To the most Illustrious Prince and most Reverend Lord Odet, Cardinal de Chastillon.
You know, most illustrious prince, how often I have been, and am daily pressed and required by great numbers of eminent persons, to proceed in the Pantagruelian fables; they tell me that many languishing, sick, and disconsolate persons, perusing them, have deceived their grief, passed their time merrily, and been inspired with new joy and comfort. I commonly answer that I aimed not at glory and applause when I diverted myself with writing, but only designed to give by my pen, to the absent who labour under affliction, that little help which at all times I willingly strive to give to the present that stand in need of my art and service. Sometimes I at large relate to them how Hippocrates in several places, and particularly in lib. 6. Epidem., describing the institution of the physician his disciple, and also Soranus of Ephesus, Oribasius, Galen, Hali Abbas, and other authors, have descended to particulars, in the prescription of his motions, deportment, looks, countenance, gracefulness, civility, cleanliness of face, clothes, beard, hair, hands, mouth, even his very nails; as if he were to play the part of a lover in some comedy, or enter the lists to fight some enemy. And indeed the practice of physic is properly enough compared by Hippocrates to a fight, and also to a farce acted between three persons, the patient, the physician, and the disease. Which passage has sometimes put me in mind of Julia’s saying to Augustus her father. One day she came before him in a very gorgeous, loose, lascivious dress, which very much displeased him, though he did not much discover his discontent. The next day she put on another, and in a modest garb, such as the chaste Roman ladies wore, came into his presence. The kind father could not then forbear expressing the pleasure which he took to see her so much altered, and said to her: Oh! how much more this garb becomes and is commendable in the daughter of Augustus. But she, having her excuse ready, answered: This day, sir, I dressed myself to please my father’s eye; yesterday, to gratify that of my husband. Thus disguised in looks and garb, nay even, as formerly was the fashion, with a rich and pleasant gown with four sleeves, which was called philonium according to Petrus Alexandrinus in 6. Epidem., a physician might answer to such as might find the metamorphosis indecent: Thus have I accoutred myself, not that I am proud of appearing in such a dress, but for the sake of my patient, whom alone I wholly design to please, and no wise offend or dissatisfy. There is also a passage in our father Hippocrates, in the book I have named, which causes some to sweat, dispute, and labour; not indeed to know whether the physician’s frowning, discontented, and morose Catonian look render the patient sad, and his joyful, serene, and pleasing countenance rejoice him; for experience teaches us that this is most certain; but whether such sensations of grief or pleasure are produced by the apprehension of the patient observing his motions and qualities in his physician, and drawing from thence conjectures of the end and catastrophe of his disease; as, by his pleasing look, joyful and desirable events, and by his sorrowful and unpleasing air, sad and dismal consequences; or whether those sensations be produced by a transfusion of the serene or gloomy, aerial or terrestrial, joyful or melancholic spirits of the physician into the person of the patient, as is the opinion of Plato, Averroes, and others.
Above all things, the forecited authors have given particular directions to physicians about the words, discourse, and converse which they ought to have with their patients; everyone aiming at one point, that is, to rejoice them without offending God, and in no wise whatsoever to vex or displease them. Which causes Herophilus much to blame the physician Callianax, who, being asked by a patient of his, Shall I die? impudently made him this answer:
Patroclus died, whom all allow
By much a better man than you.
Another, who had a mind to know the state of his distemper, asking him, after our merry Patelin’s way: Well, doctor, does not my water tell you I shall die? He foolishly answered, No; if Latona, the mother of those lovely twins, Phoebus and Diana, begot thee. Galen, lib. 4, Comment. 6. Epidem., blames much also Quintus his tutor, who, a certain nobleman of Rome, his patient, saying to him, You have been at breakfast, my master, your breath smells of wine; answered arrogantly, Yours smells of fever; which is the better smell of the two, wine or a putrid fever? But the calumny of certain cannibals, misanthropes, perpetual eavesdroppers, has been so foul and excessive against me, that it had conquered my patience, and I had resolved not to write one jot more. For the least of their detractions were that my books are all stuffed with various heresies, of which, nevertheless, they could not show one single instance; much, indeed, of comical and facetious fooleries, neither offending God nor the king (and truly I own they are the only subject and only theme of these books), but of heresy not a word, unless they interpreted wrong, and against all use of reason and common language, what I had rather suffer a thousand deaths, if it were possible, than have thought; as who should make bread to be stone, a fish to be a serpent, and an egg to be a scorpion. This, my lord, emboldened me once to tell you, as I was complaining of it in your presence, that if I did not esteem myself a better Christian than they show themselves towards me, and if my life, writings, words, nay thoughts, betrayed to me one single spark of heresy, or I should in a detestable manner fall into the snares of the spirit of detraction, (Greek), who, by their means, raises such crimes against me; I would then, like the phoenix, gather dry wood, kindle a fire, and burn myself in the midst of it. You were then pleased to say to me that King Francis, of eternal memory, had been made sensible of those false accusations; and that having caused my books (mine, I say, because several, false and infamous, have been wickedly laid to me) to be carefully and distinctly read to him by the most learned and faithful anagnost in this kingdom, he had not found any passage suspicious; and that he abhorred a certain envious, ignorant, hypocritical informer, who grounded a mortal heresy on an n put instead of an m by the carelessness of the printers.
As much was done by his son, our most gracious, virtuous, and blessed sovereign, Henry, whom Heaven long preserve! so that he granted you his royal privilege and particular protection for me against my slandering adversaries.
You kindly condescended since to confirm me these happy news at Paris; and also lately, when you visited my Lord Cardinal du Bellay, who, for the benefit of his health, after a lingering distemper, was retired to St. Maur, that place (or rather paradise) of salubrity, serenity, conveniency, and all desirable country pleasures.
Thus, my lord, under so glorious a patronage, I am emboldened once more to draw my pen, undaunted now and secure; with hopes that you will still prove to me, against the power of detraction, a second Gallic Hercules in learning, prudence, and eloquence; an Alexicacos in virtue, power, and authority; you, of whom I may truly say what the wise monarch Solomon saith of Moses, that great prophet and captain of Israel, Ecclesiast. 45: A man fearing and loving God, who found favour in the sight of all flesh, well-beloved both of God and man; whose memorial is blessed. God made him like to the glorious saints, and magnified him so, that his enemies stood in fear of him; and for him made wonders; made him glorious in the sight of kings, gave him a commandment for his people, and by him showed his light; he sanctified him in his faithfulness and meekness, and chose him out of all men. By him he made us to hear his voice, and caused by him the law of life and knowledge to be given.
Accordingly, if I shall be so happy as to hear anyone commend those merry composures, they shall be adjured by me to be obliged and pay their thanks to you alone, as also to offer their prayers to Heaven for the continuance and increase of your greatness; and to attribute no more to me than my humble and ready obedience to your commands; for by your most honourable encouragement you at once have inspired me with spirit and with invention; and without you my heart had failed me, and the fountain-head of my animal spirits had been dry. May the Lord keep you in his blessed mercy!
Your most humble, and most devoted Servant,
Francis Rabelais, Physician.
Paris, this 28th of January, MDLII.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54