it is too late to shut the stable-door after the horse has bolted


it is too late to shut the stable-door after the horse has bolted
In early use the proverb referred to horse-stealing; has bolted is a modern substitution for the traditional is stolen. Cf. medieval Fr. a tart ferme on l’estable, quant li chevaux est perduz, the stable is shut too late, when the horse is lost.

c 1350 Douce MS 52 no. 22 When the hors is stole, steke [lock] the stabull-dore.

c 1490 in Anglia (1918) XLII. 204 Whan the stede ys stole, than shytte the stable-dore.

1578 LYLY Euphues 1.188 It is to late to shutte the stable doore when the steede is stolen: The Trojans repented to late when their towne was spoiled.

1719 DEFOE Robinson Crusoe II. 92 A dead Bush was cram’d in [the hedge] to stop them [the Spaniards] out for the present, but it was only shutting the Stable-door after the Stead was stolen.

1886 R. L. STEVENSON Kidnapped xiv. A guinea-piece..fell..into the sea... I now saw there must be a hole, and clapped my hand to the place... But this was to lock the stable door after the steed was stolen.

1940 N. MARSH Death of Peer x. The horse having apparently bolted, I shall be glad to assist at the ceremony of closing the stable-door.

1979–80 Verbatim Winter 2 It is too late..to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

1998 D. HARSTAD Eleven Days (1999) viii. 71 ‘Mike, maybe we should talk to Rothberg...’ ‘Doesn’t do much good to close the barn door after the horse is out.’


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