Friday I looked at a fourteenth-century manuscript of the Divine Comedy, with marginal notes in Latin. Tiny, spidery, beautiful pale blocks of notes, accompanied by sketched “manicules” — also known as digits, hands, fists, or indices, apparently — pointing out important passages in the main text. At least two different annotators had worked on the text; I’m sure there were more, but I could see two definite unique scripts (and drawing styles). Some of the manicules had sweet petal-like sleeves. Some had wrists like pretzels.
For another class, I pulled several copies of Friedrich Rehberg’s Drawings faithfully copied from Nature, at Naples (1794) — Piroli’s engravings of Rehberg’s drawings of Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes, that is. They’re more striking than they were in the modern reprint I first saw, and I still can’t understand why so many modern critics call them “failed” drawings. (More on that whenever I get my paper on visual representations of Emma worked up as an article.) Two of the copies are printed entirely on bright orange paper, which is odd.
I looked at The Waste Land, ostensibly to study its notes & glosses — but, being a stereotypical literature geek, I’ve been obsessed with that poem since my freshman year of high school, and those notes are so familiar that I can hardly see them as paratext any longer. They’re like a little friendly murmur under the melody. A professor I TA’d for several years ago called the tone and apparatus of the poem elitist, and, while my students seemed to sympathize with his complaint, I couldn’t. Whatever Eliot meant to impart, those notes were a promise, when I read them first. This is how much I know, how much I’ve read and understood of the world; you can read and know and understand this much, too.