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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alain René Lesage (1688–1747)

Asmodeus Emerges from the Bottle

From “The Devil on Crutches”

DON CLEOFAS looked around him, and much wondered he should meet with nobody in an apartment which seemed so very odd and surprising. He examined it with great attention, and saw a copper lamp hanging from the ceiling, books and papers in confusion on the table, spheres and compasses on the one side, vials and quadrants on the other; all of which made him conclude that under this roof lived an astrologer, who usually retired hither to make his observations. He reflected on the dangers he had by good fortune escaped, and was considering what course was the most proper for him to take, when he was interrupted by a deep sigh that broke forth very near him. He at first took it for a nocturnal illusion, or fantom, proceeding from his disturbed imagination, and without interruption continued his reflections.

But being interrupted a second time in the same manner, he then took it for something real; and, though he saw no soul in the room, could not help crying out, “Who the devil is it that sighs here?” “It is I, Sir Student,” answered a voice which had something very extraordinary in it. “I have been six months enclosed in one of these glass vials. In this house lives a skilful astrologer and magician, who, by the power of his art, has confined me to this close prison.” “You are a spirit then?” said Cleofas, somewhat confused at this uncommon adventure. “I am a demon,” replied the voice, “and you are come very opportunely to free me from a slavery where I languish in idleness; though I am the most active and indefatigable devil in hell.”

Cleofas was somewhat affrighted at these words; but, being naturally courageous, he collected himself, and, in a resolute tone, thus addressed himself to the spirit, “Sir Demon, pray inform me by what character you are distinguished among your brethren. Are you a devil of quality, or an ordinary one?” “I am,” replied the voice, “a very considerable devil, and am more esteemed in this and in the other world than any other.” “Perhaps,” replied Cleofas, “you may be the demon which we call Lucifer?” “No,” replied the spirit; “he is the mountebank’s devil.” “Are you, then, Uriel?” returned the student. “Fie!” hastily interrupted the voice, “he is the patron of traders, tailors, butchers, bakers, and other third-rate thieves.”

“It may be you are Beelzebub?” said the youth. “You are wrong,” answered the spirit; “he is the demon of valets and butlers, or waiting-men.” “This surprises me,” said the student; “I took Beelzebub for one of the greatest of your number.” “He is one of the least,” replied the demon. “You have no true notion of our hell.”

“You must, then,” replied Don Cleofas, “be either Leviathan, Belphegor, or Ashtaroth?” “Oh! as for those three,” said the voice, “they are devils of the first rank; they are the court-spirits; they enter into the councils of princes, animate their ministers, form leagues, stir up insurrections in states, and light the torches of war. These are not such boobies as the first you mentioned to me.” “Ah! tell me, I entreat you,” said the student, “what post has Flagel?” “He is the soul of the law and the life of the bar,” replied the devil. “It is he who makes out the attorneys’ and bailiffs’ writs; he inspires the pleaders, possesses the council, and attends the judges.

“But my business lies another way: I make ridiculous matches, and marry old graybeards to raw girls under age, masters to their maids, girls of low fortune to lovers that have none. It is I that have introduced into the world luxury, debauchery, games of chance, and chemistry. I am the inventor of carousals, dancing, music, plays, and all the new French fashions. In a word, I am the celebrated Asmodeus, surnamed the Devil on Crutches.”

“Ah!” cried Don Cleofas, “are you the famous Asmodeus, so gloriously celebrated by Agrippa and the Clavicula Salamonis? Really, you have not told me all your amusements; you have forgotten the best of them. I know that you sometimes divert yourself with assuaging the pains of unfortunate lovers. By the same token, it was by your assistance that a young gentleman, a friend of mine, crept into the good graces of the lady of a doctor of the university of Alcala.” “It is true,” said the spirit; “I reserved that till the last. I am the demon of luxury, or, to express it more genteelly, the god Cupid. For the poets have bestowed that fine name on me, and, indeed, painted me in very advantageous colors. They describe me with gilded wings, a fillet bound over my eyes, a bow in my hand, a quiver of arrows on my shoulders, and a charming, beautiful face. What sort of face it is you shall immediately see, if you please to set me at liberty.”

