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´╗┐Title: Preface to Major Barbara: First Aid to Critics
Author: Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
Language: English
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N.B. The Euripidean verses in the second act of Major Barbara are not
by me, or even directly by Euripides. They are by Professor Gilbert
Murray, whose English version of The Baccha; came into our dramatic
literature with all the impulsive power of an original work shortly
before Major Barbara was begun. The play, indeed, stands indebted to
him in more ways than one.

G. B. S.

Before dealing with the deeper aspects of Major Barbara, let me, for
the credit of English literature, make a protest against an unpatriotic
habit into which many of my critics have fallen. Whenever my view
strikes them as being at all outside the range of, say, an ordinary
suburban churchwarden, they conclude that I am echoing Schopenhauer,
Nietzsche, Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy, or some other heresiarch in
northern or eastern Europe.

I confess there is something flattering in this simple faith in my
accomplishment as a linguist and my erudition as a philosopher. But I
cannot tolerate the assumption that life and literature is so poor in
these islands that we must go abroad for all dramatic material that is
not common and all ideas that are not superficial. I therefore venture
to put my critics in possession of certain facts concerning my contact
with modern ideas.

About half a century ago, an Irish novelist, Charles Lever, wrote a
story entitled A Day's Ride: A Life's Romance. It was published by
Charles Dickens in Household Words, and proved so strange to the public
taste that Dickens pressed Lever to make short work of it. I read
scraps of this novel when I was a child; and it made an enduring
impression on me. The hero was a very romantic hero, trying to live
bravely, chivalrously, and powerfully by dint of mere romance-fed
imagination, without courage, without means, without knowledge, without
skill, without anything real except his bodily appetites. Even in my
childhood I found in this poor devil's unsuccessful encounters with the
facts of life, a poignant quality that romantic fiction lacked. The
book, in spite of its first failure, is not dead: I saw its title the
other day in the catalogue of Tauchnitz.

Now why is it that when I also deal in the tragi-comic irony of the
conflict between real life and the romantic imagination, no critic ever
affiliates me to my countryman and immediate forerunner, Charles Lever,
whilst they confidently derive me from a Norwegian author of whose
language I do not know three words, and of whom I knew nothing until
years after the Shavian Anschauung was already unequivocally declared
in books full of what came, ten years later, to be perfunctorily
labelled Ibsenism. I was not Ibsenist even at second hand; for Lever,
though he may have read Henri Beyle, alias Stendhal, certainly never
read Ibsen. Of the books that made Lever popular, such as Charles
O'Malley and Harry Lorrequer, I know nothing but the names and some of
the illustrations. But the story of the day's ride and life's romance
of Potts (claiming alliance with Pozzo di Borgo) caught me and
fascinated me as something strange and significant, though I already
knew all about Alnaschar and Don Quixote and Simon Tappertit and many
another romantic hero mocked by reality. From the plays of Aristophanes
to the tales of Stevenson that mockery has been made familiar to all
who are properly saturated with letters.

Where, then, was the novelty in Lever's tale? Partly, I think, in a new
seriousness in dealing with Potts's disease. Formerly, the contrast
between madness and sanity was deemed comic: Hogarth shows us how
fashionable people went in parties to Bedlam to laugh at the lunatics.
I myself have had a village idiot exhibited to me as some thing
irresistibly funny. On the stage the madman was once a regular comic
figure; that was how Hamlet got his opportunity before Shakespear
touched him. The originality of Shakespear's version lay in his taking
the lunatic sympathetically and seriously, and thereby making an
advance towards the eastern consciousness of the fact that lunacy may
be inspiration in disguise, since a man who has more brains than his
fellows necessarily appears as mad to them as one who has less. But
Shakespear did not do for Pistol and Parolles what he did for Hamlet.
The particular sort of madman they represented, the romantic
makebeliever, lay outside the pale of sympathy in literature: he was
pitilessly despised and ridiculed here as he was in the east under the
name of Alnaschar, and was doomed to be, centuries later, under the
name of Simon Tappertit. When Cervantes relented over Don Quixote, and
Dickens relented over Pickwick, they did not become impartial: they
simply changed sides, and became friends and apologists where they had
formerly been mockers.

In Lever's story there is a real change of attitude. There is no
relenting towards Potts: he never gains our affections like Don Quixote
and Pickwick: he has not even the infatuate courage of Tappertit. But
we dare not laugh at him, because, somehow, we recognize ourselves in
Potts. We may, some of us, have enough nerve, enough muscle, enough
luck, enough tact or skill or address or knowledge to carry things off
better than he did; to impose on the people who saw through him; to
fascinate Katinka (who cut Potts so ruthlessly at the end of the
story); but for all that, we know that Potts plays an enormous part in
ourselves and in the world, and that the social problem is not a
problem of story-book heroes of the older pattern, but a problem of
Pottses, and of how to make men of them. To fall back on my old phrase,
we have the feeling--one that Alnaschar, Pistol, Parolles, and
Tappertit never gave us--that Potts is a piece of really scientific
natural history as distinguished from comic story telling. His author
is not throwing a stone at a creature of another and inferior order,
but making a confession, with the effect that the stone hits everybody
full in the conscience and causes their self-esteem to smart very
sorely. Hence the failure of Lever's book to please the readers of
Household Words. That pain in the self-esteem nowadays causes critics
to raise a cry of Ibsenism. I therefore assure them that the sensation
first came to me from Lever and may have come to him from Beyle, or at
least out of the Stendhalian atmosphere. I exclude the hypothesis of
complete originality on Lever's part, because a man can no more be
completely original in that sense than a tree can grow out of air.

Another mistake as to my literary ancestry is made whenever I violate
the romantic convention that all women are angels when they are not
devils; that they are better looking than men; that their part in
courtship is entirely passive; and that the human female form is the
most beautiful object in nature. Schopenhauer wrote a splenetic essay
which, as it is neither polite nor profound, was probably intended to
knock this nonsense violently on the head. A sentence denouncing the
idolized form as ugly has been largely quoted. The English critics have
read that sentence; and I must here affirm, with as much gentleness as
the implication will bear, that it has yet to be proved that they have
dipped any deeper. At all events, whenever an English playwright
represents a young and marriageable woman as being anything but a
romantic heroine, he is disposed of without further thought as an echo
of Schopenhauer. My own case is a specially hard one, because, when I
implore the critics who are obsessed with the Schopenhaurian formula to
remember that playwrights, like sculptors, study their figures from
life, and not from philosophic essays, they reply passionately that I
am not a playwright and that my stage figures do not live. But even so,
I may and do ask them why, if they must give the credit of my plays to
a philosopher, they do not give it to an English philosopher? Long
before I ever read a word by Schopenhauer, or even knew whether he was
a philosopher or a chemist, the Socialist revival of the
eighteen-eighties brought me into contact, both literary and personal,
with Mr Ernest Belfort Bax, an English Socialist and philosophic
essayist, whose handling of modern feminism would provoke romantic
protests from Schopenhauer himself, or even Strindberg. As a matter of
fact I hardly noticed Schopenhauer's disparagements of women when they
came under my notice later on, so thoroughly had Mr Bax familiarized me
with the homoist attitude, and forced me to recognize the extent to
which public opinion, and consequently legislation and jurisprudence,
is corrupted by feminist sentiment.

But Mr Bax's essays were not confined to the Feminist question. He was
a ruthless critic of current morality. Other writers have gained
sympathy for dramatic criminals by eliciting the alleged "soul of
goodness in things evil"; but Mr Bax would propound some quite
undramatic and apparently shabby violation of our commercial law and
morality, and not merely defend it with the most disconcerting
ingenuity, but actually prove it to be a positive duty that nothing but
the certainty of police persecution should prevent every right-minded
man from at once doing on principle. The Socialists were naturally
shocked, being for the most part morbidly moral people; but at all
events they were saved later on from the delusion that nobody but
Nietzsche had ever challenged our mercanto-Christian morality. I first
heard the name of Nietzsche from a German mathematician, Miss
Borchardt, who had read my Quintessence of Ibsenism, and told me that
she saw what I had been reading: namely, Nietzsche's Jenseits von Gut
and Bose. Which I protest I had never seen, and could not have read
with any comfort, for want of the necessary German, if I had seen it.

Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer, is the victim in England of a single much
quoted sentence containing the phrase "big blonde beast." On the
strength of this alliteration it is assumed that Nietzsche gained his
European reputation by a senseless glorification of selfish bullying as
the rule of life, just as it is assumed, on the strength of the single
word Superman (Ubermensch) borrowed by me from Nietzsche, that I look
for the salvation of society to the despotism of a single Napoleonic
Superman, in spite of my careful demonstration of the folly of that
outworn infatuation. But even the less recklessly superficial critics
seem to believe that the modern objection to Christianity as a
pernicious slave-morality was first put forward by Nietzsche. It was
familiar to me before I ever heard of Nietzsche. The late Captain
Wilson, author of several queer pamphlets, propagandist of a
metaphysical system called Comprehensionism, and inventor of the term
"Crosstianity" to distinguish the retrograde element in Christendom,
was wont thirty years ago, in the discussions of the Dialectical
Society, to protest earnestly against the beatitudes of the Sermon on
the Mount as excuses for cowardice and servility, as destructive of our
will, and consequently of our honor and manhood. Now it is true that
Captain Wilson's moral criticism of Christianity was not a historical
theory of it, like Nietzsche's; but this objection cannot be made to Mr
Stuart-Glennie, the successor of Buckle as a philosophic historian, who
has devoted his life to the elaboration and propagation of his theory
that Christianity is part of an epoch (or rather an aberration, since
it began as recently as 6000BC and is already collapsing) produced by
the necessity in which the numerically inferior white races found
themselves to impose their domination on the colored races by
priestcraft, making a virtue and a popular religion of drudgery and
submissiveness in this world not only as a means of achieving
saintliness of character but of securing a reward in heaven. Here you
have the slave-morality view formulated by a Scotch philosopher long
before English writers began chattering about Nietzsche.

As Mr Stuart-Glennie traced the evolution of society to the conflict of
races, his theory made some sensation among Socialists--that is, among
the only people who were seriously thinking about historical evolution
at all--by its collision with the class-conflict theory of Karl Marx.
Nietzsche, as I gather, regarded the slave-morality as having been
invented and imposed on the world by slaves making a virtue of
necessity and a religion of their servitude. Mr Stuart-Glennie regards
the slave-morality as an invention of the superior white race to
subjugate the minds of the inferior races whom they wished to exploit,
and who would have destroyed them by force of numbers if their minds
had not been subjugated. As this process is in operation still, and can
be studied at first hand not only in our Church schools and in the
struggle between our modern proprietary classes and the proletariat,
but in the part played by Christian missionaries in reconciling the
black races of Africa to their subjugation by European Capitalism, we
can judge for ourselves whether the initiative came from above or
below. My object here is not to argue the historical point, but simply
to make our theatre critics ashamed of their habit of treating Britain
as an intellectual void, and assuming that every philosophical idea,
every historic theory, every criticism of our moral, religious and
juridical institutions, must necessarily be either imported from
abroad, or else a fantastic sally (in rather questionable taste)
totally unrelated to the existing body of thought. I urge them to
remember that this body of thought is the slowest of growths and the
rarest of blossomings, and that if there is such a thing on the
philosophic plane as a matter of course, it is that no individual can
make more than a minute contribution to it. In fact, their conception
of clever persons parthenogenetically bringing forth complete original
cosmogonies by dint of sheer "brilliancy" is part of that ignorant
credulity which is the despair of the honest philosopher, and the
opportunity of the religious impostor.


It is this credulity that drives me to help my critics out with Major
Barbara by telling them what to say about it. In the millionaire
Undershaft I have represented a man who has become intellectually and
spiritually as well as practically conscious of the irresistible
natural truth which we all abhor and repudiate: to wit, that the
greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty, and that our
first duty--a duty to which every other consideration should be
sacrificed--is not to be poor. "Poor but honest," "the respectable
poor," and such phrases are as intolerable and as immoral as "drunken
but amiable," "fraudulent but a good after-dinner speaker," "splendidly
criminal," or the like. Security, the chief pretence of civilization,
cannot exist where the worst of dangers, the danger of poverty, hangs
over everyone's head, and where the alleged protection of our persons
from violence is only an accidental result of the existence of a police
force whose real business is to force the poor man to see his children
starve whilst idle people overfeed pet dogs with the money that might
feed and clothe them.

It is exceedingly difficult to make people realize that an evil is an
evil. For instance, we seize a man and deliberately do him a malicious
injury: say, imprison him for years. One would not suppose that it
needed any exceptional clearness of wit to recognize in this an act of
diabolical cruelty. But in England such a recognition provokes a stare
of surprise, followed by an explanation that the outrage is punishment
or justice or something else that is all right, or perhaps by a heated
attempt to argue that we should all be robbed and murdered in our beds
if such senseless villainies as sentences of imprisonment were not
committed daily. It is useless to argue that even if this were true,
which it is not, the alternative to adding crimes of our own to the
crimes from which we suffer is not helpless submission. Chickenpox is
an evil; but if I were to declare that we must either submit to it or
else repress it sternly by seizing everyone who suffers from it and
punishing them by inoculation with smallpox, I should be laughed at;
for though nobody could deny that the result would be to prevent
chickenpox to some extent by making people avoid it much more
carefully, and to effect a further apparent prevention by making them
conceal it very anxiously, yet people would have sense enough to see
that the deliberate propagation of smallpox was a creation of evil, and
must therefore be ruled out in favor of purely humane and hygienic
measures. Yet in the precisely parallel case of a man breaking into my
house and stealing my wife's diamonds I am expected as a matter of
course to steal ten years of his life, torturing him all the time. If
he tries to defeat that monstrous retaliation by shooting me, my
survivors hang him. The net result suggested by the police statistics
is that we inflict atrocious injuries on the burglars we catch in order
to make the rest take effectual precautions against detection; so that
instead of saving our wives' diamonds from burglary we only greatly
decrease our chances of ever getting them back, and increase our
chances of being shot by the robber if we are unlucky enough to disturb
him at his work.

But the thoughtless wickedness with which we scatter sentences of
imprisonment, torture in the solitary cell and on the plank bed, and
flogging, on moral invalids and energetic rebels, is as nothing
compared to the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it
were either a wholesome tonic for lazy people or else a virtue to be
embraced as St Francis embraced it. If a man is indolent, let him be
poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let
him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science
instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor. If he chooses to
spend his urban eighteen shillings a week or his agricultural thirteen
shillings a week on his beer and his family instead of saving it up for
his old age, let him be poor. Let nothing be done for "the
undeserving": let him be poor. Serve him right! Also--somewhat
inconsistently--blessed are the poor!

Now what does this Let Him Be Poor mean? It means let him be weak. Let
him be ignorant. Let him become a nucleus of disease. Let him be a
standing exhibition and example of ugliness and dirt. Let him have
rickety children. Let him be cheap and let him drag his fellows down to
his price by selling himself to do their work. Let his habitations turn
our cities into poisonous congeries of slums. Let his daughters infect
our young men with the diseases of the streets and his sons revenge him
by turning the nation's manhood into scrofula, cowardice, cruelty,
hypocrisy, political imbecility, and all the other fruits of oppression
and malnutrition. Let the undeserving become still less deserving; and
let the deserving lay up for himself, not treasures in heaven, but
horrors in hell upon earth. This being so, is it really wise to let him
be poor? Would he not do ten times less harm as a prosperous burglar,
incendiary, ravisher or murderer, to the utmost limits of humanity's
comparatively negligible impulses in these directions? Suppose we were
to abolish all penalties for such activities, and decide that poverty
is the one thing we will not tolerate--that every adult with less than,
say, 365 pounds a year, shall be painlessly but inexorably killed, and
every hungry half naked child forcibly fattened and clothed, would not
that be an enormous improvement on our existing system, which has
already destroyed so many civilizations, and is visibly destroying ours
in the same way?

Is there any radicle of such legislation in our parliamentary system?
Well, there are two measures just sprouting in the political soil,
which may conceivably grow to something valuable. One is the
institution of a Legal Minimum Wage. The other, Old Age Pensions. But
there is a better plan than either of these. Some time ago I mentioned
the subject of Universal Old Age Pensions to my fellow Socialist Mr
Cobden-Sanderson, famous as an artist-craftsman in bookbinding and
printing. "Why not Universal Pensions for Life?" said Cobden-Sanderson.
In saying this, he solved the industrial problem at a stroke. At
present we say callously to each citizen: "If you want money, earn it,"
as if his having or not having it were a matter that concerned himself
alone. We do not even secure for him the opportunity of earning it: on
the contrary, we allow our industry to be organized in open dependence
on the maintenance of "a reserve army of unemployed" for the sake of
"elasticity." The sensible course would be Cobden-Sanderson's: that is,
to give every man enough to live well on, so as to guarantee the
community against the possibility of a case of the malignant disease of
poverty, and then (necessarily) to see that he earned it.

Undershaft, the hero of Major Barbara, is simply a man who, having
grasped the fact that poverty is a crime, knows that when society
offered him the alternative of poverty or a lucrative trade in death
and destruction, it offered him, not a choice between opulent villainy
and humble virtue, but between energetic enterprise and cowardly
infamy. His conduct stands the Kantian test, which Peter Shirley's does
not. Peter Shirley is what we call the honest poor man. Undershaft is
what we call the wicked rich one: Shirley is Lazarus, Undershaft Dives.
Well, the misery of the world is due to the fact that the great mass of
men act and believe as Peter Shirley acts and believes. If they acted
and believed as Undershaft acts and believes, the immediate result
would be a revolution of incalculable beneficence. To be wealthy, says
Undershaft, is with me a point of honor for which I am prepared to kill
at the risk of my own life. This preparedness is, as he says, the final
test of sincerity. Like Froissart's medieval hero, who saw that "to rob
and pill was a good life," he is not the dupe of that public sentiment
against killing which is propagated and endowed by people who would
otherwise be killed themselves, or of the mouth-honor paid to poverty
and obedience by rich and insubordinate do-nothings who want to rob the
poor without courage and command them without superiority. Froissart's
knight, in placing the achievement of a good life before all the other
duties--which indeed are not duties at all when they conflict with it,
but plain wickednesses--behaved bravely, admirably, and, in the final
analysis, public-spiritedly. Medieval society, on the other hand,
behaved very badly indeed in organizing itself so stupidly that a good
life could be achieved by robbing and pilling. If the knight's
contemporaries had been all as resolute as he, robbing and pilling
would have been the shortest way to the gallows, just as, if we were
all as resolute and clearsighted as Undershaft, an attempt to live by
means of what is called "an independent income" would be the shortest
way to the lethal chamber. But as, thanks to our political imbecility
and personal cowardice (fruits of poverty both), the best imitation of
a good life now procurable is life on an independent income, all
sensible people aim at securing such an income, and are, of course,
careful to legalize and moralize both it and all the actions and
sentiments which lead to it and support it as an institution. What else
can they do? They know, of course, that they are rich because others
are poor. But they cannot help that: it is for the poor to repudiate
poverty when they have had enough of it. The thing can be done easily
enough: the demonstrations to the contrary made by the economists,
jurists, moralists and sentimentalists hired by the rich to defend
them, or even doing the work gratuitously out of sheer folly and
abjectness, impose only on the hirers.

The reason why the independent income-tax payers are not solid in
defence of their position is that since we are not medieval rovers
through a sparsely populated country, the poverty of those we rob
prevents our having the good life for which we sacrifice them. Rich men
or aristocrats with a developed sense of life--men like Ruskin and
William Morris and Kropotkin--have enormous social appetites and very
fastidious personal ones. They are not content with handsome houses:
they want handsome cities. They are not content with bediamonded wives
and blooming daughters: they complain because the charwoman is badly
dressed, because the laundress smells of gin, because the sempstress is
anemic, because every man they meet is not a friend and every woman not
a romance. They turn up their noses at their neighbors' drains, and are
made ill by the architecture of their neighbors' houses. Trade patterns
made to suit vulgar people do not please them (and they can get nothing
else): they cannot sleep nor sit at ease upon "slaughtered" cabinet
makers' furniture. The very air is not good enough for them: there is
too much factory smoke in it. They even demand abstract conditions:
justice, honor, a noble moral atmosphere, a mystic nexus to replace the
cash nexus. Finally they declare that though to rob and pill with your
own hand on horseback and in steel coat may have been a good life, to
rob and pill by the hands of the policeman, the bailiff, and the
soldier, and to underpay them meanly for doing it, is not a good life,
but rather fatal to all possibility of even a tolerable one. They call
on the poor to revolt, and, finding the poor shocked at their
ungentlemanliness, despairingly revile the proletariat for its "damned
wantlessness" (verdammte Bedurfnislosigkeit).

So far, however, their attack on society has lacked simplicity. The
poor do not share their tastes nor understand their art-criticisms.
They do not want the simple life, nor the esthetic life; on the
contrary, they want very much to wallow in all the costly vulgarities
from which the elect souls among the rich turn away with loathing. It
is by surfeit and not by abstinence that they will be cured of their
hankering after unwholesome sweets. What they do dislike and despise
and are ashamed of is poverty. To ask them to fight for the difference
between the Christmas number of the Illustrated London News and the
Kelmscott Chaucer is silly: they prefer the News. The difference
between a stockbroker's cheap and dirty starched white shirt and collar
and the comparatively costly and carefully dyed blue shirt of William
Morris is a difference so disgraceful to Morris in their eyes that if
they fought on the subject at all, they would fight in defence of the
starch. "Cease to be slaves, in order that you may become cranks" is
not a very inspiring call to arms; nor is it really improved by
substituting saints for cranks. Both terms denote men of genius; and
the common man does not want to live the life of a man of genius: he
would much rather live the life of a pet collie if that were the only
alternative. But he does want more money. Whatever else he may be vague
about, he is clear about that. He may or may not prefer Major Barbara
to the Drury Lane pantomime; but he always prefers five hundred pounds
to five hundred shillings.

Now to deplore this preference as sordid, and teach children that it is
sinful to desire money, is to strain towards the extreme possible limit
of impudence in lying, and corruption in hypocrisy. The universal
regard for money is the one hopeful fact in our civilization, the one
sound spot in our social conscience. Money is the most important thing
in the world. It represents health, strength, honor, generosity and
beauty as conspicuously and undeniably as the want of it represents
illness, weakness, disgrace, meanness and ugliness. Not the least of
its virtues is that it destroys base people as certainly as it
fortifies and dignifies noble people. It is only when it is cheapened
to worthlessness for some, and made impossibly dear to others, that it
becomes a curse. In short, it is a curse only in such foolish social
conditions that life itself is a curse. For the two things are
inseparable: money is the counter that enables life to be distributed
socially: it is life as truly as sovereigns and bank notes are money.
The first duty of every citizen is to insist on having money on
reasonable terms; and this demand is not complied with by giving four
men three shillings each for ten or twelve hours' drudgery and one man
a thousand pounds for nothing. The crying need of the nation is not for
better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption
of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and
fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money. And the evil to
be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft,
demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of
the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.

Once take your eyes from the ends of the earth and fix them on this
truth just under your nose; and Andrew Undershaft's views will not
perplex you in the least. Unless indeed his constant sense that he is
only the instrument of a Will or Life Force which uses him for purposes
wider than his own, may puzzle you. If so, that is because you are
walking either in artificial Darwinian darkness, or to mere stupidity.
All genuinely religious people have that consciousness. To them
Undershaft the Mystic will be quite intelligible, and his perfect
comprehension of his daughter the Salvationist and her lover the
Euripidean republican natural and inevitable. That, however, is not
new, even on the stage. What is new, as far as I know, is that article
in Undershaft's religion which recognizes in Money the first need and
in poverty the vilest sin of man and society.

This dramatic conception has not, of course, been attained per saltum.
Nor has it been borrowed from Nietzsche or from any man born beyond the
Channel. The late Samuel Butler, in his own department the greatest
English writer of the latter half of the XIX century, steadily
inculcated the necessity and morality of a conscientious Laodiceanism
in religion and of an earnest and constant sense of the importance of
money. It drives one almost to despair of English literature when one
sees so extraordinary a study of English life as Butler's posthumous
Way of All Flesh making so little impression that when, some years
later, I produce plays in which Butler's extraordinarily fresh, free
and future-piercing suggestions have an obvious share, I am met with
nothing but vague cacklings about Ibsen and Nietzsche, and am only too
thankful that they are not about Alfred de Musset and Georges Sand.
Really, the English do not deserve to have great men. They allowed
Butler to die practically unknown, whilst I, a comparatively
insignificant Irish journalist, was leading them by the nose into an
advertisement of me which has made my own life a burden. In Sicily
there is a Via Samuele Butler. When an English tourist sees it, he
either asks "Who the devil was Samuele Butler?" or wonders why the
Sicilians should perpetuate the memory of the author of Hudibras.

Well, it cannot be denied that the English are only too anxious to
recognize a man of genius if somebody will kindly point him out to
them. Having pointed myself out in this manner with some success, I now
point out Samuel Butler, and trust that in consequence I shall hear a
little less in future of the novelty and foreign origin of the ideas
which are now making their way into the English theatre through plays
written by Socialists. There are living men whose originality and power
are as obvious as Butler's; and when they die that fact will be
discovered. Meanwhile I recommend them to insist on their own merits as
an important part of their own business.


When Major Barbara was produced in London, the second act was reported
in an important northern newspaper as a withering attack on the
Salvation Army, and the despairing ejaculation of Barbara deplored by a
London daily as a tasteless blasphemy. And they were set right, not by
the professed critics of the theatre, but by religious and
philosophical publicists like Sir Oliver Lodge and Dr Stanton Coit, and
strenuous Nonconformist journalists like Mr William Stead, who not only
understood the act as well as the Salvationists themselves, but also
saw it in its relation to the religious life of the nation, a life
which seems to lie not only outside the sympathy of many of our theatre
critics, but actually outside their knowledge of society. Indeed
nothing could be more ironically curious than the confrontation Major
Barbara effected of the theatre enthusiasts with the religious
enthusiasts. On the one hand was the playgoer, always seeking pleasure,
paying exorbitantly for it, suffering unbearable discomforts for it,
and hardly ever getting it. On the other hand was the Salvationist,
repudiating gaiety and courting effort and sacrifice, yet always in the
wildest spirits, laughing, joking, singing, rejoicing, drumming, and
tambourining: his life flying by in a flash of excitement, and his
death arriving as a climax of triumph. And, if you please, the playgoer
despising the Salvationist as a joyless person, shut out from the
heaven of the theatre, self-condemned to a life of hideous gloom; and
the Salvationist mourning over the playgoer as over a prodigal with
vine leaves in his hair, careering outrageously to hell amid the
popping of champagne corks and the ribald laughter of sirens! Could
misunderstanding be more complete, or sympathy worse misplaced?

Fortunately, the Salvationists are more accessible to the religious
character of the drama than the playgoers to the gay energy and
artistic fertility of religion. They can see, when it is pointed out to
them, that a theatre, as a place where two or three are gathered
together, takes from that divine presence an inalienable sanctity of
which the grossest and profanest farce can no more deprive it than a
hypocritical sermon by a snobbish bishop can desecrate Westminster
Abbey. But in our professional playgoers this indispensable preliminary
conception of sanctity seems wanting. They talk of actors as mimes and
mummers, and, I fear, think of dramatic authors as liars and pandars,
whose main business is the voluptuous soothing of the tired city
speculator when what he calls the serious business of the day is over.
Passion, the life of drama, means nothing to them but primitive sexual
excitement: such phrases as "impassioned poetry" or "passionate love of
truth" have fallen quite out of their vocabulary and been replaced by
"passional crime" and the like. They assume, as far as I can gather,
that people in whom passion has a larger scope are passionless and
therefore uninteresting. Consequently they come to think of religious
people as people who are not interesting and not amusing. And so, when
Barbara cuts the regular Salvation Army jokes, and snatches a kiss from
her lover across his drum, the devotees of the theatre think they ought
to appear shocked, and conclude that the whole play is an elaborate
mockery of the Army. And then either hypocritically rebuke me for
mocking, or foolishly take part in the supposed mockery! Even the
handful of mentally competent critics got into difficulties over my
demonstration of the economic deadlock in which the Salvation Army
finds itself. Some of them thought that the Army would not have taken
money from a distiller and a cannon founder: others thought it should
not have taken it: all assumed more or less definitely that it reduced
itself to absurdity or hypocrisy by taking it. On the first point the
reply of the Army itself was prompt and conclusive. As one of its
officers said, they would take money from the devil himself and be only
too glad to get it out of his hands and into God's. They gratefully
acknowledged that publicans not only give them money but allow them to
collect it in the bar--sometimes even when there is a Salvation meeting
outside preaching teetotalism. In fact, they questioned the
verisimilitude of the play, not because Mrs Baines took the money, but
because Barbara refused it.

On the point that the Army ought not to take such money, its
justification is obvious. It must take the money because it cannot
exist without money, and there is no other money to be had. Practically
all the spare money in the country consists of a mass of rent,
interest, and profit, every penny of which is bound up with crime,
drink, prostitution, disease, and all the evil fruits of poverty, as
inextricably as with enterprise, wealth, commercial probity, and
national prosperity. The notion that you can earmark certain coins as
tainted is an unpractical individualist superstition. None the less the
fact that all our money is tainted gives a very severe shock to earnest
young souls when some dramatic instance of the taint first makes them
conscious of it. When an enthusiastic young clergyman of the
Established Church first realizes that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners
receive the rents of sporting public houses, brothels, and sweating
dens; or that the most generous contributor at his last charity sermon
was an employer trading in female labor cheapened by prostitution as
unscrupulously as a hotel keeper trades in waiters' labor cheapened by
tips, or commissionaire's labor cheapened by pensions; or that the only
patron who can afford to rebuild his church or his schools or give his
boys' brigade a gymnasium or a library is the son-in-law of a Chicago
meat King, that young clergyman has, like Barbara, a very bad quarter
hour. But he cannot help himself by refusing to accept money from
anybody except sweet old ladies with independent incomes and gentle and
lovely ways of life. He has only to follow up the income of the sweet
ladies to its industrial source, and there he will find Mrs Warren's
profession and the poisonous canned meat and all the rest of it. His
own stipend has the same root. He must either share the world's guilt
or go to another planet. He must save the world's honor if he is to
save his own. This is what all the Churches find just as the Salvation
Army and Barbara find it in the play. Her discovery that she is her
father's accomplice; that the Salvation Army is the accomplice of the
distiller and the dynamite maker; that they can no more escape one
another than they can escape the air they breathe; that there is no
salvation for them through personal righteousness, but only through the
redemption of the whole nation from its vicious, lazy, competitive
anarchy: this discovery has been made by everyone except the Pharisees
and (apparently) the professional playgoers, who still wear their Tom
Hood shirts and underpay their washerwomen without the slightest
misgiving as to the elevation of their private characters, the purity
of their private atmospheres, and their right to repudiate as foreign
to themselves the coarse depravity of the garret and the slum. Not that
they mean any harm: they only desire to be, in their little private
way, what they call gentlemen. They do not understand Barbara's lesson
because they have not, like her, learnt it by taking their part in the
larger life of the nation.


Barbara's return to the colors may yet provide a subject for the
dramatic historian of the future. To go back to the Salvation Army with
the knowledge that even the Salvationists themselves are not saved yet;
that poverty is not blessed, but a most damnable sin; and that when
General Booth chose Blood and Fire for the emblem of Salvation instead
of the Cross, he was perhaps better inspired than he knew: such
knowledge, for the daughter of Andrew Undershaft, will clearly lead to
something hopefuller than distributing bread and treacle at the expense
of Bodger.

It is a very significant thing, this instinctive choice of the military
form of organization, this substitution of the drum for the organ, by
the Salvation Army. Does it not suggest that the Salvationists divine
that they must actually fight the devil instead of merely praying at
him? At present, it is true, they have not quite ascertained his
correct address. When they do, they may give a very rude shock to that
sense of security which he has gained from his experience of the fact
that hard words, even when uttered by eloquent essayists and lecturers,
or carried unanimously at enthusiastic public meetings on the motion of
eminent reformers, break no bones. It has been said that the French
Revolution was the work of Voltaire, Rousseau and the Encyclopedists.
It seems to me to have been the work of men who had observed that
virtuous indignation, caustic criticism, conclusive argument and
instructive pamphleteering, even when done by the most earnest and
witty literary geniuses, were as useless as praying, things going
steadily from bad to worse whilst the Social Contract and the pamphlets
of Voltaire were at the height of their vogue. Eventually, as we know,
perfectly respectable citizens and earnest philanthropists connived at
the September massacres because hard experience had convinced them that
if they contented themselves with appeals to humanity and patriotism,
the aristocracy, though it would read their appeals with the greatest
enjoyment and appreciation, flattering and admiring the writers, would
none the less continue to conspire with foreign monarchists to undo the
revolution and restore the old system with every circumstance of savage
vengeance and ruthless repression of popular liberties.

The nineteenth century saw the same lesson repeated in England. It had
its Utilitarians, its Christian Socialists, its Fabians (still extant):
it had Bentham, Mill, Dickens, Ruskin, Carlyle, Butler, Henry George,
and Morris. And the end of all their efforts is the Chicago described
by Mr Upton Sinclair, and the London in which the people who pay to be
amused by my dramatic representation of Peter Shirley turned out to
starve at forty because there are younger slaves to be had for his
wages, do not take, and have not the slightest intention of taking, any
effective step to organize society in such a way as to make that
everyday infamy impossible. I, who have preached and pamphleteered like
any Encyclopedist, have to confess that my methods are no use, and
would be no use if I were Voltaire, Rousseau, Bentham, Mill, Dickens,
Carlyle, Ruskin, George, Butler, and Morris all rolled into one, with
Euripides, More, Moliere, Shakespear, Beaumarchais, Swift, Goethe,
Ibsen, Tolstoy, Moses and the prophets all thrown in (as indeed in some
sort I actually am, standing as I do on all their shoulders). The
problem being to make heroes out of cowards, we paper apostles and
artist-magicians have succeeded only in giving cowards all the
sensations of heroes whilst they tolerate every abomination, accept
every plunder, and submit to every oppression. Christianity, in making
a merit of such submission, has marked only that depth in the abyss at
which the very sense of shame is lost. The Christian has been like
Dickens' doctor in the debtor's prison, who tells the newcomer of its
ineffable peace and security: no duns; no tyrannical collectors of
rates, taxes, and rent; no importunate hopes nor exacting duties;
nothing but the rest and safety of having no further to fall.

Yet in the poorest corner of this soul-destroying Christendom vitality
suddenly begins to germinate again. Joyousness, a sacred gift long
dethroned by the hellish laughter of derision and obscenity, rises like
a flood miraculously out of the fetid dust and mud of the slums;
rousing marches and impetuous dithyrambs rise to the heavens from
people among whom the depressing noise called "sacred music" is a
standing joke; a flag with Blood and Fire on it is unfurled, not in
murderous rancor, but because fire is beautiful and blood a vital and
splendid red; Fear, which we flatter by calling Self, vanishes; and
transfigured men and women carry their gospel through a transfigured
world, calling their leader General, themselves captains and
brigadiers, and their whole body an Army: praying, but praying only for
refreshment, for strength to fight, and for needful MONEY (a notable
sign, that); preaching, but not preaching submission; daring ill-usage
and abuse, but not putting up with more of it than is inevitable; and
practising what the world will let them practise, including soap and
water, color and music. There is danger in such Activity; and where
there is danger there is hope. Our present security is nothing, and can
be nothing, but evil made irresistible.


For the present, however, it is not my business to flatter the
Salvation Army. Rather must I point out to it that it has almost as
many weaknesses as the Church of England itself. It is building up a
business organization which will compel it eventually to see that its
present staff of enthusiast-commanders shall be succeeded by a
bureaucracy of men of business who will be no better than bishops, and
perhaps a good deal more unscrupulous. That has always happened sooner
or later to great orders founded by saints; and the order founded by St
William Booth is not exempt from the same danger. It is even more
dependent than the Church on rich people who would cut off supplies at
once if it began to preach that indispensable revolt against poverty
which must also be a revolt against riches. It is hampered by a heavy
contingent of pious elders who are not really Salvationists at all, but
Evangelicals of the old school. It still, as Commissioner Howard
affirms, "sticks to Moses," which is flat nonsense at this time of day
if the Commissioner means, as I am afraid he does, that the Book of
Genesis contains a trustworthy scientific account of the origin of
species, and that the god to whom Jephthah sacrificed his daughter is
any less obviously a tribal idol than Dagon or Chemosh.

Further, there is still too much other-worldliness about the Army. Like
Frederick's grenadier, the Salvationist wants to live for ever (the
most monstrous way of crying for the moon); and though it is evident to
anyone who has ever heard General Booth and his best officers that they
would work as hard for human salvation as they do at present if they
believed that death would be the end of them individually, they and
their followers have a bad habit of talking as if the Salvationists
were heroically enduring a very bad time on earth as an investment
which will bring them in dividends later on in the form, not of a
better life to come for the whole world, but of an eternity spent by
themselves personally in a sort of bliss which would bore any active
person to a second death. Surely the truth is that the Salvationists
are unusually happy people. And is it not the very diagnostic of true
salvation that it shall overcome the fear of death? Now the man who has
come to believe that there is no such thing as death, the change so
called being merely the transition to an exquisitely happy and utterly
careless life, has not overcome the fear of death at all: on the
contrary, it has overcome him so completely that he refuses to die on
any terms whatever. I do not call a Salvationist really saved until he
is ready to lie down cheerfully on the scrap heap, having paid scot and
lot and something over, and let his eternal life pass on to renew its
youth in the battalions of the future.

Then there is the nasty lying habit called confession, which the Army
encourages because it lends itself to dramatic oratory, with plenty of
thrilling incident. For my part, when I hear a convert relating the
violences and oaths and blasphemies he was guilty of before he was
saved, making out that he was a very terrible fellow then and is the
most contrite and chastened of Christians now, I believe him no more
than I believe the millionaire who says he came up to London or Chicago
as a boy with only three halfpence in his pocket. Salvationists have
said to me that Barbara in my play would never have been taken in by so
transparent a humbug as Snobby Price; and certainly I do not think
Snobby could have taken in any experienced Salvationist on a point on
which the Salvationist did not wish to be taken in. But on the point of
conversion all Salvationists wish to be taken in; for the more obvious
the sinner the more obvious the miracle of his conversion. When you
advertize a converted burglar or reclaimed drunkard as one of the
attractions at an experience meeting, your burglar can hardly have been
too burglarious or your drunkard too drunken. As long as such
attractions are relied on, you will have your Snobbies claiming to have
beaten their mothers when they were as a matter of prosaic fact
habitually beaten by them, and your Rummies of the tamest
respectability pretending to a past of reckless and dazzling vice. Even
when confessions are sincerely autobiographic there is no reason to
assume at once that the impulse to make them is pious or the interest
of the hearers wholesome. It might as well be assumed that the poor
people who insist on showing appalling ulcers to district visitors are
convinced hygienists, or that the curiosity which sometimes welcomes
such exhibitions is a pleasant and creditable one. One is often tempted
to suggest that those who pester our police superintendents with
confessions of murder might very wisely be taken at their word and
executed, except in the few cases in which a real murderer is seeking
to be relieved of his guilt by confession and expiation. For though I
am not, I hope, an unmerciful person, I do not think that the
inexorability of the deed once done should be disguised by any ritual,
whether in the confessional or on the scaffold.

And here my disagreement with the Salvation Army, and with all
propagandists of the Cross (to which I object as I object to all
gibbets) becomes deep indeed. Forgiveness, absolution, atonement, are
figments: punishment is only a pretence of cancelling one crime by
another; and you can no more have forgiveness without vindictiveness
than you can have a cure without a disease. You will never get a high
morality from people who conceive that their misdeeds are revocable and
pardonable, or in a society where absolution and expiation are
officially provided for us all. The demand may be very real; but the
supply is spurious. Thus Bill Walker, in my play, having assaulted the
Salvation Lass, presently finds himself overwhelmed with an intolerable
conviction of sin under the skilled treatment of Barbara. Straightway
he begins to try to unassault the lass and deruffianize his deed, first
by getting punished for it in kind, and, when that relief is denied
him, by fining himself a pound to compensate the girl. He is foiled
both ways. He finds the Salvation Army as inexorable as fact itself. It
will not punish him: it will not take his money. It will not tolerate a
redeemed ruffian: it leaves him no means of salvation except ceasing to
be a ruffian. In doing this, the Salvation Army instinctively grasps
the central truth of Christianity and discards its central
superstition: that central truth being the vanity of revenge and
punishment, and that central superstition the salvation of the world by
the gibbet.

For, be it noted, Bill has assaulted an old and starving woman also;
and for this worse offence he feels no remorse whatever, because she
makes it clear that her malice is as great as his own. "Let her have
the law of me, as she said she would," says Bill: "what I done to her
is no more on what you might call my conscience than sticking a pig."
This shows a perfectly natural and wholesome state of mind on his part.
The old woman, like the law she threatens him with, is perfectly ready
to play the game of retaliation with him: to rob him if he steals, to
flog him if he strikes, to murder him if he kills. By example and
precept the law and public opinion teach him to impose his will on
others by anger, violence, and cruelty, and to wipe off the moral score
by punishment. That is sound Crosstianity. But this Crosstianity has
got entangled with something which Barbara calls Christianity, and
which unexpectedly causes her to refuse to play the hangman's game of
Satan casting out Satan. She refuses to prosecute a drunken ruffian;
she converses on equal terms with a blackguard whom no lady could be
seen speaking to in the public street: in short, she behaves as
illegally and unbecomingly as possible under the circumstances. Bill's
conscience reacts to this just as naturally as it does to the old
woman's threats. He is placed in a position of unbearable moral
inferiority, and strives by every means in his power to escape from it,
whilst he is still quite ready to meet the abuse of the old woman by
attempting to smash a mug on her face. And that is the triumphant
justification of Barbara's Christianity as against our system of
judicial punishment and the vindictive villain-thrashings and "poetic
justice" of the romantic stage.

