The Long View: Robertson Davies on Spelling Reform

Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies


From "The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks"
Penguin Books, 1996
Copyright (C) Robertson Davies, 1986
Page 434:

Dear Miss Hawser:

Your suggestion that a few people in Canada try to revive the lost art of letter-writing is a worthy one, and I am flattered that you should include me in your group. I am grateful for the copy of "The Maple Leaf Letter Writer" which you have sent me, and I have read it with great care. But there is one point on which I disagree with the book, and that is its insistence on absolutely conventional spelling. Although I am myself a fair speller, I have thought for some time that a reasonable amount of personal choice should be allowed in this matter. After all, the passion for spelling according to a dictionary is only about a hundred years old; every writer of any importance before that spelled a few words at least in his own way.

Only the other day I was looking at a book of letters from the seventeenth century, in which one writer expressed himself thus: "As for Mr. A--, I esteem him no better than a Pigg." Consider that word "Pigg." The extra "g" is not strictly necessary, but what power it gives to the word! How pig-like it makes poor Mr. A--! How vivid his swinishness becomes! And look at that capital "P." It seems to enrich the sentence by calling special attention to the most important word.

I am not a spelling reformer. I am a laissez-faire liberal in matters of spelling. I do not care that our present system of spelling wastes time and paper. I firmly believe that both time and paper are of less importance than the perfect expression of the writer's meaning. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a Pedantick Booby.

Yours for orthographicall freedom,
Samuel Marchbanks.


And while we are on the subject of Robertson Davies, here is a link to my review of The Cunning Man. Enjoy!