Children’s Book Week 2022

May 1, 2022

Tomorrow kicks off the first of two Children’s Book Weeks for 2022 – May 2 to 8 and November 7 to 13. Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week has engaged children with books through events at schools, libraries, bookstores, and, in recent years, online. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg have been proud to be part of this online initiative by making available to everyone, for free, a wide variety of public-domain children’s books. And over the past year, DP has contributed some fun and interesting children’s books to Project Gutenberg in celebration of Children’s Book Week.

Animals are always a popular category in the juvenile genre. Elizabeth Stafford Fry’s Bully Bull Frog and His Home in Rainbow Valley (1921) is a series of gentle stories about various animals in idyllic Rainbow Valley, with pretty color illustrations by Frances Beem. Published the same year, The Woodcutter’s Dog is a translation of 19th-Century French author Charles Nodier‘s short story about a heroic canine. It features charming color illustrations by English artist Claud Lovat Fraser. And from the previous century is Eliza Grey’s The Adventures of a Marmotte (1831), the whimsical “memoir” of a large ground squirrel. This book is unusual in that it was “sold for the distressed Irish,” apparently a reference to the 1830 potato crop failure and subsequent food riots in Ireland (not to be confused with the later, and far worse, Great Famine).

Children have always loved book series with engaging heroes and heroines. In 1842, educator and clergyman Jacob Abbott followed up his successful educational “Rollo” series (many of which are at Project Gutenberg) with one for girls featuring Rollo’s Cousin Lucy. Cousin Lucy at Play and Cousin Lucy at Study are both interesting slices of a child’s life in pre-Civil War America, with an emphasis on good conduct and kindness to others.

Good conduct for children is meticulously laid out in the 1856 guide, Etiquette for Little Folks, by an anonymous author. Given how highly class-conscious that era was, it’s not surprising to find advice such as, “Be meek, courteous, and affable to your inferiors; not proud nor scornful. To be courteous, even to the lowest, is a true index of a great and generous mind.” And in The School-Girls in Number 40, published in 1859 by the American Sunday-School Union, the boarding-school heroines learn about sharing, tolerance, penitence, and forgiveness.

The antebellum period in America is also represented by Fanny Fern‘s story collection The Play-Day Book, published in 1857. Fern was the most highly paid newspaper columnist of her day and is said to have coined the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The Play-Day Book followed on the success of her first children’s book, Little Ferns for Fanny’s Little Friends (1853). Fern’s conversational style made both her newspaper columns and her breezy little stories highly readable.

The author of Alice and Beatrice, published in 1881, is listed simply as “Grandmamma,” who is also the character who tells young Alice and Beatrice the stories in the book. Each story has an educational component, on such diverse subjects as lacemaking, life in Russia, rainbows, bees, and more.

Before writing the immortal Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne wrote a lovely collection of fantasy stories, appropriately entitled A Gallery of Children. The book, published in 1925, features exquisite color illustrations by Dutch illustrator Henriette Willebeek le Mair, also known as “Saida.”

Poetry is a perennial childhood favorite. Miriam Clark Potter’s Rhymes of a Child’s World (1920) has delightful line drawings and decorations by Ruth Fuller Stevens. Its dedication reads:

TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER
WHO ALWAYS HAD TIME
TO WAIVE GROWN-UP MATTERS
AND READ A SMALL RHYME:

WHOSE HEARTS EVER HELD
THROUGH THE FLIGHT OF THE YEARS
A SOFT UNDERSTANDING
OF SMALL JOYS AND TEARS.

A much earlier little volume of children’s poetry, Simple Poems for Infant Minds (1856), anonymously written and illustrated, contains just what the title says, with a blend of whimsy and moral instruction.

Dime novels were wildly popular in the 19th Century and beyond. The Boy Ranger; or, The Heiress of the Golden Horn, by Oll Coomes, published in 1874, is a good example of the kind of Western adventure much loved by children back then. This one is a bit unusual for the time in that it portrays a Native American tribal chief and his warriors in a heroic light.

Lastly, music makes an appearance with The Pinafore Picture Book (1908), a delightful children’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s popular operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. It was written by W.S. Gilbert himself and beautifully illustrated by Alice B. Woodward. The e-book version contains audio files so you can listen to the musical excerpts from the operetta that were printed in the original book.

