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The Warden of English: The Life of H. W. Fowler

de Jenny McMorris

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"Henry Watson Fowler was born in Tonbridge, Kent, in 1858. This is the first full biography of a man whose Modern English Usage has become a classic text known simply as 'Fowler'. It is based on meticulous research from previously unpublished papers, letters, and material from the Oxford University Press archives, and tells the story of his work on The King's English and the Concise and Pocket Oxford Dictionaries, as well as on Modern English Usage, and of his collaboration on some of these projects with his brother Frank." "Against the descriptions of Henry Fowler's work is set the story of a man whose career began as a schoolmaster, but who moved to London, and them Guernsey to develop his career as a writer. Jenny McMorris chronicles the life of a fascinating and colourful figure who, amongst other things, found love and married at the age of fifty, and despite his advancing years enlisted during World War I."--BOOK JACKET.… (mais)
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Henry Watson Fowler’s name resonates for all those concerned with writing and publishing, in our mantra, ‘Fowler’s modern English usage’. This indispensable writers’ mentor, suffused with
wit (look up the end of the entry for elision, or the description of Mrs Malaprop) was indeed planned (as an ‘idiom dictionary’) by Henry and Frank, one of his six younger brothers, and completed entirely by Henry after Frank’s early death. On its publication as A dictionary of modern English usage in 1926 it received huge acclaim – and has done so ever since.
This biography fills out the background of Fowler’s life and other work. After leaving Balliol College, Oxford (with degrees in Moderations and Literae Humaniores) he spent 18 years as a teacher, then earned his living by his pen, writing essays and articles. He and Frank together translated the dialogues of Lucian; their work was published by Clarendon Press in 1905 to high praise,
bringing the Fowler brothers to the notice of the Oxford press, for which they continued to produce volumes on request for the rest of their lives (with an interval for service in the first world war).
The brothers composed, together or separately, The King’s English, ‘a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view . . . with a few rules on common solecisms’, and its abridged edition 18 years later; Sentence analysis, a small school text-book; and two small dictionaries abridged from the great Oxford English dictionary: the Concise Oxford dictionary, ‘designed as a dictionary, and not as an encyclopedia’, with particular attention to the explanation of common words; its later revision and supplement; and a further abbreviation, with new words admitted, the Pocket Oxford dictionary. The attendant problems in all these works of currency, definitions, etymology, spelling, typography, and ‘Yankeefication’ (Americanisms), and the brothers’ methods of dealing with them, are all detailed in this book. They had also to cope with what we now call, with a sigh, political correctness – treatment of racial and religious words. The Westminster Catholic Federation prepared a libel case against OUP on discovering the definition of ‘Jesuit’ in the Concise Oxford dictionary as ‘dissembling person, prevaricator’.
After Frank’s death, as well as the triumphant production of A dictionary of modern English usage, Henry contributed sections to the Shorter Oxford English dictionary, and collaborated with another brother and a third partner to produce ‘a great new dictionary of current English’, to be called the ‘Oxford dictionary of modern English’. However, the successive deaths of all three, and of one successor, caused the project to be dropped after all, and ‘Henry’s last dictionary was never published’. His obituary tributes in the press included, ‘students of English have lost their best philosopher and friend’; his death was said to ‘deprive British scholarship of one of its brightest ornaments’.
The foreword to this book claims that in its pages ‘all grammar, syntax and style will be impeccable’. Alas, this cannot be said of the curiously (and anonymously) compiled index. Its sub-subheadings are not indented under the subheadings, making for most confusing reading; continuation headings lack ‘(continued)’, giving no indication that there are earlier subheadings for the entry.
‘Decency doubts about Lucian’ and ‘dream of Queen Victoria’ (Fowler’s dream, though not so specified in the index) are both filed under D. At the end of the entry for Fowler, Henry Watson, we find:
appearance [page numbers]
attitudes see opinions and attitudes
character see personality
ill-health [page numbers]
eye problems [presumably should be indented under ill-health;
page numbers]
pastimes see sport and pastimes
work see publications
There seems no good reason for this dispersal through the index, which continues further. Subheadings under ‘opinions and attitudes (HF)’ include ‘money see under payment’ and ‘see also personality; religion’. Under ‘personality of HF’ are further see references:
modesty and reserve see reticence
wit see humour
The four subheadings under ‘sport and pastimes’ all refer to other people’s; Fowler’s own are listed under a second main heading, ‘sport and pastimes HF)’. ‘Publications’ is actually ‘publications and writings (mainly HF)’.
There are even errors of alphabetical order: Wilson, Mrs
Bernard comes before Wilson, Bernard, and
Fowler, Robert Clive (son of HF) 218
before
Fowler, Robert (father of HF) 2–6, 7, 11, 218
But sheer bewilderment now takes over; in fact Henry Fowler had no children, by the name of Robert Clive or any other; and page 218 is entirely blank.
How disgraceful an index, for a work that is a tribute to the master composer of reference works, and from the very publisher to whom his works brought such great credit, Oxford University Press! ( )
  KayCliff | Jul 31, 2008 |
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"Henry Watson Fowler was born in Tonbridge, Kent, in 1858. This is the first full biography of a man whose Modern English Usage has become a classic text known simply as 'Fowler'. It is based on meticulous research from previously unpublished papers, letters, and material from the Oxford University Press archives, and tells the story of his work on The King's English and the Concise and Pocket Oxford Dictionaries, as well as on Modern English Usage, and of his collaboration on some of these projects with his brother Frank." "Against the descriptions of Henry Fowler's work is set the story of a man whose career began as a schoolmaster, but who moved to London, and them Guernsey to develop his career as a writer. Jenny McMorris chronicles the life of a fascinating and colourful figure who, amongst other things, found love and married at the age of fifty, and despite his advancing years enlisted during World War I."--BOOK JACKET.

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