When and why the Devil Invented Brandy


Many years ago, our village (Steinbach) and Winterstein (in the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha) disputed about the common boundaries. Witnesses were called from both sides; but the dispute could not be brought to an end, because each of them spoke in favour of his own village. Amongst these witnesses were two men,—the one a native of Steinbach, and the other of Winterstein,—who had been instructed in magic by the devil, to whom they had sold their souls.

These two men in one and the same night conceived a resolution to erect false boundary-stones, to which they intended to give an appearance of antiquity by the help of magic, so that people might suppose they had stood there, for many years. Both of them, in the figures of fiery men, went up the hill where was the boundary in dispute. Neither of them knew of the intentions of the other. When they met on the hill, he who arrived the last, asked the other,

"What he was doing there?"

"That is no concern of yours!" answered this; "tell me first what you are doing here?"

"I will place boundary-stones, and settle the limits as they ought to be."

"That I have done already, and there you see the stones; and, as the stones go, so goes the boundary."

"You are wrong, for the boundary goes this way; and my master told me that I was in the right."

"Pray, who is your master? A fine gentleman must he be!"

"My master is the devil. Are you satisfied now? and do you feel respect for me?"

"That is a lie! for the devil is my master; and he told me that I was right: and, therefore, get off as quick as you can, or you shall see!"

So saying, they threw themselves upon each other; but the man of our village proved too strong for the other, to whom he gave such a blow on the mouth that his head flew off and rolled down the hill. The fiery man without a head quickly ran after it to catch it, and fix it on again; but he did not succeed in doing so before he arrived at the spot where the little brook, which flows down the hill, enters the Emse.

Meanwhile, our man, who gave the blow, looked from the hill how the other chased his own head, when on a sudden a third fiery man stood before him, who asked,

"What he had done there?"

"That is no concern of yours!" answered our man; "and, if you do not go your ways immediately, I'll treat you just as I have the other."

"Have you no more respect for me? and don't you know that I am your master, the devil?"

"And, if you are the devil himself, I care not a straw for you! Go to h—!"

"And that I'll do," said the devil; "but not without you."

Thus saying, the devil stooped to carry him away on his shoulders; but our man, watching his opportunity, caught his neck between his two legs, and then, laying his hands on him, and holding him down to the ground, he said,

"Now you are in my power; and now you shall feel what my hands are able to do. You have during your life broken the neck of many a poor man; you shall now learn yourself how it feels!"

Thus saying, he set about to screw the devil's neck round with all his might; but, when the devil saw that our man was in earnest, he gave him good words, and prayed him not to do so, and not to smother him, promising to do anything he might require.

"As I hear you speaking so piteously," said our man, "I'll let you loose; but not before you have returned to me the bond by which I sold you my soul. And, moreover, you must swear to me by your own grandmother, not to claim any part in me; and, during all your life hereafter, never to take any man's bond for his soul."

The devil, though not pleased with these conditions, yet, for the safety of his own neck, could not but return the bond, and even swear by his grandmother what our man had ordered him to do.

But, as soon as the devil found himself free, he jumped on his legs, and, retiring a few paces lest the other might take him unawares a second time, he said,

"Now I am free; and now I must tell you that, though I have returned your bond, and sworn not to claim any part in you, I have not promised you not to break your own neck; and that I shall do now, and upon this very spot you shall die for having throttled me, and for having been about to smother me."

The devil then rushed upon him in order to kill him; but our man ran away straight into the wood, the devil after him. But, coming to an old beech which was hollow, and had likewise an opening beneath, he quickly crept into it and hid himself, and the devil would have certainly missed him had not his toe peeped out from the hole; but, his toe being all fiery, and glistening through the darkness, the devil found out where he had hid himself, and stept near to catch him by the toe. But he in the tree, hearing him come, dragged back his toe, and climbed higher up. The devil then crept likewise into the tree. The other climbed still higher up, and the devil pursued him, until at last our man reached another hole high up, through which he crept out. As soon as he was out, he quickly shut the hole, and jumped as quickly down to fasten the opening below. And this he did with magic, and did it so well that the devil himself, nor his grandmother, could have opened it. Having performed this, he went his ways.

Thus the devil sat in the old beech-tree, and could not come out, though he bethought himself for a long time how to do so. Thus he was kept in the beech; and during that time many of our own people, when going to Winterstein or coming from it, heard him bleating and grunting. At last, amongst a large lot of trees, the old beech was cut down, and the devil regained his freedom. The first thing he did was to hasten down below, and see how matters stood there. It was as empty as a church during the week, and not a single soul was to be heard or seen there; for the devil not having returned for so long a while, and no one knowing where he was, not a single soul had arrived. And that broke the heart of the devil's grandmother, who died with grief; and, when she was dead, all the souls who were then there ran away, and went straight to heaven. Thus the devil stood quite alone, without knowing how to get new souls, for he had forsworn to take the bond of any man more, and this was then the only mode in which he would get souls. And thus he stood there ruminating, and was near to pull out his horns from his head with grief and despair, when he hit upon an idea. While he had been in his beech, which stood on the old Hart-place, he had, to while away his time, bethought himself of many things, and amongst others he invented brandy. That he remembered in the midst of his grief, and he conceived at once it would be the best means of getting hold of new souls.

He immediately went to Nordhausen, and made himself a distiller; and burnt brandy as much as he could, which he sent into all the world. And he showed to all the men of Nordhausen how brandy was made, promising them great riches if they learnt it, and made brandy like him. And the men of Nordhausen did not oblige him to say it twice, for they all became distillers, and made brandy like him. And thus it happened that to the present day there is no other place in the world where there is so much of brandy burned as at Nordhausen.

And so it turned out as the devil expected. Whenever people got a little brandy into their stomachs they began to swear, and d—d their souls to the devil; so that the devil got them when they were dead without taking any bond from them, and without serving them, as he was obliged to do before, when he sought a man's soul. When the brandy rose into their heads, they collared each other, and fought, and broke their necks; so that the devil was saved all the trouble he had had before in wringing them. And, if the devil had had before the greatest pains to be imagined in order to get a poor soul a week for his hell, they came now by their own accord by dozens and scores every day; and scarcely a year passed before hell was too small to hold them. The devil was then obliged to build a new hell at the side of the old one, for the sake of giving them accommodation.

In one word, since the devil got loose from the beech on the Hart-place, since that time brandy was introduced into the world; and, since we have brandy, it may be said "that the devil is loosened," as our proverb goes.