from
The Invention of Love
by
Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard

This page:

The Invention of Love

Category:

Drama

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The character AEH is A. E. Housman, whose arrival at the Styx, after his death, begins the play. (There are later hints that this may be a dream experience on his deathbed, or perhaps these are memories of his death, included among the postmortem encounters of remembered people and events which provide the fabric of the play.)

The character Housman is his younger self. Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin appear as characters, and topics of discussion, as well.

The Invention of Love

Copyright © 1997 by Tom Stoppard

Act One

AEH:
I’m dead, then. Good. And this is the Stygian gloom one has heard so much about.

Charon:
Belay the painter there, sir!

AEH:
‘Belay the painter!’ The tongues of men and of angels!

Charon:
See the cleat. I trust you had grieving friends and family, sir, to give you a decent burial.

AEH:
Cremation, but very decent I believe: a service at Trinity College and the ashes laid to rest – for fathomable reasons – in Shropshire, a country where I never lived and seldom set foot.

Charon:
So long as the wolves and bears don’t dig you up.

AEH:
No fear of that. The jackals are another matter. One used to say, ‘After I’m dead’. The consolation is not as complete as one had supposed. There – the painter is belayed. I heard Ruskin lecture in my first term at Oxford. Painters belayed on every side. He died mad. As you may have noticed.

Topic:

The Afterlife

Charon:
A poet and a scholar is what I was told.

AEH:
I think that must be me.

Charon:
Both of them?

AEH:
I’m afraid so.

Charon:
It sounded like two different people.

AEH:
I know.

AEH:
[...] There are places in Jebb’s Sophocles where the responsibility for reading the metre seems to have been handed over to the Gas, Light and Coke Company.

Topic:

Insults

Pattison:
The curriculum is designed on the idle plan that all of knowledge will be found inside the covers of four Latin and four Greek books, though not the same four each year.

Housman:
Thank you, sir.

Pattison:
A genuine love of learning is one of the two delinquencies which cause blindness and lead a young man to ruin.

Housman:
[...] The Regius Professor can’t even pronounce the Greek language and there is no one at Oxford to tell him.

Pollard:
Except you, Housman.

Housman:
I will take his secret to the grave, telling people I meet on the way. Betrayal is no sin if it’s whimsical.

Topic:

Secrets

Jackson:
Kissing girls is not like science, nor is it like sport. It is the third thing when you thought there were only two.

Topic:

Kisses

Jackson:
Did they get married?

Pollard:
No. They loved, and quarrelled, and made up, and loved, and fought, and were true to each other and untrue. She made him the happiest man in the whole world and the most wretched, and after a few years she died, and then, when he was thirty, he died, too. But by that time Catullus had invented the love poem.

Jackson:
He invented it? Did he, Hous?

Pollard:
You don’t have to ask him. Like everything else, like clocks and trousers and algebra, the love poem had to be invented. After millenniums of sex and centuries of poetry, the love poem as understood by Shakespeare and Donne, and by Oxford undergraduates – the true-life confessions of the poet in love, immortalizing the mistress, who is actually the cause of the poem – that was invented in Rome in the first century before Christ.

Jackson:
Gosh.

Housman:
Basium is a point of interest. A kiss was always osculum until Catullus.

Pollard:
Now, Hous, concentrate – is that the point of interest in the kiss?

Housman:
Yes.

Ruskin:
When I am at Paddington I feel I am in hell.

Jowett:
You must not go about telling everyone, Dr Ruskin. It will not do for the moral education of Oxford undergraduates that the wages of sin may be no more than the sense of being stranded at one of the larger railway stations.

Ruskin:
To be morally educated is to realize that such would be a terrible price. Mechanical advance is the slack taken up of our failing humanity. Hell is very likely to be modernization infinitely extended. There is a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell where once you may have seen at first and last light the Muses dance for Apollo and heard the pan-pipes play. But its rocks were blasted away for the railway, and now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton.

Topics:

Hell

Railroads

AEH:
You are to be a rounded man, fit for the world, a man of taste and moral sense.

Housman:
Yes, sir.

AEH:
Science for our material improvement, classics for our inner nature. The beautiful and the good. Culture. Virtue. The ideas and moral influence of the ancient philosophers.

Housman:
Yes, sir.

AEH:
Humbug.

Housman:
Oh.

AEH:
Looking about you, does it appear to you that the classical fellows are the superior in sense, morality, taste, or even amiability, to the scientists?

Housman:
I’m acquainted with only one person in the Science School, and he is the finest man I know.

AEH:
And he knows more than the ancient philosophers.

Housman:
(Oh – !)

AEH:
They made the best use of the knowledge they had. They were the best minds. The French are the best cooks, and during the Siege of Paris I’m sure rats never tasted better, but that is no reason to continue eating rat now that coq au vin is available. The only reason to consider what the ancient philosophers meant about anything is if it’s relevant to settling corrupt or disputed passages in the text. With the poets there may be other reasons for reading them; I wouldn’t discount it – it may even improve your inner nature, if the miraculous collusion of sound and sense in, let us say, certain poems by Horace, teaches humility in regard to adding to the store of available literature poems by, let us say, yourself. But the effect is not widespread.

Topic:

Education

AEH:
[...] Poetical feelings are a peril to scholarship. There are always poetical people ready to protest that a corrupt line is exquisite. Exquisite to whom? The Romans were foreigners writing for foreigners two millenniums ago; and for people whose gods we find quaint, whose savagery we abominate, whose private habits we don’t like to talk about, but whose idea of what is exquisite is, we flatter ourselves, mysteriously identical with ours.

AEH:
[...] Literary enthusiasm never made a scholar, and unmade many. Taste is not knowledge. A scholar’s business is to add to what is known. That is all. But it is capable of giving the very greatest satisfaction, because knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can’t have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having. There is truth and falsehood in a comma.

Topics:

Scholarship

Commas

AEH:
To be a scholar is to strike your finger on the page and say, ‘Thou ailest here, and here.’

AEH:
[...] By taking out a comma and putting it back in a different place, sense is made out of nonsense in a poem that has been read continuously since it was first misprinted four hundred years ago. A small victory over ignorance and error. A scrap of knowledge to add to our stock. What does this remind you of? Science, of course. Textual criticism is a science whose subject is literature, as botany is the science of flowers and zoology of animals and geology of rocks. Flowers, animals and rocks being the work of nature, their sciences are exact sciences, and must answer to the authority of what can be seen and measured. Literature, however, being the work of the human mind with all its frailty and aberration, and of human fingers which make mistakes, the science of textual criticism must aim for degrees of likelihood, and the only authority it might answer to is an author who has been dead for hundreds or thousands of years. But it is a science none the less, not a sacred mystery.

Topic:

Science

Housman:
[...] The passion for truth is the faintest of all human passions.

AEH:
You think there is an answer: the lost autograph copy of life’s meaning, which we might recover from the corruptions that have made it nonsense. But if there is no such copy, really and truly there is no answer.

AEH:
[...] Euripides wrote a Pirithous, the last copy having passed through the intestines of an unknown rat probably a thousand years ago if it wasn’t burned by bishops – the Church’s idea of the good and the beautiful excludes sexual aberration, apart from chastity, I suppose because it’s the rarest.

AEH:
But lay down your life for your comrade – good lad! – lay it down like a doormat –

Housman:
(Oh – !)

AEH:
Lay it down like a card on a card-table for a kind word and a smile – lay it down like a bottle of the best to drink when your damnfool life is all but done: any more laying-downs we can think of? – oh, above all – above all – lay down your life like a pack on the roadside though your days of march are numbered and end with the grave. Love will not be deflected from its mischief by being called comradeship or anything else.

Housman:
I don’t know what love is.

AEH:
Oh, but you do. In the Dark Ages, in Macedonia, in the last guttering light from classical antiquity, a man copied out bits from old books for his young son, whose name was Septimius; so we have one sentence from The Loves of Achilles. Love, said Sophocles, is like the ice held in the hand by children. A piece of ice held fast in the fist.

Topic:

Love

AEH:
[...]

We’re always living in someone’s golden age, it turns out: even Ruskin who takes it all so hard. A hard nut: he looks hard at everything he looks at, and everything he looks at looks hard back at him, it would drive anybody mad. In no time at all, life is like a street accident, with Ruskin raving for doctors, diverting the traffic and calling for laws to control the highway – and that’s just his art criticism.

Topic:

Critics

Act Two

Housman:
[...] It’s where we’re nearest to our humanness. Useless knowledge for its own sake. Useful knowledge is good, too, but it’s for the faint-hearted, an elaboration of the real thing, which is only to shine some light, it doesn’t matter where on what, it’s the light itself, against the darkness, it’s what’s left of God’s purpose when you take away God.

Topic:

Humanity

AEH:
[...] I only say, look at the logic. Because a manuscript has suffered loss, therefore the lost portion contained something which Mr Buecheler wishes it to have contained; and scholars have been unable to detect any error in his reasoning.

Topic:

Logic (examples)

Chamberlain:
Alfred Housman?

Harris:
I think he stayed with the wrong people in Shropshire. I never read such a book for telling you you’re better off dead.

Chamberlain:
That’s him!

Harris:
No one gets off; if you’re not shot, hanged or stabbed, you kill yourself. Life’s a curse, love’s a blight, God’s a blaggard, cherry blossom is quite nice.

A Shropshire Lad

AEH:
[...] I have been practising a popular style of lecture, as yet confused with memories of University College, but it’s based on noticing that there are students present.

Topics:

Teachers

Universities

Style

Chamberlain:
We belong to a sort of secret society, the Order of Chaeronea, like the Sacred Band of Thebes. Actually it’s more like a discussion group. We discuss what we should call ourselves. ‘Homosexuals’ has been suggested.

AEH:
Homosexuals?

Chamberlain:
We aren’t anything till there’s a word for it.

AEH:
Homosexuals? Who is responsible for this barbarity?

Chamberlain:
What’s wrong with it?

AEH:
It’s half Greek and half Latin!

Chamberlain:
That sounds about right.

Note (Hal’s):
Oscar Wilde appears as a character in the next few excerpts.

AEH:
But it’s all true.

Wilde:
On the contrary, it’s only fact. Truth is quite another thing and is the work of the imagination.

Topic:

Truth

Wilde:
[...] I dare say I would have wept if I’d read the newspaper. But that does not make a newspaper poetry. Art cannot be subordinate to its subject, otherwise it is not art but biography, and biography is the mesh through which our real life escapes. I was said to have walked down Piccadilly with a lily in my hand. There was no need. To do it is nothing, to be said to have done it is everything. It is the truth about me.

Topic:

Art

Wilde:
[...] The betrayal of one’s friends is a bagatelle in the stakes of love, but the betrayal of oneself is lifelong regret.

Wilde:
[...] But the artist is the secret criminal in our midst. He is the agent of progress against authority. You are right to be a scholar. A scholar is all scruple, an artist is none. The artist must lie, cheat, deceive, be untrue to nature and contemptuous of history. I made my life into my art and it was an unqualified success. The blaze of my immolation threw its light into every corner of the land where uncounted young men sat each in his own darkness. What would I have done in Megara!? – think what I would have missed! I awoke the imagination of the century. I banged Ruskin’s and Pater’s heads together, and from the moral severity of one and the aesthetic soul of the other I made art a philosophy that can look the twentieth century in the eye.

Topic:

Philosophy

text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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