W.J. Ennever will best be remembered with the same credit he always gave
himself, as the man who founded the Pelman Institute. The
Institute's flagship was Pelmanism, Ennever's own peculiar system of
mind training and philosophy. He brought this new creation to the
world and found that the world wanted it, if only for a little while.
His life and profession, however, grew out of a strange turning
point in human history.
Around the time of the Renaissance, early scientists began to
uncover the way the world worked. History books document the
discovery of a scientific principle, and then leave the topic. It is
as if from that point on mankind knew and understood that idea. That
is only half the story.
their discovery in the lofty upper plains of scientific knowledge and
their common understanding amongst all people, these scientific
concepts seemed like magical things to a public that did not fully
understand them. There can be no better demonstration than the
material set forth by tricksters and con-artists to part an
awe-stricken public from their money. In her book English
Eccentrics, Edith Sitwell
documents some of these characters in the chapter "Quacks and
Alchemists", people "who would cure the ills of the
Sitwell notes the claims of Dr. Graham, who was indefatiguable in
singing the praises of his "Electrical Aether, Nervous Aetherial
Balsam, Imperial Pills, Liquid Amber, and his Restorative Balsam".
Graham pitched his pseudo-science in the light of new discoveries in
medicine, thus dazzling his audience and parting them from their
money. This is by no means a phenomenon peculiar to the 18th
century. Even in modern times after the discovery of radioactivity,
advertising began to infiltrate a public that poorly understood it.
Products came on the market like the "radium water" that
was sold as a health tonic in the early 20th century despite the
now-understood dangers of radioactivity.
The fact that the public bought
into these scams reflects the great optimism of the age. Mankind
could accomplish anything with the aid of science, and civilisation
was tirelessly pushing forward to a better future. But paradoxically
it was thanks to these tinkerers and con-men that science did move
forward. It is because of their absurd claims that we discovered the
harmful effects of radioactivity. By testing their claims, people
discovered what worked and what didn't.
As scientific concepts became
better understood, much of the colour fell from the advertising of
the con-men. Modern miracles such as "unique water"
supposedly contain minerals and salts - a poor match for the "Nervous
Aetherial Balsam" of Dr. Graham or the wonders of a radioactive
tonic. W.J. Ennever came at the crossing point between two eras, the
lifetime during which the over-optimistic hope for nervous balsams
faded and a more stone-cold empirical realism began to grow. But
even then tinkerers could explore the boundaries between science and
fantasy. The mind was only just becoming worthy of study, and even
today it is poorly understood. This left a gap for those interested
in the study and training of the mind, a gap that W.J. Ennever, among
others, stepped in to fill.
It was the golden age of the
correspondence course, when knowledge became available through the
mail. Ennever invented a system of memory training called
"Pelmanism" that was taught through one of the early
correspondence courses. The mind was a new and exciting front and,
as with Dr. Graham's balsams, the public were eager to take part.
Although the advertising for Pelmanism inevitably grew from the
advertising for false scientific wonders, Ennever's work was a more
practical kind of approach. Instead of miracle pills, his course was
founded on the well-known principles of practise and study.
Ennever's family was an old one
that had lived in England for centuries. Their names are
well-documented in historical records, but little has been written
about the people themselves. Despite their large footprint in the
media and in history, the Ennevers have been forgotten by a culture
eager to move on. W.J. Ennever lived at the top of society; he
spread his correspondence course all around the globe to thousands of
pupils; he published a best-selling book; and he was even offered a
knighthood. Yet we have left Ennever behind. It was a great
surprise to learn that there are virtually no secondary sources
concerning his life. The Pelman Institutes around the world have
long ago abandoned the original Pelmanism course. Ennever's book is
now a quaint 1940s relic available on eBay. Pelmanism has been
inherited by the internet traders, modern-day Dr. Grahams who peddle
Ennever's work as a long-forgotten secret. In this respect they are
not entirely wrong.
Although little has been written
about Ennever, there are a number of primary sources. There is his
own book, Your Mind and How to Use It. This is slim on
biographical detail, but it does provide more than enough of
Ennever's own views of the world. The Ennever clan's large
historical footprint has also helped preserve their story, leaving a
trail of newspaper articles, census records, and records of births,
deaths and marriages. Most of all, however, the author is indebted
to the grandchildren of W.J. Ennever, who were generous enough to
share their memories of him and to help fill in a few of the holes in
our knowledge of Ennever's life.
Teresa Ann Sherrott, 1880.
William Joseph Ennever was born
on 26 March 1869 to parents William Joseph Ennever and Teresa Ann Sherrott. Teresa
was described as "dignified",
but little else is known about Ennever's parents or extended family.
William and Teresa did not stop at one or two children, eventually
producing a family of eleven children.
