50 Years at Project Gutenberg

July 4, 2021

On July 4, 1971, Michael S. Hart, who had been given access to a mainframe computer at the University of Illinois, typed the United States Declaration of Independence into the machine and sent it off to about 100 users via ARPANET – the infant Internet. And so the first e-book was born, along with Hart’s vision of making literature “as free as the air we breathe”: Project Gutenberg. Half a century later, PG offers readers over 65,000 free e-books in the U.S. public domain, available in a wide variety of formats and languages.

In the first couple of decades, Michael typed in most of the books himself in his spare time. The 10th e-book, released in 1989, was the King James Bible. By 1994, there were 100 books at PG – the 100th e-book was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Just three years later came the 1000th e-book, Dante’s Divina Commedia in Italian. By this time, Michael had the help of a cadre of dedicated volunteers – the key to PG’s success to this day.

By 2000, PG’s online library had become large enough and popular enough to warrant a more formal organization to ensure its smooth operation. So the non-profit Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF) was founded. In the same year, one of PG’s volunteers, Charles Franks, founded Distributed Proofreaders (DP) to produce a larger number of high-quality e-books by means of an early use of crowdsourcing. The DP system divided the workload into individual pages, so that many volunteers could work on a book at the same time, thereby speeding up the creation process – essentially “preserving history one page at a time.” By 2001, DP had become the most productive single source of PG e-books – in fact, earlier this year, DP celebrated its 41,000th title posted to PG, and in 2019 it had the honor of producing PG’s 60,000th e-book, The Living Animals of the World. PG also has a sizable contingent of devoted independent e-book producers who provide the rest. “Because of Project Gutenberg, a massive store of literature, poetry, history and philosophy in many languages is available for free download on the Internet and forms a significant entertainment and educational resource,” said DP General Manager Linda Hamilton. “We at Distributed Proofreaders are proud to partner with Project Gutenberg on this important mission. Happy 50th Birthday!”

PG loves to improve its collection. A dedicated errata team fixes typos, replaces straight quotes with curly quotes, updates HTML, and so forth. PG has gone well beyond the plain-text formats of the early years, and nearly every title is offered in text, HTML, epub, and mobi (Kindle) formats.

With the rise in PG’s popularity and the influx of new volunteers, it became important to regularize its minimum formatting guidelines to ensure that the e-books were truly accessible to everyone. Beyond that, PG gives its e-book producers wide latitude in producing an e-book. Unlike outlets like Google Books and the Internet Archive, PG doesn’t produce scanned facsimiles of printed books: PG books are true e-books with fully searchable and resizable text that has been carefully checked for scanning errors. PG e-books provide an enriching reading experience by ensuring accuracy and attractive presentation (including, in many cases, illustrations and audio files), and providing a variety of formats for reading on a wide array of devices. While automation technology helps tremendously with this task, at bottom it takes human beings to do all that.

The crux of PG’s mission is freedom to read. To that end, it provides its e-books free of charge; it grants a broad license for free redistribution; and, as noted, it makes its e-books accessible in many formats. But even more importantly, PG imposes no restrictions on content. It subscribes to the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement, which holds that “free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.”

Sadly, Michael Hart passed away in 2011 at the age of 64, but his legacy is as vigorously alive as ever. PG has become a worldwide phenomenon. There are sister sites in Australia and Canada. Projekt Gutenberg-DE is dedicated to German literature, and Project Runeberg to Nordic literature.

The marvel of Project Gutenberg is that it has accomplished all this without charging for its books. While PGLAF does take donations to help with expenses, the e-books are and always will be completely free of charge, created by the tens of thousands of volunteers in the last half-century whose only compensation – as it was for Michael Hart – is the sheer joy of literature. Congratulations and thanks to all of them for giving the world 50 years of free e-books.

This post was contributed by Dr. Gregory Newby, Director and CEO of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, and Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. You can read more about PG’s history and philosophy in Dr. Newby’s article, “Forty-Five Years Of Digitizing Ebooks.”


Čħāṛᾀςŧέř ♭ῧįłďĭñġ (Character Building)

June 1, 2021

Editor’s Note: This post contains some uncommon Unicode characters, some of which may not display properly on older systems.

In May 2020 the Distributed Proofreaders (DP) site moved over to using the Unicode UTF-8 character base. “This is a very major change,” said General Manager Linda Hamilton. “This move has been a long-term objective for many years.” (For more information on this huge improvement, see the DP Wiki article Site conversion to Unicode.) Now, instead of being limited to about 200 assorted letters, numbers, and squiggles, DP has over a million to choose from.

We started modestly, providing a very few extra characters, such as the “œ” ligature often found in older books in words like Œdipus or cœlacanth. Soon though, DP site developers were picking up the pace, providing more and more additional character suites that Project Managers can assign to their projects. We rolled out three character suites for different European languages – with letters like ĝ, Đ, or ł; Basic Greek and Polytonic Greek character suites; and one for characters found in medieval books such as Ƿ or ȳ. In addition, Project Managers can now add individual Unicode characters to a project where they’re needed. These characters, which can include less familiar specimens such as ŧ ꝓ ᴚ ♅ ◘, show up in a “Custom” character suite on the proofreading screen.

All Greek to us

How does this really benefit our work in DP? Mainly, the Unicode-based encoding allows us to support languages that use characters outside the “Latin-1” character suite, which was what we had available before then.

Let’s take one important example: Ancient Greek. Why important? Because many of the books we work on, from the 19th century or before, do contain Greek words or whole passages in Greek. The writers of the time took it for granted that readers of the more scholarly type of book would have learnt Greek (along with Latin) as part of their education.

We reported here a few months ago about how DP handled Grote’s History of Greece, a monumental work with thousands of footnotes containing Greek text. Much of the work there fell to the Post-Processor, the person who prepares a project for final publication after it has all been proofread. With Unicode, the proofreaders can have a share of the fun!

Formerly, the proofreaders didn’t have the use of Greek characters. To represent the text during proofreading, a roundabout process was necessary in which proofreaders produced a transliterated version of the Greek written in our familiar Roman alphabet, like [Greek: mêde nein mêde grammata], to be transformed back into the original Greek – μηδὲ νεῖν μηδὲ γράμματα – by the Post-Processor. But now, the proofreaders can produce a correct text, drawing on a complete set of Greek characters. This is how the relevant part of the proofreading screen looks for a project that includes a Greek character set:

Asking proofreaders to work with Greek letters is also more practicable now that Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software has become better at reading Greek. Take a look at what OCR made of a page of Greek in 2005:

Looks like the book was written in Klingon doesn’t it? Now compare this, from 2020:

Still far from perfect, but good enough that proofreaders don’t have to retype the whole thing from scratch. Using the expanded character set, they can now correct the Greek text coming from OCR, just as they correct text in their own language.

The Mercury goes up

It’s the same with other types of characters. If proofreaders meet an unfamiliar letter in a medieval book, instead of typing [yogh] (for example), they can now input the actual letter ȝ. And we continue to add more character sets to meet the needs of our varied projects. Among recent ones is a set of characters used in Romanized forms of languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit, so we can reproduce accurate transliterations of names such as ʿAlaʾuddīn or Mahābhārata or Viṣṇu (which previously had to be proofed as Vi[s.][n.]u). There’s also a “symbols collection,” including astronomical, zodiac, apothecary, and music symbols. With this collection, if we’re proofreading an astrological book, instead of [Mercury] we can now simply add ☿. Recipe for a bygone apothecary’s potion? Not [**ounce], but ℥. And so on.

So with Unicode, proofreaders know that someone else won’t need to come along and change all the awkward symbols later. Now they can do the whole job and produce a precise digital version of the original page, no matter what characters are on it!

This post was contributed by Neil M., a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 2 June 2021

May 26, 2021

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable starting at noon server time on Wednesday 2 June as we updated our Operating System and database. We hope to have completed the update by end of day. During this time the main site, forum and wiki will be unavailable.

Please consider using this maintenance window to do Smooth Reads that you have taken out prior to the downtime.

Please save all of your work before we start the maintenance at 12 noon server time. Proofreading pages offline while the server is down and saving them when it comes back up will not work.

If the upgrade and related checks are completed early, the site will return sooner.

Thank you for your patience. As you wait for Distributed Proofreaders to become available again, please feel free to browse through the excellent articles in this Blog.

We’ll keep this blog post updated with progress during the outage. You can also find us on Facebook.

Update 12:00pm EDT: Maintenance has started.

Update 1:00pm EDT: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 2:00pm EDT: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 3:20pm EDT: Maintenance continuing. The core Operating System upgrade is complete and we’re working to validate middleware and bring services online.

Update 5:20pm EDT: The Distributed Proofreaders Site is back up and operational. Thank you for your patience.


Buffalo Bill

May 1, 2021

Thanks to movie director Quentin Tarantino, most folks are familiar with the term “pulp fiction,” but the more common “dime novel” was used to describe everything from the pulp magazines starting around 1860 to the “penny dreadfuls” popular in the United Kingdom, featuring such characters as Sweeney Todd and Varney the Vampire. In the United States, fictional characters like Nick Carter were popular, but the stories about real-life American Wild West heroes like Buffalo Bill Cody really drove the genre.

Buffalo Bill was born in Iowa Territory, fought in the Civil War for the Union, was a U.S. Army scout during the Indian Wars, received the Congressional Medal of Honor and later became an entertainer, featured in his own Buffalo Bill Wild West show that toured the U.S. and Europe, giving command performances for Queen Victoria and the Pope. Even today, as a lasting tribute to his legacy, there’s an American football team named after him.

Mark Twain wrote a novel, A Horse’s Tale, about Buffalo Bill’s horse Soldier Boy, and E.E. Cummings penned a poem called “Buffalo Bill ‘s” (yes, there’s a space before the ‘s), but it was the countless dime novels written about Buffalo Bill that made a lasting impression, especially those by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, almost as colorful a character as Buffalo Bill himself. Published in the early 20th Century by Street and Smith, renowned for their strategic re-use of material, the Buffalo Bill Border Stories have been making their appearance on Project Gutenberg thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders. (See the list below for links to the e-books.)

Each novel features an adventure, or a series of related adventures, where our intrepid hero Bill manages to outwit the bad guys and save the helpless. In the books, Bill lives by a strict code, a set of rules of what is good and what is bad, of what must be done and what must never be done. As was common in those times, certain groups of people are portrayed as stereotypes, especially people of color and Native Americans, as well as people from other countries. For us today, such stereotypes are offensive, but they do serve to show how far we have come in terms of accepting the rich diversity of America.

In the novels, Bill is the ultimate hero, and he is usually accompanied by one of more “pards,” or sidekicks, who help him on his adventures. There is the Baron, a Prussian whose speech is difficult to decipher because it tries to mimic an exaggerated German accent. There’s also Nomad, an older Scout who nevertheless defers to the younger Bill for direction. And there’s Little Cayuse, the Paiute youngster who has yet to learn proper English. Bill, as the hero of course, always speaks in perfect English, never in any vernacular. Whether some, all or none of Bill’s adventures really happened will only be known to the Colonel, but the stories are “durned” fine to read.

In addition to the Buffalo Bill series, Project Manager David Edwards (De2164), also has other dime novel series and pulp magazines on their way to Project Gutenberg, including the many Nick Carter adventures as well as Frank Merriwell, the Frank Reade Library and the American Indian Weekly magazine. David has been sharing his own collection in order to preserve them before time takes its toll. Each project has to be scanned by hand and run through OCR software before it even makes it to Distributed Proofreaders, and recently David acquired thirty more titles that we can look forward to.

