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"familiar wild FLOWBXS,** BTC 








Value of Stttdy of Proverbs — Difficulty of exact Definition — Defini- 
tions by various Writers— The Saw— The Adage — The Essen- 
tials of a Proverb — The Value of Brevity — Legitimate Use 
of Hyperbole — Proverbs often one-sided Views of Truth — 
Sometimes contradict each other — Figurativeness of Language 
— A very characteristic Feature — Parables of our Lord — 
Proverbs often condensed Parables — Examples of Word- 
Pictures — Commonest Objects supply Lessons — Interesting as 
referring to Usages that have passed away — Some Proverbs 
enduring, some transient — May have more than one Signifi- 
cance — Some palpable Truisms and Platitudes — Great 
Antiquity of Proverbs — On Jewellery, Pottery, Furniture, etc 
— Rustic Conservatism — The Aid oSf Alliteration — Rh3nne as 
an Aid to Memory i 


Ancient Collections of Proverbs — The Proverbs of Solomon — 
Ecdesiasticus — ^The Work of D'Anvers on Solomon's Proverbs 
— The Collections of De Worde, Trevisb, and Lydgate — ^The 
"Adagia" of Erasmus— Tavemar's ** Garden of V^sdom"— 
He3rwood's Collection of Proverbs — Camden's "Remaines" 
— Davies, the "Scourge of Folly"— The "Apophthegms" of 
Lord Bacon— The "Outlandish Proverbs" of G. H.— Her- 
bert's "Jacula Prudentum"— The Work of Howell and Cot- 
grave— The "Gnomologia" of Fuller — The Difficulties of 
Proverb-classification, by Country, by Leading Word, by 
Subject, etc— Ray's "Collection of English Proverbs "—The 
"Paraemiologia" of Walker— Palmer on Proverbs— The Say- 
ings of "Poor Richard" 26 





''The Book of Merry Riddles" — Introduction of Proverbs in oar 
Literature — A Surfeit of Proverbs — " The two Angrie Women 
of Abington " — Fuller on the Misuse of Proverbs — The Say- 
ings of Hend3mg — Proverbs in Works of Chaucer, Lydgate, 
Spenser, Dryden, Shakespeare, and other Writers — The 
'* Imitation of Christ *' — Glitter is not necessarily Gold — The 
Cup and the Lip— Comparisons odious — The Rolling-Stone 
—The «• Vision of Piers Plowman "—Guelph and Ghibelline 
— Dwellers in Glass Houses — A Spade is a Spade — Chalk 
and Cheese — Silence gives Consent — A Nine Days' Wonder 
—The little Pot soon Hot— Weakest to the Wall— Proverb- 
Hunting through our old Literature 65 


National Idiosyncrasies — The Seven Sages of Greece — Know Thy- 
self—The Laconic "If" — Ancient Greek Proverbs — Roman 
Proverbs — The Proverbs of Scotland : Strong Vein of Humour 
in them — Spanish and Italian Proverbs — The Proverbs of 
France— The "Comddie des Proverbes "— The Proverbs of 
Spain: their Popularity and Abundance; Historic Interest: 
their Bibliography — Italian Proverbs: their Characteristics — 
The Proverbs of Germany — Chinese Adages : their Excellence 
— Japanese Proverbs: their Poetry and Beauty — Arab Say- 
ings : their Servility : their Humour — Eastern Delight in 
Stories — African Sayings : their pithy Wisdom — The Proverb- 
philosophy of the Tahnud 90 


Proverbs that are misunderstood — The Cheese — Raining Cats and 
Dogs— Cattle-harrying— The Bitter End— By Hook or Crook 
— Proverbs of Evil Teaching — Necessity has no Law — The 
Peck of Dirt — Howl with the Wolves — Sarcasm in Proverbs — 
The Fool— Selfishness— The Praise of Truth— The Value of 
Time — Death— The Conduct of Life — Occupations that supply 
Proverbs — The Barber, Tailor, Cobbler, Physician, Lawyer, 
and others— The Cowl and the Monk— The Long Bow— The 
Meditative Angler — Sayings associated with particular Indi- 
viduals — Hobson and his Choice — Plowden's Law — Mortimer's 
Sow— The Wisdom of Doddipol— The Fear of Mrs Grundy's 
Opinion — Locality Proverbs — Rustic Humour — Local Products 
—Tenterden Steeple 124 




Proverbs suggested by Animals — Animal Cbaracteristics : Sagacity, 
Fidelity, Cunning, Greed, etc.— The Horse— The Dog— The 
Cat : her Nine Lives; the Catspaw; falling on Feet; in Mittens 
—The Ass— Pearls before Swine — A Pig in a Poke — The 
Wrong Sow by the Ear— The Sheep— The Shorn Lamb— The 
Bull— The Goose— The Hen— Roasting E^gs— The Bird and 
her Nest— Birds of a Feather— Catching with Chaff— Roasted 
Larks— The Fox— The Wolf; in Sheep's Clothing— The Bear— 
The Mouse— Belling the Cat— Fish Proverbs— The Laborious 
Ant — The Worm that turns — Similes : from the Animal King- 
dom ; from Household Surroundings ; from various Callings ; 
from divers Colours i6i 


The Power of the Tongue — Speech and Silence — Knowledge and 
Wisdom not Interchangeable Terms — Truth and Untruth — 
Travellers' Tales — Flattery — Industry and Sloth— Youth- 
Friends, True and False — Riches and Poverty — The Ladder to 
Thrift— The Influence of Womankind— The Good Wife— The 
Shrew — The Testimony of Epitaphs — The Grey Mare — Home 
— Hope — Forethought — Excuses — Good and 111 Fortune — 
Retribution — Detraction — Pretension — Self- Interest — Bribery 
and Corruption— Custom and Habit — The general Conduct of 
Life— The Weather— The Moon made of Green Cheese- 
Conclusion 194 



Value of Study of Proverbs — DiflSculty of exact Definition — Definitions by 
various Writers— The Saw— The Adage — The Essentials of a Proverb 
— ^The Value of Brevity — Legitimate Use of Hyperbole — Proverbs 
often one-sided Views of Truth — Sometimes contradict each other 
— Figurativeness of Language — A very characteristic Feature — 
Parables of our Lord — Proverbs often condensed Parables — Examples 
of Word-Pictures — Commonest Objects supply Lessons — Interesting 
as referring to Usages that have passed away — Some Proverbs 
enduring, some transient — May have more than one Significance — 
Some palpable Truisms and Platitudes — Great Antiquity of Proverbs 
— On Jewellery, Pottery, Furniture, etc. — Rustic Conservatism — ^The 
aid of Alliteration — Rhyme as an Aid to Memory 

The study of proverbs is one of exceeding interest and 
value. By means of it our thoughts travel back through 
the ages to the childhood of the world, and we see at 
once how amidst the surroundings that vary so greatly 
in every age and in every clime the common inherent 
oneness of humanity asserts itself : how, while fashions 
change, motives of action remain ; how, beneath the 
burning sun of Bengal or Ashanti, in the tents of the 
Crees, or amidst the snows of Lapland, the thoughts of 
men on the great problems that confront the race are 
strikingly at one. Hence, while the outward garb and 
phraseology of these proverbial utterances must neces- 
sarily greatly vary, we find, when we pierce below the 



surface, a remarkable similarity of idea. When we 
desire to point out the foolishness of providing any 
place or person with anything that they are really 
better able to procure for themselves, the absurdity of 
"carrying coals to Newcastle" is pointed out, and we 
might at first sight very naturally say that surely here 
we have a popular saying that we can specially claim 
as a piece of English proverbial wisdom. We find, 
however, in the Middle Ages the popular saying, 
"Send Indulgences to Rome"; while even before the 
Christian era the Greeks were teaching the same lesson 
in the formula, " Owls to Athens," the woods of Attica 
yielding these birds in abundance, while the city itself, 
under the special guardianship of Pallas Athene, had, as 
its device and symbol, on its coinage and elsewhere, the 
owl, the bird associated with that goddess — coals, owls, 
indulgences, so different in outward seeming, teaching 
the self-same truth. Any attempt at classification of 
proverbs by nationality is exceedingly difficult, and in 
many cases impossible, since the more one looks into 
the matter the more one realises what a cosmopolitan 
thing a proverb is. Gratifying as it would be to 
patriotic feeling to gather together all the best pro- 
verbs in circulation in England and claim them as the 
product of English wit and wisdom, we should at once 
on investigation find that in great degree they were, 
perhaps in actual wording, and certainly in significance, 
the property of humanity at large. 

The necessity of curbing the hasty tongue, the dis- 
praise of folly, the value of true friendship, the watch- 
fulness that enmity entails, the influence of womankind, 
the fabrication of excuses, the vainglory of boasting 
and pretension, the exposure of hypocrisy, the evil of 
ingratitude, the golden irradiation of the pathway of 
life by hope, the buoyant strength and confidence of 
youth, the sad decrepitude of old age, the retribution 


that awaits wrongdoers, were as keenly understood 
three thousand years ago as to-day, and the trite 
expression of these verities, crystallised into warning, 
encouragement, or reproof, is as much a part of the 
equipment of life to the date-seller of Damascus as to 
the ploughman in an English shire. 

Proverbs have been handed down from generation to 
generation from the remotest ages, and were in cir- 
culation from mouth to mouth long before any written 
records, since in the earliest writings extant we find 
them given as obvious quotations. By means of them, 
primitive peoples entered upon a heritage of sound 
wisdom and good working common-sense, and had 
ready to hand counsels of prudence, hints for the con- 
duct of life, warnings of its pitfalls. Much that is 
interesting in history, in manners and customs, is also 
preserved in them, and though times change it is 
scarcely safe to say that any proverb is obsolete. A 
local allusion may be understood by some old country- 
man that to the philosopher and savant is nought 

Time after time as we travel onwards through life we 
find our knowledge somewhat nebulous, our ideas in need 
of precision and sharpness of definition. We accept 
so many things, almost unconsciously, on trust, and 
should find it almost impossible in many cases to give 
an exact reason for the belief that is in us. The 
nature and construction of a proverb appears a thing too 
self-evident for any question to arise, the definition of it 
one of the simplest of tasks, and we do not at all realise 
its difficulty until we are fairly brought face to face with 
the problem, pen in hand, and a sheet of blank paper 
before us. Waiving a personal definition, we will 
endeavour by means of the statements of others, men 
whom we may more or less recognise as authorities and 
specialists, to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. 

Dr Johnson, in his noble dictionary, a splendid mass 


of erudition,* defines a proverb as "a short sentence 
frequently repeated by the people ; a saw ; an adage," 
but this definition, as it stands, is scarcely sufHcient. 
Having already a fair though nebulous notion of what 
a proverb is we may perhaps accept it, since we auto- 
matically fill in what is wanting, but if we could 
imagine the case of one who had no previous notion 
' of the nature of a proverb the definition of Dr Johnson 
would not fill the void, since there are many colloquial 
phrases in constant use that are not proverbial in their 
nature at all.t The Doctor points out, under a second 
clause in his definition, that a proverb may also be a 
byeword of reproach, but it would appear needless to 
dwell specially on this. A proverb may exert its 
influence on us in many ways, by encouragement, by 
derision, by warning, and so forth, and there seems no 
occasion to make a special section of those that yield 
their lesson to us by way of reproach. As an example 
of the use of this class we may instance the passage of 
Milton, from his " Samson Agonistes " — 

" Am I not strong and proverb'd for a fool 
In ev*ry street : do they not say, how well 
Are come upon him his deserts ? " 

Our readers will doubtless recall, too, how in Holy Writ 
it is declared that '* Israel shall be a proverb and a 
byeword among all people." 

* "A dictionary of the English language, in which the words are 
deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations 
by examples from the best authors." This early edition is in two massive 
quarto volumes, and the later abridgments that are now alone seen give no 
conception of the value of the original work. 

t The two illustrative quotations appended are from the writings of 
Bacon and Addison respectively. The first runs as follows: — "The pro- 
= verb is true that light gains make heavy purses; for light gains come thick, 
whereas great come but now and then " ; while the second, from Addison, 
declares that "the proverb says of the Genoese that they have a sea 
without fish, land without trees, and men without fisiith." This latter 
would appear to be rather an epigram than a proverb. 


The word saw is Saxon in its origin, and is defined 
by our great lexicographer as " a saying, a maxim, a 
sentence, an axiom, a proverb." Shakespeare writes — 

" From the table of my memory 
111 wipe away all saws of books," 

and elsewhere of another of his characters he says that 
" his weapons " were " holy saws of sacred writ" Per- 
haps, however, the best and best-known Shakespearian 
instance is in his graphic description of the seven ages 
of man in " As You Like It," where we are presently 
introduced to the portly Justice with eyes severe and 
beard of formal cut, " full of wise saws and modem • 
instances," a well-bound encyclopaedia of legal axiom, 
precedent, and practice. 

Milton writes, somewhat more forbiddingly, of 

" Strict age and sour severity 
With their grave saws." 

The word proverb is Greek in its inception, and means, 
literally, a wayside saying. Adage, a fairly equivalent 
word, is also of Greek birth. The reference in " Mac- 
beth " will at once be recalled — 

*' Letting I dare not wait upon I would. 
Like the poor cat i* the adage." * 

Synesius, a Christian writer of the early part of 
the fifth century, affirms, in quoting from a work of 
Aristotle that is now lost, that " A proverb is a remnant 
of the ancient philosophy preserved amid many destruc- 

* We shall later on, when we deal with proverbial philosophy suggested 
by the various traits of animal life, find that the cat furnishes material for 
several popular sayings. The particular facts here brought out are the two 
antagonistic points in the feline economy — a great liking for fish, and a 
great disliking to getting wet, so that '*I dare not" becomes the insur- 
mountable obstacle to *' I would." In a sixteenth century manuscript this 
adage is given as *' a cat doth love the fishe, but she will not wett her 
foote," and, with various slight modifications of diction, the proverb is an 
oft-quoted one. 



tions on account of its brevity and fitness for use," and 
in like strain Agricola declares proverbs to be "short 
sentences into which, as in rules, the ancients have 
compressed life." Cervantes puts this yet more pithily 
. in his definition, "Short sentences drawn from long 
*h I experience." Howell, too, is happy in his declaration, 
^ "Sayings which combine sense, shortness, and salt." 
Russell declares a proverb to be " the wisdom of many 
and the wit of one " — the one being the man who puts 
into happy form a truth that many had already felt, and 
thereby crystallised it for the use of all future time. 
Bacon, less happily, declares proverbs to be " the genius, 
wit, and spirit of a nation " ; but this definition mani- 
festly covers a far wider area than can be justly claimed 
for them. We need scarcely here point out that the 
word spirit does not mean the courage and resolution 
that summon a nation to the defence of its rights. It 
is but the Anglicised form of the French esprit^ a word 
that has no entirely satisfactory English equivalent. 

Chambers hath it that " proverbs are pithy, practical, 
popular sayings, expressive of certain more or less 
general convictions," and this is a definition that really 
seems to cover very satisfactorily the whole ground. 
That of Annandale is like unto it, "A proverb is a 
short and pithy sentence forming a popular saying, and 
expressing some result of the experience of life in a 
keen, quaint, and lively fashion." Popularity is an 
essential feature, an absolute necessity. A saying of 
some wise man may strike us at once as one of the 
happiest of utterances, but if from any cause it does 
not find acceptance and adoption into the common 
speech, the absence of this popular recognition of 
its work debars it. It may richly deserve a place 
amongst the proverbs, being as pithy, as wise as any of 
them, and possess every essential of a proverb save the 
one. This one essential of general acceptance being 


wanting, we have left to us a golden sentence, a striking 
aphorism, a soul-stirring utterance. This is a point 
that some of the compilers of lists of proverbs have 
overlooked, and they have been tempted to insert in 
their pages brilliant wisdom-chips from the writings of 
divers clever men, or to coin them for themselves. 

Worcester, in his dictionary, defines a proverb as " a 
common or pithy expression which embodies some 
moral precept or admitted truth," but we find in 
practice that some few of these popular sayings are 
not altogether moral in their teaching. Hazlitt affirms 
that this popular diction is " an expression or combina- 
tion of words conveying a truth to the mind by a 
figure, periphrasis, antithesis, or hyperbole." Here, again, 
the soundness of the teaching is taken for granted. 

Cooper, in his Thesaurus, A.D. 1584, translates /r<7- 
verbium as "an old sayed sawe," and this really, in 
spite of its great brevity, very nearly touches the root 
of the matter. Being " old," the popular utterance has 
the stamp and dignity of antiquity : it is no new- 
fangled thing that may or may not find a lasting 
resting-place in the minds and consciences of men ; 
while, being " sayed," it is not merely a golden maxim 
buried deeply in the pages of some venerable tome, it 
has passed into the daily life and struggle for existence, 
and become incorporated in the popular speech. It 
has borne the test of time ; generation after genera- 
tion of the sons of men have recognised its value and 
accepted it. 

In the "Encyclopaedia Metropolitana " a proverb is 
defined as " a common saying, sentiment, or sentence in 
which all agree " ; but while so common a saying, a sen- 
tence that all can agree upon, as " twice two make four," 
comes entirely within this definition, it is in no sense a 
proverb. Slavery we all feel to be an evil, and we deplore 
its existence, but while the sentiment does credit to our 


hearts, and unanimous as we may all be on the point, it 
is in no degree proverbial. The definition, moreover, 
requires from us a unanimity of acceptance, but this is 
by no means always forthcoming, as regards the moral 
teaching, for example, of some of our ancient adages. 
If we take, for instance, so well recognised a proverb as 
" Honesty is the best policy," some persons will see in it 
a mine of shrewd wisdom, while others will decide that 
the man who is honest because he thinks that it will 
pay best is at heart a rogue. Our acceptance or rejec- 
tion of its teaching does not alter the fact that for good 
or ill the utterance ranks as a proverb. 

The Rev. John Ward, the vicar of Stratford-on-Avon 
in the reign of Charles the Second, was a great collector 
of these items of proverbial wisdom, and his stipulations 
as to the correct structure of a proverb were very de- 
finite, though perhaps a little too severe. He declared 
that in each such utterance six things were essential. 
It should be short, plain in its language and teaching, 
in common use, figurative in its expression, ancient, true. 
When all these requirements are met we have, doubtless, 
an ideal proverb, but many excellent adages are current 
that cannot be thus bound in. 

Horace declares, wisely enough, in his "Art of 
Poetry," in favour of brevity : 

" Short be the precept which with care is gained 
By docile minds, and faithfully retained," 

and it is a very valuable feature. How happy in ex- 
pression, for instance, are such proverbs as " Fast bind, 
fast find," " Forewarned, forearmed," " Haste is waste." 

That a proverb should be plain in language and 
teaching is, we take it, by no means an essential. It 
rather owes often somewhat of its value to the fact that 
there is something in it that compels analysis, possibly 
awakens doubt or resistance, startles us by an apparent 


contradiction, and compels us to delve at some trouble 
to ourselves before we grasp its significance. Ray, one 
of the best known students of proverb- lore, realises 
this when he stipulates for " an instructive sentence in 
which more is generally designed than expressed" as 
his ideal. 

Quaint exaggeration of statement, the use of hyper- 
bole, is often employed, and very happily, to compel 
attention. Some men seem to be so specially the chil- 
dren of fortune that they from the most untoward events 
gain increased advantage, and after a submergence that 
would drown most men emerge buoyantly from this sea 
of trouble and go cheerily on their way. Such are very 
happily described in the Arab proverb, "If you throw 
him into the sea he will come up with a fish in his 
mouth." To those who would attempt great tasks with 
inadequate means how truly may we say, "It is hard to 
sail across the sea in an eggshell." Of those who labour 
hard for results that bear no proportion to the effort 
made we may equally truly say, "He dives deep and 
brings up a potsherd." In France, if a man attempts a 
prodigious, or possibly impossible, task, it is said of 
him, "11 a la mer i boire," while the thoughtless or 
reckless man, who to avoid a slight and passing incon- 
venience will run imminent risk of grave misfortune, is 
said to jump into the river that he may escape the rain, 
" II se jette i Teau, peur de la pluie." The hyperbole 
employed startles and arouses the attention and drives 
the lesson home. It is especially characteristic of the 
Eastern mind, and the Bible, a book of the East, is full 
of examples of its use. 

Proverbial wisdom, it must be borne in mind, deals 
sometimes with only one aspect of a truth. The neces- 
sary brevity often makes the teaching one-sided, as the 
various limitations and exceptions that may be neces- 
sary to a complete statement of a truth are perforce left 


unsaid. One proverb therefore is often in direct contra- 
diction to another, and yet each may be equally true. 
Solomon, for example, tells us to " answer a fool accord- 
ing to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit," and 
\ he also tells us to " answer not a fool according to his 
i folly, lest thou also be like unto him."* These two 
directions are placed one immediately after the other 
of deliberate forethought that the sharp contrast may 
force itself on the attention. The two modes of action 
are in direct contradiction, yet each is equally valuable 
in its place, and according to circumstances one or other 
of them would be the right course to pursue. To the 
restless, unstable man we may well quote the well-known 
; adage, " A rolling stone gathers no moss " ; t but, on the 
other hand, it is equally true that "A tethered sheep 
(I soon starves." While one villager is content to remain 
in the little hamlet where he was bom, living hardly 
throughout his life, the recipient of a scanty wage, of 
soup and blankets from the vicarage or the hall, and, 
finally, of a pauper grave, his schoolmate, the rolling 
stone, goes out into the big world and fights his way 
into a position of independence. 

The fourth stipulation of Ward — figurativeness of 
expression — while it may appear to somewhat clash 
with his second, the demand for plainness of utterance, 
is undoubtedly of great value ; but it is not an essential 
Such proverbs as " Plough, or not plough, you must pay 
your rent," " The receiver is as bad as the thief," " The 
child says what father says," " Misfortunes never come 
singly," "Extremes meet," "111 doers are ill deemers," 

* A great use is made in the Bible of this thought-compelling antithesis. 
One illustration will suffice : ** There is a shame that bringeth sin, and 
there is a shame that is glory and grace.'' 

t '* The stone that is rouling can gather no mosse, 
Who often remooueth is sure of losse, 
The riche it compelleth to paie for his pride ; 
The poore it vndooeth on euerie side." 


are direct statements to be literally accepted, and to 
these scores more could be added. The figurative treat- 
ment is, nevertheless, still more in evidence, and very 
justly so. By its employment the attention is at once 
arrested and the memory helped. This love of picture 
language is specially characteristic of early days and of 
primitive peoples, and those who would turn away from 
an abstract discourse in praise of virtue, temperance, or 
strenuous endeavour will gladly accept the teaching if 
presented in more concrete form — the fairy tale, the 
fable, or the parable. 

This figurativeness of language was a marked char- 
acteristic of the teaching of our Lord, and the common 
people, who would have been repulsed by dogma or ex- 
hortation, thronged gladly to the Teacher who reached 
their hearts through the beautiful and simple stories that 
fascinated them and awoke their interest. The sharp 
experiences of the wayward son in the far-off land, the 
story of the anxious housewife seeking at midnight for 
the lost piece of silver, the lonely traveller sore beset by 
thieves, the withering grain that fell amidst the roadside 
stones, the goodman of the house so stoutly guarding 
his belongings, the sheep that had strayed afar into the 
perils of the wilderness, the useless tares amidst the fruit- 
ful grain, the house upon the shifting sand, the widely- 
gathering net, the pearl of great price, have been a delight 
to countless generations, and will ever continue to be so.* 

A proverb that is figurative in its construction may 
be considered as really a condensed parable. Hence 
Chaucer, in the prologue of " The Wife of Bathe," refers 
to " eke the paraboles of Salomon." 

Numerous examples of these word -pictures will at 

* '* In manye suche parablis he spak to hem the word, as thei mjghten 
here, and he spak not to hem withoute parable." — Wiclifs translation of 
tke Bible. 

"The holye scripture hath her figure and historye, her mysterye and 
▼eritie, her parable and playne doctryne." — Bale. 


once occur to us. How expressive of the reproductive 
power of evil is the well-known proverb, "111 weeds' 
(grow apace." In one of the Harleian MSS. of about 
the year 1490 we find it given as " Ewyl weed ys sone 
y-growe " ; or, as another writer hath it, — 

" III weede groweth fast, ales, whereby the come is lome, 
For surely the weed overgroweth the com." 

In France it is " Mauvaise herbe croit toujours," and in 
Italy "Erba mala preste cresce," and in some kindred 
form it appears in the proverb lore of almost all people. 
How telling, again, the picture and the lesson in " Still 
• waters run deep." 

" Small griefs find tongues : full casks are ever found 
To give, if any, yet but little sound ; 
Deep waters noiseless are, and this we know, 
That chiding streams betray small depth below." — Herrick, 

In Germany it is " Stille Wasser sind tief " — " Still waters 
are deep" — or " griinden tief," " are grounded deep." In 
its English and German dress we learn that the silent 
man is a thoughtful man, but in France it is rendered as 
" II n'y a pire eau que Teau qui dort" — " There is no worse 
water than that which sleeps" — making the consider- 
ably stronger assertion that a thoughtful man becomes 
thereby a distinctly dangerous member of society ! 

While we are reminded of the restless turmoil of the 
babbling brook, and gain in its contemplation a hint of 
the fussy activity that in shallow minds ends in little 
but outward show, we must nevertheless learn that the 
day of small things must not be despised, for " Little 
brooks make great rivers." Recalling the fable of the 
ensnared lion and the kindly and industrious mouse 
that came to his rescue, we learn afresh that the weak 
may often help the great, for "When large ships run 
aground, little boats may pull them off." How true, 
too, to experience is it that " To a crazy ship all winds 


f are contrary," when in many lives there seem times 
when everything goes wrong, and the unfortunate victim 
of circumstances is buffeted from all directions. Another 
of these aqueous proverbs reminds us how in such case 
the most desperate remedies may be tried, for "A ; 

* drowning man will catch at a straw." To profit, too, 
by seasons of good fortune is no less needful, for " Every 

^ tide will have an ebb," and we may not assume that the 
opportunities we neglect to-day will be always open to 
our embrace. 

" There is a tide in the affairs of men," 

we are told by Shakespeare, who doubtless knew this 

proverb, and transmuted it by his genius into fine 


" Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune ; 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life 
Is boimd in shallows and in miseries." 

In the day of prosperity friends appear to be numerous, 
but adversity tries their worth, and it is too true for 
the credit of human nature, that " Men shut their doors' 
n against the setting sun." " Strike/' then, " while the ^ 
'\ iron is hot" — "Batti il ferro quando h caldo," say in 
like manner the Italians. This is a proverb, however, 
that is met with almost universally, seeing that the 
necessity for prompt decision is also almost equally 
universal. Chaucer tells us how 

^' Pandarus, whiche that stode her faste by, 
Felt iron hotte, and he began to smite." 

Yet, remember, would one prosper, " Have not too many ' 
I irons in the fire." These proverbs suggested by the 

smithy recall yet one other, and a very ancient one, 

"Inter malleum et incudem" — "Between the hammer- 
r and the anvil " — a position so hemmed in with danger 

that no way of escape seems possible. 

When a continuous use of any advantage blinds us 


to the need of caution, we must remember that " The 
^ pitcher goes oft to the well, but is broken at last," and 
what we have grown careless in the use of we may 
presently find that we have lost* When this day comes 
another proverb — as to the folly of " shutting the stable 

' door after the horse is stolen " — may be too late recalled. 
How picturesque and how true to life the well-worn 
adages, "A new broom sweeps clean," "A creaking 
door hangs long on its hinges," "One nail drives out 
another," as portrayed in the new-born diligence that, 
mayhap, will not last ; in the career that drags along 
despite all probabilities of its survival ; in the fickle 
heart and mind that lightly supplant old friends with 
new, or drop some hobby that a week ago seemed all- 
absorbing in favour of some other thing of no greater 
value, but possessing the attraction of novelty. 

To those who live in constant nervous dread of im- 
pending misfortune it should be some little comfort to 
remember that " Every mote doth not blind a man." ' 
Things often work out better than the anticipation of 
them suggested. No action is unimportant, and all 
have their consequences, seeing "There is no hair so' 

• small but hath its shadow." If the action be wrong the 
results will accord, for " A crooked stick throws a 

' crooked shadow." As one sows, so must they reap; 
thistles will never yield figs, nor thorns grapes. 
' As the pains so the gains ; and " He that will eat the 

1 kernel must crack the nut." For everything the price 
must be paid, and " One cannot make pancakes without - 

^ breaking eggs."t We cannot all be of high position, 
whatever our zeal and industry, and in every army the 
rank and file are far in excess of the leaders, and are yet 

• "Or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher broken at the dstem." 
— Eeclesiastes xii. 6. 

t " Ou ne £ut point d'omelettes sans casser les oeufs," says the French- 
man, and the Spaniard agrees, "No se hacen tortillas sin romper 


as indispensable as they. The French saying, "Toute 
chair n'est pas venaison " — " All meat is not venison " — , 
comes in very happily here. When we recall how one 
revolts against " toujours perdrix," and how the London 
apprentices rebelled against being expected to eat sal- 
mon four days a week, we see that there is abundant 
welcome in the world for the steady workman, the dili- 
gent official, the succulent sirloin, the fragrant bloater. 

That merit shall not go unrewarded, that fitness for 
duty may fairly hope to meet full and fair recognition 
is suggested in the proverb, " A stone that is fit for the 
wall is not left in the way," and men, sooner or later, 
receive the recognition of their worth that they deserve, 
for "The turtle, though brought in at the back door, 
takes the head of the table." A little influence, a friend 
at court, and a bribe to blind his eyes therewith have 
ere now been tried as an aid to fortune, for " A silver key ^ 

^ can open an iron lock " in this fallen world it has been 
found. While this prescription is working the expectant 
suitor may amuse himself by "building castles in the | 

^ ^air.:' 

The commonest objects yield their lesson and are 
worked into the great mass of proverbial philosophy at 
the service of those who were daily using them, and could 
thus most fully realise the point of the utterance. The 
cooper soon found out that " Empty vessels make the • 

I most sound," and that every tub may well be expected 
to stand on its own bottom ; and the miller early 
grasped the truth that " A little barrel gives but a little 

\ ineal." He saw, too, that "A torn sack will hold no 

1 corn," and that " An empty sack cannot stand upright" 
The soldier was warned, "Draw not thy bow before 
thine arrow be fixed," and did not shoot before he had 
some definite aim. He knew, too, how prudent it was 
to have " two strings to one's bow," and that " A bow 
long berit at la^t waxeth weak." The woodman's ex- 


perience added to the store of proverbial wisdom, " A 

' blunt wedge will sometimes do what a sharp axe 

cannot"; that "Willows are weak, but yet they bind 

other wood " ; that " Oaks may fall while reeds remain " ; 

and that " Great trees keep down little ones " ; while the 

gardener saw that " Ripe fruit may grow on rough wall " ; 

^ and even the nursery yields the declaration that "A 

burnt child dreads the fire " ; and the tailor grasps the 

wisdom of the advice, " Measure thy cloth thrice ere 

' thou cut it once." Other homely adages are — " At open 

doors-dogs come in," " A spur in the head is wortlTtwo 

in the heels," " The rotten apple injures its neighbour," 

" Dams are bad, but better than debts." 

Proverbs are of immense value, as they furnish an 
inexhaustible store of epigrammatic utterances, and 
many of them are of considerable archaeological and 
folk-lore value as keys to usages, beliefs, and so forth, 
that have now passed away. The many proverbs, for 
illustration, that deal with bows and arrows are sur- 
vivals from remote antiquity or mediaeval experience. 
All proverbs, we need scarcely point out, are not of 
equal value or popularity. Some, from their going 
down to the solid bed-rock of human nature and com- 
mon experience, have lasted for centuries, and will 
continue, doubtless, while time shall last, their appeal to 
humanity, while others are transient, local, restricted. 
While some collections of proverbs run into thousands 
of examples, it is astonishing how few in these latter 
days are really in use. If our readers, to test this 
matter, will turn their thoughts inwards, or consult any 
of their friends, they will probably find that half a sheet 
of note-paper will very comfortably suffice to put down 
their stores, and if a hundred people did this their lists 
would be curiously alike, showing that only a very 
limited number have really nowadays found popular 
acceptance. One hundred per cent, of these lists would 


include " All is not gold that glitters," " There is a silver 
lining to every cloud," and "Those who live in glass 
houses should not throw stones," all, it will be noted, 
being word - pictures. "A rolling stone gathers no 
moss," and "A bird in the hand is worth two in the 
bush," are also very popular proverbs, and greatly for 
the same reason. 

Proverbs may have more than one significance, and 
smite as two-edged swords. Like the old-fashioned 
flail, that has now so largely been superseded by the 
thrashing-machine, they may very smartly return on 
the head of the careless user of them. If, for example, 
we quote the adage, " Set the saddle on the right horse," 
it may signify our intention to see that those whose 
action in some matter is blameworthy shall be duly 
held up to execration, or it may with the utmost kindli- 
ness desire that the "willing horse," human or equine, 
shall not be imposed on, and that those shall bear the 
burden that are most fit to do so. 

Some proverbs are merely palpable truisms, and have 
little or no claim on our consideration. They have 
largely arisen from the mistaken zeal of some of the old 
writers in endeavouring to force into their lists anything 
that could be got together with any semblance of pro- 
priety, and in such a case the sharp dividing line that 
should be in evidence between proverb and platitude 
was often overstepped. Should A publish a select list 
of one hundred proverbs, the book of B, which contains 
two hundred examples — the hundred of A, plus axioms^ 
platitudes to make up the double amount — is not twice 
as good ; it is only half as good, because one has to 
spend time and energy in separating the gold from the 
dross. The following may be taken as illustrations of 
the sort of thing we are protesting against : — " He that 
•, does no good does evil," " The act proves the intention," 
" Defernot charities till death," " Diligence is the mother 


of good luck," " Books should inspire thought, not super- 
sede it," "Learn first to obey before proceeding to 
govern," "Great designs require great consideration," 
"Self is a poor centre," "Affected simplicity is but 
imposture," " Yield graciously or oppose firmly," " Good 
cause gives stout heart and strong arm," "It is good to 
begin well, better to end well," "Procrastination often 
brings repentance." These, all culled from various collec- 
tions, are perfectly harmless, and, indeed, praiseworthy. 
As copy-book headings they might render good service, 
but they want the "salt" to make them popular or 
acceptable. As truisms they are superb. 

The antiquity of many of our proverbs is very great, 
and their parentage is enveloped in mystery. Howell, 
an old writer on the subject, likens them to "natural 
children legitimated by prescription and long tract of 
ancestriall time," and these foundlings have certainly 
been made very welcome. While the name of the 
coiner is not transmitted with it, the gift he bestows on 
posterity enjoys an unending popular appreciation that 
the authors of soul-stirring appeals, of learned treatises, 
of exquisite poems, sometimes fail to reach. It is a 
piece of proverbial wisdom that " liars should have good 
memories," and there is a very modern ring about it, 
but St Jerome, writing in the fourth century, intro- 
duces it to clinch an argument, and refers to it as an 
old proverb. Quintilian, a contemporary of Martial, 
Juvenal, Tacitus, during the reigns of Titus and 
Domitian, some three hundred years before the days 
of Jerome, also introduced it How many centuries 
before this the proverb was in use, who can say ? The 
rule it lays down would be a valuable one any time this 
three thousand years or more, and as political economists 
tell us that supply and demand act and react upon each 
other, we may reasonably assume that in the earliest 
ages the demand for such an axiom would give it birth. 


There is a homely ring in the saying that " He who lies 
down with dogs will rise up with fleas," and we could 
well imagine it starting into circulation somewhere 
about the time of our great-grandfathers, when manners 
were a little coarser, or at all events, a little more 
coarsely expressed, and when, without circumlocution, 
a spade was a spade ; but over eighteen centuries ago 
Seneca quoted this proverb, and we find it in his 
writings in all its homely directness — " Qui cum canibus 
concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent." 

Hesiod introduces many proverbs in his writings, and 
we find them again referred to by Plutarch, Cicero, and 
others. When St Paul warned his hearers that " Evil 
communications corrupt good manners," he was quoting 
a saying doubtless well known to them. It may be 
found again in the writings of the poet Menander. In 
^e Edda we meet with many striking Scandinavian 
proverbs, and one of the books of the Bible, compiled 
about a thousand years before the Christian era, is 
wholly devoted to proverbial teaching. 

Proverbs form a branch of that great mass of folk- 
lore that is more especially the possession of the 
humbler denizens of our towns and rural districts, and 
seem to have comparatively little sympathy with the 
great ones of the earth. In " Eastward Hoe," written in 
1605, we have a quaint illustration of their use — where 
Touchstone declares, " I hired me a small shop, fought 
low, tooke small game, kept no debt-booke, and gar- 
nished my shop, for want of plate, with good whole- 
some thriftie sentences, as * Touchstone, keepe thy 
shoppe and thy shoppe will keepe thee,' * Light 
gaines make heavie purses,' *'Tis good to be merrie 
and wise.*" A great use was made of proverbs and 
mottoes during the middle ages on jewellery, pottery, 
furniture, and in fact wherever they could be applied. 

" Proverbs," Whateley very happily says, " are some- 


what analogous to those medical formulas which, being 
in frequent use, are kept ready made up in the chemists' 
shops, and which often save the framing of a distinct 
prescription." The uneducated are quite willing to be 
supplied with happy arguments ready made,* and 
having tested their efficacy, are well content to abide 
by them. Motherwell very aptly observes that " A man 
whose mind has been enlarged by education, and who 
has a complete mastery over the riches of his own 
language, expresses his ideas in his own words, while 
a vulgar man, on the other hand, uses these proverbial 
forms which daily use and tradition have made familiar 
to him, and when he makes a remark which needs con- 
firmation, he clinches it by a proverb." It is of course 
obvious here that the word vulgar is not used in the 
offensive sense that has in these latter days been 
associated with it 

With the uneducated and poorer folk an axiom never 
becomes hackneyed. In all such matters they are very 
conservative, and do not readily forsake the old paths. 
Rustic humour, rustic customs, rustic remedies, all 
conform to this well-nigh immutable law. Years ago, 
when we lived in a little Wiltshire village, the leading 
farmer had a black horse with a broad blaize of white 
running from between its ears to the nostrils, and any- 
one meeting the carter leading this animal to plough 
or stable would accost him as follows : " That harse 
of yourn looks pretty baad ! " to which the carter would 
reply, "Yees, he looks pretty white about the faace, 
doant he ? " Should this horse, or such a horse, be still 
to the fore, we do not for a moment doubt — it is only 
eighteen years since we left — that this formula is still 
flourishing in perennial youth. Everyone knew just 

• " My reasoning your reason setteth nought by, 
But reason for reason yee so stiffly lay, 
By proverbe for proverbe that with you doe way." — Heywood, 


what to say and when to slowly chuckle, and so 
everybody was entirely satisfied, and the sally was a 
guaranteed success. It had ripened with age, and 
had long passed the troublesome experimental stage. 

Lord Chesterfield declared that "a man of fashion 
never had recourse to proverbs," but after all his 
opinion is not final. The utterance is often quoted, 
but proverbs still survive his anathema, and the ban 
under which he would place them has had no binding 
force. It is, moreover, a matter quite immaterial what 
the man of fashion thinks of them at all. They yet 
remain interesting objects of study for the philosopher, 
and are for the man of the busy world a storehouse 
of practical wisdom. 

The Divine Teacher did not scruple to employ this 
form of speech. In the synagogue of Nazareth He 
reminds them of the popular proverb, " Physician, heal 
thyself," and at the Well of Sychar He declares that 
saying true, " One soweth, another reapeth." 

There is reason in all things, and the "happy 
medium " is one of the most valuable objects one can 
strive after in almost every direction. A man who was 
continuously firing off adages and axioms would be as 
terrible an infliction as the inveterate anecdotist or the 
everlasting pun-producer. Shakespeare freely intro- 
duces this proverb-lore, and the titles of two of his 
plays, "Measure for Measure," and "All's Well that 
Ends Well," owe their titles to popular proverbs of the 
day. Fuller uses it very largely and effectively in his 
writings. Butler's " Hudibras " is overflowing with pro- 
verbial allusions, and so, too, are the writings of 
Rabelais, Montaigne, Cervantes, and many another who 
might be instanced. We shall have occasion, however, 
later on to dwell at length on their introduction into 

" Apt alliteration's artful aid " is sometimes invoked. 


Such precepts as "Live and let live," "No silver, no 
servant," " Like likes like," " Out of debt, out of danger," 

• " Time tryeth troth," * and " No cross, no crown," and 
the Latin, "In vino Veritas," t are the more easily 
retained in the memory in consequence. 

Another valuable aid to remembrance is found in 
rhyme, and many of our most widely current proverbs 
owe, no doubt, some at least of their popular acceptance 
to the catching jingle that fixes them on the ear. The 
following are examples : — " Who goes a borrowing goes 
a sorrowing," " Store is no sore," " The counsels that are 
given in wine will do no good to thee or thine," " Little 
strokes^ fell great oaks," "One drop of ink may make a 
million think." Very famllFar examples are these — 

i " Little pot, soon hot," " A stitch in time saves nine," 
" Many a little makes a mickle," " No gains without 
pains," and " Man proposes, God disposes." How true 
to life is it in a censorious world that " When I did well 
I heard it never, when I did ill I heard it ever." There 
is a touch of sarcasm in the following : — " As a man is 
friended so the law is ended," and the old saying, " In 
vino Veritas," reappears in this, "What soberness 

' conceals, drunkenness reveals." The equally well- 
known "Bis dat qui cito dat" is seen in the adage, 
"He giveth twice who gives in a trice," "He that by 
the plough would thrive, himself must either hold or 
drive," for "Well begun is half done," and "By hawk and 
by hound small profit is found." There are " No gains 
without pains," and it is " Better small fish than empty 
dish," " He that leaves certainty and sticks to chance, 
when fools pipe he may dance." He will find it true 
enough that " Great spenders are bad lenders," and so it 

* Nearly equivalent to the delightful saying of classic times, '* Veritas 
temporis filia.'' 

t To some extent preserved in the modern equivalents, *' La verdsui esti 
en el vino," ** Dans le vin on dit la v6rit6." 


is a case of " Help, hands, for I have no lands," and " Be 
the day never so long, at last it cometh to evensong." 
"Easy fool is knave's tool," but "He that mischief 
hatcheth mischief catcheth." "He has wit at will 
that with an angry heart can hold him still," but far 
better yet, " A little house well filled, a little land well 
tilled, a little wife well willed," for " A good wife and 
health is a man's best wealth." 

Naturally, as rhyming proverbs are found to be 
valuable as aids to memory in England, they are 
equally esteemed elsewhere ; thus in France we have 
" L'homme propose et le Dieu dispose," ♦ and " Ami de 
table est variable " — " The friend of one's table is of very 
little value," — while the Spaniard says, " A malas hadas, 
malas bragas" — "111 fortune is shabbily attired" " Asi es 
el marido sin hecho, como casa sin techo" — "A husband 
without ability is like a house without a roof." " El que 
lleva la renta que adobe la venta" — "Let him who 
receives the rent repair the inn." Those who take the 
profits should also bear the expense. In Latin we 
have "Durum et durum not faciunt murum,"f that is 
to say, two hard materials do not come well together 
in building a wall, we must have some soft yielding 
substance to soften their asperities, and to bind them 
together. In other words, two headstrong, domineering 
people will never get on well alone : there must be the 
intervention of some gentler spirit to palliate, to excuse, 
to be a peacemaker, and avert friction. " Nocumentum, 
documentum " is another illustration. Its significance 
is that trouble teaches a man and opens his eyes, the 
wise course being to profit by our misfortunes. " Via 
crucis, via lucis," and " Qualis vita, finis ita " are other 
examples of the rhyming proverb. Portuguese examples 
are, " De ora em hora Deus mellora," " Agua molle em 

* In modem Portuguese, *' O homem impoem, Deus dispoem." 
t In modern Portuguese, ** Duro com duro nao faz bom muro." 


pedra dura tanto dk at^ que fura;" "Quern do alheio 
veste na pra^a o despe." Greek, German, Italian and 
other proverbs equally conform to this custom of aiding 
the memory by a rhyming treatment ; but enough has 
been brought forward to indicate the point 

Sometimes actual rhyme is absent, but there is never- 
theless a certain catch or jingle in the wording that 
attracts the attention ; as, for example, " The law of 
love is better than the love of law," " Look rather on 
the good of evil men than on the evil of good men," 
" It is better to suffer without cause than to have cause 
for suffering," and " Take heed when thou seest no need 
of taking heed." A Latin example is, " Praemonitus, 
praemunitus," being forewarned one is forearmed, and 
prepared to defend oneself from a threatened mischief. 

Such rhymes, alliterations, and quaint turns of diction 
have at all times had a great attraction to children and 
to primitive people, and to the great mass of mankind. 
That " Peter Piper picked a peck of pepper " is of over- 
whelmingly more interest, for instance, in the nursery 
than that George Piper should have ground a pound of 
coffee. When Caesar reported his success to Rome in 
the words " Veni, vidi, vici," there can be little doubt that 
by both sender and recipients it was considered that 
he had put the matter very neatly, and the kindly 
Gregory and his hearers no doubt equally felt that a 
decidedly happy remark had been made when he hailed 
the fair-haired Saxon children as "Non angli sed Angeli." 

A very interesting Greek inscription that reads the 
same either backwards or forwards is found in many 
English and foreign churches — " Nipson anonemata me 
monan opsin." In the Greek lettering the reversal is 
complete, but in English characters the **ps" is two 
letters instead of one, and when read backwards 
becomes "sp." The significance is, "Cleanse thy sins 
and not thy face only." It appears ordinarily on the 



font, and, less usually, on the sacred vessels, and may 
be taken as a fair equivalent of the scriptural precept, 
" Rend your heart and not your garments." Examples 
will be found in England in Hadleigh Church, Suffolk ; 
West Shefford, Berks ; Clipston Church, Northampton ; 
Worlingworth Church, Suffolk ; Harlow, in Essex ; 
Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, and other places. 
One notable and interesting example of its introduc- 
tion was on the font of the Basilica of the Heavenly 
Wisdom at Constantinople, but on the conversion of 
this building into a mosque this font was destroyed. 


Ancient Collections of Proverbs — The Proverbs of Solomon — Ecclesiasticus 
—The Work of lyAnvers on Solomon's Proverbs— The Collections of 
De Worde, Trevisis, and Lydgate— The "Adagia" of Erasmus— 
Tavemar's " Garden of Wisdom" — Heywood's Collection of Proverbs 
—Camden's "Remaines"— Davies, the "Scourge of Folly"— The 
«Apophthegms"of Lord Bacon— The "Outlandish Proverbs" of G. H. 
—Herbert's "Jacula Prudentum "— The Work of Howell and Cot- 
grave— The "Gnomologia" of Fuller— The DiflSculties of Proverb- 
classification, by Country, by leading Word, by Subject, etc — Ray's 
"CoUection of English Proverbs "—The " Pancmiologia " of Walker 
—Palmer on Proverbs— The Sayings of " Poor Richard " 

The collecting of proverbs appears at almost all periods 
to have exercised a great fascination, and even in classic 
times we find writers either amassing stores of them or 
introducing them freely into their writings. Many of 
these sayings arose, there is no doubt, in the leisurely 
and sententious East, and from thence found their 
way to the widely-spreading colonies of Greece and 
Phoenicia, and in due course to Rome, where a still 
greater area of diffusion was thrown open for their 
dispersal. The Jewish proverbs used by our Saviour, or 
by St Paul and the other apostles, can be traced -back 
to India, where they were in use centuries before they 
found their way through Babylonia and Persia to the 
shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Hesiod, Homer, 
Pindar, ^Esop, Solon, Aristotle, Phaedrus, and many 
other ancient writers introduced them. Menander 
made a fine collection of them under the title of 
Sententice Monosticha, Pythagoras drew up a collection 



of adages for his disciples, and Plato, Theophrastus, and 
Chrysippus accumulated stores of them. During the 
Roman Empire collectors of antiquarian tastes carried 
on the work, Zenobius and Diogenianus, during the 
reig^ of Hadrian, being perhaps the most notable and 
enthusiastic in this pursuit, and to these, though of 
much later date, we may add the names of Gregorius, 
Cyprius, and Macarius. 

Zenobius made an epitome of the proverbs collected 
by two older writers, Tarraeus and Didymus, in number 
five hundred and fifty- two, and Diogenianus, living 
about the same time, the beginning of the second 
century, accumulated seven hundred and seventy-five. 
Andrew Schott edited these two lists, plus fourteen 
hundred from Suidas and some few others from various 
sources at Antwerp in the year 161 2. 

The Biblical book known as the Proverbs of Solomon 
must certainly not be overlooked, as it is a collection 
of quite inestimable worth, having a counsel for every 
emergency in the troublous life of man, an encourage- 
ment for the weak, a reproof for the froward. To the 
conceited man it cries " Be not wise in thine own eyes," 
" Cease from thine own wisdom," while man swollen up 
with pride is warned that " Pride goeth before destruc- 
tion and an haughty spirit before a fall," so that " When 
pride cometh there cometh shame." The value of 
friendship is very fully enforced : we are warned that 
" A man who hath friends must show himself friendly" in 
turn, that we must not resent the honest counsel prof- 
fered, for " Faithful are the wounds of a friend," and we 
must not too hastily assume that all who profess to be 
our friends are really so, for " Every man is a friend to 
him that giveth gifts," and only adversity could prove 
their real value. The mischief done by the hasty 
tongue is repeatedly dwelt upon — "A fool's mouth is 
his destruction," "The words of a tale-bearer are as 


wounds," and " Death and life are in the power of the 
tongue." The man of business is warned that " Divers 
weights are an abomination to the Lord," while the man 
who honestly endeavours is encouraged to believe that 
his labours shall not be lost to him, for "Whoso keepeth 
the fig-tree shall eat the fruit thereof, while the slothful 
man " excuses his idleness and apathy, and " saith there 
is a lion without" The vindictive man is admonished 
that " Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein," while the 
value of forethought and common-sense is enforced in 
the hint, " Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight 
of any bird." That we should read those counsels 
aright, and not draw false conclusions, we are reminded 
that ''The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable 
in the mouth of fools." * 

The priceless gift of wisdom, far in value above rubies, 
is dwelt upon and enforced, and its saving strength re- 
ferred to time after time. The wisdom enshrined in this 
book, if incorporated in the heart and illuminating the 
life, would suffice as a complete vade mecum. 

The writings of the son of Sirach are worthy of atten- 
tive study : they will be found in the apocryphal book 
of Ecclesiasticus, and are of very similar character to 
the proverbs of Solomon, t That the one writer should 
appreciate the work of the other was most natural, and 
the wisdom of Solomon is thus eulogised : — " How wise 

* "A wise sentence shall be rejected when it cometh out of a fool's 
mouth ; for he will not speak it in due season." — Ecclesiasticus xz. 20. 

t The following illustrate the nature of these precepts : <* Gold is tried 
in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity." '* Change 
not a friend for any good." *'Of a spark of fire a heap of coals is kindled." 
**How agree the kettle and the earthen pot together?" **He that can 
rule his tongue shall live without strife." '* As the climbing up a sandy 
way is to the aged so is a wife full of words." "The furnace trieth the 
potter's vessels." " Better is the life of a poor man in a mean cottage 
than delicate fare in another man's house." "He that taketh away his 
neighbour's living slayeth him." " Every counsellor extolleth counsel." 
" Bountifiilness is as a most fruitful garden." 


wast thou in thy youth, and as a flood filled with under- 
standing. Thy soul covered the whole earth, and thou 
filledst with dark parables. Thy name went far into the 
islands, and for thy peace thou wast beloved. The 
countries marvelled at thee for thy songs, and proverbs, 
and parables, and interpretations." 

^ O Salomon, richest of all richesse, 
Fulfilled of sapience and worldly glorie, 
Ful worthy ben thy wordes to memorie 
To every wight that wit and reason can." 

Chaucer, Tke Marckantes Tale, 

This book, though spoken of as one and as the work 
of Solomon, is really divided into several sections, and 
was doubtless the work of different authors and the 
product of different times. All was finally collected 
into a single book, but there is absolutely no clue as to 
how much is the fruit of the wisdom of Solomon and 
how much sprang from the experience of others. Two 
other contributors are mentioned in the book, Lemuel 
and Agur, writers of whom nothing is elsewhere known. 
The first nine chapters are chiefly a description and 
commendation of wisdom, and these are followed by 
others that are largely made up of sentences very loosely 
strung together. The proverbs of Agur are much more 
artificial in style than the others, while the proverbs of 
King Lemuel are in commendation of chastity, temper- 
ance and justice, and the praise of the ideal wife.* 

In the year 1676 one Henry D'Anvers collated these 
proverbs, and arranged them in alphabetical sequence 
as an aid to the memory. He entitled it "A Pre- 
sentation of the Proverbs of Solomon in English 
Dress." At the opening of the book the writer, as in 

* Amongst the various commentators on this book the works of Ewald 
Berthean, Hitzig, Elster, RosenmuUer, Hirzel, Stuart, Umbreit, and Noyes 
may be commended to the reader who would desire detail and analysis. 


the Biblical original, seeks wisdom. His search is at 
first fruitless: — 

" Fare wel (said I), for yet it don't appear, 
That Wisdom (whom I seek for) dwelleth here. 
So I departed thence with speedy feet, 
When as I found that was not Wisdom's seat." 

At last, however, he seeks it in the Bible, and his per- 
severance is here rewarded : — 

" She's glorious within, enlightened eyes 
Do see such beauty which they can't but prize. 
She hath one room all hung with Pearls (you'll see). 
King Solomon's Proverbs, full of dignity." 

This simile of the pearls is to the compiler a very 
attractive one, and we find it repeated more than once 
in the book, as, for instance : — 

" Who searches oft in small things worth descries. 
A Pearl is small and yet of a great price : 
A Proverb is a Pearl then, rich though small. 
But Scriptural most precious is of all. 
King Solomon hath left Posterity 
A rich and everlasting Legacy : 
A cabinet of Pearls, which all may take 
Nor shall they yet their fellows poorer make ; 
You may perhaps be owner oft, and yet 
I also may enjoy the Cabinet 
Who will not then this Cab'net prize and keep ? 
They're precious Pearls, although they're in a heap. 
You'l say, perhap, they're mixt together ; well, 
Loke here, each Jewell hath its proper Cell ; 
And as your use requires, you may repair 
To such a Cell, and have a Jewell there." 

This latter part refers to the alphabetical arrangement 
under such headings as honour, diligent, slothful. On 
the right-hand page all through his book he gives the 
same proverbs in Latin. 

The definition of proverbs by D'Anvers is a happy 
one, "Short, wise sentences, containing much in a 
little." He goes on to say that " they are in the Scrip- 


tures sometimes called the Sa>nngs of the Antients 
(l Sam. xxiv. 13), because delivered by the wise antient 
Fathers or Elders, and therefore called the words of the 
wise (Prov. i. 6] ; and sometimes the sayings of old 
(2 Sam. XX. 18, Ps. IxxviiL 2), because the approbation 
and consent of Ages went to make them the usage of 
a Nation, being brought by Custom and Tradition to 
every mouth." 