The family had a strong Roman Catholic upbringing, which affected
the daughters most of all, with Ennever's sisters Catherine,
Agnes, Philomena and Teresa being educated in a Roman Catholic
W.J. Ennever was not a practising Catholic later in life, and was
himself educated in "private schools".
W.J. Ennever senior, 1880.
Ennever's family was based in
London, and London would always be the home of Ennever himself no
matter how much of a seasoned traveller he became. The family trade
had been in pianos at least since Ennever's grandfather's time. The
first mention of pianos in the family is Ennever's grandfather
William Joseph Ennever in 1838, when he is listed as a pianoforte
maker. There is then a mention of the piano makers Ennever &
Steedman registered in London in 1850, and W.J. Ennever & Son
appeared around the same time.
W.J. Ennever & Son was a major piano business, and their pianos
can occasionally be found on the market today. Whenever she saw a
piano, Ennever's daughter Kathleen would lift the lid to check
whether it was a W.J. Ennever & Son.
The family trade was then passed on to sons William Joseph and
George Vincent. Ennever's father had high hopes that he too would
take on the family business, and there must have been enormous
pressure to follow his father's and grandfather's career and to keep
a W.J. Ennever in the company. It is a mark of Ennever's great will
and independence that he refused: "Filled with a desire to see
the world, he... ran away to sea instead of succeeding, as he might
have done, to the centuries old manufacturing business of his father
The fact that Ennever ran away
indicates a tendency of his. When the pressures became too much and
his responsibilities weighed down on him, Ennever's reaction was to
escape into travel. He would be faced with another such moment later
in life. This time, however, Ennever spent the three years from 1887
to 1890 at sea, encountering "many countries... and all sorts and
conditions of men".
It is unknown exactly what Ennever found overseas, but it must have
been a formative experience for the 18-year-old, and one in which he
determined that he would become a writer.
W.J. Ennever as a youth.
Upon his return to England, he
began working. He first worked as a secretary, and then as an
under the famous magazine publisher Thomas Gibson Bowles, founder of
Vanity Fair and The Lady. At the time, the world of
correspondence courses was in its infancy, and taught a wide variety
of subjects such as creative writing and memory training. Ennever's
introduction to this world came from Professor Loisette, a well-known
memory training specialist of the time. Loisette's book Assimilative
Memory or How to Attend and Never Forget is still in print, and
at one time he numbered Mark Twain among his pupils. Loisette
summoned Ennever to manage a memory training course he had set up.
His experience with Professor
Loisette paved the way for Ennever to set up his own course, the
event which would make his name and determine the rest of his life.
The correspondence school he set up would be called the Pelman
Institute, and would teach a system of memory training known as
"Pelmanism". The course taught a curious mix of philosophy
and memory exercises which would probably not meet success in the
modern world. Today's "self-help" books peddle easy
answers and over-optimistic praise of the reader's abilities.
Pelmanism, on the other hand, while being optimistic and encouraging
the readers to better themselves, does not indulge in pointless
flattery. Instead it mixes empirical observation on the workings of
the mind with Ennever's own philosophy of life to form the basis of a
mind training system with an overall emphasis on practice. The
course itself makes no mistake that it requires effort, and this is
an important difference from modern steps-to-success programmes:
"For success in our Course, there is one other qualification
even more important than confidence, and that is WORK; work in
the sense of effort. Continued effort is the price we have to
pay for progress".
The most well-known feature of
Pelmanism is the card game, which today is called "memory"
or "patience". In this game, the player must match pairs
of cards by turning them face-up two at a time. If he fails to find
a match, the cards must be turned down again and their location
remembered. With many such simple but effective exercises, Ennever
brought the word "Pelmanism" into the English language and
made his own name. A short biographical entry for him can be found
in Who's Who, and there are entries for "Pelmanism"
in dictionaries of a certain age.
Sources are vague on the
foundation of the Institute. Sources date the foundation anywhere
from 1896 to 1899. W.J. Ennever takes the credit for the foundation
of the Pelman Institute in 1898,
but there are contradictory sources that state that the Institute was
founded by Christopher Louis Pelman, a British psychologist, in
To confuse matters further Ennever himself was sometimes known as
"Mr. Pelman" thanks to his involvement at the Institute.
John Tribe, one of Ennever's grandsons, mentions the real Pelman
briefly as a partner in the early days of the course who died before
it was completed,
and Ennever hints at this, although never mentioning Pelman by name:
"I realised, however, that the training of the mind was a
practical possibility; and, in conjunction with some of the ablest
psychologists of the time, I brought out the first modest system of
mind and memory training".
It thus appears that over the years 1898-1899, Ennever worked with
Pelman and others to realise Ennever's dream of a mind training
system. Unfortunately there are no reliable sources on Christopher
Louis Pelman himself, and his fate remains unknown.
