Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

How *do* you spell that?: Adventures in Spelling Reform

October 18th, 2017

The relationship between the pronunciation of English and its system of spelling (or orthography) is inconsistent at best. Cough and through or great and meat appear as though they should rhyme, but (alas!) do not. Other words are spelled identically, but are pronounced differently according to their meaning, for example, “bow and arrow” vs. “Congratulations! Take a bow.

Within the American context, Noah Webster is perhaps the figure best known for tackling spelling reform. At the end of his Dissertations on the English Language (1789), he includes an essay addressing this topic. In it, he appeals to national pride (in both the positive and negative senses of that phrase) and asks his readers a rather leading question:

…ought the Americans to retain these faults [in English spelling] which produce innumerable inconveniencies in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

The revolutionary sentiment of America’s recent War of Independence, it seems, animated Webster’s thinking on orthography as well.

Image of the first page of Noah Webster's "Appendix: An Essay on the Necessity, Advantages, and Praticability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling, and of Rendering the Orthography of Words Correspondent to the Pronunciation"

Laying out a revolution in an appendix: Noah Webster’s essay on spelling reform in his Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical, to Which Is Added, by Way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on That Subject. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514. Click image to enlarge.

Webster’s  essay continues by proposing a series of relatively radical alterations. He advocates for 1) the omission of all superfluous or silent letters (changing bread to bred, give to giv, built to bilt, and so on),  2) the replacement of characters with vague or indeterminate sounds by characters with more clearly-defined ones (changing laugh to laf and key to kee), and 3) making a “trifling” alteration to a character in order to help differentiate between sounds (such as adding a “small stroke” across “th” to distinguish between the sounds in “thorn” and “mother”).

Image of a passage outlining Webster's second proposed reform to orthography

Machine vs. Masheen: a passage outlining the second of Noah Webster’s three proposed reforms to American orthography from page 395 of his Dissertations on the English Language […]. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514

Although Webster did not ultimately adopt all of these proposals in his subsequent (and immensely popular) grammars and dictionaries, he did aid in establishing several changes that are still with us today. Americans now write of the defense of honor, but for the British, or even our Canadian neighbors (to them, neighbours!), it remains the defence of honour.  This national differentiation through orthography was something that Webster considered to be a point in favor of his proposed changes. Webster also argued that his reforms would “facilitate the learning of the language” for both children and non-native speakers alike. They would make it, he asserted in a memorable phrase, “as difficult to spell wrong, as it is now to spell right” (emphasis Webster’s).

Leap ahead 60 years and the Fonetic Advocat  (Phonetic Advocate) adopts an even more radical approach to spelling reform than that of Noah Webster. Published in “Sinsinati” (Cincinnati) in the mid-nineteenth century, the periodical announces in the phonetic spelling of its banner that it is “devoted to education by means of the spelling reform to literature, science and art.”

First page of the Fonetic Advocat for 15 May 1850, with its text in the English Phonotypic Alphabet.

Sound it out?  The front page of the Fonetic Advocat. Vol. II, No. 20 (May 15, 1850). Call #: MS P286C:1.
Click image to enlarge.

Its publisher, E. Longley, was the director of the American Phonetic Society. Longley championed the use of the English Phonotypic Alphabet, which had recently been developed in England by Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis.  This phonetic alphabet predates and differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet now used by linguists to specify the sounds of spoken language.  Try your hand at reading Longley’s front-page proclamation. If you get stuck, click here to consult the phonetic alphabet chart included on the periodical’s next page.

The issue of the Fonetic Advocat shown above bears an interesting provenance. It once passed through the hands of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, yet another figure interested in spelling reform. Shaw was so concerned with the subject that he left a bequest to explore the establishment of an alternate phonetic alphabet. Interestingly, Shaw’s manuscript notation at the bottom the front page does not address the issue of phonetic spelling itself, but rather the typeface used for it. He writes, “This type, if ‘justified’ by [William] Morris, and the mutton quads [large spacing type] between the sentences taken out, would make a page of medieval beauty, far superior to any modern psalter.”