As the post-processor – a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who stitches a final e-book together after other volunteers have proofread and formatted it – I love working on these projects. I did my first Buffalo Bill last year while still an apprentice post-processor, and to date, I’ve sent ten so far to Project Gutenberg. Each project presents its own challenges, especially when there are advertising pages, which the publishers made frequent use of, since their business depended on quantity rather than quality. I hope that, along with David and the countless unsung heroes who are our volunteers at DP, including the wonderful Smooth Readers who faithfully read each project to catch stray errors, we will continue to provide the dime novels, a unique slice of literature, for many years to come.

This post was contributed by Susan L. Carr (Skeeter451), a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Buffalo Bill Border Stories

Buffalo Bill, the Border King (No. 1)

Buffalo Bill’s Spy Trailer (No. 41)

Buffalo Bill’s Still Hunt (No. 44)

Buffalo Bill’s Weird Warning (No. 66)

Buffalo Bill’s Girl Pard (No. 77)

Buffalo Bill’s Ruse (No. 82)

Buffalo Bill’s Pursuit (No. 83)

Buffalo Bill’s Bold Play (No. 101)

Buffalo Bill, Peacemaker (No. 102)

Buffalo Bill’s Big Surprise (No. 103)

Buffalo Bill’s Boy Bugler (No. 128)

Buffalo Bill Entrapped (No. 137)

Buffalo Bill’s Best Bet (No. 171)

Buffalo Bill among the Sioux (No. 176)


Arabian Nights

April 1, 2021

“It hath reached me, O King of the Age, that there dwelt in a city of the cities of China a man which was a tailor, withal a pauper, and he had one son, Alaeddin hight. Now this boy had been from his babyhood a ne’er-do-well, a scapegrace; and, when he reached his tenth year, his father inclined to teach him his own trade; and, for that he was over indigent to expend money upon his learning other work or craft or apprenticeship, he took the lad into his shop that he might be taught tailoring. But, as Alaeddin was a scapegrace and a ne’er-do-well and wont to play at all times with the gutter boys of the quarter, he would not sit in the shop for a single day; nay, he would await his father’s leaving it for some purpose, such as to meet a creditor, when he would run off at once and fare forth to the gardens with the other scapegraces and low companions, his fellows.”

Thus begins the story of “Alaeddin; or, the Wonderful Lamp,” one of the nightly tales told by Shahrázád to her husband King Shahryar in The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, as translated by famed British explorer/orientalist Richard Francis Burton. Published in a 17-volume set, A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, Now Entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night was, until the 21st Century, the first and only unabridged and unexpurgated translation of this ancient set of Middle Eastern tales. This massive, heavily footnoted series of entertaining but very adult tales was considered scandalous when originally published in the 1880s.

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers processed the complete 17-volume set, managed by Rich Hulse (Bookbuff) and post-processed by Rick Tonsing (okrick), and is now available in its entirety at Project Gutenberg. While this edition is not appropriate for young audiences, it gives valuable insight into the cultural, moral, and religious practices in the regions of Persian influence (from the Red Sea to Western India) at the end of the first millennium.

The first written evidence of the tales appeared in 947 A.D., though many were probably based on stories passed on verbally from decades or centuries earlier. Additional stories were added during the next few centuries.

The stories are all predicated upon the framing story of King Shahryar and Shahrázád (also known as Scheherazade). After discovering that during his absences his wife has been regularly unfaithful, the King kills her and those with whom she has betrayed him. Thereafter, distrusting all womankind, he marries and kills a new wife each day until Shahrázád, the daughter of his vizier (chief advisor), intervenes to stop the slaughter. She agrees to marry the King, but each evening tells a story, leaving it incomplete to finish it the next night if the King allows her to live. The King finds the stories so entertaining that he puts off her execution from day to day until he finally abandons it completely.

Since these stories were designed to entertain the King, many tend to be adult-oriented bedroom stories. Many of the well-known modern stories, like that of Aladdin, have the more prurient elements removed or are stories that were added much later. Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821‒1890), an Oriental language expert fluent in 25 languages covering 40 dialects, faithfully translated as many of the authentic stories as he could find. English society censored his work and refused to allow it to be published because of its risqué content. Sir Richard got around this censorship by using a private publisher for subscription purchase only. He published the stories in a 10-volume set, followed by a seven-volume supplemental set, between 1885 and 1888.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteer Rich Hulse (Bookbuff), who was the Project Manager for all 17 volumes of A plain and literal translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, now entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 9 March 2021

March 5, 2021

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable starting at noon server time on Tuesday 9 March 2021 for a few hours as we roll out an update to our forum software in production. During this time, the main site and forums will be down, but the wiki will remain available.

If the upgrade is completed early, the site will return earlier.

Thank you for your patience. As you wait for Distributed Proofreaders to become available again, please feel free to browse through the excellent articles in this Blog.

We’ll keep this blog post updated with progress during the outage. You can also find us on Facebook.

Update 12:15pm EST: Maintenance has started.

Update 12:30pm EST: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 1:30pm EST: Maintenance continuing as planned.

Update 2:30pm EST: Maintenance continuing as planned.

Update 3:45pm EST: Site is back up and operational. Thank you for your patience!


Celebrating 41,000 Titles

March 5, 2021

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 41,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg: The Story of My Childhood by Clara Barton. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

How appropriate that, in a month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, Distributed Proofreaders’ 41,000th title should be the childhood autobiography of the amazing Clara Barton!

clara_bartonClarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. From her brother, David, Clara learned at an early age to ride the semi-wild horses in nearby pastures. She wrote that “in later years, when I found myself suddenly on a strange horse in a trooper’s saddle, flying for life or liberty in front of pursuit, I blessed the baby lessons of the wild gallops among the beautiful colts.”

Her older sisters and brothers taught her reading and mathematics at such an early age so that “no toy equalled my little slate.” And her father, who had served as a non-commissioned officer in the French and Indian Wars, instructed her on military and political affairs, including military etiquette. She wrote, “When later, I, like all the rest of our country people, was suddenly thrust into the mysteries of war, and had to find and take my place and part in it, I found myself far less a stranger to the conditions than most women, or even ordinary men for that matter….”

From that beginning, Clara Barton proceeded to several remarkable achievements. Throughout her long life she held many roles: teacher, patent office clerk, Civil War nurse, American and international relief organizer, founder of the Office of Missing Soldiers to find, identify and bury soldiers killed during that war, founder and then long-term president of the US branch of the Red Cross, and founder of the National First Aid Society. She was also involved with the suffragette movement and was a civil rights activist.

By age 17, Clara had passed her school examinations and began teaching in the Oxford, Massachusetts, schools. She later established a school for her brother’s mill workers’ children and, after attending the Clinton Liberal Institute, established the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Replaced by a male principal at the school she had founded, Clara then moved to Washington, DC. There she became the first woman to work in a federal government clerkship at a man’s salary, when she accepted the role of recording clerk at the U. S. Patent Office. After complaints about women occupying well-paid government positions, her salary was cut and then her job eliminated, but, a few years later, under the Lincoln administration, her position was reinstated.

With the start of the American Civil War, Clara Barton’s life took a new path. When the 6th Massachusetts Infantry was attacked by mobs of southern-sympathizing Baltimoreans and quartered in the U.S. Capitol, Barton personally furnished supplies for their needs. A few months later, she tended to the wounded soldiers returning from the Battle of Bull Run. By 1862, she was passing through battle lines to transport supplies. Thus started her career as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

Throughout the war, Barton worked tirelessly (even through a bout of typhoid) tending wounded and ill soldiers and arranging medical supply shipments. While treating the wounded at the Battle of Antietam, she was nearly killed by a bullet that passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed the wounded man she was attending.

After the war, at the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton directed a four-year search for the large numbers of missing soldiers. Under her guidance, nearly 13,000 Union graves from the Andersonville Prison were located and marked. At the dedication of Andersonville National Cemetery, Clara raised the flag. When the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men was closed in 1869, 63,182 letters had been received and answered and 22,000 missing men had been identified.

