Mark Twain? Ben Wade? Emery A. Storrs? James Matthew Barrie?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a well-known quotation about heaven and hell that is usually credited to Mark Twain. I have found it phrased in different ways:
Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.
I would choose Heaven for climate but Hell for companionship.
Heaven for climate. Hell for society.
My friend is adamant that the quotation was really created by James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Initially, I thought that possibility was unlikely, but when I searched I found some websites that agree with my friend’s claim. Could you examine this question?
Quote Investigator: J. M. Barrie did use a version of the quip in 1891 in a story called “The Little Minister” published in a collection titled “Good Words” [GWJB]. This early usage caused some reference works to credit Barrie with the phrase.
A scholarly multi-volume edition of Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals revealed that sometime between May 1889 and August 1890 Twain recorded a version of the joke on one of his writing pads [MTN3]. Thus, Twain’s paper trail preceded Barrie’s publication, and some reference works attributed the expression to Twain based on this evidence.
However, the earliest citation located by QI did not mention Twain or Barrie. Instead, the joke was attributed to Ben Wade by a judge named Arthur MacArthur while he was speaking at a National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1885. The context did not provide enough details to uniquely identify Wade, but MacArthur may have been referring to the United States Senator Benjamin Franklin “Bluff” Wade [AMBW]:
The effect of that paper reminded me of an anecdote relating to Ben Wade, who was once asked his opinion on heaven and hell. Well,” said Mr. Wade, “I think, from all I can learn, that heaven has the better climate, but hell has the better company.”
Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.