"For Want Of A Nail"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192

Context: George Herbert, in Jacula Prudentum, building a true climax, traces the lack of a horseshoe nail to the loss of a rider. This is the theme made familiar by the adage: "A stitch in time saves nine"; in other words, small defects, if unattended, can lead to large calamities. In the preface to Poor Richard's Almanac (1757), Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), prefixes "A little neglect may breed mischief" to the whole quotation as given below about the loss of the nail. Thomas Adams in a sermon of 1629 says: "The Frenchmen have a military proverb: 'The loss of a nail, the loss of an army.' The want of a nail loseth the shoe, the loss of the shoe troubles the horse, the horse endangereth the rider, the rider breaking his neck molests the company so far as to hazard the whole army." Adams is more specific about the fate of the rider than is either Herbert or Franklin. The whole adage as Herbert gives it is:

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For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.

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