A Dialogue of Proverbs

By Rudolph E. Habenicht; John Heywood | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The Proverb Tradition in the Early Sixteenth Century

THE COMMON PROVERB is a particular species of a large body of moral maxims and sententiae which express some counsel, ethical precept, or truth in a succinct and memorable way. It differs from the adage, or maxim, in its language and style, the proverb being usually concrete, metaphoric, and frequently rhythmical; the adage is usually abstract and prosaic. The proverb, furthermore, is figurative in concealing a "hidden" meaning, whereas the wise saying is direct in expression and unenigmatic in meaning. This is of course an ideal distinction, for the common proverb in the sixteenth century is frequently confused or loosely associated with the classical adage, the wise "proverbs" of Solomon, simple figurative expressions, or the sage sayings of the Fathers. Today one would probably take the saying "such lips, such lettuce" as an example of the common proverb, and the saying "of sufferance cometh ease" as an adage. Yet the former (in Latin) heads the list of Erasmus' first collection of 818 adages,1 and the latter Heywood includes in his Dialogue . . . of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue, which contains chiefly common proverbs.

The adage, or wise counsel in concise form, was occasionally called "proverb" at this time; and the "common" proverb was sometimes referred to as an "adage," and frequently lumped together with a collection of native maxims or used to translate Latin adages: Sir Thomas Elyot, in his Dictionary ( 1538), says that he has not omitted "prouerbes, called Adagia, or other quicke sentences" which he thinks "necessarie to be had in remembraunce" (sig. A3v); John Palsgrave quotes an English proverb in Acolastus (p. 118) thus: ". . . in our adage it is hard haltyng afore a cryple."

Although earlier collectors of proverbs frequently did not discriminate between what we might today consider the adage and the true

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1
Adagiorum Collectanea ( Paris: Johann Philipp, 1500).

-1-

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A Dialogue of Proverbs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 1
  • A Dialogue 95
  • Commentary 181
  • Indexes 243
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