is a very welldressed gentleman of fifty or thereabouts, genial in manner, quickwitted in conversation, altogether a pleasant and popular personality.
THE SECRETARY. Do sit down. I cant say how I feel about your being dragged here all the way from London in Derby week.
SIR O. [sitting] Well, my friend, it's you who have dragged me. And I hope you wont mind my asking you what on earth you think you have been doing? What induced you to do it?
THE SECRETARY. I didnt do it. It was done by the Committee for Intellectual Co-operation.
SIR O. The what??! I never heard of such a body.
THE SECRETARY. Neither did I until this business was sprung on me. Nobody ever heard of it. But I find now that it is part of the League, and that its members are tremendous swells with European reputations. Theyve all published translations from the Greek or discovered new planets or something of that sort.
SIR O. Ah yes: outside politics: I see. But we cant have literary people interfering in foreign affairs. And they must have held meetings before taking such an outrageous step as this. Why were we not told? We'd have squashed them at once.
THE SECRETARY. They are quite innocent: they know no more about it than I did. The whole thing was done by a young woman named Begonia Brown.
SIR O. Begonia Brown! But this is appalling. I shall be personally compromised.
THE SECRETARY. You! How?
SIR O. This woman--it must be the same woman; for there cant be another female with such a name in the world--she's engaged to my nephew.
THE SECRETARY. She told me about it. But I had no idea the man was your nephew. I see how awkward it is for you. Did you ever talk to her about it?
SIR O. I! I never set eyes on her in my life. I remember her ridiculous name: thats all.
THE SECRETARY. Were you in the habit of discussing foreign affairs with your nephew?
SIR O. With Benjy! You might as well discuss Einstein's general theory of relativity with a blue behinded ape. I havnt exchanged twenty words with the boy since I tipped him when he was going from Eton to Oxford.
THE SECRETARY. Then I cant understand it. Her correspondence with the Hague Court has been conducted with remarkable ability and in first-rate style. The woman herself is quite incapable of it. There must be somebody behind her. Can it be your nephew?
SIR O. If, as you say, the work shews political ability and presentable style, you may accept my assurance that Sue's boy has nothing to do with it. Besides, he is at present in Singapore, where the native dancing girls are irresistible.
The telephone rings.
THE SECRETARY. Excuse me. Yes? . . . Hold on a moment. [To Sir O.] The Senior Judge of the Court of International Justice at the Hague is downstairs. Hadnt you better see him?
SIR O. By all means. Most opportune.
THE SECRETARY [into the telephone] Send him up.
SIR O. Have you had any correspondence about this business?
THE SECRETARY. Correspondence!!! I havnt read one tenth of it. The Abyssinian war was a holiday job in comparison. Weve never had anything like it before.
The Senior Judge enters. He is a Dutchman, much younger than a British judge: under forty, in fact, but very grave and every inch a judge.
THE SECRETARY. I am desolate at having brought your honor all the way from the Hague. A word from you would have brought me there and saved you the trouble. Have you met the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Orpheus Midlander?
JUDGE. I have not had that pleasure. How do you do, Sir Midlander?
SIR O. How do you do?
They shake hands whilst the Secretary places a chair for the judge in the middle of the room, between his table and Sir Orpheus. They all sit down.
JUDGE. I thought it best to come. The extraordinary feature of this affair is that I have communicated with all the members of the Intellectual Committee; and every one of them denies any knowledge of it. Most of them did not know that they are members.
SIR O. Do you mean to say that it is all a hoax?
JUDGE. It may be that someone was hoaxing the Court. But now that the applications for warrants have been made public, the Court must take them seriously. Otherwise it would cut a ridiculous figure in the eyes of Europe.
SIR O. But surely such a procedure was never contemplated when the Powers joined the League?
JUDGE. I do not think anything was contemplated when the Powers joined the League. They signed the Covenant without reading it, to oblige President Wilson. The United States then refused to sign it to disoblige President Wilson, also without reading it. Since then the Powers have behaved in every respect as if the League did not exist, except when they could use it for their own purposes.
SIR O. [naïvely] But how else could they use it?
JUDGE. They could use it to maintain justice and order between the nations.
SIR O. There is nothing we desire more. The British Empire stands for justice and order. But I must tell you that the British Foreign Office would take a very grave view of any attempt on the part of the Court to do anything without consulting us. I need not remind you that without us you have no powers. You have no police to execute your warrants. You cant put the Powers in the dock: you havnt got a dock.
JUDGE. We have a court room at the Hague which can easily be provided with a dock if you consider such a construction necessary, which I do not. We have employees to whom we can assign police duties to any necessary extent.
SIR O. Pooh! You cant be serious. You have no jurisdiction.
JUDGE. You mean that our jurisdiction is undefined. That means that our jurisdiction is what we choose to make it. You are familiar with what you call judge-made law in England. Well, Sir Midlander, the judges of the Court of International Justice are not nonentities. We have waited a long time for a case to set us in motion. You have provided us with four cases; and you may depend on us to make the most of them. They will affirm our existence, which is hardly known yet. They will exercise our power, which is hardly felt yet. All we needed was a cause célèbre; and Miss Begonia Brown has found several for us very opportunely.
SIR O. My dear sir: Miss Brown is a nobody.
JUDGE. Unless the highest court can be set in motion by the humblest individual justice is a mockery.
SIR O. Of course I agree with that--in principle. Still, you know, there are people you can take into court and people you cant. Your experience at the bar--
JUDGE [interrupting him sharply] I have had no experience at the bar. Please remember that you are not now in England, where judges are only worn-out barristers, most of whom have forgotten any sense of law they may ever have acquired.
SIR O. How very odd! I own I was surprised to find the judicial bench represented by so young a man; and I am afraid I must add that I prefer our British system. We should have had no trouble with a British judge.
JUDGE. Why should you have any trouble with me? I am simply a Judge, first and last. To me it is a continual trouble and scandal that modern statesmen are slipping back, one after another, from the reign of law based on the eternal principle of justice, to the maintenance of governments set up by successful demagogues or victorious soldiers, each of whom has his proscription list of enemies whom he imprisons, exiles, or murders at his pleasure until he is himself overcome by an abler rival and duly proscribed, imprisoned, exiled or assassinated in his turn. Such a state of things is abhorrent to me. I have spent years in trying to devise some judicial procedure by which these law-breakers can be brought to justice. Well, the Intellectual Co-operation Committee--of the existence of which I must confess I was entirely ignorant--has found the procedure; and the Court will back it up to the utmost of its powers.
SIR O. I am afraid you are a bit of an idealist.
JUDGE. Necessarily. Justice is an ideal; and I am a judge. What, may I ask, are you?
SIR O. I! Oh, only a much harassed Foreign Secretary. You see my young friend--if you will allow me to call you so--justice, as you say, is an ideal, and a very fine ideal too; but what I have to deal with is Power; and Power is often a devilishly ugly thing. If any of these demagogue dictators issues a warrant for your arrest or even an order for your execution, you will be arrested and shot the moment you set foot in their country. You may even be kidnapped and carried there: remember Napoleon and the Duc d'Enghien. But if you issue a warrant or pronounce a sentence against one of them Europe will just laugh at you, because you have no power. It will be as futile as a decree of excommunication.
JUDGE. Would you like to be excommunicated?
SIR O. Hardly a serious question, is it?
JUDGE. Very serious.
SIR O. My dear sir, it couldnt happen.
JUDGE. Pardon me: it could.
SIR O. [obstinately] Pardon me: it couldnt. Look at the thing practically. To begin with I am not a Roman Catholic. I am a member of the Church of England; and down at my place in the country the Church living is in my gift. Without my subscription the churchwardens could not make both ends meet. The rector has no society except what he gets in my house.
JUDGE. The rector is a freeholder. If you are a notoriously evil liver, he can refuse to admit you to Communion.
SIR O. But I am not a notoriously evil liver. If the rector suggested such a thing I should have him out of his rectory and in a lunatic asylum before the end of the week.
JUDGE. Suppose the rector were prepared to risk that! Suppose the war of 1914 were renewed, and you were responsible for sending the young men of your country to drop bombs on the capital cities of Europe! Suppose your rector, as a Christian priest, took the view that you were in a condition of mortal sin and refused you Communion! Suppose, if you wish, that you had him locked up as a lunatic! Would you like it?
SIR O. Suppose the villagers burnt down his rectory and ducked him in the horse pond to teach him a little British patriotism! How would he like it?
JUDGE. Martyrdom has its attractions for some natures. But my question was not whether he would like it, but whether you would like it.
SIR O. I should treat it with contempt.
JUDGE. No doubt; but would you like it?
SIR O. Oh, come! Really! Really!
JUDGE. Believe me, Sir Midlander, you would not like it. And if the International Court, moved by the Committee for Intellectual Co-operation, were to deliver an adverse judgment on you, you would not like it. The man whom the Hague condemns will be an uncomfortable man. The State which it finds to be in the wrong will be an uncomfortable State.
SIR O. But you cant enforce anything. You have no sanctions.
JUDGE. What, exactly, do you mean by sanctions, Sir Midlander?
SIR O. I mean what everybody means. Sanctions, you know. That is plain English. Oil, for instance.
JUDGE. Castor oil?
SIR O. No no: motor oil. The stuff you run your aeroplanes on.
JUDGE. Motor oil is a sanction when you withhold it. Castor oil is a sanction when you administer it. Is there any other difference?
SIR O. [smiling] Well, that has never occurred to me before; but now you mention it there is certainly an analogy. But in England the castor oil business is just one of those things that are not done. Castor oil is indecent. Motor oil is all right.
JUDGE. Well, you need not fear that the Hague will resort to any other sanction than the sacredness of justice. It will affirm this sacredness and make the necessary applications. It is the business of a judge to see that there is no wrong without a remedy. Your Committee for Intellectual Co-operation has been appealed to by four persons who have suffered grievous wrongs. It has very properly referred them to the International Court. As president of that court it is my business to find a remedy for their wrongs; and I shall do so to the best of my ability even if my decisions should form the beginning of a new code of international law and be quite unprecedented.
SIR O. But, my dear sir, what practical steps do you propose to take? What steps can you take?
JUDGE. I have already taken them. I have fixed a day for the trial of the cases, and summoned the plaintiffs and defendants to attend the court.
THE SECRETARY. But the defendants are the responsible heads of sovereign States. Do you suppose for a moment that they will obey your summons?
JUDGE. We shall see. That, in fact, is the object of my experiment. We shall see. [He rises] And now I must ask you to excuse me. Sir Midlander: our interview has been most instructive to me as to the attitude of your country. Mr Secretary: you are very good to have spared me so much of your valuable time. Good afternoon, gentlemen. [He goes out].
SIR O. What are we to do with men like that?
THE SECRETARY. What are they going to do with us? That is the question we have to face now.
SIR O. Pooh! They cant do anything, you know, except make speeches and write articles. They are free to do that in England. British liberty is a most useful safety valve.
THE SECRETARY. I was on his honor's side myself once, until my official experience here taught me how hopeless it is to knock supernationalism--
SIR O. Super what? Did you say supernaturalism?
THE SECRETARY. No. Supernationalism.
SIR O. Oh, I see. Internationalism.
THE SECRETARY. No. Internationalism is nonsense. Pushing all the nations into Geneva is like throwing all the fishes into the same pond: they just begin eating oneanother. We need something higher than nationalism: a genuine political and social Catholicism. How are you to get that from these patriots, with their national anthems and flags and dreams of war and conquest rubbed into them from their childhood? The organization of nations is the organization of world war. If two men want to fight how do you prevent them? By keeping them apart, not by bringing them together. When the nations kept apart war was an occasional and exceptional thing: now the League hangs over Europe like a perpetual warcloud.
SIR O. Well, dont throw it at my head as if I disagreed with you.
THE SECRETARY. I beg your pardon. I am worried by this crisis. Let us talk business. What are we to do with Begonia Brown?
SIR O. Do with her! Squash her, impudent little slut. She is nobody: she doesnt matter.
The conversation is abruptly broken by the irruption of Begonia herself in a state of ungovernable excitement.
BEGONIA. Have you heard the news? [Seeing Sir Orpheus] Oh, I beg your pardon: I didnt know you were engaged.
THE SECRETARY. This is Sir Orpheus Midlander, the British Foreign Secretary, Miss Brown.
BEGONIA. Oh, most pleased to meet you, Sir Orpheus. I know your nephew. We are quite dear friends [she shakes Sir O.'s hand effusively]. Have you heard the news? Lord Middlesex is dead.
SIR O. Indeed? Let me see. Middlesex? I dont attach any significance to the news. He must have been a backwoodsman. Remind me about him.
BEGONIA. His son is Lord Newcross.
SIR O. Oh! Then Newcross goes to the Lords to succeed his father. That means a by-election in Camberwell.
BEGONIA. Yes; and the Conservatives want me to stand.
BOTH GENTLEMEN. What!!!
BEGONIA. Dont you think I ought to? I have been a lot in the papers lately. It's six hundred a year for me if I get in. I shall be the patriotic candidate; and the Labor vote will be a split vote; for the Communists are putting up a candidate against the Labor man; and the Liberals are contesting the seat as well. It will be just a walk-over for me.
SIR O. But my nephew is the Government candidate. Has he not told you so?
BEGONIA. Oh, thats quite all right. He has withdrawn and proposed me. He'll pay my election expenses.
SIR O. I thought he was in Singapore.
BEGONIA. So he is. It's all been done by cable. Ive just this minute heard it. You see, dear Billikins is not very bright; and he'd better not be here to muddle everything up. [She sits].
SIR O. But will his committee accept you?
BEGONIA. Only too glad to get a candidate that will do them credit. You see, no matter how carefully they coached Bill for the public meetings he made the most awful exhibition of himself. And he knew it, poor lamb, and would never have gone in for it if his mother hadnt made him.
SIR O. And do you think you will be able to make a better impression at the meetings? You are not a politician, are you?
BEGONIA. The same as anybody else, I suppose. I shall pick up all the politics I need when I get into the House; and I shall get into the House because there are lots of people in Camberwell who think as I do. You bet I shall romp in at the head of the poll. I am quite excited about it. [To the Secretary] You were so kind to me just now that I thought you had a right to know before anyone else. [To Sir O.] And it's splendid news for the Government, isnt it, Sir Orpheus?
SIR O. Thrilling, Miss Brown.
BEGONIA. Oh, do call me Begonia. We're as good as related, arnt we?
SIR O. I am afraid so.
BEGONIA. I am sure to get in, arnt I?
SIR O. If your three opponents are foolish enough to go to the poll, it's a cert.
BEGONIA. Yes: isnt it? I wonder would you mind lending me my fare to London. I dont like taking money off Billikins. I will pay you when my ship comes home: the six hundred a year, you know.
SIR O. Will a five pound note be any use [he produces one]?
BEGONIA [taking it] Thanks ever so much: itll just see me through. And now I must toddle off to my little constituency. I have barely time to pack for the night train. Goodbye, Mr Secretary [They shake hands]; and [to Sir O. effusively] thanks ever so much, and au revoir. [She goes out].
THE SECRETARY. What an amazing young woman! You really think she will get in?
SIR O. Of course she will. She has courage, sincerity, good looks, and big publicity as the Geneva heroine. Everything that our voters love.
THE SECRETARY. But she hasnt a political idea in her head.
SIR O. She need not have. The Whips will pilot her through the division lobby until she knows the way. She need not know anything else.
THE SECRETARY. But she is a complete ignoramus. She will give herself away every time she opens her mouth.
SIR O. Not at all. She will say pluckily and sincerely just what she feels and thinks. You heard her say that there are lots of people in Camberwell who feel and think as she does. Well, the House of Commons is exactly like Camberwell in that respect.
THE SECRETARY. But can you contemplate such a state of things without dismay?
SIR O. Of course I can. I contemplated my nephew's candidature without dismay.
THE SECRETARY. The world is mad. Quite mad.
SIR O. Pooh! you need a cup of tea. Nothing wrong with the world: nothing whatever.
THE SECRETARY [resignedly sitting down and speaking into the telephone] Tea for two, please.
Afternoon in the lounge of a fashionable restaurant overlooking the Lake of Geneva. Three tea tables, with two chairs at each, are in view. There is a writing table against the wall. The Secretary is seated at the centre table, reading a magazine. The American journalist comes in flourishing a cablegram.
THE JOURNALIST. Heard the news, boss?
THE SECRETARY. What news? Anything fresh from the Hague?
THE JOURNALIST. Yes. The International Court has abolished Intellectual Co-operation [he seats himself at the next table on the Secretary's left].
THE SECRETARY. What!
THE JOURNALIST. They have had enough of it. The Court also finds the big Powers guilty of flagrant contempt of the League Covenant.
THE SECRETARY. So they are, of course. But the League was doing as well as could be expected until Dame Begonia took a hand in it. By the way, have you heard the latest about her?
THE JOURNALIST. No. She has dropped me completely since she became a Dame of the British Empire.
THE SECRETARY. Well, at a fashion demonstration in the Albert Hall, some blackshirt thought it would be a good joke to pretend to forget her name and call her Mongolia Muggins. Sixteen newspapers quoted this; and Begonia took an action against every one of them. They settled with her for three hundred apiece. Begonia must have netted at least four thousand.
