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THE MUSE. Down, Cerberus, down—good dog, good little dog. It’s only its old friend Clio, who has brought it a nice little sop of honey-lies.
SATAN. The Muse of History ! I had quite forgotten our appointment. There she is, irreclaimably classic and never forgetting her plastic poses; indiscreet beyond all other Immortals, and of course, an hour before her time ! Still, my performance needs her reporting. And although she is a fool of the first water, she has rubbed shoulders in her professional capacity with so many celebrated persons that she may pass muster as intelligent. Since she has cost me my brief moment of privacy, let me amuse myself a little by mystifying her.
The barking has ceased. Enter the MUSE, with the marble impetuosity of the Victory of Samothrace, and very angry in an operatic way. She does not recognize SATAN in the dark.
THE MUSE. Insolence I call it ! I tell you I am invited to attend your Master; and you shall answer to him, whoever you are, for having kept me waiting out there with Cerberus ! Hullo, you there in the dark, tell my Lord Satan that Clio waits upon him : Clio, Muse of History, not to be mistaken for that newfangled impostor who makes free with my name to retail vulgar details about laws and institutions and the price of food stuffs; Clio, real Muse of real History, sister of Tragedy and the Impassioned Lyric, and dealing only with deeds heroic, elevating and most often destructive.
SATAN. All right, all right, don’t be flustered. No one would ever mistake you for anything scientific, my dear Clio.
THE MUSE (taken aback). The voice of Satan himself I (she curtsies in several directions in the dark) Forgive me, Prince of Darkness. Your kingdom seems even less well-lit than usual, after the garish modern world. I thought I had to do with some attendant fiend new to the service; why even Cerberus himself scarcely knew my voice.
SATAN (has risen and shakes hands). A thousand apologies, dearest Muse. The fires of Hell have long since been extinguished, for no one took them seriously in these godless days. Your perspicacious eyes will grow more accustomed to this dear primaeval darkness; and after my coming Ballet, the lights of Earth will no longer offend you : even there gloom and a touch of chaos will prevail.
But come, let us have a look at each other, my excellent old friend |
SATAN increases the ominous light which emanates from his person, and is revealed like a tempestuous moon thinly veiled in clouds: beautiful, archangelic, without age or sex, all powerful, omniscient, sad, but with much sense of humour.
SATAN (pointing to the other corner of the Empire sofa). Come, sit opposite where I can look at you, dear old Clio ! I am glad to see you quite unchanged Classic, even to the invariable key pattern on your hem The same majestic embonpoint, like some ample-bosomed prima donna in a Wagner opera, but with the incomparable contralto, luscious but rolling, suitable to Handel ! And not aged a bit !
THE MUSE. You are too good, my Lord; and your ancient friendship does not see the ravages of time in my poor wrinkled face. (CLIo takes out a powder puff and applies it with a frank and delicate grace.) But as to you, my Lord! Satan of all creative and created forces alone maintains unblemished
THE MUSE (anxious to make herself agreeable after the gaffe committed on entering, looks round her for something to say). How truly restful is not this ancient place | The ideal retreat, I always say, for one uniting in his person, action, thought and fancy.
SATAN (bows, one hand on his heart). A good old place The only bit still left of the deep Void and Darkness whence Life and Light arose to plague me and be plagued by me ! You know it well of old ! But such are the regrettable compromises with error to which professional men of letters, and even muses, are obliged, that you yourself, I notice, have more than once described this house of quiet brooding evil as peopled with the myriad damned who encumber the world above with their dead carcasses and equally offensive living souls. To think that poets and divines have packed these restful solitudes with brimstone flames, bogs of boiling mud, lakes of ice, viewless winds, all crammed with garrulous deceased humans ! Little did I guess, when I made all moralists vindictive, that, not being satisfied with what Satan makes of Earth, this vindictiveness would intrude feeble copies thereof into his own dwelling, whence he sends evil to suffer and avenge itself above.
THE MUSE. Too true, alas ! my Lord. The literary trade is frequently obliged to make truth acceptable by standing it on its head; for instance, put what people call Hell below, when it is so visibly above, the Earth’s surface; time it after death, when it is obviously present during life. But misrepresentations of this trifling kind are crumpled rose-leaves in the Arch-fiend’s bed. And . . . forgive the indiscretion of so old a friendship, you seem a little depressed to-day. Anything gone wrong
SATAN. Oh no | Everything as it should be : evil hatching everywhere; and in another hour, triumphant through one half of Earth. I am only bored. But that is not unusual with me.
THE MUSE. Bored, my dear Lord Satan Why you have invited me to report the very greatest performance you have
ever staged SATAN. Yes; I truly think the finest. By the way, did
you pass on my invitation to the Ages-to-Come
THE MUSE. I have, my Lord. They will be here in good time.
SATAN. That’s right. They shall have front stalls; for they are more appreciative than the Virtues of our audience, who always fall asleep when the performance offends their principles. But as to you, your seat is next to mine, as beseems the great recording Muse.
THE MUSE (claps her hands in delight). Oh, dear Lord Satan |
SATAN. We are very old friends, Clio. What would history have to record but for the doings of Satan And save for your varied talents, what memory would there be for evil deeds But come, let us have a little chat, dear old Muse. There is still half an hour till the bell rings and we go aloft. Except your disembodied friends the Ages-to-Come, no one will have admittance here below. Some of the Virtues would doubtless enjoy seeing my quiet home, but its thin dehumanized atmosphere makes them cough. And as to our Orchestra of Human Passions, they are always in training; and it is the Ballet Master's duty to summon them in time. All else is ready. I need scarce remind you that the real preparation for this new Ballet of mine began long ages back; one might almost say with the first wars which, making men afraid, taught them to bring on aggression by their precautions for self defence. So that the necessary pretexts and arguments for hatred have, like the painted scenery of an earthly play-house, accumulated on my hands from age to age, ready to shift from side to side. Thus in the coming Ballet you will recognize, not without amusement, the selfsame insults against Britain's whilom comrades-in-arms which Burke and Pitt had used against Britain's present-day allies, the once frog-eating, systematic murderers called French. And now the scene shifters of the Press and Cabinet are busy above; listen | you can just hear their hammering. And the armament-mongers have sent in all their latest millinery.
THE MUSE. And how is Ballet Master Death, your gifted son f
SATAN. My nephew, if you don’t mind, dear Clio. Prejudice is sacred in my eyes, and I should hate to be a cause of scandal to my weaker brethren. You ask how is Ballet Master Death Oh well ! we all grow old, and he never had a good constitution to begin with. And then perpetual worry ! All those doctors and social reformers spoiling his sport and almost throwing him back on mere telluric horrors, shipwrecks and earthquakes and such like.
THE MUSE. Yes, indeed! We have had a dull time of it, and a difficult one, in that bourgeois Victorian Age, with people talking of Peace, Retrenchment and Reform, and even practising them a little. But this new century has brought back a nobler and more ideal way of thinking. Mankind is getting once more to recognize that man cannot live by bread alone.
SATAN. Just so. His moral digestion is apt to become torpid from protracted peace and plenty. Then man requires the heroic remedies of primitive medicine: Vitalizing Lies, Alcoholic Syrup of Catchwords wherein to swallow such materia medica as moderns blush to mention; fastings and bloodlettings; drastic purges, as Aristotle prescribed, by terror and pity; and such upsetting of the whole circulation as spiritual dervishes and flagellants employ in order to restore the zest of life.—Forgive my coarseness, dear Muse of History ! It is no longer every day I can converse with refined intellectuals like you. Philosophers and Poets do, of course, join enthusiastically in my shows when, as in the coming Ballet,