We hope these selections will delight your inner child this Children’s Book Week!

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


Celebrating 43,000 Titles

February 1, 2022

This post – in English and German – celebrates the 43,000th title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band (The Customs of Peoples, Volume II). Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it! This post was contributed by salmonofdoubt, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

‘… much of the material possession of the tribes on their way to extinction, their weapons, tools, clothes, and many other everyday objects could just be preserved and included in the ethnographical museums. This is much less the case with the spiritual and intellectual heritage of the peoples in question, such as customs, practices, religious views, and so forth, even though some of the explorers attach importance particularly to this area of interest; but, unfortunately, an enormous amount of time and effort is needed to penetrate deeply into the inner life of the primitive peoples, which is quite different to how it is with us civilised people, and on the other hand, their perceptions have been subject to change in earlier times, as a result of European influences, which wound their way to them, sometimes in a roundabout way that one might never had expected.’

G. Buschan, The Customs of Peoples, Vol. I.

Georg Buschan, in his time, was a quite well-known and prolific author who devoted himself to anthropological, ethnological, and ethnographical questions, thereby reaching a large audience. His works counted among the most eminent and most comprehensive depictions in this range of subjects. Without doubt, Buschan still belongs to the older branch of ethnographers, classifying the cultures of peoples into ‘uncivilised’ and ‘civilised,’ even though the sense of mission and the narrow-mindedness of social scientists of the 18th and 19th Centuries can be found in Buschan’s works merely in a somewhat reduced form. At the same time, he was well aware that the original and unaltered cultural practices were already a thing of the past.

After serving as a military surgeon, Buschan travelled to Eastern Asia and to the Balkan Peninsula, but he was especially interested in the former German colony of Cameroon. Most of the chapters in The Customs of Peoples concerning this region of Africa can be ascribed to his authorship. Many of the book chapters from other regions of the world were written by well-known and renowned explorers, such as Sven Hedin, the Swedish explorer of Asia, and the Australian biologist and ethnologist Sir Baldwin Spencer.

‘Ethnography can be considered a fundamental methodology of the social sciences. Over the past century, ethnographic methodology has led to the discovery of some of the most valuable concepts, theory and data produced in the social sciences.’

Faye Allard and Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005.

The past decades have brought a substantial change to ethnography, particularly after the heyday of colonialism gradually came to an end after the First World War. Up to that time the depiction of foreign peoples had always been compared to the paradigm of the own culture. The ‘alien’ was considered to be the less developed, with a need for development; the colonial powers’ culture, on the other hand, was made out to be the shining example. This perspective also provided a pretext for the colonial powers to actively interfere in the affairs of foreign peoples.

Today, ethnography rarely depicts entire groups of peoples but rather addresses smaller social groups, even units as small as a football team or a work group. One important reason for this reorientation might be found in the intense mixing of cultures. Probably, an environment unaffected by the outside world no longer exists anywhere.

Even by the time Buschan published his three-volume The Customs of Peoples in 1914-1916, this was more or less true. The contributors to the work keep encountering outside influences of European culture wherever they go. Sometimes the influences manifest themselves very plainly, as seen in the omnipresent Christian symbolism in some colonies, for example, in Central and South America. Objects of European production can be seen in some of the illustrations, sometimes subtly hidden, but they are still there; for example, articles of clothing or tools that found their way into the everyday life of the observed peoples, having thus changed their traditional practices.

Without doubt, The Customs of Peoples can be considered one of Buschan’s most important works. In the first volume, Buschan focused on the peoples of Australia, Oceania, and the southern and eastern parts of Asia. In the second volume he delved into the civilisations of the remaining parts of Asia, as well as Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa. The third volume, in progress at Distributed Proofreaders, concludes the series with the description of the peoples of Western Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Each of the three volumes contains about 500 illustrations, mostly photos and colour drawings. In fact, the books create the impression of being picture books, probably to appeal to a wider audience. Today the choice of the subjects might not be classed as ‘politically correct.’ A disproportionately high number of illustrations show scantily dressed women and young girls, which might be intended to get the predominantly male readers interested in the contents of the books.

