ISSN 1323-4633
Volume 2 – Number 1 – 1996>>



[ Biographical Sketch of Archer Taylor | Archer Taylor as Paremiologist | A Classic Study: The Proverb (1931) ]

Biographical Sketch of Archer Taylor

It is with much excitement and pleasure that I offer this reprint of Archer Taylor’s (1890-1973) seminal work on The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931) to friends, colleagues and students interested in proverb studies as volume six of the series “Sprichworterforschung”. My special thanks go to Mrs. Hasseltine Byrd Taylor and Harvard University Press for granting me the kind permission to republish this invaluable book. It has influenced and inspired proverb scholars throughout the world for over fifty years, and it will doubtlessly continue to be of greatest importance for future generations of paremiologists. Any serious work with proverbs must refer to this classic study which even today represents the most comprehensive introduction to the various aspects of proverb studies. This book alone has made Archer Taylor the grand master of intemational paremiology. Add to this the over one hundred further articles and books that Taylor has written on proverbs, and it becomes clear why he is considered the proverbialist par excellence of the modern age.

Archer Taylor was born on August 1, 1890, in Philadelphia as the son of the Quakers Lowndes and Florence York Taylor. He enjoyed a strict and disciplined upbringing and showed particular interest in natural sciences and mathematics during his school years. But when he entered Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, he quickly found that the humanities, especially languages and literatures, were in fact his real interest. At the young age of nineteen he graduated from Swarthmore College with the B.A. in German and completed his M.A. degree in the same field with similar speed in 1910 at the University of Pennsylvania. Between 1910 and 1912 he worked as an instructor of German at Pennsylvania State College, embarking also on one of his many European trips in the summer of 1912. Upon his return from visiting primarily Germany and the Scandinavian countries, he enrolled at Hanard University receiving his Ph.D. degree in German with a dissertation on the fairy tale motifs in the “Wolfdietrich” epics. At Harvard he had the good fortune to study with such renowned scholars as Kuno Francke, George Lyman Kittredge, John Albrecht Walz, Hans Carl Gunther von Jagemann, William Henry Schofield, Charles Hall Grandgent, F.N. Robinson and others. Their fields of expertise included German literature, Germanic philology, Scandinavian studies, Romance languages, Celtic and, of course, also folklore. Taylor in his later life was to encompass all of these areas in his highly comparative research which did not stop at linguistic or national boundaries, which included the classical, medieval and modern ages, and which dealt with all literary and folkloric genres.

In the Fall of 1915 Taylor accepted an appointment as Instructor of German at Washington University in St. Louis and also eventually earned his full professorship there. Just before starting his ten year tenure at that university, he married his childhood sweetheart Alice Jones on September 9, 1915. Once in St. Louis, the young Taylors started a family which eventually included the three children Margaret, Richard and Cynthia. Since Taylor was teaching primarily elementary and intermediate German at that time, he found much time to pursue his research interests and thus started his phenomenal publication activities on medieval literature, philology, folklore, bibliography, etc. His scholarly output reached over four hundred books, monographs, articles and notes published by some of the best presses and in the most prestigeous journals in America and Europe. It is not possible to mention every article or note and certainly not the hundreds of reviews here that Taylor wrote in his long lifetime, but it might be of interest to observe that his papers on “O du armer Judas” ( 1920) and “In the Evening Praise the Day” (1921) started his lifelong preoccupation with proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons and wellerisms.[1]

In 1923 and 1925 Taylor was invited to teach summer school at the University of Chicago, where his colleagues quickly recognized his superb qualities as an instructor and scholar. A professorship of German Literature was offered to him, and in the Fall of 1925 Taylor and his family found themselves in Chicago. By 1927 Taylor had become the Chairman of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, and he was given a free hand at developing and strengthening the Scandinavian and folklore course offerings. Together with Leonard Bloomfield he had equal freedom and support in building one of the finest library collections of Middle High German literature, and he also increased Chicago’s library holdings in Reformation and Renaissance literature and in particular in folklore. With this superb library behind him, an ever increasing scholarly productivity led to a score of books which established Archer Taylor as an acclaimed scholar Suffice it to mention here at least The Black Ox (Hel sinki 1927), “Edward” and “Sven i Rosengard”. A Study in the Dissemination of a Ballad (Chicago 1931), The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931), An Index to “The Proverb ” (Helsinki 1934), A Bibliography of Meistergesang (Bloomington/Indiana 1936, with Frances H. Ellis), The Literary History of Meistergesang (New York 1937), A Bibliography of Riddles (Helsinki 1939), and Problems in German Literary History of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (New York 1939). To this must be added numerous articles and countless reviews as well as many significant studies which Taylor contributed to the Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens and the Handwörterbuch des deutschen Märchens during these years.

Early in his Chicago years Taylor lost his first wife Alice Jones Taylor on June 16, 1930, and found himself alone with his three children. It must have been extremely difficult for him to care properly for his family and at the same time teach his classes, administer his Department and continue his research. He managed for two years in the middle of which appeared his celebrated book on The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931). Reading this book with Taylor’s personal life in mind, it can show us this man’s strength in carrying on despite of the tragic loss of his wife and the mother of his children. The book is written clearly and lively, its refreshing and vigorous style is apparent everywhere, and nowhere can the reader sense any depression or indifference. We could perhaps go so far as to say that writing The Proverb was Archer Taylor’s way of coping with his situation at that time. He worked incessently and thereby sublimated his grief, perhaps mindful of the tale and proverbial phrase “This too will pass” about which he was to publish an article in 1968.

But during this time he also met Hasseltine Byrd who became his second wife on June 17, 1932, and who survives him today living at the beautiful Taylor ranch overlooking the wine-growing Napa Valley in California. Hasseltine Taylor, herself a scholar who obtained a Ph.D. from Chicago’s School of Social Welfare, provided the necessary intellectual and personal environment for Archer Taylor to continue his extraordinary career. Together they had two daughters, Mary Constance and Ann Byrd, and they succeeded in molding the expanded family into a homogeneous unit which, though dispersed throughout the United States, continues to gather at the Taylor home in Napa from time to time. Much credit goes to Hasseltine Taylor for the lifelong support, dedication and love that she showed her husband and children for so many years. Together with her husband she helped build the marvellous ranch in the Napa Hills which for so many years was the Mecca for folklorists from around the world. To this day colleagues and friends continue to visit Hasseltine Taylor there, and they can’t help but feel invigorated by the Taylor spirit that radiates from her. My own visit to the Taylor estate in 1980 was an unforgettable event, especially since I did not have the fortune and privilege ever to meet Archer Taylor personally. But talking with his wife about him, their life together and their family, I soon realized that Archer Taylor had not just been one of America’s greatest humanistic scholars but that he also was a loving husband and father. Despite his scholarly achievements he enjoyed his free time with his family and working on the ranch. Such physical labor, the entertaining of folkorists and his family life provided him with a balance that led him to pursue his scholarly work with fresh vigor and insights whenever he retumed to it. By being such magnanimous hosts to countless folklorists over the years, Hasseltine and Archer Taylor as a team had influence on all of them, delighting them with their friendship and their human and scholarly insights.

The year 1939 brought a major change in the life of the Taylors. The call from Califomia had come, and in the fall of 1939 Archer Taylor started his distinguished activities as Professor of German Literature and Folklore at the University of California at Berkeley, acting once again as Chairman of the Department from 1940 to 1945. It must have been a tremendously difficult task to be the head of a superb German Department during the forties, but it is also clear that Archer Taylor was the seasoned person who could ensure objective teaching and scholarship during the time of the Nazi menace in Gemmany. That Taylor was willing to take on the chaimmanship during these crucial years is yet another indication of his sincere commitment to all aspects of his profession. He was no hermit, he was not a scholar in the ivory tower, but rather he was a person very much involved in everyday life and willing to contribute to the maintenance of reason and rationality.

The Berkeley years until Archer Taylor’s offical retirement in 1958 were incredibly fruitful as far as his scholarly output is concerned. Among the books of those years are Renaissance Reference Books. A Checklist of Some Bibliographies Published before 1700 (Berkeley 1941), Printing and Progress. Two Lectures (Berkeley 1941, with Gustave O. Arlt), Renaissance Guides to Books. An Inventory and Some Conclusions (Berkeley 1945), The Literary Riddle before 1600 (Berkeley 1948), English Riddles from Oral Tradition (Berkeley 1951), The Bibliographical History of Anonyma and Pseudonyma (Chicago 1951, with F.J. Mosher), Proverbial Comparisons and Similes from California (Berkeley 1954), A Collection of Irish Riddles (Berkeley 1955, with Vernam Hull), A History of Bibliographies of Bibliographies (New Brunswick/ New Jersey 1955), The Shanghai Gesture (Helsinki 1956), and Book Catalogues: Their Varieties and Uses (Chicago 1957). Once again I can merely list the book titles here, but they should at least indicate that while Taylor continued his interest in folklore and literature he also became incredibly active in the study of bibliography. Anybody who knew Archer Taylor is aware of the fact that he was “a walking bibliography” himself who was always collecting bibliographical information, reading book catalogues and, above all, sharing his vast amount of bibliographical knowledge with colleagues and students everywhere.

In addition to the many books, articles and reviews published from 1939 to 1958, Taylor also was very active in other areas of his profession. In 1941 he helped found the California Folklore Society and in 1942 its journal California Folklore Quarterly (now Western Folklore), of which he was the co-editor for many years. His editorship of the Journal of American Folklore from 1941 to 1942 had gained him the necessary experience to be an effective editor for this new journal which has become one of the leading journals in folklore. Obviously Taylor was also a recognized member of many national and international organisations, the recipient of many fellowships, awards, honors, etc. In recognition of his contributions to folklore studies he was elected President of the American Folklore Society for 1936/37,and the huge Modern Language Association of America made him its President for 1951. But these honors never changed this basically humble and unselfish man; they merely strengthened him to carry on with his work as he grew older and to share his research interests and projects with even more intensity with others as he began to realize that he could not possibly complete all the tasks that he had mapped out for himself in his lifetime.

When retirement came in 1958 it was nothing more than a necessary formality for Archer Taylor. His untiring energy and spirit continued almost to his death. Periodically leaving his beloved Napa home, he and his wife resided at the University of Texas (1959), Indiana University (1958 and 1962) and Ohio State University (1963) while Archer Taylor was a guest professor there. Books also continued to be produced, notably Catalogues of Rare Books. A Chapter in Bibliographical History (Lawrence/Kansas 1958) and of course the indispensable A Dictionary of American Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions 1820-1880 (Cambridge/Mass. 1958) which he put together with his friend Bartlett Jere Whiting. Even at the age of seventy-six, when an eye ailment hampered his reading ability, he stepped forth with yet anothermajorvolume on General Subject-Indexes Since 1548 (Philadelphia 1966). In 1960 Archer Taylor was rightfully and deservedly honored by a most impressive “Festschrift” which his two friends Wayland D. Hand and Gustave O. Arlt edited with the befitting title Humaniora. Essays in Literature, Folklore, Bibliography. Honoring Archer Taylor on His Seventieth Birthday (Locust Valley/New York 1960).[2] The subtitle summarizes Taylor’s three major areas of expertise and such internationally renowned contributors as Bartlett Jere Whiting, L. L. Hammerich, Dag Strömbeck, Stith Thompson, Walter Anderson, Taylor Starck, Kurt Ranke, Lutz Röhrich, Matti Kuusi, Georgios A. Megas, Robert Wildhaber, Francis Lee Utley, Anna Brigitta Rooth, Will-Erich Peuckert, Wolfram Eberhard, Julian Krzyzanowski, etc. acknowledge Taylor’s worldwide influence.

The year 1962 must have been a particular joyous occasion for Archer Taylor who was slowly returning to his special interest in proverb studies which had been so keen in the thirties in particular. It was at this time that the Folklore Associates (Hatboro/Pennsylvania) and the Rosenkilde and Bagger Publishers (Copenhagen) reissued his famous book on proverbs from 1931 together with its extended index which Taylor had published separately in 1934 as The Proverb and An Index to “The Proverb” (Hatboro/Pennsylvania and Copenhagen 1962). And in 1965 yet another dream became reality, for Archer Taylor succeeded in establishing the journal Proverbium together with his Finnish friend Matti Kuusi. This venture has led to the increasingly international scope of proverb studies which Taylor had envisioned for so many years. He himself was a frequent contributor, having also written the lead article on “The Study of Proverbs” (1965) for the first issue. The fifteenth issue, edited by Matti Kuusi, became Taylor’s second “Festschrift” with the title Archer Taylor, octogenario in honorem I. VIII. MCMLXX. (= Proverbium, 15 [1970], 417-552).[3] Almost fifty proverb scholars contributed short articles in honor of Taylor’s eightieth birthday to this volume, which along with the entire twenty-five issues of Proverbium belongs to the basic research tools of paremiology. The same is true of course for the essay volume which Archer Taylor put together a year before his death as Comparative Studies in Folklore. Asia-Europe-America (Taipei 1972). It includes twenty-seven of Taylor’s major articles on general problems of folklore, comparative studies on riddles, investigations of proverbs and gestures, and studies of folk tales. In addition I have put together a commemorative volume of fifteen essays entitled Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor (Helsinki 1975) to honor his great importance for the field of paremiology.[4]

After a short period of declining health that included a number of strokes starting in September of 1972 Archer Taylor died on September 30, 1973, having lived a most productive and influential long and full life. Hundreds of scholars mourned him at that time, and the many obituaries that appeared in scholarly journals all praised him as one of the true giants of humanistic scholarship.[5] Much of this deserved praise was bestowed upon him during his life time, and people will continue to marvel at this unique person who still touches all of us through personal memories and accounts, but above all through his many invaluable writings. Archer Taylor’s first investigation of a single proverb, a comparative approach which he later mastered to perfection, appeared at the beginning of his career in 1921 and dealt, in retrospect perhaps almost ironically, with the proverb “In the evening praise the day”. With Taylor’s life and career having come to an end, we, his students and admirers, can praise him to the fullest even today after he has been gone for over a decade. His was a life of scholarly service to his contemporaries and for future generations, and his encompassing wisdom will prevail.

Archer Taylor as Paremiologist

While his widespread literary, folkloristic and bibliographical interests did not permit Archer Taylor to concentrate solely on paremiology, it can be said with a considerable justification that proverb research fascinated him throughout his long life. Much of his international fame rests upon his almost 120 books, articles and notes on proverbs,proverbial expressions,proverbial comparisons, wellerisms, similes and idioms. Since it is impossible to mention every single item here, a complete bibliography of Taylor’s paremiological writings (including reviews) follows this introduction.[6] In the following short discussion of Archer Taylor as a paremiologist only his major works will be mentioned with mere indications of the year of their publication. For more complete bibliographical information please see the appended chronologically arranged bibliography.

