Devil stories/Notes

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According to a German legend, the devil is master of all arts, and certainly he has given sufficient proof of his musical talent. Certain Church Fathers ascribed, not without good reason, the origin of music to Satan. "The Devil," says Mr. Huneker in his diabolical story "The Supreme Sin" (1920), "is the greatest of all musicians," and Rowland Hill long ago admitted the fact that the devil has all the good tunes. Perhaps his greatest composition is the Sonata del Diavolo, which Tartini wrote down in 1713. This diabolical master-piece is the subject of Gérard de Nerval's story La Sonate du Diable (1830). While the devil plays all instruments equally well, he seems to prefer the violin. Satan appears as fiddler in the poem "Der Teufel mit der Geige," which has been ascribed to the Swiss anti-Papist Pamphilus Gengenbach of the sixteenth century. In Leanu's Faust (1836) Mephistopheles takes the violin out of the hands of one of the musicians at a peasant-wedding and plays a diabolical czardas, which fills the hearts of all who hear it with voluptuousness. An opera Un Violon du Diable was played in Paris in 1849. The Devil's Violin, an extravaganza in verse by Benjamin Webster, was performed the same year in London. In his story "Les Tentations ou Eros, Plutus et la Gloire" Baudelaire presents the Demon of Love as holding in his left hand a violin "which without doubt served to sing his pleasures and pains." The devil also appears as limping fiddler in a California legend, which appeared under the title "The Devil's Fiddle" in a Californian magazine in 1855. Death, the devil's first cousin, if not his alter ego, has the souls, in the Dance of Death, march off to hell to a merry tune on his violin. Death appears as a musician also in the Piper of Hamlin. In this legend, well known to the English world through Browning's poem "Pied Piper of Hamelin" (1843) and Miss Peabody's play The Piper (1909), the rats are the human souls, which Death charms with his music into following him. In the Middle Ages the soul was often represented as leaving the body in the form of a mouse. The soul of a good man comes out of his mouth as a white mouse, while at the death of a sinner the soul escapes as a black mouse, which the devil catches and brings to hell. Mephistopheles, it will be recalled, calls himself "the lord of rats and mice" (Faust, 1, 1516). Devil-Death has inherited this wind instrument from the goat-footed Pan.

"The Devil is more busy in the convents," we are told by J. K. Huysmans in his novel En route (1895), "than in the cities, as he has a harder job on hand."



Wilhelm Hauff, the author of this book, ranks honourably among the members of the Romantic School in Germany. As the work of a man of only twenty-two years, just out of the university, the book is a credit to its author. It must be admitted, however, that it was not altogether original with him. The idea was taken from E. Th. A. Hoffmann,—Devil-Hoffmann, as he was called by his contemporaries,—who in his short-story "Der Teufel in Berlin" also has the devil travel incognito in Germany; and the title was borrowed from Jean Paul Richter, who also claimed to edit Selections from the Devil's Papers (Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren, 1789). There were others, too, who claimed to have been honoured by his Satanic Majesty to edit his "journal." J. R. Beard, a Unitarian minister, published in 1872 an Autobiography of Satan, Another autobiography of Satan is said to have been found among the posthumous works of Leonid Andreev, author of that original diabolical work Anathema, a tragedy (Engl. tr. 1910). This book has just appeared in English under the title Satan's Diary. Frédéric Soulié's Les Memoires du Diable (1837/8) consist of memoirs not of the devil himself, but of other people, which the Count de Luizzi, the human partner to the diabolical pact, is very anxious to know. Hauff's book consists of a series of papers, which are but loosely connected. In certain passages we hear nothing of the autobiographer. The Suavian writer apparently could digest the Diabolical only in homeopathic doses. His Satan, moreover, is a very youthful and quite harmless devil. He is nothing but a personified echo of the author's student-days. The book by Hauff is perhaps the most popular personification of the devil in German literature.

