Opera Buff

February 7, 2015

Not everyone likes opera, but when someone loves opera, it’s a deep and passionate and unending love. There’s something utterly beguiling about the marriage of music and drama that makes some people downright demented about it. I know whereof I speak; I’ve been working with a small opera company since I was 11 years old, for nearly 44 years now, and I’m familiar with every form of opera dementia—my own and that of countless others. For the love of opera, people will stand in long lines in the rain, sit in uncomfortable seats for hours, travel long distances, spend years studying it, singing it, working at it, talking about it, writing about it.

It might be an exaggeration to say that Gustav Kobbé (1857-1918) was demented about opera, but the sheer scale of his masterpiece, The Complete Opera Book, proves that it was no ordinary labor of love.

Kobbé trained as a pianist, and took a detour to law school, but ultimately made his career as a music and drama critic for the leading newspapers and magazines of the day. In that capacity, he attended opera performances all over the world, including the 1882 premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal at Bayreuth, Germany. He put his decades of opera experience into The Complete Opera Book, published posthumously in 1919.

The book is truly a tour-de-force, covering over 200 operas in over 800 pages. Kobbé provides information about each opera’s premiere and important performances, with the leading singers’ names; a complete character list with voice types; anecdotes about the opera’s composition and early performances; analysis and criticism; a synopsis of the plot; and, as the title page boasts, “400 of the Leading Airs and Motives in Musical Notation.” The first edition also contains “One Hundred Portraits in Costume and Scenes from Opera”—fascinating historic photographs of the leading singers of the day, in character.

Caruso

Enrico Caruso as Canio in I Pagliacci

Alas, Kobbé didn’t live to see his masterpiece in print. In the summer of 1918, he was indulging in his other love, sailing off the coast of Long Island in New York, when he was killed by a low-flying hydroplane. According to the New York Times account, he saw the plane coming, and had just stood up to dive to safety when the plane’s bottom boards hit him in the head.

Luckily, he had nearly completed The Complete Opera Book, and it was decided to bring it to publication soon after his death, with fellow music critic Katharine Wright editing the work and adding some operas to it. But the apparent rush to publication unfortunately left numerous errors in the first edition. Still, Kobbé’s labor of love was deservedly hailed as a “notable addition to musical literature” (Oakland Tribune, Jan. 4, 1920).

The Complete Opera Book has remained an important opera reference work since. It was revised and updated a number of times, most famously by George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood, whose best-known edition, The Definitive Kobbé’s Opera Book (1987) contains over 300 operas and is now considered a classic, though it lacks the historic photographs and some of Kobbé’s original commentary. The most recent edition, The New Kobbé’s Opera Book (1997), added some 200 additional operas, but disappointingly omits much of the detailed information and music notation contained in earlier editions, presumably to make room for those additional operas.

To my opera-demented mind, the later editions, while useful, somehow lack the charm of the original, with its frank enthusiasm (“Wagner’s genius was so supreme that, although he has been dead thirty-four years, he is still without a successor”) and its wealth of illustrations. The Distributed Proofreaders team has brought the original to life again, complete with photographs, and music that you can actually hear. Who knows, it may make an opera buff out of you.

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


Histoire de France: Our 29,000th Title

January 14, 2015

PGDP - 29.000th Unique Title

Distributed Proofreaders is celebrating another milestone — our 29,000th title posted to Project Gutenberg — with another very special project: the completion of all 19 volumes of Jules Michelet’s Histoire de France.

Michelet labored for over 30 years on his masterpiece, at first aided by his job in the French government’s Record Office, which gave him access to a vast array of primary sources. Due to his ardent republican sentiments, he lost his job after the 1848 Revolution, but continued the work on his great Histoire, taking time out now and then to produce a number of works on subjects as varied as natural history, religion, and even witchcraft. Project Gutenberg has a good collection of Michelet’s works in different languages.