Taylor’s proverb scholarship can best be divided into seven main categories: (1) historical and comparative studies on individual proverbs, (2) bibliographical surveys, (3) general aspects of the study of proverbs, (4) common motifs and themes in the content of proverbs, (5) literary proverb studies, (6) collections of proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons and wellerisms, and (7) investigations of proverb patterns and variants. Already his early publication on “O du armer Judas” (1920) reflects his growing interest in the proverb and is exemplary for his subsequent studies. Actually this is an investigation of a folksong that is based on a Latin Easter hymn. But by concentrating particularly on the origin and history of the concluding strophe which contains the proverbial phrase “Den armen Judas singen” (To sing the poor Judas), Taylor touches upon the interrelationship between proverbial materials and other folk narrative genres, such as the fairy tale, tall tale, legend, riddle, etc. He in fact returned to this problem in his very last article on “The Collection and Study of Tales and Proverbs” (published posthumously in 1975).[7] Taylor’s attempt to explain the expression “Den armen Judas singen” in a postscript to the above mentioned paper marks the beginning of numerous articles on the origin, history, variants and meaning of individual proverbs and proverbial expressions. His second proverb study deals with just such a problem, namely the investigation of the proverb “In the Evening Praise the Day” (1921). Five years later he completed the detailed study “Sunt tria damna domus” (1926), which set the standard for similar investigations. Taylor traces the origin, history, variants and international dissemination of the proverb “Sunt tria damna domus: imber, mala femina, fumus” (Three things are bad in a house: rain, a scolding wife and smoke) and on the basis of his rigorous bibliographical and comparative research methods establishes the scientific approach to the study of a single proverb. Many other such investigations followed, among them analyses of “On Tib’s Eve, neither before nor after Christmas” (1934), “The black ox has trod on his foot” (1941), “To take his measure” (1955), “An old friend is the best friend” (1955), ” ” ‘Audi, Vide, Tace’, and the Three Monkeys” (1957) “No house is big enough for two women” (1957 and 1958), “All is not gold that glitters” (1958 and 1959), “Feed a cold and starve a fever” ( l 958), “The customer is always right” (1958), “Tom, Dick, and Harry” (1958), “He that will not when he may, when he will shall have nay” (1963), “A man’s house (home) is his castle” (1965), “Stolen fruit is always the sweetest” (1967), “Let them eat cake” (1968), “It’s good fishing in troubled (muddy) waters” (1968), “A place for everything and everything in its place” (1968), “This too will pass” (1968), “When wine is in, wit is out” (1968), “As light as a feather” (1970), “Leave no stone unturned” (1971), etc. Each of these studies indicates Taylor’s inclusive research method. His knowledge of many Germanic and Romance languages and literatures enabled him to cross national barriers and to investigate the international character of many proverbs tracing them far back to classical antiquity With his bibliographical interest always present, he also published the bibliographical survey “Investigations of English Proverbs, Proverbial and Conventional Phrases, Oaths and Clichés” (1952) to help scholars in their studies of individual expressions.[8]

Every article or book that Archer Taylor wrote is in fact a rich bibliographical resource in addition to its other scholarly values. One of the finest examples of his keen bibliographical interest is his fascinating ‘ An Introductory Bibliography for the Study of Proverbs (1932), which was a natural by-product from the preparation of his book on The Proverb (Cambndge/ Mass. 1931). This article gives an overview of the international field of proverb studies. Taylor lists and acquaints the reader with the major bibliographical tools of paremiology. He also reviews the major international, national and regional collections and discusses the most important books and articles about proverbs. Naturally this bibliographical survey of over fifty years ago is dated today. Many of the older collections have been reprinted or superseded by more complete ones. In general, Otto Moll’s Sprichwörterbibliographie (Frankfurt 1958) is of considerable help in augmenting Taylor’s bibliography and so is my own International Proverb Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography (New York 1982). Yet, Taylor’s critical bibliography has great value even today, since it contains only the most important standard studies. In addition, Taylor’s discussions of many of the listed works in foreign languages will help the beginning proverb student to find the most reliable resources.

The year 1934 marks the beginning of a series of general studies on the various aspects of the proverb. Though on a more modest scale than The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931), the article “Problems in the Study of Proverbs” (1934) still represents an inclusive suney of the field of paremiology. Here Taylor singled out eight major categories of inquiry for the study of proverbs: (1) the bibliography of proverbs and proverb collections, (2) the collection of proverbs, (3) the sources and history of proverb collections, (4) the study of individual proverbs, (5) the study of proverbial forms and types, (6) proverbial comparisons, (7) translated proverbs, and (8) problems in the study of proverbs. Each of these sections is augmented by references to the most important secondary literature, so that this essay is in fact a most precise statement of the nature and goals of paremiology. Other basic articles include “The Study of Proverbs” (1939, together with Bartlett Jere Whiting, Francis W. Bradley, Richard Jente and Morris Palmer Tilley), “The Wisdom of Many and the Wit of One” (1962), “The Study of Proverbs” (1965, on the occasion of the first issue of Proverbium), “The Collection and Study of Proverbs” (1967), and “The Collection and Study of Tales and Proverbs” (published posthumously 1975). Each of these studies takes into account much of the work which has already been done, but they also point to the problems that still remain unsolved, and herein lies Taylor’s great gift to scholars of the future. Again and again Taylor has drawn attention to the need for more bibliographical tools. He also argued for new collections of proverbs and such sub-genres as proverbial comparisons or wellerisms based on historical principles. The entire history of proverb collections remains to be studied in more detail. What ideals inspired their editors and collectors? What needs did the older collections serve? What were their moral and cultural purposes? Just as many questions still exist when one asks about the relationship of proverbs to folk narratives, many questions raised by Taylor still await an answer, and his publications contain enough suggestions for research projects to keep paremiologists busy for many years to come. Paremiology made great advances in Archer Taylor’s lifetime, but much remains to be done. Looking back over half a century of his own proverb studies, Archer Taylor observed accurately that “we are only at the beginning of the task”.[9] But let it not be forgotten that the solid progress which has been made and which continues to be achieved is due to a large degree to Archer Taylor’s work and the inspiration and guiding principle that it represents to proverb scholars everywhere.

