Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 16

Of the qualities and conditions of Panurge.

Panurge was of a middle stature, not too high nor too low, and had somewhat an aquiline nose, made like the handle of a razor. He was at that time five and thirty years old or thereabouts, fine to gild like a leaden dagger — for he was a notable cheater and coney-catcher — he was a very gallant and proper man of his person, only that he was a little lecherous, and naturally subject to a kind of disease which at that time they called lack of money — it is an incomparable grief, yet, notwithstanding, he had three score and three tricks to come by it at his need, of which the most honourable and most ordinary was in manner of thieving, secret purloining and filching, for he was a wicked lewd rogue, a cozener, drinker, roister, rover, and a very dissolute and debauched fellow, if there were any in Paris; otherwise, and in all matters else, the best and most virtuous man in the world; and he was still contriving some plot, and devising mischief against the sergeants and the watch.

At one time he assembled three or four especial good hacksters and roaring boys, made them in the evening drink like Templars, afterwards led them till they came under St. Genevieve, or about the college of Navarre, and, at the hour that the watch was coming up that way — which he knew by putting his sword upon the pavement, and his ear by it, and, when he heard his sword shake, it was an infallible sign that the watch was near at that instant — then he and his companions took a tumbrel or dung-cart, and gave it the brangle, hurling it with all their force down the hill, and so overthrew all the poor watchmen like pigs, and then ran away upon the other side; for in less than two days he knew all the streets, lanes, and turnings in Paris as well as his Deus det.

At another time he made in some fair place, where the said watch was to pass, a train of gunpowder.

At another time he made in some fair place, where the said watch was to pass, a train of gunpowder, and, at the very instant that they went along, set fire to it, and then made himself sport to see what good grace they had in running away, thinking that St. Anthony’s fire had caught them by the legs. As for the poor masters of arts, he did persecute them above all others. When he encountered with any of them upon the street, he would not never fail to put some trick or other upon them, sometimes putting the bit of a fried turd in their graduate hoods, at other times pinning on little foxtails or hares’-ears behind them, or some such other roguish prank. One day that they were appointed all to meet in the Fodder Street (Sorbonne), he made a Borbonesa tart, or filthy and slovenly compound, made of store of garlic, of assafoetida, of castoreum, of dogs’ turds very warm, which he steeped, tempered, and liquefied in the corrupt matter of pocky boils and pestiferous botches; and, very early in the morning therewith anointed all the pavement, in such sort that the devil could not have endured it, which made all these good people there to lay up their gorges, and vomit what was upon their stomachs before all the world, as if they had flayed the fox; and ten or twelve of them died of the plague, fourteen became lepers, eighteen grew lousy, and about seven and twenty had the pox, but he did not care a button for it. He commonly carried a whip under his gown, wherewith he whipped without remission the pages whom he found carrying wine to their masters, to make them mend their pace. In his coat he had above six and twenty little fobs and pockets always full; one with some lead-water, and a little knife as sharp as a glover’s needle, wherewith he used to cut purses; another with some kind of bitter stuff, which he threw into the eyes of those he met; another with clotburrs, penned with little geese’ or capon’s feathers, which he cast upon the gowns and caps of honest people, and often made them fair horns, which they wore about all the city, sometimes all their life. Very often, also, upon the women’s French hoods would he stick in the hind part somewhat made in the shape of a man’s member. In another, he had a great many little horns full of fleas and lice, which he borrowed from the beggars of St. Innocent, and cast them with small canes or quills to write with into the necks of the daintiest gentlewomen that he could find, yea, even in the church, for he never seated himself above in the choir, but always sat in the body of the church amongst the women, both at mass, at vespers, and at sermon. In another, he used to have good store of hooks and buckles, wherewith he would couple men and women together that sat in company close to one another, but especially those that wore gowns of crimson taffeties, that, when they were about to go away, they might rend all their gowns. In another, he had a squib furnished with tinder, matches, stones to strike fire, and all other tackling necessary for it. In another, two or three burning glasses, wherewith he made both men and women sometimes mad, and in the church put them quite out of countenance; for he said that there was but an antistrophe, or little more difference than of a literal inversion, between a woman folle a la messe and molle a la fesse, that is, foolish at the mass and of a pliant buttock.

