Skip to main content

The Devil and Daniel Webster

Summary


Jabez Stone is a man living in New Hampshire. He is unlucky with his crops and one day makes a throwaway comment that his bad luck is enough to make a man sell his soul to the devil. The devil, of course is obliging enough to take him up on his offer. The next day he gets a visit from a 'stranger' with whom he signs a contact. The details of the pact are not specified. Six years pass and Stone's farm has been very successful. However, when the devil turns up at the house again a year before it is due to finish. Stone is getting nervous about their agreement. The devil obliquely threatens him by sweeping up the soul of another man in his handkerchief. Eventually, all Stone manages is a three years extension to his original terms with the devil. Four years pass, and Stone is very close to the end of their bargain but he's almost at the height of his prosperity and thinking of running for governor. So, he decides to go to Daniel Webster, 'the biggest man in the country' for help and employs him as his lawyer. The night that the bargain comes to an end the two men wait for the devil in Stone's kitchen. When he arrives Webster argues with him for some time and ultimately demands a trial for his client with an American judge and jury. The devil then proceeds to summons a collection of damned souls from American history. Basically Webster has almost lost until he has an idea. He speaks to the jury of life and “the endless journey of mankind”, ultimately convincing them to rule in favour of Stone. By this point, Stone is a small whimpering heap in the corner. As the devil leaves, he tells Webster of his future, warning him of future unhappiness by twisting the truth. Webster is unmoved as sends him away. The devil is throughly beaten, never setting foot in New Hampshire again.

Quotes


On Daniel Webster:
“Dan'l wasn't one of your gentlemen farmers; he knew all the ways of the land, and he'd be up by candlelight to see that the chores got done. A man with a mouth like a mastiff, a brow like a mountain and eyes like burning anthracite - that was Dan'l Webster in his prime. ”

On Jabez Stone:
“He wasn't a bad man to start with, but he was an unlucky

 
man.”

On the Devil:
“a soft-spoken, dark-dressed stranger drove up in a handsome buggy ”
“he smiled with his teeth.”
“the dog took one look at the stranger and ran away howling, with his tail between his legs. ”
“The stranger came in -- very dark and tall he looked in the firelight.”
“"Might I ask your name?"

“I’ve gone by a good many,” said the stranger carelessly. “Perhaps Scratch will do for the evening. I’m often called that in these regions.”

On the pact:
"I  
vow," he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate-"I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil! And I would, too, for two cents!"
“having passed his word, more or less, he stuck to it, and they went out behind the barn and made their bargain. Jabez Stone had to prick his finger to sign, and the stranger lent him a silver pin. The wound healed clean, but it left a little white scar.”

Other quotes:

Stone sees the soul of his neighbour in the devil's book - “he saw something else flutter out of the black pocket book. It was something that looked like a moth, but it wasn't a moth ... But before Jabez Stone could stir hand or foot, the stranger whipped out a big bandanna handkerchief, caught the creature in it, just like a butterfly, and started tying up the ends of the bandanna. ”

Daniel Webster's defence - “He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was-just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn't start out by condemning or revil
ing. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.
 And he began with the simple things that
everybody's known and felt-the freshness of a fine morning when you're young, and the taste of food when you're hungry, and the new day that's every day when you're a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good.things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn't a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.
 Then he turned to Jabez Stone and showed
 him as he was - an ordinary man who'd had hard luck and wanted to change it. And, because he'd wanted to change it, now he was going to be punished for all eternity. And yet there was good in Jabez Stone, and he showed that good. He was hard and mean, in some ways, but he was a man. There was sadness in being a man, but it was a proud thing too. And he showed what the pride of it was till you couldn't help feeling it. Yes, even in hell, if a man was a man, you'd know it. And he wasn't pleading for any one person any more, though his voice rang like an organ. He was telling the story and the failures and the endless journey of mankind. They got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey. And no demon that was ever foaled could know the inwardness of it-it too a man to do that. 





”