Half Hours in Hades

An Elementary Handbook of Demonology

G. K. Chesterton, 1891


In the autumn of 1890, I was leaving the Casino at Monte Carlo in company with an eminent Divine, whose name, for obvious reasons, I suppress. We were engaged in an interesting discussion on the subject of Demons, he contending that they were an unnecessary, not to say prejudicial, element in our civilisation, an opinion which, needless to say, I strongly opposed. Having at length been so fortunate as to convince him of his error, I proceeded to furnish him with various instances in which Demons have proved beneficial to mankind, and at length he exclaimed. "My dear fellow, why do you not write a book about ..." Here he coughed. The idea took so strong a hold upon me, that from that time I have taken more careful note of the habits and appearance of such specimens as come in my way, and my studies have resulted in the production of this little work, which will, I trust, prove not uninteresting to the youthful seeker after knowledge.

In my capacity as Professor of Supernatural Science at Oxford University, it has often been my duty to call upon an individual who probably knows more about all branches of the subject with which I am about to deal than any man on earth, although no one has yet persuaded him to give his knowledge to the world; and with his permission I have dedicated these pictures to him, as some slight recognition of the wisdom and experience which he had brought to my assistance in the compiling of this modest treatise.

Baron's Court House, London
October 1891

To that mature personage,
the cimmerian nature of whose aspect
is popularly supposed to be greatly overrated,
this volume is affectionately dedicated.

The Five Primary Types

It is not wonderful that so few persons should know anything about the habits and appearance of those whose names are so often on their lips, and who exert so great an influence over all our lives? For those who love the study of Demonology (and I pity the man or woman who does not) it possess an interest which will remain after health, youth and even life have departed.

It is not my intention in this simple little work to puzzle the young student with any of those dark technicalities of the Science which are only intelligible to such as have studied it for some time. I merely try to put before him, in language as simply as possible, the various species of Demon with which he is most likely to meet, and to explain the organism of any he may have already encountered.

To proceed at once to business, I will first introduce to my young readers the Common, or "Garden" serpent, so called because its first appearance in the world took place in a garden. Since that time its proportions have dwindled considerably, but its influence and power have largely increased; it is found in almost everything.

Plate I. The Common or "Garden" Serpent (Tentator hortensis)
Plate II. The Mediaeval Devil (Diabolus faunalius)

The prejudice entertained by clergymen and others against this insect is most unreasonable and cruel. Were it not for the creature they destroy, their occupation would be gone, like Othello's. Yet they do all they can to stamp out and crush down this little creature, wherever he may show his hoof.

Fig. A. Diabolus paradisi perditi

The next in imporance of the specimens of this interesing branch of science is the Mediaeval Demon, whose horns, tail and claws form a remarkable constrast to the serpentine formation of our first type. So wide is the divergence between the two that many modern authorities on the subject put it in an entirely different class to the Common or Garden species, connecting it with an extinct animal of similar formation known as the Faun or Pan, which found its home in many parts of Arcadia. Be this as it may, the Mediaeval Demon is, of all the species, perhaps the one with which we are most familiar; in fact so accustomed are we to the traits and appearance of this remarkable creature that we have more or less taken it under our patronage. It is in a domesticated state the subject rather of playfulness and household merriment than of abhorrence, while the far cleverer and more graceful serpent is the object of a cruel and unreasoning persecution. But useful as the mediaeval species is found at the present day as a general source of amusement, it has of late somewhat failed to stir public interest, which is turned towards newer and more elegant varieties: some of which we shall pass briefly in review. Mr. J. Milton, in his interesting and valuable work on this subject, has discussed at some length the leading characteristics of a fine species of which he was primarily the discoverer, and of which Fig. A. is a sketch. This magnificent animal measures at least four roods, and when floating full length on the warm gulf, of which it is an inhabitant, has been compared by its discoverer to a whale.1

1 See Paradise Lost, book I.

According to Mr. Milton's theory, this animal is practically identical with the creature represented in Plate I, but, however ably supported, his view has been abandoned by most later authorities. This species is an inhabitant of warm latitudes like most of its kind, being originally found in the burning lakes and dark wildernesses of the most remote parts of the world. Its colour is, generally speaking, dark, but, like most of these creatures, this peculiarity has been much overrated, and Mr. Milton has justly pointed out the "faded splendour wan" which imparts a lighter shade to many parts of its exterior.

We now come to the discussion of a very remarkable species which are vulgarly known for the most part by their colour.

Fig. B. The Red Devil
(Diabolus mephistopheles)

The Red Devil (Diabolus Mephistopheles) was discovered by that learned and enterprising German naturalist, Mr. Wolfgang von Goethe, who has published an interesting story of a specimen kept in a domesticated state in the house of his learned fellow-countryman, Dr. Faust. In a domestic state this creature is playful and active, but mischievous and impossible to trust. The learned doctor found it a useful and entertaining companion for many years, but was finally persuaded to part with it, on which it sought the seclusion of its native surroundings. Its colour, as suggested by its name, is, with the exception of its face and hands, a uniform red. Its height is about six feet.

The Blue Devil
(Caeruleus lugubrius)

Very different in appearance, yet possessed of one or two of the same habits, is the Blue Devil (Caeruleus Lugubrius). These creatures are gregarious, being usually seen and spoken of in the plural. Though formed by Super-Nature in their habits and exterior apparently for the filling of waste moors, mountains, churchyards and other obsolete places, these animals, like the Red Devil, have frequently been domesticated in rich and distinguished houses, and many of the wealthiest aristocrats and most successful men of commerce may be seen with a string of these blue creatures led by a leash in the street or seated round him in a ring on his own fireside. The noise made by this creature is singularly melancholy and depressing, and its general appearance is far from lively. But though less agile and intelligent than the Red Devil, the sobriety of its habits and demeanour have made it a suitable pet for the houses of clergymen and other respectable persons. To such an extent indeed has this domestication of the Blue Devil been carried, that many persons have denied its connection with the great class we are discussing. There can, however, be no doubt about its origin.

The Evolution of Demons

On what perhaps is the most intricate and interesting part of Demonology it is impossible to say much in a work of small size and pretensions. It is unnecessary to go through the elaborate proof given by Mr. Darwin and transfer it to the supernatural world, but only to make a few remarks on some of the most interesting examples of diabolical evolution. When the young student grows older he will meet with others in his own experience.

Instances of Evolution I

Instances of Evolution II

Instances of Evolution III

Instances of Evolution IV

What We Should All Look For

"But, mamma, can we all see devils?"

"Certainly, Charlotte, if we will take the trouble. They are constantly in our path and it is only the lazy and careless that pass them by. The human race might well learn a lesson from these little creatures, and in fact it not infrequently does. Harry here will tell you that only this morning he found a most interesting specimen while coming from church, and how pleased I was that he should have been so diligent. We can all see the common varieties in any country walk, or even in the city, where they are occasionally found, but at the same time it is to be remembered that we cannot expect to see all this great field of interest in this life. Dr. Brown, the vicar, who knows more about these things than you or I, children, will, I am sure, take great pleasure in some day showing you over his collection, where you will see some very rare species, not to be found in everyday life, and which are the fruits of a long career of diligent research. He possess, I believe, the only known variety of the Pelagian ever seen in this country and will be pleased to show it you and make it vainly talk. The Boasting Anabaptist (Anabaptiste Falsegloriator) has also its representatives in his collection and he is the author of many clever works on the subject."

"But, mamma, does Dr. Brown love his little pets?"

"I have reason to believe that he is fondly attached to them. They are never out of his sight and he has often said that he has gleaned many useful lessons from their habits. In fact he says that he would not be the man he is but for them, and one glance at Dr. Brown will make it clear that this is no exaggeration."

"Mamma, dear, do you remember what Cousin George found when he was staying with us last summer?"

"I recollect it extremely well, Albert, and I am glad indeed to find that your memory is as vivid as mine. It had always been my belief that Cousin George would alight upon some such discovery, for I well know him as a keen observer of Supernature and I hope, my children, that you may ever be as clever Demonologists as he. I remember even as a little boy he would be always found in the haunts of these creatures among which he may almost be said to have been brought up. I predict a great future for Cousin George."

"And, mamma dear, remember that you promised to show us some experiments this evening."

"Well, children, you shall have some. Will you turn out the gas, Albert? while you, Jane, will ask cook to lend us the large kettle. Harry will fetch the long wand from its place in the umbrella stand. Thank you, that is right. Now, children, for our first experiment I have here the eye of the common newt or eft, the left toe of the edible frog, the jaw of one or the blue sharks, a portion of the root of the hemlock plant, which I took no little trouble to dig up quite late last night, the liver of a blaspheming Jew, and other interesting specimens: round about the cauldron go, children, in the poisoned entrails throw. That is right. Now we will see what happens ... Ah, I thought so. Do you see those two round green orbs of light, Jane? Those are the eyes of a very interesting species, and its form will soon become apparent to us. Do not scream, Charlotte, for that would be naughty, and would perhaps frighten the little creatures, as they are very timid. By this time, children, you may perceive the outline of an attenuated figure, resembling in some respects that of a skeleton, though the ears, which you can now see moving, show that this is not the case. Lift little Harry up, James, since he is too small to see over the edge of the cauldron."