"My son is my son till he hath got him a wife,
But my daughter's my daughter all the days of her life."
THE proper bringing up, and putting out in life, of daughters have always been a moot point in proverbial philosophy, but it would seem that most countries are agreed in regarding marriage as the best thing for their happiness, although this is not always an easy matter, for, as it is said in Germany, "Daughters are easy to rear, but difficult to marry;" which is much to the same purport as the Spanish adage, "When a good offer comes for a daughter, don't wait till her father returns from market," for fear the opportunity should slip by; another German saying reminding us that "Daughters and dead fish are no keeping wares." There are numerous versions of this piece of proverbial philosophy, a well-known adage recommending parents thus: "Marry your son when you will, your daughter when you can."
It is not every parent, it may be remembered, who is in the position to make conditions similar to the following, told in a West African folktale:--
A certain man had a most beautiful daughter, who was beset by many suitors. But as soon as they were told that the sole condition on which they could obtain her was to bale out a brook with a ground nut shell they always walked away in disappointment. However, at last one took heart of grace and began the task. He obtained the young lady, for the father said, "He who undertakes what he says, will do it."
Apropos of the value of grown-up daughters, an amusing story is told by Mr. Baring Gould in illustration of a curious baptismal superstition which still lingers on in Yorkshire, where it is said the first child baptised in a new font is sure to die--a reminiscence of the sacrifice which was used for the consecration of every dwelling and temple in heathen times.
"When I was incumbent of Dalton," he writes, "a new church was built. A blacksmith in the village had seven daughters, after which a son was born, and he came to me a few days after the consecration of the new church to ask me to baptise his boy in the old temporary church and font.
"'Why, Joseph,' said I, 'if you only wait till Thursday, the boy can be baptised in the new font on the opening of the new church.'
"'Thank you, sir,' replied the blacksmith with a wriggle, 'but, you see, it's a lad, and we shu'd be sorry if he were to die; ha' if t'had been a lass instead, why then, you were welcome, for twouldn't ha' mattered a ha'penny. Lasses are ower money, and lads ower few wi' us.'"
But the blacksmith's reference to his seven daughters reminds us that for very many years past extraordinary powers have been generally supposed to reside in the "seventh daughter," strange instances of which have from time to time been recorded in the literature of the past. Thus the Scotch fortune-teller commonly boasted that she was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and by this means she contrived to ingratiate herself among the lower orders.
A correspondent of Notes and Queries, writing some years ago, records how "In Saltash Street, Plymouth, my friend copied on December 10, 1852, the following notice on a board, indicating the profession and claims of the inhabitant: 'A Shepherd, the third seventh daughter--doctress.' As in the case of the "seventh son," such a child is born a physician, possessing an intuitive knowledge of the art of healing all manners of disorders, and even occasionally the faculty of performing wonderful cures by only the touch of the finger. Some years ago a herbalist in the West of England declared that she was "in the habit of healing scores of people that medical men had given up," her credentials being that she was the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter.
And to this day, in some places, there exists a strong prejudice against baptising a boy before a girl, an amusing instance of which is given by the late Cuthbert Bede in Notes and Queries as having occurred in a Worcestershire parish.
On the occasion in question there were three baptisms, two boys and a girl, and when the first child was about to be christened the woman who carried the little girl elbowed her way up to the parson, in order that the child in her arms might be the first to be baptized. By way of apology, she said to one of the sponsors, "It's a girl, so it must be christened first."
On the following day an opportunity was taken to ascertain her motive, and this was her explanation: 'You see, sir, the parson bain't a married man, and consequentially is disfamiliar with children, or he'd a-never put the little girl to be christened after the boys. And although it sadly fluster'd me, sir, to put myself afore my betters in the way which I was fosed to do, yet, sir, it was the doing of a kindness to them two little boys in me a-setting of my little daughter afore 'em."
"Well, sir, if them little boys had been christened afore the little girl, they'd have her soft chin and she'd have had their hairy beards--the poor little incident! But, thank goodness, I've kept her from that misfortune."
On the other hand, strange to say, in Scotland, and in some parts of the North of England, just the reverse practice is observed, the Scotch reason being that to christen a girl before a boy would be to make the former of a masculine nature, while the latter would grow up effeminate. A correspondent of Notes and Queries, writing from Darlington in 1867, says, "While standing at the font, and preparing to baptise two children, the nurse attending on one of the parties abruptly demanded of the other nurse if the child she presented was a boy. When questioned on the subject, she replied that 'she wondered at my not knowing that a boy was always christened before a girl.'"
An amusing equivocal rhyme long current in Durham tells how--
"John Lively, Vicar of Kelloe,
Had seven daughters and never a fellow."
which, it has been suggested, "may either mean that the parson of the sixteenth century had no son, or that he had no equal in learning." Another version of the proverb reads "six daughters"--seven, it is said, being often merely a conventional number. But, whatever the object of this folk-rhyme may be, the parson mentions no son in his will, in which he leaves to his daughter Elisabeth his best gold ring with a death's head in it, and seventeen yards of white cloth for curtains of a bed, and to his daughter Mary his silver seal of arms, his gimald ring, and black gold ring.
Grown-up daughters at home would occasionally seem to have been regarded the opposite of a blessing to their father, for "Three daughters and a mother," runs the German proverb, "are four devils for the father;" but, it is added, "Would you know your daughter, see her in company," for then she will cultivate every charm to make herself as attractive as possible. At home the picture is quite the reverse, for, runs the popular German adage, "A house full of daughters is like a cellar full of sour beer;" and there is our own proverb, "Marriageable, foolish wenches are troublesome troops to keep."
A Cheshire maxim, too, speaks in the same strain:--
"I'll tent thee, quoth Wood,
If I can't rule my daughter, I'll rule my good."
This idea, it may be added, is conveyed in various ways, which, it must be acknowledged, are far from being favourable to the children, for, as a Northamptonshire couplet says:--
As tall as your knee they are pretty to see;
As tall as your head they wish you were dead."
Hence daughters are certain cares, but uncertain comforts; and, according to an Oriental proverbial maxim--
"A daughter after two sons brings prosperity,
And a son after two daughters beggary."
And we may compare the Lincolnshire couplet--
"Lasses is cumbersome,
Lads is lumbersome."
Folk-maxims of this kind might be easily multiplied, a popular Welsh adage reminding us that "the worst store is a maid unbestowed," but when it is remembered in the words of our old proverb that "Every Jack must have his Jill," there is hope for every daughter of Eve, for she may be the object of a passion similar to that described by Charles Dance:--
"By the margins of fair Zurich's waters
Dwelt a youth, whose fond heart, night and day,
For the fairest of fair Zurich's daughters,
In a dream of love melted way."