By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Getting Married
Author: Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Getting Married" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


Preface To "Getting Married"

By Bernard Shaw


Transcriber's Note -- The edition from which this play was taken was
printed without most contractions, such as dont for don't and so forth.
These have been left as printed in the original text. Also, abbreviated
honorifics have no trailing period, and the word show is spelt shew.



There is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and
thought than marriage. If the mischief stopped at talking and thinking
it would be bad enough; but it goes further, into disastrous anarchical
action. Because our marriage law is inhuman and unreasonable to the
point of downright abomination, the bolder and more rebellious spirits
form illicit unions, defiantly sending cards round to their friends
announcing what they have done. Young women come to me and ask me
whether I think they ought to consent to marry the man they have decided
to live with; and they are perplexed and astonished when I, who am
supposed (heaven knows why!) to have the most advanced views attainable
on the subject, urge them on no account to compromize themselves without
the security of an authentic wedding ring. They cite the example of
George Eliot, who formed an illicit union with Lewes. They quote
a saying attributed to Nietzsche, that a married philosopher is
ridiculous, though the men of their choice are not philosophers. When
they finally give up the idea of reforming our marriage institutions by
private enterprise and personal righteousness, and consent to be led to
the Registry or even to the altar, they insist on first arriving at an
explicit understanding that both parties are to be perfectly free to sip
every flower and change every hour, as their fancy may dictate, in
spite of the legal bond. I do not observe that their unions prove
less monogamic than other people's: rather the contrary, in fact;
consequently, I do not know whether they make less fuss than ordinary
people when either party claims the benefit of the treaty; but the
existence of the treaty shews the same anarchical notion that the law
can be set aside by any two private persons by the simple process of
promising one another to ignore it.


Now most laws are, and all laws ought to be, stronger than the
strongest individual. Certainly the marriage law is. The only people
who successfully evade it are those who actually avail themselves of its
shelter by pretending to be married when they are not, and by Bohemians
who have no position to lose and no career to be closed. In every other
case open violation of the marriage laws means either downright ruin or
such inconvenience and disablement as a prudent man or woman would get
married ten times over rather than face. And these disablements and
inconveniences are not even the price of freedom; for, as Brieux has
shewn so convincingly in Les Hannetons, an avowedly illicit union is
often found in practice to be as tyrannical and as hard to escape from
as the worst legal one.

We may take it then that when a joint domestic establishment, involving
questions of children or property, is contemplated, marriage is in
effect compulsory upon all normal people; and until the law is altered
there is nothing for us but to make the best of it as it stands. Even
when no such establishment is desired, clandestine irregularities are
negligible as an alternative to marriage. How common they are nobody
knows; for in spite of the powerful protection afforded to the parties
by the law of libel, and the readiness of society on various other
grounds to be hoodwinked by the keeping up of the very thinnest
appearances, most of them are probably never suspected. But they are
neither dignified nor safe and comfortable, which at once rules them out
for normal decent people. Marriage remains practically inevitable; and
the sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we shall set to work to make
it decent and reasonable.


However much we may all suffer through marriage, most of us think
so little about it that we regard it as a fixed part of the order of
nature, like gravitation. Except for this error, which may be regarded
as constant, we use the word with reckless looseness, meaning a dozen
different things by it, and yet always assuming that to a respectable
man it can have only one meaning. The pious citizen, suspecting the
Socialist (for example) of unmentionable things, and asking him heatedly
whether he wishes to abolish marriage, is infuriated by a sense of
unanswerable quibbling when the Socialist asks him what particular
variety of marriage he means: English civil marriage, sacramental
marriage, indissoluble Roman Catholic marriage, marriage of divorced
persons, Scotch marriage, Irish marriage, French, German, Turkish, or
South Dakotan marriage. In Sweden, one of the most highly civilized
countries in the world, a marriage is dissolved if both parties wish it,
without any question of conduct. That is what marriage means in Sweden.
In Clapham that is what they call by the senseless name of Free Love.
In the British Empire we have unlimited Kulin polygamy, Muslim polygamy
limited to four wives, child marriages, and, nearer home, marriages
of first cousins: all of them abominations in the eyes of many worthy
persons. Not only may the respectable British champion of marriage mean
any of these widely different institutions; sometimes he does not
mean marriage at all. He means monogamy, chastity, temperance,
respectability, morality, Christianity, anti-socialism, and a dozen
other things that have no necessary connection with marriage. He often
means something that he dare not avow: ownership of the person of
another human being, for instance. And he never tells the truth about
his own marriage either to himself or any one else.

With those individualists who in the mid-XIXth century dreamt of doing
away with marriage altogether on the ground that it is a private concern
between the two parties with which society has nothing to do, there
is now no need to deal. The vogue of "the self-regarding action" has
passed; and it may be assumed without argument that unions for the
purpose of establishing a family will continue to be registered and
regulated by the State. Such registration is marriage, and will continue
to be called marriage long after the conditions of the registration
have changed so much that no citizen now living would recognize them as
marriage conditions at all if he revisited the earth. There is therefore
no question of abolishing marriage; but there is a very pressing
question of improving its conditions. I have never met anybody really
in favor of maintaining marriage as it exists in England to-day. A Roman
Catholic may obey his Church by assenting verbally to the doctrine of
indissoluble marriage. But nobody worth counting believes directly,
frankly, and instinctively that when a person commits a murder and is
put into prison for twenty years for it, the free and innocent husband
or wife of that murderer should remain bound by the marriage. To put it
briefly, a contract for better for worse is a contract that should not
be tolerated. As a matter of fact it is not tolerated fully even by the
Roman Catholic Church; for Roman Catholic marriages can be dissolved,
if not by the temporal Courts, by the Pope. Indissoluble marriage is an
academic figment, advocated only by celibates and by comfortably married
people who imagine that if other couples are uncomfortable it must be
their own fault, just as rich people are apt to imagine that if other
people are poor it serves them right. There is always some means of
dissolution. The conditions of dissolution may vary widely, from those
on which Henry VIII. procured his divorce from Katharine of Arragon to
the pleas on which American wives obtain divorces (for instance, "mental
anguish" caused by the husband's neglect to cut his toenails); but
there is always some point at which the theory of the inviolable
better-for-worse marriage breaks down in practice. South Carolina has
indeed passed what is called a freak law declaring that a marriage shall
not be dissolved under any circumstances; but such an absurdity will
probably be repealed or amended by sheer force of circumstances before
these words are in print. The only question to be considered is, What
shall the conditions of the dissolution be?


If we adopt the common romantic assumption that the object of marriage
is bliss, then the very strongest reason for dissolving a marriage is
that it shall be disagreeable to one or other or both of the parties.
If we accept the view that the object of marriage is to provide for
the production and rearing of children, then childlessness should be a
conclusive reason for dissolution. As neither of these causes entitles
married persons to divorce it is at once clear that our marriage law is
not founded on either assumption. What it is really founded on is the
morality of the tenth commandment, which English women will one day
succeed in obliterating from the walls of our churches by refusing to
enter any building where they are publicly classed with a man's house,
his ox, and his ass, as his purchased chattels. In this morality female
adultery is malversation by the woman and theft by the man, whilst male
adultery with an unmarried woman is not an offence at all. But though
this is not only the theory of our marriage laws, but the practical
morality of many of us, it is no longer an avowed morality, nor does
its persistence depend on marriage; for the abolition of marriage would,
other things remaining unchanged, leave women more effectually enslaved
than they now are. We shall come to the question of the economic
dependence of women on men later on; but at present we had better
confine ourselves to the theories of marriage which we are not ashamed
to acknowledge and defend, and upon which, therefore, marriage reformers
will be obliged to proceed.

We may, I think, dismiss from the field of practical politics the
extreme sacerdotal view of marriage as a sacred and indissoluble
covenant, because though reinforced by unhappy marriages as all
fanaticisms are reinforced by human sacrifices, it has been reduced to
a private and socially inoperative eccentricity by the introduction of
civil marriage and divorce. Theoretically, our civilly married couples
are to a Catholic as unmarried couples are: that is, they are living in
open sin. Practically, civilly married couples are received in society,
by Catholics and everyone else, precisely as sacramentally married
couples are; and so are people who have divorced their wives or husbands
and married again. And yet marriage is enforced by public opinion with
such ferocity that the least suggestion of laxity in its support is
fatal to even the highest and strongest reputations, although laxity
of conduct is winked at with grinning indulgence; so that we find the
austere Shelley denounced as a fiend in human form, whilst Nelson, who
openly left his wife and formed a menage a trois with Sir William and
Lady Hamilton, was idolized. Shelley might have had an illegitimate
child in every county in England if he had done so frankly as a
sinner. His unpardonable offence was that he attacked marriage as an
institution. We feel a strange anguish of terror and hatred against
him, as against one who threatens us with a mortal injury. What is the
element in his proposals that produces this effect?

The answer of the specialists is the one already alluded to: that
the attack on marriage is an attack on property; so that Shelley was
something more hateful to a husband than a horse thief: to wit, a wife
thief, and something more hateful to a wife than a burglar: namely, one
who would steal her husband's house from over her head, and leave her
destitute and nameless on the streets. Now, no doubt this accounts for
a good deal of anti-Shelleyan prejudice: a prejudice so deeply rooted
in our habits that, as I have shewn in my play, men who are bolder
freethinkers than Shelley himself can no more bring themselves to commit
adultery than to commit any common theft, whilst women who loathe sex
slavery more fiercely than Mary Wollstonecraft are unable to face the
insecurity and discredit of the vagabondage which is the masterless
woman's only alternative to celibacy. But in spite of all this there
is a revolt against marriage which has spread so rapidly within my
recollection that though we all still assume the existence of a huge and
dangerous majority which regards the least hint of scepticism as to the
beauty and holiness of marriage as infamous and abhorrent, I sometimes
wonder why it is so difficult to find an authentic living member of this
dreaded army of convention outside the ranks of the people who never
think about public questions at all, and who, for all their numerical
weight and apparently invincible prejudices, accept social changes
to-day as tamely as their forefathers accepted the Reformation under
Henry and Edward, the Restoration under Mary, and, after Mary's death,
the shandygaff which Elizabeth compounded from both doctrines and called
the Articles of the Church of England. If matters were left to these
simple folk, there would never be any changes at all; and society would
perish like a snake that could not cast its skins. Nevertheless the
snake does change its skin in spite of them; and there are signs that
our marriage-law skin is causing discomfort to thoughtful people and
will presently be cast whether the others are satisfied with it or not.
The question therefore arises: What is there in marriage that makes the
thoughtful people so uncomfortable?


The answer to this question is an answer which everybody knows and
nobody likes to give. What is driving our ministers of religion and
statesmen to blurt it out at last is the plain fact that marriage is now
beginning to depopulate the country with such alarming rapidity that we
are forced to throw aside our modesty like people who, awakened by an
alarm of fire, rush into the streets in their nightdresses or in no
dresses at all. The fictitious Free Lover, who was supposed to attack
marriage because it thwarted his inordinate affections and prevented him
from making life a carnival, has vanished and given place to the very
real, very strong, very austere avenger of outraged decency who declares
that the licentiousness of marriage, now that it no longer recruits the
race, is destroying it.

As usual, this change of front has not yet been noticed by our newspaper
controversialists and by the suburban season-ticket holders whose minds
the newspapers make. They still defend the citadel on the side on which
nobody is attacking it, and leave its weakest front undefended.

The religious revolt against marriage is a very old one. Christianity
began with a fierce attack on marriage; and to this day the celibacy
of the Roman Catholic priesthood is a standing protest against its
compatibility with the higher life. St. Paul's reluctant sanction of
marriage; his personal protest that he countenanced it of necessity and
against his own conviction; his contemptuous "better to marry than to
burn" is only out of date in respect of his belief that the end of the
world was at hand and that there was therefore no longer any population
question. His instinctive recoil from its worst aspect as a slavery to
pleasure which induces two people to accept slavery to one another has
remained an active force in the world to this day, and is now stirring
more uneasily than ever. We have more and more Pauline celibates whose
objection to marriage is the intolerable indignity of being supposed
to desire or live the married life as ordinarily conceived. Every
thoughtful and observant minister of religion is troubled by the
determination of his flock to regard marriage as a sanctuary for
pleasure, seeing as he does that the known libertines of his parish are
visibly suffering much less from intemperance than many of the married
people who stigmatize them as monsters of vice.


The late Hugh Price Hughes, an eminent Methodist divine, once organized
in London a conference of respectable men to consider the subject.
Nothing came of it (nor indeed could have come of it in the absence of
women); but it had its value as giving the young sociologists present,
of whom I was one, an authentic notion of what a picked audience
of respectable men understood by married life. It was certainly a
staggering revelation. Peter the Great would have been shocked; Byron
would have been horrified; Don Juan would have fled from the conference
into a monastery. The respectable men all regarded the marriage ceremony
as a rite which absolved them from the laws of health and temperance;
inaugurated a life-long honeymoon; and placed their pleasures on exactly
the same footing as their prayers. It seemed entirely proper and natural
to them that out of every twenty-four hours of their lives they should
pass eight shut up in one room with their wives alone, and this, not
birdlike, for the mating season, but all the year round and every year.
How they settled even such minor questions as to which party should
decide whether and how much the window should be open and how many
blankets should be on the bed, and at what hour they should go to
bed and get up so as to avoid disturbing one another's sleep, seemed
insoluble questions to me. But the members of the conference did not
seem to mind. They were content to have the whole national housing
problem treated on a basis of one room for two people. That was the
essence of marriage for them.

Please remember, too, that there was nothing in their circumstances to
check intemperance. They were men of business: that is, men for the most
part engaged in routine work which exercized neither their minds nor
their bodies to the full pitch of their capacities. Compared with
statesmen, first-rate professional men, artists, and even with laborers
and artisans as far as muscular exertion goes, they were underworked,
and could spare the fine edge of their faculties and the last few inches
of their chests without being any the less fit for their daily routine.
If I had adopted their habits, a startling deterioration would have
appeared in my writing before the end of a fortnight, and frightened me
back to what they would have considered an impossible asceticism. But
they paid no penalty of which they were conscious. They had as much
health as they wanted: that is, they did not feel the need of a doctor.
They enjoyed their smokes, their meals, their respectable clothes,
their affectionate games with their children, their prospects of larger
profits or higher salaries, their Saturday half holidays and Sunday
walks, and the rest of it. They did less than two hours work a day and
took from seven to nine office hours to do it in. And they were no good
for any mortal purpose except to go on doing it. They were respectable
only by the standard they themselves had set. Considered seriously
as electors governing an empire through their votes, and choosing and
maintaining its religious and moral institutions by their powers of
social persecution, they were a black-coated army of calamity. They were
incapable of comprehending the industries they were engaged in, the
laws under which they lived, or the relation of their country to other
countries. They lived the lives of old men contentedly. They were
timidly conservative at the age at which every healthy human being ought
to be obstreperously revolutionary. And their wives went through the
routine of the kitchen, nursery, and drawing-room just as they went
through the routine of the office. They had all, as they called it,
settled down, like balloons that had lost their lifting margin of gas;
and it was evident that the process of settling down would go on until
they settled into their graves. They read old-fashioned newspapers
with effort, and were just taking with avidity to a new sort of paper,
costing a halfpenny, which they believed to be extraordinarily bright
and attractive, and which never really succeeded until it became
extremely dull, discarding all serious news and replacing it by vapid
tittle-tattle, and substituting for political articles informed by
at least some pretence of knowledge of economics, history, and
constitutional law, such paltry follies and sentimentalities, snobberies
and partisaneries, as ignorance can understand and irresponsibility

What they called patriotism was a conviction that because they were born
in Tooting or Camberwell, they were the natural superiors of Beethoven,
of Rodin, of Ibsen, of Tolstoy and all other benighted foreigners. Those
of them who did not think it wrong to go to the theatre liked above
everything a play in which the hero was called Dick; was continually
fingering a briar pipe; and, after being overwhelmed with admiration
and affection through three acts, was finally rewarded with the legal
possession of a pretty heroine's person on the strength of a staggering
lack of virtue. Indeed their only conception of the meaning of the word
virtue was abstention from stealing other men's wives or from refusing
to marry their daughters.

As to law, religion, ethics, and constitutional government, any
counterfeit could impose on them. Any atheist could pass himself off on
them as a bishop, any anarchist as a judge, any despot as a Whig, any
sentimental socialist as a Tory, any philtre-monger or witch-finder as
a man of science, any phrase-maker as a statesman. Those who did not
believe the story of Jonah and the great fish were all the readier to
believe that metals can be transmuted and all diseases cured by radium,
and that men can live for two hundred years by drinking sour milk. Even
these credulities involved too severe an intellectual effort for many of
them: it was easier to grin and believe nothing. They maintained their
respect for themselves by "playing the game" (that is, doing what
everybody else did), and by being good judges of hats, ties, dogs,
pipes, cricket, gardens, flowers, and the like. They were capable
of discussing each other's solvency and respectability with some
shrewdness, and could carry out quite complicated systems of paying
visits and "knowing" one another. They felt a little vulgar when they
spent a day at Margate, and quite distinguished and travelled when
they spent it at Boulogne. They were, except as to their clothes, "not
particular": that is, they could put up with ugly sights and sounds,
unhealthy smells, and inconvenient houses, with inhuman apathy and
callousness. They had, as to adults, a theory that human nature is so
poor that it is useless to try to make the world any better, whilst as
to children they believed that if they were only sufficiently lectured
and whipped, they could be brought to a state of moral perfection such
as no fanatic has ever ascribed to his deity. Though they were not
intentionally malicious, they practised the most appalling cruelties
from mere thoughtlessness, thinking nothing of imprisoning men and
women for periods up to twenty years for breaking into their houses; of
treating their children as wild beasts to be tamed by a system of blows
and imprisonment which they called education; and of keeping pianos in
their houses, not for musical purposes, but to torment their daughters
with a senseless stupidity that would have revolted an inquisitor.

In short, dear reader, they were very like you and me. I could fill a
hundred pages with the tale of our imbecilities and still leave much
untold; but what I have set down here haphazard is enough to condemn the
system that produced us. The corner stone of that system was the family
and the institution of marriage as we have it to-day in England.


There is no shirking it: if marriage cannot be made to produce something
better than we are, marriage will have to go, or else the nation
will have to go. It is no use talking of honor, virtue, purity, and
wholesome, sweet, clean, English home lives when what is meant is simply
the habits I have described. The flat fact is that English home life
to-day is neither honorable, virtuous, wholesome, sweet, clean, nor
in any creditable way distinctively English. It is in many respects
conspicuously the reverse; and the result of withdrawing children from
it completely at an early age, and sending them to a public school and
then to a university, does, in spite of the fact that these institutions
are class warped and in some respects quite abominably corrupt, produce
sociabler men. Women, too, are improved by the escape from home provided
by women's colleges; but as very few of them are fortunate enough to
enjoy this advantage, most women are so thoroughly home-bred as to
be unfit for human society. So little is expected of them that in
Sheridan's School for Scandal we hardly notice that the heroine is a
female cad, as detestable and dishonorable in her repentance as she is
vulgar and silly in her naughtiness. It was left to an abnormal critic
like George Gissing to point out the glaring fact that in the remarkable
set of life studies of XIXth century women to be found in the novels of
Dickens, the most convincingly real ones are either vilely unamiable
or comically contemptible; whilst his attempts to manufacture admirable
heroines by idealizations of home-bred womanhood are not only absurd but
not even pleasantly absurd: one has no patience with them.

As all this is corrigible by reducing home life and domestic sentiment
to something like reasonable proportions in the life of the individual,
the danger of it does not lie in human nature. Home life as we
understand it is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a
cockatoo. Its grave danger to the nation lies in its narrow views, its
unnaturally sustained and spitefully jealous concupiscences, its
petty tyrannies, its false social pretences, its endless grudges and
squabbles, its sacrifice of the boy's future by setting him to earn
money to help the family when he should be in training for his adult
life (remember the boy Dickens and the blacking factory), and of the
girl's chances by making her a slave to sick or selfish parents, its
unnatural packing into little brick boxes of little parcels of humanity
of ill-assorted ages, with the old scolding or beating the young for
behaving like young people, and the young hating and thwarting the old
for behaving like old people, and all the other ills, mentionable and
unmentionable, that arise from excessive segregation. It sets these
evils up as benefits and blessings representing the highest attainable
degree of honor and virtue, whilst any criticism of or revolt against
them is savagely persecuted as the extremity of vice. The revolt, driven
under ground and exacerbated, produces debauchery veiled by hypocrisy,
an overwhelming demand for licentious theatrical entertainments which no
censorship can stem, and, worst of all, a confusion of virtue with
the mere morality that steals its name until the real thing is loathed
because the imposture is loathsome. Literary traditions spring up in
which the libertine and profligate--Tom Jones and Charles Surface
are the heroes, and decorous, law-abiding persons--Blifil and Joseph
Surface--are the villains and butts. People like to believe that Nell
Gwynne has every amiable quality and the Bishop's wife every odious one.
Poor Mr. Pecksniff, who is generally no worse than a humbug with a turn
for pompous talking, is represented as a criminal instead of as a very
typical English paterfamilias keeping a roof over the head of himself
and his daughters by inducing people to pay him more for his services
than they are worth. In the extreme instances of reaction against
convention, female murderers get sheaves of offers of marriage; and when
Nature throws up that rare phenomenon, an unscrupulous libertine, his
success among "well brought-up" girls is so easy, and the devotion
he inspires so extravagant, that it is impossible not to see that
the revolt against conventional respectability has transfigured
a commonplace rascal into a sort of Anarchist Saviour. As to the
respectable voluptuary, who joins Omar Khayyam clubs and vibrates to
Swinburne's invocation of Dolores to "come down and redeem us from
virtue," he is to be found in every suburb.


We must be reasonable in our domestic ideals. I do not think that life
at a public school is altogether good for a boy any more than barrack
life is altogether good for a soldier. But neither is home life
altogether good. Such good as it does, I should say, is due to its
freedom from the very atmosphere it professes to supply. That atmosphere
is usually described as an atmosphere of love; and this definition
should be sufficient to put any sane person on guard against it. The
people who talk and write as if the highest attainable state is that of
a family stewing in love continuously from the cradle to the grave, can
hardly have given five minutes serious consideration to so outrageous a
proposition. They cannot have even made up their minds as to what they
mean by love; for when they expatiate on their thesis they are sometimes
talking about kindness, and sometimes about mere appetite. In either
sense they are equally far from the realities of life. No healthy man
or animal is occupied with love in any sense for more than a very small
fraction indeed of the time he devotes to business and to recreations
wholly unconnected with love. A wife entirely preoccupied with her
affection for her husband, a mother entirely preoccupied with her
affection for her children, may be all very well in a book (for people
who like that kind of book); but in actual life she is a nuisance.
Husbands may escape from her when their business compels them to be
away from home all day; but young children may be, and quite often are,
killed by her cuddling and coddling and doctoring and preaching: above
all, by her continuous attempts to excite precocious sentimentality,
a practice as objectionable, and possibly as mischievous, as the worst
tricks of the worst nursemaids.


In most healthy families there is a revolt against this tendency. The
exchanging of presents on birthdays and the like is barred by general
consent, and the relations of the parties are placed by express treaty
on an unsentimental footing.

Unfortunately this mitigation of family sentimentality is much more
characteristic of large families than small ones. It used to be said
that members of large families get on in the world; and it is certainly
true that for purposes of social training a household of twenty
surpasses a household of five as an Oxford College surpasses an
eight-roomed house in a cheap street. Ten children, with the necessary
adults, make a community in which an excess of sentimentality is
impossible. Two children make a doll's house, in which both parents and
children become morbid if they keep to themselves. What is more, when
large families were the fashion, they were organized as tyrannies much
more than as "atmospheres of love." Francis Place tells us that he kept
out of his father's way because his father never passed a child within
his reach without striking it; and though the case was an extreme
one, it was an extreme that illustrated a tendency. Sir Walter Scott's
father, when his son incautiously expressed some relish for his
porridge, dashed a handful of salt into it with an instinctive sense
that it was his duty as a father to prevent his son enjoying himself.
Ruskin's mother gratified the sensual side of her maternal passion, not
by cuddling her son, but by whipping him when he fell downstairs or
was slack in learning the Bible off by heart; and this grotesque
safety-valve for voluptuousness, mischievous as it was in many ways,
had at least the advantage that the child did not enjoy it and was not
debauched by it, as he would have been by transports of sentimentality.

But nowadays we cannot depend on these safeguards, such as they were.
We no longer have large families: all the families are too small to give
the children the necessary social training. The Roman father is out of
fashion; and the whip and the cane are becoming discredited, not so much
by the old arguments against corporal punishment (sound as these were)
as by the gradual wearing away of the veil from the fact that flogging
is a form of debauchery. The advocate of flogging as a punishment is now
exposed to very disagreeable suspicions; and ever since Rousseau rose
to the effort of making a certain very ridiculous confession on the
subject, there has been a growing perception that child whipping, even
for the children themselves, is not always the innocent and high-minded
practice it professes to be. At all events there is no getting away
from the facts that families are smaller than they used to be, and
that passions which formerly took effect in tyranny have been largely
diverted into sentimentality. And though a little sentimentality may be
a very good thing, chronic sentimentality is a horror, more dangerous,
because more possible, than the erotomania which we all condemn when we
are not thoughtlessly glorifying it as the ideal married state.


Let us try to get at the root error of these false domestic doctrines.
Why was it that the late Samuel Butler, with a conviction that increased
with his experience of life, preached the gospel of Laodicea, urging
people to be temperate in what they called goodness as in everything
else? Why is it that I, when I hear some well-meaning person exhort
young people to make it a rule to do at least one kind action every
day, feel very much as I should if I heard them persuade children to
get drunk at least once every day? Apart from the initial absurdity of
accepting as permanent a state of things in which there would be in this
country misery enough to supply occasion for several thousand million
kind actions per annum, the effect on the character of the doers of the
actions would be so appalling, that one month of any serious attempt
to carry out such counsels would probably bring about more stringent
legislation against actions going beyond the strict letter of the law
in the way of kindness than we have now against excess in the opposite

There is no more dangerous mistake than the mistake of supposing that we
cannot have too much of a good thing. The truth is, an immoderately good
man is very much more dangerous than an immoderately bad man: that is
why Savonarola was burnt and John of Leyden torn to pieces with red-hot
pincers whilst multitudes of unredeemed rascals were being let off with
clipped ears, burnt palms, a flogging, or a few years in the galleys.
That is why Christianity never got any grip of the world until it
virtually reduced its claims on the ordinary citizen's attention to a
couple of hours every seventh day, and let him alone on week-days. If
the fanatics who are preoccupied day in and day out with their salvation
were healthy, virtuous, and wise, the Laodiceanism of the ordinary man
might be regarded as a deplorable shortcoming; but, as a matter of fact,
no more frightful misfortune could threaten us than a general spread of
fanaticism. What people call goodness has to be kept in check just as
carefully as what they call badness; for the human constitution will not
stand very much of either without serious psychological mischief, ending
in insanity or crime. The fact that the insanity may be privileged,
as Savonarola's was up to the point of wrecking the social life of
Florence, does not alter the case. We always hesitate to treat a
dangerously good man as a lunatic because he may turn out to be a
prophet in the true sense: that is, a man of exceptional sanity who is
in the right when we are in the wrong. However necessary it may have
been to get rid of Savonarola, it was foolish to poison Socrates and
burn St. Joan of Arc. But it is none the less necessary to take a firm
stand against the monstrous proposition that because certain attitudes
and sentiments may be heroic and admirable at some momentous crisis,
they should or can be maintained at the same pitch continuously through
life. A life spent in prayer and alms giving is really as insane as a
life spent in cursing and picking pockets: the effect of everybody doing
it would be equally disastrous. The superstitious tolerance so long
accorded to monks and nuns is inevitably giving way to a very general
and very natural practice of confiscating their retreats and expelling
them from their country, with the result that they come to England and
Ireland, where they are partly unnoticed and partly encouraged because
they conduct technical schools and teach our girls softer speech and
gentler manners than our comparatively ruffianly elementary teachers.
But they are still full of the notion that because it is possible for
men to attain the summit of Mont Blanc and stay there for an hour, it is
possible for them to live there. Children are punished and scolded for
not living there; and adults take serious offence if it is not assumed
that they live there.

As a matter of fact, ethical strain is just as bad for us as physical
strain. It is desirable that the normal pitch of conduct at which men
are not conscious of being particularly virtuous, although they feel
mean when they fall below it, should be raised as high as possible; but
it is not desirable that they should attempt to live above this pitch
any more than that they should habitually walk at the rate of five
miles an hour or carry a hundredweight continually on their backs. Their
normal condition should be in nowise difficult or remarkable; and it
is a perfectly sound instinct that leads us to mistrust the good man
as much as the bad man, and to object to the clergyman who is pious
extra-professionally as much as to the professional pugilist who is
quarrelsome and violent in private life. We do not want good men and bad
men any more than we want giants and dwarfs. What we do want is a high
quality for our normal: that is, people who can be much better than what
we now call respectable without self-sacrifice. Conscious goodness,
like conscious muscular effort, may be of use in emergencies; but for
everyday national use it is negligible; and its effect on the character
of the individual may easily be disastrous.


It would be hard to find any document in practical daily use in which
these obvious truths seem so stupidly overlooked as they are in the
marriage service. As we have seen, the stupidity is only apparent:
the service was really only an honest attempt to make the best of a
commercial contract of property and slavery by subjecting it to some
religious restraint and elevating it by some touch of poetry. But the
actual result is that when two people are under the influence of
the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of
passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that
excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do
them part. And though of course nobody expects them to do anything
so impossible and so unwholesome, yet the law that regulates their
relations, and the public opinion that regulates that law, is actually
founded on the assumption that the marriage vow is not only feasible but
beautiful and holy, and that if they are false to it, they deserve no
sympathy and no relief. If all married people really lived together, no
doubt the mere force of facts would make an end to this inhuman nonsense
in a month, if not sooner; but it is very seldom brought to that test.
The typical British husband sees much less of his wife than he does of
his business partner, his fellow clerk, or whoever works beside him
day by day. Man and wife do not as a rule, live together: they only
breakfast together, dine together, and sleep in the same room. In most
cases the woman knows nothing of the man's working life and he
knows nothing of her working life (he calls it her home life). It is
remarkable that the very people who romance most absurdly about the
closeness and sacredness of the marriage tie are also those who are most
convinced that the man's sphere and the woman's sphere are so entirely
separate that only in their leisure moments can they ever be together. A
man as intimate with his own wife as a magistrate is with his clerk,
or a Prime Minister with the leader of the Opposition, is a man in ten
thousand. The majority of married couples never get to know one another
at all: they only get accustomed to having the same house, the same
children, and the same income, which is quite a different matter. The
comparatively few men who work at home--writers, artists, and to some
extent clergymen--have to effect some sort of segregation within
the house or else run a heavy risk of overstraining their domestic
relations. When the pair is so poor that it can afford only a single
room, the strain is intolerable: violent quarrelling is the result.
Very few couples can live in a single-roomed tenement without exchanging
blows quite frequently. In the leisured classes there is often no real
family life at all. The boys are at a public school; the girls are in
the schoolroom in charge of a governess; the husband is at his club or
in a set which is not his wife's; and the institution of marriage enjoys
the credit of a domestic peace which is hardly more intimate than the
relations of prisoners in the same gaol or guests at the same garden
party. Taking these two cases of the single room and the unearned income
as the extremes, we might perhaps locate at a guess whereabout on the
scale between them any particular family stands. But it is clear enough
that the one-roomed end, though its conditions enable the marriage vow
to be carried out with the utmost attainable exactitude, is far less
endurable in practice, and far more mischievous in its effect on the
parties concerned, and through them on the community, than the other
end. Thus we see that the revolt against marriage is by no means only a
revolt against its sordidness as a survival of sex slavery. It may even
plausibly be maintained that this is precisely the part of it that
works most smoothly in practice. The revolt is also against its
sentimentality, its romance, its Amorism, even against its enervating


We now see that the statesman who undertakes to deal with marriage will
have to face an amazingly complicated public opinion. In fact, he will
have to leave opinion as far as possible out of the question, and deal
with human nature instead. For even if there could be any real public
opinion in a society like ours, which is a mere mob of classes, each
with its own habits and prejudices, it would be at best a jumble of
superstitions and interests, taboos and hypocrisies, which could not
be reconciled in any coherent enactment. It would probably proclaim
passionately that it does not matter in the least what sort of children
we have, or how few or how many, provided the children are legitimate.
Also that it does not matter in the least what sort of adults we have,
provided they are married. No statesman worth the name can possibly act
on these views. He is bound to prefer one healthy illegitimate child
to ten rickety legitimate ones, and one energetic and capable unmarried
couple to a dozen inferior apathetic husbands and wives. If it could
be proved that illicit unions produce three children each and marriages
only one and a half, he would be bound to encourage illicit unions
and discourage and even penalize marriage. The common notion that the
existing forms of marriage are not political contrivances, but sacred
ethical obligations to which everything, even the very existence of the
human race, must be sacrificed if necessary (and this is what the vulgar
morality we mostly profess on the subject comes to) is one on which no
sane Government could act for a moment; and yet it influences, or is
believed to influence, so many votes, that no Government will touch
the marriage question if it can possibly help it, even when there is
a demand for the extension of marriage, as in the case of the recent
long-delayed Act legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister. When
a reform in the other direction is needed (for example, an extension of
divorce), not even the existence of the most unbearable hardships will
induce our statesmen to move so long as the victims submit sheepishly,
though when they take the remedy into their own hands an inquiry is soon
begun. But what is now making some action in the matter imperative is
neither the sufferings of those who are tied for life to criminals,
drunkards, physically unsound and dangerous mates, and worthless and
unamiable people generally, nor the immorality of the couples condemned
to celibacy by separation orders which do not annul their marriages, but
the fall in the birth rate. Public opinion will not help us out of this
difficulty: on the contrary, it will, if it be allowed, punish anybody
who mentions it. When Zola tried to repopulate France by writing a novel
in praise of parentage, the only comment made here was that the book
could not possibly be translated into English, as its subject was too


Now if England had been governed in the past by statesmen willing to be
ruled by such public opinion as that, she would have been wiped off the
political map long ago. The modern notion that democracy means governing
a country according to the ignorance of its majorities is never more
disastrous than when there is some question of sexual morals to be dealt
with. The business of a democratic statesman is not, as some of us seem
to think, to convince the voters that he knows no better than they as
to the methods of attaining their common ends, but on the contrary to
convince them that he knows much better than they do, and therefore
differs from them on every possible question of method. The voter's duty
is to take care that the Government consists of men whom he can trust
to devize or support institutions making for the common welfare. This
is highly skilled work; and to be governed by people who set about it
as the man in the street would set about it is to make straight for "red
ruin and the breaking up of laws." Voltaire said that Mr Everybody is
wiser than anybody; and whether he is or not, it is his will that must
prevail; but the will and the way are two very different things. For
example, it is the will of the people on a hot day that the means
of relief from the effects of the heat should be within the reach of
everybody. Nothing could be more innocent, more hygienic, more important
to the social welfare. But the way of the people on such occasions is
mostly to drink large quantities of beer, or, among the more luxurious
classes, iced claret cup, lemon squashes, and the like. To take a moral
illustration, the will to suppress misconduct and secure efficiency
in work is general and salutary; but the notion that the best and only
effective way is by complaining, scolding, punishing, and revenging is
equally general. When Mrs Squeers opened an abscess on her pupil's head
with an inky penknife, her object was entirely laudable: her heart was
in the right place: a statesman interfering with her on the ground that
he did not want the boy cured would have deserved impeachment for gross
tyranny. But a statesman tolerating amateur surgical practice with inky
penknives in school would be a very bad Minister of Education. It is
on the question of method that your expert comes in; and though I am
democrat enough to insist that he must first convince a representative
body of amateurs that his way is the right way and Mrs Squeers's way
the wrong way, yet I very strongly object to any tendency to flatter Mrs
Squeers into the belief that her way is in the least likely to be the
right way, or that any other test is to be applied to it except the test
of its effect on human welfare.


