Q: "David's ruffians" and "Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Jan 29 17:44:52 UTC 2008

Can anyone cast light on the phrase "David's ruffians" and why it
might be placed in relationship to "Our tongues are our own, who
shall control us?"?  (Note: I haven't had the opportunity to consult
Yale yet.  Nor the various subscription databases, such as EEBO or JSTOR.)

The two appear in combination in James Josselyn's _Two Voyages to
New-England_ (1674), where he takes a preemptive strike against
readers who may distrust some of the strange or fabulous things he is
about to relate.  Josselyn writes:

"Thus by these Famacides who are so minutely curious, I am dejected
from my hopes, whilst they challenge the freedom of David's Ruffins,
[sic] Our tongues are our own, whoshall [sic] controll us."

I took "ruffins" to be a contemporary spelling of "ruffians", and
found via Google two hits for "David's ruffians".  One is in _The
Works of Joseph Hall_, of which there are several editions starting
in 1625.  Hall wrote in a sermon "Every fiddler sings libels openly;
and each man is ready to challenge the freedom of David's ruffians,
Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?"  So this is
presumably Josselyn's source.

The other is in _Saul, a Mystery_ (1845), a play by Arthur Cleveland
Coxe.  The guard of David are seen approaching.  Doeg exclaims:
"More!---where---where?  Oh save me! Caleb, show me out the postern;
These are lord David's ruffians! Bar the gates; No doubt they come to
forage.  Where's the postern?"

In various Bible translations I have not been able to find the phrase
"David's ruffians" literally, but the incident that seems the source
for Coxe's passage is apparently I Samuel, chapter 25, where David
goes armed against Nabal, who had refused previously to give food to
David's ten emissaries (the ruffians? Or perhaps David's entire
band?), but is dissuaded from battle when Nabal's wife Abigail brings
him food without telling her husband.  (Sidelight: After Nabal ten
days later has been smote dead by the Lord, David takes Abigail to wife.)

Now for "Our tongues are our own, who shall control us?":  According
to some Google hits, Psalm 12, 4 has "Our tongues are our own, who
shall be lord over us" .  The New International Version has "We will
triumph with our tongues; we own our lips--who is our master?".  I
will need to consult an exegesis, but I think Josselyn is using this
to assert his freedom to write as he pleases.

But -- where does "David's ruffians" arise, and why is it related to
(who first related it to?) "Our tongues"/freedom of speech?

Much thanks,

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list