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motives; they do not urge obligation to obey law because it is the law of God, nor because it is absolutely and eternally just and right, nor even because it promotes the general welfare; but because obedience will promote the well-being of the obedient. The spirit of the book is not idealistic; not that of loyalty to Jehovah, nor that of obedience to conscience, nor that of regard for others; it is prudential. The book never antagonizes the higher motives; it is entirely consistent with them ; but it does not appeal to them. It deals with the relations of man to his fellow man, it deduces the maxims respecting these relations from experience of life, not from a revealed will of God, nor from an inward witness of the conscience. The maxims which it thus commends are consonant with those which law as interpreted by the legalist and life as interpreted by the idealist commend; but it does
! not formulate any great principles or laws of moral life; it is a book of maxims based upon experience.
In general the basis of these maxims is universal experience. In this respect Hebrew proverbs are unlike those of other nationalities. Proverbs, being based on experience, are often provincial in tone; they take on their form, if they do not derive their ethical character, from the peculiar circumstances of the nation which has given them birth. Thus it is Germany, land of the Reformation, that coins the proverb, “God's friend is the priest's foe;" Germany, the land that abounds with beer, that produces the proverb, “ More men
are drowned in the bowl than are drowned in the sea ;” and it is in Germany, which requires a new
; discovery in order to confer a Ph. D., that the people have coined the proverb, “ Always some
, thing new, seldom something good.” We cross the border and come into Italy; it is in Italy, land of the bandits, that the proverb appears, " To him who can take what thou hast, give what he asks ;” it is Italy, land of the siesta, that coins the proverb, “First get a good name, then go to sleep;” it is Italy, land of treachery, poisons, and assassinations, that coins the proverbs, “ Even woods have ears” and “Even among the Apostles there was a Judas." Cross the border again and come into France; it is France, one of whose writers said that England had twenty religions and only one sauce, that coins the proverb, “ For wolf's flesh, dog sauce;” France, where men rarely go to church and still more rarely absent themselves from the table, that coins the proverb, “A short mass and a long dinner.” In Holland, sturdy land of thrift, the proverbs appear, “Perseverance brings success ;” “Every day a thread makes a skein in the year;” “Biding makes thriving.” In Armenia, where no man knows whether what he owns belongs to him or not, the proverb is coined, “He feeds the hen with one hand, and takes her egg with the other;” in Armenia, where men have lived long under the terror of the Turk, appears the proverb, “The wolf knows no reckoning;” in Armenia, land of dishonesty because of
cruelty under oppression, runs the proverb, “I do not want it, put it in my pocket.” This provincial character of proverbs receives striking illustration in the transformation which proverbs sometimes undergo in passing from one country to another. Thus the English proverb, “A May flood never did good” becomes in southern Spain and Italy “ Water in May is bread for all the year;” and the English proverb “Dry August and warm does harvest no harm" is converted in Spain into “When it rains in August it rains honey and wine.”
In the Hebrew proverbs there is nothing provincial and little or nothing distinctively Hebraic. They seem to belong neither to the race nor to the age, but to be expressions of a universal experi
Literature is the expression of life: therefore the greater the life expressed, the greater the literature. The essay, poem, or drama which represents simply a provincial and temporary phase of life, in a provincial dialect, belongs to the lowest class; that which represents the characteristic life of its age belongs in the second class; that which represents universal experience, that of all men in all ages, - a Homer, a Dante, a Shakespeare,
a belongs in the highest class. It is one characteristic of the proverbs of the Hebrew people that they are expressions of universal experience, applicable to America in the twentieth century scarcely less than to the Hebrew people in the fifth century before Christ.
There is no cynicism in the Hebrew proverbs. The Hebrew satirizes the unfaithful friend, but his experience of a friend's unfaithfulness does not make him skeptical concerning friendship. Contrast with the cynical proverb of the French: “ God save me from the friends I trust in," or of the Spanish, “A reconciled friend is a double enemy," with the carefully defined comparison of an unfaithful friend to a broken tooth. The Hebrew satirizes the contentious woman, but nowhere does he treat woman with the cynical contempt of Pope : “Every woman is at heart a rake; where do we find in this collection of Hebrew proverbs the contempt for woman's intelligence expressed in the old English proverb “ When an ass climbs a ladder one may find wisdom in women. On the contrary, it would be difficult to find in literature a more appreciative portraiture of the faithful housewife than in the last chapter of Proverbs; I say housewife, for the portrait is not, and does not profess to be, an ideal; there are no ideals in the Book of Proverbs; it is a realistic picture of an industrious woman at her housewifely work for her husband and her children; not a “Dream of Fair Women," not a Raphael's Madonna, but a Dutch artist's photographic reproduction from daily life, a Mrs. Primrose in the “ Vicar of Wakefield"; common, prosaic, realistic, but not cynical. Nowhere in the Book of Proverbs do we find aphorisms analogous to these taken, almost at random, from modern collections :
“We all have strength enough to bear other people's troubles.”
“ The poorhouses are filled with the honestest peo ple.”
“ The worst pig gets the best acorn.” “No camel ever sees his own hump.” “Gratitude is a lively sense of favors to come.” “ Repentance is fear of ill yet to come upon us.” “Love of justice is the fear of suffering injustice."
“ The public ! How many fools does it take to make the public ?”
“ Celebrity is the advantage of being known to people who do not know you."
Cynicism involves contempt for man and generally contempt for the common virtues, and neither contempt for man nor contempt for the common virtues is to be found in the Book of Proverbs. Even the satire of the Hebrew Proverbs is a kindly satire; they are pervaded by a spirit of cheerfulness and good-fellowship; they are keyed to a high standard of ethics; among them are maxims which in their spirit suggest, though they do not equal, those of the New Testament. Compare, for example, these counsels of the Hebrew wise men with the later counsel of Christ. They are almost identical, not only in the advice given, but in the prudential foundation on which the advice is based.
THE HEBREW WISE MAN.
“ Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king
And stand not in the place of great men: