The Golden Bough

December 1, 2019
Turner Golden Bough

The Golden Bough, by J.M.W. Turner

Distributed Proofreaders recently completed posting to Project Gutenberg all twelve volumes of Sir James George Frazer’s masterwork, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd edition, 1915). This monumental study of comparative mythology and religion, first published in two volumes in 1890, had a huge influence not only on the newly developing fields of social anthropology and psychology, but also on modern literature.

Frazer’s studies in classics at Cambridge sparked a deep interest in myths and religious rites. The Golden Bough was inspired by an ancient Roman myth depicted in J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name. As Frazer explains in Volume I:

Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi—”Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients….

Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken. Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughs. Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis). According to the public opinion of the ancients the fateful branch was that Golden Bough which, at the Sibyl’s bidding, Aeneas plucked before he essayed the perilous journey to the world of the dead.

Although he read extensively in ancient texts, Frazer’s research was not confined to Greek and Roman myths. He also sent detailed questionnaires to missionaries and British colonial officials all over the world, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific, seeking their observations of the natives’ customs and rituals. Today this method would cause a field anthropologist to raise an eyebrow, but it was a start. Until then, no one had attempted so vast a comparison of human beliefs.

Frazer’s global study of myths and rituals formed the basis for his theory that human civilization evolved from belief in magic, to faith in religion, to reliance on science. Of course, the implication that science is on an evolutionary plane higher than religion did not endear Frazer to Christian church authorities. And Frazer’s inclusion of events sacred to Christianity in his comparative studies, such as Christ’s resurrection, outraged some contemporary critics, because it implied that these events were the equivalent of pagan myths.

But to others, Frazer’s work was revolutionary and inspiring. Particularly fascinating was the realization that the essential archetypes of ancient myths are universal across all human cultures, “civilized” or not. This concept had a profound impact on modern literature, influencing artists as diverse as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, H.P. Lovecraft, Jim Morrison, and even George Lucas (through the later work of Joseph Campbell). And the newborn science of psychology benefited as well, influencing Sigmund Freud’s theories in Totem and Taboo and, indirectly, Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.

Some modern critics have faulted Frazer for what they perceive as his unscientific methods and Victorian biases. But others continue to appreciate the multicultural scope of Frazer’s work. The Golden Bough‘s vivid synthesis of worldwide myths about life and death, gods and monsters, heroes and kings — stories common to all human cultures — shaped modern thought in ways that cannot be underestimated.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

 

 


Celebrating 38,000 Titles

November 8, 2019

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Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 38,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, The Birds of Australia, Volume III, by John Gould. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

John Gould (1804-1881) began work as a gardener under his father. He later set himself up as a taxidermist and eventually became the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London. This provided the opportunity for him to be the first to view new specimens donated to the Society. 

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Gould began to publish books on birds illustrated by his wife Elizabeth and other artists. After a string of successful works, John and Elizabeth moved to Australia to work on The Birds of Australia, published between 1840 and 1848. Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1841, soon after returning to England, and other artists completed the illustrations.

The bird specimens collected by Charles Darwin in his second voyage on the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836 were presented to the Zoological Society. Gould began identifying them and noticed that birds that were identified by Darwin as blackbirds, gross-bills, and finches were “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” Gould met with Darwin and informed him that several of the birds Darwin had identified but supposed to be just varieties of the same species were actually distinct species on different islands. Darwin was then able to establish that the species were unique to the islands, leading to the inception of his theory of evolution. Gould’s research, with his wife’s illustrations, was published in 1838-1841 as Part 3 of The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Darwin.

The Birds of Australia was the first comprehensive survey of the birds of Australia. It is a seven-volume set that includes descriptions of 681 species, of which 328 were first described by Gould. Elizabeth Gould made hundreds of drawings and 84 color plates before her death. H.C. Richter produced 595 plates from her drawings. As Gould noted in the introduction to Volume I, there was no doubt a great deal more work to be done in the Australian wilderness:

If we compare the ornithology of Australia with that of any other country in similar latitudes and of the same extent, we shall find that it fully equals, if it does not exceed them all, in the number of species it comprises; and those parts of the country that are still unexplored doubtless contain many yet to be added to the list of its Fauna.

The Birds of Australia, Volume II, was previously posted to Project Gutenberg. Volumes I and IV through VII are in progress at Distributed Proofreaders.

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

 


America’s First Banned Book

November 1, 2019

title pageLast week, Christie’s, the famed auction house, auctioned off a copy of what they described as America’s first banned book — a 1637 first edition of The New English Canaan. The book, a diatribe against the Puritans of New England, sold for US$60,000. But, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, you can read it for free at Project Gutenberg.

