"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Devil Stories: An Anthology Edited by Maximilian J. Rudwin Alfred A. Knopf: 1921

The devil, most definitely

Devil Stories: An Anthology

Edited by  Maximilian J. Rudwin

Alfred A. Knopf: 1921

In the opening matter of the 1921 Knopf edition of Devil Stories: An Anthology, we are informed that this is just the first volume in a series called "Anthologies of Diabolical Literature" - all to be edited by Maximilian J. Rudwin.

    In Preparation:







Was the book buying public of the United States in 1921 not ready to accept such scholarly cargo? Perhaps the preceding five years had been infernal enough? 

Devil Stories: An Anthology itself is of little more than historical interest. Many of the stories are worthwhile, poignant or droll by turns; most, alas, are simply authorial japes. Perhaps only after April 8, 1966 could the devil get his due as a subject of mass market fiction, thanks to Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, and their epigones?

Rudwin's notes on each story are a treasure for the reader of forgotten folklore, tales, and strange stories. They make reading some of his selections worth the aggravation.

The stories in this anthology are not horror fiction in the modern sense. Most are - or try to be - comedy or satire. The Devil is used as a rhetorical foil in most, as authors attempt to demonstrate their theses or conceits by minor negations.

Introduction by Maximilian J. Rudwin, editor.

Editor Maximilian J. Rudwin dedicates this collection "To all students of the supernatural in literature."

This certainly strikes the modern reader as propitious, as does the historical grounding he gives to depictions of the devil as the concept evolved in the revolutionary 19th century:

....The Romantic Devil is an altogether new species of the genus diaboli. There are fashions in Devils as in dresses, and what is a Devil in one country or one century may not pass muster in another. It is related that after the glory of Greece had departed, a mariner, voyaging along her coast by night, heard from the woods the cry: "Great Pan is dead!" But Pan was not dead; he had fallen asleep to awake again as Satan. In like manner, when the eighteenth century believed Satan to be dead, he was, as a matter of fact, only recuperating his energies for a fresh start in a new form. His new avatar was Prometheus. Satan continued to be the enemy of God, but he was no longer the enemy of man. Instead of a demon of darkness he became a god of grace. This champion of celestial combat was not actuated by hatred and envy of man, as Christianity was thought to teach us, but by love and pity for humankind. The strongest expression of this idea of the Devil in modern literature has been given by August Strindberg, whose Lucifer is a compound of Prometheus, Apollo and Christ. However, this interpretation of the Devil, whatever value it may have from the point of view of originality, is aesthetically as well as theologically not acceptable. Such a revaluation of an old value offends our intellect while it touches our heart. All successful treatment of the Devil in literature and art must be made to correspond with the norm of popular belief. In art we are all orthodox, whatever our views may be in religion. This new conception of Satan will be found chiefly in poetry, while the popular concept has been continued in prose. But even here a gradual evolution of the idea of the Devil will be observed. The nineteenth century Demon is an improvement on his confrère of the thirteenth. He differs from his older brother as a cultivated flower from a wild blossom. The Devil as a human projection is bound to partake in the progress of human thought. Says Mephistopheles:

  "Culture, which the whole world licks, Also unto the Devil sticks." 

     The Devil advances with the progress of civilization, because he is what men make him. He has benefited by the modern levelling tendency in characterization. Nowadays supernatural personages, like their human creators, are no longer painted either as wholly white or as wholly black, but in various shades of grey. The Devil, as Renan has aptly remarked, has chiefly benefited by this relativist point of view. The Spirit of Evil is better than he was, because evil is no longer so bad as it was. Satan, even in the popular mind, is no longer a villain of the deepest dye. At his worst he is the general mischief-maker of the universe, who loves to stir up the earth with his pitch-fork. In modern literature the Devil's chief function is that of a satirist. This fine critic directs the shafts of his sarcasm against all the faults and foibles of men. He spares no human institution. In religion, art, society, marriage—everywhere his searching eye can detect the weak spots. The latest demonstration of the Devil's ability as a satirist of men and morals is furnished by Mark Twain in his posthumous romance The Mysterious Stranger.

     The Devil Lore Series, which opens with this book of Devil Stories, is to serve as documentary evidence of man's abiding interest in the Devil. It will be a sort of portrait-gallery of the literary delineations of Satan. The Anthologies of Diabolical Literature may be considered, I trust, without any risk of offence to any theological or philosophical prepossession. To those alike who accept and who reject the belief in the Devil's spiritual entity apart from man's, there must be profit and pleasure in the contemplation of his literary incarnations. As regards the Devil's fitness as a literary character, all intelligent men and women, believers and unbelievers, may be assumed to have but one opinion.

     This Series is wholly devoted to the Christian Devil with the total disregard of his cousins in the other faiths. There will, however, be found a strong Jewish element in Christian demonology. It must be borne in mind that our literature has become saturated through Christian channels with the traditions of the parent creed.

     This collection has been limited to twenty tales. Within the bounds thus set, an effort has been made to have this book as representative of national and individual conceptions of the Devil as possible. The tales have been taken from many times and tongues. Selection has been made not only among writers, but also among the stories of each writer. In two instances, however, where the choice was not so easy, an author is represented by two specimens from his pen.

