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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

François Rabelais (c. 1490–1553)

Lending and Borrowing

From “Gargantua and Pantagruel”

BE ever indebted to somebody or other, that there may be somebody always to pray for you, that the Giver of all good things may grant unto you a blessed, long, and prosperous life; fearing if Fortune should deal crossly with you, that it might be his chance to come short of being paid by you; he will always speak good of you in every company, ever and anon purchase new creditors unto you; to the end that through their means you may make a shift by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and with other folks’ earth fill up his ditch. When of old, in the region of the Gauls, by the institution of the Druids, the servants, slaves, and bondmen were burnt alive at the funerals and obsequies of their lords and masters, had not they fear enough, think you, that their lords and masters should die? For, perforce, they were to die with them for company. Did not they incessantly send up their supplications to their great god Mercury, as likewise unto Dis, the father of wealth, to lengthen out their days, and preserve them long in health? Were not they very careful to entertain them well, punctually to look unto them, and to attend them faithfully and circumspectly? For by those means were they to live together, at least until the hour of death. Believe me, your creditors with a more fervent devotion will beseech Almighty God to prolong your life, they being of nothing more afraid than that you should die; for that they are more concerned for the sleeve than the arm, and love the penny better than their own lives; as it evidently appeareth by the usurers of Landerousse, who not long since hanged themselves because the price of the corn and wines was fallen, by the return of a gracious season.

Truly, and in good sooth, when I ponder my destiny aright, and think well upon it, you put me shrewdly to my plunges, and have me at a bay in twitting me with the reproach of my debts, and creditors; and yet did I, in this only respect and consideration of being a debtor, esteem myself worshipful, reverend, and formidable. For, against the opinion of most philosophers, that of nothing ariseth nothing; yet without having bottomed on so much as that which is called the first matter, did I out of nothing become such a maker and creator, that I have created, what? a gay number of fair and jolly creditors. Nay, creditors (I will maintain it, even to the very fire itself exclusively) are fair and goodly creatures. Who lendeth nothing is an ugly and wicked creature, and an accursed imp of the infernal Old Nick. And there is made, what? Debts: a thing most precious and dainty, of great use and antiquity. Debts, I say, surmounting the number of syllables which may result from the combination of all the consonants with each of the vowels heretofore projected, reckoned and calculated by the noble Xenocrates. To judge of the perfection of debtors by the numerosity of their creditors is the readiest way for entering into the mysteries of practical arithmetic.

You can hardly imagine how glad I am when, every morning, I perceive myself environed and surrounded with brigades of creditors, humble, fawning, and full of their reverences. And while I remark that as I look more favorably upon, and give a cheerful countenance to one than another, the fellow thereupon buildeth a conceit that he shall be the first despatched, and the foremost in the date of payment; and he valueth my smiles at the rate of ready money. It seemeth unto me that I then act and personate the God of the Passion of Saumure, accompanied with his angels and cherubim.

These are my flatterers, my soothers, my clawbacks, my smoothers, my parasites, my saluters, my givers of good-morrows, and perpetual orators, which makes me verily think that the supremest height of heroic virtue, described by Hesiod, consisteth in being a debtor, wherein I held the first degree in my commencement. Which dignity, though all human creatures seem to aim at, and aspire thereto, few, nevertheless, because of the difficulties in the way, and encumbrances of hard passages, are able to reach it, as is easily perceivable by the ardent desire and vehement longing, harbored in the breast of every one, to be still creating more debts and new creditors.

Yet doth it not lie in the power of every one to be a debtor. To acquire creditors is not at the disposure of each man’s arbitrament. You nevertheless would deprive me of this sublime felicity. You ask me when I shall be out of debt.

Well, to go yet farther on, and possibly worse in your conceit, may St. Bablin, the good saint, snatch me, if I have not, all my lifetime, held debt to be as an union or conjunction of the heavens with the earth, and the whole cement whereby the race of mankind is kept together; yea, of such virtue and efficacy that, I say, the whole progeny of Adam would very suddenly perish without it. Therefore, perhaps, I do not think amiss when I repute it to be the great Soul of the Universe, which (according to the opinion of the Academics) vivified all manner of things. In confirmation whereof, that you may the better believe it to be so, represent unto yourself, without any prejudice of spirit, in a clear and serene fancy, the idea and form of some other world than this; take, if you please, and lay hold on the thirtieth of those which the philosopher Metrodorus did enumerate, wherein it is to be supposed there is no debtor or creditor, that is to say, a world without debts. There among the planets will be no regular course. All will be in disorder. Jupiter, reckoning himself to be nothing indebted unto Saturn, will go near to detrude him out of his sphere, and with the Homeric chain will be like to hang up all the intelligences, gods, heavens, demons, heroes, devils, earth, and sea, together with the other elements. Saturn, no doubt, combining with Mars, will reduce the world into a chaos of confusion.

