Rabelais by Walter Besant - PDF ebook

Rabelais by Walter Besant


The initial difficulty which presents itself to him who would treat Rabelais is that he must refrain from advising his readers, unless they are undertaking a serious study, to follow up his own account by reading the original. Alone among the great writers of the world, Rabelais can be appreciated by students only. 

To the general reader, to the young, to women of all ages, he is a closed book. For very shame, he must be hidden away. His real features are only revealed to those who lift the veil with serious intent to study and not to laugh. 

To all others the man is a buffoon, and the book is what Voltaire called it in the early days before he understood it, "Un ramas des plus grossieres ordures qu'un moine ivre puisse vomir." Calvin, Luther, Stephen the Printer, La Bruyere, Fenelon, Lamartine, among otherwise and learned men, found Rabelais insupportable and abominable. 

On the other hand, Cardinal Dupexron called 'Pantagruel' "le livre;" F.C. . Bishop Burnet annotated Rabelais in four different editions; Coleridge, Victor Hugo, Michelet, Kingsley — a whole chorus of noble voices have been raised in defense and praise of the man and his took.

Almost every French- man who studies the literature of his own country finds it necessary to produce an essay on Rabelais; almost every French writer of these days endeavors to extenuate his faults and to magnify his name. Among these writers of our own age are Ste Beuve, Villemain, Philarete Chasles, Lenient, Prosper Merimee, Victor Hugo, Guizot, Michelet, Lacroix, and Jules Janin. No other author has been so repeatedly the subject of criticism. But on Rabelais, as on Shakespeare, the last word will never be said. No book on Rabelais has yet appeared, or ever will appear, that can be considered exhaustive. 

It is the main object of the present volume to show by what qualities Rabelais has drawn to himself, and continues to draw, the praise and admiration of those who study him. In the preparation of the work I have consulted all those writers named above and a good many more; and I have reconsidered every point of a previous judgment which I ventured to pronounce on Rabelais five years ago in my book on the French Humourists. I desire, however, especially to call the attention of those who require a more extended study on Rabelais than my limits will allow, to the book, in two volumes, of M. Jean Fleury (Paris: Didier, 1877). 

There are many points on which I cannot agree with M. Fleury in his conclusions, as, for instance, on the religious belief of Rabelais. But I must acknowledge my great obligations to the book, especially as to the " Voyage of the Divine Bottle." That part of the ' Pantagruel,' — the most important and the most interesting — has never before, I think, been so clearly and so sensibly set forth. In fact, the great merit in M. Fleury's work is the common sense, unencumbered with traditional rubbish, which he brings to bear upon the difficulties both of the book and the life. An uncertainty, quite needless, as I believe, has been introduced into the life of Rabelais by a desire to take him out, at certain periods of his life, younger than he really was. 

Thus it has appeared to some that he must have been thirty instead of forty when he emerged from his convent; that for a grave physician of fifty, and a lecturer in the university, to act in a farce was unseemly; he must, therefore, they say, have been forty, not fifty. One fails to see how the unseemliness, if any, is removed by this curtailment of a decade, for surely it is as indecorous to play the fool at forty as at fifty. It is, as 1 hope to show presently, one of the most remarkable features in the life of Rabelais, that he was always young. It is objected, again, that there are certain years of his life difficult to fill up. I cannot find these years. It is objected, further, that according to the usual dates of their birth, the Du Bellay brothers, always said to have been his schoolfellows, would be eight or ten years younger.

Rabelais is the philosopher's Bible and his book of outrageous jests. He is the recondite cult of wise and magnanimous spirits. He reconciles Nature with Art, Man with God, and religious piety with shameless enjoyment. His style restores to us our courage and our joy, and his noble buffoonery gives us back the sweet wantonness of our youth. Rabelais is the greatest intellect in literature. No one has ever had humor so large; an imagination so creative, or a spirit so world-swallowing, so humane, so friendly.

Author:Rabelais, François
Translator :Walter Besant
Publication date:1888

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