Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty   (1611 c. 1660)

"One inch of joy surmounts of grief a span;
Because to laugh is proper to the man."

Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty was an extravagant and eccentric man and a writer and translator with a passionate love for words. He fought as a royalist at the battle of Worcester (1651), was taken prisoner and subsequently tried to buy his freedom by offering Cromwell his plans for a Universal Language. Urquhart is reputed to have died in exile in the Netherlands, expiring in a fit of laughter brought on by hearing news of the restoration of Charles II to the throne.

Sir Thomas, although plagued by financial problems, devised schemes to transform the economy of his estate and establish what would, in effect, have been a university of Cromarty. None of these were realised. He published a bizarre treatise on trigonometry, a collection of dull epigrams, his musings on a universal language and a volume tracing his ancestry, generation by generation, back to Adam and Eve. Some of these are best forgotten but he is rightly celebrated as the author of one of the greatest translations of any work of literature ñ his edition of the first three books of the French writer Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Rabelais' work is an earthy, rumbustious, larger-than-life story of two giants, which celebrates pleasure and satirises vanity and pedantry. Urquhart's translation is longer, bawdier and more exuberant than the original "more Rabelaisian than Rabelais himself". The twentieth-century critic Bernard Levin has said that translations, like women, are either belle or fidèle either beautiful or faithful but rarely both. Levin considered Urquhart¹s translation to be supremely belle, and his comments, if politically incorrect, would surely have pleased Sir Thomas who delighted in the spirit of Rabelais rather than in accuracy.

Extracts from the writings of Sir Thomas Urquhart
The port of Cromarty The improvement of Cromarty
A "University of Cromarty" Scottish bankers
The minister of Cromarty Mental exercise
Universal Language Sir Thomas's style of writing
 Extracts from translation of Rabelais  

The port of Cromarty

I have, or at least had, before I was sequestered, a certain harbour or bay, in goodness equal to the best in the world, and adjacent to it my little town of Cromarty. This harbour, in all the Latin maps of Scotland, is called Portus Salutis; by reason that ten thousand ships together may within it ride in the greatest tempest that is as in a calm; by virtue of which conveniency, some exceedingly rich men, of five or six several nations, masters of ships and merchant adventurers, promised to bring their best vessels and stocks for trading along with them, and dwell in my little town with me.

By which means, the foresaid town of Cromarty, in a very short space, would have easily become the richest of any within threescore miles thereof . . . Nor was I suspicious of any considerable opposition from any town, save Inverness alone, whose magistrates, to the great dishonour of our whole nation, did most foully evidence their own baseness in going about to rob my town of its liberties and privileges.

Sir Thomas's plans for the improvement of Cromarty

I would ere now have banished all idleness from the commons, maintained several thousands of persons of both sexes, from the infant to decrepit age, found employments proportionate to their abilities, bastant to afford them both entertainment and apparel in competent measure; by various multitudes of squameary flocks of several sizes, colours, and natures, educed out of the bowels of the ocean both far and near, and current of fresh water streams, more abundance of wealth than that whole country had obtained by such a commodity these many years past; erected ergastularies for keeping at work many hundreds of persons in divers kinds of manufactures; brought from beyond sea the skillfullest artificers could be hired for money, to instruct the natives in all manner of honest trades; persuaded the most ingenious hammermen to stay with me, assuring them of ready coin for whatever they should be able to put forth to sale; addicted the abjectest of the people to the servitary duty of digging for coals and metals, of both which in my ground there is great appearance, and of hitting of which I doubt as little, as of the lime and freestone quarries hard at my house found out, which have not been these two hundred years remarked; induced masters of husbandry to reside among my tenants, for teaching them the most profitable way , both for the manner and season, of tilling, digging, ditching, hedging, dunging, sowing, harrowing, grubbing, reaping, threshing, killing, milling, baking, brewing, batling of pasture ground, mowing, feeding of herds, flocks, horse and cattle; making good use of the excrescence of all of these; improving their herbages, dairies, mellificiaries, fruitages; setting up the most expedient agricolary instruments of wains, carts, sleds, with their several devices of wheels and axle-trees, ploughs and harrows of divers sorts, feezes, winders, pullies, and all other manner of engines fit for easing the toil and furthering the work; whereby one weak man, with skill, may effectuate more than forty strong ones without it; and leaving nothing undone that, by either sex of all ages, might tend to the benefit of the labourer.