D'Anvers carefully calls attention to a point that is 
sometimes overlooked, that such figurative language is 
sometimes of intent employed to veil rather than to 
reveal. Hence sometimes " an obscure and enigmatical 
way of speaking" and therefore called "the word of the 
wise and their dark sayings," and "dark sayings of 
old." And therefore it is said to our Saviour upon His 
explanation of some teaching that had not been grasped 
by His hearers, "Now speakest thou plainly and speak- 
est no proverb," opposing plain speaking to proverbial 
and parabolical. 

The comprehensiveness of the book of Proverbs is 
very happily brought out by D'Anvers when he speaks 
of it as " containing not only the true Wisdom (in teach- 
ing the fear of the Lord) but all other necessary 
learning as well — Ethicks, viz., matters pertaining to 
moral virtues, as Prudence, Temperance, Justice. As 
Oeconomicks, viz., matters of Domestick and Family- 
concerns, relating to the duties of Husbands, Wives, 
Parents, Children, Masters and Servants, and Politicks, 
also, relating to Government and matters of State." 
We may therefore, on recognition of this, find no 
difficulty in assenting to his declaration that " Plato, 
Aristotle, Cicero and other Heathenish School- Authors 
are not to be named with Solomon who so instructs to 
every good word and work." 

A manuscript preserved in the Library of Trinity 
College, Cambridge, is of considerable interest in the 


bibliography of proverbs. It was written in the begin- 
ning of the thirteenth century and is a translation into 
Latin of some of the more popular sayings of the time. 
Thus, for example, the well-known adage, " A bird in 
the hand is worth two in the bush," appears as " Plus 
valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis." *' When 
the dog eats his bone he loves not company," is given 
as " Dum canis os rodit, sociari pluribus odit" In an old 
French collection we find the equivalent of this, " Chen 
en cosyn compagnie ne desire " — " The dog while in the 
kitchen desires no fellow." 

Another is the interesting collection got together by 
Wynkyn de Worde and Peter Trevisis early in the 
sixteenth century. The wording is very quaint, but we 
are able to recogpiise many proverbs that are still in use, 
the difference of their wording often making them still 
more attention-compelling. How delightful, for example, 
is the variation on the well-worn theme as to the 
impropriety and want of delicacy in looking in a gift- 
horse's mouth, " A gyuen hors may not be loked in the 
tethe." The fate that may attend unasked-for offers 
of assistance is graphically brought before us in the 
rendering, " Profred seruyce stynketh." The difference 
in result between the idle aimless wish and the strenuous 
endeavour is excellently brought home to us in 
" Wysshers and wolders ben smal housholders." "Be ye 
dayes neuer so long at ye last cometh euensonge," when 
"the ploughman homeward plods his weary way." It is 
very refreshing, too, to meet another old friend, " Thou 
hyttest the nayle on the heed," though in these latter 
days we make a point of its being " the right nail." The 
collection is entitled " Vulgaria Stambrigi." 

The " Prourbes of Lydgate," a black letter-treatise of 
about the same date as the book just referred to, may 
also be consulted. Many of the proverbs, though some 
are good, appear to have now passed out of use. We 


have for instance a somewhat selfish motto, " Payne thee 
not eche croked to redresse," a counsel not to worry over 
other people's troubles. "Galle under suger hathe 
double bytternesse," is expressive and suggestive. It 
tells of lost friendship, of confidence treacherously be- 
trayed, of bright hopes dashed. The advice to look at 
home and to mind primarily one's own business is 
brought out in the line, " Loke in thy mirrour and 
deme none other wyghts." There is, as will be noted in 
the examples we have given, a certain tone of cynicism 
and selfishness that is not a pleasant feature and which 
we would fain hope is at least one reason for many of 
them having gone out of service. 

Michael Apostolius of Byzantium in the middle of the 
fifteenth century compiled a book of ancient proverbs, 
on which he made comments and gave explanations 
where he deemed it needful. The collection contained 
2027 examples. The man, however, who in these 
earlier days did most in this direction was Erasmus, and 
his labours supplied for subsequent writers a mass of 
very valuable material, for the work was one of gigantic 
toil. Erasmus largely contributed in many ways to 
the advancement of learning in Europe. The first 
edition of his book, the " Adagia," was published in 
Paris in the year 1 500. The work was at once greeted 
with acclamation, and fresh editions were repeatedly 
called for. On each occasion Erasmus made additions, 
until at length the book contained over 4000 examples. 
These were mostly the proverbs to be found in the early 
Greek and Roman writers. The book is a monument of 
perseverance and erudition ; it still remains unrivalled, 
and it became on its issue the medium through which 
the knowledge of many proverbs was disseminated 
throughout Europe: the similarity of many of the 
proverbs of England, Holland, Grermany, Italy, Spain, 
was at least in some measure owing to the fact that the 


Latin treatise of Erasmus supplied an abundant store for 
general appropriation. 

Erasmus was one of the many who sought to reform 
the Church. The dissolute were denounced whatever 
their rank, and abuses were fulminated against with 
unsparing zeal, so that the people were prepared for 
some great change either of mending or ending. Hence 
it has been said that Erasmus laid the egg of the 
Reformation and Luther hatched it. Great enmity was 
aroused, and the divines who had had cause to wince, 
endeavoured to persuade the Pope, Leo X., to have the 
" Adagia " condemned. The morals and comments 
added to some of the proverbs told very heavily against 
the clergy, and they very naturally did not take kindly 
to the issue of such a book. The ecclesiastics, however, 
in session at the Council of Trent, before whom the 
matter was brought, liberally decided that the book was 
of too great value to be wholly suppressed, so they con- 
tented themselves with ordering its strict revision, 
everything which they deemed offensive to the papal 
sway and the influence of the priesthood being under 
their ban. This garbled version was published in 
Florence in the year 1575, the name of the author being 
suppressed, but the book had ere this passed through so 
many editions and had been scattered so far and wide 
over Europe that any action of this kind came alto- 
gether too late to be of any efficacy. 

Tavemer, an Englishman, issued a book of proverbs, 
axioms, and epigrams in the year 1539. It is in black- 
letter, and has avowedly been largely constructed " with 
newe addicions" out of the monumental work of Erasmus. 
1 1 is " the Garden of Wysdome, conteyning pleasant floures, 
that is to saye, propre and quycke sayinges of Princes, 
Phylosphers, and other sortes of men, Drawen forth of 
good Authours by Rycharde Tauerner." His comments 
on the various adages are often very shrewd. " Lawes," 


he says, " be lyke spyders webbes, wherein the weakest 
and most feble beastes be catched and stycke faste, 
but the strongest breake out. So lawes do bynde the 
poore and meane persons but the rich cobbes escape 
vnpunyshed " ; and again, " An angrye bodye dothe no- 
thynge dyfTer from a mad man, but in the tariannce 
of tyme, sygnifyeng that wrathe is a short frensye.** 
Many of his " quycke sayinges " * are very happy, thus, 
" Demanded what is a frend, Zeno answered an other I, 
sygnifyeng that an entyer and hartye frende no lesse 
loveth his frende then hymselfe." We read, too, with 
interest, of " a certayne person which rose erly in the 
mornynge and found his hose knawen and eaten of the 
rattes, and being troubled wyth this syght, thynkyng 
it a prognosticatio (a toke of some misfortune) he 
Cometh to Cato to aske his cousaile and to know of 
hym what euyl thys thyng portended. Cato maketh 
hym thys answere, Certes my frend it is no mostrouse 
syght to se rattes eat mens hose, but yf thy hose had 
eaten the rattes that had been a monstrouse syght" 
This answer was so entirely to the point that one 
would fain hope that the man of the knawen hose 
went on his way rejoicing that he knew the worst 

Books of like nature with that of Taverner will be 
found in the works of Florio — one of these is entitled 
" Merie proverbes, Wittie Sentences and golden 
Sayings," and another is the " Garden of Recreation." 
This latter contains some six thousand Italian 
proverbs. They doubtless passed through divers 
editions; the copies that came under our own notice 
were dated 1578 and 1591 respectively. 
A valuable sixteenth century collection of proverbs 

* Quick is here used in its original sense of having life. These therefore 
were lively sayings. In the Apostle's creed the quick and the dead are 
referred to, and a quick set hedge is one of growing plants as contrasted 
with a mere fencing or line of palings. 


may be found in a rhyming treatise written by John 
Heywood. The first edition that we have seen is a 
black-letter quarto of the year 1547. It is entitled 
"A Dialogue, contayning in effect the number of 
al the Proverbs, in the English tongue, compact in 
a matter concerning two Marriages." In an issue in 
1598 that has come under our notice the title is, 
"A dialogue wherein are pleasantlie contrived the 
number of all the effectuall proverbs in our English 
tongue, compact in a matter concerning two marriages. 
Together with three hundred epigrams upon three 
hundred proverbs." Heywood always refers to the 
proverbs as already old sayings and praises them, 
though he at times dressed up as proverbs some of his 
own ideas, and altered others, depriving them of some- 
what of their rugged directness. He says of them : 

" Our common, plaine, pithie proverbes olde 
Some sense of some of whiche beying bare and rude. 
Yet to fine and fruitfiill effect they allude. 
And their sentences include so large a reache 
That almost in all thinges good lessons they teache. 
This write I not to teach but to touch : for why ? 
Men know this as well or better than I. 
But this and that rest : I write for this, 
Remembering and considering what the pith is. 
That by remembering of these, Proverbs may grow." 

This poem on marriage may make an excellent 
vehicle for the introduction of these old English say- 
ings, but as a poem it is in itself most cheerless and 
disagreeable, the view taken being a most unfavourable 
one. One gets no notion of anything like conjugal 
felicity being possible, the rhymes being a snarl and 
a wrangle all through. 

John Heywood was a friend of Sir Thomas More. 
His book at once sprang into popularity, and was ten 
times reprinted during the sixteenth century. He also 
wrote the " Mery playe betwene the Pardoner and the 


Frere, the Curate and Neybour Pratte." The whole 
tone of this is as hostile to the clergy as the other to 
Hymen. Another of his productions was the " Play of 
the Wether," where a " gentylman, wynde-miller, mar- 
chaunt, launder/' and others all fall foul of the weather, 
and at last appeal to Jupiter. The gentleman, for 
instance, "wants no wynde to blow for hurt in hys 
huntynge," while "she that lyveth by laundry must 
have wether hot and clere her clothys to dry." He 
wrote several other plays and other things. 

The following extracts from Heywood give an 
illustration of his rhyming treatment : — 

" The cat would eat fish and would not wet her feete. 
They must hunger in frost that will not worke in heate. 
And he that will thrive must aske leave of his wife, 
But your wife will give none, by you and her life." 

" Haste must provoke 
When the pigge is proffered to hold up the poke. 
When the sun shineth make hay : which is to say 
Take time when time com'th, lest time steale away. 
And one good lesson to this purpose I pike 
From the smith's forge, when th* iron is hot, strike." 

The reasons may be sound enough, but the rhymes 
are deplorable. Thus " pike " is no doubt an example 
of " poetic license," as pick, the word he really wants, 
would not rhyme with strike 1 

" From suspicion to knowledge of yll, for sothe, 
Coulde make ye dooe but as the flounder dothe — 
Leape out of the frying-pan into the fyre, 
And chaunge from yl peyn to wurs is smal hyre." 

For badness of rhyme it would be hard to surpass 
this — 

' But pryde she sheweth none, her looke reason alloweth. 
She lookth as butter would not melt in her mouth." 


That "newe broom swepth cleene" is the text for 
another atrociously bad rhyme. It limps as follows : — 

'* But since all thing is the worse of the wearing 
Decay of cleene sweeping folke had in fearing." 

In the year 1586 appeared the first edition of 
Camden's Britannia. The book was a very popuUr 
one, and repeatedly issued. The author accumulated a 
vast store of information, more than he found himself 
able to utilise in his book, the result being yet another 
book, the " Remaines." This, like the first, was received 
with much favour. The title was " Remaines concern- 
ing Britaine; but especially England and the In- 
habitants thereof, their Languages, Names, Surnames, 
Allusions, Anagrams, Armories, Monies, Impresses, 
Apparell, Artillarie, Wise Speeches, Prouerbs, Posies, 
Epitaphs." William Camden was Clarenceaux, King 
of Armes, sumamed " the Learned " by some of his 
contemporaries, and his heraldic and archaeological 
tastes are clearly seen in his choice of subjects when 
dealing with so vast a theme as the thousand and one 
interests that divers Englishmen would look for in such 
a book ; the sportsman, the botanist, the merchant, for 
example, each having their special interests quite 
outside those that seemed to Camden so specially 
characteristic and essential to a right comprehension 
of England. 

The book is a very interesting one, and full of 
valuable matter, but it is with one section alone, that 
on proverbs, that we now deal. His reason for their 
insertion is as follows : — " Where as proverbs are con- 
cise, witty, and wise Speeches grounded upon long 
experience, containing for the most part good caveats, 
and therefore profitable and delightfull: I thought it 
not unfit to set down here, alphabetically, some of the 
selectest and most usuall amongst us, as being worthy 


to have place amongst the wise Speeches." In the book 
they immediately succeed these wise speeches. 

We give a selection from these proverbs, held to be 
worthy of such commendation. " An ynche in a miss 
is as good as an ell." " Looke not to hie least a chip 
fall in thine eie." " It is euill waking of a sleeping 
dogge." " Many stumble at a strawe and leape over 
a blocke." " Of little medling commeth great ease." 
" Poore and proud, fy, fy." " Saue a thiefe fro the 
gallowes and heele cut your throat" " So long goes 
the pot to the water that at length it comes home 
broken." " Tread a worme on the taile and it must 
tume againe." "Where be no receauers there be no 
theeues."* "When the skye falleth we shall have 

Though the exigencies of space prevent anything like 
individual comment, we trust that our readers will not 
hurry through these as a mere list to be got through. 
Each is excellent, and well worthy of quiet thinking 
over ; while a second theme of interest may, we think, 
often be discovered in the recognition of proverbs well 
known to us in a somewhat different wording, as, for 
instance, Camden's version — "A man may well bring 
a horse to the water, but he cannot make him drinke 
without he will," and " An inche in a misse is as good 
as an ell," — proverbs in common use still, but given 
here with a certain quaintness of variation that has a 

Other happy utterances in the Camden collection 
are : " A friend is not so soon gotten as lost" t "A 
leg of a lark is better than the body of a kyte." " A 
man far from good is near to harm." " A man may 

* *' It is a comon sayinge, ware there is no ryceyver there shoulde be no 
thefe." " A Christian exhortation unto customable swearers/' 1575. 

t A more modem utterance shrewdly says, " There b a scarcity of friend- 
ship, but none of friends." 


buy golde too deare." " One piece of a kid is worth 
two of a cat." " It is a proud horse that will not bear 
his own provender." " As good sit still as rise up and 
fall." " Blind men should judge no colours." " He 
that will have a hare for breakfast must hunt over- 
night" " It is hard to teach an old dog tricks." " It 
is not good to have an oare in every man's boat." 
" One ill weede marreth a whole pot of pottage." 
This latter is in an especial degree, in its literal 
wording, a proverb of the past, though its inner sig- 
nificance will hold good till the end of time. . It 
clearly refers to a time when the herbs of the field 
were utilised, and vegetable gardens did not supply 
the needful requisites for the table. In these present 
days well-ordered ranks of beans, onions, lettuce, and 
other crops are to hand, and a mistake is scarcely 
possible, but in these earlier days, when the wild 
growths of the hedgerow were utilised, one can 
readily see that a little ignorance in the gathering 
might contribute an ingredient that would mar all — a 
touch of hemlock, for instance, in lieu of parsley. 

It is strikingly true, too, that as on the one hand a 
soft answer tumeth away wrath, so, on the contrary, 
" one ill worde asketh another," and probably does not 
ask in vain. It is equally true in one's experience of 
life that not uncommonly " One beateth the bush and 
another catcheth the birds." The necessity of caution 
in permitting innovations is well brought out in, " Once 
a use then ever a custom " ; and the fact that there is 
more skill in even the simplest art than the onlooker 
quite realises is very effectively brought out in, " There 
is craft in daubing." The motto of the Order of the 
Garter has prepared us for "Shame take him that 
shame thinketh." Other happy renderings in the 
collection under consideration are, " Such an one hath 
a good wit if a wise man had the keeping of it." " No 


penny, no paternoster." " The beggar may sing before 
the thiefe," for, having no property to lose, the high- 
wayman or the burglar have no terrors for him. " Three 
may keepe counsell if two be away." " Who medleth 
in all things may go shoe the gostlings." We have by 
no means exhausted the list The only one amongst 
the whole collection that appears unworthy of a place 
is "Struggle not against the streame." This appears 
to point to a cowardly surrender, a floating easily down 
when a stout resistance should be made. A policy of 
** Do as the others do ; ask no questions ; raise no 
difficulties; make no protest; keep quiet, or shout with 
the majority ; we are no worse than other people." We 
cannot recall the name of any man or woman whose 
life shines bright in history whose principles were built 
up exactly on these lines. 

John Davies, a native of Hereford, in the year 161 1 
or thereabouts wrote a book which he called the 
" Scourge of Folly." The work is now a scarce one, 
and the world is no great loser in consequence. He 
was a versifier at once prolific and drearily dull. The 
first edition we have not seen, but that of 1620 is en- 
titled, "The Scourge of Folly, consisting of satyricall 
Epigrams and others in honour of many noble Persons 
and worthy Friends, together with a pleasant (though 
discordant) Descant upon most English Proverbs and 
others." The epigrams are, most of them, of a most 
offensive character. The references to the names of the 
persons satirised carry now no meaning, but at the time 
they were written they must have been of the most 
grossly personal character. " Against Formias brauery 
and unceessant prating," "against Cleophus, the Time 
observer," "against faint-hearted bragging Bomelio," 
" against wordy Classus," are examples of the headings, 
and the lines that in each case are appended are grossly 
insolent There are two hundred and ninety-two of 


these scoundrelisms. His proverbs are four hundred 
and nineteen in number, and he adds to each a rhyming 
comment of his own. They are mostly very feeble, and 
many of them much too gross for quotation. 

'* Fast binde, fast finde, but Rufiis, bound as fast 
As bonds could do, to pay a debt he ought, 
Stole quite away, ere quite the day was past, 
And nowhere can be found, though he be sought." 

He lengthens and shortens the proverbs as rhythmical 
exigencies call for, and his great idea throughout seems 
to be to show that these old proverbs were quite absurd 
and valueless, and that John Da vies was the real fount 
of wisdom. 

We append a few of these couplets, the first line 
"being a proverb and the second the comment of Davies 
upon it. Anything more feeble and pointless than 
the latter could scarcely be imagined. 

" A Mouse may in time bite in two a cable — 
That may she at once if she be able.** 

" No more can we have of the fox but his skin ; 
Yes, Bones to make dice, which now is no sin." 

" Three may keep counsell if two be away. 
And so may all three if nothing they say." 

" A dead Bee will make no Hony, 
But from dead Bees it's had for money." 

" 111 newes are commonly true. 
Not if a Iyer made them new." 

" The Cat would eat fish but for wetting her feete. 
To eat ere she wash is fowle and unswecte." 

" Throw no Guift at the Giver againe ; 
Yes : if he give me a blow He thanke him with twaine." 

" A scabbed Sheepe will marre a whole flocke, 
Faith, then the Shepherd's a Knave or a Block." 

" Who is worse Shood than the Shoomaker's wife ? 
Faith, Geese, that never wore Shoes in their life." 


About this time also was published a book called 
" The Crossing of Proverbs." The copy before us as 
we write is, we see, dated 1616. It is on the same lines 
as the preceding book, except that it is not in rhymes. 
" It is far to the bottom of the sea," says the old proverb, 
" Not so," says the author, " 'tis but a stone's cast." We 
will spare our readers any further extracts. To give 
several extracts from the " Scourge of Folly " and then 
to merely add that "The Crossing of Proverbs " is just 
such another book, will give a quite sufficient measure 
of justice to both. 

In the year 1625 the " Apothegms new and old " of 
Lord Bacon made their appearance. The study was a 
favourite one with him, and he often in his writings and 
discourses made a very judicious use of the material he 
had collected. He affirms that "Apothegms are not 
only for delight and ornament but for business also and 
civil use," for " they are, according to Cicero, mucrones 
verborum, pointed speeches." He also calls them 
Salinas, salt pits from whence one can draw the salt of 
discourse. " By their sharp edge they penetrate the knots 
of business, and serve to be interlaced in continued speech 
or recited upon occasion by themselves." He regrets 
greatly that Caesar's book was lost. " I imagine these 
apothegms were collected with judgment and care ; 
for as his history, and those few letters of his which 
we have and those apothegms which were his own 
excel all others so I suppose would his collection of 
them have done. As for those which are collected by 
other writers either I have no taste in such matters, or 
else their choice has not been happy." Elsewhere he 
declares that the modern writers on the subject 
" draw much of the dregs." 

With all possible respect to the erudition of Bacon 
we find his book a somewhat heavy one, the subject 
appearing to call for a lightness and delicacy of touch 


that he would very possibly have considered beneath the 
dignity of literature. If we turn, for instance, to his 
comments on friendship, we are referred to verse 14 of 
tt;V^'A «3 Ps^Jn^ xxvii. We read, " He that blesseth his friend 
with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall 
be counted a curse to him,'* and this calls forth 
the following comment : " Moderate and seasonable 
praises uttered upon occasion, conduce much to men's 
fame and fortune ; but praises immoderate, noisy, and 
importunately poured out, profit nothing : nay rather, 
do a good deal of hurt. First, they manifestly betray 
themselves to proceed either from excess of love and 
kindness, or that they are designed and affected, so that 
they may rather ingratiate themselves with the person 
commended by false encomiums rather than set him off 
by just and deserved eulogisms. Secondly, sparing and 
modest praises commonly invite such as are present to 
add something of their own to the commendation ; on 
^the contrary, profuse and immoderate ones detract and 
take away something. Thirdly, which is the principal 
point, too much magnifying a man stirs up envy ; since 
all immoderate praises seem to tend to the reproach 
of others, who are no less deserving." This is quite 
Baconian, almost Johnsonian, in its weighty precision 
and formal enunciation, but a thousand proverbs thus 
handed over to the commentator would be a ponderous 
tome that few would dare to open, and the esprit and 
quaintness of these familiar utterances would be utterly 
lost, buried, in such a flow of exposition. 

In the year 1640 was published a volume entitled, 
" Outlandish Proverbs." The name of the author was 
not given, " selected by Mr G. H." being all the infor- 
mation vouchsafed. As these proverbs were those in 
common use, the title strikes one as being particularly 
inappropriate. The collection was a somewhat meagre 
one. All gross sayings were omitted, or softened down. 


That anything objectionable should be left out seems 
to our present ideas so entirely a matter of course that 
the mention of the fact appears uncalled for, neverthe- 
less this omission differentiated the labours of Mr G. H. 
from much that had gone before. The softening down 
process is perhaps not quite so justifiable. A proverb, 
like a hymn, should not be edited. All that seems fair 
and justifiable is to accept it as it stands or else refuse 
it admission. 

Some considerable time after the appearance of this 
book on "Outlandish Proverbs" a second edition ap- 
peared, but this time the title was " Jacula Prudentum, 
or outlandish proverbs, sentences, etc.," and the author- 
ship was no longer veiled by mere letters but stands 
revealed — " selected by Mr George Herbert, Late Orator 
of the University of Cambridge." This second issue 
contains a great many more proverbs than the first, 
and the title, Jacula Prudentum, " javelins of the wise," 
indicates the value placed by Herbert upon these 
popular sayings. 

The mystery of the anonymous publication, like that 
of the Waverley novels, and other cognate cases, ex- 
cited some little public interest, one writer of the day 
advances we see the somewhat startling thesis, " It 
is not a thing that, hastily regarded, one would have 
expected from Herbert, hence the genuineness is the 
more probable ! " This is a very sweeping and far- 
reaching argument, that because a thing appears well- 
nigh impossible there is much to be said in favour of 
its probability. It seems so unlikely that Bala lake will 
ever flood out Westminster that all prudent persons resi- 
dent there will at once provide themselves with life-belts. 

A well-known proverb warns us against letting the 
cat out of the bag, and this seems to have been just what 
Herbert very nearly did, another book of his, of more 
devotional type, " A priest to the Temple," supplying to 


critical eyes a clue. In it he says that "the Country 
Parson doth bear in mind in the morning the outlandish 
proverb that prayers and provender never hinder a 
journey." Also in one of his letters that he wrote to 
his brother he added, " Take this rule, and it is an out- 
landish one, which I commend to you now as being a 
father, * The best bred child hath the best portion/ " The 
introduction of the title of the book and the liking for 
the use of proverbs were held strong proofs in favour of 
his being the Mr G. H. who was being sought for. As 
we are told that nothing succeeds like success, we are 
invited to admire the sapience of the mystery-hunter, 
but there really seems no reason why, the title of the 
book being in men's minds, some other person might 
not have thus referred to it and introduced into his book 
or letters proverbs that this book had brought before him 
and that had attracted his notice. 

Most of the proverbs in the Jacula Prudentum are 
admirably chosen, and as many of them are now passing 
away from the minds of men we make no apology for 
quoting freely from the book. 

The re-appearance of old proverbs in a slightly altered 
setting than that we are now familiar with, is a point of 
interest in these old collections that we have already 
referred to, but each author we consult gives us anew 
this pleasure. How refreshing, for instance, is Herbert's 
version, " Whose house is of glasse must not throw stones 
at another," or this, " You may bring a horse to the river, 
but he will drinke when and what he pleaseth," or this, 
yet again, " A feather in hand is better than a bird in 
the ayre." A proverb that is often used at the present 
time amongst us in its French dress is found here as "It 
is a poore sport that's not worth the candle." 

How true and how pithily put are these, " He that 
studies his content wants it." " Not a long day but a good 
heart rids worke." " Hearken to Reason and shee will bee 


heard." " He that stales does the businesse." " Prosperity 
lets go the bridle." " Still fisheth he that catches one." 
"Give a clowne your finger and he will take your 
hand." ♦ And this one like unto it, " Let an ill man lie 
in the strawe, and he looks to bee thy heire." " The back- 
dore robs the house." " One sword keeps another in the 
sheath." An excellent motto this last The Peace 
Society may have its uses, but there is no doubt that 
this side the millennium efficient army corps and mag- 
nificent navies supply yet more cogent arguments. " Si 
vis pacem parn bellum." 

How sound again the teaching, " He is not poor that 
hath little, but he that desireth much." " God provides 
for him that trusteth." " A cheerful look makes a dish a 
feast" " Sometimes the best gain is to lose." " He that 
sows trusts in God." " Divine ashes are better than 
earthlie meale." 

How excellent the prudence that gives value to the 
following : " Send a wise man on an errand and say 
nothing unto him." "Although it rain cast not away thy 
watering-pot" " Who hath no more breade than nede 
must not keepe a dog." " The best remedy against an ill 
man is much ground between." " Love your neighbour, 
yet pull not down your hedge." " Send not a catt for 
lard." It is well, too, to remember that " Courtesie on 
one side only lasts not long," that a commensurate price 
has to be paid for everything, and so " a lion's skin 
is never cheape," that one's position must be frankly 
accepted and its duties adequately met, for "he that 
serves must serve," that gentle measures will often 
succeed better than rough ones, for " he that will 
take the bird must not skare it" It is at once a 
comfort and a warning that " none is a foole alwaies, 
everyone sometimes," and that the crafty at last over- 

* Somewhat similar proverbs to this are, ** If you play with boys you 
must take boy's play," and if you *' play ¥rith a fool at home he will play 
with you abroad." 


reach themselves and in the end Nemesis awaits them. 
" At length the fox is brought to the furrier," and the 
farmyard knows him no more. 

What an excellent lesson against jumping to con- 
clusions is seen in this, " Stay till the lame messenger 
come, if you will know the truth of the thing," against con- 
cluding too hastily that the work we are engaged upon is 
finished, for "One flower does not make a garland." 

The evil wrought by the tongue is a constant and peren- 
nial theme of the moralist, and the makers of proverbs 
are in complete accord, " The tongue talks at the head's 
cost." " More have repented speech than silence." Those 
who suffer at the hands, or rather the tongues, of others 
may learn how effectually to avenge themselves, for " Par- 
don and pleasantnesse are great revengers of slanders," 
and the experiment is one that is well worth trial. In any 
case, " Neither prayse nor disprayse thyself : thy actions 
serve the turne." " The effect speakes, the tongue need 
not." How full of wisdom is this final cluster of pearls, 
this sheaf of javelins : " A gift much expected is paid, 
not given." "Pleasing ware is half sould." " The hole calls 
the thief" — a warning against putting temptation in the 
way and thereby causing a brother to offend. The man 
who has gone far on the path of reformation is not safe 
so long as any relic of the past yet clings round his heart, 
for " The horse that draws after him his halter has not 
altogether escaped." " Whither shall the oxe goe where 
he shall not labour ? " How can one hope to evade the 
responsibilities of his position ? The proverb is an in- 
teresting reminder of the custom once common enough, 
and which we ourselves have seen in Sussex' and Wilt- 
shire, on the Heavy down-lands, of ploughing with a yoke 
of oxen. There is quaint humour in this, " The chicken 
is the countrey's, but the citie eateth it" " If the old 
dog barke he gives counsell." " A married man turns 
his staffe into a stake," his wandering days are over. 


A not unpleasant cynicism gives point to the asser- 
tion that " Nothing dries sooner than a teare," while it is 
equally one's experience of life that " When the tree is 
fallen all goe with their hatchet/' and that " Men speak 
of the fair as things went with them there." It is a 
rather touching assertion that ** The reasons of the poor 
weigh not," and it is too true. Their poverty makes the 
poor despised and their words unheeded by many who, 
richer in this world's goods, treat with contempt the 
struggling and the unsuccessful. Poverty is not a crime: 
it may be a badge of shame if the result of vice, or it 
may be a badge of honour where a man has scorned to 
stoop to shuffling dishonesties that may have enriched 
some who presume to despise him. 

In 1659 James Howell issued a series of proverbs, 
and some of these were incorporated in Randle Cot- 
grave's dictionary in the following year. This latter 
has been deemed " that most amusing of all dictionary 
makers." He quotes many French proverbs, and then 
gives English adages that more or less match them. 
Thus under faim he gives " A la faim il n'y a point de 
mauvais pain," which, he explains, means that " To him 
who is hungry any bread seems good " — not quite a suf- 
ficiently literal translation, we should have thought, for a 
dictionary-maker — and adds, "We say hungrie dogs love 
durtie pudding." * Howell's proverbs were, as a whole, 
not very judiciously selected, and he had the presump- 
tion and bad taste to spin out of his own imagination a 
series of what he called " New Sayings which may serve 
for Proverbs for posterity." These were very poor, and 
posterity has declined to have anything to do with them. 

In this same year, 1659, a small volume of adage^, 
compiled by N. R. (Nathaniel Richards), appeared. 

* " The messenger (one of those dogs who are not too scornful to eat 
dirty puddings) caught in his hand the guinea which Hector chucked at 
his fiwc."— " the Antiquary." 



They are all in English, but are mostly of foreign 
origin, and are of no great interest or value. 

A much more notable book is the "Gnomologia: 
Adagies and proverbs; wise sentences and witty sayings, 
ancient and modern, foreign and British, collected by 
Thomas Fuller, M.D." As the compiler gives over six 
thousand proverbs, we may regard the book as a fairly 
adequate one. He gives in it no indication of the 
sources from whence the adages are derived, adds no 
explanatory notes, and works on no system. This is 
equivalent to writing a natural history and leading off 
with panther and earwig. It is, as a matter of fact, 
very difficult to classify a collection of such discon- 
nected units as proverbs. If we attempt to do it by 
countries we may soon find that it is in most cases 
quite impossible to guess where the adage originated, 
and the general borrowing that has been going on for 
centuries makes anything like a local claim to exclusive 
possession impossible. It would be quite easy to write 
out a list of fifty proverbs, illustrating them exclusively 
by passages from Cervantes and other Spanish writers, 
and, on the strength of this, claiming them as Spanish, 
but it would be equally easy afterwards for Dane, 
Russian, and German, Englishman, Italian, and Greek 
to come and each claim so many of these items that 
the speedy outcome would be an almost absolute dis- 
appearance from our list of anything purely Iberian. 

There is a good deal to be said in favour of the 
alphabetical arrangement, but only on condition that 
the leading word of the adage be taken. It is a mere 
absurdity to take the first word. How can we reason- 
ably put under letter A, "A rolling stone gathers no 
moss"? It may be objected that we are putting an 
extreme case, but extreme cases have to be considered 
as much as any others. In one book before us we find 
that the old author in scores of instances produces 


results as grotesquely inadequate. Under the letter D, 
for instance, we find, "Do not spur a willing horse," 
though surely everyone, with the exception of the com- 
piler of the list, would at once realise that the pith of 
the adage does not in any way rest in " do." We may 
at once'see this if we take the proverb in another of its 
popular forms, " Spur not a willing horse." 

The classification of these old saws according to their 
subject, such as friendship, pride, industry, and the like, 
is sometimes adopted, and it has many advantages ; but 
we very soon find that we come to something that de- 
dines to be thus pigeon-holed. If we take the Russian 
proverb, for instance, "The burden is light on the 
shoulders of another," how shall we classify it? It 
will clearly not come under "friendship," and it is 
equally not at home in the section on "industry." 
While some adages decline to fit into any section, 
others we find* might with almost equal appropriate- 
ness find a home under three or four headings. 

Fuller defines a proverb as "much matter decocted 
into a few words," and a very good definition it is. He 
declares that " six essentials are necessary for the com- 
pleating of a perfect Proverb. Namely that it be — 

1. Short 

2. Playne 

3. Common 

4. Figurative 

5. Antient 

6. True 

Otherwise it is not 
a proverb at all 
but a 

1. Oration 

2. Riddle 

3. Secret 

4. Sentence 

5. Upstart 

6. Libel." 

As he was evidently a little nervous that some persons 
might Ithink the subject a little beneath the dignity of 
Dr Fuller, he allows an imaginary objector to have 
his fling, and then proceeds to demolish him. The 
" objection " raised by this anonymous disciple of Mrs 
Grundy is that " it is more proper for a person of your 
profession to imploy himself in reading of, and com- 


meriting on, the Proverbs of Solomon, to know wisdome 
and instruction, to perceive words of understanding. 
Whereas you are now busied in what may be pleasant, 
not profitable, yet what may inform the fleshlie not 
edifie the inward man." As many proverbs do un- 
doubtedly build up the inner man this judgment is 
wanting in charity, and as a student ourselves in the 
subject we are gratified to find that the doctor declines 
to accept this vote of censure, and is able to make out 
a good case for himself His reply is somewhat longer 
than a quotation permits, and one must give all or none. 

In his preface, also, he alludes to " snarling persons '* 
who have deprecated his labours. This preface of his 
is distinctly interesting. 

" All of us," he writes therein, " forget more than we 
remember, and therefore it hath been my constant 
Custom to note down and record whatever I thought of 
myself, or received from Men or Books worth preserv- 
ing. Amongst other things I wrote out Apothegms, 
Maxims, Proverbs, acute Expressions, vulgar Sayings, 
etc., and having at length collected more than ever any 
Englishman has before me I have ventured to send 
them forth to try their Fortune among the People. 
In ancient Times, before methodical Learning had got 
Footing in the Nations and instructive Treatises were 
written, the Observations that were from Experience 
were us'd to be gather'd and sum'd up into brief and 
comprehensive Sentences, which being so contriv'd as 
to have something remarkable in their Expressions 
might be easily remembered and brought into Use on 
Occasions. They are call'd Adagies or Maxims. 

" Also the Men of Business and the common People, 
that they might in their Affairs and Conversation signify 
and communicate this Sense and Meaning in short, 
with Smartness and with Pleasantness fell into cus- 
tomary little Forms of Words and trite Speeches, which 


are call'd Proverbs and common Sayings. The former 
of these are from Judgment, and are us'd by Men of 
Understanding and Seriousness ; the other are from 
Wit, and are accommodate to the Vulgar and Men of 
Mirth. I conceive it is not needful for me accurately 
to determine which are to be call'd Adagies and Pro- 
verbs ; nor nicely to distinguish the one from the other. 
All that I here take upon me to do is only to throw 
together a vast confus'd heap of unsorted Things, old 
and new, which you may pick over and make use of, 
According to your Judgment and Pleasure. Many of 
these are only plain bare Expressions, to be taken 
literally in their proper Meaning : others have some- 
thing of the Obscure and Surprize, which, as soon as 
understood, renders them pretty and notable. 

"It is a matter of no small Pains and Diligence 
(whatever lazy, snarling Persons may think) to pick up 
so many independent Particulars as I have done. And 
it is no trifling or useless thing neither : it being what 
many of the most learned and wisest Men of the World 
have in all Ages employed themselves upon. The Son 
of Syrac will be held in everlasting Remembrance for 
his Ecclesiasticus, but, above all, that most glorious 
of Kings and wisest of Men, Solomon, wrote by Divine 
Appointment and Inspiration, Proverbs, Precepts and 

" No man ought to despise, ridicule, or any ways dis- 
courage the Diligence and Kindness of those that take 
Pains to bring home to others without Price those 
things of Profit and Pleasure. I picked up these Sen- 
tences and Sayings at several times, according as they 
casually occurred, and most of them so long ago that 
I cannot remember the Particulars : and am now (by 
reason of great Age and ill Sight) utterly unable to 
review them ; otherwise I would have struck out all 
such as are not fit for the Company, or are indecent 


to be spoke in the Presence of wise, grave, virtuous, 
modest, well-bred people." These closing words one 
can hardly accept. Years before age and failing sight 
had come these various items had been growing bit by 
bit, and the striking-out process might well have been 
going on at the same time as the collecting. 

"Our excellent Mr Ray," as a contemporary writer 
terms him, was another gjreat collector of proverbs, and 
he, too, made a book of them. The first edition of this 
work appeared in 1670, and a second in 1678. The 
first was altogether too gross, so that the second edition 
gave an opportunity, which was embraced, for some 
little amendment. This is beyond all doubt the 
coarsest set of proverbs that has come under our 

Ray was a Master of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal 
Society. The title of his book is as follows: — "A 
Collection of English Proverbs Digested into a con- 
venient Method for the speedy finding any one upon 
occasion : with short Annotations. Wherunto are added 
Local Proverbs with their Explications, old Proverbial 
Rhythemes, Less known or Exotick Proverbial Sen- 
tences and Scottish Proverbs." The second edition 
was enlarged by the addition of several hundred more 
English Proverbs, and by an appendix of Hebrew say- 
ings. The annotations of Ray on various proverbs are 
often very feeble. Thus to the adage, or saw, or what- 
ever it may be, " I would not trust him though he were 
my brother," he adds to a thing sufficiently tame in 
itself the comment, "This is only a physiognomical 
observation." The truth is, our learned author, or com- 
piler, seems to have heaped together all the old " saws," 
whether wise or not, and all the "modem instances" 
that came in his way, and to have strung at random 
the precious gems in company with the worthless 


His "convenient method" was the alphabetical one, 
based on the leading word of the saying. Thus, under 
A, for example, we get " Adversity makes a man wise, 
not rich," " There is no Alchemy like saving," " He that 
is Angry is seldom at ease," " For that thou canst do 
thyself rely not on Another," " Make a slow Answer to 
a hasty question," " The best Armour is to keep out of 

Robert Codrington added yet another to the pile of 
proverb lore in his "Collection of many Select and 
Excellent Proverbs out of Several Languages." These 
he declared to be " most useful in all Discourses and for 
the Government of Life." He gives no preface or any 
kind of introductory matter, but begins at once with 
number one, and goes straight on till he gets to fourteen 
hundred and sixty-five. His adage, " You may not lose 
your friend to keep your jest," is a curious variant on 
the familiar present-day assertion that some men would 
rather lose a friend than a joke. His selection is on the 
whole a very good one. Such sayings as, "A young 
man old maketh an old man young," "A drunkard is 
not master either of his soul or his body," and " Curses 
prove choke-pears to those that plant them," are thought- 
compelling, and many such may be encountered. 

A book of somewhat different character is the 
" Parcemiologia Anglo - Latina " of William Walker, 
B.D. The sub-title was "English and Latin proverbs 
and proverbial sentences and sayings matched together 
in a collection of them made out of Plautus, Petronius, 
Terentius, Horatius, and other authors." The particular 
copy that came under our notice bore the date of 1676. 
He concludes his short preface by the following depre- 
catory passage: "What will be the advantage and 
benefit hereof to the Commonwealth of learning I leave 
to others to judge and try, as not willing to show the 
Sun by the light of a Candle. And so, that I may not 


set up a great Gate before a little House I commit the 
Work to You, and You to God, and rest your humble 
Drudge, W. W." 

As the author has himself raised the question as to 
the benefit of his book to others, one can only reply that 
the advantage to the Commonwealth would probably 
not be very great, since the translation of the old classic 
authors is so exceedingly free that it is practically no 
translation at all. It gives those who do not know the 
original writings no adequate idea of them, while the 
English is of so very colloquial a character that all the 
dignity of the original is lost, the result being that 
both the Latin and the English languages suffer in the 

If we take, for example, "Versutior es quam rota 
figularis," we find that he cites three so-called equi- 
valents, and none of them at all giving the beautiful 
image of the original ; the first of these being, " You 
are as inconstant as the wind," the next, " As wavering 
as the weathercock," and, thirdly, " One knows not where 
to have you." The "Non habet plus sapientiae quam 
lapis " of Plautus he renders fairly enough as " He hath 
no more wit than a stone," but he adds to this, "No 
more brains than a burbout He is a very cod's head " ; 
while " As wise as Solomon " cannot at all be accepted 
as a rendering of "Plus sapit quam Thales." The 
striking "Verba fiunt mortuo" has lost all its dignity 
when we are invited to accept as a translation, " It is 
of no purpose to talk to him : he'll not hear you speak : 
you may as well talk to the wall." 

The well-known " Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus 
mus " is thus Anglicised by Walker, " Great boast, little 
roast ; Great cry and little wool, as the fellow said when 
he shore his hogs " ; and the equally familiar "Ad Graecas 
calendas " is given as, " At Nevermass, when two Sun- 
days come together." The striking " Leporis vitam vivit" 


loses much when we are invited to accept as an equi- 
valent, " He is afraid of the wagging of a straw." The 
absurdity of teaching a fish to swim, "Piscem natare 
doces," is scarcely adequately rendered by, " Tell me it 
snows." How pleasant a glimpse of ancient customs we 
get in the " Stylum invertere." The waxen tablet — the 
stile at one end sharpened for writing, at the other flat- 
tened for erasing — rise before us. But all this is entirely 
lost when we are invited to accept, in place of the classic 
allusion, " To turn the cat in the pan," " To sing another 
tune " ; and certainly the pith and rhythm of " A minimo 
ad maximum" suffers woful deterioration in such ren- 
derings of it as " Every mother's son of them, tag and 
rag, all that can lick a dish." 

The refining influences that are associated with a 
study of good classic writers seem to have rather failed 
when this ancient schoolmaster came beneath their 
sway. Such expressions as, "Your brains are addle," 
" As subtle as a dead pig," " Chip of the old block," 
** Lean as a rake," " A cankered fellow," " A scurvy 
crack," scarcely rise to the dignity of his subject We 
cannot help wondering how the school prospered in his 
hands, and what sort of boys he turned out after a year 
or two under his tuition. 

The " Moral Essays on some of the most Curious and 
Significant English, Scotch, and Foreign Proverbs," of 
Samuel Palmer,* " Presbyter of the Church of England," 
deserves some little notice. The edition before us, we 
note, is dated 1710. His definition of a proverb strikes 
one as being an entirely satisfactory one. He tells us 
that it is "an Instructive Sentence, in which more is 
generally Design'd than is Expressed, and which has 

• Our author must not be confused with a namesake, Charles Palmer, 
who was Deputy Serjeant of the House of Commons, and who published 
" A Collection of Select Aphorisms and Maxims extracted from the most 
Eminent Authors." He gives eighteen hundred and thirteen of these : the 
copy that came into our hands was dated 1748. 


pass'd into Common Use and Esteem either among the 
Learned or Vulgar. I take this to be its Genuine 
Definition, for though the Incomparable Erasmus takes 
Elegance and Novelty into the Character of a Proverb 
it seems to be an Error: for a Proverb has not only 
more Honour and Authority from Antiquity, but a 
Sentence never comes up to that Title till it has pass'd 
for Sterling some Competent time, and received its 
Dignity from the Consent of an Age at least 'Tisn't 
in a Single Author's Power to convey this Reputation 
to any Saying, but the Dignity grows up in the Use of 
it" This appears excellent common-sense, and the dis- 
tinction that he draws between the use of a saying by 
the learned or the vulgar is a very happy one, and one 
that no other writer appears to r^ard. A proverb need 
not, to establish its position, be in use by all classes. 
There are certain sayings from the classics or elsewhere 
that find general acceptance amongst the educated, such 
as the "Ad calendas Graecas," "A la Tartuffe," "Aut 
Caesar aut nullus," " Facilis est descensus Averni." These, 
either in the original tongfue or Anglicised, are current, 
and have a full claim to recognition as proverbial sayings, 
though four-fifths of the population never heard them ; 
while many homely sayings that come freely to the lips 
of the carter or the village blacksmith find no welcome 
or recognition from the professor, the bishop, or the 
banker, and yet are as truly of proverbial rank. 

Our old author goes on to say : " Tis the Use, not 
the Critical History or Notion of Proverbs I am con- 
cerned in. To see People throw 'em at each other by 
way of Jest or Repartee, without feeling their Weight, 
tasting their Wit, or being better'd by the Reflection, 
wou'd vex a man of any Spirit, and the Indignation 
forces him to write somewhat that might Redeem these 
Fragments of Wisdom from the Contempt and III 
Treatment of the Ignorant For as they are now us'd 


they make up more of the Ridiculous Conversation than 
the Solid and Instructive. To this Abuse some of our 
Authors of the first Rank have very much contributed : 
for the Modern Poets and Novelists have put 'em in the 
Mouths of their lowest Characters. They make Fools 
and Clowns, little and mean People speak Sentences in 
Abundance, string 'em like Necklaces and make Sport 
with 'em, and Ridicule the Remains of our Ancestors. 
By this Means 'tis esteem'd Pedantry if we find one in 
the Mouth of a Gentleman, and an Author of Honour 
and very fine Parts has made the Reciting an Adage 
or Two the Sign of a Coxcomb. Thus they are con- 
demn'd to the Use of the Mob, thrown out of the Minds 
of our People of Birth, and the Influence of 'em lost in 
the Manage of Education." 

While Palmer was engaged upon his book, a work 
called " English Proverbs, with Moral Reflections " was 
published by a writer named Dykes, a poor production 
enough. " This," said Palmer, " put me on the Thought 
of Suppressing the whole, not doubting but an Ingeni- 
ous Gentleman whose Imployment isn't only to teach 
Hie Haec Hoc, but to Instruct Youth in Learning and 
Vertue, and convey the Notions of Religion and Good 
Manners while he is managing the Ferula, wou'd have 
managed the Proverbs to the best Purpose and without 
Exception. But upon a View I find my self extreamly 
disappointed : His Collection is so very short, being but 
Fifty Two, and most of 'em so Lean, Trite, and Insigni- 
ficant that the Greatest Excellence of the Work is that 
he has been so happy as to fill up Four or Five pages 
upon Nothing. 'Tis not my Design to Note all his 
Indecencies, but I have scarce seen anything under the 
Name of Moral more out of Order. Execrable Rant, 
Curses, and little dirty Language are one Part of the 
Entertainment, and tho' it might perhaps be tolerable 
enough to cite Billingsgate when he was speaking of 


Scolds, yet to introduce the Dialogue of Two Fish 
Women, with their Curses, Lewd Epithets, and Brutish 
Reflections is Insufferable: 'tis opening a Sink and 
spreading the Infection." Palmer therefore saw no 
cause to discontinue his labours, the work of Dykes 
not at all trenching on his own ideal of what such a 
book should be. 

Palmer is struck with " the Likeness of many which 
are in Modern Use to the most Sacred Apophthegms," 
a similarity which "forces us to show *em very great 
Respect, and engages us to think *em either of the same 
Original, or else deriv'd from Divine Proverbs by Wise 
and Pious Men, who have only given 'em a different 
Turn according to the Language and Genius of the 
Nation wherein they liv'd." 

These essays of Palmer's are each some three or four 
pages long, the page being that of a quarto book. In 
some of these he takes a single adage as his theme, 
but very often he brackets together two of like sense. 
Thus, one is based on " A Mouse that has but One 
Hole is soon Catch'd," or, "Don't venture all your 
Eggs in one Basket" Another is, "Fly the Pleasure 
that will Bite to Morrow," or, " After Sweet Meat comes 
Sour Sauce," while yet another is, " Don't throw away 
Dirty Water till you have got Clean," or, "He that 
changes his Trade makes Soop in a Basket" One 
readily sees in each case what the drift of the essay 
based on the coupled adages must be. 

As an example of Palmer's exposition, we will give 
that based on two adages of like import " A baited 
Cat may grow as Fierce as a Lyon," or, " Tread on a 
Worm and it will Turn." " No Enemy," he tells us, 
" is so Mean and Impotent but at One Time or Other 
he becomes sensible of his own Force, knows how to 
Exert It, feels an Injury, and has a proportionable 
Resentment : for Nature can't easily be Conquer'd : is 


very Rarely Forc'd, but will Struggle after all the 
Discipline either of Power or Principles. This made 
Solomon say that Oppression makes a Wise Man 
Mad. Now this shou'd be considered, and a Wise 
Man ought to foresee how far 'tis fit to press the 
most contemptible Enemy: for though his Opposition 
be Wicked or Ridiculous yet it may hit the Pursuer 
and do him a Mischief. To drive a Coward to the 
Wall recovers his Spirits, and fear of being shot thro' 
the Back makes him turn his Face. The certainty 
of being quite lost by Flight gives a new Turn to the 
Spirits, and Naturally prompts to a Sudden and 
Desperate Defence : and tho' this be not true Courage, 
nor don't act up to the Regularity that Valour is dis- 
tinguished by: yet it may exceed in Face, and give a 
Home Thrust. He that is eager in the Pursuit may 
be struck through by that Hand which trembled till it 
was reinforced by Necessity. In Armies this is a 
known Rule. He that Beats a Brave Enemy ought 
to be glad to be Rid of him. Let him Retreat as 
quick as He can, provided the Main Victory be 
secure. In Private Quarrels, Just and Vnjust, this 
must be heeded : in the One Case to be Implacable 
is Infamous, and in the other Wicked and Dangerous. 
In Both, Rashness : and if Pity don't move us to for- 
bear and abate in our Revenge, Caution and Regard 
to our own Safety Shou'd." A rat, if driven into a 
corner, will fly at a man.* And it appears that even 

♦ " For a flying foe 

Discreet and provident conquerors build up 
A bridge of gold. "—Massingbr, The Guardian. 
"Ouuerez tousiours a voz ennemys toutes les portes et chemins et 
plustost leur £uctes ung pont d'argent, affin des lesrenvoyer." — Rabelais, 

See also the Italian proverb — *'A nemico che fugge un ponte d'oro.** 
"Le Comte de Pitillan en parlant de la guerre soulouit dire quand ton 
ennemy voudra fuir, fais luy un port d'or.'* — Extract from Les divers propos 


in baiting a cat there is a right and a wrong way of 
going to work. It is said by old sportsmen that the 
fox enjoys the sport as much as anybody, but there 
comes a time with baited rats and cats and most other 
creatures when they tire of that sort of thing, and have 
a very definite way of indicating the fact to all whom 
it may concern. 

The proverbial utterances of " poor Richard " were 
once in great vogue. They were written by Benjamin 
Franklin under the nam de plume of Richard Saunders. 
" Poor Richard's Almanack " was issued for twenty-six 
years, from 1733 to 1758, and with constantly increased 
acceptance. These calendars excellently combined 
entertainment with useful knowledge and terse concen- 
trated wisdom. All available spaces that occurred 
between notable days in the months were filled in with 
wisdom-chips, some of them of true proverbial rank, 
and others the offspring of the brains of Dr Franklin. 

Franklin was born on January 6th, 1706, at Boston, 
and there is no doubt that his sterling common-sense 
and quaint philosophy must have had a considerable 
influence in moulding the character of the early in- 
habitants of the United States. These almanacks 
were largely reprinted in Great Britain and France, 
and very freely quoted from, so that the area of their 
influence was very extensive. In the preface to the 
first of this long series he quaintly gives the reasons 
that influenced him, poor Richard, to issue it. " I 
might, in this place," he writes, "attempt to gain thy 
favour by declaring that I write Almanacks with no 
other view than that of the publick good, but in this I 
should not be sincere; and men are now-a-days too 
wise to be deceived by pretences. The plain truth of 

memorables des Nobles et Illustres HomnusJ*^ — Gilles Corrizot Paris, 

** Press not a falling man too far."— Shakbspbarb, King Henry VIII. 


the matter is, I am extremely poor, and my wife, good 
woman is, I tell her, excessive proud ; she cannot bear, 
she says, to sit spinning in her shift of tow while I do 
nothing but gaze at the stars, and has threatened more 
than once to bum all my books if I do not make some 
profitable use of them for the good of my family." 

Next year he writes, " Your kind and charitable 
assistance last year in purchasing so large an impres- 
sion of my almanack has made my circumstances much 
more easy in the world, and requires my most grateful 
acknowledgment. My wife has been enabled to get a 
pot of her own, and is no longer obliged to borrow 
one from a neighbour; nor have we ever since been 
without something to put in it. She has also got a 
pair of shoes and a nice new petticoat, and for my 
part I have bought a second-hand coat, that I am 
not now ashamed to go to town or be seen there. 
These things have rendered her temper so much 
more pacifick than it used to be, that I may say I 
have slept more and more quietly within this last year 
than in the three foregoing years put together." 

There is much excellent wisdom in the sayings that 
he got together. How full of wise warning the utter- 
ance, " There is no little enemy," or this, " There's small 
revenge in words, but words may be greatly avenged." 
Or these warnings against covetousness, "If you desire 
many things many things will seem but a few." 
" Avarice and happiness never saw each other, how 
then should they become acquainted ? " How quaintly 
sarcastic are these, "Lawyers, preachers, and tomtits* 
eggs, there are more of them hatched than come to 
perfection." " None preaches better than the ant, and 
she says nothing." How true again that "Poverty 
wants some things and luxury many things," and that 
" No man was glorious who was not first laborious." 
How valuable the counsel, " Deny self for self s sake," 



and that " It is less discredit to abridge petty charges 
than to stoop to petty gettings " ; and as a hint as to 
the value of concentration, "Don't think to hunt two 
hares with one dog." Others that we marked for 
quotation are, "Ever since follies have pleased, fools 
have been able to divert " ; " He that can have patience 
can have what he will " ; " Strange that he who lives 
by shifts can seldom shift himself," and to these many 
more of equal shrewdness could be added. 

We make no claim that this list of ours is complete 
as a bibliography of proverb-writers. All references to 
the works of more recent men. Trench and others, are 
entirely omitted, as they are so easily accessible, that 
all who care to do so will have no difficulty in con- 
sulting them. Amongst the earlier men's works some 
are good, and some are good for nothing, but we trust 
that our readers will feel that this excursus is not 
without interest, while somewhat may be added to 
the dignity of our subject when it is seen to how 
many minds it has been a fascinating study. 


