George Bernard Shaw.

Back to Methuselah online

. (page 19 of 26)
Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 19 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Irish because they live in Ireland! you might as well call them Airish
because they live in air. They must be just the same as other people.
Why do you shortlivers persist in making up silly stories about the
world and trying to act as if they were true? Contact with truth hurts
and frightens you: you escape from it into an imaginary vacuum in which
you can indulge your desires and hopes and loves and hates without any
obstruction from the solid facts of life. You love to throw dust in your
own eyes.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is my turn now, madam, to inform you that I do
not understand a single word you are saying. I should have thought that
the use of a vacuum for removing dust was a mark of civilization rather
than of savagery.

ZOO [_giving him up as hopeless_] Oh, Daddy, Daddy: I can hardly believe
that you are human, you are so stupid. It was well said of your people
in the olden days, 'Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.'

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nobly_] My body is dust, madam: not my soul.
What does it matter what my body is made of? the dust of the ground,
the particles of the air, or even the slime of the ditch? The important
thing is that when my Creator took it, whatever it was, He breathed into
its nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. Yes,
madam, a living soul. I am not the dust of the ground: I am a living
soul. That is an exalting, a magnificent thought. It is also a great
scientific fact. I am not interested in the chemicals and the microbes:
I leave them to the chumps and noodles, to the blockheads and the
muckrakers who are incapable of their own glorious destiny, and
unconscious of their own divinity. They tell me there are leucocytes
in my blood, and sodium and carbon in my flesh. I thank them for the
information, and tell them that there are blackbeetles in my kitchen,
washing soda in my laundry, and coal in my cellar. I do not deny their
existence; but I keep them in their proper place, which is not, if I may
be allowed to use an antiquated form of expression, the temple of the
Holy Ghost. No doubt you think me behind the times; but I rejoice in my
enlightenment; and I recoil from your ignorance, your blindness, your
imbecility. Humanly I pity you. Intellectually I despise you.

ZOO. Bravo, Daddy! You have the root of the matter in you. You will not
die of discouragement after all.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have not the smallest intention of doing so,
madam. I am no longer young; and I have moments of weakness; but when
I approach this subject the divine spark in me kindles and glows, the
corruptible becomes incorruptible, and the mortal Bolge Bluebin Barlow
puts on immortality. On this ground I am your equal, even if you survive
me by ten thousand years.

ZOO. Yes; but what do we know about this breath of life that puffs you
up so exaltedly? Just nothing. So let us shake hands as cultivated
Agnostics, and change the subject.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Cultivated fiddlesticks, madam! You cannot change
this subject until the heavens and the earth pass away. I am not an
Agnostic: I am a gentleman. When I believe a thing I say I believe it:
when I don't believe it I say I don't believe it. I do not shirk my
responsibilities by pretending that I know nothing and therefore can
believe nothing. We cannot disclaim knowledge and shirk responsibility.
We must proceed on assumptions of some sort or we cannot form a human

ZOO. The assumptions must be scientific, Daddy. We must live by science
in the long run.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have the utmost respect, madam, for the
magnificent discoveries which we owe to science. But any fool can make
a discovery. Every baby has to discover more in the first years of its
life than Roger Bacon ever discovered in his laboratory. When I was
seven years old I discovered the sting of the wasp. But I do not ask
you to worship me on that account. I assure you, madam, the merest
mediocrities can discover the most surprising facts about the physical
universe as soon as they are civilized enough to have time to study
these things, and to invent instruments and apparatus for research. But
what is the consequence? Their discoveries discredit the simple stories
of our religion. At first we had no idea of astronomical space. We
believed the sky to be only the ceiling of a room as large as the earth,
with another room on top of it. Death was to us a going upstairs into
that room, or, if we did not obey the priests, going downstairs into
the coal cellar. We founded our religion, our morality, our laws, our
lessons, our poems, our prayers, on that simple belief. Well, the moment
men became astronomers and made telescopes, their belief perished. When
they could no longer believe in the sky, they found that they could no
longer believe in their Deity, because they had always thought of him
as living in the sky. When the priests themselves ceased to believe in
their Deity and began to believe in astronomy, they changed their name
and their dress, and called themselves doctors and men of science. They
set up a new religion in which there was no Deity, but only wonders
and miracles, with scientific instruments and apparatus as the wonder
workers. Instead of worshipping the greatness and wisdom of the Deity,
men gaped foolishly at the million billion miles of space and worshipped
the astronomer as infallible and omniscient. They built temples for his
telescopes. Then they looked into their own bodies with microscopes, and
found there, not the soul they had formerly believed in, but millions of
micro-organisms; so they gaped at these as foolishly as at the millions
of miles, and built microscope temples in which horrible sacrifices
were offered. They even gave their own bodies to be sacrificed by the
microscope man, who was worshipped, like the astronomer, as infallible
and omniscient. Thus our discoveries instead of increasing our wisdom,
only destroyed the little childish wisdom we had. All I can grant you is
that they increased our knowledge.

