Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 18

How a great scholar of England would have argued against Pantagruel, and was overcome by Panurge.

In that same time a certain learned man named Thaumast, hearing the fame and renown of Pantagruel’s incomparable knowledge, came out of his own country of England with an intent only to see him, to try thereby and prove whether his knowledge in effect was so great as it was reported to be. In this resolution being arrived at Paris, he went forthwith unto the house of the said Pantagruel, who was lodged in the palace of St. Denis, and was then walking in the garden thereof with Panurge, philosophizing after the fashion of the Peripatetics. At his first entrance he startled, and was almost out of his wits for fear, seeing him so great and so tall. Then did he salute him courteously as the manner is, and said unto him, Very true it is, saith Plato the prince of philosophers, that if the image and knowledge of wisdom were corporeal and visible to the eyes of mortals, it would stir up all the world to admire her. Which we may the rather believe that the very bare report thereof, scattered in the air, if it happen to be received into the ears of men, who, for being studious and lovers of virtuous things are called philosophers, doth not suffer them to sleep nor rest in quiet, but so pricketh them up and sets them on fire to run unto the place where the person is, in whom the said knowledge is said to have built her temple and uttered her oracles. As it was manifestly shown unto us in the Queen of Sheba, who came from the utmost borders of the East and Persian Sea, to see the order of Solomon’s house and to hear his wisdom; in Anacharsis, who came out of Scythia, even unto Athens, to see Solon; in Pythagoras, who travelled far to visit the memphitical vaticinators; in Plato, who went a great way off to see the magicians of Egypt, and Architus of Tarentum; in Apollonius Tyaneus, who went as far as unto Mount Caucasus, passed along the Scythians, the Massagetes, the Indians, and sailed over the great river Phison, even to the Brachmans to see Hiarchus; as likewise unto Babylon, Chaldea, Media, Assyria, Parthia, Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, Palestina, and Alexandria, even unto Aethiopia, to see the Gymnosophists. The like example have we of Titus Livius, whom to see and hear divers studious persons came to Rome from the confines of France and Spain. I dare not reckon myself in the number of those so excellent persons, but well would be called studious, and a lover, not only of learning, but of learned men also. And indeed, having heard the report of your so inestimable knowledge, I have left my country, my friends, my kindred, and my house, and am come thus far, valuing at nothing the length of the way, the tediousness of the sea, nor strangeness of the land, and that only to see you and to confer with you about some passages in philosophy, of geomancy, and of the cabalistic art, whereof I am doubtful and cannot satisfy my mind; which if you can resolve, I yield myself unto you for a slave henceforward, together with all my posterity, for other gift have I none that I can esteem a recompense sufficient for so great a favour. I will reduce them into writing, and to-morrow publish them to all the learned men in the city, that we may dispute publicly before them.

But see in what manner I mean that we shall dispute. I will not argue pro et contra, as do the sottish sophisters of this town and other places. Likewise I will not dispute after the manner of the Academics by declamation; nor yet by numbers, as Pythagoras was wont to do, and as Picus de la Mirandula did of late at Rome. But I will dispute by signs only without speaking, for the matters are so abstruse, hard, and arduous, that words proceeding from the mouth of man will never be sufficient for unfolding of them to my liking. May it, therefore, please your magnificence to be there; it shall be at the great hall of Navarre at seven o’clock in the morning. When he had spoken these words, Pantagruel very honourably said unto him: Sir, of the graces that God hath bestowed upon me, I would not deny to communicate unto any man to my power. For whatever comes from him is good, and his pleasure is that it should be increased when we come amongst men worthy and fit to receive this celestial manna of honest literature. In which number, because that in this time, as I do already very plainly perceive, thou holdest the first rank, I give thee notice that at all hours thou shalt find me ready to condescend to every one of thy requests according to my poor ability; although I ought rather to learn of thee than thou of me. But, as thou hast protested, we will confer of these doubts together, and will seek out the resolution, even unto the bottom of that undrainable well where Heraclitus says the truth lies hidden. And I do highly commend the manner of arguing which thou hast proposed, to wit, by signs without speaking; for by this means thou and I shall understand one another well enough, and yet shall be free from this clapping of hands which these blockish sophisters make when any of the arguers hath gotten the better of the argument. Now to-morrow I will not fail to meet thee at the place and hour that thou hast appointed, but let me entreat thee that there be not any strife or uproar between us, and that we seek not the honour and applause of men, but the truth only. To which Thaumast answered: The Lord God maintain you in his favour and grace, and, instead of my thankfulness to you, pour down his blessings upon you, for that your highness and magnificent greatness hath not disdained to descend to the grant of the request of my poor baseness. So farewell till to-morrow! Farewell, said Pantagruel.

