Book No. 4
The Eternal Return
THE DeCASSERES BOOKS
Books of from 5,000 to 15,000 words each, in stiff paper covers, will be published indefinitely by Benjamin DeCasseres.
They are all written by Benjamin DeCasseres, being chapters or parts of his unpublished works.
They will be ready on or about the 25th of each month, beginning with January, 1936.
The first twelve books are—
- Exhibitionism: A New Theory of Evolution (now ready).
- The Individual Against Moloch (now ready).
- Black Suns (Poems, now ready).
- The Eternal Return (now ready).
- The Eighth Heaven (May).
- DeGaultier and LaRochefoucauld (June).
- The Elect and the Damned (July).
- Saint Tantalus (August).
- The Adventures of an Exile (September).
- I Dance with Nietzsche (October).
- Broken Images (November).
- Raiders of the Absolute (December).
In 1937 this series will be continued, with the commencement, in the same form, of the publication of “Fantasia Impromptu: the Adventures of an Intellectual Faun,” a 400,000-word autobiographical book, which was begun in 1925 and which will continue until the end of the life of the author.
50 CENTS EACH
Sold on a cash, prepaid basis. If, for any unforeseen reason, future books should not appear, money paid for advance copies will be refunded.
Make checks or money orders payable to Benjamin DeCasseres, care of the Blackstone Publishers, 118 W. 21th Street, New York City.
The Eternal Return
118 West 27th Street
New York City
Copyright 1936 by
Printed in the U.S.A.
TO MY COUSIN IRMA MARCH
“The Eternal Return” is Book No. 4, comprising seven chapters from my volume of the same name.
There are about eleven such unpublished volumes, parts of which will be published every month until all my unpublished books have been printed.
As I have stated before, I am getting these books out in this form at my own expense because they have been rejected by regular publishers.
Of the matter in this book, “The Great Heresiarch,” “The Culture Fete” and “The Eternal Return” appeared in Much Ado; “The Frame-Up” in l’En Dehors, Orleans, France (in French); “Arcvad the Terrible” in The Forum; “Aristophanes on Calvary” in The Philistine; “Masque a la Satan” has never appeared before.
In my three previous books in the DeCASSERES BOOKS Series, “Exhibitionism: a New Theory of Evolution,” has never appeared in print before; of the seven essays in “The Individual Against Moloch,” “The Lullaby of the Molochs” appeared in the New York Herald Tribune and “Pacifist Cant” in the New York American. The others have never been printed before.
In “Black Suns” most of the poems appeared originally in Don Marquis’ “Sun Dial” column in the New York Evening Sun. “Masque of the Minutes” appeared in the book section of the Evening Sun. A few of them have never appeared elsewhere.
I write because I wish to make for ideas, which are my ideas, a place in the world. If I could foresee that these ideas must take from you peace of mind and repose, if in these ideas that I sow I should see the germs of bloody wars and even the cause of the ruins of many generations, I would nevertheless continue to spread diem. It is neither for the love of you nor even for the love of truth that I express what I think. No—I sing! I sing because I am a singer. If I use you in this way, it is because I have need of your ears.—Max Stimer.
And the Lord said unto Satan: “Whence comest thou?”
Then Satan answered the Lord, and said:
“From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
How much longer will Man continue to pimp for the gluttony of Death?—Shelley
The Earth is drenched to its core in human tears.—Dostoievsky
THE GREAT HERESIARCH
I. THE ERRAND
SCENE: The Unapparent, where those entities that are not yet of space and time and circumstance exist quiescently.
A VOICE: Rise, essence, evoke thy form and stand spaced before ME.
(A figure, shadowy at first but later blossoming with effulgent gleams, rises. A youth of hallucinating beauty, still discarnate; a spirit that quivers, intoxicated with expectation.)
THE VOICE: See how they suffer!
THE FIGURE: Thy voice is swollen with pity. I see them with my heart—with that part of my spirit that will be my heart when Thou dost incarnate me and send me on the Errand.
THE VOICE: The time is come, and thou who art the divinest, the sweetest of my particles shall go to them and teach them the way out. Dost thou know well what thou art to say and hast thou remembered what men are to call thee?
THE FIGURE: I am to be called in the flesh Jesus the Christ, the Redeemer and Saviour of the World, Son of God! I am to teach men the love of loves, charity, love for one another, self-sacrifice. I am to put out the fires of hate in the human heart and cleanse the sinner and the leper.
And after that I am to walk a road carrying a cross to which I will be nailed between two thieves; and then I am to come back to Thee in the Unapparent. Let me go now, Father. I am heavy with the compassion of eternity. I will acquit myself to the letter.
My feet that shall be are winged with a passionate hurry!
THE VOICE: Go! The seed is in thy mother now. Get thee to flesh!
II. THE TEMPTATION
SCENE: A mountain top. Christ and Satan both stand on the very summit, motionless. Below them lie the kingdoms of the earth.
SATAN: And what has been your reward up till now for embarking in this foolish venture? You know nothing of the race of men.
CHRIST: You could not understand.
SATAN: Do you know what still awaits you here?
SATAN: And you are going to that end in store for you?
CHRIST: Yes. You could not understand.
SATAN: So you will not forego this mad undertaking and take the crown and the glory I offer you?
SATAN: They may take you in the morning and by night you will be nailed to the cross.
CHRIST: You could not understand.
SATAN: Those that you came to save will mock you, stone you and revile you. Take the joy I offer; it is yet time. Forego your dream and follow me.
CHRIST: Fool! You understand nothing.
SATAN: A matter of opinion. We shall see. Your greatest agony will not be on the cross. We shall meet again, on another high mountain.
Satan disappears in the air. Christ remains in a dream in which Satan has no part.
And it came to pass that some time after this Christ was crucified, as he knew he would be.
III. THE HERETIC
SCENE: The Pinnacle of Mont Blanc.
A VOICE (from above the sun-glistered, snowy peak): Now are nineteen hundred and fourteen earth years marked on the dials. Let him who is of Essences, the one who went on that Errand to the Earth, the one who was nailed in the manner of Prometheus, arise!
A figure rises as before. It rests lightly in the air. It is still more beautiful than the dreams of gods. It is the spirit, limned and glowing, of the one who was nailed in the manner of Prometheus.
THE FIGURE: And what wilt Thou now, O ineffable One, whose being is known only by sound, whose Essence none have known, Thou who art the blotter of time and space and gods?
THE VOICE: Look! and behold how they follow thee.
Under the eyes of the Figure of him who was nailed in the manner of Prometheus there unfolds the Grand Diorama of 1914.
Enormous siege-guns are chanting their TV Deums against the walls of Cracow, Antwerp and Rheims.
Those cathedrals and churches in Europe that are not sighing out their Christian souls in fire are crowded with cloaked and bayonetted men who are kneeling to receive the blessings of God and His only begotten Son from the vested interests of Christianity.
Two hundred miles of Christians in France are administering each to the other the extreme unction of blood.
To the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, from the pinnacle of Mont Blanc the Figure beholds on the waters of the earth great floating cathedrals painted in gray. From time to time they intone in fire and steel their praise of their patron saint, the dead Galilean.
Far away, under the shadows of the Carpathians, the mechanical genuflexions of an immense host of infantry attest the grandeur of the Sermon on the Mount.
In a trench near Lemberg there is a compact rosary made up of twenty thousand followers of the Nazarene.
Zeppelins plough the air, sprinkling their manna on the starving peasant hordes.
Belgium is a giant censer swung by the Sublime Christian of Potsdam. From the censer there streams to the nostrils of the Figure on Mont Blanc the heroic stench of Liege, Ter-monde and Louvain.
There is a bullet called the dum-dum that magnifies the glory of the Catholic Christ in the breast of a devotee of the Lutheran Christ.
Pity and sorrow are become the dominant emotional notes of life, for is not all of Europe wrapped in lint and mourning cloth?
The diorama fades away to the chants communal of Romanoff, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three of the mirific year nineteen hundred and fourteen A. D.
SATAN (who suddenly is revealed beside the Figure, now standing on the snowy peak of Mont Blanc lost in a profound revery): This is not the first time we stood together on a mountaintop. I offered you long ago a certain crown if you would worship me. You chose the cross.
I told you on that other mountaintop that your crucifixion would not be your greatest agony. You told me I understood nothing.
Nineteen hundred and fourteen years are flown away since they mocked you, reviled you and skewered you between two thieves. And you have just seen—what you have seen.
This year is the year of your second advent and your second crucifixion. On Golgotha they crucified your body; but here on Mont Blanc your soul is crucified—not this time by the High Priests of Judea and the soldiers of Tiberius, but, Sublime Dreamer, by your posterity, your disciples, your humans!
