Origins of Sayings - The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

About the history and origins behind the famous saying the pen is mightier than the sword.

Stories behind Famous Sayings


Who Said It: Edward Bulwer-Lytton

When: 1839

The Story behind It: In Act II of Bulwer-Lytton's play Richelieu, Cardinal Richelieu learns of a plot against him contrived by a friend and confidant, the monk Joseph. Since as a priest he could not challenge the monk to physical combat, Richelieu issued a written statement which contains the following:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Bulwer-Lytton was not the only one, nor was he the first, to have the thought. The Greek poet Euripides, who died about 406 B.C., said, "The tongue is mightier than the blade." In 1600 Shakespeare had Rosencrantz in Hamlet say that "... many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." In 1621 Robert Burton wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy, in which he stated: "From this it is clear how much more cruel the pen may be than the sword." Also preceding Bulwer-Lytton was Thomas Jefferson, who in 1796 sent a letter to Thomas Paine in which he wrote: "Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword."

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