Apr 19, 2008

Daniel Defoe - The History of the Devil (1727)


a contemporary cover

link: archive.org (and here, 1840 edition)

Domain: Literature, Religion. Genre: Treatise, Satire, Novel. Country: England, Britain, Europe.

The Political History of the Devil – or, to give it its full title, The Political History of the Devil, as well Ancient as Modern: in Two Parts. Part I. Containing a State of the Devil’s Circumstances, and the various Turns of his Affairs, from his Expulsion out of Heaven, to the Creation of Man; with Remarks on the several Mistakes concerning the Reason and Manner of his Fall. Also his Proceedings with Mankind ever since Adam, to the first planting of the Christian Religion in the World. Part II. Containing his more private Conduct, down to the Present Times: his Government, his Appearances, his Manner of Working, and the Tools he works with. Bad as he is, the Devil may be abus’d, Be falsly charg’d, and causelessly accus’d, When Men, unwilling to be blam’d alone, Shift off those Crimes on Him which are their Own – is a work of some 258 octavo pages. It offers a serio-comic satire on both mankind and popular ideas of the devil. Whilst Defoe sees evidence of the devil’s handiwork everywhere, he mocks medieval and Catholic images of a terrifying devil “broiling [sinners] upon Gridirons, hanging them up upon Hooks”. Rather than seeing the devil as the unique source of human iniquity, Defoe has the devil return to earth after hundreds of years of absence to discover mankind committing evil acts without having consulted him, and then blaming him as the cause. Furthermore, the devil discovers that human beings are capable of far more devious and criminal acts than he could ever have conceived or devised. Thus, the work recognizes the Divine order of the world, and Defoe proves himself a devout Presbyterian; but the work attributes disorder, first, to the devil’s desire to wreak chaos upon earth and, secondly, to the manner in which man may, on the one hand, be persuaded by the devil to disrupt the initial order of Eden, but, on the other, act on his own with evil intent.

As the extended title indicates, The Political History of the Devil is divided into two parts. In the first part Defoe discusses Biblical narrative and devotes himself to the devil’s influence upon human beings. In the second part he focuses on modern politics and government, pointing out how recent and contemporary politicians have been influenced by the devil.

In the first part, comprising eleven chapters, Defoe claims that the devil has two undeniable traits: (1) he is a believer and (2) he fears God. Defoe believes that the devil could be an historian were he ever to tell the truth, but that is not his way. The devil has no permanent or visible shape. He is capable of entering any shape he desires to achieve his ends. With his multiple identities, he is identified by many names in the Hebrew Scriptures or in the New Testament: the Serpent (Gen. iii.1), the great red Dragon (Rev. xii.3), Satan (Job i.), the Prince of the power of the air (Eph.ii.2), and Lucifer (Isa.xiv.12), to l [source]

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