Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Disappearance Of "For Ever": A Lament

There was a time (say, prior to the middle of the 19th century) when the word that we now write as "forever" was written "for ever."  Ah, how I long for those days!

Why? Perhaps it is because of my innate conservatism, my resistance to change.  Perhaps I am merely being eccentric.  But, please note that my objection to "forever" is not based upon etymology, lexicography, or proper or improper English usage.  No, my objection to "forever" is based solely upon aesthetics: I find "for ever" to be much more beautiful, elegant, and pleasing than "forever."  Call me a reactionary, but if "for ever" was acceptable to Samuel Johnson, it certainly ought to be acceptable to us.

I recently discovered that I am not the only one who has pondered the merits of "for ever" versus "forever."  (We are never as unique as we think we are.)  I came upon a poem by Charles Stuart Calverley (1831-1884), who was well-known in Victorian England for his humorous verse.  Here is the poem:


Forever; 'tis a single word!
   Our rude forefathers deemed it two:
Can you imagine so absurd
   A view!

Forever!  What abysms of woe
   The word reveals, what frenzy, what
Despair!  For ever (printed so)
   Did not.

It looks, ah me! how trite and tame!
   It fails to sadden or appal
Or solace - it is not the same
   At all.

O thou to whom it first occurred
   To solder the disjoined, and dower
Thy native language with a word
   Of power:

We bless thee!  Whether far or near
   Thy dwelling, whether dark or fair
Thy kingly brow, is neither here
   Nor there.

But in men's hearts shall be thy throne,
   While the great pulse of England beats.
Thou coiner of a word unknown
   To Keats!

And nevermore must printer do
   As men did long ago; but run
"For" into "ever," bidding two
   Be one.

Forever!  passion-fraught, it throws
   O'er the dim page a gloom, a glamour:
It's sweet, it's strange; and I suppose
   It's grammar.

Forever!  'Tis a single word!
   And yet our fathers deemed it two:
Nor am I confident they erred;
   Are you? 

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