George Bernard Shaw.

Back to Methuselah online

. (page 13 of 26)
Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 13 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

BURGE. Lubin: I am very accessible to an appeal to my emotions; and you
are very cunning in making such appeals. I will meet you to this extent.
I dont mean that you are a bad man. I dont mean that I dislike you, in
spite of your continual attempts to discourage and depress me. But you
have a mind like a looking-glass. You are very clear and smooth and
lucid as to what is standing in front of you. But you have no foresight
and no hindsight. You have no vision and no memory. You have no
continuity; and a man without continuity can have neither conscience nor
honor from one day to another. The result is that you have always been
a damned bad minister; and you have sometimes been a damned bad friend.
Now you can answer Barnabas's question and take it out of me to your
heart's content. He asked you was I fit to govern England.

LUBIN [_recovering himself_] After what has just passed I sincerely
wish I could honestly say yes, Burge. But it seems to me that you have
condemned yourself out of your own mouth. You represent something which
has had far too much influence and popularity in this country since
Joseph Chamberlain set the fashion; and that is mere energy without
intellect and without knowledge. Your mind is not a trained mind: it has
not been stored with the best information, nor cultivated by intercourse
with educated minds at any of our great seats of learning. As I happen
to have enjoyed that advantage, it follows that you do not understand my
mind. Candidly, I think that disqualifies you. The peace found out your

BURGE. Oh! What did it find out in you?

LUBIN. You and your newspaper confederates took the peace out of my
hands. The peace did not find me out because it did not find me in.

FRANKLYN. Come! Confess, both of you! You were only flies on the wheel.
The war went England's way; but the peace went its own way, and not
England's way nor any of the ways you had so glibly appointed for it.
Your peace treaty was a scrap of paper before the ink dried on it. The
statesmen of Europe were incapable of governing Europe. What they needed
was a couple of hundred years training and experience: what they had
actually had was a few years at the bar or in a counting-house or on
the grouse moors and golf courses. And now we are waiting, with monster
cannons trained on every city and seaport, and huge aeroplanes ready to
spring into the air and drop bombs every one of which will obliterate a
whole street, and poison gases that will strike multitudes dead with a
breath, until one of you gentlemen rises in his helplessness to tell us,
who are as helpless as himself, that we are at war again.

CONRAD. Aha! What consolation will it be for us then that you two are
able to tell off one another's defects so cleverly in your afternoon

BURGE [_angrily_] If you come to that, what consolation will it be that
you two can sit there and tell both of us off? you, who have had no
responsibility! you, who havnt lifted a finger, as far as I know, to
help us through this awful crisis which has left me ten years older than
my proper age! Can you tell me a single thing you did to help us during
the whole infernal business?

CONRAD. We're not blaming you: you hadnt lived long enough. No more had
we. Cant you see that three-score-and-ten, though it may be long
enough for a very crude sort of village life, isnt long enough for a
complicated civilization like ours? Flinders Petrie has counted nine
attempts at civilization made by people exactly like us; and every one
of them failed just as ours is failing. They failed because the citizens
and statesmen died of old age or over-eating before they had grown out
of schoolboy games and savage sports and cigars and champagne. The signs
of the end are always the same: Democracy, Socialism, and Votes for
Women. We shall go to smash within the lifetime of men now living unless
we recognize that we must live longer.

LUBIN. I am glad you agree with me that Socialism and Votes for Women
are signs of decay.

FRANKLYN. Not at all: they are only the difficulties that overtax your
capacity. If you cannot organize Socialism you cannot organize civilized
life; and you will relapse into barbarism accordingly.

SAVVY. Hear, hear!

SURGE. A useful point. We cannot put back the clock.

HASLAM. _I_ can. Ive often done it.

LUBIN. Tut tut! My dear Burge: what are you dreaming of? Mr Barnabas: I
am a very patient man. But will you tell me what earthly use or interest
there is in a conclusion that cannot be realized? I grant you that if
we could live three hundred years we should all be, perhaps wiser,
certainly older. You will grant me in return, I hope, that if the sky
fell we should all catch larks.

FRANKLYN. Your turn now, Conrad. Go ahead.

CONRAD. I don't think it's any good. I don't think they want to live
longer than usual.

LUBIN. Although I am a mere child of 69, I am old enough to have lost,
the habit of crying for the moon.

BURGE. Have you discovered the elixir of life or have you not? If not, I
agree with Lubin that you are wasting our time.

CONRAD. Is your time of any value?

SURGE [_unable to believe his ears_] My time of any value! What do you

LUBIN [_smiling comfortably_] From your high scientific point of view,
I daresay, none whatever, Professor. In any case I think a little
perfectly idle discussion would do Burge good. After all, we might as
well hear about the elixir of life as read novels, or whatever Burge
does when he is not playing golf on Walton Heath. What is your elixir,
Dr Barnabas? Lemons? Sour milk? Or what is the latest?

SURGE. We were just beginning to talk seriously; and now you snatch at
the chance of talking rot. [_He rises_]. Good evening. [_He turns to the

CONRAD [_rudely_] Die as soon as you like. Good evening.

BURGE [_hesitating_] Look here. I took sour milk twice a day until
Metchnikoff died. He thought it would keep him alive for ever; and he
died of it.

CONRAD. You might as well have taken sour beer.

BURGE. You believe in lemons?

CONRAD. I wouldn't eat a lemon for ten pounds.

BURGE [_sitting down again_] What do you recommend?

CONRAD [_rising with a gesture of despair_] Whats the use of going on,
Frank? Because I am a doctor, and because they think I have a bottle to
give them that will make them live for ever, they are listening to me
for the first time with their mouths open and their eyes shut. Thats
their notion of science.

SAVVY. Steady, Nunk! Hold the fort.

CONRAD [_growls and sits down_]!!!

LUBIN. You volunteered the consultation, Doctor. I may tell you that,
far from sharing the credulity as to science which is now the fashion, I
am prepared to demonstrate that during the last fifty years, though the
Church has often been wrong, and even the Liberal Party has not been
infallible, the men of science have always been wrong.

CONRAD. Yes: the fellows you call men of science. The people who make
money by it, and their medical hangers-on. But has anybody been right?

LUBIN. The poets and story tellers, especially the classical poets and
story tellers, have been, in the main, right. I will ask you not
to repeat this as my opinion outside; for the vote of the medical
profession and its worshippers is not to be trifled with.

FRANKLYN. You are quite right: the poem is our real clue to biological
science. The most scientific document we possess at present is, as your
grandmother would have told you quite truly, the story of the Garden of

BURGE [_pricking up his ears_] Whats that? If you can establish that,
Barnabas, I am prepared to hear you out with my very best attention. I
am listening. Go on.

FRANKLYN. Well, you remember, don't you, that in the Garden of Eden Adam
and Eve were not created mortal, and that natural death, as we call it,
was not a part of life, but a later and quite separate invention?

SURGE. Now you mention it, thats true. Death came afterwards.

LUBIN. What about accidental death? That was always possible.

FRANKLYN. Precisely. Adam and Eve were hung up between two frightful
possibilities. One was the extinction of mankind by their accidental
death. The other was the prospect of living for ever. They could bear
neither. They decided that they would just take a short turn of a
thousand years, and meanwhile hand on their work to a new pair.
Consequently, they had to invent natural birth and natural death, which
are, after all, only modes of perpetuating life without putting on any
single creature the terrible burden of immortality.

LUBIN. I see. The old must make room for the new.

SURGE. Death is nothing but making room. Thats all there is in it or
ever has been in it.

FRANKLYN. Yes; but the old must not desert their posts until the new are
ripe for them. They desert them now two hundred years too soon.

SAVVY. I believe the old people are the new people reincarnated, Nunk.
I suspect I am Eve. I am very fond of apples; and they always disagree
with me.

CONRAD. You are Eve, in a sense. The Eternal Life persists; only It
wears out Its bodies and minds and gets new ones, like new clothes. You
are only a new hat and frock on Eve.

FRANKLYN. Yes. Bodies and minds ever better and better fitted to carry
out Its eternal pursuit.

LUBIN [_with quiet scepticism_] What pursuit, may one ask, Mr Barnabas?

FRANKLYN. The pursuit of omnipotence and omniscience. Greater power and
greater knowledge: these are what we are all pursuing even at the risk
of our lives and the sacrifice of our pleasures. Evolution is that
pursuit and nothing else. It is the path to godhead. A man differs from
a microbe only in being further on the path.

LUBIN. And how soon do you expect this modest end to be reached?

