On Making Oneself Less Unreadable

Img_2118-1024x554Hernan Diaz at The Paris Review:

Born in Kent in 1858, H. W. Fowler was one of our greatest lexicographical geniuses. He led an ascetic life: he was a runner and a swimmer (lakes, rivers, ocean); he lived with his brother in relative seclusion on the island of Guernsey; and he held—and proved—that anyone should be able to subsist on a hundred pounds a year. He devoted his life to literature: he won the fifth prize in the immensely popular competition with which the Encyclopedia Britannica celebrated its tenth edition; he rediscovered and translated Lucian; he took on, almost single-handedly, the herculean project of boiling down the entire Oxford Dictionary to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which is, to this day, one of the most widely used reference books in the language. He was a politely outspoken atheist who lost his teaching position for being unwilling to prepare his students for confirmation. During World War I, he refused to collaborate on the recruiting campaign to send young men into harm’s way while he remained safe. Instead, he lied about his age (forty-four), got enlisted, and was sent to the front. After a rather hermitic life, he got happily married when he was in his seventies and died three years after his wife, in 1933. In the words of Ernest Gowers, “The simplicity of his habits has a counterpart in the simplicity of diction he preaches.”

more here.