Tag Archives: Quill

With Pen in Hand


When my wife and I were in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, I saw something that caught my eye in the National Art Gallery gift shop. My wife decided to give it to me a few days later as a birthday gift. The item – a quill and an old style ink pen. Now, I’ve routinely written with a fountain pen for many years; I used a Cross fountain pen as I traveled around Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

I like the juxtaposition of using a fountain pen to sign or annotate computer generated paperwork.

When I was in grade school we were required to use a fountain pen while learning cursive handwriting. Our desks had the hole in the upper right hand corner into which an inkwell had formerly been placed when my father went to that school.

With such extensive experience, I was fairly confident as I picked up the quill, opened the bottle of ink, dipped said quill lightly into the ink, wiped the tip against the bottle and began. My intent was to write a blog entry, scan it and publish it in all its historical finery.

Alas, my handwriting went from barely legible to Charlie Brown’s ink stained pen pal letters with blotches and smudges galore. Even though I have tried repeatedly I am still far from perfecting a skill that children from the earliest days of European settlement on this continent were able to master.

Perhaps the reason that some of the writings from the past were so profound was because the act of writing took time, and that time was available to think about what one wanted to say. Today, we can slapdash a thought through a keyboard, send it as an e-mail (or worse, “Reply All”) with little or no thought, often with unpleasant repercussions.

In thinking; in speaking; in writing – it’s quality that endures, not quantity.

Writing Implements

The latest word is that cursive handwriting is a dying art.

Cursive was created, so they say, with the invention of the pen. Being able to keep a quill in contact with the paper longer meant less ink splattering the paper. On the other hand, scraping symbols onto wet clay was far more like printing – each letter or symbol a discrete character. It was soon realized that pens could be shaped so that the cursive writing, or even printing, for that matter, could be a work of art in its own right. Illuminated manuscripts, for example, are sometime breathtaking. Gregorian chant, with its square notes seems to demand a second look.

Illuminated Manuscript
Try doing that on your smartphone!

But today, the sound bite has replaced the story and texting while madly punching tiny keys with the thumbs has replaced calligraphy. We’d much rather say nothing quickly than say something worthwhile in a meaningful way. What’s important is that people are able to transmit their message, whether or not anyone receives it or even pays attention.

More’s the pity.

Imagine Harry Potter at Hogwarts with an iPad. It just isn’t the same. Somehow you just know that the right thing is to see him writing on a scroll with a feathered quill pen and an inkwell.

Fortunately the pendulum swings. When people are no longer required to learn cursive, perhaps they’ll develop an interest. They may have to pay tutors to teach them. Whole industries may spring forth.

There will doubtlessly be a cable television program – if not an entire cable channel dedicated to cursive writing.

Why do I believe this?

Because sooner or later people’s thumbs and their desire to say what they want in 140 characters will wear thin.