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Gargantua and Pantagruel, Illustrated, Book 5

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Indefatigable topers, and you, thrice precious martyrs of the smock, give me leave to put a serious question to your worships while you are idly striking your codpieces, and I myself not much better employed. Pray, why is it that people say that men are not such sots nowadays as they were in the days of yore? Sot is an old word that signifies a dunce, dullard, jolthead, gull, wittol, or noddy, one without guts in his brains, whose cockloft is unfurnished, and, in short, a fool. Now would I know whether you would have us understand by this same saying, as indeed you logically may, that formerly men were fools and in this generation are grown wise? How many and what dispositions made them fools? How many and what dispositions were wanting to make 'em wise? Why were they fools? How should they be wise? Pray, how came you to know that men were formerly fools? How did you find that they are now wise? Who the devil made 'em fools? Who a God's name made 'em wise? Who d'ye think are most, those that loved mankind foolish, or those that love it wise? How long has it been wise? How long otherwise? Whence proceeded the foregoing folly? Whence the following wisdom? Why did the old folly end now, and no later? Why did the modern wisdom begin now, and no sooner? What were we the worse for the former folly? What the better for the succeeding wisdom? How should the ancient folly be come to nothing? How should this same new wisdom be started up and established?

Now answer me, an't please you. I dare not adjure you in stronger terms, reverend sirs, lest I make your pious fatherly worships in the least uneasy. Come, pluck up a good heart; speak the truth and shame the devil. Be cheery, my lads; and if you are for me, take me off three or five bumpers of the best, while I make a halt at the first part of the sermon; then answer my question. If you are not for me, avaunt! avoid, Satan! For I swear by my great-grandmother's placket (and that's a horrid oath), that if you don't help me to solve that puzzling problem, I will, nay, I already do repent having proposed it; for still I must remain nettled and gravelled, and a devil a bit I know how to get off. Well, what say you? I'faith, I begin to smell you out. You are not yet disposed to give me an answer; nor I neither, by these whiskers. Yet to give some light into the business, I'll e'en tell you what had been anciently foretold in the matter by a venerable doctor, who, being moved by the spirit in a prophetic vein, wrote a book ycleped the Prelatical Bagpipe. What d'ye think the old fornicator saith? Hearken, you old noddies, hearken now or never.

The jubilee's year, when all like fools were shorn,Is about thirty supernumerary.O want of veneration! fools they seemed,But, persevering, with long breves, at lastNo more they shall be gaping greedy fools.For they shall shell the shrub's delicious fruit,Whose flower they in the spring so much had feared.

Now you have it, what do you make on't? The seer is ancient, the style laconic, the sentences dark like those of Scotus, though they treat of matters dark enough in themselves. The best commentators on that good father take the jubilee after the thirtieth to be the years that are included in this present age till 1550 (there being but one jubilee every fifty years). Men shall no longer be thought fools next green peas season.

The fools, whose number, as Solomon certifies, is infinite, shall go to pot like a parcel of mad bedlamites as they are; and all manner of folly shall have an end, that being also numberless, according to Avicenna, maniae infinitae sunt species. Having been driven back and hidden towards the centre during the rigour of the winter, 'tis now to be seen on the surface, and buds out like the trees. This is as plain as a nose in a man's face; you know it by experience; you see it. And it was formerly found out by that great good man Hippocrates, Aphorism Verae etenim maniae, &c. This world therefore wisifying itself, shall no longer dread the flower and blossoms of every coming spring, that is, as you may piously believe, bumper in hand and tears in eyes, in the woeful time of Lent, which used to keep them company.

Whole cartloads of books that seemed florid, flourishing, and flowery, gay, and gaudy as so many butterflies, but in the main were tiresome, dull, soporiferous, irksome, mischievous, crabbed, knotty, puzzling, and dark as those of whining Heraclitus, as unintelligible as the numbers of Pythagoras, that king of the bean, according to Horace; those books, I say, have seen their best days and shall soon come to nothing, being delivered to the executing worms and merciless petty chandlers; such was their destiny, and to this they were predestinated....