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If I'd had more time I'd have written a shorter letter
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2009/07/23
3:23am
noah little
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Hey all,

I’ve been trying to find out who this quote comes from. So far I’ve seen TS Elliot, Franklin and Mark Twain mentioned in connection with it, but haven’t found what seems like a definitive source.

Anyone know? Or have better luck with google than I have today? ;)

Cheers.

PS Ack! Just found an attribution to Goethe too!

2009/07/23
5:43am
Glenn
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I found a credible reference in a scholarly footnote with complete attribution. I have just been able to verify the primary source.

Blaise Pascal, Lettres provinciales, 1656-7, Number 16, this one written December 4,
1656.
Je n’ai fait /cette lettre-ci/ plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

Roughly: I made this letter so long (lit.: longer) only because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.

I have some more info and similar quotes, not in reference to letters, but it will have to wait till I’m off my i-phone and off the train.

2009/07/23
7:37am
Glenn
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In addition, I learned that Jean-Louis de Guez de Balzac (not Honoré de Balzac) who died in 1654 wrote:

Cet homme, disoit-on à Paris lors que j’y estois, a fait un grand livre parce qu’il n’a pas eu le loisir d’en faire un petit. (”Remarques sur des sermons … “, Discours dixième, in Oeuvres, Paris, L.Billaine, 1665, ii, p.245)

Roughly: This man, they said in Paris when I was there, had written a big book because he had not had the time to write a small one. (”Remarks on sermons … “, 10th discourse, in Oeuvres, Paris, L.Billaine, 1665, ii, p.245)

Finally, Ménage wrote in 1693, recalling a statement by Du Perron in reference to Coeffeteau’s La Réponse:
“il l’auroit fait plus courte, s’il eust eu plus de temps.” (Menagiana, 1693, p.178)

Roughly: He would have made it shorter, if he had had more time.

The reference to La Réponse, as it turns out, may well be the same reference that J.-L. de Guez de Balzac was making. So Pascal may have been “borrowing” the turning of the phrase here from a lesser known Coeffeteau.

2009/07/23
7:59am
noah little
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Awesome Glenn, thanks. I’m looking forward to hearing what else you came up with too, especially since so far I decided to use a more generic form (not about letters) and just called it a “saying”, nice and wishy-washy like.

–edit–

Oh wait a sec, your second post wasn’t showing the content when I wrote the above. The last version is what I could probably use best, since it’s the most generic sounding.

‘Finally, Ménage wrote in 1693, recalling a statement by Du Perron in reference to Coeffeteau’s La Réponse:
“il l’auroit fait plus courte, s’il eust eu plus de temps.” (Menagiana, 1693, p.178)’

Confused a bit here. Did this come from Ménage then?

Where do you come up with this stuff?! Impressive. Special iPhone app? ;)

2009/07/23
8:02am
Glenn
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Well, you are in luck. The original quote, minus the editorial clarification is roughly translated:
“I made this /Lit.: this one/ so long only because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.”

2009/07/23
8:10am
noah little
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The original from Pascal you mean?

Roughly translated, leaving out the letter part? “/cette lettre-ci/”

2009/07/23
8:13am
Glenn
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Correct. The original says “celle-ci” (”this one”, or “this”). The feminine form, not to mention the length of the blasted letter, makes it pretty darn clear he is talking about the letter itself (fem. in French).

2009/07/23
10:13am
Glenn
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Sorry for the confusion. To summarize:

“I made this so long only because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal, Lettres provinciales, Dec 4, 1656, Number 16 (near the end!).

“He would have made it shorter, if he had had more time.” Du Perron, as recorded by Ménage, Menagiana, 1693, p.178 (Here, the record reflects reported speech, and “he” is Coeffeteau. The reported speaker is Du Perron)

2009/07/23
10:34am
noah little
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Thanks Glenn!

How do you find this stuff? Amazing. :)

2009/07/23
11:44am
Glenn
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What is amazing is that these documents and publications are scanned, digitized, and otherwise available online, and that I can find them and read them on my phone while riding in a train.

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