AN EXPLANATION BY WAY OF PREFACE.
I FREELY admit what all the world knows about FRANCOIS RABELAIS.
Long before the day when Fielding and Smollett began to be read on the sly, and before the comic Muse of Congreve and Wycherly began to be looked at askance, that English moral sentiment, over which Ma-caulay was to philosophize more than a century later, had solidified in ignoring Rabelais. Nothing is to be said against the, sertimfem irself. This has always been fairly righteous, if just a bit undiseriminating. A great humorist, showing himself content to grovel in ,the dirt, is, beyond question, deserving of black looks tin;! -t-hut <lqar*. But more than most old masters of a type, strong,- aJbeit -coaise, Rabelais — from the distinctly marked physical attributes of his chief personages — may claim certain good points which, drawn out and grouped together, ought to fall within the circle of those tales which interest children.
I have read Rabelais twice in my life. Each time, I have read
him in that old French, which has no master quite so great as he; and each time in Auguste Desrez's edition, which, in its careful Table des Matieres, learned glossary, quaint notes, Gallicized Latin and Greek words, and a complete Rabelaisiana, shows the devotion of the rare editor, who does not distort, because he understands, the Master whom he edits. When I first peeped into his pages I was a lad, altogether too young to be tainted by profanity, while I skipped, true boy-fashion, whole pages to pick out the wondrous story of his Giants. When I came back to him, after many years, I was both older and, I hope, wiser. Being older, I had learned to gauge him better, both in his strength and in his weakness. I had come to see wherein an old prejudice was too just to be safely resisted ; and, on the other hand, wherein it had got to be so deeply set that it had hardened to injustice. As I went on, it did not take me long to discover that it was quite possible for my purpose — following, indeed, the path unconsciously taken in my boyhood — to divide Rabelais sharply into incident and philosophy. That this had not been thought of before surprised, but did not daunt me. I said to myself: 1 shall limit the incident strictly to his three Giants; I shall hold these, from grandfather to grandson, well together ; keep all that is sound in them; cut away the impurity which is not so much of as arouxtf^hem-', eh}? 3! them out as a sculptor might, and leave his philosophy with, face to the wall. This done, I turned the scouring hose, full'.ui.id..s"ti:Dmg, upon the incidents themselves, clearing out both dialecii&s and. -profanity thoroughly. I did not stop until I had left the famous trio, (JRANDGOUSIER, GARGANTUA, and PANTAGRUEL where I had, from the first, hoped to place them, — high and dry above the scum which had so long clogged their rare good-fellowship, and which had made men of judgment blind to the genuine worth that was in them.
In this way I believed that I saw the chance to free Rabelais' Giants, so long kept in bonds, from a captivity which has dishonored them. To do this was clearly running against that good old law which has invariably made all Giants — far back from fairy-time— thunder-voiced, great-toothed, rude-handed, hard-hearted, bloody-minded creatures and truculent captors, never, on any account, pitiful captives. But, to such, the Rabelaisian Giants are none of kin. No more are they of blood to that Giant that Jack slew, or that Giant Despair, in whose garden-court Bunyan dreamt that he saw the white bones of slaughtered pilgrims.
Public sentiment has hitherto illogically retched at the name of Rabelais, while it swallows without qualm "Tristram Shandy" and "Gulliver's Travels." Shall it always retch? The time, I think, is practically taking the answer into its own hands. Rabelais, through some cotemporaneous influence, rising subtly in his favor among men who are neither afraid nor ashamed to judge for themselves, is, in one sense, slowly becoming a naturalized citizen of our modern Literary Republic. Literature and Art are joining hands in his rehabilitation. Mr. Walter Besant, a novelist, has been so good as to write his life; to say bright words about him ; and to quote clean things from him. Mrs. Oliphant, a purist, has consented to admit him into her "Foreign Classics for English Readers." Three years ago M. Emile Hebert's bronze statue of him was unveiled at that Chinon, his birthplace, which he lovingly calls "the most ancient city of the world." And, to crown all, as the latest expression of a tardy recognition, his bust by M. Trupheme was, only the other day, uncovered at that Meudon of which he was, for a time, the famous, if not always orthodox, Cure.
Rabelais himself never, it is clear, appreciated his Giants save for the contrasted jollity which they lent to his satires.
AN EXPLANATION BY WAT OF PREFACE.
" Mieulx est de ris que de larmes escripre, four ce que rire est le propre de Ihomme" was his maxim. But this maxim never rose to a creed. His Giants seem, almost against his will, to stride beyond the territory of mere burlesque. They are as easily free from theology as from science. They have never been of La Bamette. They are as far from Mont-pellier. To these colossal creations, heroes fashioned in ridicule of the old fantastico-chivalric deeds of their age, as they come down more and more from the clouds, are more and more given the feelings common to this earth's creatures. All three bear, from their birth, a sturdy human sympathy not natural to their kind, as mediaeval superstition classed it. Two of them, in being brought to the level of humanity, join with this a simple Christian manliness and a childlike faith under all emergencies, not set on their own massive strength, but fixed on God, whom they had been taught to know, and honor, and serve — and all this by whom? Forsooth, by the same Frangois Eabelais, laugher, mocker, and "insensate reviler." From Grandgousier, the good-hearted guzzler, through Gargantua, with his heady youth and wise old age, to "the noble Pantagruel," the gain in purity and Christian manhood is steady. The royal race of Chalbroth follows no track beaten down by other kingly lines known to history. While their line descends from father to son, it ascends in virtue.
One charge — a legacy from the narrow times when run-mad commentators spied a plot in every folio—has followed, to this day, Rabelais and his work. Wise men have, to their own satisfaction, proved the latter to be an enigma filled with hidden meanings, dangerous to state and morals; with mad attacks directed, from every chapter, against ordered society; with satiric thrusts lurking, in every sentence, against Pope, and King, and nobles; in brief, a Malay-muck run with a pen, instead of a knife, against the moral foundations of the world. All these, if not true, are certainly "like, very like" the Rabelais as he is painted by purists in the gallery of great authors. If true, they have wrought more subtly than all else in the forging of those heavy chains which have been bound, coil upon coil, around his hapless big men. It is not to be wondered at that even their mighty number of cubits should have been smothered under the fine, slow-settling dust of three centuries. Happily, however, fair play has been, of old, the standing boast of all English-speaking men. Fra^ois Rabelais — never once deigning to ask for it at home, when living — has, in penalty therefor, been ferociously denied it abroad, when dead. To that sentiment — moved, it may be, by a concurrent testimony given, in this age, to the memory of the author himself —I appeal now in behalf of his Giants. That they have fared badly through all these centuries, mostly by reason of him, cannot be gainsaid. That of themselves, however, they have in no wise merited such ostracism, is what I have ventured to claim in this compilation. Freed alike from that prejudice which has hunted them down, and from those formidable points of ignorance Pertaining thereunto," which have, so far, blocked every avenue to modern sympathy, I would have them honored, among all stout lovers of fair play, as I leave them in this " Explanation by way of Preface."