Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 19

How Pantagruel praiseth the counsel of dumb men.

Pantagruel, when this discourse was ended, held for a pretty while his peace, seeming to be exceeding sad and pensive, then said to Panurge, The malignant spirit misleads, beguileth, and seduceth you. I have read that in times past the surest and most veritable oracles were not those which either were delivered in writing or uttered by word of mouth in speaking. For many times, in their interpretation, right witty, learned, and ingenious men have been deceived through amphibologies, equivoques, and obscurity of words, no less than by the brevity of their sentences. For which cause Apollo, the god of vaticination, was surnamed (Greek). Those which were represented then by signs and outward gestures were accounted the truest and the most infallible. Such was the opinion of Heraclitus. And Jupiter did himself in this manner give forth in Ammon frequently predictions. Nor was he single in this practice; for Apollo did the like amongst the Assyrians. His prophesying thus unto those people moved them to paint him with a large long beard, and clothes beseeming an old settled person of a most posed, staid, and grave behaviour; not naked, young, and beardless, as he was portrayed most usually amongst the Grecians. Let us make trial of this kind of fatidicency; and go you take advice of some dumb person without any speaking. I am content, quoth Panurge. But, says Pantagruel, it were requisite that the dumb you consult with be such as have been deaf from the hour of their nativity, and consequently dumb; for none can be so lively, natural, and kindly dumb as he who never heard.

How is it, quoth Panurge, that you conceive this matter? If you apprehend it so, that never any spoke who had not before heard the speech of others, I will from that antecedent bring you to infer very logically a most absurd and paradoxical conclusion. But let it pass; I will not insist on it. You do not then believe what Herodotus wrote of two children, who, at the special command and appointment of Psammeticus, King of Egypt, having been kept in a petty country cottage, where they were nourished and entertained in a perpetual silence, did at last, after a certain long space of time, pronounce this word Bec, which in the Phrygian language signifieth bread. Nothing less, quoth Pantagruel, do I believe than that it is a mere abusing of our understandings to give credit to the words of those who say that there is any such thing as a natural language. All speeches have had their primary origin from the arbitrary institutions, accords, and agreements of nations in their respective condescendments to what should be noted and betokened by them. An articulate voice, according to the dialecticians, hath naturally no signification at all; for that the sense and meaning thereof did totally depend upon the good will and pleasure of the first deviser and imposer of it. I do not tell you this without a cause; for Bartholus, Lib. 5. de Verb. Oblig., very seriously reporteth that even in his time there was in Eugubia one named Sir Nello de Gabrielis, who, although he by a sad mischance became altogether deaf, understood nevertheless everyone that talked in the Italian dialect howsoever he expressed himself; and that only by looking on his external gestures, and casting an attentive eye upon the divers motions of his lips and chaps. I have read, I remember also, in a very literate and eloquent author, that Tyridates, King of Armenia, in the days of Nero, made a voyage to Rome, where he was received with great honour and solemnity, and with all manner of pomp and magnificence. Yea, to the end there might be a sempiternal amity and correspondence preserved betwixt him and the Roman senate, there was no remarkable thing in the whole city which was not shown unto him. At his departure the emperor bestowed upon him many ample donatives of an inestimable value; and besides, the more entirely to testify his affection towards him, heartily entreated him to be pleased to make choice of any whatsoever thing in Rome was most agreeable to his fancy, with a promise juramentally confirmed that he should not be refused of his demand. Thereupon, after a suitable return of thanks for a so gracious offer, he required a certain Jack-pudding whom he had seen to act his part most egregiously upon the stage, and whose meaning, albeit he knew not what it was he had spoken, he understood perfectly enough by the signs and gesticulations which he had made. And for this suit of his, in that he asked nothing else, he gave this reason, that in the several wide and spacious dominions which were reduced under the sway and authority of his sovereign government, there were sundry countries and nations much differing from one another in language, with whom, whether he was to speak unto them or give any answer to their requests, he was always necessitated to make use of divers sorts of truchman and interpreters. Now with this man alone, sufficient for supplying all their places, will that great inconveniency hereafter be totally removed; seeing he is such a fine gesticulator, and in the practice of chirology an artist so complete, expert, and dexterous, that with his very fingers he doth speak. Howsoever, you are to pitch upon such a dumb one as is deaf by nature and from his birth; to the end that his gestures and signs may be the more vively and truly prophetic, and not counterfeit by the intermixture of some adulterate lustre and affectation. Yet whether this dumb person shall be of the male or female sex is in your option, lieth at your discretion, and altogether dependeth on your own election.

I would more willingly, quoth Panurge, consult with and be advised by a dumb woman, were it not that I am afraid of two things. The first is, that the greater part of women, whatever be that they see, do always represent unto their fancies, think, and imagine, that it hath some relation to the sugared entering of the goodly ithyphallos, and graffing in the cleft of the overturned tree the quickset imp of the pin of copulation. Whatever signs, shows, or gestures we shall make, or whatever our behaviour, carriage, or demeanour shall happen to be in their view and presence, they will interpret the whole in reference to the act of androgynation and the culbutizing exercise, by which means we shall be abusively disappointed of our designs, in regard that she will take all our signs for nothing else but tokens and representations of our desire to entice her unto the lists of a Cyprian combat or catsenconny skirmish. Do you remember what happened at Rome two hundred and threescore years after the foundation thereof? A young Roman gentleman encountering by chance, at the foot of Mount Celion, with a beautiful Latin lady named Verona, who from her very cradle upwards had always been both deaf and dumb, very civilly asked her, not without a chironomatic Italianizing of his demand, with various jectigation of his fingers and other gesticulations as yet customary amongst the speakers of that country, what senators in her descent from the top of the hill she had met with going up thither. For you are to conceive that he, knowing no more of her deafness than dumbness, was ignorant of both. She in the meantime, who neither heard nor understood so much as one word of what he had said, straight imagined, by all that she could apprehend in the lovely gesture of his manual signs, that what he then required of her was what herself had a great mind to, even that which a young man doth naturally desire of a woman. Then was it that by signs, which in all occurrences of venereal love are incomparably more attractive, valid, and efficacious than words, she beckoned to him to come along with her to her house; which when he had done, she drew him aside to a privy room, and then made a most lively alluring sign unto him to show that the game did please her. Whereupon, without any more advertisement, or so much as the uttering of one word on either side, they fell to and bringuardized it lustily.

The other cause of my being averse from consulting with dumb women is, that to our signs they would make no answer at all, but suddenly fall backwards in a divarication posture, to intimate thereby unto us the reality of their consent to the supposed motion of our tacit demands. Or if they should chance to make any countersigns responsory to our propositions, they would prove so foolish, impertinent, and ridiculous, that by them ourselves should easily judge their thoughts to have no excursion beyond the duffling academy. You know very well how at Brignoles, when the religious nun, Sister Fatbum, was made big with child by the young Stiffly-stand-to’t, her pregnancy came to be known, and she cited by the abbess, and, in a full convention of the convent, accused of incest. Her excuse was that she did not consent thereto, but that it was done by the violence and impetuous force of the Friar Stiffly-stand-to’t. Hereto the abbess very austerely replying, Thou naughty wicked girl, why didst thou not cry, A rape, a rape! then should all of us have run to thy succour. Her answer was that the rape was committed in the dortour, where she durst not cry because it was a place of sempiternal silence. But, quoth the abbess, thou roguish wench, why didst not thou then make some sign to those that were in the next chamber beside thee? To this she answered that with her buttocks she made a sign unto them as vigorously as she could, yet never one of them did so much as offer to come to her help and assistance. But, quoth the abbess, thou scurvy baggage, why didst thou not tell it me immediately after the perpetration of the fact, that so we might orderly, regularly, and canonically have accused him? I would have done so, had the case been mine, for the clearer manifestation of mine innocency. I truly, madam, would have done the like with all my heart and soul, quoth Sister Fatbum, but that fearing I should remain in sin, and in the hazard of eternal damnation, if prevented by a sudden death, I did confess myself to the father friar before he went out of the room, who, for my penance, enjoined me not to tell it, or reveal the matter unto any. It were a most enormous and horrid offence, detestable before God and the angels, to reveal a confession. Such an abominable wickedness would have possibly brought down fire from heaven, wherewith to have burnt the whole nunnery, and sent us all headlong to the bottomless pit, to bear company with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

You will not, quoth Pantagruel, with all your jesting, make me laugh. I know that all the monks, friars, and nuns had rather violate and infringe the highest of the commandments of God than break the least of their provincial statutes. Take you therefore Goatsnose, a man very fit for your present purpose; for he is, and hath been, both dumb and deaf from the very remotest infancy of his childhood.

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