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The Proverbs

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Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui :
Back of all written literature stretches an unmapped and immeasurable world of oral  tradition which may roughly be called folklore. A proverb is an important branch in it - it is a short sentence based on long experience - it is a crystalised form of human experience - always grafting the new on to the old it is something like a forest tree with its roots deeply buried in the past but which continually puts forth new branches, new leaves, new fruits. It crawls down the centuries and like a snow-ball without losing its ancient core, it gathers round it the spiritual and imaginative riches of a much more advanced age, of a much more civilised culture.
Aristotle defined proverbs as the fragments of an elder wisdom.' Bacon said, 'The genius, wit and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs.' 'The definition of proverb may be found in the proverb itself:
As the country so the prayer : As the people so the country.
Archer Taylor defines proverb very simply: 'proverb is a saying current among the people'.
Archer Taylor in his book The Proverb 1 Cambridge, Mass., 1931 has dealt with all aspects of proverbs.
A facsimile edition of the same copy published in 1931 has been reprinted by the Folklore Associates, Pennsylvania, 1962. A scholarly index, pp. 1-105, showing the classification and also the languages from where the proverbs have been cited, is a valuable addition.
During the span of long 42 years many books on proverbs have been published, new theories have crept in and comparative studies, too, have been possible. Archer Taylor in this book had endeavoured to describe briefly and stylistically (l) the origin of proverbs, (2) the content of proverbs, (3) the style of proverbs and lastly, (4) proverbial phrases, wellerisms and proverbial comparisons.
Discussions on the following pages will show that the alert and planned research of the erudite scholar, long years ago, still remains, to be the basis of present day schoolarship and will remain, we hope, to be the inspiration of future researchers in the field. He is that type of scholar who does not draw hasty conclusion unless satisfied and in this book also whenever he faced any doubt, he did not hesitate to express it and also to ask the reader to fill up the gap.
In the beginning chapter, origin of proverbs, the author discusses carefully the proverbial apothegms, metaphorical proverbs, provervial types, proverbs based on traditions, proverbs and folkverse, proverbs and individual author, translated proverbs and classical proverbs.
At the very beginning Taylor says that a proverb is a saying current among the folk. Proverbs are invented in several ways, some are simple apothegms and platitudes elevated to proverbial dignity, others arise from the symbolic or metaphoric use of any incident, still others imitate already existing proverbs and some owe their existence to the condensing of a story or a fable. There are 'learned' proverbs also which may begin with a Biblical or classical phrase or which may come from a more recent source. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish which is learned and which is popular.
Proverbial apothegms are those which do not have any metaphor - they consist merely of a bald assertion which is recognised as proverbial only because these can be applied to many different situations. As simple maxims find a ready response in a naive mind it is found that many apothegms pass easily through the oral tradition. For example, 'there is a time for everything' has a long history in English, it has been used by Shakespeare, it is found in the Bible and other books also. However, it is always marked that apothegms originate with the outlook of a society.
Metaphorical     proverbs arise from the metaphorical use of a simple art or event: ''Vinegar catches no flies; barking dogs. never bite'. A novel application of a familiar scene psychologically arrests our attention and by this process metaphorical proverbs continue. Like apothegms, some metaphorical proverbs are also very old. People like E.B. Taylor opined that the 'Age of proverb making is past'. But this is not true for proverb making as well as interest in proverbs exhibits remarkable fluctuations from age to age. There are sufficient proverbs which have no long history but still 'they are sufficiently found in the oral tradition. In general, proverbs reflect commonman's attitude towards a particular thing -household, hunting or fishing or even trade. In short, as the man so are the proverbs.
As to proverbial opens it is interesting to see that new proverbs are often made on old models. Certain frames lend themselves readily to the insertion of entirely new ideas. Thus : "One sparrow does not make a summer' gives us "One man does not make a team and so on. The English saying 'Nearer the church, the further from God' dates from 1300 and has variations all over Europe.
Oral tradition creates minor variation in the proverbs. Variations are produced by changes of the same general kinds as we find in tales, ballads and so on. One specific detail is replaced by another; a general trait is replaced by a specific and vice versa. A very familiar proverb: 'A bird in hand is worth ten in the bush' illustrates many of the changes produced by the oral tradition. The changes produced concern (l) number of birds, (2) the place, (3) and the kind of birds.
