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   Chapter 6 MISPRINTS.

Literary Blunders: A Chapter in the History of Human Error"" By Henry B. Wheatley Characters: 5954

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


OF all literary blunders misprints are the most numerous, and no one who is conversant with the inside of a printing-office will be surprised at this; in fact, he is more likely to be struck with the freedom from error of the innumerable productions issued from the press than to be surprised at the blunders which he may come across. The possibilities of error are endless, and a frequent cause is to be found in the final correction, when a line may easily get transposed. On this account many authors will prefer to leave a trivial error, such as a wrong stop, in a final revise rather than risk the possibilities of blundering caused by the unlocking of the type. Of course a large number of misprints are far from amusing, while a sense of fun will sometimes be

obtained by a trifling transposition of letters. Authors must be on the alert for misprints, although ordinary misspellings should not be left for them by the printer's reader; but they are usually too intent on the structure of their own sentences to notice these misprints. The curious point is that a misprint which has passed through proof and revise unnoticed by reader and author will often be detected immediately the perfected book is placed in the author's hands. The blunder which has hitherto remained hidden appears to start out from the page, to the author's great disgust. One reason why misprints are overlooked is that every word is a sort of pictorial object to the eye. We do not spell the word, but we guess what it is by the first and last letters and its length, so that a wrong letter in the body of the word is easily overlooked.

It is an important help to the editor of a corrupt text to know what misprints are the most probable, and for this purpose the late Mr. Halliwell Phillipps printed for private circulation A Dictionary of Misprints, found in printed books of the

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, compiled for the use of verbal critics and especially for those who are engaged in editing the works of Shakespeare and our other early Dramatists (1887). In the note at the end of this book Mr. Phillipps writes: ``The readiest access to those evidences will be found in the old errata, and it will be seen, on an examination of the latter, that misprints are abundant in final and initial letters, in omissions, in numerals, and in verbal transpositions; but unquestionably the most frequent in pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. When we come to words outside the four latter, there is a large proportion of examples that are either of rare occurrence or unique. Some of the blunders that are recorded are sufficiently grotesque: e.g., Ile starte thence poore for Ile starve their poore,-he formaketh what for the fire maketh hot. It must, indeed, be confessed that the conjectural emendator, if he dispenses with the quasi-authority of contemporary precedents, has an all but unlimited range for the exercise of his ingenuity, the unsettle

d spellings of our

ancestors rendering almost any emendation, however extravagant, a typographical possibility. A large number of their misprints could only have been perpetrated in the midst of the old orthographies. Under no other conditions could ice have been converted into ye, air into time, home into honey, attain into at any, sun into sinner, stone into story, deem into deny, dire into dry, the old spellings of the italicised words being respectively, yce, yee, ayre, tyme, home, honie, attaine, att anie, sunne, sinner, stone, storie, deeme, denie, dire, drie. The form of the long s should also be sometimes taken into consideration, for it could only have been owing to its use that such a word as some could have been misprinted four, niece for wife, prefer for preserve, find for fifth, the variant old spellings being foure, neese, preferre.''

Among the instances of misprints given in this Dictionary may be noticed the following: actions for axioms, agreement for argument, all-eyes for allies, aloud for allowed, banish'd for ravish'd, cancel for cantel, candle for caudle, culsedness

for ourselves, eye-sores for oysters, felicity for facility, Hector for nectar, intending for indenting, John for Jehu, Judges for Indies, scene for seene, sixteen for sexton, and for sixty-one, tops for toy, Venus for Venice.

In connection with this work may be mentioned the late Mr. W. Blades's Shakspere and Typography, being an attempt to show Shakspere's personal connection with, and technical knowledge of the Art of Printing, also Remarks upon some common typographical errors with especial reference to the text of Shakspere (1872), a small work of very great interest and value. Mr. Blades writes: ``Now these typographical blunders will, in the majority of cases, be found to fall into one of three classes, viz.:-

``Errors of the ear;

``Errors of the eye; and

``Errors from what, in printers' language, is called `a foul case.'

``I. Errors of the Ear.-Every compositor when at work reads over a few words of his copy, and retains them in his mind until his fingers have picked

up the various types belonging to them. While the memory is thus repeating to itself a phrase, it is by no means unnatural, nor in practice is it uncommon, for some word or words to become unwittingly supplanted in the mind by others which are similar in sound. It was simply a mental transposition of syllables that made the actor exclaim,-

`My Lord, stand back and let the parson cough '

instead of

`My Lord, stand back and let the coffin pass' Richard III., i. 2.

And, by a slight confusion of sound, the word mistake might appear in type as must take:-

`So you mistake your husbands.'

Hamlet, iii. 2.

Again, idle votarist would easily become idol votarist-

`I am no idle votarist.'-Timon, iv. 3;

and long delays become transformed to longer days-

`This done, see that you take no long delays.

Titus, iv. 2.

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