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
(Adapted from the Summer 2017 exhibition Histories of the English Language).

 

Banned Books Week: Redacted for the Inquisition

September 28th, 2017

September 24-30 is Banned Books Week, an annual event in which libraries and readers celebrate the freedom to read. With this in mind, today we feature several images from an early printed copy of The Divine Comedy by the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). The copy in question is from a 1512 edition printed by Bernadino Stagnino in Venice, a city that served as a vibrant center for early printing and the book trade. Stagnino’s edition combines a recently re-edited version of Dante’s text (1502) with an earlier commentary on the poem by the 15th century humanist scholar Cristoforo Landino.

But wait, you ask, what does this have to do with censorship? Sometime in the decades following its printing, Spencer’s copy traveled from Venice to Spain, and in the late 1500s fell under the review of the Inquisition and Catholic clerics concerned with religious orthodoxy and the spread of heretical ideas.  A manuscript notation in Spanish on the volume’s title page reads:  “Con comisión de los S[eñor]es Inquisidores teste y borre lo prohibido deste libro” (“With commission from the Señores Inquisitors cross out and erase what is prohibited in this book”) followed by the name [E]stevan Joan Velasco Vicario de S[an]t Nicolás (Esteban Juan Velasco, vicar of San Nicolás).*

Title page of 1512 edition of Dante's Comedia, with redaction command in manuscript.

“…cross out and erase what is prohibited in this book”: the title page, with notations in Spanish, of Spencer’s copy of Opere del die vino poeta Danthe [Divina Commedia]. Venice: Bernardino Stagnino, 1512. Call #: Summerfield C1189. Click image to enlarge.

A similar notation by a different cleric appears on the verso of the volume’s final page of text: “Por lo mandado de los señores inquisidores teste y borre lo prohibido en estas comedias del dante conforme a la censura del Sto Off[ci]o [h]oy a 25 de mayo de 1585. Fray Juan Vidal” (By the order of the señores inquisitors cross out and erase what is prohibited in these comedies of Dante according to the censure of the Holy Office today, 25 May 1585 Fray Juan Vidal).*

Detail of a second notation in Spanish from the end of the volume regarding the redaction of this copy.

In paging through the volume, readers will find several redacted passages of varying lengths. Landino’s commentary receives the most expurgation, though lines from Dante’s poem are redacted on occasion as well. In some places, an offending line is simply crossed out in ink, while longer passages have been papered over so as to render them illegible. Once the prohibited passages had been redacted, the volume could be retained and consulted.

Image of passages redacted in ink and by the pasting of paper on folio 29v and 30r

Passages in Landino’s commentary that have been redacted by the addition of blank paper slips and by crossing out lines of text in ink.

A later reader appears to have succeeded in removing much of the paper that once covered some of the offending passages. Although some discoloration remains from the glue used to affix the paper slips, the text is now visible.  You can also see the censor’s original ink dash, marking the portions of text to be redacted or pasted over.

Image of redactions to the commentary for the Purgatorio (f. 319v and 320r)

Text restored?: the yellowy-brown patches indicate sections where paper slips were once glued to cover over passages judged offensive. Some remnants of the paper are visible above in the block of text at the bottom left (click image to enlarge). Dante Alighieri. Opere del die vino poeta Danthe [Divina Commedia]. Venice: Bernardino Stagnino, 1512. Call #: Summerfield C1189.

As readers of Dante know, The Divine Comedy is divided into three sections or “canticles,” one for each of the three realms of the afterlife visited by the character of Dante over the course of the poem: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise).  As one might expect, most of the redacted passages appear in the Inferno. (It can be controversial to put historical personages, including Church leaders, in Hell, and to discuss the political and theological matters that result in damnation.) However, Spencer’s copy also contains at least one censored passage in both the text and commentary of the Purgatorio and Paradiso as well.

Image of redactions to Dante's text and Landino's commentary in the Paradiso, f. 359r and f. 360r.

