Depth in the Shallows

Month: November, 2017

A Dollop Of Trollope

Some Habits Are Tough To Break

The Essays of Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was a popular Victorian author of some forty-seven novels (including the much loved Palliser series and Barchester Towers novels), short stories, and travel books. He is, in our day, overshadowed by Charles Dickens. And the truth is he ought not be. Born in England, Trollope grew up in poverty. His father was an alcoholic and unsuccessful lawyer. His mother shouldered the burdens of family and took up writing to make money. Trollope eventually worked for the Post Office in a decades long career that took him to many parts of the world. He got up every day at five and, over a mug of hot coffee, wrote for three hours. He did this everyday for most of his life. The poverty of his youth haunted him so he never quit the Post even after making a lot of money from his novels. Many of his books concern some aspect of 19th century English life, and despite occasionally stilted language, still offer enjoyable and surprisingly modern storylines. In his essays, he talks about reading. Note that he calls it a habit. If you cannot find time, make time. And make time for Trollope.

“The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade.”


Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

Linguistic Murder Most Fowl

The King’s English┬áby H.W. Fowler

Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933), Oxford educated schoolmaster turned English usage and style guide writer, is remembered, if at all, for his inimitable A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. In The King’s English, a book he wrote with his brother some twenty years before Modern English Usage, Fowler laid the foundation for what was to become his greatest work. While this may seem a small thing, or irrelevant in our “anything goes” age, it is not. Fowler’s Modern English Usage is probably the best book of its kind. And while it is a standard reference for most writers, it is useful and interesting to anyone who speaks and writes the English language.

Languages are not static (unless they are no longer spoken), but rather are living and dynamic things. Rules govern grammar and usage (many of us have nightmares about diagramming sentences in grade school) but enforcing those rules like language cops betrays the inherent flexibility of speech. The best teachers know the rules and know when they should be broken. Or gotten rid of entirely. Fowler is one of those teachers.


“Any one who finds himself putting down several commas close to one another should reflect that he is making himself disagreeable, and question his conscience, as severely as we ought to do about disagreeable conduct in real life, whether it is necessary.”



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