Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

We shut our eyes to the beginnings of evil because they are smail, and in this weakness lies the germ of our misfortune. Principiis obsta; this maxim closely followed would pre

re us from almost all our misfortunes.-AMIEL: Journal Intime, 11. 70.

We must be watchful, especially in the beginning of temptation, because then the enemy is easier overcome, if he is not suffered to come in at all at the door of the soul, but is kept out and resisted at his first knock. Whence a certain man said. “ Withstand the beginning : after. remedies come too late."-Imitation of Christ, ch. xiii., sec. 4.

Prison. When Guildenstern objects to Hamlet's remark that Denmark is a prison, the prince explains, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prisou." (Act ii., Sc. 2.) In Howel's “Letters” we find him writing from his prison to a friend in France, “ There is a wise saying in the country where you sojourn now, .Ce n'est pas la place mais la pensée qui fait la prison,'” which is exactly Hamlet's idea. A famous amplification of the thought occurs in the fourth stanza of Richard Lovelace's poem “To Althea from Prison :"

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage ;
If I have freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above

Enjoy such liberty.
Now, there is a curious parallelism, not only in the lines, but also in the cir.
cumstances of their composition, with the following by the contemporary
French poet Pellisson :

Doubles grilles à gros cloux,
Triples portes, forts verroux,

Aux âmes vraiment méchantes
Vous représentez l'enfer;

Mais aux âmes innocentes

Vous n'êtes que du bois, du fer. A comparison of dates, however, proves that Lovelace was first in the fie:d. He was imprisoned by the Long Parliament in 1648, and died in 1658. Pel, lisson was not sent to the Bastile until 1661, and wrote his lines on the walls of his cell. But Lovelace may have remembered his Shakespeare, not only the passage quoted from “Hamlet,” but the following from the Sonnets :

Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,

Can be retentive of the strength of spirit.
Procrastination is the thief of time. This is line 393 of the first
Night of Young's “ Night Thoughts.” The context runs as follows:

Beware, Lorenzo ! a slow, sudden death.
Be wise to-day, 'tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is pushed out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves

The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
There is a reminiscence here of Congreve's lines,

Defer not till to-morrow to be wise :
To-morrow's sun to thee may never rise.

Letter to Cobham. Proverbial and written literature are full of similar lessons : “Delays are dangerous," "Strike while the iron is hot,” “Take time by the forelock,”-these proverbs are cosmopolitan. “Make hay while the sun shines” is peculiarly English, and especially appropriate to the variable climate of England. Here are a few more proverbs of similar application :

God keep you from · It is too late.'-Spanish.
When the fool has made up his mind the market has gone by.-Ibid.
Stay but a while, you lose a mile.-Dutch.
A little too late, much too late.--Ibid.
Some refuse roast meat and afterwards long for the smoke of it.-Italian.
When the horse has been stolen the fool shuts the stable.-French.

The latter may also be found in Heywood's “ Proverbs” in the following form,

When the steed is stolne, shut the stable durre,and is even more neatly expressed in another French proverb, “ After death the doctor," parallel to the ancient Greek Metù Tonepov ñ ovupaxia, or the Latin " Post bellum, auxilium” (“ After the war come the allies"). Quintilian quotes the latter, and he further asks, “Quid quod medicina mortuorum sera est? Quid quod nemo aquam infundit in cineres ?” (“What medicine is good for the dead? Why does no one pour water on ashes ?”-i.., after the house has been burnt.)

The last lines credited to Swift, written in a lucid moment just before his death, were suggested by a magazine for arms and powder erected in Phænix Park, Dublin :

Behold a proof of Irish sense !

Here Irish wit is seen :
When nothing's left for our defence,

We build a magazine.
Dryden says, -

All delays are dangerous in war,

Tyrannic Love, Act i., Sc. 1; and Shakespeare,

Delays have dangerous ends,

Henry VI., Part I., Act iii., Sc. 2; -a maxim which he further enforces in “Macbeth :".

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'e were well
It were done quickly.

Act i., Sc. 7. This maxim is also enforced in the famous Italian proverb, “Cosa fatta capo ha,” explained by Torriano in the seventeenth century as meaning “A deed done has an end,” by Giusti in the nineteenth as “ A deed done has a beginning ;” i.l., if you would accomplish anything don't stop to think over it, but begin at once. It will be remembered that this proverb is the “bad word" to which Dante attributes the origin of the Guelf and Ghibelline feuds. When Buondelmonte broke his plighted troth to a maiden of the Amadei family, her kinsmen assembled to discuss revenge. Plan after plan was sug. gested. At last Mosca Lamberti cried out, “ Those who talk much do nothing. Cosa fatta capo ha!" The hint was enough. Buondelmonte was murdered, and Tuscany was plunged into a civil war.