'A bird in the hand is worth 3 in the wood (house); 'better one bird in the hand than a thousand in the wood;  better one bird in the cage than four in the arbour " a bird in the pan is better than many in the air etc. Sometime the 'bird' is replaced by a 'sparrow.' Sometime it gives stresses on species also : 'Better a sparrow in the hand than a crane on the roof." Sometime a specific detail is replaced: 'Where the devil can't go he sends an old woman' and the variant. 'Where the devil can't go he sends his grandmother.' A specific detail is replaced by a general one, an object is replaced by its opposite, new parallels are introduced and the proverb proceeds on with the time and test.
Proverbs based on narratives may be found in many Aesopic fables. 'Grapes are sour,'; Don't count chicken before they are hatched' are but a few among numerous others. Sometime quite reverse, the development of a story from proverb is also seen. Perhaps, Grimm's tale can serve as an instance where: 'For the want of a nail the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; for the want of a horse the rider was lost; for the want of a rider the battle was lost; and all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
Sometimes proverbs are seen interpolated with the folk-verse Some scholars have maintained that the proverb came before the quatrain; others say that the poetry is the strophe and not the line. Taylor says that the answer is difficult, a distinction between proverbs, short lyrics and charms is not always readily made and the forms flow into one another.
It is true that the individual creates proverbs and sets in circulation. But sometimes it becomes difficult to ascertain. No one disputes Shakespeare's claim 'to be and not to be' but there are many others which cannot be ascertained unless we get sure clue of the fact. We have Latin proverbs of Greek origin, we have international proverbs. It depends upon the cultural stream also for 'from whatever direction the wind is, the sail is turned accordingly."
Proverbs pass on from one language to another, an abundant source of proverb has been translated from one language to another when they stood in intimate cultural relation for some length of time.
Although we have published books as early as 1500 A.D. showing the translation of proverbs yet only when the stock of such proverbs is known and their history is written, can we progress to the more special examination of individual national stock.
Two classes, the Biblical and the classical, have quite naturally' contributed a far larger share of translated proverbs than any other source. The Church Fathers in all ages have quoted and reshaped in more pregnant form the words of Biblical wisdom-many time the Bible has been translated and poured out the steady streams. Classical flow did not work so steadily. A new and stronger current of classical influence though was started with humanism and renaissance yet it did not help such because the whole move was scholastic. On the other hand, some Biblical proverbs have gone far: 'Pride goes before a fall."
However, the Biblical proverbs may have been proverbs also before their incorporation into the Holy Book. For example, when our Saviour says 'It is hard for thee to kick against the goad' we see that he was using the proverbial phrase which Pinder Aeschylus and Europides knew.
Classical proverbs on the other hand are purely sententious observation of the conduct of life. Sometimes though some proverbs run parallel with the oral tradition yet they are elevated from the oral text.
What is the content of  proverbs? Taylor says that these are customs, superstitions, historical proverbs, legal proverbs, 'blason populaire, weather proverbs, medical proverbs, conventional phrases and proverbial prophecies.
Many proverbs deal with superstitions - the notion that 'red-headed men are not to be entrusted' is a firmly established proverb. "The rain falls in the lap of a happy bride' and 'Honest woman did not marry in the month of
May - all come from the root of superstition.
Proverbs which turn on historical allusions are rare and short-lived.
Since all proverbs have a tendency for general application, the meaning and implication of the incident are generally forgotten, 'Divide and rule' is said to be a maxim of Philip of Macedonia; but it is found in other countries as well. Taylor says that search for historical proverbs is not profitable, we can as best get some fragments of history.
Local proverbs usually deal. with the ancient legal maxims of the people or court. Proverbs like 'those who will not work shall not eat', 'my house is my castle', 'beggars cannot be chooser', 'First come first served' etc. have been declared to be as old as Odyssey. Proverbs like 'King cannot do wrong' can be traced back to "the great body of Roman law and 'He that bulls the cow must keep the cow' possesses clear trace of Henry Fourth. According to Taylor in former days the lower court before which the peasant appeared used proverbs freely and law giver also recited codes annually. These might be the reasons for their easy transmission from the castles to the field. .
Elason populaise are those proverbs in which some villagers, citizen or nation are mocked. In this way 'wise men of Gotham' have become widely known and England has been acclaimed to be the 'paradise of women, hell of horses and purgatory of servants.' Like way we have learned that 'Italian is wise before deed, the German in the deed and the Frenchmen after the deed.' It is quite obvious that the narrator race was the compiler of these proverbs.
Many proverbs are found in connection with the weather:
When the wind is in the east,
It is good for neither man nor beast.'
'April showers bring many flowers.'
'Rain before seven stops before eleven.'
But there are some proverbs which have been carried by cultural currents. 'A green Christmas, a white Easter' and like must have arisen in a region where snow ordinarily lies on the ground at Christmas.
Ethical proverb deals with health and its maintenance. Maxims are not ways easily' 'distinguishable from superstition and tradition. 'After dinner rest a while, After supper walk a mile'-may be found in the writing of Plutarch.
Some health proverbs are international :
'Milk before wine,
I wish it were mine !
Milk taken after
Is poison's daughter.'
Health proverbs give varied kind of advices: Some deal with sleep - other with food : 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away.' Sufficient proverbs are found with bread, butter, meat and cheeses but more recently introduced articles like tea, coffee and like are absent. A few proverbs forecast the future in politics or war : 'He that England will win must with Scotland begin'.
'But, we have already mentioned, such probability prophecies also loses earth when the situation is changed.
Taylor divides style of proverbs into dialogue proverbs, epigramic proverbs, national and racial traits, ethical traits, obscene proverbs and proverbs and literature.
In proverbs few words are found to be interesting as relics of former days and few other seems to be nonce-formation. We know that proverbs usually select simple and most obvious materials, they follow the general rhythm of language in which they live. Old or dialectical words are kept. Parallelism and contrast are found in words, structure and thoughts : 'Many men many minds' ; like master like man ; the more he has the more he wants.'
Many rhymed proverbs have their root in Latin : 'Forewarned, forearmed' is in Latin:
'Praemonitus, praemunitus.'
The style of the foreign proverbs can be recognised but the root of the other which are current in the oral tradition, are not so easy to trace.
A very curious form like a dialogue is dialogue proverb. 'They said to the lazy man, today is holiday', then he answered, 'tomorrow and the day after, too;' they asked the ass, 'Whither? 'He answered, 'To fetch wood or water.' Taylor says that some proverbs of these kinds, which give a picture of national character of a race, are not difficult to-trace.
The structure of epigramic proverbs may be simple or complex. The great majority of· proverbs make only a single assertion, although this may be made regarding a combination of things and may not apply them separately : To promise and give nothing is comfort for a fool ; Time and tide wait for none.'
Root of many such proverbs goes to the Bible. 'Three things drive a man cut of his house, smoke, rain and scolding wife.' In the Bible: 'A continual dropping is a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.' These kind of proverbs do not leave much mark on oral tradition.
The author says that proverbs which are international in their currency can scarcely reveal and illuminate national traits unless we argue that acceptance of a bit of international property is the 'characteristics 'of human being.
Ethical traits in some proverbs like 'Be good and you will be happy ; misfortunes never come singly' are not rare. The middle way of this kind of proverb is marked on both sides by contradictions.
There are some proverbs like 'To fall between two stools' may seem to be obscene and offensive to good taste and for this reason perhaps these were not printed very often. Very often proverbs are purified and changed and these again become the property of general proverbs.
As to the question of proverbs and literature the author says that the use of proverbs vary in manner and degree from age to age. Proverb is the property of the folk. In many books proverbs are used freely which make and appeal to the folk and specially folks are characterised in these proverbs. In books where folks are not present, proverb rarely occurs.
Throughout the Middle Ages proverbs have been used frequently. It is found that proverbs are used abundantly in the ages of controversy and satirical crticism. The German and Latin literature of the Reformation abound in them. Among savage' people proverbs often have religious association. In early time proverbs were collected for their active values as rules and guides for people. Such collection in the Old Testament, old English and Icelandic pass as literary monument and not as mere assembling of proverbial materials.
The proverbial phrases exhibit the characteristic rigidity of proverbs in all particular except grammatical forms-proverbial phases shift according to time and person.
Older collection of proverbs only occasionally include proverbial phrases; many such phases have long history, some are surprisingly modern. Allusions to Aesopic fables are frequent: To get the lion share.'
Some phases are international : To put cart before the horse : Some others refer to various kind of games, sports, sea-faring life, military life, trades, arts, mercantile or even traditional superstitions and beliefs of former ages : 'to be born under a lucky star ;' phrases can come from narrative also: 'to bell the cat.'
A type of proverb used by a certain Samuel Weller of Dickens, has been named Wellerism. But long before Dickens these proverbs were in the tradition. Some asserted that these were classical in origin and some other opined that these were medieval and monastic rather than popular. History of Wellerism as a type, Taylor says, 'is difficult to discover.'

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