When the Puritans fled England in the early 17th Century to seek religious freedom in the wilderness of America, they had no intention of extending that freedom to anyone else. Their settlements were under tight theocratic control. But they were not the only Englishmen interested in settling in America. Others with less spiritual motives had also come across the Atlantic — to seek their fortunes.

The two groups were bound to clash. Among the entrepreneurs who earned the Puritans’ ire was Thomas Morton (1579–1647). He first came to America for a few months in 1622 as the agent for a British businessman. There he found “two sortes of people, the one Christians, the other Infidels; these I found most full of humanity, and more friendly then the other.” Having no use for the Puritans, Morton took the trouble to acquaint himself with the native Americans and their language and customs.

In 1624, he returned to engage in fur trading with the Algonquian natives in the Puritans’ Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The Puritans objected to Morton and his associates selling guns and liquor to the natives, so in 1625 Morton moved on to found his own settlement, Merrymount, in present-day Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1627, he and his fun-loving compatriots irritated the Puritans by holding a May Day revel with the natives. Plymouth governor William Bradford, in his History of Plimoth Plantation, referred to Morton as a “lord of misrule” and railed against the Merrymount colonists and native women “dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises.” (This bacchanal inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s story, “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” in Twice-Told Tales.) The growing prosperity of the Merrymount colony — which threatened the Puritans’ trade monopoly — and an even wilder May Day celebration the following year, only added insult to injury.

So Plymouth struck back, with a military offensive against Merrymount led by Myles Standish. Morton was arrested and banished to a deserted island off the coast of New Hampshire, and his 80-foot maypole was chopped down. After various unpleasant vicissitudes, including nearly starving to death, Morton made his way back to England. There, he successfully sued the Puritans’ financial machine, the Massachusetts Bay Company, and got its charter revoked in 1635.

With the help of London literary friends like Ben Jonson, Morton turned the notes he had made for his lawsuit into an explosive three-volume book, The New English Canaan, published in Amsterdam in 1637.  It contains a pointed and entertaining screed against the Puritans’ theocratic rule in Massachusetts, their intolerance for dissent, and their efforts to wipe out the native population.

The first two books of The New English Canaan are mostly non-controversial, containing Morton’s observations on the native Americans, whom he respected greatly, and on the rich natural resources in New England. It was in the third book that Morton rolled up his sleeves and got down to his real purpose of skewering the New England Puritans, who, he said, “make a great shewe of Religion, but no humanity.”

Morton was particularly appalled at the Puritans’ mistreatment of the native Americans. He recounted various instances in which the Puritans cheated the natives, stole their land, and massacred them. He also criticized the Puritans for wanting to keep New England’s resources a secret from the public so as to have them all to themselves.

The third book also gives Morton’s side of the May Day story and its aftermath, interspersed with poems and songs. One song, which had been tacked up on the giant maypole, was bound to gall the Puritans, combining as it did intemperance with lasciviousness:

Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes;
Let all your delight be in the Hymens ioyes;
Jô to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take Roome.

Morton also thinly disguised many of the Puritan figures in his book with humorously insulting names, such as “Captaine Shrimpe” for Myles Standish.

The Puritans were not amused. Governor Bradford referred to The New English Canaan as “an infamouse & scurillous booke against many godly & cheefe men of ye cuntrie; full of lyes & slanders, and fraight with profane callumnies against their names and persons, and ye ways of God.” When Morton returned to America, the Puritans arrested him on various charges, including having “set forth a book against us.” He died an exile in Maine in 1647.

The edition of The New English Canaan at Project Gutenberg is an 1883 reprint of the first edition, with an illuminating introduction that lays out a detailed history of America’s first banned book.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Distributed Proofreaders Turns 19

October 1, 2019

Since its founding on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders has contributed over 37,000 public-domain e-books to Project Gutenberg’s vast free library. To celebrate our 19th anniversary, we look back at some of our accomplishments since our 18th anniversary.

Milestones

Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title. In April 2019, Distributed Proofreaders posted its 37,000th unique title to Project Gutenberg, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. The celebratory blog post is here.

Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title. In July 2019, Distributed Proofreaders contributed Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1). You can learn more about this milestone here.

Significant Projects

Many of the projects at Distributed Proofreaders have particular historical or literary significance. Recent examples:

Annali d’Italia. In May 2019, we posted to Project Gutenberg the eighth volume of the Italian history series Annali d’Italia dal principio dell’era volgare sino all’anno 1750 (Annals of Italy from the Beginning of the Common Era until the Year 1750), by the 18th-Century historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori. This important work — the first large-scale history of Italy — was initially published in Milan in 1743. Though Muratori died in 1750, the series was continued and updated for many years. The edition Distributed Proofreaders worked on was the fifth, published in Venice in 1847, nearly a century after Muratori’s death.

The Golden Bough. In September 2019, we posted the final volume of James George Frazer’s twelve-volume masterwork, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd edition, 1915). Distributed Proofreaders volunteers prepared all twelve volumes. Frazer’s monumental study of comparative mythology and religion, first published as a two-volume work in 1890, had a huge influence not only on the field of social anthropology, but also on the literature and art of the time, and on the newly developing science of psychology.

Development

Site development has continued to flourish at Distributed Proofreaders, thanks to the hard work of our “squirrels” (the nickname for Distributed Proofreaders administrators), our developers, and the many volunteers who helped to design and test improvements such as:

  • Updating the Distributed Proofreaders Walkthrough and translating it into French.
  • Upgrading the software for both our wiki and our forums.
  • Updating our official documentation for Post-Processors (the volunteers who wrangle the final proofed and formatted text into its final version for posting to Project Gutenberg).
  • Continuing work on the Workbench tool for Post-Processors so they can more efficiently complete their final checks on a text.
  • Making numerous other improvements to our interface, workflow, and tools to make it easier for volunteers to do their jobs and for projects to be posted more quickly.

In Memoriam

Distributed Proofreaders mourned the loss of three devoted members during the past year:

Halamus was a retired violin teacher and music publisher from Australia who joined Distributed Proofreaders in 2004. She was an extremely active Post-Processor and was responsible for 178 projects posted to Project Gutenberg. She also worked as a Post-Processing Verifier, and in that role she mentored new Post-Processors and shepherded 33 projects to completion. With her extensive musical background — she wrote and published many books of violin music and theory — Halamus was an important resource on our Music Team.

MarcD, from Belgium, was a longtime supporter of and liaison between Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg. He was the founder of Free Literature, an organization through which he produced many e-books for Project Gutenberg.

RSPIII joined Distributed Proofreaders in 2011 and during his time with us proofread and formatted 1,698 pages. He also post-processed eight books and had taken out several more to work on before he died. RSPIII was active in our community forums, and many of our volunteers remember him fondly.

Collaborative Projects

Project PHaEDRA. The Distributed Proofreaders collaboration with Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute on Project PHaEDRA is ongoing. This challenging project involves transcribing original notebooks created in the 19th and early 20th Centuries by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory, including early female astronomers and the famous Harvard Computers. One of the oldest handwritten notebooks in the collection, from 1848-49, has completed the proofreading rounds at Distributed Proofreaders and is currently making its way through the formatting rounds.

Mundaneum Project. In connection with an exhibition in March-April 2019 at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, entitled “Data Workers,” Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have been transcribing French and French-English texts from the Mundaneum’s archive. Our General Manager, Linda Hamilton, was interviewed on Skype for the exhibition. Additional Mundaneum texts in German, Spanish, and Italian are in preparation at Distributed Proofreaders.


Many thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers, past and present, who have given us 19 years of “preserving history one page at a time.”

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


The Living Animals of the World

September 1, 2019

On July 29, 2019, Project Gutenberg posted its 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1 of 2). Congratulations to Project Gutenberg and to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!

Humankind has always been fascinated by Nature. At first, it was matter of mere adaptation for survival. Once humans learned to make themselves comfortable, philosophers in ancient times began to study the workings of the natural world. In medieval Europe, that study became a matter of theology.

A more scientific approach began to take hold during the Renaissance, and by the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest, both amateur and professional, in natural history. Empire-building by various European nations enabled naturalists to rove all over the globe, studying flora and fauna, taking careful notes, and amassing collections that began as private “cabinets of curiosities” and ended by forming the cores of the great natural history museums that were founded throughout Europe and America.

As general education in the Western world improved and books became more accessible, natural history became a subject of popular interest as well. Numerous books on plants and animals, often lavishly illustrated, were published for general audiences. A fine example of this is the two-volume set of The Living Animals of the World. First published in London in 1901, it bills itself as “A Popular Natural History.” The two volumes contain a total of over 1,100 black-and-white photographs and two dozen color plates.

Volume 1 deals with mammals, while Volume 2 (in progress at Distributed Proofreaders) concerns itself with birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, other sea creatures, and insects. The eminent British zoologist C.J. Cornish was the editor, heading a stellar team of contributors that included explorers F.C. Selous and Sir Harry Johnston, zoologist W.P. Pycraft, hunter and naturalist H.A. Bryden, marine biologist William Saville-Kent, and entomologist W.F. Kirby, among others.

The introduction to Volume 1 extols the popularity of natural history and notes the great boon of photography to aid in its study:

… the interest now taken in Natural History is of a kind and calibre never previously known, and any work which presents the wonders of the Animal World in a new or clearer form may make some claim to the approval of the public…. Every year not only adds to the stock of knowledge of the denizens of earth and ocean, but increases the facilities for presenting their forms and surroundings pictorially. Photography applied to the illustration of the life of beasts, birds, fishes, insects, corals, and plants is at once the most attractive and the most correct form of illustration. In the following pages it will be used on a scale never equalled in any previous publication.

The work of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers in creating the e-book version of The Living Animals of the World, complete with its hundreds of photographs, does ample justice to that boast. This handsome volume is a fitting way to celebrate Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Count Safroni

August 1, 2019

The Victorians had a great love for exotic cultural exploration, no doubt an outgrowth of Britain’s imperial expansion all over the world. Amateur scholars and adventurers sailed off to far-flung tropical islands to observe the curious habits, mores, and rituals of the natives, whom they generally considered uncivilized savages.

safroni

Count Safroni

One such cultural explorer was the musician and author Arnold Safroni-Middleton, also known as Count Safroni. Safroni-Middleton was born in South London, England, in 1873. According to family reminiscences, based on his own accounts, he ran away to sea when he was still a boy and landed in Brisbane, Australia. He survived by playing his violin on the streets. Later, he stowed away on a ship bound for Samoa. Playing his violin allegedly saved him from being devoured by Samoan cannibals.

The somewhat more sober account of his life, according to Safroni-Middleton’s obituary, is that he went to Dulwich College and became a professional violinist who played in orchestras and as a soloist all over the world. But he did have a keen sense of adventure, and there is no doubt that he had an opportunity to steep himself in the exotica of the South Sea islands. Those experiences resulted in a number of memoirs and novels set in the South Pacific, many with examples of “native” music composed by Safroni-Middleton himself. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have posted five of these novels to Project Gutenberg, and a sixth is in the works. Several include links to audio files of Safroni-Middleton’s music.

In Sailor and Beachcomber (1915), he tells the tale of running away to Australia and fetching up in Samoa. He has romances with native girls and hobnobs with Robert Louis Stevenson, who had settled in Samoa in 1890. Ever the musician, Safroni-Middleton provides the music for a couple of native songs that he says “had the Western note in them” — they certainly do, if his transcriptions are any indication. After an interlude tramping through the Australian bush, he is off to San Francisco, where he plays the violin at a raucous (and dangerous) “high-class dancing saloon” before returning to Australia for more adventures.

The sequel, A Vagabond’s Odyssey (1916), opens with Safroni-Middleton sleeping on the floor of a derelict attic in New England, but determined to become a great violinist. After various vicissitudes (including a stint selling bug powder), wanderlust strikes him again, and he finds himself in the South Seas once more. In this book, he purports to transcribe some Samoan dances that sound suspiciously like Victorian parlor music, such as a “Tribal Waltz” that he claims was played by a “barbarian orchestra”:

Wine-Dark Seas and Tropic Skies (1918), Safroni-Middleton’s third memoir, brings us back to Sydney, Australia, where, at 16, he finds himself stranded for the fourth time. He makes the rounds of the Marquesas, Fiji, and other islands. On the way, he becomes fascinated with a young “half caste” girl, Waylao, whose mesmerizing dance Safroni-Middleton transcribes as a waltz not too different from the one in his previous book.

In yet another memoir, South Sea Foam (1920; in progress at Distributed Proofreaders), he casts himself as a “a modern Don Quixote in the southern seas.” Stranded (again) in Sydney, he heads to Samoa and the Marquesas. The time frame is a bit fuzzy, as he seems to be elaborating on some of the ground already covered in earlier memoirs, but it’s still a rollicking adventure. It features music for a lively Marquesan dance that, like his other “South Sea” music, has a distinctly Western European flavor.

Safroni-Middleton turned to fiction in Gabrielle of the Lagoon (1919), a romantic tale set in the Solomon Islands about a British adventurer (who, not surprisingly, is also a violinist) and a beautiful young “three-quarter caste” girl. Another mixed-race beauty is the love interest in the novel Sestrina (1920).

These are just a handful of Safroni-Middleton’s works. He was a prolific writer who even delved into the realm of science fiction. And he was an equally prolific composer, with a number of waltzes and marches under his belt. His best-known musical work is “Imperial Echoes,” which became famous through its use on the BBC Radio Newsreel for many years.


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 13 July 2019

July 11, 2019

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable between 2 pm and 10 pm server time on Saturday 13 July 2019 as we upgrade our forum software and update our forum database tables.

We hope that the update will not take the full 8 hours. If the upgrade and data conversion 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 in the pgdp Jabber conference room and on Facebook.

Update 5:20pm EDT: Site is back up and operational, thank you for your patience!

Update 5:00pm EDT: Testing and troubleshooting of change underway.

Update 3:00pm EDT: Proceeding as planned.

Update 2:00pm EDT: Maintenance started.


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