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.

Spring (Not-so) In the Air

        Noon - Retirement

Noon – Retirement

As we gaze upon Montreal’s snow blanket in mid-March, let us also fantasize of the spring that is promised to be near with a few verses from a 1814 chapbook titled Day, A Pastoral.

Now the pine-tree’s waving top
Gently greets the morning gale!
Kidlings, now, begin to crop
Daisies in the dewy vale.


By the brook the shepherd dines;
From the fierce meridian heat
Shelter’d by the branching pines,
Pendant o’er his grassy seat.


Now the flock forsakes the glade,
Where uncheck’d the sun-beams fall;
Sure to find a pleasing shade
By the ivy’d abbey wall


 Not a leaf has leave to stir,
Nature’s lull’d serene, and still!
Quiet o’er the shepherd’s cur,
Sleeping on the heath-clad hill.

This English Pastoral Poetry was relatively refreshing to encode in the process of The Chapbook Digitization Project — especially in the winter term as it poetically describes the day of a shepherd dependent on nature. Amidst downtown Montreal in it’s coldest days, I am left, unlike the resting shepherd in the image, to ponder on brighter days.

The chapbook’s wood engravings were illustrated by Thomas Bewick without colour. The displayed picture was edited to convey the spring colours that are a product of my imagination 🙂