Grammar-Land

December 1, 2021

grammarland-parsing

What a delightful book is Grammar-Land. I only wish I had first encountered it while in school learning grammar. Every chapter has an awesome initial illustrated capital letter. The book is worth reviewing just for the fun illustrations.

Subtitled “Grammar in Fun for the Children of Schoolroom-shire” (yes, that’s “in” not “is”), this book introduces the Parts of Speech in story form. Each part of speech is represented by a character who is pleading his case for ownership of his words.

The charm of this book makes me want to quote extensively from it to fairly represent it. Let me see if I can give you an idea of it, enough to make you want to read it for yourself.

Our kings and queens, and emperors too, have all to obey Judge Grammar’s laws, or else they would talk what is called bad grammar; and then, even their own subjects would laugh at them, and would say: “Poor things! When they were children, and lived in Schoolroom-shire, they can never have been taken to Grammar-land! How shocking!”

The parts of speech start quarreling about ownership of words and are called before Judge Grammar to defend their ownership of disputed words or explain whether they are stealing one another’s words. They also disagree concerning whose words are most important. Judge Grammar calls on Serjeant Parsing and Dr. Syntax as counsellors.

The exercises for the students are far from dry and boring. For example, while the Judge recesses to lunch off a few pages of dictionary, the Schoolroom-shire friends are to fix these verses by replacing nouns with appropriate pronouns.

Little Bo-peep has lost Bo-peep’s sheep,
And does not know where to find the sheep;
Leave the sheep alone till the sheep come home.
And bring the sheep’s tails behind the sheep.

I’m sure this textbook taught while entertaining many school children. I would not be surprised to find that Dr. Seuss was influenced by this book. Doesn’t this remind you of his verses in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? or of Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat in the Hat?

A beautiful thing, an ugly thing, bad things, good things, green things, yellow things, large things, little things; and so you can say, one thing, two things, some things, any things; and also, this thing, that thing, these things, those things.

The conversations among the characters are entertaining as well as educational. For example:

Dr. Syntax rose and said: “The first person is always the person speaking, and the second is the person spoken to. Let every one in the court say, ‘I am the first,’ and we shall all be right, and all satisfied.”

I first, we first,” they all shouted; “and you, you, you, only the second.”

The noise was tremendous, and the Judge, finding himself only one against a number, thought he had better turn the subject; and clapping his hands loudly, to call for silence, he called out:

“But if we are all firsts and seconds, pray where is the third person to go?”

“Oh, the third person,” said Pronoun, contemptuously, “is only the one we are talking about. He may not be here, so it cannot matter if we call him only the third person.”

Hmm. Perhaps Abbott and Costello studied with this book before creating “Who’s on First?”

Or this:

“Yes, my lord,” answered Serjeant Parsing, “that is my way, and therefore, of course, it is the best way. My way is always the best way. Now there is a sentence all ready for you: My way is always the best way. I’ll find the nominative before you can dot an i. ‘What is
always the best way?’ Answer, my way is always the best way; – so my way is the Nominative.”

“But you asked ‘what?’ not ‘who?’ there, Brother Parsing,” remarked the Judge.

“Because way is a thing, not a person, my lord. When we are talking of a thing, then we ask ‘what?’ instead of ‘who?’ If you said ‘the pudding is boiling in the pot,’ I should say ‘what is boiling?’ not ‘who is boiling?’ for I should hope you would not be boiling a person in a pot, unless you were the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.”

There are many more gems in this book as well as an opportunity for a solid grounding in grammar. I hope this enticed you to give it a look. May you enjoy it as much as I did.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Frédéric and George

November 1, 2021

During what had to be one of the world’s worst vacations, Frédéric Chopin completed his sublime Preludes (Op. 28), 24 piano miniatures covering all the major and minor keys and evoking the gamut of human emotion. Perhaps as astounding as their brilliance is the fact that he was able to focus on them at all, when he was ill and chilled to the bone, on a cold, rainy island with hostile locals, incompetent doctors, and a dreadful piano.

It’s a testament to his genius and dedication that he was able to finish these and several other great works during that miserable trip. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed to Project Gutenberg a number of books touching on Chopin’s short but fascinating life and his relationship with the eccentric and passionate female novelist George Sand, who brought him to that inhospitable island.

Born in Warsaw in 1810 to a French father and a Polish mother, Chopin was a piano prodigy who settled in Paris at 21. He immediately made the right connections, including the wildly popular Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Despite Chopin’s reluctance to give public performances in concert halls – unlike Liszt, the inveterate showman, Chopin preferred to perform in intimate salons – he became a celebrity whose compositions and services as a master piano teacher were very much in demand.

Eugène Delacroix‘s unfinished 1838 double portrait of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin was cut in two and sold as separate pieces.

In 1836, at one of those intimate salons, Chopin met George Sand, a free spirit who frequently dressed like a man and smoked cigars. Although not attracted to her at first (“Is she even a woman?” he asked a friend), he soon fell under her spell. It was with her and her children – she was divorced from a French baron – that he traveled to the island of Majorca in November 1838 for what they hoped would be a healthful, warm winter in the Mediterranean sun. But, as Sand relates in her 1842 memoir, Un hiver à Majorque (A Winter in Majorca), it was a catastrophe. It was chilly and rained continually, Chopin became ill, and their landlord in Palma kicked them out for fear of contagion. They were forced to move from town to an abandoned hilltop monastery, the Valldemossa Charterhouse, with a bad locally-made piano – Chopin’s fine Pleyel was stuck in Customs until just three weeks before they left. (The Pleyel now takes pride of place at the Chopin/Sand Museum there.)

It was at the monastery that Chopin completed the Preludes and other works. In her 1855 autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (Livre 3), Sand wrote of the Preludes, “Ce sont des chefs-d’œuvre. Plusieurs présentent à la pensée des visions de moines trépassés et l’audition des chants funèbres qui l’assiégeaient” (“They are masterpieces. Several bring to the mind visions of departed monks and the sound of funeral chants that besieged him”). Chopin did not agree with her narrativist interpretations of his music, and was even angry when she suggested that one of them imitated the sound of the endless raindrops on the monastery roof. This was probably a reference to the famous Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major, the so-called “Raindrop,” a name decidedly not given it by Chopin, who hated descriptive titles. Meanwhile, Sand, a prolific writer, completed Spiridion, an atmospheric novel about a young monk haunted by the ghost of an abbot.

Though the weather eventually improved, they left for France in February 1839. Chopin continued to compose, teach, and occasionally perform, and Sand continued to churn out novels. But he was becoming more and more ill, to the point where Sand found herself more a nurse than a lover. And there were already simmering tensions in the love affair. In 1846, she wrote Lucrezia Floriani, in which a long-suffering actress cares for a sickly and jealous prince. Their friends, appalled, immediately recognized Chopin as the prince. Liszt, in his Life of Chopin, one of the first full-length appreciations published after Chopin’s death, decried the “false proportions” of the prince’s character. But Sand, while respectful of her old friend Liszt, retorted in her autobiography that he “s’est fourvoyé de bonne foi” (“went astray in good faith”) by relying on their friends’ mistaken notions. Sand was, perhaps, protesting too much.

Sand ended the relationship in 1847 after family squabbles involving Sand’s now-grown children – though she claimed in her autobiography that he ended it by accusing her of no longer loving him. Chopin died of tuberculosis two years later, aged only 39. Sand was deeply affected by his death but did not attend his funeral. In her autobiography, though she still complained of her role as nurse, she had the grace to admit that he had repaid her “de mes années de veille, d’angoisse et d’absorption par des années de tendresse, de confiance et de gratitude” (“for my years of vigil, of anguish, and of devotion with years of tenderness, of trust, and of gratitude”).

