The proverb a change is as good as a rest is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as:

A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation

Cambridge Dictionaries Online says

You can get as much good from changing the work you do as from having a rest

But none mention the proverb's origins. The website Phrase Finder has nothing, and neither does Wikipedia. So far, so bad.

But I did manage to unearth something on the website Wise Old Sayings, which attributes the proverb to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).

Is that true? Was it written in a personal letter or in one of his novels? Is there evidence to suggest that the British author was the inventor of said adage?

When is the earliest mention of: “A change is as good as a rest”?

Oxford Dictionaries, Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Phrase Finder, Wikipedia, Wise Old Sayings

  • Thank you @Erik Kowal for the editing and correcting my punctuation. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 10:53
  • You're most welcome. :) – Erik Kowal Sep 15 '14 at 11:06
  • +1 Interesting, but what's with the footnote style links? Harder to click on (especially on a mobile device) and look a bit pedantic. And MLA is never pedantic. – bib Sep 15 '14 at 13:28
  • or just hyperlink like God intended? – mxyzplk Sep 15 '14 at 17:07

The poem found by Andrew Leach as the earliest use in the OED, "A Change Is As Good As A Rest", is printed on page 270 of The Family Herald, Volume 15, 1857, published in London by George Biggs. Google Books finds it here, although the snippet view there is now so unreadable as to be useless. There is a note on the Family Herald here. I cannot find the date of that publication.

It was published in the Hampshire Advertiser in England on 29 August 1857. Registering an account at the British Newspaper Archive allows access to three free pages. Their terms permit noncommercial reuse, so I used one access for this and found:

A Change Is As Good As A Rest

Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 29 August 1857 - No author given

Ye votaries of sofas and beds
Ye sloths who exertion detest,
This maxim I wish to drive into your heads -
A change is as good as a rest.

Ye children of Fashion and Wealth,
With countless indulgences blest,
Remember that indolence preyeth on health -
A change is as good as a rest.

Ye sturdy old sons of the soil,
Who work through the day with such zest,
'Tis little ye have beside labour and toil;
But little of change or of rest.

But ye of such leisure and cash
The sweets of employment should test;
To lavish your time is degrading and rash -
A change is as good as a rest.

That porter just over the road,
Of this bit of knowledge posess'd,
From shoulder to shoulder is shifting his load -
A change is as good as a rest.

That student, in sciences deep,
(With time's sterling value impress'd)
Now turns to My Novel, not thinking of sleep -
A change is as good as a rest.

That merchant gets up with the lark,
His duties are aught but a jest;
These over, he rides with his son in the park -
A change is as good as a rest.

My wife, in the kitchen below,
For dinner provideth her best,
Then crochets a nightcap for "dear little Flo" -
A change is as good as a rest.

More relish of life is decreed
For all who this truth have confess'd-
Who grants it in heart, and confirms it in deed -
A change is as good as a rest.

They have no Utopian desires,
Their spirits are seldom depress'd
Well-occupied leisure contentment inspires -
A change is as good as a rest.

Mark I then, fellow-mortals around,
All ye who would wish to be blest,
Much wisdom in this simple phrase may be found -
A change is as good as a rest.

The poem states that it is specifically trying to popularise the phrase. It does not seem to have been very successful. The next occurrence of the phrase according to that site's search engine was in the Cornishman of 28 Jan 1897, forty years later. Google finds no occurrences of the first line of the second verse, anywhere.


OED doesn't mention Conan Doyle. It does have a similar saying which it dates from 1825:

1825 Christian Gleaner Mar. 62 Change of work is as good as play.

And it attributes the exact form to a rhyme in an American publication, again from before Conan Doyle was born:

1857 Defiance (Ohio) Democrat 26 Sept. 1/1 Ye votaries of sofas and beds—Ye sloths who exertion detest, This maxim I wish to drive into your heads—A change is as good as a rest.

  • @emrys57 citation predates the OED's by 28 days! – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 18:24
  • britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results/1857-08-02/… 29 August 1857. But unlike the US the UK charges its citizens a fee. How disappointing. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 18:42
  • @Mari-Lou Private enterprise in the UK always charges. Even the government charges in some instances (although far fewer nowadays than they used to). – Andrew Leach Sep 15 '14 at 20:57
  • @Mari-LouA Not much use to you I suppose, but you can get access here in UK thorugh your local library ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 26 '14 at 22:29

As far as I can determine, Wise Old Sayings is right, if you're prepared to accept a moderate deviation from the wording of the proverb you are enquiring about.

On this page at Answers.com, I found the following chronological list of citations (oldest first), which purports to be taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations:

Well, I gave my mind a thorough rest by plunging into a chemical analysis. One of our greatest statesmen has said that a change of work is the best rest. So it is.
[1890 A. Conan Doyle in Lippincott's Monthly Mag. Feb. x. 198] [I found that the Doyle quotation comes from Chapter 10 of the Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of Four]
Change of work is as good as touchpipe [a short interval of rest].
[1895 J. Thomas Randigal Rhymes 59]
Change of work is rest. (Manx.)
[1903 V. S. Lean Collectanea III. 439]
On the principle that a change of work is a rest, we redecorated the bathroom. ‥We came to the conclusion that the saying is a fallacy.
[1951 M. Coles Now or Never ii.]
There would be no fish-bits for Whiskers‥but she could buy him some fish-pieces; and a change was as good as a rest, she remembered.
[1967 O. Mills Death enters Lists viii.]
Me old grandpa used to say ‘a change is as good as a rest’, and at my time of life variety don't often come aknocking.
[1984 D. Cannell Thin Woman xiii.]
No disrespect to John Quennell, but my career's not really advancing as it ought to, and perhaps our relationship's a little on the stale side. A change is as good as a rest, as they say.
[1994 S. Shaw Villain of Earth (1995) iv. 33]

We can only speculate on the identity of the person that Conan Doyle described as 'one of our greatest statesmen'. (However, we can at least be sure it wasn't David Cameron.)

  • 1
    Well, I see that @AndrewLeach has found some earlier examples. However, I'll leave my answer in place, as there's still some interesting info there. – Erik Kowal Sep 15 '14 at 10:05
  • 1
    After doing a little more sleuthing, I found that the Conan Doyle quotation comes from Chapter 10 of the Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of Four. – Erik Kowal Sep 15 '14 at 11:26
  • Edit that bit in. It's good to know. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 13:43

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