An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM, K.G.
VISCOUNT GORING, his Son
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, Bart., Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
VICOMTE DE NANJAC, Attache at the French Embassy in London
MASON, Butler to Sir Robert Chiltern
PHIPPS, Lord Goring's Servant
HAROLD } Footmen
THE COUNTESS OF BASILDON
MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Sir Robert Chiltern's Sister
THE SCENES OF THE PLAY
ACT I. The Octagon Room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House in Grosvenor
ACT II. Morning-room in Sir Robert Chiltern's House.
ACT III. The Library of Lord Goring's House in Curzon Street.
ACT IV. Same as Act II.
TIME: The Present
The action of the play is completed within twenty-four hours.
THEATRE ROYAL, HAYMARKET
Sole Lessee: Mr. Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Managers: Mr. Lewis Waller and Mr. H. H. Morell
January 3rd, 1895
THE EARL OF CAVERSHAM, Mr. Alfred Bishop.
VISCOUNT GORING, Mr. Charles H. Hawtrey.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, Mr. Lewis Waller.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC, Mr. Cosmo Stuart.
MR. MONTFORD, Mr. Harry Stanford.
PHIPPS, Mr. C. H. Brookfield.
MASON, Mr. H. Deane.
JAMES, Mr. Charles Meyrick.
HAROLD, Mr. Goodhart.
LADY CHILTERN, Miss Julia Neilson.
LADY MARKBY, Miss Fanny Brough.
COUNTESS OF BASILDON, Miss Vane Featherston.
MRS. MARCHMONT, Miss Helen Forsyth.
MISS MABEL CHILTERN, Miss Maud Millet.
MRS. CHEVELEY, Miss Florence West.
The octagon room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house in Grosvenor Square.
[The room is brilliantly lighted and full of guests. At the top of
the staircase stands LADY CHILTERN, a woman of grave Greek beauty,
about twenty-seven years of age. She receives the guests as they
come up. Over the well of the staircase hangs a great chandelier
with wax lights, which illumine a large eighteenth-century French
tapestry - representing the Triumph of Love, from a design by Boucher
- that is stretched on the staircase wall. On the right is the
entrance to the music-room. The sound of a string quartette is
faintly heard. The entrance on the left leads to other reception-
rooms. MRS. MARCHMONT and LADY BASILDON, two very pretty women, are
seated together on a Louis Seize sofa. They are types of exquisite
fragility. Their affectation of manner has a delicate charm.
Watteau would have loved to paint them.]
MRS. MARCHMONT. Going on to the Hartlocks' to-night, Margaret?
LADY BASILDON. I suppose so. Are you?
MRS. MARCHMONT. Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don't
LADY BASILDON. Horribly tedious! Never know why I go. Never know
why I go anywhere.
MRS. MARCHMONT. I come here to be educated
LADY BASILDON. Ah! I hate being educated!
MRS. MARCHMONT. So do I. It puts one almost on a level with the
commercial classes, doesn't it? But dear Gertrude Chiltern is always
telling me that I should have some serious purpose in life. So I
come here to try to find one.
LADY BASILDON. [Looking round through her lorgnette.] I don't see
anybody here to-night whom one could possibly call a serious purpose.
The man who took me in to dinner talked to me about his wife the
MRS. MARCHMONT. How very trivial of him!
LADY BASILDON. Terribly trivial! What did your man talk about?
MRS. MARCHMONT. About myself.
LADY BASILDON. [Languidly.] And were you interested?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Shaking her head.] Not in the smallest degree.
LADY BASILDON. What martyrs we are, dear Margaret!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Rising.] And how well it becomes us, Olivia!
[They rise and go towards the music-room. The VICOMTE DE NANJAC, a
young attache known for his neckties and his Anglomania, approaches
with a low bow, and enters into conversation.]
MASON. [Announcing guests from the top of the staircase.] Mr. and
Lady Jane Barford. Lord Caversham.
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM, an old gentleman of seventy, wearing the
riband and star of the Garter. A fine Whig type. Rather like a
portrait by Lawrence.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Has my good-for-
nothing young son been here?
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] I don't think Lord Goring has arrived
MABEL CHILTERN. [Coming up to LORD CAVERSHAM.] Why do you call Lord
[MABEL CHILTERN is a perfect example of the English type of
prettiness, the apple-blossom type. She has all the fragrance and
freedom of a flower. There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in her
hair, and the little mouth, with its parted lips, is expectant, like
the mouth of a child. She has the fascinating tyranny of youth, and
the astonishing courage of innocence. To sane people she is not
reminiscent of any work of art. But she is really like a Tanagra
statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Because he leads such an idle life.
MABEL CHILTERN. How can you say such a thing? Why, he rides in the
Row at ten o'clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a
week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out
every night of the season. You don't call that leading an idle life,
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Looking at her with a kindly twinkle in his eyes.]
You are a very charming young lady!
MABEL CHILTERN. How sweet of you to say that, Lord Caversham! Do
come to us more often. You know we are always at home on Wednesdays,
and you look so well with your star!
LORD CAVERSHAM. Never go anywhere now. Sick of London Society.
Shouldn't mind being introduced to my own tailor; he always votes on
the right side. But object strongly to being sent down to dinner
with my wife's milliner. Never could stand Lady Caversham's bonnets.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely
improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and
brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Hum! Which is Goring? Beautiful idiot, or the
MABEL CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I have been obliged for the present to
put Lord Goring into a class quite by himself. But he is developing
LORD CAVERSHAM. Into what?
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little curtsey.] I hope to let you know
very soon, Lord Caversham!
MASON. [Announcing guests.] Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.
[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY. LADY MARKBY is a pleasant,
kindly, popular woman, with gray hair e la marquise and good lace.
MRS. CHEVELEY, who accompanies her, is tall and rather slight. Lips
very thin and highly-coloured, a line of scarlet on a pallid face.
Venetian red hair, aquiline nose, and long throat. Rouge accentuates
the natural paleness of her complexion. Gray-green eyes that move
restlessly. She is in heliotrope, with diamonds. She looks rather
like an orchid, and makes great demands on one's curiosity. In all
her movements she is extremely graceful. A work of art, on the
whole, but showing the influence of too many schools.]
LADY MARKBY. Good evening, dear Gertrude! So kind of you to let me
bring my friend, Mrs. Cheveley. Two such charming women should know
LADY CHILTERN. [Advances towards MRS. CHEVELEY with a sweet smile.
Then suddenly stops, and bows rather distantly.] I think Mrs.
Cheveley and I have met before. I did not know she had married a
LADY MARKBY. [Genially.] Ah, nowadays people marry as often as they
can, don't they? It is most fashionable. [To DUCHESS OF
MARYBOROUGH.] Dear Duchess, and how is the Duke? Brain still weak,
I suppose? Well, that is only to be expected, is it not? His good
father was just the same. There is nothing like race, is there?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Playing with her fan.] But have we really met
before, Lady Chiltern? I can't remember where. I have been out of
England for so long.
LADY CHILTERN. We were at school together, Mrs. Cheveley.
MRS. CHEVELEY [Superciliously.] Indeed? I have forgotten all about
my schooldays. I have a vague impression that they were detestable.
LADY CHILTERN. [Coldly.] I am not surprised!
MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her sweetest manner.] Do you know, I am quite
looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern. Since
he has been at the Foreign Office, he has been so much talked of in
Vienna. They actually succeed in spelling his name right in the
newspapers. That in itself is fame, on the continent.
LADY CHILTERN. I hardly think there will be much in common between
you and my husband, Mrs. Cheveley! [Moves away.]
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! chere Madame, queue surprise! I have not
seen you since Berlin!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Not since Berlin, Vicomte. Five years ago!
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. And you are younger and more beautiful than ever.
How do you manage it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. By making it a rule only to talk to perfectly
charming people like yourself.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Ah! you flatter me. You butter me, as they say
MRS. CHEVELEY. Do they say that here? How dreadful of them!
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. Yes, they have a wonderful language. It should
be more widely known.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters. A man of forty, but looking somewhat
younger. Clean-shaven, with finely-cut features, dark-haired and
dark-eyed. A personality of mark. Not popular - few personalities
are. But intensely admired by the few, and deeply respected by the
many. The note of his manner is that of perfect distinction, with a
slight touch of pride. One feels that he is conscious of the success
he has made in life. A nervous temperament, with a tired look. The
firmly-chiselled mouth and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic
expression in the deep-set eyes. The variance is suggestive of an
almost complete separation of passion and intellect, as though
thought and emotion were each isolated in its own sphere through some
violence of will-power. There is nervousness in the nostrils, and in
the pale, thin, pointed hands. It would be inaccurate to call him
picturesque. Picturesqueness cannot survive the House of Commons.
But Vandyck would have liked to have painted his head.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, Lady Markby! I hope you have
brought Sir John with you?
LADY MARKBY. Oh! I have brought a much more charming person than
Sir John. Sir John's temper since he has taken seriously to politics
has become quite unbearable. Really, now that the House of Commons
is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope not, Lady Markby. At any rate we do our
best to waste the public time, don't we? But who is this charming
person you have been kind enough to bring to us?
LADY MARKBY. Her name is Mrs. Cheveley! One of the Dorsetshire
Cheveleys, I suppose. But I really don't know. Families are so
mixed nowadays. Indeed, as a rule, everybody turns out to be
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley? I seem to know the name.
LADY MARKBY. She has just arrived from Vienna.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! yes. I think I know whom you mean.
LADY MARKBY. Oh! she goes everywhere there, and has such pleasant
scandals about all her friends. I really must go to Vienna next
winter. I hope there is a good chef at the Embassy.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. If there is not, the Ambassador will certainly
have to be recalled. Pray point out Mrs. Cheveley to me. I should
like to see her.
LADY MARKBY. Let me introduce you. [To MRS. CHEVELEY.] My dear,
Sir Robert Chiltern is dying to know you!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bowing.] Every one is dying to know the
brilliant Mrs. Cheveley. Our attaches at Vienna write to us about
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you, Sir Robert. An acquaintance that begins
with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship. It
starts in the right manner. And I find that I know Lady Chiltern
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Really?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. She has just reminded me that we were at school
together. I remember it perfectly now. She always got the good
conduct prize. I have a distinct recollection of Lady Chiltern
always getting the good conduct prize!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Smiling.] And what prizes did you get, Mrs.
MRS. CHEVELEY. My prizes came a little later on in life. I don't
think any of them were for good conduct. I forget!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am sure they were for something charming!
MRS. CHEVELEY. I don't know that women are always rewarded for being
charming. I think they are usually punished for it! Certainly, more
women grow old nowadays through the faithfulness of their admirers
than through anything else! At least that is the only way I can
account for the terribly haggard look of most of your pretty women in
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What an appalling philosophy that sounds! To
attempt to classify you, Mrs. Cheveley, would be an impertinence.
But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those
seem to be the only two fashionable religions left to us nowadays.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I'm neither. Optimism begins in a broad grin,
and Pessimism ends with blue spectacles. Besides, they are both of
them merely poses.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You prefer to be natural?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What would those modern psychological
novelists, of whom we hear so much, say to such a theory as that?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that
psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women . . .
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You think science cannot grapple with the
problem of women?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Science can never grapple with the irrational. That
is why it has no future before it, in this world.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And women represent the irrational.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Well-dressed women do.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a polite bow.] I fear I could hardly
agree with you there. But do sit down. And now tell me, what makes
you leave your brilliant Vienna for our gloomy London - or perhaps
the question is indiscreet?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Well, at any rate, may I know if it is politics
MRS. CHEVELEY. Politics are my only pleasure. You see nowadays it
is not fashionable to flirt till one is forty, or to be romantic till
one is forty-five, so we poor women who are under thirty, or say we
are, have nothing open to us but politics or philanthropy. And
philanthropy seems to me to have become simply the refuge of people
who wish to annoy their fellow-creatures. I prefer politics. I
think they are more . . . becoming!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. A political life is a noble career!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. And sometimes it is a clever game, Sir
Robert. And sometimes it is a great nuisance.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Which do you find it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. I? A combination of all three. [Drops her fan.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Picks up fan.] Allow me!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But you have not told me yet what makes you
honour London so suddenly. Our season is almost over.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! I don't care about the London season! It is too
matrimonial. People are either hunting for husbands, or hiding from
them. I wanted to meet you. It is quite true. You know what a
woman's curiosity is. Almost as great as a man's! I wanted
immensely to meet you, and . . . to ask you to do something for me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I hope it is not a little thing, Mrs. Cheveley.
I find that little things are so very difficult to do.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a moment's reflection.] No, I don't think it
is quite a little thing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad. Do tell me what it is.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Later on. [Rises.] And now may I walk through your
beautiful house? I hear your pictures are charming. Poor Baron
Arnheim - you remember the Baron? - used to tell me you had some
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With an almost imperceptible start.] Did you
know Baron Arnheim well?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Smiling.] Intimately. Did you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. At one time.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Wonderful man, wasn't he?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] He was very remarkable, in
MRS. CHEVELEY. I often think it such a pity he never wrote his
memoirs. They would have been most interesting.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes: he knew men and cities well, like the old
MRS. CHEVELEY. Without the dreadful disadvantage of having a
Penelope waiting at home for him.
MASON. Lord Goring.
[Enter LORD GORING. Thirty-four, but always says he is younger. A
well-bred, expressionless face. He is clever, but would not like to
be thought so. A flawless dandy, he would be annoyed if he were
considered romantic. He plays with life, and is on perfectly good
terms with the world. He is fond of being misunderstood. It gives
him a post of vantage.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Good evening, my dear Arthur! Mrs. Cheveley,
allow me to introduce to you Lord Goring, the idlest man in London.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I have met Lord Goring before.
LORD GORING. [Bowing.] I did not think you would remember me, Mrs.
MRS. CHEVELEY. My memory is under admirable control. And are you
still a bachelor?
LORD GORING. I . . . believe so.
MRS. CHEVELEY. How very romantic!
LORD GORING. Oh! I am not at all romantic. I am not old enough. I
leave romance to my seniors.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Lord Goring is the result of Boodle's Club,
MRS. CHEVELEY. He reflects every credit on the institution.
LORD GORING. May I ask are you staying in London long?
MRS. CHEVELEY. That depends partly on the weather, partly on the
cooking, and partly on Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You are not going to plunge us into a European
war, I hope?
MRS. CHEVELEY. There is no danger, at present!
[She nods to LORD GORING, with a look of amusement in her eyes, and
goes out with SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. LORD GORING saunters over to
MABEL CHILTERN. You are very late!
LORD GORING. Have you missed me?
MABEL CHILTERN. Awfully!
LORD GORING. Then I am sorry I did not stay away longer. I like
MABEL CHILTERN. How very selfish of you!
LORD GORING. I am very selfish.
MABEL CHILTERN. You are always telling me of your bad qualities,
LORD GORING. I have only told you half of them as yet, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. Are the others very bad?
LORD GORING. Quite dreadful! When I think of them at night I go to
sleep at once.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I delight in your bad qualities. I wouldn't
have you part with one of them.
LORD GORING. How very nice of you! But then you are always nice.
By the way, I want to ask you a question, Miss Mabel. Who brought
Mrs. Cheveley here? That woman in heliotrope, who has just gone out
of the room with your brother?
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh, I think Lady Markby brought her. Why do you
LORD GORING. I haven't seen her for years, that is all.
MABEL CHILTERN. What an absurd reason!
LORD GORING. All reasons are absurd.
MABEL CHILTERN. What sort of a woman is she?
LORD GORING. Oh! a genius in the daytime and a beauty at night!
MABEL CHILTERN. I dislike her already.
LORD GORING. That shows your admirable good taste.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. [Approaching.] Ah, the English young lady is the
dragon of good taste, is she not? Quite the dragon of good taste.
LORD GORING. So the newspapers are always telling us.
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I read all your English newspapers. I find them
LORD GORING. Then, my dear Nanjac, you must certainly read between
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I should like to, but my professor objects. [To
MABEL CHILTERN.] May I have the pleasure of escorting you to the
MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking very disappointed.] Delighted, Vicomte,
quite delighted! [Turning to LORD GORING.] Aren't you coming to the
LORD GORING. Not if there is any music going on, Miss Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Severely.] The music is in German. You would not
[Goes out with the VICOMTE DE NANJAC. LORD CAVERSHAM comes up to his
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir! what are you doing here? Wasting your
life as usual! You should be in bed, sir. You keep too late hours!
I heard of you the other night at Lady Rufford's dancing till four
o'clock in the morning!
LORD GORING. Only a quarter to four, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Can't make out how you stand London Society. The
thing has gone to the dogs, a lot of damned nobodies talking about
LORD GORING. I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only
thing I know anything about.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.
LORD GORING. What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages
LORD CAVERSHAM. You are heartless, sir, very heartless!
LORD GORING. I hope not, father. Good evening, Lady Basildon!
LADY BASILDON. [Arching two pretty eyebrows.] Are you here? I had
no idea you ever came to political parties!
LORD GORING. I adore political parties. They are the only place
left to us where people don't talk politics.
LADY BASILDON. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day
long. But I can't bear listening to them. I don't know how the
unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.
LORD GORING. By never listening.
LADY BASILDON. Really?
LORD GORING. [In his most serious manner.] Of course. You see, it
is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be
convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an
argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.
LADY BASILDON. Ah! that accounts for so much in men that I have
never understood, and so much in women that their husbands never
appreciate in them!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [With a sigh.] Our husbands never appreciate
anything in us. We have to go to others for that!
LADY BASILDON. [Emphatically.] Yes, always to others, have we not?
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] And those are the views of the two ladies
who are known to have the most admirable husbands in London.