Yet, it would not be right to impose today’s standards on yesterday’s ways of thinking. Our variety of different cultures is continually changing. A great number of things are changing almost daily, and in a hundred years’ time our view of the world may well be just greeted with smiles.


Dieser Blog-Artikel auf Englisch und Deutsch würdigt das 43.000ste Projekt, das Distributed Proofreaders bei Project Gutenberg veröffentlicht hat: den Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band. Herzlichen Glückwunsch und vielen Dank an alle Freiwilligen bei Distributed Proofreaders, die an diesem Projekt gearbeitet haben! Dieser Blog-Beitrag auf Deutsch wurde von salmonofdoubt, einer Freiwilligen für Distributed Proofreaders, verfasst.

„… vieles von dem materiellen Besitz der im Aussterben begriffenen Stämme, also von ihren Waffen, Werkzeugen, Kleidung und vielen anderen Gegenständen des täglichen Lebens konnte noch gerettet und den ethnographischen Museen einverleibt werden. Weniger trifft dies aber für den geistigen Kulturbesitz der fraglichen Völker, wie Sitten, Gebräuche, religiöse Ansichten und dergleichen zu, obwohl manche der Forschungsreisenden gerade auch auf dieses Gebiet bei ihren Forschungen Gewicht legten; aber leider gehört, um in das Innenleben der primitiven Völker einzudringen, das ein ganz anderes als bei uns Kulturmenschen ist, viel Zeitaufwand und Mühe, und zum anderen haben ihre Vorstellungen verschiedentlich durch europäischen Einfluß, der manchmal auf Umwegen, auf denen man es gar nicht vermuten würde, schon in früheren Zeiten zu ihnen gelangte, eine Abänderung erfahren.“

(G. Buschan, „Die Sitten der Völker“, Erster Band)

Georg Buschan war in seiner Zeit ein ziemlich bekannter und produktiver Autor, der sich mit anthropologischen, ethnologischen und ethnographischen Fragen beschäftigte und damit ein großes Publikum erreichte. Seine Werke zählten zu den bedeutendsten und umfassendsten Darstellungen dieser Themengebiete. Buschan selbst muss zweifellos noch dem älteren Zweig der Ethnographie zugerechnet werden, der die Kulturen der Völker wertend in „primitiv“ und „entwickelt“ einordnet, wenngleich sich das Sendungsbewusstsein und die Engstirnigkeit der Sozialwissenschaftler des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts sich bei ihm nur noch in abgeschwächter Form findet. Ihm selbst war dabei sehr wohl bewusst, dass die Inhalte der ursprünglichen und unverfälschten Kulturen bereits der Vergangenheit angehörten.

Nach seinem Dienst als Militärarzt reiste Buschan nach Ostasien und auf die Balkanhalbinsel, vor allem aber galt sein Interesse der damaligen deutschen Kolonie Kamerun; die meisten seiner Buchbeiträge, die sich mit dieser Region Afrikas beschäftigen, stammen daher aus seiner eigenen Feder. Die Beiträge für seine Bücher, die aus anderen Weltgegenden stammen, wurden oft von berühmten und angesehenen Forschern, wie beispielsweise dem schwedischen Asienreisenden Sven Hedin und dem australischen Biologen und Ethnologen Sir Baldwin Spencer verfasst.

„Ethnographie kann als eine fundamentale Methodik der Sozialwissenschaften begriffen werden. Im Laufe des vergangenen Jahrhunderts hat die ethnographische Methodik zur Entdeckung einiger der wertvollsten Konzepte, Theorien und Fakten geführt, die in den Sozialwissenschaften hervorgebracht wurden.“

(Faye Allard, Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005)

Die vergangenen Jahrzehnte haben der Ethnographie einen beträchtlichen Wandel beschert, insbesondere nachdem die Blütezeit des Kolonialismus mit dem ersten Weltkrieg allmählich zu Ende ging. Bis dahin wurde die Beschreibung fremder Völker ausschließlich am Paradigma der eigenen Kultur gemessen. Das „Fremde“ wurde stets als das weniger Entwickelte, Entwicklungsbedürftige, angesehen, die eigene Kultur dagegen als leuchtendes Vorbild dargestellt. Diese Sichtweise lieferte dann auch einen Vorwand der Kolonialmächte, als selbsternannte Weltverbesserer in die Geschicke anderer Völker eingreifen zu dürfen.

