Douglas C. (Douglas Crawford) McMurtrie.

The corrector of the press in the early days of printing online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryDouglas C. (Douglas Crawford) McMurtrieThe corrector of the press in the early days of printing → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









> BY >







Dear Member of the Institute:

The American Institute of Graphic Arts, through the Committee on
Publishing, takes pleasure in presenting to its members as the fifth item
in the series of keepsakes, a book written by one of its members,
Douglas C. McMurtrie. It is presented by the Conde Nast Press, Inc.,
of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Not only is the subject, The Corrector of the Press in the Early Days
of Printing, one of interest, but the volume itself is an excellent speci-
men of printing and binding. At the request of the Committee, Mr.
McMurtrie has autographed each copy.

As these keepsakes are valuable and scarce (most of them, as in this
case, being published in limited edition especially for members of the
Institute) it is hoped that members have planned to keep their collection
of keepsakes complete.


December /, 1922












THE function of the proofreader so often praised and so
often damned dates almost from the beginning of printing.
At first the printers, who were men of no little education
themselves, revised their own proofs. Soon after the inven-
tion of typography, however, the responsibility for textual
accuracy was specifically assigned to an individual who was
in no way concerned with the more mechanical processes
of type-setting and presswork and who manifestly did not
give his whole time to the work.

In the fifteenth century offices the proofreader was
invariably a scholar of real attainments, who usually com-
bined the role of textual editor with that of corrector of the
press. The accomplishments of some of these readers are
recorded in the colophons of many incunabula. I have ex-
amined in some detail the evidence of this character occur-
ring in volumes printed in Paris during the fifteenth century
and similar evidence can be found in the colophons of early
volumes printed elsewhere.

As there was no early literature concerning printing
itself, there was likewise no literature regarding the second-
ary typographic function of proofreading. The earliest
known volume on the subject is a treatise in Latin by
Jerome Hornschuch, a doctor of medicine, who was a cor-
rector in the Beyer printing office at Meiningen. He took
his responsibilities seriously, but soon as have many readers
of the present day realized that many of the difficulties in
handling proofs are due, not to carelessness of compositors,

[ 5 ]

but to defects in the original copy furnished by authors.
With a view to possible improvement in the exactitude
of manuscripts destined for the printer he prepared a manual
of instructions for authors entitled OpOoTUTioypacpia,?, sive
Instructions et Admonitionis ad scripta sua in lucem edi-
turos, et operas typographicas correcturos, which was pub-
lished at Leipzig (Lipsiae, apud Michaelem Lanzenbergum)
in 1608. During the course of this treatise Hornschuch deals
to a considerable extent with the qualifications of the proof-
reader. The following passage, translated from the Latin
of the original, is of particular interest.

" He who purposes to become a corrector of the press
should have full knowledge of the languages in which are
to be printed the works which he is to read. He should
also have considerable facility in deciphering the handwrit-
ing of the learned, which is often extremely bad. One of
their greatest faults is defective formation of letters, which
they seek to excuse by quotation of the adage : ' Who says
savant, says bad handwriting,' as if erudition could not be
acquired except at complete sacrifice of proficience in cal-
ligraphy. And there are frequently to be seen in printing
offices manuscripts which a hundred eyes would not suffice
to decipher. It is thus unjust to visit upon the printers blame
which is properly chargeable to authors. Too often, it is the
savants themselves are responsible for inaccurate texts.

"The proofreader should scrupulously avoid giving
himself over to choler, to love, to sadness, or indeed yield-
ing to any of the lively emotions. It will readily be under-
stood that preoccupation and agitation of spirit are likely to
give rise to a multitude of errors. Especially should he shun
drunkenness, for is there an individual with vision more
deranged, or of greater degree of stupidity, than the idiotic
corrector who transforms Ranam into Dianam and Dianam

[ 6 ]

into Ranam? Men of this type should be driven out of
printing offices, for it is out of the question to give them
anything to do with the making of a book, the reputation of
which often rests not less on accurate or defective typo-
graphic execution than on the text itself or the author."

After some comment on the editorial functions which
were performed in the early days by correctors of the
press, Hornschuch continues:

"A conscientious corrector should sedulously avoid
drawing upon himself, because of pique or wounded vanity,
the dissatisfaction of the author. Never should he make
changes in the text, even though he believes it can be im-
proved thereby. He should aim always to maintain with
the author relations of cordial and intelligent cooperation.
Mutual antagonism can result most disastrously to the repu-
tations alike of the author, of the publisher, and even of the
corrector himself, should some serious misprint be deliber-
ately contrived, as in the instance described by Erasmus."

