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Extract from Rabelais with alchemical references

This is an extract from the fifth book of Francis Rabelais Five books of the lives, heroic deeds and sayings of Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. The fifth book of Rabelais extravagant romance was first printed in 1564. I have extracted chapters 18 to 20 (which recount a sea journey to the island of Entelechy) from the English translation of Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Motteux.

Chapter 5.XVIII. How our ships were stranded, and we were relieved by some people that were subject to Queen Whims (qui tenoient de la Quinte).

We weighed and set sail with a merry westerly gale. When about seven leagues off (twenty-two miles) some gusts or scuds of wind suddenly arose, and the wind veering and shifting from point to point, was, as they say, like an old woman's breech, at no certainty; so we first got our starboard tacks aboard, and hauled off our lee-sheets. Then the gusts increased, and by fits blowed all at once from several quarters, yet we neither settled nor braided up close our sails, but only let fly the sheets, not to go against the master of the ship's direction; and thus having let go amain, lest we should spend our topsails, or the ship's quick-side should lie in the water and she be overset, we lay by and run adrift; that is, in a landloper's phrase, we temporized it. For he assured us that, as these gusts and whirlwinds would not do us much good, so they could not do us much harm, considering their easiness and pleasant strife, as also the clearness of the sky and calmness of the current. So that we were to observe the philosopher's rule, bear and forbear; that is, trim, or go according to the time.

However, these whirlwinds and gusts lasted so long that we persuaded the master to let us go and lie at trie with our main course; that is, to haul the tack aboard, the sheet close aft, the bowline set up, and the helm tied close aboard; so, after a stormy gale of wind, we broke through the whirlwind. But it was like falling into Scylla to avoid Charybdis (out of the frying-pan into the fire). For we had not sailed a league ere our ships were stranded upon some sands such as are the flats of St. Maixent.

All our company seemed mightily disturbed except Friar John, who was not a jot daunted, and with sweet sugar-plum words comforted now one and then another, giving them hopes of speedy assistance from above, and telling them that he had seen Castor at the main-yardarm. Oh! that I were but now ashore, cried Panurge, that is all I wish for myself at present, and that you who like the sea so well had each man of you two hundred thousand crowns. I would fairly let you set up shop on these sands, and would get a fat calf dressed and a hundred of faggots (i.e. bottles of wine) cooled for you against you come ashore. I freely consent never to mount a wife, so you but set me ashore and mount me on a horse, that I may go home. No matter for a servant, I will be contented to serve myself; I am never better treated than when I am without a man. Faith, old Plautus was in the right on't when he said the more servants the more crosses; for such they are, even supposing they could want what they all have but too much of, a tongue, that most busy, dangerous, and pernicious member of servants. Accordingly, 'twas for their sakes alone that the racks and tortures for confession were invented, though some foreign civilians in our time have drawn alogical and unreasonable consequences from it.

That very moment we spied a sail that made towards us. When it was close by us, we soon knew what was the lading of the ship and who was aboard of her. She was full freighted with drums. I was acquainted with many of the passengers that came in her, who were most of 'em of good families; among the rest Harry Cotiral, an old toast, who had got a swinging ass's touch- tripe (penis) fastened to his waist, as the good women's beads are to their girdle. In his left hand he held an old overgrown greasy foul cap, such as your scald-pated fellows wear, and in the right a huge cabbage-stump.

As soon as he saw me he was overjoyed, and bawled out to me, What cheer, ho? How dost like me now? Behold the true Algamana (this he said showing me the ass's tickle-gizzard). This doctor's cap is my true elixir; and this (continued he, shaking the cabbage-stump in his fist) is lunaria major, you old noddy. I have 'em, old boy, I have 'em; we'll make 'em when thou'rt come back. But pray, father, said I, whence come you? Whither are you bound? What's your lading? Have you smelt the salt deep? To these four questions he answered, From Queen Whims; for Touraine; alchemy; to the very bottom.