THE JOURNALIST. And to think I might have married that girl if only I had had the foresight to push myself on her!
THE SECRETARY. Ah! A great opportunity missed: she would have made a most comfortable wife. Pleasant-looking, good-natured, able to see everything within six inches of her nose and nothing beyond. A domestic paragon: a political idiot. In short, an ideal wife.
The widow enters on the arm of Sir Orpheus Midlander. She still carries her handbag, heavy with the weight of her pistol.
SIR O. I assure you, señora, this is the only place in Geneva where you can be perfectly happy after a perfect tea.
THE WIDOW. It is easy for you to be happy. But think of this weight continually hanging on my arm, and reminding me at every moment of my tragic destiny.
SIR O. Oh, you must allow me to carry it for you. I had no idea it was heavy. Do you keep all your money in it?
THE WIDOW. Money! No: it is this [she takes the weapon from it and throws it on the nearest table on the Secretary's right. The pair seat themselves there].
SIR O. Good gracious! What do you carry that for? It is against the law in Geneva.
THE WIDOW. There is no longer any law in Geneva. The Hague has abolished the Intellectual Committee, leaving my husband's murder still unexpiated. That throws me back on the blood feud. Properly this is the business of my son. I cabled him to shoot the usurping president at once. But the boy is a shameless dastard.
SIR O. A bastard!
THE WIDOW. No: I wish he were: he has disgraced me. A dastard, a coward. He has become a Communist, and pretends that the blood feud is a bourgeois tradition, contrary to the teachings of Karl Marx.
SIR O. Well, so much the better. I can hardly believe that Marx taught anything so entirely reasonable and proper as that it is wrong to shoot a president; but if he did I must say I agree with him.
THE WIDOW. But public opinion in the Earthly Paradise would never tolerate such a monstrous violation of natural justice as leaving the murder of a father unavenged. If our relatives could be murdered with impunity we should have people shooting them all over the place. Even cousins five times removed have to be avenged if they have no nearer relative to take on that duty.
SIR O. Dear me! But if your son wont, he wont; and there is an end to it. A very happy end, if I may say so.
THE WIDOW. An end of it! Nothing of the sort. If my son will not shoot the president, I shall have to do it myself. The president has two brothers who will shoot me unless I stay in this ghastly Europe instead of returning to my beloved Earthly Paradise.
SIR O. To me as an Englishman, all this seems ridiculous. You really need not shoot him.
THE WIDOW. You dont know how strong public opinion is in the Earthly Paradise. You couldnt live there if you defied it. And then there is my own sense of right and wrong. You mustnt think I have no conscience.
SIR O. People have such extraordinary consciences when they have not been educated at an English public school! [To the secretary] Talking of that, have you read the Prime Minister's speech in the debate on the League last night?
THE SECRETARY [illhumoredly] Yes. Half about Harrow as a nursery for statesmen, and the other half about the sacredness of treaties. He might have shewn some consideration for me.
SIR O. But, my dear fellow, in what way could his speech have possibly hurt you? He has made that speech over and over again. You know very well that after a certain age a man has only one speech. And you have never complained before.
THE SECRETARY. Well, he had better get a new speech, and stop talking about the sacredness of treaties. Will you fellows in London never take the trouble to read the Covenant of the League? It entirely abolishes the sacredness of treaties. Article 26 expressly provides for the revision and amendment both of the treaties and the League itself.
SIR O. But how can that be? Surely the League was created to see the Treaty of Versailles carried out. With what other object would we have joined it?
THE SECRETARY [desperately] Oh, there is no use talking to you. You all come here to push your own countries without the faintest notion of what the League is for; and I have to sit here listening to foreign ministers explaining to me that their countries are the greatest countries in the world and their people God's chosen race. You are supposed to be international statesmen; but none of you could keep a coffee stall at Limehouse because you would have to be equally civil to sailors of all nations.
SIR O. Nerves, my dear boy, nerves. I sometimes feel like that myself. I tell my wife I am sick of the whole business, and am going to resign; but the mood passes.
The Jew enters, in animated conversation with the quondam newcomer. The rest become discreetly silent, but keep their ears open.
THE JEW. My good sir, what is your grievance compared to mine? Have you been robbed? Have you been battered with clubs? gassed? massacred? Have you been commercially and socially ruined? Have you been imprisoned in concentration camps commanded by hooligans? Have you been driven out of your country to starve in exile?
THE NEWCOMER. No; but if the people vote for it there is no violation of democratic principle in it. Your people voted ten to one for getting rid of the Jews. Hadnt they the right to choose the sort of people they would allow to live in their own country? Look at the British! Will they allow a yellow man into Australia? Look at the Americans! Will they let a Jap into California? See what happened to the British Government in 1906 when it wanted to let Chinese labor into Lancashire!
THE JEW. Your own country! Who made you a present of a piece of God's earth?
THE NEWCOMER. I was born on it, wasnt I?
THE JEW. And was not I born in the country from which I have been cast out?
THE NEWCOMER. You oughtnt to have been born there. You ought to have been born in Jerusalem.
THE JEW. And you, my friend, ought never to have been born at all. You claim a right to shut me out of the world; but you burn with indignation because you yourself have been shut out of your trumpery little parliament.
THE NEWCOMER. Easy! easy! dont lose your temper. I dont want to shut you out of the world: all I say is that you are not in the world on democratic principles; but I ought to be in parliament on democratic principles. If I shoot a Jew, thats murder; and I ought to be hanged for it. But if I vote for a Jew, as I often have, and he is elected and then not let into Parliament, what becomes of democracy?
THE JEW. The question is not what becomes of democracy but what becomes of you? You are not less rich, less happy, less secure, less well or badly governed because you are making speeches outside your Parliament House instead of inside it. But to me the persecution is a matter of life and death.
THE NEWCOMER. It's a bit hard on you, I admit. But it's not a matter of principle.
THE WIDOW [to the Jew] Do you know what I would do if I were a president?
THE JEW. No, madam. But it would interest me to hear it.
THE WIDOW. I would shoot every Jew in the country: that is what I would do.
THE JEW. Pray why?
THE WIDOW. Because they crucified my Savior: that is why. I am a religious woman; and when I meet a God murderer I can hardly keep my hands off my gun.
THE JEW. After all, madam, your Savior was a Jew.
THE WIDOW. Oh, what a horrible blasphemy! [she reaches for her pistol].
Sir Orpheus seizes her wrist. The Secretary secures her left arm.
THE WIDOW [struggling] Let me go. How dare you touch me? If you were Christians you would help me to kill this dirty Jew. Did you hear what he said?
SIR O. Yes, yes, señora: I heard. I assure you he did not mean to blaspheme. Ethnologically, you know, he was right. Only ethnologically, of course.
THE WIDOW. I do not understand that long word. Our Savior and his Virgin Mother were good Catholics, were they not?
SIR O. No doubt, señora, no doubt. We are all good Catholics, I hope, in a sense. You will remember that our Savior was of the house of King David.
THE WIDOW. You will be telling me next that King David was a Jew, I suppose.
SIR O. Well, ethnologically--
THE WIDOW. Eth no fiddlesticks. Give me my gun.
SIR O. I think you had better let me carry it for you, señora. You shall have it when this gentleman has gone.
THE NEWCOMER. Give it to the police. That woman is not safe.
THE WIDOW. I spit upon you.
SIR O. The police would arrest her for carrying arms.
THE WIDOW. Three men and a Jew against one disarmed woman! Cowards.
THE JEW. Fortunate for you, madam, and for me. But for these three gentlemen you would soon be awaiting death at the hands of the public executioner; and I should be a corpse.
THE JOURNALIST. A cadaver. Put it nicely. A cadaver.
THE WIDOW. Do you believe that any jury would find me guilty for ridding the world of a Jew?
THE JEW. One can never be quite certain, madam. If there were women on the jury, or some Jews, your good looks might not save you.
THE WIDOW. Women on juries are an abomination. Only a Jew could mention such a thing to a lady [she gives up the struggle and resumes her seat].
The Commissar comes in with Begonia and the Judge, of whom she has evidently made a conquest.
BEGONIA [to the Secretary] Good evening, boss. Cheerio, Sir Orpheus. You remember me, señora. You know the judge, boss.
THE SECRETARY. Do me the honor to share my table, your honor.
THE JUDGE. Thank you. May I introduce Commissar Posky. [He seats himself on the Secretary's left].
THE SECRETARY. We have met. Pray be seated.
THE JOURNALIST. Take my place, Commissar. I must get on with my work. [He retires to the writing table, where he sits and sets to work writing his press messages, withdrawing from the conversation, but keeping his ears open].
THE COMMISSAR [taking the vacated seat beside the Newcomer] I thank you.
THE SECRETARY. There is room for you here, Dame Begonia [indicating chair on his right].
BEGONIA [taking it] There is always room at the top.
THE COMMISSAR. I represent the Soviet.
THE WIDOW [exploding again] Another Jew!!!
THE SECRETARY. No, no. You have Jews on the brain.
THE WIDOW. He is a Bolshevist. All Bolshevists are Jews. Do you realize that if I lived under the horrible tyranny of the Soviet I should be shot?
THE JEW. I take that to be a very striking proof of the superior civilization of Russia.
THE COMMISSAR. Why should we shoot her, comrade?
THE JEW. She has just tried to shoot me.
THE COMMISSAR. We do not shoot Jews as such: we civilize them. You see, a Communist State is only possible for highly civilized people, trained to Communism from their childhood. The people we shoot are gangsters and speculators and exploiters and scoundrels of all sorts who are encouraged in other countries in the name of liberty and democracy.
THE NEWCOMER [starting up] Not a word against liberty and democracy in my presence! Do you hear?
THE COMMISSAR. And not a word against Communism in mine. Agreed?
THE NEWCOMER [sits down sulkily] Oh, all right.
THE COMMISSAR [continuing] I find it very difficult to accustom myself to the exaggerated importance you all attach to sex in these western countries. This handsome lady, it seems, has some lover's quarrel with this handsome gentleman.
THE WIDOW. A lover's quarrel!!!
THE COMMISSAR. In the U.S.S.R. that would be a triviality. At the very worst it would end in a divorce. But here she tries to shoot him.
THE WIDOW. You are mad. And divorce is a deadly sin: only Bolsheviks and Protestants would allow such an infamy. They will all go to hell for it. As to my loving this man, I hate, loathe, and abhor him. He would steal my child and cut it in pieces and sprinkle its blood on his threshold. He is a Jew.
THE COMMISSAR. Come to Russia. Jews do not do such things there. No doubt they are capable of anything when they are corrupted by Capitalism.
THE JEW. Lies! lies! Excuses for robbing and murdering us.
THE COMMISSAR. For that, comrade, one excuse is as good as another. I am not a Jew; but the lady may shoot me because I am a Communist.
THE WIDOW. How can I shoot you? They have stolen my gun. Besides, shooting Communists is not a religious duty but a political one; and in my country women do not meddle in politics.
THE COMMISSAR. Then I am safe.
BEGONIA [recovering from her astonishment at the shooting conversation] But dont you know, señora, that you mustnt go about shooting people here? It may be all right in your country; but here it isnt done.
THE WIDOW. Where I am is my country. What is right in my country cannot be wrong in yours.
SIR O. Ah, if you were a Foreign Secretary--
THE SECRETARY. If you were the secretary of the League of Nations--
SIR O. You would make the curious discovery that one nation's right is another nation's wrong. There is only one way of reconciling all the nations in a real league, and that is to convert them all to English ideas.
THE COMMISSAR. But all the world is in revolt against English ideas, especially the English themselves. The future is for Russian ideas.
THE NEWCOMER. Where did Russia get her ideas? From England. In Russia Karl Marx would have been sent to Siberia and flogged to death. In England he was kept in the British Museum at the public expense and let write what he liked. England is the country where, as the poet says, "A man may say the thing he wills--"
THE JUDGE. Pardon me: that is an illusion. I have gone into that question; and I can assure you that when the British Government is alarmed there are quite as many prosecutions for sedition, blasphemy and obscenity as in any other country. The British Government has just passed a new law under which any person obnoxious to the Government can be imprisoned for opening his mouth or dipping his pen in the ink.
SIR O. Yes; but whose fault is that? Your Russian propaganda. Freedom of thought and speech is the special glory of Britain; but surely you dont expect us to allow your missionaries to preach Bolshevism, do you?
THE COMMISSAR [laughing] I dont expect any government to tolerate any doctrine that threatens its existence or the incomes of its rulers. The only difference is that in Russia we dont pretend to tolerate such doctrines; and in England you do. Why do you give yourselves that unnecessary and dangerous trouble?
THE NEWCOMER. Karl Marx was tolerated in England: he wouldnt have been tolerated in Russia.
THE COMMISSAR. That was a weakness in the British system, not a virtue. If the British Government had known and understood what Marx was doing, and what its effect was going to be on the mind of the world, it would have sent him to prison and destroyed every scrap of his handwriting and every copy of his books. But they did not know where to strike. They persecuted poor men for making profane jokes; they suppressed newspapers in England as well as in Ireland; they dismissed editors who were too independent and outspoken; they burnt the books of novelists who had gone a little too far in dealing with sex; they imprisoned street corner speakers on charges of obstructing traffic; and all the time they were providing Karl Marx with the finest reading room in the world whilst he was writing their death warrants.
SIR O. Those warrants have not yet been executed in England. They never will be. The world may be jolted out of its tracks for a moment by the shock of a war as a railway train may be thrown off the rails; but it soon settles into its old grooves. You are a Bolshevik; but nobody would know it. You have the appearance, the dress, the culture of a gentleman: your clothes might have been made within half a mile of Hanover Square.
THE COMMISSAR. As a matter of fact they were: I buy them in London.
SIR O. [triumphant] You see! You have given up all this Marxian nonsense and gone back to the capitalist system. I always said you would.
THE COMMISSAR. If it pleases you to think so, Sir Orpheus, I shall do nothing to disturb your happiness. Will you be so good as to convey to your Government my great regret and that of the Soviet Cabinet that your bishop should have died of his personal contact with Russian ideas. I blame myself for not having been more considerate. But I had never met that kind of man before. The only other British Bishop I had met was nearly seven feet high, an athlete, and a most revolutionary preacher.
SIR O. That is what makes the Church of England so easy to deal with. No types. Just English gentlemen. Not like Catholic priests.
THE WIDOW. Oh, Sir Orpheus! You, of all men, to insult my faith!
SIR O. Not at all, not at all, I assure you. I have the greatest respect for the Catholic faith. But you cannot deny that your priests have a professional air. They are not like other men. Our English clergy are not like that. You would not know that they were clergy at all if it were not for their collars.
THE WIDOW. I call that wicked. A priest should not be like other men.
THE COMMISSAR. Have you ever tried to seduce a priest, madam?
THE WIDOW. Give me my gun. This is monstrous. Have Bolsheviks no decency?
THE NEWCOMER. I knew a priest once who--
THE SECRETARY. No, please. The subject is a dangerous one.
THE COMMISSAR. All subjects are dangerous in Geneva, are they not?
THE JUDGE. Pardon me. It is not the subjects that are dangerous in Geneva, but the people.
THE WIDOW. Jews! Bolsheviks! Gunmen!
THE JEW. What about gunwomen? Gunmolls they are called in America. Pardon my reminding you.
THE WIDOW. You remind me of nothing that I can decently mention.
THE NEWCOMER. Hullo, maam! You know, ladies dont say things like that in my country.
THE WIDOW. They do in mine. What I have said I have said.
THE JUDGE. When the International Court was moved to action by the enterprise of my friend Dame Begonia, it found that the moment the League of Nations does anything on its own initiative and on principle, it produces, not peace, but threats of war or secession or both which oblige it to stop hastily and do nothing until the Great Powers have decided among themselves to make use of it as an instrument of their oldfashioned diplomacy. That is true, Mr Secretary, is it not?
THE SECRETARY. It is too true. Yet it is not altogether true. Those who think the League futile dont know what goes on here. They dont know what Geneva means to us. The Powers think we are nothing but their catspaw. They flout us openly by ignoring the Covenant and making unilateral treaties that should be made by us. They have driven us underground as if we were a criminal conspiracy. But in little ways of which the public knows nothing we sidetrack them. We sabotage them. We shame them. We make things difficult or impossible that used to be easy. You dont know what the atmosphere of Geneva is. When I came here I was a patriot, a Nationalist, regarding my appointment as a win for my own country in the diplomatic game. But the atmosphere of Geneva changed me. I am now an Internationalist. I am the ruthless enemy of every nation, my own included. Let me be frank. I hate the lot of you.
ALL THE OTHERS. Oh!
THE SECRETARY. Yes I do. You the Jew there: I hate you because you are a Jew.
THE JEW. A German Jew.
THE SECRETARY. Worse and worse. Two nationalities are worse than one. This gunwoman here: I hate her because she is heaven knows what mixture of Spaniard and Indian and savage.
THE WIDOW. Men with red blood in them do not hate me.
