From Literary Anecdotes About 20th Century Authors

Printers' errors form a thriving sub-genre of the literary anecdote. I will end this book with two examples.

In his autobiographical volume Memories, Charles Kegan Paul tells of a writer who had occasion to describe a tract of land between the base of a volcanic mountain and the sea, and who did so to his own satisfaction by relating that `the whole plain was strewn with erratic blacks'. But the printer must have been thinking of something else; for when in due course the book was published, the author was dismayed to find that he had been made responsible for stating that `the whole plain was strewn with erotic blacks'.

Many years ago the late Dr. R. B. McKerrow told me an astonishing story about an edition of the letters of Madame de Sévigné. When the galley proofs began to reach the editor, he found that the proof-reader had his own idea of how to spell Madame de Sévigné's name, for he kept querying the accent on the first syllable. The editor meticulously wrote `stet' beside each query; but with the next batch of proofs the process of query and `stet' began all over again. When finally the page proofs arrived and the persistent proof-reader was still querying the accent, the editor lost his patience. Addressing himself to the proof-reader on the margin of the proof, he demanded that this futile exercise should stop. But now it was the printer's turn. When the editor at last received an advance copy of his book, he was horrified to find in the middle of one of Madame de Sévigné's letters the very words that he had written in anger on the final proof:

`For God's sake, stop popping up between Madame de Sévigné and me!'
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