Trouble in Paradise: expurgated passages in Dante’s verse and Landino’s commentary toward the end of Canto IX  in the “Paradiso” section of The Divine Comedy (click image to enlarge).  Dante Alighieri. Opere del die vino poeta Danthe [Divina Commedia]. Venice: Bernardino Stagnino, 1512. Call #: Summerfield C1189. This passage, which critiques the Vatican and Church leaders, is also redacted in a copy of a 1564 edition of Dante’s work (with commentaries) held at Brandeis University.

Spencer’s expurgated copy of the Dante’s Divine Comedy offers a fascinating material example of censorship in early modern Spain.  If this brief post has whet your appetite for exploring this subject further, consider visiting He who destroyes a good booke, kills reason it selfe, an online re-issue of a notable 1955 KU Libraries exhibition catalogue on intellectual freedom. The catalogue’s section on Spain contains examples of other volumes from the library’s collections that were censored under the Inquisition, including a book on proverbs by Juan de Aranda that has been redacted with ornamented slips.

Curious about more contemporary instances of censorship and challenges to books? Take look at the list of the top ten most challenged books of 2016, as compiled by the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Or, if you live in Lawrence, consider visiting the Lawrence Public Library, which will be distributing a different card in its 2017 Banned Books Trading Card series each day this week.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

*Transcriptions and translations courtesy of Professor Luis Corteguera, with additional insight from Professors Patricia Manning and Isidro Rivera.

Click on the thumbnails below for images of additional redacted passages in Spencer’s 1512 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy with commentary by Cristoforo Landino.

Small ink redaction to the commentary on f. 12r.  Image of Redactions to both Dante's verse (left, f84v) and Landino's commetary (right f85r)  Image of remnants of a paper-ever passage, f. 126v and 127r

Brian Aldiss, 1925-2017

August 31st, 2017

On August 19th, science fiction writer and critic Brian Aldiss died, a day after turning 92. In an obituary for The Guardian, fellow writer Christopher Priest characterized Aldiss as “by a long chalk the premier British science fiction writer.” As fans and scholars of speculative fiction around the world mourn this loss, some will be surprised to discover that part of the British writer’s literary legacy resides in Kansas: the Spencer Research Library a holds significant collection of papers for Aldiss, including materials for his Billion Year Spree and his Helliconia Trilogy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985), is among Aldiss’s most admired works. “This depiction of a world that circles a double star, where an orbital Great Year lasts long enough for cultures to emerge, prosper and fail,” Priest writes in his remembrance of Aldiss, “is a subtle, deeply researched and intellectually rigorous work.”

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, Lawrence, KS, 1983.

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel for Helliconia Spring (1982) in Lawrence, KS in 1983.  Call number: RG 0/19: Aldiss, Brian

The collection of Aldiss’s papers at KU provides a wealth of evidence for the research and rigor that went into his writings. The 25 boxes of materials for the Helliconia Trilogy include, for example, Aldiss’s extensive correspondence with scientists and scholars to determine the scientific basis for the world he was creating. Those consulted include Iain Nicholson of Hatfield Polytechnic Observatory on the subject of astronomy, Peter Cattermole of the University of Sheffield on geology and climate, and Tom Shippey, then at the University of Leeds, on the languages of the novel. The result is a world  striking in its attention to detail.

A selection of research Correspondence for the Helliconia Trilogy.

A selection of research correspondence with Iain Nicholson, Peter Cattermole, and Tom Shippey concerning the creation of Helliconia. Brian Wilson Aldiss Papers. Call #: MS 214: A.

