« PreviousContinue »
ces cannot a the pains w ourselveochter
concealed spite, and if not invariably wicked or mischievous, yet always blending itself readily with wickedness and mischief. Sport, even when intended to be innocent, degrades its object; though the best and wisest of us cannot always resist the temptation of deriving pleasure from the pains which we inflict upon our fellowcreatures by amusing ourselves with their weakness. From this alliance between laughter and malice arose the burlesque malignants whom the mythologists have placed amongst the deities. Such is the Momus of the Greeks, and his counterpart Loki, the attendant of the banquets of Valhalla. And the same idea is again the substance of the Vice of the ancient allegorical drama.
“ Equally dramatic and poetical is the part allotted to Satan in those ancient romances of religion, the Lives of the Saints: he is the main motive of the action of the narrative, to which his agency gives fulness and effect. But in the conception of the legendary Satan, the belief in his might melts into the ideality of his character. Amidst clouds of infernal vapour, he developes his form, half in allegory and half with spiritual reality :-and his horns, his tail, his saucer eyes, his claws, his taunts, his wiles, his malice, all bear witness to the simultaneous yet contradictory impressions to which the hagiologist is compelled to yield. This confusion is very apparent in the demons introduced by St Gregory in his Life of St Benedict. A poet would maintain that they are employed merely as machinery to carry on the holy epic. A monk must believe in them more strongly than in the gospel.
“When the saint was once saying his prayers in the oratory of St John, on Monte Casino, he saw the Devil in the shape of a horse-doctor, but with a horn in one hand and a tether in the other. Satan spoke civilly to St Benedict, and informed him that he was going to administer a drench to the beasts upon two legs, the fathers of the monastery. By an interpunctuation the text has been made to import that St Benedict saw the Devil in the more questionable shape of a doctor of physic, riding, as doctors were wont to do before the introduction of carriages, upon a mule. This has been the favourite reading ; and accordingly, when the old painters treated the miracle, they usually represented the Devil in the regular medical costume, with a urinal, and a budget full of doctor's stuff behind him. It is hardly necessary to observe, that the Saint did not allow the Devil to do much mischief in his medical capacity.
“ Another time a complaint was made to St Benedict respecting the conduct of a monk belonging to one of the affiliated monasteries, who would not or could not pray with assiduity. After praying a little while, he used to walk away and leave the rest of the fraternity at their devotions. Benedict ordered him to be brought to Monte Casino, and when the monk, as usual, became heartily tired of prayer and prepared to go out of the oratory, the saint saw a little black Devil tugging at the skirts of his gown as hard as he could pull, and leading him to the door. “See ye not who leadeth our brother?' quoth St Benedict to Father Maurus and Pompeianus, the prior. 'We see nought,' answered they. After two days' prayer, Maurus, who was in training to be a saint, was able to see the little black Devil at the skirts of the monk's gown as clearly as St Benedict himself; but the imp continued invisible to Pompeianus. On the third day St Benedict followed the monk out of the oratory and struck him with his staff. He was not sparing, we may suppose, of the baculine exorcism, for after it had been administered, the monk, as we are told by St Gregory, was never more infested by the little black Devil, and remained always steady at his prayers.
“ Amongst the innumerable anecdotes and histories of the Devil in the lives of the saints, some are more lu. dicrous, and, if possible, more trivial, others more pic. turesque. Saint Anthony saw the Devil with his head towering above the clouds, and stretching out his hands to intercept the souls of the departed in their flight to heaven. According to our modes of thinking we should be apt to consider such representations merely as apologues. But there was an honest confidence in the actual existence of the machinery of devotional romance. The hagiologist told his tale in right earnest: he was teaching matters of faith and edification; and we may be charitable enough to believe that he was persuaded of the truth of his legends. Yet the dullest piety could not peruse them without an obscure though indelible sensation of the affinity between allegorical imagery, and these supposed approaches of the evil one. Obedient devotion thus struggled against the reasoning faculty, which felt the impersonality of the personification, yet without being able to attain either vivid belief in the fiction, or a clear perception of its non-entity. Just as when we dream between watchfulness and slumber; we are conscious that the sounds which we hear, and the sights which we see, originate wholly from the brain, but our reason refuses to obey our judgment; and we cannot rouse ourselves and think, and shake off the delusion.
“ Sometimes the Devil is a thorough monkey, and his malice is merely playful. Year after year did he lie in wait for the purpose of defeating the piety of Saint Gudula. Manifold were the assaults to which her virgin frailty was exposed. But all were vain. At length he summoned up all his power for one grand effort. It was the custom of this noble and pious maiden to rise at cock-crowing, and to go to church to say her prayers, her damsel walking before her with a lantern. What did the author of all malice now do? ..... he put out the candle! The Saint set it a-light again, not by any vulgar method, but by her prayers. And this is her
standard miracle. The relation in the legend is a wonderful and almost unparalleled specimen of bombast and bathos.
“ The Devil also appears to be a very thoughtless devil. Once, whilst St Martin was saying mass, St Britius, whose name hath retained a place in the protestant calendar, officiated as deacon, and behind the altar he espied the Devil busily employed in writing down on a slip of parchment, as long as a proctor's bill, all the sins which the congregation were actually committing. Now St Martin's congregation were any thing but serious ; they buzzed and giggled, and the men looked upwards, and the women did not look down, and were guilty of so many transgressions, that the Devil soon filled one whole side of his parchment with shorthand notes from top to bottom, and was forced to turn it. This side was also soon covered with writing: the Devil was now in sad perplexity; he could not stomach losing a sin, he could not trust his memory, and he had no more parchment about him. He therefore clenched one end of the scroll with his claws, and took the other between his teeth, and pulled it as hard as he could, thinking that it would stretch. The unelastic material gave way and broke: he was not prepared for this; so his head flew back, and bumped against the wall. St Britius was wonderfully amused by the Devil's disaster, he laughed heartily, and incurred the momentary displeasure of St Martin, who did not at first see what was going forward. St Britius explained, and St Martin took care to improve the accident for the edification of his hearers. The moral is not to our purpose ; but we quote the anecdote as an exemplification of the stupidity involved in the popular allegory of Satan. In all his dealings he is sure to be baffled and cheated. When he · sues, his bill is dismissed, or he is nonsuited and sent out of court without a day,' with his ears drooping and
his tail clapped betwixt his legs. After paying a fair market-price for the body and soul of the wizard, he is sure to lose his bargain from the equivocal wording of the covenant. And at the moment that he is agreeing for the first living thing which is to pass over the bridge which he has built over the yawning chasm, the freemason joyfully anticipates the disappointment of the infernal workman, when compelled to accept the worthless animal by which the literal meaning of the contract is to be satisfied.
.“More familiar demons are such as are enumerated in the homely rhymes of John Heywood, who tells us that
" In John Milesius any man may read
Of divels in Sarmatia honoured
| CHAP. VI.
“ Well, my love,” said Egeria one morning to her Lord, when he returned from his customary walk, and found her engaged with a number of manuscripts before her,—“ I have been looking over these Stray Essays, and really they have a great deal of merit. The style is perhaps here and there a little harsh;