FRANKLYN. Never, thank God! As there is no limit to power and knowledge
there can be no end. 'The power and the glory, world without end': have
those words meant nothing to you?

BURGE [_pulling out an old envelope_] I should like to make a note of
that. [_He does so_].

CONRAD. There will always be something to live for.

SURGE [_pocketing his envelope and becoming more and more businesslike_]
Right: I have got that. Now what about sin? What about the Fall? How do
you work them in?

CONRAD. I don't work in the Fall. The Fall is outside Science. But I
daresay Frank can work it in for you.

SURGE [_to Franklyn_] I wish you would, you know. It's important. Very

FRANKLYN. Well, consider it this way. It is clear that when Adam and
Eve were immortal it was necessary that they should make the earth an
extremely comfortable place to live in.

BURGE. True. If you take a house on a ninety-nine years lease, you
spend a good deal of money on it. If you take it for three months you
generally have a bill for dilapidations to pay at the end of them.

FRANKLYN. Just so. Consequently, when Adam had the Garden of Eden on a
lease for ever, he took care to make it what the house agents call a
highly desirable country residence. But the moment he invented death,
and became a tenant for life only, the place was no longer worth the
trouble. It was then that he let the thistles grow. Life was so short
that it was no longer worth his while to do anything thoroughly well.

BURGE. Do you think that is enough to constitute what an average elector
would consider a Fall? Is it tragic enough?

FRANKLYN. That is only the first step of the Fall. Adam did not fall
down that step only: he fell down a whole flight. For instance, before
he invented birth he dared not have lost his temper; for if he had
killed Eve he would have been lonely and barren to all eternity. But
when he invented birth, and anyone who was killed could be replaced, he
could afford to let himself go. He undoubtedly invented wife-beating;
and that was another step down. One of his sons invented meat-eating.
The other was horrified at the innovation. With the ferocity which
is still characteristic of bulls and other vegetarians, he slew his
beefsteak-eating brother, and thus invented murder. That was a very
steep step. It was so exciting that all the others began to kill one
another for sport, and thus invented war, the steepest step of all. They
even took to killing animals as a means of killing time, and then, of
course, ate them to save the long and difficult labor of agriculture. I
ask you to contemplate our fathers as they came crashing down all the
steps of this Jacob's ladder that reached from paradise to a hell on
earth in which they had multiplied the chances of death from violence,
accident, and disease until they could hardly count on three score and
ten years of life, much less the thousand that Adam had been ready to
face! With that picture before you, will you now ask me where was the
Fall? You might as well stand at the foot of Snowdon and ask me where is
the mountain. The very children see it so plainly that they compress its
history into a two line epic:

Old Daddy Long Legs wouldn't say his prayers:
Take him by the hind legs and throw him downstairs.

LUBIN [_still immovably sceptical_] And what does Science say to this
fairy tale, Doctor Barnabas? Surely Science knows nothing of Genesis, or
of Adam and Eve.

CONRAD. Then it isnt Science: thats all. Science has to account for
everything; and everything includes the Bible.

FRANKLYN. The Book of Genesis is a part of nature like any other part of
nature. The fact that the tale of the Garden of Eden has survived and
held the imagination of men spellbound for centuries, whilst hundreds
of much more plausible and amusing stories have gone out of fashion
and perished like last year's popular song, is a scientific fact; and
Science is bound to explain it. You tell me that Science knows nothing
of it. Then Science is more ignorant than the children at any village

CONRAD. Of course if you think it more scientific to say that what we
are discussing is not Adam and Eve and Eden, but the phylogeny of the
blastoderm -

SAVVY. You neednt swear, Nunk.

CONRAD. Shut up, you: I am not swearing. [_To Lubin_] If you want the
professional humbug of rewriting the Bible in words of four syllables,
and pretending it's something new, I can humbug you to your heart's
content. I can call Genesis Phylogenesis. Let the Creator say, if you
like, 'I will establish an antipathetic symbiosis between thee and the
female, and between thy blastoderm and her blastoderm.' Nobody will
understand you; and Savvy will think you are swearing. The meaning is
the same.

HASLAM. Priceless. But it's quite simple. The one version is poetry: the
other is science.

