When we rediscovered century-old paper-covered books in our basement a couple of years ago, the collection included four volumes from Street & Smith’s Humor Library. We have previously converted three of these (Atchoo!, Jiglets and What’s Your Hurry?) into eBooks, and now the fourth and final title in our collection has also become available.
Like two of the three aforementioned volumes, Step Lively! was written by vaudevillian George Niblo and consists of a transcript of one of his comedy routines accompanied by cartoons. Like the other volumes, the humor here relies largely on puns and stereotypes and is unlikely to induce much laughter from a modern reader. Still, it provides further documentation of a once-popular entertainment form from an earlier time.
If you care to read the entire book, you can find it on Project Gutenberg for download or online reading. If for some reason you just can’t get enough George Niblo, you can find one more volume of the Humor Library on the Internet Archive, courtesy of Harvard University: There and Back; or, A Little Trip to Humorville.
A few months after the release of our previous Captain Wilbur Lawton eBook, The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept Seas, we have begun another Distributed Proofreaders project for a title by the pseudonymous author. The Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice is the first of six volumes about adventures in the navy, released just a few years before the beginning of World War I.
To help bring this century-old adventure into the digital age, you can learn how the proofreading process works in this blog post, then proceed to the project page to begin work.
Hot on the heels of Motor Matt’s “Century” Run comes another issue of Motor Stories: Motor Matt’s Race; or, The Last Flight of the Comet. In this adventure, the series’ conflicted view of race is brought to the fore: the plot revolves around Matt’s part-Native American friend Tom Clipperton being wrongfully accused of a crime. He is unwilling to present evidence that could save him because it would further expose him to the community’s racism; he also takes a fatalistic view due to the all-white jury. At the same time, Tom himself readily uses slurs against other races, and the book itself portrays other Native Americans in as offensively stereotypical a way as it possibly could. All of this makes the book an interesting (and sometimes disconcerting) sociological study.
Following the main story, the book contains some filler material that further emphasizes that this is a product of a different time: an article about strange fish found near Cape Cod (including an obscure creature called the “horse-mackerel” or “tuna” that is sometimes eaten overseas) and an explanation of how fireflies generate light using vacuums and the ether.
The whole book can be read online or downloaded from Project Gutenberg.
Our latest Distributed Proofreading project is yet another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel: Lancaster’s Choice. This title, reportedly one of the author’s personal favorites, was originally published in the short-lived New York Monthly Fashion Bazaar, a departure from the more mainstream story papers that hosted most of Mrs. Miller’s stories. The edition we have digitized is a later reprint from the Arthur Westbrook Company’s Hart Series.
To learn more about how you can help create a modern electronic edition of this long-forgotten novel, read this earlier post. When you’re ready to begin work, you can visit the project page to get started!
It’s been a few months since we released the second issue of Motor Stories through Project Gutenberg. After a bit of a wait, the third issue is now here. In Motor Matt’s “Century” Run; or, The Governor’s Courier, heroic motor enthusiast Matt King finds himself helping local law enforcement break up a gang of smugglers who defy the Chinese Exclusion Act.
As is usual for the series, there’s plenty of fast-paced action as well as some signs of the changing times in which the story was written. Perhaps most interesting is the tension, also seen in earlier volumes, between clearly racist views (blood determines behavior, ethnic slurs are part of normal conversation) and more open-minded perspectives (characters question the fairness of Chinese exclusion, the villains aren’t portrayed simply as one-dimensional evil-doers). While the contemporary reader will undoubtedly see a lot more bad than good here, it is nonetheless interesting to see even small cracks in the racist assumptions of the period’s literature, as well as to observe discussions of contemporary social issues in what is otherwise a lightweight adventure novel for youthful readers.
More Motor Matt adventures will be coming soon. In the meantime, you can find the full text of this issue online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be easily downloaded to the reading device of your choice.
Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 801
The “boy’s success story” genre made up a relatively small but significant percentage of the dime novel and story paper universe. Within this genre, the long-running Fame and Fortune Weekly was one of the most notable titles. Our latest eBook release through Distributed Proofreaders is one of the later issues of this publication, no. 801, from February 4, 1921.
