E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Tune the Old Cow Died of (The).
Advice instead of relief; remonstrance instead of help. As St. James says (ii. 15, 16), If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Your words are the tune the old cow died of. The reference is to the well-known song