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- Letters to Dead Authors - 6/18 -


Lucian, would you find in them and their ways? None; they are quite unaltered. Still our Perigrinus, and our Perigrina too, come to us from the East, or, if from the West, they take India on their way--India, that secular home of drivelling creeds, and of religion in its sacerdotage. Still they prattle of Brahmins and Buddhism; though, unlike Peregrinus, they do not publicly burn themselves on pyres, at Epsom Downs, after the Derby. We are not so fortunate in the demise of our Theosophists; and our police, less wise than the Hellenodicae, would probably not permit the Immolation of the Quack. Like your Alexander, they deal in marvels and miracles, oracles and warnings. All such bogy stories as those of your 'Philopseudes,' and the ghost of the lady who took to table-rapping because one of her best slippers had not been burned with her body, are gravely investigated by the Psychical Society.

Even your ignorant Bibliophile is still with us--the man without a tinge of letters, who buys up old manuscripts 'because they are stained and gnawed, and who goes, for proof of valued antiquity, to the testimony of the book-worms.' And the rich Bibliophile now, as in your satire, clothes his volumes in purple morocco and gay _dorures_, while their contents are sealed to him.

As to the topics of satire and gay curiosity which occupy the lady known as 'Gyp,' and M. Hale'vy in his 'Les Petites Cardinal,' if you had not exhausted the matter in your 'Dialogues of Hetairai,' you would be amused to find the same old traits surviving without a touch of change. One reads, in Hale'vy's French, of Madame Cardinal, and, in your Greek, of the mother of Philinna, and marvels that eighteen hundred years have not in one single trifle altered the mould. Still the old shabby light-loves, the old greed, the old luxury and squalor. Still the unconquerable superstition that now seeks to tell fortunes by the cards, and, in your time, resorted to the sorceress with her magical 'bull-roarer' or '_turndun_.' (1)

(1)The Greek _rombos_ [transliterated], mentioned by Lucian and Theocritus, was the magical weapon of the Australians--the _turndun_.

Yes, Lucian, we are the same vain creatures of doubt and dread, of unbelief and credulity, of avarice and pretence, that you knew, and at whom you smiled. Nay, our very 'social question' is not altered. Do you not write, in 'The Runaways,' 'The artisans will abandon their workshops, and leave their trades, when they see that, with all the labour that bows their bodies from dawn to dark, they make a petty and starveling pittance, while men that toil not nor spin are floating in Pactolus'?

They begin to see this again as of yore; but whether the end of their vision will be a laughing matter, you, fortunate Lucian, do not need to care. Hail to you, and farewell!

VII.

To Maitre Francoys Rabelais.

Of the Coming of the Coqcigrues.

Master,-- In the Boreal and Septentrional lands, turned aside from the noonday and the sun, there dwelt of old (as thou knowest, and as Olaus voucheth) a race of men, brave, strong, nimble, and adventurous, who had no other care but to fight and drink. There, by reason of the cold (as Virgil witnesseth), men break wine with axes. To their minds, when once they were dead and gotten to Valhalla, or the place of their Gods, there would be no other pleasure but to swig, tipple, drink, and boose till the coming of that last darkness and Twilight, wherein they, with their deities, should do battle against the enemies of all mankind; which day they rather desired than dreaded.

So chanced it also with Pantagruel and Brother John and their company, after they had once partaken of the secret of the _Dive Bouteille_. Thereafter they searched no longer; but, abiding at their ease, were merry, frolic, jolly, gay, glad, and wise; only that they always and ever did expect the awful Coming of the Coqcigrues. Now concerning the day of that coming, and the nature of them that should come, they knew nothing; and for his part Panurge was all the more adread, as Aristotle testifieth that men (and Panurge above others) most fear that which they know least. Now it chanced one day, as they sat at meat, with viands rare, dainty, and precious as ever Apicius dreamed of, that there fluttered on the air a faint sound as of sermons, speeches, orations, addresses, discourses, lectures, and the like; whereat Panurge, pricking up his ears, cried, 'Methinks this wind bloweth from Midlothian,' and so fell a trembling.

Next, to their aural orifices, and the avenues audient of the brain, was borne a very melancholy sound as of harmoniums, hymns, organ-pianos, psalteries, and the like, all playing different airs, in a kind most hateful to the Muses. Then said Panurge, as well as he might for the chattering of his teeth: 'May I never drink if here come not the Coqcigrues!' and this saying and prophecy of his was true and inspired. But thereon the others began to mock, flout, and gird at Panurge for his cowardice. 'Here am I!' cried Brother John, 'well-armed and ready to stand a siege; being entrenched, fortified, hemmed-in and surrounded with great pasties, huge pieces of salted beef, salads, fricassees, hams, tongues, pies, and a wilderness of pleasant little tarts, jellies, pastries, trifles, and fruits of all kinds, and I shall not thirst while I have good wells, founts, springs, and sources of Bordeaux wine, Burgundy, wine of the Champagne country, sack and Canary. A fig for thy Coqcigrues!'

But even as he spoke there ran up suddenly a whole legion, or rather army, of physicians, each armed with laryngoscopes, stethoscopes, horoscopes, microscopes, weighing machines, and such other tools, engines, and arms as they had who, after thy time, persecuted Monsieur de Pourceaugnac! And they all, rushing on Brother John, cried out to him, 'Abstain! Abstain!' And one said, 'I have well diagnosed thee, and thou art in a fair way to have the gout.' 'I never did better in my days,' said Brother John. 'Away with thy meats and drinks!' they cried. And one said, 'He must to Royat;' and another, 'Hence with him to Aix;' and a third, 'Banish him to Wiesbaden;' and a fourth, 'Hale him to Gastein;' and yet another, 'To Barbouille with him in chains!'

And while others felt his pulse and looked at his tongue, they all wrote prescriptions for him like men mad. 'For thy eating,' cried he that seemed to be their leader, 'No soup!' 'No soup!' quoth Brother John; and those cheeks of his, whereat you might have warmed your two hands in the winter solstice, grew white as lilies. 'Nay! and no salmon nor any beef nor mutton! A little chicken by times, but _periculo tuo_! Nor any game, such as grouse, partridge, pheasant, capercailzie, wild duck; nor any cheese, nor fruit, nor pastry, nor coffee, nor eau de vie; and avoid all sweets. No veal, pork, nor made dishes of any kind.' 'Then what may I eat?' quoth the good Brother, whose valour had oozed out of the soles of his sandals. 'A little cold bacon at breakfast--no eggs,' quoth the leader of the strange folk, 'and a slice of toast without butter.' 'And for thy drink'-- ('What?' gasped Brother John)--'one dessert-spoonful of whisky, with a pint of the water of Apollinaris at luncheon and dinner. No more!' At this Brother John fainted, falling like a great buttress of a hill, such as Taygetus or Erymanthus.

While they were busy with him, others of the frantic folk had built great platforms of wood, whereon they all stood and spoke at once, both men and women. And of these some wore red crosses on their garments, which meaneth 'Salvation;' and others wore white crosses, with a little black button of crape, to signify 'Purity;' and others bits of blue to mean 'Abstinence.' While some of these pursued Panurge others did beset Pantagruel; asking him very long questions, whereunto he gave but short answers. Thus they asked:

Have ye Local Option here?--Pan.: What?

May one man drink if his neighbour be not athirst?-- Pan.: Yea!

Have ye Free Education? -- Pan.: What?

Must they that have, pay to school them that have not?-- Pan.: Nay

Have ye free land?--Pan.: What?

Have ye taken the land from the farmer, and given it to the tailor out of work and the candlemaker masterless? --Pan.: Nay!

Have your women folk votes?--Pan.: Bosh!

Have ye got religion?-- Pan.: How?

Do you go about the streets at night, brawling, blowing a trumpet before you, and making long prayers?-- Pan.: Nay

Have you manhood suffrage? -- Pan.: Eh?

Is Jack as good as his master? Pan.: Nay!

Have you joined the Arbitration Society? -- Pan.: _Quoy?_?

Will you let another kick you, and will you ask his neighbour if you deserve the same?-- Pan.: Nay?

Do you cat what you list?-- Pan.: Ay!

Do you drink when you are athirst? Pan.: Ay!

Are you governed by the free expression of the popular will?-- Pan.: How?

Are you servants of priests, pulpits, and penny papers?--Pan.: No!

Now, when they heard these answers of Pantagruel they all fell, some a weeping, some a praying, some a swearing, some an arbitrating, some a lecturing, some a caucussing, some a preaching, some a faith-healing, some a miracle-working, some a hypnotising, some a writing to the daily press; and while they were thus busy, like folk distraught, 'reforming the island,' Pantagruel burst out a laughing; whereat they were greatly dismayed; for laughter killeth the whole race of Coqcigrues, and they may not endure it.

Then Pantagruel and his company stole aboard a barque that Panurge had ready in the harbour. And having provisioned her well with store of meat and good drink, they set sail for the kingdom of Entelechy, where, having landed, they were kindly entreated; and there abide to this day; drinking of the sweet and eating of the fat, under the protection of that intellectual sphere which hath in all places its centre and nowhere its circumference.

Such was their destiny; there was their end appointed, and thither the Coqcigrues can never come. For all the air of that land is full of laughter, which killeth Coqcigrues; and there aboundeth the herb Pantagruelion. But for thee, Master Francoys, thou art not well liked in this island of ours, where the Coqcigrues are abundant, very fierce, cruel, and tyrannical. Yet thou hast thy friends, that meet and drink to thee and wish thee well wheresoever thou hast found thy _grand peut-e'tre_.

VIII.

To Jane Austen.


Letters to Dead Authors - 6/18

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