Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/107

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89
PROVERBS.

'Out of the frying-pan into the fire;' and 'He who has only his eyebrow for a cross-bow can never kill an animal,' is more picturesque, if less terse than our 'Hard words break no bones.' The old Buddhist aphorism, that 'He who indulges in enmity is like one who throws ashes to windward, which come back to the same place and cover him all over,' is put with less prose and as much point in the negro saying, 'Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them.' When someone tries to settle an affair in the absence of the people concerned, the negroes will object that 'You can't shave a man's head when he is not there,' while, to explain that the master is not to be judged by the folly of his servant, they say, 'The rider is not a fool because the horse is.' Ingratitude is alluded to in 'The sword knows not the head of the smith' (who made it), and yet more forcibly elsewhere, 'When the calabash had saved them (in the famine), they said, let us cut it for a drinking-cup.' The popular contempt for poor men's wisdom is put very neatly in the maxim, 'When a poor man makes a proverb it does not spread,' while the very mention of making a proverb as something likely to happen, shows a land where proverb-making is still a living art. Transplanted to the West Indies, the African keeps up this art, as witness these sayings: 'Behind dog it is dog, but before dog it is Mr. Dog;' and 'Toute cabinette tini maringouin' — 'Every cabin has its mosquito.'

The proverb has not changed its character in the course of history; but has retained from first to last a precisely definite type. The proverbial sayings recorded among the higher nations of the world are to be reckoned by tens of thousands, and have a large and well-known literature of their own. But though the range of existence of proverbs extends into the highest levels of civilization, this is scarcely of their development. At the level of European culture in the middle ages, they have indeed a vast importance in popular education, but their period of actual growth seems already at an end. Cervantes raised the proverb-monger's