The Natural History of Pliny

November 1, 2020


Distributed Proofreaders is very proud to have completed all six volumes of a 19th-Century English translation of The Natural History of Pliny.

Pliny the Elder (23/24-79 CE) was, if one may use the expression of an ancient Roman, quite a Renaissance man. Born in Northern Italy, he came from a family of “equestrians” – an upper-crust social rank just under the Senators. His father took him to Rome to be educated in the law. Pliny instead joined the Roman army as a junior officer. He took a keen interest in literature and hobnobbed with other officers with similar interests, enabling him to rise through the ranks and, later, to assume high-ranking positions in government. In quiet times between military campaigns in Germany, he wrote some histories, now lost. He eventually retired from the army and became a practicing lawyer, studying, writing, and generally lying low during the dangerous reign of the insane emperor Nero.

After Nero committed suicide, Vespasian – an equestrian like Pliny – came to power in 69 CE. Pliny’s star was now in the ascendant. He was appointed procurator (or governor) of various imperial provinces in what are now Africa, Spain, and Belgium. These posts gave him numerous opportunities to observe the natural world in what were then exotic places.

Pliny’s observations formed the basis for his magnum opus and only surviving work, Naturalis Historia (Natural History). One of the largest works to survive from ancient Rome, it is comprised of 37 books in 10 volumes. Pliny published the first 10 books in 77 CE. In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum. During the disaster, Pliny, who was then commander of the Roman naval fleet at nearby Misenum, received a plea for help from a friend at Stabiae, across the bay. Shrugging off warnings of danger, he is said to have declared, “Fortune favours the brave.” He made it to Stabiae, but died there. His nephew and namesake, Pliny the Younger, inherited his uncle’s estate and published the remainder of the Natural History.

The Natural History is a sweeping work that attempts to gather in one place all knowledge of the natural world. It served as a model for the modern encyclopaedia, and, though it is not arranged in entries like a modern encyclopaedia, it does cite to sources and contains a comprehensive index. Its far-ranging coverage includes sciences such as astronomy, mathematics, geography, anthropology, physiology, zoology, botany, pharmacology, and mineralogy; practical pursuits such as agriculture, horticulture, and mining; and the visual arts of painting and sculpture.

The six-volume version that Distributed Proofreaders put together for Project Gutenberg is a complete English translation by physician John Bostock (who had died by the time of publication) and translator H.T. Riley, published between 1855 and 1857. As promised by the title page, it contains “copious notes and illustrations.” Each volume contains literally thousands of footnotes. Some of those footnotes seem overly critical of Pliny’s efforts at times, and may not themselves be accurate in light of modern knowledge, but there is no doubt that the translators put in a huge amount of sincere scholarship and labour in annotating the work.

A number of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers also put in a huge amount of labour on these volumes. The first to enter the preparation process was Volume 5, which was physically scanned from a hard copy by a volunteer in 2005. Later, the remaining volumes were harvested from The Internet Archive by Turgut Dincer, who took over managing the project. In addition to the many proofreaders and formatters who worked on this challenging endeavour, two resident experts helped with the ancient Greek passages, and one of them, Stephen Rowland, smooth-read all six volumes (i.e., read them as if for pleasure and noted any errors) before post-processor Brian Wilcox stitched each one together into a final e-book. The last volume was posted to Project Gutenberg in July 2020.

While working on the project, Brian experienced a couple of odd dizzy spells. Was it the 20,832 footnotes…? No, it was the need for coronary artery bypass surgery, which soon had Brian back to post-processing as good as new. That is why his cardiac surgeon, Mr. Franco Sogliani, is mentioned in the credits to Volume 6.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteers Brian Wilcox (who post-processed all six volumes of The Natural History of Pliny) and Linda Cantoni.

Celebrating 40,000 Titles

October 10, 2020

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 40,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, all four volumes of London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

[My husband] became paralyzed like, and was deprived of the use of all one side, and nearly lost the sight of one of his eyes.… Then we parted with everything we had in the world; and, at last, when we had no other means of living left, we were advised to take to gathering ‘Pure.’ At first I couldn’t endure the business; I couldn’t bear to eat a morsel, and I was obliged to discontinue it for a long time. My husband kept at it though.… When I saw that he, poor fellow, couldn’t make enough to keep us both, I took heart and went out again, and used to gather more than he did; that’s fifteen years ago now; the times were good then, and we used to do very well. If we only gathered a pail-full in the day, we could live very well; but we could do much more than that, for there wasn’t near so many at the business then, and the Pure was easier to be had.… Six years ago, my husband complained that he was ill, in the evening, and lay down in the bed—we lived in Whitechapel then—he took a fit of coughing, and was smothered in his own blood. O dear” (the poor old soul here ejaculated), “what troubles I have gone through! I had eight children at one time, and there is not one of them alive now. My daughter lived to 30 years of age, and then she died in childbirth, and, since then, I have had nobody in the wide world to care for me—none but myself, all alone as I am.

This is one story among many in Henry Mayhew‘s “Cyclopædia” of London Labour and the London Poor — four volumes cataloguing the lives of the city’s underclass in the 1840s. This speaker touches on a series of points which recur throughout the many tales which Mayhew relates: poverty, illness, loss of family members, but also a resourcefulness and determination to make a living in any way possible, in this case, by scouring the streets for “pure” — dog excrement — which was then sold on to tanneries.

The other pillar of Mayhew’s technique is the collection of hard data, which he sets out in 710 tables over the four volumes. These cover everything from the monetary value of a dead horse (£2 4s. 3d., including 1s. 5d. for the maggots bred on its flesh and used to feed pheasants), to the number of illegitimate children born in each county of England and Wales (Middlesex, including London, notably recording the fewest), to the annual takings of London’s six blind street-sellers of tailors’ needles (a round £234).

To these we must add mention of the illustrations, many of them based on photographs attributed to the pioneering photographic businessman Richard Beard:


This illustrative style may be familiar from Punch cartoons. Mayhew was one of that magazine’s founders in 1841, though he left it in 1845. By the end of the 1840s he had begun the series of articles for the Morning Chronicle newspaper which was eventually to be reworked and collected as London Labour and the London Poor.

Thackeray praised the original Chronicle reports as “so wonderful, so awful, so piteous and pathetic, so exciting and terrible,” and contrasted the benign disposition of the upper classes with their ignorance of the “wonders and terrors … lying by your door” (Punch, 1850, Volume 18, p. 93). Mayhew had begun to remove that veil. Ever since, the work has continued to be influential as a source for writers interested in the period, including Philip Larkin for his poem “Deceptions,” Alan Moore (“the best surviving account of how people actually thought, talked and lived” — From Hell, Appendix 1, p. 9), and Terry Pratchett, who included Mayhew as a character in his Dickensian novel Dodger.

The book also has a substantial history on Distributed Proofreaders! Proofreading of the first volume started in 2005. It was transferred for a time to another e-book preparation site, then came back to DP. Volume one was finally posted to Project Gutenberg in 2017, and the appearance of volume four today marks the final completion of the project. The number of people who have involved in this project is countless: those who provided the original scans, proofers and formatters on both sites, and those who worked behind the scenes to coordinate it all can each take a bow.

There are some caveats, of course. Mayhew was a man of his time, and at the very beginning of volume one, he outlines his curious theory that the poor are a separate race, distinguished for “their high cheek-bones and protruding jaws—for their use of a slang language—for their lax ideas of property—for their general improvidence—their repugnance to continuous labour—their disregard of female honour—their love of cruelty—their pugnacity—and their utter want of religion.” The sheer bulk of the book, and the relentless repetition of the themes of poverty and squalor mean that few will choose to read it from start to finish. The tables of data are of limited interest to the modern reader, while Mayhew’s editing of his interviews with his subjects allowed some scope for dramatic licence. Despite these issues, Mayhew deserves great credit for undertaking his journeys to this “undiscovered country of the poor” and bringing back their stories. In these pages, the costermongers, the prostitutes and the pure-collectors live on, and speak to us as vividly as ever.

This post was contributed by Henry Flower, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed all four volumes of London Labour and the London Poor.

20th Anniversary Knitting

October 5, 2020

To wrap up Distributed Proofreaders’ 20th Anniversary celebration, we feature the creative work of one of our teams. DP has numerous teams on a wide variety of subjects – book genres, DP activities, languages, geographic regions, and hobbies, to name just a few. The Knitters Who Read team was founded in 2003 and is still going strong. One of its members, GenKnit – who is also a very active smooth-reader at DP – here introduces the team and shows off its handiwork in honor of this special occasion.

I’m not sure how long ago I joined Knitters Who Read. I was attracted to the group because I both knit and crochet. Initially, having been told by someone elsewhere that crocheting is a waste of both time and yarn, I was hesitant to join the group. But I had exchanged private messages and e-mails with some members of the group, and they seemed like really nice people, so I took the plunge and dove in. Almost right away, I asked if someone who both crochets and knits would be welcome in the group, and I was told that it didn’t matter, as long as I also read.

The camaraderie in this group is warm and welcoming. We may go for a while without posting anything, but if someone does post a picture of something they’re working on or have finished, we all admire the project, ask questions, and exchange comments. Being part of a group where I know I can ask questions and get valuable advice is one of the best things about being part of Distributed Proofreaders.

As time has gone on, I have smooth-read many books of knit and crochet patterns, which later end up on Project Gutenberg. If I find a particular book, such as Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843), interesting or puzzling, I post a question in Knitters Who Read. Invariably, I receive good feedback. Sometimes I think an instruction is unclear, or something is phrased in an amusing way, and I’ll post about it in the group. I thoroughly enjoy hearing back from the other members of this group.

I don’t only ask questions about books I smooth-read. One of the other members of the group is also a crocheter, and she posted a photo of an adorable Tunisian crochet sweater she had made for her grandson. I asked her for the pattern, and she gave me a link. Even though the instructions are in German, my friend was pretty sure I could figure them out, and she offered to help if I ran into something I didn’t understand. You see, I don’t read German. But knitting and crocheting are universal languages much like mathematics. If you know the basics, you can knit or crochet in any language.

As DP’s 20th Anniversary approached, the Knitters Who Read team members talked about what we might do to mark the occasion. Someone suggested that we might consider making 20 of an item. Someone else suggested that we might consider creating something related to 20th anniversary symbols, such as an item in emerald green. And so we got  both!

Emerald Blanket

genknit blanket

I decided to make this blanket in emerald green. For those who would like details about the design and method: The squares are made of seven rows of double crochet, then one row of single crochet. I joined them using the (American) slip stitch. Then a row of sc all the way around the outside edge of the blanket, and finally the row of shells: sc, sk 2 sc, 6 dc in next sc, sk 2 sc; repeat around, making 9 dc in center sc of each corner. (For an explanation of these crocheting abbreviations, see this Crochet Abbreviations Master List.)

Emerald City Socks

LHamilton emerald_city_socks

DP’s General Manager, Linda Hamilton, is also a knitter, and she made these “Emerald City” socks for the 20th Anniversary. She used a toe-up fleegle-heel design. These toasty socks are designed to keep your feet warm while reading in winter.

20 Lapghan Squares

WebRover Lapgan_Squares_small2_cropped

WebRover, who wrote the three 20th Anniversary blog posts last week, and is a Project Facilitator at DP to boot, knitted these 20 cheerful squares. They will be stitched together to make a lapghan (a lap-sized afghan) for donation to a nursing home.

I’d like to close with a poetic tribute to Distributed Proofreaders:

Smooth-reading’s a whole lot of fun
Though sometimes I’m glad when I’m done.
I get to find goofs
As I read through the proofs
I tag them and feel like I won.

Reading for fun if I please
Makes my “job” at DP a real breeze.
As I read through the books
I take very close looks
Find mistakes, and on them I seize.

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years
Since DP started—three cheers!
We’re having a party
Now don’t you be tardy.
I hope we go 20 MORE years!

Kudos to everyone at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg who have made our e-books possible these 20 years!

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

What’s Cooking?

September 1, 2020

Bisquick coverHungry? Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed over 225 cookbooks to Project Gutenberg, with recipes ranging over many centuries, many regions, and many styles. So keen is the interest that a Cookbook Lovers Team was recently formed for DP volunteers to break bread together, as it were, and talk about working on cookbook projects past, present, and future.

Among the oldest surviving cookbooks from antiquity is Apicius de re coquinaria (Apicius on Cooking). If your Latin is rusty, Project Gutenberg also has an English version, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, with fascinating notes on the work’s provenance and history. The recipes are attributed to a 1st-Century Roman gourmet, Marcus Gavius Apicius. Much like a modern cookbook, it’s organized in sections relating to different types of foods – including exotic poultry from far-flung corners of the Roman Empire, like flamingo or parrot. There are also helpful hints, like disguising a “goatish smell” emanating from game birds that are a tad too aged with herbs, spices, vinegar, and other aromatics.

The French are famous for their haute cuisine, which goes much farther back than its 19th-Century heyday. Le viandier de Taillevent, a collection of recipes from medieval manuscripts, dates back to 14th Century. The eponymous author, whose real name was Guillaume Tirel, served as chef to Philip VI of France. His observations on the use of spices, the creation of sauces, and the presentation of dishes (like embellishing roast meats with gold leaf) are all still key to French cuisine today.

Not to be outdone, the English had their own medieval cookbook, The Forme of Cury. Compiled around 1390 by “the Master-Cooks of King Richard II,” it is the earliest known recipe collection in English. It contains common dishes like roasted meats, as well as special dishes fit for a royal banquet. It also incorporates expensive rarities for the time, like spices and sugar.

Jumping ahead to the 17th Century, we find a comparative explosion of cookbooks. Just as the ancient Romans flavored their cuisine with a dollop of imperialism, so, too, did the European nations who explored even farther-flung corners of the world, acquiring exotic foods and flavorings. Spices and sugar were still expensive, but more readily available, and seem to be incorporated, along with some odd ingredients, into as many recipes as possible. One example is The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, a 1669 cookbook compiled by a servant of the learned and adventurous Sir Kenelm Digby. Here’s a recipe for a black (or blood) pudding:

Take three pints of Cream, and boil it with a Nutmeg quartered, three or four leaves of large Mace, and a stick of Cinnamon. Then take half a pound of Almonds, beat them and strain them with the Cream. Then take a few fine Herbs, beat them and strain them to the Cream, which came from the Almonds. Then take two or three spoonfuls (or more) of Chickens blood; and two or three spoonfuls of grated-bread, and the Marrow of six or seven bones, with Sugar and Salt, and a little Rose-water. Mix all together, and fill your Puddings. You may put in eight or ten Eggs, with the whites of two well-beaten. Put in some Musk or Ambergreece.

That last ingredient is ambergris, a waxy substance found in the digestive system of a whale and, like musk, mainly used in perfumery. Its chief merit in a dish had to have been more to add to its impressiveness than to enhance its flavor.

The 19th Century brought a wealth of cookbooks designed for the home cook of middle-class means. The best-known of these is Isabella Beeton‘s Book of Household Management, first published in book form in 1861. It is not just a cookbook, but also a comprehensive guide to managing a Victorian household, still being reprinted today. Its most memorable recipe has to be the one for turtle soup that begins: “To make this soup with less difficulty, cut off the head of the turtle the preceding day.”

Specialty cookbooks gained great popularity in the 20th Century. The First World War brought us Foods That Will Win the War. The Complete Book of Cheese tells us everything we need to know about, well, cheese, including a humorous riff on “rarebit” vs. “rabbit.” There are even cookbooks targeted at single men, like 1922’s The Stag Cook Book, and for suffragist women, like 1915’s The Suffrage Cook Book. The latter has this recipe among the real ones:

Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband

1 qt. milk human kindness
8 reasons:
White Slavery
Child Labor
8,000,000 Working Women
Bad Roads
Poisonous Water
Impure Food

Mix the crust with tact and velvet gloves, using no sarcasm, especially with the upper crust. Upper crusts must be handled with extreme care for they quickly sour if manipulated roughly.

