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Title: Proverbs and Their Lessons - Being the Subject of Lectures Delivered to Young Men's - Societies at Portsmouth and Elsewhere
Author: Trench, Richard Chenevix
Language: English
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Transcriber’s Note

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represented here as sidenotes.

For list of the corrections made, please view the
transcriber’s note at the end of the text.







It may be as well to state, that the lectures which are here published
were never delivered as a complete course, but only one here and two
there, as matter gradually grew under my hands; yet so that very much
the greater part of what is contained in this volume has been at one
time or another actually delivered. Although I have always taken a
lively interest in national proverbs, I had no intention at the first
of making a book about them; but only selected the subject as one
which I thought, though I was not confident of this, might afford
me sufficient material for a single lecture, which I had undertaken
some time ago to deliver. I confess that I was at the time almost
entirely ignorant of the immense number and variety of books bearing
on the subject. Many of these I still know only by name. With some of
the best, however, I have made myself acquainted, and by their aid,
with the addition of such further material as I could myself furnish,
these lectures have assumed their present shape; and I publish them,
because none of the works on proverbs which I know are exactly that
book for all readers which I could have wished to see. Either they
include matter which cannot be fitly placed before all—or they
address themselves to the scholar alone, or if not so, are at any rate
inaccessible to the mere English reader—or they contain bare lists
of proverbs, with no endeavour to compare, illustrate, and explain
them—or if they seek to explain, yet they do it without attempting to
sound the depths, or measure the real significance, of that which they
undertake to unfold. From these or other causes it has come to pass,
that with a multitude of books, many of them admirable, on a subject
so popular, there is no single one which is frequent in the hands of
men. I will not deny that, with all the slightness and shortcomings of
my own, I have still hoped to supply, at least for the present, this

ITCHENSTOKE, _December 13, 1852_.



 THE GENERATION OF PROVERBS                       26



 THE MORALITY OF PROVERBS                         96

 THE THEOLOGY OF PROVERBS                        121

 APPENDIX                                        149




It is very likely that from some of us proverbs have never attracted
the notice which I am persuaded they deserve; and from this it may
follow that, when invited to bestow even a brief attention on them, we
are in some doubt whether they will repay our pains. We think of them
but as sayings on the lips of the multitude; not a few of them have
been familiar to us as far back as we can remember; often employed by
ourselves, or in our hearing, on slight and trivial occasions: and
thus, from these and other causes, it may very well be, that, however
sometimes one may have taken our fancy, we yet have remained blind in
the main to the wit, wisdom, and imagination, of which they are full;
and very little conscious of the amusement, instruction, insight, which
they are capable of yielding. Unless too we have devoted a certain
attention to the subject, we shall not be at all aware how little those
more familiar ones, which are frequent on the lips of men, exhaust
the treasure of our native proverbs; how many and what excellent ones
remain behind, having now for the most part fallen out of sight; or
what riches in like kind other nations possess. We may little guess how
many aspects of interest there are in which our own by themselves, and
our own compared with those of other people, may be regarded.

And yet there is much to induce us to reconsider our judgment, should
we be thus tempted to slight them, and to count them not merely trite,
but trivial and unworthy of a serious attention. The fact that they
please the people, and have pleased them for ages,—that they possess
so vigorous a principle of life, as to have maintained their ground,
ever new and ever young, through all the centuries of a nation’s
existence,—nay, that many of them have pleased not one nation only,
but many, so that they have made themselves an home in the most
different lands,—and further, that they have, not a few of them, come
down to us from remotest antiquity, borne safely upon the waters of
that great stream of time, which has swallowed so much beneath its
waves,—all this, I think, may well make us pause, should we be tempted
to turn away from them with anything of indifference or disdain.

And then further, there is this to be considered, that some of the
greatest poets, the profoundest philosophers, the most learned
scholars, the most genial writers in every kind, have delighted in
them, have made large and frequent use of them, have bestowed infinite
labour on the gathering and elucidating of them. In a fastidious age,
indeed, and one of false refinement, they may go nearly or quite
out of use among the so-called upper classes. No gentleman, says
Lord Chesterfield, or “no man of fashion,” as I think is his exact
phrase, “ever uses a proverb.”[1] And with how fine a touch of nature
Shakespeare makes Coriolanus, the man who, with all his greatness, is
entirely devoid of all sympathy for the people, to utter his scorn _of
them_ in scorn of their proverbs, and of their frequent employment of

                               “Hang ’em!
    They said they were an hungry, sighed forth proverbs;—
    That, _hunger broke stone walls_; that, _dogs must eat_;
    That, _meat was made for mouths_; that, _the gods sent not
    Corn for the rich men only_;—with these shreds
    They vented their complainings.”

                              _Coriolanus_, Act I. Sc. 1.

[Sidenote: Aristotle collected proverbs.]

But that they have been always dear to the true intellectual
aristocracy of a nation, there is abundant evidence to prove. Take but
these three names in evidence, which though few, are in themselves an
host. Aristotle made a collection of proverbs; nor did he count that he
was herein doing aught unworthy of his great reputation, however some
of his adversaries may afterwards have made of the fact that he did so
an imputation against him. He is said to have been the first collector
of them, though many afterwards followed in the same path. Shakespeare
loves them so well, that besides often citing them, and scattering
innumerable covert allusions, rapid side glances at them, which we
are in danger of missing unless at home in the proverbs of England,
several of his plays, as _Measure for Measure_, _All’s well that ends
well_, have popular proverbs for their titles. And Cervantes, a name
only inferior to Shakespeare, has made very plain the affection with
which he regarded them. Every reader of _Don Quixote_ will remember
his squire, who sometimes cannot open his mouth but there drop from it
almost as many proverbs as phrases. I might name others who have held
the proverb in honour—men who though they may not attain to these
first three, are yet deservedly accounted great; as Plautus, the most
genial of Latin poets, Rabelais and Montaigne, the two most original
of French authors; and how often Fuller, whom Coleridge has styled the
wittiest of writers, justifies this praise in his witty employment of
some old proverb: and no reader can thoroughly understand and enjoy
_Hudibras_, none but will miss a multitude of its keenest allusions,
who is not thoroughly familiar with the proverbial literature of

[Sidenote: Proverbs in Scripture.]

Nor is this all; we may with reverence adduce quite another name
than any of these, the Lord himself, as condescending to employ such
proverbs as he found current among his people. Thus, on the occasion of
his first open appearance in the synagogue of Nazareth, he refers to
the proverb, _Physician, heal thyself_, (Luke iv. 23,) as one which
his hearers will perhaps bring forward against Himself; and again
presently to another, _A prophet is not without honour but in his own
country_, as attested in his own history; and at the well of Sychar He
declares, “Herein is that saying,” or that proverb, “true, _One soweth
and another reapeth_.” (John iv. 37.) But He is much more than a quoter
of other men’s proverbs; He is a maker of his own. As all forms of
human composition find their archetypes and their highest realization
in Scripture, as there is no tragedy like Job, no pastoral like Ruth,
no lyric melodies like the Psalms, so we should affirm no proverbs
like those of Solomon, were it not that “a greater than Solomon” has
drawn out of the rich treasure house of the Eternal Wisdom a series of
proverbs more costly still. For indeed how much of our Lord’s teaching,
especially as recorded in the three first Evangelists, is thrown into
this form; and how many of his words have in this shape passed over as
“faithful sayings” upon the lips of men; and so doing, have fulfilled a
necessary condition of the proverb, whereof we shall have presently to

But not urging this testimony any further,—a testimony too august
to be lightly used, or employed merely to swell the testimonies of
men—least of all, men of such “uncircumcised lips” as, with all their
genius, were more than one of those whom I have named,—and appealing
only to the latter, I shall be justified, I feel, in affirming that
whether we listen to those single voices which make a silence for
themselves, and are heard through the centuries and their ages, or to
that great universal voice of humanity, which is wiser even than these
(for it is these, with all else which is worthy to be heard added to
them), there is here a subject, which those whose judgments should go
very far with us have not accounted unworthy of their serious regard.

And I am sure if we bestow on them ourselves even a moderate share
of attention, we shall be ready to set our own seal to the judgment
of wiser men that have preceded us here. For, indeed, what a body of
popular good sense and good feeling, as we shall then perceive, is
contained in the better, which is also the more numerous, portion
of them; what a sense of natural equity, what a spirit of kindness
breathes out from many of them; what prudent rules for the management
of life, what shrewd wisdom, which though not _of_ this world, is most
truly _for_ it, what frugality, what patience, what perseverance, what
manly independence, are continually inculcated by them. What a fine
knowledge of the human heart do many of them display; what useful, and
not always obvious, hints do they offer on many most important points,
as on the choice of companions, the bringing up of children, the
bearing of prosperity and adversity, the restraint of all immoderate
expectations. And they take a yet higher range than this; they have
their ethics, their theology, their views of man in his highest
relations of all, as man with his fellow man, and man with his Maker.
Be these always correct or not, and I should be very far from affirming
that they always are so, the student of humanity, he who because he
is a man counts nothing human to be alien to him, can never without
wilfully foregoing an important document, and one which would have
helped him often in his studies, altogether neglect or pass them by.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Shortness, sense, salt.]

But what, it may be asked, before we proceed further, is a proverb?
Nothing is harder than a definition. While on the one hand there is
for the most part no easier task than to detect a fault or flaw in the
definitions of those who have gone before us, nothing on the other
is more difficult than to propose one of our own, which shall not
also present a vulnerable side. Some one has said that these three
things go to the constituting of a proverb, _shortness_, _sense_,
and _salt_. In brief pointed sayings of this kind, the second of the
qualities enumerated here, namely _sense_, is sometimes sacrificed to
alliteration. I would not affirm that it is so here: for the words are
not ill spoken, though they are very far from satisfying the rigorous
requirements of a definition, as will be seen when we consider what
the writer intended by his three _esses_, which it is not hard to
understand. The proverb, he would say, must have _shortness_; it must
be succinct, utterable in a breath. It must have _sense_, not being,
that is, the mere small talk of conversation, slight and trivial, else
it would perish as soon as born, no one taking the trouble to keep
it alive. It must have _salt_, that is, besides its good sense, it
must in its manner and outward form be pointed and pungent, having a
sting in it, a barb which shall not suffer it to drop lightly from the
memory.[2] Yet, regarded as a definition, this of the triple _s_ fails,
as I have said; it indeed errs both in defect and excess.

[Sidenote: Proverbs will be concise.]

Thus in demanding _shortness_, it errs in excess. It is indeed quite
certain that a good proverb will be short, as short, that is, as is
compatible with the full and forcible conveying of that which it
intends. Brevity, “the soul of wit,” will be eminently the soul of a
proverb’s wit; it will contain, according to Fuller’s definition, “much
matter decocted into few words.” Oftentimes it will consist of two,
three, or four, and these sometimes monosyllabic, words. Thus _Extremes
meet_;—_Right wrongs no man_;—_Forewarned, forearmed_;—with a
thousand more.[3] But still shortness is only a relative term, and
it would perhaps be more accurate to say that a proverb must be
_concise_, cut down, that is, to the fewest possible words; condensed,
quintessential wisdom.[4] But that, if only it fulfil this condition
of being as short as possible, it need not be absolutely very short,
there are sufficient examples to prove. Thus Freytag has admitted the
following, which indeed hovers on the confines of the fable, into his
great collection of Arabic proverbs: _They said to the camel-bird_,
[i. e., the ostrich,] _“Carry:” it answered, ‘I cannot, for I am a
bird.’ They said, “Fly;” it answered, ‘I cannot, for I am a camel.’_
This could not be shorter, yet, as compared with the greater number
of proverbs, is not short.[5] Even so the _sense_ and _salt_, which
are ascribed to the proverb as other of its necessary conditions, can
hardly be said to be such; seeing that flat, saltless proverbs, though
comparatively rare, there certainly are; while yet, be it remembered,
we are not considering now what are the ornaments of a _good_ proverb,
but the essential marks of all.

And then moreover it errs in defect; for it has plainly omitted one
quality of the proverb, and that the most essential of all—I mean
_popularity_, acceptance and adoption on the part of the people.
Without this popularity, without these suffrages and this consent of
the many, no saying, however brief, however wise, however seasoned with
salt, however worthy on all these accounts to have become a proverb,
however fulfilling all other its conditions, can yet be esteemed as
such. This popularity, omitted in that enumeration of the essential
notes of the proverb, is yet the only one whose presence is absolutely
necessary, whose absence is fatal to the claims of any saying to be
regarded as such.

[Sidenote: Aphorisms not proverbs.]

Those, however, who have occupied themselves with the making of
collections of proverbs have sometimes failed to realize this to
themselves with sufficient clearness, or at any rate have not kept it
always before them; and thus it has come to pass, that many collections
include whatever brief sayings their gatherers have anywhere met with,
which to them have appeared keenly, or wisely, or wittily spoken;[6]
while yet a multitude of these have never received their adoption into
the great family of proverbs, or their rights of citizenship therein:
inasmuch as they have never passed into general recognition and
currency, have no claim to this title, however just a claim they may
have on other grounds to our admiration and honour. For instance, this
word of Goethe’s, “A man need not be an architect to live in an house,”
seems to me to have every essential of a proverb, saving only that it
has not passed over upon the lips of men. It is a saying of manifold
application; an universal law is knit up in a particular example; I
mean that gracious law in the distribution of blessing, which does not
limit our use and enjoyment of things by our understanding of them,
but continually makes the enjoyment much wider than the knowledge; so
that it is not required that one be a botanist to have pleasure in a
rose, nor a critic to delight in _Paradise Lost_, nor a theologian to
taste all the blessings of Christian faith, nor, as he expresses it,
an architect to live in an house. And here is an inimitable saying of
Schiller’s: “Heaven and earth fight in vain against a dunce;” yet it is
not a proverb, because his alone; although abundantly worthy to have
become such;[7] moving as it does in the same line with, though far
superior to, the Chinese proverb, which itself also is good: _One has
never so much need of his wit, as when he has to do with a fool_.

Or to take another example still more to the point. James Howell, a
prolific English writer of the earlier half of the seventeenth century,
one certainly meriting better than that almost entire oblivion into
which his writings have fallen, occupied himself much with proverbs;
and besides collecting those of others, he has himself set down “five
hundred new sayings, which in tract of time may serve for proverbs
to posterity.” As was to be expected, they have not so done; for it
is not after this artificial method that such are born; yet many of
these proverbs in expectation are expressed with sense and felicity;
for example: “Pride is a flower that grows in the devil’s garden;” as
again, the selfishness which characterizes too many proverbs is not ill
reproduced in the following: “Burn not thy fingers to snuff another
man’s candle;” and there is at any rate good theology in the following:
“Faith is a great lady, and good works are her attendants;” and in
this: “The poor are God’s receivers, and the angels are his auditors.”
Yet for all this, it would be inaccurate to quote these as proverbs,
(and their author himself, as we have seen, did not do more than set
them out as proverbs upon trial,) inasmuch as they have remained the
private property of him who first devised them, never having passed
into general circulation; which until men’s sayings have done, maxims,
sentences, apothegms, aphorisms they may be, and these of excellent
temper and proof, but proverbs as yet they are not.

[Sidenote: Not all proverbs true.]

It is because of this, the popularity inherent in a genuine proverb,
that from such an one in a certain sense there is no appeal. You will
not suppose me to intend that there is no appeal from its wisdom,
truth, or justice; from any word of man’s there may be such; but no
appeal from it, as most truly representing a popular conviction.
Aristotle, who in his ethical and political writings often finds very
much more than this in it, always finds this. It may not be, it very
often will not be, an universal conviction which it expresses, but
ever one popular and widespread. So far indeed from an universal, very
often over against the one proverb there will be another, its direct
antagonist; and the one shall belong to the kingdom of light, the other
to the kingdom of darkness. _Common fame is seldom to blame_; here is
the baser proverb, for as many as drink in with greedy ears all reports
to the injury of their neighbours; being determined from the first that
they _shall_ be true. But it is not left without its compensation:
_“They say so,” is half a liar_; here is the better word with which
_they_ may arm themselves, who count it a primal duty to close their
ears against all such unauthenticated rumours to the discredit of
their brethren. _The noblest vengeance is to forgive_; here is the
godlike proverb on the manner in which wrongs should be recompensed:
_He who cannot revenge himself is weak, he who will not is vile_,[8]
here is the devilish. These lines occur in a sonnet which Howell has
prefixed to his collection of proverbs:

    “The people’s voice the voice of God we call;
       And what are proverbs but the people’s voice?
       Coined first, and current made by common choice?
     Then sure they must have weight and truth withal;”

It will follow from what has just been said, that, true in the
main, they yet cannot be taken without certain qualifications and

[Sidenote: Popularity essential.]

Herein in great part the force of a proverb lies, namely, that it has
already received the stamp of popular allowance. A man might produce,
(for what another has done, he might do again,) something as witty, as
forcible, as much to the point, of his own; which should be hammered at
the instant on his own anvil. Yet still it is not “the wisdom of many;”
it has not stood the test of experience; it wants that which the other
already has, but which it only after a long period can acquire—the
consenting voice of many and at different times to its wisdom and
truth. A man employing a “proverb of the ancients,” (1 Sam. xxiv.
13,) is not speaking of his own, but uttering a faith and conviction
very far wider than that of himself or of any single man; and it is
because he is so doing that they, in Lord Bacon’s words, “serve not
only for ornament and delight, but also for active and civil use; as
being the edge tools of speech which cut and penetrate the knots of
business and affairs.” The proverb has in fact the same advantage over
the word now produced for the first time, which for present currency
and value has the recognised coin of the realm over the rude unstamped
ore newly washed from the stream, or dug up from the mine. This last
_may_ possess an equal amount of fineness; but the other has been
stamped long ago, has already passed often from man to man, and found
free acceptance with all:[10] it inspires therefore a confidence which
the ruder metal cannot at present challenge. And the same satisfaction
which the educated man finds in referring the particular matter before
him to the universal law which rules it, a plainer man finds in the
appeal to a proverb. He is doing the same thing; taking refuge, that
is, as each man so gladly does, from his mere self and single fallible
judgment, in a larger experience and in a wider conviction.

And in all this which has been urged lies, as it seems to me, the
explanation of a sentence of an ancient grammarian, which at first
sight appears to contain a bald absurdity, namely, that a proverb is
“a saying without an author.” For, however without a _known_ author
it may, and in the majority of cases it must be, still, as we no more
believe in the spontaneous generation of proverbs than of anything
else, an author every one of them must have had. It might, however,
and it often will have been, that in its utterance the author did but
_precipitate_ the floating convictions of the society round him; he
did but clothe in happier form what others had already felt, or even
already uttered; for often a proverb has been in this aspect, “the wit
of one, and the wisdom of many.” And further, its constitutive element,
as we must all now perceive, is not the utterance on the part of the
one, but the acceptance on the part of the many. It is _their_ sanction
which first makes it to be such; so that every one who took or gave it
during the period when it was struggling into recognition may claim
to have had a share in its production; and in this sense without any
single author it may have been. From the very first the people will
have vindicated it for their own. And thus though they do not always
analyse the compliment paid to them in the use of their proverbs, they
always feel it; they feel that a writer or speaker using these is
putting himself on their ground, is entering on their region, and they
welcome him the more cordially for this.[11]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Not all proverbs figurative.]

Let us now consider if some other have not sometimes been proposed as
essential notes of the proverb, which yet are in fact accidents, such
as may be present or absent without affecting it vitally. Into an error
of this kind they have fallen, who have claimed for the proverb, and
made it one of its necessary conditions, that it should be a figurative
expression. A moment’s consideration will be sufficient to disprove
this. How many proverbs, such as _Haste makes waste_;—_Honesty is the
best policy_, with ten thousand more, have nothing figurative about
them. Here again the error has arisen from taking that which belongs
certainly to very many proverbs, and those oftentimes the best and
choicest, and transferring it, as a necessary condition, to all. This
much of truth they who made the assertion certainly had; namely, that
the employment of the concrete instead of the abstract is one of the
most frequent means by which it obtains and keeps its popularity;
for so the proverb makes its appeal to the whole man—not to the
intellectual faculties alone, but to the feelings, to the fancy, or
even to the imagination, as well, stirring the whole man to pleasurable

By the help of an instance or two we can best realize to ourselves how
great an advantage it thus obtains for itself. Suppose, for example,
one were to content himself with saying, “He may wait till he is a
beggar, who waits to be rich by other men’s deaths,” would this trite
morality be likely to go half so far, or to be remembered half so
long, as the vigorous comparison of this proverb: _He who waits for
dead men’s shoes may go barefoot_?[12] Or again, what were “All men
are mortal,” as compared with the proverb: _Every door may be shut but
death’s door_? Or let one observe: “More perish by intemperance than
are drowned in the sea,” is this anything better than a painful, yet at
the same time a flat, truism? But let it be put in this shape: _More
are drowned in the beaker than in the ocean_;[13] or again in this:
_More are drowned in wine and in beer than in water_;[14] (and these
both are German proverbs,) and the assertion assumes quite a different
character. There is something that lays hold on us now. We are struck
with the smallness of the cup as set against the vastness of the
ocean, while yet so many more deaths are ascribed to that than to this;
and further with the fact that literally none are, and none could be,
drowned in the former, while multitudes perish in the latter. In the
justifying of the paradox, in the extricating of the real truth from
the apparent falsehood of the statement, in the answer to the appeal
made here to the imagination,—an appeal and challenge which, unless
it be responded to, the proverb must remain unintelligible to us,—in
all this there is a process of mental activity, oftentimes so rapidly
exercised as scarcely to be perceptible, yet not the less carried on
with a pleasurable excitement.[15]

[Sidenote: Rhyme in proverbs.]

Let me mention now a few other of the more frequent helps which the
proverb employs for obtaining currency among men, for being listened
to with pleasure by them, for not slipping again from their memories
who have once heard it;—yet helps which are evidently so separable
from it, that none can be in danger of affirming them essential parts
or conditions of it. Of these rhyme is the most prominent. It would
lead me altogether from my immediate argument, were I to enter into a
disquisition on the causes of the charm which rhyme has for us all; but
that it does possess a wondrous charm, that we _like_ what is _like_,
is attested by a thousand facts, and not least by the circumstance
that into this rhyming form a very great multitude of proverbs, and
those among the most widely current, have been thrown. Though such
will probably at once be present to the minds of all, yet let me
mention a few: _Good mind, good find_;—_Wide will wear, but tight
will tear_;—_Truth may be blamed, but cannot be shamed_;—_Little
strokes fell great oaks_;—_Women’s jars breed men’s wars_;—_A
king’s face should give grace_;—_East, west, home is best_;—_Store
is no sore_;—_Slow help is no help_;—_Who goes a-borrowing, goes
a-sorrowing_;—with many more, uniting, as you will observe several of
them do, this of rhyme with that which I have spoken of before, namely,
extreme brevity and conciseness.[16]

[Sidenote: Alliteration in proverbs.]

Alliteration, which is nearly allied to rhyme, is another of the
helps whereof the proverb largely avails itself. Alliteration was at
one time an important element in our early English versification; it
almost promised to contend with rhyme itself, which should be the most
important; and perhaps, if some great master in the art had arisen,
might have retained a far greater hold on English poetry than it now
possesses. At present it is merely secondary and subsidiary. Yet it
cannot be called altogether unimportant; no master of melody despises
it; on the contrary, the greatest, as in our days Tennyson, make the
most frequent, though not always the most obvious, use of it. In the
proverb you will find it of continual recurrence, and where it falls,
as, to be worth anything, it must, on the key-words of the sentence,
of very high value. Thus: _Frost and fraud both end in foul_;—_Like
lips, like lettuce_;—_Meal and matins minish no way_;—_Who swims in
sin, shall sink in sorrow_;—_No cross, no crown_;—_Out of debt, out
of danger_;—_Do in hill as you would do in hall_;[17] that is, Be in
solitude the same that you would be in a crowd. I will not detain you
with further examples of this in other languages; but such occur, and
in such numbers that it seems idle to quote them, in all; I will only
adduce, in concluding this branch of the subject, a single Italian
proverb, which in a remarkable manner unites all three qualities of
which we have been last treating, brevity, rhyme, and alliteration:
_Traduttori, traditori_; one which we might perhaps reconstitute in
English thus: _Translators, traitors_; so untrue, for the most part,
are they to the genius of their original, to its spirit, if not to its
letter, and frequently to both; so do they _surrender_, rather than
_render_, its meaning; not _turning_, but only _overturning_, it from
one language to another.[18]

A certain pleasant exaggeration, the use of the figure hyperbole, a
figure of natural rhetoric which Scripture itself does not disdain
to employ, is a not unfrequent engine with the proverb to procure
attention, and to make a way for itself into the minds of men. Thus
the Persians have a proverb: _A needle’s eye is wide enough for two
friends; the whole world is too narrow for two foes_. Again, of a man
whose good luck seems never to forsake him, so that from the very
things which would be another man’s ruin he extricates himself not
merely without harm, but with credit and with gain, the Arabs say:
_Fling him into the Nile, and he will come up with a fish in his
mouth_; while of such a Fortunatus as this the Germans have a proverb:
_If he flung a penny on the roof, a dollar would come down to him_;[19]
as, again, of the man in the opposite extreme of fortune, to whom the
most unlikely calamities, and such as beforehand might seem to exclude
one another, befall, they say: _He would fall on his back, and break
his nose_.

