A Hand-book of Proverbs

A Hand-book of Proverbs: comprising an entire republication of Ray’s Collection of English Proverbs with large additions; compiled by Henry G. Bohn (1855)

John Ray, by Roubiliac

A proverb is a short expression of popular wisdom that offers practical advice or teaches a lesson. Proverbs, such as those found in this collection, can be poetic, “A man of words not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds”, profound, “A fool may ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in seven years”, or sometimes strange, “Parsley fried will bring a man to his saddle and a woman to her grave.” Some proverbs may derive from older, longer stories or fables that have since been forgotten but whose general meaning is encapsulated in short phrases, for example “Seldom lies the devil dead in a ditch.” Many ancient writers such as Plato, Aristotle and Plutarch thought it beneficial to collect and record proverbs. Professor Roger D. Abrahams notes, “many of the earliest and most popular of books were collections of proverbs” (1), the most notable being Erasmus’ Collectanea Adagiorum published in 1500.

Collections of proverbs continued to grow in popularity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1670 English naturalist and fellow of the Royal Society, John Ray (1627-1705) published A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs. Ray’s book went through a number of editions during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1855 Henry G. Bohn republished Ray’s collection with some additions of his own.

Henry G. Bohn (1796-1884) was a fine art collector, rare book dealer, author and publisher. He is best known for his Bohn’s Libraries series that printed books at a reduced price. Some historians maintain that Bohn was responsible for the reduction of the average cost of all books published in England during the period. “Between 1828 and 1853 the average price of a book declined from sixteen shillings to eight shillings, four and half pence. The initial price of Bohn’s Standard Library was three shillings, sixpence per volume; subsequent volumes and later series were priced at five shillings per volume. Bohn’s prices became the standard for the market for twenty years.”(2) From 1850 until his death in 1884, Bohn resided at his home at North End House, Twickenham, not far away from Brentford, Middlesex where Thomas Layton lived. Here Bohn amassed a vast collection of fine art and gained a reputation as a talented rose grower.

In addition to Bohn’s expanded collection of John Ray’s Proverbs, Layton also had a copy of Ray’s original work, a third edition printing from 1737.

(1) Roger D. Abrahams “Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions” in Richard M. Dorson ed. (1972) Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, The University of Chicago Press, p. 117
(2) David B. Mock, “H. G. Bohn (London: 1831-1864)”, in Patricia Anderson and Jonathan Rose, eds. (1971) British Literary Publishing Houses 1820-1880 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 106) Gale Research, p. 60

John Ray by Francois Roubiliac, British Museum. Credit: Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61390038


Layton 3982, VL00848255





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