As I told you, you knew nothing of the race of men. You have perpetrated, in your sublime ignorance, the greatest satire conceivable—at your own expense. That which was founded in your name is become the supreme jest of the ages. Those who have understood you have died like you at the hands of those who loved you. Could irony go to more beautiful extremes?
What you have seen, though it be the supreme massacre of the ages—a massacre so subtle, so diabolically conceived, so well calculated that it would freeze the souls of those pagans who fought at Salamis and Marathon—is only the last detail of a train of felonies that perhaps you know nothing of.
There were Tyburn, Salem, St. Bartholomew Night, the Seven Years’ War, the War of the Roses, the great auto-da-fes at Toledo and Cordova, the burning of Huss and Bruno and thousands of others whose names escape me; the slaughter at Kishineff, the Balkan War, where your cross was planted firmly in the bleeding guts of fifty thousand Turks—mere addenda and detail all this.
Leave this race to shift for itself. This planet is the insane asylum of the Zodiac. Throw your heart into hell, where mine is, and live with me—voyager of the infinite spaces and aesthetic observer of the curious dramas enacted on those endless stars above us. Become a connoisseur of Death, of Life, a divine Epicurean, like your Father, who art in Heaven, a dilettante of the constellations.
Give up humanity for Art, and follow me, as co-spectator of the infinite masks of mind and matter, of the pulse and syncope of consciousness in its unimaginable incarnations in unbelievable empyreans.
That was the crown I promised you on that other mountain—a crown of stars.
CHRIST: I am thine! Up and away forever! As for this little star on which I tried to play a part—Anathema mara-natha!
THE VOICE: Now, my Son, thou art truly the resurrection and the life!
THE LORD: Well?
(Both yawn, and then a prolonged silence.)
THE LORD: How goes it Down There, Brother?
SATAN: They are getting uppish again. Flying machines, talking pictures, maxim silencers, consumption cures, X-rays, germ-killers—and what not. They strut around like peacocks, and even our ancient stool-pigeons, the churches, are fretting and threaten to kick over the traces.
THE LORD: They have no memory—their chief defect. The Deluge, Pompeii, the Black Death, the Sicilian earthquake, Napoleon, civil strife, wars, famine, plagues,—will nothing teach them that We are the bosses of the Universe? I’m tired, I must confess it, Satan; and my mind, anciently so inventive, seems to have failed lately. There was that little frame-up against Job. Ah! a masterpiece, eh? Could we only pull off something like that again, and have Ourselves written up by a master! Of course, Goethe, in his “Faust,” did well, but it was a clean steal from us. That little business we arranged between Judas and Christ—I’ve been rather ashamed of that, Brother. Indeed, I’ve never been able to look Christ in the face since.
SATAN: Yes, dirty work that. You know I advised against it; but you have always had the last say. Christ was superb, and I always felt ill at ease in his presence. However, the good work must go on. Down There they must be taught to respect, love, honor and obey Us.
THE LORD: Hard work, hard work. They no longer fear death, they no longer fear you, they no longer fear Me. Their thinkers, their dreamers, their revokes have smashed all our scarecrows. [Dreamily] Something new, something new, something that will stagger humanity, as it were, and yet something, dear Satan, that will satisfy Our aesthetic instinct. They must be chastised anew. To gash their hearts with wounds—that is the only way we can show Our love for them.
SATAN: I have just the thing, Lord; but you must let me frame this up. When all is ready I’ll put you on so that you and the Family can see the show.
THE LORD: Go ahead, but, remember, it must be for Mankind’s good, or I’ll wash my hands of the whole thing. It must be something that will make them see again their nothingness and Our—my—love for them. Our object all sublime, as a popular earth-ditty hath it. Ethical murders, ethical wars, ethical earthquakes, ethical crucifixions; pain for Love’s sake and for the glory of Us.
(They look full at one another, each studying the other’s face. Both smile. Silence.)
SATAN: I understand, Old Pal.
(Satan disappears in space.)
Scene: The Palace of Pride. Later the North Pole.
SATAN: Where’s the Boss?
DOORTENDER: Manufacturing a new saint—look in the atelier.
SATAN: A saint?—rot! I’ve got a big contract for him now.
(Satan enters the atelier, where Pride, Satan’s private secretary, is busy stuffing a saint. He is about to blow life into him and dress his ego in godliness.)
SATAN: Throw away that junk, Pride. The Lord and myself have a bigger job for you than that. Besides, saints are out of date. Tolstoi was your last sample, and you certainly made a mess of it there. I want you to go to one of the great shipbuilders of the Earth and sting his conceit into creating a monster boat. Have him call it the Titanic, Gigantic, Gargantua, or something like that.
PRIDE (hanging the saint that never will be born on a hook): It’s done, master.
(Satan bows ironically, raises his gigantic wings of sea-green and flies toward the Earth, landing at the door of the King of the Boreal Seas. Walks in. The King apparelled in ice, is on his throne, a giant iceberg. He is wrapped in a mantle of snow.)
SATAN: I’ve something new for you. Ask no questions, but do as you are told.
KING OF THE BOREAL SEAS: At your service, Prince.
SATAN: Have a submerged iceberg sent due south. Time it so that it will reach latitude. °41.16 N., longitude °0.14 W., precisely at 2 A. M. on the morning of April 15, 1912.
If you fail in this the Lord and Myself will turn your kingdom into a summer garden and make a waiter of you.
KING OF THE BOREAL SEAS: ‘Tis done, Prince.
SATAN (spreading his wings and taking his flight into the Unapparent): Fatality and Destiny rule mankind; but do they rule the Lord and myself? Who knows?
Scene: Latitude °41.16 N., longitude °50.14 W.
Time: 1912 (between midnight and 2 A. M., April 15).
(A magnificent, starlit, peaceful night. The sea is calm. The air a diaphanous veil worn by Virgin Space. Directly above a peaceful spot on the sea there is a gigantic amphitheatre, unseen by any human eye; an amphitheatre that stands in a space that is undimensional. Wonderful music wells from draped balconies. Giant flambeaus light up the faces of those gathered there. It is a conclave of all the gods, guests of the reigning Christian Lord and the reigning Christian Satan. There are Jupiter, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Krishna, Juggernaut, Isis, Osiris, Belus, Bel, Baal, Asteroth, Thor, Wodin, Mumbo-Jumbo, Ormuzd, Shcdim, Belial, Ahri-man, Asmodeus, Moloch, Puck, Amon-Ra; lesser gods and lesser goddesses; demiurges, familiars, fairies, nereids, banshees, hamadryads, ondines, nixies, pixies, demons, caco-demons, succubae, vampires, ghouls, harpies, will-o’-the wisps, spirits, shades, dwarfs, lemures. At the front and in the center the Lord and Satan. An air of expectation everywhere. At intervals the Lord and Satan rise and move among that vast throng, whispering into the ears of the spectators and smiling graciously.)
SATAN (addressing the Lord): What do you think of the setting?
THE LORD: Superb! What a night! What color! How our worlds smile! What earth whiffets call a Reinhardt effect! Has evciything been attended to?
SATAN: Everything. The wedding of the Iceberg and the Boat [looking at his watch] will take place in a few minutes. Look! [points to the north]. You see that ripple on the surface of the sea? That’s the “growler.” It has its orders; it will not fail. And look there! [pointing to the east]—see those lights? That’s the boat, the Titanic! Well done, O Pride and King of the Boreal Seas!
(Buzzing, craning of necks, thousands of spy-glasses are raised, blare from thousands of trumpets.)
THE LORD (nervously): I hope my children, my dear earth offspring, will see that I have done this for them, and not wholly for Our glory.
SATAN: Fear not, Brother; ever and anon there arises One at our behest who preaches the glory and the goodness of the Heavenly Father. But behold!
(A monstrous dark body topped with lights looms up in all its wonder. It is the Titanic. The “growler,” its long journey completed, rends the bottom of that masterpiece made by Pride. A crash, screams, hoarse cries, pandemonium. On the amphitheatre brazen acclaims. Never such sport. So novel! so dramatic! “Their masterpiece!” thousands are shouting.)
SATAN (thundering): Order! The piece de resistance is yet to come. Silence! (Satan and the Lord put their hands to their ears, trumpet-like. Profound silence reigns in the amphitheatre. Confusion and hell and chaos and death below. Suddenly over the faces of the Lord and Satan there spreads a beatific light. They look at one another in triumph.)
SATAN (to the assembly): Listen, all!
