Cultural Resources

Scottish Proverbs

by Pappity Stampoy (1663)

(Originally published as A Collection of Scotch Proverbs)


Scottish piper

Scottish piper; detail from a vintage postcard.

In his collection of Scottish proverbs from literary texts written before 1600, Bartlett Jere Whiting has laid a solid foundation for the investigation of early Scottish proverbs and has promised a survey of later collections. [1] The following brief remarks are not intended to anticipate his survey, but rather to suggest the place of this particular collection in the historical development and to point out the questions that it raises. Before 1600, men in Scotland had begun to make collections of proverbs. A manuscript collection made by Archbishop James Beaton (1517-1603) seems to have disappeared, but may survive in a form disguised beyond all chance of recognition. Although editions of it published in 1610, 1614, and “divers other Years” with “Mr. Fergusson’s Additions” have been reported, no copies of them have been found. [2] “Mr. Fergusson” is no doubt David Fergusson (ca. 1525-1598), whose Scottish Proverbs was published at Edinburgh in 1641. [3] This collection presumably includes the earlier gatherings by Beaton and Fergusson, but is arranged in a rough alphabetical order that makes it impossible to recognize its possible sources. According to Beveridge, it contains 911 proverbs.[4] A new edition of 1659 and the subsequent editions down to and including that of 1716 announced themselves as Nine Hundred and Forty Scottish Proverbs. In the edition of 1667, according to Beveridge, “The proverbs are numbered to 945; but no doubt there are omissions, as in ... 1692.” The edition of 1692 also runs to 945, “with 14 numbers omitted and one number duplicated,” making a total of 932, and in the edition of 1706 “a fifteenth number is omitted.” [5] No information about the editions of 1709 and 1716 is available. The edition of 1799 was reduced to 577 items.

Two manuscripts that were probably written in the first half of the seventeenth century belong to the tradition represented by Fergusson’s collection, but differ more or less widely from it in ways that require further study. Beveridge, who prints one of these manuscripts in its entirety, conjectures that it may “be a much extended version founded upon a manuscript copy of [the edition of 1641], no doubt made before the year 1598, when Fergusson’s collection had presumably been completed” (p. xvi). However this may be, it contains 1656 proverbs with repetitions and changes in alphabetization that make it difficult to determine what has been added or perhaps omitted. In preparing Beveridge’s materials for publication, Bruce Dickins came upon a second “roughly contemporary” manuscript containing an unspecified number of proverbs (pp. 126-127). It contains some texts found in both the first manuscript and the book of 1641 and some entirely new texts, and agrees in one instance with the book against the manuscript and in another with the manuscript against the book. Since only twelve proverbs from this second manuscript are in print, any inferences about relationships are risky.

The successful career of Fergusson’s collection or the manuscripts from which it was derived extended even farther than a share in the collections already mentioned. In four collections which remain to be discussed, we can reckon with a close direct or indirect connection with Fergusson’s printed text. John Ray printed Fergusson’s collection in a partially anglicized form with minor changes and additions of uncertain origin in A Collection of English Proverbs (London, 1670). This book became, after several editions, the foundation of the standard modern collections. Except for anglicization, “D” in Ray, and Fergusson, 1641, agree exactly even to tearm [term] in “Dead and marriage make tearm-day.” Variations not found in the edition of 1641 like reply for plie [plea] in “Na plie is best” and churn for kirne in “Na man can seek his marrow in the kirne, sa weill as hee that has been in it himself” suggest that Ray may have been following a later edition than that of 1641. According to Beveridge (p. xvi), Fergusson’s collection also appears in A Select Collection of Scots Poems, Chiefly in the Broad Buchan Dialect (Edinburgh, 1777, 1785). The two editions are the same, except that that of 1777 has no publisher’s name and that of 1785 was issued by T. Ruddiman and Co. The proverbs come at the end and are paged separately.

