Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts.I don't write in books. As a child I used to write my name, and if it were a school book, I wrote my address too. Sometimes that address was the long version - the one with Australia, Southern Hemisphere, Earth, The Solar System, The Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe appended to the end. Did you do that too? Nowadays I only write my name in my book if I'm lending it to you, in the hope that you'll return it someday. I always feel an impending sense of doom when somebody asks to borrow one of my precious books, but if I do agree, I want to at least improve my chances of having it returned. Eventually.
Charlotte Mason School Education p181
My aversion to writing in books crept up on me unknowingly - at about the same time as I stopped bending the spines of even my cheap paperbacks, and dog-earing the corners even of books that I planned to dispose of once I'd reached the end. Nowadays, my books are handled with reverence. I'm not sure that is a good thing.
At school I was an inveterate scribbler. See the margins of my poetry anthology above? Having your literature books filled with annotations and exclamations and definitions was a sense of pride. It meant you'd actually read and thought about the passage, that you were super-clever and studious and deep thinking, and...well... other things that I wasn't. Not really.
The photo up top shows part of my collection of of old poetry books. It is not the prettiest shelf in my library, but it contains a number of very special books.
The blue Shelley volume belonged to my husband's mother. She was an extensive margin writer. Take a look:
The old green Keats belonged to my daughter's Aunt. She annotated her poetry as well.
My grandmother owned the dark green Browning, and she used it when she was completing her BA at the University of Melbourne in 1919 - one of the first women, incidentally, to do so.
When Jemimah comes to study these poets she will be able to read these little notes. She will learn that her mother didn't much like that big fraud, T. S. Elliot's J. Alfred Prufrock, but adored Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. She will be able to count out Spencerian stanzas with Auntie Celia. She can ponder the big questions of life with Grannie Jenny who died before she was born, and admire Browning as a metrical artist with her Great Grandmother Elsie. She will discover that she believed these two lines of Browning the finest in English poetry:
As the king-bird with ages on his plumesI like to think of these little jottings as being little messages to Jemimah from those same ancestral tombs, that through them she will get to know these people from her history a little better. She will know how they thought about things, and how they interpreted knowledge, and she will get their input into the very same words that she is reading. When she reads How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, she will know to listen for how "the light, rollicking metre almost produces the effect of the hoof beats of the galloping horse" because her Great Grandmother will have told her to listen.
Travels to die in his ancestral tombs.
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;When I die, Jemimah will inherit a huge collection of books. That collection will tell her much of who I am and what I enjoyed. When she leafs through the pages, though, she won't get much idea of me. She won't learn why this book is falling apart from being read so much, where that one looks like it was never opened at all. Apart from that poetry book, and a couple of other school texts, there are no messages for my daughter inside my books.
I gallop’d, Dick gallop’d, we gallop’d all three;
“Good speed !” cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we gallop’d abreast.
I'm sorta sorry about that, and having thought about it, I'm going to do better. My old school favourite, Coleridge, coined the word 'marginalia, and penned copious numbers of them. This was written into one of Charles Lamb's books:
You will not mind my having spoiled a book in order to leave a Relic.Whether or not it spoils a book is one thing, but he is right that it leaves a relic. I'm going to try and do that too.
Miss Mason suggests that our students be able to write in the margins of their books, but I'm afraid that's going to take a little while for Jemimah. It has taken me 50 years to come to this decision. That means she still has another 39 years to go.
Which is quite a relief for her mother, who is starting to hyperventilate at the very thought. You can annotate a Kindle, though, can't you?