Thursday, August 16, 2007
Early Modern Proof Reading: a case study
Off very soon for another holiday, this time, a week in Iceland. I thought this might give me a topic for a post, but the country itself is not much written about in 16th and 17th century English literature - allusions to 'Iceland dogs' are quite common, and the occasional mention of an 'Iceland hawk', but geographical knowledge seems scanty. 'Geyser' doesn't get recorded in English till 1763, and when the British talked of 'vulcanos', as they did from 1613 onwards, they were thinking of 'Fogo' or 'Aetna' rather than Heckla.
But in the 1621 edition of Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas ('Fourth Day of the First Week'), I found what seemed to be an allusion:
Those that, in Norway and in Finland, chase
The soft-skinned Martens, for their precious Caces
Those that in Ivory Sleads on Ireland Seas
(Congeal'd to Crystall) slide about with ease
Were witness all of his strange grief; and ghest
That God, or Nature was then deep distrest...
The subject is an eclipse, with the Sun out of view over a large part of the northern hemisphere. Du Bartas imagines the locals doing their northerly things - hunting for furs, and travelling around in sledges with runners of ivory: in Norway, Finland, and Ireland. While waiting for my brother-in-law to appear on Robbie Coltrane's 'B-Road Britain' last night (which he duly did - he was the stonemason at Woodchester Mansion) I idly traced the appearance and duration of this ancient misprint (ah, Notes and Queries, I have missed you too long!). The first two English editions got it right: sledging in 'Izeland'. But the error crept into the 1611 text, and stayed there uncorrected through 1613, 1621, 1633 and 1641.
Not that this proves much, beyond the way that typesetters do not (and in general should not) think about what they are setting, also the absence of editing work even on a text the 17th century loved. There must be other allusions in early modern literature lurking under the spelling 'Island', but this was a pleasingly fanciful one. My other image is an early engraving of the original 'Geyser'. It seems to have lumps in it. Since then people have messed about with it so much as to turn its eruptions into an intermittent thing, but here it goes:
How different my life would have been had I been called 'Uno von Troil'.