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Author's Preface

Preface to the First German Edition

In reading through this German version of my book in the
Manuscript of my friend Siegfried Trebitsch, I was struck by the
inadequacy of the merely negative explanation given by me of the
irrelevance of Night Falls On The Gods to the general philosophic
scheme of The Ring. That explanation is correct as far as it
goes; but, put as I put it, it now seems to me to suggest that
the operatic character of Night Falls On The Gods was the result
of indifference or forgetfulness produced by the lapse of
twenty-five years between the first projection of the work and
its completion. Now it is clear that in whatever other ways
Wagner may have changed, he never became careless and he never
became indifferent. I have therefore inserted a new section in
which I show how the revolutionary history of Western Europe from
the Liberal explosion of 1848 to the confused attempt at a
socialist, military, and municipal administration in Paris in
1871 (that is to say, from the beginning of The Niblung's Ring by
Wagner to the long-delayed completion of Night Falls On The
Gods), demonstrated practically that the passing away of the
present order was going to be a much more complicated business
than it appears in Wagner's Siegfried. I have therefore
interpolated a new chapter which will perhaps induce some readers
of the original English text to read the book again in German.

For some time to come, indeed, I shall have to refer English
readers to this German edition as the most complete in

My obligation to Herr Trebitsch for making me a living German
author instead of merely a translated English one is so great
that I am bound to point out that he is not responsible for my
views or Wagner's, and that it is as an artist and a man of
letters, and not as a propagandist, that he is conveying to the
German speaking peoples political criticisms which occasionally
reflect on contemporary authorities with a European reputation
for sensitiveness. And as the very sympathy which makes his
translations so excellent may be regarded with suspicion, let me
hasten to declare I am bound to Germany by the ties that hold my
nature most strongly. Not that I like the average German: nobody
does, even in his own country. But then the average man is not
popular anywhere; and as no German considers himself an average
one, each reader will, as an exceptional man, sympathize with my
dislike of the common herd. And if I cannot love the typical
modern German, I can at least pity and understand him. His worst
fault is that he cannot see that it is possible to have too much
of a good thing. Being convinced that duty, industry, education,
loyalty, patriotism and respectability are good things (and I am
magnanimous enough to admit that they are not altogether bad
things when taken in strict moderation at the right time and
in the right place), he indulges in them on all occasions
shamelessly and excessively. He commits hideous crimes when crime
is presented to him as part of his duty; his craze for work is
more ruinous than the craze for drink; when he can afford
secondary education for his sons you find three out of every five
of them with their minds lamed for life by examinations which
only a thoroughly wooden head could go through with impunity; and
if a king is patriotic and respectable (few kings are) he puts up
statues to him and exalts him above Charlemagne and Henry the
Fowler. And when he meets a man of genius, he instinctively
insults him, starves him, and, if possible, imprisons and kills

