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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The marriage of Panurge and the consultations on it


Short view of the sequels in Book II.]

It was impossible that such a figure should not to a certain extent dwarf others; but Rabelais, unlike some modern character-mongers, never lets his psychology interfere with his story. After a few episodes, the chief of which is the great sign-duel of Thaumast and Panurge himself, the campaign against the Dipsodes at once enables Pantagruel to display himself as a war-like hero of romance, permits him fantastic exploits parallel to his father's, and, by installing Panurge in a lordship of the conquered country and determining him, after "eating his corn in the blade," to "marry and settle," introduces the larger and most original part of the whole work--the debates and counsellings on the marriage in the Third Book, and, after the failure of this, the voyage to settle the matter at the Oracle of the Bottle in the Fourth and Fifth. This "plot," if it may be called so, is fairly central and continuous throughout, but it gives occasion for the most surprising "alarums and excursions," variations and divagations, of the author's inexhaustible humour, learning, inventive fertility, and never-failing faculty of telling a tale. If the book does sometimes in a fashion "hop forty paces in the public street," and at others gambade in a less decorous fashion even than hopping, it is also Cleopatresque in its absolute freedom from staleness and from tedium.

[Sidenote: _Pantagruel_

II. (Book III.)

The marriage of Panurge and the consultations on it.]

The Third Book has less of apparent variety in it, and less of what might be called striking incident, than any of the others, being all but wholly occupied by the enquiries respecting the marriage of Panurge. But this gives it a "unity" which is of itself attractive to some tastes, while the delightful sonnet to the spirit Of Marguerite,

Esprit abstraict, ravy et ecstatique,

(perhaps the best example of _rhetoriqueur_ poetry), at the beginning, and the last sight (except in letters) of Gargantua at the end, with the curious _coda_ on the "herb Pantagruelion" (the ancestor of Joseph de Maistre's famous eulogy of the Executioner), give, as it were, handle and top to it in unique fashion. But the body of it is the thing. The preliminary outrunning of the constable--had there been constables in Salmigondin, but they probably knew the story of the Seigneur of Basche too well--and the remarkable difference between the feudatory and his superior on the subject of debt, serve but as a whet to the project of matrimony which the debtor conceives. Of course, Panurge is the very last man whom a superficial observer of humanity--the very first whom a somewhat profounder student thereof--would take as a marrying one. He is "a little failed"; he thinks to rest himself while not foregoing his former delights, and he shuts eyes and ears to the proverb, as old as Greek in words and as old as the world in fact, that "the doer shall suffer." That he should consult

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