The passage presented here shows the phantastic element of the book at its best. The short introductory synopsis will give an idea of its satirical aspect. The humorous aspect has pretty nearly been lost in translation. Professor Brander Matthews has aptly said: "The German humour is like the simple Italian wines—it will not stand export."

Of all the peoples, the Germans seem to have had the most kindly feelings towards the devil. This is because they knew him better. To judge from the many bridges and cathedrals, which the demon, according to legends, has built in Germany, he must have been a frequent visitor to that country. In Frankfort, where with his own hands our author received the memoirs from the autobiographer, there is a gilded cock above the bridge in memory of the bargain the bridge-builder once made with Satan to give him the first living thing that should cross the river. The day the bridge was finished, a cock fluttered from a woman's market-basket and ran over the bridge. A claw-like hand reached down and claimed the prize.

The distinguished personage, whose adventures form the subject of this book, does not figure in it under his own name, nor does he appear here in the gala attire of tail, horns and cloven foot with which he graces the revels on the Blocksberg. He borrows for the nonce a tall, gentlemanly figure, surmounted by delicate features, dresses well, is fastidious about his ring and linen, travels post and stops at the best hotels. He begins his earthly career by studying at the renowned university of ——. As he can boast of abundant means, a handsome wardrobe and the name of Herr von Barbe, it is no wonder that on the first evening he should be politely received, the next morning have a confidential friend, and the second evening; embrace "brothers till death." He becomes much puzzled at the extraordinary manners of the students, and at their language, so different from that of every rational German. He remarks: "Over a glass of beer they often fell into singularly transcendental investigations, of which I understood little or nothing. However, I observed the principal words, and when drawn into a conversation, replied with a grave air—'Freedom, Fatherland, Nationality.'" He attends the lectures of a celebrated professor, whose profundity of thought and terseness of style are so astounding, that the German world set him down as possessed; the critical student, however, differs somewhat from that conclusion, observing —

"I have borne a great deal in the world. I have even entered into swine," ("The devil," said Luther, "knows Scripture well and he uses it in argument") "but into such a philosopher? No, indeed! I had rather be excused."

The episode here reprinted occurred in a hotel in Frankfort, where our incognito is known as Herr von Natas (which, it will be noticed, is his more familiar name read backwards). His brilliant powers of conversation, his adroit flattery, courteous gallantry, and elegant, though wayward flights of imagination, soon rendered him the delight of the whole table d'hôte. All guests, including our author, were fascinated by the mysterious stranger. But we will let the author himself tell his story.



The Devil's Wager is Thackeray's earliest attempt at story-writing, was contributed to a weekly literary paper with the imposing title The National Standard, and Journal of Literature, Science, Music, Theatricals, and the Fine Arts, of which he was proprietor and editor, and was reprinted in the Paris Sketch Book (1840). The story first ended with the very Thackerayesque touch: "The moral of this story will be given in several successive numbers." In the Paris Sketch Book the last three words are changed into "the second edition." This comical tale was illustrated by an excellent wood-cut, representing the devil as sailing through the air, dragging after him the fat Sir Roger de Rollo by means of his tail, which is wound round Sir Roger's neck.

In the "Advertisement to the First Edition" of his Paris Sketch Book, Thackeray admits the French origin of this as well as of his other devil-story, The Painter's Bargain, to be found in the same volume. It was Thackeray's good fortune to live in Paris during the wildest and most brilliant years of Romanticism; and while his attitude towards this movement and its leaders, as presented in the Paris Sketch Book, is not wholly sympathetic, he is indebted to it for his interest in supernatural subjects. The Romanticism of Thackeray has been denied with great obstinacy and almost passion, for like Heinrich Heine, the chief of German Romantic ironists, he poked fun at this movement. But "to laugh at what you love," as Mr. George Saintsbury has pointed out in his History of the French Novel, "is not only permissible, but a sign of the love itself."

Mercurius makes a pun on the familiar quotation "rara avis" from Horace (Sat. 2, 2. 26), where it means a rare bird. This expression is commonly applied to a singular person. It is also found in the Satires of Juvenal (VI, 165).



The belief in compacts with the devil is of great antiquity. Satan, contending with God for the possession of the human race, was supposed to have developed a passion for catching souls. At the death of every man a real fight takes place over his soul between an angel, who wishes to lead it to heaven, and a devil, who attempts to drag it to hell (Jude 9) . In order to assure the soul for himself in advance, Satan attempts to purchase it from the owner while he is still living—vivénte corpore, as he tells the restaurateur in Poe's story. As prince of this world he can easily grant even the most extravagant wishes of man in exchange for his soul. Office, wealth and pleasure are mainly the objects for which a man enters into a pact with the Evil One. Count de Luizzi in Frédéric Soulié's Les Mémoires du Diable sells his soul to the devil for an uncommon consideration. It is not wealth or pleasure that tempts him. What he wants in exchange for his soul is to know the past lives of his fellowmen and women, "a thing," as Mr. Saintsbury well remarks, "which a person of sense and taste would do anything, short of selling himself to the devil, not to know." The devil fulfils every wish of his contractor for a stipulated period of time, at the expiration of which the soul becomes his. Pope Innocent VIII, in his fatal bull "Summis desiderantes" of the year 1484, officially recognized the possibility of a compact with the devil. Increase Mather, the New England preacher, also affirms that many men have made "cursed covenants with the prince of darkness."

St. Theophilus, of Cilicia, in the sixth century, was the first to make the notable discovery that a man could enter into a pact of this nature. The price he set for his soul was a bishopric. This story has been superseded during the Renaissance period by a similar legend concerning the German Dr. Faustus. Other famous personages reputed to have sold their souls to the devil for one consideration or another are Don Juan in Spain, Twardowski in Poland, Merlin in England, and Robert le Diable in France. Socrates, Apuleius, Scaliger and Cagliostro are also said to have entered into compacts with him.

In devil-contracts the Evil One insists that his human negotiator sign the deed with his own blood, while the man never requires the devil to sign it even in ink. The human party to the transaction has always had full confidence in the word of the fiend. There is a universal belief that the devil invariably fulfils his engagement. In no single instance of folk-lore has Satan tried to evade the fulfilment of his share in the agreement. But the man, in violation of the written pact, has often cheated the devil out of his legal due by technical quibbles. "It is peculiar to the German tradition," says Gustav Freytag, "that the devil endeavours to fulfil zealously and honestly his part of the contract; the deceiver is man." In regard to fidelity to his word, the father of lies has always set an example to his victims. "You men," said Satan, "are cheats; you make all sorts of promises so long as you need me, and leave me in the lurch as soon as you have got what you wanted." Mediaeval man had no scruples about his breach of contract with the devil. He always considered the legal document signed with his own blood as "a scrap of paper." "But still the pact is with the enemy; the man is not bound beyond the letter, and may escape by any trick. It is still the ethics of war. We are very close to the principle that a man by stratagem or narrow observance of the letter may escape the eternal retribution which God decrees conditionally and the devil delights in" (H. D. Taylor, Mediaeval Mind). We now can understand why in Eugene Field's story "Daniel and the Devil" it seems to Satan so strange that he should be asked for a written guarantee that he too would fulfil his part of the contract. Apparently this was the first time that the devil had any transactions with an American business man, who has not even faith in Old Nick.

Reference is made in this story by the devil himself to the popular saying that the devil is not so black as he is painted. Even the devout George Herbert wrote—

"We paint the devil black, yet he
Hath some good in him all agree."

This story recalls to us the proverb: "Talk of the devil, and he will either come or send."

Washington Irving, as we have seen, thinks that he is not always very obliging.

Satan, the father of lies, is said to be the patron of lawyers. The men of the London bar formed a "Temple" corps, which was dubbed "The Devil's Own." The tavern of the lawyers on Fleet Street in London was called "The Devil."


The term "Printer's Devil" is usually accounted for by the fact that Aldus Manutius, the great Venetian printer, employed in his printing shop (about 1485) a black slave, who was popularly thought to be an imp of Satan. This expression may have a deeper significance. It may owe its origin to the fact that Fust, the inventor of the printing press, was believed to have connections with the Evil One. It will be remembered that during the Middle Ages and, in Catholic countries, even for a long time afterwards every discovery of science, every invention of material benefit to man, was believed to have been secured by a compact with the devil. Our ancestors deemed the human mind incapable, without the aid of the Evil One, of producing anything beyond their own comprehension. The red letters which Fust used at the close of his earliest printed volumes to give his name, with the place and date of publication, were interpreted in Paris as indications of the diabolical origin of the works so easily produced by him. (M. D. Conway, Demonology and Devil-Lore.) Sacred days, as is well known, are printed in the Catholic calendar with red letters, and the devil has also employed them in books of magic. This is but another instance of the mimicry by "God's Ape" of the sanctities of the Church.

In the infernal economy, where a strict division of labour prevails, the printer's devil is the librarian of hell. The books over which he has charge must be as numerous as the sands on the sea-shore. For nearly every book written without priestly command was associated in the good old days with the devil. The assertion that Satan hates nothing so much as writing or printer's ink apparently is a very great calumny. He has often even been accused of stealing manuscripts in order to prevent their publication. The prince of darkness naturally rather shuns than courts inquiry. On one occasion Joseph Görres, the defender of Catholicism, complained that the devil, provoked by his interference in Satanic affairs (he is the author of Die christliche Mystik, which is a rich source for diabolism, diabolical possession and exorcism), had stolen one of his manuscripts; it was, however, found some time afterwards in his bookcase, and the devil was completely exonerated.

The concluding paragraph of this story is especially interesting in the light of the present agitation for unbound books and a eulogy of the old Franklin Square Library.



Through Asmodeus the devil became associated with humour and gallantry. Asmodeus sharpened his wits in his conversations with the wisest of kings. It will be recalled that this demon was the familiar spirit of Solomon, whose throne, according to Jewish legend, he occupied for three years. Perhaps it was not Solomon after all but this diabolical usurper who gathered around himself a thousand wives. It is said that Asmodeus is as dangerous to women as Lilith is to men. He loves to decoy young girls in the shape of a handsome young man. His love for the beautiful Sarah is too well known to need any comment. He is a fastidious devil, and will not have the object of his passion subject to the embrace of any other mortal or immortal.

Reference is made by the author to Albert Réville's epitome of Georg Roskoff's Geschichte des Teufels (Leipzig, 1869), a standard work on the history of the devil. The review by this French Protestant first appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes for 1870, and was translated into English the following year. A second edition appeared six years later. Roskoff's book, on the other hand, has never appeared in translation.

It is not easy to grasp the scholastic subtleties of mediaeval schoolmen. Dr. Ethel Brewster suggests the following interpretations: An chimoera bombinans in vacuo devorat secundas intentiones. Whether a demon buzzing in the air devours our good intentions. This will correspond to our saying that hell is paved with good intentions. An averia carrucae capta in vetito nomio sint irreplegibilia. Whether the carriers of a [bishop's] carriage caught in a forbidden district should be punished. We can well understand how even the devil might be puzzled by such questions.

Professor Brander Matthews aptly calls this story "diabolically philosophical."



No greater proof of the permanence and persistence of the devil as a character in literature can be adduced than the fact that this writer, in whom we find the purest expression of Naturalism, for whom the visible world was absolutely all that there is, was attracted by a devil-legend. But on this point he had a good example in his god-father and master Gustave Flaubert, who, though a realist of realists, showed deep interest in the Tempter of St. Anthony.

