Summer afternoon in the year 31,920 A.D. A sunlit glade at the southern
foot of a thickly wooded hill. On the west side of it, the steps and
columned porch of a dainty little classic temple. Between it and the
hill, a rising path to the wooded heights begins with rough steps of
stones in the moss. On the opposite side, a grove. In the middle of the
glade, an altar in the form of a low marble table as long as a man, set
parallel to the temple steps and pointing to the hill. Curved marble
benches radiate from it into the foreground; but they are not joined to
it: there is plenty of space to pass between the altar and the benches.
A dance of youths and maidens is in progress. The music is provided by a
few fluteplayers seated carelessly on the steps of the temple. There are
no children; and none of the dancers seems younger than eighteen. Some
of the youths have beards. Their dress, like the architecture of the
theatre and the design of the altar and curved seats, resembles Grecian
of the fourth century B.C., freely handled. They move with perfect
balance and remarkable grace, racing through a figure like a farandole.
They neither romp nor hug in our manner.
At the first full close they clap their hands to stop the musicians, who
recommence with a saraband, during which a strange figure appears on the
path beyond the temple. He is deep in thought, with his eyes closed
and his feet feeling automatically for the rough irregular steps as he
slowly descends them. Except for a sort of linen kilt consisting mainly
of a girdle carrying a sporran and a few minor pockets, he is naked. In
physical hardihood and uprightness he seems to be in the prime of life;
and his eyes and mouth shew no signs of age; but his face, though fully
and firmly fleshed, bears a network of lines, varying from furrows to
hairbreadth reticulations, as if Time had worked over every inch of it
incessantly through whole geologic periods. His head is finely domed
and utterly bald. Except for his eyelashes he is quite hairless. He is
unconscious of his surroundings, and walks right into one of the dancing
couples, separating them. He wakes up and stares about him. The couple
stop indignantly. The rest stop. The music stops. The youth whom he has
jostled accosts him without malice, but without anything that we should
THE YOUTH. Now, then, ancient sleepwalker, why don't you keep your eyes
open and mind where you are going?
THE ANCIENT [_mild, bland, and indulgent_] I did not know there was a
nursery here, or I should not have turned my face in this direction.
Such accidents cannot always be avoided. Go on with your play: I will
THE YOUTH. Why not stay with us and enjoy life for once in a way? We
will teach you to dance.
THE ANCIENT. No, thank you. I danced when I was a child like you.
Dancing is a very crude attempt to get into the rhythm of life. It would
be painful to me to go back from that rhythm to your babyish gambols: in
fact I could not do it if I tried. But at your age it is pleasant: and I
am sorry I disturbed you.
THE YOUTH. Come! own up: arnt you very unhappy? It's dreadful to see
you ancients going about by yourselves, never noticing anything, never
dancing, never laughing, never singing, never getting anything out of
life. None of us are going to be like that when we grow up. It's a dog's
THE ANCIENT. Not at all. You repeat that old phrase without knowing
that there was once a creature on earth called a dog. Those who are
interested in extinct forms of life will tell you that it loved the
sound of its own voice and bounded about when it was happy, just as you
are doing here. It is you, my children, who are living the dog's life.
THE YOUTH. The dog must have been a good sensible creature: it set you
a very wise example. You should let yourself go occasionally and have a
THE ANCIENT. My children: be content to let us ancients go our ways and
enjoy ourselves in our own fashion.
_He turns to go._
THE MAIDEN. But wait a moment. Why will you not tell us how you enjoy
yourself? You must have secret pleasures that you hide from us, and that
you never get tired of. I get tired of all our dances and all our tunes.
I get tired of all my partners.
THE YOUTH [_suspiciously_] Do you? I shall bear that in mind.
_They all look at one another as if there were some sinister
significance in what she has said._
THE MAIDEN. We all do: what is the use of pretending we don't? It is
SEVERAL YOUNG PEOPLE. No, no. We don't. It is not natural.
THE ANCIENT. You are older than he is, I see. You are growing up.
THE MAIDEN. How do you know? I do not look so much older, do I?
THE ANCIENT. Oh, I was not looking at you. Your looks do not interest
THE MAIDEN. Thank you.
_They all laugh._
THE YOUTH. You old fish! I believe you don't know the difference between
a man and a woman.
THE ANCIENT. It has long ceased to interest me in the way it interests
you. And when anything no longer interests us we no longer know it.
THE MAIDEN. You havnt told me how I shew my age. That is what I want to
know. As a matter of fact I am older than this boy here: older than he
thinks. How did you find that out?
THE ANCIENT. Easily enough. You are ceasing to pretend that these
childish games--this dancing and singing and mating--do not become
tiresome and unsatisfying after a while. And you no longer care to
pretend that you are younger than you are. These are the signs of
adolescence. And then, see these fantastic rags with which you have
draped yourself. [_He takes up a piece of her draperies in his hand_].
It is rather badly worn here. Why do you not get a new one?
THE MAIDEN. Oh, I did not notice it. Besides, it is too much trouble.
Clothes are a nuisance. I think I shall do without them some day, as you
THE ANCIENT. Signs of maturity. Soon you will give up all these toys and
games and sweets.
THE YOUTH. What! And be as miserable as you?
THE ANCIENT. Infant: one moment of the ecstasy of life as we live it
would strike you dead. [_He stalks gravely out through the grove_].
_They stare after him, much damped._
THE YOUTH [_to the musicians_] Let us have another dance.
_The musicians shake their heads; get up from their seats on the steps;
and troop away into the temple. The others follow them, except the
Maiden, who sits down on the altar._
A MAIDEN [_as she goes_] There! The ancient has put them out of
countenance. It is your fault, Strephon, for provoking him. [_She
leaves, much disappointed_].
A YOUTH. Why need you have cheeked him like that? [_He goes grumbling_].
STREPHON [_calling after him_] I thought it was understood that we are
always to cheek the ancients on principle.
ANOTHER YOUTH. Quite right too! There would be no holding them if we
didn't. [_He goes_].
THE MAIDEN. Why don't you really stand up to them? _I_ did.
ANOTHER YOUTH. Sheer, abject, pusillanimous, dastardly cowardice. Thats
why. Face the filthy truth. [_He goes_].
ANOTHER YOUTH [_turning on the steps as he goes out_] And don't you
forget, infant, that one moment of the ecstasy of life as I live it
would strike you dead. Haha!
STREPHON [_now the only one left, except the Maiden_] Arnt you coming,
THE MAIDEN [_shakes her head_]!
THE YOUTH [_hurrying back to her_] What is the matter?
THE MAIDEN [_tragically pensive_] I dont know.
THE YOUTH. Then there is something the matter. Is that what you mean?
THE MAIDEN. Yes. Something is happening to me. I dont know what.
THE YOUTH. You no longer love me. I have seen it for a month past.
THE MAIDEN. Dont you think all that is rather silly? We cannot go on as
if this kind of thing, this dancing and sweethearting, were everything.
THE YOUTH. What is there better? What else is there worth living for?
THE MAIDEN. Oh, stuff! Dont be frivolous.
THE YOUTH. Something horrible is happening to you. You are losing all
heart, all feeling. [_He sits on the altar beside her and buries his
face in his hands_]. I am bitterly unhappy.
THE MAIDEN. Unhappy! Really, you must have a very empty head if there is
nothing in it but a dance with one girl who is no better than any of the
THE YOUTH. You did not always think so. You used to be vexed if I as
much as looked at another girl.
THE MAIDEN. What does it matter what I did when I was a baby? Nothing
existed for me then except what I tasted and touched and saw; and I
wanted all that for myself, just as I wanted the moon to play with. Now
the world is opening out for me. More than the world: the universe. Even
little things are turning out to be great things, and becoming intensely
interesting. Have you ever thought about the properties of numbers?
THE YOUTH [_sitting up, markedly disenchanted_] Numbers!!! I cannot
imagine anything drier or more repulsive.
THE MAIDEN. They are fascinating, just fascinating. I want to get away
from our eternal dancing and music, and just sit down by myself and
think about numbers.
THE YOUTH [_rising indignantly_] Oh, this is too much. I have suspected
you for some time past. We have all suspected you. All the girls
say that you have deceived us as to your age: that you are getting
flat-chested: that you are bored with us; that you talk to the ancients
when you get the chance. Tell me the truth: how old are you?
THE MAIDEN. Just twice your age, my poor boy.
THE YOUTH. Twice my age! Do you mean to say you are four?
THE MAIDEN. Very nearly four.
THE YOUTH [_collapsing on the altar with a groan_] Oh!
THE MAIDEN. My poor Strephon: I pretended I was only two for your sake.
I was two when you were born. I saw you break from your shell; and
you were such a charming child! You ran round and talked to us all so
prettily, and were so handsome and well grown, that I lost my heart to
you at once. But now I seem to have lost it altogether: bigger things
are taking possession of me. Still, we were very happy in our childish
way for the first year, werent we?
STREPHON. I was happy until you began cooling towards me.
THE MAIDEN. Not towards you, but towards all the trivialities of our
life here. Just think. I have hundreds of years to live: perhaps
thousands. Do you suppose I can spend centuries dancing; listening to
flutes ringing changes on a few tunes and a few notes; raving about the
beauty of a few pillars and arches; making jingles with words; lying
about with your arms round me, which is really neither comfortable nor
convenient; everlastingly choosing colors for dresses, and putting them
on, and washing; making a business of sitting together at fixed hours
to absorb our nourishment; taking little poisons with it to make us
delirious enough to imagine we are enjoying ourselves; and then having
to pass the nights in shelters lying in cots and losing half our lives
in a state of unconsciousness. Sleep is a shameful thing: I have not
slept at all for weeks past. I have stolen out at night when you were
all lying insensible--quite disgusting, I call it--and wandered about
the woods, thinking, thinking, thinking; grasping the world; taking it
to pieces; building it up again; devising methods; planning experiments
to test the methods; and having a glorious time. Every morning I have
come back here with greater and greater reluctance; and I know that the
time will soon come--perhaps it has come already--when I shall not come
back at all.
STREPHON. How horribly cold and uncomfortable!
THE MAIDEN. Oh, don't talk to me of comfort! Life is not worth living if
you have to bother about comfort. Comfort makes winter a torture,
spring an illness, summer an oppression, and autumn only a respite. The
ancients could make life one long frowsty comfort if they chose. But
they never lift a finger to make themselves comfortable. They will not
sleep under a roof. They will not clothe themselves: a girdle with a few
pockets hanging to it to carry things about in is all they wear: they
will sit down on the wet moss or in a gorse bush when there is dry
heather within two yards of them. Two years ago, when you were born, I
did not understand this. Now I feel that I would not put myself to the
trouble of walking two paces for all the comfort in the world.
STREPHON. But you don't know what this means to me. It means that you
are dying to me: yes, just dying. Listen to me [_he puts his arm around
THE MAIDEN [_extricating herself_] Dont. We can talk quite as well
without touching one another.
STREPHON [_horrified_] Chloe! Oh, this is the worst symptom of all! The
ancients never touch one another.
THE MAIDEN. Why should they?
STREPHON. Oh, I don't know. But don't you want to touch me? You used to.
THE MAIDEN. Yes: that is true: I used to. We used to think it would be
nice to sleep in one another's arms; but we never could go to sleep
because our weight stopped our circulations just above the elbows. Then
somehow my feeling began to change bit by bit. I kept a sort of interest
in your head and arms long after I lost interest in your whole body. And
now that has gone.
STREPHON. You no longer care for me at all, then?
