"Ex Desuetudine Amittuntur Privilegia": Rabelais, Urquhart, and Les Clercs

By Doyle, Charles Clay | Romance Notes, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

"Ex Desuetudine Amittuntur Privilegia": Rabelais, Urquhart, and Les Clercs


Doyle, Charles Clay, Romance Notes


IN Rabelais's Tiers livre, published in 1546, Frere Jan counsels Panurge regarding the desirability of his marrying immediately and then copulating with great frequency:

Seulement ayez esguard et consyderation de tous jours bien lier et continuer tes coups. Si tu y fays intermission, tu es perdu, paouvret, et t'adviendra ce que advient es nourrisses. Si elles desistent alaicter enfans, elles perdent leur laict. Si continuellement ne exercez ta mentule, elle perdra son laict et ne te servira que de pissotiere.... [] Je t'en advise, mon amy. J'en ay veu l'experience en plusieurs qui ne l'ont peu quand ilz vouloient, car ne l'avoient faict quand le povoient. Aussi par non usaige sont perduz tous privileges, ce disent les clercs. (Rabelais 5:208)

The best English translators have been uncertain whether the French word clercs should be made to refer to scholars or (more specifically) to clergymen. Donald Frame translates, "Thus by disuse are lost all privileges, so say the clerics" (Frame 337). Burton Raffel makes the other choice: "And as the scholars say, if you don't use it, you lose it" (Raffel 313). J. M. Cohen skirts the choice by translating very literally (and not very idiomatically in modern English): "Thus by lack of usage, as the clerks say, all privileges are lost" (Cohen 363). M. A. Screech is more definite: "As the law-clerks say: All privileges are lost by non-usage," adding the notation "'Privileges are lost by non-usage' was a legal maxim.'" (Screech, Gargantua 512-13; italics in the text). Jacques LeClercq, by implication, also understands his namesake clercs to refer to lawyers--even more specifically, canon lawyers: "An ancient maxim of cannon [sic!] law tells us that nonusage of full privileges makes them forfeit" (LeClercq 392). Of course, in the early sixteenth century most scholars were, in fact, clergymen of some description, and for many of them the study of both canon law and civil law would have belonged to the preparatory curriculum--as occurred in the case of Rabelais himself.

Just what are the status and role of the quoted pronouncement by les clercs, which Jacques LeClercq calls "an ancient maxim" and Burton Raffel has rendered with a version of the modern English proverb "Use it or lose it"? Let us look at the passage as given in the classic translation by the Scotsman Sir Thomas Urquhart, which appeared posthumously in 1693: Friar John says,

This is a certain truth I tell thee, Friend, and doubt not of it; for my self have seen the sad experiment thereof in many, who cannot now do what they would, because before they did not what they might have done. Ex desuetudine amittuntur Privilegia. Non-usage oftentimes destroys ones Right, say the learned Doctors of the Law. (Urquhart 2:131; italics in the text).

Especially in the Latin form (literally, "From disuse are lost privileges"), the opinion that Urquhart's Friar John attributes to the "Doctors of the Law" is presented as if it will be recognized as a common aphorism. Numerous twentieth-century books of sayings or quotations (including several published in countries where neither English nor French--nor Latin--is widely spoken) designate or categorize the Latin sentence as a legal maxim or simply a maxim--sometimes, even, a proverb.

Obviously, "Ex desuetudine amittuntur privilegia" does not appear in Rabelais's original text of 1546. In fact, I cannot discover any occurrence of the Latin sentence prior to Urquhart's interpolation of it in 1693 - or any more recent occurrence, outside the published collections of sayings and a few direct (and usually inaccurate) references to Rabelais. Rabelais had written only "Aussi par non usaige sont perduz tous privileges, ce disent les clercs." A footnote in the standard edition of Rabelais (by Lefranc et al., 1931) calls the French saying an "ancienne maxime de droit canonique" (Rabelais 5:208). In his modern scholarly edition of Le tiers livre, M. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Ex Desuetudine Amittuntur Privilegia": Rabelais, Urquhart, and Les Clercs
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.