“Sir Asmodeus,” replied Don Cleofas, “you know that I have long been your sincere devotee; of the truth of which the dangers I just now run are sufficient evidences. I should be very ambitious of an opportunity of serving you; but the vessel in which you are hidden is undoubtedly enchanted, and all my endeavors to unstop or break it will be vain. Therefore I cannot very well tell which way to deliver you out of prison. I am not much used to these sort of deliverances; and, betwixt you and me, if such a subtle devil as you are cannot make your way out, how can a wretched mortal like me effect it?” “It is in your power to do it,” answered the demon. “The vial in which I am enclosed is merely a plain glass bottle, which is very easy to break. You need only to throw it on the ground, and I shall immediately appear in human shape.” “If so,” said the student, “it is easier than I imagined. Tell me, then, in which vial you are, for I see so many like one another, that I cannot distinguish them.” “It is the fourth from the window,” replied the spirit. “Though the cork be sealed with a magical seal, yet the bottle will easily break.”

“I understand, Sir Asmodeus,” returned Don Cleofas. “There is now only one small difficulty which deters me. When I have done you this service, will you not make me pay for the broken pots?” “No accident shall befall you,” answered the demon; “but, on the contrary, you will be pleased with my acquaintance. I will teach you whatever you are desirous to know, inform you of all things which happen in the world, and discover to you all the faults of mankind; I will be your tutelar demon. You shall find me much more intelligent than Socrates; and I will make you far surpass that philosopher in wisdom. In a word, I will bestow myself on you, with my good and ill qualities; the latter of which shall not be less advantageous to you than the former.”

“These are fine promises,” replied the student, “but you infernal gentlemen are accused of not being very religious observers of what you promise to men.” “It is a groundless charge,” replied Asmodeus. “Some of my brethren, indeed, make no scruple of breaking their word; but I—not to mention the service you are going to do me, which I can never sufficiently repay—am a slave to mine; and I swear, by all that renders our oaths inviolable, that I will not deceive you. Depend upon my assurances. I promise you, withal, that you shall revenge yourself on Doña Thomasa, that perfidious lady who hid four ruffians to surprise and force you to marry her—a circumstance that should please you.”

The young student, charmed above all with this last promise, to hasten its accomplishment immediately took the vial, and, without concerning himself what might be the event of it, threw it hard against the ground. It broke into a thousand pieces, and overflowed the floor with a blackish liquor, which by little and little evaporated, and converted itself into a thick smoke; which, dissipating all at once, the amazed student beheld the figure of a man in a cloak, about two feet and a half high, resting on two crutches. This diminutive lame monster had goat’s legs, a long visage, sharp chin, a yellow and black complexion, and a very flat nose; his eyes, which seemed very little, resembled two lighted coals; his mouth was extremely wide, above which were two wretched red whiskers, edged with a pair of unparalleled lips.

This charming Cupid’s head was wrapped up in a sort of turban of red crape, set off with a plume of cocks’ and peacocks’ feathers. About his neck he wore a yellow linen collar, on which were drawn several models of necklaces and earrings. He was dressed in a short white satin coat, and girt about with a girdle of virgin-parchment, marked with talismanical characters. On this coat were painted several pairs of women’s stays, very advantageously fitted for the discovery of their breasts, scarfs, party-colored aprons, new-fashioned head-dresses of various sorts, each more extravagant than the other.

But all these were nothing compared with his cloak, the ground of which was also of white satin. On it, with Indian ink, were drawn an infinite number of figures, with so much freedom, and such masterly strokes, that it was natural enough to think the devil had a hand in it. On one side appeared a Spanish lady, covered with her veil, teasing a stranger as they were walking; and on the other a French one, practising new airs in her glass, in order to try them at a young patched and painted abbot, who appeared at her chamber door. Here a number of Italian cavaliers were singing and playing on the guitar under their mistresses’ balconies; and there a company of Germans, all in confusion and unbuttoned, more intoxicated with wine and begrimed with snuff than any conceited French fops, surrounding a table overflowed with the disgusting remains of their debauch. In one place was a great Mohammedan lord coming out of the bath, surrounded by all the women of his seraglio, officiously crowding to tender him their service; in another, an English gentleman very gallantly presenting a pipe and a pot of beer to his mistress.

There gamesters were also wonderfully well represented; some of them animated by a sprightly joy, heaping up pieces of gold and silver in their hats; and others, broken and reduced to play upon honor, casting up their sacrilegious eyes to heaven, and gnawing their cards with despair. To conclude, there were as many curious things to be seen on it as on the admirable buckler of the son of Peleus, which exhausted all Vulcan’s art; with this difference betwixt the performance of the two cripples: that the figures on the buckler had no relation to the exploits of Achilles, but, on the contrary, those on the cloak were so many lively images of whatever was done in the world by the suggestion of Asmodeus.