Couplet: "The pride of family is all a cheat, / Who's truly good alone is truly great."

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Jun 17 17:58:46 UTC 2014

At 6/17/2014 01:46 PM, Baker, John wrote:
>What makes you think that this does not simply go back to Defoe,
>with later variations as writers worked from memory?
>John Baker

The original inquirer wrote:
>The notion that all these couplets are variations on a common Latin
>source (translated slightly differently by different individuals)
>makes a lot of sense.
>For my own purposes, I'm pretty sure that my letter writer is
>quoting the couplet (or slightly mis-quoting it) from a published
>source, not introducing a new translation from a Latin source. But
>she was a voracious reader and quoter and so her source could have
>been published any time between 1760 and 1790s...

So he's looking for a published source that is closer to his letter
writer's wording than Defoe's.


>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
>Behalf Of Joel S. Berson
>Sent: Friday, May 09, 2014 1:52 PM
>Subject: Q: Couplet: "The pride of family is all a cheat, / Who's
>truly good alone is truly great."
>Can anyone help with this?
>A colleague is trying to find the (or an early) source of the couplet:
>"The pride of family is all a cheat, / Who's truly good alone is truly great."
>It appears in February 1794 letter by an American woman. He "fear[s]
>it appeared in a newspaper...'.  (A natural fear.)
>Google, ECCO, EEBO, Evans (EAI), Hathitrust, and EAN Series I and II
>have been searched.  Some similar couplets have been found.  The
>variations hint to me that they are varying translations, perhaps
>from Latin; another clue suggests Aesop.  (See below on Aesop,
>Plutarch, and Juvenal.)
>He and I have found:
>1701:  Defoe's True-Born Englishman (1701) contains something similar:
>"For Fame of Families is all a cheat, / 'Tis Personal Virtue only
>makes us Great."
>1768 December 30, The New-Hampshire Gazette, page 1, [col.
>1].  Attributed to "The North-Briton, Number LV."
>"The Fame of Families is all a Cheat, / 'Tis pers'nal Virtue only
>makes Men great."
>The inquirer thinks it may have appeared more than once in an
>American newspaper, and suggests Cobbett's Censor or Porcupine's Gazette.
>1795:  William Butler's Arithmetical Questions on a New
>Plan...Intended to Answer the Double Purpose of Arithmetical
>Instruction and Miscellaneous Information...Designed for the Use of
>Young Ladies, 2nd edn (London, 1795):
>"The pride of family is all a cheat, / The virtuous only are the truly great."
>1798: "Pride of family" is the title of an essay, which mentions
>(and quotes?) Juvenal and [Erasmus] Darwin's (translation in?)
>_Zoonomia_ (1794).  1798 February 2, City Gazette [Charleston, SC],
>published as City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, page 2.  This
>contains about 20 lines of verse follow, but not Scott's couplet.
>Another colleague finds a variation (from an 1818
>citation) that appears to have been associated with Aesop's fable of
>the Mule.  (GBooks).
>"The pride of family is all a cheat, / 'Tis personal merit only
>makes us great."
>He says it also appears as a Snippet in a 1794 edition, but I
>haven't been able to find that.
>Another colleague suggests this tale: A mule suddenly decides that
>he too can run as fast as his mother the horse, but then remembers
>that his father was an ass. That appears in Plutarch, Dinner of the
>Seven Wise Men (4) and is the basis for La Fontaine VI, 7.
>The original inquirer comments"It seems a good bet that the
>quotation comes from Aesop--the letter writer mentions the fable of
>the fox and the grapes in a 1795 letter."
>Additional places I would try (if I were at my local large
>university's large librfary) are:
>     17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers?  (A sparser
> collection than EAN, unfortunately.)
>     ProQuest British Periodicals?
>     Eighteenth Century Journals?
>     ProQuest American Periodical Series (which has some of
> Cobbett/Porcupine's publications)?
>     American Periodicals Series Online?
>The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list