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FRANÇOIS RABELAIS was born about 1483 (the date is not certain), at Chinon, in Touraine, that fat and quiet province of subtle-witted, easy-going people, whose character has been so sympathetically described by the great Balzac (as in L'Illustre Gaudissart); for Balzac, like Descartes and Paul Louis Courier, was a son of the same soil, and, like Rabelais and Paul Louis, copiously illustrated his native province. Rabelais calls Touraine the garden of France, and Chinon a most famous, noble, and ancient town, the first in the world; and in Book v., chap. xxxv. of his great work, we read: "This made me say to Pantagruel that this entry put me in mind of the painted cellar, in the oldest city in the world, where such paintings are to be seen, and in as cool a place. 'Which is the oldest city in the world?' asked Pantagruel. It is Chinon, sir, or Cainon, in Touraine,' said I. 'I know,' returned Pantagruel, 'where Chinon


lies, and the painted cellar also, having myself drunk there many a glass of cool wine; neither do I doubt but that Chinon is an ancient town-witness its blazon. I own it is said twice or thrice

66 Chinon, Little town,

Great renown,

On old stone

Long has stood;

There's the Vienne, if you look down;
If you look up, there's the wood."



But how,' continued he, 'can you make out that it is the oldest city in the world? Where did you find this written?''I have found it in the Sacred Writ,' said I, 'that Cain was the first that built a town; we may then reasonably conjecture that he the first from his own name named it Cainon; as, following his example, all other founders of cities have named them after themselves.' An etymology as clear as Swift's tracing of bees and cobblers to the Hivites and the Shuites. The father kept an hotel called the 'Lamprey," in which was the painted cellar (or cellar of pints, in one reading) so lovingly referred to, and had also a vineyard famous for its white wine; so that the jolliest of men was born amidst congenial surroundings. Being the youngest of several sons, he was destined for the Church, and his education was begun in the Benedictine abbey of Sevillé or Seuillé, close at hand. He was afterwards removed to the convent of La Basmette at Angers, where he rapidly progressed in learning, and made friends who were to stand him in good stead throughout his life, including André Tiraqueau, afterwards lieutenant

general of the bailiwick of Fontenay-le-Comte; Geoffroi d'Estissac, who became Bishop of Maillezais; and the four brothers du Bellay, who rose to high rank in the Church and State, one of thein being made cardinal. When old enough for the novitiate, he unfortunately left the learned Benedictines for the ignorant and bigoted Franciscans, entering their convent of Fontenay-le-Comte in Lower Poitou, where he took priest's orders in 1511. He carried on his studies with the passionate ardour which distinguished the great scholars of the Renaissance, having but one friend in the convent, Pierre Amy, who shared them with him, and who, like himself, corresponded in Greek with Budæus. The other monks regarded with profound distrust and antagonism this devotion to profane learning, and especially to the diabolical Greek ; and at last the superiors made a visit of inquisition to the cells of the two students, and the chapter confiscated their Greek books and manuscripts. Then, it is said, Amy was frightened or won over to be the accuser of Rabelais, though of what he accused his old friend is not recorded-perhaps of heresies uttered confidentially. It is certain that soon afterwards Rabelais was put in pace-that is to say, condemned to imprisonment for life in an underground dungeon of the monastery, on a diet of bread and water: the Church had always such honey-sweet names for its most atrocious cruelties! Thus, when an heresiarch like Giordano Bruno was handed over to the secular power to be burnt alive, the ecclesiastical formula ran: "To be punished as gently as possible, and without effusion. of blood." Many reasons have been given for the

terrible sentence passed on Rabelais, in addition to whatever may have been betrayed by Amy; but they are all legendary rather than historical, and seem to have been suggested by the drolleries of his great work, not begun til long afterwards, rather than by anything known of him during these years of solitary and strenuous study. Thus, he is said to have mingled with the wine of the monks certain antiaphrodisiacs, or, on the contrary, certain aphrodisiacs; to have got drunk at a village festival and preached debauchery to the peasants, giving them a fearful example by songs and dances and lewd antics; to have posed himself in the place of the statue of St. Francis in the porch of the church of the convent, and by suddenly laughing and gesticulating, made the poor people kneeling before him cry out, "A miracle!"-" On ajoute qu'il poussa l'irrévérence et le sacrilege jusqu'à les asperger d'une eau qui n'était rien moins que bénite."

He was rescued from this living burial by some of his powerful friends, particularly André Tiraqueau, who by office had a erta authority over the convent, and who had to force the gates in order to release him. By the mediation of the same staunch friends he obtained, in 1524, an indulgence from Clement VII., permitting him to pass into the order of St. Benedict, to enter the Abbey of Maillezais under his friend Geoffroi d'Estissac, to assume the habit of a regular canon, and, notwithstanding his previous vow of poverty, to hold any Church livings he might obtain as a Benedictine. He was now forty years of age, and the best years of his life, all his young manhood, had been immured amongst the


most superstitious, fanatical, unlettered, and inert of monks. One shudders to think of what that great intellect and genial heart must have endured in such society. Only his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and his marvellous animal spirits could have sustained him. We shall not be surprised to read in his books the most bitter contempt and abhorrence for monks and monkery. Released thus, at length, he soon threw off the regular habit and assumed that of a secular priest, attaching himself to d'Estissac, who allotted him the income of a secretaryship, and undertook to provide him with a benefice when occasion should offer. He could now pursue his studies in peace (not in pace), with the advantages of a select society of liberal scholars and scholarly men of the world. He soon made the acquaintance of the leading thinkers and writers more or less in sympathy with the Reformation, or in revolt against the old orthodoxy, such as Calvin, Clément Marot, and Bonaventure des Periers. He could not long remain on good terms with Calvin, who was just as bigoted and dogmatical, in his own way, as any of the most narrow-minded doctors of the Church. Rabelais was not the man to free himself from one set of dogmas in order to involve himself in another as stringent. He was essentially a sceptic and freethinker, enthusiastic for all erudition and science, hating all intolerance. Henry Etienne, the famous printer and scholar, echoing Calvin, said: "Though Rabelais seems to be one of us, he often flings stones into our garden." Father de St. Romuald reports: "Some said he turned Lutheran, others that he turned Atheist." And Mr. Besant, in his article on

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