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The pen is mightier than the sword

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” – Edward Bulwer Lytton

Origin of the quote: 
“The Pen is mightier than the sword”

This saying has been attributed to an English author Edward Bulwer Lytton.  It is within his play Richelieu, or the conspiracy, 1839  The play was written about a controversial cardinal in France in the 1600s called Cardinal Richelieu.  He was ambitious and cunning, seeking power for himself.

The quote is from The Cardinal’s line in Act II, scene II.

“True, This! —

Beneath the rule of men entirely great

The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold

The arch-enchanter’s wand! — itself is nothing! —

But taking sorcery from the master-hand

To paralyze the Cæsars, and to strike

The loud earth is breathless! — Take away the sword —

States can be saved without it![“

Premiering in 1839 at Covent Garden in London with William Charles Mccready in the lead role.  Mccready considered it an” unequivocal success”.  Queen Victoria attended the play.

A literary critic, Edward Sherman Gould, wrote that Bulwer “had the good fortune to do, what few men can hope to do: he wrote a line that is likely to live for ages. ”  The phrase had already become common by 1888, and that it  “might sound trite and commonplace.”

The Thomas Jefferson Building of the library of congress which opened in 1987, has the saying on the interior wall.  Prior to Lytton’s play in 1839, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1796 “go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword” in a letter to Thomas Paine.

The phrase was meant to convey the idea of communication being an more effective tool than the sharp tip of a sword blade.  The power of words can be more effective than the use of force.

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