MRS. MARCHMONT. That is exactly what we can't stand. My Reginald is
quite hopelessly faultless. He is really unendurably so, at times!
There is not the smallest element of excitement in knowing him.
LORD GORING. How terrible! Really, the thing should be more widely
LADY BASILDON. Basildon is quite as bad; he is as domestic as if he
was a bachelor.
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Pressing LADY BASILDON'S hand.] My poor Olivia!
We have married perfect husbands, and we are well punished for it.
LORD GORING. I should have thought it was the husbands who were
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Drawing herself up.] Oh, dear no! They are as
happy as possible! And as for trusting us, it is tragic how much
they trust us.
LADY BASILDON. Perfectly tragic!
LORD GORING. Or comic, Lady Basildon?
LADY BASILDON. Certainly not comic, Lord Goring. How unkind of you
to suggest such a thing!
MRS. MARCHMONT. I am afraid Lord Goring is in the camp of the enemy,
as usual. I saw him talking to that Mrs. Cheveley when he came in.
LORD GORING. Handsome woman, Mrs. Cheveley!
LADY BASILDON. [Stiffly.] Please don't praise other women in our
presence. You might wait for us to do that!
LORD GORING. I did wait.
MRS. MARCHMONT. Well, we are not going to praise her. I hear she
went to the Opera on Monday night, and told Tommy Rufford at supper
that, as far as she could see, London Society was entirely made up of
dowdies and dandies.
LORD GORING. She is quite right, too. The men are all dowdies and
the women are all dandies, aren't they?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [After a pause.] Oh! do you really think that is
what Mrs. Cheveley meant?
LORD GORING. Of course. And a very sensible remark for Mrs.
Cheveley to make, too.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN. She joins the group.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Why are you talking about Mrs. Cheveley? Everybody
is talking about Mrs. Cheveley! Lord Goring says - what did you say,
Lord Goring, about Mrs. Cheveley? Oh! I remember, that she was a
genius in the daytime and a beauty at night.
LADY BASILDON. What a horrid combination! So very unnatural!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [In her most dreamy manner.] I like looking at
geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.
LORD GORING. Ah! that is morbid of you, Mrs. Marchmont!
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Brightening to a look of real pleasure.] I am to
glad to hear you say that. Marchmont and I have been married for
seven years, and he has never once told me that I was morbid. Men
are so painfully unobservant!
LADY BASILDON. [Turning to her.] I have always said, dear Margaret,
that you were the most morbid person in London.
MRS. MARCHMONT. Ah! but you are always sympathetic, Olivia!
MABEL CHILTERN. Is it morbid to have a desire for food? I have a
great desire for food. Lord Goring, will you give me some supper?
LORD GORING. With pleasure, Miss Mabel. [Moves away with her.]
MABEL CHILTERN. How horrid you have been! You have never talked to
me the whole evening!
LORD GORING. How could I? You went away with the child-diplomatist.
MABEL CHILTERN. You might have followed us. Pursuit would have been
only polite. I don't think I like you at all this evening!
LORD GORING. I like you immensely.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, I wish you'd show it in a more marked way!
[They go downstairs.]
MRS. MARCHMONT. Olivia, I have a curious feeling of absolute
faintness. I think I should like some supper very much. I know I
should like some supper.
LADY BASILDON. I am positively dying for supper, Margaret!
MRS. MARCHMONT. Men are so horribly selfish, they never think of
LADY BASILDON. Men are grossly material, grossly material!
[The VICOMTE DE NANJAC enters from the music-room with some other
guests. After having carefully examined all the people present, he
approaches LADY BASILDON.]
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. May I have the honour of taking you down to
LADY BASILDON. [Coldly.] I never take supper, thank you, Vicomte.
[The VICOMTE is about to retire. LADY BASILDON, seeing this, rises
at once and takes his arm.] But I will come down with you with
VICOMTE DE NANJAC. I am so fond of eating! I am very English in all
LADY BASILDON. You look quite English, Vicomte, quite English.
[They pass out. MR. MONTFORD, a perfectly groomed young dandy,
approaches MRS. MARCHMONT.]
MR. MONTFORD. Like some supper, Mrs. Marchmont?
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Languidly.] Thank you, Mr. Montford, I never touch
supper. [Rises hastily and takes his arm.] But I will sit beside
you, and watch you.
MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I like being watched when I am
MRS. MARCHMONT. Then I will watch some one else.
MR. MONTFORD. I don't know that I should like that either.
MRS. MARCHMONT. [Severely.] Pray, Mr. Montford, do not make these
painful scenes of jealousy in public!
[They go downstairs with the other guests, passing SIR ROBERT
CHILTERN and MRS. CHEVELEY, who now enter.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And are you going to any of our country houses
before you leave England, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! I can't stand your English house-parties.
In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is
so dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
And then the family skeleton is always reading family prayers. My
stay in England really depends on you, Sir Robert. [Sits down on the
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking a seat beside her.] Seriously?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Quite seriously. I want to talk to you about a great
political and financial scheme, about this Argentine Canal Company,
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What a tedious, practical subject for you to
talk about, Mrs. Cheveley!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I like tedious, practical subjects. What I don't
like are tedious, practical people. There is a wide difference.
Besides, you are interested, I know, in International Canal schemes.
You were Lord Radley's secretary, weren't you, when the Government
bought the Suez Canal shares?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. But the Suez Canal was a very great and
splendid undertaking. It gave us our direct route to India. It had
imperial value. It was necessary that we should have control. This
Argentine scheme is a commonplace Stock Exchange swindle.
MRS. CHEVELEY. A speculation, Sir Robert! A brilliant, daring
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Believe me, Mrs. Cheveley, it is a swindle.
Let us call things by their proper names. It makes matters simpler.
We have all the information about it at the Foreign Office. In fact,
I sent out a special Commission to inquire into the matter privately,
and they report that the works are hardly begun, and as for the money
already subscribed, no one seems to know what has become of it. The
whole thing is a second Panama, and with not a quarter of the chance
of success that miserable affair ever had. I hope you have not
invested in it. I am sure you are far too clever to have done that.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I have invested very largely in it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who could have advised you to do such a foolish
MRS. CHEVELEY. Your old friend - and mine.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Who?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Baron Arnheim.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Frowning.] Ah! yes. I remember hearing, at
the time of his death, that he had been mixed up in the whole affair.
MRS. CHEVELEY. It was his last romance. His last but one, to do him
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] But you have not seen my Corots yet.
They are in the music-room. Corots seem to go with music, don't
they? May I show them to you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shaking her head.] I am not in a mood to-night for
silver twilights, or rose-pink dawns. I want to talk business.
[Motions to him with her fan to sit down again beside her.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I have no advice to give you, Mrs.
Cheveley, except to interest yourself in something less dangerous.
The success of the Canal depends, of course, on the attitude of
England, and I am going to lay the report of the Commissioners before
the House to-morrow night.
MRS. CHEVELEY. That you must not do. In your own interests, Sir
Robert, to say nothing of mine, you must not do that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking at her in wonder.] In my own
interests? My dear Mrs. Cheveley, what do you mean? [Sits down
MRS. CHEVELEY. Sir Robert, I will be quite frank with you. I want
you to withdraw the report that you had intended to lay before the
House, on the ground that you have reasons to believe that the
Commissioners have been prejudiced or misinformed, or something.
Then I want you to say a few words to the effect that the Government
is going to reconsider the question, and that you have reason to
believe that the Canal, if completed, will be of great international
value. You know the sort of things ministers say in cases of this
kind. A few ordinary platitudes will do. In modern life nothing
produces such an effect as a good platitude. It makes the whole
world kin. Will you do that for me?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley, you cannot be serious in making
me such a proposition!
MRS. CHEVELEY. I am quite serious.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Coldly.] Pray allow me to believe that you
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Speaking with great deliberation and emphasis.] Ah!
but I am. And if you do what I ask you, I . . . will pay you very
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Pay me!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am afraid I don't quite understand what you
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Leaning back on the sofa and looking at him.] How
very disappointing! And I have come all the way from Vienna in order
that you should thoroughly understand me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I fear I don't.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her most nonchalant manner.] My dear Sir Robert,
you are a man of the world, and you have your price, I suppose.
Everybody has nowadays. The drawback is that most people are so
dreadfully expensive. I know I am. I hope you will be more
reasonable in your terms.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rises indignantly.] If you will allow me, I
will call your carriage for you. You have lived so long abroad, Mrs.
Cheveley, that you seem to be unable to realise that you are talking
to an English gentleman.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Detains him by touching his arm with her fan, and
keeping it there while she is talking.] I realise that I am talking
to a man who laid the foundation of his fortune by selling to a Stock
Exchange speculator a Cabinet secret.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] What do you mean?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Rising and facing him.] I mean that I know the real
origin of your wealth and your career, and I have got your letter,
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What letter?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Contemptuously.] The letter you wrote to Baron
Arnheim, when you were Lord Radley's secretary, telling the Baron to
buy Suez Canal shares - a letter written three days before the
Government announced its own purchase.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Hoarsely.] It is not true.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You thought that letter had been destroyed. How
foolish of you! It is in my possession.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. The affair to which you allude was no more than
a speculation. The House of Commons had not yet passed the bill; it
might have been rejected.
MRS. CHEVELEY. It was a swindle, Sir Robert. Let us call things by
their proper names. It makes everything simpler. And now I am going
to sell you that letter, and the price I ask for it is your public
support of the Argentine scheme. You made your own fortune out of
one canal. You must help me and my friends to make our fortunes out
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is infamous, what you propose - infamous!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! This is the game of life as we all have to
play it, Sir Robert, sooner or later!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot do what you ask me.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You mean you cannot help doing it. You know you are
standing on the edge of a precipice. And it is not for you to make
terms. It is for you to accept them. Supposing you refuse -
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What then?
MRS. CHEVELEY. My dear Sir Robert, what then? You are ruined, that
is all! Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has
brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than
his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was
considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our
modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of
purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues -
and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins - one after
the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody
disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to
a man - now they crush him. And yours is a very nasty scandal. You
couldn't survive it. If it were known that as a young man, secretary
to a great and important minister, you sold a Cabinet secret for a
large sum of money, and that that was the origin of your wealth and
career, you would be hounded out of public life, you would disappear
completely. And after all, Sir Robert, why should you sacrifice your
entire future rather than deal diplomatically with your enemy? For
the moment I am your enemy. I admit it! And I am much stronger than
you are. The big battalions are on my side. You have a splendid
position, but it is your splendid position that makes you so
vulnerable. You can't defend it! And I am in attack. Of course I
have not talked morality to you. You must admit in fairness that I
have spared you that. Years ago you did a clever, unscrupulous
thing; it turned out a great success. You owe to it your fortune and
position. And now you have got to pay for it. Sooner or later we
have all to pay for what we do. You have to pay now. Before I leave
you to-night, you have got to promise me to suppress your report, and
to speak in the House in favour of this scheme.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What you ask is impossible.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You must make it possible. You are going to make it
possible. Sir Robert, you know what your English newspapers are
like. Suppose that when I leave this house I drive down to some
newspaper office, and give them this scandal and the proofs of it!
Think of their loathsome joy, of the delight they would have in
dragging you down, of the mud and mire they would plunge you in.
Think of the hypocrite with his greasy smile penning his leading
article, and arranging the foulness of the public placard.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Stop! You want me to withdraw the report and
to make a short speech stating that I believe there are possibilities
in the scheme?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Sitting down on the sofa.] Those are my terms.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [In a low voice.] I will give you any sum of
money you want.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back
your past. No man is.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will not do what you ask me. I will not.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You have to. If you don't . . . [Rises from the
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bewildered and unnerved.] Wait a moment!
What did you propose? You said that you would give me back my
letter, didn't you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. That is agreed. I will be in the Ladies'
Gallery to-morrow night at half-past eleven. If by that time - and
you will have had heaps of opportunity - you have made an
announcement to the House in the terms I wish, I shall hand you back
your letter with the prettiest thanks, and the best, or at any rate
the most suitable, compliment I can think of. I intend to play quite
fairly with you. One should always play fairly . . . when one has
the winning cards. The Baron taught me that . . . amongst other
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You must let me have time to consider your
MRS. CHEVELEY. No; you must settle now!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Give me a week - three days!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Impossible! I have got to telegraph to Vienna to-
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My God! what brought you into my life?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Circumstances. [Moves towards the door.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Don't go. I consent. The report shall be
withdrawn. I will arrange for a question to be put to me on the
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. I knew we should come to an amicable
agreement. I understood your nature from the first. I analysed you,
though you did not adore me. And now you can get my carriage for me,
Sir Robert. I see the people coming up from supper, and Englishmen
always get romantic after a meal, and that bores me dreadfully.
[Exit SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
[Enter Guests, LADY CHILTERN, LADY MARKBY, LORD CAVERSHAM, LADY
BASILDON, MRS. MARCHMONT, VICOMTE DE NANJAC, MR. MONTFORD.]
LADY MARKBY. Well, dear Mrs. Cheveley, I hope you have enjoyed
yourself. Sir Robert is very entertaining, is he not?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Most entertaining! I have enjoyed my talk with him
LADY MARKBY. He has had a very interesting and brilliant career.
And he has married a most admirable wife. Lady Chiltern is a woman
of the very highest principles, I am glad to say. I am a little too
old now, myself, to trouble about setting a good example, but I
always admire people who do. And Lady Chiltern has a very ennobling
effect on life, though her dinner-parties are rather dull sometimes.
But one can't have everything, can one? And now I must go, dear.
Shall I call for you to-morrow?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks.
LADY MARKBY. We might drive in the Park at five. Everything looks
so fresh in the Park now!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Except the people!
LADY MARKBY. Perhaps the people are a little jaded. I have often
observed that the Season as it goes on produces a kind of softening
of the brain. However, I think anything is better than high
intellectual pressure. That is the most unbecoming thing there is.
It makes the noses of the young girls so particularly large. And
there is nothing so difficult to marry as a large nose; men don't
like them. Good-night, dear! [To LADY CHILTERN.] Good-night,
Gertrude! [Goes out on LORD CAVERSHAM'S arm.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. What a charming house you have, Lady Chiltern! I
have spent a delightful evening. It has been so interesting getting
to know your husband.
LADY CHILTERN. Why did you wish to meet my husband, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I will tell you. I wanted to interest him in
this Argentine Canal scheme, of which I dare say you have heard. And
I found him most susceptible, - susceptible to reason, I mean. A
rare thing in a man. I converted him in ten minutes. He is going to
make a speech in the House to-morrow night in favour of the idea. We
must go to the Ladies' Gallery and hear him! It will be a great
LADY CHILTERN. There must be some mistake. That scheme could never
have my husband's support.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, I assure you it's all settled. I don't regret my
tedious journey from Vienna now. It has been a great success. But,
of course, for the next twenty-four hours the whole thing is a dead
LADY CHILTERN. [Gently.] A secret? Between whom?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a flash of amusement in her eyes.] Between
your husband and myself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Entering.] Your carriage is here, Mm
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks! Good evening, Lady Chiltern! Good-night,
Lord Goring! I am at Claridge's. Don't you think you might leave a
LORD GORING. If you wish it, Mrs. Cheveley!
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, don't be so solemn about it, or I shall be
obliged to leave a card on you. In England I suppose that would
hardly be considered EN REGLE. Abroad, we are more civilised. Will
you see me down, Sir Robert? Now that we have both the same
interests at heart we shall be great friends, I hope!
[Sails out on SIR ROBERT CHILTERN'S arm. LADY CHILTERN goes to the
top of the staircase and looks down at them as they descend. Her
expression is troubled. After a little time she is joined by some of
the guests, and passes with them into another reception-room.]
MABEL CHILTERN. What a horrid woman!
LORD GORING. You should go to bed, Miss Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I don't
see why I shouldn't give you the same advice. I always pass on good
advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, you are always ordering me out of the
room. I think it most courageous of you. Especially as I am not
going to bed for hours. [Goes over to the sofa.] You can come and
sit down if you like, and talk about anything in the world, except
the Royal Academy, Mrs. Cheveley, or novels in Scotch dialect. They
are not improving subjects. [Catches sight of something that is
lying on the sofa half hidden by the cushion.] What is this? Some
one has dropped a diamond brooch! Quite beautiful, isn't it? [Shows
it to him.] I wish it was mine, but Gertrude won't let me wear
anything but pearls, and I am thoroughly sick of pearls. They make
one look so plain, so good and so intellectual. I wonder whom the
brooch belongs to.
LORD GORING. I wonder who dropped it.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is a beautiful brooch.
LORD GORING. It is a handsome bracelet.
MABEL CHILTERN. It isn't a bracelet. It's a brooch.
LORD GORING. It can be used as a bracelet. [Takes it from her, and,
pulling out a green letter-case, puts the ornament carefully in it,
and replaces the whole thing in his breast-pocket with the most
perfect sang froid.]
MABEL CHILTERN. What are you doing?
LORD GORING. Miss Mabel, I am going to make a rather strange request
MABEL CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh, pray do! I have been waiting for it
all the evening.
LORD GORING. [Is a little taken aback, but recovers himself.] Don't
mention to anybody that I have taken charge of this brooch. Should
any one write and claim it, let me know at once.
MABEL CHILTERN. That is a strange request.
LORD GORING. Well, you see I gave this brooch to somebody once,
MABEL CHILTERN. You did?
LORD GORING. Yes.
[LADY CHILTERN enters alone. The other guests have gone.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Then I shall certainly bid you good-night. Good-
night, Gertrude! [Exit.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good-night, dear! [To LORD GORING.] You saw whom
Lady Markby brought here to-night?
