With his usual eagerness for self-improvement, Isaac noted the following purchase in his journal: "During P.M. looked over my catalogues to find some standard Work on Penmanship, feeling the want of such a work for occasional reference for some time, and just concluded to send for Spencerian's Compendium." Actually, Isaac's handwriting is fairly neat and the difficulty in transcribing his Journal resulted more from his dense crowding of words and fading ink on some pages (suspected to be caused by his watering ink when the supply was running low), rather than from his handwriting. In 1870, when he ordered the Spencerian handbook, he wrote with the flourish of a young man, expressing both in style and content the confident attitude of youth. When he resumed writing in the journal in 1884, he was more thrifty of his opinions and materials, writing in sentence fragments, with little philosophizing and a smaller, closer script.
Spencerian script was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer in 1840, but it was his sons who published his previously unpublished writing guide after their father's death in 1864, and through their publication the Spencerian style of writing gained great popularity through about the 1920s. When Coca-Cola created their logo in the late 19th century, they used Spencerian script.
|My handwriting over a drill from handbook.|
In 1894 Austin Palmer published a book titled, Palmer's Guide to Business Writing. His idea was that using the muscles of the arm rather than the fingers, and simplifying the letters, reduced both the labor and the time it took for writing and allowed someone writing by hand to compete with the speed and clarity of the typewriter. Gradually the Palmer Method replaced Spencerian script. The drill above is from Palmer's handbook.
By the time I was in grade school, students were taught to print before they were taught cursive, which had apparently produced the block-like cursive that my mother found ungraceful. For many years it was the practice to teach children entering school how to print (also call manuscript). Then, about grade three, cursive writing was taught. Over the years, certain styles predominated, but unless you were a teacher or the parent of a child in school during these changes, you were probably unawae of the shifting styles and teaching techniques. The pictures below are from the Palmer Method textbook, when penmanship was a serious part of the curriculum.
In recent years a new debate has arisen. A blog from 2007 asked: "Cursive vs. Printing: Is One Better Than the Other?" The author pointed out that cursive is a better exercise for strengthening fine motor skills, and also that children who can read cursive can read manuscript writing but the reverse is not true. On the other hand, first teaching print (manuscript) is comparable to the text in books and educational material. Furthermore, cursive is less legible and harder to read, the proof of which is the line below the signature line on many forms which asks: "Please print your name." (www.blog.montessoriforeveryone.com) An online debate from 2010 dealt not with what to teach but rather which to use, and responses were mixed. A dialogue between two people leaving comments seems to reflect the younger point of view. The first person wrote: "I think in this day and age cursive is dying a slow painful death." The second person replied: "In an age where handwriting is going the way of the dinosaur, I would have to agree." (www.sguforums.com)
Now, in case you haven't heard, many states are abandoning the teaching of cursive entirely or are leaving it to the discretion of teachers to determine whether there is time in the crowded mandatory curriculum to devote to cursive instruction. The Theory is that classroom teaching of "keyboard skills" is more valuable in the electronic age.
I know my blog is being followed by current & former teachers, as well as students, parents, and grandparents. This is the perfect post for those of you who have not yet left a comment to express your opinions about the abandonment of teaching cursive penmanship in schools.In Isaac's time, penmanship was an indication of a person's education and sophistication. There were still many who could neither read nor write and who signed documents with an "X". The illustration of Isaac's penmanship is taken from the flyleaf of his journal, actually written before he ordered the Spencerian Handbook.
In my time I have regarded legible penmanship as a courtesy, enjoying a hand-written note of news, thanks, congratulations or concern, thoughtfully hand written by a friend, far more than a greeting card with only a signature. Taking the time to write neatly, whatever the purpose, seemed as necessary to me as taking the time to fix my hair and put on lipstick before leaving the house. Perhaps today's generation finds both of my "necessities" old-fashioned!
One individual responding to the question of cursive vs. manuscript wrote: "Well-done cursive is really beautiful, and I think in the letter-writing culture of old, presentation was almost half of the pleasure of reading a letter." I tend to agree, although I bristle a little at the characterization of that tradition belonging to the "culture of old." Her comment received this reply: "I found a box of letters a few months ago between my grandfather and his sister during WWII, and they were all so beautifully written. Each one of them was like a small piece of artwork." I would add that each was like a small piece of history. Yet, if teaching is abandoned, will the cursive writing of ancestors become undecipherable to their descendants?
Two of my favorite museum memories are visits years ago to the manuscript rooms in the British Museum in London and the New York City Public Library. Reading a handwritten letter of a witness to the beheading of Anne Boleyn, which described how Anne's little dog had run out from under its hiding place within the folds of her long skirts at the moment the ax fell, imprinted the horror of her execution in my mind in a very personal way far beyond what reading those same words in type could have done. And, seeing the cross-throughs and interlinings on hand-written manuscripts of famous authors allowed insights that will be forever lost to future scholars and would-be writers viewing today's computer-written manuscripts, where changes are deleted forever.
Although most writers probably compose on computers, during an interview on CBS author Stephen King expressed the significance of writing in longhand: "It slows you down. It makes you think about each word as you write it, and it also gives you more of a chance so that you're able...the sentences compose themselves in your head. It's like hearing music, only it's words. But you see more ahead because you can't go as fast."
An Op-Ed by Trevor Butterworth concludes, "...there is plenty of evidence that handwriting involves a series of complex cognitive processes in which perception and motor action are intertwined." In reply to his conclusion, I would ask, when penmanship is abandoned in favor of keyboard skills, are educators neglecting the training of young people's minds in order to make them more productive at communicating ideas devoid of reflection, reason, and innovation?If Isaac had kept an electronic journal, would I have found it worth reading over a century later? The picture to the left is of the top corner of page 422 of Isaac's Journal, typical of his handwriting a year before the journal ends. Perhaps not beautiful, it is certainly neat, with a creative flair to it. I believe that the words he wrote each day by hand speak to me more clearly than reading them on a computer screen ever could. I also believe that his daily habit of writing in his journal allowed him to reflect more deeply and create more imaginatively than today's rapid tapping on a keypad.
Take a minute to leave a comment telling me what you think!