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Sir Thomas's plan for a "University of Cromarty"

I would likewise have encouraged likewise men of literature, and exquisite spirits for invention, to converse with us for the better civilizing of the country, and accommodating it with a variety of goods, whether honest, pleasant or profitable; by virtue whereof, the professors of all sciences, liberal disciplines, arts active and factive, mechanic trades, and whatever concerns either virtue or learning, practical or theoretic, had been cherished for fixing their abode in (Cromarty.)

I had also procured the residence of men of prime faculties for bodily exercises, such as riding, fencing, dancing, military feats of mustering, imbattleing, handling the pike and musket, the art of gunnery, fortification, or any other thing that in the wars belongeth either to defence or assault, vaulting, swimming, running, leaping, throwing the bar, playing at tennis, singing and fingering of all manner of musical instruments, hawking, hunting, fowling, angling, shooting, and what else might any way conduce to the accomplishment of either body or mind, enriching men in their fortunes, or promoving them to deserved honours.

Sir Thomas on Scottish bankers

There hath been in London . . . for these many years together, a knot of Scottish bankers, collybists, or coin-coursers, of traffickers in merchandise to and again, and of men of other professions, who by hook and crook, fas et nefas, slight and might, all being as fish their net could catch, having feathered their nests to some purpose, look so idolatrously upon their Dagon of wealth, and so closely, like the earth's dull centre, hug all unto themselves, that for no respect of virtue, honour, kindred, patriotism, or whatever else, be it never so recommendable, will they depart from so much as a single penny; . . . which churlish and tenacious humour hath made many . . . imagine their compatriots infected with the same leprosy of a wretched peevishness, whereof those quodomodocunquizing cluster fists and rapacious varlets have given of late such . . . proofs.

Sir Thomas on the minister of Cromarty

Master Gilbert Anderson . . . for no other cause but that I would not authorize the standing of a certain pew, in that country called a desk, in the church of Cromarty, put in without my consent by a professed enemy to my House, who had plotted the ruin thereof and one that had no land in the parish, did so rail against me and my family in the pulpit at several times, both before my face and in my absence, and with such opprobrious terms, more like a scolding tripe seller's wife than good minister, squirting the poison of detraction and abominable falsehood, unfit for the chair of verity, in the ears of my tenantry, who were the only auditors, did most ingrately and despitefully so calumniate and revile their master, his own patron and benefactor, that the scandalous and reproachful words striving which of them should first discharge against me their steel-pointed dart, did, oftentimes like clusters of hemlock, or wormwood dipped in vinegar, stick in his throat; he being almost ready to choke with the aconital bitterness and venom thereof, till the razor of extreme passion, by cutting them into articulate sounds, and very rage itself, in the highest degree, by procuring a vomit, had made him spew them out of his moth into rude indigested lumps, like so many toads and vipers that had burst their gall.

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Sir Thomas on mental exercise

There happening a gentleman of very good worth to stay awhile at my house, one day amongst many other, was pleased, in the deadest time of all the winter, with a gun upon his shoulder, to search for a shot of some wild fowl; and after he had waded through many waters, taken excessive pains in quest of his game, and by means thereof had killed some five or six moor fowls and partridges, which he brought along with him to my house, he was by some other gentlemen, who chanced to alight at my gate, as he entered in, very much commended for his love to sport; and, as the fashion of most of our countrymen is not to praise one without dispraising another, I was highly blamed for not giving myself in that kind to the same exercise, having before my eyes so commendable a pattern to imitate; I answered, though the gentleman deserved praise for the evident proof he had given that day of his inclination to thrift and laboriousness, that nevertheless I was not to blame, seeing whilst he was busied about that sport, I was employed in a diversion of another nature, such as optical secrets, mysteries of natural philosophy, reasons for the variety of colours, the finding out of longitude, the squaring of the circle, and ways to accomplish all trigonometrical calculations by sines, without tangents, with the same compendiousness of computation, which, in the estimation of learned men, would be accounted worth six hundred thousand partridges, and as many moor fowls.

