Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:



World's Work
"Two days overdue, THE WORLD'S WORK has not reached me. Pray make a note of this. I would rather not have to resort to violence"
- quoted in THE WORLD'S WORK, 1910

Sam's catch
Illustration courtesy of
Dave Thomson

What work 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 right 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? The product of slavery, intellectual or physical, can never be great.
- "A Humorist's Confession," The New York Times, 11/26/1905

I do not like work even when someone else does it.
- "The Lost Napoleon"

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The bane of Americans is overwork--and the ruin of any work is a divided interest. Concentrate-concentrate. One thing at a time.
-Letter to Orion Clemens, 12 May 1880

In America, we hurry--which is well; but when the day's work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us...we burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man's prime in Europe...What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!
- The Innocents Abroad

Only Bunyan, Sir Walter Raleigh, the author of Don Quixote, & a few other people have had the best of opportunties for working, in this world. Solitary imprisonment, by compulsion, is the one perfect condition for perfect performance ... Then his work becomes his pleasure, his recreation, his absorption, his uplifting & all-satisfying enthusiasm. He is miserable only when the work-day closes. And yet a man so circumstanced need never be actually miserable; for he can weave his fancies & continue his work in his head until sleep overtakes him. He lives in a fairer world than any that is outside, he moves in a goodlier company than any that others know, & over them he is king & then obey him.
- Letter to Mary Mason Fairbanks, 6 August 1877

There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about "the working classes," and satisfy themselves that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder than a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they all know about the one, but haven't tried the other. But I know all about both; and as far as I am concerned, there isn't money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near nothing as you can cipher it down--and I will be satisfied, too. Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation and its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer, is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the magician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him--why certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it's a sarcasm just the same. The law of work does seem utterly unfair--but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash, also. And it's also the very law of those transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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