As Far as Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920/§ ii
- The dressing begins. The Newly Born chuckles with delight.
THE MAIDEN. Your arms go here, dear. Isnt it pretty? Youll look lovely.
THE NEWLY BORN [rapturously] Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Oh!!!!
ANOTHER YOUTH. No: the other arm: youre putting it on back to front. You are a silly little beast.
ACIS. Here! Thats it. Now youre clean and decent. Up with you! Oopsh! [He hauls her to her feet. She cannot walk at first, but masters it after a few steps]. Now then: march. Here she is, Ancient: put her through the catechism.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. What name have you chosen for her?
THE SHE-ANCIENT [to the Newly Born] Your name is Amaryllis.
THE NEWLY BORN. What does it mean?
A YOUTH. Love.
A MAIDEN. Mother.
ANOTHER YOUTH. Lilies.
THE NEWLY BORN [to Acis] What is your name?
THE NEWLY BORN. I love you, Acis. I must have you all to myself. Take me in your arms.
ACIS. Steady, young one. I am three years old.
THE NEWLY BORN. What has that to do with it? I love you; and I must have you or I will go back into my shell again.
ACIS. You cant. It's broken. Look here [pointing to Strephon, who has remained in his seat without looking round at the birth, wrapped up in his sorrow]! Look at this poor fellow!
THE NEWLY BORN. What is the matter with him?
ACIS. When he was born he chose a girl two years old for his sweetheart. He is two years old now himself; and already his heart is broken because she is four. That means that she has grown up like this Ancient here, and has left him. If you choose me, we shall have only a year's happiness before I break your heart by growing up. Better choose the youngest you can find.
THE NEWLY BORN. I will not choose anyone but you. You must not grow up. We will love one another for ever. [They all laugh]. What are you laughing at?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Listen, child—
THE NEWLY BORN. Do not come near me, you dreadful old creature. You frighten me.
ACIS. Just give her another moment. She is not quite reasonable yet. What can you expect from a child less than five minutes old?
THE NEWLY BORN. I think I feel a little more reasonable now. Of course I was rather young when I said that; but the inside of my head is changing very rapidly. I should like to have things explained to me.
ACIS [to the She-Ancient] Is she all right, do you think?
- The She-Ancient looks at the Newly Born critically; feels her bumps like a phrenologist; grips her muscles and shakes her limbs; examines her teeth; looks into her eyes for a moment; and finally relinquishes her with an air of having finished her job.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. She will do. She may live.
- They all wave their hands and shout for joy.
THE NEWLY BORN [indignant] I may live! Suppose there had been anything wrong with me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Children with anything wrong do not live here, my child. Life is not cheap with us. But you would not have felt anything.
THE NEWLY BORN. You mean that you would have murdered me!
THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is one of the funny words the newly born bring with them out of the past. You will forget it tomorrow. Now listen. You have four years of childhood before you. You will not be very happy; but you will be interested and amused by the novelty of the world; and your companions here will teach you how to keep up an imitation of happiness during your four years by what they call arts and sports and pleasures. The worst of your troubles is already over.
THE NEWLY BORN. What! In five minutes?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No: you have been growing for two years in the egg. You began by being several sorts of creatures that no longer exist, though we have fossils of them. Then you became human; and you passed in fifteen months through a development that once cost human beings twenty years of awkward stumbling immaturity after they were born. They had to spend fifty years more in the sort of childhood you will complete in four years. And then they died of decay. But you need not die until your accident comes.
THE NEWLY BORN. What is my accident?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Sooner or later you will fall and break your neck; or a tree will fall on you; or you will be struck by lightning. Something or other must make an end of you some day.
THE NEWLY BORN. But why should any of these things happen to me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There is no why. They do. Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough. And with us there is eternity.
THE NEWLY BORN. Nothing need happen. I never heard such nonsense in all my life. I shall know how to take care of myself.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. So you think.
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think: I know. I shall enjoy life for ever and ever.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. If you should turn out to be a person of infinite capacity, you will no doubt find life infinitely interesting. However, all you have to do now is to play with your companions. They have many pretty toys, as you see: a playhouse, pictures, images, flowers, bright fabrics, music: above all, themselves; for the most amusing child's toy is another child. At the end of four years, your mind will change: you will become wise; and then you will be entrusted with power.
THE NEWLY BORN. But I want power now.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No doubt you do; so that you could play with the world by tearing it to pieces.