The Histoire, completed in 1867, covers the full sweep of French history from ancient times to the French Revolution. Michelet devoted several volumes to the Renaissance, a term that he is said to have coined to describe the flowering of European culture after the strictures of the Middle Ages. He brought to his work not only meticulous scholarship, but also a unique personal style, almost poetic in its romanticism, and a deep interest, revolutionary for its time, in the people of France, not just their kings and governments.

Congratulations to the many DP volunteers who brought this great project to fruition!

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


Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland

October 22, 2014

Wilson's Tales

Distributed Proofreaders has posted the last of the 24 volumes of Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland: Historical, Traditionary, and Imaginative. The original 66 stories were collected by John MacKay Wilson (1804-1835). He began publishing them weekly in 1834 as editor of the “Berwick Advertisor.” His unexpected death at age 31 the following year left a widow with an inadequate income. The executors of the estate and friends of the family then gathered a further 233 tales, which were published for her support. Alexander Leighton, one of the major contributors of stories, published the collection in the 24-volume set which is now complete at Project Gutenberg.

The short stories of these collections paint vivid pictures of life in the Borders — deaths and marriages, shipwrecks and celebrations, the ordinary and extra-ordinary events in the lives of people living on the edge of both Scotland and England. These details and more about the tales and the editors of the collections can be found at The Wilson’s Tales Project.

Hundreds of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers collaborated for over ten years to ensure the wide availability of these delightful and historical tales. The first volume was posted in February of 2004, and the last in September of 2014. There were several challenges facing the DP team in their effort to accurately render the tales as the editors intended. In addition to period spelling and grammar, the tales are full of words from the local dialect and dialogue modified to help the reader hear the border speech patterns. These contribute significantly both to the charm and the historicity of the tales, but also caused thousands of words in each volume to fail traditional spell-checkers and to need verification, sometimes with research. Congratulations to the Distributed Proofreaders team, who have continued the work of Mr. Wilson to preserve these stories for future generations to enjoy.

This post was contributed by a DP volunteer who worked on Wilson’s Tales.


Introducing . . . Harrison Ford! (1918 Edition)

September 24, 2014

cover

I was looking for an online copy of The Cruise of the Make-Believes by Tom Gallon to find out if a certain bit of punctuation was a colon or semi-colon (semi-colon, by the way), and, as one does when Googling, I found other links with the same title: one was to Turner Classic Movies and another to the Internet Movie Database. Yes! My book was turned into a movie in 1918. A silent movie!

I pointed the link out to a friend, and she noted who one of the leading men was: Harrison Ford. Now we both knew that in 1918, it wasn’t Han Solo or Indiana Jones or the President. Time for more searching.

This not-at-all make-believe Harrison Ford was born in 1884 in Kansas City, Missouri. He started in the theater on the east coast before moving to Hollywood in 1915. He was in over forty films. His final was his only talkie, Love in High Gear, which was released in 1932. He then took his career back to the stage and also began directing there. During World War II, he toured with the USO. He died in 1957, without having had children, and is no relation to that other Harrison Ford.

Harrison Ford

One of his hobbies was collecting old books . . . a man after DP’s own heart. I’ve no idea why this book was chosen to be made into a movie. It seems no better nor worse than any of our other romances. Old books, you just never know where they will take you. This one took me on a hunt to find the first dreamy Harrison Ford.

You can read more about this Harrison Ford here or here or here, all of which I used for my information with gratitude.

This post was contributed by a DP volunteer.


Wednesday the Tenth: A Tale of the South Pacific by Grant Allen

September 10, 2014

Picture of Book Cover

I wanted to tell you about an excellent adventure story, published in 1890, that I read recently.

The book is Wednesday the Tenth: A Tale of the South Pacific by Grant Allen. To be honest, I picked it up because it was short and I wanted something that would be easier and quicker to read than my usual fare. I’m glad I did, though, because it was an exciting and suspenseful tale that had me enthralled to the end.

It starts with a rescue, when two boys in an open rowboat are discovered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by a steam yacht plying its trade among the islands (yes, I know that’s a sailing boat on the cover, but it is definitely a steam vessel in the book). They are the children of missionaries and they tell a harrowing tale of slave traders who get the locals drunk and rouse them up against the family, after the father thwarts the slave traders’ attempts to get the locals to sell people to them.

The family are taken prisoner and held by the locals who plan to kill them—and then eat them. The boys manage to escape and set to sea in the rowboat, in the hope of finding help.

In this excerpt, the boys have just been picked up by the yacht and the crew have given them a small amount of food and water (not too much as they are literally starving). The older boy is already lying unconscious on a bunk and the younger is about to follow him, but manages to utter a few words:

“Steer for Makilolo … Island of Tanaki … Wednesday the tenth … Natives will murder them … My mother—my father—Calvin—and Miriam.”

Then it was evident he could not say another word. He sank back on the pillow breathless and exhausted. The color faded from his cheek once more as he fell into his place. I poured another spoonful of brandy down his parched throat. In three minutes more he was sleeping peacefully, with long even breath, like one who hadn’t slept for nights before on the tossing ocean.

I looked at Jim and bit my lips hard. “This is indeed a fix,” I cried, utterly nonplussed. “Where on earth, I should like to know, is this island of Tanaki!”

“Don’t know,” said Jim. “But wherever it is, we’ve got to get there.”

Wednesday the tenth of the month is when the sacrifice is scheduled to happen. The boys are convinced it’s Friday, but the sailors on the yacht are equally convinced it’s Saturday. Even so, the yacht’s captain gives orders to make for the island at full speed, sure they’ll make it in time.

Now, obviously, all doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated or there wouldn’t be a book to read. As they get close to their destination they run aground on a reef that isn’t where the charts say it should be.

… Jim, looking up from in front, with a cool face as usual, called out at the top of his voice, but with considerable annoyance, “By Jove, we’re aground again!”

And so we were, this time with a vengeance.

“Back her,” I called out, “back her hard, Jenkins!” and they backed her as hard as the engines could spurt; but nothing came of it. We were jammed on the reef about as tight as a ship could stick, and no power on earth could ever have got us off till the tide rose again.

Well, we tried our very hardest, reversing engines first, and then putting them forward again to see if we could run through it by main force; but it was all in vain. Aground we were, and aground we must remain till there was depth of water enough on the reef to float us.

They get off the reef, but the yacht’s damaged, and they’re running out of time. Between engine troubles, the tide and a contrary wind will they make it before the missionaries are killed and eaten?

You’ll have to read it yourself to find out.


Celebrating 28,000 Titles

August 16, 2014

Celebrating 28.000 titles posted to Project Gutenberg by Distributed Proofreaders.

Distributed Proofreaders has posted its 28,000th title to Project Gutenberg, The Mystery of Choice, an 1897 collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers.

Thy Mystery of Choice - CoverChambers, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, began his career as an artist, and spent his early twenties in Paris, where his work was exhibited at the 1889 Salon. He came back to New York and found work as a magazine illustrator, but soon turned his hand to writing. He had his first and best success with The King in Yellow, a collection of supernatural tales that is said to have influenced H.P. Lovecraft and other noted writers of the horror genre.

The Mystery of Choice continues the horror theme with seven tales of murder and the macabre, some set in the atmospheric Brittany region of France. The collection also contains some of Chambers’s poetry, and concludes with a florid love-poem, “Envoi.”

Congratulations to the Distributed Proofreaders team who made this milestone possible!

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

 


Novanglus and Massachusettensis

July 4, 2014

Many people have a vague idea that the battle for American independence from Great Britain began with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But the battle really began much earlier—almost a decade earlier, when American colonists first began protesting “taxation without representation” in the British Parliament. Unrest turned to violence in 1770, when a crowd of angry Boston colonists surrounded a group of British soldiers, who fired into the crowd and killed three people in what became known as the Boston Massacre. In 1773 came the Boston Tea Party, during which saboteurs dressed as Mohawks dumped over 300 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. Punishment was swift: the British government closed Boston Harbor and passed the “Intolerable Acts,” which, among other things, stripped the Massachusetts Bay Colony of its right to self-government.

