Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

your

arisen from the number and wealth of religious houses in Gloucestershire.

Again, we might appeal to the fastidious Pope for his verdict as regards proverbs. He coins them.

He coins them. He quotes them. his Essay on Man'come numberless pithy lines and half lines, which were either proverbs before they found their way there, or have since taken rank as such. Witness the couplets associated in our minds with the Blood of the Howards,' and with leather and prunella.' Whatever is, is right,' Man never is, but always to be blest,' and the like, are samples merely of a rich abundance. Nor would it be hard, save in point of space, to prove that nine out of ten of our greatest writers have recognised, by use, the proverb's honourable connexion with the literature of our fatherland.

But unowned proverbs are often most characteristic and noticeable. Of these a rare modern collection has been made by Mr. W. B. Kelly, much to be recommended to such as would study the subject coherently and continuously. To it and to · Notes and Queries' we are indebted for most of the specimens that follow. Allusion has been made to the shrewdness innate in Scotch adages. They are aye gude that are far awa' is an instance. The Spanish express the same thing in their Dine with aunt, but not every day.' • Measure twice, cut but once,' conveying a hint that what's done can't be undone,' and therefore should be done after due deliberation, is also Scotch, though claimed by the Russians. So is that border proverb of the Douglas, 'Better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep,' a shrewd saying, whether in its primary sense of woods and hills forming the best defences for border chiefs, or in the applied sense that high and dry sites are better than damp and low.

From Ulster comes the rough and racy dissuasive against forecasting ills, • Never yowl till you're hit,' and Don't throw out your dirty wather till you've got in your clane,' in other words, don't lose the substance while grasping at a shadow. In these the point is obvious. But inany of our proverbs cling to the memory rather on account of their meaning being somewhat farther to seek. This common one, • When you go to Rome, do as Rome does,' bespeaks some tale hanging by it. And inquiry brings us to the Latin of St. Augustin, for whose mother, Monica, St. Ambrose solved the case of conscience involved in holding the Sabbath a feast day in Milan, whereas it was a fast at their native place, Tagasta, by laying down a rule in corresponding Latin words to those of our proverb. Kelly tells a capital story of a captain's wife, whose husband the Kaffirs had killed and eaten, being consoled by her waiting-maid, “ Mais, Madame, que voulez-vous ? chaque peuple a ses usages.' Again, 'Good wine needs no bush,' at first obscure

of

of meaning, acquires point by reference to the Roman custom of hanging out a branch of ivy, the emblem of Bacchus, at the doors of taverns. To this Kelly traces the slang word 'bosky, i.q. drunk. It would be curious to be able to trace the sign of the • Ivy-bush,' a noted hostelry at Caermarthen (the Roman · Maridunum '), to this ancient custom. It is not hard to fathom the meaning of “Between two stools somewhat comes to the ground,' as the proverb stands in a State paper of A.D. 1602,* or * All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' though this last may well be consigned to oblivion, now that the state of things does not exist. Since the publication of “Tom Brown's Schooldays,' «nous avons changé tout cela ! Another English proverb, «The shoemaker's wife goes unshod,' applies admirably to any of the possible cases comparable to that of Tantalus. As a modern illustration of this, gentlefolks living on the banks of the Severn may see salmon caught and packed and sent off by mail or train, yet fail of being able to secure one for love or money to feast a friend. “Great barkers are little biters ’ has an obvious application ; but it is not every one who knows what precious comfort for his countrymen Horace Walpole drew from it, when, in 1792, he used it of English democrats who say everything and do nothing,' whereas the French revolutionist said nothing and did everything. But most often a partial ambiguity enhances the impression. Thus we say a thing must be done by hook or by crook,' and say it from habit, without thinking much what the words mean. They are clearly referable to the immemorial right of · firewood,' the hook being used to cut the green wood, and the crooked pole for breaking off the dry. The story of the rival lawyers, Hooke and Crooke, is a'post hoc, non propter hoc.' A Roland for an Oliver' is said of giving as good as you get.' The names, it is said, belonged to two paladins of Charlemagne; and some see in Charles the Second's nickname, Old Rowley, an allusion to the proverb, he being the Rowland who was in his way a match for the vaunted Oliver.

When a man is said to show the white feather,' it does not always strike us that the phrase arises from the fact that white feathers in gamecocks indicate impurity of breed. “Raining cats and dogs' is a common expression for an uncommon phenomenon. Some of Livy's portents distance it in strangeness, even if taken literally, It is ingeniously traced to the French “catadoupe,' a waterfall, in * Notes and Queries.' The phrase "not worth an old song has, like the above instances, been largely discussed in Notes and Queries,' but nothing has come out to give it a more

[ocr errors]

* See Notes and Queries,' Ser. II. xi. 27.

definite

definite signification than something cast by, as out of date.' Any observer of street melodies must have noted that what is in vogue for nine days is forgotten at the end of twenty-one. • Letting the cat out of the bag' comes probably from the old • Cat and the bag' of Æsop (Prose Fables, 16; James, 102).

The English are rich in local, and in what, to embrace weather and calendar in one, we may term Almanack proverbs.

