The edition published by Didot in 1857 has an altogether special character. In the biographical notice M. Rathery for the first time treated as they deserve the foolish prejudices which have made Rabelais misunderstood, and M. Burgaud des Marets set the text on a quite new base. Having proved, what of course is very evident, that in the original editions the spelling, and the language too, were of the simplest and clearest, and were not bristling with the nonsensical and superfluous consonants which have given rise to the idea that Rabelais is difficult to read, he took the trouble first of all to note the spelling of each word. Whenever in a single instance he found it in accordance with modern spelling, he made it the same throughout. The task was a hard one, and Rabelais certainly gained in clearness, but over-zeal is often fatal to a reform. In respect to its precision and the value of its notes, which are short and very judicious, Burgaud des Marets’ edition is valuable, and is amongst those which should be known and taken into account.
Since Le Duchat all the editions have a common fault. They are not exactly guilty of fabricating, but they set up an artificial text in the sense that, in order to lose as little as possible, they have collected and united what originally were variations—the revisions, in short, of the original editions. Guided by the wise counsels given by Brunet in 1852 in his Researches on the old editions of Rabelais, Pierre Jannet published the first three books in 1858; then, when the publication of the Bibliotheque Elzevirienne was discontinued, he took up the work again and finished the edition in Picard’s blue library, in little volumes, each book quite distinct. It was M. Jannet who in our days first restored the pure and exact text of Rabelais, not only without retouching it, but without making additions or insertions, or juxtaposition of things that were not formerly found together. For each of the books he has followed the last edition issued by Rabelais, and all the earlier differences he gives as variations. It is astonishing that a thing so simple and so fitting should not have been done before, and the result is that this absolutely exact fidelity has restored a lucidity which was not wanting in Rabelais’s time, but which had since been obscured. All who have come after Jannet have followed in his path, and there is no reason for straying from it.
THE FIRST BOOK.
To the Honoured, Noble Translator of Rabelais.
Rabelais, whose wit prodigiously was made,
All men, professions, actions to invade,
With so much furious vigour, as if it
Had lived o’er each of them, and each had quit,
Yet with such happy sleight and careless skill,
As, like the serpent, doth with laughter kill,
So that although his noble leaves appear
Antic and Gottish, and dull souls forbear