Saturday, February 25, 2006



Michael Sappolis passes along word of a Boise State U project dedicated to Herman Melville's marginalia. From their website:

Melville’s Marginalia Online will soon provide a fully searchable (and forever current) listing of the more than 500 known titles connected to Melville and his immediate family members. Along with maintaining the Check-List of titles and editions, Melville’s Marginalia Online is a long-term project devoted to the editing and publication of markings and annotations in the books that survive from Melville’s library.
The marginalia from Melville's copy of Thomas Beale's The Natural History of the Sperm Whale is already up, and it looks like a couple of Matthew Arnold volumes are on the way. Marginalia might seem like a curiously -- well, marginal area of study -- but it gives some fascinating glimpses into a writer's mind. Melville and his contemporaries knew this as well as anyone.

Here's Edgar Allan Poe, writing in the Democratic Review of November 1844:

But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value.... In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly- boldly- originally- with abandonnement- without conceit- much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which, being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed,- a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.

The marginal note is not exactly a lost art, but it might be a faded one; one certainly finds far more 19th century books with deliberately wide margins intended for writing. And, I'm afraid, notes written in ballpoint just don't look very good.

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