Saturday, January 23, 2010

Complete Book: Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, edited by Charles Dickens

[post 059]

Today I introduce yet another new feature to this blog, a complete book in the form of a pdf file suitable for reading online, downloading, or printing. Because of legal issues, most if not all books presented here will be from the pre-copyright era, roughly a century or more ago, and therefore of a historical nature.

We start off with a classic, the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, edited by none other than Charles Dickens (pseudonym Boz). Grimaldi (1779–1837) was perhaps the most celebrated clown who ever lived, the clown credited with elevating the craft to an art form, the man from whom latter-day clowns derived the nickname "joey." If you want a quick introduction to Grimaldi, go to post 002 on this blog and take a look at chapter five (pp.8–14) from my book Clowns.

How these memoirs apparently came about is its own story, here summed up by our good friend Dr. Wikipedia:

The book's accuracy is not entirely clear, since it went through a number of revisions, not all with Grimaldi's input. Grimaldi's original manuscript, which he mostly dictated, was about 400 pages; he completed it in December 1836. The original "excessively voluminous" version was apparently not good enough for publication, and in early 1837 he signed a contract with a collaborator, the obscure Grub Street writer Thomas Egerton Wilks, to "rewrite, revise, and correct" the manuscript. However, two months after signing the contract, Grimaldi died, and Wilks finished the job on his own, not only cutting and condensing the original but introducing extra material based on his conversations with Grimaldi. Wilks made no indication which parts of his production were actually written by Grimaldi and which parts were original to Wilks. He also chose to change Grimaldi's first-person narration to the third person.

In September 1837, Wilks offered the Memoirs to Richard Bentley, publisher of the magazine Bentley's Miscellany. Bentley bought it, after securing the copyright from Grimaldi's estate, but he thought it was still too long and also badly edited, so he asked one of his favorite young writers, the novelist Charles Dickens, then twenty-five years old, to re-edit and re-write it. At first Dickens was not inclined to take the job, and he wrote to Bentley in October 1837:

"I have thought the matter over, and looked it over, too. It is very badly done, and is so redolent of twaddle that I fear I cannot take it up on any conditions to which you would be disposed to accede. I should require to be assured three hundred pounds in the first instance without any reference to the sale -- and as I should be bound to stipulate in addition that the book should not be published in numbers I think it would scarcely serve your purpose."

However, Bentley agreed to Dickens' terms (a guarantee of three hundred pounds and an agreement to publish the book all at once, and not in monthly numbers.) Dickens signed a contract in November 1837, and completed the job in January 1838, mostly by dictation. Dickens seems never to have seen Grimaldi's original manuscript (which remained in the hands of the executor), but only worked from Wilks' version, which he heavily edited and re-wrote. Bentley published it in two octavo volumes in February 1838.

How faithful this twice-edited, twice-rewritten version is to the original cannot now be determined, since the original manuscript was sold at an estate sale in 1874 and has never been seen since.

Tech Note: The scan of this book is by Google, which you may have heard is ruffling a lot of feathers by trying to digitize every book they can get their hands on, copyright be damned. As far as I can tell, what they do is scan the book as an image, that's all, nothing but a bunch of dumb pixels that don't even know they're banding together to form language. Google makes no attempt to perform OCR (optical character recognition), which would translate the image of text into individual letters and words a computer can recognize separate from one another, thus allowing for searching topics, copying & pasting, editing, etc. The reason they don't do this is that OCR software is not 100% accurate, especially when applied to old books, so for it to come out right someone would have to spend hours.... and hours... and hours of proofreading the entire book. Unfortunately, an old scanned book is harder on the eyes than one converted to crisp, clear text but — you know what they say — you get what you pay for.


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