From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume IV, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 588-594.
THE STORY OF THE TWO FRIARS
BY EUGENE FIELD
It befell in the year 1662, in which same year were many witchcrafts and sorceries, such as never before had been seen and the like of which will never again, by grace of Heaven, afflict mankind — in this year it befell that the devil came upon earth to tempt an holy friar, named Friar Gonsol, being strictly minded to win that righteous vessel of piety unto his evil plesance.
Now wit you well that this friar had grievously offended the devil, for of all men then on earth there was none more holier than he nor none surer to speak and to do sweet charity unto all his fellows in every place. Therefore it was that the devil was sore wroth at the Friar Gonsol, being mightily plagued not only by his teachings and his preachings, but also by the pious works which he continually did do. Right truly the devil knew that by no common temptations was this friar to be moved, for the which reason did the devil seek in dark and troublous cogitations to bethink him of some new instrument wherewith he might bedazzle the eyes and ensnare the understanding of the holy man. On a sudden it came unto the fiend that by no corporeal allurement would he be able to achieve his miserable end, for that by reason of an abstemious life and a frugal diet the Friar Gonsol had weaned his body from those frailties and lusts to which human flesh is by nature of the old Adam within it disposed, 589 and by long-continued vigils and by earnest devotion and by godly contemplations and by divers proper studies had fixed his mind and his soul with exceeding steadfastness upon things unto his eternal spiritual welfare appertaining. Therefore it beliked the devil to devise and to compound a certain little booke of mighty curious craft, wherewith he might be like to please the Friar Gonsol and, in the end, to ensnare him in his impious toils. Now this was the way of the devil’s thinking, to wit: This friar shall suspect no evil in the booke, since never before hath the devil tempted mankind with such an instrument, the common things wherewith the devil tempteth man being (as all histories show and all theologies teach) fruit and women and other like things pleasing to the gross and perishable senses. Therefore, argueth the devil, when I shall tempt this friar with a booke he shall be taken off his guard and shall not know it to be a temptation. And thereat was the devil exceeding merry and he did laugh full merrily.
Now presently came this thing of evil unto the friar in the guise of another friar and made a proper low obeisance unto the same. But the Friar Gonsol was not blinded to the craft of the devil, for from under the cloak and hood that he wore there did issue the smell of sulphur and of brimstone which alone the devil hath.
“Beshrew me,” quoth the Friar Gonsol, “if the odour in my nostrils be spikenard and not the fumes of the bottomless pit!”
“Nay, sweet friar,” spake the devil full courteously, “the fragrance thou perceivest is of frankincense and myrrh, for I am of holy orders and I have brought thee a righteous booke, delectable to look upon and profitable unto the reading.”590
Then were the eyes of that Friar Gonsol full of bright sparklings and his heart rejoiced with exceeding joy, for he did set most store, next to his spiritual welfare, by bookes wherein was food to his beneficial devouring.
“I do require thee,” quoth the friar, “to shew me that booke that I may know the name thereof and discover whereof it treateth.”
Then shewed the devil the booke unto the friar, and the friar saw it was an uncut unique of incalculable value; the height of it was half a cubit and the breadth of it the fourth part of a cubit and the thickness of it five barleycorns lacking the space of three horsehairs. This booke contained, within its divers picturings, symbols and similitudes wrought with incomparable craft, the same being such as in human vanity are called proof before letters, and imprinted upon India paper; also the booke contained written upon its pages, divers names of them that had possessed it, all these having in their time been mighty and illustrious personages; but what seemed most delectable unto the friar was an autographic writing wherein ’twas shewn that the booke sometime had been given by Venus di Medici to Apollos at Rhodes.
When therefore the Friar Gonsol saw the booke how that it was intituled and imprinted and adorned and bounden, he knew it to be of vast worth and he was mightily moved to possess it; therefore he required of the other (that was the devil) that he give unto him an option upon the same for the space of seven days hence or until such a time as he could inquire concerning the booke in Lowndes and other such like authorities. But the devil, smiling, quoth: “The booke shall be yours without price provided only you shall bind yourself to do me a service as I shall hereafter specify and direct.”
Now when the Friar Gonsol heard this compact, he 591 knew for a verity that the devil was indeed the devil, and but that he sorely wanted the booke he would have driven that impious fiend straightway from his presence. Howbeit, the devil, promising to visit him again that night, departed, leaving the friar exceeding heavy in spirit, for he was both assotted upon the booke to comprehend it and assotted upon the devil to do violence unto him.
