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.


Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 9 March 2021

March 5, 2021

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable starting at noon server time on Tuesday 9 March 2021 for a few hours as we roll out an update to our forum software in production. During this time, the main site and forums will be down, but the wiki will remain available.

If the upgrade is completed early, the site will return earlier.

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 12:15pm EST: Maintenance has started.

Update 12:30pm EST: Maintenance proceeding as planned.

Update 1:30pm EST: Maintenance continuing as planned.

Update 2:30pm EST: Maintenance continuing as planned.

Update 3:45pm EST: Site is back up and operational. Thank you for your patience!


Celebrating 41,000 Titles

March 5, 2021

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 41,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg: The Story of My Childhood by Clara Barton. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

How appropriate that, in a month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, Distributed Proofreaders’ 41,000th title should be the childhood autobiography of the amazing Clara Barton!

clara_bartonClarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. From her brother, David, Clara learned at an early age to ride the semi-wild horses in nearby pastures. She wrote that “in later years, when I found myself suddenly on a strange horse in a trooper’s saddle, flying for life or liberty in front of pursuit, I blessed the baby lessons of the wild gallops among the beautiful colts.”

Her older sisters and brothers taught her reading and mathematics at such an early age so that “no toy equalled my little slate.” And her father, who had served as a non-commissioned officer in the French and Indian Wars, instructed her on military and political affairs, including military etiquette. She wrote, “When later, I, like all the rest of our country people, was suddenly thrust into the mysteries of war, and had to find and take my place and part in it, I found myself far less a stranger to the conditions than most women, or even ordinary men for that matter….”

From that beginning, Clara Barton proceeded to several remarkable achievements. Throughout her long life she held many roles: teacher, patent office clerk, Civil War nurse, American and international relief organizer, founder of the Office of Missing Soldiers to find, identify and bury soldiers killed during that war, founder and then long-term president of the US branch of the Red Cross, and founder of the National First Aid Society. She was also involved with the suffragette movement and was a civil rights activist.

By age 17, Clara had passed her school examinations and began teaching in the Oxford, Massachusetts, schools. She later established a school for her brother’s mill workers’ children and, after attending the Clinton Liberal Institute, established the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Replaced by a male principal at the school she had founded, Clara then moved to Washington, DC. There she became the first woman to work in a federal government clerkship at a man’s salary, when she accepted the role of recording clerk at the U. S. Patent Office. After complaints about women occupying well-paid government positions, her salary was cut and then her job eliminated, but, a few years later, under the Lincoln administration, her position was reinstated.

With the start of the American Civil War, Clara Barton’s life took a new path. When the 6th Massachusetts Infantry was attacked by mobs of southern-sympathizing Baltimoreans and quartered in the U.S. Capitol, Barton personally furnished supplies for their needs. A few months later, she tended to the wounded soldiers returning from the Battle of Bull Run. By 1862, she was passing through battle lines to transport supplies. Thus started her career as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

Throughout the war, Barton worked tirelessly (even through a bout of typhoid) tending wounded and ill soldiers and arranging medical supply shipments. While treating the wounded at the Battle of Antietam, she was nearly killed by a bullet that passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed the wounded man she was attending.

After the war, at the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton directed a four-year search for the large numbers of missing soldiers. Under her guidance, nearly 13,000 Union graves from the Andersonville Prison were located and marked. At the dedication of Andersonville National Cemetery, Clara raised the flag. When the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men was closed in 1869, 63,182 letters had been received and answered and 22,000 missing men had been identified.

Many people identify Clara Barton with the work she did during and immediately following the Civil War. However, that was just the start of her career. She gave lectures across the United States, often sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Mark Twain. She also met and befriended Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thus beginning her association with the suffrage movement. During the Franco-German War, Barton organized relief efforts for war victims.

While in Europe, Clara Barton became associated with the International Red Cross and realized that there was a need for such an organization in the US. By 1877, she began gathering support for organization and, on May 21, 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross. She served as its first president and continued as president for more than 20 years. In that role, she directed operations for the Johnstown Flood, which became the most celebrated relief effort in American Red Cross’s early history. She coordinated civilian relief during the Spanish-American War, established orphanages, supported military hospitals, and provided supplies for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s wounded Rough Riders. As Red Cross President she also directed the relief effort for the Galveston hurricane in 1900 that left 6,000 dead.

Clara Barton made a true difference to the world around her. A tireless, caring person, a consummate organizer, a visionary – she is a true role model to today’s women and men.

