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informed, is the subject of the new Ballet to which you have so graciously invited poor old Clio ?
SATAN (kissing her finger-tips gallantly). Just so. My lease of life, though good for many thousand years, is shortening, shrinking with every great success of mine, like the pew de chagrin in Balzac’s romance. I may, however, tell you that there is another, and more pressing, reason why I have hurried on this great new spectacle.
THE MUsE. The present moment is eminently propitious. I am told by one or two leaders of modern thought, who frequent my salon, that mankind has attained amazing control over science’s means without so far an inkling of science’s discipline and aims. Twentieth-century men appear to be slum-and-warehouse savages retaining the worship of all the good old tribal fetishes and racy obscene emblems, and carrying on their ancient cannibal habits under newfangled and decent names; yet at the same time wielding, thanks to some dozen men of genius .
SATAN. Waste of genius ! Waste of science ! There you have a triflin sam le of m s ort ! g P Y P
THE MUsE (not to be interrupted) wielding, as I said, appliances which, without enlarging mind or heart, abolish space and multiply all brutish powers a thousandfold. If this account is true, no moment could be better suited for a Dance of Death such as the poor unsophisticated Middle Ages never imagined in their most celebrated nightmares.
SATAN (who has politely suppressed a yawn). You are rightly informed, as befits the Muse of History. But that is not the most urgent reason for hurrying on my monster entertainment. Between you and me, in the very strictest confidence, dear Clio, my Ballet Master Death is growing old.
THE MUsE. You have hinted something to that effect. And I confess that I have myself noticed, not without the deepest concern, that our genial friend has been looking anything but well of late, and seems to be losing some of his
v faculties. He is said to have been a gay dog in his prime,
loving excess for its own sake, and it is whispered, addicted more and more to eccentric pleasures. Such lack of selfrestraint tells, alas, even on the most robust constitutions in the long run. Dear old Ballet Master Death! un vieux marcheur, as the French classics say, and now getting un peu gaga, I fear.
SATAN. Yes, still pretty spry, but tabetic and threatened with creeping paralysis. His constitution, though I say it who should not, was never really good: Sin, his poor dear mother, was always somewhat of an invalid, and the intermarriage of very close relations does not, alas, result in robust offspring. Well, well, I shall be the first to suffer for these peccadilloes of my youth! My poor old nephew! Alas, dear Clio, our dear incomparable Ballet Master Death is not with us for very much longer.
THE MUsE. You have my deepest sympathy in yourwell! more than paternal anxiety. But there is no real danger Imean——danger of . . . Surely? Isee as everyone must see that Ballet Master Death is no longer what he was, and that science (I begin to understand the prejudice you show against the Tree of Knowledge) has almost, as an Irishman might say, been the death of him. He has been warned off one pestilence after another; famines* are growing scarce; and except in the mystic Orient, religious massacres are everywhere marked “Trespass.” Such constant interference cannot fail to tell on his sensitive nerves, and spoil poor Death’s temper, which was never very good. But I am glad to remember that in his case you need never apprehend the very worst. Death, at all events, can never die outright.
' Written before the Armistice and the famine which it not only revealed, but exploited.
He and the Creative Power—Elan Vital as my friend Bergson calls it—are the two immortals.
SATAN. Not this Death.
SATAN. Not my Ballet Master, my jester in ordinary, m rowd boon com anion, m incom arable, atrocious, Y Y P Y P grim, leering, lewd, worm-eaten scarecrow! He alas, can die. And, to my sorrow, will. The immortal is the other.
THE MUsE. The other what ?
SATAN. The other Death. The true one. For, although History has not grasped that secret, our Ballet Master merely usurps his name and functions.
THE MUsE (scared). In that case, what on earth is your Ballet Master’s real name?
SATAN. He has too many different names to be called by any single one, unless that name be Horror. He is Wasting Sickness, Pestilence, Famine, Contamination, Crime and War. That being the case, men, in speaking of him, most often use and profane the sacred name of Death. This one, my Ballet Master, is, as Milton indiscreetly printed and published, a very near and dear relative of mine, born in my salad days of Sin, another very near relative, all of us children and grand
children, more or less incestuous, as you know, of the Primaeval Chaos.
THE MUsE. Believe me, dear Lord Satan, I had no intention of raking up such intimate family details. But tell me
about this other one ? This True Death, since you have called him that.
SATAN. The True Death. He has been my enemy since the beginning. Like me, he is an archangel, but mightier. Great Natural Death, twin of Sleep and foster-brother of
‘Love. He was born, by virgin birth, of Life herself, to be
the marshal of Life’s triumphal progress. He is not often seen of men, although he works ubiquitously among inanimate things, and his serene face shines through the autumn woods. And thus it comes about that my Ballet Master usurps his part and name. Yet, at times, poets and sages have caught glimpses of his tender eyes. And in brief lulls of evil, when light irradiated some tiniest corner of the world, favoured peoples have had brief vision of him, or heard the quiet rustle of his wings. True Death is that grave, gracious genius, brother of the sad sweet Hermes who conducts the souls, carved by Ionian masons on the great pillar of Ephesus: naked and winged and lovely, marshalling Life’s slow triumph. For he it is who makes room for new-comers in just turn, securing the world for Youth and Betterment. He also brings perfect peace to those whose other Wishes have been filled brimfull, or cruelly denied. And he leads by the hand that Love who often lurks unconscious till loss awakes it to sweet solemn plenitude. Such is the True Death; the Natural, Beneficent, and also, the Immortal. (SATAN pauses, passing his hand across his brow).
But with him, dear Muse of History, Satan has. no truck ! And now the moment nears when we must ascend from this silent nest of brooding evil to meet my Death, Satan’s obscene, uproarious Ballet Master, whose manifold pranks convert the EarthintotherealHellwhichsillymortalsfableherebelow . , . Is there anything you would still ask me to explain, good old Clio ?
THE MUsE. There is indeed, my Lord. We have talked so much philosophy, very instructive no doubt, but just a little bit too abstract for my taste, that I have had no opportunity of so much as inquiring the title of your new Ballet, and the names of its performers. I understand it is to be serious, not comic ?
SATAN. The greatest tragedies, dear Clio, being founded on
error, are never without an element of the grotesque. But this ludicrous side always escapes those who take part in them, for if they saw the full absurdity, they would refuse to act these frightful scenes. They take it seriously, poor creatures, and no wonder ! But to you, dear Muse of History, and your friends the idle Ages-to-Come, this Ballet o}‘ the Nations (for that’s its title) will be an unending source of rhetoric, mistaken lessons, and of such voluptuous horror as thrilled the Vestal Virgins in their cushioned seats high above the arena. And I doubt whether your elevated taste (but, I forgot, you do condescend to anecdote) will quite appreciate the preposterousness which underlies it all. But, to return, the Corps de Ballet is, of course, composed of the various Nations, as the name imports. For the necessary music I have a choice band of Human Passions, those who hide their face and are cried fy to by distinguished persons like yourself, and the others who go handsomely masked and stilted ; some also of the simplest, purest, noblest : Idealism, Love of Adventure, Pity and Indignation, above all, Heroism.
THE MUsE. And Patriotism first and foremost.
SATAN. Nay, Patriotism is the collective name of the whole orchestra whom I train for these performances; Human Passions, splendid or sordid, delicate or nasty, all seated, cheek by jowl, playing their instruments without whose steady flow of sublime music and nerve-rending din the Nations could not dance their Dance of Death obedient to my great Ballet Master’s baton. To keep this music up, drinks will be handed round by my well-trained lackeys of the Press and Pulpit: hot and acrid for coarse palates, or heady and full of fuddling fumes; also subtler ones, such as make everyday trifles seem to the opium-dreamer vast and rainbow-wonderful ; plentiful, deep draughts of words, words and ever more words, concocted in my special distillery by learned recluses like those white~robed monks who manufacture fiery liqueurs in remote