Five Hundred Points Of Good Husbandry "Look Before You Leap"

"Look Before You Leap"

Context: Like many of our proverbs and familiar sayings, "look before you leap" is very old. John Heywood (1497–1580) included it in his book, Proverbes (1546), the first such collection in English, and it was probably considered ancient then. It has not changed greatly; in Heywood's day it was "look ere ye leap." Thomas Tusser did much to perpetuate familiar sayings through his inclusion of them in such works as Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. This book is an early form of farmer's almanac, which takes up the months of the year one by one, from September to August. Instructions concerning the farmer's tasks are set forth for each month, together with much general information which includes observations on weather and climate, the planets, and principles of agriculture. The entire work is in verse, much of it doggerel, and is spiced with maxims and proverbs. The result is a practical handbook for the Elizabethan farmer, which gives the reader of today an excellent view of rural life in the early sixteenth century. In addition it is vivid and possesses considerable rustic charm. In later editions Tusser added more material to his book, including hints to housewives and a bit of advice to bachelors entitled "Of wiving and thriving." This admonition is in the form of a dialogue between two single men, one of whom believes marriage is a good idea; his companion, however, remains unconvinced. Most of his objections relate to his unshakable conviction that a wife is an expensive luxury. His companion argues in vain that a man who does not marry spends as much on trifles for himself as he would spend on a wife:

Not so, for now where thou dost spend,
Of this and that, to no good end,
Which hindreth thee to thrive:
Such vain expences thou should'st save,
And daily then lay more to have,
As others do that wive.
Why then do folk, this proverb put,
The black ox near trod on thy foot,
If that way were to thrive:
Here out a man may soon pick forth,–
Few feeleth what a penny is worth,
Till such time as they wive.
It may so chance, as thou dost say,
This lesson therefore bear away,
If thereby thou wilt thrive:
Look ere thou leap, see ere thou go,
It may be for thy profit so,
For thee to lay to wive.