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William Strunk Jr.

William Strunk Jr. William Strunk Jr.[2†]

William Strunk Jr. (1869–1946) was a renowned American English professor at Cornell University. He authored The Elements of Style (1918), later revised and expanded by E. B. White. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Strunk earned his bachelor’s from the University of Cincinnati and a PhD from Cornell. He studied in Paris and began teaching at Rose Polytechnical Institute before joining Cornell for 46 years. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and excelled in both classical and non-English literature, embodying a disdain for specialization[1†].

Early Years and Education

William Strunk Jr. was born on July 1, 1869, in Cincinnati, Ohio[1†]. He was the eldest of the four surviving children of William and Ella Garretson Strunk[1†]. Strunk’s early education took place in Cincinnati, where he attended Walnut Hills High School[1†][2†].

Strunk pursued higher education at the University of Cincinnati, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1890[1†][2†]. His time at the university was marked by a classical education, which laid a strong foundation for his future academic pursuits[1†][2†].

Following his undergraduate studies, Strunk moved to Ithaca, New York, to attend Cornell University[1†]. At Cornell, he furthered his academic journey, earning a PhD in 1896[1†]. His doctoral studies were characterized by a deep engagement with English literature and language, setting the stage for his later career as an English professor[1†].

In the academic year 1898–99, Strunk had the opportunity to study at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France, where he studied morphology and philology[1†]. This experience likely broadened his academic perspectives and deepened his understanding of language and literature[1†].

Strunk’s early years and education played a significant role in shaping his academic career and his contributions to the field of English language and literature. His rigorous academic training equipped him with a deep understanding of English usage, which he would later distill into his influential guide, The Elements of Style[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

After completing his education, William Strunk Jr. began his career in academia. His first teaching position was at Rose Polytechnical Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he taught mathematics during the academic year of 1890–91[1†]. This early experience in teaching laid the groundwork for his future career in academia[1†].

Strunk then moved to Cornell University, where he taught English for 46 years[1†]. During his tenure at Cornell, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa[1†], a testament to his academic excellence[1†]. Strunk’s approach to teaching English was characterized by a disdain for specialization[1†]. Instead, he became an expert in both classical and non-English literature[1†], demonstrating his broad understanding of literature and language[1†].

In 1918, Strunk privately published The Elements of Style for the use of his Cornell students[1†]. This guide, which was intended to "lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated,"[1†] became a highly influential guide to English usage during the late 20th century[1†]. It is commonly referred to as Strunk & White, named after Strunk and his former student E. B. White, who revised and enlarged the guide[1†].

In addition to The Elements of Style, Strunk published English Metres in 1922, a study of poetic metrical form[1†]. He also compiled critical editions of Cynewulf’s Juliana, several works of Dryden, James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, and several Shakespearean plays[1†]. These publications further demonstrate Strunk’s extensive knowledge and expertise in English literature[1†].

Strunk’s career was not limited to academia. In 1935–36, he served as the literary consultant for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Romeo and Juliet[1†]. His role in the film industry earned him the nickname "the professor,"[1†] highlighting his academic background and expertise[1†].

Strunk’s career was marked by his dedication to teaching and his contributions to the field of English literature. His work, particularly The Elements of Style, has had a lasting impact, influencing generations of students, writers, and editors[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

William Strunk Jr. is best known for his work “The Elements of Style”, which was initially published privately in 1918 for the use of his students at Cornell University[1†]. This guide, often referred to as “the little book,” was intended to simplify the task of learning proper English grammar and composition[1†].

In 1922, Strunk published “English Metres,” a study of poetic metrical form[1†][3†]. This work demonstrated his deep understanding of language and its rhythmic qualities.

Strunk also compiled critical editions of several significant works. These include Cynewulf’s “Juliana,” various works of John Dryden, and James Fenimore Cooper’s "Last of the Mohicans"[1†]. His editorial work on these texts reflects his meticulous attention to detail and his commitment to preserving and promoting classic literature[1†].

Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works has contributed to Strunk’s reputation as a clear, concise, and insightful writer and editor[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

William Strunk Jr.'s work, particularly “The Elements of Style”, has had a profound impact on English language instruction. The book, often referred to as “Strunk & White” after E.B. White’s revision and enlargement, is considered a highly influential guide to English usage[4†].

The original version of “The Elements of Style”, published in 1918, comprised eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 "words often misspelled"[4†]. Strunk’s intention was to simplify the task of learning proper English grammar and composition[4†].

Strunk’s approach to English style emphasized cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity[4†][1†]. His work has been praised for its clarity and conciseness, and it has sold more than two million copies[4†][1†]. The book’s influence extends well into the late 20th century, demonstrating its enduring relevance[4†].

American wit Dorothy Parker famously said about “The Elements of Style”: "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy"[4†].

Strunk’s other works, such as “English Metres” and his critical editions of various texts, also demonstrate his deep understanding of language and literature[4†][1†]. His meticulous attention to detail and commitment to preserving and promoting classic literature are evident in these works[4†][1†].

Personal Life

In 1900, William Strunk Jr. married Olivia Emilie Locke[1†]. Together, they had three children, one of whom was the noted musicologist Oliver Strunk[1†]. Strunk led a fulfilling personal life alongside his professional career, balancing his responsibilities as a father and husband with his duties as a professor and author[1†].

Strunk retired from Cornell in 1937[1†]. However, his later years were marked by hardship. In 1945, he suffered a mental breakdown, which was diagnosed as "senile psychosis"[1†]. He passed away less than a year later at the Hudson River Psychiatric Institute in Poughkeepsie, New York[1†].

Despite these challenges, Strunk’s legacy continues to live on through his children, his students, and the countless individuals who have benefited from his influential guide to English usage[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

William Strunk Jr.'s legacy is undeniably profound. His work, “The Elements of Style,” has become a highly influential guide to English usage during the late 20th century[1†]. This guide, commonly referred to as “Strunk & White,” after its revision and enlargement by his former student E. B. White, continues to be a staple in the field of English literature and composition[1†].

Strunk’s principles of writing, particularly his emphasis on cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English, have been widely adopted and praised[1†][5†]. His work has not only shaped the way English is taught and understood but also how it is used in practical, everyday contexts[1†][5†].

Despite his passing, Strunk’s legacy continues through his students and his “little book.” His recommendations on usage and composition remain relevant and are still being taught to students of English literature and language[1†][5†].

Strunk’s influence extends beyond academia. His work has found its way into various fields, including legal writing, where his principles are considered the gold standard[1†][5†]. His impact is a testament to his expertise and his unique approach to teaching English[1†][5†].

In conclusion, William Strunk Jr.'s contributions to English literature and language continue to resonate today. His legacy is a testament to the enduring relevance of his work and the principles he championed[1†][5†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - William Strunk Jr. [website] - link
  2. University of Cincinnati - UC Notable Alumnus: William Strunk, Jr., A&S 1890 [website] - link
  3. Goodreads - Author: Books by William Strunk Jr. (Author of The Elements of Style) [website] - link
  4. Wikipedia (English) - The Elements of Style [website] - link
  5. New York State Bar Association - Just a moment... [website] - link
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