The Devil's Walk

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Critical Text

edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat

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01        ONCE, early in the morning,
02          Beelzebub arose,
03        With care his sweet person adorning,
04          He put on his Sunday clothes.
05        He drew on a boot to hide his hoof,
06          He drew on a glove to hide his claw,
07        His horns were concealed by Bras Chapeau,
08        And the Devil went forth as natty a Beau,
09          As Bond-street ever saw.
10        He sate him down, in London town,
11           Before earth's morning ray,
12        With a favourite imp he began to chat,
13        On religion, and scandal, this and that,
14           Until the dawn of day.
15        And then to St. James's court he went,
16           And St. Paul's Church he took in his way,
17        He was mighty thick with every Saint,
18           Tho' they were formal and he was gay.
19        The Devil was an agriculturist,
20           And as bad weeds quickly grow,
21        In looking over his farm, I wist
22           He wouldn't find cause for woe.
23        He peeped in each hole, to each chamber stole,
24           His promising live stock to view;
25        Grinning applause, he just shewed them his claws,
26        And they shrunk with affright from his ugly sight,
27           Whose works they delighted to do.
28        Satan poked his red nose into crannies so small,
29           One would think that the innocents fair,
30        Poor lambkins! were just doing nothing at all,
31        But settling some dress or arranging some ball,
32           But the Devil saw deeper there.
33        A Priest, at whose elbow the Devil during prayer,
34           Sate familiarly, side by side,
35        Declared, that if the tempter were there,
36           His presence he would not abide;
37        Ah! Ah! thought Old Nick, that's a very stale trick,
38        For without the Devil, O! favourite of evil,
39           In your carriage you would not ride.
40        Satan next saw a brainless King,
41           Whose house was as hot as his own,
42        Many imps in attendance were there on the wing,
43        They flapped the pennon and twisted the sting,
44           Close by the very Throne.
45        Ah, ha! thought Satan, the pasture is good,
46           My Cattle will here thrive better than others,
47        They dine on news of human blood,
48        They sup on the groans of the dying and dead,
49        And supperless never will go to bed;
50           Which will make them as fat as their brothers.
51        Fat as the fiends that feed on blood,
52           Fresh and warm from the fields of Spain,
53             Where ruin ploughs her gory way,
54        When the shoots of earth are nipped in the bud,
55             Where Hell is the Victor's prey,
56           Its glory the meed of the slain.
57        Fat­as the death birds on Erin's shore,
58        That glutted themselves in her dearest gore,
59           And flitted round Castlereagh,
60        When they snatched the Patriot's heart, that his grasp
61        Had torn from its widow's maniac clasp,
62           And fled at the dawn of day.
63        Fat­as the reptiles of the tomb,
64           That riot in corruption's spoil,
65        That fret their little hour in gloom,
66           And creep, and live the while.
67        Fat as that Prince's maudlin brain,
68           Which addled by some gilded toy,
69        Tired, gives his sweetmeat, and again
70           Cries for it, like a humoured boy.
71        For he is fat, his waistcoat gay,
72        When strained upon a levee day,
73           Scarce meets across his princely paunch,
74        And pantaloons are like half moons,
75           Upon each brawny haunch.
76        How vast his stock of calf! when plenty
77           Had filled his empty head and heart,
78        Enough to satiate foplings twenty,
79           Could make his pantaloon seams start.
80        The Devil, (who sometimes is called nature,)
81           For men of power provides thus well,
82        Whilst every change, and every feature,
83           Their great original can tell.
84        Satan saw a lawyer, a viper slay,
85           That crawled up the leg of his table,
86        It reminded him most marvellously,
87           Of the story of Cain and Abel.
88        The wealthy yeoman, as he wanders,
89           His fertile fields among,
90        And on his thriving cattle ponders,
91           Counts his sure gains, and hums a song;
92        Thus did the Devil, thro' earth walking,
93           Hum low a hellish song.
94        For they thrive well, whose garb of gore,
95           Is Satan's choicest livery,
96        And they thrive well, who from the poor,
97           Have snatched the bread of penury,
98        And heap the houseless wanderer's store,
99           On the rank pile of luxury.
100        The Bishops thrive, tho' they are big,
101           The Lawyers thrive, tho' they are thin;
102        For every gown, and every wig,
103           Hides the safe thrift of Hell within.
104        Thus pigs were never counted clean,
105           Altho' they dine on finest corn;
106        And cormorants are sin-like lean,
107           Altho' they eat from night to morn.
108        Oh! why is the Father of Hell in such glee,
109             As he grins from ear to ear?
110        Why does he doff his clothes joyfully,
111           As he skips, and prances, and flaps his wing,
112           As he sidles, leers, and twirls his sting,
113             And dares, as he is, to appear?
114        A Statesman pass'd­alone to him,
115           The Devil dare his whole shape uncover,
116        To show each feature, every limb,
117           Secure of an unchanging lover.
118        At this known sign, a welcome sight,
119           The watchful demons sought their King,
120        And every fiend of thy Stygian night,
121           Was in an instant on the wing.
122        Pale Loyalty, his guilt steeled brow,
123           With wreaths of gory laurel crowned:
124        The hell-hounds, Murder, Want and Woe,
125           For ever hungering flocked around;
126        From Spain had Satan sought their food,
127        'Twas human woe and human blood!
128        Hark, the earthquake's crash I hear,
129           Kings turn pale, and Conquerors start,
130        Ruffians tremble in their fear,
131           For their Satan doth depart.
132        This day fiends give to revelry,
133           To celebrate their King's return,
134        And with delight its sire to see,
135           Hell's adamantine limits burn.
136        But were the Devil's sight as keen,
137           As Reason's penetrating eye,
138        His sulphurous Majesty I ween,
139           Would find but little cause for joy.
140        For the sons of Reason see,
141           That ere fate consume the Pole,
142        The false Tyrant's cheek shall be,
143           Bloodless as his coward soul.

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The Devil's Walk  exists in both a broadside and a letter version. See the editors' headnote as well as the sections entitled Other Romantic Devils, Historical Contexts, Printing and Attempts to Circulate "The Devil's Walk", Textual Transmission, and Copy-text for a fuller description of its history and significance.

Line numbers lead to variants within that line. When a line number is italicized, there is a variation between this text and the copy-text. Clicking on a highlighted number will take you directly to its linked variant. This variant will appear in the bottom frame at the very top of a page that will also contain variants for subsequent lines.

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If you wish, you can browse the variants and the annotations independently:

  • primary variants from our critically edited text as collated against the copy of the 1812 broadside in the Public Record Office (1812.PRO).
  • broadside variants from our critically edited text as collated against all witnesses (i.e., the primary witness and 1871, 1876, 1892, 1927, 1970, 1972, and 1989).
  • letter variants from our diplomatic text as collated against all witnesses (i.e., 1890, 1927/i, 1927/viii, 1964J, 1972, and 1989).
  • annotations by the editors:
For full citations of these sources and sources in the editors' notes, see the bibliography.

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