Of Lions and Lambs
Happy equinox! Here at the cusp of winter and spring, day is finally as long as night. It’s a time for balance, whether that means a harmonious center or equal but opposite extremes. Wisconsin tends toward the latter. One March afternoon I watched a man cross frozen Fish Lake with his dog and a woman pass in her convertible with the top down.
Lamb and lion have a long history in religious texts and art, whether contrasting gentleness vs. ferocity or lying peacefully together. Some link them astrologically with the spring equinox, when Aries (ram, sheep) ushers in the new year. In any case, the pair became a vivid image for this month’s changeable weather.
“March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb” goes back at least as far as Gnomologia; Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British by Thomas Fuller (1732). The later “In like a lamb, out like a lion” seems nearly as fitting, at least here in the Upper Midwest, where heavy snow can fall in late March or even April.
May the rest of your March be lamblike, and may sunshine fill your lengthening days.
Image: The lamb and the lion as they appear on a pub signboard in Bath, England. Trish Steel, Wikimedia Commons.
Death and Taxes
The first occurs once in a lifetime. The second rolls around year after year, with tax day 2023 only a month away. The certainty of death and taxes was already a commonplace in the 1700s. From Garson O’Toole’s website Quote Investigator:
“You lye, you are not sure; for I say, Woman, ’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes—therefore hold your Tongue, or you shall both be soundly whipt.” (Christopher Bullock, The Cobler of Preston, 1716)
“Not the Man in the Moon, . . . not the Inspiration of Mother Shipton, or the Miracles of Dr. Faustus, Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.” (Daniel Defoe, The Political History of the Devil, 1726)
“I may be mistaken, it’s true; because, as the man says, we can be sure of nothing in this world but death and taxes.” (Joseph Reed, Tom Jones: A Comic Opera, 1769)
“We have often heard, that nothing was to be depended on but taxes and death; but taxation seems to be run hard, when it condescends to take three-pence from a dead person.” (Gentleman’s Magazine, letter to the editor, 1783)
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” (Benjamin Franklin, letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy, 1789)
Bread and Roses
Little girls in the 1950s asked each other, “Do you want a family or a career?” Having both is now common, which isn't to say they never conflict. Mother’s Day celebrates (some) women’s role in the private sphere on the second Sunday in May. With far less fanfare, we celebrate their public “social, economic, cultural, and political achievements” on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD).
On March 8, 1857, New York City police broke up a demonstration by women textile workers seeking better pay, hours, and working conditions. Half a century later, on March 8, 1908, thousands of women marched through NYC demanding work reforms plus the right to vote. The next year the Socialist Party of America began an annual National Woman’s Day. “Bread and Roses” dates from 1910-12.
Meanwhile women across Europe organized International Women’s Day to rally for suffrage and against the looming war. On March 8, 1917, women in Russia went on strike to demand “bread and peace.” Czar Nicholas II abdicated one week later. After the violence of the Russian Revolution, Americans lost sympathy for anything associated with socialism. IWD, widely observed in Russia and elsewhere, largely fell from view in the U.S.
We give more attention to the relatively recent Women’s History Month. Its overlap with IWD was almost an afterthought. To commemorate ratification of the 19th Amendment suggested August, but late summer was too hot for large demonstrations. Parading in March sounded more attractive.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.