Other 19th-Century accounts of Chopin’s life can be found at Project Gutenberg, including Frederick Chopin, as a Man and Musician, by Frederick Niecks, which criticizes George Sand’s “pretentions to self-sacrificing saintliness”; and Frederic Chopin: His Life, Letters, and Works, by Maurycy Karasowski, which, by contrast, relies extensively on her autobiography. There’s even a short biography for children, Chopin: The Story of the Boy Who Made Beautiful Melodies, part of the “Child’s Own” series of composer biographies. Not surprisingly, it omits all mention of Sand, whose place in his life could hardly be explained to a child, at least not in 1917. Biographies of Sand include the sympathetic Famous Women: George Sand, by Bertha Thomas, which vehemently denies that Sand “blighted” Chopin’s life. Whatever conclusion one may draw from their relationship, it certainly can’t be said it was dull.

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


Freedom to Read

October 1, 2021

This week (September 26 to October 2) is Banned Books Week, a celebration of our freedom to read. And, coincidentally, Distributed Proofreaders is 21 years old today – all grown up, as it were, with a world of books, banned or not, to contribute to Project Gutenberg, making them freely available to anyone with an electronic device.

Both Distributed Proofreaders (DP) and Project Gutenberg (PG) follow the principles of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement – “free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.” As long as the book is in the public domain in the United States, there is no restriction on content at DP or PG. Below are some highlights of the once-banned books that DP and PG volunteers have preserved as e-books.

Book-banning has been around for centuries. It has been said that the ancient Roman poet Ovid was exiled for his Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), published in 1 BCE (but some theorize that the exile was politically motivated). Henry Fielding‘s English translation of it was published under the title The Lover’s Assistant, or New Art of Love in 1759. Fielding’s own wildly popular novel, Tom Jones, was belatedly banned as “indecent” in 1913 by one library in England, because “whatever might have been the habits 150 years ago, it was not a suitable book … to have access to in a free public library.”

Not surprisingly, books of prurient interest are frequently the target of the guardians of morality. The very bawdy L’Escoles des Filles (The School for Girls) of 1655, said to be the earliest of the French “libertine” novels, got its Parisian publisher, Michel Millot, into hot water. He had to flee the city, and the public prosecutors burned every copy they could get their hands on. But they must have missed some. In February 1668, Samuel Pepys got hold of a reprint, in a “plain binding,” from his London bookseller. Claiming in his Diary to have read it strictly “for information sake,” he found it “mighty lewd,” apparently enjoyed it, and then “burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.” (And, speaking of lewdness, the part of this passage involving his enjoyment was excised from the 19th-Century edition that was used to prepare the e-book version of his 1668 diary entries at PG.)

The Roman Catholic Church officially banned thousands of books through its Index Librorum Prohibitum (Index of Prohibited Books), begun in the 16th Century. Protestant theology works were naturally on the list as being heresy, but the Church also went after scientific books. For example, it considered heliocentrism – the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around – particularly heretical. And so, among many other astronomical works, the Church banned all of Galileo‘s books, including The Sidereal Messenger, in which he reported his observations supporting heliocentrism through the newly-invented telescope. In 1633, Galileo was found guilty of heresy and forced to formally reject heliocentrism (though he is said to have muttered afterward, “Eppur si muove” – “Still, it moves”). Despite mounting scientific evidence, the Church did not remove books on heliocentrism from the Index until 1835. The Church abolished the Index altogether in 1966 and officially exonerated Galileo in 1992.

The combination of politics and religion was also a recipe for censorship. America’s first banned book, Thomas Morton’s The New English Canaan, published in 1637, was an exposé of the misdoings of the Puritan settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It led to Morton’s arrest and exile to what was then the wilderness of Maine. You can read all about it in this blog post.

What we now consider classics did not escape censorship when they were published – and some are still targeted today. Mark Twain‘s beloved Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by libraries in Massachusetts and New York shortly after its publication in 1885, on the grounds that it was “rough, coarse and inelegant.” Today, it continues to be challenged for its use of racial stereotypes and epithets, even though the story of the friendship between Huck Finn, a runaway white boy, and Jim, a runaway black slave, is clearly anti-racist in intent.

