List Of Contents | Contents of Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw
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of a book is not the opinions it propagates, but the fact that
the writer has opinions. The old lady from Colchester was right
to sun her simple soul in the energetic radiance of Bradlaugh's
genuine beliefs and disbeliefs rather than in the chill of such
mere painting of light and heat as elocution and convention can
achieve. My contempt for belles lettres, and for amateurs who
become the heroes of the fanciers of literary virtuosity, is not
founded on any illusion of mind as to the permanence of those
forms of thought (call them opinions) by which I strive to
communicate my bent to my fellows. To younger men they are
already outmoded; for though they have no more lost their logic
than an eighteenth century pastel has lost its drawing or its
color, yet, like the pastel, they grow indefinably shabby, and
will grow shabbier until they cease to count at all, when my
books will either perish, or, if the world is still poor enough
to want them, will have to stand, with Bunyan's, by quite
amorphous qualities of temper and energy. With this conviction I
cannot be a bellettrist. No doubt I must recognize, as even the
Ancient Mariner did, that I must tell my story entertainingly if
I am to hold the wedding guest spellbound in spite of the siren
sounds of the loud bassoon. But "for art's sake" alone I would
not face the toil of writing a single sentence. I know that there
are men who, having nothing to say and nothing to write, are
nevertheless so in love with oratory and with literature that
they keep desperately repeating as much as they can understand of
what others have said or written aforetime. I know that the
leisurely tricks which their want of conviction leaves them free
to play with the diluted and misapprehended message supply them
with a pleasant parlor game which they call style. I can pity
their dotage and even sympathize with their fancy. But a true
original style is never achieved for its own sake: a man may pay
from a shilling to a guinea, according to his means, to see,
hear, or read another man's act of genius; but he will not pay
with his whole life and soul to become a mere virtuoso in
literature, exhibiting an accomplishment which will not even make
money for him, like fiddle playing. Effectiveness of assertion is
the Alpha and Omega of style. He who has nothing to assert has no
style and can have none: he who has something to assert will go
as far in power of style as its momentousness and his conviction
will carry him. Disprove his assertion after it is made, yet its
style remains. Darwin has no more destroyed the style of Job nor
of Handel than Martin Luther destroyed the style of Giotto. All
the assertions get disproved sooner or later; and so we find the
world full of a magnificent debris of artistic fossils, with the
matter-of-fact credibility gone clean out of them, but the form
still splendid. And that is why the old masters play the deuce
with our mere susceptibles. Your Royal Academician thinks he can
get the style of Giotto without Giotto's beliefs, and correct his
perspective into the bargain. Your man of letters thinks he can
get Bunyan's or Shakespear's style without Bunyan's conviction or
Shakespear's apprehension, especially if he takes care not to
split his infinitives. And so with your Doctors of Music, who,
with their collections of discords duly prepared and resolved or
retarded or anticipated in the manner of the great composers,
think they can learn the art of Palestrina from Cherubim's
treatise. All this academic art is far worse than the trade in
sham antique furniture; for the man who sells me an oaken chest
which he swears was made in the XIII century, though as a matter
of fact he made it himself only yesterday, at least does not
pretend that there are any modern ideas in it, whereas your
academic copier of fossils offers them to you as the latest
outpouring of the human spirit, and, worst of all, kidnaps young
people as pupils and persuades them that his limitations are
rules, his observances dexterities, his timidities good taste,
and his emptinesses purities. And when he declares that art
should not be didactic, all the people who have nothing to teach
and all the people who don't want to learn agree with him

I pride myself on not being one of these susceptible: If you
study the electric light with which I supply you in that
Bumbledonian public capacity of mine over which you make merry
from time to time, you will find that your house contains a great
quantity of highly susceptible copper wire which gorges itself
with electricity and gives you no light whatever. But here and
there occurs a scrap of intensely insusceptible, intensely
resistant material; and that stubborn scrap grapples with the
current and will not let it through until it has made itself
useful to you as those two vital qualities of literature, light
and heat. Now if I am to be no mere copper wire amateur but a
luminous author, I must also be a most intensely refractory
person, liable to go out and to go wrong at inconvenient moments,
and with incendiary possibilities. These are the faults of my
qualities; and I assure you that I sometimes dislike myself so
much that when some irritable reviewer chances at that moment to
pitch into me with zest, I feel unspeakably relieved and
obliged. But I never dream of reforming, knowing that I must take
myself as I am and get what work I can out of myself. All this
you will understand; for there is community of material between
us: we are both critics of life as well as of art; and you have
perhaps said to yourself when I have passed your windows, "There,
but for the grace of God, go I." An awful and chastening
reflection, which shall be the closing cadence of this
immoderately long letter from yours faithfully,


