The Golden Bough

December 1, 2019
Turner Golden Bough

The Golden Bough, by J.M.W. Turner

Distributed Proofreaders recently completed posting to Project Gutenberg all twelve volumes of Sir James George Frazer’s masterwork, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd edition, 1915). This monumental study of comparative mythology and religion, first published in two volumes in 1890, had a huge influence not only on the newly developing fields of social anthropology and psychology, but also on modern literature.

Frazer’s studies in classics at Cambridge sparked a deep interest in myths and religious rites. The Golden Bough was inspired by an ancient Roman myth depicted in J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name. As Frazer explains in Volume I:

Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi—”Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients….

Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken. Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughs. Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis). According to the public opinion of the ancients the fateful branch was that Golden Bough which, at the Sibyl’s bidding, Aeneas plucked before he essayed the perilous journey to the world of the dead.

Although he read extensively in ancient texts, Frazer’s research was not confined to Greek and Roman myths. He also sent detailed questionnaires to missionaries and British colonial officials all over the world, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific, seeking their observations of the natives’ customs and rituals. Today this method would cause a field anthropologist to raise an eyebrow, but it was a start. Until then, no one had attempted so vast a comparison of human beliefs.

Frazer’s global study of myths and rituals formed the basis for his theory that human civilization evolved from belief in magic, to faith in religion, to reliance on science. Of course, the implication that science is on an evolutionary plane higher than religion did not endear Frazer to Christian church authorities. And Frazer’s inclusion of events sacred to Christianity in his comparative studies, such as Christ’s resurrection, outraged some contemporary critics, because it implied that these events were the equivalent of pagan myths.

But to others, Frazer’s work was revolutionary and inspiring. Particularly fascinating was the realization that the essential archetypes of ancient myths are universal across all human cultures, “civilized” or not. This concept had a profound impact on modern literature, influencing artists as diverse as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, H.P. Lovecraft, Jim Morrison, and even George Lucas (through the later work of Joseph Campbell). And the newborn science of psychology benefited as well, influencing Sigmund Freud’s theories in Totem and Taboo and, indirectly, Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.

Some modern critics have faulted Frazer for what they perceive as his unscientific methods and Victorian biases. But others continue to appreciate the multicultural scope of Frazer’s work. The Golden Bough‘s vivid synthesis of worldwide myths about life and death, gods and monsters, heroes and kings — stories common to all human cultures — shaped modern thought in ways that cannot be underestimated.

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

 

 


Celebrating 38,000 Titles

November 8, 2019

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Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 38,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, The Birds of Australia, Volume III, by John Gould. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

John Gould (1804-1881) began work as a gardener under his father. He later set himself up as a taxidermist and eventually became the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London. This provided the opportunity for him to be the first to view new specimens donated to the Society. 

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Gould began to publish books on birds illustrated by his wife Elizabeth and other artists. After a string of successful works, John and Elizabeth moved to Australia to work on The Birds of Australia, published between 1840 and 1848. Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1841, soon after returning to England, and other artists completed the illustrations.

The bird specimens collected by Charles Darwin in his second voyage on the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836 were presented to the Zoological Society. Gould began identifying them and noticed that birds that were identified by Darwin as blackbirds, gross-bills, and finches were “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” Gould met with Darwin and informed him that several of the birds Darwin had identified but supposed to be just varieties of the same species were actually distinct species on different islands. Darwin was then able to establish that the species were unique to the islands, leading to the inception of his theory of evolution. Gould’s research, with his wife’s illustrations, was published in 1838-1841 as Part 3 of The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Darwin.

The Birds of Australia was the first comprehensive survey of the birds of Australia. It is a seven-volume set that includes descriptions of 681 species, of which 328 were first described by Gould. Elizabeth Gould made hundreds of drawings and 84 color plates before her death. H.C. Richter produced 595 plates from her drawings. As Gould noted in the introduction to Volume I, there was no doubt a great deal more work to be done in the Australian wilderness:

If we compare the ornithology of Australia with that of any other country in similar latitudes and of the same extent, we shall find that it fully equals, if it does not exceed them all, in the number of species it comprises; and those parts of the country that are still unexplored doubtless contain many yet to be added to the list of its Fauna.

The Birds of Australia, Volume II, was previously posted to Project Gutenberg. Volumes I and IV through VII are in progress at Distributed Proofreaders.

This post was contributed by Richard Tonsing, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

 


America’s First Banned Book

November 1, 2019

title pageLast week, Christie’s, the famed auction house, auctioned off a copy of what they described as America’s first banned book — a 1637 first edition of The New English Canaan. The book, a diatribe against the Puritans of New England, sold for US$60,000. But, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, you can read it for free at Project Gutenberg.

When the Puritans fled England in the early 17th Century to seek religious freedom in the wilderness of America, they had no intention of extending that freedom to anyone else. Their settlements were under tight theocratic control. But they were not the only Englishmen interested in settling in America. Others with less spiritual motives had also come across the Atlantic — to seek their fortunes.

