Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/266

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that, when persons are up to anything wrong and likely to be caught, they assume an air of indifference by whistling. As the daily music of boys, however, it may be attributed to want of thought; and so Cowper, in his description of the "Postman" ("Task," book iv), says:

"He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful; messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some,
To him indifferent whether grief or joy."

In Shield's opera of "The Farmer," the singer—"now a saucy footman" thus reverts to his boyhood:

"A flaxen-headed cowboy, I whistled o'er the lea,
And then a little plowboy, as happy as could be."

Dryden, too, says in his "Cymon and Iphygenia":

"He whistled as he went, for want of thought."

And the same idea was perhaps in Milton's mind

"While the plowman near at hand,
Whistles o'er the furrowed land."

Gay, also, wrote in the same strain:

"The plowman leaves the task of day.
And trudging homeward, whistles on the way."

The act of "whistling in one's fist," which is much in use among the lower orders, especially when they are desirous of sending the sound some distance, consists in bringing the thumbs of both hands together, leaving the hands and closed fingers to form a hollow space; then, by blowing through the narrow aperture left between the thumbs, a very loud and shrill whistle is produced. In Lincolnshire, in my school-days, says a correspondent of "Notes and Queries" (fourth series, ii, 213), this form of whistling used to be called the "thieves' whistle"—a name, by-the-by, which is still employed in London. Indeed, few subjects have given rise to a greater variety of popular every-day sayings than whistling. Thus the expression, to "pay for one's whistle"—a favorite phrase with George Eliot—means to gratify one's fancy. Again, a thing worthy of notice is said in common parlance to be "worth the whistle"; the reference obviously being to the ordinary way of calling up a dog. Heywood, for instance, in one of is proverbs, says, "It is a poor dog that is not worth the whistling." Shakespeare, too, makes Goneril say to Albany, in "King Lear" (Act iv, scene 2):

"I have been worth the whistle."

Then there is the phrase, "To pay too dearly for one's whistle," implying that, after a person has paid dearly for something he fancied, he finds it does not answer his expectations. The allusion, says Dr. Brewer, in his "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," is to a story told by