Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Cometh the Hour; cometh the Man

'Cometh the hour, cometh the man.' John 4:23 has 'But the hour cometh, and now is' and there is an English proverb 'Opportunity makes the man' (though originally, in the fourteenth century, it was 'makes the thief'), but when did the phrases come together? Harriet Martineau entitled her biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture (1840), The Hour and the Man. An American, William Yancey, said about Jefferson Davis, President-elect of the Confederacy in 1861: 'The man and the hour have met', which says the same thing in a different way. P.G. Wodehouse in Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (1974) has: 'And the hour ... produced the man.'

Earlier, at the climax of Sir Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering, Chap. 54 (1815), Meg Merrilies says, 'Because the Hour's come, and the Man'. In the first edition and in the magnum opus edition that Scott supervised in his last years the phrase is emphasized by putting it in italics.

Then, in 1818, Scott used 'The hour's come, but not (sic) the man' as the fourth chapter heading in The Heart of Midlothian, adding in a footnote: 'There is a tradition, that while a little stream was swollen into a torrent by recent showers, the discontented voice of the Water Spirit was heard to pronounce these words. At the same moment a man, urged on by his fate, or, in Scottish language, fey, arrived at a gallop, and prepared to cross the water. No remonstrance from the bystanders was of power to stop him - he plunged into the stream, and perished.' Both these examples appear to be hinting at some earlier core saying which is still untraced.

All I would like to know is when the hell is the man coming? The hour has been here for the best part of the last 5-6 years.

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