THE MAIDEN. Nonsense! I care for you much more seriously than before;
though perhaps not so much for you in particular. I mean I care more for
everybody. But I don't want to touch you unnecessarily; and I certainly
don't want you to touch me.
STREPHON [_rising decisively_] That finishes it. You dislike me.
THE MAIDEN [_impatiently_] I tell you again, I do not dislike you; but
you bore me when you cannot understand; and I think I shall be happier
by myself in future. You had better get a new companion. What about the
girl who is to be born today?
STREPHON. I do not want the girl who is to be born today. How do I know
what she will be like? I want you.
THE MAIDEN. You cannot have me. You must recognize facts and face them.
It is no use running after a woman twice your age. I cannot make my
childhood last to please you. The age of love is sweet; but it is short;
and I must pay nature's debt. You no longer attract me; and I no longer
care to attract you. Growth is too rapid at my age: I am maturing from
week to week.
STREPHON. You are maturing, as you call it--I call it ageing--from
minute to minute. You are going much further than you did when we began
THE MAIDEN. It is not the ageing that is so rapid. It is the realization
of it when it has actually happened. Now that I have made up my mind to
the fact that I have left childhood behind me, it comes home to me in
leaps and bounds with every word you say.
STREPHON. But your vow. Have you forgotten that? We all swore together
in that temple: the temple of love. You were more earnest than any of
THE MAIDEN [_with a grim smile_] Never to let our hearts grow cold!
Never to become as the ancients! Never to let the sacred lamp be
extinguished! Never to change or forget! To be remembered for ever as
the first company of true lovers faithful to this vow so often made and
broken by past generations! Ha! ha! Oh, dear!
STREPHON. Well, you need not laugh. It is a beautiful and holy compact;
and I will keep it whilst I live. Are you going to break it?
THE MAIDEN. Dear child: it has broken itself. The change has come in
spite of my childish vow. [_She rises_]. Do you mind if I go into the
woods for a walk by myself? This chat of ours seems to me an unbearable
waste of time. I have so much to think of.
STREPHON [_again collapsing on the altar and covering his eyes with his
hands_] My heart is broken. [_He weeps_].
THE MAIDEN [_with a shrug_] I have luckily got through my childhood
without that experience. It shews how wise I was to choose a lover half
my age. [_She goes towards the grove, and is disappearing among the
trees, when another youth, older and manlier than Strephon, with crisp
hair and firm arms, comes from the temple, and calls to her from the
THE TEMPLE YOUTH. I say, Chloe. Is there any sign of the Ancient yet?
The hour of birth is overdue. The baby is kicking like mad. She will
break her shell prematurely.
THE MAIDEN [_looks across to the hill path; then points up it, and
says_] She is coming, Acis.
_The Maiden turns away through the grove and is lost to sight among the
Acis [_coming to Strephon_] Whats the matter? Has Chloe been unkind?
STREPHON. She has grown up in spite of all her promises. She deceived us
about her age. She is four.
ACIS. Four! I am sorry, Strephon. I am getting on for three myself;
and I know what old age is. I hate to say 'I told you so'; but she was
getting a little hard set and flat-chested and thin on the top, wasn't
STREPHON [_breaking down_] Dont.
ACIS. You must pull yourself together. This is going to be a busy day.
First the birth. Then the Festival of the Artists.
STREPHON [_rising_] What is the use of being born if we have to decay
into unnatural, heartless, loveless, joyless monsters in four short
years? What use are the artists if they cannot bring their beautiful
creations to life? I have a great mind to die and have done with it
all. [_He moves away to the corner of the curved seat farthest from the
theatre, and throws himself moodily into it_].
_An Ancient Woman has descended the hill path during Strephon's lament,
and has heard most of it. She is like the He-Ancient, equally bald,
and equally without sexual charm, but intensely interesting and rather
terrifying. Her sex is discoverable only by her voice, as her breasts
are manly, and her figure otherwise not very different. She wears no
clothes, but has draped herself rather perfunctorily with a ceremonial
robe, and carries two implements like long slender saws. She comes to
the altar between the two young men._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to Strephon_] Infant: you are only at the beginning of
it all. [_To Acis_] Is the child ready to be born?
ACIS. More than ready, Ancient. Shouting and kicking and cursing. We
have called to her to be quiet and wait until you come; but of course
she only half understands, and is very impatient.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Very well. Bring her out into the sun.
ACIS [_going quickly into the temple_] All ready. Come along.
_Joyous processional music strikes up in the temple._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_going close to Strephon_]. Look at me.
STREPHON [_sulkily keeping his face _averted] Thank you; but I don't
want to be cured. I had rather be miserable in my own way than callous
THE SHE-ANCIENT. You like being miserable? You will soon grow out of
that. [_She returns to the altar_].
_The procession, headed by Acis, emerges from the temple. Six youths
carry on their shoulders a burden covered with a gorgeous but light
pall. Before them certain official maidens carry a new tunic, ewers of
water, silver dishes pierced with holes, cloths, and immense sponges.
The rest carry wands with ribbons, and strew flowers. The burden is
deposited on the altar, and the pall removed. It is a huge egg._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_freeing her arms from her robe, and placing her saws
on the altar ready to her hand in a businesslike manner_] A girl, I
think you said?
THE TUNIC BEARER. It is a shame. Why cant we have more boys?
SEVERAL YOUTHS [_protesting_] Not at all. More girls. We want new girls.
A GIRL'S VOICE FROM THE EGG. Let me out. Let me out. I want to be born.
I want to be born. [_The egg rocks_].
ACIS [_snatching a wand from one of the others and whacking the egg with
it_] Be quiet, I tell you. Wait. You will be born presently.
THE EGG. No, no: at once, at once. I want to be born: I want to be born.
[_Violent kicking within the egg, which rocks so hard that it has to be
held on the altar by the bearers_].
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Silence. [_The music stops; and the egg behaves
_The She-Ancient takes her two saws, and with a couple of strokes rips
the egg open. The Newly Born, a pretty girl who would have been guessed
as seventeen in our day, sits up in the broken shell, exquisitely fresh
and rosy, but with filaments of spare albumen clinging to her here and
THE NEWLY BORN [_as the world bursts on her vision_] Oh! Oh!!
Oh!!! Oh!!!! [_She continues this ad libitum during the following
ACIS. Hold your noise, will you?
_The washing begins. The Newly Born shrieks and struggles._
A YOUTH. Lie quiet, you clammy little devil.
A MAIDEN. You must be washed, dear. Now quiet, quiet, quiet: be good.
ACIS. Shut your mouth, or I'll shove the sponge in it.
THE MAIDEN. Shut your eyes. Itll hurt if you don't.
ANOTHER MAIDEN. Dont be silly. One would think nobody had ever been born
THE NEWLY BORN [_yells_]!!!!!!
ACIS. Serve you right! You were told to shut your eyes.
THE YOUTH. Dry her off quick. I can hardly hold her. Shut it, will you;
or I'll smack you into a pickled cabbage.
_The dressing begins. The Newly Born chuckles with delight._
THE MAIDEN. Your arms go here, dear. Isnt it pretty? Youll look lovely.
THE NEWLY BORN [_rapturously_] Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Oh!!!!
ANOTHER YOUTH. No: the other arm: youre putting it on back to front. You
are a silly little beast.
ACIS. Here! Thats it. Now youre clean and decent. Up with you! Oopsh!
[_He hauls her to her feet. She cannot walk at first, but masters it
after a few steps_]. Now then: march. Here she is, Ancient: put her
through the catechism.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. What name have you chosen for her?
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to the Newly Born_] Your name is Amaryllis.
THE NEWLY BORN. What does it mean?
A YOUTH. Love.
A MAIDEN. Mother.
ANOTHER YOUTH. Lilies.
THE NEWLY BORN [_to Acis_] What is your name?
THE NEWLY BORN. I love you, Acis. I must have you all to myself. Take me
in your arms.
ACIS. Steady, young one. I am three years old.
THE NEWLY BORN. What has that to do with it? I love you; and I must have
you or I will go back into my shell again.
ACIS. You cant. It's broken. Look here [_pointing to Strephon, who has
remained in his seal without looking round at the birth, wrapped up in
his sorrow_]! Look at this poor fellow!
THE NEWLY BORN. What is the matter with him?
ACIS. When he was born he chose a girl two years old for his sweetheart.
He is two years old now himself; and already his heart is broken because
she is four. That means that she has grown up like this Ancient here,
and has left him. If you choose me, we shall have only a year's
happiness before I break your heart by growing up. Better choose the
youngest you can find.
THE NEWLY BORN. I will not choose anyone but you. You must not grow up.
We will love one another for ever. [_They all laugh_]. What are you
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Listen, child--
THE NEWLY BORN. Do not come near me, you dreadful old creature. You
ACIS. Just give her another moment. She is not quite reasonable yet.
What can you expect from a child less than five minutes old?
THE NEWLY BORN. I think I feel a little more reasonable now. Of course I
was rather young when I said that; but the inside of my head is changing
very rapidly. I should like to have things explained to me.
ACIS [_to the She-Ancient_] Is she all right, do you think?
_The She-Ancient looks at the Newly Born critically; feels her bumps
like a phrenologist; grips her muscles and shakes her limbs; examines
her teeth; looks into her eyes for a moment; and finally relinquishes
her with an air of having finished her job._
THE SHE-ANCIENT. She will do. She may live.
_They all wave their hands and shout for joy._
THE NEWLY BORN [_indignant_] I may live! Suppose there had been anything
wrong with me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Children with anything wrong do not live here, my
child. Life is not cheap with us. But you would not have felt anything.
THE NEWLY BORN. You mean that you would have murdered me!
THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is one of the funny words the newly born bring
with them out of the past. You will forget it tomorrow. Now listen. You
have four years of childhood before you. You will not be very happy; but
you will be interested and amused by the novelty of the world; and your
companions here will teach you how to keep up an imitation of happiness
during your four years by what they call arts and sports and pleasures.
The worst of your troubles is already over.
THE NEWLY BORN. What! In five minutes?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No: you have been growing for two years in the egg. You
began by being several sorts of creatures that no longer exist, though
we have fossils of them. Then you became human; and you passed in
fifteen months through a development that once cost human beings twenty
years of awkward stumbling immaturity after they were born. They had to
spend fifty years more in the sort of childhood you will complete in
four years. And then they died of decay. But you need not die until your
THE NEWLY BORN. What is my accident?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Sooner or later you will fall and break your neck; or a
tree will fall on you; or you will be struck by lightning. Something or
other must make an end of you some day.
THE NEWLY BORN. But why should any of these things happen to me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There is no why. They do. Everything happens to
everybody sooner or later if there is time enough. And with us there is
THE NEWLY BORN. Nothing need happen. I never heard such nonsense in all
my life. I shall know how to take care of myself.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. So you think.
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think: I know. I shall enjoy life for ever and
THE SHE-ANCIENT. If you should turn out to be a person of infinite
capacity, you will no doubt find life infinitely interesting. However,
all you have to do now is to play with your companions. They have many
pretty toys, as you see: a playhouse, pictures, images, flowers, bright
fabrics, music: above all, themselves; for the most amusing child's toy
is another child. At the end of four years, your mind will change: you
will become wise; and then you will be entrusted with power.
THE NEWLY BORN. But I want power now.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No doubt you do; so that you could play with the world
by tearing it to pieces.
THE NEWLY BORN. Only to see how it is made. I should put it all together
again much better than before.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There was a time when children were given the world to
play with because they promised to improve it. They did not improve it;
and they would have wrecked it had their power been as great as that
which you will wield when you are no longer a child. Until then your
young companions will instruct you in whatever is necessary. You are not
forbidden to speak to the ancients; but you had better not do so, as
most of them have long ago exhausted all the interest there is in
observing children and conversing with them. [_She turns to go_].