Prohibitionist. A political party of one idea, -the prohibition by law of the sale and manufacture of intoxicating drinks. Neal Dow, of Maine, is prominent as the organizer of its earliest campaigns. Its first important suc. cess was the enactment of the Maine Law (9.v.). Since 1872 the Prohibition. ists have entered the field of national politics. Their total poll in the whole country in that year was 5608 votes. In 1888 they polled 246,406.

Property is theft (Fr., “La propriété, c'est le vol"), the maxim announced by Proudhon in “Qu'est-ce que c'est que la Propriété ?” published

The grave man in want is kne with tearless eyes)

in 1840. St. Ambrose had taught a not dissimilar doctrine : “Superfluum quod tenes tu furaris” (“ The superfluous property which you hold you have stolen”). And only half a century before Proudhon, Brissot, in his “ Philo. sophical Researches on the Right of Property," had written, “ Exclusive property is a robbery in nature.” The phrase itself died with him, when Proudhon resuscitated it by endowing it with the soul of wit in the catching phrase, “La propriété, c'est le vol.” Emerson agrees with Proudhon : In the last analysis all property is theft."

Public be damned, a famous phrase attributed to William K. Vander. bilt in a newspaper interview when the question of the rights of the public who patronized the New York Central Railroad came up for discussion. It went the length and breadth of the land, and greatly increased his unpopu. larity with the masses. A very similar expression became equally notorious a century and a half earlier. 'In 1730 an ostensibly charitable organization was established in London to lend money to the poor on pledges. The managers were mainly members of the House of Commons. The scheme proved to be so ruinous to its patrons that an inquiry was instituted by Par. liament which led to its suppression. Three of the managers, Bond, Sutton, and Grant, were expelled from the House of Commons. By a report of the commission appointed to examine into the matter, it appeared that when objection had once been made to an intended removal of the office, on the score that the poor, for whose use it had been erected, would be hurt, Bond had replied, “Damn the poor.” Pope makes a reference to this phrase in his “Moral Essays,” Epistle iii., l. 100:

Perhaps you think the poor might have their part?
Bond damns the poor, and hates them from his heart.
The grave Sir Gilbert holds it for a rule
That every man in want is knave or fool :
“God cannot love (says Blunt, with tearless eyes)
The wretch he starves-and piously denies :
But the good bishop, with a meeker air,

Admits, and leaves them Providence's care. Public office is a public trust. This saying, which was a sort of rallying-cry of the civil service reformers and Mugwumps, who supported Grover Cleveland in the Presidential campaign of 1884, has frequently been attributed to Cleveland himself. But though the sentiment is his, the words are not. Indeed, so far back as May 31, 1872, Charles Sumner said, “The phrase 'public office is a public trust' has of late become common property." Possibly the real origin may be traced to John C. Calhoun, in a speech made July 13, 1835: “The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party."

Pull down your vest, an American colloquialism, meaning, originally, * Attend to your own business," but now used as a mere senseless exclamation of witlings. It comes to us from the time when trousers and waistcoats were alike shorter than they are at present, and when a wide gap of linen shirt induced careful mothers or wives, or discriminating friends, to use the adjuration to the negligent. The phrase soon becane general, and for a time was used ad nauseam.

Pun. He who will make a pun will pick a pocket. This is usually quoted as a saying of Dr. Johnson's, but there is no evidence that the latter even adopted it. John Dennis, the critic, seems to have been the real author, according to a story told by Benjamin Victor, treasurer of Drury Lane Theatre, in an epistle to Sir Richard Steele, London, 1722, when Johnson

was a boy of thirteen. Dennis met Congreve and Daniel Purcell, famous as a punster, in a tavern. Purcell wished to rid himself of Dennis's company, and knew nothing would be more effective than a bad pun. He pulled the bell and called without an answer. Then, putting his hand under the table, he said to Dennis, “ This table is like the tavern." "How so?" asked the critic. “Why, because there's ne'er a drawer in it.

er a drawer in it.” “Sir," cried Dennis, starting up, "the man that will make such an execrable pun in my company will pick my pocket !” and so left the room. A correspondent of Notes and Oueries gives the Dr. Johnson story with much particularity of detail : “I remember, many years ago, reading an anecdote of Johnson's dislike to punning, and his witty rejoinder to an observation of Boswell's thereupon : but as Notes and Oueries had then no existence, I did not make a note on't,' and the source of the anecdote has passed away from my memory. The story was told in the following way: Sir,' said Johnson, 'I hate a pun. A man who would perpetrate a pun would have little hesitation in picking a pocket.' Upon this, Boswell hinted that his illustrious friend's dislike to this species of small wit might arise from his inability to play upon words. 'Sir,' roared Johnson, if I were punish-ed for every pun I shed, there would not be left a puny shed of my punnish head.'”

Punctuation. Our very nursery songs impress upon us the value of correct punctuation. Halliwell in his “Nursery Rhymes" gives the following riddle :

Every lady in this land
Has twenty nails upon each hand
Five and twenty on hands and feet.

All this is true without deceit. To unriddle the above you have merely to put a semicolon after “nails" in the second line, and a comma after “five” in the third. Here are two variations on the same theme which have also come down to us from Mother Goose or some one of her near relatives :

I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet pour down hail
I saw a cloud all wrapt with ivy round
I saw a lofty oak creep on the ground
I saw a beetle swallow up a whale

saw a foaming sea brimful of ale
I saw a pewter cup sixteen feet deep
I saw a well full of men's tears that weep
I saw wet eyes in flames of living fire
I saw a house as high as the moon and higher
I saw the glorious sun at deep midnight
I saw the man who saw this wondrous sight.

I saw a pack of cards gnawing a bone
I saw a dog seated on Britain's throne
I saw King George shut up within a box
I saw an orange driving a fat ox
I saw a butcher not a twelvemonth old
I saw a great-coat all of solid gold
I saw two buttons telling of their dreams

I saw my friends who wished I'd quit these themes. If a semicolon be placed after the noun in each line except the last, these absurd jingles will be resolved into sobriety.

There is an old French proverb which runs, “ Faute d'un point Martin perdit son âne" (" Through want of a stop Martin lost his ass”)." This saying has a story behind it, which was probably invented in the Middle Ages by some whimsical scribe who desired to impress upon his pupils the importance of punctuation. A priest named Martin having been appointed abbot of a religious house called Asello (“the Ass”) caused this inscription to be placed over the gates :

Porta patens esto,

Nulli claudatur honesto. (“Let the gate stund open, to no honest man be shut.”) The ignorant brother who put up the inscription placed the comma after nulli, and so completely altered the sense, making the verse read, “Gate be thou open to none, be shut against every honest man.” The pope, learning of this uncharitable inscription, took up the matter seriously and deposed the unlucky abbot. His successor was careful to correct the punctuation of the verse, to which the following line was added : “ Pro solo puncto caruit Martinus Asello" (" For a single stop Martin lost Asello"). The abbey disappeared, the proverb remained, and, the word Asello being misunderstood, we have the French saying referred to.

Again, there is the more or less apocryphal story of the man who, wishing to learn if it would be safe for him to go to battle, received this answer from the oracle : “ Ibis redibis non morieris in bello." If you put a comma after redibis the translation is, “ You will go, you will return, you wili not die in battle ;" but if you put the comma after non, you get, “ You will go, you will return not, you will die in battle." But, as the ancients had only a very rudimentary system of punctuation, the decision depended rather upon vocal stress than upon written symbols. Shakespeare knew the value of correct punctuation, and in his "Midsummer Night's Dream," Act v., Sc. I, he causes the actor to make sad “pi” of the prologue which he had been appointed to de. liver, by persistent misplacing of stops. Even yet the commentators have not decided upon the punctuation, and therefore upon the meaning, of the famous phrase "the beginning of the end” (see under END, THE BEGINNING OF THE), which occurs in this very prologue. Other famous disputed passages depend for their interpretation upon the correct placing of a comma or a period. Take the two lines addressed by Cleopatra to the messenger who had brought her news of Antony's marriage to Octavia. The folio gives them thus :

O that his fault should make a knave of thee,
That art not what thou’rt sure of! Get thee hence.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act ii., Sc. 5. Some commentators profess to see no difficulty here. “Nothing," says one, “can be clearer than that she is separating the man from the office. The sense is obtained by these two simple equations, thee, that art not' = the innocent messenger, what thou'rt sure of' = the offending message. The sense is, 'thou that art not to be confounded with thy foul message, yet seemest to be tarred with the same brush.'” But Steevens, Keightley, and others would change the punctuation of the second line thus :

That art not! What? thou’rt sure of 't? Get thee hence. Undoubtedly the sense is much simplified by this alternate reading.

Another instance is afforded in the passage in “Macbeth," Act v., Sc. 5, which Forrest, contrary to all precedent, used to read thus :

Hang out our banners. On the outer walls

The cry is still, They come. Perhaps the most astonishing bit of emended punctuation that ever was suggested is by Fredericka Beardsley Gilchrist in her “True Story of Hamlet and Ophelia.”' She truly says,

" It seems to me the theory I advance destroys all other theories. For nearly three hundred years it has been possible to misunderstand, not special passages only, but the fundamental intention of the play; during that time no satisfac

« AnteriorContinuar »