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Dreamed 1920/4/6 by William Archer
One of the oddest dreams I ever had. The place and circumstances are quite vague, but I was standing somewhere with someone when a leopard came into our field of vision. I said to my neighbour, "You mightn't think it, but that is Gilbert Chesterton". Then the leopard hung himself by his tail upon something which I vaguely conceived as the opening of an arbour or pergola; and I thought (and I believe said) that Chesterton was lying in wait for Bernard Shaw, and that by thus looking as if he were hanging dead, he was lulling Shaw's suspicions.
Then Shaw appeared, I think also in animal form, but what form I cannot say. At all events the leopard fell upon him and it seemed that, in a moment, he had not only killed him but sucked all his blood and left him like a squeezed-out rag.
Then the leopard disappeared and I rushed to the scene of the tragedy in an agony of grief and remorse. I somehow felt that I had regarded it all as a joke, and that, if I had had my wits about me, I might have interfered to avert this fatal and horrible termination.
I never saw either Shaw or Chesterton--the dead body, whether that of an animal or a man, was not in the least like Shaw--but I had not the least doubt that Shaw was dead and that the leopard Chesterton had sucked his blood.
from William Archer's On Dreams, 1935, quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook), 1983
- Enemies? Archer's dream echoes very real political and spiritual quarrels.
- George Bernard Shaw: playwright (Arms and the Man, Saint Joan, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman). Socialist, vegetarian, atheist (or was he? Did he believe in his "Life Force"?). A cheerful old iconoclast, loving to offend, accused of being all head and no heart.
- G. K. Chesterton: huge, eccentric, erudite--advocating both logic and mysticism. From detective stories (the Father Brown stories) to surrealism and bizarre satire (The Man Who Was Thursday is both) and what-if fables bordering on science fiction, but always rooted in human feeling (The Napoleon of Notting Hill), he advocated a modern spirituality far more nuanced than, say, CS Lewis's.
- What do they have in common? A perverse romanticism. They both spun wild fables based on metaphysical premises--ideas carrying people away. Read Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, then Shaw's The Black Girl in Search of God, and tell me they aren't prowling the same metaphysical jungle... and out for blood.
- Is Archer right, did Chesterton deflate Shaw for good? Hardly. Most of his plays are still current. Chesterton? Last week I opened up Neil Gaiman's graphic novel The Sandman: A Doll's House. There was Gilbert himself living in modern America amid yuppies, drag queens and serial killers, as comfy as a leopard up a tree. And around us in the news? Half the politics of our time are just rehashes of Shaw and Chesterton's long bloody war over God and the Life Force. Still being fought.
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