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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Childhood of Gargantua
By François Rabelais (c. 1490–1553)
 
From ‘The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua’: Translation of Sir Walter Besant

GARGANTUA, from three years to five, was nourished and instructed in all proper discipline by the commandment of his father, and spent that time like the other little children of the country,—that is, in drinking, eating, and sleeping; in eating, sleeping, and drinking; and in sleeping, drinking, and eating. Still he wallowed in the mire, blackened his face, trod down his shoes at heel; at the flies he did oftentimes yawn, and willingly ran after the butterflies, the empire whereof belonged to his father. He sharpened his teeth with a slipper, washed his hands with his broth, combed his head with a bowl, sat down between two stools and came to the ground, covered himself with a wet sack, drank while eating his soup, ate his cake without bread, would bite in laughing, laugh in biting, hide himself in the water for fear of rain, go cross, fall into dumps, look demure, skin the fox, say the ape’s paternoster, return to his sheep, turn the sows into the hay, beat the dog before the lion, put the cart before the horse, scratch where he did not itch, shoe the grasshopper, tickle himself to make himself laugh, know flies in milk, scrape paper, blur parchment, then run away, pull at the kid’s leather, reckon without his host, beat the bushes without catching the birds, and thought that bladders were lanterns. He always looked a gift-horse in the mouth, hoped to catch larks if ever the heavens should fall, and made a virtue of necessity. Every morning his father’s puppies ate out of the dish with him, and he with them. He would bite their ears, and they would scratch his nose.  1
  The good man Grangousier said to Gargantua’s governesses:—“Philip, King of Macedon, knew the wit of his son Alexander, by his skillful managing of a horse; for the said horse was so fierce and unruly that none durst adventure to ride him, because he gave a fall to all his riders, breaking the neck of this man, the leg of that, the brain of one, and the jawbone of another. This by Alexander being considered, one day in the hippodrome (which was a place appointed for the walking and running of horses) he perceived that the fury of the horse proceeded merely from the fear he had of his own shadow; whereupon, getting on his back he ran him against the sun, so that the shadow fell behind, and by that means tamed the horse and brought him to his hand. Whereby his father recognized the divine judgment that was in him, and caused him most carefully to be instructed by Aristotle, who at that time was highly renowned above all the philosophers of Greece. After the same manner I tell you, that as regards my son Gargantua, I know that his understanding doth participate of some divinity,—so keen, subtle, profound, and clear do I find him; and if he be well taught, he will attain to a sovereign degree of wisdom. Therefore will I commit him to some learned man, to have him indoctrinated according to his capacity, and will spare no cost.”  2
  Whereupon they appointed him a great sophister-doctor, called Maître Tubal Holophernes, who taught him his A B C so well that he could say it by heart backwards; and about this he was five years and three months. Then read he to him Donat, Facet, Theodolet, and Alanus in parabolis. About this he was thirteen years, six months, and two weeks. But you must remark that in the mean time he did learn to write in Gothic characters, and that he wrote all his books,—for the art of printing was not then in use. After that he read unto him the book ‘De Modis Significandi,’ with the commentaries of Hurtebise, of Fasquin, of Tropditeux, of Gaulehaut, of John le Veau, of Billonio, of Brelingandus, and a rabble of others; and herein he spent more than eighteen years and eleven months, and was so well versed in it that at the examination he would recite it by heart backwards, and did sometimes prove on his fingers to his mother quod de modis significandi non erat scientia. Then did he read to him the ‘Compost,’ on which he spent sixteen years and two months, and that justly at the time his said preceptor died, which was in the year one thousand four hundred and twenty. Afterwards he got another old fellow with a cough to teach him, named Maître Jobelin Bridé who read unto him Hugutio, Hebrard’s ‘Grécisme,’ the ‘Doctrinal,’ the ‘Parts,’ the ‘Quid Est,’ the ‘Supplementum’; Marmotret ‘De Moribus in Mensa Servandis’; Seneca ‘De Quatuor Virtutibus Cardinalibus’; Passavantus ‘Cum Commento’ and ‘Dormi Securé,’ for the holidays; and some other of such-like stuff, by reading whereof he became as wise as any we have ever baked in an oven.  3
  At the last his father perceived that indeed he studied hard, and that although he spent all his time in it, he did nevertheless profit nothing, but which is worse, grew thereby foolish, simple, doted, and blockish: whereof making a heavy regret to Don Philip des Marays, Viceroy of Papeligosse, he found that it were better for him to learn nothing at all than to be taught such-like books under such schoolmasters; because their knowledge was nothing but brutishness, and their wisdom but toys, bastardizing good and noble spirits and corrupting the flower of youth. “That it is so, take,” said he, “any young boy of the present time, who hath only studied two years: if he have not a better judgment, a better discourse, and that expressed in better terms, than your son, with a completer carriage and civility to all manner of persons, account me forever a chawbacon of La Brène.”  4
  This pleased Grangousier very well, and he commanded that it should be done. At night at supper, the said Des Marays brought in a young page of his from Ville-gouges, called Eudemon, so well combed, so well dressed, so well brushed, so sweet in his behavior, that he resembled a little angel more than a human creature. Then he said to Grangousier, “Do you see this child? He is not as yet full twelve years old. Let us try, if it pleaseth you, what difference there is betwixt the knowledge of the doting dreamers of old time and the young lads that are now.”  5
  The trial pleased Grangousier, and he commanded the page to begin. Then Eudemon, asking leave of the viceroy, his master, so to do, with his cap in his hand, a clear and open countenance, ruddy lips, his eyes steady, and his looks fixed upon Gargantua, with a youthful modesty, stood up straight on his feet and began to commend and magnify him, first, for his virtue and good manners; secondly, for his knowledge; thirdly, for his nobility; fourthly, for his bodily beauty; and in the fifth place, sweetly exhorted him to reverence his father with all observancy, who was so careful to have him well brought up. In the end he prayed him that he would vouchsafe to admit of him amongst the least of his servants; for other favor at that time desired he none of heaven, but that he might do him some grateful and acceptable service.  6
  All this was by him delivered with gestures so proper, pronunciation so distinct, a voice so eloquent, language so well turned, and in such good Latin, that he seemed rather a Gracchus, a Cicero, an Æmilius of the time past, than a youth of his age. But all the countenance that Gargantua kept was, that he fell to crying like a cow, and cast down his face, hiding it with his cap; nor could they possibly draw one word from him. Whereat his father was so grievously vexed that he would have killed Maître Jobelin; but the said Des Marays withheld him from it by fair persuasions, so that at length he pacified his wrath. Then Grangousier commanded he should be paid his wages, that they should make him drink theologically, after which he was to go to all the devils. “At least,” said he, “to-day shall it not cost his host much, if by chance he should die as drunk as an Englishman.”  7
  Maître Jobelin being gone out of the house, Grangousier consulted with the viceroy what tutor they should choose for Gargantua; and it was betwixt them resolved that Ponocrates, the tutor of Eudemon, should have the charge, and that they should all go together to Paris, to know what was the study of the young men of France at that time.  8
 
 
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