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Cotgrave's World: Book 13 Fools and Clowns

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Thoughts, proverbs and Sayings from the 16th Century

Extracts from a French to English dictionary by, R Cotgrave. Published 1611.

'Il n'est pas tousiours saison de brebis tondre'
Sheep shearing is never in season,
silly people must have sometime
allowed them to thrive in,
so, their fleeces,
at length, will be worth clipping.

'Le pourpre a soc mort d'egal poix balance'
Death matches poor clowns
with purple garlands,
a great or powerful man may amass much,
only for his heirs to squander it all.
Hoarded treasure attracts thieves,
while foolish children squander
their inheritance.

Foolishly to care for that which cannot go amiss, or waste endeavours upon subjects that need them not; or to look to that which cannot go astray, or spend time watching that which is of its self is safe enough.

'Batre d'eau'
To lose his labour,
to spend his time in vain,
to batter or battle water, as some
foolish king was pretended to have done.

'En la peau de brebis ce que tu veux y escris.'
One may write what will be on a sheep's skin; (sheep endure anything,)
the same can be said of paper.

'Le papier endure tout.'
Paper endures all. As, foul blurs,
false reckonings, all kind of harsh
or ill words.

'A barbe de fol le rasoir est mol.'
A goose will brook (bear) any jest, or tolerate any abuse; every harsh thing has a gentle touch in his dull conceit (understanding.)

'A lauer la teste d' un asne on ne perd que le temps & la lexive'
In vain one strives to make learned
a sottish, or make honest
a graceless person.

'Qui se messe d'autruy mestier il trait sa vache en vn panier'
As good milk a cow into a sieve,
Or seek the advice of a fool,
or a, madmen
as deal in an unknown trade

'S'embarquer sans biscuit'
To go abroad without biscuit;
to enter in action
without sufficient provision;
to undertake that which he wants,
lacking the means,
or ability to perform.

'Se couvrir d'un sac mouille'
Foolishly to think he covers his hard dealing (to colour his hand) with his idle pretexts, or insufficient pretenses; or, obstinately to stand on proofs, or allege excuses, which rather convict, than clear him.

'Tel se cuide chasseur qui se brusle.'
Some thinking too warm themselves
do burn themselves.

'Tel autheur tel oevre'
Like author, like
work; such is the writer such is the book;
a fool can only write a Foolish book.
The tests of knowledge are made
by those without knowledge,
what is the worth then?
Of knowledge,
but nothing. M.

'Il pense que les alouttes luy tomberont en la bouche toutes rosties'
He vainly thinks that good fortune
will come wooing him.

Burial at sea

'Celuy qui se met aur la mer ou il est fol, ou il est pouvre, ou il a envie de mourir'
He that unto the sea commits his body,
is either poor, desperate or a noddy.
[I was drawn to the word 'envie', 'fol' is fool, a noddy and pouvre, poor, but envie, is either envy, lusting after the luck or prosperity or good points of another, etc or as ENVIE, the spot, or mark, that a child hath on some part of it's body, that represents the thing his mother longed for, or was frightened of when the child was in her womb. To intrust one's body with the sea, is as to trust the devil with your soul.]

. A fool; ass, goose, calf, dotterel, woodcock, noddy, cokes, goosecap, coxcombe, dizard, peagoose, ninny, idiot, also, foolish, fond, simple, witless, soppish, idle, vain.

'Fol qui beaucoup desire choisit, et prend le pire'
The greedy fool that all would purse,
by hasty choice lights on the worse.

'A fol avantureux n' est mestier d'avoir sens'
An enterprising fool needs little wit.

'A conseil de fol cloche de bois'
When loggerheads consult,
logs serve as bells.

'Il est bien fol qui a' fol sens demantie'
He who expects wisdom from a fool,
is more stupid than the fool himself;
or, he is a true ass that looks for wit in an ass; as
A leopard cannot remove its own spots,
nor a fool give good advice.
[Proverbs, 23-9.
Speak not in the ears of a fool,
For he will despise the wisdom
Of thy words.]

