Quotes Uncovered: Death and Taxes

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research.

Ewout asked:

Who was the first to say these famous words: “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Some sources mention Ben Franklin, others say Mark Twain or Daniel Defoe. Thanks!

This is usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in a 1789 letter that “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, The Yale Book of Quotations quotes “‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,” from Christopher Bullock, The Cobler of Preston (1716). The YBQ also quotes “Death and Taxes, they are certain,” from Edward Ward, The Dancing Devils (1724).

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Ben Ramsey says:

    Where does the quote “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero but only one” come from?

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  2. Sam Adams says:

    sounds like Tennyson to me, we’ll see how the expert responds…

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  3. Don Rodriguez says:

    “Death and Taxes”, or, in other words, “Freud and Marx”.


    “The only two certainties in life are Freud and Marx.”

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  4. Leland G says:

    The internets seem to attribute the following quote to Einstein: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    But I can’t find ANY specific citation for it – not from Einstein’s writings or a lecture/appearance, etc. It seems to have appeared out of thin air sometime in the late 90s. Any idea whence it comes?

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  5. Joshua Northey says:

    What is with the strange fixation with written citations? I realize that allows you to have a point of reference, which is nice, but isn’t it clear from the historical record that a huge number of these famous quips were already circulating before pen was put to paper?

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  6. JimFive says:

    Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 2: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”


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  7. Drew says:

    Was “Statistics are like ladies of the night…Once laid out you can do anything with them.” really Mark Twain?

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  8. Eric M. Jones says:

    @4- Leland G

    I’ll bet Albert Einstein never said such a thing. Furthermore until the year 2000 (and beyond) Google Books says he never said it either.

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