     The stories have been arranged in chronological order to show the constant and continuous appeal on the part of the Devil to our story-writers. The mediaeval tale, although published last, was placed first. For obvious reasons, this story has not been given in its original form, but in its modernized version. While this is not meant to be a nursery-book, it has been made virginibus puerisque, and for this reason, selections from Boccaccio, Rabelais and Balzac could not find their way into these pages. Moreover, as this volume was limited to narratives in prose, devil's tales in verse by Chaucer, Hans Sachs and La Fontaine could not be considered, either. Nevertheless this collection is sufficiently comprehensive to please all tastes in Devils. The reader will find between the covers of this book Devils fascinating and fearful, Devils powerful and picturesque, Devils serious and humorous, Devils pathetic and comic, Devils phantastic and satiric, Devils gruesome and grotesque. I have tried, though, to keep them all in good humour throughout the book, and can accordingly assure the reader that he need fear no harm from an intimate acquaintance with the diabolical company to which he is herewith introduced.

*     *     *

The Devil in a Nunnery • (1914) • short story by Francis Oscar Mann

I'm a sucker for tales of regret, renunciated, and a deep sense of belated existential dysphoria. 

In "The Devil in a Nunnery" the sisters are brought to the brink of despair and relinquishment by the dinnertime visit of a young man with a zither. He sings:

"Western wind, when wilt thou blow, 

And the small rain will down rain? 

Christ, if my love were in my arms, 

And I in my bed again." 

     Silence!—not one of the holy Sisters spoke, but some sighed; some put their hands over their hearts, and one put her hand in her hood, but when she felt her hair shorn close to her scalp, drew it out again sharply, as though she had touched red-hot iron, and cried, "O Jesu."

     Sister Peronelle, a toothless old woman, began to speak in a cracked, high voice, quickly and monotonously, as though she spoke in a dream. Her eyes were wet and red, and her thin lips trembled. "God knows," she said, "I loved him; God knows it. But I bid all those who be maids here, to be mindful of the woods. For they are green, but they are deep and dark, and it is merry in the springtime with the thick turf below and the good boughs above, all alone with your heart's darling—all alone in the green wood. But God help me, he would not stay any more than snow at Easter. I thought just now that I was back with him in the woods. God keep all those that be maids from the green woods."

     The pretty Sister Ursula, who had only just finished her novitiate, was as white as a sheet. Her breath came thickly and quick as though she bore a great burden up hill. A great sigh made her comely shoulders rise and fall. "Blessed Virgin," she cried. "Ah, ye ask too much; I did not know; God help me, I did not know," and her grey eyes filled with sudden tears, and she dropped her head on her arms on the table, and sobbed aloud.

     Then cried out Sister Katherine, who looked as old and dead as a twig dropped from a tree of last autumn, and at whom the younger Sisters privily mocked, "It is the wars, the wars, the cursed wars. I have held his head in this lap, I tell you; I have kissed his soul into mine. But now he lies dead, and his pretty limbs all dropped away into earth. Holy Mother, have pity on me. I shall never kiss his sweet lips again or look into his jolly eyes. My heart is broken long since. Holy Mother! Holy Mother!"

     "He must come oftener," said a plump Sister of thirty, with a little nose turned up at the end, eyes black as sloes and lips round as a plum. "I go to the orchard day after day, and gather my lap full of apples. He is my darling. Why does he not come? I look for him every time that I gather the ripe apples. He used to come; but that was in the spring, and Our Lady knows that is long ago. Will it not be spring again soon? I have gathered many ripe apples."

     Sister Margarita rocked herself to and fro in her seat and crossed her arms on her breast. She was singing quietly to herself.

  "Lulla, lullay, thou tiny little child, Lulla, lullay, lullay; Suck at my breast that am thereat beguiled, Lulla, lullay, lullay." 

     She moaned to herself, "I have seen the village women go to the well, carrying their babies with them, and they laugh as they go by on the way. Their babies hold them tight round the neck, and their mothers comfort them, saying, 'Hey, hey, my little son; hey, hey, my sweeting.' Christ and the blessed Saints know that I have never felt a baby's little hand in my bosom—and now I shall die without it, for I am old and past the age of bearing children."

  "Lulla, lullay, thou tiny little boy, Lulla, lullay, lullay; To feel thee suck doth soothe my great annoy, Lulla, lullay, lullay." 

     "I have heard them on a May morning, with their pipes and tabors and jolly, jolly music," cried Sister Helen; "I have seen them too, and my heart has gone with them to bring back the white hawthorn from the woods. 'A man and a maid to a hawthorn bough,' as it says in the song. They sing outside my window all Saint John's Eve so that I cannot say my prayers for the wild thoughts they put into my brain, as they go dancing up and down in the churchyard; I cannot forget the pretty words they say to each other, 'Sweet love, a kiss'; 'kiss me, my love, nor let me go'; 'As I went through the garden gate'; 'A bonny black knight, a bonny black knight, and what will you give to me? A kiss, and a kiss, and no more than a kiss, under the wild rose tree.' Oh, Mary Mother, have pity on a poor girl's heart, I shall die, if no one love me, I shall die."

     "In faith, I am truly sorry, William," said Sister Agnes, who was gaunt and hollow-eyed with long vigils and overfasting, for which the good father had rebuked her time after time, saying that she overtasked the poor weak flesh. "I am truly sorry that I could not wait. But the neighbours made such a clamour, and my father and mother buffeted me too sorely. It is under the oak tree, no more than a foot deep, and covered with the red and brown leaves. It was a pretty sight to see the red blood on its neck, as white as whalebone, and it neither cried nor wept, so I put it down among the leaves, the pretty poppet; and it was like thee, William, it was like thee. I am sorry I did not wait, and now I'm worn and wan for thy sake, this many a long year, and all in vain, for thou never comst. I am an old woman now, and I shall soon be quiet and not complain any more."

