Reference > Quotations > W.C. Hazlitt, comp. > English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases
W.C. Hazlitt, comp.  English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases.  1907.
The green new broom  to  The nurse’s tongue
The green new broom sweepeth clean. HE.  8207
The grey mare is the better horse. HE.
  Ellis’s Orig. Letters, 1st S., iii. 249; Bansley’s Treatyse, &c. (circa 1547), in Hazlitt’s Popular Poetry, iv. 237. Andrew Borde, in his Breviary of Helthe, 1547, has it: “The white mare is the better horse.” The following extract from The Puisnes Walks about London, in Harl. MS. 3910, fol. 36, verso, 17th cent. (Reliquiæ Antiquæ, ii. 71), is curious enough:
        “And as I came downe Ludgate hill,
Whome should I meet but my good Lord Mayor?
On him I gap’d as youngsters still
Gape on toyes, in Bartilmew faire.
I know not which of ’em to desire,
The mayor or the horse they were both so like;
Their trappings so rich you would admyre,
Their faces such, non could dislike.
But I must consider perforce
The saying of ould, so true it was,
The gray mayor is the better horse,
And all’s not gould that shynes lyke brass.”
The French say, “C’est le mariage d’epervier,” because the female hawk is the larger and stronger. Howell, in a letter dated 5 Feb. 1625–6, to his cousin T. V.: “If you light upon such a Wife (a wife that hath more bone than Flesh) I wish you may have the same measure of Patience, that Socrates and Stroud had, to suffer the grey mare sometimes to be the better horse.” See my book on the Lambs, 1874, p. 202.
The groat is ill saved that shames the master.  8209
The groundsel speaks not save what it heard at the hinges. H.  8210
The gull comes after the rain.  8211
The guts uphold the heart, and not the heart the guts.  8212
The haddocks are good / dipped in May flood.  8213
The half is better than the whole.  8214
The hand that gives gathers.  8215
The handsomest flower is not the sweetest.  8216
The hard gives more than he that hath nothing. H.  8217
The hare starts when a man least expects it.  8218
The hasty bitch bringeth forth blind whelps.
  More’s Utopia (1516), transl. by R. Robinson, 1551, The Translator to the gentle reader. “The swiftest bitch brings forth the blindest whelps.”—Gascoigne’s Posies, 1575. “The ouer pregnant dog (we see), bringeth forth blinde puppies.”—Harvey’s Trimming of Thomas Nashe, 1597, sign. F 4 verso.
The hasty man [in wedding] never wanteth woe. HE.  8220
The head and feet kept warm, / the rest will take no harm.  8221
The head grey, and no brains yet!  8222
The head of a snake with garlic is good meat!
  Lottery of 1567 (Kempe’s Loseley MSS., 213), of course, in a satirical sense.
The heart’s mirth doth make the face fair. B. OF M. R.  8224
The Heathen’s fortune is the Christian’s Providence.
  Only a question of names.
The herring-man hates the fisherman. CL.
  Presumably, because the latter interferes with the herring-fisher’s operations.
The higher the ape goes, the more he shews his tail. H.
  The higher beggars or base-bred persons are advanced, the more they discover the lowness and baseness of their spirits and tempers: for, as the Scripture saith, Prov. xxxvi. 1, “Honour is unseemly for a fool.” Tu fai come la simia, chi piu va in alto piu mostra il culo. Ital. The Italians, I find, draw this proverb to a different sense to signify one who, the more he speaks, the more sport he makes, and the more ridiculous he renders himself.—R.
The higher the fool, the greater the fall.  8228
The higher the hill, the lower the grass.  8229
The higher the plum-tree, the riper the plum:
the richer the cobbler, the blacker his thumb.
The highest branch is not the safest roost.  8231
The highest spoke in Fortune’s wheel may soon turn lowest.  8232
The highest tree hath the greatest fall.
  Tolluntur in altum ut lapsu graviore ruant. The higher flood hath always the lower ebb. Celsæ graviore casu decidunt turres. Horat.—R. Upon this idea proceeds the story about Raleigh and Q. Elizabeth, “Fain would I climb,” &c.
The highway is never about. CL.  8234
The hindmost dog may catch the hare.  8235
The Hob of Hornchurch.
