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

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri May 9 17:52:02 UTC 2014

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
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.  http://tinyurl.com/mafdkd5  (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 - http://www.americandialect.org

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