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Q: No time to write a short letter ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   5 Comments )
Subject: No time to write a short letter
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: liner-ga
List Price: $3.00
Posted: 17 Mar 2003 14:37 PST
Expires: 16 Apr 2003 15:37 PDT
Question ID: 177502
I have heard the story of a famous author who wrote a massive missive
to a friend, and then apologized because "he didn't have time to write
a short letter."  I have also seen this attributed to Mark Twain,
George Bernard Shaw, and Voltaire.  Who did it first?

Clarification of Question by liner-ga on 18 Mar 2003 06:29 PST
To Pinkfreud:  I will accept your answer unless someone else can find
someone earlier than Pascal.  If nobody comes up with a better answer
in, say 24 hours from this posting, give me your answer.

And thanks for the interesting responses from all.

(A quick question if you wish to answer--do you researchers get
notification of new questions, or do you simply browse?)

Request for Question Clarification by pinkfreud-ga on 18 Mar 2003 09:15 PST
>> do you researchers get notification of new questions, or do you
simply browse?)

A Google Answers Researcher can sign up to receive email notification
when a question is posted in a certain category, but I think most of
the more active Researchers are the browsing sort. I, for one, read
every new question that is posted, regardless of the category. I have
my favorite kind of question, but I've found interesting questions
(and, I hope, have given interesting answers) on just about every

Regarding the source of your quote, I've scanned through a ton of
Pliny without finding anything resembling it. I do think Pascal is
your man.


Clarification of Question by liner-ga on 18 Mar 2003 09:56 PST
OK Pinkfreud--If you are confident that Pascal is the man, post that
as an answer.  And, if you stumbled across a little more authoritative
reference to Pascal's quote, I would appreciate that also, but that is
NOT a requirement.
Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 18 Mar 2003 10:35 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
The actual quote from Blaise Pascal turns out to be not quite as pithy
as some of the variants, but it expresses substantially the same
concept. The quote comes from the sixteenth letter in the collection
entitled "Lettres Provinciales." The letter was written December 4,

This is the passage in question, in Pascal's original French:

"Mes Révérends Pères, mes lettres n'avaient pas accoutumé de se suivre
de si près, ni d'être si étendues. Le peu de temps que j'ai eu a été
cause de l'un et de l'autre. Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que
parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte."

Bribes: Petit Dictionnaire des Citations

Here is my translation:

"My Reverend Fathers, my letters have not usually followed so closely,
nor been so long. The small amount of time that I have is the cause of
both. I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the
leisure to make it shorter."

I have some feelers out to two acquaintances who have a keen interest
in ancient Rome. I've asked them whether they are aware of anything
from Pliny that resembles the quote in question. If you have the
stamina to plow through 122 of Pliny's letters, they may be found

My search strategy in locating this information began with a few
searches on Google. This is the set of search terms that provided the
best results:

Google Web Search: "letter" + "long" + "time to make it shorter"

Once I had the leads on Pliny and Pascal, I went to Bartleby (linked
above) to search through Pliny (which didn't pan out.) I used a Google
search of French-language sites to pin down the exact quote from
Pascal's "Lettres Provinciales."

Thanks for providing an interesting quest! If anything further should
surface, I'll post the info here at a later date.

Best regards,
liner-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $1.00
Thanks.  I have followed your answers for a while, and I had hoped
that you would answer.  You have given me a very interesting response,
and I thank you kindly.

(And no, I am NOT, ABSOLUTELY NOT going to plow through Pliny's

Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
From: pinkfreud-ga on 17 Mar 2003 15:23 PST
In addition to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Voltaire, this
line has been variously attributed to Winston Churchill, Marcel
Proust, Rudyard Kipling, Blaise Pascal, and Pliny the Younger.

I have not been able to verify Pliny, but Blaise Pascal wrote this in
1660, before Voltaire, Twain, or Shaw were ever born:

"I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make
it shorter.
Pascal, Provincial Letters XVI" 

NTUA Software Engineering Laboratory

Perhaps another Researcher will be able to answer this question by
finding an appropriate quote in the works of Pliny the Younger.
Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
From: xarqi-ga on 17 Mar 2003 15:29 PST
There is also the Thoreau one:
"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short."
-- Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)
Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
From: bowler-ga on 17 Mar 2003 16:02 PST

Suggests Pascal as the originator.
Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
From: bowler-ga on 17 Mar 2003 16:10 PST

And one for Pliny.  See bottom of article.  The debate continues.
Subject: Re: No time to write a short letter
From: pinkfreud-ga on 18 Mar 2003 12:01 PST
Thank you very much for the five stars and the tip!


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