From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Vol. VII, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 2210-2216.
[FRANÇOIS RABELAIS: French satirist and humanist, was born at Chinon, 1483 or 1495. He was a Benedictine monk, left the order in a quarrel, became a physician, and finally rector of Meudon. He was a disinterested and charitable man, and a zealous teacher, and his house was the resort of the learned. He died at Paris, 1553 or 1559. His one remembered work is the extravaganza, “The Lives, Heroic Deeds, and Sayings of Gargantua and Pantagruel,” in which deep thoughts and ides of enlarged common sense are imbedded in masses of fantastic romance, horseplay, and other matter.]
THERE once lived a poor honest country fellow of Gravot, Tom Wellhung by name, a wood cleaver by trade, who in that low drudgery made shift so to pick up a sorry livelihood. It happened that he lost his hatchet. Now, tell me, who ever had more cause to be vexed than poor Tom? Alas, his whole estate and life depended on his hatchet; by his hatchet he earned many a fair penny of the best woodmongers or log merchants, among whom he went a jobbing; for want of his hatchet he was like to starve; and had Death but met him six days after without a hatchet, the grim fiend would have mowed him down in the twinkling of a bedstaff. In this sad case he began to be in a heavy taking, and called upon Jupiter with most eloquent prayers (for, you know, Necessity was the mother of Eloquence). With the whites of his eyes turned up towards heaven, down on his marrowbones, his arms reared high, his fingers stretched wide, and his head bare, the poor wretch without ceasing was roaring out by way of Litany at every repetition of his supplications, “My hatchet, Lord Jupiter, my hatchet, my hatchet, only my hatchet, O Jupiter, or money to buy another, and nothing else; alas, my poor hatchet!”
Jupiter happened then to be holding a grand council about certain urgent affairs, and old Gammer Cybele was just giving her opinion, or, if you had rather have it so, it was young Phœbus the Beau; but, in short, Tom’s outcry and lamentations were so loud that they were heard with no small amazement 2211 at the council board by the whole consistory of the gods. “What a devil have we below,” quoth Jupiter, “that howls so horridly? By the mud of Styx, haven’t we had all along, and haven’t we here still, enough to do to set to rights a world of puzzling business of consequence? . . . Let us, however, dispatch this howling fellow below: you, Mercury, go see who it is, and know what he wants.” Mercury looked out at heaven’s trapdoor, through which, as I am told, they hear what’s said here below; by the way, one might well enough mistake it for the scuttle of a ship; though Icaromenippus said it was like the mouth of a well. The light-heeled deity saw it was honest Tom, who asked for his lost hatchet; and accordingly he made his report to the Synod. “Marry,” said Jupiter, “we are finely holped up, as if we had now nothing else to do here but to restore lost hatchets. Well, he must then have it for all this, for so ’tis written in the Book of Fate (do you hear?), as well as if it was worth the whole duchy of Milan. The truth is, the fellow’s hatchet is as much to him as a kingdom to a king. Come, come, let no more words be scattered about it; let him have his hatchet again. Run down immediately, and cast at the poor fellow’s feet three hatchets, — his own, another of gold, and a third of massy silver, all of one size: then, having left it to his will to take his choice, if he take his own, and be satisfied with it, give him t’other two. If he take another, chop his head off with his own; and henceforth serve me all those losers of hatchets after that manner.” Having said this, Jupiter, with an awkward turn of his head, like a jackanapes swallowing of pills, made so dreadful a phiz that all the vast Olympus quaked again. Heaven’s foot messenger, thanks to his low-crowned, narrow-brimmed hat, and plume of feathers, heelpieces, and running stick with pigeon wings, flings himself out of heaven’s wicket, through the empty deserts of the air, and in a trice nimbly alights on the earth, and throws at friend Tom’s feet the three hatchets, saying to him, “Thou hast bawled long enough to be a-dry; thy prayers and requests are granted by Jupiter: see which of these three is thy hatchet, and take it away with thee.”
