Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/788

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771
RABELAIS


apocryphal. The same may be said of the numerous silly stories told of his life, such as that of his procuring a free passage to Paris by inscribing packets “ Poison for the king,” and so forth.

Ten years after the publication of the fourth book and nine after the supposed date of the author's death there appeared at Lyons sixteen chapters entitled lÎ'le sonnante par maistre François Rabelais, and two years later the entire fifth book was printed as such. In 1567 it took place with the others, and has ever since appeared with them. But from the beginning of the 17th century there have never been wanting disbelievers in its authenticity. The controversy is one of some intricacy, but as it is also one of capital importance in literary history the heads of it at least must be given here. The opponents of the book rely (1) on the testimony of a certain Louis Guyon, who in 1604 declared that the fifth book was made long after Rabelais's death by an author whom he knew, and who was not a doctor, and on the assertion of the bibliographer Du Verdier, about the same time, that it was written by an “ écolier de Valence ”; (2) on the fact that the anti-monastic and even anti-Catholic polemic is much more accentuated in it; (3) on the arguments that parts are apparently replicas or rough drafts of passages already appearing in the four earlier books; and (4) that some allusions are manifestly posterior to even the furthest date which can be assigned for the reputed author's decease. On the other hand, it is urged that, though Guyon and Du Verdier were in a sense contemporaries, they wrote long after the events, and that the testimony of the former is vitiated, not merely by its extreme vagueness, but by the fact that it occurs in a plaidoyer, tending to exculpate physicians from the charge of unorthodoxy; that Du Verdier in another place assigns the Pantagrueline Prognostication to this same unknown student of Valence, and had therefore probably confused and hearsay notions on the subject; that the rasher and fiercer tone, as well as the apparent repetitions, are sufficiently accounted for on the supposition that Rabelais never finally revised the book, which indeed dates show that he could not have done, as the fourth was not finally settled till just before his death; and that it is perfectly probable, and indeed almost certain, that it was prepared from his papers by another hand, which is responsible for the anachronous allusions above referred to. But the strongest argument, and one which has never been attacked by authorities really competent to judge, is that the “ griffe de l'aigle ” is on the book, and that no known author of the time except Rabelais was capable of writing the passage about the Chats fourrés, the better part of the history of Queen Whims (La Quinte) and her court, and the conclusion giving the Oracle of the Bottle. To this argument we believe that the more competent a critic is, both by general faculty of appreciation and by acquaintance with contemporary French literature, the more positive will be the assent that he yields. The reader must, however, be on his guard against confusing the authenticity of the fifth book generally with that of supposed early copies of it. Quite recently it was announced that an edition of 1549 had turned up in Germany; but the investigations of M. R. Stein, un Rabelais apocrypha (1901), repeated and confirmed by M. A. Lefranc in the Revue des études Rabelaisiennes (1905), disposed of the matter. The substance of the apocryphal document is quite different from our fifth book.