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


Heroines of the Old-Time Stage

March 1, 2021
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth,
by John Singer Sargent

From ancient Greek and Roman times all the way up to Shakespeare’s day, women weren’t permitted to act on the legitimate stage. Female roles were usually played by boys. (The plot of the film Shakespeare in Love turns on this practice.) The development of opera in the 17th Century began to open up possibilities for female performers, but they didn’t become fully accepted in England until after Charles II retook the throne in 1660. Charles enjoyed theater and saw no reason to bar women from the stage. Indeed, his longtime mistress, Nell Gwyn, was a star of Restoration comedy.

Female performers reached new heights of celebrity in the 19th Century. With travel becoming safer, faster, and more comfortable, great actresses could command adoring audiences all around the world. On Sarah Bernhardt‘s first American tour in 1880, she performed Adrienne Lecouvreur in French to a New York audience willing to pay up to $40 a ticket – over $1,000 in today’s money. The spectators were so enraptured, even though many didn’t understand French, that she was compelled to make 27 curtain calls.

The volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders have contributed to Project Gutenberg a number of fascinating accounts of the great actresses of those bygone years. For example, Heroines of the Modern Stage, published in 1915, gives thumbnail sketches of the careers of Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Eleanora Duse, and other legendary female performers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Bernhardt and Duse also feature in Jules Huret’s 1901 slice of theatrical life, Loges et Coulisses (in French), which includes contemporary interviews with both of them as well as with Gabrielle Réjane.

Memoirs and recollections of these stars abound. English actress Ellen Terry was best known for her spectacular success in the Shakespeare productions of her professional and romantic partner, the great actor-manager Henry Irving. Her memoir, The Story of My Life: Recollections and Reflections, published in 1908 when she was in her sixties, recounts her long career on the stage from the age of nine. Terry came from a theatrical family; her parents, both of them actors, had 11 children, of whom five became actors (Kate Terry was John Gielgud’s grandmother). Ellen Terry and Her Sisters, by theatrical historian T. Edgar Pemberton, gives an account of the siblings’ careers.

Sarah Bernhardt was the daughter of a courtesan whose clientele included some of Paris’s richest and most influential men. Though Jewish by birth, she was educated in an exclusive Catholic convent. In her 1907 memoir, My Double Life, she recalls that she wanted to become a nun, but, after a “family council,” she was prevailed upon to study acting at the Paris Conservatoire. She was initially not a success. But her career skyrocketed after she appeared as the female lead in Alexandre Dumas’s play Kean in 1868. She continued acting well into the 20th Century, even after having a leg amputated in 1915 due to an earlier stage injury, and she even appeared in several silent films. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers contributed several works relating to Bernhardt to Project Gutenberg, such as her 1921 novel The Idol of Paris, as well as reminiscences by people who knew her (Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her, by Mme. Pierre Berton, Sarah Bernhardt, by Jules Huret, and a chapter of The Puppet Show of Memory, by Maurice Baring).

Fanny Kemble was another well-known English actress of the 19th Century. Born, like Ellen Terry, into a noted theatrical family, Kemble rose to stardom immediately after her 1829 debut, at the age of 20, as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Her tour of the United States with her father in 1832 is recounted in her Journal of a Residence in America. In 1834, she retired from the stage to marry Pierce Butler, a wealthy American who inherited vast plantations – and hundreds of slaves – in Georgia. Kemble lived on one of the plantations in the winter of 1838-1839, and she was appalled at the treatment of the slaves. She kept a meticulous journal of the horrors she witnessed, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation. But it remained unpublished until 1863, years after she had left her husband, when friends urged her to publish it in an effort to stop England from recognizing the Confederacy during the American Civil War. After retiring from the stage, she also published two memoirs, Records of a Girlhood and Records of Later Life.

The stories of these great ladies of the stage are just a small part of the theatrical gems glittering in Project Gutenberg’s collection – and admission is free.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer, in celebration of Women’s History Month.


Records of the Kirk of Scotland

February 1, 2021

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century wrought enormous changes in the way Northern European Christians worshipped, and simultaneously wrought enormous havoc on their governments and their lives. That was particularly so in Britain, when Henry VIII – whose motives were dynastic and political rather than religious – defied the Roman Catholic Pope and declared himself head of the Church of England in 1537.