THE NEWLY BORN. Only to see how it is made. I should put it all together again much better than before.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There was a time when children were given the world to play with because they promised to improve it. They did not improve it; and they would have wrecked it had their power been as great as that which you will wield when you are no longer a child. Until then your young companions will instruct you in whatever is necessary. You are not forbidden to speak to the ancients; but you had better not do so, as most of them have long ago exhausted all the interest there is in observing children and conversing with them. [She turns to go].
THE NEWLY BORN. Wait. Tell me some things that I ought to do and ought not to do. I feel the need of education. They all laugh at her, except the She-Ancient.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. You will have grown out of that by tomorrow. Do what you please. [She goes away up the hill path].
- The officials take their paraphernalia and the fragments of the egg back into the temple.
ACIS. Just fancy: that old girl has been going for seven hundred years and hasnt had her fatal accident yet; and she is not a bit tired of it all.
THE NEWLY BORN. How could anyone ever get tired of life?
ACIS. They do. That is, of the same life. They manage to change themselves in a wonderful way. You meet them sometimes with a lot of extra heads and arms and legs: they make you split laughing at them. Most of them have forgotten how to speak: the ones that attend to us have to brush up their knowledge of the language once a year or so. Nothing makes any difference to them that I can see. They never enjoy themselves. I don't know how they can stand it. They don't even come to our festivals of the arts. That old one who saw you out of your shell has gone off to moodle about doing nothing; though she knows that this is Festival Day?
THE NEWLY BORN. What is Festival Day?
ACIS. Two of our greatest sculptors are bringing us their latest masterpieces; and we are going to crown them with flowers and sing dithyrambs to them and dance round them.
THE NEWLY BORN. How jolly! What is a sculptor?
ACIS. Listen here, young one. You must find out things for yourself, and not ask questions. For the first day or two you must keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. Children should be seen and not heard.
THE NEWLY BORN. Who are you calling a child? I am fully a quarter of an hour old [She sits down on the curved bench near Strephon with her maturest air].
VOICES IN THE TEMPLE [all expressing protest, disappointment, disgust] Oh! Oh! Scandalous. Shameful. Disgraceful. What filth! Is this a joke? Why, theyre ancients! Ss-s-s-sss! Are you mad, Arjillax? This is an outrage. An insult. Yah! etc. etc. etc. [The malcontents appear on the steps, grumbling].
ACIS. Hullo: whats the matter? [He goes to the steps of the temple].
- The two sculptors issue from the temple. One has a beard two feet long: the other is beardless. Between them comes a handsome nymph with marked features, dark hair richly waved, and authoritative bearing.
THE AUTHORITATIVE NYMPH [swooping down to the centre of the glade with the sculptors, between Acis and the Newly Born] Do not try to browbeat me, Arjillax, merely because you are clever with your hands. Can you play the flute?
ARJILLAX [the bearded sculptor on her right] No, Ecrasia: I cannot. What has that to do with it? [He is half derisive, half impatient, wholly resolved not to take her seriously in spite of her beauty and imposing tone].
ECRASIA. Well, have you ever hesitated to criticize our best flute players, and to declare whether their music is good or bad? Pray have I not the same right to criticize your busts, though I cannot make images anymore than you can play?
ARJILLAX. Any fool can play the flute, or play anything else, if he practises enough; but sculpture is a creative art, not a mere business of whistling into a pipe. The sculptor must have something of the god in him. From his hand comes a form which reflects a spirit. He does not make it to please you, nor even to please himself, but because he must. You must take what he gives you, or leave it if you are not worthy of it.
ECRASIA [scornfully] Not worthy of it! Ho! May I not leave it because it is not worthy of me?
ARJILLAX. Of you! Hold your silly tongue, you conceited humbug. What do you know about it?
ECRASIA. I know what every person of culture knows: that the business of the artist is to create beauty. Until today your works have been full of beauty; and I have been the first to point that out.
ARJILLAX. Thank you for nothing. People have eyes, havnt they, to see what is as plain as the sun in the heavens without your pointing it out?
ECRASIA. You were very glad to have it pointed out. You did not call me a conceited humbug then. You stifled me with caresses. You modelled me as the genius of art presiding over the infancy of your master here [indicating the other sculptor], Martellus.
MARTELLUS [a silent and meditative listener, shudders and shakes his head, but says nothing].
ARJILLAX [quarrelsomely] I was taken in by your talk.
ECRASIA. I discovered your genius before anyone else did. Is that true, or is it not?