** The Book of Merry Riddles" — Introduction of Proverbs is our litera- 
ture — A Surfeit of Proverbs — " The two Angrie Women of Abington " 
— Fuller on the Misuse of Proverbs — The Sayings of Hendyng — Pro- 
verbs in Works of Chaucer, Lydgate, Spenser, Dryden, Shakespeare, 
and other Writers — The "Imitation of Christ " — Glitter is not 
necessarily Gold — The Cup and the Lip — Comparisons odious — 
The Rolling-Stone— The *• Vision of Piers Plowman"— Guelph 
and Ghibelline — Dwellers in Glass Houses — A Spade is a Spade 
— Chalk and Cheese — Silence gives Consent — A Nine Days' 
Wonder— The little Pot soon Hot— Weakest to the Wall— Proverb- 
Hunting through our old Literature. 

Throughout the Middle Ages a great use was made, 
as we have seen, of these popular adages on tapestries, 
rings, and in fact wherever they could be employed. 
Shakespeare, it will be recalled, writes of a but mode- 
rately good poetaster as one "whose poetry was 

For all the world like cutler s poetry 

Upon a knive, *Love me, and leave me not,'"* 

and we shall therefore naturally expect to find 
numerous allusions to this wealth of proverb-lore in 
the writings of the day. The works of the Elizabethan 
dramatists are brimming over with them. Such a fund 
of material as the " Book of Merry Riddles " must have 
been often drawn upon. The first edition was printed 
in 1600, and contained, amongst other entertaining 
material, a collection of " choice and witty proverbs.** 
It was often re-issued, and our last chapter has revealed 

* " Love me little, love me long " is found in the writings of Christopher 
Marlowe : ** Pray, love me little, so you love me long," in Herrick. 
E 65 


to US how many other collections of like nature were 
issued and immediately became available. 

We propose to devote now some little space to 
exploring in search of proverbial allusions a little of 
the literary wealth of our country, and we may say at 
once that proverbs, like everything else, require discreet 
use, and it is not difficult to overdo the thing. A 
person who would be always dragging in these adages 
would be a terrible nuisance in conversation, and no 
less so in literature. In such a case " Enough is as good 
as a feast." One would quickly weary of a page or two 
of this sort of thing — a brochure during the days of a 
suggested invasion of England by " Boney " — 

*' Our foes on the ocean sent plenty of ships. 
But * It's not the best carpenter makes the most chips' ; 
They promise to give Britain's sailors a beating. 
Though * the proof of the pudding is found in the eating.' 
The French have big armies, but their threats are but fix)th. 
For ' too many cooks do but spoil good broth ' ; 
They are welcome Britannia to catch when they get her. 
But though ' Brag is a good dog yet Holdfast's a better.' 
For their threats of invasion we ne'er care a rush— 
* A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush ' ; 
They may think, open-mouthed, to devour us like sharks. 
But 'Till the sky falls we must wait to catch larks.'" 

" The pleasant historie of the two angrie women of 
Abington " * is, despite its self-assertion of its pleasant- 
ness, rendered very tedious by this abuse and super- 
abundance of proverbs — one of the characters in the 
play, one Nicholas Prouerbes, introducing them ad 
nauseam. To give any notion of the drift of the play 
is beside our present need. We will content ourselves, 

* " The Pleasant Historie of the two Angrie Women of Abington, with 
the humerous mirthe of Dick Coomes and Nicholas Prouerbes, two seru- 
ingmen. As it was lately played by the Right Honourable the Earl 
of Nottingham, Lord High Admirall, his Servants. By Henry Porter, 
gent Imprinted at London for Joseph Hunt and William Farbrand, and 
are to be solde at the comer of Oilman Street, neere Loathburie. 1599." 


therefore, with some few extracts that will suffice to 
indicate the point before us, the excessive use of these 
popular adages: 

^^ Nicholas. O maister Philip forbeare. You must not leape 
ower the stile before you come to it ; haste makes waste ; softe 
fire makes sweet malte ; not too fast for falling ; there's no hast 
to hang true men. 

^^ Philip, Now will I see if my memorie will seme for some 
prouerbes too. O, a painted cloath were as well worth a shilling 
as a theefe worth a halter ; wel, after my heartie commendations, 
as I was at the making therof. He that trots easilie will indure. 
You have most learnedly proverbde it, commending the virtue of 
patience and forbearance, but yet you know forbearance is no 

" Nich, I promise ye, maister Philip, you have spoken as true as 

" Phil, Father, there's a prouerbe well applied. 

'* Nich, And it seemeth vnto me that you mocke me ; do you not 
kno mocke age and see how it will prosper ? 

^Phil, Why ye prouerbe booke bound up in follio, have ye no 
other sense to answere me but euery word a prouerbe, no other 

Presently a dispute arises outside, and Nicholas is 
asked, " Wilt thou not go see the fraye ? " to which this 
inveterate proverb-monger replies : 

" No indeed, even as they brew so let them bake — 1 will not 
thrust my hand into a flame and neede not — ^Tis not good to 
have an oare in another man's boat — Litde said is soone amended, 
and in a little medling commeth great rest. 'Tis good sleeping 
in a whole skin — so a man might come home by weeping-crosse. 
No, by Lady, a friend is not so soone gotten as lost— blessed 
are the peace-makers — they that strike with the sword shall be 
beaten with the zcabberd." 

To this flow of wisdom Philip replies : 

" Well said, Prouerbes, is ne're another to that purpose ?" 

The too ready Nicholas makes reply: 

"Yes, I could have said to you, Syr, take heede is a good 


His fellow serving-man at one portion of the play sees 
well to call Nicholas " tripe-cheeke, fat asse," and other 
epithets of like nature ; upon which he replies: 

''Good words cost nought, ill words corrupt good manners, 
Richard, for a hasty man never wants woe, and I had thought you 
had been my friende, but I see alle is not golde that glisters, time 
and truth tryeth all, and 'tis an old prouerbe and not so olde as true, 
bought wit is the best I can see day at a little hole. I knowe 
your minde as well as though I were within you : goe to, you seeke 
to quarrell, but beware of lead I wist ; so long goes the potte 
to the water at length it comes home broken. I knowe you are 
as goode a man as ever drew sword, as ere lookt man in the face, 
as ere broke bred or drunke drinke ; but he is propper that hath 
propper conditions, be not you like the Cowe that gives a good sope 
of milke and casts it downe with his beeles. I speak, plainely, for 
plaine dealing is a Jewell, yet He take no wrong, if hee had 
a head as big as Brasse and lookt as high as Poules steple." 

Coomes, not quite liking the tone of these remarks, 
replies : 

*' Sirra, thou grashoper, thou shal skip from my sword as fix)m 
a sithe. He cut thee out in collops and steakes and frye thee 
with the fier I shall strike from the pike of thy Bucklet" 

To this appalling threat, not best adapted to soothe 
matters over, or pour oil on the troubled waters, Nicholas 
replies : 

'* Brag's a good dog : threatened folkes Hue long." 

Further quotation is quite needless ; enough, amply 
enough, has been brought forward to convince us how 
terrible a bore the inveterate quoter of proverbs can 
readily become. We are prepared after this to 
sympathise entirely with the sentiments of old Fuller : 
" Adages and prouerbs are to be accounted only as Sauce 
to relish Meat with, but not as substantial Dishes to 
make a Meal on ; and therefore were never good but upon 
proper Subjects and Occasions, where they may serve 
to give a lively Force and pleasant Turn to what is said : 


but to apply them wrong and crack them off too thick, 
like Sancho in * Don Quixote/ is abominably foppish, 
ridiculous and nauseous." We had our eye on Sancho 
Panza, but any comments that we might have made on 
his conduct in cracking off proverbs so thick become 
needless, since Fuller has already said all that need be 
hurled against so hardened an offender. 

A very curious early manuscript has come under our 
notice, in which the common proverbs of the time are 
quoted by one of the villains. It is arranged in stanzas 
of six lines, each being then followed by a proverb. 
This latter is sometimes in two lines and sometimes in 
one, but is in every case attributed to the villains, " Ce 
dit li vilains." It deals with the proverbs current in 
Bretaigne, and commences : 

"Qui les proverbes fist 
Premierement bien dist 
Au tans qu'alors estoit 
Or est tout en respit. 
En ne chante ne lit 
D'annor en nul endroit 
'Que a la bone denr^ 
A mauvaise oubli^' 
Ce dit li vilains." 

This quaint old French may be thus Anglicised : " He 
who first made proverbs spoke well to the people of 
his time ; now all is forgotten, people neither sing nor 
read of honour in any place. He who has the good 
ware has forgotten the bad — so says the villain." The 
moral does not seem somehow to quite fit, unless indeed 
we read it to mean that when people had abundant 
supply of this proverb-law they had the good, and 
were so enamoured of it that it had supplanted in 
their hearts all desire for what they once preferred — 
the evil that was now quite driven from their hearts 
and forgotten. 


Another verse terminates thus : 

** Qui n'aime son mestier 
Ne son mestier lui 
Ce dit li vilains " — 

" Who likes not his business his business likes not him." 
Another proverb that remains a very familiar one, as to 
the folly of not taking full precautions, and only shutting 
the stable door when the horse has already been taken, 
appears as 

"Quant le cheval est emble 
Dounke ferme fols Testable 
Ce dit li vilains." 

The date of this poem is about the year 1300. How 
long the proverbs given therein date before its appear- 
ance — centuries possibly — ^we cannot say ; but even if 
we took this poem as a point to start from, it is very 
interesting to reflect that this stolen horse and his 
unlocked stable have been for hundreds of years a 
warning to the heedless, and as well known to the 
men of Cressy and Agincourt as to those of this present 
day. However men, as Cavaliers or Roundheads, Lan- 
castrians or Yorkists, priests or presbyters, differed from 
each other in much else, all agreed in this recognition 
of the folly of not taking better care of the steed they 
all knew so well. 

We have an imitation of this old French poem in an 
English one that was almost contemporaneous, and, as 
in the preceding poem, each stanza is an amplification 
of the idea in the proverb that immediately follows, 
though in either case this gloss or development is not 
always very much to the point 

The first verse is dedicatory, invoking the Divine 
blessing : 

" Mon that wol of wysdom heren 
At wyse Hendyng he may leraen 


That wes Marcolmes sone : 

Gode thonkes out monie thewes 

For te teche fele shrewes 
For that wes ever is wone 
Jhesu Crist al folke red 
That for us all tholede ded 

Upon the rode tre 
Lene us all to ben wys 
Ant to ende in his servys. 
Amen, par charite. 
God biginning maketh god endyng 

Quoth Hendyng." 

"Of fleysh lust cometh shame," and "if thou will 
fleysh overcome " the wisest course is flight from the 
temptation : 

" Wei fytht that welflyth 
Quoth H endyng." 

If you would avoid the evils that follow hasty speech 
keep the tongue with all diligence in subjection, for 
though one's tongue has no bone in it itself it has been 
the cause of many a broken bone in the quarrels that 
it has fostered : 

" Tonge breketh bon 
Ant nad hire selve non 
Quoth Hendyng." 

" Al too dere," he warns us, "is botht that ware that we 
may wythoute care," gather at a terrible risk to ourselves. 
It is the grossest folly to find a momentary pleasure in 
any act that will bring misery in its train, for 

" Dere is boht the hony that is licked of the thome 
Quoth Hendyng." 

Where counsel fails, experience may step in and exact a 
higher price for the lesson taught : 

" So that child withdraweth is bond 
From the fur ant the brond 


That hath byfore ben brend 
Brend child fur dredeth 
Quoth Hendyng." * 

The Italians still more powerfully say that ''A scalded 
dog dreads cold water," the meaning of this clearly 
being that those who have suffered in any direction have 
an exaggerated fear in consequence, and are afraid, 
even when there is no cause, really, for terror. This idea 
is even more strongly brought out in the old Rabbinical 
adage, " He who has been bitten by a serpent fears 
a piece of rope," a quite imaginable state of mind to 
arrive att 

Up till now we have shown how one writer may use 
many proverbs ; we will turn to the other alternative 
and seek to show how one proverb is used by many 
writers. In doing so we are at once struck by the 
variety of garb in which it may appear. The inner 
spirit and meaning, the core, remains inviolate naturally, 
but its presentation to us is by no means in one set 
formula. We are warned not to judge alone by out- 
ward appearance, nor to assume too hastily precious 
metal in what may pfove to be but dross or a poor 
counterfeit of the real thing. Hence Chaucer warns 
us, " All thing which that shineth as the gold He 
is no gold, as I have heard it told." Lydgate, 
writing on " the Mutability of human affairs," declares 
truly enough that "all is not golde that outward 
showeth bright " ; while Spenser, in his " Faerie 
Queene," hath it that " Gold all is not that doth golden 
seem " ; and Shakespeare, in the " Merchant of Venice," 

* ** Why urge yee me ? My hart doth boyle with heate 
And will not stoope to any of your lures: 
A burnt child dreads the ffyre." — Timon, c. 1590. 
t Ovid writes: " Tranquillas etiam naufragus horret aquas" — the man 
who has been wrecked dreads still water. The Portuguese make the cat 
the subject of their proverb — << Gato escaldado d'agua fria tern medo.*' 


writes, " All that glisters is not gold." ♦ Dryden's 
version, in the " Hind and Panther," is very similar, " All, 
as they say, that glitters is not gold "; and Herbert, in the 
" Jacula Prudentum," reverses the wording into " All is 
not gold that glisters." In " Ralph Roister Doister " we 
find the reading, " All things that shineth is not by and 
by pure gold " ; while the Italians have the equivalent, 
" Non 6 oro tutto quel che luce." 

In Greene's " Perimedes," published in the year 1588, 
we find the passage, "Though men do determine the 
gods doo dispose, and oft times many things fall out 
betweene the cup and the lip." The first portion of this 
passage is almost invariably cited in French — " Thomme 
propose et le Dieu dispose " — giving the impression that 
the saying is of Gallic origin. How far back into the ages 
this proverb goes we cannot trace. We find it in the 
"Imitation of Christ " of Thomas k Kempis as, " Nam 
homo proponit sed Deus disponit" It is possible that 
the French rendering became current in our midst 
because the " Imitation," when first translated from the 
original Latin, was rendered into French. The book 
at once sprang into notice and esteem, and the passages 
under our consideration would be noticeable not only 
from its declaration of a great truth but from its rhythm 
— a rhythm that was well preserved in its French 
rendering. The French translation of the " Imitation 
of Christ" appeared in 1488, while the first English 
version was not produced till the year 1502. In the 
" Vision of Piers ploughman," written somewhere about 
the year 1360, we find the saying given in Latin, while 
George Herbert, who died in 1633, introduces it as 
" Man proposeth, God disposeth." 

* We need scarcely point out that any reference to the use of any proverb 
is not intended to imply that this is the only use of it by that writer. " Yet 
gold is not that doth golden seem " is equally Shakespeare with the quota- 
tion given above. One passage will ordinarily suffice, but not because it is 
the only one available. 


The possibilities that may exist in the short interval 
of time between raising the cup to the lips and setting 
it down again are made the subject of a warning pro- 
verb that is of immense antiquity. The Samian king, 
Ancaeus, while planting a vineyard was warned by a 
diviner that he would not live to take its fruits. Time 
passed on and the vineyard prospered, until at length 
one day the king, goblet in hand, was to taste for the 
first time the wine it had yielded. He recalled the 
prophecy, and derided the power of the seer as he stood 
before him. At this moment a messenger arrived with 
the news that a wild boar was ravaging the vineyard, 
and Ancaeus, hastily putting down the cup, seized his 
spear and rushed out to slay the boar, but himself fell a 
victim to the onslaught of the furious beast* Thus, to 
quote a considerably more modem authority, Jonson's 
"Tale of a Tub," "you see the old adage verified — many 
things fall between the cup and lip." 

It is a wise rule of conduct to bear in mind that great 
offence may be given by comparing one thing with 
another, as the process is almost sure to end to the 
more or less detriment of one or the other, or possibly, 
when the spirit of criticism is rampant, in the de- 
preciation of both. Hence Lydgate writes in 1554, 
"Comparisons do oftimes great grevance," and in 
More's "Dial" the idea recurs — "Comparysons be 
odyouse." Gascoigne, in the year 1575, declares in 
his " Posies," " I will forbear to recyte examples by 
any of mine owne doings, since all comparisons 
are odious." Dr John Donne in an "Elegy" has 
the line, "she and comparisons are odious," and we 
find the same idea in Burton's " Anatomy of Melan- 
choly," in Heywood's play, "A Woman Killed with 
Kindness," in " Don Quixote," and many other works. 

* The story is told by Pausanias : " Multa cadunt inter calicem supre- 
maque labra." — Horcue, 


Shakespeare, in his " Much Ado about Nothing," puts 
into the mouth of Dogberry the variation " comparisons 
are odorous." Swift, in his "Answer to Sheridan's 
Simile," writes: 

"We own your verses are melodious. 
But then comparisons are odious." 

Lilly, in the "Euphues," seems to think that com- 
parisons may at times be an offence when the objects 
of such a scrutiny are incomparable in their excellence ; 
that each is so perfect that any suggestion of com- 
parison becomes necessarily a depreciation and a de- 
thronement. Hence he writes — " But least comparisons 
should seeme odious, chiefly where both the parties be 
without comparison, I will omitte that," and he returns 
to this idea in his " Midas," where he distinctly lays 
down the proposition that "Comparisons cannot be 
odious where the deities are equall." 

The picturesque adage, "a rolling stone gathers no 
moss," is still popular amongst our people. In Turner's 
"Five hundred pointes of good husbandrie," a book 
written between three and four hundred years ago, we 
find the same precept: 

" The stone that is rouling can gather no mosse ; 
Who often remoueth is sure of losse. 
The rich it compelleth to p>aie for his pride ; 
The poore it vndooeth on euerie side." 

Marston, in " The Fawn," written in the year 1606, 
has an allusion to this proverb : 

" Thy head is alwaies working : it roles and it roles, 
Dondolo, but it gathers no mosse." 

In the " Vision of Piers Plowman " we appear at first 
sight to have a quaint and interesting variant — " Selden 
mosseth the marbelston that men ofte treden." But it 
will be seen that in thus altering the wording from the 
type-form we have also varied its significance ; it is, in 


fact, a new saying, and of different application. To 
point out to a restless and aimless ne'er-do-well, throw- 
ing up one position after another, that no moss will 
be found growing on the doorstep of some busy office 
would be an entirely pointless proceeding not tending 
to edification. 

Another familiar proverb is "well begun is half 
done." We find its equivalent in Horace and the 
severer Juvenal. Many of our proverbs were as 
familiar to Horace as to ourselves. "Money in purse 
will always be in fashion," and to " harp on the same 
string" are expressions, for instance, that were very 
familiar to the ancient Romans, and which are quite 
as intelligible to-day. 

In the " Confessio Amantis " of Gower we find : 

" A prouerbe I haue herde saie. 
That who that well his worke beginneth. 
The rather a good ende he winneth." 

This proverb has historic interest, as its use on one 
fateful occasion was the final cause of desolating civil 
war that long ravaged Tuscany. When Boundel- 
monte broke his engagement with a lady of the family 
of the Amadei, and married into another, the kinsmen 
assembled in council to consider how the slight should be 
avenged, and atonement made for their wounded honour. 
Some of the more impetuous demanded the death of 
the young cavalier as the only possible reparation ; but 
others hesitated, not from any particular regard for the 
traitor, but because of the great issues involved — conse- 
quences which in the after-event proved so disastrous to 
the Florentines. At length Mosca Lamberti, tired of 
this hesitation, sprang to his feet, and declared that 
those who talked were not likely to do anything else 
but talk, that the consideration of the matter from 
every point of view would lead to no worthy result, and 


make them objects of contempt, and then quoted the 
adage familiar to them all — " Capo a cosa fatta " — well 
begun is half done. This sealed the fatal determination, 
the die was cast, Boundelmonte was murdered, and thus 
was Florence at once involved in the strife between 
Guelph and Ghibelline, and the fair land of Tuscany 
became the battlefield of those contending factions. 

The incident is referred to by Dante in the " Inferno.'* 
Amid his wanderings in these gloomy shades he pre- 
sently arrives where 

" One deprived of both his hands, who stood 
Lifting the bleeding stumps amid the dim 
Dense air, so that his face was stained with blood, 
Cried — ' In thy mind let Mosca take a place. 
Who said, alas ! " Deed done is well beg^n," 
Words fraught with evil to the Tuscan race.' " 

It is a widely recognised principle that those who 
live in glass houses themselves should be very careful 
how they throw stones at others, as retaliation is so 
fatally easy.* In a collection of " Proverbes en rimes," 
published in Paris in 1664, we find — 

" Qui a sa maison de verre 
Sur le voisin ne jette p/erre." 

In the "Troilus" of Chaucer we find the same prudent 
abstinence from stone-throwing advocated, but in this 
case it is the stone-thrower's head and not his house 
that is in danger of reprisals. 

" Who that hath an hede of verre 
Fro caste of stones war hym in the werre." 

The use of the word " verre " instead of glass seems 
to suggest that the French version was so far current 
in England that all would know it, and that it was 
immaterial whether the rendering was in French or in 
English. When James of Scotland succeeded, at the 

* " Stones and idle words are things not to be thrown at random.** 


death of Elizabeth, to the English throne, one of the 
first results was that London became inundated with 
Scotchmen, all anxious to reap some benefit from the 
new political position. This influx caused a consider- 
able amount of jealousy, and the Duke of Buckingham 
organised a movement against them, and parties were 
formed for the purpose of breaking their windows, and 
in a general way making them feel the force of an 
adverse public opinion. By way of retaliation, a 
number of Scotchmen smashed the windows of the 
duke's mansion in St Martin's Fields, known as "the 
Glass House," and on his complaining to the king 
His Majesty replied, "Steenie, Steenie, those who live 
in glass houses should be carefu' how they fling stanes." 
The story is told in Seton's "Life of the Earl of 
Dunfermline," and it will be appreciated that the 
quotation by our "British Solomon" of this ancient 
adage was very neatly put in. 

Those who pride themselves on a certain blunt 
directness of speech, and who declare that they always 
speak their mind, further define the position they take 
up by declaring that they call a spade a spade. There 
certainly are occasions when such a course is the only 
honest one, when a man has to make his protest and 
refuse to connive at any circumlocution or whittling 
away of principle. There are other occasions when a 
regard for the feelings of others makes such a pro- 
ceeding sheer brutality, and it is, we believe, a well- 
established fact that the audience of those who pride 
themselves on speaking their mind ordinarily find that 
they are the victims of a somewhat unpleasant ex- 
perience. Baxter declares, " I have a strong natural 
inclination to speak of every subject just as it is, and 
to call a spade a spade, so as that the thing spoken of 
may be fullest known by the words. But I unfeignedly 
confess that it is faulty because imprudent" "I am 


plaine," we read in Marprelate's " Epitome," " I must 
needs call a spade a spade," and Ben Jonson advises to 
" boldly nominate a spade a spade." 

In the year 1548 Archbishop Cranmer was busily 
engaged on a design for the better unity of all the 
Protestant churches by having one common confession 
and one body of doctrine drawn out of Holy Writ, to 
which all could give their assent Melancthon, amongst 
others, was consulted by the archbishop, and was very 
favourable to the idea, but he strongly advised him, if 
the matter were to be carried to a successful issue, " to 
avoid all ambiguities of expression, call a spade a 
spade, and not cast words of dubious meaning before 
posterity as an apple of discord." Wise and weighty 
words that never fructified. 

John Knox, who was not by any means the man to 
go out of his way to prophesy smooth things or palliate 
wrong-doing by any euphuism or a prudent turning 
away of the head, declares, " I have learned to call 
wickedness by its own terms, and to call a fig a fig 
and a spade a spade"; while Shakespeare, in his 
" Coriolanus," goes equally straight to the mark : " We 
call a nettle but a nettle, and the faults of fools but 
folly." Erasmus writes : " Ficus ficus, ligonem ligonem 
vocat" of a certain man. 

Boileau in like manner writes, " J'appelle un chat un 
chat " ; and Rabelais, " Nous sommes simples gents, 
puisqu'il plaist k Dieu : et appellons les figues figues, 
les prunes prunes, et les poires poires." 

In the pages of Plutarch we read that Philip of 
Macedon, in answer to an irate ambassador, who com- 
plained to him that the citizens on his way to the palace 
had called him a traitor, replied : " My subjects are a 
blunt people, and call things always by their right names. 
To them figs are figs, and they call spades spades." 
The adage is one of unknown antiquity, and may be 


found in the writings of Aristophanes, Demosthenes, 
Lucian, and other classic authors. Erasmus, in his 
" Apophthegmes," published in 1 542, tells the story of 
the discomfiture of the embassy to the Macedonian 
court very quaintly : " When those persons that were at 
Lasthenes found themselfes greued and toke fumishly 
that certain of the traine of Phillipus called theim 
traitours, Phillipus answered that the Macedonians 
were feloes of no fine witte in their termes, but 
altogether grosse, clubbish, and rustical!, as the whiche 
had not the witte to cal a spade by any other name 
than a spade, alluding to that the commen vsed pro- 
uerbe of the Grekes calling figgues figgues, and a bote 
a bote. As for his mening was that they were traitours 
in very deede. And the fair flatte truthe that the 
vplandishe or homely and play-clubbes of the countree 
dooen use, nameth eche thinge of the right names." 

In Taverner's "Garden of Wysdome," published in 
1539, the Macedonians are described as "very homely 
men and rudely brought vppe, which call a mattok 
nothing els but a mattok, and a spade a spade" — a 
very right and proper thing for Macedonians or anyone 
else to do on most occasions, but sometime a little too 
much like the unconscious brusqueness of children, who 
have in such matters no discretion, and who forget, or 
have never been taught, the more cautious precept that 
" all truths are not to be told on all occasions." 

Those who, avoiding one difficulty, rashly run into a 
still greater dilemma, are warned, as in More's " Dial," 
that "they lepe lyke a flounder out of the fryenge 
panne into the fyre." Tertullian, Plato, and other early 
writers vary the wording to " Out of the smoke into the 
fire," but the pith of the matter is the same. Fire and 
smoke play their part in several adages. One of these, 
"If you will enjoy the fire you must not mind the 
smoke," recalls the days when the domestic arrange- 


ments were somewhat cruder than in those more lux- 
urious days, but it still remains a valuable reminder 
that whatever advantages we may enjoy we must also 
be prepared for certain drawbacks. The Latin " Com- 
modatis quaevis sua^fert incommoda secum" covers the 
same ground ; and the French, " Nul feu sans fumte " — 
no fire without smoke, no good without some incon- 
venience — echoes the same idea. On the other hand, 
" Where there is smoke there is fire," the appearance of 
evil is a warning that the evil exists, the loose word 
implies the loose life. As the efTect we see cannot be 
causeless, it is a danger-signal that we must not ignore. 
The present whiflT of smoke, if disregarded, may be the 
herald of half an hour hence a raging conflagration, 
spreading ruin on every side. 

When a strong comparison, the expression of a 
marked difference, is called for, we may, in the words 
of Shaclock, in his " Hatchet of Heresies," published in 
1565, exclaim, "Do not these thynges differ as muche 
as chalcke and chese?" or, turning to the "Confessio 
Amantis" of Gower, find for our purpose, "Lo, how 
they feignen chalk for cheese!" while Hey wood 
hath it: 

"That as well agreeth the comparison in these, 
As alyke to compare in tast, chalk and cheese." 

Another popular proverb of our ancestors was " Fast 
bind, fast find." Hence, on turning to the " Merchant 
of Venice," we find the admonition, "Do as I bid 
you. Shut doors after you : fast bind, fast find — a 
proverb never stale in thrifty mind " ; and the counsel 
is found repeated in the "Jests of Scrogin," published 
in 1565: "Wherefore a plaine bargain is best, and in 
bargaines making, fast bind, fast find " — a certain busi- 
ness shrewdness, a legal document, even the turning of 
a key in a door, will at times preserve to us unimpaired 
property that carelessness would have lost to us. 


"The more the merrier" is an adage that has a 
pleasantly hospitable ring about it, though we are 
reminded in addition that the multiplicity of guests 
may lead to a certain pinching in the supplies. Hey- 
wood reminds us how 

"The more the merrier we all day here see, 
Yea, but the fewer the better fare, sayd he" ; 

while Gascoigne, in his "Poesies," while he quotes with* 
approval the old adage, "Store makes no sore" — no 
one is the worse for having a little reserve laid by — 
yet "Mo the merier is a proverbe eke" that must 
not be overlooked. "More the merrier" is the happy 
title of a book of epigrams published in 1608, and we 
may come across the sentiment in two or three of 
the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, and in many 
other directions. 

Our readers will recall Spenser's eulc^ium on 

" Dan Chaucer, well of English undefyled, 
On Fame's eternal beadroU worthie to be fyled." 

The proverb - seeker finds in his picturesque pages 
abundant store. The "nonne preeste" exclaims, 
"Mordre wol out, that see we day by day," and in 
the Reve's prologue he reminds us that "Yet in our 
ashen cold is fire yreken " ; or, as a later writer hath 
it, " E'en in our ashes live our wonted fires." Chaucer 
again reminds us that "The proverbe saith that many 
a small makith a grete"; or, as it is sometimes given, 
"Many a little makes a mickle." The French tell us 
that even the drainage of the great deep is possible if 
only there be sufficient patience: "Goutte k goutte la 
mer s'egoute." * Every heart knows its own bitterness, 
knows all about that skeleton in the cupboard that the 
world has no suspicion of, knows just where the shoe 

* ** Petit i petit Toiseau £ut son nid.'' 


pinches. Hence Chaucer exclaims, "But I wot best 
when wryngeth me my scho " ; * and in his " Testament 
of Love," where he writes, "Lo, eke an old proverb, 
he that is still seemeth as he granted," or, as we should 
say now-a-days, "Silence gives consent"! Another 
well-known adage and piece of worldly wisdom is, 
"Of two ills choose the least," a proverb found in 
, the "Imitation of Christ" of A Kempis, in Hooker's 
"Polity," and elsewhere. Chaucer is to the fore with 
the saying, " Of harmes two the lesse is for to cheese." 
The saying appears as "E duobus malis minimum 
eligendum" in the pages of Cicero, so that it is not 
by any means an adage of yesterday's creation. It 
was, doubtless, a venerable saying long before Cicero 
employed it. When the idea got compacted into a 
recognised wisdom-chip, who can say? The rule of 
conduct is so clear and so in accordance with common - 
sense that we may well believe that the practice, if 
not the precept, would date from about the year one. 
A " nine days' wonder " appears in the pages of the 
"Troilus" of Chaucer, as "Eke wonder last but nine 
daies never in towne." A thing makes a great sen- 
sation for a few days, and then something else arises, 
and the former matter is quite forgotten. Chaucer's 
addition to the adage of the limitation to town is 
curious, though on consideration a good deal can be 
said for it, since in towns incidents succeed each other 
quickly, and aid this obliteration of the past. Sometimes 
the proverb is extended into "A nine days' wonder, 
and then the puppy's eyes are open" — in allusion to 

* ** What cloke for the rajme so ever yee bring mee, 

Myselfe can tell best where my shoee doth wring mee." — Heywood, 

t In **Cymbeline" Shakespeare writes — 

"But that you shall not say I yield, being silent, I would not speak." 
It was a proverb of Ancient Rome, " Qui tacet consentire videtur," and in 
Modem Italy it reappears as " Chi tai^e confessa.'* In France it is " Assez 
consent qui ne dit mot" 


the fact that dogs, like cats and several other animals, 
are bom blind. One may read this as referring to 
those who make a wonder of an ordinary thing ; the 
blindness of these little new-born puppies, or, in some- 
what less literal sense, the puppies whose eyes are 
presently open, are those people who are blind and 
puzzled over some incident which they presently see 
through and unravel, and then lose all interest in. 

As an encouragement to those who seem to be the 
victims of one misfortune after another, of continued 
ill fortune, the ancient saw is quoted, "'Tis a long 
lane has no turning." The expression is a picturesque 
one, and no doubt carries comfort and teaches patience. 
In the pages of Chaucer it appears as " Som tyme an 
end ther is on every deed." The only time we knew 
it absolutely to fail was in the case of an old man 
named Lane, who had his full share of the worries 
of life, and to whom one kindly well-wisher after 
another quoted this well-worn saying. Each thought 
that he had hit upon a happy idea, and applied it 
there and then, in full faith that it would be of 
soothing efficacy, but as, in the aggregate, the old 
fellow had had it fired off* at him some hundreds of 
times, it acted instead as a powerful irritant! It was 
one trouble the more to carry through life. 

One might, in the same way, though we have by 
no means exhausted the Chaucerian wealth of proverb- 
lore, hunt through the pages of Shakespeare, Milton,, 
Pope, and other writers, and should reap an abundant 
harvest. It may be somewhat of a shock that Milton's 
name should appear in such a connection, since the 
stately dignity of his work would appear entirely alien 
to the general tone of the popular adage ; but one sees 
in this passage from " Comus " — 

"Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud 
Turn forth her silver lining to the night?" — 


a beautiful allusion to a well-known proverb. The 
plays of Shakespeare abound with these proverbial 
allusions. In the "Taming of the Shrew," for instance, 
we find, " Now, were I a little pot and soon hot," a 
proverb applied to short-tempered people who on slight 
cause wax wroth. The homely pot plays its part in 
homely conversation. The man whom Fortune has 
thwarted " goes to pot," waste and refuse metal to be 
cast into the melting-pot. The man on hospitable 
thoughts intent may invite his neighbour to pot-luck, 
to such chance repast, good or bad, as the " pot au feu " 
may yield. People who deride or scorn others for 
matters in which they are at least as much concerned 
are compared to the pot that called the kettle black,* 
while the rashness of those who, insufficiently pro- 
vided with this world's goods, seek to rival others 
better provided and come to grief in the experiment, 
are reminded how the brazen and earthen pot swam 
down together on the swirling flood and collided to the 
detriment of the pitcher.t In "King Henry VI." we 
have " 111 blows the wind that profits nobody ,"t and 
" Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep." In 
" Hamlet " the familiar adage, " Murder will out," 
appears as "Murder, though it have no tongue, will 

* Or, to quote another expressive and homely English proverb, " The 
chimney-sweep told the collier to go wash his face." In France they 
say " La p^le se moque du foorgon," the shovel makes game of the poker. 

t ** Burden not thyself above thy power, and have no fellowship with 
one that is mightier or richer than thyself. For how agree the kettle and 
the earthen pot together? For if one be smitten against the other it 
shall be broken." — Ecciesiasticus ziii. 2. 

X " An yll wynd that blowth no man good."— Heywood, Song agaimt 
Idleness, 1540. 

'* It is an old proverb and a true, 
I sware by the roode, 
It is an il wind that blows no man to good." 

— " Marriage of Wit and Wisdom," 157a 


speak." " Every dog has his day " ; we say : every man 
his chance, so in " Hamlet " we find — 

" Let Hercules himself do what he may, 
The cat will mew, and dog will have his day." 

In "Othello" we come across an equally well-known 
proverb, " They laugh that win," so quaintly curtailed 
by Heywood into " He laugth that winth." Another 
familiar adage is that '' Use is second nature," and this 
Shakespeare, in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," 
refines into " How use doth breed a habit in a man ! " 
In "As You Like It" another well-known saw presents 
itself in the lines, " If it be true that good wine needs no 
bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue." 
The bush in question was an ivy-bough, the emblem of 
Bacchus, and the custom of marking the wine-shop by 
this dates from Roman days. " Vino vendibili hedera 
non opus est" The custom was continued throughout 
the Middle Ages ; but a good article, the proverb tells 
us, needs no advertisement, or, as the French proverb 
hath it, " Au vin qui se vend bien il ne faut point de 

In the days of our forefathers the streets were nar- 
row, and there were no pavements ; while discharging 
pipes and running gutters by the sides of the walls 
made the centre of the road the more agreeable place 
for the traveller. Wheeled conveyances of divers sorts 
passing and repassing forced the foot-passenger to the 
side of the road, and any tumult or street fight would 
drive the conquered pell-mell to take refuge in the 
houses or to the shelter of the wall out of the rush. 
Hence the proverb, "The weakest goes to the wall." 
In "Romeo and Juliet" Sampson and Gregory are 
found in the market-place of Verona, and the former 
declares, " I will take the wall of any man or maid of 
Montague's"; to whom the latter unsympathetically 


replies, "That shows thee a weak slave, for the weak- 
est goes to the wall." 

The wisdom of our ancestors discovered that " He 
who is bom to be hanged will never be drowned," and 
our readers will recall how in the "Tempest" Gonzalo 
comforts himself in the contemplation of the villainous 
ugliness of the boatswain. "I have great comfort," 
he says, " from this fellow : methinks he hath no drown- 
ing mark upon him ; his complexion is perfect gallows. 
Stand fast, good fate, to his hanging ! Make the rope 
of his destiny our cable, for our own doth little advant- 
age ! If he be not bom to be hanged our case is miser- 

To make our list of quotations exhaustive, and there- 
fore probably exhausting, is by no means necessary; 
we give but samples from the bulk, and in conclusion 
of our present chapter give some few of our commoner 
saws and one, or at most two, references to some old 
writer's work where it may be encountered. Naturally, 
the wording of some of the more ancient quotations is 
not always quite that of to-day. 

" The potte may goo so longe to water that atte 
the last it is broken" we found in a manuscript of 
about the year 1545, entitled, "The book of the 
Knight of La Tour." The very ancient proverb, 
familiar to us in its Biblical garb, about the folly 
of the blind leading the blind, will be found in 
Grower's "Confessio Amantis" — 

"As the blinde another ledeth. 
And, till they falle, nothing dredeth." 

The constant dropping that wears at length away 
a stone we found referred to in a manuscript of 
the time of Henry VIII. "So long may a droppe 
fall that it may perse a stone." 

'*The common proverb, as it is read. 
That we should hit the nail on the bead," 


is a couplet in a little book, "Wit Restor'd," issued 
in 1 568, and we also find Skelton writing, " He hyt 
the nayle on the hede." 

A caution to those who try and steer a deceitful 
course between those of opposing interests, treacher- 
ously allowing each to think they have exclusive 
support, has duly been crystallised into a proverb, 
and Lily introduces it in the following passage: — 
" Whatsouer I speake to men, the same also I 
speake to women. I meane not .to run with the 
Hare and holde with the Hounde." "By hook or 
by crook " will be found in Spenser's " Fairie Queene." 
" Diamond cut diamond " is in Ford's play of " the 
Lover's Melancholy." "Every tub must stand upon 
its own bottom" occurs in the "Pilgrim's Progress." 
" He must have a long spoon that would eat with 
the devil" is found in Chaucer and Shakespeare, 
amongst other writers. That "The moon is made 
of green cheese" is re-asserted by Rabelais and in 
the pages of " Hudibras." 

In Swift's " polite conversation," proverbs are thickly 
strewn. We find the old statement that "You must 
eat a peck of dirt before you die," the well-meant 
impertinence of "teaching one's grandmother to suck 
eggs," the communistic doctrine that "Sauce for the 
goose is no less sauce for the gander," and many 
other w^ll-worn scraps of ancestral belief and practice. 
The wisdom of suiting your position to your circum- 
stances, of cutting one's garment according to the 
material available, is emphasised in a " Health to the 
gentlemanly profession of Serving-Men," a brochure 
issued in 1598, where these worthies are warned, 
"You, with your fratemitie in these latter dayes 
cannot be content to shape your coate according 
to your cloth." In Marston's play of "What you 
Will," written in 1607, we have a familiar and 


homely caution borrowed from the experience of 
the kitchen — " Faith, Doricus, thy braine boils ; keele 
it, keele it, or all the fatts in the fire," a proverb 
employed when by some inadvertence a man brings 
against himself a sudden blaze of wrath. 

Proverb-hunting is a very pleasant recreation. We 
have left a vast field practically untrodden. We 
cannot do better than conclude in the quaint words 
of a little pamphlet that we once came across — "a 
collection of the Choycest Poems relating to the 
late Times" (1662). "Gentlemen, you are invited 
here to a feast, and if variety cloy you not, we are 
satisfied. It has been our care to please you. These 
are select things, a work of time, which for your 
sake we publish, assuring you that your welcome 
will crown the entertainment. Farewell." 


National Idiosyncrasies— The Seven Sages of Greece— Know Thyself— 
The Laconic **If" — ^Ancient Greek Proverbs — Roman Proverbs — 
The Proverbs of Scotland: Strong Vein of Humour in them — 
Spanish and Italian Proverbs — The Proverbs of France — The 
'' Com6die des Proverbes " — The Proverbs of Spain : their 
Popularity and Abundance ; Historic Interest : their Bibliography 
— Italian Proverbs : their Characteristics — The Proverbs of Germany 
— Chinese Adages: their Excellence — Japanese Proverbs: their 
Poetry and Beauty — Arab Sayings: their Servility: their Humour — 
Eastern Delight in Stories — African Sayings : their pithy Wisdom — 
The Proverb-philosophy of the Talmud. 

While we find a striking similarity existing between 
the proverbs of various peoples, many being absolutely 
identical, and others teaching the same truths under 
somewhat different external guise ; there is also in 
many cases a certain local and individual colouring 
that g^ves added interest. 

We see, too, national idiosyncrasies coming to the 
front in the greater prominence given to proverbs 
having a bearing in some particular direction. Thus, 
a poetic and imaginative people will specially dwell 
on proverbs of a picturesque and refined type, while 
a thrifty and cautious race will hold in especial 
esteem the inculcation of saving, of early rising, of 
steady labour, the avoidance of debt and suretyship. 
A more impulsive people will care but little for such 
thraldom, and will teach in its sayings the delights 



of the present, the pursuit of the pleasures rather than 
the duties of life, and the wild doctrine of revenge 
against those who thwart their desires ; while an 
oppressed and downtrodden race will very faithfully 
reflect the oppression under which they lie by the 
sayings that find most favour amongst them. 

Our English proverbs, like our language, have come 
to us from many sources; and while we have some 
little store that we may claim as of home-growth, 
the greater part has been judiciously borrowed. We 
may fairly ascribe to our changeable climate such a 
warning adage as the advice to " Make hay while the 
sun shines " ; and when a settler on the prairies of 
the West clothes the excellent doctrine that every 
man for himself should perform the disagreeable 
tasks that come in his way, and not seek to transfer 
them to other people, in the formula, "Every man 
must skin his own skunk," we feel the sentiment to 
be redolent of the soil of its birth. The picture it 
presents to us is so entirely American that it is 
quite needless to search for its origin in the folk- 
lore of Wessex or on the banks of the Indus.* 

The greater number of the proverbs of ancient 
Greece were fraught with allusions to the mythology, 
poetry, and national history of Hellas, and thus form 
a valuable testimony to the general high level of 
intellectual training of this wonderful people. The 
"Adagia" of Erasmus contains, as the result of the 
search of many years amongst the literary remains 
of the classical authors, some five thousand of these 
ancient sayings. Many that, from their Latin dress 
we ascribe to the Romans, were really derived from 
Greek or still earlier sources. 

♦ The warning, " We know not under which stone lurks the scorpion," 
could not, for example, have had its birth in England, as it points to a 
peril from which we are wholly exempt. 


It will be recalled that those who, from their pre- 
eminent wisdom, were entitled, the Seven Sages of 
Greece, each inscribed in the Temple of Apollo one 
sentence of concentrated wisdom. The best known 
and most freely quoted of these was the "Know 
thyself," the contribution of Solon of Athens; and 
the more we reflect on this the more we realise its 
profundity. To know thyself — to know, for example, 
thy possibilities of health and strength for strenuous 
bodily or mental labour, to know thy worldly status, 
and what of influence is there open to thee or closed 
against thee ; to know thyself, not as the crowd regards 
thee, but in all the secret workings of thy heart, con- 
trolling thy actions, biassing thy thoughts, influencing 
thy motives ; to step aside out of the bustle of life and 
quietly take stock of thyself; to know how thou 
standest in view of eternity — that is wisdom. The 
maxim of Chilo of Sparta was "Consider the end," 
and that of Bias of Priene the sad indictment, " Most 
men are bad." Thales of Miletos declared, and the 
yet greater and wiser Solomon was in accord — "Who 
hateth suretyship is sure." Periander of Corinth sang 
the praise of honest work in "Nothing is impossible 
to industry " ; * and Pittacos of Mitylene warned his 
hearers and pupils to "Seize Time by the forelock." 
The seventh, Cleobulos of Lindos, pinned his faith on 
the golden mean, "Avoid extremes." These maxims 
passed into general circulation and adoption, and 
thus became of proverbial rank. They do not strike 
one as being of at all equal value, but there is no 
doubt that a man who was fortified, not only by the 
knowledge of these precepts, but, more important 
yet, by their practice, would be equipped to face 
unscathed all the possibilities of life. 

In our ordinary English word " laconic " is preserved 
* Or in less classic phrase — " It's dogged as does it." 


a curious little allusion. The Lacones or Spartans were 
noted amongst the other Greeks for their brusque and 
sententious speech, the practice of expressing much in 
little. Hence our word laconic, meaning concise, pithy. 
Plato wrote that "If anyone desires converse with a 
Lacedaemonian he will at first sight appear to him 
wanting in thought, in power of utterance, but when 
the opportunity arrives, this same man, like a skilful 
hurler of the javelin, will hurl a sentence worthy of 
the greatest consideration." A good example of this 
trait of the Spartans will be seen in their reply to 
Philip of Macedon when he threatened them, "If I 
enter Laconia I will level your city to the dust" 
Their rejoinder was, " If" ! 

The prostrate Saul was warned that it was hard 
for him to "kick against the pricks," to resist the 
Higher Power, to rebel against the guiding goad, 
and the utterance was a very familiar one in his ears. 
It will be found in the Odes of Pindar, the tragedies 
of Euripides and iEschylus, and in the writings of 
Terence. Another familiar Biblical text is that " One 
soweth and another reapeth."* This, too, would 
appeal at once to the hearers as a piece of their 
own proverbial lore. It is at least as ancient as 
Hesiod, who wrote his "Theogony," and introduced 
this proverb therein, some nine hundred years before 
the Christian era. 

It is in all countries an accepted belief that the 
Higher Powers, under whatever name worshipped, 
help those who help themselves. Thus, the Spaniards 
say, "Pray to God and ply the hammer," while the 

* "The preaching of the Word is in some places like the planting of 
woods, where, though no profit is received for twenty years together, it 
Cometh afterwards. And grant that God honoureth not thee to build His 
Temple in thy parish, yet thou mayest, with David, provide metals and 
materials for Solomon, thy successor, to build it with." — Thomas Fuller, 
Ifoly Stoic, 


Greeks taught, " Call on Athene but exert yourself as 
well." Another very expressive Greek proverb was " A 
piped-out life," as applied to one who, in rioting and 
dissipation, in feasting and drunkenness, had carried 
out that grim ideal, " A short life and a merry one," 
who to lulling siren song, the harp, the tabret, and 
the viol, sailed swiftly down the stream of Time. A 
graphic picture again is this — "You have burst in 
upon the bees," applied to one who causelessly, need- 
lessly meddled with matters that were no concern of 
his, and thereby brought swift retribution on himself. 

The proverbs bom on Roman soil were considerably 
fewer in number than those of Greek birth, and this is 
a result that we should naturally anticipate, since the 
Romans had not the strong religious feeling, nor the 
poetic afflatus, nor the subtle thought of the Greeks. 
The Romans in this, as in much else, were borrowers 
rather than producers. At the same time the sterling 
common-sense and energy of the Roman people is 
seen in their proverbs. They are business-like and 
practical, inculcating patience, perseverance, independ- 
ence, and frugality; dealing in a wise spirit with the 
affairs of life, marriage, education, agriculture, and the 
like. How true, for instance, to all experience is the 
" Aliquis in omnibus est nuUus in singulis," while in 
some, heathen as they were in origin, a high moral 
sense is reached, as, for example, " Conscientia, mille 

How expressive is " Res in cardine est." The matter 
is on the hinge, it must soon now be settled one way or 
the other, for, as another proverb hath it, " A door must 
be open or shut " — there can here be no middle course of 
procrastination and uncertainty. How good, again, the 
oft-quoted "Qui cito dat bis dat" — "He giveth twice that 
giveth in a trice," as an old English version rhymingly 
renders it, or the "Quot homines tot sententiae." " I see 


wel the olde proverbe is true," quoth Gascoigne in his 
" Glasse of Government," which saith, " So many men 
so many mindes." The French reading is "Autant 
dTiommes, autant d'avis." 

Our old English proverb about the difficulty of getting 
blood out of a stone is paralleled in the ''Aquam a 
pumice postulare" of ancient Rome, and the saw, 
" Extremis, ut dicitur, digitis attingere " — to touch, so to 
speak, with the tips of the fingers — is of special inter- 
est to us, as it will be recalled that it is quoted in 
the New Testament, and applied to the Pharisees who 
laid on others burdens that they themselves would 
not touch with one of their fingers. 

Our adage, " Opportunity makes the thief," is but the 
old Roman " Occasio facet furem." 

The brief " Latum unguem " is expressive of those 
who cavil and split hairs* over trifles, when not the 
breadth of a nail of difference exists between them, and 
yet sharp contention is stirred up. 

It is needless to dwell at any length on these proverbs 
of ancient Rome. Their character and tone of thought 
are very English, and therefore many of them we shall 
find incorporated in English guise in our midst, while 
others find a place in our literature in their original 
setting. Amongst these latter we may name, by way 
of illustration, "Ab ovo," "Ad captandum vulgus," "Dum 
vivimus vivamus," "Ex cathedra," "Facilis est descensus 
Averni," " Humanum est errare," " De mortuis nil nisi 
bonum," "Carpe diem," "Argumentum ad hominem," 
" Ars est celare artem," " Petitio principii," " Per fas et 
nefas," "Ne sutor ultra crepidam," "Vox populi vox Dei," 
and " Festine lente." t 

* *' But in the way of bargain, mark ye me, 

I'll cavil on the ninth part of a hair."—" Henry IV." 

t *< Festina lente, not too fast ; 

For haste, the proverb says, makes waste." — " Hudibras." 


While many of the proverbs of Scotland are identical 
in significance with our own, and only vary from them by 
some slight dialectic influence, there are not a few that 
are the special possession of the Scottish people. These 
have a very distinct individuality. There is rarely 
much grace or tenderness in them, but they contain 
abundant common-sense. There is scarcely one that 
is pointless, while in most the point is driven home 
mercilessly. As maxims of prudence and worldly 
morality they are admirable, and have a certain 
roughness of expression that is often taking. They 
are distinctly canny, and not uncommonly have a 
strong touch of saturnine humour. 

Many examples are easily recognisable as identical 
in spirit with the parallel English adages, the slight 
differences of setting giving them an added interest 
One gets so used to things when always presented 
to us the same way that their value gets dulled, and 
a new reading then comes very opportunely. The 
Scottish version, "A bird in the hand is worth twa 
fleeing bye"* is, we think, a good example of this. 
The leading idea in both this and the English declara- 
tion that "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush " 
is the greater value of a small certainty than a larger 
possibility ; but, while the twittering of the free birds 
in the bush may be provoking, there is at least the 
possibility of their capture, while the Scottish version 
gives a still greater value to our possession, seeing that 
even as we grasp it the possibility of increasing our 
store is rapidly passing away. In a collection, gathered 
together in 1586, we find " It is better to haif ane brede 
in hand nor twa in the wood fleande." 

Other examples of this practical identity are these : 
"Before you choose a friend eat a peck o* saut wi' him"; 

* The Portuguese is identical : " Mais vaile um passaro na mao do que 
dous voando." 


" It's no easy to straucht in the oak the crook that grew 
in the sapling." The "sour grapes" of our English 
proverb are at once suggested in this northern version : 
" Soor plooms, quo' the tod, when he couldna' climb the 
tree " ; " 111 weeds wax weel." 

The value of this change of diction as an aid to 
appreciation is also felt still more when it arises from 
some little antiquity. Our most familiar adages, for 
instance, seem to possess an added charm when we 
find them embedded in the quaint English of the 
poems of Chaucer and others of our earlier writers, 
and in like manner many of the proverbs given in this 
collection of the year 1586 have a special interest The 
mere setting is a very secondary point, though not 
without importance, since we readily see that what we 
need is, in the first and foremost place, the sterling 
truth, and then this truth enhanced in value by the 
happy way it is presented to our notice. The following 
extracts from this collection, gathered together over 
three centuries ago, will be of interest: — "The fische 
bred in durtie pooles will taiste of mude," " Whane the 
sunne schyneth the lyt of the starres ar not seene," 
"All the praise of wertew consisteth in doing," "Wit 
is the better gif it be the dearer bocht," "The foull 
taide hath a faire stoine in his hede," "The sweite 
kirnell lyeth in the harde schell," "The glass anes 
crazed will wt the leist clap be crackt," "The fairest 
silke is soonest soylede," " He quhilk walde gather 
frwite sould plant treis," " Bargaines maid in speid are 
comonlie repented at leasure," " Thair is no smoke but 
quhair thair is sum fyre," "In grettest charge ar grettest 
cares," " A kyndome is more esilie gotten than keipit," 
"Quhen the sone schyneth the cloudis wanish away," 
" The fyne golde must be purified in the flamyng fyre," 
" Greiwous woundes must have smarting plasters," 
"Many thingis happen betwene the cupe and the 



lyp,"* " Thair is no clayth so fine bot mothes will eit it," 
" He that lepeth or he looke may hap to leip in the brook." 

Scottish proverbs, despite the assertion that the only 
way to get a joke into a Scotchman's head is by a 
surgical operation, have a strong vein of humour in 
them — a feature that is much more characteristic 
of them than of those of any other nationality the 
wide world over. What could be happier than this 
caution to those whose presence is not desired : " A 
weel-bred dog goes out when he sees them going to 
kick him out!" "They're keen o' company that tak' 
the dog on their back," " Friends are like fiddle-strings^ 
they maunna be screwed ower tight." 

The national shrewdness and mother-wit is naturisilly 
reflected in the national proverb-lore. A very quaint 
example of this is seen in the warning that "Ye'll 
no sell your hens on a rainy day." Drenched and 
wretched-looking, no one will look at them ; it is not 
at all making the best of things. How excellent is 
this hint against avarice: "Greed is envy's auldest 
brither, scraggy wark they mak thegither " ; f or this : 
" Ne'er let your gear o'ergang you " ; or this : " A 
greedy e'e ne'er got a gude pennyworth." 

How shrewd such adages as: "Changes are light- 
some and fools like them " ; " He that gets gear before 
he gets wit is but a short time master of it " ; " He is no 
the fool that the fool is, but he that with the fool deals"; 
" Oft counting keeps friends lang thegither," the English 
equivalent being, "Short reckonings make long friends"; 
" A wise man gets learning fra' them that hae nane i* 

* In French: "Entre la bouche et le verre, le vln souvent tombe k 

+ Yet it must be remembered that — 

** When I hae saxpence under my thumb, 
Then I get credit in ilka toon, 
But when I hae naethin' they bid me gang by, 
Hech ! poverty parts gude company." 


their ain " ; " Better a gude fame than a gude face " ; 
" He that seeks motes gets motes " ; * " 111 payers are 
aye gude cravers " ; " He speaks in his drink what he 
thinks in his drouth." Prosperous people can afford to 
listen to envious remarks, for "A fu' sack can bear a 
clout in the side," and be never the worse for it. 

