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WISE SAWS AND MODERN INSTANCES.
by Edward NIRE wide.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
FEW books are duller than books of Aphorisms and Apophthegms. A Jest-book is, proverbially, no joke; a Wit-book, perhaps, worse; but dullest of all, probably, is the Moral-book, which this little volume pretends to be. So with men: the Jester, the Wit, and the Moralist, each wearisome in proportion as each deals exclusively in his one commodity. "Too much of one thing," says Fuller, "is good for nothing."
Bacon's "Apophthegms" seem to me the best collection of many men's sayings; the greatest variety of wisdom, good sense, wit, humour, and even simple "naivete'," (as one must call it for want of a native word,) all told in a style whose dignity and antiquity (together with perhaps our secret consciousness of the gravity and even tragic greatness of the narrator) add a particular humour to the lighter stories.
Johnson said Selden's Table-talk was worth all the French "Ana" together. Here also we find wit, humour, fancy, and good sense alternating, something as one has heard in some scholarly English gentleman's after-dinner talk - the best English common-sense in the best common English. It out
lives, I believe, all Selden's books; and is probably much better, collected even imperfectly by another, than if he had put it together himself.
What would become of Johnson if Boswell had not done as much for his talk? If the Doctor himself, or some of his more serious admirers, had recorded it!
And (leaving alone Epictetus, à Kempis, and other Moral aphorists) most of the collections of this nature I have seen, are made up mainly from Johnson and the Essayists of the last century, his predecessors and imitators; when English thought and language had lost so much of their vigour, freshness, freedom, and picturesqueness-so much, in short, of their native character, under the French polish that came in with the second Charles. When one lights upon, "He who""The man who "- "Of all the virtues that adorn the breast" &c., one is tempted to swear, with Sir Peter Teazle, against all "sentiment,” and shut the book. How glad should we be to have Addison's Table-talk as we have Johnson's! and how much better are Spence's Anecdotes of Pope's Conversation than Pope's own letters!
If a scanty reader could, for the use of yet scantier readers than himself, put, together a few sentences of the wise, and also of the less.wise,-(and Tom Tyers said a good thing or tw his day,*)from Plato, Bacon, Rochefoucauld,
ason, describes me best, a ghost who Another sentence in Tom's Resolutions'
*"Tom Tyers 4075 said never speaks till spoken to.
Goethe, Carlyle, and others,-a little Truth, new or old, each after his kind—nay, of Truism too, (into which all truth must ultimately be dogs-eared,) and which, perhaps," the wit of one, and the wisdom of many," has preserved in the shape of some nameless and dateless Proverbs which yet "retain life and vigour," and widen into new relations with the widening world—-
Not a book of Beauties-other than as all who have the best to tell, have also naturally the best way of telling it; nor of the "limbs and outward flourishes" of Truth, however eloquent; but in general, and as far as I understand, of clear, decided, wholesome, and available insight into our nature and duties. "Brevity is the soul of Wit," in a far wider sense than as we now use the word. "As the centre of the greatest circle," says Sir Edward Coke, "is but a little prick, so the matter of even the biggest business lies in a little room." So the "Sentences of the Seven," are said to be epitomes of whole systems of philosophy: which also Carlyle says is the case with many a homely proverb. Anyhow that famous Mndev ayar, the boundary law of Guess itself, as of all other things, (if one could only know how to apply it, brings one up with a wholesome halt every now and then, and no where