The Story of Chamber Music

May 1, 2023

The Joachim Quartet, founded by violinist Joseph Joachim

Chamber music – sometimes called “the music of friends” – is one of the most intimate genres of classical music. In its ideal form, a handful of musicians – professional or amateur – play together in a private space for a small audience. There is no orchestra, no conductor, no soloist. In The Story of Chamber Music, you can read about its rich history and hear some of its music, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg.

The author of The Story of Chamber Music, Nicholas Kilburn (1843-1923), was himself an amateur musician – his “day job” was running a locomotive repair company – with a music degree from the University of Cambridge. In his spare time, he was actively involved with a variety of British amateur musical groups as a conductor, pianist, organist, and cellist. Kilburn made a point of supporting the music of British composers, becoming a close friend of Edward Elgar. He was also an ardent disciple of Richard Wagner and wrote two books about his music.

Published in 1904, The Story of Chamber Music traces the origins of chamber music back to medieval times in Europe, when musicians entertained kings in private palace chambers. Noblemen took up the practice and used chamber music at their banquets “as a stimulus and a cover for conversation, a practice not even yet quite obsolete,” as Kilburn notes.

From these early times, Kilburn takes us to the 17th Century, when both private and public concerts of chamber music became popular entertainments. Two famous diarists of the era, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (both of whose diaries are available at Project Gutenberg), mention attending chamber concerts, with Pepys so transported by a wind ensemble that he “remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musique hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me.”

Kilburn then shows how the musical giants of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic Eras – Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and others – further refined chamber music into the brilliant form we know today. The Story of Chamber Music was written at the tail-end of the Late Romantic Era, so Kilburn included studies of chamber music by later composers like Dvořák, Richard Strauss, and Bruckner. There is a chapter devoted to chamber music by Russian composers such as Glinka and Tchaikovsky. And he concludes with a chapter on contemporary chamber music, selecting for inclusion “[o]nly what is thought may prove acceptable and useful to earnest amateurs.” Kilburn speaks admiringly of the black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and highlights the work of several other British composers.

The Story of Chamber Music contains over 75 music notation excerpts from string quartets and other chamber works. The e-book version at Project Gutenberg enhances the enjoyment of it by including audio files in MP3 format to accompany these excerpts. Distributed Proofreaders has a Music Team devoted to transcribing music notation and creating audio files using music software. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a Mozart string quartet, cited by Kilburn on page 67 and transcribed by a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer:

The e-book version also includes MusicXML files for the music excerpts – a standard open file format designed for sharing music notation. If you’re a musician, you can download MusicXML files into your favorite notation software for your own use.

Kilburn’s enthusiasm for chamber music is apparent on every page of his book. As he put it in his introduction:

[W]e may ask ourselves which of the great forms of musical composition we would plead for in case all the rest were doomed to destruction. Music for the orchestra, with its vivid colours, its strength and delicacy; the vast range of choral music; works for the organ, that huge modern plexus of pipe and reed;—these and others no doubt have strong claims on our musical affections. But, if forced to such a choice, it is certain that many a musician would, without hesitation, pledge himself to uphold the claims of Chamber music, for who can measure the almost infinite variety and charm which it affords, and that, too, with the slenderest means?

The Story of Chamber Music lets us read and listen to some of the “infinite variety and charm” of this lovely musical genre.

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

Guilty until Proven Innocent

April 1, 2023

On the rainy evening of December 21, 1908, Miss Marion Gilchrist, an elderly lady living in a flat in Glasgow, was found lying on her dining room floor with horrific blunt-force injuries. Blood was spattered all over the area where she lay and was soaked into the back leg of a nearby dining chair, the probable weapon. She had endured some 20 to 40 blows in a “furious … continuous assault” that smashed almost every bone in her face and skull.

Miss Gilchrist’s murder led to the arrest and conviction of an innocent man. But after nearly 20 years in prison, he was exonerated, thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the greatest fictional detective in English literature, Sherlock Holmes. In The Case of Oscar Slater, he dissected the evidence, much as Holmes would have done, and his book ultimately led officials to review the case and free the man.

On the night of the murder, the family living in the flat below had heard a loud thud and three knocks coming from above – the knocks being a signal Miss Gilchrist had prearranged with the family in case she needed help. The head of the family, Arthur Adams, went up to see what had happened. He rang the bell, to no avail. Miss Gilchrist’s servant, Helen Lambie, who had gone out for about 10 minutes to buy the evening newspaper, arrived and unlocked the flat door. A “well-dressed” man came out of the spare bedroom, walked past Lambie and Adams without saying anything, went downstairs, and left the house. Lambie then discovered the dying Miss Gilchrist in the dining room.

Neither Lambie nor Adams recognized the man, and neither could give a definite description of him. Adams described him as “well-featured and clean-shaven.” Just before the discovery of the murder, Adams’s sister had seen a man loitering in front of the house. This man had “a long nose, with a most peculiar dip.” Another description, given a few days after the murder, came from 15-year-old Mary Barrowman, who claimed she had seen a man running down the steps of the house on the night of the murder. He had a “nose slightly turned to the right.” Neither Lambie nor Adams had mentioned any peculiarities in the nose of the man they saw.

The police thought the motive for the murder was robbery. Though she lived modestly, Miss Gilchrist collected fine jewelry. Some of it was found scattered around the spare bedroom, along with a broken wooden box and papers. A diamond brooch was missing.

