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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 Abbey of Thelema
By François Rabelais (c. 1490–1553)
 
From ‘Readings from Rabelais’: Translation of Sir Walter Besant

THERE was left only the monk to provide for; whom Gargantua would have made Abbot of Seuillé, but he refused it. He would have given him the Abbey of Bourgueil, or of Sanct Florent which was better, or both if it pleased him; but the monk gave him a very peremptory answer, that he would never take upon him the charge nor government of monks. “For how shall I be able,” said he, “to rule over others, that have not full power and command of myself? If you think I have done you, or may hereafter do you, any acceptable service, give me leave to found an abbey after my own mind and fancy.” The motion pleased Gargantua very well; who thereupon offered him all the country of Thelema by the river Loire, till within two leagues of the great forest of Port-Huaut. The monk then requested Gargantua to institute his religious order contrary to all others.  1
  “First, then,” said Gargantua, “you must not build a wall about your convent, for all other abbeys are strongly walled and mured about.”  2
  Moreover, seeing there are certain convents in the world whereof the custom is, if any women come in,—I mean honorable and honest women,—they immediately sweep the ground which they have trod upon; therefore was it ordained that if any man or woman, entered into religious orders, should by chance come within this new abbey, all the rooms should be thoroughly washed and cleansed through which they had passed.  3
  And because in other monasteries all is compassed, limited, and regulated by hours, it was decreed that in this new structure there should be neither clock nor dial, but that according to the opportunities, and incident occasions, all their works should be disposed of;—“for,” said Gargantua, “the greatest loss of time that I know is to count the hours. What good comes of it? Nor can there be any greater folly in the world than for one to guide and direct his courses by the sound of a bell, and not by his own judgment and discretion.”  4
  Item, Because at that time they put no women into nunneries but such as were either one-eyed, lame, humpbacked, ill-favored, misshapen, foolish, senseless, spoiled, or corrupt; nor encloistered any men but those that were either sickly, ill-bred, clownish, and the trouble of the house:—  5
  (“Apropos,” said the monk,—“a woman that is neither fair nor good, to what use serves she?” “To make a nun of,” said Gargantua. “Yea,” said the monk, “and to make shirts.”)  6
  Therefore, Gargantua said, was it ordained, that into this religious order should be admitted no women that were not fair, well-featured, and of a sweet disposition; nor men that were not comely, personable, and also of a sweet disposition.  7
  Item, Because in the convents of women men come not but underhand, privily, and by stealth: it was therefore enacted that in this house there shall be no women in case there be not men, nor men in case there be not women.  8
  Item, Because both men and women that are received into religious orders after the year of their novitiate were constrained and forced perpetually to stay there all the days of their life: it was ordered that all of whatever kind, men or women, admitted within this abbey, should have full leave to depart with peace and contentment whensoever it should seem good to them so to do.  9
  Item, For that the religious men and women did ordinarily make three vows,—to wit, those of chastity, poverty, and obedience: it was therefore constituted and appointed that in this convent they might be honorably married, that they might be rich, and live at liberty. In regard to the legitimate age, the women were to be admitted from ten till fifteen, and the men from twelve till eighteen.  10
  For the fabric and furniture of the abbey, Gargantua caused to be delivered out in ready money twenty-seven hundred thousand eight hundred and one-and-thirty of those long-wooled rams; and for every year until the whole work was completed he allotted threescore nine thousand gold crowns, and as many of the seven stars, to be charged all upon the receipt of the river Dive. For the foundation and maintenance thereof he settled in perpetuity three-and-twenty hundred threescore and nine thousand five hundred and fourteen rose nobles, taxes exempted from all in landed rents, and payable every year at the gate of the abbey; and for this gave them fair letters patent.  11
  The building was hexagonal, and in such a fashion that in every one of the six corners there was built a great round tower, sixty paces in diameter, and were all of a like form and bigness. Upon the north side ran the river Loire, on the bank whereof was situated the tower called Arctic. Going towards the east there was another called Calær, the next following Anatole, the next Mesembrine, the next Hesperia, and the last Criere. Between each two towers was the space of three hundred and twelve paces. The whole edifice was built in six stories, reckoning the cellars underground for one. The second was vaulted after the fashion of a basket-handle; the rest were coated with Flanders plaster, in the form of a lamp foot. It was roofed with fine slates of lead, carrying figures of baskets and animals; the ridge gilt, together with the gutters, which issued without the wall between the windows, painted diagonally in gold and blue down to the ground, where they ended in great canals, which carried away the water below the house into the river.  12
