Barrett Wendell's retirement from active teaching will be regretted by many more than the students who have actually come under his instruction at Harvard. Few educators have made a greater impression as up-to-date thinkers. Professor Wendell's basic belief is that the English language is a living and growing organism. It is a belief perfunctorily subscribed to by all teachers of language and consistently lived up to by few.
Teachers of science must keep abreast of the enlargements of human knowledge if, indeed, they do not themselves contribute to these enlargements. There were wise and able teachers of chemistry fifty years ago, but the chemistry of today is a different science. Barrett Wendell has consistently endeavored to make his study and his instruction in English scientific and in full accord with his realization of the growth and change of the language. Usage makes good English. Professor Wendell found it one of his tasks to impress the fact that usage does not require the sanction of generations to become "good usage" and therefore good English. He never professed horror at such a venial offence as a split infinitive. He was, in brief, eminently a man of common sense.
As an instructor in English composition Barrett Wendell was probably the foremost of Americans. His textbook, which has generally supplanted the old rule of thumb volumes that made composition one of the dryest of studies, is itself an entertaining literary work. He has endeavored, with considerable success, to make writing a pleasure rather than a task.
Wendell's influence will live; for he has made the Harvard ideal of English synonymous with the Wendell ideal, and able men trained in the Wendell school of thinking will carry on the work which he has so successfully begun. Cleveland Plain Dealer