Mr. Collet, however, refers us to a small volume of Poems by Sir John Mennes, written in the reign of Charles II., and says the original of the couplet may be traced to Demosthenes, who has a passage of which the English lines above are almost a literal translation.Relics of Literature, page 185. But if we can trace the original idea to a much higher source than Demosthenes, we shall approach nearer to the author of the idea itself, whoever may have composed the couplet. In Plutarchs Morals, we are told that Archilochus (a famous Greek Poet and Musician, who lived three centuries prior to Demosthenes) set the example of fighting and flying, and said, It is much easier to get a new buckler than a new existence. The translation of the lines of Archilochus, on excusing his cowardice, runs thus:
Natures not honours laws, we must obey: This made me cast my shield away, And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life, which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again?
This fact seems to set at rest the question as to the originator of the saying, and brings us a little nearer to the author of the lines. In Murrays Handbook of Familiar Quotations, the fair compiler of that book gives a quaint couplet from a work of Nicholas Udall, published in 1542, as follows: