‘to thank one’s lucky stars’: meaning and origin

The phrase to thank one’s lucky stars, and variants, mean to be grateful for one’s good fortune.

This phrase occurs, for example, in the following by the British agony aunt Virginia Ironside (born 1944), published in The Independent (London, England) of Tuesday 11th February 2014:

You’ve got a good sex life. Well, for heaven’s sake thank your lucky stars. Not everyone can boast that by any means.

The phrase to thank one’s lucky stars refers to the notion that a planet, star or zodiacal constellation influences events and human affairs.

This notion had given rise to the earlier phrase to thank, or to curse, one’s stars, and variants, meaning to feel grateful for, or angry at, one’s good, or bad, fortune. The earliest occurrences of this phrase that I have found are:

1-: From A Subtill practise, vvrought in Paris by Fryer Frauncis, who to deceiue Fryer Donnet of a sweet skind Nun which he secretly kept, procured him to go to Rome, where he tolde the Pope a notable lie concerning the taking of the king of France prisoner by the Duke de Mayne: For which, they whipt ech other so greeuously in Rome, that they died thereof within two dayes after (London: Printed [by Adam Islip] for Thomas Nelson, 1590), by l. R.:

The Duke du Maine, despairing in his auckward procéedings, and quite confounded in his forlorne cheualry, wrote lamentable letters to his holinesse, by one Mounsier Belowe a frenche man, wherin he passionately reported his ill fortune, and dismall discomfiture, cursing the starres that did boade him such bitter mishap, and the day that gaue light to that luckelesse disgrace.

2-: From The Discouerie of the Knights of the Poste: Or the Knightes of the post, or cōmon common [sic] baylers newly Discried. Wherein is shewed and plainely laide open, many lewde actions, and subtill deuises, which are daily practised by them: to the great abuse of most honorable Councelers, learned Iudges, and other graue Maiestrates: And also to the defrauding and vtter vndoing of a greate number of her Maiesties good and loyall subiects (London: Printed by G. S[haw], 1597), by E. S.:

In respect of this happy meeting, I blesse my fortunate starres that it was my lucke to sée thée before I die.

The earliest occurrence of the phrase to thank one’s lucky stars and variants that I have found is from Spectacle de la Nature: Or, Nature Display’d. Being Discourses on such Particulars of Natural History as were thought most proper to excite the Curiosity, and form the Minds of Youth (London: Printed for R. Francklin, C. Davis, and J. Pemberton, 1740), the translation, by the English poet, librettist and translator Samuel Humphreys (c.1697-1738), of Le Spectacle de la nature, ou Entretiens sur les particularités de l’Histoire naturelle, qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les Jeunes-Gens curieux, & à leur former l’esprit (Utrecht: Chez Étienne Neaulme, 1736), by the French Catholic priest Noël-Antoine Pluche (1688-1761).

The translation by Samuel Humphreys is as follows:

It is the Nature of Water, where it hollows itself a new Bed on one Side, to abandon as much Ground on the opposite Side. Hence the injured Landlord, who suffers this Incroachment from an Enemy that insensibly purloins away his Property, without having it in his Power to procure Reparation for the Wrong, laments and bemoans his hard Fate, but all in vain; whilst he on the opposite Side of the River rejoices at his good Fortune, and thanks his lucky Stars for an Alluvion or Increase of Land that costs him neither Trouble nor Expence.

In the original French text, Noël-Antoine Pluche used the verb se réjouir, translating as to rejoice:

La méthode de l’eau est de creuser dans un endroit, & d’en abandonner un autre du côté opposé. Celui dont la rivière ronge l’héritage se désole d’avoir un ennemi qui le ruine sourdement, & sans qu’il puisse presque s’en défendre, tandis que le propriétaire de la rive opposée, que la riviére [sic] abandonne, se réjouit d’une alluvion ou augmentation de terrain qui l’enrichit, sans qu’il ait rien fait pour accroître son domaine.

The second-earliest occurrence of the phrase to thank one’s lucky stars and variants that I have found is from The Fortunate Shepherdess, a Pastoral Tale; in Three Cantos, in the Scotish Dialect (Aberdeen: Printed by, and for Francis Douglas, 1768), by the Scottish poet Alexander Ross (1699-1784):

Sae aff I scours
Blessing my lucky stars, an’ hame I tours.
     ‘translation’:
So off I rush
Blessing my lucky stars, and home I betake myself.

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