There they were: and that He who had skill to create them could blunder in using them was simply incredible.
But this led to worse: for having to admit the infallible design, I now began to admire it as an exquisite scheme of evil, and to accuse God of employing supreme knowledge and skill to gratify a royal lust of cruelty. For a month and more this horrible theory justified itself in all innocent daily sights. Throughout my country walks I “saw blood.” I heard the rabbit run squeaking before the weasel; I watched the butcher crow working steadily down the hedge. If I turned seaward I looked beneath the blue and saw the dog-fish gnawing on the whiting. If I walked in the garden I surprised the thrush dragging worms from the turf, the cat slinking on the nest, the spider squatting in ambush. Behind the rosy face of every well-nourished child I saw a lamb gazing up at the butcher’s knife. My dear Violet, that was a hideous time!
And just then by chance a book fell into my hands—Lamartine’s Chute d’un Ange. Do you know the Seventh and Tenth Visions of that poem, which describe the favourite amusements of the Men-gods? Before the Deluge, beyond the rude tents of the nomad shepherds, there rose city upon city of palaces built of jasper and porphyry, splendid and utterly corrupt; inhabited by men who called themselves gods and explored the subtleties of all sciences to minister to their vicious pleasures. At ease on soft couches, in hanging gardens set with fountains, these beings feasted with every refinement of cruelty. Kneeling slaves were their living tables; while for their food—
Tous les oiseaux de l’air,
tous les poissons de l’onde,
Tout ce qui vole ou nage ou rampe dans le monde,
Mourant pour leur plaisir des plus cruels trepas
De sanglantes savours composent leurs repas. . . .
In these lines I believed that I discerned the very God of the universe, the God whom men worship—
Dans les infames jeux de leur
Le supplice de l’homme est leur premier plaisir.
Pour que leur oeil feroce a l’envi s’en repaisse
Des bourreaux devant eux en immolent sans cesse.
Tantot ils font lutter, dans des combats affreux,
L’homme contre la brute et les hommes entre eux,
Aux longs ruisseaux de sang qui coulent de la veine,
Aux palpitations des membres sur l’arene,
Se levant a demi de leurs lits de repos
Des frissons de plaisir fremissent sur leurs peaux.
Le cri de la torture est leur douce harmonie,
Et leur oeil dans son oeil boit sa lente agonie.
I charged the Supreme Power with a cruelty deliberate, ruthless, serene. Nero the tyrant once commanded a representation in grim earnest of the Flight of Icarus; and the unhappy boy who took the part, at his first attempt to fly, fell headlong beside the Emperor’s couch and spattered him with blood and brains. For the Emperor, says Suetonius, perraro praesidere, ceterum accubans, parvis primum foraminibus, deinde toto podio adaperto, spectare consuerat. So I believed that on the stage of this world men agonised for the delight of one cruel intelligence which watched from behind the curtain of a private box.