FOWLER, Henry Watson (1858-1933)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 14 Paultons Square, Chelsea, London, SW3 5AP, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Grammarian and Lexicographer
Journalism and Publishing, Literature
HENRY WATSON FOWLER 1858-1933 Grammarian and Lexicographer lived here 1900-1903
Henry Watson Fowler produced one of the most celebrated reference works of the 20th century: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), often known simply as Fowler. With his brother he also compiled the first edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1911). He lived in London for four years at 14 Paultons Square, Chelsea, from 1900 until 1903.
Fowler moved to London in 1899 following 17 years as a teacher of English and Classics at Sedbergh in Cumbria (formerly Yorkshire). Moving into 14 Paultons Square in 1900, he worked as a freelance journalist and provided financial help to his landlady’s husband, a policeman who had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Fowler grew fond of London and bathed in the Serpentine every morning, summer or winter. He also jogged ‘at nine or ten miles an hour’ between Paultons Square and the Serpentine, occasionally supplementing his routine with exercise drills at the Inns of Court.
Fowler moved to Guernsey in 1903 to join his brother, Francis George Fowler. Living in separate granite cottages 50 yards apart, the brothers worked on three ambitious projects. First they translated the Greek works of Lucian of Samosata (1905), then they wrote The King’s English (1906) – the precursor of Modern English Usage – and finally they compiled The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1911).
Both brothers completed a year of service in France in 1915–6 and returned to England, but Francis died of tuberculosis in 1918.
MODERN ENGLISH USAGE
After his brother’s death, Fowler continued his projects alone. He stayed in Guernsey until 1925 when he moved to Hinton St George in Somerset. He completed the Pocket English Dictionary in 1924 and then embarked on a project he thought of as the ‘idiom dictionary’. It was published in 1926 as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Aimed at a domestic audience, it provided a style guide for the English language, encouraging the use of simple, direct sentences and opposing pedantic rules of grammar. It soon became the authoritative guide to the language, even though Fowler was regarded by academics as an amateur scholar rather than a specialist. The dictionary is still in print today.
Fowler died at his Somerset home on Boxing Day, 1933.