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The reading habits of young people

Readers learned to annotate books and excerpt text early in life through school.

In his works on education (1511), Erasmus qualified annotations as a pedagogical tool. They continued to serve as such throughout the modern age. Some Latin classics were printed with wide margins and spaces between lines to let pupils add sentence structures, translations and key remarks from teachers.


Theophili Antecessoris institutionum libri IV, Paris, 1657

The first and last lines are discussed in a comedy by Hauteroche, Le Deuil, shown for the first time in 1672: "By my faith here we are finely clad", "I forgive my son, forgive Babet". They are annotated with:
"Come and see him in the crowd, it is well worthwhile".
On the side there is a list of plays by Terence, from Eunuque to Hécyre, to Adelphes, Phormion and Héautontimorouménos, difficultly spelled.
On the bottom of the reverse side, a template sentence in Latin: Muscas imperatoriae trucidantem Domitianum videte (Watch Domitien massacre the unfortunate).


It is clear from the first few pages how familiar young readers were with books. While the pages are full of haphazard musings, they also provide a space for socialising and personal affirmation. In this example of Institutions by Theophilus Antecessor, pupils have filled the cover pages with drawings, signatures, word games and secret codes reflecting a culture deeply immersed in classical references.


Theophili Antecessoris institutionum libri IV, Paris, 1657

The pupils disguised famous titles. Hidden under "les cadets de Tirelire" lies the Decades by Livy. The same treatment has been given to The Aeneid by Virgil and Amadis de Gaula. The key to the secret code is on another page of the book. The code reads, under the numbers, "Monsieur Le Sueur".