It is so seldom heard that, when it speaks,
It ravishes all senses."
MASSINGER, Old Law, iv. 2.
A woman's strength is in her tongue."
But, granted the effective use frequently made by this weapon, the teachers of old were of opinion that "Silence is the best ornament of a woman;" or, as another version expresses it, "Silence is a fine jewel for a woman, but it is little worn."
In days gone by a singular sign--a very favourite one with oil painters--was "The Good Woman," originally expressive of a female saint, a holy or good woman, who had met her death by the loss of her head, and how by the waggery of after ages the good woman came to be converted into the Silent Woman, as if it were a matter of necessity, is thus explained--
Pray, was she painted without a head?
Yes, Sir, she was! You never read of
A silent woman with her head on.
Besides, you know, there's nought but speaking
Can keep a woman's heart from breaking!"
That the fairest of dames was a headless one."
In the old Scotch ballad of "The Dumb Wife of Aberdour," the husband is represented (writes Mr. W. A. Clouston in Notes and Queries, 6th Series, i. 272) as meeting with "a great grim man"--the devil, in fact--to whom he complains of his misfortune in having a wife who was dumb; upon which the Arch-fiend says to him
And I sall find remeid,
Gif thou wilt counsel keep,
And learn well what I say:
This night, in her first sleep,
Under her tongue then lay
Of quaking aspen leaf.
The whilk betokens wind,
And she shall have relief
Of speaking, thou shalt find,
What kind of tale, withouten fail,
That thou of her requires.
She shall speak out, have thou nae doubt,
And mair than thou desires."
Can give a wife her tongue;
The greatest, I you tell,
Can never make her dumb."
This work is praise to each woman.'"
After that God did her create,
Until the man took leaves long
And put them under her palate;
An aspen leaf of the devil he gat,
And for it moveth with every wind,
They say women's tongues be of like kind."
Swift to hear and slow to speak."
The persistency of a woman's tongue has been made the subject of frequent comment in our proverbial lore, experience, having long proved that "a woman's tongue wags like a lamb's tall," or, as it is said in France, "Foxes are all tail, and women are all tongue." And, according to an Alsatian proverb, "If you would make a pair of good shoes, take for the sole the tongue of a woman--it never wears out." A Welsh proverb says "Arthur could not tame a woman's tongue," which is not surprising if there be any truth in the maxim that "A woman will scold the devil out of a haunted house," which reminds us of an amusing little anecdote told of Tom Hood, who, on hearing the piety of a very loquacious lady spoken of, humorously said, "Yes, she is well known for her mag-piety;" and there is the German proverb, "Women are never at a loss for words." An amusing couplet, which is proverbial in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, thus speaks of a woman's tongue:--
Planted no beard upon a woman's face;
Not Freddy Keene's razors, though the very best,
Could shave a chin that never is at rest."
According to an Italian saying, "three women and three geese make a market," which is also found among Hindustani proverbs, "Madame Slut and two farmers' wives make a fair," a version of which has long been current in this country, where it is said, "three women make a market, four a fair," as they are sure to attract notice, and to make themselves heard. This piece of proverbial lore is alluded to in "Love's Labour's Lost" (act iii. sc. 1.):--
Then the boy's fat l'envoy, the goose that you bought."
Much cackle will both;
A man that hath them in his clos [possession],
He shall rest wroth."
While they gossiped round a tea-caddy."
Were it not mingled with one foul infection;
So proud a heart, so cursed a tongue,
As makes her seem nor rich, nor fair, nor young."
Although proverbial wisdom is agreed that, to quote a German adage, "A woman has never spoiled anything through silence," her fondness of talking is further exemplified in such proverbs as "Her tongue steals away all the time from her hands," and "All women are good Lutherans," they say in Denmark, "because they would rather preach than hear Mass;" whereas the old English saying enjoins, "Let women spin and not preach." One of Heywood's proverbs tells us that "Husbands are in heaven whose wives scold not," which is similar to the well-known adage:--
And a good wife that never grumbles;"
Are enough to drive a man out of his life."
Make a man weary of house and life;"
Closely allied with the proverbial lore associated with a woman's tongue may be mentioned the strong antipathy to a woman whistling about a house or even out of doors, for, according to a well-known proverb, of which there are several versions:--
Are neither fit for God nor men;"
Will call the old gentleman out of his den;"
Always come to some bad end;"
Will come to God, but God knows when;"
Ou la poule plus haut que le coq chant."
("That house doth everday more wretched grow,
Where the hen louder than the cock doth crow");
A cock that's silent, and a hen that crows."
Are neither fit for gods nor men."
From the numerous instances recorded of this piece of folk-lore we may quote an amusing extract from one of Walpole's letters to Lady Ossory, January 8, 1772, wherein after informing her Ladyship of the damage done to his castle by the explosion of the Hounslow Powder Mills, he humorously writes:--
"Margaret [his housekeeper] sits by the waters of Babylon and weeps over Jerusalem. Yet she was not taken quite unprepared, for one of the Bantam hens had crowed on Sunday morning, and the chandler's wife told her three weeks ago, when the Barn was blown down, that ill-luck never came single. She is, however, very thankful that the china-room has escaped, and says God has always been the best creature in the world to her."
But a talkative, as well as a whistling, woman is, in German lore, equally warned against making an undue use of her tongue, for "a glaring sunny morning, a woman that talks Latin, and a child reared on wine never come to a good end;" or, as another adage has it, "A woman and a hen are soon lost in gadding"; and according to another warning, whereas "a gossiping woman talks of every one, every one talks of her." The most remarkable thing, as the Japanese say, is that, although "a woman's tongue is only three inches long, it can kill a man six feet high;" but the Chinese have a common proverb to the effect that, whereas "a man's words are like an arrow close to the mark, a woman's is like a broken fan." A further way, also, in which woman is occasionally able to use her tongue to advantage is in the art of dissimulation when love is concerned, a piece of craft which, skilfully devised, has deceived many a lover, for, as the Spanish adage goes--
I'll speak him fair and love him not;"
But, after all, it must not be forgotten that even "the whisper of a beautiful woman can be heard further than the loudest call of duty;" and again, "A sweet tongue will conquer the whole world, and a crooked one will estrange it."
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