Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 52

A continuation of the miracles caused by the decretals.

Wisely, brother Timothy, quoth Panurge, did am, did am; he says blew; but, for my part, I believe as little of it as I can. For one day by chance I happened to read a chapter of them at Poictiers, at the most decretalipotent Scotch doctor’s, and old Nick turn me into bumfodder, if this did not make me so hide-bound and costive, that for four or five days I hardly scumbered one poor butt of sir-reverence; and that, too, was full as dry and hard, I protest, as Catullus tells us were those of his neighbour Furius:

Nec toto decies cacas in anno,

Atque id durius est faba, et lapillis:

Quod tu si manibus teras, fricesque,

Non unquam digitum inquinare posses.

Oh, ho! cried Homenas; by’r lady, it may be you were then in the state of mortal sin, my friend. Well turned, cried Panurge; this was a new strain, egad.

One day, said Friar John, at Seuille, I had applied to my posteriors, by way of hind-towel, a leaf of an old Clementinae which our rent-gatherer, John Guimard, had thrown out into the green of our cloister. Now the devil broil me like a black pudding, if I wasn’t so abominably plagued with chaps, chawns, and piles at the fundament, that the orifice of my poor nockandroe was in a most woeful pickle for I don’t know how long. By’r our lady, cried Homenas, it was a plain punishment of God for the sin that you had committed in beraying that sacred book, which you ought rather to have kissed and adored; I say with an adoration of latria, or of hyperdulia at least. The Panormitan never told a lie in the matter.

Saith Ponocrates: At Montpelier, John Chouart having bought of the monks of St. Olary a delicate set of decretals, written on fine large parchment of Lamballe, to beat gold between the leaves, not so much as a piece that was beaten in them came to good, but all were dilacerated and spoiled. Mark this! cried Homenas; ’twas a divine punishment and vengeance.

At Mans, said Eudemon, Francis Cornu, apothecary, had turned an old set of Extravagantes into waste paper. May I never stir, if whatever was lapped up in them was not immediately corrupted, rotten, and spoiled; incense, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, wax, cassia, rhubarb, tamarinds, all drugs and spices, were lost without exception. Mark, mark, quoth Homenas, an effect of divine justice! This comes of putting the sacred Scriptures to such profane uses.

At Paris, said Carpalin, Snip Groignet the tailor had turned an old Clementinae into patterns and measures, and all the clothes that were cut on them were utterly spoiled and lost; gowns, hoods, cloaks, cassocks, jerkins, jackets, waistcoats, capes, doublets, petticoats, corps de robes, farthingales, and so forth. Snip, thinking to cut a hood, would cut you out a codpiece; instead of a cassock he would make you a high-crowned hat; for a waistcoat he’d shape you out a rochet; on the pattern of a doublet he’d make you a thing like a frying-pan. Then his journeymen having stitched it up did jag it and pink it at the bottom, and so it looked like a pan to fry chestnuts. Instead of a cape he made a buskin; for a farthingale he shaped a montero cap; and thinking to make a cloak, he’d cut out a pair of your big out-strouting Swiss breeches, with panes like the outside of a tabor. Insomuch that Snip was condemned to make good the stuffs to all his customers; and to this day poor Cabbage’s hair grows through his hood and his arse through his pocket-holes. Mark, an effect of heavenly wrath and vengeance! cried Homenas.

At Cahusac, said Gymnast, a match being made by the lords of Estissac and Viscount Lausun to shoot at a mark, Perotou had taken to pieces a set of decretals and set one of the leaves for the white to shoot at. Now I sell, nay, I give and bequeath for ever and aye, the mould of my doublet to fifteen hundred hampers full of black devils, if ever any archer in the country (though they are singular marksmen in Guienne) could hit the white. Not the least bit of the holy scribble was contaminated or touched; nay, and Sansornin the elder, who held stakes, swore to us, figues dioures, hard figs (his greatest oath), that he had openly, visibly, and manifestly seen the bolt of Carquelin moving right to the round circle in the middle of the white; and that just on the point, when it was going to hit and enter, it had gone aside above seven foot and four inches wide of it towards the bakehouse.

Miracle! cried Homenas, miracle! miracle! Clerica, come wench, light, light here. Here’s to you all, gentlemen; I vow you seem to me very sound Christians. While he said this, the maidens began to snicker at his elbow, grinning, giggling, and twittering among themselves. Friar John began to paw, neigh, and whinny at the snout’s end, as one ready to leap, or at least to play the ass, and get up and ride tantivy to the devil like a beggar on horseback.

Methinks, said Pantagruel, a man might have been more out of danger near the white of which Gymnast spoke than was formerly Diogenes near another. How is that? asked Homenas; what was it? Was he one of our decretalists? Rarely fallen in again, egad, said Epistemon, returning from stool; I see he will hook his decretals in, though by the head and shoulders.

Diogenes, said Pantagruel, one day for pastime went to see some archers that shot at butts, one of whom was so unskilful, that when it was his turn to shoot all the bystanders went aside, lest he should mistake them for the mark. Diogenes had seen him shoot extremely wide of it; so when the other was taking aim a second time, and the people removed at a great distance to the right and left of the white, he placed himself close by the mark, holding that place to be the safest, and that so bad an archer would certainly rather hit any other.

One of the Lord d’Estissac’s pages at last found out the charm, pursued Gymnast, and by his advice Perotou put in another white made up of some papers of Pouillac’s lawsuit, and then everyone shot cleverly.

At Landerousse, said Rhizotome, at John Delif’s wedding were very great doings, as ’twas then the custom of the country. After supper several farces, interludes, and comical scenes were acted; they had also several morris-dancers with bells and tabors, and divers sorts of masks and mummers were let in. My schoolfellows and I, to grace the festival to the best of our power (for fine white and purple liveries had been given to all of us in the morning), contrived a merry mask with store of cockle-shells, shells of snails, periwinkles, and such other. Then for want of cuckoo-pint, or priest-pintle, lousebur, clote, and paper, we made ourselves false faces with the leaves of an old Sextum that had been thrown by and lay there for anyone that would take it up, cutting out holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Now, did you ever hear the like since you were born? When we had played our little boyish antic tricks, and came to take off our sham faces, we appeared more hideous and ugly than the little devils that acted the Passion at Douay; for our faces were utterly spoiled at the places which had been touched by those leaves. One had there the small-pox; another, God’s token, or the plague-spot; a third, the crinckums; a fourth, the measles; a fifth, botches, pushes, and carbuncles; in short, he came off the least hurt who only lost his teeth by the bargain. Miracle! bawled out Homenas, miracle!

Hold, hold! cried Rhizotome; it is not yet time to clap. My sister Kate and my sister Ren had put the crepines of their hoods, their ruffles, snuffekins, and neck-ruffs new washed, starched, and ironed, into that very book of decretals; for, you must know, it was covered with thick boards and had strong clasps. Now, by the virtue of God — Hold, interrupted Homenas, what god do you mean? There is but one, answered Rhizotome. In heaven, I grant, replied Homenas; but we have another here on earth, do you see? Ay, marry have we, said Rhizotome; but on my soul I protest I had quite forgot it. Well then, by the virtue of god the pope, their pinners, neck-ruffs, bib, coifs, and other linen turned as black as a charcoal-man’s sack. Miracle! cried Homenas. Here, Clerica, light me here; and prithee, girl, observe these rare stories. How comes it to pass then, asked Friar John, that people say,

Ever since decrees had tails,

And gendarmes lugged heavy mails,

Since each monk would have a horse,

All went here from bad to worse.

I understand you, answered Homenas; this is one of the quirks and little satires of the new-fangled heretics.

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