To touch on the latter first, what hop-grower doubts the truth of

the saw,

Till St. James's day is past and gone,
There

may be hops, or there may be none ?' Or what bee-master, that

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay,

But a swarm in July is not worth a fly?' Or what epicure would act in contravention of the adage that • Oysters are not good in the month that has not an R in it?' More questionable is the adage of “A green Christmas making a fat churchyard,' if we may trust the Registrar-General, and the • Times' obituary, both pointing to greater frequency of death in cold, keen weather. The legend,

When our Lady falls in our Lord's lap,

Then let England beware of a sad mishap;' i. e., when Lady-Day (March 25) coincides with Easter-Dayis a rod in pickle held over us by the Pope for discarding the worship of the Virgin, who, it is supposed, will wait for such happy conjunction to avenge herself on her slighters. "Credat Judæus!'

Those who study diligently the hatches, matches, and dispatches' column of the Times' will see that the 25th of January (the festival of the Conversion of St. Paul) was a great day for weddings this year. •Wherefore?' it may be asked. As reasonable an answer as can be suggested lies in the words of the old rhyming adage,

• If the day of St. Paul be clear,
Then shall betide a happy year.'

See N. and Q., Feb. 10th, 1866, p. 118.*
Local proverbs are as curious as they are numerous.

These short ones, Bristol milk,' i. e. sherry; Essex lions,' i. e. calves; to say nothing of · Lancashire witches,' and · Wiltshire moonrakers,' are sufficiently amusing ; and other illustrations of this kind are given above. The local rhyme,

* Our acknowledgments to 'Notes and Queries' for help in these researches cannot be too hearty or too frequently reiterated.

Blessed

· Blessed is the eye

Between Severn and Wye,' preserved by Ray, is not referable to the pleasant prospect, is, as is reasonable, we adopt Sir G. C. Lewis's suggestion that • eye' is the first syllable of ‘iland,' eiland' (German), whence comes “eyot,' an islet. Howell chronicles a Herefordshire proverb Weobly ale, Medley bells, and Lemster ore.' The * ore 'stands for • wool,' then and now a staple of the borough of Leominster. Weobly ale may have been more famous when the town returned its two members, or it may have been a facetious synonym for cider. Medley or Madley bells Howell may have often heard in his rambles when he was a pupil at Hereford Cathedral School. Such local proverbs, it will be seen, add a trifle now and then to the too scanty materials for county history. Another local proverb, in vain inquired into in Notes and Queries,' is As round as a Pontypool waiter.' half a mind to take Pontypool in a long.vacation excursion, and ascertain whether at its hotels the waiters were exceptionally rotund and obese. But our labour would have been lost. We have lately learnt that the town was famous for its manufacture of japanned goods.' Dirty Dick's shop in Leadenhall Street

was

Of things in general full, Hardware from Birmingham and Pontypool.' Professional proverbs, too, if we had time to go into them, would prove very interesting. There is much truth in this, that · A surgeon must have an eagle's eye, a lion's heart, and a lady's hand ;' and strong testimony to the superiority of letters to arms, or to the danger of law, in this other, “A goose quill is more dangerous than a lion's claw. Householders and house-builders, a large class, may thank us for one other adage :

* Better one's house too little one day, than too large all the year.'

In his gossip on the Philosophy of Proverbs,' Isaac Disraeli quotes a speech against double payment of book debts by a blunt M.P. of the Elizabethan House of Commons. It was an honest telling speech, commendable for its briefness, and wholly composed of proverbs. Without urging unqualified imitation of it, we may conceive how much gain would ensue if modern speakers would but clench by an adage arguments which, through lack of compression, they now launch in a sea of words. The days of the clepsydra are desiderated at many a public meeting, especially perhaps in the case of post-prandial orations. o that the ambition to win the palm of oratory could be diverted into

the

serve

the channel which quotation of proverbs offers ! • A stitch in time saves nine’ is a homely thesis, but its seasonable use might

a thorough economist better than all his figures and statistics. Those many county and borough members, one of whose recess-duties is to address diocesan societies on the benefits of National education, might do worse than confine their remarks to a short exposition of the adage,

· The best horse needs breeching,

And the aptest child needs teaching.' And in the proverb · Nimble ninepence is better than a slow shilling,' though it consists but of eight words, lies a more useful lesson for paterfamilias' to instil into his son, and illustrate in his own practice with his tradesmen, than any that can be found in the code of my Lord Chesterfield. Many more saws might be cited, which, spoken in season, would be far more telling than set speeches, far more convincing to hearers, far better husbandry of power to the speaker.

Not that there should be no limit to the use of proverbs. A man, whose every other utterance was an adage, would be as great a bore as the indiscriminate punster or the everlasting anecdotist. But, given a clear head and a sound discretion as to times and occasions, the proverb will come in as one of the most cogent witnesses that can be cited.

It is the voice of experience; and it could not be what it is, but for the fiat of the wise and prudent. Yet to its use, as to that of other accessories of conversation and style, must always apply the maxim, . Enough is as good as a feast.'

But this last proverb, with a second edge as it were, admonishes us that enough has been said for the reader's patience, although the topic is inexhaustible. In so wide a field one will prefer this particular spot, and another that. To some the wisdom of our own countrymen in this kind may seem to have been scantily illustrated in comparison with that of the ancients. Be it remembered, however, that from the nature of the case the former is 'as household words' to us, while the latter has been too little studied, and too generally neglected. The deeper the inquiry, the larger will be the amount of proof that to Greek and Roman paremiology is due a vast proportion of the proverblore of modern Europe. And such inquiry will repay those who make it, by re-impressing adagial truths that have hitherto sat lightly on the memory, by helping a knowledge of the minds of several nations' (a brave thing, in the judgment of Selden and Bishop Andrews), and by throwing a light not only on philosophy

and

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »