S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[An English lawyer and statesman; born in Sussex, Dec. 16, 1584; educated at Oxford; said by Clarendon to have been of stupendous learning in all kinds and in all languages; entered Parliament, 1623; resisted the arbitrary measures of Charles I.; was imprisoned until 1634; belonged to the moderate party in the Revolution; died November, 1654.]
Do not undervalue the enemy by whom you have been worsted.
This and the following are from Selden’s “Table-Talk:”—Wise men say nothing in dangerous times.—War.Never tell your resolution beforehand.—Wisdom.He that will keep a monkey, ’tis fit he should pay for the glasses he breaks.—Wife.Wit and wisdom differ: wit is upon the sudden turn, wisdom is in bringing about ends.—Wit. And he said again, “Nature must be the groundwork of wit and art.”Women ought not to know their own wit, because they will still be showing it, and so spoiling it.—Wit.No man is the wiser for his learning. It may administer matter to work in, or objects to work upon; but wit and wisdom are born with a man.—Ibid.
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”Most men’s learning is nothing but history duly taken up.—Ibid.Few men make themselves masters of things they write or speak.—Ibid.Colonel Goring, serving first the one side and then the other, did like a good miller, that knows how to grind, which way soever the wind blows.—Changing Sides. (The Rev. Symon Symonds, vicar of Bray in Berkshire, is said to have been twice a Papist and twice a Protestant in the four successive reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth. Being called a turncoat, he replied, “I keep to my principle, that of living and dying the vicar of Bray.” The modern song relates to the political changes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.)Equity is a roguish thing, for law we have a measure.—Equity.Equity is according to the conscience of him that is chancellor; and as that is larger or narrower, so is equity. ’Tis all one as if they should make the standard for the measure we call a foot a chancellor’s foot.—Ibid.An epitaph must be made to fit for the person for whom it is made: for a man to say all the excellent things that can be said upon one, and call that an epitaph, is as if a painter should make the handsomest piece he can possibly make, and say, ’Tis my picture.—Epitaphs.A gallant man is above evil speaking.—Evil Speaking.Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes, for they were easiest for his feet.—Friends.Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise.—Humility. (Oliver Wendell Holmes says, “Humility is the greatest of all virtues—for other people.”)’Tis not the eating, nor ’tis not the drinking, that is to be blamed, but the excess.—Ibid.There is no church without a liturgy; nor, indeed, can there be conveniently, as there is no school without a grammar.—Liturgy.Of all actions of a man’s life, his marriage does least concern other people; yet, of all actions of our life, ’tis most meddled with by other people.—Marriage.Marriage is a desperate thing: the frogs in Æsop were extreme wise; they had a great mind to some water, but they would not leap into the well, because they could not get out again.—Ibid.Money makes a man laugh.—Money.’Tis a vain thing to talk of a heretic; for a man for his heart can think no otherwise than he does think.—Opinion. (Thus Goethe says, “Every man must think after his own fashion, for he finds always in his path some truth which helps him on his way;” and again, “Let me know my relations to myself and the world at large: that is truth.”)Opinion is something wherein I go about to give reasons why all the world should think as I think. Affection is a thing wherein I look after the pleasing of myself.—Ibid. (Of this Coleridge says that it is the true difference between the beautiful and the agreeable.)Patience is the chiefest fruit of study.—Patience.They that govern most make least noise.—Power.Syllables govern the world.—Ibid.Never king dropped out of the clouds.—Ibid.There is no stretching of power. ’Tis a good rule: Eat within your stomach, act within your commission.—Ibid.General texts prove nothing.—Prayer.King James said to the fly, “Have I three kingdoms, and thou must needs fly into my eye?”—Religion.Every man has his religion. We differ about trimming.—Ibid. And again, “Alteration of religion is dangerous, because we know not where it will stay.”The way to find out truth is by others’ mistakings.—Truth.Transubstantiation is nothing but rhetoric turned into logic.—Transubstantiation.Philosophy is nothing but discretion.—Philosophy.Pleasure is nothing but the intermission of pain, the enjoying of something I am in great trouble for till I have it.—Pleasure. (Derived from the theories of Plato and Aristippus, that pleasure is nothing in itself, but only a momentary escape from pain, or a passage from one pain to another. “The present,” said Dr. Johnson, “is never a happy state to any human being.”—BOSWELL: Life, 1775.)Words must be fitted to a man’s mouth. ’Twas well said of the fellow who was to make a speech for my lord mayor, he desired to take the measure of his lordship’s mouth.—Language.Put out the candle, and they [light and heat] are both gone; one remains not without the other: so ’tis betwixt faith and works.—Faith and Works.Ignorance of the law excuses no man: not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every one will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.—Law.Verse proves nothing but the quantity of syllables, they are not meant for logic.—Poetry. (Coleridge replies, “True, they are not logic; but they are, or ought to be, the envoys and representatives of that vital passion which is the practical cement of logic, and without which logic must remain inert.”)Men are not troubled to hear a man dispraised, because they know, though he be nought, there’s worth in others. But women are mightily troubled to hear any of them spoken against, as if the sex itself were guilty of some monstrosities.Idolatry is in a man’s own thought, not in the opinion of another.—Idolatry.Commonly we say a judgment falls upon a man for something in him we cannot abide.—Judgments.
TENNYSON: Locksley Hall.
Straws show which way the wind blows.
“Though some make light of libels,” said Selden, “yet you may see by them how the wind sits: as, take a straw, and throw it up into the air, you shall see by that which way the wind is, which you shall not do by casting up a stone. More solid things do not show the complexion of the time so well as ballads and libels.”—Ibid., Libels. Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun wrote to the Marquis of Montrose, Earl of Rothes, etc.: “I knew a very wise man that believed, that, if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws, of a nation.” Fletcher was a contemporary of Selden, and may have referred to him.
Above all things—Liberty.
The motto which was placed upon his books.The Master of the Temple said over the grave of Selden in the Temple Church, London, “If learning could have kept a man alive, our brother had not died.”