NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1962
FOLKLORE MARGINALIA IN OLD TEXTBOOKS
Robert H. Woodward
THE STUDENT-COLLECTOR of folklore is usually directed by his
instructor to his own recollections, to the members of his
family, to his peers, and to his adult acquaintances. While
these sources of information are, of course, fundamental ones, the
student should be cautioned not to overlook written records that
might be available to him. Even the box of old textbooks in the
attic could prove a fruitful source for the lore of his forebears,
particularly if they utilized the margins and blank pages for their
Textbooks, apparently, have always borne the brunt of their
owners’ ennui, misdirected attention, and artistic aspirations.
Margins were designed to be doodled in and written in. They
provide ample room for notes to and from one’s school chums,
diary entries, snatches of songs, favorite lines of popular poetry,
Bible texts, autograph verses, and parodies. A case in point is a
textbook—The Leading Facts of American History—used by
Christa Valentine in the small town of Pendleton, in central Indiana,
in the early years of the 1890s. The notes to and from her
schoolmates, as well as the diary entries, which are sprinkled unmethodically
through the volume, touch upon matters forever
dear to a young girl’s heart—young men, school affairs, disappointment, anticipations—and record life rather than lore. The
songs and poems reveal the persistence of the Civil War tunes
into the nineties and the popularity of Victorian poetry in the
guise of folk wisdom....
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