Ennever's business was not known
as the Pelman Institute from its inception, since it started as a
much smaller venture. Success came slowly, but eventually the public
began to flock to Ennever's correspondence course. In 1905 the
business was taken over by a limited company called Pelman Schools
and then was merged with the Pelman Institute in 1920.
Ennever would stay in the correspondence course business, later
taking over from journalist and politician T.P. O'Connor as the head
of the London Correspondence College.
Pelmanism began to enter the
British consciousness, and the "little grey books" in which
the course was taught soon became iconic. The advertising from this
time clearly shows that Pelmanism was grounded in the quackery that
had come before it. One advertisement bears the prominent title
"Brain Magic", and touts the many benefits and customer
endorsements for the Institute's little grey books: "'A single
one of them would be cheap to me at a hundred pounds,' declares a
solicitor. 'As a direct consequence of them I gained a step in
promotion,' writes a Lieut.-Colonel".
The correspondence course gained success all around the world, from
Africa to the USA. Over the years its students numbered in the
hundreds of thousands, with Ennever once being named "A man with
Among these followers were T.P. O'Connor, a prominent figure in
British journalism and politics; Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of
the Scouting Movement; and countless British writers, politicians and
military men of the time.
W.J. Ennever, Margaret Lawson and Unknown in Germany, 1900.
In 1895, Ennever married Mary
Margaret Oldacres Lawson, and on 27 September 1904 Margaret gave
birth to their daughter Kathleen. The news must have been at once
joyous and depressing to Ennever. Although a child is a great source
of pride, the huge responsibility and commitment would have made
Ennever start to feel old beyond his years. He was a man who
disliked the thought of growing old so much that he insisted his
grandchildren call him "Uncle Billy",
and the sudden arrival of a daughter would have made him feel the
years encroaching. Only a few weeks after Kathleen's birth, on 8
November Margaret died of a
This left Ennever with a child to raise, a business, and the
grief of losing his wife of nearly ten years. Add to this the
perceived approach of old age, and it is not hard to understand
Ennever's feeling of claustrophobia and mild panic. In 1905 Ennever
once again fled his responsibilities in England. Shortly before it
became Pelman Schools, Ennever sold his business for £100,000
and left Kathleen in the care of aunts and boarding schools. Just as
when he was pressured to go into the family business, Ennever escaped
into travel. This time he sailed for America to market Pelmanism
across the Atlantic. Because of his travels on Pelman business, he
did not get to know his daughter while she grew up, and it was only
much later in life that the two would discover each other.
Margaret Lawson in Africa, 1903.
Ennever was a handsome man, and
is described as such by even his daughter and grandchildren. In his
photographs he is often seen with a stern expression on his face,
although if his daughter's dry humour is any indication then he must
also have had a keen sense of humour. He managed to keep his hair
all his life, although it was already a striking white when Kathleen
was a child. Kathleen said that when she was young and was asked
what she wanted to do when she grew up, she answered "push daddy
around in a wheel chair".
Ennever was rarely seen without a monocle, and in photographs it can
usually be seen dangling from Ennever's waistcoat.
"My Father was what they
called a ladies man," writes Kathleen, "he liked them, and
they liked him".
While seeing the world on Pelman business, Ennever began to travel
with lady companions. This may have been in response to the grief of
losing of his wife and his desire to flee the responsibilities of
age. When he returned to England, he married Emmy Elvira Christina
Sjöberg in 1906.
Sjöberg, like Ennever, had
lost a previous partner and the marriage was the second for both of
them. The marriage, however, was short-lived thanks to
Ennever's fondness for companionship. The two divorced four years
later in 1910 "on grounds of desertion and adultery".
W.J. Ennever with "wife" June Elvidge, 1939.
For the rest of his life,
Ennever would go out with many women, few of whom seemed permanent.
Kathleen Ennever recalled that she and a boy went to see Madame
Butterfly, but she suddenly felt overcome and returned to her
hotel room early. But "when we got there my father was busily
entertaining a lady friend, so we were not very popular".
In 1923, when Kathleen sailed to New York for a trip with her
father, they were accompanied by a woman whom Kathleen assumed was
her own companion, but whom she discovered was actually her
In February 1930 Ennever sailed to the USA alone, but in April the
same year we find him travelling with a June or Jane Ennever who is
recorded as being his wife.
Ann Tribe, one of Ennever's
grandchildren, recalled receiving a book in 1940 as a gift from Vera
Thomson, another of her grandfather's companions.
Thomson had been married to a man whose ancestor was James Thomson,
the poet who had written the words to "Rule, Britannia". A
newspaper snapped Ennever together with another partner, June
Elvidge, who the journalist described as Ennever's wife.
Ennever's work with Pelmanism had made him rich, and the fact that
Elvidge was a famous star of silent movies demonstrates the circles
in which he moved.
