In March, the Princeton PhD student William Stell asked, in a tweet, "What's the most memorable comment a professor has written in the margins of one of your papers?" In response, John Haffenden confessed that Richard Ellmann often "wrote against a paragraph or sentence: awk. There was no further mark to indicate what he found awkward"; and Jeremy Noel-Tod disclosed that he'd once been translated by a tutor thus: "Noel-Tod = Christmas-Death".
Droll comments in most essays' margins will be lost to time, but any true apostle of apostils knows that there are other curiosities available: the long-lived if illicit annotations in library books. We have sought to identify--with help, perhaps, from the well-manicured manicules of the now-famous Oxford University Marginalia Facebook group--some cursive classics.
Livid quibbles over pre-existing marginalia ("it's impossible to read when some idiot has scrawled their fatuous bleatings all over the book"; "never mind, you probably all left years ago and are now balding and middle-aged") amuse by their own paradox. Raw pangs of bafflement (Wordsworth's line "Upon my right hand was a single sheep" in the 1805 Prelude prompts the devastatingly polite enquiry, "I am sorry?") and lewd rage are welcome--likewise, well-intentioned efforts to deter all future readers ("take tranquillizers before tackling this", advises one victim of Baudrillard's Fatal Strategies). Augmenting hostilely dull chapter titles, turning them into instalments in a children's book series, is fun as well: sign us up to review Harry Potter and the Role of Accounting in Public Expenditure and Monetary Policy in the First Century AD Roman Empire and its inevitable sequel, Harry Potter and the Aggregate-Psychological Theories of Revolution.
Our choice of the lot, though, is the near-liturgical reiteration of (and variation on) a line in a Bodleian Libraries copy of T. S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets' (1966) by...