[Sidenote: Transplanting of proverbs.]

In all this which I have just traced out, in the fact that the proverbs
of a language are so frequently its highest bloom and flower, while
yet so much of their beauty consists often in curious felicities of
diction pertaining exclusively to some single language, either in a
rapid conciseness to which nothing tantamount exists elsewhere, or
in rhymes which it is hard to reproduce, or in alliterations which
do not easily find their equivalents, or in other verbal happinesses
such as these, lies the difficulty which is often felt, which I shall
myself often feel in the course of these lectures, of transferring them
without serious loss, nay, sometimes the impossibility of transferring
them at all from one language to another.[20] Oftentimes, to use an
image of Erasmus,[21] they are like those wines, (I believe the Spanish
Valdepeñas is one,) of which the true excellence can only be known
by those who drink them in the land which gave them birth. Transport
them under other skies, or, which is still more fatal, empty them from
vessel to vessel, and their strength and flavour will in great part
have disappeared in the process.

Still this is rather the case, where we seek deliberately, and only in
a literary interest, to translate some proverb which we admire from
its native language into our own or another. Where, on the contrary,
_it has transferred itself_, made for itself a second home, and taken
root a second time in the heart and affections of a people, in such a
case one is continually surprised at the instinctive skill with which
it has found compensations for that which it has been compelled to let
go; it is impossible not to admire the unconscious skill with which it
has replaced one vigorous idiom by another, one happy rhyme or play on
words by its equivalent; and all this even in those cases where the
extremely narrow limits in which it must confine itself allow it the
very smallest liberty of selection. And thus, presenting itself equally
finished and complete in two or even more languages, the internal
evidence will be quite insufficient to determine which of its forms we
shall regard as the original, and which as a copy. For example, the
proverb at once German and French, which I can present in no comelier
English dress than this,

    Mother’s truth
    Keeps constant youth;

but which in German runs thus,

    Wird täglich neu_;

and in French,

    _Tendresse maternelle
    Toujours se renouvelle_;

appears to me as exquisitely graceful and tender in the one language as
in the other; while yet so much of its beauty depends on the form, that
beforehand one could hardly have expected that the charm of it would
have survived its transfer to the second language, whichever that may
be, wherein it found an home. Having thus opened the subject, I shall
reserve its further development for the lectures which follow.


[1] A similar contempt of them speaks out in the antithesis of the
French Jesuit, Bouhours: Les proverbes sont les sentences du peuple, et
les sentences sont les proverbes des honnêtes gens.

[2] Compare with this Martial’s so happy epigram upon epigrams, in
which everything runs exactly parallel to that which has been said

    “Omne epigramma sit instar apis; sit aculeus illi,
       Sint sua mella, sit et corporis exigui;”

which may be indifferently rendered thus:

    “Three things must epigrams, like bees, have all—
     Its sting, its honey, and its body small.”

[3] The very shortest proverb which I know in the world is this German:
Voll, toll; which sets out very well the connexion between fulness
and folly, pride and abundance of bread. In that seeking of extreme
brevity noted above, they sometimes become exceedingly elliptical,
(although this is the case more with the ancient than with the modern,)
so much so as to omit even the vital element of the sentence, the
verb. Thus: Χρήματ’ ἀνήρ;—Sus Minervam;—Fures clamorem;—Meretrix
pudicam;—Amantes amentes.

[4] This is what Aristotle means when he ascribes συντομία—which in
another place he opposes to the ὄγκος λέξεως—to it.

[5] Let serve for further proof this eminently witty old German
proverb, which, despite its apparent length, has not forfeited its
character as such. I shall prefer to leave it in the original: Man
spricht, an viererlei Leuten ist Mangel auf Erden: an Pfaffen, sonst
dürfte einer nit 6 bis 7 Pfruenden; an Adelichen, sonst wollte nit
jeder Bauer ein Junker sein; an Huren, sonst würden die Handwerk
Eheweiber und Nunnen nit treiben; an Juden, sonst würden Christen
nit wuchern.

[6] When Erasmus, after discussing and rejecting the definitions of
those who had gone before him, himself defines the proverb thus,
Celebre dictum, scitâ quâpiam novitate insigne, it appears to me that
he has not escaped the fault which he has blamed in others—that,
namely, of confounding the accidental adjuncts of a _good_ proverb with
the necessary conditions of _every_ proverb. In rigour the whole second
clause of the definition should be dismissed, and _Celebre dictum_
alone remain. Better Eifelein (_Sprichwörter des Deutschen Volkes_,
Friburg, 1840, p. x.): Das Sprichwort ist ein mit öffentlichem Gepräge
ausgemünzter Saz, der seinen Curs und anerkannten Werth unter dem Volke

[7] It suggests, however, the admirable Spanish proverb, spoken no
doubt out of the same conviction: Dios me dè contienda, con quien me

[8] Chi non può fare sua vendetta è debile, chi non vuole è vile.

[9] Quintilian’s words (_Inst._ 5. 11. 41), which are to the same
effect, must be taken with the same exception; Neque enim durâssent
hæc in æternum, nisi vera omnibus viderentur; and also Don Quixote’s:
Paréceme me, Sancho, que no ay refrán que no sea verdadéro, porque
todas son sentencias sacadas de la misma experiencia, madre de las
ciencias todas.

[10] Thus in a proverb about proverbs, the Italians say, with a true
insight into this its prerogative: Il proverbio _s’invecchia_, e chi
vuol far bene, vi si specchia.

[11] The name which the proverb bears in Spanish points to this fact,
that popularity is a necessary condition of it. This name is not
_proverbio_, for that in Spanish signifies an apothegm, an aphorism, a
maxim; but _refrán_, which is _a referendo_, from the frequency of its
repetition; yet see Diez, _Etymol. Wörterbuch_, p. 284. The etymology
of the Greek παροιμία is somewhat doubtful, but it too means probably
a _trite, wayside_ saying.

[12] The same, under a different image, in Spanish: Larga soga tira,
quien por muerte agena suspira.

[13] Im Becher ersaufen mehr als im Meere.

[14] In Wein und Bier ertrinken mehr denn im Wasser.

[15] Here is the explanation of the perplexity of Erasmus. Deinde fit,
_nescio quo pacto_, ut sententia proverbio quasi vibrata feriat acrius
auditoris animum, et aculeos quosdam cogitationum relinquat infixos.

[16] So, too, in other languages; Qui prend, se rend;—Qui se loue,
s’emboue;—Chi và piano, và sano, e và lontano;—Chi compra terra,
compra guerra;—Quien se muda, Dios le ayuda;—Wie gewonnen, so
zerronnen; and the Latin medieval;—Qualis vita, finis ita;—Via
crucis, via lucis;—Uniti muniti.—We sometimes regard rhyme as a
modern invention, and to the modern world no doubt the discovery of
all its capabilities, and the consequent large application of it
belongs. But proverbs alone would be sufficient to show that in itself
it is not modern, however restricted in old times the employment of
it may have been. For instance, there is a Greek proverb to express
that men learn by their sufferings more than by any other teaching:
Παθήματα, μαθήματα (Herod., i. 207;) one which in the Latin,
Nocumenta, documenta, or, Quæ nocent, docent, finds both in rhyme and
sense its equivalent; to both of which evidently the inducement lay in
the chiming and rhyming words. Another rhyming Greek proverb which I
have met, Πλησμονή, ἐπιλησμονὴ, implying that fulness of blessings is
too often accompanied with forgetfulness of their Author (_Deut._ 8.
11-14,) is, I fancy, not ancient—at least does not date further back
than Greek Christianity. The sentiment would imply this, and the fact
that the word ἐπιλησμονή does not occur in classical Greek would seem
to be decisive upon it.

[17] So in Latin: Nil sole et sale utilius; and in Greek: Σῶμα, σῆμα.

[18] This is St. Jerome’s pun, who complains that the Latin versions of
the Greek Testament current in the Church in his day were too many of
them not _versiones_, but _eversiones_.

[19] Würf er einen Groschen aufs Dach, fiel ihm Ein Thaler
herunter;—compare another: Wer Glück hat, dem kalbet ein Ochs.

[20] Thus in respect of this German proverb:

    _Stultus_ und _Stolz_
    Wachset aus Einem Holz;

its transfer into any other languages is manifestly impossible. The
same may be affirmed of another, commending stay-at-home habits to the
wife: Die _Hausfrau_ soll nit sein eine _Ausfrau_; or again of this
beautiful Spanish one: La _verdad_ es siempre _verde_.

[21] Habent enim hoc peculiare pleraque proverbia, ut in eâ linguâ
sonare postulant in quâ nata sunt; quod si in alienum sermonem
demigrârint, multum gratiæ decedat. Quemadmodum sunt et vina quædam quæ
recusant exportari, nec germanam saporis gratiam obtineant, nisi in his
locis in quibus proveniunt.



In my preceding lecture I occupied your attention with the form and
definition of a proverb; let us proceed in the present to realize to
ourselves, so far as this may be possible, the processes by which a
nation gets together the great body of its proverbs, the sources from
which it mainly derives them, and the circumstances under which such as
it makes for itself of new, had their birth and generation.

And first, I would call to your attention the fact that a vast number
of its proverbs a people does not make for itself, but finds ready
made to its hands: it enters upon them as a part of its intellectual
and moral inheritance. The world has now endured so long, and the
successive generations of men have thought, felt, enjoyed, suffered,
and altogether learned so much, that there is an immense stock of
wisdom which may be said to belong to humanity in common, being the
gathered fruits of all this its experience in the past. Even Aristotle,
more than two thousand years ago, could speak of proverbs as “the
fragments of an elder wisdom, which, on account of their brevity and
aptness, had amid a general wreck and ruin been preserved.” These, the
common property of the civilized world, are the original stock with
which each nation starts; these, either orally handed down to it, or
made its own by those of its earlier writers who brought it into living
communication with the past. Thus, and through these channels, a vast
number of Greek, Latin, and medieval proverbs live on with us, and with
all the modern nations of the world.

[Sidenote: Antiquity of proverbs.]

It is, indeed, oftentimes a veritable surprise to discover the
venerable age and antiquity of a proverb, which we have hitherto
assumed to be quite a later birth of modern society. Thus we may
perhaps suppose that well-known word which forbids the too accurate
scanning of a present, _One must not look a gift horse in the mouth_,
to be of English extraction, the genuine growth of our own soil. I
will not pretend to say how old it may be, but it is certainly as old
as Jerome, a Latin father of the fourth century; who, when some found
fault with certain writings of his, replied with a tartness which he
could occasionally exhibit, that they were voluntary on his part,
free-will offerings, and with this quoted the proverb, _that it did not
behove to look a gift horse in the mouth_; and before it comes to us,
we meet it once more in one of the rhymed Latin verses, which were such
great favourites in the middle ages:

    Si quis dat mannos, ne quære in dentibus annos.

Again, _Liars should have good memories_ is a saying which probably
we assume to be modern; yet it is very far from so being. The same
Jerome, who, I may observe by the way, is a very great quoter of
proverbs, and who has preserved some that would not otherwise have
descended to us,[22] speaks of one as “unmindful of the _old_ proverb,
_Liars should have good memories_,”[23] and we find it ourselves in a
Latin writer a good deal older than him.[24] So too I was certainly
surprised to discover the other day that our own proverb: _Good company
on a journey is worth a coach_, has come down to us from the ancient

[Sidenote: Rhymed Latin proverbs.]

Having lighted just now on one of those Latin rhymed verses, let me by
the way guard against an error about them, into which it would be very
easy to fall. I have seen it suggested that these, if not the source
_from_ which, are yet the channels _by_ which, a great many proverbs
have reached us. I should greatly doubt it. This much we may conclude
from the existence of proverbs in this shape, namely, that since these
rhymed or leonine verses went altogether out of fashion at the revival
of a classical taste in the fifteenth century, such proverbs as are
found in this form may be affirmed with a tolerable certainty to date
at least as far back as that period; but not that in all or even in a
majority of cases, this shape was their earliest. Oftentime the proverb
in its more popular form is so greatly superior to the same in this
its Latin monkish dress, that the latter by its tameness and flatness
betrays itself at once as the inadequate translation, and we cannot
fail to regard the other as the genuine proverb. Many of them are “so
essentially Teutonic, that they frequently appear to great disadvantage
in the Latin garb which has been huddled upon them.”[26] Thus, when we
have on one side the English, _Hungry bellies have no ears_, and on the
other the Latin,

    Jejunus venter non audit verba libenter,

who can doubt that the first is the proverb, and the second only its
versification? Or who would hesitate to affirm that the old Greek
proverb, _A rolling stone gathers no moss_, may very well have come to
us without the intervention of the medieval Latin,

    Non fit hirsutus lapis hinc atque inde volutus?

And the true state of the case comes out still more clearly, where
there are _two_ of these rhymed Latin equivalents for the one popular
proverb, and these quite independent of each other. So it is in respect
of our English proverb: _A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush_;
which appears in this form:

    Una avis in dextrâ melior quam quatuor extra;

and also in this:

    Capta avis est pluris quam mille in gramine ruris.

Who can fail to see here two independent attempts to render the same
saying? Sometimes the Latin line confesses itself to be only the
rendering of a popular word; thus is it with the following:

    _Ut dicunt multi, cito transit lancea stulti_;

in other words: _A fool’s bolt is soon shot_.

Then, besides this derivation from elder sources, from the literature
of nations which as such now no longer exist, besides this process in
which a people are merely receivers and borrowers, there is also at
somewhat later periods in its life a mutual interchange between it and
other nations growing up beside, and cotemporaneously with it, of
their own several inventions in this kind; a free giving and taking,
in which it is often hard, and oftener impossible, to say which is the
lender and which the borrower. Thus the quantity of proverbs not drawn
from antiquity, but common to all, or nearly all of the modern European
languages, is very great. The ‘solidarity’ (to use a word which it is
in vain to strive against) of all the nations of Christendom comes out
very noticeably here.

[Sidenote: Proverbs claimed by many.]

There is indeed nothing in the study of proverbs, in the attribution of
them to their right owners, in the arrangement and citation of them,
which creates a greater perplexity than the circumstances of finding
the same proverb in so many different quarters, current among so many
different nations. In quoting it as of one, it often seems as if we
were doing wrong to many, while yet it is almost, or oftener still
altogether, impossible to determine to what nation it first belonged,
so that others drew it at second hand from that one;—even granting
that any form in which we now possess it is really its oldest of all.
More than once this fact has occasioned a serious disappointment to
the zealous collector of the proverbs of his native country. Proud
of the rich treasures which in this kind it possessed, he has very
reluctantly discovered on a fuller investigation of the whole subject,
how many of these which he counted native, the peculiar heirloom and
glory of his own land, must at once and without hesitation be resigned
to others, who can be shown beyond all doubt to have been in earlier
possession of them: while in respect of many more, if his own nation
can put in a claim to them as well as others, yet he is compelled to
feel that it can put in no better than, oftentimes not so good as, many

[Sidenote: Unregistered proverbs.]

This single fact, which it is impossible to question, that nations are
thus continually borrowing proverbs from one another, is sufficient to
show that, however the great body of those which are the portion of a
nation may be, some almost as old as itself, and some far older, it
would for all this be a serious mistake to regard the sum of them as a
closed account, neither capable of, nor actually receiving, addition—a
mistake of the same character as that sometimes made in regard to
the _words_ of a language. So long as a language is living, it will
be appropriating foreign words, putting forth new words of its own.
Exactly in the same way, so long as a people have any vigorous energies
at work in them, are acquiring any new experiences of life, are forming
any new moral convictions, for the new experiences and convictions
new utterances will be found; and some of the happiest of these will
receive that stamp of general allowance which shall constitute them
proverbs. And this fact makes it little likely that the collections
which exist in print, and certainly not the earlier ones, will embrace
all the proverbs in actual circulation. They preserve, indeed, many
others; all those which have now become obsolete, and which would, but
for them, have been forgotten; but there are not a few, as I imagine,
which, living on the lips of men, have yet never found their way into
books, however worthy to have done so; and this, either because the
sphere in which they circulate has continued always a narrow one,
or that the occasions which call them out are very rare, or that
they, having only lately risen up, have not hitherto attracted the
attention of any who cared to record them. It would be well, if such
as take an interest in the subject, and are sufficiently well versed
in the proverbial literature of their own country to recognise such
unregistered proverbs when they meet them, would secure them from that
perishing, which, so long as they remain merely oral, might easily
overtake them; and would make them at the same time, what all _good_
proverbs ought certainly to be, the common heritage of all.[28]

And as new proverbs will be born from life and from life’s experience,
so too there will be another fruitful source of their further increase,
namely, the books which the people have made heartily their own.
Portions of these they will continually detach, most often word for
word; at other times wrought up into new shapes with that freedom which
they claim to exercise in regard of whatever they thus appropriate to
their own use. These, having detached, they will give and take as part
of their current intellectual money. Thus “_Evil communications corrupt
good manners_,”[29] (1 Cor. xv. 33,) is word for word a metrical line
from a Greek comedy. It is not probable that St. Paul had ever read
this comedy, but the words for their truth’s sake had been taken up
into the common speech of men; and not as a citation, but as a proverb,
he uses them. And if you will, from this point of view, glance over a
few pages of one of Shakespeare’s more popular dramas,—Hamlet, for
example,—you will be surprised, in case your attention has never
been called to this before, to note how much has in this manner been
separated from it, that it might pass into the every day use and
service of man; and you will be prepared to estimate higher than ever
what he has done for his fellow countrymen, the “possession for ever”
which his writings have become for them. And much no doubt is passing
even now from favourite authors into the flesh and blood of a nation’s
moral and intellectual life; and as “household words,” as parts of its
proverbial philosophy, for ever incorporating itself therewith. We have
a fair measure of an author’s true popularity, I mean of the real and
lasting hold which he has taken on his nation’s heart, in the extent to
which it has been thus done with his writings.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is another way in which additions are from time to time made
to the proverbial wealth of a people. Some event has laid strong
hold of their imagination, has stirred up the depths of their moral
consciousness; and this they have gathered up for themselves, perhaps
in some striking phrase which was uttered at the moment, or in some
allusive words, understood by everybody, and which at once summon up
the whole incident before their eyes.

[Sidenote: Scriptural proverbs.]

Sacred history furnishes us with one example at the least of the
generation in this wise of a proverb. That word, “_Is Saul also among
the prophets?_” is one of which we know the exact manner in which
it grew to be a “proverb in Israel.” When the son of Kish revealed
of a sudden that nobler life which had hitherto been slumbering in
him, alike undreamt of by himself and by others, took his part and
place among the sons of the prophets, and, borne along in their
enthusiasm, praised and prophesied as they did, showing that he was
indeed turned into another man, then all that knew him beforehand said
one to another, some probably in sincere astonishment, some in irony
and unbelief, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And the question they
asked found and finds its application so often as any reveals of a
sudden, at some crisis of his life, qualities for which those who knew
him the longest had hitherto given him no credit, a nobleness which
had been latent in him until now, a power of taking his place among
the worthiest and the best, which none until now had at all deemed him
to possess. It will, of course, find equally its application, when one
does not step truly, but only affects suddenly to step, into an higher
school, to take his place in a nobler circle of life, than that in
which hitherto he has moved.

[Sidenote: The cranes of Ibycus.]

Another proverb, and one well known to the Greek scholar, _The cranes
of Ibycus_,[30] had its rise in one of those remarkable incidents,
which, witnessing for God’s inscrutable judgments, are eagerly grasped
by men. The story of its birth is indeed one to which so deep a moral
interest is attached, that I shall not hesitate to repeat it, even at
the risk that Schiller’s immortal poem on the subject, or it may be
the classical studies of some here present, may have made it already
familiar to a portion of my hearers. Ibycus, a famous lyrical poet
of Greece, journeying to Corinth, was assailed by robbers: as he fell
beneath their murderous strokes he looked round, if any witnesses or
avengers were nigh. No living thing was in sight, save only a flight
of cranes soaring high over head. He called on them, and to them
committed the avenging of his blood. A vain commission, as it might
have appeared, and as no doubt it did to the murderers appear. Yet it
was not so. For these, sitting a little time after in the open theatre
at Corinth, beheld this flight of cranes hovering above them, and
one said scoffingly to another, “Lo, there, the avengers of Ibycus!”
The words were caught up by some near them; for already the poet’s
disappearance had awakened anxiety and alarm. Being questioned, they
betrayed themselves, and were led to their doom; and _The cranes of
Ibycus_ passed into a proverb, very much as our _Murder will out_, to
express the wondrous leadings of God whereby continually the secretest
thing of blood is brought to the open light of day.

_Gold of Toulouse_[31] is another of these proverbs in which men’s
sense of a God verily ruling and judging the earth has found its
embodiment. The Consul Q. S. Cæpio had taken the city of Toulouse
by an act of more than common perfidy and treachery; and possessed
himself of the immense hoards of wealth stored in the temples of the
Gaulish deities. From this day forth he was so hunted by calamity, all
extremest evils and disasters, all shame and dishonour, fell so thick
on himself and all who were his, and were so traced up by the moral
instinct of mankind to this accursed thing which he had made his own,
that any wicked gains, fatal to their possessor, acquired this name;
and of such a one it would be said “He has gold of Toulouse.”

Another proverb, which in English has run into the following posy,
_There’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip_, descends to us from
the Greeks, having a very striking story connected with it: A master
treated with extreme cruelty his slaves who were occupied in planting
and otherwise laying out a vineyard for him; until at length one of
them, the most misused, prophesied that for this his cruelty he should
never drink of its wine. When the first vintage was completed, he bade
this slave to fill a goblet for him, which taking in his hand he at
the same time taunted him with the non-fulfilment of his prophecy.
The other replied with words which have since become proverbial: as
he spake, tidings were hastily brought of a huge wild boar that was
wasting the vineyard. Setting down the untasted cup, the master went
out to meet the wild boar, and was slain in the encounter, and thus the
proverb, _Many things find place between the cup and lip_, arose.[32]

A Scotch proverb, _He that invented the Maiden, first hanselled it_,
is not altogether unworthy to rank with these. It alludes to the
well-known historic fact that the Regent Morton, the inventor of a new
instrument of death called “The Maiden,” was himself the first upon
whom the proof of it was made. Men felt, to use the language of the
Latin poet, that “no law was juster than that the artificers of death
should perish by their own art,” and embodied their sense of this in
the proverb.

[Sidenote: Gnomes become proverbs.]

Memorable words of illustrious men will frequently not die in the
utterance, but pass from mouth to mouth, being still repeated with
complacency, till at length they have received their adoption into the
great family of national proverbs. Such were the gnomes or sayings
of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, supposing them to have been indeed
theirs, and not ascribed to them only after they had obtained universal
currency and acceptance. So too a saying, attributed to Alexander
the Great, may very well have arisen on the occasion, and under the
circumstances, to which its birth is commonly ascribed. When some of
his officers reported to him with something of dismay the innumerable
multitudes of the Persian hosts which were advancing to assail him, the
youthful Macedonian hero silenced them and their apprehensions with the
reply: _One butcher does not fear many sheep_; not in this applying
an old proverb, but framing a new, and one admirably expressive of
the confidence which he felt in the immeasurable superiority of the
Hellenic over the barbarian man;—and this word, having been once set
on foot by him, has since lived on, and that, because the occasions
were so numerous on which a word like this would find its application.

And taking occasion from this royal proverb, let me just observe by the
way, that it would be a great mistake to assume, though the error is by
no means an uncommon one, that because proverbs are popular, they have
therefore originally sprung from the bosom of the populace. What was
urged in my first lecture of their popularity was not at all intended
in this sense; and the sound common sense, the wit, the wisdom, the
right feeling, which are their _predominant_ characteristics, alike
contradict any such supposition. They spring rather from the sound
healthy kernel of the nation, whether in high place or in low; and it
is surely worthy of note, how large a proportion of those with the
generation of which we are acquainted, owe their existence to the
foremost men of their time, to its philosophers, its princes, and its
kings; as it would not be difficult to show. And indeed the evil in
proverbs testifies to this quite as much as the good. Thus the many
proverbs in almost all modern tongues expressing scorn of the “villain”
are alone sufficient to show that for the most part they are very far
from having their birth quite in the lower regions of society, but
reflect much oftener the prejudices and passions of those higher in the
social scale.

[Sidenote: A Spanish proverb.]

Let me adduce another example of the proverbs which have thus grown
out of an incident, which contain an allusion to it, and are only
perfectly intelligible when the incident itself is known. It is this
Spanish: _Let that which is lost be for God_; one the story of whose
birth is thus given by the leading Spanish commentator on the proverbs
of his nation:—The father of a family, making his will and disposing
of his goods upon his death-bed, ordained concerning a certain cow
which had strayed, and had been now for a long time missing, that, if
it were found, it should be for his children, if otherwise for God:
and hence the proverb, _Let that which is lost be for God_, arose. The
saying was not one to let die; it laid bare with too fine a skill some
of the subtlest treacheries of the human heart; for, indeed, whenever
men would give to God only their lame and their blind, that which costs
them nothing, that from which they hope no good, no profit, no pleasure
for themselves, what are they saying in their hearts but that which
this man said openly, _Let that which is lost be for God_.

This subject of the generation of proverbs, upon which I have thus
touched so slightly, is yet one upon which whole volumes have been
written. Those who have occupied themselves herein have sought to trace
historically the circumstances out of which various proverbs have
sprung, and to which they owe their existence; that so by the analogy
of these we might realize to ourselves the rise of others whose origins
lie out of our vision, obscure and unknown. No one will deny the
interest of the subject: it cannot but be most interesting to preside
thus at the birth of a saying which has lived on and held its ground in
the world, and has not ceased, from the day it was first uttered, to
be more or less of a spiritual or intellectual force among men. Still
the cases where this is possible are exceedingly rare, as compared with
the far greater number where the first birth is veiled, as is almost
all birth, in mystery and obscurity. And indeed it could scarcely be
otherwise. The great majority of proverbs are foundlings, the happier
foundlings of a nation’s wit, which the collective nation has refused
to let perish, has taken up and adopted for its own. But still, as must
be expected to be the case with foundlings, they can for the most part
give no distinct account of themselves. They make their way, relying
on their own merits, not on those of their parents and authors; whom
they have forgotten; and who seem equally to have forgotten them, or,
at any rate, fail to claim them. Not seldom, too, when a story has been
given to account for a proverb’s rise, it must remain a question open
to much doubt, whether the story has not been subsequently imagined
for the proverb, rather than that the proverb has indeed sprung out of

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Employment of proverbs.]

The proverb having thus had its rise from life, however it may be often
impossible to trace that rise, will continually turn back to life
again; it will attest its own practical character by the frequency with
which it will present itself for use, and will have been actually used
upon earnest and important occasions; throwing its weight into one
scale or the other at some critical moment, and sometimes with decisive
effect. I have little doubt that with knowledge sufficient one might
bring together a large collection of instances wherein, at significant
moments, the proverb has played its part, and, it may be, very often
helped to bring about issues, of which all would acknowledge the

In this aspect, as having been used at a great critical moment, and
as part of the moral influence brought to bear on that occasion for
effecting a great result, no proverb of man’s can be compared with that
one which the Lord used when He met his future Apostle, but at this
time his persecutor, in the way, and warned him, of the fruitlessness
and folly of a longer resistance to a might which must overcome him,
and with still greater harm to himself, at the last: _It is hard for
thee to kick against the pricks_.[34] (Acts xxvi. 14.) It is not always
observed, but yet it adds much to the fitness of this proverb’s use on
this great occasion, that it was already, even in that heathen world to
which originally it belonged, predominantly used to note the madness of
a striving on man’s part against the superior power of the gods; for
so we find it in the chief passages of heathen antiquity in which it

I must take the second illustration of my assertion from a very
different quarter, passing at a single stride from the kingdom of
heaven to the kingdom of hell, and finding my example there. We are
told then, that when Catherine de Medicis desired to overcome the
hesitation of her son Charles the Ninth, and draw from him his consent
to the massacre, afterwards known as that of St. Bartholomew, she urged
on him with effect a proverb which she had brought with her from her
own land, and assuredly one of the most convenient maxims for tyrants
that was ever framed: _Sometimes clemency is cruelty, and cruelty

Later French history supplies another and more agreeable illustration.
At the siege of Douay, Louis the Fourteenth found himself with his
suite unexpectedly under a heavy cannonade from the besieged city.
I do not believe that Louis was deficient in personal courage, yet,
in compliance with the entreaties of most of those around him, who
urged that he should not expose so important a life, he was about, in
somewhat unsoldierly and unkingly fashion, immediately to retire; when
M. de Charost, drawing close to him, whispered the well-known French
proverb in his ear: _The wine is drawn; it must be drunk_.[36] The king
remained exposed to the fire of the enemy a suitable period, and it is
said ever after held in higher honour than before the counsellor who
had with this word saved him from an unseemly retreat. Let this on the
generation of proverbs, with the actual employment which has been made
of them, for the present suffice.


[22] Thus is it, I believe, with, Bos lassus fortius figit pedem;
a proverb with which he warns the younger Augustine not to provoke
a contest with him, the weary, but therefore the more formidable,

[23] Oblitus _veteris_ proverbii: mendaces memores esse oportere. Let
me quote here Fuller’s excellent unfolding of this proverb: “Memory
in a liar is no more than needs. For first lies are hard to be
remembered, because many, whereas truth is but one: secondly, because
a lie cursorily told takes little footing and settled fastness in the
teller’s memory, but prints itself deeper in the hearers, who take the
greater notice because of the improbability and deformity thereof; and
one will remember the sight of a monster longer than the sight of an
handsome body. Hence comes it to pass that when the liar hath forgotten
himself, his auditors put him in mind of the lie and take him therein.”

[24] Quintilian, _Inst._ l. 4.

[25] Comes facundus in viâ pro vehiculo est.

[26] Kemble, _Salomon and Saturn_, p. 56.

[27] Kelly, in the preface to his very useful collection of Scotch
proverbs, describes his own disappointment at making exactly such a
discovery as this.

[28] The pages of the excellent _Notes and Queries_ would no doubt be
open to receive such, and in them they might be safely garnered up.
That there are such proverbs to reward him who should carefully watch
for them, is abundantly proved by the immense addition, which, as I
shall have occasion hereafter to mention, a Spanish scholar was able
to make to the collected proverbs, so numerous before, of Spain. Nor
do there want other indications of the like kind. Thus, the editor of
very far the best modern collection of German proverbs, records this
one, found, as he affirms, in no preceding collection, and by himself
never heard but once, and then from the lips of an aged lay servitor
of a monastery in the Black Forest: _Offend one monk, and the lappets
of all cowls will flutter as far as Rome_; (Beleidigestu einen Münch,
so knappen alle Kuttenzipfel bis nach Rom;) and yet who can doubt
that we have a genuine proverb here, and one excellently expressive
of the common cause which the whole of the monastic orders, despite
their inner dissensions, made ever, when assailed from without, with
one another? It is very easy to be deceived in such a matter, and one
must be content often to be so; but the following, which is current
in Ireland, I have never seen in print: “_The man on the dyke always
hurls well_;” the looker-on at a game of hurling, seated indolently on
the wall, always imagines that he could improve on the strokes of the
actual players, and, if you will listen to him, would have played the
game much better than they; a proverb of sufficiently wide application.

[29] Φθείρουσιν ἤθη χρήσθ’ ὁμιλίαι κακαί.

[30] Αἱ Ἰβύκου γέρανοι.

[31] Aurum Tolosanum; see C. Merivale, _Fall of the Roman Republic_, p.

[32] Πολλὰ μεταξύ πέλει κύλικος καὶ χείλεος ἄκρου. The Latin form of
the proverb, Inter os et offam, will not adapt itself to this story.

[33] Livy’s account of “Cantherium in fossâ,” and of the manner in
which it became a rustic proverb in Italy, (23, 47,) is a case in
point, where it is very hard to give credit to the parentage which has
been assigned to the saying. See Döderlein’s _Lat. Synonyme_, v. 4. p.

[34] Σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα λακτίζειν.

[35] Æschylus, _Prom. Vinct._ 322; Euripides, _Bacch._ 795; Pindar,
_Pyth._ 2. 94-96. The image is of course that of the stubborn ox, which
when urged to go forward, recalcitrates against the sharp-pointed iron
goad, and, already wounded, thus only wounds itself the more.

[36] Le vin est versé; il faut le boire.



[Sidenote: Proverbs characteristic.]

“The genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its
proverbs,”—this is Lord Bacon’s well-worn remark; although, indeed,
only well-worn because of its truth. “In them,” it has been further
said, “is to be found an inexhaustible source of precious documents
in regard of the interior history, the manners, the opinions, the
beliefs,[37] the customs of the people among whom they have had their
course.”[38] Let us put these assertions to the proof, and see how
far in this people’s or in that people’s proverbs, their innermost
heart speaks out to us; how far the comparison of the proverbs of one
nation with those of others may be made instructive to us; what this
comparison will tell us severally about each. This only I will ask, ere
we enter upon the subject, that if I should fail here in drawing out
anything strongly characteristic, if the proverbs regarded from this
point of view should not seem to reveal to you any of the true secrets
of national life, you will not therefore misdoubt those assertions with
which my lecture opened; or assume that these documents would not yield
up their secret, if questioned aright; but only believe that the test
has been unskilfully applied; or, if you will, that my brief limits
have not allowed me to make that clear, which with larger space I might
not have wholly failed in doing.

I am very well aware that in following upon this track, one is ever
liable to deceive oneself, to impose upon others, picking out and
adducing such proverbs as conform to a preconceived theory, passing
over those which would militate against it. Quite allowing that
there is such a danger which needs to be guarded against, and also
that there are a multitude of these sayings which cannot be made to
illustrate difference, for they rest on the broad foundation of the
universal humanity, underlying and deeper than that which is peculiar
and national, I am yet persuaded that enough remain, and such as may
with perfect good faith be adduced, to confirm these assertions; I am
convinced that we _may_ learn from the proverbs current among a people,
what is nearest and dearest to their hearts, the aspects under which
they contemplate life, how honour and dishonour are distributed among
them, what is of good, what of evil report in their eyes, with very
much more which it can never be unprofitable to know.

       *       *       *       *       *

To begin, then, with the proverbs of Greece. That which strikes one
most in the study of these, and which the more they are studied,
the more fills the thoughtful student with wonder, is the evidence
they yield of a leavening through and through of the entire nation
with the most intimate knowledge of its own mythology, history, and
poetry. The infinite multitude of slight and fine allusions to the
legends of their gods and heroes, to the earlier incidents of their
own history, to the Homeric narrative, the delicate side glances at
all these which the Greek proverbs constantly embody,[39] assume an
acquaintance, indeed a familiarity, with all this on their parts among
whom they passed current, which almost exceeds belief. In many and
most important respects, the Greek proverbs considered as a whole are
inferior to those of many nations of modern Christendom. This is
nothing wonderful; Christianity would have done little for the world,
would have proved very ineffectual for the elevating, purifying, and
deepening of man’s life, if it had been otherwise. But, with all this,
as bearing testimony to the high intellectual training of the people
who employed them, to a culture not restricted to certain classes,
but which must have been diffused through the whole nation, no other
collection can bear the remotest comparison with this.

[Sidenote: Roman proverbs.]

It is altogether different with the Roman proverbs. These, the genuine
Roman, the growth of their own soil, are very far fewer in number than
the Greek, as was indeed to be expected from the far less subtle and
less fertile genius of the people. Hardly any of them are legendary
or mythological; which again agrees with the fact that the Italian
pantheon was very scantily peopled as compared with the Greek. Very few
have much poetry about them, or any very rare delicacy or refinement
of feeling. In respect of love indeed, not the Roman only, but Greek
and Roman alike, are immeasurably inferior to those which many modern
nations could supply. Thus a proverb of such religious depth and
beauty as our own, _Marriages are made in heaven_, it would have been
quite impossible for all heathen antiquity to have produced, or even
remotely to have approached.[40] In the setting out not of love, but
of friendship, and of the claims which it makes, the blessings which it
brings, is exhibited whatever depth and tenderness they may have.[41]
This indeed, as has been truly observed,[42] was only to be expected,
seeing how much higher an ideal of that existed than of this, the full
realization of which was reserved for the modern Christian world. Yet
the Roman proverbs are not without other substantial merits of their
own. A vigorous moral sense speaks out in many;[43] and even when this
is not so prominent, they wear often a thoroughly old Roman aspect;
being business-like and practical, frugal and severe, wise saws such
as the elder Cato must have loved, such as must have been often upon
his lips;[44] while in the number that relate to farming, they bear
singular witness to that strong and lively interest in agricultural
pursuits, which was so remarkable a feature in the old Italian

[Sidenote: Number of Spanish proverbs.]

It will not be possible to pass under even this hastiest review more
than two or three of the modern families of proverbs. Let us turn
first to the proverbs of Spain. I put these in the foremost rank,
because the Spanish literature, poor in many provinces wherein other
literatures are rich, is probably richer in this province than any
other in the world, certainly than any other in the western world; and
this I should be inclined to believe, both as respects the quantity and
the quality.[46] In respect of quantity, the mere number of Spanish
proverbs is astonishing. A collection I have been using while preparing
these lectures, contains between seven and eight thousand, and yet
does not contain all; for I have searched it in vain for several with
which from other sources I had become acquainted. Nay, it must be very
far indeed from exhausting the entire stock, seeing that there exists
a manuscript collection brought together by a distinguished Spanish
scholar, in which the proverbs have attained to the almost incredible
amount of from five and twenty to thirty thousand.[47]

[Sidenote: Spanish characteristics.]

And in respect of their quality, it needs only to call to mind some
of those, so rich in humour, so double-shotted with homely sense,
wherewith the Squire in _Don Quixote_ adorns his discourse; being
oftentimes indeed not the fringe and border, but the main woof and
texture of it: and then, if we assume that the remainder are not
altogether unlike these, we shall, I think, feel that it would be
difficult to rate them more highly than they deserve. And some are in a
loftier vein; for taking, as we have a right to do, Cervantes himself
as the truest exponent of the Spanish character, we should be prepared
to trace in the proverbs of Spain a grave thoughtfulness, a stately
humour, to find them breathing the very spirit of chivalry and honour,
and indeed of freedom too;—for in Spain, as throughout so much of
Europe, it is despotism, and not freedom, which is new. Nor are we
disappointed in these our expectations. How eminently chivalresque,
for instance, the following: _White hands cannot hurt_.[48] What a
grave humour lurks in this: _The ass knows well in whose face he
brays_.[49] What a stately apathy, how proud a looking of calamity in
the face, speaks out in the admonition which this one contains: _When
thou seest thine house in flames, approach and warm thyself by it_;[50]
what a spirit of freedom, which refuses to be encroached on even by
the highest, is embodied in another: _The king goes as far as he may,
not as far as he would_;[51] what Castilian pride in the following:
_Every layman in Castile might make a king, every clerk a pope_. The
Spaniard’s contempt for his peninsular neighbours finds its emphatic
utterance in another: _Take from a Spaniard all his good qualities, and
there remains a Portuguese_.

We may too, I think, remark how a nation will occasionally in its
proverbs indulge in a fine irony upon itself, and show that it is
perfectly aware of its own weaknesses, follies, and faults. This the
Spaniards must be allowed to do in their proverb, _Succours of Spain,
either late, or never_.[52] However largely and confidently promised,
these _succours of Spain_ either do not arrive at all, or only arrive
after the opportunity in which they could have served have passed
away. Certainly any one who reads the despatches of England’s Great
Captain during the Peninsular War will find in almost every page of
them that which abundantly justifies this proverb, will own that those
who made it read themselves aright, and could not have designated
broken pledges, unfulfilled promises of aid, tardy and thus ineffectual
assistance, by an happier title than _Succours of Spain_. And then
again what a fearful glimpse of those blood feuds which, having once
begun, seem as if they could never end, blood touching blood, and
violence evermore provoking its like, have we in the following: _Kill,
and thou shalt be killed, and they shall kill him who kills thee_.[53]

The Italians also are eminently rich in proverbs; and yet if ever I
have been tempted to retract or seriously to modify what I shall have
occasion by-and-bye to affirm in regard of a nobler life and spirit as
predominating in proverbs, it has been after the study of some Italian
collection. “The Italian proverbs,” it has been said not without too
much reason, though perhaps also with overmuch severity, “have taken a
tinge from their deep and politic genius, and their wisdom seems wholly
concentrated in their personal interests. I think every tenth proverb
in an Italian collection is some cynical or some selfish maxim, a book
of the world for worldlings.”[54] Certainly many of them are shrewd
enough, and only too shrewd; “ungracious,” inculcating an universal
suspicion, teaching to look everywhere for a foe, to expect, as the
Greeks said, a scorpion under every stone, glorifying artifice and
cunning as the true guides and only safe leaders through the perplexed
labyrinth of life,[55] and altogether seeming dictated as by the very
spirit of Machiavel himself.

[Sidenote: Proverbs on revenge.]

And worse than this is the glorification of revenge which speaks out
in too many of them. I know nothing of its kind calculated to give one
a more shuddering sense of horror than the series which might be drawn
together of Italian proverbs on this matter; especially when we take
them with the commentary which Italian history supplies, and which
shows them no empty words, but the deepest utterances of the nation’s
heart. There is no misgiving in these about the right of entertaining
so deadly a guest in the bosom; on the contrary, one of them, exalting
the sweetness of revenge, declares, _Revenge is a morsel for God_.[56]
There is nothing in them, (it would be far better if there were,)
of blind and headlong passion, but rather a spirit of deliberate
calculation, which makes the blood run cold. Thus one gives this
advice: _Wait time and place to act thy revenge, for it is never well
done in a hurry_;[57] while another proclaims an immortality of hatred,
which no spaces of intervening time shall have availed to weaken:
_Revenge of an hundred years old hath still its sucking teeth_.[58]
We may well be thankful that we have in England, at least as far as I
am aware, no sentiments parallel to these, embodied as the permanent
convictions of the national mind.

How curious again is the confession which speaks out in another Italian
proverb, that the maintenance of the Romish system and the study of
Holy Scripture cannot go together. It is this: _With the Gospel one
becomes an heretic_.[59] No doubt with the study of the Word of God one
does become an heretic, in the Italian sense of the word; and therefore
it is only prudently done to put all obstacles in the way of that
study, to assign three years’ and four years’ imprisonment with hard
labour to as many as shall dare to peruse it; yet certainly it is not a
little remarkable that such a confession should have embodied itself in
the popular utterances of the nation.

[Sidenote: Italian proverbs.]

But while it must be freely owned that the charges brought just now
against the Italian proverbs are sufficiently borne out by too many,
they are not all to be included in the common shame. Very many there
are not merely of a delicate refinement of beauty, as this, expressive
of the freedom in regard of _thine_ and _mine_ which will exist between
true friends: _Friends tie their purses with a spider’s thread_;[60]
of a subtle wisdom which has not degenerated into cunning and deceit;
but also of a nobler stamp; honour and honesty, plain dealing and
uprightness, have here their praises too, and are not seldom pronounced
to be in the end more than a match for all cunning and deceit. How
excellent in this sense is the following: _For an honest man half his
wits is enough, the whole are too little for a knave_;[61] the ways,
that is, of truth and uprightness are so simple and plain, that a
little wit is abundantly sufficient for those that walk in them; the
ways of falsehood and fraud are so perplexed and tangled, that sooner
or later all the wit of the cleverest rogue will not preserve him from
being entangled therein. How often and how wonderfully has this found
its confirmation in the lives of evil men; so true it is, to employ
another proverb and a very deep one from the same quarter, that _The
devil is subtle, yet weaves a coarse web_.[62]

Again, what description of Egypt as it now is, or indeed generally
of the East, could set us at the heart of its moral condition, could
make us to understand all which long centuries of oppression and
misrule have made of it and of its people, what could do this so
effectually as the collection of Arabic proverbs now current in Egypt,
which the traveller Burckhardt gathered, and which, after his death,
were published with his name?[63] In other books, others describe the
modern Egyptians, but here they unconsciously describe themselves. The
selfishness, the utter extinction of all public spirit, the servility,
which no longer as with an inward shame creeps into men’s acts, but
utters itself boldly as the avowed law of their lives, the sense of
the oppression of the strong, of the insecurity of the weak, and,
generally, the whole character of life, alike outward and inward, as
poor, mean, sordid, and ignoble, with only a few faintest glimpses
of that romance which one usually attaches to the East; all this, as
we study these documents, rises up before us in truest, though in
painfullest, outline.

Thus only in a land where rulers, being evil themselves, feel all
goodness to be their instinctive foe, and themselves therefore
entertain an instinctive hostility to it, where they punish but never
reward, where not to be noticed by them is the highest ambition of
those under their yoke, in no other land could a proverb like the
following, _Do no good, and thou shalt find no evil_, have ever come
to the birth. How settled a conviction that wrong, and not right, was
the lord paramount of the world must have grown up in men’s spirits,
before such a word as this, (I know of no sadder one,) could have found
utterance from their lips.[64]

[Sidenote: Irish proverb.]

I have taken a wide circuit of nations; with the proverb of a people
nearer home I must bring this branch of the subject to an end. It is
one, and a very characteristic one, which the poet Spenser, who long
dwelt in Ireland, records as current in his time among the Irish; in
which were contained their offer of service to their native chiefs,
with a statement of what they expected in return: _Spend me, and defend
me_. Their leaders in all times have taken them only too well at their
word in respect of the first half of the proverb, and have not failed
prodigally to _spend_ them; although their undertakings to _defend_
have issued exactly as must ever issue all promises on the part of
others to defend men from those evils, from which none can really
protect them but themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: German proverbs.]

Other families of proverbs would each of them tell its own tale, give
up its own secret; but I must not seek from this point of view to
question them further. I would rather bring now to your notice that
even where they do not spring, as they cannot all, from the centre of
a people’s heart, nor declare to us the secretest things which are
there, but dwell more on the surface of things, in this case also they
have often local or national features, which to study and trace out
may prove both curious and instructive. Of how many, for example, we
may note the manner in which they clothe themselves in an outward form
and shape, borrowed from, or suggested by, the peculiar scenery or
circumstances or history of their own land; so that they could scarcely
have come into existence, not certainly in the shape which they now
wear, anywhere besides. Thus our own, _Make hay while the sun shines_,
is truly English, and could have had its birth only under such variable
skies as ours,—not, at any rate, in those southern lands where, during
the summer time at least, the sun always shines. In the same way there
is a fine Cornish proverb in regard of obstinate wrongheads, who will
take no counsel except from calamities, who dash themselves to pieces
against obstacles, which with a little prudence and foresight they
might easily have avoided. It is this: _He who will not be ruled by
the rudder, must be ruled by the rock_. It sets us at once upon some
rocky and wreck-strewn coast; we feel that it could never have been
the proverb of an inland people. And this, _Do not talk Arabic in the
house of a Moor_,[65]—that is, because there thy imperfect knowledge
will be detected at once,—this we should confidently affirm to be
Spanish, wherever we met it. So also a traveller with any experience
in the composition of Spanish sermons and Spanish ollas could make no
mistake in respect of the following: _A sermon without Augustine is as
a stew without bacon_.[66] Thus _Big and empty, like the Heidelberg
tun_,[67] could have its home only in Germany; that enormous vessel,
known as the Heidelberg tun, constructed to contain nearly 300,000
flasks, having now stood empty for hundreds of years. As regards,
too, the following, _Not every parish-priest can wear Dr. Luther’s
shoes_,[68] we could be in no doubt to what people it appertains.
And this, _The world is a carcase, and they who gather round it are
dogs_, plainly proclaims itself as belonging to those Eastern lands,
where the unowned dogs prowling about the streets of a city are the
natural scavengers, that would assemble round a carcase thrown in the
way. So too the form which our own proverb, _Man’s extremity, God’s
opportunity_, or as we sometimes have it, _When need is highest, help
is nighest_ assumes among the Jews, namely this, _When the tale of
bricks is doubled, Moses comes_,[69] plainly roots itself in the early
history of that nation, being an allusion to Exod. v. 9-19, and without
a knowledge of that history would be unintelligible altogether. The
same may be said of this: _We must creep into Ebal, and leap into
Gerizim_; in other words, we must be slow to curse, and swift to bless.
(Deut. xxvii. 12, 13.)

But while it is thus with some, which are bound by the very conditions
of their existence to a narrow and peculiar sphere, or at all events
move more naturally and freely in it than elsewhere, there are others
on the contrary which we meet all the world over. True cosmopolites,
they seem to have travelled from land to land, and to have made
themselves an home equally in all. The Greeks obtained them probably
from the older East, and again imparted them to the Romans; and from
these they have found their way into all the languages of the western

Much, I think, might be learned from knowing what those truths are,
which are so felt to be true by all nations, that all have loved to
possess them in these compendious forms, wherein they may pass readily
from mouth to mouth: which, thus cast into some happy form, have
commended themselves to almost all people, and have become a portion
of the common stock of the world’s wisdom, in every land making for
themselves a recognition and an home. Such a proverb, for instance, is
_Man proposes, God disposes_;[70] one which I am inclined to believe
that every nation in Europe possesses, so deeply upon all men is
impressed the sense of Hamlet’s words, if not the words themselves:

    “There’s a divinity that _shapes_ our ends,
    _Rough-hew_ them how we will.”

