J M Dent, misspelling and Everyman’s Library

Another strange bookshop discovery prompts Nige to ponder a great publisher who couldn’t spell…

The charity shop where I happened on that indispensable volume, The Making Of A Moron, came up with the goods again soon after, when my browsing eye was caught by the title Far Away and Long Ago by one W.D. Hudson. That was what it said on the spine, and sure enough it was repeated on the front board: W.D. Hudson.

It was one of a series called Literature of Yesterday, published by J.M. Dent of Everyman’s Library fame, and, sure enough, it turned out to be a straight reprint of the Everyman edition of W.H. Hudson’s memories of his early years in South America, rebound in jazzy new boards in black and a rather sickly pale reddish orange in 1965. Naturally I bought it.

J.M. Dent himself was, it seems, unable to spell. Here’s Hugh Kenner in A Sinking Island:

Destiny beckoned J. M. Dent toward the kingdom of books, and without ever learning to spell he became an influential bookman. He was small, lame, tight-fisted, and apt to weep under pressure, a performance that could disconcert authors and employees. When his temper had risen like a flame he’d scream; the scream, one employee recalled, was what broke men’s spirits. His paroxysms were famous; a Swedish specialist thought of prescribing a pail of cold water for Dent to plunge his head into.

Not a man you’d want to have for a boss, then, but he was driven by the best of motives:

Dent’s ungovernable passion was for bringing Books to the People. He remembered when he’d longed to buy books he couldn’t afford. Yes, you could make the world better. He even thought cheap books might prevent wars.

Well, that didn’t work out, but Everyman’s Library was an astonishing achievement that must have brought millions of people of limited means into the world of books. They were handsomely produced volumes too (designed initially in Morris style, then freshened up by Eric Ravilious) – even if standards had slipped somewhat by the time of 1965’s Literature of Yesterday.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

11 thoughts on “J M Dent, misspelling and Everyman’s Library

  1. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    February 10, 2012 at 18:19

    Whenever I come across one of the Everyman’s Library Classics I tend to snap it up even if it’s unfamiliar to me, at first because I liked the look of them, and now because I’ve learnt they tend to be good reads. The one’s I’m thinking of are the small (usually rather scruffy) red hardbacks with the peculiar black motif on the front, a bow perhaps? I guess this is the Eric Ravilous design?

  2. info@shopcurious.com'
    February 10, 2012 at 18:22

    Funny how easy it is to forgive a man for poor spelling… not so a woman.

    • george.jansen55@gmail.com'
      February 10, 2012 at 23:50

      Flannery O’Connor was a terrible speller all her life. She confessed, for example, to having had to be told by Caroline Gordon that it was not “bob wire” but “barbed wire”. Yet I don’t know that her prestige suffers as compared to Eudora Welty, who at a young age could spell the names of all the counties in Mississippi. (Have a look at the map to see what she was up against).

      What women are blamed for bad spelling, and by whom?

        • george.jansen55@gmail.com'
          February 12, 2012 at 14:12

          Well, I really don’t dare to argue with with somebody who has discovered an “obscure caveat” (which I keep wanting to write as “obscure cheviot”). He might tack a more devastating adjective onto some other subjunctive and annihilate me entirely.

          As for earning more money, I doubt that the men who can’t spell are earning their pay by writing. More likely they are driving trucks or pouring concrete, as the linked blog more or less says.

  3. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    February 10, 2012 at 18:28

    Yes, that was the ‘Ravilious era’ (he oversaw design for some of that period and contributed the odd motif) – it’s complicated. You can read about it here…
    I must say that I prefer the earlier ones, though most of them that come up now are a bit loose in their bindings. One of the odder volumes I’ve got is the Everyman Encyclopaedia of Gardening, first published in 1911.

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    February 10, 2012 at 18:33

    I can forgive anyone for poor spelling – a degree of latitude and variety is no bad thing. Ronald Firbank was a terrible speller (and characterised the works of one of his fictional alter egos – Claud Harvester? – as ‘Odd spelling, brilliant, vicious’).

  5. Worm
    February 10, 2012 at 20:17

    Nige, forgive me if you’ve seen this already, but just in case you haven’t – a wee misspelling I chanced upon a few years back…


  6. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    February 10, 2012 at 23:10

    Wow! No I hadn’t seen that before Worm. I think sometimes mistakes can be so big nobody spots them – the proofreader’s eye is trained to pick nits rather than catch bluebottles…

  7. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    February 12, 2012 at 14:46

    Talking of spelling – spotted this one on my local high street, outside a newly opened cafe – today’s special:
    Could be a town in Turkey couldn’t it…

    • Wormstir@gmail.com'
      February 12, 2012 at 16:02

      Lasanya-Great name- I might use it should we ever have a daughter

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