Food manufacturers also got into the cookbook game. Spices take center stage in McCormick & Company’s 1915 recipe booklet, aptly titled Spices, posted to Project Gutenberg just last month. And American cultural icon Betty Crocker (a fiction of General Mills) gives us 157 easy recipes in her Bisquick Cook Book of 1956 – you can make pancakes for 25 people with just three ingredients!

This is just a tiny sampling of the tasty delights to be found at Project Gutenberg. Take a look at the Cookbooks and Cooking Bookshelf, with its many culinary contributions from Distributed Proofreaders volunteers, and find out what’s cooking.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and devoted amateur cook.

Harrods for Everything

August 1, 2020

Harrods for Everything is the apt title of a huge 1,525-page catalogue from about 1912, produced by the famous London department store which is still in existence today.


Some idea of the vast quantity of items that Harrods stocked or had available to order can be taken from the general index, which runs for 68 pages, five columns to a page. The catalogue illustrates over 15,000 products. While many customers would visit the store, or have their provisions delivered by Harrods’s own fleet of vans that covered London and the outlying suburbs, they also had perfected shopping by telephone – something we think of now as a modern invention. As they put it in their advert (on p. 1524 of the catalogue):



While you could buy all the sorts of things you would expect in a modern large department store, because of the time period you will find some things that are uncommon in most households now, like churns for making butter.

The Victorians and Edwardians had a penchant for cures for this, that, and the other, with various powders or preparations sold for all manner of ailments, and you could buy things like chloroform or throat pastilles in dozens of varieties, even those containing cocaine!

While most domestic appliances still required manual application, the use of electricity was starting to become more widespread. From a company called Ferranti you could buy electric stoves, fires, and irons. But the high cost of electricity (4d a unit, equivalent to £2/US$2.50 in today’s money), meant the larger houses, hotels, offices, and public buildings often had their own generators. Harrods could supply and fit these, of course.

Looking through the provisions department lists, you will notice examples from brands such as Cadbury’s and Crosse & Blackwell’s (British) or Lindt (Swiss), and you could buy American chewing gum or Californian peaches. But some items stand out from a bygone age like turtle soup, and I was surprised to find okra and pineapples on offer.

To keep to their motto “Harrods for Everything,” you could also hire bands or musicians, plus tents or marquees for outdoor gatherings. You could rent steam, electric, or petrol launches to go down a river, or, if you set your sights further afield, there were “exploring, scientific and shooting expeditions … completely equipped and provisioned for any part of the world.”

Putting Harrods for Everything through Distributed Proofreaders was a mammoth and long-running task, which started sometime in early 2007 with me scanning the original to produce a text that other DP volunteers could work on. While the books we work on sometimes have a few pages of advertisements, this project was ALL advertisements. Pages were split into three to five parts to make proofreading and checking easier. Three rounds of proofreading started in September 2007, and the project did not finish the first formatting round (F1) until March 2010. Fortunately, those volunteers who normally do second-round formatting (F2) were spared Harrods for Everything, as it really needed one person working on it (myself) to achieve a consistent format.

As the assigned post-processor, I worked behind the scenes from 2010 to 2014 preparing the 15,000+ illustrations, but there were long gaps when other commitments prevented me from working on it. I began officially post-processing the text in 2014, but again with many gaps in working on it. It went out for smooth reading (SR) in October 2019 (a round in which DP volunteers read through the project as for pleasure in order to spot remaining errors). It was finally released to Project Gutenberg on the 1st May 2020. Sincere thanks to all who worked on it!

This post was contributed by Eric Hutton, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

Working on Grote’s History of Greece

July 1, 2020

frontisGeorge Grote: You are not buried at Westminster Abbey for nothing! This thought summarizes my admiration for George Grote and his lifelong achievement, History of Greece, in twelve volumes, now complete at last at Project Gutenberg.

This History is a perfect example of the sound scholarship coming from 19th-Century English universities. But the author was not a scholar. He was not even a university graduate. He was a banker. His parents were rich enough to have him schooled in an upper-class secondary school where he became enamored with ancient Greek and ancient Greece. But his father did not allow him to enter a university to complete his education. George was needed at the family banking business in the City of London, and a good banker he became. His love for Greece was developed as a hobby, along with his taste for languages, philosophy and politics (radical politics, not usual in a banker).

Dissatisfied with the available accounts of Greek history in English, he began in 1822 to write his own in his spare time. Twenty-four years later, he decided at last to abandon his banking activities to focus on finishing this History which had developed into twelve volumes. It was published over a ten-year period, from 1846 to 1856.

Grote’s History at Distributed Proofreaders

Five years ago, I stumbled on this magnificent work at Distributed Proofreaders (DP). It was half-abandoned. A prolific Project Manager (PM) had prepared most of the volumes of this work starting from page scans of a somewhat simplified American edition without maps and side-notes. Some volumes were already proofread, others were in progress, others were not even begun, and one volume was missing. The PM had apparently left DP, so there was no one to keep an eye on the project’s progress.

I was not then a PM myself, only a post-processor (PPer, the person who assembles and finalizes a book after it has been proofread and formatted) who was looking for something exciting to post-process. Volume 9 of Grote’s History had just been given up by another PPer because of the huge number of quotations in ancient Greek. I had studied (and forgotten) some ancient Greek at Madrid University in a prior reincarnation, and I foolishly decided to have a try at this rejected volume.

