N9. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5.
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet, Book, Papers.]

Newsletter August 1995 part 3.


Founding Fathers:

who were the men who launched the Simplified Spelling Society?

Chris Upward investigates. This section of th articl is ritn in Cut Spelng.

GOMs of the SSS

Readrs ho recal th SSSs notepaper of ten years or mor ago may remembr th smal print undr th hedng The Simplified Spelling Society. Here wer listd th names of varius of th Societys Grand Old Men of th erly 20th century, now likely to be unown to al but th oldst of todays jenrations. One line on th notepaper stated: "Founded in 1908 with William Archer, F J Furnivall, Israel Gollancz, AW Pollard and W W Skeat." Ho wer these predecesrs of ours, th founding fathrs of th SSS?

This articl hylyts a serius inadequacy (from our point of vew) in th most widely availbl biograficl data about them, givs som indication of ther jenrl emnnce, and recals som of ther specific contributions to th SSS.

Spelng ignord in biograficl refrnce works.

Al of those five names ar th subject of entris in The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB, Oxford University Press, varius dates), The Concise Dictionary of National Biography (CDNB, Oxford University Press, 1992) and The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OCELit, ed. Margaret Drabble, 1985). Yet in only one of th entris (Furnivall in th DNB) is ther any refmce to ther subjects concern with english spelng and its reform. We can but speculate wethr this is a reflection of th jenrl disregard in recent decades for spelng reform in th english-speakng world, or wethr spelng reform playd so smal a part in th multifarius and somtimes enduringly importnt activitis of these men that, within th confines of a short articl, it jenuinly did not justify a mention. It is also tru that in som cases, as we shal se, ther involvmnt with th SSS came at th very end of ther lives.

William Archer (1856-1924).

We lern that William Archer grew up in Edinburh but spent part of his boyhood in Norway. From 1879 he became a drama critic in Londn, wher he promoted Ibsen (hom he translated) and G B Shaw. He rote sevrl books about th theatr, was one of th erly proponents of a Nationl Theatr, and helpd found th Stratford-on-Avon Shakespear compny. In 1923 he had a play of his own produced to aclaim, first in th US, and then in Londn. CDNB farthr tels us that he campaind against theatr censrship. From these details we may deduce that William Archer had a spirit of radiclism and inovation about him.

He is best nown to th SSS as co-authr (along with jermn-born Walter Ripman) of th orijnl New Spelling sceme, wich was th Societys flag-ship reform proposal at least until th 1960s (som wud argu that, thru its desendnt Laurie Fennellys NS90, it stil is). Th first edition of NS apeard as a pamflet in 1910, with thre furthr editions being brot out in subsequent years. In 1940 it first (?) apeard in book form, "completely revised and in part rewritten" by Harold Orton. Th classic 6th edition of New Spelling apeard in 1948, nearly a quarter of a century aftr Archers deth, with a numbr of furthr chanjes, to wich Daniel Jones also contributed; but it stil bor th names of William Archer and Walter Ripman on th covr as principl authrs. A few smal chanjes to recncile certn british and americn variations wer agreed at a joint anglo-americn meetng in 1956.

William Archer also rote sevrl pamflets for th Society. In these he markd himself out from most spelng reformrs by practisng wat he preachd: his pamflets ar ritn in his orijnl form of New Spelling, and constitute, as far as th presnt riter is aware, th most extensiv publishd material existng in NS.

SSS Pamflet 2, I Hav Lurnt to Spel, bers th imprint "Furst publisht Desember, 1908. Reeprinted Janueary, 1941 ". It has a modest 4 pajes (plus covr), and ofrs a ranje of replys, many stil valid, to th kinds of ignrnt and prejudiced objection to speIng reform wich wer comnly herd in those days - as they stil ar today.

SSS Pamflet 3, Dhe Etimolojikal Arguement, bers th imprint "Furst publisht March, 1909. Reeprinted Janueary, 1941 ". It has 16 pajes, and altho ritn in a styl rathr mor latnat than todays tastes may be acustmd to, it presents a forceful, vividly ilustrated case against th vew that english spelng reform wud destroy valubl etmlojicl infrmation containd in TO. It is stil wel worth readng, its argumnts being as valid today as evr.

SSS Pamflet 4, Dhe Eesthetic Arguement, bers th same imprint as Pamflet 3. It has 20 pajes, and is a litry tour de force, sparkIng with mordnt wit, cojent lojic and forml elegnce of expression redlnt of a richly litry cultur we hav larjly lost in our modrn mass-media aje. On first readng, its points may seem dated, insofar as esthetic questions of buty ar no longr of such public concern; but if we interpret them as relating to th syclojicl impact unfamilir speings hav on th uninitiated readr (ie, ar reformd spelngs ugly?), they stil hav an importnt mesaj for us nearly 90 years later.

Perhaps th SSS shud considr reissuing William Archers Pamflets 3 and 4, both for th continuing relevnce of ther argumnts, for th jenrl quality of ther riting, and as specimns of th orijnl NS, with wich many SSS membrs today may be unfamilir.