ARJILLAX. Everybody knew I was an extraordinary person. When I was born my beard was three feet long.
ECRASIA. Yes; and it has shrunk from three feet to two. Your genius seems to have been in the last foot of your beard; for you have lost both.
MARTELLUS [with a short sardonic cachinnation] Ha! My beard was three and a half feet long when I was born; and a flash of lightning burnt it off and killed the ancient who was delivering me. Without a hair on my chin I became the greatest sculptor in ten generations.
ECRASIA. And yet you come to us today with empty hands. We shall actually have to crown Arjillax here because no other sculptor is exhibiting.
ACIS [returning from the temple steps to behind the curved seat on the right of the three] Whats the row, Ecrasia? Why have you fallen out with Arjillax?
ECRASIA. He has insulted us! outraged us! profaned his art! You know how much we hoped from the twelve busts he placed in the temple to be unveiled today. Well, go in and look at them. That is all I have to say. [She sweeps to the curved seat, and sits down just where Acis is leaning over it].
ACIS. I am no great judge of sculpture. Art is not my line. What is wrong with the busts?
ECRASIA. Wrong with them! Instead of being ideally beautiful nymphs and youths, they are horribly realistic studies of—but I really cannot bring my lips to utter it.
- The Newly Born, full of curiosity, runs to the temple, and peeps in.
ACIS. Oh, stow it, Ecrasia. Your lips are not so squeamish as all that. Studies of what?
THE NEWLY BORN [from the temple steps] Ancients.
ACIS [surprised but not scandalized] Ancients!
ECRASIA. Yes, ancients. The one subject that is by the universal consent of all connoisseurs absolutely excluded from the fine arts. [To Arjillax] How can you defend such a proceeding?
ARJILLAX. If you come to that, what interest can you find in the statues of smirking nymphs and posturing youths you stick up all over the place?
ECRASIA. You did not ask that when your hand was still skilful enough to model them.
ARJILLAX. Skilful! You high-nosed idiot, I could turn such things out by the score with my eyes bandaged and one hand tied behind me. But what use would they be? They would bore me; and they would bore you if you had any sense. Go in and look at my busts. Look at them again and yet again until you receive the full impression of the intensity of mind that is stamped on them; and then go back to the pretty-pretty confectionery you call sculpture, and see whether you can endure its vapid emptiness. [He mounts the altar impetuously] Listen to me, all of you; and do you, Ecrasia, be silent if you are capable of silence.
ECRASIA. Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. Scorn! That is what I feel for your revolting busts.
ARJILLAX. Fool: the busts are only the beginning of a mighty design. Listen.
ACIS. Go ahead, old sport. We are listening.
- Martellus stretches himself on the sward beside the altar. The Newly Born sits on the temple steps with her chin on her hands, ready to devour the first oration she has ever heard. The rest sit or stand at ease.
ARJILLAX. In the records which generations of children have rescued from the stupid neglect of the ancients, there has come down to us a fable which, like many fables, is not a thing that was done in the past, but a thing that is to be done in the future. It is a legend of a supernatural being called the Archangel Michael.
THE NEWLY BORN. Is this a story? I want to hear a story. [She runs down the steps and sits on the altar at Arjillax's feet].
ARJILLAX. The Archangel Michael was a mighty sculptor and painter. He found in the centre of the world a temple erected to the goddess of the centre, called Mediterranea. This temple was full of silly pictures of pretty children, such as Ecrasia approves.
ACIS. Fair play, Arjillax! If she is to keep silent, let her alone.
ECRASIA. I shall not interrupt, Acis. Why should I not prefer youth and beauty to age and ugliness?
ARJILLAX. Just so. Well, the Archangel Michael was of my opinion, not yours. He began by painting on the ceiling the newly born in all their childish beauty. But when he had done this he was not satisfied; for the temple was no more impressive than it had been before, except that there was a strength and promise of greater things about his newly born ones than any other artist had attained to. So he painted all round these newly born a company of ancients, who were in those days called prophets and sybils, whose majesty was that of the mind alone at its intensest. And this painting was acknowledged through ages and ages to be the summit and masterpiece of art. Of course we cannot believe such a tale literally. It is only a legend. We do not believe in archangels; and the notion that thirty thousand years ago sculpture and painting existed, and had even reached the glorious perfection they have reached with us, is absurd. But what men cannot realize they can at least aspire to. They please themselves by pretending that it was realized in a golden age of the past. This splendid legend endured because it lived as a desire in the hearts of the greatest artists. The temple of Mediterranea never was built in the past, nor did Michael the Archangel exist. But today the temple is here [he points to the porch]; and the man is here [he slaps himself on the chest]. I, Arjillax, am the man. I will place in your theatre such images of the newly born as must satisfy even Ecrasia's appetite for beauty; and I will surround them with ancients more august than any who walk through our woods.