     Some of the Sisters were sobbing as if their hearts would break; some sat quiet and still, and let the tears fall from their eyes unchecked; some smiled and cried together; some sighed a little and trembled like aspen leaves in a southern wind. The great candles in the hall were burning down to their sockets. One by one they spluttered out. A ghostly, flickering light fell upon the legend over the broad dais, "Connubium mundum sed virginitas paradisum complet"—"Marriage replenisheth the World, but virginity Paradise."

     "Dong, dong, dong." Suddenly the great bell of the Nunnery began to toll. With a cry the Abbess sprang to her feet; there were tear stains on her white cheeks, and her hand shook as she pointed fiercely to the door.

     "Away, false pilgrim," she cried. "Silence, foul blasphemer! Retro me, Satanas." She crossed herself again and again, saying Pater Noster.

     The nuns screamed and trembled with terror. A little cloud of blue smoke arose from where the minstrel had stood. There was a little tongue of flame, and he had disappeared. It was almost dark in the hall. A few sobs broke the silence. The dying light of a single candle fell on the form of the Lady Mother.

     "Tomorrow," she said, "we shall fast and sing Placebo and Dirige and the Seven Penitential Psalms. May the Holy God have mercy upon us for all we have done and said and thought amiss this night. Amen."

*     *     *

Belphagor by Niccolò Machiavelli (1549)

Machiavelli provides enough incident and complication in ten pages to give a Maugham or Sabatini at least five hundred pages of fiction.

Belphagor finds himself volunteering for a secret mission in Florence: pose as a mortal man, get married, and report back to the Plutonian realm if there is any truth in excuses that damned men are offering when they arrive in hell.

....For the souls of all men daily arriving in our kingdom still continue to lay the whole blame upon their wives, and as this appears to us impossible, we must be careful how we decide in such a business, lest we also should come in for a share of their abuse, on account of our too great severity; and yet judgment must be pronounced, lest we be taxed with negligence and with indifference to the interests of justice.

Belphagor's mortal wife, he discovers, outshines Lucifer in her superabundance of pride. Her commands, and Belphagor's loving acquiescence, lead him to penury, debt, and the lot of the fugitive.

Case closed.

*     *     *

The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving

It is hard to imagine a better thumbnail encapsulation of the matter of bourgeois North American than Washington Irving's sublime meditation on invasion, displacement, piracy, interest, and small-bore profit, "The Devil and Tom Walker." Irving's prose is immaculate, unobtrusive, beautifully turned-out.

....they began to haggle about the terms on which the former was to have the pirate's treasure. There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being generally understood in all cases where the devil grants favours; but there were others about which, though of less importance, he was inflexibly obstinate. He insisted that the money found through his means should be employed in his service. He proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it in the black traffic; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave-ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused: he was bad enough in all conscience; but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave-trader.

     Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed, instead, that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people.

     To this no objections were made, for it was just to Tom's taste.

     "You shall open a broker's shop in Boston next month," said the black man.

     "I'll do it tomorrow, if you wish," said Tom Walker.

     "You shall lend money at two per cent. a month."

     "Egad, I'll charge four!" replied Tom Walker.

     "You shall extort bonds, foreclose mortgages, drive the merchants to bankruptcy"—

     "I'll drive them to the d—l," cried Tom Walker.

     "You are the usurer for my money!" said black-legs with delight. "When will you want the rhino?"

     "This very night."

     "Done!" said the devil.

     "Done!" said Tom Walker. So they shook hands and struck a bargain.

     A few days' time saw Tom Walker seated behind his desk in a counting-house in Boston.

     His reputation for a ready-moneyed man, who would lend money out for a good consideration, soon spread abroad. Everybody remembers the time of Governor Belcher, when money was particularly scarce. It was a time of paper credit. The country had been deluged with government bills, the famous Land Bank had been established; there had been a rage for speculating; the people had run mad with schemes for new settlements; for building cities in the wilderness; land-jobbers went about with maps of grants, and townships, and Eldorados, lying nobody knew where, but which everybody was ready to purchase. In a word, the great speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country, had raged to an alarming degree, and everybody was dreaming of making sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual the fever had subsided; the dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it; the patients were left in doleful plight, and the whole country resounded with the consequent cry of "hard times."

     At this propitious time of public distress did Tom Walker set up as usurer in Boston. His door was soon thronged by customers. The needy and adventurous; the gambling speculator; the dreaming land-jobber; the thriftless tradesman; the merchant with cracked credit; in short, every one driven to raise money by desperate means and desperate sacrifices, hurried to Tom Walker.

     Thus Tom was the universal friend of the needy, and acted like a "friend in need"; that is to say, he always exacted good pay and good security. In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the hardness of his terms. He accumulated bonds and mortgages; gradually squeezed his customers closer and closer: and sent them at length, dry as a sponge, from his door.

     In this way he made money hand over hand; became a rich and mighty man, and exalted his cocked hat upon 'Change. He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation; but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished, out of parsimony. He even set up a carriage in the fulness of his vainglory, though he nearly starved the horses which drew it; and as the ungreased wheels groaned and screeched on the axle-trees, you would have thought you heard the souls of the poor debtors he was squeezing.

     As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church-goer. He prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs. Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week, by the clamour of his Sunday devotion. The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly travelling Zionward, were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new-made convert. Tom was as rigid in religious as in money matters; he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbours, and seemed to think every sin entered up to their account became a credit on his own side of the page. He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists. In a word, Tom's zeal became as notorious as his riches.

     Still, in spite of all this strenuous attention to forms, Tom had a lurking dread that the devil, after all, would have his due. That he might not be taken unawares, therefore, it is said he always carried a small Bible in his coat-pocket. He had also a great folio Bible on his counting-house desk, and would frequently be found reading it when people called on business; on such occasions he would lay his green spectacles in the book, to mark the place, while he turned round to drive some usurious bargain.

     Some say that Tom grew a little crack-brained in his old days, and that, fancying his end approaching, he had his horse new shod, saddled and bridled, and buried with his feet uppermost; because he supposed that at the last day the world would be turned upside down; in which case he should find his horse standing ready for mounting, and he was determined at the worst to give his old friend a run for it. This, however, is probably a mere old wives' fable. If he really did take such a precaution, it was totally superfluous; at least so says the authentic old legend; which closes his story in the following manner.

     One hot summer afternoon in the dog-days, just as a terrible black thunder-gust was coming up, Tom sat in his counting-house, in his white linen cap and India silk morning-gown. He was on the point of foreclosing a mortgage, by which he would complete the ruin of an unlucky land-speculator for whom he had professed the greatest friendship. The poor land-jobber begged him to grant a few months' indulgence. Tom had grown testy and irritated, and refused another day.

     "My family will be ruined, and brought upon the parish," said the land-jobber. "Charity begins at home," replied Tom; "I must take care of myself in these hard times."

     "You have made so much money out of me," said the speculator.

     Tom lost his patience and his piety. "The devil take me," said he, "if I have made a farthing!"

     Just then there were three loud knocks at the street-door. He stepped out to see who was there. A black man was holding a black horse, which neighed and stamped with impatience.

     "Tom, you're come for," said the black fellow, gruffly....

*     *     *

From the Memoirs of Satan (1828) by Wilhelm Hauff

This is an excerpt from a longer work; the section chosen, if representative, is enough to ward off curious readers. Here the devil seems more a drawing-room hero, perhaps portrayed by Melvyn Douglas?

*     *     *

St. John's Eve (1830) by Nikolái Gógol

After his deal with the devil, committed on St. John's Eve, Petró cannot remember the act he perpetrated to seal the deal and earn his bags of gold.

A year later, on the next St. John's Eve, Petró's memory returns. Shattering.

Gogol gives us village superstition, witches in their huts, Satan the tempter, and young love thwarted: all the caltrops of folklore in one bitter cup.

[Poe, Gogol, and Le Fanu nearly overlap in their modes and preoccupations at midcentury. It's intriguing to imagine the three of them in a Villa Diodati meeting of minds in the late 1840s. Each assumed they were alone, I imagine, as scribblers hacking away at the grotesque sublime.]

*     *     *

The Devil's Wager (1833) by William Makepeace Thackeray

A soul can only, in this wager, escape hell when three living people pray for its repose. "The Devil's Wager" is a vitiating anecdote, for which there must have been some market during the period.

"....sinner as I am, one more ave would have saved me; for my sister, who was Abbess of St. Mary of Chauchigny, did so prevail, by her prayer and good works, for my lost and wretched soul, that every day I felt the pains of purgatory decrease; the pitchforks which, on my first entry, had never ceased to vex and torment my poor carcass, were now not applied above once a week; the roasting had ceased, the boiling had discontinued; only a certain warmth was kept up, to remind me of my situation."

     "A gentle stew," said the demon.

     "Yea, truly, I was but in a stew, and all from the effects of the prayers of my blessed sister. But yesterday, he who watched me in purgatory told me, that yet another prayer from my sister, and my bonds should be unloosed, and I, who am now a devil, should have been a blessed angel."

     "And the other ave?" said the demon.

     "She died, sir—my sister died—death choked her in the middle of the prayer." And hereat the wretched spirit began to weep and whine piteously; his salt tears falling over his beard, and scalding the tail of Mercurius the devil.

     "It is, in truth, a hard case," said the demon; "but I know of no remedy save patience, and for that you will have an excellent opportunity in your lodgings below."

*     *     *

The Painter's Bargain (1834) by William Makepeace Thackeray

This is more like it. Thackeray gives us a mirthful, light tale of a portrait artist searching for any means to break his contract with the devil.

....Simon, who had but a year to live, grew more pious, and more careful than ever. He had consultations with all the doctors of the Sorbonne and all the lawyers of the Palais. But his magnificence grew as wearisome to him as his poverty had been before; and not one of the doctors whom he consulted could give him a pennyworth of consolation.

     Then he grew outrageous in his demands upon the Devil, and put him to all sorts of absurd and ridiculous tasks; but they were all punctually performed, until Simon could invent no new ones, and the Devil sat all day with his hands in his pockets doing nothing.

     One day, Simon's confessor came bounding into the room, with the greatest glee. "My friend," said he, "I have it! Eureka!—I have found it. Send the Pope a hundred thousand crowns, build a new Jesuit college at Rome, give a hundred gold candlesticks to St. Peter's; and tell his Holiness you will double all if he will give you absolution!"

     Gambouge caught at the notion, and hurried off a courier to Rome ventre à terre. His Holiness agreed to the request of the petition, and sent him an absolution, written out with his own fist, and all in due form.

     "Now," said he, "foul fiend, I defy you! arise. Diabolus! your contract is not worth a jot: the Pope has absolved me, and I am safe on the road to salvation." In a fervour of gratitude he clasped the hand of his confessor, and embraced him: tears of joy ran down the cheeks of these good men.

     They heard an inordinate roar of laughter, and there was Diabolus sitting opposite to them holding his sides, and lashing his tail about, as if he would have gone mad with glee.