Ennever family photo, 1898. Back row, second from left is W.J. Ennever with
wife Margaret Lawson in front of him. Tentative identification of two girls at far left as
sisters Catherine and Philomena; woman in centre as mother Teresa Ann Sherrott; and elderly
woman on right as aunt Catherine. The remaining men are presumed to include brothers Joseph, George and John.
Many of Ennever's brothers and sisters lived only short lives, with very
few surviving to old age. Teresa, the first child of the family,
died when she was only nine,
while Mary died before she turned 15. John was a private in the
First World War, and was taken ill whilst on parade in 1915. He was
operated on for appendicitis but continued to get worse. When the
doctor operated for a second time, he discovered two feet of
John died a few hours later at age 38. George, a salesman, died one
year after at 44. Joseph, an accountant and railway clerk, married
late and died in 1934 at age 63. Augustus, a commercial clerk, got
married and had three children, but his wife deserted him and took
his three children to Canada.
One of Ennever's brothers also helped him in his business, acting as
a salesman for Pelmanism in Africa. More than one brother was a
salesman, however, and the details are not known.
Kathleen Ennever was not fond of
her aunt Agnes, who she writes "used to pull my hair" and
"used to hit my hands with the hair brush when I put them on my
head when she pulled".
Agnes never married. Catherine (Kitty) and Philomena (Mena), like
Agnes, used to shout at Kathleen and tell her off, despite which
Kitty and Mena were the only aunts she really loved. She writes that
"Kitty I loved, Agnes I did not and Mena... is the only one who
looked after me when I was four years old and whom I loved very much,
maybe more than any one else in my childhood as she was the one who
really seemed to care for me and share her home and children with
me". Both Ennever's sisters Catherine and Teresa
had a rare longevity, with Teresa dying at 83 and Catherine at 87.
Neither had ever married. They had both assisted the nuns at the
Faithful Companions of Jesus convent, and in their old age the
sisters took care of them in return.
The nuns respected them was so much that Catherine and Teresa were
buried in the same grave as one of the old heads of the order, Mother
the Pelman Institute was the subject of many ups and downs in the
business world. Ennever had disposed of his shares in his business
shortly before it became Pelman Schools in 1905, but he must have
returned to the company by 1915. In his brother John's death report
from 1915, W.J. Ennever is listed as a company director,
presumably of Pelman Schools. He later wrote that "In 1916 I
received an offer of £200,000
for my interests. The offer was made on behalf of a well-known man,
but refused, as I considered it was my duty to stay by the students
who had enrolled for the Course under my supervision".
Since he had sold his shares earlier, this indicates a return to the
company in the interval. When Pelman Schools was finally merged with
the Pelman Institute in March 1920, Ennever was listed the
chairman. At the end of 1920, however, B.J. Redman purchased £20,000
of the directors' shares. Ennever, along with two others, resigned,
with Ennever later stating that "on medical advice, I
reluctantly retired from the direction of the Institute".
Shortly after Redman's takeover, the Pelman Institute started
to flounder, and in 1921 the company went into receivership. Ennever
resumed control of the Institute late in 1921 because "he wished
to safeguard the interests of tens of thousands of students of
Pelmanism all over the world, who wished to complete their courses of
March 1922 found the Institute in trouble again when it was to be
liquidated under a "compulsory winding-up order".
It is uncertain what happened, but the business survived in one form
or another for several decades longer.
Ennever's continual returns to
the company and personal responsibility for it show a far from
superficial commitment to his course and the welfare of his students.
In all his articles, Ennever always emphasised the importance of his
students. He even went so far as to say that he was not the true
author of Pelmanism, but that Pelmanism was the "tabloid form"
of all the best psychology and the result of years of feedback and
fine-tuning. He also remarks that he spared no personal expense to
keep the correspondence course up to date: "I have never avoided
changing the whole edition because of the thousands of pounds it
And Ennever did not take on these responsibilities just once or
twice, but continually returned to the Institute whenever he saw it
in jeopardy. Here was a man who was wholly dedicated to the work he
was doing and to the students who benefitted from it.
Kathleen Ennever, 1928.
With all his travel and business
Ennever rarely saw his daughter, despite which Kathleen Ennever was
well looked-after. Kathleen would later say that she had been "born
with a silver spoon in my mouth, which I quickly opened and
She was "farmed out" to her aunt Lucy and then to her aunt
Philomena, then was sent to boarding school. During the holidays she
lived with her god-mother, but at school she invented a rich fantasy
life involving the mother she never knew. Kathleen wrote that she
would lie to the other children and tell tales of her wonderful
mother and their adventures during the holidays.
She was shunted around to more
schools and carers, eventually coming to a governess in France. Here
she learned French but soon fell ill and was subjected to the
ministrations of a doctor who bled her with leeches. She wrote to
her father to tell him she was so miserable and hungry that she had
to sneak down to the beach and eat the raw limpets she found. W.J.