Oh, my! The English text was interesting, but the amount of Greek was indeed daunting. Not willing to give up on this task, I began to invade an alien territory full of traps. There were 11,503 footnotes in the 12 volumes, an average of 875 footnotes per volume. About 40% of these footnotes included ancient Greek – not a word or two, but full paragraphs. And some 10% of the footnotes consisted solely of ancient Greek text. How was I going to handle all this?

The Greek challenge

But fortunately at DP you are never alone: unexpected resources appear when needed. DP resident gurus in Greek philology made me aware of the Perseus Digital Library, a website where most of the ancient classical texts in Latin and Greek are found in native and translated versions. For the most part it was a matter of finding the quoted Greek text and copy-pasting it into the project. But finding the quotation was not easy: a fair number of the references were not accurate or were simply missing. It was a matter of reading lots of Greek texts to locate the quotation or, if not found, to type in the Greek quotation myself. Later, I learned to perform searches in Greek, something rather difficult to do at Perseus.

When the reference was found at Perseus, it appeared as modern scholarly conventions require for ancient Greek. But in Grote’s volumes, quoted text was rendered according to the 19th-Century orthographical style, which had to be preserved, so some retyping was always needed. For instance, to incorporate middle dots instead of semicolons (ἀνθρώπων· versus ἀνθρώπων;), breathing marks over the rhos (as in παῤῥησία), or at least to change vertical modern Greek acute accents to slanted ancient Greek ones, as DP experts recommended. For example:


Moreover, Grote had the habit of retouching the original quoted text without warning, and this retouching also had to be preserved. But typing or retyping Greek is hard: my trials with the Greek keyboard in Windows were disappointing. Fortunately, one of our experts directed me to a simple HTML page (with lots of JavaScript underneath) where it was easy to type Latin characters in order to get Greek output, and then cut-and-paste this Greek into your file.

One of my tricks when I feel insecure during post-processing is to have at hand a paper copy of the book I am working on. This is invaluable to check errors and typos or to re-scan illustrations. Through eBay, I was fortunate enough to find, at an affordable price, a complete set of the twelve volumes of Grote’s History, published in London in 1883 but printed in Leipzig, where printing houses were famous for producing classical texts devoid of typos (not so in this case, as it turned out, but still better printed than the American edition I was working on).

Every bit of Greek text was checked with this later edition, which brought a second opinion into the checking process. It was also invaluable to check some other modern language misprints. Grote was very fond of quoting in original languages, and he included Latin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish excerpts, sometimes lengthy and always in footnotes.

Finishing the full set

Well, I discovered I was able to accomplish the PP task of this first volume. After finding a kind PM for the half-baked remaining volumes, and scans for the missing one, I committed myself to finishing the other eleven volumes, which took five years.

Finding, checking, and typing all the Greek in a volume needed more than two months: it was a tiring task and had to be alternated with working on other things to be bearable. At least another month was needed to perform the rest of the PP work and then another month for smooth-reading the outcome. Smooth-reading proved to be essential (it always is!): a fair lot of mistakes which had not been detected in the DP proofreading rounds showed up now, on top of my own mistakes in handling the Greek and other languages in the text.

I was fortunate enough to have had very competent smooth-readers, not only for the Greek text (I believe that checking accurately lots of Greek text worked on by another person ought to bring you directly to heaven) but also for the English main part, finding out, for instance, that Acharnians and Phokæns are suspect words (the correct are Acharnanians and Phokæans) and other similar things of which I was not aware.

What Grote, or perhaps his publishers and printers, was somewhat lacking in was accuracy in citing authors, titles, and editions. Fortunately, in Internet times, it is possible, with some patience, to find a digital copy of almost every book cited, view its title page, and correct the names and references as originally printed.

DP’s added value

Now that all 12 volumes of Grote’s masterwork are available at Project Gutenberg, it is time to remember that a transcription like this would have been almost impossible to achieve outside of Distributed Proofreaders. A vast array of DP volunteers contributed their talents and efforts to this project. Lots of people have painstakingly checked, proofed, transliterated, formatted, and distilled their wisdom in the associated forum for each volume, with the constant help of DP administrators, project facilitators, and other DP roles.

It is wholly unfair that those tasks like post-processing that are not distributed absorb so great a part of the final credit for a DP project. The undistributed tasks are pointless without the distributed ones, which are the bulk and the force of DP contributing model. The truth is that these 12 volumes are an achievement of DP as a whole, of the DP model of distributed work, of the DP way of building and maintaining consensus among its members. I bow and take my hat off to all of them.

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


June 1, 2020


“What monstrous place is this?” said Angel.

“It hums,” said she. “Hearken!”

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless… The couple advanced further into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

“It is Stonehenge!” said Clare.

– Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles

The mystical atmosphere of Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle on Salisbury Plain in England, has fascinated people for centuries. The area is believed to have been used for ritual purposes since about 8000 B.C.E. The first known monument, a chalk circle possibly ringed with standing timbers, was created around 3100 B.C.E. and was used as a burial ground. Evidence of standing stones at the site goes back to around 2600 B.C.E., and construction on the site continued periodically for another thousand years.

No one knows exactly why and how Stonehenge was built. Arthurian legends credit the wizard Merlin with magically transporting the massive stone blocks from Ireland. In fact, these bluestones, averaging 25 tons apiece, came from a site in Wales, about 150 miles (240 km) away. The stones are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the sunrise of the summer solstice, suggesting that Stonehenge served some religious function – worship, healing, sacrifice, burial – perhaps all of the above. And these bluestones have long been known as “ringing rocks” – they make a mysterious clanging noise when struck – which perhaps explains the “hum” and “booming tune” that Tess and Angel Clare hear in the scene quoted above, and why the Neolithic builders went out of their way to haul the gigantic stones so far.

