Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 9

The colours and liveries of Gargantua.

Gargantua’s colours were white and blue, as I have showed you before, by which his father would give us to understand that his son to him was a heavenly joy; for the white did signify gladness, pleasure, delight, and rejoicing, and the blue, celestial things. I know well enough that, in reading this, you laugh at the old drinker, and hold this exposition of colours to be very extravagant, and utterly disagreeable to reason, because white is said to signify faith, and blue constancy. But without moving, vexing, heating, or putting you in a chafe (for the weather is dangerous), answer me, if it please you; for no other compulsory way of arguing will I use towards you, or any else; only now and then I will mention a word or two of my bottle. What is it that induceth you, what stirs you up to believe, or who told you that white signifieth faith, and blue constancy? An old paltry book, say you, sold by the hawking pedlars and balladmongers, entitled The Blason of Colours. Who made it? Whoever it was, he was wise in that he did not set his name to it. But, besides, I know not what I should rather admire in him, his presumption or his sottishness. His presumption and overweening, for that he should without reason, without cause, or without any appearance of truth, have dared to prescribe, by his private authority, what things should be denotated and signified by the colour: which is the custom of tyrants, who will have their will to bear sway in stead of equity, and not of the wise and learned, who with the evidence of reason satisfy their readers. His sottishness and want of spirit, in that he thought that, without any other demonstration or sufficient argument, the world would be pleased to make his blockish and ridiculous impositions the rule of their devices. In effect, according to the proverb, To a shitten tail fails never ordure, he hath found, it seems, some simple ninny in those rude times of old, when the wearing of high round bonnets was in fashion, who gave some trust to his writings, according to which they carved and engraved their apophthegms and mottoes, trapped and caparisoned their mules and sumpter-horses, apparelled their pages, quartered their breeches, bordered their gloves, fringed the curtains and valances of their beds, painted their ensigns, composed songs, and, which is worse, placed many deceitful jugglings and unworthy base tricks undiscoveredly amongst the very chastest matrons and most reverend sciences. In the like darkness and mist of ignorance are wrapped up these vain-glorious courtiers and name-transposers, who, going about in their impresas to signify esperance (that is, hope), have portrayed a sphere — and birds’ pennes for pains — l’ancholie (which is the flower colombine) for melancholy — a waning moon or crescent, to show the increasing or rising of one’s fortune — a bench rotten and broken, to signify bankrupt — non and a corslet for non dur habit (otherwise non durabit, it shall not last), un lit sans ciel, that is, a bed without a tester, for un licencie, a graduated person, as bachelor in divinity or utter barrister-at-law; which are equivocals so absurd and witless, so barbarous and clownish, that a fox’s tail should be fastened to the neck-piece of, and a vizard made of a cowsherd given to everyone that henceforth should offer, after the restitution of learning, to make use of any such fopperies in France.

By the same reasons (if reasons I should call them, and not ravings rather, and idle triflings about words), might I cause paint a pannier, to signify that I am in pain — a mustard-pot, that my heart tarries much for’t — one pissing upwards for a bishop — the bottom of a pair of breeches for a vessel full of fart-hings — a codpiece for the office of the clerks of the sentences, decrees, or judgments, or rather, as the English bears it, for the tail of a codfish — and a dog’s turd for the dainty turret wherein lies the love of my sweetheart. Far otherwise did heretofore the sages of Egypt, when they wrote by letters, which they called hieroglyphics, which none understood who were not skilled in the virtue, property, and nature of the things represented by them. Of which Orus Apollon hath in Greek composed two books, and Polyphilus, in his Dream of Love, set down more. In France you have a taste of them in the device or impresa of my Lord Admiral, which was carried before that time by Octavian Augustus. But my little skiff alongst these unpleasant gulfs and shoals will sail no further, therefore must I return to the port from whence I came. Yet do I hope one day to write more at large of these things, and to show both by philosophical arguments and authorities, received and approved of by and from all antiquity, what, and how many colours there are in nature, and what may be signified by every one of them, if God save the mould of my cap, which is my best wine-pot, as my grandam said.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33