Not having gotten far enough in anything I’m reading to post about it, I thought I’d direct your attention to a very strange 1898 book, History of England in Words of One Syllable, which I saw in a flea market some time ago and had to buy for its sheer dottiness. It is by Mrs. Helen W. Pierson, and Mrs. Pierson’s ghost would probably be very upset if I omitted the “Mrs.” on subsequent references to her, so I won’t.
This was part of a series entitled “Burt’s One Syllable Histories,” of which Mrs. Pierson was but one of several authors. There were volumes on the United States, Germany, Russia, Ireland, and Japan, among others. “Each Volume Profusely Illustrated,” the publisher promised.
Now, Mrs. Pierson was allowed a little leeway by her publisher. As she could hardly write a history without using any proper nouns of more than one syllable, they do appear in the book, broken down like this: “Now Rich-ard, Duke of Glou-ces-ter, of whom you have heard . . .” But except for proper nouns, and the words “History” and “Syllable” in the title, Mrs. Pierson heroically follows her editorial guidelines for 243 pages, from the Druids to the death of William Gladstone. For instance, she disposes of Cath-a-rine How-ard thusly: “In a few months the king found out that she was not so good as he had thought, and he made short work with her—-her head was cut off.” Even innocuous prepositions like “about” or “without” are ruthlessly omitted.
This book must have been hell, sheer hell to write. I would not want to have to do what Mrs. Pier-son did for long at all. It would drive me mad. Just think—each word a short one but for names and places. And I do not know who was meant to read this book. Folks who could not read well? Tots? But if a child was of the age to read or hear of things that took place in Eng-land, would he not know many words of more than one part?
Just to write this has made me weak. I must go to bed now.