After receiving permission to spend five months in Scotland to try once more to settle his affairs, he came back to London to escape from his creditors. And there he must have died, though the date of his death is unknown. It probably took place after , the date of the publication of the two first books, and after having written the translation of the third, which was not printed from his manuscript till the end of the seventeenth century.
His life was therefore not without its troubles, and literary activity must have been almost his only consolation.
His writings reveal him as the strangest character, fantastic, and full of a naive vanity, which, even at the time he was translating the genealogy of Gargantua—surely well calculated to cure any pondering on his own—caused him to trace his unbroken descent from Adam, and to state that his family name was derived from his ancestor Esormon, Prince of Achaia, B. A Gascon could not have surpassed this. Gifted as he was, learned in many directions, an enthusiastic mathematician, master of several languages, occasionally full of wit and humour, and even good sense, yet he gave his books the strangest titles, and his ideas were no less whimsical.
His style is mystic, fastidious, and too often of a wearisome length and obscurity; his verses rhyme anyhow, or not at all; but vivacity, force and heat are never lacking, and the Maitland Club did well in reprinting, in , his various works, which are very rare. Yet, in spite of their curious interest, he owes his real distinction and the survival of his name to his translation of Rabelais. The first two books appeared in The original edition, exceedingly scarce, was carefully reprinted in , only a hundred copies being issued, by an English bibliophile T heodore M artin , whose interesting preface I regret to sum up so cursorily.
At the end of the seventeenth century, in , a French refugee, Peter Antony Motteux, whose English verses and whose plays are not without value, published in a little octavo volume a reprint, very incorrect as to the text, of the first two books, to which he added the third, from the manuscript found amongst Urquhart's papers. The success which attended this venture suggested to Motteux the idea of completing the work, and a second edition, in two volumes, appeared in , with the translation of the fourth and fifth books, and notes.
Nineteen years after his death, John Ozell, translator on a large scale of French, Italian, and Spanish authors, revised Motteux's edition, which he published in five volumes in , adding Le Duchat's notes; and this version has often been reprinted since. The continuation by Motteux, who was also the translator of Don Quixote, has merits of its own. It is precise, elegant, and very faithful. Urquhart's, without taking liberties with Rabelais like Fischart, is not always so closely literal and exact. Nevertheless, it is much superior to Motteux's.
If Urquhart does not constantly adhere to the form of the expression, if he makes a few slight additions, not only has he an understanding of the original, but he feels it, and renders the sense with a force and a vivacity full of warmth and brilliancy. His own learning made the comprehension of the work easy to him, and his anglicization of words fabricated by Rabelais is particularly successful.
The necessity of keeping to his text prevented his indulgence in the convolutions and divagations dictated by his exuberant fancy when writing on his own account. His style, always full of life and vigour, is here balanced, lucid, and picturesque.
Never elsewhere did he write so well. And thus the translation reproduces the very accent of the original, besides possessing a very remarkable character of its own. Such a literary tone and such literary qualities are rarely found in a translation.
Urquhart's, very useful for the interpretation of obscure passages, may, and indeed should be read as a whole, both for Rabelais and for its own merits. Holland, too, possesses a translation of Rabelais. They knew French in that country in the seventeenth century better than they do to-day, and there Rabelais' works were reprinted when no editions were appearing in France. This Dutch translation was published at Amsterdam in , by J. Only a Dutch scholar could identify the translator, and state the value to be assigned to his work.
Rabelais' style has many different sources.
Besides its force and brilliancy, its gaiety, wit, and dignity, its abundant richness is no less remarkable. It would be impossible and useless to compile a glossary of Voltaire's words. No French writer has used so few, and all of them are of the simplest. There is not one of them that is not part of the common speech, or which demands a note or an explanation.
Rabelais' vocabulary, on the other hand, is of an astonishing variety. Where does it all come from? As a fact, he had at his command something like three languages, which he used in turn, or which he mixed according to the effect he wished to produce. First of all, of course, he had ready to his hand the whole speech of his time, which had no secrets for him. Provincials have been too eager to appropriate him, to make of him a local author, the pride of some village, in order that their district might have the merit of being one of the causes, one of the factors of his genius.
Every neighbourhood where he ever lived has declared that his distinction was due to his knowledge of its popular speech. But these dialect-patriots have fallen out among themselves.
To which dialect was he indebted? Was it that of Touraine, or Berri, or Poitou, or Paris? It is too often forgotten, in regard to French patois—leaving out of count the languages of the South—that the words or expressions that are no longer in use to-day are but a survival, a still living trace of the tongue and the pronunciation of other days. Rabelais, more than any other writer, took advantage of the happy chances and the richness of the popular speech, but he wrote in French, and nothing but French.
