As we lead up to the Our Community Reads discussion of The Brief History of the Dead in April, we’re sharing articles and news of related interest.
In an earlier post I referred to a familiar quote that is usually given as: “Nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes.” As I checked for the source of this saying, I was surprised to learn that the origin is somewhat of a mystery!
Most credible sites give the source as Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in a 1789 letter: “Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
However, researchers have also noted that in 1716, an English playwright named Christopher Bullock wrote a short farce, based on the Induction from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, titled The Cobler of Preston in which an actor states:
“‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”
Was Franklin perhaps aware of this rowdy parody and simply echoing Bullock’s words in his letter?
Another possible origin is from the 1726 book by Daniel Defoe, The History of the Devil (which you can read online if you’re interested): “Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.”
And finally, although this appears in print much later (1936) it is worth noting that Margaret Mitchell has Scarlett O’Hara (who, by the way, was almost named Pansy) pick up on this theme in Gone with the Wind: “Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them!”
So, just how and when did this saying became part of popular culture? No one seems certain.
The connection of any of this with Our Community Reads is, admittedly, a bit tenuous, but I anticipate that one of the many things to discuss about The Brief History of the Dead, will be that while death is certain, we can still be “kept alive” in the memories of those who remain after we are gone.
In April the St. Charles Public Library and Elgin Community College are cosponsoring a variety of events for “Our Community Reads.” Members of the community are encouraged to read the book, The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier and join in the conversation.