[Sidenote: Proverbs compared.]

Sometimes the proverb does not actually in so many words repeat itself
in various tongues. We have indeed exactly the same _thought_; but
it takes an outward shape and embodiment, varying according to the
various countries and periods in which it has been current: we have
proverbs totally diverse from one another in their form and appearance,
but which yet, when we look a little deeper into them, prove to be at
heart one and the same, all these their differences being thus only,
so to speak, variations of the same air. These are almost always an
amusing, often an instructive, study; and to trace this likeness in
difference has an interest lively enough. Thus the _forms_ of the
proverb, which brings out the absurdity of those reproving others
for a defect or a sin, to whom the same cleaves in an equal or in a
greater degree, have sometimes no visible connexion at all, or the very
slightest, with one another; yet for all this the proverb is at heart
and essentially but one. We say in English: _The kiln calls the oven,
“Burnt house;”_—the Italians: _The pan says to the pot “Keep off, or
you’ll smutch me;”_[71]—the Spaniards: _The raven cried to the crow,
“Avaunt, blackamoor;”_[72]—the Germans: _One ass nicknames another,
Long-ears_;[73]—while it must be owned there is a certain originality
in the Catalan version of the proverb: _Death said to the man with his
throat cut, “How ugly you look.”_ Under how rich a variety of forms
does one and the same thought array itself here.

[Sidenote: Various proverbs.]

Let me quote another illustration of the same fact. We probably
take for granted that _Coals to Newcastle_ is a thoroughly English
expression of the absurdity of sending to a place that which already
abounds there, water to the sea, faggots to the wood:—and English
of course it is in the outward garment which it wears; but in its
innermost being it belongs to the whole world and to all times. Thus
the Greeks said: _Owls to Athens_,[74] Attica abounding with these
birds; the Rabbis: _Enchantments to Egypt_, Egypt being of old esteemed
the head quarters of all magic; the Orientals: _Pepper to Hindostan_;
and in the middle ages they had this proverb: _Indulgences to Rome_,
Rome being the centre and source of this spiritual traffic; and these
by no means exhaust the list.

Let me adduce some other variations of the same descriptions, though
not running through quite so many languages. Thus compare the German,
_Who lets one sit on his shoulders, shall have him presently sit on
his head_,[75] with the Italian, _If thou suffer a calf to be laid on
thee, within a little they’ll clap on the cow_,[76] and, again, with
the Spanish, _Give me where I may sit down; I will make where I may
lie down_.[77] They all three plainly contain one and the same hint
that undue liberties are best resisted at the outset, being otherwise
liable to be followed up by other and greater ones; but this under how
rich and humorous a variety of forms. Not very different are these
that follow. We say: _Daub yourself with honey, and you’ll be covered
with flies_; the Danes: _Make yourself an ass, and you’ll have every
man’s sack on your shoulders_; while the French: _Who makes himself a
sheep, the wolf devours him_;[78] and the Persians: _Be not all sugar,
or the world will gulp thee down_;[79] to which they add, however, as
its necessary complement, _nor yet all wormwood, or the world will
spit thee out_. Or again, we are content to say without a figure: _The
receiver’s as bad as the thief_; but the French: _He sins as much
who holds the sack, as he who puts into it_;[80] and the Germans:
_He who holds the ladder is as guilty as he who mounts the wall_.[81]
We say: _A stitch in time saves nine_; the Spaniards: _Who repairs
not his gutter, repairs his whole house_.[82] We say: _Misfortunes
never come single_; the Italians have no less than three proverbs to
express the same popular conviction: _Blessed is that misfortune which
comes single_; and again: _One misfortune is the vigil of another_;
and again: _A misfortune and a friar are seldom alone_.[83] Or once
more, the Russians say: _Call a peasant, “Brother,” he’ll demand to be
called, “Father;”_ the Italians: _Reach a peasant your finger, he’ll
grasp your fist_.[84] Many languages have this proverb: _God gives the
cold according to the cloth_;[85] it is very beautiful, but attains not
to the tender beauty of our own: _God tempers the wind to the shorn

And, as in that last example, so not seldom will there be an evident
superiority of a proverb in one language over one, which however
resembles it closely in another. Moving in the same sphere, it will
yet be richer, fuller, deeper. Thus our own, _A burnt child fears
the fire_, is good; but that of many tongues, _A scalded dog fears
cold water_, is better still. Ours does but express that those who
have suffered once will henceforward be timid in respect of that same
thing from which they have suffered; but that other the tendency to
exaggerate such fears, so that now they shall fear even where no fear
is. And the fact that so it will be, clothes itself in an almost
infinite variety of forms. Thus one Italian proverb says: _A dog which
has been beaten with a stick, is afraid of its shadow_; and another,
which could only have had its birth in the sunny South, where the
glancing but harmless lizard so often darts across your path: _Whom
a serpent has bitten a lizard alarms_.[86] With a little variation
from this, the Jewish Rabbis had said long before: _One bitten by a
serpent, is afraid of a rope’s end_; even that which bears so remote
a resemblance to a serpent as this does, shall now inspire him with
terror; and the Cingalese, still expressing the same thought, but with
imagery borrowed from their own tropic clime: _The man who has received
a beating from a firebrand, runs away at sight of a firefly_.

[Sidenote: Rabbinical proverb.]

Some of our Lord’s sayings contain the same lessons which the proverbs
of the Jewish Rabbis contained already; for He was willing to bring
forth even from his treasury things old as well as new; but it is very
instructive to observe how they acquire in his mouth a dignity and
decorum which, it may be, they wanted before. We are all familiar with
that word in the Sermon on the Mount, “Whosoever shall compel thee
to go a mile, go with him twain.” The Rabbis had a proverb to match,
lively and piquant enough, but certainly lacking the gravity of this,
and which never could have fallen from the same lips: _If thy neighbour
call thee ass, put a packsaddle on thy back_; do not, that is, withdraw
thyself from the wrong, but rather go forward to meet it. But thus, in
least as in greatest, it was His to make all things new.

[Sidenote: Progress of ingratitude.]

Sometimes a proverb, without changing its shape altogether, will
yet on the lips of different nations be slightly modified; and
these modifications, slight as often they are, may not the less be
eminently characteristic. Thus in English we say, _The river past,
and God forgotten_, to express with how mournful a frequency He whose
assistance was invoked, it may have been earnestly, in the moment
of peril, is remembered no more, so soon as by his help the danger
has been surmounted. The Spaniards have the proverb too; but it is
with them: _The river past, the saint forgotten_,[87] the saints
being in Spain more prominent objects of invocation than God. And
the Italian form of it sounds a still sadder depth of ingratitude:
_The peril past, the saint mocked_;[88] the vows made to him in
peril remaining unperformed in safety; and he treated something as,
in Greek story, Juno was treated by Mandrabulus the Samian; who,
having under her auspices and through her direction discovered a gold
mine, in his instant gratitude vowed to her a golden ram; which he
presently exchanged in intention for a silver one; and again this
for a very small brass one; and this for nothing at all; the rapidly
descending scale of whose gratitude, with the entire disappearance of
his thank-offering, might very profitably live in our memories, as so
perhaps it would be less likely to repeat itself in our lives.


[37] The writer might have added, the superstitions; for proverbs not
a few involve and rest on popular superstitions, and a collection
of these would be curious and in many ways instructive. Such, for
instance, is the Latin, (it is, indeed, also Greek): _A serpent,
unless it devour a serpent, grows not to a dragon_; (Serpens, nisi
serpentem comederit, non fit draco); which Lord Bacon moralizes so
shrewdly: “The folly of one man is the fortune of another; for no man
prospers so suddenly as by other men’s errors.” Such again is the
old German proverb: _The night is no man’s friend_; (Die Nacht ist
keines Menschen Freund;) which rests, as Grimm has so truly observed
(_Deutsche Mythol._, p. 713) on the wide-spread feeling in the northern
mythologies, of the night as an unfriendly and, indeed, hostile power
to man. And such, too, the French: _A Sunday’s child dies never of the
plague_; (Qui nait le dimanche, jamais ne meurt de peste.)

[38] We may adduce further the words of Salmasius: Argutæ hæ brevesque
loquendi formulæ suas habent veneres, et genium cujusque gentis penes
quam celebrantur, atque acumen ostendunt.

[39] Thus Ἄϊδoς κυνῆ—Ἄπληστος πίθος.—Ἰλιὰς κακῶν.

[40] This Greek proverb on love is the noblest of the kind which I
remember: Μουσικὴν ἔρως διδάσκει, κἄντις ἄμουσος ᾖ τὸ πρίν.

[41] In this respect the Latin proverb, Mores amici noveris, non
oderis, on which Horace has furnished so exquisite a comment (_Sat._ i.
3, 24-93), and which finds its graceful equivalent in the Italian, Ama
l’amico tuo con il difetto suo (Love your friend with his fault), is
worthy of all admiration.

[42] By Zell, in his slight but graceful treatise, _On the proverbs of
the ancient Romans_ (_Ferienschriften_, v. 2, p. 1-96).

[43] Thus, Noxa caput sequitur;—Conscientia, mille testes.

[44] He has preserved for us that very sensible and at the same time
truly characteristic one, Quod non opus est, asse carum est.

[45] These are two or three of the most notable—the first against
“high farming,” which it is strange if it has not been appealed to
in the modern controversy on the subject: Nihil minus expedit quam
agrum optime colere. (Pliny, _H. N._, 6. 18.) Over against this,
however, we must set another, warning against the attempt to farm with
insufficient capital: Oportet agrum imbecilliorem esse quam agricolam;
and yet another, on the liberal answer which the land will make to the
pains and cost bestowed on it; Qui arat olivetum, rogat fructum; qui
stercorat, exorat; qui cædit, cogit.

[46] This was the judgment of Salmasius, who says: Inter Europæos
Hispani in his excellunt, Itali vix cedunt, Galli proximo sequuntur

[47] What may have become of this collection I know not; but it was
formerly in Richard Heber’s library, (see the _Catalogue_, v. 9. no.
1697.) Juan Yriarte was the collector, and in a note to the _Catalogue_
it is stated that he devoted himself with such eagerness to the
bringing of it to the highest possible state of completeness, that he
would give his servants a fee for any new proverb they brought him;
while to each, as it was inserted in his list, he was careful to attach
a memorandum of the quarter from which it came; and if this was not
from books but from life, an indication of the name, the rank, and
condition in life of the person from whom it was derived.

[48] Las manos blancas no ofenden.

[49] Bien sabe el asno en cuya cara rebozna.

[50] Quando vierás tu casa quemar, llega te á escalentar.

[51] El Rey va hasta do puede, y no hasta do quiere.

[52] Socorros de España, ó tarde, ó nunca.

[53] Matarás, y matarte han, y matarán a quien te matare.

[54] _Curiosities of Literature_, p. 391. London: 1838.

[55] These may serve as examples: Chi ha sospetto, di rado è in
difetto.—Fidarsi è bene, ma non fidarsi è meglio.—Da chi mi fido,
mi guardi Iddio; da chi non mi fido, mi guarderò io.—Con arte e con
inganno si vive mezzo l’anno; con inganno e con arte si vive l’altra

[56] Vendetta, boccon di Dio.

[57] Aspetta tempo e loco à far tua vendetta, che la non si fa mai ben
in fretta. Compare another: Vuoi far Vendetta del tuo nemico, governati
bene ed è bell’e fatta.

[58] Vendetta di cent’anni ha ancor i lattaiuoli.

[59] Con l’Evangelo si diventa eretico.

[60] Gli amici legono la borsa con un filo di ragnatelo.

[61] Ad un uomo dabbene avanza la metà del cervello; ad un tristo non
basta ne anche tutto.

[62] Jeremy Taylor appears to have found much delight in the proverbs
of Italy. In the brief foot notes which he has appended to the _Holy
Living_ alone I counted five and twenty such, to which he makes more
or less remote allusion in the text. There is an excellent article on
“Tuscan Proverbs” in _Fraser’s Magazine_, Jan. 1857.

[63] _Arabic Proverbs of the Modern Egyptians._ London: 1830.

[64] Yet this very mournful collection of Burckhardt’s possesses at
least one very beautiful proverb on the all conquering power of love:
_Man is the slave of beneficence_.

[65] En casa del Moro no hables algarabia.

[66] Sermon sin Agostino, olla sin tocino.

[67] Gross und leer, wie das Heidelberger Fass.

[68] Doctor Luther’s Schuhe sind nicht allen Dorfpriestern gerecht.

[69] Cum duplicantur lateres, Moses venit.

[70] La gente pone, y Dios dispone.—Der Mensch denkt’s; Gott lenkt’s.

[71] La padella dice al pajuolo, Fatti in là, che tu mi tigni.

[72] Dijó la corneja al cuervo, Quítate allá, negro.

[73] Ein Esel schimpft den andern, Langohr.

[74] Γλαῦκας εἰς Ἀθήνας.

[75] Wer sich auf der Achsel sitzen lässt, dem sitzt man nachher auf
dem Kopfe.

[76] Se ti lasci metter in spalla il vitello, quindi a poco ti metteran
la vacca.

[77] Dame donde me asiente, que yo haré donde me acueste.

[78] Qui se fait brebis, le loup le mange.

[79] There is a Catalan proverb to the same effect: Qui de tot es moll,
de tot es foll.

[80] Autant pèche celui qui tient le sac, que celui qui met dedans.

[81] Wer die Leiter hält, ist so schuldig wie der Dieb.

[82] Quien no adoba gotera, adoba casa entera.

[83] Benedetto è quel male, che vien solo.—Un mal è la vigilia
dell’altro.—Un male ed un Frate di rado soli.

[84] Al villano, se gli porgi il dito, ei prende la mano.

[85] Dieu donne le froid selon le drap.—Cada cual siente el frio como
anda vestido.

[86] Cui serpe mozzica, lucerta teme.

[87] El rio passado, el santo olvidado.

[88] Passato il punto, gabbato il santo.



It will be my endeavour in the three lectures which I have still
to deliver to justify the attention which I have claimed on behalf
of proverbs from you, not merely by appealing to the authority of
others, who at different times have prized and made much of them,
but by bringing out and setting before you, so far as I have the
skill to do it, some of the merits and excellencies by which they
are mainly distinguished. Their wit, their wisdom, their poetry, the
delicacy, the fairness, the manliness which characterize so many of
them, their morality, their theology, will all by turns come under
our consideration. Yet shall I beware of presenting them to you as
though they embodied these nobler qualities only. I shall not keep out
of sight that there are proverbs, coarse, selfish, unjust, cowardly,
profane; “maxims” wholly undeserving of the honour implied by that
name.[89] Still as my pleasure, and I doubt not yours, is rather in the
wheat than in the tares, I shall, while I do not conceal this, prefer
to dwell in the main on the nobler features which they present.

[Sidenote: Poetic imagery.]

And first, in regard of the poetry of proverbs—whatever is _from_ the
people, or truly _for_ the people, whatever either springs from their
bosom, or has been cordially accepted by them, still more whatever
unites both these conditions, will have poetry, imagination, in it.
For little as the people’s craving after wholesome nutriment of the
imaginative faculty, and after an entrance into a fairer and more
harmonious world than that sordid and confused one with which often
they are surrounded, is duly met and satisfied, still they yearn after
all this with an honest hearty yearning, which must put to shame
the palled indifference, the only affected enthusiasm of too many,
whose opportunities of cultivating this glorious faculty have been so
immeasurably greater than theirs. This being so, and proverbs being, as
we have seen, the sayings that have found favour with the people, their
peculiar inheritance, we may be quite sure that there will be poetry,
imagination, passion, in them. So much we might affirm beforehand; our
closer examination of them will confirm the confidence which we have
been bold to entertain.

Thus we may expect to find that they will contain often bold imagery,
striking comparisons; and such they do. Let serve as an example our
own: _Gray hairs are death’s blossoms_;[90] or the Italian: _Time
is an inaudible file_;[91] or the Greek: _Man a bubble_;[92] which
Jeremy Taylor has expanded into such glorious poetry in the opening
of the _Holy Dying_; or that Turkish: _Death is a black camel which
kneels at every man’s gate_; to take up, that is, the burden of a
coffin there; or this Arabic one, on the never satisfied eye of desire:
_Nothing but a handful of dust will fill the eye of man_; or another
from the same quarter, worthy of Mecca’s prophet himself, and of the
earnestness with which he realized Gehenna, whatever else he may have
come short in: _There are no fans in hell_; or this other, also from
the East: _Hold all skirts of thy mantle extended, when heaven is
raining gold_; improve, that is, to the uttermost the happier crises of
thy spiritual life; or this Indian, to the effect that good should be
returned for evil: _The sandal tree perfumes the axe that fells it_;
or this one, current in the Middle Ages: _Whose life lightens, his
words thunder_;[93] or once more, this Chinese: _Towers are measured by
their shadows, and great men by their calumniators_; however this last
may have somewhat of an artificial air as tried by our standard of the

There may be poetry in a play upon words; and such we shall hardly
fail to acknowledge in that beautiful Spanish proverb: _La verdad es
siempre verde_, which I must leave in its original form; for were I to
translate it, _The truth is always green_, its charm and chief beauty
would be looked for in vain. It finds its pendant and complement in
another, which I must also despair of adequately rendering: _Gloria
vana florece, y no grana_; which would express this truth, namely, that
vain glory can shoot up into stalk and ear, but can never attain to the
full grain in the ear. Nor can we, I think, refuse the title of poetry
to this Eastern proverb, in which the wish that a woman may triumph
over her enemies, clothes itself thus: _May her enemies stumble over
her hair_;—may she flourish so, may her hair, the outward sign of this
prosperity, grow so rich and long, may it so sweep the ground, that her
detractors and persecutors may be entangled by it and fall.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Witty proverbs.]

And then, how exquisitely witty many proverbs are. Thus, not to speak
of one familiar to us all, which is perhaps the queen of all proverbs:
_The road to hell is paved with good intentions_;[94] take this Scotch
one: _A man may love his house well, without riding on the ridge_; it
is enough for a wise man to know what is precious to himself, without
making himself ridiculous by evermore proclaiming it to the world;
or this of our own: _When the devil is dead, he never wants a chief
mourner_; in other words, there is no abuse so enormous, no evil so
flagrant, but that the interests or passions of some will be so bound
up in its continuance that they will lament its extinction; or this
Italian: _When rogues go in procession, the devil holds the cross_;[95]
when evil men have it thus far their own way, then worst is best,
and in the inverted hierarchy which is then set up, the foremost in
badness is foremost also in such honour as is going. Or consider how
happily the selfishness and bye-ends which too often preside at men’s
very prayers are noted in this Portuguese: _Cobblers go to mass, and
pray that cows may die_;[96] that is, that so leather may be cheap.
Or, take another, a German one, noting with slightest exaggeration a
measure of charity which is only too common: _He will swallow an egg,
and give away the shells in alms_; or this from the Talmud, of which I
will leave the interpretation to yourselves: _All kinds of wood burn
silently, except thorns, which crackle and call out, We too are wood_.

The wit of proverbs spares few or none. They are, as may be supposed,
especially intolerant of fools. _We_ say: _Fools grow without
watering_; no need therefore of adulation or flattery, to quicken them
to a ranker growth; for indeed _The more you stroke the cat’s tail, the
more he raises his back_;[97] and the Russians: _Fools are not planted
or sowed; they grow of themselves_; while the Spaniards: _If folly were
a pain, there would be crying in every house_;[98] having further an
exquisitely witty one on learned folly as the most intolerable of all
follies: _A fool, unless he know Latin, is never a great fool_.[99] And
here is excellently unfolded to us the secret of the fool’s confidence:
_Who knows nothing, doubts nothing_.[100]

[Sidenote: Bohemian proverb.]

The shafts of their pointed satire are directed with an admirable
impartiality against men of every degree, so that none of us will
be found to have wholly escaped. To pass over those, and they are
exceedingly numerous, which are aimed at members of the monastic
orders,[101] I must fain hope that this Bohemian one, pointing at
the clergy, is not true; for it certainly argues no very forgiving
temper on our parts in cases where we have been, or fancy ourselves to
have been, wronged. It is as follows: _If you have offended a clerk,
kill him; else you never will have peace with him_.[102] And another
proverb, worthy to take its place among the best even of the Spanish,
charges the clergy with being the authors of the chiefest spiritual
mischiefs which have risen up in the Church: _By the vicar’s skirts the
devil climbs up into the belfry_.[103] Nor do physicians appear in the
middle ages to have been in very high reputation for piety; for a Latin
medieval proverb boldly proclaims: _Where there are three physicians,
there are two atheists_.[104] And as for lawyers, this of the same
period, _Legista, nequista_,[105] expresses itself not with such
brevity only, but with such downright plainness of speech, that I shall
excuse myself from attempting to render it into English. Nor do other
sorts and conditions of men escape. “The miller tolling with his golden
thumb,” has been often the object of malicious insinuations; and of him
the Germans have a proverb: _What is bolder than a miller’s neckcloth,
which takes a thief by the throat every morning?_[106] Evenhanded
justice might perhaps require that I should find caps for other heads;
and it is not that such are wanting, nor yet out of fear lest any
should be offended, but only because I must needs hasten onward, that
I leave this part of my subject without further development.

[Sidenote: Proverbs about pride.]

What a fine knowledge of the human heart will they often display. I
know not whether this Persian saying on the subtleties of pride is a
proverb in the very strictest sense of the word, but it is forcibly
uttered: _Thou shalt sooner detect an ant moving in the dark night on
the black earth, than all the motions of pride in thine heart_. And on
the wide reach of this sin the Italians say: _If pride were as art, how
many graduates we should have_;[107] and how excellent and searching
is this word of theirs on the infinitely various shapes which this
protean sin will assume: _There are who despise pride with a greater
pride_,[108] one which might almost seem to have been founded on the
story of Diogenes, who, treading under his feet a rich carpet of
Plato’s, exclaimed, “Thus I trample on the ostentation of Plato;” ‘With
an ostentation of thine own,’ was the other’s excellent retort;—even
as on another occasion he observed, with admirable wit, that he saw the
pride of the Cynic peeping through the rents of his mantle: for indeed
pride can array itself quite as easily in rags as in purple; can affect
squalors as earnestly as splendours; the lowest place and the last is
of itself no security at all for humility; and out of a sense of this
_we_ very well have said: _As proud go behind as before_.

Sometimes in their subtle observation of life, they arrive at
conclusions which we would very willingly question or reject, but to
which it is impossible to refuse a certain amount of assent. Thus it
is with the very striking German proverb: _One foe is too many; and an
hundred friends too few_.[109] There speaks out in this a sense of how
much more _active_ a principle in this world will hate be sometimes
than love. The hundred friends will _wish_ you well; but the one foe
will _do_ you ill. Their benevolence will be ordinarily passive; his
malevolence will be constantly active; it will be _animosity_, or
spiritedness in evil. The proverb will have its use, if we are stirred
up by it to prove its assertion false, to show that, in very many cases
at least, there is no such blot as it would set on the scutcheon of
true friendship. In the same rank of unwelcome proverbs I must range
this Persian one: _Of four things every man has more than he knows: of
sins, of debts, of years, and of foes_; and this Spanish: _One father
can support ten children; ten children cannot support one father_;
which, in so far as it rests upon a certain ground of truth, suggests a
painful reflection in regard of the less strength which there must be
in the filial than in the paternal affection, since to the one those
acts of self-sacrificing love are easy, which to the other are hard,
and often impossible. But yet, seeing that it is the order of God’s
providence in the world that fathers should in all cases support
children, while it is the exception when children are called to support
parents, one can only admire that wisdom which has made the instincts
of natural affection to run rather in the descending than in the
ascending line; a wisdom to which this proverb, though with a certain
exaggeration of the facts, bears witness.

[Sidenote: French proverb.]

How exquisitely delicate is the touch of this French proverb: _It is
easy to go afoot, when one leads one’s horse by the bridle_.[110] How
fine and subtle an insight into the inner workings of the human heart
is here; how many cheap humilities are here set at their true worth. It
_is_ easy to stoop from state, when that state may be resumed at will;
easy for one to part with luxuries and indulgences, which he only parts
with exactly so long as it may please himself. No reason indeed is to
be found in this comparative easiness for the not ‘going afoot;’ on the
contrary, it may be to him a most profitable exercise; but every reason
for not esteeming the doing so too highly, nor setting it on a level
with the trudging upon foot of him, who has no horse to fall back on at
whatever moment he may please.

