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FLORENCE A. CUMMINGS, DORCHESTER, MASS.
OME people were born natural spellers. I was not. There can be no doubt about the truthfulness of this statement. It is useless for me to grapple with such words as dungeon, sepulchre, hemorrhage, hygiene, and the like, for I should never be sure of them, even though I had looked them up many times. My only hope, therefore, lies in a simplified spelling, for I am word-blind, and "thereby hangs a tale." I do not recall a time when I did not hesitate before writing capricious, nauseous, and even precious. In consequence, I have always desired an improved method for English Orthography. Years before Andrew Carnegie expended his money and influence in this direction, I looked forward to a time when prophecies concerning a radical reform in our spelling-book would be fulfilled.
But my waiting has been in vain. Time has not confirmed this prophecy, and I now believe that nothing short of a miracle will change our abominable text-book for spelling. Yet, though this new dispensation be as tardy as the offspring of Abraham and Sarah, it would be none the less welcome. How gladly would I find a fitting name for this new-born child of our mother-tongue, one as significant of joy and laughter as that borne by Isaac, son of the great Jewish prophet!
What a relief it would be to allow the dust to collect upon our thumb-stained dictionaries, and to cleave to a few elementary rules for spelling, rules so judiciously chosen that the public schools and colleges would one day adopt them! I do not believe that a polliwog ever longed half so earnestly to absorb its tail and pass on to its next existence as I have yearned to be rid of this cumbrous spelling-book of ours and to accept a more rational guide to the use of letters in their relation to words.
Being a normal woman, I am blessed with an abundant flow of language. For this reason I am constantly desiring to use words which require "looking up." By this I do not necessarily mean words of extraordinary length. To cite a common example: when the month of February arrives it is seldom that I do not find myself hesitating before writing the second month of the year. My uncertainty, however, is dispelled by a glance at the calendar, which serves me two purposes.
Although my ear seems excellent for all other sounds, yet it is impossible for me to tell just how a word is spelled by hearing it pronounced. To use a familiar expression, I cannot see the word in my mind's eye. Just as often as I write conceive, achieve and deceive, I am obliged to refer to a dictionary, that I may be perfectly sure the E precedes the I, or the I precedes the E. Neither is it an easy matter for me to detect the vowel sound before words ending in a-t-e, as in separate, and not infrequently do I substitute an E for an A in the second, or, properly speaking, the penultimate syllable. But to make my position still more trying, I write with the object of gaining the approval of the twentieth-century editor and, incidentally, the public! Therefore the time and patience required to sustain a creditable reputation in my English orthography is truly incalculable.
Not only has this difficulty beset me in my literary work, but also in the discharge of my domestic duties. Even during mudpie days my childish cock-book bore witness to this fault. Unfortunately this book is yet in possession of the family! Here and there may be found such expressions as, "Rule for making white flower bread; rule for Mrs. Smith's Doo-nuts," while at the bottom of a page containing a receipt for mother's pie-crust may be seen the caution, "Rowl the paist thin!" Below this information is written, in the scrawling handwriting of a schoolboy, "Sis, I hope your pies are a durned sight better than your spelling!"
It is quite certain that if I ever break away from this hereditary bondage, I must do so by eternal vigilance. Had I been born blind to color, many would have been sorry for me. A few might have regarded my deformity as a joke; but not so, born blind to
syllables! A victim of circumstances, I am an object of ridicule for friend and foe. Regardless of my other capabilities, I am accounted ignorant and incapable,-my career seems well nigh blasted!
The public schools appear to have taken it for granted that spelling is an art brought with us from some previous incarnation. There are a few, however, who seem not to have retained a vestige of this priceless endowment. To this class unmistakably I belong.
Blame should not be attached to my parents for this misfortune. During my childhood every means was used, including the sharpest reprimands, in order to train my ear for such words as victuals, vegetables, lettuce, and other articles of food, which I was required to spell before eating. On Sundays the lesson had to be written, and the list of words included pious, righteous, conscientious, with now and then a proper name from the Old Tes
Well do I recollect a punishment for having written, on two consecutive Sabbaths, the word angle for angel. When the error was pointed out to me, I persuaded myself (but not my parents!) that my L's and E's looked so much alike it was impossible to distinguish them apart. Thus, day after day, I struggled to conquer. But all my efforts, and those of my parents, were in vain!
Did I declare all my efforts to have been in vain? Perhaps it would be well to modify this statement a little. If I employ a certain vocabulary for some length of time, my knowledge of spelling is adequate for all needs. But let me change to a subject which requires the use of different words, those which I have ceased to think for some time, then I find myself the same deplorable speller! I have never seen the words! My proud mastery of them is gone; I am left, for the time being, void of that natural instinct with which the average schoolgirl is generously endowed. Am I discouraged and tempted to give up the struggle? Not at all! This would mean giving up my hobby-horse for a mere idiosyncrasy. (I've just looked up that
word!) Now I have no intention of so doing, at least, not for some time to come.
Whenever I change the subject-matter of my theme, I begiu anew the mastery of each word, just as though I had never seen it. This is not altogether a cheerful prospect to contemplate, but I console myself with the thought that it is the price I pay for the privilege of employing the English language. I am now quite content to regard the matter in this light.
It is just dawning upon me that there may be others who share my embarrassment in the matter of spelling. I had been inclined to believe myself alone in this peculiar affliction. But I have now come to think that if infallibility in spelling were an obligatory requisite to society, then few or none would be eligible to the smart set.
Do not all English-speaking people, including professors, statesmen, clergymen, and now and then an editor, occasionally refer to the dictionary? Is not the individual unborn who is capable of mastering and retaining a perfect knowledge of English orthography? It cannot be denied that most of us have striven to conceal this incompetency; yet, why strive to conceal it? Does not the fault lie chiefly in the construction of our language, rather than within ourselves? I think it does. Are not my thoughts, poor though they may be, worth more than my language or my orthography? Since I cannot well serve two masters, why should I concern myself over a few misspelled words?
And yet, there is the vivid remembrance of a letter, possibly a manuscript, consigned to the post yesterday, the day before, perhaps even longer ago. I sometimes awake in the night and see, by some superhuman sense, a certain word in a certain missive, sent to a certain distinguished, scholarly individual. It is then that I yearn to "haul in my white-winged birds." But it is too late! I cannot do that when I have sent off misspelled words. No, there they are, clearly defined against a snow-white background; and if the communication happens to be typewritten, then my misery is complete!
Perchance, gentle reader, you may have known this sensation. If so, you will recall how your fingers ached to place the E before the I, or possibly double the consonant. But alas, it is impossible! The error must stand forever, a witness to your idiocy! Certainly these are no trivial items of consideration for one who suffers from this affliction. And yet, am I or my thoughts-if well expressed-not more than a few ill-begotten words?
I am now thoroughly convinced that I should not regard this vexatious problem in the light of a hindrance to my ambitions. I believe it quite possible for one to become a great statesman, a clergyman, or even an author, without possessing the much coveted virtue of being an excellent speller. If the talents of men were equally divided, then all of us would be "carrying forests on our backs," and there would be no one left to "crack a nut."
Think of the stars the Christmas skies have shown;
Think of the glad, glad Christmas days which you have known;
And brought you gifts from lands both near and far;
Think of the little stockings which round the fireplace hung.
Ah! let The Child the window of your days fling open wide,
MINNIE E. HAYS.