Cynics may ask, how many have profited by the innumerable proverbs and maxims of prudence which have been current in the world time out of mind? They will say that their only use is to repeat them after some unhappy wight has “gone wrong.” When, for instance, a man has played “ducks and drakes” with his money, the fact at once calls up the proverb which declares that “wilful waste leads to woful want”; but did not the “waster” know this well-worn saying from his early years downwards? What good, then, did it do him? Again, how many have been benefited by the saying of the ancient Greek poet, that “evil communications corrupt good manners”?—albeit they had it frequently before them in their school “copy-books.” Are the maxims of morality useless, then, because they are so much disregarded?
When a man has reached middle-age he generally feels with tenfold force the truth of those “sayings of the wise” which he learned in his early years, and has cause to regret, as well as wonder, that he had not all along followed their wholesome teaching. For it is to the young, who are about to cross the threshold of active life, that such terse convincing sentences are more especially addressed, and, spite of the proverbial heedlessness of youth, there will be found many who are not deaf to this kind of instruction, if their moral environment be favourable. But, even after the spring-time of youth is past, there are occasions when the mind is peculiarly susceptible to the force of a pithy maxim, which may tend to the reforming of one’s way of life.