A Long-Time Favorite Play

Though I went to public schools, I did learn quite a few useful things there. One that stuck with me was a play by Henrik Ibsen. I think my teacher spent more time on the play A Doll’s House, but my favorite was Enemy of the People. It’s a frustrating story to read, but I knew it for an accurate depiction of human nature as it plays out in real life. Wikipedia has a summary of the play that seems a little bit too Marxist. I liked the summary at SparkNotes better, but it’s all too brief. You can get the full text of the play (It’s not a long one.) at Project Gutenberg. I’ll copy below part of an especially poignant scene, in case you don’t have the time to read the whole play. If you read it, you may wish to read a synopsis first, so you better understand the context.

Disclaimer: Any similarity between the characters in Ibsen’s play and people in real life is no doubt entirely intentional and possibly even prophetic.#### ACT IV

(SCENE.–A big old-fashioned room in CAPTAIN HORSTER’S house. At the back folding-doors, which are standing open, lead to an ante- room. Three windows in the left-hand wall. In the middle of the opposite wall a platform has been erected. On this is a small table with two candles, a water-bottle and glass, and a bell. The room is lit by lamps placed between the windows. In the foreground on the left there is a table with candles and a chair. To the right is a door and some chairs standing near it. The room is nearly filled with a crowd of townspeople of all sorts, a few women and schoolboys being amongst them. People are still streaming in from the back, and the room is soon filled.)

1st Citizen (meeting another). Hullo, Lamstad! You here too?

2nd Citizen. I go to every public meeting, I do.

3rd Citizen. Brought your whistle too, I expect!

2nd Citizen. I should think so. Haven’t you?

3rd Citizen. Rather! And old Evensen said he was going to bring a cow-horn, he did.

2nd Citizen. Good old Evensen! (Laughter among the crowd.)

4th Citizen (coming up to them). I say, tell me what is going on here tonight?

2nd Citizen. Dr. Stockmann is going to deliver an address attacking the Mayor.

4th Citizen. But the Mayor is his brother.

1st Citizen. That doesn’t matter; Dr. Stockmann’s not the chap to be afraid.

Peter Stockmann. For various reasons, which you will easily understand, I must beg to be excused. But fortunately we have amongst us a man who I think will be acceptable to you all. I refer to the President of the Householders’ Association, Mr. Aslaksen.

Several voices. Yes–Aslaksen! Bravo Aslaksen!

(DR. STOCKMANN takes up his MS. and walks up and down the platform.)

Aslaksen. Since my fellow-citizens choose to entrust me with this duty, I cannot refuse.

(Loud applause. ASLAKSEN mounts the platform.)

Billing (writing), “Mr. Aslaksen was elected with enthusiasm.”

Aslaksen. And now, as I am in this position, I should like to say a few brief words. I am a quiet and peaceable man, who believes in discreet moderation, and–and–in moderate discretion. All my friends can bear witness to that.

Several Voices. That’s right! That’s right, Aslaksen!

Aslaksen. I have learned in the school of life and experience that moderation is the most valuable virtue a citizen can possess–

Peter Stockmann. Hear, hear!

Aslaksen. –And moreover, that discretion and moderation are what enable a man to be of most service to the community. I would therefore suggest to our esteemed fellow-citizen, who has called this meeting, that he should strive to keep strictly within the bounds of moderation.

A Man by the door. Three cheers for the Moderation Society!

A Voice. Shame!

Several Voices. Sh!-Sh!

Aslaksen. No interruptions, gentlemen, please! Does anyone wish to make any remarks?

Peter Stockmann. Mr. Chairman.

Aslaksen. The Mayor will address the meeting.

Peter Stockmann. In consideration of the close relationship in which, as you all know, I stand to the present Medical Officer of the Baths, I should have preferred not to speak this evening. But my official position with regard to the Baths and my solicitude for the vital interests of the town compel me to bring forward a motion. I venture to presume that there is not a single one of our citizens present who considers it desirable that unreliable and exaggerated accounts of the sanitary condition of the Baths and the town should be spread abroad.

Several Voices. No, no! Certainly not! We protest against it!

Peter Stockmann. Therefore, I should like to propose that the meeting should not permit the Medical Officer either to read or to comment on his proposed lecture.

Dr. Stockmann (impatiently). Not permit–! What the devil–!

Mrs. Stockmann (coughing). Ahem!-ahem!

Dr. Stockmann (collecting himself). Very well, Go ahead!

Peter Stockmann. In my communication to the “People’s Messenger,” I have put the essential facts before the public in such a way that every fair-minded citizen can easily form his own opinion. From it you will see that the main result of the Medical Officer’s proposals–apart from their constituting a vote of censure on the leading men of the town–would be to saddle the ratepayers with an unnecessary expenditure of at least some thousands of pounds.