Political Science means nothing else than the devizing of the best ways
of fulfilling the will of the world; and, I repeat, it is skilled work.
Once the way is discovered, the methods laid down, and the machinery
provided, the work of the statesman is done, and that of the official
begins. To illustrate, there is no need for the police officer who
governs the street traffic to be or to know any better than the
people who obey the wave of his hand. All concerted action involves
subordination and the appointment of directors at whose signal the
others will act. There is no more need for them to be superior to the
rest than for the keystone of an arch to be of harder stone than the
coping. But when it comes to devizing the directions which are to be
obeyed: that is, to making new institutions and scraping old ones, then
you need aristocracy in the sense of government by the best. A military
state organized so as to carry out exactly the impulses of the average
soldier would not last a year. The result of trying to make the Church
of England reflect the notions of the average churchgoer has reduced it
to a cipher except for the purposes of a petulantly irreligious
social and political club. Democracy as to the thing to be done may
be inevitable (hence the vital need for a democracy of supermen); but
democracy as to the way to do it is like letting the passengers drive
the train: it can only end in collision and wreck. As a matter of act,
we obtain reforms (such as they are), not by allowing the electorate
to draft statutes, but by persuading it that a certain minister and his
cabinet are gifted with sufficient political sagacity to find out how to
produce the desired result. And the usual penalty of taking advantage of
this power to reform our institutions is defeat by a vehement "swing of
the pendulum" at the next election. Therein lies the peril and the glory
of democratic statesmanship. A statesman who confines himself to popular
legislation--or, for the matter of that, a playwright who confines
himself to popular plays--is like a blind man's dog who goes wherever
the blind man pulls him, on the ground that both of them want to go to
the same place.


The reform of marriage, then, will be a very splendid and very hazardous
adventure for the Prime Minister who takes it in hand. He will be posted
on every hoarding and denounced in every Opposition paper, especially
in the sporting papers, as the destroyer of the home, the family, of
decency, of morality, of chastity and what not. All the commonplaces of
the modern anti-Socialist Noodle's Oration will be hurled at him. And he
will have to proceed without the slightest concession to it, giving the
noodles nothing but their due in the assurance "I know how to attain our
ends better than you," and staking his political life on the conviction
carried by that assurance, which conviction will depend a good deal on
the certainty with which it is made, which again can be attained only
by studying the facts of marriage and understanding the needs of the
nation. And, after all, he will find that the pious commonplaces on
which he and the electorate are agreed conceal an utter difference in
the real ends in view: his being public, far-sighted, and impersonal,
and those of multitudes of the electorate narrow, personal, jealous, and
corrupt. Under such circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that the
mere mention of the marriage question makes a British Cabinet shiver
with apprehension and hastily pass on to safer business. Nevertheless
the reform of marriage cannot be put off for ever. When its hour comes,
what are the points the Cabinet will have to take up?


First, it will have to make up its mind as to how many people we want in
the country. If we want less than at present, we must ascertain how
many less; and if we allow the reduction to be made by the continued
operation of the present sterilization of marriage, we must settle how
the process is to be stopped when it has gone far enough. But if we
desire to maintain the population at its present figure, or to increase
it, we must take immediate steps to induce people of moderate means to
marry earlier and to have more children. There is less urgency in the
case of the very poor and the very rich. They breed recklessly: the rich
because they can afford it, and the poor because they cannot afford
the precautions by which the artisans and the middle classes avoid big
families. Nevertheless the population declines, because the high birth
rate of the very poor is counterbalanced by a huge infantile-mortality
in the slums, whilst the very rich are also the very few, and are
becoming sterilized by the spreading revolt of their women against
excessive childbearing--sometimes against any childbearing.

This last cause is important. It cannot be removed by any economic
readjustment. If every family were provided with 10,000 pounds a year
tomorrow, women would still refuse more and more to continue bearing
children until they are exhausted whilst numbers of others are bearing
no children at all. Even if every woman bearing and rearing a valuable
child received a handsome series of payments, thereby making motherhood
a real profession as it ought to be, the number of women able or willing
to give more of their lives to gestation and nursing than three or
four children would cost them might not be very large if the advance in
social organization and conscience indicated by such payments involved
also the opening up of other means of livelihood to women. And it must
be remembered that urban civilization itself, insofar as it is a method
of evolution (and when it is not this, it is simply a nuisance), is a
sterilizing process as far as numbers go. It is harder to keep up the
supply of elephants than of sparrows and rabbits; and for the same
reason it will be harder to keep up the supply of highly cultivated men
and women than it now is of agricultural laborers. Bees get out of this
difficulty by a special system of feeding which enables a queen bee
to produce 4,000 eggs a day whilst the other females lose their sex
altogether and become workers supporting the males in luxury and
idleness until the queen has found her mate, when the queen kills
him and the quondam females kill all the rest (such at least are the
accounts given by romantic naturalists of the matter).


This system certainly shews a much higher development of social
intelligence than our marriage system; but if it were physically
possible to introduce it into human society it would be wrecked by an
opposite and not less important revolt of women: that is, the revolt
against compulsory barrenness. In this two classes of women are
concerned: those who, though they have no desire for the presence or
care of children, nevertheless feel that motherhood is an experience
necessary to their complete psychical development and understanding of
themselves and others, and those who, though unable to find or unwilling
to entertain a husband, would like to occupy themselves with the rearing
of children. My own experience of discussing this question leads me
to believe that the one point on which all women are in furious secret
rebellion against the existing law is the saddling of the right to a
child with the obligation to become the servant of a man. Adoption,
or the begging or buying or stealing of another woman's child, is no
remedy: it does not provide the supreme experience of bearing the child.
No political constitution will ever succeed or deserve to succeed unless
it includes the recognition of an absolute right to sexual experience,
and is untainted by the Pauline or romantic view of such experience as
sinful in itself. And since this experience in its fullest sense must be
carried in the case of women to the point of childbearing, it can only
be reconciled with the acceptance of marriage with the child's father by
legalizing polygyny, because there are more adult women in the country
than men. Now though polygyny prevails throughout the greater part of
the British Empire, and is as practicable here as in India, there is a
good deal to be said against it, and still more to be felt. However,
let us put our feelings aside for a moment, and consider the question


The number of wives permitted to a single husband or of husbands to
a single wife under a marriage system, is not an ethical problem: it
depends solely on the proportion of the sexes in the population. If in
consequence of a great war three-quarters of the men in this country
were killed, it would be absolutely necessary to adopt the Mohammedan
allowance of four wives to each man in order to recruit the population.
The fundamental reason for not allowing women to risk their lives in
battle and for giving them the first chance of escape in all dangerous
emergencies: in short, for treating their lives as more valuable than
male lives, is not in the least a chivalrous reason, though men may
consent to it under the illusion of chivalry. It is a simple matter of
necessity; for if a large proportion of women were killed or
disabled, no possible readjustment of our marriage law could avert the
depopulation and consequent political ruin of the country, because a
woman with several husbands bears fewer children than a woman with one,
whereas a man can produce as many families as he has wives. The
natural foundation of the institution of monogamy is not any inherent
viciousness in polygyny or polyandry, but the hard fact that men and
women are born in about equal numbers. Unfortunately, we kill so many
of our male children in infancy that we are left with a surplus of adult
women which is sufficiently large to claim attention, and yet not large
enough to enable every man to have two wives. Even if it were, we should
be met by an economic difficulty. A Kaffir is rich in proportion to the
number of his wives, because the women are the breadwinners. But in our
civilization women are not paid for their social work in the bearing and
rearing of children and the ordering of households; they are quartered
on the wages of their husbands. At least four out of five of our men
could not afford two wives unless their wages were nearly doubled. Would
it not then be well to try unlimited polygyny; so that the remaining
fifth could have as many wives apiece as they could afford? Let us see
how this would work.


Experience shews that women do not object to polygyny when it is
customary: on the contrary, they are its most ardent supporters. The
reason is obvious. The question, as it presents itself in practice to
a woman, is whether it is better to have, say, a whole share in a
tenth-rate man or a tenth share in a first-rate man. Substitute the word
Income for the word Man, and you will have the question as it presents
itself economically to the dependent woman. The woman whose instincts
are maternal, who desires superior children more than anything else,
never hesitates. She would take a thousandth share, if necessary, in a
husband who was a man in a thousand, rather than have some comparatively
weedy weakling all to herself. It is the comparatively weedy weakling,
left mateless by polygyny, who objects. Thus, it was not the women of
Salt Lake City nor even of America who attacked Mormon polygyny. It
was the men. And very naturally. On the other hand, women object to
polyandry, because polyandry enables the best women to monopolize all
the men, just as polygyny enables the best men to monopolize all the
women. That is why all our ordinary men and women are unanimous in
defence of monogamy, the men because it excludes polygyny, and the women
because it excludes polyandry. The women, left to themselves, would
tolerate polygyny. The men, left to themselves, would tolerate
polyandry. But polygyny would condemn a great many men, and polyandry a
great many women, to the celibacy of neglect. Hence the resistance any
attempt to establish unlimited polygyny always provokes, not from the
best people, but from the mediocrities and the inferiors. If we
could get rid of our inferiors and screw up our average quality until
mediocrity ceased to be a reproach, thus making every man reasonably
eligible as a father and every woman reasonably desirable as a mother,
polygyny and polyandry would immediately fall into sincere disrepute,
because monogamy is so much more convenient and economical that nobody
would want to share a husband or a wife if he (or she) could have a
sufficiently good one all to himself (or herself). Thus it appears that
it is the scarcity of husbands or wives of high quality that leads woman
to polygyny and men to polyandry, and that if this scarcity were cured,
monogamy, in the sense of having only one husband or wife at a
time (facilities for changing are another matter), would be found


It may now be asked why the polygynist nations have not gravitated to
monogamy, like the latter-day saints of Salt Lake City. The answer is
not far to seek: their polygyny is limited. By the Mohammedan law a man
cannot marry more than four wives; and by the unwritten law of necessity
no man can keep more wives than he can afford; so that a man with
four wives must be quite as exceptional in Asia as a man with a
carriage-and-pair or a motor car is in Europe, where, nevertheless we
may all have as many carriages and motors as we can afford to pay for.
Kulin polygyny, though unlimited, is not really a popular institution:
if you are a person of high caste you pay another person of very august
caste indeed to make your daughter momentarily one of his sixty or
seventy momentary wives for the sake of ennobling your grandchildren;
but this fashion of a small and intensely snobbish class is negligible
as a general precedent. In any case, men and women in the East do not
marry anyone they fancy, as in England and America. Women are secluded
and marriages are arranged. In Salt Lake City the free unsecluded woman
could see and meet the ablest man of the community, and tempt him
to make her his tenth wife by all the arts peculiar to women in
English-speaking countries. No eastern woman can do anything of the
sort. The man alone has any initiative; but he has no access to the
woman; besides, as we have seen, the difficulty created by male license
is not polygyny but polyandry, which is not allowed.

Consequently, if we are to make polygyny a success, we must limit it.
If we have two women to every one man, we must allow each man only two
wives. That is simple; but unfortunately our own actual proportion is,
roughly, something like 1 1/11 woman to 1 man. Now you cannot enact that
each man shall be allowed 1 1/11 wives, or that each woman who cannot
get a husband all to herself shall divide herself between eleven already
married husbands. Thus there is no way out for us through polygyny.
There is no way at all out of the present system of condemning the
superfluous women to barrenness, except by legitimizing the children of
women who are not married to the fathers.


Now the right to bear children without taking a husband could not be
confined to women who are superfluous in the monogamic reckoning. There
is the practical difficulty that although in our population there
are about a million monogamically superfluous women, yet it is quite
impossible to say of any given unmarried woman that she is one of the
superfluous. And there is the difficulty of principle. The right to bear
a child, perhaps the most sacred of all women's rights, is not one that
should have any conditions attached to it except in the interests of
race welfare. There are many women of admirable character, strong,
capable, independent, who dislike the domestic habits of men; have no
natural turn for mothering and coddling them; and find the concession of
conjugal rights to any person under any conditions intolerable by their
self-respect. Yet the general sense of the community recognizes in these
very women the fittest people to have charge of children, and trusts
them, as school mistresses and matrons of institutions, more than women
of any other type when it is possible to procure them for such work. Why
should the taking of a husband be imposed on these women as the price of
their right to maternity? I am quite unable to answer that question.
I see a good deal of first-rate maternal ability and sagacity spending
itself on bees and poultry and village schools and cottage hospitals;
and I find myself repeatedly asking myself why this valuable strain in
the national breed should be sterilized. Unfortunately, the very women
whom we should tempt to become mothers for the good of the race are the
very last people to press their services on their country in that way.
Plato long ago pointed out the importance of being governed by men with
sufficient sense of responsibility and comprehension of public duties
to be very reluctant to undertake the work of governing; and yet we
have taken his instruction so little to heart that we are at present
suffering acutely from government by gentlemen who will stoop to all the
mean shifts of electioneering and incur all its heavy expenses for the
sake of a seat in Parliament. But what our sentimentalists have not
yet been told is that exactly the same thing applies to maternity as to
government. The best mothers are not those who are so enslaved by their
primitive instincts that they will bear children no matter how hard the
conditions are, but precisely those who place a very high price on their
services, and are quite prepared to become old maids if the price is
refused, and even to feel relieved at their escape. Our democratic and
matrimonial institutions may have their merits: at all events they are
mostly reforms of something worse; but they put a premium on want of
self-respect in certain very important matters; and the consequence is
that we are very badly governed and are, on the whole, an ugly, mean,
ill-bred race.


Let us not forget, however, in our sympathy for the superfluous women,
that their children must have fathers as well as mothers. Who are the
fathers to be? All monogamists and married women will reply hastily:
either bachelors or widowers; and this solution will serve as well as
another; for it would be hypocritical to pretend that the difficulty is
a practical one. None the less, the monogamists, after due reflection,
will point out that if there are widowers enough the superfluous women
are not really superfluous, and therefore there is no reason why the
parties should not marry respectably like other people. And they might
in that case be right if the reasons were purely numerical: that is,
if every woman were willing to take a husband if one could be found
for her, and every man willing to take a wife on the same terms; also,
please remember, if widows would remain celibate to give the unmarried
women a chance. These ifs will not work. We must recognize two classes
of old maids: one, the really superfluous women, and the other, the
women who refuse to accept maternity on the (to them) unbearable
condition of taking a husband. From both classes may, perhaps, be
subtracted for the present the large proportion of women who could
not afford the extra expense of one or more children. I say "perhaps,"
because it is by no means sure that within reasonable limits mothers do
not make a better fight for subsistence, and have not, on the whole, a
better time than single women. In any case, we have two distinct cases
to deal with: the superfluous and the voluntary; and it is the voluntary
whose grit we are most concerned to fertilize. But here, again,
we cannot put our finger on any particular case and pick out Miss
Robinson's as superfluous, and Miss Wilkinson's as voluntary. Whether we
legitimize the child of the unmarried woman as a duty to the superfluous
or as a bribe to the voluntary, the practical result must be the same:
to wit, that the condition of marriage now attached to legitimate
parentage will be withdrawn from all women, and fertile unions outside
marriage recognized by society. Now clearly the consequences would not
stop there. The strong-minded ladies who are resolved to be mistresses
in their own houses would not be the only ones to take advantage of the
new law. Even women to whom a home without a man in it would be no home
at all, and who fully intended, if the man turned out to be the right
one, to live with him exactly as married couples live, would, if they
were possessed of independent means, have every inducement to adopt the
new conditions instead of the old ones. Only the women whose sole means
of livelihood was wifehood would insist on marriage: hence a tendency
would set in to make marriage more and more one of the customs imposed
by necessity on the poor, whilst the freer form of union, regulated,
no doubt, by settlements and private contracts of various kinds, would
become the practice of the rich: that is, would become the fashion.
At which point nothing but the achievement of economic independence by
women, which is already seen clearly ahead of us, would be needed to
make marriage disappear altogether, not by formal abolition, but by
simple disuse. The private contract stage of this process was reached in
ancient Rome. The only practicable alternative to it seems to be such
an extension of divorce as will reduce the risks and obligations of
marriage to a degree at which they will be no worse than those of the
alternatives to marriage. As we shall see, this is the solution to which
all the arguments tend. Meanwhile, note how much reason a statesman has
to pause before meddling with an institution which, unendurable as its
drawbacks are, threatens to come to pieces in all directions if a
single thread of it be cut. Ibsen's similitude of the machine-made chain
stitch, which unravels the whole seam at the first pull when a single
stitch is ripped, is very applicable to the knot of marriage.


But before we allow this to deter us from touching the sacred fabric,
we must find out whether it is not already coming to pieces in all
directions by the continuous strain of circumstances. No doubt, if it
were all that it pretends to be, and human nature were working smoothly
within its limits, there would be nothing more to be said: it would
be let alone as it always is let alone during the cruder stages of
civilization. But the moment we refer to the facts, we discover that the
ideal matrimony and domesticity which our bigots implore us to preserve
as the corner stone of our society is a figment: what we have really got
is something very different, questionable at its best, and abominable
at its worst. The word pure, so commonly applied to it by thoughtless
people, is absurd; because if they do not mean celibate by it, they
mean nothing; and if they do mean celibate, then marriage is legalized
impurity, a conclusion which is offensive and inhuman. Marriage as a
fact is not in the least like marriage as an ideal. If it were, the
sudden changes which have been made on the continent from indissoluble
Roman Catholic marriage to marriage that can be dissolved by a box on
the ear as in France, by an epithet as in Germany, or simply at the wish
of both parties as in Sweden, not to mention the experiments made
by some of the American States, would have shaken society to its
foundations. Yet they have produced so little effect that Englishmen
open their eyes in surprise when told of their existence.


As to what actual marriage is, one would like evidence instead
of guesses; but as all departures from the ideal are regarded as
disgraceful, evidence cannot be obtained; for when the whole community
is indicted, nobody will go into the witness-box for the prosecution.
Some guesses we can make with some confidence. For example, if it be
objected to any change that our bachelors and widowers would no longer
be Galahads, we may without extravagance or cynicism reply that many
of them are not Galahads now, and that the only change would be that
hypocrisy would no longer be compulsory. Indeed, this can hardly be
called guessing: the evidence is in the streets. But when we attempt to
find out the truth about our marriages, we cannot even guess with
any confidence. Speaking for myself, I can say that I know the inside
history of perhaps half a dozen marriages. Any family solicitor knows
more than this; but even a family solicitor, however large his practice,
knows nothing of the million households which have no solicitors, and
which nevertheless make marriage what it really is. And all he can say
comes to no more than I can say: to wit, that no marriage of which I
have any knowledge is in the least like the ideal marriage. I do not
mean that it is worse: I mean simply that it is different. Also, far
from society being organized in a defence of its ideal so jealous and
implacable that the least step from the straight path means exposure
and ruin, it is almost impossible by any extravagance of misconduct to
provoke society to relax its steady pretence of blindness, unless you do
one or both of two fatal things. One is to get into the newspapers; and
the other is to confess. If you confess misconduct to respectable men or
women, they must either disown you or become virtually your accomplices:
that is why they are so angry with you for confessing. If you get into
the papers, the pretence of not knowing becomes impossible. But it is
hardly too much to say that if you avoid these two perils, you can do
anything you like, as far as your neighbors are concerned. And since we
can hardly flatter ourselves that this is the effect of charity, it
is difficult not to suspect that our extraordinary forbearance in the
matter of stone throwing is that suggested in the well-known parable of
the women taken in adultery which some early free-thinker slipped into
the Gospel of St John: namely, that we all live in glass houses. We may
take it, then, that the ideal husband and the ideal wife are no more
real human beings than the cherubim. Possibly the great majority keeps
its marriage vows in the technical divorce court sense. No husband or
wife yet born keeps them or ever can keep them in the ideal sense.


The truth which people seem to overlook in this matter is that the
marriage ceremony is quite useless as a magic spell for changing in an
instant the nature of the relations of two human beings to one another.
If a man marries a woman after three weeks acquaintance, and the day
after meets a woman he has known for twenty years, he finds, sometimes
to his own irrational surprise and his wife's equally irrational
indignation, that his wife is a stranger to him, and the other woman an
old friend. Also, there is no hocus pocus that can possibly be devized
with rings and veils and vows and benedictions that can fix either a
man's or woman's affection for twenty minutes, much less twenty years.
Even the most affectionate couples must have moments during which they
are far more conscious of one another's faults than of one another's
attractions. There are couples who dislike one another furiously for
several hours at a time; there are couples who dislike one another
permanently; and there are couples who never dislike one another; but
these last are people who are incapable of disliking anybody. If they
do not quarrel, it is not because they are married, but because they
are not quarrelsome. The people who are quarrelsome quarrel with their
husbands and wives just as easily as with their servants and relatives
and acquaintances: marriage makes no difference. Those who talk and
write and legislate as if all this could be prevented by making
solemn vows that it shall not happen, are either insincere, insane,
or hopelessly stupid. There is some sense in a contract to perform or
abstain from actions that are reasonably within voluntary control; but
such contracts are only needed to provide against the possibility of
either party being no longer desirous of the specified performance or
abstention. A person proposing or accepting a contract not only to do
something but to like doing it would be certified as mad. Yet popular
superstition credits the wedding rite with the power of fixing our
fancies or affections for life even under the most unnatural conditions.


It is necessary to lay some stress on these points, because few realize
the extent to which we proceed on the assumption that marriage is a
short cut to perfect and permanent intimacy and affection. But there
is a still more unworkable assumption which must be discarded before
discussions of marriage can get into any sort of touch with the facts
of life. That assumption is that the specific relation which marriage
authorizes between the parties is the most intimate and personal of
human relations, and embraces all the other high human relations.
Now this is violently untrue. Every adult knows that the relation in
question can and does exist between entire strangers, different
in language, color, tastes, class, civilization, morals, religion,
character: in everything, in short, except their bodily homology and
the reproductive appetite common to all living organisms. Even hatred,
cruelty, and contempt are not incompatible with it; and jealousy and
murder are as near to it as affectionate friendship. It is true that it
is a relation beset with wildly extravagant illusions for inexperienced
people, and that even the most experienced people have not always
sufficient analytic faculty to disentangle it from the sentiments,
sympathetic or abhorrent, which may spring up through the other
relations which are compulsorily attached to it by our laws, or
sentimentally associated with it in romance. But the fact remains that
the most disastrous marriages are those founded exclusively on it, and
the most successful those in which it has been least considered, and in
which the decisive considerations have had nothing to do with sex,
such as liking, money, congeniality of tastes, similarity of habits,
suitability of class, &c., &c.

It is no doubt necessary under existing circumstances for a woman
without property to be sexually attractive, because she must get married
to secure a livelihood; and the illusions of sexual attraction
will cause the imagination of young men to endow her with every
accomplishment and virtue that can make a wife a treasure. The
attraction being thus constantly and ruthlessly used as a bait, both by
individuals and by society, any discussion tending to strip it of its
illusions and get at its real natural history is nervously discouraged.
But nothing can well be more unwholesome for everybody than the
exaggeration and glorification of an instinctive function which clouds
the reason and upsets the judgment more than all the other instincts put
together. The process may be pleasant and romantic; but the consequences
are not. It would be far better for everyone, as well as far honester,
if young people were taught that what they call love is an appetite
which, like all other appetites, is destroyed for the moment by its
gratification; that no profession, promise, or proposal made under its
influence should bind anybody; and that its great natural purpose so
completely transcends the personal interests of any individual or even
of any ten generations of individuals that it should be held to be an
act of prostitution and even a sort of blasphemy to attempt to turn it
to account by exacting a personal return for its gratification,
whether by process of law or not. By all means let it be the subject of
contracts with society as to its consequences; but to make marriage an
open trade in it as at present, with money, board and lodging, personal
slavery, vows of eternal exclusive personal sentimentalities and the
rest of it as the price, is neither virtuous, dignified, nor decent. No
husband ever secured his domestic happiness and honor, nor has any
wife ever secured hers, by relying on it. No private claims of any sort
should be founded on it: the real point of honor is to take no corrupt
advantage of it. When we hear of young women being led astray and the
like, we find that what has led them astray is a sedulously inculcated
false notion that the relation they are tempted to contract is so
intensely personal, and the vows made under the influence of its
transient infatuation so sacred and enduring, that only an atrociously
wicked man could make light of or forget them. What is more, as the
same fantastic errors are inculcated in men, and the conscientious ones
therefore feel bound in honor to stand by what they have promised,
one of the surest methods to obtain a husband is to practise on his
susceptibilities until he is either carried away into a promise of
marriage to which he can be legally held, or else into an indiscretion
which he must repair by marriage on pain of having to regard himself as
a scoundrel and a seducer, besides facing the utmost damage the lady's
relatives can do him.

Such a transaction is not an entrance into a "holy state of matrimony":
it is as often as not the inauguration of a lifelong squabble, a
corroding grudge, that causes more misery and degradation of character
than a dozen entirely natural "desertions" and "betrayals." Yet the
number of marriages effected more or less in this way must be enormous.
When people say that love should be free, their words, taken literally,
may be foolish; but they are only expressing inaccurately a very
real need for the disentanglement of sexual relations from a mass of
exorbitant and irrelevant conditions imposed on them on false pretences
to enable needy parents to get their daughters "off their hands" and to
keep those who are already married effectually enslaved by one another.


One of the consequences of basing marriage on the considerations stated
with cold abhorrence by Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of his epistle
to the Corinthians, as being made necessary by the unlikeness of most
men to himself, is that the sex slavery involved has become complicated
by economic slavery; so that whilst the man defends marriage because he
is really defending his pleasures, the woman is even more vehement on
the same side because she is defending her only means of livelihood.
To a woman without property or marketable talent a husband is more
necessary than a master to a dog. There is nothing more wounding to our
sense of human dignity than the husband hunting that begins in every
family when the daughters become marriageable; but it is inevitable
under existing circumstances; and the parents who refuse to engage in it
are bad parents, though they may be superior individuals. The cubs of a
humane tigress would starve; and the daughters of women who cannot bring
themselves to devote several years of their lives to the pursuit of
sons-in-law often have to expatiate their mother's squeamishness by
life-long celibacy and indigence. To ask a young man his intentions when
you know he has no intentions, but is unable to deny that he has paid
attentions; to threaten an action for breach of promise of marriage; to
pretend that your daughter is a musician when she has with the greatest
difficulty been coached into playing three piano-forte pieces which she
loathes; to use your own mature charms to attract men to the house when
your daughters have no aptitude for that department of sport; to coach
them, when they have, in the arts by which men can be led to compromize
themselves; and to keep all the skeletons carefully locked up in the
family cupboard until the prey is duly hunted down and bagged: all this
is a mother's duty today; and a very revolting duty it is: one that
disposes of the conventional assumption that it is in the faithful
discharge of her home duties that a woman finds her self-respect. The
truth is that family life will never be decent, much less ennobling,
until this central horror of the dependence of women on men is done
away with. At present it reduces the difference between marriage and
prostitution to the difference between Trade Unionism and unorganized
casual labor: a huge difference, no doubt, as to order and comfort, but
not a difference in kind.

However, it is not by any reform of the marriage laws that this can
be dealt with. It is in the general movement for the prevention
of destitution that the means for making women independent of the
compulsory sale of their persons, in marriage or otherwise, will be
found; but meanwhile those who deal specifically with the marriage laws
should never allow themselves for a moment to forget this abomination
that "plucks the rose from the fair forehead of an innocent love,
and sets a blister there," and then calmly calls itself purity, home,
motherhood, respectability, honor, decency, and any other fine name
that happens to be convenient, not to mention the foul epithets it hurls
freely at those who are ashamed of it.


Unfortunately it is very hard to make an average citizen take impersonal
views of any sort in matters affecting personal comfort or conduct. We
may be enthusiastic Liberals or Conservatives without any hope of seats
in Parliament, knighthoods, or posts in the Government, because party
politics do not make the slightest difference in our daily lives and
therefore cost us nothing. But to take a vital process in which we are
keenly interested personal instruments, and ask us to regard it, and
feel about it, and legislate on it, wholly as if it were an impersonal
one, is to make a higher demand than most people seem capable of
responding to. We all have personal interests in marriage which we are
not prepared to sink. It is not only the women who want to get married:
the men do too, sometimes on sentimental grounds, sometimes on the
more sordid calculation that bachelor life is less comfortable and more
expensive, since a wife pays for her status with domestic service as
well as with the other services expected of her. Now that children are
avoidable, this calculation is becoming more common and conscious than
it was: a result which is regarded as "a steady improvement in general


There is, too, a really appalling prevalence of the superstition that
the sexual instinct in men is utterly promiscuous, and that the
least relaxation of law and custom must produce a wild outbreak of
licentiousness. As far as our moralists can grasp the proposition that
we should deal with the sexual relation as impersonal, it seems to
them to mean that we should encourage it to be promiscuous: hence their
recoil from it. But promiscuity and impersonality are not the same
thing. No man ever fell in love with the entire female sex, nor any
woman with the entire male sex. We often do not fall in love at all;
and when we do we fall in love with one person and remain indifferent
to thousands of others who pass before our eyes every day. Selection,
carried even to such fastidiousness as to induce people to say quite
commonly that there is only one man or woman in the world for them, is
the rule in nature. If anyone doubts this, let him open a shop for the
sale of picture postcards, and, when an enamoured lady customer demands
a portrait of her favorite actor or a gentleman of his favorite actress,
try to substitute some other portrait on the ground that since the
sexual instinct is promiscuous, one portrait is as pleasing as another.
I suppose no shopkeeper has ever been foolish enough to do such a thing;
and yet all our shopkeepers, the moment a discussion arises on marriage,
will passionately argue against all reform on the ground that nothing
but the most severe coercion can save their wives and daughters from
quite indiscriminate rapine.


Our relief at the morality of the reassurance that man is not
promiscuous in his fancies must not blind us to the fact that he is (to
use the word coined by certain American writers to describe themselves)
something of a Varietist. Even those who say there is only one man or
woman in the world for them, find that it is not always the same man or
woman. It happens that our law permits us to study this phenomenon among
entirely law-abiding people. I know one lady who has been married five
times. She is, as might be expected, a wise, attractive, and interesting
woman. The question is, is she wise, attractive, and interesting because
she has been married five times, or has she been married five times
because she is wise, attractive, and interesting? Probably some of the
truth lies both ways. I also know of a household consisting of three
families, A having married first B, and then C, who afterwards married
D. All three unions were fruitful; so that the children had a change
both of fathers and mothers. Now I cannot honestly say that these and
similar cases have convinced me that people are the worse for a change.
The lady who has married and managed five husbands must be much
more expert at it than most monogamic ladies; and as a companion and
counsellor she probably leaves them nowhere. Mr Kipling's question,

"What can they know of England that only England know?"

disposes not only of the patriots who are so patriotic that they never
leave their own country to look at another, but of the citizens who are
so domestic that they have never married again and never loved anyone
except their own husbands and wives. The domestic doctrinaires are
also the dull people. The impersonal relation of sex may be judicially
reserved for one person; but any such reservation of friendship,
affection, admiration, sympathy and so forth is only possible to
a wretchedly narrow and jealous nature; and neither history nor
contemporary society shews us a single amiable and respectable character
capable of it. This has always been recognized in cultivated society:
that is why poor people accuse cultivated society of profligacy, poor
people being often so ignorant and uncultivated that they have nothing
to offer each other but the sex relationship, and cannot conceive why
men and women should associate for any other purpose.

As to the children of the triple household, they were not only on
excellent terms with one another, and never thought of any distinction
between their full and their half brothers and sisters; but they had
the superior sociability which distinguishes the people who live in
communities from those who live in small families.

The inference is that changes of partners are not in themselves
injurious or undesirable. People are not demoralized by them when they
are effected according to law. Therefore we need not hesitate to alter
the law merely because the alteration would make such changes easier.


On the other hand, we have all seen the bonds of marriage vilely abused
by people who are never classed with shrews and wife-beaters: they are
indeed sometimes held up as models of domesticity because they do
not drink nor gamble nor neglect their children nor tolerate dirt and
untidiness, and because they are not amiable enough to have what
are called amiable weaknesses. These terrors conceive marriage as a
dispensation from all the common civilities and delicacies which they
have to observe among strangers, or, as they put it, "before company."
And here the effects of indissoluble marriage-for-better-for-worse are
very plainly and disagreeably seen. If such people took their domestic
manners into general society, they would very soon find themselves
without a friend or even an acquaintance in the world. There are women
who, through total disuse, have lost the power of kindly human speech
and can only scold and complain: there are men who grumble and nag from
inveterate habit even when they are comfortable. But their unfortunate
spouses and children cannot escape from them.


What is more, they are protected from even such discomfort as the
dislike of his prisoners may cause to a gaoler by the hypnotism of the
convention that the natural relation between husband and wife and
parent and child is one of intense affection, and that to feel any other
sentiment towards a member of one's family is to be a monster. Under the
influence of the emotion thus manufactured the most detestable people
are spoilt with entirely undeserved deference, obedience, and even
affection whilst they live, and mourned when they die by those whose
lives they wantonly or maliciously made miserable. And this is what we
call natural conduct. Nothing could well be less natural. That such a
convention should have been established shews that the indissolubility
of marriage creates such intolerable situations that only by beglamoring
the human imagination with a hypnotic suggestion of wholly unnatural
feelings can it be made to keep up appearances.

