I don’t know the origin of this piece. My father read it to me as a child and I found it again (a few years ago) at the beginning of one of John Updike books. It’s called An Appointment in Samarra. It’s a parable and worth the read – especially today.
The passage is attributed to William Somerset Maugham and appears at the start of Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara. Note that John Updike provides the introduction to the edition available at amazon.com. It’s a pretty good novel, detailing a man’s self-destructive actions starting from throwing a drink in the face of the wrong person and ending in, well, an appointment in Samarra.
Coincidentally, I just started reading Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. For anyone interested in this book, skip the introduction in the Penguin paperback edition, as it is spoiler-heavy (I hate when an “Introduction” reveals what happens at the end of the novel :mad: ).