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DOGBERRY himself would scarcely venture to assert that English spelling 'comes by nature.' Foreigners have puzzled, and children have grieved over it for many a day, while grammarians have again and again tried to put some 'method in its madness;' but have found that there are words which, defying all classification, can only be set down to the rule of contrariety,' and must be fixed on the mind by an effort of memory-and memory alone.
The task is a laborious one to nine-tenths of the learners, and, if our public examiners are to be credited, is often left unfinished when a boy quits school to enter on the business of life; causing him shame, trouble, and annoyance, at an age when his time ought to be better employed than in conning his primer, or hunting his dictionary.
We hope to render the student effectual assistance in overcoming his difficulties, though we cannot pretend to remove them.
As most young people can remember rhyme more readily than prose, the general rules of orthography have been put into verse, and also rules for spelling that large class of words, two or more of which sound alike, while thy differ in orthography and meaning. To the rules are added carefully arranged exercises.
These exercises will be found to contain an immense collection of words in common use, including those most difficult to spell. We have endeavoured to render the task of transcribing and fixing their orthography on the memory as little irksome as possible, by introducing most of them through the medium of extracts, which, containing a pointed meaning expressed with brevity, may afford the student some degree of interest and amusement to lighten his labour. Though we have not space to affix names, we have to acknowledge materials drawn from the pages of many talented writers, past and present, English and American; most of the passages are well known and will be readily ascribed to their authors.
As for the 'rhymed rules,' as rhymes we do not attempt to defend them ;
one who has been thankful to recall to mind 'Thirty days hath September,' &c., need quarrel even with doggerel if it serve to fix useful knowledge in a treacherous memory.
We have examined various books on orthography since commencing this work; several of them are valuable in their way, but finding all differ considerably both in plan and scope from our own, and believing that in face of so great a need more help will be useful and welcome, we still offer to the student our Handy Book of English Spelling.'
Experience proves that further aid and guidance are required, and the following passages bearing on the subject are so much to the point that we venture to quote them. The Times says :
We published, yesterday, an abstract of the last report made by the Civil Service Commissioners, on the result of the examinations conducted under their aus. pices. The contents of that document, for reasons duly assigned, are principally statistical, but a certain fact is stated, which must not be allowed to pass without comment. During a period of nearly five years embraced by the retrospect of the report the certificates of competence awarded by the Examiners amounted, we are told, to 5,705, while the rejections were 1,972. It is not, however, with these numbers, nor with their relative proportions, that we are now concerned. The subject of our remarks is contained in another piece of intelligence. We learn that of the 1,972 disappointed candidates, all, excepting 106, were rejected for the same species of defect. They either had no knowledge of arithmetic, or they could not spell. Of course, these imperfections were, in many cases, coupled with others, but as a matter of fact, orthography and arithmetic were the real stumbling-blocks in the way
of success.' From a number of Chambers's Journal comes this announcement:
• Another matter is that a school is to be founded somewhere in the City, at which a good commercial education shall be obtainable for 41. year.
At this school reading, writing, and arithmetic are to be prime subjects of instruction, because it is found in practice that in these most of the youths who are put forward for places in the City are lamentably deficient. In fact, it is an increasing complaint among commercial men, that they cannot get young clerks able to write a fair hand or spell correctly.'
And a writer in Once a Week laments
'My pocket dictionary is a model of perversity in withholding useful and supplying useless information, for I cannot spell with the infallibility required by Rhadamanthean editors, and I get hazy sometimes about the double l’s, and the precedence of the e or i.' We refer those who would overcome, –