21 juni 2012

The Oxford University Press 1478-1978

In 1978 verscheen van Peter Sutcliffe The Oxford University Press: An Informal History – een zeer onderhoudend boek, waaruit hieronder enkele passages zijn overgenomen. De kopjes zijn van mijn hand.

Het goede boek
Oxford printing has been traditionally somewhat austere, not seeking after effect; to hint in any way that the matter is less important than the form is in bad typographical taste. A mid-twentieth-century Printer to the University, Charles Batey, explained in simple terms what a book should be: ‘The type should be legible, properly disposed on the page, and well inked: the paper should be opaque, of a right colour, kindly to the eye, and pleasant to the touch; and the leaves should be secured in a safe binding, suitably lettered with the book’s title. The whole should be of convenient weight, not burdensome; the book should open easily, and without alarms or crackles, and lie quite flat: and to all demands it should respond in a quiet gentlemanly way; and, as we read on, it should withdraw itself from our consciousness, leaving us alone with the author.’ (p. 111)

De band
It was said that the skins of 100,000 animals were used yearly to bind the Bible alone – roughly speaking, an average-sized goat would cover ten Bibles. One of the most highly prized bindings was Levant morocco, a goatskin made into leather by processes perfected in France, and of the calf bindings the best was known as ‘Russia’, being the undyed skin of Russian cows exported by the house of Savin. This could be distinguished from imitations, such as English calf, by its incomparable smell, which nobody was able to match. Pigskin, sheepskin, and sealskin were also used. [...] Huge quantities of gold leaf were needed for lettering and ornaments and gilt edges, and the sweepings from the binding-house floor once yielded a lump of gold that was sold for £130. For luxury bindings the sheets were sewn with silk instead of thread, and headbands of silk were fitted by accomplished needlewomen. A large modern American sewing-machine was available and a hydraulic press for rolling the sheets, but these were for cheap books and nothing to boast about. (pp. 110-111)

‘Dear Sir, the Delegates of the Press have considered your suggestion that they should publish —, and they desire me to reply to you, conveying their thanks for the suggestion you have been so good as to make to them, and their regret that they do not find themselves able to accept it.’ (p. 108)

According to his biographer, Nirad Chaudhuri, Max Müller was surprised to find errors queried by the Press in the proofs of his Rig Veda. He was told that the queries came from the compositor himself, who knew no word of the language. ‘Well, sir,’ the man told him, ‘my arm gets into a regular swing from one compartment of types to another, and there are certain movements that never occur. So, if I suddenly have to take up types which entail a new movement I feel it, and I put a query.’ No doubt the compositor did have occasional inklings of error, but the proofs of all six volumes of the Rig Veda were read by J. C. Pembrey, the most extraordinary of all the correctors of the Learned Press. Bound apprentice to Thomas Combe in 1846 at the age of 14, he was within a year proof-reading H. H. Wilson’s Sanskrit Grammar. Seventy years later he was having difficulty walking to and from the Press, but proofs were still sent to him at his home. Many authors expressed gratitude to him in their prefaces. Canon Driver acknowledged his debt in the 1913 edition of Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Book of Samuel: ‘Nearly every Oriental work that has been published by the Press during the last fifty years, including, for instance, Max Müller’s Rigveda, Payne Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus, and Neubauer’s Catalogue of Hebrew MSS in the Bodleian Library, has had the benefit of Mr. Pembrey’s watchful supervision: but, notwithstanding his years, his eye, as I can testify from experience, is still undimmed, and he is still as able as ever to bestow upon a book passing through his hands this interest, and more than conscientious care, which so many Orientalists have learnt to appreciate.’ He died in 1918: how he retained his health and sanity through so many years of awful labours is not recorded, nor the extent to which he acquired some working knowledge of the languages he read, eyes moving unerringly from manuscript copy to proof sheets, back and forth, in quest of an error the discovery of which was perhaps its own reward. (p. 45)

Lang leverbaar
Wyttenbach’s Plutarch was another massive undertaking, not at the time of the Edinburgh Review article complete. Indeed it had just been seriously interrupted by a barge exploding on a canal in Leyden and setting fire to Wyttenbach’s house. The work had been ‘commissioned’ by the Delegates in 1788, the first volume published in 1795, and copy for the seventh and last volume of his commentary reached Oxford in 1820, shortly before his death. It was one of many monumental Oxford productions that are a mystery to anybody brought up to associate publishing with the sale of books. Wyttenbach’s Moralia remained in the Oxford Catalogue until 1956. In the last fifty years of the nineteenth century it did not sell a single copy. The staying power of Oxford books became a matter of pride, proof of continuity and an enduring concern for scholarship, in striking contrast to the shabby habits of commercial publishers who put books out of print as soon as there appeared to be no further demand for them. The record for endurance is held by Wilkins’s Coptic Gospels, published in an edition of 500 copies in 1716. ‘The book was hard to sell,’ Carter records in his History. ‘The first hundred had gone by 1760, and the Delegates never gave up hope of disposing of the rest.’ R. W. Chapman in his Account was less matter of fact, recalling with a touch of wonder how from the dark vaults of the old Delegates’ warehouse ‘was drawn into the upper air, in 1907, the last copy of Wilkins’s Coptic New Testament [...] the paper hardly discoloured and the impression still black and brilliant.’ Moreover it was sold at 12s. 6d., the price to which it had been reduced some time in the nineteenth century. It had cost a guinea originally. It was not uncommon in the twentieth century to find in the catalogues of second-hand booksellers old Oxford books offered as ‘rare’ at high prices when in fact they were still in print and available from the publisher as technically new. Nobody without intimate acquaintance with the Oxford lists could possibly be expected to know. (p. 3)

OUP onfeilbaar
‘We have occasionally to reprove writers of repute,’ H. W. Fowler [een van de auteurs van The King’s English (1906), een soort Schrijfwijzer] explained succinctly to Cannan, ‘which is more presumptuous in two who are by their names just known to be unknown than in an imaginary one about whom it is unknown whether he is known or not.’ Cannan was not persuaded and wanted no meekness. He had been persuaded by Henry Bradley that they had nothing to fear. ‘We were a little nervous’, he admitted to Henry Fowler after the first specimens had been approved by Bradley, ‘about the reception the ultra expert would give it, but he was much more gracious than we dared to hope.’ He therefore took as his text, frequently repeated, ‘The elementary laws do not apologize: neither does the Clarendon Press apologize’. The only occasion he had to rebuke the Fowlers was when he read an appendix they had written for the second edition, which was to appear six months after the first had been published. ‘I am I must confess distressed’, he wrote, ‘by discovering in it "apologetic remarks". [...] The book has a great chance of establishing itself, if the public can be persuaded that it is always right.’ Argument, or concessions to critics, would undermine confidence and allow the public to believe that it could ‘continue to live at random (and what is worse, not buy the book)’. Henry Fowler apologized: ‘I am sorry we have forgotten the Dogma of Infallibility; but we are ready to return to the true faith.’ (p. 153)

De wereld in
In 1915, E. C. Parnwell joined the Press in London at the age of 16, as a clerk in the educational department under Vere Collins. In 1926 he was told by Milford to ‘become expert in education overseas’. He was provided with an office, a table and two chairs, an in-tray and an out-tray, and an Oxford Wall Map of the World. That was the only positive instruction and guidance he had from Milford about starting what was to prove the most important new venture of the inter-war years. (p. 213)