  This same building was a hundred times more sumptuous and magnificent than ever was Bonivet; for there were in it nine thousand three hundred and two-and-thirty chambers, every one whereof had a withdrawing-room, a closet, a wardrobe, a chapel, and a passage into a great hall. Between every tower, in the midst of the said body of building, there was a winding stair, whereof the steps were part of porphyry, which is a dark-red marble spotted with white, part of Numidian stone, and part of serpentine marble; each of those steps being two-and-twenty feet in length and three fingers thick, and the just number of twelve betwixt every landing-place. On every landing were two fair antique arcades where the light came in; and by those they went into a cabinet, made even with, and of the breadth of the said winding, and they mounted above the roof and ended in a pavilion. By this winding they entered on every side into a great hall, and from the halls into the chambers. From the Arctic tower unto the Criere were fair great libraries in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Spanish, respectively distributed on different stories, according to their languages. In the midst there was a wonderful winding stair, the entry whereof was without the house, in an arch six fathoms broad. It was made in such symmetry and largeness that six men-at-arms, lance on thigh, might ride abreast all up to the very top of all the palace. From the tower Anatole to the Mesembrine were fair great galleries, all painted with the ancient prowess, histories, and descriptions of the world. In the midst thereof there was likewise such another ascent and gate as we said there was on the river-side.  13
  In the middle of the lower court there was a stately fountain of fair alabaster. Upon the top thereof stood the three Graces, with horns of abundance, and did jet out the water at their breasts, mouth, ears, and eyes. The inside of the buildings in this lower court stood upon great pillars of Cassydonian stone, and porphyry in fair ancient arches. Within these were spacious galleries, long and large, adorned with curious pictures—the horns of bucks and unicorns; of the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus; the teeth and tusks of elephants, and other things well worth the beholding. The lodging of the ladies took up all from the tower Arctic unto the gate Mesembrine. The men possessed the rest. Before the said lodging of the ladies, that they might have their recreation, between the two first towers, on the outside, were placed the tilt-yard, the hippodrome, the theatre, the swimming-bath, with most admirable baths in three stages, well furnished with all necessary accommodation, and store of myrtle-water. By the river-side was the fair garden of pleasure, and in the midst of that a fair labyrinth. Between the two other towers were the tennis and fives courts. Towards the tower Criere stood the orchard full of all fruit-trees, set and ranged in a quincunx. At the end of that was the great park, abounding with all sort of game. Betwixt the third couple of towers were the butts for arquebus, crossbow, and arbalist. The stables were beyond the offices, and before them stood the falconry, managed by falconers very expert in the art; and it was yearly supplied by the Candians, Venetians, Sarmatians, with all sorts of excellent birds, eagles, gerfalcons, goshawks, falcons, sparrow-hawks, merlins, and other kinds of them, so gentle and perfectly well trained that, flying from the castle for their own disport, they would not fail to catch whatever they encountered. The venery was a little further off, drawing towards the park.  14
  All the halls, chambers, and cabinets were hung with tapestry of divers sorts, according to the seasons of the year. All the pavements were covered with green cloth. The beds were embroidered. In every back chamber there was a looking-glass of pure crystal, set in a frame of fine gold garnished with pearls, and of such greatness that it would represent to the full the whole person. At the going out of the halls belonging to the ladies’ lodgings were the perfumers and hair-dressers, through whose hands the gallants passed when they were to visit the ladies. These did every morning furnish the ladies chambers with rose-water, musk, and angelica; and to each of them gave a little smelling-bottle breathing the choicest aromatical scents.  15
  The ladies on the foundation of this order were appareled after their own pleasure and liking. But since, of their own free will, they were reformed in manner as followeth:—  16
  They wore stockings of scarlet which reached just three inches above the knee, having the border beautified with embroideries and trimming. Their garters were of the color of their bracelets, and circled the knee both over and under. Their shoes and slippers were either of red, violet, or crimson velvet, cut à barbe d’écrévisse.  17
  Next to their smock they put on a fair corset of pure silk camblet; above that went the petticoat of white, red tawny, or gray taffety. Above this was the cotte in cloth of silver, with needlework either (according to the temperature and disposition of the weather) of satin, damask, velvet, orange, tawny, green, ash-colored, blue, yellow, crimson, cloth of gold, cloth of silver, or some other choice stuff, according to the day.  18
  Their gowns, correspondent to the season, were either of cloth of gold with silver edging, of red satin covered with gold purl, of taffety, white, blue, black, or tawny, of silk serge, silk camblet, velvet, cloth of silver, silver tissue, cloth of gold, velvet, or figured satin with golden threads.  19
  In the summer, some days, instead of gowns, they wore fair mantles of the above-named stuff, or capes of violet velvet with edging of gold, or with knotted cordwork of gold embroidery, garnished with little Indian pearls. They always carried a fair plume of feathers, of the color of their muff, bravely adorned with spangles of gold. In the winter-time they had their taffety gowns of all colors, as above named, and those lined with the rich furrings of wolves, weasels, Calabrian martlet, sables, and other costly furs. Their beads, rings, bracelets, and collars were of precious stones, such as carbuncles, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, turquoises, garnets, agates, beryls, and pearls.  20
