Monday, December 20, 2010

"Little" Errors in Sources Online: Chesterton's "The Last Hero"

The world of the web is one where personal and source attribution are rare, making much of its content less more questionable, which is a shame because it is so rich. Online one finds "The Last Hero" by G. K. Chesterton in many places, but a difference I immediately noticed between submissions exists between them:
The wind blew out from Bergen, from the dawning to the day
There was a wreck of trees, a fall of towers, a score of miles away
There was a wreck of trees[_] and fall of towers a score of miles away,

(To the latter was added [_] to point out that the first also has a comma.) Notice that though a small detail, this is a difference of major significance. In the former version the grammar equivocates "wreck of" and "fall of", "trees" and "towers"; in the latter, that's less likely, though a possible interpretation: it's more ambiguous (which may have actually led, in the mind of a reader, to the former); the second version is actually the original according to this poem's inscription in actual books as opposed to what is found on the web, and the former is a version found online wherever the poem has been submitted by one "Tom Burrows",



Though the Burrows version is attributed (to Burrows), no source for the text is provided. And neither version, on any website I've found, gives an origin for the text as the site displays. This isn't a rant, however, at why it's bad to use online sources, or their supposed greater inaccuracies than print editions, etc.. The latter excerpted version, the correct one, is found online as well. I found it first on a site dedicated to getting Chesterton's works online, <>, which if you think about it, might by the nature of its purpose be counted as more reliable (have *some* trust, but verify...) as long as the worker or workers are careful. But the best source found online was a scanned-in book of Chesterton's poems itself, found in Google books, <>, unfortunately buried under new editions and compilations made probably for little reason other than to have a copyright and profit off the man's work, (and also other mens' work in some books), and fortunately not un-viewable, as often even public domain works are in Google books, because of confusion caused to the machine by such editions. (Note I didn't count the scanned book by google as a or on a website; though it's accessed through a website, it's displayed through, not built as part of, that site.)

Rather than the web being some terrible source of information, those who use it must be critical handlers of their information and sources, similar with the works of academics and scholars, peer reviewed or not, which is controversial these days given that academia hates to having any doubt thrown upon its approved literature or consensuses. But it's very true: a community that puts trust in such things just because members thereof have jointly approved something, or just because of consensus, is one where critical thinking has been lost. This little exercise was just one in textual differences, resolved quickly by finding alternative versions, from which one could know that somethings wrong, and another avenue, either weighing the nature of the sites and their contributors, or finding a more primary source, could be pursued to provide more information, whether questions to ask or answers to the origin of differences or resolution to the question of authenticity.

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