Brewer's: Hair, Hairs

(Anglo-Saxon, har.)

The greatest events are often drawn by hairs.
Events of great pith and moment are often brought about by causes of apparently no importance.

—Sir John Hawkins's History of Music, a work of sixteen years labour, was plunged into long oblivion by a pun.

The magnificent discovery of gravitation by Newton is ascribed to the fall of an apple from a tree under which he was musing.

The dog Diamond, upsetting a lamp, destroyed the papers of Sir Isaac Newton, which had been the toil of his life. (See page 350).

A spark from a candle falling on a cottage floor was the cause of the Great Fire of London. A ballad chanted by a fille-de-chambre undermined the colossal power of Albereni.

A jest of the French king was the death of William the Conqueror. The destruction of Athens was brought about by a jest on Sulla. Some witty Athenian, struck with his pimply face, called him a “mulberry pudding.”

Rome was saved from capture by the Gauls by the cackling of some sacred geese. Benson in his Sketches of Corsica, says that Napoleon's love for war was planted in his boyhood by the present of a small brass cannon.

The life of Napoleon was saved from the “Infernal Machine” because General Rapp detained Josephine a minute or two to arrange her shawl after the manner of Egyptian women.

The famous “Rye-house Plot” miscarried from the merest accident. The house in which Charles II. was staying happened to catch fire, and the king was obliged to leave for Newmarket a little sooner than he had intended.

Lafitte, the great banker, was a pauper, and he always ascribed his rise in life to his picking up a pin in the streets of Paris.

A single line of Frederick II., reflecting not on politics but on the poetry of a French minister, plunged France into the Seven Years' War.

The invention of glass is ascribed to some Phaenician merchants lighting a fire on the sands of the seashore.

The three hairs.
When Reynard wanted to get talked about, he told Miss Magpie, under the promise of secrecy, that “the lion king had given him three hairs from the fifth leg of the amoronthologosphorus, ... a beast that lives on the other side of the river Cylinx; it has five legs, and on the fifth leg there are three hairs, and whoever has these three hairs will be young and beautiful for ever.” They had effect only on the fair sex, and could be given only to the lady whom the donor married. (Sir E. B. Lytton: Pilgrims of the Rhine, xii.)

To a hair
or To the turn of a hair. To a nicety. A hairbreadth is the forty-eight part of an inch. To comb one's hair the wrong way. To cross or vex one by running counter to one's prejudices, opinions, or habits.

Without turning a hair.
Without indicating any sign of fatigue or distress. A horse will run a certain distance at a given rate without turning a hair.

Against the hair.
Against the grain, contrary to its nature.

“If you should fight, you go against the hair of your professions.” —Shakespeare: Merry Wives of Windsor, ii. 3.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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