There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1

Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the duos book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading


  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Men Marry Women with the Hope They Will Never Change. Women Marry Men with the Hope They Will Change

Albert Einstein? H. M. Harwood? R. Gore-Browne? John Conwell? Estelle Getty? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did Albert Einstein’s genius extend from physics to psychology? The following remark has been ascribed to him:

Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.

I have not found any persuasive citations. Would you please examine the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein who died in 1955 made this statement. Indeed, it is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest ascription to Einstein located by QI appeared in 1982 in “Forbes” magazine which reported that the line was spoken by the popular comedian Mort Sahl during a performance. Perhaps Sahl concocted the linkage to the famous scientist to heighten the humor. See the detailed citation listed further below.

The earliest solid match to the statement known to QI occurred in the play “Cynara” by H. M. Harwood and R. Gore-Browne which was performed in London in 1930. The drama moved to Broadway in 1931, and it was included in a compilation of “The Best Plays of 1931-32”. The character John Tring offered the following insight about marriage. The phrasing differed from the quotation under examination, but the underlying idea was the same. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

TRING—Exactly! That’s the trouble about marriage. Women always hope it’s going to change the husband. Men always hope it won’t change their wives—and both are disappointed! (He gets up.) Never if you can help it be a woman’s first lover—unless, of course, you’ve got the explorer’s temperament.

The play was adapted from the novel “An Imperfect Lover” by R. Gore-Browne, but QI’s search did not detect the quotation within the book.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1932, The Best Plays of 1931-32 and the Year Book of the Drama in America, Edited by Burns Mantle, Section: Cynara: A Drama in Prologue, Three Acts and an Epilogue by H. M. Harwood (Harold Marsh Harwood) and R. Gore-Browne, (Adapted from novel “An Imperfect Lover” by R. Gore-Browne), Start Page 335, Quote Page 358, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. (Reprint Edition in 1975: Arno Press: A New York Times Company, New York) (Verified with hard copy)

On Some Great and Glorious Day the Plain Folks of the Land Will Reach Their Heart’s Desire at Last . . .

H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years H. L. Mencken was an influential and acerbic commentator with a national reputation in the U.S. His sharp witted and ferocious columns appeared in either “The Evening Sun” or “The Sun” of Baltimore, Maryland. Mencken’s low opinion of the general populace led him to predict that one day a “downright moron” would be elected President of the United States. This prophecy has periodically been highlighted by individuals who supported losing candidates. Would you please locate a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: On July 26, 1920 H. L. Mencken published a column in “The Evening Sun” of Baltimore titled “Bayard vs. Lionheart”. In the final two paragraphs of his essay Mencken elaborated on his misgivings about the democratic process: 1

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

“The Evening Sun” has not yet been digitized, and QI wholeheartedly thanks the librarians of the “Enoch Pratt Free Library” who accessed Mencken’s article on microfilm.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1920 July 26, The Evening Sun (Baltimore Evening Sun), Bayard vs. Lionheart, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Baltimore, Maryland. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Irish Barrister? Wilton Lackaye? Margaret Waters? Well-Known Young Clubman? Gustav Traub? Mike Romanoff? Samuel George Blythe? Arthur M. Binstead? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating conversationalist Oscar Wilde enjoyed modifying dusty platitudes to construct comical alternatives. For example, he permuted an old complaint about the working class to yield:

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Oddly, I have not found a citation for this statement dated before the death of Wilde. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in November 1900. The earliest published instance of this quip located by QI occurred in the caption of a newspaper cartoon in 1902. The details are given further below.

Yet there is good evidence that Oscar Wilde did craft this statement. In 1916 the writer and outsized personality Frank Harris who was a friend of Wilde’s published a biography titled “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions”. Harris described a party he threw during which Wilde delivered the remark. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A little later I gave a dinner at the Savoy and asked him to come. He was delightful, his vivacious gaiety as exhilarating as wine. But he was more like a Roman Emperor than ever: he had grown fat: he ate and drank too much; not that he was intoxicated, but he became flushed, and in spite of his gay and genial talk he affected me a little unpleasantly; he was gross and puffed up. But he gave one or two splendid snapshots of actors and their egregious vanity. It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet.

“Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”

Yet even when making fun of the mummers there was a new tone in him of arrogance and disdain. He used always to be genial and kindly even to those he laughed at; now he was openly contemptuous.

