In the short story, a New Hampshire farmer named Jabez Stone is down on his luck so he sells his soul to the devil in return for 7 years of prosperity. When the devil, called Mr. Scratch, finally comes to collect on his contract, fellow New Hampshireman and legendary orator Daniel Webster takes the devil to court, and acts as Jabez’s lawyer. The judge and jury are to be hand-picked by Mr. Scratch on condition that they all be Americans. Mr. Scratch of course picks some of the most despicable figures in American history. I won’t tell you who wins the court battle. I hope you’ll read the short story to find out.
The vivid imagination and skilful pen of Stephen Vincent Benét are amply in display in this short story. Benét’s prose has a strong musical and rhythmical quality to it. This is not surprising, for he also wrote a lot of poetry. He even won a Pulitzer prize for his wonderful, long narrative poem “John Brown’s Body”. I’ve personally read a fair amount of Benét’s work, because I like his style so much. Unfortunately, he died at the early age of 44 of a heart attack. However, he did write quite a lot of stuff, considering his early demise.
A contest between a man and the devil: Such contests have been described since time immemorial in numerous works of art. I’m hard pressed to think of a more universally appealing or riveting type of contest.
In my version of the contest, a beautiful mistress called Miss Thermica (short for Miss Thermodynamics, or Miss Hottie) has been flirting with the devil. Mr. Scratch alleges that because she was given so much beauty, he now owns her soul, which is called The Second Law. Revered Bayes, a legendary orator, and one of the few men in existence with enough courage to confront Old Scratch, takes Ole pointy ears to court to prevent him from taking possession of the Second Law. Want to read a transcript of the court proceedings for this case? Riveting stuff! If so, then check out my new papers