He turned it, churned it, upturned it; spattered it, battered it, bent it, bonked it, dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it …

From Rabelais’ Prologe to the Third Book, a tale of Diogenes borrowed from Lucian’s How to Write History and thoroughly Rabelais-ized.

When Philip, King of Macedonia, undertook to besiege Corinth and reduce it to rubble, the Corinthians, warned by their spies that he was marching against them with a mighty army and vast array, were all rightly alarmed, overlooking nothing, all taking up their posts and doing their duty to resist his hostile advance and defend their city. Some brought everything movable out of the fields and into the fortresses, with their cattle, grain, wine, fruit, victuals and all necessary provisions.

Others repaired the walls, erected bastions, squared off outworks, dug trenches, excavated countermines, reinforced gabions, prepared emplacements, cleared clutter from the casemates, refixed bars on to advanced parapets, built high platforms for cannons, repaired the outer slopes of ditches, plastered the courtines between the bastions, built advanced pill-boxes, banked up earth parapets, keyed stones into barbicans, lined the chutes for molten lead, renewed cables on [Saracen-style] portcullises (or ‘cataracts’), stationed sentinels and sent out patrols.

Everyone was on the alert; everyone was carrying his hod. Some were burnishing breastplates, cleaning corselets and polishing the metal bands and head-armour of their horses, and their own plated jackets, light armour, helmets, [beavers, iron skull-caps, gisarmes,] headpieces, morions, coats of mail, [jaze-rants, wrist-guards, tasses,] gussets, limb-armour, breast-plates, joint-armour, hauberks, body-shields, bucklers, foot-armour, leg-plates, ankle-plates and spurs. Others were readying their bows, slings, crossbows, lead-shot, catapults, [fire-arrows,] fire-grenades, fire-pots, fire-wheels and fire-darts, ballistas, stone-hurling scorpions and other weapons for repelling and destroying siege-towers.

They sharpened spears, pikes, falchions, halberds, hooked spears, [sickles,] lances, zagayes, pitchforks, partisans, bladed maces, battle-axes, darts, javelins, light javelins, long stakes and leisters. They whetted swords, scimitars, broadblades, badlars, [scythes,] short-swords, rapiers, poniards, hangers, spiral-ferruled daggers, pricks, tucks, knives, blades, cutting-edges and dirks. Every man was exercising his prick: every man derusting his dagger. No woman was there, however old or matronly, who did not manage to furbish up her fanion, since you are aware that, of old, the ladies of Corinth would put up a good fight!

Diogenes, seeing all this fervent coming-and-going yet not being employed by the magistrates on anything whatsoever, spent a few days contemplating their behaviour without uttering a word. Then, moved by the martial spirit, he cast his cloke about him like a scarf, rolled his sleeves right up to his elbows, tucked in his robe like a peasant picking apples, entrusted to an ancient companion his shoulder-wallet, his books and his writing-tablets, went forth from the city in the direction of the Cranion (a hill and promontory hard by Corinth) on to the fair esplanade, and there trundled the earthenware barrel which served him as a shelter from inclement weather, and then, flexing his arms with great mental ardour, he turned it, churned it, upturned it; [spattered it,] battered it, bent it, bonked it, [dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it, flattered it,] banged it, beat it; bumped it, topsy’d it, turvy’d it, dribbled it, tapped it, ting-ed it; stoppered it, unstoppered it, paced it, ambled it, shambled it, haggled it; tossed it, stopped it, [prodded it,] shot it; lifted it, laved it, louvered it; hampered it, aimed it, blamed it, blocked it; troubled it, huddled it, splattered it; fashioned it, fastened it; [walloped it, dolloped it, tickled it, tarred it, smutched it, touched it, hawked it, mawked it, hooked it, crooked it, twiddled it, twaddled it,] charmed it, armed it, alarmed it, saddled it, straddled it, caparisoned it, and – volleying it down from mount to vale – tumbled it along the Cranion, and then (as Sisyphus did with his stone) pushed it back up from vale to mount so that he all but holed it.

On seeing which, one of his friends asked him what had possessed him to make him so afflict his mind, body and barrel. Our philosopher replied that, not being employed by the State in any other task, he was storming about with his barrel so as not to be seen as the only one idle and dilatory amidst folk so ardent and busy.