The police put out a description of the suspect in the press. Then came a breakthrough. A member of a local gambling club reported to police that a fellow member, Oscar Slater, a German Jew with a “nose twisted to one side,” had attempted to sell a pawn ticket for a diamond brooch.

And so Oscar Slater’s nightmare began. On the flimsiest of evidence, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. This created an outcry that led many prominent people to agitate for a review of the case. One of these was Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle had already been devoting himself to righting real-life miscarriages of justice. In his 1924 memoir, Memories and Adventures, he noted, “The sad fact is that officialdom in England stands solid together, and that when you are forced to attack it you need not expect justice…” Thanks to him, a young Anglo-Indian lawyer named George Edalji, who had been wrongfully convicted of maiming livestock, was pardoned in 1907 after serving three years at hard labor. Conan Doyle’s efforts on Edalji’s behalf were in part responsible for the establishment that same year of England’s Court of Criminal Appeal.

Fresh from this success, Conan Doyle turned his attention to Oscar Slater’s case. There had already been some action on it: A petition sponsored by a Glasgow rabbi that garnered some 20,000 signatures, as well as a detailed brief (called a “memorial”) from Slater’s lawyers, prompted the government to stay the execution just two days before it was to take place in May 1909. In 1910, a volume of the Notable Scottish Trials series was devoted to Slater’s trial, edited by criminologist William Roughead, who became one of the greats of the true crime genre. Although Roughead couldn’t come right out and say there had been a miscarriage of justice – government officials had provided substantial information for his book, and he didn’t want to alienate them – he did hint at it.

Conan Doyle had no such strictures. Prompted by Roughead’s book, he wrote a 103-page pamphlet, The Case of Oscar Slater, published in 1912. In it, he tore the evidence to shreds with clarity and precision. He also appended the “memorial” of Slater’s lawyers.

First, Conan Doyle noted the curious behavior of the servant, Helen Lambie, at the scene. When Arthur Adams told her he had heard a loud noise, as if the “ceiling was like to crack,” she speculated that the clothesline pulley in the kitchen must have fallen down – not something likely to crack a ceiling. She expressed no surprise upon seeing a stranger emerge from one of the bedrooms, but let him pass without challenge. And instead of going to the dining room, where Miss Gilchrist had been sitting when Lambie left, she went first to the kitchen, ostensibly to check the pulley, and then to the spare bedroom. It was only after Adams asked where her mistress was that she went into the dining room and discovered the body.

Second, the descriptions of the suspect, though they generally fit Slater, were vague and inconsistent. In the end, Conan Doyle noted, the only points of similarity among them were that the suspect was clean-shaven, slim, and about 25-30 years old. Slater was 37 and had a mustache. Neither Adams nor Lambie, who had had the clearest view of him, had mentioned any peculiarity in his nose, though Slater did have a broken nose. And when they and Barrowman were brought in to identify Slater, they were first shown his photograph, and then saw him being led through a corridor by the police, casting grave doubt on the reliability of the formal identification. Even then, though the witnesses could say he resembled the man they had seen, they could not conclusively identify him.

Third, one of the most damning flaws in the evidence was that the diamond brooch that Slater had pawned was not Miss Gilchrist’s, but his own. And the police confirmed this very early in the case. This should have ended the matter immediately, as there was no other evidence connecting Slater to the crime.

But the police pursued it, in part because Slater had left for America right after the murder and had traveled under an assumed name. Slater, however, had been talking about the trip for some time, according to those who knew him, and he was traveling with a woman who was not his wife. His explanation that he used an alias (something he had done before in the course of his louche gambler’s life) to prevent his wife from finding out about his mistress was perfectly reasonable.

Conan Doyle meticulously went through many other inconsistencies and weaknesses in the evidence, including the lack of blood on the suspect’s clothes despite the very bloody scene. But the crown of his efforts was a potential defense theory that Slater’s attorneys never pursued: “One question which has to be asked was whether the assassin was after the jewels at all.” He pointed out that the suspect, in the very short time he had while Lambie was out, went to a spare bedroom, ignored several visible pieces of jewelry, and broke open a wooden box containing papers. How did he get in, if Lambie had locked the door as she claimed? What was he looking for, and how did he know where to find it? As Conan Doyle put it, “One is averse to throw out vague suspicions which may give pain to innocent people, and yet it is clear that there are lines of inquiry here which should be followed up, however negative the results.” He concluded that “it is on the conscience of the authorities, and in the last resort on that of the community that this verdict obtained under the circumstances which I have indicated, shall now be reconsidered.”

The Case of Oscar Slater was a best-seller, thanks to Conan Doyle’s fame and the low price of the pamphlet. But some critics were not impressed. The Times opined that his objections to the evidence “have probably been considered already, and with extreme care.” Another less circumspect newspaper referred to Slater as “a slimy blackguard of whom the community is well rid.” Nonetheless, Conan Doyle pressed on with his efforts to obtain a review of Slater’s case, spending his own money and supported by many people, including one of the original jurors. Slater languished in prison until 1927, when the original witnesses against him began retracting their testimony, and the government suddenly paroled him without public explanation. Upon Slater’s petition to the Secretary of State of Scotland, he was granted an appeal, thanks in no small part to the publicity Conan Doyle’s dogged efforts had garnered. On July 20, 1928, the verdict was quashed. Oscar Slater was truly free at last.

