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The Importance of the Proof-reader A Paper read before the Club of Odd Volumes, in Boston, by John Wilson   By: (1826-)

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The Importance of the Proof reader

A Paper read before the Club of Odd Volumes, in Boston, by JOHN WILSON

CAMBRIDGE The University Press JOHN WILSON & SON (INC.) 1901

This Paper upon "The Importance of the Proof reader" is presented with the compliments of the University Press and the Author. The subject is one which the Author has endeavored to emphasize during his fifty years' service in the printing business, and one for which the University Press has ever endeavored to stand.


John Wilson, author of this Paper and formerly proprietor of The University Press, died in 1903. His successors have now the pleasure of making a reprint, believing the subject to be of as much interest today as it was twenty years ago.


In preparing a work for the press, the author, the compositor, and the proof reader are the three factors that enter into its construction. We will, however, treat more especially of the last named in connection with the first.

The true proof reader should not only be a practical printer, but he should be a lover of literature, familiar with the classics of all languages, with the results accomplished by science, and indeed with every subject that concerns his fellow men. When an author prepares a work for the press, he often uses many abbreviations, his capitalization is frequently incorrect, his spelling occasionally not in accordance either with Worcester or Webster, his punctuation inaccurate, his historical and biographical statements careless, and his chirography frequently very bad. In such cases the proof reader is sorely tried; and unless he is a man of much patience, well versed in the art of deciphering incorrigible manuscripts, and supplying all their deficiencies, his last state will, to speak mildly, be worse than his first.

It is said that, when Charles Dudley Warner was the editor of the "Hartford Press," back in the "sixties," arousing the patriotism of the State with his vigorous appeals, one of the type setters came in from the composing room, and, planting himself before the editor, said: "Well, Mr. Warner, I 've decided to enlist in the army." With mingled sensations of pride and responsibility, Mr. Warner replied encouragingly that he was glad to see the man felt the call of duty. "Oh, it is n't that," said the truthful compositor, "but I 'd rather be shot than try to set any more of your damned copy."

As an example of what I mean by bad MS. I take the liberty of showing you one page of a work which, unfortunately, I had agreed to print. This is a sample of one half of a work of 1000 MS. pages. When the author offered me, a few years later, another work similarly prepared, I declined, with thanks, to accept it.

[Illustration: Handwritten copy.]

Another illustration of careless writing I copy from "Harper's Young People":

A Massachusetts clergyman nearly got himself into a peck of trouble because of the bad quality of his handwriting. It was more than a century ago that he had occasion to address a letter to the General Court of Massachusetts upon some subject of great interest at that time. When the letter was received, the court ordered the clerk to read it, and were filled with wrath at what appeared to be these words in opening: "I address you not as magistrates, but as Indian devils."

"What!" they cried. "Read that over again. How does he address us?"

"Not as magistrates, but as Indian devils," repeated the clerk. "That 's what he says."

The letter was passed around, and the judges were by no means pleased to see that the clerk had apparently made no mistake. Very angry at what they believed to be an insult, the judges passed a vote of censure upon the clergyman, and wrote to him demanding an apology. He came before them in person, when it turned out that where the judges had read "Indian devils" he had written "individuals," which, of course, made an apology unnecessary; but the reverend gentleman was admonished to improve his handwriting if he wished to keep out of trouble... Continue reading book >>

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