The Latin S (ſ)

As you’ve seen already, a few chapbooks in the 1700s-1800s were creative in their printing methods. The Cheap Repository, among others, used some neat ligatures, including the æ (as in “æther”), the œ (as in “Œdpial”), the “ct” wiggle (no ASCII character, unfortunately), and the Latin ſ, a character unfortunately recognized by most text-recognition software as an F. It makes for especially interesting work when you’re editing a Biblical tract full of Chriftians, fins, pioufness, wifdom, mifery, paffion, feizing with fudden fits … You get the idea.

I’m guessing it was something of a 27th letter for a while? Often Ss are replaced with ſs every time they appear in a word, except as the last letter (as in “diſtreſs” and “ſenſations” and “covetouſneſs”).

One of the cool things* I get to do in this job is learn how optical-character-recognition works and try to “teach” it to work better. To that end, I built a language. It’s exactly like English except it understands a good chunk of Latin ſ usage. So far it’s mainly  Christian/religious/moral terminology, as well as common words and phraſes — but, if used in conjunction with character-by-character training, and a digitizer who’s willing to add words to the dictionary as he/she goes along, it vaſtly decreases the error rate and improves readability (i.e. keeping editor brain-fry to a manageable level).

It’s not an open format, but rather a proprietary archive for ABBYY FineReader — but, on the off-chance that this helps anyone in the future, I’ve made it publicly downloadable on Google Drive. I’d love to know if anyone finds a use for it!

* Cool if you’re a computer geek.

Punch & Judy!

While I love it when we get to touch upon topics of historical significance, maybe my enthusiasm in this case should be reconsidered.

The popular Punch & Judy puppets (see here and here for more) have been around for centuries, and immortalized in countless ways. In chapbook form, however, the classic tale loses the absurd comedic effect that usually comes with the live show.

The Punch & Judy Foundation (yes, really) even dedicates a page to criticisms and (mis?)conceptions about the tradition. Easily my favourite part is that even Dickens had something to say about it:

In my opinion street Punch is one of those extravagant relief’s from the realties of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive…. I regard it as quite harmless in its influence and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct.

“It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance, as from the more boisterous parts of a Christmas pantomime, is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstances that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about without any pain or suffering.

Seems like Dickens would’ve been pro-video-game.

My knowledge of Punch & Judy comes from the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business, and the 1940 version of Pride & Prejudice (with the inimitable Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier); I’m sure the rest of you have your own references. Our copy of The Serio-Comic Drama of Punch & Judy sits in the Rosalynd Stearn Collection in the McGill Rare Books Library.

Birds of Spring

bird-cover bird-titlebird-turkey 

Spring is finally in the air along with some returning feathered friends. In honour of our avian associates I thought I’d share part of a chapbook on birds. While there are plenty of chapbooks in the collection on birds, I picked Juvenile History of Birds because of a reference to Canada in the first entry. It describes the turkey’s homeland of Canada as “covered with snow above three parts of the year.” I’m assuming that’s three parts out of four, which it certainly feels like sometimes.

This also gives me an opportunity to mention another part of McGill University’s Rare Books and Special Collections – the amazing Blacker-Wood Collection of Zoology and Ornithology. For example, it houses a book with pictures of birds and people made entirely of feathers from 1618! You can see the digitized version here. There are also several collections on different aspects of Canadiana such as Canadian history, literature, architecture, prints, and even the Olympics.