'On ne peut faire d'hibou esparvier'
He that is a clown by nature, cannot through nurture become agentlemen.

'Qui fol va a Rome fol en retourne'
Let no fool hope to become wise by
travelling (at least, we used to say of
some of our giddy travellers) he has
come home as foolish as he went

'A barbe de sol hardi rasoir'
The razor may boldly graze
on a fool's beard.

'Qui comment affaire a vn fol s'appreste a le suy vre'
(least he wished, he had gone about it himself; also) he that employs a fool may follow him for company; for wise men use to employ wise men.

'Il en est plus assotte qu' un fol de sa marotte'
He dotes more on it than a fool on babble, (we say, he will not give for the Tower of London.)
[a wise man changes his mind,
a fool never will.]

'Laissons aux asnes les chardons'
Let ass's feed on thistles
Dunces on dull stuff,
Dull wit on dry matters.

'Il se laisse emporter du vent'
He runs freely without stopping; also, inconsistent, variable, flitting, unstable or unsteady, light-hairy fairy; or suffers himself to be swayed altogether by his own giddy humours.

'Vn fol vn enrage'
Once a fool ever mad;
or there is little difference between
a fool and a mad dog.

'Bien escorche a qui ne deult'
Senseless people may well enough be flayed; or. It is good fleecing of them that have so much, as they miss not what is gone.

'Il n'a escu ny targe'
The devil may dance freely in his purse;
there is not even a cross to fright him,
or bless the owner with.
foolish anger.

'Mettre tout par escuelles'
(as we say) to throw the house out of the windows; [ now we more likely say, to throw the baby out with the bath water.]

'A fol conteur sage escouteur'
While fools do speak wise men
have need to hear.

'Vn fol cerche son malheur'
A fool does seek his own mishap;
the curious searcher finds himself
unfortunate; or, the fool endeavours
to make himself unhappy,
studies his own mishap:
curiosity killed the cat, we say now

'Si le fol ne folie il perd sa saison'
A fool that would seem wise is most unseasonable; or the fool is most suspect when he seems least foolish. Or, a fool is most absurd when he plays not the fool.
[better to remain silent, and be thought a
fool, than, to speak and remove all doubt].
[Proverbs, 17-28.
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace,
is counted wise:
and he shutteth his lips
is esteemed a man of understanding.
An empty sack cannot stand upright.

'Fol est qui de son poing faict coing'
He is a fool that makes a wedge of his fist; (as did strong Milo; who attempting to rive asunder a great tree which lay on the forest floor, half cloven and held open with wedges, they slipping down, it closed and enclosed his hands so fast that he could not pull them out, and quickly became prey unto wild beasts; whereupon this proverb calls any man, a fool, that presumes too much on his own strength, or know not the right use of his own things.

'Vn fol fait tousiours le commencement'
The fool begins, but perfects not,
a work; when he has begun, he is done.

'De ce que fol pense scuvent en demeure'
A fool often comes short
of his intentions;
or, reckonings.

'Fol est quin se sie en eau endormie'
Men of a still, sad, sleepy, melancholy
Disposition, are not to be relied on;
for either they can do little,
or that which they do is full of
treachery, and dissimulation.

'Il n'est danger que de vilain'
A clown (enraged)
is a dangerous fellow.

'Les belles robbes pleurent sur des espaulles indignes'
Tis a great pity to see
fair clothes on a clown's back.

'Robbe d'autruy ne fait honneur a nully'
A borrowed gown does well on
no mans shoulder; apparel graces
none but them that own it.

'Le vilain ne scait qu'esperons valent'
Full little knows the clown;
base people know not the worth
of good things.
Or, full little knows the clown
what spurs can do;
base people know not,
or cannot use, brave helps.

'Est bien fol qui s'oublie'
He is a right fool that forgets himself.

'Douces promesses obligent les fols'
Faire promises oblige the improvident.

