Quote Origin: Not a Day’s Work in All My Life. What I Have Done I Have Done, Because It Has Been Play

Mark Twain? Lawrence Pearsall Jacks? Apocryphal?

Quote Investigator®
5 min readJun 29


Mark Twain in academic regalia from Wikimedia Commons

Question for Quote Investigator: The famous author Mark Twain once surprisingly proclaimed that he had done “not a day’s work in all my life”. He stated that his efforts in life had “been play”. Would you please help me to find a citation for his fascinating comments?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1905 “The New York Times” published an interview with the well-known U.S. humorist under the title “Mark Twain: A Humorist’s Confession”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI

Mark Twain will be 70 years old on Thanksgiving Day, and he has never done a day’s work in his life. He told me so himself, sitting in one of the cheerful, spacious rooms of the old-fashioned stately New York house which he will probably call his city home as long as he lives. I probably started upon hearing this unlooked-for statement from the lips of the good, gray humorist, for he repeated emphatically:

“No, Sir, not a day’s work in all my life. What I have done I have done, because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.

“Who was it who said, ‘Blessed is the man who has found his work?’ Whoever it was he had the same idea in his mind. Mark you, he says his work — not somebody else’s work. The work that is really a man’s own work is play and not work at all. Cursed is the man who has found some other man’s work and cannot lose it. When we talk about the great workers of the world we really mean the great players of the world. The fellows who groan and sweat under the weary load of toil that they bear never can hope to do anything great. How can they when their souls are in a ferment of revolt against the employment of their hands and brains?”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Two days after the article in “The New York Times” appeared the Twain interview was mentioned in “The Buffalo Commercial” of Buffalo, New York:²

Mark Twain, who will be seventy years old on Thanksgiving Day, had a pleasant talk with a New York Times interviewer, in one of the cheerful, spacious rooms of the old-fashioned stately New York house, near the Washington Arch, which he will probably call his city home as long as he lives. He rather startled his visitor at the outset by declaring that he had never worked a day in his life. This from the who piloted Mississippi steamboats and grubbed for gold in Nevada in his day, looked gauzy.

“No, sir, not a day’s work in my life,” be repeated. “What I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.” That is all right. “Blessed is the man who has found his work.” And alas! for the misfits.

In 1932 English Unitarian minister L. P. Jacks (Lawrence Pearsall Jacks) published “Education through Recreation” which included the following thematically related passage:³

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.

In 1967 a newspaper in East Liverpool, Ohio printed a germane remark from Joseph E. Linger who was a U.S. Air Force member working as a surgical assistant. Linger had been assigned K.P. (kitchen patrol) duty:⁴

“Four days down and three more days of “K.P.” to go. I’ll probably miss it ’cause I’ve had a ball every day. You know my theory, “Make a game of everything and you’ll never work a day in your life! I wash about 3,000 cups, knives, forks and spoons each day.”

In 1982 “Princeton Alumni Weekly” published a pertinent remark from Professor of Philosophy Arthur Szathmary:⁵

An old-timer I knew used to tell his students: ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’

A separate QI article about the saying immediately above is available here.

In 2006 the 1905 Twain interview was reprinted in the helpful compilation titled “Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews”.⁶

In conclusion, Mark Twain deserves credit for the remarks he made about work and play that were recorded in “The New York Times” in 1905. Other individuals such as L. P. Jacks have expressed related notions.

Image Notes: Portrait of Mark Twain in academic regalia worn while accepting an honorary award from the University of Oxford. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Mordechai Schiller whose tweet led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Schiller notified QI about Mark Twain’s intriguing quotation. Thanks also to Guido Rosso whose tweet about the L. P. Jacks quotation initiated the twitter thread. Further thanks to Daniel Norton who told QI about the 1967 citation.

[1] 1905 November 26, The New York Times, Section: Magazine, Mark Twain: A Humorist’s Confession, Quote Page 1, Column 1, New York. (Newspapers_com)

[2] 1905 November 28, The Buffalo Commercial, Table Talk, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

[3] 1932 Copyright (1960 reprint), Education through Recreation by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, Quote Page 1 and 2, McGrath Publishing Company & National Recreation and Park Association, Washington D.C. (Verified with hardcopy)

[4] 1967 May 20, East Liverpool Review, Servicemen in Viet by Lida Smith, Quote Page 9, Column 6, East Liverpool, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

[5] 1982 October 6, Princeton Alumni Weekly, Article Title: Toshiko Takaezu, Article Author: Ann Woolfolk, Start Page 31, Quote Page 32, Column 1, Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Google Books Preview)

[6] 2006, Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews, Edited by Gary Scharnhorst, Section At Large, 1902–1906, Interview Number 183, Interview Title: Mark Twain: A Humorist’s Confession, Interview Periodical: The New York Times, Interview Date: November 26, 1905, Start Page 516, Quote Page 516 and 517, The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Verified with scans)



Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year