About the Old Proverb “Early to Bed, Early to Rise…”

Picture from Treatise on Fishing

I have a correction to make – and investigating my error has led me to an interesting discovery. Way back in 2005, I was asked about the saying, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” At the time I attributed it to Benjamin Franklin. The saying was in Franklin’s book “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1735.

(An aside: Everyone has heard about Almanacs. They used to be very important. In Benjamin Franklin’s time, everyone had one. They gave information about the tides, the cycles of the moon, seasons, the dates of the holidays, etc. You have to consider the times to realize their significance. For example, if you were going out at night, the cycle of the moon was important, since there weren’t street lamps lighting the whole way!)

Franklin, as well as other almanac writers, peppered his book with witticisms and proverbs. “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is one of the sayings he used. This proverb actually originated long before Franklin’s time. It was seen in print as early as 1496, in a piece called The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle. There it is referred to as an old English proverb:

Also whoever wishes to practice the sport of angling, he must rise early, which thing is profitable to a man in this way. That is, to wit: most for the welfare of his soul. For it will cause him to be holy, and for the health of his body. For it will cause him to be well, also for the increase of his goods, for it will make him rich. As the old English proverb says: “Whoever will rise early shall be holy, healthy, and happy.”

So the proverb was around in some form before 1496, since they were already calling it old, even then.

After 1496, the proverb is found in print in other variations:

1523 – Early rising maketh a man whole in body, holer (holier?) in soul and richer in goods.
(Found in The Book of Husbandry by Sir Anthony Fitzherbert)
1577 – Rise you early in the morning, for it hath properties three: holiness, health and happy wealth, as my father taught me.
(Found in the Boke of Nurture by Hugh Rhodes)

Finally, in 1639 the proverb is seen in print in its current form in a book called Paroemiologia by John Clarke: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Interestingly, there’s another similar proverb from around 1830, “The cock doth crow to let you know, If you be wise, ‘Tis time to rise.”

The two proverbs came together to form the nursery rhyme:

The cock crows in the morn
To tell us to rise,
And he that lies late
Will never be wise:
For early to bed,
And early to rise,
Is the way to be healthy,
And wealthy and wise.

So remember – Go to bed early tonight!

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:35 pm and is filed under Authors, Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, Books & Stories, Countries & Cultures, Early to Bed, Early to Rise, England, English, English Nursery Rhymes, English Proverbs, Languages, Nursery Rhymes, People, Poor Richard's Almanack, Proverbs, The Cock Crows in the Morn, United Kingdom, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “About the Old Proverb “Early to Bed, Early to Rise…””

  1. Trevor Says:

    The value of getting an early start on the day does seem to be a common theme in all your examples, but none of them contains the near-causal suggestion implied by Richard Saunders’ proverb: The mechanism for rising early is to have been well-rested by going to bed early. Getting up early is what will make the man wealthy, but finding out how to accomplish that is the wisdom, in my opinion.

    So for now I will continue to give the credit to Poor Richard. Keep hunting, though.

  2. Ed Hird Says:

    Benjamin Franklin had a remarkable impact in so many ways, including popularizing existing aphorisms. A Benjamin Franklin article just received the ‘Top 100 Electricity Blogs’ Award http://bit.ly/z8Ckp

  3. Daniel L. Cox Says:

    You might want to go about two thousand years further in the past to find the origin of Franklin’s quote, since it was Aristotle who said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

  4. Ben Franklin Was Unoriginal, But I’ll Listen to Him Anyway - Cradle Rocking Mama Says:

    […] original thought, but when Googling to make sure I was remembering correctly I stumbled upon Mama Lisa, who corrected her own Ben Franklin assumption with the evidence showing this statement had been […]

  5. Have you read Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management? | Cabbage and Semolina Says:

    […] The quote is widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin but has been found in rhymes from the fifteenth century. (See this blog post for examples.) […]

  6. Mary Ellen Says:

    Thanks for this! Exactly the info I needed. Much appreciated — 12 years or so after you posted it!

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    The philosopher Aristotle said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

    Perhaps he drew his inspiration from Aristotle?

  8. sondyward Says:

    I would like to know if this saying, part of it or the wisdom contained therein is found in the Bible. The reason is that some people’s biological clocks are not set by the sun and since God made us all individuals, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. If it’s biblical, I’ll think more on it. If it can’t be found there, I will assume this is the advice given by early risers and doesn’t apply to night owl creatives.

  9. Ancient of Days Says:

    Psalms 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

    Shared via Bible KJV

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