Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Librarians hate it, cultural historians love it - under certain circumstances:

pl.n. Notes in the margin or margins of a book. [1832, from L. marginalia, neuter plural of marginalis "marginal," from marginis].

The word was coined by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who wrote notes in almost every book he read - marginalia that has been collected in several volumes of its own. Other famous marginalia includes notes written by French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) while in prison, a statement written by English aristocrat Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) before his execution, and writings by English poet John Bethune (1801-1851), who could not afford paper. Many consider a formula by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) to be the most important margin note, and that of American novelist Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) on her copy of The Great Gatsby among the most poignant. Marginalia can also refer to the drawings in medieval illuminated manuscripts, a topic on the blog Got Medieval. But more recent scribbles are the topic of this blog post, "Always Bring a Pencil." Good advice, as is that of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), who writes the following in his essay "Marginalia":
"In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general."
In deference to librarians, just make sure the books are yours.

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