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THE SECOND NIGHT
DIOGENES AND PLATO ON TOLSTOY, IBSEN, SHAW, ETC.

On the second night the Olympians assembled at Pompeii. It was a balmy, starry night. The ruins of the old town, white in their marble dresses, shone with a spectral brightness against the mountains, bays, and meadows surrounding them. From Stabi? and Gragnano opposite one could hear the pipe of Pan and the laughter of his nymphs, and on the dark water there were magic boats carrying Circe and her maids to their blue grotto in Capri. Selene sent her mildest rays over the scene, and grass and stone were as if steeped in silvery dreams. The place selected for the meeting was the amphitheatre. At a move of Zeus' right hand the seats and alleys, which had long since disappeared under the pressure of the ugly lava, rose from the ground. The orchestra and stage took up their old shape, and the whole graceful space with its incomparable view was again full of beauty, comfort, and pleasurableness. Zeus, and his wife Juno, sat down on the central seat, and around them the other gods and heroes. When everyone had found his or her seat, Zeus spake: "We have heard with much contentment the experiences of Aristotle in the country which the little ones below call England. We should now like to hear something about the theatres in that strange[Pg 33] land. If life itself is so uncommon and funny in that part of the non-Grecian world, their theatre, reflecting life, must be unusually entertaining. Perhaps you Aristotle, as the most renowned critic of poetry and the drama, will be good enough to give us an idea of the thing they call drama in England."

Whereupon Aristotle rose from his seat, and treated the immortals to a sight which no one had as yet enjoyed: he smiled. And smilingly he said to the almighty son of Kronos, ruler of the world: "O Zeus, your wish is a behest, and if you insist I will of course obey. But pray, kindly consider that I have, with your consent, withheld from these people, who call themselves moderns, and who might better be called afterlings, the second book of my 'Poetics,' in which I treat of the comedy, the farce, the burlesque, and similar phlyakes, as we term them. If now I should reveal my thoughts on the phlyakes of the English, several of their sophists, whom they call University professors, might still add to the lava which my commentators have spurted out upon my works, just as we see here the lava of angry Vesuvius cover the beauteous fields in and around Pompeii.

"May I propose the proper person to entertain us about that sort of comedy of the English which, at present, is more or less generally considered to be their most valuable dramatic output? If so," Aristotle continued at a sign from Zeus, "I propose him who over there at the right entrance of the stage lies carelessly on the ground and seems to heed us as little as in his time he heeded the Athenians and the Corinthians." Aristotle, raising his hand, pointed[Pg 34] to the shabby, untidy figure of Diogenes. When the gods and heroes heard the name and looked at the person of the Cynic, they all burst out in immortal laughter, and the sea, catching the gay ripple, laughed as far as Sorrento.

Diogenes, without moving from his position, and putting one of his legs comfortably on one of the low statues of a satyr, turned his head towards Zeus and exclaimed: "Verily, I tell you, you only confirm me in my old belief, that there is nothing sadder than laughter. Why should you laugh? Are we not here to enjoy ourselves? Is not this lovely spot one where even we might and ought to feel perfectly happy? Why, then, laugh? I mean, of course, laugh at me.

"I do pooh-pooh all your glories. Olympus to me is not a whit more agreeable than my tub at Corinth. This is, you understand, the reason of my predilection for the English. They, alone of all these Europeans, live at least for five seconds each day in a tub.

"I also pooh-pooh your feasts, your ambrosia and nectar. For having passed a few months in a large village they call London, I have so completely lost my palate and taste, that for the next two thousand years, at anyrate, I shall not be able to distinguish nectar from stale ale, nor ambrosia from cabbage.

"Yes, I still pooh-pooh, disdain and neglect most of the things that you and your worshippers hold in[Pg 35] great esteem. Alcibiades raved about the beauty of women now limping about in the various cities of the barbarians, and more particularly in the towns of the English. A woman! A mere woman! What is the good of a woman unless one is rid of her? I still think what I used to teach, that between a man and a woman there is only a slight difference, one that is scarcely worth considering.

"You may laugh until Vesuvius again vomits scorn upon you, but I tell you here, at Pompeii, what I used to tell everybody at Corinth: your glories are all gone, or ought to go. Just look at Venus. There she sits displaying to eager-looking Pans and Sileni the loveliness of her head and neck and figure. But what does it mean after all? Repentance and wormwood. Look at Ares—(Mars). Does he not look as if he ruled the world? Does he not behave as if all great things were achieved through and by him? And what is it in reality? Mere butchery—cowardly butchery. You laugh; of course, you do. But I mean to show you that all that I have ever taught is nothing less than strictly true; the only truth; truth the one.