Die moderne Ethnographie beschreibt heute nur noch selten ganze Völkergruppen, sondern widmet sich vielmehr kleineren sozialen Einheiten, sogar bis hinunter zu Fußballmannschaften oder Arbeitsteams. Ein wichtiger Grund für diese Umorientierung dürfte unter anderem in der starken Durchmischung der Kulturen zu finden sein. Eine von der Außenwelt unbeeinflusstes Umfeld kann heute nirgendwo mehr bestehen.

Bereits zur Entstehungszeit der „Sitten der Völker“, von 1914–1916, lagen die Dinge schon ganz ähnlich. Wo immer sie hinkommen, treffen die Beitragenden der Bücher in den jeweiligen Gegenden der Welt auf die Einflüsse europäischer Kultur. Manchmal treten diese Einflüsse so deutlich zutage wie bei der allgegenwärtigen christlichen Symbolik in einigen Kolonien, beispielsweise in Mittel- und Südamerika. Bei vielen Gelegenheiten erkennt man in den Abbildungen Gegenstände aus europäischer Produktion, manchmal subtil versteckt, und dennoch sind sie vorhanden; zum Beispiel Kleidungsstücke oder Werkzeuge, die schon längst in das Alltagsleben der betrachteten Völker Einzug gehalten, und somit die althergebrachten Gebräuche verändert hatten.

Zweifelsohne können „Die Sitten der Völker“ als eines der wichtigsten Werke des Autors betrachtet werden. Im ersten Teil widmet sich Buschan den Völkern Australiens und Ozeaniens sowie dem südlichen und östlichen Teil Asiens. Im zweiten Band befasst sich der Autor mit den Kulturen aus den restlichen Teilen Asiens sowie dem nördlichen, östlichen und südlichen Afrika. Der dritte Teil beschließt die Reihe mit der Beschreibung der Völker Westafrikas, Amerikas und Europas. (Der dritte Band ist bei Distributed Proofreaders in Arbeit.) Jeder der drei Bände enthält etwa 500 Abbildungen, meist Fotos und farbige Zeichnungen. Tatsächlich erwecken die Bücher manchmal den Eindruck eines Bildbandes, sicher auch um ein breiteres Publikum anzusprechen. Die Wahl der Motive würde man heute wohl kaum als „politisch korrekt“ einstufen. Überdurchschnittlich viele Abbildungen zeigen spärlich bekleidete Frauen und junge Mädchen, was möglicherweise die überwiegend männliche Leserschaft für den Inhalt der Bücher interessieren sollte.

Es wäre jedoch nicht richtig, die heutigen Maßstäbe an die Denkweisen von gestern anzulegen. Auch unsere heutige Vielfalt an verschiedenen Kulturen ist in immerwährendem Wandel. Viele Dinge ändern sich beinahe täglich, und in hundert Jahren wird man für unsere Sicht auf die Welt wohl nur noch ein mildes Lächeln übrig haben.


Freud’s Dreams

January 1, 2022
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781). Freud reportedly had a copy of it hanging in his apartment.

I am very incompletely dressed, and I go from a dwelling on the ground floor up a flight of stairs to an upper story. In doing this I jump over three steps at a time, and I am glad to find I can mount the steps so quickly. Suddenly I see that a servant girl is coming down the stairs, that is, towards me. I am ashamed and try to hurry away, and now there appears that sensation of being impeded; I am glued to the steps and cannot move from the spot.

Who among us hasn’t had that dismaying dream of being in a state of undress in front of others? Or of desperately wanting to get away but being frozen to the spot? Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had this classic anxiety dream, as he recounts in Chapter V of his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in 1899. Thanks to Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg volunteers, you can read the 1914 fourth edition in German, Die Traumdeutung, or the 1913 English translation of the third edition by A.A. Brill, the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their dreams for thousands of years. The ancient Sumerians treated them as prophecy. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1800 BCE), one of the earliest surviving pieces of human literature, the hero dreams of a falling star; his mother interprets the dream to mean that he will soon have a new friend. Shortly thereafter, he meets Enkidu, his boon companion through many adventures, and both of them have significant dreams that are portents of things to come.

