A person whose duty it is to read proofs in a printing office, for the purpose of correcting the errors, that are unavoidable from the nature of the process of arranging the types into words, lines, and pages.
After the compositor has corrected these errors in the form, a clean proof is pulled by the pressman, which, with the first proof, comes, in the regular routine of the business, to the reader again, to revise; that is, to compare the two carefully, to see that the errors that were first marked have been corrected, and to notice such as may have escaped the compositor's attention, as well as any additional ones that may have been made. The corrected proof is then sent to the author or editor, and if he makes many alterations, it is again corrected in the form; another proof is then pulled, which comes again to the reader, who revises the author's corrections, and reads it very carefully for press, to detect any errors that may have escaped the first reading, and also the author's notice; when it is laid on, the pressman pulls a revise, which is passed to the reader, who again carefully revises it, to see that all the errors are corrected, and that the margin and the workmanship are right, previous, to the sheet being printed off.
This is the usual routine in printing books; but in small establishments, the duties of a reader are performed generally by the overseer.
In large establishments, where there are several readers, I would invariably have the first proofs of any given work read by one and the same reader, and the press proofs also by one and the same but a different reader; in this case there would be an arrangement made between the readers, either orally or tacitly, with regard to the use of capitals, the orthography, compound words, the division of words, and the punctuation; an experienced compositor would consequently very soon fall into the method, and, knowing how the work was to be done, would have very little trouble with his proofs; and the whole would proceed with regularity and uniformity, and be more correct, than if the proofs had been indiscriminately given to any of the readers who might happen to be disengaged at the moment.
If this plan were followed, much injury to the work as well as vexation to the compositor would be avoided; for where the second proofs fall into the hands of different readers, it must necessarily happen that marks will be multiplied, from the different views which men entertain on the same points where there are no positive laws to refer to, but where arbitrary private judgment decides instead: thus, one reader differs from another with respect to the use of the capitals, as to the division of words, the orthography, and the punctuation; thus harassing and teazing the compositor, who is never certain under these circumstances what plan to follow, for what is right to-day may be wrong to-morrow, and vice versa, besides the pecuniary loss he suffers in making these alterations, in addition to the deterioration of the work, from the want of uniformity and consistency.
Many readers betray a want of remembrance of the sensitiveness of authors, by endeavouring, with the best intentions, to improve their language, and thus making unauthorized alterations in the proofs: this causes an unpleasant feeling, and I have known the reader accused of hypercriticism, and the original words restored; in other instances I have known the reader to have been told that he did not understand the author's meaning, with a request that for the future he would literally follow the copy, and leave it to the author to make any alterations he might think proper. After a long experience I have invariably found it the most satisfactory plan, when I perceived a mistake, or met with a passage that I did not understand, or that I thought incorrect, to draw a line under the words, and insert a query in the margin, thus drawing the author's attention to the part; if he altered the passage, it was well, if he did not, the responsibility was his; thus the author's feelings were not wounded, and in most cases he expressed his satisfaction at this method; but I never knew an instance where any censure was expressed.
In making these general observations, I am actuated only by the motive that printers should combine the desire to be correct with the principle of conciliating the kind feelings of the author or editor.