ZOO. Nonsense! Consciousness of a fact is not knowledge of it: if it
were, the fish would know more of the sea than the geographers and the

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That is an extremely acute remark, madam. The
dullest fish could not possibly know less of the majesty of the ocean
than many geographers and naturalists of my acquaintance.

ZOO. Just so. And the greatest fool on earth, by merely looking at a
mariners' compass, may become conscious of the fact that the needle
turns always to the pole. Is he any the less a fool with that
consciousness than he was without it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Only a more conceited one, madam, no doubt.
Still, I do not quite see how you can be aware of the existence of a
thing without knowing it.

ZOO. Well, you can see a man without knowing him, can you not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_illuminated_] Oh how true! Of course, of course.
There is a member of the Travellers' Club who has questioned the
veracity of an experience of mine at the South Pole. I see that man
almost every day when I am at home. But I refuse to know him.

ZOO. If you could see him much more distinctly through a magnifying
glass, or examine a drop of his blood through a microscope, or dissect
out all his organs and analyze them chemically, would you know him then?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not. Any such investigation could
only increase the disgust with which he inspires me, and make me more
determined than ever not to know him on any terms.

ZOO. Yet you would be much more conscious of him, would you not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I should not allow that to commit me to any
familiarity with the fellow. I have been twice at the Summer Sports at
the South Pole; and this man pretended he had been to the North Pole,
which can hardly be said to exist, as it is in the middle of the sea. He
declared he had hung his hat on it.

ZOO [_laughing_] He knew that travellers are amusing only when they are
telling lies. Perhaps if you looked at that man through a microscope you
would find some good in him.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do not want to find any good in him. Besides,
madam, what you have just said encourages me to utter an opinion of
mine which is so advanced! so intellectually daring! that I have never
ventured to confess to it before, lest I should be imprisoned for
blasphemy, or even burnt alive.

ZOO. Indeed! What opinion is that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_after looking cautiously round_] I do not
approve of microscopes. I never have.

ZOO. You call that advanced! Oh, Daddy, that is pure obscurantism.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Call it so if you will, madam; but I maintain
that it is dangerous to shew too much to people who do not know what
they are looking at. I think that a man who is sane as long as he looks
at the world through his own eyes is very likely to become a dangerous
madman if he takes to looking at the world through telescopes and
microscopes. Even when he is telling fairy stories about giants and
dwarfs, the giants had better not be too big nor the dwarfs too small
and too malicious. Before the microscope came, our fairy stories only
made the children's flesh creep pleasantly, and did not frighten
grown-up persons at all. But the microscope men terrified themselves and
everyone else out of their wits with the invisible monsters they saw:
poor harmless little things that die at the touch of a ray of sunshine,
and are themselves the victims of all the diseases they are supposed to
produce! Whatever the scientific people may say, imagination without
microscopes was kindly and often courageous, because it worked on things
of which it had some real knowledge. But imagination with microscopes,
working on a terrifying spectacle of millions of grotesque creatures
of whose nature it had no knowledge, became a cruel, terror-stricken,
persecuting delirium. Are you aware, madam, that a general massacre
of men of science took place in the twenty-first century of the
pseudo-Christian era, when all their laboratories were demolished, and
all their apparatus destroyed?

