John Heywood, Collector of Aphorisms

Have you ever heard of this author? I never had, but somehow I ended up at this page at

John Heywood (1497?-1580?)

The page is an excerpt from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations; it’s just a list of common sayings and proverbs collected by Heywood back in his pre-industrial era. I was surprised to see how many of those proverbs are still commonly used, both vocally and in print. A few examples:

Haste maketh waste.

The fat is in the fire.

When the sunne shineth, make hay.

While betweene two stooles my taile goe to the ground.

When the steede is stolne, shut the stable durre.

As you can readily see, Heywood was writing before English spelling had been standardised! To me, the archaic spelling gives his aphorisms a certain antique charm.

William Shakespeare was familiar with Heywood’s collection, which was a best-seller in its time.

John Heywood was also a playwright. I got a kick out of this quatrain from his play Be Merry Friends:

   Let the world slide, let the world go;
A fig for care, and a fig for woe!
If I can’t pay, why I can owe,
And death makes equal the high and low.




Filed under Books

5 responses to “John Heywood, Collector of Aphorisms

  1. Joan

    I was amazed that about 95 percent of these I have heard and used although not in the original archaic English. I don’t know if I acquired them from my mother who acquired them from hers or picked them up from reading .
    Mother was fonder of more homespun sayings, which were rarely used in a complimentary manner.
    Hope your face doesn’t freeze that way.
    Your hem is crooked as a dog’s hind leg
    He, or me looked like the wreck of the Hesperis (referring to Greek legend which neither she nor I had noted from my spelling .
    That thing fell apart like the One Horse Shay (referring to a poem)
    Early to bed ..early to rise… admonition that tomorrow was a school day.
    Well…these things don’t seem to have the cuddly warmth of Doctor Phil’s Texas homilies, do they. Perhaps I’ll look them up if they are listed

  2. Virginia

    What an interesting link, Larry. I think for the new year we might all take John Heywood’s advice that ” It hurteth not the toung to give faire words.”
    Like Joan I’ve heard a number of these sayings in more modernized speech.

  3. Joan

    Virginia, I think it hurteth my mom’s tongue to give fair words. If we did something good and we were a little to eager to be credited we would hear ‘Now don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back”. I figured that was something she inherited from her father, but I’ve since heard that Harriett Landau was often ‘gifted’ with that ego-deflating expression from someone in her family. Arrrghhh! What were they thinking! Now I can’t even blame it on severe Presbyterianism. (grin)

  4. Virginia

    Joan, It must have been a period thing. My mother said it also, but with a smile on her face as if she were not too serious. I got the point though. Perhaps we all received doses of John Heywood’s aphorisms in our childhood. The time was pre-Dr. Spock.

  5. Darrell

    I never received that particular put-down as I can recall. My Mom was trying to bolster my already deflated ego by repeating “You’re as good as anyone . . and better than some.”

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