Finding Uncle Tom in Lutz’s Programming Python

I am working my way through Mark Lutz’s Programming Python (4th ed., section “Step 1: Representing Records”). The example seeks to explain different types of records, by building a database of employees, both in form of lists and of dictionaries. And I think I found Uncle Tom, or at least a very curious Tom in the employee class.

In most examples, the two sample employees are named Bob and Sue, they work in technology, software and hardware, and Sue is paid better than Bob, always. Except, of a sudden, another “employee” appears. His name is ‘Tom’, and his data is used to illustrate the append and extend function for lists.

people.append(['Tom', 50, 0, None])

Compare to the original examples of people, Bob and Sue:

['Bob Smith', 42, 30000, 'software']
['Sue Jones', 45, 50000.0, 'hardware']

What these records mean is that one person named Bob Smith, age 42, earns $30,000, and has software as his job title; Sue Jones, age 45, earns $50,000, and has hardware as her job title. They are both people. (Note: Please excuse the salary numbers as both integers and floats, the choice of lists to represent data when other forms like dictionaries could do so better. That is kind of the point, and all of these matters are addressed soon.)

When another person is appended to the people set, his name is ‘Tom” (he has no last name), his age is 50, his salary is $0, and his job has no formal description, None. In one sense he’s appended to the set of “people” too, but he does no really fit (probably because the “None” category will come back later to haunt us).

Lutz has a footnote to software developer Bob, which says “the world is stranger than it seems,” because Lutz met a software developer when teaching a Python course, whose age and job description were described perfectly by the fictitious Bob. He can add another addendum to his note, that his fictitious Tom happens to match strangely the most famous fictitious slave in American culture, the stereotypical slave Uncle Tom, who is always about 50 years old in the American cultural imaginary, who gets paid “0,” and has the job title very close to “None,” a non-person, a nihil, a nothing.

Tom (no last name) rejoins Bob Smith and Sue Jones in the people crew for the example of the dictionary version of the same set of data:

db['tom'] = dict(name='Tom', age=50, job=None, pay=0)

Still no last name. Still no pay. Still aged 50. Still “None” as his job. Whereas in other two cases (Sue Jones and Bob Smith), there is more effort to simulate reasonable data, there’s no effort with throw-away Tom. He has no reason for being here in sense of being paid: he just is. I think it’s supposed to be a joke.

There’s another joke, but it’s far more insistent. Sue Jones, who is older and works in hardware, is paid better than the younger male Bob Smith, who works in software. That is, this joke is really insistent, repeated over and over, so you can’t miss the intimation that a woman getting paid more than a man is… kind of funny perhaps? Tom, by contrast, just floats in and floats out, being a nothing, a throw-away example.

Technology ideology occludes gender, age, race, and cultural history (outside of technology) as meaningless, a nihil, a nothing. This is one example of how it technology ideology borrows from a long history, and treats that history as invisible and meaningless, when it does it.

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Moral Precepts and False Spelling

This is from a mid-19th Century spelling textbook entitled Exercises in Orthography, by   John Epy Lovell. It was issued by New Haven publisher Durrie and Peck in 1847. The purpose of the book is made reasonably clear in lesson 1:

This littel book of lesons in falce speling, has
bin made to help boys and gurls to spell rite. It
is hoped that it will be usefull to menny. It con-
tanes sum pleesing facs and a stoar of good pre-
septs. Let the pupel try to ficks thees in his mind
wilst ho takes grate panes to korrect evry mispelt-

Or in facsimile if you prefer.

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It’s interesting to me that the student is expected nonetheless to “ficks” the “facs” and the “presepts” in mind despite the “grate panes” of correcting all the misspelled words. I suppose no one worried that the student would suffer from delusion that the great precepts and facts were gathered by a bunch of dunces. I cannot imagine the children were supposed to write in the book. Maybe copy it out in corrected form? Or, more likely, copy it out in incorrect form and then re-copy it corrected. That would keep the little urchins busy.