ZOO. Yes: the shortlived are as savage in their advances as in their
relapses. But when Science crept back, it had been taught its place. The
mere collectors of anatomical or chemical facts were not supposed to
know more about Science than the collector of used postage stamps about
international trade or literature. The scientific terrorist who was
afraid to use a spoon or a tumbler until he had dipt it in some
poisonous acid to kill the microbes, was no longer given titles,
pensions, and monstrous powers over the bodies of other people: he was
sent to an asylum, and treated there until his recovery. But all that is
an old story: the extension of life to three hundred years has provided
the human race with capable leaders, and made short work of such
childish stuff.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_pettishly_] You seem to credit every advance in
civilization to your inordinately long lives. Do you not know that this
question was familiar to men who died before they had reached my own

ZOO. Oh yes: one or two of them hinted at it in a feeble way. An
ancient writer whose name has come down to us in several forms, such
as Shakespear, Shelley, Sheridan, and Shoddy, has a remarkable passage
about your dispositions being horridly shaken by thoughts beyond the
reaches of your souls. That does not come to much, does it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. At all events, madam, I may remind you, if you
come to capping ages, that whatever your secondaries and tertiaries may
be, you are younger than I am.

ZOO. Yes, Daddy; but it is not the number of years we have behind us,
but the number we have before us, that makes us careful and responsible
and determined to find out the truth about everything. What does it
matter to you whether anything is true or not? your flesh is as grass:
you come up like a flower, and wither in your second childhood. A lie
will last your time: it will not last mine. If I knew I had to die in
twenty years it would not be worth my while to educate myself: I should
not bother about anything but having a little pleasure while I lasted.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Young woman: you are mistaken. Shortlived as we
are, we - the best of us, I mean - regard civilization and learning, art
and science, as an ever-burning torch, which passes from the hand of one
generation to the hand of the next, each generation kindling it to a
brighter, prouder flame. Thus each lifetime, however short, contributes
a brick to a vast and growing edifice, a page to a sacred volume, a
chapter to a Bible, a Bible to a literature. We may be insects; but like
the coral insect we build islands which become continents: like the bee
we store sustenance for future communities. The individual perishes;
but the race is immortal. The acorn of today is the oak of the next
millennium. I throw my stone on the cairn and die; but later comers add
another stone and yet another; and lo! a mountain. I -

ZOO [_interrupts him by laughing heartily at him_]!!!!!!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_with offended dignity_] May I ask what I have
said that calls for this merriment?

ZOO. Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you are a funny little man, with your
torches, and your flames, and your bricks and edifices and pages and
volumes and chapters and coral insects and bees and acorns and stones
and mountains.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Metaphors, madam. Metaphors merely.

ZOO. Images, images, images. I was talking about men, not about images.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I was illustrating - not, I hope, quite
infelicitously - the great march of Progress. I was shewing you how,
shortlived as we orientals are, mankind gains in stature from generation
to generation, from epoch to epoch, from barbarism to civilization, from
civilization to perfection.

ZOO. I see. The father grows to be six feet high, and hands on his six
feet to his son, who adds another six feet and becomes twelve feet high,
and hands his twelve feet on to his son, who is full-grown at eighteen
feet, and so on. In a thousand years you would all be three or four
miles high. At that rate your ancestors Bilge and Bluebeard, whom you
call giants, must have been about quarter of an inch high.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not here to bandy quibbles and paradoxes
with a girl who blunders over the greatest names in history. I am in
earnest. I am treating a solemn theme seriously. I never said that the
son of a man six feet high would be twelve feet high.

ZOO. You didn't mean that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Most certainly not.

