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little body one of the most terrific pas seuls that Ballet Master Death had ever invented ; while the vis-à-vis Nations danced slowly up till they came to grips over that Smallest-of-All the Dancers, who lay prone on the ground, and continued so to lie till the end of the Ballet, lifeless between its aggressors and its defenders. The AGEs-to-CoME burst into shouts of horrified rapture like spectators at a bull-fight. The Orchestra subsides for a moment, and only the drum is heard. SATAN (low to the MUSE). Hark! The drum of Heroism! Of all the instruments the one, I sometimes think, most to my liking. No other has such imperious power over the nerves and muscles, and so little to say to the mind. For the drum knows neither intervals nor modes nor modulation, things requisite alike for music and rational existence; it recognizes neither resemblance nor diversity; but, like the glorious blind boy whom it urges on, goes marching, marching, marching, without knowledge of why, whence, or whither.
THE MUSE (writing and declaiming). But while this was happening at the western end of the Theatre, a symmetrical action had begun at the eastern, where a Nation, who had long been forbidden to dance on its own account, because it had been made the slave of some of the others, was being danced across like a carpet by two of the great vis-à-vis, each of whom would point at it with gestures of pity and protection, but without ceasing to trample it, until the to-and-fro's of their dance had pounded it out of all shape and almost out of ex1Stence.
DEATH (rapping on his desk and silencing the Orchestra). My Lord Satan! Interesting Neutral Nations still in the audience; noble, though somewhat drowsy, Virtues who are looking on ; and you who reward Ballet and Ballet Master with undying glory, illustrious and bodiless Ages-to-Come! These two first figures of our Ballet, symmetrical but D
different in their style of horror, are called “The Defence of the Weak.” They will continue unremittingly all through the performance, and will lead up to the final triumph of such Small Nationalities (and they are all cordially pressed to join in the dance!) as may have limbs or life to dance with.
The Orchestra resumes, and the dancing gets more complicated. No one speaks for a minute or so, till the MUSE, erect by SATAN’s side, begins once more her writing and reciting. THE MUSE. For whereas the Ballet had begun with the tender radiance of an August sunset above half-harvested fields, where the reaping-machines hummed peacefully among the corn-stooks, and the ploughs cut into the stubble, the progress of the performance had seen the deep summer starlit vault flushed by the flare of distant burning farms, and its blue solemnity rent by the fitful track of rockets, and the luminous fans of searchlights and the Roman candles and Catherine-wheels of far-off explosions. Until, little by little, the heavens, painted such a peaceful blue, were blotted out by masses of flame-lit smoke and poisonous vapours, rising and sinking, coming forward and receding like a stifling fog, but ever growing denser and more rent by dreadful leaping fires, and swaying obedient to Death's bâton no less than did the bleeding Nations of his Corps de Ballet. In and out of that lurid chasm they moved, by twos or threes; now lost to view in the billows of fiery darkness, now issuing thence toward the Ballet Master’s desk, or suddenly revealed, clasped in terrific embrace, by the leaping flame of an exploding magazine; while overhead fluttered and whirred great wings, which showered down bomb-lightnings. Backwards and forwards moved the Nations in that changing play of light and darkness, and undergoing themselves uncertain and fearful changes of aspect. (Interrupting herself.) A stirring page, my Clio, and one I would on no account have missed the writing of (Looks at the stage muttering, “Good! Good!” then resumes her writing, while the Ballet and the fireworks go on with all kinds of variations.)
The voice of HERo1sM, a youthful and very pure tenor, is heard above the din of the Orchestra, singing the Marseillaise to the accompaniment of his drum.
SATAN (low, to the MUSE). Do you hear him, Clio He shall be made to sing the other splendid murderous songs by turns. Not only this, which spurred the French at Valmy and the Bridge of Arcole, but those of the German students who fought at Leipzig; and also that fine theme which dear old Haydn wrote, and Hofer sang while they led him out to be shot in the moat at Mantua. For, as you are aware, Heroism is of no country but of all equally, a real Cosmopolitan, although his chief business is international extermination. A divine genius truly! and appreciated on all hands. The only fault which Satan finds with him, since none of us, dear Clio, are faultless, is that while wasting himself sublimely to no purpose, he is apt to remember the common human nature of all Nations and make them love each other in the midst of their mutual slaughter. But that is a failing of which I trust the present Ballet may cure him once for all.
The Ballet and fireworks go on. HERoism’s voice, drowned for a little by the Orchestra of PAssions, is heard once more singing the first bars of the “Wacht am Rhein.”
THE MUSE (writing). Since you should know that, although politicians say the contrary, Nations can never die outright. Just as the Gods of Valhalla could slash each other to ribbons after breakfast and resurrect for dinner, so every Nation can dance Death’s Dance, however bled and maimed ; dance upon stumps, or trail itself along, a living jelly of blood and trampled flesh, providing only its Head remains unhurt. And that Head, which each Nation calls its Government, but the other Nations call France or Russia or Britain or Germany or Austria or Italy for short, that Head of each Nation dancing Death’s Dance (except that of the Smallest Dancer, who never ceased being prostrate on the ground) is very properly helmeted, and rarely gets so much as a scratch, so that, with its innocent stolid face, it can continue to turn towards the Ballet Master's bâton, and order the Nation’s body to put forth fresh limbs, and even when that is impossible, to keep its stumps dancing ever new figures in obedience or disregard to what are called the rules of the Dance. This being the case, Death could keep up the Dance regardless of the condition of the Dancers, and of the condition also of the stage, which was such that, what between blood and mud and entrails and heaps of ravaged properties, it became scarcely possible to move even a few yards to and fro. Yet dance they did, chopping and slashing, blinding each other with squirts of blood and pellets of human flesh. And as they appeared and disappeared in the moving wreaths of fiery smoke, they lost more and more of their original shape, becoming, in that fitful light, terrible uncertain forms, armless, legless, recognizable for human only by their irreproachable Heads, which they carried stiff and high even while crawling and staggering along, lying in wait, and leaping and rearing and butting as do fighting animals; until they became, with those decorous, well-groomed Heads, mere unspeakable hybrids between man and beast : they who had come on to that stage so erect and beautiful. For the Ballet of the Nations, when Satan gets it up regardless of expense, is an unsurpassed spectacle of transformations such as must be witnessed to be believed in. Thus on they danced their stranger and stranger antics. The voice of HERoism, after singing bars of Tipperary and other songs, is heard singing with great solemnity Haydn’s “Gott erhalte unseren Kaiser.” Its hymn-like melody gradually changes into part of a psalm, “Stand up, O Lord God of Hosts, thou God of our Fathers. Through Thee will we overthrow our enemies, in Thy Name will we tread them under that rise up against us.”
THE MUSE. And as they appeared by turns in that chaos of flame and darkness, each of those Dancing Nations kept invoking Satan, crying to him, “Help me, my own dear Lord; ” but they called him by Another Name. And Satan, that creative connoisseur, rejoiced in his work of waste and saw that it was perfect (puts the tablets into the bosom of her robe).
SATAN (in the position again of the Michelangelo Duke as in the prologue, propping his chin on his hand, but with his eyes fixed wpon the stage, speaks meditatively to himself). Dear Creatures, how they worship me. It is deeply gratifying to my pride in wastefulness. True, they mistake my name, but they love my real self, and the success of my long career has taught me the use of aliases. (To the MUSE.) How true it is, dear Muse of History, that the chief function of the Sublime in art or nature is to awaken man’s slumbering intuition that there is, after all, a Power transcending his ephemeral life, and quite indifferent to his trumpery happiness. That is one reason why I prefer the Ballet of the Nations to any of the other mystery-plays, Earthquake, Pestilence, Shipwreck and so forth, which Death puts on our stage from time to time. The music is not always pretty: at once too ultra-modern and too archaic for Philistine ears. And, despite the classic genius of my Ballet Master, and the sensational suggestions of our new friends, Organization and Science, the steps of the Dance lack variety. But what a scope this Ballet gives for moral beauty, and how it revives religious feeling in its genuine polytheism! I grant you the Heads of the Nations are somewhat hardfeatured. But the Bodies of the Nations are always sound and virginal; and what concerns me most, their heart is always in the right place. So for true sublimity, give me, I always say, \