George Stimpson

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Who said: "The pen is mightier than the sword"?

This famous quotation is from Bulwer-Litton's Richelieu, written in 1838 and first produced at Covent Garden March 7, 1839. BulwerLytton, however, qualified the statement. The complete quotation reads:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.
Elsewhere in the same play are the words: "Take away the sword, states can be saved without it." The thought embodied in BulwerLytton's famous line was foreshadowed by many earlier writers. About 400 B.C. the Greek tragic poet Euripides had expressed the thought that "the tongue is mightier than the blade." Plutarch tells us that [page 14] King Pyrrhus of Epirus used to say that Cineas, the orator, had won him more cities with his eloquence than he himself had won with his sword. According to a Moslem proverb dating back to the generation immediately after Mohammed's death: "Paradise is as much for him who has rightly used the pen, as for him who has fallen by the sword." In Hamlet (about 1601) Shakespeare wrote: "Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." John Taylor, the Water Poet, virtually a contemporary'y of Shakespeare, said:
Pens are most dangerous tools, more sharp by odds
Than swords, and cut more keen than whips or rods.
Another contemporary of Shakespeare, Robert Burton, wrote in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) a Latin observation which roughly translated means: "How much more cruel the pen may be than the sword." In 1641 Martin Parker said in The Poet's Blind Man's Bough: "More danger comes by th' quill than by the sword." Henry Vaughan, in On Sir Thomas Bodley's Library (about 1650) wrote:
Caesar had perished from the world of men,
Had not his sword been rescued by his pen.
In his Memoirs (1702) Saint-Simon said: "So much had the pen, under the king, the advantage over the sword." Napoleon was thinking of the same thing when he observed that "Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets."