A certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of fortune

The opening of the author’s prologue to the fourth book of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel in the Thomas Urquhart translation, (re)discovered through the epigraph of a Rabelais biography I picked up last week – Mary Willcocks’ The Laughing Philosopher. Urquhart always manages the magic of hitting the spirit by departing from the letter.

Good people, God save and keep you! Where are you? I can’t see you: stay–I’ll saddle my nose with spectacles–oh, oh! ’twill be fair anon: I see you. Well, you have had a good vintage, they say: this is no bad news to Frank, you may swear. You have got an infallible cure against thirst: rarely performed of you, my friends! You, your wives, children, friends, and families are in as good case as hearts can wish; it is well, it is as I would have it: God be praised for it, and if such be his will, may you long be so. For my part, I am thereabouts, thanks to his blessed goodness; and by the means of a little Pantagruelism (which you know is a certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of fortune), you see me now hale and cheery, as sound as a bell, and ready to drink, if you will. Would you know why I’m thus, good people? I will even give you a positive answer –Such is the Lord’s will, which I obey and revere; it being said in his word, in great derision to the physician neglectful of his own health, Physician, heal thyself.


à ce qu’on m’a dit. Je n’en serai jamais fâché. Vous avez trouvé un remède éternel contre toutes les soifs violentes ? Voilà une opération efficace. Êtes-vous, ainsi que vos femmes, enfants, parents et familles, dans la santé que vous désirez ? Cela va bien, cela est bon, cela me plaît. Puisse Dieu, le Dieu de bonté, en être éternellement loué, et (si telle est sa sainte volonté) puissiez-vous y demeurer longtemps.

Quant à moi, par sa sainte bonté, me voilà, et je me recommande à lui. Je suis, moyennant un peu de Pantagruélisme (entendez par là une certaine gaieté d’esprit pleine de mépris pour les coups du sort), sain et dispos ; prêt à boire, si vous voulez. Ne me demandez-vous pas pourquoi, gens de bien ? Réponse irrécusable : telle est la volonté du Dieu très bon, très grand, auquel j’accepte de croire, auquel je me soumets, et dont je révère la très sainte parole, porteuse de bonnes nouvelles, c’est-à-dire l’Évangile où il est dit, Luc, 4, avec une moquerie poignante et une dérision sanglante, au médecin négligent de sa propre santé : « Médecin, oh ! guéris-toi toi-même. »

Je suis descendu on puiz ténébreux

From Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow in the story the The Demoiselle d’Ys.

“Mais je croy que je
Suis descendu on puiz
Ténébreux onquel disoit
Heraclytus estre Vereté cachée.”

But I believe
I am gone down into that well
so dark in which, said
Heraclitus, the truth is hidden.

While Chambers shows an impressive knowledge of middle French falconry terms, he turns out to have borrowed this bit from ch. 36 of Book III of Rabelais in the debate between Panurge and Trouillogan.

As a plate of marmalade would improve a pan of sirreverence

From Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker – in Jeremy’s letter of April 30.

In the mean time, I must entertain you with an incident, that seems to confirm the judgment of those two cynic philosophers [my uncle Matthew Bramble and his friend Mr Quin]. I took the liberty to differ in opinion from Mr Bramble, when he observed, that the mixture of people in the entertainments of this place [Bath] was destructive of all order and urbanity; that it rendered the plebeians insufferably arrogant and troublesome, and vulgarized the deportment and sentiments of those who moved in the upper spheres of life. He said such a preposterous coalition would bring us into contempt with all our neighbours; and was worse, in fact, than debasing the gold coin of the nation. I argued, on the contrary, that those plebeians who discovered such eagerness to imitate the dress and equipage of their superiors, would likewise, in time, adopt their maxims and their manners, be polished by their conversation, and refined by their example; but when I appealed to Mr Quin, and asked if he did not think that such an unreserved mixture would improve the whole mass? ‘Yes (said he) as a plate of marmalade would improve a pan of sirreverence.

The OED gives sirreverence as in origin a shortening of saving your reverence -> save reverence -> sareverence -> sirreverence.  The ‘beg your pardon’ sense would initially have followed whatever was said that may have been found indecent but the phrase/word itself later – to avoid the indecency altogether – came in as substitute.  Presumably becoming an indecency itself.  The first appearance in the clear sense of ‘excrement’ is from 1592 in R. Greene’s Black Bookes Messenger (sig. D3):

His face,… and his necke, were all besmeared with the soft sirreverence, so as hee stunke.

Peter Motteux’s 1694 translation of Rabelais (bk4.52) includes another instance:

For four … Days I hardly scumber’d one poor Butt of Sir~reverence

Scumber itself is from Old French descombrer (modern decombrer) which means ‘to relieve of a load’.  The evacuation sense adds itself.

Incidentally, Rabelais’ original text is:

ie ne fiantay qu’une petite crotte

Fienter has the meaning “Débarrasser (un cheval) de la fiente” (relieve [a horse] of shit) and crotte itself just means fiente.

Another reminder that Motteux is always the best Rabelais translator.