Sir Thomas on his Universal Language

My Universal Language is a most exquisite jewel. It hath eleven genders, seven moods, four voices, ten cases, besides the nominative, and twelve parts of speech; every word signifieth as well backwards as forwards; and it is so compact of style that a single syllable will express the year, month, day, hour and partition of the hour.

Sir Thomas's style of writing

Why, I could truly have enlarged my discourse with a choicer variety of phrase, and made it overflow the field of the readers understanding, with an inundation of greater eloquence . . . schematologetically adorning the proposed theme with the most especial and chief flowers of the garden of rhetoric . . . I could have introduced, in case of obscurity, synonymal, exargastic and palilogetic elucidations; for sweetness of phrase, antimetathetic commutations of epithets; for the vehement excitation of a matter, exclamation in the front, and epiphonemas in the rear. I could have used, for the promptlier stirring up of passion, apostrophal and prosopopoeial diversions; and, for the appeasing and settling of them, some epanorthotic revocations and aposiopetic restraints . . . But I hold it now expedient, without further ado, to stop the current of my pen . . . and write with simplicity.

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Extracts from Sir Thomas's translation of Rabelais

  • The introduction and prologue to the first book of Rabelais
  • The inscription above the gates of Theleme
  • Yoland
  • The childhood of Gargantua
  • Gargantua's Discourse on Bum Wiping

The introduction and prologue to the first book of Rabelais

Most noble and illustrious drinkers, and you thrice precious pocified blades, (for to you, and none else do I dedicate my writings,) . . . reading the pleasant titles of some books of our invention, as Gargantua, Pantagruel, Whip-pot, the Dignity of Codpieces, of Pease and Bacon, with a commentary etc, be not too ready to judge that there is nothing in them but jests, mockeries, lascivious discourse, and recreative lies . . . Open the book, and seriously consider of the matter treated therein. Then shall you find that it containeth things of far higher value than the title did promise


Good friends, my readers, who peruse this book,

Be not offended, whilst on it you look:

Denude yourselves of all depraved affection,

For it contains no badness nor infection:

Tis true that it brings forth to you no birth

Of any value, but in point of mirth;

Thinking therefore how sorrow might your mind

Consume, I could no apter subject find;

One inch of joy surmounts of grief a span;

Because to laugh is proper to the man.

The inscription above the gates of Theleme

Here enter not attorneys, barristers,

Nor bridle-champing law-practitioners;

Clerks, commissaries, scribes, nor pharisees,

Wilful disturbers of the people's ease;

Judges, destroyers with an unjust breath,

Of honest men, like dogs, even unto death.

Your salary is at the gibbet foot:

Go drink there! for we do not here fly out

On those excessive courses, which may draw

A waiting on your courts, by suits in law.

Law suits, debates, and wrangling

Hence are exiled, and jangling.

Here we are very

Frolic and merry,

And free from all entangling,

Law suits, debates, and wrangling.

Here enter you all ladies of high birth,

Delicious, stately, charming, full of mirth,

Ingenious, lovely, miniard, proper, fair,

Magnetic, graceful, splendid, pleasant, rare,

Obliging, sprightly, virtuous, young, solacious,

Kind, neat, quick, feat, bright, compt, ripe, choice, dear, precious.

Alluring, courtly, comely, fine, complete.

Wise, personable, ravishing and sweet,

Come joys enjoy. The Lord celestial

Hath given enough, wherewith to please us all.