The postscript to this victory is a sorry one. The government awarded Slater £6,000 (just under half a million pounds in today’s money) as compensation. Conan Doyle asked him to remunerate those who had laid out money for his exoneration, including himself. Slater couldn’t understand why he should pay when they could apply to the government for reimbursement. The government refused to pay the costs, however, leaving Conan Doyle to threaten publicly to sue Slater. Slater ultimately sent him £250. And although the two men apparently never corresponded again, Slater was not bitter, and contributed to a memorial fund when Conan Doyle died in 1930. Slater retired quietly to a bungalow in Ayr, where he made a late and happy marriage to a young woman and tended his garden. He died peacefully in 1948.

Thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg, The Case of Oscar Slater, possibly Conan Doyle’s greatest work given the grave wrong that it helped to right, is now freely available to everyone.

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

Project Gutenberg’s 70,000th Title

March 1, 2023

On February 9, 2023, Project Gutenberg posted its 70,000th title, Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities (3rd ed.). Congratulations to all the Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!

Knockmany Chamber, an ancient burial chamber in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

In 1848, W.F. Wakeman, a young Irish draughtsman who had helped to map Ireland for the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, published a ground-breaking study of Irish archaeology, Archaeologia Hibernica. It featured numerous drawings he had made of the ancient buildings, monuments, and objects that he had come across in the course of his mapping work. The selling point of his book was that these archaeological wonders were “within easy access of Dublin.” He noted that a whole host of monuments, such as burial mounds, stone circles, cromlechs, and other artifacts, “lie within a journey of less than two hours from our metropolis.”

Sepulchral Chamber, Phoenix Park (Dublin)

In 1891, Wakeman published an updated edition of his handbook. He died in 1900, but his work remained in the forefront of Irish archaeology. John Cooke, a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland, took up the challenge of further updating Wakeman’s handbook, publishing a much expanded third edition in 1903 under the title Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities, which is the edition now available at Project Gutenberg. Following Wakeman’s lead, Cooke’s edition uses decorative capitals at the start of each chapter that were taken from the famous Book of Kells. And it adds 60 illustrations to the already extensive list of Wakeman’s original drawings, for a total of 185. It even brings Wakeman’s work into the 20th Century by adding several photographs. (Cooke himself may have taken some of these photographs; he is best known today for his 1913 photographs of the slums of Dublin for a report on housing conditions among the poor.)

Many monuments omitted from the previous editions of Wakeman’s handbook are featured in Cooke’s edition, such as Knockmany Chamber, a photograph of which (above) is the frontispiece of that edition. Of course, archaeology continues to march on — that monument is now known as Knockmany Passage Tomb, and rather than dating from 500 B.C., as Cooke has it, it is now believed to date from about 3000 B.C. But Wakeman’s and Cooke’s patient groundwork in documenting these antiquities made further study possible, and, even more importantly, prevented them from being overlooked or even inadvertently destroyed by the unknowing.

The e-book version of Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities is an outstanding example of the important books that the volunteers of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders work hard to preserve and make freely available to the world. It is a fitting way to celebrate the milestone of Project Gutenberg’s 70,000th title.

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

Celebrating 45,000 Titles

January 18, 2023

This post celebrates the 45,000th unique title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: Down the Mackenzie and Up the Yukon in 1906. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

Canada’s vast Northwest Territories province is comprised of nearly half a million square miles of land with a total population of only 41,970 as of the 2016 census. The harsh subarctic and polar climate has always made life difficult for humans, but that didn’t stop indigenous peoples from settling there, along with later incursions of Europeans in search of fur, gold, oil, and adventure.

In the summer of 1906, Elihu Stewart, the Canadian Chief Inspector of Timber and Forestry, embarked on a journey of thousands of miles on the Mackenzie and Yukon Rivers in order to assess the timber resources of the region. His report to the Canadian Government was published in 1913 as Down the Mackenzie and Up the Yukon in 1906. But it is no dry bureaucratic report. Stewart’s account vividly expresses his deep appreciation of the beauties of the landscape and his respect (from a white person’s point of view) for the indigenous and mixed peoples of the area. Part I of the book recounts his journey; Part II contains his observations of the natural resources and inhabitants of the region.

Travel in the region wasn’t easy in 1906, and Stewart – who was then over 60 years old – must have had a very hale constitution, not to mention courage, to undertake this journey. It began in Edmonton, Alberta, overland by a horse-drawn conveyance to the Athabasca River, where he boarded a steamer appropriately named Midnight Sun. The passengers included the noted explorer and ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who spent the winter of 1906-07 living among the Inuit. Stewart and his fellow travelers journeyed on various steamers and scows hundreds of miles to the Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America. This is the source of the thousand-mile-long Mackenzie River, which ultimately empties into the Arctic Ocean.

Photo of the midnight sun taken by Elihu Stewart at Point Separation on the Mackenzie River.

Stewart and the others continued north on the Mackenzie River to its delta and the tiny settlement of Arctic Red River (now known as Tsiigehtchic, still tiny today with a population of 138 as of 2021). There he found a rather desolate community:

It certainly was the least desirable place for any civilised man to choose for a home, that I had yet seen in all this Northland. A few houses, the church and the graveyard were all crowded on the side of a hill rising abruptly from the river. Perpetual frost was found only a foot beneath the surface of the soil, and we no longer beheld the emblems of civilised life, the vegetable and flower gardens, that go so far to make many of those lonely posts seem somewhat cheerful.

