Friday, April 9, 2010

Stylized And the Forgotten Edition of Strunk's Elements of Style

I read Mark Garvey's book, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, and I was disappointed. Although he provides a comprehensive history of E.B. White's editions, he doesn't do the same for William Strunk's editions. One Strunk edition, the undated Thrift Press edition, isn't even mentioned in Garvey's book.

In his Introduction, Garvey tells us that the story begins in 1957 when White received a copy of the 1918 edition in the mail. Garvey slants his story that way with hardly any mention of Strunk's other editions. He tells us that he visited the Cornell archives, and held a copy of the 1918 edition in his hands. Had he held a copy of the 1919 edition in his hands as well, he may have discovered that W. F. Humphrey was the printer of the 1918 edition and the 1919 edition, and not W. P. Humphrey, as everyone including E. B. White had believed.

The only thing slightly obsessive about Garvey's book is his inclusion of the thoughts of other writers concerning The Elements of Style. I'd rather know how many copies of the 1918, 1919, and 1920 editions were printed. The book is supposed to be about the history of The Elements of Style. Garvey tells us that another Cornell instructor, Edward A. Tenney, revised the 1935 edition and changed the title to The Elements and Practice of Composition. Did Strunk help revise it? What about the 1934 or 1936 editions? Did Strunk help revise them? And how many copies of the 1934,1935, and 1936 editions were printed? That is the slightly obsessive history I want to know.

The 1934 edition was undated, but Strunk and Tenney acquired the copyright on August 17, 1934. Tenney and possibly Strunk totally revised the format, replaced several words in Strunk's 1920 list of "Words Often Misspelled" with numerous new words, and replaced some of Strunk's recommended reference books. The title, however, remained the same: The Elements of Style

Strunk and Tenney acquired the copyright for the 1935 edition of The Elements and Practice of Composition on September 17, 1935. Strunk had already been in Hollywood since July as an adviser for the MGM production of Romeo and Juliet. At the time, Strunk was considered to be one of the leading Shakespeare authorities in the country. Strunk remained in Hollywood until June 1936 and most likely played little part in the editing of the 1935 and 1936 editions. Except for one major change, the format of the 1935 and 1936 editions remained the same as the 1934 edition. The 1934 edition did not include the practice leaves; students had to purchase them separately. The 1935 and 1936 editions contained the practice leaves in the back of the book.

Strunk retired in 1937, and that should have been the end of the history of Strunk's early editions. But Garvey tells us that because of the shortage of instructors during the war, Cornell called Strunk out of retirement in 1943. Strunk only lasted two months because he got sick, but in that time, what book do you think he provided his students with? Do you think he provided them with Tenney's revised edition? I don't think so.

In my Elements of Style Collection, I have an undated edition of The Elements of Style that was printed by the Thrift Press of Ithaca, New York. When I acquired it in 2001, I thought the edition preceded the 1920 edition – until I glanced at the title page: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. Professor of English, Emeritus, Cornell University. The word "emeritus" means that this edition wasn't published until after Strunk retired in 1937. I had always thought that some of the other Cornell instructors had the Thrift Press edition printed because they didn't care for the Tenney editions. I now believe that Strunk had the edition printed when he returned to teaching in 1943. Except for minor revisions, the Thrift Press edition is a reprint of the 1920 edition.

In their listing of the Thrift Press edition, Cornell University has the publication date as circa 1958. I believe it was published in the early 1940s. One of the recommended references in the Thrift Press edition is Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, G. & C. Merriam Co.. This edition was first published in 1936 with numerous reprints in the 1940s. In 1949, Merriam published The New Collegiate Dictionary, replacing Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. If the Thrift Press edition of The Elements of Style were published in 1958, wouldn't the newer reference have been listed?

In his 1934 edition, Tenney deleted five of the "Words Often Misspelled" which were listed in Strunk's 1920 edition: affect, effect, impostor, incident, and Philip. In the early 1940s edition, four of the five "Words Often Misspelled" were reincarnated: affect, effect, incident, and Philip. The word not brought back was impostor. The fact that the word "Philip" was brought back makes me believe the word was one of Strunk's idiosyncrasies. Moreover, of the 47 new "Words Often Misspelled," Tenney added to the 1934 edition, at least 37 were deleted in the Thrift Press Edition, and replaced by 71 new words, three of which could describe the Tenney editions: contemptible, irrelevant, and outrageous. Was this Strunk's doing? Possibly.