The accuracy of the above ascription to Wilde depends on the veracity of Harris who was a direct witness. Harris explained the long delay before the appearance of his book in the introduction. Wilde was a controversial figure and Harris’s sympathetic work condemned the harshness of Wilde’s punishment. Harris waited more than ten years hoping that someone else would write a comparable book. He acted when he finally felt compelled to present his own viewpoint.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 1, Quote Page 166, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Baby: An Alimentary Canal with a Loud Voice at One End and No Responsibility at the Other

Elizabeth I. Adamson? Ronald Knox? Ronald Reagan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a definition that refers to the two ends of a baby. One end consists of a loud voice or a big appetite, and the other end is given a comical description. Are you familiar with this joke? Would you please research its origin?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in the July 1937 issue of “The Reader’s Digest”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

BABY: An alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other.—Elizabeth I. Adamson

QI does not have any biographical information for Adamson, but based on current evidence she was the most likely creator of this quip. In 1965 future president Ronald Reagan extended the metaphorical framework to construct a barb aimed at government.

Details are given below together with selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1937 July, Reader’s Digest, Volume 31, Patter, Quote Page 101, Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified using hardcopy)

I Had a Writing Block Once. It Was the Worst 20 Minutes of My Life

Isaac Asimov? Robert Silverberg? Andrew J. Offutt? Harlan Ellison? David Gerrold? David Langford? Frederik Pohl? Anonymous Fan?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular science fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg were both famously prolific. Apparently, one of them delivered the following quip:

I had a writing block once. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.

Alternatively, the remark may have been crafted by a fan in this form:

He had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
She had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of her life.

Would you please explore the provenance of this joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this humorous schema known to QI appeared in the influential 1972 collection of short stories titled “Again, Dangerous Visions” compiled and edited by Harlan Ellison. The author Andrew J. Offutt in the introduction to his tale stated that he had suffered a period during which his writing abilities had faltered. In the following excerpt Offutt employed his distinctive style using a lowercase “i”. Emphasis added by QI: 1

“Last summer, June 1970, i experienced my first Block, that ancient writer’s devil i’d heard about. Stupid; it was MY fault.

After an elaborate multi-paragraph description of his difficulties Offutt finally presented the punch line. The term “liefer” is in the original text:

“i fought, i kept sitting down and trying to type, i snarled, cursed, cussed, obscenitized. Kept on fingering keys, (i use three fingers, one of which is on my left hand. It gets sorest.) i kept on. Come on, damn you!

“i PREVAILED! It had been awful. It had lasted 45 minutes, and now i know what a block is. i’d liefer forget, and i will never ever stop at a stopping point again!

“i can’t see that a block ever need be longer, assuming one has any control over himself at all.

Harlan Ellison’s response to Offutt asserted that prominent science fiction authors such as Theodore Sturgeon and Robert Sheckley had endured blocks that had lasted for years. Ellison also wrote that the witticism about an evanescent impediment was already being told within SF fandom: 2

There are fans who jest about me and Silverberg “blocking”—for half an hour. But one day will come, smartass; one frightening, mouth-drying day when nothing comes. And then you’ll know what it is to suffer the torments of a hell you can’t even name.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124 and 125, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

In a Woman the Flesh Must Be Like Marble; In a Statue the Marble Must Be Like Flesh

Victor Hugo? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am authoring a book that discusses marble, and I’ve found an apposite quotation ascribed to the French literary titan Victor Hugo author of “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. He employed antimetabole while comparing marble to human flesh. I have not been able to find solid citations in French or English. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: When Victor Hugo died in 1885 he left his heirs with a bulky copy-book entitled “Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie” (“A Postscript to My Life”). In 1901 a posthumous book emerged, and one section contained a collection of brief miscellaneous thoughts. Here were four in the original French. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Eh mon Dieu! la beauté est diverse. Selon la nature et selon l’art. Si c’est une femme, que la chair soit du marbre, si c’est une statue, que le marbre soit de la chair.

Les méchants envient et haïssent; c’est leur manière d’admirer.

Le savant sait qu’il ignore.

En poussant l’aiguille du cadran vous ne ferez pas avancer l’heure.

Publication of an English translation occurred in 1907 under the title “Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography: Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion”. Here were the four thoughts above rendered in English: 2

Dear God! how beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.

The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.

The learned man knows that he is ignorant.