If the sentimental theory of family relationship encourages bad manners
and personal slovenliness and uncleanness in the home, it also, in
the case of sentimental people, encourages the practice of rousing
and playing on the affections of children prematurely and far too
frequently. The lady who says that as her religion is love, her children
shall be brought up in an atmosphere of love, and institutes a system of
sedulous endearments and exchanges of presents and conscious and studied
acts of artificial kindness, may be defeated in a large family by the
healthy derision and rebellion of children who have acquired hardihood
and common sense in their conflicts with one another. But the small
families, which are the rule just now, succumb more easily; and in
the case of a single sensitive child the effect of being forced in a
hothouse atmosphere of unnatural affection may be disastrous.

In short, whichever way you take it, the convention that marriage and
family relationship produces special feelings which alter the nature of
human intercourse is a mischievous one. The whole difficulty of bringing
up a family well is the difficulty of making its members behave as
considerately at home as on a visit in a strange house, and as frankly,
kindly, and easily in a strange house as at home. In the middle classes,
where the segregation of the artificially limited family in its little
brick box is horribly complete, bad manners, ugly dresses, awkwardness,
cowardice, peevishness, and all the petty vices of unsociability
flourish like mushrooms in a cellar. In the upper class, where families
are not limited for money reasons; where at least two houses and
sometimes three or four are the rule (not to mention the clubs); where
there is travelling and hotel life; and where the men are brought up,
not in the family, but in public schools, universities, and the naval
and military services, besides being constantly in social training in
other people's houses, the result is to produce what may be called, in
comparison with the middle class, something that might almost pass as a
different and much more sociable species. And in the very poorest class,
where people have no homes, only sleeping places, and consequently
live practically in the streets, sociability again appears, leaving
the middle class despised and disliked for its helpless and offensive
unsociability as much by those below it as those above it, and yet
ignorant enough to be proud of it, and to hold itself up as a model
for the reform of the (as it considers) elegantly vicious rich and
profligate poor alike.


Without pretending to exhaust the subject, I have said enough to make
it clear that the moment we lose the desire to defend our present
matrimonial and family arrangements, there will be no difficulty in
making out an overwhelming case against them. No doubt until then we
shall continue to hold up the British home as the Holy of Holies in the
temple of honorable motherhood, innocent childhood, manly virtue, and
sweet and wholesome national life. But with a clever turn of the hand
this holy of holies can be exposed as an Augean stable, so filthy that
it would seem more hopeful to burn it down than to attempt to sweep
it out. And this latter view will perhaps prevail if the idolaters of
marriage persist in refusing all proposals for reform and treating those
who advocate it as infamous delinquents. Neither view is of any use
except as a poisoned arrow in a fierce fight between two parties
determined to discredit each other with a view to obtaining powers of
legal coercion over one another.


The best way to avert such a struggle is to open the eyes of the
thoughtlessly conventional people to the weakness of their position in a
mere contest of recrimination. Hitherto they have assumed that they
have the advantage of coming into the field without a stain on their
characters to combat libertines who have no character at all. They
conceive it to be their duty to throw mud; and they feel that even if
the enemy can find any mud to throw, none of it will stick. They are
mistaken. There will be plenty of that sort of ammunition in the other
camp; and most of it will stick very hard indeed. The moral is, do not
throw any. If we can imagine Shelley and Queen Victoria arguing out
their differences in another world, we may be sure that the Queen has
long ago found that she cannot settle the question by classing Shelley
with George IV. as a bad man; and Shelley is not likely to have called
her vile names on the general ground that as the economic dependence of
women makes marriage a money bargain in which the man is the purchaser
and the woman the purchased, there is no essential difference between
a married woman and the woman of the streets. Unfortunately, all the
people whose methods of controversy are represented by our popular
newspapers are not Queen Victorias and Shelleys. A great mass of them,
when their prejudices are challenged, have no other impulse than to call
the challenger names, and, when the crowd seems to be on their side, to
maltreat him personally or hand him over to the law, if he is vulnerable
to it. Therefore I cannot say that I have any certainty that the
marriage question will be dealt with decently and tolerantly. But dealt
with it will be, decently or indecently; for the present state of things
in England is too strained and mischievous to last. Europe and America
have left us a century behind in this matter.


The political emancipation of women is likely to lead to a comparatively
stringent enforcement by law of sexual morality (that is why so many of
us dread it); and this will soon compel us to consider what our sexual
morality shall be. At present a ridiculous distinction is made between
vice and crime, in order that men may be vicious with impunity.
Adultery, for instance, though it is sometimes fiercely punished by
giving an injured husband crushing damages in a divorce suit (injured
wives are not considered in this way), is not now directly prosecuted;
and this impunity extends to illicit relations between unmarried persons
who have reached what is called the age of consent. There are other
matters, such as notification of contagious disease and solicitation,
in which the hand of the law has been brought down on one sex only.
Outrages which were capital offences within the memory of persons still
living when committed on women outside marriage, can still be inflicted
by men on their wives without legal remedy. At all such points the code
will be screwed up by the operation of Votes for Women, if there be any
virtue in the franchise at all. The result will be that men will find
the more ascetic side of our sexual morality taken seriously by the law.
It is easy to foresee the consequences. No man will take much trouble
to alter laws which he can evade, or which are either not enforced or
enforced on women only. But when these laws take him by the collar and
thrust him into prison, he suddenly becomes keenly critical of them, and
of the arguments by which they are supported. Now we have seen that our
marriage laws will not stand criticism, and that they have held out
so far only because they are so worked as to fit roughly our state of
society, in which women are neither politically nor personally free, in
which indeed women are called womanly only when they regard themselves
as existing solely for the use of men. When Liberalism enfranchises them
politically, and Socialism emancipates them economically, they will no
longer allow the law to take immorality so easily. Both men and women
will be forced to behave morally in sex matters; and when they find that
this is inevitable they will raise the question of what behavior really
should be established as moral. If they decide in favor of our present
professed morality they will have to make a revolutionary change
in their habits by becoming in fact what they only pretend to be
at present. If, on the other hand, they find that this would be
an unbearable tyranny, without even the excuse of justice or sound
eugenics, they will reconsider their morality and remodel the law.


Monogamy has a sentimental basis which is quite distinct from the
political one of equal numbers of the sexes. Equal numbers in the sexes
are quite compatible with a change of partners every day or every
hour Physically there is nothing to distinguish human society from the
farm-yard except that children are more troublesome and costly than
chickens and calves, and that men and women are not so completely
enslaved as farm stock. Accordingly, the people whose conception of
marriage is a farm-yard or slave-quarter conception are always more
or less in a panic lest the slightest relaxation of the marriage laws
should utterly demoralize society; whilst those to whom marriage is a
matter of more highly evolved sentiments and needs (sometimes said to
be distinctively human, though birds and animals in a state of freedom
evince them quite as touchingly as we) are much more liberal, knowing as
they do that monogamy will take care of itself provided the parties are
free enough, and that promiscuity is a product of slavery and not of

The solid foundation of their confidence is the fact that the
relationship set up by a comfortable marriage is so intimate and so
persuasive of the whole life of the parties to it, that nobody has room
in his or her life for more than one such relationship at a time. What
is called a household of three is never really of three except in the
sense that every household becomes a household of three when a child is
born, and may in the same way become a household of four or fourteen
if the union be fertile enough. Now no doubt the marriage tie means so
little to some people that the addition to the household of half a dozen
more wives or husbands would be as possible as the addition of half a
dozen governesses or tutors or visitors or servants. A Sultan may have
fifty wives as easily as he may have fifty dishes on his table, because
in the English sense he has no wives at all; nor have his wives any
husband: in short, he is not what we call a married man. And there are
sultans and sultanas and seraglios existing in England under English
forms. But when you come to the real modern marriage of sentiment, a
relation is created which has never to my knowledge been shared by three
persons except when all three have been extraordinarily fond of one
another. Take for example the famous case of Nelson and Sir William and
Lady Hamilton. The secret of this household of three was not only that
both the husband and Nelson were devoted to Lady Hamilton, but that they
were also apparently devoted to one another. When Hamilton died both
Nelson and Emma seem to have been equally heartbroken. When there is a
successful household of one man and two women the same unusual condition
is fulfilled: the two women not only cannot live happily without the man
but cannot live happily without each other. In every other case known
to me, either from observation or record, the experiment is a hopeless
failure: one of the two rivals for the really intimate affection of the
third inevitably drives out the other. The driven-out party may accept
the situation and remain in the house as a friend to save appearances,
or for the sake of the children, or for economic reasons; but such an
arrangement can subsist only when the forfeited relation is no longer
really valued; and this indifference, like the triple bond of affection
which carried Sir William Hamilton through, is so rare as to be
practicably negligible in the establishment of a conventional morality
of marriage. Therefore sensible and experienced people always assume
that when a declaration of love is made to an already married person,
the declaration binds the parties in honor never to see one another
again unless they contemplate divorce and remarriage. And this is a
sound convention, even for unconventional people. Let me illustrate by
reference to a fictitious case: the one imagined in my own play Candida
will do as well as another. Here a young man who has been received as a
friend into the house of a clergyman falls in love with the clergyman's
wife, and, being young and inexperienced, declares his feelings, and
claims that he, and not the clergyman, is the more suitable mate for
the lady. The clergyman, who has a temper, is first tempted to hurl the
youth into the street by bodily violence: an impulse natural, perhaps,
but vulgar and improper, and, not open, on consideration, to decent men.
Even coarse and inconsiderate men are restrained from it by the fact
that the sympathy of the woman turns naturally to the victim of physical
brutality and against the bully, the Thackerayan notion to the contrary
being one of the illusions of literary masculinity. Besides, the husband
is not necessarily the stronger man: an appeal to force has resulted
in the ignominious defeat of the husband quite as often as in poetic
justice as conceived in the conventional novelet. What an honorable and
sensible man does when his household is invaded is what the Reverend
James Mavor Morell does in my play. He recognizes that just as there is
not room for two women in that sacredly intimate relation of sentimental
domesticity which is what marriage means to him, so there is no room
for two men in that relation with his wife; and he accordingly tells
her firmly that she must choose which man will occupy the place that is
large enough for one only. He is so far shrewdly unconventional as to
recognize that if she chooses the other man, he must give way, legal tie
or no legal tie; but he knows that either one or the other must go. And
a sensible wife would act in the same way. If a romantic young lady came
into her house and proposed to adore her husband on a tolerated footing,
she would say "My husband has not room in his life for two wives: either
you go out of the house or I go out of it." The situation is not at
all unlikely: I had almost said not at all unusual. Young ladies and
gentlemen in the greensickly condition which is called calf-love,
associating with married couples at dangerous periods of mature life,
quite often find themselves in it; and the extreme reluctance of proud
and sensitive people to avoid any assertion of matrimonial rights, or to
condescend to jealousy, sometimes makes the threatened husband or wife
hesitate to take prompt steps and do the apparently conventional thing.
But whether they hesitate or act the result is always the same. In a
real marriage of sentiment the wife or husband cannot be supplanted by
halves; and such a marriage will break very soon under the strain of
polygyny or polyandry. What we want at present is a sufficiently clear
teaching of this fact to ensure that prompt and decisive action shall
always be taken in such cases without any false shame of seeming
conventional (a shame to which people capable of such real marriage
are specially susceptible), and a rational divorce law to enable
the marriage to be dissolved and the parties honorably resorted and
recoupled without disgrace and scandal if that should prove the proper

It must be repeated here that no law, however stringent, can prevent
polygamy among groups of people who choose to live loosely and be
monogamous only in appearance. But such cases are not now under
consideration. Also, affectionate husbands like Samuel Pepys, and
affectionate wives of the corresponding temperaments may, it appears,
engage in transient casual adventures out of doors without breaking
up their home life. But within doors that home life may be regarded as
naturally monogamous. It does not need to be protected against polygamy:
it protects itself.


All this has an important bearing on the question of divorce. Divorce
reformers are so much preoccupied with the injustice of forbidding a
woman to divorce her husband for unfaithfulness to his marriage vow,
whilst allowing him that power over her, that they are apt to overlook
the pressing need for admitting other and far more important grounds for
divorce. If we take a document like Pepys' Diary, we learn that a woman
may have an incorrigibly unfaithful husband, and yet be much better off
than if she had an ill-tempered, peevish, maliciously sarcastic one,
or was chained for life to a criminal, a drunkard, a lunatic, an idle
vagrant, or a person whose religious faith was contrary to her own.
Imagine being married to a liar, a borrower, a mischief maker, a teaser
or tormentor of children and animals, or even simply to a bore! Conceive
yourself tied for life to one of the perfectly "faithful" husbands who
are sentenced to a month's imprisonment occasionally for idly leaving
their wives in childbirth without food, fire, or attendance! What woman
would not rather marry ten Pepyses? what man a dozen Nell Gwynnes?
Adultery, far from being the first and only ground for divorce, might
more reasonably be made the last, or wholly excluded. The present law is
perfectly logical only if you once admit (as no decent person ever does)
its fundamental assumption that there can be no companionship between
men and women because the woman has a "sphere" of her own, that of
housekeeping, in which the man must not meddle, whilst he has all the
rest of human activity for his sphere: the only point at which the
two spheres touch being that of replenishing the population. On this
assumption the man naturally asks for a guarantee that the children
shall be his because he has to find the money to support them. The power
of divorcing a woman for adultery is this guarantee, a guarantee that
she does not need to protect her against a similar imposture on his
part, because he cannot bear children. No doubt he can spend the
money that ought to be spent on her children on another woman and her
children; but this is desertion, which is a separate matter. The
fact for us to seize is that in the eye of the law, adultery without
consequences is merely a sentimental grievance, whereas the planting
on one man of another man's offspring is a substantial one. And so, no
doubt, it is; but the day has gone by for basing laws on the assumption
that a woman is less to a man than his dog, and thereby encouraging and
accepting the standards of the husbands who buy meat for their bull-pups
and leave their wives and children hungry. That basis is the penalty we
pay for having borrowed our religion from the East, instead of building
up a religion of our own out of our western inspiration and western
sentiment. The result is that we all believe that our religion is on its
last legs, whereas the truth is that it is not yet born, though the age
walks visibly pregnant with it. Meanwhile, as women are dragged down by
their oriental servitude to our men, and as, further, women drag down
those who degrade them quite as effectually as men do, there are moments
when it is difficult to see anything in our sex institutions except a
police des moeurs keeping the field for a competition as to which sex
shall corrupt the other most.


Any tolerable western divorce law must put the sentimental grievances
first, and should carefully avoid singling out any ground of divorce in
such a way as to create a convention that persons having that ground are
bound in honor to avail themselves of it. It is generally admitted that
people should not be encouraged to petition for a divorce in a fit of
petulance. What is not so clearly seen is that neither should they be
encouraged to petition in a fit of jealousy, which is certainly the most
detestable and mischievous of all the passions that enjoy public credit.
Still less should people who are not jealous be urged to behave as if
they were jealous, and to enter upon duels and divorce suits in which
they have no desire to be successful. There should be no publication of
the grounds on which a divorce is sought or granted; and as this would
abolish the only means the public now has of ascertaining that every
possible effort has been made to keep the couple united against their
wills, such privacy will only be tolerated when we at last admit that
the sole and sufficient reason why people should be granted a divorce is
that they want one. Then there will be no more reports of divorce
cases, no more letters read in court with an indelicacy that makes
every sensitive person shudder and recoil as from a profanation, no more
washing of household linen, dirty or clean, in public. We must learn
in these matters to mind our own business and not impose our individual
notions of propriety on one another, even if it carries us to the length
of openly admitting what we are now compelled to assume silently, that
every human being has a right to sexual experience, and that the law is
concerned only with parentage, which is now a separate matter.


The one question that should never be put to a petitioner for divorce
is "Why?" When a man appeals to a magistrate for protection from someone
who threatens to kill him, on the simple ground that he desires to live,
the magistrate might quite reasonably ask him why he desires to live,
and why the person who wishes to kill him should not be gratified. Also
whether he can prove that his life is a pleasure to himself or a benefit
to anyone else, and whether it is good for him to be encouraged to
exaggerate the importance of his short span in this vale of tears rather
than to keep himself constantly ready to meet his God.

The only reason for not raising these very weighty points is that we
find society unworkable except on the assumption that every man has a
natural right to live. Nothing short of his own refusal to respect that
right in others can reconcile the community to killing him. From this
fundamental right many others are derived. The American Constitution,
one of the few modern political documents drawn up by men who were
forced by the sternest circumstances to think out what they really had
to face instead of chopping logic in a university classroom, specifies
"liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as natural rights. The terms are
too vague to be of much practical use; for the supreme right to life,
extended as it now must be to the life of the race, and to the quality
of life as well as to the mere fact of breathing, is making short work
of many ancient liberties, and exposing the pursuit of happiness as
perhaps the most miserable of human occupations. Nevertheless, the
American Constitution roughly expresses the conditions to which modern
democracy commits us. To impose marriage on two unmarried people who
do not desire to marry one another would be admittedly an act of
enslavement. But it is no worse than to impose a continuation of
marriage on people who have ceased to desire to be married. It will
be said that the parties may not agree on that; that one may desire
to maintain the marriage the other wishes to dissolve. But the same
hardship arises whenever a man in love proposes marriage to a woman and
is refused. The refusal is so painful to him that he often threatens to
kill himself and sometimes even does it. Yet we expect him to face his
ill luck, and never dream of forcing the woman to accept him. His case
is the same as that of the husband whose wife tells him she no longer
cares for him, and desires the marriage to be dissolved. You will
say, perhaps, if you are superstitious, that it is not the same--that
marriage makes a difference. You are wrong: there is no magic in
marriage. If there were, married couples would never desire to separate.
But they do. And when they do, it is simple slavery to compel them to
remain together.


The husband, then, is to be allowed to discard his wife when he is tired
of her, and the wife the husband when another man strikes her fancy?
One must reply unhesitatingly in the affirmative; for if we are to
deny every proposition that can be stated in offensive terms by its
opponents, we shall never be able to affirm anything at all. But the
question reminds us that until the economic independence of women is
achieved, we shall have to remain impaled on the other horn of the
dilemma and maintain marriage as a slavery. And here let me ask the
Government of the day (1910) a question with regard to the Labor
Exchanges it has very wisely established throughout the country. What do
these Exchanges do when a woman enters and states that her occupation is
that of a wife and mother; that she is out of a job; and that she wants
an employer? If the Exchanges refuse to entertain her application, they
are clearly excluding nearly the whole female sex from the benefit of
the Act. If not, they must become matrimonial agencies, unless, indeed,
they are prepared to become something worse by putting the woman down as
a housekeeper and introducing her to an employer without making marriage
a condition of the hiring.


Suppose, again, a woman presents herself at the Labor Exchange, and
states her trade as that of a White Slave, meaning the unmentionable
trade pursued by many thousands of women in all civilized cities. Will
the Labor Exchange find employers for her? If not, what will it do with
her? If it throws her back destitute and unhelped on the streets to
starve, it might as well not exist as far as she is concerned; and the
problem of unemployment remains unsolved at its most painful point. Yet
if it finds honest employment for her and for all the unemployed wives
and mothers, it must find new places in the world for women; and in so
doing it must achieve for them economic independence of men. And when
this is done, can we feel sure that any woman will consent to be a wife
and mother (not to mention the less respectable alternative) unless her
position is made as eligible as that of the women for whom the Labor
Exchanges are finding independent work? Will not many women now engaged
in domestic work under circumstances which make it repugnant to them,
abandon it and seek employment under other circumstances? As unhappiness
in marriage is almost the only discomfort sufficiently irksome to
induce a woman to break up her home, and economic dependence the
only compulsion sufficiently stringent to force her to endure such
unhappiness, the solution of the problem of finding independent
employment for women may cause a great number of childless unhappy
marriages to break up spontaneously, whether the marriage laws are
altered or not. And here we must extend the term childless marriages to
cover households in which the children have grown up and gone their own
way, leaving the parents alone together: a point at which many worthy
couples discover for the first time that they have long since lost
interest in one another, and have been united only by a common interest
in their children. We may expect, then, that marriages which are
maintained by economic pressure alone will dissolve when that pressure
is removed; and as all the parties to them will certainly not accept a
celibate life, the law must sanction the dissolution in order to prevent
a recurrence of the scandal which has moved the Government to appoint
the Commission now sitting to investigate the marriage question: the
scandal, that is, of a great number matter of the evils of our
marriage law, to take care of the pence and let the pounds take care of
themselves. The crimes and diseases of marriage will force themselves
on public attention by their own virulence. I mention them here only
because they reveal certain habits of thought and feeling with regard to
marriage of which we must rid ourselves if we are to act sensibly when
we take the necessary reforms in hand.


First among these is the habit of allowing ourselves to be bound not
only by the truths of the Christian religion but by the excesses and
extravagances which the Christian movement acquired in its earlier days
as a violent reaction against what it still calls paganism. By far the
most dangerous of these, because it is a blasphemy against life, and,
to put it in Christian terms, an accusation of indecency against God, is
the notion that sex, with all its operations, is in itself absolutely
an obscene thing, and that an immaculate conception is a miracle.
So unwholesome an absurdity could only have gained ground under two
conditions: one, a reaction against a society in which sensual luxury
had been carried to revolting extremes, and, two, a belief that the
world was coming to an end, and that therefore sex was no longer a
necessity. Christianity, because it began under these conditions,
made sexlessness and Communism the two main practical articles of its
propaganda; and it has never quite lost its original bias in these
directions. In spite of the putting off of the Second Coming from
the lifetime of the apostles to the millennium, and of the great
disappointment of the year 1000 A.D., in which multitudes of Christians
seriously prepared for the end of the world, the prophet who announces
that the end is at hand is still popular. Many of the people who
ridicule his demonstrations that the fantastic monsters of the book
of Revelation are among us in the persons of our own political
contemporaries, and who proceed sanely in all their affairs on the
assumption that the world is going to last, really do believe that there
will be a Judgment Day, and that it MIGHT even be in their own time.
A thunderstorm, an eclipse, or any very unusual weather will make them
apprehensive and uncomfortable.

This explains why, for a long time, the Christian Church refused to have
anything to do with marriage. The result was, not the abolition of sex,
but its excommunication. And, of course, the consequences of persuading
people that matrimony was an unholy state were so grossly carnal, that
the Church had to execute a complete right-about-face, and try to make
people understand that it was a holy state: so holy indeed that it could
not be validly inaugurated without the blessing of the Church. And by
this teaching it did something to atone for its earlier blasphemy. But
the mischief of chopping and changing your doctrine to meet this or that
practical emergency instead of keeping it adjusted to the whole scheme
of life, is that you end by having half-a-dozen contradictory doctrines
to suit half-a-dozen different emergencies. The Church solemnized and
sanctified marriage without ever giving up its original Pauline doctrine
on the subject. And it soon fell into another confusion. At the point at
which it took up marriage and endeavored to make it holy, marriage was,
as it still is, largely a survival of the custom of selling women to
men. Now in all trades a marked difference is made in price between
a new article and a second-hand one. The moment we meet with this
difference in value between human beings, we may know that we are in the
slave-market, where the conception of our relations to the persons sold
is neither religious nor natural nor human nor superhuman, but simply
commercial. The Church, when it finally gave its blessing to marriage,
did not, in its innocence, fathom these commercial traditions.
Consequently it tried to sanctify them too, with grotesque results. The
slave-dealer having always asked more money for virginity, the Church,
instead of detecting the money-changer and driving him out of the
temple, took him for a sentimental and chivalrous lover, and, helped by
its only half-discarded doctrine of celibacy, gave virginity a heavenly
value to ennoble its commercial pretensions. In short, Mammon, always
mighty, put the Church in his pocket, where he keeps it to this day,
in spite of the occasional saints and martyrs who contrive from time to
time to get their heads and souls free to testify against him.


But Mammon overreached himself when he tried to impose his doctrine
of inalienable property on the Church under the guise of indissoluble
marriage. For the Church tried to shelter this inhuman doctrine and
flat contradiction of the gospel by claiming, and rightly claiming,
that marriage is a sacrament. So it is; but that is exactly what makes
divorce a duty when the marriage has lost the inward and spiritual grace
of which the marriage ceremony is the outward and visible sign. In vain
do bishops stoop to pick up the discarded arguments of the atheists of
fifty years ago by pleading that the words of Jesus were in an obscure
Aramaic dialect, and were probably misunderstood, as Jesus, they think,
could not have said anything a bishop would disapprove of. Unless they
are prepared to add that the statement that those who take the sacrament
with their lips but not with their hearts eat and drink their own
damnation is also a mistranslation from the Aramaic, they are most
solemnly bound to shield marriage from profanation, not merely by
permitting divorce, but by making it compulsory in certain cases as the
Chinese do.

When the great protest of the XVI century came, and the Church was
reformed in several countries, the Reformation was so largely
a rebellion against sacerdotalism that marriage was very nearly
excommunicated again: our modern civil marriage, round which so many
fierce controversies and political conflicts have raged, would have been
thoroughly approved of by Calvin, and hailed with relief by Luther. But
the instinctive doctrine that there is something holy and mystic in
sex, a doctrine which many of us now easily dissociate from any priestly
ceremony, but which in those days seemed to all who felt it to need a
ritual affirmation, could not be thrown on the scrap-heap with the sale
of Indulgences and the like; and so the Reformation left marriage where
it was: a curious mixture of commercial sex slavery, early Christian sex
abhorrence, and later Christian sex sanctification.


How strong was the feeling that a husband or a wife is an article of
property, greatly depreciated in value at second-hand, and not to be
used or touched by any person but the proprietor, may be learnt from
Shakespear. His most infatuated and passionate lovers are Antony and
Othello; yet both of them betray the commercial and proprietary
instinct the moment they lose their tempers. "I found you," says Antony,
reproaching Cleopatra, "as a morsel cold upon dead Caesar's trencher."
Othello's worst agony is the thought of "keeping a corner in the thing
he loves for others' uses." But this is not what a man feels about the
thing he loves, but about the thing he owns. I never understood the full
significance of Othello's outburst until I one day heard a lady, in
the course of a private discussion as to the feasibility of "group
marriage," say with cold disgust that she would as soon think of lending
her toothbrush to another woman as her husband. The sense of outraged
manhood with which I felt myself and all other husbands thus reduced to
the rank of a toilet appliance gave me a very unpleasant taste of what
Desdemona might have felt had she overheard Othello's outburst. I was so
dumfounded that I had not the presence of mind to ask the lady whether
she insisted on having a doctor, a nurse, a dentist, and even a priest
and solicitor all to herself as well. But I had too often heard men
speak of women as if they were mere personal conveniences to feel
surprised that exactly the same view is held, only more fastidiously, by

All these views must be got rid of before we can have any healthy
public opinion (on which depends our having a healthy population) on
the subject of sex, and consequently of marriage. Whilst the subject is
considered shameful and sinful we shall have no systematic instruction
in sexual hygiene, because such lectures as are given in Germany,
France, and even prudish America (where the great Miltonic tradition
in this matter still lives) will be considered a corruption of that
youthful innocence which now subsists on nasty stories and whispered
traditions handed down from generation to generation of school-children:
stories and traditions which conceal nothing of sex but its dignity, its
honor, its sacredness, its rank as the first necessity of society and
the deepest concern of the nation. We shall continue to maintain the
White Slave Trade and protect its exploiters by, on the one hand,
tolerating the white slave as the necessary breakwater of marriage; and,
on the other, trampling on her and degrading her until she has nothing
to hope from our Courts; and so, with policemen at every corner, and law
triumphant all over Europe, she will still be smuggled and cattle-driven
from one end of the civilized world to the other, cheated, beaten,
bullied, and hunted into the streets to disgusting overwork, without
daring to utter the cry for help that brings, not rescue, but exposure
and infamy, yet revenging herself terribly in the end by scattering
blindness and sterility, pain and disfigurement, insanity and death
among us with the certainty that we are much too pious and genteel to
allow such things to be mentioned with a view to saving either her or
ourselves from them. And all the time we shall keep enthusiastically
investing her trade with every allurement that the art of the novelist,
the playwright, the dancer, the milliner, the painter, the limelight
man, and the sentimental poet can devize, after which we shall continue
to be very much shocked and surprised when the cry of the youth, of the
young wife, of the mother, of the infected nurse, and of all the other
victims, direct and indirect, arises with its invariable refrain: "Why
did nobody warn me?"


I must not reply flippantly, Make them all Wards in Chancery; yet that
would be enough to put any sensible person on the track of the reply.
One would think, to hear the way in which people sometimes ask the
question, that not only does marriage prevent the difficulty from ever
arising, but that nothing except divorce can ever raise it. It is true
that if you divorce the parents, the children have to be disposed
of. But if you hang the parents, or imprison the parents, or take the
children out of the custody of the parents because they hold Shelley's
opinions, or if the parents die, the same difficulty arises. And as
these things have happened again and again, and as we have had plenty of
experience of divorce decrees and separation orders, the attempt to
use children as an obstacle to divorce is hardly worth arguing with. We
shall deal with the children just as we should deal with them if their
homes were broken up by any other cause. There is a sense in which
children are a real obstacle to divorce: they give parents a common
interest which keeps together many a couple who, if childless, would
separate. The marriage law is superfluous in such cases. This is shewn
by the fact that the proportion of childless divorces is much larger
than the proportion of divorces from all causes. But it must not be
forgotten that the interest of the children forms one of the most
powerful arguments for divorce. An unhappy household is a bad nursery.
There is something to be said for the polygynous or polyandrous
household as a school for children: children really do suffer from
having too few parents: this is why uncles and aunts and tutors
and governesses are often so good for children. But it is just the
polygamous household which our marriage law allows to be broken up, and
which, as we have seen, is not possible as a typical institution in
a democratic country where the numbers of the sexes are about equal.
Therefore polygyny and polyandry as a means of educating children fall
to the ground, and with them, I think, must go the opinion which has
been expressed by Gladstone and others, that an extension of divorce,
whilst admitting many new grounds for it, might exclude the ground of
adultery. There are, however, clearly many things that make some of our
domestic interiors little private hells for children (especially
when the children are quite content in them) which would justify any
intelligent State in breaking up the home and giving the custody of the
children either to the parent whose conscience had revolted against the
corruption of the children, or to neither.

Which brings me to the point that divorce should no longer be confined
to cases in which one of the parties petitions for it. If, for instance,
you have a thoroughly rascally couple making a living by infamous means
and bringing up their children to their trade, the king's proctor,
instead of pursuing his present purely mischievous function of
preventing couples from being divorced by proving that they both desire
it, might very well intervene and divorce these children from
their parents. At present, if the Queen herself were to rescue some
unfortunate child from degradation and misery and place her in a
respectable home, and some unmentionable pair of blackguards claimed the
child and proved that they were its father and mother, the child
would be given to them in the name of the sanctity of the home and the
holiness of parentage, after perpetrating which crime the law would
calmly send an education officer to take the child out of the parents'
hands several hours a day in the still more sacred name of compulsory
education. (Of course what would really happen would be that the couple
would blackmail the Queen for their consent to the salvation of the
child, unless, indeed, a hint from a police inspector convinced them
that bad characters cannot always rely on pedantically constitutional
treatment when they come into conflict with persons in high station).

The truth is, not only must the bond between man and wife be made
subject to a reasonable consideration of the welfare of the parties
concerned and of the community, but the whole family bond as well. The
theory that the wife is the property of the husband or the husband of
the wife is not a whit less abhorrent and mischievous than the theory
that the child is the property of the parent. Parental bondage will go
the way of conjugal bondage: indeed the order of reform should rather
be put the other way about; for the helplessness of children has already
compelled the State to intervene between parent and child more than
between husband and wife. If you pay less than 40 pounds a year rent,
you will sometimes feel tempted to say to the vaccination officer, the
school attendance officer, and the sanitary inspector: "Is this child
mine or yours?" The answer is that as the child is a vital part of
the nation, the nation cannot afford to leave it at the irresponsible
disposal of any individual or couple of individuals as a mere small
parcel of private property. The only solid ground that the parent can
take is that as the State, in spite of its imposing name, can, when all
is said, do nothing with the child except place it in the charge of
some human being or another, the parent is no worse a custodian than a
stranger. And though this proposition may seem highly questionable at
first sight to those who imagine that only parents spoil children, yet
those who realize that children are as often spoilt by severity and
coldness as by indulgence, and that the notion that natural parents are
any worse than adopted parents is probably as complete an illusion as
the notion that they are any better, see no serious likelihood that
State action will detach children from their parents more than it does
at present: nay, it is even likely that the present system of taking
the children out of the parents' hands and having the parental duty
performed by officials, will, as poverty and ignorance become the
exception instead of the rule, give way to the system of simply
requiring certain results, beginning with the baby's weight and ending
perhaps with some sort of practical arts degree, but leaving parents and
children to achieve the results as they best may. Such freedom is, of
course, impossible in our present poverty-stricken circumstances. As
long as the masses of our people are too poor to be good parents or good
anything else except beasts of burden, it is no use requiring much more
from them but hewing of wood and drawing of water: whatever is to be
done must be done FOR them mostly, alas! by people whose superiority
is merely technical. Until we abolish poverty it is impossible to push
rational measures of any kind very far: the wolf at the door will compel
us to live in a state of siege and to do everything by a bureaucratic
martial law that would be quite unnecessary and indeed intolerable in a
prosperous community. But however we settle the question, we must make
the parent justify his custody of the child exactly as we should make
a stranger justify it. If a family is not achieving the purposes of a
family it should be dissolved just as a marriage should when it, too, is
not achieving the purposes of marriage. The notion that there is or
ever can be anything magical and inviolable in the legal relations of
domesticity, and the curious confusion of ideas which makes some of our
bishops imagine that in the phrase "Whom God hath joined," the word
God means the district registrar or the Reverend John Smith or William
Jones, must be got rid of. Means of breaking up undesirable families are
as necessary to the preservation of the family as means of dissolving
undesirable marriages are to the preservation of marriage. If our
domestic laws are kept so inhuman that they at last provoke a furious
general insurrection against them as they already provoke many private
ones, we shall in a very literal sense empty the baby out with the bath
by abolishing an institution which needs nothing more than a little
obvious and easy rationalizing to make it not only harmless but
comfortable, honorable, and useful.


But please do not imagine that the evils of indissoluble marriage can
be cured by divorce laws administered on our present plan. The very
cheapest undefended divorce, even when conducted by a solicitor for its
own sake and that of humanity, costs at least 30 pounds out-of-pocket
expenses. To a client on business terms it costs about three times
as much. Until divorce is as cheap as marriage, marriage will remain
indissoluble for all except the handful of people to whom 100 pounds is
a procurable sum. For the enormous majority of us there is no difference
in this respect between a hundred and a quadrillion. Divorce is the one
thing you may not sue for in forma pauperis.

Let me, then, recommend as follows:

1. Make divorce as easy, as cheap, and as private as marriage.

2. Grant divorce at the request of either party, whether the other
consents or not; and admit no other ground than the request, which
should be made without stating any reasons.