The travelers then turned west to Fort McPherson, from where Stewart intended to travel “alone” (but actually with several native assistants) by canoe. After an arduous journey of canoeing, portaging, and camping, they reached the Yukon Territory. On the way, he experienced a strange mirage of a great city, and was shocked to find instead a rather sad Indian encampment:

I saw only about forty half-starved creatures out on the bank to welcome us, while behind among the trees were a dozen dilapidated tents; the entire surroundings indicating want and starvation, sickness and a struggle for existence known only to those who are condemned to live in this Arctic land.

It was experiences like this that led Stewart to include in his book an impassioned plea for a centrally-located hospital, reachable by canoe from the various outposts of the Northwest Territories. He suggested Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River, and indeed the Roman Catholic Church built a hospital there in 1916.

Stewart continued south on the Yukon River and gradually back to more “civilised” communities, such as the Klondike Gold Rush towns of Dawson City and Skagway, with their modern conveniences, entertainments, and colorful adventurers. He ended his journey at Vancouver, three months and 4,250 miles from where he started.

Elihu Stewart retired from his government job in 1907; he died at the age of 90 in 1935. During his tenure he initiated highly successful conservation programs under which millions of trees were planted and forest fire prevention measures were implemented all across Canada. Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 45,000th title with this fascinating account of his extraordinary trip down the Mackenzie and up the Yukon.

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

The Life of a P3 Diehard

January 1, 2023

Note for those who don’t yet know the e-book creation workflow at Distributed Proofreaders: After a scanned book is turned into editable text, it goes through three rounds of proofreading. The third, P3, is the most challenging, as it requires the most expertise and the closest attention, so sometimes a project has to wait awhile until P3-qualified proofreaders can get to it. The P3 Diehards team has dedicated itself to rescuing projects that are languishing in that round.

I woke up this morning with a minor headache,
So the first line of business: There’s coffee to make!

The headache was due to some major proofreading,
But I wanted to help move some books to smooth reading.

I found my new passion at DP last year
‘Cause there’s so much to do plus there’s fellowship here.

The challenge was huge, but my spirit was keen,
And each day I leaned on my good friend: Caffeine.

Each day I made progress, but slow in my mind.
The goal seemed beyond reach; I felt so behind.

This goal was to help in the most needed place
Where projects sat languished, forgotten, misplaced.

But one thing that kept me on path to my goal
Was seeking that something that feeds mind and soul.

So, first was the hurdle of gaining the level
Where trust must be earned and to demonstrate mettle.

I thought I was hopeless to learn any more,
But my mentors worked wonders with guidance galore!

Then one day my inbox had news I had hoped for:
Clear access to P3; it made my heart soar!

Team Diehards is where I went skipping so quickly
To help with those projects abandoned and prickly.

Some projects are tricky or boring or fun,
And sharing with teammates is second to none.

The visions from Surgery of so many leeches
Are far from the thought of a bowl full of peaches!

The sad Roll of Honour brought tears to my eyes,
But the story of bravery and valor survives.

My headache is gone; I give thanks with “Amen.”
And tomorrow I can’t wait to do it again!

This poem was contributed by Susan E., a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a happy and book-filled New Year!

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves

December 1, 2022

For want of a male heir to the throne of England, tens of thousands of people were murdered when Henry VIII, defying the Pope, divorced Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn and declared himself head of the Church in England. Among the dead were, ironically, two diametrically opposed people: John Frith, a Protestant reformer who advocated religious toleration, and Thomas More, Henry’s Lord High Chancellor, a staunch Catholic who deplored Henry’s break with the Pope. A theological argument between Frith and More is laid out in A Boke Made by John Fryth, Prysoner in the Tower of London, written just before Frith was burned at the stake in 1533. Thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg, this important piece of Reformation history – a revised edition published in 1546 – is available with its original orthography intact.

Frith burning

Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a son for Henry. He became infatuated with the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn and decided to make her his Queen in hopes that she would bear him a male heir. The sticking point was that divorce was impossible under Catholicism, then the official religion of England. In 1527, Henry asked the Pope to annul his marriage on the ground that Catherine was his brother’s widow, but the attempt failed. By 1531, Henry had had enough and began forcing the clergy to recognize him as the supreme head of the Church in England.

Despite Henry’s break with the Pope, persecution and execution of Protestant reformers in England continued. As Henry’s Lord High Chancellor, Thomas More was a vehement opponent of the Reformation and favored burning Protestants to root out heresy. More was also concerned that some of these “heretics” – like Frith – were rather well educated and well informed on religious doctrine, making them dangerous adversaries.

Frith, the son of an innkeeper, became acquainted with Protestant ideas while attending Cambridge University. In 1525 he had the honor of being invited to study at Cardinal Wolsey’s new Cardinal College (now Christ Church) at Oxford University. But the honor didn’t last long. In 1528, Frith and a number of other students were accused of possessing Protestant books and were imprisoned in the college’s fish cellar for six months. Four students died in the horrifying conditions, but Frith managed to survive. After his release, he fled to Antwerp.

While abroad, Frith wrote treatises criticizing the Pope and Catholic doctrines. Among them was a pamphlet, A christen sentence and true iudgement of the moste honorable sacrament of Christes body [and] bloude (available at Early English Books Online), outlining arguments against the Catholic concept of transubstantiation, i.e., the transformation of the Communion bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ. Frith unwisely returned to England in July 1532. Because England was still nominally a Catholic country in spite of Henry’s dispute with the Pope, Frith was arrested for heresy and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Thomas More, meanwhile, had already resigned as Lord Chancellor in May 1532 because he could not in good conscience sign an oath recognizing Henry as head of the Church in England. But More remained concerned about the advance of the Protestant Reformation. After Frith’s arrest, More got hold of a copy of A christen sentence. Realizing that Frith’s theories on transubstantiation were buttressed by impressive scholarship, More wrote a Letter against Frith refuting Frith’s arguments (available as a PDF from Thomas More Studies). Frith, despite his imprisonment, managed to get a copy of More’s Letter and wrote A Boke Made by John Fryth to rebut More’s points.