On a more advanced note, consider were one editing the book whether one could apply Walter W. Greg’s distinction between the accidentals (forms, such as spelling and punctuation) and the substantives (words themselves). In this case, making note of the accidental departure from a standard spelling is the point of the exercise, so that can’t be a difference, at least I don’t think so.  When typesetting the book, would any criterion render a word misspelled in the sense of a spelling error in the copy? Must the compositor follow copy, or can he (or she) misspell with impunity and fulfill the intention of the author? Would any change in a subsequent printing be considered a correction? On one hand, a difference in a later copy might well be considered a correction. But how would one know? Boggles the mind.

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On Nineteenth-Century Flower Language

This post is inspired by Nancy Strow Sheley’s “The Language of Flowers in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Other Nineteenth-Century American Works,” Resources for American Literary Study 30 (2005): 77-103. She argues, essentially, that to read mentions of flowers in literary texts like Stowe’s novel and other writers like Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (and even male writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Waddell Chesnutt), you need to know what flowers mean. Go read the article, obviously, but RALS is not (to my knowledge) available electronically at present. Therefore, in lieu of that, below I link to several online flower dictionaries, arranged chronologically.

 There are many, many more. Flower lexicons were a standard part of 19C women’s culture, especially, Sheley notes, “among literate, social, white middle and upper classes” (77). Also, Sheley draws from following scholarly study of language of flowers:
Seaton, Beverly. The Language of Flowers: A History. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. Print. Victorian Literature and Culture Series.

[1]. A cataloger with the American Antiquarian Society contacted me this morning (Feb. 5, 2018) and asked how I knew Louisa Anne Twamley was the author of Flora and Thalia. I said more than, “Uh, I can’t recall,” but that was the gist of what I said. Therefore, I’ve removed the author attribution. See AAS catalog for more detail. For their updated info on authorship, see Click “More About this Item” for their report on author sleuthing. Don’t wish to participate in false rumors on the Internets.

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Rewriting Internet History: “Because it’s there.”

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith remakes the past. I think that I helped re-make the internet past in the case of a famous quotation from George Leigh Mallory, but the imaginary past is now starting to undermine my authority as the originator of the corrected version.

When opening my 2006 dissertation, I sought to trace the origin of this phrase, “Because it’s there,” which was said to have been attributed to Mallory after he was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” I had thought to explain my choice to edit the National Era version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and “because it’s there” seemed like as good an explanation as any: the University of Virginia library was one of only a handful in the world with a copy.  I traced the quote back to an 18 March 1923 article in the New York Times, but I discovered that the question asked of Mallory was, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” In other words, his reply was in past tense, to explain why he had tried the mountain several times.

When I performed a quoted Google search while preparing my dissertation, on 10 January 2006, the quoted phrase with “did” returned zero results. That later became a little hook to open chapter 1 of my dissertation, and I made a little joke about Internet folklore in my first footnote: “While it is possible that folklore records the question more accurately than the documentary evidence, some Internet folkore [sic] on the do version of the question refers to Mallory’s questioner as a Times reporter, so it seems more likely that Internet folklore is immune to documentary evidence.” (2;

Today, 4 March 2016, when I performed the quoted search on Google, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” the omnipresent Wikipedia explainer, which appears on the first page, assures me that did is the correct form of the quote.

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Do I deserve the credit for fixing Internet folklore? Actually, I think I do. When I search quoted search with a date range, 1 January 2006 thru 1 January 2008, there is only one lonely Google search result returned, my dissertation.

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Which affirms what I claimed in my dissertation. The skeptical reader asks: Why date range 2006-2008? How would we know you’re the first? Maybe someone preceded you. OK, let’s do it again, with all instances before 2008.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 8.33.06 PM

OK, so there are earlier results. But on Pinterest, back in 1999? and on Tumblr, back in 2001? Looks like Winston from Nineteen Eighty-Four has struck again. And what about the omitted results? OK, now we have it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 8.42.18 PM

The correct version of Mallory’s famous quote was first reported on Pinterest, back on December 23, 1972.

The moral of the story, except when you’re scooped by Pinterest, is that open-access dissertations make the world a slightly better place. So I’m going to take credit for correcting the famous Mallory quote on the Internet.