THE NEWLY BORN. Wait. Tell me some things that I ought to do and ought
not to do. I feel the need of education. They all laugh at her, except
THE SHE-ANCIENT. You will have grown out of that by tomorrow. Do what
you please. [_She goes away up the hill path_].
_The officials take their paraphernalia and the fragments of the egg
back into the temple._
ACIS. Just fancy: that old girl has been going for seven hundred years
and hasnt had her fatal accident yet; and she is not a bit tired of it
THE NEWLY BORN. How could anyone ever get tired of life?
ACIS. They do. That is, of the same life. They manage to change
themselves in a wonderful way. You meet them sometimes with a lot of
extra heads and arms and legs: they make you split laughing at them.
Most of them have forgotten how to speak: the ones that attend to us
have to brush up their knowledge of the language once a year or so.
Nothing makes any difference to them that I can see. They never enjoy
themselves. I don't know how they can stand it. They don't even come to
our festivals of the arts. That old one who saw you out of your shell
has gone off to moodle about doing nothing; though she knows that this
is Festival Day?
THE NEWLY BORN. What is Festival Day?
ACIS. Two of our greatest sculptors are bringing us their latest
masterpieces; and we are going to crown them with flowers and sing
dithyrambs to them and dance round them.
THE NEWLY BORN. How jolly! What is a sculptor?
ACIS. Listen here, young one. You must find out things for yourself, and
not ask questions. For the first day or two you must keep your eyes and
ears open and your mouth shut. Children should be seen and not heard.
THE NEWLY BORN. Who are you calling a child? I am fully a quarter of
an hour old [_She sits down on the curved bench near Strephon with her
VOICES IN THE TEMPLE [_all expressing protest, disappointment, disgust_]
Oh! Oh! Scandalous. Shameful. Disgraceful. What filth! Is this a joke?
Why, theyre ancients! Ss-s-s-sss! Are you mad, Arjillax? This is an
outrage. An insult. Yah! etc. etc. etc. [_The malcontents appear on the
ACIS. Hullo: whats the matter? [_He goes to the steps of the temple_].
_The two sculptors issue from the temple. One has a beard two feet long:
the other is beardless. Between them comes a handsome nymph with marked
features, dark hair richly waved, and authoritative bearing._
THE AUTHORITATIVE NYMPH [_swooping down to the centre of the glade with
the sculptors, between Acis and the Newly Born_] Do not try to browbeat
me, Arjillax, merely because you are clever with your hands. Can you
play the flute?
ARJILLAX [_the bearded sculptor on her right_] No, Ecrasia: I cannot.
What has that to do with it? [_He is half derisive, half impatient,
wholly resolved not to take her seriously in spite of her beauty and
ECRASIA. Well, have you ever hesitated to criticize our best flute
players, and to declare whether their music is good or bad? Pray have I
not the same right to criticize your busts, though I cannot make images
anymore than you can play?
ARJILLAX. Any fool can play the flute, or play anything else, if he
practises enough; but sculpture is a creative art, not a mere business
of whistling into a pipe. The sculptor must have something of the god
in him. From his hand comes a form which reflects a spirit. He does not
make it to please you, nor even to please himself, but because he must.
You must take what he gives you, or leave it if you are not worthy of
ECRASIA [_scornfully_] Not worthy of it! Ho! May I not leave it because
it is not worthy of me?
ARJILLAX. Of you! Hold your silly tongue, you conceited humbug. What do
you know about it?
ECRASIA. I know what every person of culture knows: that the business of
the artist is to create beauty. Until today your works have been full of
beauty; and I have been the first to point that out.
ARJILLAX. Thank you for nothing. People have eyes, havnt they, to see
what is as plain as the sun in the heavens without your pointing it out?
ECRASIA. You were very glad to have it pointed out. You did not call me
a conceited humbug then. You stifled me with caresses. You modelled me
as the genius of art presiding over the infancy of your master here
[_indicating the other sculptor_], Martellus.
MARTELLUS [_a silent and meditative listener, shudders and shakes his
head, but says nothing_].
ARJILLAX [_quarrelsomely_] I was taken in by your talk.
ECRASIA. I discovered your genius before anyone else did. Is that true,
or is it not?
ARJILLAX. Everybody knew I was an extraordinary person. When I was born
my beard was three feet long.
ECRASIA. Yes; and it has shrunk from three feet to two. Your genius
seems to have been in the last foot of your beard; for you have lost
MARTELLUS [_with a short sardonic cachinnation_] Ha! My beard was three
and a half feet long when I was born; and a flash of lightning burnt it
off and killed the ancient who was delivering me. Without a hair on my
chin I became the greatest sculptor in ten generations.
ECRASIA. And yet you come to us today with empty hands. We shall
actually have to crown Arjillax here because no other sculptor is
ACIS [_returning from the temple steps to behind the curved seat on the
right of the three_] Whats the row, Ecrasia? Why have you fallen out
ECRASIA. He has insulted us! outraged us! profaned his art! You know
how much we hoped from the twelve busts he placed in the temple to be
unveiled today. Well, go in and look at them. That is all I have to
say. [_She sweeps to the curved seat, and sits down just where Acis is
leaning over it_].
ACIS. I am no great judge of sculpture. Art is not my line. What is
wrong with the busts?
ECRASIA. Wrong with them! Instead of being ideally beautiful nymphs and
youths, they are horribly realistic studies of--but I really cannot
bring my lips to utter it.
_The Newly Born, full of curiosity, runs to the temple, and peeps in._
ACIS. Oh, stow it, Ecrasia. Your lips are not so squeamish as all that.
Studies of what?
THE NEWLY BORN [_from the temple steps_] Ancients.
ACIS [_surprised but not scandalized_] Ancients!
ECRASIA. Yes, ancients. The one subject that is by the universal consent
of all connoisseurs absolutely excluded from the fine arts. [_To
Arjillax_] How can you defend such a proceeding?
ARJILLAX. If you come to that, what interest can you find in the statues
of smirking nymphs and posturing youths you stick up all over the place?
ECRASIA. You did not ask that when your hand was still skilful enough to
ARJILLAX. Skilful! You high-nosed idiot, I could turn such things out by
the score with my eyes bandaged and one hand tied behind me. But what
use would they be? They would bore me; and they would bore you if you
had any sense. Go in and look at my busts. Look at them again and yet
again until you receive the full impression of the intensity of
mind that is stamped on them; and then go back to the pretty-pretty
confectionery you call sculpture, and see whether you can endure its
vapid emptiness. [_He mounts the altar impetuously_] Listen to me, all
of you; and do you, Ecrasia, be silent if you are capable of silence.
ECRASIA. Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. Scorn! That is
what I feel for your revolting busts.
ARJILLAX. Fool: the busts are only the beginning of a mighty design.
ACIS. Go ahead, old sport. We are listening.
_Martellus stretches himself on the sward beside the altar. The Newly
Born sits on the temple steps with her chin on her hands, ready to
devour the first oration she has ever heard. The rest sit or stand at
ARJILLAX. In the records which generations of children have rescued from
the stupid neglect of the ancients, there has come down to us a fable
which, like many fables, is not a thing that was done in the past, but a
thing that is to be done in the future. It is a legend of a supernatural
being called the Archangel Michael.
THE NEWLY BORN. Is this a story? I want to hear a story. [_She runs down
the steps and sits on the altar at Arjillax's feet_].
ARJILLAX. The Archangel Michael was a mighty sculptor and painter. He
found in the centre of the world a temple erected to the goddess of the
centre, called Mediterranea. This temple was full of silly pictures of
pretty children, such as Ecrasia approves.
ACIS. Fair play, Arjillax! If she is to keep silent, let her alone.
ECRASIA. I shall not interrupt, Acis. Why should I not prefer youth and
beauty to age and ugliness?
ARJILLAX. Just so. Well, the Archangel Michael was of my opinion, not
yours. He began by painting on the ceiling the newly born in all their
childish beauty. But when he had done this he was not satisfied; for the
temple was no more impressive than it had been before, except that there
was a strength and promise of greater things about his newly born ones
than any other artist had attained to. So he painted all round these
newly born a company of ancients, who were in those days called prophets
and sybils, whose majesty was that of the mind alone at its intensest.
And this painting was acknowledged through ages and ages to be the
summit and masterpiece of art. Of course we cannot believe such a tale
literally. It is only a legend. We do not believe in archangels; and the
notion that thirty thousand years ago sculpture and painting existed,
and had even reached the glorious perfection they have reached with us,
is absurd. But what men cannot realize they can at least aspire to. They
please themselves by pretending that it was realized in a golden age of
the past. This splendid legend endured because it lived as a desire in
the hearts of the greatest artists. The temple of Mediterranea never was
built in the past, nor did Michael the Archangel exist. But today the
temple is here [_he points to the porch_]; and the man is here [_he
slaps himself on the chest_]. I, Arjillax, am the man. I will place
in your theatre such images of the newly born as must satisfy even
Ecrasia's appetite for beauty; and I will surround them with ancients
more august than any who walk through our woods.
MARTELLUS [_as before_] Ha!
ARJILLAX [_stung_] Why do you laugh, you who have come empty-handed,
and, it seems, empty-headed?
ECRASIA [_rising indignantly_] Oh, shame! You dare disparage Martellus,
twenty times your master.
ACIS. Be quiet, will you [_he seizes her shoulders and thrusts her back
into her seat_].
MARTELLUS. Let him disparage his fill, Ecrasia. [_Sitting up_] My poor
Arjillax, I too had this dream. I too found one day that my images of
loveliness had become vapid, uninteresting, tedious, a waste of time
and material. I too lost my desire to model limbs, and retained only my
interest in heads and faces. I, too, made busts of ancients; but I had
not your courage: I made them in secret, and hid them from you all.
ARJILLAX [_jumping down from the altar behind Martellus in his surprise
and excitement_] You made busts of ancients! Where are they, man? Will
you be talked out of your inspiration by Ecrasia and the fools who
imagine she speaks with authority? Let us have them all set up beside
mine in the theatre. I have opened the way for you; and you see I am
none the worse.
MARTELLUS. Impossible. They are all smashed. [_He rises, laughing_].
ARJILLAX. Who smashed them?
MARTELLUS. I did. That is why I laughed at you just now. You will smash
yours before you have completed a dozen of them. [_He goes to the end of
the altar and sits down beside the Newly Born_].
ARJILLAX. But why?
MARTELLUS. Because you cannot give them life. A live ancient is better
than a dead statue. [_He takes the Newly Born on his knee: she is
flattered and voluptuously responsive_]. Anything alive is better than
anything that is only pretending to be alive. [_To Arjillax_] Your
disillusion with your works of beauty is only the beginning of your
disillusion with images of all sorts. As your hand became more skilful
and your chisel cut deeper, you strove to get nearer and nearer to truth
and reality, discarding the fleeting fleshly lure, and making images of
the mind that fascinates to the end. But how can so noble an inspiration
be satisfied with any image, even an image of the truth? In the end the
intellectual conscience that tore you away from the fleeting in art to
the eternal must tear you away from art altogether, because art is false
and life alone is true.
THE NEWLY BORN [_flings her arms round his neck and kisses him
MARTELLUS [_rises; carries her to the curved bench on his left; deposits
her beside Strephon as if she were his overcoat; and continues without
the least change of tone_] Shape it as you will, marble remains marble,
and the graven image an idol. As I have broken my idols, and cast away
my chisel and modelling tools, so will you too break these busts of
MARTELLUS. Wait, my friend. I do not come empty-handed today, as you
imagined. On the contrary, I bring with me such a work of art as you
have never seen, and an artist who has surpassed both you and me further
than we have surpassed all our competitors.
ECRASIA. Impossible. The greatest things in art can never be surpassed.
ARJILLAX. Who is this paragon whom you declare greater than I?
MARTELLUS. I declare him greater than myself, Arjillax.
ARJILLAX [_frowning_] I understand. Sooner than not drown me, you are
willing to clasp me round the waist and jump overboard with me.
ACIS. Oh, stop squabbling. That is the worst of you artists. You are
always in little squabbling cliques; and the worst cliques are those
which consist of one man. Who is this new fellow you are throwing in one
ARJILLAX. Ask Martellus: do not ask me. I know nothing of him. [_He
leaves Martellus, and sits down beside Ecrasia, on her left_].
MARTELLUS. You know him quite well. Pygmalion.
ECRASIA [_indignantly_] Pygmalion! That soulless creature! A scientist!
A laboratory person!
ARJILLAX. Pygmalion produce a work of art! You have lost your artistic
senses. The man is utterly incapable of modelling a thumb nail, let
alone a human figure.
MARTELLUS. That does not matter: I have done the modelling for him.
ARJILLAX. What on earth do you mean?
MARTELLUS [_calling_] Pygmalion: come forth.
_Pygmalion, a square-fingered youth with his face laid out in horizontal
blocks, and a perpetual smile of eager benevolent interest in
everything, and expectation of equal interest from everybody else, comes
from the temple to the centre of the group, who regard him for the most
part with dismay, as dreading that he will bore them. Ecrasia is openly
MARTELLUS. Friends: it is unfortunate that Pygmalion is constitutionally
incapable of exhibiting anything without first giving a lecture about
it to explain it; but I promise you that if you will be patient he will
shew you the two most wonderful works of art in the world, and that they
will contain some of my own very best workmanship. Let me add that they
will inspire a loathing that will cure you of the lunacy of art for
ever. [_He sits down next the Newly Born, who pouts and turns a very
cold right shoulder to him, a demonstration utterly lost on him_].
_Pygmalion, with the smile of a simpleton, and the eager confidence of a
fanatical scientist, climbs awkwardly on to the altar. They prepare for
PYGMALION. My friends: I will omit the algebra--
ACIS. Thank God!
PYGMALION [_continuing_]--because Martellus has made me promise to do
so. To come to the point, I have succeeded in making artificial human
beings. Real live ones, I mean.
INCREDULOUS VOICES. Oh, come! Tell us another. Really, Pyg! Get out. You
havnt. What a lie!
PYGMALION. I tell you I have. I will shew them to you. It has been done
before. One of the very oldest documents we possess mentions a tradition
of a biologist who extracted certain unspecified minerals from the earth
and, as it quaintly expresses it, 'breathed into their nostrils the
breath of life.' This is the only tradition from the primitive ages
which we can regard as really scientific. There are later documents
which specify the minerals with great precision, even to their atomic
weights; but they are utterly unscientific, because they overlook the
element of life which makes all the difference between a mere mixture of
salts and gases and a living organism. These mixtures were made over
and over again in the crude laboratories of the Silly-Clever Ages; but
nothing came of them until the ingredient which the old chronicler
called the breath of life was added by this very remarkable early
experimenter. In my view he was the founder of biological science.
ARJILLAX. Is that all we know about him? It doesnt amount to very much,
PYGMALION. There are some fragments of pictures and documents which
represent him as walking in a garden and advising people to cultivate
their gardens. His name has come down to us in several forms. One of
them is Jove. Another is Voltaire.
ECRASIA. You are boring us to distraction with your Voltaire. What about
your human beings?
ARJILLAX. Aye: come to them.
PYGMALION. I assure you that these details are intensely interesting.
[_Cries of_ No! They are not! Come to the human beings! Conspuez
Voltaire! Cut it short, Pyg! _interrupt him from all sides_]. You will
see their bearing presently. I promise you I will not detain you long.
We know, we children of science, that the universe is full of forces and
powers and energies of one kind and another. The sap rising in a tree,
the stone holding together in a definite crystalline structure, the
thought of a philosopher holding his brain in form and operation with an
inconceivably powerful grip, the urge of evolution: all these forces can
be used by us. For instance, I use the force of gravitation when I put a
stone on my tunic to prevent it being blown away when I am bathing. By
substituting appropriate machines for the stone we have made not only
gravitation our slave, but also electricity and magnetism, atomic
attraction, repulsion, polarization, and so forth. But hitherto the
vital force has eluded us; so it has had to create machinery for itself.
It has created and developed bony structures of the requisite strength,
and clothed them with cellular tissue of such amazing sensitiveness that
the organs it forms will adapt their action to all the normal variations
in the air they breathe, the food they digest, and the circumstances
about which they have to think. Yet, as these live bodies, as we call
them, are only machines after all, it must be possible to construct them
ARJILLAX. Everything is possible. Have you done it? that is the
PYGMALION. Yes. But that is a mere fact. What is interesting is the
explanation of the fact. Forgive my saying so; but it is such a pity
that you artists have no intellect.
ECRASIA [_sententiously_] I do not admit that. The artist divines by
inspiration all the truths that the so-called scientist grubs up in his
laboratory slowly and stupidly long afterwards.
ARJILLAX [_to Ecrasia, quarrelsomely_] What do you know about it? You
are not an artist.
ACIS. Shut your heads, both of you. Let us have the artificial men. Trot
them out, Pygmalion.
PYGMALION. It is a man and a woman. But I really must explain first.
PYGMALION. Yes: I--
ACIS. We want results, not explanations.
PYGMALION [_hurt_] I see I am boring you. Not one of you takes the least
interest in science. Goodbye. [_He descends from the altar and makes for
SEVERAL YOUTHS AND MAIDENS [_rising and rushing to him_] No, no. Dont
go. Dont be offended. We want to see the artificial pair. We will
listen. We are tremendously interested. Tell us all about it.
PYGMALION [_relenting_] I shall not detain you two minutes.
ALL. Half an hour if you like. Please go on, Pygmalion. [_They rush him
back to the altar, and hoist him on to it_]. Up you go.
_They return to their former places._
PYGMALION. As I told you, lots of attempts were made to produce
protoplasm in the laboratory. Why were these synthetic plasms, as they
called them, no use?
ECRASIA. We are waiting for you to tell us.
THE NEWLY BORN [_modelling herself on Ecrasia, and trying to outdo her
intellectually_] Clearly because they were dead.
PYGMALION. Not bad for a baby, my pet. But dead and alive are very loose
terms. You are not half as much alive as you will be in another month or
so. What was wrong with the synthetic protoplasm was that it could
not fix and conduct the Life Force. It was like a wooden magnet or a
lightning conductor made of silk: it would not take the current.
ACIS. Nobody but a fool would make a wooden magnet, and expect it to
PYGMALION. He might if he were so ignorant as not to be able to
distinguish between wood and soft iron. In those days they were very
ignorant of the differences between things, because their methods of
analysis were crude. They mixed up messes that were so like protoplasm
that they could not tell the difference. But the difference was there,
though their analysis was too superficial and incomplete to detect it.
You must remember that these poor devils were very little better than
our idiots: we should never dream of letting one of them survive the day
of its birth. Why, the Newly Born there already knows by instinct many
things that their greatest physicists could hardly arrive at by forty
years of strenuous study. Her simple direct sense of space-time and
quantity unconsciously solves problems which cost their most famous
mathematicians years of prolonged and laborious calculations requiring
such intense mental application that they frequently forgot to breathe
when engaged in them, and almost suffocated themselves in consequence.
ECRASIA. Leave these obscure prehistoric abortions; and come back to
your synthetic man and woman.
PYGMALION. When I undertook the task of making synthetic men, I did
not waste my time on protoplasm. It was evident to me that if it were
possible to make protoplasm in the laboratory, it must be equally
possible to begin higher up and make fully evolved muscular and nervous
tissues, bone, and so forth. Why make the seed when the making of the
flower would be no greater miracle? I tried thousands of combinations
before I succeeded in producing anything that would fix high-potential
ARJILLAX. High what?
PYGMALION. High-po-tential. The Life Force is not so simple as you
think. A high-potential current of it will turn a bit of dead tissue
into a philosopher's brain. A low-potential current will reduce the same
bit of tissue to a mass of corruption. Will you believe me when I tell
you that, even in man himself, the Life Force used to slip suddenly down
from its human level to that of a fungus, so that men found their flesh
no longer growing as flesh, but proliferating horribly in a lower form
which was called cancer, until the lower form of life killed the higher,
and both perished together miserably?
MARTELLUS. Keep off the primitive tribes, Pygmalion. They interest you;
but they bore these young things.
PYGMALION. I am only trying to make you understand. There was the Life
Force raging all round me: there was I, trying to make organs that would
capture it as a battery captures electricity, and tissues that would
conduct it and operate it. It was easy enough to make eyes more perfect
than our own, and ears with a larger range of sound; but they could
neither see nor hear, because they were not susceptible to the Life
Force. But it was far worse when I discovered how to make them
susceptible; for the first thing that happened was that they ceased to
be eyes and ears and turned into heaps of maggots.
ECRASIA. Disgusting! Please stop.
ACIS. If you don't want to hear, go away. You go ahead, Pyg.
PYGMALION. I went ahead. You see, the lower potentials of the Life Force
could make maggots, but not human eyes or ears. I improved the tissue
until it was susceptible to a higher potential.
ARJILLAX [_intensely interested_] Yes; and then?
PYGMALION. Then the eyes and ears turned into cancers.
ECRASIA. Oh, hideous!
PYGMALION. Not at all. That was a great advance. It encouraged me so
much that I put aside the eyes and ears, and made a brain. It wouldn't
take the Life Force at all until I had altered its constitution a dozen
times; but when it did, it took a much higher potential, and did not
dissolve; and neither did the eyes and ears when I connected them up
with the brain. I was able to make a sort of monster: a thing without
arms or legs; and it really and truly lived for half-an-hour.
THE NEWLY BORN. Half-an-hour! What good was that? Why did it die?
PYGMALION. Its blood went wrong. But I got that right; and then I went
ahead with a complete human body: arms and legs and all. He was my first
ARJILLAX. Who modelled him?
PYGMALION. I did.
MARTELLUS. Do you mean to say you tried your own hand before you sent
PYGMALION. Bless you, yes, several times. My first man was the
ghastliest creature: a more dreadful mixture of horror and absurdity
than you who have not seen him can conceive.
ARJILLAX. If you modelled him, he must indeed have been a spectacle.
PYGMALION. Oh, it was not his shape. You see I did not invent that. I
took actual measurements and moulds from my own body. Sculptors do that
sometimes, you know; though they pretend they don't.
PYGMALION. He was all right to look at, at first, or nearly so. But he
behaved in the most appalling manner; and the subsequent developments
were so disgusting that I really cannot describe them to you. He seized
all sorts of things and swallowed them. He drank every fluid in the
laboratory. I tried to explain to him that he must take nothing that he
could not digest and assimilate completely; but of course he could not
understand me. He assimilated a little of what he swallowed; but the
process left horrible residues which he had no means of getting rid of.
His blood turned to poison; and he perished in torments, howling. I then
perceived that I had produced a prehistoric man; for there are certain
traces in our own bodies of arrangements which enabled the earlier forms
of mankind to renew their bodies by swallowing flesh and grains and
vegetables and all sorts of unnatural and hideous foods, and getting rid
of what they could not digest.