In another, he had a good deal of needles and thread, wherewith he did a thousand little devilish pranks. One time, at the entry of the palace unto the great hall, where a certain grey friar or cordelier was to say mass to the counsellors, he did help to apparel him and put on his vestments, but in the accoutring of him he sewed on his alb, surplice, or stole, to his gown and shirt, and then withdrew himself when the said lords of the court or counsellors came to hear the said mass; but when it came to the Ite, missa est, that the poor frater would have laid by his stole or surplice, as the fashion then was, he plucked off withal both his frock and shirt, which were well sewed together, and thereby stripping himself up to the very shoulders showed his bel vedere to all the world, together with his Don Cypriano, which was no small one, as you may imagine. And the friar still kept haling, but so much the more did he discover himself and lay open his back parts, till one of the lords of the court said, How now! what’s the matter? Will this fair father make us here an offering of his tail to kiss it? Nay, St. Anthony’s fire kiss it for us! From thenceforth it was ordained that the poor fathers should never disrobe themselves any more before the world, but in their vestry-room, or sextry, as they call it; especially in the presence of women, lest it should tempt them to the sin of longing and disordinate desire. The people then asked why it was the friars had so long and large genitories? The said Panurge resolved the problem very neatly, saying, That which makes asses to have such great ears is that their dams did put no biggins on their heads, as Alliaco mentioneth in his Suppositions. By the like reason, that which makes the genitories or generation-tools of those so fair fraters so long is, for that they wear no bottomed breeches, and therefore their jolly member, having no impediment, hangeth dangling at liberty as far as it can reach, with a wiggle-waggle down to their knees, as women carry their paternoster beads. and the cause wherefore they have it so correspondently great is, that in this constant wig-wagging the humours of the body descend into the said member. For, according to the Legists, agitation and continual motion is cause of attraction.

Item, he had another pocket full of itching powder, called stone-alum, whereof he would cast some into the backs of those women whom he judged to be most beautiful and stately, which did so ticklishly gall them, that some would strip themselves in the open view of the world, and others dance like a cock upon hot embers, or a drumstick on a tabor. Others, again, ran about the streets, and he would run after them. To such as were in the stripping vein he would very civilly come to offer his attendance, and cover them with his cloak, like a courteous and very gracious man.

Item, in another he had a little leather bottle full of old oil, wherewith, when he saw any man or woman in a rich new handsome suit, he would grease, smutch, and spoil all the best parts of it under colour and pretence of touching them, saying, This is good cloth; this is good satin; good taffeties! Madam, God give you all that your noble heart desireth! You have a new suit, pretty sir; — and you a new gown, sweet mistress; — God give you joy of it, and maintain you in all prosperity! And with this would lay his hand upon their shoulder, at which touch such a villainous spot was left behind, so enormously engraven to perpetuity in the very soul, body, and reputation, that the devil himself could never have taken it away. Then, upon his departing, he would say, Madam, take heed you do not fall, for there is a filthy great hole before you, whereinto if you put your foot, you will quite spoil yourself.

Another he had all full of euphorbium, very finely pulverized. In that powder did he lay a fair handkerchief curiously wrought, which he had stolen from a pretty seamstress of the palace, in taking away a louse from off her bosom which he had put there himself, and, when he came into the company of some good ladies, he would trifle them into a discourse of some fine workmanship of bone-lace, then immediately put his hand into their bosom, asking them, And this work, is it of Flanders, or of Hainault? and then drew out his handkerchief, and said, Hold, hold, look what work here is, it is of Foutignan or of Fontarabia, and shaking it hard at their nose, made them sneeze for four hours without ceasing. In the meanwhile he would fart like a horse, and the women would laugh and say, How now, do you fart, Panurge? No, no, madam, said he, I do but tune my tail to the plain song of the music which you make with your nose. In another he had a picklock, a pelican, a crampiron, a crook, and some other iron tools, wherewith there was no door nor coffer which he would not pick open. He had another full of little cups, wherewith he played very artificially, for he had his fingers made to his hand, like those of Minerva or Arachne, and had heretofore cried treacle. And when he changed a teston, cardecu, or any other piece of money, the changer had been more subtle than a fox if Panurge had not at every time made five or six sols (that is, some six or seven pence,) vanish away invisibly, openly, and manifestly, without making any hurt or lesion, whereof the changer should have felt nothing but the wind.

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