As the kids say, Booyah!

PS: I’ve decided not to remake the past by subtly altering a quotation from my dissertation, so the [sic] acknowledges the spelling error folkore in my footnote.

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Note on American Slavery: Cat-hauling

Take a deep breath and brace yourself, before you read further. Or stop reading now if you do not want to subject yourself to this: in this post I describes a particular torture from antebellum slavery that is unimaginably cruel, one which Americans have collectively chosen to forget and to sanitize.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “cat-haul” is U.S. English, and it is derived from a punishment that slavemasters inflicted on enslaved people, though I do not believe the usage cases in the dictionary acknowledge adequately its horrific cruelty.  The OED does not even give a formal definition and instead relies on the reader to infer the definition from a usage example. The quotation is from Arthur Singleton’s Letters from the South and West (1824):

The cat-haul; that is, to fasten a slave down flatwise..and then to take a huge fierce tom-cat by the tail backward, and haul him down along the..bare back, with his claws clinging into the quick all the way.

You could easily miss the phrase “into the quick,” which we use mostly today to refer to bleeding when clipping a pet’s nails. In this case, it might mean lodging so deeply into the flesh that the live part of the claw is embedded, though I think it means that claws are embedded into the person’s “quick,” into the flesh deeply enough to cause bleeding. That is the only sample usage for the noun form that the OED gives, and the lexicographer (this definition has not been revised since 1936) instead only offers a formal definition for the verb form: “to subject to this punishment; fig. to examine stringently.” Think about that for a second, that the figurative use has transformed claws puncturing and tearing through skin into a “stringent examination.” That’s how culture tells itself lies with language: there was no “examination” going on in the first place, just unmitigated cruelty.

To return to the OED, three usage examples follow, from 1840, 1851, and 1950. The noun form cat-hauling also receives a usage case, from Chambers’ Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts, 1844–7.

I saw a slave punished by cat-hauling. The cat was placed on the bare shoulders, and forcibly dragged by the tail down the back..of the prostrate slave.

Reread the title of source for quotation, note the phrase “useful and entertaining,” and go on. Read in dictionary context (with ellipsis dots to signal omissions), one might be excused for assuming cat-hauling meant a single pass, though “into the quick,” if it registered in the previous usage example, may have caused you to cringe. That notion of single pass, though, has become part of our contemporary definition. The  Merriam Webster Dictionary also defines cat-haul today in such a way that most readers would assume a single pass, a moderate punishment: “to punish by forcibly dragging a cat along the bare back <cat-haul a slave for a misdemeanor>.”  And look here, it’s a “misdemeanor,” which implies that the punishment was formal retribution for a criminal act instead of what it actually was, an act of ferocious cruelty by a monster, which happened to be legally sanctioned because the law offered protection to the enslaved persons only in cases that offended public sensibilities. In the early 19th century, public sensibilities about cruelty toward slaves were almost impossible to offend. Even when sensibilities were offended, punishment of the offender typically remained a higher offense to sensibility. For example, the testimony of black slaves, who were far more likely to witness cruelties, was banned in courts of law.

Theodore Dwight Weld’s American Slavery As It Is (1844) explains that cat-hauling was considered by many enslaved persons to be more cruel than lashing[1], and he gives two examples:

 “Mr. Brubecker, who had a number of slaves, among whom was one who would frequently avoid labor by hiding himself; for which he would get severe floggings without the desired effect, and that at last Mr. B. would tie large cats on his naked body and whip them to make them tear his back, in order to break him of his habit of hiding.”

Rev. HORACE MOULTON, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Marlborough, Massachusetts, says:

“Some, when other modes of punishment will not subdue them, cat-haul them; that is, take a cat by the nape of the neck and tail, or by its hind legs, and drag the claws across the back until satisfied; this kind of punishment, as I have understood, poisons the flesh much worse than the whip, and is more dreaded by the slave.”

