Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The things people write in books!

I mean literally, the things people scrawl on the flyleaves and in the margins of books. My mother taught me not to deface books, not even to dog-ear them, but tell it to a poet! There's real treasure in literary marginalia: notes, scribbles, and assorted editorial comments added to books. Take Blake's famous comment on Francis Bacon - "Philosophy has Destroyd all art & Science." Blake really had it in for the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, on whose death he scrawled, "Funeral granted to Sir Joshua for having destroyd Art . . . ." Unlike many a lesser poet, though, Blake ordinarily attacked ideas not people, and tried to delete that comment. Coleridge is the most copious of literary marginalia-writers; he even invented the word "marginalia." Anybody who let him borrow a book would later find reams of cramped, scribbled commentary it it; his essay-like annotations have been collected in a set of six volumes (so far) that contain some eight thousand notes. (Alas, the best-known marginal note isn't by a poet: Fermat's "last theorem," which didn't even fit in the margins of the book he was defacing; Wikipedia says it's the most famous solved problem in the history of mathematics.) Other stuff written inside books include doodles, reader's marks like stars, asterisks, crosses... but also actual poems!

Well, guess what we found not long ago! Read the rest of this post at Harriet: click here.


Anonymous said...


Do lost letters found in old books count here, too?


Jordan said...

It never ends.

Anonymous said...


Hi, I believe Don Share will be putting up photos of this letter I found in Freeport, IL. The handwriting and signature can be easily identified, so people can see for themselves.

It's quite incredible, I know. But yes, I found a lost letter of Sylvia Beach, dated January 4,1954.


Anonymous said...

And please do offer your opinion, Jordan, when the pictures are posted, assuming that Don does do that. It's up to him, of course. I hope that he will!


Michael Robbins said...

Kent, I think it's a tremendous story, & I can't wait to see the letter. William Gass once found in a used book the telegram that authorized, as I recall, the Normandy landing.

brian a j salchert said...

I have a long habit of writing in and making other marks in books I own.

Have been reading your more recent posts. I have become a perpetual online student.

Aaron Apps, a young author who lives in the far north of my home state, has posted this:
Poet as Platypus.
If you have time to read it and leave a comment, please do. I haven't commented on this post of his yet, and I am sure you are more qualified to than I am.

From one who is fairly transparent
but lives in wildernesses few enter,