Fifteen years ago, on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders volunteers began “preserving history one page at a time” by preparing public-domain e-books for Project Gutenberg. Since then, DP has contributed over 30,000 unique titles. In honor of DP’s 15th Anniversary (and the 5th Anniversary of both DP Italy and Hot off the Press), here is the first of a series of posts recognizing DP’s first contribution to Project Gutenberg, and every 1,000th offering thereafter.
1 The first book that DP posted to Project Gutenberg was an English translation of The Iliad of Homer. This is believed to have occurred November 22, 2000 (record-keeping at both DP and PG was not as meticulous back then). The Iliad is a classic Greek poem set during the last few weeks of the ten-year Trojan War between the ancient city of Troy and a group of Greek states. The poem relates a fateful quarrel between the Greek commander-in-chief, Agamemnon, and one of his captains, Achilles. The putative author, Homer, is thought to have been born more than 100 years after the events in the poem.
1000 DP believes that its 1,000th book was Tales of St. Austin’s, by the great British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. This was posted to Project Gutenberg on February 19, 2003. It is a collection of amusing “school stories” plus a few essays, published in 1903, and was one of Wodehouse’s first published books. Wodehouse was one of the most widely read writer of humorous novels in the 20th century. He left a career in banking to become a successful author, lyricist and playwright.
2000 On September 3, 2003, just short of seven months later, Project Gutenberg posted the 2,000th book from DP. This was The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: The First (‘Bad’) Quarto. Published in 1603, this edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was lost until discovered in 1823. It was first believed to be an earlier version of the play, then believed to be a pirated copy, possibly created by an actor who had played a minor part in the play and had reconstructed it from memory.
3000 Just three and a half months later, on January 14, 2004, DP posted the 3,000th book: Robert Burton‘s masterful study of depression, The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. The Project Gutenberg version is based on a 19th Century edition, in which the introduction notes, “The work now restored to public notice has had an extraordinary fate. At the time of its original publication it obtained a great celebrity, which continued more than half a century. During that period few books were more read, or more deservedly applauded. It was the delight of the learned, the solace of the indolent, and the refuge of the uninformed.” The writer of that introduction could not have predicted that the book’s “extraordinary fate” would include being made available to all in cyberspace.
4000 On April 6, 2004, less than three months later, DP posted its 4,000th book. Aventures du Capitaine Hatteras (Adventures of Captain Hatteras), by Jules Verne (1864, French), demonstrates that DP has a long tradition of producing books in languages other than English. Verne’s adventure novel contains two parts: “Les Anglais au pôle Nord” (“The English at the North Pole”) and “Le Désert de glace” (“The Desert of Ice”). After a mutiny destroys their ship, Captain Hatteras and what is left of his crew spend the winter on an ice island, build a boat from a shipwreck, and travel to a volcano situated right on the Pole.
5000 On August 24, 2004, a little over four months later, the third milestone book in a calendar year and fourth in a rolling year was posted. This was A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John William Cousin, and published in 1910 by Everyman’s Library. There’s a good reason DP chose this book as its 5,000th contribution, as Everyman’s Library shares DP’s core philosophy. In 1906, the founder of Everyman’s Library, J.M. Dent, resolved to create a library of 1,000 carefully selected books from around the world in the hope of making them as easily accessible as possible. In those days, books were expensive, and Everyman’s Library was among the first to publish affordable editions of classic works. Like Project Gutenberg, it paved the way to a new approach to making books widely accessible. It is fitting to celebrate this milestone with the quotation from Milton’s Areopagitica that Dent had printed on the very first volume of Everyman’s Library: “A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured upon purpose to a life beyond life.”
Next: The celebration continues with milestones 6,000 to 10,000.
These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.