? !

Wed Aug 28 20:48:57 UTC 2013

The shortest correspondence is said to have been between Victor Hugo and his publisher.  In the version appearing in William S. Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities 600 (1892) (Google Books), it went as follows:

"But the shortest correspondence ever known took place between Victor Hugo and his publisher, just after the publication of "Les Misérables."  The poet, impatient to learn of the success of the book, sent off a letter which contained only the following:
And he received the following entirely satisfactory answer:

Less plausibly, the story has also been told of Oscar Wilde and some unspecified book (presumably The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the versions I've seen don't say).  Sometimes the correspondence is supposed to have been by telegram, taking advantage of the per-word rates.

Is there any knowledge of the origin of the story?  I assume it's not really a factual account of correspondence between Hugo and his publisher.  I see the following in 3 Yankee Notions 363 (1854) (Google Books):

"But the shortest correspondence on record is the one between an American merchant in want of news and his London agent.  The letter ran thus:
And the answer thus:
Being the briefest possible intimation that there was nothing stirring."

John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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