September 10

The life of a proofreader in France was made more carefree this day in 1572 when a royal edict was published, saying, “The master printers shall deliver to compositors only copy which has been revised, edited, and put in proper form, to the end that the labor of typesetting shall not be slowed down by defective copy.”

Some thirty years previously François I had issued regulations for the control of printing in Paris which had placed upon the proofreaders the complete responsibility for the production of correct texts. The controversial section of these regulations stated: “If the master printers producing books in Latin are not learned enough to correct the books which they print, they are required to employ capable correctors, under penalty of arbitrary fine. These correctors must correct the books with care and diligence, making their revisions in accord with classic standards, and in all respects do their duty. Otherwise they will be held liable for damages incurred through errors for which they are to blame.”

The exactness of the texts of books being printed in Paris during this period was a matter of great controversy among the scholars at the University. Chartier, a professor of medicine who was editing an edition of Hippocrates in both Greek and Latin, was unable in 1637 to obtain a corrector who had sufficient competence for the task and found it necessary to enlist the services of a learned friend. In some dudgeon, the Professor suggested that regulations be set governing the problem: “1. That all printed books in which appeared a certain number of errors should be suppressed. 2. That no master printer who did not know Greek and Latin should engage in the trade. 3. That the salaries of correctors should be generous and that only the most capable should be employed. 4. That there should always be three correctors who should read each proof in succession.”

It was observed that such proposed regulations were not practical as in themselves they did not explain just how and where such savants were to be obtained. Nevertheless the propositions were included in new regulations, although they were not rigidly enforced.

Finally in 1744 a Decree of Council provided that booksellers and printers who desired to act as correctors of their own editions could do just this, but that they would be responsible for any errors, which had to be corrected prior to the publication of the book.

G.A. Crapelet, writing in Paris in 1831 about the responsibilities of the proofreader, stated: “It is, in fact, impossible for a master printer, in addition to his general business responsibilities, to read proofs with that complete tranquility of spirit essential to this type of work. Education, intelligence, good memory, taste, patience, application, love of the art, and especially the typographic eye constitute the minimum qualifications required in the corrector to whom is entrusted the proofreading of the office.”

Leave a Reply