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of God empty than set a liar and a fool on it. What are called wars of
religion are always wars to destroy religion by affirming the historical
truth or material substantiality of some legend, and killing those who
refuse to accept it as historical or substantial. But who has ever
refused to accept a good legend with delight as a legend? The legends,
the parables, the dramas, are among the choicest treasures of mankind.
No one is ever tired of stories of miracles. In vain did Mahomet
repudiate the miracles ascribed to him: in vain did Christ furiously
scold those who asked him to give them an exhibition as a conjurer: in
vain did the saints declare that God chose them not for their powers but
for their weaknesses; that the humble might be exalted, and the proud
rebuked. People will have their miracles, their stories, their heroes
and heroines and saints and martyrs and divinities to exercise their
gifts of affection, admiration, wonder, and worship, and their Judases
and devils to enable them to be angry and yet feel that they do well to
be angry. Every one of these legends is the common heritage of the human
race; and there is only one inexorable condition attached to their
healthy enjoyment, which is that no one shall believe them literally.
The reading of stories and delighting in them made Don Quixote a
gentleman: the believing them literally made him a madman who slew
lambs instead of feeding them. In England today good books of Eastern
religious legends are read eagerly; and Protestants and Atheists read
Roman Catholic legends of the Saints with pleasure. But such fare is
shirked by Indians and Roman Catholics. Freethinkers read the Bible:
indeed they seem to be its only readers now except the reluctant
parsons at the church lecterns, who communicate their discomfort to the
congregation by gargling the words in their throats in an unnatural
manner that is as repulsive as it is unintelligible. And this is because
the imposition of the legends as literal truths at once changes them
from parables into falsehoods. The feeling against the Bible has become
so strong at last that educated people not only refuse to outrage their
intellectual consciences by reading the legend of Noah's Ark, with its
funny beginning about the animals and its exquisite end about the birds:
they will not read even the chronicles of King David, which may
very well be true, and are certainly more candid than the official
biographies of our contemporary monarchs.


What we should do, then, is to pool our legends and make a delightful
stock of religious folk-lore on an honest basis for all mankind. With
our minds freed from pretence and falsehood we could enter into the
heritage of all the faiths. China would share her sages with Spain, and
Spain her saints with China. The Ulster man who now gives his son an
unmerciful thrashing if the boy is so tactless as to ask how the evening
and the morning could be the first day before the sun was created, or
to betray an innocent calf-love for the Virgin Mary, would buy him a
bookful of legends of the creation and of mothers of God from all parts
of the world, and be very glad to find his laddie as interested in such
things as in marbles or Police and Robbers. That would be better
than beating all good feeling towards religion out of the child, and
blackening his mind by teaching him that the worshippers of the holy
virgins, whether of the Parthenon or St Peter's, are fire-doomed
heathens and idolaters. All the sweetness of religion is conveyed to
the world by the hands of storytellers and image-makers. Without their
fictions the truths of religion would for the multitude be neither
intelligible nor even apprehensible; and the prophets would prophesy and
the teachers teach in vain. And nothing stands between the people and
the fictions except the silly falsehood that the fictions are literal
truths, and that there is nothing in religion but fiction.


Let the Churches ask themselves why there is no revolt against the
dogmas of mathematics though there is one against the dogmas
of religion. It is not that the mathematical dogmas are more
comprehensible. The law of inverse squares is as incomprehensible to the
common man as the Athanasian creed. It is not that science is free from
legends, witchcraft, miracles, biographic boostings of quacks as heroes
and saints, and of barren scoundrels as explorers and discoverers. On
the contrary, the iconography and hagiology of Scientism are as copious
as they are mostly squalid. But no student of science has yet been
taught that specific gravity consists in the belief that Archimedes
jumped out of his bath and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse
shouting Eureka, Eureka, or that the law of inverse squares must be
discarded if anyone can prove that Newton was never in an orchard in his
life. When some unusually conscientious or enterprising bacteriologist
reads the pamphlets of Jenner, and discovers that they might have been
written by an ignorant but curious and observant nurserymaid, and could
not possibly have been written by any person with a scientifically
trained mind, he does not feel that the whole edifice of science has
collapsed and crumbled, and that there is no such thing as smallpox.
It may come to that yet; for hygiene, as it forces its way into our
schools, is being taught as falsely as religion is taught there; but in
mathematics and physics the faith is still kept pure, and you may take
the law and leave the legends without suspicion of heresy. Accordingly,
the tower of the mathematician stands unshaken whilst the temple of the
priest rocks to its foundation.


