S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[An American naval officer; born in Georgia; entered the navy about 1810; commanded a squadron in the East Indies from 1856 to 1859; having joined the Confederates, destroyed the ironclad Merrimac, in 1862, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Unionists; died 1871.]
A proverb which Commodore Tatnall made use of in a despatch to the Navy Department, in June, 1859, to justify his assistance of the British fleet in the Peiho. Provision had been made in the treaty of Tien-tsin, between Great Britain and China, for the establishment of a permanent British embassy at Pekin. Notwithstanding this, the Chinese government showed such unwillingness to receive the British ambassador, that the English admiral in command of the fleet containing the British and French legations determined to pass the forts of the Peiho, and land the embassy under the guns of his ships. He was received, however, with so murderous a fire from the forts, that he was obliged to retire; an attempt to silence the forts by land being equally unsuccessful. A note to the narrative of the action in The Annual Register for 1859 mentions the friendly conduct of an American steamer during the conflict, which towed up several of our boats, carried away men from the disabled vessels, and rendered every assistance to the wounded, sending presents of fresh meat and vegetables.
Commodore Tatnall did not, however, originate the expression with which his name is often connected. It is found in Rays Collection of English Proverbs, published in 1672; and Bohns Handbook, including the collections of Hay and others, classes it with Scotch proverbs. Sir Walter Scott makes Dandie Dinmont say, Weel, bludes thicker than water: shes welcome to the cheeses and hams just the same. The Germans have a similar proverb, Blut ist dicker als Wasser.