Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 12

How Gripe-men-all propounded a riddle to us.

When we were sat, Gripe-men-all, in the middle of his furred cats, called to us in a hoarse dreadful voice, Well, come on, give me presently — an answer. Well, come on, muttered Panurge between his teeth, give, give me presently — a comforting dram. Hearken to the court, continued Gripe-men-all.

An Enigma.

A young tight thing, as fair as may be,

Without a dad conceived a baby,

And brought him forth without the pother

In labour made by teeming mother.

Yet the cursed brat feared not to gripe her,

But gnawed, for haste, her sides like viper.

Then the black upstart boldly sallies,

And walks and flies o’er hills and valleys.

Many fantastic sons of wisdom,

Amazed, foresaw their own in his doom;

And thought like an old Grecian noddy,

A human spirit moved his body.

Give, give me out of hand — an answer to this riddle, quoth Gripe-men-all. Give, give me — leave to tell you, good, good my lord, answered Panurge, that if I had but a sphinx at home, as Verres one of your precursors had, I might then solve your enigma presently. But verily, good my lord, I was not there; and, as I hope to be saved, am as innocent in the matter as the child unborn. Foh, give me — a better answer, cried Gripe-men-all; or, by gold, this shall not serve your turn. I’ll not be paid in such coin; if you have nothing better to offer, I’ll let your rascalship know that it had been better for you to have fallen into Lucifer’s own clutches than into ours. Dost thou see ‘em here, sirrah? hah? and dost thou prate here of thy being innocent, as if thou couldst be delivered from our racks and tortures for being so? Give me — Patience! thou widgeon. Our laws are like cobwebs; your silly little flies are stopped, caught, and destroyed therein, but your stronger ones break them, and force and carry them which way they please. Likewise, don’t think we are so mad as to set up our nets to snap up your great robbers and tyrants. No, they are somewhat too hard for us, there’s no meddling with them; for they would make no more of us than we make of the little ones. But you paltry, silly, innocent wretches must make us amends; and, by gold, we will innocentize your fopship with a wannion, you never were so innocentized in your days; the devil shall sing mass among ye.

Friar John, hearing him run on at that mad rate, had no longer the power to remain silent, but cried to him, Heigh-day! Prithee, Mr. Devil in a coif, wouldst thou have a man tell thee more than he knows? Hasn’t the fellow told you he does not know a word of the business? His name is Twyford. A plague rot you! won’t truth serve your turns? Why, how now, Mr. Prate-apace, cried Gripe-men-all, taking him short, marry come up, who made you so saucy as to open your lips before you were spoken to? Give me — Patience! By gold! this is the first time since I have reigned that anyone has had the impudence to speak before he was bidden. How came this mad fellow to break loose? (Villain, thou liest, said Friar John, without stirring his lips.) Sirrah, sirrah, continued Gripe-men-all, I doubt thou wilt have business enough on thy hands when it comes to thy turn to answer. (Damme, thou liest, said Friar John, silently.) Dost thou think, continued my lord, thou art in the wilderness of your foolish university, wrangling and bawling among the idle, wandering searchers and hunters after truth? By gold, we have here other fish to fry; we go another gate’s-way to work, that we do. By gold, people here must give categorical answers to what they don’t know. By gold, they must confess they have done those things which they have not nor ought to have done. By gold, they must protest that they know what they never knew in their lives; and, after all, patience perforce must be their only remedy, as well as a mad dog’s. Here silly geese are plucked, yet cackle not. Sirrah, give me — an account whether you had a letter of attorney, or whether you were feed or no, that you offered to bawl in another man’s cause? I see you had no authority to speak, and I may chance to have you wed to something you won’t like. Oh, you devils, cried Friar John, proto-devils, panto-devils, you would wed a monk, would you? Ho hu! ho hu! A heretic! a heretic! I’ll give thee out for a rank heretic.

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