To walk softly. To be out of spirits. In Greece, mourners for
the dead used to cut off their hair, go about muffled, and walk softly
to express want of spirit and strength. When Elijah denounced the
judgments of heaven against Ahab, that wicked king “fasted, and lay in
sackcloth, and went softly” to show that his strength was exhausted
with sorrow (1 Kings xxi. 27). Isiah says, “I shall go softly all my
years in the bitterness of my
soul” (xxxviii. 15). The Psalmist says, “My clothing was sackcloth
... I walked as [for] a friend or brother.” The French Je vais
doucement means precisely the same thing: “I go softly,” because I
am indisposed, out of sorts, or in low spirits.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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