As anyone who’s edited a paper, article, or blog post knows, it’s impossible to avoid errors. The Fehlerteufel delights in seeding prose with typos, while other gremlins cheerfully wreak havoc on images and layout. The hand press period is no exception. Take, for example, the curious case of quire (2D), a gathering of eight leaves in the second volume of Charles Cotton’s English translation of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (London: Printed for T. Bassett, M. Gilliflower and W. Hensman, 1686) held in Penn’s Geoffrey Day Collection of Laurence Sterne. Its pagination has clearly fallen victim to the Fehlerteufel, thus:
The experienced reader of early printed texts, seeing this mish-mash, might simply sigh and move on. Since pagination is less important to the correct ordering of a hand press book than signature marks—letter- or symbol-number combinations on the rectos (front pages) of leaves which indicate how to fold the sheet and arrange the quires—or catchwords—the first word or syllable of the next page printed as the last line of the current one—errors in pagination proliferate. So it’s more troubling to note that quire (2D)’s signature marks are also disordered:
This could indicate an error by the binder, misfolding the sheet or (when rebinding) misordering the individual leaves. But a check of the catchwords reveals that the text of the recto (front) and verso (back) of each leaf is mismatched throughout the quire. That is, instead of the text of (2D)1r being followed by that of (2D)1v, (2D)2r by (2D)2v, and so on, we have this sequence:
(2D)1r with (2D)3v
(2D)4r with (2D)2v
(2D)3r with (2D)1v
(2D)2r with (2D)4v
(2D)5r with (2D)7v
(2D)8r with (2D)6v
(2D)7r with (2D)5v
(2D)6r with (2D)8v
Which means that at the end of the first page of the quire, for instance, we break off mid-sentence (“Let us lay aside this infinite Confusion of Opinions, which we see even amongst the Philosophers themselves, and this perpetual and universal Dispute about the …”), turn over, and find ourselves in the middle of a different sentence (“with Falshood, as with Truth …”) The facing pages, treacherously enough, read continuously, but every page turn sends the reader elsewhere in the essay.
In a word: ouch.
How did this happen? Let us consider how leaves are laid out in the press. The outer forme (containing the text of the “outside” pages of the quire) of a standard imposition in octavo (eight leaves to a sheet) should look like this:
And the corresponding inner forme (containing the text of the “inside” pages to be printed on the other side of the sheet) should look like this:
If, however, you are distracted (perhaps after a three-beer luncheon) and accidentally flip your sheet 180 degrees when printing the inner forme, you get this instead:
And if your binder (perhaps annoyed not to have been invited along to the pub) does not inform you of your blunder and folds the sheet so as to start the quire properly with leaf (2D)1r, you get exactly the sequence of disordered leaves with mismatched rectos and versos that we see in this copy. Mystery solved!*
The erroneous pagination is a separate problem. The Huntington Library copy of this edition digitized at Early English Books Online has the leaves of quire (2D) imposed in the proper order, giving a “correct” pagination sequence of 385, 402, 403, 388, 389, 404, 405, 392, 393, 408, 409, 396, 397, 412, 431, 400. Once again, ouch. And once again, a chart can help determine the nature of the error. Here are the leaves in their formes with their corresponding page numbers:
The inner forme is obviously the source of the weirdness. Not only does the previous quire, (2C), end with page 284, but the compositor of the outer forme has accurately enumerated her pages to account for those of the inner forme. Had the compositor of the inner forme followed her lead, we would have had this unremarkable sequence:
The next quire, (2E), does begin with page number 415, expecting the pagination to continue that of the inner forme. But the inner forme’s compositor has not only made a transposition error (“431” for “413”), but also bungled the sequence by numbering his first four pages consecutively. There is no easy fix to the outer forme to remedy the defects of the inner.
Let this be a lesson to us all: friends don’t let friends print drunk.
*The reader is encouraged (when sober) to print the outer and inner forme charts and place them back to back in both correct and incorrect orientations to see what results. I did this myself in the process of diagnosing the problem. Evidence-based cataloging for the win!