For the credit of literature it must be pointed out that the situation
is only partly novel. Victor Hugo long ago gave us the epic of the
convict and the bishop's candlesticks, of the Crosstian policeman
annihilated by his encounter with the Christian Valjean. But Bill
Walker is not, like Valjean, romantically changed from a demon into an
angel. There are millions of Bill Walkers in all classes of society
to-day; and the point which I, as a professor of natural psychology,
desire to demonstrate, is that Bill, without any change in his
character whatsoever, will react one way to one sort of treatment and
another way to another.

In proof I might point to the sensational object lesson provided by our
commercial millionaires to-day. They begin as brigands: merciless,
unscrupulous, dealing out ruin and death and slavery to their
competitors and employees, and facing desperately the worst that their
competitors can do to them. The history of the English factories, the
American trusts, the exploitation of African gold, diamonds, ivory and
rubber, outdoes in villainy the worst that has ever been imagined of
the buccaneers of the Spanish Main. Captain Kidd would have marooned a
modern Trust magnate for conduct unworthy of a gentleman of fortune.
The law every day seizes on unsuccessful scoundrels of this type and
punishes them with a cruelty worse than their own, with the result that
they come out of the torture house more dangerous than they went in,
and renew their evil doing (nobody will employ them at anything else)
until they are again seized, again tormented, and again let loose, with
the same result.

But the successful scoundrel is dealt with very differently, and very
Christianly. He is not only forgiven: he is idolized, respected, made
much of, all but worshipped. Society returns him good for evil in the
most extravagant overmeasure. And with what result? He begins to
idolize himself, to respect himself, to live up to the treatment he
receives. He preaches sermons; he writes books of the most edifying
advice to young men, and actually persuades himself that he got on by
taking his own advice; he endows educational institutions; he supports
charities; he dies finally in the odor of sanctity, leaving a will
which is a monument of public spirit and bounty. And all this without
any change in his character. The spots of the leopard and the stripes
of the tiger are as brilliant as ever; but the conduct of the world
towards him has changed; and his conduct has changed accordingly. You
have only to reverse your attitude towards him--to lay hands on his
property, revile him, assault him, and he will be a brigand again in a
moment, as ready to crush you as you are to crush him, and quite as
full of pretentious moral reasons for doing it.

In short, when Major Barbara says that there are no scoundrels, she is
right: there are no absolute scoundrels, though there are impracticable
people of whom I shall treat presently. Every practicable man (and
woman) is a potential scoundrel and a potential good citizen. What a
man is depends on his character; but what he does, and what we think of
what he does, depends on his circumstances. The characteristics that
ruin a man in one class make him eminent in another. The characters
that behave differently in different circumstances behave alike in
similar circumstances. Take a common English character like that of
Bill Walker. We meet Bill everywhere: on the judicial bench, on the
episcopal bench, in the Privy Council, at the War Office and Admiralty,
as well as in the Old Bailey dock or in the ranks of casual unskilled
labor. And the morality of Bill's characteristics varies with these
various circumstances. The faults of the burglar are the qualities of
the financier: the manners and habits of a duke would cost a city clerk
his situation. In short, though character is independent of
circumstances, conduct is not; and our moral judgments of character are
not: both are circumstantial. Take any condition of life in which the
circumstances are for a mass of men practically alike: felony, the
House of Lords, the factory, the stables, the gipsy encampment or where
you please! In spite of diversity of character and temperament, the
conduct and morals of the individuals in each group are as predicable
and as alike in the main as if they were a flock of sheep, morals being
mostly only social habits and circumstantial necessities. Strong people
know this and count upon it. In nothing have the master-minds of the
world been distinguished from the ordinary suburban season-ticket
holder more than in their straightforward perception of the fact that
mankind is practically a single species, and not a menagerie of
gentlemen and bounders, villains and heroes, cowards and daredevils,
peers and peasants, grocers and aristocrats, artisans and laborers,
washerwomen and duchesses, in which all the grades of income and caste
represent distinct animals who must not be introduced to one another or
intermarry. Napoleon constructing a galaxy of generals and courtiers,
and even of monarchs, out of his collection of social nobodies; Julius
Caesar appointing as governor of Egypt the son of a freedman--one who
but a short time before would have been legally disqualified for the
post even of a private soldier in the Roman army; Louis XI making his
barber his privy councillor: all these had in their different ways a
firm hold of the scientific fact of human equality, expressed by
Barbara in the Christian formula that all men are children of one
father. A man who believes that men are naturally divided into upper
and lower and middle classes morally is making exactly the same mistake
as the man who believes that they are naturally divided in the same way
socially. And just as our persistent attempts to found political
institutions on a basis of social inequality have always produced long
periods of destructive friction relieved from time to time by violent
explosions of revolution; so the attempt--will Americans please
note--to found moral institutions on a basis of moral inequality can
lead to nothing but unnatural Reigns of the Saints relieved by
licentious Restorations; to Americans who have made divorce a public
institution turning the face of Europe into one huge sardonic smile by
refusing to stay in the same hotel with a Russian man of genius who has
changed wives without the sanction of South Dakota; to grotesque
hypocrisy, cruel persecution, and final utter confusion of conventions
and compliances with benevolence and respectability. It is quite
useless to declare that all men are born free if you deny that they are
born good. Guarantee a man's goodness and his liberty will take care of
itself. To guarantee his freedom on condition that you approve of his
moral character is formally to abolish all freedom whatsoever, as every
man's liberty is at the mercy of a moral indictment, which any fool can
trump up against everyone who violates custom, whether as a prophet or
as a rascal. This is the lesson Democracy has to learn before it can
become anything but the most oppressive of all the priesthoods.

Let us now return to Bill Walker and his case of conscience against the
Salvation Army. Major Barbara, not being a modern Tetzel, or the
treasurer of a hospital, refuses to sell Bill absolution for a
sovereign. Unfortunately, what the Army can afford to refuse in the
case of Bill Walker, it cannot refuse in the case of Bodger. Bodger is
master of the situation because he holds the purse strings. "Strive as
you will," says Bodger, in effect: "me you cannot do without. You
cannot save Bill Walker without my money." And the Army answers, quite
rightly under the circumstances, "We will take money from the devil
himself sooner than abandon the work of Salvation." So Bodger pays his
conscience-money and gets the absolution that is refused to Bill. In
real life Bill would perhaps never know this. But I, the dramatist,
whose business it is to show the connexion between things that seem
apart and unrelated in the haphazard order of events in real life, have
contrived to make it known to Bill, with the result that the Salvation
Army loses its hold of him at once.

But Bill may not be lost, for all that. He is still in the grip of the
facts and of his own conscience, and may find his taste for
blackguardism permanently spoiled. Still, I cannot guarantee that happy
ending. Let anyone walk through the poorer quarters of our cities when
the men are not working, but resting and chewing the cud of their
reflections; and he will find that there is one expression on every
mature face: the expression of cynicism. The discovery made by Bill
Walker about the Salvation Army has been made by every one of them.
They have found that every man has his price; and they have been
foolishly or corruptly taught to mistrust and despise him for that
necessary and salutary condition of social existence. When they learn
that General Booth, too, has his price, they do not admire him because
it is a high one, and admit the need of organizing society so that he
shall get it in an honorable way: they conclude that his character is
unsound and that all religious men are hypocrites and allies of their
sweaters and oppressors. They know that the large subscriptions which
help to support the Army are endowments, not of religion, but of the
wicked doctrine of docility in poverty and humility under oppression;
and they are rent by the most agonizing of all the doubts of the soul,
the doubt whether their true salvation must not come from their most
abhorrent passions, from murder, envy, greed, stubbornness, rage, and
terrorism, rather than from public spirit, reasonableness, humanity,
generosity, tenderness, delicacy, pity and kindness. The confirmation
of that doubt, at which our newspapers have been working so hard for
years past, is the morality of militarism; and the justification of
militarism is that circumstances may at any time make it the true
morality of the moment. It is by producing such moments that we produce
violent and sanguinary revolutions, such as the one now in progress in
Russia and the one which Capitalism in England and America is daily and
diligently provoking.

At such moments it becomes the duty of the Churches to evoke all the
powers of destruction against the existing order. But if they do this,
the existing order must forcibly suppress them. Churches are suffered
to exist only on condition that they preach submission to the State as
at present capitalistically organized. The Church of England itself is
compelled to add to the thirty-six articles in which it formulates its
religious tenets, three more in which it apologetically protests that
the moment any of these articles comes in conflict with the State it is
to be entirely renounced, abjured, violated, abrogated and abhorred,
the policeman being a much more important person than any of the
Persons of the Trinity. And this is why no tolerated Church nor
Salvation Army can ever win the entire confidence of the poor. It must
be on the side of the police and the military, no matter what it
believes or disbelieves; and as the police and the military are the
instruments by which the rich rob and oppress the poor (on legal and
moral principles made for the purpose), it is not possible to be on the
side of the poor and of the police at the same time. Indeed the
religious bodies, as the almoners of the rich, become a sort of
auxiliary police, taking off the insurrectionary edge of poverty with
coals and blankets, bread and treacle, and soothing and cheering the
victims with hopes of immense and inexpensive happiness in another
world when the process of working them to premature death in the
service of the rich is complete in this.


