The Strange Case of Patience Worth
I am indebted to Amos Oliver Doyle for bringing the aphorisms of Patience Worth to my attention. Hers is a strange tale, and her aphorisms are stranger still…
Patience Worth was born in England in 1649, and travelled to America with some of the early English settlers when she was in her thirties. By her own account, she had a fiesty, witty personality and held some unconventional views for her time, especially about religion. She was killed in a skirmish with Native Americans. At least, that’s what Pearl Lenore Curran says Patience Worth told her over a period of about 25 years, beginning in 1912. Curran, a St. Louis, Missouri housewife who died in 1937, claimed to have been in telepathic contact with Patience Worth some 260 years after the latter’s death—and to have taken posthumous dictation, with the help of a ouiji board, of Worth’s poems, novels and “proverbs.”
You don’t have to believe in communication with the dead to be interested in this apparent psychic collaboration; Patience’s words of wisdom are worth a quick look. Proverbs is the right word to describe them, too, since the language is archaic and the themes very Old Testament. In his book The Case of Patience Worth, Walter Franklin Prince writes: “… almost immediately after Patience Worth announced herself … she began to make replies, which in pith, wit, wisdom and generally in terseness, resemble the proverbs of old time.” My favorite relates to Worth’s penchant for heresy:
A fiery tongue belongs to one worth burning.
Other sayings are just bizarre. I have no idea what to make of:
Should’st I present thee with a pumpkin, would’st thou desire to count the seeds?
Sometimes, Worth/Curran achieve a bracing clarity:
It taketh a wise man to be a good fool.
That’s not a bad aphorism. But William Blake, another English aphorist who chatted with the spirits of the deceased, said it earlier and better:
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.