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A Small Piece of Ebook History

From Project Gutenberg:

: This is the February 1992 Project Gutenberg release of: Paradise Lost by John Milton. The oldest etext known to Project Gutenberg (ca. 1964-1965). (If you know of any older ones, please let us know.)

This etext was originally created in 1964-1965, according to Dr. Joseph Raben of Queens College, NY, to whom it is attributed by Project Gutenberg. We had heard of this etext for years but it was not until 1991 that we actually managed to track it down to a specific location, and then it took months to convince people to let us have a copy, then more months for them actually to do the copying and get it to us. Then another month to convert to something we could massage with our favorite 486 in DOS. After that is was only a matter of days to get it into this shape you will see below. The original was, of course, in CAPS only, and so were all the other etexts of the 60's and early 70's. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking any etext with both upper and lower case is an original; all those original Project Gutenberg etexts were also in upper case and were translated or rewritten many times to get them into their current condition. They have been worked on by many people throughout the world.

In the course of our searches for Professor Raben and his etext we were never able to determine where copies were or which of a variety of editions he may have used as a source. We did get a little information here and there, but even after we received a copy of the etext we were unwilling to release it without first determining that it was in fact Public Domain and finding Raben to verify this and get his permission. Interested enough, in a totally unrelated action to our searches for him, the professor subscribed to the Project Gutenberg listserver and we happened, by accident, to notice his name. (We don't really look at every subscription request as the computers usually handle them.) The etext was then properly identified, copyright analyzed, and the current edition prepared.

To give you an estimation of the difference in the original and what we have today: the original was probably entered on cards commonly known at the time as "IBM cards" (Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate) and probably took in excess of 100,000 of them. A single card could hold 80 characters (hence 80 characters is an accepted standard for so many computer margins), and the entire original edition we received in all caps was over 800,000 chars in length, including line enumeration, symbols for caps and the punctuation marks, etc., since they were not available keyboard characters at the time (probably the keyboards operated at baud rates of around 113, meaning the typists had to type slowly for the keyboard to keep up).

This is the second version of Paradise Lost released by Project Gutenberg. The first was released as our October, 1991 etext.