Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Creature Comforts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 26, 2013

Have you ever heard talk about creature comforts? Those are things that make life comfortable and pleasant … food, clothing, housing, and other necessities that take care of the physical aspects of the individual. In other words, material comforts that are responsible in part for one’s physical well-being, but that are not considered luxuries by others.

Malabar Hornblower wrote an article that was published in the New York Times on February 21, 1999 entitled, “Creature Comforts for Homo Sapiens.” The article discussed the parks, game reserves and conservation areas in Africa and included this commentary:

There is an abundance of accommodations providing all levels of luxury. For visitors who, like my husband, Bill Brewster, and me, relish their creature comforts, the choice of lodges is almost as critical as picking game-viewing sites. When it comes to making the final selections, it feels a bit like Russian roulette.

Back on December 4, 1949 the St. Petersburg Times ran an article entitled, “Strength Through Unity In Arms Is Not Enough.” The story was about the unanimous agreement on defense plans that was reached by the North American Pact allies and whether this would provide achieve the goals the allies hoped to achieve. It read in part:

It follows, consequently, that this system must be economically sound. That is not simply because man’s basic creature comforts must be satisfied. Only when those basic comforts are provided — when freedom from want is reasonably assured — can there be true progress in the arts and sciences. Men do not reach for the stars with empty bellies; they grub in the earth for food.

In Chapter XI of Jack London’s book “The Iron Heel” published 1908, describes the fall of America to a fascist dictatorship composed of a group of monopoly capitalists.

Father must have had strong in him the blood of adventure. He looked upon our catastrophe in the light of an adventure. No anger nor bitterness possessed him. He was too philosophic and simple to be vindictive, and he lived too much in the world of mind to miss the creature comforts we were giving up. So it was, when we moved to San Francisco into four wretched rooms in the slum south of Market Street, that he embarked upon the adventure with the joy and enthusiasm of a child–combined with the clear sight and mental grasp of an extraordinary intellect. He really never crystallized mentally.

For those of you who may not recognize the name Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), he is the 19th century American author and diplomat who wrote Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  He also wrote “Astoria or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains” which was published in February 1836. In Chapter XLVIII the following is found:

The two Canadians, Vallee and Le Clerc, killed a young buffalo bull in the evening, which was in good condition, and afforded them a plentiful supply of fresh beef. They loaded their spits, therefore, and crammed their camp kettle with meat, and while the wind whistled, and the snow whirled around them, huddled round a rousing fire, basked in its warmth, and comforted both soul and body with a hearty and invigorating meal. No enjoyments have greater zest than these, snatched in the very midst of difficulty and danger; and it is probable the poor wayworn and weather- beaten travellers relished these creature comforts the more highly from the surrounding desolation, and the dangerous proximity of the Crows.

While all this is very interesting, the expression appears in all sorts of documents. A number of dictionaries claim that the expression dates to the early to mid 1600s when creature was used in the context that creatus (past participle of Latin creare) referred to anything that ministered “to man’s comforts.”

The term creature from the Latin creatus actually dates back to between 1250 and 1300, however, it took another 300 or so years to take on the meaning ascribed to it in the 1600s.

The American Heritage Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1659. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1652. Webster’s Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1650. The Oxford Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was some time during the 1650s. But none of these dictionaries provided a source to support their respective claims.

In researching the 1600s in the hopes of uncovering who appears to have first used the expression, Idiomation uncovered a passage in the “Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible” by Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) and published in 1708 makes use of the expression. The commentary pertains directly to Joel 1:8-13.

All who labour only for the meat that perishes, will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. Those that place their happiness in the delights of sense, when deprived of them, or disturbed in the enjoyment, lose their joy; whereas spiritual joy then flourishes more than ever. See what perishing, uncertain things our creature-comforts are. See how we need to live in continual dependence upon God and his providence. See what ruinous work sin makes. As far as poverty occasions the decay of piety, and starves the cause of religion among a people, it is a very sore judgment. But how blessed are the awakening judgments of God, in rousing his people and calling home the heart to Christ, and his salvation!

Henry’s use of the expression implies that he assumes his readership will understand what he means by creature-comforts, which lends credence to the claim that the expression was first used sometime in the 1600s. Unfortunately, how much earlier that in use in Matthew Henry’s book is unknown at this time. Idiomation would like to peg it to at least 1659, if not much earlier.

With that in mind, the fact remains that the expression is implied in at least 2 different books in the Bible: 1 Timothy 4:4 – 8 and Joel 1:8-13.

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