Keep your sense of humour active. A fear is a serious thing, and it depends for its effect on tension. Relax in laughter and the tension is broken.

- W.J. Ennever, quoted in Jack Lait's book review of Your Mind and How to Use It.

Are you "pelmanising"? Have you read, heard, or thought about the wonderful "brain-growing" method that is creating such a sensation by its almost magical results?

- "Brain Magic", a 1940s advertisement for Pelmanism.

William Joseph Ennever (26 March 1869 – 16 August 1947) was the creator of a mind-training system known as Pelmanism. He founded the Pelman Instiute which taught Pelmanism via correspondence, and later in his career he published a best-selling book called Your Mind and How to Use It.

W.J. Ennever was born in London into a family of piano manufacturers. His grandfather and father, both also called William Joseph Ennever, had run the family business Ennever & Son. In his youth Ennever was educated in private schools, but when he reached 18 his father expected him to join the family business. Ennever refused, and instead ran away to sea for three years. When he returned he worked as an editor and journalist, but his life changed when Professor Loisette invited him to manage a memory training course he had set up. Loisette was a well-known memory training expert of the time, and Mark Twain once sang the praises of Loisette's course before later disowning it.

Realising that the mind could be trained, and inspired by Loisette's success, Ennever worked with several psychologists on setting up his own course. One of these was Christopher Louis Pelman, who is said to have died shortly before the course was started. In 1898-9 Ennever set up a correspondence course known as Pelmanism after his deceased colleague. One of the products that eventually grew out of the course was the Pelmanism card game, better known today as "memory" or "patience". The aim is to lay a deck of cards face down and turn them over one pair at a time. If you match a pair of cards you put them aside, but mismatched pairs have to be turned back down and their location remembered.

In 1895 Ennever married Mary Margaret Oldacres Lawson, and in 1894 she gave birth to their daughter Kathleen. The news must have given Ennever pause for thought. He was a man so concerned with growing old that he later insisted his grandchildren call him "Uncle Billy". Even though he was still young, he now had a daughter to take care of and could not escape the responsibilities of age. To make matters worse, his wife died only a few weeks after Kathleen's birth. He was now stranded without his wife, he had a daughter to raise, he deeply felt the encroachment of old age and on top of it all had a business to run. In 1905 Ennever sold his Pelmanism business and again fled to sea, this time sailing to America to market Pelmanism internationally.

Ennever was a ladies' man, and began to travel with a number of different women. He had a fondness for female companionship that even his daughter could attest to, and he numbered among his partners June Elvidge, a famous actress of the silver screen. In 1906 he married Emmy Elvira Christina Sjöberg, but the marriage was short lived thanks to Ennever's antics. In 1910 they divorced "on grounds of desertion and adultery".

In 1905 after Ennever sold his business it became Pelman Schools. By 1915 Ennever had returned to reclaim the directorship of his company, which soon became the well-known Pelman Institute. The Institute built such success that it counted its followers in the hundreds of thousands, and its students included dozens of political and literary figures of the time. Ennever resigned from the Institute at the end of 1920 due to ill health, but returned again in 1921 to save the Institute from ruin. His continual returns to the Institute and his dedication to marketing it overseas shows a firm commitment to his students and to the message he had to teach.

Ennever's wealth persisted until the Second World War. In the lead-up to the war, Ennever's fortunes had been in decline. He made his last overseas journey in 1937, and in 1938 he was forced to reduce the allowance he had given to Kathleen since her 18th birthday. He did the only thing he could to prop up his finances, which was to release a new course. In 1938 he published his book, Your Mind and How to Use It, which taught a condensed version of Ennever's personal philosophy in book-form. Even this could not save him, however, and in 1940 he went bankrupt.

Ennever lived in poverty for the next few years, although he did make some progress towards regaining his fortune. But death cut him short in 1947 when he died of bowel cancer at the age of 78.


"Brain Magic - Pelmanism and the 'Little Grey Books'" in Bennett, Arnold, Hugo - A Fantasia on Modern Themes, Odhams Limited (London), 6.

Ennever, Barry, Ennever Family History & Ancestry,

Ennever, W.J., Your Mind and How to Use It - Special “Forces” Edition, Thorsons Publishers (London, 1945).


Hill, Patricia, The Ennever - Enever - Enefer Family History Site,

Lait, Jack, "Your Mind and How to Use It", Sunday Mirror (London, 6 August 1939).

Pelmanism, Lessons 1-12, The Pelman Institute for the Scientific Development of Mind and Memory (London).

The Times (London).
  • "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.
  • "Super-Pelmanism" (20 August 1943), 1.
  • "Your Mind and How to Use It" (21 February 1945), 1.
Who Was Who 1941-1950, 3rd ed., Adam & Charles Black (London, 1964).

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