The battle wasn’t just waged in the streets or in the harbor. A bitter war of words erupted among the intellectual elite of the colonies, who were split in their opinions of Parliament’s actions. Among the combatants was a feisty Boston lawyer named John Adams (1735-1826), a future Founding Father and President of the United States. Adams, ironically, represented several of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, and his strong self-defense arguments resulted in acquittals. But Adams was no less of a patriot for that. He simply understood how important it was for the American cause to ensure that the soldiers had a fair trial.

Adams

John Adams

A few years later, as American-British relations deteriorated, Adams employed his brilliant legal skills to respond to a series of pro-British letters, by someone calling himself “Massachusettensis,” published in a Loyalist Boston newspaper beginning in December 1774. Writing as “Novanglus,” Adams set forth his argument that the colonies were not answerable to the British Parliament.  In 1819, these letters were collected in a volume entitled Novanglus, and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, Published in the Years 1774 and 1775, on the Principal Points of Controversy, between Great Britain and Her Colonies. The edition that DP volunteers used to prepare the Project Gutenberg e-book was the presentation copy to John Adams from the printers.

In 1775—more than a year before the Declaration of Independence—Adams was not yet arguing for independence from Britain; he expressly disclaimed such a treasonous view. Instead, he stuck to the more subtle argument that the colonies might be subject to the will of the Crown, but they were not subject to Parliament, because they were self-governing. He argued extensively from British statutes and cases involving the similar status of Ireland and Wales.

Adams’s arguments were brilliant, but his opponent “Massachusettensis” was every bit a match for him, arguing his Loyalist views with equal vigor and skill.  Indeed, because “Massachusettensis” was the better writer, his arguments can seem more compelling than Adams’s “huge pile of learning,” as “Massachusettensis” sneeringly called Adams’s scholarly legal citations.

The exchange between “Novanglus” and “Massachusettensis” came to an abrupt halt in April, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The revolution had begun, and there was no going back.

The 1819 edition identifies “Massachusettensis” as Adams’s onetime friend Jonathan Sewall, the last King’s Attorney General for Massachusetts, and Adams himself long believed it was Sewall. But “Massachusettensis” was actually Taunton lawyer and Loyalist Daniel Leonard, another friend from whom Adams later became irrevocably estranged in the turmoil of the Revolution. Leonard was forced to flee America when the British evacuated Boston in 1776; he later became chief justice of Bermuda and then retired to London. When the letters were published in London in 1822, he revealed himself to be “Massachusettensis.”

The 1819 edition of Novanglus, and Massachusettensis also features letters that Adams wrote to various friends and colleagues later in life, recounting the events leading up to the American Revolution. John Adams died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. His last words were said to be, “Thomas Jefferson survives”—but the author of the Declaration of Independence had also passed away that very day.

Today, July 4, 2014, is the 238th anniversary of American independence.

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


A Diplomat in Japan: A British view of the Meiji Restoration

May 3, 2014

Every country has at least one historical era that forms the basis of much of its books, film, and television. The United States has the Wild West, and Japan has the Meiji Restoration.

The Meiji Restoration has the makings of great drama. Sparked by Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan, there was dramatic conflict between the Southern Coalition demanding the expulsion of “the barbarians” from Japan, and the Tokugawa Shogunate trying to placate everybody. In that conflict were lies and intrigue; plots, conspiracies, and assassinations; masterless samurai and royalty; and crimes of passion and honor.

There was also a story-book hero: Saigo Takamori. While he helped overthrow the Shogunate and form a modern government, he then led a rebellion against that government when it threatened the samurai class. He came to symbolize a romanticized samurai culture, and the Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai” presented a fictionalized version of his story.

Most of the stories about the Meiji Restoration focus on the internal conflict within Japan. The foreigners were mainly treated like secondary characters whose function was comical relief. In woodblock prints, foreigners were represented by grotesque caricatures of ape-like creatures with large noses and red cheeks.