WOKING, 1903


Roebuck Ramsden is in his study, opening the morning letters. The
study, handsomely and solidly furnished, proclaims the man of
means. Not a speck of dust is visible: it is clear that there are
at least two housemaids and a parlormaid downstairs, and a
housekeeper upstairs who does not let them spare elbow-grease.
Even the top of Roebuck's head is polished: on a sunshiny day he
could heliograph his orders to distant camps by merely nodding.
In no other respect, however, does he suggest the military man.
It is in active civil life that men get his broad air of
importance, his dignified expectation of deference, his
determinate mouth disarmed and refined since the hour of his
success by the withdrawal of opposition and the concession of
comfort and precedence and power. He is more than a highly
respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly
respectable men, a chairman among directors, an alderman among
councillors, a mayor among aldermen. Four tufts of iron-grey
hair, which will soon be as white as isinglass, and are in other
respects not at all unlike it, grow in two symmetrical pairs
above his ears and at the angles of his spreading jaws. He wears
a black frock coat, a white waistcoat (it is bright spring
weather), and trousers, neither black nor perceptibly blue, of
one of those indefinitely mixed hues which the modern clothier
has produced to harmonize with the religions of respectable men.
He has not been out of doors yet to-day; so he still wears his
slippers, his boots being ready for him on the hearthrug.
Surmising that he has no valet, and seeing that he has no
secretary with a shorthand notebook and a typewriter, one
meditates on how little our great burgess domesticity has been
disturbed by new fashions and methods, or by the enterprise of
the railway and hotel companies which sell you a Saturday to
Monday of life at Folkestone as a real gentleman for two guineas,
first class fares both ways included.

How old is Roebuck? The question is important on the threshold of
a drama of ideas; for under such circumstances everything depends
on whether his adolescence belonged to the sixties or to the
eighties. He was born, as a matter of fact, in 1839, and was a
Unitarian and Free Trader from his boyhood, and an Evolutionist
from the publication of the Origin of Species. Consequently he
has always classed himself as an advanced thinker and fearlessly
outspoken reformer.

Sitting at his writing table, he has on his right the windows
giving on Portland Place. Through these, as through a proscenium,
the curious spectator may contemplate his profile as well as the
blinds will permit. On his left is the inner wall, with a stately
bookcase, and the door not quite in the middle, but somewhat
further from him. Against the wall opposite him are two busts on
pillars: one, to his left, of John Bright; the other, to his
right, of Mr Herbert Spencer. Between them hang an engraved
portrait of Richard Cobden; enlarged photographs of Martineau,
Huxley, and George Eliot; autotypes of allegories by Mr G.F.
Watts (for Roebuck believed in the fine arts with all the
earnestness of a man who does not understand them), and an
impression of Dupont's engraving of Delaroche's Beaux Artes
hemicycle, representing the great men of all ages. On the wall
behind him, above the mantelshelf, is a family portrait of
impenetrable obscurity.

A chair stands near the writing table for the convenience of
business visitors. Two other chairs are against the wall between
the busts.

A parlormaid enters with a visitor's card. Roebuck takes it, and
nods, pleased. Evidently a welcome caller.

RAMSDEN. Show him up.

The parlormaid goes out and returns with the visitor.

THE MAID. Mr Robinson.

Mr Robinson is really an uncommonly nice looking young fellow. He
must, one thinks, be the jeune premier; for it is not in reason
to suppose that a second such attractive male figure should
appear in one story. The slim shapely frame, the elegant suit of
new mourning, the small head and regular features, the pretty
little moustache, the frank clear eyes, the wholesome bloom
and the youthful complexion, the well brushed glossy hair, not
curly, but of fine texture and good dark color, the arch of good
nature in the eyebrows, the erect forehead and neatly pointed
chin, all announce the man who will love and suffer later on.
And that he will not do so without sympathy is guaranteed by an
engaging sincerity and eager modest serviceableness which stamp
him as a man of amiable nature. The moment he appears, Ramsden's
face expands into fatherly liking and welcome, an expression
which drops into one of decorous grief as the young man
approaches him with sorrow in his face as well as in his black
clothes. Ramsden seems to know the nature of the bereavement. As
the visitor advances silently to the writing table, the old man
rises and shakes his hand across it without a word: a long,
affectionate shake which tells the story of a recent sorrow
common to both.

