Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 11

How we passed through the wicket inhabited by Gripe-men-all, Archduke of the Furred Law-cats.

From thence Condemnation was passed by us. ’Tis another damned barren island, whereat none for the world cared to touch. Then we went through the wicket; but Pantagruel had no mind to bear us company, and ’twas well he did not, for we were nabbed there, and clapped into lob’s-pound by order of Gripe-men-all, Archduke of the Furred Law-cats, because one of our company would ha’ put upon a sergeant some hats of the Sharping Island.

The Furred Law-cats are most terrible and dreadful monsters, they devour little children, and trample over marble stones. Pray tell me, noble topers, do they not deserve to have their snouts slit? The hair of their hides doesn’t lie outward, but inwards, and every mother’s son of ‘em for his device wears a gaping pouch, but not all in the same manner; for some wear it tied to their neck scarfwise, others upon the breech, some on the paunch, others on the side, and all for a cause, with reason and mystery. They have claws so very strong, long, and sharp that nothing can get from ‘em that is once fast between their clutches. Sometimes they cover their heads with mortar-like caps, at other times with mortified caparisons.


The furred law cats scrambling after the crowns from Panurge's purse.

As we entered their den, said a common mumper, to whom we had given half a teston, Worshipful culprits, God send you a good deliverance! Examine well, said he, the countenance of these stout props and pillars of this catch-coin law and iniquity; and pray observe, that if you still live but six olympiads, and the age of two dogs more, you’ll see these Furred Law-cats lords of all Europe, and in peaceful possession of all the estates and dominions belonging to it; unless, by divine providence, what’s got over the devil’s back is spent under his belly, or the goods which they unjustly get perish with their prodigal heirs. Take this from an honest beggar.

Among ‘em reigns the sixth essence; by the means of which they gripe all, devour all, conskite all, burn all, draw all, hang all, quarter all, behead all, murder all, imprison all, waste all, and ruin all, without the least notice of right or wrong; for among them vice is called virtue; wickedness, piety; treason, loyalty; robbery, justice. Plunder is their motto, and when acted by them is approved by all men, except the heretics; and all this they do because they dare; their authority is sovereign and irrefragable. For a sign of the truth of what I tell you, you’ll find that there the mangers are above the racks. Remember hereafter that a fool told you this; and if ever plague, famine, war, fire, earthquakes, inundations, or other judgments befall the world, do not attribute ‘em to the aspects and conjunctions of the malevolent planets; to the abuses of the court of Romania, or the tyranny of secular kings and princes; to the impostures of the false zealots of the cowl, heretical bigots, false prophets, and broachers of sects; to the villainy of griping usurers, clippers, and coiners; or to the ignorance, impudence, and imprudence of physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries; nor to the lewdness of adulteresses and destroyers of by-blows; but charge them all, wholly and solely, to the inexpressible, incredible, and inestimable wickedness and ruin which is continually hatched, brewed, and practised in the den or shop of those Furred Law-cats. Yet ’tis no more known in the world than the cabala of the Jews, the more’s the pity; and therefore ’tis not detested, chastised, and punished as ’tis fit it should be. But should all their villainy be once displayed in its true colours and exposed to the people, there never was, is, nor will be any spokesman so sweet-mouthed, whose fine colloguing tongue could save ‘em; nor any law so rigorous and draconic that could punish ‘em as they deserve; nor yet any magistrate so powerful as to hinder their being burnt alive in their coneyburrows without mercy. Even their own furred kittlings, friends, and relations would abominate ‘em.

For this reason, as Hannibal was solemnly sworn by his father Amilcar to pursue the Romans with the utmost hatred as long as ever he lived, so my late father has enjoined me to remain here without, till God Almighty’s thunder reduce them there within to ashes, like other presumptuous Titans, profane wretches, and opposers of God; since mankind is so inured to their oppressions that they either do not remember, foresee, or have a sense of the woes and miseries which they have caused; or, if they have, either will not, dare not, or cannot root ‘em out.

How, said Panurge, say you so? Catch me there and hang me! Damme, let’s march off! This noble beggar has scared me worse than thunder in autumn [Motteux gives ‘than the thunder would do them.’]. Upon this we were filing off; but, alas! we found ourselves trapped — the door was double-locked and barricadoed. Some messengers of ill news told us it was full as easy to get in there as into hell, and no less hard to get out. Ay, there indeed lay the difficulty, for there is no getting loose without a pass and discharge in due course from the bench. This for no other reason than because folks go easier out of a church than out of a sponging-house, and because they could not have our company when they would. The worst on’t was when we got through the wicket; for we were carried, to get out our pass or discharge, before a more dreadful monster than ever was read of in the legends of knight-errantry. They called him Gripe-men-all. I can’t tell what to compare it to better than to a Chimaera, a Sphinx, a Cerberus; or to the image of Osiris, as the Egyptians represented him, with three heads, one of a roaring lion, t’other of a fawning cur, and the last of a howling, prowling wolf, twisted about with a dragon biting his tail, surrounded with fiery rays. His hands were full of gore, his talons like those of the harpies, his snout like a hawk’s bill, his fangs or tusks like those of an overgrown brindled wild boar; his eyes were flaming like the jaws of hell, all covered with mortars interlaced with pestles, and nothing of his arms was to be seen but his clutches. His hutch, and that of the warren-cats his collaterals, was a long, spick-and-span new rack, a-top of which (as the mumper told us) some large stately mangers were fixed in the reverse. Over the chief seat was the picture of an old woman holding the case or scabbard of a sickle in her right hand, a pair of scales in her left, with spectacles on her nose; the cups or scales of the balance were a pair of velvet pouches, the one full of bullion, which overpoised t’other, empty and long, hoisted higher than the middle of the beam. I’m of opinion it was the true effigies of Justice Gripe-men-all; far different from the institution of the ancient Thebans, who set up the statues of their dicasts without hands, in marble, silver, or gold, according to their merit, even after their death.

When we made our personal appearance before him, a sort of I don’t know what men, all clothed with I don’t know what bags and pouches, with long scrolls in their clutches, made us sit down upon a cricket (such as criminals sit on when tried in France). Quoth Panurge to ‘em, Good my lords, I’m very well as I am; I’d as lief stand, an’t please you. Besides, this same stool is somewhat of the lowest for a man that has new breeches and a short doublet. Sit you down, said Gripe-men-all again, and look that you don’t make the court bid you twice. Now, continued he, the earth shall immediately open its jaws and swallow you up to quick damnation if you don’t answer as you should.

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