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The meaning and origin of the expression: Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise

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Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise


Literal meaning.


The length and precision of this 18th century proverb leave little room for interpretation as to its meaning. Like many improving mottos, for example 'a rolling stone gathers no moss' and 'a stitch in time saves nine', it was an encouragement to hard, diligent work. The earliest record of it that I can find of it in print is in Poor Richard's Almanack, which was an annual journal published by Benjamin Franklin under the pseudonym of Poor Richard between 1732 and 1758. It included the usual almanac fare of maxims, poetry, weather predictions and astrological ravings.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise is found in the 1735 edition. There's good reason to believe that Franklin coined the expression himself; it is certainly in keeping with the numerous uplifting proverbs that were published in Poor Richard before they were seen elsewhere.

Given the social conventions of the day, Franklin wasn't especially bothered when women got to work. The typographic conventions of the day also involved the use of the long 's', which appears similar to a lowercase 'f'. Present day transcriptions lead us to believe that getting a good night's sleep will make us 'healthy, wealthy and wife'. At least Franklin avoided 'where the bee sucks, there suck I'.

Later American commentators have had some fun at Franklin's expense. In 1928, Carl Sandburg suggested that 'Early to bed and early to rise and you never meet any prominent people'. In the New Yorker, February 1939, James Thurber turned it round with:

Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.

See also: the List of Proverbs and 'the early bird catches the worm'.