This view of dreaming as an aid to divination persisted for many centuries in many cultures. But, as Freud points out in Chapter I of The Interpretation of Dreams, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was probably the first to recognize a psychological component to dreams. Unlike his contemporaries, Aristotle did not believe that dreams were prophetic. Rather, he believed that they were sleep-altered forms of impressions the dreamer received during his waking life. And that’s exactly how Freud interpreted his staircase dream:

The situation of the dream is taken from everyday reality…. When I have finished my work downstairs late at night, I go up the steps into my bedroom. On the evening before the dream I had actually gone this short distance in a somewhat disorderly attire—that is to say, I had taken off my collar, cravat, and cuffs; but in the dream this has changed into a somewhat more advanced degree of undress, which as usual is indefinite. Jumping over the steps is my usual method of mounting stairs; moreover it is the fulfilment of a wish that has been recognised in the dream, for I have reassured myself about the condition of my heart action by the ease of this accomplishment.

The impetus for the dream arises from events in Freud’s daily life, consistent with Aristotle’s view. But Freud goes further. The meaning he assigns the dream is the cornerstone of his dream theory: wish fulfillment. The unconscious mind forms a wish; the wish is expressed in a dream, but in a disguised form due to an internal “censor” in one’s mind. Freud believed that the wish fulfillment in this particular dream revolved around his health – his concerns about his heart were assuaged by his being able to easily jump three steps at a time in the dream. As for the rest, he felt he “must postpone the further interpretation of this dream until I can give an account of the origin of the typical dream of incomplete dress.” Although his appearing before the servant partially dressed was “undoubtedly of a sexual character,” it puzzled him because the servant involved was an unattractive older woman.

Freud interprets several of his own dreams, as well as his patients’ dreams, along the same lines. In discussing some of them, he introduces his famous theory of the Oedipus complex – the unconscious wish to kill one parent and have sexual relations with the other. Freud argued that all children have such wishes to some extent, although most don’t have them in an intense form. He noted that “parents play a leading part in the infantile psychology of all later neurotics, and falling in love with one member of the parental couple and hatred of the other help to make up that fateful sum of material furnished by the psychic impulses, which has been formed during the infantile period, and which is of such great importance for the symptoms appearing in the later neurosis.” These “psychic impulses” are sometimes expressed in violent and/or erotic dreams about one’s parents. Indeed, Freud points out, such dreams are even referred to in Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex, when Jocasta tells her husband Oedipus (who does not yet know that he has murdered his father and married his mother) that “it hath already been the lot of many men in dreams to think themselves partners of their mother’s bed. But he passes most easily through life to whom these circumstances are trifles.” This “trifle,” however, inevitably leads to tragedy for Oedipus and Jocasta. In Freud’s view, it could lead to neurosis.

Freud acknowledges that the ancient belief in dreams as prophecy is “not entirely devoid of truth. By representing to us a wish as fulfilled the dream certainly leads us into the future; but this future, taken by the dreamer as present, has been formed into the likeness of that past by the indestructible wish.” And to Freud, this method of interpreting a patient’s dreams is a critical tool in psychoanalysis, as it is “the via regia to a knowledge of the unconscious in the psychic life.” He considered it so crucial that in 1901 he published an abridged version of The Interpretation of Dreams, entitled On Dreams, to make it more accessible to those interested in this new method of psychoanalysis. Another abridgement, Dream Psychology: Psycholanalysis for Beginners, was published in 1920 in an authorized English translation by British psychoanalyst M.D. Eder.

Freud later adjusted some of his theories, and later psychoanalysts have refined or taken issue with some of his interpretations, but The Interpretation of Dreams remains a seminal work in the development of psychoanalysis.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a happy and healthy New Year – and hopes those wishes are fulfilled.


Grammar-Land

December 1, 2021

grammarland-parsing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this:

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

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

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

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

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


Frédéric and George

November 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Astrea Triumphant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Celebrating 42,000 Titles

August 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 2 June 2021

May 26, 2021

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable starting at noon server time on Wednesday 2 June as we updated our Operating System and database. We hope to have completed the update by end of day. During this time the main site, forum and wiki will be unavailable.

