Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive.

—Arthur Hugh Clough

 

For every hundred people who know the most famous couplet in all medical ethics, I doubt that one among them knows that its author intended it as an attack on what he saw as the hypocrisy of Victorian religiosity.

The lines come from his satirical poem The Latest Decalogue. The irony is evident in the opening rhyme:


Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?

The other commandments are likewise recommended on strictly prudential or utilitarian grounds, in terms reminiscent of (and possibly inspirational to) Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses:


Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rare ...