There is, and always must be, some rough work to be done in the world;
work which, though rough, is not therefore in the least ignoble; and
the schemes, so daintily conceived, of a luxurious society, which
repose on a tacit assumption that nobody shall have to do this work,
are touched with a fine irony in this Arabic proverb: _If I am master,
and thou art master, who shall drive the asses?_[111]

Again, how clever is the satire of the following Haytian proverb,
which, however, I must introduce with a little preliminary explanation.
It was one current among the slave population of St. Domingo, and with
it they ridiculed the ambition and pretension of the mulatto race
immediately above them. These, in imitation of the French planters,
must have their duels too—duels, however, which had nothing earnest or
serious about them, invariably ending in a reconciliation and a feast,
the kids which furnished the latter being in fact the only sufferers,
their blood that which alone was shed. All this the proverb uttered:
_Mulattoes fight, kids die_.[112]

[Sidenote: Fuller’s use of proverbs.]

And proverbs, witty in themselves, often become wittier still in their
application, like gems that acquire new brilliancy from their setting,
or from some novel light in which they are held. No writer that I know
of has an happier skill in thus adding wit to the witty than Fuller,
the Church historian. Let me confirm this assertion by one or two
examples drawn from his writings. He is describing the indignation,
the outcries, the remonstrances, which the thousandfold extortions, the
intolerable exactions of the Papal See gave birth to in England during
the reigns of such subservient kings as our Third Henry; yet he will
not have his readers to suppose that the Popes fared a whit the worse
for all this outcry which was raised against them; not so, for _The
fox thrives best when he is most cursed_;[113] the very loudness of
the clamour was itself rather an evidence how well they were faring.
Or again, he is telling of that Duke of Buckingham, well known to us
through Shakespeare’s _Richard the Third_, who, having helped the
tyrant to a throne, afterwards took mortal displeasure against him;
this displeasure he sought to hide, till a season arrived for showing
it with effect, in the deep of his heart, but in vain; for, as Fuller
observes, _It is hard to halt before a cripple_; the arch-hypocrite
Richard, he to whom dissembling was as a second nature, saw through
and detected at once the shallow Buckingham’s clumsier deceit. And
the _Church History_ abounds with similar happy applications. Fuller,
indeed, possesses so much of the wit out of which proverbs spring,
that it is not seldom difficult to tell whether he is adducing a
proverb, or uttering some proverb-like saying of his own. Thus, I
cannot remember ever to have met any of the following, which yet sound
like proverbs—the first on solitude as preferable to ill fellowship:
_Better ride alone than have a thief’s company_;[114] the second
against certain who disparaged one whose excellencies they would have
found it very difficult to imitate: _They who complain that Grantham
steeple stands awry, will not set a straighter by it_,[115] and in this
he warns against despising in any the tokens of honourable toil: _Mock
not a cobbler for his black thumbs_.[116]

But the glory of proverbs, that, perhaps, which strikes us most often
and most forcibly in regard of them, is their shrewd common sense,
the sound wisdom for the management of our own lives, and of our
intercourse with our fellows, which so many of them contain. In truth,
there is no region of practical life which they do not occupy, for
which they do not supply some wise hints and counsels and warnings.
There is hardly a mistake which in the course of our lives we have
committed, but some proverb, had we known and attended to its lesson,
might have saved us from it. “Adages,” indeed, according to the more
probable etymology of that word, they are, _apt for action_ and

[Sidenote: Wisdom of silence.]

Thus, how many of these popular sayings and what good ones there are on
the wisdom of governing the tongue,—I speak not now of those urging
the _duty_, though such are by no means wanting,—but the wisdom,
prudence, and profit of knowing how to keep silence as well as how to
speak. The Persian, perhaps, is familiar to many: _Speech is silvern,
silence is golden_; with which we may compare the Italian: _Who speaks,
sows; who keeps silence, reaps_;[118] and on the _safety_ that is in
silence, I know none happier than another from the same quarter, and
one most truly characteristic of Italian caution: _Silence was never
written down_;[119] while, on the other hand, we are excellently warned
of the irrevocableness of the word which has once gone from us in this
Eastern proverb: _Of thine unspoken word thou art master; thy spoken
word is master of thee_; even as the same is set out elsewhere by many
striking comparisons; it is the arrow from the bow, the stone from the
sling; and, once launched, can as little be recalled as these.[120]
Our own, _He who says what he likes, shall hear what he does not
like_, gives a further motive for self-government in speech; while
this Spanish is in an higher strain: _The evil which issues from thy
mouth falls into thy bosom_.[121] Nor is it enough to abstain ourselves
from all such words; we must not make ourselves partakers in those of
others; which it is only too easy to do; for, as the Chinese have
said very well: _He who laughs at an impertinence, makes himself its

And then, in proverbs not a few what profitable warnings have we
against the fruits of evil companionship, as in that homely one of our
own: _He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas_;[122] or,
again, in the old Hebrew one: _Two dry sticks will set on fire one
green_; or, in another from the East, which has to do with the same
theme, and plainly shows whither such companionship will lead: _He that
takes the raven for a guide, shall light upon carrion_.

[Sidenote: Good sense in proverbs.]

What warnings do many contain against unreasonable expectations,
against a looking for perfection in a world of imperfection, and
generally a demanding of more from life than life can yield. _We_ note
very well the folly of one addicted to this, saying: _He expects better
bread than can be made of wheat_; and the Portuguese: _He that will
have an horse without fault, let him go afoot_; and the French: _Where
the goat is tied, there she must browse_.[123] Again, what a good word
of caution in respect of the wisdom of considering oftentimes a step
which, being once taken, is taken for ever, lies in the following
Russian proverb: _Measure thy cloth ten times; thou canst cut it but
once_. And in this Spanish the final issues of procrastination are
well set forth: _By the street of “By-and-bye” one arrives at the
house of “Never.”_[124] In how pleasant a way discretion in avoiding
all appearance of evil is urged in the following Chinese: _In a field
of melons tie not thy shoe; under a plum-tree adjust not thy cap_.
And this Danish warns us well against relying too much on other men’s
silence, since there is no rarer gift than the capacity of keeping a
secret: _Tell nothing to thy friend which thine enemy may not know_.
Here is a word which we owe to Italy, and which, laid to heart, might
keep men out of law-suits, or, being in them, from refusing to accept
tolerable terms of accommodation: _The robes of lawyers are lined with
the obstinacy of suitors_.[125] Other words of wisdom and warning, for
so I must esteem them, are these; this, on the danger of being overset
by prosperity: _Everything may be borne, except good fortune_;[126]
with which may be compared our own: _Bear wealth, poverty will bear
itself_; and another Italian which says: _In prosperity no altars
smoke_.[127] This is on the disgrace which will sooner or later follow
upon dressing ourselves out in intellectual finery that does not belong
to us: _Who arrays himself in other men’s garments, is stripped in the
middle of the street_;[128] he is detected and laid bare when and where
detection is most shameful.

Of the same miscellaneous character, and derived from quarters the
most diverse, but all of them of an excellent sense or shrewdness, are
the following. This is from Italy: _Who sees not the bottom, let him
not pass the water_.[129] This is current among the free blacks of
Hayti: _Before fording the river, do not curse Mrs. Alligator_;[130]
provoke not wantonly those in whose power you presently may be. This is
Spanish: _Call me not “olive,” till you see me gathered_;[131] being
nearly parallel to our own: _Praise a fair day at night_; and this
French: _Take the first advice of a woman, and not the second_;[132]
a proverb of much wisdom; for in processes of reasoning, out of which
the second counsels would spring, women may and will be, inferior to
us; but in intuitions, in moral intuitions above all, they surpass us
far; they have what Montaigne ascribes to them in a remarkable word,
“l’esprit _primesautier_,” the leopard’s spring, which takes its prey,
if it be to take it at all, at the first bound.

And I cannot but think that for as many as are seeking diligently to
improve their time and opportunities of knowledge, with at the same
time little of either which they can call their own, a very useful
hint and warning against an error which lies very near, is contained
in the little Latin proverb: _Compendia, dispendia_. Nor indeed for
them only, but for all, and in numberless respects it often proves true
that a short cut may be a very long way home; yet the proverb can never
be applied better than to those little catechisms of science, those
skeleton outlines of history, those epitomes of all useful information,
those thousand delusive short cuts to the attainment of that knowledge,
which can indeed only be acquired by them that are content to travel on
the king’s highway, on the old, and as I must still call it, the royal
road of patience, perseverance, and toil. Surely these _compendia_, so
meagre and so hungry, with little food for the intellect, with less for
the affections, we may style with fullest right _dispendia_, wasteful
as they generally prove of whatever time and labour and money is
bestowed upon them; and every wise man will set his seal to this word,
as wisely as it is grandly spoken: “All spacious minds, attended with
the felicities of means and leisure, will fly abridgements as bane.”

[Sidenote: Proverbs about books.]

And being on the subject of books and the choice of books, let me put
before you a proverb, and in this reading age a very serious one; it
comes to us from Italy, and it says: _There is no worse robber than a
bad book_.[133] Indeed, none worse, nor so bad; other robbers may spoil
us of our money; but this robber of our “goods”—of our time at any
rate, even assuming the book to be only negatively bad; but of how
much more, of our principles, our faith, our purity of heart, supposing
its badness to be positive, and not negative only. And one more on
books may fitly find place here: _Dead men open living men’s eyes_; at
least I take it to be such; and to contain implicitly the praise of
history, and an announcement of the instruction which it will yield

Here are one or two prudent words on education. _A child may have
too much of its mother’s blessing_; yes, for that blessing may be no
blessing, but rather a curse, if it take the shape of foolish and fond
indulgence; and in the same strain is this German: _Better the child
weep than the father_.[135] And this, like many others, is found in so
many tongues, that it cannot be ascribed to one rather than another:
_More springs in the garden than the gardener ever sowed_.[136] It is a
proverb for many, but most of all for parents and teachers, that they
lap not themselves in a false dream of security, as though nothing was
at work or growing in the minds of the young in their guardianship, but
what they themselves had sown there, as though there was not another
who might very well have sown his tares beside and among any good seed
of their sowing. At the same time the proverb has also its happier
side. There may be, there often are, better things also in this garden
than ever the earthly gardener set there, seeds of the more immediate
sowing of God. In either of its aspects this proverb is one deserving
to be laid to heart.

[Sidenote: Gold’s worth is gold.]

Proverbs will sometimes outrun and implicitly anticipate conclusions,
which are only after long struggles and efforts arrived at as the
formal and undoubted conviction of all thoughtful men. After how long
a conflict has that been established as a maxim in political economy,
which the brief Italian proverb long ago announced: _Gold’s worth is
gold_.[137] What millions upon millions of national wealth have been as
much lost as if they had been thrown into the sea, from the inability
of those who have had the destinies of nations in their hands to grasp
this simple proposition, that everything which could purchase money,
or which money would fain purchase, was as really wealth as the money
itself. What forcing of national industries into unnatural channels
has resulted from this, what mischievous restrictions in the buying
and selling of one people with another. Nay, can the truth which this
proverb affirms be said even now to be accepted without gainsaying—so
long as the talk about the balance of trade being in favour of or
against a nation, as the fear of draining a country of its gold, still

Here is a proverb of many tongues: _One sword keeps another in its
scabbard_;[138]—surely a far wiser and far manlier word than the
puling yet mischievous babble of our shallow Peace Societies, which,
while they fancy that they embody, and they only embody, the true
spirit of Christianity, proclaim themselves in fact ignorant of all
which it teaches; for they dream of having peace the fruit, while at
the same time the root of bitterness out of which have grown all the
wars and fightings that have ever been in the world, namely the lusts
which stir in men’s members, remain strong and vigorous as ever. But
no; it is not they that are the peacemakers: in the face of an evil
world, and of a world determined to continue in its evil, _He who bears
the sword_, and though he fain would not, yet knows how, if need be, to
wield it, _he bears peace_.[139]

One of the most remarkable features of a good proverb is the singular
variety of applications which it will admit, which indeed it challenges
and invites. Not lying on the surface of things, but going deep down to
their heart, it will be found capable of being applied again and again,
under circumstances the most different; like the gift of which Solomon
spake, “whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth;” or like a diamond cut
and polished upon many sides, which reflects and refracts the light
upon every one. There can be no greater mistake than the attempt to
tie it down and restrict it to a single application, when indeed the
very character of it is that it is ever finding or making new ones for

[Sidenote: Scriptural proverb.]

It is nothing strange that with words of Eternal Wisdom this should be
so, and in respect of them my assertion cannot need a proof. I will,
notwithstanding, adduce as a first confirmation of it a scriptural
proverb, one which fell from the Lord’s lips in his last prophecies
about Jerusalem: _Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles
be gathered together_; (Matt. xxiv. 28;) and which probably He had
taken up from Job. (xxxix. 30.) Who would venture to say that he had
exhausted the meaning of this wonderful saying? For is it not properly
inexhaustible? All history is a comment on these words. Wherever
there is a Church or a people abandoned by the spirit of life, and
so a carcase, tainting the atmosphere of God’s moral world, around
it assemble the ministers and messengers of Divine justice, “the
eagles,” (or vultures more strictly, for the true eagle does not feed
on aught but what itself has slain,) the scavengers of God’s moral
world; scenting out as by a mysterious instinct the prey from afar,
and charged to remove presently the offence out of the way. This
proverb, for the saying has passed upon the lips of men, and thus has
become such, is being fulfilled evermore. The wicked Canaanites were
the carcase, when the children of Israel entered into their land, the
commissioned eagles that should remove them out of sight. At a later
day the Jews were themselves the carcase, and the Romans the eagles;
and when in the progress of decay, the Roman empire had quite lost
the spirit of life, and those virtues of the family and the nation
which had deservedly made it great, the northern tribes, the eagles
now, came down upon it, to tear it limb from limb, and make room for
a new creation that should grow up in its stead. Again, the Persian
empire was the carcase; Alexander and his Macedonian hosts, the eagles
that by unerring instinct gathered round it to complete its doom. The
Greek Church in the seventh century was too nearly a carcase to escape
the destiny of such, and the armies of Islam scented their prey, and
divided it among them. In modern times Poland was, I fear, such a
carcase; and this one may affirm without in the least extenuating their
guilt who partitioned it; for it might have been just for it to suffer,
what yet it was most unrighteous for others to inflict. Nay, where do
you not find an illustration of this proverb, from such instances on
the largest scale as these, down to that of the silly and profligate
heir, surrounded by sharpers and black-legs, and preyed on by these?
Everywhere it is true that _Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the
eagles be gathered together_.

[Sidenote: Extremes meet.]

[Sidenote: Too far East is West.]

Or, again, consider such a proverb as the short but well-known one:
_Extremes meet_. Short as it is, it is yet a motto on which whole
volumes might be written, which is finding its illustration every
day,—in small and in great,—in things trivial and in things most
important,—in the histories of single men, and in those of nations
and of Churches. Consider some of its every-day fulfilments,—old age
ending in second childhood,—cold performing the effects of heat, and
scorching as heat would have done,—the extremities alike of joy and
of grief finding utterance in tears,—that which is above all value
declared to have no value at all, to be “invaluable,”—the second
singular “thou” instead of the plural “you,” employed in so many
languages to inferiors and to God, never to equals; just as servants
and children are alike called by the Christian name, but not those who
stand in the midway of intimacy between them. Or to take some further
illustrations from the moral world, of extremes meeting; observe how
often those who begin their lives as spendthrifts end them as misers;
how often the flatterer and the calumniator meet in the same person:
out of a sense of which the Italians say well: _Who paints me before,
blackens me behind_;[140] observe how those who yesterday would have
sacrificed to Paul as a god, will to-day stone him as a malefactor;
(Acts xiv. 18, 19; cf. xxviii. 4-6;) even as Roman emperors would one
day have blasphemous honours paid to them by the populace, and the next
their bodies would be dragged by a hook through the streets of the
city, to be flung into the common sewer. Or note again in what close
alliance hardness and softness, cruelty and self-indulgence (“lust hard
by hate”), are continually found; or in law, how the _summum jus_,
where unredressed by equity, becomes the _summa injuria_, as in the
case of Shylock’s pound of flesh, which was indeed no more than was in
the bond. Or observe on a greater scale, as lately in France, how a
wild and lawless democracy may be transformed by the base trick of a
conjuror into an atrocious military tyranny.[141] Or read thoughtfully
the history of the Church and of the sects, and you will not fail
to note what things apparently the most remote are yet in the most
fearful proximity with one another: how often, for example, a false
asceticism has issued in frantic outbreaks of fleshly lusts, and those
who avowed themselves at one time ambitious to live lives above men,
have ended in living lives below beasts. Again, take note of England at
the Restoration exchanging all in a moment the sour strictness of the
Puritans for a licence and debauchery unknown to it before. Or, once
more, consider the exactly similar position in respect of Scripture,
taken up by the Romanists on the one side, the Quakers and Familists
on the other. Seeming, and in much being, so remote from one another,
they yet have this fundamental in common, that Scripture, insufficient
in itself, needs a supplement from without, those finding it in a Pope,
and these in the “inward light.”[142] With these examples before you,
not to speak of the many others which might be adduced,[143] you will
own, I think, that this proverb, _Extremes meet_, or its parallel, _Too
far East is West_, reaches very far into the heart of things; and with
this for the present I must conclude.


[89] Regulæ quæ inter _maximas_ numerari merentur.

[90] In German: Grau’ Hare sind Kirchhofsblumen.

[91] Il tempo è una lima sorda.

[92] Πομφόλυξ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

[93] Cujus vita fulgor, ejus verba tonitrua. Cf. Mark iii. 17: υἱοὶ

[94] Admirably glossed in the _Guesses at Truth_: “Pluck up the stones,
ye sluggards, and break the devil’s head with them.”

[95] Quando i furbi vanno in processione, il diavolo porta la croce.

[96] Vaô á missa çapateiros, rogaô a Deos que morraô os carneiros.

[97] This is Swedish: Zu mera man stryken Katten pá Swanzen, zu mera
pyser pan.

[98] Si la locura fuese dolores, en cada casa darian voces.

[99] Tonto, sin saber latin, nunca es gran tonto.

[100] Qui rien ne sçait, de rien ne doute.

[101] An earnest preacher of righteousness just before the Reformation
quotes this one as current about them: Quod agere veretur obstinatus
diabolus, intrepide agit reprobus et contumax monachus.

[102] It is Huss who, denouncing the sins of the clergy of his day,
has preserved this proverb for us: Malum proverbium contra nos
confinxerunt, dicentes, Si offenderis clericum, interfice eum; alias
nunquam habebis pacem cum illo.

[103] Por los haldas del vicario sube el diablo al campanario.

[104] Ubi tres Medici, duo Athei. Of course those which imply that
they shorten rather than prolong the term of life, are numerous, as
for instance, the old French: Qui court après le mière, court après la

[105] In German: Juristen, bösen Christen.

[106] Bebel: Dicitur in proverbio nostro; nihil esse audacius indusio
molitoris, cum omni tempore matutino furem collo apprehendat.

[107] Se la superbia fosse arte, quanti Dottori avressimo.

[108] Tal sprezza la superbia con una maggior superbia.

[109] Ein Feind ist zu viel; und hundert Freunde sind zu wenig.

[110] Il est aisé d’aller à pied, quand on tient son cheval par la

[111] The Gallegan proverb, _You a lady, I a lady, who shall drive the
hogs a-field?_ (Vos dona, yo dona, quen botara a porca fora?) is only a
variation of this.

[112] Mulates qua battent, cabrites qua morts.

[113] A proverb of many tongues beside our own: thus in the Italian:
Quanto più la volpe è maladetta, tanto maggior preda fa.

[114] _Holy State_, b. 3, c. 5.

[115] B. 2, c. 23.

[116] B. 3, c. 2.

[117] Adagia, ad agendum apta; this is the etymology of the word given
by Festus.

[118] Chi parla semina, chi tace raccoglie; compare the Swedish: Bättre
tyga än illa tala (Better silence than ill speech).

[119] Il tacer non fù mai scritto.

[120] Palabra de boca, piedra de honda.—Palabra y piedra suelta no
tiene vuelta.

[121] El mal que de tu boca sale, en tu seno se cae.

[122] Quien con perros se echa, con pulgas se levanta.

[123] La ou la chèvre est attachée, il faut qu’elle broute.

[124] Por la calle de despues se va à la casa de nunca.

[125] Le vesti degl’avvocati sono fodrate dell’ostinazion dei

[126] Ogni cosa si sopporta, eccetto il buon tempo.

[127] Nella prosperità non fumano gl’altari.

[128] Quien con ropa agena se viste, en la calle se queda encueros.

[129] Chi non vede il fondo, non passi l’acqua.

[130] Avant traversé rivier, pas juré maman caiman. This and one or
two other Haytian proverbs quoted in this volume I have derived from a
curious article, _Les mœurs et la littérature négres_, by Gustave
D’Alaux, in the _Revue des deux Mondes_, Mai 15me, 1852.

[131] No me digas oliva, hasta que me veas cogida.

[132] Prends le premier conseil d’une femme, et non le second.

[133] Non v’è il peggior ladro d’un cattivo libro.

[134] Los muertos abren los ojos a los vivos.

[135] Es ist besser, das Kind weine denn der Vater.

[136] Nace en la huerta lo que no siembra el hortelano.

[137] Oro è, che oro vale;—and of the multitudes that are rushing to
the Australian gold-fields, some may find this also true: Più vale
guadagnar in loto che perder in oro.

[138] Una spada tien l’altra nel fodro.

[139] Qui porte épée, porte paix.

[140] Chi dinanzi mi pinge, di dietro mi tinge. The history of the
word “sycophant,” and the manner in which it has travelled from its
original to its present meaning, is a very striking confirmation of
this proverb’s truth.

[141] How and why it is that extremes here meet, and what are the inner
affinities between a democracy and a tyranny, Plato has wonderfully
traced, _Rep._, ii. p. 217.

[142] See Jeremy Taylor’s _Dissuasive from Popery_, part 2, b. 1. sect.
11, § 6.

[143] “_Extremes meet._ Truths, of all others the most awful and
interesting, are too often considered as _so_ true, that they lose all
the power of truths, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul,
side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.”—COLERIDGE,
_Aids to Reflection_.



The morality of proverbs is a subject which I have not been able to
leave wholly untouched until now, for of necessity it has offered
itself to us continually, in one shape or another; yet hitherto I
have not regularly dealt with or considered it. To it I propose to
devote the present lecture. But how, it may be asked at the outset,
can any general verdict be pronounced about them? In a family like
theirs, spread so widely over the face of the earth, must there not
be found worthy members and unworthy, proverbs noble and base, holy
and profane, heavenly and earthly;—yea, heavenly, earthly, and
devilish? What common judgment of praise or censure can be pronounced
upon all of these? Evidently none. The only question, therefore, for
our consideration must be, whether there exists any such large and
unquestionable preponderance either of the better sort or of the worse,
as shall give us a right to pronounce a judgment on the whole in their
favour or against them, to affirm of them that their preponderating
influence and weight is thrown into the balance of the good or of the

And here I am persuaded that no one can have devoted any serious
attention to this aspect of the subject, but will own, (and seeing
how greatly popular morals are affected by popular proverbs, will own
with thankfulness,) that, if not without serious exceptions, yet still
in the main they range themselves under the banners of the right and
of the truth; he will allow that of so many as move in an ethical
sphere at all, very far more are children of light and the day than
of darkness and night. Indeed, the comparative paucity of unworthy
proverbs is a very noticeable fact, and one to the causes of which I
shall have presently to recur.

[Sidenote: Coarse proverbs.]

At the same time, when I affirm this, I find it necessary to make
certain explanations, to draw certain distinctions. In the first place,
I would not, by what I have said, in the least deny that an ample
number of coarse proverbs are extant: it needs but to turn over a page
or two of Ray’s _Collection of English Proverbs_, or of Howell’s, or
indeed of any collection in any tongue, which has not been weeded
carefully, to convince oneself of the fact;—nor yet would I deny, that
of these many may, more or less, live upon the lips of men. Having
their birth, for the most part, in a period of a nation’s literature
and life, when men are much more plain-spoken, and have far fewer
reticences than is afterwards the case, it is nothing strange that some
of them, employing words forbidden now, but not forbidden then, should
sound coarse and indelicate enough in our ears: while indeed there are
others, whose offence and grossness these considerations, while they
may mitigate, are quite insufficient to excuse. But at the same time,
gross words and images, (I speak not of wanton ones,) bad as they may
be, are altogether different from immoral maxims and rules of life. And
it is these immoral maxims, unrighteous, selfish, or otherwise unworthy
rules, of which I would affirm the number to be, if not absolutely, yet
relatively small.

And then further, in estimating the morality of proverbs, this also
will claim in justice not to be forgotten. In the same manner as coarse
proverbs are not necessarily immoral, so the application which is made
of a proverb by us may very often be hardhearted and selfish, while
yet the proverb itself is very far from so being. This selfishness and
hardness lay not in it of primary intention, but only by our abuse; and
in the cases of several, these two things, the proverb itself, and the
ordinary employment of it, will demand to be kept carefully apart from
one another. For instance: _He has made his bed, and now he must lie on
it_;—_As he has brewed, so he must drink_;—_As he has sown, so must
he reap_;[144]—if these are employed to justify us in refusing to save
others, so far as we may, from the consequences of their own folly, or
imprudence, or even guilt, why then one can only say that they are very
ill employed; and there are few of us with whom it would not have gone
hardly, had all those about us acted in the spirit of these proverbs
so misinterpreted; had they refused to mitigate for us, so far as they
could, the consequences of our errors. But if the words are taken
in their true sense, as homely announcements of that law of divine
retaliations in the world, according to which men shall eat of the
fruit of their own doings, and be filled with their own ways, who shall
gainsay them? What affirm they more than every page of Scripture, every
turn of human life, is affirming too, namely, that the everlasting
order of God’s universe cannot be violated with impunity, that there
is a continual returning upon men of what they have done, and that in
their history we may read their judgment?

[Sidenote: Charity begins at home.]

_Charity begins at home_, is the most obvious and familiar of these
proverbs, selfishly abused. It may be, no doubt it often is, made
the plea for a selfish withholding of assistance from all but a few,
whom men may include in their “at home,” while sometimes the proverb
receives a narrower interpretation still; and self, and self only, is
accounted to be “at home.” And yet, in truth, what were that charity
worth, which did _not_ begin at home, which did _not_ preserve the
divine order and proportion and degree? It is not for nothing that we
have been grouped in families, neighbourhoods, and nations; and he who
will not recognise the divinely appointed nearnesses to himself of some
over others, who thinks to be a cosmopolite without being a patriot,
a philanthropist without owning a distinguishing love for them that
are peculiarly “his own,” who would thus have a circumference without
a centre, deceives his own heart; and affirming all men, to be equally
dear to him, is indeed affirming them to be equally indifferent. Home,
the family, this is as the hearth at which the affections which are
afterwards to go forth and warm in a larger circle, are themselves to
be kept lively and warm; and the charity which did not exercise itself
in outcomings of kindness and love in the narrower, would be little
likely to seek a wider range for itself. Wherever else it may _end_,
and the larger the sphere which it makes for itself the better, it must
yet _begin_ at home.[145]

[Sidenote: Prudential morality.]

There are, again, proverbs which, from another point of view, might
seem of an ignoble cast, and as calculated to lower the tone of
morality among those who received them; proposing as they do secondary,
and therefore unworthy, motives to actions, which ought to be performed
out of the highest. I mean such as this: _Honesty is the best policy_;
wherein honesty is commended, not because it is right, but because it
is most prudent and politic, and has the promise of this present world.
Now doubtless there are proverbs not a few which, like this, move in
the region of what has been by Coleridge so well called “prudential
morality;” and did we accept them as containing the whole circle of
motives to honesty or other right conduct, nothing could be worse, or
more fitted to lower the moral standard of our lives. He who resolves
to be honest because, and only because, it is _the best policy_, will
be little likely long to continue honest at all. But the proverb does
not pretend to usurp the place of an ethical rule; it does not presume
to cast down the higher law which should determine to honesty and
uprightness, that it may put itself in its place; it only declares
that honesty, let alone that it is the right thing, is also, even
for this present world, the wisest. Nor dare we, let me further add,
despise prudential morality, such as is embodied in sayings like this.
The motives which it suggests are helps to a weak and tempted virtue,
may prove great assistances to it in some passing moment of a violent
temptation, however little they can be regarded as able to make men
_for a continuance_ even outwardly upright and just.

And once more, proverbs are not to be accounted selfish, which announce
selfishness; unless they do it, either avowedly recommending it as a
rule and maxim of life, or, if not so, yet with an evident complacency
and satisfaction in the announcement which they make, and in this
more covert and perhaps still more mischievous way, taking part with
the evil which they proclaim. There are a great many proverbs, which
a lover of his race would be very thankful if there had been nothing
in the world to justify or to provoke; for the convictions they
embody, the experiences on which they rest must be regarded as very
far from complimentary to human nature: but seeing they express that
which is, however we might desire it were not, it would be idle to
wish them away, to wish that this evil had not found its utterance.
Nay, it is much better that it should so have done; for thus taking
form and shape, and being brought directly under notice, it may be
better watched against and avoided. Such proverbs, not selfish, but
rather detecting selfishness and laying it bare, are the following;
this Russian, on the only too slight degree in which we are touched
with other men’s troubles: _The burden is light on the shoulders of
another_; with which the French may be compared: _One has always enough
strength to bear the misfortunes of one’s friends_.[146] Such is this
Italian: _Every one draws the water to his own mill_;[147] or as it
appears in its eastern shape, which brings up the desert-bivouack
before one’s eyes: _Every one rakes the embers to his own cake_. Such
this Latin, on the comparative wastefulness wherewith that which is
another’s is too often used: _Men cut broad thongs from other men’s
leather_;[148] with many more of the same character, which it would be
only too easy to bring together.

[Sidenote: Selfish proverbs.]

With all this, I would not of course in the least deny that immoral
proverbs, and only too many of them, exist. For if they are, as we
have recognised them to be, the genuine transcript of what is stirring
in the hearts of men, then, since there is cowardice, untruth,
selfishness, unholiness, profaneness there, how should these be wanting
here? The world is not so consummate an hypocrite as the entire absence
of all immoral proverbs would imply. There will be merely selfish
ones, as our own: _Every one for himself and God for us all_; or as
this Dutch: _Self’s the man_;[149] or more shamelessly cynical still,
as the French: _Better a grape for me, than two figs for thee_;[150]
or again, such as proclaim a doubt and disbelief in the existence of
any high moral integrity anywhere, as _Every man has his price_; or
assume that poor men can scarcely be honest, as _It is hard for an
empty sack to stand straight_; or take it for granted that every man
would cheat every other if he could, as the French: _Count after your
father_;[151] or, if they do not actually “speak good of the covetous,”
yet assume it possible that a blessing can wait on that which a wicked
covetousness has heaped together, as the Spanish: _Blessed is the son,
whose father went to the devil_; or find cloaks and apologies for sin,
as the German: _Once is never_;[152] or such as would imply that the
evil of a sin lay not in its sinfulness, but in the outward disgrace
annexed to it, as the Italian: _A sin concealed is half forgiven_.[153]
Or again there will be proverbs dastardly and base, as the Spanish
maxim of caution, which advises to _Draw the snake from its hole by
another man’s hand_; to put, that is, another, and it may be for your
own profit, to the peril from which you shrink yourself;—or more
dastardly still, “scoundrel maxims,” an old English poet has called
them; as for instance, that one which is acted on only too often: _One
must howl with the wolves_;[154] in other words, when a general cry is
raised against any, it is safest to join it, lest one be supposed to
sympathise with its object; to howl _with_ the wolves, if one would not
be hunted _by_ them. In the whole circle of proverbs I know no baser,
nor more dastardly than this. And yet who will say that he has never
traced in himself the cowardly temptation to obey it? Besides these
there will be, of which I shall spare you any examples, proverbs wanton
and impure, and not merely proverbs thus earthly and sensual, but
devilish; such as some of those Italian on revenge which I quoted in my
third lecture.

[Sidenote: Immoral proverbs rare.]

But for all this these immoral proverbs, rank weeds among the wholesome
corn, are comparatively rare. In the minority with all people, they are
immeasurably in the minority with most. The fact is not a little worthy
of our note. Surely there lies in it a solemn testimony, that however
men may and do in their conduct continually violate the rule of right,
yet these violations are ever felt to be such, are inwardly confessed
not to be the law of man’s life, but the transgressions of the law; and
thus, stricken as with a secret shame, and paying an unconscious homage
to the majesty of goodness, they do not presume to raise themselves
into maxims, nor, for all the frequency with which they may be
repeated, pretend to claim recognition as abiding standards of action.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Alms the salt of riches.]

As the sphere in which the proverb moves is no imaginary world, but
that actual and often very homely world which is round us and about
us; as it does not float in the clouds, but sets its feet firmly on
this common earth of ours from which itself once grew, being occupied
with present needs and every-day cares, it is only natural that the
proverbs having reference to money should be numerous; and in the main
it would be well if the practice of the world rose to the height of
its convictions as expressed in these. Frugality is connected with so
many virtues—at least, its contrary makes so many impossible—that the
numerous proverbial maxims inculcating this, than which none perhaps
are more frequent on the lips of men, must be regarded as belonging
to the better order;[155] especially when taken with the check of
others, which forbid this frugality from degenerating into a sordid
and dishonourable parsimony; such, I mean, as our own: _The groat is
ill saved which shames its master_. In how many the conviction speaks
out that the hastily-gotten will hardly be the honestly-gotten, that
“he who makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent,” as when the
Spaniards say: _He who will be rich in a year, at the half-year they
hang him_;[156] in how many others, the confidence that the ill-won
will also be the ill-spent,[157] that he who shuts up unlawful gain
in his storehouses, is shutting up a fire that will one day destroy
them. Very solemn and weighty in this sense is the German proverb:
_The unrighteous penny corrupts the righteous pound_;[158] and the
Spanish, too, is striking: _That which is another’s always yearns
for its lord_;[159] it yearns, that is, to be gone and get to its
true owner. In how many the conviction is expressed that this mammon,
which more than anything else men are tempted to think God does not
concern Himself about, is yet given and taken away by Him according
to the laws of his righteousness; given sometimes to his enemies and
for their greater punishment, that under its fatal influence they may
grow worse and worse, for _The more the carle riches, he wretches_; but
oftener withdrawn, because no due acknowledgment of Him was made in its
use; as when the German proverb declares: _Charity gives itself rich;
covetousness hoards itself poor_;[160] and the Danish: _Give alms,
that thy children may not ask them_; and the Rabbis, with a yet deeper
significance: _Alms are the salt of riches_; the true antiseptic,
which as such shall prevent them from themselves corrupting, and
from corrupting those that have them; which shall hinder them from
developing a germ of corruption, such as shall in the end involve in
one destruction them and their owners.[161]

At the same time, as it is the very character of proverbs to look at
matters all round, there are others to remind us that even this very
giving itself shall be with forethought and discretion; with selection
of right objects, and in right proportion to each. Teaching this, the
Greeks said, _Sow with the hand, and not with the whole sack_;[162]
for as it fares with the seed corn, which if it shall prosper, must
be providently dispersed with the hand, not prodigally shaken from
the sack’s mouth, so is it with benefits, which shall do good either
to those who impart, or to those who receive them. Thus again, there
is a Danish which says, _So give to-day, that thou shalt be able to
give to-morrow_; and another: _So give to one, that thou shalt have to
give to another_.[163] And as closing this series, as teaching us in
a homely but striking manner, with an image Dantesque in its vigor,
that a man shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth, take this
Italian, _Our last robe_, that is our winding sheet, _is made without

[Sidenote: Manly proverbs.]

Let me further invite you to observe and to admire the prevailing tone
of manliness which pervades the great body of the proverbs of all
nations: let me urge you to take note how very few there are which
would fain persuade you that “luck is all,” or that your fortunes are
in any other hands, under God, than your own. This our own proverb,
_Win purple and wear purple_, proclaims. There are some, but they are
exceptions, to which the gambler, the idler, the so-called “waiter
upon Providence,” can appeal. For the most part, however, they
courageously accept the law of labour, _No pains, no gains_,—_No
sweat, no sweet_,—_No mill, no meal_,[165] as the appointed law and
condition of man’s life. _Where wilt thou go, ox, that thou wilt not
have to plough?_[166] is the Catalan remonstrance addressed to one,
who imagines by any outward change of circumstances to evade the
inevitable task and toil of existence. And this is Turkish: _It is not
with saying Honey, Honey, that sweetness will come into the mouth_;
and to many languages another with its striking image, _Sloth, the
key of poverty_,[167] belongs: while, on the other hand, there are in
almost all tongues such proverbs as the following: _God helps them that
help themselves_;[168] or as it appears with a slight variation in the
Basque: _God is a good worker, but He loves to be helped_. And these
proverbs, let me observe by the way, were not strange, in their import
at least, to the founder of that religion which is usually supposed
to inculcate a blind and indolent fatalism—however some who call
themselves by his name may have forgotten the lesson which they convey.
Certainly they were not strange to Mahomet himself; if the following
excellently-spoken word has been rightly ascribed to him. One evening,
we are told, after a weary march through the desert, he was camping
with his followers, and overheard one of them saying, “I will loose my
camel, and commit it to God;” on which Mahomet took him up: “Friend,
_tie_ thy camel, and commit it to God;”[169] do, that is, whatever is
thine to do, and then leave the issue in higher hands; but till thou
hast done this, till thou hast thus helped thyself, thou hast no right
to look to Heaven to help thee.

[Sidenote: Persian proverb.]

How excellently this unites genuine modesty and manly self-assertion:
_Sit in your own place, and no man can make you rise_; and how good is
this Spanish, on the real dignity which there often is in doing things
for ourselves, rather than in standing by and suffering others to do
them for us: _Who has a mouth, let him not say to another, Blow_.[170]
And as a part of this which I have called the manliness of proverbs,
let me especially note the noble utterances which so many contain,
summoning to a brave encountering of adverse fortune, to perseverance
under disappointment and defeat and a long-continued inclemency of
fate; breathing as they do, a noble confidence that for the brave
and bold the world will not always be adverse. _Where one door shuts
another opens_;[171] this belongs to too many nations to allow of our
ascribing it especially to any one. And this Latin: _The sun of all
days has not yet gone down_,[172] however, in its primary application
intended for those who are at the top of Fortune’s wheel, to warn
them that they be not high-minded, for there is yet time for many a
revolution in that wheel, is equally good for those at the bottom,
and as it contains warning for those, so strength and encouragement
for these; for, as the Italians say: _The world is his who has
patience_.[173] And then, to pass over some of our own, so familiar
that they need not be adduced, how manful a lesson is contained in
this Persian proverb: _A stone that is fit for the wall, is not left
in the way_. It is a saying made for them who appear for a while
to be overlooked, neglected, passed by; who perceive in themselves
capacities, which as yet no one else has recognised or cared to turn to
account. Only _be fit for the wall_; square, polish, prepare thyself
for it; do not limit thyself to the bare acquisition of such knowledge
as is absolutely necessary for thy present position; but rather learn
languages, acquire useful information, stretch thyself out on this side
and on that, cherishing and making much of whatever aptitudes thou
findest in thyself; and it is certain thy turn will come. Thou wilt
not be _left in the way_; sooner or later the builders will be glad of
thee; the wall will need thee to fill up a place in it, quite as much
as thou needest a place to occupy in the wall. For the amount of real
capacity in this world is so small, that places want persons to fill
them quite as really as persons want to fill places; although it must
be allowed, they are not always as much aware of their want.

And this proverb, Italian and Spanish, _If I have lost the ring, yet
the fingers are still here_,[174] is another of these brave utterances
of which I have been speaking. In it is asserted the comparative
indifference of that loss which reaches but to things external to
us, so long us we ourselves remain, and are true to ourselves. _The
fingers_ are far more than _the ring_: if indeed those had gone, then
_the man_ would have been maimed; but another ring may come for that
which has disappeared, or even with none the fingers will be fingers
still. And as at once a contrast and complement to this, take another,
current among the free blacks of Hayti, and expressing well the little
profit which there will be to a man in pieces of mere good luck, which
are no true outgrowths of anything which is in him; the manner in
which, having no root in himself out of which they grew, they will, as
they came to him by hazard, go from him by the same: _The knife which
thou hast found in the highway, thou wilt lose in the highway_.[175]

[Sidenote: Abuse of proverbs.]

But these numerous proverbs, urging self-reliance, bidding us first
to aid ourselves, if we would have Heaven to aid us, must not be
dismissed without a word or two at parting. Prizing them, as we well
may, and the lessons which they contain, at the highest, yet it will
be profitable for us at the same time always to remember that to such
there lies very near such a mischievous perversion as this: “Aid
thyself, and thou wilt need no other aid;” even as they have been
sometimes, no doubt, understood in this sense. As, then, the pendant
and counter-weight to them all, not as unsaying what they have
said, but as fulfilling the other hemisphere in the complete orb of
truth, let me remind you of such also as the following, often quoted
or alluded to by Greek and Latin authors: _The net of the sleeping
(fisherman) takes_;[176]—a proverb the more interesting, that we
have in the words of the Psalmist, (Ps. cxxvii. 2,) when accurately
translated, a beautiful and perfect parallel: “He giveth his beloved”
(not “sleep,” as in our version, but) “in sleep;” God’s gifts gliding
into his bosom, he knowing not how, and as little expecting as having
laboured for them. Of how many of the best gifts of every man’s life
will he not thankfully acknowledge this to have been true; or, if he
refuse to allow it, and will acknowledge no _eudæmonia_, no ‘favourable
providence’ in his prosperities, but will see them all as of work, how
little he deserves, how little likely he is, to retain them to the end.
Let us hold fast, then, this proverb as the most needful complement of

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Proverbs for young men.]

I feel that I should be wanting to hearers such as those who are
assembled here, that I should fail in that purpose which has been,
more or less, present to me even in dealing with the lighter portions
of my subject, if I did not earnestly remind you of the many of these
sayings that there are, which, while they have their lesson for all,
yet seem more directly addressed to those standing, as not a few of us
here, at the threshold of the more serious and earnest portion of their
lives. Lecturing to a _Young Men’s Society_, I shall not unfitly press
these upon your notice. Take this Italian one, for instance: _When
you grind your corn, give not the flour to the devil, and the bran
to God_;—in the distribution, that is, of your lives, apportion not
your best years, your strength and your vigour to the service of sin
and of the world, and only the refuse and rejected to your Maker, the
wine to others, and the lees only to Him. Not so; for there is another
ancient proverb,[177] which we have made very well our own, and which
in English runs thus: _It is too late to spare, when all is spent_.
The words have obviously a primary application to the goods of this
present life; it is ill saving here, when nothing or next to nothing
is left to save. But they are applied well by a heathen moralist, (and
the application lies very near,) to those who begin to husband precious
time, and to live for life’s true ends, when life is nearly gone, is
now at its dregs; for, as he well urges, it is not the least only which
remains at the bottom, but the worst.[178] On the other hand, _The
morning hour has gold in its mouth_;[179] and this, true in respect of
each of our days, in which the earlier hours given to toil will yield
larger and more genial returns than the later, is true in a yet higher
sense, of that great life-day, whereof all the lesser days of our life
make up the moments, is true in respect of moral no less than mental
acquisition. The _evening_ hours have often only _silver_ in their
mouths at the best. Nor is this Arabic proverb, as it appears to me,
other than a very solemn one, being far deeper than at first sight it
might seem: _Every day in thy life is a leaf in thy history_; a leaf
which shall once be turned back to again, that it may be seen what was
written there; and that whatever _was_ written may be read out in the
hearing of all.

And among the proverbs having to do with a prudent ordering of our
lives from the very first, this Spanish seems well worthy to be
adduced: _That which the fool does in the end, the wise man does at
the beginning_;[180] the wise with a good grace what the fool with an
ill; the one to much profit what the other to little or to none. A word
worth laying to heart; for, indeed, that purchase of the Sibylline
books by the Roman king, what a significant symbol it is of that which
at one time or another, or, it may be, at many times, is finding place
in almost every man’s life;—the same thing to be done in the end, the
same price to be paid at the last, with only the difference, that much
of the advantage, as well as all the grace, of an earlier compliance
has past away. The nine precious volumes have shrunk to six, and these
dwindled to three, while yet the like price is demanded for the few as
for the many; for the remnant now as would once have made all our own.

[Sidenote: Study of the Classics.]

I have already in a former lecture adduced a proverb which warns
against a bad book as the worst of all robbers. In respect too of
books which are not bad, nay, of which the main staple is good, but in
which there is yet an admixture of evil, as is the case with so many
that have come down to us from that old world not as yet partaker of
Christ, there is a proverb, which may very profitably accompany us in
our study of all these: _Where the bee sucks honey, the spider sucks
poison_. Very profitably may this word be kept in mind by such as at
any time are making themselves familiar with the classical literature
of antiquity, the great writers of heathen Greece and Rome. How much
of noble, how much of elevating do they contain: what love of country,
what zeal for wisdom, may be quickened in us by the study of them;
yea, even to us Christians what intellectual, what large moral gains
will they yield. Let the student be as the bee looking for honey,
and from the fields and gardens of classical literature he may store
it abundantly in his hive. And yet from this same body of literature
what poison is it possible to draw; what loss, through familiarity
with evil, of all vigorous abhorrence of it, till even the foulest
enormities shall come to be regarded with a speculative curiosity
rather than with an earnest hatred,—yea, what lasting defilements of
the imagination and the heart may be contracted hence, till nothing
shall be pure, the very mind and conscience being defiled. Let there
come one whose sympathies and affinities are with the poison and not
with the honey, and in these fields it will not be impossible for him
to find deadly flowers and weeds from which he may suck poison enough.

With a few remarks on two proverbs more I will bring this lecture
to an end. Here is one with an insight at once subtle and profound
into the heart of man: _Ill doers are ill deemers_; and instead of
any commentary on this of my own let me quote some words which were
not intended to be a commentary upon it at all, and which furnish
notwithstanding a better than any which I could hope to give. They are
words of a great English divine of the 17th century, who is accounting
for the offence which the Pharisee took at the Lord’s acceptance of
the affectionate homage and costly offering of the woman that was a
sinner: “Which familiar and affectionate officiousness, and sumptuous
cost, together with that sinister fame that woman was noted with, could
not but give much scandal to the Pharisees there present. For that
dispensation of the law under which they lived making nothing perfect,
but only curbing the outward actions of men; it might very well be that
they, being conscious to themselves of no better motions within than
of either bitterness or lust, how fair soever they carried without,
could not deem Christ’s acceptance of so familiar and affectionate a
service from a woman of that fame to proceed from anything better than
some loose and vain principle ... for by how much every one is himself
obnoxious to temptation, by so much more suspicious he is that others
transgress, when there is anything that may tempt out the corruptions
of a man.”[181]

[Sidenote: Chinese proverb.]

And in this Chinese proverb which follows, _Better a diamond with a
flaw, than a pebble without one_, there is, to my mind, the assertion
of a great Christian truth, and of one which reaches deep down to the
very foundations of Christian morality, the more valuable as coming to
us from a people beyond the range and reach of the influences of direct
Revelation. We may not be all aware of the many and malignant assaults
which were made on the Christian faith, and on the morality of the
Bible, through the character of David, by the blind and self-righteous
Deists of a century or more ago. Taking the Scripture testimony about
him, that he was the man after God’s heart, and putting beside this the
record of those great sins which he committed, they sought to set these
great, yet still isolated, offences in the most hateful light; and
thus to bring at once him, and the Book which praised him, to a common
shame. But all this while, the question of _the man_, what he was,
and what the moral sum total of his life, to which alone the Scripture
testimony bore witness, and to which alone it was pledged, this was a
question with which they concerned themselves not at all; while yet it
was a far more important question than what any of his single acts may
have been; and it was this which, in the estimate of his character,
was really at issue. To this question _we_ answer, _a diamond_, which,
if a diamond _with a flaw_, as are all but the one “entire and perfect
chrysolite,” would yet outvalue a mountain of _pebbles without one_,
such as they were; even assuming the pebbles to _be_ without; and not
merely to _seem_ so, because their flaw was an all-pervading one, and
only not so quickly detected, inasmuch as the contrast was wanting of
any clearer material which should at once reveal its presence.


[144] They have for their Latin equivalents such as these; Colo quod
aptâsti, ipsi tibi nendum est.—Qui vinum bibit, fæcem bibat.—Ut
sementem feceris, ita metes.

[145] In respect of other proverbs, such as the following, Tunica
pallio propior;—Frons occipitio prior; I have greater doubt. The
misuse lies nearer; the selfishness may very probably be in the proverb
itself, and not in our application of it; though even these seem not
incapable of a fair interpretation.

[146] On a toujours assez de force pour supporter le malheur de
ses amis. I confess this sounds to me rather like an imitation of
Rochefoucault than a genuine proverb.

[147] Ognun tira l’acqua al suo molino.

[148] Ex alieno tergore lata secantur lora.

[149] Zelf is de Man.

[150] J’aime mieux un raisin pour moi que deux figues pour toi.

[151] Comptez après votre père. Compare the Spanish: Entre dos amigos
un notario y dos testigos.