The two groups were bound to clash. Among the entrepreneurs who earned the Puritans’ ire was Thomas Morton (1579–1647). He first came to America for a few months in 1622 as the agent for a British businessman. There he found “two sortes of people, the one Christians, the other Infidels; these I found most full of humanity, and more friendly then the other.” Having no use for the Puritans, Morton took the trouble to acquaint himself with the native Americans and their language and customs.

In 1624, he returned to engage in fur trading with the Algonquian natives in the Puritans’ Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The Puritans objected to Morton and his associates selling guns and liquor to the natives, so in 1625 Morton moved on to found his own settlement, Merrymount, in present-day Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1627, he and his fun-loving compatriots irritated the Puritans by holding a May Day revel with the natives. Plymouth governor William Bradford, in his History of Plimoth Plantation, referred to Morton as a “lord of misrule” and railed against the Merrymount colonists and native women “dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises.” (This bacchanal inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s story, “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” in Twice-Told Tales.) The growing prosperity of the Merrymount colony — which threatened the Puritans’ trade monopoly — and an even wilder May Day celebration the following year, only added insult to injury.

So Plymouth struck back, with a military offensive against Merrymount led by Myles Standish. Morton was arrested and banished to a deserted island off the coast of New Hampshire, and his 80-foot maypole was chopped down. After various unpleasant vicissitudes, including nearly starving to death, Morton made his way back to England. There, he successfully sued the Puritans’ financial machine, the Massachusetts Bay Company, and got its charter revoked in 1635.

With the help of London literary friends like Ben Jonson, Morton turned the notes he had made for his lawsuit into an explosive three-volume book, The New English Canaan, published in Amsterdam in 1637.  It contains a pointed and entertaining screed against the Puritans’ theocratic rule in Massachusetts, their intolerance for dissent, and their efforts to wipe out the native population.

The first two books of The New English Canaan are mostly non-controversial, containing Morton’s observations on the native Americans, whom he respected greatly, and on the rich natural resources in New England. It was in the third book that Morton rolled up his sleeves and got down to his real purpose of skewering the New England Puritans, who, he said, “make a great shewe of Religion, but no humanity.”

Morton was particularly appalled at the Puritans’ mistreatment of the native Americans. He recounted various instances in which the Puritans cheated the natives, stole their land, and massacred them. He also criticized the Puritans for wanting to keep New England’s resources a secret from the public so as to have them all to themselves.

The third book also gives Morton’s side of the May Day story and its aftermath, interspersed with poems and songs. One song, which had been tacked up on the giant maypole, was bound to gall the Puritans, combining as it did intemperance with lasciviousness:

Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes;
Let all your delight be in the Hymens ioyes;
Jô to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take Roome.

Morton also thinly disguised many of the Puritan figures in his book with humorously insulting names, such as “Captaine Shrimpe” for Myles Standish.

The Puritans were not amused. Governor Bradford referred to The New English Canaan as “an infamouse & scurillous booke against many godly & cheefe men of ye cuntrie; full of lyes & slanders, and fraight with profane callumnies against their names and persons, and ye ways of God.” When Morton returned to America, the Puritans arrested him on various charges, including having “set forth a book against us.” He died an exile in Maine in 1647.

The edition of The New English Canaan at Project Gutenberg is an 1883 reprint of the first edition, with an illuminating introduction that lays out a detailed history of America’s first banned book.

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


The Living Animals of the World

September 1, 2019

On July 29, 2019, Project Gutenberg posted its 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1 of 2). Congratulations to Project Gutenberg and to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!

Humankind has always been fascinated by Nature. At first, it was matter of mere adaptation for survival. Once humans learned to make themselves comfortable, philosophers in ancient times began to study the workings of the natural world. In medieval Europe, that study became a matter of theology.

A more scientific approach began to take hold during the Renaissance, and by the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest, both amateur and professional, in natural history. Empire-building by various European nations enabled naturalists to rove all over the globe, studying flora and fauna, taking careful notes, and amassing collections that began as private “cabinets of curiosities” and ended by forming the cores of the great natural history museums that were founded throughout Europe and America.

As general education in the Western world improved and books became more accessible, natural history became a subject of popular interest as well. Numerous books on plants and animals, often lavishly illustrated, were published for general audiences. A fine example of this is the two-volume set of The Living Animals of the World. First published in London in 1901, it bills itself as “A Popular Natural History.” The two volumes contain a total of over 1,100 black-and-white photographs and two dozen color plates.

Volume 1 deals with mammals, while Volume 2 (in progress at Distributed Proofreaders) concerns itself with birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, other sea creatures, and insects. The eminent British zoologist C.J. Cornish was the editor, heading a stellar team of contributors that included explorers F.C. Selous and Sir Harry Johnston, zoologist W.P. Pycraft, hunter and naturalist H.A. Bryden, marine biologist William Saville-Kent, and entomologist W.F. Kirby, among others.