There is a sharp touch of sarcasm in many of these 
northern adages: "The deil's journeyman ne'er wants 
wark." How true to life the feeling,yet how deftly pointed 
the satire, " They are aye gude that are far awa," or this 
very similar utterance, "They're no a' saints that get the 
name o't" A valuable lesson, too, to people consumed 
with a sense of their own importance is this : "The king 
lies doun, but the world runs round." The point 
becomes sharper yet in the statement that a "Green 
turf is a gude mother-in-law " — that is to say, this par- 
ticular member of the family is best in the churchyard. 

An old Engish proverb says that " Almost and very 
nigh save many a lie " ; but the Scotch say, " Amaist 
and very near hae aye been great liars." The two dicta 
are in direct opposition, yet both may be accepted. 

The power of money to make money is very pictur- 
esquely expressed by " Put twa pennies in a purse and 
they'll creep thegither." Down south we say that 
"Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in 
no other " ; but the Scottish method is wiser, if prac- 
ticable, though there is a touch of selfishness in it: 
"Better learn frae your neebor's skaith (misfortune) 
than frae your ain." 

It is very true that " His you are whom you. serve," t 
and "They that work i' the mill maun wear the 
livery." How full, too, of wise teaching : " When you 

* He who mixes with unclean things becomes unclean. 

t " Quien sirve no est libre," say the Spaniards — " He who serves is 
not free " ; while an old English proverb reminds us that " He who rides 
behind another does not saddle when he pie 


dance ken who you talc' by the hand," and realise what 
the association involves. The mighty power of in- 
fluence, and the responsibility that rests on us for our 
actions, the impossibility of arresting the ever-widening 
circle is well seen in the hint : " If the laird slight the 
lady sae will the kitchen boy." The saying, "Ye hae 
gude manners, but ye dinna bear them about wi' ye," 
is a very delicate way of saving the amour propre of the 
reproved while indicating evident shortcomings. How 
quaintly picturesque the adage, again, "Like a chip 
amang parritch, little gude, little ill," to describe some 
wholly immaterial thing. 

The proverbs of the three great Latin races — French, 
Italian, and Spanish — are naturally very similar, and 
are practically interchangeable, all having sprung from 
the same stock, and thrown into one great store-house. 
We cannot too distinctly bear in mind that, because a 
proverb greets us in French, or Italian, or Danish, we 
must not at once class it as a French, an Italian, or a 
Danish utterance alone. The inner idea is probably 
cosmopolitan, and its outer garb is of very little im- 
portance ; yet, as we have already said, the idiosyncrasy 
of each people affects their borrowing from the common 
store, and greatly influences any additions they may 
make. Instead, therefore, of classifying certain proverbs 
as French or German, which ordinarily they are not, we 
should really think of such a gathering as merely French 
or German individualism, selecting to taste from the 
general hoard. An old writer says : " The Spanish and 
Italian proverbs are counted the most Curious and Sig- 
nificant — the first are remarkable for Gravity and fine 
Instruction, the Latter for Beauty and Elegance, tho' 
they are a little tinctured with Levity and have too 
much of the Amour. This last Variety is the Imper- 
fection of many of the French, tho' otherwise they are 
very Fine and Bright, and solemnly Moral as well as 


Facetious and Pleasant" This verdict, though some- 
what quaintly worded, is a very discriminating and just 
one : we should be inclined to add to it in the case of 
the typically French proverbs a rather characteristic 
touch of conceit and gasconade. The Frenchman 
ordinarily studies effect a good deal. 

Despite a certain unpleasant sneering at women, as in 
the proverb, " A deaf husband and a blind wife make 
the best couple," and others that affect to hold feminine 
virtue, constancy, truthfulness and the like in poor 
esteem, the Frenchman appears to preserve a perennial 
spring of affection for his mother and a fervent belief in 
its reciprocity on her part. Hence, in all proverb-lore, 
dramatic representation, poetry, oratory, this special 
relationship is a sacred one, and we get in an arid desert 
of cynicism so sweet an oasis as, " Tendresse maternelle 
toujours se renouvelle." 

Such proverbs in common use in France as " A cheval 
donn6 il ne faut point regarder k la bouche," " Les 
murailles ont des oreilles," " II n*y a que le premier pas 
qui coute," " II ne faut pas parler de corde dans la maison 
d*un pendu," are but cosmopolitans in French garb. In 
England we find that " A bad workman finds fault with 
his tools," but in France this is softened down a little 
and becomes, " Mechant ouvrier jamais ne trouvera bons 
outils." Our picturesque declaration that it is some- 
times advisable to "Throw away a sprat to catch a 
herring," loses somewhat in "II faut hazarder un petit 
poisson pour prendre un grand." The Gallic "A 
beau jour beau retour," is a very pleasant variant of 
our saying, " One good turn deserves another." There 
is in the English version a somewhat unpleasant 
suggestion of barter and bargain in this exchange of 
help, " Nothing for nothing, and not much for a half- 
penny." ♦ On the other hand, our " Diamond cut 

• " Donner est mort et prater est bien malade.*' 


diamond " is pleasanter in expression than the cruder 
" Ruse contre ruse." 

We have already seen how an English playwright 
once wrote a comedy in which he introduced English 
proverbs ad nauseam, and we find, in like manner, in 
France, a French author, Adrien de Montluc, writing in 
the year 1615 or thereabouts, a play called the "Com^die 
des Proverbes," where we find strung together dialogue- 
wise all the most familiar adages then current in France.* 

The proverbs of Spain are very numerous, and are 
often distinguished by a stately sententiousness, much 
thoughtfulness, a strong sense of chivalry and honour, 
and very frequently, with these good qualities, a very 
happy dash of humour or irony. Ford declares that 
this abounding proverb-lore "gives the Spaniard his 
sententious dogmatical admixture of humour, truism, 
twaddle, and common-sense." A proverb aptly intro- 
duced is a decisive argument, and is always greeted 
with approval by high and low, an essentially national 
characteristic. It will be recalled how Sancho Panza 
has an adage for every emergency. The Don uses his 
own words, being a man of fine fancy and good breeding, 
to express his own ideas, but the vocabulary of his 
Squire is almost entirely composed of the well-nigh 
inexhaustible proverbs of his country. The Arabs, 
whose language is rich in such wisdom, doubtless 
furnished numerous contributions to this very marked 
feature of the national literature. 

Many of the Spanish proverbs are of very great 
antiquity. One interesting example to the historian 
is connected with an incident that happened at the 

• Those interested may turn for fuller treatment of the proverbs of 
France to the ** Six mille proverbes" of C. Cahier, published in Paris in 
1836, to the ** Lavre des proverbes Fran9ais " of Le Roux de Lincy, 1859, 
or the ** Petite Encyclop^e des proverbes Fran9ais" of Hilaire le Gais, 


beginning of the twelfth century. It is very rarely that 
one can trace the actual birth of a proverb, but in the 
present example, "Laws go where kings please to 
make them," the origin is known. The Church of 
Spain was in these early days greatly disturbed by a 
contest as to whether the Roman or the Gothic liturgy 
should be adopted, and at last the king, Alfonso VI., 
gave orders for a decisive test and definite settlement. 
A fire was lighted and duly blessed by the Archbishop, 
and then a copy of each of these liturgies was dropped 
into it, it being decided that whichever escaped 
destruction should be recognised as the true rite. The 
Gothic text emerged unconsumed from this fiery test, 
but the king, displeased at the way things had gone, 
tossed it back again into the fire, and thus arose 
the proverb, " Alia van leyes adonde quieren reyes." 
Many proverbs again will be found in the "Chronica 
General," one of the oldest Spanish books. 

The Marquis of Santillana collected some 700 proverbs 
— " such," he says, " as the old women were wont to use 
in their chimney-comers." These were published in 
the year 1 508. The " Cartas " of Blasco de Garay 
appeared soon after this, and went through many 
editions. The author was one of the cathedral staff at 
Toledo, and his book was thrown into epistolary form, 
almost every sentence being a popular adage. The 
"cartas" concluded with a devout prayer that his 
labours might tend to edification. 

In the year 1549 we have an alphabetical collection 
of over 4000 adages compiled by Valles, while a famous 
scholar and professor at the University of Salamanca, 
Hernan Nufiez de Guzman, accumulated over 6000. 
These were published in 1555, by a brother professor, 
two years after the death of Nufiez. While acting as 
literary executor he somewhat ungraciously declared 
that respect for his friend and not for the dignity of the 


task was his motive. In 1568, Mai Lara selected from 
the compilation of Nuftez 1000 of the best examples, 
added some explanatory or appreciative comments to 
each, and sent them out into the world under the title 
" The Philosophy of the Common People." 

Caesar Oudin published in Paris in 1608 the " Refranes 
o Proverbios Castellanos." These were translated into 
French, and form a very interesting and valuable book. 

While the gleanings of Mai Lara were especially 
intended to foster a practical working philosophy of life, 
Juan Sorapan de Rieros, in his ** Medicina Espaftola 
en Proverbios Vulgares," took up the medical side, 
dealing alone with such utterances of popular wisdom 
as bore on the healing art 

Bartolom^ Ximinez Paton, in the year 1567, published 
a collection of over 1000 Greek and Latin proverbs, with 
a translation into Spanish, and, where practicable, the 
addition of a parallel or illustrative Castilian proverb. 
The book passed through many editions. The trans- 
lations into the vernacular were in terse rhymes. Other 
collections, needless to particularise, though good to see, 
are those of Palmer ino, Juan de Yriarte, and Cejudo, 
all of considerable antiquity, while so recently as 181 5 
was published in Barcelona the " Refranes de la Langua 
Castellana," and to this list others could no doubt be 
added. It will have oeen observed that the word, 
" Proverbios " is not employed, but " Refrane," a term 
derived from a referendOy because it describes a thing 
that is often repeated, an idea that we are familiar with 
in our common word " refrain." 

How happily does this Spanish proverb satirise the 
readiness to resent what may have been, after all, a 
quite innocent remark, " He who takes offence has 
eaten garlic." The cap, as we say in English, fits. How 
happy again the sarcasm against awkward and 
inexpert helpers, " She tucked up her sleeves and over- 


turned the kettle." The deference paid to wealth, the 
smoothing of the path, is graphically hit off in the adage, 
" An ass loaded with gold overtakes everything." The 
man who can perhaps scarce write his name will find 
many to flatter him if his coffers be full.* On the other 
hand how good the counsel, " Seek not for a good man's 
pedigree," t or this, " Advice whispered is worthless," for 
anything secret may well be regarded with suspicion, 
and sincerity needs no veil. How happy again the 
saying, " I have a good doublet in France," as applied 
to those who boast of something that cannot be come 
at ; or the advice to avoid over-familiarity, " Shut your 
door and you will make your neighbour a good one." t 
A somewhat similar saying is this, " When the door is 
shut the work improves," for gossiping means dis- 
traction and neglect of duty. "Do not go every 
evening to the house of your brother." There is sound 
common-sense in the statement that " An indolent 
magistrate will have thieves every market-day," since 
his easy-going neglect of his duties will produce 
a goodly crop of knaves. Those who solemnly tell as 
news what all can learn for themselves are happily 
ridiculed in the assertion that "When the spouts run 
the streets will be wet," or they are described as 
"guessing at things through, a sieve," § making a 
mystery of what anyone can see at a glance. 

" Those that fly may fight again. 
Which he can never do that's slain," 

we learn in " Hudibras," and the sentiment re-appears in 

* In France they say, ** Clef d*or ouvre toutes sortes de serrures." 

t " I weigh the man, not his title : 'tis not the king's stamp can make 
the metol better."— Wycherley, 7'A< F/ain Dealer. 

J The Germans happily say, **Liebe deinen Nachbar, reiss, aber den 
Zaun nicht ein" — "Love your neighbour, but do not pull down the hedge." 

§The sieve re-appears very graphically again in this : ** A grain does 
not fill a sieve, but it helps its companion to do so." 


the Spanish adage, "It is better they should say, here 
he ran away, than here he died." The English dictum 
" Charity begins at home," is paralleled in this, " My 
teeth are nearer to me than my kindred," while our 
" Well begun is half done " re-appears in " A beard well 
lathered is half shaved." The well-known English pro- 
verb, "One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," 
is happily rendered in Spain by the assertion, " A pig's 
tail will not make a good arrow"; while our advice to the 
cobbler to stick to his last, to attend to what he under- 
stands, has its counterpart in "Fritterman, to thy fritters." 

The temptation to quote is great, but we will, in 
conclusion, set down but half-a-dozen more, leaving their 
interpretation to the sapience of our readers. " A 
friend to everybody and to nobody is the same thing," 
"Truth and oil are ever above," "Words and feathers 
are carried away by the wind," "A little gall makes 
bitter much honey," " It is better to accept one than to 
be promised two," " When we have crossed the sea the 
saint is forgotten." 

The proverbs of fair Italy are very numerous. While 
not a few are sound in teaching and justly extol the 
ways of truth and uprightness, of honour and righteous 
dealing, others are too often merely the advocates of 
unmitigated selfishness, are strongly imbued with 
cynicism, and teach a general distrust and suspicion and 
the glorification of revenge. The political condition of 
the country, split up for so many centuries into petty 
principalities and republics, in an almost constant state 
of jealousy and feud, has no doubt greatly influenced its 
proverb-lore. Thus, " Who knows not to flatter, knows 
not to reign," tells of a government at the mercy of 
cabals, while the saying, "An open countenance, but 
close thoughts," indicates the wisdom in an atmosphere 
of suspicion of a seeming content and the importance 
of great reticence of speech; while the ingratitude of 


princes is summed up in the adage, " He who serves at 
court dies on straw."* Fierce insurrection and 
sanguinary suppression have fed the fiery Southern 
temperament with burning hatred. Hence we get 
utterances so terrible in their vindictiveness as these: 
"He who cannot revenge himself is weak, he who will not 
is contemptible"; "Revenge of a hundred years old hath 
still its sucking teeth " — is yet but at its commencement. 
What internecine strife becomes under such influence is 
seen in the utterance, " When war begins hell opens." 

The soft Italian tongue lends itself readily to musical 
rhythm and pleasing alliteration, features that are 
ordinarily entirely lost in translation. This attractive 
cadence may be seen, for instance, in " Chi piglia 
leoni in assenza suol temer dei topi in presenza," or 
" Chi ha arte da per tutto ha parte." There is often, 
too, a pregnant brevity, as " Amor regge senza legge," 
and a very happy use of hyperbole. 

The proverb-literature of Italy is very extensive. 
In the year 1591 Florio, by birth an Englishman, 
by extraction an Italian, published in London " II 
giardino di Ricreatione," a collection of some 6000 
Italian adages; and a little later another Italian, 
Torriano, followed his example, he also being resident 
in England. Angelus Monozoni, in the year 1604, P"^" 
lished in Italy another book on the subject, and in 
1642 Julius Varini gave to the world his "Scuola del 
Vulgo." A much more recent and altogether excel- 
lent series is the "Raccolta di Proverbi Toscani" of 
Guiseppe Guisti, issued at Florence in 1853, ^^^ con- 
taining over 6000 examples. 

" It is a foolish bird," we say, " that fouls its own 
nest," a sentiment that the Italians reproduce in their 

* Another expressive proverb tells that, " Courtiers are shod with water- 
melon rind," a somewhat slippery and uncertain foot-gear, rendering one's 
footing not particularly safe. 


adage, "Mad is the priest who blasphemes his own 
relics." A higher point is reached in this, "We are 
all clay and God is the potter," and this, " Who has 
God for a friend has the saints in his pocket." Their 
intervention is needless. Another fine proverb is 
found in " Who doth not burn doth not inflame " — he 
must himself be on fire who would kindle ardour in 
others. "The favour gained, the saint derided," 
appears needlessly strong — "neglected" would have 
been trujpr to human nature.* "Sin (confessed is half 
*^i (^ pardoned^' is true and good. "Everyone cannot have 

; liis house on the piazza," all cannot expect the best 
^ "" ' position, is quaint and of sound philosophy. " He 
who flings gold away with his hands seeks it with 
his feet," wandering forth in beggary and want. To 
such we may commend the warning, "Work in jest, 
want in earnest" In every nation the virtue of silence 
is upheld, and the Italians have many proverbs that 
deal with this : thus the gain of quiet listening is seen 
in this — " Talkers sow, the silent reap," reap rich wis- 
dom from the words of the wise, prudence and caution 
from the loquacity of the thoughtless. The undigni- 
fied flow of explanation, the lack of reserve in face 
of misfortune, are rebuked in the saying, "Words in 
plenty when the cause is lost." 

In that mine of wisdom, the book of EcclesiasteSy 
we are warned that " He that observeth the wind shall 
not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not 
reap," and the Italians in like manner declare that 
" He that looks at every cloud never makes the journey." 
The intuitive gift of womankind to realise the best 
course of action is the subject of proverbs the wide 
world over. In Italy it appears as " Women, wise on 
a sudden, fools on reflection." Every nation, too, 
appears to have some little tinge of self-righteousness, 

* '* In prosperity no altars smoke " is like unto it. This too is Italian. 


some sarcasm to spare for those outside its borders. 
Thus we are told that if one scratches a Russian we 
get at once to the Tartar beneath ; and the Spaniard 
says, " Take away from a Spaniard his good qualities 
and there remains a Portuguese." The Italian in like 
manner has a proverbial rebuke for those who " drink 
wine like a German — in the morning, neat ; at dinner 
without water ; at supper, as it comes from the bottle " ; 
and says, "May my death come to me from Spain," 
for so it will be long in coming — a hit at the Spanish 
habit of procrastination and the wearisome delays that 
thwart the despatch of business in that easy-going land 
where " manana " (to-morrow) is one of the commonest 
of expressions.* 

Many of the proverbs of Italy are, naturally, not 
exclusively Italian, but when the Florentine declares 
that " Arno swelleth not without becoming turbid," we 
have a distinctly local application of the broad truth 
that they who would acquire riches quickly may fall 
into a snare, and that a sudden prosperity may be 
achieved at the expense of a soiled conscience. " II 
remedio e peggio del male " is but an Italian version 
of the generally-accepted adage, " The remedy is worse 
than the disease," and " Una rondina non fa primavera " 
is their rendering of a truth familiar to us in the state- 
ment that "One swallow does not make a summer," 
a proverb of wide acceptance. In France it is " Une 
hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps " ; in Holland, " Een 
swaluw maakt geen zomer " ; in Spain, " Una golondrina 
no hace verano." We find it, too, equally at home in 
Germany, Sweden, and many other lands. Its sig- 
nificance is repeated in another Italian proverb that 
tells us that " One flower does not make a garland." 
A very characteristic utterance is that "Summer is 

* The old English proverb declares that ** By the Street of By-and-by 
one arrives at the House of Never." 


the mother of the poor," life in sunny Italy being then 
less arduous to the indigent, and the problems of exist- 
ence appear by no means so exacting. 

The thorough-going character of German work is 
itself almost proverbial, and the treatment of the 
national proverbs in the "Deutsches Sprichworter- 
Lexicon" is an excellent illustration of this German 
thoroughness, the editor having managed to gather 
in over 80,000. Another excellent compilation is that 
of Dr. Wilhelm Korte. 

The proverbs, native or imported, that find most 
favour in the Fatherland are ordinarily excellent in 
quality and full of sterling good sense. We occasion- 
ally meet with rhyming examples, as in " Mutter treu 
wird taglich neu," a mother's love is ever fresh ; or the 
less tender "Ehestand, wehestand," marriage state, 
mournful state ; or " Stultus und Stolz wachset aus 
einem Holz," stupidity and pride grow on one bush ; 
or again, in " Wie gewonnen so zerronen"; our " Lightly 
come, lightly go." But these rhyming adages do not 
appear to be so characteristic a feature in German 
proverb-lore as in some other nationalities. The Eng- 
lish protest as to the absurdity of carrying coals to 
Newcastle* is in Germany the equally needless task 
of carrying water to the sea — " Wasser ins Meer tragen." 
Another picturesque proverb is " Die siissessten Trauben 
hangen am hochsten," the sweetest grapes hang the 
highest. The greedy are rebuked in the adage — " The 
eyes here are bigger than the stomach," and the 
thoughtless and thriftless are warned that " One may 
in seeking a farthing burn up three candles." The 
difficulty in pleasing some people is felt as much in 

* ** To send you any news from hence were to little purpose, ours being 
little else but the translation of English or French ; and to send you our 
news from England were to carry coals to Newcastle." — "Thoresby Cor- 
respondence," 1682. 


Grermany as elsewhere and is expressed in the proverb, 
" No tree will suit the thief to be hung on " ; and there 
is the equally true remark, "There are many more 
thieves than gallows," many escape detection and 
punishment. "Woman and the moon," we are told, 
"shine with borrowed light," and the wife, in "die 
Hausfrau soil nit sein eine Ausfrau," is advised that 
her duties lie within the home and not outside it. It 
is, however, evident that to treat at any length on the 
proverbial lore even of Europe would mean .not a 
volume alone but a shelf of goodly folios, a prospect 
much too overpowering. We pass then at once to a 
quite different sphere, and seek in widely different 
peoples some expression of their modes of thought 
and principles of action, as revealed to us in their 
popular dicta, and we may at once say that the search 
will result in the decision that, however much the outer 
envelope may differ, the inner thought will reveal to 
us that man, wherever we find him, is swayed by 
much the same impulses and guided by much the 
same motives, as he thinks over the problems of life. 
The resident in a mansion in Mayfair, in a kraal in 
Zululand, in a sanpan on some Chinese river, differ 
widely enough in extemab and in much else, but we 
would venture to say that any good collection of 
proverbs, if rendered in the vernacular of each district, 
might travel round the world and find appreciation in 
every land. The burnt child dreads the fire in Samoa 
as in Salisbury, and that prosperity makes friends, 
and adversity proves them, is a piece of world-wide 

Chinese proverbs do not appear to be very numerous, 
but they are often very happily phrased and thought 
out. •'As the twig is bent so the tree is inclined,** 
we say, and in China they have the same idea, " The 
growth of the mulberry tree is as its youth." Filial 


respect and the duties of friendship and hospitality 
are often enforced in this Celestial teaching. Thus, 
" At home respecting father and mother, what need at 
a distance to burn incense?" so only the heart be 
right, no need of ceremonial and formal observance. 
**To meet an old friend is as the delightfulness of 
rain after drought." On the other hand, " If a man 
does not receive guests at home he will meet with 
very few hosts abroad." The upholders of the " spare 
the rod and spoil the child " system of education of 
which Solomon was so distinguished an exponent will 
be in full sympathy with the Chinese view, "Pitying 
your child, give him much cudgel." 

On our journey through life we may find, as they 
have done in the far East, that "If you do not entreat 
their assistance all men will appear good-natured," 
but " The sincerity of him who assents to everything 
must be small." "Master easy, servant lazy," is only 
too true. It is again a common experience that, as 
we say in England, " One man may steal a horse while 
another may not look over the gate," a state of things 
that they yet more forcibly express in China as " One 
man may set the town in a blaze, another may not 
light his lantern." What graceful lessons of trust in 
a Higher Power are these : " Every blade of grass has 
its share of the dews of heaven," " Though the birds of 
the forest have no garners the wide world is before 
them." To avoid even the semblance of evil we are 
quaintly told, " In melon patch tie not shoe, under 
plum-tree touch not cap," actions innocent in them- 
selves, but possibly giving rise to misapprehensions ! 

The exigencies of the Chinese language make a 
literal translation often scarcely endurable or possible, 
while a lengthened paraphrase gives a wordiness that 
is not a true reflection of the epigrammatic pithiness 
of the original. Thus in Chinese "Yaou chi sin fo 


sze tau ting kow chung yen " is " Wishing to know 
heart's thoughts listen to mouth " — that is to say, if you 
would desire to find out what most engages a man's 
thoughts you have only to listen to his conversation, 
for a man's words reflect his disposition, and he will 
thus, surely though unconsciously, reveal himself to 
you. The wisdom of knowing oneself, of offering 
something more than a formal service, are admirably 
enforced in these two heathen proverbs, redolent with 
the teaching of the New Testament : " If a man be not 
enlightened within, what lamp shall he light?" "If 
a man's intentions are not upright, what sacred book 
shall be recite? " " By a long journey we know a horse's 
strength, and length of days shows a man's heart" How 
beautiful, again, the imagery in this description of the 
swift flight of the days and years of human life : " Time 
is like an arrow, days and months as a weaver's shuttle." 

How excellent the lesson of contentment with one's 
lot, " All ten fingers cannot be of the same length," yet 
all have their work to do. How good the lesson of 
forethought, of prevision of coming needs in this: 
"The tiles which protect thee in the wet season 
were fabricated in the dry." How prudent the 
advice: "He who wishes to know the road across 
the mountains must ask him who has trodden it," 
must be willing to profit by the experience of the 
experienced, and take counsel. There is a rich mine 
of wealth for the social economist, for the agitator 
who would set one class against another, in the follow- 
ing: "Without the wisdom of the learned the clown 
could not be governed, without the labour of the clown 
the learned could not be fed." 

The mischief that may be wrought by evil speaking, 
the impossibility of recalling a hasty word, of cancel- 
ling a false judgment, is emphasised in the picturesque 
declaration that "A coach and horses cannot bring 


back a spoken word." How true the economic 
warning, " Who borrows to build builds to sell." How 
equally true the moral warning, " The forming of resent- 
ments is the planting of misery." How needful often 
the caution, "A single false move loses the game," a 
single false step may wreck a life. 

Nothing can afford a better insight into the character 
and thoughts of a people than a consideration of their 
every-day utterances. If we were told a hundred 
things that a man had said we should have an excel- 
lent knowledge of the man, and if we read a hundred 
sayings that a nation accepts as guides, the nation 
stands revealed before us. Judged by this standard, 
and it is an entirely reasonable and just one, the 
Japanese come excellently out of the ordeal. Many 
suffer much in translation — the beauty of their outward 
presentment, as apart from their inner meaning, their 
manner as apart from their matter, consists often in 
an untranslatable play of words. Many are like ours, 
for God made of one blood all nations, thus : " Cows to 
cows, horses to horses," is practically our " Birds of a 
feather flock together." We append some few illustra- 
tions of the wealth and beauty of this Japanese 
proverb-wisdom ; and while we forbear to make any 
comment, we would ask our readers to ponder on 
each one: "The frog in the well knows nothing of 
the great sea " ; " Overdone politeness is but rude- 
ness " ; ** A famous sword may be made from an iron 
scraper"; "The mouth is the door of mischief"; 
"Impossibility is a good reason"; "More words, less 
sense " ; " Making an idol does not give it a soul " ; 
"To submit is victory"; "The spawn of frogs will 
become but frogs " ; " Sword-wounds may be healed, 
word-wounds are beyond healing " ; " Enquire seven 
times before you doubt anyone " ; " Good medicine 
may yet be bitter to the taste"; "If you handle 


cinnabar you will become red"; "Too much done 
is nothing done"; "Who steals money is killed, who 
steals a country is a king " ; " Good doctrine needs 
no miracle." 

The Arabs delight in figurative language and happy 
comparisons and allusions ; hence proverbs are con- 
stantly in use. Many of them have a strong touch 
of humour and sarcasm. John Lewis Burckhardt, 
after a very long residence in Cairo, made a collection 
of these, and they were published under the title of 
" The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, 
illustrated from their proverbial sayings." In this he 
was greatly assisted by native helpers, and the book 
is a most valuable one. The examples are 999 in 
number, the author adopting a notion prevalent 
amongst the Arabs that even numbers bring mis- 
fortune, and that anything perfect in its quantity is 
especially affected by the evil-eye. By this means he 
doubtless received much valuable help from the natives 
that would otherwise have been withheld. Many of 
these proverbs are rhythmical in structure in their 
original form, but this feature is lost ordinarily in a 
translation. Long centuries of misrule have had their 
influence on the people, and the oppression of the 
strong, the insecurity of the weak, the power of 
bribery, the denial of justice, the imprudence of any 
independence of spirit, are revealed in these maxims. 
Such a saying as "What does heaven care for the 
cries of the dogs?" has a sadly hopeless ring about 
it, while the depth of servility is reached in this: 
"When the monkey reigns dance before him," in 
utter abasement of spirit "If thou seest a wall 
inclines run from under it" — that is to say, shout ever 
on the stronger side, and fly from him whose rule is 
tottering. Another striking adage is " He strikes me, 
and says why does he cry out?" the surprise of the 


unjust overseer that anyone should presume to raise 
any objection to his injustice and tyranny ; while the 
prudence of being on the stronger side is seen again in 
this: "If the moon be with thee thou needest not to 
care about the stars." We would fain hope that a 
brighter day has now risen on this ancient land. 

We have in the adage, "Truly the sword inspires 
dread even in its scabbard," a further suggestion of the 
fear inspired by those in authority; while the depth 
of misery, of callous brutality, is seen in " Thou takest 
from the sore-footed his sandal," the man is hopelessly 
crippled. Double-dealing and the evil of a sham 
friendship inspires the idea in "He said to the thief, 
steal, and to the householder, take care of thy goods " ; 
while the selfish man is warned that in the day of 
trouble he need look for no assistance from others, for 
" He who eats alone chokes alone." " Three," another 
proverb tells us, "if they unite against a town, will 
ruin it," for while "Union is strength" for good, it is 
no less powerful for harm. 

A quaint and delightful humour, as we have said, is a 
frequent attribute of these Arab utterances ; thus the 
generosity of those who only give away what they 
have no need for is very happily satirised in the 
saying that "The dogs had enough, and then made 
presents to each other out of their leavings." How 
pithily, too, the braggart is brought before us in the 
saying, "If they had not dragged me from underneath 
him I should have killed him ! " The sense of supreme 
self-importance is capitally illustrated in the saying, 
"They came to shoe the pacha's horses, and the 
beetle stretched out his leg." The liberties that 
some people venture on with impunity when they 
think it safe are very happily brought home to us 
in the saying, " The captain loves thee, wipe thy hand 
on the sail." There is a good deal of quiet humour. 


too, in this, "He fled from the rain and sat down 
beneath the waterspout," a case of what in England 
we should call "Out of the frying-pan into the fire." 
How true, again, the proverb, "The camel has his 
schemes, and the camel- driver has his schemes," the 
interests of the driven and the driver being ordinarily 
very different; or this again, "The barber learns his 
art on the orphan's face," on the poor and the friend- 
less who cannot resent an indignity or adequately 
protect themselves from maltreatment* Of people 
who receive a piece of good fortune that they neither 
desire nor appreciate, the proverb, " A rose fell to the 
share of the monkey," holds good. It is also a warn- 
ing against a thoughtless distribution of good things 
without heed to their appropriateness. 

The picturesque expression, "Hunting dogs have 
scratched faces," is a wholesome recognition of the 
honour of the scars gained in honest labour; while 
the adage, " He walks on top of the wall and says I 
trust in God," is a reproof to those who needlessly and 
deliberately place themselves in positions of peril or 
temptation and then expect providence to step in and 
save them from the consequences of their folly. " God 
grant us no neighbour with two eyes " is the cry of the 
knave who would prefer that those around him should 
be a little blind to his proceedings. 

"If they call thee reaper, whet thy scythe"; en- 
deavour so far as may be to rise to the position, and 
show the title deserved. Inculcating the lesson of 
gratitude, we read, " A well from which thou drinkest, 
throw not a stone into it." Our proverb that declares 
that " The shoemaker's wife is the worst shod " has its 
Arab counterpart in the adage, "She went to sleep 
hungry, though her husband is a baker." The mischief 

* The French sulage, ** A barbe de fou on apprendre i raire " is very 


done by careless speech in the land of the scimitar is 
enforced in the saying, "The tongue is the neck's 
enemy." " A single grain makes the balance heavier," 
and when two courses of action seem of almost equal 
importance, a very slight difference will turn the scale 
in favour of one or the other. The lesson of inter- 
dependence, the power of the small to assist the great, is 
indicated in " The date-stone props up the water-jar." 
" He left off sinning but never asked forgiveness " very 
graphically describes those who think reformation 
sufficient, and take no heed of bygone days, make no 
atonement for the old wrongs, solicit no pardon from 
those they have injured. " It is a fire, to-morrow it will 
be ashes," the fierce heat of passion will have subsided, 
the glowing sense of wrong will have burnt itself out, 
and calm or apathy will take its place. The stronger 
the emotion the less likely is it to be lasting. 

The delight in stories is a very marked feature of the 
Arab, and many of their proverbs are the pith and 
point of some narrative that their use at once recalls. 
Thus, when they say " Dust is good for the eyes of the 
wolf," it recalls the hyprocrisy of the wolf who was 
asked why he was following after those poor sheep? 
He explained that he had found that the cloud of 
dust they created was good for his poor eyes ! When 
a business is found to be somewhat risky they tell how 
one said to the mouse, "Take these two pounds of 
sugar and go carry this letter to the cat." "The fee 
is good enough," she replied, "but the business is 
tiresome." The wisdom of keeping one's own counsel 
is seen in the dialogue between master and servant. 
The former said, "O slave, I have bought thee." 
"That is thy business," he replied. "Wilt thou run 
away?" "That is my business," he answered — a 
policy of non-committal. 

Even amongst the savage tribes of Africa the proverb 


is greatly esteemed, and many of the maxims in com- 
mon use are abundantly shrewd, while not a few of 
them have a very homely ring in them. Our English 
experience that " Fine words buttef no parsnips " runs 
on all-fours with the West African savage's discovery 
that " The best words give no food " ; while our bad 
exchange from the frying-pan to the fire is paralleled 
in the saying, " He fled from the sword and hid in the 
scabbard." The desirability of not too hastily trusting 
plausible strangers is very effectively taught in " Make 
not friends by the way, lest you lose your knife." 

Over 2000 of these popular proverbs were col- 
lected by Richard Burton and given to the world 
as " Wit and Wisdom from West Africa," and a very 
interesting collection it is. Another good store will 
be found in the "Dahomey and the Dahomans" by 
Commander Forbes, R.N., and various missionaries 
have added to our fund of knowledge,* so that even 
stay-at-home people have abundance of interesting 
material brought within their ken. 

That unreachable date of classic folk-lore, the Greek 
Calends, has its quaint counterpart in the African 
saying, " I will pay thee when the fowls cut their 
teeth." A lesson on the importance of keeping up 
one's dignity, even in Yoruba circles, is given in the 
hint, "If thou husketh corn with the fowl it will not 
esteem thee." The animal life all around the village 
is naturally pressed into the service and made to con- 
tribute its share of proverb-lore. How quaintly happy, 
for instance, is this, "If stretching were wealth, the 
cat would be rich." How many a man in West Africa 
and elsewhere would be well content to find so easy 

* As, for instance, " The Oji Language, with a G)Ilection of Native Pro- 
verbs," by the Rev. H. N. Riis. The sketch of the Akra language by 
the Rev. J. Zimmerman, of the Efik language by the Rev. Hugh Goldie, 
of the Yoruba by the Rev. J. Bowen, all give many examples of proverbs. 


a road to affluence. How equally happy this, "If 
there were no elephant in the jungle the buffalo would 
be a great animal " ; or this, " One who has elephant's 
flesh does not search for crickets." What a shrewd 
humour again in the statement that " When the mouse 
laughs at the cat there is a hole near." By continuous 
effort much may be accomplished,* for "String added 
to string will bind a leopard" — a lesson taught again 
in this saying, "By going and coming the bird builds 
its nest"t How true again the statement that " One 
cannot deceive a baboon by tricks"; in all such he 
is more than one's match, and the trickster must be 
foiled by quite other methods. To try and outwit 
a knave is a hopeless task and is, moreover, bad for 
one's self-respect It is well to see some return for 
one's outlay; it is bad enough to "buy," in English 
parlance, " a pig in a poke," but in Africa they carry 
the idea yet further and declare that "It is not well 
to buy the foot-prints of a bullock," while another 
caution as to the disposal of one's property is very 
aptly given in the reminder that " No one gives his 
pig to the hyena to keep," this keeping being in such 
case all too thoroughly seen to. 

The Akra-man tells us that "The thread follows 
the needle " ; in other words, certain consequences will 
naturally follow certain actions, and these results, good 
or bad, may be confidently anticipated when we have 
once set the machinery to work. He tells us, too, 
that " Food you will not eat you do not boil " ; people 
will not willingly work at any task unless in some 
way or other they see their advantage in it. Another 
illustration of consequences following upon a certain 
line of action is seen in the proverb, " A stick that 

* The Italians say, ** Piuma a piuma se pela I'occha," feather by feather 
the goose was stripped. 

t This recurs in the French, ** Petit k petit Toiseau £Eut son nid." 


goes into the fire begins to bum " ; a deliberate entry 
into any temptation will scarcely leave one unscathed. 
Another quaint little piece of worldly wisdom is that 
"If you lay your snare in company you go in com- 
pany to look at it " — if you avail yourself of the help 
of others, they in turn will expect a share of any 
resulting good fortune. 

The Yoruba-man warns you that "When a man 
says he will give you a gun, ask his name " — that is 
to say, when a stranger displays a quite unexpected 
interest in you, and develops a quite unlooked-for 
generosity, it would be well before you accept his 
gift to find out something about him, and what his 
motive may be for this sudden friendship. "Lay 
on, lay on, makes a load," a fact that the man or 
beast that has to carry it realises sooner than the 
person packing. The repeated addition of small 
things soon mounts into a considerable burden. "A 
canoe is paddled on both sides," — no half-measures, no 
want of unanimity, will suffice when some joint task 
has to be formed ; it must be " a long pull, a strong 
pull, and a pull altogether," if any good is to come 
of it. We see the sudden impulse, the overmastering 
temptation, forcibly expressed in this, "When gold 
comes near you it glistens " ; the eye and the desire 
are strained and dazzled, the desire to possess it is 
overmastering and "opportunity makes ther thief" 
Another very characteristic utterance is that " A slave 
does not show the timber." This at first sight is 
enigmatical, but Burton in his comment on it explains 
clearly enough that if the slave points out suitable 
trees that he knows of in the dense forest, his only 
return would be that on him would fall the labour of 
felling them and dragging them to where they were 
wanted ; he therefore maintains a discreet silence. 
Another woodman proverb is that "The split tree 


still grows," calamity is not so crushing but that 
much good may yet be done in the life. 

The importance of being on good terms with the 
ruler is as great in West Africa as elsewhere; hence 
we get the happy saw, " To love the king is not bad, 
but to be loved by the king is better." In the last 
that we shall quote, though the temptation to extend 
our list is great, we find ourselves quite in the opposite 
scale of savage society, in the touching proverb, " When 
a poor man makes a proverb it does not spread." This 
is Oji experience, but it is certainly not Oji alone. 
The man is poor and friendless, overridden and 
despised. The writer of Ecclesiastes saw the matter 
as clearly, for he tells us that " There was a little city 
and few men within it, and there came a great king 
against it and besieged it, and built great bulwarks 
against it Now, there was found in it a poor wise 
man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city, yet 
no man remembered that same poor man. Then said 
I, wisdom is better than strength ; nevertheless the 
poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not 
heard." As it was in Palestine in the days of old, so 
it is in Oji-land to-day, and so in all lands will it 
ever be. The jokes of the judge will convulse the 
court and his wisdom enthral it, but no meaner 
authority therein, either as humorist or sage, will be 
heard, under pain of expulsion. 

Another valuable store of proverb-philosophy will 
be found in the pages of the Talmud. The teaching 
is excellent : " A myrtle among nettles is still a 
myrtle " ; " He who prays for his neighbour will be 
heard for himself" ; " Prepare thyself in the hall, that 
thou mayest be admitted into the palace"; so pass 
through these things temporal that a welcome may 
be thine in the presence of the King. If offence must 
come, "Be thou the cursed, not he who curses," and 


"Let the honour of thy neighbour be to thee as thine 

Scorn ingratitude and "Throw no stone into the 
well whence thou hast drunk," and bear ever in mind 
the difficult lesson, "Teach thy tongue to say I do 
not know." He who professes to know all things 
shuts himself out of much opportunity for gaining 
knowledge. "In two cabs of dates is one cab of 
stones," much that is profitless will ever be mixed 
with the good. How true too the caution, " He who 
is suspicious should be suspected." To the pure all 
things are pure, and the honest man thinks no evil, 
but the man of evil heart lives in a beclouded atmo- 
sphere and sees all things through a distorted medium. 
How wise and charitable, how just, the counsel, " Do 
not judge thy neighbour until thou hast stood in his 
place." The Arab proverb about standing on the 
wall and trusting to Allah is re-echoed in this Tal- 
mudic precept, "Do not stand in a place of danger, 
trusting in miracles." 

Others, and these we must simply put down with- 
out comment, are — "One thing acquired with pain is 
better than fifty with ease"; "When the thief has 
no opportunity of stealing he thinks himself honest " ; 
" Let the grapes pray for the welfare of the branches " ; 
"Who is strong? he who subdues his passion"; "If 
I had not lifted the stone you had not found the 
jewel " ; " Whosoever does too much does too little " ; 
" In his own house the weaver is a king " ; " Iron 
sharpens iron, and scholar scholar " ; " The way man 
wishes to go, thither his feet will carry him." It will, 
we trust, be seen from these examples that our com- 
mendation of the Talmud as a mine of proverbic 
wealth has full justification. 


Proverbs that are misunderstood — The Cheese — Raining Cats and Dogy — 
Cattle-harrying— The Bitter End— By Hook or Crook— Proverbs of 
Evil Teaching— Necessity has no Law— The Peck of Dirt — Howl 
with the Wolves— Sarcasm in Proverbs— The Fool— Selfishness— The 
Praise of Truth— The Value of Time— Death— The Conduct of Life- 
Occupations that supply Proverbs — The Barber, Tailor, Cobbler, 
Physician, Lawyer, and others — The Cowl and the Monk — ^The Long 
Bow — The Meditative Angler — Sayings associated with particular 
Individuals — Hobson and his Choice — Plowden's Law — Mortimer's 
Sow — The Wisdom of Doddipol — The Fear of Mrs Grundy's Opinion 
— Locality Proverbs — Rustic Humour — Local Products — Tenterden 

Though in the great majority of cases the signifi- 
cance of a proverb is more or less apparent on con- 
sideration, and when discovered is more or less helpful 
to the conduct of life, we from time to time encounter 
adages that have achieved some considerable popular- 
ity and yet are quite misunderstood, or are entirely 
unsound in teaching. Comparatively few proverbs 
reach the highest plane ; they are mostly content to 
supply good work-a-day maxims for a man's prosperity 
and easy passage through this life, but occasionally 
self-interest is carried to a point where principle is 
lost sight of, and the result is wholly evil. 

The proverbs that are misunderstood are ordinarily 
sound enough in their teaching, and are freely used 
by all — a meaning, not the correct one, having been 

. 124 


tacked on to them and found to be a good working 
one. This is a philological principle that we meet 
with in all directions. Asparagus, for instance, is so 
called from the Greek word to tear, many of the species 
being armed with spines that lacerate,* but the coster- 
monger knows nothing of this, so he drops the word 
that has no meaning to him and calls it sparrow-grass, 
a much more meaningless word really. A somewhat 
common expression amongst a certain class is '' That 's 
the ticket," meaning " that is the proper course to pur- 
sue." Why it should carry this significance is not on 
the face of it obvious, but the whole matter is cleared 
up when we find that it is a corruption of "C'est 
I'etiquette." Another popular expression of approval 
takes the form of "That's the cheese." Familiarity 
makes such an expression accepted without demur, 
but one moment's consideration suffices to convince 
us that what it says cannot really be what it means.t 
If we turn it, for instance, into "C'est le fromage," 
and so get rid of the old formula, we realise this 
better. What we are to put in its place is quite 
another matter. One authority suggests that cheese 
is really the French word " chose," and would bid us 
accept " C%st le chose " as the true rendering. Another 
informs us that "chiz" is Bengalee for "thing," and that 
the expression has been imported from the East ; while 
a third, and he is the man that we would personally 
pin our faith on, reminds us that "choice" was in Anglo- 
Saxon times "chese." In the "Vision of Piers Plow- 
man," for example, we read — 

* A South African species of this genus is called by the settlers and 
natives, " Waht en beetje" — wait a bit, because its crooked thorns catch 
their clothes as they journey. 

t A quaint and true old proverb that says cheese and means it too is 
this, "The king's cheese goes half away in parings," so many dependants 
being ready to help themselves to a share of it. 


" Now thou might chese 
How thou cal me, now thou knowst al mi names.'' 

"That's the cheese," then, if we accept this explanation, 
is " That's the choice," the satisfactory result that one 
would have chosen to happen. 

Another misconception is the familiar saying, " Rain- 
ing cats and dogs." Such a meteorologico-zoological 
phenomenon never really takes place ; no instance of it 
has ever been known, and yet people go on using the 
expression as though the experience was of very ordi- 
nary occurrence. The word we want is "catadupe" — Kara 
6ovjros. AovjTos is a word used by Homer to express the 
crash of falling trees, and it is applied, too, to certain falls 
of the Nile. Thus Pliny writes : " Here and there, and 
ever and anon, hitting upon islands, and stirred as it 
were with so many provocations, and at last inclosed 
and shut within mountaines, and in no place carrieth 
he (the Nile) a rougher and swifter streame, while the 
water that he beareth hasteneth to a place of the 
^Ethiopians, called Catadupa, where in the last fall 
amongst the rockes that stand in his way he rusheth 
downe with a mightie noise."* Catadoupe is also a 
French word for waterfall, though it is now obsolete ; 
and Ralph Thoresby, is his "Diary," describes Cold- 
warth Force in the Lake District as "a remarkable 
catadupa." When, then, we say that it is ** raining cats 
and dogs " we mean that there is a tremendous down- 
pour, a perfect catadoupe. 

Another old country proverb, "Hurry no man's 
cattle, you may have a horse of you own some day," 
appears on the face of it a protest against over-driving, 
but the first word is a corruption of harry or steal. 

To carry a thing through " to the bitter end " seems 
to imply that, come what may of opposition, the matter 
shall be forced through, no matter whose heart breaks 
* Holland's translation. 


in the process, but nothing so terrible as this is in- 
volved. The expression is a nautical one. Bite is a 
turn of a cable, and the bitter end is that part of the 
cable which is wound round the bitt The bitter end 
is therefore the extreme end. We read, for instance, 
in " Robinson Crusoe," that during the storm his vessel 
encountered, the cables were " veered out to the bitter 
end " ; and, if we turn to Admiral Smyth's " Sailors* 
Word Book," we find the bitter end defined as "that 
part of the cable which is abaft the bitts, and therefore 
within board when the ship rides at anchor. When a 
chain or ro|:>e is paid out to the bitter end no more 
remains to let go." The popular expression, therefore, 
that we are considering implies a determination to carry 
a thing through to a finish, but no bitterness of feeling is 
a necessary element in the process. 

The expression "By hook or by crook" has grown 
into the idea of a dogged determination to effect a 
certain purpose — honestly, it may be — but at all events 
to effect it ; but its origin carries no such idea, the most 
that is involved being a choice of alternatives. Those 
who by ancient manorial privilege had the right to col- 
lect wood for burning were allowed a hook and a crook, 
the former cutting the green wood, and the latter break- 
ing off the dry ; hence, one way or the other, by hook or 
by crook, they effected their purpose. 

In Ra/s collection of proverbs we find, " Reckon right, , 
and February hath thirty-one days." What the signifi- 
cance of this can be utterly baffles us. " A little chink 
lets in much light," but this necessary chink is not as yet 
forthcoming. " They are well off that have not a home 
to go to " is another enigma. It sounds distinctly silly. 
Denham, we see, in his collection of proverbs, has the 
boldness to declare it " an apposite remark, often quoted 
by those who, sitting comfortably by their *ain ingle- 
side/ hear the pelting of the pitiless storm without" 


We would fain hope, for the credit of human nature, 
that this adage is not quite so apposite as this Denham 
would have us believe. 

Bad-hearted proverbs are, fortunately, not very numer- 
ous in proportion to the sound ones, but there are yet 
too many of them when we remember how the clinching 
of a matter by a proverb is to some people almost equi- 
valent to supporting it by a text In some cases an evil 
meaning that is not justified is read into a proverb; 
thus, to declare that "Charity begins at home" is to 
enunciate a great truth, for he that careth not for his 
own flesh, we are told, is an infidel. Too often, how- 
ever, this adage is made the excuse for withholding 
any wider sympathy, a meaning that it really gives 
no warrant for. " Honesty is the best policy " is an 
oft -quoted saying, and it is, as far as it goes, a true 
one, but it fails becausd it puts the matter on too low 
a footing. Honesty for the sake of right, one's duty 
to God, to one's neighbour, and to one's own conscience 
and self-respect, is a right worthy aim, but honesty be- 
cause on the whole it pays best is an ignoble thing. 
The man whom such a maxim helps is a poor creature, 
and one whom we should be unwilling to trust very 
far. The saying, "Every man for himself, and God 
for us all," while it clothes itself in sham invocation to 
Providence, is at heart bad — a mere appeal to selfish- 
ness — the weakest going to the wall and trodden under 
foot, or what is more deftly called " the survival of the 
fittest." The French put it more unblushingly as "Better 
a grape for me than a fig for thee." How scoundrel 
a maxim is the declaration that "It is not the offence, 
but the being found out, that matters " ; and how mean 
a view of integrity and uprightness is shown in the 
statement that "Every man has his price" — only bid 
high enough, some perhaps requiring a little more than 
others, and truth and honour and righteousness become 


mere merchandise. " As well be hung for a sheep as a 
lamb " is an utterance equally unsound. 

Such proverbs are found in all lands, human nature 
being what it is. The Bengalis say, "He that gives 
blows is a master, he that gives none is a dog," whole 
centuries of tyranny, of cringing to the strong, being 
revealed in these few words. The Spaniard says, 
"Draw the snake from its hole by another man's 
hand" — throw upon another the danger. The Dutch- 
man says, "Self is the man for me." The German 
says, " Once is never " — some little sin may be allowed 
to all and never be counted. The Italian says, "At 
the open chest the righteous may sin " — the opportunity 
given to theft being a sufficient justification for availing 
oneself of it. Thus might we travel round the world, 
finding in every land some maxims of evil import 

To " look at home " is, however, a sufficient task, for 
no amount of depravity in a Swede or a Zulu will 
mend matters in Sussex or Yorkshire. " Necessity has 
no law" is one of the utterances quoted as though 
gospel truth, but it is a doctrine that will not bear 
investigation, and "Better a bad excuse than none at 
all " is not much better. The slovenly housekeeper 
gravely declares, as a palliative of her untidiness, that 
"Everyone must eat a peck of dirt before they die," 
and, indeed, appears to feel somewhat virtuous that 
her operations are assisting this great natural law! 
"To accept an obligation is to sell your liberty" is a 
double-edged adage.* If we consider it as encouraging 
self-reliance it is good, but if we take it as a churlish 
disinclination to accept a kindness, it cuts at the root 
of all kindly mutual help and sympathy. 

The proverb that "The wholesomest meat is at an- 
other man's cost " is despicable, but the adage " Up the 

♦ The Italians have it, "Chi prende, si vende" — "He sells himself 
who accepts a gift." 



hill favour me, down the hill beware thee " is atrocious, 
diabolical. That a man should be willing to accept 
every possible help in his upward struggle, and then, 
when he has attained success, trample on those who 
befriended him, and that a proverb approving the pro- 
ceeding should pass from mouth to mouth, seems almost 
impossible of credence. Another atrocious saying is, 
" If I see his cart overturning I will give it a push " ; 
and yet another runs, "Better kiss a knave than be 
troubled with him." A fair parallel in abominable 
teaching to these may be found in the saying, "A 
slice off a cut loaf will not be missed";* and for a 
flat denial of all honourable and manly action it would 
be hard to beat the teaching, "One must howl with 
the wolves" — make no protest against evil, take no 
stand for righteousness, but band oneself with the 
powers of evil in craven fear of them. 

Not fiendish, like some we have quoted, but lament- 
ably weak as a rule of life, is the old adage, "For 
want of company, welcome trumpery," and this motto 
of the idler, "If anything stay, let work stay." One 
could not imagine a very noble character to be built 
up on such nutriment as this. Another adage that 
"Good ale is meat, drink, and cloth" must be taken 
with considerable limitations. Good ale, instead of the 
good food, the warm clothing, has much to be said 
for it as a corrected reading, as the sad experience of 
thousands of empty homes can testify. 

Some proverbs have a strong touch of sarcasm in 
them, and this, when not too bitter and uncharitable, 
is a quite legitimate feature, as it may drive in a home 
truth where a gentler treatment would fail, while others 
have a touch of wit that helps to impress them on the 
memory. The line between the wit that makes us 

♦ "Easy it is 
Of a cut loaf to steal a shive." — " Titus Andronicus." 


laugh and that which makes us wince is often rather a 
fine one. We propose to give some few examples of 
proverbs on these lines, and we may very well com- 
mence our series with the two adages that " Wise men 
make proverbs, and fools repeat them," and that " The 
less wit a man has the less he knows he wants it" 

The fool, from the days of Solomon, and probably 
long before them, has supplied the basis of many a 
proverb; how happy, for instance, the hit at pompous 
self-conceit * is this : " A nod from a lord is a breakfast 
for a fool " ; or the suggestion of the utter hopelessness 
of his condition, for "Heaven and earth fight in vain 
against a fool " ; t or his recklessness and want of pre- 
vision, for " The chapter of accidents is the bible of the 
fool " ; and his want of brains, for " A wager is a fool's 
argument." The only ray of hope for him is in the 
French saying, " Tous sont sages quand ils se taisent " 
— fools are wise, or may at least be so reputed, when 
they are silent 

It is for the help of the fool that such a maxim as 
this canny Scotch proverb is floated — " Dinna gut your 
fish till ye get them." As these unfortunate people 
appear to be cosmopolitan, the Dutch have very similar 
advice for them, " Don't cry your herrings till they are in 
the net" The Italians warn them not to " Sell the bird 
on the bough," nor "Dispose of the skin before the bear is 
caught"; while even the sensible German appears to need 
the caution that " Unlaid eggs are uncertain chickens." 
The lamentable condition of the fool being only too ob- 
vious, " What good can it do an ass to be called a lion?" J 

* " Every man has just as much of vanity as he wants understanding." 
t Another old English proverb says, " Send a fool to market and a fool 

he will come back." The Italians have it, ** Chi bestia va d Roma bestia 

retoma," and the ancient Romans made the discovery that **Coelum non 

animam mutant qui trans mare cumint." 

X ** The man that once did sell the lion's skin while the beast lived, was 

killed with hunting him." — Shakrspkarb, Nenty V, 


The selfishness and scheming of certain people has 
been made the target for many shafts. The Romans had 
the adage, " Ficos dividere," to satirise those who strove 
too cheaply to gain credit for their liberality by cutting 
up a fig into portions and distributing these. An old 
English proverb says of such a man, "He would 
dress an egg for himself, and give the broth to the 
poor." How true, again, "He that is warm thinks 
all are so," and is careful not to raise the ques- 
tion. Have we not all seen, too, how the weak are 
imposed on, and that "The least boy always carries 
the greatest fiddle," and that "Those who can deny 
others everything often deny themselves nothing." The 
Italians have found out that "He who manages other 
people's wealth does not go supperless to bed." The 
way these artful people hang together (not, unfortunately, 
in a literal sense)* has not escaped attention, the old 
Roman declaring : " Ait latro ad latronem " — another 
rogue always being ready to say "Yes" to what the 
first rogue says. On the other hand, it is some little 
comfort to know that "When the cook and the maid 
fall out we shall know what has come of the butter " ! 
How true, again, is the assertion that " We confess our 
faults in the plural, but deny them in the singular," and 
many a man who calls himself a miserable sinner would 
warmly repudiate any assent that others might make to 
this assertion of his. 