  A story was current, in and about 1575, of a clown who came to London for the first time from Hornchurch, Essex, and who was told that the nearest way to Bartholomew Fair was through Whitechapel.—Acc. of the Quarr. betw. Hall and Mallerie, repr. 1816, p. 106.
The Hodder, the Calder, the Ribble, and Rain,
all meet in a point on Mytton’s domain.
  MSS. Coll. for Droylsden, &c., by Mr. Higson. But compare Harland and Wilkinson’s Lancashire Legends, 1873, p. 185.
The hog never looks up to him that threshes down the acorns.  8238
The hog to the honey pots.  8239
The hole calls the thief. H.  8240
The honey is sweet, but the bee stings. H.  8241
The horse next the mill carries all the grist.  8242
The horse that draws his halter is not quite escaped.
  Non à scappato chi strascina la catena dietro. Ital. Il n’est pas eschappé qui traine son lien. Fr.—R.
The house shews the owner. H.  8244
The hunter’s moon.
  The moon in October: that in September is the harvest moon.
The ignorant hath an eagle’s wings and an owl’s eyes. H.  8246
The informer is the worse rogue of the two.  8247
The Inner Temple rich, / the Middle Temple poor:
Lincoln’s Inn for law, / and Gray’s Inn for a whore.
The Isle of Wight hath no monks, lawyers, or foxes.
  “The speech hath more mirth than truth in it.”—Speed’s Catalogue of Religious Houses. “That they had monks I know, Black ones at Carisbrook, White ones at Quarrer, in this island. That they have lawyers, they know when they pay them their fees: and that they have foxes, their lambs know. But of all these, perchance fewer than in other places of equal extent.” Fuller (1662).—R.
        “Th’ inhabitants of the Ile of Wight did bost,
No vermin vs’d to harbour in their coast.
For they no hooded Monkes, nor Foxes had,
Nor Law Retriuers who make fooles run mad
With their strife-stirring tongues.”
Second Part of Philomythie, by T. Scot, 1616, sign. A 3.    
The Italian is wise before he undertakes a thing, the German while he is doing it, and the Frenchman when it is over.  8250
The Jews spend at Easter, the Moors at marriages, and Christians in suits. H.  8251
The keys hang not all by one man’s girdle. HE.  8252
The kick of the dam hurts not the colt.  8253
The kid that keeps above is in no danger of the wolf.  8254
The kiln calls the oven burnt-hearth. CL.  8255
The king can make a serjeant, but not a lawyer.  8256
The king must wait while his beer’s drawing.  8257
The King of France with twenty thousand men / marched up the hill, and then marched down again.  8258
The king of good fellows is appointed for the queen of beggars.  8259
The king’s chaff is better than other people’s corn.  8260
The king’s cheese goes half away in parings.  8261
The king’s errand may come in at the cadger’s gate.  8262
The king’s favour is no inheritance.  8263
The king’s word is more than another man’s oath.
  “If any euer did try this olde saynge, that a kinges worde was more than another mans othe, I most humbly beseche your Majesty to verefie it in me.”—The Princess Elizabeth to Q. Mary, 1554 (Ellis, O. L., 2nd S., ii. 255).
The kinsman’s ear will hear it.  8265
The labour we delight in physics pain.  8266
The lame goes as far as your staggerer. H.  8267
The lame post brings the surest news.  8268
The lame returns sooner than his servant.  8269
The lame tongue gets nothing. C.  8270
The Land of Cakes.
  Said of Scotland. But the cake is the oat-cake.
The land of Nod.
  Sleep. He’s gone to the land of nod = he’s gone to sleep.
The lapwing cries most farthest from her nest.  8273
The larks fall there ready-roasted.  8274
The lass in the red petticoat shall pay for all.
  Young men answer so when they are chid for being so prodigal and expensive; meaning, they will get a wife with a good portion, that shall pay for it.—R.
The last benefit is the most remembered.  8276
The last drop makes the cup run over.  8277
The last evil smarts most.  8278
The last man that he killed
keeps hogs in Hinckley field. Leicestershire.
  Spoken of a coward that never durst fight.—R.
The last suitor wins the maid.  8280
The Latins call me Porcus.
  A thrust at a needless display of erudition, according to N. and Q., 2nd S., x. 350. But it may, on the contrary, refer to the less delicate and conventional meaning of the word, which the Romans, I presume, borrowed from the Greeks.
