Twardowski The Polish Faust

Toward the close of the eighteenth century there was pointed out to

visitors in the old town of Krakau the house of the magician

Twardowski, who quite properly was called the Faust of Poland, because

of his dealings with the Evil One.

In his youth Twardowski had followed the study of medicine, and with

such industry, such eagerness and such a clear mind did he practice

his profession that it was not long before he was the most celebrated

doctor in all Poland. But Twardowski was not satisfied with this. He

craved greater and still greater power.

At last one day, as he was reading, he found in an old book of magic

that for which he had long been seeking--the formula for summoning the

devil. When night came a storm had risen, but caring not for that he

hurried away to the lonely mountain Kremenki. There, in a rudely

constructed hut, he began his incantations.

Before long there was an earthquake; great rocks were loosened, the

ground opened at Twardowski's feet and flames leaped out; and in the

flames appeared the Evil One himself, in the form of a man, clad in a

red cloak with the well-known pointed red cap.

"What do you wish?" the devil asked.

"The power of your most secret wisdom," was the answer.

"And how is this to be done?"

"You shall make me the most celebrated of all the learned men of the

century, and shall besides give me such happiness as no man has ever

enjoyed upon this earth before."

"So be it," said the devil. "But on condition that at the end of

seven years I gain possession of your soul."

"You may take me," answered Twardowski, "but only in Rome may you have

power over me. Thither, at the end of seven years, will I go."

The devil hesitated over this clause, but thinking of the fun he could

have in the holy city, finally agreed. Leaning against the wall of

stone he wrote the compact, which Twardowski, making a slight wound in

his arm, signed with his own blood.

When Twardowski descended from the mountain and made his way, book

under arm, through the valley, he heard the bells in all the towers of

the city ringing out clearly and solemnly on the still night air. He

listened, wondering at the unaccustomed noise, then hurried into the

town, inquiring from every one he met what the occasion was. But no

one seemed to have heard the sound.

Then a deep feeling of sadness came over him as he realized the

meaning of the bells. They were the funeral knell of his own soul.

When morning came, however, doubts were forgotten, and Twardowski was

glad to have the devil at his command. The first thing that he

demanded was to have all the silver of Poland gathered together in one

place and covered over with great mounds of sand.

Similar requests followed, and it was not long before the devil

repented of his bargain. One day it would please Twardowski to fly

without wings through the air; on another, to the delight of the

crowd, to gallop backward on a cock; on another to float in a boat

without a rudder or sail, accompanied by some maiden who for the

moment had inflamed his heart. One day, by the use of his magic

mirror, he set fire to the castle of an enemy a mile away. This last

feat made him greatly feared by people far and wide.

At last the seven years were up. The devil appeared to Twardowski and


"Twardowski, the time of our pact is over, and I command you to

fulfill your promise and go to Rome."

"What shall I do there?"

"Give me your immortal soul," was the answer.

"Do you think I am a fool?" asked Twardowski.

"You gave me your promise to go to Rome after seven years."

"That I have already done," said Twardowski, "and I did not promise to

stay in Rome."

"Noble deceiver!" exclaimed the Evil One.

"Stupid devil!" cried Twardowski.

Then after a struggle the devil vanished and Twardowski returned home.

For over a year he pored incessantly over his books of magic, until at

last he found a formula for warding off death. Then he called his

disciple Famulus to him and explained that he was going to test the


"You have always obliged me without question," said Twardowski, "and I

expect you to now. Take this knife and thrust it into my heart."

"God forbid!" cried Famulus.

"Why are you frightened? I know what I am doing. Take the knife and

kill me, as the parchment directs."

"I cannot."

"You must," insisted Twardowski.

"It is impossible!"

"No more exclamations. Do as I tell you."

"Oh, oh, oh!" wailed Famulus.

"Strike!" thundered Twardowski, "or I will kill you this instant."

Then Famulus did as he was bid and forced the blade into his master's


Twardowski uttered a low cry, fell, and was soon dead.

Famulus dropped trembling into a chair and covered his face with his

hands. Then he remembered that he must read the remainder of the

parchment in order to find out what he must do to restore the body to


Then he set about the task, severed the limbs of the dead body, and

worked and brewed and distilled until the elixir described in the

parchment was prepared.

With the elixir he rubbed the members of the master's body, put them

together, and laid the corpse in a coffin. This he buried on the

following night, explaining to Twardowski's friends that such had been

the master's wish.

Now the parchment stated that the body must remain in the grave seven

years, seven months, seven days and seven hours; so Famulus could do

nothing but wait. At last the time had expired, and on a snowy, cold

December night he found his way to the grave. He dug out the coffin,

brushed off the snow and earth, opened the casket and found--not the

body of Twardowski, but that of a child who lay sleeping in a bed of

fragrant violets.

"The child is like Twardowski," Famulus thought, and he gathered him

up under his cloak and carried him home. The next morning the child

was the size of a twelve-year old; and after seven weeks he was a

full-grown man.

Twardowski, who now seemed quite himself, only younger, and stronger,

thanked Famulus and resumed again his study of magic. He desired,

above all things, to be freed forever from his compact with the devil.

This, he read in one of the books, he might do if he would brave the

terrors of the underworld.

So Twardowski determined to enter the gates of hell. At his magic

speech the ground opened and he began the path of descent. Blue flames

lighted the way. Deeper and deeper he went through dark and winding

passages. At last he reached the underworld itself, and many awful

sights did he behold.

And the farther he went the more frightened did he become. He could

not help feeling that the devil had plotted something against him.

Finally he found himself in a small room, and cast a hasty glance

around, looking for a means of escape.

Seeing a child in a cradle in one corner of the room he seized it

hastily, threw his cloak around it, and was about to leave when the

door opened and the Evil One entered.

He made a respectful bow and said, "Will you be good enough to go with

me now?"

"Why so?" asked Twardowski, obstinately.

"Because of our agreement."

"But," said the magician, "only in Rome have you power over me."

"Yes," replied the devil, "and Rome is the name of this house."

"You think to trick me by a pun; but you cannot. I carry this talisman

of innocence," and throwing aside his cloak, he disclosed the sleeping


Anger showed in the face of the devil; but he stepped nearer to

Twardowski and said softly:

"What are you thinking of, Twardowski? Have you forgotten your

promise? The nobleman's word is sacred to him."

Pride awoke in the breast of the magician.

"I must keep my word," he said, laying the child back in the crib, and

surrendering himself.

On the shoulders of the devil two wings appeared, like the wings of a

bat. He seized Twardowski and flew away with him, mounting higher and

higher into the night. The magician was so terrified and suffered

such anguish in the clutches of the Evil One that in a few moments he

was changed into an old man, but he did not lose consciousness. At

last so high were they that cities appeared like flies and Krakau with

its mighty turrets like two spiders. Deeply moved, Twardowski looked

down upon the scene of all his struggles and all his joys.

But higher and higher they went--higher than any eagle has ever

flown--and more lonely and more fearful did it seem to Twardowski.

Only occasionally bright stars passed by them, or fiery meteors,

leaving a long streak of light behind.

At last they came to the moon, which stared at them with dead eyes.

Then a song that Twardowski had read in his mother's hymn book rose to

his lips. And as he repeated mechanically the prayer his mother had

taught him an angel suddenly appeared and said:

"Satan, let Twardowski go; and you, Twardowski, hang you there between

heaven and earth, to atone for your sin until the Last Judgment. Then

will you be reunited with your mother in heaven. The prayer which you

remembered in your hour of need has saved you."

And so, according to the story, Twardowski is suspended in the vault

of heaven to this very day.

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