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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

No doubt at one time Englishmen did know their Rabelais well


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"Italy being taken, behold Naples, Calabria, Apulia, and Sicily all at your mercy, and Malta into the bargain. I should like to see those funny knights, formerly of Rhodes, resist you! if it were only to examine their water." "I should like," said Picrochole, "to go to Loretto." "No, no," said they, "that will be on the way back. Thence we shall take Candia, Cyprus, Rhodes, and the Cyclades, and make a set at Morea. We shall get it at once. By St. Treignan, God keep Jerusalem! for the soldan is nothing in power to you." "Shall I," said he, "then rebuild the Temple of Solomon?" "Not yet," said they, "wait a little. Be not so hasty in your enterprises."

And so with the most meticulous exactness (Rabelais' geography is irreproachable, and he carefully avoids the cheap expedient of making Spadassin and Merdaille blunder) and the sagest citations of _Festina lente_, they take him through Asia Minor to the Euphrates and Arabia, while the other army (that which has annihilated Grandgousier) comes round by the northern route, sweeping all Europe from Brittany and the British Isles to Constantinople, where the great rendezvous is made and the universal empire established, Picrochole graciously giving his advisers Syria and Palestine as their fiefs.

"Pretty much like our own days," said Mr. Rigmarole.

Have we not heard something very like this lately, as "Berlin to Baghdad," if not "Calais to Calcutta"? And even if we had not, would not the sense and the satire of it be delectable? A great deal has been left out: the chapter is, for Rabelais, rather a long one. The momentary doubt of the usually undoubting Picrochole as to what they shall drink in the desert, allayed at once by a beautiful scheme of commissariat camels and elephants,[99] which would have done credit to the most modern A.S.C., is very capital. There is, indeed, an unpleasant Echephron[100] who points the old moral of Cineas to Pyrrhus himself. But Picrochole rebuffs him with the invaluable _Passons oultre_, and closes the discussion by anticipating Henri Quatre (who, no doubt, learnt the phrase from him), crying, "_Qui m'aime, si me suive!_" and ordering all haste in the war.

It is possible that, here or earlier, the not-quite-so-gentle-as-he-is-traditionally-called reader may ejaculate, "This is all true enough; but it is all very well known, and does not need recapitulation." Is this quite so certain? No doubt at one time Englishmen did know their Rabelais well. Southey did, for instance, and so, according to the historian of Barsetshire, did, in the next generation, Archdeacon Grantly. More recently my late friend Sir Walter Besant spent a great deal of pains on Master Francis, and mainly owing to his efforts there existed for some years a Rabelais Club (already referred to), which left some pleasant memories. But _is_ it quite so certain that the average educated Englishman can at once distinguish Eudemon from Epistemon, give a correct list of the various answers to Panurge's enquiries as to the probable results of his marriage, relate what happened when (as glanced at above and returned to later) _nous passasmes oultre_, and say what the adorable Quintessence admitted to her dainty lips besides second intentions? I doubt it very much. Even special students of the Great Book, as in other cases, have too often allowed themselves to be distracted from the pure enjoyment of it by idle questions of the kinds above mentioned and others--questions of dates and names and places, of origins and borrowings and imitations--questions the sole justification of which, from the genuine Pantagruelian point of view, is that their utter dryness inevitably suggests the cries--the Morning Hymn and the Evening Voluntary of the book itself--_A boire!_ and _Trinq_.


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