  Their head-dressing varied with the season of the year. In winter it was of the French fashion; in the spring of the Spanish; in summer of the fashion of Tuscany, except only upon the holy-days and Sundays, at which times they were accoutred in the French mode, because they accounted it more honorable, better befitting the modesty of a matron.  21
  The men were appareled after their fashion. Their stockings were of worsted or of serge, of white, black, or scarlet. Their breeches were of velvet, of the same color with their stockings, or very near, embroidered and cut according to their fancy. Their doublet was of cloth of gold, cloth of silver, velvet, satin, damask, or taffety, of the same colors, cut, embroidered, and trimmed up in the same manner. The points were of silk of the same colors, the tags were of gold enameled. Their coats and jerkins were of cloth of gold, cloth of silver, gold tissue, or velvet embroidered, as they thought fit. Their gowns were every whit as costly as those of the ladies. Their girdles were of silk, of the color of their doublets. Every one had a gallant sword by his side, the hilt and handle whereof were gilt, and the scabbard of velvet, of the color of his breeches, the end in gold, and goldsmith’s work. The dagger of the same. Their caps were of black velvet, adorned with jewels and buttons of gold. Upon that they wore a white plume, most prettily and minionlike parted by so many rows of gold spangles, at the end whereof hung dangling fair rubies, emeralds, etc.  22
  But so great was the sympathy between the gallants and the ladies, that every day they were appareled in the same livery. And that they might not miss, there were certain gentlemen appointed to tell the youths every morning what colors the ladies would on that day wear; for all was done according to the pleasure of the ladies. In these so handsome clothes, and habiliments so rich, think not that either one or other of either sex did waste any time at all; for the masters of the wardrobes had all their raiments and apparel so ready for every morning, and the chamber-ladies were so well skilled, that in a trice they would be dressed, and completely in their clothes from head to foot. And to have these accoutrements with the more conveniency, there was about the wood of Thelema a row of houses half a league long, very neat and cleanly, wherein dwelt the goldsmiths, lapidaries, embroiderers, tailors, gold-drawers, velvet-weavers, tapestry-makers, and upholsterers, who wrought there every one in his own trade, and all for the aforesaid friars and nuns. They were furnished with matter and stuff from the hands of Lord Nausiclete, who every year brought them seven ships from the Perlas and Cannibal Islands, laden with ingots of gold, with raw silk, with pearls and precious stones. And if any pearls began to grow old, and lose somewhat of their natural whiteness and lustre, those by their art they did renew by tendering them to cocks to be eaten, as they used to give casting unto hawks.  23
  All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labor, sleep, when they had a mind to it, and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did constrain them to eat, drink, nor do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule, and strictest tie of their order, there was but this one clause to be observed:—
  FAY CE QUE VOULDRAS
  24
  Because men that are free, well born, well bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions and withdraws them from vice, which is called honor. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break the bond of servitude; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden, and to desire what is denied.  25
  By this liberty they entered into a very laudable emulation: to do all of them what they saw did please one. If any of the gallants or ladies should say, “Let us drink,” they would all drink. If any one of them said, “Let us play,” they all played. If one said, “Let us go for our delight into the fields,” they went all. If it were to go a-hawking or a-hunting, the ladies, mounted upon well-paced nags, carried on their lovely fists (miniardly begloved every one of them) either a sparrow-hawk, or a laneret, or a merlin, and the gallants carried the other kinds of birds. So nobly were they taught, that there was not one amongst them but could read, write, sing, play upon musical instruments, speak five or six several languages, and compose in them all very quaintly, both in verse and prose. Never were seen knights so valiant, so noble and worthy, so dexterous and skillful both on foot and a-horseback, more active, more nimble and quick, or better handling all manner of weapons, than were there. Never were seen ladies so proper, so miniard, less forward, or more ready with hand and needle in every honest and free action belonging to that sex, than were there.  26
  For this reason, when the time came that any man of the said abbey, either at the request of his parents or for some other cause, had a mind to go out of it, he carried along with him one of the ladies,—namely, her whom he had before that chosen for his mistress,—and they were married together. And if they had formerly in Thelema lived in devotion and amity, much more did they continue therein in the state of matrimony; and did entertain that mutual love till the very last day of their life, in no less vigor and fervency than at the very day of their wedding.  27
 
 
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