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. 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_; or the Italian: _Time
is an inaudible file_; or the Greek: _Man a bubble_; 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_; 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_; 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_;
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_; 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_; 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_; 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_. And
here is excellently unfolded to us the secret of the fool’s confidence:
_Who knows nothing, doubts nothing_.
[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, 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_. 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_. 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_. And as for lawyers, this of the same
period, _Legista, nequista_, 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?_ 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_; 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_, 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_. 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_. 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?_
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_.
[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_; 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_; 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_, and in this
he warns against despising in any the tokens of honourable toil: _Mock
not a cobbler for his black thumbs_.
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_; 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_; 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.
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_. 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_; 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_. 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.”_ 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_. 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_;
with which may be compared our own: _Bear wealth, poverty will bear
itself_; and another Italian which says: _In prosperity no altars
smoke_. 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_; 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_. This is current among the free blacks of
Hayti: _Before fording the river, do not curse Mrs. Alligator_;
provoke not wantonly those in whose power you presently may be. This is
Spanish: _Call me not “olive,” till you see me gathered_; 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_;
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_. 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_. 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_. 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_. 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_;—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_.
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_; 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. 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.” With these examples before you,
not to speak of the many others which might be adduced, 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.
 Regulæ quæ inter _maximas_ numerari merentur.
 In German: Grau’ Hare sind Kirchhofsblumen.
 Il tempo è una lima sorda.
 Πομφόλυξ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.
 Cujus vita fulgor, ejus verba tonitrua. Cf. Mark iii. 17: υἱοὶ
 Admirably glossed in the _Guesses at Truth_: “Pluck up the stones,
ye sluggards, and break the devil’s head with them.”
 Quando i furbi vanno in processione, il diavolo porta la croce.
 Vaô á missa çapateiros, rogaô a Deos que morraô os carneiros.
 This is Swedish: Zu mera man stryken Katten pá Swanzen, zu mera
 Si la locura fuese dolores, en cada casa darian voces.
 Tonto, sin saber latin, nunca es gran tonto.
 Qui rien ne sçait, de rien ne doute.
 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.
 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.
 Por los haldas del vicario sube el diablo al campanario.
 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
 In German: Juristen, bösen Christen.
 Bebel: Dicitur in proverbio nostro; nihil esse audacius indusio
molitoris, cum omni tempore matutino furem collo apprehendat.
 Se la superbia fosse arte, quanti Dottori avressimo.
 Tal sprezza la superbia con una maggior superbia.
 Ein Feind ist zu viel; und hundert Freunde sind zu wenig.
 Il est aisé d’aller à pied, quand on tient son cheval par la
 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.
 Mulates qua battent, cabrites qua morts.
 A proverb of many tongues beside our own: thus in the Italian:
Quanto più la volpe è maladetta, tanto maggior preda fa.
 _Holy State_, b. 3, c. 5.
 B. 2, c. 23.
 B. 3, c. 2.
 Adagia, ad agendum apta; this is the etymology of the word given
 Chi parla semina, chi tace raccoglie; compare the Swedish: Bättre
tyga än illa tala (Better silence than ill speech).
 Il tacer non fù mai scritto.
 Palabra de boca, piedra de honda.—Palabra y piedra suelta no
 El mal que de tu boca sale, en tu seno se cae.
 Quien con perros se echa, con pulgas se levanta.
 La ou la chèvre est attachée, il faut qu’elle broute.
 Por la calle de despues se va à la casa de nunca.
 Le vesti degl’avvocati sono fodrate dell’ostinazion dei
 Ogni cosa si sopporta, eccetto il buon tempo.
 Nella prosperità non fumano gl’altari.
 Quien con ropa agena se viste, en la calle se queda encueros.
 Chi non vede il fondo, non passi l’acqua.
 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.
 No me digas oliva, hasta que me veas cogida.
 Prends le premier conseil d’une femme, et non le second.
 Non v’è il peggior ladro d’un cattivo libro.
 Los muertos abren los ojos a los vivos.
 Es ist besser, das Kind weine denn der Vater.
 Nace en la huerta lo que no siembra el hortelano.
 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.
 Una spada tien l’altra nel fodro.
 Qui porte épée, porte paix.
 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.
 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.
 See Jeremy Taylor’s _Dissuasive from Popery_, part 2, b. 1. sect.
11, § 6.
 “_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
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_;—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.
[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_. Such is this
Italian: _Every one draws the water to his own mill_; 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_; 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_; or more shamelessly cynical still,
as the French: _Better a grape for me, than two figs for thee_;
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_; 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_; 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_.
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_; 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
[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; 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_; in how many others, the confidence that the ill-won
will also be the ill-spent, 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_; and the
Spanish, too, is striking: _That which is another’s always yearns
for its lord_; 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_; 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.
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_;
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_. 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_, as the appointed law and
condition of man’s life. _Where wilt thou go, ox, that thou wilt not
have to plough?_ 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_, belongs: while, on the other hand, there are in
almost all tongues such proverbs as the following: _God helps them that
help themselves_; 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;” 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_.
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_; 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_, 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_. 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_, 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_.
[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_;—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, 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. On the other hand, _The
morning hour has gold in its mouth_; 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_; 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.”
[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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Ognun tira l’acqua al suo molino.
 Ex alieno tergore lata secantur lora.
 Zelf is de Man.
 J’aime mieux un raisin pour moi que deux figues pour toi.
 Comptez après votre père. Compare the Spanish: Entre dos amigos
un notario y dos testigos.
 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.
 Peccato celato, mezzo perdonato.
 Badly turned into a rhyming pentameter:
Consonus esto lupis, cum quibus esse cupis.
 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.”
 Quien en un año quiere ser rico, al medio le ahorcan.
 Male parta male dilabuntur.—Wie gewonnen, so zerronnen.
 Ungerechter Pfennig verzehrt gerechten Thaler.
 Lo ageno siempre pia por su dueño.
 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.
 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.
 Τῇ χειρὶ δεῖ σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ.
 Giv saa i Dag, at du og kandst give i morgen.—Giv een at du kand
give en anden.
 L’ultimo vestito ce lo fanno senza tasche.
 This is the English form of that worthy old classical proverb:
Φεύγων μύλον, ἄλφιτα φεύγει, or in Latin: Qui vitat molam, vitat
 Ahont anirás, bou, que no llaures? I prefer this form of it to
the Spanish: Adonde yrá el buey, que no are?
 Pereza, llave de pobreza.
 Dii facientes adjuvant.
 According to the Spanish proverb: Quien bien ata, bien desata.
 Quien tiene boca, no diga á otro, Sopla.
 Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre.
 Nondum omnium dierum sol occidit.
 Il mondo è, di chi ha pazienza.
 Se ben ho perso l’anello, ho pur anche le dita;—Si se perdieron
los anillos, aqui quedaron los dedillos.
 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.)
 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.
 Sera in imo parsimonia.
 Seneca (_Ep._ i.): Non enim tantum _minimum_ in imo, sed
 Morgenstund’ hat Gold im Mund.
 Lo que hace el loco á la postre, hace sabio al principio.
 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. 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_.
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_, 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_. 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_. 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
[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_. 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. 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_, 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.”
[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_. 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” 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_; nor
otherwise with the Spanish: _God never wounds with both hands_;
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_, 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.”
So too is it with that ancient German proverb: _When God loathes aught,
men presently loathe it too_. 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.
[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_. 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. 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_,
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_. 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_.
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_.” 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_; 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. 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_; 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.” 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_; 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_. 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, “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_; 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; 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.
 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.
 La verdad es hija de Dios.
 Vox populi, vox Dei.
 Tant vaut l’homme, tant vaut sa terre.
 Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων.
 Le bruit est si fort, qu’on n’entend pas Dieu tonner.
 Εἷς ἀνὴρ, οὐδεὶς ἀνήρ.
 Sensus est nihil egregium præstari posse ab uno homine, omni
 Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.
 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.”
 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.
 Evangelios pequeños.
 Der Weg zum Himmel geht durch Kreuzdorn. Compare the medieval
obverse of the same: Via Crucis, via lucis.
 No hiere Dios con dos manos.
 Paz y paciencia, y muerte con penitencia.
 _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?
 Wenn Gott ein Ding verdreufst, so verdreufst es auch bald die
 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.
 Perimus licitis.
 Non quam late sed quam læte habites, refert.—Mas vale un pedazo
de pan con amor, que gallinas con dolor.
 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.
 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
 Quien à dos señores ha de servir, al uno ha de mentir.
 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
 Πολλοί τοι ναρθηκοφόροι, παῦροι δέ τε βάκχοι.
 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.
 Qui me amat, amat et canem meum. (_In Fest. S. Mich. Serm._ 1, §
 Libera me ab homine malo, a meipso.
 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.
 Dii laneos habent pedes.
 _Life_, vol. i. p. 312.
 Wo der Teufel nicht hin mag kommen, da send er seinen Boten hin.
 La farina del diavolo se ne và in semola.
ON THE METRICAL LATIN PROVERBS OF THE MIDDLE AGES. (See p. 29.)
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.