Every Dogma Has Its Day

Anthony Burgess? Israel Zangwill? Carolyn Wells? Merry-Andrew? Abraham Rotstein? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The proverb “Every dog has his day” is familiar to many, but recently I came across an amusing twist:

Every dogma has its day.

These words were credited to the English author Anthony Burgess who is probably best known for the novel “A Clockwork Orange”. Can you tell me when he said this?

Quote Investigator: Burgess did write about dogmas, but QI has not located this punning aphorism in the corpus of his works. As the questioner notes the wordplay is based on modifying the idiom “Every dog has its day” or “Every dog has his day”. This basic expression dates back to the 1500s according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it typically denotes that each person has a period of influence, success, power, opportunity, or good luck during his or her life.

Carolyn Wells, the author and composer of light verse, used a version of the saying by 1898. Israel Zangwill, the British playwright and humorist, also used the saying by 1898. Each of these individuals sometimes receives credit for the comical aphorism in modern times.

But the earliest evidence located by QI is dated 1865. The wording in the following passage from the London Review was different but the idea was nascent [LRPA]:

Mesmerism, electro-biology, clairvoyance, spirit-rapping, and the séances of those ingenious jugglers the brothers Davenport, have all been ostensibly based on some occult principle in physics of which the existence has been emphatically declared, but which no one has been able to explain. But every dog—not to say every dogma—has its day, and one by one the exponents of these mysterious doctrines, as well as the doctrines themselves pass into oblivion.

In 1873 an exact match for the phrase was printed in a newspaper and the words were attributed to an anonymous “merry-andrew”, i.e., a clown or comedian [DDMA]:

The manifest decadence of belief in certain “articles of faith” promulgated by churches has instigated a local merry-andrew to improve an old saying into “every dogma has its day.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The earliest two cites in this presentation were published in 1865 and 1873. The details were mentioned above. In 1880 the principle was printed in a religious publication called Unity. This version uses the word “must” [DDUN]:

But is there not also an agnosticism of dogmatism, which, in the name of science, warns the soul off from all the border lands of knowledge, forbids head or heart looking toward wonderland. This, like other dogmas, must have its day and die, for, the soul has rights which even logic is bound to respect, for it is the mint in which logic is coined.

In 1888 a London newspaper contained an article that reprinted material from contemporary comics. The saying was copied from a periodical called Moonshine. A hyphen in the excerpt below was used to emphasize the connection to the phrase “Every dog has its day” [DDMS]:

(From Moonshine.)

NEW READING.—Every dog-ma has its day.

Also in 1888 a version of the saying appeared in the periodical The Fortnightly Review [DDFR]:

That cherished article in the creed of the patriotic Englishman—the integrity of the Ottoman Empire—has died hard; but at last it has gone to its long home; it has “joined the majority” of forsaken beliefs in an age which holds nothing sacred, which declares ironclads obsolete before they are launched, and questions the authority of the Duke of Argyle. Every dogma, as well as every dog, has its day.

In January 1898 a variant of the adage based on modifying “Every dog must have its day” was printed in an Iowa newspaper. The words were attributed to Carolyn Wells, an author, poet, and humorist, who constructed a collection of comically modified sayings. Several “Mixed Maxims” were reprinted from a work called the Chap-Book by Wells. Here are five examples from the newspaper article [CWCB]:

Straws show which way the gin goes.

“Heaven lies about us in our infancy,” and this world lies about us when we are grown up.

It is not good for man to give a loan.

The wages of sin is debt.

Every dogma must have its day.—Carolyn Wells in the Chap-Book.

The first item above is a quip based on the adage: Straws show which way the wind blows. The material between quotes in the second item is a line in “Ode” by William Wordsworth. The third item is based on: It is not good for man to be alone. The fourth item references: The wages of sin is death.

In October 1898 a speech by Israel Zangwill containing the expression was printed in the New York periodical The Critic [IZTC]:

Therefore art for art’s sake simply means stimulating life and human souls, only with that view, and not with the idea of preaching any set of doctrines; and this art for art’s sake, which is really for humanity’s sake, this is really perhaps the highest way in which a man can influence his time, because great art is greater than all dogmas, which have their short life—every dogma has its day, just as every dog has,—but great art lives on with fresh meaning and fresh inspiration every year.

In 1904 Carolyn Wells published an illustrated book of humor called “Folly for the Wise”, and the altered adage was included in a section titled “Inexpensive Cynicisms”. Here are some more examples of her style [ICCW]:

Poets are born not maids.

Flirtation is the thief of time.

A pitch in time saved the nine.

Every dogma must have its day.

A thirsty man will catch at a straw.

The rolling stone catches the worm.

In November 1904 Israel Zangwill employed the maxim again in an essay published in The Reader Magazine [IZWP]:

For every day brings its subtile increments or decrements, and a dogma of imperishable adamant has not yet appeared in human history. Every dogma has its day. The life of a truth is, according to Ibsen, much shorter than is generally believed, and aged truths are apt to be shockingly thin.