Ennever did not believe her, but after he heard about the leeches he
sent one of his brothers, probably Augustus, to check on her. He
took one look at her and took her home with him that night. Ennever
thought Kathleen was now ready for society, but after her failed
attendance of Madame Butterfly he sent her to finishing school
W.J. Ennever indulging in yachting, one of his favourite pastimes.
In 1911 Ennever purchased his
first car, an early model Rover, and took Kathleen for a drive.
Kathleen recalled that her godmother said "Don't go fast and
frighten the child", despite which Ennever reached about 25 mp/h
and Kathleen started to scream. As well as a car, Ennever also owned
a yacht named the Lady Belle with a crew of four. Ennever once told
Kathleen to fetch the cabin boy for a drink, but, unable to find him,
Kathleen surprised her father by dressing up as the cabin boy.
Yachts were expensive enough, let alone cars during the early years
of their development. The Ennevers' adventures with them are the
antics of a high class family. Their standing was such that Kathleen
once danced with the Prince of Wales,
although she didn't think much of his dancing. It is said that after
Ennever sold the yacht, it was used to evacuate Allied soldiers from
Dunkirk during the Second World War.
In 1923 when Kathleen finished
school in Geneva, she sailed to New York to join her father and was
taken on "the Grand Tour" trip around the world for two years.
Even without the world tour, Ennever's travels would have been
remarkable. Even before Ennever fled his father's piano business, he
had travelled to New York in 1884. Then came his three-year escape
and, although we do not know where he went, three years would
certainly have shown him the world. He then travelled to New York
dozens of times from 1902 onward,
presumably using it as a launching-pad for Pelmanism in America.
This marked the beginning of Ennever's travels to market Pelmanism
around the world. In 1905 he returned to New York, this time in
response to the death of his wife. He set sail with his second wife
Elvira in 1907, taking in South Africa and Australia, among other
countries. Among his many trips, the records show that Ennever
returned to New York in 1919 with his then ex-wife Elvira. Why they
travelled to New York together nearly ten years after their divorce
remains a mystery. It is possible that they made a final attempt to
reconcile, because they each listed their status as married despite
neither being married at the time. Listing themselves as married
would have kept up appearances if they were together again.
Ennever spent little time with
his daughter while she grew up. As a father he seems distant and
cold, and Kathleen estimated that she had only known him for six
months in total until she was 18. This was what Kathleen called "a
She writes that at Christmas in 1922 she was in San Francisco with
her father when he went out and told her not to leave her hotel room.
The hotel manager "told me he was sure my Father would want me
to have a Christmas dinner", and so took her to the dining room.
Her 21st birthday was a similarly "disappointing day".
Kathleen writes that "I was with my Father and we were going to
play golf and my father said I was not to tell any one it was my
birthday, for he did not wish them to feel they had to give me a
gift, so I just sat there all lunch feeling unhappy".
W.J. Ennever with a bridesmaid at a wedding.
As well as being a distant
father, Ennever did not separate himself from his Pelmanist persona.
Kathleen was never allowed to use a bookmark. Instead, her father
insisted she memorise the page number. He was so methodical he even
taught Kathleen that when she bought a new dress she should throw one
away, a new pair of shoes, an old one away, etc. Kathleen later said
that when she couldn't sleep, her father told her to start relaxing
from the toes up. This exercise sounds remarkably similar to the
muscle and breathing exercises propounded in the little grey books.
Although Ennever was a largely
absent father, it could never be said that he did not care. On that
same day he took Kathleen golfing on her 21st birthday, he gave her
an emerald and diamond ring. He also took a great interest in
Kathleen's activities to make sure she was safe. Kathleen was a keen
dancer, and used to dance with her boyfriend every night at the
Palais in London, an activity that "wasn't done in those days".
She and her boyfriend made the semi-finals in a competition, but
Kathleen was too afraid of being found out to enter it. When she
returned home, Ennever asked about the finals and would only say that
"there isn't much I don't know. I have you very carefully
watched". Kathleen's boyfriend, however, was not the one for
her, and she later married Arthur Tribe in 1928. After the wedding
Ennever revealed that he knew a policeman whom he had asked to tail
Kathleen in his off-duty hours. He could thus keep a watch over his
daughter without interfering with her freedom.
A kind of childlike enjoyment coexisted with W.J. Ennever's harshness. Kathleen told a story about
when she was young. She kept her biggest Easter egg specially to show her father, but she went for her afternoon walk and when she
came back her father had eaten the whole egg.
He also spent his money with an eye to pleasure. Apart from a yacht and an early car, he owned numerous properties which included a golf
course. He was offered a knighthood, but refused it on the basis that "He felt he was the same Person without it, it would not
make any difference to The Person he was".
Your Mind and How to Use It(1962).
Ennevers had an idyllic and carefree existence until the Second World
War. The Depression must have been eating into Ennever's savings,
because by the late 1930s he had started to lose his fortune. His
very last journey to New York, among the dozens of others he had
made, came in late 1937. The cost of sea travel must have been
formidable, and it is likely he could not afford to return. Kathleen
Ennever writes that "by 1938 my father was no longer so rich and
the allowance he had given me since I was 18 was reduced".
In 1938 Ennever published his book, Your Mind and How to
Use It. In it, he cites his
desire to produce a more affordable and compact version of his
correspondence course, but perhaps his dwindling cash was an ulterior
1940 found Kathleen sailing for
Singapore with her children, the youngest of whom was only two. Her
husband Arthur was in the Royal Naval Reserve and had been called out
to Singapore, where he invited Kathleen to join him. Kathleen
intended to sail for Singapore via Canada where she had relatives,
but Arthur was suddenly transferred back to England. Kathleen
attempted to return to England from Canada, but by that time London
was being evacuated and she and her children were not allowed to
Kathleen was now stuck and had to raise her children on her own.
Kathleen's father could no
longer help her, as Ennever had lost his remaining money. It is
possible he had his money invested and then lost it all with the
onset of the War. In late 1940 Ennever went bankrupt, and in 1941 he
filed for bankruptcy with liabilities of £16,092 and assets
amounting to a mere £106. He attributed his insolvency to "the
supplemental demands for income-tax and other causes".
Kathleen had always received an
allowance from her father, but by 1942 the payments stopped coming.
Only now did Kathleen realise how well-off she had been before. Yet
her father's generosity in the past saved her now. On her 21st
birthday Kathleen had wanted a car, but her father instead gave her a
ring, telling her that the car would keep costing money but the ring
could be sold if she ever needed the money. Now the ring became a
"god send", and Kathleen sold it to help her while stuck in
The Pelman Institute continued
to operate after Ennever's bankruptcy, but Ennever was no longer
associated with it. Although there is no source that elaborates on
Ennever's position, as a bankrupt he would no longer have been able
to sit on the board, let alone direct the company itself. The
Institute continued to operate throughout the 1940s and advertised
regularly in Argosy, a short story magazine. The company
demonstrated a great deal of business acumen not only by pitching
advertisements to soldiers, but by selling Pelmanism to the public in
the light of the war. For example, one ad offers this gem of wartime
rhetoric: "Time and energy to spend in service that will add to
Britain's striking power!".
According to the campaign, Pelmanism would equip men and women on
the "home front" with efficient and powerful minds, thus
concentrating the mental energy to be used in His Majesty's service.
For a company trying to sell a non-essential product in the midst of
wartime rationing, it was a very clever angle to take.
The fact that none of these
advertisements mention Ennever, the founder of the Institute, is a
sure sign that he was no longer involved. Previous campaigns had
always contained personal messages and endorsements from Ennever, but
his name is notably lacking from the Institute's advertising from the
1940s onwards. The Pelman Institute continued to advertise in Argosy
until 1961, but its fate after this time is not known. By the late
1950s the advertisements had become smaller and were located towards
the back of the magazine rather than the inside front cover,
indicating a decline in fortunes.
If the Institute had a sharp
wartime sense of business, then it had been inherited from its
founder. None made better use of his circumstances than W.J. Ennever
himself. During the First World War Ennever created a Pelmanism
correspondance course specially designed for soldiers,
and the newspaper articles on Pelmanism at the time strongly
emphasised the need for Pelmanism to win the war: "The effective
building up of our National fortifications will depend wholly upon
the amount of efficient brain power which the nation can call into
action. And mental efficiency like physical efficiency can only be
obtained by a sane and scientific course of mental training. That is
the royal road. There is no other way. That is why I look upon the
brass plate at No. 4, Bloomsbury street [the Pelman Institute] as a
brass plate on the open doorway of the Empire".
With this kind of rhetoric in his favour, Ennever could hardly fail.
He repeated his tactics when the next war rolled around. When the
Second World War was at its height, Ennever was no longer involved
with the Institute but nevertheless made the best of his situation.
He produced a special abridged version of Your Mind and How to Use
It, a special forces edition "for the benefit of the Forces
and war workers at this critical time in our national affairs".
he lost his money, Ennever owned a Rolls Royce of which he was very
proud. This was one of his last possessions to be sold, and even
then his chauffeur Payes and his wife stayed on to look after
Ennever. Mr. Payes served as Ennever's butler and chauffeur, while
Mrs. Payes was his cook and housekeeper. The Ennevers and the Payes
were quite close, and Ann Tribe remembers having sat on the running
board of the Rolls while Payes cleaned the car. She writes of the
Payes, "They were very fond of him and I believe when things were
bad, they still stayed on for very little money".
W.J. Ennever with granddaughter Mary, c.1939.
