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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Death of the Artist
By George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
 
        
From ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’
  
  [The Newspaper Man quickly sits down on the piano stool as Louis Dubedat, in an invalid’s chair, is wheeled in by Mrs. Dubedat and Sir Ralph.  They place the chair between the dais and the sofa, where the easel stood before.  Louis is not changed, as a robust man would be; and he is not scared.  His eyes look larger; and he is so weak physically that he can hardly move, lying on his cushions with complete languor; but his mind is active; it is making the most of his condition, finding voluptuousness in languor and drama in death.  They are all impressed, in spite of themselves, except Ridgeon, who is implacable.  B. B. is entirely sympathetic and forgiving.  Ridgeon follows the chair with a tray of milk and stimulants.  Sir Patrick, who accompanies him, takes the tea-table from the corner and places it behind the chair for the tray.  B. B. takes the easel chair and places it for Jennifer at Dubedat’s side, next the dais, from which the lay figure ogles the dying artist.  B. B. then returns to Dubedat’s left.  Jennifer sits.  Walpole sits down on the edge of the dais.  Ridgeon stands near him.]

LOUIS  [blissfully]—That’s happiness. To be in a studio! Happiness!  1
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, dear. Sir Patrick says you may stay here as long as you like.  2
  Louis  [to his wife]—Jennifer.  3
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, my darling.  4
  Louis—Is the newspaper man here?  5
  The Newspaper Man  [glibly]—Yes, Mr. Dubedat: I’m here, at your service. I represent the press. I thought you might like to let us have a few words about—about—er—well, a few words on your illness, and your plans for the season.  6
  Louis—My plans for the season are very simple. I’m going to die.  7
  Mrs. Dubedat  [tortured]—Louis—dearest——  8
  Louis—My darling: I’m very weak and tired. Don’t put on me the horrible strain of pretending that I don’t know. I’ve been lying there listening to the doctors—laughing to myself. They know. Dearest: don’t cry. It makes you ugly; and I can’t bear that.  [She dries her eyes and recovers herself with a proud effort.]  I want you to promise me something.  9
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, yes: you know I will.  [Imploringly]  Only, my love, my love, don’t talk: it will waste your strength.  10
  Louis—No: it will only use it up. Ridgeon: give me something to keep me going for a few minutes—not one of your confounded anti-toxins, if you don’t mind. I have some things to say before I go.  11
  Ridgeon  [looking at Sir Patrick]—I suppose it can do no harm?  [He pours out some spirit, and is about to add sodawater when Sir Patrick corrects him.]  12
  Sir Patrick—In milk. Don’t set him coughing.  13
  Louis  [after drinking]—Jennifer.  14
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, dear.  15
  Louis—If there’s one thing I hate more than another, it’s a widow. Promise me that you’ll never be a widow.  16
  Mrs. Dubedat—My dear, what do you mean?  17
  Louis—I want you to look beautiful. I want people to see in your eyes that you were married to me. The people in Italy used to point at Dante and say, “There goes the man who has been in hell.” I want them to point at you and say, “There goes a woman who has been in heaven.” It has been heaven, darling, hasn’t it—sometimes?  18
  Mrs. Dubedat—Oh yes, yes. Always, always.  19
  Louis—If you wear black and cry, people will say, “Look at that miserable woman: her husband made her miserable.”  20
  Mrs. Dubedat—No, never. You are the light and the blessing of my life. I never lived until I knew you.  21
