Five Hundred Points Of Good Husbandry "Dog In The Manger"

"Dog In The Manger"

Context: The expression "dog in the manger" refers of course to Aesop's fable of the dog who, although he had no use for straw, would not allow the ox to have any. Throughout the ages since Aesop this term has been used to describe our common human reluctance to share things we cannot or will not put to use ourselves. Tusser probably did more than any other person to make this expression a popular household saying. His book, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, enjoyed a wide and lasting popularity and served to perpetuate many of the proverbs and old sayings contained in it. An early version of the farmer's almanacs, it is made up of verses which give all manner of practical instruction to the farmer. These rhymes also incorporate moral advice, maxims, and observations upon the climate, the planets, and weather. Each month is taken up in its turn, beginning with September, and the work proper to it described at some length. The book thus provides us with an excellent insight into early Elizabethan rural life and farming methods. Tusser was a gentleman of good birth and education who retired to a farm; he obviously had a wide knowledge of husbandry but was unable to make a success of it. After several moves in an effort to improve his condition he at length died in a debtor's prison. In Chapter 29, entitled "Against Fantastical Scrupleness," he encourages hospitality. This chapter is appended to the material for December and refers to the Christmas season. Tusser does not feel that Christmas is a time to be stingy or in any way lacking in generosity. It is easy to see, too, that he prefers a merry soul to a grave one: he is deeply suspicious of the stern and disapproving nature.

At this time and that time, some make a great matter;
Some help not, but hinder the poor with their clatter.
Take custom from feasting, what cometh then last?
Where one hath a dinner, a hundred shall fast.
To dog in the manger, some liken I could,
That hay will eat none, nor let other that would.
Some scarce, in a year, give a dinner or two,
Nor well can abide any other to do.
Play thou the good fellow! seek none to misdeem;
Disdain not the honest, though merry they seem;
For oftentimes seen, no more very a knave,
Than he that doth counterfeit most to be grave.