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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The innocent simple believeth every word etc



Master Francis does not exactly plunge into the middle of things; but he spends comparatively little time on the preliminaries of the ironical Prologue to the "very illustrious drinkers," on the traditionally necessary but equally ironical genealogy of the hero, on the elaborate verse _amphigouri_ of the _Fanfreluches Antidotees_, and on the mock scientific discussion of extraordinarily prolonged periods of pregnancy. Without these, however, he will not come to the stupendous banquet of tripe (properly washed down, and followed by pleasant revel on the "echoing green") which determined the advent of Gargantua into the world, which enabled Grandgousier, more fortunate than his son on a future occasion, to display his amiability as a husband and a father unchecked by any great sorrow, and which was, as it were, crowned and sealed by that son's first utterance--no miserable and ordinary infant's wail, but the stentorian barytone "_A boire!_" which rings through the book till it passes in the sharper, but not less delectable treble of "_Trinq!_" And then comes a brief piece, not narrative, but as characteristic perhaps of what we may call the ironical _moral_ of the narrative as any--a grave remonstrance with those who will not believe in _ceste estrange nativite_.

[Sidenote: The birth and education.]

I doubt me ye believe not this strange birth assuredly. If

ye disbelieve, I care not; but a respectable man--a man of good sense--_always_ believes what people tell him and what he finds written. Does not Solomon say (Prov. xiv.), "The innocent [simple] believeth every word" etc.? And St. Paul (1 Cor. xiii.), "Charity believeth all things"? Why should you _not_ believe it? "Because," says you, "there is no probability[91] in it." I tell you that for this very and only reason you ought to believe with a perfect faith. For the Sorbonists say that faith is the evidence of things of no probability.[92] Is it against our law or our faith? against reason? against the Sacred Scriptures?[93] For my part I can find nothing written in the Holy Bible which is contrary thereto. But if the Will of God had been so, would you say that He could not have done it? Oh for grace' sake do not make a mess of your wits in such vain thoughts. For I tell you that nothing is impossible with God.

And Divinity being done with, the Classics and pure fantasy are drawn upon; the incredulous being finally knocked down by a citation from Pliny, and a polite request not to bother any more.

This is, of course, the kind of passage which has been brought against Rabelais, as similar ones have been brought against Swift, to justify charges of impiety. But, again, it is not necessary to bother (_tabuster_) about that. Any one who cannot see that it is the foolish use of reverend things and not the things themselves that the satire hits, is hardly worth argument. But there is no doubt that this sort of mortar, framework, menstruum, canvas, or whatever way it may be best metaphored, helps the apparent continuity of the work marvellously, leaving, as it were, no rough edges or ill-mended joints. It is, to use an admirable phrase of Mr. Balfour's about a greater matter, "the logical glue which holds together and makes intelligible the multiplicity" of the narrative units, or perhaps instead of "intelligible" one should here say "appreciable."

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