LORD GORING. Yes. It was an unpleasant surprise. What did she come
LADY CHILTERN. Apparently to try and lure Robert to uphold some
fraudulent scheme in which she is interested. The Argentine Canal,
LORD GORING. She has mistaken her man, hasn't she?
LADY CHILTERN. She is incapable of understanding an upright nature
like my husband's!
LORD GORING. Yes. I should fancy she came to grief if she tried to
get Robert into her toils. It is extraordinary what astounding
mistakes clever women make.
LADY CHILTERN. I don't call women of that kind clever. I call them
LORD GORING. Same thing often. Good-night, Lady Chiltern!
LADY CHILTERN. Good-night!
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My dear Arthur, you are not going? Do stop a
LORD GORING. Afraid I can't, thanks. I have promised to look in at
the Hartlocks'. I believe they have got a mauve Hungarian band that
plays mauve Hungarian music. See you soon. Good-bye!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. How beautiful you look to-night, Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it is not true, is it? You are not going to
lend your support to this Argentine speculation? You couldn't!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Starting.] Who told you I intended to do so?
LADY CHILTERN. That woman who has just gone out, Mrs. Cheveley, as
she calls herself now. She seemed to taunt me with it. Robert, I
know this woman. You don't. We were at school together. She was
untruthful, dishonest, an evil influence on every one whose trust or
friendship she could win. I hated, I despised her. She stole
things, she was a thief. She was sent away for being a thief. Why
do you let her influence you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, what you tell me may be true, but it
happened many years ago. It is best forgotten! Mrs. Cheveley may
have changed since then. No one should be entirely judged by their
LADY CHILTERN. [Sadly.] One's past is what one is. It is the only
way by which people should be judged.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That is a hard saying, Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. It is a true saying, Robert. And what did she mean
by boasting that she had got you to lend your support, your name, to
a thing I have heard you describe as the most dishonest and
fraudulent scheme there has ever been in political life?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Biting his lip.] I was mistaken in the view I
took. We all may make mistakes.
LADY CHILTERN. But you told me yesterday that you had received the
report from the Commission, and that it entirely condemned the whole
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Walking up and down.] I have reasons now to
believe that the Commission was prejudiced, or, at any rate,
misinformed. Besides, Gertrude, public and private life are
different things. They have different laws, and move on different
LADY CHILTERN. They should both represent man at his highest. I see
no difference between them.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Stopping.] In the present case, on a matter
of practical politics, I have changed my mind. That is all.
LADY CHILTERN. All!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sternly.] Yes!
LADY CHILTERN. Robert! Oh! it is horrible that I should have to ask
you such a question - Robert, are you telling me the whole truth?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why do you ask me such a question?
LADY CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Why do you not answer it?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sitting down.] Gertrude, truth is a very
complex thing, and politics is a very complex business. There are
wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to people
that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to
compromise. Every one does.
LADY CHILTERN. Compromise? Robert, why do you talk so differently
to-night from the way I have always heard you talk? Why are you
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am not changed. But circumstances alter
LADY CHILTERN. Circumstances should never alter principles!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But if I told you -
LADY CHILTERN. What?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That it was necessary, vitally necessary?
LADY CHILTERN. It can never be necessary to do what is not
honourable. Or if it be necessary, then what is it that I have
loved! But it is not, Robert; tell me it is not. Why should it be?
What gain would you get ? Money? We have no need of that! And
money that comes from a tainted source is a degradation. Power? But
power is nothing in itself. It is power to do good that is fine -
that, and that only. What is it, then? Robert, tell me why you are
going to do this dishonourable thing!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, you have no right to use that word.
I told you it was a question of rational compromise. It is no more
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, that is all very well for other men, for men
who treat life simply as a sordid speculation; but not for you,
Robert, not for you. You are different. All your life you have
stood apart from others. You have never let the world soil you. To
the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that
ideal still. That great inheritance throw not away - that tower of
ivory do not destroy. Robert, men can love what is beneath them -
things unworthy, stained, dishonoured. We women worship when we
love; and when we lose our worship, we lose everything. Oh! don't
kill my love for you, don't kill that!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. I know that there are men with horrible secrets in
their lives - men who have done some shameful thing, and who in some
critical moment have to pay for it, by doing some other act of shame
- oh! don't tell me you are such as they are! Robert, is there in
your life any secret dishonour or disgrace? Tell me, tell me at
once, that -
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That what?
LADY CHILTERN. [Speaking very slowly.] That our lives may drift
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Drift apart?
LADY CHILTERN. That they may be entirely separate. It would be
better for us both.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, there is nothing in my past life that
you might not know.
LADY CHILTERN. I was sure of it, Robert, I was sure of it. But why
did you say those dreadful things, things so unlike your real self?
Don't let us ever talk about the subject again. You will write,
won't you, to Mrs. Cheveley, and tell her that you cannot support
this scandalous scheme of hers? If you have given her any promise
you must take it back, that is all!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Must I write and tell her that?
LADY CHILTERN. Surely, Robert! What else is there to do?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I might see her personally. It would be
LADY CHILTERN. You must never see her again, Robert. She is not a
woman you should ever speak to. She is not worthy to talk to a man
like you. No; you must write to her at once, now, this moment, and
let your letter show her that your decision is quite irrevocable!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Write this moment!
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But it is so late. It is close on twelve.
LADY CHILTERN. That makes no matter. She must know at once that she
has been mistaken in you - and that you are not a man to do anything
base or underhand or dishonourable. Write here, Robert. Write that
you decline to support this scheme of hers, as you hold it to be a
dishonest scheme. Yes - write the word dishonest. She knows what
that word means. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN sits down and writes a letter.
His wife takes it up and reads it.] Yes; that will do. [Rings
bell.] And now the envelope. [He writes the envelope slowly. Enter
MASON.] Have this letter sent at once to Claridge's Hotel. There is
no answer. [Exit MASON. LADY CHILTERN kneels down beside her
husband, and puts her arms around him.] Robert, love gives one an
instinct to things. I feel to-night that I have saved you from
something that might have been a danger to you, from something that
might have made men honour you less than they do. I don't think you
realise sufficiently, Robert, that you have brought into the
political life of our time a nobler atmosphere, a finer attitude
towards life, a freer air of purer aims and higher ideals - I know
it, and for that I love you, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, love me always, Gertrude, love me always!
LADY CHILTERN. I will love you always, because you will always be
worthy of love. We needs must love the highest when we see it!
[Kisses him and rises and goes out.]
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down for a moment; then sits down
and buries his face in his hands. The Servant enters and begins
pulling out the lights. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN looks up.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Put out the lights, Mason, put out the lights!
[The Servant puts out the lights. The room becomes almost dark. The
only light there is comes from the great chandelier that hangs over
the staircase and illumines the tapestry of the Triumph of Love.]
Morning-room at Sir Robert Chiltern's house.
[LORD GORING, dressed in the height of fashion, is lounging in an
armchair. SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is standing in front of the fireplace.
He is evidently in a state of great mental excitement and distress.
As the scene progresses he paces nervously up and down the room.]
LORD GORING. My dear Robert, it's a very awkward business, very
awkward indeed. You should have told your wife the whole thing.
Secrets from other people's wives are a necessary luxury in modern
life. So, at least, I am always told at the club by people who are
bald enough to know better. But no man should have a secret from his
own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful
instinct about things. They can discover everything except the
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, I couldn't tell my wife. When could I
have told her? Not last night. It would have made a life-long
separation between us, and I would have lost the love of the one
woman in the world I worship, of the only woman who has ever stirred
love within me. Last night it would have been quite impossible. She
would have turned from me in horror . . . in horror and in contempt.
LORD GORING. Is Lady Chiltern as perfect as all that?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; my wife is as perfect as all that.
LORD GORING. [Taking off his left-hand glove.] What a pity! I beg
your pardon, my dear fellow, I didn't quite mean that. But if what
you tell me is true, I should like to have a serious talk about life
with Lady Chiltern.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would be quite useless.
LORD GORING. May I try?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes; but nothing could make her alter her
LORD GORING. Well, at the worst it would simply be a psychological
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. All such experiments are terribly dangerous.
LORD GORING. Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn't
so, life wouldn't be worth living. . . . Well, I am bound to say that
I think you should have told her years ago.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When? When we were engaged? Do you think she
would have married me if she had known that the origin of my fortune
is such as it is, the basis of my career such as it is, and that I
had done a thing that I suppose most men would call shameful and
LORD GORING. [Slowly.] Yes; most men would call it ugly names.
There is no doubt of that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Bitterly.] Men who every day do something of
the same kind themselves. Men who, each one of them, have worse
secrets in their own lives.
LORD GORING. That is the reason they are so pleased to find out
other people's secrets. It distracts public attention from their
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And, after all, whom did I wrong by what I did?
LORD GORING. [Looking at him steadily.] Except yourself, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Of course I had private
information about a certain transaction contemplated by the
Government of the day, and I acted on it. Private information is
practically the source of every large modern fortune.
LORD GORING. [Tapping his boot with his cane.] And public scandal
invariably the result.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Pacing up and down the room.] Arthur, do you
think that what I did nearly eighteen years ago should be brought up
against me now? Do you think it fair that a man's whole career
should be ruined for a fault done in one's boyhood almost? I was
twenty-two at the time, and I had the double misfortune of being
well-born and poor, two unforgiveable things nowadays. Is it fair
that the folly, the sin of one's youth, if men choose to call it a
sin, should wreck a life like mine, should place me in the pillory,
should shatter all that I have worked for, all that I have built up.
Is it fair, Arthur?
LORD GORING. Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good
thing for most of us that it is not.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Every man of ambition has to fight his century
with its own weapons. What this century worships is wealth. The God
of this century is wealth. To succeed one must have wealth. At all
costs one must have wealth.
LORD GORING. You underrate yourself, Robert. Believe me, without
wealth you could have succeeded just as well.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was old, perhaps. When I had lost my
passion for power, or could not use it. When I was tired, worn out,
disappointed. I wanted my success when I was young. Youth is the
time for success. I couldn't wait.
LORD GORING. Well, you certainly have had your success while you are
still young. No one in our day has had such a brilliant success.
Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the age of forty - that's good
enough for any one, I should think.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And if it is all taken away from me now? If I
lose everything over a horrible scandal? If I am hounded from public
LORD GORING. Robert, how could you have sold yourself for money?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Excitedly.] I did not sell myself for money.
I bought success at a great price. That is all.
LORD GORING. [Gravely.] Yes; you certainly paid a great price for
it. But what first made you think of doing such a thing?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Baron Arnheim.
LORD GORING. Damned scoundrel!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; he was a man of a most subtle and refined
intellect. A man of culture, charm, and distinction. One of the
most intellectual men I ever met.
LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more
to be said for stupidity than people imagine. Personally I have a
great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow-feeling, I
suppose. But how did he do it? Tell me the whole thing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Throws himself into an armchair by the
writing-table.] One night after dinner at Lord Radley's the Baron
began talking about success in modern life as something that one
could reduce to an absolutely definite science. With that
wonderfully fascinating quiet voice of his he expounded to us the
most terrible of all philosophies, the philosophy of power, preached
to us the most marvellous of all gospels, the gospel of gold. I
think he saw the effect he had produced on me, for some days
afterwards he wrote and asked me to come and see him. He was living
then in Park Lane, in the house Lord Woolcomb has now. I remember so
well how, with a strange smile on his pale, curved lips, he led me
through his wonderful picture gallery, showed me his tapestries, his
enamels, his jewels, his carved ivories, made me wonder at the
strange loveliness of the luxury in which he lived; and then told me
that luxury was nothing but a background, a painted scene in a play,
and that power, power over other men, power over the world, was the
one thing worth having, the one supreme pleasure worth knowing, the
one joy one never tired of, and that in our century only the rich
LORD GORING. [With great deliberation.] A thoroughly shallow creed.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rising.] I didn't think so then. I don't
think so now. Wealth has given me enormous power. It gave me at the
very outset of my life freedom, and freedom is everything. You have
never been poor, and never known what ambition is. You cannot
understand what a wonderful chance the Baron gave me. Such a chance
as few men get.
LORD GORING. Fortunately for them, if one is to judge by results.
But tell me definitely, how did the Baron finally persuade you to -
well, to do what you did?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. When I was going away he said to me that if I
ever could give him any private information of real value he would
make me a very rich man. I was dazed at the prospect he held out to
me, and my ambition and my desire for power were at that time
boundless. Six weeks later certain private documents passed through
LORD GORING. [Keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the carpet.] State
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes. [LORD GORING sighs, then passes his hand
across his forehead and looks up.]
LORD GORING. I had no idea that you, of all men in the world, could
have been so weak, Robert, as to yield to such a temptation as Baron
Arnheim held out to you.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Weak? Oh, I am sick of hearing that phrase.
Sick of using it about others. Weak? Do you really think, Arthur,
that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there
are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and
courage, to yield to. To stake all one's life on a single moment, to
risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure,
I care not - there is no weakness in that. There is a horrible, a
terrible courage. I had that courage. I sat down the same afternoon
and wrote Baron Arnheim the letter this woman now holds. He made
three-quarters of a million over the transaction
LORD GORING. And you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I received from the Baron 110,000 pounds.
LORD GORING. You were worth more, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; that money gave me exactly what I wanted,
power over others. I went into the House immediately. The Baron
advised me in finance from time to time. Before five years I had
almost trebled my fortune. Since then everything that I have touched
has turned out a success. In all things connected with money I have
had a luck so extraordinary that sometimes it has made me almost
afraid. I remember having read somewhere, in some strange book, that
when the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.
LORD GORING. But tell me, Robert, did you never suffer any regret
for what you had done?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No. I felt that I had fought the century with
its own weapons, and won.
LORD GORING. [Sadly.] You thought you had won.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I thought so. [After a long pause.] Arthur,
do you despise me for what I have told you?
LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] I am very sorry for
you, Robert, very sorry indeed.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I don't say that I suffered any remorse. I
didn't. Not remorse in the ordinary, rather silly sense of the word.
But I have paid conscience money many times. I had a wild hope that
I might disarm destiny. The sum Baron Arnheim gave me I have
distributed twice over in public charities since then.
LORD GORING. [Looking up.] In public charities? Dear me! what a
lot of harm you must have done, Robert!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh, don't say that, Arthur; don't talk like
LORD GORING. Never mind what I say, Robert! I am always saying what
I shouldn't say. In fact, I usually say what I really think. A
great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.
As regards this dreadful business, I will help you in whatever way I
can. Of course you know that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you, Arthur, thank you. But what is to
be done? What can be done?
LORD GORING. [Leaning back with his hands in his pockets.] Well,
the English can't stand a man who is always saying he is in the
right, but they are very fond of a man who admits that he has been in
the wrong. It is one of the best things in them. However, in your
case, Robert, a confession would not do. The money, if you will
allow me to say so, is . . . awkward. Besides, if you did make a
clean breast of the whole affair, you would never be able to talk
morality again. And in England a man who can't talk morality twice a
week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious
politician. There would be nothing left for him as a profession
except Botany or the Church. A confession would be of no use. It
would ruin you.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It would ruin me. Arthur, the only thing for
me to do now is to fight the thing out.
LORD GORING. [Rising from his chair.] I was waiting for you to say
that, Robert. It is the only thing to do now. And you must begin by
telling your wife the whole story.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. That I will not do.
LORD GORING. Robert, believe me, you are wrong.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I couldn't do it. It would kill her love for
me. And now about this woman, this Mrs. Cheveley. How can I defend
myself against her? You knew her before, Arthur, apparently.
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Did you know her well?
LORD GORING. [Arranging his necktie.] So little that I got engaged
to be married to her once, when I was staying at the Tenbys'. The
affair lasted for three days . . . nearly.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Why was it broken off?
LORD GORING. [Airily.] Oh, I forget. At least, it makes no matter.
By the way, have you tried her with money? She used to be
confoundedly fond of money.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I offered her any sum she wanted. She refused.
LORD GORING. Then the marvellous gospel of gold breaks down
sometimes. The rich can't do everything, after all.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not everything. I suppose you are right.
Arthur, I feel that public disgrace is in store for me. I feel
certain of it. I never knew what terror was before. I know it now.
It is as if a hand of ice were laid upon one's heart. It is as if
one's heart were beating itself to death in some empty hollow.
LORD GORING. [Striking the table.] Robert, you must fight her. You
must fight her.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. But how?
LORD GORING. I can't tell you how at present. I have not the
smallest idea. But every one has some weak point. There is some
flaw in each one of us. [Strolls to the fireplace and looks at
himself in the glass.] My father tells me that even I have faults.
Perhaps I have. I don't know.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. In defending myself against Mrs. Cheveley, I
have a right to use any weapon I can find, have I not?
LORD GORING. [Still looking in the glass.] In your place I don't
think I should have the smallest scruple in doing so. She is
thoroughly well able to take care of herself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sits down at the table and takes a pen in his
hand.] Well, I shall send a cipher telegram to the Embassy at
Vienna, to inquire if there is anything known against her. There may
be some secret scandal she might be afraid of.
LORD GORING. [Settling his buttonhole.] Oh, I should fancy Mrs.
Cheveley is one of those very modern women of our time who find a new
scandal as becoming as a new bonnet, and air them both in the Park
every afternoon at five-thirty. I am sure she adores scandals, and
that the sorrow of her life at present is that she can't manage to
have enough of them.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Writing.] Why do you say that?
LORD GORING. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge
last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of
despair in a woman.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Striking a bell.] But it is worth while my
wiring to Vienna, is it not?
LORD GORING. It is always worth while asking a question, though it
is not always worth while answering one.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Is Mr. Trafford in his room?
MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Puts what he has written into an envelope,
which he then carefully closes.] Tell him to have this sent off in
cipher at once. There must not be a moment's delay.
MASON. Yes, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! just give that back to me again.
[Writes something on the envelope. MASON then goes out with the
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She must have had some curious hold over Baron
Arnheim. I wonder what it was.
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I wonder.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I will fight her to the death, as long as my
wife knows nothing.
LORD GORING. [Strongly.] Oh, fight in any case - in any case.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] If my wife found
out, there would be little left to fight for. Well, as soon as I
hear from Vienna, I shall let you know the result. It is a chance,
just a chance, but I believe in it. And as I fought the age with its
own weapons, I will fight her with her weapons. It is only fair, and
she looks like a woman with a past, doesn't she?
LORD GORING. Most pretty women do. But there is a fashion in pasts
just as there is a fashion in frocks. Perhaps Mrs. Cheveley's past
is merely a slightly DECOLLETE one, and they are excessively popular
nowadays. Besides, my dear Robert, I should not build too high hopes
on frightening Mrs. Cheveley. I should not fancy Mrs. Cheveley is a
woman who would be easily frightened. She has survived all her
creditors, and she shows wonderful presence of mind.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! I live on hopes now. I clutch at every
chance. I feel like a man on a ship that is sinking. The water is
round my feet, and the very air is bitter with storm. Hush! I hear
my wife's voice.
[Enter LADY CHILTERN in walking dress.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good afternoon, Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. Good afternoon, Lady Chiltern! Have you been in the
LADY CHILTERN. No; I have just come from the Woman's Liberal
Association, where, by the way, Robert, your name was received with
loud applause, and now I have come in to have my tea. [To LORD
GORING.] You will wait and have some tea, won't you?
LORD GORING. I'll wait for a short time, thanks.
LADY CHILTERN. I will be back in a moment. I am only going to take
my hat off.
LORD GORING. [In his most earnest manner.] Oh! please don't. It is
so pretty. One of the prettiest hats I ever saw. I hope the Woman's
Liberal Association received it with loud applause.
LADY CHILTERN. [With a smile.] We have much more important work to
do than look at each other's bonnets, Lord Goring.
LORD GORING. Really? What sort of work?
LADY CHILTERN. Oh! dull, useful, delightful things, Factory Acts,
Female Inspectors, the Eight Hours' Bill, the Parliamentary
Franchise. . . . Everything, in fact, that you would find thoroughly
LORD GORING. And never bonnets?
LADY CHILTERN. [With mock indignation.] Never bonnets, never!
[LADY CHILTERN goes out through the door leading to her boudoir.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes LORD GORING'S hand.] You have been a
good friend to me, Arthur, a thoroughly good friend.
LORD GORING. I don't know that I have been able to do much for you,
Robert, as yet. In fact, I have not been able to do anything for
you, as far as I can see. I am thoroughly disappointed with myself.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You have enabled me to tell you the truth.
That is something. The truth has always stifled me.
LORD GORING. Ah! the truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as
possible! Bad habit, by the way. Makes one very unpopular at the
club . . . with the older members. They call it being conceited.
Perhaps it is.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I would to God that I had been able to tell the
truth . . . to live the truth. Ah! that is the great thing in life,
to live the truth. [Sighs, and goes towards the door.] I'll see you
soon again, Arthur, shan't I?
LORD GORING. Certainly. Whenever you like. I'm going to look in at
the Bachelors' Ball to-night, unless I find something better to do.
But I'll come round to-morrow morning. If you should want me to-
night by any chance, send round a note to Curzon Street.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you.
[As he reaches the door, LADY CHILTERN enters from her boudoir.]
LADY CHILTERN. You are not going, Robert?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I have some letters to write, dear.
LADY CHILTERN. [Going to him.] You work too hard, Robert. You seem
never to think of yourself, and you are looking so tired.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is nothing, dear, nothing.
[He kisses her and goes out.]
LADY CHILTERN. [To LORD GORING.] Do sit down. I am so glad you
have called. I want to talk to you about . . . well, not about
bonnets, or the Woman's Liberal Association. You take far too much
interest in the first subject, and not nearly enough in the second.
LORD GORING. You want to talk to me about Mrs. Cheveley?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes. You have guessed it. After you left last night
I found out that what she had said was really true. Of course I made
Robert write her a letter at once, withdrawing his promise.
LORD GORING. So he gave me to understand.
LADY CHILTERN. To have kept it would have been the first stain on a
career that has been stainless always. Robert must be above
reproach. He is not like other men. He cannot afford to do what
other men do. [She looks at LORD GORING, who remains silent.] Don't
you agree with me? You are Robert's greatest friend. You are our
greatest friend, Lord Goring. No one, except myself, knows Robert
better than you do. He has no secrets from me, and I don't think he
has any from you.
LORD GORING. He certainly has no secrets from me. At least I don't
LADY CHILTERN. Then am I not right in my estimate of him? I know I
am right. But speak to me frankly.
LORD GORING. [Looking straight at her.] Quite frankly?
LADY CHILTERN. Surely. You have nothing to conceal, have you?
LORD GORING. Nothing. But, my dear Lady Chiltern, I think, if you
will allow me to say so, that in practical life -
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] Of which you know so little, Lord Goring
LORD GORING. Of which I know nothing by experience, though I know
something by observation. I think that in practical life there is
something about success, actual success, that is a little
unscrupulous, something about ambition that is unscrupulous always.
Once a man has set his heart and soul on getting to a certain point,
if he has to climb the crag, he climbs the crag; if he has to walk in
the mire -
LADY CHILTERN. Well?
LORD GORING. He walks in the mire. Of course I am only talking
generally about life.
LADY CHILTERN. [Gravely.] I hope so. Why do you look at me so
strangely, Lord Goring?
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have sometimes thought that . . .
perhaps you are a little hard in some of your views on life. I think
that . . . often you don't make sufficient allowances. In every
nature there are elements of weakness, or worse than weakness.
Supposing, for instance, that - that any public man, my father, or
Lord Merton, or Robert, say, had, years ago, written some foolish
letter to some one . . .
LADY CHILTERN. What do you mean by a foolish letter?
LORD GORING. A letter gravely compromising one's position. I am
only putting an imaginary case.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert is as incapable of doing a foolish thing as he
is of doing a wrong thing.
LORD GORING. [After a long pause.] Nobody is incapable of doing a
foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.
LADY CHILTERN. Are you a Pessimist? What will the other dandies
say? They will all have to go into mourning.
LORD GORING. [Rising.] No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist.
Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means.
All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity,
cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German
philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may
be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady
Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I
can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you
shall have it. Come at once to me.
LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him in surprise.] Lord Goring, you are
talking quite seriously. I don't think I ever heard you talk
LORD GORING. [Laughing.] You must excuse me, Lady Chiltern. It
won't occur again, if I can help it.
LADY CHILTERN. But I like you to be serious.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN, in the most ravishing frock.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Dear Gertrude, don't say such a dreadful thing to
Lord Goring. Seriousness would be very unbecoming to him. Good
afternoon Lord Goring! Pray be as trivial as you can.
LORD GORING. I should like to, Miss Mabel, but I am afraid I am . .
. a little out of practice this morning; and besides, I have to be
MABEL CHILTERN. Just when I have come in! What dreadful manners you
have! I am sure you were very badly brought up.
LORD GORING. I was.
MABEL CHILTERN. I wish I had brought you up!
LORD GORING. I am so sorry you didn't.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is too late now, I suppose
LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I am not so sure.
MABEL CHILTERN. Will you ride to-morrow morning?
LORD GORING. Yes, at ten.
MABEL CHILTERN. Don't forget
LORD GORING. Of course I shan't. By the way, Lady Chiltern, there
is no list of your guests in THE MORNING POST of to-day. It has
apparently been crowded out by the County Council, or the Lambeth
Conference, or something equally boring. Could you let me have a
list? I have a particular reason for asking you.
LADY CHILTERN. I am sure Mr. Trafford will be able to give you one.
LORD GORING. Thanks, so much.
MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy is the most useful person in London.
LORD GORING [Turning to her.] And who is the most ornamental?
MABEL CHILTERN [Triumphantly.] I am.
LORD GORING. How clever of you to guess it! [Takes up his hat and
cane.] Good-bye, Lady Chiltern! You will remember what I said to
you, won't you?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; but I don't know why you said it to me.
LORD GORING. I hardly know myself. Good-bye, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN [With a little moue of disappointment.] I wish you
were not going. I have had four wonderful adventures this morning;
four and a half, in fact. You might stop and listen to some of them.
LORD GORING. How very selfish of you to have four and a half! There
won't be any left for me.
MABEL CHILTERN. I don't want you to have any. They would not be
good for you.
LORD GORING. That is the first unkind thing you have ever said to
me. How charmingly you said it! Ten to-morrow.
MABEL CHILTERN. Sharp.
LORD GORING. Quite sharp. But don't bring Mr. Trafford.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a little toss of the head.] Of course I
shan't bring Tommy Trafford. Tommy Trafford is in great disgrace.
LORD GORING. I am delighted to hear it. [Bows and goes out.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Gertrude, I wish you would speak to Tommy Trafford.
LADY CHILTERN. What has poor Mr. Trafford done this time? Robert
says he is the best secretary he has ever had.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really
does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the
music-room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate
trio going on. I didn't dare to make the smallest repartee, I need
hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once.
Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to
be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be
absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this
morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the
things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling.
The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his
eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check
him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I
don't know what bimetallism means. And I don't believe anybody else
does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He
looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he
proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind
so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does
it in a horrid confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic he
talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his
methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you
would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often
enough to propose to any one, and that it should always be done in a
manner that attracts some attention.
LADY CHILTERN. Dear Mabel, don't talk like that. Besides, Robert
thinks very highly of Mr. Trafford. He believes he has a brilliant
future before him.
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I wouldn't marry a man with a future before him
for anything under the sun.
LADY CHILTERN. Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. I know, dear. You married a man with a future,
didn't you? But then Robert was a genius, and you have a noble,
self-sacrificing character. You can stand geniuses. I have no,
character at all, and Robert is the only genius I could ever bear.
As a rule, I think they are quite impossible. Geniuses talk so much,
don't they? Such a bad habit! And they are always thinking about
themselves, when I want them to be thinking about me. I must go
round now and rehearse at Lady Basildon's. You remember, we are
having tableaux, don't you? The Triumph of something, I don't know
what! I hope it will be triumph of me. Only triumph I am really
interested in at present. [Kisses LADY CHILTERN and goes out; then
comes running back.] Oh, Gertrude, do you know who is coming to see
you? That dreadful Mrs. Cheveley, in a most lovely gown. Did you
LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Mrs. Cheveley! Coming to see me?
MABEL CHILTERN. I assure you she is coming upstairs, as large as
life and not nearly so natural.
LADY CHILTERN. You need not wait, Mabel. Remember, Lady Basildon is
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I must shake hands with Lady Markby. She is
delightful. I love being scolded by her.
MASON. Lady Markby. Mrs. Cheveley.
[Enter LADY MARKBY and MRS. CHEVELEY.]
LADY CHILTERN. [Advancing to meet them.] Dear Lady Markby, how nice
of you to come and see me! [Shakes hands with her, and bows somewhat
distantly to MRS. CHEVELEY.] Won't you sit down, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. Isn't that Miss Chiltern? I should like so
much to know her.
LADY CHILTERN. Mabel, Mrs. Cheveley wishes to know you.
[MABEL CHILTERN gives a little nod.]
MRS. CHEVELEY [Sitting down.] I thought your frock so charming last
night, Miss Chiltern. So simple and . . . suitable.
MABEL CHILTERN. Really? I must tell my dressmaker. It will be such
a surprise to her. Good-bye, Lady Markby!
LADY MARKBY. Going already?
MABEL CHILTERN. I am so sorry but I am obliged to. I am just off to
rehearsal. I have got to stand on my head in some tableaux.
LADY MARKBY. On your head, child? Oh! I hope not. I believe it is
most unhealthy. [Takes a seat on the sofa next LADY CHILTERN.]
MABEL CHILTERN. But it is for an excellent charity: in aid of the
Undeserving, the only people I am really interested in. I am the
secretary, and Tommy Trafford is treasurer.
MRS. CHEVELEY. And what is Lord Goring?
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! Lord Goring is president.
MRS. CHEVELEY. The post should suit him admirably, unless he has
deteriorated since I knew him first.
LADY MARKBY. [Reflecting.] You are remarkably modern, Mabel. A
little too modern, perhaps. Nothing is so dangerous as being too
modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly. I have
known many instances of it
MABEL CHILTERN. What a dreadful prospect!
LADY MARKBY. Ah! my dear, you need not be nervous. You will always
be as pretty as possible. That is the best fashion there is, and the
only fashion that England succeeds in setting.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a curtsey.] Thank you so much, Lady Markby,
for England . . . and myself. [Goes out.]
LADY MARKBY. [Turning to LADY CHILTERN.] Dear Gertrude, we just
called to know if Mrs. Cheveley's diamond brooch has been found.
LADY CHILTERN. Here?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I missed it when I got back to Claridge's, and
I thought I might possibly have dropped it here.
LADY CHILTERN. I have heard nothing about it. But I will send for
the butler and ask. [Touches the bell.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, pray don't trouble, Lady Chiltern. I dare say I
lost it at the Opera, before we came on here.
LADY MARKBY. Ah yes, I suppose it must have been at the Opera. The
fact is, we all scramble and jostle so much nowadays that I wonder we
have anything at all left on us at the end of an evening. I know
myself that, when I am coming back from the Drawing Room, I always
feel as if I hadn't a shred on me, except a small shred of decent
reputation, just enough to prevent the lower classes making painful
observations through the windows of the carriage. The fact is that
our Society is terribly over-populated. Really, some one should
arrange a proper scheme of assisted emigration. It would do a great
deal of good.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I quite agree with you, Lady Markby. It is nearly
six years since I have been in London for the Season, and I must say
Society has become dreadfully mixed. One sees the oddest people
LADY MARKBY. That is quite true, dear. But one needn't know them.
I'm sure I don't know half the people who come to my house. Indeed,
from all I hear, I shouldn't like to.
LADY CHILTERN. What sort of a brooch was it that you lost, Mrs.
MRS. CHEVELEY. A diamond snake-brooch with a ruby, a rather large
LADY MARKBY. I thought you said there was a sapphire on the head,
MRS. CHEVELEY [Smiling.] No, lady Markby - a ruby.
LADY MARKBY. [Nodding her head.] And very becoming, I am quite
LADY CHILTERN. Has a ruby and diamond brooch been found in any of
the rooms this morning, Mason?
MASON. No, my lady.
MRS. CHEVELEY. It really is of no consequence, Lady Chiltern. I am
so sorry to have put you to any inconvenience.
LADY CHILTERN. [Coldly.] Oh, it has been no inconvenience. That
will do, Mason. You can bring tea.
LADY MARKBY. Well, I must say it is most annoying to lose anything.
I remember once at Bath, years ago, losing in the Pump Room an
exceedingly handsome cameo bracelet that Sir John had given me. I
don't think he has ever given me anything since, I am sorry to say.
He has sadly degenerated. Really, this horrid House of Commons quite
ruins our husbands for us. I think the Lower House by far the
greatest blow to a happy married life that there has been since that
terrible thing called the Higher Education of Women was invented.
LADY CHILTERN. Ah! it is heresy to say that in this house, Lady
Markby. Robert is a great champion of the Higher Education of Women,
and so, I am afraid, am I.
MRS. CHEVELEY. The higher education of men is what I should like to
see. Men need it so sadly.
LADY MARKBY. They do, dear. But I am afraid such a scheme would be
quite unpractical. I don't think man has much capacity for
development. He has got as far as he can, and that is not far, is
it? With regard to women, well, dear Gertrude, you belong to the
younger generation, and I am sure it is all right if you approve of
it. In my time, of course, we were taught not to understand
anything. That was the old system, and wonderfully interesting it
was. I assure you that the amount of things I and my poor dear
sister were taught not to understand was quite extraordinary. But
modem women understand everything, I am told.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Except their husbands. That is the one thing the
modern woman never understands.
LADY MARKBY. And a very good thing too, dear, I dare say. It might
break up many a happy home if they did. Not yours, I need hardly
say, Gertrude. You have married a pattern husband. I wish I could
say as much for myself. But since Sir John has taken to attending
the debates regularly, which he never used to do in the good old
days, his language has become quite impossible. He always seems to
think that he is addressing the House, and consequently whenever he
discusses the state of the agricultural labourer, or the Welsh
Church, or something quite improper of that kind, I am obliged to
send all the servants out of the room. It is not pleasant to see
one's own butler, who has been with one for twenty-three years,
actually blushing at the side-board, and the footmen making
contortions in corners like persons in circuses. I assure you my
life will be quite ruined unless they send John at once to the Upper
House. He won't take any interest in politics then, will he? The
House of Lords is so sensible. An assembly of gentlemen. But in his
present state, Sir John is really a great trial. Why, this morning
before breakfast was half over, he stood up on the hearthrug, put his
hands in his pockets, and appealed to the country at the top of his
voice. I left the table as soon as I had my second cup of tea, I
need hardly say. But his violent language could be heard all over
the house! I trust, Gertrude, that Sir Robert is not like that
LADY CHILTERN. But I am very much interested in politics, Lady
Markby. I love to hear Robert talk about them.
LADY MARKBY. Well, I hope he is not as devoted to Blue Books as Sir
John is. I don't think they can be quite improving reading for any
MRS. CHEVELEY [Languidly.] I have never read a Blue Book. I prefer
books . . . in yellow covers.
