To Be Able To Fill Leisure Intelligently Is the Last Product of Civilization

Bertrand Russell? Arnold J. Toynbee? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who are attempting to climb the ladder of success today are often working more hours than ever before. Yet, the notable mathematician and intellectual Bertrand Russell envisioned a different future world in which the crucial challenge would be deciding how to fill leisure time intelligently.

A similar observation has been credited to the historian Arnold Toynbee. Perhaps advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will reactivate questions about pursuing leisure. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1930 Bertrand Russell published “The Conquest of Happiness” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Most people, when they are left free to fill their own time according to their own choice, are at a loss to think of anything sufficiently pleasant to be worth doing. And whatever they decide on, they are troubled by the feeling that something else would have been pleasanter. To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1942 the quotation appeared in H. L. Mencken’s monumental reference work “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”: 2

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization.
BERTRAND RUSSELL: The Conquest of Happiness, 1930

In 1952 the “FPA Book of Quotations” compiled by Franklin Pierce Adams included the quotation with the same Russell citation. 3

In 1976 an education columnist in Binghamton, New York inexplicably attributed the quotation to a famous historian: 4

As Arnold Toynbee said, “To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization.”

In 1986 “The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations” also credited Toynbee: 5

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization.
Arnold Toynbee

In 1997 “The Forbes Book of Business Quotations” included the quotation with an ascription to Bertrand Russell. 6

In conclusion, Bertrand Russell deserves credit for the remarks he wrote in 1930. The attribution to Arnold Toynbee is unsupported.

Notes:

  1. 1930, The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell, Chapter 14: Work, Quote Page 208, George Allen & Unwin, London. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Leisure, Quote Page 675, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1952, FPA Book of Quotations, Selected by Franklin Pierce Adams, Topic: Leisure, Quote Page 492, Column 1, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1976 April 25, Sunday: The Press and Sun-Bulletin, Tell Ginny your school problems: Activities fill needs of students by Virginia Pollard, Quote Page 2C, Column 2, Binghamton, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1986, The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations, Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Civilization, Quote Page 81, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1997, The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 14,173 Thoughts on the Business of Life, Edited by Ted Goodman, Topic: Leisure, Quote Page 504, Column 2, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)