A happy sarcasm is that " He refuseth the bribe, but 
putteth out his hand" — seeking to save appearances, and 
yet anxious not to lose in the process. "A bribe enters,'* 
we are told, "without knocking," no special publicity 
in the matter being desirable, and " He that bringeth 
a present findeth the door open," no obstacle being 

* "Kleine Diebe henkt man, vor grosser zieht man den Hut ab" — 
" Petty thieves are hanged,'* say the Germans, " but people take off their 
hats to great ones.*' 


placed in his way. It must, however, be remarked 
that "Favourites are like sun-dials." Why? Because 
no one regards them any longer when they are in the 
shade. " Those that throw away virtue must not expect 
to save reputation," and "None have less praise than 
those who hunt after it." The Spaniards have a severe 
proverb on the corruption of the law-givers : " To the 
judges of Gallicia go with feet in hand " — a delicate way 
of advising the law-seeker to bring with him a brace of 
pheasants or some poultry to help his cause. 

Things that all may well remember for their guidance 
are, that " Form is good, but not formality" ; that " Re- 
spect is better secured by deserving than by soliciting " ; 
that "Candour is pleasant, rudeness is not"; that "Popu- 
larity is not love"; that "Desert and reward seldom keep 
company"; that "Many suffer long who are not long- 
suffering " ; that " Good reasons must give place to 
better " ; that " Favour is no inheritance " ; that " He 
who sets his timepiece by everyone's clock will never 
know the hour " ; that " Things intended are not of the 
same value as things done"; that "Many complain 
of want of memory and few of lack of judgment " ; 
that "Too much learning hinders knowledge." The 
Spaniards say that "A fool, unless he know Latin, is 
never a great fool " — a severe hit on pompous pedantry. 
A room may be so full of furniture that one can hardly 
find a chair to sit down upon, and a man's brain may 
be so stuffed with recondite lore that common work-a- 
day knowledge is crowded out. 

The direct appeal to religion is, naturally, not often 
met with in proverb-lore, such appeal being somewhat 
outside its functions, and on a higher plane than is 
ordinarily reached. The wisdom of proverbs concerns 
Itself more with time than with eternity, though the 
advocacy of truth and honour, the exposure of knavery, 
the importance of a right judgment, and many other 


points that make for the right, are contributory to the 
higher life. The beacon light for those steering for 
the Celestial City must, nevertheless, be sought else- 
where. The old and beautiful adage, "The grace of 
God is gear enough," is very striking, and is, further- 
more, interesting from the Shakespearean reference to 
it in the " Merchant of Venice," where Launcelot Gobbo 
says to Bassanio : " The old proverb is very well parted 
between my master, Shylock, and you. Sir; you have 
the grace of God, Sir, and he hath enough." 

To " Tell the truth, and shame the devil," is one of 
our well-known popular sayings. Though often quoted 
lightly enough, it is a noble advocacy for standing up 
for the right at all hazards. The French proverb tells us 
that "Truth, like oil, must come to the top," and the 
Swiss, in like spirit, declare that "Truth cannot be 
buried." The old Roman adage also affirms, "Great is 
the truth and it shall prevail." This, in turn, reminds 
us of the old saw : " A lie has no l^s." Nevertheless, 
unfortunately it has, and may travel gaily enough for 
awhile, but it contains within itself the seed of its own 
dissolution, and sooner or later its vitality has gone, and 
it perishes discredited ; for "Truth," as the Spanish pro- 
verb beautifully has it, " is the daughter of God," and its 
final victory is thereby assured. Forgiveness of injuries 
is the lesson taught in the Bengali proverb: "The 
sandal -tree f)erfumes the axe that fells it";* and an 
equally beautiful Persian saying is this : " Cast thy 
bread upon the water, God will know of it if the 
fishes do not." Another non-Christian proverb is the 
Greek saying: "Many meet the gods, but few salute 
them" — borne down by the cares of time, fail to re- 
cognise their presence, and suffer them to pass un- 
heeded, or receive blessing at their hands, yet thank 
them not 

* Or again : '* If you crush spice it will be the sweeter." 


It is often too true that " The vow made in the storm 
is forgotten in the calm," for promises made readily 
enough in the time of trouble require a better memory 
than people ordinarily possess, and gratitude seems to 
be one of the most short-lived of emotions. Another 
old saying is also too painfully true : " Complaint is the 
lai^est tribute heaven receives" — the sincerest part of 
our devotion — and to this we may add, "If pride were 
an art how many graduates should we have." 

The value of Time is appreciated in such sayings as 
"He that has most time has none to lose"; "Time is the 
stuff that life is made of." Our ancestors counsel us that 
we " Use the minutes wisely, then will not the hours 
reproach," for "Like as the waves make toward the 
pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end," 
lE,n|d " Every day in thy life is a page in thy history." 
An ancient adage warns us : " Take time while time is, 
for time will away " ; or, as we find it in " The Notable 
and Antient Historie of the Cherrie and the Slae' 


" Yet Wisdom wisheth thee to weigh 
This figure in Philosophie, 
A lesson worth the lear. 
Which is, in time for to take tent, 
And not, when time is past, repent. 
And buy repentance dear." 

In Howell's " Old Sayed Sawes " it is given as " All 
time's no time when time's past." Hence we are 
warned to take Time by the forelock. Life is a loan 
to man, and, while we complain that our days are few, 
we act practically as though there could come no end to 
them. " The shortest day is too long to waste," there- 
fore " Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is 
made of." The French say : " II n'est si grand jour qui 
ne vienne i vespre." So that it becomes us well, in the 
words of a fifteenth century poem, to 


" Thinke on the end or thou begyn, 
And thou schalt never be thral to syn." * 

The Italians very graphically and poetically say : 
" La notte h la madre di pensieri " — night is the mother 
of thoughts, a quiet resting time, a pause in life when 
we can honestly take stock of ourselves.! 

Death hath its special proverbs and warning saws : 
thus one warns the young and careless that "The 
churchyard graves are of all sizes," while another dwells 
on its inevitableness, declaring that " Death is deaf and 
takes no denial," and that all, fit or unfit, must face 
the fact, for " Death is the only master who takes his 
servants without a character." The Romans had the 
proverb, " Finis coronat opus," and an English proverb 
hath it: "Tis not the fight that crowns us, but the end." 
The Italians say : " A ogni cosa h remedio fuora qu'alla 
morte " — there is a remedy for everything save death ; 
but " Men must endure their going hence, even as in 
their coming hither ; ripeness is all," and what death has 
of terror is what the life has made to be terrible, A 
well-known proverb will be recalled as to the folly of 
waiting to step into dead men's shoes. Thomas Fuller, 
in his essay on " Marriage," very happily says : ** They 
that marry ancient people, merely in expectation to 
bury them, hang themselves, in hope that one will 
come and cut the halter" — a sufficiently painful 

* A poem full of suggestive thoughts, as, for instance : — 
** He that in southe no vertu usit, 
In age alle honure hym refiisit." 
" Ever the hiere that thou art, 
Ever the lower be thy hert." 
" Deme the best of every doute, 
Tyl the truthe be tryed out." 
t "'Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours, and ask them what 
report they bore to heaven." "Think nought a trifle, though it small 
appear, sands make the mountain, moments make the year, and trifles 


Though it seem impossible that the place of some 
great philanthropist or statesman could ever, on his 
removal, be adequately filled up, we soon learn that 
no one is really indispensable. The torch is handed 
on : " God buries his workman, but carries on his 

The trials of life are many, and their lessons have 
their place in the proverbial wisdom of our forefathers, 
and we learn thereby how best to face them, and to see 
in them not evil but good. " The worse the passage the 
more welcome the port," and " Bitter to endure may be 
sweet to remember." How excellent, too, the advice : 
" Make a crutch of your cross " — no longer a thing to 
harass but to support and help. It is well, too, to 
remember that, in any real and high sense, " *Tis not 
the suffering but the cause that makes the martyr."* 

The deliberate offender is warned that "He who 
thinks to deceive God has already deceived himself," 
and "That sin and sorrow cannot long be separated." 
He is reminded that " He that sins against his own 
conscience sins with a witness," and that " Trifling with 
sin is no trifling sin." How true, again, that " Few love 
to bear the sins they love to act." He who offends 
against Heaven hath none to whom he can plead. In 
ancient days it was held that in such a case Nemesis 
was inevitable, and a proverb in use before the Christian 
era declared that "Fate moves with leaden feet, but 
strikes with iron hands" — that punishment might be 
long in coming, but was no less sure — a later proverb, 
in like manner, teaching that " The mill of God grinds 
slowly but it grinds exceeding fine." The mere hypo- 
crite — one of the most despicable of mortals — has a 
special adage for his warning, that " Religion is the 

* "To wilful men the injuries which they themselves procure must be 
their schoolmasters"; or, in more colloquial phrase, "Experience is a 
dear school, but fools learn in no other." 


best armour in the world, but the worst cloak" — an 
altogether excellent utterance. 

Proverbs cast their nets far and wide, and gather in 
materials from many sources of inspiration. Speech 
and silence, wisdom and folly, truth and falsehood, 
friendship and enmity, wealth and poverty, industry 
and idleness, youth and age, moderation and excess, 
are all pressed into the service ; even the divers 
occupations of life have their varying lessons, and 
to these we now give attention. 

All who, even in the most amateur way, have tried 
their hands at carpentry will at once understand the 
point of the saying, " To go against the grain," when a 
task that has been undertaken is in some way distaste- 
ful ; and carpenters, like other handicraftsmen, have 
opportunity of testing the truth of another very 
common remark, "A bad workman finds fault with 
his tools," or yet another happy criticism, "A man 
is known by his chips." 

The loquacity of the barber has grown into a 
generally recognised feature of his calling. He is 
the "middle man," the cause of much dissemination 
of news, receiving and imparting it freely during the 
day's business. This is no reputation of yesterday ; in 
ancient Rome the citizens said, "Omnibus notum 
tonsoribus," and we see in the old English adage, 
"Every barber knows that," that some few centuries 
afterwards the matter was as much in evidence 
as ever, and it is by no means out of date to- 

The occupation of the tailor, as he sits all day 
cramped up in some room, has been held to be so 
enfeebling that it has been thought to justify the adage 
that " It takes nine tailors to make a man." This 
certainly is a great number. In a poem of the year 
1630 we read — 


'' Some foolish knave, I thinke, at first began 
The slander that three taylers are one man." 

Nine, however, is the generally accepted figure, and 
the poet shows such a strong animus that we can 
scarcely accept his counter-statement. Nine would 
have suited the requirements of his metre as well as 
three, and we can only conclude that the fraction 
he took was one of his own devising. "The three 
tailors of Tooley Street " achieved lasting fame, it will 
be remembered, by sending a petition to Parliament 
commencing, "We, the people of England." 

The cobbler, and eke his wife, share in the im- 
mortality that popular proverbs go far to confer. It 
will be remembered how, as an illustration of the 
general inconsistency and unexpectedness of things, 
"The cobbler's wife is the worst shod." "She goeth 
broken shoone and tome hoses," says a mediaeval 
bard, "but," as may be expected from the general 
unaccountableness of such matters, "Who is worse 
shod than the shoemaker's wife. With shops full of 
new shooes all the days of her life?" Cobblers 
pursue a steady and somewhat monotonous business 
which seems to favour reflection, and the followers 
of the craft have supplied from their ranks not a few 
famous men. It will be remembered, however, how in 
one case a rebuke became necessary, when the cobbler 
in question criticised adversely a shoe-latchet in one 
of the pictures of Apelles. The great painter accepted 
the criticism and repainted the fastening, whereupon 
the critic extended his self-imposed functions, and 
objected to the drawing of the foot. Apelles felt 
the time had come to put down his own foot, and 
advised the cobbler to stick to his trade. The 
ancient proverb that this little incident evoked has 
its modern counterpart in the saying, " Let the cobbler 
stick to his last," a proverb as valuable to-day as it was 


of service in the studio of Apelles, when people will 
insist in talking about what they do not understand. 
The brewer would find a dictum after his own heart 
in the old lines — 

** He that buys land buys many stones, 
He that buys flesh buys many bones, 
He that buys eggs buys many shells, 
But he that buys ale buys nothing else." 

The kitchen realm has supplied a very expressive 
proverb in "The fat is in the fire," and such sayings 
as " Sweep before your own door " ; " The pitcher goes 
oft to the well, but is broken at last " ; "If you enjoy 
the fire you must put up with the smoke " ; "A 
watched pot never boils " — all suggested by the 
service of the house ; while even the breakages so 
common in these regions are found, by those who 
do not have to pay for them, to have a bright side, 
for "Were it not for breakage there would be no 
potter's trade." It is so fatally easy to be generous 
at another person's expense. 

Ready though people be to avail themselves at need 
of the skill of the physician, when they are in, shall we 
say, rude health, they regard him as very fair game for 
banter. " He that wants health wants all," but while 
they are enjoying this happy condition of rampant well- 
being they cry cheerfully enough, "Throw physic to 
the dogs, ril none of it." * Another proverb, however, 
declares that " Physic always does good — if not to 
the patient then to the doctor." This is a bit of 
German sarcasm ; and this Spanish saying, " The 
earth covers the mistakes of the physician," is equally 
unappreciative and — dare one say it? — equally true. 

• This side of the question may be seen somewhat forcibly put in 
John Halle's "Historick Expostulation against the beastlye Abuses of 
Chynirgeric and Physicke," 1565. 


The issues of life and death are not the physician's 
to control. One proverb on the faculty, "Physician, 
heal thyself," has a special interest, being quoted in 
one of His discourses by our Lord ; while another 
biblical reference, that of the woman who had spent 
all her living on doctors and was no better, but rather 
the worse, is sometimes rather maliciously quoted 
against our medical practitioners. A proverb for 
the patient's benefit will be found in "Much meat, 
many maladies," or in the statement that "English- 
men dig their graves with their teeth," a genial way 
of asserting that the Briton eats and drinks too much, 
which in many cases is probably true. He is also 
reminded that " If pills were pleasant they would 
need no gilding."* 

The man of law has always been the subject of 
satire and his work derided, the difference between 
law and justice being often too conspicuous. A man 
who flourishes on the dissensions of others can scarcely 
expect to be a very popular member of society. Their 
clients are warned that "Better is a lean agreement 
than a fat lawsuit," and that " In a thousand* pounds 
of law there is not an ounce of love." We are 
instructed to mark that no lawyer ever goes to law 

• " Aske Medicus counsell ere medcine ye make, 
And honour that man for neccssitie*s sake, 
Though thousands hate physick because of the cost, 
Yet thousands it helpeth that else should be lost." 
"FiTC hundred pointes of good husbandrie," by Tusser, 1573. It will 
be noted that it is "ye make''; nowadays it would have to be written 
** ye take." The verse is from a section on "Good huswifelie physicke." 
The fiurmer's wife herself cultivates a goodly store of 

" Cold herbes in her garden for agues that bume, 
That ouer strong heate to good temper may turne," 

such as "Endiue and Suckerie," "Water of Fumentorie, liver to coole." 
<* Conserve of the Barbaric, quinces as such, With Sirops that easeth the 
sickly so much,'* must also be provided, to say nothing of " Spinnage 


on his own account, and as a warning to their victims 
we are invited to take note that " Lawyers' gowns are 
lined with the wilfulness of their clients." A thing 
may be entirely lawful and yet not honourable, tech- 
nically right and wanting in all else. In Swaffam 
Church we find an epitaph commencing — 

" Here lieth one, believe it if you can. 
Who, tho' an attorney, was an honest man ; 
The gates of heaven shall open wide. 
But will be shut 'gainst all the tribe beside." 

Another lawyer was the subject of the following 
couplet : — 

" Here lieth one who often lied before. 
But now he lies here he lies no more." 

The ecclesiastic is the subject of many proverbs, 
and these mostly of an unfavourable character. It 
is said, "Woe to those preachers who listen not to 
themselves," and the caution is a very just one, but 
we have to realise that while the message from God 
to man is beyond all criticism, " we have this treasure 
in earthen vessels" that may be very much open to 
criticism, and yet not necessarily hypocrites, knaves, 
fools, as some would have us believe. "He who 
teaches religion without exemplifying it loses the ad- 
vantage of its best argument," a criticism again most 
just. An epitaph that may be seen in Wallesley 
Churchyard, on the tomb of one of the vicars of the 
church, shows a lofty ideal fully attained : — 

" Led by Religion's bright and cheering ray. 
He taught the way to Heaven, and went that way ; 
And while he held the Christian life to view. 
He was himself the Christian that he drew." 

It is not those who talk righteousness but those who 
live righteously who are the light of the world, while 


those who are false to this incur a tremendous re- 
sponsibility when they assume the position of guides 
and bring discredit on their mission. The Spanish 
proverbs are of especial bitterness: "Do by the friar 
as he does by you"; "A proud friar requires a new 
rope and a dry almond tree," in other words, deserves 
hanging. Again we are warned that "A turn of the 
key is better than the conscience of a friar"; what, then, 
of honour, reputation, or possession is held of value 
must be protected from his malign influence. Again, 
we are warned to " Take care of an ox before, an ass 
behind, and a monk on all sides." Their greed is 
satirised in such popular sayings as these: "Priests 
eat up the stew and then ask for the stewpan " ; " The 
covetous abbot for one loaf loses a hundred " ; " The 
abbot gives for the good of 4iis soul what he cannot 
eat." In like manner the Russians say, "Give the 
priest all thou hast, and thou wilt have given them 
nearly enough " ; and the Italians declare that " Priests, 
monks, nuns, and poultry never have enough " ; while 
in England we have the adage, " As crafty as a friar." 
We are warned, too, that " It is not the cowl that makes 
the monk." Appearances may be deceitful : " They 
should be good men," writes Shakespeare in " Henry 
VI I L," "their affairs are righteous ; but all hoods make 
not monks." It was in mediaeval England a common 
expression, " The bishop hath blessed it," when the food 
was burnt in preparation ; a reminder of the days of 
fiery persecution. Tyndale, for instance, writes in his 
" Obedyence of a Chrystene Man," " When a thynge 
speadeth not well we borow speache and say, *The 
byshope hath blessed it,' because that nothynge 
speadeth well that they medyll withall. If the 
podech be burned or the meate over rosted, we 
say, 'The byshope has put his fote in the potte,' 
because the byshoppes burn who they list and whoe- 



soever displeaseth them." The Marian persecutions 
appear to us mere ancient history, but they were real 
enough when this sarcasm on the episcopal benedic- 
tion passed from mouth to mouth. 

The French attack the craftiness that has too often 
been a characteristic of the ecclesiastic in the saying : 
" Le renard prfiche aux poules " ; while in England we 
find the adages, " Reynard is reynard still, though in a 
cowl," and "When the fox preacheth then beware of 
your geese," and to these many other sayings of like 
import might be added. 

The miller was the target for considerable adverse 
comment An epitaph in Calne churchyard over one 
of the fraternity reads — 

" God worketh wonders now and then, 
Here lies a miller, and an honest man," 

and this would appear to be about the popular view of 
the craft Thus Chaucer writes of his " Wei cowde he 
stele, and tollen thries," and he describes him as having 
" a thomb of golde," in itself a proverbial expression. 
The miller tests the fineness of the grinding by taking 
up a portion of the meal and rubbing it between his 
thumb and fingers, in itself a most harmless and 
necessary operation. Another well-known proverb is, 
" All is grist that comes to his mill," good or bad, all 
is used and turned to advantage ; while an Italian 
proverb declares that " Millers are the last to die of 
famine" — the process of grinding the corn of other 
people leading, it is suggested, to a considerable 
quantity being transferred from the bag of the farmer 
to the bin of the miller, no question of mutual consent 

Army service suggested as a proverb based on experi- 
ence and observation, "The blood of the common 


soldier makes the glory of the general," an adage not 
yet out of date ; while such proverbs as, " Two strings 
to one's bow," " To draw the long bow," and " A fool's 
bolt is soon shot " * recall the days when archery was 
the national defence and recreation. To " Draw not your 
bow till your arrow is fixed," is another old English 
proverb ; it is tantamount to another wise saw, " Look 
before you leap." 

The pursuit of the angler appears to those not of the 
craft so dreary and monotonous that one hesitates to 
call it a recreation. It is at least an excellent school 
for patience and such virtues as may be taught by 
hope deferred. The French say, "Still he fishes, 
that catcheth one"; while an English proverb bluntly 
declares that "An angler eats more than he gets." 
For everything in this world a price has to be paid, 
and the fisherman is warned that " He who would 
catch fish must not mind a wetting." A very familiar 
saying that derives its inspiration from the pursuit of 
the fisherman is that "All is fish that comes to the 
net," a parallel saying to the one that has just been 
referred to concerning the grist of the miller. 

The innings of the cricketer supplies the saying, 

"Off his own bat," to describe the results in any 

direction achieved by a man's own exertions, while 

the chess-player's board suggests the moral, " At 

the end of the game the king and the pawn go into 

the same bag," one lot befalls all ; and to this we 

may add, " The die is cast," when the irrevocable step 

is taken — 

" I have set my life upon the cast 
And I will stand the hazard of the die."— "Richard III." 

•In Shakespeare's ** Henry V." we read how the Constable of France 
and the Duke of Orleans thus bandied proverbs : " Orl, 111 will never 
said well. Con, I will cap that proverb with — there is flattery in friend- 
ship. Orl, And I will take that up with — give the devil his due. You 
are the better at proverbs, by how much ? — a fool's bolt is soon shot." 



The busy pursuits and pleasant recreations of life 
would doubtless yield much more material for the 
searcher after proverb-lore thereon. We are content 
but to indicate something of the interest that the 
subject may be made to evolve, and leave it to the 
reader to amplify, if he so will. 

Maxims that apply equally to all callings are to 
be found in abundance. Of these we may instance, as 
examples : " A useful trade is a mine of gold," " Sell 
not thy conscience with thy goods," " He that 
thinks his place below him will certainly be below 
his place," "Mind what you do and how you do it." 
To these we would add, " Nothing is little," a proverb 
of far-reaching significance and deep import ; for we 
need at times to consider how, from actions small in 
themselves, from a few words hastily spoken, from 
the pressure of a hand when hearts are breaking, from 
the neglect of a little duty or precaution, how great 
may be the outcome. 

Personal proverbs are very numerous: a list of 
over a hundred could readily be compiled. Many of 
these we cannot now really attribute to any particular 
individual. They often refer to some local cir- 
cumstance, some story that has been forgotten. In 
some cases, as in " Hobson's choice " or " the case 
is altered, quoth Plowden," we are dealing with real 
individuals ; in other cases we may reasonably as- 
sume that we are, though we cannot prove it ; while, 
in a third section, the matter is considerably more 
doubtful. Proverbs, for instance, that deal only with 
Christian names probably do not allude to any 
particular individual, and it may be assumed that 
these names are there to give a concrete realism such 
as the rustic loves, and are of no more definite 
existence than "Tom, Dick, and Harry," or "Tag, 
Rag, and Bobtail" — all representative of the units 


forming some gathering. In some cases it is a passing 
skit on some local character who has laid himself 
open in some way ; while in others, such as " Madam 
Parnell, crack the nut and eat the kernel," or " Mock 
not, quoth Mumford," the things owe all the brilliancy 
they possess to the attraction of rhyme or alliteration. 
The "Jack Sprat, who could eat no fat" was doubtless 
a myth, created to gratify the poetic instincts of the 
creator of the character. The well-known nursery 
characters, "Jack and Jill, who went up the hill" 
supply, no doubt, another illustration. It would be 
quite hopeless to search for their baptismal registers. 
" As wise as the Mayor of Banbury " is an example 
of a local proverb. These civic authorities were often 
made the butt of a good deal of banter. What particular 
mayor was thus honoured it is, of course, impossible 
to determine; his individuality has been absorbed in 
his mayoral dignity. Small local jealousies between 
one village or town and a neighbouring one are often 
responsible for this sort of thing, the provincial mind 
loving to score over the people in the next parish or 
the next county. 

Where no real option is given to a person the 
proverb "Hobson's choice" is suggested. One Tobias 
Hobson was an innkeeper and carrier at Cambridge, 
and a man of considerable local influence. He was said 
to be the first man in England that made a business 
of letting out horses for hire. However this may be, 
his custom, a custom that supplies the material for 
the adage, was that when anyone wanted a horse he 
was led into the stables, where some forty animals 
were ready for use, but the inexorable rule was that 
there should be no picking and choosing, a necessity 
being laid upon the customer that he took the horse 
which stood nearest the stable door. He had Hobson's 
choice and no other. This procedure placed all on an 


equal level and ensured a rough justice for the horses 
themselves, as the last horse entering from a journey 
was put at the far end and was only again liable for 
service when all the others had first done their turn. 

" The case is altered, quoth Plowden," was a very 
popular adage with our ancestors, and especially in 
Shropshire. Edmund Plowden was an eminent lawyer 
in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, bom at Plowden, a 
little village in Shropshire. The following circumstance 
is said to have given birth to the adage : — A neighbour 
asked him what remedy he had in law against a 
person whose hogs had broken into his field, and he 
was assured that the law would amply protect his 
rights. Whereupon the farmer replied that they were 
his (Plowden's) hogs. "Nay then, neighbour," quoth 
Plowden, "the case is altered." We learn hereby 
that it is hardly well for a man to be both defendant 
and judge, but it is due to Plowden's memory to add 
that in choosing the name of some lawyer to tack on 
to the proverb they merely took the name of one 
exceptionally well known. He was by a distinguished 
contemporary writer described as " A man second ta 
none in his profession for honour and integrity." 
Plowden or no Plowden, the adage points to the duty 
of doing as we would be done by, and is a fair satire 
on the general readiness of lawyers to argue on either 
side at short notice, and to take very special care of 
"number one." 

The old saying, "As coy as Croker's mare," may 
refer to some incident of which all knowledge is now 
lost ; but as we sometimes find it rendered, " As coy 
as a Crocker's mare," it has been, with great reason,, 
suggested that this crocker is simply a crock-dealer, a 
retailer of earthenware round the country, to whom 
the possession of a restive animal would mean the 
smashing up of his stock and his consequent ruin. In 


a play of the year 1566, where a widow of somewhat 
flippant mood appears, we are told that " Of auncient 
fathers she took no cure nor care, She was to them 
as koy as a croker's mare." 

A proverb that has a curious history is, " Two heads 
are better than one, said Weymark." Three-fourths 
of this is of great antiquity, and, we may take it, rank 
in significance with " In the multitude of counsellors 
there is safety," and other proverbs of that type. 
Whence, then, came the added fourth, and why? One 
theory is that it is a mere accretion, but this probably 
everyone, except the broacher of the idea, will feel to 
be very unlikely. Weymark is a distinctly peculiar 
name, and there must surely be some allusion to some 
one so called. It has been suggested that we should 
read it as way-mark,* a mark to guide the traveller: 
that we should understand that two heads are better 
than one to guide us on our earthly journey, but in 
this case why the word " said " ? 

In the " Anglorum Speculum," A.D. 1684, we get on 
to firmer ground ; we there read that " One Wiemark 
was called to account for saying the head of Sir Walter 
Raleigh (beheaded that day) would do very well on 
the shoulders of Sir Robert Naunton ; and having 
alleged in his own justification that two heads were 
better than one, he was for the present dismissed. 
Afterwards Wiemark being, with other wealthy persons, 
called on for a subscription to St Paul's, first subscribed 
a hundred pounds at the Council Table, but was glad 
to double it after Mr Secretary had told him two 
heads were better than one." We can readily under- 
stand that this jeering addition to the old saw 

* Set thee up waymarks."— ;/(Cr<g»ifaA xxi. 21. 

** Is this the path of sanctity ? Is this 
To stand a waymark in the road to bliss ? " 

— COWPER, Progress of Error, 


quickly found acceptance when the incident got 

The expression, "Backare, quoth Mortimer to his 
sow," has an extended range over our old literature, 
but its meaning is very enigmatical. Heywood writes, 
" Backare, quoth Mortimer to his sow. Went that sow 
back at that bidding, trow you?" In John Grange's 
"Golden Aphroditis" (1577) we read, "Yet wrested 
he so his eflfeminate bende to the siege of backwarde 
affection, that both trumpet and drumme sounded 
nothing but baccare, baccare." Wherever we find 
this baccare — in " Roister Doister," ** The Dial," 
" Repentance of Mary Magdalene," the " Scourge of 
Folly," "My das," or elsewhere — its significance is 
always "Stand back." Its spelling is very variable.* 
Who Mortimer was, it is hppeless to conjecture, or 
on what occasion he found it necessary to curb the 
impatience of his sow. 

The expression, " As wise as Dr Doddipol," is of sar- 
castic significance. The name of this doctor is spelt in 
many ways, but in all its variations the saying preserves 
its depreciatory character. Skelton in "Colin Clout" 
has Dr Daupatus and Doddypatis. Hoddypoule, 
Huddypeake, Dotypoll, Noddipole, are other readings 
one encounters in old plays and the like. In Fox's 
" Book of Martyrs " we have, " I will contemne these 
dastardly dotipoles." Latimer in his sermons used the 
plainest language. In preaching before King Edward, 
he said, "But some will say our curate is nought, an 
asshead, a dodipoll, a lacklatine," while in another of 
his discourses he breaks out, " Ye brainsicke fooles, 
ye hoddy-peakes, ye doddy poules." We may perhaps 
explain that these epithets were not applied to his 
audience ; they were words put by the preacher into 

* In some cases it is *' backer," as. though the comparative, ''more 


the mouths of the Pharisees in their disgust at the 
flocking of the common people to the teaching of the 
Messiah. In the works of Sir Thomas More, 1557, 
we find him declaring of something that, concerning 
it, " a verye nodypoll nydyote might be ashamed." ♦ 

Sterne in " Tristram Shandy " is quite Latimeresque. 
He writes : " Here, without staying for my reply, shall 
I be called as many blockheads, numsculls, doddy- 
poles, dunderheads." Thompson uses the expression 
" doddering mast " in his description of a storm, while 
Dryden writes of a rotting "doddar'd oke" falling 
piecemeal to the ground. The idea all through is 
clearly weakness, feebleness, physical or mental. 

Another proverb, "Bate me an ace, quoth Bolton," has 
a certain historic interest. A collection of proverbs was 
presented by its compiler to Queen Elizabeth, with the 
declaration that it contained every proverb in the Eng- 
lish language. To test the matter, she asked if he had 
this one, and he was obliged to confess that he had not. 
Without the surname appended it may often be found 
in various old authors ; in Beaumont and Fletcher's 
"Prophetess," for instance, we find the passage, "Nor 
bate ye an ace of a sound senator." We are told that 
this Bolton was one of the courtiers in attendance on 
Henry VHL, who, in card-playing with his Sovereign, 
was discreet enough to beg to be allowed an ace, or 
some such considerable advantage, that he might have 
some little chance against so skilful a player. The 
proverb was ordinarily used as an appeal for some 
little advantage, or, ironically, as a hint to some one 
whose statements were held to be a little beyond 
credence to abate them somewhat. 

It will readily be noted that most of these name- 
proverbs are obsolete, but one of them, " What will Mrs 

* <* Nydyote " is really an idiot, even as ** naddere *' in old books is really 
an adder. 


Grundy say?" is still in use. It is found in the old 
play of "Speed the Plough," and was thence trans- 
ported into general service. A Mrs Ashfield was there 
represented as always in terror of the opinion of this 
old lady, until at length her husband, a bluff old farmer, 
can stand it no longer, and bursts out: "Be quiet, 
wool ye? Always ding, dinging Dame Grundy into 
my ears, What will Mrs Grundy say ! " The influence 
of the old lady is yet strong in the land. 

In the west of England we encounter the adage, 
" He will live as long as old Ross of Potteme." 
Potteme is a village near Devizes, and this venerable 
Ross was probably a genuine centenarian, though all 
clue to him is now lost. The proverb is sometimes 
rather unkindly amplified into, " Who lived till all the 
world was a-weary of him," a very unhappy state of 
things for all parties. 

A proverb long current in Shropshire and the ad- 
joining counties is, " Ahem ! as Dick Smith said when 
he swallowed the dishcloth." The moral here clearly 
is that troubles should be borne bravely and with as 
little fuss as possible. Another old saw is, " My name 
is Twyford ; I know nothing of the matter " — a state- 
ment that would mean, " I object to enquiry ; I decline 
to be bothered." A sarcastic saying on pretentiousness 
is seen in, " Great doings at Gregory's ; heated the oven 
twice for a custard." The futility of attempting to stop 
proceedings after they had got to a certain point was 
illustrated in the adage, "Nay, stay, quoth Stringer, 
when his neck was in the halter." One can imagine 
the depth of scorn that might be thrown into " Don't 
hurry, Hopkins," when fired off at some notorious lag- 
gard ; but the legend goes that a certain, or uncertain, 
Hopkins gave a creditor a promissory - note, having 
previously written on it, "The said John Hopkins is 
not to be hurried in paying this amount." Of course, 


in all these explanations we have to wonder whether 
some incident led to the adage, or whether the process 
has been reversed — the popular saying, its real origin 
forgotten, having a fictitious explanation tacked on to 
it. " Credit is dead ; bad pay killed him," is a popular 
adage with those who believe in ready- money trans- 
actions* — a sentiment that the creditors of the late 
John Hopkins would readily appreciate. 

Locality proverbs, like personal proverbs, are natur- 
ally more in vogue in the places named than of general 
usage, though some of them travel far outside their 
place of origin. Others of them, and those generally 
of a derisive cast, do not originate in the place itself, 
but are conferred on it by outsiders. "Go to Bath," 
for instance, was a reference to the fact that lunatics 
used to be sent there for the benefit of its waters, 
and the inference was that the person addressed was 
a fit subject for a stay there. Had the proverb origi- 
nated in the city, it would have been " Come to Bath." 
" Cheshire bred, strong in the arm, weak in the head," 
is a saying that scarcely originated in that county. 
Another county saying is, "You were bom at Hog's- 
Norton." This was a reproof to a boorish person, but 
there is no such place ; the village referred to is that 
of Hock-Norton, in Oxfordshire, rustic humour readily 
making the change of spelling to fit it for its purpose. 
Such saws as, " Grantham gruel, nine grits and a bucket 
of water," or "Like Banbury tinkers, that mend one 
hole and make three," we may be sure did not originate 
in the places designated. If the adage be complimen- 

* *' Many, when a thing was lent them, reckoned it to be found, and put 
them to trouble that helped them. Till he hath received he will kiss a 
man's hand ; and for his neighbour's money he will speak submissively : 
but when he should repay he will prolong the time, and return words of 
grief, and complain of the time." — EcclesiasticuSy B.C. 200. 

An old English proverb declares that '*Lent seems short to him that 
borrows money to be paid at Easter." 


tary, it probably arose in the place, as, for instance, 
"True as Coventry blue," an allusion to an excellent 
dye for which the town was noted ; or " Diamond cut 
diamond, I am Yorkshire too," a testimony to the 
Yorkshireman's brilliancy and keenness. 

The allusion is sometimes topographical. Thus, 
"Crooked as Crawley brook" is suggested by a little 
stream in Bedfordshire that has a course of twenty 
miles between two points that are actually five miles 
apart. "When Dudman and Ramhead meet" — in a 
word, never. These are two conspicuous headlands 
in Cornwall, miles apart. In Norfolk is a saying, 
" Arrested by the bailiff of Marshland," when the un- 
acclimatised stranger succumbs to the ague, the product 
of the local aqueous surroundings. 

Rustic humour is responsible for the somewhat blunt 
point of many of these local sayings. A play upon 
words is very popular. Thus Beggar's Bush, near 
Huntingdon, suggests that a man "Goes home by 
Beggar's Bush" when his means are dwindling away. 
"On the high road to Needham," a place in Suffolk, 
is of similar import, the idea of need being the point 
of the adage. Tusser, for instance, writes : 

"Toiling much and spoiling more, great charge smal gains or 
Soon sets thine host at Needham's shore, to craue the begger's 

On the contrary, if he would prosper, let him "Set 
up shop on the Goodwin sands," a most unpromising 
locality, one would imagine, until we realise that the 
saw-maker means " good win." " As plain as the Dun- 
stable road " sounds straightforward enough, especially 
when we recall that Dunstable is on Watling Street, 
one of the noble main roads of the Romans ; but the 
humour (save the mark!) of the thing is in the play 


on the idea of " dunce." In " Redgauntlet " we read : 
"If this is not plain speaking, there is no such place 
as downright Dunstable " — t,e, the meaning of the re- 
mark is so plain that even a mere fool, the veriest 
dunce, could not fail to grasp it. 

In Lincolnshire, when anyone is not over -acute, 
they delicately say, " He was bom at Little Wittham," 
hence the cause of his having so little wit : the actual 
spelling is Witham. On the decease of anyone it is 
said, ** He is gone to Deadham." In Sussex, if a man 
were slow over his work, they would say, " He is none 
of Hastings," the idea of haste being somehow involved. 
The dwellers in the little town of Ware were pleased 
to say that it was "worth all London." Fuller, who 
wrote a delightful folio on the counties of England, 
says: "This, I assure you, is a masterpiece of the 
vulgar wits in this county, wherewith they endeavour to 
amuse travellers. The fallacy lieth in the homonymy 
of Ware, here not taken for that town so named, but 
appellatively for all vendible commodities." In the 
fen districts the frogs are called "Cambridgeshire 
nightingales." At night, and especially before rain, 
the frogs make a tremendous croaking. At Ripley, 
in Surrey, where there is a pond near the village, we 
have heard them called "The town band." 

To be "stabbed with a Bridport dagger" was a 
delicate way of saying that a man had been hanged. 
The best hemp used to be grown round this Dorset- 
shire town, and the place was famous for its manu- 
facture of rope ; in fact, an ancient statute was long 
in force requiring that the cables for the royal navy 
should be made there. 

To be " As thin as Banbury cheese " was a favourite 
simile with our ancestors. Bardolph, it will be recalled, 
in the " Merry Wives of Windsor," compares Slender to 
a Banbury cheese. In "Jack Drum's Entertainment," 


1 60 1, we find: "Put off your cloathes and you are 
like a Banbury cheese, nothing but paring " ; while, in 
a pamphlet issued in 1664, on "The Sad Condition of 
the Clergy," we read, " Our lands and glebes are clipped 
and pared to become as thin as Banbury Cheese."* 
Another cheese that became proverbial was that of 
Suffolk. It was locally called "Bang" or "Thump." 

" UnrivalPd stands thy county cheese, O Giles I 
Whose very name alone engenders smiles. 
Whose fame abroad by every tongue is spoke. 
The well-known butt of many a flinty joke ; 
Its name derision and reproach pursue, 
And strangers tell of three times skimm'd sky-blue." 


" Hunger will break through stone walls, or anything 
but Suffolk cheese," was one depreciating proverb, and 
Mowbray says that " It is only fit to be cut up for 
gate-latches, a use to which it is often applied." Other 
suggestions for its use are the making of millstones or 
grindstones or the wheels of barrows. The mention of 
a wheelbarrow reminds us of the saying, " A Coggleshall 
job." The residents in Coggleshall were the butts of 
the country round, and one of the tales against them 
is that a mad dog running through the place snapped 
at a barrow, and the people, fearing it might go mad 
as well, chained it up in a stable till they saw how 
things would go with it. " The wise men of Gotham," 
in Nottinghamshire, were similarly made the victims of 
many stories reflecting on their sagacity. A Gothamite, 
Andrew Boyde, wrote the " Menye Tales of the Wise 
Men of Gotham," wherein many of the follies that 
have been fathered on them are duly set forth. Men 

* This thinness would appear to have been of bulk, not of quality. 
"Some preferre Cheshire Cheese, and others also commend the cheese 
of other countries; but Banbury Cheese shall goe for my money." — 
Cogan's Haven of Health, 1612. 


in all ages have made themselves merry with singling 
out some place as the special seat of stupidity; thus 
the Phrygians were accounted the fools of all Asia, 
and the anvil for other men's wits to work upon. 
The men of Gotham were so enamoured of the singing 
of a cuckoo, we are told, that a number of them joined 
hands round the hawthorn bush in which it was perched 
to prevent its escape ; while, on another occasion, they 
endeavoured to divert the course of their river by 
putting a line of hurdles across. 

Local products sometimes figure in these proverbs : 
thus " a Yarmouth capon " is a bloater,* and " Col- 
chester beef" is a dish of the sprats that are caught 
abundantly in that neighbourhood, while the language 
of " Billingsgate " is a local growth that has attained 
to proverbial fame. Dryden refers to it in the line, 
" Parnassus spoke the cant of Billingsgate." 

When a man of Newcastle-on-Tyne suspected his 
companion of anything doubtful he would say, " Let's 
have no Gateshead," marking the popular local opinion 
of the folks in the sister town — a case of "the pot 
calling the kettle black," and no doubt duly resented 
by a Gateshead sarcasm of equal strength. 

The "fair maids of Suffolk" and the "Lancashire 
beauties "t were recognised, by their respective counties 
at least, as worthy of proverbial recognition for their 
special charm ; while the men of Essex, doubtless 
unfairly, were dubbed " As valiant as an Essex lion," 
these lions being the calves for which this county is 
famous. "As wise as a Waltham calf" was another 
ironical reference to the Essex folk. In a book 

* ''Few capons, save what have more fins than feathers, are bred 
in Yarmouth. But to countenance this expression, I understand that 
the Italian Friers, when disposed to eat flesh on Fridays, call a capon 
'piscem e corte,* a fish of the coop." — Fuller. 

t A Doctor of Divinity, fearing, we may presume, that such high 
praise might turn a head here and there, improved the occasion for 


written in 1566 we find a man called in to mediate 
between man and wife declaring — 

"Ye will me to a thanklesse office heere, ' 

And a busy officer I may appeare, 
And Jack out of office she may bid me walke, 
And thinke me as wise as Wsdtam's calf to talke."* 

In "Dyet's Dry Dinner," 1599, after dispraise of 
veal as an article of food, the author says that " Essex 
calves the proverb praiseth, and some are of the mind 
that Waltome calfe was also that countrey man." 

A common proverb in Yorkshire is, " A Scarborough 
warning," equivalent to "a word and a blow and a 
blow first" Several explanations have been given of 
this adage. One explanation was that if ships passed 
the castle without saluting it a shot was fired into 
them, but in an old ballad another theory is started — 

"This term, Scarborow warning, grew, some say, 
By hasting hanging for rank robbery theare, 
Who that was met, but suspect in that way. 
Strait he was trust up, whatever he were." 

We need scarcely point out that when several reasons 
are given for anything it is an indication that nothing 
very satisfactory is forthcoming. 

That ** Tenterden Steeple is the cause of the Good- 
win Sands" is a proverb that was at one time often 
brought forth when any ridiculous cause was assigned 
as an explanation of anything. We have already 

the benefit of these ladies — " I believe that the God of Nature, having 
given fBXK complection to the Women in this County, Art may spare 
her pains in endeavouring to better them. But let the Females of this 
County know that, though in the Old Testament express notice be 
taken of the beauty of many Women — Sarah, Rebekah, Rachael, Abi- 
gail, Thamar, Abishag, Esther — yet in the New Testament no mention 
is made at all of the £umess of any Woman, not because they wanted, 
but because Grace is chief Gospel-beauty, and this is far better than 
skin-deep Fairness." 

* A proverb of like import is this, *'He talks in the bear-garden 


seen how very colloquial Bishop Latimer could be 
on occasion, and he tells us that a "Mr Moore was 
once sent with commission into Kent to try out, if 
it might be, what was the cause of Goodwin's Sands 
which had stopped up Sandwich Haven. Thither 
Cometh Mr Moore, and calleth all the country before 
him, such as were thought to be men of experience, 
and men that could of likelihood best satisfy him of 
the matter. Among the rest came one in before him, 
an old man with a white head, and one that was 
thought to be little less than a hundred years old. 
When Mr Moore saw this aged man he called him 
unto him and said. Father, tell me, if you can, what 
is the cause of the great arising of the sand here 
about this harbour, which stops it up, so that no 
ships can arrive here. You are the oldest man I can 
espy in all the company, so that if any man can tell 
the cause of it you in all likelihood can say most of 
it. Yea, forsooth, good Mr Moore, quoth the old 
man, for I am well-nigh one hundred years old, and 
no man in this company anywhere near my age. 
Well then, quoth Mr Moore, how say you to this 
matter, what think you to be the cause? Forsooth, 
sir, I think that Tenterden Steeple is the cause of 
Goodwin's Sands. I remember the building of Tenter- 
den Steeple, and before that was in building there 
was no manner of talking of any flats or sands that 
stopped up the haven, and therefore I think that the 
Tenterden Steeple is the cause of the decay and 
destroying of Sandwich Haven." This was the tale 
as the bishop told it, and the explanation seems par- 
ticularly far-fetched ; but one story is good until 
another is told, and though this as it stands supplied 
the material for the proverb, there is really a supple- 
ment Time out of mind money was constantly col- 
lected to fence the eastern shore of Kent against the 



inroads of the sea, and such sums were deposited in 
the hands of the Bishop of Rochester. For many 
years, the work being so well done, no irruption took 
place, and the bishop diverted some of the money 
to the building of a steeple to Tenterden Church. 
People dwelt in a false security, and the dykes were 
gradually growing weaker, until at last the cata- 
strophe came. The old man's tale was quite rational, 
had he been allowed to finish it, but the audience, 
impatient of his garrulousness, and ready for a laugh 
at his expense, did not give him an opportunity to 
do so. It was not the ignorance of the speaker but 
the impatience of the auditors that supplies the true 
moral of the story. 

Any extended reference to old collections of pro- 
verbs, to county histories, to old plays, and such-like 
sources of information would readily yield a lai^e 
harvest of these local allusions, but enough has been 
brought forward to illustrate the nature of them, and 
for our purpose a specimen twenty is as satisfying 
as an illustrative hundred. 


Proverbs suggested by Animals — Animal Characteristics : Sagacity, 
Fidelity, Cunning, Greed, etc.— The Horse— The Dog— The Cat : 
her Nine Lives ; the Catspaw ; filing on Feet ; in Mittens — 
The Ass— Pearls before Swine — A Pig in a Poke — The Wrong 
Sow by the Ear— The Sheep— The Shorn Lamb— The Bull— The 
Goose— The Hen— Roasting Eggs— The Bird and her Nest— Birds 
of a Feather— Catching with Chaff— Roasted Larks— The Fox— 
The Wolf; in Sheep's Clothing— The Bear— The Mouse— Belling 
the Cat— Fish Proverbs— The Laborious Ant— The Worm that 
turns — Similes : from the Animal Kingdom ; from Household Sur- 
roundings ; from various Callings ; from divers Colours 

The animal life around him has always been an object 
of interest to man. Some creatures, like the horse, the 
dog, or the camel, he has trained to minister to his 
wants — for man is at his lowest level of sympathy and 
intelligence, the lowest type of savage, when we find 
him absolutely alone — while others, like the fox or 
the wolf, have necessarily become of concern to him 
in their power of molestation, disturbing his peace and 
thwarting his interests. In either case the very vary- 
ing nature of the animals amidst which he dwelt has 
attracted his notice, since the fidelity of the dog, for 
example, the cunning of the fox, the sagacity of the 
elephant, could not fail to impress themselves upon 
his mind. Far away in the mist of a great antiquity 
the Old Testament has numerous allusions to the 
lessons that may be derived from the observation of 
L i6i 


animals, while /Esop and many other writers have made 
the various creatures the subject of their writings and 
evolved lessons for the benefit of mankind from their 
varying dispositions. We are, therefore, entirely pre- 
pared to find that in proverb-lore also the animal 
kingdom has been largely drawn upon, and we pro- 
pose to give some few example3 of this. 

We are told that "It is a good horse that never 
stumbles," a proverb that reminds us to make allow- 
ance for others and to take heed to ourselves. We 
are warned, too, that "Boisterous horse must have 
boisterous bridle," that those who incline to resist 
authority have no cause for complaint if the hand 
of authority press somewhat hardly upon them. A 
fairly analogous adage is that "Mettle is danger- 
ous in a blind horse." That "A horse is neither 
better nor worse for his trappings " teaches us to look 
below the surface in forming our judgments, and 
then again there is the well-known and excellent 
warning that "One may take a horse to the water 
but you cannot make him drink," a hint that one 
cannot always have one's own way, and that the 
co-operation of the other party in the arrangement 
is an essential point. To " Get upon the high horse " 
is to take up a needlessly dignified position, and 
make oneself somewhat unpleasant in the process ; 
while "Putting money on the wrong horse," a saw 
suggested by the race-course, implies that one has 
supported the wrong side and helped on, through 
folly or ignorance, a matter that we had much better 
have left alone.* The caution, " Do not lash a willing 

* This is sometimes rendered "saddling the wrong horse." Cicero, 
before the Christian era, thus quoted it. His writings and orations 
teem with proverbs — the foolishness of trying to kill two birds with 
one stone, the undignified spectacle of a tempest in the classic equiva- 
lent of a tea-cup, the statement that while there is life there is hope, 
and many other such adages familiar to ourselves being introduced. 


horse," is often necessary, and the hopelessness of 
" Flogging a dead horse," endeavouring to infuse life 
into a defunct cause, sometimes needs a reminder; 
while the " Working for a dead horse " is almost as dis- 
heartening a process. The Spaniards in such a case 
say, " When the money is paid the arms are broken." 
That " One must ..not look a gift-horse in the 
mouth" is a lesson in the proprieties of immense 
antiquity; we find it, for instance, in the writings of 
St Jerome in the fourth century. A mediaeval writer 
tells us that "A gyuen hors may not be loked in 
the tethe." Rabelais says it must not, and the author 
of " Hudibras " says it must not ; in fact there is an 
abundance of testimony to this effect, extending over 
centuries. The Frenchman says, "X cheval donn6 
il ne faut pas regarder aux dens"; the Portuguese 
says, "Cavallo dado nao se repara a idade"; and 
the Spaniard says, "Caval donato non guardar in 
bocca " ; and all over the world we find this delicacy 
of feeling advocated. In the proverb, " He is a proud 
horse that will not carry his own provender," we 
have a good lesson quaintly put In Puttenham's 
"Arte of Englishe Poesie," 1589, we are instructed 
that "When we misplace our wordes and set that 
before which should be behind, we call it in English 
proverbe, *The cart before the horse.'" The unequal 
way in which Fortune appears to work is borne home 
to us in the strong, yet scarcely too strong, statement 
that " One man may steal a horse while another may 
not look over the gate"; or, as Lily, in his "Endi- 
mion," hath it, " For as some man may better steale a 
horse than another looke over a hedge." In the 
"Paradise of Daynty Devices," 1578, we find this 
couplet — 

" To whom of old this proverbe well it serves. 
While grasse doth growe the silly horse he sterves." 


In the more modern guise this is "While the grass 
is growing the steed is starving." It may at first sight 
appear a little hard to brand the horse as silly, since 
he can in no way be held responsible for the back- 
ward condition of the meadow, but we must remind our 
readers that " silly " is one of the words that has greatly 
changed its significance — it originally meant harm- 
less or innocent. 

" Money," we are told, " will make the mare to go," 
and the finding of "a mare's nest" is a feat that is 
still now and then performed. 

" Why docst thou laugh ? 
What mare's nest hast thou found?" 

—Beaumont and Fletcher, Bonduca. 

In France it is the rabbit's nest, "nid le lapin," that 
people sometimes discover. 

It is a curious thing that the fidelity and affection 
of the dog get little or no recognition in proverb- 
lore. This may possibly arise from the fact that in 
the East, the original source of many of our proverbs, 
the dog is held in no esteem. He is an outcast, the 
scavenger of the streets. " Him that dieth in the 
city shall the dogs eat"; and "Is thy servant a dc^ 
that he should do this thing?" was the indignant 
outburst of Hazael. In classic days it was said of 
a morose, ill-conditioned person, "A black dog has 
walked over him," and at the present day such a 
person is said to have " the black dog on his back." 
The dog of the fabulist that dropped the substance 
for the shadow was held up as a warning in his 
greed and folly, and "to dog" a person is not to 
lavish canine affection on them by any means ; while 
a favourite piece of nursery teaching was, and per- 
haps still is, that "Dogs delight to bark and bite." 
"Every dog," we are told, "has his day," and "Love 


me, love my dog," has sometimes been made a 
stipulation. Latimer puts it more pleasantly, "Who- 
soever loveth me loveth my hound " — from his regard 
for me he will for my sake look kindly on what he 
knows to be dear to me. 

To him who is hungry any food is welcome — "A 
la faim il n*y a point de mauvais pain," and there- 
fore "Hungry dogs will eat dirty pudding." "Let 
sleeping dogs lie " is excellent counsel ; the precept 
is not in the interest of the sleepers but of those 
injudicious enough to disturb their slumbers. " It is 
nought goode," writes Chaucer in his "Troylus and 
Cryseyde," " a sleping hound to wake," and again in the 
" Frankeleine's Tale," " Wyf, quod he, lat slepen that is 
stille " ; while Shakespeare writes, in " Henry VHI. " : — 

" This butcher's cur is venom -mouth'd, and I 
Have not the power to muzzle him ; therefore best 
Not wake him in his slumber.'' 

In Italy and Germany we hav6 the same proverb, but 
it becomes in France "N'as tu pas tort de reveiller 
le chat qui dort," a much less formidable proceeding ; 
and in Spain we find the variant, " When sorrow is 
asleep do not awaken it" Another Spanish proverb, 
and one of excellent wisdom, is " Though your blood- 
hound be gentle do not bite him on the lip." It is, 
by the way, remarkable how gentle big dogs are, mas- 
tiffs, retrievers, Newfoundlands, and the like, while 
being mauled and hauled by small children. Little 
Bessie, aged five, might venture to any extent on 
her great companion's forbearance and magnanimity, 
while we, reader, must exercise much more discretion. 
"Give a dog a bad name and then you may as 
well hang him " * is a true and very oft-quoted adage. 

* "Give a dog an ill name and hang him, and it may be added, if 
you give a man, or race of men, an ill name, they are very likely to 


One less well known is " He that would hang his dc^ 
gives out first that he is mad/'* He who is about 
to do something dubious first bethinks himself of 
some plausible excuse that appears to justify his action, 
and when this is accepted he is free from all fear of 
interference. The Greeks say that "He who keeps 
another man's dog shall have nothing left but the 
line." If he endeavour to keep it dishonestly — in 
fact, to become a dog-stealer — he cannot complain if 
such care as he has bestowed comes to nought and 
nothing is left to him but the cord and the food-bill. 
One old commentator would tell us that the meaning 
is that "He who bestows a benefit upon an ungrate- 
ful person loses his cost" This is a common enough 
experience, but it scarcely appears to be a moral 
springing from this proverb. The dog, stolen, tied up, 
amongst strangers, has no particular reason to feel 
grateful I The following proverb, " Wash the dog 
and comb the dog, still the dog remains the dog," 
indicates that externals do not affect the real nature. 
Other doggy sayings are : " Two dogs agree not 
well over one bone," " Brawling curs have torn ears," 
" A scalded dog dreads cold water." Those who, 
having a good staff of assistants, find that much of the 
burden and responsibility yet weighs on them, will ap- 
preciate the point of the adage, "What, keep a dog, 
and bark myself?" a proceeding that certainly seems 
unreasonable. The Turks have a happy proverb that 
"The dog barks, but the caravan passes," its fussy inter- 
ference being simply .ignored. The Spaniards declare, 

do something that deserves hanging." — Waltbr Scott, Guy Mannering, 
The French say, " Le bruit pend Thomme." 

'* Clown, Oh, Maister, you are half-hanged ! 

^'Nobody, Hanged. Why, man? 

*< Clown, Because you have an ill name : a man had almost as 
good serve no master as serve you." — "Nobody and Somebody," 1606. 

* **Qui veut noyer son chien, Taccuse de rage." 


in like manner, that "More are threatened than are 
stabbed," while the Dutch with equal wisdom advise 
us that "No one dies of threats." The Danes very 
happily warn us against judging too hastily in the 
hint that "An honest man is none the worse because 
a dog barks at him." 

The cat takes its place in our proverb-literature. 
The " Kilkenny cats " that fought so desperately have 
often been quoted as a warning to warring factions, 
and tenacity of purpose gone mad and self-destructive. 
The old belief that a cat has nine lives has also got 
embalmed in an adage, and the question will be 
recalled, in "Romeo and Juliet," "What wouldst thou 
have with me ? " the reply being, " Good king of cats, 
nothing but one of your nine lives."* Yet "Care," 
we are told, "will kill a cat" While we may accept 
this saw on its moral side, and learn from it a lesson 
against despondency, its zoological side is open to 
grave question. A cat dying of anxiety may fairly 
be bracketted off with the broken-hearted oyster 
crossed in love. The "Grinning like a Cheshire cat," 
in a continual state of mirthful good humour, suggests 
a quite opposite phrase of feline nature. To " let the 
cat out of the bag " is another old saying that will at 
once occur to the reader ; a less known, but very 
good one, Scotch in its birth, is, "He that puts the 
cat in the pock kens best how to tak' her oot" An- 
other good proverb of like nature is, " Who will carry 
the cat to the water?" — t.e, who will endeavour to 
carry the plan through, undeterred by the difficulty 
of its accomplishment? To be made "a catspaw 
of" is also a very expressive saying; it arose from 

* A school-boy, writing an essay on the cat, put down that it was 
said to have nine lives, but he added that he did not now need them, 
because of Christianity. This, quaint as it is, has a great truth wrapped 
up in it — the love of mercy, including kindness to animals, that is one 
of the points of the teaching of Christ 


the old fable of the monkey using the cat's paw 
instead of his own to rake out chestnuts from the 
glowing embers. To live "a cat-and-dog life" is to 
lead such an existence of strife and snarl as one 
ordinarily sees in the aversion felt by these two 
animals for each other. The old saw, "A cat may 
look at a king/' has, too, ordinarily been used as an 
impertinence.* In France its equivalent is " Un chien 
regarde bien T^vfique." 

"Where window is open cat maketh a fray, 
Yet wilde cat with two legs is worse, by my fay.^t 

The cat utilised as an excuse for other people's 
shortcomings has always been a favourite subject. 
Thus — " How can the cat help it if the maid be a 
fool?" On the other hand, the cat's larcenous pro- 
pensities must be reckoned with, so we have the dis- 
heartening thought for the thrifty housekeeper, " What 
the good wife spares the cat eats," and " It's easy 
learning the cat the way to the churn." The Arabs 
say, " He trusted the keys of the pigeon-house to the 
cat," but on the other hand, " Honest is the cat when 
the meat is on the hook." Of him who declines to 
be turned aside by trifles, the Scottish proverb may 
be quoted, "He's ower auld a cat to draw a strae 
before." The man whose affairs, big and little, run 
smoothly, and whose ventures, however speculative 
they may be, are successful, may be said to be " Like 
a cat, he always falls on his feet." This power of 
falling on her feet from any height is a most valuable 
gift for pussy, and saves her from many a mishap. 

The cat has her enthusiastic admirers, but as a 
friend of man she is ordinarily held in no great 

* John Dunton, for instance, wrote in the year 1705, "A cat may 
look on a Queen, or a Satyr on her present Majesty." 

t Tusser. "Fray" may be taken as foray, while "fay" is fiuth — 
i.e, by my faith. 


esteem. "Make much of the cat, and she will fly in 
your face." She is too commonly treacherous, selfish, 
and unreliable. We have more than once seen, and 
our experience cannot be unique, a cat fondled and 
stroked and made much of, suddenly savagely bite 
or scratch the hand that has been caressing it 

Pussy as a follower of the chase has suggested the 
proverb, "The cat that is always crying catches no- 
thing," and the better known saw, " A cat in mittens 
catches no mice." "Fain would the cat fish eat, but 
she's loath her feet to wet " ; and in Chaucer's " House 
of Fame" we find an interesting reference to this — 

"Ye be like the slepie cat • 

That would have fish ; but wost thou what ? 
He will nothing weate his clawes." 

The "slepie cat," dormant on the hearth-rug, is, of 
course, like its confreres of the jungle, a nocturnal 
animal, and in the hours of darkness often becomes 
a little more wakeful than is altogether appreciated. 
As a songster of the night, instead of receiving merely 
barren compliments on its performance, it often gets 
the much more tangible reward of a boot, lump of 
coal, cake of soap, or such-like little token of ap- 
preciation as the auditor may find most readily come 
to hand. 

A very venerable proverb indeed tells us that "The 
ass and his master do not always think alike." Phaedrus, 
living nearly nineteen hundred years ago, had a fable 
in his collection to illustrate this. He pictures to us 
a man resting by the road-side, and his ass grazing 
near him. The man, suddenly catching sight of an 
advancing enemy, says that they must at once decamp 
that they be not captured, whereupon the donkey 
asks, "Will they clap on me a double load?" and 
the man can only reply that he does not suppose 


that they will. "Then," said the donkey, "what 
matters it to me to whom I belong?" 

"He that makes himself an ass must not mind if 
men ride him," truly says the old English proverb, 
and another is like unto it, "When all men say you 
are an ass it is time to bray." It is no less true that 
"If an ass goes travelling he will not come back a 
horse." The locality changes, but under every sky 
the traveller remains much as he started. The ancient 
Romans declared that "One ass rubs another," a 
lesson in mutual help. When a coward boasts what 
great things he will do, or a fool assumes the philo- 
sopher, "An ass in a lion's skin" is suggested — from 
the fable that an ass once decking himself in the skin 
of the lion, was so elated at the terror he created that 
he could not forbear braying his delight, a perform- 
ance which entirely altered the whole complexion of 
things and the animal stood revealed, the mere ass 
that he really was.* "The ass is wagging his ears" 
is a hit at those who, understanding little or nothing 
of the matter in question, assume a grave demeanour 
and an attitude of close attention. Two German 
proverbs may be quoted here, as they are both good : 
"The ass dreams of thistles," and "One ass nick- 
names another. Long-ears." The Spaniards have a 
very expressive adage, "The ass knows well in whose 
face he brays," a warning against too great a famili- 
arity with unsuitable companions, or we shall infallibly 
find ourselves exposed to great liberties and a free- 
and-easy " Hail fellow, well met " manner that give 
us cause for repentance. 

The Arabs have a happy reflection on those who, 
when we are in an intricate business, raise additional 

* The Germans vary this into, **Wenn der Esel auch cine Lowcn- 
haut tragt, die Ohren gucken vor" — " Even when the donkey wears the 
lion's skin its ears peep out and betray it." 


difficulties instead of smoothing our path, " A narrow 
lane and the ass kicking." 

A lesson of contentment is found in this homely saw : 
" Better the head of an ass than tail of a horse " — to 
be valued in a low position is far preferable to being 
the fag-end of a higher. We once heard a man of 
some considerable influence in a country town declare 
that he was there a whale amongst the minnows, but 
that if he moved to the metropolis, as his family were 
desiring him to do, he should be but a minnow amongst 
the whales. Such a man would entirely appreciate this 
proverb. Another lesson of very similar import is seen 
in this : " Better an ass that carries us than a horse that 
throws us." A very quaint and shrewd utterance is: 
" Now I have got a donkey, everyone says. Good 
morning, John." Things are looking up, and friends 
are beginning to come in.* Finally, the Spanish 
caution : " He who wants an animal without fault 
may go afoot," that particular kind not often coming 
into the market. 

The Sermon on the Mount and other discourses of 
our Lord afford us numerous examples of the national 
Jewish proverbs.f " Sufficient unto the day is the evil 
thereof," is one illustration of this kind of popular folk- 
lore, and "Cast not your pearls before swine," is another; 
and in the old Greek proverb, "A scorpion for a perch," 
we have practically, " If he asks a fish will he give him 
a serpent?" 

The Spaniards say, " Echar magaritas a puerco s," 

* " As long as I am riche reputed 
With solemn voyce I am saluted ; 
But wealthe away once worne, 
Not one wyll say *Good mome.'" 

— HarlHan MS, , sixteenth century, 
t "Jesus did vouchsafe to aunswere by a riddle and a prouerbiall say- 
ing: teaching that it was an other manier of kyngdome whereof the 
prophetes had spoken." — UdalL 


and this throwing of pearls before swine re-appears in 
English proverb-lore, and, indeed, much further afield. 

To "buy a pig in a poke" is to make a purchase 
without knowing really what one is buying. The 
alliteration has, no doubt, given the saying an added 
popularity. In France it is, "acheter chat en poche," 
or " acheter le chat pour le li^vre," a cat being palmed 
off as a hare on the incautious purchaser. We see now, 
too, how a determination to see for oneself would " let 
the cat out of the bag," and expose the trickery of the 

When a man has heedlessly made a bad bargain he 
is said, ironically, to have " brought his pigs to a pretty 
market " — the advantageous sale of his pig being a very 
important matter to the country cottager, meaning the 
payment of his rent, the clearing of the score at the 
village shop, and his general rehabilitation in the 
ranks of the solvent.* The generally unsympathetic 
and unsociable nature of the pig and his human 
counterparts is expressed in such sayings as : " Feed 
a pig and you will have a hog," and "What can you 
expect from a hog but a grunt?" while its "wallow- 
ing in the mire," and being well content to have it so,f 
has also been utilised as a warning. 

A bit of homely advice, quaintly put, is found in this 
— " Do not drive black hogs at night." " Much cry and 
no wool" is the result of shearing swine, a hopeless 
task. The adage is often met with. In Fortescue's 
treatise on " Absolute and Limited Monarchy," written 
over four hundred years ago, we find a reference to 
"the man that scheryd his hogge, moche crye and no 

* A quaint old English proverb warns us that "A hog upon trust 
grants until he is paid for," a very discomposing habit. 

t " For thilke verrei prouerbe befelde to him — The hound tumyde 
agen to his castyng, and a sowe to waischen in walewing in fenne." — 
2 Petery chap. ii. Wyclif 's translation. 


wulL" In a book published in 1597 it runs: "Of the 
shearing of hogges there is great crie for so little wolle," 
and we find the saying again in " Hudibras " and many 
other books, and in old plays. 

In " Hudibras," too, may be found the equally familiar 
expression, " wrong sow by the ear," a proverb of great 
antiquity that occurs frequently in the old dramas. We 
are told by some etymologists that the sow in question 
is not porcine at all, but is a large tub with handles. 
Sowsed meat is meat that has been in pickle in one of 
these sows. To have got the wrong sow (by the ear 
or handle for facility of moving) is to have brought the 
wrong vessel. To confirm this view they quote the 
old Latin proverb, "Pro amphora urceolus" — instead 
of the great amphora you have brought me a small 
pitcher. Either reading will serve the turn, and is of 
like significance in application — the warning against 
getting hold of an entirely wrong idea and hammering 
away at it. 

To "cast sheep's eyes" on one is to snatch a hasty 
glance, looking askance with sheep -like timidity on 
some fair object whose regard has not been won or 
as yet appealed to. The idea that " One black sheep 
infects the flock and poisons all the rest" has, we 
need scarcely say, no warrant in actual fact, though, 
morally, a black sheep is a dangerous addition to any 
flock, a something to be promptly eliminated from regi- 
ment, workshop, school, or whatever other body he may 
be infecting or exposing to risk of contagion. A much 
more attractive adage is the well-known declaration, 
" God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." The 
French say, "A brebis tondue Dieu mesure le vent," and 
the English proverb, as we find Herbert using it in 
1640, is a repetition of this — "To a close-shorn sheep 
God gives wind by measure." This shearing process 
suggested eighteen hundred years ago, or possibly long 


before this,* the proverb, " Boni pastoris est tondere 
pecus, non deglubere" — "It is the duty of a good 
shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them." Thi? 
note of warning is repeated in the reminder that "The 
orange that is too hard squeezed yields a bitter juice," 
both proverbs teaching moderation. 

It is a pleasant little saying that " He who has one 
sheep in the flock will like all the rest the better for 
it" In these happy islands the fear of the wolf has 
long been extinct, but in other lands the sheep and 
the wolf are often bracketted together in their pro- 
verbs; thus in France one is warned against a too 
self-effacing humility in this world in the words, " He 
that maketh himself a sheep shall be eaten of the 
wolf"; while another lesson of worldly prudence is 
taught in the Italian proverb, "It is a foolish sheep 
that makes the wolf his confessor." The Spaniard 
says, "Oveja que bala bocada pierde" — "The sheep 
loses a mouthful when it bleats," a proverb which 
seems to encourage mere greediness at the expense of 
social converse, but which we may take more favour- 
ably to imply that it is better to stick steadily to 
one's work than break off" for useless interruptions 
and, possibly, querulous complaints. 

A "bull in a china shop" calls up a picture of 
tremendous uproar and devastation. The ancient 
Greeks substituted " An ass peeping." Menander, 
three hundred years before the Christian era, refers 
to it, as do Lucian and others. The story upon 
which it is founded is, that an ass, being driven along 
the road, put its head into the shop of a potter. This 
potter was a great lover of birds, and had many of 
them in his shop, and the sudden appearance of the 
ass's great head frightened them and led to a big 

* The date we have given is that of Suetonius, from whose writings 
we quote it It was probably an ancient saying in his day. 


smashing up of the crockery. The moral may be found 
in another ancient saying — "A mad beast must have a 
sober driver." The Latin "Bovem in lingua habet" — 
" He has an ox on his tongue " — is a hint that the 
man has been bribed to silence or false speech, an 
ox being a favourite device on the coins. Another 
saying of like significance is that, "The man has a 
bone in his mouth." A valuable lesson to the dis- 
contented, a warning that necessary troubles must be 
endured, that duties may not be shirked, is this — " To 
what place can the ox go where he will not plough ? " 

That the malicious cannot do all the harm they 
would is happily suggested in the adage, " Curst cows 
have curt horns." This proverb is centuries old, and is 
merely a translation from an ancient Latin* original — 
if indeed it be safe to suggest any date when this 
proverb sprung into birth — for it is quite possible that 
Noah quoted it as a bit of the good old wisdom of 
his forefathers. 

It is scarcely necessary to remind our readers of, 
and niuch less to expound for their benefit, so familiar 
a saying as, "A regular John Bull." 

The goose appears in several adages, one rather 
severe one being, that "If all fools wore white we 
should look a flock of geese." One could readily 
acquiesce in this if the adage said "they"; it is the 
i^we" that is so pajnful. It is held that the goose 
is a foolish bird,t but how much more foolish was he 

* " Dat Deus immiti comua curta bovi." 

t Pliny, in speaking of the goose, says that ** It may be thought 
there is visible in the creature some sparks of wisdom, for Lacydes, 
the philosopher, is said to have had one of them attached to him as a 
constant companion, which would never leave him night or day, neither 
in the open street nor in the baths." One does not quite see where 
the wisdom comes in. It appears either to suggest that the bird 
showed great fidelity, or, as some might think it, became an intolerable 
nuisance. However that may be, Pliny points to a remedy for the 
latter when he adds quaintly — "But our countrymen are wiser, who 


who, having a goose that laid him a golden egg each 
day, cut the bird open to get at once the whole store. 
" Much would have more, and so lost all." The man 
who cannot say " Bo ! to a goose " is rightly regarded 
as a poor creature. A very sarcastic adage is that 
which satirises the man who, having gained great 
wealth by dubious means, endeavours to buy over 
Heaven and his own conscience by a little cheap 
almsgiving in the words — "He steals a goose and 
gives away the giblets to the poor." We must not 
overlook, either, the great charter of freedom and 
equality enshrined in "What is sauce for the goose 
is sauce for the gander." "To shoe the goose" is 
now quite obsolete as a saying, though it was at one 
time very popular as a suggestion to those people, 
fussy busybodies, who will keep meddling in other 
people's affairs. It was a task that would take them, 
at all events, some little time, give their energies some- 
thing to work on, and was no more useless than many 
of their toils. In the " Parliament of Byrdes," written 
about 1650, we read that he "Whowyll smatter what 
euery man doos maye go helpe to shoo the goose." 
There is a useful word of warning in the following : — 
" A goose-quill may be more dangerous than a lion's 
claw " to one attacked by it 

There is homely wisdom in the hint that "If 
you would have a hen lay you must bear with the 
cackling"; and, of course, the need or otherwise of 
teaching one's grandmother to suck eggs must not be 
forgotten. The Greeks phrased the idea as "Teach- 

know how to make a dainty of their liver ! " He then goes on to 
describe the cramming to which they are exposed. Polladius says that 
they were chiefly fed on powdered figs. Martial also mentions the 
great size to which the liver was developed — all of which goes to show 
that ** There is nothing new under the sun," and that the equivalent 
of Strasburg pat^ has been an appreciated delicacy for many years 
before Derby hampers were dreamt of. 


ing a dolphin to swim," while the French say: "The 
goslings want to drive the geese to pasture." Two 
useful proverbs in this connection are that " There 
is reason in roasting eggs," a right and a wrong way 
for almost everything, and " Don't carry all your eggs 
in one basket." 

A crotchety, fanciful individual, regarded by most 
people as a little peculiar, has, in English proverbial 
phrase, " A bee in his bonnet," or " Is bitten by a 
maggot," while the French say, " He has a rat in his 
head," and the Dutchmen account for his eccen- 
tricities by crediting him with a mouse's nest in his 

The Italians say : " Si prendono piu mosche col 
miele che coll' aceto " — " More flies are caught by 
honey than by vinegar." To arrive at any desired 
result, sweetness of manner will carry matters on 
much more efficaciously than the reverse. 

"Where there are industrious persons there is wealth," 
and " Where bees are there is honey." Steady industry 
must reap a reward. On the other hand, we find a 
proverb, "To poke one's hand into a hornet's nest," 
and receive the painful reward of indiscreet meddling 

An old English proverb hath it that " It is an ill bird 
that bewrays its own nest." Skelton, writing in 1520, 
declares how 

" Rede and leme ye may, 
Howe olde protierbys say 
That byrd ys not honest 
That fylyth hys owne nest" 

While Heywood gives it as : " It is a foule byrde that 
fyleth his owne nest" As a member of a family, of a 
trade or profession, as the citizen, or the denizen of 
any country, each should bear in mind this adage, 



and beware of bringing reproach on himself or his 

The Italians say : " Ad c^^i uccello suo nido h belle " 
— every bird thinks its own nest beautiful — ^and in a very 
old French book we found the equivalent of this : " A 
chescun oysel son nye li semble bel." A quaint little 
adage is this one from Spain : " A little bird must 
have a little nest " — a lesson in contentment, a warning 
against pretension and undue importance; while the 
Turkish saying, " The nest of a blind bird is made by 
God,'' is a beautiful lesson of resignation and faith. 

The Italians say : " Better be bird of the wood than 
bird of the cage." This is rightly enough the bird's 
point of view ; but the owner of the cage puts things 
rather differently, and declares : " Better one bird in the 
hand than ten in the wood." The Italians say that " It 
is better to have an egg to-day than a hen to-morrow " ; 
but this, surely, is rather overdoing the thing. Even 
though present gain may outweigh future grander pos- 
sibilities, the policy may be too narrowly pinched, and 
does away then with legitimate hope. 

Those troublous little robbers, the quarrelsome spar- 
rows, supply the material for some few proverbs. Of 
these we may instance a couple: "For fear of the 
sparrows the hemp is not sown" — a saying directed 
against the over -cautious, for necessary things must 
be done, even though there be some little risk in the 
doing ; and " Two sparrows on one ear of corn cannot 
agree," though, if they would only be wise enough to 
let the other alone, there would be ample provision for 

The French have a very true saying : " Chacun aime 
son semblable" — our English equivalent being "Birds 
of a feather flock together." Hence it is a saying : 
"Tell me with whom thou goest, and I will tell thee 
what thou doest" Burchardt, in his collection of Arabic 


proverbs, gives the following very graphic one: "He 
who introduces himself between the onion and its peel 
goes forth with the onion smell " ; but, on the other 
hand, we have in the Spanish, "Associate with the 
good and thou shalt be one of them." 

When some matter comes unexpectedly and incon- 
veniently to general knowledge, the explanation of the 
informant as to his or her source of information some- 
times takes the form of " A little bird told me." The 
probable origin of this will be found in the Biblical 
warning : " Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought, 
and curse not the rich in thy bed-chamber, for a bird 
of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath 
wings shall tell the matter." Another very familiar 
saying, and still in use amongst our people, is that 
" One swallow does not make a summer," * and yet 
another adage, and one equally well known, is the 
reminder that " Fine feathers make fine birds," almost 
always quoted disparagingly, but at least a hint 
that even externals have their value, and are worth 

Another well-known adage is that "An old bird is 
not to be caught with chaff*." The art of the bird- 
snarer has supplied several other useful contributions 
to the cosmopolitan ingathering of proverbial wisdom : 
thus, for instance, we are cautioned that " Drumming is 
not the way to catch a blackbird," and, again, that " An 
empty hand is no lure for a hawk " — that is to say, if 
we are unwilling to risk anything we shall probably also 
not obtain anything. There is yet again another, the 
warning voice against temptation and the snare, in this : 
" The fowler's pipe sounds sweet till the bird be caught." 
The Arabs declare that " A thousand cranes in the air 
are not worth one sparrow in the fist." This, with due 

* " One swallow proaeth not that summer is neare." — "Treatise against 
Dauncing," 1577. 


allowance for Eastern exaggeration and hyperbole, we 
recognise as but over again the familiar estimate of the 
repective values of the so well-known bird in the hand 
as compared with that of the bird in the bush. 

When folks are looking for some special and excep- 
tional interposition of fortune that is going to put 
everything straight for them, and lead them by a 
delightfully lazy route to an easy affluence, we may not 
unfairly remind them that " When the sky falls we shall 
catch larks ready roasted." Only the little "when," 
that will call for no labour at all, and then a glorious 
abundance to at once follow. 

The Scotch remind us that " A craw is nae whiter for 
being washed " ; but then, on the other hand, this 
washing process seems needless, for another saw tells 
us that " The crow thinks her young ones the fairest." 
Elsewhere, though, we find that " The rook said to the 
raven. Stand aside, blackamoor" — an ornithological 
version of the same derisive spirit that led to the jeering 
pot calling the kettle black. It has been suggested that 
it would be a happy thing if some power would " the 
giftie gi*e us, to see oursel's as others see us," but we 
fancy it would be but a doubtful blessing after all. 

An old proverb, with much good sense in it, says that 
" The woodpecker loses itself by its bill," the continuous 
tapping calling attention to its presence, and making 
its life depend on the gamekeeper's forbearance. The 
scream of the jay and the fussy cry of the blackbird 
often, in like manner, betray their presence in the wood- 
lands, and thus, also, chatterers expose themselves, and 
are the cause of their own downfall. In many cases 
it is what other people are saying that works mischief 
to a man ; but in the case of the blatant and thought- 
less chatterer he works his own woe — all that other 
people have to do being to let him do his own 
summing-up, and be his own executioner. Other bird 


proverbs are: "One raven will not pluck out another 
raven's eyes," and " He greatly needs a bird that gives 
a groat for an owl." We are told, too, and it is a capital 
saying, that "An eagle does not catch flies";* that 
" The hawk is not frighted by the cry of the crane " — 
greater size being not necessarily greater courage. Yet 
another true, too true, proverb is, that "If you breed 
up a crow he will pluck out your eyes" — a lesson to 
prepare one for the base ingratitude that may follow 
great kindness shown, and of the still sadder returning 
evil for good. 

The cunning of the fox has been a never - failing 
subject for the writer of fables, and has supplied the 
material for scores of popular sayings. Of these we 
need quote but a few as samples of the many, since 
they are almost all constructed on the same lines, the 
subject being nearly always more or less of admiration 
for successful trickery. Not a very good moral this, we 
may say, yet if, in its outcome, it teaches to beware of 
putting oneself in the power of such particularly artful 
and shifty characters, it will not be without its use. 

Absolutely the only proverb that we can recall that 
takes up entirely different ground is one of jubilation 
on the final downfall of this arch-trickster, and, curiously 
enough, it is of wide appreciation. In Italy, it is : 
"Tutte le volpi si trouvano in pellicaria." In France 
it is : " En fin les renards se trouvent chez le pelletier " 
— the fox at last finds his way to the furrier's. 

When he would conceal the real object in view, " We 
are going for a little music, said the fox." We are told, 
too, that " An old fox needs not to be taught tricks," 
and that "He would cheat the fox must be an early 
riser." The Germans say: "Wenn der Fuchs Richter ist 
gewinnt schwerlich eine Gans den Process " — if the fox 

♦ ** The eagle suffers little birds to sing, 

And is not careful what they mean thereby." 


be judge the goose is hardly likely to win the case.* 
" Wenn der Fuchs sie todt stellt so sind die Hiihner 
in Gefahr" — when the fox feigns death the poultry 
are in danger. 

The wolf is often introduced in proverb-wisdom, but 
he is, as his nature is, always a cruel, cheerless beast, 
quite wanting in the debonair attractiveness of the fox 
— ^who is as big a rascal really as he is. " To put one's 
head into the wolfs mouth " is to needlessly court great 
risks. The proverb is based on the old fable of the 
crane putting its head down the wolfs throat to extract 
a bone that had stuck there. The operation was entirely 
successful, and, on asking for his reward, the wolf told 
him that it was reward sufficient to have safely with- 
drawn his head. " To keep the wolf from the door " is . 
to keep starvation at bay, and "To eat like a wolf" is to 
eat ravenously. 

The Italians say that "Who keeps company with 
the wolf will learn to howl." Deliberate association 
with evil characters will make one as bad as those they 
associate with.t "Though the wolf may lose his teeth 
he does not lose his inclinations" — he is at heart as 
wolfish as ever. The Persians give the caution : " Keep 
the dogs near when thou suppest with the wolf," while 
the Romans had a saying, "Auribus lupum teneo." 
This having the wolf by the ears is a most dangerous 
position to be in, for the furious creature is so difficult to 
hold, and yet one dare not let go on any consideration. 
Thus do unfortunates at times get entangled in some 
bad business — the beginnings of a lawsuit, or the like — 
where advance or retreat seem equally alarming. The 

* " Pheasants are fools if they invite the hawk to dinner. 
And wer't not madness then 
To make the fox surveyor of the fold." 

— Shakespeare, 
t On the other hand, the Portuguese warn those who do not want to be 


" Wolf in sheep's clothing " is a still more objectionable 
beast than the wolf in propria persond^ since he thereby 
adds treachery to all his other evil qualities : 

" And by these guileful means he more prevailed 
Than had he open enmity profest. 
The wolf more safely wounds when in sheep's clothing drest" 

The bear has not so distinctive an individuality in 
fabledom as the fox or wolf. The best proverb that 
we have met with in which he figures is the declaration 
that "A man without restraint is a bear without a ring ; " 
and then there is, of course, the well-known caution to 
the over-sanguine, " Sell not the bear's skin before you 
have caught him," or, as it is also phrased, " Spending 
your Michaelmas rent at Midsummer noon," not con- 
sider what may arise to mock your present confidence. 

In our list of wild beasts it is a considerable drop 
from the wolf and bear to the mouse ; but the mouse 
claims his place on our list, and is a much better known 
wild beast in England than the wolf, and therefore more 
in evidence in our proverbs. "The mouse that hath but 
one hole is easily caught," says an old adage, and we 
meet with it again in Chaucer's " Wife of Bath," in the 

" The mouse that always trusts to one poor hole 
Can never be a mouse of any soul " ; 

or, at all events, of any great enterprise. 

A very true and impressive proverb is that "A 
mouse may stir what a man cannot stay " — a very small 
commencement may lead to an incalculable ending; 
a momentary slip unarrested may hurl half-a-dozen 
mountaineers over a precipice ; a little trickle of water 
unregarded may be the solvent that will melt away 

taken for wolves not to wear the skin : "Quem nao quer ser loubo nao che 
vista a pelle." 


all barriers, and sweep all living things to destruction 
in the swirling torrent as it breaks its bonds. 

There is a note of caution in the picturesque state- 
ment, " I gave the mouse a hole, and she has become 
my heir." The Spanish, "Give me where I may sit 
down and I will make a place for myself to lie 
down" is like unto it, showing in each case that if 
we "Give an inch, they will take an ell," and that 
we may, too late, repent of our first assistance when 
it has led in the end to our effacement 

The Chinese say, with quaint common-sense, "A 
mouse can drink no more than its fill from a river." 
Beyond a certain point that is soon reached all else 
is needless superfluity. 

The strained relations between the cat and the 
mouse form the subject of divers popular adages. 
How good is the Scottish, "Weel kens the mouse 
when the cat's oot o' the house," paralleled in our 
English version, "When the cat's away the mice will 
play," or in the French, "Les rats se promenent a 
I'aise la ou il n'y a point des chats," and there is a 
pleasant vein of truth and humour in the assertion 
that "Mice care not to play with kittens." 

In the " Order of Poles," a manuscript of about the 
year 1450, we find the graphic declaration that " It is 
a hardy mouse that is bold to breede in cattis eeris " ; 
and Skelton writes, in 1520, "It is a wyly mouse that 
can build his dwellinge house within the cattes eare." ♦ 
Heywood and other later writers also refer to this 
proverb in their various works. 

The query, " Who shall bell the cat ? " may be called 
a fable abridged, for it contains the point of one. The 
mice held a consultation how to secure themselves from 
the too marked attentions of the cat, and someone 

* ''That's a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion." 
— Shaksspsarb, King Henry V. 


suggested that it would be an excellent plan to hang 
a bell round her neck, so as to give warning of her 
approach. The idea was taken up warmly, but then 
the point arose — Who shall do it? 

"Quoth one mouse unto the rest, 
Which of us all dare be so stout 
To hang the bell cat's neck about : 
If here be any let him speake. 
Then all replide. We are too weake; 
The stoutest mouse and tallest rat 
Doe tremble at a grim-fadd cat** 

The above is from "iDiogenes Lanthorne," issued in 
the year 1607. Hey wood writes: 

"Who shall ty the bell about the cat's necke low? 
Not I (quoth the mouse) for a thing that I know." 

To " smell a rat " is to have one's suspicions aroused 
as to something concealed, and is suggested by the 
eagerness of dog or cat to follow scent. The saying 
will be found in Ben Jonson's "Tale of a Tub," in 
Butler's " Hudibras," and elsewhere. 

The art of the fisherman supplies material for some 
few wisdom-chips. " All is fysshe that cometh to net " 
we read in * Colyn Cloute" and other old sources of 
information.* " To swallow a gudgeon " is to be caught 
by some designing schemer's bait, some lying pros- 
pectus of the "All-England Aerated Soap Company, 
Limited," in which it is shown that the profits must 
necessarily warrant a dividend of sixty-five per cent, 
after six hundred thousand pounds have been set 
aside for working expenses. " To throw away a sprat 
to catch a herring" is a popular adage and of much 
good sense. "All fish are not caught with flies" is 
a useful hint too — ^all people that we would influence 

• As, for instance, in Gascoigne's " Steele Glas," 1575, where we read : 
" Where &vor sways the sentence of the law, 
Where al is fishe that cometh to net." 


are not open to the same considerations. " It is a silly 
fish that is caught twice with the same bait" To err 
is human, and to be once entrapped may easily happen, 
but it is mere folly not to profit by bitter experience. 
The French say, "C'est la sauce qui fait le poisson," 
and the way in which a thing is presented to one is 
often of great importance. The use of proper means 
to effect our purpose is enforced in the warning that 
"Fish are not to be caught with a bird-call." 

It is excellent advice to "Never offer to teach 
monkeys to climb up trees" — another variant on in- 
struction in ovisuction. It is very true, too, that 
" Monkeys are never more beasts than when they 
wear men's clothes" and "ape" humanity. 

The laborious ant has not escaped the notice of the 
moralist, fabulist, and adage-employer. That they store 
up a mass of grain for winter service is entirely untrue, 
but it was at all events thought that they did ; hence 
Juvenal writes, " Some men, instructed by the labouring 
ant, provide against the extremities of want," while 
Ovid declares that " Ants go not to an empty granary." 
The Arabs say that "If God wills the destruction of 
an ant He allows her wings," a hint that sudden ele- 
vation above the capacity and beyond the experience 
of anyone will very probably cause their downfall. 
Another Arab proverb is, "The beetle is a beauty in 
the eyes of its mother." Whatever the rest of the 
world may think, maternal affection is all-embracing. 
The French adage, " Faire d'une mouche un elephant," 
is a needed caution, equivalent to our reproof of those 
who would "make a mountain out of a mole-hill." 
Such exaggeration is most profitless ; it is soon de- 
tected, and thenceforth even true statements are sub- 
jected by the hearers to a liberal discount. 

That "Even the worm will turn" is an oft-quoted 
saying to rightly justify a limit to endurance of injus- 


tice. " Tread a woorme on the tayle and it must tume 
agayne," quotes Heywood ; and Shakespeare, who 
clothes with beauty the commonest sayings of his 
day, writes: 

"The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on. 
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood." 

A great proverbial use is popularly made of similes 
or comparisons, and observation of the very varying 
characteristics of the animals around them soon sup- 
plied our forefathers with an abundant store of these. 
" All that is required," as Bland, an old proverb-col- 
lector, states, " in forming this species of adage is that 
the person or thing used as a comparison be generally 
known or reputed to possess the property attributed 
to it." 

As examples of the sort of thing we find amongst 
similes suggested by various beasts : " As greedy as a 
pig," " as surly as a bear," " as cunning as a fox," " as 
quiet as a mouse," "as poor as a church mouse," "as 
obstinate as a mule," " as sharp as a weasel," " as fierce 
as a lion," "as timid as a hare," "as mischievous as a 
monkey," "as faithful as a dog," "as quiet as a lamb," 
" as playful as a kitten," " as sly as a cat," " as patient 
as an ox," or "as weak as a rat," and "as wet as a 
drowned rat" "As drunk as a rat" may have arisen 
from an idea that the creature imbibed too freely from 
the liquors often stored in the cellars it frequented. In 
Horde's " Book of Knowledge," 1 542, we find the pas- 
sage, " I wyll be dronken other whyles as a rat" These 
sayings sometimes refer to old beliefs that are now 
exploded. "As uneven as a badger" arose from an 
idea that the badger's legs are shorter on one side than 
on the other. " As melancholy as a hare " was a saying 
that sprang from the belief that the flesh of a hare 
engendered melancholy in those who partook of it, and 


that this effect was naturally produced from the un- 
happy disposition of the animal itself Another saying, 
and one that has come down to the present day, is, 
"As mad as a March hare."* 

Amongst the similes derived from bird nature we 
find : " As hoarse as a raven," " as stupid as an ostrich," 
" as innocent as a dove," " as chattering as a jay," " as 
plump as a partridge," "as proud as a peacock," "as 
bald as a coot," "as black as a crow," "as giddy as a 
goose," " as dull (or as wise) as an owl," " as blithe as a 
lark," and "as rare as a black swan." To our fore- 
fathers the idea of a black swan seemed an absolute 
contradiction, and to say, as was said in classic days, 
" Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno," was to 
express at once the greatest impossibility the speaker 
could imagine.! Many things have happened since 
then, and amongst them the discovery of Australia 
and its singular fauna. 

" As slippery as an eel," " as flat as a flounder," " as 
dead as a herring," "as round as a roach," are other 
well-used similes. " As thirsty as a fish," " as busy as 
a bee," " as blind ^s a bat," " as spiteful as a toad," are 
also in common use. The spitefulness of the toad arose 
from an old belief in his venomous nature and his 
promptitude in spitting poison on those who molested 
him. We also hear, "as merry as a cricket" or "as 
a grig." It has been conjectured that this latter 
should be, "as a Greek," and in support of this the 
Shakespearean passage, "Then she's a merry Greek," 
may be brought forward, and others of like tenor 

* " Contrary to reason ye stamp and ye stare, 

Ye fret and ye fume, as mad as a March hare." — Heywood, 
•*Thou madde Marche hare."— 5>6^//<7«, 1520. 
t *' He that worse may must holde the candle, but my Maister is not 
so wise as God might have made him : hee is gone to seeke a Hayre 
in a Hennes nest, a Needle in a Bottle of Haye, which is as sildome 
seene as a black Swan." — **Angrie Women of Abington." 


might be cited. "As blind as a beetle" doubtless 
arose from the way that some species have of blunder- 
ing into the wayfarer in the dusk of the evening. The 
common dor-beetle, the cockchafer, the stag-beetle, and 
others supply us with illustrations of this. Sir Thomas 
Brown, in his interesting book on "Vulgar Errours," 
writes : " Slow worms are accounted blind, and the like 
we affirm proverbially of the beetle : although their eyes 
be evident." Udall writes : " Proude lerusalem deserued 
not to haue this pre-eminence, which, albeit she were in 
every dede as blynde as a betell, yet thought herselfe to 
haue a perfect good syght, and for that cause was more 
vncurable"; while in the "Mirror for Magistrates" we 
find : " Say not the people well, that Fortune fauours 
fooles? So well they say, I thinke, which name her 

To compare a man out of his element to a fish out 
of water is a well-worn and familiar simile. Chaucer 
writes that " A monk whan he is cloysterless is likned 
till a Fissh that is watreles." This illustration of the 
unhappy condition of the monk outside his cloister is 
found not uncommonly, the earliest perhaps being in a 
Greek " Life of St Anthony," that is certainly not later 
than the year 373. Wyclif, for instance, writes : " For 
as they seyn that groundiden in these cloystris thes men 
myghten no more dwelle out therbf than fiss mighte 
dwelle out of water." Some fish, as the tench, are 
much more tenacious of life when removed from their 
native element than others, and the saying that we have 
already quotod, " as dead as a herring," originated from 
the fact that this fish is in a marked degree unable 
to survive a very short removal from the sea. 

The household surroundings of our ancestors readily 
supplied them with many apt similes readily under- 
stood by all. Of these we may instance : " As thin as 
a rake," "as round as a tub," "as cold as ice," "as 


dull as ditch-water," ''as rough as a nutmeg-grater," 
"as hard as iron," '"as smooth as a pebble," ""as deep 
as a well," " as cool as a cucumber," ** as soft as wool," 
"as hard as nails," "as stiff as a poker," "as light as 
a feather," " as flat as a pancake," " as dry as a bone," 
and "as fresh as paint." "As naked as a needle" 
occurs in "Piers Plowman," the only place we have 
come across it "As dead as a door-nail" no doubt 
owes some of its popularity to its alliteration ; it is 
sometimes " as dead as a dore-tree." In " Wit Restored," 
1658, we find, "As dead as a dore-nayle"; and in 
" 2 King Henry IV." Falstaff exclaims, " What ! is the 
old king dead ? " and Pistol replies, " As nail in door." 
In a much older work than either of these we find, 
in the description of a tournament : " Thurth the bold 
bodi he bar him to the erthe as ded as domayl"; 
while another manuscript reads: "Feith withoute fait 
is feblere than nought, and as ded as a dorenail" — 
faith without works is dead. Piers Plowman says on 
this, " Feith withouten the feet is right nothyug worthi, 
and as dead as a dore-tree." The door-tree is the 
door-post, once part of a living tree, but now dead ; 
while the door-nails are the equally moribund nails 
that in mediaeval days studded the surface of the door. 
Other similes from the furniture or other details 
of the house or its surroundings were, "as clear as 
a bell," referring to its tone, or "as sound as a bell," 
referring to its freedom from cracks that would destroy 
its sounding powers. We also have " as hot as toast," 
or " as crusty as a houshold loaf." " As clean as a 
whistle," or perhaps "as clear as a whistle." Those 
who have seen a country boy making a whistle from 
a bit of elder or other pithy or hollow wood, and 
then seen the final peeling of the bark and the re- 
vealing of the light green of the spotless underwood 
thereby, would give their vote probably in favour of 


"clean." It has been suggested again that the word 
means empty, a whaler that returns unsuccessfully from 
the fishing-ground being technically called "clean." On 
the other hand, the word "clear" may suggest either 
the quality of the sound or the necessity for their 
being no stoppage or impediment in the tube. Some 
will brush aside both explanations and say that the 
thing in question is not a whistle at all but a whittle, 
the big knife that butchers use, and that the notion 
really is that the thing in question, whatever it may 
be that calls forth the comparison, is cut off as 
cleanly and clearly as if it had been done by a 

To be " as like as two peas " is a very happy simile, 
as all who have ever shelled peas will recognise. " As 
right as a trivet" is still an expression that may be 
heard from time to time. What those who use it 
• quite mean by it it might perhaps puzzle them to 
explain. Some tell us that the trivet is a three- 
legged thing and must therefore necessarily stand 
firm, while we know by experience that a four-legged 
article will not always do so. Others tell us that 
this valuable quality of rightness depends on its 
being truly rectangular, as if it be not accurately 
made it will not fit the bars to which we would 
attach it, and will not give a level surface to stand 
pot or kettle on. Whatever the true explanation may 
be the rightness of a trivet is an article of popular 
faith, and no theorising will have any power to upset 
our firm belief in its rectitude. " As big as a par- 
son's barn " refers to the olden time when the minister 
of the parish received his tithes in kind instead of 
in cash, and had to find sufficient stowage -room 
accordingly for these contributions. 

Various callings were also laid under contribution 
in the quest for similes. Thus are : " As hungry as a 


hunter," " as dusty as a miller," " as black as a sweep," 
or a coal-heaver or a collier, "as sober as a judge," 
and " as drunk as a lord " — this latter being a relic of 
the old times when men of wealth and influence 
thought it no shame to give way to intoxication, and 
one of the duties of the butler, having supplied them 
with wine, was to loosen the cravat of any gentle- 
men who showed any signs of apoplexy, and to 
generally make their stay beneath the table as com- 
fortable as possible. " As mad as a hatter " is really 
a corruption of the French, "II raisonne comme une 
huitre " — he reasons like an oyster, and has no associa- 
tion with the gentlemen who provide our head-gear. 
The French proverb, we need scarcely point out, is 
sarcastic. The oyster when crossed in love, it will 
be remembered, is thus again made mock of and its 
feelings derided. 

The various colours of the objects that meet our 
view are also pressed into the service of the seeker 
after similes ; thus we have the excellent one, " as 
white as snow." We also find "as yellow as a 
guinea," a coin we rarely see, but familiar enough 
when this saying was to the fore. "As red as a 
rose" was common enough as a popular saying, but 
it is not so happy as many, seeing that roses are not 
by any means always red. "As red as a lobster" 
is above reproach if only we come across the creature 
after he has passed through the boiling stage, and 
" as white as a sheet " will pass muster. " As green 
as grass" is admirably descriptive, and "as grey as 
a badger " will do very well. " As brown as a berry " 
is more open to question, unless indeed it be a 
roasted coffee-bean. Berries are white, red, yellow, 
green, purple, orange, black, but we really cannot 
at this moment recall a brown one, so that it seems 
as though to be true we should say " as un-brown as 


a berry!" Black invites many comparisons. "As 
midnight," "as coal," "as ink," "as pitch," "as jet," 
are a few of these. 

We were gratified to learn from a Brazilian that 
they have a simile, "as reliable as an Englishman." 
Job is of course the model of patience, Solomon of 
wisdom, Croesus of wealth, and we have also "as 
true as Troilus," though the simile never took hold 
of the popular fancy. He was the Shakespearean 
ideal of unshaken constancy, and he declares that, 

" After all comparisons of truth, 
As truth's authentic author to be cited, 
As true as Troilus shall crown up the verse." 

"As true as steel" is the more ordinary simile that 
rises to one's memory. Other qualities, good and 
bad, that have supplied material for the makers of 
similes are: "Swift as an arrow," "deaf as a post," 
"ugly as sin," "cold as charity," "bright as the sun," 
"changeable as the moon," "sweet as sugar," "sour 
as vinegar," "hard as a diamond," "good as gold," 
"changeable as a weathercock," "quick as lightning," 
"firm as a rock," "soft as silk," "clear as crystal," 
"bitter as gall," "as rosy as an apple," "as cross as 
two sticks," "as bright as a new pin." Our list has 
no pretension to be complete — doubtless many others 
might be recalled ; we have, as we write these words, 
remembered that we have overlooked "as plain as a 
pikestaff" and "as tight as a drum." Many such 
omissions will be duly noted by our readers, but our 
full justification will be found in the fact that we 
have had no desire or intention to make our list all- 
embracing. If those we have given are sufficiently 
representative of the sort of thing we have had under 
consideration, our object is gained. 



The Power of the Tongue — Speech and Silence — Knowledge and Wis- 
dom not Interchangeable Terms — Truth and Untruth — Travellers' 
Tales— Flattery— Industry and Sloth— Youth-Friends, True and 
False— Riches and Poverty— The Ladder to Thrift— The Influence 
of Womankind— The Good Wife— The Shrew— The Testimony of 
Epitaphs — The Grey Mare — Home — Hope — Forethought — Excuses 
— Good and 111 Fortune — Retribution — Detraction — Pretension — 
Self-interest — Bribery and Corruption — Custom and Habit — The 
General Conduct of Life— The Weather— The Moon made of 
Green Cheese— Conclusion 

Speech, wise or otherwise, and silence, under the 
same limitations, have supplied the material for count- 
less wisdom-chips, the power of the tongue in what 
it says and how it says it being recognised as of 
vital importance, and this has been admitted at every 
period and under every sky. It has been said that 
"More have repented speech than silence," and the 
assertion has much experience in its favour. Though 
times arise when prompt speech is needful, and 
cowardice and a poor expediency prevents the words 
being uttered, it is, perhaps, more ordinarily the experi- 
ence that one unavailingly regrets having spoken, and 
would give much to be able to recall the hasty and 
inconsiderate utterance.* 

It has been truly said that he knows much who 

* The Portuguese warn us that great talkers make many mistakes, in 
the adage, ** Quern muito falla muito erra." 



knows when to speak, but that he knows yet more 
who knows when to be silent, and that the good 
talker is known by what he says, and also by what 
he does not say. It has been very happily declared 
that " Flow of words is not always flow of wisdom," 
and that "Quality is ever better than quantity," so 
that " Words should be delivered not by number but 
by weight." * Another very true adage is that " Talk- 
ing comes by nature, silence by understanding." 

The Italians say: "Great eloquence, little conscience," 
and it is certainly true that "Great talkers fire too 
fast to take good aim." Speech has been declared to 
be the portraiture of the mind, so that as the man 
talks to us he is quite unconsciously depicting him- 
self "A close mouth catches no flies" says the old 
saw, and modest merit that trusts to its deserving is 
likely enough to be supplanted by the boldly impor- 
tunate. Many would prefer to let these others do 
the impudent begging, and would surrender the flies, 
but keep their self-respect Young tells us that 

"Thoughts shut up want air, 
And spoil like bales unopened to the sun" — 

which is very true; while Shakespeare's advice is no 
less so: 

" Have more than thou showest, 
Speak less than thou knowest" 

A very homely saw declares, " Least said, soonest 
mended," and certainly "Speaking silence is better 
than senseless speech " ; but the assumption that the 
speech is of such a quality that it is best left unsaid 
is a little severe, and the mental atmosphere in which 
the less said implied the less to be mended would be, 

* **They have spent theyr tyme lesse fruitfiilly heretofore in ouer 
runnyng a multitude of wordes with small consideracion or weyghing 
of them."— Fisher, A Godfye TVeatise. 


we would fain hope, a very exceptional one. We 
shall all agree that *' Say well is good, but do well is 
better," and in the value of the caution that "In 
lavishing words one wears out ideas." An old 
rhyme hath it that "A man of words and not of 
deeds Is like a garden full of weeds," and a grave old 
writer advises us on this that " The way of God's com- 
mandments is more in doing than in discourse."* "Great 
talkers are ill doers " is another version of the saying. 

It has been said, and very justly, that "Silence 
often expresses more powerfully than speech the ver- 
dict and the judgment," and to one who comes 
beneath its sway it must be more eloquent and more 
crushing than any audible denunciation that can be 
repudiated or challenged. It is a very common say- 
ing that " Silence gives consent," but one readily sees 
that this is much too sweeping. Nevertheless, the 
adage is of venerable antiquity and of wide distribu- 
tion. We find it quoted by Euripides long before 
the Christian era. The Romans said, " Qui tacet con- 
sentire videtur," while the modern Frenchman believes 
that "Assez consent qui ne dit pas mot" In Psalm 
L. V. 21, things are presented on an entirely different 
footing. " Silence," says Shakespeare, " is the per- 
fectest herald of joy ; I were but little happy if I 
could say how much." The tongue, "the unruly 
member," has been the subject of countless discourses 
and essays, and also of warning adages beyond number.. 
The writer of Ecclesiasticus tells us that "The pipe 
and the psaltery make sweet melody, but a pleasant 
tongue is above them both," and a French proverb 
runs that "Douces paroles ne scorchent pas la langue." 

* ''There are perilous times at hande by reason ot some that ynder 
pretence of godlynesse tume true godlynesse vp side down, and so prate 
boastynglye of themselues as thoughe the Christian religion consisted in. 
wordes and not rather in purenesse of herte." — UdalL 


Richard Tavemer, writing in 1539, tells us that being 
"demaunded what in a man is the worst thyng and 
the best, Anacharsis answered — the tonge. Meanyng 
that the selfe same parte of a manne bryngeth most 
utilitie y{ it be with ryght reason gouvemed, and 
agayne is most perylouse and hurtfull yf otherwyse." 
This testimony may be accepted as being about the 
truth ; but, as it is much less necessary to commend the 
good than to denounce the evil, the general set of pro- 
verb teaching is strongly in the latter direction. An old 
Roman proverb runs, " Lingua quo vadis ? " — ^** Tongue, 
where goest thou ? " The hint, to stop a moment and 
see in what direction we are being taken, the journey 
and its ending, is an excellent one. 

" The first vertue, sone, if thou wilt lerc, 
Is to restreine and kepen wel thy tonge,"* 

writes Chaucer, in the " Manciple's Tale," and he re- 
peats this in "Troilus and Creseide," and refers to 
this control of the tongue as part of the valuable 
practice and precept of the wise men of old : 

" For which these wise clerkes that ben dede 
Have euer this prouerbed to us young 
That the first vertue is to kepe the toung." 

Hence, " If you keep your tongue prisoner your body 
may go free." Another old proverb of similar import 
is, "Confine your tongue, lest your tongue confine you"; 
while the Spaniards throw even more force into their 
version, " Let not the tongue say what the head shall 
pay for." "Life and death are in the power of the 
tongue " — self-destruction, or that of others. " A fool's 
tongue may cut his throat " is a homely English saw, 
and very much to the point. 

A very quaint old MS. in the Harleian collection 

* *'The tunge is but a litel menibre, and reiseth greet thingis. Lo 
hou litel fier breuneth a fill greet word: and our tunge is fier, the 
unyversitie of wickidnesse." — Si Janus. Translation of Widif. 


deals with the faults and failings to which men are 
liable. Thus, for instance: 

" With thy tong thou mayst thyself spylle, 
And with tong thou mayst haue all thy wylle. 
Here and se, and kepe thee stylle,* 
Whatsoever ye thynk avyse ye wele." 

This call to reflection terminates each verse. The 
whole poem is so quaintly refreshing that we cannot 
forbear quoting, at all events, one more verse — the 
caution against insobriety ; and as this particular evil 
has, amongst its other bad eflects, that of provoking 
strife, angry discussion, and foul language, we may 
still feel that it comes within our scope — the influence 
of the tongue : 

"And thow goo vnto the wyne 
And thow thynk yt good and fyne, 
Take thy leve whane yt ys tyme, 
Whatsoever ye thynk avyse ye wele." 

An ancient proverb reminds us that " It is good 
sleeping in a whole skinne," and thereupon Heywood 
comments and advises: "Let not your tong run at 
rover, since by stryfe yee may lose and can not winne." 
To " Teach thy tongue to say, I do not know " is also 
an excellent discipline. The young, especially, shut 
themselves off" from much valuable knowledge rather 
than admit their ignorance.f 

In a manuscript of the fourteenth century we found 
the following: — 

* In the "Parlament of Byrdes," written somewhere about 1550, the 
chough, or Cornish crow, is thus admonished, in very similar strains to 
the above: 

" Thou Comysshe, quod the Hauke, by thy wil 
Say well, and holde thee styll." 

t The following wisdom-chips may be commended to these unfortu- 
nates: "Affectation of wisdom often prevents our being wise"; ''The 
man who knows most knows his own ignorance"; "Knowledge is 
proud that he has learned so much : wisdom is humble that he knows 
no more." 


"Wykkyd tunge breket bon, the first 
Thow the self haue non "— 

This is the first reference that we have come across to 
a proverb commonly encountered in the form of "The 
tongue breaks bones, though she herself has none."* 
It is no doubt based on the passage in Ecclesiasticus, 
declaring that " The stroke of the whip maketh marks 
in the flesh, but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the 
bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, 
but not so many as have fallen by the tongue." The 
book of Ecclesiasticus is an overflowing treasury of 
wisdom. What could be wiser counsel, for example, 
than this? — "If thou hast understanding, answer thy 
neighbour: if not, lay thy hand upon thy mouth. 
Honouf and shame is in talk, and the tongue of man 
is his fall. Be not called a whisperer, and lie not in 
wait with thy tongue." "Where there is whispering 
there is lying" says one of our proverbs, and it is 
in the main true. The honourable and straightfor- 
ward thing can ordinarily be proclaimed in the ears 
of all. 

The Spaniards declare that "La lang^ua del mal 
amigo mas corta que el cuchillo" — "The tongue of a 
false friend is sharper than a knife." "Mors et vita 
in manibus linguae " : it is the arbiter of life and death, 
and yet it has been necessary to remind men that "It 
is better to lose a jest than a friend." A quick sense 
of humour, a talent at repartee, the power of seeing 
the ridiculous side of things, are dearly bought when 
their display is at the expense of the feelings of 
others.t A happy conceit may be the beginning of 
an unhappy strife, and it must be remembered that 
" He who makes others afraid of his wit had need be 

* '* Thou hast hearde of many a man, 

Tongue breaketh bone and it selfe hath none." 

—The *• Parlament of Byrdes," c, issa 
t '< Raise not the credit of your wit at the expense of your judgment." 


afraid of their memories" — the sarcastic speech, the 
little touch of ridicule rankling in the mind of the 
victim long after the utterer has entirely forgotten them. 

