This Day In Writing History
On July 1st, 1869, the famous writing teacher and author William Strunk, Jr. was born. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1890 and earning his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1896, he first became famous as an editor, editing important works by writers such as William Shakespeare, James Fenimore Cooper, and John Dryden. In 1900, he married his girlfriend, Olivia Locke, and she bore him two sons and a daughter.
Strunk became an English professor and taught at Cornell University for 46 years. During his tenure as professor, he wrote a book that would become the most influential writing guide of all time. It was called The Elements Of Style. Strunk wrote the book in 1918 and published it privately a year later. The first edition contained eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary rules of composition, "a few matters of form," and a list of commonly misused expressions.
When he wrote The Elements Of Style, Strunk had intended for it to be used by his and other English students at Cornell, which is why he published it privately. Sixteen years later, in 1935, Strunk revised his book and it was published commercially. It became required reading for college and high school English students. But it wouldn't be until 1959 - thirteen years after Strunk's death at the age of 77 - that it would become a bestseller used by people from all walks of life to improve their writing.
In 1957, a copy of Strunk's 1935 revised edition of The Elements Of Style reached the desk of novelist E.B. White, best known for his beloved, classic children's novel, Charlotte's Web. (1952) At the time, White was working as an editor for The New Yorker magazine. A former student of Professor Strunk's, White had used the book before, then forgotten about it. A few weeks after re-reading it, White wrote and published a feature story on The Elements Of Style, which he described as a “summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.”
White's story caught the attention of the Macmillan and Company publishing house, and they commissioned him to revise Strunk's book for a 1959 edition. He not only revised it, he also expanded and modernized it. He included text from his New Yorker feature story about Strunk in the Introduction. The 1959 first revised Strunk & White edition of The Elements Of Style sold two million copies; over the decades, sales would grow to over ten million copies. White revised the book again in 1972 and 1979, expanding it further.
In 1999, a fourth revised Strunk & White edition was published. It's now 2009 - some 90 years after William Strunk Jr. published his original edition of The Elements Of Style, and his core philosophy - sound, practical advice for developing good writing skills - continues to enlighten and inspire writers of all sorts to this day.
Quote Of The Day
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” - William Strunk Jr.
Today's video features a reading from William Strunk, Jr.'s classic writing book, The Elements Of Style. Enjoy!