Hal Roth - August 2008

Old News from Delmarva:
Maxims, Proverbs and Other Pithy Sayings
Hal Roth

Nineteenth-century newspapers contained many pithy sayings, often published on page one. Following is a representative collection of clippings between the years 1850 and 1900, most of which have lost little in understanding or value over the years.

After all, some of the old proverbs are pretty correct. It is “better to make hay while the sun shines.” It would be very awkward going out after dark and trying to hold a lantern and swing a scythe.

He is a wise man who learns from everyone; he is powerful who governs his passions; and he is wealthy who is contented.

He is rich who has a goodly store of happy memories.

Truth loses half of its virtue when it is told with an effort.

The reason that rich men have so many friends is that they are capital fellows.

It is only when the wealthy are sick that the impotency of wealth is felt.

Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty.

The stories of our neighbors’ errors seldom tend to a reformation of our own.

Some suppose it sufficient to let error alone, if it seems to make no actual encroachments, and that the exhibition of the truth will cause error to die of itself.

In your intercourse with the world, a drop of oil goes further than a gallon of vinegar.

A minister at a camp meeting gave the latest recipe for true eloquence: “Get yourself chuck full of the subject, knock out the bung, and let nature caper.”

A man who doesn’t know anything will tell it the first time he gets a chance.

He who spends before he thrives will beg before he thinks.

All things come to him who hustles while he waits.

Don’t worry about the past. The future is an unmarked blackboard, and you hold the chalk.

The child never sees the necessity of strict obedience until it becomes a parent.

Necessity begot convenience; convenience begot pleasure; pleasure begot luxury; luxury begot riot and disease; riot and disease, between them, begot poverty; poverty begot necessity again––and this is the revolution of man, and is about all he can brag on.

It is not safe to call a man a rascal unless you can prove it, nor a saint unless he is likely to prove it.

Ignorant people are always narrow-minded and affect contempt for excellence they cannot appreciate.

The man who won’t work for a dollar a day will spend two hours trying to solve a riddle for nothing.

Always locate the bedpost in your mind before putting out the gas [light].

Feelings come and go like light troops following the victory of the present; but principles, like troops of the line, are undisturbed and stand fast.

Advice is like snow, the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

There seem to be four styles of mind: First – them who knows it’s so. Second – them who knows it ain’t so. Third – them who split the difference and guess at it. Fourth – them who don’t care which way it is.

What this country needs is fewer lays of the poet and more lays of the hen.

The man without a single idea is better company than the man with one. The latter insists upon telling you about it all the time.

There is no limit to the mistakes of life, but here are fourteen which are more than ordinarily prominent: It is a great mistake to set up our own standard of right and wrong and judge people accordingly; to measure the enjoyment of others by our own; to expect uniformity of opinion in this world; to look for experience and judgment in youth; to endeavor to mold all dispositions alike; not to yield to immaterial trifles; to look for perfection in our own actions; to worry ourselves and others with what cannot be remedied; not to alleviate all that needs alleviation as far as lies in our power; not to make allowances for the infirmities of others; to consider everything impossible that we cannot perform; to believe only what our finite minds can grasp; to expect to be able to understand everything. And the greatest of mistakes is to live only for time, when any moment may launch us into eternity.

He that falls into sin is a man; he that grieves at it is a saint; he that boasts of it is a devil.

If you ask me which is the real hereditary sin of human nature, do you imagine I shall say pride, or luxury, or ambition, or egotism? No. I shall say indolence. Who conquers indolence will conquer all the rest. Indeed, all good principle must stagnate without mental activity.

We hand folks over to God’s mercy and show none ourselves.

He who spends all he gets is on the high road to beggary.

It is not till the storm comes that we find out the real timber of a vessel. The things that try people show what is in them.

“I have seen slower people than I am, and more deliberate people than I am, and even quieter, more listless and lazier people than I am. But they were dead.” – Mark Twain

If men did but know what felicity dwells in the cottage of a virtuous poor man – how sound he sleeps, how quiet his breast, how composed his mind, how free from care, how easy his provision, how healthy his morning, how sober his night, how moist his mouth, how joyful his heart – they would never admire the noises, the diseases, the throng of passions, and the violence of unnatural appetites that fill the houses of the luxurious and the hearts of the ambitious.

When a man loses his health, then he just begins to take care of it.

Sawdust pills would effectually cure many of the diseases with which mankind is afflicted, if only every individual would make his own sawdust.

Our success in life generally bears a direct proportion to the exertions we make; and if we aim at nothing, we shall certainly achieve nothing.

Speech is silver and silence is golden – and there is more silver in circulation than gold.

If one knew one-half of what is said or thought about him, one would be ashamed to walk the streets in open day. Of course, then, this is the blissfulness of which it is folly to be otherwise.

An individual, to be a fine gentleman, has either got to be born so or be brought up so from infancy; he can’t learn it suddenly any more than he can learn how to talk injun correctly by practicing with a tomahawk.

Did any man ever find that to plant good seed was a sufficient preventive for the growth of weeds – much less a sufficient means of extirpation for those already growing?

The happy people of this world think that the unhappy ought to perish before them with the same grace as that which the Roman populace exacted of the gladiators.

The integrity of the heart, when it is strengthened by reason, is the principal source of justice and wit; an honest man thinks nearly always justly.

The light we have gained was given us not to be ever staring on, but by it to discern inward things more remote from our knowledge.

Send your son into the world with good principles, a good temper, a good education, and habits of industry and order, and he will work his way.

A man who cannot command his temper, his attention, and his countenance should not think of being a man of business.

Indolence is a stream that flows slowly on, but yet it undermines the very foundation of every virtue.

There are but a few men who have character enough to lead a life of idleness.

Keep an exact account of daily expenses, and at the end of every week consider what you can save the next.

He that says well and doth well is commendable, but I like him better who doth well and says nothing.

Knowledge is treasure, but judgment is the treasury.

Words cannot heal the wounds that words can make.

No man should live beyond the means of his creditors.

Many men resemble the clam, for you can see all that is in them when they open wide their mouths.

If there is a mission in this world for dudes, we hope it is a foreign mission.

Temperance reformers should turn their attention to money; it is always tight.

The boy who won’t roll up his pants and take a run through half an acre of nettles to show the girls that he isn’t afraid will make a poor husband for a woman who hears burglars every night.

What we truly and earnestly aspire to be, that in some measure we are.

If a quack would be famous, he must be sure to quack as loud as possible.

A man who goes into speculation had better look out for brokers ahead.

Don’t ever prophesy. If you prophesy wrong, nobody will get it, and if you prophesy right, nobody will remember it.

Genuine grief is like penitence – not clamorous, but subdued. Sorrow from the housetops and penitence in a marketplace show more ambition than piety.

A good conscience is better than two witnesses. It will consume your grief as the sun dissolves ice. It is a spring when you are thirsty, a staff when you are weary, a screen when the sun burns you, and a pillow in death.

About the best thing that experience can do for you is to teach us how to enjoy misery.

The reason why so few people are happy in this world is because they mistake their bodies for their souls.

It costs a great deal to be wise, but it costs nothing to be happy.

We are poor, not from what we need, but from what we want. Necessities are not only natural but also cheap.

Vain men should be treated as boys treat bladders: blow them up till they bust.

It is a great art to be superior to others without letting them know it.

There is not only fun but there is virtue in a hearty laugh; animals can’t laugh, and devils won’t.

A good servant makes a good master.

Confidence is the companion of success.

Exalt Wisdom and she will promote thee.

Fugitives fear though they are not pursued.

Humility is the foundation of virtue.

In order to learn we must attend.

Misfortune is a touchstone of friendship.

Possibilities are infinite.

Poverty craves many things, but avarice more.

Retire sometimes for sober consideration.

Set not a high value on your own abilities.

Short reckonings make long friends.

The longest day must have an end.

Unwelcome news is always soon enough heard.

Two souls with but a single thought seldom remain single.

A man’s best fortune – or his worst – is a wife.

The fashionable woman who attempts to shine as a theatrical star usually does it after she’s suffered a social eclipse.

Young ladies are generally honest, but they will hook dresses.

The above clip is intended to be humorous, but many of the proverbial sayings about women in the nineteenth century are not flattering and were intended to demean the female sex as inferior. Some tend to blame women if a man happens to be guilty of poor conduct.

A man of straw is worth a woman of gold.

Women to talk; men to act.

Man legislates; woman ornates.

There is no man so good that a woman can’t spoil him.

There’s no mischief in the world but there’s a woman or a priest at the bottom of it.

One may well serve great lords and beautiful women but should never trust them.

Generosity of a villain and fidelity of a woman live but a year.

Tight lacing is a positive benefit. It kills the foolish girls and leaves the wise ones to grow up to be women.

If you have any old news to share, you can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.