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Magazine, or Animadversions on the English Spelling (1703)   By:

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G. W.


Animadversions on the English Spelling


Introduction by David Abercrombie

Publication Number 70

Los Angeles William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California



RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan RALPH COHEN, University of California, Los Angeles VINTON A. DEARING, University of California, Los Angeles LAWRENCE CLARK POWELL, Clark Memorial Library


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington BENJAMIN BOYCE, Duke University LOUIS BREDVOLD, University of Michigan JOHN BUTT, King's College, University of Durham JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago LOUIS A. LANDA, Princeton University SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota ERNEST C. MOSSNER, University of Texas JAMES SUTHERLAND, University College, London H. T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


EDNA C. DAVIS, Clark Memorial Library


I first came across what is, as far as I know, the unique copy of Magazine , by G. W., when working in the library formed by the late Sir Isaac Pitman.[1] It is bound up as the last item in a volume which contains several nineteenth century pamphlets on language and spelling, and also the first numbers of the periodical The Phonetic Friend . (The volume was for a time in the possession of the Bath City Free Library, to which it was presented by Isaac Pitman; it must subsequently have been returned to him.) I drew attention to the existence of Magazine in an article published in 1937;[2] to the best of my knowledge it had not been noticed in print before that, though it is of considerable interest in a number of respects. I am indebted to Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd., London, for permission to reproduce the pamphlet herewith in the Augustan Reprints.

G. W. was a spelling reformer, one of the many writers who, from early Elizabethan times onwards, have been critical of traditional English orthography and have made proposals for improving it. Although nothing that could be called a spelling reform "movement" existed until the nineteenth century, there were earlier periods when the subject was much in the air, when a number of people were writing about it and reading and discussing each other's ideas. The publication of Magazine does not fall at one of these times; it comes, in fact, in the very middle of a recession of interest in spelling reform which lasted almost a hundred years. From about 1650 to 1750 there were few critics of our orthography, and they were usually neither very strong in their criticisms nor radical in their proposals for amendment. G. W. is thus a somewhat isolated figure, and his scheme for reform would appear, in its details at least, to be fairly original.

The greater part of the pamphlet is given over to expounding the illogicalities and inconsistencies of the established spelling, and here G. W.'s style of writing, which is colloquial, racy and allusive, is effective enough. It is not so well suited, however, to orderly and clear exposition of his proposed amendment unfortunately, since this is what is likely to be of most interest to us today (and numerous misprints increase the difficulties of grasping his proposals). Perhaps there was, or was to have been, a sequel which would have stated his reforms more systematically; that this may have been the case appears from the statement on p. 25 that the alphabet "is preparing," and from the mention, on the last page, of "the ensuing Batl dur" (i.e. battledore or hornbook). His remedy, briefly, is to replace digraphs by new symbols: "more Letters would do well in the Alfabet, but fewer in most words" (p... Continue reading book >>

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