The laundress washeth her own smock first.  8282
The law groweth from sin, and chastiseth it. B. OF M. R.  8283
The law is not the same at morning and night.  8284
The lazy man is the beggar’s brother.  8285
The least boy always carries the greatest fiddle.
  All lay load upon those that are least able to bear it. For they that are least able to bear are least able to resist the imposition of the burden.
The least foolish is wise. H.  8287
The least said the soonest mended.
        “Than spake the Popyniay of paradyse,
Who sayth lytell he is wyse,
For lytle money is soone spende,
And fewe wordes are soone amende.”
Parlament of Byrdes (circa 1550), in Hazlitt’s Popular Poetry, iii. 169.
The less the temptation, the greater the sin.  8289
The less wit a man has, the less he knows that he wants it.  8290
The lickorish cat gets many a rap.  8291
The life of a man is a winter’s day / and a winter’s way.  8292
The light is naught for sore eyes.
  A l’œil malade la lumière nuit. Fr.—R.
The like, I say, / sitteth with the jay. B. OF M. R.  8294
The lion is not so fierce as they paint him. H.  8295
The lion’s share.
  There is a kindred Latin saying, Leonina societas.
The lion’s skin is never cheap.  8297
The little cannot be great unless he devour many.  8298
The little smith of Nottingham,
who doth the work that no man can.
  Who this little smith and great workman was, and when he lived, I know not; and have cause to suspect that this of Nottingham is a periphrasis of nemo, [Greek], or a person who never was. By way of sarcasm, it is applied to such who, being conceited of their own skill, pretend to the achieving of impossibilities.—R.
The little wimble will let in the great auger.  8300
The long home.
  What we now term the narrow house—i.e., the grave. Speaking of the death of Liberality, the author of A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Servingmen, 1598, says. “Though I had been none of his Executors, nor had had any Legasie bestowed vpon mee, yet would I, at my owne charges, haue seene him honestly brought foorth to his long home (as the saying is).” It may be observed that, where a tree is in a poor way, a gardener will say of it, “Ah, he’s going home.”
The Long Hundred.
  Five score make the hundred in money computations; but in merchandize six are reckoned, and even 126 and 130.
The longer east, the shorter west. HE.
        “We maie as well (quoth he) dine, whan this is doone,
The longer forenoone the shorter after noone.
All comth to one, and therby men haue gest,
Alwaie the longer east the shorter west.”—Heywood.
The longest day hath his end. HE.*
  Il n’est si grand jour qui ne vienne à vespre. Fr. Non vien di, che non venga sera. Ital.—R.
The longest life is but a parcel of moments.  8305
The lookers-on find surest ground.
  Paradyce of Daynty Devyses, 1578, repr. 135.
The Lord Dacre / was slain in North Acre.
  “North Acre is, or was, the name of the spot where Lord Dacre perished at the battle of Towton, in 1461. He is said to have been shot by a boy out of an elder-tree.”—Halliwell.
The love of a harlot, and wine of a flagon, is good in the morning, but naught in the evening. B. OF M. R.  8308
The low stake standeth long. C.  8309
The lower millstone grinds as well as the upper.  8310
The lucky pennyworth sells soonest.  8311
The lute is in the hand of him that knows how to play on it.  8312
The luxurious want many things, the covetous all things.  8313
The mackerel’s cry / is never long dry.  8314
The mad dog bites his master.  8315
The maid that soon married is, soon marred is.
  Puttenham’s Art of Engl. Poesie, 1589, p. 216.
The maintaining of one vice costeth more than ten virtues.  8317
The majority.
  The dead.
The malt is above the water.
  Compare Malt is above wheat, &c.
The man that will not quhen he may,
sall have nocht quhen he will.
  Henryson’s Robene and Makyne apud Ritson’s Caledonian Muse, 1821, p. 24.
The March sun raises, but dissolves not. H.  8321
The market is the best garden. H.
  At London they are wont to say, Cheapside is the best garden.—R.
The married man must turn his staff into a stake.  8323
The master’s eye is worth both his hands.
  This occurs, slightly varied, in Poor Richard Improved, 1758.
The master’s eye maketh the horse fat. C.
  Herbert (1640) adds:—And his foot the ground.
        “The eye of the master enricheth the hutch;
The eye of the mistress availeth as much;
Which eye, if it govern with wisdom and skill,
Hath servant and service at pleasure and will.”
Tusser, quoted by Moor (Suff. Words, p. 81).    
  “The oftener it pleaseth the Earle to come thether [to his stables], the better ordered will all things ther be, for according to the old proverbe, the eye of the Master maketh the horse fatt.”—Braithwaite’s Rules and Orders for the Government of the House of an Earle (circa 1640), p. 15.
  L’occhio del padrone ingrassa il cavallo. Ital. L’œil du maître engraisse le cheval. Fr. [Greek]—Arist. Œconom. 2. The answers of Perses and Libys are worth observing. The former being asked what was the best thing to make a horse fat, answered, the master’s eye: the other being demanded what was the best manure, answered, the master’s footsteps. Not impertinent to this purpose is that story related by Gellius. A fat man riding upon a lean horse, was asked how it came to pass that himself was so fat and his horse so lean. He answered, Because I feed myself, but my servant feeds my horse.—R.
The mayor of Altringham and the mayor of Over,
the one is a thatcher and the other a dauber. Cheshire.
  These are two petty corporations, whose poverty makes them ridiculous to their neighbours. A dauber is a maker of clay walls.—R. This proverb is probably in alliance with the following.
The mayor of Altringham lies in bed while his breeches are mending. Cheshire.  8327
The mayor of Erith is the best mayor next to the mayor of London.
  Fraunce’s Lawyer’s Logike, 4o, 1588. The proximity is presumably topographical.
The mayor of Northampton opens oysters with his dagger.
  To keep them at a sufficient distance from his nose. For this town being eighty miles from the sea, fish may well be presumed stale therein. Yet have I heard (saith the Doctor [Fuller]) that oysters, put up with care, and carried in the cool, were weekly brought fresh and good to Althorp [near Northampton], the house of the Lord Spencer, at equal distance: and it is no wonder; for I myself have eaten in Warwickshire, above eighty miles from London, oysters sent from that city, fresh and good; and they must have been carried some miles before they came there.—R.
The memory of happiness makes misery woful.  8330
The merry month of May.  8331
The middle cream.
  Crème de la crème. Fr. A bookseller once so described to me his choicest volumes. He had few.
The mill cannot grind with the water that is past.  8333
The mill gets by going. H.  8334
The miller grinds more men’s corn than one.
  Nash’s Have with you to Saffron Walden, 1596, repr. 1869, p. 18.
The miller sees not all the water that goes by his mill.
  Burton’s Anatomy, 1621, the Conclusion to the Reader, or my Book of Prefaces, 1874, p. 304.
The miller’s boy said so. E. Anglia.
  Said of some matter of common report.
The Mirandula of his age.
  Aubrey’s Letters, &c., 1813, ii. 324, allusively to Thomas Allen’s description of Sir Kenelm Digby, and to Giovanni Francesco (or Gian Francesco) Pico, Signore of Mirandola, in Italy, a celebrated scholar (1515–33), whose life was written by Sir T. More.
The mirth of the world dureth but a while. B. OF M. R.  8339
The mistress of the mill
may say and do what she will. Cornw.
The mistress’s eye feeds the capon. CL.  8341
The mob has many heads, but no brains.  8342
The mole was once a fine lady. Cornw.
  See Notes and Queries, 1st S., ii. 225.
The money you refuse will never do you good.  8344
The moon does not heed the barking of dogs.  8345
The moon is a moon still, whether it shine or not.  8346
The moon is made of green cheese.
  Jack Juggler, edit. 1848, p. 46; A Dialogve wherin is plainly layd open the tyranicall Dealing of Lord Bishops against God children (1589), edit. 1640, sign. B 3. This saying is scarcely likely to have in view the green cheese, which is or was a peculiar product of the canton of Glarus in Switzerland.
The moon’s not seen where the sun shines.  8348
The more acquaintance, the more danger.  8349
The more cooks, the worse pottage.
  Hooker’s Life of Sir Peter Carew, 1514–75, by Maclean, p. 33.
The more countrymen the worse.
  MS. 15th cent., ap. Retr. Rev., 3rd S., ii. 309.
The more danger, the more honour.
  The Spaniards used to say, The more Moors, the better victory, “to express their contempt of them when they went to battle; considering, that the greater their superiority in point of numbers, the greater would be their booty by the conquest.”—R.
The more haste, the less speed. HE.
  “With safest haste.”—Shakespeare. Festina lenté. Come s’ ha fretta non si fa mai niente che stia bene. Ital. Qui trop so hâte en cheminant, en beau chemin so fourvoye souvent. Fr. Qui nimis properè minùs prosperè et nimiùm properans seriús absolvit. Presto e bene non si conviene. Ital.—R.
The more haste, the worse speed,
quoth the tailor to his long thread.
The more knave, the better luck. C.  8355
The more laws, the more offenders.  8356
The more light a torch gives, the shorter it lasts.  8357
The more riches a fool hath, the greater fool he is.  8358
The more the carle riches, he wretches.
  Comp. The more you heap, &c., infra.
The more thy years, the nigher thy grave. C.  8360
The more wit, the less courage.  8361
The more women look in their glass the less they look to their house. H.  8362
The more worship, the more cost.  8363
The more you heap, / the worse you cheap.
  The more you rake and scrape, the worst success you have; or the more busy you are, and stir you keep, the less you gain.—R.
The more you rub a cat on the rump, the higher she sets her tail up.  8365
The more you stir a turd, the worse it will stink. C.  8366
The morning for speed.
  You must begin early, if you wish to get through.
The morning sun never lasts a day. H.  8368
The morning to the mountain, / the evening to the fountain.  8369
The most dangerous of wild beasts is a slanderer; of tame ones, a flatterer.  8370
The most exquisite folly is made of wisdom too fine-spun.  8371
The most lasting monuments are paper monuments.  8372
The mother-in-law remembers not that she was a daughter-in-law.  8373
The mother knows best whether the child be like the father.  8374
The motions of passion and of conscience are two things.  8375
The mountains have brought forth a mouse.
  Merely a paraphrase of Horace: Parturiunt montes, &c.
The mouse lordships where a cat is not.
  MS. of 15th cent., cited in Retrosp. Rev., 3rd S., ii. 309.
The mouse that hath but one hole is easily taken.
  Tristo è quel topo, che non ha ch’ un sol pertuggio per salvarsi. Ital. La souris qui n’a qu’une entrée est incontinent happée. Fr. Raton que ne sabe mas de un horado, presto le coge el gato. Span. Mus non uni fidit antro. This sentence came originally from Plautus in Truculento; v. Erasm. Adag.—R.
The muffled cat is never a good mouser. CL.  8379
The multitude of offenders is their protection.  8380
The Muses love the morning.  8381
The musician keeps his shop in his throat. R. 1670.
  Ray calls this a Spanish saying.
The nature of things will not be altered by our fancies of them.  8383
The near love by craft maketh the far love loathed.
                    “The nye slye
Maketh the ferre leef to be loth.”—Chaucer’s Milleres Tale.
        “An olde sawe is, who that is slyghe
In place wher he may be nyghe,
He maketh the ferre leef loth.”—Cower’s Confessio Amantis.
The nearer the bone the sweeter is the flesh. CL.  8385
The near[er] to the church, the further from God. HE.
  Coeval MS. memorandum by W. P., in a copy of An Endightment agaynst Mother Messe, 1548; A New Help to Discourse, 1721, 134. “This is also a French proverb: Près de l’église loin de Dieu.”—R.
The nigher kin, / the further in.
  Varchi’s Blazon of Jealousie, 1615, transl. by R. Tofte, p. 28. Chi non tocca parentado, tocca mai, o rado. Ital.
The night will give you counsel. W.  8388
The nightingale and the cuckoo sing both in one month.
  The cuckoo does not sing at all, and ordinarily is not heard much after sunset, whereas the nightingale chiefly sings at night and in the very early morning. Yet in 1882 it was heard a good deal here-about (Barnes) in the daytime also.
The nimblest footman is a false tale.  8390
The noisiest drum hath nothing in it but air.  8391
The noisy fowler catches no birds.  8392
The north wind doth blow, / and we shall have snow. D.  8393
The nun of Sion with the friar of Sheen.
  According to vulgar tradition, these two monasteries had a subterraneous communication.—R. So, in later times, had, according to report, two similar institutions at Roehampton.
The nurse is valued till the child has done sucking.  8395
The nurse’s tongue is privileged to talk.  8396


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