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I Have Never Killed Any One, But I Have Read Some Obituary Notices with Great Satisfaction

Mark Twain? Clarence Darrow? Overland Monthly? Anonymous?

darrow07Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the quotation below when it was tweeted a few days ago. It was credited to Mark Twain, but apparently he never said it:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

Later I read news reports claiming that the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow said something similar. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Clarence Darrow did deliver a similar quip on several occasions. The earliest instance located by QI occurred during a speech in 1922. He also spoke a version during congressional testimony in 1926. The remark was popular, and he included another version in his autobiography “The Story of My Life” in 1932.

In 1922 Darrow addressed the “Illinois Conference on Public Welfare” with a speech simply titled “Crime”. He described candidly his feelings about reading obituaries, but the prolixity of his remark reduced its wittiness. In later versions Darrow presented more concise statements [CDPW]:

One reason why we don’t kill is because we are not used to it. I never killed anybody, but I have done just the same thing. I have had a great deal of satisfaction over many obituary notices that I have read. I never got into the habit of killing. I could mention the names of many that it would please me if I could read their obituaries in the paper in the morning.

In Darrow’s 1932 memoir he wrote a short version that decades later would be suitable for tweeting [CDSL]:

I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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