"If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter"
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"If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter" is an infamously misattributed quote that highlights the importance of brevity and editing in writing.
The earliest recorded use of the quote "If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter" comes from French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal's work "Lettres Provinciales" in 1657. Written in French the quote says, "Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte." This translates to "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."
About 20 years later, the quote was used in the book The Art of Speaking, where it was translated to "These inventions require much wit, and application; and therefore it was, that Mons. Pascal (an author very famous for his felicity in comprising much in few words) excused himself wittily for the extravagant length of one of his letters, by saying, he had not time to make it shorter."
In 1690, philosopher John Locke included a variation of the quote in the preface to his work "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding." The preface, entitled "The Epistle to the Readers," features and explanation for the length of the essay with this statement:
"I will not deny, but possibly it might be reduced to a narrower Compass than it is; and that some Parts of it might be contracted: The way it has been writ in, by Catches, and many long Intervals of Interruption, being apt to cause some Repetitions. But to confess the Truth, I am now too lazy, or too busy to make it shorter."
Sixty years later, Benjamin Franklin wrote the quote in a letter to the Royal Society in London regarding his experiments on electricity entitled "New Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America" (shown below, left). He said, "I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter."
Nearly 100 years later, in 1857, author Henry David Thoreau used the quote in a letter to a friend (shown below, right), saying, "Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short."
In 1871, Mark Twain included a version of the quote in a letter to a friend. He wrote, "You’ll have to excuse my lengthiness--the reason I dread writing letters is because I am so apt to get to slinging wisdom & forget to let up. Thus much precious time is lost."
Nearly 50 years later, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson responded to a question about how long he spent preparing speeches with a variation. He said, "That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now."
 Quote Investigator – If I Had More Time, I would Have Written a Shorter Letter
 Google Books – The Art of Speaking
 Google Books – The Epistle to the Reader
 Google Books – New Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America
 Good Reads – Thoreau Quote
 Mark Twain Project – To James Redpath
 Medium – The Complexity of Simplicity.
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