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.

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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.


Crossword: Marine Dictionary

July 1, 2019

Longing for the tang of fresh sea air but can’t get to the shore? Feel like yo-ho-ho-ing but don’t have a bottle of rum? What better way to get your seafaring fix than with an ingenious crossword composed of nautical terms?

Our latest Distributed Proofreaders puzzle is based on An Universal Dictionary of the Marine by William Falconer, a Scottish poet and sailor. Published in 1769, the same year Falconer was lost at sea, the dictionary is a fascinating compendium of technical terms and phrases relating to ships. It contains helpful illustrations and even an appendix with translations of French maritime terms.

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In order to solve the puzzle, first take a look at the book. Yes, it’s a dictionary. No, we don’t expect you to read a dictionary. The beauty of Project Gutenberg e-books is that they’re searchable. And you’ll learn something new (or old) about marine terms while you’re hunting for the answers.

You can solve the puzzle in one of two ways:

  • Use the interactive version. Just click on a blank square and the corresponding clue pops up. Type in the answer and click OK (or, if you’re stumped, click the Solve button). Clicking the Check Puzzle button at the bottom gives the number of errors and incomplete words, if you want to see how you’re getting on.
  • Or, download the printable PDF version and print out the puzzle to solve it the old-fashioned way, with your favorite writing implement. Check your solution with the printable PDF answer key. No peeking! (But who’s to know?)

Happy Puzzling!

This crossword was created by FallenArchangel, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer, using the free EclipseCrossword app.

Previous Distributed Proofreaders Crosswords

Marjorie Dean: Marvelous Manager

The Last of the Bushrangers

Uncle Wiggily’s Squirt Gun


Terra Australis

June 1, 2019

One of the great cultural phenomena of the Victorian era was the rise of scholarly societies, which attracted the outstanding scientific and artistic minds of the day. Among these was the Hakluyt Society, founded in London in 1846 and still in existence today, whose aim was to further the study of world exploration. It counted Charles Darwin among its early members. The society was named after the Elizabethan-era geographer Richard Hakluyt, whose magnum opus was The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation.

One of the society’s purposes was to publish historical accounts of voyages in the spirit of Hakluyt’s work. Among these was geographer Richard Henry Major‘s 1859 study, Early Voyages to Terra Australis, Now Called Australia. Major, who served as secretary of the Hakluyt Society, was the curator of the map collection at the British Museum.

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Terra Australis is a book about the discovery of Australia, which I found very interesting. Many original documents, or their translations, are given. It was fascinating to read how many hardships those early explorers had to overcome. They must have been really good navigators, too, given how hard it was to find suitable and safe spots to anchor. In addition to their hard work on board, they also had to face the danger of shipwrecks, which happened all too frequently — but they often succeeded not only in surviving, but also in building another seaworthy vessel from the materials of the wreckage!

Another big challenge they faced was the search for drinkable water. This was always a problem, and the primary reason for seeking out a decent landing-place. If a spot was found where the ship could anchor without a great risk of running aground on shoals, some crew members went ashore and started digging for water. Often they found none on the small islands; when they were lucky, they found a spring or a pool, but the water from those pools was mostly brackish, and not good for drinking. However, they could use it to cook their oatmeal.

But the places where they found good water were often inhabited by aboriginals, or “savages,” as the explorers of the time called them. These people indeed lived very primitively, without houses or clothing most of the time. A certain island population  lived only on a few roots, as well as fish that they caught by placing some rocks around a small space near the sea that was dry at ebb tide but filled at flood tide. When the tide receded again, they gathered the fish that were left in the small space. Although they knew how to make fire, they didn’t use it for cooking. These fish and roots seemed to be their only diet. No wonder they were described as thin.

The aboriginals on many of these islands mostly fled when they saw that white people from the ships were coming ashore, but some were warlike, and threw wooden lances, wooden spears, or stones at the sailors. There were also tribes who were peaceful and who welcomed the visitors, although no verbal communication was possible. In one case, however, when leaving the island, the explorers said that they found that almost all of the natives became treacherous, trying to steal whatever they could, even though they had received many presents from the explorers already.

Another laborious task of these explorers was the mapping. Day and night, nearly every hour, they needed to check their compass and note the longitude and latitude they were on. They also checked the depth of the water constantly when land was in sight, and also noted of which substance the soil consisted, be it sand, rock, coral or anything else. In this way they mapped out not only the land, but also the coral reefs!

Of course, the explorers also described the fauna and flora of the lands they visited. Terra Australis quotes from Captain William Dampier‘s account of his 1699 voyage to Western Australia. There, he observed kangaroos and shinglebacks:

The land animals that we saw here were only a sort of raccoons, different from those of the West Indies, chiefly as to their legs; for these have very short fore legs, but go jumping upon them as the others do (and like them are very good meat); and a sort of guanos, of the same shape and size with other guanos, describ’d (vol. i, p. 57), but differing from them in three remarkable particulars: for these had a larger and uglier head, and had no tail, and at the rump, instead of the tail there, they had a stump of a tail, which appear’d like another head; but not really such, being without mouth or eyes: yet this creature seem’d by this means to have a head at each end, and, which may be reckon’d a fourth difference, the legs also seem’d all four of them to be fore-legs, being all alike in shape and length, and seeming by the joints and bending to be made as if they were to go indifferently either head or tail foremost. They were speckled black and yellow, like toads, and had scales or knobs on their backs like those of crocodiles, plated on to the skin, or stuck into it as part of the skin. They are very slow in motion, and when a man comes nigh them they will stand still and hiss, not endeavouring to get away. Their livers are also spotted black and yellow, and the body when opened hath a very unsavoury smell. I did never see such ugly creatures any where but here. The guanos I have observ’d to be very good meat, and I have often eaten of them with pleasure; but tho’ I have eaten of snakes, crocodiles, and allegators, and many creatures that look frightfully enough, and there are but few I should have been afraid to eat of if prest by hunger, yet I think my stomach would scarce have serv’d to venture upon these New Holland guanos, both the looks and the smell of them being so offensive.

In another interesting document, a Spanish cosmographer, Dr. Juan Luis Arias, tried to convince King Philip III of Spain to send an expedition to “the southern land.” His “memorial,” or petition, to the king, written in the early 17th Century, is remarkable. As is commonly known, Spain at that time was a very Roman Catholic nation. Arias’s memorial urges the king to finance an expedition to Australia, not only for the good of Spain and the glory of the king, but most importantly, to bring “our holy faith and Catholic religion” to “its numberless inhabitants, who are so long waiting for this divine and celestial benefit at the hand of Your Majesty.” When reading this memorial, I was rather astonished at how boldly Arias addressed the king. He quoted extensively from the Bible and said it was the duty of the king, as sovereign of a nation that belonged to the Church, to send people to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of the new land, or else he would have to answer for his refusal before God. This he repeated several times. It seems rather daring for a subject to use such a threatening tone towards his sovereign, but Arias must have hoped it would be effective (it wasn’t — vast as its global empire was, Spain never did gain a foothold in Australia).

These are only some of the remarkable anecdotes in Terra Australis, and the book is definitely worth reading, because much more can be learned from it. It almost reads like an adventure novel. But it contains true stories, the adventures of real explorers and seamen, and all their perils and successes.

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


The April Baby’s Book of Tunes

May 1, 2019

This post is published in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week, April 29 to May 5, 2019.

Greenaway illustration

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have always loved preserving children’s books, from the famous to the obscure. Hot off the Press has highlighted quite a few of our outstanding e-book versions of works for young people, such as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, popular juvenile series starring the likes of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, dime-novel series like Motor Matt, and books illustrated by beloved artists like Walter Crane. But these are just a tiny fraction of the total: Distributed Proofreaders has contributed over 3,700 children’s books to Project Gutenberg.

One very recent example is The April Baby’s Book of Tunes, published in 1900. It tells the story of three little girls in Germany who are stuck indoors during an unexpected April snowstorm just before Easter. Their mother entertains them by setting a variety of well-known English nursery rhymes to music.

Though credited only as “the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden,” the author was Elizabeth von Arnim, then known as the Countess von Arnim-Schlagenthin. Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Australia but raised in England, she married a Prussian count in 1891. They had five children (three of whom were the models for the little girls in The April Baby’s Book of Tunes), but the marriage was not a happy one. The count’s propensity for racking up debts eventually led to his being imprisoned for fraud. This in turn led to her writing her successful semi-autobiographical novel, Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898), under the pseudonym “Elizabeth.” She wrote some 20 books, mainly novels; two of them, The Enchanted April (1922) and Mr. Skeffington (1940), were made into popular films. After the count’s death in 1910, a turbulent affair with H.G. Wells, and another unhappy marriage, this time to the 2nd Earl Russell (whom she satirized in her 1921 novel Vera), she led a peripatetic life that took her all over Europe and the United States. She died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1941.

Perhaps the most delightful part of The April Baby’s Book of Tunes are its 16 charming color illustrations by the great children’s book artist Kate Greenaway. It was one of Greenaway’s last published works; she tragically died in 1901 of breast cancer at the age of 55. She was justly famous for her use of vibrant color in depicting beautiful children in beautiful surroundings, and The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is no exception.

As if that weren’t enough, the book features 10 little songs, prettily arranged for voice and piano (presumably by von Arnim herself; the composer is not credited). In the HTML version at Project Gutenberg, you can click on links to hear the music and download the notation if you wish.

The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is “Elizabeth’s” only children’s book, but it’s a lovely example of the genre. It could not fail to be, with Kate Greenaway’s entrancing illustrations.

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


Celebrating 37,000 Titles

April 16, 2019

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 37,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

french_painting_cover_blogAmong the joys for those who love both art and books are museum publications featuring their collections or exhibitions. Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art is an excellent example of the delights available in this form. It’s a short booklet, just 43 pages, but it’s filled with lovely color plates of 16 selections from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art was the brainchild of Pittsburgh banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon.  He had begun collecting art in the 1890s on the advice of his friend Henry Clay Frick, whose own vast collection later became a very fine New York City museum. In 1936, Mellon — who was then embroiled in tax difficulties — approached the Roosevelt Administration with an offer to build a national art gallery, to be formed from his personal art collection and maintained by the U.S. Government with the help of a substantial financial endowment. Mellon never saw the gallery completed, however; he died in 1937, and the gallery opened in 1941.

The French Paintings booklet approaches the art chronologically, from the neoclassical work of Jacques-Louis David — famous for his portraits of Napoleon, one of which is included in the booklet — to modernists like Auguste Renoir, whose Girl with a Watering Can graces the cover. Each color plate is accompanied by a short description of the painting and its place in art history, as well as the donor’s identity (the majority were donated by New York banker Chester Dale).

Museum publications like this one were designed to make art — or history or science — more accessible to museum visitors. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg make publications like this accessible worldwide to anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone, including people who may never see a museum in person.

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


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