Satan: His Methods and Malice Baffled by Hannah Allen
Content note: depression, suicide, eating disorder, bereavement.
This excerpt is from Hannah Allen’s autobiographical pamphlet Satan: His Methods and Malice Baffled. A pamphlet is a short book, often published and sold quite cheaply in the seventeenth century. They were easy to hold in the hand and carry around, and could be read relatively quickly.
This text was published in 1683, perhaps after Allen had passed away. It is the only thing we know Allen to have written: in fact, it contains pretty much everything we know about her! Allen was a Christian; she seems to have been a non-conformist (a Protestant Christian who didn’t completely agree with the official Church of England). Seventeenth-century non-conformists often used pamphlets to write about themselves and their beliefs and experiences. At the start of Satan: His Methods, Allen explains that her father passed away when she was young, and she married a merchant called Hannibal Allen. Hannibal was often away at sea. When Hannibal died, leaving Hannah a single mother to their child, she was plunged into despair: the despair she describes at length in the excerpt. When she recovered from her despair, Allen married her second husband: Mr Hatt. Allen tells us various details about her life, for instance that she smoked a pipe, lived in Derbyshire and London with various family members, and had several supportive friends and relations around her, including a clergyman called Parson Shorthose. In my opinion, Allen has quite a liking for Shorthose; you can decide for yourself about this if you read the rest of the pamphlet.
Satan: His Methods describes Allen’s four-year-long experience of suicidal melancholy in the 1650s and 1660s. Allen includes in her pamphlet several of her journal entries from the 1660s (you see some in the excerpt), reflections about her life, letters she wrote, and some third-person narrative (where she writes about herself as if she was another person). The type of melancholy Allen experienced was known at the time as ‘religious melancholy’. Religious melancholy involved sad, often suicidal, feelings that centred around religious beliefs. Several other seventeenth-century writers (like John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress) experienced religious melancholy. Like them, Allen believed she had committed an ‘Unpardonable Sin’: a sin so bad that she would go to hell and God would never forgive her. She writes about how extremely wicked she believed herself to be, and how she ruminated about dying and going to hell. At one point she ate so little she was ‘nothing but Skin and Bones’. She also self-harmed and looked for ways to die.
Although Allen lived in a very different context from ours, there are many ways in which we might relate to her writing. She talks about journalling as a way of managing her emotions, for example: something many people do today! In other ways, however, her text is specific to its time, and to her. For example, she believed that smoking spiders in her pipe would kill her, so she tried this – then became afraid and called for her brother to save her. She underwent seventeenth-century ‘cures’ for melancholy, like bloodletting. She also describes several memorable experiences that we might find foreign, for example, the devil knocking on her door ‘like the hand of a Giant’.
We might call Allen a neurodivergent person. She hears voices, experiences what she later calls ‘delusions’ (she hears some young men singing and believes they are devils singing about her) and has intrusive thoughts she describes as ‘injections into my mind’. Hearing voices has long been a key feature of several religions, including Christianity. She says she wrote her pamphlet to reassure other melancholics that they could get better, like she did.
Satan: His Methods and Malice Baffled
Content note: depression, suicidal thoughts.
The sixth of April 64. The truth is I know not well what to say, for as yet I am under sad Melancholy, and sometimes dreadful Temptations, to have hard thoughts of my dearest Lord (The least assenting to which by his grace I dread more than Hell itself) Temptations to impatience and despair, and to give up all for lost; and to close with the Devil and forsake my God, which the Almighty for Christ’s sake forbid: These Temptations were with dreadful violence. Besides, my Melancholy hath bad effects upon my body, greatly impairing my Health: Truly there is sometimes such a woeful confusion and combating in my Soul, that I know not what to do; And now my earnest Prayer to my Lord is this, (which I trust for Christ’s sake he will not deny me, though I cannot beg it with such earnest affections as I should, yet I hope my heart is sincere) that for my sweet Redeemer’s sake he would preserve me from Sin and give me strength of Faith; and Self-denial and patience to wait upon him, and submit to him; and let him do with me what he pleaseth:
My God, I know thou hast (for ever adored be thy Majesty) appeared for me in many great and sore straits; for the Lord Jesus sake now appear in mercy for me; that I may have exceeding cause to bless thee for this thy mercy also, and give me an assurance that thou art mine, and that thou wilt never leave me, till thou hast brought me to thy Self in glory.