Gold give us, God forgive us,

And from all woes relieve us;

That we the treasure

May reap of pleasure,

And shun whate'er is grievous.

Gold give us, God forgive us.


When Yolande saw her spouse all armed for fight

And, save the codpiece, all in armour dight,

My dear, she cried, why, of all the rest,

Is that unarmed which I love the best.

The childhood of Gargantua

Gargantua, from three years upwards unto five, was brought up and instructed in all convenient discipline, by the commandment of his father; and spent that time like the other little children of the country, that is, in drinking, eating, and sleeping; in eating, sleeping, and drinking; and in sleeping, drinking, and eating. Still, he wallowed and rolled himself up and down in the mire and dirt; he blurred and sullied his nose with filth; he blotted and smutched his face with any kind of scurvy stuff; he trod down his shoes at the heel; at the flies he did oftentimes yawn, and ran very heartily after the butterflies, the empire whereof belonged to his father. He pissed in his shoes, shit in his shirt, and wiped his nose on his sleeve; he did let his snot and snivel fall in his pottage, and dabbled, paddled and slobbered every where; he would drink in his slipper, and ordinarily rub his belly against a pannier. He sharpened his teeth with a top, washed his hands with his broth, and combed his head with a bowl. He would sit down betwixt two stools, his arse to the ground; would cover himself with a wet sack, and drink in, eating of his soup. He did eat his cake sometimes without bread, would bite in laughing, and laugh in biting. Oftentimes did he spit in the basin, and fart for fatness, piss against the sun, and hide himself in the water for fear of rain. He would strike out of the cold iron, be often in the dumps, and frig and wriggle it. He would flay the fox, say the ape's pater noster, return to his sheep, and turn the hogs to the hay. He would beat the dogs before the lion, put the plough before the oxen, and claw where it did not itch. He would pump one to draw somewhat out of him, by gripping all would hold fast nothing, and always ate his white bread first. He shoed the geese, tickled himself to make himself laugh, and was cook-ruffin in the kitchen; made a mock at the gods, would cause sing Magnificat at Matins, and found it very convenient so to do. He would eat cabbage, and shite beets; knew flies in a dish of milk, and would make them lose their feet. He would scrape paper, blur parchment, then run away as hard as he could. He would pull at the kid's leather, or vomit up his dinner, then reckon without his host. He would beat the bushes without catching the birds, thought the moon was made of green cheese, and that bladders are lanterns. Out of one sack he would take two multures or fees for grinding; would act the ass's part to get some bran, and of his fist would make a mallet. He took the cranes at the first leap, and would have the mail coats to be made link and link. He always looked a gift horse in the mouth, leaped from the cock to the ass, and always put one ripe between two green. By robbing Peter he paid Paul, he kept the moon from the wolves, and hoped to catch larks if ever the heavens should fall. He did make of necessity virtue, of such bread such pottage, and cared as little for the peeled as for the shaven. Every morning he did cast up his gorge, and his father's little dogs ate out of the dish with him, and he with them. He would bite their ears, and they would scratch his nose; he would blow in their arses, and they would lick his chaps.

But harken, good fellows, the spigot ill betake you, and whirl round your brains, if you do not give ear! this little lecher was always groping his nurses and governesses, upside down, arsyversy, topsiturvy, harri bourriquet, with a Yaco haick, hyck gio! handling them very rudely in jumbling and tumbling them to keep them going; for he had already begun to exercise the tools, and put his codpiece in practice. Which codpiece, or braquette, his governesses did every day deck up and adorn with fair nosegays, curious rubies, sweet flowers and fine silken tufts, and very pleasantly would pass their time, in taking you know what between their fingers, and dandling it, till it did revive and creep up to the stiffness of a suppository, or street magdaleon, which is a hard rolled up salve spread upon leather. Then did they burst out laughing, when they saw it lift up its ears, as if the sport had liked them. One of them would call it her pillock, her fiddle-diddle, her staff of love, her tickle gizzard, her gentle-titler. Another, her sugar-plum, her kingo, her old rowley, her touch-trap, her flap dowdle. Another again, her branch of coral, her placket-racket, her Cyprian sceptre, her tit-bit, her bob-lady. And some of the other women would give these names, my Roger, my cockatoo, my nimble-wimble, bush-beater, claw-buttock, eves-dropper, pick-lock, pioneer, belly-ruffin, smell-smock, trouble-gusset, my lusty live sausage, my crimson chitterlin, rump-splitter, shove-devil, down right to it, stiff and stout, in and to, at her again, by coney-borrrow-ferret, wily-beguiley, my pretty rogue.