By the 17th Century, Stonehenge had slowly begun to go to ruin due to the depredations of nearby landowners, curiosity seekers, and treasure hunters – like the Duke of Buckingham, who dug a large hole at the site in 1620 looking for valuables. At the same time, serious archaeological studies had begun to be undertaken by men like the famed architect Inigo Jones, whose survey of Stonehenge, The Most Notable Antiquity of Great Britain, Vulgarly Called Stone-Heng, was posthumously published in 1655. Jones concluded that Stonehenge was actually a Roman temple, and his rather fanciful artist’s renderings of the site as imagined in Roman times were included in his book. But not everyone agreed with his conclusion.

Among those who held an entirely different view was the physician and antiquarian William Stukeley (1687-1765). Stukeley repeatedly visited Stonehenge beginning in the 1720s, painstakingly recording his observations. In 1740, he published Stonehenge, a Temple Restor’d to the British Druids, in which he argued that the Druids, not the Romans, had built Stonehenge.

Though his method was scientific, Stukeley’s purpose was actually religious:

My intent is (besides preserving the memory of these extraordinary monuments, so much to the honour of our country, now in great danger of ruin) to promote, as much as I am able, the knowledge and practice of ancient and true Religion; to revive in the minds of the learned the spirit of Christianity, nearly as old as the Creation, which is now languishing among us; to restore the first and great Idea of the Deity, who has carry’d on the same regular and golden chain of Religion from the beginning to this day; to warm our hearts into that true sense of Religion, which keeps the medium between ignorant superstition and learned free-thinking, between slovenly fanaticism and popish pageantry, between enthusiasm and the rational worship of God, which is no where upon earth done, in my judgment, better than in the Church of England.

Stukeley’s religious argument was based on his theory that the ancient British Druids were descended from the Phoenicians, who, he argued, had acquired their knowledge of “true” religion from the ancient Jews. He therefore posited that Stonehenge was built by these British descendants of the Phoenicians in order to worship the same “supreme Being” that the Jews, and later the Christians, worshiped.

While Stukeley was incorrect in this and other speculations, his work on Stonehenge was nonetheless of great archaeological value. He was the first to publish accurate drawings of the site, with measurements, from various vantage points. He also described and made actual-size drawings of various “Celtic ornaments” and burnt bones, human and animal, that he had found in one of the nearby barrows. He dismissed the Merlin legend and made cogent arguments refuting the Roman theory, based in part on Stonehenge’s complete lack of resemblance to any known Roman architecture. And he deplored that “great encroachments have been made upon it by the plough,” hoping that his drawings would at least preserve its memory.

Though still battered by neglect and vandalism over the next century and a half, Stonehenge was, eventually, preserved. Cecil Chubb bought it at an auction in 1915 for £6,600 and in 1918 gave it to the British government. Since then, under the aegis of English Heritage, the site has been carefully restored, excavated, and protected. It now casts its mystical spell on over a million visitors a year.

Note: Stonehenge usually attracts a huge crowd for the summer solstice. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the site is closed, but English Heritage plans to livestream the summer solstice on its Facebook page from about 8:30 p.m. BST on June 20 until about 5:30 a.m. BST on June 21.

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

Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing

May 1, 2020

coverA big benefit of post-processing books for Distributed Proofreaders is discovering bewitching books that I probably won’t have seen otherwise. Such books include a biography of the writer Lafcadio Hearn, The Journal of the Debates in the Convention which Framed the Constitution, and Breaking into the Movies, a 1921 guide to breaking into silent movies.

My latest find is Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing, printed in 1923, in which the editor, Arthur Sullivant Hoffmann, asked 116 authors a set of questions about fiction writing. The authors included Sinclair Lewis and Booth Tarkington.

The book includes some very interesting answers. For instance, in answer to the question:

What is the genesis of a story with you–does it grow from an incident, a character, a trait of character, a situation, setting, a title, or what?

Samuel Hopkins Adams said:

“usually from an incident, sometimes from a single phrase which illuminates a character; never from a title.”

William Ashley Anderson said:

“No definite principle can be laid down as to the inspiration of a story. It may be based on an actual occurrence; a striking tradition; a strange custom. Or an argument may suggest a point to be proved by a story. An extraordinary character, an unusual scene, an atmosphere even (fog, storm, scorching heat). I think one of the basic principles is the desire to tell something unusual about things that are commonplace, or to tell something commonplace about things that are extraordinary.”

I will be posting questions and partial answers from the book to Twitter about once a week, with the hash #FWFW. The longer answers will be in the comments below.

This post was contributed by Ernest Schaal, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

Celebrating 39,000 Titles

April 27, 2020

This blog post – in English and German – celebrates the 39,000th title that Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: the sixth and final volume of Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!


The German poet and novelist Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827) died just before his 25th birthday, but he left behind an amazingly rich body of work for one so young. Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke (Wilhelm Hauff’s Collected Works) fill six volumes in the 1911 edition. Distributed Proofreaders’ 39,000th title contributed to Project Gutenberg, the sixth volume, contains his Märchen – fairy tales – still beloved by German-speaking children today.

Wilhelm Hauff was born in Stuttgart. His father, a civil servant, died when Hauff was only seven years old. His mother moved the family to her father’s home, where Hauff took delight in his grandfather’s extensive and varied library. He later attended the University of Tübingen and earned a degree in theology – more to please his mother than to satisfy his own desires.

His first published work, Der Märchen-Almanach (The Fairy Tale Almanac), which can be found in volume six of the collected works, appeared in 1826. He was then working as a tutor for the children of the Württemberg minister of war, and he wrote these delightful stories especially for them.

Hauff’s highly original wit and imagination are the key to the success of these tales, which enabled him to embark upon a full-time literary career. There are, for example, exotic adventures, set in the Orient, like “Der kleine Muck” (“Little Muck”), about a boy who finds a pair of magical slippers and a magical walking stick, and “Kalif Storch” (“Caliph Stork”), about a Caliph and his Vizier who turn themselves into storks and cannot remember the magic word to turn them back into humans.

Other stories are closer to home, like “Das kalte Herz” (“The Cold Heart”, also known as “Heart of Stone”), which is set in the Black Forest. This dark tale is said to have been inspired by Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker,” from the 1824 collection Tales of a Traveller. Hauff’s story deals with a young charcoal-burner who is given three wishes by a little glass man he encounters in the forest. As in most tales of this kind, the young man chooses poorly.

Hauff’s fairy tales have been adapted for film and television many times in German-speaking countries, in Eastern Europe, and in Russia. The Internet Movie Database’s entry for Hauff lists 58 films crediting him as a writer, including the 1921 film version of “Der kleine Muck,” produced by the prominent German film company UFA. The most recent entries are two German films released in 2016, both based on “Das kalte Herz.” One was actually shot in the early 1930s but remained dormant for decades due to missing reels. The other is a modern production starring Frederick Lau. That Hauff’s fairy tales continue to inspire films today demonstrates their enduring popularity.

Hauff’s fairy tales were also well known to English-speaking children in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Distributed Proofreaders contributed The Little Glass Man and Other Stories (1894) to Project Gutenberg, as well as The Oriental Story Book (1855). And a beautifully illustrated edition from 1900 is in progress at Distributed Proofreaders.

Project Gutenberg has numerous other works by Wilhelm Hauff, in German, English, and even Esperanto, and you can download free audiobooks of Hauff’s works in German and English at Librivox. Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 39,000th title with this special final volume of the six-volume edition of Hauff’s collected works.

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

Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke (1911)
Volume 1 (Poems and Novellas I, with a biographical introduction by Alfred Weile) Band 1 (Gedichte und Novellen I, mit einer biographischen Einleitung von Alfred Weile)
Volume 2 (Novellas II and The Wine-Ghosts of Bremen) Band 2 (Novellen II und Phantasien im Bremer Ratskeller)
Volume 3 (Lichtenstein, a historical novel) Band 3 (Lichtenstein, ein historischer Roman)
Volume 4, (Memoiren des Satan, a satire) Band 4, (Memoiren des Satan, eine Satire)
Volume 5 (Der Mann im Mond, a parody of the works of H. Clauren; Kontrovers-Predigt über H. Clauren und den Mann im Mond, Hauff’s diatribe against Clauren; and Sketches) Band 5 (Der Mann im Mond, eine Parodie auf H. Claurens Werke; Kontrovers-Predigt über H. Clauren und den Mann im Mond, Hauffs Schmähschrift gegen Clauren; und Skizzen)
Volume 6 (Fairy Tales)
Band 6 (Märchen)

Dieser Blog-Artikel auf Englisch und Deutsch würdigt das 39.000ste Projekt, das Distributed Proofreaders bei Project Gutenberg veröffentlicht hat: den sechsten und letzten Band von Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke. Herzlichen Glückwunsch und vielen Dank an alle Freiwilligen bei Distributed Proofreaders, die an diesem Projekt gearbeitet haben!


Der deutsche Dichter und Schriftsteller Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827) starb kurz vor seinem 25. Geburtstag. Trotz seiner kurzen Schaffensperiode hinterließ er ein umfangreiches literarisches Werk. Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke füllen sechs Bände in der Ausgabe von 1911. Der sechste Band enthält seine Märchen, die auch heute noch gern gelesen werden.

Wilhelm Hauff wurde in Stuttgart geboren. Sein Vater starb, als Hauff erst sieben Jahre alt war. Seine Mutter zog mit den Kindern zu ihrem Vater nach Tübingen, wo Wilhelm Hauff eine ausgezeichnete Ausbildung genoss. Später studierte er Theologie an der Universität Tübingen, wohl eher dem Wunsch der Mutter als den eigenen Neigungen folgend.

Hauff’s erstes veröffentlichtes Buch, Der Märchen-Almanach auf das Jahr 1826 für Söhne und Töchter gebildeter Stände, ist im sechsten Band der gesammelten Werke enthalten. Es erschien 1826, als er als Hauslehrer für den württembergischen Kriegsminister angestellt war, und er schrieb die Geschichten wohl zur Unterhaltung der Kinder. Dieser Band und die beiden Folgebände für die Jahre 1827 und 1828 sind im vorliegenden sechsten Band der gesammelten Werke zusammengefasst.

Die in den drei Bänden enthaltenen Märchen sind jeweils durch eine Rahmenerzählung zusammengefasst. Der erste Band spielt im Orient und enthält bekannte Märchen wie “Die Geschichte von dem kleinen Muck” und “Kalif Storch”. Das bekannteste Märchen des zweiten Bandes ist wohl “Zwerg Nase”, außerdem enthält dieser Band eine Nacherzählung des Grimm’schen Märchens “Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot”.

