The Second Complete Edition represents the fourth time Henry Tufts has ever appeared in print. Considering this, you might be wondering—especially if you already own one of the editions titled Autobiography of a Criminal—if this edition was necessary.
Yes, it definitely was.
The 1807 edition is very rare, can’t be bought, and is only found in its physical form in thirty-eight libraries in the entire country.
There are two reprint editions, but beyond the fact that the reprint editions are out of print and getting more expensive, they are abridged. If you’re reading Autobiography of a Criminal, you’re not really reading The Narrative of Henry Tufts. You’re reading Edmund Pearson’s idea of what reading The Narrative of Henry Tufts should be. He cuts out bits he thinks are boring, unnecessary, or simply taking up too much space. Pearson cuts out the entire preface, cuts verse digressions down by more than half, cuts up dialogue scenes, and even leaves out important descriptions of events preceding Henry Tufts’ actions. One reading Autobiography of a Criminal will be able to read all of the important events in Henry Tufts’ life, but something is missing. The feel of the book has been taken away, and stripped down to the bare-bones narrative.
I discovered Tufts’ Narrative while a senior in college, at which point I was working on a project researching and then presenting strange and obscure old books held in the university archives. My piece is still posted here. I happened upon the original, and was amazed at what I was reading. This was a book like no other: an early American narrative that did not overly moralize, and did not shy away from presenting the very worst of actions. I then discovered the reprints, and ordered both, as I wanted to own the Narrative, and didn’t know which reprint edition was better.
When they both arrived in the mail, I knew that neither was better—they were both not the text I had just read in the archives. They had some good supplements, sure—particularly Edmund Pearson’s Introduction and Appendix, but they weren’t really the book I had read. They were instead the unseasoned bread-without-the-salt version of the text—all that you needed for nutrition, but flavorless.
That was when I decided to make this edition. Since I had already discovered
that the book has received very little academic or popular attention over the years, I wanted to do something with it, but I wasn’t sure what that was. My disappointment with Pearson’s edition gave me the answer: someone needed to reprint the book, and do it right this time.
I started by visiting the archives again, and photographing every page of the text for my own reference. I knew I would never be able to finish the job if I didn’t have access to the book at my convenience.
From there, I started transcribing. With the image of the page on one side and a text document on the other side of my screen, I typed everything, line by line, stopping at the end of every page
to make sure I wasn’t missing any lines of text. This process eventually finished, after a particularly intensive couple of weeks in which I was probably spending some four hours a day typing.
This left me with a complete (and searchable!) text on my computer, but which was riddled with typographical errors, and wholly unready for printing.
I started reformatting the text to make it appear well in print, using the internet typesetting program ShareLaTeX, but of course this was not the best way to read for errors, so I eventually had the whole text printed up in loose-leaf, so that I could proofread it. I finally finished the proofreading in January of this year.
At that point, it was the beginning of the end. I fixed my errors, and started working in LaTeX to make the text display as nicely as possible, and I added in the original illustrations. The most difficult
of the final typesetting steps was to make The Nomenclature of the Flash Language appear correctly without taking up too much space on the page.
Then was a final whirlwind of activity—designing the cover (using only printed assets found withing the book itself), writing an explanatory note for the beginning of the book, recording all of the original typographic errors, and ordering a proof copy to make sure all was in order.
The process is finally complete, three years later. My order invoice for Autobiography of a Criminal reads March 18, 2014.
And now, for the first time since 1807, you can buy a brand-new copy of the full text of The Narrative of Henry Tufts.