Gentlemen, you that read this present discourse, think not that ever men were more elevated and transported in their thoughts than all this night were both Thaumast and Pantagruel; for the said Thaumast said to the keeper of the house of Cluny, where he was lodged, that in all his life he had never known himself so dry as he was that night. I think, said he, that Pantagruel held me by the throat. Give order, I pray you, that we may have some drink, and see that some fresh water be brought to us, to gargle my palate. On the other side, Pantagruel stretched his wits as high as he could, entering into very deep and serious meditations, and did nothing all that night but dote upon and turn over the book of Beda, De numeris et signis; Plotin’s book, De inenarrabilibus; the book of Proclus, De magia; the book of Artemidorus (Greek); of Anaxagoras, (Greek); Dinarius, (Greek); the books of Philiston; Hipponax, (Greek), and a rabble of others, so long, that Panurge said unto him:

My lord, leave all these thoughts and go to bed; for I perceive your spirits to be so troubled by a too intensive bending of them, that you may easily fall into some quotidian fever with this so excessive thinking and plodding. But, having first drunk five and twenty or thirty good draughts, retire yourself and sleep your fill, for in the morning I will argue against and answer my master the Englishman, and if I drive him not ad metam non loqui, then call me knave. Yea but, said he, my friend Panurge, he is marvellously learned; how wilt thou be able to answer him? Very well, answered Panurge; I pray you talk no more of it, but let me alone. Is any man so learned as the devils are? No, indeed, said Pantagruel, without God’s especial grace. Yet for all that, said Panurge, I have argued against them, gravelled and blanked them in disputation, and laid them so squat upon their tails that I have made them look like monkeys. Therefore be assured that to-morrow I will make this vain-glorious Englishman to skite vinegar before all the world. So Panurge spent the night with tippling amongst the pages, and played away all the points of his breeches at primus secundus and at peck point, in French called La Vergette. Yet, when the condescended on time was come, he failed not to conduct his master Pantagruel to the appointed place, unto which, believe me, there was neither great nor small in Paris but came, thinking with themselves that this devilish Pantagruel, who had overthrown and vanquished in dispute all these doting fresh-water sophisters, would now get full payment and be tickled to some purpose. For this Englishman is a terrible bustler and horrible coil-keeper. We will see who will be conqueror, for he never met with his match before.

Thus all being assembled, Thaumast stayed for them, and then, when Pantagruel and Panurge came into the hall, all the schoolboys, professors of arts, senior sophisters, and bachelors began to clap their hands, as their scurvy custom is. But Pantagruel cried out with a loud voice, as if it had been the sound of a double cannon, saying, Peace, with a devil to you, peace! By G — you rogues, if you trouble me here, I will cut off the heads of everyone of you. At which words they remained all daunted and astonished like so many ducks, and durst not do so much as cough, although they had swallowed fifteen pounds of feathers. Withal they grew so dry with this only voice, that they laid out their tongues a full half foot beyond their mouths, as if Pantagruel had salted all their throats. Then began Panurge to speak, saying to the Englishman, Sir, are you come hither to dispute contentiously in those propositions you have set down, or, otherwise, but to learn and know the truth? To which answered Thaumast, Sir, no other thing brought me hither but the great desire I had to learn and to know that of which I have doubted all my life long, and have neither found book nor man able to content me in the resolution of those doubts which I have proposed. And, as for disputing contentiously, I will not do it, for it is too base a thing, and therefore leave it to those sottish sophisters who in their disputes do not search for the truth, but for contradiction only and debate. Then said Panurge, If I, who am but a mean and inconsiderable disciple of my master my lord Pantagruel, content and satisfy you in all and everything, it were a thing below my said master wherewith to trouble him. Therefore is it fitter that he be chairman, and sit as a judge and moderator of our discourse and purpose, and give you satisfaction in many things wherein perhaps I shall be wanting to your expectation. Truly, said Thaumast, it is very well said; begin then. Now you must note that Panurge had set at the end of his long codpiece a pretty tuft of red silk, as also of white, green, and blue, and within it had put a fair orange.

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