3. Confine the power of dissolving marriage for misconduct to the
State acting on the petition of the king's proctor or other suitable
functionary, who may, however, be moved by either party to intervene in
ordinary request cases, not to prevent the divorce taking place, but to
enforce alimony if it be refused and the case is one which needs it.

4. Make it impossible for marriage to be used as a punishment as it
is at present. Send the husband and wife to penal servitude if you
disapprove of their conduct and want to punish them; but do not send
them back to perpetual wedlock.

5. If, on the other hand, you think a couple perfectly innocent and well
conducted, do not condemn them also to perpetual wedlock against their
wills, thereby making the treatment of what you consider innocence on
both sides the same as the treatment of what you consider guilt on both

6. Place the work of a wife and mother on the same footing as other
work: that is, on the footing of labor worthy of its hire; and provide
for unemployment in it exactly as for unemployment in shipbuilding or an
other recognized bread-winning trade.

7. And take and deal with all the consequences of these acts of justice
instead of letting yourself be frightened out of reason and good sense
by fear of consequences. We must finally adapt our institutions to human
nature. In the long run our present plan of trying to force human nature
into a mould of existing abuses, superstitions, and corrupt interests,
produces the explosive forces that wreck civilization.

8. Never forget that if you leave your law to judges and your religion
to bishops, you will presently find yourself without either law or
religion. If you doubt this, ask any decent judge or bishop. Do NOT ask
somebody who does not know what a judge is, or what a bishop is, or
what the law is, or what religion is. In other words, do not ask your
newspaper. Journalists are too poorly paid in this country to know
anything that is fit for publication.


To sum up, we have to depend on the solution of the problem of
unemployment, probably on the principles laid down in the Minority
Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, to make the sexual
relations between men and women decent and honorable by making women
economically independent of men, and (in the younger son section of the
upper classes) men economically independent of women. We also have to
bring ourselves into line with the rest of Protestant civilization by
providing means for dissolving all unhappy, improper, and inconvenient
marriages. And, as it is our cautious custom to lag behind the rest
of the world to see how their experiments in reform turn out before
venturing ourselves, and then take advantage of their experience to get
ahead of them, we should recognize that the ancient system of specifying
grounds for divorce, such as adultery, cruelty, drunkenness, felony,
insanity, vagrancy, neglect to provide for wife and children, desertion,
public defamation, violent temper, religious heterodoxy, contagious
disease, outrages, indignities, personal abuse, "mental anguish,"
conduct rendering life burdensome and so forth (all these are examples
from some code actually in force at present), is a mistake, because the
only effect of compelling people to plead and prove misconduct is that
cases are manufactured and clean linen purposely smirched and washed
in public, to the great distress and disgrace of innocent children
and relatives, whilst the grounds have at the same time to be made so
general that any sort of human conduct may be brought within them by a
little special pleading and a little mental reservation on the part of
witnesses examined on oath. When it conies to "conduct rendering life
burdensome," it is clear that no marriage is any longer indissoluble;
and the sensible thing to do then is to grant divorce whenever it is
desired, without asking why.


By Bernard Shaw



N.B.--There is a point of some technical interest to be noted in this
play. The customary division into acts and scenes has been disused, and
a return made to unity of time and place, as observed in the ancient
Greek drama. In the foregoing tragedy, The Doctor's Dilemma, there are
five acts; the place is altered five times; and the time is spread over
an undetermined period of more than a year. No doubt the strain on the
attention of the audience and on the ingenuity of the playwright is
much less; but I find in practice that the Greek form is inevitable when
drama reaches a certain point in poetic and intellectual evolution.
Its adoption was not, on my part, a deliberate display of virtuosity
in form, but simply the spontaneous falling of a play of ideas into the
form most suitable to it, which turned out to be the classical form.
Getting Married, in several acts and scenes, with the time spread over a
long period, would be impossible.


On a fine morning in the spring of 1908 the Norman kitchen in the Palace
of the Bishop of Chelsea looks very spacious and clean and handsome and

The Bishop is lucky enough to have a XII century palace. The palace
itself has been lucky enough to escape being carved up into XV century
Gothic, or shaved into XVIII century ashlar, or "restored" by a XIX
century builder and a Victorian architect with a deep sense of the
umbrella-like gentlemanliness of XIV century vaulting. The present
occupant, A. Chelsea, unofficially Alfred Bridgenorth, appreciates
Norman work. He has, by adroit complaints of the discomfort of the
place, induced the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to give him some money
to spend on it; and with this he has got rid of the wall papers, the
paint, the partitions, the exquisitely planed and moulded casings with
which the Victorian cabinetmakers enclosed and hid the huge black beams
of hewn oak, and of all other expedients of his predecessors to make
themselves feel at home and respectable in a Norman fortress. It is
a house built to last for ever. The walls and beams are big enough to
carry the tower of Babel, as if the builders, anticipating our modern
ideas and instinctively defying them, had resolved to show how much
material they could lavish on a house built for the glory of God,
instead of keeping a competitive eye on the advantage of sending in the
lowest tender, and scientifically calculating how little material would
be enough to prevent the whole affair from tumbling down by its own

The kitchen is the Bishop's favorite room. This is not at all because
he is a man of humble mind; but because the kitchen is one of the finest
rooms in the house. The Bishop has neither the income nor the appetite
to have his cooking done there. The windows, high up in the wall, look
north and south. The north window is the largest; and if we look into
the kitchen through it we see facing us the south wall with small Norman
windows and an open door near the corner to the left. Through this door
we have a glimpse of the garden, and of a garden chair in the sunshine.
In the right-hand corner is an entrance to a vaulted circular chamber
with a winding stair leading up through a tower to the upper floors of
the palace. In the wall to our right is the immense fireplace, with
its huge spit like a baby crane, and a collection of old iron and brass
instruments which pass as the original furniture of the fire, though
as a matter of fact they have been picked up from time to time by the
Bishop at secondhand shops. In the near end of the left hand wall
a small Norman door gives access to the Bishop's study, formerly a
scullery. Further along, a great oak chest stands against the wall.
Across the middle of the kitchen is a big timber table surrounded by
eleven stout rush-bottomed chairs: four on the far side, three on the
near side, and two at each end. There is a big chair with railed back
and sides on the hearth. On the floor is a drugget of thick fibre
matting. The only other piece of furniture is a clock with a wooden
dial about as large as the bottom of a washtub, the weights, chains, and
pendulum being of corresponding magnitude; but the Bishop has long since
abandoned the attempt to keep it going. It hangs above the oak chest.

The kitchen is occupied at present by the Bishop's lady, Mrs
Bridgenorth, who is talking to Mr William Collins, the greengrocer. He
is in evening dress, though it is early forenoon. Mrs Bridgenorth is a
quiet happy-looking woman of fifty or thereabouts, placid, gentle, and
humorous, with delicate features and fine grey hair with many white
threads. She is dressed as for some festivity; but she is taking things
easily as she sits in the big chair by the hearth, reading The Times.

Collins is an elderly man with a rather youthful waist. His muttonchop
whiskers have a coquettish touch of Dundreary at their lower ends. He is
an affable man, with those perfect manners which can be acquired only
in keeping a shop for the sale of necessaries of life to ladies whose
social position is so unquestionable that they are not anxious about
it. He is a reassuring man, with a vigilant grey eye, and the power of
saying anything he likes to you without offence, because his tone always
implies that he does it with your kind permission. Withal by no
means servile: rather gallant and compassionate, but never without a
conscientious recognition, on public grounds, of social distinctions. He
is at the oak chest counting a pile of napkins.

Mrs Bridgenorth reads placidly: Collins counts: a blackbird sings in
the garden. Mrs Bridgenorth puts The Times down in her lap and considers
Collins for a moment.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Do you never feel nervous on these occasions,

  COLLINS. Lord bless you, no, maam. It would be a joke, after
  marrying five of your daughters, if I was to get nervous over
  marrying the last of them.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. I have always said you were a wonderful man,

  COLLINS [almost blushing] Oh, maam!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Yes. I never could arrange anything--a wedding
  or even dinner--without some hitch or other.

  COLLINS. Why should you give yourself the trouble, maam? Send for
  the greengrocer, maam: thats the secret of easy housekeeping.
  Bless you, it's his business. It pays him and you, let alone the
  pleasure in a house like this [Mrs Bridgenorth bows in
  acknowledgment of the compliment]. They joke about the
  greengrocer, just as they joke about the mother-in-law. But they
  cant get on without both.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. What a bond between us, Collins!

  COLLINS. Bless you, maam, theres all sorts of bonds between all
  sorts of people. You are a very affable lady, maam, for a
  Bishop's lady. I have known Bishop's ladies that would fairly
  provoke you to up and cheek them; but nobody would ever forget
  himself and his place with you, maam.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Collins: you are a flatterer. You will
  superintend the breakfast yourself as usual, of course, wont you?

  COLLINS. Yes, yes, bless you, maam, of course. I always do. Them
  fashionable caterers send down such people as I never did set
  eyes on. Dukes you would take them for. You see the relatives
  shaking hands with them and asking them about the family--
  actually ladies saying "Where have we met before?" and all sorts
  of confusion. Thats my secret in business, maam. You can always
  spot me as the greengrocer. It's a fortune to me in these days,
  when you cant hardly tell who any one is or isnt. [He goes out
  through the tower, and immediately returns for a moment to
  announce] The General, maam.

  Mrs Bridgenorth rises to receive her brother-in-law, who enters
  resplendent in full-dress uniform, with many medals and orders.
  General Bridgenorth is a well set up man of fifty, with large
  brave nostrils, an iron mouth, faithful dog's eyes, and much
  natural simplicity and dignity of character. He is ignorant,
  stupid, and prejudiced, having been carefully trained to be so;
  and it is not always possible to be patient with him when his
  unquestionably good intentions become actively mischievous; but
  one blames society, not himself, for this. He would be no worse a
  man than Collins, had he enjoyed Collins's social opportunities.
  He comes to the hearth, where Mrs Bridgenorth is standing with
  her back to the fireplace.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Good morning, Boxer. [They shake hands]. Another
  niece to give away. This is the last of them.

  THE GENERAL [very gloomy] Yes, Alice. Nothing for the old warrior
  uncle to do but give away brides to luckier men than himself.
  Has--[he chokes] has your sister come yet?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Why do you always call Lesbia my sister? Dont
  you know that it annoys her more than any of the rest of your

  THE GENERAL. Tricks! Ha! Well, I'll try to break myself of it;
  but I think she might bear with me in a little thing like that.
  She knows that her name sticks in my throat. Better call her your
  sister than try to call her L-- [he almost breaks down] L-- well,
  call her by her name and make a fool of myself by crying. [He
  sits down at the near end of the table].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [going to him and rallying him] Oh come, Boxer!
  Really, really! We are no longer boys and girls. You cant keep up
  a broken heart all your life. It must be nearly twenty years
  since she refused you. And you know that it's not because she
  dislikes you, but only that she's not a marrying woman.

  THE GENERAL. It's no use. I love her still. And I cant help
  telling her so whenever we meet, though I know it makes her avoid
  me. [He all but weeps].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. What does she say when you tell her?

  THE GENERAL. Only that she wonders when I am going to grow out of
  it. I know now that I shall never grow out of it.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Perhaps you would if you married her. I
  believe youre better as you are, Boxer.

  THE GENERAL. I'm a miserable man. I'm really sorry to be a
  ridiculous old bore, Alice; but when I come to this house for a
  wedding--to these scenes--to--to recollections of the past--
  always to give the bride to somebody else, and never to have my
  bride given to me--[he rises abruptly] May I go into the garden
  and smoke it off?


  Collins returns with the wedding cake.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Oh, heres the cake. I believe it's the same one
  we had for Florence's wedding.

  THE GENERAL. I cant bear it [he hurries out through the garden

  COLLINS [putting the cake on the table] Well, look at that,
  maam! Aint it odd that after all the weddings he's given away at,
  the General cant stand the sight of a wedding cake yet. It always
  seems to give him the same shock.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Well, it's his last shock. You have married the
  whole family now, Collins. [She takes up The Times again and
  resumes her seat].

  COLLINS. Except your sister, maam. A fine character of a lady,
  maam, is Miss Grantham. I have an ambition to arrange her wedding

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. She wont marry, Collins.

  COLLINS. Bless you, maam, they all say that. You and me said it,
  I'll lay. I did, anyhow.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. No: marriage came natural to me. I should have
  thought it did to you too.

  COLLINS [pensive] No, maam: it didnt come natural. My wife had to
  break me into it. It came natural to her: she's what you might
  call a regular old hen. Always wants to have her family within
  sight of her. Wouldnt go to bed unless she knew they was all safe
  at home and the door locked, and the lights out. Always wants her
  luggage in the carriage with her. Always goes and makes the
  engine driver promise her to be careful. She's a born wife and
  mother, maam. Thats why my children all ran away from home.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Did you ever feel inclined to run away, Collins?

  COLLINS. Oh yes, maam, yes: very often. But when it came to the
  point I couldnt bear to hurt her feelings. Shes a sensitive,
  affectionate, anxious soul; and she was never brought up to know
  what freedom is to some people. You see, family life is all the
  life she knows: she's like a bird born in a cage, that would die
  if you let it loose in the woods. When I thought how little it
  was to a man of my easy temper to put up with her, and how deep
  it would hurt her to think it was because I didnt care for her, I
  always put off running away till next time; and so in the end I
  never ran away at all. I daresay it was good for me to be took
  such care of; but it cut me off from all my old friends something
  dreadful, maam: especially the women, maam. She never gave them a
  chance: she didnt indeed. She never understood that married
  people should take holidays from one another if they are to keep
  at all fresh. Not that I ever got tired of her, maam; but my! how
  I used to get tired of home life sometimes. I used to catch
  myself envying my brother George: I positively did, maam.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. George was a bachelor then, I suppose?

  COLLINS. Bless you, no, maam. He married a very fine figure of a
  woman; but she was that changeable and what you might call
  susceptible, you would not believe. She didnt seem to have any
  control over herself when she fell in love. She would mope for a
  couple of days, crying about nothing; and then she would up and
  say--no matter who was there to hear her--"I must go to him,
  George"; and away she would go from her home and her husband
  without with-your-leave or by-your-leave.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. But do you mean that she did this more than
  once? That she came back?

  COLLINS. Bless you, maam, she done it five times to my own
  knowledge; and then George gave up telling us about it, he got so
  used to it.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. But did he always take her back?

  COLLINS. Well, what could he do, maam? Three times out of four
  the men would bring her back the same evening and no harm done.
  Other times theyd run away from her. What could any man with a
  heart do but comfort her when she came back crying at the way
  they dodged her when she threw herself at their heads, pretending
  they was too noble to accept the sacrifice she was making. George
  told her again and again that if she'd only stay at home and hold
  off a bit theyd be at her feet all day long. She got sensible at
  last and took his advice. George always liked change of company.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. What an odious woman, Collins! Dont you think

  COLLINS [judicially] Well, many ladies with a domestic turn
  thought so and said so, maam. But I will say for Mrs George that
  the variety of experience made her wonderful interesting. Thats
  where the flighty ones score off the steady ones, maam. Look at
  my old woman! She's never known any man but me; and she cant
  properly know me, because she dont know other men to compare me
  with. Of course she knows her parents in--well, in the way one
  does know one's parents not knowing half their lives as you might
  say, or ever thinking that they was ever young; and she knew her
  children as children, and never thought of them as independent
  human beings till they ran away and nigh broke her heart for a
  week or two. But Mrs George she came to know a lot about men of
  all sorts and ages; for the older she got the younger she liked
  em; and it certainly made her interesting, and gave her a lot of
  sense. I have often taken her advice on things when my own poor
  old woman wouldnt have been a bit of use to me.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. I hope you dont tell your wife that you go
  elsewhere for advice.

  COLLINS. Lord bless you, maam, I'm that fond of my old Matilda
  that I never tell her anything at all for fear of hurting her
  feelings. You see, she's such an out-and-out wife and mother that
  she's hardly a responsible human being out of her house, except
  when she's marketing.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Does she approve of Mrs George?

  COLLINS. Oh, Mrs George gets round her. Mrs George can get round
  anybody if she wants to. And then Mrs George is very particular
  about religion. And shes a clairvoyant.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [surprised] A clairvoyant!

  COLLINS [calm] Oh yes, maam, yes. All you have to do is to
  mesmerize her a bit; and off she goes into a trance, and says the
  most wonderful things! not things about herself, but as if it was
  the whole human race giving you a bit of its mind. Oh, wonderful,
  maam, I assure you. You couldnt think of a game that Mrs George
  isnt up to.

  Lesbia Grantham comes in through the tower. She is a tall,
  handsome, slender lady in her prime; that is, between 36 and 55.
  She has what is called a well-bred air, dressing very carefully
  to produce that effect without the least regard for the latest
  fashions, sure of herself, very terrifying to the young and shy,
  fastidious to the ends of her long finger-tips, and tolerant and
  amused rather than sympathetic.

  LESBIA. Good morning, dear big sister.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Good morning, dear little sister. [They kiss].

  LESBIA. Good morning, Collins. How well you are looking! And how
  young! [She turns the middle chair away from the table and sits

  COLLINS. Thats only my professional habit at a wedding, Miss. You
  should see me at a political dinner. I look nigh seventy.
  [Looking at his watch] Time's getting along, maam. May I send up
  word from you to Miss Edith to hurry a bit with her dressing?


  Collins goes out through the tower, taking the cake with him.

  LESBIA. Dear old Collins! Has he told you any stories this

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Yes. You were just late for a particularly
  thrilling invention of his.

  LESBIA. About Mrs George?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Yes. He says she's a clairvoyant.

  LESBIA. I wonder whether he really invented George, or stole her
  out of some book.


  LESBIA. Wheres the Barmecide?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. In the study, working away at his new book. He
  thinks no more now of having a daughter married than of having an
  egg for breakfast.

  The General, soothed by smoking, comes in from the garden.

  THE GENERAL [with resolute bonhomie] Ah, Lesbia!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. How do you do? [They shake hands; and he takes
  the chair on her right].

  Mrs Bridgenorth goes out through the tower.

  LESBIA. How are you, Boxer? You look almost as gorgeous as the
  wedding cake.

  THE GENERAL. I make a point of appearing in uniform whenever I
  take part in any ceremony, as a lesson to the subalterns. It is
  not the custom in England; but it ought to be.

  LESBIA. You look very fine, Boxer. What a frightful lot of
  bravery all these medals must represent!

  THE GENERAL. No, Lesbia. They represent despair and cowardice. I
  won all the early ones by trying to get killed. You know why.

  LESBIA. But you had a charmed life?

  THE GENERAL. Yes, a charmed life. Bayonets bent on my buckles.
  Bullets passed through me and left no trace: thats the worst of
  modern bullets: Ive never been hit by a dum-dum. When I was only
  a company officer I had at least the right to expose myself to
  death in the field. Now I'm a General even that resource is cut
  off. [Persuasively drawing his chair nearer to her] Listen to me,
  Lesbia. For the tenth and last time--

  LESBIA [interrupting] On Florence's wedding morning, two years
  ago, you said "For the ninth and last time."

  THE GENERAL. We are two years older, Lesbia. I'm fifty: you

  LESBIA. Yes, I know. It's no use, Boxer. When will you be old
  enough to take no for an answer?

  THE GENERAL. Never, Lesbia, never. You have never given me a real
  reason for refusing me yet. I once thought it was somebody else.
  There were lots of fellows after you; but now theyve all given it
  up and married. [Bending still nearer to her] Lesbia: tell me
  your secret. Why--

  LESBIA [sniffing disgustedly] Oh! Youve been smoking. [She rises
  and goes to the chair on the hearth] Keep away, you wretch.

  THE GENERAL. But for that pipe, I could not have faced you
  without breaking down. It has soothed me and nerved me.

  LESBIA [sitting down with The Times in her hand] Well, it has
  nerved me to tell you why I'm going to be an old maid.

  THE GENERAL [impulsively approaching her] Dont say that, Lesbia.
  It's not natural: it's not right: it's--

  LESBIA. [fanning him off] No: no closer, Boxer, please. [He
  retreats, discouraged]. It may not be natural; but it happens all
  the time. Youll find plenty of women like me, if you care to look
  for them: women with lots of character and good looks and money
  and offers, who wont and dont get married. Cant you guess why?

  THE GENERAL. I can understand when there is another.

  LESBIA. Yes; but there isnt another. Besides, do you suppose I
  think, at my time of life, that the difference between one decent
  sort of man and another is worth bothering about?

  THE GENERAL. The heart has its preferences, Lesbia. One image,
  and one only, gets indelibly--

  LESBIA. Yes. Excuse my interrupting you so often; but your
  sentiments are so correct that I always know what you are going
  to say before you finish. You see, Boxer, everybody is not like
  you. You are a sentimental noodle: you dont see women as they
  really are. You dont see me as I really am. Now I do see men as
  they really are. I see you as you really are.

  THE GENERAL [murmuring] No: dont say that, Lesbia.

  LESBIA. I'm a regular old maid. I'm very particular about my
  belongings. I like to have my own house, and to have it to
  myself. I have a very keen sense of beauty and fitness and
  cleanliness and order. I am proud of my independence and jealous
  for it. I have a sufficiently well-stocked mind to be very good
  company for myself if I have plenty of books and music. The one
  thing I never could stand is a great lout of a man smoking all
  over my house and going to sleep in his chair after dinner, and
  untidying everything. Ugh!

  THE GENERAL. But love--

  LESBIA. Ob, love! Have you no imagination? Do you think I have
  never been in love with wonderful men? heroes! archangels!
  princes! sages! even fascinating rascals! and had the strangest
  adventures with them? Do you know what it is to look at a mere
  real man after that? a man with his boots in every corner, and
  the smell of his tobacco in every curtain?

  THE GENERAL [somewhat dazed] Well but--excuse my mentioning
  it--dont you want children?

  LESBIA. I ought to have children. I should be a good mother to
  children. I believe it would pay the country very well to pay me
  very well to have children. But the country tells me that I cant
  have a child in my house without a man in it too; so I tell the
  country that it will have to do without my children. If I am to
  be a mother, I really cannot have a man bothering me to be a wife
  at the same time.

  THE GENERAL. My dear Lesbia: you know I dont wish to be
  impertinent; but these are not the correct views for an English
  lady to express.

  LESBIA. That is why I dont express them, except to gentlemen who
  wont take any other answer. The difficulty, you see, is that I
  really am an English lady, and am particularly proud of being

  THE GENERAL. I'm sure of that, Lesbia: quite sure of it. I never

  LESBIA [rising impatiently] Oh, my dear Boxer, do please try to
  think of something else than whether you have offended me, and
  whether you are doing the correct thing as an English gentleman.
  You are faultless, and very dull. [She shakes her shoulders
  intolerantly and walks across to the other side of the kitchen].

  THE GENERAL [moodily] Ha! thats whats the matter with me. Not
  clever. A poor silly soldier man.

  LESBIA. The whole matter is very simple. As I say, I am an
  English lady, by which I mean that I have been trained to do
  without what I cant have on honorable terms, no matter what it

  THE GENERAL. I really dont understand you, Lesbia.

  LESBIA [turning on him] Then why on earth do you want to marry a
  woman you dont understand?

  THE GENERAL. I dont know. I suppose I love you.

  LESBIA. Well, Boxer, you can love me as much as you like,
  provided you look happy about it and dont bore me. But you cant
  marry me; and thats all about it.

  THE GENERAL. It's so frightfully difficult to argue the matter
  fairly with you without wounding your delicacy by overstepping
  the bounds of good taste. But surely there are calls of nature--
  LESBIA. Dont be ridiculous, Boxer.

  THE GENERAL. Well, how am I to express it? Hang it all, Lesbia,
  dont you want a husband?

  LESBIA. No. I want children; and I want to devote myself entirely
  to my children, and not to their father. The law will not allow
  me to do that; so I have made up my mind to have neither husband
  nor children.

  THE GENERAL. But, great Heavens, the natural appetites--

  LESBIA. As I said before, an English lady is not the slave of her
  appetites. That is what an English gentleman seems incapable of
  understanding. [She sits down at the end of the table, near the
  study door].

  THE GENERAL [huffily] Oh well, if you refuse, you refuse. I shall
  not ask you again. I'm sorry I returned to the subject. [He
  retires to the hearth and plants himself there, wounded and

  LESBIA. Dont be cross, Boxer.

  THE GENERAL. I'm not cross, only wounded, Lesbia. And when you
  talk like that, I dont feel convinced: I only feel utterly at a

  LESBIA. Well, you know our family rule. When at a loss consult
  the greengrocer. [Opportunely Collins comes in through the
  tower]. Here he is.

  COLLINS. Sorry to be so much in and out, Miss. I thought Mrs
  Bridgenorth was here. The table is ready now for the breakfast,
  if she would like to see it.

  LESBIA. If you are satisfied, Collins, I am sure she will be.

  THE GENERAL. By the way, Collins: I thought theyd made you an

  COLLINS. So they have, General.

  THE GENERAL. Then wheres your gown?

  COLLINS. I dont wear it in private life, General.

  THE GENERAL. Why? Are you ashamed of it?

  COLLINS. No, General. To tell you the truth, I take a pride in
  it. I cant help it.

  THE GENERAL. Attention, Collins. Come here. [Collins comes to
  him]. Do you see my uniform--all my medals?

  COLLINS. Yes, General. They strike the eye, as it were.

  THE GENERAL. They are meant to. Very well. Now you know, dont
  you, that your services to the community as a greengrocer are as
  important and as dignified as mine as a soldier?

  COLLINS. I'm sure it's very honorable of you to say so, General.

  THE GENERAL [emphatically] You know also, dont you, that any man
  who can see anything ridiculous, or unmanly, or unbecoming in
  your work or in your civic robes is not a gentleman, but a
  jumping, bounding, snorting cad?

  COLLINS. Well, strictly between ourselves, that is my opinion,

  THE GENERAL. Then why not dignify my niece's wedding by wearing
  your robes?

  COLLINS. A bargain's a bargain, General. Mrs Bridgenorth sent for
  the greengrocer, not for the alderman. It's just as unpleasant to
  get more than you bargain for as to get less.

  THE GENERAL. I'm sure she will agree with me. I attach importance
  to this as an affirmation of solidarity in the service of the
  community. The Bishop's apron, my uniform, your robes: the
  Church, the Army, and the Municipality.

  COLLINS [retiring] Very well, General. [He turns dubiously to
  Lesbia on his way to the tower]. I wonder what my wife will say,

  THE GENERAL. What! Is your, wife ashamed of your robes?

  COLLINS. No, sir, not ashamed of them. But she grudged the money
  for them; and she will be afraid of my sleeves getting into the

  Mrs Bridgenorth, her placidity quite upset, comes in with a
  letter; hurries past Collins; and comes between Lesbia and the

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Lesbia: Boxer: heres a pretty mess!

  Collins goes out discreetly.

  THE GENERAL. Whats the matter?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Reginald's in London, and wants to come to the

  THE GENERAL [stupended] Well, dash my buttons!

  LESBIA. Oh, all right, let him come.

  THE GENERAL. Let him come! Why, the decree has not been made
  absolute yet. Is he to walk in here to Edith's wedding, reeking
  from the Divorce Court?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [vexedly sitting down in the middle chair] It's
  too bad. No: I cant forgive him, Lesbia, really. A man of
  Reginald's age, with a young wife--the best of girls, and as
  pretty as she can be--to go off with a common woman from the
  streets! Ugh!

  LESBIA. You must make allowances. What can you expect? Reginald
  was always weak. He was brought up to be weak. The family
  property was all mortgaged when he inherited it. He had to
  struggle along in constant money difficulties, hustled by his
  solicitors, morally bullied by the Barmecide, and physically
  bullied by Boxer, while they two were fighting their own way and
  getting well trained. You know very well he couldnt afford to
  marry until the mortgages were cleared and he was over fifty. And
  then of course he made a fool of himself marrying a child like

  THE GENERAL. But to hit her! Absolutely to hit her! He knocked
  her down--knocked her flat down on a flowerbed in the presence of
  his gardener. He! the head of the family! the man that stands
  before the Barmecide and myself as Bridgenorth of Bridgenorth! to
  beat his wife and go off with a low woman and be divorced for it
  in the face of all England! in the face of my uniform and
  Alfred's apron! I can never forget what I felt: it was only the
  King's personal request--virtually a command--that stopped me
  from resigning my commission. I'd cut Reginald dead if I met him
  in the street.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Besides, Leo's coming. Theyd meet. It's
  impossible, Lesbia.

  LESBIA. Oh, I forgot that. That settles it. He mustnt come.

  THE GENERAL. Of course he mustnt. You tell him that if he enters
  this house, I'll leave it; and so will every decent man and woman
  in it.

  COLLINS [returning for a moment to announce] Mr Reginald, maam.
  [He withdraws when Reginald enters].

  THE GENERAL [beside himself] Well, dash my buttons!!

  Reginald is just the man Lesbia has described. He is hardened and
  tough physically, and hasty and boyish in his manner and speech,
  belonging as he does to the large class of English gentlemen of
  property (solicitor-managed) who have never developed
  intellectually since their schooldays. He is a muddled,
  rebellious, hasty, untidy, forgetful, always late sort of man,
  who very evidently needs the care of a capable woman, and has
  never been lucky or attractive enough to get it. All the same, a
  likeable man, from whom nobody apprehends any malice nor expects
  any achievement. In everything but years he is younger than his
  brother the General.

  REGINALD [coming forward between the General and Mrs Bridgenorth]
  Alice: it's no use. I cant stay away from Edith's wedding. Good
  morning, Lesbia. How are you, Boxer? [He offers the General his

  THE GENERAL [with crushing stiffness] I was just telling Alice,
  sir, that if you entered this house, I should leave it.

  REGINALD. Well, dont let me detain you, old chap. When you start
  calling people Sir, youre not particularly good company.

  LESBIA. Dont you begin to quarrel. That wont improve the

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. I think you might have waited until you got my
  answer, Rejjy.

  REGINALD. It's so jolly easy to say No in a letter. Wont you let
  me stay?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. How can I? Leo's coming.

  REGINALD. Well, she wont mind.

  THE GENERAL. Wont mind!!!!

  LESBIA. Dont talk nonsense, Rejjy; and be off with you.

  THE GENERAL [with biting sarcasm] At school you lead a theory
  that women liked being knocked down, I remember.

  REGINALD. Youre a nice, chivalrous, brotherly sort of swine, you

  THE GENERAL. Mr Bridgenorth: are you going to leave this house or
  am I?

  REGINALD. You are, I hope. [He emphasizes his intention to stay
  by sitting down].

  THE GENERAL. Alice: will you allow me to be driven from Edith's
  wedding by this--

  LESBIA [warningly] Boxer!

  THE GENERAL. --by this Respondent? Is Edith to be given away by

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Certainly not. Reginald: you were not asked to
  come; and I have asked you to go. You know how fond I am of Leo;
  and you know what she would feel if she came in and found you

  COLLINS [again appearing in the tower] Mrs Reginald, maam.

  LESBIA            {No, no. Ask her to--   } [All three
  MRS BRIDGENORTH   {Oh,  how unfortunate!  } clamoring
  THE GENERAL       {Well, dash my buttons! } together].

  It is too late: Leo is already in the kitchen. Collins goes out,
  mutely abandoning a situation which he deplores but has been
  unable to save.

  Leo is very pretty, very youthful, very restless, and
  consequently very charming to people who are touched by youth and
  beauty, as well as to those who regard young women as more or
  less appetizing lollipops, and dont regard old women at all.
  Coldly studied, Leo's restlessness is much less lovable than the
  kittenishness which comes from a rich and fresh vitality. She is
  a born fusser about herself and everybody else for whom she feels
  responsible; and her vanity causes her to exaggerate her
  responsibilities officiously. All her fussing is about little
  things; but she often calls them by big names, such as Art, the
  Divine Spark, the world, motherhood, good breeding, the Universe,
  the Creator, or anything else that happens to strike her
  imagination as sounding intellectually important. She has more
  than common imagination and no more than common conception and
  penetration; so that she is always on the high horse about words
  and always in the perambulator about things. Considering herself
  clever, thoughtful, and superior to ordinary weaknesses and
  prejudices, she recklessly attaches herself to clever men on that
  understanding, with the result that they are first delighted,
  then exasperated, and finally bored. When marrying Reginald she
  told her friends that there was a great deal in him which needed
  bringing out. If she were a middle-aged man she would be the
  terror of his club. Being a pretty young woman, she is forgiven
  everything, proving that "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner"
  is an error, the fact being that the secret of forgiving
  everything is to understand nothing.

  She runs in fussily, full of her own importance, and swoops on
  Lesbia, who is much less disposed to spoil her than Mrs
  Bridgenorth is. But Leo affects a special intimacy with Lesbia,
  as of two thinkers among the Philistines.

  LEO [to Lesbia, kissing her] Good morning. [Coming to Mrs
  Bridgenorth] How do, Alice? [Passing on towards the hearth] Why
  so gloomy, General? [Reginald rises between her and the General]
  Oh, Rejjy! What will the King's Proctor say?

  REGINALD. Damn the King's Proctor!

  LEO. Naughty. Well, I suppose I must kiss you; but dont any of
  you tell. [She kisses him. They can hardly believe their eyes].
  Have you kept all your promises?

  REGINALD. Oh, dont begin bothering about those--

  LEO [insisting] Have? You? Kept? Your? Promises? Have you rubbed
  your head with the lotion every night?

  REGINALD. Yes, yes. Nearly every night.

  LEO. Nearly! I know what that means. Have you worn your liver

  THE GENERAL [solemnly] Leo: forgiveness is one of the most
  beautiful traits in a woman's nature; but there are things that
  should not be forgiven to a man. When a man knocks a woman down
  [Leo gives a little shriek of laughter and collapses on a chair
  next Mrs Bridgenorth, on her left]

  REGINALD [sardonically] The man that would raise his hand to a
  woman, save in the way of a kindness, is unworthy the name of
  Bridgenorth. [He sits down at the end of the table nearest the

  THE GENERAL [much huffed] Oh, well, if Leo does not mind, of
  course I have no more to say. But I think you might, out of
  consideration for the family, beat your wife in private and not
  in the presence of the gardener.

  REGINALD [out of patience] Whats the good of beating your wife
  unless theres a witness to prove it afterwards? You dont suppose
  a man beats his wife for the fun of it, do you? How could she
  have got her divorce if I hadnt beaten her? Nice state of things,

  THE GENERAL [gasping] Do you mean to tell me that you did it in
  cold blood? simply to get rid of your wife?

  REGINALD. No, I didn't: I did it to get her rid of me. What would
  you do if you were fool enough to marry a woman thirty years
  younger than yourself, and then found that she didnt care for
  you, and was in love with a young fellow with a face like a

  LEO. He has not. [Bursting into tears] And you are most unkind to
  say I didnt care for you. Nobody could have been fonder of you.