To summarize, cat-hauling was considered by many to be a worse ordeal than “severe floggings.” The word cat-haul has affinities to the naval punishment of keel-hauling, only a bit shy of execution (though death was possible), tying a sailor with a rope and passing him under the keel of a ship, side to side for a large ship, bow to stern for small. As with keel-hauling, cat-hauling is unlikely to have meant one pass with the claws of an abused tom-cat. It meant several repetitions, “until satisfied.” Or, as Brubecker did, tying several cats to the naked back and whipping the cats. The probability that infection would follow is high: that is what is meant by “poisons the flesh.” If the risk of infection was higher, this form of torture may well have led to death.

There are are two points here: One: American slavery was unimaginably cruel.[2]  Two: One reason is that American slavery’s cruelty is unimaginable to us today is that our public history and culture have failed to reckon with or have too often sanitized its cruelty. Weld’s American Slavery As It Is is almost unbearable to  read, not only because the descriptions are so horrific but because its documentation is fierce. The word cat-haul, today forgotten, is just one witness, though its usage (and the practice) is testified in American Slavery As It Is once by an Ohio woman who formerly resided in Kentucky and a second time by a Methodist minister. The subtitle of Weld’s book is Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, and the documentation is at standards that match present-day scholarly monographs.

I imagine a scholarly project in which we cross-reference all the names that appear in Weld and in Weld’s sources with links to genealogy records in and open-source newspaper and book databases like Chronicling America or HathiTrust. Creating history should not be a process of sanitizing the past: we should be relearning it.

[1] Lashing typically meant tying down by hands and feet to stakes or suspending in the air with feet restrained; applying 50 or 100 or 400 strokes with the lash, lacerating the flesh so severely that the cowhide whip would become clotted with blood; and often included rubbing the flesh with salt or dousing it with salt or hot pepper brine: such tortures could be fatal, if not from initial loss of blood and shock then from ensuing infection.

[2] Cat-hauling is described in a subsection called Tortures of Slaves. Even a sampling of the subheads (paddles, head frames, collars, teeth mutilated) is enough to incite revulsion.

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Application Statement, PhD in English

I have read several rounds of graduate school application letters, and it occurred to me that strong statements have some qualities in common. So I wrote a tweet.

Then, I recalled that I’ve saved my 2002 application statement for Virginia. And I think it meets the criteria that I set out above. Though I would do it differently now, I was accepted into the PhD program at Virginia in 2001 and 2002. This is the 2002 letter. So I’ll let it stand below as it was, as perhaps useful to someone who wants to pursue graduate study but has not been instructed in the conventions of this type of application. I was not awarded a full ride (graduate school shop talk for research fellowship with no teaching required, reserved for the most promising candidates; PS: I later got to know two of those rewarded candidates, and they definitely deserved them) and so taught classes to earn my keep.

Statement of Interest

       I applied to and was accepted into the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Virginia (UVA) for the Fall 2001 semester. Though I accepted the offer, I later decided not to attend when I realized that the federally subsidized loans that were available to me were not sufficient to pay my tuition and fees. I made the decision with considerable regret because I did then and still believe that the program would be an excellent place to pursue my interest in textual studies. In the past months, I have made significant progress on reducing the financial barriers. But the reasons for my interest in the program are little changed from my previous application.

My interest is textual scholarship. It is an outgrowth of my thesis on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, in which I studied what the manuscript and published editions reveal about the author’s composition and revision processes. My goal is to prepare an electronic resource that makes my view of Crane’s revisions accessible to other scholars. The resources at UVA make it the best place to continue my current research and to complete a Ph.D.

In “Stephen Crane Revising The Red Badge of Courage”—a shortened version of my thesis that I have provided as a writing sample—I explain a concept of Crane’s revisions that considers multiple versions of the novel. Crane revised with considerable attention to the place of the protagonist in the novel, to the voice of the narrator, and to the imagery. The importance of Private Henry Fleming, the central figure in the manuscript originally titled Private Fleming: His Various Battles, diminishes as Crane revises. One of the most important changes is that Henry Fleming is changed to the youth in the revised manuscript and the Appleton edition. As Crane diminishes the importance of the youth’s character, he emphasizes the novel’s narrative voice and its imagery. Editors Fredson Bowers and Henry Binder have viewed Crane’s revision process as moving toward a sharp distinction between Henry Fleming and the other soldiers. I believe that a more satisfactory view of Crane’s revisions places the protagonist’s name change in the context of other revisions.