Onze man in Zuid-Afrika
He went first to South Africa. He was to make a survey of native education there and also to investigate the way in which the Press’s interests were being managed by the Branch. He was surprised to find the Cape Town office in the hands of a man of seventy-four called Charles Mellor, who appeared to have been left there by an oversight. He duly reported to Milford that the business was not being run as energetically as might be wished, but Milford took no immediate action. He requested Parnwell not to cause him to cross bridges before he got to them: ‘A judicious hesitation, Mr. Parnwell, may allow a difficulty to solve itself without intervention.’ It was never known whether the letter he eventually wrote proposing retirement reached Mellor before or after his death from excessive teadrinking. (p. 214)

C.R.L. Fletcher, auteur bij de OUP


Na de succesvolle Oxford Companion to English Literature
In January 1935 in New York a young Harvard graduate, James D. Hart, was on his way to catch a Fifth Avenue bus when he found himself passing the Oxford University Press. On an impulse he went in, with no exact purpose in mind except to point out the want of a Companion to American Literature. He was met by Margaret Nicholson, who later translated Fowler into Modern American Usage. She ‘listened with remarkable sympathy’, Hart recalled, and took him to see the general editor, Howard Lowry. ‘He was astonishingly attentive to me and proposed that I prepare a few sample entries that very evening to bring back the next day so that they might be seen by Geoffrey Cumberlege. The reception I had from Cumberlege was somewhat frostier but he took the entries and before long I heard that the Oxford Press would publish my work.’ (pp. 226-227)


Wis- en natuurkunde
The first book to appear was Dirac’s Principles of Quantum Mechanics in 1930. Sales were not sensational, but it was generally agreed that the book itself was. It was translated into many languages, including Russian. The pirated Russian edition carried a mysterious preface, warning scientists that the book did not always conform to the doctrines of dialectical materialism and should be handled with care.
   Before anything could be done, however, John Johnson had to learn a new craft, that of mathematical printing which had been so long neglected in Oxford. He told Sisam that he proposed to make a fresh start, and assured him that he would go to endless pains to get it right. It was the kind of challenge he enjoyed, and he could be relied upon to do that. He bought in new types, studied the work of the German printers, and designed specimen pages which were circulated to mathematicians for comments. He received considerable help from Professor G. H. Hardy, then editor of the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics, which the Press took over in 1930, as well as from Fowler and from Dirac himself. In the end he felt he had produced a page of some magnificence – ‘to compel the admiration of the world’. Sisam agreed that a high standard had been reached, worthy of ‘the recent renascence of mathematical studies in Oxford’.
(p. 229)


King William IV
Then to Fletcher’s excitement there came a message from Buckingham Palace. The Queen Queen Mary was pained to read that William IV had ‘as a young man [...] been nicknamed "Silly Billy"’. It was required that the last words should be changed to read ‘served in the Navy’. Though he was described earlier in the same sentence as ‘a stupid honest old gentleman’ this was allowed, perhaps on grounds of historical accuracy. ‘It is almost worth making such a blunder to have it pointed out by the Queen’, Fletcher gloated to Cannan, who, however, was not amused. If it were a matter of royal command the only way in which the offending words could be changed was by printing a four-page cancel, a tiresome and pointless operation since so many copies had already been sold. There was even a possibility that he might have to call in unsold stock from the booksellers. It seemed to him that two Silly Billys were involved. Fletcher’s suggestion that an erratum slip should be inserted at the appropriate place was plainly absurd. Fortunately there came in due course what was interpreted as a clear command not to reprint on the Queen’s account. The correction could be made in subsequent impressions. Fletcher in the meantime had managed to recollect his source, a story told by his grandfather of a famous lunatic at Bedlam, to see whom William IV had once been taken. The lunatic pointed at him and called out ‘Silly Billy! Silly Billy!’ ‘By Gad he knows me,’ said William. ‘Oh yes,’ said the keeper, ‘he has his lucid intervals.’ (p. 161)
۞   ۞   ۞

1 opmerking:

  1. Anoniem2:30 p.m.

    Prachtig materiaal voor een mooi klein nieuwjaarsgeschenk... [Monique]