The bulk of each issue of Fame and Fortune was devoted to a short novel. This issue’s offering is Dick Darling’s Money; or, The Rise of an Office Boy. While some of the success fiction of the time was often designed to inspire its readers to better behavior — and, indeed, the hero of this tale is a nice guy who is richly rewarded — the actual narrative shows little direct correlation between good behavior and financial benefits. Instead, in true dime novel fashion, a series of random incidents occur, culminating with Dick Darling becoming rich, not because of his skill or personality, but by sheer dumb luck. This ending is foreshadowed through encounters with a gypsy fortune-teller (perhaps not the sort of Fortune usually alluded to by the periodical’s title). Interestingly, the story’s portrayal of gypsies, while highly stereotypical, is at the same time surprisingly positive.
Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 341
The rest of the issue is filled out with an astonishingly brief serial installment, a short story, capsule articles of unusual news (such as a discussion of a school where conflicts are resolved through teacher-moderated fist-fights), and many advertisements (one of which features a product that rather shockingly promotes itself to children by encouraging them to play pranks on people of other races).
The whole issue can be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg. Readers might also be interested in seeing the original page images in our Digital Library or in comparing this issue to Fame and Fortune Weekly no. 341, which features a more colorful cover and includes an earlier appearance of Dick Darling’s Money in a slightly longer form.
Today marks the release of the 50th Project Gutenberg eBook drawn from our digital collections. The previous 49 titles are listed here.
The title which brings us to this milestone is Little Nobody, another story paper melodrama from the pen of Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller. This novel follows the adventures of Eliot Van Zandt, a Boston newspaper reporter visiting New Orleans. This being a Mrs. Miller novel, those adventures include a fair amount of romance and mayhem.
While many Mrs. Miller novels have held up surprisingly well for the modern reader, this one features a crucial plot twist built around a fundamentally racist premise, a fact which rather diminishes the pleasure of reading it. Still, there is some value in documenting the bad along with the good — seeing the way certain ideas of race were ingrained into popular culture at a time when the Civil War was still within living memory provides an interesting historical perspective and sheds light on what were likely common social attitudes of the time.
To see the story for yourself, you can read it online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in the some of the most popular electronic formats.
Another Distributed Proofreaders project using images from Villanova’s Digital Library has just opened up. The Scientific Tourist through Ireland is an 1818 travel guide discussing “antiquity, art, science, and the picturesque” in Ireland, “arranged by counties.” In addition to all of this information, the book also includes several maps and plates.
If you’re interested in seeing what travelers were interested in nearly two centuries ago, please join us in preserving this vintage book as a new electronic edition. First, read our earlier blog post about how the proofreading process works, then dive in at the project page.
Our latest Distributed Proofreaders project is another early Beadle’s Dime Novel written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, who also happens to be the author of the very first book in the series, Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. This title, Sybil Chase; or, The Valley Ranche, is a self-described “tale of California life,” first published in 1861.
If you are interested in helping create a modern electronic edition of this vintage book, first read our earlier post about the proofreading system, then proceed to the project page.
Our latest completed Distributed Proofreaders project is Samuel G. Bayne’s On an Irish Jaunting-car through Donegal and Connemara, the author’s commentary on a trip to explore a variety of scenic and historic sites in Ireland.
The book is rather peculiar, mixing stretches historical summary and topographical description with personal observations and anecdotes. Neither the terrain nor the author’s journey is given enough detail to make this feel like either a travel narrative or a travel guide; instead, it reads more like a lightly edited personal notebook.
While it doesn’t exactly provide a satisfying whole, the book does contain a variety of unusual little episodes, such as this description (accompanied by a photo) of transporting livestock by curragh:
We had a drove of pigs on board, and their feet were tied together with ropes, the four in a bunch, and the animals piled up in the curraghs till the boats would hold no more; then they were taken near the shore, liberated, and allowed to swim to land themselves. Their squealing and grunting was like an untrained Wagnerian band. There was a cow on board, and she was pushed from the gangway by main strength, plunging headlong into the waves; there was a short pause, when she reappeared, swam ashore, shook herself, and unconcernedly began eating grass, none the worse for her bath.
The rest of the book, which includes many further photographs, can be viewed online or downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats at Project Gutenberg.