ZOO. Then you didn't mean anything. Now listen to me, you little
ephemeral thing. I knew quite well what you meant by your torch handed
on from generation to generation. But every time that torch is handed
on, it dies down to the tiniest spark; and the man who gets it can
rekindle it only by his own light. You are no taller than Bilge or
Bluebeard; and you are no wiser. Their wisdom, such as it was, perished
with them: so did their strength, if their strength ever existed outside
your imagination. I do not know how old you are: you look about five
hundred -

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Five hundred! Really, madam -

ZOO [_continuing_]; but I know, of course, that you are an ordinary
shortliver. Well, your wisdom is only such wisdom as a man can have
before he has had experience enough to distinguish his wisdom from his
folly, his destiny from his delusions, his -

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In short, such wisdom as your own.

ZOO. No, no, no, no. How often must I tell you that we are made wise not
by the recollections of our past, but by the responsibilities of our
future. I shall be more reckless when I am a tertiary than I am today.
If you cannot understand that, at least you must admit that I have
learnt from tertiaries. I have seen their work and lived under their
institutions. Like all young things I rebelled against them; and in
their hunger for new lights and new ideas they listened to me and
encouraged me to rebel. But my ways did not work; and theirs did; and
they were able to tell me why. They have no power over me except that
power: they refuse all other power; and the consequence is that there
are no limits to their power except the limits they set themselves. You
are a child governed by children, who make so many mistakes and are so
naughty that you are in continual rebellion against them; and as they
can never convince you that they are right: they can govern you only by
beating you, imprisoning you, torturing you, killing you if you disobey
them without being strong enough to kill or torture them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That may be an unfortunate fact. I condemn it and
deplore it. But our minds are greater than the facts. We know better.
The greatest ancient teachers, followed by the galaxy of Christs who
arose in the twentieth century, not to mention such comparatively modern
spiritual leaders as Blitherinjam, Tosh, and Spiffkins, all taught that
punishment and revenge, coercion and militarism, are mistakes, and that
the golden rule -

ZOO. [_interrupting_] Yes, yes, yes, Daddy: we longlived people know
that quite well. But did any of their disciples ever succeed in
governing you for a single day on their Christ-like principles? It
is not enough to know what is good: you must be able to do it. They
couldn't do it because they did not live long enough to find out how
to do it, or to outlive the childish passions that prevented them from
really wanting to do it. You know very well that they could only keep
order - such as it was - by the very coercion and militarism they were
denouncing and deploring. They had actually to kill one another for
preaching their own gospel, or be killed themselves.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. The blood of the martyrs, madam, is the seed of
the Church.

ZOO. More images, Daddy! The blood of the shortlived falls on stony

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising, very testy_] You are simply mad on the
subject of longevity. I wish you would change it. It is rather personal
and in bad taste. Human nature is human nature, longlived or shortlived,
and always will be.

ZOO. Then you give up the idea of progress? You cry off the torch, and
the brick, and the acorn, and all the rest of it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do nothing of the sort. I stand for progress
and for freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent.

ZOO. You are certainly a true Briton.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am proud of it. But in your mouth I feel that
the compliment hides some insult; so I do not thank you for it.

ZOO. All I meant was that though Britons sometimes say quite clever
things and deep things as well as silly and shallow things, they always
forget them ten minutes after they have uttered them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Leave it at that, madam: leave it at that.
[_He sits down again_]. Even a Pope is not expected to be continually
pontificating. Our flashes of inspiration shew that our hearts are in
the right place.

ZOO. Of course. You cannot keep your heart in any place but the right


ZOO. But you can keep your hands in the wrong place. In your neighbor's
pockets, for example. So, you see, it is your hands that really matter.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exhausted_] Well, a woman must have the last
word. I will not dispute it with you.

ZOO. Good. Now let us go back to the really interesting subject of our
discussion. You remember? The slavery of the shortlived to images and

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_aghast_] Do you mean to say, madam, that after
having talked my head off, and reduced me to despair and silence by your
intolerable loquacity, you actually propose to begin all over again? I
shall leave you at once.

ZOO. You must not. I am your nurse; and you must stay with me.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I absolutely decline to do anything of the sort
[_he rises and walks away with marked dignity_].

