Dynamogenous and Illuminating

“Rabelais is for the common man who hardly has it in him to be either sage or saint, but who wishes to learn something about the difficult and interesting art of living. It is through association with the spirit of Rabelais that one’s equanimity becomes suffused with joy, and thus is turned into a true and energizing superiority; thus it is that one makes progress in pantagruelism, ‘a certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of fortune’. M. Faguet defines Rabelais’s temper as that of ‘a gay stoicism’, which seems to us rather a dubious term. Superiority — that is the right word — a gay, joyous, wise, imaginative, tolerant superiority. This is a communicable quality, even contagious, and in keeping one’s spirit continually exposed to its contagion, one finds that much of the fine art of living manages somehow to get itself learned. For in his estimate of the values of life, Rabelais is indeed wholly with the sages and the saints; it is only in method that he is not with them. He does not recommend the humane life; he exhibits it, and lets it recommend itself. He does not denounce the triviality and hollowness of what for most men are master-concerns — riches, place, power, and the profound sophistications of character incident to their pursuit — no, all this again, he simply exhibits. There is nothing of the hortatory or pulpit style in his moralities, and they are all the more effective for its absence. Empty and rotten and trifling! says Marcus Aurelius of the common master-concerns of life; and those who are engaged with them are like ‘little dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and then straightway weeping’. Yes, one assents to that, but one must have a touch of the sage or saint in oneself to be really energized by it. ‘The fashion of this world passeth away’, said Goethe, ‘and I would fain occupy myself with the things that are abiding’. Well, we all feel like that, sometimes at least; but the common sort of man is not really much moved by declamation of this kind, impressive as it is. Even the majestic sentence carved on the tomb of one of the Scipios, Qui apicem gessisti, mors perfecit tua ut essent omnia brevia, honos fama virtusque, glories atque ingenium — even this is profoundly melancholy in its majesty, melancholy and relaxing. Rabelais is dynamogenous and illuminating; he lights up the humane life with the light of great joy, so that it shows itself as something lovely and infinitely desirable, by the side of which all other attainments fall automatically into their proper place as cheap, poor, and trivial. One closes with it gladly, joyfully, perceiving that for the sake of it all else that is lost is well lost.” (Albert Jay Nock, 1929, Rabelais: The Man and His Work)