During the past two years, my work has included assisting faculty members at the University of North Texas (UNT) to prepare printed editions and electronic texts. As an assistant editor to Alexander Pettit for Set I of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood, I proofread, prepared facsimile title pages, and reviewed the textual introduction. As an associate editor of Set II of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood, I prepared facsimile title pages, typeset all three volumes, and consulted frequently with the editor on matters of bibliography and presentation. As a research assistant to Peter L. Shillingsburg, I have worked on the process of converting the source files for his many critical editions of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novels into an internet-accessible format. While I have learned much from these two distinguished scholars, I could pursue my study of Red Badge most successfully with the unique resources at Virginia.

I want to create an internet resource of materials that includes transcriptions and images of—and links among—all of the authoritative Red Badge texts: early draft manuscript, final manuscript, chapter 4 excerpt published in Current Literature, and the 1895 Appleton edition. Three resources at UVA interest me particularly: 1) Crane’s autograph manuscript of Red Badge in the Clifton Waller Barret Collection, 2) the Bowers collection that includes the source files for the Virginia edition of Red Badge, and 3) the knowledge and expertise of scholars working in the Electronic Text Center and in the Institute for Advanced Technology in the humanities. Because of my interests in bibliography and electronic texts, I have contacted David Vander Meulen and Dr. John Unsworth and have asked them to write letters on my behalf. With access to the physical resources at UVA, and to these and other scholars such as Jerome McGann, I could prepare an internet resource that makes my view of Crane’s revisions accessible to other scholars.

In the eight months since withdrawing my acceptance, I have taken numerous steps to better prepare myself financially and academically for the Ph.D. program at UVA. My financial preparations have included reducing credit card, reducing school loan debt, and setting aside enough money to pay the difference between out-of-state tuition and the maximum allowable subsidized loan. I have indicated to my family that I may need financial support, but I am making significant progress towards being able to pay the tuition and fees with no assistance other than subsidized loans. Though I am employed full-time as a technical writer at a company in Dallas and part-time as an adjunct instructor at UNT, my academic and editorial work is moving forward as well. I typeset Set II of Selected Works of Eliza Haywood and wrote a study of the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The latter is provided as a writing sample. For Shillingsburg’s edition of Thackeray’s The Newcomes, I have begun the process of converting TeX source files to XML. And finally, my review of Susan Hockey’s Electronic Texts in the Humanities for the journal Text is almost complete. Were the English department to again extend an offer of admission, I would be honored.

I think the strength of letter is that I know what I’m planning to do and am in communication with scholars at the university. I wonder now whether my several years away from graduate study and my full-time job were a weakness. By the way, I did not end up doing a Crane project, because Jerome McGann persuaded me that Uncle Tom’s Cabin project was a better idea. (He was, and is, a very persuasive person.) I would caution anyone reading this letter as a model that my application at the University of Michigan (2001) did not secure me admission into the program, and that other materials (also mentioned) may have helped.

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Contractions, Possessives, and Type Space in 19C American Editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

This is a draft, and I welcome comments.

Seventeen words appear in early printings of Uncle Tom’s Cabin both as a contraction and as a possessive form, including possessive nouns and the possessive case for gerunds, and they are listed in Table 1 below. The National Era serial (1851–1852) and the Jewett Illustrated edition (1853) have no typographical distinction between possessives and contractions, but two Jewett editions, the 2-volume First (1852) and the “Million” (1852/1853), and the Houghton Osgood “New Edition” (1879) have a typographical distinction: in contractions, a thin space precedes the apostrophe; but in singular possessives, the apostrophe abuts the preceding letter (with no thin space).

Table 1:  ’s Contractions and Possessive Forms in the Era Serial and Four Editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (PDF)

All “ ’s” contractions with a corresponding possessive form in the same text together constitute a significant sample size of over 280 instances in each of five typographical settings of the text. In the three editions in which a distinction is observed, there are only two clear “errors” of execution: both are cases in which an “ ’s” contraction lacks the expected thin space before the apostrophe, a rate of consistency above 99.5 percent.[1]  For the purpose of these counts, I have excluded instances of possession in chapter titles (i.e., “Clare’s” or “Tom’s”). Though these spacing conventions are representative of the typographical texture of the early printings of Stowe’s text,  they are not authorial because in the fragmentary extant manuscript pages the distinction is not present in Stowe’s hand. Also, I should add, spacing of contractions is not a distinction that concerns dialect (NB: To be the subject of another post). The setting of “I ’m” and “you ’re” and “does n’t” in the three editions with spaced contractions, for example, mirrors the practice of dialect forms like “I ’s” and “you ’s.”

When determining these counts, some conventions for regularization have been imposed. Typographically speaking, a “thin space” is a designated width of type: 5 thin spaces are the width of an em (i.e., 5 to the em), and the “em” is the standard unit of type measurement.[2] In 19th century printing, a quad the width of an em is typically used to separate sentences. Whether a space before an apostrophe is made by a thin-space type–with an approximate width of 1.0 mm in the Jewett First Edition, 0.8 mm in the “Million” edition, or 1.0 mm in the Houghton Osgood “New Edition”–is a matter of judgment, one which can benefit from tools like a magnifying loupe scored with a tenth-millimeter gauge.

No, that’s not everyday literary scholarship, but I have measured several hundred thin spaces with a loupe and suppose that I may as well admit it.  As a sanity check for assigning space width, I assigned spaces for contractions and dialect word forms during two keyboardings. If the two transcriptions differed, I measured the distance with the magnifying loupe and/or made a judgment call about the relative width of the space in this instance as compared to typical spacing in the immediate context of the same line. That is, spaces were double-keyed and checked whenever the two keyboardings disagreed.

So, the actual procedure requires a bit more judgment. When encoding spaces during transcriptions, I have marked some spaces as thin spaces outright and some spaces as thinner, relatively speaking, than the surrounding spaces on the same line. When words are widely spaced, with frequent thick spaces (3 to the em) between words, a medium space is thinner, relatively speaking, than the surrounding thick spaces. Also the opposite: when words are tightly spaced with frequent thin spaces between words, a hair space (7 to the em) is thinner, relatively speaking, than surrounding thin (5 to the em) spaces. I consider both of these as typographically equivalent to “thin” spaces. I disregard the distinction between “thin space” and “relatively thin space in context” in Table 1, but the transcriptions with the distinction recorded shall be made available. Because varying space width between words is typical of prose typography–sometimes so a paragraph may fit in a certain number of lines, sometimes so a chapter will fit on a certain number of pages with enough space to permit an illustration, etc.–the “relative” width of a space against the background of its surrounding content is a better way to assess the practice. Another complication is that the width of a space is indeterminate or an approximate space, because, for example, the space is preceded by a letter such as “f” with an overhanging terminal into the space. Again, judgment.

One consequence of identifying this conventional distinction between contractions and possessive forms is reasonably clear for modern reprint editions that aim to be scholarly. Mid-century compositors and proofreaders of the two Jewett editions must have recognized a spacing distinction between the two word forms as characteristic of quality typesetting.  And, furthermore, the compositors for the 1878 Houghton-Osgood edition, over twenty-five years later, recognized and observed the same distinction. Therefore, for  scholarly reprints, an editor who designates a reprint of the Jewett First or “Million” edition as “unmodernized” should reproduce type space in contractions, at minimum to distinguish contractions from possessive form. If you acknowledge that distinction, I believe the same principle should apply for all contractions that have the “ ’s” form without a corresponding possessive and for other contraction forms that close with “ ’ll,” or “ ’re,” etc., which are far more frequent. In reprints of the Era serial (1851-1852) or the Jewett Illustrated edition (1853), by contrast, no type space should be inserted into contractions: the convention is not present in the original texts.

