Faust, a famous magician, the hero of a wellknown folk-story, which has formed the foundation of puppet-plays, dramas, operas, and of Goethe's celebrated philosophic poem, the several authors enlarging or otherwise altering the original legend as suited their purpose. It is said that there was a real Faustus in the 16th century, who gave himself out to be endowed with supernatural powers, and this statement seems to be supported by valid proofs. But the hero of the legend, who sold himself to the Devil, either for the means of gratifying his passions, or for increase of knowledge, is, of course,
The first part opens with an account of Faust's birth, of "poor but honest parents." He prosecuted his studies with success, and took his doctor's ' degree; but his profligate habits brought him to poverty, and he turned to magic as a means of replenishing his purse. At last he resolved to raise the Devil, and this he did in a wood near Wittenberg. The operation was conducted in the following fashion: - At midnight, in the spot selected, Faust traced three concentric circles on the ground, and, having denied God, invoked the Devil three times. Almost immediately a ball of fire ran round the circle, with a noise like the discharge of a park of artillery, and Faust was terribly frightened. But he plucked up courage, and tried another, and still another more potent charm, and at last Satan himself appeared, and asked why he had been summoned. (The folk-story does not give the formula of invocation, but this will be found in Marlowe's play of Dr. Faustus.) Faust told him; and the Devil, having offered to serve him, conditionally, he was conjured to come to Faust's dwelling in the morning to arrange conditions. These were that Faust should deny God and every thing good, and then he was promised for the space of twenty-four years the means of indulgence in every earthly pleasure. Faust agreed, and with his Own blood signed a compact embodying these conditions. The Devil thereupon appointed Mephistopheles (q.v.) to be Faust's servant and familiar, and with this spirit the Doctor was wont to inquire about spirits, heaven, the angels, and once he asked his familiar if the devils would be saved. In reply Mephistopheles quoted St. Paul (Romans xi. 32), as affording them strong ground of hope. Then they discoursed of hell. The remainder of the first book is taken up with an account of Faust's skill as an astrologer and seer, his luxurious mode of living; how he carried three students to Munich on his cloak, rode out of the wine-cellar at Auerbach on a cask; and raised up Menelaus, Achilles, and other heroes for the gratification of some students. Mixed with these adventures is a series of coarse practical jokes, some of which find a place in the low comedy scenes of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus.
The second book opens with the story of Faust's half-hearted repentance. The Devil, however, appeared to him and terrified him into signing a second compact. Then Faust engaged Wagner as his amanuensis. The chief incidents in this book are the aerial hunt which Faust showed Cardinal Campeggio, "foxes and hares running in the sky, Mephistopheles mounted, and in hot pursuit, whilst Faust blowing a huntsman's horn, brought up the rear"; the raising of Alexander the Great and his consort, the procuring ripe fruit in winter, the magical concourse of singing birds, the building a castle and banqueting hall, the raising a dead man to life, and Faust's liaison with Helen of Troy, by whom a son was born to him.
In the third book we see the end approaching.
Faust has made his will, leaving all his property to Wagner, and charging him to write a full account oi his master's adventures, which was not to be made public till after Faust's death. Soon after this the Devil appeared to Faust, telling him the end was near. Wagner tried to comfort him, and to induce him to send for a clergyman. At last Faust did so, and the good man comforted him, and advised him not to argue with the Devil, but to bid him begone.
Faust promised to follow this advice, but when the Devil appeared, and began to dispute, Faust answered him, and, as might be expected, got the worst of the argument. Then he tried to commit suicide, "but invisible hands took the knife away from him," and soon after he died in his chamber without a friend near him. "And when they entered the room they saw that the walls and the table and the chairs were covered with blood; for the Devil had dashed him first against one side of the room and then against the other." Marlowe followed the folk-story pretty closely: and his Faust is a man; the Faust of Goethe's poem is an abstraction, and from the "Prologue in Heaven "one gathers that the German poet intended his Faust to be a second Job, and believed with Longfellow that Lucifer is God's minister. Marlowe's Faustus. according to Lamb, was "busied in speculations that are the rottenest part of the core of the fruit that fell from the tree of knowledge;" Goethe's Faust wants to know the "causes of things" (cf. Verg. Geory. ii. 490). Commentaries almost numberless have been written on this poem, yet it should be its own interpreter, and will reveal its meaning to the man who diligently studies it.
The idea of a compact between man and the Devil dates from early Christian times; and it was the belief of some of the Fathers that a knowledge of magic and alchemy was imparted to man by the fallen angels, and "all that miserable knowledge which is of no use to the soul" was ascribed to the same source.