Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pirate Wednesday - Project Gutenberg

Today I'm going to reveal the source of all of the Pirate Wednesday stories I've posted so far. I've mentioned in the past that I have an old book about pirates. This is partly true. What I have is actually an ebook. A plain text transcription of a book published in 1924, thus in the public domain.

The book is called "The Pirates' Who's Who: Giving Particulars Of The Lives and Deaths Of The Pirates And Buccaneers" by Phillip Gosse. I found it through Project Gutenberg, where it is available in full for free in many formats. I think Project Gutenberg is such a cool idea - they're compiling plain text transcriptions of as many public domain works as they can, and making them as accessible as possible. I use their content all the time. It was started in the 70's by a guy named Michael Hart, who is still the head of the project, and one of a very few actual staff. All of the real work is done completely by volunteers.

Below is the first few paragraphs from the preface of the book, which I think are funny because Gosse is defending the existence of the book itself. In this day and age, its rare that someone has to justify their writings as an acceptable use of scarce resources. If that was the case, Blogger probably wouldn't exist, and this site certainly would not. It's so cool to think how far we've come in just 80 years, to a point where basic publishing costs are virtually nonexistent. I'm excited by the idea that now, for the first time ever, the individual has not only nearly unlimited access to information, but also the ability to converse and interact with the rest of civilization at no real cost. What a time to be alive.


Let it be made clear at the very outset of this Preface that the pages which follow do not pretend to be a history of piracy, but are simply an attempt to gather together, from various sources, particulars of those redoubtable pirates and buccaneers whose names have been handed down to us in a desultory way.

I do not deal here with the children of fancy; I believe that every man, or woman too--since certain of the gentler sex cut no small figure at the game--mentioned in this volume actually existed.

A time has come when every form of learning, however preposterous it may seem, is made as unlaborious as possible for the would-be student. Knowledge, which is after all but a string of facts, is being arranged, sorted, distilled, and set down in compact form, ready for rapid assimilation. There is little fear that the student who may wish in the future to become master of any subject will have to delve into the original sources in his search after facts and dates.

Surely pirates, taking them in their broadest sense, are as much entitled to a biographical dictionary of their own as are clergymen, race-horses, or artists in ferro-concrete, who all, I am assured, have their own "Who's Who"? Have not the medical men their Directory, the lawyers their List, the peers their Peerage? There are books which record the names and the particulars of musicians, schoolmasters, stockbrokers, saints and bookmakers, and I dare say there is an average adjuster's almanac. A peer, a horse, dog, cat, and even a white mouse, if of blood sufficiently blue, has his pedigree recorded somewhere. Above all, there is that astounding and entertaining volume, "Who's Who," found in every club smoking-room, and which grows more bulky year by year, stuffed with information about the careers, the hobbies, and the marriages of all the most distinguished persons in every profession, including very full details about the lives and doings of all our journalists. But on the club table where these books of ready reference stand with "Whitaker," "ABC," and "Ruff's Guide to the Turf," there is just one gap that the compiler of this work has for a long while felt sorely needed filling. There has been until now no work that gives immediate and trustworthy information about the lives, and--so sadly important in their cases--the deaths of our pirates and buccaneers.

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