“A sure guide to hell” – advice to university students from the Devil himself!

Published in 1751 and purportedly written by Belzebub, A sure guide to hell is a satirical attack on the prevalent follies and vices of the day which form the surest path, in the opinion of the author, to an eternity in the bottomless pit. A response to Joseph Alleine’s A sure guide to heaven, the book is ostensibly an advice manual for sinners, including directions to parents in the education of their children, to youth, to the clergy, and “to those whose minds are possessed with envy, malice, &c.”

Parents are provided with assistance in choosing a suitable school for their spoiled offspring: “If you send him to school, give the master a particular charge … not to correct him, though he should neglect to learn his lesson; thus will he acquire a habit of idleness and carelessness.” Youths are invited to ease their tempers by defacing public building and parks, and are advised to frequent “taverns, playhouses … and masquerades, all of which are nurseries of vice and folly.”

Belzebub also offers helpful advice for students entering the debauchery of higher education: “Perhaps thou may’st come to the university a sober, virtuous youth … I doubt not but thou wilt be surpriz’d and shock’d to see such a dissoluteness of manners reign throughout a place.” Innocents should not worry too much about keeping up with their studies while being led astray: “Thou needst not be concerned about making progress in thy learning … it is beneath a gentleman to trouble himself about the languages, philosophy, logic, rhetoric, &c. … Do thou spend thy evenings jovially … crack some bottles of wine, and a bowl or two of punch; toast the healths of some noted beauties; get drunk … and about three or four o’clock in the morning stagger to bed.”

Cardiff’s copy of A sure guide to hell even boasts a celebrity provenance: a Latin inscription in ink on the front endpaper reads “Donum Luciferi” – a gift from the Devil himself!

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