Only relatively few studies on proverbs were published by Taylor in the forties. Those years were dedicated above all to bibliographical studies as well as to the preparation of a number of significant investigations on the riddle. In addition Taylor was also extremely busy as the administrator of the German Department at Berkeley during those difficult years of the German profession in the United States. One of the highlights of his proverb work at this time was, however, his detailed analysis of “Locutions for ‘Never’ ” (1949) from the major European languages. Two more specialized studies of single expressions meaning”never” had been his earlier ” ‘Niemals’ in einem historischen Schweizer Volkslied” (1934) and “Zwischen Pfingsten und Strassburg” (1941), but now Taylor was in a position to present a solid comparative study of figurative negatives, grouping his many examples according to the form and content of the expressions. Other studies concerning particular aspects in a group of proverbs or proverbial expressions include ” ‘Dutch’ in Proverbial and Conventional Use” (1952), “The Use of Proper Names in Wellerisms and Folk Tales” (1959), “Proverbial Phrases not Proverbs, in Breughel’s Painting” (1965), etc. Here Taylor could point to general stylistic and metaphoric aspects of a group of texts, thereby adding to a better understanding of the formation and content of proverbs and proverbial expressions.

Yet another series of articles pays witness to Archer Taylor as an ardent reader of literally any book that possibly struck his fancy. Following the already mentioned relative calm of his proverb studies during the forties, Taylor began a vigorous collecting task of proverbs and proverbial expressions from selected works of Anglo-American literature. Studies of the proverbs in the works of Harry Harrison Kroll (1956), Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (1957 and 1960), Edward Eggleston (1957), Tobias Smollett (1957), William Wycherly (1957), Thomas Middleton (1958), Mary N. Murfree (1958) and others culminated in A Dictionary of American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1820-1880 (Cambridge/Mass. 1958), which Taylor published together with his friend Bartlett Jere Whiting. This collection has since become the standard reference work for the American proverb to which Whiting has added a splendid further volume after the death of Taylor entitled Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (Cambridge/Mass. 1977). Investigations of other authors followed, including James Hall (1959), John Marston (1960), Bayard Taylor (1961) and Roger L’Estrange (1962). Taylor demonstrated a particular interest in proverbs used in literary works since the proverbs in the literature of past generations reflect actual language usage, whereas they are “dead” in collections. In many of his studies Taylor has made specific mention of the necessity of investigating literature of all modes for proverbs, having also assigned a most stimulating chapter to “Proverbs in Literature” in The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931). Taylor is, however, primarily a collector of texts for the purpose of an historical proverb dictionary in these studies. The interpretation of their use and function is left to the literary historian.[10]

But Taylor did not collect proverbs only from literary texts. Especially in the journal Western Folklore he published short collections of proverbs, proverbial comparisons, wellerisms, “Americanisms” and similes which he had heard or found in popular magazines in California. A larger collection is his Proverbial Comparisons and Similes from California (Berkeley 1954). In these studies Taylor was especially interested in the American idiom without trying to establish any international connections. This is above all true for some of the very short notes that he wrote on such expressions as “To get (be) hep” (1952), “Pink elephants” (1952 and 1954), “No soap” (1957 and 1961), “A man must live” (1962), “A false alarm” (1963), “Peacock on the wall” (1963), “Ragtag and bobtail” ((1967), “To be on his own log” (1968), “To face the music” (1969), “To go it baldheaded” (1969), “To cut the mustard” (1971), “Sore as a pup” (1971), etc. Here Taylor restricted himself consciously to the explication of American phrases in the hope that they might eventually be included in American phraselogical dictionaries based on historical principles. Some smaller collections include “California Proverbs and Sententious Sayings” (1951, with C. Grant Loomis), “Americanisms Current in 1845” (1958), “More Proverbial Comparisons from California” (1958), “A Few Additional NineteenthCentury American Proverbs” (1965), etc. Ever mindful of the need of putting together new proverb collections or making old ones available for the historical study of proverbs, Taylor also edited the “Proverbia Britannica [1611]” (1924) and Pappity Stampoy’s A Collection of Scotch Proverbs (1955) from the year 1663. Certainly he would have done more of this editing if the large reprint companies of today had existed earlier.

Finally, there is a group of very important articles which deal with particular paremiological problems. One of the early examples is “The Proverbial Formula ‘Man soll”‘ (1930) which Taylor published in the prestigeous German journal Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, indicating that he was an American folklorist who early in his career had successfully bridged the gap between European and American scholarship. As usual, Taylor combines historical and comparative arguments in a detailed study which concludes that the formula “Man soll” is often employed when a proverbial phrase is changed into a proverb. A similar investigation is also “The History of a Proverbial Pattern” (1964), which discusses in great detail the proverbial pattern “X (a noun) … (a verb) X”, for example “Like cures like”, “Money begets money”, and many more. The investigation of a proverbial pattern is also ” ‘Neither Fish nor Flesh’ and Its Variations” (1966), which touches particularly on the problem of the variants of a standard proverb. Of interest is also his somewhat earlier paper on “I am Thine and Thou art Mine” (1960) in which he traces the German formula “Ich bin dein, du bist mein” from Middle High German literature to a reference of it in Goethe’s Faust. He succeeds splendidly in showing that this proverbial formula has indeed international currency, for in the typical Taylorian approach he locates and discusses many English, Slavic, Indian, Latin, Hebrew and Kurdish parallels. These essays are truly pioneering work on proverb patterning on an international basis. The methodology set forth by him should be adhered to if such investigations are to attain meaningful results.

This short survey of Archer Taylor’s major contributions to proverb studies shows that his whole life was dedicated to the advancement of international paremiology. He himself reprinted nine of his proverb studies in his essay volume Comparative Studies in Folklore. Asia-Europe-America (Taipei 1972), and I selected fifteen essays (see bibliography) in my commemorative volume Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor (Helsinki 1975). These two volumes have made Taylor’s most important proverb scholarship easily available, and they represent a supplement to his celebrated The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931). However, enormous as Taylor’s achievements are in his dozens of proverb publications over a span of more than fifty years, they cannot measure up to the unique value of his major treatise on the entire field of paremiology. Later essays deepened certain issues raised in the more general nature of his book length study, but in a nutshell The Proverb does contain to this day a comprehensive survey of proverb studies. Had Archer Taylor stopped writing on proverbs in 1931, this book alone would have secured him immortality among proverb scholars. The fact that he continued his proverb studies for four more decades is solid proof of his commitment to the advancement of knowledge. His achievements in paremiology alone are gargantuan, and he is rightfully acclaimed as the most influential paremiologist of this century.

A Classic Study: The Proverb (1931)

Seldom has one single book had so much influence on generations of scholars as Archer Taylor’s The Proverb (Cambridge/Mass. 1931) which he published before reaching the age of forty-one. Yet this book presents the entire field of proverb studies in such a fashion as if it were written as the final magnum opus of a seasoned scholar. That Taylor was able to deal with this vast subject matter at such a young age is ample proof for his untiring diligence and supreme dedication to serious scholarly pursuits. The book was conceived and written in the year after his wife Alice Jones had passed away leaving him and their three children to fend for themselves. The work on the book probably became his way of getting away from his grief, and out of this scholarly sublimation grew a brilliantly and humanly presented masterpiece. What an achievement alone when one considers the widower trying to be a surrogate mother for his children, putting his own life back into order, teaching his many students and also running the German Department at the University of Chicago. Perhaps we can see here the physical and psychological strength that drove Taylor from one major or minor research project to the next, always performing at the highest scholarly level and still finding time to care for his family and the many friends and colleagues who benefitted greatly from his benevolence and wisdom.

When The Proverb appeared at the Harvard University Press in 1931, nobody could have prophesied its significant future influence on international paremiology. This slender volume of 223 small pages with large print might have been looked at more as an interesting monograph but not as a major book. And yet, one of the few people who bothered to review the small volume immediately recognized that here was a book that would put proverb studies on solid footing and revolutionize the entire field of paremiology. Morris Palmer Tilley, himself a renowned American paremiologist and paremiographer, claimed at the beginning of his review that “this book, together with Apperson’s English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (1929) and Bonser’s Proverb Literature (1930), marks a healthy revival of interest in English proverbs.”[11] And Tilley also very acutely touched upon one of the major characteristics of Archer Taylor’s work as a scholar. Always humble despite his erudition and vast bibliographical knowledge, Taylor acknowledged freely the questions that he could not answer–in fact, he delighted in posing question after question so that other members of the scholarly community could research them. Tilley explains this particular methodology in the following manner:

One of the most valuable features of this work is the formulation and clarification of proverb problems that need to be undertaken. In the chapter on “The Origins of the Proverb” alone, we are reminded that “no one has ever undertaken a study” of how “new proverbs have often been made on old models” (p. 18); that “we are not well informed about the process of making fables into proverbs” (p. 27); that “the very curious and interesting relations of certain proverbs to some simple and primitive forms of verse have never been cleared up satisfactorily” (p. 32); that “no one has attempted to define the extent and nature of Latin borrowing of Greek proverbs” (p. 44); that “a particularly interesting question presents itself in connection with certain medieval Latin proverbs associated with vernacular proverbs” (p. 46); and that “the more exact definition of what constitutes the stock of international medieval proverbs is perhaps the most important and extensive task in the whole field” (p. 51). These and other needed studies formulated in this and other chapters of the book bring home to the reader the pioneer character of this survey of the essential characteristics of the proverb and of the problems connected with its study.[12]

Almost every page contains several suggestions for further study in addition to Archer Taylor’s own original contributions. With much foresight Tilley ended his excellent review stating that “those interested in proverbs are in Professor Taylor’s debt for this concise and scholarly study of the proverb. It surveys the field admirably and is especially helpful in its suggestions as to profitable investigations that have yet to be undertaken in the comparative study of proverbs. I know of no other equally stimulating and systematic study of the proverb.”[13]

There were and are plenty of scholars in the world who became workers in the untilled field of paremiology because they were inspired by one or the other query that Taylor had raised in this seminal work. Matti Kuusi in Finland, G.L. Permiakov in the Soviet Union, Lutz Rohrich in Germany, Demetrios Loukatos in Greece, Vilmos Voigt in Hungary, Katharine Luomala in Hawau, Anna Brigitta Rooth in Sweden, Bengt Holbek in Denmark, Arvo Krikmann in Estonia, Julian Krzyzanowski in Poland and of course numerous American scholars as Bartlett Jere Whiting, Wayland D. Hand, C. Grant Loomis, Morris Palmer Tilley, John G. Kunstmann, Richard Jente, J. Woodrow Hassell, Stuart A. Gallacher, Alan Dundes, Shirley Arora, Roger Abrahams, Peter Seitel, Wolfram Eberhard, Kwesi Yankah, etc. have all acknowledged their indebtedness to Archer Taylor for various research projects. A whole bibliography could be assembled of those publications alone that were directly inspired by questions raised in The Proverb. I know that my own “Doktorvater” Stuart A. Gallacher, himself a student of Archer Taylor, published several of his significant papers because Archer Taylor suggested he do so. Following in Taylor’s and Gallacher’s footsteps, I have done the same, having felt particular pleasure in accomplishing at least some of the tasks placed before us by Taylor. Dozens of colleagues and friends have done the same (and continue to do so) so that Archer Taylor could begin his foreword to the 1962 reprint of The Proverb with the following proud observation:

The reprinting of a book is naturally a source of great pleasure to its author. The pleasure is all the greater when the calls for the book after the lapse of thirty years show that it has won a place for itself. In 1931, when The Proverb was published, the study of proverbs seemed to me to be sadly depressed. Since then, conditions have greatly changed for the better. Readers and scholars now have a lively interest in proverbs. Excellent collections and investigations are being published. Scholars are in active communication with one another. In all ways the study of proverbs is flourishing.[14]

Paremiology continues to flourish above all because of Archer Taylor and the international comunnity of scholars that he created through his publications, his personality and the founding of the international journal Proverbium. But a lot of work remains to be done, of which quite a number of tasks are mentioned by Taylor in the remaining parts of his foreword for the 1962 edition. A new generation of proverb scholars is eager to continue Archer Taylor’s work, and almost twenty-five years after the first reprint of the master’s work it has become necessary to reprint it again so that scholars and students around the world can own this treasure full of knowledge and problems yet to be solved.

In this classic study in the field of folklore Taylor presents a complete overview of the rich field of paremiology. The first section concerns itself with the origin of proverbs, and the individual chapters deal with the problems of definition, metaphorical proverbs, proverbial types, variations, proverbs based on narratives, proverbs and folk- verse, proverbs and literature, loan translations, Biblical proverbs and classical proverbs. As any proverb scholar before or after him, Taylor also struggled in this book and in his other publications with the especially vexing problem of defining a proverb. In The Proverb Taylor deals with this question on the very first page, and his attempt at a definition has in itself become proverbial, for there is hardly a publication on proverbs that does not refer to Taylor’s famous assertion that a perfect definition of a proverb is impossible and that we should be satisfied in the fact that “an incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.” In the second section on the content of proverbs Taylor analyzes customs and superstitions reflected in proverbs, historical proverbs, legal proverbs, blasons populaires (national stereotypes), weather proverbs (weather rules), medical proverbs, conventional phrases and proverbial prophecies. The third section addresses primarily the style of proverbs (meter, metaphor, personification, parallelism, rhyme, pun, etc.), but there are also chapters on dialogue proverbs, epigrammatic proverbs, national and racial traits, ethical traits, obscene proverbs and a review of proverbs in European literatures. The fourth section is divided into three chapters studying various aspects of proverbial phrases, wellerisms and proverbial comparisons. The book is filled with examples from many languages, and footnotes contain important bibliographical references. In addition, the book is written in a lucid style void of any scholarly jargon, making it a pleasure to read even for those scholars for whom English is a foreign language. Many a scholar could in fact learn a great amount in how to write a solid and understandable book by reading this clearly and interestingly written book. After all of this, who could possibly ask for more from an author?

Well, Taylor could and did. Already in his preface to the 1931 edition he announced thathehadcompiled an index of the English, German and Latin proverbs cited in The Proverb for the scholar’s convenience which included the most useful references from works on the comparative study of proverbs. It is regrettable that the author and the publisher did not print this important index with the first issue of the book, but its length and the obvious additional cost must have forced that unfortunate decision. As promised in the preface, Taylor published An Index to “The Proverb” (Helsinki 1934) as no. 113 of the “Folklore Fellows Communications” series. Realizing that the index in its final form reached 105 pages including five pages of ‘4Addenda and Corrigenda to ‘The Proverb’ ” (pp.6-10) and fourpages of a “List of Books Cited” (pp.102-105) it becomes perhaps understandable why such a lengthy index was not included with the book. But praise be to Taylor for having done this service as well, providing the scholar with a comprehensive key to the wealth of materials in his book. Taylor presents English, Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Swedish indices for all the proverbs cited. The proverbs are arranged alphabetically according to key words, bibliographical information is often included, and the page numbers of the proverbs’ appearance in the text are listed. Thus the index is actually an invaluable bibliographical guide to important European proverbs and must be consulted whenever a particular proverb is being studied.

It was indeed a welcome idea of the Folklore Associates (Hatboro/Pennsylvania), the Rosenkilde and Bagger Publishers (Copenhagen), the Tiedeakatemia Suomalainen (Helsinki) and Archer Taylor to attach this significant monograph in the form of an index to the basic book when they reissued both of them as an entity with the title The Proverb and An Index to “The Proverb” in 1962.[15] Over twenty years later this second reprint will obviously include both publications for the one feeds on the other and together they make up a masterful treatise on proverbs. Matti Kuusi even referred to his friend’s book as “ein essayistisches Kunstwerk”[16] (an essayistic work of art), while yet another close friend, Wayland D. Hand, called The Proverb a “definitive work” while at the same time claiming that “proverbs were and remained Archer Taylor’s first love”[17] in scholarship. And his co-worker and good friend Bartlett Jere Whiting, writing on the occasion of Taylor’s eightieth birthday, eloquently expressed what everybody knows who has come into contact with this book:

Taylor’s most impressive single work [is] his matchless and unmatched The Proverb, surely the best and most concise examination of the genre, now finally united with its attendant Index. Its worth was recognized from the first, and more than any other single work it has been responsible for the lively interest apparent in the scholarship of proverbs during the past four decades.[18]

We need only change the “four decades” to five and a half decades and this remark is as true as it was in 1970. The international interest in proverbs that was awakened and fostered by Archer Taylor continues to grow. The present reprint will doubtlessly not be the last, but it will serve a new and increasing generation of scholars and students of the proverb.

With this reprinted book the memory and wisdom of one of the greatest humanistic scholars lives on. Archer Taylor dedicated his life to folkloric, literary and bibliographical scholarship. Strong and determined as he was in his pursuit of knowledge, he nevertheless also needed the scholarly communication with his many colleagues and friends scattered around the world. But above all, it was his wife Hasseltine Byrd Taylor who loved and supported this great man for over forty years in his research quests. She was his best and most valued critic, and she stood by him throughout his long and productive life. Together Hasseltine and Archer Taylor built a world community of proverb scholars who are guided by The Proverb. I am sure that Archer Taylor would agree with me that this reprint be dedicated to his wife Hasseltine Byrd Taylor in recognition of everything she has done for paremiology.


*Reprinted from Archer Taylor, The Proverb and An Index to “The Proverb”, with an Introduction and Bibliography by Wolfgang Mieder, Peter Lang, Bern, 1985, pp. v-xxxix

  1. For an extensive list of Taylor’s publications see C. Grant Loomis, “Bibliography of the Writings of Archer Taylor,” in Humaniora. Essays in Literature, Folklore, Bibliography. Honoring Archer Taylor on His Seventieth Birthday, eds. Wayland D. Hand and Gustave O. Arlt (Locust Valley/New York: J.J. Augustin, 1960), pp. 356-374.
  2. See in particular Gustave O. Arlt’s account on “Archer Taylor” in Humaniora (footnote 1), pp. 1-7. See also Wayland D. Hand’s somewhat earlier “Salute to Archer Taylor,” Western Folklore, 17 (1958), 153.
  3. The introduction to this “Festschrift”, appropriately entitled “In the Evening Praise the Day” (pp. 418-419), is a short sketch of Archer Taylor’s work on proverbs by Bartlett Jere Whiting.
  4. In the introduction (pp. 7-14) I have reviewed Archer Taylor’s significance for proverb studies. Some of those comments are repeated in the second part of this paper.
  5. See among others Matti Kuusi, “Archer Taylor: 1.8.1890-30.9.1973 [including “Tayloriana”],” Proverbium, 22 (1973), 817-820; Wayland D. Hand, “Archer Taylor (1890-1973),” Journal of American Folklore, 87 (1974), 3-9; Donald Ward, “Archer Taylor, 1890-1973,” Fabula, 15 (1974), 124-127; Albert C. Baugh, Taylor Starck and Bartlett Jere Whiting, “Archer Taylor,” Speculum, 49 (1974), 606-608. Short personal memories of Archer Taylor by Robert J. Adams, Richard Dorson, Wayland D. Hand, Felix J. Oinas and W. Edson Richmond appeared as “In Memoriam Archer Taylor, 1890-1973,” Folklore Forum, 6, no. 4 (1973), [iii-viii].
  6. For earlier lists see Loomis (footnote 1); Wayland D. Hand, “Writings of Archer Taylor on Proverbs and Proverbial Lore,” Proverbium, 15 (1970), 420-424; and Wolfgang Mieder (ed.), Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1975), pp. 195-203. For annotations of most of Taylor’s proverb publications see Wolfgang Mieder, International Proverb Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), pp. 449-465 (nos. 1854-1908).
  7. Regarding this paper see Wolfgang Mieder, “One Last Proverb Publication by Archer Taylor,” Journal of American Folklore, 91 (1978), 970; and Vilmos Voigt, “Two Posthumous Paremiological Papers Worth Mentioning [by Archer Taylor and Francis Lee Utley],” Proverbium Paratum, 3 (1982), 304-305.
  8. Inspired by this bibliography, I subsequently assembled the following research aids myself: International Bibliography of Explanatory Essays on Individual Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions (Bern: Peter Lang, 1977), and Investigations of Proverbs, Proverbial Expressions, Quotations and Clichés (Bern: Peter Lang, 1984).
  9. See Archer Taylor, “The Collection and Study of Proverbs,” Proverbium, 8 (1967), 176.
  10. For literary proverb studies see my Proverbs in Literature: An International Bibliography (Bern: Peter Lang, 1978).
  11. See Tilley’s review of The Proverb in Modern Language Notes, 48 (1933), 55-58 (here p. 55). Incidentally, the book sold for $ 2.00 in 1931. For two additional reviews published anonymously see “Proverbial Wisdom,” The New York Times Book Review (December 27, 1931), p. 17, and “Proverbs, Old and New,” The Times Literary Supplement (April 7, 1932), p. 244. Strangely enough the book was not reviewed in the Journal of American Folklore.
  12. Tilley, pp . 55-56.
  13. Tilley, p. 58.
  14. See Archer Taylor, The Proverb and An Index to “The Proverb” (Hatboro/Pennsylvania: Folklore Associates, and Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1962), p. v.
  15. For a short review of this reprint see E.G. Stanley,”The Proverb,” Notes and Queries, 208, new series 10 (1963), 202.
  16. See Kuusi (footnote 5), p. 817.
  17. See Hand (footnote 5), p. 5 and p. 6.
  18. See Whiting (footnote 3), p. 419.


Winter 1985

Wolfgang Mieder
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont