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The Grumblings of Monks in Margins


"Oh, my hand."

I love this post from brainpickings. It’s a list, taken from the spring 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, of complaints, comments and notes that monks wrote in the margins of pages of illuminated manuscripts.

Illuminated manuscripts go back centuries, and I can imagine those monks put in very long days, doing very painstaking, repetitive tasks, in itchy robes, probably by candlelight – so it’s no surprise there might be something to say about it now and again. Some of the remarks include:

“New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.”

“I am very cold.”

“That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.”

“Let the reader’s voice honor the writer’s pen.”

“This page has not been written very slowly.”

“The parchment is hairy.”

“The ink is thin.”

“Thank God, it will soon be dark.”

“Oh, my hand.”

“As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.”

“Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.”

Poor fellows. I hope they enjoyed a hearty…mead and bread and cheese, and…leg of mutton…after all was written and finished. Look, I really don’t know what they ate or drank, but I hope they got to relax and have some fun when the drudgery was done.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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