The version crafted by Carolyn Wells was remembered for decades. In 1949 the industrious quotation collector Evan Esar attributed the remark to her [CWEE].

WELLS, Carolyn, 187-?-1942, American humorous and voluminous writer.

Every dogma must have its day.

The connection to Israel Zangwill was mentioned many decades later in 1982 by the gossip columnist Liz Smith. She ascribed a longer version of the expression to him [LSIZ]:

“Every dogma has its day, but ideals are eternal.” said one Israel Zangwill.

The phrase appeared in the popular entertainment program Dr. Who in the 1980s. The seventh incarnation of the doctor employed the saying in 1987 according to WikiQuote [DWWQ]:

Time and the Rani [24.1]

(7 September – 28 September 1987)

The Doctor: Ahh, well every dogma has its day.

In 1993 the reference work “The Harper Book of Quotations” attributed the adage to Abraham Rotstein. No citations were listed [ARHQ]:

Every dogma has its day. Abraham Rotstein

The large online database BrainyQuote credits the maxim to the writer Anthony Burgess [ABBQ]:

Every dogma has its day. Anthony Burgess

In conclusion, the earliest evidence points to an anonymous genesis for this expression. The first exact match in 1873 is ascribed to an unknown funny person, a “merry-andrew”. A variant of this maxim “Every dogma must have its day” was employed by the poet Carolyn Wells by 1898. The author Israel Zangwill also used the expression in a speech by 1898.

[LRPA] 1865 December 16, London Review, Prophetic Almanacks, Page 639, Column 1, Printers Cox & Wyman, London. (HathiTrust) link link

[DDMA] 1873 April 1, Critic-Record [Daily Critic], Jottings About Town, GNB Page 6, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (GenealogyBank)

[DDUN] 1880 June 1, Unity: Freedom, Fellowship and Character in Religion, Editorial, Page 105, Volume 5, Number 7, Chicago. (Google Books full view) link

[DDMS] 1888 January 8, Lloyds Weekly [London] Newspaper, Cuttings From the Comics, NA Page 5, Column 3, London, Middlesex. (NewspaperArchive)

[DDFR] 1888 December 1, The Fortnightly Review, The Fate of Roumania by James D. Bourchier, Start Page 785, Quote Page 786, Chapman and Hall, London. (Google Books full view) link

[CWCB] 1898 January 14, Des Moines Daily News, Mixed Maxims, NA Page 4, Column 4, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

[IZTC] 1898 October, The Critic, In Honor of Tolstoy: A Dinner in Celebration of the Seventieth Birthday of the Russian Novelist and Reformer, [The Speeches: Speech by Israel Zangwill], Start Page 278, Quote Page 279, The Critic Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link

[ICCW] 1904, Folly for the Wise by Carolyn Wells, Page 130, The Bobbs-Merrill company, Indianapolis. (Google Books full view) link

[IZWP] 1904 November, The Reader Magazine, Without Prejudice by Israel Zangwill, Start Page 668, Quote Page 671, Column 2, The Bobbs-Merrill company, Indianapolis. (Google Books full view) link

[CCWE] 1989, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations by Evan Esar, Page 213, Dorset Press, New York. [Reprint of a book published in 1949 by Doubleday, Garden City, New York.] (Verified on paper in 1989 edition)

[LSIZ] 1982 June 22, Times-Picayune, ‘Wonder Woman’ plans to divorce hubby by Liz Smith, Section 2, Page 2, Column 1, [GNB Page 22], New Orleans, Louisiana. (Genealogybank)

[DWWQ] WikiQuote website, Webpage title: Seventh Doctor, Episode: Time and the Rani. (Website en.wikiquote.org accessed 2011 October 18) (This information has not been verified by QI directly in the television episode) link

[ARHQ] 1993, The Harper Book of Quotations [Third Edition], Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Page 105, HarperCollins, New York. (Google Books Preview) link

[ABBQ] BrainyQuote website, Quote attributed to Anthony Burgess, “Every dogma has its day”. (Accessed brainyquote.com 2011 October 18) link

2 replies on “Every Dogma Has Its Day”

  1. While we’ve got dogmas on the agenda, this is too obscure to be worth tracing to an original source, but it’s not bad:

    Dorothy L Sayers, who wrote some essays propounding Christian theology for the edification, she said, of people who attacked it without knowing what it actually was, quoted this line, but without a source: “Any stigma will do to beat a dogma.”

  2. Thanks for visiting the Quote Investigator website. I performed a quick search on the interesting phrase that you used. There is evidence that Dorothy Sayers wrote:

    “Any stigma,” said a witty tongue, “will do to beat a dogma”

    A few reference works, e.g., The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, point to the historian Philip Guedalla and the book Masters and Men (1923). I have not checked this on paper, but it is in the Google Books database:

    Any stigma, as the old saying is, will serve to beat a dogma.

    So Guedalla seems to claim that he was using an existing saying.

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