Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 44

How Pantagruel relateth a strange history of the perplexity of human judgment.

Seeing you talk, quoth Pantagruel, of dark, difficult, hard, and knotty debates, I will tell you of one controverted before Cneius Dolabella, proconsul in Asia. The case was this.

A wife in Smyrna had of her first husband a child named Abece. He dying, she, after the expiring of a year and day, married again, and to her second husband bore a boy called Effege. A pretty long time thereafter it happened, as you know the affection of stepfathers and stepdams is very rare towards the children of the first fathers and mothers deceased, that this husband, with the help of his son Effege, secretly, wittingly, willingly, and treacherously murdered Abece. The woman came no sooner to get information of the fact, but, that it might not go unpunished, she caused kill them both, to revenge the death of her first son. She was apprehended and carried before Cneius Dolabella, in whose presence she, without dissembling anything, confessed all that was laid to her charge; yet alleged that she had both right and reason on her side for the killing of them. Thus was the state of the question. He found the business so dubious and intricate, that he knew not what to determine therein, nor which of the parties to incline to. On the other hand, it was an execrable crime to cut off at once both her second husband and her son. On the other hand, the cause of the murder seemed to be so natural, as to be grounded upon the law of nations and the rational instinct of all the people of the world, seeing they two together had feloniously and murderously destroyed her first son; not that they had been in any manner of way wronged, outraged, or injured by him, but out of an avaricious intent to possess his inheritance. In this doubtful quandary and uncertainty what to pitch upon, he sent to the Areopagites then sitting at Athens to learn and obtain their advice and judgment. That judicious senate, very sagely perpending the reasons of his perplexity, sent him word to summon her personally to compear before him a precise hundred years thereafter, to answer to some interrogatories touching certain points which were not contained in the verbal defence. Which resolution of theirs did import that it was in their opinion a so difficult and inextricable matter that they knew not what to say or judge therein. Who had decided that plea by the chance and fortune of the dice, could not have erred nor awarded amiss on which side soever he had passed his casting and condemnatory sentence. If against the woman, she deserved punishment for usurping sovereign authority by taking that vengeance at her own hand, the inflicting whereof was only competent to the supreme power to administer justice in criminal cases. If for her, the just resentment of a so atrocious injury done unto her, in murdering her innocent son, did fully excuse and vindicate her of any trespass or offence about that particular committed by her. But this continuation of Bridlegoose for so many years still hitting the nail on the head, never missing the mark, and always judging aright, by the mere throwing of the dice and chance thereof, is that which most astonisheth and amazeth me.

To answer, quoth Pantagruel (Epistemon, says the English edition of 1694, following the reading of the modern French editions. Le Duchat has pointed out the mistake. — M.), categorically to that which you wonder at, I must ingeniously confess and avow that I cannot; yet, conjecturally to guess at the reason of it, I would refer the cause of that marvellously long-continued happy success in the judiciary results of his definitive sentences to the favourable aspect of the heavens and benignity of the intelligences; who, out of their love to goodness, after having contemplated the pure simplicity and sincere unfeignedness of Judge Bridlegoose in the acknowledgment of his inabilities, did regulate that for him by chance which by the profoundest act of his maturest deliberation he was not able to reach unto. That, likewise, which possibly made him to diffide in his own skill and capacity, notwithstanding his being an expert and understanding lawyer, for anything that I know to the contrary, was the knowledge and experience which he had of the antinomies, contrarieties, antilogies, contradictions, traversings, and thwartings of laws, customs, edicts, statutes, orders, and ordinances, in which dangerous opposition, equity and justice being structured and founded on either of the opposite terms, and a gap being thereby opened for the ushering in of injustice and iniquity through the various interpretations of self-ended lawyers, being assuredly persuaded that the infernal calumniator, who frequently transformeth himself into the likeness of a messenger or angel of light, maketh use of these cross glosses and expositions in the mouths and pens of his ministers and servants, the perverse advocates, bribing judges, law-monging attorneys, prevaricating counsellors, and other such-like law-wresting members of a court of justice, to turn by those means black to white, green to grey, and what is straight to a crooked ply. For the more expedient doing whereof, these diabolical ministers make both the pleading parties believe that their cause is just and righteous; for it is well known that there is no cause, how bad soever, which doth not find an advocate to patrocinate and defend it — else would there be no process in the world, no suits at law, nor pleadings at the bar. He did in these extremities, as I conceive, most humbly recommend the direction of his judicial proceedings to the upright judge of judges, God Almighty; did submit himself to the conduct and guideship of the blessed Spirit in the hazard and perplexity of the definitive sentence, and, by this aleatory lot, did as it were implore and explore the divine decree of his goodwill and pleasure, instead of that which we call the final judgment of a court. To this effect, to the better attaining to his purpose, which was to judge righteously, he did, in my opinion, throw and turn the dice, to the end that by the providence aforesaid the best chance might fall to him whose action was uprightest, and backed with greatest reason. In doing whereof he did not stray from the sense of Talmudists, who say that there is so little harm in that manner of searching the truth, that in the anxiety and perplexedness of human wits God oftentimes manifesteth the secret pleasure of his divine will.

Furthermore, I will neither think nor say, nor can I believe, that the unstraightness is so irregular, or the corruption so evident, of those of the parliament of Mirelingois in Mirelingues, before whom Bridlegoose was arraigned for prevarication, that they will maintain it to be a worse practice to have the decision of a suit at law referred to the chance and hazard of a throw of the dice, hab nab, or luck as it will, than to have it remitted to and passed by the determination of those whose hands are full of blood and hearts of wry affections. Besides that, their principal direction in all law matters comes to their hands from one Tribonian, a wicked, miscreant, barbarous, faithless and perfidious knave, so pernicious, unjust, avaricious, and perverse in his ways, that it was his ordinary custom to sell laws, edicts, declarations, constitutions, and ordinances, as at an outroop or putsale, to him who offered most for them. Thus did he shape measures for the pleaders, and cut their morsels to them by and out of these little parcels, fragments, bits, scantlings, and shreds of the law now in use, altogether concealing, suppressing, disannulling, and abolishing the remainder, which did make for the total law; fearing that, if the whole law were made manifest and laid open to the knowledge of such as are interested in it, and the learned books of the ancient doctors of the law upon the exposition of the Twelve Tables and Praetorian Edicts, his villainous pranks, naughtiness, and vile impiety should come to the public notice of the world. Therefore were it better, in my conceit, that is to say, less inconvenient, that parties at variance in any juridical case should in the dark march upon caltrops than submit the determination of what is their right to such unhallowed sentences and horrible decrees; as Cato in his time wished and advised that every judiciary court should be paved with caltrops.

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