LADY MARKBY. [Genially unconscious.] Yellow is a gayer colour, is
it not? I used to wear yellow a good deal in my early days, and
would do so now if Sir John was not so painfully personal in his
observations, and a man on the question of dress is always
ridiculous, is he not?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh, no! I think men are the only authorities on
LADY MARKBY. Really? One wouldn't say so from the sort of hats they
wear? would one?
[The butler enters, followed by the footman. Tea is set on a small
table close to LADY CHILTERN.]
LADY CHILTERN. May I give you some tea, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. [The butler hands MRS. CHEVELEY a cup of tea
on a salver.]
LADY CHILTERN. Some tea, Lady Markby?
LADY MARKBY. No thanks, dear. [The servants go out.] The fact is,
I have promised to go round for ten minutes to see poor Lady
Brancaster, who is in very great trouble. Her daughter, quite a
well-brought-up girl, too, has actually become engaged to be married
to a curate in Shropshire. It is very sad, very sad indeed. I can't
understand this modern mania for curates. In my time we girls saw
them, of course, running about the place like rabbits. But we never
took any notice of them, I need hardly say. But I am told that
nowadays country society is quite honeycombed with them. I think it
most irreligious. And then the eldest son has quarrelled with his
father, and it is said that when they meet at the club Lord
Brancaster always hides himself behind the money article in THE
TIMES. However, I believe that is quite a common occurrence nowadays
and that they have to take in extra copies of THE TIMES at all the
clubs in St. James's Street; there are so many sons who won't have
anything to do with their fathers, and so many fathers who won't
speak to their sons. I think myself, it is very much to be
MRS. CHEVELEY. So do I. Fathers have so much to learn from their
LADY MARKBY. Really, dear? What?
MRS. CHEVELEY. The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have
produced in modern times.
LADY MARKBY. [Shaking her head.] Ah! I am afraid Lord Brancaster
knew a good deal about that. More than his poor wife ever did.
[Turning to LADY CHILTERN.] You know Lady Brancaster, don't you,
LADY CHILTERN. Just slightly. She was staying at Langton last
autumn, when we were there.
LADY MARKBY. Well, like all stout women, she looks the very picture
of happiness, as no doubt you noticed. But there are many tragedies
in her family, besides this affair of the curate. Her own sister,
Mrs. Jekyll, had a most unhappy life; through no fault of her own, I
am sorry to say. She ultimately was so broken-hearted that she went
into a convent, or on to the operatic stage, I forget which. No; I
think it was decorative art-needlework she took up. I know she had
lost all sense of pleasure in life. [Rising.] And now, Gertrude, if
you will allow me, I shall leave Mrs. Cheveley in your charge and
call back for her in a quarter of an hour. Or perhaps, dear Mrs.
Cheveley, you wouldn't mind waiting in the carriage while I am with
Lady Brancaster. As I intend it to be a visit of condolence, I
shan't stay long.
MRS. CHEVELEY [Rising.] I don't mind waiting in the carriage at all,
provided there is somebody to look at one.
LADY MARKBY. Well, I hear the curate is always prowling about the
MRS. CHEVELEY. I am afraid I am not fond of girl friends.
LADY CHILTERN [Rising.] Oh, I hope Mrs. Cheveley will stay here a
little. I should like to have a few minutes' conversation with her.
MRS. CHEVELEY. How very kind of you, Lady Chiltern! Believe me,
nothing would give me greater pleasure.
LADY MARKBY. Ah! no doubt you both have many pleasant reminiscences
of your schooldays to talk over together. Good-bye, dear Gertrude!
Shall I see you at Lady Bonar's to-night? She has discovered a
wonderful new genius. He does . . . nothing at all, I believe. That
is a great comfort, is it not?
LADY CHILTERN. Robert and I are dining at home by ourselves to-
night, and I don't think I shall go anywhere afterwards. Robert, of
course, will have to be in the House. But there is nothing
LADY MARKBY. Dining at home by yourselves? Is that quite prudent?
Ah, I forgot, your husband is an exception. Mine is the general
rule, and nothing ages a woman so rapidly as having married the
general rule. [Exit LADY MARKBY.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Wonderful woman, Lady Markby, isn't she? Talks more
and says less than anybody I ever met. She is made to be a public
speaker. Much more so than her husband, though he is a typical
Englishman, always dull and usually violent.
LADY CHILTERN. [Makes no answer, but remains standing. There is a
pause. Then the eyes of the two women meet. LADY CHILTERN looks
stern and pale. MRS. CHEVELEY seem rather amused.] Mrs. Cheveley, I
think it is right to tell you quite frankly that, had I known who you
really were, I should not have invited you to my house last night.
MRS. CHEVELEY [With an impertinent smile.] Really?
LADY CHILTERN. I could not have done so.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I see that after all these years you have not changed
a bit, Gertrude.
LADY CHILTERN. I never change.
MRS. CHEVELEY [Elevating her eyebrows.] Then life has taught you
LADY CHILTERN. It has taught me that a person who has once been
guilty of a dishonest and dishonourable action may be guilty of it a
second time, and should be shunned.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Would you apply that rule to every one?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes, to every one, without exception.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Then I am sorry for you, Gertrude, very sorry for
LADY CHILTERN. You see now, I was sure, that for many reasons any
further acquaintance between us during your stay in London is quite
MRS. CHEVELEY [Leaning back in her chair.] Do you know, Gertrude, I
don't mind your talking morality a bit. Morality is simply the
attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike. You
dislike me. I am quite aware of that. And I have always detested
you. And yet I have come here to do you a service.
LADY CHILTERN. [Contemptuously.] Like the service you wished to
render my husband last night, I suppose. Thank heaven, I saved him
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Starting to her feet.] It was you who made him
write that insolent letter to me? It was you who made him break his
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Then you must make him keep it. I give you till to-
morrow morning - no more. If by that time your husband does not
solemnly bind himself to help me in this great scheme in which I am
LADY CHILTERN. This fraudulent speculation -
MRS. CHEVELEY. Call it what you choose. I hold your husband in the
hollow of my hand, and if you are wise you will make him do what I
LADY CHILTERN. [Rising and going towards her.] You are impertinent.
What has my husband to do with you? With a woman like you?
MRS. CHEVELEY [With a bitter laugh.] In this world like meets with
like. It is because your husband is himself fraudulent and dishonest
that we pair so well together. Between you and him there are chasms.
He and I are closer than friends. We are enemies linked together.
The same sin binds us.
LADY CHILTERN. How dare you class my husband with yourself? How
dare you threaten him or me? Leave my house. You are unfit to enter
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN enters from behind. He hears his wife's last
words, and sees to whom they are addressed. He grows deadly pale.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Your house! A house bought with the price of
dishonour. A house, everything in which has been paid for by fraud.
[Turns round and sees SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.] Ask him what the origin
of his fortune is! Get him to tell you how he sold to a stockbroker
a Cabinet secret. Learn from him to what you owe your position.
LADY CHILTERN. It is not true! Robert! It is not true!
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Pointing at him with outstretched finger.] Look at
him! Can he deny it? Does he dare to?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Go! Go at once. You have done your worst now.
MRS. CHEVELEY. My worst? I have not yet finished with you, with
either of you. I give you both till to-morrow at noon. If by then
you don't do what I bid you to do, the whole world shall know the
origin of Robert Chiltern.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN strikes the bell. Enter MASON.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Show Mrs. Cheveley out.
[MRS. CHEVELEY starts; then bows with somewhat exaggerated politeness
to LADY CHILTERN, who makes no sign of response. As she passes by
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, who is standing close to the door, she pauses
for a moment and looks him straight in the face. She then goes out,
followed by the servant, who closes the door after him. The husband
and wife are left alone. LADY CHILTERN stands like some one in a
dreadful dream. Then she turns round and looks at her husband. She
looks at him with strange eyes, as though she were seeing him for the
LADY CHILTERN. You sold a Cabinet secret for money! You began your
life with fraud! You built up your career on dishonour! Oh, tell me
it is not true! Lie to me! Lie to me! Tell me it is not true!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What this woman said is quite true. But,
Gertrude, listen to me. You don't realise how I was tempted. Let me
tell you the whole thing. [Goes towards her.]
LADY CHILTERN. Don't come near me. Don't touch me. I feel as if
you had soiled me for ever. Oh! what a mask you have been wearing
all these years! A horrible painted mask! You sold yourself for
money. Oh! a common thief were better. You put yourself up to sale
to the highest bidder! You were bought in the market. You lied to
the whole world. And yet you will not lie to me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rushing towards her.] Gertrude! Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. [Thrusting him back with outstretched hands.] No,
don't speak! Say nothing! Your voice wakes terrible memories -
memories of things that made me love you - memories of words that
made me love you - memories that now are horrible to me. And how I
worshipped you! You were to me something apart from common life, a
thing pure, noble, honest, without stain. The world seemed to me
finer because you were in it, and goodness more real because you
lived. And now - oh, when I think that I made of a man like you my
ideal! the ideal of my life!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. There was your mistake. There was your error.
The error all women commit. Why can't you women love us, faults and
all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet
of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love
them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections,
love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the
perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are
wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should
come to cure us - else what use is love at all? All sins, except a
sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless
lives, true Love should pardon. A man's love is like that. It is
wider, larger, more human than a woman's. Women think that they are
making ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols
merely. You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to
come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid
that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. And so, last
night you ruined my life for me - yes, ruined it! What this woman
asked of me was nothing compared to what she offered to me. She
offered security, peace, stability. The sin of my youth, that I had
thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with
its hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it
back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness
against me. You prevented me. No one but you, you know it. And now
what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame,
the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely
dishonoured death, it may be, some day? Let women make no more
ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them,
or they may ruin other lives as completely as you - you whom I have
so wildly loved - have ruined mine!
[He passes from the room. LADY CHILTERN rushes towards him, but the
door is closed when she reaches it. Pale with anguish, bewildered,
helpless, she sways like a plant in the water. Her hands,
outstretched, stem to tremble in the air like blossoms in the mind.
Then she flings herself down beside a sofa and buries her face. Her
sobs are like the sobs of a child.]
The Library in Lord Goring's house. An Adam room. On the right is
the door leading into the hall. On the left, the door of the
smoking-room. A pair of folding doors at the back open into the
drawing-room. The fire is lit. Phipps, the butler, is arranging
some newspapers on the writing-table. The distinction of Phipps is
his impassivity. He has been termed by enthusiasts the Ideal Butler.
The Sphinx is not so incommunicable. He is a mask with a manner. Of
his intellectual or emotional life, history knows nothing. He
represents the dominance of form.
[Enter LORD GORING in evening dress with a buttonhole. He is wearing
a silk hat and Inverness cape. White-gloved, he carries a Louis
Seize cane. His are all the delicate fopperies of Fashion. One sees
that he stands in immediate relation to modern life, makes it indeed,
and so masters it. He is the first well-dressed philosopher in the
history of thought.]
LORD GORING. Got my second buttonhole for me, Phipps?
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Takes his hat, cane, and cape, and presents
new buttonhole on salver.]
LORD GORING. Rather distinguished thing, Phipps. I am the only
person of the smallest importance in London at present who wears a
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. I have observed that,
LORD GORING. [Taking out old buttonhole.] You see, Phipps, Fashion
is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. Just as vulgarity is simply the conduct of other
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. [Putting in a new buttonhole.] And falsehoods the
truths of other people.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible
society is oneself.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. [Looking at himself in the glass.] Don't think I quite
like this buttonhole, Phipps. Makes me look a little too old. Makes
me almost in the prime of life, eh, Phipps?
PHIPPS. I don't observe any alteration in your lordship's
LORD GORING. You don't, Phipps?
PHIPPS. No, my lord.
LORD GORING. I am not quite sure. For the future a more trivial
buttonhole, Phipps, on Thursday evenings.
PHIPPS. I will speak to the florist, my lord. She has had a loss in
her family lately, which perhaps accounts for the lack of triviality
your lordship complains of in the buttonhole.
LORD GORING. Extraordinary thing about the lower classes in England
- they are always losing their relations.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord! They are extremely fortunate in that respect.
LORD GORING. [Turns round and looks at him. PHIPPS remains
impassive.] Hum! Any letters, Phipps?
PHIPPS. Three, my lord. [Hands letters on a salver.]
LORD GORING. [Takes letters.] Want my cab round in twenty minutes.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Goes towards door.]
LORD GORING. [Holds up letter in pink envelope.] Ahem! Phipps,
when did this letter arrive?
PHIPPS. It was brought by hand just after your lordship went to the
LORD GORING. That will do. [Exit PHIPPS.] Lady Chiltern's
handwriting on Lady Chiltern's pink notepaper. That is rather
curious. I thought Robert was to write. Wonder what Lady Chiltern
has got to say to me? [Sits at bureau and opens letter, and reads
it.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude.'
[Puts down the letter with a puzzled look. Then takes it up, and
reads it again slowly.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to
you.' So she has found out everything! Poor woman! Poor woman! [
Pulls out watch and looks at it.] But what an hour to call! Ten
o'clock! I shall have to give up going to the Berkshires. However,
it is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive. I am not
expected at the Bachelors', so I shall certainly go there. Well, I
will make her stand by her husband. That is the only thing for her
to do. That is the only thing for any woman to do. It is the growth
of the moral sense in women that makes marriage such a hopeless, one-
sided institution. Ten o'clock. She should be here soon. I must
tell Phipps I am not in to any one else. [Goes towards bell]
PHIPPS. Lord Caversham.
LORD GORING. Oh, why will parents always appear at the wrong time?
Some extraordinary mistake in nature, I suppose. [Enter LORD
CAVERSHAM.] Delighted to see you, my dear father. [Goes to meet
LORD CAVERSHAM. Take my cloak off.
LORD GORING. Is it worth while, father?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Of course it is worth while, sir. Which is the most
LORD GORING. This one, father. It is the chair I use myself, when I
LORD CAVERSHAM. Thank ye. No draught, I hope, in this room?
LORD GORING. No, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Sitting down.] Glad to hear it. Can't stand
draughts. No draughts at home.
LORD GORING. Good many breezes, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Eh? Eh? Don't understand what you mean. Want to
have a serious conversation with you, sir.
LORD GORING. My dear father! At this hour?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, it is only ten o'clock. What is your
objection to the hour? I think the hour is an admirable hour!
LORD GORING. Well, the fact is, father, this is not my day for
talking seriously. I am very sorry, but it is not my day.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What do you mean, sir?
LORD GORING. During the Season, father, I only talk seriously on the
first Tuesday in every month, from four to seven.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, make it Tuesday, sir, make it Tuesday.
LORD GORING. But it is after seven, father, and my doctor says I
must not have any serious conversation after seven. It makes me talk
in my sleep.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Talk in your sleep, sir? What does that matter?
You are not married.
LORD GORING. No, father, I am not married.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Hum! That is what I have come to talk to you about,
sir. You have got to get married, and at once. Why, when I was your
age, sir, I had been an inconsolable widower for three months, and
was already paying my addresses to your admirable mother. Damme,
sir, it is your duty to get married. You can't be always living for
pleasure. Every man of position is married nowadays. Bachelors are
not fashionable any more. They are a damaged lot. Too much is known
about them. You must get a wife, sir. Look where your friend Robert
Chiltern has got to by probity, hard work, and a sensible marriage
with a good woman. Why don't you imitate him, sir? Why don't you
take him for your model?
LORD GORING. I think I shall, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would, sir. Then I should be happy. At
present I make your mother's life miserable on your account. You are
heartless, sir, quite heartless
LORD GORING. I hope not, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. And it is high time for you to get married. You are
thirty-four years of age, sir.
LORD GORING. Yes, father, but I only admit to thirty-two - thirty-
one and a half when I have a really good buttonhole. This buttonhole
is not . . . trivial enough.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I tell you you are thirty-four, sir. And there is a
draught in your room, besides, which makes your conduct worse. Why
did you tell me there was no draught, sir? I feel a draught, sir, I
feel it distinctly.
LORD GORING. So do I, father. It is a dreadful draught. I will
come and see you to-morrow, father. We can talk over anything you
like. Let me help you on with your cloak, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. No, sir; I have called this evening for a definite
purpose, and I am going to see it through at all costs to my health
or yours. Put down my cloak, sir.
LORD GORING. Certainly, father. But let us go into another room.
[Rings bell.] There is a dreadful draught here. [Enter PHIPPS.]
Phipps, is there a good fire in the smoking-room?
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. Come in there, father. Your sneezes are quite
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, I suppose I have a right to sneeze when I
LORD GORING. [Apologetically.] Quite so, father. I was merely
LORD CAVERSHAM. Oh, damn sympathy. There is a great deal too much
of that sort of thing going on nowadays.
LORD GORING. I quite agree with you, father. If there was less
sympathy in the world there would be less trouble in the world.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Going towards the smoking-room.] That is a
paradox, sir. I hate paradoxes.
LORD GORING. So do I, father. Everybody one meets is a paradox
nowadays. It is a great bore. It makes society so obvious.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Turning round, and looking at his son beneath his
bushy eyebrows.] Do you always really understand what you say, sir?
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Yes, father, if I listen
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Indignantly.] If you listen attentively! . . .
Conceited young puppy!
[Goes off grumbling into the smoking-room. PHIPPS enters.]
LORD GORING. Phipps, there is a lady coming to see me this evening
on particular business. Show her into the drawing-room when she
arrives. You understand?
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. It is a matter of the gravest importance, Phipps.
PHIPPS. I understand, my lord.
LORD GORING. No one else is to be admitted, under any circumstances.
