Ever Ancient, Ever New

These articles will cite famous advice, wise proverbs, and prudent counsel as they appear in the classics of literature, in the words of famous characters from the good and great books of Western civilization, and in the published letters of noble men and women. Some articles will examine the world’s bad or worst advice, for example, Polonius’s words of wisdom to his son Laertes in Hamlet, as falsehoods that mislead. Because true wisdom, in Augustine’s words, is “ever ancient” and “ever new,” this treasury of the world’s knowledge, “the collected reason of ages” deposited in “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages,” to quote from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, will hopefully speak to many modern minds and hearts.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #5

“It’s knowing what to do with things that counts.”—Robert Frost, “At Woodward’s Gardens”

In Frost’s poem, “At Woodward’s Gardens,” a boy visiting a zoo carries a magnifying glass. From his study of science he has apparently learned to use the glass not only to magnify objects for better vision but also to concentrate the rays of the sun to create heat and fire.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #4

Sancho Panza, the comical squire of the illustrious Don Quixote who vowed to restore knight-errantry into a debased world and recover the Golden Age, once told his master, “An ass will carry his load but not a double load.” As a loyal servant to his fearless knight-errant, Sancho performed his duties faithfully, but he never hesitated to remind his idealistic, visionary knight of the limits of human nature and the distinction between the normal and the abnormal demands of work. If Sancho were hungry, thirsty, sleepy, or in pain, Quixote heard the complaints of his squire that he often expressed in the proverbs that flowed from his tongue. This traditional wisdom also appears in proverbs from other older cultures. A famous Armenian proverb states, “No one can carry two watermelons at the same time.”

Ever Ancient, Ever New #3

“It is not enough that your actions are good. You must take care that they appear so.” In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones, the wise Squire Allworthy offers this advice to the young who are often negligent of the importance of manners, public appearances, and first impressions.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #2

One of the most famous statements of wisdom comes from Dr. Johnson, the eminent man of letters of the eighteenth century England who wrote Dictionary of the English Language, Lives of the Poets, Rasselas, and the Rambler essays. Known as a sociable, “clubbable” man who relished friendship as “the wine of life,” Johnson cultivated a large circle of friends from every walk of life and of every age.