Elbert Hubbard? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? William J. Crawford? Walt Kelly? Pogo? Pierre Daninos? Alphonse Allais? Julien Green?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a trenchant family of fatalistic sayings concerning the solemnity of life. Here are four examples:
- Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out of it alive.
- You mustn’t take life too seriously; no one makes it out alive.
- Don’t take life so seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
- Why take life so seriously? It’s not permanent.
This notion has been attributed to U.S. aphorist Elbert Hubbard and French essayist and scholar Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Would you please explore the provenance of this set of expressions?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the December 1900 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” within an essay by Elbert Hubbard who was the editor of the publication. The text began with a reference to the spiritual dimension of life. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Dear Playmate in the Kindergarten of God: Please do not take life quite so seriously—you surely will never get out of it alive. And as for your buying and selling, your churches and banks, your newspapers and books, they are really at the last of no more importance than the child’s paper houses, red and blue wafers, and funny scissors things.
Why you grown-ups! all your possessions are only just to keep you out of mischief, until Death, the good old nurse, comes and rocks you to sleep. Am I not right?
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle died in 1757, and he received credit for this saying by the 1970s which is rather late. QI has not yet found substantive support for this attribution.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1900 December, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 12, Number 1, Editor Elbert Hubbard, Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock, Dear Playmate in the Kindergarten of God, Start Page 24, Quote Page 24, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