Frith’s argument was essentially that the sacrament of Communion at the Mass was merely symbolic of Christ’s death. It could not be an actual transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, because it was impossible for a physical being to be in more than one place at once.

The rationality of this argument posed a problem for More, who was a lawyer, not a clergyman. But More shrewdly couched his own arguments in his Letter against Frith in terms that laymen could understand. And because Frith’s pamphlet was in English, More wrote his rebuttal in English, not Latin as a Catholic clergyman might. Both Frith and More understood that this would give them the widest possible audience in England. The essence of More’s argument was that Christ’s physical body can be in many places at once (multilocation) because God, being omnipotent, can make it so. What might seem unreasonable to a human would be perfectly reasonable to God, who in his almighty wisdom can make anything happen.

Frith did not accept this position. In his Boke, he did not deny God’s omnipotence. His first argument rested on science: “Christe had a naturall bodye, euen as myne ys (savynge synne) and that yt coulde no more be in two places at ones then myne can.” His second rested on the fundamental Scriptural concept of Christ as human, asserting that those who argue for transubstantiation “do take awaye the truthe of hys naturall bodye, and make it a very fantastycall bodye: from the which heresye God delyuer hys faythfull.” Thus Frith, accused of heresy, turned the tables on his opponents by calling them the heretics. He even suggested that they were cannibals, for they believed that “hys very fleshe is present to the teth of them that eate the Sacramēte, and that the wycked eate hys verye bodye.”

Frith’s Boke appends an account of his examination at trial, written while he was in Newgate Prison awaiting execution. Although he was questioned on several aspects of his theological beliefs, he baldly states that “The cause of my deathe is thys, because I can not in conscyence abiure and swere, that our Prelates opynyon of the Sacramente (that is) that the substaunce of breade ād wyne is verely chaunged into the fleshe and bloode of our sauyoure Iesus Christ is an vndoubted artycle of the faythe, necessarye to be beleued vnder payne of dampnacyon.”

While Frith languished in prison, the royal divorce crisis had rapidly come to a head. In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn, got his new and compliant Archbishop of Canterbury to annul his marriage to Catherine, then had Anne crowned Queen Consort in June 1533. On July 9, 1533, the Pope excommunicated Henry. But it was too late for Frith, who had already been burned at Smithfield on July 4 at the age of 30. He was commemorated in John Foxe’s famous Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

Almost exactly two years after Frith’s execution, Thomas More himself became a martyr. As depicted in the play and film A Man for All Seasons, More once again refused to sign an oath denying the Pope’s supremacy. This time, Henry had him arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. Though given many chances to change his mind, More refused to do so. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. Four centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church canonized him as a saint.

Frith closes his Boke with Christ’s advice to his Apostles: “Be wyse as Serpentes, and innocent as Dooues.” The full quote from the King James Version is, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Frith became a sacrificial sheep, but he was certainly wise: His position on Communion was later officially adopted by the Church of England.

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

A Classical Dictionary

November 1, 2022

Thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, the 1904 edition of A Classical Dictionary by John Lemprière is now available in the Project Gutenberg library. The complete title, A Classical Dictionary containing a copious account of all the proper names mentioned in ancient authors with tables of coins, weights, and measures used among the Greeks and Romans and a chronological table, shows just how comprehensive it is.

Bust of Homer (c. 1st Century A.D.), Musée du Louvre

Lemprière (1765-1824) began work on the Classical Dictionary in 1786 while a student at Pembroke College, Oxford, possibly inspired by the ground-breaking Dictionary of the English Language compiled by fellow Pembroke graduate Samuel Johnson. Lemprière published the completed work in 1788 under the title Bibliotheca Classica. For over 200 years, it has been an essential reference work, not just for teachers and students of the ancient Greek and Roman classics, but also for novelists, journalists, playwrights, and poets. John Keats – whose poetry is filled with classical allusions – is said to have known the book almost by heart.

The study of classical literature has long been considered a fundamental requirement to understanding the development of our modern Western culture. The lack of classical studies in recent years leaves many feeling inadequate to the reading or study of classical literature. A Classical Dictionary is the perfect companion for those who are interested in a self-study of classical authors like Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, or Sophocles. When I prepared the e-book version, with the bountiful help of fellow DP volunteer Stephen Rowland, I took the liberty of expanding most name and title abbreviations to their full commonly known names, and changed many Latin abbreviations for books, chapters, lines, etc., to their common English abbreviations, to improve ease of reading.

A Classical Dictionary identifies and explains the plethora of Greek and Roman deities with their alleged authority and powers and the myths surrounding them. Names of rivers, cities, and regions are identified, when possible, with 19th-Century names and descriptions.

With this dictionary, you can travel along with Jason and the Argonauts in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes; learn how Helen of Troy’s abduction sparked the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad; or follow Odysseus on his 10-year journey home after the Trojan War in Homer’s Odyssey. It will bring to life for you the Greek tragedies of King Agamemnon, Orestes, and others, or enable you to study the Roman histories by Julius Caesar, Josephus, Tacitus, and many more. Open your horizons now to these ancient works that have had such an impact on the development of today’s society.

This post was contributed by Rich Hulse (BookBuff), a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed the e-book version of A Classical Dictionary.

A Whimsical Tour of Distributed Proofreaders

October 1, 2022

Distributed Proofreaders is 22 years old today, and we’re celebrating our anniversary with a bit of poetry. Congratulations to all the volunteers who have helped in “preserving history one page at a time” all these years!

DP = Distributed Proofreaders
PM = Project Manager
PP = Post-Processor
PG = Project Gutenberg

Calliope by Meynier

Welcome to DP; please step right on in.
The tour I shall give is about to begin.

The goal of DP is to save the old books
Where some have sat gathered in dusty ole nooks.

We find them and scan them to bring back to life;
So you can view free on your electric device.

Now let’s take a tour to observe what goes on
And capture the secrets of change undergone.

The PMs are wise folks who manage our projects.
They keep the work tidy for steps that come up next.

The next step is proofing to check for mistakes
That optical scanners leave lying in wait.

Our Proofers have keen eyes that don’t miss a beat.
Our books are proofed three times; it’s really a feat!

The Formatters labor to put things in line
So reading is easy and feels so refined.

They use special coding to line up the text.
This work is what keeps their big brain muscles flexed.

Some covers are damaged and look really ratty,
But DP has Wizards to make them look natty.

These Wizards are clever with mysterious notions
Who wave their wands deftly in all sorts of motions.

When all of the proofing and formatting’s done,
The job of the PP has only begun.

They gather and sort and they move things about
Till it’s pretty and perfect and ready, no doubt.

But wait, one more step comes before a book’s ready;
Our Smooth Readers check with their eyes fixed and steady.

Some issues crop up that we’ve not seen before,
But there’s always a Mentor with guidance galore.

The talent in all teams just boggles the mind,
Plus count on support from a Mentor who’s kind.

Believe it or not we have Squirrels running ‘round,
But they aren’t the same type in the woods to be found.

Our Squirrels are equipped with knowledge all-round,
Technicians who keep this place all safe and sound.

When DP transforms these old writings anew,
They’re sent to PG as enjoyment for you.

I think you will probably all quite agree
What a gift these books are to be offered for free!

At DP you know you will always be welcome–
Whatever your interests; wherever you’re from.

This tour is concluded but not without wishing
That you will come back, and not just go fishing.

And, if you come back, you might volunteer;
You’ll be welcomed with sentiments truly sincere.

By Susan E., a DP volunteer, with special thanks to all the DP volunteers for their inspiration.

A Trivia Quiz

September 1, 2022
Welcome to Hot off the Press’s first Trivia Quiz! How much do you know about the history of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders? Find out, and learn more as you go!
  1. When Michael Hart began Project Gutenberg (PG) in 1971, his goal was to create a digital library of how many titles?
  2. Using a handout he got while grocery shopping on July 4, 1971, what was the first project Michael added to PG?
  3. Which university was Michael attending when he started PG?
  4. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible took about 10 years to prepare for PG and were posted in 1989. What method of data input was used to prepare them?
  5. All early projects were immediately put on the PG website for worldwide distribution. True or false?
  6. What did Pietro Di Miceli create for PG in 1994?
  7. When were languages other than English first included in PG offerings?
  8. Only public domain books are available on PG. True or False?
  9. PG has two entries in The Guinness Book of World Records. What are they for?
  10. What organization did Charles Franks found in October 2000 in order to help PG with digitizing public domain books?
  11. Who was Charles Franks’s “help/advice/guidance” partner and the second registered user on the first Distributed Proofreaders (DP) site?
  12. What was the first title produced by DP volunteers for posting to PG?
  13. How many titles has DP posted to PG since October 2000?
  14. What volunteer reward system did Charles Franks propose in 2003 in order to inspire quality work on DP?
  15. How many “sister sites” do PG and DP have?
Scroll down for answers


