Soul Selling in Eighteenth-Century London May 10, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
A melancholy day today and so Beach thought that he would enjoy some soul-selling. We are in eighteenth-century London and in the middle of one of those stories that are a little difficult to credit.
A young maid, who lived formerly at Kensington, but, removing from thence, lived in St. Martin’s le Grand, London, being about eighteen years of age, is fallen into fits of despair, saying while she lived at Kensington (being then about twelve years of age) she sold herself to the Devil for half a crown, and that the time is almost expired when the bargain must be performed. Several have been with her, giving her Christian counsel; but nothing will prevail with her, she raving like one distracted, acknowledging herself to have led a very wicked life: that when she used to go to church with her Mistress, she went as if she had been loaded with some great burthen; and that the Devil used to prick her in the side, as if iron spikes had been run into her, so that she was not able to sit in the church, but was forced to go out, and fall to cursing and swearing, and then she could be at quiet.
Beach was reminded here of the modern Christian myth/belief/ of ‘the unforgivable sin’: something particularly associated with evangelical circles. The unforgivable sin is, for the unenlightened, knowing that the Holy Spirit exists and denying him anyway. It is based on some rather uncharitable words in the Gospels and by all accounts has pushed several individuals to despair.
Her Mistress says, she shewed always an unwillingness to anything of piety: if she called upon her in the morning, or at night, to come up stairs to prayer in the family, she could not in- duce her to come; and since the maid says, that the Devil used to meet her upon the stairs, and would not suffer her to go up. He generally appeared to her when she went about anything that was good, as reading in the Bible, or any other good book, and would divert her from it. Once he appeared to her about the middle of the night, and asked her if she wanted a light to which she replied, that she had light enough when he was present. On Tuesday last, some friends came to her in St. Martin’s, and carried her to an aunt of her’s, living at Putney; and the waterman that carried her thither said, that he was afraid the boat would have been lost in his passage thither, but could give no reason for it; and being told, when he landed, of the maid’s distemper (for he was ignorant of it before), he said, had he known it, he would not have carried her for 100 pounds. At Putney her aunt is very careful of her, procuring godly people to come daily to her to visit her, and give her spiritual comfort. One day they had her out to walk on Putney-heath; and, as she was walking, she of a sudden cried out, ‘Look there! look there! do you not see him? There he stands,’ pointing with her finger, and saying, ‘ I must go, he is come for me.’ She being asked the reason why she sold herself, she said she saw other girls have fine things, and she had none, and therefore she sold herself. And being further questioned what she did with the half-crown which she sold herself for? she replied, she bought a pair of shoes with the money.’
Any other genuine soul-selling? No Faustus nonsense please or inquisitional fantasies. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
15 May 2013: Steve T (an old friend of this blog) writes: Although you said ‘no Faustian pacts’ I just have to mention the legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul at ‘The Crossroads’ mainly because it seems to highlight the fact that different cultures and religious practices associate different meanings to phrases. In a lot of voodoo and hoodoo based beliefs it seems to be the case that “selling your soul” to a black man at ‘the crossroads’ is the equivalent of a grail knight making the spiritual quest, rather than anything particularly evil or involving a chap with horns.’ Chris from HauntedOhioBooks wrote: Sold Her Soul to the Devil Omaha, April 7. Laura Phillips, a pretty and well educated young lady from Valiscoe, Iowa, (Villisca?) committed suicide Tuesday in a very sensational manner. She took blood from her own veins and wrote with it the following note, which was found on her pillow: “I, Laura Phillips, hereby sell my soul to the devil, in consideration for which he agrees to give me wealth, beauty, and the power to overcome all my enemies.” She had taken a heavy dose of morphine. Her home offered her every comfort, but she left it and came here three years ago. Step by step she went to degradation. Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 9 April 1886: p. 8 SOLD HIS SOUL FOR $2.50, PAID $100 TO GET IT BACK Man Declared There Was No Such Thing as Salvation or Further Life—Suddenly Changed Mind About Bargain Vienna, Oct. 27. The queerest case ever treated at the Rudolph Hospital here was that of a man who had “sold his soul” for $2.50. Following on this Faust-like transaction, he became very ill and believed he could only be cured by buying back his chance of salvation. Weiss, the modern Faust, was discussing religious topics with some friends at a Pressburg café, and declared that there was no such thing as salvation or future life. “I would sell my chance of salvation,” he added, “for 12 kroner.” (about $2.50). His offer was accepted by his friend Krauss on condition that a legal contract was made and accordingly a deed of sale was properly executed by Weiss and handed to Krauss in exchange for the agreed price. Soon afterward Weiss’ wife was killed in a carriage accident, which the bereaved husband took for a sign of divine anger at his impious bargain. With this idea preying upon his mind, he lost his reason and was taken to the hospital. The only treatment that Professor Obermayer, who examined him, could think of was counter-suggestion, and he advised Weiss’ relatives to recover the deed of sale. Krauss now demanded $200 for the deed, because he said his business had prospered exceedingly since he had bought Weiss’ chance of salvation. Eventually through the mediation of the rabbi of Pressburg, he accepted $100. Having recovered his “soul,” Weiss recovered his health also. After a new deed had been drawn up, by which Krauss restored to Weiss his chance of salvation, the patient was discharged as cured. Boston [MA] Journal 28 October 1907: p. 3 Other, longer stories include a Russian who sold his soul for 500 rubles–the article prints the legal documents, which were properly notarized and stamped–the seller was put on trial for blasphemy. An 1890s New York bookkeeper who seems to have eloped with a girlfriend and sent notes to his wife and employer claiming he’d sold himself, signed “Mephistopheles, Jr.”, and an African American former slave who was widely believed to have mystic powers and had the mark of a cloven hoof burned into his chest over his heart as a sign of his pact with Satan. KMH, meanwhile writes, For the scholastically inclined, the “unforgivable sin” arises from Mark 3: 28-30 – “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme; But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.” The scribes explained Christ’s ability to cast out demons by saying he had an unclean spirit from Beelzebub, the prince of demons, thus blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Claiming the works of God are the works of the devil is one example of the unforgivable sin. Any deliberate false statement about the Holy Spirit is unforgivable for those who have experienced the Holy Spirit.’ Thanks KHM, Chris and Steve!