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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Englishman and Irishman

By George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

From ‘John Bull’s Other Island’

KEEGAN[with a courteous inclination]—The conquering Englishman, sir. Within twenty-four hours of your arrival you have carried off our only heiress, and practically secured the parliamentary seat. And you have promised me that when I come here in the evenings, to meditate on my madness; to watch the shadow of the round tower lengthening in the sunset; to break my heart uselessly in the curtained gloaming over the dead heart and blinded soul of the island of the saints, you will comfort me with the bustle of a great hotel, and the sight of the little children carrying the golf clubs of your tourists as a preparation for the life to come.

Broadbent[quite touched, mutely offering him a cigar to console him, at which he smiles and shakes his head]—Yes, Mr. Keegan: you’re quite right. There’s poetry in everything, even[looking absently into the cigar case]in the most modern prosaic things, if you know how to extract it.[He extracts a cigar for himself and offers one to Larry, who takes it.]If I was to be shot for it I couldn’t extract it myself; but that’s where you come in, you see[roguishly, waking up from his reverie and bustling Keegan good-humoredly.]And then I shall wake you up a bit. That’s where I come in: eh? d’ye see? Eh? eh?[He pats him very pleasantly on the shoulder, half admiringly, half pityingly.]Just so, just so.[Coming back to business.]By the way, I believe I can do better than a light railway here. There seems to be no question now that the motor boat has come to stay. Well, look at your magnificent river there, going to waste.

Keegan[closing his eyes]—“Silent, O Moyle, be the roar of thy waters.”

Broadbent—You know, the roar of a motor boat is quite pretty.

Keegan—Provided it does not drown the Angelus.

Broadbent[reassuringly]—Oh no: it won’t do that: not the least danger. You know, a church bell can make a devil of a noise when it likes.

Keegan—You have an answer for everything, sir. But your plans leave our question still unanswered: how to get butter out of a dog’s throat.


Keegan—You cannot build your golf links and hotels in the air. For that you must own our land. And how will you drag our acres from the ferret’s grip of Matthew Haffigan? How will you persuade Cornelius Doyle to forego the pride of being a small landowner? How will Barney Doran’s millrace agree with your motor boats? Will Doolan help you to get a license for your hotel?

Broadbent—My dear sir: to all intents and purposes the syndicate I represent already owns half Rosscullen. Doolan’s is a tied house; and the brewers are in the syndicate. As to Haffigan’s farm and Doran’s mill and Mr. Doyle’s place and half a dozen others, they will be mortgaged to me before a month is out.

Keegan—But pardon me, you will not lend them more on their land than the land is worth; so they will be able to pay you the interest.

Broadbent—Ah, you are a poet, Mr. Keegan, not a man of business.

Larry—We will lend every one of these men half as much again on their land as it is worth, or ever can be worth, to them.

Broadbent—You forget, sir, that we, with our capital, our knowledge, our organization, and may I say our English business habits, can make or lose ten pounds out of land that Haffigan, with all his industry, could not make or lose ten shillings out of. Doran’s mill is a superannuated folly: I shall want it for electric lighting.

Larry—What is the use of giving land to such men? They are too small, too poor, too ignorant, too simple-minded to hold it against us: you might as well give a dukedom to a crossing sweeper.

Broadbent—Yes, Mr. Keegan: this place may have an industrial future, or it may have a residential future: I can’t tell yet; but it’s not going to be a future in the hands of your Dorans and Haffigans, poor devils!

Keegan—It may have no future at all. Have you thought of that?

Broadbent—Oh, I’m not afraid of that. I have faith in Ireland, great faith, Mr. Keegan.

Keegan—And we have none: only empty enthusiasms and patriotisms, and emptier memories and regrets. Ah yes: you have some excuse for believing that if there be any future, it will be yours; for our faith seems dead, and our hearts cold and cowed. An island of dreamers who wake up in your jails, of critics and cowards whom you buy and tame for your own service, of bold rogues who help you to plunder us that they may plunder you afterwards. Eh?

Broadbent[a little impatient of this unbusinesslike view]—Yes, yes; but you know you might say that of any country. The fact is, there are only two qualities in the world: efficiency and inefficiency, and only two sorts of people: the efficient and the inefficient. It doesn’t matter whether they’re English or Irish. I shall collar this place, not because I’m an Englishman and Haffigan and Co. are Irishmen, but because they’re duffers and I know my way about.

Keegan—Have you considered what is to become of Haffigan?

Larry—Oh, we’ll employ him in some capacity or other, and probably pay him more than he makes for himself now.

Broadbent[dubiously]—Do you think so? No, no. Haffigan’s too old. It really doesn’t pay now to take on men over forty, even for unskilled labor, which I suppose is all Haffigan would be good for. No: Haffigan had better go to America, or into the Union, poor old chap! He’s worked out, you know: you can see it.

Keegan—Poor lost soul, so cunningly fenced in with invisible bars!

Larry—Haffigan doesn’t matter much. He’ll die presently.

Broadbent[shocked]—Oh come, Larry! Don’t be unfeeling. It’s hard on Haffigan. It’s always hard on the inefficient.

Larry—Pah! what does it matter where an old and broken man spends his last days, or whether he has a million at the bank or only the workhouse dole? It’s the young men, the able men, that matter. The real tragedy of Haffigan is the tragedy of his wasted youth, his stunted mind, his drudging over his clods and pigs until he has become a clod and a pig himself—until the soul within him has smoldered into nothing but a dull temper that hurts himself and all around him. I say let him die, and let us have no more of his like. And let young Ireland take care that it doesn’t share his fate, instead of making another empty grievance of it. Let your syndicate come——

Broadbent—Your syndicate too, old chap. You have your bit of the stock.

Larry—Yes, mine if you like. Well, our syndicate has no conscience: it has no more regard for your Haffigans and Doolans and Dorans than it has for a gang of Chinese coolies. It will use your patriotic blatherskite and balderdash to get parliamentary powers over you as cynically as it would bait a mousetrap with toasted cheese. It will plan, and organize, and find capital while you slave like bees for it and revenge yourselves by paying politicians and penny newspapers out of your small wages to write articles and report speeches against its wickedness and tyranny, and to crack up your own Irish heroism, just as Haffigan once paid a witch a penny to put a spell on Billy Byrne’s cow. In the end it will grind the nonsense out of you, and grind strength and sense into you.

Broadbent[out of patience]—Why can’t you say a simple thing simply, Larry, without all that Irish exaggeration and talky-talky? The syndicate is a perfectly respectable body of responsible men of good position. We’ll take Ireland in hand, and by straightforward business habits teach it efficiency and self-help on sound Liberal principles. You agree with me, Mr. Keegan, don’t you?

Keegan—Sir: I may even vote for you.

Broadbent[sincerely moved, shaking his hand warmly]—You shall never regret it, Mr. Keegan: I give you my word for that. I shall bring money here: I shall raise wages: I shall found public institutions, a library, a Polytechnic (undenominational, of course), a gymnasium, a cricket club, perhaps an art school. I shall make a Garden city of Rosscullen: the round tower shall be thoroughly repaired and restored.

Keegan—And our place of torment shall be as clean and orderly as the cleanest and most orderly place I know in Ireland, which is our poetically named Mount-joy prison. Well, perhaps I had better vote for an efficient devil that knows his own mind and his own business than for a foolish patriot who has no mind and no business.

Broadbent[stiffly]—Devil is rather a strong expression in that connection, Mr. Keegan.

Keegan—Not from a man who knows that this world is hell. But since the word offends you, let me soften it, and compare you simply to an ass.[Larry whitens with anger.]

Broadbent[reddening]—An ass!

Keegan[gently]—You may take it without offense from a madman who calls the ass his brother—and a very honest, useful, and faithful brother too. The ass, sir, is the most efficient of beasts, matter-of-fact, hardy, friendly when you treat him as a fellow-creature, stubborn when you abuse him, ridiculous only in love, which sets him braying, and in politics, which move him to roll about in the public road and raise a dust about nothing. Can you deny these qualities and habits in yourself, sir?

Broadbent[good humoredly]—Well, yes, I’m afraid I do, you know.

Keegan—Then perhaps you will confess to the ass’s one fault.

Broadbent—Perhaps so: what is it?

Keegan—That he wastes all his virtues—his efficiency, as you call it—in doing the will of his greedy masters instead of doing the will of Heaven that is in himself. He is efficient in the service of Mammon, mighty in mischief, skillful in ruin, heroic in destruction. But he comes to browse here without knowing that the soil his hoof touches is holy ground. Ireland, sir, for good or evil, is like no other place under heaven; and no man can touch its sod or breathe its air without becoming better or worse. It produces two kinds of men in strange perfection: saints and traitors. It is called the island of the saints: but indeed in these later years it might be more fitly called the island of the traitors; for our harvest of these is the fine flower of the world’s crop of infamy. But the day may come when these islands shall live by the quality of their men rather than by the abundance of their minerals; and then we shall see.

Larry—Mr. Keegan: if you are going to be sentimental about Ireland, I shall bid you good-evening. We have had enough of that, and more than enough of cleverly proving that everybody who is not an Irishman is an ass. It is neither good sense nor good manners. It will not stop the syndicate; and it will not interest young Ireland so much as my friend’s gospel of efficiency.

Broadbent—Ah, yes, yes: efficiency is the thing. I don’t in the least mind your chaff, Mr. Keegan; but Larry’s right on the main point. The world belongs to the efficient.

Keegan[with polished irony]—I stand rebuked, gentlemen. But believe me, I do every justice to the efficiency of you and your syndicate. You are both, I am told, thoroughly efficient civil engineers; and I have no doubt the golf links will be a triumph of your art. Mr. Broadbent will get into parliament most efficiently, which is more than St. Patrick could do if he were alive now. You may even build the hotel efficiently if you can find enough efficient masons, carpenters, and plumbers, which I rather doubt.[Dropping his irony, and beginning to fall into the attitude of the priest, rebuking sin.]When the hotel becomes insolvent[Broadbent takes his cigar out of his mouth, a little taken aback], your English business habits will secure the thorough efficiency of the liquidation. You will reorganize the scheme efficiently; you will liquidate its second bankruptcy efficiently[Broadbent and Larry look quickly at one another; for this, unless the priest is an old financial hand, must be inspiration]; you will get rid of its original shareholders efficiently after efficiently ruining them; and you will finally profit very efficiently by getting that hotel for a few shillings in the pound.[More and more sternly.]Besides these efficient operations, you will foreclose your mortgages most efficiently[his rebuking forefinger goes up in spite of himself]; you will drive Haffigan to America very efficiently; you will find a use for Barney Doran’s foul mouth and bullying temper by employing him to slave-drive your laborers very efficiently; and[low and bitter]when at last this poor desolate countryside becomes a busy mint in which we shall all slave to make money for you, with our Polytechnic to teach us how to do it efficiently, and our library to fuddle the few imaginations your distilleries will spare, and our repaired round tower with admission sixpence, and refreshments and penny-in-the-slot mutoscopes to make it interesting, then no doubt your English and American shareholders will spend all the money we make for them very efficiently in shooting and hunting, in operations for cancer and appendicitis, in gluttony and gambling; and you will devote what they save to fresh land development schemes. For four wicked centuries the world has dreamed this foolish dream of efficiency; and the end is not yet. But the end will come.

Broadbent[seriously]—Too true, Mr. Keegan, only too true. And most eloquently put. It reminds me of poor Ruskin—a great man, you know. I sympathize. Believe me, I’m on your side. Don’t sneer, Larry: I used to read a lot of Shelley years ago. Let us be faithful to the dreams of our youth.[He wafts a wreath of cigar smoke at large across the hill.]

Keegan—Come, Mr. Doyle! is this English sentiment so much more efficient than our Irish sentiment, after all? Mr. Broadbent spends his life inefficiently admiring the thoughts of great men, and efficiently serving the cupidity of base money hunters. We spend our lives efficiently sneering at him and doing nothing. Which of us has any right to reproach the other?

Broadbent[coming down the hill again to Keegan’s right hand]—But you know, something must be done.

Keegan—Yes: when we cease to do, we cease to live. Well, what shall we do?

Broadbent—Why, what lies to our hand.

Keegan—Which is the making of golf links and hotels to bring idlers to a country which workers have left in millions because it is a hungry land, a naked land, an ignorant and oppressed land.

Broadbent—But, hang it all, the idlers will bring money from England to Ireland!

Keegan—Just as our idlers have for so many generations taken money from Ireland to England. Has that saved England from poverty and degradation more horrible than we have ever dreamed of? When I went to England, sir, I hated England. Now I pity it.[Broadbent can hardly conceive an Irishman pitying England; but as Larry intervenes angrily, he gives it up and takes to the hill and his cigar again.]

Larry—Much good your pity will do it!

Keegan—In the accounts kept in heaven, Mr. Doyle, a heart purified of hatred may be worth more even than a Land Development Syndicate of Anglicized Irishmen and Gladstonized Englishmen.

Larry—Oh, in heaven, no doubt! I have never been there. Can you tell me where it is?

Keegan—Could you have told me this morning where hell is? Yet you know now that it is here. Do not despair of finding heaven: it may be no farther off.

Larry[ironically]—On this holy ground, as you call it, eh?

Keegan[with fierce intensity]—Yes, perhaps, even on this holy ground which such Irishmen as you have turned into a Land of Derision.

Broadbent[coming between them]—Take care! you will be quarreling presently. Oh, you Irishmen, you Irishmen! Toujours Ballyhooly, eh?[Larry, with a shrug, half comic, half impatient, turns away up the hill, but presently strolls back on Keegan’s right.Broadbent adds, confidentially to Keegan.]Stick to the Englishman, Mr. Keegan: he has a bad name here; but at least he can forgive you for being an Irishman.

Keegan—Sir: when you speak to me of English and Irish you forget that I am a Catholic. My country is not Ireland, nor England, but the whole mighty realm of my Church. For me there are but two countries: heaven and hell; but two conditions of men: salvation and damnation. Standing here between you, the Englishman, so clever in your foolishness, and this Irishman, so foolish in his cleverness, I cannot in my ignorance be sure which of you is the more deeply damned; but I should be unfaithful to my calling if I opened the gates of my heart less widely to one than to the other.

Larry—In either case it would be an impertinence, Mr. Keegan, as your approval is not of the slightest consequence to us. What use do you suppose all this drivel is to men with serious practical business in hand?

Broadbent—I don’t agree with that, Larry. I think these things cannot be said too often: they keep up the moral tone of the community. As you know, I claim the right to think myself, a bit of a—of a—well, I don’t care who knows it—a bit of a Unitarian; but if the Church of England contained a few men like Mr. Keegan, I should certainly join it.

Keegan—You do me too much honor, sir.[With priestly humility to Larry.]Mr. Doyle: I am to blame for having unintentionally set your mind somewhat on edge against me. I beg your pardon.

Larry[unimpressed and hostile]—I didn’t stand on ceremony with you: you needn’t stand on it with me. Fine manners and fine words are cheap in Ireland: you can keep both for my friend here, who is still imposed on by them. I know their value.

Keegan—You mean you don’t know their value.

Larry[angrily]—I mean what I say.

Keegan[turning quietly to the Englishman]—You see, Mr. Broadbent, I only make the hearts of my countrymen harder when I preach to them: the gates of hell still prevail against me. I shall wish you good-evening. I am better alone, at the round tower, dreaming of heaven.[He goes up the hill.]

Larry—Aye, that’s it! there you are! dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming!

Keegan[halting and turning to them for the last time]—Every dream is a prophecy: every jest is an earnest in the womb of Time.

Broadbent[reflectively]—Once, when I was a small kid, I dreamt I was in heaven.[They both stare at him.]It was a sort of pale blue satin place, with all the pious old ladies in our congregation sitting as if they were at a service; and there was some awful person in the study at the other side of the hall. I didn’t enjoy it, you know. What is it like in your dreams?

Keegan—In my dreams it is a country where the State is one Church and the Church the people: three in one and one in three. It is a commonwealth in which work is play and play is life: three in one and one in three. It is a temple in which the priest is the worshiper and the worshiper the worshiped; three in one and one in three. It is a godhead in which all life is human and all humanity divine: three in one and one in three. It is, in short, the dream of a madman.[He goes away across the hill.]

Broadbent[looking after him affectionately]—What a regular old Church and State Tory he is! He’s a character: he’ll be an attraction here. Really almost equal to Ruskin and Carlyle.

Larry—Yes; and much good they did with all their talk!

Broadbent—Oh tut, tut, Larry! They improved my mind: they raised my tone enormously. I feel sincerely obliged to Keegan: he has made me feel a better man: distinctly better.[With sincere elevation.]I feel now as I never did before that I am right in devoting my life to the cause of Ireland. Come along and help me to choose the site for the hotel.