Category Archives: Robert M. Hutchins

Whenever I Feel the Urge to Exercise I Lie Down Until It Goes Away

Jimmy Durante? Edna Mae Oliver? Robert M. Hutchins? Chauncey Depew? Mark Twain? Paul Terry? Robert Benchley? Max Beerbohm? J. P. McEvoy?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest quotation about exercise is usually credited to Mark Twain:

Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes away.

But this statement is also attributed to Robert Maynard Hutchins who was the President of the University of Chicago and to a passel of other people. The idea can be expressed in several ways but the basic quip is the same. Can you determine who was responsible for this valuable guidance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a syndicated gossip column based in New York on June 13, 1937. The statement was ascribed to Paul Terry who was the founder of the Terrytoons animation studio. The ellipsis in the following is in the original text [PTPD]:

GOTHAM GOINGS ON: Paul Terry, who does the animated cartoons, shares Chauncey M. Depew’s contempt for exercise … “When I feel like exercising,” he says, “I just lie down until the feeling goes away.”

Two weeks later on June 28, 1937 another gossip columnist based in New York credited the joke to the film and stage actress Edna Mae Oliver. In the following passage “Mori’s” referred to a popular restaurant in Greenwich Village [EOLL]:

“Being away from home gives me a great urge to exercise,” Edna Mae Oliver admits at Mori’s. But whenever I feel that way, I just lie down until the foolish notion goes away.”

A few months later in October 1937 an induction ceremony was held for the new president of Williams College in Massachusetts. The President of the Society of Alumni gave a speech, and he ascribed the saying to the luminary Mark Twain.  This the earliest connection to Twain located by QI; however, Twain died in 1910, so this is a late ascription, and it provides weak evidence [WCJJ]:

Mr. President: Mark Twain once remarked that whenever he felt an irresistible urge coming over him to take exercise, he always lay down until the feeling went away.

The number of people credited with this saying has grown over the decades to include: humorist J. P. McEvoy, University President Robert Maynard Hutchins, politician Chauncey Depew, comedian Jimmy Durante, and others.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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University Training is to Unsettle the Minds of Young Students, to Widen their Horizons, to Inflame Their Intellects

Foster C. McClellan? Robert M. Hutchins? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Since you are a sleuth for origin histories I’m wondering if you’ve ever come across this quote or any references to its origins:

Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think…

I found this credited to Foster C. McClellan, but no details were given. I’d welcome any info on the source.

Quote Investigator: The attribution to McClellan apparently is inaccurate. In 1929 Robert Maynard Hutchins delivered a speech that contained the text given; however, the precise wording and the ordering is different. Hutchins was about to become the president of the University of Chicago, and his address to graduating students was described in a widely distributed newspaper story from the Associated Press (AP) [RHSM]:

Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, dean of the law school of Yale University, who will become, next September, the youngest president of a large university in this country, outlined today his educational belief before this year’s graduating class at the University of Chicago. …

“My view of university training is to unsettle the minds of young men, to widen their horizons, to inflame their intellects. It is not a hardening, or settling process. Education is not to teach men facts, theories, or laws; it is not to reform them, or amuse them, or to make them expert technicians in any field; it is to teach them to think, to think straight if possible; but to think always for themselves.”

Interestingly, a report on the same speech appeared in the Chicago Tribune on the next day, and the printed text diverged from the AP account. Yet, it contained the same basic material. Below an excerpt is presented and additional selected citations in chronological order.

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