The manuscript that is to be printed, or a book that is to be reprinted; in short, any subject that is to be printed, is termed Copy.
Where it is possible, copy should always be kept locked up in a fire proof closet. As it is rare for an author to have a duplicate, the loss of the manuscript would in many instances be irretrievable; it is also necessary to be very careful of the copy of new editions, in which the author or editor has made alterations; of all posthumous MS. works; and of unique copies, which sometimes are entrusted to the printer, the loss or destruction of which would be an unpardonable offence, unless it could be shown that all human precautions had been taken for their preservation.
I cannot omit noticing the careless manner in which many compositors keep their copy, leaving it loose on their frames and in their windows, and frequently neglecting to shut them when they quit work in summer, by which means the copy is sometimes blown away and lost, and at other times portions of it are destroyed as waste paper. The best method of preserving it is to have a paper case, or an old book cover, to put it in, and to keep it in the well of the frame, or the drawer when there is one.
Copy is generally given out to the compositor in regular portions: if it be printed, a sheet at a time; if in manuscript, a chapter, or section, as it may be; for the compositor has never the whole volume in his hands at once, excepting it be bound, and not allowed to be cut up, or taken to pieces. If the author supply it in small quantities at a time, it is usually handed to the compositor as it is received.
Many gentlemen who write for the press fall into an error, that appears inconsistent even with common reasoning; viz. that the worse the manuscript is written, the more likely the work is to be correctly printed: for, say they, the more difficulty the printer meets with in reading it, the more pains he is obliged to take to understand the subject; and of course he will print it more accurately than if he could pass it over in a slovenly manner.
In refutation of this prevalent error, I would ask those gentlemen, if they have never received letters from their friends, so hastily and carelessly written that their utmost efforts to decipher every word have been baffled, although they might arrive at the general meaning of the whole; I have myself seen letters which set at defiance all attempts to read them: I would ask those gentlemen, whether in examining ancient MSS. they have not often been perplexed in making out the subject, and after all their endeavours have at last risen from the task in many instances rather guessing at the meaning than being certain of it.
Even so, and worse, is the case of the printer with ill-written manuscript, who frequently is ignorant of the subject on which he is engaged; how then is it probable that he should produce a proof as correct as if the manuscript were written in a fair legible hand? — it is neither probable nor possible. I have known more than one author, when appealed to for information on his own writing, unable to read it, and of course unable to explain to the workman the difficulty he was labouring under; and I have heard one of these very persons, among others, maintain, that the worse a manuscript was written, the more probability there was of its being correctly printed.
By the Act of the 39 G. 3. t. 79. s. 29. it is enacted, “That every Person who, from and after the Expiration of forty Days after the passing of this Act, shall print any Paper for Hire, Reward, Gain, or Profit, shall carefully preserve and keep one Copy (at least) of every Paper so printed by him or her, on which he or she shall write, or cause to be written or printed, in fair and legible Characters, the Name and Place of Abode of the Person or Persons by whom he or she shall be employed to print the same; and every Person printing any Paper for Hire, Reward, Gain, or Profit, who shall omit or neglect to write, or cause to be written or printed as aforesaid, the Name and Place of his or her Employer on one of such printed Papers, or to keep or preserve the same for the Space of six Calendar Months next after the Printing thereof, or to produce and shew the same to any Justice of the Peace, who, within the said Space of six Calendar Months, shall require to see the same, shall, for every such Omission, Neglect, or Refusal, forfeit and lose the Sum of twenty Pounds.”