Such is the false position from which neither the Salvation Army nor
the Church of England nor any other religious organization whatever can
escape except through a reconstitution of society. Nor can they merely
endure the State passively, washing their hands of its sins. The State
is constantly forcing the consciences of men by violence and cruelty.
Not content with exacting money from us for the maintenance of its
soldiers and policemen, its gaolers and executioners, it forces us to
take an active personal part in its proceedings on pain of becoming
ourselves the victims of its violence. As I write these lines, a
sensational example is given to the world. A royal marriage has been
celebrated, first by sacrament in a cathedral, and then by a bullfight
having for its main amusement the spectacle of horses gored and
disembowelled by the bull, after which, when the bull is so exhausted
as to be no longer dangerous, he is killed by a cautious matador. But
the ironic contrast between the bullfight and the sacrament of marriage
does not move anyone. Another contrast--that between the splendor, the
happiness, the atmosphere of kindly admiration surrounding the young
couple, and the price paid for it under our abominable social
arrangements in the misery, squalor and degradation of millions of
other young couples--is drawn at the same moment by a novelist, Mr
Upton Sinclair, who chips a corner of the veneering from the huge meat
packing industries of Chicago, and shows it to us as a sample of what
is going on all over the world underneath the top layer of prosperous
plutocracy. One man is sufficiently moved by that contrast to pay his
own life as the price of one terrible blow at the responsible parties.
Unhappily his poverty leaves him also ignorant enough to be duped by
the pretence that the innocent young bride and bridegroom, put forth
and crowned by plutocracy as the heads of a State in which they have
less personal power than any policeman, and less influence than any
chairman of a trust, are responsible. At them accordingly he launches
his sixpennorth of fulminate, missing his mark, but scattering the
bowels of as many horses as any bull in the arena, and slaying
twenty-three persons, besides wounding ninety-nine. And of all these,
the horses alone are innocent of the guilt he is avenging: had he blown
all Madrid to atoms with every adult person in it, not one could have
escaped the charge of being an accessory, before, at, and after the
fact, to poverty and prostitution, to such wholesale massacre of
infants as Herod never dreamt of, to plague, pestilence and famine,
battle, murder and lingering death--perhaps not one who had not helped,
through example, precept, connivance, and even clamor, to teach the
dynamiter his well-learnt gospel of hatred and vengeance, by approving
every day of sentences of years of imprisonment so infernal in its
unnatural stupidity and panic-stricken cruelty, that their advocates
can disavow neither the dagger nor the bomb without stripping the mask
of justice and humanity from themselves also. Be it noted that at this
very moment there appears the biography of one of our dukes, who, being
Scotch, could argue about politics, and therefore stood out as a great
brain among our aristocrats. And what, if you please, was his grace's
favorite historical episode, which he declared he never read without
intense satisfaction? Why, the young General Bonapart's pounding of the
Paris mob to pieces in 1795, called in playful approval by our
respectable classes "the whiff of grapeshot," though Napoleon, to do
him justice, took a deeper view of it, and would fain have had it
forgotten. And since the Duke of Argyll was not a demon, but a man of
like passions with ourselves, by no means rancorous or cruel as men go,
who can doubt that all over the world proletarians of the ducal kidney
are now revelling in "the whiff of dynamite" (the flavor of the joke
seems to evaporate a little, does it not?) because it was aimed at the
class they hate even as our argute duke hated what he called the mob.

In such an atmosphere there can be only one sequel to the Madrid
explosion. All Europe burns to emulate it. Vengeance! More blood! Tear
"the Anarchist beast" to shreds. Drag him to the scaffold. Imprison him
for life. Let all civilized States band together to drive his like off
the face of the earth; and if any State refuses to join, make war on
it. This time the leading London newspaper, anti-Liberal and therefore
anti-Russian in politics, does not say "Serve you right" to the
victims, as it did, in effect, when Bobrikofl; and De Plehve, and Grand
Duke Sergius, were in the same manner unofficially fulminated into
fragments. No: fulminate our rivals in Asia by all means, ye brave
Russian revolutionaries; but to aim at an English princess-monstrous!
hideous! hound down the wretch to his doom; and observe, please, that
we are a civilized and merciful people, and, however much we may regret
it, must not treat him as Ravaillac and Damiens were treated. And
meanwhile, since we have not yet caught him, let us soothe our
quivering nerves with the bullfight, and comment in a courtly way on
the unfailing tact and good taste of the ladies of our royal houses,
who, though presumably of full normal natural tenderness, have been so
effectually broken in to fashionable routine that they can be taken to
see the horses slaughtered as helplessly as they could no doubt be
taken to a gladiator show, if that happened to be the mode just now.

Strangely enough, in the midst of this raging fire of malice, the one
man who still has faith in the kindness and intelligence of human
nature is the fulminator, now a hunted wretch, with nothing,
apparently, to secure his triumph over all the prisons and scaffolds of
infuriate Europe except the revolver in his pocket and his readiness to
discharge it at a moment's notice into his own or any other head. Think
of him setting out to find a gentleman and a Christian in the multitude
of human wolves howling for his blood. Think also of this: that at the
very first essay he finds what he seeks, a veritable grandee of Spain,
a noble, high-thinking, unterrified, malice-void soul, in the guise--of
all masquerades in the world!--of a modern editor. The Anarchist wolf,
flying from the wolves of plutocracy, throws himself on the honor of
the man. The man, not being a wolf (nor a London editor), and therefore
not having enough sympathy with his exploit to be made bloodthirsty by
it, does not throw him back to the pursuing wolves--gives him, instead,
what help he can to escape, and sends him off acquainted at last with a
force that goes deeper than dynamite, though you cannot make so much of
it for sixpence. That righteous and honorable high human deed is not
wasted on Europe, let us hope, though it benefits the fugitive wolf
only for a moment. The plutocratic wolves presently smell him out. The
fugitive shoots the unlucky wolf whose nose is nearest; shoots himself;
and then convinces the world, by his photograph, that he was no
monstrous freak of reversion to the tiger, but a good looking young man
with nothing abnormal about him except his appalling courage and
resolution (that is why the terrified shriek Coward at him): one to
whom murdering a happy young couple on their wedding morning would have
been an unthinkably unnatural abomination under rational and kindly
human circumstances.

Then comes the climax of irony and blind stupidity. The wolves, balked
of their meal of fellow-wolf, turn on the man, and proceed to torture
him, after their manner, by imprisonment, for refusing to fasten his
teeth in the throat of the dynamiter and hold him down until they came
to finish him.

Thus, you see, a man may not be a gentleman nowadays even if he wishes
to. As to being a Christian, he is allowed some latitude in that
matter, because, I repeat, Christianity has two faces. Popular
Christianity has for its emblem a gibbet, for its chief sensation a
sanguinary execution after torture, for its central mystery an insane
vengeance bought off by a trumpery expiation. But there is a nobler and
profounder Christianity which affirms the sacred mystery of Equality,
and forbids the glaring futility and folly of vengeance, often politely
called punishment or justice. The gibbet part of Christianity is
tolerated. The other is criminal felony. Connoisseurs in irony are well
aware of the fact that the only editor in England who denounces
punishment as radically wrong, also repudiates Christianity; calls his
paper The Freethinker; and has been imprisoned for two years for


And now I must ask the excited reader not to lose his head on one side
or the other, but to draw a sane moral from these grim absurdities. It
is not good sense to propose that laws against crime should apply to
principals only and not to accessories whose consent, counsel, or
silence may secure impunity to the principal. If you institute
punishment as part of the law, you must punish people for refusing to
punish. If you have a police, part of its duty must be to compel
everybody to assist the police. No doubt if your laws are unjust, and
your policemen agents of oppression, the result will be an unbearable
violation of the private consciences of citizens. But that cannot be
helped: the remedy is, not to license everybody to thwart the law if
they please, but to make laws that will command the public assent, and
not to deal cruelly and stupidly with lawbreakers. Everybody
disapproves of burglars; but the modern burglar, when caught and
overpowered by a householder usually appeals, and often, let us hope,
with success, to his captor not to deliver him over to the useless
horrors of penal servitude. In other cases the lawbreaker escapes
because those who could give him up do not consider his breech of the
law a guilty action. Sometimes, even, private tribunals are formed in
opposition to the official tribunals; and these private tribunals
employ assassins as executioners, as was done, for example, by Mahomet
before he had established his power officially, and by the Ribbon
lodges of Ireland in their long struggle with the landlords. Under such
circumstances, the assassin goes free although everybody in the
district knows who he is and what he has done. They do not betray him,
partly because they justify him exactly as the regular Government
justifies its official executioner, and partly because they would
themselves be assassinated if they betrayed him: another method learnt
from the official government. Given a tribunal, employing a slayer who
has no personal quarrel with the slain; and there is clearly no moral
difference between official and unofficial killing.