FRANKLYN. The one is classroom jargon: the other is inspired human

LUBIN [_calmly reminiscent_] One of the few modern authors into whom
I have occasionally glanced is Rousseau, who was a sort of Deist like
Burge -

BURGE [_interrupting him forcibly_] Lubin: has this stupendously
important communication which Professor Barnabas has just made to us: a
communication for which I shall be indebted to him all my life long: has
this, I say, no deeper effect on you than to set you pulling my leg by
trying to make out that I am an infidel?

LUBIN. It's very interesting and amusing, Burge; and I think I see a
case in it. I think I could undertake to argue it in an ecclesiastical
court. But important is hardly a word I should attach to it.

BURGE. Good God! Here is this professor: a man utterly removed from the
turmoil of our political life: devoted to pure learning in its most
abstract phases; and I solemnly declare he is the greatest politician,
the most inspired party leader, in the kingdom. I take off my hat to
him. I, Joyce Burge, give him best. And you sit there purring like an
Angora cat, and can see nothing in it!

CONRAD [_opening his eyes widely_] Hallo! What have I done to deserve
this tribute?

SURGE. Done! You have put the Liberal Party into power for the next
thirty years, Doctor: thats what you've done.

CONRAD. God forbid!

BURGE. It's all up with the Church now. Thanks to you, we go to the
country with one cry and one only. Back to the Bible! Think of the
effect on the Nonconformist vote. You gather that in with one hand; and
you gather in the modern scientific sceptical professional vote with the
other. The village atheist and the first cornet in the local Salvation
Army band meet on the village green and shake hands. You take your
school children, your Bible class under the Cowper-Temple clause, into
the museum. You shew the kids the Piltdown skull; and you say, 'Thats
Adam. Thats Eve's husband.' You take the spectacled science student
from the laboratory in Owens College; and when he asks you for a truly
scientific history of Evolution, you put into his hand The Pilgrim's
Progress. You - [_Savvy and Haslam explode into shrieks of merriment_].
What are you two laughing at?

SAVVY. Oh, go on, Mr Burge. Dont stop.

HASLAM. Priceless!

FRANKLYN. Would thirty years of office for the Liberal Party seem so
important to you, Mr Burge, if you had another two and a half centuries
to live?

BURGE [_decisively_] No. You will have to drop that part of it. The
constituencies wont swallow it.

LUBIN [_seriously_] I am not so sure of that, Burge. I am not sure that
it may not prove the only point they will swallow.

BURGE. It will be no use to us even if they do. It's not a party point.
It's as good for the other side as for us.

LUBIN. Not necessarily. If we get in first with it, it will be
associated in the public mind with our party. Suppose I put it forward
as a plank in our program that we advocate the extension of human life
to three hundred years! Dunreen, as leader of the opposite party, will
be bound to oppose me: to denounce me as a visionary and so forth. By
doing so he will place himself in the position of wanting to rob the
people of two hundred and thirty years of their natural life. The
Unionists will become the party of Premature Death; and we shall become
the Longevity party.

BURGE [_shaken_] You really think the electorate would swallow it?

LUBIN. My dear Burge: is there anything the electorate will not swallow
if it is judiciously put to them? But we must make sure of our ground.
We must have the support of the men of science. Is there serious
agreement among them, Doctor, as to the possibility of such an evolution
as you have described?

CONRAD. Yes. Ever since the reaction against Darwin set in at the
beginning of the present century, all scientific opinion worth counting
has been converging rapidly upon Creative Evolution.

FRANKLYN. Poetry has been converging on it: philosophy has been
converging on it: religion has been converging on it. It is going to
be the religion of the twentieth century: a religion that has its
intellectual roots in philosophy and science just as medieval
Christianity had its intellectual roots in Aristotle.

LUBIN. But surely any change would be so extremely gradual that -

CONRAD. Dont deceive yourself. It's only the politicians who improve the
world so gradually that nobody can see the improvement. The notion that
Nature does not proceed by jumps is only one of the budget of plausible
lies that we call classical education. Nature always proceeds by jumps.
She may spend twenty thousand years making up her mind to jump; but when
she makes it up at last, the jump is big enough to take us into a new

LUBIN [_impressed_] Fancy my being leader of the party for the next
three hundred years!

BURGE. What!!

LUBIN. Perhaps hard on some of the younger men. I think in fairness I
shall have to step aside to make room after another century or so: that
is, if Mimi can be persuaded to give up Downing Street.