In Scotland, the Reformation began in 1560, when a body purporting to be the Scottish Parliament repudiated the Pope’s authority. But there was no clear idea of what form of Protestantism should be officially adopted – Presbyterian (governed by councils of elders) or Anglican (governed by bishops, the form used in England). An uneasy blend of the two coexisted until Charles I ascended the united thrones of England and Scotland. He thought Scottish church services were too “plain.” So he attempted to force a version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on the Kirk (Church) of Scotland. This resulted in rioting all over Scotland. In 1638, the Kirk of Scotland rejected the prayer book, abolished bishops, and declared itself to be Presbyterian. Charles retaliated with a series of Bishops’ Wars, which resulted in his humiliating defeat in 1640, paving the way for the English Civil War and his eventual execution in 1649.

It was the bicentennial of this “Second Scottish Reformation” of 1638 that was the impetus for the publication of Records of the Kirk of Scotland. Compiled in 1838 by Scottish lawyer and historian Alexander Peterkin, it is a collection of official Kirk of Scotland records from the year 1638 to about 1649. It contains myriad reports of Church proceedings, official documents, and correspondence in 17th-Century English and Scots, with copious explanatory notes by the compiler. Its 684 two-column pages, archaic spellings, hundreds of footnotes, and lengthy index made this a truly challenging project for Distributed Proofreaders volunteers. It took 16 years for it to make its way to posting at Project Gutenberg.

So why did I decide to post-process this book, variously described in the Project Discussion as “old” and “mouldy”? The main reason was to complete the project and get it safely posted on Project Gutenberg – the hundreds of volunteer hours of painstaking proofreading and formatting spurred me on to complete it.

My first impression of the book, whilst reading snatches of it in post-processing, was that it was full of bigotry and on the whole rather unpleasant dry reading, seemingly of no consequence. Then I came to the transcripts of letters written by Charles I, as he defended his position and tried to defer his last journey to the executioner’s block at the Banqueting House in London in 1649, having been convicted of being “a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation.”

It wasn’t just kings who fell foul of the Scottish ecclesiastical courts. If a person was labelled a “witch,” she faced imprisonment and then a totally unfair “trial” ending more often than not in an agonizing execution by burning. A passage in the Records taken from the Chronicle of Fife reports, “This summer [in 1649] ther was very many Witchˢ taken and brunt in severall parts of this kingd. as in Lothian and in Fyfe, viz. in Enderkething, Aberdoure, Bruntellande, Doysert, Dumfermling.”

The Records of the Kirk of Scotland are a window onto a turbulent time in Scottish and English history, and an important historical resource well worth the effort that the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers put into it.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteers Brian Wilcox, who post-processed Records of the Kirk of Scotland, and Linda Cantoni.


A Walter Crane Bouquet

January 1, 2021

beautybeastcraneresizedWhen I was a child, I had one of those big treasury-type books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales called Young Years, published in 1960. I say “I” had it, but really I had to share it with my younger brother, whose main interest in it was embellishing the text with abstract crayon art. It didn’t need his help, because it was already lavishly illustrated in a variety of styles. I loved the pictures as much as I loved the stories.

There was one particular story, “Beauty and the Beast,” whose illustrations were hauntingly gorgeous. The florid colors of Beauty’s rich gowns, of the Beast’s splendid 17th-Century coat and breeches, of his elegant chateau and his rose-filled garden, never failed to send me into a state of wonder. I kept the book into adulthood – I have it still, though it’s falling apart – just for those illustrations.

It wasn’t until I joined Distributed Proofreaders that I understood what a treasure that book really was. A Project Manager had come across three very pretty children’s books – The Baby’s Opera, The Baby’s Bouquêt, and The Baby’s Own Aesop – containing music notation. (You can read the lovely story of how he found them at an elderly friend’s home in this post.) Knowing that I was a music transcriber who could create audio files from the notation, he asked me if I’d like to work on them.

As soon as I saw the first one, I was immediately struck by the style of the illustrations – could it be the same artist who had made those marvelous “Beauty and the Beast” illustrations in my fairy-tale book? I pulled out my book – yes, it was none other than Walter Crane. In fact, that old children’s treasury of mine had pictures by pretty much every major children’s illustrator of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, including Kate Greenaway and Arthur Rackham. No wonder I loved it.

But Walter Crane’s illustrations were, and are, special to me. And I learned that his art is special to many DP volunteers who love working on the books he wrote and/or illustrated. In fact, one of his beautiful volumes, A Flower Wedding, was DP’s 33,000th title a few years ago. DP volunteers have contributed over 40 Walter Crane books to Project Gutenberg. Most are children’s books, but there are also works designed for grownups with vividly colored illustrations, like Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden, posted to Project Gutenberg just last week. Crane also wrote and illustrated his own poetry as well as nonfiction works on art and design, and he decorated the work of other authors. You can even color your own Walter Crane creation with Walter Crane’s Painting Book.

