Quote Origin: Never Explain. Your Friends Don’t Require It, and Your Enemies Won’t Believe You, Anyway
Elbert Hubbard? Victor Grayson? P. G. Wodehouse? Benjamin Jowett? E. A. Isaacs? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Explaining one’s beliefs and motivations is typically worthwhile, but sometimes it seems to be futile. Here are two versions of a germane remark:
(1) Never explain. Your friends don’t require it, and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.
(2) Never explain — your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you.
U.S. aphorist Elbert Hubbard and British politician Victor Grayson have each received credit for this type of remark. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared as an epigraph on the cover of the February 1904 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” edited by Elbert Hubbard. Boldface added to excepts by QI:¹
Never explain: your friends don’t require it, and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.
QI believes that Elbert Hubbard deserves credit for this quotation; however, it was not constructed ex nihilo. The previous year Hubbard was sufficiently impressed by another related expression attributed to a prominent scholar that he placed it on the cover of the March 1903 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest”:²
Never explain, never retract, never apologize — get the thing done and let them howl!
— Rev. Dr. Benjamin Jowett
A separate QI article about the saying immediately above is available here.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In February 1904 the saying appeared in the “Reno Gazette-Journal” of Nevada. The words were credited to “Fra Elbertus”, a nickname of Elbert Hubbard:³
Fra Elbertus says “Never explain; your friends don’t require it, and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.”
In March 1904 “The Atlanta Constitution” of Georgia printed an instance without a precise attribution:⁴
A MODERN PHILOSOPHER
Says “Never explain; your friends do not require it, and your enemies will not believe you,” — but there are some things that need no explanation in any case.
In April 1904 Mr. E. A. Isaacs, President of the Travelers Protective Association of Georgia, delivered a speech at a convention in Augusta, Georgia, and he employed the saying:⁵
“It had been said by a philosopher after my own heart: ‘Never explain; your friends do not require it, and your enemies will not believe you.’
In 1906 the “Los Angeles Sunday Herald” of California published a review of a local exhibition containing works from Hubbard and the Roycrofters, a community of artisans he led:⁶
On the walls are the illumined sayings of “The Pastor of His Flock.” “Be Yourself” is one of the most beautiful. It is in carved wood. Another, “The Love You Liberate in Your Work is the Love You Keep,” is a keynote which is carried out in the work.
In his “credo” Fra Elbertus says: “I believe that God is here and that we are as near him now as ever we shall be. I do not believe he started this world going and went away and left it to run itself.”
Another that has called forth much comment, both for its sentiment and workmanship, is: “Never explain. Your friends do not require it and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.”
In 1907 “The New York Times” mentioned that a framed version of the adage appeared on the wall of an apartment. This instance used the phrase “do not need” instead of “don’t require”:⁷
On a table in the sitting room lay the case of the revolver with which the woman had killed herself. In a conspicuous place on the wall there was a framed motto which read: “Never explain — your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you.”
In 1908 “Yorkshire Factory Times” of England reported on a speech delivered by Victor Grayson during which he used the saying while crediting an unnamed person:⁸
He again referred to his expulsion from the House of Commons, and said there was a beautiful proverb emanating from America: “Never explain. Your friends do not need it, and your enemies won’t believe it, anyhow.” (Laughter.)
In March 1910 P. G. Wodehouse published the short story “The Man Upstairs” in “The Strand Magazine” of London⁹ and “Cosmopolitan Magazine” of New York.¹⁰ The work contained a thematically related remark:
It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
In October 1910 Hubbard received credit for a different saying that was similar to the remark on the cover of “The Philistine” March 1903:¹¹
Elbert Hubbard’s “Don’t explain, don’t argue, get the thing done and let them howl,” is all right when there is no other way of getting what you want done.
In 2000 “The Times Book of Quotations” contained an entry which credited Grayson:¹²
Grayson, Victor (1881 — c.1920) British Labour politician
Never explain: your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it. Attr.
In conclusion, QI believes that Elbert Hubbard deserves credit for this quotation based on the February 1904 citation. Victor Grayson also used an instance in 1908, but he disclaimed credit while saying that the adage emanated from the U.S.
Image Notes: Cover title and epigraph for the February 1904 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” edited by Elbert Hubbard.
Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter, Fred Shapiro, Stephen Goranson, Mark Mandel, Pete Morris, and John Baker who participated in a discussion thread on this topic which led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Fred Shapiro and Ralph Keyes for their previous research.
 1904 February, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 18, Number 3, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (ProQuest Periodicals Archive)
 1903 March, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 16, Number 4, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
 1904 February 22, Reno Gazette-Journal, Lenten Season Observations, by Correspondent of the Gazette, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)
 1904 March 15, The Atlanta Constitution, (Advertisement for the Foote & Davies Company which is a printing company), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Atlanta, Georgia. (Newspapers_com)
 1904 April 15, The Macon News, President Isaacs Delivers Annual Address To Drummers, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Macon, Georgia. (Newspapers_com)
 1906 March 11, Los Angeles Sunday Herald, Work of Roycrofters Now On Exhibition, Section 2, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
 1907 September 22, The New York Times, Think Mrs. Carter Sought White’s Life, Quote Page 7, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)
 1908 November 21, Yorkshire Factory Times, Grayson At Marsden, Quote Page 7, Column 5, Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
 1910 March, The Strand Magazine, The Man Upstairs by P. G. Wodehouse, Start Page 295, Quote Page 299, Column 2, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
 1910 March, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Man Up-stairs by P. G. Wodehouse, Start Page 424, Quote Page 428, Column 2, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
 1910 October 17, The Journal and Tribune, Daily Chit-Chat by Ruth Cameron, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Knoxville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
 2000, The Times Book of Quotations, Section: Victor Grayson, Quote Page 253, HarperCollins, Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Verified on paper)