me as if they were stones, meaning to hurt me. It was the instinct to
kill that you roused in me. I did not know it was in my nature: never
before has it wakened and sprung out at me, warning me to kill or be
killed. I must now reconsider my whole political position. I am no
longer a Conservative.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_dropping his hat_] Gracious Heavens! you have
lost your senses. I am at the mercy of a madwoman: I might have known it
from the beginning. I can bear no more of this. [_Offering his chest for
the sacrifice_] Kill me at once; and much good may my death do you!
ZOO. It would be useless unless all the other shortlivers were killed
at the same time. Besides, it is a measure which should be taken
politically and constitutionally, not privately. However, I am prepared
to discuss it with you.
ZOO. What good have our counsels ever done you? You come to us for
advice when you know you are in difficulties. But you never know you are
in difficulties until twenty years after you have made the mistakes that
led to them; and then it is too late. You cannot understand our advice:
you often do more mischief by trying to act on it than if you had been
left to your own childish devices. If you were not childish you would
not come to us at all: you would learn from experience that your
consultations of the oracle are never of any real help to you. You draw
wonderful imaginary pictures of us, and write fictitious tales and poems
about our beneficent operations in the past, our wisdom, our justice,
our mercy: stories in which we often appear as sentimental dupes of your
prayers and sacrifices; but you do it only to conceal from yourselves
the truth that you are incapable of being helped by us. Your Prime
Minister pretends that he has come to be guided by the oracle; but we
are not deceived: we know quite well that he has come here so that
when he goes back he may have the authority and dignity of one who has
visited the holy islands and spoken face to face with the ineffable
ones. He will pretend that all the measures he wishes to take for his
own purposes have been enjoined on him by the oracle.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But you forget that the answers of the oracle
cannot be kept secret or misrepresented. They are written and
promulgated. The Leader of the Opposition can obtain copies. All the
nations know them. Secret diplomacy has been totally abolished.
ZOO. Yes: you publish documents; but they are garbled or forged. And
even if you published our real answers it would make no difference,
because the shortlived cannot interpret the plainest writings. Your
scriptures command you in the plainest terms to do exactly the contrary
of everything your own laws and chosen rulers command and execute. You
cannot defy Nature. It is a law of Nature that there is a fixed relation
between conduct and length of life.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, no, no. I had much rather discuss your
intention of withdrawing from the Conservative party. How the
Conservatives have tolerated your opinions so far is more than I can
imagine: I can only conjecture that you have contributed very liberally
to the party funds. [_He picks up his hat, and sits down again_].
ZOO. Do not babble so senselessly: our chief political controversy is
the most momentous in the world for you and your like.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_interested_] Indeed? Pray, may I ask what it is?
I am a keen politician, and may perhaps be of some use. [_He puts on his
hat, cocking it slightly_].
ZOO. We have two great parties: the Conservative party and the
Colonization party. The Colonizers are of opinion that we should
increase our numbers and colonize. The Conservatives hold that we should
stay as we are, confined to these islands, a race apart, wrapped up in
the majesty of our wisdom on a soil held as holy ground for us by an
adoring world, with our sacred frontier traced beyond dispute by the
sea. They contend that it is our destiny to rule the world, and that
even when we were shortlived we did so. They say that our power and our
peace depend on our remoteness, our exclusiveness, our separation, and
the restriction of our numbers. Five minutes ago that was my political
faith. Now I do not think there should be any shortlived people at all.
[_She throws herself again carelessly on the sacks_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Am I to infer that you deny my right to live
because I allowed myself - perhaps injudiciously - to give you a slight
ZOO. Is it worth living for so short a time? Are you any good to
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stupent_] Well, upon my soul!
ZOO. It is such a very little soul. You only encourage the sin of pride
in us, and keep us looking down at you instead of up to something higher
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Is not that a selfish view, madam? Think of the
good you do us by your oracular counsels!
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have never heard of any such law, madam.
ZOO. Well, you are hearing of it now.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Let me tell you that we shortlivers, as you call
us, have lengthened our lives very considerably.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. By saving time. By enabling men to cross the
ocean in an afternoon, and to see and speak to one another when they are
thousands of miles apart. We hope shortly to organize their labor, and
press natural forces into their service, so scientifically that the
burden of labor will cease to be perceptible, leaving common men more
leisure than they will know what to do with.
ZOO. Daddy: the man whose life is lengthened in this way may be busier
than a savage; but the difference between such men living seventy years
and those living three hundred would be all the greater; for to a
shortliver increase of years is only increase of sorrow; but to a
long-liver every extra year is a prospect which forces him to stretch
his faculties to the utmost to face it. Therefore I say that we who
live three hundred years can be of no use to you who live less than a
hundred, and that our true destiny is not to advise and govern you, but
to supplant and supersede you. In that faith I now declare myself a
Colonizer and an Exterminator.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Oh, steady! steady! Pray! pray! Reflect, I
implore you. It is possible to colonize without exterminating the
natives. Would you treat us less mercifully than our barbarous
forefathers treated the Redskin and the Negro? Are we not, as Britons,
entitled at least to some reservations?
ZOO. What is the use of prolonging the agony? You would perish slowly
in our presence, no matter what we did to preserve you. You were almost
dead when I took charge of you today, merely because you had talked for
a few minutes to a secondary. Besides, we have our own experience to go
upon. Have you never heard that our children occasionally revert to the
ancestral type, and are born shortlived?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_eagerly_] Never. I hope you will not be offended
if I say that it would be a great comfort to me if I could be placed in
charge of one of those normal individuals.
ZOO. Abnormal, you mean. What you ask is impossible: we weed them all
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. When you say that you weed them out, you send
a cold shiver down my spine. I hope you don't mean that you - that
you - that you assist Nature in any way?
ZOO. Why not? Have you not heard the saying of the Chinese sage Dee
Ning, that a good garden needs weeding? But it is not necessary for us
to interfere. We are naturally rather particular as to the conditions on
which we consent to live. One does not mind the accidental loss of an
arm or a leg or an eye: after all, no one with two legs is unhappy
because he has not three; so why should a man with one be unhappy
because he has not two? But infirmities of mind and temper are quite
another matter. If one of us has no self-control, or is too weak to bear
the strain of our truthful life without wincing, or is tormented by
depraved appetites and superstitions, or is unable to keep free from
pain and depression, he naturally becomes discouraged, and refuses to
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good Lord! Cuts his throat, do you mean?
ZOO. No: why should he cut his throat? He simply dies. He wants to. He
is out of countenance, as we call it.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well!!! But suppose he is depraved enough not to
want to die, and to settle the difficulty by killing all the rest of
ZOO. Oh, he is one of the thoroughly degenerate shortlivers whom we
occasionally produce. He emigrates.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. And what becomes of him then?
ZOO. You shortlived people always think very highly of him. You accept
him as what you call a great man.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You astonish me; and yet I must admit that what
you tell me accounts for a great deal of the little I know of the
private life of our great men. We must be very convenient to you as a
dumping place for your failures.
ZOO. I admit that.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good. Then if you carry out your plan of
colonization, and leave no shortlived countries in the world, what will
you do with your undesirables?
ZOO. Kill them. Our tertiaries are not at all squeamish about killing.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Gracious Powers!
ZOO [_glancing up at the sun_] Come. It is just sixteen o'clock; and you
have to join your party at half-past in the temple in Galway.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising_] Galway! Shall I at last be able to
boast of having seen that magnificent city?
ZOO. You will be disappointed: we have no cities. There is a temple of
the oracle: that is all.
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Alas! and I came here to fulfil two
long-cherished dreams. One was to see Galway. It has been said, 'See
Galway and die.' The other was to contemplate the ruins of London.
ZOO. Ruins! We do not tolerate ruins. Was London a place of any
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amazed_] What! London! It was the mightiest city
of antiquity. [_Rhetorically_] Situate just where the Dover Road crosses
the Thames, it -
ZOO [_curtly interrupting_] There is nothing there now. Why should
anybody pitch on such a spot to live? The nearest houses are at a place
called Strand-on-the-Green: it is very old. Come. We shall go across the
water. [_She goes down the steps_].
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Sic transit gloria mundi!
ZOO [_from below_] What did you say?
THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_despairingly_] Nothing. You would not
understand. [_He goes down the steps_].
