The Anatomy of Melancholy "Penny Wise, Pound Foolish"

Robert Burton

"Penny Wise, Pound Foolish"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Anatomy of Melancholy is an analysis of the causes, species, symptoms, and cure of melancholy. First published in 1621, it incorporated new material in subsequent editions up to the posthumous version of 1651. It is a treasure house of quotations from Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish authors, combining irony and noble ideals, wit and learning. In his preliminary "Democritus Junior to the Reader," the author announces that he will tell the "Gentle Reader" about the original Democritus, a fifth century B.C. contemporary of Socrates. Democritus laughed at the follies of his time that he saw about him. How amused he would be today to see current stupidities! The "wittol" of whom the author speaks is a fool or yokel, the name originating from the woodpecker that hatches cuckoo eggs laid in its nest, thus becoming cuckold. The quoted phrase means to save pennies and waste dollars. Democritus Junior mentions the Greek's probable amusement at seeing:

. . . a wittol wink at his wife's honesty, and too perspicuous in all other affairs; one stumble at a straw, and leap over a block; rob Peter, and pay Paul; scrape unjust sums with one hand, purchase great manors by corruption, fraud, and cozenage, and liberally to distribute to the poor with the other, give a remnant to pious uses, etc.; penny wise, pound foolish; blind men judge of colours. . . .