The favorite method of wreaking personal vengeance
in the printing offices of the early days was to change the
spelling of a Latin word so as to change a serious and dig-
nified statement into an expression the sense of which was
obscene. Such was the incident recounted by Erasmus, to
which reference was made. Perversion of statements of
principle in works of a religious character was also a cause
for apprehension, as will be evident from the following para-
graph, which will be my last quotation from Hornschuch.

" The printer should be extremely careful not only in
the choice of persons to serve as proofreaders, but also in
the employment of compositors of religious beliefs differing
from our own, such as Calvinists and others. He should
refuse to employ wandering men, foreigners who, after
having committed some grievous error, can easily disappear

[ 7 ]

and return to their own country. A corrector of ill intent
was flogged and driven in shame from the episcopate of
Wiirzburg for having omitted the letter w from one word,
thus occasioning an obscene expression."

The next publication in chronological order, making
reference to proofreading, was Joseph Moxon's Mechanick
Exercises, which appeared in London in 1683. This work
is the earliest treatise in English on the technical aspects of
the printing art. The qualifications which the author names
as essential for the proofreader are so numerous as to be amus-
ing. The British corrector of the period either must have
been a superman or must have fallen far short of Moxon's
standards. The following paragraphs are of most interest.

"A Correcter should (besides the English Tongue) be
well skilled in languages, especially in those that are used to
be Printed with us, vtz. the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriack,
Caldae, French, Spanish, Italian, High Dutch, Saxon,
Low Dutch, Welch, &c. neither ought my Enumerating
only these be a stint to his skill in the number of them, for
many times several other Languages may happen to be
Printed, of which the Author has perhaps no more skill
than the bare knowledge of the Words and their Pronun-
ciations, so that the Orthography (if the Correcter have no
knowledge of the Language) may not only be false to its
Native Pronunciation, but the Words altered into other
Words by a little wrong Spelling, and consequently the
Sense made ridiculous, the purpose of it controvertible,
and the meaning of the Author irretrievably lost to all that
shall read it in After times.

" He ought to be very knowing in Derivations and Ety-
mologies of Words, very sagacious in Pointing, skilful in
the Compositers whole Task and Obligation, and endowed
with a quick Eye to espy the smallest Fault''

[ 8 ]

The document next to be considered is an early volume
of ample bulk devoted entirely to the subject of proofreading.
It is really an historical chronicle of eminent proofreaders
and their work, and is a veritable mine of information. The
author is Johann Conrad Zeltner; the title of the volume :
Correctorum in typographiis eruditorum centuria speciminis
loco col lo cat a. It was published at Number g in 1716.

The work was reissued in 1720 with a new title page
and a sixteen-page life of Zeltner added at the end. The
sheets of the volume proper, however, are the same as ap-
peared in the original issue. The new title read : Theatrum
i)irorum eruditorum qui speciatim typographis laudabilem
operam praestiterunt. But in spite of this change of title
it was really the same book. It would seem that it was not
a best-seller of the day.

The biographies in detail are not of particular interest.
In the course of one of them, however, we get light on a
little-known feature of medieval printing office practice.
In some offices it was the custom to read aloud to the com-
positor the copy supplied by the authors, the type therefore
being set from dictation instead of from manuscript copy
placed on a small stand, attached to the case, and known as
the visorium. The copy reader would read successively to
three or four compositors passages from an equal number
of manuscripts. Zeltner expresses preference for this ancient
method as being quicker and involving fewer errors.

Under this system the compositors must necessarily
have been educated men, familiar with Latin and Greek,
the two languages in which a large proportion of the print-
ing of the early sixteenth century was done. The impos-
sibility of finding increasing numbers of compositors with
the requisite learning soon necessitated the abandonment
of the system. Evidences of its operation can be found in

[ 9 ]

some early Greek editions where the incorrect spelling of
words follows the pronunciation of the copy reader. We
find that Henricus Pantaleon, who later became a corrector
for Froben, performed the function of copy reader in the
printing office of Isingrin at Basel.