Whom have you got o' board? said I. Said he, Astrologers, fortune-tellers, alchemists, rhymers, poets, painters, projectors, mathematicians, watchmakers, sing-songs, musicianers, and the devil and all of others that are subject to Queen Whims (Motteux gives the following footnote:--'La Quinte, This means a fantastic Humour, Maggots, or a foolish Giddiness of Brains; and also, a fifth, or the Proportion of Five in music, &c.'). They have very fair legible patents to show for't, as anybody may see. Panurge had no sooner heard this but he was upon the high-rope, and began to rail at them like mad. What o' devil d'ye mean, cried he, to sit idly here like a pack of loitering sneaksbies, and see us stranded, while you may help us, and tow us off into the current? A plague o' your whims! you can make all things whatsoever, they say, so much as good weather and little children; yet won't make haste to fasten some hawsers and cables, and get us off. I was just coming to set you afloat, quoth Harry Cotiral; by Trismegistus, I'll clear you in a trice. With this he caused 7,532,810 huge drums to be unheaded on one side, and set that open side so that it faced the end of the streamers and pendants; and having fastened them to good tacklings and our ship's head to the stern of theirs, with cables fastened to the bits abaft the manger in the ship's loof, they towed us off ground at one pull so easily and pleasantly that you'd have wondered at it had you been there. For the dub-a-dub rattling of the drums, with the soft noise of the gravel which murmuring disputed us our way, and the merry cheers and huzzas of the sailors, made an harmony almost as good as that of the heavenly bodies when they roll and are whirled round their spheres, which rattling of the celestial wheels Plato said he heard some nights in his sleep.

We scorned to be behindhand with 'em in civility, and gratefully gave 'em store of our sausages and chitterlings, with which we filled their drums; and we were just a-hoisting two-and-sixty hogsheads of wine out of the hold, when two huge whirlpools with great fury made towards their ship, spouting more water than is in the river Vienne (Vigenne) from Chinon to Saumur; to make short, all their drums, all their sails, their concerns, and themselves were soused, and their very hose were watered by the collar.

Panurge was so overjoyed, seeing this, and laughed so heartily, that he was forced to hold his sides, and it set him into a fit of the colic for two hours and more. I had a mind, quoth he, to make the dogs drink, and those honest whirlpools, egad, have saved me that labour and that cost. There's sauce for them; (Greek). Water is good, saith a poet; let 'em Pindarize upon't. They never cared for fresh water but to wash their hands or their glasses. This good salt water will stand 'em in good stead for want of sal ammoniac and nitre in Geber's kitchen.

We could not hold any further discourse with 'em; for the former whirlwind hindered our ship from feeling the helm. The pilot advised us henceforwards to let her run adrift and follow the stream, not busying ourselves with anything, but making much of our carcasses. For our only way to arrive safe at the queendom of Whims was to trust to the whirlwind and be led by the current.

Chapter 5.XIX.

How we arrived at the queendom of Whims or Entelechy.

We did as he directed us for about twelve hours, and on the third day the sky seemed to us somewhat clearer, and we happily arrived at the port of Mateotechny, not far distant from Queen Whims, alias the Quintessence.

We met full butt on the quay a great number of guards and other military men that garrisoned the arsenal, and we were somewhat frighted at first because they made us all lay down our arms, and in a haughty manner asked us whence we came.

Cousin, quoth Panurge to him that asked the question, we are of Touraine, and come from France, being ambitious of paying our respects to the Lady Quintessence and visit this famous realm of Entelechy.

What do you say? cried they; do you call it Entelechy or Endelechy? Truly, truly, sweet cousins, quoth Panurge, we are a silly sort of grout-headed lobcocks, an't please you; be so kind as to forgive us if we chance to knock words out of joint. As for anything else, we are downright honest fellows and true hearts.

We have not asked you this question without a cause, said they; for a great number of others who have passed this way from your country of Touraine seemed as mere jolt-headed doddipolls as ever were scored o'er the coxcomb, yet spoke as correct as other folks. But there has been here from other countries a pack of I know not what overweening self-conceited prigs, as moody as so many mules and as stout as any Scotch lairds, and nothing would serve these, forsooth, but they must wilfully wrangle and stand out against us at their coming; and much they got by it after all. Troth, we e'en fitted them and clawed 'em off with a vengeance, for all they looked so big and so grum.

