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The meaning and origin of the expression: Every cloud has a silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Every cloud has a silver lining'?

The proverbial saying 'every cloud has a silver lining' is used to convey the notion that, no matter how bad a situation might seem, there is always some good aspect to it.

This expression is usually said as an encouragement to a person who is overcome by some difficulty and is unable to see any positive way forward.

It is a classic of the Victorian 'despair not; strive for better things' sentiment.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Every cloud has a silver lining'?

Every cloud has a silver liningJohn Milton coined the phrase 'silver lining' in his poem Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634:

I see ye visibly, and now believe
That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistering guardian, if need were
To keep my life and honour unassailed.
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err; there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

'Clouds' and 'silver linings' were referred to often in literature from then onward, usually citing Milton and frequently referring to them as Milton's clouds.

It isn't until the days of the uplifting language of Victoria's England that we begin to hear the proverbial form that we are now familiar with - 'every cloud has a silver lining'.

The first occurrence that unequivocally expresses that notion comes in The Dublin Magazine, Volume 1, 1840, in a review of the novel Marian; or, a Young Maid's Fortunes, by Mrs S. Hall, which was published in 1840:

As Katty Macane has it, "there's a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it."

'There's a silver lining to every cloud' was the form that the proverb was usually expressed in the Victorian era.

The currently used 'every cloud has a silver lining' first appeared, in another literary review, in 1849.

The New Monthly Belle Assemblée, Volume 31, included what purported to be a quotation from Mrs Hall's book. In fact the text they printed, "Every cloud has a silver lining", was actually a misprint. It didn't appear in Marian, which merely reproduced Milton's original text.

Despite being printed in error, the New Monthly Belle Assemblée entry does appear to be the first use of the proverb as we now use it.

The proverb very quickly gained public acceptance. It appears very frequently in newspapers, on both sides of the Atlantic, from 1853 onward.

Every cloud has a silver liningThis was undoubtedly due to the work of the American writer Sarah Payton Parton. She had been commissioned by the editor of the Home Journal magazine to write a weekly motivational essay on various topics, under the pen-name of Fanny Fern. These became very popular and Parton soon became the highest paid writer in the USA.

One of her best-known essays was a piece of purple prose entitled Nil desperandum, which included "Every cloud has a silver lining" in the first line and which was published in 1853:

NO, NEVER! Every cloud has a silver lining; and He who wove it knows when to turn it out. So, after every night, however long or dark, there shall yet come a golden morning. Your noblest powers are never developed in prosperity. Any bark may glide in smooth water, with a favoring gale; but that is a brave, skilful oarsman who rows up stream, against the current, with adverse winds, and no cheering voice to wish him "God speed." Keep your head above the wave; let neither sullen despair nor weak vacillation drag you under. Heed not the poisoned arrow of sneaking treachery that whizzes past you from the shore. Judas sold himself when he sold his Master; and for him there dawned no resurrection morning! 'T is glorious to battle on with a brave heart, while cowering pusillanimity turns trembling back. Dream not of the word "surrender!" When one frail human reed after another breaks, or bends beneath you, lean on the "Rock of Ages." The Great Architect passes you through the furnace but to purify. The fire may scorch, but it shall never consume you. He will yet label you "fine gold." The narrow path may be thorny to your tender feet; but the "promised land" lies beyond! The clusters of Hope may be seen with the eye of faith; your hand shall yet grasp them; your eyes revel, from the mountain top, over the green pastures and still waters of peace. You shall yet unbuckle your dusty armor, while soft breezes shall fan your victor temples. Nil desperandum!

A more recent proverb, which expresses the same idea, is "the darkest hour is just before the dawn".

See also:

Silver bullet

Silver spoon

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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