Many people identify Clara Barton with the work she did during and immediately following the Civil War. However, that was just the start of her career. She gave lectures across the United States, often sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Mark Twain. She also met and befriended Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thus beginning her association with the suffrage movement. During the Franco-German War, Barton organized relief efforts for war victims.

While in Europe, Clara Barton became associated with the International Red Cross and realized that there was a need for such an organization in the US. By 1877, she began gathering support for organization and, on May 21, 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross. She served as its first president and continued as president for more than 20 years. In that role, she directed operations for the Johnstown Flood, which became the most celebrated relief effort in American Red Cross’s early history. She coordinated civilian relief during the Spanish-American War, established orphanages, supported military hospitals, and provided supplies for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s wounded Rough Riders. As Red Cross President she also directed the relief effort for the Galveston hurricane in 1900 that left 6,000 dead.

Clara Barton made a true difference to the world around her. A tireless, caring person, a consummate organizer, a visionary – she is a true role model to today’s women and men.

This post was contributed by Rick Tonsing, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Heroines of the Old-Time Stage

March 1, 2021
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth,
by John Singer Sargent

From ancient Greek and Roman times all the way up to Shakespeare’s day, women weren’t permitted to act on the legitimate stage. Female roles were usually played by boys. (The plot of the film Shakespeare in Love turns on this practice.) The development of opera in the 17th Century began to open up possibilities for female performers, but they didn’t become fully accepted in England until after Charles II retook the throne in 1660. Charles enjoyed theater and saw no reason to bar women from the stage. Indeed, his longtime mistress, Nell Gwyn, was a star of Restoration comedy.

Female performers reached new heights of celebrity in the 19th Century. With travel becoming safer, faster, and more comfortable, great actresses could command adoring audiences all around the world. On Sarah Bernhardt‘s first American tour in 1880, she performed Adrienne Lecouvreur in French to a New York audience willing to pay up to $40 a ticket – over $1,000 in today’s money. The spectators were so enraptured, even though many didn’t understand French, that she was compelled to make 27 curtain calls.

The volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders have contributed to Project Gutenberg a number of fascinating accounts of the great actresses of those bygone years. For example, Heroines of the Modern Stage, published in 1915, gives thumbnail sketches of the careers of Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Eleanora Duse, and other legendary female performers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Bernhardt and Duse also feature in Jules Huret’s 1901 slice of theatrical life, Loges et Coulisses (in French), which includes contemporary interviews with both of them as well as with Gabrielle Réjane.

Memoirs and recollections of these stars abound. English actress Ellen Terry was best known for her spectacular success in the Shakespeare productions of her professional and romantic partner, the great actor-manager Henry Irving. Her memoir, The Story of My Life: Recollections and Reflections, published in 1908 when she was in her sixties, recounts her long career on the stage from the age of nine. Terry came from a theatrical family; her parents, both of them actors, had 11 children, of whom five became actors (Kate Terry was John Gielgud’s grandmother). Ellen Terry and Her Sisters, by theatrical historian T. Edgar Pemberton, gives an account of the siblings’ careers.

Sarah Bernhardt was the daughter of a courtesan whose clientele included some of Paris’s richest and most influential men. Though Jewish by birth, she was educated in an exclusive Catholic convent. In her 1907 memoir, My Double Life, she recalls that she wanted to become a nun, but, after a “family council,” she was prevailed upon to study acting at the Paris Conservatoire. She was initially not a success. But her career skyrocketed after she appeared as the female lead in Alexandre Dumas’s play Kean in 1868. She continued acting well into the 20th Century, even after having a leg amputated in 1915 due to an earlier stage injury, and she even appeared in several silent films. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers contributed several works relating to Bernhardt to Project Gutenberg, such as her 1921 novel The Idol of Paris, as well as reminiscences by people who knew her (Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her, by Mme. Pierre Berton, Sarah Bernhardt, by Jules Huret, and a chapter of The Puppet Show of Memory, by Maurice Baring).

