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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Now Rabelais is a perpetual fount of inspiration


[Sidenote:

The conclusion and The Bottle.]

Apart from the usual mixture of serious and purely jocular satire, of learning and licence, of jargonic catalogues, of local references to Western France and the general topography of Utopia, this conclusion consists of two main parts--first, a most elaborate description of the Temple, containing underground the Oracle of the Bottle, to which the pilgrims are conducted by a select "Lantern," and of its priestess Bacbuc, its _adytum_ with a fountain, and, in the depth and centre of all, the sacred Bottle itself; and secondly, the ceremonies of the delivery of the Oracle; the divine utterance, _Trinq!_ its interpretation by Bacbuc; the very much _ad libitum_ reinterpretations of the interpretation by Panurge and Friar John, and the dismissal of the pilgrims by the priestess, _Or allez de par Dieu, qui vous conduise!_[107]

* * * * *

What, it may be asked, is the object of this cumbrous analysis of certainly one of the most famous and (as it at least should be) one of the best known books of the world? That object has been partly indicated already; but it may be permissible to set it forth more particularly before ending this chapter. Of the importance, on the one hand, of the acquisition by the novel of the greatest known and individual writer of French up to his date, and of the enormous popularity of this example

of it, enough may have been said. But the abstract has been given, and the further comment is now added, with the purpose of showing, in a little detail, how immensely the resources and inspirations of future practitioners were enriched and strengthened, varied and multiplied, by _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_. The book as a whole is to be classed, no doubt, as "Eccentric" fiction. But if you compare with Rabelais that one of his followers[108] who possessed most genius and who worked at his following with most deliberation, you will find an immense falling off in richness and variety as well as in strength. The inferiority of Sterne to Master Francis in his serious pieces, whether he is whimpering over dead donkeys and dying lieutenants, or simulating honest indignation against critics, is too obvious to need insistence. Nor can one imagine any one--unless, like Mackenzie and other misguided contemporaries or juniors, he himself wanted to whimper, or unless he also aimed at the _fatrasie_--going to Sterne for pattern or inspiration. Now Rabelais is a perpetual fount of inspiration, an inexhaustible magazine of patterns to the most "serious" novelist whose seriousness is not of the kind designated by that term in dissenting slang. That abounding narrative faculty which has been so much dwelt on touches so many subjects, and manages to carry along with it so many moods, thoughts, and even feelings, that it could not but suggest to any subsequent writer who had in him the germ of the novelist's art, how to develop and work out such schemes as might occur to him. While, for his own countrymen at least, the vast improvement which he made in French prose, and which, with the accomplishment of his younger contemporaries Amyot and Montaigne, established the greatness of that prose itself, was a gain, the extent of which cannot be exaggerated. Therefore it has seemed not improper to give him a chapter to himself, and to treat his book with a minuteness not often to be paralleled in this _History_.[109]


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