Saturday, 13 June 2009

Disenshelved: WHR 6

This devil is probably the most familiar image from Heath Robinson’s Rabelais. It comes from the Third Book - ‘Containing the heroic deeds of Pantagruel, son of Gargantua,’ Chapter III – ‘How Panurge praiseth the Debtors and Borrowers.’ It illustrates, bizarrely (but nothing is bizarre in Rabelais), a passage about what the world would be like if there were no lenders:

‘… 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 Harvest. 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…’

The drawings of William Heath Robinson were a familiar part of my childhood, either through the illustrations to ‘Professor Branestawm’ or from the many compilations of his cartoons, of complicated contraptions designed to do simple tasks, which we often borrowed from the local library (you can see a small selection at the Chris Beetles site). It was the 'friendliness' of his humour that I responded to more than the actual jokes (and also that he died on the same day of the year as my birthday). I was surprised later to discover that he had been an important ‘serious’ illustrator, and even today it seems hard to reconcile the two sides of his work, almost as if he was two people. But after the First World War put paid to the demand for lavishly illustrated gift books his humorous work allowed him to continue in his career while that of his two brothers, Thomas and Charles, foundered.
If you’ve enjoyed these drawings and the quotes you might like to look through the rest or even read the book; the bits I read were surprisingly funny - somehow you don't expect something written in the 1530s to make you laugh). It's on Googlebooks in it's entirety - Volume 1, and Volume 2.

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