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mus says, “Adagia, ceu gemmulæ, quod minuta sint, fallunt nonnunquam venantis oculos, ni acrius intendas,” the latent sense of them, like small sparks of diamonds, not unfrequently escaping the sight, if not diligently sought for, and even when found, he goes on to say, they are of themselves of little beauty, or lustre, deriving the principal part of their value from the manner of setting or using them.
The method that seems to have been followed by Erasmus, in making this collection, was to note every adage he met with in the course of his studies, and as the same sentence occurred in different authors, to observe the sense in which it was used by each of them. He was hence enabled to enrich his work with quotations from many of the earliest Greek and Roman writers, and if not to refer each of the adages to its original author, at the least to name the earliest book in which it occurred. Of these quotations, though many of them are of exquisite beauty, and curiosity, but a sparing use has been made in the present collection, the places of them being more
usually supplied by passages from later writers. Similar proverbs are also here frequently given in the Spanish, Italian, French, and English languages.
It has been before observed, that Erasmus contributed largely to the revival of letters, but he was no less assisting in promoting the reformation in religion, which began in his time. The influence the clergy had obtained over the minds of the laity, had made them rich and powerful, which producing their usual effects, idleness and voluptuousness, a very large portion of them had become openly dissolute and profligate. Against these vices, Erasmus was perpetually declaiming, not sparing the higher orders in the church, who were, perhaps, the first in vice, as in dignity. In his humorous and satyrical declamation, Moriæ Encomium, or the Praise of Folly; in his dialogues, and letters, and in his prefaces to his editions of the Works of the Fathers, he lets no opportunity pass, of exposing and censuring the debaucheries and crimes of the monks and the clergy. In the work, the subject of the present dissertation,
wherever the sense of the adage would bear it, similar strictures are abundantly scattered.
By these censures so frequently passed on the conduct of the clergy, the minds of the people were prepared to receive the more serious and heavy charges, preferred against them by Luther, of having corrupted and perverted the Scriptures. Hence it was currently said, “ that Erasmus laid the egg, containing the germ of the Reformation, and Luther hatched it.” This gave great offence, and may be reckoned among the reasons why though his works were universally read and admired, and procured him the patronage of persons of the highest rank, who were lavish in their professions of friendship, and frequently sent him presents, as testimonies of their attachment, yet he could never obtain from them such preferment, as would make him independent. It must be confessed, as he intimates in one of his letters to his friend Barbirius, that he was of too open a disposition, and apt to give offence by speaking too freely. “ Et ut ingenuè, quod verum est fatear,” he says, “sum naturâ
naturâ propensior ad
jocos, quam fortasse deceat, et linguæ liberioris, quam nonnunquam expediat.”
The enmity these strictures had excited, remained long after his death, "and the divines had influence enough with Pope Paul the fourth,” Jortin tells us, “to have the Book of Adages condemned. But the Fathers of the Council of Trent, taking into consideration the usefulness of the work, ordered Paulus Manutius to revise it, and strike out every thing that was offensive.” This garbled edition was printed at Florence, in 1575, without the name of the author. * Fortunately, the original work had been too often printed, and was too generally disseminated to be by this means suppressed.
With the censures, however, on the monks and clergy, and with various other strictures, alluding to circumstances which have long ceased to exist, we have no concery. The places of them are here supplied by reflections and observations of a more general nature, and better adapted to the present times.
* A copy of this edition was sold in the sale of the late Duke of Roxborough's library, in May 1812, for £1-18 -0.
Having given this account of the sources whence the adages here treated are taken, it may not be thought improper to add some general observations on the nature of proverbial sentences. A proverb may be defined, a short figurative expression or sentence, currently used, commending or reproving the person or thing to which it is applied, and often containing some moral precept, or rule, for our conduct in life. Loose as this definition may appear to be, it is not sufficiently so to embrace every form of speech that has been admitted by Erasmus, and our countryman Ray, as proverbs. A few examples may make this more intelligible. A proverb frequently consists with them in a simple comparison. Of this kind are, “ As tall as the monument,” "As swift as Achilles,” “As crafty as Ulysses,' “ As cunning as a fox.” All that is required in forming this species of adage is, that the person or thing used as a comparison be generally known, or reputed to possess the property attributed to it. Of another kind, as proceeding from observations on the diversities in the dispositions and tempers of men, are