Leonid Andreyev: Satan’s Diary
On board the Atlantic.
This is exactly the tenth day since I have become human and am leading this earthly life.
My loneliness is very great. I am not in need of friends, but I must speak of Myself and I have no one to speak to. Thoughts alone are not sufficient, and they will not become quite clear, precise and exact until I express them in words. It is necessary to arrange them in a row, like soldiers or telephone poles, to lay them out like a railway track, to throw across bridges and viaducts, to construct barrows and enclosures, to indicate stations in certain places—and only then will everything become clear. This laborious engineering work, I think, they call logic and consistency, and is essential to those who desire to be wise. It is not essential to all others. They may wander about as they please.
The work is slow, difficult and repulsive for one 2who is accustomed to—I do not know what to call it—to embracing all in one breath and expressing all in a single breath. It is not in vain that men respect their thinkers so much, and it is not in vain that these unfortunate thinkers, if they are honest and conscientious in this process of construction, as ordinary engineers, end in insane asylums. I am but a few days on this earth and more than once have the yellow walls of the insane asylum and its luring open door flashed before my eyes.
Yes, it is extremely difficult and irritates one’s “nerves.” I have just now wasted so much of the ship’s fine stationery to express a little ordinary thought on the inadequacy of man’s words and logic. What will it be necessary to waste to give expression to the great and the unusual? I want to warn you, my earthly reader, at the very outset, not to gape in astonishment. The extraordinary cannot be expressed in the language of your grumbling. If you do not believe me, go to the nearest insane asylum and listen to the inmates: they have all realized Something and wanted to give expression to it. And now you can hear the roar and rumble of these wrecked engines, their wheels revolving and hissing in the air, and you can see with what difficulty they manage to hold intact the rapidly dissolving features of their astonished faces!3
I see you are all ready to ply me with questions, now that you learned that I am Satan in human form: it is so fascinating! Whence did I come? What are the ways of Hell? Is there immortality there, and, also, what is the price of coal at the stock exchange of Hell? Unfortunately, my dear reader, despite my desire to the contrary, if I had such a desire, I am powerless to satisfy your very proper curiosity. I could have composed for your benefit one of those funny little stories about horny and hairy devils, which appeal so much to your meagre imagination, but you have had enough of them already and I do not want to lie so rudely and ungracefully. I will lie to you elsewhere, when you least expect it, and that will be far more interesting for both of us.
And the truth—how am I to tell it when even my Name cannot be expressed in your tongue? You have called me Satan and I accept the name, just as I would have accepted any other: Be it so—I am Satan. But my real name sounds quite different, quite different! It has an extraordinary sound and try as I may I cannot force it into your narrow ear without tearing it open together with your brain: Be it so—I am Satan. And nothing more.
And you yourself are to blame for this, my friend: why is there so little understanding in 4your reason? Your reason is like a beggar’s sack, containing only crusts of stale bread, while it is necessary to have something more than bread. You have but two conceptions of existence: life and death. How, then, can I reveal to you the third? All your existence is an absurdity only because you do not have this third conception. And where can I get it for you? To-day I am human, even as you. In my skull is your brain. In my mouth are your cubic words, jostling one another about with their sharp corners, and I cannot tell you of the Extraordinary.
If I were to tell you that there are no devils I would lie. But if I say that such creatures do exist I also deceive you. You see how difficult it is, how absurd, my friend!
I can also tell you but little that you would understand of how I assumed the human form, with which I began my earthly life ten days ago. First of all, forget about your favorite, hairy, horny, winged devils, who breathe fire, transform fragments of earthenware into gold and change old men into fascinating youths, and having done all this and prattled much nonsense, they disappear suddenly through a wall. Remember: when we want to visit your earth we must always become human. Why this is so you will learn after your death. Meanwhile remember: I am a human 5being now like yourself. There is not the foul smell of a goat about me but the fragrance of perfume, and you need not fear to shake My hand lest I may scratch you with my nails: I manicure them just as you do.
But how did it all happen? Very simply. When I first conceived the desire to visit this earth I selected as the most satisfactory lodging a 38-year-old American billionaire, Mr. Henry Wondergood. I killed him at night,—of course, not in the presence of witnesses. But you cannot bring me to court despite this confession, because the American is ALIVE, and we both greet you with one respectful bow: I and Wondergood. He simply rented his empty place to me. You understand? And not all of it either, the devil take him! And, to my great regret I can return only through the same door which leads you too to liberty: through death.
This is the most important thing. You may understand something of what I may have to say later on, although to speak to you of such matters in your language is like trying to conceal a mountain in a vest pocket or to empty Niagara with a thimble. Imagine, for example, that you, my dear King of Nature, should want to come closer to the ants, and that by some miracle you became a real little ant,—then you may have some 6conception of that gulf which separates Me now from what I was. No, still more! Imagine that you were a sound and have become a mere symbol—a musical mark on paper.... No, still worse!—No comparisons can make clear to you that terrible gulf whose bottom even I do not see as yet. Or, perhaps, there is no bottom there at all.
Think of it: for two days, after leaving New York, I suffered from seasickness! This sounds queer to you, who are accustomed to wallow in your own dirt? Well, I—I have also wallowed in it but it was not queer at all. I only smiled once in thinking that it was not I, but Wondergood, and said:
“Roll on, Wondergood, roll on!”
There is another question to which you probably want an answer: Why did I come to this earth and accept such an unprofitable exchange: to be transformed from Satan, “the mighty, immortal chieftain and ruler” into you? I am tired of seeking words that cannot be found. I will answer you in English, French, Italian or German—languages we both understand well. I have grown lonesome in Hell and I have come upon the earth to lie and play.
You know what ennui is. And as for falsehood, you know it well too. And as for play —you can judge it to a certain extent by your own theaters 7and celebrated actors. Perhaps you yourself are playing a little rôle in Parliament, at home, or in your church. If you are, you may understand something of the satisfaction of play. And, if in addition, you are familiar with the multiplication table, then multiply the delight and joy of play into any considerable figure and you will get an idea of My enjoyment, of My play. No, imagine that you are an ocean wave, which plays eternally and lives only in play—take this wave, for example, which I see outside the porthole now and which wants to lift our “Atlantic”...but, here I am again seeking words and comparisons!
I simply want to play. At present I am still an unknown actor, a modest débutante, but I hope to become no less a celebrity than your own Garrick or Aldrich, after I have played what I please. I am proud, selfish and even, if you please, vain and boastful. You know what vanity is, when you crave the praise and plaudits even of a fool? Then I entertain the brazen idea that I am a genius. Satan is known for his brazenness. And so, imagine, that I have grown weary of Hell where all these hairy and horny rogues play and lie no worse than I do, and that I am no longer satisfied with the laurels of Hell, in which I but perceive no small measure of base flattery and downright stupidity. But I have heard of you, 8my earthly friend; I have heard that you are wise, tolerably honest, properly incredulous, responsive to the problems of eternal art and that you yourself play and lie so badly that you might appreciate the playing of others: not in vain have you so many great actors. And so I have come. You understand?
My stage is the earth and the nearest scene for which I am now bound is Rome, the Eternal City, as it is called here, in your profound conception of eternity and other simple matters. I have not yet selected my company (would you not like to join it?). But I believe that Fate and Chance, to whom I am now subservient, like all your earthly things, will realize my unselfish motives and will send me worthy partners. Old Europe is so rich in talents! I believe that I shall find a keen and appreciative audience in Europe, too. I confess that I first thought of going to the East, which some of my compatriots made their scene of activity some time ago with no small measure of success, but the East is too credulous and is inclined too much to poison and the ballet. Its gods are ludicrous. The East still reeks too much of hairy animals. Its lights and shadows are barbarously crude and too bright to make it worth while for a refined artist as I am to go into that crowded, foul circus tent. Ah, my friend, I am so vain that I 9even begin this Diary not without the secret intention of impressing you with my modesty in the rôle of seeker of words and comparisons. I hope you will not take advantage of my frankness and cease believing me.