The introduction to Volume 1 extols the popularity of natural history and notes the great boon of photography to aid in its study:

… the interest now taken in Natural History is of a kind and calibre never previously known, and any work which presents the wonders of the Animal World in a new or clearer form may make some claim to the approval of the public…. Every year not only adds to the stock of knowledge of the denizens of earth and ocean, but increases the facilities for presenting their forms and surroundings pictorially. Photography applied to the illustration of the life of beasts, birds, fishes, insects, corals, and plants is at once the most attractive and the most correct form of illustration. In the following pages it will be used on a scale never equalled in any previous publication.

The work of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers in creating the e-book version of The Living Animals of the World, complete with its hundreds of photographs, does ample justice to that boast. This handsome volume is a fitting way to celebrate Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title.

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


Count Safroni

August 1, 2019

The Victorians had a great love for exotic cultural exploration, no doubt an outgrowth of Britain’s imperial expansion all over the world. Amateur scholars and adventurers sailed off to far-flung tropical islands to observe the curious habits, mores, and rituals of the natives, whom they generally considered uncivilized savages.

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Count Safroni

One such cultural explorer was the musician and author Arnold Safroni-Middleton, also known as Count Safroni. Safroni-Middleton was born in South London, England, in 1873. According to family reminiscences, based on his own accounts, he ran away to sea when he was still a boy and landed in Brisbane, Australia. He survived by playing his violin on the streets. Later, he stowed away on a ship bound for Samoa. Playing his violin allegedly saved him from being devoured by Samoan cannibals.

The somewhat more sober account of his life, according to Safroni-Middleton’s obituary, is that he went to Dulwich College and became a professional violinist who played in orchestras and as a soloist all over the world. But he did have a keen sense of adventure, and there is no doubt that he had an opportunity to steep himself in the exotica of the South Sea islands. Those experiences resulted in a number of memoirs and novels set in the South Pacific, many with examples of “native” music composed by Safroni-Middleton himself. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have posted five of these novels to Project Gutenberg, and a sixth is in the works. Several include links to audio files of Safroni-Middleton’s music.

In Sailor and Beachcomber (1915), he tells the tale of running away to Australia and fetching up in Samoa. He has romances with native girls and hobnobs with Robert Louis Stevenson, who had settled in Samoa in 1890. Ever the musician, Safroni-Middleton provides the music for a couple of native songs that he says “had the Western note in them” — they certainly do, if his transcriptions are any indication. After an interlude tramping through the Australian bush, he is off to San Francisco, where he plays the violin at a raucous (and dangerous) “high-class dancing saloon” before returning to Australia for more adventures.

The sequel, A Vagabond’s Odyssey (1916), opens with Safroni-Middleton sleeping on the floor of a derelict attic in New England, but determined to become a great violinist. After various vicissitudes (including a stint selling bug powder), wanderlust strikes him again, and he finds himself in the South Seas once more. In this book, he purports to transcribe some Samoan dances that sound suspiciously like Victorian parlor music, such as a “Tribal Waltz” that he claims was played by a “barbarian orchestra”:

Wine-Dark Seas and Tropic Skies (1918), Safroni-Middleton’s third memoir, brings us back to Sydney, Australia, where, at 16, he finds himself stranded for the fourth time. He makes the rounds of the Marquesas, Fiji, and other islands. On the way, he becomes fascinated with a young “half caste” girl, Waylao, whose mesmerizing dance Safroni-Middleton transcribes as a waltz not too different from the one in his previous book.

In yet another memoir, South Sea Foam (1920; in progress at Distributed Proofreaders), he casts himself as a “a modern Don Quixote in the southern seas.” Stranded (again) in Sydney, he heads to Samoa and the Marquesas. The time frame is a bit fuzzy, as he seems to be elaborating on some of the ground already covered in earlier memoirs, but it’s still a rollicking adventure. It features music for a lively Marquesan dance that, like his other “South Sea” music, has a distinctly Western European flavor.

Safroni-Middleton turned to fiction in Gabrielle of the Lagoon (1919), a romantic tale set in the Solomon Islands about a British adventurer (who, not surprisingly, is also a violinist) and a beautiful young “three-quarter caste” girl. Another mixed-race beauty is the love interest in the novel Sestrina (1920).

These are just a handful of Safroni-Middleton’s works. He was a prolific writer who even delved into the realm of science fiction. And he was an equally prolific composer, with a number of waltzes and marches under his belt. His best-known musical work is “Imperial Echoes,” which became famous through its use on the BBC Radio Newsreel for many years.


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 13 July 2019

July 11, 2019

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable between 2 pm and 10 pm server time on Saturday 13 July 2019 as we upgrade our forum software and update our forum database tables.

We hope that the update will not take the full 8 hours. If the upgrade and data conversion and related checks are completed early, the site will return sooner.

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

We’ll keep this blog post updated with progress during the outage. You can also find us in the pgdp Jabber conference room and on Facebook.

Update 5:20pm EDT: Site is back up and operational, thank you for your patience!

Update 5:00pm EDT: Testing and troubleshooting of change underway.

Update 3:00pm EDT: Proceeding as planned.

Update 2:00pm EDT: Maintenance started.


Terra Australis

June 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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