Please consider using this maintenance window to do Smooth Reads that you have taken out prior to the downtime.

Please save all of your work before we start the maintenance at 12 noon server time. Proofreading pages offline while the server is down and saving them when it comes back up will not work.

If the upgrade and related checks are completed early, the site will return sooner.

Thank you for your patience. As you wait for Distributed Proofreaders to become available again, please feel free to browse through the excellent articles in this Blog.

We’ll keep this blog post updated with progress during the outage. You can also find us on Facebook.

Update 12:00pm EDT: Maintenance has started.

Update 1:00pm EDT: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 2:00pm EDT: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 3:20pm EDT: Maintenance continuing. The core Operating System upgrade is complete and we’re working to validate middleware and bring services online.

Update 5:20pm EDT: The Distributed Proofreaders Site is back up and operational. Thank you for your patience.


Buffalo Bill

May 1, 2021

Thanks to movie director Quentin Tarantino, most folks are familiar with the term “pulp fiction,” but the more common “dime novel” was used to describe everything from the pulp magazines starting around 1860 to the “penny dreadfuls” popular in the United Kingdom, featuring such characters as Sweeney Todd and Varney the Vampire. In the United States, fictional characters like Nick Carter were popular, but the stories about real-life American Wild West heroes like Buffalo Bill Cody really drove the genre.

Buffalo Bill was born in Iowa Territory, fought in the Civil War for the Union, was a U.S. Army scout during the Indian Wars, received the Congressional Medal of Honor and later became an entertainer, featured in his own Buffalo Bill Wild West show that toured the U.S. and Europe, giving command performances for Queen Victoria and the Pope. Even today, as a lasting tribute to his legacy, there’s an American football team named after him.

Mark Twain wrote a novel, A Horse’s Tale, about Buffalo Bill’s horse Soldier Boy, and E.E. Cummings penned a poem called “Buffalo Bill ‘s” (yes, there’s a space before the ‘s), but it was the countless dime novels written about Buffalo Bill that made a lasting impression, especially those by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, almost as colorful a character as Buffalo Bill himself. Published in the early 20th Century by Street and Smith, renowned for their strategic re-use of material, the Buffalo Bill Border Stories have been making their appearance on Project Gutenberg thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders. (See the list below for links to the e-books.)

Each novel features an adventure, or a series of related adventures, where our intrepid hero Bill manages to outwit the bad guys and save the helpless. In the books, Bill lives by a strict code, a set of rules of what is good and what is bad, of what must be done and what must never be done. As was common in those times, certain groups of people are portrayed as stereotypes, especially people of color and Native Americans, as well as people from other countries. For us today, such stereotypes are offensive, but they do serve to show how far we have come in terms of accepting the rich diversity of America.

In the novels, Bill is the ultimate hero, and he is usually accompanied by one of more “pards,” or sidekicks, who help him on his adventures. There is the Baron, a Prussian whose speech is difficult to decipher because it tries to mimic an exaggerated German accent. There’s also Nomad, an older Scout who nevertheless defers to the younger Bill for direction. And there’s Little Cayuse, the Paiute youngster who has yet to learn proper English. Bill, as the hero of course, always speaks in perfect English, never in any vernacular. Whether some, all or none of Bill’s adventures really happened will only be known to the Colonel, but the stories are “durned” fine to read.

In addition to the Buffalo Bill series, Project Manager David Edwards (De2164), also has other dime novel series and pulp magazines on their way to Project Gutenberg, including the many Nick Carter adventures as well as Frank Merriwell, the Frank Reade Library and the American Indian Weekly magazine. David has been sharing his own collection in order to preserve them before time takes its toll. Each project has to be scanned by hand and run through OCR software before it even makes it to Distributed Proofreaders, and recently David acquired thirty more titles that we can look forward to.

As the post-processor – a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who stitches a final e-book together after other volunteers have proofread and formatted it – I love working on these projects. I did my first Buffalo Bill last year while still an apprentice post-processor, and to date, I’ve sent ten so far to Project Gutenberg. Each project presents its own challenges, especially when there are advertising pages, which the publishers made frequent use of, since their business depended on quantity rather than quality. I hope that, along with David and the countless unsung heroes who are our volunteers at DP, including the wonderful Smooth Readers who faithfully read each project to catch stray errors, we will continue to provide the dime novels, a unique slice of literature, for many years to come.

This post was contributed by Susan L. Carr (Skeeter451), a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Buffalo Bill Border Stories

Buffalo Bill, the Border King (No. 1)

Buffalo Bill’s Spy Trailer (No. 41)

Buffalo Bill’s Still Hunt (No. 44)

Buffalo Bill’s Weird Warning (No. 66)

Buffalo Bill’s Girl Pard (No. 77)

Buffalo Bill’s Ruse (No. 82)

Buffalo Bill’s Pursuit (No. 83)

Buffalo Bill’s Bold Play (No. 101)

Buffalo Bill, Peacemaker (No. 102)

Buffalo Bill’s Big Surprise (No. 103)

Buffalo Bill’s Boy Bugler (No. 128)

Buffalo Bill Entrapped (No. 137)

Buffalo Bill’s Best Bet (No. 171)

Buffalo Bill among the Sioux (No. 176)


Arabian Nights

April 1, 2021

“It hath reached me, O King of the Age, that there dwelt in a city of the cities of China a man which was a tailor, withal a pauper, and he had one son, Alaeddin hight. Now this boy had been from his babyhood a ne’er-do-well, a scapegrace; and, when he reached his tenth year, his father inclined to teach him his own trade; and, for that he was over indigent to expend money upon his learning other work or craft or apprenticeship, he took the lad into his shop that he might be taught tailoring. But, as Alaeddin was a scapegrace and a ne’er-do-well and wont to play at all times with the gutter boys of the quarter, he would not sit in the shop for a single day; nay, he would await his father’s leaving it for some purpose, such as to meet a creditor, when he would run off at once and fare forth to the gardens with the other scapegraces and low companions, his fellows.”

Thus begins the story of “Alaeddin; or, the Wonderful Lamp,” one of the nightly tales told by Shahrázád to her husband King Shahryar in The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, as translated by famed British explorer/orientalist Richard Francis Burton. Published in a 17-volume set, A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, Now Entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night was, until the 21st Century, the first and only unabridged and unexpurgated translation of this ancient set of Middle Eastern tales. This massive, heavily footnoted series of entertaining but very adult tales was considered scandalous when originally published in the 1880s.

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers processed the complete 17-volume set, managed by Rich Hulse (Bookbuff) and post-processed by Rick Tonsing (okrick), and is now available in its entirety at Project Gutenberg. While this edition is not appropriate for young audiences, it gives valuable insight into the cultural, moral, and religious practices in the regions of Persian influence (from the Red Sea to Western India) at the end of the first millennium.

The first written evidence of the tales appeared in 947 A.D., though many were probably based on stories passed on verbally from decades or centuries earlier. Additional stories were added during the next few centuries.

The stories are all predicated upon the framing story of King Shahryar and Shahrázád (also known as Scheherazade). After discovering that during his absences his wife has been regularly unfaithful, the King kills her and those with whom she has betrayed him. Thereafter, distrusting all womankind, he marries and kills a new wife each day until Shahrázád, the daughter of his vizier (chief advisor), intervenes to stop the slaughter. She agrees to marry the King, but each evening tells a story, leaving it incomplete to finish it the next night if the King allows her to live. The King finds the stories so entertaining that he puts off her execution from day to day until he finally abandons it completely.

Since these stories were designed to entertain the King, many tend to be adult-oriented bedroom stories. Many of the well-known modern stories, like that of Aladdin, have the more prurient elements removed or are stories that were added much later. Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821‒1890), an Oriental language expert fluent in 25 languages covering 40 dialects, faithfully translated as many of the authentic stories as he could find. English society censored his work and refused to allow it to be published because of its risqué content. Sir Richard got around this censorship by using a private publisher for subscription purchase only. He published the stories in a 10-volume set, followed by a seven-volume supplemental set, between 1885 and 1888.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteer Rich Hulse (Bookbuff), who was the Project Manager for all 17 volumes of A plain and literal translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, now entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.


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