Quand Philippe roy de Macedonie entreprint assieger & ruiner Corinthe, les Corinthiens par leurs espions aduertiz, que contre eulx il venoit en grand arroy & exercite numereux, tous feurent non à tort espouentez, & ne feurent negligens soy soigneusement mettre chascun en office & debuoir, pour à son hostile venue, resister, & leur ville defendre. Les vns des champs es forteresses retiroient meubles, bestail, grains, vins, fruictz, victuailles, & munitions necessaires. Les autres remparoient murailles, dressoient bastions, esquarroient rauelins, cauoient fossez, escuroient contremines, gabionnoient defenses, ordonnoient plates formes, vuidoient chasmates, rembarroient faulses brayes, erigeoient caualliers, ressapoient contrescarpes, enduisoient courtines, taluoient parapetes, enclauoient barbacanes, asseroient machicoulis, renouoient herses Sarrazinesques, & Cataractes, assoyoient sentinelles, forissoient patrouilles. Chascun estoit au guet, chascun portoit la hotte. Les vns polissoient corseletz, vernissoient alecretz, nettoyoient bardes, chanfrains, aubergeons, briguandines, salades, bauieres, cappelines, guisarmes, armetz, mourions, mailles, iazerans, brassalz, tassettes, goussetz, guorgeriz, hoguines, plastrons, lamines, aubers, pauoys, boucliers, caliges, greues, soleretz, esprons. Les autres apprestoient arcs, fondes, arbalestes, glands, catapultes, phalarices, micraines, potz, cercles, & lances à feu : balistes, scorpions, & autres machines bellicques repugnatoires & destructiues des Helepolides. Esguisoient vouges, picques, rancons, halebardes, hanicroches, volains, lancers, azes guayes, fourches fières, parthisanes, massues, hasches, dards, dardelles, iauelines, iauelotz, espieux. Affiloient cimeterres, brands d’assier, badelaires, paffuz, espées, verduns, estocz, pistoletz, viroletz, dagues, mandousianes, poignars, cousteaulx, allumelles, raillons. Chascun exerceoit son penard : chascun desrouilloit son braquemard. Femme n’estoit, tant preude ou vieille feust, qui ne feist fourbir son harnoys : comme vous sçauez que les antiques Corinthiennes estoient au combat couraigeuses.

Diogenes les voyant en telle ferueur mesnaige remuer, & n’estant par les magistratz enployé à chose aulcune faire, contempla par quelques iours leur contenence sans mot dire : puys comme excité d’esprit Martial, ceignit son palle en escharpe, recoursa ses manches iusques es coubtes, se troussa en cueilleur de pommes, bailla à un sien compaignon vieulx sa bezasse, ses livres, & opistographes, feit hors la ville tirant vers la Cranie (qui est une colline & promontoire lez Corinthe) une belle esplanade : y roulla le tonneau fictil, qui pour maison luy estoit contre les iniures du ciel, & en grande vehemence d’esprit desployant ses braz le tournoit, viroit, brouilloit, barbouilloit, hersoit, versoit, renversoit, grattoit, flattoit, barattoit, bastoit, boutoit, butoit, tabustoit, cullebutoit, trepoit, trempoit, tapoit, timpoit, estouppoit, destouppoit, detraquoit, triquotoit, chapotoit, croulloit, elançoit, chamailloit, bransloit, esbranloit, levoit, lavoit, clavoit, entravoit, bracquoit, bricquoit, blocquoit, tracassoit, ramassoit, clabossoit, afestoit, baffouoit, enclouoit, amadouoit, goildronnoit, mittonnoit, tastonnoit, bimbelotoit, clabossoit, terrassoit, bistorioit, vreloppoit, chaluppoit, charmoit, armoit, gizarmoit, enharnachoit, empennachoit, carapassonnoit, le devalloit de mont à val, & præcipitoit par le Cranie : puys de val en mont le rapportoit, comme Sisyphus faict sa pierre : tant que peu s’en faillit, qu’il ne le defonçast. Ce voyant quelqu’un de ses amis, luy demanda, quelle cause le mouvoit, à son corps, son esprit, son tonneau ainsi tormenter ? Auquel respondit le philosophe, qu’à autre office n’estant pour la republicque employé, il en ceste façon son tonneau tempestoit, pour entre ce peuple tant fervent & occupé, n’este veu seul cessateur & ocieux.

Lucian’s more restrained original (section 3):

When Philip was said to be already on the march, all the Corinthians were astir and busy, preparing weapons, bringing up stones, underpinning the wall, shoring up a battlement and doing various other useful jobs. Diogenes saw this, and as he had nothing to do—nobody made any use of him—he belted up his philosopher’s cloak and very busily by himself rolled the crock in which, as it happens, he was living up and down Cornel Hill. When one of his friends asked: “Why are you doing that, Diogenes?” he replied: “I’m rolling the crock so as not to be thought the one idle man in the midst of all these workers.”

ὁπότε γὰρ ὁ Φίλιππος ἐλέγετο ἤδη ἐπελαύνειν, οἱ Κορίνθιοι πάντες ἐταράττοντο καὶ ἐν ἔργῳ ἦσαν, ὁ μὲν ὅπλα ἐπισκευάζων, ὁ δὲ λίθους παραφέρων, ὁ δὲ ὑποικοδομῶν τοῦ τείχους, ὁ δὲ ἔπαλξιν ὑποστηρίζων, ὁ δὲ ἄλλος ἄλλο τι τῶν χρησίμων ὑπουργῶν. ὁ δὴ Διογένης ὁρῶν ταῦτα, ἐπεὶ μηδὲν εἶχεν ὅ τι καὶ πράττοι—οὐδεὶς γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐς οὐδὲν ἐχρῆτο—διαζωσάμενος τὸ τριβώνιον σπουδῇ μάλα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκύλιε τὸν πίθον, ἐν ᾧ ἐτύγχανεν οἰκῶν, ἄνω καὶ κάτω τοῦ Κρανείου. καί τινος τῶν συνήθων ἐρομένου, Τί ταῦτα ποιεῖς, ὦ Διόγενες; Κυλίω, ἔφη, κἀγὼ τὸν πίθον, ὡς μὴ μόνος ἀργεῖν δοκοίην ἐν τοσούτοις ἐργαζομένοις.

