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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And would have satirised unsurpassably


[Sidenote:

Some objections considered.]

Of course Momus may find handles--he generally can. "You are suffering from morbid senile relapse into puerile enjoyment of indecency," he or Mrs. Momus (whom later ages have called Grundy) may be kind enough to say. "You were a member of the Rabelais Club of pleasant memory, and think it necessary to live up to your earlier profession." "You have said this in print before [I have not exactly done so] and are bound to stick to it," etc. etc. etc., down to that final, "You are a bad critic, and it doesn't matter what you say," which certainly, in a sense, does leave nothing to be replied. But whether this is because the accused is guilty, or because the Court does not call upon him, is a question which one may leave to others.

Laying it down, then, as a point of fact that Rabelais _has_ this curious "holding" quality, whence does he get it? As everybody ought to know, many good people, admitting the fact, have, as he would himself have said, gone about with lanterns to seek for out-of-the-way reasons and qualities; while some people, not so good, but also accepting the fact in a way, have grasped at the above-mentioned indecency itself for an explanation. This trick requires little effort to kick it into its native gutter. The greater proportion of the "_Indexable_" part of Rabelais is mere nastiness, which is only attractive to a very small minority of persons at any age, while to

expert readers it is but a time-deodorised dunghill by the roadside, not beautiful, but negligible. Of the other part of this kind--the "naughty" part which is not nasty and may be somewhat nice--there is, when you come to consider it dispassionately, not really so very much, and it is seldom used in a seductive fashion. It may tickle, but it does not excite; may create laughter, but never passion or even desire. Therefore it cannot be this which "holds" any reader but a mere novice or a glutton for garbage.

Less easily dismissible, but, it will seem, not less inadequate is the alleged "key"-interest of the book. Of course there are some people, and more than a person who wishes to think nobly of humanity might desire to find, who seem never to be tired of identifying Grandgousier, Gargantua, and Pantagruel himself with French kings to whom they bear not the slightest resemblance; of obliging us English by supposing us to be the Macreons (who seem to have been very respectable people, but who inhabit an island singularly unlike England in or anywhere near the time of Rabelais), and so on. But to a much larger number of persons--and one dares say to all true Pantagruelists--these interpretations are either things that the Master himself would have delighted to satirise, and would have satirised unsurpassably, or, at best, mere superfluities and supererogations. At any rate there is no possibility of finding in them the magic spell--the "Fastrada's ring," which binds youth and age alike to the unique "Alcofribas Nasier."

One must, it is supposed, increase the dose of respect (though some people, in some cases, find it hard) when considering a further quality or property--the Riddle-attraction of Rabelais. This riddle-attraction--or attractions, for it might be better spoken of in a very large plural--is of course quite undeniable in itself. There are as many second intentions in the ordinary sense, apparently obvious in _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_, as there can have been in the scholastic among the dietary of La Quinte, or of any possible Chimaera buzzing at greatest intensity in the extremest vacuum. On the other hand, some of us are haunted by the consideration, "Was there ever any human being more likely than Francois Rabelais to echo (with the slightest change) the words ascribed to Divinity in that famous piece which is taken, on good external and ultra-internal evidence, to be Swift's?


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