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 I dig old books.

 Est. 1998

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Sure as Death, Taxes, etc.

      Now is the Time, and it is absolutely Necessary to begin it Now, to rid the Nation of an insupportable Burden, whatever other Difficulties are upon us... We are all intent upon reducing the Nation's Debts, and delivering our Country from the Embarrassments of Twenty Years Wars, and the unsufferable Burden of innumerable Taxes...
      A Man can hardly refrain, after all that has been said, from flattering the Nation with Hopes, that they shall once more live to see themselves delivered from Task-masters, and Tax-gatherers. It is impossible to think far into such a thing without some Rapture, some little Extasies upon the Felicities of our Native Country. This would be indeed to taste the Fruits of Peace... This would be the reviving the Halcion Days, and bringing the Golden Age once more upon the Earth. Then it would be no more a Proverb or by-Word among us, that there is nothing sure, but Death  and Taxes. ~Daniel Defoe, Fair Payment, No Spunge, 1717  [a little altered —tg]

"It was as true," said Mr. Barkis, "as turnips is. It was as true," said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only means of emphasis, "as taxes is. And nothing 's truer than them... Nothing 's truer than them." ~Charles Dickens, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He never meant to be Published on any Account), 1849

Another difference between death and taxes is that you can do your dying all at once and forget it. ~Robert Quillen, 1931

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.
~David Dixon, 1998, winning entry of the Haiku Error Messages 21st Challenge by Charlie Varon and Jim Rosenau, sponsored by

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! ~Benajmin Franklin, letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, of Paris, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, 1789 November 13th, quoted from The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, published from the originals by his grandson, William Temple Franklin, 1817  [the French: "Notre constitution nouvelle est actuellement établie, tout paraît nous promettre qu’elle sera durable; mais dans ce monde, il n’y a rien d’assuré que la mort et les impôts." —tg]

"In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes," remarked old Benjamin Franklin in 1789. "He probably meant death by taxis," corrected the side-stepping pedestrian in 1926. ~"Poorer Richard," in Life magazine, 1926

This artful piece of Conjuration,
This pritty witty Transmutation,
Commands an Upper-Gallery Laugh,
The while, Pilgarlick marches off.
      Thus many things, we find, will slip
      As Proverb says, 'twixt Cup and Lip:
      Nothing is sure i' th' course of Fortune,
      But Death and Taxes, they are certain.

~Edward Ward, The Dancing Devils: or, the Roaring Dragon. A Dumb Farce, 1724

Another difference between death and taxes is that you don't have to work like fury to pay for the dying you did last year. ~Robert Quillen, "Quillen's Quips," 1921

To die is not more certain. (Non moriri certius est.) ~Plautus (c.254–184 BCE), Captivi, translated by Craufurd Tait Ramage, 1867

Vivi sicura, come del morire... ~Giovanni Boccaccio, Il filostrato, c.1338  [Translations. Hubertis Cummings, 1924: “And, certain as is death, of this live sure...” Burton Stevenson, 1948 paraphrase: “Sure as death.” Google Translate, 2024: “Live as confidently as you are about dying.” —tg]

But this as sooth as deeth, certeyn... ~Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1342–1400), The House of Fame

One is certain only of death. ~Yiddish proverb, quoted from Leah Rachel Yoffie, "Yiddish Proverbs, Sayings, etc., in St. Louis, Mo.," Journal of American Folk-Lore, April–June 1920

Unless you do it now, you'll never do it! — That's certain as death and my hay-fever. ~Philip Barry, You and I, 1923

...and tavern bills are as sure as death. ~"Ariosto," Russell's Magazine, November 1859

As sure as fate... ~George Farquhar, Sir Harry Wildair, 1701 sure as bark on tree. ~William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, c.1594  [V, 2, Maria]

Another difference between death and taxes is that the relatives don't hang around to grab what is left when you pay taxes. ~Robert Quillen, 1921

...For we must die.
We too. All passes, and must pass away.
There's nothing certain in man's life but this
That he must lose it. Every hour's a thief,
And all the world's unstable. Who's assured
The sun will rise to-morrow? Each man stands
Poised on this little pinnacle of time
The ever-crumbling moment, eminent
In midst of such innumerable mischance
That nothing is, or is conceivable,
Of strength or size so insignificant
But what it may upset him! None is safe,
Sleeping or waking. And between us all
And what shall be the end of us at last
There's nothing but our ignorance of it.
~Owen Meredith (Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton), Clytemnestra, 1867

"Nubby" Tomkins had a cold on his chest, and whenever he gets a cold on the chest he thinks he is going to die... "I shall get bacilluses or microbes into some important part of me, and die... I shall die as sure as mud." ~Eden Phillpotts, The Human Boy, 1899  [a little altered —tg]

