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.

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


  1. 1930, The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell, Chapter 14: Work, Quote Page 208, George Allen & Unwin, London. (Verified with scans)

History Is Just One Damn Thing after Another

Arnold J. Toynbee? Max Plowman? H. A. L. Fisher? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous historian Arnold J. Toynbee wrote a monumental 12-volume work titled “A Study of History” in which he delineated the trajectories of several major human civilizations. Surprisingly, a comically depreciatory definition of history is attributed to him. Here are two versions:

History is just one damn fact after another.
History is just one damned thing after another.

This thought seems out of character for Toynbee. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this statement about the contingency of history was built upon an earlier expression which emerged circa 1909:

Life is just one damned thing after another.

The Quote Investigator website article tracing the above saying is available here. This entry will concentrate on tracing the evolution of the variant remark about history.

In 1932 a journal called “The Adelphi” published “Keyserling’s Challenge” by Max Plowman who was very unhappy with treatises that emphasized the naïve collection and reiteration of miscellaneous facts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

So, like savages before their gods, they worship facts. And in return, the facts hit them like hailstones. Life is just one damned fact after another. They turn to collecting facts—laying them down—making “Outlines” of every real and fancied fact in the universe, until “truth” becomes an endless succession of stepping-stones that have a way of disappearing into the bog as soon as they are passed over. . .

Plowman was critical of the saying in boldface. He asserted the primacy of elements that were non-material and not easily reducible to simple facts such as community, emotion, and beauty. This instance of the saying did not employ the word “history”; hence, it did not completely match the expression under examination.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading History Is Just One Damn Thing after Another


  1. 1932 December, The Adelphi (New Series), Section: The Adelphi Forum, Keyserling’s Challenge by Max Plowman, Start Page 212, Quote Page 213, The Adelphi, Bloomsbury Street, London. (Verified with scans; thanks to the University of California, Berkeley library system)