That is why he remains so forcible, so lucid, and so living, more living even—speaking only of his style out of charity to the others—than any of his contemporaries. It has been said that great French prose is solely the work of the seventeenth century. There were nevertheless, before that, two men, certainly very different and even hostile, who were its initiators and its masters, Calvin on the one hand, on the other Rabelais. Rabelais had a wonderful knowledge of the prose and the verse of the fifteenth century: he was familiar with Villon, Pathelin, the Quinze Joies de Mariage, the Cent Nouvelles, the chronicles and the romances, and even earlier works, too, such as the Roman de la Rose.
Their words, their turns of expression came naturally to his pen, and added a piquancy and, as it were, a kind of gloss of antique novelty to his work. He fabricated words, too, on Greek and Latin models, with great ease, sometimes audaciously and with needless frequency. These were for him so many means, so many elements of variety. Sometimes he did this in mockery, as in the humorous discourse of the Limousin scholar, for which he is not a little indebted to Geoffroy Tory in the Champfleury; sometimes, on the contrary, seriously, from a habit acquired in dealing with classical tongues.
Again, another reason of the richness of his vocabulary was that he invented and forged words for himself. Following the example of Aristophanes, he coined an enormous number of interminable words, droll expressions, sudden and surprising constructions. What had made Greece and the Athenians laugh was worth transporting to Paris.
With an instrument so rich, resources so endless, and the skill to use them, it is no wonder that he could give voice to anything, be as humorous as he could be serious, as comic as he could be grave, that he could express himself and everybody else, from the lowest to the highest. He had every colour on his palette, and such skill was in his fingers that he could depict every variety of light and shade. We have evidence that Rabelais did not always write in the same fashion. The Chronique Gargantuaine is uniform in style and quite simple, but cannot with certainty be attributed to him.
His letters are bombastic and thin; his few attempts at verse are heavy, lumbering, and obscure, altogether lacking in harmony, and quite as bad as those of his friend, Jean Bouchet. He had no gift of poetic form, as indeed is evident even from his prose. And his letters from Rome to the Bishop of Maillezais, interesting as they are in regard to the matter, are as dull, bare, flat, and dry in style as possible. Without his signature no one would possibly have thought of attributing them to him.
enter He is only a literary artist when he wishes to be such; and in his romance he changes the style completely every other moment: it has no constant character or uniform manner, and therefore unity is almost entirely wanting in his work, while his endeavours after contrast are unceasing. There is throughout the whole the evidence of careful and conscious elaboration.
Hence, however lucid and free be the style of his romance, and though its flexibility and ease seem at first sight to have cost no trouble at all, yet its merit lies precisely in the fact that it succeeds in concealing the toil, in hiding the seams. He could not have reached this perfection at a first attempt. He must have worked long at the task, revised it again and again, corrected much, and added rather than cut away. The aptness of form and expression has been arrived at by deliberate means, and owes nothing to chance.
Apart from the toning down of certain bold passages, to soften their effect, and appease the storm—for these were not literary alterations, but were imposed on him by prudence—one can see how numerous are the variations in his text, how necessary it is to take account of them, and to collect them. A good edition, of course, would make no attempt at amalgamating these. That would give a false impression and end in confusion; but it should note them all, and show them all, not combined, but simply as variations. After Le Duchat, all the editions, in their care that nothing should be lost, made the mistake of collecting and placing side by side things which had no connection with each other, which had even been substituted for each other.
The result was a fabricated text, full of contradictions naturally. But since the edition issued by M. Jannet, the well-known publisher of the Bibliotheque Elzevirienne, who was the first to get rid of this patchwork, this mosaic, Rabelais' latest text has been given, accompanied by all the earlier variations, to show the changes he made, as well as his suppressions and additions. It would also be possible to reverse the method. It would be interesting to take his first text as the basis, noting the later modifications. This would be quite as instructive and really worth doing. Perhaps one might then see more clearly with what care he made his revisions, after what fashion he corrected, and especially what were the additions he made.
Soule, , good condition. To it he owed the warm friendship of Pierre Amy and of the celebrated Guillaume Bude. At the end of the seventeenth century, in , a French refugee, Peter Antony Motteux, whose English verses and whose plays are not without value, published in a little octavo volume a reprint, very incorrect as to the text, of the first two books, to which he added the third, from the manuscript found amongst Urquhart's papers. Spine has 6 ribs and all corners have hardware, front cover, spine has crack. Out of stock.
No more striking instance can be quoted than the admirable chapter about the shipwreck.