As the practice of spacing in contractions has died out in modern printing (I am certain that it has, though I am not sure when.), and was not observed even in another edition by the same publisher (the Jewett Illustrated Edition [1853]), no historical “flavoring” is achieved by retroactively applying a texture of spacing to contractions in a reprint of that text or of the National Era serial. Though I must leave the following comment as a side note, which cannot be duplicated except by re-transcribing the three editions that observe the distinction–imagine yourself spending 4 years double-keying all three texts with thin spaces, confirming that each thin space agrees, measuring with a loupe when they do not, and making a judgment call–I did not discover this difference between possessive and contraction forms until after both the Jewett first edition and the “Million” edition had been transcribed. I set out to record type spacing within words, but I only noticed the distinction when devising regular expression routines to normalize spacing for the purpose of reducing the number of variants that are noted during computer collation. The transcription of the Houghton Osgood edition along the same principles, recording typographical spacing in contractions, confirmed that the pattern was present in that edition also.

A second consequence must also remain speculative, and it can only be tested by preparing another edition. For editors who wish to establish an authoritative text that conflates the authority of multiple editions, the matter of contraction spacing is complicated. If the Era form is designated the copy-text for the entire reprint edition, in the sense that Sir Walter W. Greg suggested in “The Rationale of Copy-Text” (and Fredson Bowers and the early CEAA advocated)  because it is held in most cases to be closest to authorial word forms and the authorial texture of punctuation, then no typographical distinction between possessive and contraction forms is present and should not be observed in a reprint edition. However, if the Jewett First edition is designated the Greg-Bowers copy-text for a reprint edition, its conventions should govern for the typographical reproduction. To do otherwise would be to modernize. One could modernize everything “for the convenience of readers,” but where’s the fun in that?

My preliminary analysis of variants suggests, however, that the manuscript served as the printer’s copy-text (setting copy) for the Era serial text, that the Era serial text served as the printer’s copy-text for most chapters in the Jewett edition, that two separate manuscripts served as printer’s copy-text for several chapters when the composition of the manuscript ran even both with serial publication and with First Edition typesetting, and that the typeset book or galley pages served as printer’s copy-text for the final installments in the Era serial. If my analysis is correct, an editor of a conflated text would need to explain the rationale for choosing a copy-text (in the Greg-Bowers sense) for each installment and either observe the typographical texture of the designated copy-text for each section or to regularize and normalize. Various arguments are defensible: one could appeal to authorial intention based on the practice of manuscript fragments, appeal to the convenience of readers who may be unsettled by alternate typographic textures in the same edition, or appeal to the prominence of the Jewett first edition as American literature’s textus receptus. Each of these options is speculative because no one has prepared a conflated text, and my editorial choice of the Era as a base text on which to hang variants and revision narratives (not the copy-text in the Greg-Bowers sense) will not resolve the matter either: it permits me in my editorial introduction to sidestep the fuller elaboration of principles that a conflating editor would be obligated to provide.

Be that as it may, these details are likely only to concern scholars of print history or editorial theory: they will not be reported in my printed scholarly edition except as a class of normalizations in the lists of variants. The practice perhaps should elicit some concern for deciding what a “word” is in quantitative analysis or so-called distant reading, as the common computing definition of a word, a series of letters separated by a space or punctuation, which is frequently invoked in word counts, requires a decision about whether a thin space, or a relatively thin space given the surrounding context, is actually a marker to separate words.  Finally, even the literary critic who wishes to quote accurately for a study that concerns the exact wording of a historical version of the text would be best served by reviewing a facsimile and learning to read type space or by checking my archived transcriptions of other editions (though those are not yet posted).

In a culture in which whether one or two spaces should follow a period is a subject of popular though ill-informed discussion, I think it’s reasonable to maintain that such details as how to record and how to print spacing of contractions in historical reprints does matter.  I hope at least one of the 25 eventual readers of this post find it useful.

  1. See notes to chart for errors. A caveat: The form “mass’rs,” which functions as a frequent possessive in the Era and is reprinted in chapter 10 of later editions, is arguably an error in form but is not treated as an error in execution for this analysis because it does not involve contraction spacing.
  2. I am simplifying here to describe the typographical conventions as practiced in these editions. Typographical conventions for conventional space widths differed over print history and within printing traditions. See Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography.
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