Fanny Kemble was another well-known English actress of the 19th Century. Born, like Ellen Terry, into a noted theatrical family, Kemble rose to stardom immediately after her 1829 debut, at the age of 20, as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Her tour of the United States with her father in 1832 is recounted in her Journal of a Residence in America. In 1834, she retired from the stage to marry Pierce Butler, a wealthy American who inherited vast plantations – and hundreds of slaves – in Georgia. Kemble lived on one of the plantations in the winter of 1838-1839, and she was appalled at the treatment of the slaves. She kept a meticulous journal of the horrors she witnessed, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation. But it remained unpublished until 1863, years after she had left her husband, when friends urged her to publish it in an effort to stop England from recognizing the Confederacy during the American Civil War. After retiring from the stage, she also published two memoirs, Records of a Girlhood and Records of Later Life.

The stories of these great ladies of the stage are just a small part of the theatrical gems glittering in Project Gutenberg’s collection – and admission is free.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer, in celebration of Women’s History Month.


Records of the Kirk of Scotland

February 1, 2021

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century wrought enormous changes in the way Northern European Christians worshipped, and simultaneously wrought enormous havoc on their governments and their lives. That was particularly so in Britain, when Henry VIII – whose motives were dynastic and political rather than religious – defied the Roman Catholic Pope and declared himself head of the Church of England in 1537.

In Scotland, the Reformation began in 1560, when a body purporting to be the Scottish Parliament repudiated the Pope’s authority. But there was no clear idea of what form of Protestantism should be officially adopted – Presbyterian (governed by councils of elders) or Anglican (governed by bishops, the form used in England). An uneasy blend of the two coexisted until Charles I ascended the united thrones of England and Scotland. He thought Scottish church services were too “plain.” So he attempted to force a version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on the Kirk (Church) of Scotland. This resulted in rioting all over Scotland. In 1638, the Kirk of Scotland rejected the prayer book, abolished bishops, and declared itself to be Presbyterian. Charles retaliated with a series of Bishops’ Wars, which resulted in his humiliating defeat in 1640, paving the way for the English Civil War and his eventual execution in 1649.

It was the bicentennial of this “Second Scottish Reformation” of 1638 that was the impetus for the publication of Records of the Kirk of Scotland. Compiled in 1838 by Scottish lawyer and historian Alexander Peterkin, it is a collection of official Kirk of Scotland records from the year 1638 to about 1649. It contains myriad reports of Church proceedings, official documents, and correspondence in 17th-Century English and Scots, with copious explanatory notes by the compiler. Its 684 two-column pages, archaic spellings, hundreds of footnotes, and lengthy index made this a truly challenging project for Distributed Proofreaders volunteers. It took 16 years for it to make its way to posting at Project Gutenberg.

So why did I decide to post-process this book, variously described in the Project Discussion as “old” and “mouldy”? The main reason was to complete the project and get it safely posted on Project Gutenberg – the hundreds of volunteer hours of painstaking proofreading and formatting spurred me on to complete it.

My first impression of the book, whilst reading snatches of it in post-processing, was that it was full of bigotry and on the whole rather unpleasant dry reading, seemingly of no consequence. Then I came to the transcripts of letters written by Charles I, as he defended his position and tried to defer his last journey to the executioner’s block at the Banqueting House in London in 1649, having been convicted of being “a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation.”

It wasn’t just kings who fell foul of the Scottish ecclesiastical courts. If a person was labelled a “witch,” she faced imprisonment and then a totally unfair “trial” ending more often than not in an agonizing execution by burning. A passage in the Records taken from the Chronicle of Fife reports, “This summer [in 1649] ther was very many Witchˢ taken and brunt in severall parts of this kingd. as in Lothian and in Fyfe, viz. in Enderkething, Aberdoure, Bruntellande, Doysert, Dumfermling.”