MARTELLUS [as before] Ha!
ARJILLAX [stung] Why do you laugh, you who have come empty-handed, and, it seems, empty-headed?
ECRASIA [rising indignantly] Oh, shame! You dare disparage Martellus, twenty times your master.
ACIS. Be quiet, will you [he seizes her shoulders and thrusts her back into her seat].
MARTELLUS. Let him disparage his fill, Ecrasia. [Sitting up] My poor Arjillax, I too had this dream. I too found one day that my images of loveliness had become vapid, uninteresting, tedious, a waste of time and material. I too lost my desire to model limbs, and retained only my interest in heads and faces. I, too, made busts of ancients; but I had not your courage: I made them in secret, and hid them from you all.
ARJILLAX [jumping down from the altar behind Martellus in his surprise and excitement] You made busts of ancients! Where are they, man? Will you be talked out of your inspiration by Ecrasia and the fools who imagine she speaks with authority? Let us have them all set up beside mine in the theatre. I have opened the way for you; and you see I am none the worse.
MARTELLUS. Impossible. They are all smashed. [He rises, laughing].
ARJILLAX. Who smashed them?
MARTELLUS. I did. That is why I laughed at you just now. You will smash yours before you have completed a dozen of them. [He goes to the end of the altar and sits down beside the Newly Born].
ARJILLAX. But why?
MARTELLUS. Because you cannot give them life. A live ancient is better than a dead statue. [He takes the Newly Born on his knee: she is flattered and voluptuously responsive]. Anything alive is better than anything that is only pretending to be alive. [To Arjillax] Your disillusion with your works of beauty is only the beginning of your disillusion with images of all sorts. As your hand became more skilful and your chisel cut deeper, you strove to get nearer and nearer to truth and reality, discarding the fleeting fleshly lure, and making images of the mind that fascinates to the end. But how can so noble an inspiration be satisfied with any image, even an image of the truth? In the end the intellectual conscience that tore you away from the fleeting in art to the eternal must tear you away from art altogether, because art is false and life alone is true.
THE NEWLY BORN [flings her arms round his neck and kisses him enthusiastically].
MARTELLUS [rises; carries her to the curved bench on his left; deposits her beside Strephon as if she were his overcoat; and continues without the least change of tone] Shape it as you will, marble remains marble, and the graven image an idol. As I have broken my idols, and cast away my chisel and modelling tools, so will you too break these busts of yours.
MARTELLUS. Wait, my friend. I do not come empty-handed today, as you imagined. On the contrary, I bring with me such a work of art as you have never seen, and an artist who has surpassed both you and me further than we have surpassed all our competitors.
ECRASIA. Impossible. The greatest things in art can never be surpassed.
ARJILLAX. Who is this paragon whom you declare greater than I?
MARTELLUS. I declare him greater than myself, Arjillax.
ARJILLAX [frowning] I understand. Sooner than not drown me, you are willing to clasp me round the waist and jump overboard with me.
ACIS. Oh, stop squabbling. That is the worst of you artists. You are always in little squabbling cliques; and the worst cliques are those which consist of one man. Who is this new fellow you are throwing in one another's teeth?
ARJILLAX. Ask Martellus: do not ask me. I know nothing of him. [He leaves Martellus, and sits down beside Ecrasia, on her left].
MARTELLUS. You know him quite well. Pygmalion.
ECRASIA [indignantly] Pygmalion! That soulless creature! A scientist! A laboratory person!
ARJILLAX. Pygmalion produce a work of art! You have lost your artistic senses. The man is utterly incapable of modelling a thumb nail, let alone a human figure.
MARTELLUS. That does not matter: I have done the modelling for him.
ARJILLAX. What on earth do you mean?
MARTELLUS [calling] Pygmalion: come forth.
Pygmalion, a square-fingered youth with his face laid out in horizontal blocks, and a perpetual smile of eager benevolent interest in everything, and expectation of equal interest from everybody else, comes from the temple to the centre of the group, who regard him for the most part with dismay, as dreading that he will bore them. Ecrasia is openly contemptuous.