In short, all men are anarchists with regard to laws which are against
their consciences, either in the preamble or in the penalty. In London
our worst anarchists are the magistrates, because many of them are so
old and ignorant that when they are called upon to administer any law
that is based on ideas or knowledge less than half a century old, they
disagree with it, and being mere ordinary homebred private Englishmen
without any respect for law in the abstract, naively set the example of
violating it. In this instance the man lags behind the law; but when
the law lags behind the man, he becomes equally an anarchist. When some
huge change in social conditions, such as the industrial revolution of
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, throws our legal and
industrial institutions out of date, Anarchism becomes almost a
religion. The whole force of the most energetic geniuses of the time in
philosophy, economics, and art, concentrates itself on demonstrations
and reminders that morality and law are only conventions, fallible and
continually obsolescing. Tragedies in which the heroes are bandits, and
comedies in which law-abiding and conventionally moral folk are
compelled to satirize themselves by outraging the conscience of the
spectators every time they do their duty, appear simultaneously with
economic treatises entitled "What is Property? Theft!" and with
histories of "The Conflict between Religion and Science."

Now this is not a healthy state of things. The advantages of living in
society are proportionate, not to the freedom of the individual from a
code, but to the complexity and subtlety of the code he is prepared not
only to accept but to uphold as a matter of such vital importance that
a lawbreaker at large is hardly to be tolerated on any plea. Such an
attitude becomes impossible when the only men who can make themselves
heard and remembered throughout the world spend all their energy in
raising our gorge against current law, current morality, current
respect ability, and legal property. The ordinary man, uneducated in
social theory even when he is schooled in Latin verse, cannot be set
against all the laws of his country and yet persuaded to regard law in
the abstract as vitally necessary to society. Once he is brought to
repudiate the laws and institutions he knows, he will repudiate the
very conception of law and the very groundwork of institutions,
ridiculing human rights, extolling brainless methods as "historical,"
and tolerating nothing except pure empiricism in conduct, with dynamite
as the basis of politics and vivisection as the basis of science. That
is hideous; but what is to be done? Here am I, for instance, by class a
respectable man, by common sense a hater of waste and disorder, by
intellectual constitution legally minded to the verge of pedantry, and
by temperament apprehensive and economically disposed to the limit of
old-maidishness; yet I am, and have always been, and shall now always
be, a revolutionary writer, because our laws make law impossible; our
liberties destroy all freedom; our property is organized robbery; our
morality is an impudent hypocrisy; our wisdom is administered by
inexperienced or malexperienced dupes, our power wielded by cowards and
weaklings, and our honor false in all its points. I am an enemy of the
existing order for good reasons; but that does not make my attacks any
less encouraging or helpful to people who are its enemies for bad
reasons. The existing order may shriek that if I tell the truth about
it, some foolish person may drive it to become still worse by trying to
assassinate it. I cannot help that, even if I could see what worse it
could do than it is already doing. And the disadvantage of that worst
even from its own point of view is that society, with all its prisons
and bayonets and whips and ostracisms and starvations, is powerless in
the face of the Anarchist who is prepared to sacrifice his own life in
the battle with it. Our natural safety from the cheap and devastating
explosives which every Russian student can make, and every Russian
grenadier has learnt to handle in Manchuria, lies in the fact that
brave and resolute men, when they are rascals, will not risk their
skins for the good of humanity, and, when they are sympathetic enough
to care for humanity, abhor murder, and never commit it until their
consciences are outraged beyond endurance. The remedy is, simply not to
outrage their consciences.

Do not be afraid that they will not make allowances. All men make very
large allowances indeed before they stake their own lives in a war to
the death with society. Nobody demands or expects the millennium. But
there are two things that must be set right, or we shall perish, like
Rome, of soul atrophy disguised as empire. The first is, that the daily
ceremony of dividing the wealth of the country among its inhabitants
shall be so conducted that no crumb shall go to any able-bodied adults
who are not producing by their personal exertions not only a full
equivalent for what they take, but a surplus sufficient to provide for
their superannuation and pay back the debt due for their nurture.

The second is that the deliberate infliction of malicious injuries
which now goes on under the name of punishment be abandoned; so that
the thief, the ruffian, the gambler, and the beggar, may without
inhumanity be handed over to the law, and made to understand that a
State which is too humane to punish will also be too thrifty to waste
the life of honest men in watching or restraining dishonest ones. That
is why we do not imprison dogs. We even take our chance of their first
bite. But if a dog delights to bark and bite, it goes to the lethal
chamber. That seems to me sensible. To allow the dog to expiate his
bite by a period of torment, and then let him loose in a much more
savage condition (for the chain makes a dog savage) to bite again and
expiate again, having meanwhile spent a great deal of human life and
happiness in the task of chaining and feeding and tormenting him, seems
to me idiotic and superstitious. Yet that is what we do to men who bark
and bite and steal. It would be far more sensible to put up with their
vices, as we put up with their illnesses, until they give more trouble
than they are worth, at which point we should, with many apologies and
expressions of sympathy, and some generosity in complying with their
last wishes, then, place them in the lethal chamber and get rid of
them. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to expiate their
misdeeds by a manufactured penalty, to subscribe to a charity, or to
compensate the victims. If there is to be no punishment there can be no
forgiveness. We shall never have real moral responsibility until
everyone knows that his deeds are irrevocable, and that his life
depends on his usefulness. Hitherto, alas! humanity has never dared
face these hard facts. We frantically scatter conscience money and
invent systems of conscience banking, with expiatory penalties,
atonements, redemptions, salvations, hospital subscription lists and
what not, to enable us to contract-out of the moral code. Not content
with the old scapegoat and sacrificial lamb, we deify human saviors,
and pray to miraculous virgin intercessors. We attribute mercy to the
inexorable; soothe our consciences after committing murder by throwing
ourselves on the bosom of divine love; and shrink even from our own
gallows because we are forced to admit that it, at least, is
irrevocable--as if one hour of imprisonment were not as irrevocable as
any execution!

If a man cannot look evil in the face without illusion, he will never
know what it really is, or combat it effectually. The few men who have
been able (relatively) to do this have been called cynics, and have
sometimes had an abnormal share of evil in themselves, corresponding to
the abnormal strength of their minds; but they have never done mischief
unless they intended to do it. That is why great scoundrels have been
beneficent rulers whilst amiable and privately harmless monarchs have
ruined their countries by trusting to the hocus-pocus of innocence and
guilt, reward and punishment, virtuous indignation and pardon, instead
of standing up to the facts without either malice or mercy. Major
Barbara stands up to Bill Walker in that way, with the result that the
ruffian who cannot get hated, has to hate himself. To relieve this
agony be tries to get punished; but the Salvationist whom he tries to
provoke is as merciless as Barbara, and only prays for him. Then he
tries to pay, but can get nobody to take his money. His doom is the
doom of Cain, who, failing to find either a savior, a policeman, or an
almoner to help him to pretend that his brother's blood no longer cried
from the ground, had to live and die a murderer. Cain took care not to
commit another murder, unlike our railway shareholders (I am one) who
kill and maim shunters by hundreds to save the cost of automatic
couplings, and make atonement by annual subscriptions to deserving
charities. Had Cain been allowed to pay off his score, he might
possibly have killed Adam and Eve for the mere sake of a second
luxurious reconciliation with God afterwards. Bodger, you may depend on
it, will go on to the end of his life poisoning people with bad whisky,
because he can always depend on the Salvation Army or the Church of
England to negotiate a redemption for him in consideration of a
trifling percentage of his profits. There is a third condition too,
which must be fulfilled before the great teachers of the world will
cease to scoff at its religions. Creeds must become intellectually
honest. At present there is not a single credible established religion
in the world. That is perhaps the most stupendous fact in the whole
world-situation. This play of mine, Major Barbara, is, I hope, both
true and inspired; but whoever says that it all happened, and that
faith in it and understanding of it consist in believing that it is a
record of an actual occurrence, is, to speak according to Scripture, a
fool and a liar, and is hereby solemnly denounced and cursed as such by
me, the author, to all posterity.

London, June 1906.

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