meaning and origin of ‘street angel (and) house devil’

The phrase street angel (and) house devil, also house devil (and) street angel, describes someone who behaves exemplarily in public, but who is abusive in private life—cf. also more holy than righteous.

This phrase is a calque of German Strass-Engel Haus-Teufel—as indicated in this passage from O’Connell: His diary from 1792 to 1802, and letters. Now for the first time published. Part VI, an unsigned article published in The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son) of October 1882:

There are a great many public men who do not improve on further acquaintance. This is one of the applications of the German sarcasm, “strass-engel, haus-teufel” [street-angel, house devil], though one does not need to be a great public man to be a pleasant fellow to meet in public and yet a very disagreeable member of the domestic circle.

The borrowing from German was also mentioned in the review of Bismarck’s Letters to His Wife from the Seat of War. 1870—1871 (London: Jarrold and Sons, 1915)—review published in The Herald (London, England) of Saturday 13th February 1915:

Nothing is more injurious to the progress of the world than judgments formed on the more fleeting glances which we obtain of the public life of any man. What counts is what he is at home when the mask has fallen off. A German saying has it: Strass-Engel; Haus-Teufel ( “Street, angel; house, devil”). We are too prone to disassociate the “private” life of a man from his “public” life, forgetting all the time that if the former be evil, so will the expression in the latter be evil also.

The earliest occurrence of the metaphor that I have found is from The Indiana Herald (Huntington, Indiana) of Wednesday 10th June 1863:

Many who in the street seem angels are in their houses devils.

The earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from the Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) of Thursday 9th May 1878:

A family quarrel was ventilated in police court, this morning. Daniel Hornberger was complained of for an assault on his wife, Meta Hornberger. Mrs. Hornberger testified that last Monday morning her husband lost a button from his shirt and his wrath was kindled to such a degree that he slapped her face, blackened her eye, broke one leg from a chair and proceeded to beat her with it. Mr. Hornberger denied his wife’s story and denounced her as “unpeaceable” and “a street angel and house devil.” Chief Whitney testified that the woman had often complained of ill treatment, but would never complain of her husband till this occurrence. Hornberger was fined $15 and costs and was ordered to give bonds in the sum of $50 to keep the peace six months. In default of payment he went down to South Fitchburg.

The second-earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from the portrait of a character named Alonzo Jakeway, in Clary’s Trial, a short story by the U.S. author Rose Terry Cooke (1827-1892), published in The Atlantic Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company) of April 1880:

Had he been brought up in polite society, where the outside friction of well-bred people from infancy does, in spite of the utmost self-indulgence and uncurbed temper, modify a man’s manner and speech, he would still have been, like a hundred others, “street angel and house devil.”

The following are illustrations for “Street Angel; House Devil”: A menace described by Judith Simons, published in The Weekly Telegraph (Sheffield, Yorkshire, England) of Saturday 9th December 1950:

street angel - The Weekly Telegraph (Sheffield, Yorkshire) - 9 December 1950

     —nothing is too much trouble.

house devil - The Weekly Telegraph (Sheffield, Yorkshire) - 9 December 1950

          —almost everything is too much trouble.

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