Not only do these letters reveal the extent to which technical and scientific matters underpin the trilogy’s concept, plot, and themes, but they also offer lighter moments of humor between on-going collaborators. Aldiss, for example, begins a June 1981 letter to Cattermole by quipping, “Helliconian scholars have failed to study Helliconia’s sister planets in any depth; they have been too busy drinking the whisky out of their orrerys.” (MS 214:Aa:2:14a).  Writing again to Cattermole in September of 1982, following the publication of Helliconia Spring earlier that February, Aldiss reports,

Vol. 1 has been very well received, especially in the States; over here there were complaints, as you say, about names. Well, it’s no good building up an intense winter atmosphere in Embruddock and then call[ing] the sods Joe and Charlie. There will be more complaints of that nature with Vol II, where I have a vast character list, with over fifty speaking parts, but I see no way of evading the problem and so forge on hopefully.  Wait till you meet Queen MyrdalemInggala….. (MS 214Aa:2:16b)

Spencer Research Library’s collections also include manuscript materials for Aldiss’s groundbreaking Billion Year Spree (1973)subtitled “The True History of Science Fiction,” which he later expanded with David Wingrove into Trillion Year Spree (1986). The volume argues for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the birth of science fiction.

Aldiss’s ties to the University of Kansas grew out of his relationship with fellow science fiction writer and critic, James Gunn, Professor Emeritus of English and the founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “We were long-time friends, although an ocean between us limited our encounters,” Gunn explains.

I was a guest in his Oxford home for a couple of days after the founding of World SF in Ireland [in 1976], and he was a guest in my home during his author’s visit here.  We were competitors only in the writing of science-fiction histories.  We both started in 1971, but circumstances (and maybe the complexities of illustrations) held up Alternate Worlds (1975) [Gunn’s illustrated history of SF] for a couple of years.  When I wrote him for a photograph, he suggested that we exchange blurbs–that I would say his history was the best and he would do the same for mine.

Though the delay in the publication of Gunn’s Alternate Worlds meant that the exchange of blurbs never came to pass, researchers can explore both Aldiss’s and Gunn’s processes in writing their respective histories of science fiction by examining the collections of their papers at Spencer Research Library.

Cover of Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree (1974 paperback edition)  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975)

Left: Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973). Schocken paperback edition, second printing. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Call #: ASF B1245. Right: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds. First edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J : Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598.

In his introduction to Billion Year Spree, Aldiss mused, “Possibly this book will help further the day when writers who invent whole worlds are as highly valued as those who re-create the rise and fall of a movie magnate or the breaking of two hearts in a bedsitter. The invented universe, the invented time, are often so much closer to us than Hollywood or Kensington.” Thank you for those invented universes, Brian Aldiss.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Gegrindswile: KU’s Old English Word

June 5th, 2017

Old English is the earliest form of English spoken by the Germanic tribes residing in England between 5th-century CE through the middle of the 1100s. It is the language of Beowulf, and most speakers of modern English would find it largely unreadable without some training. The first lines of Beowulf, for example, are “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum / þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!” (Try your hand at translating the lines, then highlight the remainder of this parenthesis to see an English translation:  “Yes, we have heard of the greatness of the Spear-Danes’ high kings in days long past, how those nobles practiced bravery.“)*

In 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, William of Normandy earned his epithet “the Conqueror” by defeating the the forces of England’s King Harold. The Norman Conquest brought with it an influx of the French language from the new rulers and this combined with other linguistic influences to transform the English language over many decades, ultimately yielding Middle English, the language we associate with Chaucer.

Spencer Research Library holds three Old English leaves, each with its own fascinating story. The leaf shown below (in its recto and verso sides) is an early 11th century glossary giving brief definitions of difficult Latin words. Most of the glosses are also in Latin, but some are in Old English. The two sides of the leaf cover the Latin words interkalares to istingum.

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (recto). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1 Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (verso). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum.
Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 – 1010. Call #: MS Pryce P2A:1 Click images to enlarge.

Though rather weathered-looking, the leaf contains perhaps the sole surviving instance of an Old English word: gegrindswile. Like many words of Germanic origin, gegrindswile is a compound.  Its two parts —gegrind and swile– survive in other texts, but this leaf is the only instance recorded in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus of the two combined.  Together they form a single word meaning “a swelling caused by friction, a chafing or galling (of the skin),” which glosses the Latin word intertrigenes.

Old English word "gegrindswile" glossing the Latin word "intertrigenes"

Look closely and  you’ll notice that gegrindswile contains a letter that does not survive, as such, in modern English: “ƿ.” This is the runic letter “wynn,” which represents our modern “w” sound.  KU holds only a single leaf (two pages) from the glossary; however, the British Library holds a seemingly related manuscript. Its collections include a Latin glossary for the letters A-F, also with Old English glosses, written in the same scribal hand as KU’s leaf.

This leaf is currently on display as part of Spencer’s Research Library’s exhibition Histories of the English Language:

Histories of the English Language Exhibit Title

From the Old English of Beowulf to the Middle English of Chaucer to the many dialects that make up our modern tongue, the history of English is a history of change. Featuring materials from KU’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library, this exhibition explores English as embodied in the writings of its practitioners, whether celebrated authors, such as John Milton and Toni Morrison, or scholars, lexicographers, and  grammarians, such as Elizabeth Elstob, Samuel Johnson, Robert Lowth, and Noah Webster, or anonymous and little-known writers of “everyday” English. In manuscripts and books dating from 1000 CE to the present, visitors will encounter the varied forces at work growing, codifying, standardizing, governing, reforming, describing, and reinventing English.

The exhibition is free and open to the public in Spencer Research Library’s gallery space any time that the library is open.  Histories of the English Language will be on display through August.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

*The English translation of Beowulf is from that by R.D. Fulk in The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts and The Fight at Finnsburg. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 3. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press 2010. Call #: PR1583 .F85 2010 (Watson Library)

 

 

Yeats at KC Irish Fest

September 8th, 2015

The Irish collections from Special Collections at Spencer Library were represented at the Kansas City Irish Fest this past Labor Day weekend. We were asked by Irish Fest organizers to exhibit some items from our W. B. Yeats Collection to celebrate the sesquicentennial of his birth. Featured here are a few of the items selected by Special Collections Librarian Elspeth Healey.

KCIrishFest

Whitney Baker and Elspeth Healey at KC Irish Fest

 

Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909].

In this letter, we see Yeats’s generosity to other writers as he encourages his publisher, A. H. Bullen, to read the manuscript of a young poet that he had met in London. “There may be some fire in the flax,” he comments to Bullen. Though the letter’s dateline does not include a year, Yeats’s opening reference to the death of Irish writer J. M. Synge fixes the date as 1909. Just two years earlier, Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World had sparked audience protests when it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre. Some nationalist viewers objected the play’s language and what they saw as its unflattering portrayal of Irish peasant society.

MS_25_Wa_2_57

Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909]. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wa 2.57. Click image to enlarge.

 

Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918.

This typescript copy of “Tom O’Roughley” is signed and revised in manuscript by Yeats, with additional markings in pencil by the printer. It appeared in Nine Poems (1918), a collection printed privately by Yeats’s friend Clement Shorter. Shorter also printed for private circulation the first edition of Yeats’s poem “Easter 1916.” The “Tom O’Roughley” of this poem shares much with the figure of the “fool” outlined by Yeats in Phase 28 of A Vision (1925, 1937). There Yeats writes, “his thoughts are an aimless reverie; his acts are aimless like his thoughts, and it is in his aimlessness that he finds joy.”

MS_25_Wd.1.3_TomORoughley

Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wd.1.3 Tom O’Roughley. Click image to enlarge.

 

A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910)

W. B. Yeats’s sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) founded Cuala Industries in 1908, following an earlier printing and craft venture, Dun Emer Industries. Lily produced embroidery, and Lolly oversaw the Cuala Press, which brought out titles by primarily Irish writers, including many by W. B. Yeats himself. Below is an issue of A Broadside, a series that featured both contemporary and traditional poems and ballads. Each issue was printed in folio format—a single sheet folded once—and was illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts by Yeats’s brother, the artist Jack B. Yeats, who also edited the first series (1908-1915).

YeatsY339_No9Year2 _Page_1

A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910). Special Collections, call number Yeats Y339, No. 9, Year 2. Click image to enlarge.

 

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services