Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 51

Table-talk in praise of the decretals.

Now, topers, pray observe that while Homenas was saying his dry mass, three collectors, or licensed beggars of the church, each of them with a large basin, went round among the people, with a loud voice: Pray remember the blessed men who have seen his face. As we came out of the temple they brought their basins brimful of Papimany chink to Homenas, who told us that it was plentifully to feast with; and that, of this contribution and voluntary tax, one part should be laid out in good drinking, another in good eating, and the remainder in both, according to an admirable exposition hidden in a corner of their holy decretals; which was performed to a T, and that at a noted tavern not much unlike that of Will’s at Amiens. Believe me, we tickled it off there with copious cramming and numerous swilling.

I made two notable observations at that dinner: the one, that there was not one dish served up, whether of cabrittas, capons, hogs (of which latter there is great plenty in Papimany), pigeons, coneys, leverets, turkeys, or others, without abundance of magistral stuff; the other, that every course, and the fruit also, were served up by unmarried females of the place, tight lasses, I’ll assure you, waggish, fair, good-conditioned, and comely, spruce, and fit for business. They were all clad in fine long white albs, with two girts; their hair interwoven with narrow tape and purple ribbon, stuck with roses, gillyflowers, marjoram, daffadowndillies, thyme, and other sweet flowers.

At every cadence they invited us to drink and bang it about, dropping us neat and genteel courtesies; nor was the sight of them unwelcome to all the company; and as for Friar John, he leered on them sideways, like a cur that steals a capon. When the first course was taken off, the females melodiously sung us an epode in the praise of the sacrosanct decretals; and then the second course being served up, Homenas, joyful and cheery, said to one of the she-butlers, Light here, Clerica. Immediately one of the girls brought him a tall-boy brimful of extravagant wine. He took fast hold of it, and fetching a deep sigh, said to Pantagruel, My lord, and you, my good friends, here’s t’ye, with all my heart; you are all very welcome. When he had tipped that off, and given the tall-boy to the pretty creature, he lifted up his voice and said, O most holy decretals, how good is good wine found through your means! This is the best jest we have had yet, observed Panurge. But it would still be a better, said Pantagruel, if they could turn bad wine into good.


Immediately one of the girls brought him a tall-boy brimful of extravagant wine.

O seraphic Sextum! continued Homenas, how necessary are you not to the salvation of poor mortals! O cherubic Clementinae! how perfectly the perfect institution of a true Christian is contained and described in you! O angelical Extravagantes! how many poor souls that wander up and down in mortal bodies through this vale of misery would perish were it not for you! When, ah! when shall this special gift of grace be bestowed on mankind, as to lay aside all other studies and concerns, to use you, to peruse you, to understand you, to know you by heart, to practise you, to incorporate you, to turn you into blood, and incentre you into the deepest ventricles of their brains, the inmost marrow of their bones, and most intricate labyrinth of their arteries? Then, ah! then, and no sooner than then, nor otherwise than thus, shall the world be happy! While the old man was thus running on, Epistemon rose and softly said to Panurge: For want of a close-stool, I must even leave you for a moment or two; this stuff has unbunged the orifice of my mustard-barrel; but I’ll not tarry long.

Then, ah! then, continued Homenas, no hail, frost, ice, snow, overflowing, or vis major; then plenty of all earthly goods here below. Then uninterrupted and eternal peace through the universe, an end of all wars, plunderings, drudgeries, robbing, assassinates, unless it be to destroy these cursed rebels the heretics. Oh! then, rejoicing, cheerfulness, jollity, solace, sports, and delicious pleasures, over the face of the earth. Oh! what great learning, inestimable erudition, and god-like precepts are knit, linked, rivetted, and mortised in the divine chapters of these eternal decretals!

Oh! how wonderfully, if you read but one demi-canon, short paragraph, or single observation of these sacrosanct decretals, how wonderfully, I say, do you not perceive to kindle in your hearts a furnace of divine love, charity towards your neighbour (provided he be no heretic), bold contempt of all casual and sublunary things, firm content in all your affections, and ecstatic elevation of soul even to the third heaven.

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