« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
to penury, or the borrowing that brings with it slavery to the lender. But the chief scorn of the wise men is reserved for the sluggard : who roasteth not the food he took in hunting, who burieth his hand in the dish and will not so much as bring it to his mouth; his way is a perpetual hedge of thorns while other men are walking in a high way; as a son he is found sleeping in harvest time, as a messenger he is vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes of those who have sent him; at every call to action there seems a lion in the streets; with the mechanical motion of a swinging door he turns about on his bed, craving a little more slumber, until his drowsiness brings him to rags, or poverty springs upon him like an armed robber. And all the while he is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.
The proverbs treat conduct in general, denouncing chiefly such evils as belong to a simple state of society: the dishonesty of the false balance and divers weights, revenge and hasty strife, gluttony and intemperance in wine. There is a hint of conflict between religion and morality in the precept against vowing rashly and afterwards making enquiry. The New Testament command to love an enemy is taken from the Book of Proverbs, though the Sermon on the Mount associates it with a higher motive. It is not surprising that in the sayings of the wise a special prominence should be given to the wisdom of the lips. He kisseth the lips, they say, that
giveth a right answer; a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver; not only does a soft answer turn away wrath, but a soft tongue breaketh the bone; the plans of the heart may belong to the individual man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
Perhaps the proverbs are most characteristic when they turn upon the varying aspects of social life. Cameo pictures of social types abound. There is the prating fool; winking with his eye; the practical joker, as dangerous as a madman casting firebrands about; the talebearer, and the man who harps upon a matter,' separating chief friends; the whisperer whose words are like dainty morsels going down into the innermost parts of the belly; the backbiting tongue, drawing gloomy looks all around as surely as the north wind brings rain; the false boaster, compared to wind and clouds without rain; the haste to be rich; the liberal man that scattereth and yet increaseth, while others are withholding only to come to want; the speculator holding back his corn amid the curses of the people; the man of wandering life, like a restless bird; the unsocial man that separateth himself, foregoing wisdom for the sake of his own private desire; the cheerfulness that is a continual feast. The times of the wise men seem to have been acquainted with genteel poverty:
Better is he that is lightly esteemed, and hath a servant,
Nor were they too primitive to exhibit hollow social ob
Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye,
Neither desire thou his dainties :
Eat and drink, saith he to thee;
Some of these social sayings rest upon the curious observation of what Ben Jonson would have called humours: the humour of the buyer, saying, It is naught, and when he is gone away, boasting; the humour of the mendicant, whose fellows give him a wide berth –
- his friends go far from him! He pursueth them with words, but they are gone. Of the same sort is the delightful picture of the parvenu at the great man's table, distracted between the dainties and awe at the presence: he is advised to keep a knife to his hungry throat. Most unexpected of all is the proverb of the inopportune man that “ blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning:" but his blessing counts for a curse !
It is not only social types that thus appear in the sayings of the wise: social questions have their place. Proverbs are devoted to the relations of servant and master, wife and husband, parents and children. And there is the perpetual question of rich and poor. The saying that the appetite of the labouring man laboureth for him might have served Aristophanes as text for the discourse of Poverty in his Plutus. The wise view the rich and poor mingling in the incidents of life, and proclaim that the same Lord is maker of all. They point out that there are some compensations even for poverty:
The ransom of a man's life is his riches :
Robbery of the poor they denounce as a reproach to the common Maker of all; and their invectives against the various forms of oppression go back to the ó removing of landmarks' which may be regarded as the first step in the evolution of pauperism.
Individual experience also finds proverbs to reflect it: feebleness fainting in the day of adversity; satiety loathing the honeycomb; the sick disappointment of the hope deferred; the heart bowed with care, and gladdened by a single good word; the tinge of sorrow that is in laughter itself; the transitoriness of riches that make to themselves wings; misplaced confidence, jarring like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint; songs grating upon a heavy heart, and good news from a far country as refreshing as water to the thirsty. The proverb lore of experience may be considered to find its climax in Agur's aspiration after a life of golden mediocrity — neither poverty nor riches, but just food convenient for him.
What the proverbs omit is not less striking than the matter they contain. Two of the leading interests of our modern life can scarcely be said to have any place in early Wisdom literature politics and religion. There are sayings which mention the king; but the king appears only vaguely as the embodiment of authority, and · bad kings' as authority perverted. The king's wrath is as the roaring of the lion, his favour is as dew upon the grass; his glory is in the multitude of his people; his office is the winnowing out of sinners. A nearer approach to political ideas is in the single proverb which warns against men given to change. In the same way the Lord appears in this literature as the still higher authority and ultimate sanction; one saying makes a link between the human and divine authority by speaking of the king's heart as in the hands of the Lord, turned like watercourses wheresoever he wills. The proverbs love to dwell on the omniscience of Deity : his eyes are in every place keeping watch over evil and good. Where other powers fail, the ultimate authority still has place: such seems to be the thought of the saying which recognises the Lord as the disposer of the lot that is cast into the lap. There is however one varying note in Proverbs on this supreme topic. The simple sonnet of Agur on the Unsearchableness of God is the