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{The Devil’s Case 1896}




As the cold metallic Ocean
Swings and clangs around the drowning,
So the solid air around me
Swung, till sense and sight departed;

Dimly, darkly, I was conscious
That I floated swiftly onward,
Moving to a rhythmic motion
Like the beat of mighty pinions.

Suddenly, like one in slumber
Falling wildly till he wakens,
Down like lead I seem’d descending
Dizzily I knew not whither,

Till at last, I shriek’d and struggled
Blind and breathless, and awaken’d,
And beheld him standing by me
Pointing with a spectral finger.

“Look,” he said. “The Hell thou doubtedst                                          46
Burns for evermore around thee—
Wheresoever human creatures
Wail in anguish, is my Kingdom!”

Then, methought, the moonlit houses
Everywhere became transparent,
And I saw the shapes within them
Hopeless, aimless, and despairing:

Dead and dying; woeful mothers
Wailing o’er afflicted children;
Creatures hollow-eyed with famine
Toiling on from dark to dawn;

Haggard faces from their pillows
Gazing, as the pale nurse flitted
On from bed to bed in silence,
'Mid the night-light’s ghostly gleam:

Shapes sin-bloated from the cradle
Thrown in heaps obscene together,
While from gulfs of desolation
Rose the sound of idiot laughter!

Under arches dark and dreadful                                                         47
Lay the murder’d corpse still bleeding,
While the murderer stood and listen’d
Wildly, with uplifted hair.

Everywhere Disease and Famine
Held their ghastly midnight revel—
Even in the darken’d palace
Rose the moan, the lamentation.

Everywhere a spectral Angel
Moved, with terrible forefinger
Touching shapes that shrank in anguish
With the flame that burns for ever:

On the cheeks of men and women
Fell the mark of that dread finger,
Burning inward, while the vitals
Gnaw’d with hell-fire life-consuming.

Then I turn’d to him who led me
Thither, and behold! his features
Misted were with tears of pity!
Falling from his woeful eyes!

Not on me those eyes were gazing                                                     48
But at something far above us;
Not to me his lips were saying
“Lord, I loathe thy Works and Thee!

“Just such measure as the Father
Metes to His afflicted children,
Would I mete to Thee, the Father,
In the name of those I rule!

“Thou hast given me my kingdom,
I accept its crown of sorrow,
Scorning still to kneel and thank Thee,
Pulseless, null Omnipotence!”

As I listen’d, horror seized me,
“Nay,” I cried, to Heaven upgazing,
“Blame not Him who first created
All things beautiful and fair—

“He, the holy Heavenly Father,
Mourns the woe of things created—
Out of sin that woe was fashion’d,
And our sin arose from thee!”

Pityingly he gazed upon me.                                                                49
“Sin,” he said, “was God’s invention!
He created Hell, my kingdom,
Tho’ I wear its earthly crown!

“I, the eternal Prince of Darkness,
Found it ready for my coming—
Pestilence, Disease, and Famine
Burnt there, by the will Divine!

“Since that hour of my accession
I, the Devil, have ruled benignly,
Seeking like a kindly monarch
To improve my woeful realm.

“Thus, in spite of the Almighty,
I have leaven’d its afflictions,
Teaching men the laws of Nature,—
Wisdom, Love, and Self-control.

“Every year the Hell-fires lessen,
Every day the load is lighten’d,
’Neath my care the very devils
Grow benign and civilised!

“This I have achieved entirely                                                             50
By the very means forbidden
At the first by God Almighty,—
Teaching men to see and know.

“Prince of liars was the pedant
Who aver’d that man’s afflictions
Came from eating that first apple
From the great Forbidden Tree!

“From its seeds, by me ungather’d,
Many a living tree hath sprouted—
Where those trees bear fruit, believe me,
Even Hell resembles Heaven!

“Whoso eats that fruit forbidden
Knows himself and finds salvation,
Stands erect before his Maker,
Claims his birth-right and is free.

