Chapter 513 “Handwriting is Civilization’s Casual Encephalogram.” – Lance Morrow (American Journalist & Essayist)

I’m cataloguing a little handwritten booklet of poems from 1860. The more I examine it, the more I wonder what ever became of the subject of penmanship. I couldn’t make my handwriting look this beautiful if I tried for a hundred years. Does anyone out there know why and how handwriting changed from the very formal and beautiful script below to the chicken scratch we eke out today?

While we’re waiting for answer, here are some photos of the handwriting in the booklet:

American journalist and essayist Lance Morrow once said, “Handwriting is civilization’s casual encephalogram.” Perhaps that’s true, but let’s hope not.


Filed under Book Finds, Ephemera

7 responses to “Chapter 513 “Handwriting is Civilization’s Casual Encephalogram.” – Lance Morrow (American Journalist & Essayist)

  1. I remember getting graded on penmanship in grade school (1960s). I don’t know when that practice stopped, but surely the “information age” and its by-products have contributed to its demise. From desktop publishing to email to texting, the need (or even desire) for legible handwriting has quietly been nudged aside. I’d also guess that my generation’s ability to text is inversely proportionate to a much younger generation’s ability to write well (handwriting, that is… but maybe composition as well).

  2. By the way, that was a beautiful and interesting book!

  3. I found a book once on a history of handwriting but do not remember the title. Once upon a time it was the mark of an educated person to be able to write and the style of the writing could often indicate the person’s status in life. There was even a Lady’s Hand for the genteel lady who had time to do handwritter invitations and place cards etc. Unfortunately, after World War II penmanship was regated to an un-necessary subject and by the mid 1960’s teacher’s were no longer required to learn how to teach handwriting. Then with the advent of typewriters and newer technology we have several generations of younger teachers who were never taught penmanship and consequently have no idea how to teach cursive writing and indeed rarely have time to properly teach printing. Luckily there are still some of all ages who enjoy the beauty of cursive writing even if it is not as elaborate and one day they may be the scribes of the future who are the only ones able to translate handwriting.

  4. That’s a fascinating history. Thank you!

  5. Handworn

    Part of it is that we use pens whose nibs can move freely in any direction. I use a fountain pen regularly, which moves in some directions much more readily and efficiently (in terms of ink flow) than others. Typically it doesn’t move upward very readily. Anyway, it also varies the thickness of the line depending on the pressure put. It makes for much more creative possibilities.

    Back in the day, too, they usually only had dip pens. You could NOT write quickly with them. And the slower you write, the more control you’re going to have and the more attractive the penmanship will be.

    The examples above, of course, are not everyday writing; they were going out of their way to write particularly beautifully.

  6. I’d never thought about the type of pen before, so thanks for pointing that out. While I appreciate the speed that modern pens and keyboards allow, I can see we’ve sacrificed a beautiful art to achieve that efficiency. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Very interesting story. Thank you

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