This would be a great obligation to stand under to some unknown author, and in that case it is astonishing that his enemies did not reproach him during his lifetime with being merely an imitator and a plagiarist. So there are reasons for and against his authorship of it, and it would be dangerous to make too bold an assertion.
One fact which is absolutely certain and beyond all controversy, is that Rabelais owed much to one of his contemporaries, an Italian, to the Histoire Macaronique of Merlin Coccaie. Its author, Theophilus Folengo, who was also a monk, was born in , and died only a short time before Rabelais, in But his burlesque poem was published in It was in Latin verse, written in an elaborately fabricated style.
It is not dog Latin, but Latin ingeniously italianized, or rather Italian, even Mantuan, latinized. The contrast between the modern form of the word and its Roman garb produces the most amusing effect. In the original it is sometimes difficult to read, for Folengo has no objection to using the most colloquial words and phrases. The subject is quite different. It is the adventures of Baldo, son of Guy de Montauban, the very lively history of his youth, his trial, imprisonment and deliverance, his journey in search of his father, during which he visits the Planets and Hell.
The narration is constantly interrupted by incidental adventures.
Lesson 1 (from Pantagruel: Introduction, Dixain, Prologue and Chapters 1-9 (p. 1-74))
Occasionally they are what would be called to-day very naturalistic, and sometimes they are madly extravagant. But Fracasso, Baldo's friend, is a giant; another friend, Cingar, who delivers him, is Panurge exactly, and quite as much given to practical joking.
The women in the senile amour of the old Tognazzo, the judges, and the poor sergeants, are no more gently dealt with by Folengo than by the monk of the Iles d'Hyeres. If Dindenaut's name does not occur, there are the sheep. The tempest is there, and the invocation to all the saints.
Rabelais improves all he borrows, but it is from Folengo he starts. He does not reproduce the words, but, like the Italian, he revels in drinking scenes, junkettings, gormandizing, battles, scuffles, wounds and corpses, magic, witches, speeches, repeated enumerations, lengthiness, and a solemnly minute precision of impossible dates and numbers.
The atmosphere, the tone, the methods are the same, and to know Rabelais well, you must know Folengo well too. Detailed proof of this would be too lengthy a matter; one would have to quote too many passages, but on this question of sources nothing is more interesting than a perusal of the Opus Macaronicorum. It was translated into French only in —Paris, Gilley Robinot.
This translation of course cannot reproduce all the many amusing forms of words, but it is useful, nevertheless, in showing more clearly the points of resemblance between the two works,—how far in form, ideas, details, and phrases Rabelais was permeated by Folengo. The anonymous translator saw this quite well, and said so in his title, 'Histoire macaronique de Merlin Coccaie, prototype of Rabelais.
GARGANTUA AND HIS SON PANTAGRUEL
Besides, Rabelais was fed on the Italians of his time as on the Greeks and Romans. Panurge, who owes much to Cingar, is also not free from obligations to the miscreant Margutte in the Morgante Maggiore of Pulci.
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Had Rabelais in his mind the tale from the Florentine Chronicles, how in the Savonarola riots, when the Piagnoni and the Arrabiati came to blows in the church of the Dominican convent of San-Marco, Fra Pietro in the scuffle broke the heads of the assailants with the bronze crucifix he had taken from the altar? A well-handled cross could so readily be used as a weapon, that probably it has served as such more than once, and other and even quite modern instances might be quoted.
But other Italian sources are absolutely certain. There are few more wonderful chapters in Rabelais than the one about the drinkers. It is not a dialogue: those short exclamations exploding from every side, all referring to the same thing, never repeating themselves, and yet always varying the same theme.
Here are the first lines of it: 'Apre, apre, apre. Chi gioca, chi gioca —uh, uh! Io—Ed io.
And thus it goes on with fire and animation for pages. Rabelais probably translated or directly imitated it.
Genre, Features and Innovation of the Novel
He changed the scene; there was no giuooco della pugna in France. He transferred to a drinking-bout this clatter of exclamations which go off by themselves, which cross each other and get no answer. He made a wonderful thing of it. But though he did not copy Sermini, yet Sermini's work provided him with the form of the subject, and was the theme for Rabelais' marvellous variations. Who does not remember the fantastic quarrel of the cook with the poor devil who had flavoured his dry bread with the smoke of the roast, and the judgment of Seyny John, truly worthy of Solomon?
It comes from the Cento Novelle Antiche, rewritten from tales older than Boccaccio, and moreover of an extreme brevity and dryness. They are only the framework, the notes, the skeleton of tales. The subject is often wonderful, but nothing is made of it: it is left unshaped. Rabelais wrote a version of one, the ninth. The scene takes place, not at Paris, but at Alexandria in Egypt among the Saracens, and the cook is called Fabrac.
But the surprise at the end, the sagacious judgment by which the sound of a piece of money was made the price of the smoke, is the same. Now the first dated edition of the Cento Novelle which were frequently reprinted appeared at Bologna in , and it is certain that Rabelais had read the tales.
