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How the Bells of the Church Steeple Advise About Marriage

The story which Rabelais so pleasantly has given, in the seventh chapter of his third book, and the answer of Pantagruel to Panurge concerning his intention of marrying, Menage observes, is copied from a Latin Sermon on Widowhood, by a Monk of Cluny. The original passage has sufficient humour to induce me to transcribe it—

A certain widow, who felt a very strong inclination towards the holy bond of matrimony, thought it most decent to take the advice of the Curate if her parish, who passed for what is called a very good-natured soul, because he was disposed to let every one act as they thought proper. ‘I am,’ said she, ‘a poor unhappy woman, who has lost the best husband in the world. My apprentice knows all the ways of his old master. I have often thought I should do well to marry this young man; but I wish to take your advice.’ The Curate immediately answered, that she had then better take him. ‘Ah! but I have my fears,’ rejoined the widow: ‘I cannot proceed in the business my late husband left, unless I find another.’—‘True,’ the Curate replied; ‘you will then do well to marry him.’—‘Very well,’ she answered: ‘but if he happens to turn out bad, he may ruin me!’—‘Very just,’ replied the Curate; ‘you must not marry him then.’ It was in vain: the good-natured Ecclesiastic, to get rid of her importunities, always agreed with her sentiments. He observed her inclinations for the apprentice; and, at length, he found this expedient to terminate her objections. ‘Go, Madam, and take advice of the Bells of the Steeple: when they ring, they will tell you what you should do.’ When the bells rung, the widow attentively listened, and, according to her wishes, she heard distinctly, ‘Prens ton valet, prens ton valet!’ Upon these strong arguments, in favour of the young man, she married him. Scarce had the honeymoon closed, when she received very cruel treatment from her late apprentice; and she who was mistress, now became a servant. She went to complain to the good-natured Curate of the advice he gave her; cursing the apocryphal Bells of the Church, and her fond credulity. He told her, that she had misunderstood the Bells—‘Observe them next time.’ The widow again listened; and very clearly distinguished the sounds of ‘Ne le prens pas, ne le prens pas!’ For the blows and the cruel treatment which she had received had dissipated her passion; and the truth is, that all the advice of the Bells consisted in her own inclinations. Agreeably to our old English couplet—

‘As the Fool thinketh,
  So the Bell tinketh.’