Our 5 Favourite Victorian Proverbs

5 of the best proverbs from the good old days!

Victorians, that is to say: those from the Victorian era, were very fond of proverbs.  Short and sharp moral lessons or wise observations that could be shared easily and drilled firmly into the minds of children.  Common proverbs from the 19th century can tell us a lot about the ideas, beliefs and daily lives of those who professed them.

We’d like to share with you 5 of our favourite proverbs that you would have likely heard during the gold rush days.

5 – Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

This proverb would have been amusing to Victorians familiar with the custom of the whole family bathing once a week, one after the other in the same water. The bath roster usually went oldest to youngest so the water was often very soapy and dirty by the time it was the baby’s turn. The joke was if you weren’t careful you could lose the baby in the water and inadvertently throw them out when the tub was emptied. Of course the proverb actually means that one should take care not to discard anything of worth when you are having a clean-up.

4 -You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

This means that you cannot force people to do anything they do not want to do even if you are sure the task will be good for them. In an era of horse power everyone would have readily recognised the reference to horses which can be extremely stubborn animals.

3 – Spare the rod and spoil the child

Some students think that his means that people didn’t want to hit children and preferred to give them treats.  However most adults of the time believed that a good whack with the rod (or cane) would help children become more resilient.  If they didn’t receive the rod (cane) as punishment then they would likely end up spoilt and rotten!

2 – Waste not, want not

In the tough conditions of gold fields life, families would put everything to good use to ensure they did not waste money and end up hungry.  No scraps went in the bin.  Fat from meat was used to make soap and candles, and the last fruit crops were always preserved or put in jams.   This proverb suggests that if you waste nothing then you will want for nothing.

1 – Children should be seen and not heard

This is written on the blackboard in each of our workshop rooms and students often read it with disgust!  But in 1850s classrooms, and many households, the opinions of children were not wanted and they were expected not to speak without being spoken to first.

Do you have any favourite proverbs?  Do you use proverbs with children today?

6 responses to “Our 5 Favourite Victorian Proverbs

  1. Another one I like is “It’s better that you wear out your shoes than your sheets” – don’t lie around and be lazy, but get up and get to work – children often have difficulty with this one.

  2. Another oldy but goody. “The early bird catches the worm.”

  3. I heard that the some Victorian people would visit the slums of London as a form of entertainment and there is a phrase that comes from this story. My question to you is, is the story true and if so what is the saying. PLEASE HELP!

    • Hi Roy. We have also read about the Victorians’ interest in this gory pastime. Egyptian mummy unwrapping parties were also popular during this era! In terms of information about a phrase that comes from visiting lunatic asylums, we’re at a loss I’m afraid. If you figure it out please do let us know 🙂

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