[152] Einmal, keinmal. This proverb was turned to such bad uses, that
a German divine thought it necessary to write a treatise against it.
There exist indeed several old works in German with such titles as
the following, _Ungodly Proverbs and their Refutation_. It is not for
nothing that Jeremy Taylor in one place gives this warning: “Be curious
to avoid all proverbs and propositions, or odd sayings, by which evil
life is encouraged, and the hands of the spirit weakened.” In like
manner Chrysostom (Hom. 73 in Matt.) denounces the Greek proverb: γλυκὺ
ἤτω καὶ πνιξάτω.

[153] Peccato celato, mezzo perdonato.

[154] Badly turned into a rhyming pentameter:

Consonus esto lupis, cum quibus esse cupis.

[155] There are very few inculcating an opposite lesson: this however
is one: _Spend, and God will send_; which Howell glosses well; “Yes, a
bag and a wallet.”

[156] Quien en un año quiere ser rico, al medio le ahorcan.

[157] Male parta male dilabuntur.—Wie gewonnen, so zerronnen.

[158] Ungerechter Pfennig verzehrt gerechten Thaler.

[159] Lo ageno siempre pia por su dueño.

[160] Der Geiz sammlet sich arm, die Milde giebt sich reich. In the
sense of the latter half of this proverb _we_ say, _Drawn wells are
seldom dry_; though this word is capable of very far wider application.

[161] There is one remarkable Latin proverb on the moral cowardliness
which it is the character of riches to generate, saying more briefly
the same which Wordsworth said when he proclaimed—

                  “that riches are akin
     To fear, to change, to cowardice, and death;”

it is this: Timidus Plutus: and has sometimes suggested to me the
question whether he might not have had it in his mind when he composed
his great sonnet in prospect of the invasion:

    “These times touch monied worldlings with dismay;”

not that his genius needed any such solicitation from without; for
the poem is only the natural outgrowth of that spirit and temper in
which the whole series of noble and ennobling poems, the _Sonnets to
Liberty_, is composed, and in perfect harmony with the rest; yet is it,
notwithstanding, in a very wonderful way shut up in the two words of
the ancient proverb.

[162] Τῇ χειρὶ δεῖ σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ.

[163] Giv saa i Dag, at du og kandst give i morgen.—Giv een at du kand
give en anden.

[164] L’ultimo vestito ce lo fanno senza tasche.

[165] This is the English form of that worthy old classical proverb:
Φεύγων μύλον, ἄλφιτα φεύγει, or in Latin: Qui vitat molam, vitat

[166] Ahont anirás, bou, que no llaures? I prefer this form of it to
the Spanish: Adonde yrá el buey, que no are?

[167] Pereza, llave de pobreza.

[168] Dii facientes adjuvant.

[169] According to the Spanish proverb: Quien bien ata, bien desata.

[170] Quien tiene boca, no diga á otro, Sopla.

[171] Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre.

[172] Nondum omnium dierum sol occidit.

[173] Il mondo è, di chi ha pazienza.

[174] Se ben ho perso l’anello, ho pur anche le dita;—Si se perdieron
los anillos, aqui quedaron los dedillos.

[175] In their bastard French it runs thus: Gambette ous trouvé nen
gan chimin, nen gan chimin ous va pèdè li. It may have been originally
French, at any rate the French have a proverb very much to the same
effect: Ce qui vient par la flute, s’en va par le tambour; and compare
the modern Greek proverb: Ἀνεμομαζώματα, δαιμονοσκορπίσματα. (What the
wind gathers, the devil scatters.)

[176] Εὕδοντι κύρτος αἱρεῖ.—Dormienti rete trahit. The reader with a
_Plutarch’s Lives_ within his reach may turn to the very instructive
little history told in connexion with this proverb, of Timotheus the
Athenian commander; an history which only requires to be translated
into Christian language to contain a deep moral for all. (_Sulla_, c.

[177] Sera in imo parsimonia.

[178] Seneca (_Ep._ i.): Non enim tantum _minimum_ in imo, sed
_pessimum_ remanet.

[179] Morgenstund’ hat Gold im Mund.

[180] Lo que hace el loco á la postre, hace sabio al principio.

[181] Henry More, _On Godliness_, b. 8. How remarkable a confirmation
of the fact asserted in that proverb and in this passage lies in
the twofold uses of the Greek word κακοήθεια; having, for its first
meaning, an evil disposition in a man’s self, it has for its second an
interpreting on his part for the worst of all the actions of other men.



I sought, as best I could, in my last lecture to furnish you with some
helps for estimating the ethical worth of proverbs. Their theology
alone remains; the aspects, that is, under which they contemplate, not
now any more man’s relations with his fellow-man, but those on which
in the end all other must depend, his relations with God. Between the
subject matter, indeed, of that lecture and of this I have found it
nearly impossible to draw any very accurate line of distinction. Much
which was there might nearly as fitly have been here; some which I
have reserved for this might already have found its place there. It
is this, however, which I propose more directly to consider, namely,
what proverbs have to say concerning the moral government of the world,
and, more important still, concerning its Governor? How does all this
present itself to the popular mind and conscience, as attested by
these? What, in short, is their theology? for such, good or bad, it is
evident that abundantly they have.

Here, as everywhere else, their testimony is a mingled one. The
darkness, the error, the confusion of man’s heart, out of which he
oftentimes sees distortedly, and sometimes sees not at all, have all
embodied themselves in his word. Yet still, as it is the very nature of
the false, in its separate manifestations, to resolve into nothingness,
though only to be succeeded by new births in a like kind, while the
true abides and continues, it has thus come to pass that we have
generally in those utterances on which the stamp of permanence has been
set, the nobler voices, the truer faith of humanity, in respect of its
own destinies and of Him by whom those destinies are ordered.

I would not hesitate to say that the great glory of proverbs in this
their highest aspect, and that which makes many of them so full of
blessing to those who cordially accept them, is the conviction of
which they are full, that, despite all appearances to the contrary,
this world is God’s world, and not the world of the devil, or of those
wicked men who may be prospering for an hour; there is nothing in them
so precious as their faith that in the long run it will approve itself
to be such: which being so, that it must be well in the end with the
doer of the right, the speaker of the truth; no blind “whirligig of
time,” but the hand of the living God, in due time “bringing round its
revenges.” It is impossible to estimate too highly their bold and clear
proclamation of this conviction; for it is, after all, the belief of
this or the denial of this, on which everything in the life of each one
of us turns. On this depends whether we shall separate ourselves from
the world’s falsehood and evil, and do vigorous battle against them;
or acquiesce in, and be ourselves absorbed by, them.

[Sidenote: A lie has no legs.]

Listen to proverbs such as these; surely they are penetrated with the
assurance that one who, Himself being The Truth, will make truth in
small and in great to triumph at the last, is ruling over all: and
first, hear a proverb of our own: _A lie has no legs_; it is one true
alike in its humblest application and its highest; be the lie the
miserable petty falsehood which disturbs a family or a neighbourhood
for a day; or one of the larger frauds, the falsehoods not in word
only but in act, to which a longer date and a far larger sphere are
assigned, which for a time seem to fill the world, and to carry
everything in triumph before them. Still the lie, in that it is a
lie, always carries within itself the germs of its own dissolution.
It is sure to destroy itself at last. Its priests may prop it up from
without, may set it on its feet again, after it has once fallen before
the presence of the truth, yet this all will be labour in vain; it
will only be, like Dagon, again to fall, and more shamefully and more
irretrievably than before.[182] On the other hand, the vivacity of the
truth, as contrasted with this short-lived character of the lie, is
well expressed in a Swiss proverb: _It takes a good many shovelfuls of
earth to bury the truth_. For, bury it as deep as men may, it will have
a resurrection notwithstanding. They may roll a great stone, and seal
the sepulchre in which it is laid, and set a watch upon it, yet still,
like its Lord, it comes forth again at its appointed hour. It cannot
die, being of an immortal race; for, as the Spanish proverb nobly
declares, _The truth is daughter of God_.[183]

Again, consider this proverb: _Tell the truth, and shame the devil_. It
is one which will well repay a few thoughtful moments bestowed on it,
and the more so, because, even while we instinctively feel its truth,
the deep moral basis on which it rests may yet not reveal itself to us
at once. Nay, the saying may seem to contradict the actual experience
of things; for how often telling the truth—confessing, that is,
some great fault, taking home to ourselves, it may be, some grievous
sin—would appear anything rather than shaming the devil; shaming
indeed ourselves, but rather bringing glory to him, whose glory, such
as it is, is in the sin and shame of men. And yet the word is true,
and deeply true, notwithstanding. The element of lies is that in which
alone he who is “the father of them” lives and thrives. So long then
as a wrong-doer presents to himself, or seeks to present to others,
the actual facts of his conduct different from what they really are,
conceals, palliates, denies them,—so long, in regard of that man,
Satan’s kingdom stands. But so soon as the things concerning himself
are seen and owned by a man as they indeed exist in God’s sight, as
they are when weighed in the balances of the eternal righteousness;
when once a man has brought himself to tell the truth to himself, and,
where need requires, to others also, then having done, and in so far
as he has done this, he has abandoned the devil’s standard, he belongs
to the kingdom of the truth; and as belonging to it he may rebuke, and
does rebuke and put to shame, all makers and lovers of a lie, even to
the very prince of them all. “Give glory to God,” was what Joshua said
to Achan, when he would lead him to confess his guilt. This is but the
other and fairer side of the tapestry; this is but _shame the devil_,
on its more blessed side.

[Sidenote: Vox populi, vox Dei.]

Once more;—the Latin proverb, _The voice of the people, the voice of
God_,[184] is one which it is well worth our while to understand. If
it were affirmed in this that every outcry of the multitude, supposing
only it be loud enough and wide enough, ought to be accepted as the
voice of God speaking through them, no proposition more foolish or
more impious could well be imagined. But _the voice of the people_ is
something very different from this. The proverb rests on the assumption
that the foundations of man’s being are laid in the truth; from which
it will follow, that no conviction which is really a conviction of
the universal humanity, but reposes on a true ground; no faith, which
is indeed the faith of mankind, but has a reality corresponding to
it: for, as Jeremy Taylor has said: “It is not a vain noise, when
many nations join their voices in the attestation or detestation of
an action;” and Hooker: “The general and perpetual voice of men is
as the sentence of God Himself. For that which all men have at all
times learned, nature herself must needs have taught; and God being
the author of nature, her voice is but his instrument.” (_Eccles.
Pol._, b. i. § 8.) The task and difficulty, of course, must ever be to
discover what this faith and what these convictions are; and this can
only be done by an induction from a sufficient number of facts, and
in sufficiently different times, to enable us to feel confident that
we have indeed seized that which is the constant quantity of truth in
them all, and separated this from the inconstant one of falsehood and
error, evermore offering itself in its room; that we have not taken
some momentary cry, wrung out by interest, by passion, or by pain, for
_the voice of God_; but claimed this august title only for that true
voice of humanity, which, unless everything be false, we have a right
to assume an echo of the voice of God.

Thus, to take an example, the natural horror everywhere felt in regard
of marriages contracted between those very near in blood, has been
always and with right appealed to as a potent argument against such
unions. The induction is so large, that is, the nations who have
agreed in entertaining this horror are so many, oftentimes nations
disagreeing in almost everything besides; the times during which
this instinctive revolt against such unions has been felt, extend
through such long ages; that the few exceptions, even where they are
of civilized nations, as of the Egyptians who married their sisters,
or of the Persians, among whom marriages more dreadful still were
permitted, cannot be allowed any weight; and of course still less the
exception of any savage tribe, in which all that constitutes the human
in humanity has now disappeared. These exceptions can only be regarded
as violations of the divine order of man’s life; not as evidences that
we have falsely imagined an order where there was none. Here is a true
_voice of the people_; and on the grounds laid down above, we have a
right to assume this to be a _voice of God_ as well. And so too, with
respect to the existence of a First Cause, Creator and Upholder of
all things, the universal consent and conviction of all people, the
_consensus gentium_, must be considered of itself a mighty evidence
in its favour; a testimony which God is pleased to render to Himself
through his creatures. This man or that, this generation or the other,
might be deceived, but all men and all generations could not; the _vox
populi_ makes itself felt as a _vox Dei_. The existence here and there
of an atheist no more disturbs our conclusion that it is of the essence
of man’s nature to believe in a God, than do such monstrous births as
from time to time find place, children with two heads or with no arms,
shake our assurance that it is the normal condition of man to have one
head and two arms.

This last is one of the proverbs which may be said to belong to the
Apology for Natural Religion. There are others, of which it would not
be far-fetched to affirm that they belong to the Apology for Revealed.
Thus it was very usual with Voltaire and other infidels of his time
to appeal to the present barrenness and desolation of Palestine, in
proof that it could never have supported the vast population which the
Scripture everywhere assumes or affirms. A proverb in the language
of the arch-scoffer himself might, if he had given heed to it, have
put him on the right track, had he wished to be put upon it, for
understanding how this could have been: _As the man is worth, his
land is worth_.[185] Man is lord of his outward condition to a far
greater extent than is commonly assumed; even climate, which seems at
first sight so completely out of his reach, it is his immensely to
modify; and if nature stamps herself on him, he stamps himself yet more
powerfully on nature. It is not a mere figure of speech, that of the
Psalmist, “A fruitful land maketh He barren for the wickedness of them
that dwell therein.” (Ps. cvii. 34.) God makes it barren, and ever less
capable of nourishing its inhabitants; but He makes it so through the
sloth, the indolence, the short-sightedness of those that should have
dressed and kept it. In the condition of a land may be found the echo,
the reflection, the transcript of the moral and spiritual condition
of those that should cultivate it: where one is waste, the other will
be waste also. Under the desolating curse of Mohammedan domination
the fairest portions of the earth have gone back from a garden to a
wilderness: but only let that people for whom Palestine is yet destined
return to it again, and return a righteous nation, and in a little
while all the descriptions of its earlier fertility will be more than
borne out by its later, and it will easily sustain its millions again.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Proverb of Pythagoras.]

How many proverbs, which cannot be affirmed to have been originally
made for the kingdom of heaven, do yet in their highest fulfilment
manifestly belong to it, so that it seems as of right to claim that for
its own, even as it claims, or rather reclaims, whatever else is good
or true in the world, the seeds of truth wherever dispersed abroad, as
belonging rightfully to itself. Thus there is that beautiful proverb,
of which Pythagoras is reputed the author: _The things of friends are
in common_.[186] Where does this find its exhaustive fulfilment, but in
the communion of saints, their communion not with one another merely,
though indeed this is a part of its fulfilment, but in their communion
with Him, who is the friend of all good men? That such a conclusion lay
legitimately in the words Socrates plainly saw; who argued from it,
that since good men were the friends of the gods, therefore whatever
things were the gods’, were also theirs; being, when he thus concluded,
as near as one who had not the highest light of all, could be to that
great word of the Apostle’s, “All things are yours.”

Nor can I otherwise than esteem the ancient proverb as a very fine one,
and one which we may gladly claim for our own: _Many meet the gods,
but few salute them_. How often do _the gods_, (for I will keep in the
language which this proverb suggests and supplies,) _meet_ men in the
shape of a sorrow which might be a purifying one, of a joy which might
elevate their hearts to thankfulness and praise; in a sickness or a
recovery, a disappointment or a success; and yet how few, as it must be
sadly owned, _salute_ them; how few recognise their august presences
in this joy or this sorrow, this blessing added, or this blessing
taken away. As this proverb has reference to men’s failing to _see_
the Divine presences, so let me observe by the way, there is a very
grand French one which expresses the same truth, under the image of a
failing to _hear_ the divine voices, those voices being drowned by the
deafening hubbub of the world: _The noise is so great, one cannot hear
God thunder_.[187]

[Sidenote: One man, no man]

Here is another proverb which the Church has long since claimed, at
least in its import, for her own: _One man, no man_.[188] I should
find it very hard indeed to persuade myself that whoever uttered it
first, attached to it no deeper meaning than Erasmus gives him credit
for—namely, that nothing important can be effected by a single man,
destitute of the help of his fellows.[189] The word is a far more
profound one than this, and rests on that great truth upon which the
deeper thinkers of antiquity laid so much stress—namely, that _in
the idea_ the state precedes the individual, man not being merely
accidentally _gregarious_, but essentially _social_. The solitary
man, it would say, is a monstrous conception, so utterly maimed and
crippled must he be; the condition of solitariness involving so entire
a suppression of all which belongs to the development of that wherein
the true idea of humanity resides, of all which differences man from
the beasts of the field; and in this sense _One man_ is _no man_; and
this, I am sure, the proverb from the first intended. Nor may we stop
here. This word is capable of, and seems to demand, a still higher
application to man, as a destined member of the kingdom of heaven. But
he can only be in training for this, when he is, and regards himself,
as not alone, but the member of a family. As _one man_ he is _no
man_; and the strength and value of what is called Church teaching is
greatly this, that it does recognise and realize this fact, that it
contemplates and deals with the faithful man, not as isolated, but as
one of an organic body, with duties which flow as moral necessities
from his position therein; rather than by himself, and as one whose
duties to others are indeed only the exercise of private graces for his
own benefit. And all that are called Church doctrines, when they really
understand themselves, have their root and their real strength in that
great truth which this proverb declares, that _One man is no man_, that
only in a fellowship and communion is or can any man be aught.

And then there is another proverb, which Plato so loved to quote
against the sophists, the men who flattered and corrupted the nobler
youth of Athens, promising to impart to them easy short cuts to the
attainment of wisdom and knowledge and philosophy; and this, without
demanding the exercise of any labour or patience or self-denial on
their parts. But with the proverb, _Good things are hard_,[190] he
continually rebuked their empty pretensions; with this he made at least
suspicious their promises; and this proverb, true in the sense wherein
Plato used it, and that sense was earnest and serious enough, yet
surely reappears, glorified and transfigured, but recognisable still,
in the Saviour’s words: “The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence,
and the violent take it by force.”[191]

[Sidenote: Witnesses for the truth.]

This method of looking in proverbs for an higher meaning than any
which lies on their surface, or which they seem to bear on their
fronts; or rather of searching out their highest intention, and
claiming that as their truest, even though it should not be that
perceived in them by most, or that which lay nearest to them at their
first generation, is one that will lead us in many interesting paths.
And it is not merely those of heathen antiquity which shall thus be
persuaded often, and that without any forcing, to render up a Christian
meaning; but (as was indeed to be expected) still more often those of
a later time, even those which the world had seemed to claim for its
own, shall be found to move in a spiritual sphere as their truest. Let
me offer in evidence of this these four or five, which come to us from
Italy: _He who has love in his heart, has spurs in his sides_;—_Love
rules without law_;—_Love rules his kingdom without a sword_;—_Love
knows nothing of labour_;—_Love is the master of all arts_.[192] Take
these, even with the necessary drawbacks of my English translation; but
still more, in their original beauty; and how exquisitely do they set
forth, in whatever light you regard them, the free creative impulses of
love, its delight to labour and to serve; how worthily do they glorify
the kingdom of love as the only kingdom of a free and joyful obedience.
While yet at the same time, if we would appreciate them at _all_
their worth, is it possible to stop short of an application of them
to that kingdom of love, which, because it is in the highest sense
such, is also a kingdom of heaven? And then, what precious witness do
these utterances contain, the more precious as current among a people
nursed in the theology of Rome, against the shameless assertion that
selfishness is the only motive sufficient to produce good (?) works:
for in such an assertion the Romish impugners of a free justification
constantly deal; evermore charging this that we hold, of our
justification by faith only, (which, when translated into the language
of ethics, is at least as important in the province of morality as it
is in that of theology,) with being an immoral doctrine, and not so
fruitful in deeds of love as one which should connect these deeds with
a selfish thought of promoting our own safety thereby.

[Sidenote: Christian proverbs.]

There are proverbs which reach the height of evangelical morality.
“Little gospels”[193] the Spaniard has somewhat too boldly entitled
his; and certainly there are many which at once we feel could nowhere
have arisen or obtained circulation but under the influence of
Christian faith, being in spirit, and often in form no less than in
spirit, the outbirths of it. Thus is it with that exquisitely beautiful
proverb of our own: _The way to heaven is by Weeping-Cross_;[194] nor
otherwise with the Spanish: _God never wounds with both hands_;[195]
not with _both_, for He ever reserves one with which to bind up
and to heal. And another Spanish, evidently intended to give the
sum and substance of all which in life is to be desired the most,
_Peace and patience, and death with penitence_,[196] gives this sum
certainly only as it presents itself to the Christian eye. And this of
ours is Christian both in form and in spirit: _Every cross hath its
inscription_;—the name, that is, inscribed upon it, of the person for
whom it was shaped; it was intended for those shoulders upon which it
is laid, and will adapt itself to them; that fearful word is never true
which a spirit greatly vexed spake in the hour of its impatience: “I
have little faith in the paternal love which I need; so ruthless, or so
negligent seems the government of this earth.”[197]

So too is it with that ancient German proverb: _When God loathes aught,
men presently loathe it too_.[198] He who first uttered this must have
been one who had watched long the ways by which shame and honour travel
in this world; and in this watching must have noted how it ever came
to pass that even worldly honour tarried not long with them from whom
the true honour which cometh from God had departed. For the worldly
honour is but a shadow and reflex that waits upon the heavenly; it may
indeed linger for a little, but it will be only for a little, after
it is divorced from its substance. Where the honour from Him has been
withdrawn, he causes in one way or another the honour from men ere long
to be withdrawn too. When He loathes, presently man loathes also. The
saltless salt is not merely cast out by Him, but is trodden under foot
of _men_. (Matt. v. 13.) A Louis the Fifteenth’s death-bed is in its
way as hideous to the natural as it is to the spiritual eye.[199]

[Sidenote: Sir Matthew Hale’s proverb.]

We are told of the good Sir Matthew Hale who was animated with a true
zeal for holiness, an earnest desire to walk close to God, that he
had continually in his mouth the modern Latin proverb, _We perish by
permitted things_.[200] Assuredly it is one very well worthy to be of
all remembered, searching as it does into the innermost secrets of
men’s lives. It is no doubt true that nearly as much danger threatens
the soul from things permitted as from things unpermitted; in some
respects more danger; for these being disallowed altogether, do
not make the insidious approaches of those, which, coming in under
allowance, do yet so easily slip into dangerous excess.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Proverbs and Scripture.]

It would be interesting to collect, as with reverence one might,
variations on scriptural proverbs or sayings, which the proverbs of
this world supply; and this, both in those cases where the latter have
grown out of the former, owing more nearly or more remotely their
existence to them, and in those also where they are independent of
them,—so far, that is, as anything true can be independent of the
absolute Truth. Some of those which follow evidently belong to one
of these classes, some to the other. Thus Solomon has said: “It is
better to dwell in the corner of the housetop than with a brawling
woman in a wide house;” (Prov. xxi. 9;) and again: “Better a dry
morsel and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with
strife.” (Prov. xvii. 1.) With these compare the two proverbs, a Latin
and Spanish, adduced below.[201] The Psalmist has said: “As he loved
cursing, so let it come unto him.” (Ps. cix. 17.) The Turks express
their faith in this same law of the divine retaliations: _Curses,
like chickens, always come home to roost_; they return, that is, to
those from whom they went forth, while in the Yoruba language there
is a proverb to the same effect: _Ashes always fly back in the face
of him that throws them_; while our own, _Harm watch, harm catch_,
and the Spanish, _Who sows thorns, let him not walk barefoot_,[202]
are utterances of very nearly the same conviction. Our Lord declares,
that without his Father there falls no single sparrow to the ground,
that “not one of them is forgotten before God.” (Luke xii. 6.) The
same truth of a _providentia specialissima_, (between which and no
providence at all there is indeed no tenable position,) is asserted in
the Catalan proverb: _No leaf moves, but God wills it_.[203] Again,
He has said: “No man can serve two masters.” (Matt. vi. 24.) And the
Spanish proverb: _He who must serve two masters, must lie to one_.[204]
Or compare with Matt. xix. 29, this remarkable Arabic proverb:
_Purchase the next world with this; so shalt thou win both_. He has
spoken of “mammon of unrighteousness”—indicating hereby, in Leighton’s
words, “that iniquity is so involved in the notion of riches, that
it can very hardly be separated from them;” and this phrase Jerome
illustrates by a proverb that would not otherwise have reached us;
“that saying,” he says, “appears true to me: _A rich man is either
himself an unjust one, or the heir of one_.”[205] Again, the Lord has
said: “Many be called, but few chosen;” (Matt. xx. 16;) many have the
outward marks of a Christian profession, few the inner substance. Some
early Christian Fathers loved much to bring into comparison with this
a Greek proverb, spoken indeed quite independently of it, and long
previously; and the parallel certainly is a singularly happy one: _The
thyrsus-bearers are many, but the bacchants few_;[206] many assume the
signs and outward tokens of inspiration, whirling the thyrsus aloft;
but those whom the god indeed fills with his spirit are few all the
while.[207] With our Lord’s words concerning the mote and the beam
(Matt. vii. 3, 5) compare this Chinese proverb: _Sweep away the snow
from thine own door, and heed not the frost upon thy neighbour’s

[Sidenote: Proverbs in sermons.]