“Thus, for ages after ages,
I, the Devil, have drain’d the marshes,
Cleansed the cesspools, taught the people,
Like a true Progressionist!

“By the living Soul within me                                                              51
I have conquer’d!—tho’ for ages
I have been most grossly libel’d
By the foolish race of mortals.

“All my errors have proceeded
From a sympathetic nature;
Prince of Evil men have styled me,
Who alone am Prince of Pity!

“Never man-god, Christ or Buddha,
Ever anguish’d more sincerely
For the sufferings of others,
Than myself, whom men call Devil.

“What is further to my credit,
I’m not merely sentimental—
I have practically labour’d
To improve the world’s affairs.

“I’m the father of all Science,—
Master-builder, stock-improver,
First authority on drainage,
Most renown’d in all the arts.

“While the Priests have built their Churches                                         52
To a God who does not heed them,
I have fashion’d decent dwellings,
Public hospitals, and baths.

“‘Take no heed about To-morrow,’
Said the man-God, ‘do no labour,
Be content with endless praying
And eternal laissez-faire.

“But the Devil, being wiser,
Knows that he who fails to reckon
With the morrow, will discover
That To-morrow is To-day!

“And To-day is, now and ever,
All Eternity or nothing—
He who sits and twiddles fingers
Now, hath done it evermore! . . .

“From which statement you may gather
I, the Devil, am transcendental—
Wise in all the ways of knowledge
Even down to metaphysics.

“This I merely state en passant,                                                          53
Lest you deem me uninstructed,—
All philosophers I’ve studied,
From Heraclitus to Hegel.”



Once again I was uplifted
High in air, but now my spirit
Wing’d (methought) beside the Devil
Like a kestrel by an Eagle;

Strength and insight grew within me,
Tho’ my heart was sick with sorrow,
As we hover’d for an instant
O’er the silent lamplit City!

Far beneath on lonely bridges
I beheld the outcast women,
Sisters sad of lust and midnight,
Wandering weary and forlorn.

Over palaces and prisons,
Over hospitals and brothels,
Wheresoever Hell is burning,
Flew I, wafted as on wings.

From the tainted founts of Being                                                         55
I beheld the new-born rising,
Sick, sin-bloated scum of infants
Fashion’d out of shameful slime;

What the dead men and the dying
Sow’d in shame these reaped in sorrow,—
Thick as bubbles on a cauldron
They were coming, breaking, going.

Over waters black with tempest,
Where the ships were lightning-riven,
Where the terror-stricken seamen,
Sinking, shrieked aloud to God!

Over plains where ghostly armies
Came and went, and smote each other,
While the priests from the high places
Cried them on, and waved the Cross;

Over silent legions waiting
For the nod of moon-struck rulers;
Over countries famine-smitten;
Over cities foul with plague;

Wheresoever Hell is burning                                                                56
I was wafted!—From mine eyrie
I beheld the exiles crawling
To the black Siberian mine;

Shrieks of men and wails of women
Fill’d the air with lamentation,
While the Cossack cold and silent
Plied the knout and join’d the chain.

I beheld the lonely Leper,
With his face to heaven uplifted
Blotted out of human likeness,
Crawling to his nameless grave.

I beheld the armëd Arab
Ravishing the black man’s village;
I beheld the red race dying
Dumbly, like a deer at bay.

Everywhere the strong man triumph’d!
Everywhere the weak lay smitten!
Everywhere the gifts of Godhead
Rain’d on over-laden hands!

Everywhere (and this was strangest)                                                    57
Priests were praying, men were kneeling,
Everywhere the broken martyrs
Lifted piteous eyes to Heaven!

Wheresoever Hell is burning
I was wafted! and the bale-fires,
Fed with human lives for ever,
Burnt from Europe to Cathay.

. . . Like strange forms reflected darkly
In the glass of a Magician,
Ever flitting, ever fading,
Gleam’d the ghastly shapes of Sheol!

