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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

He has been fathered upon the Cingar of Folengo


we have (taken, as everybody is supposed now to know, from Geoffrey Tory, but improved) the episode of the Limousin scholar with his "pedantesque"[102] deformation of French and Latin at once, till the giant takes him by the throat and he cries for mercy in the strongest meridional brogue.[103] Then comes the famous catalogue of the Library of Saint Victor, a fresh attack on scholastic and monastic degeneracy, and a kind of joining hands (Ortuinus figures) with the German guerrilla against the _Obscuri_, and then a long and admirable letter from Gargantua, whence we learn that Grandgousier is dead, and that his son is now the sagest of monarchs, who has taken to read Greek, and shows no memory of his governesses or his earlier student days. And then again comes Panurge.

[Sidenote: Panurge.]

Many doubtful things have been said about this most remarkable personage. He has been fathered upon the Cingar of Folengo, which is too much of a compliment to that creation of the great Macaronic, and Falstaff has been fathered upon him, which is distinctly unfair to Falstaff. Sir John has absolutely nothing of the ill-nature which characterises both Cingar and Panurge; and Panurge is an actual and contemptible coward, while many good wits have doubted whether Falstaff is, in the true sense, a coward at all. But Panurge is certainly one thing--the first distinct and striking _character_ in prose fiction. Morally, of course,

there is little to be said for him, except that, when he has no temptations to the contrary, he is a "good fellow" enough. As a human example of _mimesis_ in the true Greek sense, not of "imitation" but of "fictitious creation," he is, once more, the first real character in prose fiction--the ancestor, in the literary sense, of the mighty company in which he has been followed by the similar creations of the masters from Cervantes to Thackeray. The fantastic colouring, and more than colouring, of the whole book affects him, of course, more than superficially. One could probably give some not quite absurd guesses why Rabelais shaped him as he did--presented him as a very naughty but intensely clever child, with the monkey element in humanity thrown into utmost prominence. But it is better not to do so. Panurge has some Yahooish characteristics, but he is not a Yahoo--in fact, there is no misanthropy in Rabelais.[104] He is not merely impish (as in his vengeance on the lady of Paris), but something worse than impish (as in that on Dindenault); and yet one cannot call him diabolic, because he is so intensely human. It is customary, and fairly correct, to describe his ethos as that of understanding and wit wholly divorced from morality, chivalry, or religion; yet he is never Mephistophelian. If one of the hundred touches which make him a masterpiece is to be singled out, it might perhaps be the series of rapturous invitations to his wedding which he gives to his advisers while he thinks their advice favourable, and the limitations of enforced politeness which he appends when the unpleasant side of their opinions turns up. And it may perhaps be added that one of the chief reasons for believing heartily in the last Book is the delectable and unimprovable contrast which La Quinte and her court of intellectual fantastry present to this picture of intellectual materialism.

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