Ennever remained poor for the
rest of his life, and his sudden lack of success and inability to
support his family must have hit him hard. Ennever had written that
"Too often age, bringing with it a few failures, induces
pessimism. Fear grips the heart. The spirit of resignation to fate
takes possession, and a dull and dreary outlook follows. This sort
of thing must be stopped".
It is unknown how much Ennever felt the bite of depression, but it
does seem that he took his own advice. Only two years after he had
gone bankrupt, Ennever began advertising for "Super-Pelmanism"
in The Times, a postal course that "Assures full benefits
in half the time, at a fraction of the former cost".
Very tellingly, the ad was posted in the personal classifieds, as
opposed to the grand half- or full-page commercial advertisements of
the past. Mail was to be sent not to any institute or company, but
direct to Ennever himself in London. It even appears that Ennever's
fortunes had started to reverse. By 1945 he had published the
"special forces edition" of his book and was marketing Your
Mind and How to Use It in the papers. Instead of the Pelman
Institute, Ennever had established the Ennever Foundation at Vernon
House, Sicilian Avenue.
Even when times were down,
Ennever's situation was still not entirely bad. Although hiding his
reduced circumstances by having his mail delivered to the Devonshire
Club, Ennever took the chance to get to know his only daughter and he
corresponded with his family often. Age and circumstances, however,
seemed to take some toll on him. In a letter to his 15-year-old
granddaughter Ann in 1944, Ennever makes a bittersweet reference to
his fall from grace: "I think we could have a jolly good time
together even if we haven't much money, but some day we shall have
some and we'll let the world know it, and probably have just a little
of it, not too much".
While the comment contains traces of Ennever's unhappiness, it is
also tinged with an almost childlike optimism. Ennever had
confidence in his ability to re-establish himself in the business
Ann Tribe advanced the idea that
perhaps Ennever thought he could get back at Dale Carnegie, the
popular American author of How to Win Friends and Influence People
whom the family believed had stolen Ennever's ideas. It is unclear
what Ennever himself thought, but Kathleen would later say that
Carnegie had stolen her father's ideas and become successful using
money and American know-how, leaving Ennever bankrupt.
John Tribe, on the other hand, expressed scepticism at the idea.
What we can tell, however, is that Ennever's age must have caught up
with him by the time he wrote his letter to Ann. Ennever had always
clung to his youth by insisting his grandchildren call him "Uncle
Billy", but when he concludes his letter he finally concedes the
Ennever was still in Canada when she heard of her father's death.
She had been cabled when her father died, but never received the
message. Instead, she first heard the news by mail when a friend in
England sent her the newspaper cutting. On the 16th of August 1947,
W.J. Ennever died on his way to hospital. His death certificate
lists as the cause of death a combination of broncho pneumonia,
pulmonary tuberculosis and cancer of the colon.
Ennever was buried in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery in London.
He left behind in his will the sum of £139.1.9d.
It is ironic that we have lost
so much information about a man who dedicated his life to memory.
Many of the dates and hard facts of Ennever's life have been
discovered from disparate sources, but this leaves the more personal
details of the man himself. Were it not for the help of his
grandchildren, this information may well have been lost forever.
Ennever's life is not a
cautionary tale, nor a didactic lesson in success and failure - he
lived the same highs and lows that everybody does. Nor is it
important to read about his life and apply it to the modern world.
But nevertheless, in a world in which our knowledge of the past is
unparalleled, it is strange that W.J. Ennever should have slipped
under the radar and into obscurity. His life's work is the strangest
quirk: a mind training system that drew on both the frauds of the
past and the brightening world of empirical science, and that found
success all over the world. In a historical backflip, the Internet
has seen the resurgence of the frauds who use their Internet presence
to sell all manners of magic and mysticism. They have discovered
Pelmanism, and market it now as a lost miracle.
It is hard to imagine Pelmanism
making a serious return, especially in a world which is inundated
with self-help books and tutorials "for dummies". These
courses offer patronising instruction or empty confidence-building
rhetoric, whereas Ennever's course requires honest reflection,
practice and common-sense. A course like Ennever's could certainly
not compete, and is likely to be forgotten in time.
While reading Your Mind and
How to Use It, I was surprised to find that Ennever pin-pointed
exactly how I came to research him: "...use your reading of
books, your conversations, and your reflections, to discover a line
of investigation that not only appeals to you but which may lead to
I would bet that Ennever never thought that line would come to apply
to his own life. I hope that I have done something new with this
biography, that I have put together information that might never have
been connected, and that I have done something to make the memory of
W.J. Ennever that little bit more permanent.
W.J. Ennever, c.1930.
Magic - Pelmanism and the 'Little Grey Books'" in Bennett,
Arnold, Hugo - A Fantasia on Modern Themes, Odhams Limited
Barry, Ennever Family History & Ancestry, 9 March 2007,
(accessed 10 March 2007).
