By BENJAMIN DE CASSERES
Scene: The Great Stadium, of which the lower range of seats begins at a point in the air just above and off the Orkney Islands, at the northermost point of Scotland, and describes a hemicycle through the northern part of Norway and Sweden, ending in Northern Russia. At the front and at the center of the Stadium a great Box draped on three sides in curtains of gold and rubescent clouds. The front of the Box, which faces Europe, is open, but the phantoms who crowd the Stadium cannot see who is within. Tier on tier rises in this vast auditorium until the eye can no longer follow. The upper rows are fused in the empyrean, engulfed in the stars.
To the north toward the pole, glowing in the ether, three figures in three cars are posed. They are in battle dress, their whips raised as though to strike the backs of their winged steeds, whose nostrils are pointed to the zenith. They vibrate, but do not move, and the lashes quiver but never descend.
They are Hannibal, Caesar and Napoleon.
To the south, over the northern coast of Africa, on a direct level with the luminous figures in the north, are posed three other figures. One is swathed in white, another in black, and the third shimmers against the heavens in naked, contemplative glory. They stand on altars of porphyry, their arms crossed. They vibrate but do not move, and their arms quiver but never unlock.
They are Christ, Buddha and Apollo.
The Great Stadium is crowded with the immortals of history—those crystallizations and long-labored precipitations of the psychic and physical essence of Man which we call great personages. Before the Stadium, on the stage of Europe, there is a monstrous network of open arteries a-brim with blood. They are the Dniester, the San, the Isonzo, the Aisne, the Meuse, the Lys.
Vast mountain ranges wriggle and squirm like Apocalyptic worms. They are the Alps, the Carpathians, the Vosges, infested with men, uniformed, armed, on the march to invisible empyreans of Glory and diabolically epiphanous translations into nothing whatever.
Great birds, mythologic dreams come to matter, vomit balls of fire and pass like white and leaden thunderclouds motored by some infernal machinery. They are the aeroplanes and Zeppelins, the eyes of the Air.
Great tongues of flame suddenly flash out against the sky and lick the cool air like thirst-thwarted panthers. They are cities that die to the salute of shrapnel.
It is the great War, and I who sat in that Box between the two Invisible Occupants heard these things from the lips of that phantom assemblage on the Great Stadium.
Imagination is the root of all evil. And it is the creator of all that is sublime. What a scenario! It recalls to me my Carthage and the legions of Hamilcar. But, Nicolo, great artist that I was, I never in my most feverish moments of creation dreamed of anything so grandiose, so vast as this. It is a perfect work of art—this war.
Elimination, elemination and selection, and rhythm, Nicolo, were my secrets. Ah! if you had read my books you would see where the Blind Homer of the Stars got his style from when he wrote this tremendous bit of fiction before us.
What you say may be true, but I never had time for fiction. I see no art here; I only see stupidity. Kings no longer know how to reign. Look at that ridiculous Kaiser rushing from the Aisne to the Drina and back again with a tin eagle on a pewter helmet. Listen to him babble of God and destiny! He is out of tune with the times, and that is fatal to any sovereign. He is doomed because he has not known how to get into the hearts of the people. He cannot play the hypocrite; he is too dense for that—for hypocrisy is a fine art.
Of course you never read my “Prince.” Well, had I written it today I would have taught kings how to be Socialists, humanitarians, patriotic proletariats. War is always popular with the people, but so is snivel; work both ends and you triumph today.
Look at Czar Nicholas. He too doesn’t know that he is doomed. He needs for chief adviser a nihilistic Iago.
The slaughter amuses me. It is of no consequence; the vermin breed as fast as they die. The swine! The swine! Vale Caesars!
This war would never have occurred if I could have distributed one hundred million copies of “Das Kapital.” Your “Prince,” Machiavelli, is trash, trashier than “Madame Bovary.”
This pitiful panorama, this monstrous massacre going on before my eyes, this stupendous piece of savagery, is purely economic in its implications. It is the last great competitive struggle for the mastery of the goods of that world that we have left.
Pitiful sufferers! Tortured and torn brothers! You are dying for a Glory that your sons will participate in. You who are dying by the million in my sight shall found the great structure of Socialism. This is the last war, and your blood will blossom into stars. It is a holy war; but you do not know it. It is the end of the capitalistic regime. No more sweatshops, no more wage-slaves, no more Rothschilds! the Sun of the New Day rises! Through blood and fire the sons of men are marching into their own. Ave Homo!
Ass, where are your ears? You are a logician, not a thinker. You are a real German—the sentimental swine! Word-tinker, do you not see that this magnificent war is a protest against “civilization,” “progress” and all the stupid phrases that are born in the addled pus that you and the world-socialists call your brains?
Onward, brave Frenchman! Slaughter without mercy those Teutons who take my name in vain! All that is great and effulgent and Dionysiac comes from you, mirific France! You dance with light feet on the edge of precipices; your hearts are wild-hearts, lark-hearts. Eu Avant! My iron-brained Joffre!
God! the crypto-humbug of these Teuton professors!
The springtides are racing through my emptied veins! A body! A body! A paradise in the skies for a body! I was once clothed in the skins of the beasts of the forests and my feet were shod in skulls and on my head I wore a crown of entrails higher than Babel; but this——
Hush, old senile babbler; you and I were only paste warriors. Look at that smear against the air; I counted twenty thousand legs and arms. One hundred massed Krupps did it. Why, you and I——
The shortest way between Liege and Calais is a straight line. Now, why have the Germans violated my most famous axiom? Where is my book. Boy, boy, see if you can find my book of axioms. Am I a back number? Can it be that the Kaiser never heard of me? If he had only studied my universal truths he would have been in London long ago. Boy, boy——
Every man expects England to do her duty while they all play cricket. Another battleship! Egad! Brittania rules the waves, but Germany waives the rules, and it seems——
What a theme for a fable! A Lion, a Cock, an Eagle, a Bear. For it is all a fable—something like one of mine. Shakespeare’s Prospero might have invented some such splendid dream-panorama as this. Those millions, marching, countermarching, sweating, dying, believe it is all real; but it is all a myth and has vast moral implications, like all myths; for you know, my dear Baruch, I was a moralist, the La Rochefoucauld of my age. Now the Lion bellows, and that means——
BARUCH DE SPINOZA.
A fable in a sense, Aesop, but a fable without a moral. All these armies, all these nations at war, all these clashing millions are modalities of God. Everything is mathematically ordered; everything is necessary in that world down there. God is everywhere. He is neither good nor evil. he is the Sublime Being. He is in all things—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. God is England, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Serbia, Belgium and Austria. How can there be two Gods? A contradiction in terms. This sublime spectacle is nothing but a fleeting thought in His brain. All those millions who lie gasping in death and those other millions whom you see training night and day to take their places are not so much as an atom in the Being that is from everlasting to everlasting. He breathes, and one single breath contains the events of a million years. He not only is not concerned with this Great War, but He probably has no more knowledge of it than you have of the movement of an atom in your thigh. They pray to Him, they call on Him, they fight in His name. It is themselves they are calling upon. They are all parts of God, and they do not know it. God wars with Himself, just as every atom in my body wars against every other atom even in these etheric spaces. God is love and death. He is atheist, Catholic and Mohammedan; militarist and renunciant. But on Earth they will never grasp that profound truth. They require toys—saviours and heavenly fathers and all the other paraphernalia of——
Hush! Hush! You are right; but let us not talk metaphysics now. Pity! Pity! that’s the word. They are all my boys. I see only one army—the Red Cross army. Lint! Lint! and always more lint! They cry for munitions over there in England. I cry for more lint and anaesthetics for the dying. O to be down there now with this damn paralysis of mine cured! To be there with my boys—all my boys, from the trench-rotten Russian to the trench-rotten Belgian; to hold them in my arms as I did once, and take their sacred messages from their dying, shuddering frames! I tramp the trenches with you every night, boys; I am in the clarion call that sounds the charge; I am by your sides when you fall, staunching all your wounds. I know no country, no land, no race. I am Old Walt! Halloo! Halloo! Down There! don’t you know me, boys? My arm is around your necks when you totter. I am the old Yahoo of Camdon, a member of the human race—that’s all; the great camerado. I am large, I am tremendous, boys; I can carry a Russian, a German, a Frenchman and an Austrian all together in these arms; and I’ll nurse you all, all my boys!
More lint! More lint!
Ah, they have stolen my hell.
And sanctified my cynicism.
And carried my philosophy of Folly to its tragic ultimate.
I am cold in all my members. It recalls—— (Makes the sign of cross and swoons.)
In the struggle for existence the fittest——
Amen! But who is that figure with the silent arm Down There? Gott im Himmel! I spanked him once. I should have ducked him in the palace bathtub and forgot to drag him out.
I see fourteen million of my sorry Knight in lace and gold and khaki. I now see that I wrote the definitive history of mankind.
The atmosphere smells of sauerkraut and Kultur. Madame Yeshu [addressing Joan of Arc], will you take my arm and have an ice in the lady’s buffet?
* * *
The ethereal phantasma suddenly collapses and disappears, and space from horizon to horizon is roofed with trillions of crows.
Source: The New York Sunday Call, Magazine Section, Sept. 12, 1915 p. 9.