"Aristotle, in pointing me out as the person who can best tell you what this new Shavian drama of England really is; Aristotle, I say, may have acted with malice. He has, nevertheless, acted with great wisdom. I am indeed the only man out of the world (there is none in it), who does clearly and fully understand my little disciple who calls himself Bernard Shaw. Of the other friends and admirers of his, he might very well say what that great German philosopher Hegel said in his last moments: 'One man alone has understood me well,—and even[Pg 36] he misunderstood me entirely.' He might with reference to my Cynic lady friend Hipparchia also say: 'One man alone understood me well,—and she was a woman.'

"The fact is, Shaw, the son of Pooh-Pooh, is simply a goody disciple of my school, of the Cynics. When I was still within that mortal coil which men call skin and flesh, I did take all my sputterings and utterings very seriously, or as they say in cultured Mayfair: 'Oh grant serio.' I really thought, as undoubtedly thinks my brave disciple in London, that my criticism of social, political, or religious things went deep into the essence of all that maintains Society, the State, and the Temples. Good old Plato, it is true, hinted at my vanity and conceit more than once, and I still feel the sting of his remark when once, soaked all through by the rain, I was surrounded by pitying folk: 'If you want to feel pity for Diogenes,' Plato said, 'then leave him alone.'

"But I then did not heed any satire directed against me, being fully occupied with satirising others all day long. However, since that time, and since I have been given a corner in the palace of the immortals, lying on one of the steps like a dog, as that Italian dauber, whom they call Raphael, painted me in his 'School of Athens' (—a fresco which might be much better had Raphael wisely chosen his age and appeared as a Pr?-Raphaelite—); ever since I have learnt a great deal, not only about others, but also about myself.

"While you superior people drink nectar and partake of ambrosia, I enjoy with infinite zest the malicious pleasure of studying the capers, antics, and poses[Pg 37] of my posthumous selfs, the Diogeneses of that speck on the mirror of eternity which the little ones below call 'our time.' Could anything be more amusing to a Cynic of about twenty-two centuries' standing like myself, who has heard and taught all the most nerve-rasping eccentricities imaginable, than to hear Tolstoy, Shaw, Ibsen, and tutti quanti, teach with thunderous ponderosity, and with penurious fulguration their doctrines as the latest and hitherto unheard-of delivery of the human or inhuman mind? I beg to assure you it is excruciatingly funny. But I feel I must tell you the whole story in due order. It happened thus.

"I learnt from Momus that another posthumous self of mine had arisen and, accordingly, I forthwith repaired to the place called London. (By the way, it is a queer place. It is neither a village, nor a town; neither a country, nor a desert; it is something of all, and much of neither.) In one of the streets I saw an inscription over a door—'Agency for amusements, theatres, blue bands, green bands, etc.' I did not quite understand what blue bands had to do with amusement, but I entered.

"Behind the counter was a middle-aged man working busily at papers. I addressed him: 'Be cheerful!'

"He looked at me in a curious fashion, evidently doubting the sanity of my mind. As a matter of fact, after a little while I could not help seeing that he was right. How could I imagine him to be cheerful?

"I asked him for the means of seeing a theatrical piece by Shaw. He offered a ticket, and wanted to know my name. I said 'Diogenes.'

[Pg 38]

"He became impatient, and said: 'Diogenes—which? I mean, your family name?'

"'I have no other name,' I said; 'don't you know, I am Diogenes who cut Alexander the Great?'

"'Alexander the Great?' he said—'Why, I only know of a tailor, called Alexander the Great. Do you mean to tell me you cut him?'

"'No,' I said; 'I do not. I mean Alexander, King of Macedon.'

"Whereupon he contemptuously said: 'I never heard of the gentleman, and if he was a king of Macedon he has made a jolly fine mess of his country—just read about the Macedonian question in to-day's Daily Telegraph.' I wanted to ask him whether he was perchance Professor of History, but other people came in, and so I left.

"On the same evening I was shown the way to a theatre, and I understood that the piece given was Arms and the Man. I enjoyed myself immensely.

"It is all very well to share the pleasures of Olympus with the gods. Yet, by all the Graces, whenever I hear or read reminiscences of my early youth, those unforgettable events and ideas of the time when I walked in the streets of Athens in the wake of my revered master Antisthenes, it gives me a thrill of pleasure,—I might almost say, a new shiver.

"Just fancy, here I was sitting in far-off Britannia,[Pg 39] over two thousand years after my mortal existence, listening to an oration—of Antisthenes, my master, which we used to call 'Kyros.' I see very well, O Ares, you remember the famous oration directed against you, against all the glories of War, because even now you frown on me, and I must ask Venus to keep you in check. I have received too many a whipping while I was at Athens and Corinth—pray let me in peace here in our temporary Olympus.

"At present, as you well know, I have quite changed my ideas about war, and much as I may have disliked you before, at present I know that Apollo, Venus, you Ares, and Dionysus keep all mortal things agoing. But let us amuse ourselves with the contemplation of an oration of Antisthenes in modern Britannic.

"Antisthenes hated war so much that he attacked the greatest and least doubted military glory of the Athenians, their victories over the Persians. He attacked it with serious arguments, he sneered at it, he tried to reduce it to a mere sham. Did Antisthenes not say, that the victory of the Athenians over the Persians at Salamis would have been something admirable, had the Persians excelled the Athenians in point of virtue and capability? For in that case the Athenians would have proved even more virtuous and more capable. However, the Persians, Antisthenes elaborately proves, were altogether inferior. Nor did they have a true king, Xerxes being a mere sham king with a high and richly jewelled cap on his head, sitting on a golden throne, like a doll. Had Xerxes not to whip his soldiers into battle? What, then, is the glory of the Athenians? None! Salamis, like all battles,[Pg 40] was a mere butchery, and soldiers are mere cowards, beating inferiors and running away from superiors. So far Antisthenes.

"The Britannic version of Antisthenes' sally against war, soldiers, and the whole of the military spirit, I found comical in the extreme. 'Well done' I repeatedly exclaimed within myself, when I saw the old capers of the Cynics of my mortal time brought up again for the consumption of people who had never heard of Cynics. That man Shaw out-Cynics many a Cynic. He brings upon the stage a number of persons, each of whom is, in turn, a good soul first, and then a viper; an enthusiast, and then a liar; a virtue, and then vice itself.

"Take the girl Raina. She begins by being ideal and enthusiastic; ideal, because she is pure, young, and in love with her own fiancé; enthusiastic, because she is in raptures over the military glory of her fiancé, as would be in all truth and reality a hundred out of each hundred girls in most countries of the sub-Shavian world. Not the slightest inkling or fact is indicated that she is not pure, ideal, or genuinely enthusiastic. In the next scene she is suddenly made out to be a vicious girl, a coldly calculating minx, and we are given to understand that she has had no end of general and particular adventures behind her, as she hopes to have a good many in front of her.

"Why? Why are we now to assume or believe that Raina of yesterday is not Raina of to-day? Where is the motive, I asked myself with grim satisfaction with the brave Cynicism of the author. Why? Simply, for nothing. The comedy as such does not require it; no fact alleged to have happened,[Pg 41] substantiates it; no situation growing out of the piece makes it a dramatic necessity. It is done simply and exclusively, in true Cynic fashion, for the sake of ridiculing a person that began by being enthusiastic for War.

"It is the old story of the ugly sorceress in the child's book of fables. 'If you praise the beauty of yonder little girl in the garden, I will transform you into a guinea-pig; and if you still continue doing so, I will make an old cock of you.' Even so Raina is changed into a viper, a liar, a dissimulator, a senseless changer of lovers, an—anything, without the slightest inner coherence, or what the philosophers call, psychological connection.

"The same old witch's wand is used, with the freedom of a clown, with regard to the fiancé of Raina, the young military hero. He had by a bold cavalry charge captured a battery or two of the enemy's artillery. How can he be forgiven such an execrable deed? How dare he succeed? Out with the old sauce of Antisthenes! It is, of course, exceedingly stale by this time. But the English, it appears, are so thoroughly used to stale sauces. They will not notice it at all. And thus all the threadbare arguments of Antisthenes are dished up again. I jubilated in my pride.

"The fiancé, Sergius, took the batteries of cannon because, we are told, by a mistake of their commander, they were—not charged. How witty! How clever! Antisthenes merely said that the Persians were much inferior to the Athenians, so the latter easily got the better of the former. But this twentieth-century dapper little Cynic goes one better. He says, as it were, the Persians had no[Pg 42] weapons to strike with. Who would have thought of such an ingenious satire?