'Tout est perdu ce qu'on donne a fol'
All that is given to a fool is cast away.
A fool is often,

'Il est gelen de ne rien faire'
He is starved by his own idleness.

'Fol est qui est esperonne et a cheval dit hay'
The fool having spurs on, cries 'on'
to his horse; or he is an ass,
who furnished with sound means,
makes use of slight ones.

'Oncques mastin n' aima levrier'
Never did a clown affect a Gentleman:
nor a rude peasant a civil president.

'Fol est qui sa marotte ne cognoist, et ne la maine comme il doit'
He is an ass that knows not,
and cannot rule, his own
(family, or affections.)

'Qui de mastin frait son compere plus de baston ne doit porter'
He that will converse with clowns,
must pass by rudeness without frowns.

'Vn fol dessus vn pont est vn tambour en la riviere'
A fool on a bridge is a drum in a river.
[experience keeps a dear school,
but fools learn in no other].
Or more to the point,
[ Experience keeps no school,
she teaches each child individually].

'On croir d'un fol bien souvent qu' il soit clere, pour ses vestemens'
Grave clothes make dunces often seem
great clerks.

'Del sot homme sot songe'
A foolish man hath foolish dreams.

'Quoy que fol tarde iour ne tarde'
Though the fool tarries,
the daylight tarries not;
or, fools do pause the day is spent,
time stays not the fool's leisure.

'Des fol iuge breve sentence'
The fool soon gives his verdict; or,
A fool's bolt is soon shoot.

'On les fait croire que les estoilles sont des, papillotes'
They are made believe that stars be
(no better than) spangles; viz,
they are extremely gullible, or abused,
or as we say, they think the moon
is made of cheese.

'Fol et avoir ne se peuvent entr' avoir'
A fool and wealth
can not posses each other;
[no more than an open hand
can hold water; or,
a nosey gossip a secret.]

'Prom ettie sans donner est fol reconsorter'
Fruitless promises appease none but fools.

'Vn sac perce ne peut tenir le grain'
A sack full of holes can hold no grain;
a fool can not possess wealth
or understanding.
[Proverbs, 17-16.
Wherefore is there a price
in the hand of a fool to get wisdom,
seeing he hath no heart to it?]
[ he who is born a fool is never cured].
[fools like weeds grow
without watering].
[an ass is but an ass,
even when dressed in gold].
[Proverbs, 27-22.
Though though shouldest bray a fool
in a mortar among wheat with a pestle,
yet will not his foolishness depart from him.]

'Fol est qui iette a ses pieds ce qu'il tient en ses mains'
He is an ass that throws at his heels
what he holds in his hands; viz,
that neglects his own (whatsoever.)

'Fol est quiest a table, et n'ose manger'
He is an ass that having wealth enough
dares not use it; or
being where it is to be had,
dares not put for it.

'Fol qui beaucoup desire choisit, et prend le pire'
He is an ass that presumes too much on
his own strength, or knows not the right
use of his own things.

'Fol est qui est esperonne, et a cheval dit hai'
He is an ass that having sufficient,
does use insufficient.

'Fol est qui se coupe de son propre cousteau'
He is an ass that hurts himself
with his own helps; or,
abuses his own good parts
to his own destruction.

'Il fait accroire qe les lievres pondent, & sont des oeufs'
{app'- extreme prattler, monstrous liar},
he would have us believe
that hares lay eggs.

'Meschant ourier ne trouvera ia bons outils'
A bungler cannot find good tools.

'De sot homme on n'en peut faire vn bon conte'
An ass does nothing worth speaking of.

'Fols sont sages quand ils se taisent'
Fools are wise until they speak.
fools are held wise
as long as they are silent.
As nothing comes out of a sack
but what was in it

'Fol est qui perd la chair pout les os'
He is an ass that loses flesh for
bones; viz, that leaves important,
to follow paltry, matters.

'Chasser apres les mouches'
To spend time most vainly, idly, foolishly;
to as little purpose as may be;
or to lose time altogether.

'La teste luy berse en gondolle'
His head totters like a boat in a storm.
[custom is the plague of wise men
and the idol of fools].

'Verde busche faict chand feu'
A green log makes a hot fire.
(said of fools, or those who are but
novices, green under the collar.)

'A barbe de fol on apprend a raire'
By shaving a fool, one learns to shave.

'Fol se doit nommer en face qui bien assis se des desplace'
He should be called a fool to his face,
that being well does quit his place.

'En larmes de sol ne se doit on fier'
The tears of a fool are not to be trusted.

'Si le fol n' alloit au marche on ne vendroit pas la mauvaise denree'
If fools went not to market
ill wares would be kept.
(thus, even fools have their uses.)

'Tout bois vaut busches.'
All wood is worth logs.

'En de faut de sage monte vn fol en chair'
A fool, for want or lack of better,
does step up and preach;
undertakes the business,
undergoes the charge.
[a fool always rushes to the fore].
[ we commonly say, fools rush in
where angels fear to tread. ]

'Le fol est sot quant et quant, mais tout sot n'est pas fol'
All fools be sots, but all sots are not
fools. [ sot = habitual drunk.]

'Si tu veux agnoistre vn villain baille luy la baguette en main'
The way to discern a knave,
fool, or clown is to give him authority.

'Qui n'a point de teste, n'a que faire de chaperon'
He that his no head,
No needs hood.

'Voila vne belle sagesse'
Said ironically of a foolish action,
or words.
That was a worthy wise act,
the very cream of Apollo's panne,

'Il est aussi sage qu'oncques puis n'enfournames nous'
He is even as wise as he was at first;
an idiot he was,
and a fool he remains.

'Il est bien fol qui cuide tousiours vivre'
He is a very ass
that thinks he shall live forever.

'D'un vilain refraict Dieu nous garde'
From a churl grown rich
good Lord deliver us.

'Il n'est si sage qui ne folie aucunes fois'
The wisest man doth sometimes
play the fool.
[everyman has a fool up his sleeve].
[ both rich and poor, old or young,
Wise or foolish, commit follies.]

'Qui perd le sien perd le sens'
He who loses his patience,
foregoes his senses,
power to reason, or act-
respond appropriately.
(nothing should be done hastily,
except the killing of fleas).
[Proverbs, 29-20.
Do you see a man
Who speaks in haste?
There is more hope for a fool
Than him.]

'Trois beaucoup, & trois peu destruisent l'homme'
To speak much and know little,
to spend much and have but little,
to presume much and be but little,
that is a (foolish) man.

'L'on perd l'appareil d' vne poule, a faicte d'achesternpour vn liard d'espices'
Some to spare a penny
loose the use of something
that has cost them a pound.
[penny wise, pound foolish].
costly feasts

'Le fol reste apres la feste'
After a feast, a fool is made;
wise men
spend not their means in feasting.

'D'un sac a charbon ne peut sortir. Que le la poussiere noire'
A coal sack yields nothing but black dust;
Black thoughts can none
but baleful acts produce.

'Qui envoye chetif a la men, il n'en rapporte poison ne sel'
He that sends a bad servant to sea,
hath small return for his venture.
I have sent a knave
to do a knight's errant,
a mere boy, on a mans errand.
[To blindly trust the untrustworthy
or incapable,
to lame yourself or your cause,
by sending a fool
on an important mission].
[Proverbs, 26-6.
He that sendeth a message
by the hand of a fool
cuteth off (his) the feet,
and drinketh damage.]

'A midi estoille ne luit'
Everything hath a season,
and he that looks for night at midday,
may as well be termed mad, foolish or

'Semer des roses aux pourceaux'
To bestow excellent things
upon the vicious, that will not,
or the ignorant that cannot,
make use of them.
To cast pearls before pigs.

'Bonne iournee fait que de sol se delivre'
He does an excellent day's work,
that rids himself of a fool.