Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 9

How we arrived at the island of Tools.

Having well ballasted the holds of our human vessels, we weighed anchor, hoised up sail, stowed the boats, set the land, and stood for the offing with a fair loom gale, and for more haste unpareled the mizen-yard, and launched it and the sail over the lee-quarter, and fitted gyves to keep it steady, and boomed it out; so in three days we made the island of Tools, that is altogether uninhabited. We saw there a great number of trees which bore mattocks, pickaxes, crows, weeding-hooks, scythes, sickles, spades, trowels, hatchets, hedging-bills, saws, adzes, bills, axes, shears, pincers, bolts, piercers, augers, and wimbles.

Others bore dags, daggers, poniards, bayonets, square-bladed tucks, stilettoes, poniardoes, skeans, penknives, puncheons, bodkins, swords, rapiers, back-swords, cutlasses, scimitars, hangers, falchions, glaives, raillons, whittles, and whinyards.

Whoever would have any of these needed but to shake the tree, and immediately they dropped down as thick as hops, like so many ripe plums; nay, what’s more, they fell on a kind of grass called scabbard, and sheathed themselves in it cleverly. But when they came down, there was need of taking care lest they happened to touch the head, feet, or other parts of the body. For they fell with the point downwards, and in they stuck, or slit the continuum of some member, or lopped it off like a twig; either of which generally was enough to have killed a man, though he were a hundred years old, and worth as many thousand spankers, spur-royals, and rose-nobles.

Under some other trees, whose names I cannot justly tell you, I saw some certain sorts of weeds that grew and sprouted like pikes, lances, javelins, javelots, darts, dartlets, halberds, boar-spears, eel-spears, partizans, tridents, prongs, trout-staves, spears, half-pikes, and hunting-staves. As they sprouted up and chanced to touch the tree, straight they met with their heads, points, and blades, each suitable to its kind, made ready for them by the trees over them, as soon as every individual wood was grown up, fit for its steel; even like the children’s coats, that are made for them as soon as they can wear them and you wean them of their swaddling clothes. Nor do you mutter, I pray you, at what Plato, Anaxagoras, and Democritus have said. Ods-fish! they were none of your lower-form gimcracks, were they?

Those trees seemed to us terrestrial animals, in no wise so different from brute beasts as not to have skin, fat, flesh, veins, arteries, ligaments, nerves, cartilages, kernels, bones, marrow, humours, matrices, brains, and articulations; for they certainly have some, since Theophrastus will have it so. But in this point they differed from other animals, that their heads, that is, the part of their trunks next to the root, are downwards; their hair, that is, their roots, in the earth; and their feet, that is, their branches, upside down; as if a man should stand on his head with outstretched legs. And as you, battered sinners, on whom Venus has bestowed something to remember her, feel the approach of rains, winds, cold, and every change of weather, at your ischiatic legs and your omoplates, by means of the perpetual almanack which she has fixed there; so these trees have notice given them, by certain sensations which they have at their roots, stocks, gums, paps, or marrow, of the growth of the staves under them, and accordingly they prepare suitable points and blades for them beforehand. Yet as all things, except God, are sometimes subject to error, nature itself not free from it when it produceth monstrous things, likewise I observed something amiss in these trees. For a half-pike that grow up high enough to reach the branches of one of these instrumentiferous trees, happened no sooner to touch them but, instead of being joined to an iron head, it impaled a stubbed broom at the fundament. Well, no matter, ’twill serve to sweep the chimney. Thus a partizan met with a pair of garden shears. Come, all’s good for something; ’twill serve to nip off little twigs and destroy caterpillars. The staff of a halberd got the blade of a scythe, which made it look like a hermaphrodite. Happy-be-lucky, ’tis all a case; ’twill serve for some mower. Oh, ’tis a great blessing to put our trust in the Lord! As we went back to our ships I spied behind I don’t know what bush, I don’t know what folks, doing I don’t know what business, in I don’t know what posture, scouring I don’t know what tools, in I don’t know what manner, and I don’t know what place.

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