He who loves wine, by God’s body let him follow me!

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…’

Here on their bums, great battles fought, four gallant fellows…

A parody of the classical Greek practice of erecting trophies after every victory, however small – from ch 17 of Rabelais’ Pantagruel. The first translation – of the complete passage – is M. A. Screech from ~15 years ago. The second is a late 19th century predecessor, W.F. Smith (here). The third is the great 17th century Urquhart / Motteux (here). Rabelais’ original comes at bottom. I would also include Donald Frame’s rendering from ~1990 but my copy has wandered from its place. Of impossibilities for translators, Rabelais must near the top of the list so it’s always curious to compare results.

‘Before we quit this spot,’ said Pantagruel, ‘I would like to erect a fair trophy in memory of your recent prowess.’

So every man, with great merriment and little rustic songs, set up a big pike-staff on which they hung a soldier’s saddle, a horse’s head-armour, caparisons, stirrups and spurs, a hauberk, a full set of steel armour, a battle-axe, a broad-sword, a gauntlet, a mace, gussets, greaves and a gorget, with all the array required for a triumphal arch or trophy. Then, in eternal memory, Pantagruel composed the following song of victory:

’Twas here that valiant fights were fought
By four brave men, as good as gold,
Through good sense not good armour wrought,
As Fabius and both Scipios told.
Six hundred sixty lice, now cold –
All powerful rogues – were burnt like bark.
Kings and dukes from now must hold
‘Tis wit not might lights glory’s spark.
Each mother’s son
Knows victory – won
Not by man – lies
Where God’s writs run,
Whose will be done
Sans compromise.
Not to the stronger comes the prize.
But to whose works from grace have sprung.
For him do wealth and honour rise
Who hopes in faith in Him alone.

While Pantagruel was composing the above poem, Panurge hung the horns of the roe-buck on to a big stake together with its pelt and its front right foot, then the ears of three leverets, the spine of a rabbit, the chaps of a hare, [the wings of a brace of bitterns, the feet of four wood-pigeons,] a cruet of vinaigre, a horn in which they kept their salt, a wooden spit, a basting stick, a wretched cauldron full of holes, a pan for sauces, an earthenware salt-cellar and a Beauvais-ware goblet. And in imitation of the verses on Pantagruel’s trophy he composed the following lines:

Here on their bums, great battles fought,
Four gallant fellows, good as gold,
In praise of Bacchus fun have sought,
Quaffing like carps the wine out-doled.
Saddles of hare and thighs untold
Of master leverets left their mark.
Scorpion-fish, salt, vinaigre old,
Strain all their guts lest bellies bark.
Seize wine, each son
And drink for fun
’Neath blazing skies:
Let the best run
Out from the tun:
Quaffed as a prize.
But leveret’s flesh – ‘tis no surprise –
Sans vinaigre is ne’er well done.
Its soul-worth in vinaigre lies:
Gainsay it not, then all are one.

‘Twas here that squatted in Delight,
Four merry Topers on the Lawn,
Did feast, nor did they Bacchus slight;
For them like Carps the Wine was drawn.
And whenas each did cheer the Morn,
Sir Leveret lost his Joints perforce:
They drank as though by Scorpions torn,
While Salt and Vinegar did them course.
Th’ Inventory
Against the sultry Heat
Is nought but Drinkery
Right neat and merry,
Nay of the best – ’tis meet.
To Vinegar must much Care be given
By him who would on Leveret feed,
For Vinegar is its Soul and Leaven-
Hold fast to this with strictest Heed.

Here was it that four jovial blades sat down
To a profound carousing, and to crown
Their banquet with those wines which please best great
Bacchus, the monarch of their drinking state.
Then were the reins and furch of a young hare,
With salt and vinegar, displayed there,
Of which to snatch a bit or two at once
They all fell on like hungry scorpions.
For th’ Inventories
Of Defensories
Say that in heat
We must drink neat
All out, and of
The choicest stuff.
But it is bad to eat of young hare’s flesh,
Unless with vinegar we it refresh.
Receive this tenet, then, without control,
That vinegar of that meat is the soul.

Ce fut icy, que à l’honneur de Bacchus
Fut bancqueté par quatre bons pyons :
Qui gayement, tous mirent abaz culz
Soupples de rains comme beaux carpions :
Lors y perdit rables et cropions
re levrault, quand chascun si efforce :
Sel et vinaigre, ainsi que Scorpions
Le poursuyvoient, dont en eurent l’escorce.
Car l’inventoire
D’un defensoire
En la chaleur,
Ce n’e
qu’à boire
Droit et net, boire
Et du meilleur :
Mais manger levrault, c’e
Sans de vinaigre avoir memoire :
Vinaigre e
son ame et valeur,
Retenez le en point peremptoire.

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.