SSS Pamflet 5 (A Breef History ov Inglish Spelng) and SSS Pamflet 6 (Dhe Proez and Konz ov Rashonal Speling) apear as continuations of th same series. Pamflet 5 ("Furst publisht 1914/Reisued 1942") also uses NS, but dos not admit to an authr, and both its mor scolrly content and its less dashng styl sujest it may not hav been ritn by William Archer. It is today superseded, and hujely surpasd, by curent SSS Presidnt Donald Scraggs classic A history of English spelling (1974). Pamflet 6, published 1942, was adaptd from an intrvew givn by William Archer to th Daily Chronicle in novembr 1911. Its 10 pajes consist mainly of a dialog, in wich Archer explains and defends NS; questions put to him in TO, altrnate with his replys in NS.

Ther is a good, recent biografy of Archer by Peter Whitebrook (William Archer.. a biography, Methuen, 1993) wich was exerptd in th SSS Newsletter of April 1994.

F(rederick) J(ames) Furnivall (1825-1910).

For Dr F J Furnivall, we wil draw on William Benzies exlnt biography (Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1983), rathr than confining ourselvs to OCELit and th DNBs. He was truly one of th jiants of th victorian era, with major comitmnts ranjing across workrs and womens education and ryts, sport (especialy roing), editng Old and Midl English texts, establishng numerus litry societis, and layng th foundations for th futur Oxford English Dictionary. He became an agnostic and was no respectr of victorian social conventions jenrly. Abov al, by his infectius enthusiasm he cajoled and inspired othrs to furthr th causes he beleved in. He had contact with, indeed in sevrl cases was a frend of, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Kingsley, Eleanor Marx (dautr of Karl), John Ruskin and Alfred Lord Tennyson. His contacts with Archer, Gollancz, Pollard and Skeat date bak many years into th 19th century in Skeats case to 1868 at th latest, forty years befor th SSS was foundd. DNBs sole refrnce to spelng reform relates to th 1850s, and reports:
He supported with enthusiasm the [Philological] Society's proposals for spelling reform, which Alexander John Ellis devised, and always took an active part in promoting such reform, adopting in his own writing a modified phonetic scheme.
Benzies biografy reports that both Furnivall and Skeat wer involvd in debates on english speIng bak in th 1860s and 70s, that Furnivall iritated (p265-66) his readrs by spatrng his ritings with fonetic spelngs, and that he was Vice-Presidnt of th SSS on its foundation (wich Benzie dates rongly to 1901, not 1908). On pp266-67 we find th foloing reclection from AW Pollard:
All his life, of course, Furnivall was a fighter, and I remember at an early meeting of the Simplified Spelling Society.... aftr I had advocated simplification on a historical basis, the uncompromising firmness with which he told me that the majority of the council were committed to a phonetic basis, and that if I didn't like it I had better go! Of course I didn't go. The meetings of that council were far too amusing, and I remained as an unobstructive opposition, in which capacity I was tolerated because of my usefulness in forming a quorum. Thus one of my mental vignettes of the Doctor (ie Furnivall) depicts him as he sat at the head of the table in the little committee room at Great Russel (sic) Street.
(In 1995 th SSS stil met in a little comitee room in Great Russell Street.)

(Sir) Israel Gollancz (1864-1930).

OCELit tels us that Israel Gollancz became Profesr of English at London University in 1905. He succeedd Furnivall as Directr of th Erly English Texts Society, helpd found th British Academy, and was an outstandng editr of Old and Midl English texts, and of Shakespeare. He was nytd in 1919.

Gollancz took litl interest in th SSS, beyond shoing up for th first meetng and falng out with Furnivall!- se secnd part of articl.

A(lfred) W(illiam) Pollard (1859-1944).

OCELit tels us that A W Pollard was for 5 years keepr of th Departmnt of Printd Books at th British Museum, bringing out th ke Short-title Catalogue of Books printed in England, Scotland and Ireland 1475-1640. He was also an authority on Chaucer and Shakespear.

Th presnt riter has no infrmation on A W Pollards specific contributions to th SSS (othr than th quotation from him givn undr Furnivall, abov).

W(alter) W(illiam) Skeat (1835-1912).

OCELit tels us that WW Skeat remains a gret name in th histry of english litratur studis for his pioncerng work in preparing editions of Old and Midl English texts (especialy Chaucer), som of his editions being reprintd thruout th 20th century. In 1878 he became Profesr of Anglo-Saxn at th University of Cambrij. He was also a foundrig fathr of english etmolojy (Etymological English Dictionary) and english dialect studis.

WW Skeat was th first presidnt of th SSS (1908-911), and authr of its first pamflet, On the History of Spelling, on th covr of wich he apears as "Rev. Professor W. W. Skeat Lit.D., LL.D., D.C.L., Ph.W. Tho berng th imprint "First published December 1908. Reprinted January 1941", in fact it consistd mainly of two extracts from a lectur delivrd in 1902. Th first main extract shos how th long vowls of english, as both spoken and ritn, developd over th past 1,000 years. Th secnd extract concerns th ignrnce and misaprehensions even of educated peple as to th tru natur of english spelng. Th tone is confidnt and asertiv, as befits a man ho was perhaps th gretst expert on th subject in his day. Tho som of Skeats educationl asumtions (eg that evry scoolboy new mor about latn and ancient greek than about english) ar now only of historicl intrest, th pamflet as a hole is stil wel worth readng, both for th infrmation it contains, and for th force of its presntation.

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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5.