  1. Michael Hart’s first goal was to digitize 10,000 books. As of this writing, there are well over 60,000 free e-books on PG, far exceeding his original goal. As reported in Hot off the Press, DP contributed PG’s 50,000th and 60,000th e-books. [See A Short History of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition website. For more about this and Michael’s other hopes and dreams, see Michael Hart’s Online Writings.]
  2. The U.S. Declaration of Independence. Finding the printed handout as he unpacked his bag of groceries, Michael keyed in the Declaration that night in ALL CAPS because lower case was not available. Six users downloaded the file. [Get the whole story in Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert; Hot off the Press, 50 Years at Project Gutenberg.]
  3. The University of Illinois. At the time, Michael was a freshman working toward a Bachelor of Science degree. Both Michael’s parents were professors there; his father taught Shakespeare and his mother Mathematics. [See Michael’s obituary in the New York Times and the Encyclopedia Britannica article on PG for more.]
  4. Typing on a computer keyboard. It took almost a decade to enter both Testaments. Each book of the Bible had to be saved as a separate file due to hardware size restrictions – there was no hard drive when the project began. [See Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert.]
  5. False. The World Wide Web did not exist until the end of 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee got his first browser and server running at CERN. [See A Short History of the Web and Distributed Proofreaders Just Celebrated Its 10th Anniversary, by Marie Lebert.]
  6. Pietro Di Miceli created the first website for PG in 1994. An Italian volunteer, Pietro developed and administered PG’s website between 1994 and 2004, winning a number of awards for his efforts. [See the New World Encyclopedia article on PG for more information.]
  7. The first non-English title was posted to PG in 1997: Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia in the original Italian. It was PG’s 1,000th title. [See Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert; and Hot off the Press, 50 Years at Project Gutenberg.]
  8. False. Michael estimated (in 2007) that about 2% of PG titles are copyrighted and posted with the permission of the author. Two examples are Michael’s co-authored titles, A Brief History of the Internet and Poems and Tales from Romania. [See Michael’s blog post, The Most Common Misconceptions about Project Gutenberg.]
  9. PG holds the Guinness World Records for first digital library and first e-book (the U.S. Declaration of Independence).
  10. Charles Franks founded DP, which officially went online October 1, 2000. He first suggested the idea on a PG volunteer discussion board beginning in April, 2000. [See DP Timeline and Distributed Proofreaders Just Celebrated Its 10th Anniversary, by Marie Lebert.]
  11. Jim Tinsley registered as the #2 user in September 2000 and did much to help Charles get DP up and running smoothly. [See DP Timeline.]
  12. The Iliad of Homer, translated by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Meyers, was the first project completed by DP, believed to have been posted to PG in November 2000. [See DP Timeline; Hot off the Press, Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part I).]
  13. As of this writing, DP has posted over 44,000 unique titles to PG. [See Hot off the Press, Celebrating 44,000 Titles; DP Timeline.]
  14. The “Whuffie” system. Based on Cory Doctorow’s sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the Whuffie system would award points for excellence in proofreading and take them away for poorly done work. Charles envisioned volunteers being able to collect and redeem Whuffie points for real merchandise like a DP t-shirt or mousepad. The system was ultimately not implemented. [Read more details in A Roadmap for Distributed Proofreaders, by Charles Franks.]
  15. PG currently has several independent “sister sites” worldwide: Gutenberg Canada, Project Gutenberg Australia, Projekt Gutenberg-DE (German literature), and Project Runeberg (Nordic literature). DP’s independent sister site is currently Distributed Proofreaders Canada.

How Did You Do?

12-15 CORRECT: Gutenberg Pro – congratulations!
Wow! Have you been around here awhile? You sure know your stuff!

7-11 CORRECT: Gutenberg Proficient – you’re on an upward trend!
Not bad! You know over half your stuff. Brush up by reading more about the other half.

1-6 CORRECT: Gutenberg Newbie – enjoy exploring more!
It’s a big world out there just waiting to be discovered. Follow the links in the Answers above to start your adventure.

0 and SKIPPERS: Gutenberg Fan – curious and hungry for knowledge!
Rushed ahead to the good stuff, huh? You’ve just begun a very interesting journey. Have fun!


This post was contributed by Scrutineyes, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Graphics by Unruly Pencil. Photos of Michael Hart from

Celebrating 44,000 Titles

July 19, 2022

This post celebrates the 44,000th title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: The Trial of Emile Zola. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

The Trial of Emile Zola is a first-hand account of a crucial stage in one of the most important events of French history: the Dreyfus Affair. In September of 1894, an operative of French counterintelligence found, in a wastebasket at the German embassy in Paris, an unsigned note (generally referred to as the “bordereau”) that proved that French military secrets were being delivered to foreign powers. Immediately an investigation was launched, and before long the military authorities had settled on Captain Alfred Dreyfus as the culprit: because he was taciturn and unpopular, because his handwriting bore a vague resemblance to that on the bordereau, and, most of all, because he was Jewish. Dreyfus was convicted in a closed military trial on the basis of tenuous evidence such as his handwriting, and other evidence that was wholly fabricated, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the awful conditions of the penal colony of Devil’s Island in the Caribbean. Before his deportation, he was stripped of his rank in a ceremony wherein his marks of rank were torn off his uniform, his sword was taken from him and broken, and he was made to parade around a square in front of his former comrades and a huge crowd of civilians shouting, among other things, “Death to the Jew.”

Dreyfus’s family believed his claims of innocence, and campaigned for his release to what was, initially, an overwhelmingly hostile public, influenced by extreme anti-Semites for whom Dreyfus’s supposed guilt was a vindication of their beliefs about the Jewish race. Gradually, evidence emerged that pointed to a Catholic French officer, Ferdinand Esterhazy – a heavily indebted drunkard – as the bordereau’s likely author. His handwriting matched it perfectly. French society became split between the Dreyfusards, who believed in Dreyfus’s innocence, and the anti-Dreyfusards, who believed in his guilt. Both camps felt themselves to be defending their own vision of French society – the Dreyfusards defending the liberal Republic against a reactionary, anti-Semitic political Catholicism, and the anti-Dreyfusards defending Catholic France against a conspiracy of liberal intellectuals, Jews, and foreign agents. By January of 1898, the Dreyfusards had sufficient support to compel the military to place Esterhazy on trial for the same crimes of which it had convicted Dreyfus, but this trial was another closed military tribunal, and Esterhazy was acquitted.

Contemporary postcard of Zola - from Wikimedia

It was at this point that Émile Zola, already a notable novelist, entered the controversy. He had published in L’Aurore, a liberal newspaper edited by future French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, an open letter addressed to President Félix Faure, with the now-famous title “J’Accuse…!” The letter, which is reprinted in full in this volume, accused the leadership of the French military of a conspiracy to condemn an innocent man, because of an initial incompetent and prejudiced investigation, and the subsequent necessity to defend the false verdict it reached because, otherwise, “the war offices would fall under the weight of public contempt.” He directly accused the trials of both Dreyfus and Esterhazy of illegality, and of having convicted Dreyfus and acquitted Esterhazy according to orders, asserting: “It is my duty to speak; I will not be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man who is atoning, in a far-away country, by the most frightful of tortures, for a crime that he did not commit.” Unable to ignore Zola’s accusations – which would have been a tacit admission of their truth – the government sued Zola, as well as the legally-responsible editor of the article, Alexandre Perrenx, for libel, and thus on February 7, 1898, the trial of Zola, which is recorded in this book, began.