Gargantua and Pantagruel, notwithstanding their high literary standing and the frequency with which certain passages from them are cited, are, owing partly to their archaism of language and partly to the extreme licence which their author has allowed himself, so little read that no notice of them or of him could be complete without some sketch of their contents. The first book, Gargantua, describes the birth of that hero (a giant and the son of gigantic parents), whose nativity is ushered in by the account of a tremendous feast. In this the burlesque exaggeration of the pleasures of eating and drinking, which is one of the chief exterior notes of the whole work, is pushed to an extreme—an extreme which has attracted natural but perhaps undue attention. Very early, however, the author becomes serious in contrasting the early education of his hero—a satire on the degraded schools of the middle ages—with its subsequent and reformed stage, in the account of which all the best and noblest ideas of the humanist Renaissance in reference to pedagogy are put with exceptional force. Gargantua is recalled from Paris, whither he had been sent to finish his education, owing to a war between his father, Grandgosier, and the neighbouring king, Picrochole. This war is described at great length, the chief hero of it being the monk, Friar John, a very unclerical cleric, in whom Rabelais greatly delights. Picrochole defeated and peace made, Gargantua establishes the abbey of Thelema in another of Rabelais's most elaborate literary passages, where all the points most obnoxious to him in monastic life are indicated by the assignment of their exact opposites to this model convent. The second book, which introduces the principal hero of the whole, Pantagruel, Gargantua's son, is, on any other hypothesis but that already suggested of its prior composition, very difficult to explain, but in itself it is intelligible enough. Pantagruel goes through something like a second edition (really a first) of the educational experiences of his father. Like him, he goes to Paris, and there meets with Panurge, the principal triumph of Rabelaisian character drawing, and the most original as well as puzzling figure of the book. Panurge has almost all intellectual accomplishments, but is totally devoid of morality: he is a coward, a drunkard, a lecher, a spiteful trickster, a spendthrift, but all the while infinitely amusing. This book, like the other, has a war in its latter part; Gargantua scarcely appears in it and Friar John not at all. It is not till the opening of the third book that the most important action begins. This arises from Panurge's determination to marry—determination, however, which is very half-hearted, and which leads him to consult a vast number of authorities, each giving occasion for satire of a more or less complicated kind. At last it is determined that Pantagruel and his followers (Friar John has reappeared in the suite of the prince) shall set sail to consult the Oracle of the Dive Bouteille. The book ends with the obscurest passage of the whole, an elaborate eulogy of the “ herb pantagruelion," which appears to be, if it is anything, hemp. Only two probable explanations of this have been offered, the one seeing in it an anticipation of Joseph de l'Maistre's glorification of the executioner, the other a eulogy of work, hemp being on the whole the most serviceable of vegetable products for that purpose. The fourth and fifth books are entirely taken up with a description of the voyage. Many strange places with stranger names are visited, some of them offering obvious satire on human institutions, others, except by the most far-fetched explanations, resolvable into nothing but sheer extravaganza. At last the Land of Lanterns, borrowed from Lucian, is reached, and the Oracle of the Bottle is consulted. This yields the single word “ Trinq," which the attendant priestess declares to be the most gracious and intelligible she has ever heard from it. Panurge takes this as a sanction of his marriage, and the book ends abruptly. This singular romance is diversified by, or, to speak more properly, it is the vehicle of the most bewildering abundance of digression, burlesque amplification, covert satire on things political, social and religious, miscellaneous erudition of the literary and scientific kind. Everywhere the author lays stress on the excellence of “ Pantagruelism," and the reader who is himself a Pantagruelist (it is perfectly idle for any other to attempt the book) soon discovers what this means. It is, in plain English, humour. The definition of humour is a generally acknowledged crux, and tili it is defined the definition of Pantagruelism will be in the same position. But that it consists in the extension of a wide sympathy to all human affairs, together with a comprehension of their vanity, may be said as safely as anything else. Moroseness and dogmatism are as far from the Pantagruelism of Rabelais as maudlin sentimentality or dilettantism. Perhaps the chief things lacking in his attitude are, in the first place, reverence, of which, however, from a few passages, it is clear he was by no means totally devoid, and secondly, an appreciation of passion and poetry. Here and there there are touches of the latter, as in the portrait of Quintessence, but passion is everywhere absent—an absence for which the comic structure and plan of the book do not by any means supply a complete explanation.

For a general estimate of Rabelais's literary character and influence the reader may be referred to the article French Literature. But some detailed remarks must be given here. There are three questions without the discussion of which this notice of one of the foremost writers of the world would not be worthy of its present place. These are—What is the general drift and purpose of Gargantua and Pantagruel, supposing there to be any? What defence can be offered, if any defence is needed, for the extraordinary licence of language and imagery which the author has permitted himself? What was his attitude towards the great questions of religion, philosophy and politics? These questions succeed each other in the order of reason. and the answer to each assists the resolution of the next.

There have been few more remarkable instances of the lues commentatoria than the work of the editors of Rabelais. Almost every one appears to have started with a Rabelais ready made in his head, and to have, so to speak, read that Rabelais into the book. Those who have not done this, like Le Duchat, Motteux