Even in the worst of situations there is hope of better.
It would seem that we have the 17th century poet John Milton to thank for the first linking of clouds and silver linings:
"Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err; there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove."
Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle by John Milton, 1634.
There are plentiful examples of clouds and silver linings in literature after this date, even to the point that some simply reference "Milton's clouds" on the assumption that readers will know they have silver linings. But it wasn't until the early Victorian era in 1840 where we start to get close to the expression as used today. A review of Marian; or a Young Maid's Fortunes by Mrs. S. C. Hall (Anna Maria Hall) in the first volume of Dublin Magazine comments that "there's a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it."
The first known use of the expression as we know it today was in a 1949 copy of La Belle Assemblée which, rather ironically, intended to quote Mrs Hall (who in turn had quoted Milton) but instead mangled the reference and thus gave birth to the proverb as we know it today.
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