In a local charity shop I found a pocket-size blue book, printed in 1926, written by a man called Frederic William Westaway and entitled ‘The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology’. The book’s age and the subject, writing for science, immediately made me want it.
The story of my book
On 22 July 1931 my copy of the book was stamped with ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ in green ink. On this occasion it was bought by a C. B. Grimaldi. On the 24 October 1932, the book was again stamped with a ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ stamp. This time in pink ink. Who it was sold to is unknown, but it went for 4/8, whatever that should mean.
The book was also owned by a D. S. Robinson, his or her name is scrawled in blue in on the inside cover.
I know little of the author Frederic William Westaway, but that he was, at one point in his life, one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Secondary Schools.
Grammar and style
Unlike many grammar books, Westaway doesn’t simply give a list of rules to follow. Rules do exist, and they are stated, but the wonder of the book is the use of examples.
The following is an example of careless stopping:
“Rule, Britannia; Britannia rules the waves”.
There should be a comma after the second Britannia, and the indicative should be replaced by another imperative.
[I believe the use of double quotation marks is of its time. My modern copy of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, first published 1929, states in the introduction that quotation marks have been changed from the original double to single for clarity.]
Many more of Westaway’s examples come from academic papers, journals such as Nature, and daringly even other grammar books.
Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes about either writing or grammar – a number of which are from Shakespeare.
How to be a better writer
Anyway, Westaway’s advice on mastering the art of writing?
He who desires to write correctly must train himself to review with a critical eye what other people have written. To understand exactly what the different words in a sentence mean, what functions they discharge, what relation they bear to one another, and what the sentence as a whole signifies, all these things are indispensable.
To which end my suggestion would be Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.
[The photograph shows my desk.]