Creative Evolution is already a religion, and is indeed now
unmistakeably the religion of the twentieth century, newly arisen
from the ashes of pseudo-Christianity, of mere scepticism, and of
the soulless affirmations and blind negations of the Mechanists and
Neo-Darwinians. But it cannot become a popular religion until it has its
legends, its parables, its miracles. And when I say popular I do not
mean apprehensible by villagers only. I mean apprehensible by Cabinet
Ministers as well. It is unreasonable to look to the professional
politician and administrator for light and leading in religion. He
is neither a philosopher nor a prophet: if he were, he would be
philosophizing and prophesying, and not neglecting both for the drudgery
of practical government. Socrates and Coleridge did not remain soldiers,
nor could John Stuart Mill remain the representative of Westminster in
the House of Commons even when he was willing. The Westminster electors
admired Mill for telling them that much of the difficulty of dealing
with them arose from their being inveterate liars. But they would not
vote a second time for the man who was not afraid to break the crust of
mendacity on which they were all dancing; for it seemed to them
that there was a volcanic abyss beneath, not having his philosophic
conviction that the truth is the solidest standing ground in the end.
Your front bench man will always be an exploiter of the popular religion
or irreligion. Not being an expert, he must take it as he finds it; and
before he can take it, he must have been told stories about it in his
childhood and had before him all his life an elaborate iconography of it
produced by writers, painters, sculptors, temple architects, and artists
of all the higher sorts. Even if, as sometimes happens, he is a bit of
an amateur in metaphysics as well as a professional politician, he must
still govern according to the popular iconography, and not according to
his own personal interpretations if these happen to be heterodox.

It will be seen then that the revival of religion on a scientific basis
does not mean the death of art, but a glorious rebirth of it. Indeed art
has never been great when it was not providing an iconography for a live
religion. And it has never been quite contemptible except when imitating
the iconography after the religion had become a superstition. Italian
painting from Giotto to Carpaccio is all religious painting; and it
moves us deeply and has real greatness. Compare with it the attempts of
our painters a century ago to achieve the effects of the old masters by
imitation when they should have been illustrating a faith of their own.
Contemplate, if you can bear it, the dull daubs of Hilton and Haydon,
who knew so much more about drawing and scumbling and glazing and
perspective and anatomy and 'marvellous foreshortening' than Giotto,
the latchet of whose shoe they were nevertheless not worthy to unloose.
Compare Mozart's Magic Flute, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Wagner's Ring,
all of them reachings-forward to the new Vitalist art, with the dreary
pseudo-sacred oratorios and cantatas which were produced for no better
reason than that Handel had formerly made splendid thunder in that way,
and with the stale confectionery, mostly too would-be pious to be even
cheerfully toothsome, of Spohr and Mendelssohn, Stainer and Parry, which
spread indigestion at our musical festivals until I publicly told Parry
the bludgeoning truth about his Job and woke him to conviction of sin.
Compare Flaxman and Thorwaldsen and Gibson with Phidias and Praxiteles,
Stevens with Michael Angelo, Bouguereau's Virgin with Cimabue's, or the
best operatic Christs of Scheffer and Müller with the worst Christs that
the worst painters could paint before the end of the fifteenth century,
and you must feel that until we have a great religious movement we
cannot hope for a great artistic one. The disillusioned Raphael could
paint a mother and child, but not a queen of Heaven as much less skilful
men had done in the days of his great-grandfather; yet he could reach
forward to the twentieth century and paint a Transfiguration of the Son
of Man as they could not. Also, please note, he could decorate a house
of pleasure for a cardinal very beautifully with voluptuous pictures of
Cupid and Psyche; for this simple sort of Vitalism is always with
us, and, like portrait painting, keeps the artist supplied with
subject-matter in the intervals between the ages of faith; so that your
sceptical Rembrandts and Velasquezs are at least not compelled to paint
shop fronts for want of anything else to paint in which they can really


