When I was a Sunday-school scholar something more than sixty years
ago, I became interested in Satan, and wanted to find out all I
could about him. I began to ask questions, but my class-teacher,
Mr. Barclay the stone-mason, was reluctant about answering them, it
seemed to me. I was anxious to be praised for turning my thoughts
to serious subjects when there wasn't another boy in the village
who could be hired to do such a thing. I was greatly interested in
the incident of Eve and the serpent, and thought Eve's calmness was
perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay if he had ever heard of
another woman who, being approached by a serpent, would not excuse
herself and break for the nearest timber. He did not answer my
question, but rebuked me for inquiring into matters above my age
and comprehension. I will say for Mr. Barclay that he was willing
to tell me the facts of Satan's history, but he stopped there: he
wouldn't allow any discussion of them.
In the course of time we exhausted the facts. There were only five
or six of them, you could set them all down on a visiting-card. I
was disappointed. I had been meditating a biography, and was
grieved to find that there were no materials. I said as much, with
the tears running down. Mr. Barclay's sympathy and compassion were
aroused, for he was a most kind and gentle-spirited man, and he
patted me on the head and cheered me up by saying there was a whole
vast ocean of materials! I can still feel the happy thrill which
these blessed words shot through me.
Then he began to bail out that ocean's riches for my encouragement
and joy. Like this: it was "conjectured"--though not established-
-that Satan was originally an angel in heaven; that he fell; that
he rebelled, and brought on a war; that he was defeated, and
banished to perdition. Also, "we have reason to believe" that
later he did so-and-so; that "we are warranted in supposing" that
at a subsequent time he travelled extensively, seeking whom he
might devour; that a couple of centuries afterward, "as tradition
instructs us," he took up the cruel trade of tempting people to
their ruin, with vast and fearful results; that by-and-by, "as the
probabilities seem to indicate," he may have done certain things,
he might have done certain other things, he must have done still
And so on and so on. We set down the five known facts by
themselves, on a piece of paper, and numbered it "page 1"; then on
fifteen hundred other pieces of paper we set down the
"conjectures," and "suppositions," and "maybes," and "perhapses,"
and "doubtlesses," and "rumors," and "guesses," and
"probabilities," and "likelihoods," and "we are permitted to
thinks," and "we are warranted in believings," and "might have
beens," and "could have beens," and "must have beens," and
"unquestionablys," and "without a shadow of doubts"--and behold!
MATERIALS? Why, we had enough to build a biography of Shakespeare!
Yet he made me put away my pen; he would not let me write the
history of Satan. Why? Because, as he said, he had suspicions;
suspicions that my attitude in this matter was not reverent; and
that a person must be reverent when writing about the sacred
characters. He said any one who spoke flippantly of Satan would be
frowned upon by the religious world and also be brought to account.
I assured him, in earnest and sincere words, that he had wholly
misconceived my attitude; that I had the highest respect for Satan,
and that my reverence for him equalled, and possibly even exceeded,
that of any member of any church. I said it wounded me deeply to
perceive by his words that he thought I would make fun of Satan,
and deride him, laugh at him, scoff at him: whereas in truth I had
never thought of such a thing, but had only a warm desire to make
fun of those others and laugh at THEM. "What others?" "Why, the
Supposers, the Perhapsers, the Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-
Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners, the Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters,
the We-are-Warranted-in-Believingers, and all that funny crop of
solemn architects who have taken a good solid foundation of five
indisputable and unimportant facts and built upon it a Conjectural
Satan thirty miles high."
What did Mr. Barclay do then? Was he disarmed? Was he silenced?
No. He was shocked. He was so shocked that he visibly shuddered.
He said the Satanic Traditioners and Perhapsers and Conjecturers
were THEMSELVES sacred! As sacred as their work. So sacred that
whoso ventured to mock them or make fun of their work, could not
afterward enter any respectable house, even by the back door.
How true were his words, and how wise! How fortunate it would have
been for me if I had heeded them. But I was young, I was but seven
years of age, and vain, foolish, and anxious to attract attention.
I wrote the biography, and have never been in a respectable house