After decades of knowing the story from the Japanese point of view, it was interesting to read A Diplomat in Japan, a recollection of incidents from the viewpoint of the secretary of the British legation in Tokyo. This story is told many years later, in 1903, after Ernest Satow became Sir Ernest.

Sir Ernest based his account upon diaries and letters written at the time of the events described. He did not rely on his memory of what happened decades before. For that I commend him.

In one instance, he wrote:

“My diary contains no further entry until the middle of May, and letters I wrote to my parents narrating the incidents which befel us at Kiôto have not been preserved.”

He states the foreign community has been described by an English diplomat as “the scum of Europe,” but said:

 “No doubt there was a fair sprinkling of men who, suddenly relieved from the restraints which social opinion places upon their class at home, and exposed to the temptations of Eastern life, did not conduct themselves with the strict propriety of students at a theological college. That they were really worse than their co-equals elsewhere is unlikely.”

Describing Yokohama society:

“There were few ladies in the settlement. Japan was a long way from Europe, with no regular steam communication, and the lives of foreigners were supposed to be not very safe at the hands of the arm-bearing classes.”

The danger of the arm-bearing classes is shown in the killing of foreigners, like a merchant named Richardson who was riding with friend when they met with a train of a daimiô’s retainers, who bid them stand aside.

“They passed on at the edge of the road, until they came in sight of a palanquin, occupied by Shimadzu Saburô, father of the Prince of Satsuma. They were now ordered to turn back, and as they were wheeling their horses in obedience, were suddenly set upon by several armed men belonging to the train, who hacked at them with their sharp-edged heavy swords.”

After the Richardson murder, the British demanded satisfaction. The Shogunate cooperated, but the Satsuma clan did not, so British ships attacked the clan in Kagoshima and burnt much of the city.

“The Admiral in his report, which was published in the London ‘Gazette,’ took credit for the destruction of the town, and Mr. Bright very properly called attention to this unnecessary act of severity in the House of Commons; whereupon he wrote again, or Colonel Neale wrote, to explain that the conflagration was accidental. But that I cannot think was a correct representation of what took place, in face of the fact that the “Perseus” continued to fire rockets into the town after the engagement with the batteries was at an end, and it is also inconsistent with the air of satisfaction which marks the despatch reporting that £1,000,000 worth of property had been destroyed during the bombardment.”

The bombardment convinced the Satsuma clan of the superiority of Western weapons, and Sir Ernest eventually became friends with the leaders of the clan.

Later, a conflict with the Choushûu resulted in naval operations against their Shimonoseki batteries. The Choushûu clan also learned the superiority of Western weapons, and Sir Ernest eventually became friends with the leaders of that clan as well.

This led to the situation where Great Britain was friendly with the Southern Coalition while the French were friendly with the Tokugawa Shogunate. The book speaks much of this rivalry between Great Britain and France.

Subsequently the writer witnessed the execution of two murderers by decapitation, and says:

“It was a horrible sight to see the attendants holding the headless corpse down to the hole, and kneading it so as to make the blood flow more readily into the hole, and I left the spot in all haste, vowing that mere curiosity should never induce me to witness another execution.”

There were other incidents, including times when his life was in danger, partly by his own recklessness. He was a bold man, sometimes more reckless than prudent. He was also a good storyteller, but part of the story that he told (maybe unintentionally) was the ignoble role that the European forces played in Japanese society. The British weren’t there for noble reasons, but then neither were the French, Dutch, Americans, North-Germans and Italians. They were all there for the great adventure, and the thrill of the chase for wealth.


Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston

April 23, 2014

Image of front cover of bookBack in 1995-96, I lived in India for about one and a half years, with the initial idea of making a number of multimedia productions on Indian art, culture, and history, but ended up mostly working on Indian language dictionary databases….

One of the sources I encountered in India was the various multi-volume sets entitled “Castes and Tribes of…” for various regions, such as the Central Provinces, Bengal, The Punjab, and, one of the biggest sets, the seven volume work covering Southern India. All these books were put together at the behest of the British Government by officials and their Indian assistants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. There are even several volumes on “Criminal Tribes”. These sets describe, in its entire intricate detail, the mind-baffling complexity of Indian society a hundred years ago. A society that has been quickly changing and has already lost much of this complexity—sometimes for the better, but sometimes not—and is today changing at an even faster rate, losing much of its colourful diversity in the process.

For one of the multimedia productions, I proposed to digitize the entire set, and produce a CD “Castes and Tribes of India”, to make this massive piece of work available again. The project never made it.

Image of Malayan Devil-Dancers (pl4-441)

Malayan Devil-Dancers

The books are of an encyclopedic nature. After a relatively short general introduction, they treat the castes and tribes in alphabetical order, in articles, that can sometimes just encompass a single paragraph, but sometimes as long enough to fill a monograph. For the time, many of these volumes are lavishly illustrated with photographs (The original set on the Central Provinces even used collotypes, a costly raster-free reproduction technique that preserves the sharpness and details of the original photographs). As the articles are written by various people, and often based on older publications or articles, the quality and scope of the articles varies somewhat, but in general, they give an interesting oversight of each caste or tribe described. Since the terms “caste” and “tribe” are used liberally, you can also find very interesting articles in those books on for example Anglo-Indians, Mar Thoma Christians, and Cochin Jews, and groups living in almost stone-age conditions such as the Irula, as well as the highly secluded Nambudiri Brahmins.

A few years after my return to Holland, in 1998, I managed to purchase an original 1909 copy of Thurston’s 7-volume set on Southern India, as well as reprints of many of the other sets, for digitization and inclusion in Project Gutenberg. At that time, I started scanning these volumes, but just as quickly stopped doing so, as I found out that the scanning would damage the costly volumes, and put the project on hold. I did continue with the (less costly) 4-volume facsimile reprint on the Central Provinces. Several years later, I purchased a scanner that would cause less damage to the books, and continued scanning, and shortly afterwards discovered that the scans were being added to the Internet Archive collection, so I no longer needed to scan the remaining volumes (except for a few missing pages). Anyway, starting from 2006, the projects appeared on the Distributed Proofreading site, slowly but steadily making their moves through the rounds, until, finally, the last volume left the rounds in 2011, and the huge task of post-processing this work started, which was complicated, due to the many words with accents, and the numerous tables in the books. Finally, on 21 June 2013, the entire set got posted on Project Gutenberg.

Almost 18 years after first envisioning this project, and 15 years after starting work on it, one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on for Project Gutenberg has come to a close. If somebody is interested, the original volumes are for sale (they won’t be cheap though). For the time being, I will leave the remaining sets to be picked up by other volunteers.

The 7 volumes of  Castes and Tribes and of Southern India are available here: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.

The 4 volumes of The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India are available here: I, II, III, VI.


A Very Special 27,000th Title

March 29, 2014

27,000 titles

It’s time to celebrate another Distributed Proofreaders achievement—our 27,000th title posted to Project Gutenberg, Storia della decadenza e rovina dell’impero romano, an Italian translation of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by the famed English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794).

Decline and Fall is a monumental work, distinguished not only by Gibbon’s outstanding scholarship, but also by his witty, ironic commentary and iconoclastic views of the events he describes. His theory of Rome’s decline and fall was essentially that her citizens had become spoiled by success. The most controversial part of his argument was that Christianity contributed to Rome’s fall by shifting people’s focus from real-life practicalities to a spiritual afterlife.

The Italian translation, by the noted Italian author Davide Bertolotti, is a 13-volume tour-de-force, published in Milan between 1820 and 1824. He based his translation on a 1791 London edition, which Bertolotti described as “ottima e sicura edizione” (“an excellent and trustworthy edition”), mentioned by Gibbon himself in his Memoirs. Bertolotti promised that, unlike a previous Italian translation, “Non una idea, non una parola importante, venne ad essa tolta, mutata od aggiunta” (“Not a single idea, not a single important word, was deleted, changed or added”). That might be a motto for what DP does.

Congratulazioni e grazie to the dedicated DP volunteers who made this milestone possible!

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


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