Now I do not pretend to be perfect myself. Heaven knows I have to
struggle hard enough every day with what the Germans call my higher
impulses. I know too well the temptation to be moral, to be
self-sacrificing, to be loyal and patriotic, to be respectable and
well-spoken of. But I wrestle with it and--as far as human fraility
will allow--conquer it, whereas the German abandons himself to it
without scruple or reflection, and is actually proud of his pious
intemperance and self-indulgence. Nothing will cure him of this
mania. It may end in starvation, crushing taxation, suppression of
all freedom to try new social experiments and reform obsolete
institutions, in snobbery, jobbery, idolatry, and an omnipresent
tyranny in which his doctor and his schoolmaster, his lawyer and
his priest, coerce him worse than any official or drill sergeant:
no matter: it is respectable, says the German, therefore it must
be good, and cannot be carried too far; and everybody who rebels
against it must be a rascal. Even the Social-Democrats in Germany
differ from the rest only in carrying academic orthodoxy beyond
human endurance--beyond even German endurance. I am a Socialist
and a Democrat myself, the hero of a hundred platforms, one of the
leaders of the most notable Socialist organizations in England. I am
as conspicuous in English Socialism as Bebel is in German Socialism;
but do you suppose that the German Social-Democrats tolerate me? Not
a bit of it. I have begged again and again to be taken to the bosom
of my German comrades. I have pleaded that the Super-Proletarians
of all lands should unite. I have pointed out that the German
Social-Democratic party has done nothing at its Congresses for the
last ten years except the things I told them to do ten years before,
and that its path is white with the bones of the Socialist
superstitions I and my fellow Fabians have slain. Useless. They do
not care a rap whether I am a Socialist or not. All they want to
know is; Am I orthodox? Am I correct in my revolutionary views? Am
I reverent to the revolutionary authorities? Because I am a genuine
free-thinker they look at me as a policeman looks at a midnight
prowler or as a Berlin bourgeois looks at a suspicious foreigner.
They ask "Do you believe that Marx was omniscient and infallible;
that Engels was his prophet; that Bebel and Singer are his inspired
apostles; and that Das Kapital is the Bible?" Hastening in my
innocence to clear myself of what I regard as an accusation of
credulity and ignorance, I assure them earnestly that I know ten
times as much of economics and a hundred times as much of practical
administration as Marx did; that I knew Engels personally and rather
liked him as a witty and amiable old 1848 veteran who despised
modern Socialism; that I regard Bebel and Singer as men of like
passions with myself, but considerably less advanced; and that I
read Das Kapital in the year 1882 or thereabouts, and still consider
it one of the most important books of the nineteenth century because
of its power of changing the minds of those who read it, in spite of
its unsound capitalist economics, its parade of quotations from
books which the author had either not read or not understood, its
affectation of algebraic formulas, and its general attempt to
disguise a masterpiece of propagandist journalism and prophetic
invective as a drily scientific treatise of the sort that used to
impose on people in 1860, when any book that pretended to be
scientific was accepted as a Bible. In those days Darwin and
Helmholtz were the real fathers of the Church; and nobody would
listen to religion, poetry or rhetoric; so that even Socialism had
to call itself "scientific," and predict the date of the revolution,
as if it were a comet, by calculations founded on "historic laws."

To my amazement these reasonable remarks were received as hideous
blasphemies; none of the party papers were allowed to print any
word of mine; the very Revisionists themselves found that the
scandal of my heresy damaged them more than my support aided
them; and I found myself an outcast from German Social-Democracy
at the moment when, thanks to Trebitsch, the German bourgeoisie
and nobility began to smile on me, seduced by the pleasure of
playing with fire, and perhaps by Agnes Sorma's acting as

Thus you may see that when a German, by becoming a
Social-Democrat, throws off all the bonds of convention, and
stands free from all allegiance to established religion, law,
order, patriotism, and learning, he promptly uses his freedom to
put on a headier set of chains; expels anti-militarists with the
blood-thirstiest martial anti-foreign ardor; and gives the Kaiser
reason to thank heaven that he was born in the comparative
freedom and Laodicean tolerance of Kingship, and not in the
Calvinistic bigotry and pedantry of Marxism.

Why, then, you may ask, do I say that I am bound to Germany by
the ties that hold my nature most strongly? Very simply because
I should have perished of despair in my youth but for the world
created for me by that great German dynasty which began with Bach
and will perhaps not end with Richard Strauss. Do not suppose for
a moment that I learnt my art from English men of letters. True,
they showed me how to handle English words; but if I had known no
more than that, my works would never have crossed the Channel. My
masters were the masters of a universal language: they were, to
go from summit to summit, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
and Wagner. Had the Germans understood any of these men, they
would have hanged them. Fortunately they did not understand them,
and therefore only neglected them until they were dead, after
which they learnt to dance to their tunes with an easy
conscience. For their sakes Germany stands consecrated as the
Holy Land of the capitalist age, just as Italy, for its painters'
sakes, is the Holy Land of the early unvulgarized Renascence;
France, for its builders' sakes, of the age of Christian chivalry
and faith; and Greece, for its sculptors' sakes, of the Periclean

These Holy Lands are my fatherlands: in them alone am I truly at
home: all my work is but to bring the whole world under this

And so, O worthy, respectable, dutiful, patriotic, brave,
industrious German reader, you who used to fear only God and your
own conscience, and now fear nothing at all, here is my book for
you; and--in all sincerity--much good may it do you!

London, 23rd. October 1907.



The preparation of a Second Edition of this booklet is quite the
most unexpected literary task that has ever been set me. When it
first appeared I was ungrateful enough to remonstrate with its
publisher for printing, as I thought, more copies than the most
sanguine Wagnerite could ever hope to sell. But the result proved
that exactly one person buys a copy on every day in the year,
including Sundays; and so, in the process of the suns, a reprint
has become necessary.

Save a few verbal slips of no importance, I have found nothing to
alter in this edition. As usual, the only protests the book has
elicited are protests, not against the opinions it expresses, but
against the facts it records. There are people who cannot bear to
be told that their hero was associated with a famous Anarchist in
a rebellion; that he was proclaimed as "wanted" by the police;
that he wrote revolutionary pamphlets; and that his picture of
Niblunghome under the reign of Alberic is a poetic vision of
unregulated industrial capitalism as it was made known in Germany
in the middle of the nineteenth century by Engels's Condition of
the Laboring classes in England. They frantically deny these
facts, and then declare that I have connected them with Wagner in
a paroxysm of senseless perversity. I am sorry I have hurt them;
and I appeal to charitable publishers to bring out a new life of
Wagner, which shall describe him as a court musician of
unquestioned fashion and orthodoxy, and a pillar of the most
exclusive Dresden circles. Such a work, would, I believe, have a
large sale, and be read with satisfaction and reassurance by many
lovers of Wagner's music.

As to my much demurred-to relegation of Night Falls On The Gods
to the category of grand opera, I have nothing to add or
withdraw. Such a classification is to me as much a matter of fact
as the Dresden rising or the police proclamation; but I shall not
pretend that it is a matter of such fact as everybody's judgment
can grapple with. People who prefer grand opera to serious
music-drama naturally resent my placing a very grand opera below
a very serious music-drama. The ordinary lover of Shakespeare
would equally demur to my placing his popular catchpenny plays,
of which As You Like It is an avowed type, below true
Shakespearean plays like Measure for Measure. I cannot help that.
Popular dramas and operas may have overwhelming merits as
enchanting make-believes; but a poet's sincerest vision of the
world must always take precedence of his prettiest fool's

As many English Wagnerites seem to be still under the impression
that Wagner composed Rienzi in his youth, Tannhauser and
Lohengrin in his middle age, and The Ring in his later years, may
I again remind them that The Ring was the result of a political
convulsion which occurred when Wagner was only thirty-six, and
that the poem was completed when he was forty, with thirty more
years of work before him? It is as much a first essay in
political philosophy as Die Feen is a first essay in romantic
opera. The attempt to recover its spirit twenty years later, when
the music of Night Falls On The Gods was added, was an attempt to
revive the barricades of Dresden in the Temple of the Grail. Only
those who have never had any political enthusiasms to survive can
believe that such an attempt could succeed.
G. B. S., London, 1901


Preface to the First Edition

This book is a commentary on The Ring of the Niblungs, Wagner's
chief work. I offer it to those enthusiastic admirers of Wagner
who are unable to follow his ideas, and do not in the least
understand the dilemma of Wotan, though they are filled with
indignation at the irreverence of the Philistines who frankly
avow that they find the remarks of the god too often tedious and
nonsensical. Now to be devoted to Wagner merely as a dog is
devoted to his master, sharing a few elementary ideas, appetites
and emotions with him, and, for the rest, reverencing his
superiority without understanding it, is no true Wagnerism. Yet
nothing better is possible without a stock of ideas common to
master and disciple. Unfortunately, the ideas of the
revolutionary Wagner of 1848 are taught neither by the education
nor the experience of English and American gentlemen-amateurs,
who are almost always political mugwumps, and hardly ever
associate with revolutionists. The earlier attempts to translate
his numerous pamphlets and essays into English, resulted in
ludicrous mixtures of pure nonsense with the absurdest
distorsions of his ideas into the ideas of the translators. We
now have a translation which is a masterpiece of interpretation
and an eminent addition to our literature; but that is not
because its author, Mr. Ashton Ellis, knows the German dictionary
better than his predecessors. He is simply in possession of
Wagner's ideas, which were to them inconceivable.

All I pretend to do in this book is to impart the ideas which
are most likely to be lacking in the conventional Englishman's
equipment. I came by them myself much as Wagner did, having
learnt more about music than about anything else in my youth, and
sown my political wild oats subsequently in the revolutionary
school. This combination is not common in England; and as I seem,
so far, to be the only publicly articulate result of it, I
venture to add my commentary to what has already been written by
musicians who are no revolutionists, and revolutionists who are
no musicians. G. B. S.

George Bernard Shaw