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214 Selected Proverbs

The following proverbs are from a collection by John H. Bechtel. He wanted to select the very best proverbs of all nations and ages. I, in turn, have selected a few hundred of those proverbs again, with the aim of giving just the cream of the cream.

Although these proverbs have been sifted twice, your part is to ponder them too, and why not the sooner the better. As you consider why it will be better to follow the hidden teaching of one proverb to the preference of the others on one and the same topic, you may experience a need to find assurance or confirmation. After all, the desire to check your course throughout life is not a bad thing. If you are sure in your heart that the truth of a saying is decent and fair and a course aligned to it may end well for all concerned, for all who flow with it and get skilled too, that saying might as well help or assist you.

However, don't drop your security and security nets for it. One reason is that there are many sides to life, and one saying fails to cover all those sides. Also, to seek to live up to one proverb may not fully suit your conditions and the associates that you depend somehow, even for a living, or that its fruits may take years to grow. Further, the life course may frequently be helped by clever, worthy adjustments. Have the sense to check your direction at intervals and change your course as you move along also, for decent feedback tends to help.

Book data is given near the bottom of the page, beneath the proverbs.


A book that remains shut is but a block. (184)

A boor remains a boor though he sleep on silken bolsters. (29)

A broad hat does not always cover a venerable head. (55)

A clear conscience is a good pillow. (144)

A corporation has no soul to be damned nor body to be kicked. (141)

A fair exchange brings no quarrel. (31)

A fair face may hide a foul heart. (27)

A good action is never thrown away. (13)

A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever. (184)

A good example is the best sermon. (69)

A good presence is a letter of recommendation. (56)

A great fear is often concealed by a show of daring. (42)

A great mark is soonest hit. (82)

A hint for a gentleman, a club for a clown. (106)

A lazy boy and a warm bed are difficult to part. (99)

A little explained, a little endured, a little forgiven, the quarrel is cured. (132)

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men. (84)

A man has learned much, who has learned how to die. (47)

A man must make his opportunity as often as find it. (163)

A man must plough with such oxen as he hath. (190)

A man of words and not of deeds, is like a garden full of weeds. (187)

A man's best fortune, or his worst, is a wife. (108)

A miser grows rich by seeming poor, an extravagant man grows poor by seeming rich. (26)

A proverb is condensed popular wisdom. (184)

A single fact is worth a shipload of argument. (23)

A small leak [can] sink a great ship. (171)

A stitch in time saves nine. (128)

A true word needs no oath. (42)

A word before is worth two after. (15)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (186)

A workman is known by his chips. (190)

Abundance, like want, ruins many. (12)

After a storm comes a calm. (171)

Alexander himself was once a crying babe. (28)

Ambition plagues her proselytes. (18)

Another's misfortune does not cure my pain. (110)

As full as an egg is of meat. (12)

As you make your bed so you must lie on it. (28)

Assertion is no proof. (23)

Avoid a slanderer as you would a scorpion. (33)

Be just before you are generous. (93)

Be not the trumpeter of your own praise. (73)

Be slow of giving advice, ready to do a service. (15)

Be slow to promise, quick to perform. (59)

Before you consult fancy, consult your purse. (Mod] [54)

Better an upright Turk than a false Christian. (94)

Better be alone than in bad company. (78)

Better deserve honour and not have it, than have it and not deserve it. (94)

Better do it, than wish it done. (13)

Better half a loaf than no bread. (67)

Better to suffer for truth, than prosper by falsehood. (167)

Change of fortune is the lot of life. (139)

Charity begins at home, but should not end there. (104)

Conscience and wealth are not always neighbours. (167)

Deliberate slowly, execute promptly. (59)

Do as the bee does with the rose, take the honey and leave the thorn. (178)

Do business, but be not a slave to it. (30)

Do well is better than say well. (14)

Don't find fault with what you don't understand. (70)

Each day is the scholar of yesterday. (159)