'In docke, out netle:' but nettles in dock
Oft nettle themselues, as sure as rock.
~John Davies (c.1565–1618), "Vpon English Prouerbes," To old John Heywood the Epigrammatist, wheresoeuer, 1611

As certain as I know the sun is fire... ~William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, c.1607  [V, 4, Second Messenger]

...for revenged I will be,
as sure as his guts are made of puddings.
~William Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor, c.1600  [II, 1, Mistress Page] sure as Eggs be Eggs... ~Thomas Otway, The History and Fall of Caius Marius, 1680

I had made the old gentleman's heart jump up by telling him that he... would be elected as sure as eggs was bacon... ~Seba Smith, The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing, of Downingville, Away Down East in the State of Maine, Written by Himself, 1833 sure as potatoes aren't radishes... ~Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno, 1889

Another difference between death and taxes is that death is satisfied with one lick at you. ~Robert Quillen, "Quillen's Quill," 1923

You lye, you are not sure, for I say, Woman, 'tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes, — therefore hold your Tongue... ~Christopher Bullock, The Cobler of Preston, 1716, Toby Guzzle  [Thank you Fred Shapiro, Garson O'Toole, Steven Losie! —tg] sure as you're alive... ~Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), Polite Conversation, consisting of Smart, Witty, Droll, and Whims!cal Sayings, Collected for His Amusement, and Made into a Regular Dialogue

Of all counties in England, Gloucestershire was most pestered with monks... hence the topical wicked proverb... "As sure as God is in Gloucestershire"... ~Thomas Fuller (1608–1661), The Church History of Britain

'Ay!' says the landlord, 'we have a saying here in our country, that 'tis as sure as the devil is in London...' ~Henry Fielding, The Covent-Garden Journal, by Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt., Censor of Great Britain, № 3, Saturday, January 11, 1752

Another difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't soak you harder when you work hard and prosper. ~Robert Quillen, 1923

Another difference between death and taxes is that people never are taxed just from the ears up. ~Robert Quillen, 1930

Another difference between death and taxes is that you don't die quarterly. ~Robert Quillen, "Aunt Het," 1937  [a little altered —tg]

As to this second piece, by Mr. Murphy, the very title, What we must all come to, is a kind of libel on the married state, insinuating, that the eternal squabbler, and violent altercations of married persons, about the merest trifles, are, in all cases, and with all couples, as certain as death and quarter-day. ~The London Magazine, January 1764

Life's Turnpike fairly to get through,
      We forward bend our way;
And constant as the Seasons flow,
      So sure comes QUARTER DAY...
If happiness is to be had,
      'Tis his I'm bold to say;
Who never was, nor is afraid,
      Of Death or QUARTER DAY.
Then Life to crown my wish is this,
      That all good Subjects may;
O'er hearty cheer throughout the Year,
      Be happy every DAY.
~John Freeth, "Quarter Day," Tune — And a Hunting we will go, The Political Songster: or, a Touch on the Times, on Various Subjects and Adapted to Common Tunes, 1790

It is not merely the actual amount of the taxes which causes the irritation. It is their compulsory and irresistible incidence. In the old saying, "There are only two evils from which no man can escape — death and the King's taxes." ~"Labour Unrest and Increased Taxation," The Spectator, May 1912

Dead sure he cuts me off.  I read dead-sure  with a hyphen, and understand by it the common expression, as sure as death. ~Mr. Seward, in The Dramatick Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, "Tragedy of Valentinian," 1778

Another difference between death and taxes is that you can die without faking the books or fearing a come-back. ~Robert Quillen, 1923

Another thing which is about as sure as death and taxes, is that no man can go on bluffing indefinitely without being called. ~E. W. Howe (1853–1937)

As sure as what is most sure, sure as that spring primroses
Shall new-dapple next year, sure as to-morrow morning,
Amongst come-back-again things, thíngs with a revival,
Thy name…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) sure as ferrets are ferrets! ~Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

As sure as that wild goose never laid a tame egg. ~Proverb

As sure as that the world is turned upside down every twenty-four hours. ~Author unknown

She believed in death and taxes, in the inevitability of slot-machine jackpots, in all-you-can-eat casino buffets for $5.95 per person, in the Lord God Almighty, in the truth of alien abductions and Big Foot, but she didn't believe in ghosts. ~Dean Koontz, The Eyes of Darkness, 1996

Slumber parties are inevitable, like death and income taxes. The only way to avoid them is not to have a teenage daughter. ~Paul Storm, 1967

We have some confidential word for you on taxes. We have it on the best of our information that taxes will be relieved, but not until after your death. ~Will Rogers, 1934

as inevitable as
aging and taxes —
death is no longer
the surety it was
~Terri Guillemets, "Forever," 2024 sure as anything... ~Homer, Iliad, translated by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

Acknowledgment:  Thanks to Burton E. Stevenson for clues on where to track down several of these items. —tg

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published 2021 Mar 3
revised 2024 Jan 23
last saved 2024 Apr 21