It befell that in his doubtings he came unto the Friar Francis, another holy man that by continual fastings and devotions had made himself an ensample of piety unto all men, and to this sanctified brother did the Friar Gonsol straightway unfold the story of his temptation and speak fully of the wondrous booke and of its divers many richnesses.
When that he had heard this narration the Friar Francis made answer in this wise: ‘Of great subtility surely is the devil that he hath set this snare for thy feet. Have a care, my brother, that thou fallest not into the pit which he hath digged for thee! Happy art thou to have come to me with this thing, elsewise a great mischief might have befallen thee. Now listen to my words and do as I counsel thee. Have no more to do with this devil; send him to me, or appoint with him another meeting and I will go in thy stead.”
“Nay, nay,” cried the Friar Gonsol, “the saints forefend from thee the evil temptation provided for my especial proving! I should have been reckoned a weak and coward vessel were I to send thee in my stead to bear the mortifications designed for the trying of my virtues.”
“But thou art a younger brother than I,” reasoned the Friar Francis softly; “and, firm though thy resolution may be now, thou art more like than I to be wheedled and bedazzled by these diabolical wiles and artifices. So let me know where this devil abideth with the booke; I 592 burn to meet him and to wrest his treasure from his impious possession.”
But the Friar Gonsol shook his head and would not hear unto this vicarious sacrifice whereon the good Friar Francis had set his heart.
“Ah, I see that thou hast little faith in my strength to combat the fiend,” quoth the Friar Francis reproachfully. “Thy trust in me should be greater, for I have done thee full many a kindly office; or, now I do bethink me, thou art assotted on the booke! Unhappy brother, can it be that thou dost covet this vain toy, this frivolous bauble, that thou wouldst seek the devil’s companionship anon to compound with Beelzebub? I charge thee, Brother Gonsol, open thine eyes and see in what a slippery place thou standest.”
Now by these argumentations was the Friar Gonsol mightily confounded, and he knew not what to do.
“Come, now, hesitate no longer,” quoth the Friar Francis, “but tell me where that devil may be found — I burn to see and to comprehend the booke — not that I care for the booke, but that I am grievously tormented to do that devil a sore despight!”
“Odds boddikins,” quoth the other friar, “me-seemeth that the booke inciteth thee more than the devil.”
“Thou speakest wrongly,” cried the Friar Francis. “Thou mistakest pious zeal for sinful selfishness. Full wroth am I to hear how that this devil walketh to and fro, using a sweet and precious booke for the temptation of holy men. Shall so righteous an instrument be employed by the prince of heretics to so unrighteous an end?”
“Thou sayest wisely,” quoth the Friar Gonsol, “and thy words convince me that a battaile must be made with this devil for that booke. So now I shall go to encounter the fiend!”593
“Then by the saints I shall go with thee!” cried the Friar Francis, and he gathered his gown about his loins right briskly.
But when the Friar Gonsol saw this he made great haste to go alone, and he ran out of the door full swiftly and fared him where the devil had appointed an appointment with him. Now wit you well that the Friar Francis did follow close upon his heels, for though his legs were not so long he was a mighty runner and he was right sound of wind. Therefore was it a pleasant sight to see these holy men vying with one another to do battle with the devil, and much it repenteth me that there be some ribald heretics that maintain full enviously that these two saintly friars did so run not for the devil that they might belabor him, but for the booke that they might possess it.
It fortuned that the devil was already come to the place where he had appointed the appointment, and in his hand he had the booke aforesaid. Much marveled he when that he beheld the two friars faring thence.
“I adjure thee, thou devil,” said the Friar Gonsol from afar off, “I adjure thee give me that booke else I will take thee by thy horns and hoofs and drub thy ribs together!”
“Heed him not, thou devil,” said the Friar Francis, “for it is I that am coming to wrestle with thee and to overcome thee for that booke!”
With such words and many more the two holy friars bore down upon the devil; but the devil thinking verily that he was about to be beset by the whole church militant stayed not for their coming, but presently departed out of sight and bore the book with him.
Now many people at that time saw the devil fleeing before the two friars, so that, esteeming it to be a sign of special grace, these people did thereafter acknowledge the friars to be saints, and unto this day you shall 594 hear of St. Gonsol and St. Francis. Unto this day, too, doth the devil, with that same booke wherewith he tempted the friar of old, beset and ensnare men of every age and in all places. Against which devil may Heaven fortify us to do battle speedily and with successful issuance.