history of the phrase ‘alive and well (and living in ——)’

The phrase alive and well means still existing or active, especially despite suggestions to the contrary (cf. also alive and kicking).

This phrase is first recorded in The first book of Amadis of Gaule (London, 1590?), by the English poet, dramatist, pamphleteer and translator Anthony Munday (died 1633). In Chapter 21, How Arcalaus brought newes to the Courte of King Lisuart, that Amadis was dead, which caused his freendes to make manifolde lamentations and regrets, especiallye the Princesse Oriana, “the Damosell of Denmarke” and “the Princesse Mabila” aid and comfort Princess Oriana, who, on hearing the news, has swooned:

[They] came to Oriana, and feeling by her warmenes some hope of life to be expected, they lifted her vpon the bed, whē soone after her sprites returned to their office: and to quallifie this agonie, they could deuise no better meanes, then to busie her eares with some or other spéeches. Why Madame? quoth one, will ye leaue vs? at least yet speak to vs. Madame, said the other, your Amadis is yet aliue and wel.

One well-known use of the phrase is from the Preface by John H. Watson, M.D., to His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes (London, 1917), by the Scottish novelist and short-story writer Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930):

The friends of Mr. Sherlock Holmes will be glad to learn that he is still alive and well, though somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism.

The extended form alive and well and living in —— is older than generally assumed.

Both the earliest instances that I have found refer to persons who were thought to have been murdered. The earliest is from the proceedings at Wexford Petty Sessions, published in The Wexford Conservative (Wexford, County Wexford, Ireland) of Saturday 5th April 1834:

It was stated to the court by Sergeant Nicholson of the police that a country man told him some time ago that Mr. Hatton’s servant, supposed to be murdered, was alive and well and living beyond the mountains.

The second-earliest instance that I have found of alive and well and living in —— is from the Vermont Patriot (Montpelier, Vermont, USA) of Saturday 23rd March 1844:

'alive and well and living in ——' - Vermont Patriot (Montpelier) - 23 March 1844

Mary Rogers1.—By a letter published in the New Haven Courier, it is stated that Mary Rogers, the cigar girl, that was murdered at Hoboken is alive and well and living with her mother in Derby, Ct.

(1 The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842), by the American short-story writer, poet and critic Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), was based on the unsolved murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers (circa 1820-1841), who worked in a tobacco shop of New York City.)

From July 1966 onwards appeared variants of the phrase built on the pattern God is alive and well (and living) (in ——). This was due to various cultural factors, among which, probably, the cover for the news magazine Time (New York City, N.Y., USA) of Friday 8th April 1966 with the heading Is God Dead?.

However, the earliest occurrence that I have found of the following pun on the statement God is dead made by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is from the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California, USA) of Wednesday 3rd January 1962:

For pithy erudition in menzrooms you still can’t beat the Western Olympus, Berkeley. Scribbled on the wall in Bistro San Martin, there: “‘God is dead’—Nietzsche.” And under it: “‘Nietzsche is dead’—God.”

The earliest instance that I have found of God is alive and well (and living) (in ——) is from the column D.C. Wash, by Judith Axler, in the Daily News (New York City, N.Y.) of Sunday 3rd July 1966:

Words scrawled on the Navy annex building near the Pentagon: “God is alive and well in Tijuana.”

The second-earliest instance that I have found is from the column On the Town, by Vic Wilmot, in The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona, USA) of Saturday 6th August 1966:

Hollywood—Like any sprawling community, Los Angeles territory goes forward and backward and up and down. It was on one of the “up” movements when a sign on a church reads: “God is alive and Well. Visiting hours every day.”

The phrase alive and well and living in —— appeared in the title of the musical that the Daily News (New York City, N.Y., USA) announced on Tuesday 19th December 1967:

Jacques Brel2 Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical based on the works of the young Belgian composer-lyricist, will open Jan. 17 at the Village Gate. The cast includes Elly Stone, Shawn Elliott, Alice Whitfield and Mort Shuman. Staging is by Moni Yakim, an Israeli actor-director and mime.

(2 Jacques Brel (1929-78) was a Belgian singer and songwriter.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.