Proverbs and Scoundrels By robert lynd

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jul 9, 1949

Proverbs and Scoundrels

    The announcement that night clubs are soon to be allowed to sell drinks in certain circumstances till 2:30 a.m. was published on the same day as the announcement that the Berlin blockade is to be lifted.

    Probably there are genial spirits to whom it seemed the more auspicious announcement of the two—the more prophetic of a return to the essentials of civilization.

    Mankind has been divided, ever since I first knew it, into two classes — those who like to go to bed early and those who like to go to bed late. Each of these classes strongly disapproves of the other.

    Dr. Johnson belonged to the second class, and compressed its gospel into the muscular sentence: “Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.” Parents and nurses seem almost without exception to belong to the first class or at least to wish the young to belong to it.

    For this purpose they have invented a rhyming proverb more packed with lies than any other proverb in the English language:

    Early to bed and early to rise

    Makes a man healthy and

                wealthy and wise.

    How any church-going parent can repeat this multiple false-hood in the hearing of an innocent child I have never been able to understand.

    Grown-up people, however, will say anything to suit their purpose. They have even invented the phrase “beauty sleep” to delude the young into believing that if only they go to bed early they will become a brood of Apollos and Helen-of-Troys.

    I have often thought that a pretty child whose plain and hairy-faced father talks to it of “beauty-sleep” would be well justified in retorting, “Then why don’t you go to bed at nine yourself? You need it more than I do.”

    I do not remember at what age I began to hate going to bed early. Probably when I was about three. And with every year the hatred increased and became almost equal to my hatred of getting out of bed in the morning.

    As a small boy in the country, I asked for nothing better than to be allowed to sit up in a byre till dawn or near it with a cousin who was looking after a sick cow.

    In my teens, when my parents were away from home, I liked to have a friend with me in the house who would drink coffee with me and talk or listen all night and, perhaps, go for a moonlight walk into the country about two, or go out to see the sun rising over Belfast Lough before the city was awake.

    Not that I made a regular habit of such things. But even at the best of times I was a reluctant bed-goer.

    I was never fond of work, but I preferred even work to going to bed, and for years most of my writing was done when all sensible people were asleep.

    For a time I shared a studio with an artist who kept more rational hours than I, and I remember on one occasion sitting up writing all night and waking him at six in the morning, when we sat down to a meal together — he to his breakfast and I to my supper preparatory to going to bed.

    Do not think I approve of all this. I did not become healthy and wealthy and wise any more than the early-to-bed and early-to-rise. I fancy “late to bed and late to rise” would be even a more fallacious recipe for health, wealth and wisdom than its opposite.

    I have related the above facts merely in order to make it clear that I do not belong to the class of scoundrels denounced by Dr. Johnson. In my bones I still respond to Sir Toby Belch’s saying at the height of his enjoyment: “Tis too late to go to bed now.”

    What a guest to have had at three in the morning!

    Even so, my heart did not beat faster at the news about the night clubs. I have been in only one night club that I would call a night club, and I must say it was not one-twentieth part as cheerful as a Sunday school soiree.

    Still, I suppose bed-haters have to have an excuse for sitting up late, and the night club provides an excuse for some of those who have no other. Not everyone enjoys eating thick slices of bread and margarine at an all-night coffee stall.

    I don’t, but if age had not forced me into the ranks of the early-to-bedders I think I would feel more at home at an all-night coffee stall than in a night club.


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