- Is any definite origin known of this quotation?
- What is its precise meaning?
- Does it appear to contradict other sayings?
- Lesson of caution and foresight is a sound one.
Many of the old sayings and mottos which are so common in the English languge can be traced to the works of well known writers. Some originated in the moral lesson of the fables of Aesop, the slave. We cannot tell how the present one began, but its meaning is so plain and the lesson so obvious that it may have started in different quarters of the world. It was illustrated in the “Boy’s Own Paper” by a picture of a smart athlete in running costume leaping over a stone wall on the other side of which was a ditch full of filthy water.
Briefly the motto advises us to look ahead, to exercise foresight, and not to rush into any important undertaking without having considered it carefully from every point of view. Another maxim with much the same sense is “Never buy a pig in a poke (bag).”. But we may think that the proverb, “Never venture, never win,” gives quite different advice. In reality, it does not. We may decide to venture on something after careful thought. To venture without thought is rashness, and that is the same as leaping without looking.”
There are of course, times in life when an immediate decision is necessary. For instance, a man may offer us something in the course of business, and the need arises immediately of saying “Yes” or “No” Only a skilled and experienced businessman is capable of making such a decision. But he does not leap without looking or buy on mere chance. On the contrary, he thinks deeply, rapidly, and uses the power that years of experience have made strong in him. This power of making quick decision is seen in the best business-men; it is also a quality required in the best military leaders. The man who is slow and careful, who likes a night to think over a problem before making a decision, may be an excellent citizen in some branches of life, but he would never make a good military officer and leader of men in a critical situation.
So the proverb, “Look before you leap” does not mean that we are to sit down and ponder long and seriously over a problem, before committing ourselves to action. In life, there is not always time for long deliberation, and in fact, too much thought may only increase one’s difficulties. In Hamlet’s case, the more he thought out this difficulty, the more uncertain he became. But it does not mean that we are to act with under haste and rashness, for we must have foresight and deliberation to a reasonable extent.