Puslapio vaizdai

ing" either sense or sound,-in fact, a Puu. A punning proverb is not so much a proverb as a pun, a banter, a linguistic straw with which to tickle the ear.

The classification of Chinese proverbs according to the subject, must prove a matter of considerable embarassment, owing to the frequent uncertainty what the principal subject is, the diversity of subjects within a single sentence or couplet, and the circumstance that the apparent subject often becomes a matter of merely subsidiary importance, while the secondary, or applied use, is the only one to which attention is invited. For our present purposes Chinese proverbs may be arranged, partly according to their source, but mainly according to their form. Such a classification is of necessity somewhat inexact, and is not perhaps exhaustive, yet better than any other may serve to facilitate an examination of their contents. Upon this plan, Chinese proverbs may be distributed into the seven following classes :

I. Quotations, or adaptations of quotations from the Chinese Classics.
II. Lines or couplets from Odes.

III. Antithetical couplets. · IV. Proverbs which contain allusions to historical, semi-historical, legendary or mythical persons, or events.

V. Proverbs relating to specific places, or districts, or to persons or events of merely local importance.

VI. Puns, depending upon different meanings of the same word, or upon the resemblance between the sounds of different words.

VII. Miscellaneous proverbs referable to none of the preceding classes.

Before proceeding to notice these several classes of proverbs in detail, certain general observations will be appropriate. It would be desirable if it were practicable, to determine boundaries of the border lands to which the proverbial domain is contiguous. Simply to fix the latitude and longitude of a country, is indeed to convey very little geographical information, but it is information which is somewhat necessary as a preliminary to anything else. Some of the difficulties of establishing any such boundaries, will be illustrated as we proceed, but one of them confronts us at the very outset. A Chinese proverb is not the same thing as a phrase. The Chinese language abounds in “ready made" phrases of two, three, four or more characters, and in the absence of any line of demarcation between subject and predicate, noun, adjective and verb, it is difficult to discriminate a phrase from a proverb—especially as we have not after all ascertained what a Chinese proverb is.

Let the patient Reader run his eye over the following expressions :-Ch'in ch'i shu hua (#$#); Kuei chi chun sheng (E

); Tien kao ti hou (4); Tung hsin t'ung te (Ƒ]»♬ ; Te kuo chieh kuo (1); Chi shao ch'eng to(); K'ao huo hsien jê (✯✯✯); Hsi kuan tzu jau († 1 ≤ *); K'ou shih hsin fei (J); Shui chang chꞌuan kao (£); Chiang ch'ang hai shen (IEM); Pu yu jen suan (7^).

Here are a dozen phrases, or sentences, taken at random, which differ materially in their quality. The first two may be considered to be composed exclusively of nouns. All the rest, with one exception, consist of charaters which in some way balance one another. Some contain phrases antithetical to one another, while the last is a predicate without a subject. Which of all these are "proverbs," and which are only phrases? In Vol. 11. of Doolittle's Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language, are to be found (beginning at p. 562) eighteen pages of what are termed Metaphorical and Proverbial sentences, beginning with two-character phrases, and ending with irregular couplets containing between twenty and thirty characters. Whoever scans the early pages of this collection, will perceive that the attempt to decide where the mere phrase ends, and where the proverb begins, is like the effort to answer the old puzzle how many grains of corn are required to make a heap.


The multiplication of proverbs, resembles the multiplication of the human species-the phenomenon is common to every people, but among the Chinese it is carried to a point so prodigiously beyond all others, as to distance and defy competition. A certain amount of acquaintance with the felicitous aptness of Chinese proverbs, and the apparently inexhaustible supply, leads at length to the conviction that as there is no point on the surface of the planet which may not be made the center of a perfect circle, so there can be no conceivable situation in life, for which the proverbial philosophy of the Chinese can not furnish some apposite citation.

Some years since the government of Great Britain thought it worth while to despatch a war-vessel on a four years' voyage around the world, not for the purpose of conquering new realms to be added to the British Empire, but merely to take deep sea soundings, and to bring up from the bottom of the ocean mud and ooze for scientific analysis. No one seems to have complained that the expense of the cruise of the Challenger was wasted, since science gained what money could not buy.

In the following notes, the Reader will meet with little to reward. his attention but handfuls of mud, raked up from miscellaneous ponds and seas of varying depth, the deposit, not infrequently, of widely

distant ages. Whether it shall be found to contain anything worth the trouble of examination, may, perhaps, depend upon the kind of eyes with which it is examined. A microscope, even of a low power, reveals what the keenest unassisted vision would never detect.

To collect everything in the Chinese language which would illustrate the subject in hand, is as obviously impossible as to dredge over every square foot of the bottom of the ocean, and would be equally useless. Specimens of each principal variety may serve the reader's turn, as well as if he were spattered from head to foot with the oceanic mass of material at his disposal.

The compiler of the Book of Kings informs us that Solomon "spake" -by which he probably meant composed-three thousand proverbs, but a very small fraction of which, however, have been preserved. Whether he may have had predecessors or successors in the compilation of his maxims, we have no means of ascertaining. It is certain that in China. a collection of the size of Solomon's, would be "nothing accounted of." Chinese proverbs are literally in the mouth of everyone, from the Emperor upon his throne, to the woman grinding at the mill. At the capture of the city of Canton, a memorandum of a conversation between the Emperor Tao Kuang, and the Governor-General of the provinces of Kuangtung and Kuangsi, fell into the hands of the British. His Majesty was represented to have quoted "the saying of the old women" that a thousand or ten thousand reckonings of men, are not equal to one reckoning of Heaven(千算萬算,不如老天一算). Ministers of the Tsung Li Yamên, Presidents of the Six Boards, and Members of the Inner Council, as well as other officials of every rank, are well known to spice their conferences and their conversation, with quotations from "the old women," as naturally and as unconsciously as they cite the Four Books. To say that the same is true of every rank of society, is simply to affirm that Common Talk (i) is common talk. When Emperors and Ministers quote "the old women," it is not to be wondered at that "the old women" quote one another. They do even more. The classical wisdom of the Ancients, is the common heritage of all the sons and daughters of Han, from Emperors to old women, and one stratum of society can quote them as well as another. When the wind blows the grass bends (A). Those who are below imitate those who are above (ET). An ignorant Chinese woman who knows not even the simplest character (7 T), will quote an adaptation of a passage from the Book of Changes, as naturally as the Emperor quoted "the old women."

There are undoubtedly some Chinese who as far surpass the bulk of their countrymen in their penchant for proverbial expression, as in the

gift of humor Sam Weller excelled the average London cabman. An occasional Chinese Sancho Panza does not, however, prove that other Chinese are not addicted to proverbs, any more than Sam Weller's eminence as a humorist-supposing he had been created an Irishman-would prove that humor is not an national Irish trait. On the contrary it is easier to produce and to put in circulation a score of popular jests, than to coin and get into currency a single proverb. Weller's jests prove nothing either way as to the humor of his countrymen; while Panza’s conversation shows that the Spanish language of his time was pervaded with proverbs, as the atmosphere of Dulcinea's dwelling was pervaded with garlic.

It is difficult for children to understand why the little particles of dust which are seen floating in such compact masses in the stray sunbeams of a darkened room, should assume so regular a form. If they are told that the sunbeam by no means creates the moats, but simply reveals them, and that the whole room is as full of dust-particles as the minute area which the beam has traversed, they are amazed and incredulous. In order to verify the proposition, however, it is necessary to lift off the roof, when the “true inwardness" of the atmosphere appears. It is in like manner indispensable to remove the roof from the Chinese language, before a clear perception can be gained of what is in circulation underneath.

The idolatry with which the works termed“Classical" are regarded, is balanced by a depreciation of everything which is not Classical. All such productions are su (ha), by which we are to understand that they are both common and vulgar. Chinese proverbial philosophy is so interwoven into the spoken language, that no Chinese scholar can possibly ignore it altogether. But the moment it seems to lay any claim to be regarded as literature, he begins to despise it. Every educated Chinese is supposed to be a mammoth literary spider, able to spin out of his own bowels (DE F) whatever he may need. Now a spider who should go about among his friends begging the loan of a few ounces of raw spider's web, would be looked upon as an entirely unprofessional Insect. A Chinese scholar, therefore, regards a little collection of Antithetical Couplets for use in the New Year's decorations, with much the same air with which an Oxford graduate might view the Young Man's Complete Letter Writer. There are many Chinese books which contain short lists of proverbs, but it not infrequently appears as if the compilers were on the whole somewhat ashamed of the enterprise, and hence reduced their collection within very narrow limits.* For Don Quixote's squire to have remonstrated with his


• Cheap little books are sometimes to be met with, containing wood cuts, each illustra

tive of some well-known proverb. At the New Year's season, when the sale of all kinds of pictures is prodigious, entire sheets are to be seen wholly devoted to the same class of subjects.



master for purchasing a manual of Spanish proverbs, would have appeared to an unprejudiced observer somewhat inconsistant. Although if he be set at the task a Chinese teacher will write off proverbs by the hundred, or perhaps by the thousand, he will not improbably execute his work with the air of a person who has been ordered to turn a crank which puts in motion no machinery whatever. At every revolution the operator seems to say: “Oh, what is the use ? What is the use ?"

Of the collections of Chinese proverbs accessible to English readers, it is superfluous to refer to more than two, both because of the narrow scope of the earlier lists, and because their contents have been mainly absorbed by the latter.

Of these, the first is contained in Doolittle's Handbook of the Chinese Language, but instead of a Collection, it should rather be termed a Dispersion. Under twelve of the eighty-five heads into which this lexicographical Hydra is parted, proverbs, couplets, phrases and maxims are scattered as if by a literary dust-storm. Some of them are printed—for, what reason it is extremely difficult to conjecture -in several different languages. There is nowhere any Index to them, and the quest of a sentence once found and again lost, resembles, in Chinese phrase, 'dragging the ocean for a kettle.' The aggregate number of sentences of the classes named, amounts to more than three thousand-considerably exceeding the collection of Mr. Scarborough, where many of them reappear—but among them are several hundred which are in no sense proverbs, (and which are not indeed represented as such) and several scores of others are repeated in different places, some of them four and even five times. For this singular circumstance, the Editor apologizes, on the ground that he could not remember what he had already printed! Despite these defects, however, which are almost inevitable in so loose a compilation, the materials for which were furnished by so many pens, a considerable amount of interesting and valuable matter has here found burial, and the translations, with some conspicuous exceptions to be hereinafter noted, are in general good.*

In Mr. Scarborough's “Collection of Chinese Proverbs,” we have, for the first time, an orderly compilation, classified and indexed, and prefixed by a valuable Introduction. It is the result of much patient labor, and, occupying a place by itself, it is an indispensable vade mecum The Ch'uan Chia Pao (fl 18) is perhaps the nearest Chinese analogue to

Doolittle's Handbook, in the circumstance that each consists largely of miscel. laneous matter, collected upon no other perceptible principle than that of co. existence in the brain of the compiler. Amid a mosaic of 'Pearls,' 'Diamonds,' * Jade,' bits of botany, and a diverting little manual on the treatment of lyingin patients, we meet with a list of proverbs, which although pretentiously introduced as important recipes for the adjustment of one's conduct, and the regula. tion of the family, turn out to be only about 210 in number.

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