This legend of the fraudulent bargain between a sprite and a farmer as to alternate upper- and under-ground crops, with which "the great vision of the guarded mount" is here connected, is of Northern origin, but has travelled South as far as Arabia. It will be found in Grimm's Fairy Tales (No. 189); Thiele's Danish Legends (No. 122), and T. Sternberg's The Dialect and Folk-Lore of Northampshire (p. 140). Rabelais used it as a French legend, and in its Oriental form it served as a subject for a poem by the German Friedrich Rückert ("Der betrogene Teufel"). In all these versions the agreement is entered into between the devil (in the Northampshire form it is a bogie or some other field spirit) and a peasant. It was reserved for Maupassant to make St. Michael get the better of Satan on earth as in heaven.

According to this legend the devil broke his leg when, in his flight from St. Michael, he jumped off the roof of the castle into which he had been lured by the saint. The traditional explanation for the devil's broken leg is his fall from heaven. "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke x, 18). All rebellious deities, who were universally supposed to have fallen from heaven, have crooked or crippled legs. Hephaestos, Vulcan, Loki and Wieland, each has a broken leg. This idea has probably been derived from the crooked lightning flashes. The devil's mother in the mediaeval German mystery-plays walks on crutches. Asmodeus, the Persian demon Aeshma daeva, also had a lame foot. In Le Sage's book Le Diable hoiteux Asmodeus appears as a limping gentleman, who uses two sticks as crutches. According to rabbinical tradition this demon broke his leg when he hurried to meet King Solomon. In addition to his broken leg the devil inherited the goat-foot from Pan, the bull-foot from Dionysius and the horse-foot from Loki. The Ethiopic devil's right foot is a claw, and his left a hoof.

The devil is erroneously represented in this story as very lazy. Industry, it has been said, is the great Satanic virtue. "If we were all as diligent and as conscientious as the devil," observed an old Scotch woman to her minister, "it wad be muckle better for us."

The highest peak of a mountain is always consecrated to St. Michael. The Mont St.-Michel on the Norman Coast played a conspicuous part in the wars of the sons of William the Conqueror. Maupassant uses it as the background for several of the chapters of his novel Notre Coeur (1890). The mountain also figures in his story "Le Horla" (1886).



The following two stories by Richard Garnett have been taken from his book The Twilight of the Gods, which was first published anonymously in 1888, and in a "new and augmented edition," with the author's name, in 1902. The title recalls Richard Wagner's opera Götterdämmerung, but may have been directly suggested by Elémir Bourges, whose novel Le Crépuscale des dieux appeared four years earlier than Garnett's collection of stories. In his book Richard Garnett plays havoc with all religions. The demons, naturally enough, fare worse at his hands than the gods. The Twilight of the Gods is a panorama of human folly and farce. Franz Cumont has said that human folly is a more interesting study than ancient wisdom. The author finds a great joy in pointing out all the mysterious cobwebs which have collected on the ceiling of man's brain in the course of the ages. Mr. Arthur Symons rightly calls this book "a Punch and Judy show of the comedy of civilization."

The story of "The Demon Pope" is based upon a legend of a compact between a Pope and the devil. It is believed that Gerbert, who later became Pope Silvester II, sold his soul to Satan in order to acquire a knowledge of physics, arithmetic and music. The fullest account of this legend will be found in J. J. Dollinger's Fables Respecting the Popes of the Middle Ages (Engl. Translation, 1871). The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil by Paul Cams (1900) contains the following passages on this legend:

"An English Benedictine monk, William of Malmesbury, says of Pope Sylvester II, who was born in France, his secular name being Gerbert, that he entered the cloister when still a boy. Full of ambition, he flew to Spain where he studied astrology and magic among the Saracens. There he stole a magic-book from a Saracen philosopher, and returned flying through the air to France. Now he opened a school and acquired great fame, so that the king himself became one of his disciples. Then he became Bishop of Rheims, where he had a magnificent clock and an organ constructed. Having raised the treasure of Emperor Octavian which lay hidden in a subterrenean vault at Rome, he became Pope. As Pope he manufactured a magic head which replied to all his questions. This head told him that he would not die until he had read Mass in Jerusalem. So the Pope decided never to visit the Holy Land. But once he fell sick, and, asking his magic head, was informed that the church's name in which he had read Mass the other day was 'The Holy Cross of Jerusalem.' The Pope knew at once that he had to die. He gathered all the cardinals around his bed, confessed his crime, and, as a penance, ordered his body to be cut up alive, and the pieces to be thrown out of the church as unclean.