It has been sometimes a matter of consideration to me whether we of
the clergy might not make larger use, though of course it would be
only occasional, of proverbs in our public teaching than we do. Great
popular preachers of time past, or, seeing that this phrase has now
so questionable a sound, great preachers for the people, such as have
found their way to the universal heart of their fellows, addressing
themselves not to that which some men had different from others, but
to that rather which each had in common with all, have been ever great
employers of proverbs. Thus he who would know the riches of those in
the German tongue, with the vigorous manifold employment of which
they are capable, will find no richer mine to dig in than the works
of Luther. And such employment of them would, I believe, with our
country congregations, be especially valuable. Any one, who by after
investigation has sought to discover how much our rustic hearers carry
away, even from the sermons to which they have attentively listened,
will find that it is hardly ever the course and tenor of the argument,
supposing the discourse to have contained such; but if anything was
uttered, as it used so often to be by the best puritan preachers,
tersely, pointedly, epigrammatically, this will have stayed by them,
while all beside has passed away. Now, the merits of terseness and
point, which have caused other words to be remembered, are exactly
those which signalize the proverb, and generally in a yet higher

It need scarcely be observed, that, if thus used, they will have to be
employed with prudence and discretion, and with a careful selection.
Thus, even with the example of so grave a divine as Bishop Sanderson
before me, I should hesitate to employ in a sermon such a proverb
as _Over shoes, over boots_—one which he declares to be the motto
of some, who having advanced a certain way in sin, presently become
utterly wretchless, caring not, and counting it wholly indifferent, how
much further in evil they advance. Nor would I exactly recommend such
use of a proverb as St. Bernard makes, who, in a sermon on the angels,
desiring to shew _à priori_ the extreme probability of their active and
loving ministries in the service of men, adduces the Latin proverb:
_Who loves me, loves my dog_;[208] and proceeds to argue thus; We are
the dogs under Christ’s table; the angels love Him, they therefore love

But, although not exactly thus, the thing, I am persuaded, might be
done, and with profit. Thus, in a discourse warning against sins of
the tongue, there are many words which we might produce of our own
to describe the mischief it inflicts that would be flatter, duller,
less likely to be remembered than the old proverb: _The tongue is not
steel, but it cuts_. On God’s faithfulness in sustaining, upholding,
rewarding his servants, there are feebler things which we might bring
out of our own treasure-house, than to remind our hearers of that
word: _He who serves God, serves a good Master_. And this one might
sink deep, telling of the enemy whom every one of us has the most to
fear: _No man has a worse friend than he brings with him from home_.
It stands in striking agreement with Augustine’s remarkable prayer
“Deliver me from the evil man, from myself.”[209] Or again: _Ill weeds
grow apace_;—with how lively an image does this set forth to us the
rank luxuriant up-growth of sinful lusts and desires in the garden of
an uncared-for, untended heart. I know not whether we might presume
sufficient quickness of apprehension on the part of our hearers to
venture on the following: _The horse which draws its halter is not
quite escaped_; but I can hardly imagine an happier illustration of
the fact, that so long as any remnant of a sinful habit is retained
by us, so long as we draw this halter, we make but an idle boast of
our liberty; we may, by means of that which we still drag with us, be
at any moment again entangled altogether in the bondage from which we
seemed to have entirely escaped.

In every language some of its noblest proverbs, such as oftentimes
are admirably adapted for this application of which I am speaking,
are those embodying men’s confidence in God’s moral government of the
world, in his avenging righteousness, however much there may be in
the confusions of the present evil time to provoke a doubt or even a
denial of this. Thus, _Punishment is lame, but it comes_, which, if not
old, yet rests on an image derived from antiquity, is good; although
inferior in every way, in energy of expression, as in fulness of sense,
to the ancient Greek one: _The mill of God grinds late, but grinds
to powder_;[210] for this brings in the further thought, that his
judgments, however long they tarry, yet, when they arrive, are crushing
ones. There is indeed another of our own, not unworthy to be set beside
this, announcing, though with quite another image, the same fact of the
tardy but terrible arrivals of judgment: _God comes with leaden feet,
but strikes with iron hands_. And then, how awfully sublime another
which has come down to us as part of the wisdom of the ancient heathen
world; I mean the following: _The feet of the (avenging) deities are
shod with wool_.[211] Here a new thought is introduced,—the noiseless
approach and advance of these judgments, as noiseless as the steps of
one whose feet were wrapped in wool,—the manner in which they overtake
secure sinners even in the hour of their utmost security. Who that has
studied the history of the great crimes and criminals of the world, but
will with a shuddering awe set his seal to the truth of this proverb?
Indeed, meditating on such and on the source from which we have derived
them, one is sometimes tempted to believe that the faith in a divine
retribution evermore making itself felt in the world, this sense of a
Nemesis, as men used to call it, was stronger and deeper in the earlier
and better days of heathendom, than alas! it is in a sunken Christendom

[Sidenote: Proverbs not profane.]

But to resume. Even those proverbs which have acquired an use which
seems to unite at once the trivial and the profane, may yet on closer
inspection be found to be very far from having either triviality or
profaneness cleaving to them. There is one, for instance, often taken
lightly enough upon the lips: _Talk of the devil, and he is sure to
appear_; or as it used to be: _Talk of the devil, and his imps will
appear_; or as in German it is: _Paint the devil on the wall, and
he will shew himself anon_;—which yet contains truth serious and
important enough, if we would only give heed to it: it contains, in
fact, a very solemn warning against a very dangerous sin, I mean,
curiosity about evil. It has been often noticed, and is a very curious
psychological fact, that there is a tendency in a great crime to
reproduce itself, to call forth, that is, other crimes of the same
character: and there is a fearful response which the evil we may hear
or read about, is in danger of finding in our own hearts. This danger,
then, assuredly makes it true wisdom, and a piece of moral prudence
on the part of all to whom this is permitted, to avoid knowing or
learning about the evil; especially when neither duty nor necessity
oblige them thereto. It is men’s wisdom to talk as little about the
devil, either with themselves or with others, as they can; lest he
appear to them. “I agree with you,” says Niebuhr very profoundly in
one of his letters,[212] “that it is better not to read books in which
you make the acquaintance of the devil.” And certainly there is a
remarkable commentary on this proverb, so interpreted, in the earnest
warning given to the children of Israel, that they should not so much
as _inquire_ how the nations which were before them in Canaan, served
their gods, with what cruelties, with what abominable impurities, lest
through this inquiry they should be themselves entangled in the same.
(Deut. xii. 29, 30.) They were not to talk about the devil, lest he
should appear to them.

And other proverbs, too, which at first sight may seem over-familiar
with the name of the great enemy of mankind, yet contain lessons
which it would be an infinite pity to lose; as this German: _Where
the devil cannot come, he will send_;[213] a proverb of very serious
import, which excellently sets out to us the _penetrative_ character
of temptations, and the certainty that they will follow and find men
out in their secretest retreats. It rebukes the absurdity of supposing
that by any outward arrangements, cloistral retirements, flights
into the wilderness, sin can be kept at a distance. So far from this,
temptations will inevitably overleap all these outward and merely
artificial barriers which may be raised up against them; for our great
enemy is as formidable from a seeming distance as in close combat;
_where he cannot come, he will send_. There are others of the same
family, as the following: _The devil’s meal is half bran_; or _all
bran_, as the Italians still more boldly proclaim it;[214] unrighteous
gains are sure to disappoint the getter; the pleasures of sin, even in
this present time, are largely dashed with its pains. And this: _He had
need of a long spoon that eats with the devil_;—men fancy they can
cheat the arch-cheater, can advance in partnership with him up to a
certain point, and then, whenever the connexion becomes too dangerous,
break it off at their will; being sure in this to be miserably
deceived; for, to quote another in the same tone: _He who has shipped
the devil, must carry him over the water_. Granting these and the like
to have been often carelessly uttered, yet they all rest upon a true
moral basis in the main. This last series of proverbs I will close
with an Arabic one, to which not even this appearance of levity can be
ascribed; for it is as solemn and sublime in form as it is profoundly
deep in substance: _The blessings of the evil Genii are curses_. How
deep a meaning the story of Fortunatus acquires, when taken as a
commentary on this.

But I am warned to draw my lecture to an end. I have adduced in the
course of these lectures no inconsiderable number of proverbs, and
have sought for the most part to deduce from them lessons, which were
lessons in common for us all. There is one, however, which I must not
pass over, for I feel that it contains an especial lesson for myself,
and a lesson which I should do wisely and well at this present time
to lay to heart. When the Spaniards would describe a tedious writer,
one who possesses the art of exhausting the patience of his readers,
they say of him: _He leaves nothing in his inkstand_. The phrase is
a singularly happy one, for assuredly there is no such secret of
tediousness, no such certain means of wearing out the attention of our
readers or our hearers, as the attempt to say everything ourselves,
instead of leaving something to be filled up by their intelligence;
while the merits of a composition are often displayed as really, if
not so prominently, in what is passed over as in what is set down; in
nothing more than in the just measure of the confidence which it shows
in the capacities and powers of those to whom it is addressed. I would
not willingly come under the condemnation, which waits on them who thus
_leave nothing in their inkstand_; and lest I should do so, I will
bring now this my final lecture to its close, and ask you to draw out
for yourselves those further lessons from proverbs, which I am sure
they are abundantly capable of yielding.


[182] Perhaps the Spanish form of this proverb is still better: La
mentira tiene _cortas_ las piernas; for the lie does go, though not
far. Compare the French: La vérité, comme l’huile, vient au dessus.

[183] La verdad es hija de Dios.

[184] Vox populi, vox Dei.

[185] Tant vaut l’homme, tant vaut sa terre.

[186] Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων.

[187] Le bruit est si fort, qu’on n’entend pas Dieu tonner.

[188] Εἷς ἀνὴρ, οὐδεὶς ἀνήρ.

[189] Sensus est nihil egregium præstari posse ab uno homine, omni
auxilio destituto.

[190] Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.

[191] The deepening of a proverb’s use among Christian nations as
compared with earlier applications of the same may be illustrated by an
example, which however, as not being directly theological, and thus not
bearing immediately upon the matter in hand, I shall prefer to append
in a note. An old Greek and Latin proverb, _A great city, a great
solitude_, (Magna civitas, magna solitudo,) seems to have dwelt merely
on the outside of things, and to have meant no more than this, namely,
that a city ambitiously laid out and upon a large scheme would with
difficulty find inhabitants sufficient, would wear an appearance of
emptiness and desolation; as there used to be a jest about Washington,
that strangers would sometimes imagine themselves deep in the woods,
when indeed they were in the centre of the city. But with deeper
cravings of the human heart after love and affection, the proverb was
claimed in an higher sense. We may take in proof these striking words
of De Quincey, which are the more striking that neither they nor the
context contain any direct reference to the proverb: “No man,” he
says, “ever was left to himself for the first time in the streets, as
yet unknown, of London, but he must have felt saddened and mortified,
perhaps terrified, by the sense of desertion and utter loneliness which
belongs to his situation. No loneliness can be like that which weighs
upon the heart in the centre of faces never ending, without voice or
utterance for him; eyes innumerable that have ‘no speculation’ in
their orbs which _he_ can understand; and hurrying figures of men and
women weaving to and fro, with no apparent purposes intelligible to a
stranger, seeming like a masque of maniacs, or a pageant of shadowy
illusions.” A direct reference to the proverb is to be found in some
affecting words of Lord Bacon, who glosses and explains it exactly in
this sense;—“For a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery
of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.”

[192] Chi ha l’amor nel petto, ha lo sprone a i fianchi.—Amor regge
senza legge. (Cf. Rom. xiii. 9, 10.)—Amor regge il suo regno senza
spada.—Amor non conosce travaglio. (Cf. Gen. xxix. 20, 30.)—Di tutte
le arti maestro è amore.—Di tutto condimento è amore.

[193] Evangelios pequeños.

[194] Der Weg zum Himmel geht durch Kreuzdorn. Compare the medieval
obverse of the same: Via Crucis, via lucis.

[195] No hiere Dios con dos manos.

[196] Paz y paciencia, y muerte con penitencia.

[197] _Memoirs of Margaret Fuller_, vol. 3, p. 266. In respect of
words like these, wrung out from moments of agony, and not the abiding
convictions of the utterer, may we not venture to hope that our own
proverb, _For mad words deaf ears_, is often graciously true, even in
the very courts of heaven?

[198] Wenn Gott ein Ding verdreufst, so verdreufst es auch bald die

[199] The following have all a right to be termed Christian proverbs:
Chi non vuol servir ad un solo Signor, à molti ha da servir;—E padron
del mondo chi lo disprezza, schiavo chi lo apprezza;—Quando Dios
quiere, con todos vientos llueve.

[200] Perimus licitis.

[201] Non quam late sed quam læte habites, refert.—Mas vale un pedazo
de pan con amor, que gallinas con dolor.

[202] Quien siembra abrojos, no ande descalzo. Compare the Latin: Si
vultur es, cadaver expecta; and the French: Maudissons sont feuilles;
qui les seme, il les recueille.

[203] No se mou la fulla, que Deu no ha vulla. This is one of the
proverbs of which the peculiar grace and charm nearly disappears in the

[204] Quien à dos señores ha de servir, al uno ha de mentir.

[205] Verum mihi videtur illud: Dives aut iniquus, aut iniqui hæres.
Out of a sense of the same, as I take it, the striking Italian proverb
had its rise: Mai diventò fiume grande, chi non v’entrasse acqua

[206] Πολλοί τοι ναρθηκοφόροι, παῦροι δέ τε βάκχοι.

[207] The fact which this proverb proclaims, of a great gulf existing
between what men profess and what they are, is one too frequently
repeating itself and thrusting itself on the notice of all, not to have
found its utterance in an infinite variety of forms, although none
perhaps so deep and poetical as this. Thus there is another Greek line,
fairly represented by this Latin:

    Qui tauros stimulent multi, sed rarus arator;

and there is the classical Roman proverb: Non omnes qui habent
citharam, sunt citharœdi; and the medieval rhyming verse:

    Non est venator quivis per cornua flator;

and this Eastern word: _Hast thou mounted the pulpit, thou art not
therefore a preacher_; with many more.

[208] Qui me amat, amat et canem meum. (_In Fest. S. Mich. Serm._ 1, §

[209] Libera me ab homine malo, a meipso.

[210] Ὀψὲ Θεῶν ἀλέουσι μύλοι, ἀλέουσι δὲ λεπτά.
We may compare the Latin: Habet Deus suas horas, et moras; and the
Spanish: Dios no se queja, mas lo suyo no lo deja.

[211] Dii laneos habent pedes.

[212] _Life_, vol. i. p. 312.

[213] Wo der Teufel nicht hin mag kommen, da send er seinen Boten hin.

[214] La farina del diavolo se ne và in semola.



I have not seen anywhere brought together a collection of these
medieval proverbs cast into the form of a rhyming hexameter. Erasmus,
though he often illustrates the proverbs of the ancient world by
those of the new, does not quote, as far as I am aware, through the
whole of his enormous collection, a single one of these which occupy
a middle place between the two; a fact which in its way is curiously
illustrative of the degree to which the attention of the great
Humanists at the revival of learning was exclusively directed to the
classical literature of Greece and Rome. Yet proverbs in this form
exist in considerable number; being of very various degrees of merit,
as will be seen from the following selection; in which some are keen
and piquant enough, while others are of very subordinate value; those
which seemed to me utterly valueless—and they were not few—I have
excluded altogether. The reader familiar with proverbs will detect
correspondents to very many of them, besides the few which I have
quoted, in one modern language or another, often in many.

    Accipe, sume, cape, tria sunt gratissima Papæ.

Let me observe here, once for all, that the lengthening of the
final syllable in _capê_, is not to be set down to the ignorance
or carelessness of the writer; but in the theory of the medieval
hexameter, the unavoidable stress or pause on the first syllable
of the third foot was counted sufficient to lengthen the shortest
syllable in that position.

    Ad secreta poli curas extendere noli.

    Ægro sanato, frustra dices, Numerato.

    Amphora sub veste raro portatur honeste.

    Ante Dei vultum nihil unquam restat inultum.

    Ante molam primus qui venit, non molat imus.

A rule of natural equity: Prior tempore, prior jure;—_First
come, first serve_.—“Whoso first cometh to the mill, first

    Arbor naturam dat fructibus atque figuram.

    Arbor ut ex fructu, sic nequam noscitur actu.

    Ars compensabit quod vis tibi magna negabit.

    Artem natura superat sine vi, sine curâ.

    Aspera vox, Ite, sed vox est blanda, Venite.

An allusion to Matt. xxv. 34, 41.

    Cari rixantur, rixantes conciliantur.

    Carius est carum, si prægustatur amarum.

    Casus dementis correctio fit sapientis.

    Catus sæpe satur cum capto mure jocatur.

    Cautus homo cavit, si quem natura notavit.

    Conjugium sine prole, dies veluti sine sole.

    Contra vim mortis non herbula crescit in hortis.

    Cui puer assuescit, major dimittere nescit.

The same appears also in a pentameter, and under an Horatian image:
Quod nova testa capit, inveterata sapit.

    Cui sunt multa bona, huic dantur plurima dona.

    Cum jocus est verus, jocus est malus atque severus.

So the Spanish: Malas son las burlas verdaderas.

    Curvum se præbet quod in uncum crescere debet.

    Curia Romana non quærit ovem sine lanâ.

    Dat bene, dat multum, qui dat cum munere vultum.

“He that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Rom. xii. 8.) Cf. Ecclus.
xxxv. 9; SENECA, _De Benef._, i. 1.

    Deficit ambobus qui vult servire duobus.

    Dormit secure, cui non est functio curæ.

_Far from court, far from care._

    Ebibe vas totum, si vis cognoscere potum.

    Est facies testis, quales intrinsecus estis.

    Est nulli certum cui pugna velit dare sertum.

    Ex linguâ stultâ veniunt incommoda multa.

    Ex minimo crescit, sed non cito fama quiescit.

    Fœmina ridendo flendo fallitque canendo.

    Frangitur ira gravis, cum fit responsio suavis.

    Fures in lite pandunt abscondita vitæ.

So in Spanish: Riñen las comadres, y dicense las verdades.

    Furtivus potus plenus dulcedine totus.

    Hoc retine verbum, frangit Deus omne superbum.

    Illa mihi patria est, ubi pascor, non ubi nascor.

    Impedit omne forum defectus denariorum.

    In vestimentis non stat sapientia mentis.

    In vili veste nemo tractatur honeste.

The Russians have a worthier proverb: _A man’s reception is according
to his coat; his dismissal according to his sense_.

    Linguam frænare plus est quam castra domare.

    Lingua susurronis est pejor felle draconis.

    Musca, canes, mimi veniunt ad fercula primi.

    Mus salit in stratum, cum scit non adfore catum.

    Ne credas undam, placidam non esse profundam.

    Nil cito mutabis, donec meliora parabis.

    Nobilitas morum plus ornat quam genitorum.

    Non colit arva bene, qui semen mandat arenæ.

    Non est in mundo dives qui dicit, Abundo.

    Non habet anguillam, per caudam qui tenet illam.

    Non stat securus, qui protinus est ruiturus.

    Non vult scire satur quid jejunus patiatur.

    Omnibus est nomen, sed idem non omnibus omen.

In a world of absolute truth, every name would be the exact utterance
of the thing or person that bore it; but in our world not every
Irenæus is peaceable, nor every Blanche a blonde. Vigilantius ought
rather, according to Jerome, to have been named Dormitantius; and
Antiochus Epiphanes, (the Illustrious,) was for the Jews Antiochus
Epimanes, (the Insane.)

    Parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus.

    Pelle sub agninâ latitat mens sæpe lupina.

    Per multum, Cras, Cras, omnis consumitur ætas.

    Prodigus est natus de parco patre creatus.

    Quando tumet venter, produntur facta latenter.

    Qui bene vult fari, debet bene præmeditari.

    Quidquid agit mundus, monachus vult esse secundus.

    Qui petit alta nimis, retro lapsus ponitur imis.

    Qui pingit florem non pingit floris odorem.

    Qui se non noscat, vicini jurgia poscat.

    Quisquis amat luscam, luscam putat esse venustam.

    Quisquis amat ranam, ranam putat esse Dianam.

    Quod raro cernit oculi lux, cor cito spernit.

    Quo minime reris, de gurgite pisce frueris.

    Quos vult sors ditat, et quos vult sub pede tritat.

    Res satis est nota, plus fœtent stercora mota.

    Scribatur portis, Meretrix est janua mortis.

    Sepes calcatur, quâ pronior esse putatur.

    Si curiam curas, pariet tibi curia curas.

    Si nequeas plures, vel te solummodo cures.

    Si non morderis, cane quid latrante vereris?

    Stare diu nescit, quod non aliquando quiescit.

    Subtrahe ligna focis, flammam restinguere si vis.

    Sunt asini multi solum bino pede fulti.

    Sus magis in cœno gaudet quam fonte sereno.

    Tam male nil cusum, quod nullum prosit in usum.

    Totâ equidem novi plus testâ pars valet ovi.

    Ultra posse viri non vult Deus ulla requiri.

    Verba satis celant mores, eademque revelant.

    Vos inopes nostis, quis amicus quisve sit hostis.

    Vulpes vult fraudem, lupus agnum, fœmina laudem.

       *       *       *       *       *

Add to these a few of the same description, but unrhymed:

    Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantam.

It is with this proverb, which is almost of all languages, that Lady
Macbeth taunts her husband, as one—

    “Letting, I dare not, wait upon, I would,
     Like the poor cat i’ the adage.”—Act I. Scene 7.

    Cochlea consiliis, in factis esto volucris.

    Dat Deus omne bonum, sed non per cornua taurum.

The Chinese say: _Even the ripest fruit does not drop into one’s
mouth_; and another Latin: Non volat in buccas assa columba tuas.

    Ense cadunt multi, perimit sed crapula plures.

    Furfure se miscens porcorum dentibus estur.

With a slight variation the Italian: Chi si fa fango, il porco lo

    Ipsa dies quandoque parens, quandoque noverca.

    Invidus haud eadem semper quatit ostia Dæmon.

    Mirari, non rimari, sapientia vera est.

    Nomina si nescis, perit et cognitio rerum.

    Non stillant omnes quas cernis in aëre nubes.

    Non venit ad silvam, qui cuncta rubeta veretur.

    Occurrit cuicunque Deus, paucique salutant.

    Pro ratione Deus dispertit frigora vestis.

    Quod rarum carum; vilescit quotidianum.

    Sermones blandi non radunt ora loquentis.

    Stultorum calami carbones, mœnia chartæ.

So the French: Muraille blanche, papier des sots.

       *       *       *       *       *

Add further a few which occupy two lines:

    Argue consultum, te diliget; argue stultum,
    Avertet vultum, nec te dimittet inultum.

    Balnea cornici non prosunt, nec meretrici;
    Nec meretrix munda, nec cornix alba fit undâ.

    Dives eram dudum; fecerunt me tria nudum;
    Alea, vina, Venus; tribus his sum factus egenus.

    Quando mulcetur villanus, pejor habetur;
    Ungentem pungit, pungentem rusticus ungit.

Latin medieval ones in the same spirit abound: among others this
detestable one with its curious triple rhyme: Rustica gens est optima
flens, et pessima ridens.

    Si bene barbatum faceret sua barba beatum,
    Nullus in hoc circo queat esse beatior hirco.

    Si quâ sede sedes, et sit tibi commoda sedes,
    Illâ sede sede, nec ab illâ sede recede.

    Hoc scio pro certo, quod si cum stercore certo,
      Vinco seu vincor, semper ego maculor.

    Multum deliro, si cuique placere requiro;
      Omnia qui potuit, hâc sine dote fuit.

    Permutant mores homines, cum dantur honores;
      Corde stat inflato pauper, honore dato.



Transcriber’s Note

Errors corrected were as follows:

Footnote 24: “1” changed to “l” (Quintilian, _Inst._ l. 4);

Footnote 90: “Kirchkofsblumen” changed to
“Kirchhofsblumen” (Hare sind Kirchhofsblumen);

Footnote 96: “Missa Çapateiros” changed to “missa çapateiros”
(Vaô á missa çapateiros).

In addition, obvious punctuation errors were repaired.

Variable hyphenation and spelling were preserved. Apart from the
corrections above, errors in foreign languages have also been left

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