It will not be possible to discuss the relative merits of
all the early printers with reference to proofreading. The
names of several stand out as having given particular care
to the accuracy of their editions : Aldus, Froben, Robert
Estienne, and Plantin. At the Aldine press there was an
academy of learned men who served in the joint role of
editors and correctors. Among them were Demetrius
Chalcondylas, Janus Lascaris, Marc Musure, Benedictus
Tyrrhenus, and Pietro Alcinio. At the press of Froben at
Basel was a similar company, headed during one period by
Erasmus who, in many ways, was the most eminent scholar
of his day. Here we encounter the names of Sigismundus
Gelenius, Marc Heiland, and Henricus Pantaleon. In a
letter from Erasmus to Froben occurs this tribute : "The
reputation of your printing office is such that a book need
only be known to have been produced there to make it
eagerly sought after by savants."

In the typographic family of Robert Estienne it is said
that Latin only was spoken. Numbered among his editors
were Lud. Strebaeus, Gerard Leclerc, Adam Nodius, Andre
Guntterus, and his favorite who did important work on
the editions of the Bible, Guillaume Fabritius.

Christopher Plantin, before he established his own
printing office at Antwerp, worked as a corrector of the
press at Lyons. At Antwerp he retained the services of
many eminent scholars as editors and correctors; among
them were Fra^ois Hardouin, Victor Geselin, Theodore
Pulman, Antoine Gheesdal, Juste Lipse, Cornelis Kiliaan


and Franois Raphelenge. It is related of the latter that he
came for a visit to the Plantin press, and found such enjoy-
ment there in reading proofs, that he stayed on, in spite of
the fact that he was expected at Cambridge, where he was
to serve as professor of Greek in the University.

To the memory of Cornelis Kiliaan, a distinguished
philologist who read proof in the Plantin establishment for
many years, a monument was later erected in his native
town of Duffel. This was destroyed by the invader, but at
the instance of the committee arranging the celebration of
the fourth centenary of Plantin's birth, a new monument
was erected, and dedicated on August 29, 1920. Kiliaan
wrote in Latin verse the following defense of correctors
against unjust attack by authors, quoted by Chevillier from
the Theatrum Vitae humanae by Laurent Beyerlinch.


Officii est nosfri mendosa errata Librorum

Corrigere y atque suis prava notare locis.
Ast quern scribendi cacoethes vexat y ineptus

Ardelio vitiis barbarieque rudis y
Plurima conglomerate distinguit pauca, lituris

Deformat chart as ^ scriptaque commaculat.
Non annum premit in nonum y non expo/if arte;

Sed vulgat properis somnia vana typis.
Qua postquam Docti Musis &? Apolline nullo

Composita exclamant y ringitur Ardelio;
Et quacunque potest sese ratione tuetur,

Dum Correctorem carpit agitque reum.
Heus! cess a immeritum culpam transferre deinceps

In Correctorem Barde Typographicum.
I lie quod est rectum non depravavit. At audin?

Posthac lambe tuos y Ardelio Catulos.
Errata alterius quiquis correxerit y ilium

Plus satis invidice y gloria nulla manet.

This metrical apologium on behalf of the corrector
may be translated line for line as follows :


Our task it is the glaring errors of books

E'en to set right, and in their places faults to mark.
But he whom writing itch harasses, silly fool,

And busy-body with his vices, and barbarously crude
Confuseth much, distinguisheth few. With erasures

Disfigures his leaves, his writings doth smear o'er.
Not till the ninth yearf doth he hide, nor smooths with art,

But spreads abroad his vain dreams upon the speedy types.
Let but the skilled cry out that with no touch of the Muses and

Is all his stuff composed, the rascal snarls;
In whate'er way he can doth fend himself,

The while he snaps at the proofreader, and makes him all to

Holloa, sirrah! Cease the blame to shift in turn

Upon the innocent proofreader, you stupid dolt.
What is full right not he hath fouled. D'ye hear?

Henceforth, smart jack, lick your own cubs.
Another's errors whoe'er sets right, for him

More than enough of envy, glory none, doth wait.

Proofreading came in for its share of attention in a
number of the royal decrees regulating early printing and
publishing in France. The history of this regulation has
been excellently outlined by G.-A. Crapelet, in his Etudes
pratiques et litter aires sur la Typographic, a most charming
volume published in Paris in 1837. His data on this subject
will be briefly summarized.

The regulation promulgated by Fran9ois I in 1539, for
the control of printing in Paris, in Article 17 made the fol-

t This refers to the Maxim of Horace to the effect that any composition by an
author should be hidden "till the ninth year."


lowing provision: "If the master printers producing books
in Latin are not learned enough themselves to correct the
books which they print, they are required to employ capa-
ble correctors, under penalty of arbitrary fine. These cor-
rectors must correct the books with care and diligence,
making their revisions in accord with classic standards, and
in all respects do their duty. Otherwise they will be held
liable for damages incurred through errors for which they
are to blame." This regulation was continued in force by
the successors to Fra^ois I, and was promulgated anew by
Charles IX in his edict of 1571.

