Who said that? It’s a question people ask when they recall a familiar saying and don’t remember the source.
Occasionally when we are reminded of the source, we shake our heads and think that’s right; how could I have forgotten!
At other times though, discovering the source of the maxim doesn’t help at all. It could be because the proverb is anonymous, or it might be due to the fact that it’s originator was not particularly well known.
That’s the case of the following statement, which is familiar to many Christians.
“Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people ever read.”
When I thought of this phrase several weeks ago, I had a bit of trouble tracking it down. I actually found it on a number of sites, but the problem was that the author’s name was so unfamiliar it was almost always misspelled.
He was usually cited as “William Toms.” Yet I was pretty sure the saying hadn’t originated, however, with an Irish footballer.*
Just when I assumed I had encountered a clichéd brick wall, I stumbled upon the truth. Like so many classic maxims, the quotation did indeed originate from the British Isles.
The British writer William J. Thoms penned this thoughtful maxim, and it isn’t the only wise thing he wrote.
William John Thoms (1803 – 1885) was a British writer credited with coining the term “folklore” in the 1840s. Thoms’ investigation of folklore and myth led to a later career of debunking longevity myths. Hence, he is an early advocate of “validation research” when examining demographics.
Several of Thoms’ works are available online. They include:
- The Book of the Court**
- Lays and Legends of Germany
- Early English Prose Romances
- The History of Reynard the Fox: From the Edition Printed by Caxton in 1481
- Anecdotes and Traditions: Illustrative of Early English History and Literature
- and, for those desiring to live long lives . . .
- Human Longevity, Its Facts and Its Fictions
C.S. Lewis had more in common with Thoms than simply being British and engaging in literary pursuits. The two men shared an interest in simple tales that intrigued and inspired men and women through the ages.
It was Thoms, in fact, who in 1846 introduced into English the term “folklore.”
A shared interest in legends and even the supernatural, suggests that the two may well have enjoyed one another’s company, had their lives intersected.
Sadly, Thoms’ desire to compile a comprehensive “Folk-Lore of England” was never realized, as this superb article describes.
The two scholars shared another trait of bookish people. (“Bookish,” by the way, is a compliment here at Mere Inkling.) Neither man sought out the frivolities of popular society. They were both content to socialize with similar minds in more intimate community. The following description of Thoms, from the Dictionary of National Biography,could just as naturally have been written about Lewis.
Thoms went little into society, but at congenial resorts, such as the ‘Cocked Hat Club,’ he was remarkable for a ready play of wit and an almost inexhaustible fund of humorous anecdote and reminiscence.
Can’t you just picture the Cocked Hat Club meeting at one table in the Eagle and Child while the Inklings shared their own warm friendship at their table at the other end of the pub?
* Not that I follow English football, but I learned an athlete by that name played forward for Plymouth Argyle and Manchester United.
** The Book of the Court, published in 1838 with the second edition, linked here, printed six years later, has the delightful, if rather lengthy, subtitle: Exhibiting the History, Duties, and Privileges of the Several Ranks of the English Nobility and Gentry, Particularly of the Great Officers of State and members of the Royal Household; Including Vaious Forms of Court Etiquette, Tables of Precedency, Rules to be Observed at Levers and Drawing Rooms, Etc.