James Joyce‘s famed stream-of-consciousness novel, Ulysses, was banned – and burned – in both England and the United States after its publication in Paris in 1922. One Irish critic called it “[t]he most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature,” citing its “flood of unimaginable thoughts, images, and pornographic words” and its “unclean lunacies … larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies.” That particular criticism found its way into the U.S. government’s argument in the second trial of the book for obscenity in 1933 – and that time, the government lost, finally allowing Ulysses to be legally published in the United States.

Another Irish writer, Frank Harris, also had a notorious work banned on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. Harris was a knockabout journalist who hobnobbed with many celebrities of the turn of the last century (see his somewhat embellished biography of his friend Oscar Wilde). Harris’s steamy autobiography, My Life and Loves, was privately published in Paris in installments from 1922 to 1927, but it was not legally published in its entirety until 1963. You can see why if you take a peek at Volume 1: His accounts of his amorous adventures are quite graphic and are illustrated by photos and drawings of nude women.

Even poetry has had its censors. Walt Whitman‘s 1855 Leaves of Grass was a bit too erotic – specifically homoerotic – for 19th-Century librarians’ tastes. They refused to stock it, and Whitman even lost his government job thanks to the long-running controversy it engendered. Nearly thirty years after its first publication, the Boston district attorney insisted that some of the “obscene” poems (like “Song of Myself”) be excised from a new edition. Whitman refused, found another publisher, and saw the unexpurgated edition sell out in one day.

In celebrating Banned Books Week, let’s remember the warning of the great 19th-Century German poet Heinrich Heine, whose own books were banned in his lifetime and later burned by the Nazis:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
That was just a prelude, where they burn books, they will also in the end burn people.

– from Almansor

Exercise your freedom to read.

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


Astrea Triumphant

September 1, 2021
Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1670

What do you do when you’re a 17th-Century Englishwoman whose parents and husband are dead and you have no resources other than your own courage and wit? Well, first you become a royal spy. And when that doesn’t pan out, you take up your pen and write some of the hottest plays on the London stage, throwing in some racy, ahead-of their-time novels and poetry.

And so Aphra Behn (c. 1640-1689) – playwright, novelist, poet, spy – survived as one of the first Englishwomen to make her living by writing. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed to Project Gutenberg a six-volume collection of her works, edited by literary scholar Montague Summers and published in 1915.

Behn’s early life is obscure – possibly because she herself obscured it – but she may have been born in Kent, the daughter of a barber and a wet-nurse. The couple is believed to have brought her to the South American colony of Surinam in 1663. Behn’s best-known novel, Oroonoko (in Volume V of the collected works), a tale of an enslaved African prince, was allegedly based on her experiences there, and is considered by some to be the first anti-slavery novel, preceding Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin by almost two centuries.

In 1664, Behn returned to England and may have married a German or Dutch merchant named Johann Behn. The relationship apparently ended quickly, but she referred to herself as “Mrs. Behn” for the rest of her life. Somehow she managed to acquire enough social and political influence to bring her to the attention of Charles II’s spymasters. England was at war with the Dutch, and Charles wanted to identify English exiles in the Netherlands who were plotting against him. Under the code-name Astrea, which she later used as a pen-name, Behn embarked on a mission to befriend a potential double-agent in Antwerp. But the mission failed and Charles never paid her. She managed to get back to England on borrowed funds.

Once again thrown upon her own resources, Behn took a job with an acting company as a scribe. The re-opening of the theatres under Charles II (after the Puritans’ fun-free Interregnum ended) and the consequent demand for new entertainments gave Behn the opportunity to write her own plays. Her first, The Forc’d Marriage (in Volume III), was staged in London in 1670. She did not shy away from the lustiness of the time. Her plays are peppered with erotic innuendos that her audiences found highly entertaining, despite Alexander Pope sourly tut-tutting in his Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated, “The stage how loosely does Astraea tread,/ Who fairly puts all characters to bed!”

Behn wrote 19 plays in all, as well as several novels. Her success (and her private life) led to frequent criticism of her as an immoral woman, but that didn’t stop her from writing and certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of her work. She got into more serious trouble when she unwisely dabbled in politics – she criticized the King’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, in a prologue and epilogue to the play Romulus and Hersilia (see Volume VI) and was briefly arrested in 1682.