Zola’s trial lasted fifteen days in total, with each day the courtroom’s public gallery packed with anti-Dreyfusards, and Zola obliged to pass through hostile crowds to enter the courthouse. From the first day, the difficulties which the defence would face became apparent – after each side had set out their case initially, the day was taken up by the reading of refusals to appear on the part of most of the high-ranking military witnesses, including Esterhazy himself, whom the defence had called. On the second day, the defence called its first witness, Alfred Dreyfus’s wife, and began to question her regarding her husband’s innocence in order to establish Zola’s good faith in making his accusations. Immediately, the judge cut him off, establishing another pattern for the trial, as the judge, prejudiced against Zola and unwilling to have embarrassing details of the Dreyfus trials publicly revealed, repeatedly prevented the defence from justifying those allegations for which Zola was on trial. Similar restrictions were not placed upon the prosecution, nor upon those witnesses hostile to Zola. At the end of this first exchange, Zola’s lawyer, Fernand Labori, asked the judge, given these restrictions, “what practical means you see by which we may ascertain the truth?”

“That does not concern me,” came the reply.

In the days that followed, a long sequence of witnesses spoke of the inconsistencies of the trial of Esterhazy; various generals made evasive or obstructive answers without reproach from the judge. More than once, witnesses were called by the defence, and then prevented by the judge from taking the stand, on the grounds that their testimony would relate to the Dreyfus case. On the sixth day, the Socialist Jean Jaurès recounted a remark from a right-wing editor which perhaps sums up the anti-Dreyfusard position, loyalties and prejudices superceding truth: “I believe profoundly in the guilt of Dreyfus. I believe it, because it seems to me impossible that French officers, having to judge another French officer, should have condemned him in the absence of overwhelming evidence. I believe it, because the power of the Jews, very great four years ago, as it is today, would have torn Dreyfus from the hands of justice, if there had been in his favor the slightest possibility of salvation.”

On the eleventh day, Major Esterhazy himself was called to the stand, protesting that “during the last eighteen months, in the shadow, there has been woven against me the most frightful conspiracy ever woven against any man. During that time I have suffered more than anyone of my contemporaries has suffered in the whole of his life.” He then refused to answer any questions that would be put by the defence, and for some time, Clemenceau, who had been present throughout the trial, proffered dozens of questions, all met with silence. Finally, as the judge attempted to prevent him from speaking, Clemenceau asked “how is it that one cannot speak of justice in a court?”

The judge replied: “Because there is something above that,—the honor and safety of the country.”

“I note,” finished Clemenceau, “that the honor of the country permits these things to be done, but does not permit them to be said.”

Finally, after fifteen days, the summing-ups were concluded and the jury retired to deliberate on their verdict. Just thirty-five minutes later, they returned, and declared both Zola and Perrenx guilty of libel. Minutes after that, the judge handed Zola the maximum sentence: a fine of 3,000 francs and a year’s imprisonment. The court was filled with the shouts of the audience: “Long live the army! Long live France! Down with the insulters! To the door with Jews! Death to Zola!” Zola appealed, but was defeated again, and fled to England to avoid jail.

On the face of it, Zola and the Dreyfusards had suffered a massive defeat – the law was brought down against Dreyfus’s highest-profile supporter, and Dreyfus himself was still suffering on Devil’s Island. However, where both Dreyfus’s and Esterhazy’s trials were conducted in the secrecy of a closed military tribunal, Zola’s took place in a public court. Every day, the newspapers of France summarised the trial’s proceedings, and this 1898 edition shows that the full text of the court records had been translated into English and published in New York not long after it took place. Thus, a great deal of new information had been made available to the public, and while it did not convince the jury, it did, over time, convince an increasingly large proportion of the French population. Civil unrest increased, and a new left-wing government was formed in response to the crisis. In September 1899, the new president, Émile Loubet, pardoned Dreyfus, who was released after almost five years of imprisonment for a crime he had not committed. Finally, in July 1906, a civilian court of appeals formally cleared Dreyfus of all charges; he was reinstated as a captain and made a knight of the Legion of Honour. The Radical governments which emerged from the Dreyfus Affair would inaugurate a strict policy of secularism in the French government, which has survived to the present day – realising, ironically, some of the deepest fears of the anti-Dreyfusards.

Among many other things, the Dreyfus Affair illustrates the importance of public access to information, and conversely the danger of its restriction, without which the French military could not have conducted its closed, unfair trial of Dreyfus in the first place. It was only when the truth became public property, through the Zola trial and subsequent revelations, that justice could be done. It is a wonderful thing, therefore, to have been able to contribute to the free, maximally-accessible publication of these records through Project Gutenberg. I hope that, if you read them, they remind you of the value of the work that Distributed Proofreaders does in bringing such texts to light. As Zola wrote in “J’Accuse!”, the letter that triggered his trial, “when truth is buried in the earth, it accumulates there, and assumes so mighty an explosive power that, on the day when it bursts forth, it hurls everything into the air.”

This post was contributed by Thomas Frost, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed The Trial of Emile Zola.

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