"Sigabert tells the story of the Pope's death in a different way. There is no penance on the part of the Pope, and the Devil takes his soul to hell. Others tell us that the Devil constantly accompanied the Pope in the shape of a black dog, and this dog gave him the equivocal prophecy.

"The historical truth of the story is that Gerbert was unusually gifted and well educated. He was familiar with the wisdom of the Saracens, for Borell, Duke of Hither Spain, carried him as a youth to his country where he studied mathematics and astronomy. He came early in contact with the most influential men of his time, and became Pope in 999. He was liberal enough to denounce some of his unworthy predecessors as 'monsters of more than human iniquity,' and as 'Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God and playing the part of the Devil' (the text inadvertently reads: and playing the part of God); but at the same time he pursued an independent and vigorous papal policy, foreshadowing in his aims both the pretensions of Gregory the Great and the Crusades."



Perhaps the most fascinating—and the most dangerous—character in the infernal world is this Mater tenebrarum—Our Lady of Darkness. "A lady devil," says Daniel Defoe, "is about as dangerous a creature as one could meet." When Lucifer fails to bring a man to his fall, he hands the case over to his better half, and it is said that no man has ever escaped the siren seductions of this Diabo-Lady. A poem, The Diabo-Lady, or a Match in Hell, appeared in London in 1777.

According to Teutonic mythology, this diabolical Madonna is the mother or the grandmother of Satan. The mother or grandmother of Grendel, the Anglo-Saxon evil demon, became Satan's mother or grandmother by adoption. A mother was a necessary part of the devil's equipment. Having set his mind to equal Christ in every detail of his life, Satan had to get a mother somehow. In his story "The Vision Malefic" (1920) Mr. Huneker tells of the appearance of this counterfeit Madonna on a Christmas Eve to the organist of a Roman Catholic church in New York. Partly out of devotion to her and partly also because he could not obtain the sacramental blessing of the Church, Satan was forced to remain single. In the story "Devil-Puzzlers" by Fred B. Perkins the demon Apollyon appears as an old bachelor. "I have a mother, but no wife," he tells the charming Mrs. Hicok. The synagogue was more lenient towards the devil. The rabbis did not hesitate to perform the marriage ceremony for the diabolical pair. According to Jewish tradition the chief of the fallen angels married Lilith, Adam's first wife. She is said to have been in her younger days a woman of great beauty, but with a heart of ice. Now, of course, she is a regular hell-hag. If we can trust Rossetti, who painted her Majesty's portrait, she still is a type of beauty whose fascination is fatal. This woman was created by the Lord to be the help-meet of Adam, but mere man had no attraction for this superwoman. She is said to have started the fight for woman's emancipation from man, and contested Adam's right to be the head of the family. Their married life was very brief. Their incompatibility of character was too great. One fine morning Adam found that his erstwhile angelical wife had deserted him and run away with Lucifer, whom she had formerly known in heaven.

The King-Devil apparently always succeeded somehow or other in breaking the chains with which, according to legend, he had repeatedly been bound and sealed in the lowest depths of hell. From antediluvian times the demons appear to have been attracted by the daughters of men and to have come frequently up to earth to pay court to them. The only devil who must always remain in hell is the stoker, Brendli by name. The fires of hell must not be allowed to go out.

The anatomically melancholic Burton also tells of a devil who was in love with a mortal maiden. Jacques Cazotte tells the story of Beelzebub as a woman in love with an earth-born man.