Annotations on E-Texts

Jack Lynch

I’ve been preparing electronic texts since the earliest days of the Web, mostly but not exclusively of eighteenth-century works. I’ve scanned some, typed others, and spatchcocked various public-domain E-texts together.

Since my primary audience for these texts is my students — which might range from nonmajor undergraduates through subject-specialist graduate students — I’ve worked hard to provide enough annotation to make the texts usable. And around 2020 I started experimenting with a new format for providing both short notes and longer, more discursive ones. They don’t follow the best standards for TEI, but, well, TEI-compliant texts aren’t readable in plain old web browsers, so I have to work with what I’ve got.

The short notes usually perform the function of a glossary. In a typical prose paragraph they might look like this:

He was angry, and said, Who would have you otherwise, you foolish Slut! Cease your Blubbering. I own I have demean’d myself; but it was only to try you: If you can keep this Matter secret, you’ll give me the better Opinion of your Prudence; and here’s something, said he, putting some Gold in my Hand, to make you Amends for the Fright I put you in. Go, take a Walk in the Garden, and don’t go in till your Blubbering is over: And I charge you say nothing of what has past, and all shall be well, and I’ll forgive you.

own = admit
try = test
charge = order

Glosses are centered, top-to-bottom, at the level of the paragraph, and most glosses fit comfortably in a line, but if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Things look different in verse:

Bless me! a Packet — “’Tis a stranger sues, [55] packet = letters; sues = begs
A Virgin Tragedy, an Orphan Muse.”
If I dislike it, “Furies, death and rage!”
If I approve, “Commend it to the Stage.” commend = recommend
There (thank my stars) my whole Commission ends,
The Play’rs and I are, luckily, no friends. [60] play’rs = actors
Fir’d that the House reject him, “’Sdeath I’ll print it, fir’d = angry; ’sdeath = I swear
And shame the Fools — your int’rest, sir, with Lintot.” interest = influence; Lintot, Pope’s publisher
Lintot, dull rogue! will think your price too much.”
“Not, sir, if you revise it, and retouch.”
All my demurs but double his attacks; [65] demurs = objections
At last he whispers, “Do, and we go snacks.” go snacks = share profits
Glad of a quarrel, strait I clap the door, strait = right away
“Sir, let me see your works and you no more.”

Now there’s a reason to keep the glosses short enough to fit on a single line, since anything more than that will interfere with the lineation of the verse.

Most of these glosses are simple synonyms, and I indicate them with an equals sign. They’re always context-sensitive: in any given passage want might mean desire, lack, or need, so I provide different glosses each time they appear. I’m always on the lookout for words whose meanings have changed since the words were written, but I also gloss words that might be current but unfamiliar to beginning students.

I don’t routinely explain outdated spellings — I trust readers to decode tripple, wou’d, chuse, extream, un-tam’d, and so on. But I might when I suspect confusion is possible, so I might provide “shew’d = shown” and “chirurgeon = surgeon.”

Not all the marginal notes are simple synonyms; sometimes I try to provide very brief discursive explanations. So I have “Lintot, Pope’s publisher” — not as detailed as a full note, but enough to get the sense of the line. And sometimes I try to explain complex syntax:

Friend to my Life, (which did not you prolong . . . did not you = if you did not

I’ve tried to make these glosses as readable as possible on large screens and small. I’ve also tried to be mindful of readers who don’t want to be bothered by interruptions: there are no hyperlinks, superscript note numbers, or asterisks and daggers. Readers who need no glosses can just ignore the right-hand side of the page.

The marginal glosses aspire to be nothing more than good enough. I could write a whole paragraph about how the guinea was introduced in 1663 and varied in worth before eventually settling down to twenty-one shillings in 1717, but for most purposes it’s good enough to know “guinea = a gold coin.” I know humour isn’t quite identical to “mood,” but it’s close enough for government work.

Most printed texts gloss a word just once and count on readers to keep its meaning in mind, but this format lets me repeat it as often as necessary, as with the eighteenth-century meanings of own ‘admit’, toilet ‘dressing table’, and want ‘lack’.

When I can’t squeeze an explanation into a single marginal note, I resort to a hyperlink to the longer notes at the bottom. These are just common-or-garden explanatory notes, and when I have a little more space than in the glosses I can afford to be more precise.

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