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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Pantagruel is in the circumstances almost a necessity


Pantagruel is in the circumstances

almost a necessity, and Pantagruel's conduct is exactly what one would expect from that good-natured, learned, admirable, but rather enigmatic personage. Merely "aleatory" decision--by actual use of dice--he rejects as illicit, though towards the close of the book one of its most delectable episodes ends in his excusing Mr. Justice Bridoye for settling law cases in that way. But he recommends the _sortes Virgilianae_, and he, others, and Panurge himself add the experiment of dreams, and the successive consultation of the Sibyl of Panzoust, the dumb Nazdecabre, the poet Raminagrobis, Epistemon, "Her Trippa," Friar John himself, the theologian Hippothadee, the doctor Rondibilis, the philosopher Trouillogan, and the professional fool Triboulet. No reader of the most moderate intelligence can need to be told that the counsellors opine all in the same sense (unfavourable), though with more or less ambiguity, and that Panurge, with equal obstinacy and ingenuity, invariably twists the oracles according to his own wishes. But what no reader, who came fresh to Rabelais and fasting from criticism on him, could anticipate, is the astonishing spontaneity of the various dealings with the same problem, the zest and vividness of the whole thing, and the unceasing shower of satire on everything human--general, professional, and individual--which is kept up throughout. There is less pure extravagance, less mere farce, and (despite the subject) even less "sculduddery" than in any other Book; but
also in no other does Rabelais "keep up with humanity" (somewhat, indeed, in the fashion in which a carter keeps up with his animal, running and lashing at the same time) so triumphantly.

In no book, moreover, are the curious intervals--or, as it were, prose choric odes--of interruption more remarkable. Pantagruel's own serious wisdom supplies not a few of them, and the long and very characteristic episode of Judge Bridoye and his decision by throw of dice is very loosely connected with the main subject. But the most noteworthy of these excursions comes, as has been said, at the end--the last personal appearance of the good Gargantua, and the famous discourse, several chapters long, on the Herb Pantagruelion, otherwise Hemp.

[Sidenote: _Pantagruel_ III. (IV.) The first part of the voyage.]

The Fourth Book (Third of _Pantagruel_) starts the voyage, and begins to lead the commentator who insists on fixing and interpreting the innumerable real or apparent double, treble, and almost centuple meanings, into a series of dances almost illimitable. As has been suggested more than once, the most reasonable way is probably to regard the whole as an intentional mixture of covert satire, pure fooling, not a little deliberate leading astray, and (serving as vehicle and impelling force at once) the irresistible narrative impulse animating the writer and carrying the reader on to the end--any end, if it be only


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