(Sounds of disapproval among the audience, and some cat-calls.)

Aslaksen (ringing his bell). Silence, please, gentlemen! I beg to support the Mayor’s motion. I quite agree with him that there is something behind this agitation started by the Doctor. He talks about the Baths; but it is a revolution he is aiming at–he wants to get the administration of the town put into new hands. No one doubts the honesty of the Doctor’s intentions–no one will suggest that there can be any two opinions as to that, I myself am a believer in self-government for the people, provided it does not fall too heavily on the ratepayers. But that would be the case here; and that is why I will see Dr. Stockmann damned–I beg your pardon–before I go with him in the matter. You can pay too dearly for a thing sometimes; that is my opinion.

(Loud applause on all sides.)

Hovstad. I, too, feel called upon to explain my position. Dr. Stockmann’s agitation appeared to be gaining a certain amount of sympathy at first, so I supported it as impartially as I could. But presently we had reason to suspect that we had allowed ourselves to be misled by misrepresentation of the state of affairs–

Dr. Stockmann. Misrepresentation–!

Hovstad. Well, let us say a not entirely trustworthy representation. The Mayor’s statement has proved that. I hope no one here has any doubt as to my liberal principles; the attitude of the “People’s Messenger” towards important political questions is well known to everyone. But the advice of experienced and thoughtful men has convinced me that in purely local matters a newspaper ought to proceed with a certain caution.

Aslaksen. I entirely agree with the speaker.

Hovstad. And, in the matter before us, it is now an undoubted fact that Dr. Stockmann has public opinion against him. Now, what is an editor’s first and most obvious duty, gentlemen? Is it not to work in harmony with his readers? Has he not received a sort of tacit mandate to work persistently and assiduously for the welfare of those whose opinions he represents? Or is it possible I am mistaken in that?

Voices from the crowd. No, no! You are quite right!

Hovstad. It has cost me a severe struggle to break with a man in whose house I have been lately a frequent guest–a man who till today has been able to pride himself on the undivided goodwill of his fellow-citizens–a man whose only, or at all events whose essential, failing is that he is swayed by his heart rather than his head.

A few scattered voices. That is true! Bravo, Stockmann!

Hovstad. But my duty to the community obliged me to break with him. And there is another consideration that impels me to oppose him, and, as far as possible, to arrest him on the perilous course he has adopted; that is, consideration for his family–

Dr. Stockmann. Please stick to the water-supply and drainage!

Hovstad. –consideration, I repeat, for his wife and his children for whom he has made no provision.

Morten. Is that us, mother?

Mrs. Stockmann. Hush!

Aslaksen. I will now put the Mayor’s proposition to the vote.

Dr. Stockmann. There is no necessity! Tonight I have no intention of dealing with all that filth down at the Baths. No; I have something quite different to say to you.

Peter Stockmann (aside). What is coming now?

A Drunken Man (by the entrance door). I am a ratepayer! And therefore, I have a right to speak too! And my entire–firm– inconceivable opinion is–

A number of voices. Be quiet, at the back there!

Others. He is drunk! Turn him out! (They turn him out.)

Dr. Stockmann. Am I allowed to speak?

Aslaksen (ringing his bell). Dr. Stockmann will address the meeting.

Dr. Stockmann. I should like to have seen anyone, a few days ago, dare to attempt to silence me as has been done tonight! I would have defended my sacred rights as a man, like a lion! But now it is all one to me; I have something of even weightier importance to say to you. (The crowd presses nearer to him, MORTEN Kiil conspicuous among them.)

Dr. Stockmann (continuing). I have thought and pondered a great deal, these last few days–pondered over such a variety of things that in the end my head seemed too full to hold them–

Peter Stockmann (with a cough). Ahem!

Dr. Stockmann. –but I got them clear in my mind at last, and then I saw the whole situation lucidly. And that is why I am standing here to-night. I have a great revelation to make to you, my fellow-citizens! I will impart to you a discovery of a far wider scope than the trifling matter that our water supply is poisoned and our medicinal Baths are standing on pestiferous soil.

A number of voices (shouting). Don’t talk about the Baths! We won’t hear you! None of that!

Dr. Stockmann. I have already told you that what I want to speak about is the great discovery I have made lately–the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood.

Voices of disconcerted Citizens. What is that he says?

Peter Stockmann. Such an insinuation–!

Aslaksen (with his hand on his bell). I call upon the speaker to moderate his language.

Dr. Stockmann. I have always loved my native town as a man only can love the home of his youthful days. I was not old when I went away from here; and exile, longing and memories cast as it were an additional halo over both the town and its inhabitants. (Some clapping and applause.) And there I stayed, for many years, in a horrible hole far away up north. When I came into contact with some of the people that lived scattered about among the rocks, I often thought it would of been more service to the poor half- starved creatures if a veterinary doctor had been sent up there, instead of a man like me. (Murmurs among the crowd.)

Billing (laying down his pen). I’m damned if I have ever heard–!

Hovstad. It is an insult to a respectable population!

Dr. Stockmann. Wait a bit! I do not think anyone will charge me with having forgotten my native town up there. I was like one of the cider-ducks brooding on its nest, and what I hatched was the plans for these Baths. (Applause and protests.) And then when fate at last decreed for me the great happiness of coming home again–I assure you, gentlemen, I thought I had nothing more in the world to wish for. Or rather, there was one thing I wished for–eagerly, untiringly, ardently–and that was to be able to be of service to my native town and the good of the community.

Peter Stockmann (looking at the ceiling). You chose a strange way of doing it–ahem!

Dr. Stockmann. And so, with my eyes blinded to the real facts, I revelled in happiness. But yesterday morning–no, to be precise, it was yesterday afternoon–the eyes of my mind were opened wide, and the first thing I realised was the colossal stupidity of the authorities–. (Uproar, shouts and laughter, MRS. STOCKMANN coughs persistently.)

Peter Stockmann. Mr. Chairman!

Aslaksen (ringing his bell). By virtue of my authority–!

Dr. Stockmann. It is a petty thing to catch me up on a word, Mr. Aslaksen. What I mean is only that I got scent of the unbelievable piggishness our leading men had been responsible for down at the Baths. I can’t stand leading men at any price!–I have had enough of such people in my time. They are like billy- goats on a young plantation; they do mischief everywhere. They stand in a free man’s way, whichever way he turns, and what I should like best would be to see them exterminated like any other vermin–. (Uproar.)

Peter Stockmann. Mr. Chairman, can we allow such expressions to pass?

Aslaksen (with his hand on his bell). Doctor–!

Dr. Stockmann. I cannot understand how it is that I have only now acquired a clear conception of what these gentry are, when I had almost daily before my eyes in this town such an excellent specimen of them–my brother Peter–slow-witted and hide-bound in prejudice–. (Laughter, uproar and hisses. MRS. STOCKMANN Sits coughing assiduously. ASLAKSEN rings his bell violently.)

The Drunken Man (who has got in again). Is it me he is talking about? My name’s Petersen, all right–but devil take me if I–

Angry Voices. Turn out that drunken man! Turn him out. (He is turned out again.)

Peter Stockmann. Who was that person?

1st Citizen. I don’t know who he is, Mr. Mayor.

2nd Citizen. He doesn’t belong here.

3rd Citizen. I expect he is a navvy from over at–(the rest is inaudible).

Aslaksen. He had obviously had too much beer. Proceed, Doctor; but please strive to be moderate in your language.

Dr. Stockmann. Very well, gentlemen, I will say no more about our leading men. And if anyone imagines, from what I have just said, that my object is to attack these people this evening, he is wrong–absolutely wide of the mark. For I cherish the comforting conviction that these parasites–all these venerable relics of a dying school of thought–are most admirably paving the way for their own extinction; they need no doctor’s help to hasten their end. Nor is it folk of that kind who constitute the most pressing danger to the community. It is not they who are most instrumental in poisoning the sources of our moral life and infecting the ground on which we stand. It is not they who are the most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom amongst us.

Shouts from all sides. Who then? Who is it? Name! Name!

Dr. Stockmann. You may depend upon it–I shall name them! That is precisely the great discovery I made yesterday. (Raises his voice.) The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom amongst us is the compact majority–yes, the damned compact Liberal majority–that is it! Now you know! (Tremendous uproar. Most of the crowd are shouting, stamping and hissing. Some of the older men among them exchange stolen glances and seem to be enjoying themselves. MRS. STOCKMANN gets up, looking anxious. EJLIF and MORTEN advance threateningly upon some schoolboys who are playing pranks. ASLAKSEN rings his bell and begs for silence. HOVSTAD and BILLING both talk at once, but are inaudible. At last quiet is restored.)

Aslaksen. As Chairman, I call upon the speaker to withdraw the ill-considered expressions he has just used.

Dr. Stockmann. Never, Mr. Aslaksen! It is the majority in our community that denies me my freedom and seeks to prevent my speaking the truth.

Hovstad. The majority always has right on its side.

Billing. And truth too, by God!

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