W.J., Your Mind and How to Use It - Brain Building for Success,
Thorsons Publishers (London, 1962).
Ennever, W.J., Your Mind and
How to Use It - Special "Forces" Edition, Thorsons Publishers
3 March 2007, <http://www.freebmd.org.uk/>
(accessed 10 March 2007).
Hill, Patricia, The Ennever -
Enever - Enefer Family History Site, 29 August 2006,
(accessed 5 October 2006).
Hilliard, Christopher, To
Exercise Our Talents - The Democratization of Writing in Britain,
Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006).
Lait, Jack, "Your Mind and
How to Use It", Sunday Mirror (London, 6 August 1939).
Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd
ed., Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1989).
Pelmanism, Lessons 1-12,
The Pelman Institute for the Scientific Development of Mind and
"Pelmanism on the Home
Front", Argosy of Complete Stories, vol.V no.6 (July
1944), inside front cover.
Sitwell, Edith, English
Eccentrics, Penguin (Ringwood, 1972).
"Pelmanism in 1922" (2
January 1922), 6.
"Founder of Pelmanism"
(24 April 1941), 6.
"The Pelman Institute"
(12 May 1922), 4.
"The Pelman Institute -
Control Resumed by Mr. W.J. Ennever" (29 December 1921), 4.
Sims, Geo. R., "The War of
Peace" (1 November 1917), 4.
August 1943), 1.
"Your Mind and How to Use
It" (21 February 1945), 1.
Was Who 1941-1950, 3rd ed., Adam
& Charles Black (London, 1964).
Barry, correspondence 27 February - 3 March 2007.
Kathleen, recorded memoirs c. 1977.
Kathleen, "An Early Life Story", c. 1987/8.
Simon, correspondence 26 April - 18 May 2006.
W.J., letter to Ann Tribe 24 November 1944.
Patricia, correspondence 25 October 2006 - 24 January 2007.
Ann, correspondence 16 June 2006 - 9 April 2007.
John, correspondence 19 May 2006 - 13 March 2007.
Mary, interviews and correspondence 10 July 2006 - 15 March 2007.
Descendants chart for William Joseph Ennever
|- greatgrandchildren ....
|- William Joseph Ennever c 1803-14 May 1885
m1 10 Jan 1824 Jane King c 1797-28 Jun 1838
. |- Elizabeth Jane Ennever 2 Oct 1824-
. |- Anna Maria Ennever 20 Oct 1826-
. |- Mary Ann Ennever 16 Jul 1828-
. |- William Joseph Ennever c 1830-3 Sep 1917
. | m 1865 Teresa Ann Sherrott 1 Oct 1842-25 Jan 1930
. | |- Teresa Mary Ennever 1867-1876
. | |- William Joseph Ennever 26 Mar 1869-16 Aug 1947
. | | .m1 1895 Mary Margaret Oldacres Lawson 9 Jan 1874-8 Nov 1904
. | | . |- Kathleen Ennever 27 Sep 1904-2 Jun 1994
. | | . m 8 Jun 1928 Arthur Stanley Tribe
. | | m2 12 Sep 1906 Emmy Elvira Christina Jacobson 1885-
. | |- Joseph Aloysius Ennever 28 Feb 1871-21 May 1934
. | |- George Joseph Vincent Ennever 1872-1916
. | |- Mary Amy Ennever 20 May 1874-1889
. | |- Catherine Mary Isabel Ennever 1876-29 May 1963
. | |- John Dominic Joseph Ennever 1877-18 Nov 1915
. | |- Agnes Mary Ennever 1879-1966
. | |- Philomena Mary Iwelda Ennever 1880-
. | |- Teresa Mary Ennever 1882-1965
. | |- Augustus Bonaventure Joseph Ennever 1883-Aft 1920
. |- Rebecca Emma Ennever 28 Sep 1832-
. |- Catherine Ann Ennever c 1833-1909
. |- Jane Ennever 3 Jul 1834-1903
m2 18 Aug 1840 Margaret Juanna Hederman c 1820-11 Jan 1861
|- Julia Margaret Ennever 2 Dec 1841-1843
|- Rosa Mary Ennever 18 May 1844-1874
|- Margaret Louisa Ennever 5 Sep 1846-1849
|- Joseph William Ennever c 1850-1851
|- Eliza Georgiana Ennever 1852-3 Jan 1939
|- George Vincent Ennever 1854-20 Feb 1902
© John Karp 2007, under the Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. You may copy and distribute what you like so long as you acknowledge my authorship and do not alter it or use it for commercial purposes.
Also, it'd be nice if you could drop me a line!
For more information on the Ennever family, I can heartily recommend Barry Ennever's epic Ennever Family History & Ancestry, where he also hosts a mirror of this biography. There is also a great deal of information at Patricia Hill's Ennever - Enever - Enefer Family History Site.