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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Francois Rabelais could have done it


[90] A complete argument on this much vexed subject can hardly be wished for here: but it may be permitted to say that nearly fifty years' consideration of the matter has left less and less doubt in my mind as to the genuineness of the "_Quart_" or "_Quint_" _Livre_ as it is variously called--according as _Gargantua_ is numbered separately or not. One of the apparently strongest arguments against its genuineness--the constant presence of "_Je_" in the narrative--really falls, with the others--the fiercer and more outspoken character of the satire, the somewhat lessened prominence of Pantagruel, etc. etc.--before one simple consideration. We know from the dates of publication of the other books that Rabelais was by no means a rapid writer, or at any rate that, if he wrote rapidly, he "held up" what he did write long, and pretty certainly rewrote a good deal. Now the previous Book had appeared only a short time before what must have been the date of his death; and this could not, according to analogy and precedent, have been ready, or anything like ready, when he died. On the other hand, time enough passed between his death and the publication (even of the _Ile Sonnante_ fragment) for the MS. to have passed through other hands and to have been adulterated, even if it was not, when the Master's hands left it, in various, as well as not finally finished form. I can see nothing in it really inconsistent with the earlier Books; nothing unworthy of them (especially if on the one hand possible meddling, and on the other imperfect revision be allowed for); and much, especially the _Chats Fourres_, the Quintessence part, and the Conclusion, without which the whole book would be not only incomplete but terribly impoverished. I may add that, having a tolerably full knowledge of sixteenth-century French literature, and a great admiration of it, I know no single other writer or group of other writers who could, in my critical judgment, by any reasonable possibility have written this Book. Francois Rabelais could have done it, and I have no doubt that he did it; though whether we have it as he left it no man can say.

[91] It is perhaps hardly necessary, but may not be quite idle, to observe that our Abstractor of Quintessence takes good care not to quote the other half of the parallelism, "but the prudent looketh well to his going."

[92] It is possible, but not certain, that he is playing on the two senses of the word _apparence_, the ambiguity of which is not so great in English. The A. V., "evidence of things _not seen_," would not have suited his turn.

[93] In which, it will be remembered, the "liquor called punch," which one notes with sorrow that Rabelais knew not, but which he certainly would have approved, is also "nowhere spoken against."

[94] Original "Sibyle." I owe to Prof. Ker an important reminder (which I ought not to have needed) of Dante's "Sibilia" in the famous "Ulysses" passage, _Inf._ xxvi. 110.

[95] The Turkish corsair, not the German Emperor.

[96] Probably erected into a kingdom in honour of St. Augustine.

[97] _Passant oultre_--one of Rabelais' favourite and most _polymorphic_ expressions. It has nearly always an ironical touch in it; and it enjoys a chapter all to itself in that mood--V. xvii.

[98] Perhaps this _a gauche_ might make as good a short test as any of a reader's sense of humour. But here also a possible Dantean reminiscence (not suggested to me this time) comes in; for in the lines already quoted "dalla man _destra_" occurs.

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