“Christmas Night with Satan” — John Fox, Jr.

Literature, Books, Writers

“Christmas Night with Satan” by John Fox, Jr.

No night was this in Hades with solemn-eyed Dante, for Satan was only a woolly little black dog, and surely no dog was ever more absurdly misnamed. When Uncle Carey first heard that name, he asked gravely:

“Why, Dinnie, where in h—-,” Uncle Carey gulped slightly, “did you get him?” And Dinnie laughed merrily, for she saw the fun of the question, and shook her black curls. “He didn’t come f’um THAT PLACE.”

Distinctly Satan had not come from that place. On the contrary, he might by a miracle have dropped straight from some Happy Hunting- Ground, for all the signs he gave of having touched pitch in this or another sphere. Nothing human was ever born that was gentler, merrier, more trusting or more lovable than Satan. That was why Uncle Carey said again gravely that he could hardly tell Satan and his little mistress apart. He rarely saw them apart, and as both had black tangled hair and bright black eyes; as one awoke every morning with a happy smile and the other with a jolly bark; as they played all day like wind-shaken shadows and each won every heart at first sight—the likeness was really rather curious. I have always believed that Satan made the spirit of Dinnie’s house, orthodox and severe though it was, almost kindly toward his great namesake. I know I have never been able, since I knew little Satan, to think old Satan as bad as I once painted him, though I am sure the little dog had many pretty tricks that the “old boy” doubtless has never used in order to amuse his friends.

“Shut the door, Saty, please,” Dinnie would say, precisely as she would say it to Uncle Billy, the butler, and straightway Satan would launch himself at it—bang! He never would learn to close it softly, for Satan liked that—bang!

If you kept tossing a coin or marble in the air, Satan would keep catching it and putting it back in your hand for another throw, till you got tired. Then he would drop it on a piece of rag carpet, snatch the carpet with his teeth, throw the coin across the room, and rush for it like mad, until he got tired. If you put a penny on his nose, he would wait until you counted, one—two— THREE! Then he would toss it up himself and catch it. Thus, perhaps, Satan grew to love Mammon right well, but for another and better reason than that he liked simply to throw it around—as shall now be made plain.

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“Quite an Original” — Herman Melville on Hamlet, Don Quixote, and Satan

Books, Literature, Writers

This is Chapter XLIV of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man:

“Quite an original:” A phrase, we fancy, rather oftener used by the young, or the unlearned, or the untraveled, than by the old, or the well-read, or the man who has made the grand tour. Certainly, the sense of originality exists at its highest in an infant, and probably at its lowest in him who has completed the circle of the sciences.

As for original characters in fiction, a grateful reader will, on meeting with one, keep the anniversary of that day. True, we sometimes hear of an author who, at one creation, produces some two or three score such characters; it may be possible. But they can hardly be original in the sense that Hamlet is, or Don Quixote, or Milton’s Satan. That is to say, they are not, in a thorough sense, original at all. They are novel, or singular, or striking, or captivating, or all four at once.
More likely, they are what are called odd characters; but for that, are no more original, than what is called an odd genius, in his way, is. But, if original, whence came they? Or where did the novelist pick them up?

Where does any novelist pick up any character? For the most part, in town, to be sure. Every great town is a kind of man-show, where the novelist goes for his stock, just as the agriculturist goes to the cattle-show for his. But in the one fair, new species of quadrupeds are hardly more rare, than in the other are new species of characters—that is, original ones. Their rarity may still the more appear from this, that, while characters, merely singular, imply but singular forms so to speak, original ones, truly so, imply original instincts.

In short, a due conception of what is to be held for this sort of personage in fiction would make him almost as much of a prodigy there, as in real history is a new law-giver, a revolutionizing philosopher, or the founder of a new religion.

In nearly all the original characters, loosely accounted such in works of invention, there is discernible something prevailingly local, or of the age; which circumstance, of itself, would seem to invalidate the claim, judged by the principles here suggested.

Furthermore, if we consider, what is popularly held to entitle characters in fiction to being deemed original, is but something personal—confined to itself. The character sheds not its characteristic on its surroundings, whereas, the original character, essentially such, is like a revolving Drummond light, raying away from itself all round it—everything is lit by it, everything starts up to it (mark how it is with Hamlet), so that, in certain minds, there follows upon the adequate conception of such a character, an effect, in its way, akin to that which in Genesis attends upon the beginning of things.

For much the same reason that there is but one planet to one orbit, so can there be but one such original character to one work of invention. Two would conflict to chaos. In this view, to say that there are more than one to a book, is good presumption there is none at all. But for new, singular, striking, odd, eccentric, and all sorts of entertaining and instructive characters, a good fiction may be full of them. To produce such characters, an author, beside other things, must have seen much, and seen through much: to produce but one original character, he must have had much luck.

There would seem but one point in common between this sort of phenomenon in fiction and all other sorts: it cannot be born in the author’s imagination—it being as true in literature as in zoology, that all life is from the egg.

In the endeavor to show, if possible, the impropriety of the phrase, Quite an Original, as applied by the barber’s friends, we have, at unawares, been led into a dissertation bordering upon the prosy, perhaps upon the smoky. If so, the best use the smoke can be turned to, will be, by retiring under cover of it, in good trim as may be, to the story.

Lucifer Son of the Morning, I’m Gonna Chase You Out of Earth — Van Arno

Art

Check out more of Van Arno’s amazing series of oil paintings, The Minstrel Cycle. Artist’s statement about Lucifer Son of the Morning, I’m Gonna Chase You Out of Earth: 

Jay-Z’s ‘Lucifer’ sampled the Max Romeo song ‘Chase The Devil,’  but didn’t include the full chorus, ‘I gonna put on an iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth… I gonna send him to outer space, to find another race.’ The armor, and futility of the mission brings to mind Don Quixote, who mistakes a windmill for a giant, much as our heroine mistakes the evil in her own nature for a space traveling monster.

The Devil and Tom Walker and the Financial Crisis

Books

Washington Irving’s famous short story, “The Devil and Tom Walker,” seems as prescient and uncanny as ever in the lurid light of our recent financial woes:

Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed instead that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people.To this no objections were made, for it was just to Tom’s taste.“You shall open a broker’s shop in Boston next month,” said the black man.“I’ll do it to-morrow, if you wish,” said Tom Walker.“You shall lend money at two per cent. a month.”“Egad, I’ll charge four!” replied Tom Walker.“You shall extort bonds, foreclose mortgages, drive the merchant to bankruptcy—”“I’ll drive him to the d——l,” cried Tom Walker, eagerly.“You are the usurer for my money!” said the black legs, with delight. “When will you want the rhino?”“This very night.”“Done!” said the devil.“Done!” said Tom Walker. —So they shook hands, and struck a bargain.A few days’ time saw Tom Walker seated behind his desk in a counting house in Boston. His reputation for a ready moneyed man, who would lend money out for a good consideration, soon spread abroad. Every body remembers the days of Governor Belcher, when money was particularly scarce. It was a time of paper credit. The country had been deluged with government bills; the famous Land Bank had been established; there had been a rage for speculating; the people had run mad with schemes for new settlements; for building cities in the wilderness; land jobbers went about with maps of grants, and townships, and Eldorados, lying nobody knew where, but which every body was ready to purchase. In a word, the great speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country, had raged to an alarming degree, and every body was dreaming of making sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual the fever had subsided; the dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it; the patients were left in doleful plight, and the whole country resounded with the consequent cry of “hard times.”