The Records of the Kirk of Scotland are a window onto a turbulent time in Scottish and English history, and an important historical resource well worth the effort that the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers put into it.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteers Brian Wilcox, who post-processed Records of the Kirk of Scotland, and Linda Cantoni.


A Walter Crane Bouquet

January 1, 2021

beautybeastcraneresizedWhen I was a child, I had one of those big treasury-type books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales called Young Years, published in 1960. I say “I” had it, but really I had to share it with my younger brother, whose main interest in it was embellishing the text with abstract crayon art. It didn’t need his help, because it was already lavishly illustrated in a variety of styles. I loved the pictures as much as I loved the stories.

There was one particular story, “Beauty and the Beast,” whose illustrations were hauntingly gorgeous. The florid colors of Beauty’s rich gowns, of the Beast’s splendid 17th-Century coat and breeches, of his elegant chateau and his rose-filled garden, never failed to send me into a state of wonder. I kept the book into adulthood – I have it still, though it’s falling apart – just for those illustrations.

It wasn’t until I joined Distributed Proofreaders that I understood what a treasure that book really was. A Project Manager had come across three very pretty children’s books – The Baby’s Opera, The Baby’s Bouquêt, and The Baby’s Own Aesop – containing music notation. (You can read the lovely story of how he found them at an elderly friend’s home in this post.) Knowing that I was a music transcriber who could create audio files from the notation, he asked me if I’d like to work on them.

As soon as I saw the first one, I was immediately struck by the style of the illustrations – could it be the same artist who had made those marvelous “Beauty and the Beast” illustrations in my fairy-tale book? I pulled out my book – yes, it was none other than Walter Crane. In fact, that old children’s treasury of mine had pictures by pretty much every major children’s illustrator of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, including Kate Greenaway and Arthur Rackham. No wonder I loved it.

But Walter Crane’s illustrations were, and are, special to me. And I learned that his art is special to many DP volunteers who love working on the books he wrote and/or illustrated. In fact, one of his beautiful volumes, A Flower Wedding, was DP’s 33,000th title a few years ago. DP volunteers have contributed over 40 Walter Crane books to Project Gutenberg. Most are children’s books, but there are also works designed for grownups with vividly colored illustrations, like Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden, posted to Project Gutenberg just last week. Crane also wrote and illustrated his own poetry as well as nonfiction works on art and design, and he decorated the work of other authors. You can even color your own Walter Crane creation with Walter Crane’s Painting Book.

See below for links to more of the wonderful world of Walter Crane, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!

Walter Crane Books at Project Gutenberg

For Children

The Absurd ABC
An Alphabet of Old Friends
The Baby’s Bouquêt
The Baby’s Opera
The Baby’s Own Aesop
The Buckle My Shoe Picture Book
Carrots (by Mrs. Molesworth)
A Christmas Posy (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Cuckoo Clock (by Mrs. Molesworth)
Don Quixote of the Mancha (by Judge Parry)
A Flower Wedding
The Frog Prince and Other Stories
Goody Two Shoes
Grandmother Dear (by Mrs. Molesworth)
King Arthur’s Knights (by Henry Gilbert)
Little Miss Peggy (by Mrs. Molesworth)
Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes (with other illustrators)
Mother Hubbard, Her Picture Book
The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde (by Mary de Morgan)
Princess Belle-Etoile
The Rectory Children (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book
The Song of Sixpence Picture Book
The Tapestry Room (by Mrs. Molesworth)
“Us,” an Old-Fashioned Story (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Vision of Dante (by Elizabeth Harrison)
Walter Crane’s Painting Book
A Winter Nosegay
A Wonder Book for Girls & Boys (by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Poetry

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden
Renascence: A Book of Verse
Queen Summer

Nonfiction

The Bases of Design
Ideals in Art
India Impressions
Line and Form
Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New
William Morris to Whistler

Other

Eight Illustrations to Shakespeare’s Tempest
Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden
A Masque of Days (from essays by Charles Lamb)
The New Forest, Its History and Its Scenery (by John R. Wise)
The Shepheard’s Calender (by Edmund Spenser)


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