  REGINALD. A nice way of shewing your fondness! I had to go out
  and dig that flower bed all over with my own hands to soften it.
  I had to pick all the stones out of it. And then she complained
  that I hadnt done it properly, because she got a worm down her
  neck. I had to go to Brighton with a poor creature who took a
  fancy to me on the way down, and got conscientious scruples about
  committing perjury after dinner. I had to put her down in the
  hotel book as Mrs Reginald Bridgenorth: Leo's name! Do you know
  what that feels like to a decent man? Do you know what a decent
  man feels about his wife's name? How would you like to go into a
  hotel before all the waiters and people with--with that on your
  arm? Not that it was the poor girl's fault, of course; only she
  started crying because I couldnt stand her touching me; and now
  she keeps writing to me. And then I'm held up in the public court
  for cruelty and adultery, and turned away from Edith's wedding by
  Alice, and lectured by you! a bachelor, and a precious green one
  at that. What do you know about it?

  THE GENERAL. Am I to understand that the whole case was one of

  REGINALD. Of course it was. Half the cases are collusions: what
  are people to do? [The General, passing his hand dazedly over his
  bewildered brow, sinks into the railed chair]. And what do you
  take me for, that you should have the cheek to pretend to believe
  all that rot about my knocking Leo about and leaving her for--for
  a--a-- Ugh! you should have seen her.

  THE GENERAL. This is perfectly astonishing to me. Why did you do
  it? Why did Leo allow it?

  REGINALD. Youd better ask her.

  LEO [still in tears] I'm sure I never thought it would be so
  horrid for Rejjy. I offered honorably to do it myself, and let
  him divorce me; but he wouldnt. And he said himself that it was
  the only way to do it--that it was the law that he should do it
  that way. I never saw that hateful creature until that day in
  Court. If he had only shewn her to me before, I should never have
  allowed it.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. You did all this for Leo's sake, Rejjy?

  REGINALD [with an unbearable sense of injury] I shouldnt mind a
  bit if it were for Leo's sake. But to have to do it to make room
  for that mushroom-faced serpent--!

  THE GENERAL [jumping up] What right had he to be made room for?
  Are you in your senses? What right?

  REGINALD. The right of being a young man, suitable to a young
  woman. I had no right at my age to marry Leo: she knew no more
  about life than a child.

  LEO. I knew a great deal more about it than a great baby like
  you. I'm sure I dont know how youll get on with no one to take
  care of you: I often lie awake at night thinking about it. And
  now youve made me thoroughly miserable.

  REGINALD. Serve you right! [She weeps]. There: dont get into a
  tantrum, Leo.

  LESBIA. May one ask who is the mushroom-faced serpent?

  LEO. He isnt.

  REGINALD. Sinjon Hotchkiss, of course.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Sinjon Hotchkiss! Why, he's coming to the

  REGINALD. What! In that case I'm off [he makes for the tower].

  LEO          }                 { [seizing him] No you shant.
                                   You promised to be nice to
                   (all four       him.
  THE GENERAL  }    rushing      { No, dont go, old chap. Not
                    after him      from Edith's wedding.
                    and capturing
                    him on the
  MRS. BRIDGE-      threshold)
  NORTH        }                 { Oh, do stay, Benjjy. I shall
                                   really be hurt if you desert
  LESBIA       }                 { Better stay, Reginald. You must
                                   meet him sooner or later.

  REGINALD. A moment ago, when I wanted to stay, you were all
  shoving me out of the house. Now that I want to go, you wont let

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. I shall send a note to Mr Hotchkiss not to come.

  LEO [weeping again] Oh, Alice! [She comes back to her chair,

  REGINALD [out of patience] Oh well, let her have her way. Let her
  have her mushroom. Let him come. Let them all come.

  He crosses the kitchen to the oak chest and sits sulkily on it.
  Mrs Bridgenorth shrugs her shoulders and sits at the table in
  Reginald's neighborhood listening in placid helplessness. Lesbia,
  out of patience with Leo's tears, goes into the garden and sits
  there near the door, snuffing up the open air in her relief from
  the domestic stuffness of Reginald's affairs.

  LEO. It's so cruel of you to go on pretending that I dont care
  for you, Rejjy.

  REGINALD [bitterly] She explained to me that it was only that she
  had exhausted my conversation.

  THE GENERAL [coming paternally to Leo] My dear girl: all the
  conversation in the world has been exhausted long ago. Heaven
  knows I have exhausted the conversation of the British Army these
  thirty years; but I dont leave it on that account.

  LEO. It's not that Ive exhausted it; but he will keep on
  repeating it when I want to read or go to sleep. And Sinjon
  amuses me. He's so clever.

  THE GENERAL [stung] Ha! The old complaint. You all want geniuses
  to marry. This demand for clever men is ridiculous. Somebody must
  marry the plain, honest, stupid fellows. Have you thought of

  LEO. But there are such lots of stupid women to marry. Why do
  they want to marry us? Besides, Rejjy knows that I'm quite fond
  of him. I like him because he wants me; and I like Sinjon because
  I want him. I feel that I have a duty to Rejjy.

  THE GENERAL. Precisely: you have.

  LEO. And, of course, Sinjon has the same duty to me.

  THE GENERAL. Tut, tut!

  LEO. Oh, how silly the law is! Why cant I marry them both?

  THE GENERAL [shocked] Leo!

  LEO. Well, I love them both. I should like to marry a lot of men.
  I should like to have Rejjy for every day, and Sinjon for
  concerts and theatres and going out in the evenings, and some
  great austere saint for about once a year at the end of the
  season, and some perfectly blithering idiot of a boy to be quite
  wicked with. I so seldom feel wicked; and, when I do, it's such a
  pity to waste it merely because it's too silly to confess to a
  real grown-up man.

  REGINALD. This is the kind of thing, you know [Helplessly] Well,
  there it is!

  THE GENERAL [decisively] Alice: this is a job for the Barmecide.
  He's a Bishop: it's his duty to talk to Leo. I can stand a good
  deal; but when it comes to flat polygamy and polyandry, we ought
  to do something.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [going to the study door] Do come here a moment,
  Alfred. We're in a difficulty.

  THE BISHOP [within] Ask Collins, I'm busy.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Collins wont do. It's something very serious. Do
  come just a moment, dear. [When she hears him coming she takes a
  chair at the nearest end of the table].

  The Bishop comes out of his study. He is still a slim active man,
  spare of flesh, and younger by temperament than his brothers. He
  has a delicate skin, fine hands, a salient nose with chin to
  match, a short beard which accentuates his sharp chin by
  bristling forward, clever humorous eyes, not without a glint of
  mischief in them, ready bright speech, and the ways of a
  successful man who is always interested in himself and generally
  rather well pleased with himself. When Lesbia hears his voice she
  turns her chair towards him, and presently rises and stands in
  the doorway listening to the conversation.

  THE BISHOP [going to Leo] Good morning, my dear. Hullo! Youve
  brought Reginald with you. Thats very nice of you. Have you
  reconciled them, Boxer?

  THE GENERAL. Reconciled them! Why, man, the whole divorce was a
  put-up job. She wants to marry some fellow named Hotchkiss.

  REGINALD. A fellow with a face like--

  LEO. You shant, Rejjy. He has a very fine face.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. And now she says she wants to marry both of
  them, and a lot of other people as well.

  LEO. I didnt say I wanted to marry them: I only said I should
  like to marry them.

  THE BISHOP. Quite a nice distinction, Leo.

  LEO. Just occasionally, you know.

  THE BISHOP [sitting down cosily beside her] Quite so. Sometimes a
  poet, sometimes a Bishop, sometimes a fairy prince, sometimes
  somebody quite indescribable, and sometimes nobody at all.

  LEO. Yes: thats just it. How did you know?

  THE BISHOP. Oh, I should say most imaginative and cultivated
  young women feel like that. I wouldnt give a rap for one who
  didnt. Shakespear pointed out long ago that a woman wanted a
  Sunday husband as well as a weekday one. But, as usual, he didnt
  follow up the idea.

  THE GENERAL [aghast] Am I to understand--

  THE BISHOP [cutting him short] Now, Boxer, am I the Bishop or are

  THE GENERAL [sulkily] You.

  THE BISHOP. Then dont ask me are you to understand. "Yours not to
  reason why: yours but to do and die"--

  THE GENERAL. Oh, very well: go on. I'm not clever. Only a silly
  soldier man. Ha! Go on. [He throws himself into the railed chair,
  as one prepared for the worst].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Alfred: dont tease Boxer.

  THE BISHOP. If we are going to discuss ethical questions we must
  begin by giving the devil fair play. Boxer never does. England
  never does. We always assume that the devil is guilty; and we
  wont allow him to prove his innocence, because it would be
  against public morals if he succeeded. We used to do the same
  with prisoners accused of high treason. And the consequence is
  that we overreach ourselves; and the devil gets the better of us
  after all. Perhaps thats what most of us intend him to do.

  THE GENERAL. Alfred: we asked you here to preach to Leo. You are
  preaching at me instead. I am not conscious of having said or
  done anything that calls for that unsolicited attention.

  THE BISHOP. But poor little Leo has only told the simple truth;
  whilst you, Boxer, are striking moral attitudes.

  THE GENERAL. I suppose thats an epigram. I dont understand
  epigrams. I'm only a silly soldier man. Ha! But I can put a plain
  question. Is Leo to be encouraged to be a polygamist?

  THE BISHOP. Remember the British Empire, Boxer. Youre a British
  General, you know.

  THE GENERAL. What has that to do with polygamy?

  THE BISHOP. Well, the great majority of our fellow-subjects are
  polygamists. I cant as a British Bishop insult them by speaking
  disrespectfully of polygamy. It's a very interesting question.
  Many very interesting men have been polygamists: Solomon,
  Mahomet, and our friend the Duke of--of--hm! I never can remember
  his name.

  THE GENERAL. It would become you better, Alfred, to send that
  silly girl back to her husband and her duty than to talk clever
  and mock at your religion. "What God hath joined together let no
  man put asunder." Remember that.

  THE BISHOP. Dont be afraid, Boxer. What God hath joined together
  no man ever shall put asunder: God will take care of that. [To
  Leo] By the way, who was it that joined you and Reginald, my

  LEO. It was that awful little curate that afterwards drank, and
  travelled first class with a third-class ticket, and then tried
  to go on the stage. But they wouldnt have him. He called himself
  Egerton Fotheringay.

  THE BISHOP. Well, whom Egerton Fotheringay hath joined, let Sir
  Gorell Barnes put asunder by all means.

  THE GENERAL. I may be a silly soldier man; but I call this

  THE BISHOP [gravely] Better for me to take the name of Mr Egerton
  Fotheringay in earnest than for you to take a higher name in

  LESBIA. Cant you three brothers ever meet without quarrelling?

  THE BISHOP [mildly] This is not quarrelling, Lesbia: it's only
  English family life. Good morning.

  LEO. You know, Bishop, it's very dear of you to take my part; but
  I'm not sure that I'm not a little shocked.

  THE BISHOP. Then I think Ive been a little more successful than
  Boxer in getting you into a proper frame of mind.

  THE GENERAL [snorting] Ha!

  LEO. Not a bit; for now I'm going to shock you worse than ever.
  I think Solomon was an old beast.

  THE BISHOP. Precisely what you ought to think of him, my dear.
  Dont apologize.

  THE GENERAL [more shocked] Well, but hang it! Solomon was in the
  Bible. And, after all, Solomon was Solomon.

  LEO. And I stick to it: I still want to have a lot of interesting
  men to know quite intimately--to say everything I think of to
  them, and have them say everything they think of to me.

  THE BISHOP. So you shall, my dear, if you are lucky. But you know
  you neednt marry them all. Think of all the buttons you would
  have to sew on. Besides, nothing is more dreadful than a husband
  who keeps telling you everything he thinks, and always wants to
  know what you think.

  LEO [struck by this] Well, thats very true of Rejjy: In fact,
  thats why I had to divorce him.

  THE BISHOP [condoling] Yes: he repeats himself dreadfully, doesnt

  REGINALD. Look here, Alfred. If I have my faults, let her find
  them out for herself without your help.

  THE BISHOP. She has found them all out already, Reginald.

  LEO [a little huffily] After all, there are worse men than
  Reginald. I daresay he's not so clever as you; but still he's not
  such a fool as you seem to think him!

  THE BISHOP. Quite right, dear: stand up for your husband. I hope
  you will always stand up for all your husbands. [He rises and
  goes to the hearth, where he stands complacently with his back to
  the fireplace, beaming at them all as at a roomful of children].

  LEO. Please dont talk as if I wanted to marry a whole regiment.
  For me there can never be more than two. I shall never love
  anybody but Rejjy and Sinjon.

  REGINALD. A man with a face like a--

  LEO. I wont have it, Rejjy. It's disgusting.

  THE BISHOP. You see, my dear, youll exhaust Sinjon's conversation
  too in a week or so. A man is like a phonograph with half-a-dozen
  records. You soon get tired of them all; and yet you have to sit
  at table whilst he reels them off to every new visitor. In the
  end you have to be content with his common humanity; and when you
  come down to that, you find out about men what a great English
  poet of my acquaintance used to say about women: that they all
  taste alike. Marry whom you please: at the end of a month he'll
  be Reginald over again. It wasnt worth changing: indeed it wasnt.

  LEO. Then it's a mistake to get married.

  THE BISHOP. It is, my dear; but it's a much bigger mistake not to
  get married.

  THE GENERAL [rising] Ha! You hear that, Lesbia? [He joins her at
  the garden door].

  LESBIA. Thats only an epigram, Boxer.

  THE GENERAL. Sound sense, Lesbia. When a man talks rot, thats
  epigram: when he talks sense, then I agree with him.

  REGINALD [coming off the oak chest and looking at his watch] It's
  getting late. Wheres Edith? Hasnt she got into her veil and
  orange blossoms yet?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Do go and hurry her, Lesbia.

  LESBIA [going out through the tower] Come with me, Leo.

  LEO [following Lesbia out] Yes, certainly.

  The Bishop goes over to his wife and sits down, taking her hand
  and kissing it by way of beginning a conversation with her.

  THE BISHOP. Alice: Ive had another letter from the mysterious
  lady who cant spell. I like that woman's letters. Theres an
  intensity of passion in them that fascinates me.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Do you mean Incognita Appassionata?


  THE GENERAL [turning abruptly; he has been looking out into the
  garden] Do you mean to say that women write love-letters to you?

  THE BISHOP. Of course.

  THE GENERAL. They never do to me.

  THE BISHOP. The army doesnt attract women: the Church does.

  REGINALD. Do you consider it right to let them? They may be
  married women, you know.

  THE BISHOP. They always are. This one is. [To Mrs Bridgenorth]
  Dont you think her letters are quite the best love-letters I get?
  [To the two men] Poor Alice has to read my love-letters aloud to
  me at breakfast, when theyre worth it.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. There really is something fascinating about
  Incognita. She never gives her address. Thats a good sign.

  THE GENERAL. Mf! No assignations, you mean?

  THE Bishop. Oh yes: she began the correspondence by making a very
  curious but very natural assignation. She wants me to meet her in
  heaven. I hope I shall.

  THE GENERAL. Well, I must say I hope not, Alfred. I hope not.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. She says she is happily married, and that love
  is a necessary of life to her, but that she must have, high above
  all her lovers--

  THE BISHOP. She has several apparently--

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. --some great man who will never know her, never
  touch her, as she is on earth, but whom she can meet in Heaven
  when she has risen above all the everyday vulgarities of earthly

  THE BISHOP [rising] Excellent. Very good for her; and no trouble
  to me. Everybody ought to have one of these idealizations, like
  Dante's Beatrice. [He clasps his hands behind him, and strolls to
  the hearth and back, singing].

  Lesbia appears in the tower, rather perturbed.

  LESBIA. Alice: will you come upstairs? Edith is not dressed.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [rising] Not dressed! Does she know what hour it

  LESBIA. She has locked herself into her room, reading.

  The Bishop's song ceases; he stops dead in his stroll.

  THE GENERAL. Reading!

  THE BISHOP. What is she reading?

  LESBIA. Some pamphlet that came by the eleven o'clock post. She
  wont come out. She wont open the door. And she says she doesnt
  know whether she's going to be married or not till she's finished
  the pamphlet. Did you ever hear such a thing? Do come and speak
  to her.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Alfred: you had better go.

  THE BISHOP. Try Collins.

  LESBIA. Weve tried Collins already. He got all that Ive told you
  out of her through the keyhole. Come, Alice. [She vanishes. Mrs
  Bridgenorth hurries after her].

  THE BISHOP. This means a delay. I shall go back to my work [he
  makes for the study door].

  REGINALD. What are you working at now?

  THE BISHOP [stopping] A chapter in my history of marriage. I'm
  just at the Roman business, you know.

  THE GENERAL [coming from the garden door to the chair Mrs
  Bridgenorth has just left, and sitting down] Not more Ritualism,
  I hope, Alfred?

  THE BISHOP. Oh no. I mean ancient Rome. [He seats himself on the
  edge of the table]. Ive just come to the period when the
  propertied classes refused to get married and went in for
  marriage settlements instead. A few of the oldest families stuck
  to the marriage tradition so as to keep up the supply of vestal
  virgins, who had to be legitimate; but nobody else dreamt of
  getting married. It's all very interesting, because we're coming
  to that here in England; except that as we dont require any
  vestal virgins, nobody will get married at all, except the poor,

  THE GENERAL. You take it devilishly coolly. Reginald: do you
  think the Barmecide's quite sane?

  REGINALD. No worse than ever he was.

  THE GENERAL [to the Bishop] Do you mean to say you believe such a
  thing will ever happen in England as that respectable people will
  give up being married?

  THE BISHOP. In England especially they will. In other countries
  the introduction of reasonable divorce laws will save the
  situation; but in England we always let an institution strain
  itself until it breaks. Ive told our last four Prime Ministers
  that if they didnt make our marriage laws reasonable there would
  be a strike against marriage, and that it would begin among the
  propertied classes, where no Government would dare to interfere
  with it.

  REGINALD. What did they say to that?

  THE BISHOP. The usual thing. Quite agreed with me, but were sure
  that they were the only sensible men in the world, and that the
  least hint of marriage reform would lose them the next election.
  And then lost it all the same: on cordite, on drink, on Chinese
  labor in South Africa, on all sorts of trumpery.

  REGINALD [lurching across the kitchen towards the hearth with his
  hands in his pockets] It's no use: they wont listen to our sort.
  [Turning on them] Of course they have to make you a Bishop and
  Boxer a General, because, after all, their blessed rabble of
  snobs and cads and half-starved shopkeepers cant do government
  work; and the bounders and week-enders are too lazy and vulgar.
  Theyd simply rot without us; but what do they ever do for us?
  what attention do they ever pay to what we say and what we want?
  I take it that we Bridgenorths are a pretty typical English
  family of the sort that has always set things straight and stuck
  up for the right to think and believe according to our
  conscience. But nowadays we are expected to dress and eat as the
  week-end bounders do, and to think and believe as the converted
  cannibals of Central Africa do, and to lie down and let every
  snob and every cad and every halfpenny journalist walk over us.
  Why, theres not a newspaper in England today that represents what
  I call solid Bridgenorth opinion and tradition. Half of them read
  as if they were published at the nearest mother's meeting, and
  the other half at the nearest motor garage. Do you call these
  chaps gentlemen? Do you call them Englishmen? I dont.[He throws
  himself disgustedly into the nearest chair].

  THE GENERAL [excited by Reginald's eloquence] Do you see my
  uniform? What did Collins say? It strikes the eye. It was meant
  to. I put it on expressly to give the modern army bounder a smack
  in the eye. Somebody has to set a right example by beginning.
  Well, let it be a Bridgenorth. I believe in family blood and
  tradition, by George.

  THE BISHOP [musing] I wonder who will begin the stand against
  marriage. It must come some day. I was married myself before I'd
  thought about it; and even if I had thought about it I was too
  much in love with Alice to let anything stand in the way. But,
  you know, Ive seen one of our daughters after another--Ethel,
  Jane, Fanny, and Christina and Florence--go out at that door in
  their veils and orange blossoms; and Ive always wondered whether
  theyd have gone quietly if theyd known what they were doing. Ive
  a horrible misgiving about that pamphlet. All progress means war
  with Society. Heaven forbid that Edith should be one of the

  St John Hotchkiss comes into the tower ushered by Collins. He is
  a very smart young gentleman of twenty-nine or thereabouts,
  correct in dress to the last thread of his collar, but too much
  preoccupied with his ideas to be embarrassed by any concern as to
  his appearance. He talks about himself with energetic gaiety. He
  talks to other people with a sweet forbearance (implying a kindly
  consideration for their stupidity) which infuriates those whom he
  does not succeed in amusing. They either lose their tempers with
  him or try in vain to snub him.

  COLLINS [announcing] Mr Hotchkiss. [He withdraws].

  HOTCHKISS [clapping Reginald gaily on the shoulder as he passes
  him] Tootle loo, Rejjy.

  REGINALD [curtly, without rising or turning his head] Morning.

  HOTCHKISS. Good morning, Bishop.

  THE BISHOP [coming off the table]. What on earth are you doing
  here, Sinjon? You belong to the bridegroom's party: youve no
  business here until after the ceremony.

  HOTCHKISS. Yes, I know: thats just it. May I have a word with you
  in private? Rejjy or any of the family wont matter; but--[he
  glances at the General, who has risen rather stiffly, as he
  strongly disapproves of the part played by Hotchkiss in
  Reginald's domestic affairs].

  THE BISHOP. All right, Sinjon. This is our brother, General
  Bridgenorth. [He goes to the hearth and posts himself there, with
  his hands clasped behind him].

  HOTCHKISS. Oh, good! [He turns to the General, and takes out a
  card-case]. As you are in the service, allow me to introduce
  myself. Read my card, please. [He presents his card to the
  astonished General].

  THE GENERAL [reading] "Mr St John Hotchkiss, the Celebrated
  Coward, late Lieutenant in the 165th Fusiliers."

  REGINALD [with a chuckle] He was sent back from South Africa
  because he funked an order to attack, and spoiled his commanding
  officer's plan.

  THE GENERAL [very gravely] I remember the case now. I had
  forgotten the name. I'll not refuse your acquaintance, Mr
  Hotchkiss; partly because youre my brother's guest, and partly
  because Ive seen too much active service not to know that every
  man's nerve plays him false at one time or another, and that some
  very honorable men should never go into action at all, because
  theyre not built that way. But if I were you I should not use
  that visiting card. No doubt it's an honorable trait in your
  character that you dont wish any man to give you his hand in
  ignorance of your disgrace; but you had better allow us to
  forget. We wish to forget. It isnt your disgrace alone: it's a
  disgrace to the army and to all of us. Pardon my plain speaking.

  HOTCHKISS [sunnily] My dear General, I dont know what fear means
  in the military sense of the word. Ive fought seven duels with
  the sabre in Italy and Austria, and one with pistols in France,
  without turning a hair. There was no other way in which I could
  vindicate my motives in refusing to make that attack at
  Smutsfontein. I dont pretend to be a brave man. I'm afraid of
  wasps. I'm afraid of cats. In spite of the voice of reason, I'm
  afraid of ghosts; and twice Ive fled across Europe from false
  alarms of cholera. But afraid to fight I am not. [He turns gaily
  to Reginald and slaps him on the shoulder]. Eh, Rejjy? [Reginald

  THE GENERAL. Then why did you not do your duty at Smutsfontein?

  HOTCHKISS. I did my duty--my higher duty. If I had made that
  attack, my commanding officer's plan would have been successful,
  and he would have been promoted. Now I happen to think that the
  British Army should be commanded by gentlemen, and by gentlemen
  alone. This man was not a gentleman. I sacrificed my military
  career--I faced disgrace and social ostracism rather than give
  that man his chance.

  THE GENERAL [generously indignant] Your commanding officer, sir,
  was my friend Major Billiter.

  HOTCHKISS. Precisely. What a name!

  THE GENERAL. And pray, sir, on what ground do you dare allege
  that Major Billiter is not a gentleman?

  HOTCHKISS. By an infallible sign: one of those trifles that stamp
  a man. He eats rice pudding with a spoon.

  THE GENERAL [very angry] Confound you, _I_ eat rice pudding with
  a spoon. Now!

  HOTCHKISS. Oh, so do I, frequently. But there are ways of doing
  these things. Billiter's way was unmistakable.

  THE GENERAL. Well, I'll tell you something now. When I thought
  you were only a coward, I pitied you, and would have done what I
  could to help you back to your place in Society--

  HOTCHKISS [interrupting him] Thank you: I havnt lost it. My
  motives have been fully appreciated. I was made an honorary
  member of two of the smartest clubs in London when the truth came

  THE GENERAL. Well, sir, those clubs consist of snobs; and you are
  a jumping, bounding, prancing, snorting snob yourself.

  THE BISHOP [amused, but hospitably remonstrant] My dear Boxer!

  HOTCHKISS [delighted] How kind of you to say so, General! Youre
  quite right: I am a snob. Why not? The whole strength of England
  lies in the fact that the enormous majority of the English people
  are snobs. They insult poverty. They despise vulgarity. They love
  nobility. They admire exclusiveness. They will not obey a man
  risen from the ranks. They never trust one of their own class. I
  agree with them. I share their instincts. In my undergraduate
  days I was a Republican-a Socialist. I tried hard to feel toward
  a common man as I do towards a duke. I couldnt. Neither can you.
  Well, why should we be ashamed of this aspiration towards what is
  above us? Why dont I say that an honest man's the noblest work of
  God? Because I dont think so. If he's not a gentleman, I dont
  care whether he's honest or not: I shouldnt let his son marry my
  daughter. And thats the test, mind. Thats the test. You feel as I
  do. You are a snob in fact: I am a snob, not only in fact, but on
  principle. I shall go down in history, not as the first snob, but
  as the first avowed champion of English snobbery, and its first
  martyr in the army. The navy boasts two such martyrs in Captains
  Kirby and Wade, who were shot for refusing to fight under Admiral
  Benbow, a promoted cabin boy. I have always envied them their

  THE GENERAL. As a British General, Sir, I have to inform you that
  if any officer under my command violated the sacred equality of
  our profession by putting a single jot of his duty or his risk on
  the shoulders of the humblest drummer boy, I'd shoot him with my
  own hand.

  HOTCHKISS. That sentiment is not your equality, General, but your
  superiority. Ask the Bishop. [He seats himself on the edge of the

  THE BISHOP. I cant support you, Sinjon. My profession also
  compels me to turn my back on snobbery. You see, I have to do
  such a terribly democratic thing to every child that is brought
  to me. Without distinction of class I have to confer on it a rank
  so high and awful that all the grades in Debrett and Burke seem
  like the medals they give children in Infant Schools in
  comparison. I'm not allowed to make any class distinction. They
  are all soldiers and servants, not officers and masters.

  HOTCHKISS. Ah, youre quoting the Baptism service. Thats not a bit
  real, you know. If I may say so, you would both feel so much more
  at peace with yourselves if you would acknowledge and confess
  your real convictions. You know you dont really think a Bishop
  the equal of a curate, or a lieutenant in a line regiment the
  equal of a general.

  THE BISHOP. Of course I do. I was a curate myself.

  THE GENERAL. And I was a lieutenant in a line regiment.

  REGINALD. And I was nothing. But we're all our own and one
  another's equals, arnt we? So perhaps when youve quite done
  talking about yourselves, we shall get to whatever business
  Sinjon came about.

  HOTCHKISS [coming off the table hastily] my dear fellow. I beg a
  thousand pardons. Oh! true, It's about the wedding?

  THE GENERAL. What about the wedding?

  HOTCHKISS. Well, we cant get our man up to the scratch. Cecil has
  locked himself in his room and wont see or speak to any one. I
  went up to his room and banged at the door. I told him I should
  look through the keyhole if he didnt answer. I looked through the
  keyhole. He was sitting on his bed, reading a book. [Reginald
  rises in consternation. The General recoils]. I told him not to
  be an ass, and so forth. He said he was not going to budge until
  he had finished the book. I asked him did he know what time it
  was, and whether he happened to recollect that he had a rather
  important appointment to marry Edith. He said the sooner I
  stopped interrupting him, the sooner he'd be ready. Then he
  stuffed his fingers in his ears; turned over on his elbows; and
  buried himself in his beastly book. I couldnt get another word
  out of him; so I thought I'd better come here and warn you.

  REGINALD. This looks to me like theyve arranged it between them.

  THE BISHOP. No. Edith has no sense of humor. And Ive never seen a
  man in a jocular mood on his wedding morning.

  Collins appears in the tower, ushering in the bridegroom, a young
  gentleman with good looks of the serious kind, somewhat careworn
  by an exacting conscience, and just now distracted by insoluble
  problems of conduct.

  COLLINS [announcing] Mr Cecil Sykes. [He retires].

  HOTCHKISS. Look here, Cecil: this is all wrong. Youve no business
  here until after the wedding. Hang it, man! youre the bridegroom.

  SYKES [coming to the Bishop, and addressing him with dogged
  desperation] Ive come here to say this. When I proposed to Edith
  I was in utter ignorance of what I was letting myself in for
  legally. Having given my word, I will stand to it. You have me at
  your mercy: marry me if you insist. But take notice that I
  protest. [He sits down distractedly in the railed chair].

  THE GENERAL   {both    } What the devil do you mean by
                {highly  } This? What the--
  REGINALD      {incensed} Confound your impertinence,
                               what do you--

  HOTCHKISS   {  }  Easy, Rejjy. Easy, old man. Steady, steady.
              {  }  [Reginald subsides into his chair. Hotchkiss
              {  }  sits on his right, appeasing him.]
  THE BISHOP  {  }  No, please, Rej. Control yourself, Boxer, I
                    beg you.

  THE GENERAL. I tell you I cant control myself. Ive been
  controlling myself for the last half-hour until I feel like
  bursting. [He sits down furiously at the end of the table next
  the study].

  SYKES [pointing to the simmering Reginald and the boiling
  General] Thats just it, Bishop. Edith is her uncle's niece. She
  cant control herself any more than they can. And she's a Bishop's
  daughter. That means that she's engaged in social work of all
  sorts: organizing shop assistants and sweated work girls and all
  that. When her blood boils about it (and it boils at least once a
  week) she doesnt care what she says.

  REGINALD. Well: you knew that when you proposed to her.

  SYKES. Yes; but I didnt know that when we were married I should
  be legally responsible if she libelled anybody, though all her
  property is protected against me as if I were the lowest thief
  and cadger. This morning somebody sent me Belfort Bax's essays on
  Men's Wrongs; and they have been a perfect eye-opener to me.
  Bishop: I'm not thinking of myself: I would face anything for
  Edith. But my mother and sisters are wholly dependent on my
  property. I'd rather have to cut off an inch from my right arm
  than a hundred a year from my mother's income. I owe everything
  to her care of me. Edith, in dressing-jacket and petticoat, comes
  in through the tower, swiftly and determinedly, pamphlet in hand,
  principles up in arms, more of a bishop than her father, yet as
  much a gentlewoman as her mother. She is the typical spoilt child
  of a clerical household: almost as terrible a product as the
  typical spoilt child of a Bohemian household: that is, all her
  childish affectations of conscientious scruple and religious
  impulse have been applauded and deferred to until she has become
  an ethical snob of the first water. Her father's sense of humor
  and her mother's placid balance have done something to save her
  humanity; but her impetuous temper and energetic will,
  unrestrained by any touch of humor or scepticism, carry
  everything before them. Imperious and dogmatic, she takes command
  of the party at once.

  EDITH [standing behind Cecil's chair] Cecil: I heard your voice.
  I must speak to you very particularly. Papa: go away. Go away

  THE BISHOP [crossing to the study door] I think there can be no
  doubt that Edith wishes us to retire. Come. [He stands in the
  doorway, waiting for them to follow].

  SYKES. Thats it, you see. It's just this outspokenness that makes
  my position hard, much as I admire her for it.

  EDITH. Do you want me to flatter and be untruthful?

  SYKES. No, not exactly that.

  EDITH. Does anybody want me to flatter and be untruthful?

  HOTCHKISS. Well, since you ask me, I do. Surely it's the very
  first qualification for tolerable social intercourse.

  THE GENERAL [markedly] I hope you will always tell ME the truth,
  my darling, at all events.

  EDITH [complacently coming to the fireplace] You can depend on me
  for that, Uncle Boxer.

  HOTCHKISS. Are you sure you have any adequate idea of what the
  truth about a military man really is?

  REGINALD [aggressively] Whats the truth about you, I wonder?

  HOTCHKISS. Oh, quite unfit for publication in its entirety. If
  Miss Bridgenorth begins telling it, I shall have to leave the

  REGINALD. I'm not at all surprised to hear it. [Rising] But whats
  it got to do with our business here to-day? Is it you thats going
  to be married or is it Edith?

  HOTCHKISS. I'm so sorry, I get so interested in myself that I
  thrust myself into the front of every discussion in the most
  insufferable way. [Reginald, with an exclamation of disgust,
  crosses the kitchen towards the study door]. But, my dear
  Rejjy, are you quite sure that Miss Bridgenorth is going to be
  married? Are you, Miss Bridgenorth?

  Before Edith has time to answer her mother returns with Leo and

  LEO. Yes, here she is, of course. I told you I heard her dash
  downstairs. [She comes to the end of the table next the

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [transfixed in the middle of the kitchen] And

  LESBIA. And Sinjon!

  THE BISHOP. Edith wishes to speak to Cecil. [Mrs Bridgenorth
  comes to him. Lesbia goes into the garden, as before]. Let us go
  into my study.

  LEO. But she must come and dress. Look at the hour!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Come, Leo dear. [Leo follows her reluctantly.
  They are about to go into the study with the Bishop].

  HOTCHKISS. Do you know, Miss Bridgenorth, I should most awfully
  like to hear what you have to say to poor Cecil.

  REGINALD [scandalized] Well!

  EDITH. Who is poor Cecil, pray?

  HOTCHKISS. One always calls a man that on his wedding morning: I
  dont know why. I'm his best man, you know. Dont you think it
  gives me a certain right to be present in Cecil's interest?

  THE GENERAL [gravely] There is such a thing as delicacy, Mr

  HOTCHKISS. There is such a thing as curiosity, General.

  THE GENERAL [furious] Delicacy is thrown away here, Alfred.
  Edith: you had better take Sykes into the study.

  The group at the study door breaks up. The General flings himself
  into the last chair on the long side of the table, near the
  garden door. Leo sits at the end, next him, and Mrs Bridgenorth
  next Leo. Reginald returns to the oak chest, to be near Leo; and
  the Bishop goes to his wife and stands by her.