ECRASIA. But what a pity he died! What a glimpse of the past we have
lost! He could have told us stories of the Golden Age.
PYGMALION. Not he. He was a most dangerous beast. He was afraid of me,
and actually tried to kill me by snatching up things and striking at me
with them. I had to give him two or three pretty severe shocks before I
convinced him that he was at my mercy.
THE NEWLY BORN. Why did you not make a woman instead of a man? She would
have known how to behave herself.
MARTELLUS. Why did you not make a man and a woman? Their children would
have been interesting.
PYGMALION. I intended to make a woman; but after my experience with the
man it was out of the question.
ECRASIA. Pray why?
PYGMALION. Well, it is difficult to explain if you have not studied
prehistoric methods of reproduction. You see the only sort of men and
women I could make were men and women just like us as far as their
bodies were concerned. That was how I killed the poor beast of a man. I
hadnt provided for his horrible prehistoric methods of feeding himself.
Suppose the woman had reproduced in some prehistoric way instead of
being oviparous as we are? She couldn't have done it with a modern
female body. Besides, the experiment might have been painful.
ECRASIA. Then you have nothing to shew us at all?
PYGMALION. Oh yes I have. I am not so easily beaten as that. I set to
work again for months to find out how to make a digestive system that
would deal with waste products and a reproductive system capable of
internal nourishment and incubation.
ECRASIA. Why did you not find out how to make them like us?
STREPHON [_crying out in his grief for the first time_] Why did you not
make a woman whom you could love? That was the secret you needed.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh yes. How true! How great of you, darling Strephon!
[_She kisses him impulsively_].
STREPHON [_passionately_] Let me alone.
MARTELLUS. Control your reflexes, child.
THE NEWLY BORN. My what!
MARTELLUS. Your reflexes. The things you do without thinking. Pygmalion
is going to shew you a pair of human creatures who are all reflexes and
nothing else. Take warning by them.
THE NEWLY BORN. But wont they be alive, like us?
PYGMALION. That is a very difficult question to answer, my dear. I
confess I thought at first I had created living creatures; but Martellus
declares they are only automata. But then Martellus is a mystic: _I_
am a man of science. He draws a line between an automaton and a living
organism. I cannot draw that line to my own satisfaction.
MARTELLUS. Your artificial men have no self-control. They only respond
to stimuli from without.
PYGMALION. But they are conscious. I have taught them to talk and read;
and now they tell lies. That is so very lifelike.
MARTELLUS. Not at all. If they were alive they would tell the truth. You
can provoke them to tell any silly lie; and you can foresee exactly the
sort of lie they will tell. Give them a clip below the knee, and they
will jerk their foot forward. Give them a clip in their appetites or
vanities or any of their lusts and greeds, and they will boast and lie,
and affirm and deny, and hate and love without the slightest regard to
the facts that are staring them in the face, or to their own obvious
limitations. That proves that they are automata.
PYGMALION [_unconvinced_] I know, dear old chap; but there really is
some evidence that we are descended from creatures quite as limited
and absurd as these. After all, the baby there is three-quarters an
automaton. Look at the way she has been going on!
THE NEWLY BORN [_indignantly_] What do you mean? How have I been going
ECRASIA. If they have no regard for truth, they can have no real
PYGMALION. Truth is sometimes so artificial: so relative, as we say in
the scientific world, that it is very hard to feel quite sure that what
is false and even ridiculous to us may not be true to them.
ECRASIA. I ask you again, why did you not make them like us? Would any
true artist be content with less than the best?
PYGMALION. I couldnt. I tried. I failed. I am convinced that what I
am about to shew you is the very highest living organism that can be
produced in the laboratory. The best tissues we can manufacture will not
take as high potentials as the natural product: that is where Nature
beats us. You dont seem to understand, any of you, what an enormous
triumph it was to produce consciousness at all.
ACIS. Cut the cackle; and come to the synthetic couple.
SEVERAL YOUTHS AND MAIDENS. Yes, yes. No more talking. Let us have them.
Dry up, Pyg; and fetch them along. Come on: out with them! The synthetic
PYGMALION [_waving his hands to appease them_] Very well, very well.
Will you please whistle for them? They respond to the stimulus of a
_All who can, whistle like streetboys._
ECRASIA [_makes a wry face and puts her fingers in her ears_]!
PYGMALION. Sh-sh-sh! Thats enough: thats enough: thats enough.
[_Silence_]. Now let us have some music. A dance tune. Not too fast.
_The flutists play a quiet dance._
MARTELLUS. Prepare yourselves for something ghastly.
_Two figures, a man and woman of noble appearance, beautifully modelled
and splendidly attired, emerge hand in hand from the temple. Seeing
that all eyes are fixed on them, they halt on the steps, smiling with
gratified vanity. The woman is on the man's left._
PYGMALION [_rubbing his hands with the purring satisfaction of a
creator_] This way, please.
_The Figures advance condescendingly and pose themselves centrally
between the curved seats._
PYGMALION. Now if you will be so good as to oblige us with a little
something. You dance so beautifully, you know. [_He sits down next
Martellus, and whispers to him_] It is extraordinary how sensitive they
are to the stimulus of flattery.
_The Figures, with a gracious air, dance pompously, but very passably.
At the close they bow to one another._
ON ALL HANDS [_clapping_] Bravo! Thank you. Wonderful! Splendid.
_The Figures acknowledge the applause in an obvious condition of swelled
THE NEWLY BORN. Can they make love?
PYGMALION. Yes: they can respond to every stimulus. They have all the
reflexes. Put your arm round the man's neck, and he will put his arm
round your body. He cannot help it.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_frowning_] Round mine, you mean.
PYGMALION. Yours, too, of course, if the stimulus comes from you.
ECRASIA. Cannot he do anything original?
PYGMALION. No. But then, you know, I do not admit that any of us can do
anything really original, though Martellus thinks we can.
ACIS. Can he answer a question?
PYGMALION. Oh yes. A question is a stimulus, you know. Ask him one.
ACIS [_to the Male Figure_] What do you think of what you see around
you? Of us, for instance, and our ways and doings?
THE MALE FIGURE. I have not seen the newspaper today.
THE FEMALE FIGURE. How can you expect my husband to know what to think
of you if you give him his breakfast without his paper?
MARTELLUS. You see. He is a mere automaton.
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think I should like him to put his arm round
my neck. I don't like them. [_The Male Figure looks offended, and the
Female jealous_]. Oh, I thought they couldn't understand. Have they
PYGMALION. Of course they have. I tell you they have all the reflexes.
THE NEWLY BORN. But feelings are not reflexes.
PYGMALION. They are sensations. When the rays of light enter their eyes
and make a picture on their retinas, their brains become conscious of
the picture and they act accordingly. When the waves of sound started by
your speaking enter their ears and record a disparaging remark on their
keyboards, their brains become conscious of the disparagement and resent
it accordingly. If you did not disparage them they would not resent it.
They are merely responding to a stimulus.
THE MALE FIGURE. We are part of a cosmic system. Free will is an
illusion. We are the children of Cause and Effect. We are the
Unalterable, the Irresistible, the Irresponsible, the Inevitable.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
_There is a general stir of curiosity at this._
ACIS. What the dickens does he mean?
THE MALE FIGURE. Silence, base accident of Nature. This [_taking the
hand of the Female Figure and introducing her_] is Cleopatra-Semiramis,
consort of the king of kings, and therefore queen of queens. Ye are
things hatched from eggs by the brainless sun and the blind fire; but
the king of kings and queen of queens are not accidents of the egg: they
are thought-out and hand-made to receive the sacred Life Force. There is
one person of the king and one of the queen; but the Life Force of the
king and queen is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such
as the king is so is the queen, the king thought-out and hand-made, the
queen thought-out and hand-made. The actions of the king are caused, and
therefore determined, from the beginning of the world to the end;
and the actions of the queen are likewise. The king logical and
predetermined and inevitable, and the queen logical and predetermined
and inevitable. And yet they are not two logical and predetermined and
inevitable, but one logical and predetermined and inevitable. Therefore
confound not the persons, nor divide the substance: but worship us twain
as one throne, two in one and one in two, lest by error ye fall into
THE FEMALE FIGURE. And if any say unto you 'Which one?' remember that
though there is one person of the king and one of the queen, yet these
two persons are not alike, but are woman and man, and that as woman was
created after man, the skill and practice gained in making him were
added to her, wherefore she is to be exalted above him in all personal
THE MALE FIGURE. Peace, woman; for this is a damnable heresy. Both Man
and Woman are what they are and must do what they must according to the
eternal laws of Cause and Effect. Look to your words; for if they enter
my ear and jar too repugnantly on my sensorium, who knows that the
inevitable response to that stimulus may not be a message to my muscles
to snatch up some heavy object and break you in pieces.
_The Female Figure picks up a stone and is about to throw it at her
ARJILLAX [_springing up and shouting to Pygmalion, who is fondly
watching the Male Figure_] Look out, Pygmalion! Look at the woman!
_Pygmalion, seeing what is happening, hurls himself on the Female Figure
and wrenches the stone out of her hand. All spring up in consternation._
ARJILLAX. She meant to kill him.
STREPHON. This is horrible.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_wrestling with Pygmalion_] Let me go. Let me go,
will you [_she bites his hand_].
PYGMALION [_releasing her and staggering_] Oh!
_A general shriek of horror echoes his exclamation. He turns deadly
pale, and supports himself against the end of the curved seat._
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_to her consort_] You would stand there and let me be
treated like this, you unmanly coward.
_Pygmalion falls dead._
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh! Whats the matter? Why did he fall! What has happened
_They look on anxiously as Martellus kneels down and examines the body
MARTELLUS. She has bitten a piece out of his hand nearly as large as a
finger nail: enough to kill ten men. There is no pulse, no breath.
ECRASIA. But his thumb is clinched.
MARTELLUS. No: it has just straightened out. See! He has gone. Poor
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh! [_She weeps_].
STREPHON. Hush, dear: thats childish.
THE NEWLY BORN [_subsiding with a sniff_]!!
MARTELLUS [_rising_] Dead in his third year. What a loss to Science!
ARJILLAX. Who cares about Science? Serve him right for making that pair
THE MALE FIGURE [_glaring_] Ha!
THE FEMALE FIGURE. Keep a civil tongue in your head, you.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh, do not be so unkind, Arjillax. You will make water
come out of my eyes again.
MARTELLUS [_contemplating the Figures_] Just look at these two devils.
I modelled them out of the stuff Pygmalion made for them. They are
masterpieces of art. And see what they have done! Does that convince you
of the value of art, Arjillax!
STREPHON. They look dangerous. Keep away from them.
ECRASIA. No need to tell us that, Strephon. Pf! They poison the air.
THE MALE FIGURE. Beware, woman. The wrath of Ozymandias strikes like the
THE FEMALE FIGURE. You just say that again if you dare, you filthy
ACIS. What are you going to do with them, Martellus? You are responsible
for them, now that Pygmalion has gone.
MARTELLUS. If they were marble it would be simple enough: I could smash
them. As it is, how am I to kill them without making a horrible mess?
THE MALE FIGURE [_posing heroically_] Ha! [_He declaims_]
Come one: come all: this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.
MARTELLUS. We must send out a message for an ancient.
ACIS. Need we bother an ancient about such a trifle? It will take less
than half a second to reduce our poor Pygmalion to a pinch of dust. Why
not calcine the two along with him?
MARTELLUS. No: the two automata are trifles; but the use of our powers
of destruction is never a trifle. I had rather have the case judged.
