"A Rare Book of American Proverbs" article
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Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Jan 25 23:38:51 UTC 2000
About two years ago, David Shulman found many proverbs in a rare book--Old Comic Elton's BOY'S OWN BOOK OF FUN (New York: Strong, 1847). Shulman wrote a piece for American Speech, but it sat for about a year-and-a-half.
A letter from Managing Editor Charles Carson dated 30 December 1999 came with proofs for the "miscellany" section of the Spring 2000 issue. Shulman was asked to respond in ten days; he made a copy for me.
Shulman's article identifies 89 proverbs: 82 not listed in DAP, 5 listed in DAP with no date, and 2 with dates earlier than DAP. Two proverbs are especially interesting: "Whatever goes up must come down" and "A look is worth ten thousand words." (I don't see the latter phrase in the article!)
I checked all 89 proverbs on the Making of America database. Then, I went to the NYPL and checked the Literature Online database (not available in Columbia or NYU).
Here's a list of antedates (most of which have different wordings):
CHILDREN AND FOOLS SHOULD BEWARE OF SHARP TOOLS.
On MOA, Ladies' Repository, Sept. 1846, pg. 280, col. 2, "Don't you know 'That children and fools should never meddle with edged tools!'"
A CONTENTED MIND IS THE GREATEST WEALTH
On MOA, Southern Literary Messenger, Nov. 1840, pg. 722, I desire the wealth and peace of a contented mind...
A GOOD ACTION IS ITS OWN REWARD.
Not on LO per se, but tons of early hits for "virtue" and other things being "its own reward."
ILL GOT, ILL SPENT.
On LO, Nicholas Billingsley, A TREASURY OF DIVINE RAPTURES (1667), Mali parta male dilabuntur, ill got ill spent.
A LAZY MAN BLOWS HIS OWN TRUMPET.
Not on LO per se, but as "don't blow your own trumpet," Christopher Bullock, WOMAN IS A RIDDLE (1717), A Man shou'd not sound his own Trumpet...
A LIVE ASS IS BETTER THAN A DEAD LION.
Alexander Nicol, KING SOLOMON'S BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES, IN METRE (1766), For sure a dog that lives, is useful more/ Than a dead lion that had wont to roar.
OLD YEAR OUT, NEW YEAR IN.
Nothing exactly like this phrase, but much similar. On MOA, Ladies' Repository, June 1846, pg. 73, col. 1, An old year buried, and a new year born.
ONE MAN MAY BETTER STEAL A HORSE THAN ANOTHER LOOK OVER THE FENCE.
Robert Dixon, CANIDIA, OR THE WITCHES (1683), Some may better steal a Horse, or take a pledge, than others can look over a hedge.
PRIDE AND POVERTY WERE THE DOWNFALL OF OLD COLE'S SHE DOG.
Charles F. Briggs, THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY FRANCO (1839):
"I prophesy that you will die the death of old Cole's dog one of these days. Do you know what complaint he died of?"
"He died of pride and poverty."
PRUDENCE AND CARE MAKETH BOTH ENDS MEET.
No LO hit for the compound, but plenty of hits for "prudence and care" and "both ends meet."
A SHORT LIFE AND A MERRY ONE.
Many early hits on LO. Henry Burkhead, COLA'S FURIE (1645), a short life and a merry. Also "a short life and a pleasant."
A SIXPENCE IN THE POCKET TO KEEP THE DEVIL OUT.
Perhaps similar to Lawrence Sterne, A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1768), to give Misery a sixpence.
STRONG LOVE OVERCOMES MANY DIFFICULTIES.
John Dryden, PALAMON AND ARCITE, OR, THE KNIGHT'S TALE (from Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES), That love, all sense of right and wrong confounds/ Strong love and proud ambition have no bounds.
THEY THAT GUARD OTHERS ARE APT TO NEGLECT THEMSELVES.
No exact hit, but several for "neglect themselves." Margaret Cavendish, Dutchess of Newcastle, YOUTHS GLORY AND DEATHS BANQUET (1662), if their wives neglect themselves.
THINK MUCH, SPEAK LITTLE, WRITE LESS.
John Dryden, THE SPANISH FRYAR (1681), Think much, speak little, and in speaking sigh.
THINK YOU CAN DO A THING AND IT'S HALF DONE.
Similar is Thomas Fuller, ANDRONICUS: A TRAGEDY (1661), It is half done, when desired seriously. Also, Margaret Cavendish, Dutchess of Newcastle, THE SOCIABLE COMPANIONS, OR THE FEMALE WITS (1668), when a business is well laid, it is half done.
TRAVELLERS SEE STRANGE SIGHTS.
George Farquhar, THE CONSTANT COUPLE, OR A TRIP TO JUBILEE (1700), Travellers see very strange things abroad.
WHILE THE DOG AND CAT ARE COURTING, THE MICE EAT UP THE CHEESE.
Similar is William Sampson, THE VOW BREAKER, OR, THE FAIRE MAIDE OF CLIFTON (1636), when the Cat's away the Mouse will play.
WORDS ARE BUT WIND, BUT SEEING IS BELIEVING.
The compound is not on LO, but each phrase is quite early. John Reynolds, THE TRIUMPHS OF GODS REVENGE (1623), words are but wind. Chaucer, THE PARSON'S TALE, seeing is believing.
YOU CANNOT MAKE A WHISTLE OUT OF A PIG'S TAIL.
Not on LO. However, this is very similar to (I forget the earlier cites) Samuel Foote, THE MAYOR OF GARRET (1764), Who can make a silk purse of a sow's ear?
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