_A courtyard before the columned portico of a temple. The temple door
is in the middle of the portico. A veiled and robed woman of majestic
carriage passes along behind the columns towards the entrance. From the
opposite direction a man of compact figure, clean-shaven, saturnine, and
self-centred: in short, very like Napoleon I, and wearing a military
uniform of Napoleonic cut, marches with measured steps; places his hand
in his lapel in the traditional manner; and fixes the woman with his
eye. She stops, her attitude expressing haughty amazement at his
audacity. He is on her right: she on his left._
NAPOLEON [_impressively_] I am the Man of Destiny.
THE VEILED WOMAN [_unimpressed_] How did you get in here?
NAPOLEON. I walked in. I go on until I am stopped. I never am stopped. I
tell you I am the Man of Destiny.
THE VEILED WOMAN. You will be a man of very short destiny if you wander
about here without one of our children to guide you. I suppose you
belong to the Baghdad envoy.
NAPOLEON. I came with him; but I do not belong to him. I belong to
myself. Direct me to the oracle if you can. If not, do not waste my
THE VEILED WOMAN. Your time, poor creature, is short. I will not waste
it. Your envoy and his party will be here presently. The consultation of
the oracle is arranged for them, and will take place according to the
prescribed ritual. You can wait here until they come [_she turns to go
into the temple_].
NAPOLEON. I never wait. [_She stops_]. The prescribed ritual is,
I believe, the classical one of the pythoness on her tripod, the
intoxicating fumes arising from the abyss, the convulsions of the
priestess as she delivers the message of the God, and so on. That sort
of thing does not impose on me: I use it myself to impose on simpletons.
I believe that what is, is. I know that what is not, is not. The antics
of a woman sitting on a tripod and pretending to be drunk do not
interest me. Her words are put into her mouth, not by a god, but by a
man three hundred years old, who has had the capacity to profit by his
experience. I wish to speak to that man face to face, without mummery or
THE VEILED WOMAN. You seem to be an unusually sensible person. But there
is no old man. I am the oracle on duty today. I am on my way to take my
place on the tripod, and go through the usual mummery, as you rightly
call it, to impress your friend the envoy. As you are superior to that
kind of thing, you may consult me now. [_She leads the way into the
middle of the courtyard_]. What do you want to know?
NAPOLEON [_following her_] Madam: I have not come all this way to
discuss matters of State with a woman. I must ask you to direct me to
one of your oldest and ablest men.
THE ORACLE. None of our oldest and ablest men or women would dream of
wasting their time on you. You would die of discouragement in their
presence in less than three hours.
NAPOLEON. You can keep this idle fable of discouragement for people
credulous enough to be intimidated by it, madam. I do not believe in
THE ORACLE. No one asks you to. A field is something physical, is it
not. Well, I have a field.
NAPOLEON. I have several million fields. I am Emperor of Turania.
THE ORACLE. You do not understand. I am not speaking of an agricultural
field. Do you not know that every mass of matter in motion carries with
it an invisible gravitational field, every magnet an invisible magnetic
field, and every living organism a mesmeric field? Even you have a
perceptible mesmeric field. Feeble as it is, it is the strongest I have
yet observed in a shortliver.
NAPOLEON. By no means feeble, madam. I understand you now; and I may
tell you that the strongest characters blench in my presence, and submit
to my domination. But I do not call that a physical force.
THE ORACLE. What else do you call it, pray? Our physicists deal with it.
Our mathematicians express its measurements in algebraic equations.
NAPOLEON. Do you mean that they could measure mine?
THE ORACLE. Yes: by a figure infinitely near to zero. Even in us the
force is negligible during our first century of life. In our second it
develops quickly, and becomes dangerous to shortlivers who venture into
its field. If I were not veiled and robed in insulating material you
could not endure my presence; and I am still a young woman: one hundred
and seventy if you wish to know exactly.
NAPOLEON [_folding his arms_] I am not intimidated: no woman alive, old
or young, can put me out of countenance. Unveil, madam. Disrobe. You
will move this temple as easily as shake me.
THE ORACLE. Very well [_she throws back her veil_].
NAPOLEON [_shrieking, staggering, and covering his eyes_] No. Stop. Hide
your face again. [_Shutting his eyes and distractedly clutching at his
throat and heart_] Let me go. Help! I am dying.
