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Rain raineth, but who wrote it?

The Rain it Raineth Every Day - oil painting
The Rain it Raineth Every Day
, 1889 by Norman Garstin
Oil on canvas: Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, Cornwall, UK.

Does anyone know for sure just who wrote this much-quoted verse? It's posted on dozens of websites without its author being named:

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.

Elsewhere, the poem has been attributed to (a) Lord Bowen, (b) Hilaire Belloc, (c) US Senator Sam Erwin Jr. and (d) Ogden Nash.

Its origin can be traced to Christ's Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in the Bible by St. Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 44 and 45:

But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you. That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) seized on that last phrase, and composed these verses in his play

Twelfth Night, Act V, scene 1:

CLOWN sings:

When that I was a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

Shakespeare used the phrase again in King Lear, Act 3, Scene 2:

Fool [Singing]

He that has and a little tiny wit--
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,--
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Then, in the 19th or early 20th century, one of four famous literary figures, Lord Bowen, Hilaire Belloc, US Senator Sam Erwin Jr., and Ogden Nash. all noted for their witty epigrams, wrote the still popular verse quoted at the top of this page. But which one?

Let's deal with them one by one.

Lord Bowen. Sir Charles Synge Christopher Bowen, Baron Bowen of Colwood (1835-1894) was an English judge. Son of a curate in County Mayo (Ireland), he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford (where Belloc was to graduate in 1895). While studying law, he contributed articles to The Saturday Review and The Spectator.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, says of him:

Lord Bowen was regarded with great affection by all who knew him either professionally or privately. He had a polished and graceful wit, of which many instances might be given, although such anecdotes lose force in print.

For example, when it was suggested on the occasion of an address to Queen Victoria, to be presented by her judges, that a passage in it, "conscious as we are of our shortcomings," suggested too great humility, he proposed the emendation "conscious as we are of one another's shortcomings"; and on another occasion he defined a jurist as "a person who knows a little about the laws of every country except his own".

Another quotation attributed to him is: "When I hear of an 'equity' in a case like this, I am reminded of a blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat that isn't there."

Hilaire Belloc. We remember having read the rain raineth poem aeons ago in an anthology of humorous verse that attributed it to Hilaire Belloc. But the Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (second edition) says: "From the oral tradition, attributed in slightly different form to the 19th-century Lord Bowen by Walter Sichel in Sands of Time, 1923."

Sichel (1855-1933) was an English biographer and lawyer. He, like Bowen and Belloc, graduated from England's venerable Balliol College, Oxford (founded 1283).

French-born Belloc (1870-1953) lived in England and wrote many popular novels in English. He also wrote a great deal of droll verse, notably The Bad Child's Book of Beasts.

An interesting biography published by Britain's Alliance of Literary Societies says:

His first book was a small volume of verse, published in 1896, and from then on a torrent of books, pamphlets, letters etc. poured from his pen.

It astonishes, not only in its bulk but in its diversity; French and British history, military strategy, satire, comic and serious verse, literary criticism, topography and travel, translations, religious, social and political commentary, long-running controversies with such opponents as H.G. Wells and Dr. G.G. Coulton, and hundreds of essays, fill over one hundred and fifty volumes. It is little wonder that A.P. Herbert described him as "the man who wrote a library".

Today, Belloc is remembered for a dozen priceless epigrams, including:

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
"His sins were scarlet, but his books were read."

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all.

Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered as they took their Fees,
"There is no cure for this disease."

I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.

Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bull (who killed him) thought it right.

Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

Living in Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales, we were particularly amused by this Belloc verse:

Lord Lundy

Sir! you have disappointed us!
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared;
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is!...My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!

- Hilaire Belloc, Cautionary Tales (1907).

US Senator Sam Ervin Jr (1896-1985) was the author of the Rain raineth verse, according to the Brainyquote.com website. However, he can be ruled out, since the verse was popular in the early 20th century, when Ervin was too young to have written it.

Some of his memorable remarks were:

I'll have you understand I am running this court, and the law hasn't got a damn thing to do with it.

If the many allegations made to this date are true, then the burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were, in effect, breaking into the home of every citizen.

I used to think that the Civil War was our country's greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there were some redeeming features in the Civil War in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.

I've always been worried about people who are willing to work for nothing. Sometimes that's all you get from them, nothing.

There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes or makes it the official duty of a president to have anything to do with criminal activities.

Polygraph tests are 20th-century witchcraft.

Divine right went out with the American Revolution and doesn't belong to the White House aides. What meat do they eat that makes them grow so great?

Ogden Nash. A US blog called Behind the Stove, written by two women in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attributed the verse to Ogden Nash. But he lived from 1902-1971, far too recently to have been the author.

  • To end this review of rain raineth, we offer you this bilingual pun:
    La reine reigneth.
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POSTSCRIPT. See this later story: Now we know who wrote The Rain Raineth.

 

Story first posted June 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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