She also wrote a fair amount of poetry (Volume VI), often with topical references, disguised allusions to real people, and erotic subjects. One poem, “The Disappointment,” frankly explores themes of attempted rape and male impotence. She even celebrated lesbian love in “To the fair Clarinda, who made Love to me, imagin’d more than Woman.”

After her death in 1689, Behn’s work was all but forgotten, except by prudish scholars who were apt to denigrate her as “shameless” and “coarse.” More respectful interest in her was revived in the early 20th Century, beginning with Summers’s collection of her works, and continuing with tributes to her in the 1920s from Vita Sackville-West in Aphra Behn: the Incomparable Astrea and Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. Appreciation for her increased with the dawn of the Women’s Movement in the 1970s. Behn is now regarded as a pioneer for women’s literary independence, or, as Woolf put it, “the right to speak their minds.”

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


Celebrating 42,000 Titles

August 3, 2021

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 42,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

Fellows who know all about that sort of thing – detectives, and so on – will tell you that the most difficult thing in the world is to get rid of the body. I remember, as a kid, having to learn by heart a poem about a bird by the name of Eugene Aram, who had the deuce of a job in this respect. All I can recall of the actual poetry is the bit that goes:

“Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum,
I slew him, tum-tum tum!”

But I recollect that the poor blighter spent much of his valuable time dumping the corpse into ponds and burying it, and what not, only to have it pop out at him again.

From “Jeeves Takes Charge,” in Carry On, Jeeves.
cover

There are few things better calculated to put a smile on your face than a dip into the sunlit world of P.G. Wodehouse. And that’s particularly true of his famed stories of that brilliant “gentleman’s personal gentleman,” Jeeves, and his master, the upper-class twit Bertie Wooster. As the above quotation shows, Bertie narrates the stories in a marvelous potpourri of the King’s English, Jazz-Age slang, and half-remembered literary quotations – the hallmark of Wodehouse’s unique wit.

Thanks to the expiration of the 95-year copyrights that the U.S. Congress had accorded works published from 1923 through 1977, much of Wodehouse’s best work is coming into the public domain. Our 42,000th title, Carry On, Jeeves, a 1925 collection of 10 short stories, is among his many classics.

The first story, “Jeeves Takes Charge,” was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916. It recounts the first meeting between Jeeves and Bertie, whose previous valet he’d had to fire for “sneaking my silk socks, a thing no bloke of spirit could stick at any price.” Bertie is grappling with a hangover from the previous night’s revels and at the same time trying to read a tome called Types of Ethical Theory. Bertie’s usual fare is detective stories, but his fiancée – “a girl with a wonderful profile, but steeped to the gills in serious purpose” – has essentially ordered him to read this rather daunting volume. Jeeves arrives from the employment agency and gives him a hangover remedy that at first makes him feel “as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch.” But it works instantly, and Bertie hires him on the spot.

Thus began a fictional partnership that lasted another half a century, during which Jeeves masterfully extricated Bertie from numerous outlandish scrapes – including engagements, both deliberate and accidental, with utterly mismatched women. The last Jeeves/Wooster novel was Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (The Cat-Nappers in the U.S.), published in 1974.

Wodehouse was amazingly prolific, writing over 90 novels, 40 plays, and 200 stories in the course of his long life. Project Gutenberg has more than 40 of his works, including four in the Jeeves/Wooster canon. Wodehouse’s other series, such as those featuring Lord Emsworth, Mr. Mulliner, Psmith, and Ukridge, are also much beloved. His works remain highly popular today, and his devoted fans have gathered in numerous Wodehouse Societies around the world. There are even websites like Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums that provide scholarly resources, such as annotations explaining literary and cultural references in Wodehouse’s work. (See, for example, the annotations to Carry On, Jeeves.)

In tough times like these, the world needs more Wodehouse. Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 42,000th title with one of his comic masterpieces. Let Bertie and Jeeves have the last word:

“… Do you know, Jeeves, you’re – well, you absolutely stand alone!”

“I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir,” said Jeeves.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and a member of The Wodehouse Society.


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.


%d bloggers like this: