|Publishing Outside the Box…|
Mark Twain, 6 – Proofreaders, 1
Mark Twain, 1893
I’ve said from time to
time — often while trying to disabuse writers of myths about punctuation — if
you’re looking for an example of excellent prose style, simply open up
by Mark Twain. Practically any of his books will do. When in doubt
you’re usually better off reading him than searching through style
To James R. Osgood & Co., 1883:
In proof-reading I shall cause you no delay — but I don’t answer for Mrs. Clemens, who has not edited the book yet, and will of course not let a line of the proof go from here till she has read it and possibly damned it. But she says she will put aside everything else, and give her entire time to the proofs.
No, I don’t want to read proof of the
old Atlantic matter — but
I want it read almighty carefully in
To Fred J. Hall, 1889:
You are perfectly right. The proofreader must follow my punctuation absolutely. I will not allow even the slightest departure from it.
To W. D. Howells, 1889:
Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.
To J. H. Harper, 1894:
Will you make an order in writing & attach it to my MS., & sign it & back it with your whole authority, requiring the compositor & proof-reader to follow my copy EXACTLY, in every minute detail of punctuation, grammar, construction and (in the case of proper names, spelling)…. I am thus urgent because I know that the Century proof-reader is insane on the subject of his duties, & it makes me afraid of all the guild.
Dear C & W:
I give it up. These printers pay no attention to my punctuation. Nine-tenths of the labor & vexation put upon me by Messrs. Spothiswoode & Co consists in annihilating their ignorant & purposeless punctuation & restoring my own.
This latest batch, beginning with page 145 & running to page 192 starts out like all that went before it — with my punctuation ignored & their insanities substituted for it. I have read two pages of it — I can't stand any more. If they will restore my punctuation themselves & then send the purified pages to me I will read it for errors of grammar & construction — that is enough to require of an author who writes as legible a hand as I do, & who knows more about punctuation in two minutes than any damned bastard of a proof-reader can learn in two centuries.
Conceive of this tumble-bug interesting himself in my punctuation — which is none of his business & with which he has nothing to do — & then instead of correcting mis-spelling, which is in his degraded line, striking a mark under the word & silently confessing that he doesn't know what the hell to do with it! The damned half-developed foetus!
But this is the Sabbath Day, & I must not continue in this worldly vein.
P.S. These are not revises — they are first-proofs, & bad ones at that.
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