RAMSDEN. [concluding the handshake and cheering up] Well, well,
Octavius, it's the common lot. We must all face it someday. Sit

Octavius takes the visitor's chair. Ramsden replaces himself in
his own.

OCTAVIUS. Yes: we must face it, Mr Ramsden. But I owed him a
great deal. He did everything for me that my father could have
done if he had lived.

RAMSDEN. He had no son of his own, you see.

OCTAVIUS. But he had daughters; and yet he was as good to my
sister as to me. And his death was so sudden! I always intended
to thank him--to let him know that I had not taken all his care
of me as a matter of course, as any boy takes his father's care.
But I waited for an opportunity and now he is dead--dropped
without a moment's warning. He will never know what I felt. [He
takes out his handkerchief and cries unaffectedly].

RAMSDEN. How do we know that, Octavius? He may know it: we
cannot tell. Come! Don't grieve. [Octavius masters himself and
puts up his handkerchief]. That's right. Now let me tell you
something to console you. The last time I saw him--it was in
this very room--he said to me: "Tavy is a generous lad and the
soul of honor; and when I see how little consideration other men
get from their sons, I realize how much better than a son he's
been to me." There! Doesn't that do you good?

OCTAVIUS. Mr Ramsden: he used to say to me that he had met only
one man in the world who was the soul of honor, and that was
Roebuck Ramsden.

RAMSDEN. Oh, that was his partiality: we were very old friends,
you know. But there was something else he used to say about you.
I wonder whether I ought to tell you or not!

OCTAVIUS. You know best.

RAMSDEN. It was something about his daughter.

OCTAVIUS. [eagerly] About Ann! Oh, do tell me that, Mr Ramsden.

RAMSDEN. Well, he said he was glad, after all, you were not his
son, because he thought that someday Annie and you--[Octavius
blushes vividly]. Well, perhaps I shouldn't have told you. But he
was in earnest.

OCTAVIUS. Oh, if only I thought I had a chance! You know, Mr
Ramsden, I don't care about money or about what people call
position; and I can't bring myself to take an interest in the
business of struggling for them. Well, Ann has a most exquisite
nature; but she is so accustomed to be in the thick of that sort
of thing that she thinks a man's character incomplete if he is
not ambitious. She knows that if she married me she would have to
reason herself out of being ashamed of me for not being a big
success of some kind.

RAMSDEN. [Getting up and planting himself with his back to the
fireplace] Nonsense, my boy, nonsense! You're too modest. What
does she know about the real value of men at her age? [More
seriously] Besides, she's a wonderfully dutiful girl. Her
father's wish would be sacred to her. Do you know that since she
grew up to years of discretion, I don't believe she has ever once
given her own wish as a reason for doing anything or not doing
it. It's always "Father wishes me to," or "Mother wouldn't like
it." It's really almost a fault in her. I have often told her she
must learn to think for herself.

OCTAVIUS. [shaking his head] I couldn't ask her to marry me
because her father wished it, Mr Ramsden.

RAMSDEN. Well, perhaps not. No: of course not. I see that. No:
you certainly couldn't. But when you win her on your own merits,
it will be a great happiness to her to fulfil her father's desire
as well as her own. Eh? Come! you'll ask her, won't you?

OCTAVIUS. [with sad gaiety] At all events I promise you I shall
never ask anyone else.

RAMSDEN. Oh, you shan't need to. She'll accept you, my boy--
although [here be suddenly becomes very serious indeed] you have
one great drawback.

OCTAVIUS. [anxiously] What drawback is that, Mr Ramsden? I should
rather say which of my many drawbacks?

RAMSDEN. I'll tell you, Octavius. [He takes from the table a book
bound in red cloth]. I have in my hand a copy of the most
infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most
blackguardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the
common hangman. I have not read it: I would not soil my mind with
such filth; but I have read what the papers say of it. The title
is quite enough for me. [He reads it]. The Revolutionist's
Handbook and Pocket Companion by John Tanner, M.I.R.C., Member  of the

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