And there are always certain rare but intensely interesting
anticipations. Michael Angelo could not very well believe in Julius
II or Leo X, or in much that they believed in; but he could paint
the Superman three hundred years before Nietzsche wrote Also Sprach
Zarathustra and Strauss set it to music. Michael Angelo won the primacy
among all modern painters and sculptors solely by his power of shewing
us superhuman persons. On the strength of his decoration and color alone
he would hardly have survived his own death twenty years; and even his
design would have had only an academic interest; but as a painter of
prophets and sibyls he is greatest among the very greatest in his craft,
because we aspire to a world of prophets and sibyls. Beethoven never
heard of radioactivity nor of electrons dancing in vortices of
inconceivable energy; but pray can anyone explain the last movement of
his Hammerklavier Sonata, Opus 106, otherwise than as a musical picture
of these whirling electrons? His contemporaries said he was mad, partly
perhaps because the movement was so hard to play; but we, who can make a
pianola play it to us over and over until it is as familiar as Pop
Goes the Weasel, know that it is sane and methodical. As such, it
must represent something; and as all Beethoven's serious compositions
represent some process within himself, some nerve storm or soul storm,
and the storm here is clearly one of physical movement, I should much
like to know what other storm than the atomic storm could have driven
him to this oddest of all those many expressions of cyclonic energy
which have given him the same distinction among musicians that Michael
Angelo has among draughtsmen.

In Beethoven's day the business of art was held to be 'the sublime and
beautiful.' In our day it has fallen to be the imitative and voluptuous.
In both periods the word passionate has been freely employed; but in the
eighteenth century passion meant irresistible impulse of the loftiest
kind: for example, a passion for astronomy or for truth. For us it has
come to mean concupiscence and nothing else. One might say to the art of
Europe what Antony said to the corpse of Caesar: 'Are all thy conquests,
glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?' But in fact
it is the mind of Europe that has shrunk, being, as we have seen, wholly
preoccupied with a busy spring-cleaning to get rid of its superstitions
before readjusting itself to the new conception of Evolution.


On the stage (and here I come at last to my own particular function in
the matter), Comedy, as a destructive, derisory, critical, negative art,
kept the theatre open when sublime tragedy perished. From Molière to
Oscar Wilde we had a line of comedic playwrights who, if they had
nothing fundamentally positive to say, were at least in revolt against
falsehood and imposture, and were not only, as they claimed, 'chastening
morals by ridicule,' but, in Johnson's phrase, clearing our minds of
cant, and thereby shewing an uneasiness in the presence of error which
is the surest symptom of intellectual vitality. Meanwhile the name of
Tragedy was assumed by plays in which everyone was killed in the last
act, just as, in spite of Molière, plays in which everyone was married
in the last act called themselves comedies. Now neither tragedies nor
comedies can be produced according to a prescription which gives only
the last moments of the last act. Shakespear did not make Hamlet out of
its final butchery, nor Twelfth Night out of its final matrimony. And he
could not become the conscious iconographer of a religion because he had
no conscious religion. He had therefore to exercise his extraordinary
natural gifts in the very entertaining art of mimicry, giving us the
famous 'delineation of character' which makes his plays, like the novels
of Scott, Dumas, and Dickens, so delightful. Also, he developed that
curious and questionable art of building us a refuge from despair by
disguising the cruelties of Nature as jokes. But with all his gifts, the
fact remains that he never found the inspiration to write an original
play. He furbished up old plays, and adapted popular stories, and
chapters of history from Holinshed's Chronicle and Plutarch's
biographies, to the stage. All this he did (or did not; for there are
minus quantities in the algebra of art) with a recklessness which shewed
that his trade lay far from his conscience. It is true that he never
takes his characters from the borrowed story, because it was less
trouble and more fun to him to create them afresh; but none the less
he heaps the murders and villainies of the borrowed story on his own
essentially gentle creations without scruple, no matter how incongruous
they may be. And all the time his vital need for a philosophy drives
him to seek one by the quaint professional method of introducing
philosophers as characters into his plays, and even of making his heroes
philosophers; but when they come on the stage they have no philosophy
to expound: they are only pessimists and railers; and their occasional
would-be philosophic speeches, such as The Seven Ages of Man and The
Soliloquy on Suicide, shew how deeply in the dark Shakespear was as
to what philosophy means. He forced himself in among the greatest of
playwrights without having once entered that region in which Michael
Angelo, Beethoven, Goethe, and the antique Athenian stage poets are
great. He would really not be great at all if it were not that he had
religion enough to be aware that his religionless condition was one of
despair. His towering King Lear would be only a melodrama were it not
for its express admission that if there is nothing more to be said of
the universe than Hamlet has to say, then 'as flies to wanton boys are
we to the gods: they kill us for their sport.'

