Among the other books which Rabelais wrote, we may mention “Several Almanacs,” “The Powers of Chevalier de Longery,” “Letters from Italy,” “The Philosophical Cream,” etc. etc. His greatest book, which we have mentioned, went through a great number of editions and had a tremendous sale. It was republished in several foreign states.
Rabelais was a scholar, for he knew well fourteen languages, and wrote with facility Greek, Latin, and Italian. He was a good physician, an accomplished naturalist, a correct mathematician, an astronomer, an architect, a painter, a musician, and last of all, a wit and philosopher. He was a good pastor over the parishioners of Meudon, and acted as physician to their bodies as well as souls.
There are idle tales to the effect that he made his will as follows: “I have nothing—I owe much—I leave the rest to the poor.” And also that he sent a message as follows, to Cardinal du Ballay. “Tell the cardinal I am going to try the great ’perhaps’—you are a fool—draw the curtain—the farce is done.” These were fictions invented by the very pious Catholics, who hated him for his satires upon the church.
Rabelais must have been a great man. Even his learning alone would have made him the most distinguished man in France at the time he lived. Those who hated him have tried to cover his memory with shame, and have represented him as merely a buffoon, but such was not the truth. He did often descend to buffooneries and to almost obscene sayings, and these things have had their influence upon France, and have contributed to make the French people what they are to-day—a nation of professed Catholics, but really a nation of infidels and atheists. But Rabelais was more than a wit. He was a public benefactor. He improved medical science, and was as much a reformer in his laughable attacks upon the fat and lazy monks, as was Calvin himself.
Rabelais died at the age of seventy, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul, Rue des Jardins, at the foot of a beautiful tree which was preserved in his memory. No monument was ever placed over his grave, but he did not need one to perpetuate his memory.
One of the men of the past who exerted and still exerts a wide influence over French literature, is Racine. He was born in 1639, in the small town Ferte-Milon, in Valois. The parents died while he was in infancy, and he and a sister, their only children, were left orphans in the care of their maternal grandfather. This sister remained in Ferte-Milon during her life, which was not long. Racine was not happy while young, and being neglected by his grandparents felt it keenly. He was a scholar at Beauvais, and attached himself to one of the political parties which at that time always sprang up in schools and colleges. He was in one of their contests wounded upon his forehead, and bore the scar through life.