From ch. 25 (or 27, depending on edition) of Rabelais’ Gargantua, Frere Jean’s inimitable entry to literature defending his monastery from the pillaging of their grape harvest. This is M.A. Screech’s translation and the bracketed bits are the author’s changes to his second edition. The French text he uses is his own 1970 edition published by Droz but I can’t tell – at least in spotty glancing back and forth at notes – much difference against the more easily available Mireille Huchon Pleiade edition.
There was at that time in that abbey a cloistered monk called Frère Jean des Entommeures, young, gallant, lively, lusty, adroit, bold, daring, resolute, tall, slim, loud-mouthed, endowed with an ample nose, a galloper through of mattins, an unbridler of masses [and a polisher-off of vigils]: in short, a true monk if ever there was one since the [monking] world first monked-about [with monkery; and for the rest a cleric up to his teeth where breviary-stuff is concerned].
Upon hearing the din made by the enemy throughout the close of their vineyard, he sallied forth to see what they were up to. Realizing that they were harvesting the grapes on which the entire year’s drinking was based, he returned to the quire of the church where the other monks were assembled, as dazed as bell-founders. On seeing them chanting ‘Im, im, im, pe, e, e, e, e, e, tum, um, in, ni, i, mi, co, o, o, o, o, o, rum, um’, he said, ‘What a good little shitty-dog shanty! God Almighty! Why don’t you chant
Grape-baskets farewell: our vintage is o’er?
The devil take me if they are not inside our close, so thoroughly lopping off fruit and branch that, by the Body of God, there will be nothing but gleanings for four years to come. By the guts of Saint James, what shall we poor devils be drinking in the meantime? Lord God, Give me a drink.’
At which the claustral prior said:
‘What is that hintoxicated fellow here going to do! Let him be led off to the prison. Troubling Divine Service!’
‘The Wine Service!’ said the Monk. ‘Let’s see that it be not troubled! You too, my Lord Prior, love to drink of the best. So do all good men and true. Never hath noble man loathed good wine. [That’s a monastical apophthegm!] But those responses you are chanting here are, by God, out of season. Why are our services short during the harvesting of grain and grape yet so long during Advent and winter? The late Frère Macé Pelosse of blessèd memory (a true zealot for our Order or the devil take me) told me – I remember it well – that the reason is so that we may press and ferment our wine in that season and then quaff it in winter. Harken to me, Gentlemen: He who loves wine, by God’s body let him follow me! For bluntly, may Saint Anthony’s fire burn me if any of those taste the wine who never succoured the vine. Guts of God! It’s church property! Ah! No, no! The devil! Saint Thomas of England was willing enough to die for it. If I died here wouldn’t I be a saint too?
‘But I’m not going to die: I’ll make others do that!’
So saying, he cast off his great habit and grabbed the shaft of the Cross; it was from the heart of a cornel-tree, as long as a lance, rounded for the fist and scattered with a few fleurs-de-lys all but effaced. He sallied forth in a handsome cassock, his frock thrown over like a scarf, and with the shaft of his Cross he lashed out so violently at the enemy who without order, standard, trumpet or drum were harvesting the grapes in the close (for those who bore banner or standard had left them alongside the walls, while the drummers had knocked in one side of their drums so as to fill them with grapes, and the trumpeters were burdened by grape-laden vine-branches: all had broken ranks) he fell so suddenly on them without crying Cave, that he knocked them over like porkers, slashing this way and that as one fenced of old.
In some cases he battered their brains out; in others, he fractured their arms and legs; in others, he dislocated the vertebrae of the neck; and in others, he ruptured the kidneys, bashed in their noses, blacked their eyes, smashed their mandibles, knocked their teeth down their throats, stove in their shoulder-blades, gangrened their legs, dislocated their thighs and splintered their fore-arms.
If any one sought to hide amongst the thickest vines, he bashed in his back-bone and walloped him like a dog.
If any one sought safety in flight, he shattered his head along the lamdoidal suture.
If any one clambered into a tree and thought he was safe up there he impaled him through the fundament.
If one of his old acquaintances cried, ‘Ha! Frère Jean, my friend, Frère Jean, I surrender!’
‘You have to,’ he would say; ‘and surrender your soul to the devils too!’ And he would swiftly give him a few bonks.
If any person was so overcome with temerity as to wish to face up to him, he showed him the strength of his muscles, for he would skewer his chest through the heart and the middle septum.
In other cases he would strike them below the rib-cage, upsetting their tummies. And they would suddenly die.
In other cases he would run them so fiercely through the navel that he made their innards pour out.
In others, he would pierce the arse-gut between their bollocks.
It was, believe me, the most dreadful spectacle man ever saw.
Some evoked Saint Barbara;
others, Saint George;
others, Saint Touch-me-not;
others, Our Lady of Cunault, of Lorette-en-Bretagne, of Good Tidings, of La Lenou and of Rivière.
Some made vows to Saint James;
others, to the Holy Shroud at Chambéry, but it got so well burnt three months later that they could never save one thread of it;
others to the one at Cadouin;
others, to Saint-Jean-d’Angély, to Saint Mesmes of Chinon, to Saint Martin of Candes, to Saint Clouaud of Cinais, to the relics at Javrezay and to thousands of other good little saints.
Some died without speaking: [others spoke without dying; some died speaking; others spoke dying.] Others loudly cried, ‘Confession! Confession! I confess! Have mercy upon us! Into thy hands I commend…’