And that he might play and sport himself after the manner of the other little children of the country, they made him a fair weather whirl jack, of the wings of the windmill of Myrebalais.

Gargantua's Discourse on Bum Wiping

I have, said Gargantua, by a long and curious experience, found out a means to wipe my bum, the most lordly, the most excellent, and the most convenient that ever was seen.

What is that, said Grandgousier, his father, how is it?

I will tell you by and by, said Gargantua. Once I did wipe me with a gentlewoman's velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable. At another time with a lady's neckerchief, and after that I wiped myself with some earpieces of hers made of crimson satin, but there was such a number of golden spangles in them (turdy round things, a pox take them) that they fetched away all the skin of my tail with a vengeance. Now I wish St Anthony's fire burn the bum-gut of the goldsmith that made them! This hurt I cured by wiping myself with a page's cap, garnished with a feather, after the Switzers' fashion.

Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it I wiped my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they scratched and exulcerated all my perinee. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter by wiping myself with my mother's gloves, of a most excellent perfume and scent of Arabian Benin. After that I wiped myself with sage, with fennel, with anet, with marjoram, with roses, with gourd leaves, with beets, with colewort, with leaves of the vine tree, with mallows, wool-blade, which is a tail-scarlet, with lettuce and with spinach leaves. All this did very great good to my leg. Then with mercury, with parsley, with nettles, with comfrey, but that gave me the bloody flux of Lombardy, which I healed by wiping me with my braguette. Then I wiped my tail in the sheets, in the coverlet, in the curtains, with a cushion, with arras hangings, with a green carpet, with a table cloth, with a napkin, with a handkerchief, with a combing cloth; in all which I found more pleasure than do the mangy dogs when you rub them.

Yea, but, said Grandgousier, which torchecul did you find to be the best?

I was coming to it, said Gargantua, and by and by you shall hear the tu autem, and know the whole mystery and know of the matter. I wiped myself with hay, with straw, with thatch-rushes, with flax, with wool, with paper, but,

Who his foul tail with paper wipes,

Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.

What, said Grandgousier, my little rogue, hast thou been at the pot, that thou dost rhyme already?

Yes, yes, my lord the king, answered Gargantua, I can rhyme gallantly, and rhyme till I become hoarse with rheum.

. . . Now I prithee, said Grandgousier, go on in this torcheculatif, or bum-wipatory discourse.

Afterwards, I wiped my bum, said Gargantua, with a kerchief, with a pillow, with a pantoufle, with a pouch, with a pannier, but that was a wicked and unpleasant torchcul; then with a hat. Of hats, note, that some are shorn, and others shaggy, some velveted, others covered with taffities, and others with satin. The best of all these is the shaggy hat, for it makes a very neat abstertion of the fecal matter. Afterwards, I wiped my tail with a hen, a cock, with a pullet, with a calf's skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney's bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer's lure. But to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail napkins, bung-hole cleansers, and wipe breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her neck betwixt you legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in you knuckle a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard to the softness of the said down, and the temperate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut, and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains. And think not that the felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian fields consisteth either in their Asphodel, Ambrosia or Nectar, as our old women here used to say; but in this, according to my judgement, that they wipe their tails with the neck of a goose, holding her head betwixt their legs, and such is the opinion of Master John of Scotland, alias Scotus.

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