Mark Twain, from his recently-published Autobiography:
As I have said before, I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters, and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.
He leads up to this conclusion with a curious theory of orthographico-genetic determinism, illustrated from personal experience:
The ability to spell is a natural gift. The person not born with it can never become perfect in it. I was always able to spell correctly. My wife, and her sister, Mrs. Crane, were always bad spellers. Once when Clara was a little chap, her mother was away from home for a few days, and Clara wrote her a small letter every day. When her mother returned, she praised Clara's letters. Then she said, "But in one of them, Clara, you spelled a word wrong."
Clara said, with quite unconscious brutality, "Why mamma, how did you know?"
More than a quarter of a century has elapsed, and Mrs. Crane is under our roof here in New York, for a few days. Her head is white now, but she is as pretty and winning and sweet as she was in those ancient times at her Quarry Farm, where she was an idol and the rest of us were the worshippers. Her gift of imperfect orthography remains unimpaired. She writes a great many letters. This was always a passion of hers. She was never able to live happily unless she could see that incomparable orthography flowing from her pen. Yesterday she asked me how to spell New Jersey, and I knew by her look, after she got the information, that she was regretting she hadn't asked somebody years ago. The miracles which she and her sister, Mrs. Clemens, were able to perform without help of dictionary or spelling book, are incredible. During the year of my engagement — 1869 — while I was out on the lecture platform, the daily letter that came for me generally brought me news from the front — by which expression I refer to the internecine war that was always going on in a friendly way between these two orthographists about the spelling of words. One of these words was scissors. They never seemed to consult a dictionary; they always wanted something or somebody that was more reliable. Between them, they had spelled scissors in seven different ways, a feat which I am certain no person now living, educated or uneducated, can match. I have forgotten how I was required to say which of the seven ways was the right one. I couldn't do it. If there had been fourteen ways, none of them would have been right. I remember only one of the instances offered — the other six have passed from my memory. That one was "sicisiors." That way of spelling it looked so reasonable — so plausible, to the discoverer of it, that I was hardly believed when I decided against it.
He reproduces a passage from his daughter Susy's description of him, and comments:
The spelling is frequently desperate, but it was Susy's, and it shall stand. I love it, and cannot profane it. To me, it is gold. To correct it would alloy it, not refine it. It would spoil it. It would take from it its freedom and flexibility and make it stiff and formal. Even when it is most extravagant I am not shocked. It is Susy's spelling and she was doing the best she could — and nothing could better it for me.
He goes on to explain that
[A]lthough good spelling was my one accomplishment I was never able to greatly respect it. When I was a schoolboy, sixty years ago, we had two prizes in our school. One was for good spelling, the other for amiability. These things were thin, smooth, silver disks, about the size of a dollar. Upon the one was engraved in flowing Italian script the words "Good Spelling," on the other was engraved the word "Amiability." The holders of these prizes hung them about the neck with a string — and those holders were the envy of the whole school. There wasn't a pupil that wouldn't have given a leg for the privilege of wearing one of them a week, but no pupil ever got a chance except John Robards and me. John Robards was eternally and indestructibly amiable. I may even say devilishly amiable; fiendishly amiable; exasperatingly amiable. That was the sort of feeling that we had about that quality of his. So he always wore the amiability medal. I always wore the other medal. That word "always" is a trifle too strong. We lost the medals several times. It was because they became so monotonous. We needed a change — therefore several times we traded medals. It was a satisfaction to John Robards to seem to be a good speller, which he wasn't. And it was a satisfaction to me to seem to be amiable, for a change. But of course these changes could not long endure — for some schoolmate or other would presently notice what had been happening, and that schoolmate would not have been human if he had lost any time in reporting this treason. The teacher took the medals away from us at once, or course — and we always had them back again before Friday night. If we lost the medals Monday morning, John's amiability was at the top of the list Friday afternoon when the teacher came to square up the week's account. The Friday afternoon session always closed with "spelling down." Being in disgrace, I necessarily started at the foot of my division of spellers, but I always slaughtered both divisions and stood alone with the medal around my neck when the campaign was finished. I did miss on a word once, just at the end of one of these conflicts, and so lost the medal. I left the first r out of February — but that was to accommodate a sweetheart. My passion was so strong just at that time that I would have left out the whole alphabet if the word had contained it.
Unfortunately, we're left to imagine for ourselves how mis-spelling February might have helped him with his sweetheart. But running through all of this, there's a suggestion that he found female spelling errors somehow attractive — or at least that it made a good story for him to make it seem that way. As he says elsewhere in the book, writing about his 70th birthday celebration,
In the speech which I made were concealed many facts. I expected everybody to discount those facts 95 per cent and that is probably what happened. That does not trouble me, I am used to having my statements discounted. My mother had begun it before I was seven years old. Yet all through my life my facts have had a substratum of truth, and therefore they were not without preciousness. Any person who is familiar with me knows how to strike my average, and therefore knows how to get at the jewel of any fact of mine and dig it out of its blue-clay matrix. My mother knew that art. When I was seven or eight, or ten, or twelve years old — along there — a neighbor said to her, "Do you ever believe anything that that boy says?" My mother said "He is the wellspring of truth, but you can't bring up the whole well with one bucket" — and she added, "I know his average, therefore he never deceives me. I discount him 30 per cent for embroidery, and what is left is perfect and priceless truth, without a flaw in it anywhere."