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, elation of our need of light supernatural. If the natural argument be of any value, great or small, it merely hands us over to Scripture; it does not at all supersede Scripture.
And not less direct is this inference upon the opposite supposition ; that nature's utterance is without meaning, or unintelligible. Be it so, for argument's sake. And, therefore, as there is no voice nor light here, look more anxiously elsewhere; to that voice which comes froin heaven, that light which shines above the noon-day sun. If nature's highest revelations do not supersede those of Scripture, still less will nature's silence and ignorance. Upon either of these suppositions, the practical inference is the same; turn to the supernaturally revealed light of life. Follow the instructions and in the footsteps of Him “who brought life and immortality to light in the Gospel.”
On the Lessons of Proverbs. By the Rev. R. C. TRENCH, D.D.
The proverbs of a nation may be called its witty wisdom. They are thoughts worn into smooth and shining forms by the friction of many minds, as pebbles upon the shore are shaped and polished by the wash of waves. They would well repay elaborate study for their wisdom, and they richly reward a superficial examination by their brilliancy and wit.
It is not easy to define a proverb, because it is so much like other similar forms of speech which have their distinctive names. In the interesting work of Dean Trench, the attempt is made with all that nice power of discrimination and analysis which is displayed in his work on the Parables. Aided by his
abors in both these productions, but differing from him in some not unimportant particulars, we venture to propose the following definitions of the proverb and of some kindred forms of speech.
A proverb may be defined to be, "a pointed saying which has received the sanction of many minds.” After this general definition-and none less general that we can construct will escape the charge of borrowing something from other forms of speech—we may proceed to show how it specifically differs from other sayings to which the same general definition may be given. It is usually a single short sentence. It is thrown into a form which makes it easily carried in the memory. It is accepted and repeated by a large number of persons. It circalates more among the middle and the lower, than among the upper classes. It is often found lingering amid rural and secluded society, after it has died out from more active and progressive populations. It is often figurative, and in the form of rhyme or alliteration. It differs from the epigram in that the latter is in verse and may be more amplified. Yet there could scarcely be a better general definition of the proverb than Martial has given of the epigram :
" Three things must epigrams, like bees, have all,
A sting, and honey, and a body small.”
All these are found in the verses written by a Dr. Clark of the last century. The words domus ultima were inscribed on the vault belonging to the Duke of Richmond, in the Cathedral of Chichester. The epigram is rather large in body, but it has a corresponding amount of honey, in the truth quoted from St. Paul, and an answering sharpness of sting in the concluding line :
“Did he who thus inscribed the wall,
Not read, or not believe St. Paul,
Other words, carelessly used in common speech as synonymons with proverbs, have distinctively different meanings. Acioms are, what proverbs are not, self-evident and ultimate truths. The distinction between maxims and proverbs is less wide, and more difficult to discern and state. Maxims, being more frequently rather rules for the guidance of conduct in particular cases—such as law, politics, or social life-than like proverbs, truths and rules applicable to all conditions, have not, like the latter, an universal application. “Make hay while the sun shines,” is a proverb applicable to all men in all spheres ; while the shrewd maxim of Machiavelli, “ In war no enterprise is so easy to you as one the enemy thinks impossible," is capable of much less limited use. An aphorism is a speculative principle; whereas a proverb is eminently practical. " Sayings” and apothegms are weighty sentences of individuals, which are referred to their authors; whereas a witty definition of a proverb is, that it has no author. The paradoxical definition conveys the just idea, that it is not the original and exclusive wisdom of any one mind, but the result of the sagacity, observation, and experience of many minds, whoever may have embodied that result in felicitous and portable phraseology. In view of these distinctions, it is believed that the definition of a proverb previously given will be found sufficiently accurate and precise for practical purposes. It is a pointed saying which has received the sanction of many minds.
In these pointed sayings we may discern many of the peculiarities of national character. It is indeed true that nothing more distinctly proves the essential oneness of the human race, than a comparison of the proverbs of various nations. At the same time it will be seen that there are, along with a general l'esemblance, specific differences which arise from peculiar national characteristics. Every class in every nation will be represented in its proverbs—the good and evil, the selfish and the generous, the wise and foolish, the witty and the dull, the grumbler and the optimist-but each will express itself in the forms that are appropriate to its national life. The wild imagination and portentous exaggeration of the Orientalist; the vivacity and wit of the Frenchman; the gravity and introspection of the German ; the soft and snake-like gliding of the Italian's thought and speech; the sonorous and exaggerated dignity of the Spaniard; the calm, practical, and solid mind of the Englishman; all these will appear in their characteristic proverbs.
Probably there is no nation which uses proverbs so little as our own. Unquestionably there is no civilized people who have so few that have originated with itself. Dr. Franklin
under the name of Poor Richard, furnished some that still live among us. A few others—sentences which have dropped from our public men-have taken their place among proverbial sayings. They are more frequently fragments and phrases than complete proverbs. Davy Crockett's “ Be sure you are right and then go ahead," would be a very good one, but unfortuDately many quote only the last two words. It has been noticed as a characteristic national difference, that when a train of cars is about to start in England, the conductor calls out, "All right!" whereas the cry in our country is, “ Go ahead !!" If the two signals were combined they would form a saying equally excellent for all nations. The phrase of Mr. Van Buren," the sober second thought," and that of Mr. Calhoun, “masterly inactivity," (an expression to be found in a state paper by Mr. Dickinson, of New-Jersey, previous to the Revolution) and that of Patrick Henry, “ Liberty or death,” have fixed themselves immovably in the public mind. The noble sentiment of Mr. Clay, “ I had rather be right than President;" the toast of General Jackson, " The Union, it must be preserved;" the sentiment, new.coined, we believe, by Samuel Adams, “ Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty ;" and the last words of Mr. Webster's greatest speech, “ Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable," all circulate through the land as characteristic national and patriotic pro verbs. The dying words of our great statesmen, Mr. Adams and Mr. Webster, are becoming consecrated as religious proverbs; the one, “ This is the last of Earth,” to express the nothingness of the present life, and the other, “I still live!” to intimate the immortality and conscious life of the spirit in another sphere.
The fact that we have and employ few proverbs is very characteristic and suggestive. When our national life began, we bade “ Good-by!” to the past, and raised a loud “All hail !!” to the future. We had acquired the habit of looking, for rules to guide us, into our own reason and judgment. We had learned to distrust the political wisdom of the past, and through that distrust to be incredulous of all its wisdom. At the same ime, living in the midst of continual change and progress, proverbs, the slow growth of long experience and observation, had not time to form. These crystallizations of thought form in the public mind only when it is in repose. These stalactites do not appear in the crypts and on the foundation arches of the national edifice, until they have stood for centuries. Our proverbs are yet to come. We stand with our back to the past and our face to the future. Our lack of proverbial wisdom is the inevitable result of those peculiarities of our national character and position, which are our pride and honor. Our national edifice is scarcely yet completed and consolidated ; and therefore it is not to be expected that the old ivy of national sentiment, the growth of centuries, should clothe its buttresses and festoon its windows; and that the rooks and owls of ancestral wisdomn should caw and hoot around its venerable towers. We can not yet abound in “ wise saws,” because we are still occupied in originating and testiny“ modern instances."
It is interesting to observe that the moral tone of the proverbs of all nations is, for the most part, good. It is a striking testimony to the fact that goodness is the highest wisdom and the highest weal. Whatever a nation may be in its character, its proverbs are a constant testimony against its evil practice. They are the voice of its innermost consciousness. It is true that there are many coarse proverbs which have come down to us from rude and plain-spoken periods. They are, however, not always immoral in meaning, when indelicate in form. Proverbs may be used by selfishness which originated in just moral perceptions. For instance, the proverb, "He has made his bed, and now he must lie upon it,” may be used by the selfish, when they refuse to save others from the consequences of guilt or folly; whereas it was probably constructed to save men from the commission of folly. “Tonesty is the best policy,” is a saying which may commend the right because it is profitable; but as it does not place the right exclusively on the ground of interest, it is not immoral. Many of the proverbs of Solomon are of this character. Nor are those which merely announce the existence of selfishness, and warn us to be on our guard against it, to be branded as evil. Such is this Russian proverb, " The burden is light on the shoulders of another ;” and this French one, "One has always strength enough to bear the misfortunes of other people ;" and this shrewd English one, “When a