Ever since Shakespear, playwrights have been struggling with the same
lack of religion; and many of them were forced to become mere panders
and sensation-mongers because, though they had higher ambitions, they
could find no better subject-matter. From Congreve to Sheridan they were
so sterile in spite of their wit that they did not achieve between them
the output of Molière's single lifetime; and they were all (not without
reason) ashamed of their profession, and preferred to be regarded as
mere men of fashion with a rakish hobby. Goldsmith's was the only saved
soul in that pandemonium.

The leaders among my own contemporaries (now veterans) snatched at minor
social problems rather than write entirely without any wider purpose
than to win money and fame. One of them expressed to me his envy of the
ancient Greek playwrights because the Athenians asked them, not for some
'new and original' disguise of the half-dozen threadbare plots of the
modern theatre, but for the deepest lesson they could draw from the
familiar and sacred legends of their country. 'Let us all,' he said,
'write an Electra, an Antigone, an Agamemnon, and shew what we can do
with it.' But he did not write any of them, because these legends are
no longer religious: Aphrodite and Artemis and Poseidon are deader than
their statues. Another, with a commanding position and every trick of
British farce and Parisian drama at his fingers' ends, finally could
not write without a sermon to preach, and yet could not find texts more
fundamental than the hypocrisies of sham Puritanism, or the matrimonial
speculation which makes our young actresses as careful of their
reputations as of their complexions. A third, too tenderhearted to break
our spirits with the realities of a bitter experience, coaxed a wistful
pathos and a dainty fun out of the fairy cloudland that lay between him
and the empty heavens. The giants of the theatre of our time, Ibsen and
Strindberg, had no greater comfort for the world than we: indeed much
less; for they refused us even the Shakespearian-Dickensian consolation
of laughter at mischief, accurately called comic relief. Our emancipated
young successors scorn us, very properly. But they will be able to do no
better whilst the drama remains pre-Evolutionist. Let them consider the
great exception of Goethe. He, no richer than Shakespear, Ibsen, or
Strindberg in specific talent as a playwright, is in the empyrean whilst
they are gnashing their teeth in impotent fury in the mud, or at best
finding an acid enjoyment in the irony of their predicament. Goethe is
Olympian: the other giants are infernal in everything but their veracity
and their repudiation of the irreligion of their time: that is, they are
bitter and hopeless. It is not a question of mere dates. Goethe was
an Evolutionist in 1830: many playwrights, even young ones, are still
untouched by Creative Evolution in 1920. Ibsen was Darwinized to the
extent of exploiting heredity on the stage much as the ancient Athenian
playwrights exploited the Eumenides; but there is no trace in his
plays of any faith in or knowledge of Creative Evolution as a modern
scientific fact. True, the poetic aspiration is plain enough in his
Emperor or Galilean; but it is one of Ibsen's distinctions that nothing
was valid for him but science; and he left that vision of the future
which his Roman seer calls 'the third Empire' behind him as a Utopian
dream when he settled down to his serious grapple with realities in
those plays of modern life with which he overcame Europe, and broke
the dusty windows of every dry-rotten theatre in it from Moscow to


In my own activities as a playwright I found this state of things
intolerable. The fashionable theatre prescribed one serious subject:
clandestine adultery: the dullest of all subjects for a serious author,
whatever it may be for audiences who read the police intelligence
and skip the reviews and leading articles. I tried slum-landlordism,
doctrinaire Free Love (pseudo-Ibsenism), prostitution, militarism,
marriage, history, current politics, natural Christianity, national
and individual character, paradoxes of conventional society, husband
hunting, questions of conscience, professional delusions and impostures,
all worked into a series of comedies of manners in the classic fashion,
which was then very much out of fashion, the mechanical tricks of
Parisian 'construction' being _de rigueur_ in the theatre. But this,
though it occupied me and established me professionally, did not
constitute me an iconographer of the religion of my time, and thus
fulfil my natural function as an artist. I was quite conscious of this;
for I had always known that civilization needs a religion as a matter of
life or death; and as the conception of Creative Evolution developed I
saw that we were at last within reach of a faith which complied with
the first condition of all the religions that have ever taken hold of
humanity: namely, that it must be, first and fundamentally, a science
of metabiology. This was a crucial point with me; for I had seen Bible
fetichism, after standing up to all the rationalistic batteries of Hume,
Voltaire, and the rest, collapse before the onslaught of much less
gifted Evolutionists, solely because they discredited it as a biological
document; so that from that moment it lost its hold, and left literate
Christendom faithless. My own Irish eighteenth-centuryism made it
impossible for me to believe anything until I could conceive it as
a scientific hypothesis, even though the abominations, quackeries,
impostures, venalities, credulities, and delusions of the camp followers
of science, and the brazen lies and priestly pretensions of the
pseudo-scientific cure-mongers, all sedulously inculcated by modern
'secondary education,' were so monstrous that I was sometimes forced to
make a verbal distinction between science and knowledge lest I should
mislead my readers. But I never forgot that without knowledge even
wisdom is more dangerous than mere opportunist ignorance, and that
somebody must take the Garden of Eden in hand and weed it properly.

Accordingly, in 1901, I took the legend of Don Juan in its Mozartian
form and made it a dramatic parable of Creative Evolution. But being
then at the height of my invention and comedic talent, I decorated it
too brilliantly and lavishly. I surrounded it with a comedy of which it
formed only one act, and that act was so completely episodical (it was
a dream which did not affect the action of the piece) that the comedy
could be detached and played by itself: indeed it could hardly be played
at full length owing to the enormous length of the entire work, though
that feat has been performed a few times in Scotland by Mr Esme Percy,
who led one of the forlorn hopes of the advanced drama at that time.
Also I supplied the published work with an imposing framework consisting
of a preface, an appendix called The Revolutionist's Handbook, and a
final display of aphoristic fireworks. The effect was so vertiginous,
apparently, that nobody noticed the new religion in the centre of the
intellectual whirlpool. Now I protest I did not cut these cerebral
capers in mere inconsiderate exuberance. I did it because the worst
convention of the criticism of the theatre current at that time was that
intellectual seriousness is out of place on the stage; that the theatre
is a place of shallow amusement; that people go there to be soothed
after the enormous intellectual strain of a day in the city: in short,
that a playwright is a person whose business it is to make unwholesome
confectionery out of cheap emotions. My answer to this was to put all
my intellectual goods in the shop window under the sign of Man and
Superman. That part of my design succeeded. By good luck and acting, the
comedy triumphed on the stage; and the book was a good deal discussed.
Since then the sweet-shop view of the theatre has been out of
countenance; and its critical exponents have been driven to take an
intellectual pose which, though often more trying than their old
intellectually nihilistic vulgarity, at least concedes the dignity
of the theatre, not to mention the usefulness of those who live by
criticizing it. And the younger playwrights are not only taking their
art seriously, but being taken seriously themselves. The critic who

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