Letters To Dead Authors LETTER--To Maitre Francoys Rabelais. byLang, Andrew
Of the coming of the
Master,--In the Boreal and Septentrional lands, turned aside from
the noonday and the sun, there dwelt of old (as thou knowest, and as
Olaus voucheth) a race of men, brave, strong, nimble, and
adventurous, who had no other care but to fight and drink. There,
by reason of the cold (as Virgil witnesseth), men break wine with
axes. To their minds, when once they were dead and gotten to
Valhalla, or the place of their Gods, there would be no other
pleasure but to swig, tipple, drink, and boose till the coming of
that last darkness and Twilight, wherein they, with their deities,
should do battle against the enemies of all mankind; which day they
rather desired than dreaded.
So chanced it also with Pantagruel and Brother John and their
company, after they had once partaken of the secret of the Dive
Bouteille. Thereafter they searched no longer; but, abiding at
their ease, were merry, frolic, jolly, gay, glad, and wise; only
that they always and ever did expect the awful Coming of the
Coqcigrues. Now concerning the day of that coming, and the nature
of them that should come, they knew nothing; and for his part
Panurge was all the more adread, as Aristotle testifieth that men
(and Panurge above others) most fear that which they know least.
Now it chanced one day, as they sat at meat, with viands rare,
dainty, and precious as ever Apicius dreamed of, that there
fluttered on the air a faint sound as of sermons, speeches,
orations, addresses, discourses, lectures, and the like; whereat
Panurge, pricking up his ears, cried, "Methinks this wind bloweth
from Midlothian," and so fell a trembling.
Next, to their aural orifices, and the avenues audient of the brain,
was borne a very melancholy sound as of harmoniums, hymns, organ-
pianos, psalteries, and the like, all playing different airs, in a
kind most hateful to the Muses. Then said Panurge, as well as he
might for the chattering of his teeth: "May I never drink if here
come not the Coqcigrues!" and this saying and prophecy of his was
true and inspired. But thereon the others began to mock, flout, and
gird at Panurge for his cowardice. "Here am I!" cried Brother John,
"well-armed and ready to stand a siege; being entrenched, fortified,
hemmed-in and surrounded with great pasties, huge pieces of salted
beef, salads, fricassees, hams, tongues, pies, and a wilderness of
pleasant little tarts, jellies, pastries, trifles, and fruits of all
kinds, and I shall not thirst while I have good wells, founts,
springs, and sources of Bordeaux wine, Burgundy, wine of the
Champagne country, sack and Canary. A fig for thy Coqcigrues!"
But even as he spoke there ran up suddenly a whole legion, or rather
army, of physicians, each armed with laryngoscopes, stethoscopes,
horoscopes, microscopes, weighing machines, and such other tools,
engines, and arms as they had who, after thy time, persecuted
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac! And they all, rushing on Brother John,
cried out to him, "Abstain! Abstain!" And one said, "I have well
diagnosed thee, and thou art in a fair way to have the gout." "I
never did better in my days," said Brother John. "Away with thy
meats and drinks!" they cried. And one said, "He must to Royat;"
and another, "Hence with him to Aix;" and a third, "Banish him to
Wiesbaden;" and a fourth, "Hale him to Gastein;" and yet another,
"To Barbouille with him in chains!"
And while others felt his pulse and looked at his tongue, they all
wrote prescriptions for him like men mad. "For thy eating," cried
he that seemed to be their leader, "No soup!" "No soup!" quoth
Brother John; and those cheeks of his, whereat you might have warmed
your two hands in the winter solstice, grew white as lilies. "Nay!
and no salmon, nor any beef nor mutton! A little chicken by times,
pericolo tuo! Nor any game, such as grouse, partridge, pheasant,
capercailzie, wild duck; nor any cheese, nor fruit, nor pastry, nor
coffee, nor eau de vie; and avoid all sweets. No veal, pork, nor
made dishes of any kind." "Then what may I eat?" quoth the good
Brother, whose valour had oozed out of the soles of his sandals. "A
little cold bacon at breakfast--no eggs," quoth the leader of the
strange folk, "and a slice of toast without butter." "And for thy
drink"--("What?" gasped Brother John)--"one dessert-spoonful of
whisky, with a pint of the water of Apollinaris at luncheon and
dinner. No more!" At this Brother John fainted, falling like a
great buttress of a hill, such as Taygetus or Erymanthus.
While they were busy with him, others of the frantic folk had built
great platforms of wood, whereon they all stood and spoke at once,
both men and women. And of these some wore red crosses on their
garments, which meaneth "Salvation;" and others wore white crosses,
with a little black button of crape, to signify "Purity;" and others
bits of blue to mean "Abstinence." While some of these pursued
Panurge others did beset Pantagruel; asking him very long questions,
whereunto he gave but short answers. Thus they asked:-
Have ye Local Option here?--Pan.: What?
May one man drink if his neighbour be not athirst?--Pan.: Yea!
Have ye Free Education?--Pan.: What?
Must they that have, pay to school them that have not?--Pan.: Nay!
Have ye free land?--Pan.: What?
Have ye taken the land from the farmer, and given it to the tailor
out of work and the candlemaker masterless?--Pan.: Nay!
Have your women folk votes?--Pan.: Bosh!
Have ye got religion?--Pan.: How?
Do you go about the streets at night, brawling, blowing a trumpet
before you, and making long prayers?--Pan.: Nay!
Have you manhood suffrage?--Pan.: Eh?
Is Jack as good as his master?--Pan.: Nay!
Have you joined the Arbitration Society?--Pan.: Quoy?
Will you let another kick you, and will you ask his neighbour if you
deserve the same?--Pan.: Nay!
Do you eat what you list?--Pan.: Ay!
Do you drink when you are athirst?--Pan.: Ay!
Are you governed by the free expression of the popular will?--Pan.:
Are you servants of priests, pulpits, and penny papers?--Pan.: NO!
Now, when they heard these answers of Pantagruel they all fell, some
a weeping, some a praying, some a swearing, some an arbitrating,
some a lecturing, some a caucussing, some a preaching, some a faith-
healing, some a miracle-working, some a hypnotising, some a writing
to the daily press; and while they were thus busy, like folk
distraught, "reforming the island," Pantagruel burst out a laughing;
whereat they were greatly dismayed; for laughter killeth the whole
race of Coqcigrues, and they may not endure it.
Then Pantagruel and his company stole aboard a barque that Panurge
had ready in the harbour. And having provisioned her well with
store of meat and good drink, they set sail for the kingdom of
Entelechy, where, having landed, they were kindly entreated; and
there abide to this day; drinking of the sweet and eating of the
fat, under the protection of that intellectual sphere which hath in
all places its centre and nowhere its circumference.
Such was their destiny; there was their end appointed, and thither
the Coqcigrues can never come. For all the air of that land is full
of laughter, which killeth Coqcigrues; and there aboundeth the herb
Pantagruelion. But for thee, Master Francoys, thou art not well
liked in this island of ours, where the Coqcigrues are abundant,
very fierce, cruel, and tyrannical. Yet thou hast thy friends, that
meet and drink to thee, and wish thee well wheresoever thou hast
found thy grand peut-etre.