  HOTCHKISS [to Edith] Of course I'll go if you wish me to. But
  Cecil's objection to go through with it was so entirely on public

  EDITH [with quick suspicion] His objection?

  SYKES. Sinjon: you have no right to say that. I expressly said
  that I'm ready to go through with it.

  EDITH. Cecil: do you mean to say that you have been raising
  difficulties about our marriage?

  SYKES. I raise no difficulty. But I do beg you to be careful what
  you say about people. You must remember, my dear, that when we
  are married I shall be responsible for everything you say. Only
  last week you said on a public platform that Slattox and Chinnery
  were scoundrels. They could have got a thousand pounds damages
  apiece from me for that if we'd been married at the time.

  EDITH [austerely] I never said anything of the sort. I never
  stoop to mere vituperation: what would my girls say of me if I
  did? I chose my words most carefully. I said they were tyrants,
  liars, and thieves; and so they are. Slattox is even worse.

  HOTCHKISS. I'm afraid that would be at least five thousand

  SYKES. If it were only myself, I shouldnt care. But my mother and
  sisters! Ive no right to sacrifice them.

  EDITH. You neednt be alarmed. I'm not going to be married.


  SYKES [in consternation] Edith! Are you throwing me over?

  EDITH. How can I? you have been beforehand with me.

  SYKES. On my honor, no. All I said was that I didnt know the law
  when I asked you to be my wife.

  EDITH. And you wouldnt have asked me if you had. Is that it?

  SYKES. No. I should have asked you for my sake be a little more
  careful--not to ruin me uselessly.

  EDITH. You think the truth useless?

  HOTCHKISS. Much worse than useless, I assure you. Frequently most

  EDITH. Sinjon: hold your tongue. You are a chatterbox and a fool!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH }  [shocked] { Edith!
  THE BISHOP      }            { My love!

  HOTCHKISS [mildly] I shall not take an action, Cecil.

  EDITH [to Hotchkiss] Sorry; but you are old enough to know
  better. [To the others] And now since there is to be no wedding,
  we had better get back to our work. Mamma: will you tell Collins
  to cut up the wedding cake into thirty-three pieces for the club
  girls? My not being married is no reason why they should be
  disappointed. [She turns to go].

  HOTCHKISS [gallantly] If youll allow me to take Cecil's place,
  Miss Bridgenorth--

  LEO. Sinjon!

  HOTCHKISS. Oh, I forgot. I beg your pardon. [To Edith,
  apologetically] A prior engagement.

  EDITH. What! You and Leo! I thought so. Well, hadnt you two
  better get married at once? I dont approve of long engagements.
  The breakfast's ready: the cake's ready: everything's ready. I'll
  lend Leo my veil and things.

  THE BISHOP. I'm afraid they must wait until the decree is made
  absolute, my dear. And the license is not transferable.

  EDITH. Oh well, it cant be helped. Is there anything else before
  I go off to the Club?

  SYKES. You dont seem much disappointed, Edith. I cant help saying
  that much.

  EDITH. And you cant help looking enormously relieved, Cecil. We
  shant be any worse friends, shall we?

  SYKES [distractedly] Of course not. Still--I'm perfectly ready--
  at least--if it were not for my mother--Oh, I dont know what to
  do. Ive been so fond of you; and when the worry of the wedding
  was over I should have been so fond of you again--

  EDITH [petting him] Come, come! dont make a scene, dear. Youre
  quite right. I dont think a woman doing public work ought to get
  married unless her husband feels about it as she does. I dont
  blame you at all for throwing me over.

  REGINALD [bouncing off the chest, and passing behind the General
  to the other end of the table] No: dash it! I'm not going to
  stand this. Why is the man always to be put in the wrong? Be
  honest, Edith. Why werent you dressed? Were you going to throw
  him over? If you were, take your fair share of the blame; and
  dont put it all on him.

  HOTCHKISS [sweetly] Would it not be better--

  REGINALD [violently] Now look here, Hotchkiss. Who asked you to
  cut in? Is your name Edith? Am I your uncle?

  HOTCHKISS. I wish you were: I should like to have an uncle,

  REGINALD. Yah! Sykes: are you ready to marry Edith or are you

  SYKES. Ive already said that I'm quite ready. A promise is a

  REGINALD. We dont want to know whether a promise is a promise or
  not. Cant you answer yes or no without spoiling it and setting
  Hotchkiss here grinning like a Cheshire cat? If she puts on her
  veil and goes to Church, will you marry her?

  SYKES. Certainly. Yes.

  REGINALD. Thats all right. Now, Edie, put on your veil and off
  with you to the church. The bridegroom's waiting. [He sits down
  at the table].

  EDITH. Is it understood that Slattox and Chinnery are liars and
  thieves, and that I hope by next Wednesday to have in my hands
  conclusive evidence that Slattox is something much worse?

  SYKES. I made no conditions as to that when I proposed to you;
  and now I cant go back. I hope Providence will spare my poor
  mother. I say again I'm ready to marry you.

  EDITH. Then I think you shew great weakness of character; and
  instead of taking advantage of it I shall set you a better
  example. I want to know is this true. [She produces a pamphlet
  and takes it to the Bishop; then sits down between Hotchkiss and
  her mother].

  DO? BY A WOMAN WHO HAS DONE IT. May I ask, my dear, what she did?

  EDITH. She got married. When she had three children--the eldest
  only four years old--her husband committed a murder, and then
  attempted to commit suicide, but only succeeded in disfiguring
  himself. Instead of hanging him, they sent him to penal servitude
  for life, for the sake, they said, of his wife and infant
  children. And she could not get a divorce from that horrible
  murderer. They would not even keep him imprisoned for life. For
  twenty years she had to live singly, bringing up her children by
  her own work, and knowing that just when they were grown up and
  beginning life, this dreadful creature would be let out to
  disgrace them all, and prevent the two girls getting decently
  married, and drive the son out of the country perhaps. Is that
  really the law? Am I to understand that if Cecil commits a mur-
  der, or forges, or steals, or becomes an atheist, I cant get
  divorced from him?

  THE BISHOP. Yes, my dear. That is so. You must take him for
  better for worse.

  EDITH. Then I most certainly refuse to enter into any such wicked
  contract. What sort of servants? what sort of friends? what sort
  of Prime Ministers should we have if we took them for better for
  worse for all their lives? We should simply encourage them in
  every sort of wickedness. Surely my husband's conduct is of more
  importance to me than Mr Balfour's or Mr Asquith's. If I had
  known the law I would never have consented. I dont believe any
  woman would if she realized what she was doing.

  SYKES. But I'm not going to commit murder.

  EDITH. How do you know? Ive sometimes wanted to murder Slattox.
  Have you never wanted to murder somebody, Uncle Rejjy?

  REGINALD [at Hotchkiss, with intense expression] Yes.

  LEO. Rejjy!

  REGINALD. I said yes; and I mean yes. There was one night,
  Hotchkiss, when I jolly near shot you and Leo and finished up
  with myself; and thats the truth.

  LEO [suddenly whimpering] Oh Rejjy [she runs to him and kisses

  REGINALD [wrathfully] Be off. [She returns weeping to her seat].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [petting Leo, but speaking to the company at
  large] But isnt all this great nonsense? What likelihood is there
  of any of us committing a crime?

  HOTCHKISS. Oh yes, I assure you. I went into the matter once very
  carefully; and I found things I have actually done--things that
  everybody does, I imagine--would expose me, if I were found out
  and prosecuted, to ten years' penal servitude, two years hard
  labor, and the loss of all civil rights. Not counting that I'm a
  private trustee, and, like all private trustees, a fraudulent
  one. Otherwise, the widow for whom I am trustee would starve
  occasionally, and the children get no education. And I'm probably
  as honest a man as any here.

  THE GENERAL [outraged] Do you imply that I have been guilty of
  conduct that would expose me to penal servitude?

  HOTCHKISS. I should think it quite likely, but of course I dont

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. But bless me! marriage is not a question of law,
  is it? Have you children no affection for one another? Surely
  thats enough?

  HOTCHKISS. If it's enough, why get married?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Stuff, Sinjon! Of course people must get
  married. [Uneasily] Alfred: why dont you say something? Surely
  youre not going to let this go on.

  THE GENERAL. Ive been waiting for the last twenty minutes,
  Alfred, in amazement! in stupefaction! to hear you put a stop to
  all this. We look to you: it's your place, your office, your
  duty. Exert your authority at once.

  THE BISHOP. You must give the devil fair play, Boxer. Until you
  have heard and weighed his case you have no right to condemn him.
  I'm sorry you have been kept waiting twenty minutes; but I myself
  have waited twenty years for this to happen. Ive often wrestled
  with the temptation to pray that it might not happen in my own
  household. Perhaps it was a presentiment that it might become a
  part of our old Bridgenorth burden that made me warn our
  Governments so earnestly that unless the law of marriage were
  first made human, it could never become divine.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Oh, do be sensible about this. People must get
  married. What would you have said if Cecil's parents had not been

  THE BISHOP. They were not, my dear.

  HOTCHKISS        } { Hallo!
  REGINALD         } { What d'ye mean?
  THE GENERAL      } { Eh?
  LEO              } { Not married!

  SYKES [rising in amazement] What on earth do you mean, Bishop? My
  parents were married.

  HOTCHKISS. You cant remember, Cecil.

  SYKES. Well, I never asked my mother to shew me her marriage
  lines, if thats what you mean. What man ever has? I never
  suspected--I never knew--Are you joking? Or have we all gone mad?

  THE BISHOP. Dont be alarmed, Cecil. Let me explain. Your parents
  were not Anglicans. You were not, I think, Anglican yourself,
  until your second year at Oxford. They were Positivists. They
  went through the Positivist ceremony at Newton Hall in Fetter
  Lane after entering into the civil contract before the Registrar
  of the West Strand District. I ask you, as an Anglican Catholic,
  was that a marriage?

  SYKES [overwhelmed] Great Heavens, no! a thousand times, no. I
  never thought of that. I'm a child of sin. [He collapses into the
  railed chair].

  THE BISHOP. Oh, come, come! You are no more a child of sin than
  any Jew, or Mohammedan, or Nonconformist, or anyone else born
  outside the Church. But you see how it affects my view of the
  situation. To me there is only one marriage that is holy: the
  Church's sacrament of marriage. Outside that, I can recognize no
  distinction between one civil contract and another. There was a
  time when all marriages were made in Heaven. But because the
  Church was unwise and would not make its ordinances reasonable,
  its power over men and women was taken away from it; and
  marriages gave place to contracts at a registry office. And now
  that our Governments refuse to make these contracts reasonable,
  those whom we in our blindness drove out of the Church will be
  driven out of the registry office; and we shall have the history
  of Ancient Rome repeated. We shall be joined by our solicitors
  for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years--or perhaps months.
  Deeds of partnership will replace the old vows.

  THE GENERAL. Would you, a Bishop, approve of such partnerships?

  THE BISHOP. Do you think that I, a Bishop, approve of the
  Deceased Wife's Sister Act? That did not prevent its becoming

  THE GENERAL. But when the Government sounded you as to whether
  youd marry a man to his deceased wife's sister you very naturally
  and properly told them youd see them damned first.

  THE BISHOP [horrified] No, no, really, Boxer! You must not--

  THE GENERAL [impatiently] Oh, of course I dont mean that you used
  those words. But that was the meaning and the spirit of it.

  THE BISHOP. Not the spirit, Boxer, I protest. But never mind
  that. The point is that State marriage is already divorced from
  Church marriage. The relations between Leo and Rejjy and Sinjon
  are perfectly legal; but do you expect me, as a Bishop, to
  approve of them?

  THE GENERAL. I dont defend Reginald. He should have kicked you
  out of the house, Mr. Hotchkiss.

  REGINALD [rising] How could I kick him out of the house? He's
  stronger than me: he could have kicked me out if it came to that.
  He did kick me out: what else was it but kicking out, to take my
  wife's affections from me and establish himself in my place? [He
  comes to the hearth].

  HOTCHKISS. I protest, Reginald, I said all that a man could to
  prevent the smash.

  REGINALD. Oh, I know you did: I dont blame you: people dont do
  these things to one another: they happen and they cant be helped.
  What was I to do? I was old: she was young. I was dull: he was
  brilliant. I had a face like a walnut: he had a face like a
  mushroom. I was as glad to have him in the house as she was: he
  amused me. And we were a couple of fools: he gave us good advice
  --told us what to do when we didnt know. She found out that I
  wasnt any use to her and he was; so she nabbed him and gave me
  the chuck.

  LEO. If you dont stop talking in that disgraceful way about our
  married life, I'll leave the room and never speak to you again.

  REGINALD. Youre not going to speak to me again, anyhow, are you?
  Do you suppose I'm going to visit you when you marry him?

  HOTCHKISS. I hope so. Surely youre not going to be vindictive,
  Rejjy. Besides, youll have all the advantages I formerly enjoyed.
  Youll be the visitor, the relief, the new face, the fresh news,
  the hopeless attachment: I shall only be the husband.

  REGINALD [savagely] Will you tell me this, any of you? how is it
  that we always get talking about Hotchkiss when our business is
  about Edith? [He fumes up the kitchen to the tower and back to
  his chair].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Will somebody tell me how the world is to go on
  if nobody is to get married?

  SYKES. Will somebody tell me what an honorable man and a sincere
  Anglican is to propose to a woman whom he loves and who loves him
  and wont marry him?

  LEO. Will somebody tell me how I'm to arrange to take care of
  Rejjy when I'm married to Sinjon. Rejjy must not be allowed to
  marry anyone else, especially that odious nasty creature that
  told all those wicked lies about him in Court.

  HOTCHKISS. Let us draw up the first English partnership deed.

  LEO. For shame, Sinjon!

  THE BISHOP. Somebody must begin, my dear. Ive a very strong
  suspicion that when it is drawn up it will be so much worse than
  the existing law that you will all prefer getting married. We
  shall therefore be doing the greatest possible service to
  morality by just trying how the new system would work.

  LESBIA [suddenly reminding them of her forgotten presence as she
  stands thoughtfully in the garden doorway] Ive been thinking.

  THE BISHOP [to Hotchkiss] Nothing like making people think: is
  there, Sinjon?

  LESBIA [coming to the table, on the General's left] A woman has
  no right to refuse motherhood. That is clear, after the
  statistics given in The Times by Mr Sidney Webb.

  THE GENERAL. Mr Webb has nothing to do with it. It is the Voice
  of Nature.

  LESBIA. But if she is an English lady it is her right and her
  duty to stand out for honorable conditions. If we can agree on
  the conditions, I am willing to enter into an alliance with

  The General staggers to his feet, momentarily stupent and

  EDITH [rising] And I with Cecil.

  LEO [rising] And I with Rejjy and St John.

  THE GENERAL [aghast] An alliance! Do you mean a--a--a--

  REGINALD. She only means bigamy, as I understand her.

  THE GENERAL. Alfred: how long more are you going to stand there
  and countenance this lunacy? Is it a horrible dream or am I
  awake? In the name of common sense and sanity, let us go back to
  real life--

  Collins comes in through the tower, in alderman's robes. The
  ladies who are standing sit down hastily, and look as unconcerned
  as possible.

  COLLINS. Sorry to hurry you, my lord; but the Church has been
  full this hour past; and the organist has played all the wedding
  music in Lohengrin three times over.

  THE GENERAL. The very man we want. Alfred: I'm not equal to this
  crisis. You are not equal to it. The Army has failed. The Church
  has failed. I shall put aside all idle social distinctions and
  appeal to the Municipality.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Do, Boxer. He is sure to get us out of this

  Collins, a little puzzled, comes forward affably to Hotchkiss's

  HOTCHKISS [rising, impressed by the aldermanic gown] Ive not had
  the pleasure. Will you introduce me?

  COLLINS [confidentially] All right, sir. Only the greengrocer,
  sir, in charge of the wedding breakfast. Mr Alderman Collins,
  sir, when I'm in my gown.

  HOTCHKISS [staggered] Very pleased indeed [he sits down again].

  THE BISHOP. Personally I value the counsel of my old friend, Mr
  Alderman Collins, very highly. If Edith and Cecil will allow him--

  EDITH. Collins has known me from my childhood: I'm sure he will
  agree with me.

  COLLINS. Yes, miss: you may depend on me for that. Might I ask
  what the difficulty is?

  EDITH. Simply this. Do you expect me to get married in the
  existing state of the law?

  SYKES [rising and coming to Collin's left elbow] I put it to you
  as a sensible man: is it any worse for her than for me?

  REGINALD [leaving his place and thrusting himself between Collins
  and Sykes, who returns to his chair] Thats not the point. Let
  this be understood, Mr Collins. It's not the man who is backing
  out: it's the woman. [He posts himself on the hearth].

  LESBIA. We do not admit that, Collins. The women are perfectly
  ready to make a reasonable arrangement.

  LEO. With both men.

  THE GENERAL. The case is now before you, Mr Collins. And I put it
  to you as one man to another: did you ever hear such crazy

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. The world must go on, mustnt it, Collins?

  COLLINS [snatching at this, the first intelligible proposition he
  has heard] Oh, the world will go on, maam dont you be afraid of
  that. It aint so easy to stop it as the earnest kind of people

  EDITH. I knew you would agree with me, Collins. Thank you.

  HOTCHKISS. Have you the least idea of what they are talking
  about, Mr Alderman?

  COLLINS. Oh, thats all right, Sir. The particulars dont matter. I
  never read the report of a Committee: after all, what can they
  say, that you dont know? You pick it up as they go on talking.[He
  goes to the corner of the table and speaks across it to the
  company]. Well, my Lord and Miss Edith and Madam and Gentlemen,
  it's like this. Marriage is tolerable enough in its way if youre
  easygoing and dont expect too much from it. But it doesnt bear
  thinking about. The great thing is to get the young people tied
  up before they know what theyre letting themselves in for. Theres
  Miss Lesbia now. She waited till she started thinking about it;
  and then it was all over. If you once start arguing, Miss Edith
  and Mr Sykes, youll never get married. Go and get married first:
  youll have plenty of arguing afterwards, miss, believe me.

  HOTCHKISS. Your warning comes too late. Theyve started arguing

  THE GENERAL. But you dont take in the full--well, I dont wish to
  exaggerate; but the only word I can find is the full horror of
  the situation. These ladies not only refuse our honorable
  offers, but as I understand it--and I'm sure I beg your pardon
  most heartily, Lesbia, if I'm wrong, as I hope I am--they
  actually call on us to enter into--I'm sorry to use the
  expression; but what can I say?--into ALLIANCES with them under
  contracts to be drawn up by our confounded solicitors.

  COLLINS. Dear me, General: thats something new when the parties
  belong to the same class.

  THE BISHOP. Not new, Collins. The Romans did it.

  COLLINS. Yes: they would, them Romans. When youre in Rome do as
  the Romans do, is an old saying. But we're not in Rome at
  present, my lord.

  THE BISHOP. We have got into many of their ways. What do you
  think of the contract system, Collins?

  COLLINS. Well, my lord, when theres a question of a contract, I
  always say, shew it to me on paper. If it's to be talk, let it be
  talk; but if it's to be a contract, down with it in black and
  white; and then we shall know what we're about.

  HOTCHKISS. Quite right, Mr Alderman. Let us draft it at once. May
  I go into the study for writing materials, Bishop?

  THE BISHOP. Do, Sinjon.

  Hotchkiss goes into the library.

  COLLINS. If I might point out a difficulty, my lord--

  THE BISHOP. Certainly. [He goes to the fourth chair from the
  General's left, but before sitting down, courteously points to
  the chair at the end of the table next the hearth]. Wont you sit
  down, Mr Alderman? [Collins, very appreciative of the Bishop's
  distinguished consideration, sits down. The Bishop then takes his

  COLLINS. We are at present six men to four ladies. Thats not

  REGINALD. Not fair to the men, you mean.

  LEO. Oh! Rejjy has said something clever! Can I be mistaken in

  Hotchkiss comes back with a blotter and some paper. He takes the
  vacant place in the middle of the table between Lesbia and the

  COLLINS. I tell you the truth, my lord and ladies and gentlemen:
  I dont trust my judgment on this subject. Theres a certain lady
  that I always consult on delicate points like this. She has a
  very exceptional experience, and a wonderful temperament and
  instinct in affairs of the heart.

  HOTCHKISS. Excuse me, Mr Alderman: I'm a snob; and I warn you
  that theres no use consulting anyone who will not advise us
  frankly on class lines. Marriage is good enough for the lower
  classes: they have facilities for desertion that are denied to
  us. What is the social position of this lady?

  COLLINS. The highest in the borough, sir. She is the Mayoress.
  But you need not stand in awe of her, sir. She is my sister-in-
  law. [To the Bishop] Ive often spoken of her to your lady, my
  lord. [To Mrs Bridgenorth] Mrs George, maam.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [startled] Do you mean to say, Collins, that Mrs
  George is a real person?

  COLLINS [equally startled] Didnt you believe in her, maam?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Never for a moment.

  THE BISHOP. We always thought that Mrs George was too good to be
  true. I still dont believe in her, Collins. You must produce her
  if you are to convince me.

  COLLINS [overwhelmed] Well, I'm so taken aback by this that--Well
  I never!!! Why! shes at the church at this moment, waiting to see
  the wedding.

  THE BISHOP. Then produce her. [Collins shakes his head].Come,
  Collins! confess. Theres no such person.

  COLLINS. There is, my lord: there is, I assure you. You ask
  George. It's true I cant produce her; but you can, my lord.


  COLLINS. Yes, my lord, you. For some reason that I never could
  make out, she has forbidden me to talk about you, or to let her
  meet you. Ive asked her to come here of a wedding morning to help
  with the flowers or the like; and she has always refused. But if
  you order her to come as her Bishop, she'll come. She has some
  very strange fancies, has Mrs George. Send your ring to her, my
  lord--he official ring--send it by some very stylish gentleman--
  perhaps Mr Hotchkiss here would be good enough to take it--and
  she'll come.

  THE BISHOP [taking off his ring and handing it to Hotchkiss]
  Oblige me by undertaking the mission.

  HOTCHKISS. But how am I to know the lady?

  COLLINS. She has gone to the church in state, sir, and will be
  attended by a Beadle with a mace. He will point her out to you;
  and he will take the front seat of the carriage on the way back.

  HOTCHKISS. No, by heavens! Forgive me, Bishop; but you are asking
  too much. I ran away from the Boers because I was a snob. I run
  away from the Beadle for the same reason. I absolutely decline
  the mission.

  THE GENERAL [rising impressively] Be good enough to give me that
  ring, Mr Hotchkiss.

  HOTCHKISS. With pleasure. [He hands it to him].

  THE GENERAL. I shall have the great pleasure, Mr Alderman, in
  waiting on the Mayoress with the Bishop's orders; and I shall be
  proud to return with municipal honors. [He stalks out gallantly,
  Collins rising for a moment to bow to him with marked dignity].

  REGINALD. Boxer is rather a fine old josser in his way.

  HOTCHKISS. His uniform gives him an unfair advantage. He will
  take all the attention off the Beadle.

  COLLINS. I think it would be as well, my lord, to go on with the
  contract while we're waiting. The truth is, we shall none of us
  have much of a look-in when Mrs George comes; so we had better
  finish the writing part of the business before she arrives.

  HOTCHKISS. I think I have the preliminaries down all right.
  [Reading] 'Memorandum of Agreement made this day of blank blank
  between blank blank of blank blank in the County of blank,
  Esquire, hereinafter called the Gentleman, of the one part, and
  blank blank of blank in the County of blank, hereinafter called
  the Lady, of the other part, whereby it is declared and agreed as

  LEO [rising] You might remember your manners, Sinjon. The lady
  comes first. [She goes behind him and stoops to look at the draft
  over his shoulder].

  HOTCHKISS. To be sure. I beg your pardon. [He alters the draft].

  LEO. And you have got only one lady and one gentleman. There
  ought to be two gentlemen.

  COLLINS. Oh, thats a mere matter of form, maam. Any number of
  ladies or gentlemen can be put in.

  LEO. Not any number of ladies. Only one lady. Besides, that
  creature wasnt a lady.

  REGINALD. You shut your head, Leo. This is a general sort of
  contract for everybody: it's not your tract.

  LEO. Then what use is it to me?

  HOTCHKISS. You will get some hints from it for your own contract.

  EDITH. I hope there will be no hinting. Let us have the plain
  straightforward truth and nothing but the truth.

  COLLINS. Yes, yes, miss: it will be all right. Theres nothing
  underhand, I assure you. It's a model agreement, as it were.

  EDITH [unconvinced] I hope so.

  HOTCHKISS. What is the first clause in an agreement, usually? You
  know, Mr Alderman.

  COLLINS [at a loss] Well, Sir, the Town Clerk always sees to
  that. Ive got out of the habit of thinking for myself in these
  little matters. Perhaps his lordship knows.

  THE BISHOP. I'm sorry to say I dont. Soames will know. Alice,
  where is Soames?

  HOTCHKISS. He's in there [pointing to the study].

  THE BISHOP [to his wife] Coax him to join us, my love. [Mrs
  Bridgenorth goes into the study]. Soames is my chaplain, Mr
  Collins. The great difficulty about Bishops in the Church of
  England to-day is that the affairs of the diocese make it
  necessary that a Bishop should be before everything a man of
  business, capable of sticking to his desk for sixteen hours a
  day. But the result of having Bishops of this sort is that the
  spiritual interests of the Church, and its influence on the souls
  and imaginations of the people, very soon begins to go rapidly to
  the devil--

  EDITH [shocked] Papa!

  THE BISHOP. I am speaking technically, not in Boxer's manner.
  Indeed the Bishops themselves went so far in that direction that
  they gained a reputation for being spiritually the stupidest men
  in the country and commercially the sharpest. I found a way out
  of this difficulty. Soames was my solicitor. I found that Soames,
  though a very capable man of business, had a romantic secret his-
  tory. His father was an eminent Nonconformist divine who
  habitually spoke of the Church of England as The Scarlet Woman.
  Soames became secretly converted to Anglicanism at the age of
  fifteen. He longed to take holy orders, but didnt dare to,
  because his father had a weak heart and habitually threatened to
  drop dead if anybody hurt his feelings. You may have noticed that
  people with weak hearts are the tyrants of English family life.
  So poor Soames had to become a solicitor. When his father died--
  by a curious stroke of poetic justice he died of scarlet fever,
  and was found to have had a perfectly sound heart--I ordained
  Soames and made him my chaplain. He is now quite happy. He is a
  celibate; fasts strictly on Fridays and throughout Lent; wears a
  cassock and biretta; and has more legal business to do than ever
  he had in his old office in Ely Place. And he sets me free for
  the spiritual and scholarly pursuits proper to a Bishop.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [coming back from the study with a knitting
  basket] Here he is. [She resumes her seat, and knits].
  Soames comes in in cassock and biretta. He salutes the company by
  blessing them with two fingers.

  HOTCHKISS. Take my place, Mr Soames. [He gives up his chair to
  him, and retires to the oak chest, on which he seats himself].

  THE BISHOP. No longer Mr Soames, Sinjon. Father Anthony.

  SOAMES [taking his seat] I was christened Oliver Cromwell Soames.
  My father had no right to do it. I have taken the name of
  Anthony. When you become parents, young gentlemen, be very
  careful not to label a helpless child with views which it may
  come to hold in abhorrence.

  THE BISHOP. Has Alice explained to you the nature of the document
  we are drafting?

  SOAMES. She has indeed.

  LESBIA. That sounds as if you disapproved.

  SOAMES. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I do the work
  that comes to my hand from my ecclesiastical superior.

  THE BISHOP. Dont be uncharitable, Anthony. You must give us your
  best advice.

  SOAMES. My advice to you all is to do your duty by taking the
  Christian vows of celibacy and poverty. The Church was founded
  to put an end to marriage and to put an end to property.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. But how could the world go on, Anthony?

  SOAMES. Do your duty and see. Doing your duty is your business:
  keeping the world going is in higher hands.

  LESBIA. Anthony: youre impossible.

  SOAMES [taking up his pen] You wont take my advice. I didnt
  expect you would. Well, I await your instructions.

  REGINALD. We got stuck on the first clause. What should we begin

  SOAMES. It is usual to begin with the term of the contract.

  EDITH. What does that mean?

  SOAMES. The term of years for which it is to hold good.

  LEO. But this is a marriage contract.

  SOAMES. Is the marriage to be for a year, a week, or a day?

  REGINALD. Come, I say, Anthony! Youre worse than any of us. A

  SOAMES. Off the path is off the path. An inch or a mile: what
  does it matter?

  LEO. If the marriage is not to be for ever, I'll have nothing to
  do with it. I call it immoral to have a marriage for a term of
  years. If the people dont like it they can get divorced.

  REGINALD. It ought to be for just as long as the two people like.
  Thats what I say.

  COLLINS. They may not agree on the point, sir. It's often fast
  with one and loose with the other.

  LESBIA. I should say for as long as the man behaves himself.

  THE BISHOP. Suppose the woman doesnt behave herself?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. The woman may have lost all her chances of a
  good marriage with anybody else. She should not be cast adrift.

  REGINALD. So may the man! What about his home?

  LEO. The wife ought to keep an eye on him, and see that he is
  comfortable and takes care of himself properly. The other man
  wont want her all the time.

  LESBIA. There may not be another man.

  LEO. Then why on earth should she leave him?

  LESBIA. Because she wants to.

  LEO. Oh, if people are going to be let do what they want to,
  then I call it simple immorality. [She goes indignantly to the
  oak chest, and perches herself on it close beside Hotchkiss].

  REGINALD [watching them sourly] You do it yourself, dont you?

  LEO. Oh, thats quite different. Dont make foolish witticisms,

  THE BISHOP. We dont seem to be getting on. What do you say, Mr

  COLLINS. Well, my lord, you see people do persist in talking as
  if marriages was all of one sort. But theres almost as many
  different sorts of marriages as theres different sorts of people.
  Theres the young things that marry for love, not knowing what
  theyre doing, and the old things that marry for money and comfort
  and companionship. Theres the people that marry for children.
  Theres the people that dont intend to have children and that arnt
  fit to have them. Theres the people that marry because theyre so
  much run after by the other sex that they have to put a stop to
  it somehow. Theres the people that want to try a new experience,
  and the people that want to have done with experiences. How are
  you to please them all? Why, youll want half a dozen different
  sorts of contract.

  THE BISHOP. Well, if so, let us draw them all up. Let us face it.

  REGINALD. Why should we be held together whether we like it or
  not? Thats the question thats at the bottom of it all.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Because of the children, Rejjy.

  COLLINS. But even then, maam, why should we be held together when
  thats all over--when the girls are married and the boys out in
  the world and in business for themselves? When thats done with,
  the real work of the marriage is done with. If the two like to
  stay together, let them stay together. But if not, let them part,
  as old people in the workhouses do. Theyve had enough of one
  another. Theyve found one another out. Why should they be tied
  together to sit there grudging and hating and spiting one another
  like so many do? Put it twenty years from the birth of the
  youngest child.

  SOAMES. How if there be no children?

  COLLINS. Let em take one another on liking.


  LEO. You wicked old man--

  THE BISHOP [remonstrating] My dear, my dear!

  LESBIA. And what is a woman to live on, pray, when she is no
  longer liked, as you call it?

  SOAMES [with sardonic formality] It is proposed that the term of
  the agreement be twenty years from the birth of the youngest
  child when there are children. Any amendment?

  LEO. I protest. It must be for life. It would not be a marriage
  at all if it were not for life.

  SOAMES. Mrs Reginald Bridgenorth proposes life. Any seconder?

  LEO. Dont be soulless, Anthony.

  LESBIA. I have a very important amendment. If there are any
  children, the man must be cleared completely out of the house for
  two years on each occasion. At such times he is superfluous,
  importunate, and ridiculous.

  COLLINS. But where is he to go, miss?

  LESBIA. He can go where he likes as long as he does not bother
  the mother.

  REGINALD. And is she to be left lonely--

  LESBIA. Lonely! With her child. The poor woman would be only too
  glad to have a moment to herself. Dont be absurd, Rejjy.

  REGINALD. That father is to be a wandering wretched outcast,
  living at his club, and seeing nobody but his friends' wives!

  LESBIA [ironically] Poor fellow!

  HOTCHKISS. The friends' wives are perhaps the solution of the
  problem. You see, their husbands will also be outcasts; and the
  poor ladies will occasionally pine for male society.

  LESBIA. There is no reason why a mother should not have male
  society. What she clearly should not have is a husband.

  SOAMES. Anything else, Miss Grantham?

  LESBIA. Yes: I must have my own separate house, or my own
  separate part of a house. Boxer smokes: I cant endure tobacco.
  Boxer believes that an open window means death from cold and
  exposure to the night air: I must have fresh air always. We can
  be friends; but we cant live together; and that must be put in
  the agreement.

  EDITH. Ive no objection to smoking; and as to opening the
  windows, Cecil will of course have to do what is best for his

  THE BISHOP. Who is to be the judge of that, my dear? You or he?

  EDITH. Neither of us. We must do what the doctor orders.

  REGINALD. Doctor be--!

  LEO [admonitorily] Rejjy!

  REGINALD [to Soames] You take my tip, Anthony. Put a clause into
  that agreement that the doctor is to have no say in the job. It's
  bad enough for the two people to be married to one another
  without their both being married to the doctor as well.

  LESBIA. That reminds me of something very important. Boxer
  believes in vaccination: I do not. There must be a clause that I
  am to decide on such questions as I think best.

  LEO [to the Bishop] Baptism is nearly as important as
  vaccination: isnt it?

  THE BISHOP. It used to be considered so, my dear.

  LEO. Well, Sinjon scoffs at it: he says that godfathers are
  ridiculous. I must be allowed to decide.

  REGINALD. Theyll be his children as well as yours, you know.

  LEO. Dont be indelicate, Rejjy.

  EDITH. You are forgetting the very important matter of money.

  COLLINS. Ah! Money! Now we're coming to it!

  EDITH. When I'm married I shall have practically no money except
  what I shall earn.

  THE BISHOP. I'm sorry, Cecil. A Bishop's daughter is a poor man's

  SYKES. But surely you dont imagine that I'm going to let Edith
  work when we're married. I'm not a rich man; but Ive enough to
  spare her that; and when my mother dies--

  EDITH. What nonsense! Of course I shall work when I'm married. I
  shall keep your house.

  SYKES. Oh, that!

  REGINALD. You call that work?

  EDITH. Dont you? Leo used to do it for nothing; so no doubt you
  thought it wasnt work at all. Does your present housekeeper do it
  for nothing?

  REGINALD. But it will be part of your duty as a wife.

  EDITH. Not under this contract. I'll not have it so. If I'm to
  keep the house, I shall expect Cecil to pay me at least as well
  as he would pay a hired housekeeper. I'll not go begging to him
  every time I want a new dress or a cab fare, as so many women
  have to do.

