I have on occasion and despite a congenital irreverence mourned the demise of the various signposts of civility — and not just among lawyers. One of those markers of passing decorum has continued to be the handwritten note and letter.
No nonsense Franciscan nuns taught me the Palmer Method of penmanship, which like most third-graders I quickly unlearned and turned into a crude facsimile of handwritten legibility. No more merit cards from Sr. Yvonne. And the passage of time and ‘racehorse’ essay exams in law school only made the problem worse.
My cursive today is more print than script. And when in a particular hurry, the scrawl is mostly hieroglyphic.
The greatly-exaggerated death of handwriting.
Almost a decade ago in The Handcrafted Letter, author Diane Maurer-Mathison, more in hope than actuality wrote, “Handwritten correspondence is coming back into vogue. Letter writing allows us to slow down and consider our thoughts fully before we commit them to paper. And there is something intimate about a hand-written letter that e-mails, typed letters, and even phone calls can’t replace. Sending a hand-written letter is like sending a small part of yourself.”
I doubt handwritten correspondence was in “vogue” then — let alone now. She wrote that years before Twitter, Skype, Facebook, and iPhone, whose introductions swiftly turned longing into a perennial lament about the near-death of cursive writing.
So every so often, like Swallows who never ever really leave Capistrano, there’s someone writing about “The Fading Art of Letter Writing” or waxing on about the “Dearth of letter writing” or repeatedly grieving “The death of letter writing.”
One would think that after so many reports over so many years about the death of letter writing and of penmanship and of handwritten notes, that like the death of Mark Twain, they might now conclude it’s been greatly exaggerated. It might seem so or at least, it’s just continued material for one more obituary. At any rate, we’re giving cursive immortality at the same time we’re giving it death.
Indeed, this weekend, Philip Hensher, author of “The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting“ produced yet one more essay on what he’s called “the endangered art” — “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note.”
Hensher mentioned a British study about declining handwriting caused by technology and how “The average person hasn’t written by hand for 41 days, and one in three hasn’t had reason to handwrite anything for six months.”
Hensher’s argument for handwriting is “that it forms a direct and intimate bridge between two people” and that unlike electronic communications — letters and postcards become “treasured possessions.”
Hensher provides little evidence to support his conclusions. He relies instead on intuition and on suppositions about what he says are our deep-seated tendencies to link pen on paper communication “with our highest intentions.”
So reflecting again on pen and paper communication in a smartphone era, it’s useful to again quote Mark Twain — until the next penmanship obituary, “New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
Photo Credit: “The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive,” by AndrewBuck, at Wikipedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.