THE ORACLE. Do you still wish to consult an older person?
NAPOLEON. No, no. The veil, the veil, I beg you.
THE ORACLE [_replacing the veil_] So.
NAPOLEON. Ouf! One cannot always be at one's best. Twice before in my
life I have lost my nerve and behaved like a poltroon. But I warn you
not to judge my quality by these involuntary moments.
THE ORACLE. I have no occasion to judge of your quality. You want my
advice. Speak quickly; or I shall go about my business.
NAPOLEON [_After a moment's hesitation, sinks respectfully on one knee_]
THE ORACLE. Oh, rise, rise. Are you so foolish as to offer me this
mummery which even you despise?
NAPOLEON [_rising_] I knelt in spite of myself. I compliment you on your
THE ORACLE [_impatiently_] Time! time! time! time!
NAPOLEON. You will not grudge me the necessary time, madam, when you
know my case. I am a man gifted with a certain specific talent in a
degree altogether extraordinary. I am not otherwise a very extraordinary
person: my family is not influential; and without this talent I should
cut no particular figure in the world.
THE ORACLE. Why cut a figure in the world?
NAPOLEON. Superiority will make itself felt, madam. But when I say I
possess this talent I do not express myself accurately. The truth is
that my talent possesses me. It is genius. It drives me to exercise it.
I must exercise it. I am great when I exercise it. At other moments I am
THE ORACLE. Well, exercise it. Do you need an oracle to tell you that?
NAPOLEON. Wait. This talent involves the shedding of human blood.
THE ORACLE. Are you a surgeon, or a dentist?
NAPOLEON. Psha! You do not appreciate me, madam. I mean the shedding of
oceans of blood, the death of millions of men.
THE ORACLE. They object, I suppose.
NAPOLEON. Not at all. They adore me.
THE ORACLE. Indeed!
NAPOLEON. I have never shed blood with my own hand. They kill each
other: they die with shouts of triumph on their lips. Those who die
cursing do not curse me. My talent is to organize this slaughter; to
give mankind this terrible joy which they call glory; to let loose the
devil in them that peace has bound in chains.
THE ORACLE. And you? Do you share their joy?
NAPOLEON. Not at all. What satisfaction is it to me to see one fool
pierce the entrails of another with a bayonet? I am a man of princely
character, but of simple personal tastes and habits. I have the virtues
of a laborer: industry and indifference to personal comfort. But I must
rule, because I am so superior to other men that it is intolerable to
me to be misruled by them. Yet only as a slayer can I become a ruler. I
cannot be great as a writer: I have tried and failed. I have no talent
as a sculptor or painter; and as lawyer, preacher, doctor, or actor,
scores of second-rate men can do as well as I, or better. I am not even
a diplomatist: I can only play my trump card of force. What I can do
is to organize war. Look at me! I seem a man like other men, because
nine-tenths of me is common humanity. But the other tenth is a faculty
for seeing things as they are that no other man possesses.
THE ORACLE. You mean that you have no imagination?
NAPOLEON [_forcibly_] I mean that I have the only imagination worth
having: the power of imagining things as they are, even when I cannot
see them. You feel yourself my superior, I know: nay, you are my
superior: have I not bowed my knee to you by instinct? Yet I challenge
you to a test of our respective powers. Can you calculate what the
methematicians call vectors, without putting a single algebraic symbol
on paper? Can you launch ten thousand men across a frontier and a chain
of mountains and know to a mile exactly where they will be at the end
of seven weeks? The rest is nothing: I got it all from the books at my
military school. Now this great game of war, this playing with armies
as other men play with bowls and skittles, is one which I must go on
playing, partly because a man must do what he can and not what he would
like to do, and partly because, if I stop, I immediately lose my power
and become a beggar in the land where I now make men drunk with glory.
THE ORACLE. No doubt then you wish to know how to extricate yourself
from this unfortunate position?
NAPOLEON. It is not generally considered unfortunate, madam. Supremely
THE ORACLE. If you think so, go on making them drunk with glory. Why
trouble me with their folly and your vectors?
NAPOLEON. Unluckily, madam, men are not only heroes: they are also
cowards. They desire glory; but they dread death.
THE ORACLE. Why should they? Their lives are too short to be worth
living. That is why they think your game of war worth playing.
NAPOLEON. They do not look at it quite in that way. The most worthless
soldier wants to live for ever. To make him risk being killed by the
enemy I have to convince him that if he hesitates he will inevitably be
shot at dawn by his own comrades for cowardice.
THE ORACLE. And if his comrades refuse to shoot him?
NAPOLEON. They will be shot too, of course.
THE ORACLE. By whom?
NAPOLEON. By their comrades.
THE ORACLE. And if they refuse?
NAPOLEON. Up to a certain point they do not refuse.
THE ORACLE. But when that point is reached, you have to do the shooting
NAPOLEON. Unfortunately, madam, when that point is reached, they shoot
THE ORACLE. Mf! It seems to me they might as well shoot you first as
last. Why don't they?
NAPOLEON. Because their love of fighting, their desire for glory, their
shame of being branded as dastards, their instinct to test themselves in
terrible trials, their fear of being killed or enslaved by the enemy,
their belief that they are defending their hearths and homes, overcome
their natural cowardice, and make them willing not only to risk their
own lives but to kill everyone who refuses to take that risk. But if war
continues too long, there comes a time when the soldiers, and also the
taxpayers who are supporting and munitioning them, reach a condition
which they describe as being fed up. The troops have proved their
courage, and want to go home and enjoy in peace the glory it has earned
them. Besides, the risk of death for each soldier becomes a certainty if
the fighting goes on for ever: he hopes to escape for six months, but
knows he cannot escape for six years. The risk of bankruptcy for the
citizen becomes a certainty in the same way. Now what does this mean for
THE ORACLE. Does that matter in the midst of such calamity?
NAPOLEON. Psha! madam: it is the only thing that matters: the value
of human life is the value of the greatest living man. Cut off that
infinitesimal layer of grey matter which distinguishes my brain from
that of the common man, and you cut down the stature of humanity from
that of a giant to that of a nobody. I matter supremely: my soldiers do
not matter at all: there are plenty more where they came from. If you
kill me, or put a stop to my activity (it is the same thing), the
nobler part of human life perishes. You must save the world from
that catastrophe, madam. War has made me popular, powerful, famous,
historically immortal. But I foresee that if I go on to the end it will
leave me execrated, dethroned, imprisoned, perhaps executed. Yet if I
stop fighting I commit suicide as a great man and become a common one.
How am I to escape the horns of this tragic dilemma? Victory I
can guarantee: I am invincible. But the cost of victory is the
demoralization, the depopulation, the ruin of the victors no less than
of the vanquished. How am I to satisfy my genius by fighting until I
die? that is my question to you.
THE ORACLE. Were you not rash to venture into these sacred islands with
such a question on your lips? Warriors are not popular here, my friend.
NAPOLEON. If a soldier were restrained by such a consideration, madam,
he would no longer be a soldier. Besides [_he produces a pistol_], I
have not come unarmed.
THE ORACLE. What is that thing?
NAPOLEON. It is an instrument of my profession, madam. I raise this
hammer; I point the barrel at you; I pull this trigger that is against
my forefinger; and you fall dead.
THE ORACLE. Shew it to me [_she puts out her hand to take it from him_].
NAPOLEON [_retreating a step_] Pardon me, madam. I never trust my life
in the hands of a person over whom I have no control.
THE ORACLE [_sternly_] Give it to me [_she raises her hand to her
NAPOLEON [_dropping the pistol and covering his eyes_] Quarter! Kamerad!
Take it, madam [_he kicks it towards her_]: I surrender.
THE ORACLE. Give me that thing. Do you expect me to stoop for it?
NAPOLEON [_taking his hands from his eyes with an effort_] A poor
victory, madam [_he picks up the pistol and hands it to her_]: there was
no vector strategy needed to win it. [Making a pose of his humiliation]
But enjoy your triumph: you have made me - ME! Cain Adamson Charles
Napoleon! Emperor of Turania! cry for quarter.
THE ORACLE. The way out of your difficulty, Cain Adamson, is very
NAPOLEON [_eagerly_] Good. What is it?
THE ORACLE. To die before the tide of glory turns. Allow me [_she shoots
_He falls with a shriek. She throws the pistol away and goes haughtily