Back to Methuselah eBook

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experience, coaxed a wistful pathos and a dainty fun out of the fairy cloudland that lay between him and the empty heavens.  The giants of the theatre of our time, Ibsen and Strindberg, had no greater comfort for the world than we:  indeed much less; for they refused us even the Shakespearian-Dickensian consolation of laughter at mischief, accurately called comic relief.  Our emancipated young successors scorn us, very properly.  But they will be able to do no better whilst the drama remains pre-Evolutionist.  Let them consider the great exception of Goethe.  He, no richer than Shakespear, Ibsen, or Strindberg in specific talent as a playwright, is in the empyrean whilst they are gnashing their teeth in impotent fury in the mud, or at best finding an acid enjoyment in the irony of their predicament.  Goethe is Olympian:  the other giants are infernal in everything but their veracity and their repudiation of the irreligion of their time:  that is, they are bitter and hopeless.  It is not a question of mere dates.  Goethe was an Evolutionist in 1830:  many playwrights, even young ones, are still untouched by Creative Evolution in 1920.  Ibsen was Darwinized to the extent of exploiting heredity on the stage much as the ancient Athenian playwrights exploited the Eumenides; but there is no trace in his plays of any faith in or knowledge of Creative Evolution as a modern scientific fact.  True, the poetic aspiration is plain enough in his Emperor or Galilean; but it is one of Ibsen’s distinctions that nothing was valid for him but science; and he left that vision of the future which his Roman seer calls ‘the third Empire’ behind him as a Utopian dream when he settled down to his serious grapple with realities in those plays of modern life with which he overcame Europe, and broke the dusty windows of every dry-rotten theatre in it from Moscow to Manchester.


In my own activities as a playwright I found this state of things intolerable.  The fashionable theatre prescribed one serious subject:  clandestine adultery:  the dullest of all subjects for a serious author, whatever it may be for audiences who read the police intelligence and skip the reviews and leading articles.  I tried slum-landlordism, doctrinaire Free Love (pseudo-Ibsenism), prostitution, militarism, marriage, history, current politics, natural Christianity, national and individual character, paradoxes of conventional society, husband hunting, questions of conscience, professional delusions and impostures, all worked into a series of comedies of manners in the classic fashion, which was then very much out of fashion, the mechanical tricks of Parisian ‘construction’ being de rigueur in the theatre.  But this, though it occupied me and established me professionally, did not constitute me an iconographer of the religion of my time, and thus fulfil my natural function as an artist.  I was quite conscious of this; for

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