On a recent trip to the British Library, I took an idle look at Ben Jonson’s copy of Rabelais’s complete works, in which he made copious notes, in the hope that he would have tried to decipher the nonsensical ‘Antidoted Fanfreluches’, which contain the giant Gargantua’s genealogy and that were discovered in an ancient tomb, in a ‘big, fat, great, gray, pretty, small, mouldy, little pamphlet, smelling stronger, but no better than roses’. While Jonson had dutifully glossed the opening chapters to the book, the ‘Antidoted Fanfreluches’ were understandably left untouched by his hand.
I did however identify some of Jonson’s notes that other scholars had not spotted before, especially to Rabelais’s catalogue of the Library of Saint-Victor, which contains such learned tomes as The Codpiece of Law and the Art of Farting Politely in Public. Jonson’s marginalia include ‘churnd bollock’, actually a mistranslation of La Couille barine des preux [The Elephantine Penis of the Valiant], and ‘bridle champer’, the latter meaning a lawyer, ‘from his mule, which attending while her master is in court, hath leisure enough to champ on the bridle’ (this from Randle Cotgrave’s Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), which Jonson clearly had by his side as he took his notes).
Other gems can be consulted in a note on Jonson’s notes: