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dog is drowning every one offers him drink.” They proclaim and they satirize, but they do not vindicate the selfishness of man.
Yet, though it be true that the main current of proverbial philosophy is pure, it must be admitted that there are many filthy little rills running into it. Here is a mean little English proverb: “The wholesomest meat is at another man's cost." Another which implies that a poor man can scarce be honest, must have done much to realize its truth : “ It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright." The Spanish caution, (the fable of the monkey using the cat's paw to pull out hot chestnuts, put into a proverb,) "Draw the snake from its hole by another man's hand,” is detestable. These “scoundrel maxims" are not numerous in the English tongue. If we would find those that are openly and revoltingly atrocious, we must resort to Italy. A nation's life must have become profoundly debased when its proverbs commend guilt and inculcate revenge. The elder Disraeli observes that the Italian proverbs have taken a tinge from their deep and politic genius; and their wisdom seems wholly concentrated in their personal interests. I think every tenth proverb in an Italian collection is some cynical or some selfish maxim." Artifice and cunning are frequently commended as the only guides of life; and revenge as the mark of truest manhood. Here are sentiments which make an Anglo-Saxon shudder with disgust: "Revenge of an hundred years old hath still its sucking teeth.” “Wait time and place to act thy revenge, for it is never well done in a hurry." "Revenge is a morsel for God.” It is the boast of Ireland that no venomous snakes can live upon her soil. It may be our just boast that no such viper maxims can live in the English tongue.
It is pleasant to turn to more wholesome sentiments. They abound in the proverbs of all nations. The great and undying instinct of retribution, the certain fearful-looking for of judg. ment against transgressions, receive the most emphatic attestation. How strikingly the Turks express it in these words: “Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost.” The Arabic proverb is no less beautiful : "Ashes always fly back in the face of him that throws them.” The Spaniards express the same thought well: “Who sows thorns let him not go unshod." There is a French proverb which has in it a true religious sublimity. It expresses man's unconsciousness of the just government of God, because of being absorbed in present interests. “The noise is so great one can not hear God thunder.” This sounds like Luther. With such sentences he enforced his simple and fervent preaching
There is also a large class of proverbs the tendency of which is to commend that which is just, benevolent, and manly. How many poor people would hasten to admit the truth of this sentence: "He gives twice that gives in a trice." There is a whole discourse on charitable judgments in these words : "No one is a fool always ; every one sometimes.” An exceedingly touching and impressive sentence is this from the Spanish : “The old man's staff is a rapper at death's door." Similar and equally beautiful is this : “Gray hairs are death's blossoms." There is a pathethic deprecation, not wantonly to break up the habits of the aged, in these words : “Remove an old tree and it will die." The history of human life could not be better written than in these words : "I wept when I was born, and every day shows why.” A whole volume of religious resignation and philosophy would be only an expansion of this simple phrase: “ One may see day through a little hole." However dark it may be around us for the present, there will be some little opening through which we can perceive that there is light without, which we may ultimately gain. The Italian proverb, “ There is no worse robber than a bad book," is one which is not likely to be hung over a modern book-store, but which it would be well for us to put in golden capitals over our library shelves. Here is a noble German utterance : "Charity giveth itself rich ; covetousness hoards itself poor.” Here are manly proverbs, which are more than merely prudential. They inculcate the necessity of exertion, and a firm dependence upon the sure working of moral laws. “No pains, no gains.” “No sweat, no sweet.” “No mill, no meal.” “When one door shuts another opens." "A stone that is fit for the wall is not left in the way." He who firmly believed, and energetically practised, these manly truths, could not easy be kept down in life.
But though proverbs are not destitute of moral lessons, their favorite sphere is the prudential. They utter wise and shrewd teachings in reference to the conduct of life. They often re
veal, by a single flash of wit, man's deepest self-deceptions. They are applicable alike to great and small affairs—to family and national events. Like the tent described in the Arabian Nights, they may be folded in the hands, or they may cover whole armies. They serve alike the purposes of Sancho Panza and of Philip II.—of Hudibras and of Cromwell. The prudential wisdom and wit of ages is compressed into them. The precious grains of truth and sage experience, which are dispersed through a nation, and a generation, like golden sands in the Californian and Australian fields, are thus evolved, sifted, melted, minted, and stamped with a national image and superscription.
In the selection of proverbs of this kind, we shall endeavor to quote those which are least familiar. It will thus be seen that there are as precious argosies still upon the ocean as those that have reached and emptied their treasures upon the shores.
No nation is so rich in what may be called advisory and hortatory proverbs as the Spanish. They have a very practical and droll way of giving good advice. “Be not a baker if your head is made of butter.” How could a man be better counselled not to enter upon any employment for which he was manifestly unfitted, and which would soon ruin him? “When all men say you are an ass it is time to begin to bray.” That is, take the judgment of all men as to what you and your capabilities are, rather than your own, and conform your conduct to it.
It is a striking fact that the nations who are most under the dominion of the priesthood—the Italians and Spaniards—treat it with the least respect in their proverbs. It is the same spirit of hatred and contempt which led the architects of the middle ages to depict, even on the doors of the cathedrals, ludicrous pictures of monks, with heads of swine and dogs; and as undergoing ignominious punishments from the hands of.. Satan and his fiends. The following from the Spanish, shows the estimation in which monks were held, where they most abound and best are known: “ Take heed of an ox before, an ass behind, and a monk on all sides."
Prudential declaratory proverbs—the sage saws of experience -are no less instructive, and more numerous than those which
are hortatory or advisory in their character. What caution is couched in this profound Italian saying: “ The offender never pardons.” He is a happy man who has never been made to feel this bitter truth. “Metal is dangerous in a blind horse." How excellent is this! How speedily and surely those who are both impetuous and ignorant ruin themselves! We have the proverb, “Little pitchers have great ears," in reference to children and persons of small capacity. The French add to it thus: “And what a child hears in Paris is soon known in Savoy." The necessity of a master's oversight is quaintly expressed in the words : “ The master's eye makes the horse fat.” The canny Scotch proverb, “The dog winna yowl if you fell him with a bane,” is very characteristic, but more shrewd than elevated in its tone. The following is as sagacious, and in a higher vein: “Ane may bind a sack before it be fu'.” How many persons might save a competence if they would bind up the sack in time, who by insisting upon cramming it to repletion, topple it over and see all their substance spilt out! What a golden sentence is this of the Jews : “ If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two." Similar is the Persian, “ Speech is silvern, silence is golden;" and the Italian, “ TIe who speaks sows, he who keeps silence reaps.” Proverbs such as these copied into one's note-book, and glanced over day by day, could not but be helpful guides in life.
There are other proverbs that may be called wise and weighty utterances of truth, the results of old experience, the distilled essence of many wholesome herbs. These are frequently models of terse and idiomatic style. One can no where find the power of the English language more strikingly displayed than in those proverbs which embody the results of much thought and large experience. Some of our best writers have evidently improved their power of expression by their study. Lord Bacon had a great fondness for them; and his immortal essays bear many marks of that predilection. Old Fuller, whom Coleridge calls the wittiest writer in the English language, revels in their use, and rivals their point and poetry in his own brilliant sentences. Dean Swift, than whom there is no purer English writer, as to style, and none more filthy as to sentiment, has evidently paid much attention to these utter
ances of the common heart and mind of man. Our own Webster was well acquainted with them, and employed them much in his marvellous conversation ; and we can not but think that the love of them unconsciously contributed to the formation of his matchlessly vigorous and compact style. We throw together without order a few proverbs to illustrate these remarks.
We have all noticed the tenacity with which weak men adhere to opinions, which have been formed without any just reasons, and can not therefore be swept away by any argument. This familiar fact comes out in this striking form : “A wise man changes his opinions, a fool never.” “It is easy to bowl down hill.” Who can not succeed when things are in a position which make success a necessity ? “The best fish swim near the bottom.” So are we taught that nothing preëminently good is to be caught easily and on the surface. “When flatterers meet, the devil goes to dinner.” He feels that his presence is no longer needed. Each will be to the other in the place of the devil to stir up his pride. The fox figures in proverbs, almost as much as in fables. The following are full of wit and convey the same general lessons : “When the fox preaches beware of the geese.” The French say when they see an artful person with glozing words deluding the credulons: “ The fox preaches to the hens.” “The fox should not be of the jury at a goose trial.” What can be more painfully true than this: “Hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper." How quaint and sly is this admonition to too fond and indulgent mothers : “A child may have too much of its mother's blessing,” Here is one which is exceedingly fine in its poetic form, most admirable in its teaching, and very rich in its application : “ He that pryeth into every cloud may be stricken with a thunderbolt.” What could be more beautiful and wise? It applies to him who rashly meddles with the obscure and covered troubles of his neighbors; and then it is a valuable prudential maxim. It applies no less to him who would rashly intrude into the mysteries of the dispensation of Him around whose throne are clouds and darkness; and then it becomes a sublime religious admonition; “No sunshine but hath some shadow.” The prosperous know this well; and happy are they who understand the correlative truth, that there are shadows only because