Proof-reading and correcting issues of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I’m finding it very satisfying, and absolutely fascinating. I’m one of many volunteers contributing to the Dickens Journals Online’s project to create a complete online copy of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round which were first published between 1850 and 1870. Some of Dickens’ books, such as Great Expectations, were originally published in weekly instalments in these magazines, but they also covered many other topics, including travel writing, politics and general interest articles.
The journals have all been scanned and converted to text files using optical character recognition. The task of the volunteers is to correct any errors from the OCR and tidy up the formatting. I’ve found some journals quite easy, just correcting occasional words, though a couple of pages of my first issue had the columns of text merged into one another and took some time to disentangle. There are some 30000 pages to correct, and the target is to finish in time for the Charles Dickens’ bicentenary in February 2012. Progress has been good so far – 41% of the journals corrected – and all of them allocated to someone to correct.
One great result of the project will be that the journals become searchable, and I couldn’t resist searching for local place names. There weren’t many mentions of Shooters Hill; the most interesting was from September 1851 where Shooters Hill is seen as a haven to escape from the odours and perils of London:
HEARING and seeing all we do of London, with its Thames water, odorous, sewerage, precipitous wooden pavement; its Smithfield, its Guildhall balls to Royalty, its earnest and liberal patronage of dirt and filth, few strangers, whether provincial or continental, would dream of the existence of such places as Shooters Hill, Kew, Hendon, or Hampstead, at but a few miles of omnibus or steam-boat distance.
Nowhere near as engaging as Dickens’ marvellous, murky and muddy description of the 1775 ascent of Shooters Hill in A Tale of Two Cities.
Woolwich and Greenwich are mentioned many more times, including an interesting Eye Witness Account of work at the Woolwich Arsenal in 1859, and a multitude of whitebait dinners at Greenwich!
One that particularly caught my eye, and which resonates with 21st century discussion about the pronunciation of Greenwich, was an article entitled “Valentines Day at the Post Office” from 30th March 1850. This concludes with a section on misaddressed letters that the postmen have to decipher:
For the next specimen of spelling there is some excuse. ‘In England,’ says a French traveller, ‘what they write “Greenwich,” they pronounce “Grinitch,” and I am not quite sure that when they set down “Solomon,” they do not pronounce it “Nebuchadnezzar.” ‘ ‘I much question,’ continued one of the amateur Post-Office inspectors, ‘ if either of us had never seen the name of the place to which the following superscription applies, that we should not have spelt it nearly similarly to the correspondent of —
2 Compney 7 Batilian
‘Although the writer’s ear misled him grievously in the other words, he has recorded the sound into which we render Woolwich with curious correctness.’
So it’s Grinitch, fine, …. but Owilige?