     "Why," said he, "what nonsense is this! do you suppose I care about that?" and he tossed the Pope's missive into a corner. "M. l'Abbé knows," he said, bowing and grinning, "that though the Pope's paper may pass current here, it is not worth twopence in our country. What do I care about the Pope's absolution? You might just as well be absolved by your under butler."

     "Egad," said the Abbé, "the rogue is right—I quite forgot the fact, which he points out clearly enough."

     "No, no, Gambouge," continued Diabolus, with horrid familiarity, "go thy ways, old fellow, that cock won't fight." And he retired up the chimney, chuckling at his wit and his triumph. Gambouge heard his tail scuttling all the way up, as if he had been a sweeper by profession.

     Simon was left in that condition of grief in which, according to the newspapers, cities and nations are found when a murder is committed, or a lord ill of the gout—a situation, we say, more easy to imagine than to describe.

     To add to his woes, Mrs. Gambouge, who was now first made acquainted with his compact, and its probable consequences, raised such a storm about his ears, as made him wish almost that his seven years were expired. She screamed, she scolded, she swore, she wept, she went into such fits of hysterics, that poor Gambouge, who had completely knocked under to her, was worn out of his life. He was allowed no rest, night or day: he moped about his fine house, solitary and wretched, and cursed his stars that he ever had married the butcher's daughter.

Note: The trend in many of these stories is to blame the wife for the necessity of dealing with the devil.

*     *     *

Bon-Bon by Edgar Allan Poe (1840)

     ....It was impossible that so accurate an observer of men and things should have failed to discover, upon the moment, the real character of the personage who had thus intruded upon his hospitality. To say no more, the conformation of his visitor's feet was sufficiently remarkable—he maintained lightly upon his head an inordinately tall hat—there was a tremulous swelling about the hinder-part of his breeches—and the vibration of his coat tail was a palpable fact. Judge, then, with what feelings of satisfaction our hero found himself thrown thus at once into the society of a person for whom he had at all times entertained the most unqualified respect. He was, however, too much of the diplomatist to let escape him any intimation of his suspicions in regard to the true state of affairs. It was not his cue to appear at all conscious of the high honour he thus unexpectedly enjoyed; but, by leading his guest into conversation, to elicit some important ethical ideas, which might, in obtaining a place in his contemplated publication, enlighten the human race, and at the same time immortalize himself—ideas which, I should have added, his visitor's great age, and well-known proficiency in the science of morals, might very well have enabled him to afford.

The devil, perennial devourer of and commenter upon philosophers, makes an evening visit to the brilliant Parisian chef/philosopher/wheeler-dealer Pierre Bon-Bon.

Poe sets himself a few too many rhetorical hurdles in the chase after laughs here, dulling the piece's overall conceit.  It is a minor but clever conceit, as Bon-Bon tries to maneuver the devil into negotiations for his own soul.

*     *     *

The Printer's Devil (1836)

     "In me," says he, "you behold the prince and patron of printers' devils. My province is to preside over the hell of books; and if you will only take the trouble to accompany me a little way, I will show you some of the wonders of that world." As my imagination had lately been much excited by perusing Dante's Inferno, I was delighted with an adventure which promised to turn out something like his wonderful journey, and I readily consented to visit my new friend's dominions, and we sallied forth together. As we pursued our way, my conductor endeavoured to give me some information respecting the world I was about to enter, in order to prepare me for the wonders I should encounter there. "You must know," remarked he, "that books have souls as well as men; and the moment any work is published, whether successful or not, its soul appears in precisely the same form in another world; either in this domain, which is subject to me, or in a better region, over which I have no control. I have power only to exhibit the place of punishment for bad books, periodicals, pamphlets, and, in short, publications of every kind."

     We now arrived at the mouth of a cavern, which I did not remember to have ever noticed before, though I had repeatedly passed the spot in my walks. It looked to me more like the entrance to a coalmine than anything else, as the sides were entirely black. Upon examining them more closely, I found that they were covered with a black fluid which greatly resembled printer's ink, and which seemed to corrode and wear away the rocks of the cavern wherever it touched them. "We have lately received a large supply of political publications," said my companion; "and hell is perfectly saturated with their maliciousness. We carry on a profitable trade upon the earth, by retailing this ink to the principal political editors. Unfortunately, it is not found to answer very well for literary publications, though they have tried it with considerable success in printing the London Quarterly and several of the other important reviews."

*     *     *

The Devil's Mother-In-Law  (1859) by Fernán Caballero

The devil weds Panfila, daughter of "Mother Holofernes." He learns better.

....When the bridal pair were about to retire to the nuptial chamber, Mother Holofernes called her daughter aside, and said: "When you are in your room, be careful to close the door and windows; shut all the shutters, and do not leave a single crevice open but the keyhole of the door. Take with you this branch of consecrated olive, and beat your husband with it as I advise you; this ceremony is customary at all marriages, and signifies that the woman is going to be master, and is followed in order to sanction and establish the rule."

     Panfila, for the first time obedient to her mother, did everything that she had prescribed.

     No sooner did the bridegroom espy the branch of consecrated olive in the hands of his wife, than he attempted to make a precipitous retreat. But when he found the doors and windows closed, and every crevice stopped up, seeing no other means of escape than by passing through the keyhole, he crept into that; this spruce, red-and-white, and well-spoken bachelor being, as Mother Holofernes had suspected, neither more nor less than the Evil One himself, who, availing himself of the right given him by the anathema launched against Panfila by her mother, thought to amuse himself with the pleasures of a marriage, and encumber himself with a wife of his own, whilst so many husbands were supplicating him to take theirs off their hands.

