I’ve written in previous columns about John H. Whale and his tutelage of me and the group I was part of in Autumn 1981 London. Here are a few more remarks about a man who knew the English language better than any writer I ever have known. He was in the same category as a writer as James Cameron, whom I would meet late in that semester.
I’ve already mentioned several things about John H. Whale’s tutelage of me, and about the group of us he directed in London. Mr. Whale was not an easy taskmaster. As chief proofreader for the Sunday Times, he could be very demanding. I heard him once use a tone of voice on the phone when commanding the man in charge of the printing stone, that scared the dickens out of me. It was like an angry ship’s captain, who had plenty of gunpowder to back him up.
John Whale knew the English language better than any writer I’ve ever known, which made him one of the best writers I’ve ever known. The absolute best writer I’ve known so far was James Cameron, who never graduated high school, but whose elegance and ability to pen telling words and sentences was matched among his contemporaries only by Sir Winston Churchill. I didn’t know about Mr. Cameron’s politics, always, but I couldn’t argue with his capacity for eloquence and often truth, too. And he covered the Korean War brilliantly, and other wars, as well.
John Whale’s knowledge of the English language helped make him a great writer; but it was his life experiences, too, that brought out the best in his knowledge of how the English language works and should be used He’d been trained iearly n the theatre, taught at the University of Minnesota and in Europe, and married a brilliant woman herself, Judy. His father was a brilliant nonconformist theologian. John Seldon Whale would live to be 100, writing some telling books of his own along the way, while his son would make ‘just’ 76. John H. Whale loved to swim and walk, and even after he had surgery for prostate cancer, he made his writing continue to sing due to the cross-country walks he took and commented on in print. Also, he continued to swim when he and Judy summered along the coast of Normandy.
A one sentence-paragraph in his Introduction to his ‘Put It in Writing’ (originally a series in the Sunday Times Magazine, which became a book) says a lot about his logic and his heart, which helped him make sense of language to everyday people, with everyday writing problems: ‘This series is meant to put heart into those people [whose touch is not certain with the written word], by reminding them that in their own speech, their own ear, their own sense of logic and their own reading they already command much of the equipment they need for effective writing.’
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