Pray tell me, does your time lie so heavy upon you in your world that you do not know how to bestow it better than in thus impudently talking, disputing, and writing of our sovereign lady? There was much need that your Tully, the consul, should go and leave the care of his commonwealth to busy himself idly about her; and after him your Diogenes Laertius, the biographer, and your Theodorus Gaza, the philosopher, and your Argiropilus, the emperor, and your Bessario, the cardinal, and your Politian, the pedant, and your Budaeus, the judge, and your Lascaris, the ambassador, and the devil and all of those you call lovers of wisdom; whose number, it seems, was not thought great enough already, but lately your Scaliger, Bigot, Chambrier, Francis Fleury, and I cannot tell how many such other junior sneaking fly-blows must take upon 'em to increase it.

A squinsy gripe the cod's-headed changelings at the swallow and eke at the cover-weasel; we shall make 'em--But the deuce take 'em! (They flatter the devil here, and smoothify his name, quoth Panurge, between his teeth.) You don't come here, continued the captain, to uphold 'em in their folly; you have no commission from 'em to this effect; well then, we will talk no more on't.

Aristotle, that first of men and peerless pattern of all philosophy, was our sovereign lady's godfather, and wisely and properly gave her the name of Entelechy. Her true name then is Entelechy, and may he be in tail beshit, and entail a shit-a-bed faculty and nothing else on his family, who dares call her by any other name; for whoever he is, he does her wrong, and is a very impudent position. You are heartily welcome, gentlemen. With this they colled and clipped us about the neck, which was no small comfort to us, I'll assure you.

Panurge then whispered me, Fellow-traveller, quoth he, hast thou not been somewhat afraid this bout? A little, said I. To tell you the truth of it, quoth he, never were the Ephraimites in a greater fear and quandary when the Gileadites killed and drowned them for saying sibboleth instead of shibboleth; and among friends, let me tell you that perhaps there is not a man in the whole country of Beauce but might easily have stopped my bunghole with a cartload of hay.

The captain afterwards took us to the queen's palace, leading us silently with great formality. Pantagruel would have said something to him, but the other, not being able to come up to his height, wished for a ladder or a very long pair of stilts; then said, Patience, if it were our sovereign lady's will, we would be as tall as you; well, we shall when she pleases.

In the first galleries we saw great numbers of sick persons, differently placed according to their maladies. The leprous were apart; those that were poisoned on one side; those that had got the plague on another; those that had the pox in the first rank, and the rest accordingly.

Chapter 5.XX.

How the Quintessence cured the sick with a song.

The captain showed us the queen, attended with her ladies and gentlemen, in the second gallery. She looked young, though she was at least eighteen hundred years old, and was handsome, slender, and as fine as a queen, that is, as hands could make her. He then said to us: It is not yet a fit time to speak to the queen; be you but mindful of her doings in the meanwhile.

You have kings in your world that fantastically pretend to cure some certain diseases, as, for example, scrofula or wens, swelled throats, nicknamed the king's evil, and quartan agues, only with a touch; now our queen cures all manner of diseases without so much as touching the sick, but barely with a song, according to the nature of the distemper. He then showed us a set of organs, and said that when it was touched by her those miraculous cures were performed. The organ was indeed the strangest that ever eyes beheld; for the pipes were of cassia fistula in the cod; the top and cornice of guiacum; the bellows of rhubarb; the pedas of turbith, and the clavier or keys of scammony.

While we were examining this wonderful new make of an organ, the leprous were brought in by her abstractors, spodizators, masticators, pregustics, tabachins, chachanins, neemanins, rabrebans, nercins, rozuins, nebidins, tearins, segamions, perarons, chasinins, sarins, soteins, aboth, enilins, archasdarpenins, mebins, chabourins, and other officers, for whom I want names; so she played 'em I don't know what sort of a tune or song, and they were all immediately cured.

