Monday, February 28, 2022

About William Strunk Jr. and His Other Books

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr's little book, is the little book that E. B. White made famous.  But that's not the only book of his.  Here are some of his other books.

Macaulay's and Carlyle's Essay on Samuel  Johnson edited by William Strunk, Jr. New York: Henry Holt, 1895.

Macaulay's and Carlyle's Essays on Samuel Johnson edited by William Strunk, Jr. New York: Henry Holt, 1896 (second revised edition).

Juliana edited by William Strunk, Jr. Boston: D. C. Heath 1904

The Importance of the Ghost in Hamlet by William Strunk, Jr. Reprinted from Studies in Language and Literature in Honor of James Morgan Hart. New York: Henry Holt, 1910.

Studies in Language and Literature in Celebration of the Seventieth Birthday of James Morgan Hart edited by Clark Sutherland Northup, Martin Wright Sampson, William Strunk Jr. and Frank Thilly, New York: Henry Holt, 1910.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, edited by William Strunk, Jr. Boston: Riverside Press, 1911.

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, edited for school sue by William Strunk, Jr. Yonkers-on-Hudson: World Book Company, 1913.

The Tragedy of Julius Cæsar by William Shakespeare, edited by Arthur D. Innes, American edition revised by William Strunk, Jr. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1915.

English Metres by William Strunk, Jr. Ithaca: Cornell Co-Operative Society, 1922.

Topics and Questions on Shakespeare by William Strunk Jr. Ithaca: Cornell Co-Operative Society, 1927/

Not listed but headed my way from Saucony Book Shop is a copy of All For Love and the Spanish Fryar by John Dryden edited by William  Strunk Jr. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1911.
Here are some tidbits and anecdotes about Strunk and some of his books.

As a Samuel Johnson collector myself,  I was delighted to discover that William Strunk's first book was Macaulay's and Carlyle's Essays on Samuel Johnson.   I thought so much of the book that I didn't even ask for a refund when the book arrived with the front and rear covers cracked due to poor packing by the eBay seller.

I was even more delighted after reading Strunk's comments in the very first  paragraph of his Introduction concerning the sources of Johnson and Boswell that are mentioned in the essays of Macaulay and Carlyle.

The first great authorities for the lives of the two are Boswell's Life of Johnson and Tour to the Hebrides.  Besides the great literary excellence of these works, their great veracity and accuracy are unquestioned.  The other sources for Johnson's biography, mentioned in the two essays, add little to what Boswell tells, and are of interest chiefly to annotators of the Life.  Mrs. Thrale gives some anecdotes not found elsewhere, it is true, but her book has no serious value; it is merely amusing.  Hawkins is proverbially dull, and has an air of giving information at second hand.  Tyers gives merely a rambling collection of gossip, told in commonplace fashion.  Murphy, a professional man of letters and a personal friend, wrote a life of Johnson as one of his literary commissions, just as he has previously written a life of Fielding; satisfactory performances in their day, but now obsolete.

The great Johnsonian collector, R. B. Adam, thought enough of the book to acquire a copy for his Johnsonian Collection.

Johnsonian collectors at large bought so many copies of the book that its publisher, Henry Holt, published a second edition a year later in 1896.

Another literary critic, Henry Walcott Boynton, thought so highly of Strunk's book that he provided the same notes in his 1896 book, Selections From Carlyle, that Strunk used in his book, often with the same exact words.  Strunk called Boynton out on this plagiarism in a March 1897 letter to the editors of Modern Language Notes (Jstor).  In the letter, Strunk mentioned that the Johnsonian, George Birkbeck Hill, informed him of a mistake in the title of a book by Richard Cumberland cited in one of Strunk's notes.  Strunk corrected the error in the second edition of Strunk's book.  And he chided Boynton for not consulting the second edition  before copying the note.

Strunk's Notes to the 1895 Edition

Strunk's Notes to the 1896 Edition

Boynton's Notes to His Book

Strunk was one of the editors of a festschrift of essays collected and published in honor of  James Morgan Hart 70th birthday in 1910.  Hart was a fellow professor at Cornell who was retiring.   Hart was a professor at the University of Cincinnati when Strunk was attending college there in the late 1880s.  He finished hs academic career as a professor at Cornell.

