The Cuckow is in the higher Garden

I’m writing a book about the ancient Phoenicians. Right now, this involves sitting in the Bodleian library reading nineteenth century issues of the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. It was then widely believed – at least in Cornwall – that the Cornish were descended from intrepid Phoenician tin traders who made landfall on this cold Atlantic coast, bringing civilization, industry and the secret of clotted cream. And there are plenty of reports in the J of the RIC from local historians, politicians and businessmen about Phoenician Stuff they’ve found in Cornwall: place names, jewellery and so on. There’s also a lot about local meteorological patterns, especially rainfall, and quite a bit about pilchards.

But the best thing so far is the list of ancient Cornish proverbs in the October 1866 edition, collected by William Copeland Borlase of Castle Horneck, who also provides translations and, often, short explanatory comments.

Nag o ví bróg, na holan. I am neither malt, nor salt. [i.e. I don’t care a pin for you; you can neither eat nor drink me.]

Nyn ges Goon heb lagas, na Kai heb scovorn. There is no Down without eye, nor Hedge without ear. [An excellent caution concerning what we say of our Governours.]

Na reys gasa an forth goth, rag an forth noweth. You must not leave the old way, for the new way. (A footnote explains that there’s a textual issue here; Mr Lhuyd in his Archaeologia printed ‘gasa’, to love, “and the typographical error was followed of course by Pryce, in his ignorance.”)

Ma an Gog an Lûar wartha. The Cuckow is in the higher Garden. [i.e. The brain is but indifferently furnished.]

There is also a collection of Cornish rhymes, including a lengthy one beginning “I will sing of the Pilchard”.


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