Till my soul grew faint within me
And again the air around me,
Ev’n as seas around the drowning,
Swung, and sense and sight departed.



. . . On the lonely Heath of Hampstead
I awaken’d, and beside me
Saw the woe-worn outcast standing,
Shadowy, mystical, and sad.

Even as I gazed upon him,
All the baleful hideous seeming,
Falling from him like a garment,
Left him beautiful and fair!

Lost in awe I gazed upon him!
Angel-naked stood the Devil;
Thin and tall; upon his forehead
Light, as of some dim grey Dawn!

Fair he seem’d, tho’ pale and weary,
Sorrowful, but softly shining,
Beautiful, as when, ere fallen,
Seated on the morning star!

Not on me his eyes were gazing,                                                        59
But upon the far-off City;
Not to me his lips were saying,
“Lord, I loathe thy Works and Thee!”

Once again that outcast Angel
Turned his luminous eyes upon me,—
Dark deep eyes that seem’d to suffer
From the light they shed around them;

Rays as of the star of morning
Glimmer’d o’er him as he murmur’d
In a voice like stars vibrating:
“Thing of clay, dost know me now?

“Yea,” I said, “immortal Spirit,
Now at last I seem to know thee,
And my spirit yearns in kinship
With thy beauty and thy woe!”

Once again he cast upon me
Luminous looks of scorn and pity:
As a trembling star’s reflection
Shakes in shadowy shallow waters,

Fell the glory of the Angel                                                                    60
On the waters of my spirit,
While I trembled, half in terror,
Half in wondering adoration.

“Thou art He, the Prince of Evil,
Whom thy God created perfect,
Yet who, doubting and rebelling,
Sank to darkness and despair?”                                                         [11:iv]

“Yea,” he answer’d, darkly frowning,
“I am He thy conscience pictures!
Lucifer once named up yonder,
Satan now re-named, the Devil!

“At the elbow of the Father
Once I stood and sang His praises—
Endless praises and hosannahs
To the crownéd King of Heaven.

“So I could have sung for ever,
Drinking rapture from His presence:
In an evil hour I wander’d
From His side, to view Creation!

“And at first I sang the louder,                                                             61
Marvelling at His works and wonders—
Suns and stars and constellations
Join’d my joyful hallelujah!”

As he spake he seem’d to brighten,
Dazzling all my sense with wonder,—
Round about him like a raiment
Clung a cloud of golden music!

“Such I was, His servant-angel!
Such I was, and so I worshipt!
Then from out the worlds he fashion’d
Came a wail, a lamentation.

“On the sun I stood, down-gazing
O’er the universe around me,
And the wail grew shriller, louder,
Till my joyful song was drown’d.

“Far away, where’er my vision
Wander’d, I beheld his Angels
Watching for His lifted finger,
Now creating, now destroying;

“Here a moaning world was shrivel’d                                                  62
Like an infant in the cradle;
Here a planet shrank in darkness
To a sound of souls despairing;

“Everywhere across Creation
Were the threads of Being broken,
Everywhere the Lord Almighty
Crush’d like shells the worlds He made!

“Then my soul was wroth within me,
And I cried to the Almighty:
‘Evil, Lord, is Thy creation,
Since Thou sufferest pain to be!

“‘Or if pity stirs within Thee
For the woes of Thy creating,
Thou art even as Thine Angels
Strong, but not Omnipotent!

“‘Back on Thine own footsteps treading,
Ever slaying and re-making,
Ever bungling, Thou art only
Demigod, not God at best!’

“Then He struck me with His lightnings,                                              63
Me, and many lesser angels,
Who in pity and compassion
Echo’d my protesting cry;

“Smitten here upon the forehead,
Down I fell thro’ the abysses,
Clinging wildly for a moment
To some star, as to a straw!

“Till I reached this lonely planet,
Stood upon it, and before me
Saw the naked Pair in Eden
Praising Him, as I had done.

