that thei they thnt

My students are in the process of choosing the books they’re going to work with this semester, so I’ve been looking at lots of books I haven’t seen before. One of them is an English translation of Nicholas Monardes’s Historia medicinal, a 1577 book with one of those glorious long titles: Ioyfull newes out of the newe founde worlde, wherein is declared the rare and singuler vertues of diuerse and sundrie hearbes, trees, oyles, plantes, and stones, with their aplications, aswell for phisicke as chirurgerie, the saied beyng well applied bryngeth suche present remedie for all deseases, as maie seme altogether incredible: notwithstandyng by practize founde out, to bee true: also the portrature of the saied hearbes, very aptly discribed: Englished by Ihon Frampton marchaunt. (Want more info? Check out the record on Hamnet.)

In doing her description of the book, my student noticed something funny about the headlines. They are set up to do something fairly typical: the book is divided into three parts, and the headlines tell you which part you are reading, as shown here:

“The first parte of the thynges that” is on the left-hand side of the opening, with the conclusion of the phrase on the other side of the gutter: “thei bryng from the West Indias.”

The fun part is what happens on the left. On most of the pages, this part of the phrase appears as you would expect:

But sometimes, it goes a bit askew:

or:

or even:

All these mistakes happen only in the first part of the book (although there are other errors in the headlines in the second and third parts). “Thei” is obviously a slip from the phrase’s continuation and appears on signatures A1v, D1v, and F1v. “They” is a similar mistake; it appears on D3v and F3v. It’s not connected to “thei”–by which I mean, it’s not some sort of correction of “thei”, which wouldn’t make sense anyway, because “thei” is spelled perfectly acceptably according to early modern standards, as evidenced by the fact that it’s spelled that way on the other side of the gutter. No, I know it’s not a correction of “thei” because both mistakes appear on the outer formes of the D and the G gatherings: “thei” on D1v/G3v with “they” on D3v/G3v. In other words, they were both in use at the same time. (If this doesn’t make sense, go back and practice your quarto folding again.)

My favorite, though, is the last one–”thnt”–which appears with the greatest frequency, on signatures B2v, C1v, G2v, and H2v. What in the world is “thnt”? It’s “that” when someone has accidentally put an “n” in with the “a”s when he was redistributing the type. A good compositor would touch-set, just as a good typist touch-types. You don’t look at where your fingers are on the keyboard; you look at what it is you are typing. If you’re copying something (typing notes up from a book, for instance), you’re looking at the book, not at your fingers or your typewriter computer screen. When you’re grabbing type from the case and reading the manuscript that you’re setting, you’re not only not looking at each letter as you put it in the composing stick, even if you were to glance at it, it’d be a mirror image.

And that, my friends, is one of the reasons you proof your work.

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