FOR many years I have published a Sheet Almanac, intended to be hung up in workshops and kitchens. This has been known as “John Ploughman’s Almanac,” and has had a large sale. It has promoted temperance, thrift, kindness to animals, and a regard for religion, among working people. The placing of a proverb for every day for twenty years has cost me great labor, and I fool that I cannot afford to lose the large collection of sentences which I have thus brought together: yet lost they would be, if left to die with the ephemeral sheet. Hence these two volumes. They do not profess to be a complete collection of proverbs, but only a few out of many thousands.
The salt of proverbs is of great service if discreetly used in sermons and addresses; and I have hope that theseSALT-CELLARS of mine may be resorted to by teachers and speakers, and that they may find them helpful.
There are many proverb books, but none exactly like these. I have not followed any one of the other collections, although, of necessity, the most of the quaint sayings are the same as will be found in them. Some of my sentences are quite new, and more are put into a fresh form. The careful omission of all that are questionable as to purity has been my aim; but should any one of them, unknown to me, have another meaning than I have seen in it, I cannot help it, and must trust the reader to accept the best and purest sense which it bears; for that is what it meant to me. It is a pity that the sale of a proverb should ever be unsavory; but, beyond doubt, in several of the best collections, there are very questionable ones, which ought to be forgotten. It is better to select than indiscriminately to collect.
An old saying which is not clean ought not to be preserved because of its age; but it should, for that reason, be the more readily dropped, since it must have done harm enough already, and the sooner the old. rottenness is buried the better.
My homely notes are made up, as a rule, of other proverbial expressions.
They are intended to give hints as to how the proverbs may be used by those who are willing to flavor their speech with them. I may not, in every case, have hit upon the first meaning of the maxims: possibly, in some instances, the sense which I have put upon them may not be the general one; but the meanings given are such as they may bear without a twist, and such as commended themselves to me for general usefulness. The antiquary has not been the guide in this case; but the moralist and the Christian.
From what sources I have gleaned these proverbs it is impossible for me to tell. They have been jotted down as they were met with. Having become common property, it is not easy to find out their original proprietors. If I knew where I found a pithy sentence, I would acknowledge the source most freely; but the gleanings of years, in innumerable fields, cannot now be traced to this literary estate or to that. In the mass, I confess that almost everything in these books is borrowed — from cyclopaedias of proverbs, “garlands,” almanacs, books, newspapers, magazines — from anywhere and everywhere. A few proverbs I may myself have made, though even this is difficult; but, from the necessity of the case, sentences which have become proverbs are things to be quoted, and not to be invented.
Lists of proverb-books are common enough, and there is no need to present another in this short preface; but I believe I have read them all, and the most of them year after year, till their contents dwell in my memory, and are repeated by a use which has become a second nature, almost without the thought of their having been the sayings of men of old time.
One who has written many books upon solid subjects may well be excused for finding relief and recreation in lighter forms of literature. If even the inspired Scripture affords space for “the words of the wise, and their dark sayings,” there would seem to be allowance, if not example, for the ordinary teacher supplementing his Psalms with proverbs, and his Ecclesiastes with selections from the wisdom of the ancients. I have never lost sight of my one aim in a page which I have written, whether the manner has been grave or gay; and that one aim has been the spiritual good of my readers. A line may strike where a discourse may miss. Godly sentiments sandwiched in between slices of wit and common-sense, may become nutriment for the soul, although they may be almost unconsciously received. Pills when gilded may be none the less health-giving. Under this belief, I have therefore placed, not only moral precepts, but gospel instructions in the midst of these common maxims. Thus has the salt itself been salted. The good hope abides with me that I may lure to better things by things which are themselves good. “Stepping-stones of our dead selves” may be a pretty poetical phrase; but, practically, stepping-stones to the highest attainments are better found among common-sense sayings applicable to everyday life, which lead up to a high morality, and then charm us on to that which mere morals can never teach. Perchance, while amused with the wit and wisdom of men, some reader may perceive the glow of a diviner light, and may be led to seek after its clearer illumination.
This is the innermost design of my work. If the occupation of hours in which it was imperative upon me to find rest by ceasing from more weighty themes will only lead to this, I shall be happy indeed.
Books of illustration are admirable helps to teachers; but it seems to me that in proverbs they will find suggestions of the very best illustrations.
Those short sentences are often summaries of discourse, verdicts given after the hearing of the case, or else briefs for the pleaders on the one side or the other of a disputed question. When wisely quoted they arouse attention, and in some cases carry conviction. Sermons would seldom be dull if they were more alive with aphorisms and epigrams. These are not the point of the shaft, but they may be the feathers of the arrow.
Comparatively they are trifles; but nothing is trifling by which serious truth can be brought home to Careless minds. Our age is restless, and we must not be prosy: men are ever seeking some new thing, and therefore we must not, by our dullness, increase their weariness of the old. We must regard the words of Holy Writ, and remember that it is written: — “Moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many problems .”
PROVERBS QUAINT SAYINGS.