BURGE. This is too much. Your colossal conceit blinds you to the most
obvious necessity of the political situation.

LUBIN. You mean my retirement. I really cannot see that it is a
necessity. I could not see it when I was almost an old man - or at least
an elderly one. Now that it appears that I am a young man, the case
for it breaks down completely. [_To Conrad_] May I ask are there any
alternative theories? Is there a scientific Opposition?

CONRAD. Well, some authorities hold that the human race is a failure,
and that a new form of life, better adapted to high civilization, will
supersede us as we have superseded the ape and the elephant.

BURGE. The superman: eh!

CONRAD. No. Some being quite different from us.

LUBIN. Is that altogether desirable?

FRANKLYN. I fear so. However that may be, we may be quite sure of one
thing. We shall not be let alone. The force behind evolution, call it
what you will, is determined to solve the problem of civilization; and
if it cannot do it through us, it will produce some more capable agents.
Man is not God's last word: God can still create. If you cannot do His
work He will produce some being who can.

BURGE [_with zealous reverence_] What do we know about Him, Barnabas?
What does anyone know about Him?

CONRAD. We know this about Him with absolute certainty. The power my
brother calls God proceeds by the method of Trial and Error; and if we
turn out to be one of the errors, we shall go the way of the mastodon
and the megatherium and all the other scrapped experiments.

LUBIN [_rising and beginning to walk up and down the room with his
considering cap on_] I admit that I am impressed, gentlemen. I will go
so far as to say that your theory is likely to prove more interesting
than ever Welsh Disestablishment was. But as a practical politician - hm!
Eh, Burge?

CONRAD. We are not practical politicians. We are out to get something
done. Practical politicians are people who have mastered the art of
using parliament to prevent anything being done.

FRANKLYN. When we get matured statesmen and citizens -

LUBIN [_stopping short_] Citizens! Oh! Are the citizens to live three
hundred years as well as the statesmen?

CONRAD. Of course.

LUBIN. I confess that had not occurred to me [_he sits down abruptly,
evidently very unfavorably affected by this new light_].

_Savvy and Haslam look at one another with unspeakable feelings._

BURGE. Do you think it would be wise to go quite so far at first? Surely
it would be more prudent to begin with the best men.

FRANKLYN. You need not be anxious about that. It will begin with the
best men.

LUBIN. I am glad to hear you say so. You see, we must put this into a
practical parliamentary shape.

BURGE. We shall have to draft a Bill: that is the long and the short of
it. Until you have your Bill drafted you don't know what you are really
doing: that is my experience.

LUBIN. Quite so. My idea is that whilst we should interest the
electorate in this as a sort of religious aspiration and personal hope,
using it at the same time to remove their prejudices against those of us
who are getting on in years, it would be in the last degree upsetting
and even dangerous to enable everyone to live longer than usual.
Take the mere question of the manufacture of the specific, whatever
it may be! There are forty millions of people in the country. Let
me assume for the sake of illustration that each person would
have to consume, say, five ounces a day of the elixir. That
would be - let me see - five times three hundred and sixty-five
is - um - twenty-five - thirty-two - eighteen - eighteen hundred and
twenty-five ounces a year: just two ounces over the hundredweight.

BURGE. Two million tons a year, in round numbers, of stuff that everyone
would clamor for: that men would trample down women and children in the
streets to get at. You couldnt produce it. There would be blue murder.
It's out of the question. We must keep the actual secret to ourselves.

CONRAD [_staring at them_] The actual secret! What on earth is the man
talking about?

BURGE. The stuff. The powder. The bottle. The tabloid. Whatever it is.
You said it wasnt lemons.

CONRAD. My good sir: I have no powder, no bottle, no tabloid. I am not a
quack: I am a biologist. This is a thing thats going to happen.

LUBIN [_completely let down_] Going to happen! Oh! Is that all? [_He
looks at his watch_].

BURGE. Going to happen! What do you mean? Do you mean that you cant make
it happen?

CONRAD. No more than I could have made you happen.

FRANKLYN. We can put it into men's heads that there is nothing to
prevent its happening but their own will to die before their work is
done, and their own ignorance of the splendid work there is for them to

CONRAD. Spread that knowledge and that conviction; and as surely as the
sun will rise tomorrow, the thing will happen.

FRANKLYN. We don't know where or when or to whom it will happen. It may

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 13 of 26)