SOME DAY a doctorate will justly be awarded to a scholar brave enough to write a history of the theory and practice of British and American punctuation, from the time when there certainly was none until the time when there will perhaps be none.
I have aimed at something much less ambitious. Eschewing all but the most recent history-except, here and there, for the sake of an example-I deal only with the theory and especially the practice of punctuation as we know it today and knew it yesterday; and with such allies or accessories as capitals, italics, quotation marks, hyphens, paragraphs.
Acquainted with 'the literature of the subject', I recognize the merits, both of such books as that of T.F. and M.F.A. Husband, that of Mr G.V. Carey and that of Mr Reginald Skelton, and of the chapters or entries in such works as the Fowler brothers' The King's English, H.W. Fowler's Modern English Usage and G.H. Vallins's Good English. This recognition and that knowledge strongly confirm me in a determination (publicly stated in the article on punctuation in Usage and Abusage, 1942 in U.S.A., 1947 in Britain) to write a comprehensive guide to punctuation and its concomitants. Such a guide is very badly needed, especially in what I have called 'orchestration': and orchestration forms the subject of the quite painfully practical Book III.
Except for those persons who already know something useful about punctuation, all the works I have examined (nor are they few) exhibit at least one very grave fault. Whether they start with the full stop, as logically they should, or, as most of them do, despite the inescapable presence of a full stop, with the comma, they adduce examples containing either one or more stops of which the learner presumably knows nothing at this stage. There is only one logical, only one sensible, only one practical, only one easy way in which a beginner can learn punctuation: and that is, progressively. The examples in the opening chapter, The Full Stop, will contain only the full stop. The ensuing chapter, The Comma, has examples in which only full stops and commas are used. If the next chapter is The Semicolon, the examples will or may contain also the full stop and the comma. The next would then be The Colon, and here the examples can exhibit all the four main stops: full stop, comma, semi