  SYKES. You know very well I would grudge you nothing, Edie.

  EDITH. Then dont grudge me my self-respect and independence. I
  insist on it in fairness to you, Cecil, because in this way there
  will be a fund belonging solely to me; and if Slattox takes an
  action against you for anything I say, you can pay the damages
  and stop the interest out of my salary.

  SOAMES. You forget that under this contract he will not be
  liable, because you will not be his wife in law.

  EDITH. Nonsense! Of course I shall be his wife.

  COLLINS [his curiosity roused] Is Slattox taking an action
  against you, miss? Slattox is on the Council with me. Could I
  settle it?

  EDITH. He has not taken an action; but Cecil says he will.

  COLLINS. What for, miss, if I may ask?

  EDITH. Slattox is a liar and a thief; and it is my duty to expose

  COLLINS. You surprise me, miss. Of course Slattox is in a manner
  of speaking a liar. If I may say so without offence, we're all
  liars, if it was only to spare one another's feelings. But I
  shouldnt call Slattox a thief. He's not all that he should be,
  perhaps; but he pays his way.

  EDITH. If that is only your nice way of saying that Slattox is
  entirely unfit to have two hundred girls in his power as absolute
  slaves, then I shall say that too about him at the very next
  public meeting I address. He steals their wages under pretence of
  fining them. He steals their food under pretence of buying it for
  them. He lies when he denies having done it. And he does other
  things, as you evidently know, Collins. Therefore I give you
  notice that I shall expose him before all England without the
  least regard to the consequences to myself.

  SYKES. Or to me?

  EDITH. I take equal risks. Suppose you felt it to be your duty to
  shoot Slattox, what would become of me and the children? I'm sure
  I dont want anybody to be shot: not even Slattox; but if the
  public never will take any notice of even the most crying evil
  until somebody is shot, what are people to do but shoot somebody?

  SOAMES [inexorably] I'm waiting for my instructions as to the
  term of the agreement.

  REGINALD [impatiently, leaving the hearth and going behind
  Soames] It's no good talking all over the shop like this. We
  shall be here all day. I propose that the agreement holds good
  until the parties are divorced.

  SOAMES. They cant be divorced. They will not be married.

  REGINALD. But if they cant be divorced, then this will be worse
  than marriage.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Of course it will. Do stop this nonsense. Why,
  who are the children to belong to?

  LESBIA. We have already settled that they are to belong to the

  REGINALD. No: I'm dashed if you have. I'll fight for the
  ownership of my own children tooth and nail; and so will a good
  many other fellows, I can tell you.

  EDITH. It seems to me that they should be divided between the
  parents. If Cecil wishes any of the children to be his
  exclusively, he should pay a certain sum for the risk and trouble
  of bringing them into the world: say a thousand pounds apiece.
  The interest on this could go towards the support of the child as
  long as we live together. But the principal would be my property.
  In that way, if Cecil took the child away from me, I should at
  least be paid for what it had cost me.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [putting down her knitting in amazement] Edith!
  Who ever heard of such a thing!!

  EDITH. Well, how else do you propose to settle it?

  THE BISHOP. There is such a thing as a favorite child. What about
  the youngest child--the Benjamin--the child of its parents'
  matured strength and charity, always better treated and better
  loved than the unfortunate eldest children of their youthful
  ignorance and wilfulness? Which parent is to own the youngest
  child, payment or no payment?

  COLLINS. Theres a third party, my lord. Theres the child itself.
  My wife is so fond of her children that they cant call their
  lives their own. They all run away from home to escape from her.
  A child hasnt a grown-up person's appetite for affection. A
  little of it goes a long way with them; and they like a good
  imitation of it better than the real thing, as every nurse knows.

  SOAMEs. Are you sure that any of us, young or old, like the real
  thing as well as we like an artistic imitation of it? Is not the
  real thing accursed? Are not the best beloved always the good
  actors rather than the true sufferers? Is not love always
  falsified in novels and plays to make it endurable? I have
  noticed in myself a great delight in pictures of the Saints and
  of Our Lady; but when I fall under that most terrible curse of
  the priest's lot, the curse of Joseph pursued by the wife of
  Potiphar, I am invariably repelled and terrified.

  HOTCHKISS. Are you now speaking as a saint, Father Anthony, or as
  a solicitor?

  SOAMES. There is no difference. There is not one Christian rule
  for solicitors and another for saints. Their hearts are alike;
  and their way of salvation is along the same road.

  THE BISHOP. But "few there be that find it."  Can you find it for
  us, Anthony?

  SOAMES. It lies broad before you. It is the way to destruction
  that is narrow and tortuous. Marriage is an abomination which the
  Church has founded to cast out and replace by the communion of
  saints. I learnt that from every marriage settlement I drew up as
  a solicitor no less than from inspired revelation. You have set
  yourselves here to put your sin before you in black and white;
  and you cant agree upon or endure one article of it.

  SYKES. It's certainly rather odd that the whole thing seems to
  fall to pieces the moment you touch it.

  THE BISHOP. You see, when you give the devil fair play he loses
  his case. He has not been able to produce even the first clause
  of a working agreement; so I'm afraid we cant wait for him any

  LESBIA. Then the community will have to do without my children.

  EDITH. And Cecil will have to do without me.

  LEO [getting off the chest] And I positively will not marry
  Sinjon if he is not clever enough to make some provision for my
  looking after Rejjy. [She leaves Hotchkiss, and goes back to her
  chair at the end of the table behind Mrs Bridgenorth].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. And the world will come to an end with this
  generation, I suppose.

  COLLINS. Cant nothing be done, my lord?

  THE BISHOP. You can make divorce reasonable and decent: that is

  LESBIA. Thank you for nothing. If you will only make marriage
  reasonable and decent, you can do as you like about divorce. I
  have not stated my deepest objection to marriage; and I dont
  intend to. There are certain rights I will not give any person
  over me.

  REGINALD. Well, I think it jolly hard that a man should support
  his wife for years, and lose the chance of getting a really good
  wife, and then have her refuse to be a wife to him.

  LESBIA. I'm not going to discuss it with you, Rejjy. If your
  sense of personal honor doesnt make you understand, nothing will.

  SOAMES [implacably] I'm still awaiting my instructions.

  They look at one another, each waiting for one of the others to
  suggest something. Silence.

  REGINALD [blankly] I suppose, after all, marriage is better than
  --well, than the usual alternative.

  SOAMES [turning fiercely on him] What right have you to say so?
  You know that the sins that are wasting and maddening this
  unhappy nation are those committed in wedlock.

  COLLINS. Well, the single ones cant afford to indulge their
  affections the same as married people.

  SOAMES. Away with it all, I say. You have your Master's
  commandments. Obey them.

  HOTCHKISS [rising and leaning on the back of the chair left
  vacant by the General] I really must point out to you, Father
  Anthony, that the early Christian rules of life were not made to
  last, because the early Christians did not believe that the world
  itself was going to last. Now we know that we shall have to go
  through with it. We have found that there are millions of years
  behind us; and we know that that there are millions before us.
  Mrs Bridgenorth's question remains unanswered. How is the world
  to go on? You say that that is our business--that it is the
  business of Providence. But the modern Christian view is that we
  are here to do the business of Providence and nothing else. The
  question is, how. Am I not to use my reason to find out why? Isnt
  that what my reason is for? Well, all my reason tells me at
  present is that you are an impracticable lunatic.

  SOAMEs. Does that help?


  SOAMEs. Then pray for light.

  HOTCHKISS. No: I am a snob, not a beggar. [He sits down in the
  General's chair].

  COLLINS. We dont seem to be getting on, do we? Miss Edith: you
  and Mr Sykes had better go off to church and settle the right and
  wrong of it afterwards. Itll ease your minds, believe me: I speak
  from experience. You will burn your boats, as one might say.

  SOAMES. We should never burn our boats. It is death in life.

  COLLINS. Well, Father, I will say for you that you have views of
  your own and are not afraid to out with them. But some of us are
  of a more cheerful disposition. On the Borough Council now, you
  would be in a minority of one. You must take human nature as it

  SOAMES. Upon what compulsion must I? I'll take divine nature as
  it is. I'll not hold a candle to the devil.

  THE BISHOP. Thats a very unchristian way of treating the devil.

  REGINALD. Well, we dont seem to be getting any further, do we?

  THE BISHOP. Will you give it up and get married, Edith?

  EDITH. No. What I propose seems to me quite reasonable.

  THE BISHOP. And you, Lesbia?

  LESBIA. Never.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. Never is a long word, Lesbia. Dont say it.

  LESBIA [with a flash of temper] Dont pity me, Alice, please. As I
  said before, I am an English lady, quite prepared to do without
  anything I cant have on honorable conditions.

  SOAMES [after a silence expressive of utter deadlock] I am still
  awaiting my instructions.

  REGINALD. Well, we dont seem to be getting along, do we?

  LEO [out of patience] You said that before, Rejjy. Do not repeat

  REGINALD. Oh, bother! [He goes to the garden door and looks out

  SOAMES [rising with the paper in his hands] Psha! [He tears it in
  pieces]. So much for the contract!

  THE VOICE OF THE BEADLE. By your leave there, gentlemen. Make way
  for the Mayoress. Way for the worshipful the Mayoress, my lords
  and gentlemen. [He comes in through the tower, in cocked hat and
  goldbraided overcoat, bearing the borough mace, and posts himself
  at the entrance]. By your leave, gentlemen, way for the
  worshipful the Mayoress.

  COLLINS [moving back towards the wall] Mrs George, my lord.

  Mrs George is every inch a Mayoress in point of stylish dressing;
  and she does it very well indeed. There is nothing quiet about
  Mrs George; she is not afraid of colors, and knows how to make
  the most of them. Not at all a lady in Lesbia's use of the term
  as a class label, she proclaims herself to the first glance as
  the triumphant, pampered, wilful, intensely alive woman who has
  always been rich among poor people. In a historical museum she
  would explain Edward the Fourth's taste for shopkeepers' wives.
  Her age, which is certainly 40, and might be 50, is carried off
  by her vitality, her resilient figure, and her confident
  carriage. So far, a remarkably well-preserved woman. But her
  beauty is wrecked, like an ageless landscape ravaged by long and
  fierce war. Her eyes are alive, arresting and haunting; and there
  is still a turn of delicate beauty and pride in her indomitable
  chin; but her cheeks are wasted and lined, her mouth writhen and
  piteous. The whole face is a battlefield of the passions, quite
  deplorable until she speaks, when an alert sense of fun
  rejuvenates her in a moment, and makes her company irresistible.

  All rise except Soames, who sits down. Leo joins Reginald at the
  garden door. Mrs Bridgenorth hurries to the tower to receive her
  guest, and gets as far as Soames's chair when Mrs George appears.
  Hotchkiss, apparently recognizing her, recoils in consternation
  to the study door at the furthest corner of the room from her.

  MRS GEORGE [coming straight to the Bishop with the ring in her
  hand] Here is your ring, my lord; and here am I. It's your doing,
  remember: not mine.

  THE BISHOP. Good of you to come.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. How do you do, Mrs Collins?

  MRS GEORGE [going to her past the Bishop, and gazing intently at
  her] Are you his wife?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. The Bishop's wife? Yes.

  MRS GEORGE. What a destiny! And you look like any other woman!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [introducing Lesbia] My sister, Miss Grantham.

  MRS GEORGE. So strangely mixed up with the story of the General's

  THE BISHOP. You know the story of his life, then?

  MRS GEORGE. Not all. We reached the house before he brought it up
  to the present day. But enough to know the part played in it by
  Miss Grantham.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [introducing Leo] Mrs Reginald Bridgenorth.

  REGINALD. The late Mrs Reginald Bridgenorth.

  LEO. Hold your tongue, Rejjy. At least have the decency to wait
  until the decree is made absolute.

  MRS GEORGE [to Leo] Well, youve more time to get married again
  than he has, havnt you?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [introducing Hotchkiss] Mr St John Hotchkiss.

  Hotchkiss, still far aloof by the study door, bows.

  MRS GEORGE. What! That! [She makes a half tour of the kitchen and
  ends right in front of him]. Young man: do you remember coming
  into my shop and telling me that my husband's coals were out of
  place in your cellar, as Nature evidently intended them for the

  HOTCHKISS. I remember that deplorable impertinence with shame and
  confusion. You were kind enough to answer that Mr Collins was
  looking out for a clever young man to write advertisements, and
  that I could take the job if I liked.

  MRS GEORGE. It's still open. [She turns to Edith].

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. My daughter Edith. [She comes towards the study
  door to make the introduction].

  MRS GEORGE. The bride! [Looking at Edith's dressing-jacket] Youre
  not going to get married like that, are you?

  THE BISHOP [coming round the table to Edith's left] Thats just
  what we are discussing. Will you be so good as to join us and
  allow us the benefit of your wisdom and experience?

  MRS GEORGE. Do you want the Beadle as well? He's a married man.

  They all turn, involuntarily and contemplate the Beadle, who
  sustains their gaze with dignity.

  THE BISHOP. We think there are already too many men to be quite
  fair to the women.

  MRS GEORGE. Right, my lord. [She goes back to the tower and
  addresses the Beadle] Take away that bauble, Joseph. Wait for me
  wherever you find yourself most comfortable in the neighborhood.
  [The Beadle withdraws. She notices Collins for the first time].
  Hullo, Bill: youve got em all on too. Go and hunt up a drink for
  Joseph: theres a dear. [Collins goes out. She looks at Soames's
  cassock and biretta]  What! Another uniform! Are you the sexton?
  [He rises].

  THE BISHOP. My chaplain, Father Anthony.

  MRS GEORGE. Oh Lord! [To Soames, coaxingly] You dont mind, do

  SOAMES. I mind nothing but my duties.

  THE BISHOP. You know everybody now, I think.

  MRS GEORGE [turning to the railed chair] Who's this?

  THE BISHOP. Oh, I beg your pardon, Cecil. Mr Sykes. The

  MRS GEORGE [to Sykes] Adorned for the sacrifice, arnt you?

  SYKES. It seems doubtful whether there is going to be any

  MRS GEORGE. Well, I want to talk to the women first. Shall we go
  upstairs and look at the presents and dresses?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. If you wish, certainly.

  REGINALD. But the men want to hear what you have to say too.

  MRS GEORGE. I'll talk to them afterwards: one by one.

  HOTCHKISS [to himself] Great heavens!

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. This way, Mrs Collins. [She leads the way out
  through the tower, followed by Mrs George, Lesbia, Leo, and

  THE BISHOP. Shall we try to get through the last batch of letters
  whilst they are away, Soames?

  SOAMES. Yes, certainly. [To Hotchkiss, who is in his way] Excuse

  The Bishop and Soames go into the study, disturbing Hotchkiss,
  who, plunged in a strange reverie, has forgotten where he is.
  Awakened by Soames, he stares distractedly; then, with sudden
  resolution, goes swiftly to the middle of the kitchen.

  HOTCHKISS. Cecil. Rejjy. [Startled by his urgency, they hurry to
  him]. I'm frightfully sorry to desert on this day; but I must
  bolt. This time it really is pure cowardice. I cant help it.

  REGINALD. What are you afraid of?

  HOTCHKISS. I dont know. Listen to me. I was a young fool living
  by myself in London. I ordered my first ton of coals from that
  woman's husband. At that time I did not know that it is not true
  economy to buy the lowest priced article: I thought all coals
  were alike, and tried the thirteen shilling kind because it
  seemed cheap. It proved unexpectedly inferior to the family
  Silkstone; and in the irritation into which the first scuttle
  threw me, I called at the shop and made an idiot of myself as she

  SYKES. Well, suppose you did! Laugh at it, man.

  HOTCHKISS. At that, yes. But there was something worse. Judge of
  my horror when, calling on the coal merchant to make a trifling
  complaint at finding my grate acting as a battery of quick-firing
  guns, and being confronted by his vulgar wife, I felt in her
  presence an extraordinary sensation of unrest, of emotion, of
  unsatisfied need. I'll not disgust you with details of the
  madness and folly that followed that meeting. But it went as far
  as this: that I actually found myself prowling past the shop at
  night under a sort of desperate necessity to be near some place
  where she had been. A hideous temptation to kiss the doorstep
  because her foot had pressed it made me realize how mad I was. I
  tore myself away from London by a supreme effort; but I was on
  the point of returning like a needle to the lodestone when the
  outbreak of the war saved me. On the field of battle the
  infatuation wore off. The Billiter affair made a new man of me: I
  felt that I had left the follies and puerilities of the old days
  behind me for ever. But half-an-hour ago--when the Bishop sent
  off that ring--a sudden grip at the base of my heart filled me
  with a nameless terror--me, the fearless! I recognized its cause
  when she walked into the room. Cecil: this woman is a harpy, a
  siren, a mermaid, a vampire. There is only one chance for me:
  flight, instant precipitate flight. Make my excuses.
  Forget me. Farewell. [He makes for the door and is confronted by
  Mrs George entering]. Too late: I'm lost. [He turns back and
  throws himself desperately into the chair nearest the study door;
  that being the furthest away from her].

  MRS GEORGE [coming to the hearth and addressing Reginald] Mr
  Bridgenorth: will you oblige me by leaving me with this young
  man. I want to talk to him like a mother, on YOUR business.

  REGINALD. Do, maam. He needs it badly. Come along, Sykes. [He
  goes into the study].

  SYKES [looks irresolutely at Hotchkiss]--?

  HOTCHKISS. Too late: you cant save me now, Cecil. Go.

  Sykes goes into the study. Mrs George strolls across to Hotchkiss
  and contemplates him curiously.

  HOTCHKISS. Useless to prolong this agony. [Rising] Fatal woman--
  if woman you are indeed and not a fiend in human form--

  MRS GEORGE. Is this out of a book? Or is it your usual society
  small talk?

  HOTCHKISS [recklessly] Jibes are useless: the force that is
  sweeping me away will not spare you. I must know the worst at
  once. What was your father?

  MRS GEORGE. A licensed victualler who married his barmaid. You
  would call him a publican, most likely.

  HOTCHKISS. Then you are a woman totally beneath me. Do you deny
  it? Do you set up any sort of pretence to be my equal in rank, in
  age, or in culture?

  MRS GEORGE. Have you eaten anything that has disagreed with you?

  HOTCHKISS [witheringly] Inferior!

  MRS GEORGE. Thank you. Anything else?

  HOTCHKISS. This. I love you. My intentions are not honorable.
  [She shows no dismay]. Scream. Ring the bell. Have me turned out
  of the house.

  MRS GEORGE [with sudden depth of feeling]  Oh, if you could
  restore to this wasted exhausted heart one ray of the passion
  that once welled up at the glance at the touch of a lover! It's
  you who would scream then, young man. Do you see this face, once
  fresh and rosy like your own, now scarred and riven by a hundred
  burnt-out fires?

  HOTCHKISS [wildly] Slate fires. Thirteen shillings a ton. Fires
  that shoot out destructive meteors, blinding and burning, sending
  men into the streets to make fools of themselves.

  MRS GEORGE. You seem to have got it pretty bad, Sinjon.

  HOTCHKISS. Dont dare call me Sinjon.

  MRS GEORGE. My name is Zenobia Alexandrina. You may call me Polly
  for short.

  HOTCHKISS. Your name is Ashtoreth--Durga--there is no name yet
  invented malign enough for you.

  MRS GEORGE [sitting down comfortably] Come! Do you really think
  youre better suited to that young sauce box than her husband? You
  enjoyed her company when you were only the friend of the family--
  when there was the husband there to shew off against and to take
  all the responsibility. Are you sure youll enjoy it as much when
  you are the husband? She isnt clever, you know. She's only silly-

  HOTCHKISS [uneasily leaning against the table and holding on to
  it to control his nervous movements] Need you tell me? fiend that
  you are!

  MRS GEORGE. You amused the husband, didnt you?

  HOTCHKISS. He has more real sense of humor than she. He's better
  bred. That was not my fault.

  MRS GEORGE. My husband has a sense of humor too.

  HOTCHKISS. The coal merchant?--I mean the slate merchant.

  MRS GEORGE [appreciatively] He would just love to hear you talk.
  He's been dull lately for want of a change of company and a bit
  of fresh fun.

  HOTCHKISS [flinging a chair opposite her and sitting down with an
  overdone attempt at studied insolence] And pray what is your
  wretched husband's vulgar conviviality to me?

  MRS GEORGE. You love me?

  HOTCHKISS. I loathe you.

  MRS GEORGE. It's the same thing.

  HOTCHKISS. Then I'm lost.

  MRS GEORGE. You may come and see me if you promise to amuse

  HOTCHKISS. I'll insult him, sneer at him, wipe my boots on him.

  MRS GEORGE. No you wont, dear boy. Youll be a perfect gentleman.

  HOTCHKISS [beaten; appealing to her mercy] Zenobia--

  MRS GEORGE. Polly, please.

  HOTCHKISS. Mrs Collins--


  HOTCHKISS. Something stronger than my reason and common sense is
  holding my hands and tearing me along. I make no attempt to deny
  that it can drag me where you please and make me do what you
  like. But at least let me know your soul as you seem to know
  mine. Do you love this absurd coal merchant?

  MRS GEORGE. Call him George.

  HOTCHKISS. Do you love your Jorjy Porjy?

  MRS GEORGE. Oh, I dont know that I love him. He's my husband, you
  know. But if I got anxious about George's health, and I thought
  it would nourish him, I would fry you with onions for his
  breakfast and think nothing of it. George and I are good friends.
  George belongs to me. Other men may come and go; but George goes
  on for ever.

  HOTCHKISS. Yes: a husband soon becomes nothing but a habit.
  Listen: I suppose this detestable fascination you have for me is

  MRS GEORGE. Any sort of feeling for a woman is called love

  HOTCHKISS. Do you love me?

  MRS GEORGE [promptly] My love is not quite so cheap an article as
  that, my lad. I wouldnt cross the street to have another look at
  you--not yet. I'm not starving for love like the robins in
  winter, as the good ladies youre accustomed to are. Youll have to
  be very clever, and very good, and very real, if you are to
  interest me. If George takes a fancy to you, and you amuse him
  enough, I'll just tolerate you coming in and out occasionally
  for--well, say a month. If you can make a friend of me in that
  time so much the better for you. If you can touch my poor dying
  heart even for an instant, I'll bless you, and never forget you.
  You may try--if George takes to you.

  HOTCHKISS. I'm to come on liking for the month?

  MRS GEORGE. On condition that you drop Mrs Reginald.

  HOTCHKISS. But she wont drop me. Do you suppose I ever wanted to
  marry her? I was a homeless bachelor; and I felt quite happy at
  their house as their friend. Leo was an amusing little devil; but
  I liked Reginald much more than I liked her. She didnt
  understand. One day she came to me and told me that the
  inevitable bad happened. I had tact enough not to ask her what
  the inevitable was; and I gathered presently that she had told
  Reginald that their marriage was a mistake and that she loved me
  and could no longer see me breaking my heart for her in suffering
  silence. What could I say? What could I do? What can I say now?
  What can I do now?

  MRS GEORGE. Tell her that the habit of falling in love with other
  men's wives is growing on you; and that I'm your latest.

  HOTCHKISS. What! Throw her over when she has thrown Reginald over
  for me!

  MRS GEORGE [rising] You wont then? Very well. Sorry we shant meet
  again: I should have liked to see more of you for George's sake.
  Good-bye [she moves away from him towards the hearth].

  HOTCHKISS [appealing] Zenobia--

  MRS. GEORGE. I thought I lead made a difficult conquest. Now I
  see you are only one of those poor petticoat-hunting creatures
  that any woman can pick up. Not for me, thank you. [Inexorable,
  she turns towards the tower to go].

  HOTCHKISS [following] Dont be an ass, Polly.

  MRS GEORGE [stopping] Thats better.

  HOTCHKISS. Cant you see that I maynt throw Leo over just because
  I should be only too glad to. It would be dishonorable.

  MRS GEORGE. Will you be happy if you marry her?

  HOTCHKISS. No, great heaven, NO!

  MRS GEORGE. Will she be happy when she finds you out?

  HOTCHKISS. She's incapable of happiness. But she's not incapable
  of the pleasure of holding a man against his will.

  MRS GEORGE. Right, young man. You will tell her, please, that you
  love me: before everybody, mind, the very next time you see her.


  MRS GEORGE. Those are my orders, Sinjon. I cant have you marry
  another woman until George is tired of you.

  HOTCHKISS. Oh, if I only didnt selfishly want to obey you!

  The General comes in from the garden. Mrs George goes half way to
  the garden door to speak to him. Hotchkiss posts himself on the

  MRS GEORGE. Where have you been all this time?

  THE GENERAL. I'm afraid my nerves were a little upset by our
  conversation. I just went into the garden and had a smoke. I'm
  all right now [he strolls down to the study door and presently
  takes a chair at that end of the big table].

  MRS GEORGE. A smoke! Why, you said she couldnt bear it.

  THE GENERAL. Good heavens! I forgot! It's such a natural thing to
  do, somehow.

  Lesbia comes in through the tower.

  MRS GEORGE. He's been smoking again.

  LESBIA. So my nose tells me. [She goes to the end of the table
  nearest the hearth, and sits down].

  THE GENERAL. Lesbia: I'm very sorry. But if I gave it up, I
  should become so melancholy and irritable that you would be the
  first to implore me to take to it again.

  MRS GEORGE. Thats true. Women drive their husbands into all sorts
  of wickedness to keep them in good humor. Sinjon: be off with
  you: this doesnt concern you.

  LESBIA. Please dont disturb yourself, Sinjon. Boxer's broken
  heart has been worn on his sleeve too long for any pretence of

  THE GENERAL. You are cruel, Lesbia: devilishly cruel. [He sits
  down, wounded].

  LESBIA. You are vulgar, Boxer.

  HOTCHKISS. In what way? I ask, as an expert in vulgarity.

  LESBIA. In two ways. First, he talks as if the only thing of any
  importance in life was which particular woman he shall marry.
  Second, he has no self-control.

  THE GENERAL. Women are not all the same to me, Lesbia.

  MRS GEORGE. Why should they be, pray? Women are all different:
  it's the men who are all the same. Besides, what does Miss
  Grantham know about either men or women? She's got too much self-

  LESBIA [widening her eyes and lifting her chin haughtily] And
  pray how does that prevent me from knowing as much about men and
  women as people who have no self-control?

  MRS GEORGE. Because it frightens people into behaving themselves
  before you; and then how can you tell what they really are? Look
  at me! I was a spoilt child. My brothers and sisters were well
  brought up, like all children of respectable publicans. So should
  I have been if I hadnt been the youngest: ten years younger than
  my youngest brother. My parents were tired of doing their duty by
  their children by that time; and they spoilt me for all they were
  worth. I never knew what it was to want money or anything that
  money could buy. When I wanted my own way, I had nothing to do
  but scream for it till I got it. When I was annoyed I didnt
  control myself: I scratched and called names. Did you ever, after
  you were grown up, pull a grown-up woman's hair? Did you ever
  bite a grown-up man? Did you ever call both of them every name
  you could lay your tongue to?

  LESBIA [shivering with disgust] No.

  MRS GEORGE. Well, I did. I know what a woman is like when her
  hair's pulled. I know what a man is like when he's bit. I know
  what theyre both like when you tell them what you really feel
  about them. And thats how I know more of the world than you.

  LESBIA. The Chinese know what a man is like when he is cut into a
  thousand pieces, or boiled in oil. That sort of knowledge is of
  no use to me. I'm afraid we shall never get on with one another,
  Mrs George. I live like a fencer, always on guard. I like to be
  confronted with people who are always on guard. I hate sloppy
  people, slovenly people, people who cant sit up straight,
  sentimental people.

  MRS GEORGE. Oh, sentimental your grandmother! You dont learn to
  hold your own in the world by standing on guard, but by
  attacking, and getting well hammered yourself.

  LESBIA. I'm not a prize-fighter, Mrs. Collins. If I cant get a
  thing without the indignity of fighting for it, I do without it.

  MRS GEORGE. Do you? Does it strike you that if we were all as
  clever as you at doing without, there wouldnt be much to live
  for, would there?

  TAE GENERAL. I'm afraid, Lesbia, the things you do without are
  the things you dont want.

  LESBIA [surprised at his wit] Thats not bad for the silly soldier
  man. Yes, Boxer: the truth is, I dont want you enough to make the
  very unreasonable sacrifices required by marriage. And yet that
  is exactly why I ought to be married. Just because I have the
  qualities my country wants most I shall go barren to my grave;
  whilst the women who have neither the strength to resist marriage
  nor the intelligence to understand its infinite dishonor will
  make the England of the future. [She rises and walks towards the

  THE GENERAL [as she is about to pass him] Well, I shall not ask
  you again, Lesbia.

  LESBIA. Thank you, Boxer. [She passes on to the study door].

  MRS GEORGE. Youre quite done with him, are you?

  LESBIA. As far as marriage is concerned, yes. The field is clear
  for you, Mrs George. [She goes into the study].

  The General buries his face in his hands. Mrs George comes round
  the table to him.

  MRS GEORGE [sympathetically] She's a nice woman, that. And a
  sort of beauty about her too, different from anyone else.

  THE GENERAL [overwhelmed] Oh Mrs Collins, thank you, thank you a
  thousand times. [He rises effusively]. You have thawed the long-
  frozen springs [he kisses her hand]. Forgive me; and thank you:
  bless you--[he again takes refuge in the garden, choked with

  MRS GEORGE [looking after him triumphantly] Just caught the dear
  old warrior on the bounce, eh?

  HOTCHKISS. Unfaithful to me already!

  MRS GEORGE. I'm not your property, young man dont you think it.
  [She goes over to him and faces him]. You understand that? [He
  suddenly snatches her into his arms and kisses her]. Oh! You.
  dare do that again, you young blackguard; and I'll jab one of
  these chairs in your face [she seizes one and holds it in
  readiness]. Now you shall not see me for another month.

  HOTCHKISS [deliberately] I shall pay my first visit to your
  husband this afternoon.

  MRS GEORGE. Youll see what he'll say to you when I tell him what
  youve just done.

  HOTCHKISS. What can he say? What dare he say?

  MRS GEORGE. Suppose he kicks you out of the house?

  HOTCHKISS. How can he? Ive fought seven duels with sabres. Ive
  muscles of iron. Nothing hurts me: not even broken bones.
  Fighting is absolutely uninteresting to me because it doesnt
  frighten me or amuse me; and I always win. Your husband is in all
  these respects an average man, probably. He will be horribly
  afraid of me; and if under the stimulus of your presence, and for
  your sake, and because it is the right thing to do among vulgar
  people, he were to attack me, I should simply defeat him and
  humiliate him [he gradually gets his hands on the chair and takes
  it from her, as his words go home phrase by phrase]. Sooner than
  expose him to that, you would suffer a thousand stolen kisses,
  wouldnt you?

  MRS GEORGE [in utter consternation] You young viper!

  HOTCHKISS. Ha ha! You are in my power. That is one of the
  oversights of your code of honor for husbands: the man who can
  bully them can insult their wives with impunity. Tell him if you
  dare. If I choose to take ten kisses, how will you prevent me?

  MRS GEORGE. You come within reach of me and I'll not leave a hair
  on your head.

  HOTCHKISS [catching her wrists dexterously] Ive got your hands.

  MRS GEORGE. Youve not got my teeth. Let go; or I'll bite. I will,
  I tell you. Let go.

  HOTCHKISS. Bite away: I shall taste quite as nice as George.

  MRS GEORGE. You beast. Let me go. Do you call yourself a
  gentleman, to use your brute strength against a woman?

  HOTCHKISS. You are stronger than me in every way but this. Do you
  think I will give up my one advantage? Promise youll receive me
  when I call this afternoon.

  MRS GEORGE. After what youve just done? Not if it was to save my

  HOTCHKISS. I'll amuse George.

  MRS GEORGE. He wont be in.

  HOTCHKISS [taken aback] Do you mean that we should be alone?

  MRS GEORGE [snatching away her hands triumphantly as his grasp
  relaxes] Aha! Thats cooled you, has it?

  HOTCHKISS [anxiously] When will George be at home?

  MRS GEORGE. It wont matter to you whether he's at home or not.
  The door will be slammed in your face whenever you call.

  HOTCHKISS. No servant in London is strong enough to close a door
  that I mean to keep open. You cant escape me. If you persist,
  I'll go into the coal trade; make George's acquaintance on the
  coal exchange; and coax him to take me home with him to make your

  MRS GEORGE. We have no use for you, young man: neither George nor
  I [she sails away from him and sits down at the end of the table
  near the study door].

  HOTCHKISS [following her and taking the next chair round the
  corner of the table] Yes you have. George cant fight for you: I

  MRS GEORGE [turning to face him] You bully. You low bully.

  HOTCHKISS. You have courage and fascination: I have courage and a
  pair of fists. We're both bullies, Polly.

  MRS GEORGE. You have a mischievous tongue. Thats enough to keep
  you out of my house.

  HOTCHKISS. It must be rather a house of cards. A word from me to
  George--just the right word, said in the right way--and down
  comes your house.

  MRS GEORGE. Thats why I'll die sooner than let you into it.

  HOTCHKISS. Then as surely as you live, I enter the coal trade to-
  morrow. George's taste for amusing company will deliver him into
  my hands. Before a month passes your home will be at my mercy.

  MRS GEORGE [rising, at bay] Do you think I'll let myself be
  driven into a trap like this?

  HOTCHKISS. You are in it already. Marriage is a trap. You are
  married. Any man who has the power to spoil your marriage has the
  power to spoil your life. I have that power over you.

  MRS GEORGE [desperate] You mean it?


  MRS GEORGE [resolutely] Well, spoil my marriage and be--

  HOTCHKISS [springing up] Polly!

  MRS GEORGE. Sooner than be your slave I'd face any unhappiness.

  HOTCHKISS. What! Even for George?

  MRS GEORGE. There must be honor between me and George, happiness
  or no happiness. Do your worst.

  HOTCHKISS [admiring her] Are you really game, Polly? Dare you
  defy me?

  MRS GEORGE. If you ask me another question I shant be able to
  keep my hands off you [she dashes distractedly past him to the
  other end of the table, her fingers crisping].

  HOTCHKISS. That settles it. Polly: I adore you: we were born for
  one another. As I happen to be a gentleman, I'll never do
  anything to annoy or injure you except that I reserve the right
  to give you a black eye if you bite me; but youll never get rid
  of me now to the end of your life.

  MRS GEORGE. I shall get rid of you if the beadle has to brain you
  with the mace for it [she makes for the tower].

  HOTCHKISS [running between the table and the oak chest and across
  to the tower to cut her off] You shant.

  MRS GEORGE [panting] Shant I though?