PHIPPS. I understand, my lord. [Bell rings.]
LORD GORING. Ah! that is probably the lady. I shall see her myself.
[Just as he is going towards the door LORD CAVERSHAM enters from the
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir? am I to wait attendance on you?
LORD GORING. [Considerably perplexed.] In a moment, father. Do
excuse me. [LORD CAVERSHAM goes back.] Well, remember my
instructions, Phipps - into that room.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
[LORD GORING goes into the smoking-room. HAROLD, the footman shows
MRS. CHEVELEY in. Lamia-like, she is in green and silver. She has
a cloak of black satin, lined with dead rose-leaf silk.]
HAROLD. What name, madam?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [To PHIPPS, who advances towards her.] Is Lord
Goring not here? I was told he was at home?
PHIPPS. His lordship is engaged at present with Lord Caversham,
[Turns a cold, glassy eye on HAROLD, who at once retires.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself.] How very filial!
PHIPPS. His lordship told me to ask you, madam, to be kind enough to
wait in the drawing-room for him. His lordship will come to you
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a look of surprise.] Lord Goring expects me?
PHIPPS. Yes, madam.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Are you quite sure?
PHIPPS. His lordship told me that if a lady called I was to ask her
to wait in the drawing-room. [Goes to the door of the drawing-room
and opens it.] His lordship's directions on the subject were very
MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself] How thoughtful of him! To expect the
unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. [Goes towards the
drawing-room and looks in.] Ugh! How dreary a bachelor's drawing-
room always looks. I shall have to alter all this. [PHIPPS brings
the lamp from the writing-table.] No, I don't care for that lamp.
It is far too glaring. Light some candles.
PHIPPS. [Replaces lamp.] Certainly, madam.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I hope the candles have very becoming shades.
PHIPPS. We have had no complaints about them, madam, as yet.
[Passes into the drawing-room and begins to light the candles.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. [To herself.] I wonder what woman he is waiting for
to-night. It will be delightful to catch him. Men always look so
silly when they are caught. And they are always being caught.
[Looks about room and approaches the writing-table.] What a very
interesting room! What a very interesting picture! Wonder what his
correspondence is like. [Takes up letters.] Oh, what a very
uninteresting correspondence! Bills and cards, debts and dowagers!
Who on earth writes to him on pink paper? How silly to write on pink
paper! It looks like the beginning of a middle-class romance.
Romance should never begin with sentiment. It should begin with
science and end with a settlement. [Puts letter down, then takes it
up again.] I know that handwriting. That is Gertrude Chiltern's. I
remember it perfectly. The ten commandments in every stroke of the
pen, and the moral law all over the page. Wonder what Gertrude is
writing to him about? Something horrid about me, I suppose. How I
detest that woman! [Reads it.] 'I trust you. I want you. I am
coming to you. Gertrude.' 'I trust you. I want you. I am coming
[A look of triumph comes over her face. She is just about to steal
the letter, when PHIPPS comes in.]
PHIPPS. The candles in the drawing-room are lit, madam, as you
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. [Rises hastily and slips the letter under
a large silver-cased blotting-book that is lying on the table.]
PHIPPS. I trust the shades will be to your liking, madam. They are
the most becoming we have. They are the same as his lordship uses
himself when he is dressing for dinner.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a smile.] Then I am sure they will be
PHIPPS. [Gravely.] Thank you, madam.
[MRS. CHEVELEY goes into the drawing-room. PHIPPS closes the door
and retires. The door is then slowly opened, and MRS. CHEVELEY comes
out and creeps stealthily towards the writing-table. Suddenly voices
are heard from the smoking-room. MRS. CHEVELEY grows pale, and
stops. The voices grow louder, and she goes back into the drawing-
room, biting her lip.]
[Enter LORD GORING and LORD CAVERSHAM.]
LORD GORING. [Expostulating.] My dear father, if I am to get
married, surely you will allow me to choose the time, place, and
person? Particularly the person.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Testily.] That is a matter for me, sir. You would
probably make a very poor choice. It is I who should be consulted,
not you. There is property at stake. It is not a matter for
affection. Affection comes later on in married life.
LORD GORING. Yes. In married life affection comes when people
thoroughly dislike each other, father, doesn't it? [Puts on LORD
CAVERSHAM'S cloak for him.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Certainly, sir. I mean certainly not, air. You are
talking very foolishly to-night. What I say is that marriage is a
matter for common sense.
LORD GORING. But women who have common sense are so curiously plain,
father, aren't they? Of course I only speak from hearsay.
LORD CAVERSHAM. No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at
all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.
LORD GORING. Quite so. And we men are so self-sacrificing that we
never use it, do we, father?
LORD CAVERSHAM. I use it, sir. I use nothing else.
LORD GORING. So my mother tells me.
LORD CAVERSHAM. It is the secret of your mother's happiness. You
are very heartless, sir, very heartless.
LORD GORING. I hope not, father.
[Goes out for a moment. Then returns, looking rather put out, with
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My dear Arthur, what a piece of good luck
meeting you on the doorstep! Your servant had just told me you were
not at home. How extraordinary!
LORD GORING. The fact is, I am horribly busy to-night, Robert, and I
gave orders I was not at home to any one. Even my father had a
comparatively cold reception. He complained of a draught the whole
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! you must be at home to me, Arthur. You are
my best friend. Perhaps by to-morrow you will be my only friend. My
wife has discovered everything.
LORD GORING. Ah! I guessed as much!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking at him.] Really! How?
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Oh, merely by something in
the expression of your face as you came in. Who told her?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Mrs. Cheveley herself. And the woman I love
knows that I began my career with an act of low dishonesty, that I
built up my life upon sands of shame - that I sold, like a common
huckster, the secret that had been intrusted to me as a man of
honour. I thank heaven poor Lord Radley died without knowing that I
betrayed him. I would to God I had died before I had been so
horribly tempted, or had fallen so low. [Burying his face in his
LORD GORING. [After a pause.] You have heard nothing from Vienna
yet, in answer to your wire?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Looking up.] Yes; I got a telegram from the
first secretary at eight o'clock to-night.
LORD GORING. Well?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Nothing is absolutely known against her. On
the contrary, she occupies a rather high position in society. It is
a sort of open secret that Baron Arnheim left her the greater portion
of his immense fortune. Beyond that I can learn nothing.
LORD GORING. She doesn't turn out to be a spy, then?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Oh! spies are of no use nowadays. Their
profession is over. The newspapers do their work instead.
LORD GORING. And thunderingly well they do it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, I am parched with thirst. May I ring
for something? Some hock and seltzer?
LORD GORING. Certainly. Let me. [Rings the bell.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thanks! I don't know what to do, Arthur, I
don't know what to do, and you are my only friend. But what a friend
you are - the one friend I can trust. I can trust you absolutely,
LORD GORING. My dear Robert, of course. Oh! [To PHIPPS.] Bring
some hock and seltzer.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. And Phipps!
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord.
LORD GORING. Will you excuse me for a moment, Robert? I want to
give some directions to my servant.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Certainly.
LORD GORING. When that lady calls, tell her that I am not expected
home this evening. Tell her that I have been suddenly called out of
town. You understand?
PHIPPS. The lady is in that room, my lord. You told me to show her
into that room, my lord.
LORD GORING. You did perfectly right. [Exit PHIPPS.] What a mess I
am in. No; I think I shall get through it. I'll give her a lecture
through the door. Awkward thing to manage, though.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, tell me what I should do. My life
seems to have crumbled about me. I am a ship without a rudder in a
night without a star.
LORD GORING. Robert, you love your wife, don't you?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I love her more than anything in the world. I
used to think ambition the great thing. It is not. Love is the
great thing in the world. There is nothing but love, and I love her.
But I am defamed in her eyes. I am ignoble in her eyes. There is a
wide gulf between us now. She has found me out, Arthur, she has
found me out.
LORD GORING. Has she never in her life done some folly - some
indiscretion - that she should not forgive your sin?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My wife! Never! She does not know what
weakness or temptation is. I am of clay like other men. She stands
apart as good women do - pitiless in her perfection - cold and stern
and without mercy. But I love her, Arthur. We are childless, and I
have no one else to love, no one else to love me. Perhaps if God had
sent us children she might have been kinder to me. But God has given
us a lonely house. And she has cut my heart in two. Don't let us
talk of it. I was brutal to her this evening. But I suppose when
sinners talk to saints they are brutal always. I said to her things
that were hideously true, on my side, from my stand-point, from the
standpoint of men. But don't let us talk of that
LORD GORING. Your wife will forgive you. Perhaps at this moment she
is forgiving you. She loves you, Robert. Why should she not
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. God grant it! God grant it! [Buries his face
in his hands.] But there is something more I have to tell you,
[Enter PHIPPS with drinks.]
PHIPPS. [Hands hock and seltzer to SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.] Hock and
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Thank you.
LORD GORING. Is your carriage here, Robert?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No; I walked from the club.
LORD GORING. Sir Robert will take my cab, Phipps.
PHIPPS. Yes, my lord. [Exit.]
LORD GORING. Robert, you don't mind my sending you away?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur, you must let me stay for five minutes.
I have made up my mind what I am going to do to-night in the House.
The debate on the Argentine Canal is to begin at eleven. [A chair
falls in the drawing-room.] What is that?
LORD GORING. Nothing.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I heard a chair fall in the next room. Some
one has been listening.
LORD GORING. No, no; there is no one there.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. There is some one. There are lights in the
room, and the door is ajar. Some one has been listening to every
secret of my life. Arthur, what does this mean?
LORD GORING. Robert, you are excited, unnerved. I tell you there is
no one in that room. Sit down, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Do you give me your word that there is no one
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Your word of honour? [Sits down.]
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rises.] Arthur, let me see for myself.
LORD GORING. No, no.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. If there is no one there why should I not look
in that room? Arthur, you must let me go into that room and satisfy
myself. Let me know that no eavesdropper has heard my life's secret.
Arthur, you don't realise what I am going through.
LORD GORING. Robert, this must stop. I have told you that there is
no one in that room - that is enough.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Rushes to the door of the room.] It is not
enough. I insist on going into this room. You have told me there is
no one there, so what reason can you have for refusing me?
LORD GORING. For God's sake, don't! There is some one there. Some
one whom you must not see.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah, I thought so!
LORD GORING. I forbid you to enter that room.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Stand back. My life is at stake. And I don't
care who is there. I will know who it is to whom I have told my
secret and my shame. [Enters room.]
LORD GORING. Great heavens! his own wife!
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN comes back, with a look of scorn and anger on
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What explanation have you to give me for the
presence of that woman here?
LORD GORING. Robert, I swear to you on my honour that that lady is
stainless and guiltless of all offence towards you.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She is a vile, an infamous thing!
LORD GORING. Don't say that, Robert! It was for your sake she came
here. It was to try and save you she came here. She loves you and
no one else.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You are mad. What have I to do with her
intrigues with you? Let her remain your mistress! You are well
suited to each other. She, corrupt and shameful - you, false as a
friend, treacherous as an enemy even -
LORD GORING. It is not true, Robert. Before heaven, it is not true.
In her presence and in yours I will explain all.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Let me pass, sir. You have lied enough upon
your word of honour.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN goes out. LORD GORING rushes to the door of the
drawing-room, when MRS. CHEVELEY comes out, looking radiant and much
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a mock curtsey] Good evening, Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley! Great heavens! . . . May I ask what you
were doing in my drawing-room?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Merely listening. I have a perfect passion for
listening through keyholes. One always hears such wonderful things
LORD GORING. Doesn't that sound rather like tempting Providence?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! surely Providence can resist temptation by this
time. [Makes a sign to him to take her cloak off, which he does.]
LORD GORING. I am glad you have called. I am going to give you some
MRS. CHEVELEY. Oh! pray don't. One should never give a woman
anything that she can't wear in the evening.
LORD GORING. I see you are quite as wilful as you used to be.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Far more! I have greatly improved. I have had more
LORD GORING. Too much experience is a dangerous thing. Pray have a
cigarette. Half the pretty women in London smoke cigarettes.
Personally I prefer the other half.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. I never smoke. My dressmaker wouldn't like
it, and a woman's first duty in life is to her dressmaker, isn't it?
What the second duty is, no one has as yet discovered.
LORD GORING. You have come here to sell me Robert Chiltern's letter,
MRS. CHEVELEY. To offer it to you on conditions. How did you guess
LORD GORING. Because you haven't mentioned the subject. Have you
got it with you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Sitting down.] Oh, no! A well-made dress has no
LORD GORING. What is your price for it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. How absurdly English you are! The English think that
a cheque-book can solve every problem in life. Why, my dear Arthur,
I have very much more money than you have, and quite as much as
Robert Chiltern has got hold of. Money is not what I want.
LORD GORING. What do you want then, Mrs. Cheveley?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Why don't you call me Laura?
LORD GORING. I don't like the name.
MRS. CHEVELEY. You used to adore it.
LORD GORING. Yes: that's why. [MRS. CHEVELEY motions to him to sit
down beside her. He smiles, and does so.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Arthur, you loved me once.
LORD GORING. Yes.
MRS. CHEVELEY. And you asked me to be your wife.
LORD GORING. That was the natural result of my loving you.
MRS. CHEVELEY. And you threw me over because you saw, or said you
saw, poor old Lord Mortlake trying to have a violent flirtation with
me in the conservatory at Tenby.
LORD GORING. I am under the impression that my lawyer settled that
matter with you on certain terms . . . dictated by yourself.
MRS. CHEVELEY. At that time I was poor; you were rich.
LORD GORING. Quite so. That is why you pretended to love me.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Poor old Lord Mortlake,
who had only two topics of conversation, his gout and his wife! I
never could quite make out which of the two he was talking about. He
used the most horrible language about them both. Well, you were
silly, Arthur. Why, Lord Mortlake was never anything more to me
than an amusement. One of those utterly tedious amusements one only
finds at an English country house on an English country Sunday. I
don't think any one at all morally responsible for what he or she
does at an English country house.
LORD GORING. Yes. I know lots of people think that.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I loved you, Arthur.
LORD GORING. My dear Mrs. Cheveley, you have always been far too
clever to know anything about love.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I did love you. And you loved me. You know you
loved me; and love is a very wonderful thing. I suppose that when a
man has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except
continue to love her? [Puts her hand on his.]
LORD GORING. [Taking his hand away quietly.] Yes: except that.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] I am tired of living abroad. I
want to come back to London. I want to have a charming house here.
I want to have a salon. If one could only teach the English how to
talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite
civilised. Besides, I have arrived at the romantic stage. When I
saw you last night at the Chilterns', I knew you were the only person
I had ever cared for, if I ever have cared for anybody, Arthur. And
so, on the morning of the day you marry me, I will give you Robert
Chiltern's letter. That is my offer. I will give it to you now, if
you promise to marry me.
LORD GORING. Now?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Smiling.] To-morrow.
LORD GORING. Are you really serious?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes, quite serious.
LORD GORING. I should make you a very bad husband.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I don't mind bad husbands. I have had two. They
amused me immensely.
LORD GORING. You mean that you amused yourself immensely, don't you?
MRS. CHEVELEY. What do you know about my married life?
LORD GORING. Nothing: but I can read it like a book.
MRS. CHEVELEY. What book?
LORD GORING. [Rising.] The Book of Numbers.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Do you think it is quite charming of you to be so
rude to a woman in your own house?
LORD GORING. In the case of very fascinating women, sex is a
challenge, not a defence.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I suppose that is meant for a compliment. My dear
Arthur, women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are.
That is the difference between the two sexes.
LORD GORING. Women are never disarmed by anything, as far as I know
MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] Then you are going to allow your
greatest friend, Robert Chiltern, to be ruined, rather than marry
some one who really has considerable attractions left. I thought you
would have risen to some great height of self-sacrifice, Arthur. I
think you should. And the rest of your life you could spend in
contemplating your own perfections.
LORD GORING. Oh! I do that as it is. And self-sacrifice is a thing
that should be put down by law. It is so demoralising to the people
for whom one sacrifices oneself. They always go to the bad.
MRS. CHEVELEY. As if anything could demoralise Robert Chiltern! You
seem to forget that I know his real character.
LORD GORING. What you know about him is not his real character. It
was an act of folly done in his youth, dishonourable, I admit,
shameful, I admit, unworthy of him, I admit, and therefore . . . not
his true character.
MRS. CHEVELEY. How you men stand up for each other!
LORD GORING. How you women war against each other!
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Bitterly.] I only war against one woman, against
Gertrude Chiltern. I hate her. I hate her now more than ever.
LORD GORING. Because you have brought a real tragedy into her life,
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a sneer.] Oh, there is only one real tragedy
in a woman's life. The fact that her past is always her lover, and
her future invariably her husband.
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern knows nothing of the kind of life to
which you are alluding.
MRS. CHEVELEY. A woman whose size in gloves is seven and three-
quarters never knows much about anything. You know Gertrude has
always worn seven and three-quarters? That is one of the reasons why
there was never any moral sympathy between us. . . . Well, Arthur, I
suppose this romantic interview may be regarded as at an end. You
admit it was romantic, don't you? For the privilege of being your
wife I was ready to surrender a great prize, the climax of my
diplomatic career. You decline. Very well. If Sir Robert doesn't
uphold my Argentine scheme, I expose him. VOILE TOUT.
LORD GORING. You mustn't do that. It would be vile, horrible,
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Shrugging her shoulders.] Oh! don't use big words.
They mean so little. It is a commercial transaction. That is all.
There is no good mixing up sentimentality in it. I offered to sell
Robert Chiltern a certain thing. If he won't pay me my price, he
will have to pay the world a greater price. There is no more to be
said. I must go. Good-bye. Won't you shake hands?
LORD GORING. With you? No. Your transaction with Robert Chiltern
may pass as a loathsome commercial transaction of a loathsome
commercial age; but you seem to have forgotten that you came here to-
night to talk of love, you whose lips desecrated the word love, you
to whom the thing is a book closely sealed, went this afternoon to
the house of one of the most noble and gentle women in the world to
degrade her husband in her eyes, to try and kill her love for him, to
put poison in her heart, and bitterness in her life, to break her
idol, and, it may be, spoil her soul. That I cannot forgive you.
That was horrible. For that there can be no forgiveness.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Arthur, you are unjust to me. Believe me, you are
quite unjust to me. I didn't go to taunt Gertrude at all. I had no
idea of doing anything of the kind when I entered. I called with
Lady Markby simply to ask whether an ornament, a jewel, that I lost
somewhere last night, had been found at the Chilterns'. If you don't
believe me, you can ask Lady Markby. She will tell you it is true.
The scene that occurred happened after Lady Markby had left, and was
really forced on me by Gertrude's rudeness and sneers. I called, oh!
- a little out of malice if you like - but really to ask if a diamond
brooch of mine had been found. That was the origin of the whole
LORD GORING. A diamond snake-brooch with a ruby?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. How do you know?
LORD GORING. Because it is found. In point of fact, I found it
myself, and stupidly forgot to tell the butler anything about it as I
was leaving. [Goes over to the writing-table and pulls out the
drawers.] It is in this drawer. No, that one. This is the brooch,
isn't it? [Holds up the brooch.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I am so glad to get it back. It was . . a
LORD GORING. Won't you wear it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. Certainly, if you pin it in. [LORD GORING suddenly
clasps it on her arm.] Why do you put it on as a bracelet? I never
knew it could he worn as a bracelet.
LORD GORING. Really?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Holding out her handsome arm.] No; but it looks
very well on me as a bracelet, doesn't it?
LORD GORING. Yes; much better than when I saw it last.
MRS. CHEVELEY. When did you see it last?
LORD GORING. [Calmly.] Oh, ten years ago, on Lady Berkshire, from
whom you stole it.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Starting.] What do you mean?
LORD GORING. I mean that you stole that ornament from my cousin,
Mary Berkshire, to whom I gave it when she was married. Suspicion
fell on a wretched servant, who was sent away in disgrace. I
recognised it last night. I determined to say nothing about it till
I had found the thief. I have found the thief now, and I have heard
her own confession.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Tossing her head.] It is not true.
LORD GORING. You know it is true. Why, thief is written across your
face at this moment.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I will deny the whole affair from beginning to end.
I will say that I have never seen this wretched thing, that it was
never in my possession.
[MRS. CHEVELEY tries to get the bracelet off her arm, but fails.
LORD GORING looks on amused. Her thin fingers tear at the jewel to
no purpose. A curse breaks from her.]
LORD GORING. The drawback of stealing a thing, Mrs. Cheveley, is
that one never knows how wonderful the thing that one steals is. You
can't get that bracelet off, unless you know where the spring is.
And I see you don't know where the spring is. It is rather difficult
MRS. CHEVELEY. You brute! You coward! [She tries again to unclasp
the bracelet, but fails.]
LORD GORING. Oh! don't use big words. They mean so little.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Again tears at the bracelet in a paroxysm of rage,
with inarticulate sounds. Then stops, and looks at LORD GORING.]
What are you going to do?
LORD GORING. I am going to ring for my servant. He is an admirable
servant. Always comes in the moment one rings for him. When he
comes I will tell him to fetch the police.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Trembling.] The police? What for?
LORD GORING. To-morrow the Berkshires will prosecute you. That is
what the police are for.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Is now in an agony of physical terror. Her face is
distorted. Her mouth awry. A mask has fallen from her. She it, for
the moment, dreadful to look at.] Don't do that. I will do anything
you want. Anything in the world you want.
LORD GORING. Give me Robert Chiltern's letter.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Stop! Stop! Let me have time to think.
LORD GORING. Give me Robert Chiltern's letter.
MRS. CHEVELEY. I have not got it with me. I will give it to you to-
LORD GORING. You know you are lying. Give it to me at once. [MRS.
CHEVELEY pulls the letter out, and hands it to him. She is horribly
pale.] This is it?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [In a hoarse voice.] Yes.
LORD GORING. [Takes the letter, examines it, sighs, and burns it
with the lamp.] For so well-dressed a woman, Mrs. Cheveley, you have
moments of admirable common sense. I congratulate you.
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Catches sight of LADY CHILTERN'S letter, the cover
of which is just showing from under the blotting-book.] Please get
me a glass of water.
LORD GORING. Certainly. [Goes to the corner of the room and pours
out a glass of water. While his back is turned MRS. CHEVELEY steals
LADY CHILTERN'S letter. When LORD GORING returns the glass she
refuses it with a gesture.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thank you. Will you help me on with my cloak?
LORD GORING. With pleasure. [Puts her cloak on.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. Thanks. I am never going to try to harm Robert
LORD GORING. Fortunately you have not the chance, Mrs. Cheveley.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Well, if even I had the chance, I wouldn't. On the
contrary, I am going to render him a great service.
LORD GORING. I am charmed to hear it. It is a reformation.
MRS. CHEVELEY. Yes. I can't bear so upright a gentleman, so
honourable an English gentleman, being so shamefully deceived, and so
LORD GORING. Well?
MRS. CHEVELEY. I find that somehow Gertrude Chiltern's dying speech
and confession has strayed into my pocket.
LORD GORING. What do you mean?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a bitter note of triumph in her voice.] I mean
that I am going to send Robert Chiltern the love-letter his wife
wrote to you to-night.
LORD GORING. Love-letter?
MRS. CHEVELEY. [Laughing.] 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming
to you. Gertrude.'
[LORD GORING rushes to the bureau and takes up the envelope, finds is
empty, and turns round.]
LORD GORING. You wretched woman, must you always be thieving? Give
me back that letter. I'll take it from you by force. You shall not
leave my room till I have got it.
[He rushes towards her, but MRS. CHEVELEY at once puts her hand on
the electric bell that is on the table. The bell sounds with shrill
reverberations, and PHIPPS enters.]
MRS. CHEVELEY. [After a pause.] Lord Goring merely rang that you
should show me out. Good-night, Lord Goring!
[Goes out followed by PHIPPS. Her face it illumined with evil
triumph. There is joy in her eyes. Youth seems to have come back to
her. Her last glance is like a swift arrow. LORD GORING bites his
lip, and lights his a cigarette.]
Same as Act II.
[LORD GORING is standing by the fireplace with his hands in his
pockets. He is looking rather bored.]
LORD GORING. [Pulls out his watch, inspects it, and rings the bell.]
It is a great nuisance. I can't find any one in this house to talk
to. And I am full of interesting information. I feel like the
latest edition of something or other.
JAMES. Sir Robert is still at the Foreign Office, my lord.
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern not down yet?
JAMES. Her ladyship has not yet left her room. Miss Chiltern has
just come in from riding.
LORD GORING. [To himself.] Ah! that is something.
JAMES. Lord Caversham has been waiting some time in the library for
Sir Robert. I told him your lordship was here.
LORD GORING. Thank you! Would you kindly tell him I've gone?
JAMES. [Bowing.] I shall do so, my lord.
LORD GORING. Really, I don't want to meet my father three days
running. It is a great deal too much excitement for any son. I hope
to goodness he won't come up. Fathers should be neither seen nor
heard. That is the only proper basin for family life. Mothers are
different. Mothers are darlings. [Throws himself down into a chair,
picks up a paper and begins to read it.]
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Well, sir, what are you doing here? Wasting your
time as usual, I suppose?
LORD GORING. [Throws down paper and rises.] My dear father, when
one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's
time, not one's own.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Have you been thinking over what I spoke to you
about last night?
LORD GORING. I have been thinking about nothing else.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Engaged to be married yet?
LORD GORING. [Genially.] Not yet: but I hope to be before lunch-
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Caustically.] You can have till dinner-time if it
would be of any convenience to you.
LORD GORING. Thanks awfully, but I think I'd sooner be engaged
LORD CAVERSHAM. Humph! Never know when you are serious or not.
LORD GORING. Neither do I, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I suppose you have read THE TIMES this morning?
LORD GORING. [Airily.] THE TIMES? Certainly not. I only read THE
MORNING POST. All that one should know about modern life is where
the Duchesses are; anything else is quite demoralising.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Do you mean to say you have not read THE TIMES
leading article on Robert Chiltern's career?
LORD GORING. Good heavens! No. What does it say?
LORD CAVERSHAM. What should it say, sir? Everything complimentary,
of course. Chiltern's speech last night on this Argentine Canal
scheme was one of the finest pieces of oratory ever delivered in the
House since Canning.
LORD GORING. Ah! Never heard of Canning. Never wanted to. And did
. . . did Chiltern uphold the scheme?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Uphold it, sir? How little you know him! Why, he
denounced it roundly, and the whole system of modern political
finance. This speech is the turning-point in his career, as THE
TIMES points out. You should read this article, sir. [Opens THE
TIMES.] 'Sir Robert Chiltern . . . most rising of our young
statesmen . . . Brilliant orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Well-
known integrity of character . . . Represents what is best in English
public life . . . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among
foreign politicians.' They will never say that of you, sir.
LORD GORING. I sincerely hope not, father. However, I am delighted
at what you tell me about Robert, thoroughly delighted. It shows he
has got pluck.
LORD CAVERSHAM. He has got more than pluck, sir, he has got genius.
LORD GORING. Ah! I prefer pluck. It is not so common, nowadays, as
LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would go into Parliament.
LORD GORING. My dear father, only people who look dull ever get into
the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever succeed
LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you try to do something useful in life?
LORD GORING. I am far too young.
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Testily.] I hate this affectation of youth, sir.
It is a great deal too prevalent nowadays.
LORD GORING. Youth isn't an affectation. Youth is an art.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Why don't you propose to that pretty Miss Chiltern?
LORD GORING. I am of a very nervous disposition, especially in the
LORD CAVERSHAM. I don't suppose there is the smallest chance of her
LORD GORING. I don't know how the betting stands to-day.
LORD CAVERSHAM. If she did accept you she would be the prettiest
fool in England.
LORD GORING. That is just what I should like to marry. A thoroughly
sensible wife would reduce me to a condition of absolute idiocy in
less than six months.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You don't deserve her, sir.
LORD GORING. My dear father, if we men married the women we
deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! . . . How do you do, Lord Caversham? I hope
Lady Caversham is quite well?
LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Caversham is as usual, as usual.
LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Taking no notice at all of LORD GORING, and
addressing herself exclusively to LORD CAVERSHAM.] And Lady
Caversham's bonnets . . . are they at all better?
LORD CAVERSHAM. They have had a serious relapse, I am sorry to say.
LORD GORING. Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [To LORD CAVERSHAM.] I hope an operation will not
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Smiling at her pertness.] If it is, we shall have
to give Lady Caversham a narcotic. Otherwise she would never consent
to have a feather touched.
LORD GORING. [With increased emphasis.] Good morning, Miss Mabel!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Turning round with feigned surprise.] Oh, are you
here? Of course you understand that after your breaking your
appointment I am never going to speak to you again.
LORD GORING. Oh, please don't say such a thing. You are the one
person in London I really like to have to listen to me.
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I never believe a single word that
either you or I say to each other.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You are quite right, my dear, quite right . . . as
far as he is concerned, I mean.
MABEL CHILTERN. Do you think you could possibly make your son behave
a little better occasionally? Just as a change.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I regret to say, Miss Chiltern, that I have no
influence at all over my son. I wish I had. If I had, I know what I
would make him do.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am afraid that he has one of those terribly weak
natures that are not susceptible to influence.
LORD CAVERSHAM. He is very heartless, very heartless.
LORD GORING. It seems to me that I am a little in the way here.
MABEL CHILTERN. It is very good for you to be in the way, and to
know what people say of you behind your back.
LORD GORING. I don't at all like knowing what people say of me
behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.
LORD CAVERSHAM. After that, my dear, I really must bid you good
MABEL CHILTERN. Oh! I hope you are not going to leave me all alone
with Lord Goring? Especially at such an early hour in the day.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I am afraid I can't take him with me to Downing
Street. It is not the Prime Minster's day for seeing the unemployed.
[Shakes hands with MABEL CHILTERN, takes up his hat and stick, and
goes out, with a parting glare of indignation at LORD GORING.]
MABEL CHILTERN. [Takes up roses and begins to arrange them in a bowl
on the table.] People who don't keep their appointments in the Park
LORD GORING. Detestable.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am glad you admit it. But I wish you wouldn't
look so pleased about it.
LORD GORING. I can't help it. I always look pleased when I am with
MABEL CHILTERN. [Sadly.] Then I suppose it is my duty to remain
LORD GORING. Of course it is.
MABEL CHILTERN. Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle.
It always depresses me. So I am afraid I must leave you.
LORD GORING. Please don't, Miss Mabel. I have something very
particular to say to you.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Rapturously.] Oh! is it a proposal?
LORD GORING. [Somewhat taken aback.] Well, yes, it is - I am bound
to say it is.
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a sigh of pleasure.] I am so glad. That
makes the second to-day.
LORD GORING. [Indignantly.] The second to-day? What conceited ass
has been impertinent enough to dare to propose to you before I had
proposed to you?
MABEL CHILTERN. Tommy Trafford, of course. It is one of Tommy's
days for proposing. He always proposes on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
during the Season.
LORD GORING. You didn't accept him, I hope?
MABEL CHILTERN. I make it a rule never to accept Tommy. That is why
he goes on proposing. Of course, as you didn't turn up this morning,
I very nearly said yes. It would have been an excellent lesson both
for him and for you if I had. It would have taught you both better
LORD GORING. Oh! bother Tommy Trafford. Tommy is a silly little
ass. I love you.
MABEL CHILTERN. I know. And I think you might have mentioned it
before. I am sure I have given you heaps of opportunities.
LORD GORING. Mabel, do be serious. Please be serious.
MABEL CHILTERN. Ah! that is the sort of thing a man always says to a
girl before he has been married to her. He never says it afterwards.
LORD GORING. [Taking hold of her hand.] Mabel, I have told you that
I love you. Can't you love me a little in return?
MABEL CHILTERN. You silly Arthur! If you knew anything about . . .
anything, which you don't, you would know that I adore you. Every
one in London knows it except you. It is a public scandal the way I
adore you. I have been going about for the last six months telling
the whole of society that I adore you. I wonder you consent to have
anything to say to me. I have no character left at all. At least, I
feel so happy that I am quite sure I have no character left at all.
LORD GORING. [Catches her in his arms and kisses her. Then there is
a pause of bliss.] Dear! Do you know I was awfully afraid of being
MABEL CHILTERN. [Looking up at him.] But you never have been
refused yet by anybody, have you, Arthur? I can't imagine any one
LORD GORING. [After kissing her again.] Of course I'm not nearly
good enough for you, Mabel.
MABEL CHILTERN. [Nestling close to him.] I am so glad, darling. I
was afraid you were.
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] And I'm . . . I'm a little
MABEL CHILTERN. Dear, you look weeks younger than that.
LORD GORING. [Enthusiastically.] How sweet of you to say so! . . .
And it is only fair to tell you frankly that I am fearfully
MABEL CHILTERN. But so am I, Arthur. So we're sure to agree. And
now I must go and see Gertrude.
LORD GORING. Must you really? [Kisses her.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Then do tell her I want to talk to her particularly. I
have been waiting here all the morning to see either her or Robert.
MABEL CHILTERN. Do you mean to say you didn't come here expressly to
propose to me?
LORD GORING. [Triumphantly.] No; that was a flash of genius.
MABEL CHILTERN. Your first.
LORD GORING. [With determination.] My last.
MABEL CHILTERN. I am delighted to hear it. Now don't stir. I'll be
back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am
LORD GORING. Dear Mabel, while you are away, there are none. It
makes me horribly dependent on you.
[Enter LADY CHILTERN.]
LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, dear! How pretty you are looking!
MABEL CHILTERN. How pale you are looking, Gertrude! It is most
LADY CHILTERN. Good morning, Lord Goring!
LORD GORING. [Bowing.] Good morning, Lady Chiltern!
MABEL CHILTERN. [Aside to LORD GORING.] I shall be in the
conservatory under the second palm tree on the left.
LORD GORING. Second on the left?
MABEL CHILTERN. [With a look of mock surprise.] Yes; the usual palm
[Blows a kiss to him, unobserved by LADY CHILTERN, and goes out.]
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, I have a certain amount of very good
news to tell you. Mrs. Cheveley gave me up Robert's letter last
night, and I burned it. Robert is safe.
LADY CHILTERN. [Sinking on the sofa.] Safe! Oh! I am so glad of
that. What a good friend you are to him - to us!
LORD GORING. There is only one person now that could be said to be
in any danger.
LADY CHILTERN. Who is that?
LORD GORING. [Sitting down beside her.] Yourself.
LADY CHILTERN. I? In danger? What do you mean?
LORD GORING. Danger is too great a word. It is a word I should not
have used. But I admit I have something to tell you that may
distress you, that terribly distresses me. Yesterday evening you
wrote me a very beautiful, womanly letter, asking me for my help.
You wrote to me as one of your oldest friends, one of your husband's
oldest friends. Mrs. Cheveley stole that letter from my rooms.
LADY CHILTERN. Well, what use is it to her? Why should she not have
LORD GORING. [Rising.] Lady Chiltern, I will be quite frank with
you. Mrs. Cheveley puts a certain construction on that letter and
proposes to send it to your husband.