ZOO [_using her tuning-fork_] Zoo on Burrin Pier to Oracle Police at
Ennistymon have you got me?... What?... I am picking you up now but you
are flat to my pitch.... Just a shade sharper.... That's better: still a
little more.... Got you: right. Isolate Burrin Pier quick.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_is heard to yell_] Oh!

ZOO [_still intoning_] Thanks.... Oh nothing serious I am nursing a
shortliver and the silly creature has run away he has discouraged
himself very badly by gadding about and talking to secondaries and I
must keep him strictly to heel.

_The Elderly Gentleman returns, indignant._

ZOO. Here he is you can release the Pier thanks. Goodbye. [_She puts up
her tuning-fork_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. This is outrageous. When I tried to step off the
pier on to the road, I received a shock, followed by an attack of pins
and needles which ceased only when I stepped back on to the stones.

ZOO. Yes: there is an electric hedge there. It is a very old and very
crude method of keeping animals from straying.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. We are perfectly familiar with it in Baghdad,
madam; but I little thought I should live to have it ignominiously
applied to myself. You have actually Kiplingized me.

ZOO. Kiplingized! What is that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. About a thousand years ago there were two authors
named Kipling. One was an eastern and a writer of merit: the other,
being a western, was of course only an amusing barbarian. He is said to
have invented the electric hedge. I consider that in using it on me you
have taken a very great liberty.

ZOO. What is a liberty?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exasperated_] I shall not explain, madam. I
believe you know as well as I do. [_He sits down on the bollard in

ZOO. No: even you can tell me things I do not know. Havnt you noticed
that all the time you have been here we have been asking you questions?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Noticed it! It has almost driven me mad. Do you
see my white hair? It was hardly grey when I landed: there were patches
of its original auburn still distinctly discernible.

ZOO. That is one of the symptoms of discouragement. But have you noticed
something much more important to yourself: that is, that you have never
asked us any questions, although we know so much more than you do?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not a child, madam. I believe I have had
occasion to say that before. And I am an experienced traveller. I know
that what the traveller observes must really exist, or he could not
observe it. But what the natives tell him is invariably pure fiction.

ZOO. Not here, Daddy. With us life is too long for telling lies. They
all get found out. Youd better ask me questions while you have the

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. If I have occasion to consult the oracle I shall
address myself to a proper one: to a tertiary: not to a primary flapper
playing at being an oracle. If you are a nurserymaid, attend to your
duties; and do not presume to ape your elders.

ZOO. [_rising ominously and reddening_] You silly -

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_thundering_] Silence! Do you hear! Hold your

ZOO. Something very disagreeable is happening to me. I feel hot all
over. I have a horrible impulse to injure you. What have you done to me?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_triumphant_] Aha! I have made you blush. Now you
know what blushing means. Blushing with shame!

ZOO. Whatever you are doing, it is something so utterly evil that if you
do not stop I will kill you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_apprehending his danger_] Doubtless you think it
safe to threaten an old man -

ZOO [_fiercely_] Old! You are a child: an evil child. We kill evil
children here. We do it even against our own wills by instinct. Take

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising with crestfallen courtesy_] I did not
mean to hurt your feelings. I - [_swallowing the apology with an effort_]
I beg your pardon. [_He takes off his hat, and bows_].

ZOO. What does that mean?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I withdraw what I said.

ZOO. How can you withdraw what you said?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I can say no more than that I am sorry.

ZOO. You have reason to be. That hideous sensation you gave me is
subsiding; but you have had a very narrow escape. Do not attempt to kill
me again; for at the first sign in your voice or face I shall strike you

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. _I_ attempt to kill you! What a monstrous

ZOO [_frowns_]!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_prudently correcting himself_] I mean
misunderstanding. I never dreamt of such a thing. Surely you cannot
believe that I am a murderer.

ZOO. I know you are a murderer. It is not merely that you threw words at

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawBack to Methuselah → online text (page 19 of 26)