"Look a horse in the mouth" -- possible antedating

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Mar 11 02:22:54 UTC 2013

"Look a horse in the mouth" -- without the "given" or "gift" of some
earlier quotations -- can probably be dated to 1676, in Rochester's
"To all Gentlemen and Ladies, and Others, whether of City, Town, or
Country, Alexander Bendo wisheth all Health and Prosperity".  "With
"given horse", it dates to the early 16th century (Dave Wilton); with
"gift horse" it dates to 1663 (OED).

Another correspondent provides the following information:

>Not exactly a "confirmed date," but Rochester's original brochure,
>copies of which exist in the British Library, in the library of
>King's College, Cambridge, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, was
>probably published in 1676, as Harold Love suggests in his
>authoritative edition of The Works of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester
>(Oxford U.P., 1999), 437, 439.  Love accepts the argument of Vivian
>de Sola Pinto in The Famous Pathologist or the Noble Mountebank
>(Nottingham, 1961) that the events of Rochester's life make this
>date most probable.  The alternative date would be 1675.
>I myself have examined the British Library copy.  It is not dated,
>but no modern scholar questions that it is authentically the work of
>Rochester, who, as you say, died in 1680.

The quotation (as I wrote earlier) is:

"here in England, look a horse in the Mouth, and a Woman in the Face,
you presently know both their Ages to a Year."

It can be found on the page numbered 33 (11th of approx. 12 for this
item) in ECCO's copy of "The Harangues or Speeches of Several Famous
Mountebanks in Town and Country" (undated; variously attributed to
1700 or 1725).  The three instances listed above could be examined.


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