Some scholars argue that this Riley (originally spelt "Reilly") referred to the character that appeared in a song written by Pat Rooney in 1890. In the song Riley says if he ever became the President of the US then "New York" would "swim in wine when the White House and Capitol are mine."
Some others argue that it was an American poet by the name of James Whitcomb Riley who gave rise to this idiom. Apparently, Riley (1849-1916) wrote sentimental poems about young boys, which were very popular during his time. The poems told the stories of young boys lazing around during the summer without a care in the world — wandering about barefoot, swimming in the river and fishing.
- While John worked all day, Jack stayed home living the life of Riley.