jump to navigation

Soul-Selling in Nineteenth-Century London May 19, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

devil handshake

Another soul-selling episode from London, this time c. 1840: more entertaining and yet so much more disturbing.

On Friday night a large number of thieves, prostitutes, and other blackguards residing in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey, collected in the churchyard belonging [to] that venerable building. They began to congregate soon after eleven o’clock at night, and, by midnight, the number assembled is estimated to have been between one and two thousand. They continued together, shouting, swearing, playing and fighting, until nearly two o’clock of Saturday morning when they dispersed in the most uproarious manner.

So what were these ragamuffins and space-wasters after?

On inquiring into the case of the tumult, it was ascertained that a report had gone abroad that one of the prostitutes infesting the neighbourhood of the Abbey had sold herself to the Devil for 4s. 6 d. on the Tuesday night previous, and had engaged to ratify the bargain, and deliver herself over to his Satanic Majesty, in the churchyard, by the side of Westminster Abbey, on Friday, at midnight; and the assembly had taken place to see the bargain consummated.

So another day in London town? Our trusty journalist –at The Patriot – decided to investigate.

The various tales current since then among the inhabitants in the vicinity of the Abbey, caused the writer to make inquiry of the agents of the City Mission, who visit those districts; and he finds the idea is universally entertained, that the poor girl had so sold herself, and that the Devil was and actually is on the look-out for her. Several declare that while the people were assembled in the churchyard waiting for him, and the girl had gone out, her room was illuminated with a most unearthly flame; that, after the clock had struck twelve, the flame gradually vinished [sic], and left behind a smell of brimstone of the most horrid kind.

Something like Fatima then…

One of the City Mission agents in his visitation met with the unfortunate girl who has become the cause of all this hub-bub, who is still suffering much fear and perturbation of mind. She narrated to him very artlessly the actual occurrences that gave rise to the alarm and confusion of the district. She is a young woman, residing with her sister, near the Abbey; they both possess some claims to beauty. The older one had gone to Tothill-street, on Tuesday night, when a gentlemanly man beckoned her. He said he had been watching her for two hours, and asked her if she knew him; she replied, ‘No.’ He asked her to shake hands, and then said, in a tone that alarmed her, ‘Do you know that you have done?’ She replied, ‘I have done no harm.’ He then went off. The sister told the tale to others, and it spread abroad with additions, until it was in every one’s mouth, that the bargain was to be consummated at the Abbey at midnight, and the multitude assembled as stated above.

We are guessing that the man in black wasn’t the devil but Gladstone (actually not that far off). The journalist leaves us with a line that Beach is going to endeavour to use elsewhere.

It has been said that the darkest spot in the room is that directly under the table on which the lamp stands; and on, most Reverend Sirs! – how truly dark is the spot on which the shade of Westminster Abbey rests!

Beach’s soul selling episodes are growing by the day: can anyone help? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

31 May 2013: MR writes in: A young man’s soul brought $400 on the Internet auction site eBay.The bidding began at 5 cents Feb. 1 and concluded at 4:36 p.m. Thursday on the listing “20 yr-old Seattle boy’s SOUL, hardly used,” offered by Adam Burtle, a University of Washington student and part-time automotive technician from Woodinville, a tony suburb northeast of the city. For the auction listing, he displayed a picture of himself wearing an “I’m with stupid” T-shirt. “Please realize, I make no warranties as to the condition of the soul. As of now, it is near mint condition, with only minor scratches,” he wrote.  Turns Out You’re Not Allowed To Sell Your Soul On eBay. Linked series of videos of lecture “I sold my soul on ebay‘ Hemant Mehta comes to Toronto to talk about faith and his experience with “selling his soul”. In January 2006 Hemant Mehta, once Jain now atheist, created an auction on eBay offering up his atheist mind&body to go to the worship service of whatever the winning bidder chose. Every $10 would equal one hour in that particular place of worship. The bidding ended on February 3, 2006 with the final bid sitting at $504 from Jim Henderson, a minister from Seattle, Washington. The money was later donated by Hemant to the Secular Student Alliance, a non-profit organization. The agreement was for Hemant to visit a variety of churches and to write about his experiences at them at the web-site off-the-map.org, and later developed into his book “I Sold My Soul On eBay”. He continues to open up dialogue at his personal blog friendlyatheist.com Thanks MR for this great story!