Wellhung lifts up the golden hatchet, peeps upon it, and finds it very heavy, then, staring at Mercury, cries, “Cods-zouks, this is none of mine; I won’t ha’ ’t!” The same he did with the silver one, and said, “’Tis not this, either: you may e’en take them again.” At last he takes up his own 2212 hatchet, examines the end of the helve, and finds his mark there; then, ravished with joy, like a fox that meets some straggling poultry, and sneering from the top of his nose, he cried, “By the mass, this is my hatchet! Master god, if you will leave it me, I will sacrifice to you a very good and huge pot of milk, brimful, covered with fine strawberries, next Ides (i.e. the 15th) of March.”
“Honest fellow,” said Mercury, “I leave it thee; take it; and because thou hast wished and chosen moderately, in point of hatchet, by Jupiter’s command I give thee these two others. Thou hast now wherewith to make thyself rich; be honest.” Honest Tom gave Mercury a whole cart load of thanks, and revered the most great Jupiter. His old hatchet he fastens close to his leathern girdle, and girds it about his breech like Martin of Cambray; the two others, being more heavy, he lays on his shoulder. Thus he plods on, trudging over the fields, keeping a good countenance among his neighbors and fellow-parishioners with one merry saying or other after Patelin’s way. The next day, having put on a clean white jacket, he takes on his back the two precious hatchets, and comes to Chinon, the famous city, noble city, ancient city, yea, the first city of the world, according to the judgment and assertion of the most learned Massoreths. In Chinon he turned his silver hatchet into fine testons, crown pieces, and other white cash; his golden hatchet into fine angels, curious ducats, substantial ridders, spankers, and rose nobles. Then with them he purchases a good number of farms, barns, houses, outhouses, thatch houses, stables, meadows, orchards, fields, vineyards, woods, arable lands, pastures, ponds, mills, gardens, nurseries, oxen, cows sheep, goats, swine, hogs, asses, horses, hens, cocks, capons, chickens, geese, ganders, ducks, drakes, and a world of other necessaries, and in a short time became the richest man in all the country. His brother bumpkins, and the yeomen and other country-puts thereabouts, perceiving his good fortune, were not a little amazed, insomuch that their former pity of poor Tom was soon changed into an envy of his so great and unexpected rise; and, as they could not for their souls devise how this came about, they made it their business to pry up and down, and lay their heads together, to inquire, seek, and inform themselves by what means, in what place, on what day, what how, how, why, and wherefore, he had come by this great treasure.2213
At last, hearing it was by losing his hatchet, “Ha! ha!” said they, “was there no more to do but lose a hatchet, to make us rich?” With this they all fairly lost their hatchets out of hand. The devil a one that had a hatchet left; he was not his mother’s son that did not lose his hatchet. No more was wood felled or cleared in that country, through want of hatchets. Nay, the Æsopian apologue even saith that certain petty country gents of the lower class, who has sold Wellhung their little mill and little field to have wherewithal to make a figure at the next muster, having been told that this treasure was come to him by that means only, sold the only badge f their gentility, their swords, to purchase hatchets to go to lose them, as the silly clodpates did, in hopes to gain store of chink by that loss.
You would have truly sworn they had been a parcel of your petty spiritual usurers, Rome-bound, selling their all, and borrowing of others to buy store of mandates, a pennyworth of a new-made pope.
Now they cried and brayed, and prayed and bawled, and lamented and invoked Jupiter: “My hatchet! my hatchet! Jupiter, my hatchet!” on this side, “My hatchet!” on that side, “My hatchet! Ho, ho, ho, ho, Jupiter, my hatchet!” The air round about rang again with the cries and howlings of these rascally losers of hatchets.
Mercury was nimble in brining them hatchets, — to each offering that which he had lost, as also another of gold and a third of silver.
Everywhere he still was for that of gold, giving thanks in abundance to the great giver, Jupiter; but, in the very nick of time that they bowed and stooped to take it from the ground, whip in a trice Mercury lopped off their heads, as Jupiter had commanded; and of heads thus cut off the number was just equal to that of the lost hatchets.
You see how it is now; you see how it goes with those who in the simplicity of their hearts, wish and desire with moderation. Take warning by this, all you greedy, fresh-water shirks, who scorn to wish for anything under ten thousand pounds; and do not, for the future, run on impudently, as I have sometimes heard you wising, “Would to Go I had not one hundred and seventy-eight millions of gold! oh, how I should tickle it off!” The deuce on you, what more might a king, an emperor, a pope wish for? For that reason, indeed, 2214 you see that after you have made such hopeful wishes all the good that comes to you of it is the itch or scab, and not a cross in your breeches to scare the devil that tempts you to make these wishes; no more than those two mumpers, one of whom only wished to have in good old gold as much as hath been spent, bought, and sold in Paris, since its first foundations were laid, to this hour, all of it valued at the price, sale, and rate of the dearest year in all that space of time. Do you think the fellow was bashful? had he eaten sour plums unpeeled? were his teeth on edge, I pray you? The other wished Our Lady’s church brimful of steel needles, from the floor to the top of the roof, and to have as many ducats as might be crammed into as many bags as might be sewed with each and every one of those needles, till they were all either broke at the point or eye. This is to wish with a vengeance! What think you of it? What did they get by it, in your opinion? Why, at night both my gentleman had kibed heels, a tetter in the chin, a churchyard cough in the lungs, a catarrh in the throat, a swingeing boil at the rump, and the devil of one musty crust of a brown George the poor dogs had to scour their grinders with. Wish, therefore, for mediocrity, and it shall be given unto you, and over and above yet; that is to say, provided you bestir yourselves manfully and do your best in the mean time.
THIS year there will be so many eclipses of the sun and moon that I fear (not unjustly) our pockets will suffer inanition, be full empty, and our feeling at a loss. Saturn will be retrograde, Venus direct, Mercury as unfixed as quicksilver. And a pack of planets won’t go as you would have them.
For this reason the crabs will go sidelong, and the rope makers backward; the little stools will get upon benches, and the spits on the racks, and the bands on the hats; fleas will be generally black; bacon will run away from peas in Lent; there won’t be a bean left in a twelfth cake, nor an ace in a flush; the dice won’t run as you wish, though you cog them, and the chance that you desire will seldom come; brutes shall speak in several places; Shrovetide will have its day; one 2215 part of the world will disguise itself to gull and chouse the other, and run about the streets like a parcel of addle-pated animals and mad devils; such hurly-burly was never seen since the devil was a little boy; and there will be above seven and twenty irregular verbs made this year, if Priscian don’t’ hold them in. If God don’t help us, we shall have our hands and hearts full.
This year the stone-blind shall see but very little; the deaf shall hear but scurvily; the dumb shan’t speak very plain; the rich shall be somewhat in a better case than the poor, and the healthy than the sick. Whole flocks, herds, and droves of sheep, swine, and oxen, cocks and hens, ducks and drakes, geese and ganders, shall go to pot; but the mortality will not be altogether so great among apes, monkeys, baboons, and dromedaries. As for old age, ’twill be incurable this year, because of the years past. Those who are sick of the pleurisy will feel a plaguy stitch in their sides; catarrhs this year shall distill from the brain on the lower parts; sore eyes will by no means help the sight; ears shall be at least as scarce and short in Gascony, and among knights of the post, as ever; and a most horrid and dreadful, virulent, malignant, catching, perverse, and odious malady shall be almost epidemical, insomuch that many shall run mad upon it, not knowing what nails to drive to keep the wolf from the door, very often plotting, contriving, cudgeling, and puzzling their weak, shallow brains, and syllogizing and prying up and down for the philosopher’s stone, though they only get Midas’ lugs by the bargain. I quake for very fear when I think on’t; for, I assure you, few will escape this disease, which Averroes calls lack of money; and by consequence of the last year’s comet, and Saturn’s retrogradation, there will be a horrid clutter between the cats and the rats, hounds and hares, hawks and ducks, and eke between the monks and the eggs.
I find by the calculations of Albumazar in his book of the great conjunction, and elsewhere, that this will be a plentiful year of all manner of good things to those who have enough, but your hops of Picardy will go near to far the wore for the cold. As for oats, they’ll be a great help to horses. I dare say, there won’t be much more bacon than swine. Pisces having the ascendant, ’twill be a mighty year for mussels, cockles, and periwinkles. Mercury somewhat threatens our parsley beds, yet parsley will be to be had for money. Hemp 2216 will grow faster than the children of this age, and some will find there’s but too much on’t. There will be very few bonchretiens, but choke pears in abundance. As for corn, wine, fruit, and herbs, there never was such plenty as will be now, if poor folks may have their wish.