you cannot make bricks without straw

Nothing can be made or performed without the necessary materials. Frequently used as a metaphorical phrase, to make bricks without straw. A (misapplied) allusion to EXODUS V. 7 (AV) Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. Cf. 1624 BURTON Anatomy of Melancholy (ed. 2) I. ii. (Hard taske-masters as they [patrons] are) they take away their straw, & compell them to make their number of bricke.

1658 T. HYDE Letter in Verney Memoirs (1904) II. xxxviii. I have made the enclosed. It is an hard task to make bricks without straw, but I have raked together some rubbish.

1737 in Publications of Prince Society (1911) III. 170 Let Men be never so willing and industrious, they can’t make Brick without Straw.

1909 A. BENNETT Literary Taste iv. You can only acquire really useful general ideas by first acquiring particular ideas... You cannot make bricks without straw.

1995 A. G. TAYLOR Simeon’s Bride xxxi. 208 ‘What would you have us do, sir?’ Jack asked. ‘We can’t make bricks without straw.’

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