And there would be much else of the same kind to learn if we knew Rabelais' library. A still stranger fact of this sort may be given to show how nothing came amiss to him. He must have known, and even copied the Latin Chronicle of the Counts of Anjou. It is accepted, and rightly so, as an historical document, but that is no reason for thinking that the truth may not have been manipulated and adorned. The Counts of Anjou were not saints. They were proud, quarrelsome, violent, rapacious, and extravagant, as greedy as they were charitable to the Church, treacherous and cruel.
Yet their anonymous panegyrist has made them patterns of all the virtues. In reality it is both a history and in some sort a romance; especially is it a collection of examples worthy of being followed, in the style of the Cyropaedia, our Juvenal of the fifteenth century, and a little like Fenelon's Telemaque. Now in it there occurs the address of one of the counts to those who rebelled against him and who were at his mercy. Rabelais must have known it, for he has copied it, or rather, literally translated whole lines of it in the wonderful speech of Gargantua to the vanquished.
His contemporaries, who approved of his borrowing from antiquity, could not detect this one, because the book was not printed till much later. But Rabelais lived in Maine. In Anjou, which often figures among the localities he names, he must have met with and read the Chronicles of the Counts in manuscript, probably in some monastery library, whether at Fontenay-le-Comte or elsewhere it matters little.
There is not only a likeness in the ideas and tone, but in the words too, which cannot be a mere matter of chance. He must have known the Chronicles of the Counts of Anjou, and they inspired one of his finest pages. One sees, therefore, how varied were the sources whence he drew, and how many of them must probably always escape us.
When, as has been done for Moliere, a critical bibliography of the works relating to Rabelais is drawn up—which, by the bye, will entail a very great amount of labour—the easiest part will certainly be the bibliography of the old editions. That is the section that has been most satisfactorily and most completely worked out.
Gargantua and Pantagruel Literary Elements
Brunet said the last word on the subject in his Researches in , and in the important article in the fifth edition of his Manuel du Libraire iv. The facts about the fifth book cannot be summed up briefly. It was printed as a whole at first, without the name of the place, in , and next year at Lyons by Jean Martin.
It has given, and even still gives rise to two contradictory opinions. Is it Rabelais' or not?
First of all, if he had left it complete, would sixteen years have gone by before it was printed? Then, does it bear evident marks of his workmanship? Is the hand of the master visible throughout? Antoine Du Verdier in the edition of his Prosopographie writes: ' Rabelais' misfortune has been that everybody has wished to "pantagruelize! The scholar of Valence might be Guillaume des Autels, to whom with more certainty can be ascribed the authorship of a dull imitation of Rabelais, the History of Fanfreluche and Gaudichon, published in , which, to say the least of it, is very much inferior to the fifth book.
Louis Guyon, in his Diverses Lecons, is still more positive: 'As to the last book which has been included in his works, entitled l'Ile Sonnante, the object of which seems to be to find fault with and laugh at the members and the authorities of the Catholic Church, I protest that he did not compose it, for it was written long after his death. I was at Paris when it was written, and I know quite well who was its author; he was not a doctor.
Yet everyone must recognize that there is a great deal of Rabelais in the fifth book. He must have planned it and begun it. Remembering that in he had published, not as an experiment, but rather as a bait and as an announcement, the first eleven chapters of the fourth book, we may conclude that the first sixteen chapters of the fifth book published by themselves nine years after his death, in , represent the remainder of his definitely finished work.
This is the more certain because these first chapters, which contain the Apologue of the Horse and the Ass and the terrible Furred Law-cats, are markedly better than what follows them. They are not the only ones where the master's hand may be traced, but they are the only ones where no other hand could possibly have interfered.
Gargantua and Pantagruel
In the remainder the sentiment is distinctly Protestant. Rabelais was much struck by the vices of the clergy and did not spare them. Whether we are unable to forgive his criticisms because they were conceived in a spirit of raillery, or whether, on the other hand, we feel admiration for him on this point, yet Rabelais was not in the least a sectary. If he strongly desired a moral reform, indirectly pointing out the need of it in his mocking fashion, he was not favourable to a political reform. Those who would make of him a Protestant altogether forget that the Protestants of his time were not for him, but against him.
Henri Estienne, for instance, Ramus, Theodore de Beze, and especially Calvin, should know how he was to be regarded. Rabelais belonged to what may be called the early reformation, to that band of honest men in the beginning of the sixteenth century, precursors of the later one perhaps, but, like Erasmus, between the two extremes.
He was neither Lutheran nor Calvinist, neither German nor Genevese, and it is quite natural that his work was not reprinted in Switzerland, which would certainly have happened had the Protestants looked on him as one of themselves. That Rabelais collected the materials for the fifth book, had begun it, and got on some way, there can be no doubt: the excellence of a large number of passages prove it, but—taken as a whole—the fifth book has not the value, the verve, and the variety of the others.
The style is quite different, less rich, briefer, less elaborate, drier, in parts even wearisome. In the first four books Rabelais seldom repeats himself. The fifth book contains from the point of view of the vocabulary really the least novelty. On the contrary, it is full of words and expressions already met with, which is very natural in an imitation, in a copy, forced to keep to a similar tone, and to show by such reminders and likenesses that it is really by the same pen.
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