Not a Shred of Evidence Exists in Favor of the Argument That Life Is Serious

Joseph Campbell? Ogden Nash? Brendan Gill? Anonymous?

evidence02Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a quick question. Which of the following quotations is accurate?

There is not one shred of evidence that life is serious. —Joseph Campbell

There is not a shred of evidence that life is serious —Ogden Nash

Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious. —Brendan Gill

Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious. —Anonymous

If each of these four quotes is inaccurate can you determine the original quotation and coiner? My friend has some magnets that credit the poet and humorist Ogden Nash.

Quote Investigator: Brendan Gill wrote for The New Yorker magazine for six decades. In 1975, near the four decade mark, he published a memoir titled “Here at The New Yorker” that included the following passage: 1

In fact, not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. And saying that, I am prompted to add what follows out of it: that since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time; and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is no third rule.

Gill’s actual statement is very similar to the one given by the questioner but not identical. The word “argument” is used instead of “idea”. This altered version has become more popular over time. In 1979 the compilation “1,001 Logical Laws” gathered by John Peers included the following instance with the word “idea”: 2

Gill’s Law:
Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The attribution evolved as the saying was disseminated on the Usenet discussion system. For example, in 1993 a message in the newsgroup rec.games.diplomacy credited a streamlined instance to the prominent mythographer Joseph Campbell: 3

“Not one shred of evidence exists that life is serious.” – Joseph Campbell

The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive shows that the connection of the saying to Ogden Nash was being propagated by January 2010 and probably considerably earlier:

There is not a shred of evidence that life is serious: – Ogden Nash

In conclusion, QI believes Brendan Gill can properly be credited with the statement he wrote in “Here at The New Yorker”. The other versions ascribed to Joseph Campbell and Ogden Nash apparently evolved from Gill’s words, and the connections are not well supported.

(Thanks to “~~A~Duckling~Named~Ender~~” whose inquiry about this saying included three different versions and provided the impetus for QI to construct this question and perform this investigation.)

Notes:

  1. 1975, Here at The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Chapter: 6, Quote Page 49, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 120, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1993 March 29, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.games.diplomacy, From: Kenneth J. Hoover @PSUEDVAX.BITNET, Subject: Really really basic support question, (Google Groups Search; Accessed February 24, 2013) link