Die Rahmenerzählung des dritten Bandes, “Das Wirtshaus im Spessart”, ist insbesondere durch die Verfilmung von 1958 mit Lieselotte Pulver bekannt. Auch das darin eingebettete Märchen “Das kalte Herz” wurde oft verfilmt, das erste Mal bereits 1924 und das vorerst letzte Mal 2016.

Die Märchen sind der Teil von Wilhelm Hauff’s Werk, der bis heute immer wieder Neuausgaben in Buchform erhält und auch verfilmt wird.

Hauff’s Märchen waren auch englisch sprechenden Kindern im Zeitalter Victorias und Edward des VII. bekannt. Distributed Proofreaders hat The Little Glass Man and Other Stories (1894) und The Oriental Story Book (1855) für Project Gutenberg produziert. Außerdem ist eine wunderschöne illustrierte Edition von 1900 derzeit in Arbeit.

Bei Project Gutenberg sind zahlreiche andere Werke von Wilhelm Hauff zu finden, auf Deutch, Englisch und sogar Esperanto. Auf Librivox sind unter anderem alle drei Bände des Märchen-Almanachs als Hörbücher verfügbar. Distributed Proofreaders ist stolz darauf, seinen 39.000sten Titel mit dem letzten Band der sechsbändigen Ausgabe von Hauff’s gesammelten Werken zu feiern.

Dieser Blog-Beitrag auf Deutsch wurde von Constanze Hofmann, einer Freiwilligen für Distributed Proofreaders, verfasst.

Stories for a Pandemic

April 1, 2020

What do you do when a deadly disease is raging all around you? Pandemics aren’t new to mankind, one earth-shaking example being the Black Death that decimated medieval Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in the mid-14th Century. Now known as bubonic, septicemic, or pneumonic plague, depending on where it lands in the body, this nasty illness is believed to have killed off up to 200 million people in just a few years. (By contrast, the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed perhaps half that number.)

Accurate medical knowledge at the time was spectacularly lacking. Not only was there no understanding of what the plague was (a bacterial infection) or how it spread (fleas carried by rodents), there was no effective treatment for it (antibiotics). People randomly survived or died according to what they believed was God’s will. But one thing they did dimly understand was that being near people who had the plague made you more likely to get it.


Boccaccio and other Florentines fleeing the plague, from a 1485 French edition of The Decameron

So, if you lived in a city like Florence, and you had the means, what you did was flee to the countryside to escape the city’s “bad air.” And that was what gave the Florentine author and humanist Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) the framing device for his masterwork, The Decameron.

Written in the immediate aftermath of the plague that reduced Florence’s population by more than half in just two years, The Decameron is a collection of 100 stories, told by a group of young Florentines, three men and seven women, who have taken shelter in an empty villa in nearby Fiesole. Each is appointed to tell one story a night for 10 nights.

The stories range from the bawdy to the holy, the sweet to the horrific. The astonishing thing about them is that they are so modern and so universal. Boccaccio explored, with wit and wisdom, every aspect of humanity – vices, virtues, strengths, weaknesses – and he pulled no punches.

One of the most famous tragic stories concerns a young woman, Lisabetta, whose brothers have murdered her lover (Day 4, Tale 5). She finds his body and buries his head in a pot of basil, which she tends lovingly, watering it with her tears. The story inspired John Keats’s poem, “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil” (which can be found in Keats: Poems Published in 1820). That, in turn, inspired paintings by William Holman Hunt, John William Waterhouse, and Joseph Severn, among others, as well as a symphonic tone poem by Frank Bridge.

On the bright (and very naughty) side are tales like that of Caterina (Day 5, Tale 4), who dupes her parents into letting her sleep out on the terrace so she can hear the nightingale sing – a euphemism for something quite different involving her secret lover. Or the comic tale of the hapless Andreuccio (Day 2, Tale 5), whose slapstick accidents start in a latrine and go downhill from there.

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers worked on the e-text of John Payne’s 1886 English translation, which was originally published privately. It has the virtue of copious explanatory footnotes. It’s also considered to be the first complete English translation – but it’s not truly complete. Payne just couldn’t bring himself to translate part of the X-rated story of Rustico, a monk who teaches a heathen girl how the Devil is put into Hell (Day 3, Tale 10). Payne adds a footnote with the excuse that “The translators regret that the disuse into which magic has fallen, makes it impossible to render the technicalities of that mysterious art into tolerable English; they have therefore found it necessary to insert several passages in the original Italian.” But the Project Gutenberg e-book has a helpful transcriber’s note giving the passage in English from the 1903 translation by J.M. Rigg, who was apparently undaunted by that disused “magic.”

Project Gutenberg also has the very first English translation, by John Florio, published in 1620. It’s not complete; among other things, it replaces the Rustico tale with a rather cleaner story not written by Boccaccio. And Project Gutenberg has a Dutch version, De Decamerone, contributed by Distributed Proofreaders, as well as one in Finnish, Novelleja Decameronesta, but no Italian version. However, you can find free e-book and audiobook versions of the definitive Italian edition at Liber Liber – Progetto Manuzio, an endeavor with which Team Italia at Distributed Proofreaders has long collaborated.

During this time of modern pestilence, Boccaccio’s wonderful tales may be just the antidote to cabin fever that you’re looking for.

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

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