LADY CHILTERN. But what construction could she put on it? . . . Oh!
not that! not that! If I in - in trouble, and wanting your help,
trusting you, propose to come to you . . . that you may advise me . .
. assist me . . . Oh! are there women so horrible as that . . .? And
she proposes to send it to my husband? Tell me what happened. Tell
me all that happened.
LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley was concealed in a room adjoining my
library, without my knowledge. I thought that the person who was
waiting in that room to see me was yourself. Robert came in
unexpectedly. A chair or something fell in the room. He forced his
way in, and he discovered her. We had a terrible scene. I still
thought it was you. He left me in anger. At the end of everything
Mrs. Cheveley got possession of your letter - she stole it, when or
how, I don't know.
LADY CHILTERN. At what hour did this happen?
LORD GORING. At half-past ten. And now I propose that we tell
Robert the whole thing at once.
LADY CHILTERN. [Looking at him with amazement that is almost
terror.] You want me to tell Robert that the woman you expected was
not Mrs. Cheveley, but myself? That it was I whom you thought was
concealed in a room in your house, at half-past ten o'clock at night?
You want me to tell him that?
LORD GORING. I think it is better that he should know the exact
LADY CHILTERN. [Rising.] Oh, I couldn't, I couldn't!
LORD GORING. May I do it?
LADY CHILTERN. No.
LORD GORING. [Gravely.] You are wrong, Lady Chiltern.
LADY CHILTERN. No. The letter must be intercepted. That is all.
But how can I do it? Letters arrive for him every moment of the day.
His secretaries open them and hand them to him. I dare not ask the
servants to bring me his letters. It would be impossible. Oh! why
don't you tell me what to do?
LORD GORING. Pray be calm, Lady Chiltern, and answer the questions I
am going to put to you. You said his secretaries open his letters.
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Who is with him to-day? Mr. Trafford, isn't it?
LADY CHILTERN. No. Mr. Montford, I think.
LORD GORING. You can trust him?
LADY CHILTERN. [With a gesture of despair.] Oh! how do I know?
LORD GORING. He would do what you asked him, wouldn't he?
LADY CHILTERN. I think so.
LORD GORING. Your letter was on pink paper. He could recognise it
without reading it, couldn't he? By the colour?
LADY CHILTERN. I suppose so.
LORD GORING. Is he in the house now?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
LORD GORING. Then I will go and see him myself, and tell him that a
certain letter, written on pink paper, is to he forwarded to Robert
to-day, and that at all costs it must not reach him. [Goes to the
door, and opens it.] Oh! Robert is coming upstairs with the letter
in his hand. It has reached him already.
LADY CHILTERN. [With a cry of pain.] Oh! you have saved his life;
what have you done with mine?
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He has the letter in his hand, and is
reading it. He comes towards his wife, not noticing LORD GORING'S
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. 'I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you.
Gertrude.' Oh, my love! Is this true? Do you indeed trust me, and
want me? If so, it was for me to come to you, not for you to write
of coming to me. This letter of yours, Gertrude, makes me feel that
nothing that the world may do can hurt me now. You want me,
[LORD GORING, unseen by SIR ROBERT CHILTERN, makes an imploring sign
to LADY CHILTERN to accept the situation and SIR ROBERT'S error.]
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. You trust me, Gertrude?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Ah! why did you not add you loved me?
LADY CHILTERN. [Taking his hand.] Because I loved you.
[LORD GORING passes into the conservatory.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Kisses her.] Gertrude, you don't know what I
feel. When Montford passed me your letter across the table - he had
opened it by mistake, I suppose, without looking at the handwriting
on the envelope - and I read it - oh! I did not care what disgrace or
punishment was in store for me, I only thought you loved me still.
LADY CHILTERN. There is no disgrace in store for you, nor any public
shame. Mrs. Cheveley has handed over to Lord Goring the document
that was in her possession, and he has destroyed it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Are you sure of this, Gertrude?
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; Lord Goring has just told me.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Then I am safe! Oh! what a wonderful thing to
be safe! For two days I have been in terror. I am safe now. How
did Arthur destroy my letter? Tell me.
LADY CHILTERN. He burned it.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I wish I had seen that one sin of my youth
burning to ashes. How many men there are in modern life who would
like to see their past burning to white ashes before them! Is Arthur
LADY CHILTERN. Yes; he is in the conservatory.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I am so glad now I made that speech last night
in the House, so glad. I made it thinking that public disgrace might
be the result. But it has not been so.
LADY CHILTERN. Public honour has been the result.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I think so. I fear so, almost. For although I
am safe from detection, although every proof against me is destroyed,
I suppose, Gertrude . . . I suppose I should retire from public life?
[He looks anxiously at his wife.]
LADY CHILTERN. [Eagerly.] Oh yes, Robert, you should do that. It
is your duty to do that.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. It is much to surrender.
LADY CHILTERN. No; it will be much to gain.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN walks up and down the room with a troubled
expression. Then comes over to his wife, and puts his hand on her
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. And you would be happy living somewhere alone
with me, abroad perhaps, or in the country away from London, away
from public life? You would have no regrets?
LADY CHILTERN. Oh! none, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sadly.] And your ambition for me? You used
to be ambitious for me.
LADY CHILTERN. Oh, my ambition! I have none now, but that we two
may love each other. It was your ambition that led you astray. Let
us not talk about ambition.
[LORD GORING returns from the conservatory, looking very pleased with
himself, and with an entirely new buttonhole that some one has made
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Going towards him.] Arthur, I have to thank
you for what you have done for me. I don't know how I can repay you.
[Shakes hands with him.]
LORD GORING. My dear fellow, I'll tell you at once. At the present
moment, under the usual palm tree . . . I mean in the conservatory .
MASON. Lord Caversham.
LORD GORING. That admirable father of mine really makes a habit of
turning up at the wrong moment. It is very heartless of him, very
[Enter LORD CAVERSHAM. MASON goes out.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. Good morning, Lady Chiltern! Warmest
congratulations to you, Chiltern, on your brilliant speech last
night. I have just left the Prime Minister, and you are to have the
vacant seat in the Cabinet.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a look of joy and triumph.] A seat in
LORD CAVERSHAM. Yes; here is the Prime Minister's letter. [Hands
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Takes letter and reads it.] A seat in the
LORD CAVERSHAM. Certainly, and you well deserve it too. You have
got what we want so much in political life nowadays - high character,
high moral tone, high principles. [To LORD GORING.] Everything that
you have not got, sir, and never will have.
LORD GORING. I don't like principles, father. I prefer prejudices.
[SIR ROBERT CHILTERN is on the brink of accepting the Prime
Minister's offer, when he sees wife looking at him with her clear,
candid eyes. He then realises that it is impossible.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I cannot accept this offer, Lord Caversham. I
have made up my mind to decline it.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Decline it, sir!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. My intention is to retire at once from public
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Angrily.] Decline a seat in the Cabinet, and
retire from public life? Never heard such damned nonsense in the
whole course of my existence. I beg your pardon, Lady Chiltern.
Chiltern, I beg your pardon. [To LORD GORING.] Don't grin like
LORD GORING. No, father.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Lady Chiltern, you are a sensible woman, the most
sensible woman in London, the most sensible woman I know. Will you
kindly prevent your husband from making such a . . . from taking such
. . . Will you kindly do that, Lady Chiltern?
LADY CHILTERN. I think my husband in right in his determination,
Lord Caversham. I approve of it.
LORD CAVERSHAM. You approve of it? Good heavens!
LADY CHILTERN. [Taking her husband's hand.] I admire him for it. I
admire him immensely for it. I have never admired him so much
before. He is finer than even I thought him. [To SIR ROBERT
CHILTERN.] You will go and write your letter to the Prime Minister
now, won't you? Don't hesitate about it, Robert.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a touch of bitterness.] I suppose I had
better write it at once. Such offers are not repeated. I will ask
you to excuse me for a moment, Lord Caversham.
LADY CHILTERN. I may come with you, Robert, may I not?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, Gertrude.
[LADY CHILTERN goes out with him.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. What is the matter with this family? Something
wrong here, eh? [Tapping his forehead.] Idiocy? Hereditary, I
suppose. Both of them, too. Wife as well as husband. Very sad.
Very sad indeed! And they are not an old family. Can't understand
LORD GORING. It is not idiocy, father, I assure you.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What is it then, sir?
LORD GORING. [After some hesitation.] Well, it is what is called
nowadays a high moral tone, father. That is all.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Hate these new-fangled names. Same thing as we used
to call idiocy fifty years ago. Shan't stay in this house any
LORD GORING. [Taking his arm.] Oh! just go in here for a moment,
father. Third palm tree to the left, the usual palm tree.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What, sir?
LORD GORING. I beg your pardon, father, I forgot. The conservatory,
father, the conservatory - there is some one there I want you to talk
LORD CAVERSHAM. What about, sir?
LORD GORING. About me, father,
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Grimly.] Not a subject on which much eloquence is
LORD GORING. No, father; but the lady is like me. She doesn't care
much for eloquence in others. She thinks it a little loud.
[LORD CAVERSHAM goes out into the conservatory. LADY CHILTERN
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern, why are you playing Mrs. Cheveley's
LADY CHILTERN. [Startled.] I don't understand you.
LORD GORING. Mrs. Cheveley made an attempt to ruin your husband.
Either to drive him from public life, or to make him adopt a
dishonourable position. From the latter tragedy you saved him. The
former you are now thrusting on him. Why should you do him the wrong
Mrs. Cheveley tried to do and failed?
LADY CHILTERN. Lord Goring?
LORD GORING. [Pulling himself together for a great effort, and
showing the philosopher that underlies the dandy.] Lady Chiltern,
allow me. You wrote me a letter last night in which you said you
trusted me and wanted my help. Now is the moment when you really
want my help, now is the time when you have got to trust me, to trust
in my counsel and judgment. You love Robert. Do you want to kill
his love for you? What sort of existence will he have if you rob him
of the fruits of his ambition, if you take him from the splendour of
a great political career, if you close the doors of public life
against him, if you condemn him to sterile failure, he who was made
for triumph and success? Women are not meant to judge us, but to
forgive us when we need forgiveness. Pardon, not punishment, is
their mission. Why should you scourge him with rods for a sin done
in his youth, before he knew you, before he knew himself? A man's
life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider
scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of
emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life
progresses. Don't make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman
who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the
world wants of women, or should want of them.
LADY CHILTERN. [Troubled and hesitating.] But it is my husband
himself who wishes to retire from public life. He feels it is his
duty. It was he who first said so.
LORD GORING. Rather than lose your love, Robert would do anything,
wreck his whole career, as he is on the brink of doing now. He is
making for you a terrible sacrifice. Take my advice, Lady Chiltern,
and do not accept a sacrifice so great. If you do, you will live to
repent it bitterly. We men and women are not made to accept such
sacrifices from each other. We are not worthy of them. Besides,
Robert has been punished enough.
LADY CHILTERN. We have both been punished. I set him up too high.
LORD GORING. [With deep feeling in his voice.] Do not for that
reason set him down now too low. If he has fallen from his altar, do
not thrust him into the mire. Failure to Robert would be the very
mire of shame. Power is his passion. He would lose everything, even
his power to feel love. Your husband's life is at this moment in
your hands, your husband's love is in your hands. Don't mar both for
[Enter SIR ROBERT CHILTERN.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, here is the draft of my letter.
Shall I read it to you?
LADY CHILTERN. Let me see it.
[SIR ROBERT hands her the letter. She reads it, and then, with a
gesture of passion, tears it up.]
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What are you doing?
LADY CHILTERN. A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has
larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our lives revolve in
curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life
progresses. I have just learnt this, and much else with it, from
Lord Goring. And I will not spoil your life for you, nor see you
spoil it as a sacrifice to me, a useless sacrifice!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude! Gertrude!
LADY CHILTERN. You can forget. Men easily forget. And I forgive.
That is how women help the world. I see that now.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Deeply overcome by emotion, embraces her.] My
wife! my wife! [To LORD GORING.] Arthur, it seems that I am always
to be in your debt.
LORD GORING. Oh dear no, Robert. Your debt is to Lady Chiltern, not
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I owe you much. And now tell me what you were
going to ask me just now as Lord Caversham came in.
LORD GORING. Robert, you are your sister's guardian, and I want your
consent to my marriage with her. That is all.
LADY CHILTERN. Oh, I am so glad! I am so glad! [Shakes hands with
LORD GORING. Thank you, Lady Chiltern.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [With a troubled look.] My sister to be your
LORD GORING. Yes.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Speaking with great firmness.] Arthur, I am
very sorry, but the thing is quite out of the question. I have to
think of Mabel's future happiness. And I don't think her happiness
would be safe in your hands. And I cannot have her sacrificed!
LORD GORING. Sacrificed!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Yes, utterly sacrificed. Loveless marriages
are horrible. But there is one thing worse than an absolutely
loveless marriage. A marriage in which there is love, but on one
side only; faith, but on one side only; devotion, but on one side
only, and in which of the two hearts one is sure to be broken.
LORD GORING. But I love Mabel. No other woman has any place in my
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, if they love each other, why should they not
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Arthur cannot bring Mabel the love that she
LORD GORING. What reason have you for saying that?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [After a pause.] Do you really require me to
LORD GORING. Certainly I do.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. As you choose. When I called on you yesterday
evening I found Mrs. Cheveley concealed in your rooms. It was
between ten and eleven o'clock at night. I do not wish to say
anything more. Your relations with Mrs. Cheveley have, as I said to
you last night, nothing whatsoever to do with me. I know you were
engaged to be married to her once. The fascination she exercised
over you then seems to have returned. You spoke to me last night of
her as of a woman pure and stainless, a woman whom you respected and
honoured. That may be so. But I cannot give my sister's life into
your hands. It would be wrong of me. It would be unjust, infamously
unjust to her.
LORD GORING. I have nothing more to say.
LADY CHILTERN. Robert, it was not Mrs. Cheveley whom Lord Goring
expected last night.
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Not Mrs. Cheveley! Who was it then?
LORD GORING. Lady Chiltern!
LADY CHILTERN. It was your own wife. Robert, yesterday afternoon
Lord Goring told me that if ever I was in trouble I could come to him
for help, as he was our oldest and best friend. Later on, after that
terrible scene in this room, I wrote to him telling him that I
trusted him, that I had need of him, that I was coming to him for
help and advice. [SIR ROBERT CHILTERN takes the letter out of his
pocket.] Yes, that letter. I didn't go to Lord Goring's, after all.
I felt that it is from ourselves alone that help can come. Pride
made me think that. Mrs. Cheveley went. She stole my letter and
sent it anonymously to you this morning, that you should think . . .
Oh! Robert, I cannot tell you what she wished you to think. . . .
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. What! Had I fallen so low in your eyes that
you thought that even for a moment I could have doubted your
goodness? Gertrude, Gertrude, you are to me the white image of all
good things, and sin can never touch you. Arthur, you can go to
Mabel, and you have my best wishes! Oh! stop a moment. There is no
name at the beginning of this letter. The brilliant Mrs. Cheveley
does not seem to have noticed that. There should be a name.
LADY CHILTERN. Let me write yours. It is you I trust and need. You
and none else.
LORD GORING. Well, really, Lady Chiltern, I think I should have back
my own letter.
LADY CHILTERN. [Smiling.] No; you shall have Mabel. [Takes the
letter and writes her husband's name on it.]
LORD GORING. Well, I hope she hasn't changed her mind. It's nearly
twenty minutes since I saw her last.
[Enter MABEL CHILTERN and LORD CAVERSHAM.]
MABEL CHILTERN. Lord Goring, I think your father's conversation much
more improving than yours. I am only going to talk to Lord Caversham
in the future, and always under the usual palm tree.
LORD GORING. Darling! [Kisses her.]
LORD CAVERSHAM. [Considerably taken aback.] What does this mean,
sir? You don't mean to say that this charming, clever young lady has
been so foolish as to accept you?
LORD GORING. Certainly, father! And Chiltern's been wise enough to
accept the seat in the Cabinet.
LORD CAVERSHAM. I am very glad to hear that, Chiltern . . . I
congratulate you, sir. If the country doesn't go to the dogs or the
Radicals, we shall have you Prime Minister, some day.
MASON. Luncheon is on the table, my Lady!
[MASON goes out.]
MABEL CHILTERN. You'll stop to luncheon, Lord Caversham, won't you?
LORD CAVERSHAM. With pleasure, and I'll drive you down to Downing
Street afterwards, Chiltern. You have a great future before you, a
great future. Wish I could say the same for you, sir. [To LORD
GORING.] But your career will have to be entirely domestic.
LORD GORING. Yes, father, I prefer it domestic.
LORD CAVERSHAM. And if you don't make this young lady an ideal
husband, I'll cut you off with a shilling.
MABEL CHILTERN. An ideal husband! Oh, I don't think I should like
that. It sounds like something in the next world.
LORD CAVERSHAM. What do you want him to be then, dear?
MABEL CHILTERN. He can be what he chooses. All I want is to be . .
. to be . . . oh! a real wife to him.
LORD CAVERSHAM. Upon my word, there is a good deal of common sense
in that, Lady Chiltern.
[They all go out except SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. He sinks in a chair,
wrapt in thought. After a little time LADY CHILTERN returns to look
LADY CHILTERN. [Leaning over the back of the chair.] Aren't you
coming in, Robert?
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Taking her hand.] Gertrude, is it love you
feel for me, or is it pity merely?
LADY CHILTERN. [Kisses him.] It is love, Robert. Love, and only
love. For both of us a new life is beginning.