“Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
If that’s the case then I should be rolling in cash, be as fit as a fiddle and be constantly sought out for my wisdom and advice.
Strike three against.
Maybe it’s because I don’t sleep well that’s blowing the proverb for me? The ‘early to bed’ phase of the saying could be me falling asleep in front of the TV yet again. That happens on a monotonously regular basis. Equally I fulfil the ‘early to rise’ criterion by waking up at ridiculous o’clock every day.
So why am I missing out on the ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’ part of the proverb?
Because it’s not true.
This proverb is one of the oldest – if not the oldest – recorded proverb in English. A version that approximates the above version is recorded as far back as 1486:
'As the olde englysshe prouerbe sayth in this wyse. Who soo woll ryse erly shall be holy helthy & zely.'
The old English word ‘zely’ meant ‘auspicious’ or 'fortunate'. Therefore ‘holy helthy & zely' means 'wise, healthy and fortunate', which is pretty close to the modern ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’.
The oldest recorded version of the phrase we know in its best known form comes from a 1639 publication ‘Paroemiologia Anglo-Latina’ by one John Clarke. The saying was popularised in the eighteenth century by US president Benjamin Franklin.
Under the pseudonym ‘Poor Richard’ Franklin published an annual almanac, which contained the staples of such publications: weather forecasts, poetry, astrological musings and the like. Franklin was also keen on publishing uplifting, earnest proverbs, such as ‘Early to bed…’ This one is to be found in the 1735 edition of ‘Poor Richard'. The proverb has been in popular use ever since.
Obviously the proverb is not meant to be taken literally: it is more a rallying call to work hard and live a healthy, God-fearing life.
That’s a pity: I could do with several large doses of health, wealth and wisdom…