THE SECRETARY. You, Sir Orpheus, are an amiable and honest man. Well, I never hear you talking politics without wanting to shoot you.
SIR O. Dear me! Fortunately I have the lady's gun in my pocket. But of course I dont believe you.
THE SECRETARY. If you had the Geneva spirit you would believe me. This Russian here: I hate him because his Government has declared for Socialism in a single country.
THE COMMISSAR. You are a Trotskyite then?
THE SECRETARY. Trotsky is nothing to me; but I hate all frontiers; and you have shut yourself into frontiers.
THE COMMISSAR. Only because infinite space is too much for us to manage. Be reasonable.
THE SECRETARY. On this subject I am not reasonable. I am sick of reasonable people: they see all the reasons for being lazy and doing nothing.
THE NEWCOMER. And what price me? Come on. Dont leave me out.
THE SECRETARY. You! You are some sort of half-Americanized colonist. You are a lower middle-class politician. Your pose is that of the rugged individualist, the isolationist, at bottom an Anarchist.
THE NEWCOMER. Anarchist yourself. Anyhow I have more common sense than you: I dont hate all my fellow creatures.
THE SECRETARY. You are all enemies of the human race. You are all armed to the teeth and full of patriotism. Your national heroes are all brigands and pirates. When it comes to the point you are all cut-throats. But Geneva will beat you yet. Not in my time, perhaps. But the Geneva spirit is a fact; and a spirit is a fact that cannot be killed.
ALL THE REST. But--
THE SECRETARY [shouting them down] I am not going to argue with you: you are all too damnably stupid.
SIR O. Are you sure you are quite well this afternoon? I have always believed in you and supported you as England's truest friend at Geneva.
THE SECRETARY. You were quite right. I am the truest friend England has here. I am the truest friend of all the Powers if they only knew it. That is the strength of my position here. Each of you thinks I am on his side. If you hint that I am mad or drunk I shall hint that you are going gaga and that it is time for the British Empire to find a younger Foreign Secretary.
SIR O. Gaga!!!
THE SECRETARY. I cannot afford to lose my job here. Do not force me to fight you with your own weapons in defence of my hardearned salary.
THE WIDOW [to Sir O.] The best weapon is in your hands. You stole it from me. In my country he would now be dead at your feet with as many holes drilled through him as there are bullets in the clip.
THE SECRETARY. In your country, señora, I might have fired first.
THE WIDOW. What matter! In either case honor would be satisfied.
THE SECRETARY. Honor! The stock excuse for making a corpse.
THE JOURNALIST. A cadaver.
THE WIDOW. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY. A slovenly unhandsome corse. I am quoting Shakespear.
THE WIDOW. Then Shakespear, whoever he may be, is no gentleman.
THE SECRETARY. Judge: you hear what we have to contend with here. Stupidity upon stupidity. Geneva is expected to make a league of nations out of political blockheads.
THE JUDGE. I must rule this point against you. These people are not stupid. Stupid people have nothing to say for themselves: these people have plenty to say for themselves. Take Sir Midlander here for example. If you tell me he is stupid the word has no meaning.
SIR O. Thank you, my dear Judge, thank you. But for Heaven's sake dont call me clever or I shall be defeated at the next election. I have the greatest respect for poetry and the fine arts and all that sort of thing; but please understand that I am not an intellectual. A plain Englishman doing my duty to my country according to my poor lights.
THE JUDGE. Still, doing it with ability enough to have attained Cabinet rank in competition with hundreds of other successful and ambitious competitors.
SIR O. I assure you I am not ambitious. I am not competitive. I happen to be fairly well off; but the money was made by my grandfather. Upon my honor I dont know how I got landed where I am. I am quite an ordinary chap really.
THE JUDGE. Then you have risen by sheer natural ordinary superiority. However, do not be alarmed: all I claim for the purposes of my argument is that you are not a born fool.
SIR O. Very good of you to say so. Well, I will let it go at that.
THE JUDGE. At the other extreme, take the case of this passionate and attractive lady, whose name I have not the pleasure of knowing.
THE JEW. Try Dolores.
THE WIDOW. I suppose you think you are insulting me. You are simply making a fool of yourself. My name is Dolores.
SIR O. I guessed it, señora. In my undergraduate days I used to quote Oscar Wilde's famous poem.
"We are fain of thee still, we are fain.
O sanguine and subtle Dolores
Our Lady of pain."
THE JOURNALIST. Swinburne, Sir Orpheus.
SIR O. Was it Swinburne? Well, it does not matter: it was one of the literary set.
THE WIDOW. It sounds well; but English is not my native language. I do not understand the first line. "We are fain of thee still: we are fain." What does fain mean?
SIR O. Ah well, never mind, señora, never mind. We are interrupting his honor the Judge. [To the Judge] You were about to say--?
THE JUDGE. I was about to point out that whatever is the matter with this lady it is not stupidity. She speaks several languages. Her intelligence is remarkable: she takes a point like lightning. She has in her veins the learning of the Arabs, the courage and enterprise of the Spanish conquistadores, the skyward aspiration of the Aztecs, the selfless devotion to divine purposes of the Jesuit missionaries, and the readiness of them all to face death in what she conceives to be her social duty. If we have been actually obliged to disarm her to prevent her from sacrificing this harmless Jewish gentleman as her ancestors would have sacrificed him to the God Quetzalcoatl on the stepped altars of Mexico, it is not because she is stupid.
THE WIDOW. I hardly follow you, however intelligent you may think me. But I am proud of having Aztec blood in my veins, though I should never dream of insulting Quetzalcoatl by sacrificing a Jew to him.
THE JUDGE. As to the Jewish gentleman himself, I need not dwell on his case as he has been driven out of his native country solely because he is so thoughtful and industrious that his fellow-countrymen are hopelessly beaten by him in the competition for the conduct of business and for official positions. I come to our democratic friend here. I do not know what his business is--
THE NEWCOMER. I'm a retired builder if you want to know.
THE JUDGE. He has had ability enough to conduct a builder's business with such success that he has been able to retire at his present age, which cannot be far above fifty.
THE NEWCOMER. I am no millionaire, mind you. I have just enough to do my bit on the Borough Council, and fight the enemies of democracy.
THE JUDGE. Precisely. That is the spirit of Geneva. What you lack is not mind but knowledge.
THE NEWCOMER. My wife says I'm pigheaded. How is that for a testimonial?
THE JUDGE. A first rate one, sir. Pigs never waver in their convictions, never give in to bribes, arguments, nor persuasions. At all events you are wise enough to be dissatisfied with the existing world order, and as anxious to change it as anybody in Geneva.
THE NEWCOMER. The world's good enough for me. Democracy is what I want. We were all for democracy when only the privileged few had votes. But now that everybody has a vote, women and all, where's democracy? Dictators all over the place! and me, an elected representative, kept out of parliament by the police!
THE JUDGE. I come to our Russian friend. He must be a man of ability, or he could not be a Commissar in a country where nothing but ability counts. He has no fears for the future, whereas we are distracted by the continual dread of war, of bankruptcy, of poverty. But there is no evidence that he is a superman. Twenty years ago he would have been talking as great nonsense as any of you.
THE REST [except the Russian and Begonia] Nonsense!
THE JUDGE. Perhaps I should have said folly; for folly is not nonsensical: in fact the more foolish it is, the more logical, the more subtle, the more eloquent, the more brilliant.
SIR O. True. True. I have known men who could hold the House of Commons spellbound for hours; but most unsafe. Mere entertainers.
BEGONIA. My turn now, I suppose. I see you are looking at me. Well, all politics are the same to me: I never could make head or tail of them. But I draw the line at Communism and atheism and nationalization of women and doing away with marriage and the family and everybody stealing everybody's property and having to work like slaves and being shot if you breathe a word against it all.
THE JUDGE. You are intelligent enough, well-meaning enough, to be against such a state of things, Dame Begonia, are you?
BEGONIA. Well, of course I am. Wouldnt anybody?
THE JUDGE. It does you the greatest credit.
THE COMMISSAR. But allow me to remark--
THE JUDGE. Not now, Mr. Posky, or you will spoil my point, which is that Dame Begonia's sympathies and intentions are just the same as yours.
BEGONIA. Oh! I never said so. I hate his opinions.
THE COMMISSAR. I must protest. The lady is a bourgeoise: I am a Communist. How can there be the smallest sympathy between us? She upholds the dictatorship of the capitalist, I the dictatorship of the proletariat.
THE JUDGE. Never mind your opinions: I am dealing with the facts. It is evident that the lady is wrong as to the facts, because the inhabitants of a country conducted as she supposes Russia to be conducted would all be dead in a fortnight. It is evident also that her ignorance of how her own country is conducted is as complete as her ignorance of Russia. None of you seem to have any idea of the sort of world you are living in. Into the void created by this ignorance has been heaped a groundwork of savage superstitions: human sacrifices, vengeance, wars of conquest and religion, falsehoods called history, and a glorification of vulgar erotics and pugnacity called romance which transforms people who are naturally as amiable, as teachable, as companionable as dogs, into the most ferocious and cruel of all the beasts. And this, they say, is human nature! But it is not natural at all: real human nature is in continual conflict with it; for amid all the clamor for more slaughter and the erection of monuments to the great slaughterers the cry for justice, for mercy, for fellowship, for peace, has never been completely silenced: even the worst villainies must pretend to be committed for its sake.
SIR O. Too true: oh, too true. But we must take the world as we find it.
THE JUDGE. Wait a bit. How do you find the world? You find it sophisticated to the verge of suicidal insanity. This makes trouble for you as Foreign Secretary. Why not cut out the sophistication? Why not bring your economics, your religion, your history, your political philosophy up to date? Russia has made a gigantic effort to do this; and now her politicians are only about fifty years behind her philosophers and saints whilst the rest of the civilized world is from five hundred to five thousand behind it. In the west the vested interests in ignorance and superstition are so overwhelming that no teacher can tell his young pupils the truth without finding himself starving in the street. The result is that here we despair of human nature, whereas Russia has hopes that have carried her through the most appalling sufferings to the forefront of civilization. Then why despair of human nature when it costs us so much trouble to corrupt it? Why not stop telling it lies? Are we not as capable of that heroic feat as the Russians?
THE COMMISSAR. Apparently not. There are qualities which are produced on the Russian soil alone. There may be a future for the western world if it accepts the guidance of Moscow; but left to its childish self it will decline and fall like all the old capitalist civilizations.
SIR O. Let me tell you, Mr Posky, that if ever England takes to Communism, which heaven forbid, it will make a first-rate job of it. Downing Street will not take its orders from Moscow. Moscow took all its ideas from England, as this gentleman has told you. My grandfather bought sherry from John Ruskin's father; and very good sherry it was. And John Ruskin's gospel compared with Karl Marx's was like boiling brandy compared with milk and water.
THE JEW. Yes; but as the British would not listen to Ruskin he produced nothing. The race whose brains will guide the world to the new Jerusalem is the race that produced Karl Marx, who produced Soviet Russia.
THE JUDGE. Race! Nonsense! You are all hopeless mongrels pretending to be thoroughbreds. Why not give up pretending?
SIR O. I am not pretending. I am an Englishman: an Englishman from the heart of England.
THE JUDGE. You mean a British islander from Birmingham, the choicest breed of mongrels in the world. You should be proud of your cross-fertilization.
SIR O. At least I am not a Frenchman nor a negro.
THE JUDGE. At least you are not a Scot, nor an Irishman, nor a man of Kent, nor a man of Devon, nor a Welshman--
SIR O. One of my grandmothers was a Welsh girl. Birmingham is nearer the Welsh border than a Cockney concentration camp like London.
THE JUDGE. In short, you are a mongrel.
THE WIDOW. What is a mongrel? I thought it was a cheap kind of dog.
THE JUDGE. So it is, madam. I applied the word figuratively to a cheap kind of man: that is, to an enormous majority of the human race. It simply indicates mixed ancestry.
THE WIDOW. Ah, that is the secret of the unique distinction of the upper class in the Earthly Paradise. My blood is a blend of all that is noblest in history: the Maya, the Aztec, the Spaniard, the Mexican, the--
THE SECRETARY [flinging away his pen, with which he has been making notes of the discussion]. You see, Judge. If you knock all this nonsense of belonging to superior races out of them, they only begin to brag of being choice blends of mongrel. Talk til you are black in the face: you get no good of them. In China the Manchus have given up binding the women's feet and making them cripples for life; but we still go on binding our heads and making fools of ourselves for life.
THE JUDGE. Yes, but do not forget that as lately as the nineteenth century the world believed that the Chinese could never change. Now they are the most revolutionary of all the revolutionists.
THE JEW [to the Widow] May I ask have you any engagement for dinner this evening?
THE WIDOW. What is that to you, pray?
THE JEW. Well, would you care to dine with me?
THE WIDOW. Dine with you! Dine with a Jew!
THE JEW. Only a Jew can appreciate your magnificent type of beauty, señora. These Nordics, as they ridiculously call themselves, adore girls who are dolls and women who are cows. But wherever the Jew dominates the theatre and the picture gallery--and he still dominates them in all the great capitals in spite of persecution--your type of beauty is supreme.
THE WIDOW. It is true. You have taste, you Jews. You have appetites. You are vital, in your oriental fashion. And you have boundless ambition and indefatigable pertinacity: you never stop asking for what you want until you possess it. But let me tell you that if you think you can possess me for the price of a dinner, you know neither your own place nor mine.
THE JEW. I ask nothing but the pleasure of your company, the luxury of admiring your beauty and experiencing your sex appeal, and the distinction of being seen in public with you as my guest.
THE WIDOW. You shall not get them. I will not accept your dinner.
THE JEW. Not even if I allow you to pay for it?
THE WIDOW. Is there any end to your impudence? I have never dined with a Jew in my life.
THE JEW. Then you do not know what a good dinner is. Come! Try dining with a Jew for the first time in your life.
THE WIDOW [considering it] It is true that I have nothing else to do this evening. But I must have my gun.
SIR O. [taking the pistol from his pocket] Well, as we seem to have got over the Anti-Semite difficulty I have no further excuse for retaining your property. [He hands her the pistol].
THE WIDOW [replacing it in her handbag] But remember. If you take the smallest liberty--if you hint at the possibility of a more intimate relation, you are a dead man.
THE JEW. You need have no fear. If there are any further advances they must come from yourself.
THE WIDOW. I could never have believed this.
BEGONIA. Geneva is like that. You find yourself dining with all sorts.
SIR O. By the way, Mr. Posky, have you anything particular to do this evening? If not, I should be glad if you would join me at dinner. I want to talk to you about this funny Russian business. You need not dress.
THE COMMISSAR. I will dress if you will allow me. They are rather particular about it now in Moscow.
BEGONIA. Well I never! Fancy a Bolshie dressing!
THE JUDGE. May I suggest, gracious Dame, that you and I dine together?
BEGONIA. Oh, I feel I am imposing on you: I have dined with you three times already. You know, I am a little afraid of you, you are so deep and learned and what I call mental. I may be a Dame of the British Empire and all that; but I am not the least bit mental; and what attraction you can find in my conversation I cant imagine.
THE SECRETARY. Geneva is so full of mental people that it is an inexpressible relief to meet some cheerful person with absolutely no mind at all. The Judge can have his pick of a hundred clever women in Geneva; but what he needs to give his brain a rest is a soft-bosomed goose without a political idea in her pretty head.
BEGONIA. Go on: I am used to it. I know your opinion of me: I am the only perfect idiot in Geneva. But I got a move on the League; and thats more than you ever could do, you old stick-in-the-mud.
THE WIDOW. Take care, señorita! A woman should not wear her brains on her sleeve as men do. She should keep them up it. Men like to be listened to.
BEGONIA. I have listened here until I am nearly dead. Still, when men start talking you can always think of something else. They are so taken up with themselves that they dont notice it.
THE WIDOW. Do not give away the secrets of our sex, child. Be thankful, as I am, that you have made sure of your next dinner.
THE JOURNALIST. What about my dinner?
THE SECRETARY. You had better dine with me. You can tell me the latest news.
THE JUDGE. I can tell you that. The trial of the dictators by the Permanent Court of International Justice has been fixed for this day fortnight.
THE REST. Where?
THE JUDGE. At the Hague, in the old palace.
THE SECRETARY. But the trial will be a farce. The dictators wont come.
THE JUDGE. I think they will. You, Sir Orpheus, will, I presume, be present with a watching brief from the British Foreign Office.
SIR O. I shall certainly be present. Whether officially or not I cannot say.
THE JUDGE. You will all be present, I hope. May I suggest that you telephone at once to secure rooms at the Hague. If you wait until the news becomes public you may find yourselves crowded out.
All except the Judge and the Secretary rise hastily and disappear in the direction of the hotel bureau.
THE SECRETARY. You really think the dictators will walk into the dock for you?
THE JUDGE. We shall see. There will be no dock. I shall ask you to act as Clerk to the Court.
THE SECRETARY. Impossible.
THE JUDGE. It seems so now; but I think you will.
THE SECRETARY. Well, as Midlander is coming I shall certainly be there to hear what he may say. But the dictators? Bombardone? Battler? How can you make them come? You have not a single soldier. Not even a policeman.