_The He-Ancient emerges from the grove. The Figures are panic-stricken._
THE HE-ANCIENT [_mildly_] Am I wanted? I feel called. [_Seeing the body
of Pygmalion, and immediately taking a sterner tone_] What! A child
lost! A life wasted! How has this happened?
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_frantically_] I didn't do it. It was not me. May
I be struck dead if I touched him! It was he [_pointing to the Male
ALL [amazed at the lie] Oh!
THE MALE FIGURE. Liar. You bit him. Everyone here saw you do it.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Silence. [_Going between the Figures_] Who made these
two loathsome dolls?
THE MALE FIGURE [_trying to assert himself with his knees knocking_] My
name is Ozymandias, king of--
THE HE-ANCIENT [_with a contemptuous gesture_] Pooh!
THE MALE FIGURE [_falling on his knees_] Oh dont, sir. Dont. She did it,
sir: indeed she did.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_howling lamentably_] Boohoo! oo! ooh!
THE HE-ANCIENT. Silence, I say.
_He knocks the Male Automaton upright by a very light flip under
the chin. The Female Automaton hardly dares to sob. The immortals
contemplate them with shame and loathing. The She-Ancient comes from the
trees opposite the temple._
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Somebody wants me. What is the matter? [_She comes to
the left hand of the Female Figure, not seeing the body of Pygmalion_].
Pf! [_Severely_] You have been making dolls. You must not: they are not
only disgusting: they are dangerous.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_snivelling piteously_] I'm not a doll, mam. I'm only
poor Cleopatra-Semiramis, queen of queens. [_Covering her face with her
hands_] Oh, don't look at me like that, mam. I meant no harm. He hurt
me: indeed he did.
THE HE-ANCIENT. The creature has killed that poor youth.
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_seeing the body of Pygmalion_] What! This clever
child, who promised so well!
THE FEMALE FIGURE. He made me. I had as much right to kill him as he had
to make me. And how was I to know that a little thing like that would
kill him? I shouldn't die if he cut off my arm or leg.
ECRASIA. What nonsense!
MARTELLUS. It may not be nonsense. I daresay if you cut off her leg she
would grow another, like the lobsters and the little lizards.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Did this dead boy make these two things?
MARTELLUS. He made them in his laboratory. I moulded their limbs. I am
sorry. I was thoughtless: I did not foresee that they would kill and
pretend to be persons they were not, and declare things that were false,
and wish evil. I thought they would be merely mechanical fools.
THE MALE FIGURE. Do you blame us for our human nature?
THE FEMALE FIGURE. We are flesh and blood and not angels.
THE MALE FIGURE. Have you no hearts?
ARJILLAX. They are mad as well as mischievous. May we not destroy them?
STREPHON. We abhor them.
THE NEWLY BORN. We loathe them.
ECRASIA. They are noisome.
ACIS. I don't want to be hard on the poor devils; but they are making me
feel uneasy in my inside. I never had such a sensation before.
MARTELLUS. I took a lot of trouble with them. But as far as I am
concerned, destroy them by all means. I loathed them from the beginning.
ALL. Yes, yes: we all loathe them. Let us calcine them.
THE FEMALE FIGURE. Oh, don't be so cruel. I'm not fit to die. I will
never bite anyone again. I will tell the truth. I will do good. Is it my
fault if I was not made properly? Kill him; but spare me.
THE MALE FIGURE. No! I have done no harm: she has. Kill her if you like:
you have no right to kill me.
THE NEWLY BORN. Do you hear that? They want to have one another killed.
ARJILLAX. Monstrous! Kill them both.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Silence. These things are mere automata: they cannot
help shrinking from death at any cost. You see that they have no
self-control, and are merely shuddering through a series of reflexes.
Let us see whether we cannot put a little more life into them. [_He
takes the Male Figure by the hand, and places his disengaged hand on
its head_]. Now listen. One of you two is to be destroyed. Which of you
shall it be?
THE MALE FIGURE [_after a slight convulsion during which his eyes are
fixed on the He-Ancient_] Spare her; and kill me.
STREPHON. Thats better.
THE NEWLY BORN. Much better.
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_handling the Female Automaton in the same manner_]
Which of you shall we kill?
THE FEMALE FIGURE. Kill us both. How could either of us live without the
ECRASIA. The woman is more sensible than the man.
_The Ancients release the Automata._
THE MALE FIGURE [_sinking to the ground_] I am discouraged. Life is too
heavy a burden.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [_collapsing_] I am dying. I am glad. I am afraid to
THE NEWLY BORN. I think it would be nice to give the poor things a
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't know. But it would.
_The Musicians play._
THE FEMALE FIGURE. Ozymandias: do you hear that? [_She rises on her
knees and looks raptly into space_] Queen of queens! [_She dies_].
THE MALE FIGURE [_crawling feebly towards her until he reaches her
hand_] I knew I was really a king of kings. [_To the others_] Illusions,
farewell: we are going to our thrones. [_He dies_].
_The music stops. There is dead silence for a moment._
THE NEWLY BORN. That was funny.
STREPHON. It was. Even the Ancients are smiling.
THE NEWLY BORN. Just a little.
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_quickly recovering her grave and peremptory manner_]
Take these two abominations away to Pygmalion's laboratory, and destroy
them with the rest of the laboratory refuse. [_Some of them move to
_obey]. Take care: do not touch their flesh: it is noxious: lift them by
their robes. Carry Pygmalion into the temple; and dispose of his remains
in the usual way.
_The three bodies are carried out as directed, Pygmalion into the temple
by his bare arms and legs, and the two Figures through the grove by
their clothes. Martellus superintends the removal of the Figures, Acis
that of Pygmalion. Ecrasia, Arjillax, Strephon, and the Newly Born sit
down as before, but on contrary benches; so that Strephon and the Newly
Born now face the grove, and Ecrasia and Arjillax the temple. The
Ancients remain standing at the altar._
ECRASIA [_as she sits down_] Oh for a breeze from the hills!
STREPHON. Or the wind from the sea at the turn of the tide!
THE NEWLY BORN. I want some clean air.
THE HE-ANCIENT. The air will be clean in a moment. This doll flesh that
children make decomposes quickly at best; but when it is shaken by such
passions as the creatures are capable of, it breaks up at once and
becomes horribly tainted.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Let it be a lesson to you all to be content with
lifeless toys, and not attempt to make living ones. What would you think
of us ancients if we made toys of you children?
THE NEWLY BORN [_coaxingly_] Why do you not make toys of us? Then you
would play with us; and that would be very nice.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. It would not amuse us. When you play with one another
you play with your bodies, and that makes you supple and strong; but if
we played with you we should play with your minds, and perhaps deform
STREPHON. You are a ghastly lot, you ancients. I shall kill myself when
I am four years old. What do you live for?
THE HE-ANCIENT. You will find out when you grow up. You will not kill
STREPHON. If you make me believe that, I shall kill myself now.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh no. I want you. I love you.
STREPHON. I love someone else. And she has gone old, old. Lost to me for
THE HE-ANCIENT. How old?
STREPHON. You saw her when you barged into us as we were dancing. She is
THE NEWLY BORN. How I should have hated her twenty minutes ago! But I
have grown out of that now.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Good. That hatred is called jealousy, the worst of our
_Martellus, dusting his hands and puffing, returns from the grove._
MARTELLUS. Ouf! [_He sits down next the Newly Born_] That job's
ARJILLAX. Ancients: I should like to make a few studies of you. Not
portraits, of course: I shall idealize you a little. I have come to the
conclusion that you ancients are the most interesting subjects after
MARTELLUS. What! Have those two horrors, whose ashes I have just
deposited with peculiar pleasure in poor Pygmalion's dustbin, not cured
you of this silly image-making!
ARJILLAX. Why did you model them as young things, you fool? If Pygmalion
had come to me, I should have made ancients of them for him. Not that I
should have modelled them any better. I have always said that no one
can beat you at your best as far as handwork is concerned. But this job
required brains. That is where I should have come in.
MARTELLUS. Well, my brainy boy, you are welcome to try your hand. There
are two of Pygmalion's pupils at the laboratory who helped him to
manufacture the bones and tissues and all the rest of it. They can turn
out a couple of new automatons; and you can model them as ancients if
this venerable pair will sit for you.
ECRASIA [_decisively_] No. No more automata. They are too disgusting.
ACIS [_returning from the temple_] Well, thats done. Poor old Pyg!
ECRASIA. Only fancy, Acis! Arjillax wants to make more of those
abominable things, and to destroy even their artistic character by
making ancients of them.
THE NEWLY BORN. You wont sit for them, will you? Please dont.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Children, listen.
ACIS [_striding down the steps to the bench and seating himself next
Ecrasia_] What! Even the Ancient wants to make a speech! Give it mouth,
STREPHON. For heaven's sake don't tell us that the earth was once
inhabited by Ozymandiases and Cleopatras. Life is hard enough for us as
THE HE-ANCIENT. Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take
courage: it can be delightful. What I wanted to tell you is that ever
since men existed, children have played with dolls.
ECRASIA. You keep using that word. What are dolls, pray?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. What you call works of art. Images. We call them dolls.
ARJILLAX. Just so. You have no sense of art; and you instinctively
THE HE-ANCIENT. Children have been known to make dolls out of rags, and
to caress them with the deepest fondness.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Eight centuries ago, when I was a child, I made a rag
doll. The rag doll is the dearest of all.
THE NEWLY BORN [_eagerly interested_] Oh! Have you got it still?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. I kept it a full week.
ECRASIA. Even in your childhood, then, you did not understand high art,
and adored your own amateur crudities.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. How old are you?
ECRASIA. Eight months.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. When you have lived as long as I have--
ECRASIA [_interrupting rudely_] I shall worship rag dolls, perhaps.
Thank heaven I am still in my prime.
THE HE-ANCIENT. You are still capable of thanking, though you do not
know what you thank. You are a thanking little animal, a blaming little
ACIS. A gushing little animal.
ARJILLAX. And, as she thinks, an artistic little animal.
ECRASIA [_nettled_] I am an animated being with a reasonable soul and
human flesh subsisting. If your Automata had been properly animated,
Martellus, they would have been more successful.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is where you are wrong, my child. If those two
loathsome things had been rag dolls, they would have been amusing and
lovable. The Newly Born here would have played with them; and you would
all have laughed and played with them too until you had torn them to
pieces; and then you would have laughed more than ever.
THE NEWLY BORN. Of course we should. Isnt that funny?
THE HE-ANCIENT. When a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth.
STREPHON. Yes; and take all the fun out of it.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Do not be so embittered because your sweetheart has
outgrown her love for you. The Newly Born will make amends.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh yes: I will be more than she could ever have been.
STREPHON. Psha! Jealous!
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh no. I have grown out of that. I love her now because
she loved you, and because you love her.
THE HE-ANCIENT. That is the next stage. You are getting on very nicely,
MARTELLUS. Come! what is the truth that was hidden in the rag doll?
THE HE-ANCIENT. Well, consider why you are not content with the rag
doll, and must have something more closely resembling a real living
creature. As you grow up you make images and paint pictures. Those of
you who cannot do that make stories about imaginary dolls. Or you dress
yourselves up as dolls and act plays about them.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. And, to deceive yourself the more completely, you take
them so very very seriously that Ecrasia here declares that the making
of dolls is the holiest work of creation, and the words you put into
the mouths of dolls the sacredest of scriptures and the noblest of
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Yet the more beautiful they become the further they
retreat from you. You cannot caress them as you caress the rag doll. You
cannot cry for them when they are broken or lost, or when you pretend
they have been unkind to you, as you could when you played with rag
THE HE-ANCIENT. At last, like Pygmalion, you demand from your dolls the
final perfection of resemblance to life. They must move and speak.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. They must love and hate.
THE HE-ANCIENT. They must think that they think.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. They must have soft flesh and warm, blood.
THE HE-ANCIENT. And then, when you have achieved this as Pygmalion did;
when the marble masterpiece is dethroned by the automaton and the homo
by the homunculus; when the body and the brain, the reasonable soul and
human flesh subsisting, as Ecrasia says, stand before you unmasked as
mere machinery, and your impulses are shewn to be nothing but reflexes,
you are filled with horror and loathing, and would give worlds to be
young enough to play with your rag doll again, since every step away
from it has been a step away from love and happiness. Is it not true?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Speak, Martellus: you who have travelled the whole
MARTELLUS. It is true. With fierce joy I turned a temperature of a
million degrees on those two things I had modelled, and saw them vanish
in an instant into inoffensive dust.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Speak, Arjillax: you who have advanced from imitating
the lightly living child to the intensely living ancient. Is it true, so
ARJILLAX. It is partly true: I cannot pretend to be satisfied now with
modelling pretty children.
THE HE-ANCIENT. And you, Ecrasia: you cling to your highly artistic
dolls as the noblest projections of the Life Force, do you not?
ECRASIA. Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world
THE NEWLY BORN [_anticipating the She-Ancient, who is evidently going
to challenge her_] Now you are coming to me, because I am the latest
arrival. But I don't understand your art and your dolls at all. I want
to caress my darling Strephon, not to play with dolls.
ACIS. I am in my fourth year; and I have got on very well without your
dolls. I had rather walk up a mountain and down again than look at all
the statues Martellus and Arjillax ever made. You prefer a statue to an
automaton, and a rag doll to a statue. So do I; but I prefer a man to a
rag doll. Give me friends, not dolls.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Yet I have seen you walking over the mountains alone.
Have you not found your best friend in yourself?
ACIS. What are you driving at, old one? What does all this lead to?
THE HE-ANCIENT. It leads, young man, to the truth that you can create
nothing but yourself.
ACIS [_musing_] I can create nothing but myself. Ecrasia: you are
clever. Do you understand it? I don't.
ECRASIA. It is as easy to understand as any other ignorant error. What
artist is as great as his own works? He can create masterpieces; but he
cannot improve the shape of his own nose.
ACIS. There! What have you to say to that, old one?
THE HE-ANCIENT. He can alter the shape of his own soul. He could alter
the shape of his nose if the difference between a turned-up nose and a
turned-down one were worth the effort. One does not face the throes of
creation for trifles.
ACIS. What have you to say to that, Ecrasia?
ECRASIA. I say that if the ancients had thoroughly grasped the theory of
fine art they would understand that the difference between a beautiful
nose and an ugly one is of supreme importance: that it is indeed the
only thing that matters.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is, they would understand something they could not
believe, and that you do not believe.
ACIS. Just so, mam. Art is not honest: that is why I never could stand
much of it. It is all make-believe. Ecrasia never really says things:
she only rattles her teeth in her mouth.
ECRASIA. Acis: you are rude.
ACIS. You mean that I wont play the game of make-believe. Well, I don't
ask you to play it with me; so why should you expect me to play it with
ECRASIA. You have no right to say that I am not sincere. I have found a
happiness in art that real life has never given me. I am intensely in
earnest about art. There is a magic and mystery in art that you know
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Yes, child: art is the magic mirror you make to reflect
your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see
your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older
use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of
life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues,
your toys and your dolls.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Yet we too have our toys and our dolls. That is the
trouble of the ancients.
ARJILLAX. What! The ancients have their troubles! It is the first time I
ever heard one of them confess it.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Look at us. Look at me. This is my body, my blood,
my brain; but it is not me. I am the eternal life, the perpetual
resurrection; but [_striking his body_] this structure, this organism,
this makeshift, can be made by a boy in a laboratory, and is held back
from dissolution only by my use of it. Worse still, it can be broken by
a slip of the foot, drowned by a cramp in the stomach, destroyed by a
flash from the clouds. Sooner or later, its destruction is certain.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Yes: this body is the last doll to be discarded. When I
was a child, Ecrasia, I, too, was an artist, like your sculptor friends
there, striving to create perfection in things outside myself. I made
statues: I painted pictures: I tried to worship them.
THE HE-ANCIENT. I had no such skill; but I, like Acis, sought perfection
in friends, in lovers, in nature, in things outside myself. Alas! I
could not create if. I could only imagine it.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. I, like Arjillax, found out that my statues of bodily
beauty were no longer even beautiful to me; and I pressed on and made
statues and pictures of men and women of genius, like those in the old
fable of Michael Angelo. Like Martellus, I smashed them when I saw that
there was no life in them: that they were so dead that they would not
even dissolve as a dead body does.
THE HE-ANCIENT. And I, like Acis, ceased to walk over the mountains with
my friends, and walked alone; for I found that I had creative power
over myself but none over my friends. And then I ceased to walk on the
mountains; for I saw that the mountains were dead.
ACIS [_protesting vehemently_] No. I grant you about the friends
perhaps; but the mountains are still the mountains, each with its name,
its individuality, its upstanding strength and majesty, its beauty--
ECRASIA. What! Acis among the rhapsodists!
THE HE-ANCIENT. Mere metaphor, my poor boy: the mountains are corpses.
ALL THE YOUNG [_repelled_] Oh!
THE HE-ANCIENT. Yes. In the hardpressed heart of the earth, where the
inconceivable heat of the sun still glows, the stone lives in fierce
atomic convulsion, as we live in our slower way. When it is cast out to
the surface it dies like deep-sea fish: what you see is only its cold
dead body. We have tapped that central heat as prehistoric man tapped
water springs; but nothing has come up alive from those flaming depths:
your landscapes, your mountains, are only the world's cast skins and
decaying teeth on which we live like microbes.
ECRASIA. Ancient: you blaspheme against Nature and against Man.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Child, child, how much enthusiasm will you have for man
when you have endured eight centuries of him, as I have, and seen him
perish by an empty mischance that is yet a certainty? When I discarded
my dolls as he discarded his friends and his mountains, it was to myself
I turned as to the final reality. Here, and here alone, I could shape
and create. When my arm was weak and I willed it to be strong, I could
create a roll of muscle on it; and when I understood that, I understood
that I could without any greater miracle give myself ten arms and three
THE HE-ANCIENT. I also came to understand such miracles. For fifty years
I sat contemplating this power in myself and concentrating my will.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. So did I; and for five more years I made myself into
all sorts of fantastic monsters. I walked upon a dozen legs: I worked
with twenty hands and a hundred fingers: I looked to the four quarters
of the compass with eight eyes out of four heads. Children fled in
amazement from me until I had to hide myself from them; and the
ancients, who had forgotten how to laugh, smiled grimly when they
THE HE-ANCIENT. We have all committed these follies. You will all commit
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh, do grow a lot of arms and legs and heads for us. It
would be so funny.
THE HE-ANCIENT. My child: I am just as well as I am. I would not lift my
finger now to have a thousand heads.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. But what would I not give to have no head at all?
ALL THE YOUNG. Whats that? No head at all? Why? How?
THE HE-ANCIENT. Can you not understand?
ALL THE YOUNG [_shaking their heads_] No.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. One day, when I was tired of learning to walk forward
with some of my feet and backwards with others and sideways with the
rest all at once, I sat on a rock with my four chins resting on four
of my palms, and four or my elbows resting on four of my knees. And
suddenly it came into my mind that this monstrous machinery of heads and
limbs was no more me than my statues had been me, and that it was only
an automaton that I had enslaved.
MARTELLUS. Enslaved? What does that mean?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. A thing that must do what you command it is a slave;
and its commander is its master. These are words you will learn when
your turn comes.
THE HE-ANCIENT. You will also learn that when the master has come to do
everything through the slave, the slave becomes his master, since he
cannot live without him.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. And so I perceived that I had made myself the slave of
THE HE-ANCIENT. When we discovered that, we shed our superfluous heads
and legs and arms until we had our old shapes again, and no longer
startled the children.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. But still I am the slave of this slave, my body. How am
I to be delivered from it?
THE HE-ANCIENT. That, children, is the trouble of the ancients. For
whilst we are tied to this tyrannous body we are subject to its death,
and our destiny is not achieved.
THE NEWLY BORN. What is your destiny?
THE HE-ANCIENT. To be immortal.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. The day will come when there will be no people, only
THE HE-ANCIENT. And that will be life eternal.
ECRASIA. I trust I shall meet my fatal accident before that day dawns.
ARJILLAX. For once, Ecrasia, I agree with you. A world in which there
were nothing plastic would be an utterly miserable one.
ECRASIA. No limbs, no contours, no exquisite lines and elegant shapes,
no worship of beautiful bodies, no poetic embraces in which cultivated
lovers pretend that their caressing hands are wandering over celestial
hills and enchanted valleys, no--
ACIS [_interrupting her disgustedly_] What an inhuman mind you have,
ACIS. Yes: inhuman. Why don't you fall in love with someone?
ECRASIA. I! I have been in love all my life. I burned with it even in
ACIS. Not a bit of it. You and Arjillax are just as hard as two stones.
ECRASIA. You did not always think so, Acis.
ACIS. Oh, I know. I offered you my love once, and asked for yours.
ECRASIA. And did I deny it to you, Acis?
ACIS. You didn't even know what love was.
ECRASIA. Oh! I adored you, you stupid oaf, until I found that you were a
ACIS. And I made no end of a fool of myself about you until I discovered
that you were a mere artist. You appreciated my contours! I was plastic,
as Arjillax says. I wasn't a man to you: I was a masterpiece appealing
to your tastes and your senses. Your tastes and senses had overlaid the
direct impulse of life in you. And because I cared only for our life,
and went straight to it, and was bored by your calling my limbs fancy
names and mapping me into mountains and valleys and all the rest of it,
you called me an animal. Well, I am an animal, if you call a live man an
ECRASIA. You need not explain. You refused to be refined. I did my
best to lift your prehistoric impulses on to the plane of beauty, of
imagination, of romance, of poetry, of art, of--
ACIS. These things are all very well in their way and in their proper
places. But they are not love. They are an unnatural adulteration of
love. Love is a simple thing and a deep thing: it is an act of life and
not an illusion. Art is an illusion.
ARJILLAX. That is false. The statue comes to life always. The statues of
today are the men and women of the next incubation. I hold up the marble
figure before the mother and say, 'This is the model you must copy.' We
produce what we see. Let no man dare to create in art a thing that he
would not have exist in life.
MARTELLUS. Yes: I have been through all that. But you yourself are
making statues of ancients instead of beautiful nymphs and swains. And
Ecrasia is right about the ancients being inartistic. They are damnably
ECRASIA [_triumphant_] Ah! Our greatest artist vindicates me. Thanks,
MARTELLUS. The body always ends by being a bore. Nothing remains
beautiful and interesting except thought, because the thought is the
life. Which is just what this old gentleman and this old lady seem to
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Quite so.
THE HE-ANCIENT. Precisely.
THE NEWLY BORN [_to the He-Ancient_] But you cant be nothing. What do
you want to be?
THE HE-ANCIENT. A vortex.
THE NEWLY BORN. A what?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. A vortex. I began as a vortex: why should I not end as
ECRASIA. Oh! That is what you old people are, Vorticists.
ACIS. But if life is thought, can you live without a head?
THE HE-ANCIENT. Not now perhaps. But prehistoric men thought they could
not live without tails. I can live without a tail. Why should I not live
without a head?
THE NEWLY BORN. What is a tail?
THE HE-ANCIENT A habit of which your ancestors managed to pure
THE SHE-ANCIENT. None of us now believe that all this machinery of flesh
and blood is necessary. It dies.
THE HE-ANCIENT. It imprisons us on this petty planet and forbids us to
range through the stars.
ACIS. But even a vortex is a vortex in something. You cant have a
whirlpool without water; and you cant have a vortex without gas, or
molecules or atoms or ions or electrons or something, not nothing.
THE HE-ANCIENT. No: the vortex is not the water nor the gas nor the
atoms: it is a power over these things.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. The body was the slave of the vortex; but the slave has
become the master; and we must free ourselves from that tyranny. It is
this stuff [_indicating her body_], this flesh and blood and bone and
all the rest of it, that is intolerable. Even prehistoric man dreamed of
what he called an astral body, and asked who would deliver him from the
body of this death.
ACIS [_evidently out of his depth_] I shouldn't think too much about it
if I were you. You have to keep sane, you know.
_The two Ancients look at one another; shrug their shoulders; and
address themselves to their departure._
THE HE-ANCIENT. We are staying too long with you, children. We must go.
_All the young people rise rather eagerly._
ARJILLAX. Dont mention it.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. It is tiresome for us, too. You see, children, we have
to put things very crudely to you to make ourselves intelligible.
THE HE-ANCIENT. And I am afraid we do not quite succeed.
STREPHON. Very kind of you to come at all and talk to us, I'm sure.
ECRASIA. Why do the other ancients never come and give us a turn?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. It is difficult for them. They have forgotten how
to speak; how to read; even how to think in your fashion. We do not
communicate with one another in that way or apprehend the world as you
THE HE-ANCIENT. I find it more and more difficult to keep up your
language. Another century or two and it will be impossible. I shall have
to be relieved by a younger shepherd.
ACIS. Of course we are always delighted to see you; but still, if it
tries you very severely, we could manage pretty well by ourselves, you
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Tell me, Acis: do you ever think of yourself as having
to live perhaps for thousands of years?
ACIS. Oh, don't talk about it. Why, I know very well that I have only
four years of what any reasonable person would call living; and three
and a half of them are already gone.
ECRASIA. You must not mind our saying so; but really you cannot call
being an ancient living.
THE NEWLY BORN [_almost in tears_] Oh, this dreadful shortness of our
lives! I cannot bear it.
STREPHON. I made up my mind on that subject long ago. When I am three
years and fifty weeks old, I shall have my fatal accident. And it will
not be an accident.
THE HE-ANCIENT. We are very tired of this subject. I must leave you.
THE NEWLY BORN. What is being tired?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. The penalty of attending to children. Farewell.
_The two Ancients go away severally, she into the grove, he up to the
hills behind the temple._
ALL. Ouf! [_A great sigh of relief_].
ECRASIA. Dreadful people!
MARTELLUS. Yet one would like to follow them; to enter into their life;
to grasp their thought; to comprehend the universe as they must.
ARJILLAX. Getting old, Martellus?
MARTELLUS. Well, I have finished with the dolls; and I am no longer
jealous of you. That looks like the end. Two hours sleep is enough for
me. I am afraid I am beginning to find you all rather silly.
STREPHON. I know. My girl went off this morning. She hadnt slept for
weeks. And she found mathematics more interesting than me.
MARTELLUS. There is a prehistoric saying that has come down to us from a
famous woman teacher. She said: 'Leave women; and study mathematics.'
It is the only remaining fragment of a lost scripture called The
Confessions of St Augustin, the English Opium Eater. That primitive
savage must have been a great woman, to say a thing that still lives
after three hundred centuries. I too will leave women and study
mathematics, which I have neglected too long. Farewell, children, my old
playmates. I almost wish I could feel sentimental about parting from
you; but the cold truth is that you bore me. Do not be angry with me:
your turn will come. [_He passes away gravely into the grove_].
ARJILLAX. There goes a great spirit. What a sculptor he was! And now,
nothing! It is as if he had cut off his hands.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh, will you all leave me as he has left you?
ECRASIA. Never. We have sworn it.
STREPHON. What is the use of swearing? She swore. He swore. You have
sworn. They have sworn.
ECRASIA. You speak like a grammar.
STREPHON. That is how one ought to speak, isnt it? We shall all be
THE NEWLY BORN. Do not talk like that. You are saddening us; and you are
chasing the light away. It is growing dark.
ACIS. Night is falling. The light will come back tomorrow.
THE NEWLY BORN. What is tomorrow?
ACIS. The day that never comes. [_He turns towards the temple_].
_All begin trooping into the temple._
THE NEWLY BORN [_holding Acis back_] That is no answer. What--
ARJILLAX. Silence. Little children should be seen and not heard.
THE NEWLY BORN [_putting out her tongue at him_]!
ECRASIA. Ungraceful. You must not do that.
THE NEWLY BORN. I will do what I like. But there is something the matter
with me. I want to lie down. I cannot keep my eyes open.
ECRASIA. You are falling asleep. You will wake up again.
THE NEWLY BORN [_drowsily_] What is sleep?
ACIS. Ask no questions; and you will be told no lies. [_He takes her by
the ear, and leads her firmly towards the temple_].
THE NEWLY BORN. Ai! oi! ai! Dont. I want to be carried. [_She reels into
the arms of Acts, who carries her into the temple_].
ECRASIA. Come, Arjillax: you at least are still an artist. I adore you.
ARJILLAX. Do you? Unfortunately for you, I am not still a child. I have
grown out of cuddling. I can only appreciate your figure. Does that
ECRASIA. At what distance?
ARJILLAX. Arm's length or more.
ECRASIA. Thank you: not for me. [_She turns away from him_].
ARJILLAX. Ha! ha! [_He strides off into the temple_].
ECRASIA [_calling to Strephon, who is on the threshold of the temple,
going in_] Strephon.
STREPHON. No. My heart is broken. [_He goes into the temple_].
ECRASIA. Must I pass the night alone? [_She looks round, seeking another
partner; but they have all gone_]. After all, I can imagine a lover
nobler than any of you. [_She goes into the temple_].
_It is now quite dark. A vague radiance appears near the temple and
shapes itself into the ghost of Adam._
A WOMAN'S VOICE [_in the grove_] Who is that?
ADAM. The ghost of Adam, the first father of mankind. Who are you?
THE VOICE. The ghost of Eve, the first mother of mankind.
ADAM. Come forth, wife; and shew yourself to me.
EVE [_appearing near the grove_] Here I am, husband. You are very old.
A VOICE [_in the hills_] Ha! ha! ha!
ADAM. Who laughs? Who dares laugh at Adam?
EVE. Who has the heart to laugh at Eve?
THE VOICE. The ghost of Cain, the first child, and the first murderer.
[_He appears between them; and as he does so there is a prolonged
hiss_]. Who dares hiss at Cain, the lord of death?
A VOICE. The ghost of the serpent, that lived before Adam and before
Eve, and taught them how to bring forth Cain. [_She becomes visible,
coiled in the trees_].
A VOICE. There is one that came before the serpent.
THE SERPENT. That is the voice of Lilith, in whom the father and mother
were one. Hail, Lilith!
_Lilith becomes visible between Cain and Adam._
LILITH. I suffered unspeakably; I tore myself asunder; I lost my life,
to make of my one flesh these twain, man and woman. And this is what has
come of it. What do you make of it, Adam, my son?
ADAM. I made the earth bring forth by my labor, and the woman bring
forth by my love. And this is what has come of it. What do you make of
it, Eve, my wife?
EVE. I nourished the egg in my body and fed it with my blood. And now
they let it fall as the birds did, and suffer not at all. What do you
make of it, Cain, my first-born?
CAIN. I invented killing and conquest and mastery and the winnowing out
of the weak by the strong. And now the strong have slain one another;
and the weak live for ever; and their deeds do nothing for the doer more
than for another. What do you make of it, snake?
THE SERPENT. I am justified. For I chose wisdom and the knowledge of
good and evil; and now there is no evil; and wisdom and good are one. It
is enough. [_She vanishes_].
CAIN. There is no place for me on earth any longer. You cannot deny
that mine was a splendid game while it lasted. But now! Out, out, brief
candle! [_He vanishes_].
EVE. The clever ones were always my favorites. The diggers and the
fighters have dug themselves in with the worms. My clever ones have
inherited the earth. All's well. [_She fades away_].
ADAM. I can make nothing of it, neither head nor tail. What is it all
for? Why? Whither? Whence? We were well enough in the garden. And now
the fools have killed all the animals; and they are dissatisfied because
they cannot be bothered with their bodies! Foolishness, I call it. [_He
LILITH. They have accepted the burden of eternal life. They have taken
the agony from birth; and their life does not fail them even in the hour
of their destruction. Their breasts are without milk: their bowels are
gone: the very shapes of them are only ornaments for their children to
admire and caress without understanding. Is this enough; or shall I
labor again? Shall I bring forth something that will sweep them away and
make an end of them as they have swept away the beasts of the garden,
and made an end of the crawling things and the flying things and of all
them that refuse to live for ever? I had patience with them for many
ages: they tried me very sorely. They did terrible things: they embraced
death, and said that eternal life was a fable. I stood amazed at the
malice and destructiveness of the things I had made: Mars blushed as he
looked down on the shame of his sister planet: cruelty and hypocrisy
became so hideous that the face of the earth was pitted with the graves
of little children among which living skeletons crawled in search of
horrible food. The pangs of another birth were already upon me when one
man repented and lived three hundred years; and I waited to see what
would come of that. And so much came of it that the horrors of that time
seem now but an evil dream. They have redeemed themselves from their
vileness, and turned away from their sins. Best of all, they are still
not satisfied: the impulse I gave them in that day when I sundered
myself in twain and launched Man and Woman on the earth still urges
them: after passing a million goals they press on to the goal of
redemption from the flesh, to the vortex freed from matter, to the
whirlpool in pure intelligence that, when the world began, was a
whirlpool in pure force. And though all that they have done seems
but the first hour of the infinite work of creation, yet I will not
supersede them until they have forded this last stream that lies between
flesh and spirit, and disentangled their life from the matter that has
always mocked it. I can wait: waiting and patience mean nothing to the
eternal. I gave the woman the greatest of gifts: curiosity. By that her
seed has been saved from my wrath; for I also am curious; and I have
waited always to see what they will do tomorrow. Let them feed that
appetite well for me. I say, let them dread, of all things, stagnation;
for from the moment I, Lilith, lose hope and faith in them, they are
doomed. In that hope and faith I have let them live for a moment; and in
that moment I have spared them many times. But mightier creatures than
they have killed hope and faith, and perished from the earth; and I may
not spare them for ever. I am Lilith: I brought life into the whirlpool
of force, and compelled my enemy, Matter, to obey a living soul. But in
enslaving Life's enemy I made him Life's master; for that is the end
of all slavery; and now I shall see the slave set free and the enemy
reconciled, the whirlpool become all life and no matter. And because
these infants that call themselves ancients are reaching out towards
that, I will have patience with them still; though I know well that
when they attain it they shall become one with me and supersede me, and
Lilith will be only a legend and a lay that has lost its meaning. Of
Life only is there no end; and though of its million starry mansions
many are empty and many still unbuilt, and though its vast domain is
as yet unbearably desert, my seed shall one day fill it and master
its matter to its uttermost confines. And for what may be beyond, the
eyesight of Lilith is too short. It is enough that there is a beyond.