The 12th. of May, 64. Still my time of great distress and sore trials continues, sometimes the Devil tempts me woefully to hard and strange thoughts of my dear Lord; which (through his mercy) I dread and abhor the assenting to more than Hell itself; in a word, every day at present seems a great burden to me; My earnest Prayer is,
For the Lord’s sake, that if it be thy holy will, I might not perish in this great affliction which hath been of so long continuance, and is so great still notwithstanding means used, however for the Lord’s sake, let it be Sanctified to my eternal good, and give me grace suitable to my condition, and strength to bear my burden, and then do with me what thou wilt; I know not what to say; the Lord pity me in every respect and appear for me, in these my great straits both of Soul and Body; I know not what to do, I shall be undone;
This I write to see what God will do with me, whether ever he will deliver me out of such a distress as this that I may have cause to praise and adore his name in the Land of the Living; Lord, comfort me and support me and revive me for Christ’s sake.
May 26th. 64. I desire (which the Lord help me to do) exceedingly to bless and praise thy Majesty that hath yet in some measure supported me under these dreadful trials and temptations, which do yet continue and have been woeful upon me, for almost four Months together; For Christ’s sake pity my case, or else I know not what to do; and do not deny me strength to bear up under my burden; and for the Lord’s sake grant, whatever thou dost with me, that one Sin may not be in me, unrepented of or unmortified; Do with me what thou wilt as to the Creature, so thou wilt subdue my sins, and chain up Satan, and smile upon my Soul; Lord, I know not what to do, only mine Eyes are up to thee, the Devil still keeps me under dreadful bondage, and in sad distress and woe, but blessed be my God, that he doth not lay upon me all afflictions at once; that my Child is so well, and that I have so many other mercies, which the Lord open my Eyes to see; especially that Christ is mine, for the Lord’s sake, and then I have enough.
After this I writ no more, but this and much more I writ before my last Journey aforesaid, for by that time I came back, I soon after fell into deep Despair, and my language and condition grew sadder than before. Now little to be heard from me, but lamenting my woeful state, in very sad and dreadful Expressions; As that I was undone for ever; that I was worse than Cain or Judas; that now the Devil had overcome me irrecoverably; that this was what he had been aiming at all along; Oh the Devil hath so deceiv’d me as never any one was deceived; he made me believe my condition was good when I was a cursed Hypocrite.
One night, I said there was a great clap of Thunder like the shot of a Piece of Ordnance, came down directly over my Bed; and that the same night, a while after, I heard like the voice of two Young Men singing in the Yard, over against my Chamber; which I said were Devils in the likeness of Men, singing for joy that they had overcome me; and in the morning as I was going to rise, that Scripture in the 10th. of Heb. and the last words of the 26th. Verse, was suggested to me from Heaven (as I thought) There remains no more Sacrifice for sin; And this delusion remained with me as an Oracle all along; that by this miracle of the Thunder, and the Voice and the Scripture, God revealed to me that I was Damned: When my Aunt asked me, Do you think God would work a Miracle to convince you that you are rejected? it is contrary to the manner of God’s proceedings; we do not read of such a thing in all the Scripture.
My Answer was, Therefore my condition is unparalell’d, there was never such an one since God made any Creature either Angels or Men, nor never will be to the end of the world.
One night as I was sitting by the fire, all of a sudden I said I should die presently; whereupon my Aunt was called; to whom I said, Aunt, I am just dying, I cannot live an hour if there were no more in the world; in this opinion I continued a great while, every morning saying, I should die before night, and every night, before morning: when I was thus in my dying condition, I often begged earnestly of my Aunt to bring up my Child strictly, that if it were possible, he might be saved, though he had such a Mother.
Many places of Scripture I would repeat with much terror, applying them to my self; as Jer. vi. 29, 30. The bellows are burnt, the lead is consumed of the fire; the Founder melteth in vain; Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them; Ezek. xxiv. 13. In thy filthiness is lewdness, because I have purged thee and thou wast not purged; thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee: Luke xiii. 24. Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able: This last Scripture I would express with much passionate weeping, saying, This is a dreadful Scripture, I sought, but not in a right way; for the Devil blinded mine eyes, I sought to enter but was not able.
When both my inward and outward distempers grew to such a height, my Aunt acquainted my Friends at London with my condition, for at London I had formerly had four loving Uncles, my Father’s brethren; two whereof were then living, and a Brother of my own, that was set up in his Trade: These advised to send me up to London; there being the best means both for Soul and Body; in order to which Mrs. Wilson sent to entreat my Mother to accompany me to London; (for at that time she could not leave her Family so long) who accordingly came, but she found it a hard work to persuade me to this Journey; for I said I should not live to get to the Coach, but I must go and die by the way to please my friends: I went up in the Tamworth Coach, so that it was Twenty two Miles thither, Tuesday was the day we set forwards on; and on that day in particular, the Devil had suggested to me (the Friday before) that I must die and be with him; and this the more confirmed me in my fear: My Aunt went with me that day’s journey, which was first to Tamworth on Horse-back, and from thence Nine Miles farther in the Coach to Nun-Eton, which was a long journey, for one so weak and ill as I was. My Aunt complaining of weariness; Ah, said I, but what must I do, that must have no rest to all eternity: The next morning I would fain have returned back with my Aunt, but there we parted, and I went forward with my Mother, and a very sad Journey my Mother had with me, for every Morning she had no small trouble to persuade me to rise to go on my Journey; I would earnestly argue against it, and say, I shall surely die by the way, and had I not better die in bed? Mother, do you think people will like to have a dead Corpse in the Coach with them? but still at last my Mother with much patience and importunity prevailed with me: As I passed along the way, if I saw a Church, as soon as I cast mine eyes upon it, it was presently suggested to me, that’s a Hell-house with a kind of indignation; and this I thought was from my self, and therefore never spoke of it till after my recovery, for I thought if it had been known how vile I was, I must have been put to some horrible death: When I saw any black Clouds gather, or the Wind rise (as we went along) I presently concluded that some dreadful thing would fall out to show what an One I was.
When I came to London, I went to my Brother’s House in Swithens-lane, where my Mother stayed with me about three Weeks or a Month, in which time I took much Physick [medicine] of one Mr. Cocket a Chemist that lived over the way, but still I was, as I thought, always dying; and I yet wearying my Mother with such fancies and stories; One Evening my Mother said to me, Well, if you will believe you shall be saved if you die not this night, I will believe all that you say to be true if you do die this night; to this she agreed, and in the night about one a Clock (as we thought) the Maid being newly gone out of the Chamber to Bed, but left a Watch-light burning, we both heard like the hand of a Giant, knock four times together on the Chamber door, which made a great noise (the Door being Wainscot;) then said I, You see, Mother, though I died not tonight, the Devil came to let you know that I am damn’d; my Mother answered, but you see he had no power to come into the Chamber.
Some themes and questions to consider
Feelings and Perception: What words would you use to describe how Allen felt? How much does this change her experience of the world around her?
Narration and voice: Allen plays with different modes of narrating her experience in her writing. What does this do for us as readers trying to see her experience?
Pamphlets: how does the kind of text through which we encounter someone’s story change the way we might read it?
The full text of Satan: His Methods and Malice is available from Early English Books Online.
If you’re looking for a longer reading experience, you could bring this text alongside Jane Eyre, and the frightening experience of the red room, from Season 1.
Hearing the Voice
Project at Durham University about hearing voices.
Before Depression 1600–1880
A project examining ‘what depression was like before it was called depression’.
Visions and Voice-Hearing in Medieval and Early-Modern Contexts
Edited by Corinne Saunders and Hilary Powell. Google Books preview.
The Literature of Hell
Edited by Margaret Kean. Google Books preview.
Hearing Voices Demonic and Divine
By Chris Cook. Open access.
About the Contributor
Dr Laura Seymour teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford. Her research focuses on neurodiversity in sixteenth- to eighteenth-century literature. Her first book, Refusing to Behave in Early Modern Literature, is about people who did not follow social rules in English and Spanish texts from the 1500s to the 1700s. Her recent publications include an article about Hannah Allen in the journal Studies in English Literature. She is currently writing her second book, Shakespeare and Neurodiversity (Cambridge University Press, 2024): a guide to teaching Shakespeare in a neurodiversity-inclusive way. She is interested in mental health in literature and life, and thinks it is important to talk and write about difficult topics, just like Hannah Allen did. Laura co-runs Neurodiversity at Oxford, a project to connect, celebrate, and empower Oxford University’s neurodiverse community.