The pen is mightier than the sword

The pen is mightier than the sword

"The pen is mightier than the sword" is a metonymic adage coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play "Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy".cite book
title=Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy: A Play in Five Acts.
publisher=Saunders and Otley, Conduit St.
] cite book
title=Good English
publisher=W.J. Widdleton
first=Edward Sherman
location=New York
] The play was about Cardinal Richelieu, though in the author's words "license with dates and details... has been, though not unsparingly, indulged." The Cardinal's line in Act II, scene II, was more fully:cite book
title=The Dramatic Works of Edward Bulwer Lytton
author=Lord Lytton
location=New York
publisher=Peter Fenelon Collier
] quote
True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!

The play opened at London's Covent Garden Theatre on 7 March 1839 with William Charles Macready in the lead role.cite book
title=Macready's Reminiscences, and Selections from His Diaries and Letters
first=William Charles
editor=Sir Frederick Pollock
location=New York
publisher=MacMillan and Co.
] Macready believed its opening night success was "unequivocal"; Queen Victoria attended a performance on 14 March.

In 1870, 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." By 1888 another author, Charles Sharp, feared that repeating the phrase "might sound trite and commonplace". [cite book
title=The Sovereignty of Art
publisher=T. Fisher Unwin
] The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, which opened in 1897, has the adage decorating an interior wall. [cite book
title=Library of Congress and the Interior Decorations: A Practical Guide for Visitors
publisher=Foster & Reynolds
first=Charles B
location=New York, Washington, St. Augustine
] [Specifically, the west wall of the entrance pavilion's second floor south corridor] Though Bulwer's phrasing was novel, the idea of communication surpassing violence in efficacy had numerous predecessors.

As motto and slogan

*The phrase appeared as the motto of gold pen manufacturer Levi Willcutt during a Railroad Jubilee in Boston, Massachusetts which ran during the week beginning September 17 1852. [cite book
title=The Railroad Jubilee. An Account of the Celebration Commemorative of the Opening of Railroad Communcation Between Boston and Canada
publisher=J. E. Eastburn, city printer
author= Boston (Mass.). City Council
*Woodrow Wilson's 1916 U.S. presidential re-election campaign used the slogan "He proved the pen mightier than the sword".
*It is the motto of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority.
*In its Latinized form, Calamvs Gladio Fortior, it is the motto of Keio University in Tokyo, Japan.


According to the website,cite web
title=About the history and origins behind the famous saying the pen is mightier than the sword.
citing Wallechinsky, David, Irving Wallace (1981). "The People's Almanac".] the book "The People's Almanac" by Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky lists several supposed predecessors to Bulwer's phrasing.

Their first example comes from the Greek playwright Euripides, who died circa 406 BC. He is supposed to have written: "The tongue is mightier than the blade." If the "People's Almanac" is correct, it should be possible to source this to an extant work by Euripides; however, the quote does appear in the 1935 fictional work "Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina" by Robert Graves, [cite book
title=Claudius, the God and His Wife Messalina.
publisher=H. Smith and R. Haas
] and is thus possibly an anachronism.

Several possible precursors do appear in the Old and New Testaments, [see also cite web
title=New American Bible, Revelation Chapter 1:16 (footnote)
publisher=Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc.
location=Washington, DC
accessdate=13 November
Notes similar imagery also used in Revelation verses 1:16, 2:16, and 19:15; Ephesians 6:17; as well as in the Old Testament: Wisdom 18:15; and Isaiah 11:4; 49:2.
] for example, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, whose authorship is uncertain, reads: "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." [cite web
title=New American Bible, Hebrews 4:12
publisher=Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc.
location=Washington, DC
accessdate=13 November

The Islamic prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying "The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr". [] []

In 1529, Antonio de Guevara, in "Reloj de príncipes", compared a pen to a lance, books to arms, and a life of studying to a life of war. [In Spanish: "¡Cuánta diferencia vaya de mojar la péñola de la tinta a teñir la lanza en la sangre, y estar rodeados de libros o estar cargados de armas, de estudiar cómo cada uno ha de vivir o andar a saltear en la guerra para a su prójimo matar!"] cite web
title=Spanish Guides to Princes and the Political Theories in Don Quijote
first=Angelo J.
last=Di Salvo
publisher=The Cervantes Society of America
accessdate=12 November
] Thomas North, in 1557, translated "Reloj de príncipes" into English as "Diall of Princes." The analogy would appear in again in 1582, in George Whetstone's "An Heptameron of Civil Discourses": "The dashe of a Pen, is more than the counterbuse of a Launce." [cite book
title=An heptameron of ciuill discourses
id=STC (2nd ed.) / 25337
chapter=thyrd Daies Exercise
publisher=Richard Iones, at the signe of the Rose and the Crowne, neare Holburne Bridge
] [It appears as a marginal note to the passage: "The Doctor, that had giuen as many déepe woundes with his Pen, as euer he had doone with his Launce, shronke no more at these threates, then an Oke at the Helue of an Are, but coldely wylled him, to vse his pleasure, he was ready to defend (or to die, in) his oppinion."]

Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, who died in 1602 and was personal scribe and vizier to Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (Akbar the Great), wrote of a gentleman put in charge of a fiefdom having "been pro­moted from the pen to the sword and taken his place among those who join the sword to the pen, and are masters both of peace and war." [cite web
title=The Akbarnama Of Abu-l-Fazl
accessdate=15 November
] [A source has Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak in "Āīn-e Akbari" (the third volume of the "Akbarnama"), quoting his master as saying to his calligraphers "Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword" but this is spurious. Source is: cite web
title=Writing their own epitaph...
first=Firoz Bakht
publisher=The Hindu
accessdate=13 November
] Syad Muhammad Latif, in his 1896 history of Agra, quoted King Abdullah of Bokhara (Abdullah-Khan II), who died in 1598, as saying that "He was more afraid of Abu'l-Fazl's pen than of Akbar's sword." [cite book
title=Agra Historical & Descriptive with an Account of Akbar and His Court and of the Modern City of Agra, 1896
publisher=Asian Educational Services
first=Syad Muhammad

William Shakespeare in 1600, in his play "Hamlet" , wrote: "... many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." [cite web
title=The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
accessdate=15 November

Robert Burton, in 1621, in "The Anatomy of Melancholy", stated: "It is an old saying, "A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword": and many men are as much galled with a calumny, a scurrilous and bitter jest, a libel, a pasquil, satire, apologue, epigram, stage-play or the like, as with any misfortune whatsoever."cite web
title=The Anatomy of Melancholy: What it is, with all the kinds, causes, symptoms, prognostics, and several cures of it
author=Buton, Robert (as Democritus Junior)
editor=Karl Hagen
chapter=Part i, Sect. 2, Memb. 4, Subsect. 4
publisher=Project Gutenberg
] After listing several historical examples he concludes: "Hinc quam sit calamus saevior ense patet", which translates as "From this it is clear how much more cruel the pen may be than the sword."

Thomas Jefferson, on June 19 1792, ended a letter to Thomas Paine with: "Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword: shew that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man, and be assured that it has not a more sincere votary nor you a more ardent well-wisher than Y [ou] rs. &c. "Thomas Jefferson" [cite web
title=To Thomas Paine Philadelphia, June 19, 1792
publisher=From Revolution to Reconstruction
accessdate=13 November

The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), known to history for his military conquests, also left this oft-quoted remark: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

Netizens have suggested that a 1571 edition of Erasmus' "Institution of a Christian Prince" contains the words "There is no sworde to bee feared more than the Learned pen" [ Re: Pen vs. sword] which cites cite book
title=Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings
first=Gregory Y.
publisher=Random House
location=New York
] cite web
title=the pen is mightier.....
accessdate=15 November
] but this is not evident from modern translations [cite web
title=Erasmus's Education of a Christian Prince (1516)
first=Lester K.
location=New York
publisher=Octagon Books
accessdate=15 November
] and this could be merely a spurious quotation.

References in culture

The adage has been used in various forms by many writers. For example, Terry Pratchett in "The Light Fantastic" (1986) wrote: [cite book
title=The Light Fantastic

"Quimby was eventually killed by a disgruntled poet during an experiment conducted in the palace grounds to prove the disputed accuracy of the proverb "The pen is mightier than the sword," and in his memory it was amended to include the phrase, "only if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp."

Mike Love used the phrase on the Beach Boys album "Surf's Up" in "Student Demonstration Time", with the addition of "but no match for a gun."

In the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the character Marcus Brody exclaims the line after defeating a Nazi tank through a series of events set off by squirting one Nazi in the face with a fountain pen.

Douglas MacArthur sardonically commented on the reality of war, "Whoever thinks the pen is mightier than the sword clearly has never encountered automatic weapons."

Comic Carlos Mencia made fun of the quote, challenging anyone who agreed with the quote to fight him; he with a sword and the challenger with a pen.

ee also

*It was a dark and stormy night
*Almighty dollar


External Links

*wikisource inline

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  • (the) pen is mightier than the sword — the pen is mightier than the sword formal phrase used for saying that what someone writes can have more effect than violent action Thesaurus: ways of solving problemssynonym Main entry: pen * * * the ˌpen is ˌmightier than the ˈsword idiom …   Useful english dictionary

  • the pen is mightier than the sword — ► the pen is mightier than the sword proverb writing is more effective than military power or violence. Main Entry: ↑pen …   English terms dictionary

  • the pen is mightier than the sword — Cf. CICERO De Officiis I. xxii. cedant arma togae, arms give way to persuasion. 1582 G. WHETSTONE Heptameron of Civil Discourses iii. The dashe of a Pen, is more greeuous then the counter use of a Launce. a 1712 W. KING Eagle & Robin in Poetical… …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • (the) pen is mightier than the sword. — formal something that you say which means thinking and writing have more influence on people and events than the use of force or violence. Reason is our greatest weapon against such tyrants. The pen is mightier than the sword …   New idioms dictionary

  • the pen is mightier than the sword — formal used for saying that what someone writes can have more effect than violent action …   English dictionary

  • the pen is mightier than the sword — proverb writing is more effective than military power or violence …   Useful english dictionary

  • pen is mightier than the sword — The idiom the pen is mightier than the sword means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • pen is mightier than the sword —    The idiom the pen is mightier than the sword means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • Pen is mightier than the sword —   The idiom the pen is mightier than the sword means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting …   Dictionary of English idioms

  • pen mightier than sword —    This expression means that words and communication have greater effect than war and fighting.     The treaty put an end to the hostilities the pen is mightier than the sword …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

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