By putting forward the hands of the clock you shall not advance the hour.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1901, Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie by Victor Hugo, Quote Page 30, Calmann Lévy, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1907, Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (Postscriptum de Ma Vie): Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion, Translated by Lorenzo O’Rourke, Chapter: Thoughts, Quote Page 359 and 360, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Men Who Have a Thirty-Six-Televised-Football-Games-a-Week-Habit Should Be Declared Legally Dead and Their Estates Probated

Erma Bombeck? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Television is filled with athletic events during the winter holiday season. A hypnotized sports addict could stare at the tube for hours on end. A caustic remark about this behavior was apparently crafted by the humorist Erma Bombeck:

Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead.

I haven’t been able to locate a solid citation. Is this quotation accurate?

Quote Investigator: Erma Bombeck visited this topic at least five times in her syndicated newspaper column, books, and speeches. None of her statements precisely matched the remark given above, but there was a semantic overlap.

In 1972 Bombeck discussed stressful situations during which individuals talked to themselves. Although this might be considered mentally anomalous conduct she felt that it was sometimes justified. Here were three acceptable scenarios she listed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The woman standing in the middle of the kitchen asking herself, “If I were car keys, where would I hide?”

The man on the golf course who has just missed a two-inch putt and is the only one who wouldn’t be shocked by his X-rated dialogue.

The woman who is married to a man with a 23-televised-football-games-a-week habit. (It’s even permissible for her to dance with herself.)

In 1973 Bombeck published “I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression”. She began her book with a set of self-revelatory remarks: 2

Before you read this book, there are a few things you should know about me.

I consider ironed sheets a health hazard.
. . .
Renaissance women were beautiful and never heard of Weight Watchers.
. . .
Men who have a thirty-six-televised-football-games-a-week-habit should be declared legally dead and their estates probated.

The above statement provided a substantive match to the expression under examination, but Bombeck did not use the phrase “brain dead”. Also, the criticism was aimed at couch potatoes with more extensive viewing schedules.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1972 May 17, The Daily Reporter, At Wit’s End by Erma Bombeck (Syndicated), Quote Page A16, Column 7, Dover, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1973, I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression by Erma Bombeck, Chapter 1: Ironed Sheets Are a Health Hazard, Quote Page 7, Fawcett Crest Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Ascribe to an Opponent Motives Meaner than Your Own

James Matthew Barrie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Scottish playwright and novelist J. M. Barrie created the beloved fictional world of Peter Pan and Wendy. He also offered cogent advice about not ascribing excessively malign intentions to your antagonists. Are you familiar with this saying? Do you know when it was spoken?

Quote Investigator: In 1922 James Matthew Barrie delivered the Rectorial Address at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. His speech included a guideline with a humorous edge for assessing other people’s thoughts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I urge you not to use ugly names about anyone. In the war it was not the fighting men who were distinguished for abuse; as has been well said, “Hell hath no fury like a non-combatant.” Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1922, Courage by J. M. Barrie, The Rectorial Address Delivered at St. Andrews University on May 3, 1922, Quote Page 9 and 10, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity

Robert Heinlein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Ayn Rand? David Hume? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Robert J. Hanlon? Arthur Cushman McGiffert? William James Laidlay? Ernst Haeckel? Thomas F. Woodlock? Nick Diamos?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is easy to impute hostility to the actions of others when a situation is actually unclear. A popular insightful adage attempts to constrain this type of bitter speculation. Here are two versions:

  1. Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by stupidity
  2. Don’t ascribe to malice what can be plainly explained by incompetence.

This notion has been attributed to military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, to science fiction author Robert Heinlein, and to others. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for ascribing the statement to Napoleon Bonaparte. Robert Heinlein did include a thematically similar remark in a 1941 short story.

The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1980 compilation “Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong” edited by Arthur Bloch. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

The description “Hanlon’s Razor” was used because the creator was a computer programmer named Robert J. Hanlon. The phrase “Hanlon’s Razor” was analogous to the phrase “Occam’s Razor”. Both referred to heuristics designed to prune sets of hypotheses by favoring simplicity. More details about Hanlon are presented further below based on the research conducted by quotation expert Mardy Grothe appearing in the 2011 book “Neverisms”.

Many people have expressed similar thoughts over the years and additional selected citations in chronological order are shown below. Continue reading


  1. 1980, Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong, Compiled and Edited by Arthur Bloch, Quote Page 52, Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)