(All lean forward, and catch the strains, high above curses and death-screams, of “NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE”)
THE LORD: Embrace me, Satan. We still reign.
SATAN: Embrace me, Lord. We still reign.
(They fall on one another’s shoulders as “NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE” blares out from the sinking Titanic. The gods and demons on the amphitheatre take it up, parodying it in jazz-time, and a wild orgy begins.)
MASQUE A LA SATAN
Scene: Beyond the azure.
Time: Just before the Christian Era.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Greece is gone and Rome is rotten. Egypt is a memory. Atlantis is become a fable. All our fairy tales are grown threadbare. Prometheus has been ridiculed and Buddha has become a bronze idol. Ormuzd and Ahriman, Osiris and Jupiter are now merely symbols. Everything has gone on the dissecting table down there on Earth.
SATAN: Sire, we must invent another Masque. The world is ripe for it. They cry out for a new god, a new legend, another tragic fairy story. You remember the scenario I read to you at the time I called myself Prometheus and had myself crucified in the Caucasus? You rejected it then because you said the world was not ready for such a concrete comedy. But this is the psychological moment. The scene can be laid in Judea.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: I do not remember the matter as you sketched it out at the time you played Prometheus. Let me hear some of the details. But why in Judea?
SATAN: Because things are taking a tragic turn there. The soil is ready for the seed. If you direct this Masque I shall play the leading role and you, Sire, may have a very important part in it if you wish to incarnate again. It will be the greatest of all our productions on that star and will set in action more trouble—and hence more drama and comedy—than anything we have yet staged.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: So long as I have great drama and comedy the means are immaterial, and I will even consent to take a role myself if I can save the world from ennui—that monstrous ennui that threatens at each moment to engulf those people down there. Indeed, Satan, Ennui is a god beyond us. Ennui is the Word—the mystery.
Well, let us hear.
SATAN: This drama, Sire, as I said, will be in the nature of a Masque. The paraphernalia is very old; a god born of a virgin, his proclamation of his divinity, his war on established institutions, and his crucifixion.
But the varying clement in this Masque is the introduction of a betrayer, a disciple who betrays to the Roman authorities or the high priests of Judea this mendicant god.
This is the crux of the comedy. The god I shall call Jesus and the betrayer Judas. I shall have a dozen or so of our scriveners present at every point in the drama, and I’ll have four or five set down the matter in a way that will create havoc on Earth and merriment in our household for thousands of years to come.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Excellent and beautiful variation on a stale theme. But what parts are we to play in this Masque?
SATAN: You, Sire, will take the part of Judas, and I myself will play the part of Jesus.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Jesus and Judas, Judas and Jesus—those names mean nothing to me now.
SATAN: Commonplace enough now; but I assure you, Sire, they will flame throughout that star in centuries to come. The Masque will create such a tremendous sensation and will produce so many discussions (one discussion will be called St. Bartholomew Night and another Kishineff) that even we will begin to feel a thrill at those names—our stage-names. And then the pride of authorship!
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Well, then, Jesus and Judas shall be added to our repertory of roles. And now tell me something about the drama.
SATAN: Of course your old mythological pattern will be carried out.
There will be a precursor, one John the Baptist; the nightingales will sing all night; there will fortunately be a comet in the vicinity of the Earth about that time—we’ll call it the Star of Bethlehem.
In the matter of being born, this time I shall reverse the worldly condition of my parents. You remember, Sire, that when I played Buddha I was born a prince. This time I shall be born in a stable of a carpenter and his wife. This is necessary, for as Buddha the lie-ideal that I preached was essentially philosophic and aristocratic. As Jesus I wish to preach the economic lie-ideal.
My talks and promises will be to the poor exclusively. They will not believe me unless I am born one of them. As Buddha my lie had a universal application. As Jesus I shall make a class appeal exclusively, with spiritual embellishments.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Very good. But, my son, see that the ideal you preach is so high that it -will be forever out of the reach of those humans. It is only in that way that my sidereal comedies can be carried on. Open up marvellous vistas to them, promise the lowly and the outcast enormous indemnities for the damage they have sustained in the struggle for existence; and at the same time keep them dissatisfied with their earthly lot by subtly scornful allusions to the rich and well-fed.
I would suggest that you instil into them doctrines so contrary to natural law that if any one of them should approximately attain the ideal you have set up he will be adjudged insane.
SATAN: I have thought that all out. I have, too, Sire, written out all my harangues.
Look over this one. I call it “The Sermon on the Mount.” There is enough mischief in that to poison a thousand planets. Also, I preach peace and war simultaneously. I shall tell them to love their neighbors as they love themselves and then later I will tell them that I bring not peace but a sword.
I shall contradict myself perpetually and my four secretaries shall write down my adventure in different ways. We shall twist our sides, Sire, later on laughing at those who try to reconcile myself with myself and myself with themselves. There will be bloody wars over some of my verbal antics.
You and I, Sire, alone will understand the meaning of that great charivari from the birth in the manger until I break out of the tomb.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: It is for the glory of the eternal god, Beauty, who reigns, like Ennui, beyond us, and whose slaves we are. It is you and I who immusic this Beauty in dramas and comedies on those stars down there.
Men are the puppets of our dreams. We are the aesthetes of Space. What mighty scenarios I used to get up on some of those majestic planets in the Milky Way! The Earth never appealed to me very much. It is banal, and one is held down to three dimensions in that world, which handicaps me. Besides the humans there are commonplace and, so to speak, stuffy-minded.
I leave that planet to you, Satan. Your acting has been good and your scenarios are about the best that can be worked up considering the material you have to work with. Later on you will be Mahomet, then Napoleon, then Tolstoi—bah!
Well, what after the Sermon on the Mount and its seraphic diabolism?
SATAN: Temptation in the desert (by a lay Satan), raising up of a poor dead man (who will curse me, by the way, for my pains), walking the water and other tricks to astound the philistines—old Asiatic stuff, you know, Sire. Then my betrayal by Judas, then my crucifixion, and so and so and so.
It will be a tremendous drama and will utterly floor the imaginations and reasons of our stuffy-minded friends.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Have you some good epigram or memorable saying for your last minute on the cross?
SATAN: My chef d’oeuvre, Sire.
I cry out, “My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?”
This will puzzle every human being who will hear of me.
But, au revoir; I am going to superintend the making of John the Baptist in the atelier of Demiurge the Wraithmaker.
ARISTOPHANES ON CALVARY
The Thing had been done. The Place was empty. The cross was shrouded in a mist.
A sudden wind—or was it a wail?—rent the heavy shadow, and on the cross I beheld a figure, nailed as the Other had been.
It was Aristophanes.
And from his lips I heard this, spoken as if addressing Another, unseen by him, unseen by me:—
I am Aristophanes, the eternal Spirit of the Comic. I am a redeemer no less than you who have just died here.
You are the Lord of Tears. I am the Lord of Mirth.
You are Grief. I am Irony, born of Grief.
You are the first-born of the human spirit. I am the last-born of the human spirit.
You came to redeem it through suffering. I came to redeem it through laughter.
You were born in grief and pain and died in grief and pain. I was born in grief and pain and I shall die absolved in my mental smile.
I shall redeem you and wash your tears away. The thorns upon your head shall burgeon with the laurel.
I shall follow you down the slant of time, and where your mighty spirit hovers mine shall hover, too.
Through the ages we shall walk abreast.
Come you as a Kempis, I shall come as Swift.
Come you as Dante, I shall come as Rabelais.
Your Second Advent comes once. I shall come again and again into the world—as Cervantes, as Montaigne, as Voltaire, as Anatole France.
Where you set the seal of your hands I set the seal of my brain.
And when at last you sweep into the presence of your Father you shall find me there as the incomprehensible smile on His lips—for the Lord thy God is an ironic God!
A pause. And then again:—
I, too, am an incarnation. I disinfect life. I guffaw. Nature ridicules man. Nature sneers at his works. Nature is the supreme ironist. I am even in the avalanche, the hurricane, and all sudden apparitions of death. I am the unmasker, the undoer.
If your gaze is level with the earth you shall see Christ; if your gaze is level with the Infinite you shall see me. Christ is a part. I am the whole. Grief is an arc. I am the circle. I am the meaning of all actions. I am the temple of mirth at the end of the road. I am the Mecca of all aspirations.
I am the epilogue to Calvary. I am an aside spoken into the wings of the Playhouse. In the eclipse of human dreams I am Infernal Laughter, the corona that no shadow can blot.
I am Aristophanes the funmaker, and a Dusseldorf Jew shall one day call me God.
Heine shall be my masterwork of humorous paradox. From the seepage of my brain and heart will I build that abyss of shadow and light.
He shall be mirth and grief. He shall be love and hate.
In him I shall yoke Hell to the Milky Way.
In his brain Titania shall have commerce with Caliban.
His Soul shall be a shambles of contradictions. In his small body shall be enacted the comedy-drama of all time. He shall rehearse life for those unborn.
He shall be Jew and Christian and Pagan simultaneously.
He shall carry the Cross to Olympus and shall rebuild the Temple of Solomon on Golgotha.
He shall mix his ambrosia with the Passover bread.
His hand clutching at the mantle of Jehovah, his feet shall rest on the shoulders of Lucifer.
He shall blaspheme before the Ark of the Covenant and pray in a bagnio.
He shall weep and jeer at the same thing.
He shall be as terrible, as beautiful, as formidable, as inexplicable as the Sphinx.
His imagination shall skirt inconceivable precipices of cosmic light and his body shall rot on a dirty mattress.
He shall be the laughing Saviour, the weeping Aristophanes.
I shall etch his sneer in Heaven and I shall girdle Hell with his tears.
Another pause. And then, softer, I thought.—
I am, too, the spirit of laughter—innocent, frivolous laughter.
Laughter is an amulet: wear it!
Laughter is a sun: bathe in it!
It is the dimple in the cheek of Sorrow.
I am Laughter.
I am a clear pool: plunge.
I am a spring: drink, ye weary and ye heavy-laden!
I am more dangerous than dynamite. The bats and goblins of belief migrate in panic when I approach. I rabble and harry all forms of seriousness. In the scales of laughter I have weighed the planets and found they were only puff-balls. In the scales of laughter I have weighed Ammon and Jupiter and Wodin and found they were only manikins.
Laugh, and the atoms will chant their meaning into your ear.
Laugh, and the stars will laugh back at you.
I am the spirit of Laughter. And Medusa herself comes towards me with a flag of truce.
I am the spirit of Laughter, and whoso partakes of me shall take tribute from Death.
A silence, and then:
Humor is the great cross-purpose. In a world of horizontals and verticals it is an oblique ray. Against the brass and bronze of purposed passion with a little prick it does a miracle: fire and flame are become translucent dew.
Humor is the secret of proportion. It sets this against that. It is forever on the track of dismal memories and blows a smile into the soul of all disastrous yesterdays.
I, Aristophanes, am Humor.
I pirouette on skulls. I am the laughing thunderbolt.
This cross shall be my broomstick, and as a bedlam witch I shall ride into the House of Care and set my glint upon the dark.
I shall play the critic to every tragedy. I am an anagram. I read the Book of Life backward. And each page, which is a day, I read from the bottom upward.
I stand on my head and walk on my hands and my feet touch the constellations.
I am reverse and obverse.
In the iron dice-box of Destiny I am all combinations.
When grief is no more I shall be. When hope is no more I shall be. For grief and hope are tombs.
And this One lately here they shall bury as the Man of Sorrows.
But on the third day the stone shall be rolled away and he shall ascend as Aristophanes—the Man who Sees!
THE CULTURE FETE
Scene: The ABYSMAL HEIGHTS
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Have all our decoys been used up?
SATAN: No. We still have some beautiful chimeras in stock.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: I’m glad of that. When our decoy-words, our sirens of the imagination, are gone, then will come, my dear Earth-Son, our Armageddon. Have you read Anatole France’s “The Revolt of the Angels,” a book just come to hand? It is a very dangerous piece of work. It relates the attempt of certain enterprising souls down in your bailiwick to dethrone God, among decoys, as you know, our most valuable. Most of the spectacles we have organized on Earth, almost all of our marvellous wars Down There, have been carried out in the name of that Spectre, our greatest asset in the past.
Anatole France has, moreover, through a character called Nectaire in this same book, preached openly the doctrine, fatal to us, that life is sufficient in itself—pure paganism with an admixture of Goethe and Nietzsche. Now, pure and undefiled paganism is my very breath. I am the dramaturge of life. Only the beautiful is moral; only the dramatic and the comic are good. But if this secret becomes the property of the world-mobs—instead of the secret of the chosen few who are likest to myself—the curtains will be rung down on Life itself. And then for Us, my only begotten Scene-Shifter, the ennui of intolerable eternities!
Come! A gigantic fete. A stupendous show. Something that will carry us back to Troy, to Caesar, to Hannibal. Something that will outdo the legend of Hell. Not an incident—like that beautifully arranged sinking of the Titanic. Not the mere history of a sublime bandit, like those Napoleonic wars. Not a series of clownish stupidities like the French Revolution. Not a butchers’ picnic like St. Bartholomew’s Night. But something barbaric, glistered o’er with modern fake, cant, hypocrisy and diabolistic sanctity; a comedy of comedies on a cyclopean scale; a war of wars with all the new-fangled torture-machines that you have told me about.
SATAN: Yes, yes, Sire; but not with the old decoy-words. You know how “For God and Country” used to work Down There? To that tune millions would jig into any Hell. No obscenity, no fiendishness, no brutality was left unexplored by those human beings when kings and Popes—our erstwhile faithful but now fast-aging stool-pigeons—sounded their mystic “For God and Country.” And God always got the hog’s share of the stench and flesh and guts.
Sublime irony, Sire; but the instinct for holy wars is weakening—even among the Moslems. Allah, too, is rotting in his mystic brothels, just as Jehovah was asphyxiated in his cosmic charnal houses. It is still possible to organize great international massacres by waving a flag. “For Country” is still a lure. But even that bait is weakening. Internationalism—founded on the illusion of the brotherhood of man, its “unity”—has made some inroads. There are many who scoff at patriotism openly.
The old baits, Sire, have no longer the pull and tug on the imaginations they once had. You have fixed forever as an unalterable instinct in the human psyche the will-to-murder, the will-to-prey, the will-to-exterminate, the will-to-persecute. This love of blood, of war, of “getting the better of somebody else,” as they say Down There, is the prologue of all the tragedies and comedies that, Master Artisan of Dimension and Time, mirror your will, give it concrete form, beat to glowing, iridescent shreds that menacing unity which both of us dread. If you will permit me, Sire, I should call you the Balzac of the Stars.
But back to our muttons (you see how a prolonged stay Down There poisons the purity of our etheric tongue). Our masks, as I said, for the eternal will-to-kill are rotting, are moth-eaten. The atheists and the Communists are murdering God and the Flag.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: Then we require a new mask, a new bait, a new Holy Word for this fete of ours.
SATAN: And I have it. A brand new Idol that will catch atheists, scientists, Communists and all the rest of that dangerous crew. All classes can come under this word. It will be the Golden Calf of modernity, and Kaisers, Czars, Dictators and Presidents will worship at its dugs. In this great international spectacle this word will be the shield and armor of millions. Their instinct to gut one another’s bodies comes upon them with the regularity of an eclipse.
I have planned for your pleasure a titanic spectacle beginning with the first day of August. It will be a war of extermination between the nations. And this time, Sire, they shall exterminate one another in the name of their new fetich—CULTURE.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: What’s that?
SATAN: The highly specialized and evolved stupidity of each nation; a device for increasing the complexity and ferment of existence; the Via Dolorosa to the Calvary of disillusion, anarchy and suicide. Education, Progress are their new Juggernaut, their new Baal, their final excuse for not committing suicide.
With Culture as gonfalon, we shall have the show of shows. Shall I arrange the stage, Sire? This, I assure you, will be the comedy of the ages, and the greatest spectacle of all past time.
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS: You are, my delightful Robin Goodfellow, a master of your trade. So long as you are lord of the dictionaries of the Earth we shall not lack panoramas.
SATAN (smiling and blushing): The inhabitants of the universe, from the outlawed star Noirmort, whose orbit is at the end of matter, to the tiny golden world Bel, whose orbit impinges on the Fourth Dimension, are great and vile through words. In the beginning was the Word [crouches and covertly makes the sign of the cross].
Scene: HERE AND THERE.
SATAN (soliloquizing): It would be fit to have some of the representatives of Culture present at this great spectacle. The Sire and myself are rather a pretty poor audience; besides we would bore one another. [Meditates a long time; then a broad smile breaks over his face and he slaps his knee in delight]. I have it! Just the thing! [Volplanes to Earth and knocks upon a grave in England.]
SATAN: Francis Thompson, come forth!
FRANCIS THOMPSON: Is there no rest even in the grave?
SATAN: Come forth! It is I, Satan, an ambassador from the Hound of Heaven. I have news for you, and a souvenir, maybe, of your earth-life.
