John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The grit in the oyster
I recently read, and mainly enjoyed, Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Hendry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. It was a refreshing, somewhat novelistic survey of the writers of the Concord circle.
But Martin Van Buren was not the incumbent president in the election of 1852, and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, not April 19, and noticing these slips in the text leaves me wondering how many other, unnoticed errors it might harbor.
This week’s book was Daniel Mark Epstein’s Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries. Looking at Lincoln and his administration through the perspective of John Nicolay and John Hay (and William Osborn Stoddard, about whom I had previously been unaware) was informative both about Lincoln’s character and his management of his administration. Mr. Epstein’s book is also gracefully written and insightful.
Still, I doubt that Hay was the bridegroom at Nicolay’s wedding and suspect that he was instead the best man.
I sat with my son in the October sunlight last year at the Festival-on-the-Hill in Bolton Hill, with a glass of McHenry beer and a plate of oysters on the half shell. That is nearly as good as life gets. The oysters were a little gritty, which did not erase the joy of the day, but it would have been a keener pleasure without the grit.
I admire and enjoy the work of Ms. Cheever and Mr. Epstein, but my pleasure would have been uncorrupted if someone — say a copy editor — had gone through their texts on the alert for the mishaps that befall even the best writers.