  Louis  [his eyes glistening]—Then you must always wear beautiful dresses and splendid magic jewels. Think of all the wonderful pictures I shall never paint.  [She wins a terrible victory over a sob.]  Well, you must be transfigured with all the beauty of those pictures. Men must get such dreams from seeing you as they never could get from any daubing with paints and brushes. Painters must paint you as they never painted any mortal woman before. There must be a great tradition of beauty, a great atmosphere of wonder and romance. That is what men must always think of when they think of me. That is the sort of immortality I want. You can make that for me, Jennifer. There are lots of things you don’t understand that every woman in the street understands; but you can understand that and do it as nobody else can. Promise me that immortality. Promise me you will not make a little hell of crape and crying and undertaker’s horrors and withering flowers and all that vulgar rubbish.  22
  Mrs. Dubedat—I promise. But all that is far off, dear. You are to come to Cornwall with me and get well. Sir Ralph says so.  23
  Louis—Poor old B. B.  24
  B. B.  [affected to tears, turns away and whispers to Sir Patrick]—Poor fellow! Brain going.  25
  Louis—Sir Patrick’s there, isn’t he?  26
  Sir Patrick—Yes, yes. I’m here.  27
  Louis—Sit down, won’t you? It’s a shame to keep you standing about.  28
  Sir Patrick—Yes, yes. Thank you. All right.  29
  Louis—Jennifer.  30
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, dear.  31
  Louis  [with a strange look of delight]—Do you remember the burning bush?  32
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, yes. Oh, my dear, how it strains my heart to remember it now!  33
  Louis—Does it? It fills me with joy. Tell them about it.  34
  Mrs. Dubedat—It was nothing—only that once in my old Cornish home we lit the first fire of the winter; and when we looked through the window we saw the flames dancing in a bush in the garden.  35
  Louis—Such a color! Garnet color. Waving like silk. Liquid lovely flame flowing up through the bay leaves, and not burning them. Well, I shall be a flame like that. I’m sorry to disappoint the poor little worms; but the last of me shall be the flame in the burning bush. Whenever you see the flame, Jennifer, that will be me. Promise me that I shall be burnt.  36
  Mrs. Dubedat—Oh, if I might be with you, Louis!  37
  Louis—No: you must always be in the garden when the bush flames. You are my hold on the world: you are my immortality. Promise.  38
  Mrs. Dubedat—I’m listening. I shall not forget. You know that I promise.  39
  Louis—Well, that’s about all; except that you are to hang my pictures at the one-man show. I can trust your eye. You won’t let anyone else touch them.  40
  Mrs. Dubedat—You can trust me.  41
  Louis—Then there’s nothing more to worry about, is there? Give me some more of that milk. I’m fearfully tired; but if I stop talking I shan’t begin again.  [Sir Ralph gives him a drink.  He takes it and looks up quaintly.]  I say B. B., do you think anything would stop you talking?  42
  B. B.  [almost unmanned]—He confuses me with you, Paddy. Poor fellow! Poor fellow!  43
  Louis  [musing]—I used to be awfully afraid of death: but now it’s come, I have no fear; and I’m perfectly happy. Jennifer.  44
  Mrs. Dubedat—Yes, dear?  45
  Louis—I’ll tell you a secret. I used to think that our marriage was all an affectation, and that I’d break loose and run away some day. But now that I’m going to be broken loose whether I like it or not, I’m perfectly fond of you, and perfectly satisfied because I’m going to live as part of you and not as my troublesome self.  46
  Mrs. Dubedat  [heartbroken]—Stay with me, Louis. Oh, don’t leave me, dearest.  47
  Louis—Not that I’m selfish. With all my faults I don’t think I’ve ever been really selfish. No artist can: Art is too large for that. You will marry again, Jennifer.  48
  Mrs. Dubedat—Oh, how can you, Louis?  49
  Louis  [insisting childishly]—Yes, because people who have found marriage happy always marry again. Ah, I shan’t be jealous.  [Slyly.]  But don’t talk to the other fellow too much about me: he won’t like it.  [Almost chuckling.]  I shall be your lover all the time; but it will be a secret from him, poor devil!  50
  Sir Patrick—Come! you’ve talked enough. Try to rest awhile.  51
  Louis  [wearily]—Yes: I’m fearfully tired; but I shall have a long rest presently. I have something to say to you fellows. You’re all there, aren’t you? I’m too weak to see anything but Jennifer’s bosom. That promises rest.  52
  Ridgeon—We are all here.  53
  Louis  [startled]—That voice sounded devilish. Take care, Ridgeon: my ears hear things that other people’s ears can’t. I’ve been thinking—thinking. I’m cleverer than you imagine.  54
  Sir Patrick  [whispering to Ridgeon]—You’ve got on his nerves, Colly. Slip out quietly.  55
  Ridgeon  [apart to Sir Patrick]—Would you deprive the dying actor of his audience?  56
  Louis  [his face lighting up faintly with mischievous glee]—I heard that, Ridgeon. That was good. Jennifer, dear: be kind to Ridgeon always; because he was the last man who amused me.  57
  Ridgeon  [relentless]—Was I?  58
  Louis—But it’s not true. It’s you who are still on the stage. I’m halfway home already.  59
  Mrs. Dubedat  [to Ridgeon]—What did you say?  60
  Louis  [answering for him]—Nothing, dear. Only one of those little secrets that men keep among themselves. Well, all you chaps have thought pretty hard things of me, and said them.  61
  B. B.  [quite overcome]—No, no, Dubedat. Not at all.  62
  Louis—Yes, you have. I know what you all think of me. Don’t imagine I’m sore about it. I forgive you.  63
  Walpole  [involuntarily]—Well, damn me!  [Ashamed.]  I beg your pardon.  64
  Louis—That was old Walpole, I know. Don’t grieve, Walpole. I’m perfectly happy. I’m not in pain. I don’t want to live. I’ve escaped from myself. I’m in heaven, immortal in the heart of my beautiful Jennifer. I’m not afraid, and not ashamed.  [Reflectively, puzzling it out for himself weakly.]  I know that in an accidental sort of way, struggling through the unreal part of life, I haven’t always been able to live up to my ideal. But in my own real world I have never done anything wrong, never denied my faith, never been untrue to myself. I’ve been threatened and blackmailed and insulted and starved. But I’ve played the game. I’ve fought the good fight. And now it’s all over, there’s an indescribable peace.  [He feebly folds his hands and utters his creed.]  I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen.  [He closes his eyes and lies still.]  65
  Mrs. Dubedat  [breathless]—Louis: are you——
[Walpole rises and comes quickly to see whether he is dead.]
  66
  Louis—Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet. I should like to rest my head on your bosom; only it would tire you.  67
  Mrs. Dubedat—No, no, no, darling: how could you tire me?  [She lifts him so that he lies on her bosom.]  68
  Louis—That’s good. That’s real.  69
  Mrs. Dubedat—Don’t spare me, dear. Indeed, indeed you will not tire me. Lean on me with all your weight.  70
  Louis  [with a sudden half return of his normal strength and comfort]—Jinny Gwinny: I think I shall recover after all.
[Sir Patrick looks significantly at Ridgeon, mutely warning him that this is the end.]
  71
  Mrs. Dubedat  [hopefully]—Yes, yes: you shall.  72
  Louis—Because I suddenly want to sleep. Just an ordinary sleep.  73
  Mrs. Dubedat  [rocking him]—Yes, dear. Sleep.  [He seems to go to sleep.  Walpole makes another movement.  She protests.]  Sh-sh: please don’t disturb him.  [His lips move.]  What did you say, dear?  [In great distress.]  I can’t listen without moving him.  [His lips move again: Walpole bends down and listens.]  74
  Walpole—He wants to know is the newspaper man here.  75
  The Newspaper Man  [excited; for he has been enjoying himself enormously.]  Yes, Mr. Dubedat. Here I am.
[Walpole raises his hand warningly to silence him.  Sir Ralph sits down quietly on the sofa and frankly buries his face in his handkerchief.]
  76
  Mrs. Dubedat  [with great relief]—Oh, that’s right, dear: don’t spare me: lean with all your weight on me. Now you are really resting.
[Sir Patrick quickly comes forward and feels Louis’s pulse; then takes him by the shoulders.]
  77
  Sir Patrick—Let me put him back on the pillow, ma’am. He will be better so.  78
  Mrs. Dubedat  [piteously]—Oh no, please, please, doctor. He is not tiring me; and he will be so hurt when he wakes if he finds I have put him away.  79
  Sir Patrick—He will never wake again.  [He takes the body from her and replaces it in the chair.  Ridgeon, unmoved, lets down the back and makes a bier of it.]  80
  Mrs. Dubedat  [who has unexpectedly sprung to her feet, and stands dry-eyed and stately]—Was that death?  81
  Walpole—Yes.  82
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
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