Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 16

How Friar John made trial of the nature of the catchpoles.

This story would seem pleasant enough, said Pantagruel, were we not to have always the fear of God before our eyes. It had been better, said Epistemon, if those gauntlets had fallen upon the fat prior. Since he took a pleasure in spending his money partly to vex Basche, partly to see those catchpoles banged, good lusty thumps would have done well on his shaved crown, considering the horrid concussions nowadays among those puny judges. What harm had done those poor devils the catchpoles? This puts me in mind, said Pantagruel, of an ancient Roman named L. Neratius. He was of noble blood, and for some time was rich; but had this tyrannical inclination, that whenever he went out of doors he caused his servants to fill their pockets with gold and silver, and meeting in the street your spruce gallants and better sort of beaux, without the least provocation, for his fancy, he used to strike them hard on the face with his fist; and immediately after that, to appease them and hinder them from complaining to the magistrates, he would give them as much money as satisfied them according to the law of the twelve tables. Thus he used to spend his revenue, beating people for the price of his money. By St. Bennet’s sacred boot, quoth Friar John, I will know the truth of it presently.

This said, he went on shore, put his hand in his fob, and took out twenty ducats; then said with a loud voice, in the hearing of a shoal of the nation of catchpoles, Who will earn twenty ducats for being beaten like the devil? Io, Io, Io, said they all; you will cripple us for ever, sir, that is most certain; but the money is tempting. With this they were all thronging who should be first to be thus preciously beaten. Friar John singled him out of the whole knot of these rogues in grain, a red-snouted catchpole, who upon his right thumb wore a thick broad silver hoop, wherein was set a good large toadstone. He had no sooner picked him out from the rest, but I perceived that they all muttered and grumbled; and I heard a young thin-jawed catchpole, a notable scholar, a pretty fellow at his pen, and, according to public report, much cried up for his honesty at Doctors’ Commons, making his complaint and muttering because this same crimson phiz carried away all the practice, and that if there were but a score and a half of bastinadoes to be got, he would certainly run away with eight and twenty of them. But all this was looked upon to be nothing but mere envy.

Friar John so unmercifully thrashed, thumped, and belaboured Red-snout, back and belly, sides, legs, and arms, head, feet, and so forth, with the home and farewell repeated application of one of the best members of a faggot, that I took him to be a dead man; then he gave him the twenty ducats, which made the dog get on his legs, pleased like a little king or two. The rest were saying to Friar John, Sir, sir, brother devil, if it please you to do us the favour to beat some of us for less money, we are all at your devilship’s command, bags, papers, pens, and all. Red-snout cried out against them, saying, with a loud voice, Body of me, you little prigs, will you offer to take the bread out of my mouth? will you take my bargain over my head? would you draw and inveigle from me my clients and customers? Take notice, I summon you before the official this day sevennight; I will law and claw you like any old devil of Vauverd, that I will — Then turning himself towards Friar John, with a smiling and joyful look, he said to him, Reverend father in the devil, if you have found me a good hide, and have a mind to divert yourself once more by beating your humble servant, I will bate you half in half this time rather than lose your custom; do not spare me, I beseech you; I am all, and more than all, yours, good Mr. Devil; head, lungs, tripes, guts, and garbage; and that at a pennyworth, I’ll assure you. Friar John never heeded his proffers, but even left them. The other catchpoles were making addresses to Panurge, Epistemon, Gymnast, and others, entreating them charitably to bestow upon their carcasses a small beating, for otherwise they were in danger of keeping a long fast; but none of them had a stomach to it. Some time after, seeking fresh water for the ship’s company, we met a couple of old female catchpoles of the place, miserably howling and weeping in concert. Pantagruel had kept on board, and already had caused a retreat to be sounded. Thinking that they might be related to the catchpole that was bastinadoed, we asked them the occasion of their grief. They replied that they had too much cause to weep; for that very hour, from an exalted triple tree, two of the honestest gentlemen in Catchpole-land had been made to cut a caper on nothing. Cut a caper on nothing, said Gymnast; my pages use to cut capers on the ground; to cut a caper on nothing should be hanging and choking, or I am out. Ay, ay, said Friar John; you speak of it like St. John de la Palisse.


They came where two old women were weeping and wailing.

We asked them why they treated these worthy persons with such a choking hempen salad. They told us they had only borrowed, alias stolen, the tools of the mass and hid them under the handle of the parish. This is a very allegorical way of speaking, said Epistemon.

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