We are reminded, too, that "A fool, when he hath 
spoken, hath done all"; and the Spaniard tells us 
that "A long tongue betokens a short head" — the 
braggart tells us much of what he is going to do, but 
the performance is not at all in proportion.* 

"The price of wisdom is above rubies" we read in 
one of the most ancient of books, dating some fifteen 
hundred years before the Christian era; and Baruch, 
also writing in far-off time, exclaims: "Learn where 
is wisdom, where is strength, where is understanding, 
that thou mayst know also where is length of days 
and life, where is the light of the eyes and peace." 
The apocryphal books of the Bible include Ecclesi- 
asticus and the Book of Wisdom, and in each of these 
the praise of wisdom is the dominant theme, as, for 
example : " Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth 
away"; "She is a treasure unto men that never 
faileth " ; " All gold of respect of her is as a little 
sand, and silver shall be counted as clay before her " ; 
" All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with Him 
for ever " ; " The parables of knowledge are in the 
treasures of wisdom " ; " Wisdom exalteth her children, 
and layeth hold of them that seek her." We need 
scarcely stay to point out that in the book of the 
Proverbs of Solomon wisdom is again exalted in many 
striking passages full of poetry and beauty. 

We are all familiar with the adage, "Experientia 
docet"; but the following, equally true, is less well 
known — " He that loses anything and gets wisdom by 
it is a gainer by his loss." Another very happy saying 
is, that " A wise man has more ballast than sail," and 

* ** Beaucoup de bruit, peu de fruit," as the expressive French jingle 
has it. 


yet another is that "Wisdom is always at home to 
those who call." It is very true, too, that "By the 
thoughts of others wise men may correct their own," 
for a wise man gets learning even from those who 
have none themselves; and "He is the true sage," 
says the Persian proverb, "who learns from all the 
world" — a wide field, but not too wide for profitable 

We must be careful to bear in mind that knowledge 
and wisdom are not necessarily interchangeable terms ; 
a man may have a far-reaching knowledge, and be a 
perfect encyclopaedia of useful and useless facts, and 
yet be wofully deficient in wisdom. "Learning is but 
an adjunct to oneself," writes Shakespeare, in " Love's 
Labour's Lost," a sentence luminous and golden. We 
see the essential difference perhaps the better if we 
append to each its opposite — knowledge and ignorance, 
wisdom and folly. 

The fool has supplied material for countless proverbs. 
Solomon tells us that "A foolish son is the heaviness 
of his mother"; that "A prating fool shall fall"; that 
" It is as sport to a fool to do mischief" ; that " The 
fool shall be servant to the wise of heart " ; that " He 
that is soon angry dealeth foolishly " ; that " Folly is 
joy to him that is destitute of wisdom " ; that " He 
that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow " ; that " A 
fool returneth to his folly"; that "A fool uttereth all 
his mind " ; that " Fools die for want of wisdom " ; that 
" The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable 
in the mouth of fools " ; ♦ while the writer of Ecclesi- 
asticus says — "Weep for the dead, for he hath lost 
the light; and weep for the fool, for he wanteth 
understanding. Make little weeping for the dead, for 

* **By a fole in the prouerbes is pryncypally vnderstande him that in 
folowynge his awne councell defendeth infydelyte and the vnknowing of 
God for trueth and hyghe wysdome." — Matthew. 


he is at rest; but the life of the fool is worse than 
death. Seven days do men mourn for him that is 
dead, but for a fool all the days of his life." Many 
other Biblical references may very readily be found. 

In the domain of secular literature and proverb-lore 
the material at our service is equally lavish in amount 
and definite in its pity and scorn of these unfortunates. 
The following may be accepted as samples from the 
bulk: "Wise men learn more from fools than fools 
from wise men " ; " Folly, as well as wisdom, is justi- 
fied in its children"; "Little minds, like small beer, 
are soon soured " ; " Wise men make jests, and fools 
repeat them " ; " He is a fool who makes his fist a 
wedge " ; " On the heels of folly shame treads " ; " To 
promise and give nothing is a comfort to a fool " ; "A 
foolish judge passes a quick sentence " ; "A wise man 
shines, a fool would outshine " ; " Cunning is the fool's 
substitute for wisdom " ; " The fools wonder, wise men 
ask " ; "A fool and his money are soon parted " ; * 
"The fool says. Who would have thought it?"; "Folly 
jumps into the river, and wonders why Fate lets him " ; 
"Wit is folly, unless a wise man has the keeping of 
it"; "A fool can ask more questions than a wise 
man can answer, but a wise man cannot ask more 
questions than a fool is ready to answer " ; "A fool 
shoots without taking aim." These proverbs are severe, 
but one feels, on full consideration of them, one after 
another, that there is not one that is exaggerated. 
They all describe people whom we have all met, and 
who are still living. 

There is some considerable compensation in the fact 
that "The less wit a man has, the less he knows he 
wants it." The French say that "Un sot trouve 

* <' A foole and his monie be soone at debate 

Which after with sorrow repents him too late." 

—Tusser's Husbandries is8a 


toujours un plus sot qui Tadmire" — a fool always finds 
a bigger fool to admire him — and that, too, must be very 
comforting .♦ As writer and reader alike happily feel 
beyond any uncomfortable misgiving that these various 
proverbs refer to quite other folk than themselves, we 
may pick up a few hints from yet other proverbs as 
to our dealings with these unfortunate people. One 
point that we need to remember is that '' He who has 
to deal with a blockhead has need of much brains." 
It is expedient, too, to remember that "If you play 
with a fool at home, he will play with you in the 
street"; and the caution may be given that "A fool 
demands much, but he is a greater fool that gives it." 
It is painful to know that " Knaves are in such repute 
that honest men are counted fools," though to be 
counted a fool by a knave is, after all, of little moment 
We must bear in mind, too, that " No one is so foolish 
but may give another good counsel sometimes," and 
the true wisdom is to value good, from whatever 
quarter it comes. 

The value of truth and the meanness of falsehood 
find due place in our proverb literature. "Truth," we 
are told, " hath always a fast bottom," a firm anchorage. 
" Truth hath but one way, but that is the right way." 
Esdras tells us that, "As for the truth, it endureth, 
and is always strong: it liveth and conquereth for 
evermore." Even in the old classic days, before Chris- 
tianity influenced the lives of men, the beauty of truth 
was recognised, for Plautus wrote, two hundred years 
before the coming of Christ, " That man is an upright 
man who does not repent him that he is upright"; 
and Seneca declared that "He is most powerful who 
has himself in his power." It has been beautifully 
said that "Truth is God's daughter," and that "It 
may be blamed, but it may never be shamed." 

♦ "No creature smarts so little as a fool."— -ft;^. 


The following sayings will bear consideration: — 
"Truth begets trust, and trust truth/* "The use- 
fullest truths are the plainest," "He who respects his 
word will find it respected," " Craft must have clothes, 
but truth can go naked," "No one ever surfeited of 
too much honesty," "A straight line is the shortest in 
morals as in mathematics," "It is always term-time 
in the court of conscience," " Character is the diamond 
that scratches every other stone," "Truth is the 
cement of society," " Sell not thy conscience with thy 
goods," " Smart reproof is better than smooth acqui- 
escence." Truth, then, must necessarily make enemies, 
for " Honest men never have the love of a rogue," 
and "Truth is always unpalatable to those who will 
not relinquish error" — to those who love darkness 
rather than light. 

In the Library of Jesus College, Cambridge, in a 
manuscript of the fifteenth century we find the fol- 
lowing excellent teaching : 

" Of mankynde thou shalt none sle 
Ne harm with worde, wyll, nor dede ; 
Ne suffir non lorn ne lost to be 
If thow wele may than help at nede. 

Be thou no thef, nor theves fere 
Ne nothing wyn with trechery ; 
Okur ne symony cum thow not nere. 
But conciens clere kepe al ay trewely. 

Thou shalt in worde be trewe alsso ; 
And fals wytnes thou shalt none bere : 
Loke thow not lye for frende nor foo 
Lest thow they sauU full gretely dere. 

Hows, ne land, ne othir thyng, 
Thow shalt not covet wrangfully ; 
But kepe ay wele Goddes biddyng 
And Cristen fayth trow stedfastly." 

Another writer gives the very wise advice to take 
some little care of what goes into the mouth, but 


much more of what comes out of it. Bacon, in his 
" Advancement of Learning," speaks of " The sun 
which passeth through pollutions and itself remains 
as pure as before," and Milton adopts the thought 
but modifies it into this : " Truth is as impossible to 
be soiled by any outward touch as the sunbeam." It 
has been said that "Ridicule is the test of truth," 
but one scarcely sees why, and we see that Carlyle, 
referring to it in one of his books, says, "We have, 
oftener than once, endeavoured to attach some 
meaning to that aphorism." Another adage, which 
we find in France as well as in England, is that 
" All truth must not be told at all times." Expediency 
is a somewhat doubtful guide, but expediency at its 
best is good common-sense, and common-sense 
admits the truth of this adage. A much more doubt- 
ful saying is that, " That is true which all men say," 
practically an echo of " Vox populi, vox Dei," though 
in the highest and deepest sense a great truth is 
involved in it. To assert that the clamour of the 
mob is necessarily inspired by the wisdom of Heaven 
is mere blasphemy; self-interest, prejudice, passion, 
are too evidently factors, and what all men are saying 
at a certain period may be but a passing emotion 
built on the shifting sand. Such a proverb so 
employed may serve well enough as a plea for drift- 
ing with the stream and shouting with the' crowd, 
but if we go deeper the proverb is profoundly true. 
Man, born in the image of God, marred as that 
image now is, preserves yet something of the divine, 
and far below popular clamour and waves of passion 
is the seed of truth and righteousness; and where 
this throughout humanity blossoms into detestation 
of slavery, unjust war, or other outrage against the 
conscience of mankind, and the cry goes to Heaven 
against the iniquity, the Spirit of God is dwelling in 


the souls of men, and they become co-workers with 

Falsehood, like truth, has its attendant proverbs. 
How true, for instance, is this, "Subterfuge is the 
coward's defence," or this, "Falsehood stings those 
who meddle with it" 

" O what a tangled web we weave, 
When first we practise to deceive." 

Hence the French say, " II faut qu'un menteur ait bonne 
m^moire " — " Liars need to have good memories " ; 
while the Scotch say very happily, "Frost and fausehood 
hae baith a dirty wa'-gang." Other adages are : ** To 
conceal a fault is to add to it another,"* "The 
credit that is got by a lie only lasts till the truth 
comes out," " 111 doers are ill deemers," " No poverty 
like poverty of spirit," "Better lose good coat than 
good conscience," "Half a truth is often a whole 
falsehood," " He who breaks his word bids others be 
false to him." " Almost, and very nigh, saves many a 
lie," is a saw that is somewhat difficult to classify ; 
it appears to be on the side of truth, and yet it 
seems to suggest a way of coming nearly to the 
boundary-line without actually crossing into the 
domain of falsehood. In an old book of morals we 
find the precept, " In relating anything extraordinary 
it is better, in case of doubt, to be within rather 
than beyond the line of fact" — a somewhat half- 
hearted precept this! 

" Travellers' tales " have long been under suspicion, 
and certainly some of the earlier explorers did expose 
the credence of their auditors and readers to a severe 
strain in some of their narrations. On the other hand, 

♦ ** A fiiult denied is twice committed, 
And, oftentimes, excusing of a fault 
Doth make the fault the worse for the excuse." — Shakespeare, 

Proverb lore 207 

we must have the grace to admit that later explorers 
have verified many statements that were long held 
impossible. The Persians say that "Whoso seeth 
the world telleth many a He " ; while human nature 
is so essentially the same all the world over that 
in the sayings of a savage tribe in West Africa we 
meet with this, " He who travels alone tells lies." The 
common experience of mankind is unfortunately 
against the traveller, and he must sometimes be 
content to wait, years or centuries maybe, before his 
wonderful experiences are fully accepted. 

It is a true and far-reaching proverb that "Error, 
though blind herself, sometimes brings forth seeing 
children." Thus from alchemy, with its e/ixtr viUB and 
aurum potabile^ has sprung the science of chemistry ; 
and astrology, a farrago of superstitious rubbish, had yet 
within it the seed that should afterwards develop into 
the grandest of all sciences, astronomy. 

" Flattery," Swift tells us, " is the food of fools," 
and Gray speaks of " Painted flattery with its serpent 
train," while Goldsmith dwells on the 

" Flattering painter who made it his care 
To draw men as thy ought to be, not as they are." 

The lines in "Julius Caesar" will also be recalled, 
where Shakespeare writes, " But when I tell him he 
hates flatterers, He says he does, being then most 
flattered."* These various passages sufiiciently indi- 
cate that when we tag on flattery to the end of our 
section on falsehood, the arrangement is not far 
wrong. Those only are the recipients of flattery 
from whom some benefit may be obtained ; hence 
"Flatterers haunt not cottages" we are told, with 

* And again in another passage — 

" O that men's ears should he 
To counsel deaf, but not to flattery." 


quaint humour. That such incense is appreciated by 
its objects rather than plain truths may be gathered 
from another quaint old adage, "Flattery sits in the 
parlour when plain -dealing is kicked out of doors." 
Perhaps this is a little the fault of plain-dealing, its 
directness being not always tempered with courtesy. 
The man who boasts that he always speaks his mind 
is not invariably the pleasantest of companions. 
There must be a happy medium somewhere between 
acidulated brutality of frankness and the sugared 
seductiveness of flattery. 

The virtue of industry and the vice of sloth are 
factors in life that have not by any means escaped the 
notice of the builders-up of our proverb lore and store. 
The praise and inculcation of industry may very happily 
be seen, for example, in this gleaning : " Every man's 
task is his life-preserver," for rust consumes more than 
use wears. " He who serves well need not fear to 
ask his wages " ; " Those that trust to their neighbours 
may wait for their harvest " ; "It is better to do the 
thing than to wish it done " ; "A wise man makes more 
opportunities than he finds"; "He that will eat the 
kernel must crack the nut"; "Learn to labour and to 
wait, but learn to labour first " ; " Well begun is half 
done " ; * " God calls men when they are busy, Satan 
when they are idle"; "Work provides easy chairs for 
old age " ; " Time wasted is existence, used is life "; 
" Save yourself pains by taking pains " ; " Things don't 
turn up, they must be turned up " ; "If you don't 
open the door to the devil he goes away " ; " One 
grain fills not the sack, but it helps " ; " Prudence is 
not satisfied with maybe " ; " Nothing venture nothing 
have"; "It is working that makes a workman"; 

* In France they say, ''II est bien avanc^ qui a bien commence." In 
both English and French versions there is a certain ring that helps the 


" Industry is Fortune's right hand " ; * "A willing 
helper does not wait till asked " ; " We must not spend 
all the time whetting the scythe " ; " Love labour, for 
if you want it not for food you may for physic"; 
"Bustle is not necessarily industry"; "The deeper the 
ploughing the heavier the reaping " ; " He that begins 
many things finishes but few " ; " Grood beginning 
makes good ending." To these one could readily add 
one hundred more. 

It is a true saying that "Every man is the son of 
his own works," and another good old saw is that 
"The burden which one likes is not felt" The 
labour is then wonderfully lightened, and those who 
are fond of their calling think little of the attendant 
toil, but perform as a pleasure what others consider 
a weariness. 

A proverb still in common use is that " Many 
hands make light work " ; while sometimes one can do 
better work by not working at all, for " The master's 
eye will do more than his two hands," the super- 
vision being of more value than the sharing in the 

An interesting old relic and reminder of old times, 
when the spinnmg-wheel was in daily use, is seen 
in the saying, "I have tow on my distaff" — in other 
words, I have work all ready to engage my attention. 
Chaucer and other old writers introduce this proverb, 
but now the lapse of time, or, rather, the change of 
customs, has made it obsolete, a distaff being as 

• ** Industrie b a qualitie procedying of Wytte and Experience by whyche 
a man perceyveth quickely, inuenteth freshely, and counsayleth spedily : 
wheribre they that be called industrious do most craftely and depely 
▼nderstand in al affayres what is expedient, and by what meanes or 
wayes they may sonest exployte them. Those thingis in whome other 
men trauayle these lighUey and with fitdlitie spedeth, and findeth new 
wayes and meanes to bring to effecte that he deseyreth." — Sir Tkamas 



utterly out of date as a battle-axe or a pair of 

The entirely accepted, and very justifiable, belief that 
" Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do," 
is seen in such proverbs as, "If the devil catch a man 
idle he will set him to work," and its parallel, " Our idle 
days are Satan's busy days." It has been said, again, 
that " An idle brain is the Devil's workshop," and that 
"It is an ill army where the Devil carries the colours." 
Chaucer is in full agreement, and says that " Idlenesse 
is the gate of all harmes. An idel is like to a place 
that hath no walles ; theras deviles may enter on every 
side," while Bishop Hall declares that " The idle man is 
the Devil's cushion, upon which he taketh his free ease." 

Amongst the many proverbs that have the dispraise 
of idleness as their theme we may quote the fol- 
lowing : — " Easy it is to bowl down hill " ; " He is but 
idle who might be better employed " ; " They must 
starve in frost who will not toil in heat " ; " Idleness is 
the greatest prodigality " ; " Idleness always envies in- 
dustry " ; " Business neglected is business lost " ; " He 
that maketh his bed ill must be content to lie ill"; 
"Better to do a thing than wish it done"; "More 
die of idleness than of hard work " ; " There is more 
fatigue in laziness than in labour " ; " Shameful craving 
must have shameless refusing"; "Fish are not caught 
in one's sleep"; "Like a pig's tail, going all day, 
and nothing done at night " ; " Lie not in the mud 
and cry for Heaven's aid " ; " Were wishes horses 
beggars would ride " ; " One of these days is none of 
these days"; "Wishing is of all employments the 
poorest paid " ; " Accusing the times is excusing our- 
selves " ; " There belongs more than whistling in going 
to plough." Life, however brief, is made yet shorter by 
waste of its opportunities, and it has been very truly 
said that " He who will not work until he feels himself 


in the proper mood will soon find himself in the proper 
mood never to work at all." For years we have had 
illuminated round our study walls the stirring words: 
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy 
might ; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, 
nor wisdom in the grave," and they have lightened 
for us many a burden, and given an impulse to many 
an undertaking. 

A Spanish proverb says that " She that gazes much 
spins little " — the distraction caused by externals being 
fatal to concentration of thought on the work. " No 
mill, no meal," is an old English proverb, signifying 
that if the necessary rattle of the machinery and the 
supervision of it is an offence one must be content to 
forego the benefits. " Black will take no other colour," 
is to be read as a hint that vicious people are seldom 
or never satisfactorily reclaimed. Camden, writing in 
1 614, tells a story of" A lusty gallant that had wasted 
much of his patrimony, seeing a gentleman in a gowne, 
not of the newest cut, tolde him that he had thought 
it had beene his great-grandfather's gowne. * It is so,' 
saith he, * and I have also my great-grandfather's lands, 
and so have not you.*" We see that Fuller declares 
" Oil of whip to be the proper plaister for the cramp 
of lazinesse " ; while Cowper compares the idler to " A 
watch that wants both hands. As useless if it goes as if 
it stands " — a very happy idea. 

One Smart, whom we may without offence class 
amongst the lesser poets, wrote an ode on "Idleness," 
in which he declares that that is the goal, and work 
merely its means of attainment. He thus apostrophises 
his ideal : 

" For thee, O Idleness, the woes 
Of life we patiently endure ; 
Thou art the source whence labour flowes, 
We shun thee but to make thee sure." 


The aspirations, the temptations, the duties of youth, 
form the subject of divers proverbs. These we may 
illustrate sufficiently by a judicious selection from the 
great mass of material available. How excellent the 
advice: "Be true to the best of yourself"; or this, 
"Rather set than follow example"; or yet, again, 
this, " Take care to be what thou wouldst seem to be." 
How good the teaching: "Liberty is not the freedom 
to do as we like, but as we ought " ; that " Golden age 
never was present age"; that "Trinkets are no true 
treasure"; and that "In seeking happiness we may 
overlook content " — the first may perhaps be ours, but 
the second should always be obtainable. 

The very familiar adage, " As the twig is bent so is 
the tree inclined," remains as true as ever ; therefore 
"Guard well thy thoughts, for thoughts are heard in 
Heaven." * Another writer very aptly declares that "It 
is better to hammer and forge one's character than to 
dream oneself into one " ; while the old adage, " Keep 
good company and be one of the number," is excellent 
advice, pithily put 

Tusser, some three hundred or more years ago, 
declared that 

" The greatest preferments that childe we can giue. 
Is learning and nurture, to traine him to liue." 

It has been well said that " Ignorance is a voluntary 
misfortune," and that "If the brain sows not com 
it plants thistles." Were a farmer to leave a field a 
year untilled, not only would the corn supply that it 
might have yielded be lost, but the ground would pro- 
duce in abundance useless weeds that would scatter 
their seed on the wind over the whole country-side; 

* «To dread no eye, and to fear no tongue is the great and blessed 
prerogative of the innocent life" ; ** Man is a thinking being, whether he 
will or not — all he can do, then, Is to turn his thoughts aright." 


neither brain nor cornfield will remain neutral and 
dormant; a crop of something or other is inevitable. 
"If a man empties his purse," says the proverb, "into 
his head no man can take it from him ; " and other good 
adages are : " Not the studies, but the study, makes the 
scholar"; "Inquirers who are always inquiring never 
learn anything " ; " It is less painful to learn in youth 
than to be ignorant in age " ; while the doctrine of plain 
living and high thinking was admirably foreshadowed 
in this : " Cater frugally for the body, but feed the mind 
sumptuously " — an altogether excellent precept, and we 
must remember that, when all is done, the best and 
most important part of a man's education is that which 
he gives himself, and which fits him in this great 
workshop of the world to use his tools to the best 
advantage, and contribute something of value to the 
general store. 

It is a wise counsel to "Read not books alone but 
men, and chiefly to be careful to read oneself" — to take 
stock of oneself from time to time ; that youth should 
remember what seems too difficult then to realise, that 
a day will come when youth has fled, when the de- 
mands of life will continue, and the power to meet 
them will have weakened. Such proverbs as these 
should be pondered over: "Reckless youth makes 
rueful age"; "If youth knew what age would crave, 
it would both get and save " ; "A young man negligent, 
an old man necessitous." The same truth is put 
as clearly, but not so lugubriously, in the quainter 
saying : " He that saveth his dinner will have the 
more for his supper" — ^he that spares, that is, when 
he is young may the better spend when he is old. 
We have this, again, in a slightly varied and more 
intense form in the French, " He sups ill who eats all 
at dinner." 

When the youth goes forth into the world his know- 


ledge of the trials and temptations of life is small, while 
his faith in himself is great, and he sadly needs, far 
more than he knows, guidance, human and divine. 
What of counsel and of warning will our proverbs 
yield here? 

The following precepts answer this weighty question, 
and all are rich in wisdom and guidance : — " No one is 
mighty but he that conquers himself" ; " As we sow 
the habit so we reap the character " ; " Let others' 
shipwrecks be your beacons " ; " Careless watch invites 
vigilant foe " ; " Every day is a leaf in our history " ; 
"We live in the body, not as the servant but as the 
master"; "One vice is more expensive than many 
virtues " ; " Consider not pleasures as they come, but 
as they go " ; " Wade not where you see no bottom " ; 
" The path of virtue is the path of peace " ; " Clean 
glove may hide soiled hand " ; " Satan promises the 
best and pays the worst " ; " Those that would be 
kept from harm must keep out of harm's way " ; " One 
bad example spoils many good precepts"; "The day 
has ey^Sy the night has ears"; "He who makes light 
of small faults will fall into great ones " ; " He that 
Cometh into needless danger dies the Devil's martyr." 
Each of these will amply repay quiet pondering 

We give two verses of a very striking poem from 
a manuscript of the fifteenth century. It is en- 
titled, "Man his own Woe," and is fifteen verses 
long : 

" I made covienaunte trewe to be 
When I fiyrste crystened was, 
I wente to the worlde, and turned fro Thee, 
And folowede the fend and his trace. 
Fro wrathe and enuye wolde I not passe. 
With covetyse I was bawte also, 
My flesh hadde his wyll, alas, 
I wyte myselfe myne owene woo. 


" Ryche manne a thefc ys another, 
That of covetyse woU not slake, 
What he with wronge begyle his brother. 
In blysse fill sone shall he forsake. 
Byfore God for thefte hit ys take. 
All that wyth wronge he wynneth so ; 
But he the radure amends make 
He shall wyte hymeself hys owen wo." 

We have seen that rhymes are commonly used as a 
means of impressing proverbs on the memory. The 
four couplets — one from Gower's " Confessio Amantis " ; 
one from Bums, from his " Tam 0*Shanter " ; one from 
" An Honest Man's Fortune," written by John Fletcher 
three hundred years ago ; and the fourth from " The 
Lady's Dream" of Hood — that we now quote are 
equally worth remembrance: 

" Lo now, my son, what it is, 
A man to caste his eyes amis." 

'* Pleasures are like poppies spread, 
You seize the fk>wer, its bloom is shed." 

" Our acts are angels, for good or ill. 
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still." 

" Evil is wrought by want of thought, 
As well as want of heart" 

Other good proverbs for those at the commencement 
of life, are : that " A man is valued as he makes himself 
valuable " ; " Crises form not character, but reveal it " ; 
" He that finds it easy to repent will not find it hard to 
sin " ; " Wine neither keeps secrets nor carries out pro- 
mises " ; " Bacchus has drowned more than Neptune " ; 
and, happy truth, "Every slip is not a fall." It must 
be remembered that, while a man may have enough of 
the world to drag him down, he will never have enough 
to satisfy him — peace and satisfaction being found in a 


quite other direction than what by a strange misnomer 
is called " life." " A sound conscience is a triple Ifence 
of steel," so " Better keep evil out than turn it out" 
" Character is property," and " A good conscience 
makes an easy coudi"; "Complaining is a contempt 
upon oneself" ; " Thanksgiving is good, thanks-living is 

Friends, true and false, have made their mark on our 
proverb, store, and counsels of encouragement and of 
warning are abundantly at our service. How to re- 
cognise the true friend, how to detect the counterfeit 
article, is invaluable knowledge, and if we could only 
at all times be as wise as our rich mass of proverb-lore 
would fain have us to be, we should in matters of friend- 
ship, and in most other things, make a very prosperous 
voyage on the sea of life. One seems to detect several 
grades or qualities of friendship in these adages. There 
is that, for instance, which is unfailing, which in sickness 
and health, poverty or wealth, is always true and real ; 
then at the other end of the scale a sham article that 
soon has all the gilt rubbed off; and then in between 
these a less obvious failure, which has many of the 
marks of the real thing, and which will stand by one 
bravely when all is going smoothly, but which must not 
be put to any severe strain or it may snap. Then, again, 
we detect another variety of the article, who appears to 
be merely some one to be worked on, as, for example, 
"He is my friend that grindeth at my mill" — who 
comes to our help in our necessity, lends us money, 
tools, and so forth, and of whom we presently tire 
because he loses his yielding properties, or who pre- 
sently tires of us and our multitudinous wants. Then 
there is the candid friend, who is theoretically such a 
helpmate, but who in practice grows unbearable. This 
by no means exhausts the types one meets with, and 
we soon find that " friend " is a noun of multitude and 


stands for many things, from pure gold down to the 
veriesf brass or pinchbeck. 

The touchy people who are easily offended are not 
the people to make friends, or to keep them long if 
they do make them. "Who would be loved must 
love," or, with a slightly different shade of meaning, 
"That you may be loved, forget not to be lovable." 
To love and to be lovable are both essential if you 
would be loved. " A man is little the better for liking 
himself if no one else like him," since self-sufficiency 
means selfishness, and love does not prosper on that. 
A very good hint against selfishness is found in the 
Spanish, "Who eats Kis dinner alone must saddle his 
horse alone," for no one will go out of their way to 
help curmudgeons. It is an excellent maxim, too, that 
" He who receives a good turn should never foi^et it ; 
he who does one should never remember it." 

All have not the tact of him whose praises Moore 
sings : 

"Whose wit in the combat as gentle as bright 
Ne'er carried a heart-stain away on its blade." 

An old adage says, "Leave jesting ere it ceaseth to 
please " ; while another warns us that " A joke never 
gains over an enemy, but often loses a friend." * Some 
folk have a bantering manner that is disastrous, and if 
not held sternly in check will presently turn a warm- 
hearted friendship into indifference and repulsion. 

The part of the candid friend is a very difficult one ; 
nothing short of transparent honesty and abounding 
sympathy will make it possible. "Few there are," 
says the adage, " that will endure a true friend " ; while 
another runs, " I will be thy friend, but not thy vice's 

* Similar wise counsel is found in the warning that "A jest driven 
too fiur brings home hate," and that "Jeerers must be content to taste 
of their own broth." 


friend," but we should imagine that the recipient would 
scarcely take kindly to such a remark. " Better a little 
chiding than a great deal of heart-break," but few can 
bear it On the other hand, " Toleration should spring 
from our charity, and not from our indifference." " Re- 
proach is usually honest — the same cannot always be 
said of praise " ; but the happiest proverb is, " Charity, 
is greater than all." Those who live their lives in the 
light of that will need no lessons in the art of friendship, 
but will be already in the midst of friends, and them- 
selves of that happy company. 

Some people's notion of acquaintance seems to be 
what they can get out of it, and though they talk freely 
of "my friend," such folk have little notion of friendship. 
The following proverbs, though not exclusively theirs, 
point to this state of mind : " A friend in need is a 
friend indeed," "Short reckonings make long friends," 
" The begging of a courtesy is selling of liberty," " He 
is not charitable that will not be so privately," " Lenders 
have better memories than borrowers," " He is my friend 
that succoureth me, not he that pitieth me," " Promises 
may get friends, but performance keeps them," "He that 
gives his heart will not deny his money," " He loseth 
his thanks who promiseth and delayeth." Chaucer, in 
the " Romant of the Rose," writes : 

"Soth to saic 
Of him that loueth trew and well 
Frendship is more than is cattell. 
For frend in Court aie better is 
Then penny in purse certis " ; 

while one of our old proverbs declares, " As a man is 
friended, so the law is ended." This seems to imply 
that in the case of the man who has friends on the 
bench Justice will be a little blinder than usual, but it 
is evident that an unknown and friendless culprit must 
necessarily start under a disadvantage. 


The following proverbs we see we have classed in 
our rough notes as pertaining to "friends you have 
not proved,"* and this classification may very well 
stand. It includes such sayings as " Friends got with- 
out desert will be lost without cause," "A friend is 
never known till one have need," "Before you make a 
friend eat a bushel of salt with him." Heywood seems 
to have got very near to the root of the matter in 
these lines of his : 

" Many kinsfolke and few friends, some folke say : 
But I find many kinsfolke and friend not one. 
Folke say it hath been sayd many yeares since gone 
Prove thy friend ere thou hast neede : but in deede 
A friend is never knone till a man have neede. 
Before I had neede my most present foes 
Seemed my best friends, but thus the world goes.** 

The experience, we suppose, of all men, if ever this 
testing time really comes, is a twofold surprise — how 
entirely some they had trusted failed them, and how 
splendidly others came out of whom it was not ex- 

Seneca declares that "Our happiness depends upon 
the choice of our company," and we may, we suppose, 
take it that we all of us get about such friends as we 
deserve. " Our friends are the mirror in which we see 
ourselves." Other excellent adages pertaining to friend- 
ship are these : " Be slow in choosing a friend, slower 
yet in changing " ; t " Friendship multiplies joy and 
divides grief" ; " Wherever you see your friend trust 
yourself" ; " The way to have a friend is to be one " ; 

* '* Myne ease is builded all on trust. 

And yet mistrust breedes myne anoye." — Gascoigne, 
t " I love ever)rthing that is old— old friends, old times, old manners, 
old books."— "She Stoops to Conquer." 

"What find you better or more honourable than age? Take the pre- 
eminence of it in everything: in an old friend, in old wine, in an old 
pedigree."— "The Antiquary." 


" Hearts may agree though heads differ " ; " Wise and 
good men are friends, others are but companions " ; 
"Search thy friend for his virtues, thyself for thy 
faults"; "Love sought is good, but given unsought is 
better"; "God divideth man into men, that so they 
may help each other " ; "A man is valued as he makes 
himself valuable." The Spaniards declare that " Eggs 
of an hour, bread of a day, wine of a year, a friend 
of thirty years, are best." 

"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, 
Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel **; 

and in another passage Shakespeare writes of kindly 

" Words of so sweet breath compounded, 
As made the things more rich" ; 

and it certainly appears to us that if we had reached 
the lowest depth of destitution we would yet rather 
have the gracious inability to help that some would 
express to us than the brusque brutality of some donors. 
When one would seek fine thoughts admirably pre- 
sented one naturally turns in the first place to Shake- 
speare, but Chaucer makes an excellent second. How 
charming this line from " The Gierke's Tale," " He is 
gentil that doeth gentil dedis," and this passage again 
from the " Romant of the Rose " : 

" Loue of fi'endshippe also there is. 
Which maketh no man dou amis, 
Of wil knitte betwixt two. 
That wol not breke for wele ne wo." 

Tusser, in his quaint directness, says in his "Five 
Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie " : 

"The quiet friend all one in worde and dede 
Great comfort is, like ready golde at nede 
With bralling fooles that wrall for euerie wrong 
Firme friendship neuer can continue long. 


Oft times a friend is got with easie cost, 

Which vsed euill is oft as quickly lost. 

Hast thou a friend, as heart may wish at will? 

Then vse him so to haue his friendship still. 

Wouldst haue a friend, wouldst knowe what friend is best ? 

Haue God thy friend, who passeth all the rest." 

The following sayings of warning and experience 
have their valuable lessons : — *' Trust not new friend 
nor old enemy " ; " Though the sore may be healed 
yet the scar may remain " ; * " Small wounds, if many, 
may be mortal " ; " Vexation is rather taken than 
given " ; " At the gate which suspicion enters friend- 
ship departs " ; " False friends are worse than open 
enemies " ; " He that ceased to be a friend never was 
a good one " ; " An unbidden guest knoweth not where 
to sit " ; " All are not friends that speak us fair " ; 
" Every one's friend, no one's " ; "A friend that you 
buy will be bought from you." 

An old saw bluntly says, " To make an enemy lend 
money, and ask for it again " ; and it is certainly an 
excellent rule to have as little to do with money matters 
as one can help with one's friends and relatives. To 
appeal for help and to be refused, to lend and to see 
very little chance of repayal, to receive and to be under 
a heavy sense of obligation, are all destructive of frank 
and hearty friendship. Chaucer declares that 

" His herte is hard that woU not weke 
When men of meeknesse him beseeke.** 

An excellent man, most kindly in all his dealings, 
told us that he never lent money. The borrower is 
ordinarily in such straits that he has little chance of 
ever repaying. If he never intends to pay he is a 

• "Geflickte Freundschaft wird selten wieder ganx," lay the Germans 
— patched up friendship seldom becomes whole again. 


knave,* and if he has more honourable thought he is 
crushed by the burden of the debt Anyone who came 
to our excellent friend with a true and touching story 
was sympathetically received, and his request for the 
temporary loan of twenty pounds promptly declined! 
As an alternative he was offered a somewhat smaller 
sum, the half or, mayhap, the quarter of this, as a free 
gift, which he never failed to accept joyfully. In one 
of the Harleian manuscripts, dating from the reign of 
Edward IV., the writer's experience is a very common 
one, and his decision sound : 

" I wold lend but I ne dare, 
I have lent and I will beware 
When I lant I had a fiynd, 
When I hym asked he was unkynd. 
Thus of my frynd I made my foo, 
Therefore darre I lend no moo." 

The writer was evidently a kindly man, desiring to do 
the best he could, and he touchingly appeals to us 
not to judge him harshly : 

" I pray yo of your gentilnesse 
Report for no unkyndnesse." 

Some one has very wisely remarked that many of 
the disappointments of life arise from our mistaking 
acquaintances for friends, and then when some little 
testing incident arises they break under the strain. 
"Prosperity makes friends, adversity proves them." 
One sarcastic adage hath it that "Friends are like 
fiddle-strings: they must not be screwed too tight"; 
but the Scotch say, and justly, that "He that's no 
my friend at a pinch is no my friend ava." Some 

* Tusser writes of such : 

" His promise to pay is as slipprie as ice, 
His credit much like the cast of the dice, 
His knowledge and skill is in prating too much, 
His compianie shunned, and so be all such. 
His friendship is counterfeit, seldome to trust." 


centuries ago, human nature being then evidently very 
similar to what it is to-day, a wise man wrote : " If thou 
wouldst get a friend, prove him first, and be not hasty 
to credit him. For some man is a friend for his own 
occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble ; 
and there is a friend who, being turned to enmity and 
strife, will discover thy reproach ; again, some friend is 
a companion at the table, and will not continue in the 
day of thy affliction." 

In Chaucer's "Romaunt of the Rose," we find the 
poet using the expression, " Farewel fieldfare," a vale- 
diction on summer friends that, like the wild and 
migratory fieldfare, take to themselves wings and 
depart An old rhyming adage declares that ".In 
time of prosperity friends will be plenty, in time of 
adversity not one in twenty"; or, to quote Tusser: 

" Where welthines floweth, no friendship can lack. 
Whom pouertie pincheth, hath friendship as slack" ; 

while Goldsmith, it will be remembered, bitterly sums 

all up in, 

" What is friendship but a name, 
A charm that lulls to sleep, 
A shade that follows wealth and fame, 
But leaves the wretch to weep." 

Another adage declares that "Compliments cost 
nothing but may be dearly bought," while another 
candidly warns, " I cannot be your friend and your 
flatterer too." The flatterer has ordinarily " an axe to 

" His fetch is to flatter, to get what he can. 
His purpose once gotten, a fig for thee then." 

In the "Rambler" No. 155, Johnson sapiently remarks, 
" Flattery, if its operations be nearly examined, will 
be found to owe its acceptance, not to our ignorance, 
but to our knowledge of our failures, and to delight us 


rather as it consoles our wants than displays our 
possessions." Swift asserts that 

" 'Tis an old maxim in the schools, 
That flatter/s the food of fools, 
Yet now and then your men of wit 
Will condescend to take a bit." 

Bacon tells us, however, that "There is no such flat- 
terer as is a man's selfe, and there is no such remedie 
against flatterie of a man's selfe as the libertie of a 
friend." It has been said that "A friend's frown is 
worth more than a fool's smile," but a cynical writer 
has affirmed, with some little truth, that " Most of 
our misfortunes are more supportable than the 
comments of our friends upon them," and it was long 
since discovered that " Whoso casteth a stone at the 
birds frayeth them away, and he that upbraideth his 
friend breaketh friendship." The duty of remonstrance 
is one of the most difficult that the friend can under- 
take, and " Save, save, O save me from the candid 
friend !" is the cry of Canning in " The New Morality," 
a cry that many have been inclined to echo. 

Our ancestors, with blunt directness, asserted that 
" Fish and guests stink in three days," while the Arabs 
have the picturesque proverb, " A thousand raps, but 
no welcome " — a pertinacious hammering at the closed 
door but no response from within ; a fruitless 
endeavour to thrust an intimacy on those who do 
not desire it. 

We have seen that the friend lost is never really 
recovered and may become very readily an implac- 
able enemy. Shakespeare warns us to "Trust not 
him that hath once broken faith," and we most of 
us know by experience how true are the lines of 
Dryden : 

" Forgiveness to the injured doth belong. 
But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong." 


The ancient Romans had a proverb that the 
French have adopted in the words, "Jeter de Thuile 
sur le feu." We have no identical English proverb, 
but its meaning is clearly a reference to those evil 
spirits who foment a quarrel, add fuel to the fire, 
irritate rather than soothe, and who have no part or 
lot in the blessing promised to the peace-makers. 

The following adages are here worthy of our 
consideration : — " He that does you an ill turn will not 
forgive you " ; " Pardon others often, thyself seldom " ; 
" We are bound to forgive an enemy, but we are not 
bound to trust him " ; ♦ " Better ride alone than have 
a bad man's company " ; " Haste is the beginning of 
wrath, iind its end repentance " ; " It is wiser to 
prevent a quarrel than to revenge it " ; "If thou 
wouldst be borne with, bear with others." To these 
we may add the oft-used saw, " The absent are 
always wrong," without at all endorsing its truth. 
The absent are often quite as right as the other people, 
and are merely unable through absence to protect 
themselves from defamation. 

Poverty and riches naturally find a place in proverb- 
lore. "Poverty," says an old author, "is no crime, 
and it is no credit " ; but the truth is, it is impossible 
to generalise quite so dogmatically as this — for poverty 
may be a crime when a lazy ne'er-do-well allows his 
wife and children to come to rags, and, on the other 
hand, it may be a credit when a man has done his 
best and foresworn all the dirty little tricks that have 
enriched his trade rivals. It is sometimes too readily 
and sentimentally assumed that poverty is itself a 
benediction ; hence such sayings as " The poor are 

* " The book sayeth that no wight retourneth safely into the grace of 
his olde enemie, and Ysope sayth, ne troste not to hem, to which thoa 
hast some time hed werre or enmitee, ne telle hem not thy counseil." 
— Chaucbr, The Tale of Melibeus, 



God's receivers and the angels are His auditors," but 
the real state of the case is excellently well put in 
the proverb, "There are God's poor, and the devil's 

" Honour and shame from no condition rise ; 
Act well your part, there all the honour lies." 

Everywhere in life, some one has admirably said, 
the true question is not what we gain, but rather 
what we do. " Poverty need not be shame, but being 
ashamed of it is," poverty of spirit being a more 
distressing state of things than emptiness of pocket 

Let us turn to the wisdom of those who have gone 
before us, and see what teaching for our edification 
we may find. " Nothing is to be got without pains 
except poverty " ; " Dependence is a poor trade to 
follow " ; " Opportunities do not generally wait " ; 
" Enough is a plenty, too much is pride " ; " The groat 
is ill-saved which shames its master " ; " Providence 
provides for the provident " ; " To bear is to conquer " ; 
" Poverty craves much, but avarice more " ; " Gain 
ill-gotten is loss " ; " Poverty is the mother of all 
arts " ; " Content is the true philosopher's stone " ; 
"If honesty cannot, knavery must not"; "Poor and 
content is rich " ; " Flatterers haunt not cottages " ; 
"Thrive honestly, or remain poor." 

In a manuscript of the fifteenth century we found 
the following excellent precepts amongst many others, 
the whole being much too long to quote :' 

" If thou be visite with pouerte 
Take it not to hevyle 
For he that sende the adversite 
May turn the agen to wele. 
Purpose thy selfe in charite 
Demene thy worschip in honeste 
Let not nygardschip haue the maystre 
For schame that may befalle 


Faver not meche thy ryechcs, 
Set not lytel by worthyncs 
Kepe thyn hert from dowblenes 
For any manner thyng." 

Another budget of excellent precepts will commend 
itself to the thoughtful reader in the following : — ^** He 
who buys what he does not want will want what he 
cannot buy"; "Winter finds out what summer has laid 
up " ; " Sleeping master makes servant lazy " ; " Thrush 
paid for is better than turkey owed for"; "Better 
small fish than empty dish"; "He that borrows binds 
himself with his neighbour's rope"; "A man must 
plough with such oxen as he hath"; "He goes like 
a top, no longer than he is whipped"; "Better half 
a loaf than no bread"; "Better do it than wish it 
done"; "He that goes borrowing goes sorrowing"; 
"Better say here it is, than here it was"; "If you 
light the fire at both ends the middle will take care 
of itself." 

Some three hundred years ago an old writer thought 
out what he called "the ladder to thrift," and these 
were some of his hints : 

" To take thy calling thankfully 
And shun the path to beggary. 

To grudge in youth no drudgery, 
To come by knowledge perfectly. 

To plow profit eamestlie. 
But meddle not with pilferie. 

To hold that thine is lawfullie 
For stoutness or for flatterie. 

To suffer none live idlelle 
For feare of idle knaverie. 

To answere stranger ciuilie, 
But show him not thy secresie. 

To vse no friend deceitfully, 
To offer no man villeny. 


To leame how foe to pacifie, 
But trust him not too trustilie. 

To meddle not with vsurie 
Nor lend thy monie foolishlie. 

To loue thy neighbor neighborly 
And shew him no discurtesy. 

To leame to eschew ill company 
And such as Hue dishonestlie." 

Though quaintly put — and their quaintness is accen- 
tuated by spelling such as would not at all pass muster 
in these iron-bound days of examinations for high and 
low, rich and poor — these halting couplets contain a 
full modicum of excellent common-sense. 

It is not really the man whose possessions are few who 
is poor as he whose desires are great, and it has been 
well said that if we help some one who is worse off 
than ourselves we soon realise that we are more afflu- 
ent than we thought. The helping to bear another's 
burden does not add to our own, but lightens it 

The French say, "Vent au visage rend un homme 
sage," a proverb fairly paralleled in an English adage, 
"Adversity makes a man wise, not rich." A quaint 
and serviceable proverb, quoted by Ray and others^ 
though it has now passed quite out of use, is the 
assertion that "A bad bush is better than the open 
field," whether in sultry sunshine, piercing gale, or 
heavy downpour. It is better to have some friends, 
even though they can do little or nothing for us, 
than to be thrown quite destitute on a pitiless world ; 
and it is wiser to make the best of what is than to 
scorn the small amount of help that it is able to 

Wealth has its store of proverb-wisdom even in more 
abundance than poverty has, and it is only reasonable 


that this should be so, for it is a position of great 
responsibility, and its proper use requires all the wis- 
dom that a man possesses, and sometimes, as we see, 
more than he possesses. Let us turn, then, to the 
precepts of the past and see what of value we can 
find in them for the present and the future. The 
following are a few of these: — "If a good man thrive, 
all will thrive with him";* "Riches riather enlarge than 
satisfy appetite"; "Possess your money, but do not let 
it possess you"; "Reputation is often measured by the 
acre"; "Great spenders are bad lenders"; "Liberality 
is not giving largely, but giving wisely"; "One may 
buy gold too dearly " ; " He gives but little who gives 
only from a sense of duty"; "No estate can make 
him rich that hath a poor heart"; "Lavishness is not 
generosity"; "Great receipt renders us liable to great 
account"; "Wealth is not his that gets it, but his that 
enjoys it";t "Worth has been under-rated ever since 
wealth was over - rated " ; " Covetous people always 
think themselves in want"; "He is alone rich who 
has contentment"; "God reaches us good things by 
our own hands"; "Slow help is very little help at 
all"; "Bounty is more- commended than imitated";! 
"Spare well that you may spend well"; "The liberal 

* "To become rich is a good thing, but to make all rich about you 
is better."— K Bu^, 

t •* They call'd thee rich, I deem'd thee poor, 
Since, if thou dar*dst not use thy store, 
But sav'd it only for thy heirs, 
The treasure was not thine, but' theirs." 

"The prodigal robs his heir; the miser himself." 

t *' Bountifulness is as a most fruitful g^den, and mercifulness endureth 
for ever." "Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in distri- 
bution, the rest is but conceit." 

"Who shuts his hand hath lost his gold. 
Who opens it, hath it twice told." 


hand gathers."* It has been said that "Some men 
give of their means and others of their meanness/' 
and the statement has copious experience either way 
to fully justify it 

Plutarch declared "E tribus optimis rebus tres 
pessimge oriuntur," — that from three things excellent 
three very bad things were produced ; truth begetting 
hatred, familiarity contempt, and success envy. Another 
old Roman saying is, "An dives sit, omnes quaenint^ 
nemo an bonus " — all want to know if a man be rich, 
but no one troubles to inquire if he be good ; yet 
" Great possession is not necessarily great enjoyment,** 
and the moralist warns us — 

"Put not in this world too much trust, 
The riches whereof will tume to dust."t 

" As a means of grace prosperity has never been much 
of a success." The Spaniards say, " Honor y provecho 
no capen en un saco": "Honour and profit cannot be 
contained in the same bag," rather too sweeping a 
statement. Another Spanish adage is, "El que tra- 
baja y madra, hila oro": "He who labours and strives 
spins gold," reaps the reward of his industry. The 
French say, in praise of the thriftiness that is so 
characteristic of them, that " Le petit gain remplit la 
bourse": "Light gains make a full purse." Those 
who sell dearly sell little, and the small margin of 
profit oft repeated is the more advantageous. The 
Spanish proverb affirms that " He who would be rich in 
a year gets hanged in half a year," the pace being too 

* " If lyberalyte be well and duely employed it acquireth pepetuelle 
honour to the gyuer, and moche frute and syngular commoditie thereby 
encreaseth. " — ElyoL 

t "A little wealth will suffice us to live well, and still less to die 
well." "Seek not proud riches, but such as thou mayest get justly, use 
soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly.'* 


great for honesty to keep up with. Another maxim 
of thrift is that "If you make not much of three- 
pence you will never be worth a groat" The moral 
atmosphere, however, is getting a little stifling, and 
we are reminded of the lines of Gower on the over- 
frugal man : 

" For he was grutchende euermore. 
There was wyth hym none other fare 
But for to pinche and for to spare 
Of worldes mucke to gette encres." 

Let us " Take care of the pence that the pounds may 
take care of themselves,"* but having got the pounds 
let us remember that "Judicious saving affords the 
means of judicious giving," and that " The best way 
to expand the chest is to have a large heart in it." 
" Money is a good servant but an ill master," and 
"He is not fit for riches who is afraid to use them"; 
" To a good spender God is treasurer." 

Woman's influence on mankind is the subject of 
many proverbs, some of them kindly enough in tone, 
but the greater number of them characterised by satire 
and bitter feeling. As a sample of the first method 
of treating the subject may be instanced the testimony 
borne by this old rhyming adage : " Two things do 
prolong thy life — a quiet heart and a loving wife." 
It has been truly said that " A man's best fortune, 
or his worst, is a wife," and another excellent saying 
is this: "Men make houses — women make homes."t 

* "But then their saying p>ennie proverbe comes." — "Two Angry 
Women of Abington," 1599. 

t "Who so fyndeth an honest £aythfull woman she is moch more 
worth than perles. The hert of her husband maye safely trust in her, 
so that he ^lall have no nede of spoyles. She wyll do hym good and 
not euill all the dayes of her lyf. Strength and honoure is her clothynge 
and in the latter daye she shall reioyce. She openeth her mouth with 


Another wise old saw tells us that a man should 
" Choose a wife rather by ear than eye," judging her, 
not by personal charms, that are at best evanescent,* 
but by the kindliness of her nature and by the testimony 
of her worth that others declare. "Beauty," we are 
warned, " is but skin-deep," a truth that the old moral- 
ists and painters sometimes made more of with their 
paraphernalia of skulls and other symbols of mortality 
than was altogether seemly. St Chrysostom writes: 
" When thou seest a fair and beautiful person, a comely 
woman, having bright eyes and merry countenance, a 
pleasant grace, bethink with thyself that it is but earth 
that thou seest." t 

Another piece of sound proverbial teaching is this : 
"Choose your wife on a Saturday, not Sunday," that 
is to say, be drawn to her rather by what you see of 
her industry and power of management than be merely 
fascinated by a triumph of the milliner's art ; choose 
her rather when her sweetness of temper carries her 
smoothly through turmoil and worry than when the 
Sunday rest gives no test of her power to stand this 
strain. Saturday manners may be very different to 
Sunday manners. 

" Good husewife good fame hath of best in the towne, 
111 husewife ill name hath of euerie clowne." 

Amongst popular proverbs we find the cautious — 

wysdome, and in her tonge is the lawe of grace. She loketh well to 
Che wayes of her housholde, and eateth not her bred with ydelnes. 
Her children aryse and call her blessed : and her husband maketh 
moche of her."—" Matthew's Version of Bible," 1537. 

" La beaut^ du visage est un fr^le ornement, 
Une fleur pas^^re, un ^lat d'un moment" — Moliire, 

t "But admitting your body's finer, all that beauty is but skin-deep." 
—'•The Female Rebellion," 1682. "All the beauty of the world, 'tis 
but skin-deep, a sunne- blast defiaiceth it." — "Orthodoxe Paradoxes," 


"Marry in haste and repent at leisure,"* and "Love 
and lordship like not fellowship," and the advice— 
" Marry for love, but only love that which is lovely." 
It is very gracefully true, too, that " When the good- 
man's from home the good-wife's table is soon spread," 
while there is quaint sarcasm in this: "Next tp no 
wife a good wife is best";t and the value of influence 
is brought before us in the adage, "A good Jack 
makes a good Jill." 

In Torrington churchyard we find the following high 
testimony to a wife : — 

" She was — my words arc wanting to say what — 
Think what a woman should be — she was that " ; 

while in Chaucer's "Shipmanne's Tale" we find the 
following quaint appeal : — 

** For which, my dere wife, I thee beseke, 
As be to every wight buxom and meke, 
And for to kepe our good be curious. 
And honestly goveme wel our hous." 

The following Italian proverb is a very happy one, 
and accords entirely with general experience: — "La 
donna savia h all' impensata, alia pensata h matta": 
"Women are wise ofThand and fools on reflection"; 
while the advice of the Spaniard, though ungracious 
enough in its utterance, is valuable — ^"El consejo de 
la muger es poco, y quieu no le toma es loco": "A 

* ** Daughter, in Uiis I can thinke none other 
But that it is tnie thys prouerbe dd, 
Hastye loue is soooe hot and scone cdd." 

— •• Play of Wyt and Sdence," c 1540. 
t ••Whosoever lives unmarried lives without joy, wiUioiit comfort, 
without Messing. Love your wife like yourself, honour her more Una 
joorself. It is woman alone through whom God's blessings are ▼oqdi. 
safed to a house. She teaches the children, speeds the YmAmaA, and 
welcomes him when he returns, keeps the house godly and poie and 
God's blessings rest upon these things." — Td/mud, * 


woman's counsel is no great thing, but he who does 
not take it is a fool." An old English proverb goes 
so far as to declare that " A man must ask his wife's 
leave to thrive," and there is not a little wisdom in 
the counsel. A very ungracious proverb, indeed, is 
the German — ^ Es giebt nur zwei gute Weiber auf der 
Welt : die Eine ist gestorben, die Andere nicht zu 
finden": "There are only two good women in the 
world ; one of them is dead, and the other is not to 
be found." 

Some would tells us that marriages are made in 
heaven,* but a sapient saw reminds us that "There is 
no marriage in heaven, neither is there always heaven 
in marriage." 

Gossip, and the mischief-making that may too often 
accrue from imprudent loquacity, have at all times been 
so commonly attributed to the fair sex that we naturally 
find many such proverbs as these : " Silence is not the 
greatest vice of a woman " ; " A woman conceals what 
she does not know " ; " He that tells his wife news is 
but newly married." The words of Hotspur will be 
recalled : 

"Constant you are. 
But yet a woman, and for secrecy 
No lady closer; for I well believe 
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know.** 

The writer of Ecclesiasticus declares that "As the 
climbing up a sandy way is to the feet of the aged, 
so is a wife full of words to a quiet man " ; while in 
a MS. of the time of Henry V. we find the following 
quaint statement : — 

* "You see marris^e is destinie, made in heaven, though consummated 
on earth." — Lely, Mother BombUy 1594. Shakespeare, too, in the ** Mer- 
chant of Venice," declares that " hanging and wiving go by destiny." In 
"The Cheats," written by Wilson in 1662, Scruple remarks, "Good sir, 
marriages are made in heaven." Many similar passages to these might be 


"Two wymen in one howse, 
Two cattes and one mowse, 
Two dogges and one bone 
Maye never accorde in one." 

Udall writes that " As the kynde of women is naturally 
geuen to the vyce of muche bablynge there is nothyng 
wherein theyr womanlynesse is more honestlie garnyshed 
than with sylence " ; but a Welsh proverb declares that 
"A woman's strength is in her tongue,"* and we can 
scarcely be surprised that she is at times reluctant to 
forego the use of this weapon. 

The Spaniards sarcastically assert that " He who is 
tired of a quiet life gets him a wife " ; and Solomon, 
we recall, declares that "It is better to dwell in a 
comer of the house-top than with a brawling woman " ; 
while another proverb bitterly, but truly, declares that 
" He fasts enough whose wife scolds all dinner-time " ; 
and yet another hath it that " He that can abide a 
curst wife need not fear any"; so that an old writer 
breaks out: 

"Why then I see to take a shrew 
(As seldome other there be few) 

Is not the way to thriue : 
So hard a thing I spie it is, 
The good to chuse, the shrew to mis, 
That feareth me to wiue." 

This bitter feelings against womankind is seen not only 
in our proverbs, but very largely also in epitaphs, as 
for example: 

" Here lies my wife, a sad slattern and shrew. 
If I said I respected her I should lie too." 

" Here lies my wife, and, Heaven knows. 
Not less for mine than her repose." 

* ** He is a fool who thinlcs by force or skill 
To turn the current of a woman's will." 

TUKK, Advmturts of Fiv Hours y 1673. 



"Here lies my poor wife, much lamented; 
She is happy, and I am contented." 

"Here rests my spouse; no pair through life 
So equal lived as we did; 
Alike we shared perpetual strife. 
Nor knew I rest till she did." 

" Here lies my poor wife, 
Without bed or blanket; 
But dead as a door nail: 
God be thanked." 

At Prittlewell Church a man buried his two wives in 
one grave, and then placed over their remains this 
callous rigmarole: 

"Were it my choice that either of the twaine 
Might be restored to me to enjoy again. 

Which should I choose? 
Well, since I know not whether, 
rU mourn for the loss of both. 

But wish for neither."* 

On the tomb of a man at Bilston we get the other 
side, as the widow selected as a text the words: "If 
any man ask you, why do you loose him, then shall 
ye say unto him, because the Lord hath need of him." 
Those who recall the occasion on which these words 
were first used will see that her husband was, by im- 
plication, an ass. 

* The following, from Wycombe Church, is an agreeable variation : 

** Here lies one, whose rest 
Gives me a restless life, 
Because IVe lost a good 
And virtuous wife." 

In Milton Abbot Church we find a memorial to one Bartholomew Doidge 
and Joan, his wife. The wife was buried on the ist of February 1681, and 
the husband on the 12th, and the inscription goes on to say : 

" She first deceased : he a little tried 
To live without her, liked it not, and died." 


Mere loquacity is satirised in the two following: — 

" Here lies, returned to Clay, 
Miss Arabella Young, 
Who, on the first of May, 
Began to hold her tongue." 

*' Beneath this silent stone is laid 
A noisy, antiquated maid. 
Who from her cradle talked till death, 
And ne'er before was out of breath." 

Other proverbs that deal with womankind are the 
following :—" He that has a wife has strife"; "Of all 
tame beasts sluts are the worst"; "If a woman were 
as little as good, a peascod would make her a gown 
and a hood " ; " He that loses his wife and a farthing 
hath great loss of the • farthing " ; " Every man can 
tame a shrew but he that hath her " ; " Lips, however 
rosy, must be fed " ; " Women, wind, and fortune soon 
change." The feminine readiness to take refuge in 
tears is responsible for the following cynical adage: — 
"It is no more sin to see a woman weep than to sec 
a goose go barefoot"* Another well-known proverb 
is that " No mischief in the world is done, but a woman 
is always one " ; while the French say, if any inexplic- 
able trouble breaks out, " Cherchez la femme " — in the 
assured belief that a woman is in some way or another 
at the bottom of it Lamartine, on the other hand, 
declares that "There is a woman at the beginning of 
all great things." There is considerable truth in both 
statements, antagonistic as they are. 

In the household where the unfortunate husband 
has allowed the control to slip into the hands of his 

* " By thys tmle ye may se that the dde pronerbe ys trew that yt is as 
gret pyte to le a woman wepe as a gose to go barefooCe." — '* Mery Tayls," 
c 1525. Patteoham, in ''The Arte of English Poesie," 1589, gives a 
nUher different rendering, a satire on feminine gosh and misplaoed sym- 
pathy, " By the common pronerbe a woman will weepe for pitie to see a 
gosling goe barefoote." 


wife, " The grey mare is the better horse." The French 
call this "Le marriage d'epervier" — a hawk's weddii^, 
because the female hawk is the bigger bird. In ''A 
Treatyse Shewing and Declaring the Pryde and Abuse 
of Women Now a Days," c. 1550, we find: 

'^What! shall the graye mayre be the better horse. 
And be wanton styll at home? 
Naye, then, welcome home, Syr Woodcocke, 
Ye shall be tamed anone." 

Hey wood, writing in the year 1546, has the couplet: 

''She is, quoth he, bent to force you perforce, 
To know that the grey mare is the better horse," 

and in many of the old plays the saying crops up : 

" 111 thrives that hapless family that shows 
A cock that's silent and a hen that crows ; 
I know not which live more unnatural lives, 
Obeying husbands, or commanding wives." 

" The whistling maid " and " the crowing hen " are alike 
held objectionable, these masculine performances being 
considered entirely out of place and of bad omen. 

The perils of matrimony would, according to the 
proverb-mongers, appear to be so great that we can 
scarcely wonder at the counsel : 

''If that a batchelor thou bee 
Keepe the same style, be ruled by mee, 
Lest that repentance all too late 
Rewarde thee withe a broken pate. 
Iff thou be yonge then marye not yett, 
Iff thou be olde thou hast more wytt : 
For yonge men's wyves wyll not be taught, 
And olde men's wyves bee good for nought" 

The home-life has goodly store of proverbial wisdom 
associated with it. The French say: "Chaque oiseau 
trouve son nid bien," and the Italians, " Ad ogni uccello 
il suo nido i bello," while the Englishman says, " East, 


west, home is best."* Monckton Milnes very truly 
says, "A man's best things are nearest him, He close 
about his feet"; and a charming old saying is this, 
that "Small cheer, with great welcome, make a big 
feast." Proverbs, it must be confessed, are ordinarily 
very worldly wise, and much more frequently see the 
worse than the better side of things, and most of 
the adages about the home are very materialistic in 
tone; the sweet sentiment that is associated with the 
idea must be sought elsewhere. " The suit is best that 
fits me best," says an English adage, and the comfort 
of content is seen again in the Scottish saying — 
"Better a little fire that warms than mickle that 
burns." Socrates, passing through the markets, cried: 
" How much is here I do not want." " He who wants 
content," says an old proverb, "cannot find an easy 

Prudential maxims are very numerous ; thus, we are 
warned that "Wilful waste makes woful want," that 
"Silks and satins put out the kitchen fire," and that 
"If you pay not a servant his wages he will pay 
himself ; " while caution in another direction is ad- 
vised in the saying, "The child says in the street 
what he heard at the fireside," and in this: "One 
bad example spoils many good precepts," The 
Grermans say that " It is easier to build two hearths 
than to keep a fire in one," while the Portuguese 

* ** The shuddering tenant of the frigid zone. 
Boldly proclaims the happiest spot his own, 
Extols the treasures of his stormy seas, 
And his long night of revelry and ease. 
The naked savage, panting at the line, 
Boasts of his golden sands, and palmy wine, 
Basks in the glare, or stems the tepid wave, 
And thanks his gods for all the good they gave. 
Nor less the patriot's boast, where'er he roam. 
His first, best country, ever is at home." 

—Goldsmith, The TravelUr. 


advocate a judicious blending of prudence with senti- 
ment in the adage : " Marry, marry, but what about 
the housekeeping?" — a by no means unimportant con- 
sideration. Love in a cottage will fare the better if the 
larder be not too bare. 

The writer of Ecclesiasticus describes very happily 
the plight of the unwelcome guest — the man or woman 
who, as we say in English, is sitting all the while on 
thorns. "Better is the life of a poor man in a mean 
cottage than delicate fare in another man's house. For 
it is a miserable life to go from house to house, for 
where thou art a stranger thou darest not open thy 
mouth. Give place, thou stranger, to an honourable 
man ; my brother cometh to be lodged, and I have 
need of mine house" — a sufficiently humiliating dis- 
missal. It has, we presume, been the lot of most 
people to find themselves the objects of a special 
and not quite disinterested friendship ; to feel that one 
is being used, and one's kindness abused. Such people 
in the end defeat their own object, since one soon 
learns to avoid the risk of an invitation for a week 
when we remember that the last acceptance of such 
an invitation meant a two months' sojourn, and the 
upsetting of all our plans. Proverbs relating to this 
state of things will be seen in " An unbidden guest 
knows not where to sit " ; " Who depends on another's 
table may often dine late " ; and the advice to " Scald 
not your lips with another's porridge " — all warnings of 
excellent value and weight. 

Our readers will long ere this have discovered that 
the book of Ecclesiasticus is ever at our elbow when 
we would find words of wisdom, and we turn to it now 
afresh in our search for caution as to the tale-bearer and 
the breaker of confidences. " Love thy friend and be 
faithful unto him ; but if thou bewrayest his secrets 
follow no more after him. For as a man hath de- 


stroyed his enemy, so hast thou lost the love of thy 
neighbour. As one that letteth a bird go out of his 
hand, so hast thou let thy neighbour go, and shall 
not get him again." And elsewhere, in the same 
treasury of wisdom, we read : " Whoso discovereth 
secrets loseth his credit, and shall never find friend 
to his need." In the Book of Proverbs * we find : " He 
that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" — loss 
of faith implying loss of friend. 

Chaucer, it will be remembered, says that "Three 
may keep a counsel if twain be away." Another old 
writer tells us that "Curiosity is a kernel of the 
forbidden fruit, which still sticketh in the heart of 
the natural man," and this is seen almost at its worst 
when endeavouring to find out a matter that the person 
most concerned would desire to leave unknown, and 
quite at its worst when knowledge thus gained is made 
general property. " None are so fond of secrets as 
those who do not mean to keep them." There is no 
more trying person to deal with than he or she who 
continually punctuate their conversation with cautions 
that they " wish this matter to go no further," and warn 
us that that detail is " entirely between ourselves." They 
are an unmitigated nuisance. 

A very quaint old proverb is that which tells us that 
" He was scarce of news that told that his father was 
hanged," and a very excellent rule of conduct is this : 
" Whether it be to friend or foe talk not of other men's 
lives." We are warned, too, that " He who chatters to 
you will chatter also of you," and the experience of 
most of us will confirm the wisdom of the adage. 

Other happy sayings are these: "No one will repeat 
the matter if it be not said " ; " Sudden trust heralds 

* The Book of Proverbs is no less rich in wisdom than the Book of 
Ecclesiasticus, but the latter being somewhat less familiar to many readers 
we prefer to draw upon its pages in illustration of our English adages. 



sudden repentance " ; " More have repented of speech 
than of silence " ; "A fool will neither give nor keep 
counsel "; " He that tells all he knows will also tell what 
he does not know " ; " To tell our own secrets is folly, 
to tell those of others treachery " ; " Thy friend has a 
friend, and thy friend's friend hath a friend" — great 
discretion is therefore necessary. 

Hey wood warns the man who thinks himself secure : 

*' Some heare and see him whom he heareth and seeth not 
For fieldes have eies and woods have eares ye wot,** 

an idea that we find yet earlier in a manuscript, 
"King Edward and the Shepherd," written about the 
year 1300: 

" The were bettur be styll, 
Wode has erys, felde has syght" 

So gracious a gift of Heaven to the sons of men as 
hope must necessarily find recognition in our proverbial 
wisdom. Our readers will recall the lines in Pope's 
" Essay on Man," where he declares that 

** Hope springs eternal in the human breast ; 
Man never is, but always to be, blest. 
The soul, uneasy, and confin'd from home 
Rests and expatiates in a life to come." 

And in "Measure for Measure" we read that "the 
miserable have no other medicine, but only hope"; 
hence the saying: "Quench not hope, for when hope 
dies all dies." The Italians say : " L'ultima che si 
perde h la speranza" — the last thing lost is hope,* 

♦ ** To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow ; 
To feed on hope, to pine vrith feare and sorrow ; 
To fret thy soule with crosses and with cares ; 
To eate thy heart through comfortlesse dispaires.'* 

— Spenser, 


and the terrible words in the "Paradise Lost" recur 
to us : 

"So farewell hope, and, with hope, farewell fear. 
Farewell remorse : all good to me is lost. 
Evil, be thou my good." 

Lord Bacon, being in York House garden, looking 
at some fishermen as they were throwing their nets 
in what was then the pellucid and silvery Thames, 
asked them what they would take for their catch. 
They mentioned a certain price, and his lordship 
offered them somewhat less, which they declined to 
accept. They drew up their nets and in it were but 
three small fishes, and Lord Bacon said that it had 
been better for them had they closed with his offer. 
They replied that they had hoped that the catch 
would have been much greater, and his lordship in 
response reminded them of the proverb, " Hope is a 
good breakfast, but a bad supper" -* and an admirably 
true saying it is. 

A pithy old adage has it that "Hope is as cheap 
as despair," and it is certainly pleasanter; while 
another proverb tells us, as we lament departed 
opportunities, "When one door shuts another opens," 
a comforting state of things that the experience of 
many will confirm. How strong the encouragement 
to look forward with courage when cares seem over- 
whelming is the reminder that "When the tale of 
bricks is doubled Moses comes." Philosophy, good as 

*In the following passage Bacon shows us hope as a veritable life- 
preserver. " Hope, being the best of all the affections and passions, is 
very powerful to prolong Ufe, if, like a nodding muse, it does not fall asleep 
and languish, but continually feeds the fancy: and therefore such as 
propose certain ends to be compassed, thriving and prospering therein 
according to their desire, are commonly long-lived ; but having attained 
to their highest hopes, all their expecutions and desires being satisfied, live 
not long afterwards.*' 


it is, breaks under the strain, and is, when most wanted, 
but a broken reed. Goldsmith, in his play of "The 
Good-natured Man," says that "this same philosophy 
is a good horse in the stable, but an arrant jade on a 
journey," and Rochefoucauld equally happily declares 
that "Philosophy triumphs easily over past and over future 
evils, but present evils triumph over philosophy." We 
are remindjud here anew of that definition of a proverb, 
" The wit of one voicing the experience of many," for 
certainly here Rochefoucauld supplies the esprit while 
the rest of mankind can in this matter supply the 

A quaint little French p^verb is this, " L'espoir 
du pendu que la corde casse," when they wish to 
express the idea of a very faint ground indeed for 
hope. When all that a man who is already hanging 
can hope for is that the cord may perchance break, 
his chance of a reprieve is but small. He has most 
legitimate ground for hope who has already done 
what in him lay to deserve success, hence foresight 
and forethought are a valuable possession : the one to 
see in advance the possibilities, the other to think 
how best to turn them to account : 

" When all is done, lerne this my sonne 
Not friend, nor skill, nor wit at will. 
Nor ship, nor clod, but onelie God, 

Doth all in all. 
Man taketh paine, God giueth gaine, 
Man dolh his best, God doth the rest, 
Man knew well intendes, God foizon * sendes 

Else want he shall.** 

The value of forethought in various directions is 
enforced in the following wisdom-chips : " A wise man 
will make more opportunities than he finds " ; " Hasty 

* In Cotgrave's Dictionary defined as "store, plentie, abundance, great 
fulnesse, enough." 


climbers have sudden falls " ; * " Count not your 
chickens before they are hatched " ; " He that would 
enjoy the fruit must not gather the flower"; "Short 
reflection may save long regret " ; " From bad to 
worse is poor exchange " ; " Haste makes waste " ; 
" Leave not to hazard what forethought may provide 
for " ; " Cast not away the dirty water till thou hast 
clean " ; " Little chips will kindle a large fi^ " ; " Look 
before you leap " ; " Beware of — had I known this 
before " ; " Better be sure first than sorry after " ; 
" Be wisely worldly, not worldly wise " ; " Take 
heed that the relish b^ not spoiled by the cost " ; 
" Heaven is a cheap purchase, whatever it costs " ; 
" Ask thy purse what thou shouldest buy " ; " He that 
measureth not himself is measured " ; *' When a fool 
hath bethought himself, the market is over " ; " If 
things could be done twice all would be wise"; 
" Small beginnings may have great endings " ; "A 
forest is in an acorn " ; " Every maybe hath a maybe 
not " ; " While it is fine weather mend your sails " ; 
** Measure thrice before cutting once " ; " Haste trips 
up its own heels " ; " Take more time, that you may 
have done the sooner"; "Wisdom not only gets but- 
retains " ; " Defer not till to-morrow to be wise " ; 
" Safe bind, safe find " ; "A little wariness may save 
much weariness " ; " Haste is a poor apology " ; " That 
which the fool has to do in the end the wise man does 
at first" ; and even then the dilatory man may never 
compass the task, for our position in life on the 
morrow depends largely upon our attitude of to-day, 

*"Babel*s projectors, seeking a name, found confusion; and Icarus, 
by flying too high, melted his waxen wings and fell into the sea." '' Grey 
cap far a green heacL** Gray express the idea very forcibly : 
" Ambition this shall tempt to rise, 
Then hurl the wretch from high, 
To bitter scorn a sacrifice, 
And grinning infamy ! '* 


and the remedy of to-morrow may come too late. 
** Our deeds determine us as much as we determine 
our deeds/' It has been said that if we cannot go 
backward and change what has been we can go for- 
ward and change what is, but even this unfortunately 
is only partly true, and the shadow of the past may 
darken the future, do what we will* Hence the 
adage, " To-morrow is untouched," cannot be accepted 
without reservation. 

Other proverbs that may well be quoted in praise 
of forethought are these : " Little stumble may save 
big fall " ; " He who begins and does not finish, loses 
his labour " ; " Put out your arm no further than your 
sleeve will reach " ; " To change and to better are not 
always the same thing " ; " Quick choice, long repent- 

" Take warning at once, that a worse may not hap, 
Foresight is the stopper of many a gap." 

The French say truly enough that " Tout le monde 
est sage aprfes coup," an equivalent saying to our, " After- 
wit is everybody's wit"; and the Portuguese declare 
that " An empty purse makes a man wise, but too 
late," — a most unfortunate state of things. Another 
well-known adage is "Festina lente" — tarry a little 
that we make our end the sooner. ** Presto et bene 
non conviene" — hastily and well rarely meet A 
Ciceronian maxim was, " Certis rebus certa signa prae- 
currunt " — certain signs are the forerunners of certain 
events, or, as we say in English, "Coming events 
cast their shadows before." 

" Often do the spirits 
Of great events stride on before the events. 
And in to-day already walks to-morrow." t 

* " Life is like wine, he that would drink it pure must not drain it to 
the dregs."— i'lr William Temple. 
t Coleridge. 


"Chi va piano va lontano" — he who goes gently 
travels far. A quaint old proverb tells us that "It 
is good to have a hatch before your door" — in order, 
that is, that one may not rush out too impetuously, 
but that a momentary pause may give opportunity for 
a moment's consideration. One of the most startling 
proverbs on this need of forethought is the Arab 
" Live, thou ass, until the clover sprouts " — a better day 
is coming, despondency must give place to patience 
and to hope. 

The manufacture of excuses has not escaped the 
notice of the proverb-makers and users. These ex- 
cuses take two forms — the excuses that omission calls 
for, and those that commission needs — that black may 
look at least grey, if not absolutely white. A very 
good example of the former is this, " Am I my brother's 
keeper ? " — originally the plea of a murderer, and ever 
after the excuse of those who would wrap themselves 
up in their selfishness, and shut their eyes, their hearts, 
their consciences, their pockets, to the needs of the suf- 
fering. It has been well said that "Apologies only 
account for that which they do not alter." In some 
few cases, such as " A bad workman finds fault with his 
tools," or "The creaking wheel blames the badness of 
the road," the utterance is quaint and not unwholesome, 
and very true to human nature ; but in most of these 
proverbs dealing with excuses there is an actual incite- 
ment to evil, a justification of wrongdoing, an implica- 
tion that people are only honest because it pays better 
or because the chance of knavery is for the time being 
debarred to them. We have so often heard the de- 
claration that "Opportunity makes the thief," that it 
has lost its meaning; but if we really think it out a 
moment, how abominable in teaching it is ! A similar 
saying is this, "A bad padlock invites a picklock," 
an insinuation that we would all be dishonest if we 


got the opportunity ; while the Spaniards say, " Puerta 
abierta al santo tiento" — an open door tempts a 
saint Shakespeare's utterance, "How oft the sight 
of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done," may 
express a sad truth, but after all we would fain believe 
that things are not quite so bad as not a few of our 
proverbs would imply : there is surely yet some little 
virtue and honesty left. 

Fortune, good or ill, is not by any means overlooked. 
Thus we fifid the philosophic reflection, "Fortune can 
take nothing from us but what she gave " ; and the 
warning, "Fortune is constant in nothing but incon- 
stancy." We are warned yet again that " When fortune 
comes smiling she often designs the most mischief." 
All, however, is not blind chance; the hand of God 
is guiding ; " There's a divinity that shapes our ends, 
rough hew them how we will." Nor is the hand of 
man without its influence, for " To him that is willing 
ways are not wanting," and "If you weave your web 
God will find the thread." The Italians say, "Vien 
la fortuna a chi la procura " — good fortune is to 
him who earns it; while the French declare, "Qui 
ne se lasse pas lasse Tadversit^" — he who does not 
tire tires adversity, and steady perseverance will con- 
quer ill-fortune. "La fortune aide aux audacieux," 
say the French again, while the Romans declared, 
"Fortes fortuna adjuvat" — fortune assists the brave, 
the classic reading of our more homely version, " No- 
thing venture, nothing have." 

The victim of ill-fortune is reminded that " It is 
a long lane that has no turning " ; or, as Gower 
puts it: 

" Sometime I drew into raeraoire 
Howe sorowe maie not euer last." 

The French have a saying, "The wind in a man's 


face makes him wise," equivalent to the English adage, 
"Adversity makes a man wise, not rich," and so the 
Psalmist sings, "It is good for me that I have been 
afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes." Trouble 
works, however, in a twofold way, and while some it 
softens, others it hardens. 

It is a matter of common observation that misfor- 
tunes often fall most unexpectedly, and that they 
seldom come singly. 

"O soden hap, O thou fortune unstable, 
Like to the scorpion so deceivable. 
That flatrest with thy hed whan thou wilt sting."* 

" Mischiefs," says an old proverb, " come by the pound 
and go away by the ounce," and the Italians have a 
practically identical saying. These calamities come 
sometimes in such a flood that no resistance to their 
attack seems of any avail, hence the quaint and homely 
adage, " There is no fence against a flail." The Romans 
had the saw, "Mustelam habes" — you have a weasel 
in your house, which they applied to those with 
whom everything seemed to turn out unfortunately: 
to meet a weasel being considered by the Romans an 

It has been said that each man is the architect of 
his own fortune.t The statement is not wholly true, 
but it is sufficiently so to justify such proverbs as 
" As you have made your bed, so you must lie " ; 
" As you brew, so must you drink " ; and we must be 
prepared to take the consequences of our own fault. 
Zeno, the philosopher, having detected his servant in 
a theft, ordered him to be whipped ; the servant, in 
excuse for what he had done, said it was decreed by 

• Chaucbr, The Marchaunfs Tale, 

t"Men at some time are masters of their fates." — Shakkspeare, 
fuHus Casar. 


the fates that he should be a thief, alluding to the 
doctrine of fatalism which his master maintained. And 
so, too, it was decreed, said Zeno, that you should be 
whipped. It has been well said that "Presumption 
first blinds a man, and then sets him running." The 
Germans say, "Wer da fallt, iiber ihm laufen alle 
Welt " — he that falls down all the world runs over. All 
are ready to bear a hand in beating the man whom 
fortune buffets ; and, as an old proverb says, " When 
the tree is fallen every man goeth to it with his 
hatchet" This kicking a man when he is down would 
appear a mean and contemptible proceeding were it 
not dignified by being termed the survival of the fittest 
in the struggle for existence, and this somehow throws 
a halo of philosophy on the proceeding, and the kicker 
is seen to be working out a law of the universe, in 
which the kicked also has an essential place. 

We are told, truly enough, that "Half a loaf is 
better than no bread," that "A man had better be 
half-blind than have both his eyes out." Burke de- 
clares that " He that wrestles with us strengthens our 
nerves and sharpens our skill ; our antagonist is our 
helper " ; and the French say, " On apprend en faillant " 
— one learns by failing. Riches entail responsibility 
and anxiety, and a poet of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 
would have us believe that they are on the whole more 
trouble than gain : 

"Take upp thy fortune wythe good hape, 
Wyth rytches thou doste fyle thy lappe^ 
Yet lesse were better for thy store, 
Thy quyetnes sholde be the more." 

One compensation of poverty is perhaps seen in the 
adage, " He that is down need fear no fall." We are 
told, too, that "A threadbare coat is armour against 
the highwayman"; and Chaucer, in "The Wif of 
Bathe's Tale," tells how 


"The poure man whan he goth by the way, 
Before the theves he may sing and play/' 

since he has nothing to lose, and therefore nothing 
to fear. 

The sad but just law of retribution finds its due 
recognition in our proverb lore. The following may 
be taken as a few examples of this : " He that toucheth 
pitch shall be defiled therewith " ; " Over-reachers most 
ordinarily over -reach themselves"; "A guilty mind 
punishes itself"; "He that will not be saved needs 
no preacher"; "He who sows thorns must not go 
barefoot " ; " He who sows the wind shall reap the 
whirlwind " ; " Hoist with his own petard." Shake- 
speare tells us how 

" Diseases, desperate grown, 
By desperate appliance are relieved, 
Or not at alP ; 

and of one elsewhere who cries : " I have lost my 
reputation! I have lost the immortal part, sir, of 
myself, and what remains is bestial." Do we not see 
again the dread law of retribution in the passage : 

" Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind : 
The thief doth fear each bush an officer," 

and Gay tells us how at last all has to be faced, and 
the responsibility of one's actions has to be realised — 

" Then comes a reckoning when the banquet's o'er. 
The dreadful reckoning, and men smile no more.*" 

As an alternative to a picture so sombre, we may 
quote the declaration, that " Chastisement is the knife 
that tells we still abide in the Vine." 

Detraction, hypocrisy, ingratitude are all scourged 
by proverbs, but one feels over and over again how 
very much the proverbial wisdom of our ancestors 
seemed to dwell on the darker side of things. One 


may find a dozen adages that have ingratitude as their 
theme, but scarcely one that sings the praise of sweet 
thankfulness, and in like manner pretension, boasting, 
time-serving, self-interest have their attendant pro- 
verbs, while the praise of gentle modesty and sweet 
self-surrender finds little or no place. It may, per- 
haps, be said that this latter end is reached practic- 
ally by the denouncing of the evil, but this is scarcely 
so — a scathing attack on falsehood is in its time need- 
ful, but there is still place and need for the recogni- 
tion of the spotless beauty of truth. Denunciation 
may do much, but sweet persuasiveness yet more. 

Shakespeare, in his "Cymbeline," writes of deadly 
slander — 

" Whose edge is sharper than the sword ; whose tongue 
Outvenoms all the worms of Nile"; 

and again, in "Much Ado about Nothing," we find 
the line — " Done to death by slanderous tongues " ; and 
yet again warns us that " No might nor greatness in 
mortality can censure 'scape,'* and that " Back-wound- 
ing calumny the whitest virtue strikes." Byron writes 
in his "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" of those whose 
evil task is "Sapping a solemn creed with solemn 
sneer," and Thomson tells how " Still the world pre- 
vailed, and its dread laugh," — a laugh "which scarce 
the firm philosopher can scorn." 

The following adages may be quoted: — "Envy 
shoots at others and wounds itself"; "Envy never 
does a good turn but when it designs an evil one " ; 
" Malice seldom wants a mark to aim at " ; " * They 
say ' is a poisoned arrow." The Welsh say — " Faults 
are thick where love is thin." Other sayings are — 
" One jeer going forth brings back another " ; " Once 
in people's mouths, 'tis hard to get out of them again " ; 
" Those who have most need of credit seldom get 


much " ; " The evil which issues from thy mouth falls 
into thy bosom " ; " The sting of a reproach is in the 
truth of it " ; * " He that prepares a net for another 
should not shut his own eyes " ; " Respect is better 
got by deserving than by exacting"; "Little minds, 
like weak liquors, are soon soured"; "Suspicion, like 
bats, fly by twilight"; "In a little mind everything 
IS little " ; " Despise none and despair of none " ; 
" Faint praise is disparagement " ; " A blow from 
a frying-pan blacks, though it may not hurt"; 
" Truth is truth, though spoken by an enemy " ; 
" Harm set, harm get " ; " Envy never enriched any 

In a curious manuscript of the fifteenth century 
may be found " the answere which God gave to a cer- 
tyn creture that desired to wit whate thinge was moost 
plesure to hym in this worlde." The answer is a 
very full one, fuller than we can quote, but it includes 
the following precepts : — " Suffre noysous wordis with 
a meke harte, for that pleseth me more than thow 
beate thy body with as many roddys as growen in 
an hundred wodys. Have compassion on the seeke 
and poore, for that pleaseth me more than thow fast- 
eth fifty wynter brede and water. Saye no bakbyt- 
ing wordis, but shon from them and love thy nayghber 
and turne alle that he saithe or dothe to good, me 
onely love and alle other for me, for that pleseth me 
more than if thowe every daye goo upon a whele 
stikking fulle of nayles that shulde prik thy bodye." 
Another manuscript of the same date that has come 
under our notice, in the Library of Jesus College, Cam- 
bridge, introduces a personification of the deadly sins, 

* The friends of a Roman patrician condemned by Tiberias to death, 
dwelt strongly on the injustice of the sentence. "That," said he, 
« my friends, is my greatest consolation, you do not surely wish that 
I had been guilty ! '* 


and each is treated with much graphic power, thus, 
under the heading of " Invidia " we find — 

" I am full sory in my hert 
Of other mens welefare and whert : 
I ban and bakbyte wykkedly, 
And hynder all that I may sikerly."* 

The sneaking treachery of the envious man, grieved 
to the heart at the welfare of others, and doing them 
what evil he can safely compass, is very forcibly 
painted, and this of " Ira," in its picture of down- 
right brutality, is as graphic — 

" I chide and feght and manas fast ; 
All my fomen I wylle doun kast, 
Mercy on thaym I wylle none haue 
But vengeance take, so God me saue.^ 

Revenge, however sweet it may appear, always costs 
more than it is worth, so that to be of this mind is 
to scourge oneself with one's own flail. Thus the 
adage says truly enough, " To be angry is to revenge 
the faults of others on ourselves." Another useful 
hint is that " Anger is danger, and even the anger of 
the righteous is not always righteous anger." How 
full, too, of wisdom the precept that " Anger should 
set with the sun but not rise with it," carrying on 
with vindictive perseverance into the present and the 
future the evil of the past. Other proverbs are : — 
" Anger begins with folly and ends with repentance " ; 
" Anger makes a rich man hated, and a poor man 
scorned " ; " Anger is more hurtful than the injury 
that caused it " ; "A man in a passion rides a horse 
that runs away with him " ; " Anger may glance into 
the breast of a good man, but rests only in the 
bosom of fools " ; " An angry man opens his mouth 
and shuts his eyes"; and to these many others bear- 
ing on the subject might be added. 


Other excellent wisdom chips are these : — " Religion 
is the best armour in the world, but the worst cloak " ; 
"Imitate good but do not counterfeit it"; "Roguery 
with pretext is double roguery " ; " Better the blame 
of the just than the praise of the wicked." Of all 
the virtues it has been said that gratitude has the 
shortest memory — "Eaten bread is soon forgotten." 
The Spaniards have, too, a very graphic proverb : 
"Cria el cuervo y sacarte ha los ojos" — breed up a 
crow and he will tear out your eyes ; while the French 
say : " Otez un vilain, du gibet, il vous y mettra " — 
save a thief from the gallows and he will place you 

Pretension is exposed in many proverbs. An excel- 
lent one is this: "The best horseman is always on 
his feet." This is sometimes varied into "The man 
on the wall is the best player." It is in either ver- 
sion an obvious satire on the looker-on, who always 
tells how he could have done the thing better. Other 
good saws are these : " In a calm all can steer " ; 
" Vainglory blossoms but does not bear " ; " All his 
geese are swans " ; " We cannot all do everything " ; 
" Not even the youngest is infallible " ; " Conceit in 
weakest bodies strongest works " ; " Presumption blinds 
a man and then sets him running " ; " Vanity has no 
greater foe than itself" ; " A small mind has usually 
still room for pride"; "Insolence is pride with her 
mask pulled off"; "Arrogance is a weed that grows 
on poor soil." 

Sir Thomas More reminds us that "Pride, as the 
proverb is, must needs have a shame," while a yet 
older writer declares that " Loste and deignouse pride 
and ille avisement mishapnes oftentide," and centuries 
even before this we find the warning that " A haughty 
spirit goes before a fall." Shakespeare puts the matter 
very pithily — "Who knows himself a braggart (let 


him fear this: for it will come to pass), That every 
braggart shall be found an ass." "Brag is a good 
dog, but hold-fast is a better," we are told ; a less 
familiar version found in old collections of proverbs 
being, " Brag is a good dog, but dares not bite." A 
very quaint old saw against boasting and pretension 
is this, "We hounds killed the hare, quoth the lap- 
dog " ; while another good doggy adage is the warn- 
ing that " A snappish cur must be tied short" " Great 
boasters," we are told, "are little doers,"* even as 
"Great promisers are bad paymasters." It is equally- 
true, the statement that "One sword keeps another 
in its sheath." A quaint proverb hath it that " My 
father's name was Loaf, and I die of hunger," a 
Spanish satire on those who, in poorest circumstances, 
yet boast of their kindred,t while a very true Italian 
saw is that "Many are brave when the enemy is 
running." On the other hand, "A brave retreat is a 
brave exploit" Throughout our pages we have made 
but slight reference to Biblical sayings since these are 
so readily accessible to all, and are, we may presume, 
so well known, but we cannot here quite forbear, for 
the counsel — "Let not him that girdeth on his har- 
ness boast himself as he that putteth it off" — seems 
so particularly happy a termination to our proverbs 
on pretension and boasting. Having thus broken 
through our procedure, we are tempted to add yet 
one more reference from the same source, the splen- 
did irony on the man, "Wiser in his own conceit 


* '* But did this boaster threaten, did he pray, 
Or, by his own example, urge their stay? 
None, none of these, but ran himself away.*' 

— Drydbn, Oznifs Metamorphoses^ Book xiiL 
t The Spanish reyel in these proyerbs of sarcastic nature. Another, 
for instance, is, '* Praise me, friends, I love my daughters," applied to 
those who expect commendation for fulfilling the most obvious duties. 


than seven men that can render a reason" — a race 
not yet extinct 

The following proverbs, dealing with various phases 
of self-interest, have more or less of worldly wisdom 
in them, and are worth quotation : — " Better go round 
than fall in the ditch"; "Better say here it is than 
here it was"; "Better cut the shoe than pinch the 
foot"; " If you wish a thing done — ^go ; if not — send "; 
"Light not a blaze that you cannot extinguish"; "A 
hook's well lost to catch a salmon"; "Buyers want 
a hundred eyes; sellers, two"; "All is lost that is 
poured into a cracked dish " ; " Those who put on 
livery must put on patience"; "Of two evils choose 
the less " ; " Better one's house too little one day 
than too large all the year beside " ; " Sometimes it 
is better to give your apple than to eat it your- 
self"; "Venture not all in one bottom"; "A man's 
gift makes room for him"; "An ass laden with gold 
overtakes everything"; "If you grease a cause well 
it will stretch " ; " Praise the bridge by which you 
pass over"; "It is wit to pick a lock, but wisdom to 
let it alone " ; " Those disposed for mischief will never 
want occasion"; "A petitioner that spares his purse 
angles without his bait" 

In "The Ship of Fools," 1570, we find the line, 
"Aungels worke wonders in Westminster Hall," the 
angel being a coin of that period, and the Hall the 
great seat of Justice, or at all events, of Law. The 
Romans had a proverb — "Bos in lingua" — an ox 
on the tongue. As some of the ancient money was 
stamped with the device of an ox, the proverb was a 
delicate way of saying that a man had been bribed 
to be silent. We are told that Demosthenes, having 
received a present from some who wished to obtain 
a privilege that they were fearful he would oppose, 
appeared in the court with his throat muffled up, 


pretending that he had so violent a cold as to be 
incapable of speaking ; but one of the members of the 
court suspected the matter, and quoted this proverb, 
intimating that it was not the cold but the bribe that 
had debarred him from speech. Another of these old 
Roman proverbs was, " Argenteis hastis pugna et 
omnia expugnabis" — if only one fights with silver 
spear they will be all-conquering. A similar cynical 
maxim appreciative of the power of bribery and cor- 
ruption is that, "Where gold avails argument fails." 
Another old Roman adage was, "Oleum et operam 
perdere" — to lose both oil and labour. This was 
applied to those who had spent much time, given 
much labour, made considerable pecuniary sacrifice, 
to attain some object, and had, after all, failed in 
doing so. Those who contended in the public g^anies 
freely anointed their limbs with oil to make them 
supple ere entering on the contest, and so if, after all, 
they were conquered they lost both oil and labour. 
In like manner, the student poring over his books and 
burning the midnight oil, if he failed in the acquisition 
of knowledge, lost oil and labour. The ancients tell 
how a man, having a suit at law, sent to the judge 
a present of a vessel of oil, but his antagonist sent 
a fatted pig, and this turned the scale in his favour, 
and he gained his cause. Justice may well be repre- 
sented as blind when such proceedings are possible. 
The first man complained and reminded the judge of 
his gift, but the judge told him that a great pig had 
rushed in and overturned the oil, so that it and his 
labour in bringing it had been lost Whether the 
proverb grew out of the story or the story out of the 
proverb it is now impossible to pronounce any opinion 

Other keen proverbs are : — " He that finds a thing 
steals it if he restores it not"; "What will not make 


a pot may make a lid"; "The best patch is off the 
same cloth"; "Break not eggs with a hatchet"; "Ease 
and honour are seldom bedfellows"; "Stretch your 
l^s according to your coverlet"; "Pin not your faith 
on another's sleeve"; "As a man is finded so the law 
is ended"; "Live and let live"; "An ill agreement 
is better than a good judgment"; " Misreckoning is no 
payment"; " Name not a rope in his house that hanged 
himself." A very marked example of this delicacy 
of feeling is seen in the saying, " Father disappeared 
about assizes - time, and we asked no questions I " 
" Take away fuel and you take away fire " ; " No 
man is impatient with his creditors " ; " Command 
yourself and you may command much else." 

Turning our attention awhile in other directions, we 
find the Spaniard's warning, " Cada cuba bucele al 
vino que tiene" — the cask smells of the liquid it 
held ; a man's surroundings stamp him, and he is 
known by the company he keeps. Self-interest is 
blatant in the Spanish saying that " People don't give 
black puddings to those who pigs"; and the 
same cynical teaching is found in the French adage, 
"To one who has a pie in the oven you may give 
a piece of your cake."* The French version of " To 
him that hath shall be given," is, " He who eats 
chicken gets chicken." t The Spanish proverbs, as we 
have seen, have a strong tinge of mocking sarcasm 
in them ; here are two more examples : " Give away 
for the good of your soul what you cannot eat"; 
" Steal the pig but give away the feet in alms." There 
is a delightful touch of human nature in the French 
saying, "No one is so open-handed as he who has 

* In Germany they say, <* Siedet der Topf, so bltthet die Freundschaft " 
— while the pot boils the friendship blooms. 

t In Welsh proverb lore, " Have a horse of your own and then you 
can borrow another." 


nothing to give," or its Scotch equivalent, "They are 
aye gudewilly o' their horse that hae nane." Another 
canny Scotch experience is that " He that lacks (dis- 
parages) my mare would buy my mare." Self-interest 
degenerates into self-abasement in the Arab counsel, 
" If the king at noon-day says it is night, behold the 
stars." The Persian warning, "It is ill sport between 
the cotton and the fire," is very graphic. The old 
Roman, "Aliam quercum excute," the advice to go 
and shake some other tree, since enough has been 
gathered here, is expressive. It is equivalent to tell- 
ing one's importunate neighbour that he must really 
try fresh ground at last ; to advise one's friend to 
cease from the pursuit they have been following, since 
they have reaped from it all the advantage it is likely 
i to yield to them. A dignified and noble saying is 

this, " Deridet sed non derideor " — he laugheth, but 
I am not laughed at; the impertinence is suffered, 
is passed unregarded, and falls flat and dead. 

Custom and habit exercise their influence on our 
proverb lore ; thus we are told, wisely enough, that 
" Custom is the plague of wise men, the idol of fools." 
Kelly tells a good story, in illustration of this bowing 
to custom, of a captain's wife whose husband the South 
Sea Islanders had eaten, being consoled by a friend : 
" Mais, madame, que voulez-vous ? Chaque peuple a ses 
usages." The power of habit is immense ; an old saying 
tells us that "Habit is overcome by habit," but ordinarily 
the habit in possession fights hard, and is not readily 
dispossessed. Hence it is of solemn warning to " Kill the 
cockatrice while yet in the ^gg'' It is one of the most 
familiar of truisms that " Habit becomes second nature," 
and that " What is bred in the bone will never come out 
of the flesh." To check at the beginning may be diflS- 
cult, but to overcome in the end may be impossible. 
«*Can the Ethiopian," asks the prophet, "change his 


skin or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do 
good that are accustomed to do evil." As the bough 
of a tree bent from its usual direction returns to its 
old position so soon as the temporary force to which 
it yielded is removed, so do men return to their old 
habits so soon as the motives, whether of interest or fear, 
which had influenced them, are done away. " Nature," 
says Lord Bacon, " is often hidden, sometimes overcome, 
seldom extinguished. Let not a man trust his victory 
over his nature too far; for nature will be buried a great 
time and yet revive upon the occasion or temptation, 
like as it was with iEsop*s damsel, turned from a cat 
to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board's end 
till a mouse ran before her." The same philosopher 
gives the following admirable caution : " A man's 
nature runs either to herbs or weeds: therefore let 
him seasonably water the one and destroy the other." 
The Spaniards say : " Mudar costumbre a par de 
muerte" — to change a habit is like death. 

" 111 habits gather by unseen degrees. 
As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.'' 

And Shakespeare, in the " Two Gentlemen of Verona," 
exclaims: "How use doth breed a habit in a man!" 
The ancient Romans declared : " Fabricando fit faber," 
which we find in French as "En forgeant ou devient 
forgeron"; in Spanish, as "El usar saca oficial"; in 
German, as "Uebung macht den meister"; and in 
English, as "Use makes the craftsman." 

Boys catch the habit of stammering if thrown with 
those who stammer, and the Dutch declare: "Die bij 
kreupelen woont, leert hinken" — he that lives with 
cripples learns to limp. Fortunately, there are good 
habits as well as bad ones ; hence the Romans taught : 
" Boni principii finis bonus," and the French say, " De 


bon commencement bonne fin " — we insensibly imitate 
what we habitually admire. 

Experience teaches, and we propose to quote some 
few of the proverbial lessons that are of value in the 
conduct and wear and tear of life, and we commence 
with the homely bit of wisdom that, if realised, would 
save so much of worry and heartache: "What can't 
be cured must be endured."* Another good saying 
is : " Well begun is half done " — poetically rendered 
by the Italians in the counsel, "Begin your web, and 
God will find you thread." "Procrastination is the 
thief of time," is another well-worn and excellent 
adage. How valuable, again, are these : " Teaching 
of others teacheth the teacher " ; " He teaches ill that 
teaches all " ; " He that seeks trouble rarely misses 
it " ; " He that is surety is not sure " ; " Look before 
you leap " ; " The horse that draws is most whipped " ; 
" Blow first and sip after " ; " At open doors dogs come 
in " ; " He that is angry without cause must be pleased 
without amends"; "It is but lip- wisdom that lacks 
experience " ; " Fetters, though of gold, are fetters 
still " ; " Without danger, danger cannot be overcome " ; 
" Experience is a dear school, but fools learn in no 
other " ; " Some advice at fourpence is a groat too 
dear " ; " The counsel that we favour we most scrutin- 
ise " ; " He that sits to work in the market-place shall 
have many teachers " ; " Valour that parleys is near 
surrender " ; " As you salute you will be saluted " ; 
" Responsibility must be shouldered, you cannot carry 
it under your arm " ; " One eye-witness is better than 
ten hear-say s " ; "If you pity knaves you are no friend 
to honest men " ; " Every man is a pilot in a calm sea *' ; 
" Plant the crab-tree where you will it will never bear 

• ** Things without all remedy 
Should be without regard : what's done is done." 



pippins" ; "Wide will wear, but narrow will tear." This 
last, homely as it sounds, is excellent in its counsel in 
praise of a wise liberality. 

The ancient Roman, "Bis dat qui cito dat," that 
is so often quoted in advocacy of prompt aid, re- 
appears in modern Italy in the version, "A gift long 
waited for is not given, but sold." "Say not to your 
neighbour. Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will 
give, when thou hast it by thee." "Hope deferred 
maketh the heart sick," * and ready help at the critical 
moment might have averted a catastrophe. Another 
very true classic adage is, " Beneficium accipere, liber- 
tam est vendere" — accept a favour and you sell your 
freedom. Excellent counsel is in the twin proverbs, 
"Deliberating is not delaying," and "That is a wise 
delay which maketh the road safe." An old writer t 
very sagely puts it thus: "When we are in a strait 
that we know not what to do, we must have a care 
of doing we know not what," and thus save time by 
giving time. 

Advice for the conduct of life is freely bestowed 
on us by our proverbial wisdom. We may well head 
the examples we propose to give with the caution^ 
"In vain does he ask advice who will not follow it.'* 

* '* Is not a patron," says Dr Johnson to the Earl of Chesterfield, 
'*one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the 
water, and when he has reached the land encumbers him with help? 
The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours had 
been kind: but it has been delayed until I am indifferent, and cannot 
enjoy it ; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it ; till I am known, and 
do not want it." 

t One Richard Nichols, of Warrington, writing in 1670 or thereabouts. 
Many of his sayings are admirable; here are half-a-doxen of them: 
'* Self-denial makes a poor condition easy, and a rich one safe"; "A 
good intention will not justify a bad action " ; " Though time be not 
lasting, yet what depends upon time is everlasting"; "The weak, when 
watchful, are more safe than the strong when secure"; "He that has 
all his religion in his prayers has no religion at all" ; "The best way to 
wipe off reproaches is to live so that none will believe them." 


"Few things," says Dr Johnson, "are so liberally be- 
stowed, or squandered with so little effect, as good 
advice." Another reading is that "He that will not 
be counselled cannot be helped." Some few speci- 
mens of counsel tendered are these : " At great bargains 
pause awhile"; "The best throw of the dice is to 
throw them away " ; " Raise up no spirits that you 
cannot lay " ; " Rather suffer a great evil than do a 
little one"; "Agree, for the law is costly"; "Avoid 
the pleasure that will bite to-morrow " ; " Let the ship- 
wrecks of others be your beacons " ; " Let every man 
praise the bridge he goes over." Speak not ill of him 
who hath done you a courtesy, or whom you have 
made use of to your benefit. The Arabs in like spirit 
teach, "A well from which thou drinkest throw not 
a stone into it." An Italian saw sarcastically says, 
" Does thy neighbour annoy thee ? lend him a zechin " 
— he will then keep out of the way. A Danish proverb 
wisely advises to "Take help of many, and counsel 
of few " ; while a homely German proverb — " Henke 
nicht alles auf einen Nagel" — warns us not to hang 
all on one nail ; or, as our equally homely English 
proverb has it, " Do not carry all your eggs in one 
basket" — have not all your ventures in one vessel. 

The weather in this our changeable climate has 
supplied abundant store for popular lore ; it would 
indeed suffice in itself to yield material for a goodly 
volume, and the result would be a collection of great 
literary and antiquarian interest. 

One very familiar adage is the comforting statement 
that " It is an ill wind that blows no pne any good." 
Shakespeare quotes it more than once ; in one case 
it is rendered as " 111 blows the wind that profits 
nobody," and elsewhere, " Not the ill wind which blows 
no man good," while Tusser gives us the rhyming 
version — 


"Except wind stands as never it stood. 
It is an ill wind turns none to good."" 

Another old saw teaches that "111 weather is seen 
soon enough when it comes," but this is indefensible, 
for while it is a wise counsel not to meet troubles half 
way, to exercise no forethought at all is mere lunacy. 
Such a proverb, again, as this, " Though the sun shine 
leave not your coat at home," is much too rigid in 
its insistence, and the advice, whether taken literally 
or metaphorically, would be at times absurd. If we 
try it, for instance, in this guise — Though surrounded 
by loving friends carry suspicion ever with you — we 
feel that the tension is needless. A much truer say- 
ing is this, " When the sun shines nobody minds him, 
but when he is eclipsed all consider him," and we 
realise at last on the withdrawal of the benefit of 
how great value it had been to us. 

A wise and helpful Latin proverb is, "Sequitur 
Ver Hyemem " — spring succeeds winter, and sunshine 
follows rain. " After a storm, calm," or, as the 
French have it, " Apres la pluie vient le beau temps." 

" What, man, plucke up your harte, bee of good cheere, 
After cloudes blacke wee shall have wether clere." 

"Heaviness mky endure for a night, but joy cometh 
in the morning," is no discovery of yesterday. 

"March winds and April showers bring forth the 
May flowers," and the French recognise the welcome 
assurance in their version, "Mars venteux, Avril plu- 
vieux, font le Mai gai et gracieux," while across the 
Rhine the saying is again, " Marzen Wind and 
Aprilen Regen verheissen im Mai grossen segen." 
The value of dry weather at sowing time is indicated 
in the saying that "A bushel of March dust is worth 
a king's ransom " ; while " February fill-dyke " is a 
testimony to the abundant rain that is ordinarily 


characteristic of that month; in France it is said 
that "Fevrier remplit les fosses: Mars les seche." 
This rain is of great value, and '* All the months of 
the year curse a fair Februeer," and "If the g^rass 
look green in Janiveer 'twill look the worser alJ the 
year." The exigencies of rhyme are responsible for 
the miscalling of these month-names. A great many 
of these rustic weather proverbs are thrown into 
more or less, and ordinarily more, uncouth rhyme, 
no doubt as an aid to memory; thus we are told 
that "No weather's ill if the wind be still," that it 
is well should "September blow soft till the fruit's 
in the loft," and that "If the first of July be rainy 
weather, 'twill rain more or less four weeks together." 
We are taught again that " In February if thou hear- 
est thunder thou wilt see a summer's wonder." Un- 
doubtedly a thunderstorm in February might well 
be regarded as one of the least likely things to 
happen in July, while the hearing of its sonorous 
peals would certainly be a remarkable feat of vision. 
As the literal acceptance is so impossible we must 
perforce look a little below the surface, and when we 
recall that our ancestors were great at prognostics 
we see that we are expected to regard this ill-timed 
storm as an omen of coming events of startling 
nature. Thus Willford, in his "Nature's Secrets," 
teaches that " Thunder and lightning in winter is 
held ominous, portending factions, tumults, and bloody 
wars, and a thing seldome seen, according to ye old 
adigy. Winter's thunder is ye Sommer's wonder."* 

* '* Sondayes thundre should bryng ye death of learned men, judges, 
and others : Mondayes thundre ye death of women : Tuesdayes thundre 
plentie of graine : Wednesdayes thundre ye death of ye wicked : Thurs- 
dayes thundre plentie of sheepe and come : Fridaies thundre ye slaughter 
of a great man and other horrible murders: Saturdayes thundre a 
generall plague and grate deathe." — Leonard Diggbs, A FrognosHca^ 
tion Everlasting of Ryght Good Effecte^ '556. 


The countryman has abundant opportunity of study- 
ing the varying aspects of Nature, hence he has dis- 
covered that "An evening red and morning grey will 
set the traveller on his way";* though he seems to 
have also observed that "If the sun in red should set, 
the next day surely will be wet" The two statements 
appear to directly contradict each other. On the other 
hand we are told that when the reverse happens, 
"The evening grey and morning red make the shep- 
herd hang his head"; and that "If the sun should 
set in grey the next will be a rainy day"; the sun 
setting in a bank of clouds — the west in this country 
being the direction in which we ordinarily look for 
wet weather — the result on the morrow will probably 
be rain. Hence, "A rainbow in the morning is the 
shepherd's warning, a rainbow at night is the shep- 
herd's delight"; or in Germany, "Regenborgen am 
Morgen macht dem Schafer sorgen : Regenborgen am 
Abend ist dem Schafer labend." 

The statement that "The moon is made of green 
cheese" may be mentioned in passing. Shacklock, in 
the " Hatchet of Heresies," written in 1565, says, "They 
may make theyr blinde brotherhode, and the ignorant 
sort beleeve that the mone is made of grene chese," 
and many old writers introduce this venerable belief 
in their plays and other works. We now-a-days 
associate the idea with age, the green suggesting 
mouldiness, but the word here means the very oppo- 
site, and refers really to a chesse not matured ; the 
moon being new every month, the material of which 
it was composed never got beyond the green or un- 
ripe stage. 

It is popularly held that " When the wind is in the 

* Sometimes rendered as, "Evening red and morning grey, tokens 
of a bonny day"; or, "An evening red and a morning grey are the 
two sure signs of a fine day." 


east 'tis good for neither man nor beast," and a quaint 
Spanish proverb advises, " Ask no favour during the 
Solano." This Solano is a wind that blows over from 
Africa, and is exceedingly hot and dry. It is also 
known as the sirocco. The moral clearly is that when 
people are in a state of irritation it is not advisable 
to lay one's needs before them, the time being in- 

Many of our weather proverbs are very naturally 
associated with various saints' days. Thus we get 
" St Martin's Summer " and " All Saints' Summer " in 
reference to the bright clear weather that we occa- 
sionally get in the late autumn, All Saints' Day being 
on the first, and St Martin's Day on the eleventh of 
November. Allusions to both will be found in Shake- 
speare ; thus, in " I. Henry VI." — " Expect St Martin's 
Summer, halcyon days." The eighteenth of October 
was in like manner called "St Luke's little Summer." 
Another old adage was, "If the day of St Paul be 
clear, then shall betide a happy year"; this day, the 
festival of the conversion of the saint, was in the 
calendar ascribed to January the 25th. 

Another well-known belief is summed up in the old 
rhyme : " St Swithin's day if it do rain, for forty days 
it will remain." This date is July isth, and it may not 
be generally known that, taking the year round, July is 
often a very rainy month. The Saint was Bishop of 
Winchester, and when he died, in the year 862, he 
desired to rest where the sweet rain of heaven might 
fall. His desire was respected, but later on the monks 
thought it beneath his and their dignity that he should 
be laid to rest in the graveyard, and so they proposed 
to re-inter the body in the choir, but when the day 
came the rain was so terrific that they had to postpone 
matters till the next day. This, however, was no better, 
nor was the next, or next, till at length, after forty such