A Railway Episode
A RAILWAY EPISODE
By John Franklyn Phillips.
ONE typical winter afternoon I was riding in a parlor car—from where to where is immaterial. I had been on the train a little over an hour, and at the last stop all the passengers had left my end of the car, except a young man who occupied the next chair to mine. Weary of gazing out of the window, I had just commenced the concluding chapter of "The Jungle," when I heard a voice say:
"Do you like Sinclair?"
"Yes," I answered abstractedly, "I consider 'The Jungle' the greatest literary work ever produced by an
American. I ." The train was rumbling over a
small bridge, and as I raised my eyes I found the young man looking earnestly at me. I must have shown my embarrassment, for he said:
"Of course we have not been introduced, but I think our tastes and views are somewhat akin, so it does not matter. I, too, appreciate the genius of Sinclair. "The Jungle' is the work of an artist-philosopher. No improbabilities and absence of ideas, which we meet with in Dickens; no individuals without wills of their own, that Shakespeare portrays. Are you a Socialist?"
I had read the "Communist Manifesto," glanced through "Capital," and carefully studied the "Fabian Essays," and considered myself fairly familiar with Scientific Socialism.
"Yes," I replied, "but being a woman I fear I do little for the cause, although three of my men friends say I have converted them."
"Good! you are a comrade then. And how do you employ your time? From your appearance I discern you are not a wage earner." Without thinking at the time of the singularity of the question coming from an absolute stranger, I answered:
"Oh, I am essaying dramas." "An excellent occupation. What kind?" "I am afraid an inferior kind compared with the productions of Henrik Ibsen, who is my favorite dramatist. My attempts are not unlike Charles Klein's: a little realistic romance touching on the economic question."
"I see," he said smiling, "the innate feminine craving for romance. ... I am glad you like Ibsen, the great Anarchistic playwright who first gave us the modern realistic drama. His productions are an admirable S source of inspiration to draw from. . . . And," he con- tinued, "what do you think of that 'brilliant but shallow ] satirist,' that 'insincere cynic,' Bernard Shaw?"
I knew little of Shaw except that I had seen one of his comedies and had read the conventional criticisms in the daily newspapers, so I replied:
"I believe he is more or less as you describe him, although I have seen only one of his plays." "Which one?" "Man and Superman."
"Yes, I know it is liable to leave the popular impression of the author which I mimicked, especially as the third act is left out; but the truth is, Shaw is so deep that he overtaxes the average intellect. The playgoers are blinded by his brilliancy and therefore unable to see his philosophy. In some respects, Shaw is even greater than Ibsen, as he has constructive ideas, while the older playwright could only artistically pen-paint the human soul in motion. Now, if I only had time some evening to thoroughly explain Shaw to you, you would undoubtedly recognize his merit and derive much pleasure plus profit from the old Socialist. May be you are better acquainted with Nietzsche?"
I confessed I knew him only by name. "That is unfortunate," continued my companion, "or rather fortunate, as you have much satisfaction before you. You will find Shaw and Nietzsche come to similar conclusions. Both have realized the irretrievable defects of humankind; the illusion of universal happiness; the existence of the 'will to live' with its blundering actions—and yet progressive intent. . . . Both have conceived of a race of Better People than the human race with its poverty, disease and crime. And to revolutionize conditions so that these Superior People shall evolve, these Supermen and Superwomen who shall be 'beyond good and evil,' is the aim of the Irish dramatist and was the work of the German philosopher while he lived."
He leaned back in his chair, completely absorbed in thought, as if he were considering some technical objection, and I was very glad that he had forgotten my presence, for, had I been expected to answer, I should not have known what to say. His talk on Shaw and Nietzsche was very strange to me. "The illusion of universal happiness," "to revolutionize conditions so that these Superior People shall evolve," "beyond good and evil"—truly I was in a mental quandary, and I had always imagined that I belonged to the advanced school of liberal thought. . . . Then I began to wonder: who, and what, is this young man? His conversation is more than interesting, although I cannot follow his ideas. He goes too quickly for me. If we should become better acquainted, and he would, as he suggested, more fully explain, I'm sure I could understand him. There seems to be something awful and—and good, in his objection to "human" aspiration. The train was slowing down to stop at a station. The young man got up, put on his overcoat unassisted by the porter, deliberately adjusted his hat and left the car.
I experienced an indescribable sensation. I think it was half fear, half regret. Was he gone? Had he left me? No, that couldn't be—he had not even said goodbye. We must become better acquainted, he must explain. . . . And how could I travel alone—without him? I seemed no longer to be an individual. I felt as if I were only a part of an entity, and that he was taking something away from me. I got up and hastily went to the car platform. The train was in motion again—no one was in sight. ... I sadly walked back to my chair, into which I wearily sank and THOUGHT.
- John Franklyn Phillips, “A Railway Episode,” Mother Earth 2, no. 4 (June 1907): 194-196.