“Tempt them, try them, undeceive them!”
Said the Father’s voice from Heaven—
“But be sure that deeper knowledge
Only means more swift despair!”

“For a space I hesitated,
Seeing them so blindly happy,
Even as the beasts that perish
Knowing naught of Time or Death;

“Then I said (may Man forgive me!)                                                   64
Better far to know and suffer,
Reach the stature of us angels,
Than be happy like the beasts.

“Wherefore, as thou know’st, I tempted
First the Woman, whispering to her,
While she munch’d the golden apple,
Hints of nakedness and shame.

“Then I saw the Pair forthdriven
From the golden Gates of Eden,
Hunted, while I wept for pity,
By the bloodhound-angel, Death!”


Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 11, l. 4: Sank to darkness and despair!’]




While he spake his starry splendour
Faded, ever growing dimmer,—
Sadder, darker, stood the Angel,
Fixing weary eyes on mine;

Clouds of woe were gather’d round him
Ev’n as raiment, and upon them
Silvern tremors caught the moonlight,
Glimmering like the Serpent’s coils.

“Forth the Exiles fled together,
Knowing not of that dread Angel
Ever following their footsteps
Thro’ their weary wanderings;

“From the woman’s womb there blossom’d
Little children, and their voices
Fill’d the solitude with music,
While the parents toil’d and gladden’d;

“And the world grew green about them,                                              66
God and Eden were forgotten,
Till the Father’s voice from Heaven
Cried for prayers and adulation;

“Till that hour of desolation
When the first-born smote his brother,—
And upon him, from the shadows,
Sprang the pallid bloodhound, Death!

“Then they heard a voice above them
Thundering ‘Out of sin and sorrow,
Thro’ that fruit by Me forbidden,
Death is brought into the world!’

“I, the Sapient Snake, knew better!
I, the Outcast, deeply lesson’d
In the book of God’s Creation,
Knew the Heavenly Voice was lying!

As he spake his shape grew shrunken
Into something black and baleful,
Woefully his eyes were burning
Like the eyeballs of the Serpent.

“Death was born in the beginning                                                         67
By the will of God the Father;
Ever slaying and destroying
Death had crept from world to world!

“Thro’ the Universe were scatter’d
Shrouded spheres that once were living;
Everywhere in yonder heavens
Life had broken like a bubble!

“Nay, this very world of Eden
Was a Sepulchre; within it
Countless races long forgotten,
Slain of old by Death, were sleeping.

“Blindly, feebly, God had blunder’d,
Type on type had been rejected,
Race on race had come and vanish’d,
Ere the Human flowered in Adam.

“From the throats of things created
Wails of anguish had arisen,
Since above the waste of waters
Wingéd flew the pterodactyl.

“In the rocks and ’neath the Ocean                                                     68
Lay the bones of beasts and monsters;
Ages ere the Pair was fashioned,
Human-featured walk’d the Ape.

“Nay, the very Pair I tempted
Were no separate creation,—
Their perfection had proceeded
From a long ancestral line;

“Ages ere their evolution
God had bungled, God had blunder’d,—
Now selecting, now rejecting,
Harking back, and retrogressing;

“Thus the Archetype was fashion’d
Thro’ perpetual vivisection,—
Countless swarms of martyr’d creatures
Mark’d his passage to the Human.

“This I knew, and this I purposed
Teaching long ago to mortals,—
But for many an age of darkness
Mortals mourn’d, but would not listen.

“While the tribes and generations                                                        69
Multiplied from father Adam,
O’er the world in which I wander’d
Spread the Pestilence, Religion.

“Nations, Jacob’s seed and Esau’s,
White and red and particolour’d,
Rose, and in the desert places
Swarm’d the soot-black seed of Ham.

“Busy still in every City,
Under every tent and dwelling,
Death abode, and never tiring
Did the bidding of his Master.

“Then in every Nation, shadow’d
With the darkness pestilential,
Priests arose, and woeful altars
Steam’d with sacrifice to God.



“Meantime I, the Accurst, was busy!
Whensoe’er I spake with mortals
Men grew gentle to each other,
While I taught them peaceful arts:

“How to till the soil, to fashion
Roofs of stone against the tempest,
How to weave the wool for raiment,
Yoke the monsters of the field;

“Fire I brought them,—teaching also
How to tame it to their uses,—
Turning ironstone to iron,
Frame the ploughshare and the sword;

“Help’d by me they drain’d the marshes,
Lop’d the forest trees, and fashion’d
Ships that floating on the waters
Gather’d harvest from the Deep.

“Bravely would my work have thriven,                                               71
Save for cunning Priests and Prophets,
Who, by dreams of God inflated,
Blunder’d ever like their Master. . . .

“Yonder by the yellow Ganges
Rose the Temples of the Brahmin,—
Threefold there the mystic godhead,
Agni, Indra, Surya, reign’d.

“By the impassive, cruel features
Well I recognised the Father,—
Huge as some primaeval monster
Crawl’d He in the Vedic ooze.

“Mystical, uncomprehended,
In their shadowy shrines He brooded,
Silent, and the souls of mortals
Crawl’d like fearful snakes before Him.

“Thither, serpent-wise, I follow’d,
Whispering ‘Strange is God and mighty;
Yet, altho’ He fashion’d all things,
Impotent in utter godhead.’

“With my gospel pantheistic                                                                72
I perplex’d their Priests and Prophets,
Tho’ in spite of all my teaching,
Still they pray’d, and preach’d, and fasted.

“Still the cloud of superstition
Darken’d Earth and shrouded Heaven,
While the shivering naked people
Trembled at the priestly thunder. . . .

“Further East I wing’d, and burning
Like a sunbeam from the zenith,
On a sunlit mountain summit
Found the Persian, Zoroaster.

“Crying, ‘If thou needs must worship
What transcends thine understanding,
Raise thine eyes, behold the Fountain
Whence the Light of Life is flowing!’

“Him I left upon his mountain,
Crimson fires of dawn around Him—
Gazing till his eyes were blinded
At his Sun-god, and adoring. . .


“On the threshold of his palace                                                            73
Stood the monarch Arddha Chiddi,
Roseate robes of youth were round him,
Yet his eyes were full of sorrow;

“Down beneath him on the river
Corpses foul of men and women
Floated seaward, gnaw’d and eaten
By the watersnakes and fishes.

“Him I spake with, sadly showing
Death alone was lord and master
Over all the worlds created,
And that Death was surely evil.

“Never since the world’s beginning,
Throb’d a human heart more gentle—
In its secret fount of sorrow
Stir’d the living springs of pity:

“From his palace door he wander’d,
Left the pomps of power behind him,
Wrapt a linen shroud about him,
Weeping for the woes of mortals.

“Yet, in spite of all my teaching,—                                                      74
How to snatch from Death and Sorrow
Strength to live and zeal to labour,
In despite of God the Father,—

“He, the Buddha, sought oblution                                                       [21:i]
In the waters of Nirwâna,
Crying loud ‘There is no Father—
Only Death and Change for ever!’

“Thus, denying God, he enter’d
God’s great darkness of Negation,
Till the living springs of pity
Froze at last to calm despair;

“Till, denying yet believing,
Conquering yet by godhead conquer’d,
He to Death as Lord and Master
Bow’d the saintly head, and blest him!

“Countless swarms of living creatures
Follow’d him into the darkness,—
White and wondrous o’er his kingdom,
Rose the Temples of the Lama;

“Countless millions still despairing                                                       75
In his temples gather kneeling—
Priests of Lama, blindly praying,
Swing the piteous lamps of Death.

“Thus the first and best of mortals
Conquer’d was, and o’er my Buddha
Brooded still the joyless, deathless,
Impotent Omnipotence!


Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 21, l. 1: ‘He, the Buddha, sought ablution]




“High in air on eagle-pinions
I, the outcast Angel, hover’d—
Gazing sadly down while mortals,
Ants on ant-hills, toil’d and struggled.

“Here and there were arméd nations
Moving restless hither and thither;
’Mong the mountains, gazing upward,
Gather’d lonely tribes of shepherds.

“Ever darkly multiplying,
Crowning Kings and hailing prophets,
Toiling blindly in the darkness,
Grew the races of the Human.

“Ever ’mong them Death was busy,
Evermore the units perish’d,
Evermore the newborn creatures                                                       [4:iii]
Swarm’d from out the depths of Being.

“Nought they knew of Heaven above them,                                        77
Nought of Earth itself, their dwelling,
Circling with the mightier planets
Round the heliocentric fires;

“Everywhere the Priest was busy
Raising temples, building altars,—
Everywhere the foolish Prophets
Raved aloud and wail’d for wonders;

“Everywhere the martyr’d peoples
Toil’d and struggled and were smitten,                                               [7:ii]
Evermore, to blind their senses,                                                         [7:iii]
Signs and miracles were wrought.

“ ’Mong the people rose Messiahs,
Preaching, healing, prophesying,—
Pointing to the empty heavens
With a wan and witless smile. . . .

“By the Nile the son of Isis
Walked and mused,—upon his mantle
Mystic signs were wrought in silver,
And he wore a crown of thorns,—

“Saying ‘Lo, from Phthah the Maker,                                                  78
I, the human Emanation,
Come and I elect to suffer,
To appease His righteous anger.’

“Then the people sprang upon him,
Stript him bare and crucified him—
Pityingly I bent above him,
As he swung upon his Cross.

“Then the faithful who revered him,
In their spicy clothes embalmed him,
While the priesthood which had slain him
Hail’d him ‘Son of God, Osiris!’

“’Mong his worshippers I lighted,
Priestly raiment wrapt around me,
Crying with them, ‘Hail, Osiris!
Woman-born and yet divine!’

“‘Kingly men and mighty monarchs
Are indeed the only godhead—
Wherefore let them have our praises,
Endless worship and hosannahs.’


“Then I taught them hieroglyphics,                                                       79
Mystic shapes and signs and letters,
Where the story of the Ages
Written was on brass and stone;

“Then the busy Ants of Egypt
Raised the Pyramids; around them
Shaping colonnades and pylons
For the sepulchres of Kings.

“Thus I taught them architecture,—
How to hew the rocks and fashion
Monuments that stand for ever
In despite of God and Time.

“Nay, to mock the mute Almighty,
I the mystic Sphynx invented,                                                            [18:ii]
Silent, impotent, impassive,
Gazing on a million graves!

“Numbers, too, I taught the people,—
How to measure Earth and Water,
By the stars and their progressions
Guide the floods and count the seasons.

“Then the God I had offended                                                             80
Spread his darkness over Egypt,
Sent his Angels, hither, thither,
Turning men against each other;

“While the haggard Priests and Prophets
Wail’d and work’d their signs and wonders,
The Assyrian and Egyptian
Struggled in their death-embraces.

“Vain was all that I had taught them—
Peace and wisdom, light and knowledge,
Strength to raise in spite of Nature
Pyramids of mortal making,—

“’Gainst the angels masquerading
In the forms of Gods and Demons,
Shrieking loud from blood-stain’d altars
For their holocausts of Death.

“Pharaohs came and Pharaohs vanish’d,
Cities rose and Cities perish’d,—
Still arose, o’er seas of slaughter,
Those sad Sphynxes I had fashion’d. . . .                                            [24:iv]


Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v.4, l.3: Evermore the new-born creatures
v.7, l.2: Toil’d and struggled and were smitten;
v.7, l.3: Evermore to blind their senses,
v.18, l.2: I the mystic Sphinx invented,
v.24, l.4: Those sad Sphinxes I had fashion’d. . . . ]



The Devil’s Case continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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