Strunk contributed his essay, "The Importance of the Ghost in Hamlet," for the book.  He gave a copy of the offprint to Frederick Tupper, an English Language professor at the University of Vermont.  This offprint, inscribed by Strunk himself, is now in my library.

Strunk edited two of Shakespeare's works, the Riverside Press edition of Romeo and Juliet in 1911, and D. C. Heath's Arden Shakespeare Series of Julius Cæsar in 1915.  In 1927, the Cornell Co-Operative Society published his pamphlet Topics and Questions on Shakespeare.  The Cornell Co-Operative Society previously published his pamphlet, English Metres, in 1922.

Strunk's biggest claim to fame during his lifetime was being chosen in 1935 as the literary adviser for the MGM movie production of Romeo and Juliet.    Irving Thalberg had been trying to get his studio to do a film production of Romeo and Juliet for years, and finally, in 1935, the studio gave him the go ahead to do the production. Thalberg wanted the most eminent Shakespeare authority in America to be the literary adviser for the film.  And the Folger Library recommended William Strunk Jr.  Thalberg wanted the film version of Romeo and Juliet to be as close to Shakespeare's version of the play as possible.  He told Strunk, "Your job is to protect Shakespeare from us."

Here is Strunk studiously at work taking notes to use in his role as literary adviser for the 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM)  production of Romeo and Juliet.  


I have two books about the movie: a souvenir program and the motion picture edition published by Random House in 1936.  Strunk wrote the Introduction for the Random House edition, explaining why a mivie production was the best avenue to present SStrunk's play.   The  photo of Stunk displayed above is illustrated on page 256 of the book.

The Grove Book of Hollywood, a book of Hollywood anecdotes edited by Christopher Silvester in 2007,  contains an anecdote concerning Strunk's salary as literary adviser for the film.  Strunk wanted a salary of $400, but Thalberg thought that was too much.  Samuel Marx was headed east on other MGM business, and Thalberg asked him to contact Strunk and see if he could negotiate Strunk's salary.  Strunk wanted the dean of Cornell to ask as his agent since part of Strunk's salary would go toward paying the salary of other professors who would teach his classes while Strunk was in Hollywood.  Marx offered two hundred dollars.  But the dean turned it down saying that many professors are paid four hundred dollars a month!  Marx was shocked because the studio paid salaries by the week; whereas the college paid salaries by the month.  He told the dean he'd have to think it over.  A little while later he notified the dean that Thalberg realized that Strunk would find it difficult to live in Hollywood on $400 a month, so he offered a salary of $600 a month!  Strunk and the dean were completely satisfied.  And soon after Strunk arrived in Hollywood, Thalberg raised Strunk's salary to $800 a month!

For more than the past ten years, I have been corresponding with Jim Myers, whose father, Henry Alonzo Myers, was a professor of English at Cornell, and one of William Strunk's long-time friends.  Jim mentions his father's friendship with Strunk, in an article in the June 1977 issue of The Cornell Alumni News that is titled "A University of the Mind."  His father, while still a graduate student, was the secretary of the Cornell Department of English.  The job consisted of two duties: listening to William Strunk, and writing letters to job applicants informing them that no jobs were available.

By far the best Strunkian anecdote that Jim Myers ever told me was when Strunk was turning his English class over to Myers before departing for Hollywood.  Strunk's desk was covered with books.  And as Strunk was hurrying out the door, Myers asked, "What should I do with the books?"  Strunk yelled back, "Keep them!" 

 Henry Alonzo Myers kept Strunk's books.  And now his son Jim Myers has them.  He also has letters that Strunk wrote to his father on Hollywood Hotel Stationary.  In the letters, Strunk writes about the actors and actresses he met  on the movie set.  

I asked to buy some of Strunk's books from Jim Myers, and even asked for copies of some of the letters. But he has other plans for what he will do with them.

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