Fwd: A Cow's grass in heaven

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Aug 15 21:51:26 UTC 2009

Another interesting comment on the "cowes grass" phrase.

>Date:         Sat, 15 Aug 2009 14:42:24 -0500
>From: David Nunnery <dwnunnery at wisc.edu>
>Subject: [C18-L] A Cow's grass in heaven
>Comments: cc: petergrund93 at YAHOO.COM
>Dear folks,
>Please pardon me if these notions have come up and I've missed them.
>The best place to look, I'll bet, is Judith Milhous's and Robert D.
>Hume's 1977 edition of Elizabeth Polwhele's _The Frolicks_ (1671),
>which looks to have a note on the phrase on page 130. Google Books
>won't show it, but the immediate context is a character's boasting
>(?) that he may "justly claim a cow's grass in heaven" for having
>"kiss'd both the sisters." Google Books has another reference to the
>phrase in the context of a 17th-c. dispute in Gloucester in which
>one man accuses another of not being aware that both his wife and
>daughter are regarded as whores by the town. Presumably, per Prof.
>Berson's first e-mail, his correspondents have seen these references already.
>As to whence it might come (my having not seen the note in the
>Milhous/Hume book): In the 17th c. in particular, so far as I've
>found, "a cow's grass" refers literally to a small pasture, big
>enough only for one cow, and thus figuratively can suggest something
>paltry. In a sermon in _The Happines of the Church_ (1618), Thomas
>Adams twits the rich folks who weasel out of tithing by providing
>for the Church on the cheap, especially those nobles whose families
>had profited from the confiscation of Church lands: "Perhaps you
>thinke to make amends for all, for you will encrease the stipend of
>the vicar. When the Father hath gotten thousands by the sacrilegious
>Impropriation, the Sonne perhaps may giue him a Cowes grasse, or a
>matter of fortie shillings per annum. Or bestow a litle whiting on
>the Church, & a wainscote seate for his owne worship."
>So, it could be that "a Cowes grasse in Heaven" is a punishment;
>_i.e._, that rather than having a mansion in Heaven (_cf._ John
>14:2), one would be banished to a little pasturelet.
>Niftier, but farther fetched, might be a reference to
>Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who goes mad and grazes like a
>cow (Daniel 4:31-34). He is struck mad as a punishment, though for
>pride rather than sexual impropriety. That also doesn't account for
>the "in Heaven," so maybe it's a fetch too far.
>Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if the Milhous/Hume footnote
>renders all this sounding brass and tinkling cymbals anyway.
>Yours, &c.,

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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