Finally, Fergusson’s collection was the source of both this collection bearing the mysterious name Pappity Stampoy and a derivative of it, but again with some modifications. Since all the variations except the Latin parallel texts that are, according to Beveridge, characteristic of the edition of Fergusson published in 1692 are present in Pappity Stampoy, these variations must have been introduced into one or both of the editions of 1649 and 1659. With such information as is at present available, it is impossible to determine whether Pappity Stampoy’s rare additions were his own or were also derived, as seems probable, from an edition of Fergusson. Such proverbs as “Drunken wife gat ay the drunken penny” (Pappity Stampoy, p. 17), “Eat and drink measurely, and defie the mediciners” (p. 18), and “Put your hand into the creel, and you will get either an adder, or an Eele” (p. 43) do not appear in the 1641 edition, but may be present in a later one. In any event, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs vouches for the currency of the last two proverbs in the sixteenth century. Pappity Stampoy may have followed his source in rejecting the “Proverbiale speeches” (Beveridge, pp. 46-50) or may have discarded them on his own responsibility. As F. P. Wilson points out, he showed ingenuity of a sort. “The thief jumbles the order of the first 81 proverbs given in Fergusson under the letter A; then, having put his reader off the scent, he gives the remaining proverbs under this letter in Fergusson’s order. Under another letter he may give a run of proverbs in reverse order.” [6]

Pappity Stampoy, who was scarcely an honorable man, soon got a Roland for his Oliver. As Wilson says, the Adagia Scotica or a Collection of Scotch Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, Collected by R. B. Very Usefull and Delightfull (London: Nathaniel Brooke, 1668) “Turns out to be a page-for-page reprint ... provided with a new title and the initials of a new collector in order (is it unjust to say?) to deceive customers.”

Apart from its rarity, Pappity Stampoy’s little book has both a curious interest and a value of its own. Bibliographers have failed to decipher the pseudonym, or to identify the printer. Some lucky chance may supply the answers to these questions. The collection has some value to a student of proverbs for a few scantily recorded texts that have presumably been taken from the 1659 edition of Fergusson. Although they do not appear in the old standard collections made by Bohn, Apperson, and Hazlitt, Morris P. Tilley, who has used R. B.’s collection, has found and pinned them down. More interesting and important than such details about the recording of proverbs is the publication of Pappity Stampoy’s book in London. It is therefore an early instance of English interest in Scottish proverbs. R. B.’s plagiarism of 1668 is in the same tradition, and so also is John Bay’s publication of Scottish proverbs in 1670. A selection of 126 Scottish proverbs, which like the others appears to have been derived from Fergusson, may be found in the anonymous Select Proverbs, Italian, Spanish, French, English, Scottish, British (London, 1707), which is credited to John Mapletoft. It was reprinted with a slight variation in title in 1710. F. P. Wilson notes an even better example of English interest than these in “[James] Kelly’s excellent collection of 1721 [which] was published in London and was specially designed for English readers.”

Archer Taylor
University of California


1. “Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings from Scottish Writings Before 1600,” Mediaeval Studies, XI (1949), 123-205, XII (1951). 87-164.

2. Erskine Beveridge, Fergusson’s Scottish Proverbs From the Original Print of 1641 Together with a larger Manuscript Collection of about the same period hitherto unpublished, Scottish Text Society, 15 (Edinburgh, 1924), p. ix. John Maxwell's collection made between 1584 and 1589 was compiled from books; see B. J. Whiting, “John Maxwell’s Sum Reasownes and Prowerbes,” Modern Language Notes, LXIII (1948), 534-536.

3. The spelling Fergusson seems preferable. Donald Wing, Short-Title Catalogue (3 v., New York, 1945-1951), II, 47, F 767-770 prints “Ferguson” but alphabetizes it as “Fergusson.” He reports locations for the editions of 1641, 1659, and 1667. Beveridge reports an edition in the British Museum which lacks the titlepage but may be the edition of 1675 and editions of 1692, 1706, and 1799. He reproduces the title page of the edition of 1667 and the first page. It shows variations in spelling but not in text. Beveridge cites no locations for the editions of 1649, 1699, 1709, and 1716.

4. It contains at least 912 proverbs, for there is an error in numbering at No. 686. I have not tested the numbers throughout.

5. For the details see Beveridge, pp. xxxvii-xxxix.

6. “English Dictionaries and Dictionaries of Proverbs,” The Library, 4th. Series, XXV (1945-1946), 50-71, especially p. 66.


Scottish Proverbs

Many fine collections of Scottish proverbs have been published over the years. An assortment of some of our favorites are available as new or used copies. Your purchase will help support the non-profit activitites of Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads.

You are free to use the proverbs in this online collection on your own site as long as you credit Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads as the source and provide a link to our Web site:

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