Mercury then would be no more subjected to the other planets; he would scorn to be any longer their Camillus, as he was of old termed in the Hetrurian tongue; for it is to be imagined that he is no way a debtor to them. Venus will no more be venerable, because she shall have lent nothing. The moon will remain bloody and obscure: For to what end should the sun impart unto her any of his light? He owed her nothing. Nor yet will the sun shine upon the earth, nor the stars send down any good influence, because the terrestrial globe hath desisted from sending up their wonted nourishment by vapors and exhalations, wherewith Heraclitus maintained they were cherished and alimented. There would likewise be in such a world no manner of symbolization, alternation, nor transmutation among the elements; for the one will not esteem itself obliged to the other, as having borrowed nothing at all from it. Earth then will not become water, water will not be changed into air, of air will be made no fire, and fire will afford no heat unto the earth; the earth will produce nothing but monsters, Titans, giants; no rain will descend upon it, nor light shine thereon; no wind will blow there, nor will there be in it any summer or autumn. Lucifer will break loose, and issuing forth of the depth of hell, accompanied with his furies, fiends, and horned devils, will go about to unnestle and drive out of heaven all the gods, as well of the greater as of the lesser nations. Such a world without lending will be no better than a dog-kennel, a place of contention and wrangling, more unruly and irregular than that of the Rector of Paris; a devil of an hurly-burly, and more disordered confusion than that of the plays of Douay. Men will not then salute one another; it will be but lost labor to expect aid or succor from any, or to cry fire, water, murder, for none will put to their helping hand. Why? He lent no money; there is nothing due to him. Nobody is concerned in his burning, in his shipwreck, in his ruin, or in his death; and that because he hitherto had lent nothing, and would never thereafter have lent anything. In short, Faith, Hope, and Charity would be quite banished from such a world; for men are born to relieve and assist one another; and in their stead would succeed and be introduced defiance, disdain, and rancor, with the most execrable troop of all evils, all imprecations, and all miseries. Whereupon you will think, and that not amiss, that Pandora had there split her unlucky box. Men unto men will be wolves, hob-thrushers, and goblins (as were Lycaon, Bellerophon, Nebuchadnezzar), plunderers, highway-robbers, cut-throats, rapparees, murderers, poisoners, assassinators, lewd, wicked, malevolent, pernicious haters, set against everybody, like to Ismael, Metabus, or Timon the Athenian, who for that cause was named Misanthropos; in such sort, that it would prove much more easy in nature to have fish entertained in the air, and bullocks fed in the bottom of the ocean, than to support or tolerate a rascally rabble of people that will not lend. These fellows (I vow) do I hate with a perfect hatred; and if conformable to the pattern of this grievous, peevish, and perverse world which lendeth nothing, you figure and liken the little world, which is man, you will find in him a terrible jostling coyle and clutter: The head will not lend the sight of his eyes to guide the feet and hands; the legs will refuse to bear up the body; the hands will leave off working any more for the rest of the members; the heart will be weary of its continual motion for the beating of the pulse, and will no longer lend his assistance; the lungs will withdraw the use of their bellows; the liver will desist from conveying any more blood through the veins for the good of the whole; the bladder will not be indebted to the kidneys. The brains, in the interim, considering this unnatural course, will fall into a raving dotage, and withhold all feeling from the sinews, and motion from the muscles. Briefly, in such a world, without order and array, owing nothing, lending nothing, and borrowing nothing, you would see a more dangerous conspiration than that which Æsop exposed in his apologue. Such a world will perish undoubtedly; and not only perish, but perish very quickly. Were it Æsculapius himself, his body would immediately rot, and the chafing soul, full of indignation, take its flight to all the devils of hell after my money.

On the contrary, be pleased to represent unto your fancy another world, wherein every one lendeth, and every one oweth, all are debtors, and all creditors. Oh, how great will that harmony be, which shall thereby result from the regular motions of the heavens! Methinks I hear it every whit as well as Plato did. What sympathy there will be among the elements! Oh, how delectable then unto nature will be our own works and productions! While Ceres appeareth laden with corn, Bacchus with wines, Flora with flowers, Pomona with fruits, and Juno fair in a clear air, wholesome and pleasant—I lose myself in this high contemplation.

Then will among the race of mankind, peace, love, benevolence, fidelity, tranquillity, rest, banquets, feastings, joy, gladness, gold, silver, single money, chains, rings, with other ware, and chaffer of that nature be found to trot from hand to hand; no suits at law, no wars, no strife, debate, nor wrangling; none will be there an usurer, none will be there a pinch-penny, a scrape-good wretch, or churlish, hard-hearted refuser. Good God! Will this not be the golden age in the reign of Saturn? The true idea of the Olympic regions wherein, all other virtues ceasing, Charity alone ruleth, governeth, domineereth, and triumpheth? All will be fair and goodly people there, all just and virtuous.

Happy world! Oh, people of that world most happy! Yea, thrice and four times blessed is that people! I think in very deed that I am among them, and swear to you, by my good, forsooth, that if this glorious aforesaid world had a pope, abounding with cardinals, that so he might have the association of a sacred college, in the space of a very few years you should be sure to see the saints much thicker in the roll, more numerous wonder-working and mirific, more services, more vows, more staff-bearers, more wax candles than are all those in the nine bishoprics of Brittany, St. Yves only excepted.

Now let our microcosm be fancied conformable to this model in all its members: lending, borrowing, and owing (that is to say), according to its own nature. For Nature hath not to any other end created man, but to borrow and lend.