Examine well the counsels that favour your desires. (15)

Excess of ceremony shows a want of breeding. (107)

Fair faces need no paint. (27)

Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death. (165)

Fetters, even of gold, are heavy. (25)

First catch your hare, then cook it. (124)

First deserve, and then desire. (51)

Flattery is the food of fools. (74)

Flattery sits in the parlour, when plain dealing is kicked out of doors. (75)

Folly and learning often dwell together. (178)

For want of a nail the shoe is lost; for want of a shoe the horse is lost; for want of a horse the man is lost. (128)

Forecast [may be] better than hard work. (174)

Friends need no formal invitation. (92)

Friendship is a plant one must often water. (78)

From small profits and many expenses, come a whole life of sad consequences. (31)

Give neither counsel nor salt till you are asked for it. (15)

Good pastures make fat sheep. (12)

Have a place for everything and everything in its place. (24)

He asks advice in vain who will not follow it. (15)

He has but sorry food that feeds upon the faults of others. (71)

He is a good friend who speaks well of us behind our backs. (78)

He is most cheated who cheats himself. (30)

He preaches well that lives well. (88)

He that is proud of his fine clothes gets his reputation from his tailor. (54)

He that is unkind to his own will be unkind to others. (103)

He that is your friend indeed, he will help you at your need. (77)

He that keeps malice harbours a viper in his breast. (64)

He that makes himself an ass, must not take it ill if men ride him. (63)

He that travels far knows much. (183)

He that would please all, and himself too, [often] undertakes what he cannot do. (121)

He who boasts of his descent boasts of that which he owes to others. (19)

He who would catch fish must not mind getting wet. (127)

He's a wise man who can make a friend of a foe. (177)

Honey is sweet, but the bee stings. (174)

I had rather have a fool to make me merry, than experience to make me sad. (84)

If the pills were pleasant, they would not want coating. (48)

If we are bound to forgive an enemy, we are not bound to trust him. (81)

If you leap into a well, Providence is not bound to help you out. (115)

Ignorance shuts its eyes and believes it is right. (181)

It is [at times] better to begin in the evening than not at all. (28)

It is a bad bargain, where both are losers. (32)

It is a good horse that never stumbles, and a good wife that never grumbles. (73)

It is a worthier thing to deserve honour, than to possess it. (94)

It is an equal failing to trust everybody, and to trust nobody. (164)

It is better to seek advice at the beginning than at the end. (15)

It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright. (181)

It is never too late to mend. (162)

It is not the eye for faults, but beauties, that constitutes the real critic. (73)

It takes two to make a bargain. (17)

It's a sad heart that never rejoices. (83)

It's not how long, but how well we live. (88)

It's not the many oaths that make the truth. (43)

Judge not a book by its cover. (184)

Keep your tongue within your teeth. (129)

Let every tub stand on its own bottom. (146)

Let the path of duty be the path of safety. (Mod] [58)

Lock the stable door before the steed is stolen. (128)

Look with suspicion upon the flight of an enemy. (80)

Make not your sail too big for your ballast. (173)

Make not your sauce till you have caught the fish. (96)

Man gives nothing so willingly as advice. (15)

Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than themselves. (125)

Many go out for wool, and come home shorn. (52)

Many littles make a mickle. (101)

Meddle not with what you don't understand. (110)

Men are but children of a larger growth. (193)

Men willingly believe what they wish to be true. (51)

Misfortune is a good teacher. (112)

Necessity is a hard master. (51)

Never ask a favour of a man until he has had his dinner. (70)

Never be weary of well-doing. (13)

Never too much of a good thing. (104)

Never trust to a broken staff. (166)

Never venture out of your depth till you can swim. (45)

Nightingales can sing their own song best. (115)

Nimble thought can jump both sea and land. (50)

No sense so uncommon as common sense. (148)

None but a wise man can employ leisure well. (177)

One fault will not justify another. (71)

One link broken, the whole chain is broken. (102)

One may think what he dare not speak. (50)

One ploughs, another sows. Who will reap no one knows. (53)

Pardoning the bad is injuring the good. (It is often so.] [75)

Plain dealing is more praised than practiced. (92)

Poverty is no sin, but it is terribly inconvenient. (122)

Practice what you preach. (17)

Prevention is better than cure. (52)

Promise little and do much. (14)

Put by for a rainy day. (128)

Quit not certainty for hope. (33)

Rashness is not valour. (41)

Rats desert a sinking ship. (112)

Reckon not your chickens before they are hatched. (53)

Riches well got, and well used, are a great blessing. (138)

Seeing's believing. (148)

Sell not your conscience with your goods. (30)

Shallow wits censure everything that is beyond their depth. (72)

She grieves sincerely who grieves unseen. (152)

Silence is as great an art as speech. (62)

Silence is wisdom, when speaking is folly. (61)

[Sometimes] It matters less to a man where he is born, than where he can live. (29)

Some sing who are not merry. (85)

Suit yourself [rightly] to the times. (15)

Sweet words butter no parsnips. (188)

Take things always by the smooth handle. (15)

Tall trees catch much wind. (82)

That ought to be called a loss that is gained by the sacrifice of character. (35)

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. (36)

The beard does not make the philosopher. (100)

The beasts are by instinct their own physicians. (53)

The best brewer sometimes makes bad beer. (70)

The end of passion is the beginning of repentance. (21)

The first breath is the beginning of death. (47)

The fish may be caught in a net, that will not come to a hook. (149)

The fur that warms a monarch warmed a bear. (20)

The last drop makes the cup run over. (62)

The less said the sooner mended. (61)

The maxims of men disclose their hearts. (184)

The middle path is the safe path. (69)

The miser and the pig are of no use till dead. (26)

The more riches a fool has, the greater fool he is. (180)

The wheel that turns gathers no rust. (12)

The wise man has long ears and a short tongue. (178)

The work praises the workman [somehow]. (190)

The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page. (183)

There are tricks in all trades but ours. (31)

There is a limit when forbearance ceases to be a virtue. (63)

There is no accounting for tastes, the old woman said when her husband kissed the cow. (157)

Those best can bear reproof who merit praise. (72)

Though you get the best of whiskey, it will get the best of you. (57)

To hit the nail on the head. (18)

To the wise, a word may suffice. (177)

To weep overmuch for the dead, is to affront the living. (152)

Too much familiarity breeds contempt. (79)

Try the ice before you venture upon it. (45)

Use pastime so as not to lose time. (85)

Vessels large may venture more, but little boats should keep near shore. (45)

Vice [can be] the most dangerous, when it puts on the garb of virtue. (169)

Virtue dwells not in the tongue, but in the heart. (169)

We ought to weigh well what we can only once decide. (50)

When passion enters at the foregate, wisdom goes out of the postern. (21)

When the fox preaches, beware of your geese. (48)

When the pirate prays, there is great danger. (44)

When there is room in the heart there is room in the house. (91)

Where remedies are needed, sighing avails not. (59)

Where the river is deepest, it runs quietest. (177)

Who makes his bed of briar and thorn, must be content to lie forlorn. (28)

Who says little has little to answer for. (129)

Who watches not catches not. (173)

Wholesome and poisonous herbs grow in the same garden. (67)

Woe be to him whose advocate becomes his accuser. (12)

You may dance on the ropes without reading Euclid. (14)

[You may] Keep your own counsel. (15)

Your wish was father to your thought. (51)


John Hendricks Bechtel, Proverbs, Maxims, Shrewd Phrases, Literature  

Bechtel, John Hendricks. Proverbs: Maxims and Shrewd Phrases Drawn from All Lands and Times: Carefully Selected and Indexed for Convenient Reference. Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Company, 1922.

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