THE JUDGE. All the soldiers and police on earth could not move them except by the neck and heels. But if the Hague becomes the centre of the European stage all the soldiers and police in the world will not keep them away from it.
THE SECRETARY [musing] Hm! Well--[he shakes his head and gives it up].
THE JUDGE [smiles] They will come. Where the spotlight is, there will the despots be gathered.
A salon in the old palace of the Hague. On a spacious dais a chair of State, which is in fact an old throne, is at the head of a table furnished with chairs, writing materials, and buttons connected with telephonic apparatus. The table occupies the centre of the dais. On the floor at both sides chairs are arranged in rows for the accommodation of spectators, litigants, witnesses, etc. The tall windows admit abundance of sunlight and shew up all the gilding and grandeur of the immovables. The door is at the side, on the right of the occupant of the chair of state, at present empty. The formal arrangement of the furniture suggests a sitting or hearing or meeting of some kind. A waste paper basket is available.
The Secretary of the League of Nations has a little central table to himself in front of the other. His profile points towards the door. Behind him, in the front row of chairs are the Jew, the Commissar and the Widow. In the opposite front row are Begonia and a cheerful young gentleman, powerfully built, with an uproarious voice which he subdues to conversational pitch with some difficulty. Next to him is the quondam Newcomer. They are all reading newspapers. Begonia and her young man have one excessively illustrated newspaper between them. He has his arm round her waist and is shamelessly enjoying their physical contact. The two are evidently betrothed.
THE JEW. Do you think anything is really going to happen, Mr Secretary?
THE SECRETARY. Possibly not. I am here to be able to report from personal knowledge whether any notice has been taken of the summonses issued by the court.
THE BETROTHED. The judge himself hasnt turned up.
THE SECRETARY [looking at his watch] He is not due yet: you have all come too early.
THE BETROTHED. We came early to make sure of getting seats. And theres not a soul in the bally place except ourselves.
Sir Orpheus comes in.
SIR ORPHEUS. What! Nobody but ourselves! Dont they admit the public?
THE SECRETARY. The public is not interested, it seems.
BEGONIA. One free lance journalist looked in; but she went away when she found there was nothing doing.
THE BETROTHED. The doors are open all right. All are affectionately invited.
SIR ORPHEUS [seating himself next Begonia] But what a dreadful fiasco for our friend the judge! I warned him that this might happen. I told him to send special invitations to the press, and cards to all the leading people and foreign visitors. And here! not a soul except ourselves! All Europe will laugh at him.
THE SECRETARY. Yes, but if the affair is going to be a fiasco the fewer people there are to witness it the better.
BEGONIA. After all, theres more than half a dozen of us. Quite a distinguished audience I call it. Remember, you are the Foreign Secretary, Nunky. You are an honorable, Billikins. And I'm not exactly a nobody.
THE BETROTHED [kissing her hand] My ownest and bestest, you are a Dame of the British Empire. The Camberwell Times has celebrated your birthday by a poem hailing you as the Lily of Geneva; but on this occasion only, you are not the centre of European interest. The stupendous and colossal joke of the present proceedings is that this court has summoned all the dictators to appear before it and answer charges brought against them by the Toms, Dicks, Harriets, Susans and Elizas of all nations.
THE WIDOW. Pardon me, young señor. I am neither Susan nor Eliza.
THE BETROTHED. Present company excepted, of course, señora. But the point--the staggering paralyzing, jolly bally breath-bereaving point of our assembly today is that the dictators have been summoned and that they wont come. Young Johnny Judge has no more authority over them than his cat.
THE NEWCOMER. But if they wont come, gentlemen, what are we here for?
THE BETROTHED. To see the fun when Johnny Judge comes and finds nothing doing, I suppose.
THE WIDOW. Is he not late? We seem to have been waiting here for ages.
THE SECRETARY [looking at his watch] He is due now. It is on the stroke of ten.
The Judge, in his judicial robe, enters. They all rise. He is in high spirits and very genial.
THE JUDGE [shaking hands with Sir Orpheus] Good morning, Sir Midlander. [He passes on to the judicial chair, greeting them as he goes] Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning, mademoiselle. Good morning, señora. Good morning. Good morning. [Takes his seat] Pray be seated.
They all sit, having bowed speechlessly to his salutations.
THE JUDGE. Any defendants yet, Mr Secretary?
THE SECRETARY. None, your Honor. The parties on your left are all plaintiffs. On your right, Sir Orpheus Midlander has a watching brief for the British Foreign Office. The lady, Dame Begonia Brown, represents the Committee for Intellectual Co-operation. The young gentleman is the public.
THE JUDGE. An impartial spectator, eh?
THE BETROTHED. No, my lord. Very partial to the girl. Engaged, in fact.
THE JUDGE. My best congratulations. May I warn you all that the instruments on the table are microphones and televisors? I have arranged so as to avoid a crowd and make our proceedings as unconstrained and comfortable as possible; but our apparent privacy is quite imaginary.
General consternation. They all sit up as in church.
BEGONIA. But they should have told us this when we came in. Billikins has been sitting with his arm round my waist, whispering all sorts of silly things. Theyll be in The Camberwell Times tomorrow.
THE JUDGE. I'm sorry. You should have been warned. In the International Court no walls can hide you, and no distance deaden your lightest whisper. We are all seen and heard in Rome, in Moscow, in London, wherever the latest type of receiver is installed.
BEGONIA. Heard! You mean overheard.
THE WIDOW. And overlooked. Our very clothes are transparent to the newest rays. It is scandalous.
THE JUDGE. Not at all, señora. The knowledge that we all live in public, and that there are no longer any secret places where evil things can be done and wicked conspiracies discussed, may produce a great improvement in morals.
THE WIDOW. I protest. All things that are private are not evil; but they may be extremely indecent.
BEGONIA. We'd better change the subject, I think.
THE BETROTHED. What about the dictators, my lord? Do you really think any of them will come?
THE JUDGE. They are not under any physical compulsion to come. But every day of their lives they do things they are not physically compelled to do.
SIR ORPHEUS. That is a fact, certainly. But it is hardly a parliamentary fact.
A telephone rings on the Judge's desk. He holds down a button and listens.
THE JUDGE. You will not have to wait any longer, Sir Midlander. [Into the telephone] We are waiting for him. Shew him the way. [He releases the button]. The very first dictator to arrive is Signor Bombardone.
ALL THE REST. Bombardone!!!
The Dictator enters, dominant, brusque, every inch a man of destiny.
BOMBARDONE. Is this the so-called International Court?
THE JUDGE. It is.
BBDE. My name is Bombardone. [He mounts the dais; takes the nearest chair with a powerful hand and places it on the Judge's left; then flings himself massively into it] Do not let my presence embarrass you. Proceed.
THE JUDGE. I have to thank you, Signor Bombardone, for so promptly obeying the summons of the court.
BBDE. I obey nothing. I am here because it is my will to be here. My will is part of the world's will. A large part, as it happens. The world moves towards internationalism. Without this movement to nerve you you would have never have had the audacity to summon me. Your action is therefore a symptom of the movement of civilization. Wherever such a symptom can be detected I have a place: a leading place.
SIR ORPHEUS. But pardon me, Signor: I understand that you are a great nationalist: How can you be at once a nationalist and an internationalist?
BBDE. How can I be anything else? How do you build a house? By first making good sound bricks. You cant build it of mud. The nations are the bricks out of which the future world State must be built. I consolidated my country as a nation: a white nation. I then added a black nation to it and made it an empire. When the empires federate, its leaders will govern the world; and these leaders will have a superleader who will be the ablest man in the world: that is my vision. I leave you to imagine what I think of the mob of bagmen from fifty potty little foreign States that calls itself a League of Nations.
JUDGE. Your country is a member of that League, Signor.
BBDE. My country has to keep an eye on fools. The scripture tells us that it is better to meet a bear in our path than a fool. Fools are dangerous; and the so-called League of Nations is a League of Fools; therefore the wise must join it to watch them. That is why all the effective Powers are in the League, as well as the little toy republics we shall swallow up in due time.
THE ÇI-DEVANT NEWCOMER. Steady on, mister. I dont understand.
BBDE. [contemptuously to the Judge] Tell him that this is a court of people who understand, and that the place of those who do not understand is in the ranks of silent and blindly obedient labor.
NEWCOMER. Oh, thats your game, is it? Who are you that I should obey you? What about democracy?
BBDE. I am what I am: you are what you are; and in virtue of these two facts I am where I am and you are where you are. Try to change places with me: you may as well try to change the path of the sun through the heavens.
THE NEWCOMER. You think a lot of yourself, dont you? I ask you again: what about democracy?
An unsmiling middle aged gentleman with slim figure, erect carriage, and resolutely dissatisfied expression, wanders in.
THE DISSATISFIED GENTLEMAN. Is this the sitting of the department of international justice?
BBDE. [springing up] Battler, by all thats unexpected!
BATTLER [equally surprised] Bombardone, by all thats underhand!
BBDE. You thought you could steal a march on me, eh?
BATTLER. You have ambushed me. Fox!
BBDE. [sitting down] Undignified, Ernest. Undignified.
BATTLER. True, Bardo. I apologize. [He takes a chair from behind Sir Orpheus, and mounts the dais to the right of the Judge, who now has a dictator on each side of him] By your leave, sir. [He sits].
JUDGE. I thank you, Mr Battler, for obeying the summons of the court.
BATTLER. Obedience is hardly the word, sir.
JUDGE. You have obeyed. You are here. Why?
BATTLER. That is just what I have come to find out. Why are you here, Bardo?
BBDE. I am everywhere.
THE BETROTHED [boisterously] Ha ha! Ha ha ha! Dam funny, that.
THE JUDGE. I must ask the public not to smile.
NEWCOMER [who has no sense of humor] Smile! He was not smiling: he laughed right out. With all respect to your worship we are wasting our time talking nonsense. How can a man be everywhere? The other gentleman says he came here to find out why he came here. It isnt sense. These two gents are balmy.
BBDE. Pardon me. What does balmy mean?
NEWCOMER. Balmy. Off your chumps. If you want it straight, mad.
BBDE. You belong to the lower orders, I see.
NEWCOMER. Who are you calling lower orders? Dont you know that democracy has put an end to all that?
BBDE. On the contrary, my friend, democracy has given a real meaning to it for the first time. Democracy has thrown us both into the same pair of scales. Your pan has gone up: mine has gone down; and nothing will bring down your pan while I am sitting in the other. Democracy has delivered you from the law of priest and king, of landlord and capitalist, only to bring you under the law of personal gravitation. Personal gravitation is a law of nature. You cannot cut its head off.
NEWCOMER. Democracy can cut your head off. British democracy has cut off thicker heads before.
BBDE. Never. Plutocracy has cut off the heads of kings and archbishops to make itself supreme and rob the people without interference from king or priest; but the people always follow their born leader. When there is no leader, no king, no priest, nor any body of law established by dead kings and priests, you have mob law, lynching law, gangster law: in short, American democracy. Thank your stars you have never known democracy in England. I have rescued my country from all that by my leadership. I am a democratic institution.
NEWCOMER. Gosh. You democratic! Youve abolished democracy, you have.
BBDE. Put my leadership to the vote. Take a plebiscite. If I poll less than 95 per cent of the adult nation I will resign. If that is not democracy what is democracy?
NEWCOMER. It isnt British democracy.
BATTLER. British democracy is a lie. I have said it.
NEWCOMER. Oh, dont talk nonsense, you ignorant foreigner. Plebiscites are unEnglish, thoroughly unEnglish.
BEGONIA. Hear hear!
SIR O. May I venture to make an observation?
BATTLER. Who are you?
SIR O. Only a humble Englishman, listening most respectfully to your clever and entertaining conversation. Officially, I am the British Foreign Secretary.
Both Leaders rise and give Fascist salute. Sir Orpheus remains seated, but waves his hand graciously.
BBDE. I must explain to the court that England is no longer of any consequence apart from me. I have dictated her policy for years [he sits].
BATTLER. I have snapped my fingers in England's face on every issue that has risen between us. Europe looks to me, not to England. [He also resumes his seat].
SIR O. You attract attention, Mr Battler: you certainly do attract attention. And you, Signor Bombardone, are quite welcome to dictate our policy as long as it is favorable to us. But the fact is, we are mostly unconscious of these triumphs of yours in England. I listen to your account of them with perfect complacency and--I hope you will not mind my saying so--with some amusement. But I must warn you that if your triumphs ever lead you to any steps contrary to the interests of the British Empire we shall have to come down rather abruptly from triumphs to facts; and the facts may not work so smoothly as the triumphs.
BATTLER. What could you do, facts or no facts?
SIR O. I dont know.
|}||You dont know!!!|
SIR O. I dont know. Nor do you, Mr Battler. Nor you, signor.
BBDE. Do you mean that I do not know what you could do, or that I do not know what I should do.
SIR O. Both, signor.
BBDE. What have you to say to that, Ernest?
BATTLER. I should know what to do: have no doubt about that.
SIR O. You mean that you would know what to do when you knew what England was going to do?
BATTLER. I know already what you could do. Nothing. I tore up your peace treaty and threw the pieces in your face. You did nothing. I took your last Locarno pact and marched 18,000 soldiers through it. I threw down a frontier and doubled the size and power of my realm in spite of your teeth. What did you do? Nothing.
SIR O. Of course we did nothing. It did not suit us to do anything. A child of six could have foreseen that we should do nothing; so you shook your fist at us and cried "Do anything if you dare." Your countrymen thought you a hero. But as you knew you were quite safe, we were not impressed.
BBDE. You are quite right, Excellency. It was your folly and France's that blew Ernest up the greasy pole of political ambition. Still, he has a flair for power; and he has my example to encourage him. Do not despise Ernest.
BATTLER. I have never concealed my admiration for you, Bardo. But you have a failing that may ruin you unless you learn to keep it in check.
BBDE. And what is that, pray?
BATTLER. Selfconceit. You think yourself the only great man in the world.
BBDE. [calm] Can you name a greater?
BATTLER. There are rivals in Russia, Arabia, and Iran.
BBDE. And there is Ernest the Great. Why omit him?
BATTLER. We shall see. History, not I, must award the palm.
JUDGE. Let us omit all personalities, gentlemen. Allow me to recall you to the important point reached by Sir Midlander.
SIR O. What was that, my lord?
JUDGE. When you were challenged as to what your country would do in the event of a conflict of interest, you said frankly you did not know.
SIR O. Well, I dont.
BATTLER. And you call yourself a statesman!
SIR O. I assure you I do not. The word is hardly in use in England. I am a member of the Cabinet, and in my modest amateur way a diplomatist. When you ask me what will happen if British interests are seriously menaced you ask me to ford the stream before we come to it. We never do that in England. But when we come to the stream we ford it or bridge it or dry it up. And when we have done that it is too late to think about it. We have found that we can get on without thinking. You see, thinking is very little use unless you know the facts. And we never do know the political facts until twenty years after. Sometimes a hundred and fifty.
JUDGE. Still, Sir Midlander, you know that such an activity as thought exists.
SIR O. You alarm me, my lord. I am intensely reluctant to lose my grip of the realities of the moment and sit down to think. It is dangerous. It is unEnglish. It leads to theories, to speculative policies, to dreams and visions. If I may say so, I think my position is a more comfortable one than that of the two eminent leaders who are gracing these proceedings by their presence here today. Their remarks are most entertaining: every sentence is an epigram: I, who am only a stupid Englishman, feel quite abashed by my commonplaceness. But if you ask me what their intentions are I must frankly say that I dont know. Where do they stand with us? I dont know. But they know what England intends. They know what to expect from us. We have no speculative plans. We shall simply stick to our beloved British Empire, and undertake any larger cares that Providence may impose on us. Meanwhile we should feel very uneasy if any other Power or combinations of Powers were to place us in a position of military or naval inferiority, especially naval inferiority. I warn you--I beg you--do not frighten us. We are a simple wellmeaning folk, easily frightened. And when we are frightened we are capable of anything, even of things we hardly care to remember afterwards. Do not drive us in that direction. Take us as we are; and let be. Pardon my dull little speech. I must not take more of your time.
BBDE. A most astute speech. But it cannot impose on us.
JUDGE. It has imposed on both of you. It is a perfectly honest speech made to you by a perfectly honest gentleman; and you both take it as an outburst of British hypocrisy.
BEGONIA. A piece of damned cheek, I call it. I wont sit here and listen to my country being insulted.
THE BETROTHED. Hear hear! Up, Camberwell!
BATTLER. What does he mean by "Up, Camberwell!"? What is Camberwell?
BEGONIA. Oh! He doesnt know what Camberwell is!
THE SECRETARY. Camberwell, Mr Battler, is a part of London which is totally indistinguishable from any other part of London, except that it is on the south side of the Thames and not on the north.
BEGONIA. What do you mean--indistinguishable? It maynt be as distangay as Mayfair; but it's better than Peckham anyhow.
BBDE. Excuse my ignorance; but what is Peckham?
BEGONIA. Oh! He doesnt know what Peckham is. These people dont know anything.
THE SECRETARY. Peckham is another part of London, adjacent to Camberwell and equally and entirely indistinguishable from it.
BEGONIA. Dont you believe him, gentlemen. He is saying that just to get a rise out of me. The people in Camberwell are the pick of south London society. The Peckham people are lower middle class: the scum of the earth.
BATTLER. I applaud your local patriotism, young lady; but I press for an answer to my question. What does "Up, Camberwell!" mean?
JUDGE. I think it is the south London equivalent to "Heil, Battler!"
BBDE. Ha ha ha! Ha ha! Good.
BATTLER. Am I being trifled with?
JUDGE. You may depend on me to keep order, Mr Battler. Dame Begonia is making a most valuable contribution to our proceedings. She is shewing us what we really have to deal with. Peace between the Powers of Europe on a basis of irreconcilable hostility between Camberwell and Peckham: that is our problem.
SIR O. Do not deceive yourself, my lord. Fire a shot at England; and Camberwell and Peckham will stand shoulder to shoulder against you.
BATTLER. You hear, Bardo. This Englishman is threatening us.
SIR O. Not at all. I am only telling you what will happen in certain contingencies which we sincerely wish to avoid. I am doing my best to be friendly in manner, as I certainly am in spirit. I respectfully suggest that if an impartial stranger were present his impression would be that you two gentlemen are threatening me: I might almost say bullying me.
BBDE. But we are. We shall not be thought the worse of at home for that. How are we to keep up the selfrespect of our people unless we confront the rest of the world with a battle cry? And--will you excuse a personal criticism?
SIR O. Certainly. I shall value it.
BBDE. You are very kind: you almost disarm me. But may I say that your technique is out of date? It would seem amusingly quaint in a museum, say in the rooms devoted to the eighteenth century; but of what use is it for impressing a modern crowd? And your slogans are hopelessly obsolete.
SIR O. I do not quite follow. What, exactly, do you mean by my technique?
BBDE. Your style, your gestures, the modulations of your voice. Public oratory is a fine art. Like other fine arts, it cannot be practised effectively without a laboriously acquired technique.
SIR O. But I am an experienced public speaker. My elocution has never been complained of. Like other public speakers I have taken pains to acquire a distinct articulation; and I have had the best parliamentary models before me all through my public life. I suppose--now that you put it in that way--that this constitutes a technique; but I should be sorry to think that there is anything professional about it.
BATTLER. Yes; but what a technique! I contemplated it at first with amazement, then with a curiosity which obliged me to study it--to find out what it could possibly mean. To me the object of public speaking is to propagate a burning conviction of truth and importance, and thus produce immediate action and enthusiastic faith and obedience. My technique, like that of my forerunner opposite, was invented and perfected with that object. You must admit that it has been wonderfully successful: your parliaments have been swept away by the mere breath of it; and we ourselves exercise a personal authority unattainable by any king, president, or minister. That is simple, natural, reasonable. But what is your technique? What is its object? Apparently its object is to destroy conviction and to paralyze action. Out of the ragbag of stale journalism and Kikkeronian Latin--
SIR O. I protest. I beg. I ask the court to protect me.
THE JUDGE. What is the matter? Protect you from what?
SIR O. From these abominable modern mispronunciations. Kikkeronian is an insult to my old school. I insist on Sisseronian.
THE BETROTHED. Hear hear!
BBDE. Take care, Ernest. This is part of the British technique. Your were talking of something really important. That is dangerous. He switches you off to something of no importance whatever.
SIR O. I did not intend that, I assure you. And I cannot admit that the modern corruption of our old English pronunciation of the classics is a matter of no importance. It is a matter of supreme importance.
JUDGE. We do not question its importance, Sir Midlander; but it is outside the jurisdiction of this court; and we must not allow it to divert us from our proper business. I recall you to a specific charge of a specific crime against a specific section of the community. It is a crime of the most horrible character to drop a bomb upon a crowded city. It is a crime only a shade less diabolical to strew the sea, the common highway of all mankind, with mines that will shatter and sink any ship that stumbles on them in the dark. These abominable crimes are being committed by young men--
SIR O. Under orders, my lord, and from patriotic motives.
JUDGE. No doubt. Suppose a young man picks your pocket, and, on being detected, alleges, first that somebody told him to do it, and second that he wanted your money to pay his income tax--a highly patriotic motive--would you accept that excuse?
SIR O. Ridiculous! Remember, sir, that if our young heroes are the killers, they are also the killed. They risk their own lives.
JUDGE. Let us then add a third plea to our pickpocket's defence. He runs the same risk of having his pocket picked as you. Would you accept that plea also?
SIR O. My lord: I abhor war as much as you do. But, damn it, if a fellow is coming at me to cut my throat, I must cut his if I can. Am I to allow him to kill me and ravish my wife and daughters?
JUDGE. I think that under such circumstances a plea of legitimate defence might be allowed. But what has a tussle with a murderer and a ravisher to do with laying a mine in the high seas to slaughter innocent travellers whose intentions towards yourself, your wife, and your daughters, if they have any intentions, are entirely friendly? What has it to do with dropping a bomb into the bed of a sleeping baby or a woman in childbirth?
SIR O. One feels that. It is terrible. But we cannot help its happening. We must take a practical view. It is like the London traffic. We know that so many children will be run over and killed every week. But we cannot stop the traffic because of that. Motor traffic is a part of civilized life. So is coalmining. So is railway transport. So is flying. The explosions in the mines, the collisions of the trains, the accidents in the shunting yards, the aeroplane crashes, are most dreadful; but we cannot give up flying and coalmining and railway travelling on that account. They are a part of civilized life. War is a part of civilized life. We cannot give it up because of its shocking casualties.
JUDGE. But the mine explosions and railway collisions and aeroplane crashes are not the objects of the industry. They are its accidents. They occur in spite of every possible precaution to prevent them. But war has no other object than to produce these casualties. The business and purpose of a coalminer is to hew the coal out of the earth to keep the home fires burning. But the soldier's business is to burn the homes and kill their inhabitants. That is not a part of civilization: it is a danger to it.
COMMISSAR. Come, Comrade Judge: have you never sentenced a criminal to death? Has the executioner never carried out your sentence? Is not that a very necessary part of civilization?
JUDGE. I sentence persons to death when they have committed some crime which has raised the question whether they are fit to live in human society, but not until that question has been decided against them by a careful trial at which they have every possible legal assistance and protection. This does not justify young men in slaughtering innocent persons at random. It would justify me in sentencing the young men to death if they were brought to trial. What we are here to investigate is why they are not brought to trial.
SIR O. But really, they only obey orders.
THE JUDGE. Why do you say "only"? The slaughter of human beings and the destruction of cities are not acts to be qualified by the word only. Why are the persons who give such atrocious orders not brought to trial?
SIR O. But before what court?
JUDGE. Before this court if necessary. There was a time when I might have answered "Before the judgment seat of God". But since people no longer believe that there is any such judgment seat, must we not create one before we are destroyed by the impunity and glorification of murder?
BBDE. Peace may destroy you more effectually. It is necessary for the cultivation of the human character that a field should be reserved for war. Men decay when they do not fight.
THE WIDOW. And when they fight they die.
BBDE. No no. Only a percentage, to give zest and reality to the conflict.
THE JUDGE. Would you describe a contest of a man against a machine gun, or a woman in childbirth against a cloud of mustard gas, as a fight?
BBDE. It is a peril: a deadly peril. And it is peril that educates us, not mere bayonet fencing and fisticuffs. Nations never do anything until they are in danger.
THE JEW. Is there not plenty of danger in the world without adding the danger of poison gas to it?
BBDE. Yes: there is the danger of getting your feet wet. But it has not the fighting quality that gives war its unique power over the imagination, and through the imagination over the characters and powers of mankind.
THE WIDOW. You have been a soldier. Are you the better for it? Were you not glad when your wounds took you out of the trenches and landed you in a hospital bed?
BBDE. Extremely glad. But that was part of the experience. War is not all glory and all bravery. You find out what a rotten coward you are as well as how brave you are. You learn what it is to be numbed with misery and terror as well as how to laugh at death. Ask my understudy here. He too has been a soldier. He knows.
BATTLER. We all begin as understudies, and end, perhaps, as great actors. The army was a school in which I learnt a good deal, because whoever has my capacity for learning can learn something even in the worst school. The army is the worst school, because fighting is not a whole-time-job, and in the army they pretend that it is. It ends in the discharged soldier being good for nothing until he recovers his civilian sense and the habit of thinking for himself. No, cousin: I am a man of peace; but it must be a voluntary peace, not an intimidated one. Not until I am armed to the teeth and ready to face all the world in arms is my Pacifism worth anything.
SIR O. Admirable! Precisely our British position.
NEWCOMER. I'm British. And what I say is that war is necessary to keep down the population.
BBDE. This man is a fool. War stimulates population. The soldier may go to his death; but he leaves behind him the pregnant woman who will replace him. Women cannot resist the soldier: they despise the coward. Death, the supreme danger, rouses life to its supreme ecstasy of love. When has a warlike race ever lacked children?
THE BETROTHED. Very romantic and all that, old man; but this notion of man on the battlefield and woman in the home wont wash nowadays. Home was a safe place when Waterloo was fought; but today the home is the bomber's favorite mark. The soldier is safe in his trench while the woman is being blown to smithereens by her baby's cot. Kill the women; and where will your population be? Egad, you wont have any population at all.
BATTLER. This man is not a fool. If the object of war is extermination, kill the women: the men do not matter.
BBDE. The object of war is not extermination: it is the preservation of man's noblest attribute, courage. The utmost safety for women, the utmost peril for men: that is the ideal.
THE BETROTHED. I say, signor: do you take any precautions against assassination?
BBDE. I do not encourage it; but it is one of the risks of my position. I live dangerously. It is more intense than living safely.
NEWCOMER. Your worship: these gentlemen are talking nonsense.
JUDGE. All politicians talk nonsense. You mean, I presume, that it is not the sort of nonsense you are accustomed to.
NEWCOMER. No I dont. I am accustomed to hear statesmen talking proper politics. But this about living dangerously is not proper politics: it's nonsense to me. Am I to cross the street without looking to see whether there is a bus coming? Are there to be no red and green lights? Am I to sleep in a smallpox hospital? Am I to cross the river on a tight rope instead of on a bridge? Am I to behave like a fool or a man of sense?
BBDE. You would be a much more wonderful man if you could walk on a tight rope instead of requiring several feet of solid pavement, costing years of labor to construct.
SIR O. Do you seriously propose that we should be ruled by an aristocracy of acrobats?
BBDE. Is it more impossible than your British aristocracy of foxhunters?
SIR O. Signor: acrobats are not foxhunters.
BBDE. And gentlemen are not acrobats. But what a pity!
THE NEWCOMER. Oh, whats the use of talking to you people? Am I dreaming? Am I drunk?
BBDE. No: you are only out of your depth, my friend. And now to business. Strength. Silence. Order. I am here to meet my accusers, if any.
JUDGE. You are accused, it seems, of the murder and destruction of liberty and democracy in Europe.
BBDE. One cannot destroy what never existed. Besides, these things are not my business. My business is government. I give my people good government, as far as their folly and ignorance permit. What more do they need?
THE NEWCOMER. Why am I locked out of the parliament of Jacksonsland, to which I have been lawfully elected: tell me that.
BBDE. Presumably because you want to obstruct its work and discredit its leaders. Half a dozen such obstructionists as you could spin out to two years the work I do in ten minutes. The world can endure you no longer. Your place is in the dustbin.
THE NEWCOMER. I give up. You are too much for me when it comes to talking. But what do I care? I have my principles still. Thats my last word. Now go on and talk yourself silly.
BBDE. It is your turn now, cousin.
BATTLER. Do I stand accused? Of what, pray?
THE JEW [springing up] Of murder. Of an attempt to exterminate the flower of the human race.
BATTLER. What do you mean?
THE JEW. I am a Jew.
BATTLER. Then what right have you in my country? I exclude you as the British exclude the Chinese in Australia, as the Americans exclude the Japanese in California.
JEW. Why do the British exclude the Chinese? Because the Chinaman is so industrious, so frugal, so trustworthy, that nobody will employ a white British workman or caretaker if there is a yellow one within reach. Why do you exclude the Jew? Because you cannot compete with his intelligence, his persistence, his foresight, his grasp of finance. It is our talents, our virtues, that you fear, not our vices.
BATTLER. And am I not excluded for my virtues? I may not set foot in England until I declare that I will do no work there and that I will return to my own country in a few weeks. In every country the foreigner is a trespasser. On every coast he is confronted by officers who say you shall not land without your passport, your visa. If you are of a certain race or color you shall not land at all. Sooner than let German soldiers march through Belgium England plunged Europe into war. Every State chooses its population and selects its blood. We say that ours shall be Nordic, not Hittite: that is all.
JEW. A Jew is a human being. Has he not a right of way and settlement everywhere upon the earth?
BATTLER. Nowhere without a passport. That is the law of nations.
JEW. I have been beaten and robbed. Is that the law of nations?
BATTLER. I am sorry. I cannot be everywhere; and all my agents are not angels.
THE JEW [triumphantly] Ah! Then you are NOT God Almighty, as you pretend to be. [To the Judge] Your honor: I am satisfied. He has admitted his guilt. [He flings himself back into his seat].
BATTLER. Liar. No Jew is ever satisfied. Enough. You have your warning. Keep away; and you will be neither beaten nor robbed. Keep away, I tell you. The world is wide enough for both of us. My country is not.
THE JEW. I leave myself in the hands of the court. For my race there are no frontiers. Let those who set them justify themselves.
BBDE. Mr President: if you allow Ernest to expatiate on the Jewish question we shall get no further before bed-time. He should have waited for a lead from me before meddling with it, and forcing me to banish the Jews lest my people should be swamped by the multitudes he has driven out. I say he should have waited. I must add that I have no use for leaders who do not follow me.
BATTLER. I am no follower of yours. When has a Nordic ever stooped to follow a Latin Southerner?
BBDE. You forget that my country has a north as well as a south, a north beside whose mountains your little provincial Alps are molehills. The snows, the crags, the avalanches, the bitter winds of those mountains make men, Ernest, MEN! The trippers' paradise from which you come breeds operatic tenors. You are too handsome, Ernest: you think yourself a blond beast. Ladies and gentlemen, look at him! Is he a blond beast? The blondest beast I know is the Calabrian bull. I have no desire to figure as a blond beast; but I think I could play the part more plausibly than Ernest if it were my cue to do so. I am everything that you mean by the word Nordic. He is a born Southerner; and the south is the south, whether it be the south of the Arctic circle or the south of the equator. Race is nothing: it is the number of metres above sealevel that puts steel into men. Our friend here was born at a very moderate elevation. He is an artist to his finger tips; but his favorite play as a boy was not defying avalanches. As to our races, they are so mixed that the whole human race must be descended from Abraham; for everybody who is alive now must be descended from everybody who was alive in Abraham's day. Ernest has his share in Abraham.
BATTLER. This is an intolerable insult. I demand satisfaction. I cannot punch your head because you are at least two stone heavier than I; but I will fight you with any weapon that will give me a fair chance against you.
THE JUDGE. Gentlemen: you are at the Hague, and in a Court of Justice. Duels are out of date. And your lives are too valuable to be risked in that way.
BBDE. True, your Excellency. I admit that Ernest's ancestors are totally unknown. I apologize.
BATTLER. I dont want an apology. I want satisfaction. You shall not rob me of it by apologizing. Are you a coward?
BBDE. We are both cowards, Ernest. Remember 1918. All men are cowards now.
BATTLER [rising] I shall go home.
WIDOW [rising] You shall not. Here at least we have come to the real business of this court; and you want to run away from it. If a man of you stirs I shall shoot. [Panic].
BBDE. Hands up, Ernest [politely holding up his own].
THE WIDOW. Listen to me. In my country men fight duels every day. If they refuse they become pariahs: no one will visit them or speak to them: their women folk are driven out of society as if they were criminals.
BATTLER. It was so in my country. But I have stopped it.
JUDGE. Yet you want to fight a duel yourself.
BATTLER. Not for etiquette. For satisfaction.
THE WIDOW. Yes: that is what men always want. Well, look at me. I am a murderess [general consternation]. My husband wanted satisfaction of another kind. He got it from my dearest friend; and etiquette obliged me to kill her. In my dreams night after night she comes to me and begs me to forgive her; and I have to kill her again. I long to go mad; but I cannot: each time I do this dreadful thing I wake up with my mind clearer and clearer, and the horror of it deeper and more agonizing.
BATTLER [flinching] Stop this. I cannot bear it.
BBDE. Who is this woman? What right has she to be here?
WIDOW. My name is Revenge. My name is Jealousy. My name is the unwritten law that is no law. Until you have dealt with me you have done nothing.
JUDGE. You have a specific case. State it.
WIDOW. My husband has been murdered by his successor. My son must murder him if there is to be no redress but the blood feud; and I shall dream and dream and kill and kill. I call on you to condemn him.
BBDE. And condemn you.
WIDOW. I shall condemn myself. Pass your sentence on me; and I shall execute it myself, here in this court if you will.
JUDGE. But do you not understand that the judgments of this court are followed by no executions? They are moral judgments only.
WIDOW. I understand perfectly. You can point the finger of the whole world at the slayer of my husband and say "You are guilty of murder." You can put the same brand on my forehead. That is all you need do, all you can do. Then my dreams will cease and I shall kill myself. As for him, let him bear the brand as best he can.
JUDGE. That is the justice of this court. I thank you, señora, for your comprehension of it.
BATTLER [distressed by the narrative] I cannot bear this. Order that woman not to kill herself.
BBDE. No. If she has a Roman soul, who dares forbid her?
JUDGE. My authority does not go so far, Mr Battler.
BATTLER. Your authority goes as far as you dare push it and as far as it is obeyed. What authority have I? What authority has Bardo? What authority has any leader? We command and are obeyed: that is all.
BBDE. That is true, signor judge. Authority is a sort of genius: either you have it or you have not. Either you are obeyed or torn to pieces. But in some souls and on some points there is an authority higher than any other. Of such is the Roman soul; and this is one of the points on which the Roman soul stands firm. The woman's life is in her own hands.
BATTLER. No: I tell you I cannot bear it. Forbid her to kill herself or I will leave the court.
JUDGE. Señora: I forbid you to kill yourself. But I will sentence the slayer of your husband when his offence is proved; and by that act I will deliver you from your dreams.
WIDOW. I thank your Honor [she sits down].
JUDGE. Are you satisfied, Mr Battler?
BATTLER. I also thank your Honor. I am satisfied [he resumes his seat; but his emotion has not yet quite subsided].
BBDE. No duel then?
BATTLER. Do not torment me. [Impatiently] Bardo: you are a damned fool.
BBDE. [hugely amused] Ha ha! [To the Judge] The incident is closed.
An attractive and very voluble middleaged English lady enters. She is dressed as a deaconess and carries a handbag full of tracts.
DEACONESS. May I address the court? [She goes on without waiting for a reply]. I feel strongly that it is my duty to do so. There is a movement in the world which is also a movement in my heart. It is a movement before which all war, all unkindness, all uncharitableness, all sin and suffering will disappear and make Geneva superfluous. I speak from personal experience. I can remember many witnesses whose experience has been like my own. I--
BBDE. [thundering at her] Madam: you have not yet received permission to address us.
DEACONESS [without taking the slightest notice of the interruption] It is so simple! and the happiness it brings is so wonderful! All you have to do is to open your heart to the Master.
BATTLER. What master? I am The Master.
BBDE. There are others, Ernest.
DEACONESS. If you knew what I was, and what I am, all that you are doing here would seem the idlest trifling.
BATTLER [shouting] Who is the Master? Name him.
DEACONESS. Not so loud, please. I am not deaf; but when one is listening to the inner voice it is not easy to catch external noises.
BATTLER. I am not an external noise. I am the leader of my people. I may become leader of many peoples. Who is this Master of whom you speak?
DEACONESS. His beloved name, sir, is Jesus. I am sure that when you were a child your mother taught you to say "All hail the power of Jesu's name."
THE BETROTHED. "Let angels prostrate fall."
BEGONIA. Now shut up, Billikins. I wont have you laughing at religion.
BBDE. In Ernest's country, madam, they say Heil Battler. He has abolished Jesus.
DEACONESS. How can you say that? Jesus is stronger than ever. Jesus is irresistible. You can perhaps unify your countrymen in love of yourself. But Jesus can unite the whole world in love of Him. He will live when you are dust and ashes. Can you find the way to my heart as Jesus has found it? Can you make better men and women of them as Jesus can? Can--
BATTLER. I have made better men and women of them. I live for nothing else. I found them defeated, humiliated, the doormats of Europe. They now hold up their heads with the proudest; and it is I, Battler, who have raised them to spit in the faces of their oppressors.
DEACONESS. Jesus does not spit in people's faces. If your people are really raised up, really saved, it is Jesus who has done it; and you, sir, are only the instrument.
NEWCOMER [rising] A point of order, mister. Is this a court of justice or is it not? Are we to be interrupted by every dotty female who starts preaching at us? I protest.
DEACONESS. It is no use protesting, my friend. When He calls you must follow.
NEWCOMER. Rot. Where are the police?
THE JUDGE. The peculiarity of this court, sir, is that there are no police. The lady is raising a point of general importance: one we must settle before we can come to any fruitful conclusions here. I rule that Jesus is a party in this case.
NEWCOMER. You are as dotty as she is. I say no more. [He resumes his seat sulkily].
THE JEW. A party in what capacity, may I ask? I speak as a Jew, if Mr Battler will permit me.
THE JUDGE. In the capacity of a famous prophet who laid down the law in these words, "This commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another." Are you prepared to love one another?
ALL EXCEPT SIR O. [vociferously] No.
SIR O. Not indiscriminately.
THE BRITISH CONTINGENT. Hear hear!
SIR O. What about the Unlovables? Judas Iscariot, for instance?
DEACONESS. If he had loved the Master he would not have betrayed Him. What a proof of the truth of my message!
BBDE. Do you love Ernest here?
DEACONESS. Why of course I do, most tenderly.
BATTLER. Woman: do not presume.
BBDE. Ha! ha! ha!
DEACONESS. Why should I not love you? I am your sister in Christ. What is there to offend you in that? Is not this touchiness a great trouble to you? You can easily get rid of it. Bring it to Jesus. It will fall from you like a heavy burden; and your heart will be light, oh, so light! You have never been happy. I can see it in your face.
BBDE. He practises that terrible expression for hours every day before the looking glass; but it is not a bit natural to him. Look at my face: there you have the real thing.
DEACONESS. You have neither of you the light in your eyes of the love of the Master. There is no happiness in these expressions that you maintain so industriously. Do you not find it very tiresome to have to be making faces all day? [Much laughter in the British section].
BATTLER. Is this to be allowed? The woman is making fun of us.
DEACONESS. I cannot make fun. But God has ordained that when men are childish enough to fancy that they are gods they become what you call funny. We cannot help laughing at them.
BBDE. Woman: if you had ever had God's work to do you would know that He never does it Himself. We are here to do it for Him. If we neglect it the world falls into the chaos called Liberty and Democracy, in which nothing is done except talk while the people perish. Well, what you call God's work, His hardest work, His political work, cannot be done by everybody: they have neither the time nor the brains nor the divine call for it. God has sent to certain persons this call. They are not chosen by the people: they must choose themselves: that is part of their inspiration. When they have dared to do this, what happens? Out of the Liberal democratic chaos comes form, purpose, order and rapid execution.
NEWCOMER. Yes, the executions come along all right. We know what dictators are.
BBDE. Yes: the triflers and twaddlers are swept away. This trifler and twaddler here can see nothing but his own danger, which raises his twaddle to a squeak of mortal terror. He does not matter. His selfchosen ruler takes him by the scruff of the neck and flings him into some island or camp where he and his like can trifle and twaddle without obstructing God's effectives. Then comes this pious lady to bid me turn to God. There is no need: God has turned to me; and to the best of my ability I shall not fail Him, in spite of all the Democratic Liberal gabblers. I have spoken. Now it is your turn, Ernest, if you have anything left to say.
BATTLER. You have said it all in your oldfashioned way, perhaps more clearly than I could have said it. But this woman's old fairy tales do not explain me, Ernest Battler, born a nobody, and now in command above all kings and kaisers. For my support is no dead Jew, but a mighty movement in the history of the world. Impelled by it I have stretched out my hand and lifted my country from the gutter into which you and your allies were trampling it, and made it once more the terror of Europe, though the danger is in your own guilty souls and not in any malice of mine. And mark you, the vision does not stop at my frontiers, nor at any frontier. Do not mistake me: I am no soldier dreaming of military conquests: I am what I am, and have done what I have done, without winning a single battle. Why is this? Because I have snapped my fingers in the face of all your Jewish beliefs and Roman traditions, your futile treaties and halfhearted threats, and the vulgar abuse you have spat at me from your platforms and newspapers like the frightened geese you are. You must all come my way, because I march with the times, and march as pioneer, not as camp follower. As pioneer I know that the real obstacle to human progress is the sort of mind that has been formed in its infancy by the Jewish Scriptures. That obstacle I must smash through at all costs; and so must you, Bardo, if you mean to be yourself and not the tool of that accursed race.
COMMISSAR. I must intervene. Are we here to discuss the Jewish problem? If so, I have no business here: my country has solved it. And we did not solve it by badinage.
BBDE. Badinage! Are our proceedings to be described as badinage by a Bolshevist?
SECRETARY. You see how hopeless it is for us to get any further. You have only to say the word Jew to Herr Battler or the word Bolshevist to Signor Bombardone, and they cease to be reasonable men. You have only to say Peckham to the representative of the Intellectual Committee of the League of Nations to reveal her as an irreconcilable belligerent. You have--
BEGONIA. Whats that he called me? It sounded awful. What does it mean, Uncle O?
SIR O. I understood the secretary to imply that however large-minded your view of the brotherhood of mankind, you must make an exception in the case of Peckham.
BEGONIA. Okay. No Peckham for me. And mind: on that point I am a representative woman. Sorry I interrupted. Carry on, old man.
SECRETARY. I thank you, Dame Begonia. I must add, with great respect for the British Foreign Secretary, that you have only to say British Empire to discover that in his view the rest of the world exists only as a means of furthering the interests of that geographical expression.
SIR O. Surely the British Empire is something more than a geographical expression. But of course with me the British Empire comes first.
SECRETARY. Precisely. And as a common basis of agreement this lady has proposed the policy of the Sermon on the Mount.
DEACONESS. Love oneanother. It is so simple.
SECRETARY. It turns out that we do not and cannot love oneanother--that the problem before us is how to establish peace among people who heartily dislike oneanother, and have very good reasons for doing so: in short, that the human race does not at present consist exclusively or even largely of likeable persons.
DEACONESS. But I assure you, that does not matter. There is a technique you have not learnt.
SIR O. What! More techniques! Madam: before your arrival, I was accused of having a technique. Can we not keep on the plain track of commonsense?
DEACONESS. But this one is so simple. You have spites. You have hatreds. You have bad tempers. All you have to do is to bring them to Jesus. He will relieve you of them. He will shew you that they are all imaginary. He will fill your hearts with love of Himself; and in that love there is eternal peace. I know so many cases. I know by my own experience.
SECRETARY. You are an amiable lady; and no doubt there are, as you say, other cases--
DEACONESS. Oh, I was not an amiable lady. I was a perfect fiend, jealous, quarrelsome, full of imaginary ailments, as touchy as Mr Battler, as bumptious as Signor Bombardone--
BATTLER. Pardon. What does touchy mean?
BBDE. I am unacquainted with the word bumptious. What am I to understand by it?
DEACONESS. Look within, look within, and you will understand. I brought it all to Jesus; and now I am happy: I am what the gentleman is kind enough to describe as amiable. Oh, why will you not do as I have done? It is so simple.
BBDE. It is made much simpler by the fact that you are protected by an efficient body of policemen with bludgeons in their pockets, madam. You have never had to govern.
DEACONESS. I have had to govern myself, sir. And I am now governed by Jesus.
JUDGE. Allow the lady the last word, Mr Leader. Proceed, Mr Secretary.
SECRETARY. No: I have said enough. You know now what an impossible job I have here as secretary to the League of Nations. To me it is agony to have to listen to all this talk, knowing as I do that nothing can come of it. Have pity on me. Let us adjourn for lunch.
JUDGE. Oh, it is not lunch time yet, Mr Secretary. We have been here less than an hour.
SECRETARY. It seems to me twenty years.
JUDGE. I am sorry, Mr Secretary. But I am waiting for the arrival of a defendant who has not yet appeared, General Flanco de Fortinbras, who is accused of having slaughtered many thousands of his fellow countrymen on grounds that have never been clearly stated.
BBDE. But he has not yet been elected Leader. He is a mere soldier.
COMMISSAR. Half Europe describes him as your valet.
BBDE. I do not keep valets. But in so far as Flanco is striving to save his country from the horrors of Communism he has my sympathy.
COMMISSAR. Which includes the help of your guns and soldiers.
BBDE. I cannot prevent honest men from joining in a crusade, as volunteers, against scoundrels and assassins.
JUDGE. You also, Mr Battler, sympathize with General Flanco?
BATTLER. I do. He has accepted my definite offer to Europe to rid it of Bolshevism if the western states will co-operate.
JUDGE. And you, Sir Midlander, can of course assure General Flanco of British support?
SIR O. [rising] Oh, no, no, no. I am amazed at such a misunderstanding. The British Empire has maintained the strictest neutrality. It has merely recognized General Flanco as a belligerent.
BBDE. Flanco will not come. I have not authorized him to come.
General Flanco de Fortinbras enters at the door. He is a middle aged officer, very smart, and quite conventional.
FLANCO. Pardon. Is this the International Court?
JUDGE. It is.
FLANCO. My name is Flanco de Fortinbras--General Flanco de Fortinbras. I have received a summons.
JUDGE. Quite so, General. We were expecting you. You are very welcome. Pray be seated.
The secretary places a chair between the judge and Bombardone. Flanco crosses to it.
JUDGE [before Flanco sits down] You know these gentlemen, I think.
FLANCO [sitting down carelessly] No. But I have seen many caricatures of them. No introduction is necessary.
THE JUDGE. You recognize also the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Orpheus Midlander.
Flanco immediately rises; clicks his heels; and salutes Sir Orpheus with a distinguished consideration that contrasts very significantly with his contemptuous indifference to the two leaders. Sir Orpheus, as before, waves a gracious acknowledgment of the salute. Flanco resumes his seat.
FLANCO. I have come here because it seemed the correct thing to do. I am relieved to find that His Excellency the British Foreign Secretary agrees with me.
BBDE. In what capacity are you here, may I ask?
FLANCO. Do I seem out of place between you and your fellow talker opposite? A man of action always is out of place among talkers.
BBDE. Inconceivable nothingness that you are, do you dare to class me as a talker and not a man of action?
FLANCO. Have you done anything?
BBDE. I have created an empire.
FLANCO. You mean that you have policed a place infested by savages. A child could have done it with a modern mechanized army.
BBDE. Your little military successes have gone to your head. Do not forget that they were won with my troops.
FLANCO. Your troops do fairly well under my command. We have yet to see them doing anything under yours.
BBDE. Ernest: our valet has gone stark mad.
FLANCO. Mr Battler may be a useful civilian. I am informed that he is popular with the lower middle class. But the fate of Europe will not be decided by your scraps of Socialism.
JUDGE. May I recall you to the business of the court, gentlemen. General: you are charged with an extraordinary devastation of your own country and an indiscriminate massacre of its inhabitants.
FLANCO. That is my profession. I am a soldier; and my business is to devastate the strongholds of the enemies of my country, and slaughter their inhabitants.
NEWCOMER. Do you call the lawfully constituted democratic government of your country its enemies?
FLANCO. I do, sir. That government is a government of cads. I stand for a great cause; and I have not talked about it, as these two adventurers talk: I have fought for it: fought and won.
JUDGE. And what, may we ask, is the great cause?
FLANCO. I stand simply for government by gentlemen against government by cads. I stand for the religion of gentlemen against the irreligion of cads. For me there are only two classes, gentlemen and cads: only two faiths: Catholics and heretics. The horrible vulgarity called democracy has given political power to the cads and the heretics. I am determined that the world shall not be ruled by cads nor its children brought up as heretics. I maintain that all spare money should be devoted to the breeding of gentlemen. In that I have the great body of public opinion behind me. Take a plebiscite of the whole civilized world; and not a vote will be cast against me. The natural men, the farmers and peasants, will support me to a man, and to a woman. Even the peasants whom you have crowded into your towns and demoralized by street life and trade unionism, will know in their souls that I am the salvation of the world.
BBDE. A Saviour, no less! Eh?
FLANCO. Do not be profane. I am a Catholic officer and gentleman, with the beliefs, traditions, and duties of my class and my faith. I could not sit idly reading and talking whilst the civilization established by that faith and that order was being destroyed by the mob. Nobody else would do anything but read seditious pamphlets and talk, talk, talk. It was necessary to fight, fight, fight to restore order in the world. I undertook that responsibility and here I am. Everybody understands my position: nobody understands the pamphlets, the three volumes of Karl Marx, the theories of idealists, the ranting of the demagogues: in short, the caddishness of the cads. Do I make myself clear?
BBDE. Am I a cad? Is Ernest here a cad?
FLANCO. You had better not force me to be personal.
BBDE. Come! Face the question. Are we cads or gentlemen? Out with it.
FLANCO. You are certainly not gentlemen. You are freaks.
BBDE. What is a freak?
JUDGE. An organism so extraordinary as to defy classification.
BBDE. Good. I accept that.
BATTLER. So do I. I claim it.
JUDGE. Then, as time is getting on, gentlemen, had we not better come to judgment?
BATTLER. What do you mean? Do you presume to judge me?
BBDE. Judge me if you dare.
FLANCO. Give judgment against me and you pass out of history as a cad.
BATTLER. You have already passed out of history as a Catholic: that is, nine tenths a Jew.
BBDE. The bee in your bonnet buzzes too much, Ernest. [To the Judge] What is the law?
JUDGE. Unfortunately there is no law as between nations. I shall have to create it as I go along, by judicial precedents.
BATTLER. In my country I create the precedents.
BBDE. Well said, Ernest. Same here.
JUDGE. As you are not judges your precedents have no authority outside the operations of your police. You, Mr Battler, are here to answer an accusation made against you by a Jewish gentleman of unlawful arrest and imprisonment, assault, robbery, and denial of his right to live in the country of his birth. What is your defence?
BATTLER. I do not condescend to defend myself.
THE JEW. You mean that you have no defence. You cannot even find a Jewish lawyer to defend you, because you have driven them all from your country and left it with no better brains than your own. You have employed physical force to suppress intellect. That is the sin against the Holy Ghost. I accuse you of it.
JUDGE. What have you to say to that, Mr Battler?
BATTLER. Nothing. Men such as I am are not to be stopped by academic twaddle about intellect. But I will condescend to tell this fellow from the Ghetto that to every superior race that is faithful to itself a Messiah is sent.
DEACONESS. Oh, how true! If only you would accept him!
JUDGE. I understand you to plead divine inspiration, Mr Battler.
BATTLER. I say that my power is mystical, not rational.
BBDE. Ernest: take care. You are walking on a razor's edge between inspiration and the madness of the beggar on horseback. We two are beggars on horseback. For the credit of leadership let us ride carefully. Leadership, we two know, is mystical. Then let us not pretend to understand it. God may choose his leaders; but he may also drop them with a crash if they get out of hand. Tell yourself that every night before you get into bed, my boy; and you may last a while yet.
Loud applause from the British section.
BATTLER. Physician, cure yourself. You need not prescribe for me.
JUDGE. This is very edifying, gentlemen; and I thank you both in the name of all present. May I ask whether this divine guidance of which you are conscious has any limits? Does it not imply a world State with Mr Battler or Signor Bombardone or the British Foreign Office at its head?
FLANCO. Certainly not in my country. A frontier is a frontier; and there must be no monkeying with it. Let these gentlemen manage their own countries and leave us to manage ours.
JUDGE. Is that your view, Mr Battler?
BATTLER. No. I believe that the most advanced race, if it breeds true, must eventually govern the world.
JUDGE. Do you agree, Sir Midlander?
SIR O. With certain reservations, yes. I do not like the term "advanced race." I greatly mistrust advanced people. In my experience they are very difficult to work with, and often most disreputable in their private lives. They seldom attend divine service. But if you will withdraw the rather unfortunate word "advanced" and substitute the race best fitted by its character--its normal, solid, everyday character--to govern justly and prosperously, then I think I agree.
JUDGE. Precisely. And now may we have your opinion, Signor Leader?
BBDE. In principle I agree. It is easy for me to do so, as my people, being a Mediterranean people, can never be subject to northern barbarians, though it can assimilate and civilize them in unlimited numbers.
JUDGE. Has the Russian gentleman anything to say?
COMMISSAR. Nothing. These gentlemen talk of their countries. But they do not own their countries. Their people do not own the land they starve in. Their countries are owned by a handful of landlords and capitalists who allow them to live in it on condition that they work like bees and keep barely enough of the honey to keep themselves miserably alive. Russia belongs to the Russians. We shall look on whilst you eat each other up. When you have done that, Russia--Holy Russia--will save the soul of the world by teaching it to feed its people instead of robbing them.
FLANCO. Did your landlords ever rob the people as your bureaucracy now robs them to build cities and factories in the desert and to teach children to be atheists? Your country is full of conspiracies to get the old order back again. You have to shoot the conspirators by the dozen every month.
COMMISSAR. That is not many out of two hundred million people, General. Think of all the rascals you ought to shoot!
JUDGE. Pray, gentlemen, no more recriminations. Let us keep to the point of the superior race and the divine leadership. What is to happen if you disagree as to which of you is the divinely chosen leader and the superior race?
BBDE. My answer is eight million bayonets.
BATTLER. My answer is twelve million bayonets.
JUDGE. And yours, Sir Midlander?
SIR O. This sort of talk is very dangerous. Besides, men do not fight with bayonets nowadays. In fact they do not fight at all in the old sense. Mr Battler can wipe out London, Portsmouth, and all our big provincial cities in a day. We should then be obliged to wipe out Hamburg and all the eastern cities from Munster to Salzburg. Signor Bombardone can wipe out Tunis, Nice, Algiers, Marseilles, Toulouse, Lyons, and every city south of the Loire, and oblige the French, headed by the British fleet, to wipe out Naples, Venice, Florence, Rome, and even Milan by return of post. The process can go on until the European stock of munitions and air pilots is exhausted. But it is a process by which none of us can win, and all of us must lose frightfully. Which of us dare take the responsibility of dropping the first bomb?
BATTLER. Our precautions against attack from the air are perfect.
SIR O. Ours are not, unfortunately. Nobody believes in them. I certainly do not. You must allow me to doubt the efficiency of yours.
JUDGE. And your precautions, Signor? Are they efficient?
BBDE. They do not exist. Our strength is in our willingness to die.
JUDGE. That seems to complicate murder with suicide. However, am I to take it that you are all provided with the means to effect this destruction, and to retaliate in kind if they are used against you?
SIR O. What else can we do, sir?
JUDGE. I find myself in a difficulty. I have listened to you all and watched you very attentively. You seem to me to be personally harmless human beings, capable of meeting one another and chatting on fairly pleasant terms. There is no reason why you should not be good neighbors. So far, my work of building up a body of international law by judicial precedent would seem to be simple enough. Unfortunately when any question of foreign policy arises you confront me with a black depth of scoundrelism which calls for nothing short of your immediate execution.
The Leaders and the British contingent, except the Newcomer, rise indignantly.
NEWCOMER. Hear hear! Hear hear! Hear hear! SIR O. Scoundrelism! BATTLER. Execution! BOMBARDONE. You are mad.
JUDGE. If you dislike the word execution I am willing to substitute liquidation. The word scoundrelism and its adjectives I cannot withdraw. Your objective is domination: your weapons fire and poison, starvation and ruin, extermination by every means known to science. You have reduced one another to such a condition of terror that no atrocity makes you recoil and say that you will die rather than commit it. You call this patriotism, courage, glory. There are a thousand good things to be done in your countries. They remain undone for hundreds of years; but the fire and the poison are always up to date. If this be not scoundrelism what is scoundrelism? I give you up as hopeless. Man is a failure as a political animal. The creative forces which produce him must produce something better. [The telephone rings]. Pardon me a moment. [Changing countenance and holding up his hand for silence] I am sorry to have to announce a very grave piece of news. Mr Battler's troops have invaded Ruritania.
General consternation. All rise to their feet except Battler, who preserves an iron calm.
JUDGE. Is this true, Mr Battler?
BATTLER. I am a man of action, not a dreamer. While you have been talking my army has been doing. Bardo: the war for the mastery of the world has begun. It is you and I, and, I presume, our friend Fortinbras, against the effete so-called democracies of which the people of Europe and America are tired.
BBDE. Ernest: you have done this without consulting me. I warned you a year ago, when you were negotiating with a relative of Sir Orpheus here, that I could not afford another war.
FLANCO. Neither can I.
All sit down gradually, greatly relieved, except Battler.
BATTLER [rising in great agitation] Bardo: are you going to betray me? Remember the axis. Dare you break it?
BBDE. Damn the axis! Do you suppose I am going to ruin my country to make you emperor of the universe? You should know me better. [He resumes his seat majestically].
BATTLER. This is the most shameless betrayal in human history. General Flanco: you owe your victory to my aid. Will you be such a monster of ingratitude as to desert me now?
FLANCO. I owe my victory equally to the aid of Signor Bombardone and to the masterly non-intervention policy of Sir Orpheus Midlander. I cannot prove ungrateful to either of them.
BATTLER. Well, traitors as you are, I can do without you. I can conquer Ruritania single-handed, no thanks to either of you. But where should I be if the British were not afraid to fight. Fortunately for me they do not believe in what they call brute force. [He sits].
SIR O. [rising] Pardon me. It is true that we abhor brute force, and are willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of peace--or almost any sacrifice. We understood that this was your attitude also. But I had the honor of informing you explicitly--very explicitly, Mr Battler--that Ruritania is, so to speak, our little sister, and that if you laid a finger on her we should--pardon me if in my indignant surprise at your breach of the peace I am unable to adhere to the language of diplomacy--we should be obliged to knock the stuffing out of you. That is our British method of meeting brute force.
BATTLER. What! You will fight?
SIR O. Fight, Mr Battler! We shall wipe you off the face of the earth. [He resumes his seat].
BATTLER. Then I am alone: contra mundum. Well, I have never failed yet.
FLANCO. Because you have never fought yet.
BATTLER. We shall see. I shall sweep through Ruritania like a hurricane.
COMMISSAR. Do so by all means, Comrade Battler. When you have finished you will settle with me how much of it you may keep.
BATTLER. What! You too! So the encirclement is complete.
SIR ORPHEUS. No! I cannot permit that expression. Outflanked if you like. Hemmed in if you will have it so. I will even go so far as to say surrounded. But encircled, NO.
NEWCOMER. It puts the kybosh on Battlerism anyhow.
The telephone rings again.
ALL EXCEPT THE JUDGE. Hush. Let us hear the news. The news. The news. [They listen with strained attention]. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh.
JUDGE. What? Say that again: I must take it down: I do not understand. [Writing as he listens] "Astronomers report that the orbit of the earth is jumping to its next quantum. Message received at Greenwich from three American observatories. Humanity is doomed." Thank you. Goodbye. Can anyone explain this? Why is humanity doomed?
SECRETARY. It is intelligible enough, and very serious indeed.
JUDGE. It is not intelligible to me. Will you kindly explain?
SECRETARY. The orbit of the earth is the path in which it travels round the sun. As the sun is 93 million miles distant it takes us a year to get round.
JUDGE. We all know that. But the message says that the orbit is jumping to its next quantum. What does quantum mean?
SECRETARY. When orbits change they dont change gradually. They suddenly jump by distances called quantums or quanta. Nobody knows why. If the earth is jumping to a wider orbit it is taking us millions of miles further away from the sun. That will take us into the awful cold of space. The icecaps that we have on the north and south poles will spread over the whole earth. Even the polar bears will be frozen stiff. Not a trace of any sort of life known to us will be possible on this earth.
THE JEW [rising and hurrying to the door] Excuse me.
COMMISSAR. No use running away, my friend. The icecap will overtake you wherever you go.
SECRETARY. Let him alone. The shock has made him ill.
THE JEW. No: not that. I must telephone [he goes out].
JUDGE [rising] Fellow citizens: this is the end. The end of war, of law, of leaders and foreign secretaries, of judges and generals. A moment ago we were important persons: the fate of Europe seemed to depend on us. What are we now? Democracy, Fascism, Communism: how much do they matter? Your totalitarian Catholic Church: does it still seem so very totalitarian?
FLANCO. Do not blaspheme at such a moment, sir. You tell us that nothing matters. Ten minutes ago the judgment of God seemed far off: now we stand at the gates of purgatory. We have to organize absolution for millions of our people; and we have barely priests enough to do it, even if we have no converts to deal with; and we shall have many converts. We Catholics know what to do; and I have no more time to spend trifling here with men who know nothing and believe nothing. [He moves towards the door. He stops to hear Sir O.]
SIR O. One moment, I beg of you. This rumor must be contradicted at all costs.
COMMISSAR. How can you contradict a scientific fact?
SIR O. It must be contradicted--officially contradicted. Think of the consequences if it is believed! People will throw off all decency, all prudence. Only the Jews, with the business faculty peculiar to their race, will profit by our despair. Why has our Jewish friend just left us? To telephone, he said. Yes; but to whom is he telephoning? To his stockbroker, gentlemen. He is instructing his stockbroker to sell gilt-edged in any quantity, at any price, knowing that if this story gets about before settling day he will be able to buy it for the price of waste paper and be a millionaire until the icecap overtakes him. It must not be. I will take the necessary steps in England. The Astronomer Royal will deny this story this afternoon. You two gentlemen must see to it at once that it is officially denied in your countries.
COMMISSAR. Suppose your Astronomer Royal refuses to tell a lie. Remember: he is a man of science, not a politician.
SIR O. He is an Englishman, sir, and has some common sense. He will do his duty. Can I depend on the rest of you gentlemen?
BBDE. Can you depend on the icecap? I must go home at once. There will be a rush to the equator. My country stands right in the way of that rush. I must stop it at our frontier at any cost.
COMMISSAR. Why? Will it matter?
BBDE. I will not tolerate disorder. I will not tolerate fear. We shall die decently, stoically, steadfast at our posts, like Romans. Remember: we shall not decay: we shall stand to all eternity in cold storage. When we are discovered by some explorer from another star or another race that can live and breathe at absolute zero, he shall find my people erect at their posts like the Pompeian sentinel. You also, Ernest, must--What! Crying!! For shame, man! The world looks to us for leadership. Shall it find us in tears?
BATTLER. Let me alone. My dog Blonda will be frozen to death. My doggie! My little doggie! [He breaks down, sobbing convulsively].
NEWCOMER. Oh, come, old man. Dont take it so hard. I used to keep dogs myself; but I had to give it up: I couldnt bear the shortness of their lives. Youd have had to lose your little doggie some day.
Battler takes out his handkerchief and controls himself; but the Deaconess bursts into tears.
BEGONIA. Oh for God's sake, dont you start crying. You will set us all off. It's hard enough on us without that.
THE SECRETARY. Yes, maam. Take your trouble to Jesus; and set all the women a good example.
DEACONESS. But in heaven I shall lose my Jesus. There He will be a king; and there will be no more troubles and sorrows and sins to bring to Him. My life has been so happy since I found Him and came to Him a year ago! He made heaven for me on earth; and now that is all over. I cannot bear it. [Her tears overcome her].
NEWCOMER. Oh come come! This wont do, you know. All you people seem to think you were going to live for ever. Well, you werent. Our numbers are up; but so they were before, sooner or later. I dont complain: I havnt had such a bad time of it; and I am ready to depart, as the poet says, if it must be. In fact I must depart now and cheer up the missus. [He rises to go].
DEACONESS. Oh, sir, do you believe this? May it not be untrue?
NEWCOMER [gravely] No: it's true all right enough. If it were a priest's tale or a superstition out of the Bible I shouldnt give a snap of my fingers for it. But Science cannot be wrong. Weve got to face it. Good morning, gents.
The Newcomer goes out; and his departure breaks up the court. The Leaders and the General rise and come forward together.
DEACONESS [to Flanco] Oh, General, is Science always right?
FLANCO. Certainly not: it is always wrong. But I await the decision of the Church. Until that is delivered the story has no authority.
SIR O. May I suggest that you use all your influence at Rome to obtain an immediate decision from the Church against this story?
FLANCO. You shock me. The Church cannot be influenced. It knows the truth as God knows it, and will instruct us accordingly. Anyone who questions its decision will be shot. My business is to see to that. After absolution, of course. Good morning. [He goes out].
WIDOW. He at least has something to offer to men about to die.
JUDGE. Why not, if they die comforted?
BATTLER. Men must learn to die undeluded.
BBDE. Flanco is dead; but he does not know it. History would have kicked him out were not History now on its deathbed.
BEGONIA. I must say I thought the general a perfect gentleman. I never wanted to kick him while he was speaking. I wanted to kick you two all the time.
THE BETROTHED. Steady, Gonny, steady! Mustnt be rude, you know.
BEGONIA. Oh, what does it matter now? As we shall all be frozen stiff presently we may as well have the satisfaction of speaking our minds until then.
THE BETROTHED. Take it easy, dear. Have a choc.
BEGONIA. No, thank you.
THE BETROTHED. I say, Uncle O: this is the first time she has ever refused a choc.
SIR O. Our valuations have changed, naturally.
THE BETROTHED. Mine havnt. You know, uncle, I think theres something in your notion of selling out and having a tremendous spree before the icecaps nip us. How does that strike you, Gonny?
BEGONIA. I dont pretend it might not have appealed to me before I represented Intellectual Co-operation. But I am a Dame of the British Empire now; and if I must die I will die like a Dame. [She goes out].
SIR O. Go with her, sir. And mind you behave yourself.
THE BETROTHED. Well, it does seem rather a pity. However--[He shrugs resignedly and goes out].
SIR O. [to the Commissar] Do you, sir, understand what is going to happen? My classical education did not include science.
COMMISSAR. I await instructions. The Marxian dialectic does not include the quantum theory. I must consult Moscow. [He goes out].
SIR O. Have these men no minds of their own? One of them must consult Rome: the other must consult Moscow. You two gentlemen fortunately have no one but yourselves to consult. Can I rely on you to do your utmost to stifle this appalling news while I return to London to consult the Cabinet?
BBDE. You can rely on nothing but this. The news has just been broadcast to all the world through the arrangements made for publicity in this court. According to you, the result will be that the people will throw off all decency and repudiate all leadership. I say that the people will want a leader as they have never wanted one before. I have taught them to order their lives: I shall teach them to order their deaths. The magnitude of the catastrophe is the measure of the leader's greatness.
SIR O. You always have a speech which sounds equal to the occasion. In England that gift would make you Prime Minister. But your very excitable countrymen may run wild.
BBDE. In that case I can do nothing but fall at the head of an attempt to stem the rush. At least one man shall stand for human courage and dignity when the race expires.
SIR O. Yes: that is a very fine attitude and quite a correct one. But have you nothing better to propose than an attitude?
BBDE. Has anyone anything better to propose than an attitude?
SIR O. I suppose not; but I feel strongly that a burst of sincerity would be a great relief.
BBDE. [to Battler] Give him his burst of sincerity, Ernest. Cry for your dog again. Good morning, gentlemen. [He goes to the door].
BATTLER [calling after him] You will have the honor of sharing my little dog's fate. But nobody will weep for you, Bardo.
BBDE. I hope not. I do not deal in tears. [He strides out].
BATTLER. What an actor!
SECRETARY. You should be a good judge of that. You have done a good deal in that line yourself.
BATTLER. We all have. But I claim to have done a little good with my acting. I will not have my work undone. We shall not stand in statuesque attitudes in Bardo's manner: we shall work to the last, and set an example to the new race of iceproof men who will follow us.
SIR O. Still, you know, it's no use going on making motor cars that you know will never run.
BATTLER. Yes: when the alternative is to wring our hands in despair or get drunk. We cannot work for ourselves to the last moment; but we can all work for honor. [He goes out].
SIR O. Wonderful luck that man has! His dog will get him into all the headlines. [He goes out].
JUDGE [to the Deaconess and the widow] Ladies: I am afraid there is nothing more to be done here.
DEACONESS [rising] None of you understands what this means to me, because none of you has learnt how to live. You are souls in torment, as I was until six months ago. And now I must die when I have only just learnt to live. Excuse me: I cannot bear to speak of it [she goes out distractedly].
JUDGE. She, at least, values her life.
SECRETARY. Yes: she belongs to some movement or other.
WIDOW [taking her pistol from her handbag and rising] I killed my best friend with this. I kept it to kill myself. It is useless now: God will execute His own judgment on us all. [She throws it into the waste paper basket]. But He is merciful; for I shall never dream again. And [to the Secretary] I do not belong to any movement.
He bows; and she goes out.
SECRETARY. Can you switch off?
JUDGE [going to the table and turning a masterswitch] No one can hear us now. [Returning] Can this thing be true?
SECRETARY. No. It is utter nonsense. If the earth made a spring to a wider orbit half a minute would carry us to regions of space where we could not breathe and our blood would freeze in our veins.
JUDGE. Yet we all believed it for the moment.
SECRETARY. You have nothing to do but mention the quantum theory, and people will take your voice for the voice of Science and believe anything. It broke up this farce of a trial, at all events.
JUDGE. Not a farce, my friend. They came, these fellows. They blustered: they defied us. But they came. They came.
(Malvern Festival Book, 1938)
Geneva is a title that speaks for itself. I hope the Malvern pilgrims this year will be reasonable about it. The critics are sure to complain that I have not solved all the burning political problems of the present and future in it, and restored peace to Europe and Asia. They always do. I am flattered by the implied attribution to me of omniscience and omnipotence; but I am also infuriated by the unreasonableness of the demand. I am neither omniscient nor omnipotent; and the utmost I or any other playwright can do is to extract comedy and tragedy from the existing situation and wait and see what will become of it.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what the existing situation is. For instance, how many people have heard of the Intellectual Cooperation Committee? It will probably be dismissed by the critics as an overstrained fiction. It is nothing of the sort. The League of Nations had not been long in existence when a Frenchman, perceiving that without intellectual cooperation the League could do nothing but practise the old diplomacy, founded the Committee in Paris. Everyone was delighted; and the most eminent intellects in the world gave their names as intellectual cooperators. The Frenchman gave a million francs to endow the Committee; but as the French franc had dropped to twopence (having been largely borrowed at tenpence) the Committee was stony-broke at the end of a month. It still survived in a little office somewhere (I have invented one in Geneva for it in the play) and even did and does some clerical work in listing universities, learned societies, and the like; but intellectually it sank into profound catalepsy.
When Romain Rolland, with the late Henri Barbusse and their friends, tried from time to time to organize some international movement on the extreme Left and invited me, as they always did, to join them, I asked them why they did not operate through the I.C. Committee of the League, which was sleeping ready to their hands. The suggestion struck them dumb. At last the Committee, which occasionally woke up in the person of Gilbert Murray, asked me to correspond with the League. This very nearly struck me dumb; for what on earth was I to correspond about? Now Gilbert Murray, unlike most fiercely militant Pacifists, has a strong sense of humour and believes in telepathy. He practises it too. And so it came about that I found it growing on me that there was some fun to be got on the stage out of the Committee.
That was how this play began. How it will finish--for in the theatre it only stops; it does not finish--nobody knows. I call your attention, however, to one novelty: instead of making the worst of all dictators, which only drives them out of the League, I have made the best of them, and even given them some measure of fair play. I hope they will like it.
(A letter to the Editor of The Observer, London, 21 August 1938)
Sir.--Your Berlin correspondent's interesting account of this matter describes my able and devoted translator, Siegfried Trebitsch, to whom I owed my vogue as a playwright in Germany long before I enjoyed any in these islands, bluntly, as a Jew. Now Herr Trebitsch is an uncircumcised and baptised Lutheran German who has never as far as I know, set foot in a synagogue in his life, married to a lady of unquestioned Christian authenticity. He may have a Jewish ancestor; but which of us has not; for as Signor Bombardone points out, every person now living must be descended not only from Adam and Eve, but from everyone who was alive in the days of Abraham, including Abraham himself. Christianity has absorbed many millions of Jews since it was founded by a Jew; and it has very completely absorbed Siegfried Trebitsch. The observing circumcised Jew from the Ghetto may still present a problem to Gentile States; but an absorbed Jew presents no problem at all, and must be classed as a citizen of the State under which he was born. It is really misleading to call Herr Trebitsch a Jew in any separate sense.
There will be no difficulty about the appearance of my play entitled "Geneva" in the German language. If the German version is not published in Germany it will be published elsewhere. But there is no need to anticipate any trouble. If the Germans should fancy a resemblance between Herr Hitler and Ernest Battler there is no reason why der Führer should feel otherwise than flattered. The shock if any, will be to his modesty.--Yours, etc.,
G. BERNARD SHAW
(Press release sent to Roy Limbert on 19 November 1938, prior to the London premiere of Geneva at the Saville Theatre on 22 November. Reproduced from corrected typescript in the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin)
I cannot imagine anything more ridiculous than an attempt to work out an equation between the price of theatre seats and the genius of the author of the play or of the performers. It would simply lead to pricing the stalls at a Shakespear or Shaw performance at a hundred guineas. Do any of these foolish people suppose that Henry Irving ever put himself down in his accounts for as high a salary as that commanded by the low comedian Arthur Roberts? Do they consider that my dignity is compromised by the fact that my plays are sometimes performed to audiences who pay nothing at the doors, but drop what they please or can afford into the hat when it is passed round after the fall of the curtain? In the United States I have placed all my published plays at the disposal of the Federal Theatre on condition that the highest price charged for admission is two shillings. Theatregoing in the West End of London is far too dear. When Bancroft made the theatre dependent on the plutocracy by introducing the half guinea stall and crushing the playbill between the upper millstone of the fashionable dinner hour and the nether one of the suburban trains and trams, he knocked serious drama and big acting on the head. It would be more sensible to have different prices on different nights: say all seats a guinea today, all seats a shilling tomorrow, and perhaps all seats half a crown the day after. At the Saville I have not objected to the lower prices: on the contrary I tried to induce them to abolish the half guinea stall. No play is worth half a guinea to our hard-up playgoers; and they are all hard up except the handful of rich people whom I do my best to make uncomfortable. I learnt my business as a playwright in the pit. And the pit then came right up to the orchestra. What do you think of that? Goodmorning.
(The Times, London, 22 April 1939)
An ingenious and amusing summary of the first two acts of Geneva has been written by Mr. Bernard Shaw to introduce the televised performance of the third act of his play which is to be given on Sunday evening with Mr. Cecil Trouncer and Mr. Walter Hudd as the dictators, Battler and Bombardone, who appear before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to answer charges brought against them by "the Toms, Dicks, Harriets, Susans, and Elizas" of all nations. Sir Orpheus Midlander, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, will be played by Mr. Ernest Thesiger.
At the beginning of the synopsis Mr. Shaw implicitly admits the need for economy in time in dealing with Geneva, and accepts the opinion of the critics that the third act is the one that matters. Following this his summary goes on:--"All that is generally known about the League of Nations is that it holds assemblies in Geneva at which the nations which belong to it confer with one another from time to time. But there is more than this in it. There is a Committee for International Cooperation which is so little known, and so neglected and starved that until Mr. Shaw's play appeared hardly anyone knew of its existence; and even now they believe that it is an invention of Mr. Shaw's. But it is quite real: Mr. Shaw has only transferred its office from Paris to Geneva; and it is at this office that the play opens with nobody in charge of it except a young typist from Camberwell who, as the winner of a County Council scholarship, has a considerable opinion of herself. As nobody ever visits the office or knows of its existence, she is astonished when on one and the same morning she is called upon by five people in succession, each with a grievance which they expect her to remedy as the representative of intellectual cooperation in Europe. She has not the faintest idea of how to set about it until the first visitor, a persecuted Jew, suggests that she apply to the International Court at The Hague for a warrant against his persecutors. The second visitor is a British democrat who has been locked out of a colonial legislature to which he has been elected. The third is the widow of a Central American President who has been shot. She has also been compelled by etiquette to shoot her best friend for having engaged the affection of her husband.
"The fourth is an English Bishop whose grievance is that the Bolshevists have converted his footman to Communism. The fifth is a Russian Commissar who has to complain on behalf of his Government that the Church of England, by number 18 of the 39 Articles, declares that all Russians are accursed. The Bishop drops dead on discovering that he has dined with the Commissar under the impression that he was a Conservative; consequently there are only four plaintiffs left alive.
"The Camberwell typist, at the suggestion of the Jew, and not knowing what else to do, applies to the International Court at The Hague, in the name of her Committee, for summonses against the dictators of Europe. The crisis she creates by this unprecedented step is terrific: and she becomes so popular that she has to be made a Dame of the British Empire to satisfy public feeling. It is expected that the International Court will ignore her application; but an able and resolute young Judge at The Hague insists on taking it seriously; and the summonses to the dictators are duly issued.
"The third act of the play opens in the International Court, with no one present but the four plaintiffs, the secretary of the League of Nations, the Camberwell typist, and an infatuated young gentleman who has become betrothed to her. They are presently joined by Sir Orpheus Midlander, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He is the only person in the play whose name is revealed, except the Camberwell lady, whose full style and title is now Dame Begonia Brown. They are all waiting in tense expectation to see what will happen."
(Published from undated typescript [c. 1939] in the British Museum: Add. Mss. 50643, ff. 196-199)
I wish I could persuade Englishmen to be logical in their mental operations instead of proceeding recklessly by association of ideas. I cannot admit the most obvious fact of the political situation without being at once accused of harboring a bundle of miscellaneous opinions which happen to be associated with that fact in the minds of my readers. I am repeatedly reminded of an acquaintance of mine, a colonel in the British army, who said to me fifty years ago, when religious controversy was crude and hot, "I happen to know for a fact that the rector's son is the father of his housemaid's child; and after that you may tell me, if you like, that the Bible is true; I dont believe it." All the arguments of Voltaire and Tom Paine would have been thrown away on this officer; but the rector's son made an "infidel" of him at a single entirely irrelevant stroke.
Man is, so far, a failure as a political animal: he can manage neither aggregations of millions of his species nor the powers of destruction that chemistry has put into his hands. His big civilizations have broken down again and again. That is a hard fact which I recognize. But it does not follow that I despair of mankind, that I have fallen at the feet of the dictators, that I am no longer a Socialist but a pessimist, that like Job's wife I call on Mr Rowse and on the Intelligent Woman for whom I wrote a Guide to curse democracy and die. What is democracy? Government in the interest of the whole people and not of a privileged class. What are the ideas associated with the word democracy in the English mind? Adult suffrage, the House of Commons, and the Party System. When I point out the obvious fact that adult suffrage, consummated in England 20 years ago by giving the casting vote to Miss Begonia Brown, is a guarantee of petty snobbery and parochial ignorance in the choice of rulers, and that the party system in Parliament has made the House of Commons quite useless as a check on plutocratic oligarchy and completely effective in paralyzing the government industrially and reducing all democratic leaders to helpless impotence, it is immediately assumed that I have renounced democracy and socialism and am now a Fascist and adore Messrs Mussolini and Hitler, who, not being reduced to impotence by membership of our House of Commons, have both done a lot of things that badly want doing here, but cannot be done because to do them would infringe British liberty to be governed by Begonia. For what is done or not done these two men are responsible and can be brought to account, whereas in England the political responsibility under adult suffrage is everybody's; and what is everybody's responsibility is nobody's responsibility.
A democratic Press is a Press that is open to all reasonable opinions. When I point out that such a Press is impossible in a country where only persons in command of £50,000 can start a magazine and of £250,000 a daily newspaper, I am at once assumed to be opposed to freedom of the Press. When I point out that the English are left without the restraints on individual freedom which continental dictators impose solely because, as my countrymen put it, "It would be waste of time to muzzle a sheep," or, as I put it, waste of time to put chains on people fettered hand, foot and brain by uncertainty as to next week's [blank in original], I am supposed to be calling for more and heavy fetters to hang on the free people.
And so on and so forth.
Now the point of all this is that all the mischievous institutions which have produced the poverty, unemployment, class war, and foreign war which threaten us with another collapse of civilization, and which led the late Edward Carpenter, author of Towards Democracy, to describe civilization as a disease for which we had to find a cure, are not results of human cupidity, ferocity, and general depravity. They were all founded with the very best intentions. Private property in land was not established to deprive the cultivator of the fruits of his labor, but to secure it to him. War was not organized to gratify a lust for rapine, pillage, and murder, but to protect society against them. When Shakespear advocated the enclosure of common lands at Welcombe he had not read Karl Marx or Henry George: he was impatient of the frightful extent to which land was being wasted because nobody owned it. The barbarities of our criminal code are meant to prevent crime, not to encourage it. The superstition of blood sacrifice with which our Book of Common Prayer is saturated was meant to propitiate a bloodthirsty God and save the nations from plague, pestilence, and famine; and it is to human nature that we owe the reform of Moloch and the Mexican deities into "Our Father which art in Heaven," and the sacrifices into a symbolic wafer of bread and a sip of cheap wine. When the religion of Europe was founded on the infallibility of Semite scriptures, and Galileo made a statement which knocked that infallibility into a cocked hat, the Church was seeking the salvation of Europe when it gave Galileo his choice between withdrawing his statement and being [word missing in original] as a heretic.
It was not until the nineteenth century that a playwright named Ibsen, from Norway, shewed that it is not the villainy of mankind that is destroying us, but those very good intentions and ideals, patriotic, domestic, and religious. It is our good men that we need to get rid of, our bad ones being politically negligible. If Ibsen were alive now he would warn Europe that it was not Mr [Neville] Chamberlain's imagined vices that are to be feared, but his very real virtues, not Herr Hitler's imagined resemblance to King Richard the Third, but his very real resemblance to Saint Louis and Charlemagne.
It is not a change of heart that is needed: our hearts are in the right place. It is a change of head. Scientific education, in short. Teach Shakespear the Ricardian law of rent, and he will see that the remedy for wasted land is not selling it to himself or to the Lucy family. Teach Herr Hitler that the vigor of his nation and ours is due to the fact that we are nations of arrant mongrels, and that if we begin with inbreeding we should end with the brains of Borzoi dogs and a general prevalence of paralysis and hæmophilia, and he will follow my advice and not only invite the Jews back to Germany but make it punishable incest for a Jew to marry anybody but an Aryan. If he could be persuaded to substitute my Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism for Mein Kampf we should hear no more indignantly virtuous denunciation of Communism by people who are steeped in it up to the neck and whose civilization would crumble and themselves perish miserably of hunger and violence if it were abolished or even suspended for a week.
Therefore I exhort Mr Rowse to be of good cheer. It is our people who are wrong: it is our education. As Mr Lancelot Hogben words it, we want Scientific Humanism as a basis of all our other isms. It was for lack of that that the old civilization collapsed, and the half a dozen or so of the new ones may collapse too. But the remedy is plain; and we shall round the cape sometime or other without being wrecked.
Finally remember that democracy did great things when it was an ideal. It was its reduction to reality in the idiocy of Begonia Brown that produced the snobocracy of the last twenty years. She and Henry Dubb will not control the destinies of the British Commonwealth for long. If they do there will soon be no British Commonwealth.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia