Jacula Prudentum "Half The World Knows Not How The Other Half Lives"

George Herbert

"Half The World Knows Not How The Other Half Lives"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In Jacula Prudentum, No. 907, George Herbert says that half the world does not know how the other half lives. He perhaps picked up the idea from Joseph Hall, who uses the same wording in Holy Observations (1607). Frequently the saying is taken to mean that the wealthy do not know how the poor live. This interpretation is indicated by James Kelly in A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs (1721): "One half the world kens not how the other half lives. Men bred to ease and luxury are not sensible of the mean condition of a great many." The idea would equally apply to the poor, who have no idea how the rich live. A notable example in literature of the blindness of the wealthy to the pinched condition of the poor occurs in the storm scene of King Lear (Act III, Scene iv, Lines 33-36): "O, I have ta'en/ Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/ That thou mayst shake the superflux to them/ And show the heavens more just." Except for the minor change of "knows not" to "does not know," the modern form of the expression is as Herbert recorded it:

Half the world knows not how the other half lives.