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The Mistress Of The Margin
by [?]

I love a margin. There is something delicious, luxurious, glorious in the spacious field of creamy paper bounded by the black letterpress on the one side and the gilt edges on the other. Could anything be more abominable than a book that is printed to the uttermost extremities of every page? It is an outrage, I aver, on human nature. Indeed, it is an outrage upon Nature herself, for Nature loves her margins even more than I do. She goes in for margins on a truly stupendous scale. She wants a bird, so a dozen are hatched. She knows perfectly well that eleven out of the twelve are merely margin. She will throw them to the cats, and the foxes, and the weasels, and the snakes, and only keep the best of the batch. She wants a tree, so she plants a hundred. She knows that ninety and nine are margin, to be browsed down by cattle, but she means to make sure of her one. ‘The roe of a cod,’ Grant Alien tells me, ‘contains nearly ten million eggs; but, if each of those eggs produced a young fish which arrived at maturity, the whole sea would immediately become a solid mass of closely packed cod-fish.’ But Nature has no intention of turning her bright blue ocean into a gigantic box of sardines; she is simply providing herself with a margin. Linnaeus says that a fly may multiply itself ten thousandfold in a fortnight. If this increase continued during the three summer months, he says, one fly at the beginning of summer would produce one hundred millions of millions of millions before the three months were over, and the air would be black with the horror. The probability, however, is that there are never one hundred millions of millions of millions of flies in the whole world. Nature is not arranging for a repetition of the plague of Egypt; she is simply gratifying her appetite for a margin. As Tennyson sings in ‘In Memoriam,’

of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear.

So I suppose I learned my love of margins from her. At any rate, if anybody thinks me extravagant, they must quarrel with her and not with me.

I fancy there’s a good deal in it. It is the margin that makes all the difference. If the work that absolutely must be done occupies every waking moment of my time, I am a slave; but if it leaves a margin of a single hour, I am in clover. If my receipts will only just balance my expenditure, I am living a mere hand-to-mouth existence; but if they leave me a margin, I jingle the odd coins in my pocket with the pride of a prince. Mr. Micawber’s philosophy comes back to us. ‘Annual income–twenty pounds; annual expenditure–nineteen nineteen six; result– happiness. Annual income–twenty pounds; annual expenditure–twenty pounds ought and six; result– misery.’ I believe that one of the supreme aims of a man’s life should be to secure a margin. Nature does it, and we must copy her. A good life, like a good book, should have a good margin. I hate books whose pages are so crowded that you cannot handle them without putting your thumbs on the type. And, in exactly the same way, there are very few things more repelling than the feeling that a man has no time for you. It may be a most excellent book; but if it has no margin, I shall never grow fond of it. He may be a most excellent man; but if he lacks leisure, restfulness, poise, I shall never be able to love him.