"Please, Hermes (Mercury), do not interrupt me! I know very well what you mean to say. In all actions of men, victory depends more on the shortcomings of their rivals and competitors than on their own genius. It is no special feature of military victories. Of two grocers in the same street, one succeeds mainly because the other is neglectful and unbusinesslike. Of two dramatists in the same country, one succeeds because he gives the people what they want, and not, as does the other, what dramatic Art wants. And so forth ad infinitum.

"But my Cynical Shavian does not heed these inconsistencies; he knows the public will not notice them. He wants simply to ridicule War, and the whole military spirit. Accordingly out with the witch's wand, and let us change the hero first into a whimpering calf, and then suddenly into a lewd he-goat, and then, for no reason whatever, into the most mendacious magpie flying about, and finally into a little mouse caught in a trap laid by a kitchen-maid. For this is precisely what happens to the hero Sergius.

"Returning from war, he is sick of it with a nauseating sea-sickness. Why? Unknown; or, as Herbert Spencer, the next best replica of Antisthenes in Britannia, would have said, unknowable.

"Sergius is sentimentally idiotic about the nullity of his military glory. A few moments later he cannot resist the rustic beauties of a kitchen-maid, one minute after he had disentangled himself out of the embraces of his beautiful, young, and worshipped[Pg 43] fiancé. The he-goat is upon him. Why? Unknown, unknowable.

"Here in our fourth dimension we know very well (do we not, Ares?) that soldiers have done similar escapades? But have barristers done less? Have all solicitors proved bosom-proof? Has no dramatist ever been sorely tempted by buxomness and vigorous development of youthful flesh? One wonders.

"Why then bring up such stuff, without the slightest reason, without the slightest need, internal or external? But the soldier, do you not see, must be run down. He must be ridiculed. It must be shown that he is only a cowardly mouse caught in the trap laid for him by that very kitchen-maid whom at first he treats merely as a well-ordered mass of tempting flesh, and whom in the end he—marries.

"This trait is delicious. I have frequently been in Mysia, or what these people now call Bulgaria, where Shaw's scene is laid. The idea of a Bulgarian gentleman of the highest standing marrying a kitchen-maid gave me a fit of laughter. In eccentric England a high-born gentleman may very well marry a barmaid. In Bulgaria a nobleman will no more marry a servant-girl than his own mother. He has known too many of them; he can study her carefully, encyclop?dically, without marrying her in the least. For, she will never love him.

"Of course, my acolyte full well knows that the English are not at all conversant with any nation south of Dover Straits, and that one may tell them anything one pleases about nations other than themselves, They will believe it. And so Sergius[Pg 44] marries the girl by the same necessity that a mouse may be said to have married the trap into which it drops.

"Is not this fun indeed? To call marrying what simple people call getting morally insane? How clever! How bright!

"This is precisely what we Cynics used to do in ancient Greece. We turned humanity inside out, and then I walked in day-time in the streets with a lamp in my hand in search of a normal man, of a human being. If you vitriole a person's face or character first, how can you expect him to have unscathed features? But that is precisely the point with us Cynics. We take human nature; we then vitriole it out of all shape, and afterwards cry out in sheer indignation, 'How awful!' 'How absurd!' This reminds me of my lawyer pupil who once, in the defence of a fellow who had murdered his parents, pathetically exclaimed to the jury: 'And finally, gentlemen, have pity on this poor, orphaned boy!'

"Not content with Sergius, another 'type' of soldier is dragged up to the stage; a Swiss. Now I do not here mean to repeat our old Greek jokes about people similar to the Swiss, such as the Paphlagonians or Cilicians. I will only remark that the French, who have for over four hundred years had intimate knowledge of the Swiss, put the whole of Swiss character into the famous mot: 'Which animal resembles a human being most?' Answer: 'A Swiss.'

"From a Swiss you may expect anything. He talks three languages; all in vile German. He is to his beautiful country like a wart on a perfect face.[Pg 45] In the midst of paradise he is worse than a Prussian yokel born in the dreary heaths of North Germany. He is a Swiss. He has been a mercenary soldier to Popes and Lutheran princes alike. His aim was money; is money; will always be nothing but money. He sells his blood as he does the milk of his cows, by the litre or the decilitre; preferably by the latter. He likes war well enough; but he prefers truces and cessation of arms. He thinks the best part of death is the avoidance thereof. He is, when a mercenary, a military Cynic.

"I like him dearly; he does me honour. Whenever I see him on the grand staircase in the Vatican, I grin 'way down in my heart. Here is a Cynic dressed up like a parrot in gorgeous plumage. Diogenes in Rococo-dress! It is intensely amusing.

"Now this Swiss is made by Shaw a 'type' of a soldier. This is quite in accordance with the procedure of the Cynical School. First, all real soldierly qualities are vitrioled out of the man by making him a Swiss mercenary; and then he is shown up in all his callous indifference to Right, Love, or Justice; which is tantamount to saying 'a distinguished Belgian lady patrolling Piccadilly after midnight.' That Swiss mercenary proves no more against the worth of soldiers, than that Belgian woman proves anything in disgrace of the women of Belgium. If Shaw's figure proves anything, it proves the worthlessness of mercenaries in general, and of Swiss mercenaries in particular. That is, it proves something quite different from what it means to prove. This too is arch-Cynical. Why, who knows it better than I, that we Cynics were not infrequently instrumental in bringing about the very reverse of what[Pg 46] we were aiming at? But the more perverse, the better the fun.

"And the fun is excellent beyond words. It is, in fact, as grim as the grimmest Welshman. On my way home from the theatre I thought of it, and started laughing in the street with such violence that a policeman wanted to take me to the station. The grimness of the fun was this: inquiring about the author, I learnt that he was an Irishman. I had no sooner made sure of the truth of this statement than I could not control myself for laughter.

"An Irishman reviling war, and soldiers, and the military spirit! How unutterably grim,—how unspeakably grimy! The Irish, endowed by nature with gifts of the body as well as the mind incomparably superior to those of the English, have made the most atrocious failure of their history, of their possibilities, of their chances, for that one and only reason, that they never found means of character and endurance to fight for their rights and hopes in bitter and unrelenting wars. Not having made a single effort in any way comparable to the sustained armed resistance of the Scotch, the Dutch, the Hungarians, or the Boers, in the course of over three hundred years, they have fallen under the yoke of a nation whom they detest. This naturally demoralised them, as it demoralises a mere husband when he is yoked to a hated wife. Being demoralised, they have never, oh never, reached that balance of internal powers without which nothing great can be achieved. The English with lesser powers, being undemoralised, got their powers into far greater balance. So did the Scot through sustained, reckless fighting for their ideals. Hence the misery of the Irish, who are[Pg 47] like their fairies, enchanting, but fatal to themselves and to others; unbalanced, unsteady in mind and resolution to a sickening degree; fickle, and resembling altogether sweet kisses from one's lady-love intermingled with knocks in the face from one's vilest creditors.

"Their recoiling from making resolute war on the enemy being the great cause of the failure of the Irish, what can be more grimly Cynical than an Irishman's indignation at all that appertains to war? We Cynics always do that. Moderation having been the soul of all things Hellenic, we Cynics told the Greeks that the one fatal excess that man can commit is moderation. Of music we taught that its only beauties are in the pauses; and of man we held that he is perfect only by making himself into a beast.

"We taught people to contemplate everything in a convex mirror and then to fall foul of the image so distorted. This the idlers and the mob greatly admire. They deem it marvellous originality. And what can be nearer to the origin of new things than to take man and nature always in the last agonising stage of final decomposition?

"In my own dramas I did all that with a vengeance; so did Crates, my revered colleague. What was a plot to us? What does a plot matter? The other day when I sauntered through the Champs Elysées of Paris, I overheard a conversation between little girls playing at ladies. By Antisthenes, that was the real model of the plot and dialogue of all Cynic dramas!

"Said one little girl to the other: 'How are you, madame?'

"'Thanks,' said the other, 'very well. I am watching my children.'

[Pg 48]

"'How many have you?'

"'Seventy-five, please.'

"'And how old are you?'

"'Twenty years, madame.'

"'And how is your husband?'

"'Y pensez-vous? My husband? Fancy that! Why, I have none!'

"This is precisely the plot and dialogue in Shaw's Candida.

"I enjoyed Candida so intensely; I could have kissed the author. How entirely like my own dramas! How closely modelled on the dialogue of the little girls!

"A husband of forty, vigorous, brave, honest, hard-working in a noble cause, ............
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