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Henningsen: 2015 Commentary Brunch Sampler

‘Nothing Ventured’ is the first half of a popular saying that’s been variously attributed to Gilbert & Sullivan, Benjamin Franklin and Geoffrey Chaucer. But it’s actually one of many English country sayings painstakingly transcribed by the scholar John Heywood, one of those delightful English eccentrics without whose obsessive preoccupations our lives would be much poorer. In the 16th century, he preserved the rustic wisdom of those Gertrude Stein later called “Village Explainers.” “Excellent,” she continued, “if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”

Well, you’re not a village, but you are a captive audience. So I give you the lesson for today, taking my text from Heywood’s Proverbs, published in 1546. As he would say, “Nought venture, nought won.”

But the fat’s in the fire and we must make hay while the sun shines. Haste makes waste, they say, but time and tide wait for no man. With a new broom, we’ll make a clean sweep.

After all, nothing’s impossible if we hold our noses to the grindstone, if we understand that we can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink, and if we remember to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day and beggars can’t be choosers. After all, half a loaf is better than none. Therefore, we must avoid missing the forest for the trees. So let’s not put the cart before the horse, and let’s avoid buying a pig in a poke - rather let's make sure to hit the nail on the head. After all, one good turn deserves another.

I know, two heads are better than one and many hands make light work. But every dog must have his day and this is mine.

Perhaps I should’ve looked before I leaped, but as it is I’ve shot my bolt. It may sound like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth and it certainly looks like I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too, but the more the merrier – and clearly, if you give me an inch, I’ll take a mile. Still there’s no fool like an old fool, and all’s well that ends well.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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