  HOTCHKISS. No you shant. I have one card left to play that youve
  forgotten. Why were you so unlike yourself when you spoke to the

  MRS GEORGE [agitated beyond measure] Stop. Not that. You shall
  respect that if you respect nothing else. I forbid you. [He
  kneels at her feet]. What are you doing? Get up: dont be a fool.

  HOTCHKISS. Polly: I ask you on my knees to let me make George's
  acquaintance in his home this afternoon; and I shall remain on my
  knees till the Bishop comes in and sees us. What will he think of
  you then?

  MRS GEORGE [beside herself] Wheres the poker? She rushes to the
  fireplace; seizes the poker; and makes for Hotchkiss, who flies
  to the study door. The Bishop enters just then and finds himself
  between them, narrowly escaping a blow from the poker.

  THE BISHOP. Dont hit him, Mrs Collins. He is my guest.

  Mrs George throws down the poker; collapses into the nearest
  chair; and bursts into tears. The Bishop goes to her and pats her
  consolingly on the shoulder. She shudders all through at his

  THE BISHOP. Come! you are in the house of your friends. Can we
  help you?

  MRS GEORGE [to Hotchkiss, pointing to the study] Go in there,
  you. Youre not wanted here.

  HOTCHKISS. You understand, Bishop, that Mrs Collins is not to
  blame for this scene. I'm afraid Ive been rather irritating.

  THE BISHOP. I can quite believe it, Sinjon.

  Hotchkiss goes into the study.

  THE BISHOP [turning to Mrs George with great kindness of manner]
  I'm sorry you have been worried [he sits down on her left]. Never
  mind him. A little pluck, a little gaiety of heart, a little
  prayer; and youll be laughing at him.

  MRS GEORGE. Never fear. I have all that. It was as much my fault
  as his; and I should have put him in his place with a clip of
  that poker on the side of his head if you hadnt come in.

  THE BISHOP. You might have put him in his coffin that way, Mrs
  Collins. And I should have been very sorry; because we are all
  fond of Sinjon.

  MRS GEORGE. Yes: it's your duty to rebuke me. But do you think I
  dont know?

  THE BISHOP. I dont rebuke you. Who am I that I should rebuke you?
  Besides, I know there are discussions in which the poker is the
  only possible argument.

  MRS GEORGE. My lord: be earnest with me. I'm a very funny woman,
  I daresay; but I come from the same workshop as you. I heard you
  say that yourself years ago.

  THE BISHOP. Quite so; but then I'm a very funny Bishop. Since we
  are both funny people, let us not forget that humor is a divine

  MRS GEORGE. I know nothing about divine attributes or whatever
  you call them; but I can feel when I am being belittled. It was
  from you that I learnt first to respect myself. It was through
  you that I came to be able to walk safely through many wild and
  wilful paths. Dont go back on your own teaching.

  THE BISHOP. I'm not a teacher: only a fellow-traveller of whom
  you asked the way. I pointed ahead--ahead of myself as well as of

  MRS GEORGE [rising and standing over him almost threateningly] As
  I'm a living woman this day, if I find you out to be a fraud,
  I'll kill myself.

  THE BISHOP. What! Kill yourself for finding out something! For
  becoming a wiser and therefore a better woman! What a bad reason!

  MRS GEORGE. I have sometimes thought of killing you, and then
  killing myself.

  THE BISHOP. Why on earth should you kill yourself--not to mention

  MRS GEORGE. So that we might keep our assignation in Heaven.

  THE BISHOP [rising and facing her, breathless] Mrs. Collins! YOU
  are Incognita Appassionata!

  MRS GEORGE. You read my letters, then? [With a sigh of grateful
  relief, she sits down quietly, and says] Thank you.

  THE BISHOP [remorsefully] And I have broken the spell by making
  you come here [sitting down again]. Can you ever forgive me?

  MRS GEORGE. You couldnt know that it was only the coal merchant's
  wife, could you?

  THE BISHOP. Why do you say only the coal merchant's wife?

  MRS GEORGE. Many people would laugh at it.

  THE BISHOP. Poor people! It's so hard to know the right place to
  laugh, isnt it?

  MRS GEORGE. I didnt mean to make you think the letters were from
  a fine lady. I wrote on cheap paper; and I never could spell.

  THE BISHOP. Neither could I. So that told me nothing.

  MRS GEORGE. One thing I should like you to know.


  MRS GEORGE. We didnt cheat your friend. They were as good as we
  could do at thirteen shillings a ton.

  THE BISHOP. Thats important. Thank you for telling me.

  MRS GEORGE. I have something else to say; but will you please ask
  somebody to come and stay here while we talk? [He rises and turns
  to the study door]. Not a woman, if you dont mind. [He nods
  understandingly and passes on]. Not a man either.

  THE BISHOP [stopping] Not a man and not a woman! We have no
  children left, Mrs Collins. They are all grown up and married.

  MRS GEORGE. That other clergyman would do.

  THE BISHOP. What! The sexton?

  MRS GEORGE. Yes. He didnt mind my calling him that, did he? It
  was only my ignorance.

  THE BISHOP. Not at all. [He opens the study door and calls]
  Soames! Anthony! [To Mrs George] Call him Father: he likes it.
  [Soames appears at the study door]. Mrs Collins wishes you to join
  us, Anthony.

  Soames looks puzzled.

  MRS GEORGE. You dont mind, Dad, do you? [As this greeting visibly
  gives him a shock that hardly bears out the Bishop's advice, she
  says anxiously] That was what you told me to call him, wasnt it?

  SOAMES. I am called Father Anthony, Mrs Collins. But it does not
  matter what you call me. [He comes in, and walks past her to the

  THE BISHOP. Mrs Collins has something to say to me that she wants
  you to hear.

  SOAMES. I am listening.

  THE BISHOP [going back to his seat next her] Now.

  MRS GEORGE. My lord: you should never have married.

  SOAMES. This woman is inspired. Listen to her, my lord.

  THE BISHOP [taken aback by the directness of the attack] I
  married because I was so much in love with Alice that all the
  difficulties and doubts and dangers of marriage seemed to me the
  merest moonshine.

  MRS GEORGE. Yes: it's mean to let poor things in for so much
  while theyre in that state. Would you marry now that you know
  better if you were a widower?

  THE BISHOP. I'm old now. It wouldnt matter.

  MRS GEORGE. But would you if it did matter?

  THE BISHOP. I think I should marry again lest anyone should
  imagine I had found marriage unhappy with Alice.

  SOAMES [sternly] Are you fonder of your wife than of your

  THE BISHOP. Oh, very much. When you meet a man who is very
  particular about his salvation, look out for a woman who is very
  particular about her character; and marry them to one another:
  theyll make a perfect pair. I advise you to fall in love;

  SOAMES [with horror] I!!

  THE BISHOP. Yes, you! think of what it would do for you. For her
  sake you would come to care unselfishly and diligently for money
  instead of being selfishly and lazily indifferent to it. For her
  sake you would come to care in the same way for preferment. For
  her sake you would come to care for your health, your appearance,
  the good opinion of your fellow creatures, and all the really
  important things that make men work and strive instead of mooning
  and nursing their salvation.

  SOAMES. In one word, for the sake of one deadly sin I should come
  to care for all the others.

  THE BISHOP. Saint Anthony! Tempt him, Mrs Collins: tempt him.

  MRS GEORGE [rising and looking strangely before her] Take care,
  my lord: you still have the power to make me obey your commands.
  And do you, Mr Sexton, beware of an empty heart.

  THE BISHOP. Yes. Nature abhors a vacuum, Anthony. I would not
  dare go about with an empty heart: why, the first girl I met
  would fly into it by mere atmospheric pressure. Alice keeps them
  out now. Mrs Collins knows.

  MRS GEORGE [a faint convulsion passing like a wave over her] I
  know more than either of you. One of you has not yet exhausted
  his first love: the other has not yet reached it. But I--I--[she
  reels and is again convulsed].

  THE BISHOP [saving her from falling] Whats the matter? Are you
  ill, Mrs Collins? [He gets her back into her chair]. Soames:
  theres a glass of water in the study--quick. [Soames hurries to
  the study door.]

  MRS. GEORGE. No. [Soames stops]. Dont call. Dont bring anyone.
  Cant you hear anything?

  THE BISHOP. Nothing unusual. [He sits by her, watching her with
  intense surprise and interest].

  MRS GEORGE. No music?

  SOAMES. No. [He steals to the end of the table and sits on her
  right, equally interested].

  MRS GEORGE. Do you see nothing--not a great light?

  THE BISHOP. We are still walking in darkness.

  MRS GEORGE. Put your hand on my forehead: the hand with the ring.
  [He does so. Her eyes close].

  SOAMES [inspired to prophesy] There was a certain woman, the wife
  of a coal merchant, which had been a great sinner . . .

  The Bishop, startled, takes his hand away. Mrs George's eyes open
  vividly as she interrupts Soames.

  MRS GEORGE. You prophesy falsely, Anthony: never in all my life
  have I done anything that was not ordained for me. [More quietly]
  Ive been myself. Ive not been afraid of myself. And at last I
  have escaped from myself, and am become a voice for them that are
  afraid to speak, and a cry for the hearts that break in silence.

  SOAMES [whispering] Is she inspired?

  THE BISHOP. Marvellous. Hush.

  MRS GEORGE. I have earned the right to speak. I have dared: I
  have gone through: I have not fallen withered in the fire: I have
  come at last out beyond, to the back of Godspeed?

  THE BISHOP. And what do you see there, at the back of Godspeed?

  SOAMES [hungrily] Give us your message.

  MRS GEORGE [with intensely sad reproach] When you loved me I gave
  you the whole sun and stars to play with. I gave you eternity in
  a single moment, strength of the mountains in one clasp of your
  arms, and the volume of all the seas in one impulse of your
  souls. A moment only; but was it not enough? Were you not paid
  then for all the rest of your struggle on earth? Must I mend your
  clothes and sweep your floors as well? Was it not enough? I paid
  the price without bargaining: I bore the children without
  flinching: was that a reason for heaping fresh burdens on me? I
  carried the child in my arms: must I carry the father too? When I
  opened the gates of paradise, were you blind? was it nothing to
  you? When all the stars sang in your ears and all the winds swept
  you into the heart of heaven, were you deaf? were you dull? was I
  no more to you than a bone to a dog? Was it not enough? We spent
  eternity together; and you ask me for a little lifetime more. We
  possessed all the universe together; and you ask me to give you
  my scanty wages as well. I have given you the greatest of all
  things; and you ask me to give you little things. I gave you your
  own soul: you ask me for my body as a plaything. Was it not
  enough? Was it not enough?

  SOAMES. Do you understand this, my lord?

  THE BISHOP. I have that advantage over you, Anthony, thanks to
  Alice. [He takes Mrs George's hand]. Your hand is very cold. Can
  you come down to earth? Do you remember who I am, and who you

  MRS GEORGE. It was enough for me. I did not ask to meet you--to
  touch you--[the Bishop quickly releases her hand]. When you spoke
  to my soul years ago from your pulpit, you opened the doors of my
  salvation to me; and now they stand open for ever. It was enough:
  I have asked you for nothing since: I ask you for nothing now. I
  have lived: it is enough. I have had my wages; and I am ready for
  my work. I thank you and bless you and leave you. You are happier
  in that than I am; for when I do for men what you did for me, I
  have no thanks, and no blessing: I am their prey; and there is
  no rest from their loving and no mercy from their loathing.

  THE BISHOP. You must take us as we are, Mrs Collins.

  SOAMES. No. Take us as we are capable of becoming.

  MRS GEORGE. Take me as I am: I ask no more. [She turns her head
  to the study door and cries] Yes: come in, come in.

  Hotchkiss comes softly in from the study.

  HOTCHKISS. Will you be so kind as to tell me whether I am
  dreaming? In there I have heard Mrs Collins saying the strangest
  things, and not a syllable from you two.

  SOAMES. My lord; is this possession by the devil?

  THE BISHOP. Or the ecstasy of a saint?

  HOTCHKISS. Or the convulsion of the pythoness on the tripod?

  THE BISHOP. May not the three be one?

  MRS GEORGE [troubled] You are paining and tiring me with idle
  questions. You are dragging me back to myself. You are tormenting
  me with your evil dreams of saints and devils and--what was it?--
  [striving to fathom it] the pythoness--the pythoness--[giving it
  up] I dont understand. I am a woman: a human creature like
  yourselves. Will you not take me as I am?

  SOAMES. Yes; but shall we take you and burn you?

  THE BISHOP. Or take you and canonize you?

  HOTCHKISS [gaily] Or take you as a matter of course? [Swiftly to
  the Bishop] We must get her out of this: it's dangerous. [Aloud
  to her] May I suggest that you shall be Anthony's devil and the
  Bishop's saint and my adored Polly? [Slipping behind her, he
  picks up her hand from her lap and kisses it over her shoulder].

  MRS GEORGE [waking] What was that? Who kissed my hand? [To the
  Bishop, eagerly] Was it you? [He shakes his head. She is
  mortified]. I beg your pardon.

  THE BISHOP. Not at all. I'm not repudiating that honor. Allow me
  [he kisses her hand].

  MRS GEORGE. Thank you for that. It was not the sexton, was it?


  HOTCHKISS. It was I, Polly, your ever faithful.

  MRS GEORGE [turning and seeing him] Let me catch you doing it
  again: thats all. How do you come there? I sent you away. [With
  great energy, becoming quite herself again] What the goodness
  gracious has been happening?

  HOTCHKISS. As far as I can make out, you have been having a very
  charming and eloquent sort of fit.

  MRS GEORGE [delighted] What! My second sight! [To the Bishop] Oh,
  how I have prayed that it might come to me if ever I met you! And
  now it has come. How stunning! You may believe every word I said:
  I cant remember it now; but it was something that was just
  bursting to be said; and so it laid hold of me and said itself.
  Thats how it is, you see.

  Edith and Cecil Sykes come in through the tower. She has her hat
  on. Leo follows. They have evidently been out together. Sykes,
  with an unnatural air, half foolish, half rakish, as if he had
  lost all his self-respect and were determined not to let it prey
  on his spirits, throws himself into a chair at the end of the
  table near the hearth and thrusts his hands into his pockets,
  like Hogarth's Rake, without waiting for Edith to sit down. She
  sits in the railed chair. Leo takes the chair nearest the tower
  on the long side of the table, brooding, with closed lips.

  THE BISHOP. Have you been out, my dear?

  EDITH. Yes.

  THE BISHOP. With Cecil?

  EDITH. Yes.

  THE BISHOP. Have you come to an understanding?

  No reply. Blank silence.

  SYKES. You had better tell them, Edie.

  EDITH. Tell them yourself.

  The General comes in from the garden.

  THE GENERAL [coming forward to the table] Can anybody oblige me
  with some tobacco? Ive finished mine; and my nerves are still far
  from settled.

  THE BISHOP. Wait a moment, Boxer. Cecil has something important
  to tell us.

  SYKES. Weve done it. Thats all.

  HOTCHKISS. Done what, Cecil?

  SYKES. Well, what do you suppose?

  EDITH. Got married, of course.

  THE GENERAL. Married! Who gave you away?

  SYKES [jerking his head towards the tower] This gentleman
  did.[Seeing that they do not understand, he looks round and sees
  that there is no one there]. Oh! I thought he came in with us.
  Hes gone downstairs, I suppose. The Beadle.

  THE GENERAL. The Beadle! What the devil did he do that for?

  SYKES. Oh, I dont know: I didnt make any bargain with him. [To
  Mrs George] How much ought I to give him, Mrs Collins?

  MRS GEORGE. Five shillings. [To the Bishop] I want to rest for a
  moment: there! in your study. I saw it here [she touches her

  THE BISHOP [opening the study door for her] By all means. Turn my
  brother out if he disturbs you. Soames: bring the letters out

  SYKES. He wont be offended at my offering it, will he?

  MRS GEORGE. Not he! He touches children with the mace to cure
  them of ringworm for fourpence apiece. [She goes into the study.
  Soames follows her].

  THE GENERAL. Well, Edith, I'm a little disappointed, I must
  say. However, I'm glad it was done by somebody in a public

  Mrs Bridgenorth and Lesbia come in through the tower. Mrs
  Bridgenorth makes for the Bishop. He goes to her, and they meet
  near the oak chest. Lesbia comes between Sykes and Edith.

  THE BISHOP. Alice, my love, theyre married.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH [placidly] Oh, well, thats all right. Better tell

  Soames comes back from the study with his writing materials. He
  seats himself at the nearest end of the table and goes on with
  his work. Hotchkiss sits down in the next chair round the table
  corner, with his back to him.

  LESBIA. You have both given in, have you?

  EDITH. Not at all. We have provided for everything.

  SOAMES. How?

  EDITH. Before going to the church, we went to the office of that
  insurance company--whats its name, Cecil?

  SYKES. The British Family Insurance Corporation. It insures you
  against poor relations and all sorts of family contingencies.

  EDITH. It has consented to insure Cecil against libel actions
  brought against him on my account. It will give us specially low
  terms because I am a Bishop's daughter.

  SYKES. And I have given Edie my solemn word that if I ever commit
  a crime I'll knock her down before a witness and go off to
  Brighton with another lady.

  LESBIA. Thats what you call providing for everything! [She goes
  to the middle of the table on the garden side and sits down].

  LEO. Do make him see there are no worms before he knocks you
  down, Edith. Wheres Rejjy?

  REGINALD [coming in from the study] Here. Whats the matter?

  LEO [springing up and flouncing round to him] Whats the matter!
  You may well ask. While Edie and Cecil were at the insurance
  office I took a taxy and went off to your lodgings; and a nice
  mess I found everything in. Your clothes are in a disgraceful
  state. Your liver pad has been made into a kettle-holder. Youre
  no more fit to be left to yourself than a one-year old baby.

  REGINALD. Oh, I cant be bothered looking after things like that.
  I'm all right.

  LEO. Youre not: youre a disgrace. You never consider that youre a
  disgrace to me: you think only of yourself. You must come home
  with me and be taken proper care of: my conscience will not allow
  me to let you live like a pig. [She arranges his necktie]. You
  must stay with me until I marry St John; and then we can adopt
  you or something.

  REGINALD [breaking loose from her and stumping off past Hotchkiss
  towards the hearth] No, I'm dashed if I'll be adopted by St John.
  You can adopt him if you like.

  HOTCHKISS [rising] I suggest that that would really be the better
  plan, Leo. Ive a confession to make to you. I'm not the man you
  took me for. Your objection to Rejjy was that he had low tastes.

  REGINALD [turning] Was it? by George!

  LEO. I said slovenly habits. I never thought he had really low
  tastes until I saw that woman in court. How he could have chosen
  such a creature and let her write to him after--

  REGINALD. Is this fair? I never--

  HOTCHKISS. Of course you didnt, Rejjy. Dont be silly, Leo. It's I
  who really have low tastes.

  LEO. You!

  HOTCHKISS. Ive fallen in love with a coal merchant's wife. I
  adore her. I would rather have one of her boot-laces than a lock
  of your hair. [He folds his arms and stands like a rock].

  REGINALD. You damned scoundrel, how dare you throw my wife over
  like that before my face? [He seems on the point of assaulting
  Hotchkiss when Leo gets between them and draws Reginald away
  towards the study door].

  LEO. Dont take any notice of him, Rejjy. Go at once and get that
  odious decree demolished or annulled or whatever it is. Tell Sir
  Gorell Barnes that I have changed my mind. [To Hotchkiss] I might
  have known that you were too clever to be really a gentleman.
  [She takes Reginald away to the oak chest and seats him there. He
  chuckles. Hotchkiss resumes his seat, brooding].

  THE BISHOP. All the problems appear to be solving themselves.

  LESBIA. Except mine.

  THE GENERAL. But, my dear Lesbia, you see what has happened here
  to-day. [Coming a little nearer and bending his face towards
  hers] Now I put it to you, does it not show you the folly of not

  LESBIA. No: I cant say it does. And [rising] you have been
  smoking again.

  THE GENERAL. You drive me to it, Lesbia. I cant help it.

  LESBIA [standing behind her chair with her hands on the back of
  it and looking radiant] Well, I wont scold you to-day. I feel in
  particularly good humor just now.

  TIE GENERAL. May I ask why, Lesbia?

  LESBIA. [drawing a large breath] To think that after all the
  dangers of the morning I am still unmarried! still independent!
  still my own mistress! still a glorious strong-minded old maid of
  old England!

  Soames silently springs up and makes a long stretch from his end
  of the table to shake her hand across it.

  THE GENERAL. Do you find any real happiness in being your own
  mistress? Would it not be more generous--would you not be happier
  as some one else's mistress--

  LESBIA. Boxer!

  THE GENERAL [rising, horrified] No, no, you must know, my dear
  Lesbia, that I was not using the word in its improper sense. I am
  sometimes unfortunate in my choice of expressions; but you know
  what I mean. I feel sure you would be happier as my wife.

  LESBIA. I daresay I should, in a frowsy sort of way. But I prefer
  my dignity and my independence. I'm afraid I think this rage for
  happiness rather vulgar.

  THE GENERAL. Oh, very well, Lesbia. I shall not ask you again.
  [He sits down huffily].

  LESBIA. You will, Boxer; but it will be no use. [She also sits
  down again and puts her hand almost affectionately on his]. Some
  day I hope to make a friend of you; and then we shall get on very

  THE GENERAL [starting up again] Ha! I think you are hard, Lesbia.
  I shall make a fool of myself if I remain here. Alice: I shall go
  into the garden for a while.

  COLLINS [appearing in the tower] I think everything is in order
  now, maam.

  THE GENERAL [going to him] Oh, by the way, could you oblige me
  [the rest of the sentence is lost in a whisper].

  COLLINS. Certainly, General. [He takes out a tobacco pouch and
  hands it to the General, who takes it and goes into the garden].

  LESBIA. I dont believe theres a man in England who really and
  truly loves his wife as much as he loves his pipe.

  THE BISHOP. By the way, what has happened to the wedding party?

  SYKES. I dont know. There wasnt a soul in the church when we were
  married except the pew opener and the curate who did the job.

  EDITH. They had all gone home.

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. But the bridesmaids?

  COLLINS. Me and the beadle have been all over the place in a
  couple of taxies, maam; and weve collected them all. They were a
  good deal disappointed on account of their dresses, and thought
  it rather irregular; but theyve agreed to come to the breakfast.
  The truth is, theyre wild with curiosity to know how it all
  happened. The organist held on until the organ was nigh worn out,
  and himself worse than the organ. He asked me particularly to
  tell you, my lord, that he held back Mendelssohn till the very
  last; but when that was gone he thought he might as well go too.
  So he played God Save The King and cleared out the church. He's
  coming to the breakfast to explain.

  LEO. Please remember, Collins, that there is no truth whatever
  in the rumor that I am separated from my husband, or that there
  is, or ever has been, anything between me and Mr Hotchkiss.

  COLLINS. Bless you, maam! one could always see that. [To Mrs
  Bridgenorth] Will you receive here or in the hall, maam?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. In the hall. Alfred: you and Boxer must go there
  and be ready to keep the first arrivals talking till we come. We
  have to dress Edith. Come, Lesbia: come, Leo: we must all help.
  Now, Edith. [Lesbia, Leo, and Edith go out through the tower].
  Collins: we shall want you when Miss Edith's dressed to look over
  her veil and things and see that theyre all right.

  COLLINS. Yes, maam. Anything you would like mentioned about Miss
  Lesbia, maam?

  MRS BRIDGENORTH. No. She wont have the General. I think you may
  take that as final.

  COLLINS. What a pity, maam! A fine lady wasted, maam. [They shake
  their heads sadly; and Mrs Bridgenorth goes out through the

  THE BISHOP. I'm going to the hall, Collins, to receive. Rejjy: go
  and tell Boxer; and come both of you to help with the small talk.
  Come, Cecil. [He goes out through the tower, followed by Sykes].

  REGINALD [to Hotchkiss] Youve always talked a precious lot about
  behaving like a gentleman. Well, if you think youve behaved like
  a gentleman to Leo, youre mistaken. And I shall have to take her
  part, remember that.

  HOTCHKISS. I understand. Your doors are closed to me.

  REGINALD [quickly] Oh no. Dont be hasty. I think I should like
  you to drop in after a while, you know. She gets so cross and
  upset when theres nobody to liven up the house a bit.

  HOTCHKISS. I'll do my best.

  REGINALD [relieved] Righto. You wont mind, old chap, do you?

  HOTCHKISS. It's Fate. Ive touched coal; and my hands are black;
  but theyre clean. So long, Rejjy. [They shake hands; and Reginald
  goes into the garden to collect Boxer].

  COLLINS. Excuse me, sir; but do you stay to breakfast? Your name
  is on one of the covers; and I should like to change it if youre
  not remaining.

  HOTCHKISS. How do I know? Is my destiny any longer in my own
  hands? Go: ask SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED.

  COLLINS [awestruck] Has Mrs George taken a fancy to you, sir?

  HOTCHKISS. Would she had! Worse, man, worse: Ive taken a fancy to
  Mrs George.

  COLLINS. Dont despair, sir: if George likes your conversation
  youll find their house a very pleasant one--livelier than Mr
  Reginald's was, I daresay.

  HOTCHKISS [calling] Polly.

  COLLINS [promptly] Oh, if it's come to Polly already, sir, I
  should say you were all right.

  Mrs George appears at the door of the study.

  HOTCHKISS. Your brother-in-law wishes to know whether I'm to stay
  for the wedding breakfast. Tell him.

  MRS GEORGE. He stays, Bill, if he chooses to behave himself.

  HOTCHKISS [to Collins] May I, as a friend of the family, have the
  privilege of calling you Bill?

  COLLINS. With pleasure, sir, I'm sure, sir.

  HOTCHKISS. My own pet name in the bosom of my family is Sonny.

  MRS GEORGE. Why didnt you tell me that before? Sonny is just the
  name I wanted for you. [She pats his cheek familiarly; he rises
  abruptly and goes to the hearth, where he throws himself moodily
  into the railed chair] Bill: I'm not going into the hall until
  there are enough people there to make a proper little court for
  me. Send the Beadle for me when you think it looks good enough.

  COLLINS. Right, maam. [He goes out through the tower].

  Mrs George left alone with Hotchkiss and Soames, suddenly puts
  her hands on Soames's shoulders and bends over him.

  MRS GEORGE. The Bishop said I was to tempt you, Anthony.

  SOAMES [without looking round] Woman: go away.

  MRS GEORGE. Anthony:
                  "When other lips and other hearts
                   Their tale of love shall tell

  HOTCHKISS [sardonically]
                   In language whose excess imparts
                   The power they feel so well.

                   Though hollow hearts may wear a mask,
                   Twould break your own to see
                   In such a moment I but ask
                   That youll remember me."
  And you will, Anthony. I shall put my spell on you.

  SOAMES. Do you think that a man who has sung the Magnificat and
  adored the Queen of Heaven has any ears for such trash as that or
  any eyes for such trash as you--saving your poor little soul's
  presence. Go home to your duties, woman.

  MRS GEORGE [highly approving his fortitude] Anthony: I adopt you
  as my father. Thats the talk! Give me a man whose whole life
  doesnt hang on some scrubby woman in the next street; and I'll
  never let him go [she slaps him heartily on the back].

  SOAMES. Thats enough. You have another man to talk to. I'm busy.

  MRS GEORGE [leaving Soames and going a step or two nearer
  Hotchkiss] Why arnt you like him, Sonny? Why do you hang on to a
  scrubby woman in the next street?

  HOTCHKISS [thoughtfully] I must apologize to Billiter.

  MRS GEORGE. Who is Billiter?

  HOTCHKISS. A man who eats rice pudding with a spoon. Ive been
  eating rice pudding with a spoon ever since I saw you first.[He
  rises]. We all eat our rice pudding with a spoon, dont we,

  SOAMES. We are members of one another. There is no need to refer
  to me. In the first place, I'm busy: in the second, youll find it
  all in the Church Catechism, which contains most of the new
  discoveries with which the age is bursting. Of course you should
  apologize to Billiter. He is your equal. He will go to the same
  heaven if he behaves himself and to the same hell if he doesnt.

  MRS GEORGE [sitting down] And so will my husband the coal

  HOTCHKISS. If I were your husband's superior here I should be his
  superior in heaven or hell: equality lies deeper than that. The
  coal merchant and I are in love with the same woman. That settles
  the question for me for ever. [He prowls across the kitchen to
  the garden door, deep in thought].

  SOAMES. Psha!

  MRS GEORGE. You dont believe in women, do you, Anthony? He might
  as well say that he and George both like fried fish.

  HOTCHKISS. I do not like fried fish. Dont be low, Polly.

  SOAMES. Woman: do not presume to accuse me of unbelief. And do
  you, Hotchkiss, not despise this woman's soul because she speaks
  of fried fish. Some of the victims of the Miraculous Draught of
  Fishes were fried. And I eat fried fish every Friday and like it.
  You are as ingrained a snob as ever.

  HOTCHKISS [impatiently] My dear Anthony: I find you merely
  ridiculous as a preacher, because you keep referring me to places
  and documents and alleged occurrences in which, as a matter of
  fact, I dont believe. I dont believe in anything but my own will
  and my own pride and honor. Your fishes and your catechisms and
  all the rest of it make a charming poem which you call your
  faith. It fits you to perfection; but it doesnt fit me. I happen,
  like Napoleon, to prefer Mohammedanism. [Mrs George, associating
  Mohammedanism with polygamy, looks at him with quick suspicion].
  I believe the whole British Empire will adopt a reformed
  Mohammedanism before the end of the century. The character of
  Mahomet is congenial to me. I admire him, and share his views of
  life to a considerable extent. That beats you, you see, Soames.
  Religion is a great force--the only real motive force in the world;
  but what you fellows dont understand is that you must get at a man
  through his own religion and not through yours. Instead of facing
  that fact, you persist in trying to convert all men to your own
  little sect, so that you can use it against them afterwards. You
  are all missionaries and proselytizers trying to uproot the
  native religion from your neighbor's flowerbeds and plant your
  own in its place. You would rather let a child perish in
  ignorance than have it taught by a rival sectary. You can talk to
  me of the quintessential equality of coal merchants and British
  officers; and yet you cant see the quintessential equality of all
  the religions. Who are you, anyhow, that you should know better
  than Mahomet or Confucius or any of the other Johnnies who have
  been on this job since the world existed?

  MRS GEORGE [admiring his eloquence] George will like you, Sonny.
  You should hear him talking about the Church.

  SOAMES. Very well, then: go to your doom, both of you. There is
  only one religion for me: that which my soul knows to be true;
  but even irreligion has one tenet; and that is the sacredness of
  marriage. You two are on the verge of deadly sin. Do you deny

  HOTCHKISS. You forget, Anthony: the marriage itself is the deadly
  sin according to you.

  SOAMES. The question is not now what I believe, but what you
  believe. Take the vows with me; and give up that woman if you
  have the strength and the light. But if you are still in the grip
  of this world, at least respect its institutions. Do you believe
  in marriage or do you not?

  HOTCHKISS. My soul is utterly free from any such superstition. I
  solemnly declare that between this woman, as you impolitely call
  her, and me, I see no barrier that my conscience bids me respect.
  I loathe the whole marriage morality of the middle classes with
  all my instincts. If I were an eighteenth century marquis I could
  feel no more free with regard to a Parisian citizen's wife than I
  do with regard to Polly. I despise all this domestic purity
  business as the lowest depth of narrow, selfish, sensual, wife-
  grabbing vulgarity.

  MRS GEORGE [rising promptly] Oh, indeed. Then youre not coming
  home with me, young man. I'm sorry; for its refreshing to have
  met once in my life a man who wasnt frightened by my wedding
  ring; but I'm looking out for a friend and not for a French
  marquis; so youre not coming home with me.

  HOTCHKISS [inexorably] Yes, I am.


  HOTCHKISS. Yes. Think again. You know your set pretty well, I
  suppose, your petty tradesmen's set. You know all its scandals
  and hypocrisies, its jealousies and squabbles, its hundred of
  divorce cases that never come into court, as well as its tens
  that do.

  MRS GEORGE. We're not angels. I know a few scandals; but most of
  us are too dull to be anything but good.

  HOTCHKISS. Then you must have noticed that just an all murderers,
  judging by their edifying remarks on the scaffold, seem to be
  devout Christians, so all Christians, both male and female, are
  invariably people over-flowing with domestic sentimentality and
  professions of respect for the conventions they violate in

  MRS GEORGE. Well, you dont expect them to give themselves away,
  do you?

  HOTCHKISS. They are people of sentiment, not of honor. Now, I'm
  not a man of sentiment, but a man of honor. I know well what will
  happen to me when once I cross the threshold of your husband's
  house and break bread with him. This marriage bond which I
  despise will bind me as it never seems to bind the people who
  believe in it, and whose chief amusement it is to go to the
  theatres where it is laughed at. Soames: youre a Communist, arnt

  SOAMES. I am a Christian. That obliges me to be a Communist.

  HOTCHKISS. And you believe that many of our landed estates were
  stolen from the Church by Henry the eighth?

  SOAMES. I do not merely believe that: I know it as a lawyer.

  HOTCHKISS. Would you steal a turnip from one of the landlords of
  those stolen lands?

  SOAMES [fencing with the question] They have no right to their

  HOTCHKISS. Thats not what I ask you. Would you steal a turnip
  from one of the fields they have no right to?

  SOAMES. I do not like turnips.

  HOTCHKISS. As you are a lawyer, answer me.

  SOAMES. I admit that I should probably not do so. I should
  perhaps be wrong not to steal the turnip: I cant defend my
  reluctance to do so; but I think I should not do so. I know I
  should not do so.

  HOTCHKISS. Neither shall I be able to steal George's wife. I have
  stretched out my hand for that forbidden fruit before; and I know
  that my hand will always come back empty. To disbelieve in
  marriage is easy: to love a married woman is easy; but to betray
  a comrade, to be disloyal to a host, to break the covenant of
  bread and salt, is impossible. You may take me home with you,
  Polly: you have nothing to fear.

  MRS GEORGE. And nothing to hope?

  HOTCHKISS. Since you put it in that more than kind way, Polly,
  absolutely nothing.

  MRS GEORGE. Hm! Like most men, you think you know everything a
  woman wants, dont you? But the thing one wants most has nothing
  to do with marriage at all. Perhaps Anthony here has a glimmering
  of it. Eh, Anthony?

  SOAMES. Christian fellowship?

  MRS GEORGE. You call it that, do you?

  SOAMES. What do you call it?

  COLLINS [appearing in the tower with the Beadle]. Now, Polly, the
  hall's full; and theyre waiting for you.

  THE BEADLE. Make way there, gentlemen, please. Way for the
  worshipful the Mayoress. If you please, my lords and gentlemen.
  By your leave, ladies and gentlemen: way for the Mayoress.

  Mrs George takes Hotchkiss's arm, and goes out, preceded by the

  Soames resumes his writing tranquilly.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Getting Married" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.