English as She Is Edited

A STUDY of the classics of English literature as they are edited for the use of schools sometimes yields unexpected profit to the seeker after knowledge. I met with a particularly fine example the other day, rich in surprising information which I feel it my duty to share with my fellow members of the Club. This information covers many branches of knowledge, — mythology, history, biography, zoölogy, literature, languages, geography, and others, —but I can give only a few specimens here. In mythology, for instance, we learn that the Graces were the daughters of Juno by Eurynome, thus boasting an origin even more miraculous than that of most of the goddesses and nymphs. We are informed, too, that Robin Goodfellow was a famous English outlaw and popular hero; also that Old Parr’s first name was Catherine, and that he was the sixth and last wife of Henry the Eighth. This last assertion, however, is qualified by the suggestion that ‘perhaps’ he was Thomas Parr, the noted English centenarian.

The Tremont House, which I had supposed to have been a once famous hostelry on the street of the same name in my native city, was, it seems, not a hotel at all but an old Boston family. A reference to the leap of the Mameluke Bey is elucidated by the explanation that ‘the first word means a dynasty of Egyptian Sultans from 1250 -1517, originally applied to Turkish slaves who were brought to Egypt, and massacred in Cairo in 1811’; while ‘the second word means the title of a military captain.’

The ‘Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk,’ are, according to this authority, actually Selkirk’s own composition, and it seems that we must congratulate William Cowper on a very successful piece of plagiarism. Flying Childers is generally supposed to have been an English race-horse of the eighteenth century, but evidently the world has been mistaken about him, for the note reads as follows: ‘Flying Childers (Hugh). 1827-1896. An English statesman who went to Australia as controller of the trade and customs.’

But perhaps the most remarkable of these annotations is that which reads: ‘Mentors, Isaac. 1642-1727. An English philosopher and mathematician; originator of a theory of light, colors, and gravity.’ I am afraid that there is an error here, and yet it is not the simple typographical error which it might seem to be, for the word annotated is actually ‘Mentors,’ and not ‘Newton’ as one might guess. I think, too, that I see how the error came about. The editor went through his book and drew off a list of the words and passages he wished to annotate. Then, when later he came to write the notes, he was unable to make out his own handwriting in the case of ‘ Mentors ’ and read the word as ‘Newton.’ (Why he pitched upon Sir Isaac instead of Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, Newton Upper Falls, Newton Lower Falls, Newton Corner, Newtonville, or West Newton, when he had so many Newtons to choose from, one can only guess.) The printers, however, with a facility acquired from wide experience with careless writing, deciphered the word correctly as ‘Mentors’ and so set it up, perhaps verifying it by referring to the text; but, not being so well informed on scientific matters, they trustfully ‘followed copy’ in the rest of the note. There, if any other member of the Club can give a more plausible explanation, I shall be glad to hear it. The only question that remains is, ‘Who read the proof?’

I have not exhausted the possibilities of this mine of curious information, for I wish to leave something for my followers to discover for themselves. I will simply add that the author of these valuable notes is a master of arts of a great American university. Long may old—— stand to promote the gentle art of annotation!