FRANCIS THOMPSON (rising and standing on his tombstone): Well?
SATAN: I greet one of England’s half dozen poetic titans, the very last word in Culture. Listen: Like Hamlet’s father, I must be short. England, France, Germany and Russia are going to war. The Impresario of the Stars has organized the greatest fete of all past times. It is to be a combat which would sound like a fairy story if I were to relate it to you.
It is to be a sort of Culture contest. Each one of these nations is to fight in the name of its intellectual superman. As poets are the supreme achievement of the human soul, the last word in human evolution, I have selected four famous victims of European Culture to watch the spectacle.
Now that you are dead you have only one sense left—the ironic sense. That is all that is necessary from your auditorium in the clouds.
FRANCIS THOMPSON: But the souvenir of my earth-life?
SATAN: A box of matches, and here it is. [Draws out from under his cloak a box of matches.] I remember that you, in your lifetime, as a supreme representative of England’s Culture (for which you are to see millions blown to atoms) had to peddle matches under London Bridge. This box of matches is your insignia, the immortal token of England’s esteem for Poctic Genius while it is still clothed in flesh and cries for food and a place to rest its head.
FRANCIS THOMPSON (takes the box of matches): And who are to be my companions—the representatives of France, Germany and Russia?
SATAN: You shall accompany me and help dig them out of their graves. Paul Verlaine shall represent France. He shall carry into cloudland all the lice with which France endowed him. I am told that cafe guides in Paris made money by pointing him out to strangers. Sublime, ineffable Verlaine, archangel of the gutters, how France fattened her Culture on your louse-ridden beard!
Heine shall represent the Culture of Germany—first, because she rejected him; second, because he was a Jew, and, third, because he is closely related to me. He must lug his mattress—his celebrated mattress—with him to see them man the great Krupps for Culture. Heine will enjoy the show more than any of the others. And during the armistices on the great battlefields he can reminisce to you from his own mattress-grave, Germany’s gift to Culture.
Russia shall be represented by the great Feodor Dostoievsky. I have here under my cloak with Verlaine’s lice and Heine’s mattress Dostoievsky’s shirt—the one he had to pawn to buy bread with. It will be a rare party.
FRANCIS THOMPSON: Let’s be off, then, to the grave of Verlaine. I do not know whether to thank you for this resurrection; but this whiff of life is good, even with this reminder of yours in my hand. The spectacle, no doubt, will be worth a disinterment. And, then, I am curious to see which Culture will win.
SATAN: Hang on to my wing; we’re off to Paris!
Scene: A driving cloud, shot with the gold of the sun and filled with shadows from the Earth. It is shell-shaped. On its summit sits Impresario Eternitatus, In a twilight hollow lie, on Heine’s mattress, with negligent eyes and serio-comic smiles, Francis Thompson, Paul Verlaine, Heinrich Heine and Feodor Dostoievsky. Satan stands in back of them. In his right hand he holds the dried phallus of a bull. It is of enormous length. At the end there is a blazing star of magic color. This baton typifies the stupidity and eternal itch of human destiny, the perpetual espousal of the Real and the Ideal. The cloud, like a phantasmal observation car, moves across Europe from Land’s End, England, to the Caucasus, at the command of Impresario Eternitatus, whose will keeps the winds and whose brain mirrors the fantastic dramas on the Earth.)
SATAN: Gentlemen, this is, as you see, the Great Culture Show of the Centuries. I do not know what Impresario Eternitatus up there on the roof of the cloud is thinking about it, but it is the very best fete I could organize with the materials I had to work with. You will see, however, that the nations of the Earth are in thorough earnest about their respective kinds of Culture. Look at what is printed on their flags and banners.
DOSTOIEVSKY (holding fast to his redeemed shirt): I can see nothing but a universal massacre and a general conflagration. All epileptics, like myself. May God have—
HEINE (picking a hair out of his mattress): Ah! I hear the Big Bass Drum!
VERLAINE (madly scratching his beard): In the porphyry holywater basins I see magical fountains of human blood.
SATAN: We shall go closer. You must see how I have arranged things.
[The cloud volplanes, and the great Armies of Culture are seen on the march.
The English army carries mighty standards, one each allotted to a corps. There is the Shakespeare Corps, the Milton Corps, the Shelley Corps, the Spencer Corps, the Ruskin Corps, the Darwin Corps, the Keats Corps, the Tennyson Corps, the Browning Corps, the Gilbert & Sullivan Corps, the Thomas Hardy Corps, the Swinburne Corps, etc.
The French army is divided into the Corps Voltaire, the Corps Rousseau, the Corps Anatole France, the Corps Victor Hugo, the Corps Manet, the Corps Monet, the Corps Fragonard, the Corps Renan, the Corps Balzac, the Corps Gounod, the Corps Pasteur, the Corps Flaubert, the Corps Diderot, the Corps Cezanne, the Corps Rodin, the Corps Rabelais, etc.
The German army is made up of the Hegel Corps, the Goethe Corps, the Richard Wagner Corps, the Schopenhauer Corps, the Dr. Ehrlich Corps, the Schiller Corps, the Sudermann Corps, the Hauptmann Corps, the Humboldt Corps, the Fichte Corps, the Heyse Corps, the Lenbach Corps, the Kant Corps, the Roentgen Corps, the Schubert Corps, etc.
The Russian army has the Gogol Corps, the Tolstoy Corps, the Pushkin Corps, the Tchaikowsky Corps, the Gorky Corps, the Turgenev Corps, the Verischagin Corps, the An-dreyeff Corps, etc.]
VERLAINE: And who will win in this Culture Contest?
SATAN (his green aura flaming fulgurantly about him, advances to the edge of Heine’s mattress. He steps lightly from that famous bier to the summit of the Cathedral of Rheims, over which the gigantic observation cloud just then hovers. He expands from nadir to zenith, his form filling all space): Who will be triumphant, Monsieur Verlaine? Ecce Homo!
IMPRESARIO ETERNITATUS (from the invisible summit of the cloud): Amen!
THE ETERNAL RETURN
I approached the desk in the Waldorf-Astoria, where, the afternoon before, I had registered and taken a suite on the tenth floor, hiding my agitation as best I could. With a studied air of breezy carelessness I asked the clerk who had occupied the suite before I took it.
“Superstitious?” he laughingly asked me. “Why, I’ll see. I really do not remember now.”
He looked over his books, and drawled out in the voice of an official announcer, “Alexis Smith, Pottstown, Pa.” Then, closing the book, and looking at me rather curiously, “Is there anything wrong, sir, up there?”
“Oh no,” I replied, still bravely feigning self-possession and coolness. “Only a whim of mine. I always like to know who lived before in the suites I occupy at all the hotels I stop at. I am a writer of short stories and sometimes I dig up stuff that way.”
“Well,” replied the clerk, “I hardly remember him. Yes, let’s see now—tall, blondish, imperious voice—yes, imperious voice, and always dressed as though he was going to a reception or a ball—or something swell. Never said much to anybody. They say he had loads of books in his room. Let’s see [running over the register], he was here just forty days. Left two weeks ago.”
“No story in that, is there?” I said to the clerk with a voice that I did not recognize as my own—it seemed so far away, so stony.
He laughed and turned away to answer a ‘phone call. I hurried back to my suite, locked the door, and for the twentieth time pulled out of my pocket the astounding manuscript which I had found in one of the compartments of the bureau drawer in the bedroom. It was in the form of a diary, containing five entries. Here it is:
December 1, 1925.—Why did I register at this hotel as Alexis Smith, of Pottstown, Pa? I who might have registered under any one of my thousand real names—as—well, why set down the interminable list? Is it my love of anonymity, my passion for masks, my incorrigible leaning to parables and symbols? Maybe.
But it may also have arisen from the element of caution, of prudence—yes, a little cowardice—that I find always floating to the top of my consciousness; that instinct-to-evasion which served me so ill on that never-to-be-forgotten day in one of my appearances when that silly Magistrate asked me whether I was the “King of the Jews” or the “Son of God” or some such asinine thing. Poor fellow! he lacked imagination, and I got in trouble because I evaded the answer.
Indeed, how could I have replied to a politician or a priest at that time, at any time? To the matter-of-fact being the mystic, the poet, the symbolist is cracked. They use different speeches. One may as well give a copy of Herbert Spencer’s “Synthetic Philosophy” to a Black Fellow or a copy of “Don Quixote” to an Eskimo as to attempt self-revelation before a magistrate, a priest or a business man—great and everlasting Trinity of Stupidity.
So I registered as Alexis Smith, Pottstown, Pa., using the most unimaginative name and town that I could think of and the most matter-of-fact and prosaic part of the planet I could think of—Pennsylvania—so as not to make myself suspect among the most unimgainative people in the world—the Americans.
These people have the wisdom of the serpent; but there is in their destiny something mystical, titanic, mirific. New York bruises me and startles me. I find, too, some satisfaction in noting that among these six million beings my Sermon on the Mount is not worth its weight in toilet paper.
What stupidities I uttered back there! How little I knew of life, of man, of the eternal laws, of all the butchery that would be, of all the money that would be made out of that Sermon!
Still, I was sublime—at times.
Here in New York I see life stark, as it is, as it always will be. I love these people; they are my people, after all; and as I in a foolish outburst took all their sins upon me—from what Hindu did I “lift” that?—I ought to have some love for them.
Well, I have. I suppose I do love them. Had I had down there in Judea all the data concerning the human race that I have now, things would have been different. I would have been the Renan or the Taine or the Nietzsche of my age—and maybe would have died in a madhouse. But the Drama, the Spectacle, the Legend was worth all that I went through.
So, suppose I had registered here in the Waldorf as “Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, Judea”; “Spinoza, of Amsterdam”; “Jeanne d’Arc, France”; “Napoleon Bonaparte, France”; or any of the other names that I might use—what then? What a ridiculous mess I would have got into! Another Magistrate in the West Side Court; Bellevue psychopathic ward; Mat-teawan! The Eternal Return! And these buddhas of stupidity that I see from my window passing up and down Park Avenue believe they are sane! The “salt of the earth,” as ever!
I’ll pass the evening at the Hippodrome, where I see they are putting on a “movie” of the Passion. A Hollywood Christ crucified on a studio cross. Bully!
December 2.—At the “Passion Play” at the Hippodrome last night I did not know whether to weep or to laugh. I think I did both. I have seen many dramatizations of myself—from Oberammergau to the cheap “movie.” But this performance—done wholly, I could see, by American or English actors—was pathetic. Still, I caught—and that brought tears to my eyes—the spirit of reverence in it all.
It was that spirit of reverence upon which I built what I then called my “dynasty.” It was only afterward, when I was called Plotinus, that I perceived that at every turn I was the victim of the person who tempted me—then to me a person; now something more tremendously awful—a Thing, a vast Spirit, an Immanent, neither evil nor good, but doing its obscure work in a universe that must remain forever dual to humans, but which may merge into some vaster spirit elsewhere, about which or whom I have no data at present.
Sitting in my seat at the performance last night I pondered on the grandeur of the human imagination, eternal liar, eternal Paraclete—a refuge and a trap. The one prayer that lasts throughout the ages is “Give us our myth.”
“Time,” says Emerson, “melts to shining ether the solid angularity of facts.” I thought of this beautiful aphorism of the great seer of Concord when they flashed on the screen the Saviour (sic) toiling up to Calvary. The picture was pretty, but hardly tragic; almost comic, to me, who know the vulgar facts, the gray disillusion of that day, of that hour.
I remember that cross as a very solid and angular fact. I was dirty, needed a bath—was full of vermin, in fact. My robe was filthy. I needed a goblet of wine, a swig of something. I lumbered through the mud of that road and cursed myself for an idiot. Another Idealist face to face with Fact; another Dreamer butting the Everlasting Stone Wall. I was full of life and ambition—and parables and phrases and neat promises and theatrical speeches for the High Priests and the Romans and for those who lived in the marketplace.
And there, too, was Mary of Magdala following me (Dostoievsky took over all the machinery of that tramp up Calvary in one of the last chapters of “Crime and Punishment”) .
Mary! Mary! How beautiful you were—my sweetheart! Your caresses and embraces after these two thousand years are still redolent of dreams, and I ache for you still! Ah golden nights, thou purest of the pure!
The cross was heavy, but not nearly as heavy as my hate. And when I fell with the cross it was a feint. I was going to run away. My knees quaked with cowardice; and life was sweet, and there was Mary with her red hair floating against the westering sun. But “not a chance,” as they say on Broadway today.
On the march to Calvary everything went through my brain. A pot-pourri of the past. Had it been worth while?
Socrates had been legally assassinated for something like this. And these poor faithful people who believed in me—what would become of them?
They never understood me. I was a poet, a mystic, a dreamer—and I allowed them to believe that I was a supernatural being. I loved them and hated them in that hour. One old greybeard, I remember, knelt down before me and murmured some incantation or other. I could have spat on him—would have done so had not my mouth been baked with fever and bitten to torturesome, purulent blisters by the vermin.
In him, suddenly, I saw Eternal Gullibility, Stupidity, Belief, and the Faith that comforts and damns.
How pretty, clean and tragic I looked in that picture last night! Imagination versus the Fact! I was a vat of vengeance, hate, love, rebellion, blasphemy (so-called) and desire. I wanted Mary at that moment, and I wanted the throat of Caiaphas, to wring it like a chicken.
I had no feeling against Judas—a good-for-nothing scamp, lovable, erratic, unscrupulous, who would have sold his sister into a brothel for a few shekels when he needed the silver for one of his boozes. Judas was the only one of my disciples that I cared for. He was quite human, and I know when he delivered me up to the authorities for the thirty pieces that he was crazy with drink.
One drinker always understands another.
And they who mocked me on that route to Golgotha were wiser than those who worshipped me. Their cynicism fascinated me even in that hour of agony and fear.
As I approached the place they had set for my crucifixion between two old offenders (evangels of the get-it-somehow doctrine) I was ready to burst out crying. I was all paste. I was half grin, half tears by turns. My brain began to swirl like a drowning man’s. My psychic life was a panorama of ideas, sensations, historical facts, mystical visions, and what-not.
In this phantasmagoria one figure sticks out plainly through the centuries, and that was the person I met on the mountain who promised me the kingdoms of the world for certain sacrifices of pride and egotism. He smiled and bowed to me, and somehow I felt at that moment that he was my real friend, that I had been doing his work in the name of Another, that he was the architect of my Mansion in the Skies, the Fact behind the mask of my incorrigible idealism. Now I know—what I know!
What happened after I fainted on the cross (that damned crown of thorns felt like a ton of lead on my head; the last thing I can remember is that I wanted to tear it off and hurl it in the face of all those cackling women) I do not know. I depend on Oberammergau, the narratives of my fisher friends and the “movies” for that. The resurrection and all that—beautiful symbols, old Asiatic stuff, beautiful poetry; but sufficient unto the day is the diary thereof.
December 3.—My essay “A Criticism of the Sermon on the Mount” has been returned by seven magazines. The reasons for rejection were given in only three instances. The Atlantic said the writer evidently had never read the Sermon. The Saturday Review of Literature thought it “a little too blasphemous.” The Dial rejected it because “the style was not mid-Western or European.” Quite amusing to me, of course. I’ll send it to Mencken.
Evolution has made me a sadder and a wiser man. In reading my Sermon on the Mount today I feel a rage against the person who preached it—because in satire and denunciation I did not go far enough.
And it is saturated with mystical platitudes. Humility and pride were my besetting sins, but in the Sermon I taught a debilitating doctrine, unbiological, almost cowardly in some of its parts, though of course phrased beautifully and ambiguously, which latter quality added a lustre of other-world-lincss to it. There is wisdom in it if I thought it worth while to dig it out, and if I dug it out I should not recognizc it as my own, but as Arabic, Indian and Persian.
I find more grandeur, more virility, more mental and moral satisfaction in one page of Nietzsche’s “Zarathrustra” than in all I ever uttered on that drizzly day on that little hill. What a cold I had that night!
They asked for bread, and I gave them a Mansion in the Skies. They wanted creature-comforts and I promised them stars and ether and rainbows and golden pews in domed and azure Nowheres. I told them when they were smitten on one cheek to turn the other to the smiter, but I do not recollect ever having done that myself in spite of my stupid humility, which I can see now was something of a pose. I do not, in fact, believe that I ever had a more pleasurable thrill in my (then) life than when I chased the money-changers out of the Temple or that other day (not recorded anywhere by my four Boswells) when I knocked down a husky for stepping on my corn while I was coming from the synagogue.
There is no tonic like healthy hate.
I was a reaction against the materialism of the time. Things were rotten, no doubt. But I swung to the other extreme and taught a mad, impossible, even ridiculous idealism. I was the father, the high priest of hypocrisy—unwittingly.
I would rather have written Rabelais’ great work than have uttered that Sermon.
December 4.—At midnight I ventured into the hotel ballroom as the guest of Madame Gras-Ventre. A charity affair of some kind. How I would have raged against this in those Early Days! Alas! Savonarola and those long-haired neuters who landed on Plymouth Rock took me seriously.
But as a modern, a pagan, an unchristiancd Jesus, as it were, I looked on the beautiful pageant of breasts, diamonds, wiggling posteriors and scented snoots with pleasure—and longing. Not of them, but among them; not one of them; but not opposed to them.
“Tout New York said to me Madame Gras-Ventre as she waved her succulent and gelatinous arm in the direction of the thousand or more people who filled the room. I saw that it was tout New York with my nostrils when I entered, for I could smell the brothel and the Stock Exchange.
Mammon and Venus, two gods that I once so despised in my salad days of spiritual evolution, were here for their nuptials; and I whispered to myself, “From everlasting unto everlasting are these two gods, and it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for me to enter the Kingdom of the Kept.”
Frailty thy name is Dreams! Stupidity thy name is Poverty! Here were sensation and expectation, wine and music, flesh and gold. This, I thought, is the real Mansion in the Skies, the Noumenon, the Ultimate. All else is cloud, mist, shadow.
Get, lest ye be plucked. Save, lest ye have not. Do it, lest it be done unto ye. It is the highest philosophy, the suntmum bonum, the Reality behind the illusions of the phantasmagoric utopists.
I took the elevator to the roof for a breath of air. A star was falling just over my head. Maybe another Star of Bethlehem on its way to some trans-Waldorf manger, I thought.
A great blaze lighted up the east-side of New York. I learned from the watchman on the roof that it came from a tenement house block and that the newsboys were bawling out that seventy-five Italians and Russian Jews had been burned to a cinder so far. No matter. The bull and the cow are always at it.
Just as I was thinking all these things out I caught the odor of decaying fish. Ah! Madame Gras-Ventre had joined me for a few cigarette puffs.
December 5.—The two greatest catastrophes that have happened to mankind within historical memory were my birth—the birth in Judea—and my defeat at Waterloo. I destroyed pagan civilization and brought about that stupendous irony which is called Christianity. I substituted the Mansion in the Skies for—well, why enter all that here?
Today I am utterly pagan; but as hopelessly in the grip of the obscure Necessity that rules the universe as I was
then. They will be done, O blind Thing, whatever and whoever thou (or it) art!
But I killed the great god Pan, and today that is the immedicable wound in my breast that will not heal. Though ordered to do it, I dissent!
But Pan, too, shall resurrect. As Nietzsche says, “Where there are tombs there are resurrections.” I await the coming of the god again, I who was called Jesus the Christ—I await the coming again of the great god Pan. I await thee, O immortal earth-mole, with my sweetheart Aphrodite!
ARCVAD THE TERRIBLE
Arcvad ascended to the top of his observatory and looking through his giant telescope he had, in a moment, the planet Earth under his microscopic eye.
Arcvad was one hundred and fifty years old, as they say on the planet Earth; and he was just in his prime. Though he lived in the first city of Mars, Ulfetc, no city claimed him as her own. Among the Martians Arcvad was called The Martian. He was the crowning glory of the Martian mind, the apex of its mental evolution. He was the summation of race-aspiration. His psychic nature was a fusion, dilated a thousand-fold, of the psychic natures of Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Buddha, Nietzsche, Napoleon, Victor Hugo, Einstein, Spinoza, Beethoven and Goethe, of the planet Earth.
The equivalent of Ecce Homol among the Martians was Arcvad. The equivalent among the Martians for Messiah was Arcvad. For one hundred and thirty-five years there had poured from that supreme mind inventions, poems, visions and new harmonies constructed of the debris of lesser minds.
His ideas had revolutionized life on the planet. Ulfete was a city of marvels, as were Ixrid, Poltum and Pranfar. These marvels had come from the pullulating brain of Arcvad.
Life on Mars had been hard from the beginning. Nature was niggardly and “man” had developed early. He had to develop and perpetuate all his latent powers quickly to survive the menace of the common enemy, Nature. There was consequently now only one race. Nationalities were unknown, though complexions differed in different parts of the planet. A common fear had amalgamated their instincts. Out of this early amalgamation had come a superb race of mental and physical giants. A common fear had wrought out a marvellous civilization. There consciousness had an awareness that to us would be “supernatural”. The physical and mental laws known to Earthlings had been forgotten by them thousands of years before the present time. What to Earthlings is occult, to them is commonplace. Arcvad in one hundred and thirty-five years had added miracle to miracle, marvel to marvel, ceaselessly transforming and re-adapting the lives of these giant planetarians.
But his supreme scientific poem was yet to be uttered. His stupendous deed was yet to be done. He would do under the very eyes of his fellow planetarians, he said, what heretofore had only been in the power of Og to do. Og is the Martian algebraic formula for the unknowable and ineffable It. The Martians admitted the existence of this Thing behind all phenomena, but expressed it algebraically as Og.
The twenty-five million inhabitants of Mars (the Martians put to death with a drug that brought beautiful dreams all the sick, stunted and ill-born; hence pity was rudimentary with them) had lived thus in a state of expectation bordering on ecstasy for three years, since the day Arcvad had announced his intention of doing that which, as he said, would at once be an act of supreme power and supreme mercy. And the Martians now spoke of this as the coming apotheosis of the genius of Arcvad.
Arcvad ascended to the top of his observatory and looked through his telescope. He was a giant even for a Martian. Above nine feet in height, his face was of a deep copperish red from which flamed two worlds, two mighty black suns. His head was surmounted with a crown of raven-black hair. His face was a Venice of furrows, lines and seams. The Martians said the face of Arcvad was a map of the planet, which is, indeed, a Venice with forty thousand canals.
The night was brilliant. The Earth shone to the northeast —a scintillating purple patch. Arcvad had, through the powers of his monstrous telescope, made himself master of worlds. It was two thousand feet in length and the lens was five hundred feet in diameter. Its magnifying power was beyond all comprehension to Earthlings. One had but to look through it, and the rest was silence—and awe. It brought the planets of our sidereal system so near to the eye that only small parts of them could be seen at a time. It took Arcvad many years before he had seen all of Jupiter.
He had discovered all the planets to be uninhabited—except the Earth and Saturn. But the Earth was the especial study of Arcvad. He was the master of that planet. For fifty years his eye and brain in conjunction with his fearful instrument had dissected the life of the beings on the neighboring planet. The life-drama on the little purple light in the distance was more familiar to Arcvad than to any Earth-ling. He was the perpetual spy of space.
He had pondered for years on the phenomena of Earth-life. His essays and notes filled hundreds of volumes. These books, together with the moving pictures of Earth-life, which, thrown on giant screens in the great halls of granite, were the fairy tales of Mars. These moving pictures, the invention of Arcvad, were taken direct from the telescope by means of a wonderful instrument, the flwong. The first Earth moving-pictures—the cinematograph itself had been a source of amusement to the Martians hundreds of years before the present time—had appeared at about the time of the American Civil War. Every event on the planet from the firing on Fort Sumter to the foundering of the Titanic—by what mighty good luck had Arcvad’s telescope rested just against that portion of the Earth that night!—was seen and known intimately to the Martian. Wars and wrecks being hardly comprehensible to the Martians, these pictures were a source of inexhaustible amazement and fascinating horror to them. The films were preserved for future generations and were valued beyond all the canvases on Earth of Da Vinci and Rembrandt. The life of Tokio, New York, London, Berlin, Timbuctoo, Canton and Paris was the common mental property of the Martians. They understood nothing of the insane motions of crowds, and the ugliness of the cities of the Earth was to them hallucinatingly fascinating. The monstrous novelty of New York, for instance, froze them with an unspeakably pleasant horror.
As Arcvad looked through the telescope on this particular night the lens englobed New York.
He looked at the city for an hour. “Proof-positive,” he muttered, and his face gleamed with Promethean scorn. The Great Event he had promised the Martians was near parturition.
“Have you decided?”
Arcvad looked up and saw standing behind him his most famous disciple, his beloved Astar—Astar the Magnificent he was called among the Martians. He looked enough like Arcvad to have been his son, except that his hair was reddish gold. An Earthling would have said he was the epiphany of Da Vinci’s Golden Boy. He was fifteen Martian years old, which on Earth would have made him about thirty. His inventions and discoveries had already made him an immortal. The most useful of his inventions was an instrument by which one could bring the light from Deimos and Phobos—Mars* two moons—to any particular spot on Mars, thus doing away with the necessity for artificial light of any kind in the streets and houses. Another and sublimer invention of Astar’s was the establishment by means of telepathy—long a psychic commonplace on the planet—of a common language between the inhabitants of Mars and Saturn. It was also possible for him to evoke beings from the invisible sixth and seventh dimensional realms, the fourth and fifth dimensions having long been explored by previous scientists.
“I have decided,” answered Arcvad. “You know all my notes on this famous spot,”—indicating to Astar New York through the telescope. “These people, if they are people, or only a species of degenerate termite, as I firmly believe, are totally devoid of intelligence of any kind. In that city in particular all life seems devoid of reason or imagination. If, as we believe, we discovered a rudimentary brain among the inhabitants of this patch of “land”— putting his finger on Gorilla Land in Central Africa on a huge revolving map of the Earth—”it has disappeared entirely when we get to this city. Observe the antics of those who climb those huge towers, observe their motions, observe their gestures. They seem diseased past all hope.
“Their manner of living, too, would argue a total absence of intelligence. Myriads seem to live in holes or shelves into
which they crawl and emerge mechanically, while a few have constructed castles that resemble ours.
“They have never even seen our signals,” said Arcvad. “How quickly the Saturnians answered us! The insects on Thir”—the Martian name for the Earth—” or at least those in this particular city, spend their lives erecting great towers and tearing them down again.
“No worse, though, after all, than the rest of Thir,” replied Astar. “One spot has, however, always attracted me more than any other, for here there are signs of order and even something of a sense of beauty.” Astar put his hand on the green spot on the map which on Earth is known as Paris.
“The only sign of intelligence on the planet outside of Teltex”—indicating Gorilla Land in Central Africa—said Arcvad. “But how explain this?”
Arcvad crossed the room, followed by Astar. They entered a vast room, the private cinematograph hall of Arcvad. He flashed on the canvas, by making a motion in the air, the totally incomprehensible spectacle of the Siege of Paris and the crimes of the Commune.
“Our animals are more intelligent than those murderous termites or blood-letting infusoria, or whatever they are,” muttered Astar.
“And they never sicken of blood and death down there, do they?” said Arcvad, and on the vast stage by another wave of the hand he had the carnage of Siege and Commune turned off and the scenes from the World War turned on.
“What are they trying to do? What is their object in living that way?” asked Astar.
“See with what fiendish delight and satisfaction they stab at one another’s entrails and walk into one another’s squashed
brains. Is it a sport, I wonder, something like our great games in rudimentary form?”
Among the Martians the scenes from the World War, next to the massacre at Kishineff, were the most applauded in their cinematograph halls. Every mind speculated on the meaning of these fascinating charivaris on Thir. No one had arrived at any satisfactory solution. In the great colleges of learning every hypothesis had been ventured, but, like Arcvad and Astar, the learned minds were not able to arrive at any explanation. They had discovered things on Saturn by means of telepathy which awed them; on the Earth they had discovered things that either puzzled them or sent them into paroxysms of laughter. That little purple patch called Thir—was it the insane asylum of the three-dimensional world, or some rotten cancer in space, or a satire invented by Og?
The incomparable scenery of the Earth was a source of eternal delight to the Martian, whether he saw it through a telescope or on the perfected cinematograph; but the minute the Martian eye caught the motions of a ril—-Martian for Earthman—there were perplexity, paradox, mystery, horror or laughter.
And it was whispered that the Great Event promised by Arcvad had something to do with Thir and the fate of the insane insect ril.
On the twentieth day after the colloquy between Arcvad and Astar the Martians did no work. It was the day of the Great Astral Event. Telescopes of very conceivable kind were in use, and the few with the cinematographic attachment awaited the signal from Arcvad in his observatory. The night fell—a night of stars and lambent immensities. Never had the Earth shone so brilliantly. Her purple rays advanced on space like screaming swords.
It was the last day of the Earthling, and Arcvad the mighty had decreed their death at midnight on Mars—at a midnight which should be equivalent to 11 A. M. in New York City. And as the planet Thir turned on its axis and presented its face to the sun 11 A. M. would sound the knell of sentiency for the murderous, insane, foolish ril.
For many years Arcvad had contemplated this act of mercy. The means of accomplishing it was of course a simple one to the Martian, and to Arcvad in particular. Among the forces known to Arcvad was a substance—bal— that once let loose in a given direction under the influence of propulsive instruments that only Arcvad could control would “electrocute,” so to speak, all forms of sentiency that it crossed. It pierced the etheric waves with the ease with which the electric bolt pierces the atmosphere of Earth. At the moment of euthanasia this substance, superior to the law of gravitation (a law that the Martians had discarded thousands of years before the birth of Arcvad), immobilized and petrified its object.
The plan of Arcvad was to electrocute mankind on Earth, turning them into statues and embalming them simultaneously. The sudden petrifaction of the ril on Thir and the throwing open of this vast museum to the eyes of his fellow-Martians for a period of fifty years, after which, with a subtle substance known as fi, he would as suddenly decompose the whole mass into gas and ether—this was what Arcvad, the omnipotent and merciful Prospero of the fifth dimension, proposed to himself on this night!
And the Event, is it not recorded on the cinematograph films in the pleasure-palaces of Mars? The ambush in the light! That phantasmology of the petrified ril That eternal uncreate tomorrow of Earthlings! That landscape of manikins caught in the act of living by the act of a scientific god! Those two billion air-bibbers who’ll drink no more o’ the air! The massed and serried dreams of the Earthling cut off forever from issue! That tragic ironym pronounced only fifty million miles away!
Such smiling calvaries! Such a massacre of nonsense! Life stunned in its cells!
The stockbroker transfixed and doomed for fifty years to look with wide open eye at the price of Standard Oil.
The devotee whose knees shall wear cups in the hard flag and whose eyes must forever be riveted on the symbol of his impotent god.
Five million pedestrians in New York, Paris, Berlin, London, Tokio and Calcutta that shall never see their errands* end.
Millions of soldiers on dress parade in France, Germany, Italy, England and Japan turned to automata, tin soldiers for daws to peck at.
The harlot who will never earn that dollar. The millionaire churchwarden congealed in the act of ordering a rise in the price of beef, as powerless as the Communist who sits there at his desk, his fulmination forever frozen in his brain.
“Any given moment in time,” Arcvad once wrote in one of his beautiful metaphysical studies, “is the epitome of Time itself, because the only point in Time that really exists is the now, the present moment.”
And it is because of this profound truth that life on the planet-Earth—the life of the ril on Thir—is visible in the ghastly but fascinating pictures seen through the telescopes and cinematograph films on Mars.
The Earthling in his petrified gestures and attitudes epitomizes his evolution—such as it was; and it is to Arcvad the omnipotent and all-merciful that the rils owe the abridgment of their sufferings through future cycles.
It is thus that Ril the Inconsequent, Ril the Obtuse, became Ril the Marvellous, Ril the Beautiful.
BY Benjamin DeCasseres
Forty Immortals Anathema!
Love-Letters of a Living Poet
Mencken and Shaw
James Gibbons Huneker
Mirrors of New York
The Superman in America (booklet)
The Muse of Lies
Germans, Jews and France, by Nietzsche (compiled from his writings), with a Foreword by Benjamin DeCasseres
By Bio DeCasseres
The Boy of Bethlehem, with a Foreword by Benjamin DeCasseres.
By Walter DeCasseres
The Sublime Boy, with a Foreword by Benjamin DeCasseres.
WHAT THEY SAY
Benjamin DeCasseres — The Pontius Pilate of America.—H. L Mencken.
DeCasseres has produced what may well be the most eloquent rhapsody ever sung around Spinoza.—Havelock Ellis.
How much I admire the courage with which so firmly and finally you say all that needed saying about Shaw!—Aldous Huxley.
DeCasseres is the most fiery and independent writer that I know of.—Re my de Gourmont.
What you call your philosophic prejudices are, I think, becoming by slow degrees the conviction of honest writers concerning the world as they see it around them.—Thomas Hardy.
“Forty Immortals” is one of the greatest books of criticism I know. It is creation. , . . You have executed Shaw with a fulgurant sword like that of the Archangel Michael.—Maurice Maeterlinck.
Had men of genius ever such a glorifier!—Robinson Jeffers.
Your complete work will enrich English literature with a new philosophic lyricism.—Jules de Gaultier.
“The Shadow-Eater” destroyed my critical sense and begun its reconstruction.—John Macy.
There’s neither smirking nor primping nor falsifying to please others.—Charles Finger.
There are so many critics, but there is only one Benjamin DeCasseres.—The New York Times.
A passionate, erratic poet… strives to shake the foundations of the world.—The Saturday Review of Literature.
He occupies a niche that is all his own and asks space to stand from no other man.—The Nation.