Then those who were poisoned were had in, and she had no sooner given them a song but they began to find a use for their legs, and up they got. Then came on the deaf, the blind, and the dumb, and they too were restored to their lost faculties and senses with the same remedy; which did so strangely amaze us (and not without reason, I think) that down we fell on our faces, remaining prostrate, like men ravished in ecstasy, and were not able to utter one word through the excess of our admiration, till she came, and having touched Pantagruel with a fine fragrant nosegay of white roses which she held in her hand, thus made us recover our senses and get up. Then she made us the following speech in byssin words, such as Parisatis desired should be spoken to her son Cyrus, or at least of crimson alamode:

The probity that scintillizes in the superfices of your persons informs my ratiocinating faculty, in a most stupendous manner, of the radiant virtues latent within the precious caskets and ventricles of your minds. For, contemplating the mellifluous suavity of your thrice discreet reverences, it is impossible not to be persuaded with facility that neither your affections nor your intellects are vitiated with any defect or privation of liberal and exalted sciences. Far from it, all must judge that in you are lodged a cornucopia and encyclopaedia, an unmeasurable profundity of knowledge in the most peregrine and sublime disciplines, so frequently the admiration, and so rarely the concomitants of the imperite vulgar. This gently compels me, who in preceding times indefatigably kept my private affections absolutely subjugated, to condescend to make my application to you in the trivial phrase of the plebeian world, and assure you that you are well, more than most heartily welcome.

I have no hand at making of speeches, quoth Panurge to me privately; prithee, man, make answer to her for us, if thou canst. This would not work with me, however; neither did Pantagruel return a word. So that Queen Whims, or Queen Quintessence (which you please), perceiving that we stood as mute as fishes, said: Your taciturnity speaks you not only disciples of Pythagoras, from whom the venerable antiquity of my progenitors in successive propagation was emaned and derives its original, but also discovers, that through the revolution of many retrograde moons, you have in Egypt pressed the extremities of your fingers with the hard tenants of your mouths, and scalptized your heads with frequent applications of your unguicules. In the school of Pythagoras, taciturnity was the symbol of abstracted and superlative knowledge, and the silence of the Egyptians was agnited as an expressive manner of divine adoration; this caused the pontiffs of Hierapolis to sacrifice to the great deity in silence, impercussively, without any vociferous or obstreperous sound. My design is not to enter into a privation of gratitude towards you, but by a vivacious formality, though matter were to abstract itself from me, excentricate to you my cogitations.

Having spoken this, she only said to her officers, Tabachins, a panacea; and straight they desired us not to take it amiss if the queen did not invite us to dine with her; for she never ate anything at dinner but some categories, jecabots, emnins, dimions, abstractions, harborins, chelemins, second intentions, carradoths, antitheses, metempsychoses, transcendent prolepsies, and such other light food.

Then they took us into a little closet lined through with alarums, where we were treated God knows how. It is said that Jupiter writes whatever is transacted in the world on the dipthera or skin of the Amalthaean goat that suckled him in Crete, which pelt served him instead of a shield against the Titans, whence he was nicknamed Aegiochos. Now, as I hate to drink water, brother topers, I protest it would be impossible to make eighteen goatskins hold the description of all the good meat they brought before us, though it were written in characters as small as those in which were penned Homer's Iliads, which Tully tells us he saw enclosed in a nutshell.

For my part, had I one hundred mouths, as many tongues, a voice of iron, a heart of oak, and lungs of leather, together with the mellifluous abundance of Plato, yet I never could give you a full account of a third part of a second of the whole.

Pantagruel was telling me that he believed the queen had given the symbolic word used among her subjects to denote sovereign good cheer, when she said to her tabachins, A panacea; just as Lucullus used to say, In Apollo, when he designed to give his friends a singular treat; though sometimes they took him at unawares, as, among the rest, Cicero and Hortensius sometimes used to do.