     But this gentleman, despite his reputation for wisdom, had met with a mother-in-law who knew more than he did; and Mother Holofernes was not the only specimen of that genus. Therefore, scarcely had his lordship entered into the keyhole, congratulating himself upon having, as usual, discovered a method of escape, than he found himself in a phial, which his foreseeing mother-in-law had ready on the other side of the door; and no sooner had he got into it than the provident old dame sealed the vessel hermetically. In a most tender voice, and with most humble supplications, and most pathetic gestures, her son-in-law addressed her, and desired that she would grant him his liberty. But Mother Holofernes was not to be deceived by the demon, nor disconcerted by orations, nor imposed upon by honeyed words; she took charge of the bottle and its contents, and went off to a mountain. The old lady vigorously climbed to the summit of this mountain, and there, on its most elevated crest, in a rocky and secluded spot, deposited the phial, taking leave of her son-in-law with a shake of her closed fist as a farewell greeting.

*     *     *

The Generous Gambler (1868) by Charles Baudelaire

The narrator and the Devil have drinks at a table in a basement casino. The mood is mellow and reflective. 

....He complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived, indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of all living beings the most interested in the destruction of Superstition, and he avowed to me that he had been afraid, relatively as to his proper power, once only, and that was on the day when he had heard a preacher, more subtle than the rest of the human herd, cry in his pulpit: "My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!"

     The memory of this famous orator brought us naturally on the subject of Academies, and my strange host declared to me that he didn't disdain, in many cases, to inspire the pens, the words, and the consciences of pedagogues, and that he almost always assisted in person, in spite of being invisible, at all the scientific meetings.

     Encouraged by so much kindness I asked him if he had any news of God—who has not his hours of impiety?—especially as the old friend of the Devil. He said to me, with a shade of unconcern united with a deeper shade of sadness: "We salute each other when we meet."

*     *     *

The Three Low Masses: A Christmas Story  (1875) by Alphonse Daudet

In the year 16__ Reverend Dom Balaguère (formerly Prior of the Barnabites, now paid chaplain of the Lords of Trinquelague) rushes through three Christmas night masses so he can get to the local lord's holiday feast.

....the crowd of nobles were sitting down in the great hall, with the chaplain in the midst of them. The château, illuminated from top to bottom, was resounding with songs, with shouts, with laughter, with uproar; and the venerable Dom Balaguère was thrusting his fork into the wing of a fowl, and drowning all remorse for his sin in streams of regal wine and the luscious juices of the viands. He ate and drank so much, the dear, holy man, that he died during the night of a terrible attack, without even having had time to repent; and then in the morning when he got to heaven, I leave you to imagine how he was received.

     He was told to withdraw on account of his wickedness. His fault was so grievous that it effaced a whole lifetime of virtue.... He had robbed them of a midnight mass.... He should have to pay for it with three hundred, and he should not enter into Paradise until he had celebrated in his own chapel these three hundred Christmas masses in the presence of all those who had sinned with him and by his fault....

The fact that on that ill-fated Christmas night the Devil impersonated Balaguère's clerk Garrigou, and stoked the fires of gluttony to the exclusion of everything else in the cleric's mind, cuts no ice in Heaven.

*     *     *

Devil-Puzzlers (1877) by Frederick B. Perkins

Perkins was a professional librarian and a grandee of the Beecher family. "Devil-Puzzlers" certainly strikes the reader as a product of 19th century library science: dry, stunted, mirthless, and incapable of resuscitation.

*     *     *

The Devil's Round: A Tale of Flemish Golf (1889) by Charles Deulin

A Medieval wheelwright fixes the shaft of St. Peter's club so that Peter and St. Antony can have their match. He gets three wishes as recompense.

     "When I play a game of cards, on Sunday evening, at the 'Fighting Cock,'" continued the wheelwright, "it is no sooner nine o'clock than the garde-champêtre comes to chuck us out. I desire that whoever shall have his feet on my leathern apron cannot be driven from the place where I shall have spread it."

     St. Peter shook his head, and St. Antony, with a solemn air, repeated:

     "Don't forget what is best."

     "What is best," replied the wheelwright of Coq, nobly, "is to be the first golfer in the world. Every time I find my master at golf it turns my blood as black as the inside of the chimney. So I want a club that will carry the ball as high as the belfry of Condé, and will infallibly win me my match."

     "So be it," said St. Peter.

     "You would have done better," said St. Antony, "to have asked for your eternal salvation."

     "Bah!" replied the other. "I have plenty of time to think of that; I am not yet greasing my boots for the long journey."

Naturally, Mynheer van Belzébuth soon shows up for a friendly match.

*     *     *

The Legend of Mont St.-Michel (1882) short story by Guy de Maupassant

A pseudo-folktale of Normandy in which St. Michael repeatedly swindles the Devil. Sub-minor De Maupassant.

*     *     *

The Demon Pope (1888) by Richard Garnett

The Devil is allowed to be pope for twelve hours. All very jocular.

     Cardinal No. 3, a Frenchman, bore a Bayonne ham, and exhibited the same disgust as Benno on seeing himself forestalled. So far as his requests transpired they were moderate, but no one knows where he would have stopped if he had not been scared by the advent of Cardinal No. 4. Up to this time he had only asked for an inexhaustible purse, power to call up the Devil ad libitum, and a ring of invisibility to allow him free access to his mistress, who was unfortunately a married woman.

     Cardinal No. 4 chiefly wanted to be put into the way of poisoning Cardinal No. 5; and Cardinal No. 5 preferred the same petition as respected Cardinal No. 4.

     Cardinal No. 6, an Englishman, demanded the reversion of the Archbishoprics of Canterbury and York, with the faculty of holding them together, and of unlimited non-residence. In the course of his harangue he made use of the phrase non obstantibus, of which Lucifer immediately took a note.

     What the seventh Cardinal would have solicited is not known, for he had hardly opened his mouth when the twelfth hour expired, and Lucifer, regaining his vigour with his shape, sent the Prince of the Church spinning to the other end of the room, and split the marble table with a single stroke of his tail. The six crouched and huddling Cardinals cowered revealed to one another, and at the same time enjoyed the spectacle of his Holiness darting through the stone ceiling, which yielded like a film to his passage, and closed up afterwards as if nothing had happened. After the first shock of dismay they unanimously rushed to the door, but found it bolted on the outside. There was no other exit, and no means of giving an alarm. In this emergency the demeanour of the Italian Cardinals set a bright example to their ultramontane colleagues. "Bisogna pazienzia," they said, as they shrugged their shoulders. Nothing could exceed the mutual politeness of Cardinals Anno and Benno, unless that of the two who had sought to poison each other. The Frenchman was held to have gravely derogated from good manners by alluding to this circumstance, which had reached his ears while he was under the table: and the Englishman swore so outrageously at the plight in which he found himself that the Italians then and there silently registered a vow that none of his nation should ever be Pope, a maxim which, with one exception, has been observed to this day.

*     *     *

Madam Lucifer (1888) by Richard Garnett

Apparently the Devil does not call the shots in Hell. This is left to the petticoat tyranny of his spouse Luciferetta.

*     *     *

Lucifer (1895) by Anatole France

The Devil lodges a complaint with Renaissance master painter Spinello.

           His wife would tell him:

     "You are rich, Spinello. Do you rest, and leave younger men to paint instead of you. It is meet a man should end his days in a gentle, religious quiet. It is tempting God to be for ever raising new and worldly monuments, mere heathen towers of Babel. Quit your colours and your varnishes, Spinello, or they will destroy your peace of mind."

     So the good dame would preach, but he refused to listen, for his one thought was to increase his fortune and renown. Far from resting on his laurels, he arranged a price with the Wardens of Sant' Agnolo for a history of St. Michael, that was to cover all the Choir of the Church and contain an infinity of figures. Into this enterprise he threw himself with extraordinary ardour. Re-reading the parts of Scripture that were to be his inspiration, he set himself to study deeply every line and every word of these passages. Not content with drawing all day long in his workshop, he persisted in working both at bed and board; while at dusk, walking below the hill on whose brow Arezzo proudly lifts her walls and towers, he was still lost in thought. And we may say the story of the Archangel was already limned in his brain when he started to sketch out the incidents in red chalk on the plaster of the wall. He was soon done tracing these outlines; then he fell to painting above the high altar the scene that was to outshine all the others in brilliancy. For it was his intent therein to glorify the leader of the hosts of Heaven for the victory he won before the beginning of time. Accordingly Spinello represented St. Michael fighting in the air against the serpent with seven heads and ten horns, and he figured with delight, in the bottom part of the picture, the Prince of the Devils, Lucifer, under the semblance of an appalling monster. The figures seemed to grow to life of themselves under his hand. His success was beyond his fondest hopes; so hideous was the countenance of Lucifer, none could escape the nightmare of its foulness. The face haunted the painter in the streets and even went home with him to his lodging.

     Presently when night was come, Spinello lay down in his bed beside his wife and fell asleep. In his slumbers he saw an Angel as comely as St. Michael, but black; and the Angel said to him:

     "Spinello, I am Lucifer. Tell me, where had you seen me, that you should paint me as you have, under so ignominious a likeness?"

     The old painter answered, trembling, that he had never seen him with his eyes, never having gone down alive into Hell, like Messer Dante Alighieri; but that, in depicting him as he had done, he was for expressing in visible lines and colours the hideousness of sin.

     Lucifer shrugged his shoulders, and the hill of San Gemignano seemed of a sudden to heave and stagger.

     "Spinello," he went on, "will you do me the pleasure to reason awhile with me? I am no mean Logician; He you pray to knows that."

     Receiving no reply, Lucifer proceeded in these terms:

     "Spinello, you have read the books that tell of me. You know of my enterprise, and how I forsook Heaven to become the Prince of this World. A tremendous adventure,—and a unique one, had not the Giants in like fashion assailed the god Jupiter, as yourself have seen, Spinello, recorded on an ancient tomb where this Titanic war is carved in marble."

     "It is true," said Spinello, "I have seen the tomb, shaped like a great tun, in the Church of Santa Reparata at Florence. 'Tis a fine work of the Romans."

     "Still," returned Lucifer, smiling, "the Giants are not pictured on it in the shape of frogs or chameleons or the like hideous and horrid creatures."

     "True," replied the painter, "but then they had not attacked the true God, but only a false idol of the Pagans. 'Tis a mighty difference. The fact is clear, Lucifer, you raised the standard of revolt against the true and veritable King of Earth and Heaven."

     "I will not deny it," said Lucifer. "And how many sorts of sins do you charge me with for that?"

     "Seven, it is like enough," the painter answered, "and deadly sins one and all."

     "Seven!" exclaimed the Angel of Darkness; "well! the number is canonical. Everything goes by sevens in my history, which is close bound up with God's. Spinello, you deem me proud, angry and envious. I enter no protest, provided you allow that glory was my only aim. Do you deem me covetous? Granted again; Covetousness is a virtue for Princes. For Gluttony and Lust, if you hold me guilty, I will not complain. Remains Indolence."

