Plotinus, Porphyry, Dobson, Chew, Willis

Plotinus, the philosopher of ancient Greece who gave us the six Enneads, had atrocious handwriting, did not properly separate individual words, and did not bother himself with the niceties of spelling. His student Porphyry, who edited, polished and arranged the Enneads for publication, had the thankless preliminary task of transcribing Plotinus’ shoddy and near-illegible scribbles. That was almost two thousand years ago, yet in many ways it describes perfectly the working relationship that obtained between Dobson and Marigold Chew. The out of print pamphleteer had an abysmal scrawl, possibly because of the unusual way he clutched his pencil, like a monkey with a pin-cushion. It may be difficult to make sense of that simile, but go and lie down in a darkened room and screw your eyes tightly shut and everything will become clear. For salvaging any clarity at all from Dobson’s notebooks, we have Marigold Chew to thank. Without her, not one of those majestic pamphlets would ever have been tucked lovingly on to the shelves of a motorway service station or airport bookstall.

Among much that they had in common, Porphyry and Marigold Chew were excellent proofreaders, capable of spotting the tiniest error and correcting it. This is not a job you would give to the American cinema player Bruce Willis. Mr Willis is apparently a keen contributor to blogs and chatrooms, and when other readers pointed out his many infelicities of grammar and spelling, he issued the immortal retort “proofreading is for pussies”. He will not be considered for a work experience placement at Hooting Yard.

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