Sunday, July 23, 2017

With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet roughly contemporaneous with William Shakespeare. His main poetic body of work, The temple, sacred poems and private ejaculations
by George Herbert, aside from its uncomfortable, to modern ears, title, wrote primarily religious and metaphysical poetry. Well regarded in his time, he feel from favor among critics, only to see a resurgence of his reputation in the 20th century.

I came across another work of his which is pleasantly intriguing, Outlandish Proverbs, a collection of 1,000 British and foreign proverbs.

I was interested to come across this as I view proverbs, (adage, aphorisms, dictum, epigrams, maxims, etc.) as a form of cultural coding - knowledge or heuristic in a pithy fashion that is easily transmitted geographically and over time. From Wikipedia:
Like many of his literary contemporaries, Herbert was a collector of proverbs. His Outlandish Proverbs was published in 1640, listing over 1000 aphorisms in English, but gathered from many countries (in Herbert's day, 'outlandish' meant foreign). The collection included many sayings repeated to this day, for example, "His bark is worse than his bite" and "Who is so deaf, as he that will not hear?"
See Bidden or unbidden, God is present, for a discussion of the slightly earlier Erasmus of Rotterdam and his collection, Adagia.

What fascinates me about Herbert's collection is their variety. Yes, there are many which are pretty much exactly the same as they are today, or are near in meaning to a modern equivalent.
The eye is bigger then the belly.
He that seekes trouble never misses.
His bark is worse than his bite.
Cloath thee in war, arme thee in peace.
Little pitchers have wide eares.
There are others which make sense but are unfamiliar or no longer in circulation.
If you must flie, flie well.
Every one is a master and servant.
You may be on land, yet not in a garden.
With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.
Paines to get, care to keep, feare to lose.
But there are others where the historical context is, presumably, so different that it is hard to comprehend their import.
Hee that wipes the childs nose, kisseth the mothers cheeke.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
When one is on horsebacke hee knowes all things.
Hee that tells his wife newes is but newly married.
Wine that cost nothing is digested before it be drunke.
Sometimes it is a language issue.
Count not fowre except you have them in a wallett.
Gifts enter every where without a wimble.
He that hath a mouth of his owne, must not say to another; Blow.
Then there are the ones that are simply difficult to fathom.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
Hee that is in a towne in May, loseth his spring.
The deafe gaines the injury.
Silkes and Satins put out the fire in the chimney.
Hee that would be a Gentleman, let him goe to an assault.
In the house of a Fidler, all fiddle.

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