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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Die Elixiere des Teufels

DIE ELIXIERE DES TEUFELS. The Devil's Elixir (by T. A. Hoffmann, 1816); has held for a century a leading place among the shudder-tales of diabolism. In a cloister is preserved among the relics a bottle once left by the devil in the cell of Saint Anthony. Whoever tastes its contents becomes possessed by Satan. Brother Medardus, to keep his imperiled fame as a preacher, drinks, and gains an intense new life for evil. Haunted by a terrible unknown presence, protected from the consequences of his crimes by his “double,” a crazy Capuchin, who takes the punishments, he runs a wild course of successful criminality as hunter, gambler, and so on, with intervals of self-revealing terrors that border on insanity, and every device of literary fancy to make the naive reader's blood run cold. At last the ex-monk and libertine returns, after long and gruesome penance, to his cloister and, after a weird phantasmagoria of ghost-walking and witches' sabbath, attains an edifying death. The book is remarkable, even in comparison with Hoffmann's other tales of terror, for its exhaustless invention, the realistic illusion of its utter unreality, and its power to grip the imagination, while the author seems to smile with romantic irony at his own power. The fantastic humor of “Devil-Hoffmann” finds more congenial expression in ‘Lebensansichten des Katers Murr.’ An English translation of the ‘Elixir’ appeared in 1824, and has been followed by many others.