In the year following, however, this Article 17, which
had aroused so much opposition among the parties interested,
gave way to a new provision which went far to lighten the
burdens imposed on the correctors. In the declaration of
September 10, 1572, explanatory of the edict of 1571 relative
to Article 17, is the following order: "The master printers
shall deliver to compositors only copy which has been re-
vised, edited, and put in proper form, to the end that the
labor of typesetting shall not be slowed down by defective
copy." It was thus incumbent on the master printers to
enforce this regulation, demanding from authors copy meas-
uring up to the standards stated. Had these provisions been
rigorously enforced there would have ensued the greatest
advantage to every one concerned.

The Regulation of 1649 lamented the fall of printing
in Paris from its former high estate, noting that no longer,
as was the case in the century just passed, "did the most
eminent and learned hold it an honor to serve the public in
this occupation." Article 26 required booksellers to obtain
a certificate of correction before placing on the market cer-
tain books, such as catechisms, lives of the saints, missals,
breviaries, and other ecclesiastical books. This certificate

would state that the volume contained no vital error which
would pervert the meaning and intent of the church.

In the year 1637, a professor of medicine by name
Chartier, desiring to publish in Greek and Latin a complete
edition of the works of Hippocrates, could find in all Paris
no corrector competent to read the proofs, so he was forced
to enlist the services of several of his learned friends to per-
form the arduous and exacting task. He suggested that the
following regulations should be ordained.

i. That all printed books in which appeared a certain
number of errors should be suppressed. 2. That no master
printer who did not know Greek and Latin should engage
in the trade. 3. That salaries of correctors should be gen-
erous and that only the most capable should be employed.
4. That there should always be three correctors to read
each proof in succession. It is sagely observed by Crapelet
that the defect in all such regulations, either proposed or
actual, is that they do not indicate just how and where a
large number of highly expert correctors are to be obtained.

The Regulation of 1649 embraced several provisions
akin to those proposed by Chartier, but they were never
enforced. Article 56 of the Code of Printing and Book-
selling, promulgated in 1723, reads as follows: "Printers
who cannot themselves attend to the correction of books
shall employ capable correctors who must correct the books
with care and diligence, revising the proofs in accordance
with accepted standards. If through their fault, it is neces-
sary to reprint sheets which had been given to them for
correction, they will be reprinted at the expense of the cor-
rectors concerned." This article 56 continued in force all
the provisions of former regulations, but by reason of views
advanced, which were judged to be valid, Article 2 of the
Decree of Council of April 10, 1725, so modified it that it

became practically inoperative: "Printers will be required
to exercise particular care that editions of books printed by
them shall, in the future, be absolutely correct, insofar as
this can be done."

Finally, in 1731 there was issued a supplementary in-
struction, confirmed by Decree of March 24, 1744, provid-
ing that booksellers and printers who wished themselves to
act as correctors of their editions could do so on condition
that they be responsible for serious errors which were to be
corrected by cancel sheets or otherwise before the books
were issued. Authors could also act as correctors of their
own books, " but in any case, whoever is assigned responsi-
bility for the revision, whether bookseller, printer, or author,
will be required to put, under the notice of approbation, his
signed acknowledgment of correction."

Crapelet tells of an eminent medical author who wrote
him when returning his final proofs released for printing :
" Commend me to your proofreaders. The correctors are
the soul and prosperity of a printing office."

" It is in fact impossible," continues Crapelet, " and to-
day more so than ever, for a master printer, in addition to
his general business responsibilities, to read proofs with that
complete tranquillity of spirit essential to this type of work.
Education, intelligence, good memory, taste, patience, ap-
plication, love of the art, and especially the typographic eye
constitute the minimum qualifications required in the cor-
rector to whom is entrusted the proofreading of the office.
For that matter, there are few printers of the present day
who are capable of discharging the duties of a corrector."

" Let us, therefore," he concludes, " honor and encour-
age these useful men who, through their modest labors,
make so essential a contribution to the reputation and the
prosperity of French printing ! "





Online LibraryDouglas C. (Douglas Crawford) McMurtrieThe corrector of the press in the early days of printing → online text (page 1 of 1)