Frank Latham’s 1981 book Farndon mentions a Cheshire proverb about local place-names that he said was quoted in Joseph C. Bridge’s Cheshire Proverbs and Other Sayings and Rhymes Connected with the City an County Palatine of Chester, published by Phillipson and Golder (Chester) 1917. That sounded like a great book to have on hand, so I checked online. It cost next to nothing, so I ordered one. It has been a lot of fun since it arrived, although I continue to puzzle over what some of the proverbs and sayings actually mean. Most of the proverbs are English, but as Bridge points out, the border along the Welsh Marches was fluid, and language, including proverbs and sayings, passed seamlessly between England and Wales in both directions.
Most of the proverbs have nothing to do with the Churton/Farndon/Holt/Aldford area, of course, but they are all fascinating and I thought that it would be fun to include some of them here from time to time. In the subject heading I will number them in the order in which I post them but I will also include Bridge’s numbering and the page numbers on which they appear.
Joseph C. Bridges was a conscientious researcher. Professor of music at the University of Durham and organist of Chester Cathedral, he was anxious to preserve traditional aspects of rural language in Cheshire:
“The spread of education in our country districts is very rapid, and the rustic population is undoubtedly ceasing to use homely dialect and wise saws. It seems to me, therefore, that it is desirable, before it is too late, to collect together in handy form the concentrated shrewdness and sit of old Cheshire, especially as many of the sayings are merely colloquial, while others are scattered among books, some of which are out of print and difficult to obtain.”
He not only worked rigorously through previous books of English and Cheshire proverbs and glossaries to find local words and terms, but reviewed them in detail in the introduction to Cheshire Proverbs and Other Sayings, giving appreciative credit where it was due, while annihilating others. Of the four main glossaries that he uses, he comments approvingly that they are “a perfect crescendo of good things” but of Robert Nixon’s Sayings and Prophecies he states curtly “I do not believe in them, and we have no proof that any such person ever existed.” Some of his sources are remarkably early, including Heywood’s Dialogue of 1562 and Camden’s Britannia of 1586, both broadly contemporary with the very earliest buildings in Churton and Farndon. Throughout the book Bridge refers back to those sources in which he has confidence for additional details and clarification. At the end of the book the proverbs are listed in alphabetical order, by first word. There is also an index of place names at the end.
The saying in the title of the post, “Old proverbs are the children of truth,” is from the Welsh “Plant gwirionedd yw hen diarebion“, and appears on one of the title pages, page viii. The saying is one of those that is thankfully fully self-explanatory. It is a rather nice one to start with here, particularly as Bridge used it to kick off his book.
In another publication, an edition of the 19th Century journal Cambro-Briton dating to 1820, an anonymous author used the same proverb as a title for his thoughts on the role of proverbs:
Among the literary stores, so various and interesting, with which the Welsh language abounds, it cannot be deemed surprising that it should contain a valuable collection of proverbs. This is a species of learning, which must have taken early root in most countries; and it may be considered as embodying the most approved and current wisdom of the various nations, where it is found to prevail. Its concise and sententious method of conveying instruction was also peculiarly adapted to that channel of oral tradition, by which it was anciently retained.
The study of proverbs is paremiology, a field of endeavour that was a new one on me:
The problem of defining a proverb appears to be as old as man’s interest in them. People who consciously used them or began to collect them in antiquity obviously needed to differentiate proverbs from other gnomic devices such as apothegms, maxims, aphorisms, quotations, etc. Not only did such great minds as Aristotle and Plato occupy themselves with the question of what constitutes a proverb, but early Greek paremiographers in particular wrestled with this seemingly insurmountable task as well. (Wolfgang Mieder).
Bridge clearly believes that some of the proverbs and sayings speak for themselves, but I really cannot make any sense at all of some of them. I am hoping that others out there will have something to offer on the origin and meaning of some of these sayings when I post them.
To see the other proverbs in the series, which will be ongoing, you can click on the Cheshire Proverbs category in the right-hand margin.
Anonymous, 1820. Plant gwirionedd yw hen diarebion. Welsh Proverbs. The Cambro-Briton and General Celtic Repository, volume 1, p.130-131
Bridge, J.C. 1917, Cheshire Proverbs and Other Sayings and Rhymes Connected with the City an County Palatine of Chester Phillipson and Golder (Chester)
Latham, F.A. 1981. Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village. Local History Group
Mieder, W. Popular Views of the Proverb. De Proverbio