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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 235

u in mould, but left it in court. These slips were made the most of by Cobb in a furious pamphlet in excessively fine print, printed in 1831. 16 He also detected Webster in the frequent faux pas of using spellings in his definitions and explanations that conflicted with the spellings he advocated. Various other purists joined in the attack, and it was renewed with great fury after the appearance of Worcester’s dictionary, in 1846. Worcester, who had begun his lexicographical labors by editing Johnson’s dictionary, was a good deal more conservative than Webster, and so the partisans of conformity rallied around him, and for a while the controversy took on all the rancor of a personal quarrel. Even the editions of Webster printed after his death, though they gave way on many points, were violently arraigned. Gould, in 1867, belabored the editions of 1854 and 1866 17 and complained that “for the past twenty-five years the Websterian replies have uniformly been bitter in tone, and very free in the imputation of personal motives, or interested or improper motives, on the part of opposing critics.” At this time Webster himself had been dead for twenty-two years. Schele de Vere, during the same year, denounced the publishers of the Webster dictionaries for applying “immense capital and a large stock of energy and perseverance” to the propagation of his “new and arbitrarily imposed orthography.” 18

3. The Advance of American Spelling
  The logical superiority of American spelling is well exhibited by its persistent advance in the face of all this hostility at home and abroad. The English objection to our simplifications, as Brander Matthews once pointed out, is not wholly or even chiefly etymological; its roots lie, to borrow James Russell Lowell’s phrase, in an esthetic hatred burning “with as fierce a flame as ever did theological