See below for links to more of the wonderful world of Walter Crane, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!

Walter Crane Books at Project Gutenberg

For Children

The Absurd ABC
An Alphabet of Old Friends
The Baby’s Bouquêt
The Baby’s Opera
The Baby’s Own Aesop
The Buckle My Shoe Picture Book
Carrots (by Mrs. Molesworth)
A Christmas Posy (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Cuckoo Clock (by Mrs. Molesworth)
Don Quixote of the Mancha (by Judge Parry)
A Flower Wedding
The Frog Prince and Other Stories
Goody Two Shoes
Grandmother Dear (by Mrs. Molesworth)
King Arthur’s Knights (by Henry Gilbert)
Little Miss Peggy (by Mrs. Molesworth)
Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes (with other illustrators)
Mother Hubbard, Her Picture Book
The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde (by Mary de Morgan)
Princess Belle-Etoile
The Rectory Children (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book
The Song of Sixpence Picture Book
The Tapestry Room (by Mrs. Molesworth)
“Us,” an Old-Fashioned Story (by Mrs. Molesworth)
The Vision of Dante (by Elizabeth Harrison)
Walter Crane’s Painting Book
A Winter Nosegay
A Wonder Book for Girls & Boys (by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Poetry

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden
Renascence: A Book of Verse
Queen Summer

Nonfiction

The Bases of Design
Ideals in Art
India Impressions
Line and Form
Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New
William Morris to Whistler

Other

Eight Illustrations to Shakespeare’s Tempest
Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden
A Masque of Days (from essays by Charles Lamb)
The New Forest, Its History and Its Scenery (by John R. Wise)
The Shepheard’s Calender (by Edmund Spenser)


Christmas around the World

December 1, 2020

With this challenging year finally coming to a close, we definitely “need a little Christmas.” Distributed Proofreaders volunteers enjoy their Special Day projects, and Christmas projects are especially beloved. This blog has featured a number of them in the past (see the box below). Today we’ll take a look at the array of Christmas books with an international flavor that we’ve contributed to Project Gutenberg.

pimsti-pumsti_cover_reduced

Earlier this year, we posted Pimsti-Pumsti, a collection of German fairy tales published in 1919. The original book was printed in Fraktur, an old German blackletter typeface, but our e-book version is in modern Roman typeface. The title story, “Pimsti-Pumsti oder Weihnachten im Walde” (“Pimsti-Pumsti, or Christmas in the Forest”), is about two little girls whose mother is lying ill on Christmas Day. A bright light lures them to the forest, where they meet a very scary giant with the very unscary name “Pimsti-Pumsti.” I won’t spoil the ending…

Danish is represented by Et Juledigt (A Christmas Poem), by Hans Christian Frederiksen. Although written in Danish, our edition of this illustrated religious poem was actually published in the United States – in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to be exact. Cedar Falls had a large and flourishing Danish immigrant community in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It had its own Danish-language newspaper and publishing house, which published Et Juledigt in 1912.

The 1912 French book La nuit de Noël dans tous les pays (Christmas Night in All Regions), by Monsignor Alphonse Chabot, sounds like it might be about Christmas around the world, but in fact it is about Christmas customs in the different regions of France. It covers everything from traditional meals and games to legends and religious celebrations.

La navidad en las montañas (Christmas in the Mountains), published in 1917, is a study version of an 1871 story by Mexican radical and author Ignacio Manuel Altamirano. It contains an introduction and notes in English as well as a Spanish-English vocabulary. The story, according to the introduction, “presents a vivid picture of rural life in Mexico.”

There are, of course, a variety of books in English concerning Christmas in various parts of the world. Round the Yule-Log: Christmas in Norway, is an 1895 English translation of a book by Norwegian folklorist Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. The framing story is that of a military officer who is obliged to spend Christmas away from his family, in a lodging house owned by two “old maids.” They invite him to come sit by the fire and tell stories to their young nieces and nephews.

Finally, there are the unusual Christmas Stories written by Danish-American social reformer Jacob Riis. Riis is best known today for his searing photographs of New York City tenement life, published in his 1890 masterwork How the Other Half Lives. Not surprisingly, several of the Christmas stories are set in the slums of New York, but he also touches on Christmas memories from his childhood in Denmark.

So put your feet up and enjoy some good winter reading, courtesy of the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, who wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

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

Previous Christmas Blog Posts

King Winter

Twelve Books of Christmas

Christmas Then and Now


The Natural History of Pliny

November 1, 2020

pliny6title_cropped

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
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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:

THE STREET DOG-SELLER.

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.


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