     As he pronounced the word, Lucifer crossed his arms across his breast, and shaking his gloomy head, tossed his flaming locks:

     "Tell me, Spinello, do you really think I am indolent? Do you take me for a coward? Do you hold that in my revolt I showed a lack of courage? Nay! you cannot. Then it was but just to paint me in the guise of a hero, with a proud countenance. You should wrong no one, not even the Devil. Cannot you see that you insult Him you make prayer to, when you give Him for adversary a vile, monstrous toad? Spinello, you are very ignorant for a man of your age. I have a great mind to pull your ears, as they do to an ill-conditioned schoolboy."

     At this threat, and seeing the arm of Lucifer already stretched out towards him, Spinello clapped his hand to his head and began to howl with terror.

     His good wife, waking up with a start, asked him what ailed him. He told her with chattering teeth, how he had just seen Lucifer and had been in terror for his ears.

     "I told you so," retorted the worthy dame; "I knew all those figures you will go on painting on the walls would end by driving you mad."

     "I am not mad," protested the painter. "I saw him with my own eyes; and he is beautiful to look on, albeit proud and sad. First thing tomorrow I will blot out the horrid figure I have drawn and set in its place the shape I beheld in my dream. For we must not wrong even the Devil himself."

     "You had best go to sleep again," scolded his wife. "You are talking stark nonsense, and unchristian to boot."

Anatole France is a cut above most of the authors in this anthology. They are, it must be admitted, mostly also-rans. But France brings admirable wit to this dialectical drama, apparently inspired by a sentence in Vasari.

*     *     *

The Devil (1901) by Maxim Gorky

     The devil suffered from ennui.

     He is too wise to ridicule everything.

     He knows that there are phenomena of life which the devil himself is not able to rail at; for example, he has never applied the sharp scalpel of his irony to the majestic fact of his existence. To tell the truth, our favourite devil is more bold than clever, and if we were to look more closely at him, we might discover that, like ourselves, he wastes most of his time on trifles. But we had better leave that alone; we are not children that break their best toys in order to discover what is in them.

     The devil once wandered over the cemetery in the darkness of an autumn night: he felt lonely and whistled softly as he looked around himself in search of a distraction. He whistled an old song—my father's favourite song,—

  "When, in autumnal days, A leaf from its branch is torn And on high by the wind is borne." 

     And the wind sang with him, soughing over the graves and among the black crosses, and heavy autumnal clouds slowly crawled over the heaven and with their cold tears watered the narrow dwellings of the dead. The mournful trees in the cemetery timidly creaked under the strokes of the wind and stretched their bare branches to the speechless clouds. The branches were now and then caught by the crosses, and then a dull, shuffling, awful sound passed over the churchyard....

     The devil was whistling, and he thought:

     "I wonder how the dead feel in such weather! No doubt, the dampness goes down to them, and although they are secure against rheumatism ever since the day of their death, yet, I suppose, they do not feel comfortable. How, if I called one of them up and had a talk with him? It would be a little distraction for me, and, very likely, for him also. I will call him! Somewhere around here they have buried an old friend of mine, an author.... I used to visit him when he was alive ... why not renew our acquaintance? People of his kind are dreadfully exacting. I shall find out whether the grave satisfies him completely. But where is his grave?"

     And the devil who, as is well known, knows everything, wandered for a long time about the cemetery, before he found the author's grave....

     "Oh there!" he called out as he knocked with his claws at the heavy stone under which his acquaintance was put away.

     "Get up!"

     "What for?" came the dull answer from below.

     "I need you."

     "I won't get up."


     "Who are you, anyway?"

     "You know me."

     "The censor?"

     "Ha, ha, ha! No!"

     "Maybe a secret policeman?"

     "No, no!"

     "Not a critic, either?"

     "I am the devil."

     "Well, I'll be out in a minute."

Gorky's Devil suffers from ennui. Other tales in this collection show the Devil suffering other varieties of dissatisfaction with his lot. Our various authors describe him variously as lazy, industrious, cowardly, and heroic (in the small things). Clearly, the Devil's goal and motivation is to distract himself from the screaming monotony of eternity.

*     *     *

The Devil and the Old Man by John Masefield (1905)

Another triumph of English seamanship.

     "No, Cap'n," said the man, "there's no salts'll ever cure my sickness."

     "Why, what's all this?" says the old man. "You must be sick if it's as bad as all that. But come now; your cheek is all sunk, and you look as if you ain't slept well. What is it ails you, anyway? Have you anything on your mind?"

     "Captain," he answers very solemn, "I have sold my soul to the devil."

     "Oh," said the old man, "why, that's bad. That's powerful bad. I never thought them sort of things ever happened outside a book."

     "But," said our friend, "that's not the worst of it, Captain. At this time three days hence the devil will fetch me home."

     "Good Lord!" groaned the old man. "Here's a nice hurrah's nest to happen aboard my ship. But come now," he went on, "did the devil give you no chance—no saving-clause like? Just think quietly for a moment."

     "Yes, Captain," said our friend, "just when I made the deal, there came a whisper in my ear. And," he said, speaking very quietly, so as not to let the mate hear, "if I can give the devil three jobs to do which he cannot do, why, then, Captain," he says, "I'm saved, and that deed of mine is cancelled."

     Well, at this the old man grinned and said, "You just leave things to me, my son. I'll fix the devil for you. Aft there, one o' you, and relieve the wheel. Now you run forrard, and have a good watch below, and be quite easy in your mind, for I'll deal with the devil for you. You rest and be easy."

*     *     *


18 August 2021

No comments:

Post a Comment