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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And all the charming topsyturvifications of Entelechy


if one cared for hypothetical

criticism, might be attributed with about equal probability to a genuine deepening of hostile feeling, to absence of revision, and to possible sophistication by some one into whose hands it fell between the author's death and its publication. But a perfectly impartial critic, who, on the one hand, does not, in Carlyle's admirable phrase, "regard the Universe as a hunting-field from which it were good and pleasant to drive the Pope," and, on the other, is content to regard the extremer Protestants as singularly unpleasant persons without pronouncing Ernulphus-curses on them, may perhaps fail to find in it either the cleverest or the most amusing part of the voyage. The episode of the next Isle--that _des Ferrements_--is obscure, whether it is or is not (as the commentators were sure to suggest) something else beginning with "obsc-," and the succeeding one, with its rocks fashioned like gigantic dice, is not very amusing. But the terrible country of the _Chats Fourres_ and their chief Grippeminaud--an attack on the Law as unsparing as, and much more vivid than that on the Church in the overture--may rank with the best things in Rabelais. The tyrant's ferocious and double-meaning catchword of _Or ca!_ and the power at his back, which even Pantagruel thinks it better rather to run away from than to fight openly, which Panurge frankly bribes, and over which even the reckless and invincible Friar John obtains not much triumph, except that of cutting up, after buying it, an old woman's
bed--these and the rest have a grim humour not quite like anything else.

[Sidenote: "La Quinte."]

The next section--that of the Apedeftes or Uneducated Ones[106]--has been a special object of suspicion; it is certainly a little difficult, and perhaps a little dull. One is not sorry when the explorers, in the ambiguous way already noted, "_passent_ _Oultre_," and, after difficulties with the wind, come to "the kingdom of Quintessence, named Entelechy." Something has been said more than once of this already, and it is perhaps unnecessary to say more, or indeed anything, except to those who themselves "hold of La Quinte," and who for that very reason require no talking about her. "We" (if one may enrol oneself in their company) would almost rather give up Rabelais altogether than sacrifice this delightful episode, and abandon the idea of having the ladies of the Queen for our partners in Emmelie, and Calabrisme, and the thousand other dances, of watching the wonderful cures by music, and the interesting process of throwing, not the house out of the window, but the window out of the house, and the miraculous and satisfactory transformation of old ladies into young girls, with very slight alteration of their former youthful selves, and all the charming topsyturvifications of Entelechy. Not to mention the gracious if slightly unintelligible speeches of the exquisite princess, when clear Hesperus shone once more, and her supper of pure nectar and ambrosia (not grudging more solid viands to her visitors), and the great after-supper chess-tournament with living pieces, and the "invisible disparition" of the lady, and the departure of the fortunate visitors themselves, duly inscribed and registered as Abstractors of Quintessence. The whole is like a good dream, and is told so as almost to be one.

Between this and the final goal of the Country of Lanterns the interest falls a little. The island of "Odes" (not "poems" but "ways"), where the "walks walk" (_les chemins cheminent_); that of "Esclots" ("clogs"), where dwell the Freres Fredonnants, and where the attack on monkery is renewed in a rather unsavoury and rather puerile fashion; and that of Satin, which is a sort of Medamothi rehandled, are not first-rate--they would have been done better, or cut out, had the book ever been issued by Master Francis. But the arrival at and the sojourn in Lanternia itself recovers the full powers of Rabelais at his best, though one may once more think that some of the treatment might have been altered in the case just mentioned.


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